Saturday, February 28, 2009

Midler a la Lee

The Divine Miss M. gives us a little acting lesson, courtesy of Leiber, Stoller, and Norma Deloris Egstrom. I don't generally give much shrift to covers of such iconic material, but for Bette I'll almost always make an exception.

She uses my favorite part of her voice - I think of it as her 40s radio sound - a lot here, along with her Gallant Indomitable Survivor mode. What can I say? For me, it works...

Miss Martha

Raye. Ah, the subtle elegance of classic comedy.

Pay for TV shows? I think I'd have paid, and gladly, for an alternative to this magazine cover. I hope the next week had something more soothing; Gardner McKay or some such.

"Are You Free, Miss Brahms?"

Sadly, I'm afraid the answer is yes, for the sad news from the UK is that we have lost the lovely Miss Wendy Richard, whose career stretched from early days as a quintessential Saucy Bird in Swinging London to her long, long stint as a longsuffering EastEnders matriarch.

In between, she guaranteed her place in PBS Heaven as part of the ensemble that turned the often shambolic scripts of Are You Being Served? into comic gold. As Shirley Brahms, she was a breath of fresh air amid the smutty innuendo and quadruple entendre, the perfect foil to Mollie Sugden's pastel-tressed termagent Mrs. Slocombe and John Inman's ineffably fey Mr. Humphries.

She joins the ever-lengthening list of the much-to-be-missed. At least we know she'll always be there, over on the left behind the ladies' intimates counter, just waiting to be ogled or to ask, all wide-eyed innocence, about the state of Mrs. Slocombe's pussy...

A Public Service

Never let it be said that around here at the Café we're not responsive to our regulars; our dear Mean Reds recently queried whether it might not be a good idea to consider the life and career of one Eduardo Noriega, an actor he characterized enthusiastically as "amazingly guapo."

I have to admit his was, to me, a new name, but, ever one to serve, dutifully I headed out onto the Interwebs. My hopes were high, given my fellow aesthete's marked enthusiasm for ultraliciously bollystarry types such as Messrs Patel, Abraham, and Morea.

Initially, though, I was somewhat underwhelmed. Here, I thought was a pleasant enough young man, but really perhaps more one of Thombeau's or Peenee's houseboys than the kind of slightly, well, swarthier types generally found in these parts.

Nonetheless, I persevered, and additional evidence began to sway my judgment.

In the end, I admit, I find myself close to capitulation. He will doubtless only be yet more vintage in a decade or so, but for the moment, in a (Patel-less) pinch, he'd more than do.

I shall, out of a continuing, selfless sense of duy, continue my research.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Birds of a Feather

Deneuve by Bailey, 1968. There must have been something in the water in those days. Something fabulous.


Or, to her friends - and they were legion - Janet Flanner. Along with the Murphys, Cole Porter, Gertrude and Alice, et al, she was expat Paris between the wars, and brought the news back in her wonderful writing for The New Yorker. She had a kind of slightly austere lesbian chic; she was debonair.

I'm trying to imagine the occasion that would call for pajamas, top hat, and a pair of masks; it must have been quite a night.

A Word From Our Sponsor

You're soaking in it!

Is it just me, or do Madge and her customer seem a tad too chummy, if you know what I mean? What went on at the Salon after hours?

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Funniest Lady

Andrea Martin can make me laugh harder than almost anyone I can think of; along with Catherine O'Hara, she is SCTV's great gift to the world.

Last night we happened on My Big Fat Greek Wedding on late-night television, and even better came in on Martin's big scene, in which she grave tells the hapless WASP suitor about "ze lump at ze beck of my neck", which following "za bipopsy... za bioopazi ... za beeoobsy" proved a surprise: "Yes. In za lump ...voss my tvin!" It's a miracle of deadpan absurdity.

She honed her skills in SCTV's sketches from the mid-70s onward, before going on to Hollywood. My favorites include late-night TV pitchwoman Edna Boil. My friend Miss Rheba and I can convulse each other simply by repeating, in Edna's rural whine, "them piggies is greasy!" I suppose you have to be there.

Another of her creations is the great Edith Prickley, who morphed over the years from an officious executive to an unlikely superstar, a diva of mermanesque self-confidence in such memorable moments as Edith Prickley: Live at the Continental Baths and, of course, Prickley Heat.

Perhaps the most Dada of all Martin's creations, though, is the amazing Perini Scleroso, an immigrant lady of no known talent whatsoever whose amazing lack of articulation in any language came to its apex in her appearance as Eliza in SCTV's My Fair Lady.

These days, Martin has turned into a Broadway staple; she's seen here in her Young Frankenstein dressing room, the décor of which would appear to have been, alas, more successful than the show.

No matter, we adore her, and can't wait to see what she gets up to next.

Not for the Faint of Heart

It turns out there might be peril in that little weekend minibreak I recommended last week: the possibility of Uncle Leonid here occupying the dacha next door.

Some people should never, ever be photographed out of a suit. Hell, some people should never ever even be photographed in color. As seen here, the combination of the two can be fatal.

Birthday Odd Couple

To me, the most surprising thing about today's birthday couple is that they are only one year apart - and Betty's the younger.

That Most Unlikely of Heterosexuals, Tony Randall isn't necessarily the first star (or even among the first five hundred) I think of shirtless, but he appears to carry it off gracefully enough.

And here we have a characteristically demure shot of Miss Betty Hutton, as the world's first Hindu deity in a prom gown. What do you suppose they were taking that day in the portrait gallery?

Sadly, neither are still with us at what would have been 89 and 88; just another symptom of all that's wrong with this low world...

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Drawing Room Tête á Tête

"Well, really, Lord Hartlington," said Lady VioIa, "given that until this very moment I had no idea such things went on, even among the cricket team at Eton, I do not see how I can be expected to participate, no matter how diverting you find it."

Secretly, though, she could hardly wait to get upstairs.

Slippery Slope...

Oh, it starts innocently enough. You begin with just a little demure blue on the eyelids; the next thing you know you're considering shaving your hairline to make more room. Even so, the full nose-coverage takes it a step beyond.

Do you suppose she knitted that top herself?

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Fashion (Turn to the Left)

I think the saddest thing about this Moscow fashion extravaganza, circa 1972, is the eager expression on the face of the lady comrade dead center. Imagine coveting that flowered number; the very idea is almost enough to fully reconcile me to the evils of a consumer society.

The Actress and the Existential Crisis

Miss Ruth Gordon on the streets of a vanished New York City. I believe her little friend looks so apprehensive because he's just discovered that she's wearing his predecessor.

Let's face it: after Rosemary's Baby, it's hard not to impute sinister motives to Miss Gordon, harmless soul though she may have been. Cool shoes; have to give her that.

St. Flo

In the center. More and more, this seems like it might have been the right idea from the start, no?

The Sweet and Simple Kind

Who better than dear Miss Kitt to remind us of the really important things in life? This snippet finds her in Fragonard Mood and superb voice. How much we do miss her...

Monday, February 23, 2009

Oh Baby Oh Baby...

Even dear old big-boned Marjorie Main was one once, starting out all those years ago 119 years ago today.

She left us with all the joys of Ma Kettle, Katie in Meet Me in St. Louis, and of course, the indelible mental image of those "big, red-headed men..."

(cribbed shamelessly from Walter Dukes's fabulous The Women photoset. Cool!)

Birthday Tiki Boy

Today marks what would have been the 94th birthday of the unlikely Polynesianesque love god Jon Hall, best known in film history as the male opposite number to fiery leading ladies like Maria Montez, Dorothy Lamour, and even St. Frances of Farmer.

His is not the most elevated of filmographies, with epics ranging from Cobra Woman to Zamba the Gorilla to The Beach Girls and the Monster, but it's certainly a vivid one.

While it's true he was raised in Tahiti, which might help explain his exotic allure - or at least his marketing in that vein - he was actually born in Fresno, California, with the even-less-exotic-than-Hall-surname of Locher.

Clearly, the South Seas label stuck with him, right to the very end of his B-list career. I'm not sure exactly how one "directs" a record album, but I do know that being referred to on a record jacket as "Famous Motion Picture Actor" is the LP version of starting an infomercial with "You may remember me from such movies as..."

Bright Idea

I'm currently pitching a script to star the really rather fetching Mr. Upen Patel (I'm hoping it will distract him from his ceaseless supplicating telegrams). It's a sequel to this year's Best Picture winner, and I'm calling it Horndog Millionaire.

Birthday Girl: Vamp Until Ready

Let's wish a happy 120th birthday to the uniquely bizarre Musidora, the French Theda Bara, star of pioneering movie serial Les Vampires. We see her here in Full - and Considerable - Menace. I wouldn't cross her.

Of all the stars to whom we might send posthumous best wishes, I'm half-afraid she's the one most likely to respond...

Sunday, February 22, 2009


Jackman. Apparently he's going to be on television this evening. It won't get started until well into Monday for us, so I likely won't see any of it.

It all seems rather academic, in any case, since it turns out I've not seen a single one of the nominees. Was Mamma Mia! released this year? I think that's the only new movie I saw all last year, Bollywood, of course, excepted. Why isn't Mamma Mia! getting any Oscars?

The above, of course, is from Hugh's The Boy From Oz era; it seems apt, if only because he's more or less dressed as an Oscar. I always thought the casting in this was rather unfair; the real Peter Allen, while infinitely talented and a spectacular showman, in his wildest dreams by no means looked like this.

I can't even begin to justify running this photo, except, well, look at it. Some things need no justification.

Enjoy Oscar night. It's only starting to hit me that never again may we see an Oscar presented by a Real Star (i.e. one who made at least one movie before or during World War II), but at least Meryl's got a chance this year.

If at any point he takes off his shirt, I hope someone will let me know.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Meanwhile... the locker room, the Blochowski twins share a moment. And Coach Edwards gets the feeling he's in for a very interesting afternoon.

Planning a Vacation?

Depending on your mood, this might be just the place for a getaway. But be careful - the competition for loungers poolside turns fierce, fast!

Guilty Secrets

Morton hoped in vain that no one would find out about his secret life as Myrtle, Pre-Raphaelite drag queen woodcut.

After (During) and Before: Touched By Her Presence, Dear

Showbiz survivor;

Sunday Girl;

Surprise! She wasn't always a Rockbird.

The Harry. Always loved her; always will. Everytime you think she'll fade away, she radiates, from "French Kissing in the USA" to "Two Times Blue". What will she get up to next?

Gals on the Go

In today's adventure, Barbie and her lady-in-waiting Midge have a Continental Adventure.

Here She Is, World!

Our mystery lady was indeed, as the estimable Bill guessed, that heavenly creature born Shirley Schrift, but known and loved the world over as Shelley Winters.
It's actually one of a number of candids taken during the filming of one of her early masterpieces, South Sea Sinner (aka East of Java), in which she shared the screen with, of all opposite numbers, Liberace.

Altogether, the series of photos, of the star in strappy sandals and smock on her lunch break, amounts to something of a comprehensive tour of the Universal lot, whose standing sets of saloon and jungle gave the picture what atmosphere it had. Here we have the alarming vision of an infinite number of Shelleys in a set of dressing room mirrors.

And here Shelley proves the skeptics wrong: she was literate.

One thing puzzles me about Bill's guess, though. This, he thinks, is a look that's "too trashy" for Betty Hutton. Huh? Nothing was too trashy for that blonde...

Friday, February 20, 2009


Or Foundation Garments Descending a Staircase, a little hommage to Duchamp, en style Playtex. The jumprope? Don't ask.

Birthday Boy: Mr. MOOOOONey!

Yes, 103 years ago in New York City was born the wonderful slow-burn expert and beloved TV staple Gale Gordon.

The son of stage troupers, he took up the family business and, while to us he was born to play second fiddle to Miss Brooks, Lucy Carmichael, and Jay North, he started long before...

...and had a certain something. He was a leading light of radio comedy, on Fibber McGee and elsewhere,

and even assayed the classics. In the ruff, he has vincentpriceian charm, I think.

But once assigned the curmudgeonly second-banana slot, he stuck with it and did great things. He's seen here in avuncular mode with the whole clan Arnaz, and he clearly was considered part of the family. He even accompanied Ball into her ill-fated final foray, Lifelike Lucy.

The career of Gale Gordon raises an interesting question: what is the male for "dowager"?

Thursday, February 19, 2009


No, I can't explain the embroidery. I doubt she could, either.

This snap does explain, however, why there aren't more photos of her lounging; immediately dispelled at this angle is the legend that she just had wide shoulders. No. She had shoulder pads the size of taco shells.

Portrait Gallery: The Dirty Duchess

Today's object lesson in the dangers of misdirected fabulousness is Margaret, sometime Duchess of Argyll: a beautiful, brilliant, crazed woman who is one of the few historical figures I can think of still regularly referred to as a hopeless nymphomaniac.

In her early days, she was a fairly standard - if especially stunning - Bright Young Thing, as evinced by this extremely fetching portrait by Cecil Beaton.

She married serially and well, spending a brief period in Ducal splendour as something of a pillar of the establishment, leading to eighteenth-century-style portraits and regrettable (almost Windsorian) taste in ballgowns.

And then it all went rather wrong. Something - a naturally voracious nature; a bad fall that shook loose some shard of crazy that set her off, who knows - made Margaret the talk of London for her wild promiscuity, culminating in one of the nastiest divorces in British history, with a scandal that included a Polaroid camera, her trademark three strands of pearls, at least one gentlemen but probably more, still anonymous, but likely well-known, and some extremely Compromising Circumstances.

She ended her days in reduced circumstances and her final decades in clinging to whatever shards of the high life she could. As seen here, she spent time in some fairly dubious company, and looks rather bemused by it.

She is remembered, beyond the scandals, for her style: the pearls, the poodle, the black-red bouffant; the brittle remarks; the extraordinary contrast between her High Lady facade and whatever it was that roiled within. Composer Thomas Ades wrote an opera, Powder Her Face, on her life, and it was as entrancing and befuddling as the lady herself would seem to have been.

But I keep going back to the Beaton: those eyes, that face.


"Did you hear? Stephen Haines is stepping out on Mary!"