Wear and Tear: The Threads of My Life, by Tracy Tynan
NOTA DE LEITURA
Há muito tempo que não lia um livro que me agradasse tanto como esta autobiografia de Tracy Tynan, que eu, aliás, nem conhecia. A autora foi filha de escritores e o seu livro está também muito bem escrito.
O título de cada capítulo é uma peça de vestuário que teve um papel no tempo do mesmo capítulo. Esta opção, de aparente ligeireza, explica-se porque ela foi figurinista (costume designer) de sucesso na América, como se pode ver na lista dos filmes em que desempenhou essa função, no IMDB. Mas a narrativa do livro não é nada ligeira: a autora descreve em detalhe toda a evolução da sua vida sexual e não se coíbe de dizer quando tomou drogas. Mas fá-lo com uma enorme naturalidade, como se descrevesse a coisa mais banal do mundo. Isso terá enganado por exemplo, o autor da recensão da Forbes que escreveu que o livro está escrito com “grace and restraint”. Pelo contrário, é um livro muito bombástico. Como diz uma recensão do Guardian, a peça de vestuário do título amortiza as “desgraças” narradas em cada capítulo.
A autora foi filha de Kenneth Tynan, o autor da peça Oh Calcutta, como é sabido, uma paródia da expressão francesa “Oh! Quel cul tu as!”. Foi ele também o primeiro a utilizar na televisão e nos jornais a palavra proibida “fuck”. É considerado um mestre da pornografia.
O casamento dos pais era uma grande guerra pegada, cheia de grandes batalhas de louças e mobília e episódios picarescos que só terminaram com o divórcio em 1965, tinha a autora 13 anos. Até então a vida dela era passada em colégios internos e com amas au pair. Ficou ao cuidado do pai e no livro não esconde uma certa amargura em relação à mãe.
O pai voltou a casar, teve mais dois filhos, mas morreu cedo, aos 53 anos, pelo abuso do álcool e drogas, mas também por um doença hereditária, um enfisema pulmonar denominado Alfa-1 anti-tripsina.
A autora “conseguiu” levar ao altar um realizador de cinema, por quem se apaixonou, Jim McBride e teve com ele dois filhos. A descrição do nascimento prematuro (aos 5 meses e meio) de sua filha Ruby e a recuperação desta (completa, felizmente) é de antologia (Capítulo 29: The Pink Knitted Cap).
A mãe faleceu em 2008 e tinha alguma vaidade nos livros que escrevera. Na idade mais avançada, conseguira livrar-se do álcool e das drogas.
Kenneth Tynan – (n. 1927 † 1980) casou com Elaine Dundy (1921- † 2008) em 1951 e tiveram a filha Tracy Tynan (n. 1952). Separaram-se em 1965.
Kenneth Tynan casou depois em 1967 com Kathleen Jeannette Halton Tynan (n. 1937 – † 1995) e tiveram os filhos Matthew Tynan (n. 1967) e Roxana Tynan (n. 1971).
Jim McBride (n.1941) casou com Fern Dulman em 1966, de quem se divorciou em 1968. Não tiveram filhos.
Teve uma ligação com Clarissa Ainley (agora Dalrymple de casamento) e teve dela um filho Jesse (n. 1972), que criou junto com a autora
Casou em 1982 com a autora (Tracy Tynan) e tiveram dois filhos, Matthew (n. 1987) e Ruby (n. 1989).
Em 2002, Jesse, enteado da autora (Tracy Tynan), casou com a meia irmã desta, Roxana Tynan.
Tuesday 7 March 2017 07.30 GMT
Wear and Tear: The Threads of My Life, by Tracy Tynan – review
Kenneth Tynan’s daughter, now a successful costume designer, paints a vivid portrait of her hellraising parents
It takes a chapter or two to cotton on to Wear and Tear. Tracy Tynan is the daughter of Kenneth Tynan, the Observer’s famous theatre critic, and Elaine Dundy, author of the best-selling novel The Dud Avocado (1958), based on Dundy’s adventures as a young American in Paris. However dud the avocado, Kenneth and Elaine were – as parents – worse. They were beyond rotten. But Tracy Tynan – born in London, in 1952 – does not appear to be on a vengeful mission. Neither parent is still alive – Kenneth died of emphysema in 1980, Elaine of a heart attack in 2008 – and she is performing what comes across as a necessary act: telling the shocking story her way, starting with a child’s-eye view of events, as she has every right to do.
Many of the seedier details about Kenneth Tynan are already known. His second wife, Kathleen Tynan, wrote a biography, The Life of Kenneth Tynan (1987), about which she remarked that she felt a “passionate sleuth, torn between being the outsider and insider”. She also edited his letters (1994). Then followed the diaries (2001), edited by John Lahr, and the rebarbative one-man show, Tynan, by Richard Nelson for the RSC (2004), in which Corin Redgrave – physically an unlikely choice for the part – uncannily translated himself into the dressy critic. As a writer, too, Tynan was a brilliant and incisive dandy. His middle name was Peacock. He had a penchant for sadomasochism, a dependency on alcohol and, in that show, I remember Redgrave wore horribly lively socks selected by Tracy – who was in charge of threads on the production. A taste for scandal was another of Kenneth’s features – he had the dubious distinction of being the first person to say “fuck” on the BBC.
The reason it is not at first clear whether this book will hang together is that Tracy elects to tell her story through individual articles of clothing. Clothes have been her life – she has been a costume designer on many films and in 2010 won a costume design award from the Women’s International Film and Television Showcase. Nonetheless, one fears the pegging will prove a contrivance and I predicted that I’d lose patience rifling through what appeared to be a built-in cupboard of a memoir. But I could not have been more wrong. It was not long before I was transfixed, unable to do anything other than read on.
Tracy writes calmly and tends to be non-judgmental – one critic in the family was perhaps enough. But this is, nonetheless, a “yell and tell” memoir. It seems fitting that Kenneth was fond of bullfighting, given the ferocity of the rows between him and Elaine. On one occasion, she ran naked into Tracy’s bedroom screaming: “Your father is trying to kill me.” Tracy, aged seven or eight, was sheltering under her mother’s sealskin coat (which gives the chapter its name). Tracy recalls her naivety in a way that makes the episode even more painful: “I wondered if I ought to get up and give her the coat. Why had she been naked?” A tremendous amount of crockery was smashed in her parents’ marriage.
When Tracy describes what it was like growing up in the family house in Mayfair, she remembers birthdays spent with au pair girls. Kenneth and Elaine had more important places to be – their pursuit of celebrities a particularly abject compulsion. Little Tracy would greet their starry visitors – including Laurence Olivier, Marlene Dietrich, Orson Welles – with what writer and journalist Sally Belfrage later remembered as “perfect manners”. Her mother’s whim was that Tracy should curtsy to guests. She describes curtsying to John Osborne – looking back now in something more bewildered than anger – with no idea who he was.
As I read on, I started to appreciate the important and poignant purpose that clothes serve here. They dress up a stark narrative: if the ostensible focus of a chapter is on a pair of coveted apple-green shoes, this is less painful than an unmediated consideration of her parents. The clothes are steadying. And yet what I think of as the Philip Larkin question soon surfaces. How does it profit us to know that a writer we admire is an unsatisfactory human being? Why should it be of interest that Kenneth and Elaine were neglectful drunks? Do we need to know the grim details of Kenneth’s sadomasochistic relationships?
One defence might be Kenneth’s own: he did not believe in self-censoring. Tracy tells us that a therapist, after reading his diaries, said they gave the most “comprehensive, clarifying and moving” account of sadomasochism he had come across. Another argument might be that this is a rounded portrait: Tracy loved her father and balances her narrative by describing the compassion in him – even if it seems seldom to have been directed her way.
But the most important answer is that one’s greatest interest in reading the book is Tracy herself. How has she survived as well as she has? This is the question that drives one on – agog. When her mother is admitted to psychiatric hospital, her main feeling is relief – a clue to how bad things have become. And yet she makes a life for herself. She marries Jim McBride, an amiable film director, with a son, Jesse, from a previous marriage. She gives a wonderful account of their shambolic midnight wedding in Las Vegas. She describes the arrival of her own son, Matthew, and devotes a moving chapter, The Pink Knitted Cap, to their daughter Ruby. The cap was a gift from a mother on the neonatal ward where Ruby, born prematurely, showed that she shares her mother’s talent for survival. Ruby is now 26, with a master’s degree in library and information science.
The book is about wear and tear and flair – for Tracy’s opinions about clothes are as distinctive as her father’s. There is a telling photograph of Kenneth on the book’s cover typing, absorbed, in tiger-print trousers. Tracy, a toddler, sits at his feet – ignored – wearing a smocked frock. It is easy to understand how her lifelong affection for camouflage developed. But this is a book that aims to throw off disguises and it reveals a poised, resilient and sympathetic woman. It is only at the end that her narrative falters. In the tone of a conscientious schoolgirl completing an essay, she writes: “I expect that I will always be opinionated about clothing, and I hope, as I grow older, that I shall continue to be curious and discover new stories to tell.” This, if not quite a curtsy, is a slightly uncomfortable bow – her curtain call.
Saturday 18 March 2017 09.00 GMT
Wear and Tear by Tracy Tynan review – trapped in a parental horror film
Kenneth Tynan and Elaine Dundy’s daughter delivers an astonishing family
tell-all of narcissism and neglect
Here is one peep behind the curtain I wish I’d never taken. Tracy Tynan, daughter of Kenneth Tynan and the writer Elaine Dundy, describes an upbringing of privilege and privation that deals a death blow to the character of both parents. If the Joan Crawford takedown Mommie Dearest is the template for the awful-mother showbiz memoir, Wear and Tear goes one better, or worse: this is Mommie and Daddy Dearest. You may never again read a family tell-all of such narcissism, of such subtle cruelty, of such toadying to the famous. I didn’t doubt a word of it.
Ms Tynan had already laid the groundwork in 2001 by publishing her father’s diaries, which quickly became notorious for their candid revelations about his spanking and his sadomasochistic affair with a woman named Nicole. But his bedroom preferences now seem rather innocent compared with what we learn about him here. When Tracy was born in 1952 Tynan was already renowned as a drama critic and social dandy; Elaine was the novelist, and a gruesome match for him in attention seeking. Looking back to her childhood, Tracy recalls their Mayfair flat playing out a drama of its own – to smashing crockery and screaming matches. One night she saw her father perched half-naked on a window ledge. “I’m going to jump!” he yelled. Her mother replied, “Why the fuck don’t you?” and went off to bed.
Trapped inside this parental “horror movie”, Tracy decided she must be the normal one, given “there was no other role available”. She became essentially an extra in a household regularly thronged with film stars and celebrities. She claims not to have a single memory of sitting down to dinner with just her parents: either they were out at restaurants or expecting guests – Larry, Marlene, Orson, whoever. Though we already know of Tynan’s love of “high-definition” performers – his magazine profiles remain models of the genre – this book exposes a celebrity obsession that can only diminish him as a man. Told by her mother to curtsy before their eminent friends (she soon forgot) Tracy later had to battle with Ken’s determination to remove her from school because “no one famous has ever graduated from Dartington”.
The centrepiece of the book is her 21st birthday party at the Old Vic, ostensibly thrown for her by Ken but effectively a present to himself. It’s instructive to compare Tracy’s account of the night – for instance, Max Wall’s dire routine of racist and antisemitic jokes – with Tynan’s in his Diaries, which is essentially a list of the great and good who attended. (Princess Margaret is a much-lamented absentee.) For Tracy, the highlight is the moment she and her father took cocaine, because she was proud to have introduced him to something new. “Not exactly a traditional father-daughter moment,” she admits.
Another poignant irony emerges: despite her sophisticated, sexually liberated parents, despite Ken being touted as the first person to say “fuck” on television, Tracy herself was naive, and at 19 still a virgin. (She suffered from vaginismus.) After Sussex University and college in New York, she moved to Los Angeles and became a costume director. The motif sewn into the book is her obsession with clothes, one item or another providing the memory trigger for each chapter. As she sublimates her filial dismay and confusion in a tour of wardrobes past, we come to admire her as a woman, if not as a writer – she is no more than competent. Her sanity and level-headedness are rather amazing in the circumstances, though at moments you note that she hasn’t entirely divested herself of the Tynan colours. After Ken’s death (from emphysema) in 1980 she is pleased to recall that his memorial service was “a star-studded event that included even royalty” – Princess Margaret made it this time.
Dundy, however, lived on, lost for the most part in a stupor of drugs and drink. When sentient, she was mean to people – doctors, waiters – and frightened them. “She frightened me,” Tracy admits. Like Ken, she would later move to Los Angeles to be near the daughter who had disappointed her, and hung on grimly until the age of 86. There is a horribly funny moment after Dundy dies and Tracy visits a Buddhist teacher: the first thing she says to him is, “Please reassure me that my mother’s not coming back.” The later parts of the book, dealing with her career, a premature baby and marriage to director Jim McBride, slightly fizzle after the fireworks of her parents’ misbehaviour. The reader misses their presence, even if the writer doesn’t.
There is a painful reckoning with Ken’s second wife, Kathleen, who takes sole charge of his diaries and alienates her further by refusing to include Ken’s middle name (and her own), Peacock, on his gravestone. Happily, she became friends with her two half-siblings, Roxana and Matthew, who after Kathleen’s death handed over the diaries to her. Tracy notes that, in the 10-year period they cover, Ken mentions his daughter eight times. “It was more than I had anticipated.” I don’t think there’s a sadder sentence in the book. To have survived her upbringing may be Tracy Tynan’s great achievement – greater certainly than Wear and Tear, which for all its honesty and courage stretches very thin in its second half. Her publishers have also let her down. The absence of an index is regrettable; the absence of photographs is unforgivable.
25 FEBRUARY 2017 • 9:05AM
My father Kenneth Tynan, the enthusiastic smoker
, by Tracy Tynan
(Duckworth Overlook, £18.99)
My earliest memory of my father is of the cloud of smoke that emanated from his office, where he wrote, and the distinct tap, tap, tapping of his manual typewriter (an auditory experience now available only through the Hanx Writer app).
His office was a tiny space between the living and dining rooms, although I don’t remember us ever using the dining room; my parents ate most of their meals out, and I dined with the au pair in the kitchen.
The office contained a desk, a chair and bookshelves. On the desk were my father’s typewriter, two piles of paper (white and carbon), and a couple of overflowing ashtrays.
My father always had a cigarette in his hand, held in such a way that he could simultaneously type and smoke, as pictured here. It was as much part of his identity as his unique sartorial choices, such as the faux-ocelot-skin trousers he is wearing in this photo (with one-year-old me beside him as an accessory).
My father did most of his writing at night: he would start when he came back from the theatre and continue into the morning hours. I would hear (and smell) him putting the finishing touches to his beautifully formulated reviews as, in later years, I passed through the pong, down the circular staircase, on my way to school.
His love affair with cigarettes continued until the day he died, at the age of 53, from the combined effects of emphysema and smoking. He tried to stop many times, but it never stuck. He took a certain pride in saying that he was the only person ever to get a full refund from a famous money-back-guaranteed 'quit smoking’ course.
His reasoning was, 'If I can’t smoke, I can’t write; and if I can’t write, what’s the point of living?’ It was hard to argue with that kind of logic.
His determination reached almost catastrophic proportions during his final hospital stay, when he insisted on sneaking cigarettes in his bed while attached to an oxygen tank, endangering not only himself, but an entire wing of the hospital.
As for me, I did not escape the lure of smoking. But when I moved to Los Angeles in the mid-1970s, I had an epiphany. Coming over a hill from the airport, I saw the city laid out before me, a cloud of yellow smog hovering over it.
It took me back to the cloud of smoke that wafted above my father’s office door. And there and then, I decided to quit.
The New York Times
JULY 12, 2016
Review: In Tracy Tynan’s Memoir, ‘Wear and Tear,’ Feeding on Explosive Drama
By DWIGHT GARNER
Wear and Tear
The Threads of My Life
By Tracy Tynan
Illustrated. 302 pages. Scribner.
You’re no one in this life — or in the afterlife, at any rate — until one of your children has written an account of what an appalling parent you were.
Three of these memoirs have stuck in my mind recently. In Alexandra Styron’s “Reading My Father” (2011), William Styron has a temper like pulling the pin on a grenade. In Andre Dubus III’s “Townie” (2011), his father, Andre Dubus, loves the Boston Red Sox but never takes his son to a game. In Juan F. Thompson’s “Stories I Tell Myself” (2015), his father, Hunter S. Thompson, fires heavy-gauge weapons while ingesting cocaine and referring to Juan as “you stupid waterhead bastard.”
Calvin Trillin — such a famously good dad that I shudder at the possibility one of his daughters will out him as the Great Santini of the West Village — has described the current state of memoir as an “atrocity arms race.” If this is so, then Tracy Tynan, in her new book, “Wear and Tear: The Threads of My Life,” comes to the fight well armed.
Ms. Tynan’s parents were Kenneth Tynan (1927-1980), the gifted English theater critic and author of the musical sex comedy “Oh! Calcutta!” (1969), and the novelist Elaine Dundy (1921-2008), who wrote the cult classic “The Dud Avocado” (1958).
When they were at home in London, which was rarely, Tynan and Dundy fought like animals. Ms. Tynan recounts cowering as crockery is smashed, insults flung, pasta chucked. Her mother would rush into her daughter’s bedroom shouting, “Your father’s trying to kill me!” (Tynan once broke Dundy’s nose.) Her father would sit on a bedroom window ledge, high above the earth, nearly naked, and shout: “I’m going to jump! I’m going to jump!”
Ms. Tynan writes, “Most of the time I was scared and confused and felt I was in a movie with lots of crazy people.” She hated the drama but was attracted to it. “When it wasn’t around, life seemed to be drained of color, to turn to black and white, ordinary, dull.”
Little about her father was ordinary or dull. Kenneth Tynan’s middle name, aptly, was Peacock. When he attended Oxford, he was known for his spectacular dandyism. He was tall and beautiful and wore things like capes and bottle-green suits made from the baize that covers billiard tables.
Once he became well known as a critic (his literary motto was “be light, stinging, insolent and melancholy”), he collected famous friends, people like Laurence Olivier, Orson Welles and Leonard Bernstein. He and Dundy once flew to New York from London in order to leap from a cake at the director Mike Nichols’s birthday party.
When his daughter, an only child, turned 21, Tynan thought: Here’s an opportunity for a bash. His friends were invited, less so hers. He rented the venerable Young Vic Theater. The guests included Peter Sellers, Maggie Smith and Liza Minnelli. (Princess Margaret, sadly, was out of town.) Dudley Moore performed. Father and daughter ended the evening snorting cocaine together in the wings.
A few days before this party, family friends gave her a different sort of birthday gift. “Their pal Sammy Davis Jr. was in town,” she writes, “and they had arranged to screen his personal copy of ‘Deep Throat,’ the infamous porn film that had come out the previous year in the States, but was still banned in Britain.”
She had me, I admit, at Sammy Davis Jr.’s personal copy of “Deep Throat.” But the anecdote is a dark one. At the time, she’d just lost her virginity, had never seen a porn film and was humiliated to attend the screening with her father.
The worst part of growing up the child of Tynan and Dundy wasn’t the fights (you need a flow chart to track their extramarital affairs) but the cruelty and neglect. When he was at home, Tynan would say things to his daughter like, “It doesn’t matter if you’re not beautiful.” And he was the more nurturing parent.
Tynan and Dundy divorced when Ms. Tynan was 13. When, later in life, she had established a successful career as a costume designer, she would visit her mother and each time be asked, “What exactly is it that you do?”
The conceit of “Wear and Tear” is that Ms. Tynan, who was born in 1952, recounts her life through the clothes she wore in each era: private-school uniforms and bikinis and apple-green shoes and plaid pinafores and Ossie Clark dresses. This works except when it feels forced, which is about half the time.
Ms. Tynan absorbed her parents’ obsession with fashion and she writes well about what she calls “my unregenerate preoccupation with the things people wear.” She married the film director Jim McBride and it’s on his movies, including “The Big Easy” (1986) and “Great Balls of Fire!” (1989) that she made her name as a costume designer.
This memoir relates behind-the-scenes stories from these films. Ms. Tynan gives a harrowing account of a daughter born three months premature. And she speaks of her continuing struggle to survive her own childhood; silent meditation retreats are involved.
“Wear and Tear” is written cleanly and well, even if it deflates a bit each time Tynan and Dundy aren’t around. “Watching them was like watching a horror movie,” Ms. Tynan writes. When the monsters slink off, our pulse rate declines.
The New York Times
JULY 15, 2016
Tracy Tynan’s Costume Drama
By LIESL SCHILLINGER
“Wear and Tear: The Threads of My Life,” by Tracy Tynan. Scribner, 320 pp., $25.
However tough it may be for a parent to cope with a rebellious, volatile child, it is infinitely tougher for a child to wrangle with a rebellious, volatile parent. The costume designer and writer Tracy Tynan grew up with the double burden of two such parents.
Her father was the outrageous, lacerating British theater critic and writer Kenneth Tynan; her mother was the volatile, sharp-witted American novelist Elaine Dundy (her novel “The Dud Avocado” remains a cult classic).
In 1960, when Tracy (named for the Main Line blueblood Tracy Lord, played by her godmother, Katharine Hepburn, in “The Philadelphia Story”) was 8, she was at home in London, watching television, when her mother teetered toward the room, stark naked, “clutching a bottle of champagne she was trying to pour into a glass,” and began swaying in the doorway. The au pair, taking in the sight, said in a “singsong matter-of-fact voice” to Tracy’s mother, “Don’t you think you ought to put some clothes on, Mrs. Tynan?”
In “Wear and Tear,” Ms. Tynan’s memoir of her life as the daughter of these bumptious bumper-car parents, she recalls that when they would scream, rage and throw tantrums when she was little, she would wrap herself in her mother’s “silky, soft sealskin coat” to insulate herself from the fracas, even as their drama compelled her. “Watching them was like watching a horror movie, scary but riveting,” she writes.
A parade of movie stars regularly passed through the Tynan household in Mayfair (Laurence Olivier, Marlene Dietrich, Maggie Smith, Orson Welles), and the hosts’ day-to-day theatrics rivaled the performances of their guests.
When the family lived briefly in New York, where Kenneth Tynan reviewed Broadway shows for The New Yorker, the glittering throng expanded to include Sidney Lumet and Gloria Vanderbilt, George Plimpton, Norman Mailer, Tennessee Williams, Leonard Bernstein and Mary Martin (on whose lap young Tracy threw up, in a stretch limo, after watching the star perform in “Peter Pan”).
“My parents were the original celebrity hounds,” Ms. Tynan writes. “They relentlessly and unabashedly pursued famous people.”
They behaved no more decorously with their illustrious entourage than with their child. “Both my parents seemed to revel in humiliation in front of each other and in public, trying their best to be the Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald of the ’50s,” she recalls.
In the mid-’60s, the couple divorced, and a few years later, Kenneth Tynan married the journalist and writer Kathleen Halton, with whom he had two children, Roxana and Matthew. Meanwhile, Elaine Dundy (“She was always Elaine, never Mother,” Ms. Tynan writes), slalomed from one rehab center to another.
Early on, Ms. Tynan had begun to dress as the distinct persona she aspired to be, finding empowerment in choosing her own wardrobe. “Trying on clothes gave me an opportunity, albeit briefly, to test out different identities,” she explains.
Her defining purchase, made when she was 14, was a pair of expensive apple-green shoes with a bow at the front. “In a world where most everything else felt out of control, having control over the clothes I wore filled a hole,” she writes.
She wore those apple-green shoes proudly for more than two years: They signaled “the beginning of walking on my own two feet, walking away from my parents and toward freedom.”
By that time, she was spending most of her time at boarding school, away from the mayhem of home. Even so, distance and retail therapy could not protect her from the intermittent buffets of her parents’ excesses, whether it was her drunken mother muzzily lurching at her with a carving knife on holiday, or her father causing an international media uproar by swearing on the BBC. After that stunt, she writes, people “assumed I must be both sexually liberated and an easy lay.”
In fact, she remained a virgin until she was 20, when, dressed in “a vintage blouse and a long Ossie Clark skirt, cut on the bias and made out of panels of purple and red Liberty-printed fabric, covered in tiny roses,” she achieved her deflowering with the help of a trendy magazine editor.
Slowly, Ms. Tynan expanded her wardrobe and her self-assurance, attending Sarah Lawrence, then moving to Los Angeles. By coincidence, her father and his new family moved to Los Angeles a few months later, and before long — and not by coincidence — Elaine Dundy moved to California, too.
Ms. Tynan, who understandably had “mixed feelings” about the proximity, resolutely patched together a separate path for herself. She made a documentary on the Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders, “A Great Bunch of Girls,” then fell in love with a film director, Jim McBride, who had a young son, Jesse, from a previous marriage.
The two of them married, and hours after the wedding, they returned to their hotel to find an urgent message for her husband: Richard Gere had agreed to act in Mr. McBride’s remake of the film “Breathless.”
Mr. McBride enlisted his new wife to assist the costume designer J. Allen Highfill, and Ms. Tynan discovered that she had a natural talent for “dressing other people besides myself” — not to mention a knack for navigating big egos. She went on to do costume design for “Choose Me,” “The Big Easy” and other movies, and along the way had two children with Mr. McBride, Matthew and Ruby.
But she does not end her memoir with the neat seam of her own fulfillment. Instead, she shows how time and chance stitched together and remade the family her parents left in tatters. Kenneth Tynan died of emphysema in 1980, Elaine Dundy died of a heart attack in 2008 and Kathleen Halton Tynan died of cancer in 1995. In the decades after her stepmother’s death, Tracy Tynan grew closer to her half-siblings.
Early in the new millennium, her grown-up stepson, Jesse, and her half-sister, Roxana, fell in love and decided to marry. The bride asked her to help her choose a dress (“something more casual than the full-on traditional wedding gown”), and the groom flouted convention by wearing a white suit.
The author wore a sleeveless green-and-orange plaid silk shantung ’60s dress for the occasion, with a matching stole. “It felt very mother-of-the-bride, with a twist,” she writes. A decade on, the children of that union call Ms. Tynan “Grauntie” — a combination of grandmother and auntie. “They wear everything I buy for them. For now,” she writes.
As you read, you marvel at the author’s resilience; the girl with the apple-green shoes acceded to a bigger role than she had ever expected, and found that she knew how to dress the part.
THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
July 8, 2016 2:17 p.m. ET
Wear and Tear
By Tracy Tynan
Scribner, 302 pages, $26
The cover photograph of Tracy Tynan’s captivating memoir “Wear and Tear: The Threads of My Life” is a portrait of her parents dressed in twin faux-leopard-skin pants, sitting on a faux-zebra-skin chaise longue, gazing into each other’s eyes. They are the English theater critic Kenneth Tynan, one of the greatest prose stylists of his generation, and his first wife, Elaine Dundy, the American writer most famous for her 1958 novel “The Dud Avocado.”
Behind the chaise longue, their daughter writes, is a 12-foot reproduction of Hieronymus Bosch’s “Garden of Earthly Delights.” The painting, in which “naked and partially clothed people” are pictured “doing all sorts of peculiar things,” had always terrified Ms. Tynan. The bullfight prints on the adjacent wall weren’t exactly soothing either.
Then again, nor was life with her famous parents.
Ms. Tynan has written a moving, candid and often hilarious account of her tumultuous childhood in England and New York in the 1950s and ’60s. Her parents, she writes, were “the original celebrity hounds.” They threw glamorous parties and were friends with the likes of Laurence Olivier, Vivien Leigh, Marlene Dietrich, Orson Welles and the omnipresent Princess Margaret. Cecil Beaton and Katharine Hepburn were the author’s godparents.
The Tynans were also passionately interested in fashion and style, an obsession Ms. Tynan inherited. Later in life she moved from London to Los Angeles and became a costume designer for films including “The Big Easy” (1987) and “Great Balls of Fire” (1989), directed by her husband Jim McBride, with whom she has two children.
Clothes are the warp and weave of “Wear and Tear.” Each chapter is cleverly organized around an item of dress: a blue chemise, a fur coat, the author’s first bra (white cross-stitched torpedo), chunky apple-green shoes decorated with bows, and the polyester leisure suits and guayabera shirts that the author’s father adopted late in life.
Ken’s middle name was Peacock—and he lived up to it. “Everyone noticed not only what my father said but also how he dressed,” Ms. Tynan writes. As a student at Oxford, he was a dandy, dressed in plum-colored suits, lavender ties and even a bottle-green outfit purportedly made from the baize that covers billiard tables.
Elaine, Ms. Tynan writes, was “a petite gamine” who during her late 20s had lived in Paris, where she bought designer clothes at discount prices at sample sales. For her first date with Ken in 1950 she wore an off-the-shoulder orange-and-brown silk Schiaparelli dress. He wore a camel hair jacket, plum-colored trousers, yellow socks, black shoes and a Mickey Mouse watch. “Impressed with each other’s attire, their mutual passion for theater, and their strong attraction, they married three months later.”
Ken and Elaine dressed up and went out every night, leaving their daughter, an only child, with an au pair even on her birthdays. She writes, “I don’t have a single memory of sitting down to dinner alone with my parents.”
When they were home, things were often chaotic. A family friend, the writer Sally Belfrage, describes the sort of scene she’d typically encounter upon arriving at the front door. The “sounds of screams and smashing crockery and tiny Tracy opening the door, trying to find out which lock was working. Ken shouting, ‘I’ll kill you, you bitch.’ Smash, smash, a whimper from the au pair, and Tracy, poised and calm, saying, ‘Hello, how nice to see you. Come in. Can I take your coat?’ And taking one into the living room, and pouring drinks and sitting down, looking very interested.’”
Ms. Tynan compares witnessing their dramas to “watching a horror movie, scary but riveting.” Roused by the noise of battle one night, she discovered her father, clad in white underwear and a flapping blue shirt, perched on a window like strange bird. “I’m going to jump!” he screamed. “Then I saw my mother, naked, smoking a cigarette, moving through the room behind him. ‘Why don’t you?’ ”
One day Elaine announced it would be nice if her daughter, now 9 years old, curtseyed when introduced to people. So when a new visitor showed up at their Mayfair apartment, she did. A giggling school friend commented later, “He isn’t royalty, y’know.” He certainly wasn’t: It was John Osborne, one of Britain’s leading Angry Young Men, author of “Look Back in Anger.”
Ms. Tynan found out that her parents’ marriage was over on her 13th birthday, at boarding school. She received a call from her mother just before bedtime. “ ‘Hi, darling, I’m in Mexico . . . I’ve just divorced your father.’ ” Three years later, Ken married a woman with whom he’d long been having an affair, the beautiful 28-year-old journalist Kathleen Halton. Ms. Tynan calls her “a trophy wife but with brains.” The marriage was rocky thanks to his infidelities and notorious sexual fetishes, but Kathleen remained with him until his death from emphysema in 1980. She died in 1995.
One of the ironies of Ms. Tynan’s early life was that people assumed, erroneously, that she was as sexually liberated as her kinky parents. At school in 1965 she found herself at the center of an uproar when her father, discussing censorship with Mary McCarthy on the BBC, said the word “f—” on the air. She was 17 in 1969 when “Oh! Calcutta!,” his musical sex revue, opened to another scandal, this time over scenes in which the cast appeared stark naked.
As a special pre-21st-birthday treat for his daughter, Mr. Tynan organized a screening of Sammy Davis Jr.’s “personal copy” of “Deep Throat.” It was held at a private Mayfair club for an audience of 20, including Ms. Tynan’s boyfriend and his parents. She was mortified.
Ken had a rare form of emphysema that over the years was exacerbated by his two-pack-a-day smoking habit. He’d gone to Santa Monica for his health and at the age of 53 was dying in a hospital there. Ms. Tynan brought him a bottle of champagne. Emboldened by a few swigs, she told him haltingly, for the first time in her life, that she loved him. He held her hand briefly. “Then he let go and said, ‘Now let’s talk about something else,’ and poured himself another glass of champagne. ‘This is beginning to sound like a bad hospital movie.’ ” She ran into the parking lot and wept.
After his death, he bequeathed his daughter his diaries so Kathleen couldn’t have control over them. He wanted them published uncensored, and Ms. Tynan ensured they were, in 2001. Elaine, who had struggled for years with alcohol and drug addiction, died in Los Angeles of a heart attack in 2008. Ms. Tynan was on her way to a desert retreat when she heard the news. As an offering to her mother, she removed the small pink quartz heart she wore around her neck and buried it there.
—Ms. Hodgson is the author of “It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time: My Adventures in Life and Food.”
Mais uma recensão da Forbes em 17 de Agosto de 2016
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