Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Leap, Leapling, Leapt

This being Sadie Hawkins Day, there is a great deal in the lesser press on the apparently inexhaustibly amusing plight (well, to copywriters in the lesser press, at least) of children born today and doomed to suffer a birthday but once in four years.  "Leaplings," I've learned today, to call such children.

Well, since we don't really care a great deal for children 'round about the Café, let's turn our attention, shall we, to the rather less fraught situation of those who died today; to, as it were, the Leapts.  Not for them any of that "So how does it feel, elderly lady with appliqué sweatshirt, to be only Sweet Sixteen today ho ho ho?" just before a cut back to the studio and banter-filled transition to the weather that is a quadrennial local news staple.  No, they're just dead.

That's of interest here only because among them is the perhaps surprisingly comely gentleman we see above, the immortal Mr. E.F. Benson, son of the Archbishop of Canterbury (and, it must added, by virtue of the Boston Marriage of his mother and the relict of a previous incumbent of the Archbishopric, the son and demi-stepson of two widows of the tenant of Lambeth Palace).

That's the sort of thing that would happen to him, and that he translated into his life's work:  ennobling the tradition of the English Light Novel with something approaching genius.  Now, it must be admitted that he wrote a very great deal, and only the blindest partisan would claim that the lightning of his inspiration struck consistently, but - oh, but - when it did!

It did, in fact, strike at least six times, creating the whole-world-within-two-villages that is to this day inhabited by the great Legion of Luciaphils, among whom I hope I count more than a few of my own Gentle Readers.  I really don't think I can feel, in the long run, entirely cosy with someone who is unprepared to discuss the War of the Chintz Roses or to consider exactly what might be the precise secret behind Lobster à la Riseholme.  If you are a friend, in short, of Quaint Irene's and Diva Plaistow's, you are a friend of mine.

There may be a fairly small audience for Benson's somewhat labored ghost stories or his brittle society comedies, but I would wager that there will for a very long time be a happy band of readers of Queen Lucia, Lucia and Mapp, and the others, all equally entranced by the untimely passing of poor Captain Puffin, the distracting question of what will become of Georgie once Foljambe marries, and such weighty matters of state.  If by chance, you've not yet started down the road that leads to Riseholme and Tilling (with occasional forays to the seaside and dear, late Aunt Amy's capacious house in Brompton Square), I really do recommend that you do.  Riches await, as does the image of two middle-aged ladies setting sail on a kitchen table.  Could one ask for anything more?

Mr. Benson left the Garden Room at Mallards for the last time in 1940.  I suppose, if we are to look for some meaning in it all, his doing so on February 29 allows us to think that he did so just 18 years ago.  Such a piccolo tempo that seems, doesn't it, Caro?

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Hair Today

As things stand: artist's impression
Maybe it's just the influence of that last post, but I need to talk to you about my hair. I think it's getting out of control.

You see, for the past year or so, as part of the overall, ongoing effort to feel Less Appalling about every single aspect of life, I've been growing it out. I figured what the hell, I'm heading toward fifty, I'm for various reasons kind of unassailable professionally, and most importantly, I've still (a centimeter or so of forehead excepted) got the stuff. So off we went.

In this part of the world, with the exception of the tighter-up Brits and Yanks who frequently populate the ranks of middle-upper management, it's actually not that big a deal. Lots of Arab men, especially those from the Gulf, have Big Hair, even if it's usually covered up with traditional headgear. This is also kind of a facial-hair-mandatory setting as well, so I've lost all reserve in that direction as well. The gentleman above will give you an idea, if you're willing to age him up, flesh him out, and throw a heaping helping of salt into that pepper.

And it's really pretty easy - the maintenance isn't all that much worse than keeping a short cut tidy, although because it tends toward the riotously curly, I've gotten cosier with a blowdryer than I've been in several decades (we didn't have one actually; I gave it a try last summer because dear Boudi came to us with one - apparently his previous people liked him with a Farrah 'do).

On a bad day...
It's currently of a length somewhere between Slavic Baritone and mid-career Mary Astor (albeit with a fair bit more at the back). Last December, without warning, a demon stylist administered something I only later through diligent Googling discovered was a Brazilian Blowout (which is a whole lot less porny than it sounds, even when given to one by a lithe Lebanese hairdresser), and so for a couple of months it was straight (unlike the hairdresser) and limp (a greater resemblance). In fact, for one brief, shining night, I achieved - albeit 35 years after the fact - the state of grace I had once upon a time so longed for: Perfect David Cassidy Hair.

Now, though, I'm afraid the Blowout has blown and it's back to curls and a certain, shameful amount of frizz, even with diligent back-combing. As a result of the recent round of socializing (one evening of which, you may recall, ended in the Great Tooth Crisis of '12), I discovered this morning that I've turned up in one of the social columns that still grace local publications. There, staring out at me from the glossy page, was a distinctly rounder, older, and more generally PaulaDeenische sort of person than I think of myself, with that kind of dazed "must you?" look one gets when faced by a strange camera. Even so: cool hair, bro.

So I really, really like having it longer, both because it annoys so many people who can do nothing about it, and because, I suppose, it recalls days of vanished youth. Like that of dear Jo March, back at the time of life when appearances matter so very, very much, my hair was my one claim to real good looks, and it took me aback, as the tendrils started to wind collarward last June, how much I'd missed it. Of course, back then it was also (often all at once) teased, sprayed, feathered, gelled (but never, I can at least attest, Jheri-ed), waxed, and more often than not at least two unnatural colors. It's kind of restful, comparatively, to have it just be longer.

A compromise?
I'm wondering if perhaps Stock Photo Daddy here isn't a possible way forward. The resemblance is actually rather strong, although his brows are a little more roguish than mine, and I'm not sure (especially given the evidence in this week's going-out mag) my Gaze of Quiet Self Confidence is quite as assured.

So what do you think? Do I continue down the road of further growth, heading toward Anglo-Fro territory, the possibility of Olde Boho Pony Tail, or worse? Do I just get over my cheap self, cut it all off, and return to Corporate Clean Cut? Or do I find some soft-focus rocks and an Indigo Land's End Button Tee, go back to Blowout Boy for a trim, and see how it all works out?


...Sing a song.  A song of brown.  "Brown-Eyed Girl."  "Sweet Georgia Brown."  The theme from Mrs. Brown, You Have a Lovely Daughter.  "Don't it Make My Brown Even Muddier Shade of Brown"... Name your tune - as long as it's You Know What.

Actually, I think they may be the nephews of those longtime Café faves, the Tri Tones.  They certainly share a fashion sense.  And probably at least a few hair-care products.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Mary Louise, Ultrastar

If only she hadn't been up against the divine Glenn, I'd be totally thrilled.  As it is, I'm pretty close.  There's a joke there, but you'll have to make it.  Wasn't she lovely?  And isn't she still?

Also, it makes me oddly happy that in private life, she's Mrs. Gummer.

Trailer Trash: Doña Zarah

While we're in a '30s mood (not all that uncommon a phenomenon hereabouts, I know), let's stop for a moment and consider that Fab Fräulein, the lady who put the "Fasc[ism]" into Fascinating, the Prima Donna Assoluta of the Axis Screen, Swedish thrush Zarah Leander.  Z-Lo, as I've taken to thinking of her, may have been from Stockholm, but she made a string of pictures in Berlin right through '43, becoming in the process Goebbels's de facto replacement for the One That Got Away, Dietrich. 

This little epic, La Habanera, is from early in her UFA contract, but it's still very much a Nazi picture:  Nordic girl falls for shady Latin; repents in a Tropical Hell (and a helluva mantilla); Latin engineers epidemic, dies; Nordic girl skedaddles back home with heroic German doc's help, reassuringly blond son in tow.

It's all pretty incoherent actually, not least because it's set in Puerto Rico but filmed in the Canaries at the height of the Spanish Civil War, features not even a trace of a Spanish accent, and is graced with costumes the silliness of which would make Marion Davies blush.  Truth to tell, I've not seen the whole thing, but from the above, I think you could engineer a drinking game involving every time Zarah finds a new way to wear spit curls.

After the War, Leander spent the rest of her long career calling herself a "political idiot" who had had no idea what was going on while she filmed and filmed and filmed (and the Deutsche Marks, conveniently deposited directly into her Swedish account, kept rolling in).  Now where have we heard that kind of thing before?  One wonders what, as the years went by, she thought about, for example, the songwriter on this movie who would shortly disappear into the camps, or whether she ever cared that the little boy who Dickie Moored his way through Habanera playing her son died at 17 on the outskirts of Berlin, killed defending the capital that she fled only a year or so earlier (and, apparently, only because her villa got flattened - how inconvenient...).

Zarah's co-stars - Ferdinand Marian, Karl Martell, Julia Serda - may not be terribly familiar today, but one name that flashes by here certainly is.  That spielleitung may be credited to Detlef Sierck, but within a few years young Detlef transformed himself into Douglas Sirk, who applied the lessons he learned from Zarah into his direction of Hollywood ladies for the next thirty years or so, culminating in that greatest of all soap operas, Imitation of Life.  Which, come to think of it, could just as easily been the title for La Habanera...

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Winner Takes All

As Oscar dawns all the way over there on the other side of this Good Earth, I'd like to take a moment to consider the prize's oldest living winner - yes, it's two-time Best Actress Luise Rainer, seen here in tweeds and faraway expression.  "The Viennese Teardrop" is 102 now, and when last seen a year or so ago she was even more enchanting than in her unlikely mid-thirties heyday. 

In The Great Ziegfeld she stole the show in the Telephone Scene of All Time, and while her turn as a Chinese peasant in her second Oscar vehicle may cause more than the occasional wince today, you don't beat Garbo (and in Camille, maybe only the best thing ever put on celluloid that doesn't star Al Parker) just by showing up.

Whatever are we going to do when the very last of these fabulous creatures leaves us?  I just don't see getting all fired about up about Michelle Williams in 70-odd years, do you? 

Friday, February 24, 2012

Something Tells Me

The inimitable Miss Lene Lovich presents the very moment that New Wave died.  And went to lip-synch hell. 

And Now, a Word from our Sponsor

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Thursday, February 23, 2012

East is East

Today's birthday gal took my febrile brain in the direction of all things vampy, while earlier this week, dear Bill revealed that he, like me, has spent some time in the Land of the Rising Sun.  Well, to me, shady ladies and Japan add up to only one thing:  1968's Black Lizard, one of the greatest psychedelic transvestitite musical thrillers starring Yukio Mishima ever made.

Here we see the leading lady, as it were, of Black Lizard, Mr. Akihiro Maruyama, albeit in a different kind of drag.  Dating to 1962, this clip clearly captures a very specific - and deeply unsettling - moment in Japanese culture, one in which Beatnikiana meets The Mikado in a dark alley on the way to a Robert Wilson opera.  While I first traveled there 25 or more years later, it's pretty much exactly how I felt the entre time I was in Japan - certainly a much more accurate depiction, at least to me, of that particular form of anomie than that snoozefest Lost in Translation.

I really find this number very odd.  How would you describe it?

Dark Lady Laughs...

...and lights her candles one by one - 123 of them, actually, for today is the birthday of French cinema's seminal femme fatale, the enchantingly mononymous Musidora. 

The original Irma Vep gave Theda Bara (and how often do you get two anagrammatical names in one sentence?  This kind of prose don't come cheap, kids) more than a run for her money in the vamp department, leavening her lethal allure with both stunts and humor, two things that weren't poor Theodosia's long suit, as it were.  She even outlived her American coeval by two years.  If so inclined, you can catch a brief but startlingly effective glimpse of her here.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

File Under "Feelings, Unlikely"

Well, that's as maybe, Mrs. Steve Lawrence, but it's going to take more than a little Max Factor Light Egyptian to turn you into the Rose of Spanish Harlem.

She may be feeling Spanish, but the overall effect is less Sexy Señorita than a vague attempt at a Princess Margaret impression, don't you think?  I suppose in 1961, though, an album called "I Feel So Snowdon" wasn't likely to be much of a chart-topper...

Not that the onetime Edith Garmezano doesn't offer the occasional surprise, mind you - did you know that she's half Turkish?

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Practice, Practice, Practice

Fifty-two years ago tonight, dear Mr. Eisenstadt snapped this perfectly charming shot of what Life described as "Mrs. Gustav Mahler, widow of composer, raptly listening to his 'Resurrection Symphony,' conducted by Leonard Bernstein, at Carnegie Hall."

Well, possibly, but I think we might be justified in thinking that the lady known to her friends and not inconsiderable number of enemies as Alma Maria Schindler Mahler Gropius Werfel (yes, she got around) finds the Maestro's obsession with her late (first) husband just about as tiresome as she found the composer himself by the time he conveniently shuffled off this mortal coil back in '11.

Yes, I do believe we're safe in saying that this is a picture of a widow (twice over, actually; Gropius she divorced) napping, possibly even snoring lightly, happy in the knowledge that not a soul will dare to say a word about it (not to mention perfectly content in her sables, false fringe, and continuing notoriety-by-association). She's probably dreaming of what Bernstein's excellent cook will whip up for the after-party; she looks like someone who enjoyed a toast point and a glass or two, no?

Monday, February 20, 2012

White House Woman

On this Presidents' Day, let's spend a moment considering the remarkable lady we find here looking quite uncharacteristically benign.  She is, you see, someone rather special in the annals of the American presidency, having been the goad and gadfly of our fearless leaders for the better part of the twentieth Century:  Alice Roosevelt Longworth. 

She started with McKinley (she regarded "the President and poor frail little Mrs. McKinley as if they were two usurping cuckoos" at the inauguration that saw her own father seated as vice president, and she admitted, after his assassination, to the slightest twinge of guilt at having hoped so ardently for his death) and ran straight on through Roosevelts Teddy, her father ("I can be President of the United States or I can attend to Alice, but I cannot possibly do both," quoth he), and Franklin, her cousin ("nine parts mush and one part Eleanor," quoth she), and ending up with Carter, whom she considered an over-earnest bore and refused to meet. 

She wowed the Dowager Empress of China in 1905 (and therein lies a tale or ten, not to mention gifts of enough fine brocade to keep her in evening gowns for the better part of fifty years), and she was still wowing them 70 years later - her last public appearance was at the official celebration of the Bicentennial.  She played at politics, voting more by instinct than party, and she had, it seems, from start to finish and despite some of the inevitable setbacks and missteps, a fairly marvelous time of it all.  I hope that the current White House daughters give her a thought or two as they head into what we must hope will be their second term - she's a far better role model, heaven knows, than those dreary Bush twins or the dreaded Nixon sisters.  Maybe we'll find them, come 2015 or so, raising a little discreet hell in her memory...

A Girl Like That

Although life has turned into a whirlwind of travel and unexpected dentistry, I don't want to lose sight of our little contest.  I'm happy to note that after a couple of false starts, you Gentle Readers came through and discovered the secret identity of our chipper pigtailed waif.

She is indeed the child born Rosa Dolores Alverío, but known to the world (after her own false start as Rosita) as Rita Moreno.  She's seen here, on this the nearer end of her long career, working a pair of lounging pajamas as only a veteran of MGM could do.  Hers is a varied career, taking in everything from a supporting part in an Esther Williams epic (Pagan Love Song) to a stint as my second-favorite Rockford Files Expendable Girlfriend (first place being reserved, as it so often is around here, for the divine Sheree North).*  She's played Thai in The King and I and (rather more authentically) Puerto Rican in West Side Story, but that only hints at the ethnic diversity that Hollywood threw at her, from (India) Indian in Father Knows Best to generically ethnic in any number of now-forgotten film and TV moments (let titles like The Fabulous Señorita and Garden of Evil tell the tale - not to mention Ma and Pa Kettle on Vacation, in which she's apparently the mysterious - and uncredited - Soubrette).  And she did Singin' in the Rain (which came out sixty years ago, in case you're not feeling old enough today), which has to count for something.

In any case, all congratulations to the lucky winner, the mysterious Snappychuck, who beat out suggestions sensible (dear MJ's Lena Horne, who I thought might come up in this conversation) and less so (whatever madness the ineffable Thombeau was going on about).  I wish I could say there were fabulous prizes, but I can offer nothing more satisfying than the opportunity to appreciate the dressing-room poise of La Moreno - from roses to bracelets (and everything in between) - she is superb.  You don't get to be an EGOT without knowing a thing or two about The Pose, after all, do you?

* Hmmm and Oh, dear.  I just went and checked, and Sheree North doesn't seem to have done The Rockford Files.  Why then do I have a distinct memory of her playing, recurrently, one of his Hooker-with-a-Heart-of-Gold girlfriends?  It seems like every other actress of a suitable age in the mid-to-late-70s did an ep or two (we're talking everyone from Mrs. Bogart to Linda Dano, after all) - how did they miss Sheree?  I don't care; in my mind she did, and she was damn good. Rita was a Rockford doxy, too, and nabbed an Emmy (one of two) for it.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

He Told Me to Open Wide...

Just so you know that I do intend to entertain as well as whine, herewith the young Miss M. at her bawdiest (well, close), to introduce a tale of woe.

The minibreak was a great success, but darlings, the hours preceding it were fraught.  Our saga starts one night late last week, when I was swanning about feeling terribly posh at a very glam local soirée, the kind of gala party at which these parts excel.  A band was playing, the canapés were being handed about, and, on behalf of Golden Handcuffs Consulting Amalgamated International (before whose mast, as it were, I labor), I was all set to give a gracious little speech.

Alas, it was not to be.  While moving around, greeting friend and foe alike (have you mastered the art of the forced smile? I have, and deploy it at will), I had the uneasy feeling that all was not right.  I bit with gay abandon into a shrimp puff, and knew for a fact that it was so:  a decade of dental neglect had come home to roost, and how.  Gathering up the remnants of my suddenly vanished elegance (and not a few fragments of tooth), I skedaddled, leaving my clever little remarks to a colleague and racing home to commiserate with poor Mr. Muscato.

Now, I do confess it isn't wise to leave these things undone, but you have to realize I have what amounts to a genuine phobia about dentists, the legacy of my late mother's unquestioning devotion to her childhood practitioner, who by the time I came around was best described as Dr. Shakes McParkinsons.  Between the ages of one-and-a-half and six, I was forced to spend ample time in his terrifyingly primitive offices (all of his equipment was black enamel, the kind more usually seen on vintage typewriters or the switchboards answered by extras in films of the '30s.  Much of it was pedal-operated.  Get the picture?) as the result of an early childhood accident.  Never the most coordinated of tots, I fell off a bed.  Into a wastebasket.  About three weeks later, my elder brother looked up at breakfast one morning and asked, "Did the baby's nose always look like that?"  It hadn't, and neither had most of what turned out to be a thoroughly rearranged jaw.  It's amazing, really, that I have teeth at all.  My early childhood was a festival of bizarre full-cranial apparatuses to be worn at night, as well as the complete lack of any photos of me smiling, what with not having any front baby teeth.  I'm still probably the only person you know who can eat corn on the cob without using any canine teeth.  Molaring away isn't efficient, but until I was about eleven, I had no choice.

In any case, the tender ministrations of Doctor Shakes left their mark.  For a number of years, I was terrified not merely of dentists, but of anyone in white.  Weddings were a fiasco of helpless wailing, and poor Grandmother Muscato used to ring ahead to the local department store to have the ladies in Cosmetics near the door stow their labcoats in order to avoid my having a meltdown on the way to her favorite destination, Modern Matrons, the most elegant corner of Better Dresses.  The combination of crippling fear and some of the places we've lived (the average dental facility in West Africa making Doctor Shakes's SweeneyToddian premises look like the Mayo Clinic) have meant putting off the day of reckoning until, as this past Thursday, I had no choice.

So off we went, me in no fit shape to be seen in public, to a dentist highly recommended by one of Mr. Muscato's friends.  One of his more sadistic friends, it turns out, for the dentist - let's call him Dr. Ahmed - was nothing if not direct.  "Your mouth," he informed me in no uncertain terms and a nearly unintelligible Syrian accent, "ees a dizeszter."  And then, ignoring all attempts to make him pity me my crippling fears, and abetted by two equally obdurate Philippina assistants, he set to to work, pausing only long enough for me to contemplate what seemed to be my clearly imminent mortality, but not long enough for me to demand novocaine (novocaine?  I wanted morphine).  He drilled, he filled, he used some sort of miniaturized jackhammer on places that haven't seen the light of day in ages, and, while he may not the kind of dentist immortalized in the classic number above (although he is, I have to admit, comely enough for a middle-aged Syrian dentist), he certainly was thorough.

I think his take-no-prisoners approach may have done what years of Specialists in the Sensitive Patient back in Manhattan were never able to achieve.  I have to go back for a second appointment next week, and while I'm hardly looking forward to it, I'll probably go.  And I must say things are feeling better.

The only real effect of all this on our lovely weekend was a certain tenderness, leading to a great deal of soup and the less chewy cuts of meat.  Now we're home safely, the dogs are over the moon - and I have to take Mr. Muscato to the dentist.  He's not quite the dizeszter I was, but it looks like we'll be seeing more and more of Dr. Ahmed...

Friday, February 17, 2012

All I Ever Wanted

Mr. Muscato and I have heeded the good advice of Misses Caffey, Carlisle, Schock, Valentine, and Weidlin and are making the most of this President's Day weekend.  We've hied off to Dubai (just up the road, don't you know) to our favorite Big Silly Resort Hotel.

Fortunately, it's a place that is pretty much what Biosphere could have been had it been decorated by Messrs. Waldorf and Astoria (and, yes, I know there are no such people.  On the other hand, I firmly believe that had they existed, they wouldn't have sired anything as trashy as Paris Hilton, but we're heading very far off topic here).  It's lavishly over-the-top and entirely self-contained, from the dozen or so restaurants to the vast and highly environmentally suspect mini-rainforest that graces the multi-acre lobby.  It's a great place to be this weekend, as Dubai has been hit by what today seemed just about the worst sandstorm we've seen in our six-plus years out in these parts.

So here in our own little world (as the sand howls by outside and the view is reduced to what looks vaguely like a scene from Miss Gish's great epic The Wind), we've done what we like doing best on minibreaks:  nothing at all.  Breakfast, spa, lunch, spa, cocktails, dinner, collapse in room.  If we're terribly ambitious tomorrow, we'll mix it up a little bit and maybe throw in a massage or sit in the rainforest for an hour or two.  And you know what?  We've earned it, we need it, and on Sunday we'll drive back home (presuming it's possible to see more than a car-length by then) all the better for it.  God knows what mischief those damn dogs will have been up to, though...

Thursday, February 16, 2012


Let's spend a few minutes, shall we, with Mr. John Daly and the panel on that most civilized of television Game Shows, What's My Line?  Tonight's mystery guests are the lovely and talented Andrews Sisters, and it's some measure of their fame even in 1959 that all it takes is one syllable by the trio for the panel, led as usual by Miss Dorothy Kilgallen, to break into one of their hits.  I love that one of the most common reasons mystery guests get found out is because they're appearing this week at the Latin Quarter, and the Andrewses are no exception.

Patty, Maxene, and LaVerne look to have been good eggs.  Patty's on the right, and today is her 94th birthday.  I hope somebody sings her a chorus of "Bei Mir Bist Du Schön," don't you?

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Continental Tittle-Tattle

News traveled fast.  On their first morning in Paris, Irene stopped in mid-matchstrike and Harriet looked on in horror as Yvette laid out the truth to Alice: as incredible is it seemed, Stephen Haines was stepping out on Mary.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Lady of the House Speaking

Fifty years ago today, this lovely lady - then most commonly referred to as Mrs. John F. Kennedy (and which makes you feel older, that form of address or the phrase "fifty years ago"?) became a TV star.  She led Charles Collingwood of CBS News on a tour of the White House that was one of the most widely watched programs to date.  She even won an Emmy (well, an honorary one, but still).

Millions of viewers got a heaping helping of vintage Jackie, in a film that, seen today, seems almost as primitive as a Biograph two-reeler.  It's hard to imagine the country now glued to something as stately, sedate, and reverent as the factually titled A Tour of the White House with Mrs. John F. Kennedy, and in 2012 it makes for curious viewing (you can see it,whole, here, although alas without contemporary commercials).

Mrs. K. won plaudits for banishing from the president's residence what were then seen as decades of bad taste - to paraphase that Ultimate Arbiter of Good Taste, June Bride, she gussied up the McKinley Stinker she moved into, making it into, if not a Kennedy Modern, then at least a paragon of American Elegance.  To today's eye, though, she replaced Teddy Roosevelt's moose heads and Taft's potted palms with something that looks very much like every middle-brow resort hotel lobby of the next decade (until mod swept away the last vestiges of Mid-Century Federal, sending smoked-glass mirror tiles and mud-colored shag carpet cascading up walls at Hyatts and worse across America). 

It's odd, too, to see so much of the future Jackie O; once her image was frozen forever a year and half after the broadcast, she was never again so present, in such abundance.  Watching her drift from room to room, her vaguely anaesthetized voice murmuring rapturously about "masses and masses of gold and glass..." or the night Pablo Casalas played the East Room, she is at once charming and disconcerting.  Her artless delivery recalls nothing so much as that of a supporting player in a John Waters movie, and the whole thing moves at an underwater pace. 

Her often parodied accent (the still-unfinished Treaty Room is "a chambah of HAAARahs...") is even more distinctive than one expects, an at times beguiling, at times giggle-inducing fugue of Boston (did she pick it up from the in-laws?), lockjaw, and the breathiness more associated with her famous blonde rival.  She smiles on cue, she nods her vast coiffure (Mr. Kenneth at his most cotton-candied), and says things like "It really is terribly good," (of a Van Buren-era portrait) in a way that calls forth the spectre of Gloria Upson.  When her husband joins in for the last few minutes, he seems by contrast to be speaking perfect Broadcast MidAtlantic.

We leave them there, that handsome couple, serene in the cluttered, half-decorated Treaty Room.  All these years later, we know more about them then they ever could have dreamed, a depressing amount of it not even slightly flattering.  The White House still looks much the same, even though it's survived being Ultrachintzed by Nancy Reagan and Little Rock Contempo'ed by the Clintons.  Bits of the Obama updates look even more Conference Center Classic than Mrs. Kennedy's Diplomatic Reception Room (there's a good article on presidential decorating, by the bye, here).

And yes, I am home sick from work today, with too much time on my hands.  Why do you ask?

Monday, February 13, 2012

On this Holiday...

Let me be the first to wish you, as is traditional in these parts, the happiest of Karen Valentine's Days.  May your residuals be plenty, and may you never be bumped for another damn season of Alf.

B is for...

Bourgeois (this interior), Bess (Truman, the lady deep in her magazine, left), and Birthdays.  Today is hers; she would be, in a better world, 127 today.

Few would argue that she was the most exciting of first ladies, but she had her own kind of homey charm, and she simultaneously managed to keep Harry happy and put up with Margaret (who would sing), which is no mean feat.  If nothing else, she set the stage for Mamie, who seemed by contrast both stylish and vigorous.

I don't know about you, but I'm just mad for that davenport, and I have to admit with a certain pride that somewhere in the depth of a storage unit back home, I have a chair just exactly like Harry's.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Funny Thing, a Woman's Career...

Sometime in the spring or summer of 1983, I bought this record. It's really a kind of longish EP, seven songs total; I bought it entirely because I wanted "It's Raining Men," which I promptly taped and then put the album aside.  I maybe listened to it, beyond the featured single, half-a-dozen times, at least a couple of which probably took place after that last-billed singer, to put it mildly, hit it big.  Her song is called "Eternal Love."  It's not her greatest work, but the voice is already there and in all fairness she's not yet even 20 (you can, if you like, hear it here).

Then a few years after that, there was a fire, and the album disappeared from my life (along with a couple hundred others, not to mention a great deal of other lost ephemera, ranging from every piece of paper I owned until that time to a portrait of Queen Marie Louise of Prussia that could probably be of assistance in forwarding my retirement had it survived).  I don't think I thought at all about the album until last year, when disco star Loleatta Holloway died.  "Ah," I thought, "she was that singer who was also on that bizarre Whitney Houston album I used to have."  It never occurred to me to check if I were right.

And of course I wasn't.  That other singer, tucked in between the fabulous Weather Girls and the soon-to-be superstar, is the nearly homonymous Leata Galloway.  It turns out she's very much alive.  She was older than Whitney, already in 1983 established on Broadway (the original cast of Hair, a few other things) and in the business in general.  She put out a couple of albums, featured here and there in some films.  She even sang backup on a track on one of my favorite albums, the Divine Miss M's Songs for the New Depression.  She did a run as Billie Holiday in Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill (is that something in which every black singer d'un certain âge is required to have a stint?); she's been available for corporate events.  It seems, from a quick Google survey, like a respectable career, rather in the way an old pro once described hers to me as having made her "famous, at least on a couple of blocks in about 20 cities."  She hasn't yet rated Wikipedia, though, and she's not exactly a household name.
I'm thinking of Leata Galloway today, and wondering what she thought, over the years, working away in clubs and on German TV, about the girl she once was billed above.  Did she envy her, seeing her on some vast stage in one of those beaded white columns that made her into the goddess her voice made her seem?  Did she wonder why it wasn't she herself vaulting up the charts, into the movies, up, up, up?  And when, do you suppose, that envy stared to fade, to turn, perhaps, to something like relief?  I suspect it was long before yesterday, and now, I hope, she knows how much better off she is, selling her reissued records on Facebook and turning up here and there (at a memorial, for example, for songwriter Linda Laurie - herself a fairly fascinating person - singing "The Very Thought of You" in what seems on shaky homemade video pretty good voice).

Fame is a funny thing, and rarely entirely good for the people it blesses.  Sometimes it seems as if only the least prepared are chosen, and that for the most gifted is reserved the most special kind of hell.  All too often, it boils down in the end to a hotel room, at last a few too many too wrong choices, and ... scene.  Having played Billie, I suppose Leata could tell us a thing or two about all that, even if offstage she herself escaped.  It's easy to romanticize the pain of stardom, to let the sentimental tears fall, for Whitney now as before for Judy, Dalida, Amy, La Môme, too many.  Let's a spare a thought, a grateful feeling, for the working artists who soldier on.  To paraphrase the Master: God knows at least they were there - and they're here.  Look who's here.  Still here.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Racing with Destiny

And now she's free...


Last year, on his birthday, Mr. Muscato got a wonderful present.  We were at our favorite hotel in that den of semi-iniquity, Dubai, having a cocktail, as one does, in the concierge lounge.  As everyone in these parts did, we had spent much of the day watching television, either sitting directly in front of it or keeping it in mind out of the corners of our eyes while we were doing something else, amazed and confused and apprehensive about what suddenly seemed like revolutions, revolts, uprisings springing up all around us.

We weren't surprised then, when the regularly scheduled mayhem was interrupted by a Special Announcement on Al Jazeera.  And two minutes later, we were surrounded, even in that sedate setting, by laughing, crying, and wonderfully surprised people.  Some were Egyptian; some had been there; some hoped for the same thing in their own countries; and some just saw the expressions on our faces and, half understanding, joined in to congratulate us.

After thirty years of stolid, brooding, infinitely depressing presence everywhere, it seemed, the man I've always thought of, derisively, as Uncle Hosni was checking out.  Even then we knew that it was just the end of the beginning, but it my God it was a start.

Moments like that stick in one's mind, of course, and they can be depressing in retrospect.  Now, one year later, again it's Mr. Muscato's birthday, but nothing seems any clearer - and much seems distinctly less hopeful - than it did that lovely long evening last February.

Still, I am not, to the limited extent of my political abilities, without hope.  Egypt is stronger than anyone can know, and while there are still obstacles, hurdles, setbacks, and annoyances without number ahead of us, I still believe it can, even if only in part, meet the expectations set during the unforgettable spring of 2011.

So today, we're off to celebrate again, have a nice lunch with friends (a little closer to home this time than Dubai - our own Fair City is suddenly chockablock with silly new ultra-deluxe hotels - I'll let you know how it goes).

My present to you is the video above.  I really do encourage you to watch it.  It's a song called "Sout el Horeya" (The Voice of Freedom), by Hany Adel, Amir Eid Hawary, and Sherif Mostafa, and last spring suddenly it was everywhere.  Now it's on the short list, with "Bread and Roses" and a few others, of Political Songs That Always Make Me Weepy.

It was made right in the middle of the uprising that was and is, reductively, referred to as Tahrir Square.  Watch those people.  They don't know how things are going to turn out; they know they might be attacked, assaulted, shot at, killed.  Still, they've come out to say, as Egyptians do, kifaya.  Enough.  There is only so long people can go without dignity, without pride, without hope; and the moment when they do something about it can be an astonishing thing to see.  They're not done yet.  Stay tuned.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Junior Miss-tery

Well, here's a familiar face, albeit at an unfamiliar time in her life.  Don't let those bobbysocks fool you, though - this pretty teen is already well on the way to the career that's kept her going ever since. I think she's cute as a bug in her two braids and pennyloafers.

The question is: who's that girl?  

Meanwhile, on Broadway

Miss Lansbury graciously gives us a useful lesson on the Art of the Entrance, seventies Big Lady style, encompassing the full range of staircase-descending, partner-acknowledging, dance-step-indicating, and adoration-reflecting.  She also manages to flash a surprising amount of gam in the process. Watch and learn; you never know when it might come in handy...

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Kids in America

The past is another country:  one in which Bette Midler and David Bowie share a fondness for ruthlessly bleached poodle cuts; in which Michael Jackson's fashion choices almost make sense; in which Cher can be the least fussily turned out person in any group; and in which that other woman is international song sensation Kim Wilde.

Well, I suppose she still is, but honestly - did you recognize her?  Do you, as Miss Cara once implored, remember her name?

How do you suppose this distinctly eclectic evening turned out?  Based on Cher's expression, I'm not optimistic...

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Beefcake Update #2

Peenee brought him up, but I've been thinking about poor dear Mr. Upen Patel in any case.  If our last blast from the past has forsaken the great wide world, going back to his roots in Cairo, Mr. Patel has headed out from the sphere in which first we met him, Bollywood, broadening his horizons.  If Wikipedia is to be believed, he has been studying in Europe, learning filmmaking and, however improbable it may seem, following in the footsteps of such illustrious forebears as Shelley Winters by taking up the Method at the Actors' Studio.

He's even on Twitter, giving us thrilling glimpses into his world - he is, it seems, fond of Playstation, put off by the cold, and dining with someone tantalizingly referred to as "Boy Asad."  Be still my heart.

In due course, one hopes he'll return to the Subcontinental Film Industry and triumph once again, although one hopes as well that he'll do it in somewhat less regrettable fashions than seen here...

Needless to Say...

Well, now I know what I want played at my wedding...

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Our Mutual Friend

What a week it is for anniversaries! Can lifting, reigning, and, now the 200th observation of the birthday of one of the Café's favorite writers, the estimable Mr. Charles Dickens.

I was raised in a reading household. The Classics - defined as a radiating series of circles with the Bible, Shakespeare, and Dickens at the center, and Tennyson, Austen, Galsworthy, Hawthorne, and Alice Duer Miller not far off - were held in both reverence and familiarity. David Copperfield was one of the first Huge Long Books I ever read (and still, I think, my favorite Dickens), and A Christmas Carol, inevitably, featured heavily most Decembers.

Today, I got caught in traffic for a good long time, stuck in the heavy construction that is a more or less permanent feature of this city that is at once built on a rigid grid plan and, beyond that, as poorly planned as anywhere you can imagine. It was a less wearing go-slow than most, though, because the BBC World Service was playing a remarkably good program in honor of today's bicentennial: a look at how Dickens is perceived today in India, where his legacy looms large even in the post-colonial school curricula and where his brand of extravagant, sentimental, and episodic fiction strikes a chord with a public accustomed to Bollywood and enamored with its coventions (which are indeed as extravagant, sentimental, and episodic as the wildest Victorian three-volume novel).

Dickens and India - Mutual Friends is available here should you like to enjoy it yourself.

So anyway, there I am, idling away surrounded by construction barriers, ripped-up sidewalks, discommoded pedestrians, and the jumpsuited laborers who keep this whole place running (in this case undertaking with great pains the kind of large-scale grading that could be done in a morning with proper large machinery), listening to some very lovely people talk about how Dickens has shaped their educations, experiences, lives.

Interspersed here and there were readings from the Great Man's works, and that is how I found myself, on a fine Tuesday morning, bawling like a child at the death of Little Nell. Now, I know that dear Oscar has had written that one must have a heart of stone not to laugh at this particular passage, but in the right hands (or rather, voice), it's a killer:
She was dead. No sleep so beautiful and calm, so free from trace of pain, so fair to look upon. She seemed a creature fresh from the hand of God, and waiting for the breath of life; not one who had lived and suffered death.

Her couch was dressed with here and there some winter berries and green leaves, gathered in a spot she had been used to favour. 'When I die, put near me something that has loved the light, and had the sky above it always.' Those were her words.

She was dead. Dear, gentle, patient, noble Nell was dead. Her little bird—a poor slight thing the pressure of a finger would have crushed—was stirring nimbly in its cage; and the strong heart of its child mistress was mute and motionless for ever.

Where were the traces of her early cares, her sufferings, and fatigues? All gone. Sorrow was dead indeed in her, but peace and perfect happiness were born; imaged in her tranquil beauty and profound repose.

And still her former self lay there, unaltered in this change. Yes. The old fireside had smiled upon that same sweet face; it had passed, like a dream, through haunts of misery and care; at the door of the poor schoolmaster on the summer evening, before the furnace fire upon the cold wet night, at the still bedside of the dying boy, there had been the same mild lovely look. So shall we know the angels in their majesty, after death.

The old man held one languid arm in his, and had the small hand tight folded to his breast, for warmth. It was the hand she had stretched out to him with her last smile—the hand that had led him on, through all their wanderings. Ever and anon he pressed it to his lips; then hugged it to his breast again, murmuring that it was warmer now; and, as he said it, he looked, in agony, to those who stood around, as if imploring them to help her.

She was dead, and past all help, or need of it. The ancient rooms she had seemed to fill with life, even while her own was waning fast—the garden she had tended—the eyes she had gladdened—the noiseless haunts of many a thoughtful hour—the paths she had trodden as it were but yesterday—could know her never more.
Pardon me a moment; there's something in my eye.

Well, of course, I pulled it together Minnelli and headed back to the office. But this evening I think I need to go off and find a book - a good old-fashioned book, dusty and slightly musty and lovely - and see what's been going on at Miss Betsy Trotwood's since last I looked her up.

And what, you might ask, are those rather twee bibelots there up top? Well, one thing the Villa Muscato is replete with is Dickensiana, as Mother Muscato (of sainted memory) collected it. It's not the sort of thing to appeal to the Evil Stepmother, and so in due course a series of packing boxes showed up all the way across the seas where we were living at that point, full of things like yellowed editions of the Illustrated London News, plates with scenes from A Tale of Two Cities et al, an endearingly repulsive jug in the form of the great author himself (looking contemplative, for a jug), and a great many of these little figurines. That's Little Nell herself, third from left.

I suppose Dickens isn't terribly fashionable, or more properly dwells out somewhere beyond fashion. Still, I love him dearly, and as we head into his third century, I hope that somewhere there's a small boy sitting, perhaps, in his grandmother's living room, and opening, for the first time, one of those books, to read. "Chapter One: I am born..."

Venus in Furs (and Feathers and Diamonds)

Miss Crawford, just because. Utterly resplendent in her self regard. Not to mention her oddly endearing Mamie gloves, a surprising indication that, apparently, in Joan's world, this is daywear.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Gloriana 2.0

Sixty years today; hard to imagine it, doing that job, day in, day out for 60 years. Let alone doing it so very well. Say what you will, she has a marvelous smile.

Her mother, of course, was famous for hers. I've always found it a rather practiced smile, determined to charm, at its least successful verging on the fixed.

No, I think the Queen's is more like that of her grandmother, the redoubtable Queen Mary. It's altogether a less predictable phenomenon, but all the more endearing for it.

One can't, I suppose, wish her sixty more. You know what I do wish, though? That she's with us for a good long time, long enough to see her first-born's first-born have his first. And that that child is a girl, the first ever British heiress apparent. She'd have a thing or two to learn from her great granny...

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Today in History: Nice Cans

Why, no, I don't actually know why dear Florence Henderson is hoisting those tins, or for that matter why she's looking so roguish about it. I'm guessing either Hi-C or tomato juice - neither of which exactly reek of Wessonality.

I do know, though, that this memorable vignette was snapped on February 5, 1998 - and Life was there.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

A Note from the Infirmary

Well, it's been a rather quiet weekend hereabouts, mostly because poor dear Mr. Muscato finds himself rather in the position of the caped crusader above. Nothing broken, thank goodness, but an imposing splint/cast/bandage-y sort of thing, strict instructions to keep still, and an enticing array of painkillers.

(On a side note, it's not as easy as you might think to find a random image that combines a cast and a certain allure - and my goodness, do you have to wade through a ridiculous amount of eyebrow-raising ephemera to do so! The things that people get up to. All I know is that I don't recommend Googling "hot man leg in a cast" if you're not quite entirely alone. I'm still blushing...)

He'll be fine, of course, but it would not be wholly inaccurate to say that I think he may be working the situation a little more than is strictly necessary. I've firmly drawn the line, though, at the Robin costume.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Birthday Girl: Saint Gertrude

Seen here looking uncharacteristically girlish (not to mention be-foundationed), Miss Gertrude Stein. Not, it must be admitted, the most convincing of Gibson Girls, but she did grow into a trademark look that suited her far better.

138 today, and still going strong strong strong.

Too, Too Divine

The news from dear JoeMyGod that things have gotten even odder in the world of That Somewhat Different Bishop, Eddie "Muscles" Long, got me thinking. Why I love the Internet is that what I was thinking about was, more or less, this very wallpaper. And therein lies a tale.

The paper, you see, is from a longtime Philadelphia institution that I've only just discovered disappeared seven or eight years ago. It was a place called the Divine Tracy Hotel, a name that only hints at the bizarerie within. The DT, you see, was run by the International Peace Mission, better known locally as the Church of Father and Mother Divine. Theirs is a saga that reads like fiction (think Sinclair Lewis meets Nathanael West), but it was just part of the background weirdness of living in the City of Brotherly Love back then.

The Tracy was, even thirty years ago, more than a shade down at heel, but it had its standards. Actually, it was entirely a creature of its standards, which followed the particular diktats of Father and Mother and ranged from a vegetarian diet (served in the actually rather cosy Keyflower Restaurant) to a strict dress code (no shorts, please!) to a total segregation by sex (men on one floor, women on another, and no mixing allowed). It was way eccentric, but it was cheap and cheerful.

Why, then, the wallpaper revery? Well, you see, once upon a time one was a student 'round about those parts. From time to time it was extremely inconvenient not to have a quiet place uninterrupted by roommates, houseparents, or worse. Where better, then, for a young man of Artistic Tastes to repair with a friend for a quiet evening of, um, studying, than a quiet and almost laughably inexpensive hotel that ruthlessly enforced a single-sex setting? As long as you kept things quiet, the very patient (except with short sleeves and lamb chops) staff (who all had noms d'hôtel, or I suppose du Divine like Sweetness Peaceful and Cheery Faithfulness) were none the wiser. Actually, I have to admit that after the fourth or fifth consecutive weekend I took up residence in one of their $15 doubles (with, I also have to admit, varying study pals), I think Mr. Faithfulness might just have had a clue.

In any case, that's wallpaper I've seen from all sorts of angles, none of them strictly kosher, as it were, by Divine Tracy house rules.

Sadly, the glory days of the International Peace Mission have long ago come and gone. The Tracy is now student apartments, and its grander sister, the Divine Lorraine, lies derelict in North Philadelphia. Amazingly, though, Mother Divine lives on. Here she is, pictured in the Main Line mansion that is now the focus of the movement:

The snap's from a few years ago, but I picture her still there, just a shade more Miss Havishamy, waiting either for the return of Father Divine or for Mr. Faithfulness to bring in her doubtless meat-free dinner.

So in any case, Bishop Eddie may now claim to be a king, but he's still a piker by Father Divine standards - he after all, convinced not a small number of people that he was God incarnate, and got rather a fascinating life out of it. What Mr. Faithfulness and his fellow church members got out of it is less clear, but they all seemed serene enough. Maybe he tries on Mother's stoles when she's not looking...

The wallpaper comes courtesy of Katbert's very festive Flickr photostream.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Lady of the Lake

Or at least of her Brentwood swimming pool. Hope floats, they say, and so does the lovely and talented Miss Dolores Del Rio. Although she's about thisclose to a wardrobe malfunction in that daring bandeau top - which she has rather oddly paired with her girdle.

The mysteries of Hollywood never cease to fascinate...

Beefcake Update #1

Since yesterday may have been just a bit of a downer, I thought today we'd launch the first of a few Important Updates in the lives of some of our Café regulars.

Since last we met, of course, Egypt has had (as Eleanor of Acquitaine once observed of her own family, at least in The Lion in Winter) its little ups and downs, and at some point I suppose we will have to have a chat about all that.

In the meantime, though, there have been some triumphs and trials - and, it must be admitted, some setbacks - in the career of dear Mr. Tarek Naguib, last seen waxing Tribbianiesque (here, I'm happy to see that he has, by all appearances, cut down on the waxing, up to a point). In March 2010, he traveled halfway 'round the world to Incheon, South Korea, to vie for the coveted Mr. World title.

But alas, it was not to be. The dear boy only made the top 20, and has since retreated to a Nileside career in modeling and the occasional music video.

But all is not lost - if only because, while carrying out the necessary rigorous research that has gone into uncovering all this, I've just now encountered...someone new. Gentle readers, let me introduce you to one Mohammed Al Maiman, of whom more, I suspect, anon:

Back in 2010, he was Tarek's competition and vanquisher, as he went on to finish as 2nd runner up. I don't know about you, but I wouldn't mind running up against him any time. I suspect we'll be running into him again hereabouts, with any luck at all...

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Not a Liberace Medley...

According to a new survey, a randomly queried set of Britons have identifed as the Saddest Song Ever REM's dirgelike "Everybody Hurts." I'm not convinced. The others named are really no better, taking in songs from the mawkish ("Candle in the Wind," for God's sake) to the bombastic ("My Way" - !) to the simply mystifying (are there really people who burst into tears when hearing "Seasons in the Sun"?). A few genuinely are misery-inducing ("Eleanor Rigby," for one, not to mention "Leavin' on a Jet Plane," which can still get me when the mood is just right), but on the whole, I think it's at best a highly incomplete sampling.

For example, not a single song by Janis Ian appears on the list, and that seems to me an egregious oversight. Making up for that, here we have a live rendition of her "Tea and Sympathy" (from an Israeli TV show a few decades ago, a number likely too lugubrious, I fear, for the definitely un-depressing Redundant Variety Hour...). Listening, keep in mind that this is probably not even one of Janis's top-ten tearfests - this is the woman, after all, who came up with "At Seventeen," "In the Winter," and "Breaking Silence," just to grab three titles from her woebegone catalogue.

Long ago and far away, I worked a Janis Ian show, and even then it was a surprise that she was actually a funny, feisty, and fairly completely non-lachrymose personage. More recent videos show that, even though she remains a master of sorrow (not to mention having become rather startlingly lesbo-matronly), this is still the case, which is somehow very nice to know - I would have to think that five decades of making people cry would get to you, somehow.

And to think we haven't even started on the hardcore stuff - "Strange Fruit," anybody? "Anyone who had a Heart"? And let's not even bring up "Puff the Magic Dragon"...