In Europe and America, purple is the color most associated with vanity, extravagance, and individualism. Among the seven major sins, it represents vanity. It is a color which is designed to attract attention. Purple is the color most often associated with the artificial and the unconventional. It is the major color that occurs the least frequently in nature…
(“Psychologie de la couleur: Effets et symboliques” by Eva Heller)
Back around the time I turned double digits, in 1976, I changed my sign-off from “Dori” to “The Purple Princess.” My signature on letters to real and imaginary correspondents, for example, was now Love Always, or Sincerely (or whatever), The Purple Princess. Or even more often, was written over and again and with calligraphic flourish on the myriad scraps of paper also doodled with flowers and hearts and such.
This newly-imagined identity was a quiet, pissy rebellion on my part. If I wasn’t going to have a popular name that could be found on pins and belt buckles at roadside gas stations or gift shops – like, say Jennifer or Lisa (my middle name, which I often dreamed about taking as my first) so be it – assuming The Purple Princess title was my way to own the weirdness.
In the 1970s, everyone had a favorite color, but no one in my Bronx neighborhood chose purple. There was no purple gear to be found there, unless you were an old lady. Therefore, purple could be mine by choice. The fact that the color was already associated with the Feminist Movement, disco glam and drugs (“Purple Haze,” anyone?) was utterly lost on me. That I could not find any cute purple clothes at Alexander’s department store or Strawberry’s other than old lady poly-acrylic blend stretch pants was a big fucking heartache.
My love for the color purple also, I like to imagine, spoke to deeper aspirations of greatness. I must have had an instinctual sense that purple was a color associated with royalty when I took the title, even if I had no such academic knowledge.
The most important thing about purple to my 10-year-old self was that it was Donny Osmond’s favorite color. Watching the Donny & Marie show was the highlight of my week.
I imagined marrying Donny, seducing him with my own amazing talent as a performer. Oh the wedding we would have, all purple and sequins! The Purple Queen didn’t have as nice a ring as The Purple Princess, but those details could be worked out.
In a 1993 interview for Entertainment Weekly, Osmond says he had to “give it up after Prince took it” Wikipedia cites purple as “the color most associated with ambiguity. Like other colors made by combining two primary colors, it is seen as uncertain and equivocal.” In retrospect, Donny’s purple couldn’t convincingly pull off being anything other than the straight-laced Mormon he is. Donny was always going to be a purple poser compared to Prince’s sexual androgyny.
By the time I was in sixth grade, The Purple Princess title now sounded doofy and embarrassing, even as I still struggled to figure out who I was and how to otherwise define myself. My writing notebook from that time — aptly titled “WRITE ON!!” — lists my likes and dislikes, not in that order:
“I hate when my mother smokes, when my friends copy me, when people tease me because I’m smart, and when my parents baby me. I love dancing, singing, and pop-rock music.”
In my self-penned, fantastically apocalyptic and not a little prescient tale “Energy & You in 2002,” the world is ending, plutonium “killed a lot of people and animals,” the sun is becoming colder and the moon, which was “our only salvation” and a vacation hub to “get away from it all,” now was deserted but for a bank containing “hundreds of thousands of dollars,” which no one could get to because there was no more rocket fuel for the trip.
The longest of the three stories I wrote was a thinly-veiled piece of “fiction” called“ Tiger Lily and the Mysterious Letter.” Herewith, the first two paragraphs:
’Why me?” cried Tiger Lily Johnson. “Why me what?” Stephen Johnson asked, while chomping on an apple. “Why couldn’t I be plain old Lisa or Ann or something normal?” Tiger Lily said, ignoring her brother. “Girls! Yeesh!” Stephen said, sighing.
For as long as Tiger Lily could remember, she’d been teased about her name. “How could two people pick out one awful name?” she’d say time and time again.
Inside the notebook’s cover, like a secret, the word “purple” was written over and again with great calligraphic flourish, along with purple flower stickers. Not one was a tiger lily.