Just Because You Can’t See It Doesn’t Mean It’s Not Coming

NewstandBonnieShirley1943 copy

Bonnie told lies about being an actress from the time she started school in the Bronx until she went to the Pasadena Playhouse and became an actress.  Like all thoroughly commited liars, she knew that the bigger and better the lie the more likely it would actually be true at some point, even just for a small breath of time.  And she had a good handle on her audience, a valuable weapon in any fibber’s tactical arsenal.  The audience/enemy was the battalion of 6th grade girls at P.S. 77, who had nothing but disdain for the fat Jew kid who kept reminding them in a far-too-friendly fashion that her name was Bonnie, not Edna.  One day at lunch — she’d shoved herself onto the bench in the schoolyard whether the pretty girls wanted her there or not — she let the secret slip: she was Shirley Temple’s understudy. Yessirree bub, she’d gone to Hollywood in the summer and stayed with her Aunt — which was why her parents and sister weren’t there,  of course —  and acted right alongside Shirley Temple, in case she was sick.  And she was sick a lot! Oh, yes, they’d probably be seeing Bonnie in a movie or two any day now, soon as the new ones came out.  Years and years later Bonnie couldn’t remember exactly how she’d climbed out of the holes in her narrative (“Hey, wait! How come your hair’s not curly, then?” “Ain’t they gonna give you the money?” “Didn’t they make you get skinny?”), but reported that even the most vicious, most skeptical little Hedda Hopper was duly convinced and even prepared to swear she knew Shirley Temple’s real Hollywood profesional understudy. Eventually a note was sent home and Doris was summoned to appear right there in the classroom to discuss all sorts of misconducts (of which story fabrication was only one). Doris’ wrath was spitting and shrill, the foul Yiddish of her mother and the new, angry American street talk no one ever spoke on the radio but all the mothers knew. It’s One Thing to lie to your parents, who you obviously don’t ever think about,  and Another Thing to embarrass us in front of everybody and her mother!  Bonnie tumbled with her mother into the dark well of mortification — but Bonnie, as usual, got up and pulled herself back up toward the light, where another whopping, wonderful lie was sparkling in the sun.


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