HALLIE EPHRON: I'm writing, yes I am. Really I am. But I'm not ready to share. So instead here's one of my favorite passages from NIGHT NIGHT, SLEEP TIGHT.
SETUP: Deirdre Unger, a young woman whose semi-famous father has just been murdered, has to go to Beverly Hills City Hall but she doesn't want the press to recognize her. So, glamorous movie star Bunny Nichol (think: Joan Collins) who is also Deirdre's best friend's mother, dresses her for invisibility.
(BTW I set this scene in my mother's dressing room which had mirrors on facing walls and little crystal sconces and smelled of orange blossoms from her Elizabeth Arden skin cream. Her closets were filled with full-skirted shirtwaists, boxy suits, and chiffon cocktail cocktail dresses. And rows of high-heeled shoes.)
Bunny swept her arms like a conductor silencing the instruments. “Magic,” she said, gazing out in front of her, eyes unfocused, as if watching the word hover before her. “It’s all about misdirection. Make the audience attend to what you want them to see. What will be compelling enough to divert their attention or, in our case, make them tune out—that is the trick.”
Delicately Bunny tapped her chin with long red fingernails and stared at Deirdre in the mirror. She opened one closet door, then another, and another, finally emerging with a half-dozen garments slung over her arm. None of them were cocktail dresses. “Stand up straight. And, please, would you take off that appalling top. It’s making my teeth itch.”
Obediently Deirdre pulled off Henry’s Harley T-shirt and stood there in her bra and drawstring pants.
“Hmmm.” Bunny held up what looked like a gray cotton mechanic’s jumpsuit and squinted. She pursed her lips in disapproval and dropped it on the floor. A pale purple sweatshirt minidress with a hood met the same fate. A black-and-gold floor-length African dashiki joined the pile. Next she held up what looked like a stewardess uniform—navy pencil skirt and tailored jacket. “Maybe,” she said, and set it aside.
Finally Bunny considered a simple shirtwaist dress, starched and pressed gray cotton with an A-line skirt, white snaps up the front, a white collar, and short white-cuffed sleeves. She held the dress under Deirdre’s chin, narrowing her eyes as she gazed into the mirror. Then she broke into a smile. “Perfect, don’t you think?” She didn’t wait for an answer.
Fifteen minutes later Deirdre was seated at the makeup table, wearing the dress with a pair of saggy white opaque tights and orthopedic nurse’s shoes. She’d stuffed the toe of one shoe with Kleenex to keep it from falling off her smaller foot. Bunny tucked Deirdre’s hair into a hairnet and secured it with a hairpin. She applied a foundation much darker than Deirdre’s natural skin tone and brushed powder over it, then created hollows beneath Deirdre’s eyes with dark eye shadow. Finally she gave Deirdre a pair of glasses with black plastic frames.
Deirdre put the glasses on. The lenses were clear.
“Up,” Bunny commanded.
Deirdre leaned on her crutch and rose to her feet.
“Stoop,” Bunny said.
Deirdre hunched over.
“Not that much. Just kind of roll your shoulders stick your head out. Think turtle.”
Deirdre adjusted her stance. The mousy woman gazing back at her from the mirror looked like a Latina version of Ruth Buzzi’s bag lady from Laugh-In. She started to laugh. “This is ridiculous. It will never work.”
“Hey, what’s going on?” a man’s voice called from Bunny’s bedroom.
“You don’t think it’s going to work?” Bunny said to Deirdre. “Watch this.” She handed Deirdre her crutch and led her into the bedroom, then threw open the door to the hall. Out on the landing stood the young man Deirdre had seen earlier. He was barefoot and wearing jeans and a stretched-out black T-shirt.
“What’s up with you?” Joelen said.
“I . . . what? Why are you two looking at me like I did something?” he said.
“It’s not what you did. It’s what you’re not doing,” Joelen said, pushing past Deirdre.
“What are you talking about?” The man looked from Joelen to Bunny.
“See?” Bunny said, turning to Deirdre. “Not a single glance your way. It’s as if you’re wallpaper. I’d say the disguise is working.”
So think like a mystery writer! How would you dress a character to HIDE IN PLAIN SIGHT!