Wednesday, 17 October 2018

One night she started to shim and shake; that brought on the Frisco quake

The woman was born to be a star. Her father was a professional Spanish dancer, her mother an Irish-American showgirl, and the young Rita Cansino began dance classes at the age of three, got her first minor film role at eight, and was "discovered" by 20th Century Fox as a dancer in nightclubs at the age of sixteen.

Today's centenarian Rita Hayworth was a true survivor during the exploitative days of the studio system, suffering abuse (both domestic and from executives and producers alike) and manipulation (her name was anglicised, and her Hispanic looks cosmetically altered to mould her into the red-headed glamour girl image for which she was became most revered - during WW2, hers was one of the most popular "pin-ups" among American GIs). Out of all that, she still managed to carve herself a prime position in Hollywood's Golden Age - she was the No. 1 box office star of Columbia Pictures in the 1940s, and Fred Astaire called her his favourite dancing partner.

She married extravagantly - to the Hollywood maverick Orson Welles, and then (amid scandal as they were both married when they began their affair) to a playboy Eastern prince.

At her wedding to Aly Khan (for it was he), son of the fabled Aga Khan (the richest man in the world), the couple were serenaded by Yves Montand, 600 bottles of champagne and 50 pounds of caviar were consumed, the cake was cut with an antique glass sword and there was a swimming pool filled to the brim with cologne.

However, all of this, and her two subsequent marriages to cheating scumbags, ended in divorce and heartache for Rita. To compound her unhappy tale, all those lauded film roles had long dried up, and towards the end she was penniless and suffering from Alzheimers disease (the premature signs of which she began to experience while only in her 40s).

Her life may have been tragic, but there are few stars of the Silver Screen to whom the accolade more applied - and there is no cinematic legacy that quite compares to Miss Hayworth as Gilda!

Utterly fabulous!

Rita Hayworth (born Margarita Carmen Cansino, 17th October 1918 – 14th May 1987)

Thursday, 11 October 2018

Dance is like life

"Leonard Bernstein was afraid of only two things: God and Jerry Robbins.” - Arthur Laurents.

We have another centenary to celebrate today - Jerome Robbins, the man who studied his art of choreography under the legendary George Balanchine, came up with an idea for a modern ballet based around the adventures of three sailors on shore leave, called in his friend [and fellow centenary celebrant this year] Mr Bernstein to produce the music, then, after realising that the ballet was probably not the right medium, went on to co-create out of its remnants the musical On The Town (with book and lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green). The rest is history!

Jerry went on to collaborate on a whole raft of productions that became the mainstay of modern musical theatre, including Call Me Madam (with Lindsay and Russel Crouse and Irving Berlin), The King and I (with Rodgers and Hammerstein), The Pajama Game (with Richard Adler and Jerry Ross), Gypsy (with Jule Styne, Stephen Sondheim and Mr Laurents), and (of course) West Side Story (with Mr Bernstein, Mr Sondheim and Mr Laurents again). The list doesn't end there, of course: Peter Pan, Funny Girl, Bells Are Ringing, High Button Shoes, Fiddler on the Roof and A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum; ballets by Stravisky, Debussy, Chopin, Verdi, Ravel, and even Philip Glass - he had a hand in them all.

“Give me something to dance about and I’ll dance it.”

"Essentially what I care about is working ... I don't want to fall into profundities and artistry and surround everything with whipped cream."

"Dance is like life. It exists as you are flitting through it, and when it's over, it's done."

"I told you to sell it, not give it away."

- Jerome Robbins.

He was a complete dragon to work for, of course. Perfectionists always are. He was also a bit of quisling during the McCarthy witch-hunts (apparently because he was threatened with being "outed" by the self-proclaimed "pillar of the American establishment", TV host Ed Sullivan). Nevertheless, his legacy is suffice to forgive him many a queeny strop. [And he shagged Montgomery Clift, so he has kudos for that, too!]

He was a legend.

Jerome Robbins (born Jerome Wilson Rabinowitz, 11th October 1918 – 29th July 1998)

Friday, 5 October 2018

Jove’s nectar

It was National Poetry Day yesterday (Thursday), apparently. Oops. Missed it.

Never mind, here's one of my favourites...

Song to Celia
Ben Jonson

Drink to me only with thine eyes,
And I will pledge with mine;
Or leave a kiss but in the cup,
And I’ll not look for wine.
The thirst that from the soul doth rise
Doth ask a drink divine;
But might I of Jove’s nectar sup,
I would not change for thine.

I sent thee late a rosy wreath,
Not so much honouring thee
As giving it a hope, that there
It could not withered be.
But thou thereon didst only breathe,
And sent’st it back to me;
Since when it grows, and smells, I swear,
Not of itself, but thee.


And poetry's for life, not just 4th October!

Monday, 1 October 2018

The taste of life was sweet as rain upon my tongue

The world has lost a truly great man today.

Shahnour Varinag Aznavourian was born in Paris to a family who had fled genocide in Turkish Armenia. Talented even as a young child, by the age of 15 he was singing in the nightclubs of Montparnasse - yet the French critics dismissed him as too short and too ugly. Just a few years ago, Charles Aznavour's comment on that (after a nine-decade career, during which he wrote some 1,400 songs, sold more than 100m records, and was lauded as "the French Sinatra"] was: “All the critics are dead; I am still alive!”

A contemporary of the "bohemians" of Paris such as Edith Piaf, he was indeed still performing to sell-out venues before thousands of adoring fans at the age of 92. As I wrote in my tribute to the great man on the occasion of his 90th: " only 5' 3", luxuriously-eyebrowed and a bit craggy, Monsieur Charles Aznavour was always an unlikely sex symbol. Yet, in a similar vein to other confusing objects of female passion such as Demis Roussos and Barry White, M Aznavour's chants d'amour made him an internationally-adored superstar."

Adored, he certainly was. And, in our eyes, and in those of millions of others across the globe, he still is. His legacy is in the art of the chanson, sung by an expert in the genre - and in his fearlessness in daring to tackle taboo subjects such as homosexuality, depression, loneliness, sex and intimate relationships in an era when such matters were never even talked about in public, let alone sung from the world's stages.

His songs have formed the staple of many a gay man's coming-out - and, as Marc Almond (one of M Aznavour's greatest admirers) said by way of an introduction to this masterpiece he so famously covered: "[This is] a song for those who dare to be different"...

Even Dame Shirley Bassey was in awe of the man - on this, a song that never fails to bring a tear to my eye:

Yesterday when I was young
The taste of life was sweet as rain upon my tongue
I teased at life as if it were a foolish game
The way the evening breeze may tease a candle flame


RIP, Charles Aznavour (22nd May 1924 – 1st October 2018)

Sunday, 23 September 2018

Weekend reading


[All the product of the incredible imagination of the faboo Chris Shapan.]

Tuesday, 18 September 2018

It's a look

Marta Jakubowski

Bora Aksu

Gareth Pugh

l-r: Pam Hogg, Ryan Lo, Delpozo

Matty Bovan



Yes, the complete madness of London Fashion Week has been and gone again, leaving a trail of nylon, leopardskin, frills, feathers, fouff and faff in its wake...

All the above styles are eminently wearable for a quiet day at the office, of course.

Wednesday, 12 September 2018

Sexual power is a very big power

Very sad news indeed today - the utterly fantabulosa Fenella Fielding, Patron Saint and icon here at Dolores Delargo Towers, is dead.

As the estimable Peter Bradshaw writes in The Guardian today:
...she was destined to be remembered for just one thing, and she good-humouredly accepted that: a sexy-campy-vampy cartoon persona. This was most obviously her slinky Valeria in Carry on Screaming (1966), in which she reclines languorously on a chaise-longue, asks Harry H Corbett’s uptight-but-tempted police inspector: “Do you mind if I smoke?” and starts to emit vapour from her whole body. “And I was trying to give up!” says Corbett, reaching eagerly into the fog. That deathless line became the title of her autobiography. Everyone agreed that Fenella Fielding was smoking hot.
She certainly was:

However, she was so much more than that - in her long career, she tackled Wilde, TS Eliot, Ibsen, Saki, Shakespeare and Sappho, as well as a musical adaptation of a Ronald Firbank tale (Valmouth); hers was the voice on the tannoy in The Prisoner, and also that of the "Blue Queen" in the psychedelic Magic Roundabout film Dougal and the Blue Cat; she scored a West End hit in a revue co-written by the unlikely combination of Peter Cook and Harold Pinter(!); and she became a familiar face on our screens, taking in her stride the anarchic comedy of Rik Mayall and Adrian Edmondson, the bitchy repartee of Kenneth Williams, and the more family friendly humour of Morecambe and Wise ["Fenella Fielding - one of the finest female impersonators in the business,” joked Eric].

It was for her luscious, husky voice (as well as her sultry looks) she was most famous, of course, and she put it to very good use on the couple of occasions we met her - at Polari in April 2011, when she was reading an extract from her friend Michael Menzies' autobiography Deeply Superficial, and just last year at The Phoenix Club, reading passages from her autobiography.

Confirmation (if any were needed) that the lady understood all too well her "camp icon" status, she famously lent her dulcet tones to an entire album - one of our most treasured possessions! - of covers of modern pop classics, The Savoy Sessions - although she apparently regretted it, and tried to stop its publication. Read more about all that (and listen to some of the tracks).

Miss Fielding certainly was eccentric. She co-presented one of Andrew Logan’s Alternative Miss World contests in a Pierrot clown outfit [and was guest of honour at the celebration of his life we went to at Stoke Newington Festival in 2016]. She was chosen to present the 2017 "Bad Sex In Fiction" award for Christopher Bollen's The Destroyers (he wasn't present). In her speech, Fenella said: "Sometimes it really is better to give than to receive." Just this year (at the age of 90), she told a friend she had decided to take up driving. “You’re blind as a bat,” the friend said. “Don’t worry, darling,” she purred. “I’m going to have the windscreen made of prescription glass.”

Then, there's MetaFenella, "an interactive video portrait offering guidance for life inspired by Fenella Fielding", created by the artist Martin Firrell and available here. Its collection of recorded musings by our dearly departed grande dame herself is simultaneously inspiring and funny, and also quite odd - but it throws up some gems of advice, including:
  • "Sexual power is a very big power."
  • "Short Men: half the trouble but twice the fun."
  • "The power of the breast is well-known."
  • "People are very free with their bad advice."
  • "Always make the most of yourself."
  • "Do not marry somebody evil (no matter how attractive)."
  • "People who are judgmental lose everything."
  • "Don’t make it too sexy."
  • "Spying is a rather dangerous career."
  • "Thinking of preserving your youth is a terrible waste of your present time."

RIP, Miss Fenella Fielding OBE (born Fenella Feldman, 17th November 1927 – 11th September 2018).

There will never be another.