Thursday, June 7, 2012

"By Today's Standards, Christine is Very Old Hat!"

Over in his charming corner of Cyberia, dear Norma Desmond has reminded us of a fascinating and every so slightly forgotten mid-century celebrity - the daring young man who went to Europe a blond GI and returned a lissome blonde, Miss Christine Jorgensen.

My first encounter with Christine, beyond the occasional pop-culture reference on television perhaps, or a quick bridge-club mention quickly shushed "in front of the child, really!", was, if memory serves, in an article in what might kindly be referred to as a gentleman's magazine underhandedly procured in downtown Philadelphia (ah, the old and I'm sure long-vanished used book-and-mag shops of Locust Street!).  Yes, I'm someone who actually read the articles in Honcho; make of that what you will.  In between the publication's other attractions, I remember being rather fascinated by the story, which ended by noting that the onetime world sensation was now a cabaret entertainer.

Jorgensen is someone we remember, if at all, in snapshots - the before and after in the 50s newspapers, the occasional PR photo thereafter.  I thought it might be interesting, in the wake of Norma's raising the subject, to encounter Christine herself.  Here she is, appearing in a format - thoughtful mass-market daytime TV, Hour Magazine, to be exact - that seems as far off as those Eisenhower-era tabloid headlines.  Imagine: a ten-minute uninterrupted interview, with no shouting, no mad graphics, just one host and one guest, in this case a charming, chatty matron d'un certain age, talking about her life. 

I'm very taken with her - she seems like someone with whom it would be great fun to sit down, have a couple of Old Fashioneds, and dish the dirt.  She reminds me of one or another of my Grandmothers' friends, had, say, Dorothy Gunderson looked just the tinest bit like Broderick Crawford.*  Watching her makes me glad that it seems to have turned out all right for her, in times when would seem to have been highly unlikely.  May we all end up, after our journeys (some, I wager, nearly as singular as hers), in whatever for us is our version of her hill in Laguna, content.

* Now that I think about it, there's also something more than a passing resemblance to another Café favorite, nazilicious songbird Miss Zarah Leander.  I wonder if Christine ever sang "Wunderbar"?


  1. i know i've seen this before, but what a delight it was to rewatch. (hour magazine!) i'd imagine if she were alive today, she'd be best buds with the likes of barbara walters and that tony ny set.

    of course, in her way, with her best manners, with all the others, she scythed a path that, among others things, helped the fucking president of the fucking united states tell the world that we're okay.

    oy, i rambled.

    1. But I follow you. Know exactly what you mean. She did the hard work in her own way for decades, and here we are, in a far better place. Not perfect yet, but still...

      I also like that she say straight out that she did it all for herself - no false humility there. I think she's happy good things have followed for others ("I'm sort of...a a legend," she smiles), but very clear about her rationale. That would be hard to get away with today...

    2. you're right. no one had her back.

  2. Agreed, she would have been fun to have a few drinks with!