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Archive for March, 2011|Monthly archive page

LOLEATTA HOLLOWAY: SOARING AND SEARING

In Uncategorized on March 26, 2011 at 7:39 am

There was no higher priestess of disco than the late Loleatta Holloway.

Here’s a preview of my appreciation of her in the upcoming GAY CITY NEWS

I sadly note the passing of singer Loleatta Holloway, at age 64,of reported heart failure. To me, there is no higher, funkier diva in all of the most hallowed halls of disco than she. Searing and soaring were the best words to describe her unique voice, which helped a generation of gay men come out in the clubs with “Hit and Run,” which helped get the party started opening night of Studio 54 (I was there, trust me); “Relight My Fire” and “Love Sensation,” which always combustibly ignited the floor of Paradise Garage. When, on that last song, she sonically wailed “And time won’t take my lo-ove AWA-A-A-Y-Y-Y,” churning it out, you could have had a heart attack from the sheer power and excitement. Then there was the classic, “Dreaming,” the lyrics of which I always quoted to any so-called friend who tried to move in on my romantic territory, “I don’t want nothin’ that’s yours/ I don’t want nothin’ that LOOKS at you!”

Her sound was the one that gave Marky Mark Wahlberg his only hit, “Good Vibrations,” and somehow it doesn’t seem right that she should die so soon, while Wahlberg, who, in his violent, racist youth, permanently blinded a Vietnamese man, is King of Hollywood.

There was a back stairwell of the Garage where we used to chill, and I’ll never forget her, coming off the stage, sweaty and elated after bringing down the house once again, seeing us, and saying, “Oo, this is where the cool people hang!” Where was she going? Well, wherever she is, I hope she’s fully in her glory now.

DJ Nicky Siano spun at Studio 54 back in that fabulous day and here is his tribute to her he emailed to me:

I am so saddened by the news that the true QUEEN OF DISCO has passed, diva Loleatta Holloway…I will never forget her very FIRST performance EVER of her then NEW album on SALSOUL, including Hit and Run, Dreamin, and We’re Getting Stronger, a song I used on the Gallery compilation. It was the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, our space was packed with more then 1500 people, she came on and started singing, and she was supposed to sing 3 songs. The crowd was going wild, so she continued singing more then 6 songs! When she got to the ballard “A Man’s Way” she belted and improvised the line “he don’t even take me to the FUCKIN grocery store” The place erupted, she was one of a kind, and no one could belt a song the way she could…I will NEVER EVER forget that night…and many others that I spent with her…ill give you another later. RIP my DIVA OF DIVA’S, you will always be my DISCO QUEEN.

I have posted a picture of her from the movie LOVE IS THE MESSAGE on my web site.
http://www.nickysiano.com

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ZOE DISSES REX ROYALLY

In Uncategorized on March 25, 2011 at 2:54 am

ZOE DISSES REX ROYALLY

Do NOT fuck with Zoe Caldwell! At the Tennessee Williams Festival Gala, “Remembering Tennessee,” tonight (March 24) in New Orleans, Rex Reed, a journalist who, despite his seasoned years of experience, and justifiable, sincere enthusiasm about film and theater history, has always struck me as 1. a deadly over-writer and 2. often pushing the boundaries of plain good taste with an overweening entitlement (perhaps borne from his own celebrity as star of the 1970 legendary turkey MYRA BRECKINRIDGE) which should be anathema to every good journalist, went over the line with Caldwell, for whom the adjective “redoubtable” might have been coined.

In an unnecessary effort to paint this acclaimed serious actress as something of a deep-down hot tomato, he first appalingly cited the fact that she was mentioned as a correspondent in Albert Finney’s divorce proceedings in the 1960s, something which made her ordinary ramrod posture become even more erect. But she became positively perpendicular when he told a tale about her close pal, the late Maureen Stapleton, which he claimed to have happened when he escorted that actress to the premiere of her 1961 film BYE BYE BIRDIE. That fact alone is rather suspect as I read this particular anecdote in BIRDIE composer Charles Strouse’s autobiography – with no mention of Reed being there. (Was he even in New York writing at the time, at the age of 21?)

As Reed told it, they were at the after-party at Sardi’s, with Stapleton getting progressively drunker and muttering how she didn’t want to be interviewed about a film during which she said she spent the entire time with her head in the oven. When the true star of the film, Ann-Margret arrrived, to a frenzied reception, the microphone was finally passed to Stapleton, who slurred, “Well, I guess I’m the only one here who doesn’t want to fuck Ann-Margret!”

What any of this had to do with Tennessee Williams was something to ponder. But there was no doubting Caldwell’s barely suppressed fury, watching her reactions while Reed ranted. He got his payback, which unfortunately affected the paying audience, when Caldwell later refused to read two Williams poems she had been scheduled to do, because, as she said, “Mr. Reed chose to tell certain stories about a friend of mine.”

No amount of cajoling from the clueless Reed or the audience could dissuade her, and there was even applause for her decision, as Reed’s tackiness evidently did not go unmarked by many present.

The panel discussion continued, but I noticed co-panelist Shirley Knight mouth the words, “Thank you,” to Caldwell.

Moral: Don’t mess with Medea!

ADDENDUM: It was quite a lively night as, later, the always outspoken Knight, whose brave forthrightness belies her angelic prettiness, said, “I want to get political here,” and described how Broadway producers today are only concerned with hiring movie and TV stars to increase the box office. She brought things to even more of a point when she described how disgusted she was when the Tony for Best Actress last year was awarded to the worst performance of the year, saying how these same producers also own the greatest number of Tony votes “and it was as if they wrote on the ballot, mark what you think is the worst performance. All I’ll say is she’s Welsh and married to Michael Douglas.”

Catherine Zeta Jones, even if you weren’t in the Big Easy tonight, were your ears burning?

COPYRIGHT: davidnoh2011

R.I.P. OLE VIOLET EYES

In Uncategorized on March 24, 2011 at 7:02 am

So, Elizabeth Taylor, the most beautiful woman in the world, as she was always known from my childhood and, I guess, hers, is dead, which will cause many to sigh and say, once again, “An era has ended.” An era of real superstardom and glamour which transcended generation and nation, namely the Golden Age of Hollywood. Growing up, I remembered the hoopla surrounding CLEOPATRA: that huge poster of her outside the Kuhio Theater in Waikiki, which just fascinated me because of her eye makeup, which every woman in the world copied for years hence, and my mother mentioning something about how she had stolen Debbie Reynolds’ husband away from her. Could one do such a thing, I remember wondering. The magazine rack at the local candy store was rife with magazines featuring this scandal splashed on the covers and, to me, the child, barely understanding, I guess it was the earliest hint of how thrillingly piquant, how naughty adult life could be.

Always known, rightly I think when all is said and done, more for her beauty than acting, she was, nonetheless, incredibly self-possessed in NATIONAL VELVET, one of the great child performances in all cinema. She was also the best thing about the too pretty-pretty 1949 LITTLE WOMEN, as Amy (strange, how this character, definitely described by author Louisa May Alcott as not being conventionally pretty, is always played onscreen by beauties like Taylor or, in the 1933 version, Joan Bennett). While June Allyson’s huskiness grates, Janet Leigh is typically bland and, as so often, you just want to murder affected little Margaret O’Brien, Taylor is really funny (and exquisite in blonde sausage curls) in the scenes where she unwillingly has to share her Christmas breakfast with paupers but makes sure to greedily have her share anyway.

Taylor’s wicked sense of offscreen humor came through in a televised tribute to her in the 1980s when Allyson, Leigh and O’Brien were assembled to pay fawning homage to her. When she gave her acceptance speech, Taylor’s thinly veiled snideness about those actresses’ smarminess was hilariously bitchy, sarcastically enthusing about how wonderful it was to see “my dear little sisters,” or some such phoniness to match theirs. It was very reminiscent of the diabetically sweet way she played gossip gorgon Louella O. Parsons in the television film, HEDDA AND LOUELLA.

Her other funniest moment for me was when she demonstrated for Barbara Walters, how rumors of her horrid health were greatly exaggerated and she was indeed able to walk across her living room herself. (Atta girl!) After a lifetime of the most extreme privilege and being spoiled in every conceivable way, to see her actually doing this came as something of a shock to many of us who had drunk the celebrity Kool-Aid. You caught yourself thinking, “Now, why should she have to walk across her living room all by herself? Can’t she have someone do it for her?!”

She was never more beautiful than when she played Sir Walter Scott’s Rebecca the Jewess in IVANHOE (1952). It’s also one of her best performances, for to it she brought a real, intense commitment and an uncannily pure goodness, without a drop of phoniness, besides her supernatural loveliness. One pitied Joan Fontaine as Rowena, having to compete with this younger goddess who made the older actress’ English Rose prettiness literally pale and blanch by comparison, just as one identified with George Sanders’ hopeless love for this gorgeous outcast and dismissed as a tad insane Robert Taylor, completely blind as he was in the film to Rebecca’s charms and adoration of him.

Speaking of Taylor and Fontaine reminds me of what Sylvia Sidney once told me about how she lost the plum role of Cathy in WUTHERING HEIGHTS. Free-lance producer Walter Wanger owned the rights to the Bronte book and wanted Sidney to appear in ALGIERS as well, alongside the unearthly Hedy Lamarr. Sidney refused and to spite her, Wanger sold WUTHERING HEIGHTS to Samuel Goldwyn who cast Merle Oberon. More than 40 years later, however, Sidney was still adamant about her choice, saying, “No way was I going to stand next to Hedy Lamarr!”

Taylor did her best acting as a young adult as Maggie the Cat in Tennessee Williams’ CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF, being perfectly cast in a sympathetically wronged woman role calling for tons of easy, sexy bravado. And in widescreen Technicolor, the swoon-worthy combination of her and Paul Newman in closeup really made you believe that gods walked the earth in 1958.

She was highly lauded for WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF, but while impressively audacious and brassy at the outset, Taylor did not possess the right, sufficient emotional well to draw from to sustain the later passages of marital Sturm und Drang and what emerged was a shrill histrionic thinness all too familiar from other Hollywood studio glamour girls (when dramatically pressed, her MGM contract constituents Lana Turner and Ava Gardner, not to mention other femme fatales like Linda Darnell and Rita Hayworth, were also guilty of the same kind of gratingly empty, pout-filled posturings). Her climactic hysterical monologue in SUDDENLY, LAST SUMMER is a prime, near-risible example of this synthetic type of star emoting.

No, her best “mature” performance was in Edna O’Brien’s X Y & Zee, in which she was flamboyantly over-the-top but completely in wonderful character and hilariously funny to boot. Taylor’s talent for all-out low comedy was never utilized enough as is so often the case with great screen beauties (Carole Lombard and Michelle Pfeiffer being notable exceptions), but here, she was absolutely riveting, a Bruce Oldfield caftaned, profanely unbridled tornado you could not take your eyes from. This, too, was probably the character closest to her own personality she ever played.

So the crazy marriages and divorces, the weight fluctuations, the chronic illnesses, the substance abuse, the insane shopping sprees, the indifferent vanity project films, the over-hyped stage appearances (like occasional royal appearances), the suffering through horrendous Larry King interviews, the endless, “ageless” portraiture, the acclaimed AIDS work, the God-awful fashion choices, all the fun, in short, all her revels, now are ended, and the world a somehow dimmer one.

Her reputation always preceded her, and now even follows her, as you wonder, in her afterlife, which favored husband she’ll spend more time with, Mike Todd or Richard Burton? Is there a cross over edition of PHOTOPLAY magazine?

COPYRIGHT: davidnoh2011

JOHN GALLIANO = CECIL BEATON?

In Uncategorized on March 8, 2011 at 3:38 pm

Pride (and prejudice) goeth before the fall could well describe the whole L’Affaire Galliano, which has seen the firing of Christian Dior’s brilliant, evidently troubled designer, John Galliano, for anti-Semitic remarks made while in an obviously inebriated state, and been an obsessive topic of conversation in the fashion world and beyond. Although Franca Sozzani, editor of Italian VOGUE, has commented on the dust-up, American VOGUE – specifically editor Anna Wintour, whose great influence was instrumental in launching Galliano’s early success – has been surprisingly quiet.

There are probably varying reasons for this, but I can’t help recalling another, earlier example of anti-Semitism infiltrating the gilded halls of
fashion, in the very pages of American VOGUE. Galliano unfortunately had his racist remarks recorded by a cellphone, but in the case of
photographer/artist Cecil Beaton, in 1938, his words actually made it onto the printed page. Beaton, like Galliano, was British and a fashion wunderkind, specializing in ultra-chic romanticism, whose photographs, sketches and writing were prominently featured in Conde Nast publications like VOGUE and VANITY FAIR.

However, he faced disaster on the morning of January 24, 1938, during which Hitler’s Third Reich had been in place for five years, when he
was awoken by a reporter asking for his response to comments which had appeared in powerful columnist Walter Winchell’s post: “The Feb.
issue of VOGUE, the mag., contains some hidden anti-Semitism! …A magnifying glass is necessary to detect it in Cecil Beaton’s lettering for Frank Crowninshield’s article on New York society on page 73…[such as] ‘Cholly [Knickerbocker, a gossip columnist] asks: WHY?? is Mrs
Selznick such a social wow – Why is Mrs Goldwyn such a wow? …Party Darling Love Kike. Mr R Andrews ball at the El Morocco brought out all the damned kikes in town’ …So delighted was he with his little trick that he spread the news among his intimates, gloating of how it had put one over…Naturally, that is how we heard about it.”

These microscopic scribbles were incorporated into an accompanying sketch Beaton had drawn, which his friend, VOGUE editor Margaret
Case, had seen and warned him to remove. He had bristled, “Always the same story. Let them alter the whole beastly thing!”
Instead of avoiding the issue entirely and not immediately contacting Dior, as Galliano evidently did when his story initially broke, Beaton
phoned VOGUE and was summoned into the office. He wrote in his diary that he was scared but even more so when he saw the faces of
Case, and other editors and lawyers clustered outside of publisher Conde Nast’s office. He explained that he was not anti-Semitic but
resented “the people that run Hollywood and pretend to make an art of what they known is an industry,” and that the offending words were never meant to be seen or if seen at all, only for submission to the art department, which was headed by Dr. Agha, who may have been Winchell’s informant, as he had long been jealous of Beaton. Beaton then wrote two formal apologies which were issued to the press.

A stressful day followed, filled with activities, including a lecture, cocktail party and opera, for a very shaken Beaton. At the last event, he found Conde Nast’s butler waiting for him with a note from Nast asking him to come to his house, and “I am so terribly distressed over this horrible mess – Forgive me for asking you to run away from the opera.” Beaton found Nast in his dining room, where, over whiskey, he told Beaton, “We’re in a tough spot…I could not mind more if I were losing my own son but I can see nothing else but to ask for your resignation.” All of this, it is to be noted, a far cry indeed, from Dior head Sidney Toledano’s tersely stated position of zero tolerance regarding Galliano.

The 1938 reaction to Beaton’s firing also differed from contemporary responses of apparent universal rejection and revulsion in Galliano’s
case. It was a time in which biographer Hugo Vickers, whose seminal CECIL BEATON (Little Brown) provided much of this article’s material,
observed was rife with anti-Semitism, with all manner of “restricted” policies in place regarding real estate and private clubs, and hypocrisy: “Mrs. Chase once told Madge Garland that while it was acceptable to lunch with Jews at a restaurant, it was not acceptable to dine with them in their homes.” Although there were definite detractors, like Clare Booth Luce, who said her husband, Henry (publisher of TIME magazine) “wouldn’t now touch him with the end of a ten-foot barge pole,” and a joke made the rounds, describing Beaton as the “Heillustrator,” many rallied around him. These included Case, actress Gertrude Lawrence, and Nast, himself, who made a point of personally taking him to a Vanderbilt cocktail party. Other support was decidedly a bit more questionable, if not inflammatory: his friend Lilia Ralli told him that Prince Paul of Yugoslavia could not get over it , as he said, “Democracy, the way it’s going in USA looks fiercer than Bolshevism and so much more of a hypocrisy,” and Jew-hating playwright Frederick Lonsdale told him he would have “countless supporters.”

This last apalled Beaton who wrote in his diary, “this is far from what I desire. I am NOT at all anti-Jewish and the last thing I wish for is to create any disturbance in an altogether upheaved world.” He claimed that he had been unaware of the full implication of the word “kike,” inferring it to mean “vulgar people.” In desperation, he even consulted a psychic who consoled him by saying that his actions were the result of being influenced by someone else, namely his anti-Semitic friend, Russian artist Pavel Tchewlitchew.

Beaton never really believed that his expulsion from VOGUE would be permanent, but Nast wrote him a letter a few months later: “Although
am ready to believe that you have no really anti-Semitic feelings and what you did had in your mind no more significance than a ‘prank’,
nevertheless you chose, most unfortunately for all of us, to play this prank in such a way that you plunged me, as a publisher, into a political and racial situation comnpletely out of character with VOGUE and entirely at variance with, and distasteful to, my own feelings.”

Beaton’s own mea culpa? He wrote in his diary “I was baffled and ejaculated [to a reporter] it was done unconsciously. I’m not anti-Jewish and violently hostile to Hitler, but if there is any possible explanation these quotes contained my subconscious momentary irritation at having seen so many bad Hollywood films. Not only was I trying to make some plausible excuse but I was trying to analyse my sentiments for having done these little scraps of lettering and now having had three days to think the matter over, feel that I felt at the time that these impertinences would only be impertinent as far as the art department where they would be deleted at any rate if not deleted there, they would be innocuous. The drawing had been done at a time when I was suffering from a bad cold. It had been finished late at night when I was sick and tired of the whole thing and irritated beyond control at the pressure put on me by the office.”

Beaton’s American career went into an eclipse which would only end with his triumphant designs for the 1956 Broadway production of MY
FAIR LADY. Although initially crushed, he regained his confidence, even writing about the incident soon after in his books CECIL BEATON’S NEW YORK (1938) and MY ROYAL PAST (1939), and going so far as saying to his friend, David Herbert, “I’m damn glad I did it!”

ADDENDUM: Along with all the other questions arising in the wake of L’Affaire Galliano, there is the question of what die-hard Galliano fans, such as this writer, are to do with all the clothes we so lovingly and avidly acquired over the years, especially those bearing his name, which the designer was never shy about splashing about. These have given me so much pleasure (and pleasant attention) over the years, but will wearing them now cause the wearer to be branded as the supporter of a notorious, presumed anti-Semite? Is it, once again, a question of having to decry the artist for his personal hatefulness, but love his inescapable art, as is the case with such as Beaton’s filigreed output, T.S. Eliot’s poetry and Wagner, whose opera performances continue to be populated by so many Jewish music lovers?

COPYRIGHT: davidnoh2011