Rowan Oak, the antebellum house that William Faulkner bought when still struggling to make a living with words, is now a museum in Oxford.
Photo: Robbie Caponetto
The night “Intruder” opened we rode to town in Pappy’s station wagon. As we left Rowan Oak, beams were arcing across the sky from kleig lights outside the Lyric Theatre. The Ole Miss band was playing and hundreds of starstruck fans had gathered. As we came closer to the square we could hear them cheering and screaming as each car pulled up and a star emerged. The entrance had been cordoned off. Vicki and I were in the back seat, silly with excitement, checking our (first-ever) nylon stockings, and smoothing the skirts of our new dresses. Vicki’s was iridescent orange taffeta with a wide sash that had been made by Aunt Estelle, and mine was midnight blue velvet, sewn by Wese. We thought we were gorgeous. When a tuxedo-clad attendant opened the door for us, we were sure of it.
With spotlights shining in our faces we entered the Lyric behind Pappy and Aunt Estelle, Jill, Nannie, and Aunt Bama. After being escorted to our seats near the front we saw that some of the stars were already present and being introduced. They gave brief speeches, then Pappy was introduced. It was his second time in fifteen years to appear at the Lyric at a premiere. His public statement at the 1932 premiere of his first film, Today We Live (“This movie bears no relation to the story I wrote!”), was all but forgotten. When Pappy was introduced he stood up, bowed, and sat back down. The crowd continued applauding. He rose again. I held my breath, hoping that he would say something, anything, so that people would keep looking at us in our new dresses. I was far too young to know what a courageous and avant garde statement on civil rights Pappy had made in “Intruder.” I had not even read it when we went to the premiere. Vicki and I had huge crushes on “Chick” (Claude Jarman, Jr.). We cheered for Miss Habersham, who reminded us of Nannie. We feared for Lucas Beauchamp (pronounced “Beecham” in Mississippi) and yet like most of the theater audience we were white southerners entrenched in racial division without a trace of irony in our souls. All I knew was that for the first time, Pappy’s light was shining on me and I was dazzled. To my dismay he only nodded and sat down again. After the showing of the movie, when the lights came on, the spectators began shouting, “Author, author!” Pappy ignored them and quickly ushered us out to the waiting car.
Back home at Rowan Oak, Vicki and I lay awake and whispered and giggled, too excited to sleep. Finally she asked the question we both knew she had to ask. “How did I look in the movie, you know, Little-Girl-Eating-An-Ice Cream-Cone?” I pretended to be asleep, but she knew me too well. So I yawned and said, “What kind of ice cream was it?” She hit me with a pillow. Then we snuggled down, listened to the grownups talking downstairs and dreamed our Technicolor dreams.