Building your own prison

Appleton Utopia promotion, AdamsMorioka, Noreen as the innocent farm girl

We make our own prisons. For years, it bothered me when someone would meet me and say, “I love your work, you guys do that funny bright stuff.” The “I love your work” part was good, but the rest felt so small. In our minds, we play with ideas of pastiche, appropriation, irony, and media manipulation. The end product may incorporate complex theory, but it often appears bright and funny. So I’ve had to accept that we built this house. It’s like Marilyn Monroe wanting to be considered a serious actress, or The Beach Boys wanting serious consideration. Marilyn might have been a serious actress, but people wanted her to be what she appeared to be. Brian Wilson is an amazing and revolutionary musician, but the Beach Boys will always be fun and bubble-gum.

Years ago, Appleton Paper asked us to design a piece for their line, Utopia. The assignment was this: ask a hairstylist what his or her idea of a perfect life is. Then design a piece that reflects this. The answer we received was fairly expected, “I’d hang out by the pool at the Beverly Hills Hotel and have drinks,” or something along those lines. This seemed dull and expected to us. But if you dig a little deeper, the entire Hollywood myth is buried in that statement.

The Hollywood myth that we all know is this: a young innocent leaves the farm in Kansas and heads to Hollywood to become a star. She is soon discovered at the soda fountain at Schwabs and becomes a huge star. Awards follow, and then the diva-esque behavior sets in. Of course it all ends badly with substance abuse and rehab. This is a far more fun story to tell. In fact, it is the plot of Valley of the Dolls. We decided to tell the narrative visually. Budget constraints and a nod to Cindy Sherman, not excessive ego, thrust Noreen into the starring role. Of course, in the end, it's the bright and funny stuff.

Appleton Utopia promotion, AdamsMorioka, stardom, swimming pools, and Cadillacs

Appleton Utopia promotion, AdamsMorioka, diva behavior, rehab

Patty Duke, Valley of the Dolls, 1967

Appleton Utopia promotion, AdamsMorioka, Sean Adams on the road to ruin

Appleton Utopia promotion, AdamsMorioka

The grass is always greener

William Christian Bullitt, Paris 1939

This last year has been a hard one for everyone. It’s easy to think that the next guy has it better. Michael Bierut never has to get work and solves problems instantly, Dana Arnett has no worries, Marian Bantjes is sitting calmly at her studio in the woods or feeding the happy woodland creatures, Sean Adams is listening to the Beach Boys and driving around Beverly Hills. But like everyone else, they and I still pump gas, pay bills, load the dishwasher, and worry. I tend to think the same thing about previous generations of my family. They seemed to spend time touring Europe, leisurely riding through the countryside, and occasionally running for office. My grandmother’s cousin Bill (William C. Bullitt) was one of these people. I have photos of him looking dapper and sophisticated. He, seemingly, led a charmed life of privilege.

I recently finished a book, So Close To Greatness, about Bill Bullitt and his life was far from charmed. Like all of us, he worked hard for his beliefs, juggled a career and family, and wanted respect from his peers. He was born in Philadelphia in 1891 to the Philadelphia arm of the family. He went to Yale and Harvard Law. He served President Woodrow Wilson at the Paris Peace Conference. He was the US Ambassador to the Soviet Union, and then France, and was one of President Franklin Roosevelt’s inner circle. This would all appear, on paper, to be charmed. But, life wasn’t that easy.

Bill Bullitt’s second wife was Louise Bryant (played by Diane Keaton in Reds), widow of the radical communist, Jack Reed. Bullitt and Bryant lived in Paris and were part of the ex-pat community of the 1920s. Once again, on paper, this was a golden time. But Louise slowly went mad, became an alcoholic, enjoyed entering dinner parties in the nude, and they were divorced. The invasion of the German army ended Bullitt’s service as the ambassador to France. After his return to the United States, he lobbied to be part of Roosevelt’s cabinet. A mislaid plan to expose Secretary of State Sumner Welles’ predilection for Pullman porters ended his friendship with Roosevelt and ended his political career.

However, throughout all of these trials, Bullitt remained gracious and elegant. His response to the invasion of the German army was to order all good champagne and caviar to be taken with him and the embassy staff to the basement. “We may be killed,” he said, “But I’ll be damned if we’ll be annoyed.”

William Christian Bullitt, Camp Pasquaney, 1918

William Christian Bullitt, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, 1937

Louise Bryant in Russian costume 1920

William Christian Bullitt and Pie-Pie