Monday, 22 September 2014

It's a look...

This stunning new look in slacks comes from the high 5" waistband, with elastic back for a snug, trim fit... and dramatic sash that ties in front for an extra dashing effect.

Saturday, 20 September 2014

You're born with it

"I think the quality of sexiness comes from within. It is something that is in you or it isn't and it really doesn't have much to do with breasts or thighs or the pout of your lips."

"You have to be born a sex symbol. You don't become one. If you're born with it, you'll have it even when you're 100 years old."

"Spaghetti can be eaten most successfully if you inhale it like a vacuum cleaner."

"I'm an actress. It's my passion. It's - I've always lived for acting."

"If you haven't cried, your eyes can't be beautiful."

Many happy returns to an icon, 80 years young today.

Sophia Loren (born Sofia Villani Scicolone, 20th September 1934)

Friday, 19 September 2014

The Bad Girl of West Seattle High

"The nicest thing I can say about Frances Farmer is that she is unbearable." - Director William Wyler, after working with her on the film Come and Get It .

"Frances was a rebel when it wasn't fashionable - a free-thinking woman of the '30s and '40s whose outspoken nature, shocking language and anti-social behaviour landed her in jails and mental institutions." - Rita Rose in The Indianapolis Star

"The more people pointed at me in scorn the more stubborn I got and when they began calling me the Bad Girl of West Seattle High, I tried to live up to it." - Frances Elena Farmer (19th September 1913 – 1st August 1970)

Read my blog about the film adaptation of Miss Farmer's tragic life.

Monday, 15 September 2014

An audience with a Dame

Joan Plowright. Dame Joan. Widow of Larry Olivier, multi-award-winning actress of stage and screen, and stalwart of the Royal Court Theatre in Chelsea. In person, on the intimate stage at the Menier Chocolate Factory? In conversation with the fruity stage director (of everything from Shaw to Sondheim) Richard Digby Day? Of course I had to get a ticket for last night's event...

Understandably quite frail (she's 84) - macular degeneration has cost her her sight, unfortunately - Dame Joan is nonetheless in full possession of her faculties. And, with a history in theatre that goes back as long as hers (her début in the West End was in 1954), it needed Mr Digby Day's confident hand to extract the best anecdotes. Coming from a tumultuous Scunthorpe family background (her journalist father and am-dram enthusiast mother had rows of the "plate-throwing" variety, then by the weekend they would have made up and gone together to buy a new set of crockery before taking the family to the theatre) it was inevitable she would end up in drama school, and she did - none other than the Old Vic Theatre School in London.

There she came under the wing of George Devine, a director in the "Angry Young Men" era of Osbourne and Pinter, who became a significant influence in her life. It was he who encouraged her to join the newly-formed English Stage Company at the Royal Court Theatre - from where she had her first starring part, in William Wycherley's The Country Wife. Sir Laurence Olivier was in the audience, who recalled subsequently that he "had eyes for no-one but Joan".

Prior to that first success, she was accepted by Orson Welles for a part in his production of Moby Dick:
"I had auditioned for Orson Welles once for Othello, for Bianca. He walked down the aisle and said, ‘Who are you? You’re very good, who are you?’ I wasn’t anybody of course. Anyway I didn’t get it because there was a Rank starlet who was more newsworthy than me. I didn’t get the part that time but they said, ‘Mr Welles is very impressed and he’ll remember you the next time he’s doing anything’ and he did remember me, when he was going to do this extraordinary version, his own, of Moby Dick where I played the cabin boy, Pip. It sounds extraordinary – but the conception was of a travelling theatre company rehearsing a play that’s just come in a pile of scripts, which is Moby Dick, but originally they were there to rehearse King Lear and I was playing Cordelia. So I was in a long skirt and a bustle [and then had to reappear as a boy]. When he gave out parts there was Peter Sallis, and Patrick McGoohan, and Kenneth Williams, all in this production."
When it actually hit the stage however, she recalled, the whole ambitious production went awry when the lighting engineers kept illuminating the wrong parts of the stage. It was quite a disaster, but greater things were beckoning...

How she ended up playing alongside, then later marrying, Laurence Olivier was an interesting tale. With the success of The Country Wife came an offer from the Boulting brothers not only to take the play to Broadway but also to appear in a film version. Once again, George Devine intervened. Dorothy Tutin had just dropped out of The Entertainer with Larry, and he wanted Joan to take the part of Mrs Rice. She was reluctant: "I didn’t really like Jean Rice very much", but his words swayed her. She recalled that he said:
"'Well, if you do that you will be typecast the rest of your life if you make a success in the film as the Country Wife, and you have more important things to do'. So I did the play.

"And of course the kudos of acting with Laurence Olivier – I didn’t know it was going to go any further than that then – was a huge attraction, naturally."

The rest is history, of course. While both were acting in separate plays in New York in 1961, she alongside Angela Lansbury in A Taste of Honey and he alongside Anthony Quinn in Becket - and with the full collusion of both co-stars, who sneaked them respectively from their houses to waiting cars to take them to the ceremony unseen by paparazzi - Joan and Larry married.

Already the founding director of the renowned Chichester Theatre Company, Sir Laurence was appointed director of the foundling National Theatre in 1963, and so the couple relocated once more to London. The first overseas tour the company undertook was to Cold War Moscow - and Dame Joan had some funny anecdotes about that occasion.

In the hotel where they stayed, apparently one entire floor was staffed by KGB officials. There were microphone "bugs" everywhere, and the company used these to theatrical effect - to complain about the food, in particular. Larry enjoyed (ahem!) the hospitality so much that - to the disdain of the fearsome receptionist, he fell sideways into a towel cupboard before getting to their room, and Joan had to go alone to the official reception with local talents such as Rostropovitch in attendance. The bugging culture was obviously working, as every guest she met knew that he was "unwell" before she could say anything...

"At Home With the Oliviers" was a subject only briefly touched upon. Larry once offered to look after the (early) feeding of their small children while Joan slept, as she was working and he was not. All Joan remembered was waking with a start and heading to the kitchen, to be met with utter bedlam. "Oh, thank heavens you're here!" Larry said, "I'd rather play Othello eight times a week than do this!"

As this fabulous 75-minute "audience with..." drew to a close, Mr Digby Day asked Joan for her views on acting itself, the differences between stage and screen, and what she preferred:
"’s very different, you know, in film acting from theatre, because in the theatre you have to project, so things are going to be larger than life. They have to be to reach the back of a theatre. It doesn’t mean to say they’re untrue; they are just, with the help of technique, projected. But in the cinema the camera does the projection so if you do a theatrical performance in front of a camera, it won’t work. It will be false and it’ll look over the top, because you have to exist in front of a camera because it is doing all that work for you."
And her final thoughts on the subject:
“Often we get stuck behind a façade; acting gives us the liberty to explore all aspects of the character we are assuming. We almost become that person.

"Acting is an outlet for comedy and grief, and all the characters inside you."
Here is Dame Joan in one of those classic acting roles - Lady Bracknell in The Importance of Being Earnest (also starring Paul McGann, Rupert Frazer, Amanda Redman and Natalie Ogle):

Read more of Dame Joan's recollections on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the National Theatre last year.

Dame Joan Ann Plowright, the Baroness Olivier, DBE on Wikipedia.

Friday, 12 September 2014

Actors ought to be larger than life

"An actor who knows his business ought to be able to make the London telephone directory sound enthralling."

"Actors ought to be larger than life. You come across quite enough ordinary, nondescript people in daily life and I don't see why you should be subjected to them on the stage too."

"When I meet people they say 'I thought you put that voice on for TV'. But you can't put on a voice like this - you're just lumbered with it."

RIP a great character... And a great voice!

Sir Donald Sinden CBE FRSA (9th October 1923 - 11th September 2014)

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

The Wise Man

To have been responsible, as director, for one of my all-time favourite films - West Side Story - is an accolade worthy of applause. To also have directed another - The Sound of Music - marks a man out as a genius!

Today we celebrate the centenary of Mr Robert Wise, the genius in question.

[Shamefully, this momentous occasion appears to have gone all but unnoticed in what tattered feeble remnants remain of what was once known as The British Press - so obviously unable to afford proper grown-up journalists these days, replaced by automatons whose only connection with the outside world is Twitter (fine if you happen to be interested in the lives of nonentities such as Rita Ora or Iggy Azalea, or in stupid/outrageous/heart-string-pulling {*strike out as appropriate} YouTube videos), that one might be forgiven for thinking that there were never people with actual talent in the history of the universe.]

Mr Wise began his estimable career back in the 1940s - he was nominated for an Oscar as film editor on Citizen Kane:

By the 50s, he had already created a bit of a reputation for directing dark, menacing films such as The Body Snatcher before adding his special touch to that most iconic of "world-in-peril" movies of the era, The Day the Earth Stood Still - and science fiction obviously remained in his blood, as decades later he won huge accolades for the classic The Andromeda Strain, and went on to bring Star Trek to the big screen.

But it was when he turned his hand to the burgeoning genre of movie musicals in the 60s that his noirish artistry gave way to pure cinematic camp. West Side Story set the bar for big-screen musicals, winning ten Oscars (including one for Mr Wise), and has often been named as the best of its kind in musical history. And no wonder - here's the Gym Mambo:

The Sound of Music, however, eclipsed even that magnificent movie - in commercial success, at least. To date the film has earned at least $300,000,000 worldwide (making it one of the top grossing movies of all time), and for it Mr Wise deservedly won Oscars for Best Director and Best Picture. Here (in case anyone's never seen it before; ha ha) is the official 1965 trailer:

Speaking of camp, another of Mr Wise's notable films, the otherwise completely soulless biographical movie about Gertrude Lawrence Star! - which was a critical and commercial flop - nevertheless (in his hands) provided some spectacularly OTT moments. Such as this one - The Physician:

Robert Wise's sheer range of filmic styles, and his willingness to always take up a challenge (regardless of box office success), has been an acknowledged influence on generations of directors who followed - everyone from Scorsese to Spielberg to M. Night Shyamalan. It is difficult, of course, to "pin down" a recognisably "Robert Wise movie" because of this eclecticism, but, as the great man himself said:

“Some of the more esoteric critics claim that there's no Robert Wise style or stamp. My answer to that is that I've tried to approach each genre in a cinematic style that I think is right for that genre. I wouldn't have approached 'The Sound of Music' the way I approached 'I Want to Live!' for anything, and that accounts for a mix of styles.”

Robert Earl Wise (10th September, 1914 - 14th September 2005)

For more, those fab people over at The Film Experience blog are doing a whole week of tributes to Mr Wise.

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Happily I turn to the new delights that make my spirit soar

“I never had a voice. What I had was expression, a face, a body, the truth. If one prefers the opposite, that is their right.”

Another week, another supercentenarian opera diva departs...

Following so closely after the death of Licia Albinese, we hear the sad news that the great dramatic (some described her as "melodramatic") soprano Magda Olivero has gone to the great La Scala in the sky, aged 104.

Like Miss Albanese, she was widely respected (if somewhat overshadowed by the 20th century's more famous divas such as Tebaldi and Callas); some might say her fans were fanatical about her art. In 1979, the New York Times called them her “Magdamaniacs”! Unlike Miss Albanese, Magda continued to sing extracts from her complicated repertoire well into her 90s, giving many a younger pretender a run for her money even at that age.

From Tom Huizenga's excellent tribute on NPR Classical's Deceptive Cadence blog:
Renée Fleming, one of today's reigning divas, [was] so crazy about Olivero that she made a pilgrimage to Milan to see her when the older soprano was a spry 94.

"She [was] such an inspiration," Fleming said, "beautiful, funny, a great raconteur. She gave me a breathing lesson. She had me feeling how she breathes, how she supports, and let me tell you, her abdominal wall is stronger than mine. Rude awakening."

That hard as a rock diaphragm, Fleming says, allowed Olivero to do things like floating dreamy, gossamer-thin tones up to the rafters.

"She [did] an unbelievable messa di voce on an aria from [Catalani's] Loreley on a high C that I could never hope to do," Fleming says. "It's just perfection."
Praise indeed.

Here is sample of that beautiful voice (with a teeny clip of the lady in her old age) - her most beautiful rendition of E strano...Sempre libera (Violetta's Aria) from La Traviata:

English Translation
Free and aimless I frolic
From joy to joy,
Flowing along the surface
of life's path as I please.
As the day is born,
Or as the day dies,
Happily I turn to the new delights
That make my spirit soar.

Love is a heartbeat throughout the universe,
mysterious, altering,
the torment and delight of my heart.

Oh! Oh! Love!
Madness! Euphoria!

Facts about Magda Olivero:
  • She was 14 years old when Puccini died, and worked with Mascagni.
  • Her professional stage career spanned a remarkable six decades, from 1932 to 1981; however she kept on singing at many public events and on TV almost to the very end.
  • Singing the title role in Puccini’s Manon Lescaut in Verona, Italy in 1970, opposite a young tenor named Plácido Domingo, Miss Olivero required police protection from the hundreds of audience members who tried to swarm the stage.
  • None other than the respected mezzo-soprano Marilyn Horne, after having heard her sing Tosca in Dallas, helped to get Magda on to the stage at New York Metropolitan Opera, and her world-wide fame was secured.
  • Her definitive version of Francesco Cilea's Adriana Lecouvreur was recorded in 1993, when she was in her seventies.
RIP Maria Maddalena ("Magda") Olivero (25th March 1910 – 8th September 2014)

Saturday, 6 September 2014

What are you looking at?!

Tony Midnite, 1956

From the University of Washington "special collections":
Female impersonator and costume designer Tony Midnite was inducted into the Chicago Gay and Lesbian Hall of Fame in 1996.

Midnite opened a costume studio in Chicago in 1953 and designed costumes for the Jewel Box Revue, the 82 Club in New York City, and numerous other performers.

[She] defied the Chicago Police Department by booking female impersonator shows in the 1950s.

Thursday, 4 September 2014

Fun spots?

Tina Turner

McGuire Sisters

Elizabeth Taylor

Jackie Kennedy

The great "leopardskin" debate continues.

One thing is for certain. Some people can take things a bit too far...

“There's so much plastic in this culture that vinyl leopard skin is becoming an endangered synthetic.” - Lily Tomlin