Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Such a Practical Gift

Perfect of a New Year's Eve outing (or hostess gift, darling!), from the good people at Veuve Cliquot (my favorite widow, actually) comes this rather awesome picnic accessory. Designed by the divine Karim Rashid, it's a handy carrier for a single bottle of Champagne that is a combination cooler/atmospheric lamp.

Just the thing when you want to share a glass, just you and your lion.

Party Time!

Here at the Café, we are of course having a few friends in this evening.

Remembering last time, I shall have to keep them away from the percussion instruments...

A Word to the Wise

For those planning a festive night out, remember:

Beware the Truth Seekers. And the Givers.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Day After Tomorrow

Are you ready for the new year? Debbie Reynolds certainly seems to be. Although apparently she has been for 56 years, based on the tiara...

A Word from our Sponsor


(I don't know about you, but I always go to Dick for mine...)

Pola, Schatze, and Loco

I have to admit: when I first moved to New York, I considered How to Marry a Millionaire something of a user's guide to the city. It's so practical!

These days, I just find myself murmuring the director's name as a kind of soothing mantra: Jean Negulesco, Jean Negulesco, Jean Negulesco...

Monday, December 29, 2008

Birthday Girl: Mistress and Hairstyle

287 years ago today, in a modest quartier of Paris, was born a baby whom her parents, M. and Mme. Poisson, decided to call Jeanne-Antoinette. Her brilliant career belies the general gloom of babies born today, although even her glamorous legacy has, of late, become tainted.

That little girl, you see, grew up to become, for a while, one of the most powerful women in the world, mistress of Louis XV, the Marquise de Pompadour. She has been in equal part admired and villified ever since, but even her critics grant her quite remarkable intelligence, taste, elegance, and devotion to her King.

She was the guiding spirit behind the transformation of the at times ghastly rococco of the Louis XIV style into the still luxurious but cleaner-lined and more classically minded Louis XV; she was renowned for her wit and even - unusual in the cutthroat world of Versailles's courtiers - for her kindness.

How sad, then, that today, she is, more or less, a coiffure:

And, worse than that, a coiffure that, Elvis aside, has almost never flattered anyone.

Not to mention one that is today perhaps best known for adorning the world's sole surviving Stalinist dictator - a man who will likely also be remembered, on some level, for his sense of style, if not quite with the fondness that we recall little Mlle. Poisson...

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Local Color

I thought you might enjoy a glimpse of our Christmas, darlings, which really was lovely. Here's the view from our friends' roof, taken during the intense but all-too-brief twilight we get down here. As predicted, the Italians cooked, the Champagne flowed, and it's just as well that the three of us spent the night.

Birthday Dame: Shadows

There's a definite something to the surprising roster of well-known names who share today as a birthday. So many, no matter how apparently sunny their reputation, have some kind of talent for self-subversion, a dark side or a hidden surprise. It's quite a list: jazz gender illusionist Billy Tipton, America's sweetheart-turned-The-Joker Mary Tyler Moore, vanished disco thrush Yvonne Elliman, troubled funster Paula Poundstone, puffy ex-looker Jon Voight, perennial pretty boy Jude Law...

...and, darkest of them all, Miss Marianne Faithfull. She's had a stumbling triumph-and-tragedy career that's stretched across five decades now, all of them marked with bad behavior, the occasional great performance, and a truly overwhelming appetite for intoxicants of every kind. Somehow it comes as no surprise that she is a scion of the Sacher-Masoch clan (yes, those Sacher-Masochs).

Her earliest incarnation was also, to me, her least convincing. She just wasn't ingenue material, her breathy "As Tears Go By" too unsettling to stand aside the work of putative Swinging London contemporaries like Petula Clark.

As word of her bad behavior of all kinds spread, though, she started to grow into her reputation.

She even managed, somehow, to make knee socks and maryjanes seem more depraved than fishnets and stilettos. There is a timeless quality to her decadence, one that links her to Weimar and the opium dens of the late nineteenth century, even as she rode the waves of punk in the 70s and performance art in recent years.

She is a magnificent wreck, a valid interpreter of Weill and Brecht, an unapologetic hedonist, an occasional and occasionally quite effective actress, and if nothing else, these days she's certainly looking better than her erstwhile colleagues the Rolling Stones.

Perhaps the darkness of today's babies, though, is best illustrated by someone who makes Marianne Faithfull look like Shirley Temple:

Grigori Yefimovich Rasputin, who, even if he wasn't (pace Boney M) "lover of the Russian Queen," certainly caused more than his fair share of mischief. Who else has ever so enthusiastically looked the part of villainous religous maniac? These days they tend to the smarmy and suntanned, which to my way of thinking isn't nearly as effective.


Chilly where you are? Why not head to sunny Waikiki!

I can't think of anything nicer than a cocktail on the lanai, although I have to say that "Queen's Surf" sounds possibly like a euphemism for something uncommonly nasty...

(Not) at the Movies

Our little capital's dilatory film calendar means we've not yet had the pleasure of not seeing Valkyrie, which despite its less-horrendous-than-expected reviews still seems like a must-miss to me. It does present the opportunity, though, to make a wholehearted book recommendation.

If you want to find out how the von Stauffenberg plot to kill Hitler was experienced by those involved - if, in fact, you want a matchless account from within of life as a foreigner trapped in Nazi Berlin - you can do no better than read Berlin Diaries, the extraordinary memoirs of Princess Marie Vassiltchikov.

She was a semi-impoverished White Russian who found herself stuck in Germany when the start of the Second War cut her off from her family and forced her to find work in the Nazi capital. The book starts just as things are getting under way, with a glimpse into the increasingly surreal life of a circle of friends trying to preserve some shreds of normality.

It ends with the War, in 1945, with the Princess reduced to stumbling in rags across a half-bombed trainyard en route to finding whomever of her family she thinks may have survived. In between, one experiences everything along with the enormously appealing writer, from the excitement of an unexected package of food to horror at the destruction of familiar landmarks (she heads out one fine day to lunch at the posh Hotel Adlon only to find it in flames).

She worked with and came to admire enormously a number of the July 20 plotters, and she was involved in a series of daring attempts to get information on their whereabouts and even provide some comfort to them before most were executed.

Why they haven't made a movie of this book I can't say, except that it really wouldn't have room for Culty McCult and would have to feature a range of smart, funny, tough women characters.

Saturday, December 27, 2008


New Year's Eve is always so fraught.

You hope and pray it will turn out like this: revelry, glamour, and good times for all...

All too often, though, you end up with the nagging feeling that something not-so-great is about to happen. Or that Red Buttons will show up. Or both.


...Exactly whom, do you suppose, at the studio (and it looks like her Warner's days) did Miss Eve Arden piss off so royally (you should pardon the expression) that she had to spend a morning at the portrait gallery in that getup?

As the fabulous Mr. Ethan Mordden once observed of an ensemble of Miss Jeanette MacDonald's, that is a hat that a banshee would wear to a bris.

Friday, December 26, 2008

The Good Eartha

A sad day, darlings; we're all writing about her, and well we ought to be. The one and only Eartha has gone and left us.

How characteristic of her, too, to slip away on Christmas day, guaranteeing that we would as much celebrate as mourn her. Certainly, it's just as she would have had it, for few entertainers were such thorough celebrators as Miss Kitt: of sex, of life, of love, of all the pleasures of the flesh and spirit.

She had, onstage, the kind of matchless self-confidence that comes with being known as "the most exciting woman in the world." She could, with a glance, a gesture, a shrug, be the most bewitching creature you ever beheld, whether in sequins and feathers or reclining in a hotel armchair.

But she could also kick it up with the best of them, high-spirited and feisty and probably, at the occasional moment now and then, a little tempestuous. Poor Lady Bird Johnson found her so, but Jo Ann Worley would seem to have been a kindred spirit.

And through it all, from little clubs to New Faces of 1952 to Hollywood to television to exile to Broadway to discos to cabaret and even, however unlikely, to a new incarnation as a Disney villainess, she worked. I feel so lucky to have seen her in several of these guises, most often at the wonderful Café Carlyle.

She ruled that place, flirting and purring and whispering and shouting, singing songs old and new, seemingly as the mood struck but clearly with an enormous amount of dedication and preparation.

I don't really believe I won't see her there again and have the chance to hear what for a while was her closing number, a song she sung in such a way that it was autobiography: hers, yes, but somehow of everyone lucky enough to be her audience:

Here’s To Life
(Lyrics - Phyllis Molinary, Music - Artie Butler)

No complaints and no regrets;
I still believe in chasing dreams and placing bets.
And I have learned that all you give is all you get,
So give it all you've got.

I had my share, I drank my fill,
And even though I'm satisfied, I'm hungry still -
To see what's down another road, beyond a hill,
And do it all again

So here's to life!
And every joy it brings...
Here's to life!
To dreamers and their dreams...

Funny how the time just flies,
How love can go from warm hellos to sad goodbyes -
And leave you with the memories you've memorized,
To keep your winters warm.

But there's no yes in yesterday -
And who knows what tomorrow brings, or takes away;
As long as I'm still in the game, I want to play
For laughs, for life, for love.

So here's to life!
And every joy it brings...
Here's to life!
To dreamers and their dreams -
May all your storms be weathered;
And all that's good get better;

Here's to life -
Here's to love -
And here's to you...

She meant every word of it, and had 81 astonishing years to show for it. Here's to the old trouper, and let's hope she's raising hell in some celestial supper club even now, making balding, middle-aged business seraphim sitting ringside blush to "Just an Old Fashioned Girl" just like she did at the Carlye.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Through the Years...

... I don't think there has been, a few of the canonical carols aside, a more beautiful Christmas song, or any that captures so perfectly what the holiday becomes as we grow up, grow away from our childhoods and their certainties, and even (so sadly, unlike its greatest singer) grow old.

We will have a merry day, the three of us; Mr. Muscato, Koko, and I are driving down the spectacular coast of this lovely country, to have a bang-up lunch with a big group of friends on the roof of a rambling villa by the sea. We will have Champagne and turkey and (some of these friends being Brits) very likely crackers and paper crowns. Later, as the day fades, we will have (some of these friends being Italian) incredible desserts and strong tiny glasses of grappa.

There will be a child or two, to make the day more Christmassy, and people's parents and, I believe, a grandmother who's daringly made the flight down. It will be lovely.

But even so, as happens, there will be other, parallel days in at least some of our heads; Christmas mornings past, with sharp sudden memories of those long gone; Christmas mornings that never were, possibilities that didn't happen; and even Christmas mornings yet to come, that perhaps won't be so bright.

And through it all, we'll have to muddle through somehow. Today, we all will be together, and for a little while, leave all the rest to those Fates. As for you, well; have yourselves a merry little Christmas, darlings, and let your hearts be light.

If You're Still Shopping...

If perchance you haven't yet gotten my gift, I have to say I'm kind of jonesing for Evil Nurse Barbie here. I can think of all kinds of mean fun one could have with her, especially in combination with Dr. Kildare and Tallulah...

Birthday Lady: A Helluva Christmas Gift

On Christmas Eve 1922, Ava Gardner joined this low world and made it, somehow, for 67 years more radiant, more extraordinary. She was the unlikely product of a poor Southern family, so extravagantly beautiful that really she had no choice but to become an international film star.

She was not, perhaps, tremendously sensible - no one could marry Frank Sinatra and be considered that - and in fact her whole life could just about be summed in her plangent comment about her wild affair with a Spanish bullfighter, an escapade that tried the patience of even her dearest friends (who do seem to have been awfully longsuffering):

"It was a kind of madness, honey."

It's almost a shame that she was so heart-stoppingly lovely, for she was also a smart, proud, wordly woman and, when she cared to be, a fine actress. She Lived, in a kind of Auntie-Mame capital-L kind of way, and while she might have lasted longer with a little more care, I'm not sure that she would have traded quantity for quality.

If you ever find yourself in Smithfield, North Carolina, do visit the Ava Gardner Museum, a fascinating and even moving tribute to this great lady. And yes, YankeeDown - I have my mask, too! They're a must-have souvenir.

Obligatory Christmas Beefcake

Not to stereotype the pretty, vapid, and stupidly tattooed (I just keep thinking of ranks and ranks of 70 year-olds with drooping barbed-wire garlands around their withered biceps) but:

Doesn't it seem awfully likely that, in this case, Santa's familiar greeting is as much a job description as anything?

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

A Homily from the Homely

Well, somebody's just full of the milk of human kindness at Christmas!

I'd love to hear a cogent explanation of just why I should care to hear philosophizing about gender theory from an elderly gentleman whose idea of daywear is gold taffeta with an eyelet underskirt, set off by scarlet pumps and a stole.

It's Definitely not a Fruitcake.

Or is it?

This is an old favorite, I know, but somehow I never feel like it's Christmas until I've seen it. Really the spirit of the season, if you ask me. Being the long version, with the credits, only makes me realize how very, very fabulous that little moment in time actually was.

Yet Another Office Party...

The Library's annual Christmas fête took a turn for the bizarre just moments after Santa's conga line led the reference staff into the locked Curiosa section. Looking back, with a mixture of shame and ecstasy, Myrtle realized she never did find her hat - and that no one had in fact hired a Santa.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Tagged: Six Pieces of Random Minutiae

The horror, the horror...

Mr. Peenee, in his infinite evil, has passed to me that modern equivalent of sour dough starter kits (remember that craze? It was, for a while, right up there with macramé and chia pets), a blog tag.

The requirements: 1. Link to the person who tagged you; 2. Post the rules on your blog; 3. Write six random things about yourself; 4. Tag six people at the end of your post and link to them; 5. Let each person know they've been tagged and leave a comment on their blog; and 6. Let the tagger know when your entry is up.

So here we go:

1. I've mentioned this in passing before, but here's the real deal: as a child I was – okay, right up 'til today I remain – terrified of only one film I've ever seen: Lili, starring Leslie Caron. Something about the same characters being played by puppets and by real people (and one of them a Gabor!), something about the creepy not-quite-real/not-quite-fantasy setting, something about the smarmimess of leading man Mel Ferrer, something about the implied near-idiocy of the Caron character – and most of all, everything about that madness-inducing theme tune ("Love Makes the World Go 'Round…Hi-Lili, Hi-Lili, Hi-Lo…" – just typing it makes my flesh crawl). My poor patient parents let me stay up one night to watch it on television, thinking I would be enchanted; I rewarded them with banshee screams and about three months of sleepless nights. I still have bad dreams about those damn puppets.

The movie, treacly in its family-friendliness, created in me a horror that even a first viewing of Night of the Living Dead in the middle of the night in an isolated house in the country, while stoned, barely approached.

2. I am bone lazy. I was raised by terrifyingly energetic old ladies who ran charities, bullied church committees, kept spotless houses, made their own jam (hell, made their own clothes), and had plenty of time left over for hobbies like tatting, genealogy, and gossip. One grandmother was the county tax collector and the other the doyenne of the local social scene, a veritable Miss Mapp in our little community. Me? I count a day well spent if I get dressed.

3. I was once a performer, albeit one whose career, such as it was, was marked far more by variety than quality, by ambition than by talent. Over half-a-dozen years I appeared in at least one each of: drama, comedy, musical comedy, opera, operetta, ballet, nightclub act, and independent film, as well as working as a stage manager, house manager, assistant director, and costume designer. In all of the above, except maybe house manager (for which I had an odd flair), I was thoroughly, if enthusiastically, mediocre.

4. I am torn between self-satisfaction at still having a full head of hair and fury that so much of it is turning gray.

5. Otherwise, in terms of looks, the biggest surprise of the last few years is that I don't really mind having irretrievably lost my waist. I'm out, I'm stout, get used to it!

6. I do believe in spooks, I do, I do, I do believe in spooks! But not much else.

So there you have it. Everything you ever wanted to know, but were far too polite to ask. And really, that's enough about me - what do you think of me?

We're still suffering from a nasty case of Slow Internet syndrome here, so right now I'm going to ignore the last bits of the rules, although no one should rest easy, because I will likely pounce once we're restored to the usual local sluggish-but-usable speed...

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Clothes for a Summer Hotel

File this away for next July: when dressing for warm weather, whether East or West, sari or sheath: it's all about the pearls.

(Why, yes - that is our dear friend the Maharani of Jaipur with ol' whatshername. Aren't they, each in her own way, lovely?)

Reminder: Dainty Does It

Rule Number One of Faux-Dating: the Beard should never be butcher than the Boy.

All the ermine jackets in the world couldn't turn Mavis there into anything but a linebacker...

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Life at the Shady Rest

These days, Petticoat Junction is pretty much the forgotten sister of television's legendary "Hooterville Trilogy," lost in the shadow of The Beverly Hillbillies and Green Acres.

There are probably perfectly valid reasons for this neglect (not having seen it since approximately the Carter administration, I'm perfectly willing to entertain the notion that the show was simply terrible, Bea Benaderet notwithstanding). It came to mind today only because the theme song is permanently lodged somewhere in my lizard brain, one of the things that prevents me from remembering with any consistency anything that has happened since 1998 (the point at which I seem to have reached maximum data load).

And why did I think of this deservedly obscure theme song? Because, darlings, with the current little hiccup in Internet traffic out here at the edges of the world, things are indeed "movin' kinda slow at the junction..."

Given that the average post now takes about eight tries and enormous amounts of time, life at the Café is going to be practically Bugtussle-like in its torpor until things get resolved. At least now I've given you something to think about. If you're over 40, just try getting that song out of your head for the next day or two. If you're a tot, look it up. And then try and shake it...

Friday, December 19, 2008

Birthday Girl: Singing, Dancing, Laughing Lady

Today marks the birth of one of Hollywood's Great Ladies, the versatile Miss Irene Dunne. She's seen above, for some reason, apparently doing an Olivia de Havilland impression in an outfit that's so '40s that it looks like a parody.

Dunne shone, almost equally, in weepie soapers like Back Street and the first Love Affair, in glam musicals like Roberta, and in heartwarmers like I Remember Mama. She brought a slightly off-kilter dignity to screwball in The Awful Truth and Theodora Goes Wild, and she did her share of Great Actress roles, even unto one of the better onscreen pre-Dench Queen Victorias in The Mudlark.

She had the strength of character to sustain a lifelong friendship with Loretta Young, which must have, at times, been rather a chore. Here, at least, it looks as if Loretta has already had a cocktail or two and Irene is in need of one.

The estimable Bright Lights Film Journal has a lovely tribute to this underappreciated diva here.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Yesterday, When We Were Young

Lead Vocals, Blue Angel, 1981

Backup Dancer, 1979

Frontwoman, The Tourists, 1978

Composer/Keyboards, 94 East, 1977

Misty Watercolored Mem'ries

December 1976: Aunt Marge has her best Christmas EVAR!

June 1977: Marge Gustafsen becomes the first woman over 50 in North America to be hospitalized with carpal tunnel syndrome.

Monday, December 15, 2008

My Gift to You

An uncharacteristically un-illustrated post today, my loves, because I have stumbled across something so special it needs no added frills.

Here and here you will find perhaps the most extraordinary ten minutes of entertainment I have come across in a long, long time. I encourage you to go, experience, and then return and discuss.

This originally aired on December 14, 1978. Where was I that I don't remember it? How is it not considered a landmark of American showbiz?

What a treat you're in for...

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Miss(ing) Kitty

Sometimes it catches me up short, how much I miss some people; people like Kitty Carlisle Hart.

As the very last of the pre-War generation leave us, the world is a dimmer place. Who today could carry off citrines, turquoise, and sable like that?

Picture This: The Distaff Cubist

Once upon a time artists lived on pittances (or inheritances, or both) in Paris and were friends with Gertrude Stein and Picasso. I've always thought I missed the boat on that one, as I think I would have gotten along famously with some of them, especially the painter Marie Laurencin.

She was the mistress (and muse) of poet and generally amusing troublemaker Guillaume Apollinaire; she painted this group portrait (which also includes Picasso, bottom left) with him at the center (and herself the smiling odalisque bottom right).

After Apollinaire, she married a German (not a brilliant idea early in World War I, if you were a French woman), but she soon saw reason and returned to Paris.

This portrait by Rousseau (from her Apollinaire period) sees her a little less faun-like than the photo would indicate.

She is considered the main female painter of the Cubist circle, as is clear from the self-portrait above.

As time passed, though, their influence seems to have diminished considerably; she came to specialize in willowy, languishing pictures of women in various stages of deshabille.

Still, at its best, her work is, I think, quite beguiling. Gertrude Stein claimed that in fact she was just painting what she saw - because her eyesight was so bad, the whole world actually was vague and pastel-colored.

Whatever the case, she was, as far as I can see, one of the very last painters who could convincingly paint a classical nude, and that has to be worth something...