LIEN VERSION FRANCAISERETOURIn 1978, when I was 18 and spending my gap year in London, my father took me to a party in Los Angeles, where we were introduced to the actor Charles Bronson. My father mentioned that he and the star happened to share the same birthday (a fact my father had no doubt gleaned from a newspaper), to which Bronson replied, "Lucky you". At a Hollywood party, this might have been mistaken for witty repartee, but Bronson wasn't joking. He meant it. While my father, being an actor himself, was unfazed, I was staggered. Growing up in an acting family in the UK (my mother, father, grandfather, grandmother and uncle all acted professionally), I'd met a few booming-voiced egomaniacs - with their Herbert Johnson fedoras and endless anecdotes about themselves - but none had approached Bronson's self-love. My family and their friends seemed relatively normal. With little in common besides their careers and a sense of humour, my mother and father divorced when I was three, but for the remainder of my childhood, they appeared to get along surprisingly well, and I wasn't alone in this view. On one occasion, when my parents were eating in a restaurant, another couple approached them. David Huggins se souvient de son père - 2001In a hotel on Sunset, towards the end of my stay, I found myself waiting for the elevator with a well-known actor, himself the son of an actor I recall holding court wearing a kaftan at a 1970s drinks party. Unaware that he was being observed, the son licked a finger and ran it over his eyebrow before greeting a PR with a cry of simulated joy. As the three of us waited for the elevator, he regaled the PR with a tedious anecdote about himself, and, once inside, updated her on every detail of what had happened to him over the past 12 hours.
By the time I stepped into the lobby, I'd begun to entertain the possibility not only that PRs might actually be underpaid, but that there might be a genetic component to his condition. What made him so desperate to win the love and attention of perfect strangers? The actor's clinical self- involvement could so easily have deepened my despair but, in fact, it did just the reverse: it inspired me to write a new novel, set in LA, about three generations of an acting dynasty. A family very different, thankfully, from my own.
Wednesday November 14, 2001 "We're so glad you made your marriage work," the woman said. "We were your neighbours 10 years ago, and your rows used to keep us awake at night." My father apologised, and asked her at which number in Astell Street she'd lived. "Number four," the woman said. Before the divorce, we'd lived at number 21. "It's wonderful to see you both so happy," she added. I can't remember whether my parents put the woman right. I like to think that they didn't. I knew from the age of three that I never wanted to become an actor myself. At Christmas I dreaded charades, a game at which everyone else in my family excelled. Having no desire to stand out from the crowd, I kept quiet about my parents' work when I started school. It helped that my father acted under the name of Jeremy Brett, and my mother under her maiden name, Anna Massey. It also helped that I was in the same class as the son of a producer of the James Bond films. Thanks to his father, Salzman Jr acquired 007 toys months before they were available in the shops. Among classmates, then, my own background seemed happily drab by comparison. My mother was a working single parent, but she mostly acted in the theatre in the evenings so we could spend the days together, and she turned jobs down if they conflicted with school holidays. My father took me out every weekend, and we'd often visit actor friends who had children of my age. There was a degree of camaraderie among the offspring of actors, and I soon came to appreciate my own parents' relative normality. The son of one comedy actor had a seemingly enviable existence - running wild and unschooled, zooming around on a motorbike at 14 and smoking marijuana - though, in retrospect, it looks a nightmare. When my father presented me with a motorbike for my 18th birthday, my parents happened to be working together on a television adaptation of Rebecca. My mother was so angry with him that they ignored each other for the entire filming. At the time, I took my father's side, but now my sympathies lie more with my mother. It was the first time they'd fallen out openly, and the row pinpointed the fact that they were, by nature, opposites. My mother is cerebral, cautious and organised, while my father was intuitive and impulsive. I suspect that the easy rapport they seemed to share when I was a child might be due to the fact that they were professional actors as well as caring parents. I can still hear them battling out their differences in my head: my father urging me to take risks; my mother advising me to think things through. My maternal grandfather had lived in Los Angeles ever since I was born, and when I was a teenager my father also bought a house in the Hollywood Hills. Understudying my own adulthood in the buttoned-up half-light of 1970s London, Los Angeles looked like a Technicolor paradise. Low-riders cruised Sunset Strip. You could still smoke in bars and restaurants. And when people said "Have a nice day", they meant it. They were "laid back". An English accent retained its novelty value, but after several visits, I learned to lay back a little myself. At Christmas, scaled-down Santa sleighs, reindeer and polystyrene snow decorated front lawns in 70-degree heat. Just along the road from my grandfather's house, Rodeo Drive teemed with rhinestone- encrusted stetsons, and women in leopard-skin leotards. LA may have been given to excess, but it was also liberal and unselfconscious, the fastest-growing city in the world, portrayed as a melting pot of post-Watts racial harmony - a model for the cities of the 21st century. A visit to my cousin Nathaniel at his film school in Santa Barbara made university life in England seem very unappealing. Nathaniel windsurfed every afternoon (a recent innovation), drove a convertible, and lived in a condo beside the beach with his blonde girlfriend. In stark contrast to Cambridge, nobody ever seemed to have a head cold in southern California, and everybody had a tan. Even then, though, LA was the world capital of narcissism. Strolling on Santa Monica pier one winter's day, my father and I were surprised by Vincent Price and his wife Coral Browne emerging, preening and silver-tongued, from the fog. Another time, on Hollywood Boulevard, we pulled up alongside a pearl-grey sports car barely big enough to contain the bleached, back-combed mane of David Lee Roth. One glimpse of the Van Halen singer staring fixedly ahead, eyebrows creased as the tourists gawked, made it clear that he carried the same virus as Charles Bronson: self-obsession. Soon after leaving university, when I was starting work as an illustrator and cartoonist, my grandfather died. My father returned to Britain to portray Sherlock Holmes on TV; my mother produced and starred in Hotel du Lac, then fell in love with and married my stepfather Uri Andres, a professor of metallurgy. I went on to write two novels. Returning to LA in 1999 for the first time in 15 years, the changes in the city came as a shock. In the wake of the Rodney King riots, a kind of apartheid was operating. The cars had shrunk and the inhabitants had become as driven and uptight as those of any other major western city. In Rodeo Drive, the shoppers appeared greedy and depressed. But my view was almost certainly coloured by the fact that both my grandfather and my father had died since my last trip. Re-visiting our old haunts, I suffered an acute sense of loss. LIEN INTERNET