Love, laughs, loss

Girlfriends are great. I adore them, madly, with smashing intensity. They like me too (yo, it takes two to tango), even if they have to slalom around my prickly edges, indigo moods, slashing humor and periodic bouts of suicidal solitude. But really, no joke, I’m a blast.

Just ask some past survivors — er, lovers. One said I was “brooding and negative” (aw, thanks, honey). Another called me a “tortured artist.” And, more to the point, I was told I’m an “s.o.b.” and, shucks, an “asshole.”

Ah, romance. All flowers and firebombs.

Those Hallmark sentiments, spouted in rare snaps of high dudgeon, are the exception not the rule. I’m a good, if challenging, partner, as my exes will attest. Almost all of them remain tight friends, and at least two are undying soulmates, exceptional individuals with whom I’ve never laughed harder, shared harder, and created quirky little worlds together.

I bring this up after watching two of my favorite fractured romances, movies that either rip me up or crack me up before sending me off blubbering like an Italian widow. 

In 1961’s “Splendor in the Grass,” Natalie Wood plays a sexually repressed teenager who falls for Warren Beattie’s high school jock and, in short, goes crazy. As they go their separate ways, Wood’s psychosis intensifies. Later, supposedly cured, she visits her ex, who is now married. The ending will kick your guts out.  

Freighted with neuroses, Woody Allen courts a young, insecure Diane Keaton in 1977’s “Annie Hall,” the quintessential Allen love story, whose tagline is the very apt “a nervous romance.” With Allen’s overbearing hangups and egotism and Keaton’s skittish fragility, the couple’s frequently hilarious affair doesn’t stand a chance. Friendship will have to do. The last, lingering shot is almost unbearably wistful.

My relationships have bits of both films — possessiveness, craziness, big laughs, deep-dish neuroses, breakups and friendship. They have no boozy “Fool for Love” abuse, or bat-shit “Fatal Attraction” obsession. They are earthbound, boring to some; glorious fireworks spectaculars to those involved. 

I’m lucky to have dodged real drama, yet love isn’t always pretty. An otherwise sweet, sane woman shattered a glass on my bedroom floor in blind fury. (I told her I wouldn’t have dinner with her family on Christmas — smash!). Another one dumped her beer on me with extreme prejudice. But these are aberrant episodes in my relationship history, teensy scars I can look back on lightly. What’s a soaked, sudsy shirt between sweethearts?

I don’t want to date a deranged Natalie Wood from “Splendor in the Grass,” and I have dated a Diane Keaton from “Annie Hall,” who yielded almost too much fun to describe. But life isn’t the movies and love isn’t easy. Just ask my exes. They’ll tell you. Believe it all.

The 20 most alluring actresses from Hollywood’s Golden Age

We love our movie stars, and I love my actresses, especially those indelible bright lights, those sirens, sex pots and sophisticates, from Hollywood’s Golden Age, roughly the 1920s through the early ’60s.

Audiences cultivate complex relationships with the actors on screen. They crush, lust, idolize, envy and hero-worship. They take these visions personally. Sometimes they want to take them home.

With today’s top actresses and starlets, tabloid tastemakers gravitate to the Jolies, J. Los and J-Laws, brassy self-promoters with wicked powers of manipulation.

But the actresses who seize my attention, the ones who have the elusive It factor, an intelligence mingled with integrity, include Rachel Weisz, Marion Cotillard, Anne Hathaway, Cate Blanchett and Nicole Kidman. They recall the stars of Hollywood past, several of whom I celebrate here.

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Marion Cotillard

Despite their physical allure — not to fetishize appearances — I appreciate actresses with hauteur, poise and self-possession. They’re sassy and sophisticated, loopy and urbane, glamorous, flirtatious, demure and dangerous. They’re partiers, victims, fatales and floozies. Beautiful, blazing, but armed with multifaceted talent.

You might be shocked by the actresses I shut out, as much as I adamantly adore them: Lauren Bacall, Joan Fontaine, Bette Davis, Barbara Stanwyck, Greta Garbo, Joan Crawford, Norma Shearer, Irene Dunne, Katharine Hepburn. Not even stone-cold goddess Marilyn Monroe makes the cut.

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Ann Blyth

And, with the key exception of Martha Vickers as the narcotized nymphet in “The Big Sleep,” I’ve reluctantly excluded the countless supporting performers who’ve goosed so many screwballs, soaps and noirs, like Ann Blyth in “Mildred Pierce” and Dorothy Malone, who plays the bespectacled bookstore owner in “The Big Sleep.”

Here’s a 20-strong parade of my favorite Golden Age screen sirens, my old-timey It girls. They are presented in no particular order, neither by chronology, talent or pulchritude. (Please add your two cents if you’d like.)

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Hedy Lamarr: “Ecstasy” (1933), “Samson and Delilah” (1946)

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Louise Brooks“Pandora’s Box” (1929), “Diary of a Lost Girl” (1929)

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Martha Vickers: “The Big Sleep” (1946)

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Veronica Lake“Sullivan’s Travels” (1941), “This Gun for Hire” (1942)

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Ava Gardner“The Killers” (1946), “The Barefoot Contessa” (1954)

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Jean Simmons“Guys and Dolls” (1955), “Elmer Gantry” (1960)

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Grace Kelly“High Noon” (1952), “Rear Window” (1954)

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Gene Tierney“Laura” (1944), “Leave Her to Heaven” (1945)

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Ingrid Bergman“Casablanca” (1942), “Notorious” (1946)

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Joan Bennett“The Woman in the Window” (1944), “Scarlet Street” (1945)

paulette godard
Paulette Goddard: “Modern Times” (1936), “The Great Dictator” (1940)

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Carole Lombard“My Man Godfrey” (1936), “Nothing Sacred” (1937)

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Myrna Loy“The Thin Man” (1934), “Libeled Lady” (1936)

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Olivia de Havilland“Gone with the Wind” (1939), “The Heiress” (1949)

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Natalie Wood“Rebel Without a Cause” (1955), “West Side Story” (1961)

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Vivien Leigh“Gone With the Wind” (1939), “A Streetcar Named Desire” (1951)

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Elizabeth Taylor“A Place in the Sun” (1951), “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” (1966)

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Rita Hayworth“Gilda” (1946), “The Lady from Shanghai” (1947)

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Audrey Hepburn“Roman Holiday” (1953), “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” (1961)

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Lana Turner“The Postman Always Rings Twice” (1946), “Peyton Place” (1957)