Update May 31, 2020 – The lives and work of Polly Platt and Peter Bogdanovich are explored in two new podcasts. You Must Remember This, explores the secret and/or forgotten histories of Hollywood’s first century, and devotes this season to Polly Platt. And Season one of The Plot Thickens, a podcast from Turner Classic Movies, is entitled I’m Still Peter Bogdanovich.
Sashy Bogdanovich grew up in Hollywood and won’t raise her sons there. She views Hollywood through the lens of two successful parents who often prioritized film and love affairs over children. Instead, Sashy is raising feminist boys in Brooklyn. She is a stay-at-home mom earning a Masters in American History and serving as a PTA Vice President in a Brooklyn public school. Sashy does still have one foot in the film world though. She is married to Pax Wassermann who edits documentary films, most recently Cartel Land, which was nominated for an Academy Award.
I suspect first introductions to Sashy Bogdanovich always catch people off-guard. We first met while chaperoning a kindergarten class trip. She said, “Oh! My sister’s name is Antonia, after the book My Ántonia. My mother liked Willa Cather. She really liked female authors.” Her mother was Polly Platt, who produced such films as Broadcast News, The War of the Roses, and Bottle Rocket. She was the first woman named to the Art Director’s Guild. Platt was Oscar-nominated for her production design on Terms of Endearment. She also did production design on The Last Picture Show. Sashy’s father is Oscar-nominated filmmaker Peter Bogdanovich, who directed The Last Picture Show, as well as Targets, What’s Up, Doc?, Paper Moon, and Mask. Sashy is incredibly frank about her parents, her Hollywood upbringing, and how that culture shaped her views on feminism and motherhood, especially as it pertains to raising boys. Her candidness instantly makes those around her feel comfortable saying what is on their mind because she does. I wondered why Sashy and Pax are not raising their sons in Hollywood. So I asked her.
Why aren’t you raising your sons in Hollywood?
Growing up as a girl in Hollywood was really hard on my self-esteem. LA is all about image. If I had daughters, I would never even consider raising them in LA. Since I have sons, I don’t have to consider image as much, but I still wouldn’t raise them in LA, especially since my mom is gone.
I raise kids here because I feel NY is much more accepting of people and their differences. NY is a very welcoming place. In LA there is no celebration of differences. I went back there 5 years ago and there was this small-brimmed hat trend going on, and literally every woman was wearing that same hat. Robots! It’s weird! And they’re all doing their plastic surgery. On the one hand you have these stars who are heralded as kings and queens for their uniqueness. Then we expect them to always look young. They get plastic surgery and everyone in LA emulates them.
LA can be such a bubble. You aren’t exposed to the rest of the world. I remember I was studying history and working on a set. I’d try to have conversations on set about politics, but people out there just don’t care. They don’t think about anything but the film industry.
How is your children’s upbringing different from your upbringing?
The complete opposite. Living in Brooklyn is a big cultural difference from my upbringing in LA. What brought me here for kids was this whole community, so that even if I couldn’t manage to instill the values I would hope to instill, they’d have New York as a model. LA just couldn’t do that. “There is no there, there,” as Gertrude Stein says. It’s just all suburban sprawl.
However, the biggest difference is that I’m a stay-at-home mom. My mother was a workaholic. Work defined her. Motherhood did not define her. But she did feel really guilty about not spending time with us. In the beginning, my mother felt she had to take any job, even if they were out of town. As time went on she really wanted to take jobs close to home because she wanted a relationship with her children. My nanny had that relationship with us and I think it made my mother jealous to a certain extent. She relied a lot on our nanny, but our nanny could not give us the guidance our mom could give in terms of intellect, emotional support, and discipline. She put a lot of responsibility on our nanny. My nanny was my savior. I was very bonded to her. We watched “I Love Lucy” everyday when I came home from school.
You define yourself very differently than your mother. Is this because you had vastly different upbringings? How did your Hollywood upbringing inform your feminism?
Hollywood not only informed my feminism, it created it. You know, my mom always said she was not a feminist. I would always say to her, “But you’re a trailblazer!” She would say, “I’m happy to take the mantle of trailblazer, but I’m not a feminist. I’m not out there fighting for our rights. I’m just playing the man’s game, so I can get ahead.” And I’d always say, “But that is feminism!” It was a generational definition. For my mother, feminism was this bad word. She didn’t see making movies as feminism. Some of it was age. She just missed the sixties. She was raised to be a proper lady and had her own coming out party as a teenager.
My mother’s experiences informed my feminism, but I think what created it was my father’s Hollywood. My Dad’s assistant had a little black book where he’d keep nicknames for all the girls my father and his entourage would date. I was about 8 to 10 years old when I remember this. It was the 70’s. My perception of his lifestyle as a child is a parade of beautiful blonde actresses and models. I mean he dated Patty Hansen. But in this awful little black book, my father and his entourage would identify the women by their negative attributes. It was all men laughing and coming up with nicknames like pig nose, big feet, or stringy hair, for women who were physically flawless.
As a result, I would look at myself in the mirror and see all my flaws. I’d think, What must my father think of me? I kind of retreated into the background, taking myself out of many situations because I didn’t feel I was drop dead gorgeous. I ended up dating some pretty awful boys and men in my teens and twenties because of my low self-esteem. Amazingly I married the most wonderful man but who knows how that happened?
They were dissecting women! How does your Dad reflect on this now?
He doesn’t! He thinks it’s funny. He doesn’t see it as wrong at all. It was the 70’s and he was single. He doesn’t understand how that affects a young girl—his daughters. I just remember a lot of women, and then he started going to the Playboy Mansion all the time.
Everything about Hollywood makes sense now! Even Bill Cosby makes sense now. I am NOT suggesting that your father did anything like Bill Cosby, but Cosby’s actions makes sense in the context of the Hollywood culture you are describing.
It was the culture! For these powerful men, women were just these things to f-ck. And I always felt sorry for these girls. For instance, growing up I had these rules. When I came downstairs in the morning, if there were a pair of cute little shoes in the middle of the living room, I knew that there was some girl upstairs with my father and I was not to disturb them. On the one hand I was pissed at these women for denying me access to my Dad, but on the other hand I felt sorry for them because I knew it wouldn’t last. They were interchangeable.
Then Dorothy Stratten was murdered by her estranged husband and everything changed. She and my dad were in love. I do remember her as the sweetest one. She would spend time with us. She would color with us. She planned my tenth birthday party with me. Then, 8 years after the murder, my father married Dorothy’s younger sister, Louise and that was surreal. These women seemed to fill some hole in my father. As I got older, I wanted no part of this culture and my Mom was glad she’d moved on.
Hollywood culture was toxic for you as a young girl, but we never consider how it could be toxic for boys, who eventually become men. Is this why it’s important for you to raise boys as feminists? How do you instill morality in sons when it comes to women?
I think feminism just makes boys better human beings. But, yes, I think it’s probably important to me because of my childhood. I don’t want my sons to treat women as disposable objects or pawns. The tragedy of Dorothy [Stratten] affected my father deeply and changed everything in our family. Dorothy was used as an object for other men’s success in her short tragic life. Through Dorothy’s story, I see an opportunity to raise my sons to see women for who they are instead of what they look like or how they can be used.
In terms of instilling morality, I really like the term Upstander. An Upstander is someone who says something if they see someone getting hurt, rather than turn a blind eye. We need to teach boys to be Upstanders rather than bystanders, especially in the instance of sexual assault.
The antidote to the misogynistic aspects of Hollywood culture must have been watching your mother’s career. It seems your Mom had a more consistently successful career than your Dad. She also mothered careers for a lot of talented people, yet we don’t ever hear the name Polly Platt. I had only heard of Peter Bogdanovich.
I know! She was definitely more prolific and more satisfied with her career. And she helped mostly men, Jim Brooks, Peter Bogdanovich, George Miller, Wes Anderson and Matt Groening. In film books, Polly Platt is described as the woman behind Peter Bogdanovich and it drives my father crazy! My parents would always fight about who discovered Cybill Shepherd, even though the affair had disastrous effects on our family. They never fought about the family though. They only fought about who got credit for the movies they did together. It’s crazy, I know. But my mother just wanted credit! And my father just couldn’t give it to her. It was really sad to me because film is so collaborative. The tragedy of their relationship was that they were a great team and they could have gone on to make many more fantastic films together. Instead they got stuck in the mud and never got out.
The other side of having such successful parents is that they weren’t personally there for much of your childhood. That must have been difficult to reconcile, yet somehow you’re very good at observing your family, almost from the outside. It must have led you to the decision to stay at home with your sons?
Yes, it’s my life in the audience. That’s how I’ve always been. I have always felt like I’ve been observing my family. I never felt fully included. What I’ve had to accept about my parents is that it was never about me. It was always about their problems. That’s just brutally honest, but to a kid that’s heartbreaking. No one ever thought about me. They never fought about the kids. They only fought about the films.
Once I became pregnant I had a choice. I had been working in film. It was hard to give up the opportunity to pursue a career in film, but when I thought about my mother’s guilt, it just didn’t seem worth it. But I don’t see how stay-at-home moms stay at home forever. I’m definitely planning my life so that I can be available for my kids. I’m getting my masters in American History with the hope of teaching and writing. Teaching in college part-time seems like a perfect job for motherhood.
I just think a parent really needs to be there for the teenage years. Things spiraled down for me and my sister in our teens. People wrongly assume teenage boys are fine as they get older, but I see another opportunity for me to instill in my sons a sense of morality when it comes to women. I craved guidance from my parents that I never got. I equated it with love and old habits die hard. I think I will always try to guide my sons as much as I can, even if they are 50 years old!
You certainly do have to be available to guide teenagers. There is a misconception, even among women, that if you are caring for someone, you are doing nothing. You took care of your mother during her illness at the same time you had a baby. That’s not insignificant work. Women tend to have responsibilities that are unpaid and unacknowledged. Do you ever wish that work could somehow be quantified? How can we teach our children to value work that doesn’t earn money?
My mother moved here to help me when I was pregnant with my second child. I’d recently endured 6 miscarriages and my mom really wanted time with her grandchildren, but she got sick with ALS 6 months later. I was throwing up everyday and taking care of my son and sick mother. So yes, I think it should be quantified, but I don’t know how! I don’t think men are capable of quantifying that work because they don’t do it. You definitely need to give boys chores, especially boys, because they don’t model their mother’s behavior like girls do. I could certainly improve on this, but I am making my older son do his dishes now. So that’s a start.
Your mother pursued work that was highly valued, though. Have you ever felt you had to live up to her?
Yes. Especially when people ask me what I do. When I say, “Stay-at-home mom,” people tend to patronize me. Then I immediately overcompensate for my lack of career by talking about my mom’s career. It’s definitely made me insecure, but I’m so proud of her, so I don’t mind talking about her. She worked so hard. She went through tragedy after tragedy and excelled. I believe that my mom tried to make up for her lack of mothering by showing me how to die. I really believe that. She’d say, “You can’t feel sorry for yourself.”
Your mother was a strong woman. Reading about her personal set backs, I can see why she liked Willa Cather. Her life seemed to mirror Cather’s quote, “People live through such pain only once. Pain comes again—but it finds a tougher surface.”
She was so amazing in the face of that disease—she faced the death of her first husband, her own mother’s instability, my father’s infidelity and more. So, yes. My mom created my feminism, too.
Lastly, where were you on Oscar night?
Well as you know, my husband, Pax got nominated for Cartel Land. He was at the Oscars, but I watched at home with my boys and a few friends. I may not get any accolades for my work as a mom, but I treasure these amazing moments when I really get to witness my kids growing up—my husband doesn’t get that nearly as much. I wouldn’t trade that for the world.