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don't let the stars get in your eyes

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 Hobie and Carlotta at home, April 1953. Photographed by Joseph Silverman.

The miniature golf session played well to the magazines — windmills and wishing wells were a photogenic backdrop for a few snaps of Carlotta in a sequined dress with Hobie's arms around her, Hobie maintaining a respectful distance while showing her how to hold her club. Never mind that he'd never been closer to a driving range than the kind of range they graze cattle on and she spent two Saturdays in a row teaching him to knock a ball around in the backyard of her stately studio-funded home.

The real date came afterward, once Carlotta had changed out of her spangled dress and emerged with her hair pulled back in a high ponytail, spiralling with curls, and her sweater on — a vision in gray flannel slacks, her engagement ring stashed next to the sink. Not a photo op. Just a ludicrously expensive rock atop a tray in the shape of Texas. Sweethearts at home — Hobie in an apron dutifully flipping plantain slices in a hot skillet, Carlotta surrounded by cookbooks with a carpenter's pencil in her hand. Somewhere just outside of the frame was DeeAnna Moran with her little girl on her knee, and a passel of others — extras, script girls, writers.

Hobie wasn't much of a cook — even the Capitol Pictures commemorative cookbook would cop to that, and that illustrious semiannual publication still insists Laurence Laurentz is just looking for a lady who's as good a cook as his mother and DeeAnna Moran eats red flannel hash to keep her figure. But Hobie was nothing if not willing to take direction. For her own part Carlotta was no mistress of the domestic arts — too much time on the road and the demands of her dancing instructors hadn't afforded many opportunities for elaborate family dinners in full Betty Crocker color and things trapped in molded aspic. But the pair of them could boil water, and chop onions, and had enough place-settings for a full house of friends.

*

October 1956. Three women at a nightclub table, facing away from the camera. Hobie Doyle in black tie demonstrates rope trick. Photographer unknown.

So Capitol's golden-girl alpine heroine Dorothy Winters needed a favor, and Carlotta still owed her one for sharing a trailer when the studio couldn't put her up — big smiles, a few laughs, a chance to play dress-up. That night, the favor took the form of a lovely double-date with Miss Winters and her makeup artist — Maeve Goodrich, a cute farm girl in a fisherman sweater who bonded with Hobie over wrangling cattle while Dorothy and Carlotta compared resumes.

Skiing pictures didn't have much of a lifespan on them, but Dorothy had been been playing the stock market — all she needed was her contract to wrap up her contract before she and her makeup artist can retire to a cute bungalow to raise goats. Thence the double date — somebody at the studio had gotten a whiff of something lavender and kicked up a fuss. Two beautiful women alone might be a little lavender, but three beautiful women giggling over red-blooded star of stage and screen Hobie Doyle was a recipe for a different kind of romantic gossip and so it all smoothed over.

(Hobie Doyle, star of stage and screen, bashful as a boy and not quite knowing the score with Dorothy and her lady friend, but ready to help by any means necessary. The "stage" part hadn't quite gelled for Hobie — his voice was good and clear, but he wasn't cut out for Broadway parts. When Goodrich and Winters tie the knot in a secret ceremony circa 1960, Carlotta and Hobie are there.)

*

Valdez and Doyle on-set for The Duelist and the Dancer at Tumbling J Guest Ranch, fall of 1958. Photographed by studio employee Marva O'Bannon.

Somehow attending every Hobie Doyle premiere and watching National Velvet a dozen times in the theater as a girl, as well as witnessing the occasional noble steed trudge past on the studio lot en route to the next swashbuckling setpiece, hadn't prepared her for exactly how large horses were up close. In the back of her mind she'd been hoping for a Shetland pony. It had been an astronomically foolish idea telling the studio she could ride, even if she did have one hell of a teacher. There's no riding today, just getting acquainted.

Hobie hopped down off his mount like it was nothing, patting the animal on the neck like nothing but a very big dog. The horse lifted her head, ears pricked, and made a soft whuffling sound. Carlotta winced, and her photogenic smile stiffened by a few notches.

"Let her have the apple, now — she'll like that."

"She won't bite, Hobie, will she?" The impression of sleek animal grace was spoiled a little up close by the sight of warped yellow teeth chomping away at the air.

"Don't you worry about it, Clementine here's a real lady."

Carlotta held out a trembling hand, with the phony-bright green apple extended on offer — fingers flat, harder to bite that way. She had become familiarized with a whole orchard's worth of wax fruits in the past five years, so much that it was startling to see the horse sweep up about half the apple in one bite and leave the rest behind for later. Carlotta's yelp had Hobie murmuring cornpone expressions of concern, until he saw her smiling.

A man and a woman in Western wear, the man handsome, the woman lovely — running a hand over Clementine's satiny sand-colored side, snaking an arm around Hobie's waist.

*

January 1963. Doyle and Valdez on the set of Valdez's sophomore directorial effort What's Become Of Aunt Louise . Photographed by Bob Willoughby.

Carlotta behind the camera — behind her Hobie in a folding chair, sitting at attention with his hands on his knees, looking grave. Valdez in a soft black sweater, hair pulled back from her face, and no makeup; Hobie in a suit, looking frightfully uncomfortable.

The artist in a candid moment, her brow furrowed with worry. They weren't making Dead-End Avenue or Stranger On The Road any more — nothing ambitious, glorified B-movies, a couple of stars fooling around behind the camera. A haunted dancing school and a decaying heiress and a cast stocked with the Doyle family's long-standing friends — Dorothy Winters playing the scheming choreographer and Deirdre Silver playing a glamorous old hag, Poppy St. Clair as the naive sculptress, Marisol Starr as the girl reporter heroine, Link Banner as the upright cop.

Poppy had played dancing girls and cathouse madams in a couple of Hobie's later pictures and was grateful for the chance to keep her clothes on; the role chiefly required her to wear a scarf and look convincingly haunted. Marisol had played gangsters' little sisters and big-eyed orphans in pictures about nuns before the studio dropped her like a hot rock when she hit puberty. She wasn't much of a dancer, despite her attempts to salvage that side of her career, but she had a knack for screaming and issuing dramatic utterances. Two weeks on set, ninety-eight minutes in the theater, and all of them fun, none of them respectable. The film wasn't Hitchcock in the end but it was something — a tidy profit and a reunion with old friends, something to bring out and show on the projector at parties, something tweedy women will write papers on and film school students will telephone Carlotta to talk about why she did this and why she did that, why she cast a Latin ingenue and why the picture ended like it did, until she's old and gray. (All her life she's felt like an ingenue — just like Hobie confesses he's always felt like a greenhorn, a Hollywood rookie. Nobody ever said they were making great cinema. It just had to tell a story.)

*

1976. Carlotta Valdez at her vanity. Photographed by Hobart Doyle.

When she noticed her first gray hair — she'd paused in front of the mirror, readying for a finishing touch, and spotted it then, a streak of silver gleaming at the corner of her left temple.

The pair of them were on their way to a Baird Whitlock retrospective — Baird was still hanging on in the cultural consciousness, playing a succession of steely avenging fathers and lone survivalists while demonstrating his ability to net leading women several decades his junior, on-screen if not in life. Everything seemed like retrospectives now, or pictures that were knee-deep in irony, winking at the old days — they'd done their share of wink-nudge storytelling but even that felt like long ago.

This was all Hollywood's fault — none of her aunts had even begun to go silvery until they were already considerably more advanced in years. But what did it matter? She wasn't a starlet any more — when the magazines remember her, which is seldom, they don't talk about her philanthropy, or her films, or her work as a choreographer, or even life with Hobie. It's all swinging hips and fruit hats in the public memory — never mind that these hips didn't swing any more.

The vanity was papered with photographs of friends — Hobie on horseback, smiling cast parties. Some of the faces in those pictures didn't come by the ranch much any more — some of them only made movies under false names, or moved as far from Hollywood as possible to paint landscapes and cut hair and teach little children ballet. Some of them had passed away.

Carlotta turned away and Hobie was there in the doorway — Hobie just the same, the same wiry body and smiling eyes. The camera hung around his neck, right alongside his bolo tie, another one of those gifts he'd hung on to through the years. The same man she'd married.

The hairbrush fell to the table. She flashed a worried smile, and squared her shoulders, striking a pose in her handsome red dress. "I always wanted someone to grow old with," she joked lamely, "I just never thought it would happen so fast."

Hobie straightened the silver comb in her hair and kissed her on the forehead.

"Could a fella take your picture?"