Saturday, December 24, 2016

Happy Holidays from Edna St. Vincent Millay

The Ballad of the Harp-Weaver by Edna St. Vincent Millay, although set during Christmas time, is more about the love between and parent and a child than the holidays. I've been thinking a lot about love this week as my Pop-pop sits in a hospital waiting for the go-ahead to fix his fractured hip. He will miss the holiday celebration I flew down to enjoy with family and we will miss him being there terribly. The Ballad of the Harp-Weaver has been recorded by the likes of Johnny Cash and its author, the aforementioned Millay, but my favorite version has to be the recording by Mabel Mercer

“Son,” said my mother,
When I was knee-high,

 “You’ve need of clothes to cover you,
And not a rag have I.

“There’s nothing in the house
To make a boy breeches,
Nor shears to cut a cloth with
Nor thread to take stitches.

“There’s nothing in the house
But a loaf-end of rye,
And a harp with a woman’s head
Nobody will buy,”

And she began to cry.

That was in the early fall.
When came the late fall,

“Son,” she said, “the sight of you

Makes your mother’s blood crawl,—
“Little skinny shoulder-blades
Sticking through your clothes!
And where you’ll get a jacket from
God above knows.

“It’s lucky for me, lad,
Your daddy’s in the ground,
And can’t see the way I let
His son go around!”
And she made a queer sound.

That was in the late fall.
When the winter came,
I’d not a pair of breeches
Nor a shirt to my name.

I couldn’t go to school,
Or out of doors to play.
And all the other little boys
Passed our way.

“Son,” said my mother,
“Come, climb into my lap,
And I’ll chafe your little bones
While you take a nap.”

And, oh, but we were silly
For half an hour or more,
Me with my long legs
Dragging on the floor,

To a mother-goose rhyme!
Oh, but we were happy
For half an hour’s time!

But there was I, a great boy,
And what would folks say
To hear my mother singing me
To sleep all day,
In such a daft way?

Men say the winter
Was bad that year;
Fuel was scarce,
And food was dear.

A wind with a wolf’s head
Howled about our door,
And we burned up the chairs
And sat on the floor.

All that was left us
Was a chair we couldn’t break,
And the harp with a woman’s head
Nobody would take,
For song or pity’s sake.

The night before Christmas
I cried with the cold,
I cried myself to sleep
Like a two-year-old.

And in the deep night
I felt my mother rise,
And stare down upon me
With love in her eyes.

I saw my mother sitting
On the one good chair,
A light falling on her
From I couldn’t tell where,

Looking nineteen,
And not a day older,
And the harp with a woman’s head
Leaned against her shoulder.

Her thin fingers, moving
In the thin, tall strings,
Were weav-weav-weaving
Wonderful things.

Many bright threads,
From where I couldn’t see,
Were running through the harp-strings

And gold threads whistling
Through my mother’s hand.
I saw the web grow,
And the pattern expand.

She wove a child’s jacket,
And when it was done
She laid it on the floor
And wove another one.

She wove a red cloak
So regal to see,

“She’s made it for a king’s son,”
I said, “and not for me.”
But I knew it was for me.

She wove a pair of breeches
Quicker than that!
She wove a pair of boots
And a little cocked hat.

She wove a pair of mittens,
She wove a little blouse,
She wove all night
In the still, cold house.

She sang as she worked,
And the harp-strings spoke;
Her voice never faltered,
And the thread never broke.
And when I awoke,—

There sat my mother
With the harp against her shoulder
Looking nineteen
And not a day older,

A smile about her lips,
And a light about her head,
And her hands in the harp-strings
Frozen dead.

And piled up beside her
And toppling to the skies,
Were the clothes of a king’s son,
Just my size.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Juzo Itami & Nobuko Miyamoto 1987 & 2016

Juzo Itami is a Japanese actor and film director. His most internationally famous film is his second, the 1985 noodle Western Tampopo. In October, 2016 Nobuko Miyamototo, the late director's wife and actress in most of his films, travelled to New York City for the premiere of the restoration of Tampopo (Dandelion) at the Film Forum. Following are pictures from that question and answer session which was filmed for inclusion on the upcoming Criterion release of the film. Until then, it can be heard here.

Participants in the Q&A included Ms. Miyamoto, moderator Bilge Ebire and Chairman of the Itami Juzo Museum (web site in Japanese), Yasushi Tamaki, a translator and me - the only audience member to ask a question at 27 minutes and 3 seconds.

In 1987, Itami's third film Marusa no Onna (A Taxing Woman) would have an American run. In anticipation of its theatrical run, the film was premiered on the campus of the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA). Itami and Miyamoto came to the United States for a question and answer session following the screening. I took these pictures at the question and answer.

On December 20, 1997, Itami killed himself by leaping from the building in Azabu, Tokyo in which the offices of Itami Productions were located. News of an extra-marital affair in which he was allegedly involved was to be published that week. He left a suicide note which read "Death will prove my innocence." In my opinion, it has; why would anyone cheat on the magnificent Nobuko Miyamoto?

Sunday, July 10, 2016

The Ramones at the Queens Museum

Here are some pictures of pieces on exhibit (until July 31, 2016) at the Queens Museum. The exhibit is named Hey! Ho! Let's Go! Ramones and the Birth of Punk and it's a wow!

Check out some 70s and 80s themed music tees at

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Sophie Tucker & Josephine Baker

Sophie Tucker was an American vaudeville singer whose meteoric career lasted the 80 years of her life. In 1910, after years of amateur performances Tucker was given the opportunity to perform on a legitimate vaudeville stage. The theater owner though said she could only perform in blackface. Much to her chagrin but needing to make a living, she did it. Over the ten years she performed in blackface her color went from 'burnt cork' to 'high yellow'. Once 'high yellow' she then ended her performances by removing her wig to reveal blonde hair, and her gloves to reveal white skin. One day in Chicago, she 'forgot' her makeup and went on as herself. She never used the makeup again.

Click here for information about Sophie's autobiography.

Josephine Baker was an American vaudeville performer who also performed in the legitimate theater in New York City. Her most famous theatrical performance was in the chorus of 1922's Shuffle Along (currently being revived on Broadway) but it was her blackface performances that were noticed and landed her the opportunity to open in La Revue Negre in Paris, France where Baker's erotic performances and infamous banana skirt earned her notoriety and money. Ultimately she gave up her American citizenship and became a French citizen.

In 1951, Baker was invited back to the US for an engagement in Copa City, a nightclub in Miami, Florida. She agreed to the run only if the audience would not be segregated. Baker received death threats and bricks were thrown at the club. Tucker, who was booked to play Copa City following Baker, heard this and called a press conference in which she announced she would introduce Josephine Baker so if anyone wanted to do bodily harm to Ms. Baker they'd have to go through Sophie first. Opening night went off without a scuffle, the show received rave reviews, was standing room only and Baker was named the NAACP's Woman Of The Year.

The two icons became friends for life.

For more pictures, see Sophie Tucker & Josephine Baker on Pinterest.

Follow Michael,'s board Sophie Tucker & Josephine Baker on Pinterest.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Elizabeth Taylor in The Little Foxes

On May 7, 1981, Elizabeth Taylor made her Broadway debut when she opened in Lillian Hellman's classic play The Little Foxes at the Martin Beck Theatre. The role of Regina Giddons, originally played on Broadway by Tallullah Bankhead and in the 1941 film by Bette Davis, was (again) perfectly cast and Taylor received nominations for both the Tony Award for Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Play and the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Actress in a Play.

Nearly $1 million worth of ticket sales were realized during the week after advertisements announced Taylor's theatrical run. The cast also included Tom Aldredge as her husband Horace, Dennis Christopher as Leo, Maureen Stapleton as Birdie, and Anthony Zerbe as Benjamin. Tony nominations also went to Austin Pendleton for Best Direction of a Play, Aldredge for Best Featured Actor in a Play, Stapleton for Best Featured Actress in a Play, and the play itself for Best Reproduction. I fortunately was enthralled by this production and this WORLD INTERNET PREMIERE is a scan of the program that was sold during the theatrical engagement. I don't remember what the program cost but I still have it so I think the money was well spent.

Here are some interesting links with more information on The Little Foxes and Regina, the opera created from the play by Marc Blitzstein.