Sunday, May 31, 2009

Start Walkin', Boots

This bemusing 1992 snap of Miss Faye Dunaway - who has apparently stumbled off the set of an Adam Ant tribute video onto a catwalk - is, if nothing else, proof positive that the 80s lingered on long after its sell-by date.

Dunaway puzzles me. For a decade or so she was the Biggest Star in the World. We see her here about halfway through the long going-wrong that started with Mommie Dearest (or was it The Champ, three years earlier?) and has been going on for rising thirty years. I looked her up just now and was discouraged to discover that in one of her last released films, The Gene Generation, she was fourth-billed in a Bai Ling picture, and that in another she was a one-armed cop in something described as "a rockabilly zombie comedy."

It is, somehow, the longest slow-motion career unravelling I can think of, one that makes (to compare her to the inevitable) Strait-Jacket look like a smart career choice, Berserk the work of an artist in her prime, or Trog a benign valedictory. It can't (just) be the money; it's hard to imagine that a Polish children's fantasy, a Troma thriller, or a cameo in a straight-to-video Andy Dick picture (all actually recent credits) do all that much for even the most cash-strapped movie queen. Is she simply unable to say no?

Perhaps it can all be blamed on these boots. But I have a feeling it's what's in them that's the problem...

Weather Report

Those of you dwelling in gentler climes than those we enjoy here in our eccentric little Sultanate may be interested - even appalled - to know that when I left the office this evening around 6:00 p.m. (oh, it's not all Champagne and brunches in these parts, darlings - we work) it was a salubrious 117° F/47° C.

Frankly, that's a temperature to heat plates in advance of a dinner party by, not to walk through. And it's only the end of May; where June or, heaven help us, July will take us, one hesitates to think.

Fortunately, holiday time is rolling around, and so Mr. Muscato and I will once again - if not quite soon enough - be escaping to cooler latitudes. But more of that anon.

(intertitle from Phantom of the Opera from the fabulous Shadowplay)

The Many Friends of Lena Horne

Everybody loves Lena! And why not?

She's stunning, but not so much that she pulls focus entirely from - I'm guessing on the timeline here - Mrs. Warner;

She's equally at home tossing one back with Tony...

...or kindly leading a guest who may already have had enough to the nearest exit.

She's happy leaning on a guest (bonus points for anyone who can explain why Shirley showed up in a T-shirt, velour housedress, blazer, and pearls - maybe it's one of those reincarnation things?)...

...or herself providing a suprisingly strong knee on which to perch.

God knows she's more patient than I, not batting an eye at being nearly swept aside by Lucy's furs -

Or having her audience distracted when a pal stops by in an outfit only marginally more comprehensible than Shirley's.

And, like all genuine divas, she bursts into living color when at least she meets a true peer. Title this one "when goddesses embrace."

I like knowing that Lena is still with us, albeit quietly, her days of entwined cocktails and evicting junkies, perhaps to her relief, behind her. She's the real deal.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Gender Euphoria II

It look like we can add the divine Rudolph Valentino to the short list of exceedingly handsome men who can, against all odds, sport a turban and serious jewels and still retain more than a shred of masculinity. Actually, Rudy looks butcher here than he often did in far more conventional getups. There's a lesson there, somewhere...

Party Like It's 1969

Dear Bill was recently sweet enough to say a kind word about the new banner, which made me out of all proportion pleased, as I never know if anyone pays attention to this occasionally changing feature of the Café. My skills at digital manipulation are slight (no cracks, please), and the banners are about as techno as I get.

This current one, as you can see from the snap above, is a detail of a photo by the remarkable Slim Aarons, that indefatigable chronicler of pretty people in pretty places. It's a garden party in Miami, in 1970.

There is something incredibly evocative about this particular subset of Aarons's pictures; they are like Johnson-era variations on the rococo féte galante, with socialites in hostess gowns replacing frolicking court ladies and the gardens of the rich standing in for those of the king. Here we have a Beverly Hills tea party, circa 1960.

Whether Miami, Beverly Hills, or, as here, Marbella, there is a stillness and serenity in these pictures that one suspects was absent in the actual events, where shrill conversation about Jackie and Liz and assassinations would have competed with Sérgio Mendes on the hi-fi.

In any case, these pictures make this fairly recent past look as exotic and distant as a dream; it's hard to imagine that some of these people might still be alive. One wonders if it all feels as far away to them as it does to us...

Friday, May 29, 2009

And For Our Next Number

It's been too long since we've drawn on the inexhaustible archives of Egyptian cinema for some amusement, but today's selection will soon take care of that.

Here we have Egypt's beloved "Cinderella", Souad Hosni, in a number from her 1974 hit Amira Hobbi Ana (Amira My Love). You will learn - almost immediately, and, I fear, unforgettably - that the song is called "Kiki Kiki Kiko" or something very similar.

No, I cannot explain the presence of a vast visage of someone who looks very like Nicolae Ceauşescu at the back of the set, any more than I can explain the perplexing (and yet not unalluring) bellydancing of leading man Sameer Ghanem, or how it's possible that the scriptwriter for this picture was Nobel laureate Naguib Mahfouz.

Beauty and the Beast

Seconds before she planned to spring at and devour rising starlet Jane Fonda, Louella Parsons finds her attention distracted, saving us from the prospect of a world without Barbarella.

Reader's Choice

I'm always keen, of course, to respond to regulars' thoughts about what might appear in this space. Recently, dear Bobby - could he have been tiring of our steady diet of Upen and John? - provided a mysterious link.

And this was the photo at that link. Hmm...thought I. Not without promise. Don't you agree? His name, it turns out, is Neil Nitin Mukesh, and he's a rising star, it would seem, in the Mumbai firmament.

He comes from an acting family, and after a brief stint as a child star, he only recently returned to the screen, very much not a child.

He has, one reads, to date resisted the kinds of roles - so eagerly snapped up by Messrs. Patel and Abraham - that require acquiring the male equivalent of a fifties sexbomb's figure. But still, he has his own kind of allure, I think.

And even with his apparent emphasis on high-toned drama over crowd-pleasers, it would seem that he has this year gone his rivals one better - moving beyond mere shirtlessness to full on nudity.

The picture's called Jail, and one can only imagine what goes on. I, for one, certainly wouldn't mind seeing more, despite what looks to be the star's inappropriate use of Nair or some such depilatory.

But I do have ask: what kind of name for a Bollywood star is "Neil"? It's like trying to conceive of someone named Poindexter Kapoor.

And, in Another Corner of the Garden...

Lord Fogminster had hoped that his faraway expression would cover for his uncontrollable flatulence, but the Dowager Duchess completely blew his cover.

Pop Quiz: Score Card

Well, it didn't take long for the secret identity of our recent Pop Quiz subject to be revealed.

Dear Rick knew at a glance that this was no gender-bending Phyllis McGuire impersonator, but instead television soap-opera stalwart Eileen Fulton.

Still - I wonder... isn't there some sense that in answering the question "Drag or actress?", the most appropriate answer came from Miss Janey: "Both"? Think about it.

Even Rick admits that he knew the answer because he "saw her perform once on Fire Island." It's hard to conceive of a less ringing endorsement of genetic femininity, no?

And then there's the look: for better or worse, Miss Fulton has clearly staked out a fashion territory that puts her somewhere between Lypsinka and a TJ Maxx-reliant suburban Joan Collins acolyte.

Her choice of company hardly instils confidence - anyone caught frugging with Phyllis Diller in an outfit like that is, by definition, a drag queen, no matter what the chromosomes say.

Even the leg-art stills aren't reassuring - this is one big-handed soap-opera diva.

So, I think we'll close out the current query by saying that it was, in a sense, a trick question: Eileen Fulton is an actress who's made a career - and, apparently, a long and happy one - out of her very own, very special form of drag. And whyever not?

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Portrait Gallery: Eternal Kate, by Amsel

One of the first people I wrote about in the early months of the Café was the marvelous and too-little shouted about artist/illustrator Richard Amsel. I'm very happy to report that I've stumbled across a (relatively) new site chockablock with his works, well-known and less so, and even more excitingly, finished and as-published and, as with the TV Guide cover here, in process. Enjoy.

Why? Revisited

She'd like to propose a toast...

It occured to me recently that I've been remiss, having let slip a (semi)significant date: in late April, the Café celebrated its first birthday. I let that one go, since another (semi)landmark was in the works, the thousandth post. Then that one went by as well, but since here it is Thursday morning and I have a moment, a thought or two on this whole experience.

I started blogging one fine April day only because Thom, damn his eyes, suddenly no longer allowed one to join in the fun on Fabulon without registering, which created a Google ID, which, I discovered, created the possibility of making a blog. I'd never played with Blogger before, and it seemed kind of fun. Thinking I'd at least leave a placeholder, I clicked around and finally wrote this, under the headline "Why?", never thinking it would go much further:

Because I said so. Because I blame it on the summer night...or the bossa nova. Because that's just the way the cookie crumbles. Because it's always something.

Why? Why the strange fascination with the films of Kay Francis? With the minutiae of forgotten mitteleuropean dynasties of the 19th century? With the old age of the Duchess of Windsor? With the youth of Tutankhamun? Why the all joy, the tears, the deep, abiding bemusement with the ways of the world?

Just one damn thing after another.

And here we are now. It does turn out to be one damn thing after another, or rather anywhere up to three things per day, which I find is generally my limit.

I knew from the start that I hadn't Thom's incredible eye; that I was fractionally as dedicated as Joe.My.God; that I was one-tenth as trenchant as Peenee; and that I had nothing like the crazed glee of J*O*E or Kevin (then Shirley). I admired Miss Janey's gumption, and Donna Lethal's feral take on beauty. I was interested in local things here is our odd little Sultanate, but hadn't the insider knowledge to be a font of good gossip like Muscat Confidential or Suburban.

So, thought I, what to do? And I decided just to think out loud, more or less, and have fun. If picking around Google looking for amusing pictures can be called creative, I guess I would say this has been the most creative thing I've ever done (believe me, you don't want to read the abandoned novel drafts - they definitely don't count).

From the beginning, I have been amazed by the community that blogs have made possible. Peenee was the very first commentor here, and I count it a brighter day when I get to hear from him, here or over in his corner of the world. I've loved hearing other people's takes on everything from travel to the fashion choices of Bollywood stars; I like knowing that Larry's (careful - his, I believe, is the NSFWest blog that links to this staid place) going to check in, or that I'll get to read what Jason's thinking way down there in New Orleans.

I hope you - whoever you are, known or unknown - are enjoying yourself, because I am.

Vanity of Vanities

You know, I keep telling Koko he's way too young for these gauzy, shot-through-Vaseline portraits - that they're far too late-period Crawford, Ball, or Gabor for a canine of his age - but does he listen? Of course he doesn't listen.

What can I say? We live with a dog who wants to look like he's starring in a revival of Forty Carats at a south Jersey dinner theatre. I suppose it should come as no surprise...

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Pop Quiz

Drag or actress?

When Gods Descend

Miss Fontanne and Mr. Lunt lunching at a cafeteria, 1942. Imagine running into Kate and Petruchio over the salisbury steak...

Trailer Trash: The Dress Doctor is In

Well, okay - this is less a trailer than a featurette. And yes, you do have to sit through the annoying TCM intro. Still, I think you'll agree that it's worth the wait to hear the one and only Miss Edith Head introduce the sensational fashions that enlivened the otherwise not-so-sensational Natalie Wood vehicle Penelope.

This is the kind of movie that if you enounter a bit of it late one night, you think "Gee, why haven't I heard of this? It's kicky, fun, and great to look at! Why don't they make movies like this anymore?

Then one day, you set aside time to catch the whole thing, and you walk away thinking, "Oh. That's why."

So now you don't have to, because you've seen the most important parts - believe me: after that white gown, it's all downhill from there.

Kevin's Little Secret

Actually, through the miracle of modern photography, these are Kevin Gavin. And doesn't he have good taste in pumps? Blazers and caps? not so much.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

A Word From Our Sponsor

Shoes. Painful, pointy, fabulous shoes. Remember: Toes are for sissies.

Birthday Girl II: Peg and Co.

It's a day of birthday richness; in addition to the magnificent creature that was Queen Mary, today marks the birth of one of the Café's favorite thrushes, the fabulous Miss Peggy Lee. Apparently, as evidenced by these clips from Pete Kelly's Blues, the two ladies shared a fondness for pearls.

It must be admitted, though, that the birthday roll today blends the sublime with the sublimely annoying: also sharing this natal day are Lenny Kravitz, Helena Bonham Carter (I bet even her birthday cake is Edwardian), Al Jolson, and Bobcat Goldthwait. It takes the combined might of fellow celebrators Pam Grier, John Wayne, Norma Talmadge, and Jay Silverheels to offset all that horror...

Monday, May 25, 2009

Birthday Girl: The May Queen

On this day in 1867, in a grace-and-favour apartment at Kensington Palace, a little girl was born to the vast Princess Mary Adelaide, a granddaughter of George III, and her rather musical-comedy looking little husband, Prince Franz of Teck.

The Tecks were an improvident couple, and their daughter grew into a solemn and serious girl who was shuttled from house to house as her parents (who eventually more or less fled to Italy) avoided creditors and increasingly irritated relatives, including Mary Adelaide's formidable cousin, Queen Victoria.

Despite this less-than-ideal upbringing, the little girl - called May, after her birth month, and certainly less of a mouthful than her given names, Victoria Mary Augusta Louise Olga Pauline Claudine Agnes - grew into a serious, intelligent, and not at all unattractive young princess.

She entered the Royal Marriage Mart not once, but twice, having lost her first fiancé, the distinctly unpromising Duke of Clarence (the heir to the heir) to flu before being snatched up by the Duke of York (his brother's replacement in the succession as well as at the altar).

And so she lived happily ever after.

She became the stately creature known as Queen Mary, possessor of the most fabulous collection of jewellery and bibelots in the world, seen here in this rather alarming hand-colored portrait with her husband (who seems genuinely to have been the love of her life, at least after diamond-and-pearl stomachers), George V.

Although she shuffled off this mortal coil, at a venerable age and secure in the adoration of her people, nearly 60 years ago, Queen Mary left her mark on the world we live in today, for she was a formative influence in the life of the Queen who is still very much with us. The Queen used to take the Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret Rose on little educational outings, which were, one reads, as much looked forward to by the former as they were dreaded by the latter.

So, on her 143rd birthday, here's to May of Teck, the pauper-princess turned Empress of India. She was a good old girl and rock of stability through all her long life, as implacably Victorian on the day she died as she had been on the fine May morning that brought her into this world.

Design for Living

This can only be considered, from what one gathers from the illustration, a Hollywood Pattern in that it might in fact have been designed with Dorothy Arzner in mind.

Actually, I find it rather touching, somehow, that at least some lesbians of the 1930s stayed home and tailored their own mannish clothing.


Shall we stop, for a moment, on this Memorial Day, so that Miss Dietrich can remind us what we should be remembering? Even in German, her message comes through, loud and clear. Quiet, children - Mama's testifyin'...

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Suddenly, Susans

Susan. Susan, Susan, Susan. Seems like a demure enough name, no? And when you've got a list that includes Debbie Reynolds, Joan Fontaine, and Garbo, you would think that things were fairly upscale, wouldn't you?

Nope. Somehow, being Susan brings out the inner Madonna in a whole lot more people than just Rosanna Arquette.

Of course, it doesn't take a whole lot to tease the tempestuous out of Miss Connie Stevens (and at least she's waxing melodramatic over the sole member of Henry Willson's legendary stable who's at least somewhat likely to respond).*

When your most demure example is embodied by Joan Crawford, you know there's something serious going on. This might be, by the bye, the least satisfying Crawford picture ever, if only because the denouement is all about how nice she really is at heart. Who goes to a Crawford picture for that?

When playing a character called Susan can put that look into Debbie Reynolds's eyes, something's definitely afoot. It certainly seems unlikely to have been her leading man, Dick Powell.

Even the quintessential lady (except when discussing her sister), Joan Fontaine, is caught up in the madness - the very idea of Susanness inflaming her to the point of trying to vamp George Brent, a pointless endeavor if ever there was one.

Garbo's Susan falls and rises - no surprise there, since that's basically what Garbo heroines always did - but the neon diner-sign font does give it a slightly tawdry air...

It's a sign of the name's potency that the outright trashy movies incorporate the name into titles no more risqué, really, than the ones starring Reynolds or Fontaine...

...and this one sounds like it could almost be a 20s campus romp starring Nancy Carroll or some such. But it's not - because of the dangerous power of "Susan."

* Did you remember that Troy Donahue was married to Suzanne Pleshette? I had totally forgotten.

An Occidental Lillian..., it seems, an Oriental mood for mischief. By Steichen. I've always thought Miss Gish had more going on than that good-girl facade - maintained with such polish for eight decades or so - let on.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

May Cause Drowsiness...

And not for the first time, Timmy wondered if the side effects of his antidepressant really were typical, or if Dr. Flessenhopper might be misleading him...

Trip Report

Well, we're home, and in one piece, or rather in as many pieces as we left and no more, which is a good thing, you see, because en route out of Dubai we had a little accident. Not really serious - the Muscato Mobile is disfigured and humiliated, but more or less driveable, if carefully.

The culprit who rammed us was a gentleman who had chosen, on a fine Saturday morning, to become drunk as a lord before twelve noon and go out for a spin in order to catch up, it seems, on his telephoning and chain smoking. It's some measure of how completely schnockered the poor loser was that he is Emirati, we're not, and still the police had no compunction in immediately declaring him at fault.

But before all that, our trip was everything a naughty minibreak should be.

We had a lovely evening at the nitespot pictured (and discreetly blurred), a regular haunt of the city's confirmed bachelors. It was a gloriously not-broiling evening, and we held court under the palms, Mr. Muscato and I, with all sorts of chums and acquaintances.

About half our friends seem to be doing better than ever, and the other half are either moving in with them or heading back to their countries of origin. Whatever the economic situation, though, the boys were out in force and it was a pleasure to see them.

The view from our lodgings did finally appear from the haze, and as promised it included, in the distance, the city's much-vaunted new attraction, The Atlantis. You'll get an idea of the size of the thing by knowing that in this picture it's about ten kilometers away.

Having never been on the Palm (whose villa-choked fronds are in the foreground), we decided after brunch yesterday to motor out in the company of The Hotelier and his visiting friend, whom I suppose we must refer to as The London Hotelier.

And now at least we can say we've been, and the best thing is we need never, ever return.

The décor is Disney on steroids, executed with the kind of ponderous solemnity associated more with the works of Albert Speer than a holiday resort. American kitschmeister Morris Lapidus described his style as "an Architecture of Joy"; this is the infinitely more dreary "Architecture of Mandatory Fun."

The place was overrun with tourists - guests and visitors alike - of a seemingly infinite number of nationalities, each and every one of whom would have immediately, once upon a time, been classified by Society Grandmother Muscato as "not quite our kind, darling." Harsh, but true, true, true.

Getting almost as much attention as the massive aquariums, stuffed with tropical sealife of all kinds, or the dazzlingly horrid shops (who do they really expect to buy a yellow diamond and black pearl parure complete with tiara in a place like that?) was the lobby's pièce de résistance, a sculpture by Dale Chiluly (and what upscale tacky resort is complete without one of those?). The Hotelier describes it as "a four-story high closeup of a very unhappy nerve," and that about sums it up.

We repaired our own shattered nerves with a sundowner evening in the garden of friends of The Hotelier, who live in a (comparatively) old and (comparatively) tranquil neighborhood, in a wonderful small villa surrounded by bougainvillea. It felt like one of the places I remember from West Africa, making it all the more surreal to look up and see, glittering in the distance, the misbegotten towers of Sheikh Zayed Road.

And now, replete with three days of rich food and good company, we're back in our own little house. Koko was very pleased to see us, as you can imagine, and while everyone on the other side of the Atlantic heads into the Memorial Day weekend, we've finished ours and go back, such as it is, to reality.