Saturday, 18 December 2010

A drop of the hard stuff indeed

Still basking in the joy of meeting a camp icon, Miss Molly Parkin (read more over at my daily blog Give 'em the old Razzle Dazzle), I sought out some of her writing - and came to a sudden halt to find this!

For I had indeed forgotten that none other than Miss Parkin wrote the sleeve notes to a cherished LP we have - by the wonderful and sadly-missed seminal drag queen Mrs Shufflewick!

Here they are, reproduced in full:
‘Mrs Shufflewick is a dirty old woman. She is 60, maybe 70, weak-willed and easily led. She has usually just had a few, you can tell by her big red conk and boss-eyed way of walking. She loves a gossip but can never stop long in case her next gin gets cold on the counter. Everybody laughs at her. They call her ‘Shuff’, they whistle and poke fun and cheer when she hoicks up her skirts. They always shout for more, though she doesn’t need encouraging. She is a terrible show-off, whether she is tiddly or not. There is no holding her when there are sailors around: she has a weakness for the Navy. The last sailor she met was French, he kissed her on both cheeks. She was doing up her laces at the time.

She calls herself Missus but has never been married. She tells terrible stories of what she gets up to – she has been telling them for the last 20 years, all over the place, at the Windmill, music halls, working-men’s clubs, Mecca bingo halls – she has even told them on telly, but had to clean them up a bit.

One Monday she appeared at the Mecca Dominion, Walthamstow, the same night as Miss World. They both went to entertain the bingo-players. Shuff got the most laughs, mainly from madams who looked just like her. She had thought of hiring a bathing costume and going on as Miss Courage, riding 14 white horses from Whitbreads, not to be outdone.

She won’t even be outdone at Christmas. She has written her own panto – a skit on Cinderella. She plays Cinders, or course. (She is still trying to decide whether to make Cinderella’s slipper into a bovver boot or a pair of panties).

Mrs Shufflewick is very familiar with the Cinderella story. It happens to her every night. After the last laugh and when the clapping dies, she disappears too, into an old brown leather suitcase. And where she stood stands Rex Jameson. He is an elf. A five-foot, 40-year old with a face like Buster Keaton. And a little green cap on his head and a coat that is a bit too big.

He gives the feeling of being a foundling, which he was. He was dumped when two weeks old on the doorstep of Trinity College Hospital and spent his childhood in Southend with a foster mother. He is a classic clown and as different from his creation, Mrs Shufflewick, as it is possible to be. Small and shy and painfully unsure, he is lonely in love and agonisingly unlucky with his choices. He is protected in his bad patches by the loyalty of his friends and sustained by them, too, through his bouts of insecurity and deep depression.

He is shockingly difficult to manage, like a Hancock or Keaton or W.C. Fields. It is a full-time job. But then Mrs Shufflewick knows she has the audience before she even starts.

It is as painful and personal as laughing at your mother when she has had one too many. And, of course, as far as Rex Jameson is concerned, his mother might be in the audience laughing unknowingly at her son."

"Shuff", aka Rex Jameson was a tragi-comic character - stalwart of the Black Cap and many other early drag and gay venues, his private life sadly began to merge with his on-stage alcoholic persona. He was recognised in the profession, however, as a briliant comedian - lionised by comedians such as Bob Monkhouse, Barry Cryer, Danny La Rue and Barry Humphries - and probably could have made the big time if he/she had cleaned up his/her act. However it was not to be.

In addition to the three "Shuff" albums we possess, I recently purchased and read the fantabulosa biography The Amazing Mrs Shufflewick: The Life of Rex Jameson by Patrick Newley, which charts the whole bizarre and chaotic story - a highly recommended read! Buy a copy from Amazon.

Read Simon Callow's review in the Guardian.

Unfortunately I never got to see the great performer on stage; he died in 1983. But here he is:

RIP, Shuff.

Thursday, 2 December 2010

I'm like a pie made for hungry guys

It is more than 25 years since that most singular of music styles Hi-NRG first hurtled in its poppers-crazed frenzy into the clubs and the charts across the globe.

In an era of optimism - post-Disco, pre-House and pre-Techno - when AIDS was just "something that happened to someone else", this hyper-charged 125 to 127bpm gay-gay-gay music launched a million fan-dances, made "stars" out of long-lost Northern Soul singers like Evelyn Thomas and Pearly Gates (largely thanks to the "conversion" of DJ Ian Levine from that genre to Hi-NRG at that time), rejuvenated the careers of disco stars such as Sylvester, Martha Wash and (former "Harlette" with Bette Midler) Sharon Redd, and made the ears of soon-to-be pop supremos Stock Aitken & Waterman really prick up.

But it was European music - a type of Disco still fondly referred to as "Italo" to this day - that really made the big difference in the development of Hi-NRG. For despite the effervescent productions of Patrick Cowley and Bobby "O" arising from the San Fransisco and New York gay club scenes, the real inspiration remained that seminal producer Giorgio Moroder, whose I Feel Love for Donna Summer had already changed the face of Disco forever.

Hence the huge underground success of synth-driven Euro-dance (in tandem with the far cooler synth sounds of the New Romantics, and eventually Pet Shop Boys and Erasure) gave birth to what became - in one form or another - the true sound of the 1980s nightclubs.

Alongside such brilliantly tacky European artists as Fun Fun, Modern Talking and Lime one of my personal favourites of that era was the German former monk who went by the name of Fancy. If ever there is a song that can truly sum up a whole era, it is this one...

Slice Me Nice - Fancy
My body's burning like a flame that's blue
It's time for action and I want it from you
Slice me nice, slice me nice

My heart is beating to the rhythm of love
I need you baby like cold hands need a glove
Slice me nice, slice me nice

I'm like a cake that wants to be baked
I'm like a pie made for hungry guys
My body's burning like a flame that's blue
It's time for action baby, cut me in two
Slice me nice, slice me nice

S L I C E, slice me nice
S L I C E, slice me nice
S L I C E, slice me nice
S L I C E, slice me nice
(Slice me nice)

Read more about Manfred Alois Perilano aka Fancy

This article was originally posted back in 2009 - see my daily blog Give 'em the old Razzle Dazzle.

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Best Bette

Happy 65th birthday today to that gorgeous bundle of campness Miss Bette Midler! We have always loved this lady's sassiness and chutzpah, and to me, as with many gay people, she embodies a way of being to which I aspire...

Friday, 26 November 2010

La Lupe

La Lupe - fab

There really isn't a "wrong" time to play a little La Lupe... Happy Friday!

Read more about La Lupe

Monday, 22 November 2010

Casta Diva

What better way to cheer up a miserable Monday than with a bit more culture? Ladies and gentlemen, here for your delectation is the outrageous drag queen Lala McCallan singing operatic arias as only she knows how...

And here, she tackles the highly appropriate "Natural" Woman:

Lala McCallen website

Tutti Bella!

Italian TV

Here at Dolores Delargo Towers we never tire of that delightful and unique source of "entertainment", the Italian TV spectacular!

Why ask for quality primetime weekend television when you can have sweatbands, instantly forgettable music, leggings, spangles, boobs, lycra and frenetic dancing? Just don't mention the clowns, OK?

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Ultima Recital

Ulrika von Glott

I thought I'd share with the world today another new discovery. Here is the incredible Ulrika von Glott (in real life French singer and impressionist Marianne James), a diva extraordinaire. Truly bizarre...

L'Ultima Récital:

L'Ultima Récital - Mix Culture:

Marianne James on French Wikipedia (translated by Google)

Ugly, ugly Irma!

"Sometimes in a room when I'm on a show they'll say "Are you the gay Lois Bromfield?" as if there's another one that might be heterosexual and married in Orange County. I say, Yeah, and they say, "Oh, oh, OK.""
Let us celebrate today the lovely Lois Bromfield, comedienne, actress, writer and producer of shows like Roseanne and Grace Under Fire.

One of those rare breeds - an out lesbian in Hollywoodland - Lois was born in Canada and began her career as a stand-up comedian.

But this is undoubtedly her finest hour - I laughed until the tears ran down my face:

Read an interview with Lois

First posted in 2009 on my daily blog - read more on Give 'em the old Razzle Dazzle.

Friday, 19 November 2010

You need to be inspired by something in order to look good

"I think thinking is stylish. Looking is stylish. Culture is stylish. I think you need to be inspired by something in order to look good. A poem, a picture of Wallis Simpson, tailoring… I have an obsession with Wallis Simpson. When people talk about ‘style’ & ‘stylish’, they’re talking about trends. I think style is about a person recognising what their best features are and if your best feature is a waist, wear a fucking waist. If you’ve got a good bust, go empire. I think it’s about finding a mood that you keep to. Then everyone can identify with that style. I think that unstylish is, as celebrities do nowadays, to borrow things from the PRs. They borrow, and it’s so clear that the dress has just been sent. You can feel the bike delivery."
Isabella Blow

On this day in 1958, that fashion maven and instantly recognisable photo-journalist's dream Isabella Blow was born. Her style, her championing of hats by Philip Treacey and Stephen Jones and her eye for "the next big thing" in fashion were legendary.

I still have an enduring image of Isabella at Paddington station, surrounded by trunks, hat boxes and flustered porters, on her way to her train. She looked every inch the glamorous star - a little more steam and whistles and you would have sworn it was Marlene Dietrich in "Shanghai Express"...

The world is a little less stylish, just a little less fun without her.

Read the tribute to Izzy published in Vogue , the magazine for which she worked for so long.

Saturday, 6 November 2010

"A sweetly vicious old lady" - writers on writers

Today I thought I would post for your delectation a favourite article of mine from the "award-winning author" Arthur T. Vanderbilt. Enjoy the bitchiness of writers on other writers...
We're all Connected

It's pretty well conceded that writing can't be taught. Nevertheless, aspiring writers-and indeed, most writers-need the help of other writers to make the publishing process work. Unfortunately, that help is rarely forthcoming.

To be sure, there are bright examples of authors who have lent a helping hand. Ezra Pound performed major surgery on T.S. Eliot's The Waste Land. Hemingway sat at the feet of Gertrude Stein, drinking her natural distilled liqueurs made "from purple plums, yellow plums or wild raspberries" and eating her cakes and learning "the wonderful rhythms in prose." Fitzgerald wrote to his editor, Max Perkins: "This is to tell you about a young man named Ernest Hemingway, who lives in Paris (an American), writes for the Transatlantic Review and has a brilliant future."

Malcolm Cowley, then a junior editor at The New Republic, advised the still teenaged John Cheever: "Tomorrow, write a story of one thousand words. Sunday, write another, and Monday write another, three and a half pages, and do the same thing on Tuesday. Bring them all in on Wednesday and I'll see if I can't get you some money."

Dashiell Hammett helped Lillian Hellman with her first play. Booth Tarkington sat with his friend Kenneth Roberts evening after evening, helping him edit his books rather than "playing backgammon and getting beaten most of the time." John Barth taught for forty years "out of my attachment to university life and the pleasures of coaching a small group of selected advanced apprentices." James Michener donated generously to graduate writing schools and programs that support aspiring writers.

Such examples of one writer helping another shine like beacons through the dark, dismal night of author envy. "Writers today seldom wish other writers well," Saul Bellow once noted. William Wycherly was a little more direct: "Poets, like whores, are only hated by each other."

Ah, now we're getting there! He might well have expanded his aphorism to include not just poets, but all writers. With their special talents, they often turn this curious hatred into an art form on which they lavish more attention than on their writing.

Truman Capote was an easy mark. "Truman Capote has made lying an art," mused Gore Vidal, "a minor art." Tennessee Williams opined that "I think you judge Truman a bit too charitably when you call him a child: he is more like a sweetly vicious old lady." To Katherine Anne Porter he was nothing but "the pimple on the face of American literature."

But Truman himself was a master of the cat fight, and sharpened his claws on each of his contemporaries:
  • On Saul Bellow: "I've known Saul Bellow since the very beginning of Saul Bellow and I think he's a dull man and a dull writer. Saul Bellow is a nothing writer."
  • Philip Roth: "quite funny in a living room but forget it."
  • Richard Malamud: "Unreadable."
  • James Michener: "He's never written anything that would remotely interest me. Why on earth would I be interested in reading a book called Chesapeake?"
  • Gore Vidal: "Gore has never written anything that anybody will remember. Talk about fifty years from today, they won't remember it ten years from its last paperback edition. See, Gore has literally never written a masterpiece."
  • John Updike: "I hate him. Everything about him bores me."
  • Joyce Carol Oates: "She's a joke monster who ought to be beheaded in a public auditorium or in Shea or in a field with hundreds of thousands. To see her is to loathe her. To read her is to absolutely vomit."
Truman Capote used the forum of the "The Tonight Show" to ridicule Jacqueline Susann's Valley of the Dolls; at the time it was getting as much attention as his In Cold Blood. Susann, on her next appearance, rolled out her best Truman Capote impersonation. Capote then let it be known that he believed that Susann looked "like a truck driver in drag," whereupon Susann threatened to sue him for one million dollars. "She was told she had better drop that law-suit," Capote cackled, "because all they had to is bring ten truck drivers into court and put them on the witness stand and you've lost your case. Because she did look like a truck driver in drag!"

Capote, of course, did not originate this black art form, any more than he did the non-fiction novel. The habit of insulting one's fellow writers has been practiced for centuries and has even been known to bring out a writer's best skills. Plutarch lambasted Aristophanes, whose language, he said, "reeks of his miserable quackery: it is made up of the lowest and most miserable puns; he doesn't even please the people, and to men of judgment and honor, he is intolerable; his arrogance is insufferable, and all honest men detest his malice."

Lord Byron had a few choice comments on the work of John Keats: "Such writing is mental masturbation - he is always frigging his Imagination. I don't mean he's indecent, but viciously soliciting his own ideas into a state, which is neither poetry nor anything else but a Bedlam vision produced by raw pork and opium."

George Bernard Shaw was never one to beat around the bush: "With the single exception of Homer, there is no eminent writer, not even Sir Walter Scott, whom I can despise so entirely as I despise William Shakespeare when I measure my mind against his."
Read the whole article on the PageOne literary newsletter website.

Sunday, 31 October 2010

"She had more than taste. She had audacity."

“São wanted to astonish,” says her best friend, the American philanthropist Deeda Blair. “I don’t think it ever entered her thinking to be concerned about how other people perceived her. She was never afraid of being wrong.”

"She thought nothing of turning up at Studio 54 after a black-tie party wearing an evening dress and major diamonds or rubies from Van Cleef & Arpels."

"She had more than taste. She had audacity."

Recently Vanity Fair had a full-length feature on one of the most eccentric of all the 20th Century society hostesses, the late, great São Schlumberger. With her extravagant parties, her outrageous choice of interior design and fashion, her patronage of modern art (installing pieces by Dali and Warhol alongside priceless baroque furniture), rivalries with other grande dames of Paris, and not least her numerous public affairs with much younger men (with the apparent blessing of her millionaire husband), she certainly set the gossip columns ablaze!

Right up to her dotage she knew how to shock the establishment and when she unveiled her masterpiece, her newly designed apartment, in 1992 the fashionable mavens did not know what to make of it:
...nothing shocked Paris - a city where taste is everything - more than her over-the-top new apartment, on Avenue Charles Floquet in the Seventh Arrondissement. Conceived as a neo-Baroque fantasyland by the London decorator Gabhan O’Keeffe, it set São’s contemporary art and 18th-century furniture in a series of rooms that combined France with Portugal, Scotland with Persia, and Egypt with Hollywood. The pièce de résistance was the Andalusian-style terrace, with the Eiffel Tower rising directly above it. Dinner-party debates over whether O’Keeffe’s creation was “innovative” or “abominable” got so out of hand that at one soirée a pair of socialites had to be pulled apart before they came to blows. “It’s simply hideous,” said one visitor, “but totally fabulous!”
Here at Dolores Delargo Towers, we hope one day to have similar reviews. In the meantime, however, it is sufficient just to indulge oneself in reading about this magnificent lady... Enjoy!

Read the Vanity Fair article, "The Wow of São"

Read more on the sublime House of Beauty and Culture blog

Saturday, 23 October 2010

The Turkish Liberace

Ah, the joys of curating the "Museum of Camp"! Let us open our doors to the salivating public with this fantabulosa discovery...

Who would have thought that in a macho, largely Muslim country such as Turkey there would ever be such a flamboyant megastar as Zeki Müren?

Mr Müren, a classically trained singer and musician in the traditional Turkish style, developed a huge fan base over his 45 year career in entertainment from the mid 1950s as a movie heart-throb, balladeer and poet. Affectionately known as "Pasha", he defied the conventional image of his Anatolian heritage by becoming the Near East equivalent of Liberace!

Looking for all the world like a cross between Dorothy Squires and Montserrat Caballe, he sparkled on stage in his sequinned jackets, huge gemstone rings, heavy make up, coiffured hair and exaggerated mannerisms. In doing so Zeki Müren cultivated a fanatical following of ladies d'un certain age, often performing to female-only gatherings and lunch clubs.

In his own way he was a pioneer. For in embracing such a distinctive character as he, Turkish society learnt to become more accepting about homosexuality - despite this being the only Muslim country in the world where it is not illegal to be gay, there is a continual struggle between secular and fundamentalist attitudes. Without him, many younger flamboyant artists would never have got a foothold. Today, drag artists such as Bulent Ersoy and Huysuz Virgin ("Naughty Virgin") enjoy massive success - the latter even has a prime-time Turkish TV spectacular!

Zeki Müren's health declined in his latter years, as his weight ballooned (in proportion with his hairdo, perhaps?). He died, much as he had lived, while on stage. Apparently in 1996 the government decided to recognise his contribution to Turkish culture, music and the arts live on TV. They presented him with his original microphone from the outset of his career, appropriately mounted with a plaque. It was so heavy that when Mr Müren tried to lift it he dropped dead of a heart attack on the spot! A suitably dramatic end for a dramatic character - live on TV, in front of millions.

Let us celebrate the talents of this remarkable man...

And finally, his rather good version of Jaques Brel's classic:

Zeki Müren official website - although in Turkish, there are loads of pics and videos.

A fascinating insight into Turkish gay life

Friday, 22 October 2010

The Museum of Camp

One of my great hobbies is a love of all things camp - and by that we don't mean bitchy, anorexic trolly-dollies getting off their tits at the "Lady GaGa 2-for-1 drinks offer" at G.A.Y Bar in Compton Street.

I mean real, genuine Camp. Susan Sontag in her famous (infamous?) Notes on Camp tries to define the concept thus:
"...there are other creative sensibilities besides the seriousness (both tragic and comic) of high culture and of the high style of evaluating people. And one cheats oneself, as a human being, if one has respect only for the style of high culture, whatever else one may do or feel on the sly.

"Camp is the consistently aesthetic experience of the world. It incarnates a victory of "style" over "content," "aesthetics" over "morality," of irony over tragedy...even though homosexuals have been its vanguard, Camp taste is much more than homosexual taste. Obviously, its metaphor of life as theatre is peculiarly suited as a justification and projection of a certain aspect of the situation of homosexuals.

"Camp taste is, above all, a mode of enjoyment, of appreciation - not judgement. Camp is generous. It wants to enjoy. It only seems like malice, cynicism. (Or, if it is cynicism, it's not a ruthless but a sweet cynicism.) Camp taste doesn't propose that it is in bad taste to be serious; it doesn't sneer at someone who succeeds in being seriously dramatic. What it does is to find the success in certain passionate failures. The ultimate Camp statement: it's good because it's awful!"
Here at Dolores Delargo Towers we do indeed aspire to a "consistent aesthetic experience", and we appreciate knowing what makes such disparate things as the Ethel Merman Disco Album, Lalique glass bowls decorated with budgerigars, Joan Collins's acting career, Bollywood musicals, Christopher Isherwood's 'Berlin Stories' and Klaus Nomi all fall into the Camp genre.

So I have begun a long-cherished project - to start to sort into some semblance of order all the various articles, pictures, links and other ephemera we hold on the PC, on CD and on our bookshelves. I call it our "Museum of Camp". And what an exercise it is turning out to be!

As I continue the task, I felt it appropriate to share some of the little joys that quite clearly are destined to enter the hallowed halls of the Museum...