Monday, April 30, 2012

Anniversary Waltz

It hardly seems possible, but I was digging around the Archives this morning, and it turns out that today marks four years to the day since I thought it might be fun to have a blog.  It turns out it is.

The snap above isn't the Café Muscato - however much, I like to think, it may be evocative of the spirit of things hereabout - but rather a heartbreakingly beautiful little place outside Amsterdam that the Mister and I visited a few years ago.  I'm not much of a photographer, but I like its sense of possibility, of things being not quite ready for company (but plenty ready enough).

Pretty, I suppose.  Not, it seems, if audience stats are to be believed, what callers who stumble on the Café are looking for.  A review of the search terms that bring people here leads me to think that the ideal Café Muscato image would be a party snap in which Celia Hammond, Adrian Maulana, Marisa Berenson, Margaret, Duchess of Argyll, and Dee Dee Pfeiffer, one or more of them unclothed and/or engaged in uspeakable acts, are doing something involving "chic hairstyles," "White House redecorating," or, enigmatically "boom sha la la la la."

Failing that, I guess we'll just keep on going (barring the occasional interruption here and there) in the spirit of what came to mind on April 30, 2008: 


Because I said so. Because I blame it on the summer night...or the bossa nova. Because that's just the way the cookie crumbles. Because it's always something.

Why? Why the strange fascination with the films of Kay Francis? With the minutiae of forgotten mitteleuropean dynasties of the 19th century? With the old age of the Duchess of Windsor? With the youth of Tutankhamun? Why the all joy, the tears, the deep, abiding bemusement with the ways of the world?

Just one damn thing after another.

Just one damn thing after another; I still haven't come up with a better reason.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Birthday Boy: Balladeer

Rod McKuen, despite for many years being, for better or for worse, America's best-known poet, doesn't get much respect.  As it turns out, even from me, for when I noted that today was his birthday (and a happy 79th to him), my mind turned to "Ballad of the Sad Young Men," and I thought, "well, he did write at least one beautiful thing."

Except he didn't.  This lacerating little number was in fact recorded by McKuen, during his phase as a kind of folkie poet-cabaretiste, but he didn't (despite what I and, judging from Google, many others have always thought) write it.  It's actually from a curious little 1959 musical called The Nervous Set, by Fran Landesman, with music by Tommy Wolf.  After a very short Broadway run, it seems to have more or less disappeared forever, leaving behind only this song and the jazz standard "Spring Can Really Hang You up the Most."

Well, anyway, it's a curious way to mark the man's birthday, but there's never, really, a bad reason to listen to Dame Shirley, is there?  "Ballad of the Sad Young Men" was long a part of her act, and here she stretches it out, reaching through camp to beyond camp to something very like art.  It's not my favorite version of the song - that must always be Mabel Mercer's*, sadly not YouTubeable - but it's very wonderful.  Beyond Bassey, Mercer, (and McKuen, of course), it's also notably been done by Roberta Flack and Jane Monheit, among many others.

Back in my bachelor days in Manhattan, or rather those bachelor nights spent, so many of them, in low nightspots on side streets (ah, for the joys of 88s, of the Five Oaks, of Don't Tell Mama - oh, for the tawdry splendors of Marie's Crisis on a cold winter night!), I thought this song was just about the ne plus ultra of worldly melancholy.  I'm still touched, in a way, by the wry, weary lyric -

Autumn turns the leaves to gold,
slowly dies the heart;
Sad young men are growing old -
that's the cruelest part...

is, in its way, up there with Dorothy Parker in her less vinegary mode.  It's a kind of song, though, that hits one most before one actually does start to grow older, when that prospect still seems a formidable and disconcerting possiblity, rather than just one more damn thing to put up with.  It's a song for someone of 34 who's just discovering a gray hair or two, perhaps, or someone 36 who suddenly sees 40 looming.  I still like it, mind you, but happily sailing toward senesence, don't take it nearly so seriously.

And those Sad Young Men?  Don't quote me, but I wouldn't be at all surprised to hear that they're that way...

* Gosh - even that seems like sort of a slap at poor Rod.  He's the Rodney Dangerfield of half-forgotten middlebrow demi-legends...

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Ten Tips on Stardom

1.  Have an instinctive understanding of exactly how to hit your key light - something that never failed the Divine Josephine, even when the spotlight was all she had...

2.  Let Joan Blondell be your guide:  always have a positive approach to your grueling glamour regimen (and never, ever be seen without eye makeup, bangles, pumps, and, when situationally appropriate, an adoring attendant).

3.  Develop a trademark expression; extra credit if it can be variously read as vulnerable and alluring at the same time.  You may not hit the heights that Marilyn reached in no small part thanks to hers, but you have to start somewhere...

4.  Equally, however, you mustn't neglect the more ferocious aspect of divalicity; nothing so incites the fans to adoration as an affect just this side of disdain.  Dame Joan, despite an off-stage attitude of almost superhuman cosiness, was no slouch in this regard on stage.

5.  Never pass up an opportunity to let the boys in the stills gallery have a little fun.  If you can't face the prospect of yet another Arbor Day photo spread, at least don't hesitate to show off your hobbies, however implausible.  I don't for a moment believe that Mary Boland was a devoted ping-pong enthusiast, but it made a nice snap for the weekend rotogravures, no?

6.  However, never forget that glamour is job one.  Audiences forgave Lana everything for the better part of four decades, just because she could so reliably give that look.  It takes practice, kids, especially when you're balancing as much off stage as our Miss Turner here.

7.  Keep good company.  Peers and counterparts always make good press - that's why Jerry was almost always seen with one or preferably more of his girls...

8.  ...and at a certain point, cultivate the next generation.  Joan was smart enough to know that she could get away with that hat as long as she was standing next to the ravishing young Mr. Chamberlain.  Do you suppose she's goosing him even as the picture was snapped? (On a side note, I always think of this particular expression of Joan's as her "Mommie's had her vodka" look - it's her own special version of "Keep it together, Minnelli," as you can practically see the self-will that it's taking to keep her upright.)

9.  Never forget that you're Queen of the Lot, even if that lot is only Universal.  It takes a special moxie to wave at your minions and drive your own personal go-kart, but Doris takes it all in stride.

10.  Finally, and when all else fails - endure.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Birthday Lady: A Voice, Stilled Too Soon

"I still hear people say that I should not be talking about the rights of lesbian and gay people and I should stick to the issue of racial justice. But I hasten to remind them that Martin Luther King Jr. said, 'Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.' I appeal to everyone who believes in Martin Luther King Jr.'s dream to make room at the table of brother- and sisterhood for lesbian and gay people."

"Gay and lesbian people have families, and their families should have legal protection, whether by marriage or civil union. A constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriages is a form of gay bashing, and it would do nothing at all to protect traditional marriage."

"Hate is too great a burden to bear. It injures the hater more than it injures the hated."

I hope you'll forgive the briefest interruption of our usual frivolity for a moment's genuine admiration.  Coretta Scott King would have been 85 today, and it's a damn shame she's not.  We need her now more than ever.

It must be surpassingly hard to be what, for for nearly forty years, Mrs. King had to be:  a professional widow.  She did it with unfailing grace and courage, neither afraid to fight for recognition of her husband's work nor shy about pushing forward her vision of his legacy, in ways that, especially in her final years, put her at odds with a sad number of people in the civil rights movement.

Of all the burdens she bore, the one we perhaps think of least is that her public role essentially overwrote the private woman: her steady gaze, her unchanging look (eternally a lady, as if to say she had no other need to show that she was, not just as good as, but if she chose quite better than, thank you), her knack for quiet inspiration, all more or less hid the woman above - did you know that she sang, and apparently sang very well indeed?

In just this image, you can see that she was a singer with the gift of giving to her audience something of the joy she felt in singing; that's rare.  Coretta Scott King used her voice in ways that helped to change the world, but I can't help but think about the other voice, the one that went unheard.  I'm grateful for her sacrifices; aren't you?

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Cover Girl

Her name may ring only the faintest of bells today, but 86 years ago today, the tempestuous Spanish star Raquel Meller rated the cover of Time.

She was, in her day, an international sensation, and while her vogue was fairly short (little better than a dozen years or so), she covered a lot of ground, both professionally (she sang, danced the tango, and made a string of well-received European silents) and geographically (performing everywhere from Paris to Uruguay, with a starry U.S. tour right around the time of this cover).

The coming of sound shouldn't have fazed a polymath like her, but she never clicked in sound pictures (which if nothing else made it significantly harder to sustain a multi-lingual career), and she seems to have married well and more or less left the limelight by the mid-30s.  She did have one great lost opportunity - Chaplin wanted her for City Lights; she would have deprived Virginia Cherrill of her little moment of immortality, so perhaps it's all for the best.

And how can you not admire a lady who can with such aplomb carry off a mantilla larger than her head?

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Hair Trigger

Well, as you might have noticed, hair has been rather on my mind of late.  In my last installment, I noted a rather spectacular hairtastrophe, and dear Bill chimed in, as is his delightful wont - in this case, with a demand for pictures of said coiffure difficulties.

I'm a rather shy (not to mention visually unedifying) sort, and I really don't think, on the whole, much of a spectacle to be relished.  It's in that spirit, then, that I present the above (and not, heaven forfend, for any carnal or lascivious purpose - oh, no, not me).  This gentleman, it seems, is one Mr. Amr Samaha, and among his many distinguishing features is the fun fact that he was Mr. Egypt International 2007.  Now this is apparently, I'm learning, a different Mr. Egypt than the title that for a while adorned Café favorite Mr. Tarek Naguib.  Still, it's clearly one that has no trouble attracting high-class talent on its own merits, dont' you think?  Sadly, Amr's career, at least in English, is rather underdocumented, and as I don't know the Arabic for "handsomeness pageant," I'm out of luck in trying to discover what he's been up to these past few years.

He appears here for the simple reason that he is, more or less, sporting exactly my current 'do (when it's not in disaster mode, at least).  If I'm not showing it off to entirely the same advantage, this will give you an general idea of how it looks, at least from the ears or so up.  My version, I do admit, features a fair amount more salt among all that pepper, but texture- and length-wise (of the hair, darlings - do get your minds out of the gutter) we're as it were kindred spirits.

Have I mentioned lately just how much I miss Egypt?

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Birthday Girl: She's the Greatest Star

She is by far.  Here, though, not quite yet - and she's not quite 20.  This was the great wide world's introduction to Barbra Joan, on Jack Paar's Tonight Show.  It's 1961.  She appears in her dowdy dress and impossible hair, altogether implausible, and sings Arlen - and Arlen in dialect, from a flop musical, yet.  What?

But time stops.  What must it have been like, night after night, in little clubs up and down the East Coast and elsewhere, to be among the first to experience that voice?  You would, for a few months, have had a wonderful secret, and for years and ever after, a real right to boast - "Oh yes, we heard her at the Bon Soir, you know..."

Today, she's 70.  We take her for granted, or lightly mock her for her undeniable pretensions, her immutable sense of self.  But aren't we lucky to have her?  And who has more of a right to take herself just a shade too seriously?  Who else has sung with Garland, been romanced by Sharif and Redford (not to mention Matthau), held her own against Madeline Kahn in a comedy battle to the death, conquered Broadway and Hollywood, turned herself into a pop star and and a disco diva, turned TV specials into art (or was it vice versa), convinced the world that she was not only supremely talented but supremely beautiful, and never, ever made it look like anything other than what she was born to do?

I think she's swell.  Any time I start to think, oh, dear - the nails, the dreary Donna Karan dresses (perhaps she should always have someone like Cecil Beaton around to dress her?), the solemnity, Yentl... well, I think of the voice, and all is forgiven, now and forever.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Image du Jour: Funnies Business

Ten questions this arresting image provokes:

1.  Who would have thought that Jimmy Olsen would so closely resemble Anne Baxter?

2.  Wouldn't you love to see the rest of the outfit?  Based on the blouse, I'm guessing knee-length navy pencil skirt with rear kick-pleat and coordinating sensible pumps.  Alternate scenarios welcome.

3.  Did he borrow the outfit from Lois, or was it a fresh purchase?  Spend a moment thinking of Jimmy Olsen shopping in the Career Gal section of Gimbels.*

* I just looked this up.  Turns out the department store in Metropolis is Lacey's.  I suppose that means their competition is Mimbels, Kanamakers, or Ultmans.  Fancy metropolites must shop at Pergdorf Doogman.

4. Is it a coincidence that the wig so closely resemble's Ed Woods's in Glen or Glenda?

5.  If so, why isn't there more angora involved?  If not, why not?

6. Haven't we all had a night or two like this?

7.  If your answer to (6) was "no," was the overriding reason: (a) the drag? (b) the armed, J. Edgar-ische heavy? or (c) the bat-toting chimp?

8.  Do you suppose that 7(c) marks the first appearance in English of the phrase "bat-toting chimp"?

9.  In this case, is a cigar just a cigar?

10.  If this is panel No. 8, do you suppose panels 9 through 12 hinged more heavily on the pistol or the baseball bat?  Please submit your concepts, with special points given for (a) the intervention of aliens; (b) the appearance in a pivotal role of Thelma Ritter as Birdie Coogan; or (c) a sex scene not involving the chimp.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

"The City was Gone..."

I don't do nearly enough, out here in the Sandlands, to keep up with pop, but every once in a while I emerge from my usual haze of New Wave and Ethel Merman to realize it's too early to surrender to terminal middle age.  I find myself loving, for example, the new Scissor Sisters single, even though the enigmatic, hypnotic video features far too little Babydaddy (be still my heart) for my taste...

Of course, since Scissor Sisters are basically new New Wave (or at least that variant/successor that back in the day we affectionately called DFS - Disco Fag Sh*t) with enough of a camp sensibility to embarrass even Ethel Merman, I don't suppose I can call it much of a stretch.

Meanwhile, at a Luncheonette Downtown

"Oh, Myrna always had a nice smile for the customers.  Especially her regulars, like Mr. Chaffee from the hardware store.  I'll just never understand what got into her that day, or how on earth he didn't taste the Drano in his usual - you know, the black-and-white shake with an extra vanilla."

"But then I think back to that time we were closing up, must have been a month or so before. 'This ain't how I planned it, Vi,' she said to me, 'I got better things to do than remember to ask Stosh to put an extra scoop in some people's black-and-white.'  Well, I knew she thought she was too good for us, but still."

"Then we found that old Chaffee had years back married a girl from out on Pringle Street where Myrna was from.  Turned out she never forgave her second cousin for getting herself a husband like that  - I hear she has an automatic mangle and a white-mink shrug, and one time they went down to Vero Beach and stayed three weeks - and one day it all just went pop.  Still, she was a nice girl, in her way, Myrna.  That new one isn't half as good with a tray, not to mention she's probably one of them boondoggers or whatever they're calling 'em these days. 

"What?  She is too one.  That's not my fault.  I saw her looking me up and down, oh yes I did.  Made me miss Myrna, it did, even with the Drano."

Friday, April 20, 2012

Hair Raising

4:45 p.m.: a horrifying discovery
So: although this is very much our local weekend, I found myself, at an unaccustomed mid-afternoon hour today, having to get myself dolled up (to the extent that one does) for an Important Office Do. 

Earlier, Mr. Muscato and I had been lazing about the Villa Muscato, playing with the dogs, enjoying the last fragments of the pre-inferno weather, as is appropriate for a weekend morning, before bestirring ourselves to actually get a little shopping done so that we don't either starve this coming week or rely entirely on the questionable mercies of the local delivery-industrial complex (which leans heavily toward heavy Lebanese, heavier Indian, inedible pizza, and the regrettable messes that pass for Chinese in these parts). 

We also squeezed in a quick lunch at a very swish new Italian gourmanderie not too far from the house, meeting up there with our pal The Bodybuilder (a physical-wellness professional and general eyeful), who predictably asked for a plain chicken breast, steamed, please, while we piled our trays (it's a sort of haute-cafeteria, as it turns out) with mozzarella salads, antipasti, lasagna, and heavenly calzones. Oh, and cheesecake, which came with a side of biscotti.  It's a pretty impressive hangout, actually, and we'll likely double our body mass by June at this rate.

In any case, all this took some time, not least because the BB had some choice local gossip, and so I had to hurry rather more than I like to get dressed for Tea with the Clients.  The location in which we were entertaining these out-of-towners was a Very Distinguished Residence (whose Resident actually spells it with a capital "R") we obtained for the afternoon by pulling in an alarming number of chips from hither and yon.  In any case, it was distinctly, at least for the time of day, a Hightum sort of affair, and so I really did have some dressing to do.

Which leads us, distressingly, to the photo above; she is, of course, the third Mrs.Gingrich, the effervescent Callista Lou (at whose photos I look and think to myself "she's years younger than you," which is true).

So - I was in a hurry.  Rushing suits no toilette, and least of all mine.  Perhaps it was just that I'm used to dressing either early in the morning or later in the evening.  Perhaps I was just a tad heavy-handed on the product, or uncautious with the blow-dryer, or both.  Perhaps it's all just the evil hand of fate.  Whatever it was, having showered I did my usual routine, threw on a dashing weekend-y sort of afternoon costume (blazer, pale blue shirt, rather bright tie to look devil-may-care) and ran down the stairs.  There, between the stairs and the front door, is a large mirror.  Turning to leave, I saw reflected therein a shocking vision:  something, something - humidity, haste, I know not what - had conspired against me, for looking back was a rather startlingly convincing salt-and-pepper reinterpretation of the trademark Callista helmet, complete with the tendril that the formidable Peteykins (aka Princess Sparklepony) once hypothesized might be prehensile.

It was alarming.

But I was late.  The product betrayal (for such I think it was) was fierce - it was all I could do to try and break up some of the stiffness before I simply had to go, and after which spend two hours standing around looking, I fear, like an oddly butch discarded political first wife.

Now it's hours (and several cocktails) later, and while padding about the house I caught another glimpse in that infernal mirror.  At first, I sighed with relief, for the Callista-do has relaxed significantly and I almost, again, resembled a human being.

8:45 p.m.:  less rigid, but not, noticeably, an improvement
My relief was short-lived, for on the next pass past the glass (and try saying that ten times fast), I discovered that, while I was now delivered of political spouse-resemblance, I was apparently (and wholly unknowingly) calling up the spirit of Seventies Jesus. It's a very specific era and look, mind you - not Hippy Jesus at all, but rather one fit for a (portly) Nazarene who might be at home at a fern bar, or working backstage on Merv, or attending an EST meeting (or all three at once).

Clearly, it's time to get the hair cut.  If I'm not careful, at the next wrong turn, I'll end up with Barry-Gibb-on-Barbra's-Guilty-LP-cover, and however fetching he was, I just don't think a case can be made for that in 2012 - not, at least, on a round gent who actually remembers Guilty when it was new.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

The Cannons are Silent

Thirty years ago tonight, Truman Capote appeared on Letterman.  I'm not sure that a mock turtle is any middle-aged man's most advised choice in necklines.

I probably do over-rely on it for fodder, but I really do love the odd things that pop up when you check out the Life archive to see what might have happened on a given day. Somehow it seems so improbable that it's just 30 years sinceTC might have been a TV guest, and yet at the same time it feels equally like ancient history.  Two years later and Truman was dead; Gore Vidal was being perhaps unkind, but not inaccurate, when he described the death as "a good career move." By those last few years, there really wasn't much left.

Earlier on, though, I'm not sure there was anybody better.  My favorite Capote isn't necessarily his most major or most popular works (and I really, really don't like In Cold Blood.  It may be a work of genius, but it's just too mean, at once too polished and too raw; too voyeuristic).  No, I'm oddly fond of The Muses are Heard, his quirky account of an opera company's foray into the old Soviet Union, playing Porgy and Bess and trailing Mrs. Ira Gershwin in their wake.  It's full of funny, telling little details, casually bitchy asides, and genuinely illuminating moments of East-West perplexity.  If you've never read it, you have a treat waiting.  Enjoy.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

I Don't Mean Frisco...

Pardon the colorization on this one - sadly, it seems to be all the gods of Youtube will offer up to mark this, the 112th anniversary of the San Francisco earthquake.

Here, of course, we have the potent combo of Jeannette MacDonald and Clark Gable in MGM's 1936 blockbuster film of the tragedy (as it was not just a disaster pic but also the usual MGM love-trio plot, they were joined by Spencer Tracy; we don't see him here).  Each does what they do best:  Jeanette sings (the title song of course, several times), and Clark looks at her with that just-this-side-of-a-leer of his that telegraphs quite clearly that his intentions are intriguingly far from honorable.

I'm especially fond of dear Mr. Ethan Mordden's description of Jeanette in the middle of this sequence - he says she turns up wearing "the kind of hat that a banshee would wear to a bris," and that about sums it all up for me.

Jeanette isn't, I think, as fondly remembered as she might be.  She made too many pictures with that great big hunk of ham-scented wood, Nelson Eddy, and at some point seems to have lost the spark that's so obvious here and have started taking herself seriously as Big Diva on the lot.  Lost in the change was the slightly off-center, frequently naughty lady who had been such a huge hit in some of the earliest smash musicals at Paramount and who then moved on up to Metro.  We certainly catch her here, especially when she lets her audience take the melody and lets loose with a kind of opera-meets-bebop ad lib, during which she carries out a very refined version of minstrel-show trucking.

Seconds later, you know, the whole place goes to hell (a great sequence).  Somewhere across town, in a less fictional version of the city, the young Miss Alice B. Toklas (a year out from her fateful meeting with Gertrude in Paris) wakes her father and says, "the city has been rocked by an earthquake and is now on fire!"  "Ah," says he, "That will give us a black eye in the east."  Well, you can see why she left.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Public Service Announcement: Mother Nature

Now, I'm admittedly not the most ultragreen person around.  Living in one of the most hellish climates on earth, we use way too much air-conditioning, and recycling is a concept that is, as yet, still a glimmer in local government's eye in these parts (we now have separate bins, one black, one pointedly green - but they both get dumped in the same trucks).  I'd be a flat-out liar if I said that I turn out every light, that I'm reconsidering my carbon footprtint, or that I have any intention of swearing off raspberries flown half-way 'round the world from New Zealand or worse just for my delectation.  Count it as yet another area in which I'm hopelessly spoiled.

Still, who better to start me and all of us on the path to more thoughtful living than the Divine Miss M.?  Her high-profile work over the past few years to re-green New York's blighted parks has been yet another reminder that I'm far too far from home - she even tweets about hanging out at the park café near my old place!   I could meet her while volunteering! (Even though, now that I'm hitched, it's something I'd no longer need to do - everyone knows that people in Manhattan only volunteer to either find a partner, spend time away from a partner, or find a new partner.  It's a rule.)

Drat.  Even trying to be all noble and altruistic can make me grumpy...

Monday, April 16, 2012

Birthday Cornucopia!

Yes, it's very nearly birthday overload today - what on earth could be happening nine months before April 16 to create this cavalcade of camp, this parade of plenty, this surfeit of stupendousness?

To start things off, the divine Dusty, seen above in prime form (and can too many good things ever be said about this still-underappreciated pop supernova?).  It's interesting, initially unnerving, and finally marvelous to hear her sing this live - the recorded version is so set into my brain, at last, that the first couple of variations really register.  Stick around for the big finish - she makes it worth it.  And than, briefly, at the bow, we have Dusty herself, done singing, looking almost dazed at her own talent.

But that's just to begin.  For friends of the sublime, beyond Dusty we have one of the Great Treasures of the screen, not to mention one of its creators: Charlie.  For a very long time, that was all you needed to say for moviegoers from Manhattan to Mongolia to see, in their mind's eye, the Little Tramp.  I think we sometimes take Charlie Chaplin for granted, forgetting how very great he was, and is.  I wasn't really surprised, when I first went there, to discover that he's still very popular in Egypt.

Moving on, for royal watchers, there's a trifecta. First up, the Queen of Denmark (known to her fans, endearingly, as "Daisy"), as down-to-earth and yet cerebral a royal as likely there is these days; that she's by all accounts a champion chain-smoker somehow only makes her more amusing.  Then there's Henri, Grand Duke of Luxembourg, a dapper gent whose full nomenclature runs to "His Royal Highness Henri, by the Grace of God, Grand Duke of Luxembourg, Duke of Nassau, Count Palatine of the Rhine, Count of Sayn, Königstein, Katzenelnbogen and Diez, Burgrave of Hammerstein, Lord of Mahlberg, Wiesbaden, Idstein, Merenberg, Limburg and Eppstein.  Idstein and Eppstein?  What are they, Zero Mostel characters?  And don't even get me started on Katzenelnbogen (I just noticed - Henri shares a birthday with one of his sons, Prince Sébastien - how convenient!  Even if this is no longer technically a trifecta).  Finally, a tiny aristo: Princess Eléonore of Belgium, of whom I nothing except that I adore her name, is four today.

In the arts and letters, we start with a formidable lady, ancien régime portraitist Louise Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun, whose works, if nothing else, have almost singlehandedly created the modern image of poor, dear Marie Antoinette; Nobelist Anatole France (one of those people about whom one feels one ought to know more - but somehow never does); Dada daddy Tristan Tzara; the illustrator who gave us what we think of when we think of Stuart Little, Charlotte the spider, and Laura Ingalls, Garth Williams; and bibulous curmudgeon Kingsley Amis.

Fancy music?  Today's your day to celebrate suave composer Henry Mancini (is there anything as evocative as "Moon River"?).  Even if some of his work calls to mind Noël Coward's quip about the potency of cheap music, at his best, he's a dream maker, a heart breaker.  If he's not your cup of tea or dry martini, how about something on the cheesier side - Polish Prince Bobby Vinton, maybe?  If that doesn't do it, perhaps you'd like to mark the the day that started the too-short life of J-Lo-starmaker Selena.  Still not happy?  How about Broadway sweetheart Kelli O'Hara or jazz flautist Herbie Mann?  Alternately, you could just go and waste the whole day on Dusty Springfield videos.  I won't tell.

Stage and screen yield their own treasures.  We have Follies' original Solange, the ideally named Fifi D'Orsay; A Christmas Story's own Ralphie, Peter Billingsley; another Peter, this time the portly polymath Mr. Ustinov; sexpot and professional Kovacs widow Edie Adams; primo dancer/choreographer Merce Cunningham; and actress and longtime whatever-happened-to Ellen Barkin.

This distinguished company is rounded out with a solid lineup of miscellanea:  Ann "Lady of Leisure" Romney; Wright brother Wilbur; professional tall person Kareem Abdul-Jabbar; distinctively different supermodel Alek Wek; and the inventor of the snowmobile, who will go unnamed for what he's done to quiet winter afternoons.

If all that's just too much - just concentrate on Dusty and Chaplin. They'll never fail you.

Saturday, April 14, 2012


            In a solitude of the sea
            Deep from human vanity,
And the Pride of Life that planned her, stilly couches she.

            Steel chambers, late the pyres
            Of her salamandrine fires,
Cold currents thrid, and turn to rhythmic tidal lyres.

            Over the mirrors meant
            To glass the opulent
The sea-worm crawls — grotesque, slimed, dumb, indifferent.

            Jewels in joy designed
            To ravish the sensuous mind
Lie lightless, all their sparkles bleared and black and blind.

            Dim moon-eyed fishes near
            Gaze at the gilded gear
And query: "What does this vaingloriousness down here?" ...

            Well: while was fashioning
            This creature of cleaving wing,
The Immanent Will that stirs and urges everything

            Prepared a sinister mate
            For her — so gaily great —
A Shape of Ice, for the time far and dissociate.

            And as the smart ship grew
            In stature, grace, and hue,
In shadowy silent distance grew the Iceberg too.

            Alien they seemed to be;
            No mortal eye could see
The intimate welding of their later history,

            Or sign that they were bent
            By paths coincident
On being anon twin halves of one august event,

            Till the Spinner of the Years
            Said "Now!" And each one hears,
And consummation comes, and jars two hemispheres.

The Convergence of the Twain
- Thomas Hardy

Weekend Update: Wretched Excess Edition

Well, it's been busy days around the Villa Muscato, kids, and I thought perhaps a little local color might be nice.

First, the above.  No, it's not a set for the new John Waters movie (and wouldn't it be nice if there were one?).  Nor is is it Mattel Presents Lipsinka Barbie's Dream Dressing Room™ (although I'd pay good money for that).  No, this is - and I'm still recovering - a vignette snapped at an actual retail furniture store during my recent jaunt to a nearby Sandland mini-monarchy.  It wasn't even the most extreme set of items on offer (that honor, I believe, goes to the rhinestone encrusted, cut velvet, zebra striped Louis Farouk lounge suite, but by then the help had caught on to me and were watching me like hawks).  Consider this a fair representation, then, of local taste hereabouts.  And people wonder why I drink.

Since our return from points abroad, Mr. Muscato and I have been busy entertaining my longtime pal Miss Rheba, whose trip out to Arabia with her enigmatic companion, The Computer Programmer (who is also a fast-food heir, it seems, so they flew business) ended last night, alas.  We had a lovely time showing off the limited charms of our dusty capital (more so then ever after yet another three-day sandstorm this week), with highlights including a charming and distinctly bibulous dinner party with friends who live on the 68th floor of a new seaside tower (I suspect that most of their neighbors decorate en style the above), a depraved brunch at one of the ridiculous new hotels that's recently opened for no discernible reason at all (there were, counting us - a party of six, all told - exactly twelve people in a dining room fitted out for 200, with enough food for 400 slowly going bad on the buffet), and - I have to admit - a lovely long day midweek in which the houseguests took a daytrip to Dubai. 

I adore having guests, and really there are no friends like old friends, but after a month of travel and 'flu and other lower-level ongoing annoyances... let's just say that I'm much enjoying a quiet morning with the dogs, now that we'll have a whole day to ourselves before it all starts up again tomorrow with the workweek.

And how's by you?

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Birthday Girl: Miss Showbiz

Many, many happy returns to the late, great Miss Ann Miller, who in kinder circumstances would be turning 89 today.

Ann Miller is just plain fun.  Has anyone ever gotten such joy out of fame as the little girl from Texas who came into this world with the unprepossessing moniker Johnnie Lucille Collier?  From start to finish, she was perhaps Hollywood's purest product, a whirlwind of energy that she channelled, of course, into her legendary tap dancing, but that also fueled her tireless tending of her own stardom.  Not for Our Annie the "woe is me" approach to celebrity of Garbo; unlike Crawford, she never showed how much effort it takes to be MGMalicious 24/7.  And certainly, she must have been puzzled by the decades of stars after her, with their slapdash scandals and sweatpants in airports.

Here we see her doing the full Blackglama; unlike some other editions in that cherishable series of adverts, you get the impression that it didn't take all that much to get her camera ready.

Sharing the day?  Not a bad haul, actually, taking in opera divas svelte and not-so Lily Pons and Montserrat Caballe, creator-of-Ramona Beverly Cleary, big band thrush Helen Forrest, TV curiosity Tiny Tim, and teen heartthrob/botox victim David Cassidy.  Of them all, though, I'll take Ann...

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Yesterday, When They Were Young

Just 29 years ago today, an almost impossibly demure-looking Cher (who knew she ever dressed so much like a lesser Windsor?) is squired to some forgotten social event by, believe it or not, Val Kilmer.  I think their expressions tell a number of potentially interesting stories, most of them filthy.

Back then, would you have bet that three decades later, she would look still more or less the same - and he would look like your aunt's alcoholic insurance-salesman ex-husband?

Monday, April 9, 2012

In the Pink, Once Upon a Time

Since she's on Thom's mind over at the show-biz armageddon that is the Redundant Variety Hour, I felt like revisiting better days in the life of Sári Gábor Belge Hilton Sanders Hutner Cosden Ryan O'Hara de Alba Lichtenberg "von Anhalt," better known, of course, as Zsa Zsa.

These last few years have been hard on fans of the Gabor phenomenon.  What was once a glorious, winking joke (one in which Zsa Zsa, Eva, Magda, and Mama were wholly complicit for six or seven decades) has soured, leaving only a sad old lady, an aging half-mad gigolo/fantasist, and a trail of increasingly sordid stories.

I'd rather focus on all the long years that involved things like fuschia satin daywear, glittery mules, and that very particular vanilla-ice-cream-and-bourbon expression (a prime example of which is seen here) that the Zsa so often adopted for photos.  Bless.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

A Royal Good (Easter) Egg

It's sufficiently rare that she looks so jolly that I thought it worth passing along this charming snap of the Princess Royal at this morning's Easter solemnities at Windsor.  She's even, after her own unique fashion, Made an Effort, resurrecting (an appropriate verb for the holiday) a somewhat less familiar number from her apparently bottomless stock of vintage outfits (she regularly wears things that have been part of her wardrobe for the past three decades or more).

I've always been a fan of HRH - she does an awful lot of good work, with only a fraction of the fawning attention that follows younger, higher-profile members of her family.  She's a prickly character at times, with her father's gift for the sudden question or sharp glance, but unlike her late aunt, the Countess of Snowdon, she is tireless in her devotion to what at times must be very tiresome duties.  That's an unfashionable virtue, but there's no question that it gets things done.

Kill the Wabbit!

Well, she's been coming up like the bad penny she is (and wouldn't Bad Penny make a great name for a Batman villainess?), so I thought it only appropriate to mark today's holiday with this startlingly unflattering shot of Miss Loretta Young.  Some days in the stills gallery must have been more trying than others, no?

I suppose it's not right to feel so hostile about someone like Loretta, whose only real offense was her iron devotion to a very peculiar kind of virtue (oh, and her almost total inability to act, beyond a certain effectiveness bestowed by her vast eyes, exaggerated bone structure, and rigorously maintained figure).  But I just can't help it.  If I'd had my way, this bunny would be hassenpfeffer...

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Lady, Sing the Blues

Today is Lady Day's day - 97 today, had things gone differently.  Funny to think that she's of a generation that, while undeniably thinning on the ground, still has a few vigorous representatives here and there among us.  Her singing remains tenaciously of the moment, current, here; the woman herself, though, to me has always seemed impossible to imagine beyond the years of her too-short lifespan.

Here, one American legend takes on another.  Holiday never did much acting, but this is a performance that to me rivals Louise Brooks as Lulu in depicting a well-intentioned feral creature, hoping for the best, saying all the right things - but knowing, that when he comes around again, she'll go...

Friday, April 6, 2012

Ladies Who Lunch

L: No!

R: Oh, yes indeedie, my dear.  I have it on very good authority.  Stephen Haines is stepping out on Mary.  Princess Mara told me so herself.  She heard it from Sylvia Fowler!

L:  Well, I never!

R:  Well that's fairly obvious, Cora.  Finish your tea - I'm late for my appointment at Sydney's.  Olga hates it when I keep her waiting.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Wanna Wrestle?

It's April 5, 1983 - just 29 years ago today - and some forgotten circumstance has brought together Christopher "Blue Lagoon" Atkins and a rather pleasingly configured gentleman called Chris Dickerson (per his website, "Bodybuilding Champion, IFBB Hall of Fame Bodybuilder, Mr. Olympia and Mr. America") to create this unsettling little tableau. 

Why, do you suppose, are they posing next to what appears to be a satin-draped bed - when, given the presence of onlookers, it doesn't seem too likely that this boyish display is a prelude to anything more intime?  Didn't we all, back in 1983, know the girl who had just that sweater?  Who do you think looks more intrigued by the possibilities the whole thing seems to present (me, I can't decide - Christopher is definitely up for something, but Chris shows every sign of having dishonorable intentions as well)?  Finally, is it wrong to find the whole thing more than just a little bit hot?

Chris Dickerson fun fact:  per Wikipedia, to which I repaired, not knowing a thing about this great big hunk of handsome, he "is an accomplished opera singer in addition to his career in athletics...Today, Dickerson lives in Florida where he continues to train, conduct seminars, and correspond with current athletes."  I can't help thinking that I'd love to hear him hit a high note or two, and that's a correspondence I wouldn't mind getting a gander at...

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Domestic Bliss

At Home at the Villa Muscato (artist's impression*)
Well, Mr. Muscato made it back from his roadtrip in one piece, and I survived PowerPoint Hell, which was followed by a carefree getaway weekend in a fairly dismal conference hotel down with the very last round of the disgusting bug that's been plaguing me for the last few weeks.  I have, however, at last pried loose some good drugs from my far too cautious medical professional and all's getting right with the world.

So we're home again, and enjoying it.  The weather in these parts has been almost suspiciously mild for this time of year (in part because of the three weeks of sandstorms that have been shielding us more or less entirely from direct sunlight), but it's some measure of having lived here too long that I stepped out at lunchtime today and thought, "well, yes, it is starting to warm up a little," and then got into the car and discovered that it was in fact 104° in the shade.

We do enjoy, Mr. Muscato and I, our quiet times at home.  It's really rather dull, I suppose, but we sit placidly in our upstairs sitting room, some old Egyptian movie or soap opera playing in the background, me doing a crossword or tapping away on the laptop and him with one or more dogs draped creatively over his large brown chenille easy chair, and we're really happy as clams.  Sometimes I wonder whatever did happen to those chandeliers I used to swing from...

There is, however, a little stir heading our way, for my old pal Miss Rheba is jetting out this coming weekend, bringing along her Longtime Long Distance Companion (a surprisingly sensible arrangement - they share everything but a Zip Code), and we'll have to make an effort, get the guestroom tidied, think of places to show off, and all the things that are attendant with having houseguests who've traveled halfway 'round the world to see one. 

One drawback of this sandland capital of ours is that there is really remarkably little to do.  Take visitors to the mosque and to the trademark Insane Showcase Hotel (highlights: the gold vending machine, the gold foil that features heavily on all the tea salon baked goods, and the acres of - you guessed it - gold leaf adorning every exposed surface including the bathroom taps. Subtle, it's not - although it is, for what it's worth, the original of what was reduced to but a pale approximation in the lamentable Sex and the City II), and you're basically done.  There are grand plans for museums, theatres, quaint faux-bohemian Arabesque going-out districts, and much more, but they're all years or decades off, and for the moment, after mosque and hotel, it's all malls, all the time.

Fortunately, after 30-odd years (and some of them very odd indeed) of acquaintance, Miss Rheba and I are are remarkably self-basting (as it were), and Mr. Muscato has welcomed her and hers as just more of the bizarerie that came into his life when I did.  Come this time next week, we'll probably all just be sitting in the upstairs sitting room, desultorily working crossword puzzles, dogs snoring, the only real difference being that the Egyptian films will have been temporarily replaced by Miss Rheba's speciality, unexpectedly amusing exploitation pictures.  Truth to tell, we'll probably have as good or even a far better time than we did swinging from those chandeliers all those years ago.

* Replace the Hanoverian sprogs with terriers for greater verisimilitude. Also, while Mr. Muscato always looks dashing, I rarely go for anything so low cut until far later in the day.

Oh, all right.  This is of course not, in fact, chez nous. It's Mr. and Mrs. Saxe-Coburg-Gotha and their progeny, by the divine Mr. F.X. Winterhalter, my guilty-pleasure favorite portraitist.  It always reminds me of the apocryphal story of the Eminent Victorian who, at a performance of Antony and Cleopatra, was heard to exclaim, "How different, how very different, from the homelife of our own dear Queen!"

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Hip Hooray...

...for Doris Day!  America's Last Professional Virgin* is 89 today.  After yesterday's tempestuous blonde, her milder allure seems deceptively serene, no?

She's seen here in a mod moment that makes it hard to believe she started her climb to the top in '39.  It took a decade of band-singing and touring to get into pictures, and then another few years as a known but unremarkable star, mostly in minor period musicals, before she really registered and sailed out of the fifties and through the mid-sixties (a very different decade, after all, then the few years that followed) as the Toppest of the Top.  Her brand of dressy, frothy comedies - sparked with endless innuendo, not about sex, but rather its absence - may seem paleolithic today, but they enchanted audiences in their day, still have their rewards - and allowed her to walk away when decided that she no longer felt like keeping up with the kids.

When you look at what can happen to even the biggest ladies when they try to hang on too long, more and more it seems like it's the ones who give it up early who have the better deal.  Despite an at-times messy private life, Day seems to have few reason for regret and much to be pleased about, were she to look back on her birthday at the long, long road from Cincinnati to Hollywood.  I hope she has a lovely day.

* Oh, wait.  America's LPV until, at random and at various points, Brooke Shields, Miss Diana Spencer (up to the moment she walked back up the aisle, at least), Britney Spears, and Justin Bieber to name a few.  Sometimes I think the Massive Social Changes that supposedly dethroned Our Doris weren't all they were cracked up to be...

Monday, April 2, 2012

Incendiary Blonde

It's nice to be reminded, now and again, that even though we live in fallen times, still the occasional goddess walks among us.  Of that small number, it's even nicer to discover that one of them is, all indications to the contrary, sane, funny, wise, and really kind of a hell of a writer.

The legend in question may never have reached the uppermost heights of fame, even at her most notorious as a blonde sex bomb, but Mamie Van Doren has something over every one of her competitors, from the truly Olympian (Monroe) to the more than faintly risible (not just Jayne - think Joi Lansing and Cleo Moore):  she survived.  And she is, against all odds, in Mr. Sondheim's phrase, Still Here.

And more than that, she's online.  She recently relaunched her blog, Inside/Out, and after just a few entries it's become one of my favorite reads.  Whether talking about her clandestine nights with Joe DiMaggio or writing fondly of her (many) dogs, Mamie proves herself to be a good old girl, a broad of the classic type.  With the apparent goal of proving that 80-something is the new 30, she muses about everything from the end of the world next December to the next greatest catastrophe of 2012, MDNA, and she does so with wit and a wry, bemused eye for the absurd.

And, as you might not be too surprised to learn, she's still rocking some bodacious tatas.  Give her a read - I suspect you'll like her as much I've just come to...

Sunday, April 1, 2012

But First, A Message from Our Sponsor

One-third less caffein (is that a vintage spelling or just local-market incompetence?), perhaps, but clearly two-thirds more psychotropics.  Rather like the mood around here these days.

Remarkably, the inimitable Page Morton Black, Chock full o' Nuts' very own answer to Vera Hruba Ralston, is still with us.  As is the brand, which was also a surprise.  Their website actually has some fun Flash animation - and a lot of that damn jingle...