Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Farewell Cap'n Lewis

"I've just about exhausted the market for madams. I love to play them and I hope I have given each of the ladies a certain amount of individuality. But it's always a challenge to develop new types."

RIP Eileen Brennan (3rd September 1932 – 28th July 2013)

Eileen Brennan on IMDB

My previous tribute to Miss Brennan

Monday, 29 July 2013

An alluring, vampish creature

On The Hairpin website, Anne Helen Petersen writes:
Theodosia Goodman grew up in Cincinnati, the child of middle-class Jewish immigrants. Her father was a tailor; her mother kept house. She went to high school, she went to two years of college. She was a middling actress with middling looks, age 30, stuck in the Yiddish theater circuit, with a bit role in the occasional film. She was wholly unremarkable - one of hundreds of women working toward the same end.

And then, in 1915, totally out of nowhere, she became THE BIGGEST SEX SYMBOL IN THE WORLD. As the star of A Fool There Was, she embodied the cinematic “vamp” - the evil, predatory woman who seduces a man with her dark ways, sucks him dry, and leaves him for ruin.

Her name was no longer Theodosia Goodman, but Theda Bara - an anagram, naturally, for “Arab Death.” Her mother was a French actress, her father was an Italian sculptor, yet she had been born “in the shadow of the Sphinx.” She "dabbled in the Occult"; she "communed with dark spirits". She "had been reincarnated several times" and lunched on lettuce and raw beef... Offscreen, Bara was her cinematic character made flesh: an alluring, vampish creature, occupying the liminal space between this world and the next. Put differently, Bara was the most blatantly absurd and exquisite of the silent-era studios' creations.
"You say I have the most wicked face of any woman. You say my hair is like the serpent locks of Medusa, that my eyes have the cruel cunning of Borgia, that my mouth is the mouth of the sinister scheming Delilah, that my hands are like the talons of a Circe or the blood-bathing Elizabeth Bathory. And then you ask me of my soul - you wish to know if it is reflected in my face."

Theda Bara was a magnificent creature indeed, whose influence was not only felt in the visual stylings of the actresses who immediately succeeded her (such as yesterday's "exhibit" Clara Bow, with whom Theodosia shares a birthday, and the exotic Pola Negri), but lasts even to this day. You only have to look at pictures of Nina Hagen or Siouxsie Sioux in their prime, or Siobhan Fahey in Shakespear's Sister to see it - and "The Vamp" as a symbol of seductive female power is still a recurring theme in the visual arts today.

Yet Miss Bara's movie career was only a brief one - she appeared in 44 films, the first in 1914, but her career was ostensibly over in 1921 when her contract at 20th Century Fox was cancelled. Most of her films were subsequently lost in a fire, so there is very little cinematic evidence of her impact on audiences. Everything about her mystique is preserved in photographs and stills. Apparently in 1949 there was a rumour about a movie of Bara's life, starring Betty Hutton, but the project never materialized. She died of cancer, in relative obscurity, at the age of 69.

There can never be another Theda Bara.

Theda Bara (29th July 1885 – 7th April 1955)

Sunday, 28 July 2013

The "It" Girl

“I don’t think anyone invented sex, but if you ask me, Clara Bow came the closest.” - Myrna Loy in a 1965 interview, on the occasion of Clara Bow’s death.

"It?! She had those!" - Dorothy Parker

"Clara Bow was more than a mere movie star. She marked an era.” - Adolph Zukor

Clara Bow (29th July 1905 – 27th September 1965)

Our previous entry for Miss Bow.

Saturday, 27 July 2013

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

I don't want to hear such filth. Not with me standing here in a state of fucking grace

"She left behind an emptiness
A gap, a void, a trough.
The world is quite a good deal less
Since Coral Browne fucked off.

Her beauty and her shining wit
Sparkle beyond the grave
The girl who didn’t give a shit
Preposterously brave.

Uniquely-minded Queen of Style
No counterfeit could coin you,
Long may you make the angels smile
Till we all fuck off to join you."

- Barry Humphries' rhyming tribute to Coral Browne at her memorial service.

For 50 years the presiding doyenne of waspish put-downs in theatrical circles in the West End, and a long-time icon of gay people everywhere, Miss Coral Browne's centenary passed relatively unnoticed yesterday amidst the hysteria surrounding the Royal birth.

Suffice to say, the notoriously foul-mouthed Aussie diva would have had a few choice words to say on the matter.
  • "If you really fucking want to know, I feel as if I’m looking out of a yak’s arsehole." (On being asked by Tony Guthrie if she was happy with her wig for a production of Tamburlaine in New York.)
  • "The quality of the writing? You couldn’t write 'fuck' in the dust on a Venetian blind!" (To an unknown writer at a Hollywood party who questioned the quality of Alan Bennett’s writing.)
  • "I could never understand what Godfrey Tearle saw in Jill Bennett, until I saw her at the Caprice eating corn-on-the-cob."
  • "My God! My fucking eyelashes have dropped off!" (While filming An Englishman Abroad in freezing Moscow)
  • "Nobody we know, dear." (On seeing the giant phallus used on the set of Peter Brook‘s production of Oedipus for the National Theatre in 1968.)
  • "Like acting with two and half tons of condemned veal." (Her verdict on one of her leading men.)
  • "I don't want to hear such filth. Not with me standing here in a state of fucking grace." (On being collared by a queeny actor friend eager to share a piece of gossip, while leaving Brompton Oratory after mass)
  • "Women feel very comfortable with homosexuals. There is a certain delicacy. We don't want to be pounced on every 30 seconds by some hairy ape."
Apropos of the final quote, she had a strange fascination for gays in her personal life. She married Philip Pearman in 1950, despite his homosexuality, and stayed with him until his death in 1964. She later famously married Vincent Price (hardly the "butchest" of men), whom she met while playing a theatre critic whom he electrocuted to death under a salon hairdryer.

She even purportedly - amongst a line-up of lovers that included Rex Harrison, Douglas Fairbanks, Maurice Chevalier, Jack Buchanan, Michael Hordern, Paul Robeson and Christopher Cazenove - bedded the extravagantly gay Cecil Beaton. She apparently put men aside altogether during several years of a lesbian affair, perhaps with Mary Morris, who into her seventies sported full leathers while motorcycling.

After she took up with the producer Firth Shephard during the Second World War, Browne was inevitably called "Shephard's Bush". As she herself said: "Firth is my Shephard, I shall not want. His rod and staff comfort me. Though he makes me lie down in strange places..."

Summing up her camp credentials quite neatly, the last word goes to the Village Voice:
She was the larger-than-life actress Vera Charles in the ultimate campfest, Auntie Mame, opposite bosom buddy Roz Russell.

She wore fabulous outfits as Vivien Leigh's gabby confidante in Tenessee Williams's overheated gigolo drama The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone.

She was a vicious gossip columnist in a wheelchair in Robert Aldrich's bizarre tale of switching identities, The Legend of Lylah Claire.

She was a predatory lesbian in the Sapphic melodrama about emotional sadomasochists, The Killing of Sister George.

She was a "female heavenly voice" in the ancient-Greece-meets-Malibu musical Xanadu.

And she was married to Vincent Price.

Case closed.
Coral Edith Brown (later Browne, 23rd July 1913 – 29th May 1991)

Our previous entry for Miss Browne

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and lell forth a homie chavvie, and shalt screech his name Josie

Ottowa, Canada

Puri, India

Santa Monica, California

Niagara Falls


A child is born.

Courtesy of the excellent Polari Magazine, one of our favourite actors David Benson, with the spirit of Kenneth Williams upon him, reads from the Polari Bible of how the fairy Gabriel foretold the birth of the saviour, Josie Crystal.
And the fairy came in unto her, and cackled, Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Duchess is with thee: fabed art thou among palones.
And when she vardad him, she was troubled at his cackling, and cast in her mind what manner of salutation this should be.
And the fairy cackled unto her, Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favour with Gloria.
And, varda, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and lell forth a homie chavvie, and shalt screech his name Josie.

Polari gay lingo explained

Polari Bible

The Polari Mission is making attempts to revive the Polari language - and the Polari Bible is among their artefacts.

Monday, 22 July 2013

An Urban Icon

One of the coolest men on the planet, Terence Stamp is 75 today...

"Unless I try, I'm never really going to be at ease with myself."

"I've never wanted to become a politician, an interior decorator, I've never wanted to speculate and make a load of money. I just wanted this."

"I have always had this energy, which I think of as overdrive."

"My star was kind of fading towards the end of the '60s and suddenly I got this call from Fellini, who just appeared to kind of love me!"

"‘I feel I’m kind of an urban icon, that I’ve earned my place, because, you know, what the English love best is longevity."

"I'm still tap dancing. I'm still going."

Terence Henry Stamp (born 22nd July 1938)