Saturday, April 24, 2010

Streisand and the Oprah Mic Incident

By now it's the stuff of celebrity lore...

Based on an actual event - and as dramatized here by Debra Wilson (as Oprah Winfrey) and famed gender illusionist Halstead (as Barbra Streisand) - show you how things might have gone on that fateful day* in October 2003.

*It was the 14th.

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"Somewhere" by Barbra Streisand

My first mentor as a gay man was a super snotty but ultra smart 11th Grader named Don Babey, whom I met on my first day of high school. Fortunately, I started high school in Grade 10, otherwise I don't think I would have survived it; also fortunate, my friendships with older kids, all of which were centered around the library, where our little squad of geeks and outcasts enjoyed the protection of a pillar of steel wrapped in a sweet old lady named Mrs. Osterried...

Don was the one who taught me about The New Yorker, the films of Woody Allen, and Barbra Streisand to name just three; all three of which to a certain extent have sustained me in their way over the past twenty years. His mania for The Broadway Album (1985) became mine; her version of Somewhere, from West Side Story, became the defining one for me. The trippy video even satisfied my zeal for space travel!

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Happy Birthday Barbra Streisand

I've always had a love-hate relationship with Barbra Streisand... Impersonating her is one of my favourite pastimes, and whether she's speaking or singing how can you not love that voice? So while as a performer she is nothing less than consummate, she's also a mouthy yenta whose pretensions and general blathering on (usually about politics) often do more harm than good.

PhotobucketIn the olden days, of course, she was a girl singer of a different sort - awkward, even geeky, yet always entirely composed; well-regarded for her skills as a cabaret singer, she soon graduated to television appearances, enlivening the nascent talk show circuit with droll, witty comments and a charming amazement at the glittering new world just beginning to open up to her. She even held her own sharing a stage with such a living legend as Judy Garland, with whom she not only made gay history when she sang the duet Get Happy/Happy Days Are Here Again on The Judy Garland Show in October 1963, but whose performance in that episode was also nominated for an Emmy Award.

Her first major Broadway role - as Miss Marmelstein in the 1962 musical I Can Get It for You Wholesale - was a star turn; it not only introduced her to a whole new audience, thanks to an appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show, but to her future husband, Elliot Gould. That TV appearance also nabbed her a recording contract with Columbia, and a series of performances in Lake Tahoe and Las Vegas, opening for Liberace.

She returned to Broadway in 1964, starring as Fanny Brice in Funny Girl; she fought hard to play the role in the inevitable movie version, and not even the fact that she had to share her Oscar with Katharine Hepburn that year seemed to dampen her enthusiasm. Throughout the Seventies, Streisand became one of the top movie stars of her generation, while still managing to churn out best-selling albums by the score (more than 60 to date).

I think it was sometime between the release of The Broadway Album in 1985 and her performance in Nuts (1987) when she first started to bug me; she was, of course, entirely unsuitable in the film, which fact was frequently remarked upon by critics and even greater pundits alike. No doubt this put her on the defensive and no one is at their best in such a circumstance. The last twenty years of her career have been a rollercoaster for me as a fan; a good album or good movie role is usually followed by a pompous or patronizing interview, a charitable act tempered by an ill-considered political pronouncement, and so on.

Still, here I am on the occasion of her 69th birthday prattling on, one of those weird fan people with whom she seems so ill-at-ease...
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Gratuitous Brunette: Djimon Hounsou

Birthday wishes go out today to Djimon Hounsou, whose rags to rag-trade riches story should serve as an inspiration to super-hot muscles upon muscles guys everywhere*... Born in Benin, he later moved to Paris, where - according to the official story - he was 'homeless'; now, there's eating out of dumpsters homeless and there's merely couch-surfing, which most accounts of his life don't differentiate. I'm going to go out on a limb here and say he was probably more the latter than the former.

PhotobucketWhatever, his time of hardship ended when he was discovered by Thierry Mugler, which led to his modeling career; his first onscreen appearance was in the the 1990 Janet Jackson video Love Will Never Do (Without You), which co-starred Antonio Sabato, Jr. and which has been featured on the Pop Culture Institute in the past.  His first film appearance was the 1990 film adaptation of Sandra Bernhard's one-woman show Without You I’m Nothing.

He has since racked up an impressive array of screen credits: Amistad, Gladiator, Blood Diamond... His Oscar-nominated performance in 2004's In America was the first ever for a black African. Unfortunately, he's fallen in with a bad crowd; recently he's been seen squiring around Kimora Lee Simmons - a woman so trashy and vapid she makes Paris Hilton look like Mary Poppins. Which means I've been crossing my fingers and hoping; having gotten himself out of a difficult situation once before maybe, just maybe, he'll be able to do it again**...

*The lesson being if you're super-hot and you have muscles on your muscles, you'll probably manage to eke out some kind of living without too much effort.
**Which seems less and less likely now; in May 2009 she gave birth to their son Kenzo Lee.  They got married, yada yada...
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"I'm Still Here" by Shirley MacLaine

For anyone else, posting their performance of I'm Still Here would have a definite shelf-life... In the case of Shirley MacLaine, however, even after she shuffles off this mortal coil you just know she'll be shuffling into a new one soon enough, making this probably the best match of singer to song in the history of popular music. Given her penchant for reincarnation, they could just as easily call the song I'll Always Be Here.

Anyway, this is the vintage of Shirley MacLaine that's sharpest in my mind, probably because it was the same year Postcards from the Edge was released - 1990 - that I was privileged to attend a concert she gave at Vancouver's Orpheum Theatre, in which she sang and danced the Hell out of that fancy-schmancy place; to add thrill to the memory, it was also one of my first assignments ever as an entertainment writer, for the now-defunct Angles newspaper, and easily the classiest to date.

The song, of course, originally appeared in Stephen Sondheim's 1971 musical, Follies, sung by Yvonne De Carlo; it's been somewhat rewritten here to reflect the life of MacLaine's character, Doris Mann, but the verve is all Miss MacLaine's. The Pop Culture Institute is proud to wish her a Happy Birthday and looks forward to doing so in perpetuity...
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Pop History Moment: The Library of Congress Was Established

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On this day in 1800 the Library of Congress was established, almost as an afterthought, as part of an act of Congress - signed by President John Adams - transferring the federal capital from Philadelphia to Washington; the establishment of the library came with a $5000 appropriation '...for the purchase of such books as may be necessary for the use of Congress ... and for fitting up a suitable apartment for containing them...'. The original collection contained 740 books and thirty maps; it was housed in a room of the US Capitol, and consisted mainly of law books.

Adams' successor Thomas Jefferson was the first to suggest a dedicated building to house the collection, in 1802. His legislation provided for a Librarian of Congress and a Joint Committee on the Library to oversee its acquisitions. By August 1814 the collection had grown to contain 3,000 volumes, all of which perished when the British invaded Washington, DC, and burned the Capitol, the White House, and many other important buildings. Within a month perennially cash-strapped former president Jefferson offered Congress the bulk of his collection as a replacement; in all, $23,950 was paid for his 6,487 volume library.

For many years there was an ongoing disagreement about what role the Library of Congress ought to perform; some felt it should contain only those volumes Congress might need to do its job, while others felt it should be the nation's library, containing everything published in the country, periodicals as well as books. Charles Coffin Jewett, librarian of the Smithsonian Institution, felt that his organization should be the nation's library - a move blocked by the Smithsonian's Secretary Joseph Henry; however, poor leadership on the part of successive Librarians of Congress meant that for half a century (during which time the country grew by leaps and bounds) the country's national library languished for want of badly needed guidance.

On Christmas Eve 1851 another fire devastated the Library of Congress, this time destroying 35,000 books, or about two-thirds of the 55,000 volume collection. Following the fire John Silva Meehan was appointed librarian, and he did little to replace that portion of the collection which had perished. A subsequent librarian, John G. Stephenson, was equally ineffectual. It took the appointment of Ainsworth Rand Spofford to the post, as much as the 28 years he spent in it, to finally give the Library of Congress the respect it deserved. Not only did the collection balloon under his supervision, but the lavish Thomas Jefferson Building was built to house it.

Currently the Library of Congress holds 130 million items (29 million of them books) on 530 miles (850 km) of shelves*; as the nation's copyright repository it is entitled to at least one copy of every item published in the United States. To this end, 10,000 items are added to the collection - drawn from 22,000 items submitted - each and every day. Much of the collection is available online at the American Memory archive.

*By contrast, the British Library - established circa 1763 - houses 150 million items with 25 million books on 388 miles (625 km) of shelves.

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POPnews - April 24th

[From a landscaped park with a few rustic attractions, HersheyPark has grown to include some 11 rollercoasters, an equal number of waterslides, plus more than sixty rides. Even the Tilt-A-Whirl!]

1479 BC - Thutmose III ascended to the throne of Egypt, although power effectively shifted to his stepmother Hatshepsut; it was during their co-reign that the Egyptian Empire attained its greatest influence.

1558 - Mary Queen of Scots married François, Dauphin of France, at Notre Dame de Paris.

1907 - Hersheypark - an amusement park founded by industrialist and chocolatier Milton S. Hershey for the exclusive use of his employees - was opened; it has been constantly expanding since opening to the general public a few years later.

1913 - The opulent Cass Gilbert-designed Woolworth Building was opened when US President Woodrow Wilson pressed a button in Washington, DC, illuminating all 5,000 windows in F. W. Woolworth's 'cathedral of commerce' in Lower Manhattan.

1915 - The Armenian Genocide began with a massacre of hundreds of prominent Armenians in Constantinople.

1916 - The Easter Rising began when the Irish Republican Brotherhood led by nationalists Patrick Pearse, James Connolly, and Joseph Plunkett started a rebellion in Ireland.

1926 - The Treaty of Berlin was signed by Germany and the Soviet Union, by which each pledged neutrality in the event of an attack on the other by a third party for the next five years.

1953 - Winston Churchill was knighted by Elizabeth II.

1961 - The 17th century Swedish warship Vasa was salvaged; once the pride of Gustavus Adolphus, the ship foundered less than a mile into her maiden voyage in August 1628.

1963 - Her Royal Highness Princess Alexandra of Kent married Angus Ogilvy at Westminster Abbey in London.

1965 - Civil war broke out in the Dominican Republic when Colonel Francisco Caamaño overthrew the triumvirate that had been in power since the coup d'état against Juan Bosch in September 1963.

1967 - Cosmonaut Vladimir Komarov died when the parachute on the Soyuz 1 capsule failed to open upon its return to Earth, making him the first human to die during a space mission. He'd already earned his place in history as the first cosmonaut to return to space; his first mission had been upon Voskhod 1 in October 1964.

1970 - China's first satellite, Dong Fang Hong I, was launched.

1975 - The Baader-Meinhof Gang blew up the West German embassy in Stockholm.

1980 - Eight US servicemen died during Operation Eagle Claw as they attempted to end the Iran Hostage Crisis.

1990 - During NASA's mission STS-31 the Hubble Space Telescope was launched by the Space Shuttle Discovery.

1991 - Freddie Stowers was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for which he had been recommended in 1918. You get three guesses why a black man was passed up for an award he deserved in 1918 - and the first two don't count!

1993 - An IRA bomb devastated the Bishopsgate area of the City of London.

2005 - Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was inaugurated as the 265th Pope of the Roman Catholic Church taking as his papal name Benedict XVI.
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