Sunday, November 9, 2014

A Brief History of Plastic Surgery in Hollywood


In 1927, Hal Roach releases Anything Once a Mabel Normand short in which Nora Hayden plays the rich Mrs. De Puyster who has a face lift in anticipation of presenting herself at the costume cotillion. Ms. Normand plays the dry cleaner's assistant saddled with the task of bringing the cleaned costume to Mrs. De Puyster's home. Knowing how Mabel can be, hijinks ensue.

See Mabel Normand in the two reeler on


In 1973, Elizabeth Taylor has a face lift in the hopes of saving her marriage (to Henry Fonda in a small, yet pivotal role). The film was considered quite controversial back in the day for its interpolation of graphic footage of a face lift procedure.

See Elizabeth Taylor in Ash Wednesday on YouTube
or email me for a link to download a VHS rip.


In 2014, Renée Zellweger walks the red carpet after years out of the spotlight.

Not a fan so I've only got Texas
Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation

Bonus: Totie Fields Talks Plastic Surgery

In what looks to be the late 1960s Merv Griffin had discussions with plastic surgeon Dr. Kurt Wagner on his eponymously titled talk show. Guests included Victor Borge and Totie Fields. Totie Fields is a big supporter of plastic surgery. Interestingly many believe that it was the plastic surgery she had on her eyes which initiated the health issues that lead to her death. For more information on the life and career of comedian Totie Fields, see Totie Fields: A Blography.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

How Marion Davies Broke Into The Movies

The best silent film actors allow the viewer to hear their voices despite the silence (and the piano); this talent makes Marion Davies one of the loudest of the era. Watching her lampoon her own image in King Vidor's superlative 1928 comedy Show People is a revelation. As Peggy Pepper she conveys naiveté, passion, humor, poignance and arrogance without uttering a sound. This becomes even more fascinating when you read her 1975 (transcribed from tape) autobiography The Times We Had. When she speaks of her time as a performer - which started on the stage at 13 years young - she remembers only how bad she was.

Even before meeting William Randolph Hearst, the man who became her benefactor, mentor, and life-long lover, Marion's career was in gear. She had always wanted to be a performer and followed in the footsteps of her older sister as a pony girl (small dancer of any age), a chorine and a Ziegfeld showgirl in the New York theatre. By 1917, she had written a photoplay called Runaway Romany; the script was directed by her brother-in-law and gave Marion her first (starring) role in pictures.

The article continues after this WORLD INTERNET PREMIERE

This is an article written by Ms. Davies for a book published in 1930 called
How I Broke Into The Movies. It contains similarly written articles by Joan
Crawford, Buster Keaton, Mary Pickford, Clara Bow, Al Jolson, Greta Garbo
and 53 other notable actors. Right click to open the image in a new tab.

Marion's affair with the married William Randolph Hearst was fodder for gossip columnists throughout her life. Initially it was their relationship alone and the 25 years age difference. In the early 20s came the death of Thomas Ince aboard the Hearst yacht (fictionalized in the 1997 play The Cat's Meow) and the financial success of her (Hearst produced) Cosmopolitan Pictures dramatic vehicles such as When Knighthood Was In Flower and Little Old New York. In the later 20s, Hearst and Davies were building the Santa Monica Beach House in Southern California and Hearst Castle at San Simeon in Northern California while Marion's career rose to even greater heights, financially and critically, with breakout comedy roles in Quality Street, The Patsy and the aforementioned Show People.

The full movie is on

When films started to speak, Marion was worried about her transition. She had always fought a childhood stutter - way into adulthood - and didn't think she could speak lines without it getting in the way. But she did! Although none of her sound pictures reached the classic heights of her silents, she co-starred with some of the (soon to be) biggest stars in Hollywood: Bing Crosby in Going Hollywood (1933), Gary Cooper in Operator 13 (1934), Clark Gable in Polly Of The Circus (1932) and Cain and Mabel (1936) and Robert Montgomery in Ever Since Eve, her last film made in 1937.

This clip from the 1930 musical The Florodora Girl
not only shows her comic expertise and musical
background but proves Marion was game for anything.

In 1941, a film was released that cemented a skewed image of Marion in the minds of the public for decades to follow. Orson Welles' Citizen Kane concerned the titular newspaper magnate and his no-talent wife Susan Alexander. Because it was commonly agreed that Kane was a thinly veiled version of Hearst, it came to be that Alexander must be a thinly veiled version of Davies. With a poor self-image, Marion herself undoubtedly believed the gossip.

Fortunately, Welles himself set the record straight in the foreword he wrote to Marion's autobiography. And in 1992 This is Orson Welles, a book by Welles and Peter Bogdanovich (director of the 2001 film version of The Cat's Meow) confirmed that Samuel Insull's building of the Chicago Opera House, and business tycoon Harold Fowler McCormick's lavish promotion of the opera career of his second wife, were direct influences on the Citizen Kane screenplay. Welles called Marion an extraordinary woman.

After leaving her career, Marion spent the rest of her life caring for the elderly Hearst (who died in 1951) and doing charity work. Davies had always been a very astute business woman, investing in California real estate rather than the stock market; this simple decision left her very well off and she even gave $1 million to Hearst himself at a time during the 1930s depression era when his fortunes were turning to bankruptcy.

Marion married 11 weeks after Hearst's death. It is said that Horace Brown encouraged her drinking - which was always somewhat out of control. (Hearst was a teetotaler.) Although she filed for divorce twice it was never finalized before Marion died of stomach cancer on September 22, 1961.

An odd postscript to the Hearst/Davies love story became a newspaper headline on October 3, 1993 when Marion's niece Patricia Lake died of lung cancer. Part of the decades of gossip concerned Ms. Lake who is the daughter of Marion's sister Rose. Right before her death she proclaimed that she was indeed the daughter of Davies and Hearst; Marion had told her this when she was a young girl of 11 and Hearst confirmed it on her wedding day when the couple gave her away. Although published in her obituary, the claim could never be verified and has never been commented on by the Hearst family.


The relationship of Davies and Hearst was fictionalized in the 1985 television movie
The Hearst and Davies Affair starring Robert Mitchum and Virginia Madsen.
The movie is not great but tries hard. If you're a fan of Marion it is very watchable
with Virginia Madsen turning in a charming performance. It has never been released
digitally but if you'd like a rip of the VHS tape, leave a comment with your email. I also have copies of Enchantment, When Knighthood Was In Flower, Quality Street and Marianne if interested.

More Marion Davies digital ephemera including a documentary on her life

The Brat starring Marion Davies and Joel McCrea aired
as an episode of the Lux Radio Theater on July 13, 1936.

See my Pinterest page for a slew of
pictures of Marion from throughout her life and career.

Finally, Captured on Film: The True Story of Marion Davies was produced in 2001
and narrated by Charlize Theron. Out of print, the DVD goes for hundreds of dollars but
the documentary is available for viewing on MySpace. Watch it now before it's removed!

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Roasted Cannellini Beans Instead of Popcorn

  • One can cannellini beans (white kidney beans)
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Sea salt (the salt that looks like hail)
  1. Preheat oven to 425°.
  2. Drain the beans. I don't rinse them.
  3. Put beans in a bowl and toss with some olive oil to coat them lightly - maybe a tablespoon, maybe not.
  4. Add sea salt (the kind that looks like hail, did I say that?) Your discretion.
  5. Dump on cookie sheet and cook at 425° for ten minutes.
  6. Remove the beans from the oven and lower the temperature to 400°.
  7. Gently turn the beans in the cookie sheet over using a spatula.
  8. Return the beans to the 400° oven for 25 minutes or until they seem crunchy. The beans are very hot at this point and I've burned my tongue more times than I care to remember testing for crunchiness but I got the hang of it and they are delicious and nutritious when watching a movie.

Friday, July 25, 2014

The Ellen Burstyn Show (1986)

These six videos were posted (and originally recorded on VHS tape, I assume) by lovelightpeace. They include the meat of a couple of episodes of The Ellen Burstyn Show, a situation comedy that ran on ABC for 13 episodes in 1986 and the summer of 1987. The videos don't include title credits, commercials or end credits and the episodes run into each other but seem to be complete.

The show had three powerhouse actresses in Ellen Burstyn, a very young Megan Mullally and an even younger Elaine Stritch (big kiss) as grandmother, mother and daughter (not respectively) all living under the same roof. Megan Mullally's character also has a young son played by Jesse Tendler, a very natural child actor who holds his own against these ladies. The first follows the family dog's pregnancy and the second has Mullally's character trying her hand at mom Burstyn's profession: writing. For a sitcom, the writing is intelligent...which holds no surprise when I see Ellen Burstyn's name attached to the title.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

DREAM ON: The Official ABBA Bootlegs

9/10/14 : I received a cease and desist order so unfortunately the download is no longer available. Enjoy the text!
How can a bootleg be official? I made it so on ABBAnatic: The Alternative ABBA Web Site.

It's been over twenty years since I bought my last ABBA bootleg. To this day, I still receive email missives from ABBA hoarders begging me to sell a copy of Little White Secrets or the three volume Missing Pieces. And you know what, despite my previous responses in the negative, I've decided it's time to upload files of these bootlegs to this here Internets (sic) so ABBA fans the world over can enjoy them as much as I have. No money need change hands.

The first files to drop are the tracks from Dream On. This cd is subtitled Solo Rarities & Guest Appearances and it lives up to the moniker. From the remixes to a healthy sampling of songs vocalized by Michael Tretow, ABBA's long-time engineer, this cd is one of my personal favorites. The sound quality runs from very good to tolerable (the Tretow songs). Most of it was recorded directly from vinyl. Dream On Too is the companion CD and will be available soon.
  1. SOS (3:17)
    This, Agnetha's Swedish solo version of the ABBA classic, is commercially available on other compilations, specifically På Svenska.
  2. Yo No Fui Quien Dijo Adios (4:06)
    This is the Spanish version of Agnetha's single I Wasn't The One Who Said Goodbye.
  3. I Won't Let You Go (5:54)
    An excellent remix of one of my favorite Agnetha songs. The original is on the album Eyes Of A Woman.
  4. Let It Shine (3:44)
    This mix, subtitled The Bright Remix, is just that, a brighter, more dance-oriented mix of the cut from Agnetha's final album I Stand Alone.
  5. The Last Time (6:50)
    This extended remix is also off Agnetha's album I Stand Alone.
  6. Shine (6:23)
    This extended remix is taken from the title tune of Frida's 1984 album Shine.
  7. Fernando (4:09)
    This, Frida's Swedish solo version, is commercially available on other compilations, specifically På Svenska.
  8. Chiquitita (5:19)
    Recorded live at the United Nations, this cut was released only on the UNICEF concert album The Gift of Song; now out-of-print. The best part is hearing Gilda Radner introduce the group in her best put-upon Swedish accent.
  9. Bravo Tu As Gagne (4:37)
    A beautiful French version of The Winner Takes It All by the esteemed Mireille Mathieu - she of the black hair helmet and glasses. Her voice has a timbre similar to Agnetha and with Benny, Bjorn and Frida providing backup one could almost swear ... A real find on this cd!
  10. Paper Dolls (3:23)
  11. Bottom Coming Up (2:47)
  12. Moonbeams (2:49)
  13. I Can See What You Mean (3:25)
  14. Sandwich (2:57)
    The five songs above feature Michael Tretow, ABBA's long-time engineer, on lead vocals. Benny and Bjorn play piano and guitar, respectively and Agnetha and Frida sing back-up. Curiosities at first, I enjoy listening to them, especially Moonbeams; a song that only lists Agnetha on piano and Frida with backing vocals.
Email me or leave a comment if you'd like a link to download a ZIP of the music and CD art.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

crew d'tees - adventurously designed shirts

I've been creating graphics and collecting (public domain) illustrations for years. In California, I had the space to screen my designs on tee shirts like Andy Warhol but in New York I have no factory that's not digital. So I uploaded my images to, an on-demand screen printing site, and ordered some tee shirts. They looked great (much cleaner than my manuals) so I decided to offer them up for the one or two others on the internet who might like to wear one.

crew d'tees is the name of the shop and it's a riff on the French word crudité (raw veggies and dip) by way of a crew neck tee and the theme - an evocation of bygone days with some sex thrown in. I've also created designs to celebrate silent film! They can be fun and thought-provoking. Visit the shop by clicking the designer button above, or via this link. Here's a sampling of some tested images. I do reserve the right to add (or remove). More to come especially the really trashy ones.

All crew d'tees graphics and images are copyrighted and protected under copyright laws.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Keeping Fit With Rudolph Valentino

In 1923 Rudolph Valentino, the silent screen's infamous Latin lover, published an 81 page book called How To Keep Fit. And for the last few months, I have been doing just that with Rudolph. In the book, he tailors his exercise activity by the coast on which he happens to be: outdoor types of exercises in California and indoor types of exercises in New York. Fortunately, having just moved to New York from California myself, it is the New York, anaerobic type exercises that he has documented with photographs.

I've cherry-picked fitness information and photos from the book (excising the wrist rolls) and organized it in an easy-to-follow format. Mr. Valentino's circuit can be done at home, day or night, without much apparatus or expense. Every body part is accounted for and Valentino has limited the movements so that a period of fifteen to twenty minutes each day completes the circuit. There is a link at the bottom of the article to download the complete book (with wrist rolls) in PDF format.

It is not necessary to spend much time at these exercises. Approach them with a spirit of energy and concentration. Let one follow after the other but make no attempt to exhaust yourself.Your exercises should be stimulating rather than fatiguing.Continue each movement until only slightly tired and then go one to the next one, making sure that you do each one with spirit and energy.

And as Rudolph stresses throughout All who have mechanical defects should take care when following this regimine.

  1. Exercises 1-4: Neck, Spine
  2. Exercises 5-9: Back
  3. Exercises 10-13: Chest, Shoulders
  4. Exercises 14-16: Abdomen
  5. Exercises 17-23: Arms
  6. Exercises 27-30: Legs
  7. The Tonic

Exercises 1-4: Neck, Spine

Perform these neck exercises (primarily for the upper spine) with a vigorous stretching action. The manner of execution has everything to do with successful results. It loosens the vertebrae of the upper spine and acts as a tonic upon the central nervous system. Bring the head far forward stretching hard and then bring the head far backward. It is more important to do them energetically a few times than carelessly a great number of times.

Turn your head far to one side and then to the other, stretching the chin as far over each shoulder as you can comfortably.

The bridge is partly for the neck and partly for the back. Lower the body to rest upon the floor and raise it back to this position. Support your weight with your hands until your neck is developed enough that you can rely on it to support the body. Repeat 5 or 10 times as a pure strength building exercise. (Ed. Note: Even those without mechanical defects should take care with this one.)

Exercises 5-9: Back

This body-twisting exercise wrings the spinal column, maintaining elasticity. With arms outstretched to the sides, bring the body far around to one side, then far around to the other side. Stretch in each case so as to twist the spine as much as you can, thus stretching the internal organs as well.

Side-bending exercises are best performed with your arms outstretched to each side as in the photograph. Swing one arm high over the head as you bend over, and then reverse. Bend as far to each side as you can as this liver-squeezer will compress, stretch and stimulate the internal organs.

Bending far backward is more effective with arms outstretched upward, as in the photograph. The first time you attempt this you may not be able to bend far back. Take care in your attempts. Perform in conjunction with the following at least ten times, possibly twenty.

Reverse the preceding movement. Don't touch the floor but stretch the arms backward between the legs.

Rotate the entire upper body from the waist up in a circle, first around in one direction and then the other. Bend forward horizontally, then swing around far to one side, continue backwards (photograph) and around to the other side.

Exercises 10-13: Chest, Shoulders

All movements which stretch the arms above the head can be recommended for improving the general posture of the body. With a starting position of arms at the sides, swing the arms up sideways and high over head, repeating five or ten times. Next execute a similar movement, swinging the arms straight forward and upward high over the head. In each instance, stretch vigorously upwards and observe what it does to your chest - they are actually deep breathing exercises. Inhale, raise - exhale, lower.

Clasp your hands behind your back, then pull the shoulders backward and downward. Execute this exercise with an energetic stretching impulse. Relax for a moment and repeat at least ten times.

Clasp your hands together and vigorously pull your arms across the front of your chest. Vary this by lowering hands to waistline, raising to the front of the face and finally clasping behind the head (as in the photograph below). Repeat five or ten times in each position. The harder you pull, the greater the benefit, the more you will like this exercise.

This is the behind the head hand clasp pull described above.

This exercise is just the reverse of the preceding inasmuch as it involves pushing the hands together instead of pulling, and it employs just the opposite muscle groups.

Exercises 14-16: Abdomen

The old reliable is best done with arms folded as in the photograph, lying down, rising, and repeating ten to 20 times. Supplement this exercise with the raising of the legs while lying on the back, either to the vertical position or bringing them way back to touch the floor with the toes behind the head.

While easier when the feet are braced, holding them down with concentrated mental effort is preferred.

Arrange furniture as shown in the photograph, clasp your hands behind your head and lower the body until the head touches the floor. The rise to a sitting position and repeat ten times.

Exercises 17-23: Arms

The dip may be done on a level floor with the body held straight and rigid, lowering the chest to the floor and pushing up again to arm's length. It is easier if performed as in the top photograph, with a table, or between the arms of an arm chair. Hold the body rigid, bend elbows, lowering the body, and then push up to arm's length, repeating ten times.

This manner of the dip is more advanced. The two photographs (with feet on table) are self explanatory. If you are not able to do this, practice on a level floor for two or three weeks. When you can do this with the feet on the chair you will find it extremely interesting.

You will need a bar. Nearly every man can chin himself once or twice. Can you do it ten times, or twenty times? You can reverse the position of the hands for variety.

Exercises 27-29: Legs

In a deep knee bend, lower the body to a squatting position, then rises to a standing position, repeating and continuing for ten or twenty times. In each case as you rise to the standing position, rise high upon the toes thus bringing into action the muscles of the calves. Hold a weight to make the exercise more effective.

This one leg deep knee bend is regarded as a test of strength and coordination. Squat and rise first on one leg half a dozen times, and then on the other.

It is most readily done by stretching the arms forward to maintain balance.

The Tonic

Place hands on the floor about 2 feet away from the wall. Throw your feet up against the wall as in the photograph. The purpose is to correct any prolapsus of the vital organs and to readjust or balance the circulation of the blood. When taking this position two to three times in succession, this exercise is like a tonic. Valentino also has a chapter on better eating - as do I.

WORLD INTERNET PREMIERE: This isn't technically a WORLD INTERNET PREMIERE because I downloaded the book from a torrent. Kudos to the originator of the torrent and the scanner of the book. I am uploading it to so that the book will be available for generations to come...or at least until the planet implodes. Whichever comes first.


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.
    In 1968, Agnes De Mille published a book called Lizzie Borden: A Dance Of Death. This tome tells the story of how the ballet was created - with the first two chapters dedicated to Ms. De Mille's research on the murder and its aftermath. It is a fascinating book and, though out-of-print, should be readily available at your local library. The book also discusses The Case of Lizzie Borden, De Mille's 1957 television program in which the crime is reenacted. An excellent recap of the ballet 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) but the murder scenes are exactly the same - ie: neither of Elizabeth's breasts are visible.

    But with the release (on October 7, 2014) of the The Legend Of Lizzie Borden DVD, we finally have an answer to the 'European cut' question. The DVD is a full frame 1:37 transfer. But the film was shown on television and released on VHS in the more common (for the day) 1:33 aspect ratio. This cropped out top, bottom and sides of the original film. When I discovered this, I played Andrew Borden's murder (using my digital rip of the VHS tape) vee-r-rry slowly. Low and behold, at 1:24:20 and 1:24:26 you can make out the very top of Lizzie's areola. When you watch the DVD, nipples are clearly evident. Another Lizzie Borden mystery solved!
  • 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

  • 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.

This article was updated to reflect the DVD release on October 6, 2014.

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 Cubed, 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)