Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The Babes of Trek

As I've been known to observe, sci-fi has never really been my thing. Nonetheless, back in my fledgling days, even I wasn't wholly immune to the backcombed charms of the many, many actresses who came and went on Star Trek.

What is a surprise, though, is how very many of them there were, and how many of them are still names that ring a bell or two. Everyone, of course, remembers Uhura, and it was more or less an inevitable stop for someone like 60s freelancer Joan Collins:

Most, it seems, of the lower echelon of the starlet firmament made their way through one or another of the galaxies the plucky Enterprisers encountered. Most are utterly forgotten names: Alyce Andrece, Grace Lee Whitney, Lois Jewell.

Alongside them are ladies only vaguely familiar, just from having popped up on the scene often enough over enough years. Nancy Kovack, for example, co-starred with Elvis, did this guestshot, was almost Samantha in "Bewitched," and ended up swanning around LA society as Mrs. Zubin Mehta.

Lee Meriwether made her mark as Barnaby's Jones's faithful secretary, but first she joined the bat-browed sisterhood for an hour.

Mariette Hartley's episode must have been mercifully surpressed; otherwise, 80s viewers would have been horrified to realize that, in her commercials with James Garner, she was nearly as old as he...

Some familiar names are quite hidden under the makeup. Yvonne Craig, for example, looked more sophisticated (and photosynthetic) on ST than ever she did as Bat Girl.

While another Gotham City regular, Julie Newmar, looks positively demure compared to her usual feline persona.

We're apt to forget now that someone like Sally Kellerman was, for a while, a very Grade A name; even the worst of ST's jewel-toned velour creations couldn't hide why.

While of all her sisters, Teri Garr looks most like she, like me, is wondering what on - not earth, of course, but some place requiring boldly going - she is doing there.

Even so, those pastels, on her, are truly flattering, although her hair appears to be in danger of disappearing, Beautiful Chrissy-style, back into her head.

The lesson I, as a baby viewer, took away was clear: no matter how distant the planet, how exotic the galaxy, inevitably the inhabitants had the best and latest in haircare and makeup. Today, that's not even true of the average local mall; another little victory for classic television over that overrated phenomenon, Real Life.

(Gallery of Star Gals courtesy of the very fetching Eeknight)

Monday, September 29, 2008

Toys "R" USSR

Toy-shopping in Leningrad must have been alternately surreal and horrifying. These Kewpie Kosmonauts would have given me nightmares...

(image from EnglishRussia, a must-see for fans of the Dear Dead [Red] Days)

After and Before and Before

Miss LaToya Jackson: 50-something, 30-something, 20-something, or Jackie Stallone, Lady Godiva, and a sweet young girl with no idea of what lies in store. You be the judge.

Self-mutilation makes me queasy, and apparent self-loathing makes me sad. The fashions, though, make me very happy in a very bitchy way, so it all evens out in the end. Unlike the trademark Jackson nose-ette...

The Wonder of Roz, or Life as a Banquet

Rosalind Russell ended her career one of the Biggest of the Big - Wonderful Town's gala Ruth, Auntie Mame, Mama Rose.

I kind of love, though, that she spent so long paying her dues. It took the Hollywood bigwigs a good five years to realize that their serious dark-haired leading lady was actually a genius comedienne, a romantic lead, and a stunner to look at.

In the meantime, she played an awful lot of what she later called "Lady Mary" parts - you know, the proper dull stick who says of whichever floozie Jean Harlow is playing, "She's rahtha vulgar, isn't she?" just before being dumped by the leading man.

She was certainly pleasant, and lovely enough to look at, but somehow a shade generic. A workmanlike lead in straight parts in light comedy, she made a decent stab at drama - her Harriet Craig is less hysterical than Crawford's later incarnation, but somehow even more disturbed. But still she hadn't really clicked.

She wasn't, it has to be admitted, all that easy to photograph; in 1936, Fox thought nothing of releasing this still, in which she looks like a mildly bad-tempered Scarsdale matron.

She was well on her way to being not only just a leading lady, but a rather second-tier one, playing second fiddle to bigger names like Myrna Loy (who did her own years before the mast before MGM finally figured out how to make her score).

She must have wondered how long she'd have to do novelty stills, just one rung up from the calendar shots and leg art assigned to just-arrived starlets...

Even in sure-fire settings like the Big Telephone Scene, she seems to lack confidence, the total self assurance of the real Top Thesp.

But then - finally - after a string of now-forgotten pictures like Man-Proof, Live, Love, and Learn, and Four's a Crowd - came Sylvia Fowler, The Women. Roz clicked, and in the face of big time competition; the biggest really: in wifeliness, from Mrs. Thalberg; in glamour, from Paulette Goddard; in evil, from Crawford herself; in comedy, from Mary Boland and Marjorie Main and the whole ridiculous mise en scène. And Lady Mary walked away on top.

Don't, it turned out, force her to be proper, or even myrnaloyishly genial. Let her loose. Let her be awkward, loud, cackling, mean: hilarious.

Suddenly, when Hurell photographed her, you saw what had always been there, waiting:

Screen gold. Then came His Girl Friday, which added romance and smarts to her mix, and there was no stopping her. Oh, there was still the occasional misfire - anyone for Hired Wife (1940) or Tell it to the Judge! (1949)? Sometimes she over-reached; her Mourning Becomes Electra did favors neither to Eugene O'Neill nor her career; even at the end, her last real starring vehicle, 1967's Rosie!, is as putrid a film as any.

But from 1940 on, Rosalind Russell was a name to conjure with, the joy of audiences and critics both, the star you could equally imagine next door or at the most glamourous of Mame's Manhattan soirées. Isn't she somebody, still, you'd love to have a drink at the Plaza with, were it still, say, 1957?

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Glamour: The Next Generation

Seen here, wearing almost as much in the way of rocks in the bathtub as I, is none other than Harry Potter's little pal Hermione, aka rising star Emma Watson. Goodness, children do grow up quickly these days! Especially in the pages of Vogue Italia.

I'm really rather impressed. She carries this tricky look off superbly, with just a hint of fellow teenagers Bacall, Turner, and Lake, and not a trace of her contemporaries, who generally look either like tykes playing dress-up or drag queens when trying on the classic styles.

Her co-star is having his day onstage, revealing all; she is growing up rather more elegantly, and, perhaps, interestingly.


This is, I think, one of the most purely French moments ever caught on film, and a revelation if you have only ever heard the recording. Live, Piaf is like some kind of Gallic blues-shouter. She is sick, old, raddled, exhausted - and feral, terrifying, seductive, genius.

Her effect on the audience can be gauged by the storm of an ovation that ends the clip, all the more amazing when you see how she is literally holding herself up, clutching the stage curtain.

For the rather more sedate version peddled, a few years earlier, to American audiences on the Ed Sullivan show (and an example of Piaf's charming way with English), you might watch this clip. But here we see the real, untrammeled, tragic/triumphant thing.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Filtering: Ur Doing it Rong

Yes, the geniuses who are our appointed Net Nannies in this part of the world have struck again.

As of yesterday, they've apparently decided that delicate local sensitivities can't take the constant onslaught of filth that is FailBlog. Fortunately, we're still allowed to make fun of cheezburger-craving kittehs and cunning puppies, not to mention silly politicians.

I thought those of you out there in the Free World might appreciate a look at what we see here when we venture out beyond the safe borders of Approved Cyberspace. I'm especially fond of being lumped in with hackers and pornographers, as well as with the chipper send-off that hopes I "will find Internet interesting in many other areas."

Pardon the crankiness; it's mostly that they've also cottoned on, at last, to the proxy I've been using for the last six months or so, and now I have to hunt up another one.

On the South Sea Island of Tawanga...

Gloria never thought twice about going back to Terre Haute or to teaching sixth-grade Latin at St. Dymphna's Middle School. She agreed to become bride #14 just as soon as Chief Kamanawanalayu popped the question.

A Rose by Any Name

A great joy, I am finding, is the sharing of things one loves, the chance to muse about what strikes one's mind and finds a home there. A Gentle Reader has recently discovered an earlier posting, on the extraordinary writer and bonne vivante known variously as the Baroness von Blixen-Finecke, Isak Dinesen, Tanne, Karen...

She started out as a pretty socialite from an extroverted, aristocratic Danish family, but one afflicted, at times, with a Nordic streak of melancholy.

She moved, daringly, to Kenya, following a feckless husband and a dream to have, as she later wrote, "a farm in Africa, at the foot of the Ngong Hills." That turned out to be a very mixed blessing; it meant years of work, financial ruin - and the genesis of her great career.

For in Africa she found both passion of the physical kind (in the arms of a dashing British aviator/hunter) and the stimulation - artistic, intellectual, natural - that she had needed to blossom. She returned to Denmark in 1931, a failure as a farmer, but with the idea that she might write.

She became one of the most celebrated authors of the twentieth century, considered a kind of Scandinavian Sibyl for her ornately sardonic tales and, especially, for her romanticized but very beautiful memoir, Out of Africa.

She made the most of it, traveling in lavish style throughout Europe and to the United States, fêted everywhere. Despite failing health exacerbated by more than a touch of hysteria, she had a marvelous time.

She turned her excessive thinness - variously caused, depending on whom you believe, by anorexia, by the lingering effects of syphilis, or simply by her iron will - into a very individual kind of chic. And she recognized fabulousness in others:

When giants meet: Miss Monroe and the Baroness (and mortals)

I am afraid she is not as much read as she might be - in danger of becoming an artist more famous for her life (and for the mostly egregious film, despite the presence of Miss Streep, made of it) than for her work.

That is a shame, for her best tales are gripping, moving, magnificently shaped and written with the assurance of a scholar, the humor of a woman of the world, and a kind of boundless tolerance for even the greatest of human follies.

She was, as has been eloquently chronicled over at An Aesthete's Lament, a connoisseur of flowers.

She would, I think, therefore likely be quite pleased to be the namesake of this elegant rose...

Although perhaps, after the flame trees of the hills outside Nairobi (where a neighborhood of faded colonial pretension, named for her, sits on the erstwhile fields of coffee trees) and her own brilliant, variegated tulips, it might seem a little pale.

If one wants to turn to film to capture her, much better to start with the exquisite Babette's Feast, from one of her stories, than with the Streep-Redford lovefest. Better still to turn to the books themselves, and to Judith Thurman's marvelous biography, Isak Dinesen: The Life of a Storyteller.

She adored, in her own life, mottoes by which to live. My favorite of these is this, taken from the French poet Alfred de Musset (himself no stranger to formidable female writers; he was a lover of George Sand):

"Il faut, dans ce bas monde, aimer beaucoup de choses / Pour savoir, après tout, ce qu'on aime le mieux." Meaning: We must, in this world, love many things - so that we can know, after all, what we have loved the most."

She lived her last years, I've read, almost exclusively on Champagne and delicacies like oysters and asparagus. I think of her, and of what I have loved the most, every time I have a glass.

Farewell to a Class Act

When stars like Paul Newman die, the world is made a little duller. From start to finish, Newman was both a Movie Star (in caps) and an actor's actor, at home in Tennessee Williams and art films (heartbreaking in Mr. and Mrs. Bridge) and at the same time capable of making real entertainment out of silliness like The Towering Inferno and What a Way to Go!

On top of all that, he was smart, entrepreneurial, philanthropic, and - not the least of any actor's virtues - both ruggedly handsome and, somehow, lavishly beautiful. It would seem he even loved dogs.

All that and those blue eyes, too. How lucky he was - and so were we.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Avast, There!

Mr. Tyrone Power could give that young Depp puppy a lesson or two on suiting up (or not) for a pirate picture. Or for being a barback at The Saint.

Either way, it is, in its own fashion, a timeless look, no?

New York Nightlife

Wouldn't you love to know what Irving had just said to get that expression out of the Merm?

I'm glad to see that, even at the Stork Club, she stuck with beer, and apparently straight out of the bottle. You can take the stenographer out of Astoria...

La Bonne Cuisine

Once upon a time, this was my favorite restaurant.

It's still there, a fixture on far West 51st Street, although the cheerful fat Madame who ran it with an iron fist is long gone; she was a marvel at bullying the elderly French waitresses and making sure the carafes of destitute young parties were magically refilled, often, it seemed, at the expense of the rushed theatregoers who abandoned, half-finished, their Îles Flottantes at 7:54.

We stayed on, sometimes until intermission (a great way to see at least the second half of shows) and sometimes until one or another of us had someplace to go and sing. Or wait table. Or both.

I took Mr. Muscato there last summer. It wasn't the same, of course, but it was wonderful. And we finished our Îles Flottantes.

Now, Philatelist

Geez - how'd I miss this? You'd think there was some national crisis in the news or something to distract me.

But it's true: as of last week, Mrs. Davis's little girl is a full-fledged U.S. postage stamp, and looking pretty glam in her Margot Channing drag.

It looks like the prudes have had their way, leaving only a blur between her first and second fingers to explain why her hand is just so (but we know why).

Given that she is the only one of the contestants yet to be so honored, will this have any affect on the Dames & Divas Rematch now on over at Fabulon? I don't think Stanwyck or Hepburn would much care one way or the other, but you just know that Crawford is stewing that Bette was first.

Addendum: Mini Moderne

A loyal reader has sent me this moody snap, which is not, despite all appearances, the set for a lost Constance Bennett film. It is, rather, a view of another of Mrs. Thorne's amazing miniature creations, given something rather more creative than the usual straight-on still-life treatment.

I think it needs a tiny wolfhound in front of the fireplace and the music of Bix Biederbecke in the background.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Extra! Extra!

I don't know about you, but when I read a headline like this:
My fertile imagination takes me places that lead only to disappointment on finding out that the story is just about a botched Photoshop job and an actual leg:

But at least we get a glimpse of one of Europe's most stylish, alluring, frock-wearing Prada fans. Oh, and Mme. Sarkozy, too.

Marriage à la Mode

In honor of today's Blessed Event in San Francisco, let's spend a few minutes enjoying the song stylings of Miss Marilyn McCoo, a pair of groovy minidresses, one truly fab wig, and three of the ugliest tuxedos in the universe, all set to Laura Nyro's seductive "Wedding Bell Blues."

And congratulations and endless happiness to dear Mr. Peenee and his R Man.

Mononym to Nononym and Back Again

The auteur of Under the Cherry Moon raised the one-name stakes a few years ago, when he tried to move to having no name at all, but rather an epithet ("The Artist formerly known as Prince", of course), accompanied by a symbol that looked rather like an Egyptian ankh mating with a trombone.

Well, that went over about as well as New Coke, and soon he was once again just plain old Prince. And still is.

But who knew that once upon a time he sported a Farrah-do? Actually, it looks rather like he borrowed a wig from Valerie Bertinelli. Perhaps she borrowed his shirt, which thus explains this dewy-eyed shot in full.

Queens of Cabaret

Back in my Manhattan years, I was a big old Cabaret Addict. And, I think, very, very lucky - for I happened to be there, in the late 80s and through the 90s, at a remarkable and rather sad time, one that saw something like the end of the traditional cabaret scene.

The big rooms are pretty much gone like the dodo: the Ballroom, where once I saw British oddity Julian Clary literally cause people to fall over laughing; the Rainbow Room, most fabulous of them all, where one night I was there for the last time that Carol Lawrence and Larry Kert, West Side Story's first Maria and Tony, sang together.

The Café Carlyle hangs on, in a way, even without Bobby Short as its presiding genius, as does the Algonquin's Oak Room, and Michael Feinstein does seem to have found a way to make his club work, although it also doubles as a hotel breakfast room.

The smaller spaces and piano bars we haunted seem as far off as speakeasies or Vaudeville: The Five Oaks, home to 30s survivor Marie Blake, who made a rollicking blues out of Blondie's "Rapture"; 88s, where Karen Miller and Rochelle Seldin created a kind of cabaret salon for musical-theatre queens; Danny's Skylight Room, Rose's Turn, on an on.

One old hangout, Don't Tell Mama, hangs on. One real dive, Marie's Crisis, seems indestructible; I wonder if Sam is still playing the piano there, singing "Blue Champagne."

Luckily, some of the great ladies are still performing. In my time, my favorites included the timelessly elegant Julie Wilson:

Musical archaeologist Andrea Marcovicci, whose innate glamour is enhanced by her warmth and intelligence:

Regally sly Karen Akers; anyone who's heard her live (especially her song about a lovelorn Statue of Liberty - "who wants a date, with a large, green lady?") knows that no one more effectively combines fire and ice than she:

And, of course, Miss Eartha Kitt, about whom no more need be said than that she is Perfection:

Some of the other Grand Old Gals still make occasional appearances - Barbara Cook remains a phenomenon, and Maureen McGovern, Blossom Dearie and Barbara Carroll all come to mind, while Elaine Stritch has only gotten more and more active in recent years. Margaret Whiting is alive, but seems to have retired, and it's been many years since Lena Horne last sang.

So many, though, have gone on that big lounge in the sky; just from my memories of who used to come in for annual seasons or who were local fixtures, I can think of Dorothy Loudon, Peggy Lee, Sylvia Syms, Nancy Lamotte, Hildegarde, Jo Stafford.

Oh, dear. Too much nostalgia. Thankfully, there are some wonderful new voices out there; you likely have your favorites (do tell!), and here are two of mine:

Patricia Barber is as much as jazz star as a cabaret lady, but I'm very fond of her smoky, lazy vocals, which her deft piano playing complements just about ideally.

And then there's rising Canadian thrush Chantal Chamberland, a reflective, moody singer who turns the Eurhythmics' "Here Comes the Rain Again" into a saga of erotic longing.

And that's not to mention Madeline Peyroux, Jane Monheit, KT Sullivan, Mary Cleere Harran... But are they, any of them, really cabaret? I suppose I'll have to spend some time back in New York some day and find out.

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Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The Many Moods of Alice Faye

Sometimes I worry that I don't spend enough time considering the life and career of Alice Faye.

This post should take care of that for a good six months.

And, yes, of course I realize. She doesn't actually have many moods. Basically plucky to yearning and back again. But that's really her charm, isn't it?

And something about her makes me quite unreasonably happy.

Happy Again

Miss Bunton has a Petula Clark moment. And who can blame her? Happens to the best of us.

During her first round of fame, she managed the not inconsiderable feat of being Least Annoying Spice; in the years since, she's had a spotty career but gamely kept at it. She's certainly having fun here.

On the strength of this and her "Maybe" video, I'm prepared to be amused by her on a longer-term basis. She seems both to have a remarkably good sense of her own limits and to be perfectly happy to work within them.

Of how many evanescent stars can this be said?

Monday, September 22, 2008

The Longest Month

Ramadan grinds on. This, I fear, is the part of the month where every day starts to feel like an endless Thanksgiving afternoon: just too much holiday.

I miss going out to lunch, I miss having breakfast with Mr. Muscato (in the morning, that is, when breakfast is supposed to happen, not at sunset), and most of all, I miss - a word that hardly begins to express the depth of the longing - my mid-morning cup of coffee at the desk. And let's not even start with the whole cocktail angle. I'm teetotaling, more or less, and it's not pretty.

It probably doesn't help that I first encountered Ramadan in Cairo, where, I can't help feeling, they Do It Right: late mornings, relaxed rules for foreigners and infidels, and parties that start at dusk and last all night. I know that's probably not the Spirit of the Season, but neither is most of what we do for Christmas, and I still enjoy all that nonsense, too.

The whole city is decorated, as well. Colorful lanterns, the Ramadan fanous, decorate the entrances of almost every building, hang in offices, and are strung through the narrow streets of the poorer quarters.

There are public celebrations everywhere; charities and wealthy people sponsor Ramadan tents and tables, where all kinds of people gather for the sunset fast-breaking, the Iftar. For years the most notorious of these was hosted by the inexpressibly glamourous Fifi Abdou, much to the consternation of some local spoilsports; she responded, of course, by redoubling the size and ostentation of her banquets.

Here, things are distinctly more sedate. Decorations seem to limited to a few limp garlands in the supermarkets, evenings are if anything even sleepier than normal (especially if sitting in a coffee shop smoking shisha isn't your thing), and during the daytime one's fasting acquaintances move at a glacial pace, conserving their energy and looking wan. And let's not even talk about the driving.

It doesn't help that our favorite hangout this weekend banned Koko the Wonder Dog, saying that other customers complained, even though it's an outdoor café, we sit streetside, and he really is beautifully trained to stay quietly under the table. Local attitudes toward dogs are fodder for a future post.

The end is in sight, of course, and we'll slog on. The holiday ends at the end of this month. Then we'll have a normal few weeks before the onset of the National Day season, but more of that, no doubt, anon.

Bonus for Local Readers!
While there's still some time left, here's our wholly subjective take on this year's Ramadan offerings:

Must-do Iftar: the Crowne Plaza, in the newly redecorated Tropicana Restaurant. Great fresh salads, real juice, and more than the usual bland entrées (duck! mutton curry!). A bargain at OR 11. Reservations are a must.

Must-to-avoid Iftar: Second Avenue. Tired, tasteless, and, despite the glam setting, distinctly downmarket - and OR 7.5 to boot! Our whole table was queasy for hours afterward...

Best Local Flavor Iftar: Al-Reef Al-Lubnani in Al-Khuwair. Crowded, festive, and bustling, as locals vie with Egyptian, Lebanese, and Syrian families at a buffet that doesn't disappoint - and only OR 3.5.

Biggest TV Disappointment: Esmahan. Endless, pointless, and really, really bad period costumes and settings. Bring back El-Malik Farouk!

Must-See TV: Dubai One's subtitled Freej - really well done, and a lifesaver or those of us who have minimal Khalijy.

A Noble Effort: Oman-TV's Darayish II. It's almost worth watching just to catch the location shots and for the inevitable nightly shouting match. Almost.

Office Party Confidential

"Goodness," thought Mabel, "Hattie in Purchasing tried to warn me, but I couldn't have dreamed the kind of thing the executive steno pool gets up to after hours. Thank God I wore my good beads, or I'd have felt awful quaint next to Shirlee's strapless all-in-one."

Angel of Mercy, Retail Division

All the travail over at Casa Peenee has had at least one upside, albeit one I'm feeling a little guilty about enjoying so selfishly: I've had the joy of being reminded of one of my earliest career goals.

Imagine the glamour of it! In the vignette above, it's the midst of the crazy Christmas rush at the Bon Ton Store. The elevator operator (was his name Mack? I bet it was.) clearly approves of Nurse Cherry's private moment with that dishy assistant buyer from China & Crystal (although neither of them realize that it was in fact the mature charms of Mack himself that bring said buyer onto the elevator so frequently).

When next the door slides open, our heroine will encounter a distraught senior saleslady. "Cherry! Thank God I've found you - we've got a matron down in Stately Stout; she's had a nasty turn!" "Quick,Phyllis," the plucky nurse replies, "Boil some water. She'll need tea and a hot compress, stat!"

Twenty minutes later she'll wander up to China to see if she can rekindle the moment - and encounter the surprise of her life when she sees what's up in the stockroom.

All in a day's work for Cherry Ames, Department Store Nurse.