Monday, 31 October 2011

Friday, 28 October 2011

Hallowe'en weekend...

...and it's Elsa Lanchester's birthday. Be afraid.
On Maureen O'Hara: "She looked as if butter wouldn't melt in her mouth - or anywhere else. "

on Patty Duke: "I thought she was a Method Actress. Afterwards somebody informed me that she was merely a manic-depressive."
But she met her match in Marlene Dietrich (of course!), who said of her: "Poor Elsa Lanchester. She left England because it already had a queen - Victoria. And she wanted to be queen of the Charles Laughton household once he became a star, but he already had the role."

Cult Sirens website entry for Elsa Lanchester (28 October 1902 – 26 December 1986)

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

I have bursts of being a lady

"I have bursts of being a lady, but it doesn't last long."

"Whenever you want to marry someone, go have lunch with his ex-wife."

"My face was always so made up, it looked as though it had the decorators in."

"It`s sad that people are so open about their sexuality. Sex is much more fun when you have to sneak around and cover it up."

"I think on-stage nudity is disgusting, shameful and damaging to all things American. But if I were 22 with a great body, it would be artistic, tasteful, patriotic and a progressive religious experience."

Shelley Winters (18th August 1920 – 14th January 2006)

Tuesday, 25 October 2011


Here comes the rain again
Raining on my head like a tragedy
Tearing me apart like a new emotion

Saturday, 22 October 2011

"The concert, it is I"

It is the bicentenary of the birth of the flamboyant composer Franz Liszt. Renowned for his florid style of performance and deliberately complicated compositions, in many ways this dramatic Hungarian, with his silver-topped cane and cloak, was so popular in his day he was the latter-day equivalent of a Liberace or an Elton John.

Among his acolytes (as portrayed by Danhauser) were such luminaries as Victor Hugo, Niccolò Paganini, Gioachino Rossini, Alexander Dumas and George Sand. His work influenced Hector Berlioz, Richard Wagner, Robert Schumann, Edvard Grieg, Camille Saint-Saëns and Frédéric Chopin.

From the Lisztomania concert programme website:
"Lisztomania" is by no means a modern word creation. Heinrich Heine coined the term in connection with the famous concert series presented by Franz Liszt in 1841/1842 in Berlin. The piano virtuoso’s stage performances were legendary. "Le Concert c’est moi" – "The concert, it is I," wrote Franz Liszt on 4 June 1839 in a letter to Princess Christina Belgiojoso in Paris. His appearances on stage were highly expressive, almost eccentric, rousing his audiences to transports of enthusiasm, especially the ladies, whose adoration soared at times to hysterical heights. He tossed his long mane of hair and struck the piano keys aggressively, sometimes even breaking the hammers and strings. His audiences were so wildly enthralled that Franz Liszt stopped having seats placed in the concert halls where he performed. He even had fan articles distributed. These phenomena made him the first superstar in music history.

As Tom Service says in his Guardian blog:
His discarded cigar butts were worn as relics by adoring fans, the piano strings that would break under the strain of his transcendental pianism were transformed into high-society jewellery. By the early 1840s, around the time of his 30th year, his reputation was such that he was heralded as virtual royalty in the continent's capitals. He left Berlin after a two-week residency in 1842 in a carriage drawn by six white horses, the head of a procession of hundreds of other coaches. As the critic Ludwig Rellstab put it, "Not like a king but as a king did he march out, surrounded by a rejoicing crowd."
Liszt's love-life, too, was the stuff upon which the tabloids thrived. And it was on this aspect that Mr Ken Russell chose to focus much of his extravaganza movie Lisztomania, roughly based on the great man's life:

How to follow that?! Here is my favourite piece of Liszt - his Liebestraum, played beautifully by Evgeny Kissin:

Franz Liszt (22nd October 1811 - 31st July 1886)

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

"Visitors were mesmerised"

Bette Midler is to auction off several of her stage costumes, including the mermaid gown she wore during her Las Vegas residency.
"The Collection of Bette Midler contains over 300 items from her life and career. Midler is one of the few performers instantly known by their first name, and is regarded by all as “The Divine Miss M.” Since her debut album in 1972, she has sold over 30 million records worldwide. Her Oscar-nominated role in The Rose established her as a premier actress in motion pictures, and she has conquered the worlds of Broadway, television and the concert stage in a career that spans over 40 years."

Highlights include many of her most famous dresses and costumes, including masterpieces by Bob Mackie, Bob De Mora, Valentino and Pucci (and even a leopardskin straightjacket!).

Among my favourites is the outfit she wore on the cover of the 1998 album Bathhouse Betty:

The "Dolores De Lago" mermaid outfits [she's even selling off the wheelchairs!]:

And these beauties:

From the BBC:
Midler is also selling off a pair of crystal platform shoes that were given to her by Cher in the 1970s.

"They were sensational, but a bit hard to walk in without falling down," Midler said in the catalogue that accompanies the items.

"So I put them on display in my house. Visitors were mesmerised."
The Collection of Bette Midler is to be auctioned on Saturday 12th November 2011 by Julien’s Auctions in Beverly Hills, California.

Visit the auction website

Some of the proceeds will be donated to Bette's very own creation, the New York Restoration Project - a non-profit organisation which focuses on restoring small parks and community areas.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Such a McQueen

From the BBC:
A portrait of the late fashion designer Alexander McQueen and magazine editor Isabella Blow has been acquired by the National Portrait Gallery (NPG).

Burning Down by surrealist photographer David LaChapelle was originally published in Vanity Fair in 1997.

The shot was accompanied by an article branding McQueen and his mentor The Provocateurs.

NPG director Sandy Nairne said he was "delighted" to receive the work, which is now on display in the gallery.

The portrait was shot at Hedingham Castle in Essex in 1996 and shows McQueen dressed as a woman, brandishing a flaming torch.

Both subjects were dressed in clothes designed by McQueen, while Blow was also wearing a Philip Treacy hat.

At the time of the shoot McQueen, who passed away last year, was just 27 years old and had recently debuted his first couture collection for the House of Givenchy.

Blow, 38 at the time of the shoot, was largely credited with discovering McQueen.

"I am delighted that this astonishing double portrait celebrating two highly influential figures in British fashion by David LaChapelle has entered the National Portrait Gallery Collection," Mr Nairne said.
National Portrait Gallery collections

Saturday, 15 October 2011

A cottage made for two

Joe Orton is very much in mind at the moment, and to that end let us concentrate on one of the great man's favourite obsessions...

"It is perhaps inevitable that within the vagaries of English slang a word so redolent of the English village, Miss Marple and vicars cycling to give evening sermons, should come to be associated with acts so unspeakable and perverted that they are morally repugnant to your average citizen. Yet on the fiftieth year since Lord Wolfenden, a man so repulsed by the deviancy of the homosexual act that his report found it necessary to recommended its legalisation, the fortieth since the death at his lover’s hands of the eminence grise of the cottage, Joe Kingsley Orton, it is perhaps appropriate to consider what has happened to this most Anglo-Saxon of leisure pursuits.

"It is an activity once favoured by playwrights, pop stars, politicians and Republican Senators from Idaho, allegedly with codes of its very own. Yet it is also in sad decline... cottaging has through its long and honourable history (since 1729) remained a purely gay pursuit; partly because of the puritanical attitude towards sex than has always existed in the English social body, but mainly because the idea of unisex public lavatories never caught on."
The Strange Decline of the English Cottage is the title of a blog, a research project, and (hopefully) a forthcoming documentary that will be shown on BBC4.

I can't wait - it sounds fascinating, and Joe would be proud...

The Joe Orton exhibition Malicious Damage runs until 21 January 2012 at Islington Museum, Finsbury Library, 245 St John Street, London, EC1V

Friday, 14 October 2011

The ultimate hustle

"I have a woman's body and a child's emotions."
Elizabeth Taylor, attributed to Ken Danvers, 1959

To conclude this week's special focus on The Glamour of the Gods photographic exhibition, it is only fair we turn to the subject of sex!

Although nowadays the lines are more often than not blurred - "glamour model" has a whole different connotation to its original definition, for example - it was always the intention of the studio system, and therefore their employed photographers, to "sell" a star's sexual allure as much as their beauty and exoticism. Innocent maybe, but it is undeniable that even the icy gaze of Garbo or the shimmering luxury of Gloria Swanson in regal costume were masks for their unattainable, desired, sexiness.

By the end of the War, in the late 40s and early 50s this mask was slipping somewhat, and the sexual imagery in Hollywood photography was becoming more obvious - in tandem with the inexorable rise of the "teenager" as a new audience for publicity-hungry studios. In today's featured photographs, the young Miss Taylor and Mr Brando are not doing anything in particular, but we know what they are ostensibly offering the viewer.

So, apparently, did John Kobal (whose extensive collection is the foundation for the exhibition). According to reviewer Martin Gayford: "By Marilyn Monroe’s era, Kobal’s enthusiasm was running out. He was a star-struck romantic, and in his view the “gods” and “titans” of Hollywood belonged to the 20s and the 30s."

And I agree. Hollywood today is a lesser place than when most of the photographs on display were taken; its stars are certainly less glamorous, and the balance between sex appeal and style is all but lost in the majority of cases.

"If you want something from an audience, you give blood to their fantasies. It's the ultimate hustle."
Marlon Brando, photographed in 1950 by John Engstead:

Glamour of the Gods exhibition at The National Gallery continues to 23rd October 2011.

Thursday, 13 October 2011

A classic work of art

Joan Crawford by George Hurrell, 1934

Joan Crawford was possibly one of the most photogenic of all the stars of Hollywood's "Golden Age". Certainly the master of the glamour photo George Hurrell appeared to think so, and it was mainly his work that preserved Miss Crawford's beauty as an everlasting work of art.

Clark Gable and Joan Crawford for Dancing Lady, 1933 by George Hurrell

Some say that Clark Gable was the love of Joan Crawford's life. Some even say that the two were close to being married. Some speculate the affair never happened at all. Whatever the case there was no denying the onscreen chemistry between Crawford and Gable. Their affair lasted off and on for over 20 years and they remained close right up until Gable's death in 1960.

Legendary Joan Crawford

Glamour of the Gods exhibition at The National Gallery

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

First you're another doe-eyed vamp...

circa 1925: Headshot portrait by Eugene R. Richee of American silent film actor Clara Bow (1905 - 1965)

Captured to perfection in this photo, Clara Bow was possibly the one star who personified "The Roaring Twenties" - the doe-eyed flapper, the independent woman, the simmering seductive beauty.

She was also one of the casualties of the "boom and bust" that occurred in the early days of Hollywood. Catapulted from a dreadful upbringing to become one of the biggest stars of the the glittering silent silver screen in films such as Mantrap in 1926 and It (hence her nick-name "The 'It' Girl") in 1927, she received rapturous reviews. Variety enthused thus: "Clara Bow! And how! What a 'Mantrap' she is! And how this picture is going to make her! Miss Bow just walks away with the picture from the moment she steps into camera range."

However, jealousy and perverse morality led to a huge backlash against her. It probably didn't help that her uninhibited "flapper" attitude collided head-on with the Great Depression and all that brought with it. One of the longest lasting (and by all accounts false) accusations against Miss Bow was that she single-handedly "serviced" an entire football team at an orgy, including a young John Wayne! Would that it were true.

Already wounded by the rumour mill, and by court cases accusing her of husband-stealing, the final blow to her career (from which she never recovered, ending her days in a secure sanitorium) was the arrival of the "talkies". For it was Clara Bow, with her dreadful Brooklyn accent totally unsuited to sound, that formed the basis for Miss Jean Hagen's fantabulosa performance as "Lina Lamont" in Singin' in the Rain...

Glamour of the Gods exhibition at The National Gallery

Clara Bow on IMDB

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

I just used my hair

"I never did cheesecake; I just used my hair."
Veronica Lake

George Hurrell's 1942 portrait of star Veronica Lake shows her glossy blonde tresses splayed out like a halo, highlighting her trademark asset that she often wore loose and brushed over one eye. In fact, her hairstyle became such a huge trend in America that health alerts were issued claiming the style was causing accidents among female factory workers during World War Two. (Vintage Seekers)

Her icy beauty is encapsulated forever in Mr Hurrell's photos, and despite her sad physical and mental decline and untimely death in the 1970s Miss Lake's beautiful image lives on forever.

Glamour of the Gods exhibition at The National Gallery

Veronica Lake on

Monday, 10 October 2011

An Art Deco ornament

Michèle Morgan by Ernest A. Bachrach, 1940

One of the most beautifully stylised of all the photographs featured in the Glamour of the Gods exhibition, this embodiment of Art Deco symbolism portrays the otherwise largely unknown French actress as part of a statue or sculpture - merely an ornament.

Still alive today, aged 91, Mlle Morgan's French film career was cut short by WW2 and she moved to Hollywood. There she starred in some less-than-successful movies with the likes of Paul Henreid and the young Frank Sinatra, and after failing to land the lead in Casablanca returned to Europe, where she continued to have a hugely successful film career for the next few decades.

The photographer, Ernest Bachrach, also photographed Marilyn Monroe, Katherine Hepburn and Gloria Swanson – the latter hailing him as “the only photographer in the world".

Glamour of the Gods

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Lulu in Hollywood

Louise Brooks by E.R. Richee Modern platinum print from the original negative, 1929.
"A well dressed woman, even though her purse is painfully empty, can conquer the world."
Louise Brooks
Eugene Robert Richee, Paramount’s then head of portrait studio, took the picture above, and in doing so created an Art Deco icon and a style sensation. Women of the 1920s queued up to get their hair cut in Miss Brooks' classic "flapper" style, and the image influenced such disparate later stars as Liza Minnelli and Siouxsie Sioux.

As one reviewer puts it: "The porcelain-like complexion and white necklace against the pitch-black surroundings create a striking composition and image of the silent film star. This simplicity beautifully captures the spirit of the 1920s and reflects the eccentric character of the American actress."

Miss Brooks certainly was an outspoken and interesting character in her day:
"Love is a publicity stunt, and making love - after the first curious raptures - is only another petulant way to pass the time waiting for the studio to call.

When I am dead, I believe that film writers will fasten on the story that I am a lesbian... I have done lots to make it believable. All my women friends have been lesbians. But that is one point upon which I agree positively with Christopher Isherwood: There is no such thing as bisexuality. Ordinary people, although they may accommodate themselves for reason of whoring or marriage, are one-sexed. Out of curiosity, I had two affairs with girls – they did nothing for me."

Louise Brooks
The photograph is one of the most magnificent on display at the Glamour of the Gods exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery until 23rd October 2011.

The Allure of Louise Brooks

Miss Brooks' biography Lulu in Hollywood

Saturday, 8 October 2011

The epitome of glamour

Marlene Dietrich on the set of Manpower, 1941 by Laszlo Willinger © John Kobal Foundation, 2011

In a special series this week, I intend to add as exhibits to The Museum of Camp some of the iconic images we went to see at the Glamour of the Gods exhibition yesterday.

Laszlo Willinger was a Hungarian photographer during the 1930s and 40s who took photographs of celebrities including Marlene Dietrich, Sigmund Freud and Hedy Lamarr. Marlene cemented her androgynous appeal with several images such as the above.

The second photo of Miss Dietrich in the collection is by George Hurrell. Recognised as the "Grand Seigneur of the Hollywood Portrait", he photographed every star at M-G-M, from Joan Crawford, Clark Gable and Greta Garbo to Wallace Beery and Marie Dressler. His work set a new standard for Hollywood portraits. It even inspired a new name for the genre - glamour photography.

The Glamour of the Gods is provided courtesy of the John Kobal Foundation:
John Kobal was a pre-eminent film historian and collector of Hollywood film photography. The author of over 30 books on film and film photography, he was known for his creative and exuberant personality, as well as his voracious knowledge of the minutiae of film and photography lore. He is credited with essentially 'rediscovering' the great Hollywood Studio photographers - George Hurrell, Laszlo Willinger, Clarence Sinclair Bull, Ted Allan et al - who were employed by the movie studios to create the glamorous, iconic portraits of the most famous and intriguing stars of the day that now epitomise Hollywood. Kobal's mission in the 1970's and 80's was to reunite these forgotten artists with their original negatives and produce new prints for exhibitions he then mounted worldwide.

Friday, 7 October 2011

And why not?

Marc Almond in Brompton Cemetery, photo by Derek Ridgers

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

No-one writes sex in the back of a Bentley better

"I am still shocking people today, and I don't know why. Is it because I'm a woman talking about sex and men? One magazine said that no-one writes sex in the back of a Bentley better than Jackie Collins."

"If anything, my characters are toned down - the truth is much more bizarre."

"My weakness is wearing too much leopard print."

Jacqueline Jill "Jackie" Collins (born 4th October 1937)

Monday, 3 October 2011


"Of the New Romantic moment I have always said, "It was all Bowie's fault", but factor in Lou Reed, Iggy Pop, Marc Bolan, Quentin Crisp, Sally Bowles, and a whole daisychain of others who made us dream of a magical world without rules where there really was a wizard behind the curtain."
Boy George, interviewed in The Guardian

Graham Smith was a self-confessed "enthusiastic amateur photographer" at that time, yet managed nevertheless to perfectly capture the New Romantic era of the early 80s in his black and white snaps.

Now he plans a book that promises to bring all these memories together in one place. Of course, first he will need donations to get it published:

Alongside over 500 fantastic photographs from the era the book has forewords from Gary Kemp, Boy George and Steve Strange, an introduction by Robert Elms and text by Chris Sullivan. To contribute to the publication of We Can Be Heroes, visit