31 August 2012

Labor Day Weekend

Labor Day Weekend is such a treat. Three days to bid farewell to summer and start preparing for the coming fall. (I personally cannot wait for cooler weather. Summer in the City is not pretty.) I am going to use the time to explore some new places, including a trip up to the Bronx on Sunday to visit a historic home. Have a wonderful weekend everyone!

Louise Brooks in a still from Rolled Stockings (1927) found here. It's not really Labor Day related but she is working. Besides, she looks adorable so enjoy.

30 August 2012

Dido and Aeneas

The Mark Morris Dance Group perform Dido and Aeneas. Photo: COSTAS.
Blown away. That’s what I was when I saw a performance of Dido and Aeneas by the Mark Morris Dance Group (MMDG) at the Mostly Mozart festival last week. The one-hour performance was mesmerizing with an added bonus of Mr. Morris himself conducting.

An adaptation of the Henry Purcell opera, Dido and Aeneas is set right after the Trojan War. Aeneas and his men are en route to Italy to establish Rome when bad weather forces them to land at Carthage. There Aeneas meets Dido, the Queen of Carthage, and they fall in love. But an evil Sorceress and her fellow witches decide Aeneas must continue his journey, and they conjure up a fake Mercury who tells Aeneas he has to leave. Dido, seeing the ships preparing to sail, confronts Aeneas who offers to stay but she sends him away. Aeneas departs, and Dido dies.

When Dido and Aeneas was first produced in 1989, Morris danced both the roles of Dido and the Sorceress. This time round it was Amber Star Merkens whose long mane of dark curls is reminiscent of Morris’ famous head of hair. Tall and strong, Merkens is a force to be reckoned with. Moving boldly across the stage with silver talons gleaming in the light, you couldn’t take your eyes off of her. Domingo Estrada, Jr. was a good Aeneas but could not help the fact that Dido and Sorceress overshadowed him. The rest of the dancers were excellent including one of my favourites, Lauren Grant, who gave a comedic turn as a sailor.

The music was wonderful. With the singers down in the pit with the orchestra, it was quite moving to hear their voices rising up, especially that of the marvellous Stephanie Blythe who sang the roles of Dido and Sorceress. And Morris demonstrated that he is a fine conductor.

A friend recently asked me why I love the MMDG, and I said because no matter what the piece, even one as dark and disturbing as Dido and Aeneas, I always feel joy when I see them perform. And that's probably as great a compliment as you can give anyone.

For more information about the Mark Morris Dance Group visit their website here.

27 August 2012

Fire Over England

Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier in Fire Over England.

Fire Over England (1937), directed by William K. Howard, is the story of the Spanish Armada and its defeat by the English. Flora Robson, who plays Queen Elizabeth I, may have top billing but the film is best remembered for its two young stars—Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh. 

It’s 1588 and tensions are running high between England and Spain when the Spanish seize an English ship. Sir Richard Ingolby is taken prisoner while his son Michael escapes with the help of family friend Don Miguel. Michael washes up on the shore of Don Miguel’s estate where he is taken in and nursed back to health by his smitten daughter Elena. Not immune to Elena's charms, Michael flirts with her while pining for his love back home, Cynthia, who is a lady-in-waiting to Queen Elizabeth I. When he learns that the Spanish have executed his father, Michael flees to England where he is reunited with Cynthia. The ageing Queen, jealous of Cynthia’s youth and beauty, is displeased with the young lovers but Michael's impassioned plea to destroy the Spanish has impressed her. She sends him back to Spain as a spy where he runs into Elena who is now married. She keeps his true identity a secret but King Philip II soon discovers his ruse. Michael returns to England in time to prepare for the advancing Armada. The Queen comes up with the idea of fighting the Spanish fleet with fire ("if you took not swords in your hands but torches"), and Michael carries out the dangerous plan. The Spanish are defeated and Britannia rules the waves.

The young lovers face the ire of their Queen.

Fire Over England is a decent historical action film with plenty of sword fights, escapes, and declarations of loyalty to Queen and country. The sets and costumes are lavish and the cinematography by the master James Wong Howe is excellent (in one scene you never see the men talking, only the reflection of their shadows on the wall). 

Flora Robson is great as Queen Elizabeth I, especially in the moments when she's not on show. In one scene she sits in her room with her wig removed and after examining herself in a mirror, tosses it aside saying "this mirror is old and blemished;" even a Queen cannot fight the passing of time. Raymond Massey is a menacing King Phillip II, Tamara Desni is a sympathetic Elena, and a young James Mason as a spy is all too briefly on screen. But everyone pales in comparison to Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh. 

Olivier and Leigh are absolutely breathtaking. Young, ridiculously good looking, and with obvious chemistry between them, they are perfectly cast as lovers separated by war. 

Olivier's Michael is bold, impetuous, and full of energy. He's not perfect—his flirtation with Elena is proof of this—but then, which hero is? Olivier makes a pretty good swashbuckler, crossing swords with the Spanish and always looking dashing while doing so. His acting can be over-the-top at times as if he thinks he's on the stage but that can be overlooked because he is just so handsome (this may sound shallow but watch the film, and you'll see what I'm talking about).  

As for Leigh, her Cynthia is a bit of a ninny. When we first see her she’s scurrying about, looking for a missing pearl. She’s utterly devoted to Michael and gets herself in dangerous waters by speaking back to the Queen. Leigh's voice is a bit thin but that would improve over time. It's said that this performance convinced David O. Selznick to cast her as Scarlett O'Hara and based on looks alone you can understand why.

Olivier and Leigh began an affair shortly after filming completed. They would go on to star together in two other films (21 Days Together and That Hamilton Woman) and in numerous stage productions over the course of their 20-year relationship. In this film you get to see them fall in love, which is reason enough to check out Fire Over England

23 August 2012

Happy Birthday Gene Kelly!

Happy Birthday Gene Kelly! Born on August 23, 1912 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, he would have been 100 today. I love Fred Astaire but if I had to choose between the two I would pick Gene Kelly as my favourite. There was something so charming about him, from the innovative dancing to the devilish smile to the "Irish whiskey tenor voice" as he called it.

When I was a kid I was fortunate enough to see him emcee a special event for the San Francisco Ballet. I will never forget when he stepped out on stage. He was an old man by then but for me he was still the young, energetic dancer whose films I had watched over and over, mesmerized by his every move.

Here is one of his more creative dance scenes from Summer Stock (1950). With only a creaking board and newspaper as props, it’s pure genius, just like the man.

22 August 2012

Happy Birthday Mrs. Parker!

Happy Birthday Mrs. Parker! Born August 22, 1893, in Long Branch, New Jersey, Dorothy Parker became the quintessential New Yorker and one of the great wits of her time. A favourite writer of mine, I took her name as a pseudonym when I began this blog. She is one of the reasons why I wanted to live in New York and why I write even though I agree with her when she said, "I hate writing. I love having written." I will be celebrating tonight by attending the theatre and having a cocktail or two. I think she would approve.  

20 August 2012

Pardon Our Appearance

Tales of a Madcap Heiress is currently undergoing some tweaks (basically, I want to be able to run larger photos), which means the pages are going to look a bit wonky for the next few days. So please stay tuned for a, hopefully, nicer looking blog coming soon.

Photo of Charles Chaplin in Modern Times.

17 August 2012

The Mount

The September issue of Vogue features a gorgeous photo spread by Annie Leibovitz of Edith Wharton’s former home the Mount in Lenox, Massachusetts, with an essay by Colm Tóibín. The Mount is an amazing place to visit. I spent a day there a few years back and have wanted to return ever since (I almost got my chance last year but Hurricane Irene got in the way).

Although known for her novels, Wharton was a keen interior designer and gardener. In fact her first book was The Decoration of Houses, which she co-wrote with architect Ogden Codman, Jr. in 1897. Both the Mount and its gardens were built in 1902 to Wharton’s specifications. The house is quite lovely but the surrounding gardens and grounds will take your breath away, including a flower garden with English and French influences, a walled Italian-style garden, and rock garden. Walking around, it’s easy to feel like you’ve been transported back in time.

The photos are beautiful with Edith Wharton and her circle represented by a cast of actors and writers. I particularly like Jack Huston as Morton Fullerton and the fact that they included lookalikes of Wharton's dogs. As for the clothes, they are swoon worthy. Polka dots! Hats! The dress in the library!

Check out more photos here or pick up a copy of the magazine. To find out more about the Mount, visit their site here.

16 August 2012

Farewell, My Queen

Versailles. A young woman wakes in the servants quarters and after quickly dressing, rushes off to work. She is a reader to Marie Antoinette, the Queen of France. The date is July 14, 1789, and she has no idea that the world around her is about to change.

So starts Farewell, My Queen, a new film by Benoît Jacquot. The film follows the reader, Sidonie Laborde, over the course of the next few days during which we see life inside Versailles from her point of view. Although the King makes a few appearances, the story revolves around the Queen whose close relationship with Gabrielle de Polignac has generated gossip. On Sidonie’s first morning as reader, the Queen notices her scratching her arms, which are covered in mosquito bites. Concerned, the Queen requests rose water and rubs the water onto the bites herself, winning Sidonie’s undying devotion. With news of the storming of the Bastille, the queen makes plans to flee the palace with her family. Hours are spent organizing and packing the most useless of items, illustrating how little the Queen and her courtiers understand the seriousness of the situation. The plans are abandoned though when the King refuses to leave and the Queen resigns herself to her fate. She arranges for her beloved Gabrielle to leave for Switzerland, and Sidonie’s loyalty is tested when the Queen asks her to do the ultimate favour.

The film is visually wonderful to watch. While there are golden glimpses of court opulence, the colours are often muted in greys and pale blues and the corridors cast in shadows (in one scene, the setting is completely dark). This illustrates the claustrophobic atmosphere of Versailles and lends an air of realism to the story. Behind the beautiful façade of the glittering palace there is rot. Dead rats float in the pond, servants and others low in status live in cramped, dank quarters, and gossip spreads like a disease. 

Diane Kruger is perfect as Marie Antoinette. Not only is she beautiful, she is regal enough to carry off the gorgeous costumes and wigs. Her queen is a myriad of emotions, one moment acting the frivolous girl interested in clothes, the next the concerned mother worried for her children. And how nice is it to finally have a native German speaker play Marie Antoinette (I know she was Austrian but still).

Léa Seydoux is good as Sidonie. With an often-blank expression on her face that hides her inner turmoil, she can come off as a petulant teen at times, which is probably fitting to the part. Sidonie is our eyes to the events at Versailles and even if she doesn’t always understand the importance of what she sees, the audience does.

There is a certain amount of foreboding when watching the film because the viewer knows what lies in wait for the Queen and her court. In one scene, a pamphlet is circulated that includes a list of 286 nobles and others who the people want beheaded. Some of the courtiers shake their heads with disbelief at this news but we know that for most of them, including the Queen, the people will get what they want.

14 August 2012

Perfectly Bobbed

Friday I made a long overdue visit to my favourite salon and now my bob is sleek and shiny, looking a lot like the one second from the right in this advert. All is right with the world.

Image from here.

10 August 2012

The Daughter of Dawn

The Daughter of Dawn (1920), a silent film long thought lost, was recently screened at the deadCENTER Film Festival in Oklahoma City, fully restored and with a new score.

Directed by Norbert Myles and produced by the Texas Film Company, The Daughter of Dawn is a love story that includes some standard movie fare—a chase scene, displays of bravery, a celebration, and, of course, a happy ending. But what makes this film so special is its all-Native American cast, uncommon today and unheard of during the silent era. Filmed in the Wichita Mountains in Oklahoma, the film features a cast of 300 Comanches and Kiowas including White Parker, the son of the Comanche leader Quanah Parker, as the lead, and tells the story of Native Americans with nary a cowboy or soldier in sight.

Like many stories about rediscovered silent films, this one has an intriguing back-story. In 2005, the Oklahoma City Museum of Art received a phone call from a private investigator in North Carolina claiming to own a silver nitrate copy of The Daughter of Dawn. Apparently a client had given it to him as part of his payment. The Oklahoma Historical Society was informed and set about obtaining and restoring the film with the help of a grant from the National Film Preservation Foundation.

Plans are under way to release the film on DVD and Blu-ray but for now here are the first ten minutes of the film—a fascinating glimpse of a true American story.

For more information, visit the Historical Society’s website here.

09 August 2012

Love Goes to Press

Angela Pierce and Heidi Armbruster in Love Goes to Press. Photo: Richard Termine.

Love Goes to Press, a play written by war correspondents Martha Gelhorn and Virginia Cowles, was first performed in London in 1946. Last month I got a chance to see a new production at the Mint Theater Company, which was loads of fun.

At a press camp in Italy in 1944, the arrival of two female correspondents disrupts the normal order of things. A vow is made that the women will receive no special treatment but the men don't know who they're up against. These two “little ladies” may sometimes use their feminine wiles to scoop their male colleagues but they are serious journalists. Pert and sassy Jane Mason of the New York Bulletin has plans to hitch a ride with a Red Cross ambulance to a nearby mountain where a group of American soldiers are cut off by the Germans while the glamorous Annabelle Jones of the San Francisco World (wearing red heels no less) has talked a pilot into sneaking her into Poland, which is off limits to the press. These two old friends’ plans are quickly derailed though by love when Jane catches the eye of the PR officer, Major Philip Brooke-Jervaux, a staid Englishman who wants nothing more than to be back home on his farm while Annabelle is surprised to discover her ex-husband, Joe Rogers, who is engaged to a flighty English actress who soon shows up to perform for the troops. What follows is a good old-fashioned comedy filled with miscommunication, choices made between love and careers, and the surprising importance of Burma.

The authors based the female characters on themselves but always insisted that the male characters were entirely fictitious. I think the ladies did protest too much. The character of the boastful Rogers is an obvious send-up of Gelhorn’s ex-husband, Ernest Hemingway, who she notoriously competed with over assignments. In the play, we learn that Joe has repeatedly stolen stories from Annabelle under the guise of “protecting her.” He is also fond of making grand sweeping statements before departing to write and we suspect, drink.

Angela Pierce and Bradford Cover. Photo: Richard Termine.

Although it was fun to watch Annabelle battle it out with her ex, more entertaining was seeing Jane break through the Major’s English reserve. Finally admitting their mutual attraction during a bombing, they smile as plaster from the ceiling falls on their heads, oblivious to their surroundings. The two are utter opposites and some of the more comical moments in the play are Jane's reactions to the Major's plans for their life together on his horribly dull-sounding farm.

Fast talking and displaying knowing looks to the audience, Angela Pierce’s Jane was spot on as was Bradford Cover’s Major with his plumy tones and straight as a board posture. Heidi Armbruster was charming and lovely as Annabelle while Rob Breckenridge as Rogers was mildly disappointing although I think it was largely due to a part that didn’t give him much to work with. Margot White as Rogers’ fiancée, Daphne Rutherford, was fine at first but just got shriller as she went on. Some of the strongest performances of the evening were by the supporting cast particularly Curzon Dobell and Jay Patterson as two American correspondents who could have walked straight out of a 1940s movie. 

The set design was excellent with just the right amount of shabbiness and requisite typewriters. And then there were the costumes. I left the theatre thinking up ways to get my hands on an Army-issued sweater and how I wanted to wear that shade of green this fall. With red lipstick and heels.

The Mint Theatre performs “forgotten” plays and their next production is Mary Broome by Allan Monkhouse. For more information, visit their website here.

05 August 2012


Marilyn Monroe passed away 50 years ago today on August 5, 1962. As a rule I don't like to dwell on a person's passing, preferring to celebrate their life and work instead, but 50 years is a long time. Few actresses have lit up the screen in the same way that she did (it can be argued that perhaps none have since). She was beautiful and talented and had a vulnerability about her that touched all those who saw her. One of her finest performances was in Billy Wilder's Some Like It Hot (1959). I am planning on watching it this evening and being enchanted once again by her Sugar Kane who always gets "the fuzzy end of the lolly pop." RIP Marilyn.

03 August 2012

To the Library!

I've taken a taxi to the library (more than once), and I've told the driver that I'm running late but I've never used the actual words "step on it." This photo reminds me that I shall have to do so the next time I'm in a rush.

Photo from
Sloane Crosley/Twitter here.

01 August 2012


Gerda Taro at the Guadalajara front in Spain (July 1937).

Today is photographer Gerda Taro's birthday. Born Gerta Pohorylle on August 1, 1910 in Stuttgart, Germany to a Polish Jewish family, she escaped the rising anti-semitism in her country in 1934 and moved to Paris where she met another young Jewish emigré, a  Hungarian photographer named Endre Friedmann. The two would form a romantic and working partnership and after changing their names (Friedmann became Robert Capa), travel to Spain to cover the civil war as photojournalists. Taro managed to capture incredible images of the realities of war and her photographs appeared in numerous publications including Vu and Ce Soir. During the retreat at the Battle of Brunete, Taro was injured when a tank rammed the car whose running board she was riding on. She died the following day on July 26, 1937. Her reported last words were "Did they take care of my camera?" The first female photojournalist to be killed while covering a war, she was just 26 years old.

I have spent a lot of time this summ
er reading about Taro and Capa and plan on writing more posts about them in the coming months. But I didn't want today to pass without mentioning this courageous pioneer who has become a favourite photographer of mine and an inspiration. So Happy Birthday Gerda.


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