"I'm Rula Lenska."
Trill the "r" a little bit, but keep it slightly guttural at the same time. Great hair, great cheekbones...sport a scarf a certain way...
Rula Lenska appeared out of nowhere, a spokeswoman in a commercial for a beauty product. She carried herself such, and looked the part, and was on t.v., so people assumed they should know who she was. It took a while for them to start asking questions.
It was all in the presentation.
Another woman from my youth offered another view into glamour. She was young, she was beautiful, she carried herself like a dancer, but was a piano player. SUCH a piano player. She was my brother's teacher, and I went with him to her studio once a week. Occasionally, I'd get a sighting, or better yet, a "hearing." She could move from classical to jazz in the blink of an eye, in firm command of either. If it was a sighting, there would always be steady eye contact, a warm but steady fixing of the eye that made me think about my own posture and wonder if I could ever be half as beautiful.
She moved away to New York City and became something that she dreamed of and I had trouble even imagining. A mash up of a glamorous old-school movie-star and demon musician. She played "the clubs," wore gowns from Paris, added a little distance to that fix-you-with-her-eyes. Turns out she could sing, too, and added that into the layers of presentation.
In her bio, she tells the story of a beautiful glamorous woman from her own youth, who wore scarves in a certain way, who insisted on a certain level of performance, and who seemed to suggest a level of glamour and intrigue in her personal life that could never be confirmed. This woman was, of course, one of her own teachers.
Rula slipped from the public eye. NY's teacher slipped to a world beyond. And NY, my brother's teacher, the glamorous talent playing to the light clinking of glassware and appreciative audiences? She's been slipped out the door. No work for her these days.
There are fewer and fewer homes for glamorous talented beauty. The real deal, the kind that could, for example, cite AND play Gershwin chapter and verse, and mess you up trying to contemplate it because you got caught in the show. The kind that worked for a while to achieve not only mastery of their talent, but of their look.
I'm your basic fresh-faced earth girl who is happy to see women have the opportunity to "be themselves" and compete on a sporting pitch instead of in front of a mirror. But...I miss Rula.
I miss vintage Diorella and Tabac Blond. I'm glad the new Jolie Madame exists, but I miss the old one. In fact, you can say the same of Le Dix. And Madame Rochas.
Clocks turn, fads come and go, tastes also come and go (albeit in slower cycles). Surface and even talent are both prey to the whims of convention. Market forces have always existed, even before marketers and advertising, or the exchange of money, for that matter. If they won't line up to see it...heck, if you can't get a handful of takers...there's nowhere to go.
Rula couldn't emerge as a mysterious anything these days; I'd Google her accented self before you can say "fake Polish countess" and learn all about her. My brother's beautiful talented teacher no longer plays to NY society high above it all...and not because the room highest above it all exists, like her teacher, only in memory.
I'm hoping that there is a pocket, though. A pocket where you can find music well played by a person who chooses to do so via a certain presentation of mystery and glamour. A pocket where the Tabac Blond can always be worn, where you can spend the day as a Jolie Madame...where you can where a Jubilation 25 to an event with your modern friends and have them stop and ask about it.
"Who the hell is Rula Lenska?"
Somebody did start asking questions. (*) Which led to other questions. Turns out she was, actually, the daughter of a Polish countess. But if you Wikipedia her, you'll find most of the body of her work listed comes after the famous commercial. She was young, of course, when the commercial aired, and had most of her life ahead of her.
In the humorous vagaries that can be part of a Wiki-bio, the first miscellanea you learn about her is that she is a blood donor. Which goes to show that when you peel off layers of mystery, you can a) find things very mundane, and b) reflect that in the mundane can lie profound and important.
I need to go and turn forward the clocks now.
I'll be wearing comfortable clothes. And maybe, just maybe, a tiny hint of the smidge of Tabac Blond that I know will one day run dry.