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Inspired by the Stars

by Cornelia 

Posted: 09 December 2010
Word Count: 839
Summary: Two elderly women recall the heyday of the cinema

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‘You said your daughter’s coming to collect you, June?’

Millie regarded her new friend with envy, and not just because she was about to be released from the hospital. There were lots of things about June that Millie admired. Both were grandmothers, but June seemed a lot more confident, and younger than her years.

‘Good of her to take time out from her busy schedule. You said she had a good job in an office.’

‘Yes,’ June agreed. ‘Flexi-time, I think they call it. She can come to collect me and put in an extra hour at the end of the day.’

‘Say what they like about office jobs, they’re a lot better than factory work. With me it was half eight to half five, and in trouble if I was a minute late.’ Millie looked towards the open door ‘Was that the tea trolley?’

June placed her folded coat beside the open suitcase on her bed and turned to check the locker. She gathered together some framed photos.

‘Yes, we didn’t get the same choices when we were young. I was lucky. My mother found a way to encourage ambition, even though I was a girl.

Millie sat down on the chair beside her bed. She hadn’t really been able to find out much about June in the two days they’d shared a ward, beds next to each other. Their minor procedures weren’t serious, but what with all the tests and the visitors there hadn’t been much time for chatting.

'How did she do that, then?’

‘She took me to the pictures.’

Millie laughed. ‘Oh, we all went to the pictures then – Odeon, Gaumont, Empire – all deep carpets and gold staircases. It was a real escape, when we scrimped at home to make ends meet. Ooh, I loved those usherettes in uniform with the torches to show you to your seat. Then they'd be out with ice-cream on a tray in the interval! None of that queuing for over-priced popcorn and hot dogs like they do now.’

June closed the empty drawer. ‘Yes,not many people had TV then. But it was the films that I loved, not the decor.’

‘I wouldn’t have thought you’d find inspiration there, though. It was all cowboys and war stories, musicals and weepies, as I remember.’

‘Oh, those too.’ June closed her case and sat down on the bed, still holding the photos. ‘Dad never came back from the war. But mum managed to take me to films about women being strong and successful. I could really make something of myself, make my Dad proud, she said. There were plenty of role models up on the sliver screen.’

‘Role models? Seemed to me the women were in films as an excuse for men to fight over or to go to pieces when there was trouble. The main thing for actresses was to have a good screaming voice. That and big eyes to look up at the heroes.’

June sat back and smiled at one of the photos. ‘Do you remember Esther Williams?’

Millie’s eyes lit up. ‘The Million Dollar Mermaid?’ I certainly do!’

June brushed her fingertips over the smiling face with its centre-parted hairstyle.

‘She was an Olympic swimmer. Not many people realised, but my mum pointed out it wasn’t all ruched costumes and hats with plastic flowers on them. There was a lot of practice behind all those displays.’

Millie looked doubtful.

‘She was American, though, like Doris Day. Right career girl she was, and always got her man, too. It was different in the States. Here, women had to stay home when the men came back, what with all the unemployment.’

‘They weren't all American. You couldn't help admiring some of the English stars. Do you remember a film called ‘Carve her Name with Pride? Virginia McKenna playing a war heroine. She starred in a film where she looked after lions, too: Born Free.

She held up a picture of a woman whose gaze was indeed clear-eyed and fearless.

‘Ooh, a bit too brave if you ask me. Give me a good weepie, anytime.

‘And Flora Robson as Queen Elizabeth 1st. She didn’t stand for any nonsense – ran rings round the men and looked after the country.’

A face that seemed to embody strengh of will looked out from the frame that June placed beside the others in her case.

‘Whoa! How many more? You’ve convinced me. Oh, look, here’s your daughter now!’

One last photo, that of a young woman with a frank and confident smile, took its place in the case, before June snapped the catches.

As June took hold of her suitcase handle, Millie stretched out a hand. ‘Just a minute; don’t leave me in suspense. With all that inspiration, what did you choose in the end? Was it swimming, international politics or did you settle for taming lions?’

June smiled as her daughter came through the doorway.

‘None of those. It was a good choice, though - I decided to be an usherette.'

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Comments by other Members

Account Closed at 14:31 on 10 December 2010  Report this post
Hellos Sheila,

this was a nice little read, i had quite clear pictures in my mind of what the two ladies were like. A few typos first:

coming collect you

typo - coming TO collect you

June, placed her folded

no comma needed

She encouraged ambition? How did she do that, then?’

i don't think you need to repeat 'she encouraged ambition'

She help up a picture

Held up

I liked the twist at the end, although for some reason i didn't feel it had as much punch as it could have. I think during the story you need to make more of June's mum telling her she could, i dunno, achieve anything she wanted. Eg June could say, 'Mum always made me feel i could do anything i wanted, just like these actresses - travel the world, excel at sport or, if nothing else, just like them, go out to work' - ie build up the suspense a bit, to really get the reader wondering what on earth June had done with her life.

Definitely potential for a womag story, though, well done.


Cornelia at 17:55 on 10 December 2010  Report this post
Thanks very much, Petal, for spotting the errors and suggesting plot improvements. I'll fix the typos now and have a go at ratcheting up the mystery later.



I've tried to make it sound a bit more positive by expanding on what she said about making her dad proud. I think the main pleasure for older women will be remembering the whole cinema experience, as well as memories of the stars. It's an element that probably doesn't make so much impact on younger women so maybe you feel there's something lacking. I need to strengthen the ending, too.

Account Closed at 11:15 on 11 December 2010  Report this post
Yes, fair point, Sheila - maybe a slightly older market for it would suit, like PF or Yours.

One of my ancestors used to play the piano in silent movies Guess that is going a bit too far back, though...!


Cornelia at 14:24 on 11 December 2010  Report this post
Thanks, Petal. Yes, this is the fifties they are talking about. Talking pictures came in around 1930

I did think it might be suitable for Yours, but I need to check the word-count in case it needs to be longer.


Bunbry at 11:27 on 12 December 2010  Report this post
Sheila, this is a lovely idea, a woman falling in love with the cinema at an early age then securing a job that allows her to work there. But, I think some of the wording might need a little altering ie

found a way to encourage ambition
plenty of role models
I could really make something of myself, make my Dad proud

None of these statements really point to someone getting a fairly poorly paid, traditionally women's, job.

I'd change these to something along the lines of 'finding a job you love' or 'knowing exactly what is right for you' etc.

Just a bloke's point of view, so ignore at will!


Cornelia at 11:50 on 12 December 2010  Report this post
Thank you for reading and making suggestions, Bunbry.

These women are working class. My mother, who worked in a cotton factory like Millie in the story, would have loved to be an usherette.

But you have pinpointed a problem which may indeed be a bar to publication. I will have a think.


Katerina at 09:48 on 13 December 2010  Report this post
Hi Sheila,

I enjoyed this, but expected more at the ending, although I can see why she became an usherette.

It just didnt seem to go with her visions of all theses strong women though.

I'd have liked to hear more of her dreams and aspirations, you could make so much more of this. You could have her remembering when she used to gaze out of the window dreaming that she was the heroine of a movie come to rescue the man she loved etc etc - do you see what I'm getting at? This would help lengthen the story too.

Maybe she could be a bit of a feminist, so was very unusual among her peers, but that added to her intrigue and she had a string of men wanting to walk out with her.

I'd like to know how she eventually met her husband and what sort of life she had - was it a fulfilling one, or did she realise real life wasn't like it was in the movies, and settle for the sort of life her parents had?

There's so much scope for a longer meatier story here, so I'd love to see a rewrite

Kat x

Cornelia at 10:38 on 13 December 2010  Report this post
Thank you for your comments, Kat.

the heroine of a movie come to rescue the man she loved etc etc

I think you've put your finger on the problem if I've given that impression. This has nothing, really, to do with men. I wanted to take them out of the equation.

Maybe she could be a bit of a feminist, so was very unusual among her peers, but that added to her intrigue and she had a string of men wanting to walk out with her

Her mother was the feminist, if you like. She saw what happened when the men came home and the women had to become domesticated again - this had happened to her. She couldn't see how her daughter could become like the screen women -not the romantic stars but the achieving ones - but she had aspirations for her.

I wanted to play down the male aspect - this is a story about women's aspirations which have nothing to do with men.

That's not to deny that men aren't attracted to a strong competent woman with a good job and an interest in things other than the domestic (at lest, that's been my experience

I'll put this aside for now and give it some thought, but maybe it's not a womag story at all. I hope that's what it it turns out to be.


Katerina at 10:45 on 13 December 2010  Report this post

Well I got the impression that she wanted to be a strong woman and show that she could be as equal if not better than a man.

I didn't get the impression that you wanted to keep men out of it though, probably because of this -

‘She was American, though, like Doris Day. Right career girl she was, and always got her man, too.

‘And Flora Robson as Queen Elizabeth 1st. She didn’t stand for any nonsense – ran rings round the men and looked after the country.’

So I felt that she wanted to be better than a man, but they still figured in there somewhere.

I enjoyed it though, as always it has your unique quirkiness to it

Kat x

Account Closed at 11:01 on 13 December 2010  Report this post
Sheila, i thought it worked really well as a womag story - it made me chuckle, all these strong women and yet she turned out to be an usherette! And for her generation that was often the case - women were really only just starting to break the mould, not many of her generation actually made it, so i thought the usherette bit added a bit of reality.


Cornelia at 11:35 on 13 December 2010  Report this post
Oh, maybe it's clearer after all. Glad you spotted the role of men here, Kat.

Right career girl she was, and always got her man, too

Kat, this is Millie's voice, and her attitude is more conventional than June's, more likely to have just gone along with the accepted wisdom about women at the time. Ironically, she had to work anyway, in a hard employment situation. A lot of women at the time were encouraged to think that marriage would solve all their problems and having got their man they could put their feet up.

I was at a U3A (over 60s) group last year, talking about career aspirations. Most hadn't aspired to much other than unrealistic things like 'air-hostess' or 'singer'. One of the women remarked 'Oh, I was too shy. I don't think I could have had a job'. Admittedly this lady was posh and didn't have to work, but she was more or less saying what was expected of women at the time - modesty, and no wish to work outside the home.

I think that was the germ of this story.

I had a bit of trouble pinning down role models and finding the right examples of films with strong women. Last year I read a biography of Esther Williams, so that was easy. I'm very familiar with women stars of the forties and fifties but June's mum would have had to be selective to get her to the right films.There was a strong promotion of the domestic that still influences a lot of real-life women, I think. It was something I heard a lot from teenage girls when I was teaching. Made it hard work. 'Oh, I don't have to get any qualifications. I'm going to get married.'

Petal, I'm glad you got the point about her becoming an usherette. No amount of film-going could change her life chances (I'm making a bit of a political point there, sorry) but at least she gets to do the job of her (rather restricted) choice.


fluffyduffy at 13:03 on 13 December 2010  Report this post
Hi Sheila,

I enjoyed this story a lot. My Mum remmenices about the old movies she used to watch and how they made her feel so I could really get an image of the two women.

I agree with the others about the ending but I actually thought that when her daughter arrived June would say that she chose the hardest but most fulfilling job - a mother, because you'd have to be a strong woman to raise children, etc. But then again that probably wouldn't go with the feel of the story you were creating (an independant young woman, trying to break free of the old fashion roles).

I think you could expand on this story a little more, as the others have suggested. It is definitely worth submitting somewhere - PF or Yours.


Desormais at 13:31 on 13 December 2010  Report this post
Lovely story Sheila. Just right for PF I would think, with a slightly stronger ending. Well done!

Cornelia at 13:46 on 13 December 2010  Report this post
Thanks Fluffy and Alana.

would say that she chose the hardest but most fulfilling job - a mother, because you'd have to be a strong woman to raise children, etc

June's daughter is in her mid forties, maybe even early fifties. Her kids are grown and gone - one to Scotland, one to Australia.



Thanks for commenting especially on the ending. I will put it aside and have a think about how to give it more impact, also maybe expand the story.

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