One of my mother's cherished fantasies is the one where she could have been a movie star. She grew up in Los Angeles and blossomed into a striking beauty. Nothing was ordinary about her beauty...it was the kind of exotic beauty that turned the heads of men and women. I know this is true because I've seen it for myself. I've seen the pictures. I've seen the person. She didn't make up this part of the story. Her breath-taking beauty of youth was the primary source of her downfall. It gave her great power which she delighted in exploiting.

A story my mother loves to tell is the one where she is dressed up and walking down a street in Hollywood. She was somewhere around eighteen to twenty years old. Whom should she pass but Sophia Loren. Ms. Loren was flanked by a couple of men, but was not looking so hot that day. No make-up, not dressed up, disheveled and behaving badly. Ms. Loren saw my mother, turned, and asked those around her, "who is that?" My mother is careful to emphasize how startled and jealous Ms. Loren seemed to be. My mother has told this story over and over to me and others. There is possibly a grain of truth in it, but I suspect it is largely the product of my mother's grandiose dreams. My mother seemed to have a life-long competition going with Sophia Loren. Some reasons for this is that they were somewhat close in age (Loren is just a few years older), both were exotic beauties, Loren was an actress and my mother always fancied herself to be one, too. My mother imagined herself to be everything Loren was, only better.

Over the years I have heard my mother occasionally remark on how she could have been a "consummate actress". Her words. I had always believed her. Now, I think, "Yeah, you could have been an actress, but you would have been Norma Desmond, not Sophia Loren." There is no doubt that my mother has acting skills. She has always been playing to an audience. Much of her act, though, was playing to her greatest strength...her looks. With the fading looks it is much easier to see that the acting skills leave a lot to be desired.

Joe Gillis: You're Norma Desmond. You used to be in silent pictures. You used to be big.
Norma Desmond: I am big. It's the pictures that got small.

Which brings me to "Norma Desmond" of to 1950 movie Sunset Blvd. I love this movie. It is so my mother. The character of Ms. Desmond captures the essence of my mother in her declining years. Even though Norma hasn't been on the silver screen for twenty years she is always living in her past as though it is present. She has turned her crumbling mansion into a shrine to herself, and her butler diligently props up her delusions by writing and sending her fan mail so she thinks she still has an adoring public. I'm sure that many people watch this movie and laugh at Gloria Swanson's over-the-top acting as "Norma Desmond". I applaud her for it. One of the qualities of a narcissist is their over-the-top acting jobs! What may look like pure fiction to certain viewers greatly resembles the reality of my own mother. I've seen all of it in real life. Ms. Swanson captures the essence of the narcissist in this movie. Even the fricking hand and arm movements are familiar to me. At the very least, Ms. Swanson captures the essence of my narcissist mother.

I especially love it when movies depicting narcissistic characters get the ending right. Happy endings where the narcissist suddenly becomes a real human being always strike me as silly and hitting a flat note. It is not an ending I can believe, so it ruins the whole story for me. Narcissists end badly. Period. Sunset Blvd. shows the main character, Norma, as finally being completely consumed by her delusions. She escapes harsh reality by totally committing herself to her fantasy about herself and life. Consequently, she goes mad. She commits herself to her madness because she has to escape from the egregious crime she commits in the name of jealous "love". Rather than face the truth of her actions, she makes the final descent into her insane fabrications. All that being said, I laugh throughout this film-noir at many points including the ending. The character is playing to her "audience" right to the bitter end. Just like my mother.

"All right, Mr. DeMille, I'm ready for my close-up."

UPDATE: Apparently I forgot the most important detail to the Sophia Loren Story. My cousin has heard all my mother's stories much more recently than I have due to having been in my mother's life more recently than I have. Here's the punchline I forgot. I am sure I forgot it because I never believed it. It was one of those things I just flushed because it was so damn silly.

Okay, brace yourself.

The next time my mother saw Ms. Loren (where? when? who knows) she had completely changed her look. No longer the potty-mouthed, disheveled and ill-behaved wretch. She was well-dressed, perfectly coiffed, lady-like and carrying herself with the same exact airs as she saw my mother demonstrate that day by just passing her on the street. It wasn't until then that her career took off. Yes, folks. You didn't know this, but Sophia Loren found success by emulating my very own mother. How's that for a grandiose sense of oneself?

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