Tuesday, 31 December 2013
Sunday, 29 December 2013
"Rebellion is the only thing that keeps you alive!"
"Bad behaviour makes men more glamorous. Women get destroyed, thrown out of society and locked up in institutions."
"I haven't got purity, and I don't think I ever did. I have always been, even as a child, a very decadent little person."
Marianne Faithfull (born 29th December 1946)
Thursday, 26 December 2013
"Taste every fruit of every tree in the garden at least once. It is an insult to creation not to experience it fully. Temperance is wickedness."
“The only reason people do not know much is because they do not care to know. They are incurious. Incuriousity is the oddest and most foolish failing there is.”
“I am a lover of truth, a worshipper of freedom, a celebrant at the altar of language and purity and tolerance. That is my religion, and every day I am sorely, grossly, heinously and deeply offended, wounded, mortified and injured by a thousand different blasphemies against it. When the fundamental canons of truth, honesty, compassion and decency are hourly assaulted by fatuous bishops, pompous, illiberal and ignorant priests, politicians and prelates, sanctimonious censors, self-appointed moralists and busy-bodies, what recourse of ancient laws have I? None whatever. Nor would I ask for any. For unlike these blistering imbeciles my belief in my religion is strong and I know that lies will always fail and indecency and intolerance will always perish.”
“It's now very common to hear people say, 'I'm rather offended by that.' As if that gives them certain rights. It's actually nothing more... than a whine. 'I find that offensive.' It has no meaning; it has no purpose; it has no reason to be respected as a phrase. 'I am offended by that.' Well, so fucking what."
“It would be impossible to imagine going through life without swearing, and without enjoying swearing.”
Stephen Fry. A saint among men.
Wednesday, 25 December 2013
Tuesday, 24 December 2013
"All men want to be José Greco, and all women want to be loved by José Greco!"José Greco was described by dance critic Arlene Croce of the New Yorker magazine as “the undisputed Spanish dance star of the 50s and 60s...In terms of box-office power, he may have been the greatest of all dance stars until the advent of Rudolf Nureyev.”
In fact born in Italy and brought up in New York, Snr Greco nevertheless dominated the art-form of flamenco for decades, and, indisputably, brought it to a mainstream audience who might otherwise never have discovered its allure. He appeared in many movies, including Around the World in 80 Days (with David Niven and Shirley MacLaine), Sombrero (with Cyd Charisse), and Holiday for Lovers (with Jane Wyman and Jill St John); on myriad US television spectaculars hosted by the likes of Bob Hope, Ed Sullivan, Perry Como and Johnny Carson; and toured the world for years with his own flamenco company.
"About forty years ago José Greco appeared on the Mike Douglas television show. Mr Douglas asked, 'Where did you learn how to dance flamenco?' Jose answered, 'Brooklyn!'"Nevertheless, Spanish dance was his forté, and to demonstrate - here's his utterly breath-taking Flamenco Danse from the aforementioned Around the World in 80 Days:
Facts about José Greco:
- In 1951, Greco shared with Carol Channing the title of “New Broadway Personality of the Year.”
- So familiar a personality did he become in America that he was often spoofed on TV by the likes of Ernie Kovacs and others.
- A coroner claimed his death - officially from a heart attack - was a "homicide" as a result of an unfortunate clash with Amtrak train officials.
- His children - notably son Jose Greco II - have carried on their father's legacy in the arts, particularly in dance.
Monday, 23 December 2013
Sunday, 22 December 2013
Saturday, 21 December 2013
Late lies the wintry sun a-bed,
A frosty, fiery sleepy-head;
Blinks but an hour or two; and then,
A blood-red orange, sets again.
[from Winter-Time by Robert Louis Stevenson]
It's Mid-Winter's Day. The Winter Solstice. The Shortest Day.
It's all uphill from here...
Friday, 20 December 2013
Wednesday, 18 December 2013
Saki's short stories - such as Sredni Vashtar, The Stampeding of Lady Bastable or The Unbearable Bassington, inevitably featuring "Clovis" or "Reginald" - are arch campness personified. But what of the author himself?
Adrian: A chapter in acclimatisation
by Saki (H.H.Munro):
His baptismal register spoke of him pessimistically as John Henry, but he had left that behind with the other maladies of infancy, and his friends knew him under the front-name of Adrian. His mother lived in Bethnal Green, which was not altogether his fault; one can discourage too much history in one's family, but one cannot always prevent geography. And, after all, the Bethnal Green habit has this virtue - that it is seldom transmitted to the next generation. Adrian lived in a roomlet which came under the auspicious constellation of W.
How he lived was to a great extent a mystery even to himself; his struggle for existence probably coincided in many material details with the rather dramatic accounts he gave of it to sympathetic acquaintances. All that is definitely known is that he now and then emerged from the struggle to dine at the Ritz or Carlton, correctly garbed and with a correctly critical appetite. On these occasions he was usually the guest of Lucas Croyden, an amiable worldling, who had three thousand a year and a taste for introducing impossible people to irreproachable cookery. Like most men who combine three thousand a year with an uncertain digestion, Lucas was a Socialist, and he argued that you cannot hope to elevate the masses until you have brought plovers' eggs into their lives and taught them to appreciate the difference between Coupe Jacques and Macédoine de Fruits. His friends pointed out that it was a doubtful kindness to initiate a boy from behind a drapery counter into the blessedness of the higher catering, to which Lucas invariably replied that all kindnesses were doubtful. Which was perhaps true.
It was after one of his Adrian evenings that Lucas met his aunt, Mrs. Mebberley, at a fashionable tea shop, where the lamp of family life is still kept burning and you meet relatives who might otherwise have slipped your memory.
"Who was that good-looking boy who was dining with you last night?" she asked. "He looked much too nice to be thrown away upon you."
Susan Mebberley was a charming woman, but she was also an aunt.
"Who are his people?" she continued, when the protégé's name (revised version) had been given her.
"His mother lives at Beth..."
Lucas checked himself on the threshold of what was perhaps a social indiscretion.
"Beth? Where is it? It sounds like Asia Minor. Is she mixed up with Consular people?"
"Oh, no. Her work lies among the poor."
This was a side-slip into truth. The mother of Adrian was employed in a laundry.
"I see," said Mrs. Mebberley, "mission work of some sort. And meanwhile the boy has no one to look after him. It's obviously my duty to see that he doesn't come to harm. Bring him to call on me."
"My dear Aunt Susan," expostulated Lucas, "I really know very little about him. He may not be at all nice, you know, on further acquaintance."
"He has delightful hair and a weak mouth. I shall take him with me to Homburg or Cairo."
"It's the maddest thing I ever heard of," said Lucas angrily.
"Well, there is a strong strain of madness in our family. If you haven't noticed it yourself all your friends must have."
"One is so dreadfully under everybody's eyes at Homburg. At least you might give him a preliminary trial at Etretat."
"And be surrounded by Americans trying to talk French? No, thank you. I love Americans, but not when they try to talk French. What a blessing it is that they never try to talk English. Tomorrow at five you can bring your young friend to call on me."
And Lucas, realizing that Susan Mebberley was a woman as well as an aunt, saw that she would have to be allowed to have her own way.
Adrian was duly carried abroad under the Mebberley wing; but as a reluctant concession to sanity Homburg and other inconveniently fashionable resorts were given a wide berth, and the Mebberley establishment planted itself down in the best hotel at Dohledorf, an Alpine townlet somewhere at the back of the Engadine. It was the usual kind of resort, with the usual type of visitors, that one finds over the greater part of Switzerland during the summer season, but to Adrian it was all unusual. The mountain air, the certainty of regular and abundant meals, and in particular the social atmosphere, affected him much as the indiscriminating fervour of a forcing-house might affect a weed that had strayed within its limits. He had been brought up in a world where breakages were regarded as crimes and expiated as such; it was something new and altogether exhilarating to find that you were considered rather amusing if you smashed things in the right manner and at the recognized hours. Susan Mebberley had expressed the intention of showing Adrian a bit of the world; the particular bit of the world represented by Dohledorf began to be shown a good deal of Adrian.
Lucas got occasional glimpses of the Alpine sojourn, not from his aunt or Adrian, but from the industrious pen of Clovis, who was also moving as a satellite in the Mebberley constellation.
"The entertainment which Susan got up last night ended in disaster. I thought it would. The Grobmayer child, a particularly loathsome five-year-old, had appeared as 'Bubbles' during the early part of the evening, and been put to bed during the interval. Adrian watched his opportunity and kidnapped it when the nurse was downstairs, and introduced it during the second half of the entertainment, thinly disguised as a performing pig. It certainly LOOKED very like a pig, and grunted and slobbered just like the real article; no one knew exactly what it was, but every one said it was awfully clever, especially the Grobmayers. At the third curtain Adrian pinched it too hard, and it yelled 'Marmar'! I am supposed to be good at descriptions, but don't ask me to describe the sayings and doings of the Grobmayers at that moment; it was like one of the angrier Psalms set to Strauss's music. We have moved to an hotel higher up the valley."
Clovis's next letter arrived five days later, and was written from the Hotel Steinbock.
"We left the Hotel Victoria this morning. It was fairly comfortable and quiet - at least there was an air of repose about it when we arrived. Before we had been in residence twenty-four hours most of the repose had vanished 'like a dutiful bream,' as Adrian expressed it. However, nothing unduly outrageous happened till last night, when Adrian had a fit of insomnia and amused himself by unscrewing and transposing all the bedroom numbers on his floor. He transferred the bathroom label to the adjoining bedroom door, which happened to be that of Frau Hoftath Schilling, and this morning from seven o'clock onwards the old lady had a stream of involuntary visitors; she was too horrified and scandalized it seems to get up and lock her door. The would-be bathers flew back in confusion to their rooms, and, of course, the change of numbers led them astray again, and the corridor gradually filled with panic-stricken, scantily robed humans, dashing wildly about like rabbits in a ferret-infested warren. It took nearly an hour before the guests were all sorted into their respective rooms, and the Frau Hofrath's condition was still causing some anxiety when we left. Susan is beginning to look a little worried. She can't very well turn the boy adrift, as he hasn't got any money, and she can't send him to his people as she doesn't know where they are. Adrian says his mother moves about a good deal and he's lost her address. Probably, if the truth were known, he's had a row at home. So many boys nowadays seem to think that quarrelling with one's family is a recognized occupation."
Lucas's next communication from the travellers took the form of a telegram from Mrs. Mebberley herself. It was sent "reply prepaid," and consisted of a single sentence: "In Heaven's name, where is Beth?"
From a biographical article by Bill Greenwell:
As a person, Hector Munro was fastidiously cool rather than flamboyant in manner and in dress. Still, sallow, obsessed with wild life from birds to wolves, he was lean, quiet and witty; his hair grew dark; and in a decade following the débacle of Oscar Wilde, he was cautious. He shared Wilde's love of a well-turned phrase as well as his sexual predilections, and although he enjoyed the culture of the Turkish baths, and had an active libido, he kept his sexuality under wraps.And the skeptical but essentially good-natured words of Saki certainly appeal to us.
It was coincidentally in the year of Wilde's death, 1900, that Hector Munro's career took off, and when he first appeared under the by-line Saki. His parodies of Alice in Wonderland, political spoofs, appeared in The Westminster Gazette under that name, and proved instantly popular. Under his own name, his first short story appeared a year later, as did another sequence of Saki articles featuring a new, louche character called Reginald, whose witty retorts were also admired. He took his pseudonym from The Rubaiyat Of Omar Khayyam - Saki is the cup-bearer mentioned by the speaker. It is easy to see why the pensive, meditative, proverbial, skeptical but essentially good-natured words of the Rubaiyat should have appealed to Hector.
Saki (Hector Hugh (H.H.) Munro, 18th December 1870 – 13th November 1916)
Monday, 16 December 2013
"I married first, won the Oscar before Olivia did, and if I die first, she'll undoubtedly be livid because I beat her to it!"
And she did.
RIP Joan Fontaine (Joan de Beauvoir de Havilland, 22nd October 1917 − 15th December 2013).
Read our previous entry for Joan Fontaine
Saturday, 14 December 2013
Thursday, 12 December 2013
Just hearing the marvellous Philip Hoare eulogising about the subject of Stephen Tennant at Polari on Monday was enough to get my juices flowing for a suitable tribute.
Who better to provide an overview of the "Brightest of the Bright Young Things" than that modern-day master of all things eccentric Mr John Waters? Here are some extracts from his review of Mr Hoare's biography of Stephen, Serious Pleasures, first published in the New York Times in 1991:
In 1910, when Stephen Tennant was four years old, he ran through the gardens of his family's Wiltshire estate, Wilsford Manor, and was literally stopped in his tracks when he came face to face with the beauty of the "blossom of a pansy." Thirty years later, so precious and high-strung that he sometimes took to his bed for months at a time, he was coaxed outside by a friend for a ride in the car on the condition that his eyes be bandaged, since passing scenery might make him too "giddy." Aubrey Beardsley, Ronald Firbank, Denton Welch - believe me, Stephen Tennant made them all seem butch.
According to Philip Hoare, the author of "Serious Pleasures," the witty and amazing life story of this great sissy, Cecil Beaton was one of the first to encourage Tennant's eccentric vocation of doing nothing in life - but doing it with great originality and flamboyance. Completely protected by class, Stephen Tennant couldn't care less what people thought of his finger waves, his Charles James leopard pajamas, his makeup ("I want to have bee-stung lips like Mae Murray") or his dyed hair dusted with gold. Who would dare criticize this "aristocratic privilege," this self-described "fatal gift of beauty"? As The London Daily Express in 1928 so succinctly summed up Tennant's attitude toward life, "you...feel that condescension, indeed, can go no further."
Although many who knew Tennant later in life maintained that they "could hardly believe the physical act possible for him," the one real love affair of his adult life was with Siegfried Sassoon, the masculine, renowned pacifist poet old enough to be his father. Sassoon brought to their relationship "his fame, his talent, his position," while Tennant's only daily activities were "dressing-up" and reading about himself in the gossip columns. Looking at the photos of the two lovers in Mr. Hoare's book, Tennant posing languidly (vogueing, really), way-too-thin and way-too-rich, as Sassoon looks on proudly, even the most radical Act-Up militant might mutter a private "Oh, brother!" But the author makes us see that Tennant's extreme elegance was close to sexual terrorism, as it flabbergasted society on both sides of the Atlantic for half a century.Stephen Tennant was an inspiration to us all...
"Cherish me and introduce me to the glories of New York," Tennant telephoned a startled friend, David Herbert, as he crossed the Atlantic on the Berengaria. Herbert met Tennant at the boat and was embarrassed to see him walking down the gangway "'Marcelled' and painted...delicately holding a spray of cattleya orchids."
"Pin 'em on!" shouted a tough customs officer in homophobic disgust.
"Oh, have you got a pin?" exclaimed Tennant in complete disregard for the reaction of others. "You kind, kind creature."
After World War II, Tennant became, in the words of Osbert Sitwell, "the last professional beauty." From then on, it was time to hit the sack big time. Sleeping Beauty forever. He had inspired enough fiction (Sebastian Flyte in Evelyn Waugh's Brideshead Revisited, Cedric Hampton in Nancy Mitford's Love in a Cold Climate), met enough celebrities (everyone from Tallulah and Garbo to Cocteau and Jean Genet) and traveled the globe with Barbara Hutton and other rich dames for long enough; it was society's turn to come visit him.
"Reeking of perfume," "covered with foundation," with ribbons hanging from his dyed comb-over hairdo, he rested "non-stop" for the next 17 years in "decorative reclusion." Unconcerned about his grossly overweight figure ("But I'm beautiful," he would reason, "and the more of me there is the better I like it!"), he lay in bed surrounded by his jewellery, drawings and Elvis Presley postcards while, as Mr. Hoare puts it, his "decorative fantasies were running amok" (the pink and gold statues in the overgrown garden, the fishnets and seashells everywhere, the tiny uncaged pet lizards, the bursting pipes and rotting carpets, the mice still in the traps). Happily re-creating the "perfervid environment" of his youth, Tennant calmly painted the tops of his legs with pancake makeup and proudly showed his "suntan" to astonished visitors like Princess Elizabeth of Yugoslavia. David Bailey, Christopher Isherwood, David Hockney, even Kenneth Anger all made pilgrimages and, though they may have laughed good-naturedly afterward, none laughed as hard as Tennant himself, who, after all, was in on the joke from the beginning. "To call Stephen affected," the artist Michael Wishart recalled, "would be like calling an acrobat a show-off, or a golden pheasant vulgar."
In his later years, as the antiques dealers circled outside his estate like vultures, waiting for the end, Tennant would sometimes stop traffic in nearby country towns 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 wonderful English trait sorely missing in America today. V. S. Naipaul may have described Tennant best when he noticed "the shyness that wasn't so much a wish not to be seen as a wish to be applauded on sight."
Philip Hoare has given his subject the ultimate final bravo in this meticulously researched and respectful biography, which manages to be both scholarly and hilarious at the same time. If only Stephen Tennant, always his own best audience, could have read Serious Pleasures before peacefully passing away (in bed, of course) in his 81st year. He probably would have fainted.
Serious Pleasures: The Life of Stephen Tennant by Philip Hoare.
Monday, 9 December 2013
[With great rival and fellow Hermione Baddeley]
Madame Alvarez, Bianca de Passe, Lady Effigie Munster, Eulalie Shinn, Lady Bracknell, Madame Armfeldt - Hermione Gingold made a bit of a film career out of playing battleaxes and elderly harridan matriarchs.
She had successfully cultivated a singular on-stage persona over the years - described by one critic thus: "Blatant as ever, deafeningly loud, strutting like a parody of every tragedy queen, male or female, since time began, she was in splendid relishing form, her lips drawn back over fangs and her voice swooping campingly through a whole two octaves of sneer." Ken Tynan called her a "burbling dragoness fully capable of withering her husband with a single fire-darting glare. Needless to say, much of what Miss Gingold does is strangely hilarious. No actress commands a more purposeful leer; and in nobody's mouth do vowels more acidly curdle".
In real life, she was no less terrifying. Making a late appearance on the Merv Griffin talk show, the previous guests on which were Zsa Zsa Gabor and Charo - who had been cat-fighting for most of the show - Hermione strode out carrying her toy terrier and said in stentorian tones, "You don't mind if I bring out another bitch, do you?". When asked whether her most recent husband was dead, "That's a matter of opinion," she replied.
Her own life - as candidly outlined in her biography (which she finished in its final form a year before her death) How to Grow Old Disgracefully, a cherished copy of which resides on our shelves here at Dolores Delargo Towers alongside the CD of John Murray Anderson's Almanac - was just as full of anecdotes about her outrageous behaviour, not least Miss Gingold's decision in 1971, aged 74 and previously twice married, to get engaged to a 33-year-old London antique dealer.
Miss Gingold began her career in 1911 as a child actor with Noel Coward in Where the Rainbow Ends, and ended it as he narrator in Side by Side by Sondheim in 1978. Although she was a stalwart of the stage in London's West End before, during and after WW2, it was not until she wowed Broadway in the aforementioned Almanac that she achieved world-wide fame, and the film parts beckoned.
Her most famous screen appearance was of course her part as the retired courtesan in Gigi (and where would that dreadful film have been without her?), although her television appearances - particularly in America - were no less memorable. Here is her brilliant version of I'd Be Surprisingly Good For You from Evita:
"“It would appear that I have tried everything except incest and folkdancing.”
"To hear an audience laugh is the greatest thrill in the theatre."
"Really, sex and laughter do go very well together, and I wondered - and I still do - which is more important."
"Fighting is essentially a masculine idea; a woman's weapon is her tongue."
Most definitely one of our icons.
Hermione Ferdinanda Gingold (9th December 1897 – 24th May 1987)