Friday, 26 May 2017

Friday, 19 May 2017

This weekend, I am mostly dressing casual... birthday girl Miss Alma Cogan!

Over at my "regular blog" Give 'em the old Razzle Dazzle we're celebrating the birthday of Miss Grace Jones. In complete contrast to the "Patron Saint of Fierceness", however, over here we're welcoming the "girl with the giggle in her voice" to the Museum of Camp; the little Jewish meydl from Whitechapel who rocketed to fame in the "pre-Beatles" era - and would have been 85 years old today. [It's a bit of a glut of birthdays today incidentally; also born today were Ho Chi Minh, Kemal Atatürk, Pol Pot, Malcolm X and Nancy Astor, as well the likes of Victoria Wood (RIP), Martyn Ware, Dame Nellie Melba, Pete Townsend, James Fox, David Jacobs and - erm - Yazz.]

Known for her fabulous gowns as much as her cheery songs - never appearing in the same dress twice - Alma Cogan was also renowned for her lavish parties, guests at which included some of the greatest "names" of her day including Princess Margaret, Noël Coward, Cary Grant, Audrey Hepburn, Michael Caine, Roger Moore, Frankie Vaughan, Bruce Forsyth and many more. She became one of the first UK record artists to appear frequently on television - that fledgling post-War novelty - and, despite being deemed "uncool" by the time the 60s arrived, nevertheless she allegedly had a passionate affair with John Lennon, and was a close friend of all the Beatles.

Her premature death from cancer aged just 34 shocked the nation, and to this day she is revered for the joy she brought to this country in the midst of the "austerity years" and beyond. Here, you can recapture some of her magic in this documentary from 1991:

Alma Cogan (born Alma Angela Cohen, 19th May 1932 – 26th October 1966)

Sunday, 14 May 2017

The 'Whatever Happened To Baby Jane?' of the cosmetics world

We went to see a camp extravaganza on Thursday night - Madame Rubinstein, John Misto's brand new play about the true-life rivalry between cosmetics moguls Helena Rubinstein and Elizabeth Arden, their entirely fictional face-to-face encounters as they compete with each other to create the first waterproof mascara, and their reluctant alliance as they attempt to thwart the underhand tactics of Charles Revson, founder of Revlon.

As if the premise itself weren't appealing enough, when we discovered that not one, but two of our favourite gay icons Miriam Margoyles (as Madame) and Frances Barber (as Miss Arden) were in it - it was essential that we got a ticket!

As the always amusing review site West End Whingers elucidates:
Rubinstein is portrayed as an irascible, cheapskate manipulator who waddles around weighed down by envy and bling and keeps a leg of chicken in her office safe as it saves buying a fridge. Somehow Margolyes makes her endearing. Almost.

Arden drifts in and out plotting and competing with her to find a waterproof mascara. That’s when the two aren’t volleying barbs at each other. It’s the Whatever Happened To Baby Jane? of the cosmetics world. If Barber doesn’t get to play Bette Davis one day then it’s an affront to the gay community...

...Some of the jokes are as clumsy as the between-scenes furniture-shifting but if you’re a connoisseur of high camp you’ll find enough to make you chortle.

And chortle we did, as these two mistresses of OTT acting brought the "Great Ladies of Slap" to life in all their bitchy and manipulative glory - for despite the irritatingly disjointed scene changes (far too many gaps in the "action" for my liking), they have many great waspish lines to relish.

The foil for this (almost) two-hander is Madame Rubinstein's trusted aide, originally hired to help prevent industrial espionage, the gay Irishman "Patrick" (played by Jonathan Forbes). His loyalty to the end, despite all the cruel jokes and tricks played upon him by his ogrish-yet-vulnerable patron, gave a humanity to the story that otherwise could have veered a little too close to caricature.

Despite its limitations, we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves! However, unless the production is tightened-up a bit so that the storyline flows rather than appear as a collection of vignettes, I really cannot see this production making a transfer to the West End.

But I certainly shan't be buying Revlon again...

Madame Rubinstein at The Park Theatre [currently sold out]

Tuesday, 9 May 2017

Leave your worries on the doorstep

"...a heart-warming and a joyfully camp tribute to a national treasure." - The Telegraph

We watched a rather splendid tribute to an eternally revered [especially here at Dolores Delargo Towers] star last night, a so-called "biopic" of the kind that British telly, and the BBC in particular, does so well. Following on from similar panegyrics such as that on Dame Shirley Bassey, and the masterful performance by Sheridan Smith as Cilla, this time it was the turn of... Barbara Windsor!

Now in her 80th year, it was fitting that the lady whose best-known roles were as the shimmying, chesty sexpot of the Carry On films and the matriarch of TV soap Eastenders should be treated to a dramatic exploration of her less well-known history. For not may people realise that, had she not chosen a path whereby her "assets" would forever be better known than her acting skills, the artist formerly known as Barbara Deeks might have had a far more - ahem - reputable acting repertoire by which she may have been judged.

I use the word "judged" carefully, especially as the usual "journalism-free" reporting in the aftermath of the drama-documentary [and by that, I of course refer to the fact that most so-called "newspapers" these days would rather report on what brainless twats on Twatter have to say about a telly programme than actually employ a genuine reviewer] has produced a slew of articles slating the programme as "confusing". In my opinion it was fabulous. If people are too stupid to understand that not everything that appears on screen has to be explained by endless exposition, then in my opinion they should be barred by law from having access to any form of media. Especially the "social" kind.

Babs was not - by any stretch of the imagination - a "straightforward", linear, biography. Starting at an odd crossroads in her life (the early 1990s, when Miss Windsor's "career" was somewhat limited to "end-of-the-pier" regional theatre and panto), the drama revolved around the contemplative Babs and the "ghost" of her father, through whom she revisited a series of disparate chapters of her past life - from early wartime childhood, to her first forays into drama school (The Sunny Side of the Street became her anthem even in the early days), to being trapped (painfully) in the middle of her parents' divorce, to the blossoming of our familiar "giggling, wiggling" blonde bombshell with a penchant for "bad boys", her choice to have an abortion, and the wide and varied progress of her career.

All these stages were played by different actresses, and all of them were excellent! As the Guardian said:
"It’s the Barbaras who make it. Samantha Spiro as end-of-the-pier Babs is all sad eyes and flashes of sauciness as she reminisces with her dad (Nick Moran), appearing as a charismatic figment of her imagination to backchat her through the past 50 years. Jaime Winstone is delicious as the younger Babs: sweet and self-knowing with an up-do so outrageous it looks less like a bun and more like a giant round loaf rising atop her head. We first encounter her backstage, being instructed to strap up her chest because “the director says your tits are too big”. Which induces a perfect Babs laugh, deep and dirty as a drain."
Particular highlights in the drama - apart from the sometimes challenging interplay with the cruel and heartless "Dad" that Babs always looked up to, despite being abandoned by him - were the unbridled joy of her first cabaret shows at Ronnie Scott's, and the appearance of the estimable avant-garde theatre impresario "Joan Littlewood" (played to perfection by Zoe Wanamaker). We (unlike some viewers) enjoyed the "flick-flacking" between timelines, the fact the producers wisely decided not to concentrate too heavily on the Carry On years, and (by placing the narrative a decade before she landed the role) didn't feature her late-stage stardom in Eastenders.

Babs is, after all, more than that.

In all, this was an excellent televisual feast, and highly recommended!

Babs - a treasure, indeed.

Tuesday, 2 May 2017

“Grand and fabulous? That’ll do.”

"I adore clothes, I adore drinking. I just don't have the time or the inclination to totally indulge in it."

"If your career is not predicated on just your physical beauty, you're able to project a sophistication. You can take sophisticated to your grave. You can be that worldly woman, that woman who looks beautiful dressed up."

"You have to hold your bloody own or you're lost."

"I'm sad to say that stardom is a commodity in our culture."

"The very thing that brings you to success can also be like a curse, because then people think that's all you can do."

"I have a kind of remarkable ability to, for want of a better phrase, get what I want."

“Grand and fabulous? That’ll do.”

The utterly fabulosa Christine Baranski celebrates her 65th birthday today.

All hail!

Monday, 1 May 2017

Pole dancing queens

It is Beltane, Calan Mai, May Day, whatever - the time to celebrate flowers, dancing, light... and Queens!

And poles.

From May Morning by A.E. Housman:
How clear, how lovely bright,
How beautiful to sight
Those beams of morning play;
How heaven laughs out with glee
Where, like a bird set free,
Up from the eastern sea
Soars the delightful day.

Happy May Day!

Needless to say, here it is raining.

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Simply the greatest singer of them all

"The one radio voice that I listened to above others belonged to Ella Fitzgerald. There was a quality to her voice that fascinated me, and I'd sing along with her, trying to catch the subtle ways she shaded her voice, the casual yet clean way she sang the words." - Doris Day

"Ella's voice becomes the orchestra's richest and most versatile sound." - Arthur Fiedler

"Man, woman or child, Ella is the greatest of them all." - Bing Crosby

"The best way to start any musical evening is with this girl. It don't get better than this." - Frank Sinatra

"She has been one of my all-time favourite singers for many years and still is - she's terrific." - Perry Como

"She was the best. She was the best there ever was. Amongst all of us who sing, she was the best." - Johnny Mathis

"I call her the High Priestess of Song." - Mel Torme

"I was there from the beginning, and it was obvious from the start what she had that night at the Apollo. My goodness, what she's done with it." - Benny Carter

"Whatever she does to my songs, she always makes them sound better." - Richard Rodgers

"Ella is simply the greatest singer of them all." - Pearl Bailey

"If you want to learn how to sing, listen to Ella Fitzgerald." - Vincente Minnelli

"Ella is the boss lady. That's all." - Billy Strayhorn

"She brings out the best in everybody, making everyone work that much harder to keep up with her." - Andy Williams

"It is so much fun to sing with Ella. It is so nice to sing with someone who does more than make a pretty noise." - Jo Stafford

" She is amazingly creative, bringing so much more to a song than just a singer. She is a first-class musician and the most gracious person in the world." - Marty Paich

"A lot of singers think all they have to do is exercise their tonsils to get ahead. They refuse to look for new ideas and new outlets, so they fall by the wayside... I'm going to try to find out the new ideas before the others do."

"I sing like I feel."

Today is the centenary of one of the greatest voices who ever lived, Miss Ella Fitzgerald.

There are no equals.

Ella Jane Fitzgerald (25th April 1917 – 15th June 1996)

Friday, 21 April 2017

This weekend, I am mostly dressing casual... today's (other) birthday girl: singer, vaudevillian, music hall performer, stage and film actress Miss Beatrice Kay (21st April 1907 - 8th November 1986):

I have no idea where Sheboygan is, but if Miss Kay was there I am sure the party went with a swing!

Monday, 17 April 2017

Dress me! dress me! dress me!

"Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. My name is Hans Conried. I suppose you know yours."

It was the centenary on the weekend of that marvellously fruity actor Hans Conried.

When, on his appearance on their show, The Monkees kept disrupting him as he tried to perform his lines, Mr Conried looked straight at the camera and said: "I hate these fucking kids." Unsurprisingly, it was not broadcast.

According to IMDB: "His distinctive voice made him a popular radio performer during the 1930s and 1940s. In the following four decades he had a lucrative second career doing voice work for animated feature films and television productions; he was best known as the voice of "Captain Hook" in Peter Pan (1953)."

He went on to carve a not-insignificant career on US television, in numerous shows including Make Room for Daddy, Love, American Style and The Lucy Show, as well as on stage (he was in the original cast of Cole Porter's 1953 Broadway hit Can-Can).

However, it is for his portrayal of "Dr Terwilliger" (described as the "first gay villain") in the camp classic (and box-office disaster) The 5,000 Fingers of Dr T for which we love him most - especially this scene:

Come on and dress me, dress me, dress me, in my finest array!
Cause just in case you haven't heard
Today is doe-me-doe day!

Dress me in my silver garters, dress me in my diamond studs
Cause I'm going doe-me-doe-ing in my doe-me-doe duds!
I want my undulating undies with the marabou frills!
I want my beautiful bolero with the porcupine quills!
I want my purple nylon girdle with the orange blossom buds
Cause I'm going doe-me-doe-ing in my doe-me-doe duds!

Come on and dress me! dress me! dress me!
In my peek-a-boo blouse
With the lovely inner lining made of Chesapeake mouse!
I want my polka-dotted dickie with the crinoline fringe
For I'm going doe-me-doe-ing on a doe-me-doe binge!

I want my lavender spats and in addition to them
I want my honey-colored gusset with the herring bone hem
I want my softest little jacket made of watermelon suede
And my long persimmon placket with the platinum braid
I want my leg of mutton sleeves and in addition to those
I want my cutie chamois booties with the leopard skin bows
I want my pink brocaded bodice with the floofy fuzzy ruffs
And my gorgeous bright blue bloomers
With the monkey feather cuffs
I want my organdie snood and in addition to that
I want my chiffon Mother Hubbard lined with Hudson Bay rat
Dress me up from top to bottom, dress me up from tip to toe
Dress me up in silk and spinach for today is doe-me-doe day!

So come and dress me in the blossoms of a million pink trees!
Come on and dress me up in liverwurst! and Camembert cheese!
Come on and dress me up in pretzels, dress me up in bock beer suds! Cause I'm gooooo-ing
in my doe-me-doe duds!

A work of utter, breathtakingly camp genius - that I rightly featured (as an adjunct, admittedly) to my famous "Top Ten of the most extravagantly camp moments in cinema" post over at Give 'em the old Razzle Dazzle.

And, by way of a bonus - a particularly scary scene that was cut [alongside many of the original film's musical numbers, in their entirety, and latterly destroyed] on the grounds of being "too outré" for Fifties audiences:

Hans Georg Conried, Jr. (15th April 1917 – 5th January 1982)

Monday, 10 April 2017

Jaeger-meisters no more

And so, farewell to yet another British institution, with the announcement that the 133-year-old Jaeger Clothing has gone into administration - hot on the heels of such venerable rivals as British Home Stores, Austin Reed (although its brand was rescued by Edinburgh Woollen Mills, its stores were not) and Aquascutum (bought out by the Chinese).

The Jaeger company was formerly known as Dr Jaeger’s Sanitary Woollen System, yet over the years developed stylish clothing lines that were the occasional favourites of such disparate fashionistas as Audrey Hepburn, Marilyn Monroe and the Duchess of Cambridge; it was certainly always renowned for its sturdy woollens, stylish overcoats, tailored suits and... sexy underwear!

...and bathing costumes.

It was the absolute epitome of post-War style...

...and embraced the oh-so-trendy 1960s...

...with lesbians, apparently.

And now, with a whisper not a scream, the most famous purveyors of the classic camel coat are no more.

RIP, Jaeger (1884 - 2017)