Sunday, March 31, 2013

Seasonal Leg Art: Backstory

She remembered how scared and excited she'd been on the bus.  Amazing to think it was just two years ago, and how far away Ashtabula seemed now.  It had taken her five days and six buses to get to Los Angeles, and every minute of that trip she knew, she just knew there was a place for her in one of those big studios.  Everybody back home said she was a shoo-in - who was prettier, or a better dancer?  She was nothing but wasted as a salesclerk at the Bon Ton Store, that's what everybody said.  "You go to California, Janie, and we just know they'll make you a star!"  Well, Central Casting seemed to think different, and except for those three days as Nightclub Extra in that June Haver picture and the Unwed Mothers two-reeler over at Educational that was probably just filler for a stag movie, things hadn't quite turned out.

She shifted on the itchy artificial grass and felt a trickle of sweat down the back of her neck inside the ears.  The stuffed rabbit smelled mildly of some long-ago child's throw-up and she hoped the chainsmoking perv behind the tripod would hurry up so she could get to lunch.  She was meeting her friend Irene from the first single girls' hotel she'd stayed at.  Now Irene (renamed Dolores) had a six-month contract at Republic and had already made four oaters.  And she was buying lunch, which was a good thing, because even if Mr. Cheesecake here came through with the twenty-five bucks he'd promised, all of that had to go Mrs. Dorillo for last month's rent.  She wondered what she'd answer if, as seemed all too likely, he'd go ahead and offer her twenty-five more to take her top off.  Not like it would be the first time...

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Shameless Saturday Camp Explosion: From the Brill Building (East Wing)

"...many of the objects prized by Camp taste are old-fashioned, out-of-date, démodé. It's not a love of the old as such. It's simply that the process of aging or deterioration provides the necessary detachment -- or arouses a necessary sympathy."
- Susan Sontag, "Notes on Camp"

The pop culture of a vanished society arouses a peculiarly confused kind of nostalgia, one for a time and place we never knew, and that we would likely have found almost as bizarre when it was fresh and new as we do now, when it is "out-of-date, démodé."  When, as here, the Other has adopted for its own something from our own backyard, that feeling becomes particularly intense.  I think this may be my favorite Leiber and Stoller cover this side of "Nuits d'Espagne," Dalida's take on "Spanish Harlem."  I don't speak Russian, but it would appear that in the process of translation, poor ol' Charlie Brown has become his sister Polly.

Things I'd rather not think about based on this video:  Soviet cosmetology; Eastern bloc synthetic fabrics (those suits look to be made of something only slightly more pliable than industrial insulation); and why, with the exception of the occasional half-hearted weak smile (and the entirely off-putting dance break at 1:12), all four performers give the impression they are grudgingly carrying out a duty imposed on them by an unjust world.  Perhaps they were.

The quartet, I've learned, was called Accord.  The group had wide popularity from the '50s well into the '80s.  If this 1969 snippet has only whetted your appetite, you can experience a very special long form medley here.  Filmed in 1975, and for reasons far from clear, it confines our dynamic foursome to a bouncing Lada sedan for its whole 20-plus minutes.  Enjoy.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Brooklyn Orchid, Hard-Boiled

I love the Internet, and the random things it lets you discover.  This afternoon, for no good reason except procrastination (I know, at a rational level, that those cupboards aren't going to clean themselves out.  But I live in hope.), I was aimlessly surfing and somehow ended up doing an image search on the phrase "hard-boiled gal."  As one does.

And this was one of the first pictures that popped up, and I thought, well she fits the bill.  And, as it turns out, she did in spades.She is in fact one of my favorite things: a working actress of the Hollywood golden age of whom I'd never heard.  She's Grace Bradley.  Ring a bell?  Didn't think so.

She had a fairly typical fourth-or-so tier career, starting on the New York stage, in nightclubs and revues.  Like hundreds of other hopefuls, she was picked up by Paramount, and by 1933 she was a contract player out West.  She made 30-odd films before retiring a decade later, happily married to William Boyd, a fixture of low-budget Westerns as Hopalong Cassidy.  She was his fifth wife, but it stuck, until his death in 1972.  She herself went on until just three years ago, when she went to join Hopalong out at Forest Lawn at the fine age of 97 (she died on her birthday).

The still above is from the appropriately titled 1941 opus The Hard-Boiled Canary.  She played Madie Duvalie, which certainly fits.  Most of Bradley's characters have a charmingly other-side-of-the-tracks ring; during her ten years in the spotlight, she played JoJo La Verne, Flossie, Bonnie LeTour, Trixie La Brey, Lily Lamont, and Sadie McGuerin, among others, all of whom sound like they could fend perfectly well for themselves, thank you very much.  Most of her films are, like most of the programmers of the day,  virtually forgotten.  The only really familiar title is Anything Goes.  Beyond that, it's a string of intriguing mysteries on the order of Girl Without a Room, Wharf Angel, Come on, Marines!, Rose of the Rancho,  Brooklyn Orchid, and Taxi, Mister! (her last feature).

So that's what I learned today.  How about you?

Thursday, March 28, 2013

The Certainty of Goodness

A melancholy anniversary today: 72 years ago, appalled by the prospect of war and afraid that she was, in the language of the day, going mad again, Virginia Woolf left her Sussex country cottage, filled the pockets of her overcoat with stones, and walked into the nearby river Ouse.  She wasn't found for three weeks.

She left behind her husband, the writer and publisher Leonard Woolf, to whom she wrote a final note that is almost impossibly touching, painful, and beautiful.  "What I want to say is I owe all the happiness of my life to you," she wrote. "You have been entirely patient with me and incredibly good. I want to say that—everybody knows it. If anybody could have saved me it would have been you. Everything has gone from me but the certainty of your goodness."

Today, we think of Woolf, not as mad, but rather bipolar - what used to be called "manic-depressive."  Whatever the words, if one has known depression, Woolf's thinking rings true.  One of the hardest, cruelest things about depression is the way it fills one with a total, bottomless feeling of sheer unworthiness.  If one of the greatest writers of the English language felt unworthy of love, where does that leave the rest of us?  But there is no reason in madness, at least madness of this kind. "If anybody could have saved me it would have been you."  No; she had to save herself.  Even a love as all-encompassing as Leonard's - one that was willing to brook madness and infidelity of various kinds and the inevitable self-absorption of genius - can't do it all.

I've always liked this picture of Virginia Woolf, one of the rare ones (almost as rare as comparable ones of Queen Victoria) that catches her with the hint of a smile.  When people kill themselves, we lose sight of the rest of them - of the woman who loved a stiff drink, was mad for gossip about her friends and enemies, who could turn a crush on a dashing poetess into the fantasy that is Orlando or some disconnected memories of childhood into threnody of To the Lighthouse.  Everything in Woolf's life until just a few minutes before she started to write her final note - even the weeks and months she lay in bed believing the birds were singing in Greek and that Edward VII was lurking in the bushes outside her window, shouting profanities - is a direct rebuke to the few minutes that followed.

"I don't think two people could have been happier than we have been," her note ends.  That is the Woolf I choose to remember.  Even at her nadir, she was able to recognize, as removed from it by her illness as she was, what it was to be connected, in way she had been to Leonard and by extension to the great circle of friends and relatives in which they lived.  It wasn't enough to save her, but I hope she took that shred of consolation with her on her long journey.  It's one we'll all make, sooner or later, one way or another, that trip, and we should all have at least that little piece of baggage to warm our way.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The Name of Love

It's a funny feeling, really, thinking that the highest court in the land is thinking about one.  Well, not literally about me, or us, but in some ways it might as well be.  Like most binational couples, Mr. Muscato and I have a lot riding on the arguments that have been going on in Washington the last two days.  It's true what they sing - you can't hurry love.  It's equally true what the old maxim says: justice delayed is justice denied.

Image remorselessly borrowed from America's most reliable news source, The Onion, which as usual has the most sensible (sadly imagined) scenario for how the marriage equality arguments logically play out I have yet to read.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

They're No Angels

In 1958, this was Oscar night in Hollywood, and the hit of the evening was a duet between this somewhat singular couple, Miss Mae West and Mr. Rock Hudson.  We catch them here in rehearsal, and I think it's as close to an actual candid of Mae as ever I've seen.

The resulting number, a shambolic but highly entertaining rendition of "Baby, It's Cold Outside," is arguably the gayest moment in television history at least until Paul Lynde's Hollywood Squares debut and possibly the biggest camp in-joke since the last performance of Florence Foster Jenkins.  I love the final performance, Rock dapper in his evening suit and Mae in her uniform of feathers and armorlike sequins, but here, a few hours earlier, doesn't it look like they're having fun?  It makes me wish they hadn't both had to put on such limiting public faces, ones that kept them from ever seeming quite so carefree and spontaneous.

Here, though, it's clear they've got each other's number - Mae, remember, had already been through Cary Grant, after all.  It's like the reverse of the end of She Done Him Wrong, really: "You bad girl," she thinks, and he replies, "Mmmm, you'll find out..."

Monday, March 25, 2013

The Awful Truth

Adelaide and Cora looked on in shock.  They had heard of such things, of course, but couldn't bring themselves actually to believe it until they saw it for themselves.  So it was true:  Stephen Haines was stepping out on Mary.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Meanwhile, In the Seaside Infinity Jacuzzi...

This brooding gentleman is one of Bollywood's bad boys, Saif Ali Khan.  Despite being, among other things, the Nawab of Pataudi,* the grandson of the Begum of Bhopal, and a great-grandnephew of Rabindranath Tagore, he seems to have a knack for finding trouble, with notable scrapes ranging from poaching rare game to, most recently, being expelled from an airport VIP lounge, with a couple of assaults in between.  Truth to tell, he sounds like kind of a douche, but I think we might agree that shoulders like that can call for a great deal of forgiveness, no?

* It took every shred of self-control I possess not to title this post "Sweet Pataudi." You're welcome.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Shameless Saturday Camp Explosion: Kittypalooza

"Style is everything."
- Susan Sontag, "Notes on Camp"

Kitty Carlisle had a sensational figure.  And she was one, too - a peerless self-invention (aided, it's true, by a fairly poisonous mother, the high-society equivalent of Momma Rose).  She had a middling career as an operetta leading lady (at precisely the moment that the genre more or less died) and was something of a fizzle as a film star (too distinctive in her looks to be an ingenue, too young, in her early '30s go at the screen, to suit her temperament) before she made a highly advantageous (and apparently, however, unorthdox, quite entirely devoted) marriage, one that allowed her devote the subsequent six decades to the fine art of being Kitty Carlisle, Mrs. Moss Hart.

Watching her breeze on to the To Tell the Truth set - as here, again and again - it's striking how contemporary she still looks.  There's a lesson there: if you hone a style until it is indistinguishable from your own genuine persona, you can maintain it almost indefinitely.  Having perfected the art of looking perfect, she could then turn her attention to all the other things, from promoting the arts to maintaining her husband's legacy, that interested her.

Some people - and characters as diverse as Crawford and Madonna come to mind - use their style as a weapon, a kind of barricade to really knowing anything about them; Kitty's was a natural extension of her character.  Paradoxically, this both made her a character - the ultimate Great Lady, New York-division, which one would normally think would be a limiting thing, and gave her enormous freedom to exercise what was never, really, more than a limited talent (considered impartially on its own) on a far wider stage than would otherwise have been at her disposal.

By the end, she was an institution, through sheer force of personality, a phenomenon of charm and joy that seemed to draw strength from its contrast to the increasingly crass world outside its orbit.  Kitty Carlisle is on the very, very short list of people about whom I have never heard anyone whisper an unkind word. Insofar as she is camp, it's of a very knowing kind, in which she is wholly complicit - the joy of an ugly duckling having turned into the most exquisite, and appreciated, of swans.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Thinning the Herd

With all due respect to Miss Vivian Abell, who was doubtlessly well-enough intentioned when she put this treasury of horrors* together - you're out of your mind.  Do throw it away, as soon as you can.

That, darlings, is the difficult lesson Mr. Muscato and I are learning.  You see, it is looking very much like we will in fact be packing up the Villa Muscato in the next couple of months, and the prospect is simply appalling.  Spread out over a space the size of this one, we are merely cluttered.  Compressed, however, into a typical American two-bedroom (our likely future), we are out-and-out hoarders, and that's not even taking into consideration the vast mass of stuff that will inexorably be coming out of storage not long after we settle in. Everywhere I look there are dresser drawers filled with detritus, closets hung with clothing not worn in three countries' worth of years, and, lurking high atop the house, an entire room full of boxes that we didn't even bother to unpack on arrival here three years ago.

Discipline is called for, and, frankly, that's never been my strong point.  When faced with the mass of paper that teeters on top of what is meant to be my writing-desk (and spills over onto, in, and under a neighboring end table), I start leafing through the program from the concert we attended two years ago in Madrid and wonder what the rates are like at the charming old hotel we stayed at, and...

You get the idea.  Fortunately Mr. Muscato is moderately more focused than I, but even he has his weaknesses (drawers full of hotel toiletries, for example, not to mention a regrettable tendency to cherish souvenir teddy bears in large quantities), and so we usually end up hours later with a small heap of magazines that we've agreed we can spare and a deepening sense of futility and doom.

At least neither of us is likely to want to turn any of our junk into wall plaques or novelty lamps.  It's not much, but it's good to know that there are levels to which even we won't descend...

* Want to shudder at the true horror of it all?  James Lileks, over at the Institute of Official Cheer, is happy to walk you through.  Don't say you haven't been warned.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Party Girl

On a fine Manhattan evening just 54 years ago, Zsa Zsa Gabor went to a very swish soirée hosted by Prince Aly Khan.  That's Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. there, sitting on her right.  Dear Mr. Eisenstadt appears to have caught her in a pensive moment.  Well, she was a bit at loose ends (in between two of her lesser husbands, a Mr. Hutner, who'd lasted four years, and a Mr. Cosden, who only eked out one) and so was her host.  Perhaps she was wondering whether it might be worth trying to become the third Princess Aly.  Such an alliance would, if nothing else, have been a great deal better than the sordid semi-royalty with which she eventually did became embroiled.

The '50s really were the sisters' glory years, and in her opulent serenity, Zsa Zsa has no idea just how unkind, to her and to the very idea of Gaborismo, the following decades would prove to be.  Just as well; let her enjoy her moment.  I'm guessing those are emeralds.

And what are you up to?

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

And for My Next Number...

"Variations in the Style of Liberace on 'Rocky Racoon'"...

Sometimes you look at pictures - such as this intriguing snap from 1955 - and realize anew that the past is, indeed, another country.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Birthday Boy: Kander with a K

John Kander, the composing half of the treasurable duo of Kander and Ebb, is 86 today.  I can think of no better reason to spend a few minutes savoring his gift for melodies that are both haunting and irresistible.  It can be easy, in the face of anthems such as "Cabaret," "All That Jazz", and, inevitably, "New York, New York," to forget the softer Kander and Ebb songs, romantic numbers and comic ones, or, as here, tender songs that both fit within their original stage context and stand alone as little tales of longing and loss.  Not every Kander and Ebb is a socko raveup for Miss Minnelli, after all.

Mr. Bryn Terfel, an operatic sensation whom I don't normally associate with crossover work, here does creditably by "I Don't Remember You" (from The Happy Time) and "Sometimes a Day Goes By" (from Woman of the Year).  Both shows are comparatively lesser Kander and Ebb, but these are lovely, lovely songs.

If you're in the mood for a full banquet of K&E (and move fast), some kind soul has posted in its entirety this year's PBS tribute - it's the kind of thing the YouTube gods don't generally let stand, so don't delay...

Sunday, March 17, 2013

¡Feliz Dia de San Patricio!

Best wishes for the day, from me and from that slightly South-of-Celtic cutie, the vivacious Miss Olga San Juan.  The "Puerto Rican Pepperpot" may seem one of the odder choices one can think of to pose high atop Fox's prop leprechaun hat (one wonders whether it did double duty for Thanksgiving, too), but then again Fox was one studio not known for coherence in a lot of ways when it came to promoting its talent.

As I've noted at least once in years gone by, St. Patrick's Day and I have issues; at least out here in the Sandlands we're spared green beer and raucous parades.  I hope yours is exactly as bibulous or not as you like - and that you're spending the holiday dressed in something more flattering than poor Miss San Juan - that is one hell of a figure-unfriendly two-piece she's stuck with...

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Shameless Saturday Camp Explosion: The Mysterious East

Camp is the triumph of the epicene style.
- Susan Sontag, "Notes on Camp"

I can't help feeling that this is pretty much exactly what would happen if the gifted auteurs over at Bel Ami went to Japan.  And dropped acid.

Friday, March 15, 2013

A Timely Warning




Beware the Idas of March.  Those ladies - sitcom matron, noir siren, first lady, and muckraker alike - will, without question, cut a bitch.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Why Don't You...

...go all out with accessories this spring?  What could dress up that drab old outfit more than a few smart touches?  Feeling daring?  Try them all at once for a look that's uniquely you!

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Things That Happen at Our House

At some point in the past month or so, Mrs. Galapatti-Da Silva had apparently had just about enough of our not finishing up with putting away the last of the Christmas decorations and decided that our tree topper needed to go for a ride.  Yes, she's a former South Africa Barbie dressed in a vintage tulle and silver lamé ballgown.  You got a problem with that?  As for the camel - believe me, you live in this area long enough, you end up with camels.  You live in Africa, you get masks; in Egypt, papyrus and scarabs.  The Sandlands, camels.  They come with the territory.

We use the "company" part of the Villa Muscato infrequently enough that I only noticed it today because I was padding around the house in an invalidish sort of way, as I'm feeling poorly.  It makes me wonder what other decorative innovations she's come up with that have escaped our notice...

And Now, a Word from Our Sponsor

Building on the response to Monday's post, and just in case you were looking for a reason not to sleep for a week or so...

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Who's Afraid of Junie Moon?

Playwright as Hot Clone

The Broadway Baby Goes Burlesque
It has to mean something that these two share a birthday - it just has to.  They are the polar opposites of American showbiz - and yet I can't help but thinking there would be few more amazing nights out than some kind of Albee-Minnelli collaboration, although I have no idea what that could possibly be.  That he's 85 and she 66 only makes the prospect that much more interesting.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Carnaval of Souls

I'm not sure which of these is worst: bro-clown there top left, with his evilly confiding gaze; the snidely condescending Boy George impersonator, bottom center; or the hell-creature bottom row right, whom I've come to think of simply as MeatMouth.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Question Time: Ask the Oracle #4

A fairly predictable set of queries, on the whole, although I have to own up to a wholly spontaneous (and entirely uncharitable) snort at the thought that anyone could even have wondered about that third-from-last one.

For the record: yes, at least occasionally, not yet, very likely, oh yeah, not yet, see above, [SNORT], a debatable and by now both pointless and tragic question, and, finally, not if there's anything like a loving god in the universe.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Shameless Saturday Camp Explosion: Life Stories

Camp is the glorification of "character."
- Susan Sontag, "Notes on Camp"

Miss Susan Hayward works her way through "Sing, You Sinners" in I'll Cry Tomorrow, her biopic of early Talkies casualty Lillian Roth.  It's a number that it works perfectly well on its own - not least in regard to Miss Hayward's own, un-dubbed singing voice, unpolished but effective.  What makes it camp, though, is that from the distance of half-a-century, one can so neatly regard it from so many different directions.

First, it has absolutely nothing but nothing to do with the actual work of Lillian Roth, a vivacious prole cutie who cut a swath through early musicals before Losing It All to the bottle (as vividly depicted in the Hayward picture).  The actual "Sing, You Sinners," from 1930's Honey, starts with a gospel rave-up that must have involved every African-American actor in Hollywood, then turns into a showcase for inexplicable child sensation Mitzi Green, and only at its end features Roth in a final chorus, leading a gang of swells who fall sway to that irresistible jazz rhythm.  Hayward's iteration, by contrast, is a typical MGM mid-budget Big Lady number that looks to me like it recycles some costumes from Singin' in the Rain three years earlier as its sole gesture toward period style.

From another angle, though, one realizes something rather marvelous:  were one ever to want to make a faux-biopic of Broadway legend Helen Lawson, this is a number that could feature centrally.  It's exactly the kind of thing that Valley of the Doll''s immortal antagonist would have done in her prime.  By the time Hayward came to impersonate Lawson a dozen years after I'll Cry, she was apparently in no vocal shape to take on the towering challenge that is "I'll Plant My Own Tree" and so was dubbed by Margaret Whiting, which layers on another helping of camp in the person of Mrs. Jack Wrangler (avant la lettre, of course, but still).

Hayward's Roth fades out with the usual redemption via the love of a good man (with some help from AA).  Roth's own unwinding was less tidy, although it did embrace some Broadway (including above-the-title billing in I Can Get it for You Wholesale) as well as a plum part on tour in Funny Girl.  She surfaced in what looks like the mid-'70s for an interview with reporter Bill Boggs that shows her to be still pert, if a tad incoherent.

Oh, and the man that saved her in back in MGMland?  Apparently he dumped her for another man not long after they got together.  One wonders if she ever chatted about that kind of thing with Margaret Whiting...

Friday, March 8, 2013

And Toto, too...

I'm more than a tad suspicious of the new movie Oz the Great and Powerful - let's face it, the track record for successful Oz films, while it dates back to the early silents, pretty much ends in 1939.

If nothing else, though, it has brought a welcome dose of Oziana back into the wider world, and I'm especially struck by the devotion illustrator Steve Murray has shown in documenting every single named character in every one of the canonical Oz books (above is just a detail, although it does include not only the biggies - Dorothy and her friends and a flying monkey - but a number of my personal favorites, including Princess Ozma, General Jinjur, Polychrome the Rainbow's Daughter, and the Queen of the Scoodlers among them).  The whole thing is pretty great, as well as a reminder that L. Frank Baum's world (as created by him and embellished by his successors) was infinitely more complex and whimsical than MGM's.  Bravo to the National Post for running it.

So - has anybody braved the prospect of two hours with James Franco and checked the new picture out?

Birthday Girl: A Name Below the Title

Because it's her birthday today (she's 77, and still I'm sure a spritely presence), let's spend a moment thinking about Sue Ane Langdon. Who?  Exactly.  I'm always interested in the kind of performer who can work for years, and steadily, and even in high-profile vehicles (she made two Elvis pictures, which has to be worth something) and yet not really register in any meaningful way.

Sue Ane (Wikipedia claims she's a staple of crosswords because of the unusual spelling of her name; I'm an enthusiast and have no awareness of this) started out in early TV in the late '50s and kept at it until a stint on General Hospital in the earliest '90s.  In between she has a slew of credits, a great many of which are entirely redolent of their era:  from Love, American Style to The Love Boat, not to mention titles as diverse as The Andy Griffith Show, Bonanza, Ironside, The Wide World of Mystery, Three's Company, and Hart to Hart.  On film, in addition to the Elvii, she supported Walter Matthau in A Guide to the Married Man at one end of her career and Weird Al Yankovic in UHF at the other - not exactly the most toothsome brace of leading men.  She deserved better.

Cute and buxom rather than really beautiful, when photographed well she resembles a curvier Doris Day; when badly, an unfortunate combination of Shelley Winters and Micky Rooney.  After her turn as a sexy secretary in A Fine Madness (where she finally got a little eye candy - the star was Sean Connery*), she became an early mainstream name to pose for Playboy. She even did a little stage work, including a Broadway credit (late in the run of The Apple Tree in '67) and as one of the legion of great and good names who popped up in regional theatres as Dolly Levi.  She worked hard, appears to have had a conventional and happy enough private life, and now lives, one hopes contentedly, in retirement.

And that's really about all there is to say, on the face of it.  Still, one can't help but think it might be fascinating to sit down with someone like Miss Langdon, a public name with no real public presence, a kind of blonde Zelig who could probably tell us volumes about what it was like to be there, from Elvis to the soundstages of '70s TV films (that period's counterpart to earlier B-movies) and beyond.  Maybe she'll write a memoir and tell us all...

* In all fairness, she got her first on-screen credit against Tony Curtis in The Great Imposter, so even putting Connery aside, it wasn't all trolls, cinematically speaking...

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

"My Name is..."

Here's to all of us who ran away from home, to Minneapolis and beyond.  And to all of us who found a home in New York City, too.  I wonder if she knows, and I hope she does, how many people decided there might be life beyond the suburbs in part because she showed them so...

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Birthday Girl: Everybody's Playing the Game

Over in his splendid corner of the universe, dear Jon has pointed out the momentous birthday today of Miss Elaine Paige, quite improbably 65 today.  A prima donna assoluta of the stage in London, she has had less impact in the U.S. despite several valiant tries, including a go at Mrs. Lovett in Sweeney Todd at the old New York City Opera and, more recently, a gala appearance as Carlotta in the Washington Follies.  Still, she was indelibly printed on the consciousness of a significant subset of American gay men in the '80s, when she headlined a series of videos that heralded the coming of Chess, a musical that has throughout its history always been more admired in bits than as a whole.  Jon picked the the cream of that particular crop by featuring "I Know Him So Well," a number, as he points out, that "every queen in the universe...can sing word for word."  I can attest to the truth of that; I'm sure that, if woken unexpectedly some dark night, I could come in just on time with "Mo-o-o-o-re security," and I bet you could, too.

Here she assays the rather fiercer "Nobody's on Nobody's Side," the impact of which is only slightly undercut by her appearance, which recalls nothing so much as Sybil Fawlty going New Wave.  Heard for the first time in 1985 or so, this song seemed the very last word in world-weary cynicism, an attitude that, hard on the heels of one's first or second heartbreak, seemed very attractive indeed.

After all these years, though, I'm more drawn to another Chess staple, one that Miss Paige didn't originally sing, but which also percolated through the latter part of countless piano bar evenings in those years:


"Someone Else's Story" is a wistful sort of song, more fragile than the other Chess anthems, and hearing the older, wiser Miss Paige sing it here (at, apparently, the gala celebration of her forty years on stage, in 2009) gives me an odd feeling.  Because it's not a song I've really thought of much, if at all, in the last decade or more, it makes all the years that have passed seem all the more noticeable.  Still, I think it holds up rather well; it becomes truly the story of both the girls it talks about, not to mention of the boys who admired it so, once upon a time.

All the sturm und drang of those years (which made songs like "I Know Him So Well" feel so melodramatically true - "it's just like [fill in the blank] and me!") now really do feel like someone else's story, and, having taken my own chances further down the line, I rather wish I could indeed advise the boy "who looked a lot like me."  I think I'd tell him that, if you wait long enough, somebody in fact does turn out to be on your side, and if you're not careful you find yourself living halfway 'round the world with an endlessly patient Egyptian and a couple of terribly spoiled terriers, still from time to time surprised by the sheer happenstance and good luck of it all.  Who knew?

In any case, Happy Birthday, Miss Paige - and congratulations on recovering from that '85 hairdo.  We've all got moments we're not proud of, I suppose...

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Does Anyone Still Wear a Hat?

Sixty-three years ago they certainly did, and on a fine spring March 3 in 1950, Mr. Gordon Parks went out on the streets of New York with some very pretty models and proved it.  It may not have been the best year ever for hats (My guess is that it would be hard to beat either 1912 or 1939), but I certainly can't fault this charming black number with its very flattering veil, can you?

* * * *

You'll forgive me if things are a little slim hereabouts - the parade of office visitors continues, and for once I have to pretend to be a responsible professional.  Terrible bore, naturally, not least because we had such a splendid time in Bahrain that it seems all the drearier to come back to the grindstone.  I think instead of writing up memoranda on strategic directions in communications to New Media Audiences, I'll just sit and think of the spring hats of 1950.  After the shoot, do you suppose they all went to the Plaza for a drink?  I would have...