Sunday, September 30, 2012

Three on a Match

Just 16 years ago today this unlikely trio - who clearly hadn't coordinated their wardrobe choices in advance - gathered to promote a TV movie they made together, If These Walls Could Talk, one of those much-admired-at-the-time kinds of projects that no one ever particularly wants to see again.

At the time, Demi Moore seemed poised to take over Hollywood, even if here she seems to be trying to distract us from her G.I. Jane-skinhead-imposed skullcap by a stealth display of the girls.  Walls was meant to be her coming out as a Serious Hollywood Person, the Brat Pack at last behind her.  1996 did turn out to be a turning point; if not quite in the way she'd hoped - Jane garnered her a Worst Actress Razzie and didn't particularly shine at the box office.  Coming hard on the heels of the disappointing Striptease and her much-derided go at Hester Prynne in The Scarlet Letter, its failure to thrive meant that her days of opening big movies on her own were suddenly behind her.  All too soon she was a voice in The Hunchback of Notre Dame II and an "older woman" guest star in Charlie's Angels, and really things haven't improved much since.

As for Miss Spacek, even then she had started down the path to JessicaTandydom that continues to this day.  Never a glamour girl (this apparently is her idea of dressing up, poor thing), she'll likely continue in more or less the same vein for decades, slowly becoming ever more Distinguished and Beloved, not to mention Twinkly and Feisty.  Frankly - and I know this doesn't really reflect very well on me as a person at all - she sort of bores me, and has at least since Crimes of the Heart

And then there's Cher.  I am quite sure this is her idea of daywear.  In 1996, she had already been a star for 30 years, and even as we speak today she's readying a new album and her latest Final Ever Farewell Tour, the first iteration of which hit the road a decade ago.  She is indomitable, eternal, undeniable in her stardom.  If Her Walls Could Talk - now that's a picture I'd pay to see. 

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Shameless Saturday Camp Explosion: La Stupenda

Opera is perhaps the art form most at home with camp, best able to tread the fine, fine line between the ridiculous and the sublime.  Here we have an excellent example of that balancing act:  the "Bell Song" from Lakmé (a number that I prefer to think of by its alternative, far more camp title, "Ou va la jeune Hindoue?"), starring that one-woman Camp Explosion Diva, Dame Joan Sutherland.

A festival of orientalist kitsch, brownface aplenty, extreme coloratura, and a style of acting that can most kindly be referred to as gestural, it manages to be laughably silly (impersonating the dainty teenage daughter of an Indian priest, the statuesque Dame Joan looks like nothing so much as a drag queen dressed as the Duchess of Windsor en route to an ashram) and simultaneously quite marvelous (the woman can sing).  It's the sort of thing that in this day of headline operas and disposable "stars" is mostly just a memory, kept alive in the fever dreams of Opera Queens.

It's fine to be solemn and serious, to promote against all odds spiky new works in "transgressive" new settings - but sometimes, all you really want is a big lady in a bigger dress, being adored by a crowd of supernumeraries, singing loud.  Dame Joan, as always, comes through.  There's a treasurable moment round about 6:25, in which she assumes an attitude of almost superhuman self regard, as if the thought just struck her: Damn, I'm good.  She is.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Seismic Shifts, Political Division

Clearly, Egypt's new Islamist president is still making the transition from traditional gallabeya to Big Boy business suit.  I suppose every revolution requires a period of adjustment; I just never thought that was meant so literally.  Say what you will about Uncle Hosni Mubarak, but at least he kept his hands off his crotch at photo ops.

File Under "Infatutuations, Really Real"

Oh, don't get me wrong - Mr. Muscato's the one.  Even so, there's a part of me, inevitably, that's still waiting for Basil St. John to sweep me off my feet...

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Mystery Revealed: A Woman of Hollywood

She appeared in more Best Picture winners - five - than any other performer, and if you have a favorite studio picture made between 1923 and 1964, there's a fairly good chance she's in it.  It's probably safe to say that in sheer number of titles - well more than 700 - she's the most prolific actress in films.

And yet is really wasn't fair to show you a still of this particular Mystery Lady and expect anyone to recognize her, especially as a lovely but not particularly distinctive young woman, one who, as various Gentle Readers noted, bore a passing resemblance to everyone from Helen Twelvetrees to Barbara Stanwyck.  She really didn't come into her own until she was a lady of a certain age, and even then, closeups were few and far between.

She is, as many I suspect will have guessed by now, not your ordinary Movie Star.  She really, in truth, wasn't a star at all (which is in itself remarkable for someone who appeared in more than 700 movies, don't you think?).  No, she's the woman fondly remembered as Queen of the Dress Extras, Miss Bess Flowers.

Who?  Well, she's the elegant lady who "is so happy for you, Eve," as Miss Harrington receives her Sarah Siddons award in All About Eve.  Decades earlier, she's a racy artist's model in A Woman of Paris and at the other end of her career a regular in the background of Perry Mason.  She arrives at premieres; she decorates nightclubs and your ritzier private parties; she shops, travels in style, and only occasionally slums it as a secretary or nurse.

She was tall, which helps in finding her in crowds, and by the 40s she sported a distinctive silver 'do that stands out beautifully in color.  Back in the days when Manhattan was spotted with theatres showing old movies, you would sometimes hear, out of the darkness, a particularly avid fan give a pleasantly startled "oh!" or even a pleased "Bess!" when she'd pass by, stop to greet the leading man, or even on rare, special occasions (as in Eve) deliver a gracious line.

Here she is, entertaining friends at a swank San Francisco restaurant; just beyond those flowers, Jimmy Stewart is catching his first sight of Kim Novak, in Vertigo.  Things happen in restaurants when Bess is around - she was there when Mildred Pierce decided to become a waitress, and when Mighty Joe Young decided to run amok.

She's looking - for Bess - a little more hard-boiled here, as a society matron at a fashion show, from the big "Girl Hunt" number in The Bandwagon.  Given that there are a bevy of identically clad ladies in this number, presumably this is one time that she wasn't called on to supply a costume from her extensive personal wardrobe.

This is an especially lovely little Bess moment, from the Doris Day picture Lucky Me (that's Doris, in blue).  Bess enters from the right in her dainty pale rose shopping outfit.  She pauses in front of the highly apropos "Flowers" sign, is surprised by some falling water on her neat parasol, and gives a marvelous moue of surprise and distaste as Doris moves off.  One has to think there might have been a fond directorial hand at work here, giving Miss Flowers a little special recognition.

Bess's filmography, beyond the plethora of familiar titles (and they do dazzle - It Happened One Night, Imitation of Life, Judgment at Nuremberg, Rear Window, Singin' in the Rain, Humoresque  - twelve Crawford pictures, actually, all told! - Gilda, The Lady EveA Day at the Races... you get the idea) is the sheer volume of product pumped out by Hollywood during the years that she worked.  For every well-known old friend, there are half-a-dozen or more utterly forgotten names -  You Can't Buy Luck? Black Sheep? Private Buckaroo? Hold That Blonde?  They sound more like parodies of old movie titles than anything, but Bess appeared in all of them and doubtless dressed them up in much the same way she did Call Me Madam, To Catch a Thief, and My Man Godfrey (as Carnival Guest, Nightclub Patron, and Mrs. Merriweather, respectively).

So, even though despite best efforts all around, no one guessed her name, now you have, if you like, a new little hobby.  When sitting down in front of TCM or your newest DVD from the Warners Archive, keep a sharp eye on things and you too can become a Bess Spotter.  She's always out there, alighting from her limousine, looking carefree at a ladies' luncheon, or looking on admiringly as the principals dance, flirt, or otherwise try to steal focus in the foreground.  Have fun...

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Lillibet Superstar

I have found myself entranced by the news out of London, both amusing and bemusing, that the Queen has taken a stab at broadening the Royal Collections a tad - by purchasing a set of four Warhol screenprints of her own august person. 

While their first stop as royal possessions will be a Jubilee portrait show at Windsor, once that's done, I like to think they'll go a long way to brighten up a room at Buck House.  One imagines herself in her cosy armchair of a quiet evening, the DoE dozing on the sofa; glancing up from her Racing Post she pauses for a moment to admire them, hung among the Winterhalters and Laszlos and Beatons of her nearest and dearest.  "One really was," she thinks to herself, "a pretty nice girl..."

No. Just No.

Caution:  Image may terrifyingly enlarge if clicked.
So... just when did Carrot Top start doing drag?

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Mystery Guest, Sign in Please

This handsome woman may not seem immediately familiar, but I'm willing to bet you've seen her in some of old Hollywood's best-loved classics.  Willowy, worldly, and for decades one of filmdom's best-dressed ladies, she's long been one of my favorites.  Any guesses?

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Shameless Saturday Camp Explosion: Eastern Frontage

When the Eastern Bloc takes on the exotic Near East... well, this is what happens, and frankly it's not pretty.  It's "I Will Wait for You," the big harem number from a 1968 TajikFilms picture called The White Grand Piano, which is, from what I can glean, the story of a Moscow lady musicologist's search for a mysterious white piano in scenic Dushanbe.

How this fits into that is anybody's guess.  Filmed at a cost of what must have been dozens of rubles for the costumes alone (and apparently during the Great Soviet Tulle Shortage of '68, given the miserly amount allotted to each dancer), it is if nothing else an object lesson in why one shouldn't wear black pumps with swimwear.  The singer is one Miss Aida Vedishcheva, who fares only slightly better than the rest of the troupe, costumewise, but is otherwise game, although not terribly convincing as an Oriental Temptress.  The whole thing seems to be having an oddly dyspeptic effect on the spectators at 1:50, perhaps a result of the oppressive stolidity of the oddless sleeveless band combined with the visible ennui of the dancers.

If you haven't had enough of this little glimpse into an alternate universe, you might want to check out the same picture's "Song of Dushanbe," Miss Vedishcheva's scenic hommage to the splendors of the Tajik capital, featuring a surprising number of goats and some of the world's most depressing shop windows. 

Friday, September 21, 2012

New Kids in Town

There seems to be a bit of a changing of the guard in Bollywood - some longtime Café fave-raves haven't been in headlines much (wherefore art thou, Mr. Abraham?), or have taken time off (although at least dear Mr. Patel is back in the studios), or are simply otherwise engaged.

All the more reason, then, that these two spruce young things caught my eye this week in our daily paper's entertainment section.  While distinctly on the junior side of things, and perhaps a touch less burly than is our wont, I think it's clear that both Mr. Varun Bhawan,seen here with the guitar and regrettable tattoo, and Mr. Siddharth Malhotra (and it's a measure of what a restrained, tasteful blogger I am that I didn't write "MalHOTra," don't you think?), looking pensively off camera, show great promise.

They are costarring in a shortly forthcoming epic titled Student of the Year, and I can only think it a wasted opportunity that it wasn't directed by Mr. William Higgins, who I am sure would have added a rather different to spin to what is likely not all that thrilling a picture.

Shameless Saturday Camp Explosion: Bonus Early Edition

Oh.  Oh, dear.  I have a feeling we may at long last have found the second half for that double feature starting with The Lonely Lady we've been talking about.  I feel rather badly for the leading man, a Mr. Grant Bowler, who, in the face of what were surely insuperable obstacles, appears to be trying his best.

As for the rest?  Draw the veil.  I'm only sorry that they didn't find a way to fit in a cameo for Miss Zadora, perhaps as Miss Taylor's mother.

Thursday, September 20, 2012


When was the last time you thought about Joan Armatrading?  For me, I wouldn't be surprised if it were a decade or more.  She never really made as big in the U.S. as she did in the UK, but for a while in the '80s, when I was for a long spell living 'mongst the Lesbians, she was a pop presence.

Now I'm glad for whatever random synapse in my addled brain that fired and made me look her up, because I've gotten very fond this last week or so of the song above, "This Charming Life," the title track of her 2010 album.  Who knew?

And how nice to check in with a name from the Good Old Days and find that she's alive and well, making music much as she always did - poppy and personal, buoyant and warm.  In a age of manufactured stars and shrieking melismaniacs, it's nice to see someone so natural, doing what she likes to do.  Enjoy.

Update:  Oh, dear; MrPeenee has alerted us to the sadly geographically crippled nature of the clip above.  Just in case, here's a backup, although it has an annoying promo caption at the bottom.  All very vexing...

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

And Now, A Word from our Sponsor

Poor Mrs. Thaxter here was in such a bad state that she didn't even have the heart to put on her beads.  Aren't you glad Deprol was there?  This new miracle cure reduced her resemblance to Frances Bavier by more than 40%, even as it cured her troublesome rumination habit.  That it seems to have done something faintly alarming to her left eyebrow is a small price to pay.

Actually, kids, I don't know about you, but right about now I could use a good shot of that stuff - hell, I might even go for a good old fashioned sedative-hypnotic.  Or at least a good Old Fashioned...

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

She Goes Out Walking...

The woman who was for the last 20 years of her life Manhattan's most famous - if also most elusive - pedestrian would have celebrated her 107th birthday today.  For a while, I thought about putting together a book consisting entirely of New Yorkers' stories of encountering her on her daily constitutionals and calling it Garbo Walks.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Question Time: Urban Legend

People can be so cruel, and some gossip just never seems to go away.  What does it matter?  Why the endless fuss?  Who cares if the poor man can't stand Debra Winger?  It's not like he's the only one - I hear Rock Hudson and Jim Nabors both hated her!

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Birthday Girl: Last Dame Standing

I'm posting late today - one of those days; don't ask.  When I saw her picture scattered around some of my favorite destinations, I thought, oh, no - not that, too.  But no, it's not - it is instead her birthday.  Lauren Bacall is 88 today.

Somewhere, packed away in a box that's nailed into a crate that's been sitting for a decade and more in a storage space Somewhere on the East Coast, if I'm lucky, there's a microcassette (remember them?) that I saved out of an answering machine (remember them?) from 'round about 1989.  On it, among I'm sure many utterly forgotten dates and appointments and crank calls and Lord knows what all, is the first call I ever missed from Miss Bacall.  If memory serves, it was about changing the time that a car was to pick her up.  I must have played that message a hundred times or more, to myself and to friends, marveling that Lauren Bacall had dialed my phone number and left a message.

I will tell you the truth:  I knew her for a year or two, at the level that she would have known my name and probably thought I was a pretty good, get-things-done sort of person of the sort who are plentiful in lives like hers.  And never, ever in that time, was she anything but great.  A Star, absolutely, and conscious of it - but why shouldn't she be?  She earned it.  She did her job, and she was damn good at it, and for one reason and another - not least among them the amount it cost to live like Lauren Bacall, the Widow Bogart, Star - she did it for a very long time, possibly for a long while after she really wanted to.  I was always more than a little in awe of her, in ways that I wasn't with some of the other Great Ladies I got to know in one way or another.

I'm glad she's still here, and I hope she knows that still she's on a very, very short list of the best: a real New Yawk lady, staunch in her progressive politics, loved, admired, loyal, hardworking, and, I can attest, even at 7:30 in the morning in the rain, beautiful beyond belief.

When she really does go, we shall not see her like again.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

The Falling Mortal and the Only Dancer

This doesn't seem, somehow, a week for camp, and so instead here's something that simultaneously manages to be both more soothing and more bracing.  Miss Audra McDonald sings the poetry of Mr. James Baldwin as if it were exactly what she had been born to do, as indeed it may well be.

As you may have noticed, we've been having a spot of bother, not so much directly here in the Sandlands (elhamdulileh, as we say hereabouts), but in the region more generally.  Mr. Muscato and I are keeping a wary eye on what seems to be a distinctly disintegrating situation in our beloved Cairo, and we are just a tad more aware than usual that one's situation as an expat can change drastically, quickly.

But we carry on.  We've had a house guest this weekend, our friend The Teacher, who lives in a remote part of the country and comes into the capital now and again for a dose of cocktails and supermarkets, both of which are in short supply in her part of the world.  We were first pals a dozen years ago or so ago, back when I was a carefree bachelor and living abroad nearly for the first time, in West Africa, and we just happened upon each again last year.  It's an unusual thing in this transient part of the world to have such a comparatively old friend around, and very pleasant.  That she has a mouth like a truck driver and a highly entertaining tendency to pick up shop clerks and other random acquaintances just keeps things all the more amusing.

She headed out earlier this evening, and the house is quiet again.  The dogs are napping on the sofa, and Mr. Muscato and I are gearing up for another week.  Morning comes early, and all seems very ordinary, with the worries of the world (the several familiar places we've been watching overcome with fire and rioters on the TV screen chief among them) put as firmly on a back burner as we can manage.

Somehow, Baldwin's words (in McDonald's thrilling, heartbreaking, nearly perfect voice) shine through:

I know that love is the only answer
and the tight-rope lover
the only dancer.
When the lover come off the rope
the net which holds him
is how we pray,
and not to God’s unknown,
but to each other:
the falling mortal is our brother!

I have, this week, very nearly lost the last of my patience for religion, or more accurately for its followers, given the idiocy currently (and more acutely than usually) being displayed on all sides.  In its place, I rather like Baldwin's formulation: praying not to some final great unknown, but to each other, to the tangible world around us and the people in it.  Losing sight of that is part, at least, of what causes these appalling, indiscriminate upheavals, even as they themselves are the result of long abuse, misunderstanding, anger building up as cancers do and with very many of the same consequences.  I'm not wise enough to go much beyond that, and I find myself falling back on the song's refrain:  some days, some days.  Some days just getting through the day has to be enough.  Tomorrow we will start again, watching and waiting for what's coming on down the line.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Green Goddesses

When Edie (left) first met Stella and Elaine, on her first day in the typing pool at Snell Snell & Snell, she had no idea that within six months she'd be launched into an exciting second career in show business.

While it lasted, the Key Notes were cherished by a small and very specific audience:  people neither ready for the raw, youthful energy of the Faith Tones nor for the towering glamor of the Tri-Tones.

Sadly, it all went south when Stella got a tempting offer to go on the road as a Florence Henderson impersonator and had the nerve to drag Elaine along with her as Ann B. Davis.  For years, Edie was bitter, not least because she had had a bit of a name back in the pool for her spot-on Robert Reed.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Genius, First Class

Gradually I told my father that perhaps I would leave San Francisco. He was not disturbed by this, after all there was at that time a great deal of going and coming and there were many friends of mine going. Within a year I also had gone and I had come to Paris. There I went to see Mrs. Stein who had in the meantime returned to Paris, and there at her house I met Gertrude Stein. I was impressed by the coral brooch she wore and by her voice. I may say that only three times in my life have I met a genius and each time a bell within me rang and I was not mistaken, and I may say in each case it was before there was any general recognition of the quality of genius in them. The three geniuses of whom I wish to speak are Gertrude Stein, Pablo Picasso and Alfred Whitehead. I have met many important people, I have met several great people but I have only known three first class geniuses and in each case on sight within me something rang. In no one of the three cases have I been mistaken. In this way my new full life began.

- The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas

I must be in a Rue de Fleurus sort of mood, which rather makes sense as Gertrude and Alice join the list that includes travel snaps in regard to being Things That Cheer Me Up.  One of my formative theater-going experiences was seeing the great Pat Carroll as the Great Gertrude Stein in a show called, if memory serves and rather logically, Gertrude Stein Gertrude Stein Gertrude Stein, and from then on I have been a devoted fan.

I took this picture - of a terra cotta version of the Stein statue by Jo Davidson that in bronze graces Bryant Park behind the New York Public Library - when we were, as some may remember, exiled to Washington this past August.  I think she looks suitably formidable, but rather graver than in Miss Carroll's impersonation.  It is not a mournful statue, but at least as lit in the National Portrait Gallery, from my experience one difficult to photograph in any other mood.

Like Alice, I have met several great people, but only once for me has the genius-bell rung, at least at a level that could be considered "first class."  That genius was quite a personage, and most definitely a handful - both qualities, I am quite sure, that Miss Toklas was more than passing familiar through long experience.  It was exhilarating, but perhaps more than a shade tiring.  I can quite understand why, even as fond of Gertrude as she clearly was, she spent so much time in the kitchen, just as a relief from all that greatness.  Still, they had a marvelous time - a new, full life indeed - for a very long time, and that, in the end, is worth a very great deal.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

I Like a View...

...but I like to sit with my back to it.  That's something that Alice B. Toklas said, but I've always sort of understood it.

For a variety of reasons, this has not been my favorite of days.  Rather than either trying, and more likely than not failing, to be amusing, or even worse, just whinging on, instead I'll pass on this snap, taken a couple of summers ago when Mr. Muscato and I visited Italy.  I like to look at it when there's a certain amount of bleakness 'round about.

It's from a town called Bracciano, which when we were there was still buzzing from having hosted the wedding of those glam newlyweds, Mr. and Mrs. Tom Cruise.  Well, I guess compared to how that turned out, my day wasn't all that bad...

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Redux: The Hour of Lead

I first posted this Emily Dickinson poem on September 11 in 2008.  We were at a crossroads then, waiting to see if the upcoming election would change anything at all about all the things that needed changing.  Now, some things have, but not enough, and again we're waiting.  And still on this day - perhaps always - the formal feeling comes.

After great pain, a formal feeling comes --
The Nerves sit ceremonious, like Tombs
The stiff Heart questions, was it He, that bore,
And Yesterday, or Centuries before?

The Feet, mechanical, go round --
Of Ground, or Air, or Ought --
A Wooden way
Regardless grown,
A Quartz contentment, like a stone --

This is the Hour of Lead --
Remembered, if outlived,
As Freezing persons, recollect the Snow --
First -- Chill -- then Stupor -- then the letting go --

- Emily Dickinson, #341

Monday, September 10, 2012


In the kitchen of the Villa Muscato (artist's impression)
It happens perhaps three times a year.  Mr. Muscato gets a sort of distant expression; he seems preoccupied.  Eventually, he disappears for a couple of hours, with no explanation.

A lesser, or at least less experienced, man would jump to conclusions, imagining a tawdry affair at the very least.  Me, I know better.  It's the jam, and it's got him bad.

So where's he been?  Why, the greenmarket of course, the chaotic and infinitely tempting labyrinth of market stalls and tailgated trucks that's as close as this artificial place comes to being a real, lively, Middle Eastern city (I can only imagine how disappointed the few people who sat through Sex and the City 2 and then show up here as tourists feel, presented with the slab-concrete-and-shopping-mall reality).  He comes home weighted down with flats and sacks of various fruits and veg, for all of which he's paid significantly less than the average housewife here pays for a kilo or two of carrots in one of the horrifically overpriced supermarkets.

And this week, it's happened again.  The house is steamy, the kitchen is sticky, and the dauntless Mrs. Galapatti-da Silva and I have been cajoled into the role played by the Demon Tots above, half helpers and half drafted admirers.  The dogs hang out beneath the kitchen table, alternately seduced by the smell and the occasional dropped dollop of hot syrup and terrified, for reasons unclear, by the low, guttural sound of the jam-to-be on a slow boil. 

Now, a tidy row of jars line one cupboard.  The current offerings are mango, a staple much in demand by people in the know and the base for Mr. Muscato's Legendary Mango Mousse (which makes strong men weep), along with a new experiment, a strawberry-tomato-clove combo that is, simply put, dynamite.  It's basically crack on toast. 

I would say that the fever has now subsided, but there is still a suspiciously large quantity of guava in the fridge, and I thought I heard him muttering something about trying out a fig-and-banana mix.

Of course, I really don't mind a bit, not least because Jam Week is frequently a prelude to a siege of baking.  If I play my cards right, this could carry us right up to the holidays, just in time for our annual round of experimental turkey roasting.  I've always thought waistlines were awfully over-rated...

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Ah, Sweet Mystery of Life

63 years ago today, photographer Peter Stackpole captured for the readers of Life this rather intriguing moment in the homelife of Mr. Mario Lanza.  I'm sure the very well set-up young gentleman on the mat is simply, as it were, encouraging the tenor to greater heights of physical fitness.

Well, there's certainly something physical about this snap, no?

Despite the undeniable presence (in history albeit nowhere to be seen here) of Mrs. Lanza and four little Lanzettes, I can't help but think it's telling how the erstwhile Alfred Cocozza chose his stage name - his sainted mother was born Maria Lanza.  And, whatever else may be going on here, you have to admit: great Adirondacks.  Which sound like it ought to be a naughty euphemism, but, at least in this case, isn't.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Question Time: Ask the Oracle #2

Hmmm.  to the best of my knowledge, I'm guessing the answers are:

no; only in spirit; no; no; more so than her career; no; up to a point; hells yes; that's the rumor; and probably not technically, but for all practical purposes, yes.

Shameless Saturday Camp Explosion: Mrs. Hart Asks a Question

Since we missed her birthday last Monday, I thought it might be nice to spend this week's SSCE in the always good company of dear Mrs. Moss Hart, née dear Miss Kitty Carlisle (well, actually née dear Miss Catherine Conn, but that's another story altogether).  We meet here here during her too-short stint in Hollywood, as one of the leads of 1934's Murder at the Vanities.

She's in an interrogative mood.  "Why am I puzzled?" she trills repeatedly, and one could argue that what should have been bewildering her isn't the not-all-that-mysterious origin and destination of show girls (Podunk and oblivion, mostly, respectively) as what's going with those sleeve/train/pompom things that have been attached to her Harlowische white bias-cut satin gown.  At one point it looks she's going to start using them as poi balls in a kind of tribute avant la lettre to Miss Dolores DeLago; pity she didn't, as it really could have classed things up... 

While the number does give a rather good idea of what a staged number at Broadway Vanities might have been like (complete with one of the oddest pieces of choreography I've ever seen at 3:13, right after, heaven help us, the lasso demonstration), I'm afraid the whole thing just kind of peters out, as if at some point all involved decided it was just easier to get on with telling the film's (too complicated, on the whole) story.  As the showgirl turntables go by, see who you can spy as one of the glorified stenographers, snapping gum as if she were born to it (I think she was).

Still, it's all great fun while it lasts.  And doesn't she have terrific diction?

Friday, September 7, 2012

Birthday Divas: It's Raining Queens

If the inimitable (thank heaven) Mistress MJ is to be believed, the is indeed ample cause for celebration, as it marks the natal day not just of Gloriana herself (seen here in what to me is still the portrayal against which all others - even that of Mr. Crisp, who comes close - are to be measured) but also of our own dear Thombeau.

Emperor of Fabulon, lord of Chateau Thombeau, and your urbane host over at the Redundant Variety Hour, Thombeau is a true polymath - a writer, musician, artist, and all around flâneur whose work, in whatever medium, is a constant inspiration, frequent amusement, and regular cause of envy.  Did you know that you can yourself beome the proud owner of his remarkable photographs here? Or of his extraordinary music - as Arcanta - on Amazon?

Well, now you do.  And I think you know what to do.  Besides, of course, wishing the dear old thing the very happiest of birthdays...

The Perils of Nightlife

Not long after midnight, Trent's evening took a turn for the worse.  By dawn, nothing was ever the same again.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Our Fair Lady

Isn't she great?  The terms of the coming election are really coming into focus, and on the homefront, I think the choice between Mom-in-Chief and Mormo-Robo-Scold is pretty clear.  We don't usually wax too political hereabouts, but really it's astonishing the difference between this week and last, and looking back home from a Sandlandian perspective, almost surreal.
Adore the dress - gorgeous color, flattering cut, and a pattern that would have greatly appealed to Grandmother Muscato, all without being retro-costumey.  The woman rocked.  Let's hope the polls do, too.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Unexpected Company

Startled, Clive looked up from the lawn and did a little quick mental calculation.  Tarnation!  This was the day that the ladies of the Charlotte T. Watson Garden Club were coming to admire his plumbago.

No one could have been more discomfited than he.  Except possibly the Vicar, on whom he was at the moment resting, or Mrs. Vicar, second from left.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Topical Philately: Summer into Autumn Slips...

You know, I miss the days when stamps were cheap, neoclassical, and featured decorative, holiday-appropriate Moderne beefcake.  Although I suppose I should find it disturbing that both Perfect Mother and Utopian Tot are more muscled than I could ever hope to be...
For all those Gentle Readers back in the U.S. of A., a very happy Labor Day.  Whatever happened to summer?  I didn't get nearly enough wearings out of those white shoes.  Damn.

Once upon a Time

On September 3, 1951, Time rather oddly asked the question "Whatever become of 'It'?" directly below a tinted photograph of Miss Ava Gardner.  I would say that she's the answer, with all due apologies to Miss Bow, in spades.

This was what a movie star looked like, 61 years ago.  Think of that, the next time you see Kristen Stewart, or worse (is there?).

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Three on a Match

One of my favorite literary meetups took place 53 years ago today, when Lula Smith had Tanne Blixen and Norma Jeane Miller over for lunch.  It was a real lovefest that even the taciturn presence of Mr. Miller couldn't dilute.

I choose to regard as gospel truth the longstanding rumor that, before the afternoon was out, the three of them danced on Lula's marble-topped dinner table.

Magic Moments - Hal David, RIP

The quieter half of one of the great songwriting duos, Hal David created the tricky, often sharply bittersweet lyrics that somehow fit perfectly into Burt Bacharach's tricky, major-minor music.  Theirs was the sound of the non-hippy sixties, the sound of cocktail lounges and supper clubs and other late-night places.  They took the building blocks of pop and made it sound grown up.

David, in his lyrics, has a genius for taking bits and pieces, minutiae (waking up, putting on your makeup) and transforming them into thrilling, sweeping moments of power (forever and ever you'll be in my heart).  That combination of scrupulous detail and just-this-side-of-bombast, paired with the impeccable rhythm and sweep of the Bacharach melodies, keeps in check even the most over the top, hyperfervid passages (anyone who had a heart; without true love we just exist), making them all the more powerful.

I expect today we'll see and hear and, I hope, listen to a great deal of Bacharach-David - a welcome flood of Dionne Warwick and Dusty Springfield and Tom Jones and even, God help us, the Carpenters and B.J. Thomas.  Some of the best versions of these songs are the least canonical - I love Tim Curry's "Anyone Who Had a Heart," not to mention Elvis Costello's "I Just Don't Know What to Do with Myself."  Here we have the UK's Eurovision princess, Miss Sandie Shaw, who had a couple of B-D hits, including both this, "Trains and Boats and Planes," and "Always Something There to Remind Me" (if you need a little cheering up, here's a highly AustinPowersische rendition of the latter).

Listening, as a child, to Bacharach-David songs, was an unsettling experience; they were like glimpses of a future alternately thrilling (is there anything sexier than "The Look of Love"?) and uncertain (what happened to that woman, to send her back to San Jose?). Love was full of promises, promises, but it was also something into which one should never fall again. But then you do, and it's a star to wish upon. Wish.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Shameless Saturday Camp Explosion: When Worlds Collide

This marvel was filmed in 1966.  At that time, it's quite astonishing to realize, the period between the high point of the Andrews Sisters' career and that of the Supremes right about this appearance was something like half what it is between then and now.  Then, the simple thought of one doing the other's material was inherently hilarious - that was what made it camp, then.  Patty, Maxene, and Laverne are clearly coming off of some sort of Flapper Number and so must have seemed especially antediluvian next to the Ultra-Now Supremes, making the contrast all the more potentially ludicrous. 

From our perspective now, though, it's clear that both do just great with what they're given, and if anything the Supremes' column dresses, wigs, and carefully ladylike demeanor seems just as period as the Andrews' boas and pearls.  Therein, in fact, lies the camp from today's angle: the distance that both groups have from us, and the unexpected success they wring from the setup.  Not to mention the presence of Sammy Davis, Jr., always an en-camping, as it were, presence in almost any setting.

And, to top it all off, we get a truly classic Diane moment at 1:28.  Why no one has ever hauled off and just slapped that woman I will never know.

As always, this one's for St. Flo, here for once right in the middle.

Redux: We Must Love One Another or Die

First posted here in 2009.  Today it seems more true than ever: Damascus, Aleppo, Homs, too many more.  Wystan was a wise, wise man.

September 1, 1939

I sit in one of the dives
On Fifty-second Street
Uncertain and afraid
As the clever hopes expire
Of a low dishonest decade:
Waves of anger and fear
Circulate over the bright
And darkened lands of the earth,
Obsessing our private lives;
The unmentionable odour of death
Offends the September night.

Accurate scholarship can
Unearth the whole offence
From Luther until now
That has driven a culture mad,
Find what occurred at Linz,
What huge imago made
A psychopathic god:
I and the public know
What all schoolchildren learn,
Those to whom evil is done
Do evil in return.

Exiled Thucydides knew
All that a speech can say
About Democracy,
And what dictators do,
The elderly rubbish they talk
To an apathetic grave;
Analysed all in his book,
The enlightenment driven away,
The habit-forming pain,
Mismanagement and grief:
We must suffer them all again.

Into this neutral air
Where blind skyscrapers use
Their full height to proclaim
The strength of Collective Man,
Each language pours its vain
Competitive excuse:
But who can live for long
In an euphoric dream;
Out of the mirror they stare,
Imperialism's face
And the international wrong.

Faces along the bar
Cling to their average day:
The lights must never go out,
The music must always play,
All the conventions conspire
To make this fort assume
The furniture of home;
Lest we should see where we are,
Lost in a haunted wood,
Children afraid of the night
Who have never been happy or good.

The windiest militant trash
Important Persons shout
Is not so crude as our wish:
What mad Nijinsky wrote
About Diaghilev
Is true of the normal heart;
For the error bred in the bone
Of each woman and each man
Craves what it cannot have,
Not universal love
But to be loved alone.

From the conservative dark
Into the ethical life
The dense commuters come,
Repeating their morning vow;
'I will be true to the wife,
I'll concentrate more on my work,'
And helpless governors wake
To resume their compulsory game:
Who can release them now,
Who can reach the dead,
Who can speak for the dumb?

All I have is a voice
To undo the folded lie,
The romantic lie in the brain
Of the sensual man-in-the-street
And the lie of Authority
Whose buildings grope the sky:
There is no such thing as the State
And no one exists alone;
Hunger allows no choice
To the citizen or the police;
We must love one another or die.

Defenseless under the night
Our world in stupor lies;
Yet, dotted everywhere,
Ironic points of light
Flash out wherever the Just
Exchange their messages:
May I, composed like them
Of Eros and of dust,
Beleaguered by the same
Negation and despair,
Show an affirming flame.

- W.H. Auden