By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
Spend any time with SuSu, and you fall into one of those endless rabbit holes of reminiscences that would be asterisked on anybody else’s life calendar, but that seem to have accrued to her as a function of who she is. Mention her Oscar nomination and the career opportunities it must have afforded, and she’ll relate in great detail how she instead fled to Morocco, where she lived in a black tent atop a Leyland Tiger double-decker bus surrounded by driftwood furniture and Moroccan rugs, fell in unrequited love with a Berber whose genitals had been deformed by syphilis, set out on a caravan up the Atlas Mountains, jamming pointed sticks into the rectums of the donkeys to edge the procession toward the top, where her fellow expatriates planned to process the recent hash harvest in the olive-oil presses, and where she contracted a hideous, wrenching illness that resulted in her being dragged on a mat of leaves behind one of the donkeys, until some Bedouin villagers fed her a tea brewed from the grass that was growing everywhere, which left her, miraculously, well again.
Or double down on the bet, let her keep going, free-associating at will, just to see if she can top herself, and you get an epic tale of flying to a film festival in Cartagena, Colombia, where she befriended statuesque porn actress Edy Williams, famous for crashing festivals worldwide for the sake of the paparazzi and the crowds. (Tyrrell recalls Edy surrounded by young boys on the beach, and compares Edy to the hapless Sebastian in Suddenly, Last Summer, moments before he is cannibalized by Roman street urchins.) Perpetually wired on the local cocaine, SuSu falls in with a tribe of golden-haired, green-eyed natives whose mothers are South American and whose fathers are Nazis, revels on the beach with Gabriel GarcÃa MÃ¡rquez, conducts what she believes is a discreet affair with a black lifeguard with whom she rendezvous nightly at a secluded “love hotel” in the jungle (and later spots her name in a headline in the local paper that translates as “Susan Tyrrell Is Seen With a Different Black Man Every Night”), is smuggled out of the country by the head of the film festival (where she was named Best Actress for Fat City), only to be taken off the plane and strip-searched for drugs, probably on a tip from an actor in the Marlon Brando picture Â¡Queimada! (Burn!), who was incensed she wouldn’t sleep with him and his girlfriend at their vast palazzo, from which she escaped running naked through the jungle, attacked by giant insects . . . The story ends, finally, with Tyrrell sitting at LAX at midnight, surrounded by the taxidermic specimens she has spent all her money on and somehow gotten past customs, wondering how she will ever get home to Echo Park, when the skycap listening to her woes exclaims, “Well, look who’s coming — it’s Mr. Ed McMahon! Come on, Ed, you can give the little girl cab fare, can’t you?” Ed, of course, heartily complies.
“I’m a loner,” Tyrrell offers by way of explaining both the mismatched assortment of people whose lives have so implausibly collided with hers, and her circuitous path to relative enlightenment. “I don’t like beautiful people, but I find beauty in the grotesque. And in the sweet soul inside someone who has been able to get through their life without being a rat’s ass. Such people should be collected, should be swept up immediately and kept in a box of broken people. I’ve collected people my whole life. Sometimes it ends badly, but it’s absolutely never on my part. Because I know how fabulous I am. You’re just going to have to take my word for it — I’m an incredible person. I do good deeds, and I love people, but the only way I can do these things is to stay apart. Because you can just stand so much. But the people who you meet in your life, who cross your path, the ones who are decent, should be collected.” For Tyrrell, these have included the already Ã¢ famous, like the aging, desiccated Ava Gardner (“She had saddlebags of vodka on the side of her eyes, but what a beauty”), who confided to her over a smart lunch in Madrid: “You need to get the fuck out of Spain, because the guys all have little dicks, and they’ll fuck you in the ass before you can get your panties off.”
Or the just incidentally famous, who seem to populate even her earliest memories. SuSu was conceived in Hawaii and born in San Francisco to a storybook couple named Jack and Jill. Her mother, a fading British beauty who was raised in a British convent, had been in the Diplomatic Corps in China and the Philippines in the ’30s and ’40s, had lost five brothers in the RAF during Word War II, and was reportedly never the same after she was forced to shoot her eight prize Irish setters when the Japanese invaded Manila. SuSu’s father — an agent for Leo Carrillo (“a Mexican actor who now has a beach named after him”), Loretta Young, Ed Wynn and Carole Lombard, among others — left show business for an advertising career in New Haven, Connecticut, and died two weeks after breaking off a doomed affair, from a (possibly self-inflicted) bee sting.
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