Friday, 30 August 2013

This weekend, I'm mostly dressing casual... style maven and all-round inspiration to us all, Miss Iris Apfel, who celebrated her 92nd birthday yesterday! (No doubt by upstaging Cher, GaGa and Madge at some swanky Noo Yawk party venue.)

Here she is in conversation with Ari Seth Cohen, Miss Apfel's number one fan and curator of that tribute to all stylish older ladies, Advanced Style blog:

"More is more, and less is a bore."

We love Miss Apfel.

Iris dishes the dirt.

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Chintzy, chintzy cheeriness

by Lewis Morley, 1970

by Graham Wood, 1974

by Cecil Beaton, 1955

by Arnold Newman, 1978

Statue in tribute to Sir John at St Pancras station, one of the buildings he helped to save from demolition.

"How much more interesting and worth writing about his subjects are than most other modern poets. I mean, whether so-and-so achieves some metaphysical inner unity is not really so interesting to us as the overbuilding of rural Middlesex." - Philip Larkin

In celebration of the birthday today of Poet Laureate, foe of "modernism", saviour of beautiful buildings, railway fan and "national treasure" Sir John Betjeman, here is a marvellous reading - to the delight of the great man himself - by none other than Kenneth Williams and Maggie Smith (on the Parkinson show in February 1973) of his poem Death in Leamington:

Sir John Betjeman, CBE (28th August 1906 - 19th May 1984)

Sunday, 25 August 2013

Balls to success

"The first note he sang was taken with such delicacy, swelled by minute degrees to such an amazing volume, and afterwards diminished in the same manner to a mere point, that it was applauded for full five minutes. After this he set off with such brilliancy and rapidity of execution, that it was difficult for the violins of those days to keep pace with him." - music historian Charles Burney, as quoted in A Dictionary of Music and Musicians (1900)

Carlo Maria Michelangelo Nicola Broschi, known as Farinelli, was famous in the 18th century as the world's greatest castrato. A strikingly gifted singer with a range of more than three octaves, Farinelli was given little choice but to sacrifice his manhood in exchange for his art.

He became famous across Italy for the purity of his soprano vocal skills, often performing en travesti (in women's clothing), and was acclaimed by audiences in Rome, Venice and eventually Vienna. It was from here that he received his most famous call - from none other than George Frederic Handel - to join the great composer's Academy in London. He was so adored by theatre audiences, noble patrons and critics alike that at one stage in the 1730s his earnings reached £5000 in a season, and cultural references were made to him by Hogarth and Voltaire.

From such fame, he received the most lucrative offer of his career - and left London to become personal chamber musician to the Spanish King Philip V and Queen Elisabetta. Farinelli gave nightly private concerts to the royal couple and organised performances by professional musicians in the royal palaces. In 1738 he arranged for an entire Italian opera company to visit Madrid, a spectacle so popular that the Coliseo of the royal palace of Buen Retiro was remodelled, and became Madrid's only opera house.

After the deaths of Philip and his successor King Ferdinand, Farinelli relocated to Bologna, where he lived in retirement from 1761 until his death. His estate included gifts from royalty (including the French King Louis XV, who gave him his portrait set in diamonds) and numerous paintings including works by Velázquez, Murillo and Jusepe de Ribera.

One can only imagine what a Farinelli performance must have been like, but here, from the 1994 film about his life, is what I would guess to be a fair approximation:

Farinelli (24th January 1705 – 16th September 1782)

Thursday, 22 August 2013

I'm never going to be famous

"Oh, life is a glorious cycle of song,
A medley of extemporanea,
And love is a thing that can never go wrong,
And I am Marie of Rumania."

"I'm never going to accomplish anything; that's perfectly clear to me. I'm never going to be famous. My name will never be writ large on the roster of Those Who Do Things. I don't do anything. Not one single thing. I used to bite my nails, but I don't even do that any more."

"If I didn't care for fun and such,
I'd probably amount to much.
But I shall stay the way I am,
Because I do not give a damn."

"Too fucking busy, and vice versa."

"Razors pain you,
Rivers are damp,
Acids stain you,
And drugs cause cramp.
Guns aren't lawful,
Nooses give,
Gas smells awful.
You might as well live."

Dorothy Parker (22nd August 1893 – 7th June 1967)

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Remember me

Dame Janet Baker, whose 80th birthday we mark today, was never an operatic diva known for camp histrionics.

Widely regarded as one of the most accomplished British mezzo singers of the 20th century (apart, of course, from the exalted Kathleen Ferrier, whose early death and subsequent memorial prize competition - although she didn't actually win it - launched the young Janet's career), the elegant Dame reserved her talents (especially in latter years) largely for melodious recitals of Britten, Mahler and Brahms and oratorios by Elgar, Handel and Gluck rather than the outré melodrama of Wagner or Puccini stage-pieces.

If truth be told, she didn't need to; her popularity among opera-goers is legend, even if she did leave the queeny classical music world weeping into its collective silk hankies when she made the decision in 1989, at the height of her powers, to retire - for good - from the stage and from singing altogether.

One thing she always knew was how to wring every bit of tragedy out of a role - as demonstrated succinctly in this classic rarity, with a sumptuously costumed Dame Janet as Queen Dido, dying magnificently in Berloz's Dido and Anaeas:

Simply divine.

Dame Janet Baker, CH, DBE, FRSA (born 21st August 1933)

Monday, 19 August 2013

The curtain descends, ev'rything ends too soon, too soon

We celebrate the birthday today of Mr Frederic Ogden Nash, radical, anti-establishment, anti-religious satirist and poet of amusing ditties such as these:

Is dandy,
But liquor
Is quicker."

"There is something about a Martini,
A tingle remarkably pleasant;
A yellow, a mellow Martini;
I wish I had one at present.
There is something about a Martini,
Ere the dining and dancing begin,
And to tell you the truth,
It is not the vermouth -
I think that perhaps it's the gin."

And a perfect one for a Monday morning:

"Your hair may be brushed, but your mind's untidy,
You've had about seven hours' sleep since Friday,
No wonder you feel that lost sensation;
You're sunk from a riot of relaxation."

But camp?

Ah yes... for Mr Nash also wrote the lyrics for this extravaganza (with music by Kurt Weill) - it's Speak Low:

Ogden Nash (19th August 1902 – 19th May 1971)

Saturday, 17 August 2013

Cultivate your curves

"It isn't what I do, but how I do it. It isn't what I say, but how I say it, and how I look when I do it and say it."

"Cultivate your curves - they may be dangerous but they won't be avoided."

"You only live once, but if you do it right, once is enough."

"I never loved another person the way I loved myself."

Happy 120th birthday to Mary Jane (Mae) West (17th August 1893 – 22nd November 1980)

More Mae

Friday, 16 August 2013


Miss Vida Boheme:
"Look! Miss Julie Newmar has been watching silently over this entire conversation.

And look at her, vintage Miss Julie.

She is the perfect, the ultimate... oh! Try to describe her and not use the word "statuesque".

Oh, Miss Julie, you are statuesque and you were the only Catwoman."

The remarkable Miss Julie Newmar is 80 years old today...

Thursday, 15 August 2013

She always knew how to wear a hat...

...or crown.

"For an actress to be a success, she must have the face of a Venus, the brains of a Minerva, the grace of Terpsichore, the memory of a MaCaulay, the figure of Juno, and the hide of a rhinoceros."

"You grow up the day you have the first real laugh at yourself."

On audiences: "I never let them cough. They wouldn't dare."

Ethel Barrymore (15th August 1879 – 18th June 1959)

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Harlot? Yes

"I am a woman who enjoys herself very much; sometimes I lose, sometimes I win."

"I took the train to Paris without money and without clothes. There, as a last resort and thanks to my female charms, I was able to survive. That I slept with other men is true; that I posed for sculptures is true; that I danced in the opera at Monte Carlo is true. It would be too far beneath me and too cowardly to defend myself against such actions I have taken."

"Harlot? Yes. Traitoress? Never!"

Mata Hari was born Gertrud Margarete Zelle in the Netherlands on this day in 1876. Destitute after the breakdown of her marriage to a drunken Dutch colonial military man, she gained fame, fortune and notoriety as a dancer in Paris. Her exotic and provocative nude routines brought her fame all over Europe.

She also became a celebrated courtesan, and her lovers included military and political figures from France and Germany. This ultimately led to her being charged and convicted as a spy during the Great War, although the Germans had dismissed her as an ineffective agent.

In October 1917, she was executed by firing squad for spying for Germany, but her legend lives on - on celluloid and in print - as the most notable femme fatale of the 20th century.

Mata Hari (7th August 1876 - 15th October 1917)

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

...and Marion never looked lovelier

Miss Hopper and Miss Parsons

From the Arcane Radio Blog:
"It's not fair to say that Louella Parsons hated everyone. She feuded with Orson Welles, Joan Crawford, Louis B. Mayer, Hedda Hopper, Frank Sinatra and even Ronald Reagan. But, like other Hollywood gossip shows she eventually wore out her welcome. Born in 1881 as Louella Rose Oettinger, she grew up in Dixon, Illinois. She attended Dixon College and then wrote for the Dixon Star newspaper. In her articles she gossiped about Dixon social circles, a harbinger of things to come. She married John Parsons in 1906, she kept the name but dropped the husband.

She ditched the small town life. She moved to Chicago, then new York. In 1914 she wrote another gossip column for the Chicago Record Herald, then one for the New York Morning Telegraph. William Hearst took note of her readership and by 1923 her name was under his masthead on the New York American newspaper. She gained increasing popularity and became a syndicated columnist for Hearst."
She went on to settle in California (for health reasons, apparently), landed a radio version of her column, and the rest, as they say, is history. Louella Parsons became the commanding force in Hollywood gossip circles - at least until the rise of her hated rival Hedda Hopper - and made herself feared, respected and loathed for her efforts to make and break careers.

Hedda Hopper (from her biography The Whole Truth and Nothing But) observed:
“With the Hearst newspaper empire behind her, Louella could wield power like Catherine of Russia. Hollywood read every word she wrote as though it was a revelation from San Simeon, if not Mount Sinai. Stars were terrified of her. If they crossed her, they were given the silent treatment; no mention of their names in her column.”
By the end, however, the proverbial chickens had come home to rest somewhat for Louella.

As Mamie Van Doren noted:
"Louella Parsons died on December 9, 1972. Almost no one noticed. By then Hollywood had changed a great deal. But when told about her death, many veterans of this industry town still breathed a sigh of relief and secretly hoped that someone had driven a wooden stake through her heart."
Here's a classic spoof of Louella's radio show - and her fawning over Hearst's mistress Marion Davies - by the late, great TC Jones [thanks NormaDesmond at "mittendrinnen" blog for this one]:

Louella Parsons (6th August 1881 – 9th December 1972)