Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Brush Up Your Shakespeare

On his 450th birthday, I am thinking about my favorite film adaptations of Shakespeare's plays.

Chimes At Midnight (Orson Wells,1966)
Much Ado About Nothing (Josh Whedon, 2012)
Othello (Oliver Parker, 1995)
Richard III (Richard Loncraine (1995)
Romeo + Juliet (Baz Luhrmann, 1996)
Henry V (Kenneth Branaugh, 1989)
Macbeth (Roman Polanski,1971)
The Black Adder (Geoff Posner, 1983)
Much Ado About Nothing (Kenneth Branagh, 1993)
A Midsummer Night's Dream (Michael Hoffman, 1999)

I would like to know your choices, please.

Born On This Day- April 23rd... William Shakespeare

In my 50 years of working on stage I have only played in a few works by The Bard of Stratford-On -Avon, all of them small roles: Prince of Aarogon in The Merchant Of Venice, Verges in Much Ado About Nothing, Andrew Aquecheek in Twelfth Night, Peter Quince in A Midsummer Night's Dream & 3rd witch from the left in that Scottish Play. Among the list of roles I coveted but I never got to play, at the top would be: Malvolio, Shylock, & Caliban... I was probably just too short, short on talent & short on chances in my short lifetime.

More has been written about William Shakespeare than any other writer, & it is still being debated whether Shakespeare was actually Shakespeare. Entire books have been dedicated to the subject, on both sides of the issue. The 3 strongest possibilities for the true identity of the Bard: Francis Bacon, Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, & Christopher Marlowe, homosexuals all.

Shakespeare wrote 154 sonnets, apparently not intended for publication. 126 of these sonnets address the poet's love for a young man. I, of course, claim Shakespeare as one of The Gays, the clues: handsome, smartly groomed, dressed well, preferred to live, work & travel with male companions rather than be home in Stratford with his wife, wrote & acted in plays, & enjoyed working out, cocktails, gossip & shopping. But the real tipoff is when he outed himself at the Tony Awards when he thanked his boyfriend with this acceptance speech:

A woman's face with nature's own hand painted,
Hast thou, the master mistress of my passion;
A woman's gentle heart, but not acquainted
With shifting change, as is false women's fashion:
An eye more bright than theirs, less false in rolling,
Gilding the object whereupon it gazeth;
A man in hue all hues in his controlling,
Which steals men's eyes and women's souls amazeth.
& for a woman wert thou first created;
Till Nature, as she wrought thee, fell a-doting,
& by addition me of thee defeated,
By adding one thing to my purpose nothing.
But since she prick'd thee out for women's pleasure,
Mine be thy love & thy love's use their treasure.

William Shakespeare was born on this day- April 23rd. He turns 450 years old.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

An Apology

I owe an explanation & a giant apology to readers of Post Apocalyptic Bohemian for disappearing in early October, 2013. I took time off from blogging, but continued to post on The Facebook, as I took a little time off for a life detour to a little spot we call CANCER.

In spring of 2012, I met Pamela in a social setting & we clicked immediately, promising to stay in touch & exchanging numbers. How many times has this situation been replayed? But, Pamela & I actually did stay in touch & the seeds of real friendship were planted. Pamela is lithe & lovely, smart & stalwart, & having lived a full & fascinating she makes for the very best company. She also saved my life.

At the start of August 2013, I awoke one morning to what I refer to as- “sleep-wrong-neck”. The condition stayed around, but worsened & by September I suffered from persistent neck & back pain. By Labor Day weekend, I was basically crippled. I could only walk with a pronounced stoop, leading with my shoulder & the pain was profound & unrelenting. Still, with no health insurance & no income, I was at a loss as to how to deal with my dilemma. My body was in agony & my spirits were crushed.

On Friday, October 11th, Pamela had had quite enough & insisted on getting me to the ER, strong-arming me to the hospital & staying with me through the humiliation of being admitted with no insurance & waiting to see a doctor. Actually, everyone at Legacy Emmanuel was very kind to me that morning; I was the one making the big deal of the money issue. Pamela reassured me with each step. She contacted The Husband & they both were present when a team of young interns were the first to give me the diagnosis of CANCER, Stage 4 Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma.

Pamela picked me up from the hospital when I was released 12 days later, immediately taking me out for dessert after I had joked that the cute oncologist had ordered me to eat a high calorie diet. She continued to be by my side, taxiing me to chemotherapy sessions & to errands, & communicating with me daily for the next 6 months.

On April 11th, 2014, 6 months to the day of diagnosis, after The Husband & the parental units, Pamela was the first to receive the news:

My cute Oncologist has decreed that I am now CANCER FREE.

Bedtime Story

Photos by Beaton

In Europe, between the 2 great wars, there existed a movement titled- The Bright Young Things, flappers & socialites seeking thrills & chasing dreams in the anything goes era.

I first came across the the character of Stephen Tennant when he is name kept cropping up in histories of Auden & Isherwood. I was intrigued. He was born in 1906, on this very day, April 21st, into a life of profound privilege, yet he perverted his special standing in society by becoming the most beautiful person, male or female, of his generation.  With gold dust in his blond hair, blush on his cheeks, & a leather coat with a chinchilla fur collar, he outraged staid society with his lover- the great poet & pacifist, super-masculine & much older- Siegfried Sassoon on his arm. Sassoon brought his fame, his talent, his position to their relationship, while Tennant's only daily activities were dressing-up & reading about Stephen Tennant in the gossip columns. The way-too-thin, way-too-rich Tennant's extreme elegance was a sort of sexual terrorism, & it outraged society on both sides of the Atlantic for half a century.

Retreating from the vulgarity of the modern world, Tennant’s home base was his country Arts & Crafts manor built for his mother.  He had 22 tons of silver sand spread on the lush English lawns, palms planted, & tropical birds & lizards were let loose in the grounds.  In the winter, they took refuge in the house, accompanying Stephen as he turned the bath taps on his collection of shells, since they looked better wet. His many visitors included: Cecil Beaton, David Hockney, Kenneth Anger, Derek Jarman, Greta Garbo, The Sitwells, T.E.Lawrence, Tallulah Bankhead, Christopher Isherwood, Cocteau, & his BFF- Willa Cather. Tennant lived in this House Of Homos, in delicious, decorative detachment.

When his NYC friends met his ship at the pier, the must have been embarrassed to see him walking down the gangway with his Marcelled hair, wearing makeup, delicately holding a spray of orchids. When a rough customs official shouted "Pin 'em on!" in homophobic disgust, Tennant exclaimed: "Oh, have you got a pin, you kind, kind creature?"

Tennant's & Willa Cather were totes besties. She was the notoriously no nonsense writer of O' Pioneers!. What an odd pair, with the rather plain Cather hanging out with a man whose beauty tips included: “an absolute ban on facial grimacing or harsh, wrinkle-forming laughter.” Cather encouraged him to write, even though the novel that obsessed him for the last 50 years of his life, remained unfinished at his death. Tennant did publish several slim volumes of poetry.

After WW2, Tennant went to bed.  For the next 17 years he rested. Perfumed, made-up, with ribbons in his dyed comb-over, Tennant was not concerned about his new grossly overweight figure: "'But I'm beautiful, & the more of me there is the better I like it!” He lay in bed surrounded by his jewelry, drawings. his Elvis Presley postcards, pink & gold statues in the overgrown garden, with fishnets & seashells everywhere, & the pet lizards. His famous visitors may have laughed, but Tennant himself, was in on the joke from the beginning.

A telling anecdote has him regretting giving a present to a friend because “I’m not sure if she loves it as intensely as I do”.

In his later years, Tennant would visit the nearby villages by going shopping wearing tight pink shorts or a tablecloth as a skirt. His family had given up on him long before, exhibiting only bemused resignation, a trait The Husband uses today while dealing with me. Writer V. S. Naipaul described Tennant by noting "His shyness wasn't so much a wish not to be seen as a wish to be applauded on sight."

Stephen Tennant peacefully passed on, in bed, of course, in his 81st year. Cecil Beaton had once predicted: “he will be the last of us to go,” & so he was. Sublime obliviousness to social taboos was Tennant's greatest contribution to our gay history.

Interested? Try very readable & entertaining Serious Pleasures: The Life Of Stephen Tennant by Philip Hoare.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Born On This Day- April 15th... Bessie Smith

Bessie Smith was born into poverty in Tennessee on this day, April 15th, in 1894. She was discovered singing on street corners as a young girl by Blues star Ma Rainey. Smith was to married a man, but she had many love affairs with other women on the touring circuit, including Boula Lee, the wife of her musical director. Ma Rainey was probably her first lover. She eventually separated from her husband, Jack Gee, when Smith’s lesbian affairs became a source of tension in her marriage.

Bessie Smith was known as the "Empress of the Blues" during the 1920s &1930s. Her very popular “race records”: Down Hearted Blues, St. Louis Blues, Nobody Knows You When You’re Down & Out, & Gimme A Pigfoot & A Bottle Of Beer became all the rage.

Tragically in 1937, she was killed in an automobile accident while on a concert tour. Smith was buried in an unmarked grave outside of Philadelphia. In 1970. Janis Joplin, who cited Smith as a major influence on her own career, secured a headstone for her. A few months later, Joplin herself died of a drug overdose.

"There’s two things got me puzzled
There’s two things I don’t understand
That’s a mannish acting woman & a skipping, twistin’ woman-acting man."

Foolish Man Blues

Monday, April 14, 2014

Born On This Day- April 14th... John Gielgud

He is a favorite at Post Apocalyptic Bohemia & a personal acting idol. Most people remember him for his Oscar winning performance as Dudley Moore's butler in 1981's ARTHUR. He was more romantic than Laurence Olivier, & more sensitive than Ralph Richardson. Sir John Gielgud was the greatest Shakespearean performer of the 20th century. His portrayal, as a very young man, of Hamlet, is considered the best of all time.

Gielgud is one a small, special group of entertainers to have won an Oscar, Emmy, Grammy, & Tony Award. Known for his beautiful delivery, he was called the "voice that wooed the world". He was still acting on stage at the age of 82 & he now has a West End theatre named after him.

On stage, Gielgud knew exactly what he was doing, but for half of his time on this earth, his private life was a big old mess. He was a revered acting talent, but his career was almost ended by his sexuality in a time when being gay was considered a crime. Today, when homosexual acts between consenting adults have been legal in Britain for more than 40 years & same-sex marriage is the law of the land, it is difficult to imagine that gay men were taking enormous risks to be together. Sex acts between men, even performed in total privacy, were against the law & could lead to ruined careers & several years in jail.

One incident in Gielgud’s life so crippled him, that although he was at the apex of success when it happened, he contemplated suicide. In 1953, after a rehearsal of his starring role in A Day By The Sea, the 49 year old actor, enjoyed drinks with friends, & then went on the hunt for an intimate encounter with another man. He visited one of London's infamous underground public lavatories. Gielgud had done this before, but this time he was arrested by one of Scotland Yard's young recruits picked for their good looks & assigned to the urinals for the purposes of theentrapment poofters.

"A Plague Over England" was the phrase invented by the then Home Secretary David Maxwell Fyffe, who vowed to wipe out homosexuality before it destroyed the Empire. As a result, the police arrested more than 10,000 gay men a year, & the clueless Gielgud was one of them. A former public schoolboy who came from a famous theatrical family, he had never been in any doubt that he preferred men.

One of his first acting jobs in the 1920s was to understudy the very gay Noel Coward. In 1926, during the run of Coward's play THE CONSTANT NYMPH, Gielgud had his first serious romance, with actor John Perry, who gave up his own stage career to live with his much more successful BF.

Gielgud's homosexuality was common knowledge in the theatre world, but most audiences only knew of his astonishing talent. After his HAMLET became a box office sensation in 1934, the British public idolized him. Other actors, Alec Guinness, Edith Evans & Richard Burton thought he simply was the best there was.

In 1953, the year of the Elizabeth 2’s Coronation, Gielgud was nominated for a knighthood. It was the very height of his remarkable career. He was directing himself in a new production, plus he had a new love interest in interior designer Paul Anstee.

Despite his new knighthood, & being one of the most celebrated actors in the world, there he was in a public lavatory, arrested & charged with "persistently importuning men for immoral purposes".

Despite his high profile, Gielgud was not recognized at his arrest. He was fined & urged to see a doctor about his perverse sex life, a common recommendation at a time when homosexuality was considered a medical problem. Gielgud's luck did not last; a reporter from London's Evening Standard happened to be in court that morning & recognized the actor's silver voice. When Gielgud was on his way to rehearsal that same afternoon, he saw his name on the front page of the newspapers.

The humiliation was too much for the sensitive Gielgud. A Conservative peer, Lord Winterton, called for him to be horsewhipped in the street after being stripped of his knighthood. His company of players were very supportive, & when the play finally opened, Gielgud's adoring public proved more than understanding & gave him an ovation on the opening might, giving him the blessing he longed for. This vindication was not enough for Gielgud, & 5 months into the run, he suffered a breakdown & was forced to leave the play.

Our own USA government denied Gielgud a visa to tour THE TEMPEST around the country.  Fey choreographer Frederick Ashton denounced Gielgud as having "ruined it for us all". Soon after, Gielgud’s acting style would fall out of style, yet he continued to work by moving in to the more modern theatre, performing the works of Pinter & Beckett. Gielgud continued to work into his 90s. He had roles in 3 films in 1997, including the piano tutor in the film- SHINE.

His career enjoyed a renaissance in his old age. He even achieved respectability in his love life. At a Tate Gallery exhibition in the 1960s, Gielgud met artist Martin Hensler, 30 years his junior, who shared his love of gardening. They remained a couple for 40 years, & died only a few weeks apart in 2000.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Born On This Day- October 3rd... Post Apocalyptic Bohemian Favorite Writer- Eugene Luther Gore Vidal

"A Narcissist is Someone Better Looking Than You Are"

I played him once. Well, not exactly, but I based a character that I played- a theatre critic in Tom Stoppard's brilliant- The Real Inspector Hound, on what would be the love child of Gore Vidal, taken from his appearances on talk shows, & yesterday's birthday gay- Rex Reed. Really. These 2 men are what I thought about when starting work on the character & working on my speech pattern.

In my collection of favorite authors, there looms the Holy Trinity: Tennessee Williams, Truman Capote & Gore Vidal. If I was pressed to pick just one, I would pick the works of Gore Vidal, at least today because I am thinking about his birthday.

Brilliant, erudite, perceptive & sarcastic, Vidal could be my one writer library. He is the author of 23 novels, 5 plays, 3 memoirs, numerous screenplays & short stories, & well over 300 essays. With his pedigree (his grandfather was a US senator & his father was a member of Roosevelt’s Cabinet), some good luck & talent, Vidal was witness to almost a century of American political & social life.

Vidal has been a tried & true progressive promoter of gay visibility. He was brave at a time that could have had everything to lose. His third novel- 1948's The City & the Pillar was the first mainstream novel to deal openly with homosexuality. Vidal lacked backing from his own editor, who forced him to make the already dark ending inferior by having the gay main character be a murderer & killing his straight lifelong crush. The NY Times, reviewer was so outraged by this depravity that the paper refused to review Vidal’s next 5 books, just as Time & Newsweek had vowed never to review another book by him.

When ABC hired Vidal & William F. Buckley to cover the political conventions in 1968, the rancor & resentment came to a head when Vidal called Buckley a “pro-crypto Nazi”.  Buckley ranted, "Now listen, you queer. Stop calling me a crypto Nazi, or I'll sock you in the goddamn face & you'll stay plastered." Buckley continued to attack Vidal in Esquire magazine just months after Stonewall, claiming that Vidal: "was proclaiming the normalcy of his affliction” & comparing him to a drug pusher for promoting it.

His most famous series of novels: Burr, Lincoln, 1876, Empire, Hollywood, Washington DC & The Golden Age are a fictional history of the United States from the American Revolution to the recent past.

Vidal ran for Congress in 1960 & the U.S. Senate in 1982, & he lost both elections. Vidal turned his political genius into literature, chronicling the decline & fall of the American empire in a series of perceptive essays- United States: Essays 1952-1992, which won the 1993 National Book Award. In 2008, Vidal's best essays were collected in The Selected Essays of Gore Vidal.

Vidal’s latest, Point To Point Navigation, is a memoir about Vidal coming to grips with the loss of his partner of 50 years+, Howard Auster, who died in 2003. As always, Vidal’s personal drama unfolds against the backdrop of a larger political & historical tableau, in this case the spectacle of George W. Bush’s America as it sinks deeper into war, debt, & autocratic rule. The book’s title refers to Vidal’s flight service during World War, a method of visual navigation in which one flies from one landmark to the next. A follow-up to his 1995 memoir- Palimpsest, the book returns to Vidal’s early years but focuses mostly on the last half of his life.

In the Snapshots In History’s Glare, Gore Vidal begins one paragraph with the words: “Despite never having been very social…”. He then proceeds to tell of asking Andy Warhol, Mick & Bianca Jagger to visit him & Howard Austen at their villa outside Ravello, Italy. Vidal: "Our old friends the Newmans (Paul & Joanne, that is) used to drop by. So did Lauren Hutton, Susan Sarandon, Rudolf Nureyev, Hillary Clinton, Sting, James Taylor, Leonard Bernstein, Johnny Carson, Bruce Springsteen & many others.”

I have seen photos of a young Vidal setting off to war & later frolicking with Tennessee Williams; & of a middle-aged Vidal running for Congress & hobnobbing with JFK (Vidal shared a stepfather with Jackie Kennedy). Williams told Vidal that JFK had ‘a nice ass’; Vidal told Kennedy who answered: “Why, that’s very exciting.”

Vidal is a treasury of quips, bon mots & his vast knowledge of literature & history, particularly American history, shows him to be a sharp observer. His razor sharp tongue cuts down the powerful. He does it with aplomb:

“Style is knowing who you are, what you want to say, & not giving a damn."

Vidal left this world in the summer of 2012. Today, October 3, he would have turned a cranky 88 years old. He may not be around, but he continues to fascinate me with his wit & insight. He should be treasured.

Born On This Day- October 3rd... Eleonora Duse

Eleonora Duse was one of the greatest actresses of her era, famous for her interpretations of Shakespearean roles & the heroines of 19th century French drama, & for introducing the new plays of Ibsen & Chekov. She was also famous for her tempestuous love affairs with individuals of both sexes.

Duse was born on this day- October 3, in 1859, allegedly in the 3rd class carriage of a train, near Vigevano, Italy. Her parents were part of a traveling troupe of actors. She first performed with them at the age of 4 in an adaptation of Les Misérables.

Her childhood was dominated by poverty & constant travel. After her mother's death when she was only 13 years old, Duse took over her roles, portraying characters too mature for her age. Her first critical success was at Verona in 1873, where she was acclaimed for her performance in Romeo & Juliet.

In 1886, Duse formed her own company. By this time she had built up a broad & varied repertoire including plays by Ibsen, Zola, Shakespeare, Euripides, Pirandello & Gorky. But, no playwright was more important to her than Gabriele d'Annunzio, whose plays she promoted & personally, paid for & produced.

Shortly after meeting in 1895, d'Annunzio & Duse became lovers & the relationship, interrupted by Duse's tours through Europe & the USA, remained frenzied & fervent. From 1900 to 1911 Duse rented a villa at Settignano, Florence, her first real home, & for a brief period her life with d'Annunzio was productive, peaceful, as well as passionate.

In the first years of the 20th century the couple’s closest collaboration was marred by betrayals & jealousies: d'Annunzio gave the lead role in La Città Morta, which he claimed to have written for Duse, to her rival, Sarah Bernhardt, & he had a series of dalliance.  Finally, d'Annunzio's manager had to stop Duse from burning down his house.

Duse was best known for her tempestuous love affairs with women. In 1909, Duse began a relationship with a rebellious young feminist who dressed as a man, Lina Poletti. This affair was intense, romantic & physical.

Duse carried on a relationship with the modern dance pioneer Isadora Duncan. Duse spent several weeks with her at Viareggio, the seaside resort, in 1913, shortly after the dancer's 2 children drowned in a tragic accident.

Duse’s many affairs with women included young actresses in her company, including the singer Yvette Guilbert & costume designer Jean Philippe Worth, who was utterly devoted to her.

Duse held the Roman Catholic Church in high regard & expressed concern, if not guilt, about how her life as an actress & her many love affairs.

For many years Duse was plagued by illness & was periodically ordered by doctors to give up her career in theatre. In 1921, she embarked on a series of engagements in major European cities to great acclaim, always accompanied by an oxygen tank.

In 1923, Duse took on a final American tour of 20 cities, after which she planned to retire to the Italian countryside, her health was waning, but Duse refused to abandon the tour.

In the spring of 1924, nearing the end of the tour, Duse performed in Pittsburgh at the Syrian Mosque. While her performance was stunning, Duse collapsed while taking her bows. She developed a fever that soon escalated & she lapsed into a coma on Good Friday. On Easter morning she asked to see her actors, & the next day she died.

Duse's body lay in state for 6 days in Pittsburgh & was then brought to NYC, where her hearse led a funeral procession directly to the pier of the liner Duilo, which returned her body to her beloved Italy. She was buried in the cemetery at Asolo.

Duse died as she was born, in transit. Her acting left an indelible mark in the world of theater. She was noted for promoting a new style of acting that sought subtlety & restraint on the stage & for avoiding the overly theatrical & artificial. She was famous all over the world & is still considered the greatest actresses of her era.

What current, dark haired, dark eyed beauty with acting chops could portray Duse in a film treatment if her life? I am leaning towards Penelope Cruz with Baz Luhrmann directing & Nicole Kidman as Isadora Duncan & Javier Bardem as Gabriele d'Annunzio. In fact, let's make it a musical.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Born On This Day- October 2nd... Annie Leibovitz

I had long planned for a Leibovitz cover for my first album- Low Hanging Fruit. I would have given the world's greatest living portrait photographer full creative carte blanche, trusting her to bring out the authentic Stephen.

In 1970, Annie Leibovitz approached Jann Wenner, the openly gay founding editor of Rolling Stone Magazine, which he’d recently launched & was operating out of San Francisco. Impressed with her portfolio, Wenner gave Leibovitz her first assignment: photographing John Lennon. Leibovitz’s B&W portrait of the former Beatle graced the cover of the January 21, 1971 issue. 2 years later she was named Rolling Stone's chief photographer.

In 1980, Rolling Stone sent Leibovitz to photograph John Lennon & Yoko Ono, who had recently released their album Double Fantasy. For the portrait Leibovitz imagined that the pair would pose together nude. Lennon disrobed, but Ono refused to take off her pants. Leibovitz “was kinda disappointed” according to Rolling Stone, & so she told Ono to leave her clothes on. Leibovitz: “We took 1 Polaroid & the 3 of us knew it was profound right away.”

The resulting portrait shows Lennon nude & curled around a fully clothed Ono. Several hours later, Lennon was shot dead in front of his apartment at The Dakota. The photograph ran on the cover of the Rolling Stone Lennon commemorative issue. In 2005 the American Society of Magazine Editors named it the best magazine cover from the past 50 years.

Leibovitz has been made a Commandeur des Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French government & has been designated a living legend by the Library of Congress. Her first museum show, Photographs: Annie Leibovitz 1970-1990, took place in 1991 at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C. & toured internationally for 6 years. At the time she was only the second living portraitist & the only woman to be featured in an exhibition by the institution.

Leibovitz met writer Susan Sontag in 1989 while photographing the writer for her book- AIDS & Its Metaphors. The 2 talents became lovers, but kept separate apartments.

Leibovitz: “I remember going out to dinner with her & just sweating through my clothes because I thought I couldn’t talk to her. Sontag told me: 'You’re good, but you could be better'.”

Sontag’s influence on Leibovitz was profound. In 1993 Leibovitz traveled to Sarajevo during the war in the Balkans, a trip that she admits she would not have taken without Sontag’s input. Among her work from that trip is Sarajevo: Fallen Bicycle of Teenage Boy Just Killed By A Sniper, a powerful B&W photo of a bicycle collapsed on blood-smeared pavement. Sontag, who wrote the accompanying essay, also first conceived of Leibovitz’s book- Women (1999). The book includes images of famous people along with those not well known. Celebrities like Susan Sarandon & Diane Sawyer share space with soldiers in basic training, & Las Vegas showgirls in & out of costume.

The couple was together until Sontag’s death at the end of 2004. Leibovitz gave birth to her first child, a daughter, at 51 years old. 5 months after Sontag's death she had twin daughters.

Leibovitz turns 64 years old on this day, October 2nd.  If you can only have one of her many books, choose- Annie Leibovitz At Work.

Choosing the closet or not, my admiration for her work knows no bounds. It is difficult for me to find a favorite photograph to be named my favorite, this evening I would choose Streep for Rolling Stone.

Born On This Day- October 1st... Julia Elizabeth Wells

I am not a fan of The Sound Of Music, the movie or the stage play, unusual, because I like most musicals. All things Teutonic make me nervous, the story just rings false to me & it is a show is shameless treacle.

I performed in it once, on stage in summer stock (I played a party guest & an off-stage nun). I took to calling it The Slime Of Mucus. That being said, I am crazy for Julie Andrews.

Check out her acting chops in Hitchcock’s Torn Curtain, Duet Of One or The Americanization Of Emily. I am zany for her performances in Thoroughly Modern Millie & Mary Poppins. I know it is a bit of a mess, but I love her as Gertrude Lawrence in the musical film- Star!.

Andrews has long had something of a dual image, being both a family-friendly icon & a Gay Icon. She is notable as one of the few divas to enjoy a parallel popularization across both straight & gay audiences. Andrews has acknowledged her strange status, Andrews: "I’m that odd mixture of, on the one hand, being a gay icon &, on the other, having grandmas & parents grateful I’m around to be a babysitter for their kids. . . "

There is notable investment in the films that cemented her alleged "squeaky clean" image, as much as, if not more, than in Victor/Victoria. Many of Andrew’s films can be seen as transgressive, subversive & life-changing forces, rather than a sugary nannies & good girls committed to keeping the status quo. Andrews' unique performance style, in the tradition of Mary Martin & Ethel Merman can be read in the light of “camp” & yet stands on its own.

I have never her on stage, but the Original Broadway Cast albums of The Boyfriend, My Fair Lady & Camelot were part of my parents LP collection & received plenty of play when I frequently had the house to myself.

In her startling honest memoir- Home (2008), Andrews reveals the bleak childhood that made her rather ruthless in real life. The pure voice, the perfect posture looks & the prim, efficient British-ness of her performances have beguiled audiences for decades. But, Andrews had upbringing so appalling that it instilled in her a ruthless determination for success that led to her being respected & loathed in Hollywood in equal measure.

Dame Julie Elizabeth Andrews has been awarded a Golden Globe, Emmy, Grammy, BAFTA, Theatre World Award, SAG & Academy Award. Her voice spanned 4 pure octaves until it was damaged by a throat operation in 1998. She turns an astonishing 78 years old today, October 1st.

Photo by Beaton

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Born On This Day- October 1st... Zvi Mosheh Hirsh Skikne

There are many milestone movies that I have not gotten around to seeing. I have never seen The Graduate, Casablanca or Lawrence Of Arabia, & I have only first viewed To Kill A Mockingbird, The Women, & Double Indemnity, all 3 are now favorites, in the past half decade. I don’t know why I get embarrassed, but as a film fan who has taken Film History & Film Theory classes, I had not seen one of the best films about an election, the original The Manchurian Candidate until 2012, but had managed to fit in Drive & Crazy, Stupid, Love (both of which I loved), because Ryan Gosling was shirtless.

Thin, dry, sexy Laurence Harvey was one of Hollywood's stranger success stories; never a major star, or even the subject of a cult following, his films were rarely hits, & those that were often seemed to achieve their popularity in spite of him. A cold, remote actor, he proved highly unsuited to the majority of the roles which came his way, & his performances were often the subject of unanimous critical dismissal; even his fellow actors derided his abilities. Yet, Harvey had a career much longer & more prolific than many of his contemporaries. He was one of the most important screen presences of the 1960s. His resumé includes at least a one single classic- 1962's The Manchurian Candidate.

In his late teens, Harvey became involved with Hermione Baddeley, an actress, 2 times his age. He was married 3 times, in 1957 to actress Margaret Leighton, a woman of style, but old enough to be his mother, in 1957, to Joan Perry Cohn in 1968, the very rich widow of movie mogul Harry Cohn of Columbia Pictures & to Paulene Stone. Harvey had met Stone on the set of A Dandy In Aspic, & while still married to Cohn he became a father for the first time when Stone gave birth to a daughter in 1969. Eventually, Harvey divorced Cohn to marry Stone in 1972.

But shockingly, Laurence Harvey was actually bisexual.  Frank Sinatra's valet, George Jacobs, author of Mr. S: My Life With Frank Sinatra, recounts that Harvey often made passes at him while visiting Sinatra. According to Jacobs, Sinatra was aware of Harvey's sexuality but did not mind, joking that: “He has the handicaps of being a homo, a Jew, & a Pollock, so people should go easy on him."

In his memoir- Close Up, British actor John Frasier wrote that Harvey was gay & that his long-term lover was his manager- James Wolfe, who "discovered" Harvey in the 1950s.

A heavy drinker, Harvey died from stomach cancer at age of 45. Domino Harvey was his openly gay & disarmingly beautiful daughter. She became a Beverly Hills socialite & later launched a career as a model in NYC. She eventually became a famous bounty hunter & also died at an early age from drug abuse. They are buried together in Santa Barbara Cemetery in California.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Born On This Day- September 30th... Truman Capote

My mother is a very accomplished, intelligent, & serious woman, but she always has had a sly interest in show biz & celebrity gossip. She told me the details & intricate ins & outs of the Elizabeth Taylor + Eddie Fisher + Debbie Reynolds= divorces & marriages when I was just 5 years old. I appreciated that she explained that one to me. I remember well, being 12 years old & my mother giving me the low down on the infamous “party of the century”- Truman Capote's Black & White Ball.

The now legendary Black & White Masked Ball was a bash that Truman Capote threw at Manhattan's Plaza Hotel on Nov. 28, 1966. The guest of honor was Katharine Graham, president of the Washington Post, but no one had any illusions; the purpose of this gala was to celebrate the host, a serious writer, but also a serious celebrity. There had never been much doubt about the celebrity part, from a decade earlier when he styled himself as a male nymphet for his first novel's jacket photo; Capote had shown a rare talent for self-promotion.

What had been in doubt were his literary accomplishments. As he entered his 40s, the once promising young writer had produced only a few slim volumes of exquisitely written fiction & journalism. But, In Cold Blood, a masterpiece in the new genre- the non-fiction novel & a milestone in popular culture, had buried the skeptics & it was time to celebrate. Capote's plan was to mix & match people: titled aristocrats with intellectuals with ordinary folk from the rural Kansas county where the In Cold Blood murders had occurred. But in this respect, the Black & White Ball seemed to have failed. Jack Dunphy, Capote’s boyfriend stated: "I've never seen such ghettoizing in all my life. No group mixed with another group." As for those excluded, on the cover of the next Esquire, under the title- "We Wouldn't Have Come Even If You Had Invited Us, Truman Capote" , was a photo of a surly looking group comprising Kim Novak, Tony Curtis, Pat Brown, Ed Sullivan, Pierre Salinger, Lynn Redgrave & Casey Stengel.

From the moment my mother told me of the Black & White Ball, I became fascinated by Truman Capote (at 5’3’’ he was dubbed the Tiny Terror) & I went on to read everything by & about him. I was fascinated by his distinctive, high-pitched voice & odd vocal mannerisms, his offbeat manner of dress & his fabulous stories when he would appear on TV talk shows. I still own everything written by Capote, plus biographies, diaries & books of letters. He is a member of a handful of authors that make up the special club: Stephen’s Favorite Writers.

Capote had a long standing rivalry with another of my favorites- Gore Vidal. Their rivalry prompted another member of my club- Tennessee Williams to complain: "You would think they were running neck & neck for some fabulous gold prize."

I own a first edition paperback of Breakfast At Tiffany’s. I love all his work, but my very favorite is A Christmas Memory. During the holidays I always re-read it, & I set a copy out, as part of a Christmas tableau, on the dining table as a holiday ritual.

Capote died in LA in1984. He was 59 years old when he died of Liver Cancer & “multiple drug intoxication". He died at the home of his old friend Joanne Carson, ex-wife of Johnny Carson, on whose program Capote had been a frequent guest. He was interred in the Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery in LA, leaving behind his longtime companion, writer- Jack Dunphy. Dunphy died in 1992, & in 1994 both his & Capote's ashes were scattered at Crooked Pond, on Long Island, where the couple had maintained a property with individual houses for many years. Capote also had a home in Palm Springs, a condo in Switzerland that was mostly occupied by Dunphy seasonally, & a primary residence at the UN Plaza in NYC.

Capote's will provided that after Dunphy's death a literary trust would be established, sustained by revenues from Capote's works, to fund various literary prizes & grants including the Truman Capote Award For Literary Criticism In Memory Of Newton Arvin, commemorating not only Capote but also his friend good friend Newton Arvin, a Smith College professor & critic, who lost his job after his homosexuality was exposed.

If you are not familiar with Capote’s life & friends, try Capote: A Biography by Gerald Clarke, or Bennett Miller's 2005 film- Capote, which covers the period when he was working on his masterpiece- In Cold Blood. The film was nominated for 5 Academy Awards. Philip Seymore Hoffman's performance as Capote earned him many awards, including: a BAFT, a Golden Globe, a Screen Actors Guild Award, an Independent Spirit Award & the Oscar for Best Actor. Covering much of the same story is the film- Infamous (2006), with Toby Jones as Capote & the Harper Lee of Miss Sandra Bullock, an adaptation of Capote: In Which Various Friends, Enemies, Acquaintances & Detractors Recall His Turbulent Career (1997) by George Plimpton.

2 good films were made about Truman Capote, but I think a film about this infamous night might be really extraordinary. Social snubs & rough rivalries swirled through the ballroom at NYC's Plaza Hotel on November 28th, 1966, Capote's Black & White Ball. Tallulah Bankhead insulted Norman Mailer, Lauren Bacall spurned eager dance partners, & the host himself tried to physically block the exit when Frank Sinatra & wife Mia Farrow departed at midnight.

Famed Photographer- Harry Benson, whose photos are featured in this post: "To this day, that was the biggest party I ever shot. Capote's ball was unique. Everyone wanted to be there. People who weren't invited went out of town. I was at the top of the stairs at 9 o'clock & caught Sinatra as he was walking in. He couldn't get past me. He felt really stupid in that mask. Someone had just yelled to him, 'Hey, there's Frankie Batman.' You can see the anger in his eyes behind the mask. He was this tough guy, thinking, 'What the hell am I doing here?' Mia Farrow had that precious, elfin look, but she was as tough as nails too. You had to wear a mask, but they all came off in the first hour. Everyone was afraid of Capote, even Norman Mailer. Capote had a name for everyone. He called Jackie Kennedy & Lee Radziwill 'the geishas’.”

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Born On This Day- September 29th... Madeline Kahn

To say that I loved her is to say too little. She left us way too soon. The first time that I took notice of Madeline Kahn was in Peter Bogdanovich's What's Up, Doc?, one of my favorite films of all time, as the hysterical fiancée of Ryan O'Neal. What an introduction & feature film debut.

I was lucky enough to have seen her on Broadway in On The Twentieth Century with Kevin Kline, She Loves Me with Barry Bostwick, In The Boom Boom Room, & off-Broadway in John Guare’s splendid comedy- Marco Polo Sings A Solo, back in those crazy, zany 1970s.

Kahn’s legacy will always have the triple crown of the close succession of the comedies: Blazing Saddles (1974), Young Frankenstein (1974), & High Anxiety (1977), all were directed by Mel Brooks, who many Hollywood observers claimed was able to bring out the best of Kahn's comic talents. She was nominated for an Oscar for Blazing Saddles & for her amazing turn in Paper Moon, again with Bogdanovich directing. Kahn won a Tony for Windy Wassersein's The Sisters Rosenweig.

Kahn died of ovarian cancer in 1999, & my life has never been the same. She was truly loved by both The Husband & me. Just a few nights ago, we stumbled on Brook’s High Anxiety while channel hopping & we commented on her special genius & shed a tear of laughter & sadness. Madeline Kahn, you are missed. She would have been 71 years old today.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Born On This Day- September 27th...Gifted Human, Vincent Youmans

One of my personal favorite self-created playlists is my Happiness Mix. It has proved popular in my circle. The Husband & I listened to it on a car trip & sang along for 180 miles. It contains Ella Fitzgerald's version of- I Want To Be Happy, which is really swinging. This got me thinking about the life of Vincent Youmans, who was born 115 years ago today, just one day after George Gershwin.

A friend of Gershwin, Vincent Youmans had much in common with his famous friend: they both collaborated with George’s brother Ira, they both wrote pop songs & serious music, & they both, tragically, died young: George at 39 & Vincent at 47. Unlike Gershwin, Youmans left behind only a handful of songs that are truly famous: Tea for Two, I Want To Be Happy, Hallelujah, & the jazz standard- Sometimes I’m Happy.

For decades, a legend circulated that Youmans had left behind a trunk of unpublished songs, all notated in a secret code that only he could decipher. Music historians worked for years to determine if this was true. The trunk was discovered, & the trunk contained hundreds of unheard melodies & scores, written in his mysteriously mirrored & intricate Da Vinci-like code.

Youmans came from privilege, born in 1898 in Manhattan, he was raised on Central Park West. He served in WW1, & while in the Navy, he fell in love with men & musical theater.

After the war, he went to work as a song-plugger for the prestigious TB Harms Company, publisher of the works of the Gershwins & Jerome Kern. Before phonographs, people purchased sheet music & sat around the piano at home, singing the hits of the day. It took talented pianists who could put a song over with panache to sell the sheet music songs to music stores. By performing the tunes of the great Tin Pan Alley songwriters of the day, Youmans grew familiar with the infrastructure of hit songs, & quickly decided he could create his own.

As a composer, he turned to other lyricists, & collaborated with the greatest: Oscar Hammerstein II, Irving Caesar, Leo Robin, Billy Rose, Mack Gordon, Buddy De Sylva & Gus Kahn. With Ira Gershwin, he wrote songs for Two Little Girls In Blue, which became a big Broadway smash in 1921.

The greatest triumph of his life was- No, No Nanette. With lyrics by Irving Caesar, it became one of the most successful musicals of all time, with simultaneous productions on Broadway & London during much of the 1920s. It has been revived many times, & has been reinvented several times throughout the years. In the 1940s a version featured the beloved tap dancer- Ruby Keeler, which played on Broadway even longer than the original, & was a huge hit again in the 1970.

Youmans wrote songs for movies, most famously for Flying Down To Rio, with Fred Astaire. But his heart was on Broadway, & unfortunate failures followed, shows which bombed & closed quickly, although the songs he wrote for them were always memorable. In 1932 he took one more chance with a Broadway show- Take A Chance, but it also failed.

Disheartened, he retired in 1934, after a career of only 13 years, but worked undercover for years on the songs & scores in his secret trunk. Youmans returned to Broadway in 1943 with a colossal & ambitious extravaganza called The Vincent Youmans’ Ballet Revue, which merged classical & Latin music. A failure of unprecedented proportions, it lost more than 4 million dollars. This fiasco might have been the reason for the secret songs in his hidden trunk, but its failure, along with a drinking problem & a life as a gay man in the closet helped to bring on his final emotional & physical decline. He died alone & largely forgotten of TB in 1946.

Tea For Two, his most famous song, is an ideal example of his economic use of short melodic phrases. Irving Caesar has said that the opening section was actually a dummy lyric on which Vincent could write a melody, but it worked so well, they kept it. The song is unusual as a hit, it is written in 2 keys at once: A flat & C major, a musical fusion that the Beatles would use 40 later, but which was mostly unheard of in the 1920s. Youman’s modernization of the American pop song inspired the musicologist Alec Wilder to say that Youmans was “one of the innovators of American popular song, & one of the truest believers in the new musical world around him.”

Happiness Mix:

Happiness- The Blue Nile

Happiness Is An Option- Pet Shop Boys

Happy Days Are Here Again- Barbra Streisand

Happy Ending- Mika

Happy Feet- Jack Claylton & his Orchestra

Happy Heart- Petula Clark

I Want To Be Happy- Ella Fitzgerald

Sunshines Better On The Other Side- John Martyn

Sunshine, Lollipops & Rainbows- Leslie Gore

Making Flippy Floppy- Talking Heads

Shiny Happy People- R.E.M.

Silver Lining- David Gray

Singin’ In The Rain- Jamie Cullum

Get Happy!- Judy Garland

Thursday, September 26, 2013

A Little Ferry Dust

“Other bands wanted to wreck hotel rooms, Roxy Music wanted to redecorate them.”

I have been a fan for 40+ years, I only saw him in concert only once, in the mid-1980s, & I found Bryan Ferry to be one long, tall, cool drink of water. From Virginia Plain in 1971 to Tender Is The Night from 2010's album- Olympia, Ferry has been a favorite of everyone at Post Apocalyptic Bohemia. Last year he released, The Jazz Age, an all instrumental album of 1920s arrangements to Roxy Music tunes.

Ferry has maintained his status as one of the coolest guys with his suave personal style & smooth crooning, with seemingly little effort. His tastes in all things are refined: beautiful women, fine art, fashion & design.

Ferry has enjoyed longtime partnering with clothing designer Antony Price of London’s King’s Road, together they created Ferry’s signature image & look & his love for beautiful spaces.

Perhaps best remembered for his soulful keyboard pop covers of classic  songs like Smoke Gets In Your Eyes & Dylan's A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall, Ferry’s traditionalist singing style is the perfect counterpoint for Roxy Music’s experimental art rock experimentation.

Ferry's satin, smooth, space-age cabaret style with Roxy Music is incredible: Love Is the Drug, More Than This, Slave To Love, Don't Stop The Dance, Is You Love Strong Enough, Kiss & Tell. Ferry has devoted much of his solo work to tender re-workings of songs varying from Soul, Rock & Standards from the 1920s-1960s, including an album of all Dylan covers. His succulent voice possesses a powerful seductiveness that is difficult to resist.

For those of us at Post Apocalyptic Bohemia, he is all that. Ferry turns 68 years old today, September 26th.

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