Friday, October 31, 2008

Defending My Virtue

No, no - a thousand times no!

I don't care how pimpaliciously you deck yourself out, Bollywood ultrahunk Upen Patel! I will not be your bitch. I'm a happily married man.


The Darlings of Cinema

Róisín Murphy's "Movie Star" has been a major iPod favorite for months now, but only today did I think to track down the video. I suppose everyone else in the world has seen this endlessly, but it seems to me an excellent way to close out Hallowe'en.

It is anarchic, gleeful, marvelous - equal parts prime John Waters and early Fellini, with a dash of Cyndi Lauper circa "Girls Just Want to Have Fun" and more than a little George Romero toward the end. And under, around, and through it all, that seductive, chugging beat perfectly setting off Murphy's sweet, slightly steely voice.


Birthday Girl: The Happy Trails Lady

Now here's an unlikely Hallowe'en baby: that sunniest of all cowgirls (and here at the Café, we know from sunny cowgirls), the bride of Roy Rogers for more than half a century, Miss Dale Evans. It's an uncharacteristic pose, too - she was always far more girl next door than saloon strumpet.

On the other hand, by the time the onetime Frances Octavia Smith hit Hollywood, she was no shrinking violet. On their wedding day, Roy said "I do" for the third time, and Dale for the fourth, with a son (billed by her studio as her brother) to show for at least one of those marriages.

But the decades rolled by, and she ended her long life a pillar of respectability, with only the saucy gleam in her eye hinting at times gone by.

Here she's seen late in life with a loved friend. Now I know the way your dirty minds work, so please - no pussy jokes, you hear?

Special Birthday Bonus!

There must be something in the air on October 31 that just promotes a special kind of sauciness...

Sharing the date is Café favorite Cleo Moore. Had fate been kinder, she'd be celebrating her 80th birthday today, and I bet she'd have been fabulous.

Grande Dame Guignol

Happy Hallowe'en! TJB has already heralded the holiday by bringing to mind one of Hollywood's scariest phenomena: the auto-trashing of stardom that many of Hollywood's biggest ladies participated in once their careers were heading to the far side of the arc of fame. The biggest stars dove in first, bringing us in 1962 the immortal spectacle that is Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?.

I thought we might mark the day here at Café by taking a quick look at this same phenomenon, albeit generally one or two (or many, many more) rungs down.

Two years after Crawford and Davis, Olivia de Havilland put a toe into the exploitation waters with Lady in a Cage. She was joined in this macabre romp by none other than Ann Sothern.* She made sure it was a somewhat more old-school experience than Baby Jane by having her costumes by Edith Head and makeup by a Westmore, but even so, her Errol Flynn days at Warners feel very far away.

Nonetheless, she soldiered on; that same year, she replaced Crawford and joined Davis in Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte.

1965 saw Tallulah Bankhead head to the UK to make what turned out to be her last feature, a Hammer horror first called The Fanatic and then re-titled, to maximally exploit her participation, as Die! Die! My Darling!**. Somehow the Italian title above just doesn't have the same ring.

Always eager to follow a trend, a few years later Shelley Winters (most of whose career was semi-exploitation anyway) flew to London for the first of her two "Question" thrillers, Whoever Slew Auntie Roo? (given the abbreviated title above for its U.S. release). Just about the best thing going for this one is its tag line: "The hand that rocks the cradle has no flesh on it!". Classy.

With that out of the way, Shelley hotfooted it back to LA to join Debbie Reynolds (and a startlingly star-studded cast that also takes in Agnes Moorehead, Dennis Weaver, and Yvette Vickers) for What's the Matter with Helen?. This one actually rises to the level of pretty good entertainment, with the two ladies playing Hollywood fringies in the 30s and more atmospherics than most of these pictures. It's sufficiently popular with at least one fan to have its own blog.

By the mid-70s, there were fairly few Big Ladies who hadn't found themselves wielding a knife, pushing a co-star down a flight of stairs, or otherwise generally trampling on the grave of Louis B. Mayer.

Perhaps the last of them was poor Veronica Lake, who was coaxed out of a boozy, reclusive retirement to appear ("star" just doesn't seem right) in Flesh Feast, a Miami-filmed quickie that makes Joan Crawford's Trog look like Grand Hotel. She plays a lady scientist who dabbles in experiments using maggots to carry out plastic surgery, and then someone wants to resuscitate Hitler, and... Oh, it's just awful, and she's terrible and sad.

Now that the line between "quality" entertainment and schlock has been more or less erased, it's hard to see any of today's star's getting much extra mileage simply out of appearing in shockers. A few decade ago, though, there was a palpable thrill in seeing somene like Bette Davis as a hag, or Olivia de Havilland menaced by beatniks, or even Veronica Lake as a sad shadow.

In any case, they mostly make fine entertainment for this spooky day, although I think myself that I'll induce the creeps by watching what I think is the scariest film to come out of a major Hollywood studio, Leslie Caron in Lili. But more of that anon.

* Moms Smackley's photostream has a snap of Miss Sothern in this that is something you want to see. Trust me.

** Hats off to the clever IMDb reviewer who points out that it could just as well be called
Chew! Chew! The Scenery!.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Birthday Girl: She Built That City

Grace Slick - such a sweet, demure young California debutante and Mayflower descendant. Can you believe that she turns 69 today, having been born in the epochal year 1939, which also brought us Gone with the Wind, The Wizard of Oz, and World War II?

She's seen it all, from the craziness of San Francisco in the sixties to a thwarted attempt to pyschedelicize Richard Nixon by slipping LSD into a White House punchbowl to, in her retirement from the Business We Call Show, a remarkably busy life as a popular painter.

She's also gone from the sublime to the ridiculous, having had a hand in writing both the great hommage to Alice in Wonderland that is "White Rabbit" and that landmark in late-eighties cheese, "Nothin's Gonna Stop Us Now."

So far, nothing has.

Very Definitely a Lounge Act

Ginger and her boys, just singin' a song and having a blast. Doesn't she look pleased at having at last shed that pesky Mr. Astaire?

I would have thought, though, that she might have emphasized a little more toothsomeness in the backups - they're a fairly motley crew. Or perhaps she just went Mae West one better, and didn't even want men on stage who might be as pretty as she?

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Electoral Boogie

You know, for her, this seems entirely plausible. Him, though? I think he's going to be booked for the next eight years or so.

A Date with Judy

And her ass.

Well, I guess we can tell what Judy Lynn thought her own personal Part of Love was, no? I cannot imagine a better image of a woman who sang something called "I'm His Old Lady"; I'm sure she was.

Also: do you suppose this is where Lady Bunny found her original inspiration?

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Incomprehensible Headline of the Day

What? Is he a temperamental alcoholic perfectionist? Does he make Judy Garland cry? Does he help rationalize the stardom of Esther Williams?

No (although I would kill for a picture of Obama with Esther Williams, for no particular reason). It seems that, to the august London Daily Telegraph, Barack Obama may be a dangerous demagogue because...

He cheers people up.

Well, all I know is one thing.

If there's just the vaguest chance that his inauguration will look even the slightest like this, my vote is totally more sewn up this morning than it was up 'til now.

Identity Crises of the Stars

Sometimes whole weeks would go by in 1940 when Ann Sothern wasn't entirely sure that she hadn't started drifting into an uneasy compromise halfway between Joan Crawford and Rosalind Russell.

But then she would give herself a good shake and visualize the glorious future that would take her out the B Unit and right to the top on television. If it meant having to be friends with Lucille Ball, she'd just have to grit her teeth and get on with it.

Twenty-odd years later, if she even for a moment wondered if it had all been worth it, all she had to do was glance down at her insinuating gaze on the cover of TV Guide to know the answer:


Just So You Know

I believe implicitly in the Television Code. Not to mention good practice.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Guilty Pleasure

Oh, I know how cheesy it is. I know it's basically indefensible. But from time to time I find myself transfixed - utterly, completely, wholly - by the wonders of Tom Selleck's chest.

So sue me.

Birthday Goddess: The Queen

She popped by the Café quite by accident a couple of days ago, but just now it's come to my attention that today marks what would have been Mahalia Jackson's 97th birthday.

"The Queen of Gospel" had a truly uncanny voice, one that could boom like thunder one second and be as intimate as a whisper the next. Here we see her in perhaps her most unlikely moment, serenading funeral-goers in that greatest of all soap operas, Imitation of Life.

It's a testament to her art that she transcends, and effortlessly, the best work of Douglas Sirk and Miss Lana Turner combined to reduce her singing to background music for their very particular brand of High Glossy Suffering.

Stagy Ladies

Just a coupla Broadway babies, yukking it up at yet another Marvelous Party.

I have to give it up for Carol - she's the only person I've ever seen whose chasm-wide grin always seems absolutely unaffected. As for Betty B. - well, she's got the Great Lady act down, cold, although sometimes it looks like she'd rather be somewhere else. Like at the bar.

Friday, October 24, 2008

A Deceptive Calm

Oh, everything was cordial enough as the shutter clicked, but three minutes later half the Executive Committee of the Terre Haute DAR were catfighting in the reflecting pool. 1937 was the last year they served cocktails before lunch at the annual meeting, that's for sure.

Birthday Boy: AARP Division

The infinitely alluring Mr. Kevin Kline turns 61 today. This seems quite impossible.

Thank heaven I've always had a thing for older men...

Laughing Lady

I'm ashamed to admit that prior to the last few weeks, my knowledge of the comic genius of Tina Fey was limited to a vague awareness that she was a Saturday Night Live fixture who'd gone on to better things.

Now I spend my days and nights marveling at her deft assassination-through-laughter of whatever shreds of credibilty still adhere to the Republican Party's albatross, I mean running mate, the Governatrix. That, and wishing that there were any chance that 30 Rock would be showing up on one of local channels in this part of the world (sadly, though that would apparently take up too much valuable time now devoted to The Bold and the Beautiful and and endless repeats of the inexplicably popular Eve).

Incredibly funny, clearly tremendously smart - and gams to boot. Maybe there is a future for the Rosalind Russell/Carole Lombard tradition? One can only hope.

Diva Divissima

I think it's time for a little Friday Civilization. Thinking, a few posts below, about the glittering Miss Lily Pons has put me in the mood for more classics. How about a rather unusual rendering of that staple of parlor recitals the world around, "Il Bacio," by Luigi Arditi?

Guess what? The pint-sized prima donna is not, in fact, the demon spawn of Deanna Durbin and Shirley Temple. No, gentle readers, she is the darling of the Major Bowes Amateur Hour, Little Belle "Bubbles" Silverman - better known as America's favorite future public-television megastar, the one and only Beverly Sills.

At eight, and, as she has always averred, very definitely under the influence of those Galli-Curci recordings with which she was raised. Little girls just don't sing like that any more.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

9 out of 10 Disembodied Heads Agree...

I don't know about you, but pretty much my first thought whenever I think about the legendary Zarah Leander is "Yes, Sir!"

Holy Trinity

Mahalia, Elvis, Miss Babara McNair, and Mahalia's hat. Don't ask why.

Do you suppose Sister Mahalia always dressed as if going to or coming from church? Perhaps she was.


Miss TraLaLa if you're nasty.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008



Maxwell Caulfield by Kenn Duncan. For After Dark, of course.

Goodnight, Mr. Blackwell

Lily Pons, by Beaton

What better way to remember the late Mr. Blackwell, the original fashion policeman, than with one of his signature warm-hearted insights into the Great and the Good? Speaking of a certain French diva, he once said, "maybe Lily Pons was the toughest I ever worked with. That was five feet of pure hell."

Looking at the smile, I'd believe it.

I've always had a soft spot for Pons, if only because her name seems so close to being a drag name, just one step away from something like Anita Mann.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

It's You, Girls, and You Should Know It!

Here they are at a very specific moment, Phyllis, Mary, and Rhoda: before the spinoffs split them apart, before the bad Movies of the Week and the forays onto Broadway and the facelifts and all the other indignities of time in its flight. Three actresses, America's Saturday night sweethearts, with not a thread of natural fiber in any one of their outfits.

In a Kingdom by the Sea

"The Kings of Hollywood," by Slim Aarons, 1957

Proof positive that Old Hollywood had it nailed, glamourwise: even Van Heflin looks fab, although I think Coop may have had a drop too much. Wouldn't you like to have spent New Year's Eve at Romanoff's, once upon a time?

Monday, October 20, 2008

Top-Billed Trollop

I've never seen this one, but it certainly looks vivid enough on paper. The casting is ... diverse. It's as if one day Paramount decided to make a movie starring the first dozen or so people into the commissary on a given Tuesday.

Heading the bill is the Paris Hilton of the 1920s, the inexplicably celebrated Miss Peggy Hopkins Joyce, who, had she chosen, by the end of her life could have rejoiced in the full name of Marguerite Upton Archibald Hopkins Joyce Morner Easton Meyer. Had she done so, of course, there might not have been room even in 1934 (only four or so husbands in) for Col. Stoopnagle, and what a shame that would have been!


Egyptians are mad about movies, and the big stars of the Egyptian cinema are revered by the general public in the way that more rarefied circles in the West feel about Garbo, Davis, Gable, and Bogart.

They love the triumphs, and almost as much they revel masochistically in the tragedies. Just about the saddest of all of these is the story of Souad Hosni, remembered as "The Cinderella of Arabic Cinema."

Throught the 60s and into the 70s, she was the darling of moviegoers, a lively, gamine sort of girl given the Egyptian versions of the kinds of movies then going to Natalie Wood and Audrey Hepburn.

She made dozens of movies, some good and some pretty lamentable. One, Khali Balek min Zouzou (Beware of Zouzou) from the early 70s is credited with rescuing Egyptian movies from a rut of politicized, Soviet-style pictures (brawny peasants, noble workers, and not much fun - very not Egyptian).

By the early 80s, the movie industry in Egypt more or less fell apart, and the kinds of sweet, light films audiences loved her for gave way to low-budget action/comedy/romance/dirty joke movies. In 2001, half-forgotten, impoverished, and long ill and a recluse, Souad Hosni fell from the balcony of the London apartment building to which she had retreated.

Some say she jumped; others that mysterious Powers That Be pushed her (and stole the manuscript of her reputedly sensational memoirs). Her funeral was a day of mass public mourning in Cairo, and Egyptians still bitterly berate themselves for having let her down.

Years before all that, though, in 1979, Souad Hosni made a movie called El-Mutawahisha (The Wild Child). At 37, she's a little mature for the kind of romping about that the script calls for, but she's game.

Here, with the dubious help of some disturbing chorus boys, she leads a number called, as you'll soon see, Sheeka-Beeka.

It's fairly appalling. I suppose you could consider it the real-life Egyptian Shumba (it's almost that unnerving). Or maybe an Arabesque Sissy Clown Slap Party. Don't say you haven't been warned.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Birthday Girl: The Fallen Star

Happy birthday to silent siren Evelyn Brent, born today 109 years ago.

In 1928, chances are that if you asked a passer-by to name a big film star, Evelyn might have been in the top five or six responses.

She had a kind of reserve, a stillness, that served her well in the lavish late-20s dramas in which she made her name.

She did three pictures with Josef von Sternberg, who would seem to have used her as a sort of preparatory canvas for his later, more fully realized work with the divine Marlene.

The coming of sound revealed a handsome, dark, but rather unmodulated voice. She kept on working, but not as a top star, and by the 40s was doing leads on Poverty Row and small parts, some just this side of bit-work, in the majors.

In a late interview with Kevin Brownlow, who found her living in reduced circumstances in LA, she seemed more puzzled than anything else by the downward spiral of her career, not really able to piece together everything that had happened to her.

There is something austere in her face, ungenerous; it undercuts the glamor of even her best stills and makes one wonder just what she's thinking. It gives every sign of not being very kind.

Storks? Cabbage Leaves? Gabon?

Without a doubt, this tops the list of "Questions I would not want answered by a semi-beloved, half-forgotten television presenter."

Such a Nuisance!

Will someone please remind Bollywood superstar Upen Patel that I am a happily married man? Just because we've let him into the kitchen doesn't give him the right to haunt my dreams!

Local Legends

My God! How have I reached the age of ... well, not all that much more than 30... without having heard the fabulous saga of Nita and Zita? I bet Jason knows all about them, but I sure didn't.

Now that I do, I feel an odd need to do something rash and spectacular. But that might just be the suddenly spectacular weather we're having, or the full moon. Or the cocktails. You decide.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

A Fraught Moment

I can't imagine what someone in the audience just said, but I have a feeling that whatever it was is about to unleash a canful of Miller-time whoopass.

Dance, Dance, Dance Little Lady

Miss Agnes de Mille, in High Americana Mode, and looking very happy with herself. And why shouldn't she? She was a genius, a huge success, and she had great extension.

Not to mention a truly cunning little pair of cowgirl boots.

Everybody Shumba!

Nobody warns you that blogging can be dangerous. Time-consuming, amusing, occasionally alarming, yes -but actually sanity threatening? That came as a surprise.

And it's all the fault of running across this record cover. I don't even remember where.

Lou Christie? Hmmm. A half-remembered name, one that went with the pompadour and greaser expression. The Tammys? Now that's odd. Egyptian Shumba? What the Hell?

So I did some of the usual digging around.

The Tammys, it turned out, were falsetto crooner Lou Christie's attempt at creating a girl group. They were two sisters, Margaret Gretchen and Catherine Louise Owens, and their friend Linda Jones. They met Christie after one of his shows at a Moose Lodge in Franklin, Pennsylvania. The rest is history.

Soon they were his backup vocalists, and after a while he had them make a couple of records on their own. They're solid, plaintive, slightly nasal ditties ("Take Back Your Ring", "Part of Growing Up"). They had some modest local success, charting in Erie, Pittsburgh, and Cleveland, for example.

It's pretty clear that when it came to presentation, The Tammys could have benefited from Motown's legendary charm school.

But then - and this is probably where you should decide, now, if you want to read on and take a chance, or skip to the next posting and keep your wits about you - then came what, if this were a Criswell narration (and it might as well be) would be called That Fateful Day: November 1, 1963. A great nation is poised, unknowing, on the brink of enormous change - and in New York, The Tammys, under the close supervision of Lou Christie, record their magnum opus, a pop song truly unlike any other before or since.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you:

The Egyptian Shumba.

Listen at your own risk. And don't say you haven't been warned.

I can pretty much guarantee that you'll be having dreams consisting mostly of "Shimmy Shimmy Shimmy Shy-Yi Meece-E-Deece" for the next few weeks. And loving them.

Not much else happened for The Tammys, but this, certainly, was enough to gain them a little spot of immortality, no?