Sunday, June 24, 2012

Sailing, Sailing...

And we're off - again!  Il mio sorella, as Georgie might say, arrived in fine form yesterday afternoon, and today we motor down to Southampton to embark on the next stage of our journey, on the Queen Mary.  Technically, of course, she's the Queen Mary 2, but that makes me think of WilliamandMary rather than the dear lady for whom the ship (like her predecessor, languishing now at Long Beach) was originally named.

There will likely, therefore, be something of a hiatus hereabouts, as one of the great joys of this trip will be that there will be minimal, if any, connection to the Great Wide World and its Web.  Since that includes the demon BlackBerry, I couldn't be happier, no matter how distraught the dear folks back at the office get...

Saturday, June 23, 2012

A Walk in the Park

One of the things that Mr. Muscato and I do when traveling is split up and have little day adventures on our own, as his tastes run more to shopping and people-watching (i.e. sitting in low dives) and mine, wonkily, skew toward museums and brisk walks.  After nine years, it's amazing enough we're still speaking; our travel patterns are one of the reasons why.

In any case, after a nice pub breakfast, we went our merry ways. I took the tube, since even my passion for walking has its limits.  It's been a while since I did the underground, and while I've always admired London's ability to maintain upholstery on public transport (how long would that last in Manhattan?), I was particularly taken with the gentle warning woven right into this seatback.  This seat, it indicates, is reserved for ladies who either expecting or gluttonous, or who are either clutching their spawn or being pawed by a koala, or for gentlemen who are either infirm, or who are about to launch into a tap routine.  I find it shocking that perhaps my favorite class of Londoners, old ladies, are so thoroughly ignored.

I made my way to Kensington Palace, where I was particularly pleased to see that the statue of Queen Victoria, by her formidable daughter Louise, Duchess of Argyll, has been ugraded to a pedestal and moat.  It previously sat on a squat and rather battered little plinth, where it was regularly assaulted by schoolchildren and even had, if memory serves, several broken fingers.  I think she and the Palace both look grand.

Sadly, however, the dear old place has recently been renovated from top to toe, and it has fallen into the hands of that most dread of bunches, Museum Interpreters.  Well, they have interpreted the place up the wazoo, and what was formerly a lovely, quiet, and backwater-y sort of place has been hyperthemed, kid-friendlied, and filled with things like "evocative" sculptures (apparently made of department store mannequin parts and copper baling) hanging from the light fixtures. All labels have been removed, replaced by a "storyline" in each area that's meant to bring home all the intrigue and glamour of palace living.  Well, when it comes to Queen Anne, that's a stretch, so they've really had to go town about it all.  It would be nice to know what paintings and furniture one is looking at, rather than having ghostly voices whispering from the corners and mood lighting that would embarrass a discotheque in 1978, but even so I was till able to enjoy a surfeit of Winterhalters and Lelys, and to admire a lovely pair of gloves belonging to the Duchess of Teck, mother of the late Queen Mary.

I believe this regal gentlemen, looking rather pained by it all, is Charles I, but heaven knows nothing at the Palace would tell you that...

Back outside, I wandered across the Park back toward our hotel.  Living in the Sandlands, it is truly amazing how much one can come to miss, without realizing it, things like grass studded with tiny daisies.  When that grass even boasts a feather or two from Her Majesty's Swans, installed in the nearby Round Pound, one's joy is complete.

Another of the joys of London is that it's entirely possible, in the middle of one of the greatest metropolises on the face of the earth, to occasionally feel like you're deep in the country.  I snapped this just shy of a block from the Bayswater Road, but it might as well be Hardy country or some such.

So we're enjoying, each in our own way, our trip.  Tonight, my Dear Sister arrives to join us.  Tomorrow, we embark on the next phase of our adventure...

Friday, June 22, 2012

London Pride...

Yeah, I'm a sap for all things English.  Who else could get choked up thinking about the Blitz while taking a bus tour?

Highlights so far: astonishing fish and chips at a little local off the Edgware Road.  The exhibition of portraits of the Queen at the National Portrait Gallery (Annigonis!  Beatons!  Even a Snowdon or two!).  Excellent Chinese (something almost unheard of in the Sandlands) down toward Soho.  And pubs, pubs, pubs, many full of the most attractive gentlemen.  And of course, statues of lions.  This one stands on the South Bank, looking histrionic.  I can't tell if his expression is more Burden of Empire or Forgot my ATM PIN, but he's pretty beguiling, no?

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

And We're Off...

First stop - London!  We'll even be reaching it, at the last stage, by Underground, if the Heathrow Express counts.  Next time, I'll have to take the wisdom of vintage travel posters for my guide and plan to arrive in an opera cloak decorated with life-savers...

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Redux: Dream Vacation

The following first popped up on June 1, 2009

Now, three years later, Mr. Muscato and I are getting ready for some rather more real travel - a month on the road, in fact, encompassing thousands of miles, at least two countries, five cities, and several amusing forms of transportation.  The house is a mess, and we are in the midst of the usual round of bag-finding, list-making, clothing-despair, and other appalling forms of pre-travel torment. 

Add to that the rising anxiety of the dogs - for Koko knows what suitcases means, and seems to have communicated thoroughly to Boudi his dissatisfaction - and the well-meaning but thoroughly inefficient bustling-about of Mrs. Gallapatty-da Silva, and it's been a comparative relief to disappear to the office the last couple of days.  There, all seem entirely agog that for anything up to a week or so of this trip, I simply shan't be available via any form of electronic communication ("But you'll be checking your BlackBerry, won't you?" "No." "Can we text you?" "No." [wondering silence]).  Compared to all this, at the moment, time travel seems like a snap.

On top of that, of course, we are terribly worried about Egypt, which seems to be lurching from bad to worse.  Friends are full of metaphors of Tehran in 1979, which isn't really very comforting, or Leningrad in 1917, which is less so.  Now, more than ever, it's tempting to disappear into the past, where things seem (from a comfortable distance) so much easier, so much clearer.
So I've been thinking a lot about travel lately, and I've decided that the problem with real-life vacations is all the planning, and these days all the timing - you have the buy this ticket by this date to get that rate, but you can't confirm that reservation until this date to get that deal... it's enough to drive you mad.

It's all just a big bore, especially compared to the luxurious ease of fantasy travel. I've decided that what I'd really like to do for the coming vacation is go to Cairo. In 1942. Oh, sure the war would be on, but by midsummer it was clear enough the Germans wouldn't get much further in than they had, and besides, we know how it turns out and could just enjoy the energy of so many soldiers at liberty...

Having sailed into Alexandria, we'd take the train south. Couldn't be simpler, and Cairo Central Station is very convenient.

Since it's 1942, we'd have to stay downtown to be in the middle of everything, and besides, the traffic's not so bad and Cairo is, after all, known as one of the tidiest cities in the world - some people say it puts New York or London to shame...

And staying downtown means staying at Shepheard's Hotel. Oh, it may not be quite as first-rate as it was in the 20s, but where else can you be really sure of knowing just what's going on?
Because the terrace, you see, is the city's great place to see and be seen. Ambassadors, actresses, the occasional refugee princess or suspicious plotter - all loiter for hours in the comfortable wicker armchairs overlooking the busy street and the passing parade of ladies shopping, Packards swinging down toward Suleiman Pasha Square, or groups of children, tidy in their school uniforms, on their way to play in the nearby Ezbekia Gardens.

Tiring of the bustling city, we could retire to the secluded garden behind the hotel...

...or rest in the cavernous neo-pharaonic lobby.

As evening falls, we would of course repair to the bar, where American, British, Italian, and Greek bartenders each have their specialities and their own devoted followings.

And then, to finish off a long day of travel, perhaps a quick turn on the garden dancefloor before some well-deserved sleep. Tomorrow, we have so much to do, and that nice attaché on the train said he might be able to get us places for the concert gala at the Opera House; they say the Queen of Iran might be there, and...

Monday, June 18, 2012

Their Finest Hour

In our house, growing up, Winston Churchill occupied a place of reverence somewhere between Abraham Lincoln and the Big Guy Upstairs himself.  Statesman, author, gourmand - there was nothing that my Anglophile parents didn't revere about the Prime Minister who, in their view, forced "That Man" Franklin Roosevelt (never a popular figure chez nous) to man up and join the good fight in Europe.

I was interested, therefore, to note that today marks not only that highlight of contemporary British culture, the birthday of Sir Paul McCartney, but also the anniversary of Mr. Churchill's "Finest Hour" speech, delivered after the fall of France and just as Britain headed into the darkest days of the Great War.  Fortuitously, today also marks the posting of a trove of wartime art from the National Archive in London.  The Telegraph has a selection, and you can browse the whole gallery here.

There are some wonderful images, not least the resolute lion above.  I think I like him as much as the iconic (and now much abused) Keep Calm & Carry On.

Wartime artists were forthright about reminding their audience why they were fighting.  For the good of the fetching young lady seen here, for instance:

Remarkable to think she's still with us.  She trained as a mechanic, you know, and reportedly can still when called upon have a knowledgeable look under the hood.

The homefront greatly occupied people's minds, as did the role of women.  I for one would hate to have been the Nazi faced with these formidable creatures, even though they are armed only with paper, metal, and bones (and an especially stern Scottie):

There was a role for everyone in wartime Britain -

...even broad-shouldered, large-handed female impersonators.

Some of the images are affectingly existential -

This one makes me feel quite odd, imagining a wartime viewer imagining his Nazi counterpart - it's somehow vertigo inducing.

I still get sentimental about Mr. Churchill.  I think how terrifying it must have been to hear these words, coming over the crackling wireless, and yet stirring, too:

...The Battle of France is over. I expect that the Battle of Britain is about to begin. Upon this battle depends the survival of Christian civilization. Upon it depends our own British life, and the long continuity of our institutions and our Empire. The whole fury and might of the enemy must very soon be turned on us. Hitler knows that he will have to break us in this island or lose the war. If we can stand up to him, all Europe may be freed and the life of the world may move forward into broad, sunlit uplands.

But if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new dark age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science. Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves, that if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, This was their finest hour.

Of course, in the end, it all turned out well. At the time, though, these were deadly serious words.  Like these images, they were meant to prop up the tottering morale of a vulnerable little island's people.  How lucky we are, from the comfortable distance of 72 years, to be able to appreciate Mr. Churchill's speech as rhetoric, and this wartime art as a curiosity, even as kitsch.  It could have turned out quite differently...

Sunday, June 17, 2012

File Under "Thoughtful Holiday Gifts, Not"

Just in case any of you are still casting about for the perfect present for the old man on Father's Day, why not try something that will truly mortify?  And at just $2, you'll still have plenty to get something nice for yourself.  Or just go whole hog and get him a garter belt and heels, too...

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Shameless Saturday Camp Explosion

Truth to tell, this week's SSCE entry isn't so much an explosion as an implosion.  For the second week running, quite by chance, we find ourselves down in the depths of terrible '70s cinema.

It's natural enough, once a star becomes established and can claim a certain proven box-office appeal, for him or her (or his or her management) to want to stretch a little, try something different.  Sometimes it works - Heartburn, for example, while not a huge hit, showed audiences that Meryl Streep was more than a Solemn Accent, setting the stage for Death Becomes Her and Postcards from the Edge later on.  Sometimes it doesn't (here's my nightmare triple feature:  Kay Francis in The White Angel, Joan Crawford in The Gorgeous Hussy, and Ginger Rogers in The Magnificent Doll.  There seems to have been something about period drama that both drew and proved totally beyond some of the Great Ladies).

Well, the picture above is one of the latter.  Somehow, after the success of Nashville and The Late Show (the latter a too-little-seen gem), Lily Tomlin, or Jane Wagner, or both of them, became inexplicably convinced that what Hollywood really needed was another earnest Clayburghesque leading lady, and that Lily was just the dame to take on that yoke.  The lamentable result was 1978's Moment by Moment, a Rather Different May-December drama that, if nothing else, proved definitively that if both leads in a romance are going to have Kinsey scores above 3, they both better be the same gender.

Actually, had Wagner-Tomlin had the courage of their convictions and just gone ahead and cast, say, Margaux Hemingway (or maybe even baby sister Mariel) in place of John Travolta, the picture could have been a real trailblazer.  The hot-tub scene, particularly, looks more or less exactly what late-seventies big-budget lesbian porn could have looked like (slap a moustache on Lily and it's a dead ringer for a Falcon loop).  As it is, despite sporting a superb and apparently all-Qiana late-'70s wardrobe, Lily looks about as much at ease as - well, as Ginger Rogers in Dolley Madison drag.  As for Travolta, if there's one thing he can play well, it's vacant, so despite a level of discomfort visible from space, he doesn't come off so badly.

Unless you're willing to commit piracy, this may be as close to seeing MbyM as you get (although there is, if you're feeling truly masochistic, a 10-minute version of this shorter tribute available on YouTube, courtesy of user momentbymoment78, no less.  That doughty soul also authored this digest of what he/she boldly claims is "my all-time favorite film").  The movie has never been released for the home market, although bootlegs do circulate.  There is, I suppose, a distant possibility that it's actually a misunderstood masterpiece, someday to resurface to universal acclaim.  I'll believe that about that same time I believe in the possibility of a watchable Cybil Shepherd musical.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

O Captain My Captain!

Mr. Muscato and I are going boating soon.  I know it's unlikely, but I can't help hoping that the captain will resemble Clark, maybe just a little...

A Curious Initiation

And after she did, it's safe to say that in many ways, Lady Viola's life was never quite the same. 

Before that afternoon was out, actually, thanks to the kind attentions of both Mr. fforbes-Hamilton and Lord Cloghdermere (neither of whose Christian names, incidentally, were Richard), she had caught sight of a great deal more.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Birthdays: Ducklings into Swans

Birthday richness today, in the persons of two of the funniest people I know, both of whom turned potential liabilities into their stock in trade.

Ladies first (although in this company, that's a tough choice):  Mary Wickes was nobody's idea of a Hollywood star, clocking in just shy of six feet and possessing a face blessed with, shall we say, strong features.  Still, something clicked when she was on screen, and from the start her wry presence proved a match for even the strongest competition (and she started with just about the strongest possible, holding her own against no less than Bette Davis in The Man Who Came to Dinner and scoring big as a longsuffering nurse). 

After a successful run at Warners, she moved seamlessly to television, where her ability to play off stars like Lucille Ball and Doris Day gave her career a longevity that many much bigger stars would have envied.  She worked steadily into her 80s, ending with a turn in the Susan Sarandon/Winona Ryder Little Women; her Aunt March works every bit as well Edna May Oliver's in the peerless 1933 Hepburn edition.  You may not be surprised to learn she never married...

...nor, for that matter, did today's birthday boy, seen here looking rather more sedate than was his wont.  Paul Lynde, who first burst upon the scene in that cradle of fame, New Faces of 1952,* was about as far from leading man territory as Wickes was from pinup stardom.  Even so, audiences responded to his incredible timing and genial bitchiness with an enthusiasm that seems inconceivable given the era. 

Character men don't often get the juicy little parts (scheming secretary, dotty neighbor, deluded dowager, flighty aunt) that their female counterparts do (and that allow them to become general-public Beloved in ways that belie the scale of their roles).  Nonetheless, Lynde turned the smallest parts into little tours de force of innuendo and arch double-takes, and as Uncle Arthur on Bewitched (the Valhalla, in its way, of glorified character stars) achieved a kind of camp nirvana.  I can only think it was instructive (and beneficial) for those of us who were children of the '60s, sitting with our families in front of the flickering Mediterranean Fruitwood Veneer Consolette, to soak in the richness that was Lynde, Marion Lorne, Maurice Evans, Agnes Moorehead,** and the rest of the treasurable cast of zanies and oddities surrounding Elizabeth Montgomery and the Darrin of the moment - some of us, at least, thinking, "if they can get away with that, why can't I?"

Lynde really came into his own, of course, on The Hollywood Squares, dishing out slyly catty one-liners that must frequently have soared over the heads of many in the prime daytime-TV demographic, bored housewives (but that made some of their kids feel very sophisticated indeed).  He doesn't seem to have been the happiest of people, but I can't help feeling that he must, at the right moment, have been peerlessly good company.

The success of people like Miss Wickes and Mr. Lynde reminds us that, at least some of the time, talent will out, for even the gawkiest and queerest of us, and I think that's a reassuring sort of thing, what with being more a hint of both myself.  In whatever ineffable realm they now inhabit, aged 102 and 86 (only!) respectively, I hope they're sitting down over a celestial cocktail and congratulating each other on their improbable success.

* Lynde, Alice Ghostley, Eartha Kitt, Carol Lawrence, Mel Books ... it really must have been a hell of a night in the theatre, no?

** Odd, isn't it, that Wickes never did a Bewitched. She did turn up on the spin-off, Tabitha, but somehow, by that time, the magic was gone (from the series, that is - never from Mary!)

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Take Me Back... Cairo, in this charming video of the Nileside '60s pop hit by teen heartthrob Karim Shukri.  It's about the only tune I can think of, the original aside, to which one might conceivably Shumba.

Time passes, of course.  Shukri, as nearly as I can find out, is now a retired film distributor living quietly in Canada.  Cairo doesn't look quite the same.  Even so, I'll happily go back as soon as the chance arrives.  I've told Mr. Muscato that the only thing that will shake my resolve is if the crazies really do try and make the place dry; Cairo without the old bars, the nightclubs, and a nice cold Sakkara Gold beer on the Nile might not be the place for me.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Bernhardt, Nazimova, Garbo, and Me...

Yes, kids, I'm a Mucha kind of mood these days, and sadly it's not because of his sinuously fabulous Art Nouveau lines, nor even because of his brilliant evocation of the glamour of the Divine Sarah.

No, it's more of a pulmonary kind of affinity, if not with the poster-maker, than with his subject. I'm coughing, you see, on an epic, houseshaking, rib-aching, deeply unpleasant scale.  Fortunately - for the moment, at any rate - the bustlingly efficient folks down at the clinic have ruled out consumption, but as a runner-up, acute bronchitis is no prize.  They equally unflappably assure me that the dizzying range of meds they've given me will do the trick in a day or so, but I remain unconvinced.

If only the tailor made housecalls, I'd have him over to run up a little white number along the lines of the above.  So practical for the invalid, no?

All of this is especially annoying, on top of everything else, as our annual summer pilgrimage is rapidly approaching and there are any number of tiresome things that need to be done before we board that blessed airplane out of the summertime Sandlands.  For the moment, though, all that has to be postponed (although very definitely the flight will not be, not if I'm to save my sanity, not to mention Mr. Muscato's) in lieu of sitting about the house draped in terriers, who have rapidly learned not to be too alarmed by the hacking explosions that punctuate my rewatching of Margaret Rutherford movies on YouTube.

I suppose I should sit down and ask myself WWSD (What Would Sarah Do?), although I suspect that as the answer would likely have involved lynxes and absinthe, it may not be too practical a guide in these drab days...

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Dream Maker, Heartbreaker...

Frances Ethel Gumm, b. June 10, 1922
She'd just be 90, which seems inconceivable.  Not just because never was someone less destined to make old bones than Judy, but also because she seems at once impossibly distant, with her roots in Vaudeville and her fierce devotion to a kind of showbiz that was fading even when she was in her too-short prime, and simultaneously eerily present.

Despite her legendary live performances, Garland was, is primarily a star of the recorded media - film, television, recordings - and so we can, at will, summon her up, appraise her all over again, experience the thrill and sadness and embarrassment and beauty of it all again and again.  They say the Judy Queens are dying off, but I believe there will always be a few of us around.

Wherever we're going, she's going our way, our huckleberry friend...

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Shameless Saturday Camp Explosion

In honor of the 121st birthday of the favorite son of Peru, Indiana, the inimitable Mr. Cole Porter, I thought it might be fun to have a look at what may well be the most (only?) enjoyable moment from one of Hollywood's greatest disasters.

Yes, it's "Find me a Primitive Man," delivered with grim determination by Miss Madeline Kahn as what appears to be an hommage to Dietrich's "Hot Voodoo" number from Blonde Venus.

Oh, and the movie?  Why, it's 1975's At Long Last Love, the film that can if nothing else be described as the best-ever Cybil Shepherd-Burt Reynolds musical.  The writer-director, the estimable Peter Bogdanovich (who really can, when called upon, write and direct, albeit not here), was bound and determined to demonstrate the versatility of his personal leading lady, Miss Shepherd.  It's a puzzling effort that makes one believe it's possible that his encyclopedic knowledge of Hollywood history (as demonstrated previously in The Last Picture Show, What's Up, Doc?, and Paper Moon - he's no slouch) somehow omits any familiarity at all with the words Republic, Herbert Yates, and Vera Hruba Ralston.

But at least there's Madeline, and bless her, she does her best.  The picture was shot live, so she's not lip-synching (it was the first big movie since the early talkies to give this a try; it turns out there's a reason the technique was abandoned at the earliest possible moment), and the challenges of filming a number like this at more or less one go actually greatly enhance its similarity to similar moments in early musicals circa 1930.  She gives it all she's got, and it only takes the couple of short inserts that include her co-stars to make you realize just how dire the rest of that mess must have been.

In a side note, earlier this week I had mentioned in reply to a comment from a Gentle Reader, the euphoniously numerical joel65913, that today might be an opportunity to mark the centenary of that towering figure of '40s exotica, Miss Maria Montez.  She was, no doubt, a one-woman Shameless Saturday Camp Explosion all on her own, but a quick look at the clips available on YouTube establishes clearly the difference between simple Camp and High Camp.  Montez is the former, and once you get past the sets and costumes and "Geef me zat Cobra chool," there's not, alas, all that much more.  Porter, by contrast, is the Highest of Camp, even in the debased form seen here, layer upon layer that can be, with relish, picked apart one by one.  Still, camp is camp - for anyone longing for today's Montez Moment - just click here.

Technical note:  while you'll see a still above, you'll actually have to click on it and head on over to Youtube to take in the richness.  Believe me, it's worth it.  But y'all come on back, hear?

Thursday, June 7, 2012

"By Today's Standards, Christine is Very Old Hat!"

Over in his charming corner of Cyberia, dear Norma Desmond has reminded us of a fascinating and every so slightly forgotten mid-century celebrity - the daring young man who went to Europe a blond GI and returned a lissome blonde, Miss Christine Jorgensen.

My first encounter with Christine, beyond the occasional pop-culture reference on television perhaps, or a quick bridge-club mention quickly shushed "in front of the child, really!", was, if memory serves, in an article in what might kindly be referred to as a gentleman's magazine underhandedly procured in downtown Philadelphia (ah, the old and I'm sure long-vanished used book-and-mag shops of Locust Street!).  Yes, I'm someone who actually read the articles in Honcho; make of that what you will.  In between the publication's other attractions, I remember being rather fascinated by the story, which ended by noting that the onetime world sensation was now a cabaret entertainer.

Jorgensen is someone we remember, if at all, in snapshots - the before and after in the 50s newspapers, the occasional PR photo thereafter.  I thought it might be interesting, in the wake of Norma's raising the subject, to encounter Christine herself.  Here she is, appearing in a format - thoughtful mass-market daytime TV, Hour Magazine, to be exact - that seems as far off as those Eisenhower-era tabloid headlines.  Imagine: a ten-minute uninterrupted interview, with no shouting, no mad graphics, just one host and one guest, in this case a charming, chatty matron d'un certain age, talking about her life. 

I'm very taken with her - she seems like someone with whom it would be great fun to sit down, have a couple of Old Fashioneds, and dish the dirt.  She reminds me of one or another of my Grandmothers' friends, had, say, Dorothy Gunderson looked just the tinest bit like Broderick Crawford.*  Watching her makes me glad that it seems to have turned out all right for her, in times when would seem to have been highly unlikely.  May we all end up, after our journeys (some, I wager, nearly as singular as hers), in whatever for us is our version of her hill in Laguna, content.

* Now that I think about it, there's also something more than a passing resemblance to another Café favorite, nazilicious songbird Miss Zarah Leander.  I wonder if Christine ever sang "Wunderbar"?

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Let's All Go to the Snack Bar...

It was a good thing to be a teenager, as of today 79 years ago, or at least a teenager with access to a car, for on this day in 1933, the very first drive-in movie opened up.

Much later - yes, even I'm not quite old enough to have been there in '33 - the drive-in was someplace my older siblings could go to only if they dragged me along, my parents' flawed reasoning being that, with me in the backseat in my footie pajamas, my brothers would refrain from bad behavior with those fast girls from the wrong side of Sassafras Street, or my sister would more successfully than was her wont defend herself from the attentions of her most constant suitor, our third cousin Bobby who drove his father's old Delta 88.

I mostly did sleep, but when I didn't would find myself trying (over the heaving shoulders in the front seat) to decipher what was going on up on the big screen.  Frequently it seemed to have something to do with stewardesses.  I'm just glad they had the minimal smarts not to take me to Night of the Living Dead - when I finally did see that one, it kept me up for a week, and I was 21 (and very stoned, but that's another story).

It's too bad, I think, that there aren't locally created ads like this any more; it's hard to imagine a paper running a promo for, say, The Hunger Games, as "the picture all El Paso is talking about!"

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Ladies and Gentlemen...

Heeeere's Grace!

In a span of four days that took in everything from 1,000 ships on the Thames to a right royal RAF fly-past, she was the only thing that threatened, even for a moment, to steal focus from the Jubilee girl herself.

But only for a moment, for this was - Grace aside (not to mention Annie Lennox, Kylie, Dame Shirley Bassey, Sir Elton, Sir Tom - he is one by now, Mr. Jones, isn't he? - and many more) - entirely the trimph of Elizabeth II: indomitable, inexhaustible, as unlikely and fabulous in her own way as Grace is in hers.

Today, I thought, watching her stand - suddenly alone, temporarily without her Duke - at the end of the service at St. Paul's, she enters history.  I wonder what on earth she made of the hula-hooping Amazon who so enthusiastically celebrated on her behalf?

Monday, June 4, 2012

Birthday Girl: Auntie Roz

Miss Rosalind Russell would have been 105 today, and a chance to think about her life and work is never something to pass up. 

It's no secret how fond I am of Roz, and I know I trade far too frequently in superlatives, but still:  she was, to my mind, Hollywood's most sensible star, the one least taken in by fame (I'd accord that honor to Miss Lillian Gish, who was equally dismissive of her own - titanic - powers, but who was instead almost fatally smitten by those of Mr. D.W. Griffith).  She was a marvel of versatility. Just when she seemed doomed to a second-string career as an affable leading lady, she lashed out with a tense star turn in Craig's Wife (I prefer her Harriet to Crawford's), and then, just when drama seemed her forte, out from nowhere came the over-the-top virtuoso farcicality (is that a word? It ought to be.) of Sylvia Fowler and The Women.  She could play biopics, classics, screwball, and even, after a fashion, musicals, you name it, and she created a gallery of characters whose names still resonate:  Harriet, Sylvia, Hildy Johnson, Ruth Sherwood, Mame Dennis, Momma Rose (although the last was perhaps more brave than well-advised - she's good or better than good in Gypsy - but then there's Merman. Game over.).

While of course there's no denying the supremacy of Auntie Mame, I have a very fond spot for Roz in Picnic, a picture in which she pulls together all her talents - comic and tragic, ridiculous and heartbreaking - to play spinster schoolteacher Rosemary.  She's Sylvia without the millions, Mame without whimsy, a roiling mix of pedestrian convention and raw need.  It's a fearless, fantastic performance, played without a trace of vanity (except the character's own, very particular sort), one of the great supporting roles played with the kind of bravura only a true star could bring to it.

Roz was the guest of honor at a party in 1974, a gala do at the Rainbow Room; Joan Crawford, her old co-star and friend, was a guest. When Crawford saw the photos the next morning, unflattering images of Russell showing all too clearly the puffiness cause by her arthritis medication and Joan herself looking roc-like and raddled, she ended her public life, at one go.  Roz soldiered on, for two more years.  They make an interesting pair, those two - polar opposites in stardom, totally different, but genuinely peers.  About the only part that either played that was interchangeable was Harriet Craig - it's equally hard to imagine Russell as Mildred Pierce or Crawford conquering Broadway in Wonderful Town.  Still, they share something, a kind of invincibility, a steely core.  The difference, though, is that even with all the folderol of stardom, the gloss that came from having been a Metro star, the decades of acclaim - Russell kept her sense of her own self, a bright girl from Connecticut, and her sense of humor.

Hell; she may, per TV Week, have hosted "Women of the Year" in 1973, but she's a woman for any year, and it's a privilege to wish her many happy returns, wherever she is.  She had a gift for living and imparting life:  it's a banquet, after all, and most poor sons of bitches...

Sunday, June 3, 2012

God Bless...

...Willis Marie Van Schaak.  If nothing else, the name she chose for herself scans better, as we learn at the climax of The Rocky Horror Show (not to mention its Picture Show).  Lili St. Cyr is one of those massive pop-cult phenomena who has more or less entirely disappeared as a person.  She was for a long time a big star in burlesque, a novelty star in Hollywood, and an entrepreneur who for a while rivaled Frederick as a peddler of naughty underwear.  Now she's a passing Rocky Horror reference and a puzzlement to many people who hear her name invoked in Pal Joey's strip-themed number, "Zip."  She would have have been 94 today.

There must some kind of powerful juju in this date.  For one thing, it figures in surprising ways in the lives of British Royalty.  Today, of course, Her Majesty celebrated, officially, her 60th anniversary, her Diamond Jubilee.  It rained (being England and all), but the river pageant was suitably grand.  I wonder if it passed through the Queen's mind, though, as she motored down the Thames on her stately barge, that today was also her Grandfather's birthday, George V having come into the world this day in 1865 (which makes one realize that she is someone who remembers, rather well, someone who was born the year the Civil War ended, but that's another story).  Beyond that, though, today also marks the anniversary of the formalization of the folie à deux that guaranteed her the Throne:  in 1937, her Uncle David married his divorcée, the erstwhile Miss Warfield (and Mrs. Spencer and Mrs. Simpson), at a rented chateau in France.  Today, certainly, was far more in the George V than the Edward VIII vein, and one can't help but think that's a very good thing.

Miss St. Cyr aside, other birthday boys and girls today only reinforce the strange power of June 3:  they range from the eternally fabulous Miss Josephine Baker to the televisual enigma and quasi-Vanderbilt Mr. Anderson Cooper, also taking in protean theatre legend Colleen Dewhurst (maybe the most present actress I've ever seen, albeit in two different basically mediocre plays), Hollywood heartthrob Tony "Yonda lies da castle of my Fadda" Curtis, silent superstar Mme. Alla Nazimova and 30s dynamo Paulette Goddard (of whom few have written better than our dear TJB), blowsy jazz diva Dakota Staton (whom I once saw on an off but still effective night in the Broadway revue Black and Blue - they rolled her on and off on a vast Deco set-piece), and the original riot grrrl, Miss Suzi Quatro (want to feel old?  She's 62), among others. 

So:  God bless, not just Lili St. Cyr, but all of them, with an additional, heartfelt, Good on You Ma'am for today's jubilee girl, too.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Shameless Saturday Camp Explosion

Because some days, you just wanna fuckin' dance.

It's an oldie, but beyond goodie, and I'm sure quite familiar already to many Café regulars. I'm amazed it hasn't featured here already.  Probably the best dance anthem ever taken from a contemporary "headline opera" (in this case, Jerry Springer: The Opera).  Alison Jiear, a regular on the UK stage, sings the hell out of it.  I like this one of the several edits floating around, as it incorporates footage of her from the stage version.  She sings Shawntel, a frustrated housewife who, well, just wants to dance.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Hey, Mr. Vijay...

On weekend mornings (Fridays being Saturday here, remember), I like to catch up with the newspapers, and especially with the enjoyably tawdry equivalents of the "Living and Arts" sections of newspapers back home (the section that Father Muscato still calls "The Women's Page," since that's what it was called back in our hometown daily back when All Was Right With The World).

Just as in the States, this is the time of year when the summer blockbusters appear.  We get most of the Hollywood product, although inexplicably this week's major Western release is the 2010 Helen Mirren semi-stinker Love Ranch, which seems odd not just because of its randomness, but given that the subject matter is the life and adventures of a real-life madam.

Added to the fuss about The Avengers and Snow White and Men in Black XXVI, though, is even more hype about Subcontinental Cinema - that wonderful industry that has brought us such Café favorites as dear Mr. Abraham, Mr. Patel, and Mr. Mukesh.  Like the Subcontinent itself, of course, its films are incredibly diverse - in scale, in theme, and, not least, in language.  It's really several industries - Bollywood, which makes primarily Hindi films, being the best known, but also encompassing a dozen or more other production centers.  In any case, this week marks the opening of a Tamil epic, Thadaiyara Thaakka, starring one Arun Vijay.  Tamil films, I've learned, are mostly made in Chennai (known to you and me in our long-ago youth as Madras), in a neighborhood called Kodambakkam, which has given rise to calling the local version of the business Kollywood.  The movie is described as an action-suspense thriller, with a love plot and a couple of musical numbers (Maybe Kollywood is closer to Bollywood than you might think).  It reveals Mr. Patel's sensitive side, I've read, and required him to "flaunt his six pack," which is fine by me.

A cropped version of the above intriguing image appeared in the paper - Mr. Vijay appeared only down to the upper edge of what looked to be a most compelling décolletage.  I said to myself, "Self," I said, "This calls for further research."  And I hope you'll agree I was on the money.

A quick Google-review also demonstrated that he looks quite as well - and perhaps even more endearing - clothed.  There's a sparkle in those eyes that's really quite something... 

Rain shots, for whatever reason, are a staple of Indian movies, although mostly they're used to show off saris on leading ladies to better, more alluring advantage.  I've rarely seen a movie hero in the wet, as it were, and while the above snap returns Mr. Vijay to the rather menacing mold of the first image, it also shows that he can work a sarong with almost DorothyLamourian ease.  Actually, this picture made me laugh, as it reminds of nothing so much as that nano-second-long trend about 20 or so years ago for Chelsea boys to run around in mini-kilts (accessorized, invariably, with a skin-tight T-shirts, regrettable freedom-ring necklaces, and Doc Martens).

Thadaiyara Thaakka, it seems, means "Breaking All Barriers."  I'd make a joke out of that, but I'm still trying to come up with something about Chennai, Madras, and that shirt.