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When the handsome British star of an American soap opera loses his fortune and his assets, he has only one thing left to sell--himself. And sell he does, in a raucous, bawdy romp that moves from the staid English countryside to gay Paris nightclubs to a Tangier costume ball. Originally a Morrow hardcover.
By the time he was eight he knew he would never be a Great Actress.
There it was, sticking out in front of him like a sore thumb: his penis - and his first showbiz disappointment - shattering all his dreams.
It was at teatime one day just before Christmas, when he was only six years old, that it first started to sink in. He was in the drawing room of his grandparents' home in Scotland with his mother, Lady Dinah, his father, the Brigadier, and his Aunt Frances who was known as 'the Martyr'.
The Brigadier was hidden in the leather depths of an old wing armchair covered, apart from the top of his head, by )The Financial Times. The Martyr had arrived five minutes earlier from London and she and Lady Dinah were clustered together on the sofa, catching up with each other. They were swathed in balls of wool, sewing boxes and pinking scissors, since the Martyr was knitting an interminable sweater and Lady Dinah was in the process of putting the fringe on her latest lampshade.
The boy was crouched on a footstool in one of his mother's discarded nightdresses, thinking of nothing in particular. During a lull in the two sisters' conversation, the Martyr picked up her knitting and turned to her favourite nephew.
'Ree,' she said, 'what are you hoping to get for Christmas?'
He didn't answer and suddenly there was a huge tension in the room. The Financial Times folded with a loud crackle to reveal the shadowy scowl of the Brigadier. Lady Dinah began to concentrate with blind determination on her fringe. The boy pulled his knees up inside his nightdress and lowered his head into theruff.
'Well, Ree?' continued the Martyr, oblivious to the faux Pas she had obviously made. 'Have you lost your voice?'
He looked from one parent to the other, imploring them to come to his rescue, but no one spoke. The clock ticked ominously.
'I want a wedding dress,' the little boy finally blurted out. He put his hands to his ears and stood up. 'I want a wedding dress, I WANT A WEDDING DRESS!' he screamed, utterly hysterical.
Lady Dinah raised a slightly accusing eyebrow in the direction of her sister and sighed.
'Darling, I thought we'd discussed all this. I am not, repeat not, buying you a wedding dress.' But before she could take hold of her son, who was now stamping and screaming in the middle of the room, the Brigadier had risen, hurling the Financial Times to the ground, a gesture for which he was in fact too small - he was only fractionally taller than the armchair - but which carried a certain naive threat.
'Now look here,' he said, lifting up his son by the ruff of his nightdress, 'I thought I'd made myself clear. Boys do not ask forwedding dresses for Christmas. Not in this family, anyway. You're going to get a crack over the jaw if I hear any more of this nonsense.' He dropped his small son back on to the floor and returned to his armchair.
Lady Dinah and the Martyr sat in suspended animation but the little boy now had only idea in his head: to run. He bolted out of the door, slamming it behind him, and ran headlong down the long stone corridor, narrowly missing Mrs Mac, the cook, wheeling the tea trolley towards the drawing room.
He didn't stop until he was safely on the other side of the small door between the back stairs and the rest of the house that marked the end of Their territory and the beginning of His. He raced up the little turret staircase - thirty-eight steps in all - to the nursery tucked beneath the rooftops, through the white wicket gate at the top, and then he was back in his own rule-free world. The austere gloom of the rest of the house was sharply offset by the simple white walls and threadbare beige haircord carpets of the nursery floor. Like a little ghost, skimming by in his pink nightdress, he went straight to the bathroom and locked the door. He hitched up his nightdress and sat down on the big white wooden seat of the lavatory. He put his elbows on his knees and his head in his hands and sat there motionless for several seconds.
In truth, he was not being deliberately subversive. He just didn't understand the reasons why he couldn't cross-dress. Little did he know - and how could he? - that he had been born into the only quarter of British society that would tolerate at all his particular character discrepancy. No word of anger greeted his appearance on his father's grouse moor in another of his mother's nighties.
'He's musical,' everyone would tell each other knowingly, 'very musical.' But that winter afternoon there seemed no rhyme or reason at all. Silent tears poured down his ruddy little cheeks and finally a small trickle of urine went plip, plip, plip into the bowl.
That was the other thing. The Brigadier had told him last week that he must do it standing up.
'Why?' he whimpered through his tears, 'why?'
A resigned look on his face, he stood up, hitched his nightdress above his stomach and continued to relieve himself, regarding the procedure with great and serious attention.When he had finished he turned round and looked at himself in the mirror above the bath.
There it was, no doubt about it...sticking out in front of him.
'But Rhyssie, darling, it's always been there,' reasoned the ever-practical Lady Dinah.'Frankly, we've always been quite amazed that you've managed to ignore it for all these years.'
But he was inconsolable.