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Inspiration

08/29/06 12:00AM By Jay Craven
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(HOST) Commentator Jay Craven has been on the road this summer with his new film - and it's gotten him thinking about how characters from his life sometimes find their way onto the screen.

(CRAVEN) My Texas-born grandmother helped raise me. And she inspired my vision of the mystical Cordelia, who is played by Genevieve Bujold in "Disappearances." "Geema" was blunt and enigmatic, with a steady stream of cryptic life lessons, off-the-cuff poems, and a biting tongue-in-cheek wit. Like Cordelia, she looked beyond what was visible.

And she was daring. When I was ten, Geema bluffed her way past security guards and steered me into the San Francisco Giants locker room at Philadelphia's Connie Mack Stadium - to get me Willie Mays' autograph. She told the cops she was the wife of the Giants' general manager. They let us through and there we were, staring straight at Giants' outfielder Willie McCovey lathering up in the shower.

My grandmother didn't flinch. "Mister Mays?" she said, with her indelible Texas drawl. "My grandson would like your autograph."

The tall soft-spoken McCovey shifted on his feet. "Ma'm, I'm not Mister Mays. I'm Mister McCovey. But if you'll just toss me a towel, I'd be happy to give your grandson an autograph -- then I'd like to finish my shower." He did, and a minute later we found Willie Mays dressing at his locker. He signed my program and I'll never forget it.

My grandmother also introduced me to movies. She loved westerns and Tennessee Williams' films -- anything with gunslingers or distraught southern women. So while my second grade peers were checking out Disney's "Dumbo" and "Lady and the Tramp," Geema and I were driving to see weekend matinees of "Red River," and "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof."

Like many kids, I improvised talent shows in our living room. Picking up on this, Geema booked one of my birthday parties onto the locally-produced "Mister Rivets Show." We kids all sat on tall stools while a guy in a robot outfit walked stiff-legged and talked like he was trapped in a refrigerator.

What I really wanted was a chance to get onto Dick Clark's Philly-based American Bandstand. But I was only ten at the time. Undaunted, Geema convinced my Scoutmaster to help three kids and me form a traveling doo-wop troupe to entertain folks at Elks Clubs and senior centers.

The scout master snagged us some Royal Canadian Mountie costumes so we came on-stage suited up, swiveling our hips, and lip-syncing the words to "Who Put the Bomp in Bomp She Bomp," "Does Your Chewing Gum Lose its Flavor," and "Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Yellow Polka-Dot Bikini." I don't know how the audience survived this.

During her life, Geema was a competitive swimmer, journalist, housewife, and secretary to a U.S. Senator. She was fierce on grammar and when I was out of line, she'd send me to an ancient willow tree to cut a "switch" that she threatened to use on the spot. She never did.

Geema died on her 91st birthday, but while working with Genvieve Bujold, I shared some of her stories. Looking at Cordelia on screen, I'm reminded of how much my grandmother remains with me.

Filmmaker Jay Craven teaches at Marlboro College and directs Kingdom County Productions.
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