Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Thursday, 14 May 2015

Where ya going?

Bobby: Where ya going?
April: Barcelona.
Bobby: Oh.
April: Don't get up.
Bobby: Do you have to?
April: Yes, I have to.
Bobby: Oh.
April: Don't get up.

April: Now you're angry.
Bobby: No, I'm not.
April: Yes, you are.
Bobby: No, I'm not.
Put your things down.
April: See, you're angry.
Bobby: No, I'm not.
April: Yes, you are.
Bobby: No, I'm not.
Put your wings down and stay.
April: I'm leaving.
Bobby: Why?
April: To go to-
Bobby: Stay.
April: I have to-
Both: -Fly
Bobby: -I know-
Both: -To Barcelona.

Bobby: Look, you're a very special girl,
Not just overnight.
No, you're a very special girl,
And not because you're bright...
Not just because you're bright.
You're just a very special girl...June!
April: April!
Bobby: April!
April: Thank you.

Bobby: Whatcha thinking?
April: Barcelona.
Bobby: Oh.
April: Flight Eighteen.
Bobby: Stay a minute.
April: I would like to.
Bobby: So?
April: Don't be mean.

Bobby: Stay a minute.
April: No, I can't.
Bobby: Yes, you can.
April: No, I can't.
Bobby: Where you going?
April: Barcelona!
Bobby: So you said.
April: And Madrid.
Bobby: Bon voyage.
April: On a Boeing.

Bobby: Goodnight.
April: You're angry.
Bobby: No.
April: I've got to.
Bobby: Right.
April: Report to-
Bobby: Go.
April: That's not to say...
That if I had my way...
Oh well, I guess, OK.
Bobby: What?
April: I'll stay.
Bobby: But...oh God!

We're not on a Boeing.

Bernadette Peters or Richard Chamberlain are not going to be there.

Nor Sylvia Fine. Unfortunately.

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

In the Navy

You couldn't make it up...
Forget Britain’s Trident, or Israel’s Iron Dome – peace-loving Sweden has come up with a much more innovative, and inclusive, system of defence.

The Swedish Peace and Arbitration Society (SPAS) is to deal with encroaching Russian submarines in Swedish waters with a device emitting anti-homophobia Morse code.

The device – officially titled The Singing Sailor Underwater Defence System, but nicknamed the “gay sailor” – is a “subsurface sonar system”, which sends out the message: “This way if you are gay” in an attempt to deter apparently homophobic Russians.

Russia has come under fire since the Putin administration introduced homophobic laws in 2013 banning “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations”, in a climate of increasing intolerance towards its LGBT population.

The design of the device features a neon, flashing sign of a dancing sailor, naked but for a cap and small white briefs, surrounded by hearts.

“Welcome to Sweden: Gay since 1944” is written in English and Russian, in a reference to the year of decriminalisation of homosexuality in the Scandinavian nation.

Sweden has cut its military budget in recent years but announced in March it would increase spending, as a result of alleged Cold War-style Russian aggression.

An operation involving helicopters, minesweepers and 200 troops was launched last October to search for a suspected rogue Russian submarine in Swedish waters.

Sweden is currently not a member of Nato. And thanks to the gay sailor defence system, it may never have to be.
[Source: The Guardian]

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

The Beautiful Gardener's Boy

On the occasion of the 120th anniversary of the birth of the World's first "screen idol" superstar, the gorgeous Rudolph Valentino - here's a fascinating (and little-known) story about the Great Man's "lying in state" after his untimely death at the age of 31, courtesy of Lawrence Quirk:
It was August 1926. The body of Rudolph Valentino lay in state at Campbell's Funeral Parlour, then at Broadway and W 66th St. in New York. Outside, in the broiling midsummer heat, on the steaming pavements, milled many thousands of the fabulous screen idol's female admirers (and more than a few male ones). Their voices were loud and raucous, the faces clammy with sweat. In their eyes could be read fascinating variations on the prevailing wild hysteria that had washed over New York since the news of Valentino's death of peritonitis at Polyclinic Hospital on W 50th St. on Monday, August 23rd.

Inside the chapel, swallow-tailed, wing-collared, grim-faced attendants pushed and shoved at the unruly fans, who refused to keep their places in the line as they filed by the flower-banked open casket. Some boldly leaned forward to touch the waxen face; others attempted to grab "souvenirs" - a coat button, part of a tie (some had even come armed with scissors), a lock of the greased-down black hair - whatever they could get.

Mortuary aides moved forward and pushed them roughly away, sometimes in the nick of time, and shortly other Campbell employees came rushing in with a glass cover for the bier, while nearby guards, newly deputized as reinforcements, hollered "pass on!",ignoring the pleas and wails of the tearful women who, hour after hour, over those hot August days, came to gaze and sob and pray - and all the while had not the slightest inkling that they were looking not at the body of the man who had been dubbed by the press Rudy Le Bien Aime (Rudy the Well-Beloved), but at a cleverly fashioned wax effigy...
In death, as in life, it appears Rudy would maintain an immaculate deception. The article goes on:
Shortly before his death, a Chicago newspaper had poked public fun at Valentino in the cruellest terms. It seemed that powder puffs had been installed in the men's room of a Chicago ballroom; the perpetrator claimed, loudly and shrilly, to the press that he had been inspired by Valentino's slicked-down, oily hair, then-novel wrist watches, slave bracelets, and other appurtenances of meticulous male grooming, 1926 style. Dubbed by the paper "The Pink Powderpuff" and "Rudy the Beautiful Gardener's Boy" (he had gardened in his obscure youth), Valentino had reacted with hysterical, defensive rage. He went about muttering, at times screaming, to all comers that the men of America had turned against him, that they were castigating him as a weak effeminate - and worse. Soon he was publicly challenging the unknown writer to a duel, determined as he was to "prove his manhood.."

...Valentino, of course, was unduly and obsessively concerned with public slurs against his masculinity because he was harbouring a secret that, if widely broadcast, could apply the coup-de-grace to his already shaky career. He had been humiliatingly impotent with both of his strong-minded wives, Jean Acker, the actress, and Natacha Rambova, the designer, ladies of eccentric cast who had buzzed busily among the Lesbian circle that surrounded the outré, sinisterly flamboyant actress Alla Nazimova of Camille and Salome fame. The marriages had been farces (once he had even been arrested for bigamy) and it was rumoured that he had used these unlikely ladies as "fronts" to obscure his bisexual bents.

Valentino had come a-cropper with the temperamental and tyrannical Natacha Rambova in a particularly lurid way, as her interference in his recent pictures (she was a filmic set designer and artistic consultant) had resulted in unpleasant comment on the effeminacy of his costumes and facial make-up in the ill-fated 1924 opus Monsieur Beaucaire, for which segments of the press had labelled him a "fop," "dandy," and "prancing popinjay".

Valentino in truth had been a passionate, and indiscreet, Adorer of the Male since his obscure beginnings in the small Italian town of Castellaneta ...which, at 18, he had been forced to leave because of one homosexual liaison too many. In America by 1913, he had been a tango dancer in New York cabarets, had "gigoloed" with both women and men, and had figured - and more than peripherally - in more than one domestic scandal, including the murder of a husband by his wife. Circa 1916, he had even been arrested in a house of prostitution in Manhattan. (After he became famous, the studio seized and suppressed the police records after some fancy bribery operations.)
The more I read about the man, the more I adore him...

Rudolph Valentino (born Rodolfo Alfonso Raffaello Pierre Filibert Guglielmi di Valentina d'Antonguolla, 6th May 1895 – 23rd August 1926)

Read our previous tribute to Rudy

Saturday, 2 May 2015

I never minded not being able to play the fluffy heroine

"I'm not a bit like my screen image. I don't bully. I don't shout. And if I do have a row with somebody it makes me ill for at least a week".

"I never minded not being able to play the fluffy heroine. I was always fat, never good looking. A producer once said to me: 'Peggy, you have a character walk, a character face and a character body. You will never be anything but a character woman as long as you live.' I resented it at the time, but within a month I realised he was right."

We celebrate today the centenary of possibly the greatest ever portrayer of that most British of acting traditions - The Battleaxe.

Miss Peggy Mount (for it is she) first had her moment in the spotlight as the fearsome mother (to Shirley Eaton) and mother-in-law (to the hapless Ronald Lewis) in Sailor Beware in 1956 (a part she had previously made her own in the West End). From then on, roles that called for a stentorian, terrifying matriarch in the "seaside-postcard" tradition were hers - from George and the Dragon alongside Sid James to You're Only Young Twice where she held sway over Pat Coombs and everybody else in their fictional retirement home.

As her obituary in The Guardian put it: "...[she was] equally at home in the broadest of farces or in Brecht. Her professional stock-in-trade as a stage and television actress was a voice that could have made a regimental sergeant major tremble and a figure, suggesting an ample corsage filled with concrete, that wordlessly and hilariously forbade the taking of liberties."

Sailor Beware:

Many came after her - Violet Carson ("Ena Sharples"), Fanny Cradock, Mollie Sugden ("Mrs Slocombe"), Rita Webb, Patricia Routledge ("Hyacinth Bucket") - but few could match the ease in which she dominated her many over-the-top "Monster Auntie" appearances.

She was not like this at all in real life by all accounts, but to millions Miss Mount's on-screen persona leaves a lasting - and exceptionally camp - legacy. For this, we love her, and remember her.

Margaret Rose "Peggy" Mount OBE (2nd May 1915 – 13th November 2001)

Friday, 1 May 2015

Season of the Witch

Happy Beltane! - the day to celebrate fertility, fire, and abundance.


Have a good one, whatever you get up to...

Wednesday, 29 April 2015

I was the main attraction

Last weekend, having realised that the 80th birthday of Miss April Ashley, Britain's first and most famous male-to female transsexual, was looming, I found myself (overjoyed at the discovery of its entirety on the interwebs) immersed in reading April Ashley's Odyssey, her fascinating biography/autobiography (written with Duncan Fallowell). It is one helluva story.

After a fairly shaky start in Liverpool - a sickly and bullied child, and having experienced a somewhat traumatic adolescence - the young George Jamieson started cross-dressing. As "Toni April" she moved to Paris in the late 1950s and joined the famous French entertainer Coccinelle in the cast of the drag cabaret at the Carousel Theatre.

Determined to realise her ultimate ambition, however, she said: "The day I wear women's clothes is the day I know I can become one." And so it came to pass...
While sweating it out in that bed in Casablanca, I was convinced that after the operation life could only be a shower of diamonds and almond blossom. But isn't it maddening? You move one mountain only to find yourself at the foot of another. Maybe some don't live like this, maybe for some life is just a frolic among molehills, but I always seem to pass from crisis to crisis. What made me able to survive these abrupt switches of fortune...was an underlying wonderment at my own transformation. No worldly distemper could obliterate my sense of the mysterious alchemical nature of the world, its ravishing possibilities, the chances for turning an idea into a fact.

Whenever I looked at myself in the mirror it was not in self-admiration or self-congratulation but in disbelief. Yes, I looked beautiful. I was told this so many times that it ceased to affect me. This is not quite the same as saying it was unimportant. One may cease to be sensitive to such flattery only to find oneself sensitive to the absence of it. ...The great gift is to feel beautiful. I never felt beautiful before the operation. And after it? Hardly a day passes without my being astonished and exalted by what was possible for me. I resist the temptation to thank God, just as I resisted the temptation to deify Dr Burou (too many sex-changes develop God-fixations on their surgeon). None the less, the fact of my transformation is a continuing source of strength.

April has some beauty tips to offer:
...without make-up my whole face is blank. It is a plain canvas on which I can paint almost anything. I'm sure that's why I gave up painting, because my face became my canvas. Making-up is also my meditation in the concentration of which I compose my inner self.
  • Eyes: masses of blusher under the eyes to take away any bags or dark circles. My top eyelashes grow straight downwards and without make-up the eyes look quite small. So I apply plenty of mascara, rolling the lashes again and again to make them curl upwards. And this opens up the eyes enormously. Everyone thinks I have huge eyes but I haven't, it's an optical illusion. My eyes are deep set, so I favour a dark eye-shadow to bring them out. This also makes the irises appear much darker than they really are, almost black in fact. To separate the eyes, I thicken all the lines slightly towards the temples. Eye-shadow carried above the eyelids raises the eyebrows. My eyebrows are very high up anyway and excellently shaped with the minimum of plucking.
  • Nose: I have a slightly retroussé nose and since I detest such noses I put a little white on the tip of it to make it look straight.
  • Mouth: the best thing in the world for making a mouth look young is to have a very precise one. My mouth was never very precise at the best of times, so I outline it in dark pencil, then fill it in with lipstick. Then I cover it with gloss to make it last all night. The best ever was California Gloss by Max Factor. Can't we get it back? I can't imagine why they discontinued it.
  • Skin: only two commandments. Clean it and feed it. That's all. Once a day before bed, with cold cream and moisturiser. Diet is not crucial. A bad diet won't necessarily kill a good skin, but it pays to be reasonable. If you drink, a lot of moisturising is essential. Alcohol, champagne most of all, is very dehydrating. Hard-drinking men would look far less haggard if they fed their skin.
  • Hair: I had a lot of white in my hair which I wasn't inclined to hide. But with the place fogged with cigarette smoke, it would turn a vile yellow. So regularly I'd blue rinse it which brought up the white a pale blue and made the black very black.
  • Clothes: always long because the patrons expected glamour. I was the main attraction and so of course went overboard. Once I wore jeans to work and some Americans who'd brought friends in to see me in all my finery were frightfully disappointed. They said they felt cheated, as if the understudy were on for the night, so I didn't do it.
  • Shoes: the staff reckoned I walked five miles a night up and down the tables. With all that walking, you must provide the foot with a norm. Chopping and changing of height and weight and shape would soon ruin the feet. So virtually all my shoes were the same high-heeled evening sandals from the Chelsea Cobbler, in a variety of colours to match various outfits. They were very light and made from kid.

She began a rather successful career in modelling, and mixed in "all the right circles". But then the benighted tabloids caught up with her story, and the resulting furore and scandal forced April to leave for pastures new, in Spain. Her various adventures provide a fantastically gossipy and super-camp read, not least about some of the many exotic characters she encountered on her travels...
I flew to Madrid and checked into the Palace Hotel for six weeks. I spent my free time in the Museo del Prado, or at the cinema improving my Spanish, or chatting with the ex-Queen of Albania at Carita's Hair Salon - 'How's King Zog, dear?'
She hung out with Omar Sharif, Peter O'Toole and the rest while they were in Spain filming Lawrence of Arabia, and this brought with it some fascinating insights:
With a few wood and cardboard minarets Seville had been turned into a convincing pastiche of Cairo. The Military H.Q. scenes were being shot either at the Military Academy or at the Duchess of Medinaceli's palace. During the shooting at the palace a cable snapped, swung down, and demolished an important-looking statue. How could they tell the Duchess? Since she had a pash for Jack Hawkins, he was delegated to break the appalling news. 'Don't worry,' she said, 'it's only Roman.'

I was introduced to Peter's stand-in, John Fulton Short. All the stand-in does is get lit because he is of a physical type similar to the star's. But John was a personality in his own right, being the first American to achieve full matador status. Peter took me to John's flat hung with his paintings done in bull's blood. John explained why in the ring bullfighters do not wear underpants. Since the male genitalia are substantially composed of gristle, there is in the event of being gored a greater chance of those vitals sliding aside undamaged if they are unconfined.
We would never have known that without Miss Ashley!

It seems she met and socialised with just about anybody who was anybody over the years - from Princess Margaret to The Beatles, from Amanda Lear when she was a man(!) to Charlotte Rampling; Peter Sellers, Ozzie Clark, David Bailey, Kim Novak, Hermione Gingold, Mick Jagger, Viscount Maugham, Lord-and-Lady this, Baron-and-Baroness that, various Churchills, Philippe Jullian, Liza Minnelli...
...for kitschiness Danny La Rue's house couldn't compete with Lionel Bart's. Lionel had a musical staircase which played selections from Oliver when you walked up it. He also had a musical lavatory. It played Food, Glorious Food when you flushed it by depressing a large gold crown.
There were distressing times, too, of course - not least the shocking legal wrangle she had with her (somewhat crazy) first husband when trying to divorce him; the judgement of the court being that as her sex change was null-and-void in their eyes, so was the marriage. Business deals came and went, badly, for April. A later heart attack led her to seek a quieter life in the eccentric town of Hay-on-Wye (whose leading book trader declared it a new kingdom, himself ruler and April his consort).

However, she's not yet retired. She was legally recognised as a female after the passage of the UK’s Gender Recognition Act in 2004, and issued a new birth certificate with help from Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott, an old friend. In 2006 she published a new memoir The First Lady - which she promoted as even more candid and revelatory than April's Odyssey. It was withdrawn from print, apparently, for some reason - but that has only piqued my interest even more. She was made a Member of the British Empire (MBE) in 2012. An exhibition dedicated to her was hosted at the Museum of Liverpool last year - and there's even a film of her life (still in pre-production, it seems) to come...

Many happy returns, April Ashley, MBE (born 29th April 1935).

Monday, 27 April 2015