Leonie Gilmour ( who??! )
This week's blog was supposed to be about famous American-Japanese designer Isamu Noguchi, whose Noguchi coffee table has become one of the most instantly recognisable design classics of the 20th century. However, while researching for this piece, it was his mother, Leonie Gilmour, and her unconventional life in early 1900's America that intrigued me and I thought that her life story would make an amazing film. Well, the Oscars have come and gone but (I can see your eyes glazing over) PLEASE allow me to present to you the bones of my (multi-award winning) movie, in one short paragraph...ok, maybe not so short.... The opening scene of my movie shows a train somewhere in Japan, Nov 2010...camera zones in on a commuter's newspaper, The Japanese Times and we read the following: "Even today, you'd have to go far to run into a radical individual like Leonie Gilmour, but in America in 1901, to meet a woman like her must have been on a par with witnessing a comet.." She was born in 1873 in New York city and studied journalism at college.
We see her answering a classified ad and being taken on by famous Japanese poet (an all round hunk, by all accounts), Yone Noguchi, to edit his work.
She falls in love with him and becomes pregnant. He meanwhile is carrying on an affair with Washington journalist, Ethel Armes. When Leonie tells him of the pregnancy, he greets the news with disbelief and anger and finishes the relationship. Leonie moves in with her mother in Los Angeles to her ramshackle farm (her mother is a free spirit, an early hippy before the term had been invented). Baby Isamu is born in 1904 and upon his arrival, Leonie makes sure that the news hits the papers. Yone Noguchi, meanwhile has become engaged to Ethel Armes, who, upon hearing of the birth, cancels the wedding. Yone heads back to Japan in a huff. Moving on a couple of years, Isamu is bullied in school, so what does our heroine do? She decides to pack up, hops on a steam ship and sails to Japan with him. She lands in Yokohama and is met at the port by her Japanese poet, who greets her frostily and instructs her to walk behind him, because, he explains hastily, that men walk in front of women in Japan and that is just the way it is, get over it.. This does not sit well with feisty Leonie. After a time, the poet announces that actually, he has already married in the interim and has a wife now, thank you very much. Leonie moves away, takes a job as a governess and is subsequently refused a job in a prestigious school because of her circumstances. Next thing, she gives birth to a baby girl, Ailes (whose father's identity is never revealed). Yone calls her a slut (cheeky) and she heads off once again on her own, a single woman in Japan with two children in tow. She builds a house in Chigasaki and takes Isamu, now aged 8, out of school and allows him to stay at home to manage the construction (yes, really..). In 1918, Leonie sends Isamu, aged 14, back to the States on his own to attend an experimental school, under the guardianship of Leonie's friend, Edward Rumely. Yone, the absent father, tries to stop him boarding the ship but he goes. Following Rumely's advice, Isamu studies medicine but he ends up being more fascinated with drawing and sculpting the human body rather than fixing it's ailments. He drops out of medical school and becomes a famous artist. His mother and sister arrive back in New York to surprise him and they settle there. Leonie grows old and ends up selling Japanese knick knacks. After an argument with her daughter (now a famous dancer), Leonie becomes ill and dies in hospital on New Years Eve, 1933, aged 60,with Isamu at her bedside.
"My" Leonie is a stubborn, hard, uncompromising, driven, disciplined woman...she was not soft in any shape or form, she did her duty by her kids and certainly, I think her personality traits ensured that her children became independent thinkers with questioning, creative minds. Paradoxically, my heroine has to have you rooting for her, and therein lies my problem with the script..She's not very likeable and so I have delayed having my script bought for millions..there's still a lot of tweaking to be done and I'm not there yet!
So, do I have the ingredients for a movie full of twists, turns and passion? Well, I'm too late..Leonie Gimour's life was made into a movie and released in November, 2010. Called "Leonie", it stars Emily Mortimer in the lead role.
Now, I just wonder if Eero Saarinen had a conventional mother..? Hmmmm........