Monday, March 26, 2012

Invitation to the Dance

54 years ago tonight, this handsome couple went for a spin at a little party after the Oscars.  Aren't they perfect?  Don't you wish they were your parents?

I once saw this self-same couple, a few decades later; they were crossing the Plaza at Lincoln Center, on their way to a show at the Vivian Beaumont, and I have to say they managed to be almost as heart-stoppingly lovely on a New York early summer night.  In common with so many people in the Business We Call Show, they were not large (quite diminutive, in fact), but the impact of their passing?  Oh, my...

* * *

Sorry, to those who pay attention to that sort of thing, for the paucity of postings hereabouts.  Life is, alas, demanding of late at the Villa Muscato, and we are very much on the go.  To start with, Mr. Muscato is off on a business trip, and as always when we're on our lonesome, the dogs and I are at sixes and sevens.

The dogs have no real excuse beyond missing Mr. M. (who is, after all, the one who really spoils them rotten), but I'm still recovering from the most unpleasant bug that first manifested itself almost three weeks ago - dispiriting enough of itself, but made infinitely worse by the superior tones of so many colleagues, who confide quite dismissively that they've had the bug for seven weeks now, and they fully don't expect to feel themselves 'til May.

On top of that, our stalwart domestiche, the tiny and enigmatic Sri Lankan lady who rejoices in the Wodehousian name of Mrs Galappatty-Da Silva, has tripped and broken her wrist.  That would be trial enough, for we quite happily cop to being thoroughly spoiled, but Mrs. G.-Da S. seems intent on proving her indomitability by continuing on as if she weren't laid up, which is both disconcerting and potentially disastrous.  Having been home with the crud, I find myself having to haul her down off chairs on which she's standing tip-toe, cast akimbo, trying to dust the moldings, and similar feats of derring-do that are hardly advisable in a birdlike mature lady at the best of times.

Finally, I too am faced with having to travel for business - jetting off to a neighboring principality tomorrow, for a few festive days of sitting in a beige conference room looking at PowerPoint slides, which for some reason the Powers That Be in the home office are convinced will work wonders in inducing us to new heights of productivity and creativity.  Perhaps it's just that we'll all be so glad to be back home and not staring at PowerPoint slides?

I will miss the dogs (on top of missing Mr. M.), but in any gaps in the dreariness will do my best to scout things out and report back on the fascinating, the enchanting, or the simply ridiculous that catches my fancy in the Sandland Next Door.  In my absence, I have secured Mrs. G.-da S.'s solemn promise not to do anything rash, but I caught her this afternoon casting a speculative glance at the water tank on the roof, a feature of the house that she has long threatened to scrub.  As a result, I'm spending part of this evening trying to figure out how best to hide the ladder...

Friday, March 23, 2012

Lost and Found

Even after all the agents in town told her - and in no uncertain terms - that she just didn't have the looks and charisma that it took to be a Faith Tone, Elsye Mae kept going.  She may have Found her Desire, but it clearly wasn't in the same place she'd hid her makeup kit.

Elsye Mae fun fact:  It's a stage name.  She was, in fact, born "Lana Del Ray" - but even she knew that was too trashy a moniker to make it in the big time.

Redux: The Star is Born

Lucille Faye LeSueur, b. March 23, 1905
Joan Crawford Fairbanks Tone Terry Steele, d. May 10, 1977

Over in his gorgeous corner of the Cybersphere, our dear TJB has written a far more eloquent tribute to the Great Lady than I could manage. All I can add is that I was lucky enough, in my New York salad days, to have known more than one person who knew JC, at various stages of her career, and they all agreed that she was marvelous fun and a great friend.

Most agreed, too, that she ought never to have tried family life, but there you go.

Here we see her as I imagine she would have liked to be remembered: the gala star of MGM, dancing with Fred Astaire in a picture she shared with Clark Gable, resplendent in ruffles by Adrian and fronting a dazzling set and a corps of dazzled extras. And on she dances, untouched by time or scandal, the Modern Maiden turned Queen Bee. Happy Birthday!

First posted at the Café on March 23, 2009.  How time flies!  Why not celebrate today by having a look at all the varied Crawfordiana we've taken in these past few years?

Monday, March 19, 2012

Same Wig, Different Box

What could be better, at the end of a trying day, than to by pure serendipity happen on something as unexpected as this?  Apparently, Hedwig was very, very big in South Korea.  And I can only believe that's a good thing.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

File Under "Lightning, Not Striking Twice"

Oh, Andy tried and tried - but nothing in heaven or on earth was going to turn Cornelia Guest into Edie 2.0.  That dress didn't help.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Erin Go F*ck Yourself

With us to mark March 17 is everybody's third-favorite Fox blonde, Miss June Haver.  She started her career as a teenager in the formidable shadow of Alice Faye and Betty Grable, and despite a couple of good pictures between the mid '40s and early '50s, things never really progressed much from there.  She ended her days as Mrs. Fred MacMurray, and I only hope she thought it was all, gallery sessions like this one included, worth it.

I've never much liked St. Patrick's Day.  My distaste was formed in childhood, when my stoutly Protestant family ("we 're Scotch-Irish, dear, not Papists") made me wear orange to school, particularly amusing during the two-year spell in which, for reasons far too dull to recount, I ended up at a Catholic school. [Note to parents: involving your offspring in complex, centuries-old internecine strife in which you've not really had a stake in 200-odd years?  Not cool.]

The aversion really crystallized, though, after I moved to New York.  In the years since I wandered the hallways of St. Dymphna's Academy in a spitball-riddled burnt-orange double-knit turtleneck on March 17, the whole St. Patty's Day phenomenon had steamrolled into the drunken behemoth it is today.  It was just my luck that my second flat in the big city, off Seventh Avenue in the no-man's land between Chelsea and the Village, was next door to a drinking establishment that, once a year, traded on its vaguely Celtic name to become Party Central.  It was indescribable - the noise, the crowds, the almost unbelievable volume and variety of effluents that would be left behind.  Now, 20 years on, I can still hardly behold a "Kiss Me, I'm Irish" button or leprechaun novelty hat without a shudder, recalling the state of the sidewalks, gutters, and, all too often, building lobby, not just on the day of days, but in the leadup thereto and aftermath therefrom.

Fortunately, outside the U.S., the day is marked, if at all, in much less extreme ways.  I've gotten to enjoy, if rather meanly, sometimes going out with newly expatted friends or colleagues on or about the Big Day to the local Irish pub (and every city in the world, I'm convinced, has one), just to see their faces fall when they behold the absence of green beer, the genial air of propriety, and the total lack of projectile vomiting.  It's cold comfort, after the various traumas that came before, but it's something...

Image borrowed from the awesomely intimidating VintageGal.

Friday, March 16, 2012

That Combination So Rare

I've only just seen, in the New York Times, the sad news that we've lost Donald Smith, the impresario extraordinaire who did an incredible amount over the past three decades to keep the sputtering flame of cabaret alive.  In his honor, then, let's spend a moment with the woman who inspired him, the immortal Mabel Mercer.

What, exactly, this slippery art form is, remains the subject of much debate.  To purists, it's the kind of intimate, sophisticated singing Mercer personified, one in which interpretation trumps voice - Mercer's style is called, after all, parlando; in France, she would be called a diseuse.  To too many today, it's a kind of over-amplified karaoke, tipsy people singing "Memory" from Cats too late at night.  I think it's just honest singing, to an attentive audience, preferably with cocktails.

If Smith didn't exactly win the battle to keep the cabaret flame bright (the obituary carries another sad piece of, for me, news - that not only is the Algonquin closed, but when it reopens, it will be sans Oak Room), he did start people thinking seriously about this kind of music.  Now it's often called the American Songbook, and if the Oak Room has now gone the way of the Ballroom, Reno Sweeney's, the Rainbow Room, the Ruban Bleu, the Five Oaks, and so many other rooms, we still do have singers like Michael Feinstein, Audra McDonald, Betty Buckley, Andrea Marcovicci, Karen Akers, and many more, some of whom still spend at least some of their performing time in small rooms filled with transfixed listeners.

When it comes to cabaret, I should mention, I got lucky:  my initiation came from Mercer herself, when she was singing in Philadelphia at a place called Café Society, in 1977.  I wish I could say I remember every moment of the performance, which in memory was a brunch concert (something hard to imagine with this most late-night of singers, but I suppose possible).  I don't.  I was just a teenager dragged along to something by his parents, to something that was meant to make Grandmother Muscato, in failing health, happy.  That it did; for me it opened up a world.  My memory isn't the songs, but rather that regal figure, in her armchair, and the incredible warmth that washed across the room when she performed.  I didn't know anything about Cole Porter, or Alec Wilder, or why this music made you feel so good, so much, but somehow, it clicked.  I've heard a lot of singers since, from the sublime (Miss Lee at the Ballroom; Miss Akers at the Rainbow Room) to the ridiculous (late nights at Marie's Crisis, anybody?), but Mercer set the standard.

Many thanks, then, to Donald Smith, for his lifetime in the service of night life.  The obituary does pass on one piece of good news: his great invention, the New York Cabaret Convention, looks set to continue, under the expert eye of the wonderful KT Sullivan.  With any luck at all, that means that there will be more teenagers pulled into the spell of cabaret - even if, for some of them, it does involve "Memory" from Cats...

Thursday, March 15, 2012

The Odds of March

Well, an odd couple, certainly.  Thirty years ago today, some long-forgotten event threw together (against a startlingly unflattering curtain) two quite unlike pop-culture figures.  It's strange to remember that Bob Dylan was really comparatively presentable, once upon a time; equally so, to think that Dinah Shore could have ever thought that coat was a good idea.

She gives the impression that she's decided that Dylan could help her get over the heartbreak of her jilting by Burt Reynolds.  He looks like he thinks - but isn't entirely sure - that he's just been goosed.

As is so often the case, one question comes inevitably to mind:  what do you suppose they talked about?

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Approach at Your Own Risk

Mr. Muscato and I are both down with the crud, some singularly unpleasant bug that combines the worst of the common cold with the nastiest aspects of an especially vicious 'flu.  We're achy and mucus-ridden and generally not good for much but sniping at each other.  The dogs are in heaven, though, as we're home.  The domestiche, not so much.  I think she likes her privacy.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

An Old-Fashioned Girl

Ah, yes - the enigmatic Miss Nugent.  The wonders effected by time - including a rigorous semester at a very private academy in Biarritz run by a soi-disant Bulgarian grand duchess - were sufficient to turn a former all-county footballer into the very picture of daintiness.  After a string of Continental adventures, including a rapidly annulled marriage to a lesser (and deeply disappointed) entry in the Almanch de Gotha, the erstwhile Toby Montcroft settled with some old friends in Firenze, at the Pensione Regina Vittoria...

Monday, March 12, 2012

А теперь несколько слов от нашего спонсора ...

After that, I'm confused, eager to purchase whatever it was that was on offer, and - most shamefully - a little turned on.

Mummy Dearest

Unless you live under a rock, you may know that the 21st century's answer to Norma Desmond, the inimtable Miss Faye Dunaway, has for a very long time been working on her film adaptation of Master Class, Terrence McNally's searching look at the life and times of Maria Callas, through the lens of the series of classes she gave at Juilliard in 1971-72.

She has now tweeted a production still from the work-still-in-progress, Michael Musto spread the news, and I'm not sure what to think.  Actually, I do know what to think, and it's not nice.  You would think that the worst-case scenario, for any associate of Miss Dunaway's over the past 25 years, would be to bring into play any aspect of wardrobe, hair, or makeup that recalls her cinematic Waterloo, the incredible Mommie Dearest, Hollywood's poison-pen valentine to the memory of Joan Crawford.  If this picture is to be believed, they have not only done that (I'd swear that's actually a wig from the first half of MD, before Joan's hair went Champagne with age), but the passage of all these years means that Faye's once-vaunted resemblance to Crawford has faded, replaced, to my eye, with something even more regal:

Yes, it's the beloved matriarch of Egypt's 18th Dynasty, Queen Tiye (Nefertiti's mother-in-law and Tutankhamun's grandmother).  Startling, isn't it?

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Mildred, Fierce

This is the reason that Youtube was invented.  It may be the reason the Internet was summoned up out of Al Gore's mighty brain.  Watch and worship.

[Lifted shamelessly from a new favorite destination, Nobody Puts Baby in a Horner, which I stumbled upon while trying to learn more about the enigmatic and violently talented Miss Sara Carlson, a new sensation over at the Redundant Variety Hour. ]

Sister, Sister

Happy birthday, baby sister - Miss Dorothy Gish is 114 today. 

Too often remembered only in the shadow of Lillian, Dorothy had a quite respectable career of her own, appearing in a string of popular comedies in the late teens and early twenties, moving later in the deade into UK-made prestige vehicles that showcased her flair for both glamour and laughter.  She's seen here in 1926's Nell Gwyn, a role it's hard to imagine the other Gish trying on - and certainly big sister rarely showed that much shoulder, no?

Saturday, March 10, 2012

They Had Faces, Then

Sometimes I ask myself, "Have I spent enough time lately thinking about Garbo?"  If the answer is "no," I stop and stare at a portrait like this for a while.  I really do think one can argue that hers is one of the most architecturally perfect faces known, on a very short list with the likes of Nefertiti and one or two Renaissance grandees.

We finally saw The Artist last night (movies in which things don't explode tend either to take a very long while to arrive here, or they simply never do).  I thought it was simply splendid, and of course it stirred up all sorts of things, from childhood memories of my grandmother's descriptions of playing the piano for silents to the great joy that going to repertory houses in New York used to be.  How wonderful, I thought, as it started, to see a movie that's shaped right, that starts with credits, that... makes you happy to be at the movies.  It's a different experience, going to a movie that respects its audience, that wants it to be happy; you're drawn in, sit up, pay attention.  The long, lingering closeups give you the chance to devour the faces, take in the thoughts that flicker across them.

And when the faces look like this - or Jean Dujardin's, for that matter - is it any wonder people thought they were gods?

Friday, March 9, 2012

When [Mature] Ladies Meet

Hot off the Twitterline, this piece of gripping news from @JoanCollinsOBE: "Leaving NY, I popped by a cocktail party and literally bumped into Dr. Ruth!"  With pic to prove it, no less.

I think the most salient fact about this riveting image is that the age difference between these two is (are you sitting down?) five years.  And that's if you believe that Joan's telling the truth about her age, which, given the modus operandi of fierce creatures such as she, might be a stretch.

Dr. Ruth fun fact:  during a lean period back in the late '80s, I was working switchboard (and oh, was I working it) in the office of a Noted Person.  One fine morning, I picked up the phone to hear a cheerful Teutonic "Good morning!  Eeees N.P. zere?  Eet's Dr. Ruth!" (and she sounded just as insanely cheerful as she did on her then-omnipresent radio show).  Sure it is, I thought, and promptly reamed out the caller whom I presumed was one of my more antic acquaintances making fun of my starry but pedestrian gig.  I hung up just in time for the N.P. to bounce into the room and let us (I the as it turned out quite temporary temp and his social secretary) know that he was waiting for a call but had to run out, and please tell Dr. Ruth he'd call back before lunchtime.

A time of day I never again saw in those very nice offices on the Upper West Side...

Beefcake Update #3

Over the course of his several drop-ins over the years here at the Café, Jakarta's Adrian Maulana has proven himself something of a chameleon -  spokesmodel, author, political candidate (!), and more.

Since last we saw him, he would seem to have been a busy man.  He's now, if his sadly under-construction website is to be believed, "Indonesia No. 1 Fitness Motivator" (and not far behind in terms of possessive-ignorers, to boot).  His Twitter account (the very butch "@MrAdrianMaulana" - as if there were any question!), sadly mostly in Indonesian, is more prolix, adding to his roster of talents "Health & Wealth Speaker, Investment Consultant, MC & Presenter, Celebrity Traders."  What that last one is supposed to mean is anybody's guess.

He's a tad more sinewy, not to mentioned depilated, than one (for which, read "I") normally goes for, but on the whole it's a pretty compelling look; I can think of any number of celebrities I'd trade him for...

Thursday, March 8, 2012

And Now, a Word from our Sponsor

...if our sponsor were a disappointed, psychotic Egyptian panda.  Or maybe that's just my state of mind, as it's been one of those weeks.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Mamma Roma

The Queen of Anti-Glamour, Anna Magnani, seen here in uncharacteristically spruced-up mode for her appearance in 1941's Teresa Venerdi.  She cleans up pretty well, no? And she's 104 today.

There's a chance, you know, that the woman known as the incarnation of all things Italian, the goddess immortalized by Rossellini, Visconti, and Pasolini, actually hailed from the once flourishing Italian colony in our own dear Alexandria - and that her father might even have been Egyptian.  Wouldn't suprise me a bit - I'd recognize that temperament anywhere.

And I don't know which I covet more:  the headdress, the bracelet, the telephone, or the attitude.  Probably that last one, although I don't know if I could carry it off...

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

If This is Tuesday... must be, if not Belgium, then at least unlimited mussels night at our local boite belgique.  Someday, Mr. Muscato and I will learn our limits.  In the meantime, we do have an awfully good time...

Monday, March 5, 2012

Room with a View

After something shy of two years here, Mr. Muscato and I are more or less at home in what is, I suppose, the Villa Muscato 2.0 (which is actually, when I think about it, the fourth place, not counting temporary boltholes, that we've shared).  In our franker moments, we've agreed, though, that while it's pleasant enough (and what with being provided gratis by Golden Handcuffs Consulting, LLC, and all, we really oughtn't complain), it's not a patch on its predecessor, back there in that other Sandland that we used to live in.

That house grows ever lovelier in memory, with its shaded front garden, its boasting of not one but three pantries, its french doors onto the upstairs balcony, its ideal location a block from the sea...

Fortunately, we can keep an excess of nostalgia at bay by reminding ourselves as well of its tiny bedrooms, its tragic bathrooms (burnt orange?  Really?), and that damn step beteen the dining and drawing rooms that were the Waterloo of many a slightly tipsy caller.

So we try and focus on what we do like about where we find ourselves - that we're handy, for example, to several pleasant restaurants, that the kitchen's very practical, and that we have a very comfortable square sitting room upstairs with room for chairs for both dogs (along with, as almost an afterthought, a place for Mr. Muscato's easy chair and my sofa (what?  I'm a sprawler)  and the view you see above.  We look across a park, one of many that dot this city that seems at time almost lunatically committed to ignoring that it sits at the edge of one of the most arid places on earth and completely, but completely, lacks that most important thing in keeping sweeping lawns and floral borders going, fresh water.  At sunset, it's really rather pretty, and with a minimal amount of squinting, you'd never now that we're thisclose to downtown...

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Tough Cookie

In a better world, that sweet creature on the right there - assaying the role of Concetta in what to me may be Mr. Waters's finest work, Female Trouble, along with Divine's Dawn Davenport and Susan Walsh's Chicklette - would be 63.  Cookie Mueller left the party too soon, but we're fortunate that beside her several memorable celluloid moments (which also include her turn as the plot-advancing spy, also Cookie, in Pink Flamingos), she left behind a small but treasurable body of prose, a mix of fiction, autobiography, and essays (for not the oddest part of her odd life is that she ended up a columnist, for both Details and the old East Village Eye).

When I moved to New York in the late '80s, it was partly because I wanted to be part of the underground world I read about in magazines like those, or at least a slightly sanitized, bougie version of it.  I remember when Cookie died, in '89, because I had the feeling that that party was ending, and I suppose mostly it did.  In her writing, though, you can capture that moment.  Waters said it best:  "Cookie Mueller wrote like a lunatic Uncle Remus - spinning little stories from Hell that will make any reader laugh out loud. She was a writer, a mother, an outlaw, an actress, a fashion designer, a go-go dancer, a witch doctor, an art-hag, and above all, a goddess. Boy, do I miss that girl.”

There's a fair amount of Cookie-love still out there online, ranging from an almost surreally primitive Angelfire (did you know that even still existed?) fan site to an enthusiastic overview of her writing, here.  Of course, you can always pop into nice Mr. Amazon's little shop and pick up your own copy of her anthology, Ask Dr. Mueller (they go high, but it's worth it).  Doing so makes for a nice birthday tribute, no?

Saturday, March 3, 2012

When Ladies Meet

Nineteen years ago today - and in a vanished universe - the divine Miss Kitt (looking distinctly less irritable than when last sighted in the fading throes of her disco-diva phase, over at the charnel house of talent that is The Redundant Variety Hour) appears deee-lited to be introduced to the pneumatic Miss Lady Miss Kier (I mean that literally - I think there's every possibility that this is in fact not the one-time downtown sensation, but rather an inflatable version).  It's just another New York night at that New Yorkiest of places, the Café Carlyle; one wonders what on earth they talked about.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Last Night I Dreamed I was on the Nile...

Over at Peenee's, the talk is of dreams.  When I dream, it's mostly about being lost and not quite knowing why - although occasionally, I have the most beautiful dreams in which I can fly.

None of which has anything to do with the above, although thinking of it did make me realize it was too long since we'd spent any time with The Tammys.  I think this fan video of their greatest hit is pretty nifty, even if it uses a take of the song that - whether or not you believe this on first hearing - manages to minimize its utter dementia.

In the immortal words of Gretchen, Kathy, and Linda:  "Dance dance dance dance dance dance dance dance dance dance dance dance dance dance dance dance dance DANCE!"

Miss Winters Considers Her Options

Shelley passes a humid moment with an anonymous arm.  Just because.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Merry Wives

Some days you sit around thinking, "oh, dear - whatever shall I write about today?" Inspirationless, you wanly wait... and then Dame Fortune smiles.

Or, at least, the @ClarenceHouse Tweeter points you toward this lovely image, saying "The Queen, The Duchess of Cornwall and The Duchess of Cambridge visited Fortnum and Mason earlier today."

Which sounds to me like the setup for a joke (punchline ideas welcome), but looks rather like a royal matryoshkha doll.  If nothing else, it's a reminder of how much taller people seem to be getting, although I suppose at 85, the dear Queen has likely lost a little height that even her charming topper can't quite offset.  And doesn't Camilla have surpringly nice gams?  I really think she looks well here (although I must confess we're fairly pro-Camilla in general here at the Café, never having had much time for her high-strung predecessor).

I do hope they enjoyed their little shopping spree.  I imagine the newest Duchess sending a nice hamper off to the Falklands, while perhaps Her Majesty found something in the heart-healthy section (for even, these days, Fortnum's has to toe the health line, I bet) to take home for tea with Philip.  He will have wanted clotted cream, but then again, don't we all?