Sunday, June 29, 2008
It's sad for a number of reasons. The Nile Hilton was Cairo's first international hotel; it opened in 1959, a fleeting hope that perhaps even with revolution and Cold War, Egypt was still moving forward:
Happier days: less traffic, clear air, and those fab mosaics...
It wasn't just any hotel; Jane Russell came for the opening:
And she brought hats!
When I first lived in Cairo, my crowd hung out at the Hotel's fabulously tacky basement disco, Jackie's Joint, dancing to Arab pop and Euro hits, ogling Cairo's gilded youth. Its bar, the oddly Beaux Arts Taverne du Nil, was for many years an excellent spot for meeting artistic gentlemen of many nations.
And then one fine August afternoon, I met the most marvelous person, right there in the Nile Hilton pool:
And the rest is history, or at least our history, because that person, O Best Beloveds, was Mr. Muscato.
I'm sure the Ritz Carlton will be very nice. But in a city that already has two Four Seasons (Four Seasonses?), multiple Intercons, Marriotts, Sheratons, etc., etc., it will be just another top-end spot for the drop-in tourist.
It's silly to be nostalgic for a Hilton, I know, but it wasn't, really, just any Hilton. Even telling a taxi driver, in your best Egyptian dialect, "Heelton e-Neel, lo samaht!" made one feel just a little more chic and a little more of the place, all at once. And not every place does both...
Saturday, June 28, 2008
She had soldiered through three decades of an up-and-down career on stage and screen before MGM, desperate for voices, grabbed her, discovered what it had, and treasured her as it did few stars.
She had the most roguish stare this side of Valentino:
And when she stared through a lorgnette, it was never in disapproval, but only genuine confusion:
But wound up the toast of Hollywood, as evidenced by the starry company she kept:
She played tragic, in Anna Christie with Garbo, and she played high comedy, stretching double takes into triples and quadruples in Dinner at Eight. She played opposite Gish, Harlow, Wallace Beery, Marion Davies, and a brace of Barrymores, among others.
She said, "I have played my life as a comedy rather than the tragedy many would have made of it," and that's something useful for all of us, I think. Her autobiography is The Life Story of an Ugly Duckling; I think she should have named it after another one of her pictures: The Divine Lady.
This is but a reproduction, sitting in a bay window in a Cairo attraction that outcamps even the Umm Kulthoum Museum (no easy feat, that), the Gayer-Anderson House. It's a place that invites the question: Gayer than whom?
It's a disarming, enchanting thing, a vast, rambling medieval merchant's house (a pair of them banged together, actually), furnished by its last occupant (a British Major with a penchant for all things Oriental, especially if they had high cheekbones and were about 16). Highlights include the Queen Anne Dining Room, a little parlor in the most outré Louis Farouk style ever, and lots of portraits of both Gayer-Anderson and his petit amis:
Hmm. Think there was a little ego involved here? The house is chockablock with portraits, but this is my favorite.
The Major was apparently especially fond of this youngster, one Abdul, whose image is repeated in paintings and skethes throughout the house. The guide will solemnly inform you that they shared a room, pointing out the small pharaonic-style cot that sits at the foot of the Major's own, elaborately inlaid lit de chambre.
Another feature of the place is the Major's extensive collection of life masks. Did I mention that in addition to being disarming and enchanting, it's more than a little creepy?
Friday, June 27, 2008
Barbara Millicent Roberts as Tippi Hedren as Melanie Daniels, as dressed by Edith Head, and friends.
I don't usually lift quite so baldly from other blogs, but having seen this over on The Stranger's Slog, I simply have no choice. Not available, they say, 'til fall. What with that and the new Grace Jones, it's shaping up to be quite an autumn...
Thursday, June 26, 2008
Mr. Muscato can be watching a 50s film on one of the Arabic movie channels (imagine a world with ten equivalents of TCM - that's Arabic satellite TV). I'll idly look up and ask, of some second or third lead in the background, "Who's that?" - and he's off, reeling off film titles, husbands, lovers, children... invariably ending with either "she's dead" (with backstory), "she took the veil" (with resigned expression), or "you saw her last week on that soap opera" (ditto, but at my stupidity).
Even I, though can always pick out a few stars - and one of them, most definitely, is Hind Rostom, who reigned throughout the 50s and 60s as "the Egyptian Marilyn Monroe."
There is actually some resemblance, mostly in the blondeness and in a certain vulnerable appeal. Hind, though, was made of much sturdier stuff than Norma Jeane.
She made dozens of movies, things like 1965's Immortal Love. In the poster, I think she looks less like Marilyn than like Patti Lupone playing Florence Henderson (now there's a script idea for someone!):
She did a good Magnani-esque smolder:
She's known in the West, insofar as she is at all, for playing a waif (well, a sexy waif) in 1958's Cairo Station, directed by Youssef Chahine, an auteur whose reputation is much greater in Europe than it is in Egypt.
Egyptians seem to like her best in less arty pictures, things like Shafiqa the Copt, a biopic in which she got to play a glam dancer and get the full 60s star treatment:
Remarkably, Rostom escaped the three fates (death, veil, soap operas), retiring at the top in the mid-70s, wanting her fans to remember her as she was. She still makes the very occasional appearance at this event or that.
Do you suppose this gives us an idea what a happy, older MM might have looked like?
Wednesday, June 25, 2008
Because of that little musical she made, she's probably most remembered as a bitchy, brittle type; in fact, she was a real leading lady (if never a top star), one who leavened the Greer Garson/Deboah Kerr high-lady style with something earthier and warmer.
And she was very dressy:
My favorite Parker picture is the sudsy biopic Interrupted Melody, in which she suffers beautifully as a diva who's struck down by both polio and love trouble. It's a good old-fashioned wallow, and it makes one wish she'd had the chance to make more good weepies.Even before I discovered her birthday, I was thinking of Parker this week, as yesterday we ate lunch at Cairo's magnificent Mena House Hotel, where the coffee shop has a view of the Great Pyramid (which is best seen from a distance - a distance, that is, from the hordes of ravening, deeply regrettable tourists).
One of Parker's most lavish (if not most successful) films, Valley of the Kings, was partly filmed at the Mena House, and she figures heavily on the illustrated menu (try the Club Sandwich, by the bye - very tasty).
The problem for any leading lady appearing with Robert Taylor was the sheer difficulty of being more beautiful than he. Parker held her own better than most.
Perhaps I just liked his way with children. Mike and Boy really seemed to have something going:
Although the following still could - I'm sure did - fuel all sorts of wild thoughts about just what might be going on:
This is absolutely one of those films I really don't want to see as an adult. It just can't live up to my dreams.
If Mr. Muscato and I seem just a shade out of sorts these days - even here on the banks of the Nile - blame the bewitching, maddening creature seen here.
The great difficulty of travel is having to leave at home Koko the Wonder Dog, whom I will have to admit we refer to amongst ourselves as The Baby. He really is the most marvelous dog.
My grandmother would always, of certain of her acquaintances, observe "well, yes, she looks fine - but she's lost her ankles!" and then flash a demure glance down at her own dainty feet.
Marlene, of course, kept hers insured by Lloyds of London, and had them prominently on display when pitching Blackglama:
And it makes sense that a hoofer like Chita Rivera would keep hers in fine trim:
Elaine Stritch's trademark outfit seems designed to highlight her legs (in what I have long thought is the most calculatedly casual ensemble ever seen on stage):
I have to say it came as something of a surprise to find Mrs. Hart indulging in a bit of what Hollywood starlets once referred to as "Drape Art," but she carries it off:
It's even a pan-gender phenomenon, which in this case, at least, is a very good thing:
Those knees aren't getting older - they're getting better!
Monday, June 23, 2008
And in the photographs of the master of Egyptian portrait photos, Van Leo.
In the photographs of Van Leo, old Cairo comes alive - the Egypt of the 30s, 40s, and 50s, when it was a cosmpolitan country at the center of Arabic culture, film, finance, and intrigue, home to thriving commnities of Armenians, Greeks, Italians, English, French (not to mention the tens of thousands of Egyptian Jews whose absence today is a unspoken one).
He was born Leon Boyadjian, and as late as the turn of the century was a presence on the Cairo scene. One of the great proofs of my idiocy is not having been photographed by Van Leo while I lived here...
He is remembered for his intense, saturnine self portraits:
Which did, sometimes, show more than a flash of humor - as here, pictured as a gaucho:
He photographed le tout Egypte, people like intellectual and feminist (and possessor of the most expressive eyebrows this side of Miss Crawford) Doria Shafik:
He worked, as a studio and movie photographer, mostly unheralded outside Egypt, for his whole long life. He even, during her time in Cairo working with Youssef Chahine, photographed Dalida:
And who could ask for more than that?
There has been something of a renaissance in interest in Van Leo of late, as attested by this gallery with essay tributes from the American University in Cairo, as well as this gallery of almost demented glamour focusing on his entertainment photos.
Sunday, June 22, 2008
I bet you didn't know that Lebanon had a leading drag queen? Well, they do, and they're very lucky, too, for he is Bassem Feghali, and quite fabulous.