Thursday, 18 December 2014

Memento mori

She made her name in movies alongside Steve Reeves, Marcello Mastroianni, Frank Sinatra, Isabelle Adjani, William Holden, George Segal, Tony Curtis, Anthony Quinn, Anna Magnani and Rod Steiger. Yet with her stunning looks, she could steal a scene from anyone. Not least in this classic scene from the comedy How To Murder Your Wife:

RIP Signora Lisi. We wish we could have partied with you...

Virna Lisa Pieralisi (8th November 1936 – 18th December 2014)

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Enjoy it!

"Unpack your sense of humour, and get on with living and ENJOY IT."

Sir Noël Peirce Coward (16th December 1899 – 26th March 1973)

PS That picture of The Merm and The Master is the latest addition to our "Wall of Fame" here at Dolores Delargo Towers...

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Skin deep

From Dame Joan Collins' regular column in The Spectator:
“Like many British actors and actresses, I fly to the US two or three times a year, with my new and nifty global entry card. Though you do hear some horror stories, I have rarely - if ever - had any problems with US immigration, until last month.

Because I apply moisturiser on long trips, quite liberally, my hands were covered with lotion at the border control counter, which meant my fingers didn’t make a strong enough impression on the fingerprint scanner. My immigration form came out of the printer with a large and very ominous X on it. This alarmed the official, who decided to leave me standing next to his desk while he waved forward and collected the forms of those whose fingerprints had made the grade.

After an interminable parade of obvious stares and hidden snickers from the successful entrants, he made me take off my hat and glasses and peered at me. I felt like a criminal caught at the border while trying to immigrate into the US illegally. He cross-examined me ruthlessly - ‘What do you do?’ ‘Why are you here?’ ‘What are your plans in this country?’ Several other officers were called over to discuss me; my passport was inspected thoroughly and scanned time after time.

That was a lot of fun after a ten-hour trip from Heathrow, and all because I moisturise."
Be warned - too much Oil of Ulay and you're suddenly a terrorism suspect. Osama bin Laden swore by it.

Saturday, 13 December 2014

Beautiful people

From Featureshoot:
For Beautiful by Night, San Francisco-based photographer and film-maker James Hosking chronicles life in Aunt Charlie’s Lounge, the one and only gay bar left standing in the Tenderloin, a neighbourhood that decades ago was renowned for its thriving LGBT community. In tracing the nightly routines of three of its older drag queens - Donna Personna, Collette LeGrande and Olivia Hart - Hosking traces the rich history and uncertain future of drag in the crime-ridden area.

In recent years, the Tenderloin has seen thirty-five times the crime rate of surrounding areas, and its decline has come at the expense of a once-flourishing gay nightlife. Hosking was drawn to those queens who had experienced those early years of drag, those who pushed through their fears of prejudice and societal disapproval to practice what they love. Hosking was endeared to Aunt Charlie’s, in part because of its imperfect performances. The club has no windows and no stage, and the queens must wind in and out of the crowd during their sets, for which they choose their own songs.

More than just a means to making a living, drag is an enduring and lifelong passion. “I think they’d miss it if they stopped,” says Hosking.
And here is the documentary Beautiful by Night, for your delectation:

James Hosking website

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Sex that got civilised

"Glamour is just sex that got civilized. A pretty girl, tastefully posed in a scant costume, is even a sort of cultural achievement."

Not bad for a gal of 100!

Dorothy Lamour (born Mary Leta Dorothy Slaton, 10th December 1914 – 22nd September 1996)

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

I always want to do the most different thing I can think of next

"I think you should take your job seriously, but not yourself - that is the best combination."

"I had no film career until 'Mrs Brown', which Harvey Weinstein oversaw. He gave a lunch for me at the time and I told him I had his name tattooed on my bum. I hadn't, I had my make-up lady design something that I showed him. He's never forgotten it."

"I've considered [plastic surgery], but I'm too old now. Every time I go to America I wonder if there is some process where it could all be sucked out and I could be out of there in time for dinner, but I'm frightened it would all drop off under the anaesthetic."

"Sometimes nudity is gratuitous. We just live in a society where everything goes."

"There are very few things that surprise me."

"National treasure? I hate that. Too dusty, too in a cupboard, too behind glass, too staid. I don't want to be thought of as recognisable - I always want to do the most different thing I can think of next. On stage I am not trying to be myself, I'm trying to be someone else, the more unlike me the better. I remember someone who saw me in Juno and the Paycock said I was completely unrecognisable. How marvellous."

"I'm very conscious that I'm in the minority in that I love what I do. How big is the number of people who are running to work to do a job that they like? And how lucky to be employed at it - how incredibly lucky."

Dame Judi Dench is 80 years old today. We can merely hope to walk in her shadow.

Sunday, 7 December 2014

Imagination should never be limited

"Nothing is as dull as constant reality."

"Imagination should never be limited. It should be free and open, so it can soar. One has physical limitations or voice limitations, but the creativity in a person should never be limited."

"Actors have a magical difference from other people."

"[Endora] brings order out of chaos. I don't know anybody who hasn't said at some time 'Oh, I wish I didn't have to sweep the floor. I wish I didn't have to clean this or that. I wish I could snap my fingers and everything would be done!'"

"It's marvellous to be called a lovely witch!"

Agnes Robertson Moorehead (6th December 1900 - 30th April 1974)

  • Miss Moorehead's career was mentored in the early years by the great maestro Orson Welles, who launched her on screen in Citizen Kane and The Magnificent Ambersons, for which she was nominated for an Oscar.
  • Despite her self-declared "fundamental" Christian beliefs and her lifelong support of the Republican Party, rumours abounded about her relationships with women including Paula Kelly; Paul Lynde once called her “one of the all-time Hollywood dykes”.
  • Her exact cause of death is shrouded by gossip, but many people point to the fact that of the cast and crew of Howard Hughes' The Conqueror in which Miss Moorehead also starred, 91 individuals including John Wayne, Pedro Armendáriz, Susan Hayward and director Dick Powell were all exposed to nuclear contamination on the film's location near a US testing site in Utah, and subsequently all died of various cancers.

Saturday, 6 December 2014

The female Liberace

A sadly overlooked camp legend died recently. From her obituary in The Telegraph:
During live broadcasts of Oh Boy! on ITV in the late 1950s, its procession of chiefly male idols passed so swiftly before the cameras that screaming girls scarcely had pause to draw breath. However, screams became cheers for Cherry Wainer, seated at an upholstered Hammond organ as part of the programme’s house band, Lord Rockingham’s XI. With her grinning vibrancy and ping-pong eyes, Cherry was adored more as an admired elder sister.

While chart entries proved elusive for Wainer in her own right, a maiden Rockingham single, Fried Onions, made the US Hot 100. Hoots Mon, the follow-up, was a domestic No 1 – and was heard on a section of Oh Boy! featured in the 1959 Royal Command Performance. Wainer became the focal point of the band – publicised as “the female Liberace” – with solo spots as both a singer and instrumentalist.

“I had my Hammond customised with quilted white-leather and diamanté studs,” she recalled. “Also, my poodle used to sit next to me. I loved every minute of it – being recognised in the street, signing autographs and when fans washed my pink saloon car when it was parked outside the hall in Islington where every 'Oh Boy!' was rehearsed.”
She certainly was "something else"...

Here she is in all her glamorous glory with Last Night:

Again with hubby with Don Storer - Green Onions:

And here she just last year on BBC 4 talking about her time as "the first lady of Rock'n'Roll":

RIP Miss Cherry Wainer (2nd March 1935 – 15th November 2014)

Thursday, 4 December 2014

Me, Cheetah

Osa Johnson

Brigitte Helm

Tippi Hedren

Bettie Page

Josephine Baker

Phyllis Gordon

It's International Cheetah Day!


Wednesday, 3 December 2014

A living work of art

From the "Venetian Cat" blog:
The Divine Marchesa, Luisa Casati, proclaimed: "I want to be a living work of art!" and succeeded in her goal. Born in 1881 into one of the wealthiest families in Italy, she was electric, outrageous and eccentric, ahead of her time. For the first three decades of the 1900s, she was Europe's most astonishing celebrity, a muse and inspiration to some of the most important artists, fashion designers and thinkers of the era. Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, the founder of Futurism, called her, "The greatest Futurist in the world."

Luisa Amman was born in Milan on January 23, 1881 to an aristocratic family; her father, Count Alberto Amman was of Austrian descent and made his fortune in cotton; her mother, Lucia Bressi was Austrian and Italian; her older sister, Francesca, had been born almost exactly one year earlier on January 22, 1880. Early photos reveal a perfectly proper aristocratic family, spending their time doing perfectly proper aristocratic things. Then, on April 15, 1894, Luisa's mother died when Luisa was just 13 years old, and then, on July 11, 1896, her father died when she was 15 years old, making Luisa and Francesca the richest orphans in Italy - at impressionable ages.

In 1900, Luisa continued her proper aristocratic life by duly marrying Marchese Camillo Casati Stampa, and producing her only child, Cristina, the next year. Then, in 1903, Luisa met the flamboyant writer, poet and playwright, Gabriele D'Annunzio at a fox hunt; he was 18 years her senior and lover to Eleanora Duse. Luisa became his lover, and started her transformation into a living work of art.

Tilda Swinton as the Marchesa Casati

From The Telegraph:
In the late 1950s, when she was living in a one-bedroom flat near Harrods, the Marchesa Luisa Casati believed she was capable of communicating by telepathy. She stopped writing cards and letters, and spent her days indulging in spiritualist sessions with her few remaining friends. Cecil Beaton came to visit one afternoon and took a few ill-conceived snaps, where she appears blurred and cowering with her arm over her face, horrified she might be captured in her jowly, lace-veiled dotage.

Not long afterwards she died of a stroke. When he heard, a friend with whom she had conducted a séance earlier that morning let himself back into her flat to fetch her taxidermied Pekinese and a fresh pair of her false eyelashes. She was buried with both, in Brompton Cemetery, five days later. It was a miserable occasion, on an unseasonably cool, unsettled June day, and only a handful of family and friends attended. One of them came all the way from Venice, where half a century earlier he had been her personal gondolier, ferrying her jewel-collared cheetahs, her blue-painted greyhounds and her own decadently costumed form across the murky shimmer of the city’s lagoon.

Back then, Luisa Casati – heiress, socialite, artists’ muse – was a beacon of the belle époque, a legion of poets, artists, sculptors, designers and occultists trailing in her wake. She stuffed her palazzo on the Grand Canal (today the site of the Guggenheim Museum) with gold-painted servants, mechanical birds in gilded cages, a boa-constrictor and a pride of white peacocks that she tied to the windows, in the shade of her cypress trees. She once plundered their feathers for a costume, accessorising its white plumage with a dash of fresh chicken blood. Lady Gaga’s meat dress would have seemed quite dowdy.

The tendrils of Casati’s signature and often nonsensical style reach confidently into the present day. Georgina Chapman named her fashion label Marchesa after the Italian heiress, and over the years both Alexander McQueen and Tom Ford have cited her as inspiration for their collections, the latter christening Casati “the first European dandy of the early 20th century”.

At six feet and cadaverously skinny, Casati was not considered a beauty, but she made herself unforgettable all the same. Her hair was cut and dyed a fiery red, her skin bleached white with powder. She kept her pupils dark with doses of belladonna, and rimmed their lids in thick black Kohl, adding false eyelashes and strips of glued black velvet when the mood took her. It was not uncommon to see her prowling Venice with her cheetahs after dark, dressed in a cloak of silk velvet, mother-of-pearl heels and little else.

[By the time she lived in London, she had spent practically every penny of her fortune]...having never been a big eater, spent the pittance earned selling her remaining effects on gin and occult trappings. Ever the fashionista, she was sometimes seen rummaging through bins for scraps of fabric, dressed in threadbare clothes, a mangy fur hat and a scarf made of newspaper. “It took all of the dignity of the English,” wrote the French author Druon, who used her as the model for his 1954 novel La Volupté d’Etre, “not to just gawk at this phantom.”

For a woman who had devoted her life to making an exhibition of herself, perhaps, as her swansong, it wasn’t all that bad.

So incredible and so ingrained are these stories that it has become impossible to detach the myths and aspersions that have cobwebbed around her over the years. An exhibition devoted to her life – the very first – recently opened in Venice and its curators have spent years researching society columns of the time for the truth.

The exhibition The Divine Marchesa: Art and life of Luisa Casati from the Belle Époque to the spree years is on from 14th October 2014 to 8th March 2015 at the Palazzo Fortuny, Venice