Thursday, December 31, 2009

Here We Go Again

Let this celebratory image - Dan Weiner's New Year's Eve, Times Square, 1951 - stand as my best wishes to all for a festive evening and good start for this coming year. Let's hope for the best.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Inglourious Molly Freak

One of the joys of having longtime pal Miss Rheba out in our part of the world over these holidays - aside from her delightfully skewed take on much that we take for granted in this eccentric little Sultanate - has been resuming the marathon movie watching that has marked much of our friendship over the past thirty years.

In one stretch these past couple of days, for instance, we managed to take in the remarkably diverse buffet of Love Actually, Eight-Legged Freaks, The Unsinkable Molly Brown, and Inglourious Basterds. Of them all, I'd only (shamefully enough, Debbie Reynolds fans) ever seen the first. The combo left me a little dazed, I have to admit.

Love Actually is a guilty pleasure, old-style Hollywood treacle repackaged en style Cool Britannia, a Grand Hotel of varied stars and all-over-the-map acting, from another of Emma Thompson's exquisitely observed portraits of discreet anguish to Bill Nighy's scenery-chomping glee as a faded rockstar. We laughed, we cried, we wished we had some of those apartments.

I really rather thought, believe it not, that Eight-Legged Freaks and Molly Brown have a couple of things in common, principally the over-the-top dedication that their stars throw into making implausible vehicles as entertaining as possible. Both sets of performers clearly know that they're not in Strindberg, but decide to ride it out by giving it their all.

Miss Rheba once worked lights for an East Coast stage production of Molly Brown and regaled us with tales of what agony the cast had in trying to replicate even a fraction of the enthusiasm that Miss Reynolds and company brought to what is, at the end of the day, pretty eighth-rate stuff. She calls the show The Unsinkable Molly Reprise, pointing out that it has just about exactly three numbers, all of which are mercilessly recycled until the audience begs for release. On the other hand, Harve Presnell is pretty easy on the eyes and gets to stride about in some truly astonishing pants.

It strikes me that the tagline from the one-sheet above - "Get out of the way... Or get hit in the heart!" is way more Tarantino than MGM, and could just as easily work for Basterds. About which I don't have a great deal to say, other than that it was in parts very effective, in others extremely silly, and overall more a perverse valentine to cinema than, in itself, a film of any distinction.

But I do kind of wish that Tarantino would team up with Debbie Reynolds. David Lynch gave Ann Miller her last role, and just think what madness Jackie Brown's creator and Molly Brown herself could bring to the the screen...

Monday, December 28, 2009

Why Don't You...

...ratchet your look up a notch or two for your New Year's Eve festivities? What better model could you take, in terms of sheer more, than the divine Miss Ann? There's no hairdo that can't be made that much bigger, no eyes that can't use longer lashes, and no toilette that's truly complete without sequins, jewels, furs, and lashings of attitude, MGM-style.

I mean, seriously. Ann Miller. Just think "star" and take it from there. You know you want to...

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Good Clean Fun

71 years ago today, impresario Earl Carroll (of Vanities fame) opened a nightclub in LA, inventively called The Earl Carroll Theatre. This was one of the acts that opening night. The past, truly, is another country...

Friday, December 25, 2009

Meanwhile, at Sandringham

Princess Anne is unnerved by a tot by the wayside. I am unnerved by the coat-scraps used to trim her hat.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Mamie Christmas!

I can't think of a better way to wish all of you every good thing of this season and the Merriest of Christmases than by cribbing the Eisenhowers' 1960 Christmas card. I'm especially entranced with the calligraphic interpretation of the dear lady's trademark bangs.

It's a fine, clear Christmas morning here at the Café. As Mr. Berlin wrote, "The sun is shining, the grass is green;/The orange and palm trees sway." If we're not particularly dreaming of a white Christmas ourselves, it's likely because I think our day will be more than sufficiently merry and bright right here, however tempting it might be to indulge in nostalgia for days gone by.

In a little while, I'll go wake up Mr. Muscato and the dog, and perhaps rather more delicately intimate to the just-arrived Miss Rheba (a trouper after twenty-odd hours in the air) that too much sleep only makes the jetlag worse. We'll have breakfast, open a gift or two, and then, I think, go investigate the beaches and give Koko a chance to bark at the waves, a favorite pastime. Dinner, later, at one of the grand hotels. We are very lucky.

And I suppose we will spend a moment, here and there, remembering. Christmas, freighted down as it is with expectations and associations, tradition and religion, excess and obligations, becomes a kind of milestone, a stopping place from which we can look back and see, like the illuminated tableaux pictured on Victorian glass slides or the lighted tableaux of department-store Christmas windows, bits and pieces of ourselves from earliest childhood on.

Here's the year that there was so much snow that all the cousins and relations spent the night; there's the first year you knew that Santa Claus was really Dad. On they march - the first Christmas away from home, feeling very grown-up and secretly homesick beyond belief; the year that there wasn't much of a Christmas, after two funerals; Christmas in New York, surrounded by friends that formed a new family; and now, these last years, Christmases that feel like home again, wherever we may end up being.

Maybe that's a sign that you really have grown up; when the Christmas that you make for yourself, whatever it may be, feels like home.

Eartha Cutie

Do you believe it's been a year already? When the sad news that Eartha had gone on before came, I wrote, "How characteristic of her, 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."

And, of course, of the virtues of deeds, sables, '54 convertibles (light blue), a duplex, checks, and the occasional this and that bought at Tiffany. At least an approximation of which, from your own list, I hope appears under your Christmas tree.

Deck the Halls

I hope the Vionnet-clad elves of Deco-fabulousness have created holiday magic chez vous; here at the Café, in all truth, we are a trifle more homespun. Perhaps someday we'll have it all pulled together enough to manage a Cruella DeVil-style tree, but in the meantime, it feels like home.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Kukla, Fran, and Christmas

Christmas, as the saying goes, is for children. This presents a certain dilemma for those of us who rather like Christmas, but of whom it is possible (if rather reductive) to say that we simply can't abide children.

In my defense, I can say quite truly that I wasn't all that fond of them even when I was one. They seemed noisy and unpredictable, something I now enjoy greatly in singing stars and screen legends, but which in person, then and now, has fewer charms.

Even my favorite programs as a child bore this out. Captain Kangaroo, with its gathering of middle-aged gentlemen in jeans and naval uniforms, enacting skits that were old when Vaudeville was a tot, was far preferable to the harsh urban realities of Sesame Street. And of course, a Saturday wasn't complete without time spent in the gentle company of this dear lady d'un certain age and her friends (Zoom I made an exception for, which in later years I realized was because it was essentially the pre-teen equivalent of a Saturday night at The Saint, minus the rampant promiscuity).

So here are Kukla, Fran, and Ollie, wishing us a Merry Christmas across the decades. I knew them, not from their '50s incarnation, but as the hosts of The CBS Children's Film Festival, the kind of good-naturedly improving kiddie show that's fairly impossible to imagine existing today. For me, the KF&O bits were always much more engaging than the frequently baffling short films from around the world, and having to sit through 20 minutes of goings-on involving a happy Bulgarian family was the price paid for the joy - truly - of watching a sweet older lady talk with a puppet crocodile.

My Christmas gift for anyone finding themselves in a similarly nostalgic frame of mind is to direct you here, and to echo the Kuklapolitans in saying, "Merry Christmas, Frannie..."

Putting the Rum back in Rum-Pa-Pum-Pum

Just in case you haven't seen it yet this year, the single greatest holiday moment in TV history. What are you waiting for, Christmas?

What a [Christmas] Dump!

Who better to get us back into a holiday mood than Miss Bette Davis? Not only is she seasonally decked out here (if not, truth be told, looking any too pleased at the situation), but she ties in with the balance of today's posts, as I'm sure she tried a Pall Mall or two (or two thousand) in her day, and I have all confidence that she must have been a hellion behind the wheel (she certainly was in The Star).

And can't you just hear her? "Meeeee-rry Christmas. Now get me a drink."

Or am I flashing back to my childhood again?

Drive Me Crazy

I hope you don't mind if I take a moment out of the current seasonally themed blogathon to air one of my major current grievances; pardon, too, any language not usually seen in these genteel premises.

In short, driving in Our Fair Sultanate is going to hell in a handbasket, and if something isn't done about the absolute fuckwits who make up what seems to be an ever-increasing proportion of local drivers, the already insane national traffic-fatality statistics (I've heard estimates that they are up to forty times most developed countries) are going to continue to skyrocket.

When we arrived here some years ago, aside from a plague of idiotic young men driving ridiculous cars bought for them with daddy's money, it was actually possible to get around from place to place without risking, at best, a heart attack, or, at worst, a grisly, gory death. No more. A simple run to the supermarket can allow you to witness a veritable catalogue of motorized assholery - not just your garden variety speeding, unexpected U-turns, or tailgating (although all of those are commonplace). Oh, no - I'm talking things like people deciding to pass into oncoming traffic just to prove, apparently, that theirs is bigger than yours; or family cars, loaded down with a dozen small children milling about in the backseat, roaring along at top speed on the shoulder of a packed highway; or death-wish driven shitheads inching into traffic to execute what turns into a fish-tailing left turn with brakes and horns squealing as a dozen other drivers have to slam on the brakes, and...

I mean, what gives? This is a placid, almost chokingly polite place, one in which voices are rarely raised, tidiness reigns supreme, and most people - local nationals and expatriates alike - seem to have bought into the kind of public demeanor that can make it feel like living in Stepfordistan. But put these very same people behind the wheel, and they turn into rejects from The Wacky Races, only without the cartoonish immortality.

When it reached the point that the Big Man himself, His Majesty, had to give a sharp scolding to the general public earlier this year, I thought things might improve. That was followed by the putting up of large and prominently placed billboards, with his smiling face accompanied by boldfaced declarations of the people's obedience to his wise advice. I'd like to meet those people, 'cause they're sure not on the roads.

Thank You, Throat-Scratch Santa!

Over at Mean Dirty Pirate, Ayem8y claims that Santa smokes Luckies. Here at the Café, we know better; he's a Pall Mall man. And when he says they're smooth, he's got science on his side - the puff chart doesn't lie!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

For the family? Maybe - if by family you mean this horrifyingly dysfunctional assemblage, gathered in a Tableau of Terror. It's a world in which armless Thalidomom tries with every atom of her being to act as if there is nothing amiss with her sadistic husband's latest gift, even as their son - the Spawn of Satan - shrieks in banshee abandon at her. Meanwhile, little Susie - a child of almost LucieArnazian unattractiveness - huddles in dread beneath the wrapping paper, counting the moments until she can once again crawl back to her "safe place" behind the basement stairs.

That's the kind of family this is a Singer Christmas for.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Grandmother Knows Best

See? What did I tell you? My Grandmother Muscato knew her way around mid-century consumer products, and this is no exception. Typical common-as-mud, sprawled-on-the-floor, housecoat-wearing, beater-bar-fondling Hoover Ho.

A Very Mitzi Christmas

Watching this vintage snippet, all I can think as I take in the wonder that is Miss Gaynor is, "waiter, I'll have one of what she's having, please!"

Although at my age, I'm not sure my system's up to it...

Jerry Herman was never the most subtle of songwriters, but La Mitz's manic delivery takes this little gem from Mame and turns it into a Lola Heathertonische moment of pure tinsel showbiz. And that is, in its own unique way, a most wonderful thing.

Smart Shopper

I don't know about you, but dear Alice Faye is way ahead of me when it comes to being ready for Christmas.

For one thing, I've got no idea where I put my matching gloves and hat...

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Homefront Holidays

With word wafting in of snow back home, Mr. Muscato and I head into this festive week planning a quiet holiday. The tree is up, and we got a jump on things (and celebrated the Islamic new year) over our weekend by having people (the crowd we call The Boys, as opposed to The Office People, The Neighbors, or simply Those Awful People You Know) in for yet another in the seemingly endless series of turkeys that Mr. Muscato squirreled away in the freezers during a sale earlier this year. We're now caught up in preparing for the arrival of my longtime chum Miss Rheba, who will descend from the heavens Santa-style on Christmas Eve.

We're not being terribly inventive giftwise, I'm afraid this year; or rather, let me amend that - I'm not being terribly inventive. Still, I don't think I'm in danger of seeing the face a real-life '50s housewife would likely have come up with if faced with a Eureka under the tree, even if Mr. Muscato's gift is rather practical

Family fun fact: yet another of Grandmother Muscato's Indisputable Dicta was that anything other than a Bissell vacuum was vulgar - how she came up with that one, none of us know. But in her world, anyone with an Electrolux or, God forbid, a Hoover, was trash.

Noël en style Dalida

This Gallic take on Wham's "Last Christmas," performed with characteristic fabulousness by the divine Dalida, doesn't seem especially seasonal - but it's Dalida, so who cares? If nothing else, the gown does Christmas up the proceedings considerably...

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Birthday Girl: No Regrets

Édith Givovanna Gassion was born 94 years ago, and after surviving a childhood of ultra-Dickensian horridness, she found a new name, Piaf, and international fame rivaled by few.

We see her here in 1962, at almost the end of her long, strange trip, singing a song that, although she debuted it only a year earlier and had less than one year left, has become one of the ones with which she is most closely identified.

If anyone on earth had cause to regrette beaucoup, it would have been she, but I dare anyone not to believe her...

Christmas Past

"Every happy family is alike; but every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." No particular reason that those resonant words by Leo Tolstoy, the opener to Anna Karenina, should come to mind. But they do.

And isn't little Lucie a lump?

Friday, December 18, 2009

Her Heart Belongs to Santa

At a point one suspects fairly late in her relatively brief career as a Cheesecake Cutie, the first lady of the Broadway musical, Miss Mary Martin, adopts a festive seasonal pose.

Who knew that Maria von Trapp (not to mention Nellie Forbush) had such grade-A gams?

Book Nook, Opera Queen Division

Looking for a good read? I hate to be anything but a total enthusiast about someone so fabulous, but I'm afraid that after ten days of slogging, I can recommend one book to avoid.

A Prima Donna's Progress, the autobiography of the redoubtable Dame Joan Sutherland, the Antipodean sensation known to opera lovers everywhere as La Stupenda, is less a memoir than a semi-guided tour of the world's most detailed datebook. It chronicles seemingly every event in the lady's long and varied career, one that should be - one might think - absolutely chockablock with incident, drama, and anecdote.

Instead, we get a relentless listing of every flight, every rehearsal, and Lord knows every performance that took place in a career that stretched from the end of the Second War almost to the end of the century. In fits of enthusiasm, people she encounters are described as "clever", "kind", or (in a rare spasm of enthusiasm) "talented"; otherwise, she remains singularly and obdurately silent on questions such as personality, aesthetics, or even the occasional on-the-fly observation of the goings-on about her.

Even so, it must be admitted, something of the magnificent absurdity of a diva's existence does float to the surface, apparently despite the authoress's best intentions. There is, for instance, the evocation of a vanished world conjured up by the juxtaposition of the lady's activities during a single week in the early '70s, in which she combined rehearsals at the Met with a quick stop at the book launch for Cole Lesley's tome on his life as Noël Coward's amanuensis and companion, with a (one presumes) lengthier appearance at a record signing in her honor - at Korvette's.

Still - it's a long haul, and the occasional gems are few and far between. It's frustrating to spend time with someone who's met everyone from Marjorie "Interrupted Melody" Lawrence to the Queen Mother but who doesn't have an interesting thing to say about anyone, a certain sniffy dismissal of Pavarotti's starstruck ways possibly excepted.

Instead, why don't you read Cole Lesley's book, or the brief and touching memoir by Graham Payn, who was also Coward's intimate? The latter writes movingly on how much it meant that Sutherland - unlike many of the Master's other friends and toadies - kept up her relations with the eccentric band of companions Coward called "the family" even when the great man was no more (rarely has any widow been more thoroughly and completed dropped than Payn, and by people who really ought to have known better).

Reading Dame Joan, one senses that there is a fascinating, sympathetic soul in there somewhere lost in the rush to get from place to place; reading about her, one learns with satisfaction that there truly is.

O Night Divine

Resplendent in a gown from Mattel's Nolan Miller-anticipating SuperStar Barbie line, Miss Donna testifies. This solemn Yuletide season should always be so fabulous....

Thursday, December 17, 2009

File Under "Madding Crowd, Far From the"

You know, I think I shall have to complain to the municipality - the beach nearest to the Villa Muscato is really getting unconscionably crowded on the weekends now that the good weather is here.

Nonetheless, Mr. Muscato, Koko, and I braved the hordes - there must have been anything up to four dozen people at times - to spend most of the day near the water, and very pleasant it was. Now we've all got that lovely feeling you get after a day outdoors - a kind of Vitamin D haze, I suppose - and we are enjoying the spectacle of a thoroughly exhausted terrier.

They Got the Beat

In high school, Mary Margaret (second from left) always overidentified with Marilyn Munster, and never more so than during those awkward, embarrassing months when she was forced to join the family acapella group. Aunt Lavonne (second from right) sang bass.

Window Shopping

Before you get too stuck in the holiday groove of bitching and moaning about having to find the perfect gift - hell, any gift - for everybody from your mother to the mailman, stop and count your blessings.

The consumer society may have its drawbacks, but you could be in Novosibirsk in 1978. Which do you think Aunt Lyudmila will like better - the 5-watt bedside lamp, the space heater crafted from a tin pieplate, or the desktop fan that doubles as an amputation device?

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Near and the Dear Ones

While much attention this week has been focused on Blondie's latest release, a timely if rushed-sounding version of We Three Kings, I was delighted to find this little extract from a Very Lower Manhattan Christmas, featuring the spectabulous Miss Debbie Harry and what is billed as the Middlechurch East Village Gospel Choir.

I think it makes a nice opener for the Café into the holiday season, as well as one of the few contexts in which I can imagine feeling - let alone admitting - that it makes me rather miss Yoko Ono...

What's Greek for Golddigger?

I have all due respect for America's Widow™, really I do, but in this shot I can only believe that what's running through her mind is "You said he's worth how much?"

Maybe it's just that I find snaps like this one, in which she looks so much like a rough-draft Norma Jeane, unnerving...

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Birthday Back Up: 3 Girls 4th

She's one of history's most famous spare tires, someone who leapt into a kind of substitute fame in 1967 when she joined the world's most famous musical group pretty much just after it had any real reason to exist. And today, Cindy Birdsong turns 70. Does that make you feel as old as it does me?


Sometimes people look so much like themselves that they look more like imitations of themselves. I like that. And clearly, a little something to take the edge off never hurts...

Monday, December 14, 2009

Remember Her (One) Name

Little María Marguerita Guadalupe Teresa Estela Bolado Castilla y O'Donnell had clearly had enough of being so relentlessly polysyllabic by the time she made the long trip from Mexico City to Hollywood, for she became known to film fans simply as Margo. Under that clipped moniker, she was a reliable supporting presence for more than three decades, mostly in roles that called for a little exotic mystery.

She was, for even longer, Mrs. Eddie Albert, which is just about as far from being either exotic or mysterious as one can imagine. Although it does raise the distinct possibility that she got to hang out with Eva Gabor, which has to count for something. Also, she was Cugat's niece, which means that Charo was, at least for a while, her aunt. Which is kind of fabulous.

Here we see her working, as well as anyone could, the unlikely, unpromising glamour-shot combo of wicker and lamé.

When it Rains...

Sorry about that, kids - we got safely back from our little Red Sea jaunt to find that all hell had generally broken loose. The worst of it all is that absolutely none of it was of any real interest even in the slightest. Much has been resolved to most people's satisfaction, some remains to be dealt with, but after much smoothing of Dreary Office Politics and Soothing of Bores, life is again on something approaching an even keel.

I should have listened to the divine Miss Anita O'Day, seen and heard here live in Berlin, 1970, reminding us that when it rains, it pours.

That's something, improbably enough, we've been discovering right here on the edge of the great Arabian desert, we've been finding out. Nightly downpours for the past three nights have cleaned the air rather marvelously, giving rise to even-more-than-usually dramatic views and clear horizons. Now the air has something of the crisp, cool feeling of late April back home, which is really rather refreshing.

Unlike anything having to do with the sordid business of making a living. Why can't we all live on capital, like the good people of Tilling? A much more sensible way of passing one's days if you ask me, and such bad planning of our forebears not to have socked it all away.

But we'll always have Sharm...

Friday, December 4, 2009

What's in a Name...

"Where," asked Gentle Reader CK rather peremptorily in reference to the last post, "is this?"

The answer is the notorious resort Sharm el Sheikh, whither Mr. Muscato and I have repaired for a minibreak. We were startled to see the reminder of home shown above at the very entrance to the heart of honky-tonk Sharm, the town of Na'ama Bay.

It appears that all the principal thoroughfares are named for various regional leaders, but His Majesty has the prime luck to be namesake to the main avenue of approach. I'm not sure that the rather dismal T-shirt shops and shisha joints that line his street are exactly the image he usually tries to convey, but I'm sure the city fathers' hearts were in the right place when they named it.

A Room with a View

There is a great deal to be said for getting away from it all for a couple of days...