Thursday, May 31, 2012


Once upon a time in 1992, there was a live show I was involved in called “Seventies Celebration” or something like that. A lot of music and TV stars from the 70s were involved including me and several other Bradys. We were doing a "comedy sketch" which Barry Williams co-wrote. Florence was supposed to be Sally Jesse Raphael and I never did figure out what I was supposed to be. I couldn’t remember the lines because they came out of nowhere and made no sense to me. I just knew the thing sucked and I began to get performance anxiety like I've never felt before. I was sure that I would pass out on stage and make a fool of myself. It was hours between rehearsals and show time which was live on stage at the Wiltern. 

I was feeling pretty insecure which is something I really do have a talent for. Then I saw Olivia Newton John which didn’t help. Not that I don’t like her, on the contrary we had worked together and I found her to be wonderful in every way. I had done an illustration job for her. She and her psychic were writing a children’s book to teach kids about the environment. I had designed and illustrated the proposal. They loved what I had done but the publisher wanted to go with their own in house art department. It was one of those “Gee Susan, we’re really sorry but they have the final say…” things. It really wasn’t a bad thing but still mildly embarrassing and I just didn’t want to hear her say again, “I’m so sorry about what happened…” I didn’t want to make her uncomfortable mostly because that would have made me more uncomfortable.

So I was mildly avoiding Olivia Newton John which made me a little hyper aware of faces. I became aware that I was seeing the Bee Gees pretty much everywhere I looked. This was strangely unnerving, but everything was unnerving. The whole thing started to get very surreal with all of these oddly familiar faces. It would take a while to register if I actually knew these people around me or just knew them from TV. I think everyone was feeling that way so to play it safe they all acted like long lost friends. It was really very nice. Meat Loaf gave me a hearty “Hello” and I had no idea where I knew him until he started rehearsing and I realized who he was and that we’d never met. Coupled with the surreal hyper awareness anxiety imparts, it began to feel like I was coming on to a hit of acid. And there were those darned Bee Gees. It seemed that everywhere I looked, there was a Bee Gee – sometimes two. I was studying their faces and the brotherly resemblance. I know there were only three of them but it seemed like 20, maybe 50.  It was like they were inter-dimensional and could be in two places at the same time. I’d start to feel a little better and then I’d look up and see another Bee Gee. Totally nice guys but they were freaking me out. I was sitting in the Green Room, humming a little mantra to myself for comfort. “Bee Gees Bee Gees everywhere, in the green room, on the stair…” then someone said “Hi Susan”. It was Sonny Bono, always a friendly face. I had met him a couple of times before, but we weren’t what I would call friends.  Our mothers were in a club together and knew each other well, maybe that’s why he knew my name. Since most people don’t bother with our real names, having him say “Hi Susan” surprised me and drew me to him.
“Your sketch is cute, it will go over well.” He said. Poor guy was just making small talk and didn’t know that he was in for an interrogation. My nerves made what little social grace I have fail me, I just blurted my thoughts..
“Really?” I shouted.
“Sure, it’s funny.”
“REALLY, Sonny?”
“…Yeah?....Why, don’t you like it?”
“It’s terrible! I don’t even understand it! Do YOU think it’s funny?”
He could have lied again and walked away but instead I guess he sensed my distress and he came over to me with compassion. He nodded his head from side to side as if to say he’d seen worse – point being, no,he didn’t like it either. But he smiled and said, “Hey, it really doesn’t matter if it’s good or bad. The audience will love it no matter what you do.”
“I’m really nervous, I’m afraid I’m going to pass out on stage.”
He laughed and said, “Even if you did, you would still get a standing ovation! No matter what you do, the audience will be on their feet. You can do no wrong, relax.”
“I guarantee, they will give you a standing ovation when you walk on stage and won’t get quiet enough to even hear the skit.There is absolutely NOTHING to worry about.”
What a sweet guy. He made me feel better.
“I promise, it will be great. I PROMISE!” He extended his arms to hug me.
I hugged him and I saw another Bee Gee over his shoulder.
“The Bee Gees are freaking me out.” I blurted.
“Everywhere I look there is a Bee Gee.”
And it was like he could read my mind and now he decided to mess with me like one messes with someone who’s high; he leaned in close and whispered, “They’re EVERYWHERE!”

We did our bit and Sonny was right. The crowd was on its feet and never heard a line of dialogue. When we came off stage, God bless him, Sonny had come to the side to watch.
“See Susan, what did I tell you?”
I hugged him so hard I may have hurt him bad.

I got a little taste of what Sonny might have been like as a Dad, and I felt a tiny portion of what Chaz must have felt when he passed away so suddenly.

To prove this was not just an acid flash back:

Friday, May 11, 2012


I live in Cattyland. It's as sweet as Candyland but smells a lot worse. When I decided to get back into art I found that living with foster kittens and cats made things fairly impossible. I knew my life had changed the first time I tried to knit my son a scarf and I had 12 kittens in the house. I doubt I need to explain that scenario much further. I'd been messing around in Photoshop on my computer for years and pretty much got my artistic jollies that way; but a friend of mine had an idea that he wanted me to illustrate in watercolor. It had been years since I'd painted and it would seem the cats wanted to keep things that way. I had moved and no longer had an office where I could shut them out. Painting was impossible and dangerously messy. Many pigments are poisonous. Another friend had the answer; "Get a Wacom Tablet." he said. I followed his advice and am experiencing the enjoyment of painting that I haven't had in about 20 years. It's a digital, simulated experience but I still like it. Maybe one day I will have a studio where I can get back to painting the old fashioned way but will I ever want to?  For now I really like the fact that I'm not making the enormous messes I used to make. And of course the best part of painting digitally is that I can ERASE!!! I'm not terribly savvy with the tools of photoshop (I don't even use Photoshop, just Elements). So digital painting is pretty straightforward, Wacom tablet "pen"set to round brush covers 90% of what I do.

The tablet made all the difference. I was doing collages before but couldn't call them paintings. I use the Intuos 4 and so far have not explored the many options that it offers. Still, the desire to have the tactile physicality of a brush will always be there. I use it just for painting and not for drawing. So far, for me, there is no digital substitute for pencil and paper and I see no need for one. True, the cats will carry a pencil away in their mouths but there's little harm that can be done to them or the work. (It always baffles me, do my cats live such boring lives that EVERYTHING I do is that fascinating for them?) I make a sketch on paper and scan it into the computer.
I thought I would share what went into this latest piece:

The inspiration for Cattyland is the board game, Candyland. Being food obsessed, it was my favorite game as a child. Over the years I have seen incarnations of the board illustrated in  a way that I find so inferior to the original. I am old school when it comes to cute. I just don't understand what passes for cute these days. I didn't even when I was a kid. I always loved Hugh Harmon and Rudolph Ising cartoons, and found the Muppets gross. (I know - sacrilege!) I like the way our readers were illustrated in the 1950s and I certainly prefer the version of Candyland that I played with as a child. In looking for the different boards I found this fabulous history, complete with slide show. There has been a different board each decade. Check it out:

This is the board I grew up with, so it is my favorite.

I wanted to make it for cats so each area was re-created with a cat theme. The peppermint stick forest replaced by "Catnip Fields" etc. All "lands" were done as separate illustrations. I start with a sketch and scan it into the computer. 
color gets added in layers

Then I start painting over it using a Wacom tablet and Photoshop elements. No waiting for paint to dry, just start a new layer!

When each piece was done, it got set into the larger  layout which contained the trail.

The most important stop for feline players

In total, there were ten illustrations combined. Although each one was flattened, it ate up lots of memory. My computer coughed and wheezed through this and in the end, the final piece was nearly 700 MB. I got to the point where I just had to stop because my computer was crying.

And all combined, it looks like this:
This and others are available as part of a line I am offering for purchase to help raise funds and awareness for animal rescue. For more info click here

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

The Last Photo of Susan

I found this shot in with some old photos I’ve been meaning to scan. This really should have been the last photo ever taken of me.  This should be the picture that evokes, tears , regret and deep pain. Minutes after this was taken I should have died.
But I did not (as is evidenced by my writing this) Rumors of my death have persisted and appealed to my macabre sense of delight. And as with Mark Twain, they have been great exaggerations, but this one is not a rumor nor is it even known.

We were at my mother’s friend’s house for a barbecue. I could not swim and was told exactly where the shallow end ended and that I was not to venture any further. There was a little sea horses on the side tile and I was not to go beyond  it. I remember having this cavalier sense that the grown ups were wrong, as usual, and I was probably a great swimmer but just never had the chance to demonstrate this. After all I had taken dozens of baths and felt quite confident that my aquatic skills honed in the tub would prove to be sufficient for any other body of water.

I was wrong.

Grasping the side of the pool I did not think much of the fact that I was, indeed going beyond that sea horse. After all, I was hanging on to the edge in spite of the fact that I knew there was nothing to worry about. I was a fabulous swimmer but just to keep Mom happy, I did cling to the side. My Dad was sitting next to the pool talking to a male friend and now and then he would say, "Get back to the shallow end". I would but then I'd go back past that sea horse, making my way across the pool, sideways, like a crab.

I lost my grip.

I remember all of this very vividly. Right after going under and not being able to come back up something became undeniable: I really CAN’T swim. Who knew? Oh yeah, I guess they knew. Flashbacks of this moment stayed with me for many years and made me far less head strong than I might have been. Now I’m struggling and the worst of this is that I can hear my Dad who is supposed to be watching me. He’s talking about golf with another guy. They are sitting in chairs only a few feet from where I am drowning and I can hear them. Part of me wonders if he can’t see me and another part wonders if he doesn’t care. I got to the point where I was breathing water, in and out and it was painful and held no satisfaction. It was impossible not to, it was a reflex to breathe but it hurt. Then I felt somebody grab me and pull me up.

According to Mom, she had an instant flash, like she heard me mentally calling her. I think Mom gave me this explanation because it made her seem magical but my sister’s is likely more accurate. SHE saw me. Anyway they both did and screamed and a friend said she knew lifeguard techniques and jumped in and got me. 

The friend was Sandy Descher, daughter of Audrey who's house we were at. She claimed she knew what to do and she really did. She got me on the patio and began pumping the water out of my lungs.  It was just like in the cartoons; water was shooting out of my mouth like a fountain. I thought this was really embarrassing. My sister remembers watching and thinking “Oh how embarrassing for Susan.” Self conscious freaks that we were, we would have considered death over looking foolish. My brother, Larry was no different. He was caught in a rip tide as a teen and absolutely refused to shout for help. I've since gotten over that and actually seek ways to look foolish. I also remember being equally embarrassed over her taking me back into the water to make sure I wasn’t afraid of it. I felt patronized by this. Looking back, Sandy was really remarkable. She handled the whole situation with such expertise. I think she was only nineteen years old.

I loved Sandy even before she saved my life.  She was 16 when I was born and 19 when I began admiring her. She was always so good to me. She bought me my first heart shaped box of chocolates for Valentine’s Day. I loved her delicate features and her turned up nose. Sandy was not unlike most of the people in my world; she was also a child actor. I knew she had been in a film with Elizabeth Taylor which was very cool. She was in “The Last Time I Saw Paris”. This was very cool but not nearly so cool to me as another film she did, the  Sci Fi classic, “THEM”.  Now THAT was an enviable role. There was also this little number which I remember seeing on TV - "Space Children", most intriguing. 

Sandy, third from left, in a bathing suit no less!
Great Look!
Now that I’ve wasted loads of time looking her up on the internet, I would assume, from my findings, that my Mom and her Mom met on the set of Vincent Minelli’s “The Bad and the Beautiful” where she worked with my brother, Chris.  They both had small parts. I especially like her look on this film.

Yes, Vincent Minelli was Judy Garland’s husband and Liza’s father. Liza used to come to the set and she and Chris would catch tad poles in the murky MGM swimming pool. Liza would often tag along for lunch and was known by my mother as “That homely little girl with all the nervous ticks. “Of course, in the years to come,  my mother would be amazed with how well that little girl turned out.  In fact  she made her a lesson. If we saw her performing Mom would say “You would never know she was the same person!  You wouldn't have thought she would ever amount to much and just look at her! She’s come so far! Look at her grace and poise! That just shows what hard work and dedication can do…” 

But my ADD digresses. I did not die that day but my father may have wished that he had. The guilt he felt over being right there and not realizing that I was filling my lungs with pool water must have been overwhelming. The thought of what might have happened plagued him. I would have an occassional nightmare about it where I could hear the water over my head. Dad would just get sick about it. Oddly enough I didn't ever go to the hospital just to get checked up. I mean I had water in my lungs but Sandy must have gotten it all out. Good job Sandy! 

Probably because of Sandy's wise insistence that I get right back in the water I was not left with any fear of it. I do, however, have a fear of fathers watching their children. I know it makes me sexist but I do think women are wired more strongly to see danger in everything and to be diligent. I don't think men worry as much - which can often be a good thing - but I also don't think they pay as much attention. My own parenting experience with my son's father verified my feelings a thousand fold.

Of course my little tale of thinking I knew better than my parents has been retold ad nauseum to my son. But it's the kind of lesson you really can't describe, you have to live through it. I'm glad I did.