James Dean on a Seesaw

Audrey Thompson

Ivan in front of the red car Ivan and Kelly with the red car

By and large, photos from Ivan’s childhood and adolescence are pictures of a red car. Some of the snapshots, but by no means all of them, include Ivan, his brother Kelly, or their mother Naomi. Inside the red car, sometimes, you can catch a glimpse of Kelly. The people in the photos tend to be rather murky-looking and could be almost anyone, but the red car is always in focus. Even if all you see is a fender, you would not mistake that car for any other car.

The red 1955 Ford Ranch Wagon
The red 1955 Ford Ranch Wagon
The red 1955 Ford Ranch Wagon The red 1955 Ford Ranch Wagon

It is always parked. In general, George preferred to take pictures of inanimate objects, and he had a particular fondness for parking lots.

The red car at the beach Kelly inside the red car at the beach
The red car parked at a motel The red car at Blackhawk Park

It did not take me long to spot the red car pattern in the family photos. I mentioned it to Ivan. “My Dad loved that car,” he explained.  I could see that. That car was part of the family and possibly the proudest part, at least when they were outdoors. Indoors, there is a more erratic character to George’s photographs, as if he were anxious to get back outside where the car could be brought into the frame.

Ivan indoors, dressed for the outdoors
Ivan indoors, dressed for the outdoors Ivan indoors, dressed for the outdoors

Not all George’s outdoors pictures have the red car in them. There are a good many photos of Naomi in a bathing suit, some of Ivan and Kelly playing on the beach, one of a group of men not working, presumably making them easy to photograph, one of a parked train, and several of the Holiday Court Motel in Florida.

Ivan at the beach
Naomi at the beach Naomi at the beach
Men watching a barn-raising Streamliner cars
The Holiday Court Motel on Anastasia Island

There is also a photo of Ivan at what the family called their oil well. At the height of its powers, the oil well — actually a natural gas pump — raked in $45.00 a year for Grandma Florence. It did not make anyone rich, but the family felt kind of fancy about it. Not everyone has an oil well. Still, the oil well was not as important as the car. George took almost no pictures of the oil well; the only two I know of feature a morose Ivan standing beside it with an ear ache.

Morose Ivan at the gas well
Ivan at the natural gas pump

All the important, happy family pictures have the red car in them.

Ivan at home in Minnesota
Ivan at home in Minnesota

Kelly on Uncle Fred’s boat in Texas
Kelly on Uncle Fred’s boat in Texas Kelly on Uncle Fred’s boat in Texas

Even though he knew that almost all the pictures his Dad had taken were shots of the red car, Ivan was going through old family slides. When he ran across a picture of himself with Kelly on a seesaw, he showed it to me. “Look!” he told me. “That looks like James Dean on a seesaw,” I remarked. “Exactly the effect I was looking for,” Ivan said smugly.

James Dean on a seesaw

There are only a couple James-Dean-like photos of Ivan and none of the slightly older Ivan in the Beatle boots and haircut that got him kicked out of high school. Most of the pictures of young Ivan show him in a crewcut next to the red car. He is bitter about the crew cut, though not about the red car.

Ivan and Kelly and car
Ivan and Kelly and car
Ivan with Crazylegs II and Kelly, the Car, and rival cars
Ivan with Crazylegs II and Kelly, the Car, and rival cars

One of my family’s best pictures, now lost, was a black and white photo taken of us in our white 1960 Ford in Germany. It was the only new car my parents owned until Mom and Dad were in their sixties, when Mom informed Dad that she was going to get a brand-new Toyota and that it was going to be red. Dad suggested beige or white and maybe a used Buick. He was missing her point, she said. It was going to be new and it was going to be a Toyota and it was going to be red.

When Ivan and I were first dating, my parents showed him the Ford photo, which caught us about to set off from Worms to Italy for a beach holiday. It was September of 1962 and all of us except Barbie, who was a baby, were wearing huge sunglasses. Very much taken with the photo, Ivan told Dad, “You look just like Humphrey Bogart in this picture!” Dad was pleased. “Did you hear that, Marian?” he said triumphantly. “Ivan says I look just like Humphrey Go-cart.”

My family is famous for looking like famous people. One of the tellers at his bank told my grandfather that she always remembered him because he looked like Spencer Tracy. He was extremely chuffed about this.

Grandma and Grandpa
Grandma and Grandpa
Grandpa is the one in the loud shirt
Grandpa is the one in the loud shirt
Grandpa and Chuck
Grandpa and Chuck
Grandma with Patchy, Audrey, Barb, and Grandpa
Grandma with Patchy, Audrey, Barb, and Grandpa

Grandma, in one of her old pictures, looks just like Alice Paul, Ivan says. Then again, he does not necessarily believe that that is Grandma in the picture. He thinks it may really be Alice Paul. “I knew Grandma all my life,” I point out, “so you will have to defer to me on this. She may not look to you like my grandmother, but she looks to me like my grandmother.” “That is just your opinion,” Ivan said. “Who she really looks like is Alice Paul.”

Grandma as Alice Paul
Grandma

Ivan himself does not look like Ivan in ninety percent of his pictures. Who is to say that that is not really James Dean on the swing set?

Naomi, Kelly, and Ivan
Naomi, Kelly, and Ivan

When Annika was little, she looked like Hilary Knight’s drawings of Eloise.

Annika with Joe and Tom
Annika with Joe and Tom

According to Grandpa, Mom looked like Doris Day. He told her so from time to time, ticking her off. Mom did not care for the implication that she was perky.

Grandpa and Mom
Grandpa and Mom
Dad and Mom
Dad and Mom

My sister, when young, looked like the little girl in the foreground of John Singer Sargent’s Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose. My brother, on the other hand, is famously nondescript.

Barbie and a witch

According to Mom, I look just like Mary Tyler Moore in this photo, which Mom took in Strasburg in 1977. So striking is the resemblance to Mary Tyler Moore, Mom claims, that it is again apparent in a photo that Chuck took at a railroad turntable in Peoria in 2004.

Audrey Tyler Moore Audrey Tyler Moore at the turntable

Any remotely objective observer can see that I look nothing whatsoever like Mary Tyler Moore. Even the rest of my family, who is not remotely objective, can see this. The only person I have ever looked like was my Aunt Joanne, who was not famous, not perky, and did not throw her hat in the air, all points in her favor. My mother says that my Aunt Joanne was the best person she ever knew.

Barb, Audrey, Marian, and Chuck
Barb, Audrey, Marian, and Chuck
Aunt Joanne
Aunt Joanne

Sometimes, rather than look famous themselves, people in my family just stand next to famous people. At a casino in Lake Tahoe in the early 1960s, Grandpa, Dad, and Aunt Audrey watched while Mom and Uncle Jim played roulette and blackjack with Lucille Ball, Tommy Sands, and Nancy Sinatra. Depending on my source, Lucille Ball played either $1,000.00 or $2,000.00 chips. (Although my sources did not include Lucille Ball herself, everyone in my family is extremely reliable with regard to facts. If he had to, my grandpa would make the facts up personally.) All available sources agree that Lucy swore like a trooper. Mom and Uncle Jim played $2.00 chips. My aunt suspects that Joey Bishop, who dealt the cards, made sure my uncle won. It is probably worth mentioning that my birthday is the same day as Nancy Sinatra’s.

Cousin Allison, Audrey, Chuck, and cousin Jimmy not hanging out with the stars at Lake Tahoe in 1963
Cousin Allison, Audrey, Chuck, and cousin Jimmy not hanging out with the stars at Lake Tahoe in 1963

There is no photographic documentation of the Lake Tahoe meeting of minds. There is documentation of the John Wayne connection, however; nothing happens on an Air Force base that is not documented. Because several movies were made on Air Force bases in the 1950s, Grandpa got to meet John Wayne, Joe E. Brown, and other Hollywood folks. Ivan tells me that Blood Alley was the second John Wayne movie he ever saw and that he has no idea why they had to involve the Air Force. I looked it up and it is not clear even why they had to involve Lauren Bacall.

John Wayne, director William A. Wellman, and Grandpa in San Francisco Bay, during the making of Blood Alley
John Wayne, director William A. Wellman, and Grandpa in San Francisco Bay,
during the making of Blood Alley

Grandpa was a good golfer and lived in California; you would think he would have been a magnet for famous people. But it is more useful to be a mediocre golfer. One summer, when Mom, Chuck, Barb, and I were visiting Grandma and Grandpa in California, and Dad was home working during the weeks and lonely on weekends, he read that the composer Geoff Stevens, who wrote “Winchester Cathedral,” had recently moved to Geneva with his family. The newspaper mentioned that Mr. Stevens was looking for a golf partner who spoke English and was not terribly good at golf. “I speak English,” Dad thought. “I am not terribly good at golf. I will call him.” For years, they enjoyed playing golf together.  Apparently, neither of them ever improved.

Ivan and I have had our own brushes with fame. I wrote mystery author Keith Snyder an irritable fan letter once. “Dear Mr. Snyder,” I wrote. “I am in an extremely bad mood and my husband is reading your 3rd book, which I have already read, along with books one and two. Please send me at least the first chapter of your 4th book, as it is necessary if I am not to be jealous of my husband, who is having a great deal of pleasure when I am having none. Sincerely, Audrey Thompson.” He wrote me back a very funny letter but no first chapter.

Once, I got to stand next to Walter Mosley and Ivan got to stand next to Ann Bannon.

Walter Mosley and Audrey in Monterey
Walter Mosley and Audrey in Monterey
Ann Bannon and Ivan in New Orleans
Ann Bannon and Ivan in New Orleans

Sometimes, if there are no famous people around, people in my family settle for standing next to famous-looking people. Grandpa’s friend Dick apparently looked a lot more like Humphrey Bogart than Grandpa looked like Spencer Tracy, and Grandma had a friend no one can remember who looked like the Queen Mum.

Reynolds Pass over the Great Divide Grandma and the Queen Mum

All of this proximity to fame has rubbed off on us. From an early age, Barbara knew how to wave like royalty.

Barb and Brian on the first day of kindergarten
Barb and Brian on the first day of kindergarten

But it is just proximity to fame. It is not actual fame. The only famous person in the family was a great-grandmother on my Dad’s side, an opera singer who got written up in the “What’s What in Peoria” column of the newspaper. Mom Mom gave my cousin Lynn the opera singer’s scrapbook of recital clippings, unnecessarily pointing out that Lynn was the only one in the family who knew the first thing about music. It is true that Lynn is a professional violinist; I am not saying that the rest of us are all professional violinists. But there was a time when I could play “Mary had a little lamb, little lamb, little lamb” on my recorder almost fluently. Although I never got to the end of the song, it was not for lack of musical ability. I was never really encouraged.

Opera Singer’s scrap book Maime Holmes Thompson

What’s what in Peoria

The opera singer passed her musical ability on to her only child, Dad’s and Joanne’s father. On the evidence, his musical gifts at an early age appeared dubious but eventually his genes seem to have asserted themselves. In his Shriners band, he played both a regular fiddle and a homemade one-string fiddle made from a broomstick and a cigar box. While working for the Travelers Insurance Agency, he also formed a band of his own called Tommy and His Travelers that played at local dances and parties. Unlike his mother, my grandfather was never written up in the musical reviews, so we don’t know what the experts thought. No embarrassing remarks have been passed down, which you might think to attribute to the suppression of important information, except that in my family the most valuable information is always embarrassing and also is the pretty much the only kind of information we have.

Charles E. Thompson, Muscician: Lessons Free!!!

My grandfather is on the left
My grandfather is on the left
Here he is second from the right
Here he is second from the right

We don’t know what happened to these genes on our side of the family. Ivan can fiddle, but he is not a Thompson. Annika plays the flute, but we suspect she got her flute genes from the Gilrays. Lynn not only inherited our grandfather’s fiddling gene but, from what I gather, she can sing as well. Apart from my early promise on the recorder, I have not had a lot of musical triumphs. I did get cast as a singing lady-in-waiting in a play once, but a shadow was cast over the question of my talent as a singer. When I auditioned for the school musical in second grade, Miss Winskill paused lengthily before saying, “Well, all right, Audrey. At least you’re loud.”

Ivan playing his grandfather’s fiddle in 1977
Ivan in 1977
Lynn and Dad in 2003
Lynn and Dad in 2003

All the musical Maime Thompson genes have gone to Lynn, leaving nothing but loudness on our end. At least in our household loud is not a problem. Gaston prefers things loud and boisterous, and if they are not already that way he will fix them. Our neighbor Kerry was over today and she said that one of their cats really does not care for noise. “Will and I have to remember to use our inside voices or she freaks out,” said Kerry. Ivan and I can use our outdoor voices all day long and Gaston will be happy as a clam. “Great, great,” he will say, “we got something going! What’s up, what’s up? Should I lead?”

Gaston with Neko
Gaston with Neko

Despite my father’s illustrious heritage, he is not bothered by the lack of fame or talent on the part of immediate family members and the lack of worldwide success or even friendly write-ups in the Peoria notes column of the paper. As far as Dad is concerned, he lives in at the center of what everybody else is merely striving for: no movie star, no opera singer, no nobody is more beautiful than Mom is. Mom, he remarks constantly, is the most beautiful woman in the world. Recently, Mom went to see the doctor, and when she got back Dad asked her how it went. “Did he tell you that you were beautiful?” Dad asked. “Actually, he did,” said Mom, rather surprised. “He said, ’You are a very beautiful woman. Do your children take after you?’ ’No, they take after my husband,’ I said. ’Too bad,’ said the doctor.” Mom was a little miffed. The doctor has met Dad. He knows he is the handsomest man in the world. Dad was not miffed, though. It was only to be expected. You can have all the fame you want, all the musical talent, and all the movie-star glamour, but the fact remains, Mom is the most beautiful woman in the world. A doctor would have to know that.

Mom
Mom
Chuck and Mom
Chuck and Mom
Marian and Tom at the Ivy Club in Peoria

line

Previous Page
Table of Contents
Next Page

Main web site:  http://www.pauahtun.org/audrey.html

Valid HTML 4.01 Transitional