Friday, 21 April 2017
...like 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
"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)
Friday, 14 April 2017
Monday, 10 April 2017
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)
Friday, 7 April 2017
Wednesday, 5 April 2017
It is our Patron Saint Miss Bette Davis' birthday today! Genuflect, genuflect, genuflect...
To celebrate, here are a couple of choice extracts from The Devil in Miss Davis, a rather marvellous anecdotal article by veteran director William Frye that was published in Vanity Fair in 2010:
...when Bette Davis decided she wanted to go somewhere, you went. Naturally, we didn’t have a reservation, and [the club] Mocambo was jammed. There was a line of people standing behind a red rope waiting to get in. Bette was no more going to join that queue than fly to the moon. She marched up to the maître d’ and said, “We want a table for two.”And this [on the aftermath of Miss Davis being upstaged by Miss Crawford at The Oscars]:
“I’m terribly sorry, Miss Davis, there’s not an empty table in the room. Would you like to go to the bar and wait until one becomes available?”
“No,” she said haughtily. “Put one up.”
Moments later, we were escorted into the main room. Right next to the stage, where everyone could see us, they had put up a table about the size of a silver dollar. As Bette was being seated, she spotted two people at the door who were also having trouble getting in - Esther Williams and her husband, Ben Gage. “Esther! Ben!” she called across the room. “Come join us! There’s lots of room!”
They, too, jumped the line, and two more chairs were brought to our table. We danced and drank until the club closed.
Olivia de Havilland became very upset. She said it was terrible that Bette had lost, terrible that Joan Crawford had stolen the night, terrible, too, that the world would wake up the next morning to pictures of Crawford clutching an Oscar and assume she’d won it for What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? ...There was only one Ruth Elizabeth "Bette" Davis (5th April 1908 – 6th October 1989)
At that moment I made the most inappropriate comment I’ve ever made in my life - the wrong thing at the wrong time in front of the wrong person. I still cringe to recall it. I suddenly said, “Well, you have to admit, when Crawford came out on that stage, with that dress and that array of diamonds, she did look like the movie star of all time.”
There was dead silence. Olivia stopped commiserating. Bette stopped slicing bread. I stopped rocking.
“What did you say?” Bette asked, looking up. When I didn’t reply, she came at me with the knife. Pressing it to my chest, she repeated, “What did you say?”
I sat frozen in the rocker, imagining blood dripping down my pleated evening shirt, and repeated the monumentally stupid - but accurate - thing I’d said a few seconds earlier. After another interminable silence, she took the knife away. “You make me sick” was all she said.
Then she went back to slicing bread, and the party resumed. After more drinks, everybody had scrambled eggs and toast. I got home at five a.m. The “evening” had started 12 hours earlier. Neither of us ever mentioned the knife incident again.
Monday, 3 April 2017
From the very opening number, whereby we were instructed: "Please don't fart. There is very little air and this is art", we just knew we were in for a good evening. And so it was, indeed - as a little gang of us huddled into the teensy-tiny confines of the fabulous Jermyn Street Theatre in Mayfair last Friday for not just any old show, but the première of a Stephen Sondheim musical!
The Frogs is not the best-known of the modern-day Master's work, of course. It began as a short art-house-piece way back in 1974, for which Mr Sondheim had merely been asked by its "creator" Burt Shevelove (who "freely adapted" it from Aristophanes, of all obscure sources) to contribute a few songs. It was not a huge success even in those experimental times, despite its semi-aquatic staging (in a swimming baths!), and despite the presence in the chorus of a couple of young gals who were definitely destined for greater things - Miss Sigourney Weaver and Miss Meryl Streep! However, that other theatrical maestro Mr Nathan Lane had other ideas, when he "even more freely" re-worked it (with the collaboration of Mr S, who wrote more songs for it) back in 2004...
We had no water in our theatre of course, but we did have a fabulous cast with fabulous voices, energetic choreography, a (very) quirky storyline and even quirkier score (typically Sondheim: hints of Brecht & Weill, hints of Gershwin and even of Lerner & Loewe in places; lots of staccato and overlapping harmonies) to entertain us. That doyenne of all things arty, Miss Libby Purves [recently treated like shit by the BBC as they axed her Midweek Radio 4 programme after 33 years] (writing in her Theatre Cat blog) has the lowdown:
Here’s the god Dionysus, deprived of his Noël Coward smoking jacket and unconvincingly disguised as Herakles in a lion skin. He’s having a panic attack on a ferry across the Styx while a chorus of marauding frogs sings a menacing staccato and Charon the ferryman sleeps off a spliff. The frogs represent apathetic conformity – “Brek-kek-kek-kek! Brek-kek-kek-kek! Whaddya care the world’s a wreck? Leave ’em alone, send ’em a check, sit in the sun and what the heck?”.
But as the God of theatre, our hero is on a quest to bring back a great playwright – George Bernard Shaw of all people – to improve the world with questioning.For the record, nobody left halfway through the show when we went. Nobody farted to my knowledge, either. In fact the audience was generally, as we were, enraptured.
There are many fingers in this mad frog pie. Aristophanes, the Ancient Greek playwright who wrote, for the feast of Lenaia, about a journey into Hades to bring back the dead Euripides. Then Burt Shevelove who updated it to include Shaw and Shakespeare in debate, and Stephen Sondheim who wrote the music and lyrics, and had it performed in the unfriendly acoustic of the Yale swimming pool. Now add Nathan Lane, who fell for it as if for “a little homely rescue dog”, messed about and wrote new bits. And here it is at the ever-adventurous Jermyn.
Rarely have I been in a more Marmite show. A couple left furiously at the interval, not getting it at all: another woman rhapsodised in the interval expressing surprise that they didn’t adore it like her, then unaccountably picked up her many bags and left ten minutes in making the rest of the row stand up for her. Me, entrancedly amused mainly by the Sondheim lyrics, I stayed and enjoyed the character of Pluto the underworld king as a leather queen with a whip, the assorted choruses, and the very funny advent of Martin Dickinson as George Bernard Shaw himself, pompous, emitting his famous epigrams and excoriating the frivolity of Shakespeare and his "Purple patches on borrowed rags".
Dionysius holds it together, the affable Michael Matus alternately alarmed, determined, and nicely gushy as the top Shaw fanboy, praising his “gravity of subject and levity of manner”, which actually describes this whole show quite nicely. The duel of quotations between Shaw and Shakespeare is wonderful, with quite the right winner.
So I enjoyed it, crazy as it is, and the music – piano, woodwind, trumpet and cello, is beautifully Sondheim, and Grace Wessels directs with cheerful speed. It feels more like a clever college romp than anything else, but it is a romp composed by a genius, an eloquent wise clown. For Sondheimites, it has the buzz. Or croak.
Like Miss Purves, we loved the interplay between the somewhat effete Dionysus (god of drama and of wine) and his slightly-nerdy slave Xanthias (George Rae) that holds the story together (with some funny throwaway lines such as “Viagra - the god of perseverance”), the humour of the dominatrix Pluto (Emma Ralston) complete with Cage Aux Folles-style fan-dancers, the hilarious Beetlejuice-esque Charon (Jonathan Wadey), and the sheer camp effect of the ensemble cast playing not only the central Greek Chorus roles but also myriad other characters (Chris McGuigan plays both the macho Herakles and a handmaiden to Persephone(!), Martin Dickinson plays Shaw, Nigel Pilkington Shakespeare, Li-Tong Hsu plays "Virilla" the highly-sexed Amazon, and Bernadette Bangura is Dionysus' love Ariadne).
There is a lot to take in in this show, and it certainly is unlike anything else in Sondheim's repertoire (aside from the fact that some of the "hooks" herein sound somewhat familiar to anyone who may have seen his much later Into The Woods). It is definitely not like anything else currently showing in the West End. And for that, we are somewhat thankful.
The Frogs at the Jermyn Street Theatre is now completely sold out, and closes on Saturday 8th April. However, it is definitely worthy of a run at a bigger (not too big, hopefully) West End Theatre, fingers crossed.
Sunday, 26 March 2017
It's Mothering Sunday again.
Oh dear! It would appear she's not happy - maybe the card and flowers never arrived..?
Der Hölle Rache kocht in meinem Herzen,
The vengeance of hell boils in my heart;
Queen of the Night Aria on Wikipedia.
Thursday, 23 March 2017
Sunday, 19 March 2017
"I think the diva is kind of a cliche. My definition of a diva is somebody whose talent does not match what they're trying to play, so all this temperament comes out."
"I had given birth seven weeks before we started preparing for ['Dangerous Liaisons']. For the first time in my life, I had these great breasts. It'll never happen again, but for one brief, shining season, I had the most incredible breasts. James Acheson, the costume designer did the costumes, and I just loved it because they pushed my breasts up and made me have cleavage. I guess I should be saying something more intellectual about the film, but I just remembered how great it felt to have those breasts."
"The best thing I have is the knife from 'Fatal Attraction'. I hung it in my kitchen. It's my way of saying 'don't mess with me'."
"It's gotten out of control. It's taking bigger and bigger names to make smaller and smaller films. I worry that important films without a big name attached won't get made at all."
"Celebrity is death - celebrity - that's the worst thing that can happen to an actor."
Six time Oscar-nominated actress, the marvellous Glenn Close is 70 years old today!
Saturday, 18 March 2017
Sunday, 12 March 2017
It's the birthday today of our Patron Saint of Pizzazz, Miss Liza Minnelli! All hail.
Also worthy of note, however, if the fact that it is forty-five years since that magnificent cinematographic work of genius - the film that launched our elfin icon to international super-stardom - Cabaret was first released in cinemas.
I first saw it when it appeared on telly (lord knows when!), but I recall it had a life-changing influence on me. Not only was there the whiff of (divine) decadence and sleaze, the presence of a (slightly warped) heroine who gestured and emoted her way through a series of fantabulosa camp torch songs, and an "Emcee" of sinister-yet-thoroughly-enjoyable naughtiness, but also - and to me, this was everything - the sex-god that was Michael York playing a character admitting he was gay! I adored it way back then in my closeted youth, and it remains my favourite film of all time to this day...
Mr Bob Fosse is an absolute genius of a director. His sassy, vivacious, dance-oriented style is right up my street - and it is no surprise that his other memorable film Sweet Charity is also one of my faves - as one might expect given his long stage background, and the fact he was also the choreographer for such classic musicals as Kiss Me Kate, The Pajama Game and Damn Yankees. Yet, so it is said, he practically had to beg the producers to allow him on board for Cabaret [in Hollywood then, as now, commerce rather than quality is all; and Sweet Charity flopped at the box office (for some strange reason)]. But they gave in, thankfully - and the rest is history...
Facts about Cabaret:
- Bob Fosse decided at an early stage not to make a film version of the stage musical. Instead, he revisited Christopher Isherwood's original works upon which the stage adaptation was originally based, and included characters and plot lines (especially those involving Fritz, Natalia and Max) from I Am a Camera and Berlin Stories that did not appear in the stage version.
- Mr Isherwood himself felt Liza Minnelli was too talented for the role. Sally, an amateur talent who lived under the delusion she had star quality, was in his opinion the antithesis of "Judy Garland's daughter".
- Two of the original stage show's leading musical numbers Don't Tell Mama and Married were removed from the film version, yet both actually appeared in the film. The former's bridge section appears as instrumental music played on Sally's gramophone; the latter is initially played on the piano in Fraulein Schneider's parlour and is later heard at Sally and Brian's picnic in a German translation (Heiraten) sung by cabaret singer Greta Keller.
- The song Maybe This Time was not written for the film. Kander and Ebb had written it years earlier for Kaye Ballard (and thus it was ineligible for an Academy Award nomination in 1973).
- Cabaret has the distinction of winning the most Oscars (eight in total, including Best Actress for Liza, Best Supporting Actor for Joel Grey and Best Director for Mr Fosse), without winning Best Picture.
Friday, 10 March 2017
Wednesday, 8 March 2017
Bonny and Read were pretty lookin' people, but I can tell you people, they were the devil's children
By fortuitous coincidence, today is not only International Women's Day, but also the (purported) 320th anniversary of the birth of one of history's most feared pirates - who was even more notorious due the fact she was of the so-called "fairer sex" - Anne Bonny. Between her and her pirate chum Mary Read, that testosterone-fuelled world of contraband, looting and buccaneering must have been quaking in its boots!
From The Way of the Pirates here is Anne's story:
It is hard to separate the legend from the facts of Anne Bonny....and here's Mary's:
...There are a lot of stories about her teen years; some of them even claim that she murdered a servant girl with a knife, and there is one about a young man that she put in the hospital for several weeks, after his failed attempt to sexually assault her.
When she was sixteen years old, she fell in love with a small-time pirate James Bonny, who just wanted her estate. Her father was against their relationship, but she was stubborn and married him... so he turned her out of his home.
James took his wife to the pirates' hideout of New Providence. He had a hard time supporting her, and in the end he became a pirate informer for the governor, Woodes Rogers. Anne was disappointed because she had made many pirate friends. With the help of her good friend, Pierre, a celebrated homosexual who ran a famous "ladies' establishment", Anne left her husband. She ran away with Calico Jack Rackham, romantic Pirate Captain, who even offered to buy her from Anne's husband.
...[When she fell pregnant by him] he left her in Cuba to deliver the baby. There are several theories about what happened to Anne's first child. Some people think that she just abandoned her, some believe that Calico had a friend with a family in Cuba who agreed to raise their child. Some even believe that her child died at birth.
After few months, she returned to Rackham's ship, but now the infamous Mary Read was also on board...
Mary Read was born in Devon in the late 17th century ...Her father had died before she was born and her half-brother Mark passed away soon afterwards. Mary's paternal grandmother supported Mary and her mother, only because she thought that her grandson Mark was still alive. To keep the death of Mary's brother as secret from his grandmother Mary was raised as a boy, pretending to be her older brother.Cross-dressing. Swashbuckling. A celebrated homosexual brothel-keeper. A romantic Pirate Captain. Hints of lesbianism...
When Mary Read was about thirteen years old, her grandmother died. Mary still dressed as a boy and with boyish habits, had to find a job. She became a footboy to a wealthy French woman, who lived in London. Unsatisfied with her current position, she escaped and boarded a Man-o-War. Few years passed, and she became bored again. This time she joined the Army, where she met her future husband. After confessing love and true gender to him, they left the army, married and opened an Inn called Three Horseshoes near Castle Breda.
Mary Read was always surrounded by death. After just a few months of marriage, her husband got sick and died. Desperate, she just wanted to escape from everything and ...boarded a Dutch ship that sailed to the Caribbean. Almost at the reach of its destination, Mary's ship was attacked and captured by Calico Jack, who took all the English captured sailors as part of his crew. Unwillingly she became a pirate. However, soon after, she started to like a pirate way of life. When she had a chance to leave Rackham's ship, Mary decided to stay.
On Rackham's ship, she met Anne Bonny. Being the only women on the ship and sharing a lot in common, they quickly became good friends. Some people believe that Mary Read was in a romantic relationship with Anne Bonny, Rackham or even one of the crewmembers.
However Mary's pirate career ended in October 1720... Captain Barnet, ex-pirate, now commander in the British Navy attacked Rackham's anchored ship "Revenge". Almost the entire crew was drunk. They were celebrating all night because they managed to capture a Spanish commercial ship. The fight was short because only Mary and Anne resisted. However, in the end, they were also overpowered.
The crew of "Revenge" was taken to Port Royal to stand trial. The trial was a big sensation because the background of the female prisoners was reviled. Anne and Mary were women who escaped from traditional restrictions and in their way, fought for equality between men and women.
Everybody was found guilty for the crime of piracy. The sentence was death by hanging. However, Anne and Mary were spared, because they claimed to be pregnant.
Mary died in a Jamaican prison from fever, but the fate of Anne Bonny is unknown.
These two women have been a constant source of fascination for me over the years. Arr!
Monday, 6 March 2017
"[My face] looks like a disreputable bloodhound, a melancholic camel or an apologetic yak."
“I plead for my life! I plead for justice!...oooh, I'm a miserable pleader!”
“Very clever, all those boys are, very clever boys. I think they should turn professional. They tell me now they've learned to put on make-up. Soon they're going to use it on the stage!”
"I'm flabbergasted! My gast has never been so flabbered!"
It is the centenary today of one of Britain's greatest and best-loved comedians, Mr Frankie Howerd...
From The Twentieth Century Files blog:
Fellow comedian Barry Cryer described his career as “a series of comebacks”, which spanned six decades. Beginning his professional career in the late 40s, he got a real boost in the 60s appearing on That Was The Week That Was and A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum in London’s West End. After featuring in Carry On Doctor, he started to get his own shows on TV, especially in Up Pompeii!, appearing as slave Lurcio. The show got its film version in 1971, and Howerd played versions of Lurcio in the follow ups Up The Chastity Belt and Up The Front.Master of the innuendo and the "stage whisper", Frankie was certainly one of the great "Queens of Comedy"!
Throughout his early career he had to hide his homosexuality (acts between consenting males were illegal until 1967). He once said to Cilla Black, ”I wish to God I wasn’t gay.” In 1958, he met wine waiter Dennis Heymer while dining with Sir John Mills. Heymer became Howerd’s lover and manager, and they remained together until Howerd’s death.
Howerd contracted a virus whilst on a trip up the Amazon river in 1991. Suffering respiratory problems the following year, he died of heart failure on 19 April 1992, aged 75, just one day before fellow comedian Benny Hill.
We miss him.
Francis Alick "Frankie" Howerd, OBE (6th March 1917 – 19th April 1992)