1. You grew up in extreme poverty, your father was sent to Siberia and your dancing career was cut short by tuberculosis?
2. You 'fainted' at Rudy Valentino's funeral, only to have the whole world laugh at you?
3. You were badmouthed by none other than Talullah Bankhead, falsely accused of an affair with none other than Adolf Hitler and rumoured to have had an affair with none other than MILTON BERLE?
4. After being forced to flee Germany, you were detained on Ellis Island?
5. The Hays Code banned your "scenes of passion" and "excessive and lustful kissing" (thus leaving you nothing to work with)?
6. You took the offer to play Norma Desmond as a personal affront and 'threw a tantrum at the mere suggestion of playing a has-been'? (I know, Pola, beats me why they approached you as well..)
7. While you were once one of the richest women in Hollywood and lived in a palace modelled on The White House, you lost everything in the Wall Street Crash?
8. You once appeared in a movie called Hi Diddle Diddle?
9. You were not necessarily the accomplished organist that the studios made you out to be?
10.Your real name was Barbara?
Hey, chin up, Pola! Look on the bright side! Life Magazine credits you with unleashing the fashion statement of boots and turbans on an unsuspecting world! And, if for nothing more than that, you deserve our undying adulation. More boots and turbans, as I always say!
Pola Negri - we salute you! You and that lovely, long face of yours!
(Found photo from Europe, date and photographer unknown)
Well, the host of Deal or no Deal has been caught drooling in a gutter outside of a nightclub, crawling on all fours like a dog, and babbling about kiwi fruit. Cars are being set alight in Adelaide. Everyone looks tired. The Stupid Season is well and truly upon us!
I am pestering folks to nominate their least favourite Christmas song. For me, I always assumed that it was something contrived and unspeakable like Jingle Bell Rock, I saw Mommy kissing Santa Claus or Frosty the Fucking Snowman. But then, in a flash of inspiration, I realised that it was that most mean-spirited of ditties, We wish you a merry Christmas. Since when is it acceptable to turn up unannounced at some poor soul's house DEMANDING figgy pudding, and refusing to leave until said pudding is provided? I mean, who ARE these people? I have a few choice ideas about what they can do with their figgy pudding.
That said, there are some top Christmas tunes that appeal to my melancholy ear: God rest ye merry gentlemen, What child is this? and the strictly advent hymn whose lyrics mystified the child-me, O come, o come Emmanuel. So, grudgingly, I confess that I do not think Christmas is entirely evil.
I must say to anyone reading this, that I really appreciate any skerrick of interest that has been shown in this rather juvenile blog during its first year. I hope that you, all my loyal readers (both of you!) have a lovely holiday, christmas, hannukah, Wicker Man-style pagan ritual, existential malaise, binge or whatever it is you do at this time of year. Enjoy your families, the food, the pretty lights. And just remember: no one can make you sing anything you do not want to sing.
(Image from Australasian Post, June 29, 1972. Photographer unknown)
No one can quite do bleak like the Scottish. I find this seasonal little song by Malcolm Middleton (ex-bedsit miserabilists, Arab Strap) so bleak that it cheers me up. He must have been well-pleased when he came up with the 'season greeting' pun, 'greeting' being a Scottish word for crying.
I have been a Christmas Orphan of sorts for years, my whole family having stealthily fled interstate over the years. I am still resisting the urge to take that personally. I looked around one day, and suddenly no one was there but me, bleating in my bedraggled Christmas Crown. I have, therefore, long depended on the kindness of strangers at this time of year. The one time I really felt it most keenly, was the Christmas of 1994 which I spent in Edinburgh.
I thought I would remember the minutest detail of that Christmas for ever, because it was the only one I spent outside Australia. I am, however, struggling to remember the details of what we ate, or wore, or drank. I do know that I spent it with a lovely Glaswegian girl called Carol with whom I worked at a cafe. She was quite a person - amusing, tough, and unfailingly elegant in her crisp white shirts, pearls and platinum blonde movie star hair. She was cool. Cool as in 'unflappable'. There was always a bit more distance between us than my oversharing self was used to, but that was fine. She had been through a lot for a girl in her 20s, and she could be politely wary. Or maybe she thought I was a sheltered, oversensitive Australian drip, but had no one else to spend Christmas with. Anyway, we survived Christmas together. What I remember is the fact that everyone else seemed to have left town for Christmas, her apartment block was so empty, quiet, and the streets seemed to be deserted. I cannot remember if her sister put in a cameo appearance, or was there for the whole time, or not at all. We joked about how sad were were buying our turkey roll from the supermarket. We had to make a special trip on a bus to find that turkey. We ate stale food pilfered from the cafe, I am sure of that, because we both had not much money. The walls of her apartment were a warm deep red, which makes sense in that climate. I crashed on the couch and as I staggered homewards the next day it snowed for the one and only time I remember of that freakishly mild winter. I was so excited that I began touching cars just because they had snow on them. I look back on that morning as one of the last days of wonder. I felt like I was alone in the world, but that was not such a bad thing. I did feel kind of free or something.
Things got pretty darn conventional after that.
Last year I got knives for Christmas
Stayed at home and no one missed us
Lying on the bathroom floor
I don’t want to ho-ho-ho no more
No one knows that I’m not well
As I stare in awe at this burst Noel
Lights burning from the street in
I know I’ll spend this season greeting
When good King Wenceslas looked out
Everything was fucked and I was just about
To carve the turkey and watch Eastenders
Because they’re my friends and my friends are strangers now
(Photo (detail) by Steve Shapiro in Life Magazine from November 16 1964, article by Frank Kappler)
Here is Dr Norman Alcock, a Pacifist Physicist (and scourge of the tongue-tieable), standing on a Lake Ontario ice floe to dramatize his plea for peace. The image, unsurprisingly, accompanies an article about Jean-Paul Sartre(JPS).
According to Life, the picture above is an accidental but striking symbol of Sartre's beliefs. The Scientist on the ice floe not only looks as poignantly abandoned as M.Sartre says all men are, but just by being in this odd situation he shows that he has committed himself - as Sartre says all men are obliged to do if they are to escape a meaningless life'. And here was me thinking it was simply a Bloke on a Floe. (It would also appear, then, that I am not the only one who makes gargantuan, over-imaginative leaps in the interpretation of images).
Growing up, as I did, surrounded by Theologians, Existentialism and Humanism always had a certain forbidden allure for me. (In fact, I wanted to call this post "Sexistentialism On Ice!!" but found the inclusion of the word "sexist" in that title somewhat unpalatable.) You may have observed by now that one of my many missions in life is to demonstrate that even the Poignantly Abandoned can have a few feeble laffs now and then. So I need not expand much further on the appeal that this image and the article hold for me. But, as ever, I will.
The article exudes a general mistrust of JPS. It states that, like any good existentialist, he had for years acted on his thoughts with bravado. Most significantly, perhaps, it states that he was resigned to being walleyed and short.As if somehow that explained everything - the whole angst-ridden kit and kaboodle, a good deal of Twentieth Century Thought, hell being other people and all that. The writer is at pains to emphasise that, despite his potentially life-altering insight, JPS still had to live in a house and get about being all bourgeois and stuff. He coyly hints that the open relationship of Those Swingin' Sartre-De Beauvoirs' was really as conventional as any marriage, and equates JPS's Existentialism with religion. It is as though the author is saying, 'Ha! You fancy pants Existentialists are just like the rest of us mugs! Sucked in!' But, come now, what did the author expect? A Bloke on a Floe?
Existentialism seems rather quaint now. Does anyone still come up with these new, highly debatable philosophies? Philosophies that would have such an impact on popular culture as to appear on the pages of Life Magazine? Or are we all too preoccupied with buying bibelots and other forms of gimcrackery, destroying everything, or eking out some kind of tremulous existence from the dust?
Finally, in discussing the ephemeral nature of Schools of Thought, I must explain that Jean Paul Sartre(JPS) is not to be confused with Australian singer from the 1970s, John Paul Young(JPY)*. This is despite the alarming similarities between the two. JPY's first hit single was the eerily prophetic 'Yesterday's Hero' which, while not exactly Nausea, exhibited considerable self-awareness:
Take a look at me, I'm yesterday's hero Yesterday's hero, that's all I'd be-ee-ee-ee-ee-ee-ee..
JPS, by comparison, once said:
I don't mind if my fellow men forget about me the day after I am buried. As long as they're alive, I'll haunt them, unnamed, imperceptible, present in every one of them just as the billions of dead who are unknown to me and whom I preserve from annihilation are present in me.
Uncanny, I know. But neither a patch on The Bloke on a Floe.
*or Sarah Jessica Parker(SJP), for that matter. Or Justices of The Peace(JPs). Or Pajamas(PJs).
(Image of Betty Grable and Alice Faye in Tin Pan Alley, taken from Gotta Sing, Gotta Dance by John Kobel)
Well, hello there.
I have packed my veils and bananas and returned fom my St Cyr Sojourn in Sunnier Climes all revived, and pondering the wonderful, benign hydra that is my family. Mama Twilight's 70th birthday was duly and pleasingly celebrated and Dear Patient M was subjected to some honest-to-goodness Twilight Family Mania. It struck me how, as time has passed, my family has developed into something of a well-oiled machine. Maturing with age, I guess. We all seem to rub along quite nicely together.
Dear Patient M is the first fellow that I, at the somewhat over-ripe age of nearly 38, have taken home to meet the family. Naturally, I attempted to view the whole experience through his Dear Twinkling Peepers. Here are three things that I observed about the unruly brood from which I sprang (and, believe me, I say this with nothing but the sincerest affection):
1. We sure know how to do 'chatter'. We have never met a silence that we didn't want to fill. To the untrained ear, it must sound like so much white noise after a while.
2. Our concern with how well, or otherwise, people sleep at night is bordering on monomania. I will just say that unless one wants to be discussing pillows, blankets and sleepsacks well past the lunch hour, the safest answer to the anxious "How did you sleep last night?" that we fire at each other every groggy morning is "Oh, I slept wonderfully, thanks". Even if it felt like your bed was a concrete slab on a windy moor with a rock for a pillow.
3. We are such a bunch of hams. One of my sisters (who has recently joined a burlesque dance troupe, which is in itself rather telling..) suggested we put on a bit of a show for Mama Twilight. There was belly-dancing by Sister"Dita" Twilight, poetry about Tom Jones by Sister "Sylvia" Twilight, and a martial arts display by Sister "Uma" Twilight that literally floored me. There was hip-hop dancing and movie re-enactment by The Young Folks, all manner of mock tearful recitation by Papa Twilight and a little warbled tune courtesy of Yours Truly. Despite myself, I resisted the urge to give Dear Patient M the "they're not usually like this" look. He would not buy it for one second. He knows me too well. Rather, it was he who had the "ah, it all makes sense now" look. (Incidentally, when he first met me, he erroneously accused me of involvement in amateur theatre, a charge which has always left me mystified...I mean,moi?).
I know this might all sound a bit like the Brady Bunch Variety Hour or something similarly grotesque. You will be comforted to know that we have never run smiling onto a television stage wearing matching flare-suits in an attempt to win a silver platter for our parents. We have, of course, had all manner of darknesses in the past - self destructiveness, substance abuse, the usual tensions and recriminations that dog any family worth its salt. Which made this united commitment to unbridled silliness all the sweeter. My dear Grandma (who has been eulogised on these pages before) had a mantra that one must always rise to the occasion. And rise to the occasion we did.
So, here's to my dear Mum, Mama Twilight. Mama Twilight who has been caught smiling at a bowl of cream as she whipped it, who still thinks that 'people are nice' despite all the evidence to the contrary and who one day quietly but firmly informed us that she was, in fact, a woman who runs with the wolves. And who, along with Dad, brought us up to be ourselves and not to conform for conformity's sake, who made it known she loved us and was proud of us even when we were horrible and who unerringly embraced all of our childish enthusiasms with an enthusiasm all her own.