The fairy-tale twist: Is Bee Priscilla’s nemesis or her alter ego? It’s a guessing game in which Vanderbilt delights and claims to be unsure of—but not for lack of consideration. “I’ve written some notes out,” she explains and begins to read from her prepared text. “Another world, exotic and surreal.… A type of thrust to unity.… Through the use of bodily and sexual pleasure the story achieves a universal understanding of identity.… The sexual dimensions,” she concludes, looking up from her paper, are not troublesome but “true of fantasy, self-exploration.”
Troublesome, perhaps not, but blush-inducing definitely, both for their specificity of description—props include a whip, a Mason Pearson hairbrush, and various fruits and vegetables—and the author’s over-the-top, rapturous prose. She insists “the only thing that would ever embarrass me would be something I would write that would be badly written.” Yet despite having gone on the record in her various memoirs about her own considerable affairs of the heart, she insists this book is fiction and not autobiographical in the least.
“I think it’s in character in a lot of ways,” notes Ben Brantley. Vanderbilt’s friend of nearly 30 years, the New York Times theater critic calls her an aesthetician whose “greatest aim in life is to create beauty out of anything.… Nothing about Gloria surprises me,” he continues. “She’s a romantic; she always has been. More than anyone I know, she has a teenager’s infatuation with love and everything that goes with it.”
She also retains a young person’s belief in what’s possible. Vanderbilt has developed a fantasy casting for Obsession the movie, and one gets the impression she’d volunteer for screenwriting duty in a heartbeat. Her perfect director: Luis Buñuel, but since “he’s not with us,” Barbet Schroeder. Talbot: Jeremy Irons. Nadine (Bee’s rival for Talbot’s attentions at the Janus Club sex retreat): Nicole Kidman. Bee: Anne Archer “as she was in Fatal Attraction,” Julianne Moore or Maggie Gyllenhaal. She rejects a suggestion, Angelina Jolie, as too sophisticated. As for Priscilla, Bee’s possible alter ego goes unmentioned. Such is not the case with Maja, the “ever solicitous duenna of our establishment.” Vanderbilt’s actor of choice: “myself.” A few days later, she will call with some amendments. Jolie is in; the other Bee contenders are out. And Irons is replaced by French actor Daniel Auteuil. Why? Talbot’s mother was Roman.
As a young woman, in fact, Vanderbilt spent seven years pursuing an acting career. She quit because she determined that no level of success would be enough and because “it brought out things in me that I didn’t really like.… [In] my marriage to Sidney Lumet [her third husband], I kept putting off having a baby because I wanted more success, and things like that.”