Sunday, January 31, 2010

Mystery Clowns

Clowns: even when it's only a group of Johnson-era tots dressing up, they give me the creeps. I'm especially put off by Miss Thing there, dead center, not to mention the little leg show that Bozette's giving over on the right. The sad harlequin in between, though, looks just about ready for Miss Quinn's kindergarten pageant version of Les Enfants du Paradis; him we like.

Best Line Ever

"You haf booped your lest boop." *

Lugosi has gotten a lot of respect in recent years as the Great Thespian Done Wrong by Hollywood machinations, just as Ed Wood has gotten more than his share of props for "rescuing" the onetime Austro-Hungarian heartthrob and showing him some respect at the end of his long, strange trip.

In this clip, though, we can see that only two years after his greatest triumph Bela was already quite willing to trash his own image - although there is something in his glance at about 1:16 that does convey a shade of existential sorrow, as if in realization that he's starting down a slippery slope.

Frankly, the only thing that frightens me about this number are those damn mannequins. Well, that and the piano player...

*Transylvanian accent absolutely required.

Children? Some People Shouldn't Even Have Pets

You know I adore me some Joan, but the only thing I can see in that poor spaniel's eyes is "Kill me. Kill me now."

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Desperate Measures

In the dying days of Burlesque, things got so bad they'd try anything; still, The Cubist Cuties of 1951 didn't help.

Friday, January 29, 2010

To Sleep; Perchance to Dream...

One of the reasons I've been less than productive these past few days is that I've been sleeping oddly. Not badly, mind you; as happens occasionally, I've actually been sleeping rather too deeply. Mr. Muscato discovered this when a couple of nights ago I was unmoved and unwakened by a series of loudly slamming doors (wind; the downside of having the house opened up during these precious cooler months) and subsequently furiously barking dog.

When I go through these bouts of sleep-to-the-point-of-unconsciousness, I often wake more tired than after a similar amount of the usual dozing. Moreover, I'm more prone than usual to remembering dreams - usually long, complicated, and repetitive dreams. This week's featured, in a starring role, Miss Bonham Carter, albeit not in a lilac fur-trimmed peignoir as seen here.

We were walking together, for a very long time, doing the usual dream-state pointless searching for things, talking about other things, and generally not making much sense.

I woke suddenly yesterday morning at one such dream's end, just as she turned to me and said, "you know what the real problem is, don't you? Don't you?"

"Tell me," said I.

She turned away; looking gravely over her shoulder as she walked off, she said, simply: "Mystery clown."

And so I woke up. And this is what I Googled from that phrase:

Amazingly, despite the horror of that image, last night I slept the dreamless, refreshing sleep of the innocent and feel much restored.

But what could it mean?

Girl Just Wants to Have Fun

I know I've already run one Carole Samaha video this month (and how many blogs do you read that can claim that?), but over the last couple of days I keep running across this one and find myself smitten - it's random and poppy and just great fun.

It's the Lebanese diva's hit "Ali", and in it she, a couple of girlfriends, and a pair of I'm quite totally certain platonic pals dance it up. I'm loving the ice-cream colors, the Demoiselles de Rochefort choreography, the very 1986 synth hook, and the way it makes me think of numbers from things like Star Struck, if it were Middle Eastern instead of Australian.

{Nite}Club Sandwich

I don't know about you, but if I could find a joint like this for lunch, I'd never again darken the doorstep of the staff cafeteria. Afternoon productivity? To hell with it; I'm spending the rest of the day with my new friends Pepper, Chet, and Rita...

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Freeze Tag

I have to admit that the prospect of having been tagged (see horrid logo, left) has very nearly stopped me in my tracks, given that it presented the appalling prospect of having to display this image and then talk about myself.

Well, we've been over this ground before, but Peenee (predictably, what with being evil incarnate and all) showed no mercy, and he was even joined in his devil's work by the 'til now comparatively benign Felix.

So, it seems I've been double-tagged, which - as with so much in life - turns out to be not nearly the naughty romp it sounds like it ought to be. herewith, even so, my turn at the Kreativ Blogger Meme Award, or whatever it's called.

1. Thank the person who nominated you for this award.

Thank you, Peenee and Felix. And damn your eyes, while we're at it.

2. Copy the logo and place it on your blog.

Done, over my better judgment.

3. Link to the person who nominated you for this award.

See 2, above.

4. Name 7 things about yourself that people might find interesting.

...And this is where it gets appalling. I've not been nearly as sharing (to put it kindly) as some people (looking at Peenee), but having been writing about myself in drips and drabs for the past year and a half, it's hard to come up with too much that's terribly fresh. I think I'll just free associate for a bit and hope for the best:

(1) My Arabic has been improving of late, to the point that at times I will pretend to understand less than I do, mostly so I can listen to Mr. Muscato chat with friends while they think I won't get it all. Not that he's ever really come out with anything amazingly indiscreet (although the friends occasionally do, mostly on the Appalling Conspiracy Theory front), but I've kind of got to like being the silent one when we're out with the boys.

(2) I worry that we've gotten too comfortable living in a comparatively quiet and provincial place, and that when and if the opportunity arises, we'll end up being boring country mice anywhere slightly more happening.

(3) The most amusing Big Lady I ever got to work with, hands down: Tyne Daly. Smart, funny, foul-mouthed, and amazingly talented. She can sing an adagio version of "There's No Business Like Show Business" that will, as she herself has said, make strong men weep (never thought about it as a slow song? Believe me, it works - that's a lyric that can be sung sad). She's the real deal. That said, she's not the one I loved the most. But that's another story.

(4) I have been mugged or assaulted five times - twice with a gun - and been burgled twice (once with arson for that extra frisson). Yet the most that any of the idiot failed criminals ever got off me was $5, a ring with a cracked amethyst, and a small bowlful of change and subway tokens (leaving contemptuously behind the small bowl itself, a rather good piece of Georgian sterling courtesy of Grandmother Muscato). The fire, admittedly, got a good deal more, but that hardly benefited the perp.

(5) On a brighter note, I have never in more than twenty years of at times essentially continuous travel had a moment's (knock wood) difficulty, not anywhere from Tokyo to Ouagadougou, despite having now and then been, to be kind, a fairly Easy Mark. Strangers have benevolently put me in taxis and sent me back to the occasional hotel; I've found myself by happenstance in neighborhoods neither accustomed nor welcoming to new faces; small coups, even, have broken out nearby - but to date I've sailed serenely through. Here's to twenty years more...

(6) I may not be freakishly double-jointed like some people, but my first ballet teacher (a small and ill-tempered Russian woman) declared with satisfaction on first looking me up and down that I possessed the best natural turnout she had ever seen in a boy. Sadly, that forever after remained my principal terpsichoric distinction, and it only gets one so far, but it did serve as her principal, if steadily less encouraging, talking point about me for the next five years.

(7) 2010 promises to be a year of changes that may or may not provide the chance to revisit some - I profoundly hope not all - of these issues. Watch this space.

5. Nominate 7 Kreativ Bloggers and post links to the 7 blogs you nominate.

But this is where I reap the benefit of being so terribly late in accepting my tag - I truly think this is one meme that has run its course and needn't be inflicted on anyone further. At least until somebody comes up with a better logo.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Birthday Genius: The Big Bad Woolf

I'll be wishing many happy returns today, on her 128th, to the amazing woman seen above in a portrait by her almost equally remarkable sister. The picture is a 1912 portrait of Virginia Woolf by Vanessa Bell; once upon a time they were the daring Stephen sisters who took a house in Bloomsbury without a chaperone, and many, many things have been different ever since.

The work of Virginia Woolf too often these days is overshadowed by her life and career, by the people she knew and, most recently, by the often byzantine biographical and literary reinterpretations dreamed up by the people who study her and them. I can't recommend too strongly just going back to her books, which while they can be a challenge, reward it. If nothing else, she's a great deal more interesting than Nicole Kidman's wan, swanning impression, or even Michael Cunningham's rather sharper take.

Were I teaching Woolf 101, the introductory course to Bloomsbury for the Quizzical, I would start with Orlando, followed by The Voyage Out and some of the essays, only after which would students be permitted to read Quentin Bell's engrossing biography of his aunt and then embark on Mrs. Dalloway and To the Lighthouse. After that, one would be ready for anything, even the novels of V. Sackville-West and the acid pen of Mr. Lytton Strachey.

It's one course, however, that one cannot slide by on by seeing the films. Vanessa Redgrave is lovely in Mrs. Dalloway, but it's not really very Woolfy; The Hours can't really count; Orlando ought to be burnt; and anyone who goes into Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? seeking biographical insight is only going to come out very, very confused.

Today actually offers an authorial two-for-one - sharing the day is Mr. Somerset Maugham, in his day a far more commercial author and sometime acquaintance of the Woolfs. Neither he nor his work has aged as well, however, although one would still be better of being afraid of him than the languid lady painted by her sister...

Why Don't You...

...attempt a climb up the slippery slope of Absolute Perfection? Babe Paley gave it her best shot - and very nearly achieved the summit. It didn't make her happy, but...

Actually, on second thought - why not stay home in your bathrobe and enjoy life a little?

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Serpent of Old Nile

Well, kids, the bad news is that the Café's favorite handsomeness pageant, the fabulous Manhunt International, appears to be on indefinite hold for the moment, ostensibly, according to its homepage, because of H1N1-related concerns on behalf of this year's host government, South Korea.

The good news is that thinking about this august annual event gives me an excuse, however tenuous, to run a photo of the rather exquisite onetime Mr. Egypt, Tarek Naguib. He's seen here rising from the Nile. Which, from what I remember of the Nile, may not be the world's most salubrious idea, although he certainly makes it look pleasant...

Friday, January 22, 2010

It's the Story...

I don't know about you, but it came as a complete surprise to me to discover that, for a time, Michael Jackson and his family lived in a home designed by noted West Coast architect Mike Brady.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

The Ladies in Red

Is it just me, or does it seem a little World Turned Upside Down to see a photograph in which Liza Minnelli is significantly more tastefully dressed and looks calmer and more self-assured than Audrey Hepburn? She must have, for once, have gotten the meds just right.

File Under "Business Names, Dubious"

My forebrain accepts that this undoubtedly entirely respectable enterprise is very likely named after a term of art in the omnipresent local petroleum-extraction industry - but my lizard brain just laughs and laughs...

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Yesterday, When We Were Young

More like rising thirty years ago, actually. Time in its flight...

Tri', Tri' Again

Yes, once again it's everybody's favorite Anodyne Recordings* superstars, the Tri'Tones!

This is, I believe, a still from their failed attempt to join the cast of The Beverly Hillbillies as a quartet of singing Bugtussle lovelies who come to visit the Clampetts. Either that, or they're showing their devotion to The Lawrence Welk Show by dressing up as Norma Zimmer.

In any case, it didn't get them far - for which I think we can all be grateful.

* A wholly owned subsidiary of Bland-Whitebread Amalgamated Enterprises.

Compare and Contrast

Today, let's do a little show-biz exegesis, shall we? Herewith, three versions of one song, spanning, in various ways, three eras of entertainment and of interpretation.

First up, Judy. Her rendition - complete with an almost never-heard intro - is a reminder, among other things, of what a superb band singer she was. She brings all she's got to this number, but never for a moment lets you really think she believes it - a very Vaudeville attitude toward what could be a pretty cynical number.

Barbra's version is, as you'll see at the very end, actually from her appearance on The Judy Garland Show; in fact, it aired the fall before Judy's. Still, it's light years away from her hostess's playful but faithful rendition, poised as it is on the edge of mid-sixties "kookiness", as if just waiting for Laugh-In to happen.

Streisand at this age - just 21 - is amazing to watch; she's not so much performing as possessed by a talent she's still trying to figure out how to handle. That makes the bridge of this arrangement, a mishmash of other love songs, so odd and so oddly effective. How is it possible that this awkward, basically uneducated and unworldly girl can be at succeeding moments the gawkiest thing since My Friend Flicka and a one-woman compendium of twentieth-century show-biz?

Finally, the state of the art, turn of the century edition. Audra McDonald has the most "trained" voice of these three, and she gives a sense of acting the part of a nightclub belter rather than being one. Still, she's got the chops to put this one over, and her manic break midsong is if anything even more fun than Babs's.

What does it all prove? Honestly, I'm not at all sure, although I do know that I adore all three. I've never understood the need to choose one diva and automatically shower filth on any other. I think that maybe the lesson is: talent will out.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010


I can't think what could have put poor dear Upen Patel into such a pensive mood - unless it's the prospect of doing up all those buttons. Or the sudden realization - having been reading Peenee again - that what with International Male more or less folding, he'll never be able to replace that shirt with any other garment as utterly tawdry.

Diamond Anniversary

Sixty years ago today, Elizabeth Taylor ended her academic career, a fetching graduate of Hollywood's University High School. Or at least was photographed by Life, cap-and-gowned, as doing so.

Housewife Superstar

Oh, dear - time in its flight; Edith Bunker is 87 years old today. Rather, of course, the great lady who played her, Jean Stapleton, has reached that great age.

All in the Family and being Edith may have been what made Stapleton a household name, but real Jeanketeers love her best as another memorable New Yorker: Sue, proprietrix of Susanswerphone, in the treasurable musical (stage and film) Bells are Ringing. She plays the voice of reason - never an easy thing in a musical comedy - and does so in a way that only sets off sweetly, wildly anarchic Judy Holliday to even better advantage.

Once upon a time (and you will forgive me if I stroll down Memory Lane, won't you?), back when I was doing my Birdie Coogan impression and being amanuensis to a Personage of the Theatre, I was on dressing-room door duty. My Personage was not the fastest of changers, and so quite a group would sometimes form to say good evening and (a vanishing phenomenon, I think, however familiar from the pictures) have a drink or two. I had just put my head out and been encouraging to the dozen or so people waiting, when what felt like just seconds later there was a firm rap at the door.

I was busy, dammit, and it was with rather too much force that I threw the door open with something likely along the lines of "What?" Collecting myself, I looked...up. Standing there was a very tall and, briefly, very apologetic lady. Briefly, because within nanoseconds I was falling over to (a) frantically apologize and (b) not make a total fool of myself in front of Sue. She was far nicer than I deserved - what with her having known my Personage for significantly longer than, at that point, I had been alive and all - and the evening went uphill from there.

I think some of the other people who'd been waiting felt quite put out that I wasn't nearly as flustered by them. What can I say? They never spent any time on the same switchboard as Our Lady of the Bonjour Tristesse Brassiere Company...

Monday, January 18, 2010

Birthday Boy: A Star to Remember

Cary Grant would have been 106 today. He probably would still have been better looking than most of us and cooler than all of us, put together. When you've held your own against everybody from Mae West to Hitchcock - with more than a little Katharine Hepburn in between and even a little Audrey - I guess there's not much that fazes you.

And wasn't he lovely?

Wet Wet Wet

Dear Felix has pointed out that Saturday marked the 90th anniversary of the onset of Prohibition. I think that calls for cocktails for everybody, don't you? Not to mention summer furs.

I Believe in Angels

...And my destination makes it worth the while -
Pushing through the darkness, still another mile;
I believe in angels,
Something good in everything thing I see;
I believe in angels.
When I know the time is right for me:
I'll cross the stream
I have a dream.

Happy Birthday, Dr. K.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Dreams Downtown

I've written about this place before, but I just came across these photos. This was my first dream palace, but of course these pictures come even before my time (rumours of my having played piano at the first screening of Way Down East being a gross libel), in 1949. Just look at that marquee.

Just waiting outside would have been kind of a thrill, no? And imagine crowds actually lining up to catch what can kindly be called a routine sort of picture. It was cold that night; the movie came out in the first half of March, and the Warner was very much a first-run house.

Wouldn't you love to step into all that, just for a moment - to have a chance to see what was in those shop windows, hear the music drifting from the tavern down the street, get a look at a world - small city urban America - now as gone as Pompeii?

At night, the street had a real noir feel, a shade mysterious and cosmopolitan. By day it all has a slightly more mundane feeling, I suppose, but it's still pretty wonderful. The big department store was just off camera to the right, and the Warner's marquee, less dramatic at mid-day, juts out a block or so in on the left.

It's a funny feeling to see pictures like this. South of St. Louis doesn't seem like my parents' kind of night out (they were married four years right about then), but you never know; they might have decided, just that evening, that you couldn't go all that wrong with Joel McCrea. For that matter, that could be Grandfather Muscato in one of those behemoth automobiles, tooling downtown to the office on a perfectly ordinary day. He was a Packard man, mostly.

And now it's gone, mostly; certainly any vestige of that urban feeling; what's left is a patchwork of redevelopment and (mostly misplaced) optimism. The theatre hangs on, but the shops are long gone, and old people live in the onetime department store. Downtown is as much open space as solid brick commercial buildings, and I think that all but one of the eye-astonishing office blocks - one topping out at 12 stories - have turned into those open spaces.

Most of all, it's a place I may never see again, for the grandparents are as gone as Packards and our roots there (although they went back to earliest days, frozen ex-revolutionaries wondering why they hadn't settled somewhere less inclement, Georgia, maybe; south of St. Louis, certainly) are pretty thoroughly cut. It's good, still, to be from somewhere, and to think how permanent it must all have seemed, one winter's night in 1949.

Tri-ing Times

Ladies and gentlemen - meet the Faith Tones' glamourous aunts. They live in Vero Beach, drive Dodge Darts, and are staunch members of the Central Florida Abstinence in Marriage League. Well, all except Marvelle there, bottom left. Sometimes she can't help herself.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Birthday Roll Call: Goddesses and More

It's a banner day on the birthday front, starting with the remarkable fact that sharing the day are ultrastars Dalida (shown here effortlessly demonstrating her fabulousness) and the still much-missed Eartha Kitt.

Those two alone would be more than enough to brighten up your average January Sunday, but there is, it turns out, so much more: demurely foul-mouthed TV survivor Betty White, iron-armed White House tenant Michelle Obama, redheaded Red Shoes wearer Moira Shearer, Lambchop-wielder Shari Lewis, second-tier Blonde Bombshell Sheree North, and Gallic yé-yé songbird Françoise Hardy, for example. That's not to mention, on the distaff side, arch novelist Sir Compton Mackenzie and his camp coeval, Ronald Firbank, pugilistic poetaster Muhammed Ali, the stentorian James Earl Jones, and hairburner extraordinaire Vidal Sassoon.

Altogether, that's enough natal glamour to offset the presence of the last and least Mr. Elizabeth Taylor, Larry Fortensky, and talk-show dullard Maury Povich. It seems presumputous of them to have chosen Dalida's day, but such is her magnaminity that I'm sure she would have risen about it all. And I can't help thinking that she and Eartha are having a hoot, possibly in tandem with Mr. Firbank...

Wild, Wild West(ern Arabia)

Living here in our Sultanate's quaint little capital, nestled on its narrow plain between the hills and the sea, it can be easy to forget that there is a whole other world on the far side of those hills, in the country's interior.

Over the holidays, we took Miss Rheba for a long drive - what the Grandparents Muscato used to call a Sunday Motor Trip, although theirs were to exotic destinations like Ashtabula or Titusville, rather than, say, the medieval fortress that served as the Residence of the Imam. One bonus of the recent rains was that, unusually for this part of the world, there were clouds, which meant much more interesting light and shade than we often see.

This study of a very Southwest-seeming tableau was snapped from the top of that fortress, a charming attraction, if one that would benefit greatly from escalators.

Friday, January 15, 2010


I love books you can dip in and out of, finding fresh treasure every time. Such a tome is Some of These Days, the refreshingly direct and unpretentious memoirs of the one and only Sophie Tucker. If you only know Sophie from Bette Midler's affectionate takeoff, you owe it to yourself to check out the real thing; the Last of the Red Hot Mommas was also the epitome of a special and vanished kind of show business.

She was a woman who worked hard all her life and enjoyed every moment of her considerable success (just look at her there, in her ermine and orchids at a Hollywood premiere - you don't get that far just sitting on your tuchus, kids). Turn one page and she's making her first break in Vaudeville; skip forward, and she's fighting MGM's attempts to turn her into the next Marie Dressler; back a little and she recounts the time a baby was born in her drawing room on a train heading to Chicago (it wasn't hers, but they kept in touch - she seems to have never lost track of anyone, ever).

The legend about this book is that its author flogged it herself so indefatigably that it's actually worth more if it's not autographed. Mine was signed over with Love to Elaine and Ernie Maxfield in January of 1960, and I'm sure they were glad to have it. I know I am.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Shopping Mall Confidential

Consider this a private note to the Café's local (or any other dishdasha-wearing) male readers:

If you feel like stopping for a cup of coffee at the Starbucks tables located outside the Border's Books at the top of the escalator shown in the pre-opening sketch above - and yes, I know, they're the only ones at that Starbucks where you can smoke* - that's all well and good. But please - for the love of God, please - remember that if, while watching the world go by, you decide to get comfortable by, say, putting one foot up on an empty chair and swinging your other leg over just so...

Let's just say that the kilt effect goes into play, and your dishdasha and wissar** ride up, and ...

On a clear day, those lucky folks coming up the elevator get an excellent view of your Ras Al Djinn, if you get my drift.

Frankly, I'd think the draft would have gotten your attention, even if the giggling girls (and not a few interested-looking gents) going for multiple escalator rides didn't...

* for the moment, kids - this town is going smoke-free in a couple of months, and not a moment too soon!

** the local masculine petticoat-equivalent; think a wrapped half-slip.

Questionable Moments in Evening Wear

Lavinia's mother had assured her that the cut of her new black velvet guaranteed that the other girls wouldn't notice her cankles - but now that she was actually at the year's first sorority mixer, she wasn't so sure...

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The Pain in Spain

The moral of this video? Do not click on one of the "related videos" on offer when done checking out the latest madness over at the Chateau. You will lose hours of your time and, possibly, your sanity.

It fascinates me that this is in fact only the credits to what appears to be a Julio Iglesias variety show. What on earth could possibly top it? Joining Sr. Iglesias (and his parrot) are the talented - well, certainly energetic - ladies and gentlemen of El Ballet Zoom de TVE, who are clearly Spain's answer to the Juul Haalmeyer Dancers.

Isn't it Always?

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Eastern Beats

I know we've ventured into the world of Arab pop quite recently, but I find myself very taken with this new song, "Ma Bkhaf" ("Don't be Scared") by Lebanese diva Carole Samaha, now in heavy rotation on the local video channels.

It's actually a pretty good dance song. Samaha appears to be staking out a Jennifer Lopez sort of role for herself, and the overall affect is a little more minimalist than some of her competition. The clip is causing a certain amount of controversy, not just, as usual, for the amount of skin on display, but for the daring casting of its extras. Check out the saucy couple at around 1:23 and you'll see what I mean.

I'm always happy when this part of the world surprises with its diversity, on all fronts...

Monday, January 11, 2010

Happy Days

The Most Famous People in the World, Mary and Doug, rather mystifyingly enjoy a little canoeing in the pool at PickFair.

So much of this image seems as vanished as if it never had been. Just think of it: in this photo, the two stars are presented as if frolicking outdoors; today, they would look overdressed for church. This house was America's ideal, the most elegant, even ostentatious last word in Hollywood glamour; today, it doesn't measure up, in square footage or general showiness, with the average real-estate-bubble McMansion in Des Moines.

And, it goes without saying, Pickford and Fairbanks, even at opposite ends of their little boat, project an aura of starry perfection. Now, we know that things didn't end well. Just a little while after this sunny morning, Hollywood's Perfect Marriage was as gone as hats for canoeing. Doug drifted off, leaving Mary at Pickfair, where she stayed. And stayed. And stayed.

But they really were a lovely couple.

Tuesday on Monday

Blogging never ceases to amaze. One of the things I love is how you can stumble onto a whole separate, parallel - yet welcomingly familiar - world. It's like opening one of those little doors in the endless corridor in which Alice finds herself.

I felt that way earlier this week when, while looking around for some photos to steal doing some photo research, I fell into the orbit of A Touch of Tuesday Weld. Here was a whole new world of star appreciation, snarky comments, vintage moments, and shared glee at the oddity of the world. The Proprietrix has a healthy list of followers and a varied blogroll, with, to my eye, no immediate shared names between her world and what I suppose we can think of as the Fabuloniverse (somebody thinks it's the Peeneeverse, and perhaps we oughtn't disasbuse him).

In any case, why not stroll on over and see what fun awaits? Just beware if a hookah-smoking caterpillar offers you cake...

Sunday, January 10, 2010

The Blonde Crusader

No, not the latest Marvel superhero - just Loretta. Loathe her, even as a golden-haired Plantagenet-by-marriage. Loathe her.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Birthday Boy: St. Sal

Impossible as it is to believe, Sal Mineo would have been 71 today. It's a damn shame he's not. He was carving out an odd and interesting career toward the end of his life, one that seemed on the road to overcoming his somewhat unsustainable stardom as a sidekick-ephebe. Perhaps today he would be a an offbeat elder statesman, playing off-kilter character parts, directing (as he did late in life) the occasional opera, and generally enjoying life as one-who-was-there. Alas.

Sharing the day are two fellow heartthrobs, Bollywood sensation Hrithik Roshan and silent god Francis X. Bushman; '80s diva Pat Benatar; bland-furniture-line namesake and revolutionary Ethan Allan; the eternal scarecrow Ray Bolger; and porn pioneer Linda Lovelace. One hesitates to think what they all might have in common...

Meanwhile, at the Bargain Center

During her recent stay, Miss Rheba was treated to all the highlights of local tourism: we took her to forts and castles; she went on a dolphin-watching excursion; we visited the Grand Mosque and the capital's steadily expanding Royal Palace. She saw the souq, smoked a shisha, and ate in restaurants brimming with local color (experiencing one oddity of life in the Gulf: the more atmospheric, thousand-and-one-nights the restaurant, the likelier it is to serve Lebanese food. For very good reasons, mostly, if you've ever tried the actual traditional foods of the Arabian Peninsula).

And, of course, we took her to the One-Rial Store.

...where she experienced the legendary Wall of Knockoff Colognes, an ever-changing array of horror and splendor. This time the highlight was this I'm sure entirely coincidental hommage to one of the region's signature buildings. If you can't actually stay at the $1,000 a night Burj al-Arab Hotel, why not wear a $1.50 parfum that vaguely looks like it?

None of the dozens of Walking Angels on display showed even the vaguest sign of the promised flapping wings (and we wondered whether, in this part of the world, her prayers would be particularly welcome). Nonetheless, we were taken by the way in which she resembled nothing so much as a L'il Edna May Oliver doll and were briefly seized with the idea of a whole line of infantilized character ladies (Baby Marie Dressler, Toddler Magic Margaret Rutherford...).

And this particular offering made us laugh and laugh. We didn't feel good about that, but we did. I know it's just a set of tumblers and pitcher, liberally gilded. But still: golden water set.

Somehow, when inevitably we return to the dear old shores of North America, going to Costco or Target is going to seem awfully dull...

Friday, January 8, 2010

La Publicité!

Despite an onslaught of unrelentingly creative guesses, ranging from Sophie Tucker to the Queen Mother (and including the popular favorite, the highly likely Mr. Peenee), the identity of our Edwardian mystery lady remained unsolved. She was, of course, the roguishly charming matron seen above, Miss Mary Boland. With no prizes to hand out, it just means wee drinkies and radio cowboys in the bar car for everybody.

Boland's was a fine career, encompassing everything from turn-of-the-century Broadway to a solid place in moviegoers' hearts for more than two decades after the her appearances in early talkies. As in her best-remembered role as Flora, Countess de Lave in The Women, she generally played vague, funny ladies, frequently of the upper classes.

In her last picture, an obscure 1950 indie noir curiosity called Guilty Bystander, she apparently played against type as "Smitty," a flophouse manager. Sadly, despite being third-billed, she didn't make the poster. From the look of it, she could only have helped.

Rock On, Local Dudes

Apparently, the shebab - the Sultanate's rising crop of teen boys - live in some kind of pop-culture time warp, at least as evidenced by this graffito Koko and I found on a pavement yesterday in one of our wanders around the neighborhood. It's not a place we go regularly, but often enough that I'm fairly convinced it's new-ish, at least.

This is a tag that would have seemed fairly naff back when I was of the age to be doing this sort of thing, rising thirty years ago. Here, it approaches the surreal. Which is, I suppose, all too often what one can expect from the intersection of East and West...

Thursday, January 7, 2010

She's Leaving Home

Looking back over the years from her Park Avenue penthouse, Carlotta realized that that had been the very moment at which she left little Ethel Mae from Wilkes Barre behind once and for all.

Shoot the MSGer

Here, for no particular reason, we have Egyptian pocket heartthrob Tamer Hosny.

Arabic pop stars all too frequently have mystifying taste in sportswear. I have to wonder: if love is his MSG, does it leave him with a numb jaw, roaring headache, and hungry an hour later?

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Dear Dead (Birth)Days

If he hadn't had better things to do, the inimitable Charles Addams would have been 98 today, and I really rather wish he were; we could do with a little more of his mordant point of view in the world today.

Beyond the obvious and enchanting glee in the macabre, the thing I think I like best about Addams cartoons is that they demand something of the viewer; they assume a shared set of references and start from the understanding that you will, as here, be amused by the very idea of one of Velazquez's Meninas staring gravely out from a group that includes a menagerie of her fellow art-history greatest hits.

A splashy musical of the artist's best known creations, his eponymous Family, is apparently making its slow and not-untroubled way to Broadway. Even with Nathan Lane and Bebe Neuwirth, it's hard to imagine it outdoing not only previous incarnations, but the originals - perfect little vignettes of bizarerie that really don't seem to cry out for a Big Tap Number or whatever else they will do to them.

Sharing the day? Well, it's a mixed bag, ranging from John Abraham's beard girlfriend, Bollywood leading lady Bipasha Basu, to presidential punchline Millard Fillmore. Also celebrating are Butterfly McQueen [insert birthing no babies and/or slapping joke here], eternally dapper character man Alan Napier, actress Terry Moore (forever fixed in one's memory dividing her affections between Joe Young and Howard Hughes), puzzling film success Nicolas Cage, and the ill-fated Princess Charlotte Augusta of Wales, who came this close to reducing her younger cousin Victoria to the insignificant footnote that she herself has become. Had she not died in childbirth, we would have to put up with books like Eminent Charlottians and have had great aunts who collected Charlottiana. Sometimes destiny knows best.


I suppose it's no surprise that the ridiculously talented Ginger Rogers also played the accordion. But could she do it backwards in heels?

There's a Hex on Our House!

The first time I saw this amazing cartoon - Sally Cruikshank's Face Like a Frog - probably not long after it came out in 1987, and very probably, if memory serves, at some midnight movie, I was severely stoned.

In many ways, life has never been quite the same - but that, I think, is all for the best. For years we repeated various lines from the cartoon, and I can still get a laugh out of Miss Rheba by going all Gabor with the line "My name's Galooey!"

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Misty Watercolored Mem'ries...

That season at Baden Baden, in those permanently sunny days before that sad unpleasantness at Sarajevo, would be just the dimmest of recollections were it not for those stolen hours with Prince Boris.

He was importunate - and had fabulous hair - but I simply could not see myself in a Balkan context. Good thing, too; nothing turned out well in that part of the world for the next eight decades or so...

RIP: A Funny Lady Says Goodnight

I have a love-hate relationship with the New York Times obituary page. As much as I appreciate its detailed and attentive reviews of fascinating lives and times, I also find myself resenting, somehow, when it calls to my attention - just this little bit too late - someone I feel I really ought to have known about all along.

That's distinctly how I feel about learning of the death, on January 1, at the fine age of 98, of Jean Carroll, a trailblazing lady in the all-male world of stand-up comedy and someone who would seem to have been on all fronts a very good time.

As for this record cover, I find it distracting, not so much for the sock-gartered businessman in the background, but because I think that my mother had those orange towels in the guest bathroom 'round about '72.

The Other Miss Davis

And, I suppose, the other Judy, come to think of it.

During her recent visit, dear Miss Rheba brought with her a plethora of marvelous little gifties. As we had not seen her in several years, this trove included any number of things intended to bring us more up to date on stateside pop culture. Chief among them so far has been the DVD of The Starter Wife, which Mr. Muscato and I, despite being the last people in the world to see it, are enjoying enormously.

It's leaving me, I have to say, entirely in awe of Judy Davis, whose merciless delineation of an East Coast lady of a certain age lost and adrift on the wrong side of the continent (and of a distinctly bibulous inclination) is a wonder. I had thought she couldn't top her Garland, but this role - while comparatively a miniature, closely observed but circumscribed, next to that comprehensive marvel - is very, very wonderful indeed.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Who's That (Gibson) Girl?

Anybody recognize this buxom, severely laced young lovely? I certainly didn't at first glance...