Photo by Kevin AckermanDUSK, LOS ANGELES. A THOUSAND CARS ARE JOINING THE rush-hour conga lines of traffic fleeing downtown's office center. Soon the streets will be deserted of men with briefcases, and the sky emptied of corporate helicopters -- to be replaced by the occasional urban hawk searching, in the darkening curfew, for a careless pigeon. Inside a neighborhood bar that is neither dive nor tourist lounge, a few old-timers fortified with drinks and paper plates of happy-hour food watch a movie wind down on television. Except for the TV and a popcorn maker it's pretty quiet here, and pretty blue-collar, too, which is why the two women dressed like grandmotherly Holly Golightlys, their wide-brimmed hats smartly raked and enormous rings cincturing manicured fingers, stick out like a pair of Christmas trees planted on a 50-yard line.
Royce Reed and Marilyn Hoggatt, you see, are emissaries from a more refined time, women who do not end their sentences with prepositions, nor with the declarative question mark that is the California style. They are ladies who appreciate the snug fit of custom-made gloves, who know the difference between a cocktail ring and a solitaire -- and wince whenever their club sandwiches arrive with crusts untrimmed.
Their anachronistic mannerisms and codes of dress are part of an unfaltering faith in style, a faith that has been rewarded with a kind of unified field theory of life. Yet even a consoling world-view cannot shield an elderly woman from the rough realities of living downtown on a fixed income. For that, Royce and Marilyn must rely on one another, and a friendship that is a constant adjustment of needs and wants that are seldom completely in sync.
"I'm used to elegance, elegance," Royce says of downtown. "This is not my home, this is hell on earth! The noise of the helicopters and sirens day and night -- oh, my gawd, you'd lose your mind!" There's more than a trace of Norma Desmond in the voice and the eyeliner, and listening to her makes an interviewer feel more than a little like Joe Gillis. "I'm a clothes person, a fashion person," Royce will tell you as she sips a sauvignon blanc. "I was raised by rich, rich, elegant people who bought only the finest, everything made to order. You cannot handle anything else, as a woman -- it is your life."
"I've always liked clothes," Marilyn concurs. "My mother made mine -- as an infant, child and teenager. Even when I went to college, she made complete sets for me."
When Marilyn graduated from high school in 1941, a teenage girl's look was composed of "bobby sox, blouse with collar turned out, a sweater, string of pearls and always a pleated skirt." Today, Marilyn is swathed in a faux-leopard-skin shawl that is echoed by leopard-skin accents on her hat. Royce's own black fur chapeau matches the rest of her raven-hue ensemble. The two women live in an adjoining hotel that is a clean, well-lighted place by downtown standards, though a planet or two removed from, say, the Biltmore up on Olive Street. Wilshire, which Marilyn reverently refers to as "the big boulevard" and which has figured so many times in both their lives, dead-ends a few blocks away.
Marilyn is 5 feet 9 inches tall, large-boned and easygoing, while her Maroc-scented, wire-waisted friend stands 5 feet 4 and bristles with the steely self-confidence one acquires from working nearly half a century in fashion merchandising. "I know everyone in the rag business," Royce pronounces in the elongated, gravely accented vowels associated with breeding. "I went to work as a gift counselor and then bridal consultant in 1949 at J.W. Robinson's, which was on Seventh Street and owned by Mrs. Harry Robinson and the Schneiders, Carlos and Walter." When she speaks, her hands often flutter through the air in dramatic gestures. "Mrs. Robinson was exquisite -- a Beverly Hills socialite who would come in with her chauffeur, mink coats and her poodle, Happy."
Marilyn is a former schoolteacher and "executive housekeeper" whose good-time Ohio twang occasionally horns into her conversation -- which she says is a bit embarrassing, as her father was chairman of Wittenberg University's public-speaking department. Their stay at the hotel began some 11 years ago and has lasted far longer than either expected -- or wanted. Marilyn looks on the bright side, pointing out the proximity of Macy's and the exercise she gets from walking to nearby stores and her manicurist. Royce isn't so sanguine. "I'm 16th-generation back East," she is fond of saying. "I only exist here, it's not my territory."
The pair's exile is not just a matter of geography, though, it is one of time -- a time whose fashions and manners have been pulled out from beneath them by a nightmarish undertow called progress. "A man did not get into a restaurant without a suit and a tie," Royce laments of this vanished era, "nor a woman without a cocktail dress."
"Celebrities just don't dress up anymore," concedes the more accepting Marilyn.
MARILYN HOGGATT CAME TO LOS ANGELES IN 1958 AS AN elementary school teacher, having been lured from Colorado by the high salaries California was offering during the post-Sputnik education splurge. She taught fifth grade down in sleepy San Pedro but felt an urban excitement she had never experienced back in Ohio or Colorado. "California held such glamour for me," she says. "I was a professor's daughter who majored in speech and theater arts, but I had also been crazy about movies and was just besotted by the magnificent films of my youth. I wanted to see these places and some of the celebrities I'd read about all my life -- particularly the women, like Lana Turner and Ann Miller."
Life in Los Angeles offered her a close-up of those places and celebrities, along with memberships in the club culture of Palos Verdes, whose art association and swim and country clubs Marilyn gladly joined. It was a time, after all, when a divorcée could, as she did, raise two boys in an ocean-view apartment on a teacher's salary. Even the L.A. Teachers Association breakfasts, held at the Biltmore Bowl, seemed exciting: "I liked it -- I felt like I was a big-city girl!"
Her father's death brought Marilyn back to Ohio in 1962, but when her mother also passed away, seven years later, she returned to teaching in L.A., moving into the Wilshire Towers. "I was one block from the Brown Derby and the Ambassador Hotel -- all you could think of was how they were so famous." The center of her life became the Round Table West literary club's monthly gatherings at the Ambassador's Cocoanut Grove, whose former glory, like an incandescence traveling from some distant, dying star, still dazzled Marilyn. One afternoon she sat at a table while Sammy Davis Jr. rehearsed a show, and got his autograph on a soggy napkin. "This is gonna be a wet one!" Sammy quipped.
In 1971, after two years of teaching on several city campuses, Marilyn called it quits when she saw that L.A.'s schools were becoming more dangerous places. She then made what seems like an off-the-chart career change for an educated woman, though it put her in a position to glimpse show-biz glamour from the inside. She remembers her first interview as a housekeeper for the wealthy. â
"Raquel Welch lived in a house in back of the Beverly Hills Hotel," Marilyn says, "and just had on a little pair of jeans, a T-shirt, with her hair pulled back with a rubber band -- and no makeup. She said she felt uncomfortable with hiring someone older than herself, and so I didn't get the job."
Before long, though, Marilyn was putting her belongings in storage and moving out to cowboy actor Dale Robertson's Chatsworth ranch, where she landed a job working for the Oklahoman and his wife, Lou. "They were both Southern and very lovely," Marilyn recalls. "They had quite a few dinner parties with rich horse people. He became friends with a family who gave him a brand-new, custom-made Cadillac Eldorado. They were a foreign family -- by that, I mean they had foreign blood. So he had this gorgeous new Cadillac that he drove as a personal car, and then of course Mrs. Robertson had a Lincoln."
Life seemed idyllic, on and off the spread. Marilyn remembers the Beverly Hills Halloween party at the Jimmy Durantes' to which she escorted Dale's daughter Rebel, and how Mrs. Durante had to yell because Jimmy was hard of hearing. But the Robertsons' rustic acreage was Marilyn's true world, a home whose nearby neighbors included actor Chad Everett and the Gelsons, who owned the tony markets. "There was the regular ranch house, and then there was another house down by the stables, where they had James, their houseman. Now, when I say 'man,' I mean he was the colored man who had worked for Mr. Robertson for 25 years. He had his own house, took care of the cars and supervised the horses. He was lovely to me -- I was always 'Miss Marilyn.'"
But the Robertsons' marriage eventually hit the rocks, and Marilyn was out of a job. Next came work with singer Helen O'Connell in Brentwood, and afterward a stint with comedian Norm Crosby. Marilyn spent a particularly grand time at the West Hollywood home of R&B composer-arranger Gene Page, who worked with such superstars as Aretha Franklin and Barry White. "They were a black family," Marilyn recalls, "but there was no tension with the Pages, because they had friends of all races over at the house and took me along with them to the Shubert to see Barry White's Love Unlimited Orchestra." She also remembers Page as a very private man who kept four pianos in the house. "He was touted as a performer, but he didn't like performing, because he didn't want girls clawing at his clothes, tearing them off. Not at all."
IT WAS WHILE AT THE PAGES' THAT MARILYN WROTE A 536-page murder mystery titled The Copper Triangle, set in a private men's club in the mountains of Colorado. As she describes the book: "It's the story of the beautiful hostess Claire Breese. Her club's members are sophisticated singles, couples and out-of-towners who drive in, helicopter in or come by limousine. They have all these wonderful parties, and of course there's a lot of sex, and camaraderie."
Those 536 immaculately typed pages celebrate comfort, luxury and, yes, sex. The setting's Copperwood Estate, whose corporate color scheme is cream and lavender, is a swinging world of cinnamon suede suits, white llama-wool upholstery and royal-blue satin sheets; with each turn of the page one meets characters who are more beautiful, handsome, talented and rich than those already introduced, and everyone gobbles down enormous breakfasts of steak, eggs, potatoes, toast and marmalade. Brand-name perfumes exist side by side with push-button technology and rocket packs. The reader enters a fantasy whose characters, as beautiful, sensuous and wealthy as they are, voyeuristically gaze upon yet another fantasy world -- that of the softcore porn films they view. One of these royal-blue movies' stars may well be a role Marilyn envied: "She was the darling of musical comedy and feted on all continents. She owned one of the magnificent houses in Paris. She had a weekly salon where choice men were invited for dinner at 9, and dallying later. She surrounded herself with other pretty actresses. Her guest list was full of beautiful people." So far, the manuscript, penned over a mere nine-month period, remains unpublished.
Housekeeping, even at celebrity homes, is a tiring line of work, and especially for a woman approaching 60. And so in 1983, after moving to and from 10 employers, and to the motels she stayed at in between, Marilyn quit the business altogether. She set up house on the 19th floor of the Mark Wilshire apartment building, which sported a pool on its roof. "I loved it," she says, "because I'm a swimmer and because that was my idea of glamour! Wilshire Boulevard was just lovely then. My favorite thing to do was go shopping, what else? And going to the elegant places where the celebrities went -- the Beverly Hilton, Beverly Wilshire and Beverly Hills Hotel. Oh, I loved the ritzy places, and belonged to the Century City Health Club. The ritzier the better for me."
(One day, however, she got a glimpse of that starry world's mortality. On a Beverly Hills street, a man caught her attention, not just because the man happened to be black, but because he looked so ill. It was Sammy Davis, who had autographed her napkin years before.)
In the summer of that year, Marilyn met Royce, an encounter she remembers as if it had happened half an hour ago. "I was having lunch at the Tea Room in Bullocks Wilshire when I saw this woman who stood out from everyone else -- I just couldn't take my eyes off her! She looked like Scarlett O'Hara with this magnificent big picture hat on. Then when I went to the ladies' lounge, I found her there, singing an opera aria. So I introduced myself."
"I DIDN'T LIKE IT HERE THAT MUCH -- I'M USED TO GOING out every night of my life," says Royce Reed, the fluttery hands in full motion, as though conducting an invisible orchestra. "I'm used to New York, I'm used to elegant places, elegant food. We had the Beverly Wilshire Hotel, the Luau Room owned by Steve Crane, Scandia. LaRue? We lived in those places day and night. Now we have nothing."
When she speaks of her present living arrangements, her voice tends to roll abruptly from a purr to a rebuking growl. Royce is far less forgiving than Marilyn of the urban decay she sees all around her, as well as the changes in the fashion world she once moved in. She is strictly old-school, for example, on the subject of fur. "They don't torture these animals, they put them to sleep quietly," she insists. "I love animals and I would love to keep them as live pets, but I can't! You don't discuss fur with people who don't understand fur -- you dismiss them or have them taken away."
As a matter of fact, when she met Marilyn in Bullocks Wilshire, Royce had just bought a mink coat for herself and was living at the Chancellor Hotel, near the epicenter of a formerly vibrant Wilshire Boulevard chic. "Dahling," she says, recalling nearby restaurants, "I was one of those who spent fortunes at the Windsor, and at the Cove across the street -- elegant, elegant. If you had to be in Los Angeles, the Windsor and the Cove were the best places, and Perino's -- the original Perino's -- was the only elegant restaurant in Hancock Park. For years I had an apartment next door, in the 3000 block of Wilshire at Norton."
If there is a Los Angeles to Royce's liking, it is the one she arrived in as a 20-year-old from Manhattan with her family in the late 1940s -- a culturally arid landscape that was nevertheless alleviated by oases like Rodeo Drive and the Sunset Strip, civilized greenbelts offering radiant cocktail lounges, nonstop conversation and decent French food.
"She likes beautiful," Marilyn explains.
"I don't understand anything else -- it's living death," Royce says.
"I offered to take Royce's life story down, 'As Told to . . .,'" Marilyn says.
But Royce hasn't taken her friend up on the offer, and for an outsider, interviewing her soon becomes a frustrating search past dropped names and anecdotal windows that briefly open, only to slam shut when she is asked to elaborate about her past. "Why would I want to review it?" she asks rhetorically. "We've had books written about my family -- The Annals of Lancaster County." Royce has considered writing a book herself about her career in the clothing business, but figures no one would buy it, because "you have to write about sex and disgusting things."
"My life history is very elegant," she will allow, "16 generations from Philadelphia and Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. I have a pedigree, a coat of arms, ye-e-s-s. We go back to Frankfurt, Germany, 400 A.D. My mother was from New Orleans going back to France."
But surrounding these tantalizing specifics are a haze of context and an eagerness to change the subject -- and some frankly bewildering claims. "My father helped build the atom bomb," she'll mention offhandedly, the next moment explaining that he was the chief accountant on the Manhattan Project. Further probing elicits the response that his family "was from Tarrytown on the Hudson, and Manhattan, for about 11 generations. They had an electrical business in New York they owned for 200 years, they had stores, they were billionaires." Eventually there is only this flat admission: "I'm well-established. I've never been in jail, never been arrested. I'm quite reputable. I wasn't born poor."
Royce Reed, ultimately, proves to be an enigma wrapped in a Chanel inside a mink. How is one to evaluate her nonstop recitation of designers, labels and restaurants -- many of which, as she would say, are long gone? Cursory fact checking reveals that her family name, Rosenstein, does appear in Lancaster genealogical histories, but unless one is committed to a research project on a par with the Warren Commission's, an interviewer must take most of her claims at face value. And why not? Even if Royce's "elegant" yet sketchy biography is exaggerated or completely dreamed up, it is breathed to life by a person who passionately believes in it.
"I've been in merchandising 45 years, retailing and wholesale," she says. "I started out training to be an opera star but got sidetracked." That is probably as straightforward a summary of her life as she will grant.
That life, according to Royce, was a gold-spoon existence: Sutton Place, a teenage job at Bonwit Teller, Fifth Avenue and interviews "by all the studios" -- which, she says, did not interest her. When her family moved to Los Angeles, Royce said goodbye to Old World gentility and entered a womanhood of husbands and homes in Beverly Hills and Hancock Park, and a career conducted along an archipelago of Miracle Mile stores: J.J. Haggerty, Bullocks, Brock and Co., Mullen and Bluett, where she was a buyer for women's accessories -- cosmetics, perfume, hosiery, gifts. She recalls an early encounter with her new city, during an interview with the founder of a fashion industry publication: "He was a horrible man who tried to take my clothes off in his office. I was wearing this gorgeous Christian Dior and learned at the age of 19 never to make a 4:45 appointment." Eventually, with the second of her three husbands, Leo Marks, Royce owned an apparel line bearing his name that they sold on the road locally and throughout the South.
And there was that freebooting, cartwheeling nightlife. "I used to have all these fa-a-a-bulous drinking companions," she says. "We drank Bombay gin with cognac chasers -- our driving laws weren't that strict. We went to the Cocoanut Grove when it was elegant -- when Freddy Martin was there and we wore our $10,000 dresses. We had the Chez Voltaire and the Beverly Rodeo, on Rodeo Drive, two blocks north of the Beverly Regent. It was wild but elegant, and known as Hooker's Row. All the men from New York went there, women came and went -- who cared? I was appalled, but Marilyn says I could have made a fortune there!"
ROYCE'S WORLD IMPLODED WHEN HER MOTHER DIED IN Santa Ana in 1983; by then she had parted from her third husband and retired from the rag trade. "I've had elegant friends and husbands, but when she died I was devastated," she says. "I'm an only, fairy-princess child, and we were so close. I would never face the fact that one day she would pass away."
It was shortly after her mother's death that she sang the aria in Bullocks' ladies' lounge that would bring Marilyn to her. This was a fortuitous occasion, for money got tight while Royce was living at the Chancellor, and Marilyn stepped in with an offer to Royce to move in with her at the Mark Wilshire. From then on the two began "palling around," as Marilyn says, spending time at fashion shows, the racetrack and, of course, nightspots.
"We'd only go to the places I was used to," Royce says. "Bel Air, the Polo Lounge at the Beverly Hills Hotel, which is now filled with screaming, yelling people."
Marilyn: "We were going to a lot of happy hours . . ."
Royce: "Honey, I'm used to elegance, I'm not used to downtown -- oh my dear."
Marilyn: "We like to go dinner dancing, but you need a male companion for that."
Royce: "There's been no dinner dancing in Beverly Hills or Bel Air -- it's 30 years gone."
Marilyn: "We used to go to L'Escoffier in the Beverly Hilton."
Royce: "Oh, I went there four nights a week for 30 years, it was the only elegant room we had in Beverly Hills! I got a gorgeous South American man a job there as orchestra leader when he was about to commit suicide because he couldn't get work. It's gone now."
Marilyn: "They have put in the Coconut Club on Friday and Saturday nights, where you have to pay $20."
Royce: "Oh, it's a garbage hole, please."
The two women made a flashy, lively pair as they roamed from watering hole to watering hole, often hitting the town on double dates.
"I dated as much as I could," Marilyn says. "I wish I could say I dated someone in particular, but I didn't. I dated some lawyers, a lot of businessmen -- nice men, but no celebrities, no one of note. You'd meet them in, you know, cocktail lounges. But one of the most difficult things about dating, when you're out with a gentleman for the evening, is the fact that he drinks too much."
Royce: "Oh, you're not used to rich, rich men . . ."
Marilyn: "You either don't let them drink or make them take a taxi to the restaurant."
Royce: "People here are too cheap to hire chauffeurs . . ."
Marilyn: "Or, if he insists, you put your life in his hands. I've had a few wild rides. Men don't want to be separated from their cars -- not at all!"
Royce: "Years ago, the police in Beverly Hills would let you go if they knew you. They'd protect you and drive you home."
But life could be scary even on the Sunset Strip, as Marilyn was to learn one night. She and Royce had gone to catch Harold Robbins' wife, Grace, singing at Verita's, a restaurant owned by Humphrey Bogart's former mistress Verita Thompson. (Thompson decorated the bar with the actor's photographs and would one day cause a stir by auctioning off his toupee.) But they got there too early and realized it would be some time before Mrs. Robbins sang. They weren't eating, and Marilyn, feeling dozy, headed for her car, leaving Royce at the bar. Verita's parking lot had been packed, and so Marilyn's Cadillac was on the street. She locked the doors, cracked a window and stretched out on the back seat for a snooze. Soon, however, she awoke to find a stranger looking at her from behind the Caddy's wheel.
"He was black and seemed very nice," Marilyn recalls. "He said, 'Here, why don't you give me the keys and we'll go for a little ride.' I said, 'I don't think so,' but gave him the keys because I was afraid he'd get mad. So he drove me over to the parking garage down under City National Bank, just before Beverly Hills. We sat there for a while. He was smoking something -- probably hashish. He really didn't want me for sex, but to talk and pleasure himself. After that was over, he drove me back and got out. Then I went to Verita's, but Royce was gone, so I went to a common meeting place that we usually arranged before we went out at night, and eventually she came along in a taxi. We were very fortunate. We had some very wild things happen, things that should not have happened, that were not our fault."
IN 1987, MARILYN SOLD HER FURNITURE ("I HAD A BEAUTIFUL U-shaped couch in red velveteen"), and the women put their belongings in storage and decamped from the Mark Wilshire. They had decided to hit the road in Marilyn's 1977 Sedan de Ville -- "We were just doing what we wanted to do," she says of the trip. The idea was to tour the â state, although they never got north of Santa Barbara. The affluent mission town would be the scene of one unintentionally comical visit with friends of Marilyn who lived in ultra-upscale Montecito. The two remember their stay chiefly for their hosts' laser-beam security system, which kept them prisoners in their room at night, and for the absence of a home bar.
Marilyn: "They had a security system that was turned on at night, with those rays . . ."
Royce: "They turned them on at 10 or 11, and then you stayed in your room until 8 in the morning. They were not gracious, they were not charming. You can imagine! I was like a chained tiger. And they wouldn't serve a drink . . ."
Marilyn: "They didn't drink . . ."
Royce: "I've never liked Santa Barbara. I'm used to late-night elegance, sophistication, New York. Elegance."
After that, their road trip was essentially a ricochet drive of the 216 miles between Santa Barbara and San Diego, with stays at the Century Plaza or Bonaventure whenever they were in town. The unceremonious end came when the Caddy's transmission went out in Brentwood. Marilyn spent a lot of money getting it fixed at Lou Ehler's on Wilshire, only to have her cherished sedan broadsided -- twice. When it happened the second time, the guilty party, a Beverly Hills psychiatrist, offered Marilyn cash reparations on the spot. She took the money but ditched the car. It was time to settle down.
"AUGUST 2, 1988." MARILYN CAN TELL YOU THE EXACT day she and Royce moved into their present hotel. The two have been there ever since, first sharing a single room, now each with her own, though they are not neighbors. What vexes them most is the fact that downtown holds no social center for them. "There's no place," Marilyn says, "for us -- sophisticated, middle-aged women who need a regular place -- to go." Their prolonged stay has been hardest on Royce, whose tiny room abuts a noisy elevator.
"Los Angeles is the garbage hole of the wo-r-rld," she says, her hands grandly sweeping the air. "I'm used to huge space, I'm used to elegance. I'm used to the Plaza, I don't understand anything else! There's nothing downtown that I'm used to -- it's not my territory -- I'm like the leopard in The Snows of Kilimanjaro."
The hotel had been recommended to them by friends, and at the time the carless women were forced to halt their road trip, downtown had seemed like a reasonable compromise between the unaffordable Wilshire corridor and the colorless suburbs. It has 230 rooms, some of which are advertised at $39 per night, and the adjoining bar boasts a generous happy hour that lasts from 5 to 10 p.m. The lobby's faint cologne of disinfectant never lets one forget that this is downtown, with all its civic homeliness -- and dangers. When the 1992 riots exploded, "I'd go out in front of the building and could see them shooting out the windows of the Lady Footlocker," Marilyn remembers. "I didn't leave the hotel for weeks. My cousin called from Seattle and asked, 'What's going on down there?'"
Marilyn's own small room looks out upon a storage building, although a little neck craning rewards her with a partial view of a parking lot as well. Much of the room's precious space is taken up by a pile of large hats, some stuffed animals and a tottering butte of shoeboxes containing Royce's footwear. A framed poster of Marilyn Monroe in a white mink coat hangs on one wall, and a Princess Diana commemorative plate and framed photographs of Elizabeth Taylor and a Siamese cat are placed on tables.
An avid collector, Marilyn meticulously maintains a scrapbook that includes thank-you letters from novelist Barbara Cartland, the office of painter LeRoy Neiman and from Liz Taylor, to whom she once sent a get-well letter. Other pages are an eclectic archive of neatly clipped items from the newspapers or tabloids about fashion, the O.J. Simpson case and buildings she admires, along with a sketch of Howard Hughes. "This is my life," she says of her scrapbook, the 75th volume she has gathered.
Although the ladies spend much of their time together, their routines often diverge. "I have a tendency to read late and get up late," Marilyn confesses. "I also go to the library often."
Royce: "I have the original library card!"
Marilyn: "I frequently get the L.A. Times."
Royce: "Oh, God, I don't read the L.A. Times -- I read The New York Times, the London Times, Paris Match."
Marilyn: "I subscribe to Town & Country and Architectural Digest -- that's my favorite. And I take two tabloids, the Enquirer and the Star. It's all gossip and I love it! I've taken Playboy for the last 25 years. I admire beautiful people and beautiful bodies. She gets disgusted with me because I take these publications!" Marilyn still maintains a membership in her beloved Round Table West literary club, and is also an ardent follower of the TV soaps and belongs to The Young and the Restless' official fan club, which holds gatherings at the Beverly Hills Hotel.
In contrast to Marilyn, Royce, who abhors television and prefers listening to classical music, is an early riser who frequently leaves the hotel to visit the Calmart building and other old haunts in the garment district. Despite the dodginess of downtown, Royce fears no one.
"I'm very careful," she says. "I'm very alert, I move very quickly. I would murder someone, I'm very strong."
"She wears her rings loaded!" Marilyn laughs. "Royce doesn't take them off, even when she goes out -- she says, 'I am who I am, and I'm going to be myself in every situation.'"
ON ONE COOL, WINDY AFTERNOON, MARILYN AND Royce leave their hotel to have lunch at Windows, a restaurant with panoramic views from the 32nd floor of the Transamerica Building. Gawkers in the tower's atrium and elevators stop and stare at the elegantly attired women in their enormous hats. Lunch begins on an ill omen as Royce's club sandwich arrives avec crusts. But before she can raise the matter with her waiter, she notices that her silverware has been placed on a paper serviette. "Oh, my God!" she says. "These paper napkins are unacceptable." Not only that, but all the restaurant's tables have been covered with paper instead of linen cloths for lunch time. "Paper here, oh! It's totally gross."
As the waiter searches for a cloth napkin, Marilyn and Royce reminisce about their occasional visits to the Santa Anita racetrack, where they are wont to spend an afternoon in the private Turf Club. "The first day I went to Santa Anita, I won the derby!" Marilyn confides.
Money for women on Social Security is understandably tight, and income from any source is welcome. Royce and Marilyn once worked as audience shills for an auctioneering firm, but haven't been on call since a new floor manager brought in her own crew of out-of-work actors. The only new money on the horizon is a possible settlement from the city and a private contractor for a fall Marilyn took near a construction site outside their hotel. As compensation for an injured ankle and arm, she hopes to receive a sum large enough to move away from downtown.
"I'd probably look at places in Beverly Hills that are quiet," she says. "Since Royce has no family, she'll be with me."
Royce: "I don't think so. I'm used to living in my own place."
Marilyn: "Well, maybe not."
Possibly thinking of a new source of revenue, Marilyn is considering trying to market her novel, The Copper Triangle, a work she looks upon as her lasting legacy. Again, one cannot help but discern a bit of the author in the central character, Claire Breese, the sensual, mothering guardian of the story's luxurious mountain club -- a woman who, by the way, shares Marilyn's middle and maiden names. "Oh, Claire," one character tells her, "you lead such a beautiful, exciting life surrounded by handsome men who adore you. Aren't you one of the lucky ones though." Perhaps the novelist has, in her own way, found the story's "wonderful parties and camaraderie" in the company of her glamorous friend, Royce, in whose shadow she has kept warm for 16 years and whom she regards as a celebrity in her own right.
"Royce is one of the most fascinating people in the world," Marilyn says. "I've met a lot of wonderful people through her, and she's at the top of that list. She's been very loyal, entertaining and generous -- she's given me a lot of clothes and jewelry." As evidence, she wears a luxurious blond fox-fur wrap and matching hat given to her by Royce, who calls Marilyn "a marvelous woman and wonderful friend."
As the two women finish their lunch, a hawk suddenly wheels 20 feet beyond a window of the restaurant, a sinister yet beautiful creature whose dusky feathers reflect none of the California sun. There is something hypnotic about the bird of prey, something about its unrepentant darkness that reaches back into primal memory, to a time before elegance and glamour were dreamt into existence.
"That's gorgeous," Royce says. "I want him, I'll feed him. Birds take to me, I love him, I want to adopt -- oh, this terrible paper tablecloth!"
Get the Weekly Newsletter
Our weekly feature stories, movie reviews, calendar picks and more - minus the newsprint and sent directly to your inbox.