27 September 2012

Lulu Speaks

Praised for her silent films, you usually don’t associate Louise Brooks with sound. But she did make a few second-rate talkies before finally calling it quits in Hollywood. There are some interviews with the actress later in life in which she talks up a storm but they aren't the same as hearing a young Louise speak in a black and white film.

Her first speaking role was in
 Windy Riley Goes Hollywood in 1931. A comedy short, it's the story of braggart Windy Riley (Jack Shutta) who, while in a race from New York to San Francisco, accidentally ends up in Hollywood where he finds himself in the publicity department at a movie studio assigned to help revive the career of the studio’s star Betty Grey (Louise Brooks) who’s been receiving some bad press. His efforts lead to near disaster but in the end Riley manages to save the day.

This film
would be forgettable today if not for two things. First is director William Goodrich who was none other than Fatty Arbuckle, the great comedian who was unjustly accused of killing actress Virginia Rappe in 1921. After the scandal the disgraced Arbuckle was forced to use a pseudonym if he wanted to work hence William Goodrich.

Then there is Louise Brooks. While the part of Betty Grey isn’t much, you get to hear Louise's v
oice for the first time. She appears to hesitate a bit, like many actors did in the early days of sound, but the quality of her voice is just fine, clear with perfect diction. She is lovely as ever in the film even though she appears without her trademark bangs (something that I never get used to). You also get to see a snippet of her dancing, which is a huge bonus.

The film
is an extra on the Kino DVD of Diary of a Lost Girl (1929). But you can also watch the full film here. So if you haven't heard Louise speak, check it out and enjoy!

26 September 2012

Interiors Imagined

I live in a studio. A very small studio. I am content most days in my tiny home that has been streamlined to contain only the items that I love or need and is organized to within an inch of its life so it doesn't become unmanageable. Yet sometimes I dream of a bigger space. One with a hallway, one that has windows on multiply walls, one that allows the refrigerator to fit in the kitchen. And so when I take a walk around my neighbourhood, I like to pick out particular buildings and imagine what a flat would look like if I lived there. Here are a few buildings from a recent stroll.

This striking house stands out in Chelsea. Its white walls and green metal stairs screams Europe to me. I imagine an Art Deco interior where I mix cocktails from my glass and chrome drinks cart while exchanging witty bon mots with my guests who lounge on silver-grey sofas in a room with a painting of Diana and a greyhound above the mantel.

This house with its lovely beat up blue door always has something blooming in the front garden. I imagine lots of reds and woods inside, very English. There's a library that contains a fireplace and ceiling to floor bookcases where I choose rare books to read while curled up in an over-sized velvet chair with a big mug of PG Tips by my side and a saucer of shortbread.

For some reason this white brick building makes me think of a French interior. I see a flat that is a mix of antiques and modern pieces with some items from far-flung travels thrown in (a Moroccan rug, a Chinese screen) where I have people over for dinner and talks of art and literature, and I serve tiny cups of coffee and a perfect lemon tart for dessert.

There are so many other houses to dream up interiors for. One day, one may be mine for real.

Photos by Michele.

24 September 2012

Happy Birthday Scott!

Today is the birthday of one my favourite writers—F. Scott Fitzgerald. Born on September 24, 1896 in Saint Paul, Minnesota, he is one of the great American writers of the 20th century. The man who often glorified the flapper in his work would, along with his wife Zelda, come to symbolize the 1920s—the era that he dubbed “the Jazz Age.”

After dropping out of Princeton and serving in the Army, he published his first novel, This Side of Paradise (1920), at the age of 24 and became an overnight success. Four more novels followed as well as countless short stories in which he chronicled the dreams and downfalls of his generation. He once said, “Show me a hero, and I'll write you a tragedy.” With the character of Jay Gatsy in The Great Gatsby (1925) he created not only the ultimate American hero but a brilliant, tragic masterpiece. 

It is often remarked that his writing appears effortless and yet he was a serious artist who worked hard to infuse his stories with a rhythm and tone that is both beautiful and uniquely Fitzgerald. 

In her poem “The Flapper,” Dorothy Parker wrote that the flapper “may render thanks to God and Scott Fitzgerald.” In fact, we should all render thanks to Fitzgerald for the amazing collection of work that he gave us. So thank you Scott and happy birthday. 

22 September 2012

Fall In

Today is the official start of fall. By far my favourite season, I love everything about it: the colours, the chill in the air, the "back to school" atmosphere, the smells, the food. This time of year makes me miss living in New England. (Wintertime? Not so much.) I'll have to visit soon. Who's up for some cider donuts and leaf peeping?

Photo from Yankee Magazine.

21 September 2012

Good Advice

"Pour yourself a drink, put on some lipstick, and pull yourself together."—Elizabeth Taylor.

Good advice indeed. Enjoy the weekend.

20 September 2012

A Murderous Summer

Jean Arthur in a publicity still for The Greene Murder Case (1929).

I love a good mystery. If it’s British and set in the past, then all the better. Which is why I devoted my summer reading this year almost entirely to the genre. There were a few other books thrown in (some biographies on Robert Capa, Sophie Dahl’s newest cookbook) but for the most part my summer was all about murder. Here is a selection of a few of the ones that I read.

Deborah Crombie
The very married (three times no less) Superintendent Duncan Kincaid and Detective Inspector Gemma James are busy with their growing family when Duncan is asked to head up an investigation into the murder of a female rower with Olympic aspirations. When Gemma discovers possible connections between her case and Duncan’s, the two join together to find the killer. The latest in one of my favourite series. I love Crombie's descriptions of various areas of modern-day London and Duncan and Gemma's relationship. 

Susan Elia MacNeal
It’s 1940 and British-born, American-raised math whiz Maggie Hope has put off graduate school at MIT to return to England to handle some family manners. Needing work and wanting to help with the war effort, Maggie becomes a secretary to Prime Minister Winston Churchill. At first miffed that she wasn’t chosen to be more than a typist, Maggie soon finds herself putting her smarts and life on the line as she races to stop enemies close at home. I really enjoyed this debut and look forward to reading about Maggie’s next adventure.

Henning Mankell
Small town Swedish cop Kurt Wallender is called to the scene of the shocking murder of an elderly couple with an unusually tied noose and the word “foreigner” left as clues. Wallender must look into the dead man’s past and find who committed this awful crime before anti-immigrant feelings set off a backlash. I’m late to the whole Scandinavian mystery genre (I just read my first one last year) and am just now catching up. I saw the Kenneth Branagh Wallender series on PBS, including the version of this story, but still got into the writing and would like to read another in the series.

Jo Nesbø
Norwegian police detective Harry Hole is on reassignment after an unfortunate shooting incident. Dealings with neo-Nazi thugs uncover a tale from the past that leaves his partner dead and Harry in a race to find a killer before an assassination can occur. Weaving effortlessly between World War II Europe and present day Oslo, The Redbreast is a thrilling tale that kept me reading late into the night. Nesbø is a fantastic writer and I would like to read more of his work.

Stef Penney
Private Investigator Ray Lovell comes to in a hospital unable to move or speak. As he slowly regains his health he learns that his near-death experience is tied to his latest case—finding a young Gypsy woman who disappeared seven years earlier. Lovell, who has been hired by the missing woman's father because Lovell is himself half Gypsy, ventures into a Gypsy camp where he uncovers hidden family secrets while confronting his own past. An excellent read and inside look at the world of the Romany people in Britain.

Deanna Raybourn
In Victorian London Lady Julia is eager to help her husband, Nicholas Brisbane, with his private enquiry business. Brisbane, though, is not sold on the idea. But when Julia attends a séance at the Spirit Club and witnesses the murder of its celebrated medium there's no question of her being left out of the investigation, especially when it turns out one of her brothers is involved. Together the two must solve the case before scandal rocks Julia's family and their marriage. I love the Lady Julia Grey series. They are a nice blend of humour and drama, and the banter between Julia and Brisbane is always entertaining.

19 September 2012


Rosaline Courtneidge. Photo: Bassano.

Ever stumble upon a photograph of a person and wonder, who is this? What was this person like? That was the case when I first saw this image of Rosaline Courtneidge. I was immediately drawn to her dark bob and smart suit and shoes. There was her name, Rosaline Courtneidge, but no information about who she was. I had to find out.

The little I have been able to discover is that she was born into a theatrical family on August 19, 1903 in London. Her father, Robert Courtneidge, was a noted theatre manager and playwright. Her mother, Rosaline May Adams (stage name: Rosie Nott), and three aunts were actresses. Her grandmother was an opera singer. Rosaline's older sister, Cicely Courtneidge, became a well-know actress and comedienne.

Rosaline made her own stage debut at 16 in the play The Man From Toronto. She performed on the London stage playing various comedic roles as well as Shakespearean parts with the Ben Greet Shakespearean Company. In 1920 she toured Australia with her father. She even appeared in one film, Oxford Bags (1926), with her husband Peter Haddon. Rosaline had a promising future when on December 8, 1926, she died due to complications from the birth of her daughter also named Rosaline. She was only 23. 

I know there is more information out there to be found in British newspapers and archives. But for now, at least I have more than just a name to associate with this lovely photograph, even if it's a tragic ending.

To see other images of Rosaline, visit the National Portrait Gallery's website here. Speaking of which, if you ever get the opportunity, I highly recommend visiting the museum. It's a favourite of mine, and I always make time to visit when I'm in London. 

18 September 2012

Shake Shack Squirrel

After a meeting in the Flatiron District today, my colleague and I decided to grab a late lunch at Shake Shack in Madison Square Park. Like most New York City parks, Madison Square Park is home to a breed of squirrels who are utterly fearless. You just can't scare them. Which one woman found out as a particularly persistent squirrel decided to join her for lunch.

The squirrel sat on the chair opposite her before jumping up on the table and checking out her meal. The woman kept telling him to go away and waved her hands at him but he didn't budge until she finally stood to leave. The squirrel left briefly only to return with a packet of mayonnaise, which he proceeded to eat up in his perch in the tree, waiting for the next diner. Like most New Yorkers, he must have known that Shake Shack has the best burgers in town.

Photos by Michele. 

17 September 2012

A House in the Bronx

During Labor Day weekend I spent a day up in the Bronx visiting the oldest building in the borough. The Van Cortlandt House Museum, part of the Historic House Trust of New York City, sits in a 1,000-acre park. I was given a tour of the house by one of the museum's docents and learned about its fascinating history.

Built in 1748, the home was the summer residence of the Van Cortlandts, a Dutch family that made its money in trade. Their main residence was in Manhattan but during the summer they escaped to the Bronx, which was still farming country at the time. There they built their Georgian-style stone house as well as a working grain plantation and grist mill. The house stayed in the family until the 1880s.

During its history, the Van Cordlandt house saw the arrival of dignitaries (the future King William IV of England and George Washington were guests), played a part in the American Revolution (Augustus Van Cortlandt, who worked for the city, hid the city records at the home during the war), and stood the test of time as the land around it changed.

Inside, you can still get an idea of what life was like in the 18th century. The East Parlor is pale and Georgian, displaying evidence of wealth (pianoforte, carved mantel) while in the West Parlor, the family's Dutch roots can be seen in the orange and blue cabinets and fireplace decorated with blue and white Delft tiles.

In the bedrooms, curtained beds remind us of how cold winters were while a small desk and chair by a window conjured up an image of the woman of the house answering her daily correspondence (which must have been easy to send and receive; the house sits near the old Boston Post Road). With creaking stairs and filtered light straining through the shutters, It’s hard not to find beauty in the place. 

Outside the grounds are peaceful with large trees and a view down to the park below. Most of the remnants of the farm and outbuildings are long gone but if you squint just enough you can picture what it must have looked like 200 years ago.

The house is open for tours and events are held throughout the year including special candle-lit Christmas tours, which I would love to go on. To find out more, visit their website here

Photos by Michele (taken without flash so please excuse any fuzziness).

14 September 2012

Tiffany & Co.

There are loads of shops where you can buy jewelry but nothing compares to the feeling you get when you walk into Tiffany's on Fifth Avenue. There's something about the place that brings out the Holly Golightly in everyone and makes you instantly yearn for a little blue box. Tiffany & Co. opened their doors 175 years ago today, and they're still going strong. Happy Birthday Tiffany's!

13 September 2012

Lady Dior

J'adore Dior and Marion Cotillard. What a perfect pairing. So naturally I was more than happy this morning to watch the first episode of a new Lady Dior web series featuring Cotillard. Entitled "Fantasia," it gives you a behind-the-scenes look at what goes on at the Dior workshops. Enjoy!

12 September 2012

The Goose Woman

Louise Dresser is The Goose Woman.

The Goose Woman (1925) is a real gem of a film. Who knew that an unlikeable, drunken woman could not only carry a film but win over the audience as well?

Mary Holmes is a former opera star (stage name Marie de Nardi) who was forced to give up her career and the limelight when she lost her singing voice after giving birth to an illegitimate son, Gerald, whom she now despises. Destitute, she lives alone in a small cottage, herding geese (hence the title of the film) and drinking bottles of gin. When one of her neighbours is murdered, Mary sees her chance to be in the public eye once more and gives a false description to the police of the murderer whom she claims to have seen. Her actions result in Gerald being mistakenly arrested for the crime, and Mary is left to choose between her son and fame.

Written by Rex Beach, the story was inspired by the Hall-Mills murders that had happened a few years prior on September 14, 1922, in which an Episcopal priest and his lover, a member of the church choir, were found shot to death. The suspects, the priest’s wife and her brothers, were tried for the crime but acquitted largely in part because of conflicting testimony from an eyewitness who was nicknamed the “Pig Woman.”

With this storyline, one might expect nothing more than your run of the mill silent melodrama. But in the skilled hands of director Clarence Brown, the film is a moving, well-made drama with scattered moments of comedic relief.

One of the reasons it works so well is the casting of Louise Dresser as the Goose Woman. Dreiser is amazing. When we first meet her she is unkempt and dirty. Appearing slightly deranged, her only seeming comforts are looking at a scrapbook of old press clippings and listening to a recording of her singing. When her son arrives and expresses concern for her condition, she scoffs at him. In a very symbolic moment (there are more in the film), he accidentally breaks her recording, shattering the remnants of their relationship. She tells him that she hates him and throws him out. Later, when she is taken under the wing by the district attorney and cleaned up to look presentable, her transformation is incredible. She’s once again a grand dame, graciously accepting compliments and impressing the people around her. Not only do her clothes and hair change, but her mannerisms and stance as well as the look in her eyes. It really is a tour-de-force performance.

Jack Pickford gives one of his finest performances in this film. Naive but with the best intentions at heart, his Gerald is a son who despite everything still loves his mother and comes across as genuine. Pickford is often dismissed as an actor but his sister Mary believed he was a better actor than she was and in this film you can see how good he was.

Gerald’s fiancée is played by a young Constance Bennett who sports some thick eyebrows (She is definitely one star for whom the thin, arched brows of the 1930s was an improvement). The scene in which he confesses the truth about his parentage to her is subtle and lovely, and Bennett holds her own with Pickford.

The film is wonderfully shot by Milton Moore (he also shot the fabulous He Who Gets Slapped) and the sets reek of authenticity (apparently Brown had a real goose woman’s cottage moved to a Hollywood back lot). And the new print looks amazing thanks to a recent restoration by the UCLA Film & Television Archive.

I saw The Goose Woman at Film Forum this summer as part of their Universal 100 series celebrating the studio’s 100th anniversary. Steve Sterner provided live piano accompaniment (save for the scene in which you hear Mary sing; that audio came from the film) and afterwards Bruce Goldstein, the repertory program director, let the audience hang out and watch an old episode of This Is Your Life that featured Louise Dresser surprising her old friend Buster Keaton. What a great night and what a great film.

10 September 2012

Central Park Creatures

On Labor Day I spent the afternoon in Central Park, taking in a little greenery. It was hot and humid and not very comfortable but I strolled along anyways, observing others who had the same idea.

The light was amazing—that incredible late afternoon sideways light. In addition to the people relaxing in the park, there were some other New Yorkers out enjoying the day.  

I observed  two little sparrows sitting on a wire fence, checking out the people walking by while their buddies were hanging out in the grass behind them.

Nearby one lone sparrow was hanging out in a drinking fountain. Before long he was joined by some of his friends. I walked right up and observed them for quite some time and was largely ignored except for one guy.

Turning to leave, I found two squirrels watching me. I got the feeling this wasn't the first time they had posed for the camera.

Maybe I just had animals on the brain but I swear I saw the face of a hippo on this tree. Come on, don't you see it?

Regardless of the weather, it was a lovely way to spend a relaxing Labor Day.

Photos by Michele.

09 September 2012

Chelsea Clouds

There were the most beautiful clouds over Chelsea today. Big and fluffy, they really did look like balls of cotton just floating in the sky.

I was admiring them when I noticed their reflection in the blue glass apartment building on the corner of 18th Street and Seventh Avenue. So pretty. 

Photos by Michele.

08 September 2012

Jack & Olive

A scream erupted from my mouth when I came upon this image during one of my recent late night web perusals. Jack Pickford and Olive Thomas!  For those readers familiar with this blog you will know that Olive Thomas holds a special place on my list of favourite stars (read this). In fact, I spent many years researching her life and tracking down every tidbit I could about her. One thing that was always elusive were photos of Jack and Olive together. There is a famous shot of them on the deck of the Imperator before departing on their ill-fated voyage to Paris (Olive would die in the City of Lights) and another of the two of them getting into the back of a car. So you can imagine my shock and delight when I suddenly saw these familiar faces pop up on the Film Librarian's blog. It looks like it's on the set of Tom Sawyer (1917) in which Jack played the title role and Olive had an uncredited cameo as a singer in the church choir. Aren't they adorable? It also gives me hope that there are other photographs out there just waiting to be discovered.

07 September 2012

Can't Sleep

Recently I've found myself tossing and turning, unable to go to sleep. I've tried cutting back on caffeine during the day (absolute torture), turning the TV and computer off, adjusting the temperature (as much as I can), and yet I still can't seem to get to sleep at a decent hour. We're talking wide awake at 3 in the morning type of can't get to sleep. I've posted a few tales recently during my late nights up but usually find that my writing isn't the best when I'm sleep deprived. What to do? Any tips that you dear readers may have would be greatly appreciated. Now I'm going to go try counting sheep.

Photo of Ginger Rogers from Stage Door.

04 September 2012

A Neue Saturday

"Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I" Gustav Klimt (1907)

One Saturday this summer I met up with a friend on the Upper East Side to go to an event only to discover that it was happening on a different day (I must learn to double check these things). What to do? With a free afternoon on our hands, we decided to head over to the Neue Galerie.

I quite like the Neue. The building is lovely, their collection small but excellent, and the special exhibits are always interesting. Having a café that serves divine cakes doesn't hurt either.

This year marks the 150th birthday of Gustav Klimt so the museum was celebrating with an exhibit of related photographs and drawings in addition to the paintings from their permanent collection including its star, Adele Bloch-Bauer I (1907). No reproduction in a book or poster can do justice to the painting's amazing golds.

"Anna with Mirror" Heinrich Kuehn (1902)

Yet it was an exhibit on another floor that really captured my attention. “Heinrich Kuehn and His American Circle: Alfred Stieglitz and Edward Steichen” looked at the work of Austrian photography pioneer Heinrich Kuehn (1866-1944) and his friendship with the leading American photographers. Kuehn believed early on that photography was an art form and at the turn of the century became an influential member of the Pictorialist movement that emphasized beauty over realism in photography.

Alfred Stieglitz would become Kuehn’s advocate and in 1906 exhibited Kuehn's work at his New York Gallery (a section of which was recreated at the Neue). The two would correspond for more than 30 years and along with Edward Steichen explore new photography techniques. Yet Kuehn never achieved the status that the American photographers did. 

The photographs in the exhibit were dreamlike and striking. I was particularly taken by the ones printed with the gum-bichromate process on textured paper, which gave them the look of a painting. Along with Tyrolean landscapes were many images of his four children and their nanny, Mary Warner, who would often pose for him and is believed to have become Kuehn's companion after the death of his wife.

"Still-life with Violets" Heinrich Kuehn (ca. 1908)

But the most stunning photographs were to be found in a short film screened in one of the rooms. Using autochrome, an early form of colour photography, Kuehn managed to capture striking colour images like this bunch of violets. They were incredibly beautiful. Unfortunately, these images are now so fragile they can no longer be displayed.

Afterwards we browsed the gift shop and enjoyed a delicious lunch at Café Sabarsky. I had Spätzle and Früchte Eistee (fruit ice tea) and somehow managed to keep away from the cakes for once. All in all, not bad for a Plan B.

To find out more about the Neue Galerie, visit their website here.


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