Thursday 4 August 2011

From 'A Paper Life' by Tatum O'Neal

"My father rented a house in London and sent me to live with the Kubricks, whose youngest daughter, Vivian, was just a few years older than me.

They lived outside the city in a big old Gothic house on the moors. The place was a little eerie but also wonderful because they had lots of dogs and books. I started reading for pleasure, for the first time, while I was there. The walls were lined with the beautiful artwork of Stanley's wife, Christiane, who encouraged my efforts to paint and draw. At dinner I copied the way they used their knives and forks, and at night I found it curious to sleep European style, as the Kubricks did, under down comforters with no sheets.

Stanley impressed me tremendously. My dad had all his movies screened for me alone, in one sitting, when I first got to Ireland. I loved Stanley because he always spoke to me like an adult, discussing things like the reason he always drove a Mercedes- "It's the safest car in the world"- as if they were perfectly natural concerns for a nine-year-old. He'd ask me questions and listen intently to my answers. Now and then, though, I'd catch him looking at me a bit askance, as if I were an odd little thing. Often, around that time, without understanding why, I got the sense that people were starting to feel sorry for me.

Stanley and Vivian were very close, which I envied, given my shifting relationship with my father. I had first met her in Ireland, where we would take long walks on the beach, laughing and playing and talking. Vivian seemed so exotic, with her dark Russian looks, her poise, her humour, and her obvious brilliance. She was musical, she wrote and spoke beautifully- in short, she was everything I was not: gorgeous, amusing, and educated. Yet I felt an identification with her because we both came from offbeat, bohemian families. She was a person I could aspire to be. I totally idolised her.

Unfortunately, my adoration didn't endear me to Vivian for long. She was nearly a teenager and I was too much younger to hold her interest. Once I moved in with the family, the tension between us increased. Vivian seemed to find me wild and rough around the edges, and she made no secret of her annoyance. "Tatum, " she'd scold, "that's not how you say it. You've got to say it like this...." She constantly put me in my place with "Tatum, what rubbish!" Even years later, when I'd write her heartfelt, loving letters, her replies would always be full of corrections: "Tatum, that's not how you spell it!"

Her criticism always embarrassed me, making me feel stupid. We squabbled a lot, and I once stuck gum in her hair. She got her revenge by offering to trim mine and then practically scalping me.

But there was more going on between us than childish fussing. Vivian's charms weren't lost on my father, who had started to set us at odds. "Vivian's so talented," he'd say. "Tatum can hardly read and write." Or "Vivian, you're so beautiful, so graceful, so funny, so smart. Tatum, you're just a silly little girl."

My father mesmerised full-grown women, so it was no wonder that twelve-year-old Vivian fell for him. He was so handsome, funny, and seductive that she developed a deep and desperate crush on him. I began to worry that she tolerated me only as a conduit to my father. Worse yet, her crush didn't seem entirely unrequited. While I'm sure they never had any sexual contact- my father never had a thing for young girls- he evidently relished her affection enough to keep pouring on the charm.

When Vivian told Stanley about my father's flirtation, he was outraged. I never heard what he said to my father about it, but they had some kind of falling out. Stanley later dropped my father as the narrator of Barry Lyndon."


"Another friend I reconnected with was Vivian Kubrick, whom I still loved and idolised. John referred to her as my guru.

She's amazing, so full of life and learning, I told my diary. So honest, always trying to make herself better and those around her. While coveting her close relationship with her father, I noted, She's twenty-nine now. I hope she moves on in some way so that she doesn't have to be financially dependent on him for too much longer. She was so gifted and talented that I hoped she would find some fulfilling means of self-expression. She's a little too fearful still, which she inherited from Stanley."

                                                                  (Photo: Stanley Kubrick with Tatum O'Neal's son.)