Table Of Contents
What I See in You
A cool breeze rustled through the pine trees of Forest Lawn Cemetery, just outside Los Angeles’s Griffith Park. Retired Hollywood starlet Frankie Robinson strolled along the path in quiet contemplation. She knew no one buried here, but found the cemetery to be the most peaceful place in the city. It was here that she was able to reunite with her past.
Frankie mourned the loss of so many people from her life—family, friends, and lovers. Despite being a very attractive woman in her late fifties, she oftentimes found herself mourning her former youth. She hated herself for her vanity, but there was a time when she was considered to be one of the most beautiful women in America—the buxom, blonde beauty of the 1960’s who made all the red-blooded boys sweat.
Throughout the decades Frankie saw other starlets come and go, and she couldn’t help comparing herself to each and every one of them. She witnessed the way fashions changed through the generations and altered the definition of beauty—especially today with all the surgically enhanced girls. She was thankful that she had never felt compelled to alter her appearance merely to fit an image; but she had to admit, she did diet to dangerous levels during the latter years of her career.
She felt sorry for the young girls of today, seeing their lives and affairs displayed in the tabloids—none of them will ever last. Talent would always be overshadowed by the next up-and-coming star, beauty would always fade, and celebrity love affairs would only last until the public grew bored and moved on to the next fresh face.
Frankie had had her own share of flings and affairs. Each seemed to last in concordance with the public’s approval. Ironically, the one relationship that lasted the longest was the one that hardly anyone knew about. It was a dark secret she still kept close to heart. Looking back, although others would regard her love life as tragic, Frankie would not have changed a thing. The pain and the torment, not to mention the drama, actually strengthened her relationships. Frankie Robinson was known to the younger generations as a Hollywood survivor; but she was much more than that. She was also a survivor when it came to love.
Strolling mindlessly along the path, she stopped at a headstone that had endured the elements for generations. Frankie read the name, “Our Dearly Beloved Daughter, Abigail Benet 1930–1935.” She knelt before the gravestone, lamenting the little girl who never got to experience life past the age of five. Frankie couldn’t help remembering when she was a five-year-old girl. It was such a defining moment for her, and she remembered it perfectly.
In 1949 the Baldwin Dance Academy and Theatre proudly stood between two sturdy oak trees on the corner of an affluent suburb in Queens, New York. A svelte woman with starched, curled red hair and dressed in a tight pencil skirt was searching backstage—under tables and behind curtains. She stood upright with her hands on her hips. “All right, Frankie! This is not funny anymore. We are all waiting for you.” A muffled giggle was heard from inside a nearby box of feather boas.
The woman gracefully stepped toward the box in her stiletto heels and peered inside. “Frankie,” she said, pulling out the boas and finding five-year-old Frankie Robinson at the bottom, grinning. Despite her childhood mischief, the woman could not resist Frankie’s charm; she was as cute as a button—big blue eyes with long dark lashes, a perky little nose, and a big toothy smile. “Get out of the box. The recital is starting. All the other girls are waiting.”
Frankie climbed out, dressed in her wrinkled pink leotard and ruffled tutu, draping a black feather boa around her neck as she headed toward the stage. Her thick blonde hair was frayed from the tightly spun bun on her head. The woman tried to fix Frankie on the way to the stage, but it was no use—nothing could straighten that little girl out.
“Honey,” said the woman, tugging at the black feather boa Frankie had wrapped around her neck, “there are no feather boas in
Frankie resisted and held a firm grip on the boa. “Swans have feathers. I saw them at the Twin Lakes.”
The woman sighed impatiently, but tried to appease the smart five-year-old with reason. “None of the other girls have feather boas. Do you want to look out of place?” she asked, still trying to pry the feather boa from Frankie’s fingers.
“I don’t care,” said Frankie. “I am a swan. I want feathers.”
“Okay, have it your way,” said the woman, signaling for the stagehand to start the
music on the record player. She patted Frankie on the tutu for her to go on stage with the other little girls.
The audience, made up entirely of parents, laughed as they watched chubby little Frankie plié on the stage with the feather boa wrapped around her neck. While other little girls danced, Frankie made up for her apparent lack of grace with vigor, shaking her chubby body. Her energetic ballet moves caused the audience to smile—especially her father, Marcus. Frankie was his pride and joy. Frankie’s mother, Geraldine, lowered her head into her palm.
After the recital, Frankie’s parents took their spirited little dancer out to an upscale Rockville Steak House for hot cocoa and chocolate mousse cake. The restaurant was a relatively quiet place, disrupted only by the gentle clinking of silverware on porcelain or the occasional audible chatter of New York City’s intellectually elite.
Frankie knelt on the tapestry upholstered chair, dressed in her ruffled tutu, white mink coat, and black feather boa draped around her neck. She leaned over the table, exposing her pink leotard-clad derriere to the table alongside the Robinsons. She then lowered her face into her cup of hot chocolate, lapping up the cream on top with her tongue. She looked up; her face covered with whipped cream, and said, “Look, Mommy, I’m a kitten.”
Geraldine sighed and set her daughter down properly in the chair. She wiped the white cream from her face and fixed her hair, fraying from the bun. “Francesca Marie Robinson,” she said, “behave yourself.”
Frankie blew a raspberry at her mother and then started laughing.
Geraldine took a sip of her Sambuca, lit a cigarette, and then stared at her husband. “I blame you for this,” she said, “You dote on her way too much.”
Marcus stared at Frankie with adoration in his eyes and then pinched her cheek. “She’s my little angel. She’s not hurting anyone; she’s just being a little girl.”
Frankie beamed a big smile at her father. Geraldine shook her head. She was at a loss with them both.
Several years later in 1954, nine-year-old Frankie stood outside Marcus’s study door, pounding feverishly and calling for him.
“Francesca, leave your father alone!” called Geraldine from the living room.
“No! Why won’t he come out?” asked Frankie.
“Come here,” said her mother.
Frankie walked into the living room to find Geraldine stretched out on a newly purchased Danish red leather couch. Her mother, a former stage actress, liked to keep up with fashionable city trends—designer furniture, matching porcelain vases on various shelves and tables, and a Hoffman hanging above the stone fireplace. The dichotomy between this room and her father’s study was obvious. His space was decorated with bookcases full of leather-bound books, plush chairs, and pictures of Frankie. On most occasions Frankie would spend her time there reading or drawing while Marcus attended to his business.
“What’s wrong with Dad?” asked Frankie.
“Francesca, why don’t you make yourself useful, and go outside to rake leaves?” Geraldine replied, not lifting her eyes from the book she was reading.
Frankie crossed her arms and stood firm. “Not until you tell me what’s wrong with Dad.”
“You have a very smart mouth, for a nine-year-old,” scolded Geraldine. “Now go outside and rake leaves.”
Frankie clomped her way to the hallway closet, and grabbed her wool coat, scarf, and yellow rubber golashes “None of my friends’ parents make them rake leaves. They hire people!” shouted Frankie. “They don’t have to do chores; they have maids.”
“And your friends will grow up ill-mannered and spoiled!” Geraldine called after her.
Ill-mannered and spoiled.
Frankie silently mouthed the words, mocking her mother. She stomped loudly in her galoshes as she walked out the door, heading to the garage to get the rake.
It was a cold, blustery day, and every time she raked a bunch of leaves, the wind blew them all over the lawn again. The chore became futile, and as soon as Frankie had a pile of leaves big enough, she collapsed onto it and rolled around.
She looked up at the cloudy sky and then covered her face with leaves, wanting to hide from the world.
Mom can be so mean,
Why won’t she let me see Dad?
There were times she felt so lonely. All her school friends had time to play, while she routinely had to attend some class or perform some chore. It wasn’t fair, and now her mom wasn’t her letting her see her dad.
With a somber expression, Marcus opened the front door and stepped onto the concrete stoop, wrapping a wool scarf around his neck. In the middle of his sprawling front yard, marked by a white picket fence and rose bushes, he saw a pile of leaves with a small pair of yellow galoshes sticking out of the side. It was a sight that put a smile on his face.
He walked toward the pile, picked up the rake, and started raking more leaves over Frankie. Frankie came alive under the heap of leaves, kicking her legs and thrashing her arms. “I’m under here!” she cried.
“Who’s under there?” teased Marcus.
Frankie poked her head out from the pile with leaves sticking to her hair. “Me. Your daughter. Remember!”
Marcus knelt down and wrestled Frankie in the leaves. “I know who you are,” he said. “You are my little angel.”
Frankie hugged her father tightly. “Why did you lock yourself in your study?” asked Frankie.
“Business,” said Marcus.
“What kind of business?”
Marcus dusted leaves from his little girl. “Business I don’t like, but must attend to.”
“Like what?” pressed Frankie.
He sat down in the grass alongside Frankie and sighed. “Sometimes people will say things about you that are untrue, and those things might affect your job and your family. Sometimes there are things you need to do to protect yourself and the people you love.”
“I don’t understand,” said Frankie.
Marcus kissed on her the nose. “I don’t either.”
Geraldine appeared in the doorway, hands on her hips. “Are you two going to keep messing around, or are you going to rake the leaves?”
“Mom is so mean,” said Frankie, starting to rake again. “I don’t know why you like her.”
Marcus chuckled as he got to his feet. “It’s not an easy job being the boss of people you love. Try to give her a break.” He lifted Frankie by her arms and swung her around and yelled out to Geraldine “We’re raking leaves!” He set Frankie down and grabbed hold of the handle of the rake. “Go get trash bags. We can finish this job in a jiffy.”
The spotlights shined harshly on the set of the television studio. There were several men armed with large cameras on tripods. Backstage, fifteen-year-old Frankie was nervously wringing her hands together. She had never shied from the stage, but this would be her first time on national television. Marcus, a radio and television personality, had friends who were willing to give his daughter this opportunity He didn’t have to twist too many arms to get it; Frankie had already grown into a beautiful teenager. By now agents and producers were clamoring to give her a chance.
On cue, Frankie energetically bounced on to the set alongside the television show’s host, a distinguished middle-aged man with graying hair. Together they performed a comedy skit, followed by a duet. After the performance, Frankie curtsied, then bounded off the stage to where a dozen red roses awaited her—a gift from her biggest fan, Marcus.