Life with Norma at her great big Hollywood mansion is a self-indulgent one. In a cloud of ever-present nostalgia, surrounded by an unreal amount of glamour pictures of Norma herself, days are spent in and around the house; at the swimming pool, going for rides in her luxurious handmade and leopard skin upholstered Italian car and shopping at the best shops for the finest clothes. Nights are overcome watching Norma’s old silent films on a movie screen in the living room, or hosting bridge game nights to which a select and familiar crowd of fellow “waxworks”, (movie star ghosts of the silent film generation) are invited, and the occasional overdrawn live character performances that Norma puts on for Joe, thinking it will entertain him.
Extravagant and lush as her life may seem, it’s all a sorry attempt at satisfying her cravings for an audience…
But it seems as if there may be hope on the horizon: Not too long after sending in the script, manor Desmond receives a phone call from Paramount Studios. The call is handled by an assistant of director Cecil B. Demille instead of Demille himself, which infuriates Norma. After all, they have a long history of working together on the most renowned of films. Still, Norma is dead-set on the belief that Demille must love her script and therefore had his assistant contact her. Unbeknownst to her, it wasn’t the script that prompted the studio to call upon her, the reason was of much more banal nature: they are looking to rent her grandiose Italian car to use in a movie.
Instead of returning the call, Norma decides to spring a surprise visit upon Demille. And so, a few days later she embarks on a visit to the studio, unannounced. All put together, wearing “half a pound of makeup” and full of good faith she sits in the back of her car, with Max the butler behind the wheel and Joe at her side as they drive up to the studio gate.
When it is announced over the telephone by a gate keeper that Norma Desmond is coming over to the lot, the reactions of several people working under Mr. Demille speak volumes. The youthful employee to break the news of Miss Desmond’s arrival remarks “she must be a million years old!”, to which Mr. Demille replies “I hate to think where that puts me. I could be her father…” and then turns to Norma’s defense, schooling the young big mouth about what magnificence Norma Desmond was back in her day. A reply which puts the thoughtless employee in his place, but also further cements it into our minds that she is not only an old has been, but even the people who once revered her and were lucky enough to work with her as a young shining star are now taking pity on her.
As she walks in to the lot where Mr. Demille is filming his new movie ‘Samson and Delilah’, he welcomes her as graciously as he can, and then puts her to wait in his director’s chair while he goes to telephone the department to figure out why on earth she is interrupting his set (he wasn’t previously made aware of the studio contacting her about the car). As she sits in the director’s chair waiting, taking in the surroundings of her old stamping ground, one of the senior light workers above the stage recognizes her. He shines his stage light on Norma to “get a good look” at her. For a moment she is back in the spotlight, and we catch a glimpse of Norma Desmond the moviestar. The older extras and actors on the set now realize who they are looking at, and one by one, dressed in their period piece desert tribe attire, flock to her, like to a Messiah.
When Mr. Demille returns, now understanding that Norma’s visit is because of an embarrassing misunderstanding, he takes the filmset microphone and says, for everyone on set to hear “turn that light back where it belongs.” A merciless message. The crowd surrounding Norma parts, and he walks back to her. “Did you see them? Did you see how they came?” she gloats. As Mr. Demille tries to bring the news of the misunderstanding carefully, it becomes clear to him exactly how desperate and delusional Norma really is. She keeps raving about returning to the studio, one moment at the verge of tears and the next full of audacity, bartering working hours as if she’s already hired.
Though Norma leaves the studio on a high note, little cracks breaking away at her facade start to appear the days after her visit to Paramount.
© Barbara Timmers. Article Prepublication. All rights reserved.