The first time I heard of the movie “The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone” starring Vivien Leigh and Warren Beatty was during one Sunday dinner some time in 1980 with my uncle, Brother Andrew. He said it was the story of an older woman who “got involved” with a younger man. Since then, every time a “scandale” erupted in Manila with an older woman getting it on with a younger man, Brother Andrew, eyes wide with wicked and picaresque delight, would snap: “The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone!!! Hahahah!!!”
I was not interested to watch “The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone” because I absolutely had no curiosity about older women getting involved with younger men. All I knew about older women and younger men were mothers and their sons. I didn’t even know that “having an affair” meant having sex. I was young and innocent and I wasn’t interested in sex, much less sexual dynamics. If there was any “Stone” I was interested in watching, it was the cartoon “The Flintstones”!!! 😛
If I remember right, it was in the late 1980s, during the Cory Aquino administration, that we had our first brush with a “Mrs. Stone episode” in the family, specifically my maternal Reyes side: An aunt in her 60s had taken to [ the then very fashionable ] ballroom dancing along with her peers and had subsequently become infatuated with her twentysomething D.I. dancing instructor. The trouble was that her husband in his 70s was ill with liver cancer and was in and out of the hospital, but that she was, rather insensitively as observed by the family, gallivanting all over town with her young D.I. [ who it turned out wasn’t even of centerfold stud quality 😛 ]. Her mature daughters finally confronted her and complained about the whole she-bang: the D.I., the ballroom dancing, the nights [ and early mornings ] out, the untrackable dates, the cash withdrawals, the maxed-out credit card bills… oh the bills!!! It was a godawful emotional confrontation that left the aunt victorious and her daughters devastated. Aunt declared decisively: “I don’t care what any of you think! Your father is dying and there’s nothing any of us can do about it!” The affair continued and the daughters continued carping… until the $$$ money finally ran out, thanks to the horrendous medical bills of the terminally ill husband. And that was when the D.I. finally left. Fin.
Now it comes back to me… it was also during those years that Manila society was regaled with the romantic misadventures of a lady and her D.I. dance instructor which brought forth giggles from otherwise correct ladies and guffaws from otherwise somber gentlemen. Those episodes brought Brother Andrew, and many prominent people, great amusement, albeit perverse. Because we were on our way to a dinner, I had accompanied Brother Andrew to that lady’s husband’s wake, and I remember her “half-dead” as she stoically accepted my uncle’s condolences, wearing thick glasses, and wrapped in a great black shawl. Months later, odd rumors started circulating in high circles. Still later at a posh gathering at the Polo club, I came across a totally chic old lady, her hair in a Chanel bob, with full maquillage, and dressed in the overblown style of Christian Lacroix — not unlike Princess TNT / Gloria von Thurn und Taxis — supported by two maids accompanied by a battalion of household staff, and to my utter surprise, was told by chichi friends that it was none other than her. She was unrecognizable, at least from the time of her husband’s wake. A year later, a good friend and I were visiting an Ilocana doyenne at a new condominium building at the Ortigas Center. Ilocana doyenne gestured towards the unit opposite and said that it was the love nest of the lady and her D.I. dance instructor. It had faux stained glass on the front door and there hung a resin sign with “Home Sweet Home.” We thought it was cute. It seemed the affair continued for some time, although there were rumors of a separation: it was said that she had caught her lover “in flagrante delicto” with, alas, another man. Last we heard, the D.I. had simply “disappeared”… to the relief of the family.
Certainly the most galling of the “Mrs. Stone stories” was that of an heiress of an Old Manila family with a fortune of Php 750 million who died without issue as well as intestate, that is to say, without children and without a Last Will and Testament. Her D.I. dance instructor had the effrontery to challenge her indirect heirs, her nephews and nieces, for her considerable estate in court.
On 16 May of this year 2010, during the “Piyesta ng Pag-Akyat” Feast of the Ascension at the Villa Escudero, Joey Panlilio, with whom I have had a “Malice in Wonderland”-Louella Parsons-and-Hedda Hopper kind of friendship for the longest time, told me that I should watch “The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone,” not only for the young Warren Beatty, but for the heavy, 19th century “Luchino Visconti-Franco Zeffirelli-Lorenzo Mongiardino-esque” decor of the Contessa Gonzalez’s Rome apartment. He added, in his peculiar soignee but mordant Eleanor Parker-as-Baroness Schrader [ from “The Sound of Music” movie ] manner, that the eccentric behavior, not to mention the name, of the Contessa Gonzalez reminded him of me. Of course, he didn’t say that the Contessa Gonzalez was the procuress / pimp who introduced Paolo the Italian gigolo [ Warren Beatty ] to Mrs. Stone, the retired American actress [ Vivien Leigh ]. Such wishful thinking of my good friend.
So I finally watched “The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone” on YouTube… Yes, it was an interesting movie. I did not find it strange — as I would have, had I seen it in my youth — as I was familiar with several similar episodes in the Manila milieu. I found the themes of aging, loneliness, vulnerability, and compromise remarkably lifelike, even relevant. They managed to remind me of what lies ahead in the not so distant future.
My late, widowed mother had her own version of “The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone” when she became involved with a separated engineer a tad younger than her. He actually looked like the cartoon character “Shrek” and my siblings [ but not I ] referred to him as such. However, that affair turned out more like “The Bridges of Madison County” with my mother wondering where all her once-comely physical attributes had gone… 😛
Then came actress Demi Moore’s steamy affair with the younger stud Ashton Kucher in 2003. Prior to that, she had had a relationship with the balding macho man Bruce Willis. If I’m not mistaken, that Demi-Ashton affair started the term “Cougar,” referring to an older woman whooping it up with a younger man, renewing and revivifying herself in the process.
One of the better stories about latter-day Mrs. Stones is a good friend of my late mother, a shrewd and wise Capampangan widow of exceedingly good family and a very considerable fortune. A 30 year-long medical career in New York city allowed her to accumulate more Manhattan properties, USD and EE placements, and diamond jewelry to add to her already considerable inheritance from her entrepreneurial parents. After her husband passed away, she started spending a few months of every year in Manila, and soon enough, was caught up in the ballroom dancing whirl. Because of her endless dollars, the best [ and needless to say the most expensive ] D.I.s dancing instructors gravitated to her, and she hired them, paying a queenly premium of Php 5,000.00/xx – 10,000.00/xx an evening when the going rate was only Php 1,500.00/xx. At some point, she decided that ballroom dancing at the Manila Polo Club and at the Club Filipino in Greenhills was not safe for the big diamonds she liked to wear while dancing, not because of thieves, but because they could be lost if they fell from their settings in those big dance floors. So she had a dance floor and a high tech sound system installed in her posh high-rise apartment composed of three interconnected units; and that was where they danced so she could wear her big diamonds without fear of their getting lost. She paid her D.I.’s handsomely, took them to hotel restaurants, bought them good suits, shirts, and shoes, brought them on Star Cruises around Asia, and even promised them trips and cruises to Europe. However, just when the D.I.s thought that they had her in their palms, that she could not live without them, and that there were even possibilities of inheritance from her, she dropped them abruptly when she finally developed joint problems and retreated to her former widow’s life of properties, placements, and diamonds. She says that she’s had her fun, spent enough money on “frivolities,” and now it’s time to retire sensibly and to prepare to meet her Creator. 🙂 🙂 🙂
Last weekend, I was suddenly reminded of “The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone” when we siblings inadvertently discovered, to our surprise and much laughter, that our dear 80 year-old spinster aunt, the eldest sister of my mother, and once a habitue of Studio 54 in New York, had developed a “fatal attraction” to her 45 year-old tall dancing instructor at the “Club Filipino” in Greenhills…