Tuesday, 19 September 2017

The madness for feathers has reached a point of excess

Montezuma's headdress

From The New Yorker:
...After the [Spanish] conquest, Cortés sent crates of Aztec feather-work to the king of Spain, along with codices tallying the birds and the down collected. The most beautiful pieces made their way across Europe, enthralling Albrecht Dürer and the Holy Roman Emperor, among others. In France, a taste for feathered hats took hold under Louis XIV and quickly grew into a craze. Ostrich feathers were shipped in from Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt, and Madagascar, and dyed black, green, lilac, rose, sky blue, and yellow; heron feathers were brought from Germany and Turkey to adorn the Knights of the Holy Spirit. “The madness for feathers has reached a point of excess one never could have suspected,” the journalist Louis-François Métra wrote in the winter of 1775. “Hats that would have seemed ridiculously tall a few months ago no longer suffice.”

Prompted by Marie Antoinette, who doubled the height of her feathered hat for a ball thrown by the Duchess of Chartres, women were soon wearing hats as high as two and three feet. Arguments broke out at the opera, where viewers could no longer see the stage, and the finest ladies were forced to kneel in their carriages to clear the ceiling, or else stick their heads out the window. “When a woman thus coiffed dances at a ball, she is compelled to continually bend down as she passes beneath the chandeliers,” the Count of Vaublanc noted in his diary. “It is the most graceless thing imaginable.”

Paris had twenty-five master plumassiers at the end of the seventeen-hundreds. A century later, it had hundreds, making fabrics for Hermès, the Folies-Bergère, and the Moulin Rouge.

In London, the feather market went through nearly a third of a million egrets in 1910 alone. In New York, Hanson writes, a bird-watcher named Frank Chapman counted more than forty species of feathers on women’s hats on a single walk, and those were only from native birds. Some ladies had taken to wearing whole birds on their heads by then - an economical choice, given that feathers were more costly, by weight, than anything but diamonds. Among the treasures that went down with the Titanic were more than forty cases of feathers, worth upward of 2.3 million in today’s dollars.

I think today should be a "Say Something Hat" day!

Don't you?

Wednesday, 13 September 2017

Mi struggo e mi tormento

The sad news today that dear Dame Kiri te Kanawa is to hang up her crinolines and retire from stage performing made me think - I am so pleased we got to see her live at Proms in the Park back in 2010...

Read my previous tribute to the great Dame on the occasion of her 70th birthday.

Friday, 1 September 2017

This weekend, I am mostly dressing casual...

...like "Lucrece", one of the many stars of Madam Arthur's French Fun House!

Read more about Madam Arthur's at the wonderful (and sadly now no longer being updated) Queer Music Heritage

Wednesday, 23 August 2017

This is the theatre

“Once an actress went overboard with notes to me about how she doesn’t wear pink. I told her, ‘Well, don’t wear it home then, sweetie. This is the theatre.’"

Award-winning designs for La Cage Aux Folles, The Great Gatsby, Addams Family Values and Dreamgirls by Theoni V. Aldredge (22nd August 1922 - 21st January 2011)

Sunday, 20 August 2017

Eternal Yootha

There was, and will ever be, only one Yootha Joyce, who would have been 90 years old today...

As I said five years ago on the occasion of her 85th anniversary: "We miss her".

We still do.

Yootha Joyce (20th August 1927 – 24th August 1980)

Friday, 4 August 2017

The Black Sheep of the Family

Jim and I went to a most intriguing soiree at the British Library on Monday evening - part "potted history", part cabaret, and in part a "workshop" for a full-scale musical extravaganza based up on the great man's life - Fred Barnes: the Black Sheep of the Family: "all about the Victorian invert Fred Barnes and his outrageous music-hall career, brought to life by Christopher Green". Mr Green is, of course, more famous for his creation "Ida Barr" [who made a spectacular appearance at my sister Hils' wedding!].

And it was marvellous! Fred Barnes's story is of course a fabulous one - more outrageously gay than many of the late 20th century artists who supposedly "broke the mould"; he flounced and flaunted himself across the Music Hall stages more than half a a century before the likes of Liberace, Sylvester, Bowie or Boy George were even gametes. His meteoric rise and equally spectacular (and somewhat sordid) fall will make for an excellent (and long overdue) show - and, from what Chris told us, it is already mooted to be staged at Wilton's Music Hall (co-starring Roy Hudd) in 2018.

However - what of those stories of Fred's life he related to an enraptured audience? They are somewhat sketchy [mainly due to Mr Barnes' notoriety; few comprehensive biographical details were ever published], but fascinating...

From The Guardian:
[Fred Jester Barnes was] a "wavy-haired, blue-eyed Adonis", fond of pink-and-white makeup and his pet marmoset; he had been inspired to take the stage by Vesta Tilley and the original Burlington Bertie. But by 1907, he was bored. Inspired by his father, a Birmingham butcher who despaired of his theatrical son, Barnes wrote a new song, The Black Sheep of the Family, about the "queer, queer world we live in". The song had its first outing on a Monday night at the Empire; the crowd of 1,500 loved it, and Barnes - who later joked that he had written the song in a fit of pique at being repeatedly given a tricky "first turn" billing - was soon promoted to the star slot.

From British Music Hall - an Illustrated History by Richard Anthony Baker:
Fred Barnes, the original singer of Give Me The Moonlight (1917) [later made world famous by Frankie Laine] and On Mother Kelly's Doorstep (1925) [which became one of Danny La Rue's mainstays], was among the most popular entertainers of his day. But his career ended by heavy drinking and his homosexuality. Having earned thousands of pounds, he finished his days in poverty...

...It is impossible to tell how many people knew Fred was gay. [Homosexual acts were then illegal.] At first, it became known in the profession. Fred was derided for wearing more stage make-up than most and he earned himself the nickname "Freda". Quentin Crisp has recounted that, on making visits to Portsmouth as a young man, friendly sailors jokingly asked him if he knew Fred. It is probably that Fred's father knew of his predilection. Whatever the truth, Fred's store of good luck started to run out in 1913 when his father committed suicide by cutting his throat. One account speaks of Fred's father arriving with a meat axe at the stage door of a theatre Fred was playing, determined to kill him. When he was thwarted, he went home and killed himself. Fred dated his own downfall from that point, although he had many more years ahead of his as a star. In 1914, he said he had no vacant dates for three years and even had contracts booking him as far ahead as 1924.

Fred's success went to his head. He kept four cars, he employed a butler, a valet and two maids; he gambled, getting through as much as £1,500 in one night in Monte Carlo; and he began drinking. His dressing room bill sometimes totalled £30 a week. By 1922 his drinking had become a problem. He was booked to appear in Australia at a salary of £200 a week, more than he had ever earned before, but, every day, he said, he drank more than was good for him and, during the middle of his second week at the Tivoli, Melbourne, he missed a performance. The rest of the run was cancelled... Back in Britain, theatre managers soon got to know of his unreliability. In Brighton, he was taken off the bill at the Hippodrome for being drunk on stage...
However, for me the greatest revelations about Fred were his absolutely outrageous defiance of the rules and the law of the land, regardless of the consequences. QX magazine, partially quoting from Paul Bailey's book Three Queer Lives related:
Fred liked men in uniform. In 1924 The Times reported that he’d been arrested in Hyde Park for “being drunk in charge of a motorcar.” He had tried to bribe the arresting officer with £100. The paper gallantly made no mention of the half-dressed sailor seen running from the scene of the crime. Fred was sentenced to a month in prison. When he was released, he was banned from the Royal Tournament as “a menace to His Majesty’s fighting forces”...

...but, according to Chris, he continued to get back in to the Tournament, year on year - often with the help of "his boys"!

What a remarkable man Fred Barnes was. And Christopher Green is the perfect man to "bring him to life"!

Here's he is performing as Fred [at Duckie's Lady Malcolm's Servant's Ball]:


Monday, 31 July 2017

People's opinions don't interfere with me

"Beyond the beauty, the sex, the titillation, the surface, there is a human being. And that has to emerge."

"People's opinions don't interfere with me. Ageing gracefully is supposed to mean trying not to hide time passing and just looking a wreck. That's what they call ageing gracefully. You know?"

"To give a character life in a short space of time, it helps if you arrive on screen with a past."

"If you get trapped in the idea that what is most important is what image of yourself you're giving to the world, you're on a dangerous path."

"I don't feel guilt. Whatever I wish to do, I do."

Adieu, Mademoiselle Jeanne Moreau (23rd January 1928 – 31st July 2017)