Friday, October 31, 2008
Róisín Murphy's "Movie Star" has been a major iPod favorite for months now, but only today did I think to track down the video. I suppose everyone else in the world has seen this endlessly, but it seems to me an excellent way to close out Hallowe'en.
It is anarchic, gleeful, marvelous - equal parts prime John Waters and early Fellini, with a dash of Cyndi Lauper circa "Girls Just Want to Have Fun" and more than a little George Romero toward the end. And under, around, and through it all, that seductive, chugging beat perfectly setting off Murphy's sweet, slightly steely voice.
On the other hand, by the time the onetime Frances Octavia Smith hit Hollywood, she was no shrinking violet. On their wedding day, Roy said "I do" for the third time, and Dale for the fourth, with a son (billed by her studio as her brother) to show for at least one of those marriages.
But the decades rolled by, and she ended her long life a pillar of respectability, with only the saucy gleam in her eye hinting at times gone by.
Here she's seen late in life with a loved friend. Now I know the way your dirty minds work, so please - no pussy jokes, you hear?
Special Birthday Bonus!
There must be something in the air on October 31 that just promotes a special kind of sauciness...Sharing the date is Café favorite Cleo Moore. Had fate been kinder, she'd be celebrating her 80th birthday today, and I bet she'd have been fabulous.
I thought we might mark the day here at Café by taking a quick look at this same phenomenon, albeit generally one or two (or many, many more) rungs down.
Two years after Crawford and Davis, Olivia de Havilland put a toe into the exploitation waters with Lady in a Cage. She was joined in this macabre romp by none other than Ann Sothern.* She made sure it was a somewhat more old-school experience than Baby Jane by having her costumes by Edith Head and makeup by a Westmore, but even so, her Errol Flynn days at Warners feel very far away.
Nonetheless, she soldiered on; that same year, she replaced Crawford and joined Davis in Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte.
1965 saw Tallulah Bankhead head to the UK to make what turned out to be her last feature, a Hammer horror first called The Fanatic and then re-titled, to maximally exploit her participation, as Die! Die! My Darling!**. Somehow the Italian title above just doesn't have the same ring.
With that out of the way, Shelley hotfooted it back to LA to join Debbie Reynolds (and a startlingly star-studded cast that also takes in Agnes Moorehead, Dennis Weaver, and Yvette Vickers) for What's the Matter with Helen?. This one actually rises to the level of pretty good entertainment, with the two ladies playing Hollywood fringies in the 30s and more atmospherics than most of these pictures. It's sufficiently popular with at least one fan to have its own blog.
By the mid-70s, there were fairly few Big Ladies who hadn't found themselves wielding a knife, pushing a co-star down a flight of stairs, or otherwise generally trampling on the grave of Louis B. Mayer.
Perhaps the last of them was poor Veronica Lake, who was coaxed out of a boozy, reclusive retirement to appear ("star" just doesn't seem right) in Flesh Feast, a Miami-filmed quickie that makes Joan Crawford's Trog look like Grand Hotel. She plays a lady scientist who dabbles in experiments using maggots to carry out plastic surgery, and then someone wants to resuscitate Hitler, and... Oh, it's just awful, and she's terrible and sad.
Now that the line between "quality" entertainment and schlock has been more or less erased, it's hard to see any of today's star's getting much extra mileage simply out of appearing in shockers. A few decade ago, though, there was a palpable thrill in seeing somene like Bette Davis as a hag, or Olivia de Havilland menaced by beatniks, or even Veronica Lake as a sad shadow.
In any case, they mostly make fine entertainment for this spooky day, although I think myself that I'll induce the creeps by watching what I think is the scariest film to come out of a major Hollywood studio, Leslie Caron in Lili. But more of that anon.
* Moms Smackley's photostream has a snap of Miss Sothern in this that is something you want to see. Trust me.
** Hats off to the clever IMDb reviewer who points out that it could just as well be called Chew! Chew! The Scenery!.
Thursday, October 30, 2008
She's seen it all, from the craziness of San Francisco in the sixties to a thwarted attempt to pyschedelicize Richard Nixon by slipping LSD into a White House punchbowl to, in her retirement from the Business We Call Show, a remarkably busy life as a popular painter.
She's also gone from the sublime to the ridiculous, having had a hand in writing both the great hommage to Alice in Wonderland that is "White Rabbit" and that landmark in late-eighties cheese, "Nothin's Gonna Stop Us Now."
So far, nothing has.
I would have thought, though, that she might have emphasized a little more toothsomeness in the backups - they're a fairly motley crew. Or perhaps she just went Mae West one better, and didn't even want men on stage who might be as pretty as she?
Wednesday, October 29, 2008
Well, I guess we can tell what Judy Lynn thought her own personal Part of Love was, no? I cannot imagine a better image of a woman who sang something called "I'm His Old Lady"; I'm sure she was.
Also: do you suppose this is where Lady Bunny found her original inspiration?
Tuesday, October 28, 2008
What? Is he a temperamental alcoholic perfectionist? Does he make Judy Garland cry? Does he help rationalize the stardom of Esther Williams?
No (although I would kill for a picture of Obama with Esther Williams, for no particular reason). It seems that, to the august London Daily Telegraph, Barack Obama may be a dangerous demagogue because...
He cheers people up.
Well, all I know is one thing.
If there's just the vaguest chance that his inauguration will look even the slightest like this, my vote is totally more sewn up this morning than it was up 'til now.
Twenty-odd years later, if she even for a moment wondered if it had all been worth it, all she had to do was glance down at her insinuating gaze on the cover of TV Guide to know the answer:
Monday, October 27, 2008
Sunday, October 26, 2008
"The Queen of Gospel" had a truly uncanny voice, one that could boom like thunder one second and be as intimate as a whisper the next. Here we see her in perhaps her most unlikely moment, serenading funeral-goers in that greatest of all soap operas, Imitation of Life.
It's a testament to her art that she transcends, and effortlessly, the best work of Douglas Sirk and Miss Lana Turner combined to reduce her singing to background music for their very particular brand of High Glossy Suffering.
I have to give it up for Carol - she's the only person I've ever seen whose chasm-wide grin always seems absolutely unaffected. As for Betty B. - well, she's got the Great Lady act down, cold, although sometimes it looks like she'd rather be somewhere else. Like at the bar.
Friday, October 24, 2008
Now I spend my days and nights marveling at her deft assassination-through-laughter of whatever shreds of credibilty still adhere to the Republican Party's albatross, I mean running mate, the Governatrix. That, and wishing that there were any chance that 30 Rock would be showing up on one of local channels in this part of the world (sadly, though that would apparently take up too much valuable time now devoted to The Bold and the Beautiful and and endless repeats of the inexplicably popular Eve).
Incredibly funny, clearly tremendously smart - and gams to boot. Maybe there is a future for the Rosalind Russell/Carole Lombard tradition? One can only hope.
Guess what? The pint-sized prima donna is not, in fact, the demon spawn of Deanna Durbin and Shirley Temple. No, gentle readers, she is the darling of the Major Bowes Amateur Hour, Little Belle "Bubbles" Silverman - better known as America's favorite future public-television megastar, the one and only Beverly Sills.
At eight, and, as she has always averred, very definitely under the influence of those Galli-Curci recordings with which she was raised. Little girls just don't sing like that any more.
Thursday, October 23, 2008
Wednesday, October 22, 2008
What better way to remember the late Mr. Blackwell, the original fashion policeman, than with one of his signature warm-hearted insights into the Great and the Good? Speaking of a certain French diva, he once said, "maybe Lily Pons was the toughest I ever worked with. That was five feet of pure hell."
Looking at the smile, I'd believe it.
I've always had a soft spot for Pons, if only because her name seems so close to being a drag name, just one step away from something like Anita Mann.
Tuesday, October 21, 2008
Here they are at a very specific moment, Phyllis, Mary, and Rhoda: before the spinoffs split them apart, before the bad Movies of the Week and the forays onto Broadway and the facelifts and all the other indignities of time in its flight. Three actresses, America's Saturday night sweethearts, with not a thread of natural fiber in any one of their outfits.
Proof positive that Old Hollywood had it nailed, glamourwise: even Van Heflin looks fab, although I think Coop may have had a drop too much. Wouldn't you like to have spent New Year's Eve at Romanoff's, once upon a time?
Monday, October 20, 2008
Heading the bill is the Paris Hilton of the 1920s, the inexplicably celebrated Miss Peggy Hopkins Joyce, who, had she chosen, by the end of her life could have rejoiced in the full name of Marguerite Upton Archibald Hopkins Joyce Morner Easton Meyer. Had she done so, of course, there might not have been room even in 1934 (only four or so husbands in) for Col. Stoopnagle, and what a shame that would have been!
They love the triumphs, and almost as much they revel masochistically in the tragedies. Just about the saddest of all of these is the story of Souad Hosni, remembered as "The Cinderella of Arabic Cinema."
Throught the 60s and into the 70s, she was the darling of moviegoers, a lively, gamine sort of girl given the Egyptian versions of the kinds of movies then going to Natalie Wood and Audrey Hepburn.
She made dozens of movies, some good and some pretty lamentable. One, Khali Balek min Zouzou (Beware of Zouzou) from the early 70s is credited with rescuing Egyptian movies from a rut of politicized, Soviet-style pictures (brawny peasants, noble workers, and not much fun - very not Egyptian).
By the early 80s, the movie industry in Egypt more or less fell apart, and the kinds of sweet, light films audiences loved her for gave way to low-budget action/comedy/romance/dirty joke movies. In 2001, half-forgotten, impoverished, and long ill and a recluse, Souad Hosni fell from the balcony of the London apartment building to which she had retreated.
Some say she jumped; others that mysterious Powers That Be pushed her (and stole the manuscript of her reputedly sensational memoirs). Her funeral was a day of mass public mourning in Cairo, and Egyptians still bitterly berate themselves for having let her down.
Years before all that, though, in 1979, Souad Hosni made a movie called El-Mutawahisha (The Wild Child). At 37, she's a little mature for the kind of romping about that the script calls for, but she's game.
Here, with the dubious help of some disturbing chorus boys, she leads a number called, as you'll soon see, Sheeka-Beeka.
Sunday, October 19, 2008
In 1928, chances are that if you asked a passer-by to name a big film star, Evelyn might have been in the top five or six responses.
She had a kind of reserve, a stillness, that served her well in the lavish late-20s dramas in which she made her name.
The coming of sound revealed a handsome, dark, but rather unmodulated voice. She kept on working, but not as a top star, and by the 40s was doing leads on Poverty Row and small parts, some just this side of bit-work, in the majors.
In a late interview with Kevin Brownlow, who found her living in reduced circumstances in LA, she seemed more puzzled than anything else by the downward spiral of her career, not really able to piece together everything that had happened to her.
Now that I do, I feel an odd need to do something rash and spectacular. But that might just be the suddenly spectacular weather we're having, or the full moon. Or the cocktails. You decide.
Saturday, October 18, 2008
Not to mention a truly cunning little pair of cowgirl boots.
And it's all the fault of running across this record cover. I don't even remember where.
Lou Christie? Hmmm. A half-remembered name, one that went with the pompadour and greaser expression. The Tammys? Now that's odd. Egyptian Shumba? What the Hell?
So I did some of the usual digging around.
The Tammys, it turned out, were falsetto crooner Lou Christie's attempt at creating a girl group. They were two sisters, Margaret Gretchen and Catherine Louise Owens, and their friend Linda Jones. They met Christie after one of his shows at a Moose Lodge in Franklin, Pennsylvania. The rest is history.
Soon they were his backup vocalists, and after a while he had them make a couple of records on their own. They're solid, plaintive, slightly nasal ditties ("Take Back Your Ring", "Part of Growing Up"). They had some modest local success, charting in Erie, Pittsburgh, and Cleveland, for example.
It's pretty clear that when it came to presentation, The Tammys could have benefited from Motown's legendary charm school.
But then - and this is probably where you should decide, now, if you want to read on and take a chance, or skip to the next posting and keep your wits about you - then came what, if this were a Criswell narration (and it might as well be) would be called That Fateful Day: November 1, 1963. A great nation is poised, unknowing, on the brink of enormous change - and in New York, The Tammys, under the close supervision of Lou Christie, record their magnum opus, a pop song truly unlike any other before or since.
Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you:
The Egyptian Shumba.
Listen at your own risk. And don't say you haven't been warned.
I can pretty much guarantee that you'll be having dreams consisting mostly of "Shimmy Shimmy Shimmy Shy-Yi Meece-E-Deece" for the next few weeks. And loving them.
Not much else happened for The Tammys, but this, certainly, was enough to gain them a little spot of immortality, no?