Flynn Fairbanks’ sainted Mama – he would never hear a word against her – always had big ambitions for her boy. She gave him two gifts in life: that name, and an unwavering belief in the importance of appearances. He repaid her faith in spades but in his suicide note he said he always knew he was just a B-movie with Oscar pretensions.
Mama wasn’t the sharpest knife in the drawer but she quickly worked out that so long as she was pretty and sweet no one expected much more of her, so she worked hard at that, and traded up.
Mama chose her men by the size of their wallets and Flynn never wanted for anything but a stable home. He played the part she wrote for him like a pro, though, and many of the wallets stayed open to him even after she’d closed her legs and moved on. It was never jet-set fast-car ski trips with more powder up the nose than on the slopes, but it gave him a taste for the easy life.
He remembered his father. Mostly as pipe smoke in a bulky sweater and oily tracks in the bathroom sink. Mama had a thousand tragic stories of how she was widowed so young and Flynn’s one vivid memory gave lie to them all.
The night he told her he’d impregnated a girl at school Mama slapped him across his pretty face. The girl was nobody, he said. Exactly, she said, and soon he was in another town, in another school where he could woo the daughters of the captains of industry. He outsourced his grades to smart poor kids and worked on his charm and his golf game and the world opened its arms to him. He embraced it.
He rose to the top like cream on milk and for a decade – more – Flynn Fairbanks savoured the salty brine of the oyster and washed it down with crisp bubbles of the finest champagne. Here he is with that Senator – the one who spent the money on the prostitutes. Here he is with Bono – and look, there’s Mama, pleased as punch.
The crash was all the more spectacular because of the height he fell from. Turns out you can’t fool all of the people all of the time, after all. He was entertaining on his yacht when his secretary rang to say the FBI and the securities commission were at the office and what should she do? He carried on partying – keeping up appearances to the end – but when the guests all left he sent the crew home, locked himself in the cabin, and swallowed enough Vicodin to level a horse.
It was left to me to break the news to Mama. She was watching Warner movies with the sound off, as usual. Barely looked up, I wasn’t even sure she heard me. I left the copy of the note beside her, and just as I reached the door she had the final word:
“Casablanca was a B movie and it is the greatest movie ever made.”