Friday, 31 January 2014

A Queen is for life. Isn’t that wonderful?

[with Roz Russell]

[with Ann Miller, Ethel Merman, Lee Roy Reams and Carole Cook]

[with HM The Queen]

[with Eileen Brennan]

[with Helen Hayes, Lee Roy Reams (again) and Myrna Loy]

[with Elizabeth Taylor]

The most effervescent woman in showbiz Miss Carol Channing is still with us (just last week, at the age of 93, she was on stage - with none other than Justin Vivian Bond!), and for that we are eternally grateful.

She has always had a wide variety of famous friends, and with one of them (another treasured icon, long gone) she shared a birthday - Miss Tallulah Bankhead...

Let's leave it to Miss Channing to tell us about a couple of her memories of the great potty-mouth. First, she tells us of the occasion Sophie Tucker And Tallulah gave her advice:

And here she is only four years ago proving she still has the energy for a good anecdote (about Tallulah):

[Which reminds me, I really must get my hands on a copy of the documentary film Carol Channing: Larger then Life!]

"Gay men seem to always know who has talent before the rest of the public does, don't you think? A stamp of approval from the gay community is almost a guarantee of success. Just ask Liza Minnelli, Bette Midler, or Cher. I think they would agree. In San Francisco, they made me their Queen. They have a new Empress every year, but a Queen is for life. Isn’t that wonderful?"

Carol Channing (born 31st January 1921)

Tallulah Bankhead told a friend that her doctor had advised her to eat an apple every time she had the urge to drink. She arched an eyebrow and added, "But really, dahlings, sixty apples a day?!"

Tallulah Bankhead (31st January 1902 – 12th December 1968)

Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Hello, Dollis Hill!

Hours of endless fun, courtesy of the London Theatre Tube Stops map!

For the full thing, visit the WhatsOnStage website.

Such fun.

Sunday, 26 January 2014

Diamond Princess

Her Imperial and Exalted Highness The Princess Hatice Hayriye Ayse Dürrüsehvar Sultan, Imperial Princess of the Ottoman Empire, Princess of Berar, born a century ago today.

  • She was the last heir apparent to the Imperial Ottoman throne and the last Caliph of the Muslim world.
  • In 1931 she married the son of the last Nizam of Hyderabad State, Osman Ali Khan, Asif Jah VII - the richest ruler in the world in his time.
  • A moderniser by nature, she believed that women should earn their own living, and helped to remove the practice of purdah; and she founded hospitals for women and children in Hyderabad.
  • The Princess died in London, where she had maintained a home throughout her life, and refused to be buried in Turkey in protest at the republican government's "betrayal" of her father.
And here are some of the jewels to which she had access, courtesy of that fortuitous marriage...

In 1937, the Nizam of Hyderabad's assets were twice the Indian government's budget - and even today they would be 1.5 times the modern government's spending power. His jewellery collection included 25,000 diamonds, pearls the size of quail eggs and the famed 184.5 carat Jacob’s Diamond, also known as the Victoria. A set of 22 Colombian emeralds weighing 413 carats was so flawless that no jeweller had the courage to set them. One necklace comprised 226 diamonds weighing nearly 150 carats. The legendary Nizam’s Diamond (whereabouts apparently unknown) weighed 440 carats and was said to be the second largest in the world.

Allegedly Osman Ali Khan used to handle his baubles as if they were marbles, and kept the Jacob's Diamond as a paperweight. He could afford to.

Jewels of the Nizams

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

I just play leading roles

Dolly by Warhol.

Life is a show and the show will go on
The world is stage, loves an act we perform
There's always some new act somewhere up the road
And I'll always be starring in somebody's show

I don't play second fiddle in nobody's band
And I'm no back-up singer and I won't be a fan
And I'm nobody's co-star
I just play leading roles
And I don't want the part, don't want a part
Won't play a part unless it's star of the show

Dolly Parton (born January 19, 1946)

Monday, 20 January 2014

It's a kind of madness really

[photo: Oliver McNeill at Legend Photography]

"Actors are able to trick themselves into treating anything as if it's fantastic. It's a kind of madness really."

"I've never ever read a script. I really must read Macbeth, because I was in it once. I got a lot of laughs in that, I can tell you."

"Well, I think if more people had more applause, it would make them feel better. I often give my wife a round of applause. If the meal is very good I give her a standing ovation."

"I'm really not an actor of any kind. I've always seen myself as an entertainer, someone who makes people laugh. That's all I've ever wanted to do. 'Doctor Who' has always just been me, really."

Happy 80th birthday to Mr Tom Baker, raconteur, actor, voice of Little Britain, and the most eccentric Doctor of them all.

Friday, 17 January 2014

None but those whose courage is unquestionable can venture to be effeminate

From Strange Flowers blog:
The key to Firbank’s life as well as his art is a sense of never quite belonging. He was born into wealth but it was only two generations old and thus socially suspect. His delicate health led him to constantly seek out more sympathetic climes, and his friends knew of his comings and goings largely from notices in The Times. He was also a Catholic convert, like Waugh in the following generation and Frederick Rolfe in the previous...[though he was] rejected from the priesthood and ever after maintained a strange, Oedipal love-hate relationship with Catholicism.

All of these things, as well as his homosexuality, gave Firbank a privileged vantage point to observe the rituals of his circle as well as its hostility to outsiders, but the barbs in his writing are sometimes so subtle that they only become visible on a second reading. While his plots and dialogue can occasionally seem as precious and overstuffed as a Victorian salon, Firbank was also remarkably forward-looking, such as in the impressionistic passages in Valmouth which record fragments of conversation, out of context, or his regular deployment of characters who were gay or lesbian or otherwise alienated.
Some examples of these are neatly summarised in the GLBTQ Encyclopaedia:
In the utopian world of Valmouth (1919), an imaginary health resort presided over by the black masseuse Mrs. Yajnavalkya, the characters engage in an intricate arabesque of secret amours and are eventually revealed to be gay, lesbian or bisexual.

After the war, Firbank further developed the theme of gay-lesbian utopia in his one-act play, The Princess Zoubaroff (1920), which creates a pastoral "green world" of homosexual freedom and explores the advantages of social arrangements in which the sexes live apart. The happy, middle-aged Lord Orkish is Firbank's portrait of the Oscar Wilde who might have been had Wilde gone into exile rather than facing his persecutors in England.

His last and most explicitly gay work, Concerning the Eccentricities of Cardinal Pirelli, appeared in 1926, the same year as Firbank's early death at the age of forty. The book begins with the cardinal baptising a police puppy named Crack, and ends when the naked cardinal ("elementary now as Adam himself") drops dead while pursuing a choirboy named Chicklet around his church.

Excavating the homosexual meanings in everything from St. Sebastian to Egyptian statuettes, butterflies to orchids, and Priapus to Ganymede, his use of inverted word order, dashes, exclamation points, ellipses, and innuendo shows his characteristic "Sapphic" mode of presenting material in fragments in order to articulate the love that dares not speak its name.

His description of Monsignor Parr in Vainglory as "something between a butterfly and a misanthrope, [who] was temperamental, when not otherwise...employed," gives some indication of his masterful use of indirection.

Committed to the preservation of gay and lesbian culture in an era of political backlash, as well as to the unfettered expression of his artistic self, Firbank himself may be fittingly characterized by the comment of Lady Parvula de Panzoust in Valmouth that "None but those whose courage is unquestionable can venture to be effeminate."
There are numerous accounts of Firbank’s personal eccentricity, such as presenting the Marchesa Casati with a bunch of lilies and suggesting that they embark immediately for America, sending his cab driver to smooth the way before his first meeting with Augustus John, or his unlikely participation in sports. While at Cambridge, Oscar Wilde’s son Vyvyan Holland recalls seeing the effete Firbank incongruously dressed “in the costume of sport”. Confounded, Holland enquired what he had been doing, and learning that he had apparently been playing football, further enquired whether it was rugby or soccer. “Oh,” replied Firbank, “I don’t remember”.

Nancy Cunard recalls a meal in London in 1922:
"A charming, but at that moment insufferably drunk, young man was with me and we were about to have dinner. Noisily and lengthily captious at the menu’s many suggestions, he had finally reached the point of announcing ‘I’ll have…I’ll have a…’ while the waiter stood by looking more than weary. At that moment Firbank swept in, ecstatic, and came dancingly towards us. As I tried to introduce them my companion scowled at him, muttered something about ‘fairies’ and reached the end of his thought: ‘A beefsteak’. ‘And what with, sir?’ asked the waiter. ‘What with, what with?’ groaned the angry man, ‘with…’ Firbank stood poised above us. With a swoop over the table and an ingratiating giggle he suggested clearly and winningly: ‘Try violets!’"

"The world is so dreadfully managed, one hardly knows to whom to complain."

"To be sympathetic without discrimination is so very debilitating."

Arthur Annesley Ronald Firbank (17th January 1886 – 21st May 1926)

Thursday, 16 January 2014

Yesterday they told you you would not go far

[Ethel Merman by Mark Hanauer]

Describing Miss Merman's 1954 classic movie There's No Business Like Show Business (in which she co-starred with Marilyn Monroe and Mitzi Gaynor), Mr Bobby Rivers said:
In the 1940s, Universal could have made five Donald O'Connor musicals with the budget for this one number alone. Early in the story, we had two Catholic parents freak out when their son wanted to become a priest instead of procreating and supplying them with grandkids. Now we get a finale that makes a gay pride parade in West Hollywood look like the chain gang in Cool Hand Luke. Merman, Marilyn, Mitzi, a rousing showtune, dozens of chorus dancers in pastels and men in uniform. Oh, Sweet Baby Jesus.
My thoughts exactly...

"I can never remember being afraid of an audience. If the audience could do better, they'd be up here on stage and I'd be out there watching them."

"There's such a thing as theater discipline. One player doesn't appropriate another's inventions."

"I've made a wonderful living playing that theatrical character - the professional brassy dame."

"I can hold a note as long as the Chase National Bank."

Ethel Merman (born Ethel Agnes Zimmermann, 16th January 1908 – 15th February 1984)

Sunday, 12 January 2014

Golden Age Gay Gal

"I laughed from the time I arrived at the studio until I left at night. I was almost ashamed to take a paycheck. In 40-odd years in show business, some years I could do no wrong, and some years I could do nothing right. Show business. I owe it everything - it owes me nothing."

The multi-talented Patsy Kelly was a pioneer in the "Golden Age of Hollywood", and in gay history.

Back in 2010, Over at my other blog Give 'em the old Razzle Dazzle I penned this tribute to Miss Kelly on the occasion of her centenary:
I admire Miss Kelly mainly for one key aspect that has emerged over the years - her surprisingly candid "out" lesbianism, a lifestyle that was very difficult to maintain in the moralistic society of the 1930s and 40s. At a time when all the major closeted stars in the Hollywood system (such as Barbara Stanwyick, Agnes Moorehead and Marjorie Main) were being "married-off", she proclaimed to anyone who would listen that she was a "dyke" and had a long-term affair with none other than Tallulah Bankhead. Of course, the "scandal" meant she never achieved any top-billing parts in classic Hollywood films - she must have played the maid in more films than anyone else!

However Patsy Kelly went on to earn a healthy living as a character actress and in comedy roles on radio in The Bob Hope Show and on TV in series such as Bonanza and The Untouchables, and later in life returned to the big screen in Rosemary's Baby and Freaky Friday, and to the stage in No, No Nanette. RIP a bold lady and pioneer...

Here she is extolling the virtues of the "Vibrato", which I am certain has more tongue-in-cheek meaning than anyone at the time would have liked to admit:

By way of a footnote, returning to one of Miss Kelly's "final flings" (screenwise, that is) - her role as one of the sinister matriarchs presiding over the birth of Rosemary's Baby - that appearance (albeit fleeting) is lovingly applauded in a rather fab article by Michael Koresky on the Criterion Collection website.

Patsy Kelly (12th January 1910 – 24th September 1981)

Thursday, 9 January 2014

Always gracious and sincere

A colourful recollection of one of her parties celebrating artist friends as recounted by the artist Jerome Myers:
"Matching it in memory is a party at Mrs. Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney's, on her Long Island estate, the artists there a veritable catalogue of celebrities, painters and sculptors. I can hardly visualize, let alone describe, the many shifting scenes of our entertainment: sunken pools and gorgeous white peacocks as line decorations spreading into the gardens; in their swinging cages, brilliant macaws nodding their beaks at George Luks as though they remembered posing for his pictures of them; Robert Chanler showing us his exotic sea pictures, blue-green visions in a marine bathroom; and Mrs. Whitney displaying her studio, the only place on earth in which she could find solitude. Here the artists felt at home, the Whitney hospitality always gracious and sincere."
Heiress, sculptor, art patron, collector, society hostess and philanthropist Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney (9th January 1875 – 18th April 1942)

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

I don't think I'm camper than any other person

"I'm always amazed that people take what I say seriously. I don't even take what I am seriously."

"I'm in awe of the universe, but I don't necessarily believe there's an intelligence or agent behind it. I do have a passion for the visual in religious rituals, though, even though they may be completely empty and bereft of substance. The incense is powerful and provocative, whether Buddhist or Catholic."

"When I'm stuck for a closing to a lyric, I will drag out my last resort: overwhelming illogic."

"As an artist of artifice, I do believe I have more integrity than any one of my contemporaries."

"Since the departure of good old-fashioned entertainers the re-emergence of somebody who wants to be an entertainer has unfortunately become a synonym for camp. I don't think I'm camper than any other person who felt at home on stage, and felt more at home on stage than he did offstage."

David Bowie (David Robert Jones, born 8th January 1947)