Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Lizzie Borden: Dances (& Books & Operas) of Death

With the recent release of Lizzie Borden Took An Ax starring Christina Ricci, I thought it time to gather additional (digital) Lizzie ephemera to peruse. If you're interested in (one of) the most famous, unsolved murder(s) of all time here are some places to start, chronologically.
  • At the time of the murder, Edwin H. Porter worked as police reporter for the Fall River Globe newspaper and published a book (in 1893) that many Borden aficionados consider definitive. A non-illustrated text version of the Fall River Tragedy by Edwin H. Porter is available. This link opens a PDF in a new window.
  • This 1936 radio play is called Unsolved Mysteries: The Borden Case but manages to solve the Lizzie mystery by adding a tramp who makes his escape in the dark of night to the mix of people on 92 Second Street that fateful day. There is a narrator but no credits; the voice of Lizzie sounds strangely familiar.

  • The Fall River Legend dance was choreographed by Agnes De Mille in 1945 and purports to tell the story of Lizzie Borden although De Mille has played with the facts by adding a minister boyfriend, subtracting Emma (the other dancer in the piece is young Lizzie, not Emma), and arriving at a verdict of guilty. Still and all, this Canadian production is a lively work with excellent performances and solid characterizations by the dancers.

    Unfortunately, this performance (starring Sally Wilson) is not complete; thus I took the partial Fall River Legend 3/3 and River 2/2 (a different company and performance) and edited them together so the complete Agnes De Mille ballet is easily viewable by watching Fall River Legend 1/3, Fall River Legend 2/3 and then the following two mashups (Mashup 1/2 then 2/2).

    River 1/2 is the first half of this other performance which was shot from a balcony. River 2/2 had some wonky editing that I fixed in the mashup. Props to the original posters of these videos.
    An excellent recap of the dance and its accompanying Morton Gould score is available on DRAM Online.
  • Agnes Moorehead starred as Lizzie in the 1952 episode of the CBS radio show Suspense called Fall River Tragedy. The radio play starts after the trial when Agnes (as Lizzie) reminisces about what happened. Flashbacks begin, the doctor testifies, Lizzie accuses Bridget of the murder (claiming not to have laughed), and Agnes does lip service to the sponsor as the telephone operator in the embedded commercials of the audio on YouTube. They also make liberal use of the infamous Lizzie Borden rhyme.

  • Verdict In Dispute seems to have been published in 1950-51. It examines the verdicts of six infamous murder trials. The chapter on Lizzie starts on page 206 and is an interesting account of the trial with a final sentence that asks the reader to decide if the verdict was a correct one. At 50 pages of the facts, just the facts, ma'am, this text is much shorter than the more detailed Porter book referenced above.

  • In 1965, Jack Beeson and librettist Kenward Elmslie premiered their opera Lizzie Borden: A Family Portrait in Three Acts. In the opera, Lizzie is the eldest of two children, her younger sister Margret (not older Emma) has a fiancé, and Abby Borden is portrayed as a servant in the Borden house before the first Mrs. Borden's death. None of this is true but the writers have used these extractions to fashion a tale to explain the violence of the act (and to create a good female goes mad scene). The New York City Opera performance captured by PBS is somewhat engrossing; it also seems more like a play with musical dialogue than an opera - not that I know anything about opera. Phyllis Pancella is very good as Lizzie, really emoting her (fictional) descent into madness. Lauren Flanigan as Abby is the perfect foil. Host Beverly Sills introduces the performance and even throws in a few bon mot about the historic murder.

  • For now anyway, you can view the pièce de résistance‎ of Lizzie-philia on YouTube: Elizabeth Montgomery in the 1975 TV movie The Legend Of Lizzie Borden.

    For decades, there has been talk that the European theatrical version of The Legend Of Lizzie Borden contained nudity cut from the American television version. I have seen both versions: the European version (from VHS) is about three minutes SHORTER (which could be frame rate differences or an actual edit) and the murder scenes are exactly the same - ie: neither of Elizabeth's breasts are visible.
  • Lizzie Borden Quarterly was a subscription 'zine published quarterly in the mid 1990s. It included articles on the house, surrounding area, new developments, books, and anything Lizzie related. All issues are available on archive.org.

  • An 80 page comic book with a fancy name (graphic novel) called The Borden Tragedy: A Memoir of the Infamous Double Murder at Fall River, Massachusetts, 1892 was published in 1997. The story is told from the point-of-view of a fictional Fall River resident and acquaintance of the Bordens. The artwork is good and it tells a fairly-detailed version of the story but breaks no new ground.
  • The Biography Channel series Haunted Encounters: Face To Face aired an episode on the present day haunting of the Borden house. In addition to confirming the presence of ghosts through electronic voice phenomena (EVP), the episode addresses (and affirms) the rumors of molestation that have encircled the family.
  • Lastly (although certainly not leastly) there's this Vine offering up the infamous Lizzie Borden rhyme with a modern twist.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

The Intimate Lives & Loves of Violet and Daisy Hilton³

Daisy and Violet Hilton are conjoined twins and talented musicians who became successful vaudevillians before going off to Hollywood where they made several films. In the tradition of Helen Morgan, the ladies' lives have been represented in an autobiography (a WORLD INTERNET PREMIERE* downloadable from this blog in PDF format), a movie and a musical.

Film: Chained For Life

Chained For Life is a vanity project designed as film noir that was released in 1951. I hesitate to call it exploitation because people exploit themselves. (Isn't that what we do?) It's not a very easy movie to watch as the sisters are ... um ... exploited with many of the plot points fictionalized from experiences in their real lives including a sham marriage and private paeans for love.

The story revolves around the vaudevillian Hamilton Sisters and Vivian's (Violet) murder of Dorothy's (Daisy) husband. The husband/nuptials are a sham having been perpetrated by (and on) the sisters for promotional purposes - although Dorothy does fall in love with the fellow. In one particularly fascinating scene, Dorothy dreams of being separate from her sister, dancing and cavorting with her lover in a garden.

Aped 47 years later by the creators of Side Show

Chained For Life begins as a cautionary tale with the judge who presides over the movie's murder trial introducing the story; it then flashes back to the events that lead up to the murder. Along the way, the film captures the singing talents of the Hilton sisters in three sweet duets: Every Hour of Every Day, Never Ever Fall In Love, and Love Thief. (Music clips are below and on YouTube.)

Best public copy; Amazon Prime version is good too

Book: The Intimate Lives and Loves of the Hilton Sisters

The Intimate Lives and Loves of the Hilton Sisters is also a vanity project - a slight autobiography written by Daisy and Violet Hilton to coincide with the release of Chained for Life. The first seventeen pages of the $2 trade-sized paperback are devoted to the Hilton's story with both sisters taking the pen; the concluding 33 pages are a novelization of the tale told in Chained For Life. Takeaways from the autobiographical section include:

  • The sisters were born in Brighton, England.* No birth year is mentioned but there is a sentence that reads In 1929 we became legally of age. If this means 21, they were born in 1908. The twins early years were also documented in a medical journal article published in 1911 called The Brighton United Twins (PDF will download.). It discusses the medical details of the infant twins (they shared an anus, separation would cause death). Again, no birth year is given but a photo of the toddlers captioned Present day confirms their birth year as 1908.

  • At two weeks old, the sisters were given to Mary Williams (Auntie) who raised (and beat) them. They lived above the Queens Head Pub in Brighton before moving to San Antonio, Texas. Auntie had five husbands and daughter Edith.
  • During their youth, Daisy and Violet were trained to read and play music, recite, dance, and sing. Auntie (and Edith when the former died) managed their performing career which took off internationally and in the United States. They were headliners and played vaudeville with luminaries of the day like Harry Houdini, Sophie Tucker and Jimmy Durante.

  • In 1927, unbeknownst to the sisters, Edith and her husband enslaved them in a guardianship. The Hiltons went to court in 1930 to get their freedom and dissolve any business arrangements that had been (illegally) put into place. This is when they found out about their birth home in the UK.
  • The case was decided in the sisters' favor. All existing contracts were dissolved and they were given $67,000 in bonds, $12,000 in cash and $20,000 in personal effects.
  • They crafted a revue in which they played violin, piano, and saxophone, did ballet and adagio dancing, and performed in sketches.

  • Violet married as a publicity stunt in Texas (after 21 other states denied request for a marriage license). They were still married (at the time of publication) although Violet acquiesced that the marriage had no meaning and Jim could have a divorce anytime he asked.
  • Daisy married a few years later for love. The sisters awoke on the tenth day and found the groom was no longer there. Daisy initiated divorce proceedings and they never saw him again.

Their story trails off in a few paragraphs following the second marriage disclosure but the tome is illustrated with stills from Chained For Life and, as mentioned, a quite detailed and well-written novelization of the movie's plot. The film and book could arguably be called one of the first film and book tie-ins.

WORLD INTERNET PREMIERE: I found a copy of The Intimate Lives and Loves of the Hilton Sisters, bought it (for 60 times $2) and scanned it. You can download the PDF from the Hilton Sisters folder on 4Shared. (The folder also contains a PDF of the Brighton United Twins medical journal article.)

Musical: Side Show

In 1997, Side Show opened on Broadway with Emily Skinner and Alice Ripley starring as Daisy and Violet (respectively). This musical version of the sisters' story has book and lyrics by Bill Russell and music by Henry Krieger, played 91 performances, and was nominated for five Tony awards (Best Musical, Book, Score and actresses). The New York Library for the Performing Arts Theatre on Film Archives has an archival video recording of the show.

Despite some soaring ballads, the lyrics often tread the same ground and the book has taken very great liberties with too many life points - including a puzzling swap of their side-by-side physical placement. (See Freaks and Facts below.) Their story is musicalized around love - something of which they didn't have (or get) so the story ultimately feels forced. The audience is asked to believe that not one but TWO men were capable of falling in love with the sisters prompting:
  • A scene in which the musical Daisy dreams of being separated from her sister, dancing and cavorting with her lover in a garden. (Did they really just ape that scene from Chained For Life?)

    Norm Lewis played Porgy on Broadway in 2012
  • A scene in which the phenomenally talented Norm Lewis electrifies (us and) the musical Violet with You Should Be Loved (soaring ballad), a juxtaposition which not too subtly equates the Hilton's struggle with the African-American struggle.

Who Will Love Me As I Am and I Will Never Leave You are two more soaring ballads, these sung by Skinner and Ripley as the Hilton sisters. They are both powerful songs and riveting performances. All of these songs were captured for an original cast recording which is still available. Last year director Bill Condon spearheaded a revival of the musical. This new version played in La Jolla, California and will be on the boards in Washington, D.C. in 2014.

Pretty fuckin' incredible

Freaks and Facts

Interestingly, the sisters' autobiography has only one sentence that refers to the performance for which they are most remembered. As Terry figured, the [marriage] stunt paid off. We went to Hollywood and made several films. One of those films was Tod Browning's film Freaks.

My assumption is that when the book was published and sold, Freaks had not yet taken its proper place in the cannon of American popular culture. The 1932 MGM film, based on the short story Spurs (available in PDF), concerns freaks in a circus side show and the normal circus entertainers who work with them. The sisters undoubtedly had no idea that Freaks would later (and further) cement their celebrity.

In Freaks, the ladies essentially play themselves. Daisy is on the right when watching the film (and looking at pictures of the sisters) and Violet is on the left. In most adult pictures, Daisy is blonde. This fact is altered in Side Show although I'm not sure what was gained by switching the placement of the twins in the minds of the audience. (Is it easier to remember which twin is which when their names are in alphabetical order?) Several times in the musical the girls sing the following patently false verse:
Daisy: I'm Daisy
Violet: I'm Violet
Daisy & Violet: We're nothing alike
Violet: I'm to your right as you watch our show
Daisy: She thinks she's always right. Not so. I'm Daisy
Violet: I'm Violet

According to The Lives and Loves of Daisy and Violet Hilton: A True Story of Conjoined Twins by Dean Jensen, the Hiltons' last public appearance was in 1961 at a drive-in cinema in Charlotte, North Carolina where their tour manager abandoned them. With no means of transportation or income, they took a job in a grocery store as a bagger and a checker. On January 4, 1969, after they failed to report to work, the grocery store called the police. The twins were found dead in their home, victims of the Hong Kong flu. The autopsy reported that Daisy died first; Violet died between two and four days later. They were buried in Forest Lawn West Cemetery.

I've mentioned how uncomfortable it is to watch the sisters but that's not because they were conjoined. The exploitative (there's that word!) nature of the people around them is horrifying and uncomfortable to watch. Freaks is different because they are portrayed as normal - which is how Daisy and Violet Hilton might've liked to be remembered.

Music Clips from Chained For Life

Every Hour of Every Day

Never Fall In Love

Love Thief

POSTSCRIPT: More photos can be found at the Daisy and Violet Hilton Petit Photo Gallery. During research, I discovered that Leslie Zemeckis (yea, HE produced it) made a biographical documentary in 2012 called Bound By Flesh. I couldn't find that the film is available so I wasn't able to see it.

*In England, the sisters' home was above the Queens Head pub; their manager chose this location for its proximity to the Brighton Train Station. They were born in a house on Riley Road on the outskirts of Brighton.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Boxing Barbra ... and Fanny!

An Examination of the Streisand/Brice Boxing Film Coincidences

Be Yourself (streaming on Netflix and Amazon Prime) is a 1930 comedy about a woman who becomes manager of a prizefighter; it stars Fannie (née Fanny) Brice. The Main Event is a 1976 comedy about a woman who becomes manager of a prizefighter; it stars Barbra Streisand. Of course, Streisand famously plays Brice in the 1968 film Funny Girl which then begs the question: is The Main Event a remake of Be Yourself?

Robert Armstrong, Fanny Brice, Harry Green, Whitman Mayo, Ryan O'Neal, Barbra Streisand

In both films, the role of fight manager is hoisted upon the women. Brice becomes manager after fighter Robert Armstrong bemoans his lack of representation. Streisand loses her perfume company when her business manager absconds with all her assets except her contract with fighter Ryan O’Neal. But Be Yourself is, delightfully, a musical. As singer Fannie Field, Brice sings five songs (credit to Billy Rose) in a nightclub (except as noted).

This version contains a few barbs aimed at Brice’s ethnicity
  1. When A Woman Loves a Man - first as a charming uptempo number with chorus girls and then as a torch song à la My Man
  2. Cooking Breakfast For The One I Love - first as a duet with Robert Armstrong (in an apartment home) and as a solo by a bellhop (in the nightclub)
  3. Is There Something the Matter with Otto Kahn? - an operatic parody referencing the infamous financier)
  4. Kicking a Hole in the Sky - production reminiscent of the gospel-like Great Day from Streisand’s Funny Lady
  5. It’s Gorgeous To Be Graceful - a comedic ballet reminiscent of Swan Lake from Streisand’s Funny Girl

Musically, The Main Event has a Top 10 pop song in it’s discofied title tune (back with Fight) - credit to Paul Jabara, Bob Esty and Bruce Roberts. This film, having been made in the middle of the 70s aerobics craze, also includes a choreographed aerobics class in which Streisand and other femmes firm things up. There are also lengthy scenes underscored by the Loggins and Messina's track Angry Eyes.

Single version of The Main Event b/w Fight

If you've seen Streisand in Funny Girl, watching Fanny Brice in Be Yourself illustrates just how good Streisand is portraying Brice. Double-takes, confused idioms and Yiddishisms are uncannily identical in the films. But I digress.

The arm and the foot

Back in the world of boxing, a romance develops between the fighter and manager in each film. Although the relationship in Be Yourself is not consummated with a kiss so much as a touch of the arm, the outcome is clear. The outcome between Streisand and O'Neal is clear from the steam emanating off the screen and the arising of Mr. O'Neal's foot.

The iconic proboscises (proboscisi?)

(SPOILER PARAGRAPH) Amazingly, both films end with the manager throwing the big fight. Why? L’amour, l’amour, toujours, l’ amour. Also, an interesting sub plot of the earlier film includes fighter Armstrong having a nose job - something neither Brice nor Streisand did. Brice even yells to her fighter's opponent how to win - Go for the nose. The beaker.

Did Barbra Streisand see the Fanny (née Fannie) Brice film Be Yourself before (she and Jon Peters and) Barwood Pictures started negotiations for the filming of The Main Event? Streisand most certainly watched Be Yourself during preparations for Funny Girl. In that case, The Main Event could be deemed a reimagining of Be Yourself just as the ballad version of The Main Event (previously available only on the soundtrack LP, now on YouTube) is a reimagining of the disco hit. I'll tweet @BarbraStreisand for a clue.

Ballad version of The Main Event (not b/w Fight)

Friday, December 27, 2013

Tails From The Road

or How to Move from California to New York in Six Months

I'm a New Yorker by birth, a Californian by choice. Six months back I was sitting in my sunny home in the Silicon Valley, looking out its big picture window traversed by an Asian pear tree and wondering how I could take everything I need and plop it in the middle of Manhattan Island. For almost thirty years, I'd tasted a great deal of what the Golden State had to offer but now I was dreaming of New York City.

My sunny home in the Silicon Valley, California

Dozens of curb appeal renovations, Craigslist offerings and garage sales later, the house was sold and my remaining possessions were in a pod traveling across the United States. On August 10, clutching our one-way tickets, Max and I took a town car to San Francisco International Airport, plopped our butts in first class seats and left California for the bright lights of Broadway. Thirty years ago, I moved to Los Angeles because I couldn't afford to live in New York City and now I was returning ... A STAR!

Within days of arriving, I had my first appointment to see my first apartment in my first building. When I walked into the second floor Upper East Side studio with an alcove, I was faced with a wall of windows traversed by a sidewalk tree in front of the studio's outdoor balcony which opened onto 1st Avenue. There were no pears but Apartment 2D addressed every item on my Apartment Wants list and threw in a 24 hour doorman to boot! I saw options but kept going back to 2D so I made an offer the seller couldn't refuse and soon found myself under contract to become an officer for a corporation in which I own the number of shares that is equal to the square footage of an actual co-op apartment in New York City.

Then the shit hit the fan!

When you get back to your blue-blooded sisters would you tell them that
the Ricardo/Mertz investigating committee looked you over and
we have no desire to join your phony baloney club!

Buying property in New York City is akin to Lucy Ricardo and Ethel Mertz trying to get into the Society Matrons League; you must be approved before you can proceed. (See I Love Lucy S01E25 Pioneer Women.) In life, the judgment process includes approval of your financials by the building's board of directors (submitted in a board package), and a board interview in which you meet board members for a two (or more) on one. I signed the contract for Apartment 2D on September 12, my board package was approved November 6, the board interview was on December 5 and I took possession of the apartment on December 20. That's 99 days with nothing but a computer, a suitcase, a rental car and a Jack Russell Terrier in the back seat wanting a treat.


I worked every weekday but, for all intents and purposes, I was homeless. So like a good Jew, I wandered ... and worried that the deal would fall through.
  • Rented three cars, two of which were Hyundais, and one of which was sideswiped by my best friend. I feigned ignorance and have yet to receive a bill.
  • Drove up and down the East Coast, going over the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, visiting Savannah, and enjoying quality time with family in Florida.
  • Learned to fly on my bicycle.
  • Experienced the horror of life in the hamlet of Holbrook - including an eviction, along with my brother, from his marriage home of 12 years (where I'd been bunking) by his (soon to be ex) wife. My brother's happier than I've seen him in years!
  • Lived off the breakfast buffets of any number of hotels.
  • Yelped (almost) every cemetery up and down the East Coast. Good places to walk Max and see ghosts but no peeing on the headstones. Bad karma.
  • Spent $1200 for two nights in a very chic hotel off Central Park for Max's first trip to New York City. This was on November 25 for a board interview scheduled the next day but postponed five hours before the allotted time because of a fire that lead to the building's evacuation.
A week and a half after the postponed board interview, on December 5, I received a phone call that the new board interview was scheduled for that night at 7:00 PM. It was 2:00 PM and I was in Albany, bunking with friends in their reconverted 19th century tavern (where I learned the fine art of making log fires in the kitchen's wood stove). I showered, changed, grabbed the suitcase and computer, threw Max in the car, drove 138 miles to New York City, and got there with time to spare. The board interview was about 20 minutes long, and conducted by two gentlemen. We discussed my work, courteousness, California, neighbors, the building, respect, New York City, and Max - who was quietly lying under the conference table. I was notified the following day that the sale was approved. Exactly two weeks later I had the keys to my light and airy new studio with an alcove on the Upper East Side of Manhattan...and a home.

OK, maybe it was just a parody of homelessness but it felt weird.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Anna Lucasta Redefines Race in Hollywood

This racial history started innocently enough when a still from the 1949 movie Anna Lucasta was posted to a Facebook thread about character actress Mary Wickes (who co-stars). Philip Yordan, a white playwright and screenwriter (Johnny Guitar), wrote Anna Lukaska in 1936. The story of this Anna (a Polish American prostitute seeking redemption from her family) takes important plot points and characterizations from a play about another literary Anna who turned to prostitution some twenty years before: Anna Christie by Eugene O'Neill. Possibly because of its similarities, Anna Lukaska never made it to Broadway in the 30s but almost ten years later, it was discovered by Abram Hill, one of the founders of the American Negro Theatre Company.

Rumored to have hired an out-of-work black dramatist to provide
Negro dialect Philip Yordan is Anna Lucasta's sole author

In 1944, Hill reconceived the play to reflect African American life, renamed it Anna Lucasta and produced this new version in the basement of the New York Public Library on 135th Street. Its success in Harlem culminated in a quick move to Broadway where the play ran for over two years; a hugely successful American tour and engagements in Chicago and on London's West End followed. (Perennial Hollywood couple Ruby Dee and Ossie Davis met and fell in love while performing in the tour of Anna Lucasta.) Despite its sexual themes and an all-black cast, this theatrical success brought attention from Hollywood.

The Mansfield Theater was renamed The Brooks Atkinson
Click the pic to see the 1944 Playbill

Anna Lucasta was booted from studio to studio because the material was thoroughly and completely unacceptable. Yordan was desperate to see his play on the screen so he blamed Hill for the smut and cheap hokum and promised to eliminate these unwholesome elements from the screenplay. He fashioned a screenplay (with help from writer Arthur Laurents) in which the characters were (once again) white Polish Americans and the smut was implied. It was then that Anna Lucasta was filmed (via Security Pictures and producer Yordan) with (r-l) Paulette Goddard as Anna, William Bishop as Rudolf, Mary Wickes as Stella, Lisa Golm as Theresa and Broderick Crawford (not pictured) as Frank.

White Anna Lucasta is banal, stagebound and unrealistic. Goddard (a little long in the tooth) resembles Mildred Pierce and one thinks she had hoped for the same career resucitation from this film that Joan Crawford had gotten from the former. Unfortunately, her performance is more camp than credible with facial tics akimbo. Broderick Crawford as the villian acts every bit the sleazy Harry character soon to be immortalized in Born Yesterday and Mary Wickes is the perfect foil in an atypical role. Most interesting though was the casting of Dennie Moore as Blanche, Anna's compadre on the streets; I had previously seen Ms. Moore only in her rousing turn as the manicurist in the classic 1939 film The Women (also with Goddard although the two never appear on screen together). But the 1949 movie was only the first filmed version.

Watch Anna Lucasta with Paulette Goddard

In 1958, Anna Lucasta was filmed again - this time the racial switch was flipped back to African Americans. Again produced and written by Yordan, the film starred Eartha Kitt, Sammy Davis Jr., Rex Ingram and Claire Leyba. Black Anna Lucasta is a much more cohesive film despite the many similarities in the text, and the acting is much better so the characters feel more defined. Kitt especially brought tears to my eyes in any number of scenes and looked sensational while doing it. Leyba (in the great role of Blanche this go-round) proves a wonderful actress and screen personality while Davis, playing a cab driver in his first non-musical role, is still given a gratuitous hallucinatory dance sequence (with costume changes, MTV-style editing and a great Elmer Bernstein score that apes the beatnik jazz of the era).

Although Anna Lucasta has the reputation of having been inspired by (or copied structurally and plot-wise from) O'Neill's classic play, lesser known is the fact that Anna Lucasta inspired a classic play as well. Written by Alice Childress (who played Blanche on Broadway), Trouble in Mind is about a black actress appearing in an anti-lynching play directed by one white man and written by another. Seen as a dramatization of Childress' experiences in Anna Lucasta, the play was first produced Off-Broadway in 1955 and Childress became the first African American woman to be honored with an Obie Award when Trouble In Mind was selected as the Best Original Off-Broadway Production in 1956.

Alice Childress wrote A Hero Ain't Nothin' But A Sandwich
Trouble in Mind has been revived as recently as 2011

Anna Lucasta is still performed but does it, as one reviewer wrote last year, provide substantial evidence to support the notion that we’re all the same beneath the skin or is it just a broadly written play with little characterization and stereotypes? Although a (translated) Greek television movie was made in 1977, most recent productions (including this 2012 stage production in Los Angeles) retain the second generation African American cast. But might we see a revival with a white cast and the sexual themes toned down now again? Would that be racist? Or an attempt at capitalism - like the African-American version of Steel Magnolias? The Jewish Yordan has an Academy Award, and a reputation as a front during the Hollywood blacklists of the 50s. All of this belies an interesting little peccadillo.

Some quotes and data in this article have been taken from:
  • AFI Catalog of Motion Pictures Produced in the Unted States Volume 1
  • Within Our Gates: Ethnicity in American Feature Films, 1911-1960
  • The Regal Theater and Black Culture by Clovis E Semmes
  • Backstory 2: Interviews with Screenwriters of the 1940s and 1950s edited by Patrick McGilligan
  • The Merchant Prince of Poverty Row: Harry Cohn of Columbia Pictures

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Bobbie Gentry's Courtyard And Mine

Bobbie Gentry's beautiful song Courtyard (from her 1968 LP, The Delta Sweete) provides the audio for this video of my lovely home in the Silicon Valley, California - with its courtyard. I bought the home on August 28, 2001, sold it on July 26, 2013 and left it forever on August 10, 2013.

It is still a beautiful home and Ms. Gentry sings one beautiful song.

Monday, December 9, 2013

The Difference Between a $600 and a $100 Hotel Room

For $600*, you spend $500 more and experience:

  • Kate Moss when you enter the lobby

  • A bellman's ten minute tour of the room's features including 400 count bedsheets that are laundered until they feel like this

  • A room heating unit with a push button thermostat that has more arrows and numbers than the TV remote
  • Drowsiness from the lack of free coffee in the room and lobby
  • $15 for 24 hours of wifi - 6 of which you will never use because of check out time
  • Lots of channels on TV but no guide
  • A room card that also serves as an elevator key to keep non guests from entering the upper floors
  • Dog dishes in the room when you enter and a sink big enough for a bath - Max-approved

  • A bed that is too soft with pillows that are too hard
  • No swimming pool
  • A $7 fee to order room service on top of the cost of the food (which is also higher when you order room service)
  • Doormen that open the door for you - if they see you leaving - and hand you an umbrella if they see it's raining
  • Doormen that remember your name and your dog's name

And that, as they say, is that.

* Prices for the Surrey Hotel NYC versus the Grand Plaza Hotel Kingston include all applicable taxes and fees.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Dorothy McNulty IS Good News 1930 Style

Until Good News, the 1930 musical film version of the 1927 Broadway musical, is released on DVD (or available to download as an out-of-print movie), all we have are clips, advertisements and posters.

Our first clip has the lovely and lively brunette thriple threat Dorothy McNulty singing, and dancing a heavy-footed yet energetic Charleston in The Varsity Drag, arguably the most famous song from the musical. Ms. McNulty's cartwheels near the clip's end prove the lady's acrobatic.

The next clip is Good News, the title tune. Once again Ms. McNulty (eight years before she dyed her hair blonde and began ten years as comic strip heroine Blondie Bumstead in movies and TV) sings with abandon but this time she adds a split to her wonderful acrobatics. Al Rubber Legs Norman is also on hand to provide more eccentric dancing.

The final Musical Interludes clip includes I Feel Pessimistic played on a ukulele and sung by an adorable Cliff Edwards, If You're Not Kissing Me sung by a chorus and then Stanley Smith and Mary Lawlor (of the original 1927 Broadway production), The Varsity Drag, The Best Things In Life Are Free sung by Stanley Smith and finally Good News. The uploader was also kind enough to include the credits.

I witnessed the 1975 Broadway revival of Good News starring Alice Faye, Gene Nelson and Stubby Kaye on opening night. I loved the show but it posted closing notices the next day because of abysmally bad reviews. ¯\(ツ)/¯ This stagey 1930 version is the closest I will probably ever see to a theatrical production of Good News. I'll keep looking and let you know when I find it. I always do.

*Dorothy McNulty photo attribution

Saturday, November 9, 2013

The Old Whalers Church and Burying Ground

I recently drove the eastern stretch of Sunrise Highway on Long Island to see the Hamptons for the first time. I now get the Hamptons. It's possibly the most arborous area of an island that I am finding I don't know that well. Driving through Quogue, Southampton, Hampton Bays, and Sag Harbor gave me the opportunity to see an area I never saw when I was growing up here.

As I drove through Sag Harbor, I happened upon the Old Whaler's Church. The church itself was not open but The Old Burying Ground always is! Some of these grave markers are illegible thus the map at the entrance. Still and all, one of the great, historic cemeteries to see. It also seems, from the front gate, that the church is home to the Hamptons GLBT Center. More coolness.

And best of all - Max approves!

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

I Am Max's Manciple

I'm walking Max!

How many times have I spoken those words over the last fifteen years littered with men, family, cities, neighbors and other glitterati. Three words. I'm. Walking. Max. And during this relatively short respite out of doors, I am transformed into Max's manciple, following him around town and picking up his shit.

Not that there's anything wrong with it.

These are the oldest pictures I have of Max. It was a few months after the day we got him. And when I say we I mean my ex-boyfriend who wanted the latest homosexual accesory, a Jack Russell Terrier. I didn't want a second dog. I had begun manciple duties for the schmuck's German Shepherd (Buddy) when I moved in with him. (It was the least I could do for that poor dog who was never walked.) Thus I knew that I'd have to perform manciple duties for any other dog that was brought into this household. Buddy was 95 pounds. That's a lot of mancipling.

But against my wishes, Max was brought into our home and, at maybe 5 pounds, fit in the palm of my hand. What? I'm going to get rid of a cutie patootie?

Max cemented our future sleeping arrangements that first night in Sonora, California. I had moved Buddy's big pillow to the bedroom for Max to sleep on. But every time I got in the bed Max got up and sat on the floor, below my pillow, whimpering; he was too small to jump on the bed.

I put him back to the big pillow. Whimper. I leashed him to the closet railing above the big pillow. Whimper and choke. I put him outside the closed bedroom door. Whimper to pre-howl. OK. I've had enough. I picked Max up, put him in bed with me and made the following very clear:

Just for tonight so I can get some sleep.

Max slept in the crook of my belly that night and has been there ever since.

Originally published in 2009.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

T'ain't Nobody's Biz-ness If I Disco

I first became entranced by Tain't Nobody's Biz-ness If I Do (written in the early 1920s by Porter Grainger and Everett Robbins) at the same time that Diana Ross (as Billie Holiday in the film Lady Sings The Blues) became entranced with it. Since 1972, I have amassed almost one hundred different versions of the song that tells you everything you need to know about life in eight bars. This includes tracks by Bessie Smith, Alberta Hunter, Fats Waller, Abbey Lincoln, Billie Holiday, Diana Ross, Jimmy Witherspoon, Eric Clapton, Willie Nelson, Dinah Washington, Wynton Marsalis, Cher, John Mayer, The Ink Spots and Dante's Inferno.

And damn if the version by that last artist isn't a disco anthem that has never been uploaded to YouTube!

Dante's Inferno was a disco group created by Ron Dante, the lead singer and producer of Sugar Sugar by The Archies and co-producer of Barry Manilow's biggest hit albums from the 1970s. Leave it to the white bread man behind the hit version of I Write The Songs to create a disco version of one of the blackest songs ever written. So, in its WORLD INTERNET PREMIERE, a deep cut from the self-titled LP Dante's Inferno (which did have a burnin' hit single called Fire Island), the much valued disco version of T'ain't Nobody's Biz-ness If I Do.

Betty Grable and Bob Hope courtesy of the 1945 short film, All Star Bond Rally

Although the lyrics have been modified in many of the versions, here they are as I learned them.
There ain't nothing I can do, nothing I can say
That folks don't criticize me
But I'm goin' do what I want to anyway
And I don't care if they despise me
If I should take a notion
To jump into the ocean
'T ain't nobody's bizness if I do
If I go to church on Sunday
Then cabaret all day Monday
Ain't nobody's bizness if I do
If my friend ain't got no money
And I say "take all mine, honey"
'T ain't nobody's bizness if I do
If I give him my last nickel
And it leaves me in a pickle
'T ain't nobody's bizness if I do
I'd rather my man would hit me
Than for him jump up and quit me
'T ain't nobody's bizness if I do
I swear I won't call no copper
If I'm beat up by my poppa
'T ain't nobody's bizness if I do
Other tracks from the Dante's Inferno LP are already online - disco versions of Fats Waller's Ain't Misbehavin' and They're Playing Our Song, title song from the Broadway musical.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The Myth³ of Helen Morgan

Helen Morgan is the flame who gave the term torch singer a light. Her voice can be described as a perfectly pitched, small, quivering soprano and fortunately, all of Morgan's recorded tracks (including classic interpretations of Bill and Can't Help Lovin' That Man from Show Boat) can be downloaded for free and added to iTunes. Unfortunately, there is not much verifiable information about Morgan's life itself - which began on August 2, 1900 and ended on October 9, 1941. There have been three attempts to define a history for Helen Morgan and these three all tell a different story.

Helen Morgan sings Bill - Show Boat 1936

Television: Helen Morgan

Playhouse 90 was a late Fifties-era anthology that produced weekly 90 minute plays and broadcast them on (the somewhat new medium of) television. Helen Morgan, an episode of this series, was directed by George Roy Hill (who achieved great fame when he directed Paul Newman and Robert Redford in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and The Sting) and the drama told its story from the perspective of Helen's mother, Lulu Lang Riggins Morgan. It is unfortunate that this drama has never been available for purchase because it is the best of the lot. Polly Bergen is a phenom as Helen, acting the woman from a naive teen with long hair to a bobbed, soused entertainer dying on screen. Her takes on Helen's classic songs are spot on; not imitations of the beloved recordings but intimate interpretations in a not dissimilar voice. Ms. Bergen rightfully won an Emmy award for her performance. It is riveting in spite of the kinetoscopic quality of the print.

Film: The Helen Morgan Story

The Helen Morgan Story was released to movie theatres a few months after the telecast of Helen Morgan. Ann Blyth plays Helen and lip syncs to vocal tracks provided by Gogi Grant, a pop singer of the 1950s. Ms. Grant's tracks are a major problem with the film because she sounds like a pop singer of the 1950s - and a not very emotive one at that. Ann Blyth is fine during the earlier dramatic moments but her final moments are hysterically campy. The script is fictionalized (romantic lead/bootlegger/hottie Paul Newman, for example) and is more a remake of Love Me Or Leave Me (the Ruth Etting film biography with Doris Day and James Cagney) than an original. The film also glosses over Morgan's shining professional accomplishment: her performances as Julie LaVerne in Show Boat and, in fact, ends happily with a (fictional) testimonial dinner in her honor notwithstanding the fact that she died at 41 from cirrhosis of the liver brought about by her alcoholism. It's Hollywood claptrap.

Book: Helen Morgan Her Life and Times

Helen Morgan Her Life and Times was written by Gilbert Maxwell and published in 1974. A literary biography can tell a great tale of its subject but this is no literary biography. Maxwell details Morgan's affairs and marriages (seemingly) based on newspaper accounts and the book reads as such. It feels light - presumably because even forty years ago the myths around Helen had taken hold and information was scarce. The book does collate the facts on Helen's performing career, including whole chapters on all versions of Show Boat, her 1929 film debut Applause (directed by Rouben Mamoulian), the musical Jermone Kern and Oscar Hammerstein wrote specifically for Morgan Sweet Adeline (with hits Why Was I Born? and Don't Ever Leave Me), and the legal troubles stemming from her performances in the speakeasies of the Prohibition era. It's a factual read but full of holes.

Helen Morgan, Irene Dunne, Hattie McDaniel, Paul Robeson
Show Boat 1936

The Myths and the Facts

There are some common threads that can be found in all of these biographies. Helen was generous to a fault, spending all of her money on friends and acquaintances and ending up with nothing for herself. (Sure you'll make a million dollars and throw it all away says her mother, Lulu, in the television drama.) Helen was also revered by the underworld; once she started opening her eponymous nightclubs, many men of this ilk were enamored by her. Helen had a decade long affair with a married man although each biography identifies a different man. And according to Wikipedia, Helen had three marriages - the book documents two, the movie mentions one, the drama none.

Helen speaking with, and singing about, first husband Maurice Mashke, Jr.
Married in 1933, it lasted two years

Her father (or lack thereof) is painted in all three biographies as the source of her somber existence, life-long depression and inability to connect with the right man (as an adult). The television drama opens with Helen going to see her father for the first time in 19 years. According to the book, Lulu gave birth alone but Tom Morgan came back again. The cinematic Helen (in the film's only reference to her father) tells her married lover, Wade, that her father was around when she was 11.

The story in which the teenage Helen, as a Cracker Jack employee, put two prizes in each box because she enjoyed imagining the faces of the children was mentioned in all biographies but, not always dealt with is the myth that concerns whether or not Helen had a child. The television drama adds an unwed, pregnant showgirl who briefly gives her baby to Helen before siccing a shyster on her to get it back. (Lulu Morgan is given story credit on the drama which makes this particular tale all the more interesting.) Neither the film nor the book mention a child, an adoption or an abortion but interestingly, the comment (pasted below the break) was posted to a forum a few years back.

Helen Morgan had a baby girl on June 25th, 1926, and she gave up the baby for adoption. In Springfield, Illinois, in the presence of Rhoda Eisenberg (aunt of the adopting parents) Minnettee Groupe and Harry Hyman Haffner. This baby, named Elaine Haffner, married Norman Danglo (deceased) and they had four children, one of them me - Jeff Danglo. Both my mother and father related the story of how Aunt Rhoda told my mother the truth about her real mother when she was 30. My Dad secretly told me of how she walked around the house singing for a year - she had a pretty good voice. In 1980 or so, I wrote Aunt Rhoda and asked for a written account of what happened. She called my mother quite upset, "Why does your son want to know about that woman!" and I dropped the matter. She died 1985 or so. Anyway, I can't prove it but it's been our family story forever. JD

Most certainly all of these three biographies cement Helen's reputation as a piano sitter. How she began sitting on pianos though depends on the source. On television, Helen jumps on an upright piano in order to be seen and heard over the loud and boisterous speakeasy crowd; a very effective scene. According to the book, this is a fallacy proffered by Billy Rose and the truth is that an enterprising, unknown admirerer picked up Helen while she was performing to packed houses at the French Troc in Montreal when she was 12 years old. And in the movie, Morgan never gets off the piano. The curtain opens on Helen's first speakeasy performance with Ann Blyth already atop a grand piano and throughout the entire movie (including ubiquitous performance montages and sundry nightclub performances) Blyth lipsyncs from atop a piano leading one to believe something was amiss with her legs. (Ooops, that was Jane Froman.) Helen was also a scarf twirler and the television drama includes another effective scene in which a fellow entertainer hands Helen one to keep her hands busy.

Her film career is barely mentioned in either of the video biographies and there is nothing to lead me to believe (as The Helen Morgan Story would have me believe) that Helen ever tried to convince drunks in a dive bar that she was, in fact, a BIG star, or that she woke up in a mental institution taking a sealed hot bath à la Neely O'Hara in Valley Of The Dolls. (The book also scoffs at this travesty of a scene.) The 1957 film does have two wonderful scenes though: one is a rent party with a fun-loving bull dyke leading the dance with a surprising outcome, and the second is in a jail cell where Helen interacts with an unknown actress who gives a perfectly comic performance as a fellow inmate.

Helen singing It Can't Go On Like This from Roadhouse Nights 1930
Jimmy Durante is the waiter

It's unfortunate that Helen's life has been distilled to the myths presented in these biographies. Time will move forward and information will not survive its ravages but at least the work survives. The first time I saw Show Boat I was floored by this sprite - emotionally succumbing to the depths of her heights. Listening to her recorded tracks and watching Applause (and the myriad videos now available on YouTube) only cements Helen Morgan's status as a legend albeit the myth of a legend.

Lots more pictures of Helen Morgan on my Pinterest board.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Sophie Tucker's Autograph

I was in a used book store in San Francisco many, many years ago and found an autographed copy of Sophie Tucker's 1945 autobiography (titled after her biggest hit song first recorded in 1911) Some Of These Days. I ran up to the front of the store to buy the book and told the old guy at the desk how excited I was to find an autographed copy. He laughed and replied Sophie signed so many of those books over the years that its the ones with NO autograph that are extremely rare.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Judy Holliday: A Legacy Of Laughter

Released by AEI in 1984, A Legacy Of Laughter is a long player (LP) that compiles songs and comedy sketches in which Judy Holliday performed between 1940 and 1951. Excepting the two tracks credited to The Revuers (Judy, Adolph Green, Betty Comden, Alvin Hammer and John Frank), the material is culled from Holliday's guest appearances on the NBC radio program The Big Show. The LP was ripped by me personally. The track list has direct links to each YouTube page.

  1. Tin Pan Alley with The Revuers
  2. Anne of the Thousand Days with Jimmy Durante
  3. Born Yesterday with Martin Blane & Ralph Bell
  4. Camille
  5. I Can Dream, Can't I?
  6. The Magazine Sellers with The Revuers
  7. The Not-So-Private Lives with Jimmy Durante
  8. The Pleasure Cruise with Talullah Bankhead
  9. The Man Who Came To Dinner with Jack Haley
  10. Here Comes The Spring

Monday, May 27, 2013

It's Not Porn. It's Bette Midler!

I spent my first year of college in Weinstein dormitory at New York University. It was the first time I had lived under a roof that did not belong to my parents. This new freedom started me thinking about my virginity...and losing it. But there was something that I MUST do first.

For too many years, I had been blessed with nocturnal emissions or wet dreams - dreams that culminate in an eruption of seminal fluid. Fall asleep; dream about a sexually gratifying scenario and wake up to a pulsating urethra and wet, sticky underwear. It is an out-of-body experience - old school virtual sex - that is real. That reality allowed me to live under my parents roof without a diurnal (daytime) sexual release. That's right - I was 18 years old and had never masturbated in the truest sense of the word.

Tonight, alone in my new dorm room, I MUST pulsate my urethra while I am awake. For the first time. No one to walk in on me now! I left the dormitory and walked down 8th Street looking for something to help me pulsate. I passed a news stand and looked at the pornographic magazines. I was mortified.

I can't buy a magazine like this. What is this vendor going to say? Is he going to hold up the magazine and yell, "Hey, everyone look at the pimply kid buying his first piece of pornography!!"

I couldn't do it. I couldn't. Then...I saw a magazine with a picture of Bette Midler on its cover - right next to the latest issues of the male magazines Blueboy and Drummer. What's this? After Dark?

I rifled through the magazine and found a tasteful portfolio of shirtless ballet dancers in leotards and come hither bodies in advertisements aimed at the Christopher Street man. It wasn't porn though - it was Bette Midler.

I bought the magazine and went back to my room. I lit some candles (which I have never done since) and laid on my bed, face down. (Well, that's how I slept at the time.) As I turned each page I turned my mind to the pictures; I would read the Midler interview later. Ultimately, with some helpful hip gyrations, I pulsated my urethra. And I was awake!

That's masturbation?

So I did it again to be sure - this time face up - and it worked again.

That's masturbation!

I went into the shower and did it again.

You mean I could've been doing this whenever I wanted? Awake?

By the end of the week, I had lost my virginity. But that's another story.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Experience Totie Fields Live

The LP Totie Fields Live has been downloaded from my server by almost 75 people since 2009 so this was the first anyone had written that after listening to the first two tracks, it went "poof"... And when I tried to find it in my computer files -- there was nothing there.

Poofing is a new term when one considers I've been in the Silicon Valley for fifteen years. I wanted to respond No, I will not fix your computer but these were files that I was providing so I had to do something. Then I got the most scathingly brilliant idea.

The LP cover

I would post these tracks to YouTube so more people can discover Totie. So in honor of the Totie Fields blography (keeping Totie alive) and Totie herself, here is my third WORLD INTERNET PREMIERE: the nine tracks from Totie Fields Live. Why didn't I think of this sooner?

(1) Introduction/Sexy Me

To convert a YouTube video to an MP3 file, paste the YouTube URL into the appropriate field at the online Clip Converter. After the converter reads the URL, click MP3, configure as you like and convert it. After the video is converted, click Download.

(2) Shopping

(3) Arlene Dahl

(4) Celebrities

(5) What Is Happiness

(6) Panty Hose

(7) Mediterranean Cruise

(8) Las Vegas

(9) Weaver High School

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

ABBAnatic: A Download From The 90s ABBA Site

It's 1993. I want to learn HTML. What subject do I have the depth of knowledge needed to create a web site and accomplish my goal?
Seven years before Mamma Mia the musical and right after the late 1992 release of ABBA Gold, ABBAnatic: The Alternative ABBA Web Page was first conceived and uploaded to the domain servers at http://www.sirius.com/funnyguy/abbanatic.html. ABBAnatic is an amalgamation of ABBA and fanatic. (ABBAholic was also an option.) Over the next five years, I added many ABBA related sections to the site until I had nothing left to say (or I learned HTML - whichever came first). I still receive email from folks happening upon ABBAnatic now at www.AManAndAMouse.com.

Considering this background, I recently received a tweet that read: @AManAndAMouse Are you the author of 90's ABBA site "ABBAnatic"? Huh? I'm not OLD enough to have a 90s site. I woke up from that pleasant dream realizing that I am, in fact, old enough to have written ABBAnatic: The Alternative ABBA Web Page twenty years ago. So how lovely is that to be remembered!

Links for the ABBAnatic Challenged
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Shhhh! The Official ABBA Bootleg Page

Kristina! pa North America: An Interactive Adventure

Ring Ring or Wrong Wrong: A Controversy

In Search Of... Abba Day 1996 and Then Some

Muriel's Wedding

Download For ABBAnatics

In recognition of this 20 year milestone, here's a gift for ABBAnatics worldwide: a rip of a two (Licorice Pizza) record set called The ABBA Special. Although the cardboard gatefold cover and the vinyl LPs inside are not dated, it was made after The Visitors (music included) but before Under Attack or The Day Before You Came (not included). The record labels have the recognizable red and green Atlantic imprint.

The ABBA Special

The ABBA Special is an hour and a half edit of solo interviews with Agnetha Faltskog, Benny Andersson, Björn Ulvaeus, Anni-frid Lyngstad and Stig Andersson about their early lives and the beginnings of ABBA. Interspersed amongst the interesting questions (including Björn, do you think ABBA is hip?), a bunch of ABBA hits are played en toto. The interviewer is Bob Hamilton of Radio Report and, at the program's end, he seems to call it The Story Of ABBA although the LP cover and four record labels are stamped The ABBA Special. Either way, if you like ABBA you won't want to miss this ready-for-radio autobiography of their humble beginnings.

Click to download a ZIP that contains 4 MP3 files, one for each LP side. I also included this video of ABBA singing California Here I Come in cowboy/saloon girl drag as a bonus. Let me know if there are issues with the download or the ZIP. Enjoy!