Thursday, February 18, 2010

Cameo's Castle

"Cameo White " was just her movie name.
And although she grew into the name entirely, she never actually made a movie ...... but maybe that's not so tragic.

She was born "Camille Brown" to a mother (also named Camille) who seems to have become only the husk of herself afterward; there is very little mention of her anywhere. Meanwhile, Camille/Cameo became her father's pet, and mostly his master.
Her father, Elsworth Brown, was a Cornell Engineering graduate who became a Morse Chain design-chief. He bought several properties in Cornell Heights, and after the death of Oliver Fast, when the title to Bridge House came into question, Brown managed to get possession by paying taxes on it before the lingering matter of legal title could be completely settled. It was to be Camille's castle. Bridge House would turn out to be expensive for him, even though he never actually paid for it, but he had his motor-car industry investments to support the real estate.

Camille was still a student in the Art and Architecture school, but as soon as her father handed over the keys she moved right into Bridge House and began renovations.
First thing, she bumped out a studio dormer from the north-slope roof. Here she would, and did, paint highly exaggerated backdrops of local scenes, against which (with a still camera the size of a doll house) she photographed herself and occasional friends in improvised situations from unknown stories. Some of them them a little risky for the time. Most of these backdrops would eventually molder on the walls of Bridge house, or get painted over with graffiti, but several still exist in the university collection. They are kept rolled and sealed in refrigerated, climate-controlled tubes because of the certainty that unrolling them would also destrory them. The new imaging technology now being developed at Cornell and other places may eventually be able to scan and translate the image with the things still rolled up.

Simultaneously with moving into Bridge house, Camille began signing everything except checks as Cameo White. At that time, Ithaca was still experiencing its fifteen years as the motion picture capital of the world, as probably several other tinywood towns which never heard of each other. Cameo thought that Bridge House would make a perfect set for a movie, and that she ought to be in that movie.
The young Cameo often strode down the hill with her wolf hound to walk along the lake shore in Renwick Park, her long scarves flying in the wind as the tall hound on the long leash tugged her past the Wharton Brothers Motion Picture studios.
Among her first renters at Bridge House was a Wharton camera man: a Swiss citizen named Braun. In his spare time, Braun had invented a wind-up, clock-work camera, by combing an Ithaca Calendar Clock with some cast-off Wharton equipment. The clock-works kept the film moving without any of the variations in speed and swaying caused by hand-cranking. It had a big boxy cassette so that the film could be pre-loaded and back packed up into the gorges and glens were Wharton commonly filmed scenes of natural beauty and savage romance. The camera could be operated while it was still on his back, steadied by a third leg which he could drop from the carry case. Braun was still evolving the protoype when Wharton studios discovered California. Or maybe it was just New Jersey, but they left without Braun and his camera.
At some point Camille's mother had apparently become the shadow of her former husk and faded away entirely, without any account of it to be found... and then Camille's father died. He left behind shockingly little cash and deeply troubled assets as a result his over-investment in the Pope Motor Company and its "Waverly" Electric Car.

Camille got another wolf hound, and she changed her name legally to Cameo White. Cameo and Braun formed, registered, and promoted Bridge House Studios Incorporated. Bridge House itself and the Braun Clock Camera were most of their assets, and they planned to make an all-Epochal, local-centric movie, which would start back in fore-shadowy prehistory, with the a scene in which the early post-glacial pre-Iroquoin inhabitants of the Cayuga basin built a fire on the ice of Cayuga Lake, meaning to make the glacier retreat. Braun and /Cameo wrote detailed sample page shooting scripts, and circulated them widely, trying to raise money for the project. The next to last chapter of "EPICATHA" would be based on the true story of Oliver Fast's last days, but would include a seduction, a robbery, a murder, and a lot of resident wolf hounds.
By the time she had three or four wolfhounds, Cameo tended to speak with a slight Russian accent.
Periodically she would make casting calls, produce posters, and have the Ithaca newspapers announce shoots which did in fact get staged, with the camera ticking, and clacking, and small investors playiing small parts.
Braun and White's Bridge House Studios, did raise enough money to more or less support the real estate, as well as themselves, and the pretty expensive fund raising activities, for ten years and more. But they didn't raise enough money that it made any sense to actually use up precious film in their staged publicity shoots.
The fradulent enterprise came to a sudden end with a scene "filmed" on the ice of little Bebee lake , which was supposed to represent Cayuga Lake during the battle on the ice in which the pre Iroquoin Algonquins defeated the small, proud, resident people who believed they had stopped the the advance of the global glacier. The weight of the many student extras broke the ice, and dozens of people went through. Three were hauled out dead. One person was never found: Braun had gone down with his camera on his back.
They didn't have scuba divers for winter searches back then. The body must have bloated up and gone over the damn with the ice-out flooding.

But the camera was retrieved with grappling hooks in the Spring. It was intact and the film feed case was latched, but was discovered to be empty. Of course the film project was already sunk, but now there was scandal, mockery, humiliation, withdrawal.
Cameo White lived on at Bridge house, with no regular tennants other then a carnival woman named Missy Hoolihan, who was away traveling much of the time. Cameo continued to produce back drop after back drop of sceenes from more unknown stories, which no one would ever even dream of. Occasionally Miss Hoolihan would take one with her.
When Cameo needed a figure model, or if Missy had been away for a while and so she got lonseome for human company, Cameo would pull on her tall boots, and flying scarves, to take a hound or three and stalk down into the flats, looking for an interesting unfortunate whom she would engage in a discussion about their fascinating features, at some point handing them A dog leash or two, and then the dogs would pull them them up the hill . Some of these people had never walked up the hill before, and some would stay around for days. A few stayed until they eventually traveled on with Missy Hoolihan, as she came and went. Cameo seems to have brought home fewer strays humans, as her wolf hounds became a breeding pack of seven or eight.
In her later years, she was commonly seen coursing the Cornell Campus and Plantations with the dogs pulling , and she communicating with them like a troika driver, in what seemed to be out and out Russian, but a Russian professor who heard her said it it was pure doggerel. I'll let the dogs be the judge of that.

   And then one day, M. Hoolihan returned from a summer tour, to find the dogs very glad to see her, because ( as she told the investigator)  of course they were hungry......and with no water in their bowl and the toilet seats down, they might not even have survived, had they not been able to lick the condensation off the cold stone  of  the lower basements...... which, according to M. Hoolihan, they had always preferred to the water in their dish anyway.
   Anyway, something smelled very rotten in Bridge House........and up in the studio, she found Cameo, two or three weeks dead, her legs below the knees, entirely missing.
    M. Hoolihan offered to take over care of the dogs, but they were not released to her.
Considering that there was no injury to the the throat or upper body area, the medical examiners decided that the dogs had clearly only resorted to feeding on her feet, well after her death, Cause of death was given as heart failure, which is of course always at least a necessary condition of death. But the dogs had already been put down by some person person unkown.
Missy Hoolihan went to the police department and filed a formal complaint of murder against the executioner of the dogs. But that was the end of that.
M. Hoolihan left again, and it would be a long time before she came back.
If she were actually there now herself, she would probably have to be somewhere around a hundred and ten years old.

No comments: