Archives for posts with tag: Bessie Stringfield

20140321_142244I am beginning to think I may be the luckiest girl on the planet.  Things just seem to work out for me, even when it seems like I am standing in the bottom of a well, and the longest rope anyone can find to throw down to me is still three feet too short and a typhoon has just leveled the hardware store.

Fifteen years ago, when my art career was skyrocketing, and I was at a major crossroads in my personal  life, I was in Delray Beach, Florida looking for someplace to eat after supervising the final details for my one woman show at a popular art gallery. I was there alone, my sixteen year relationship in ruins, still reeling from the discovery that the man who raised me was not my biological father,  and with parents who said I’d known about him since I was six and had just “forgotten” about him.   I passed a restaurant with a handful of people in it, when something in me made me turn and go inside.  I sat at a table next to a pair of delectable men who turned out to be friends celebrating a mutual decision to relocate on opposite sides of the country. Richard had just moved to Palm Springs and Mark had just moved to Palm Beach.

20140226_114511My biological father lived in Mentone, California, so I had just decided to move to Palm Springs myself.  Richard and I exchanged phone numbers and the next day, I called my friend Daniel to give him the good news.  What I didn’t know, is that Daniel had only recently realized he needed a change in his life as well,  and was moving from Santa Fe to Palm Springs himself.  A few weeks later, I found an ad online for a house in Palm Springs, and called the landlord.   Since I was the first to call about the house, Jon agreed to hold it for me until I could find someone to look at it for me.  Richard was the only person I knew who lived nearby, so I called this complete stranger and not only asked him to look at the house for me, when he called back and told me it was perfect, but Jon needed a $1000 deposit, I got a blank cashiers check for the requested amount and mailed it off to him.  Richard delivered the check to Jon and took it upon himself to make sure that the house had new paint, new carpet and new kitchen and bathroom tile.

20140321_142853A month later I showed up at the house for the first time with some friends who agreed to help me move in.  The house, while far from posh, was huge.  Four bedrooms, (one with a fireplace), three bathrooms (one with an oversized tub for nice long soaks in the winter), a fenced yard, a pool with a waterfall and a garage.  I had room for a studio, a guest room, an office, and a library, which I filled with remarkable finds from dozens of thrift stores, and when I wasn’t getting ready for an art show, I was  “taking the waters” at the Spa Hotel and Casino, or driving backroads to Idyllwild to buy myself lunch and take a walk through town, or combing through  bookshelves at a second hand store in Joshua Tree.  I had a wonderful life, with great friends, and a successful career.  But when my father died in a car accident, I decided it was time to see what else was out there.  To “shake things up a bit”.   So I sold everything I didn’t absolutely need, packed up, and headed East.Denise & Red

I hadn’t been to Palm Springs in years, and this weekend, I am housesitting for Daniel, who is off to London and Paris with his boyfriend, Kenny.  Being here reminds me of so many things, not the least among them the sleek red dog I got as a pup, who hated the swimming pool, ate a hole in the carpet, and loved his girlfriend, Katie in equal measure.  It floods me with the memories of meeting my friend Tom Tyler (who was an extra in SHE WORE A YELLOW RIBBON), and dinner parties at Colin Webster Watson’s (a sculptor from New Zealand who had everyone from former Broadway stars to a couple who wrote for DYNASTY as his guests), of working for photographer, Michael Childers and  film director, John Schlesinger, meeting David Hockney, and Stephanie Powers, and Franco Zefferelli, and Steve Zaillian, and Michel LeGrand (who still owes me for the bowtie I bought him before the Palm Springs Film Festival!).  The six years I spent here were among the best years of my life, and being here this weekend reminds me of the people and places I loved, but it reminds me as well that I am making new memories, and reconnecting with old friends, that everything (and nothing) has changed, that the stars have lined up to give me a second chance at seeing the dream I’ve had of “making it” in Hollywood played out one way or the other.

20140312_143050I used to drive through Palm Springs in early April, when the weather was perfect, and the sky was so blue it hurt your eyes, and declare to the universe that I was “the richest woman in the world”. And you know what?  Despite how hard the last few years have been, being here again reminds me that I still am.  I have the support of a wonderful man, generous friends, and the memories of how things used to be as the inspiration I need to make the most of this opportunity.  I am writing my heart out, and learning things about screenwriting I only thought I knew.

But that shouldn’t surprise me.

After all, I am the luckiest girl in the world.

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oprahbagI suppose most people would say I am too ambitious for my own good, but I think life goes by too quickly to waste time thinking about what I want to do.  I have a short list of regrets and I’d like to keep it that way. When I am faced with an opportunity, or something that looks like an opportunity, I ask myself “is this something you might even remotely regret not having done some day?”  I didn’t go to Japan as a foreign exchange student when I was in college and to this day I still wish I had,  and despite having been told a million times that some of the things I want are out of reach, I never persist in thinking, if Dale Chihuly can reinvent glass art or Erin Brockovich can have a movie made about her life, then I can, and should, go after what I want.  I honestly believe you never know unless you try, and you don’t know what the answer will be unless you ask.  After all, I only get this life to go after my dreams.  I might as well make the most of it, even if the word “no” becomes an essential part of the journey.

WASPA few months ago I applied for a screenwriting scholarship at the New York Film Academy.  I applied on a lark, since the screenplay I wrote about the Women’s Air Service Pilots never got any farther than placing in the top twenty percent with the Nicholls Fellowships (which are offered by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences).  That’s a significant accomplishment considering the fact that they had over 5000 entries, but when I got my “thanks but no thanks” email from The Write Room competition designed to promote the works of women writers, with female themed topics, I was beginning to wonder if the dream I have been chasing since I was 24 was even worth pursuing.  I love movies, but I struggled mightily with writing when I was younger.  Every word I wrote was painful, and even though I understood story structure, character development and theme intellectually, I could never seem to marry what I felt with what I knew into a screenplay that was worth a hill of beans.

The original draft of LUCKY 13 was completed in 1992, but it wasn’t until this past winter that I felt I actually knew how to write it.   The idea is as fantastic as the women who  trained at the only all female airbase in American history, and who went on to fly military aircraft in World War Two. After completing it  I was told repeatedly that it would never be made because of the predominantly female cast. Statistics on women in Hollywood both behind and in the front of the camera bear this sad fact out, but since I am never one to give up without a fight when I believe deeply in something, I decided to submit a story for a screenwriting scholarship through The Writers Store just a few days before the competition closed.  The scholarship offer was predicated on the idea that contestants would submit a story idea to be developed into a screenplay if they were chosen to participate.  The original offer was six scholarships (later increased to eight) and out of over three hundred submissions, I was selected along with seven other writers for an eight week screenwriting intensive.

Bessie StringfieldThe story I chose to submit was about Bessie Stringfield, the first African American woman to be inducted into the Motorcycle Hall of Fame.  Bessie was a Jamaican orphan adopted by a wealthy Irish woman in Boston in the 1920’s.  Bessie’s adoptive mother gave her everything she ever wanted, so when Bessie laid eyes on her first motorcycle, her mother bought the bike for her and the stage was set for a long and remarkable life as a motorcycle stunt rider, World War Two motorcycle dispatch courier, and long distance rider with eight cross country trips and three overseas trips to her credit.

20140210_162354I have also decided to turn LUCKY 13 into a TV series and hope to pitch it to some  old friends who still work in the film industry while I am in Los Angeles.  In the meantime, I am also hard at work on a collaboration with James Mellozzo, a highly respected guitar maker who sent me a telecaster, and a stratocaster, to turn into art pieces for the New York Guitar Show and Exposition in April.   The first guitar is close to completion, while the second will feature a pack of timber wolves on the front and  back of the guitar.

The Handbag A Day calendar helped bring my work to the attention of the Tassen Museum in Amsterdam, which boasts the largest collection of handbags and purses in the world.   Considering the fact that the Handbag A Day features over  a hundred of the Museum’s best bags, I am over the moon to be included in such a prestigious collection.  handbag calendar

I have no idea if any of the opportunities I have been blessed with in recent months will lead to the career or life I ever envisioned for myself, but I do know that once I’ve had the chance to take advantage of this screenwriting scholarship, my dreams of writing a really good screenplay will have come full circle, and whether THE MOTORCYCLE QUEEN OF MIAMI ever gets made, or LUCKY 13 winds up on a shelf, or I find myself on stage at the Kodak Theatre with an Oscar clutched to my breast, at least I will know that I gave it my all.