Friday, June 25, 2010

Remembering... Farrah Fawcett

Farrah Fawcett - the vivacious blonde who embodied Southern California beauty for millions of television viewers in the 1970s, before moving on to more serious work in the 1980s - died on this day in 2009 at Saint John's Medical Center in Santa Monica. She was 62.

PhotobucketFarrah* was already a famous face - thanks to the iconic poster you see at left** - when she was signed to the series that would make her a household name. Although she only appeared regularly as Jill Munroe in the first season of Charlie's Angels she'd made such an indelible mark in such a short time that even after being replaced by Cheryl Ladd producers Aaron Spelling and Leonard Goldberg couldn't divest themselves of her magic entirely; they made Ladd's character, Kris, Jill's sister. Following her departure, Farrah made six highly rated guest appearances in seasons three and four as part of her contract settlement.

A series of critical flops followed, so she did the most audacious thing possible... She went to New York, where she appeared Off Broadway in the play Extremities, written by William Mastrosimone, following Susan Sarandon into the role of a would-be rape victim who turns the tables on her attacker. This kind of thing is almost de rigeur today when resuscitating a flagging career, but at the time had been seldom tried - and I dare say never by a 'mere' TV star.

Farrah then turned in an Emmy Award nominated performance in the TV movie The Burning Bed, and followed that with a television version of Extremities; she would also portray Nazi hunter Beate Klarsfeld, Life Magazine photojournalist Margaret Bourke-White, Woolworth heiress Barbara Hutton in Poor Little Rich Girl: The Barbara Hutton Story, and convicted murderer Diane Downs in the miniseries Small Sacrifices.

Having always turned down the chance to pose nude in her 20s and 30s, at the ages of 48 and 50 Farrah appeared in Playboy, the former pictorial being responsible for the magazine's best-selling issue of the 1990s; not even a goofy, rambling appearance on The Late Show with David Letterman in June 1997 did much to diminish her appeal amongst her real fans - at least judging by the supportive crowd reaction! - who giggled along with her as she repeatedly stymied the curmudgeonly Letterman.

On a personal note, it's been interesting to me to observe how much fan attention she's been getting - especially during the last year of her life - from gay men. For someone supposedly all about sex appeal, what appeal could she have had apart from sex***? The secret, I think, is in how she triumphed over the attitudes that had once sought to belittle her; she was fearless, clearly - a quality much on display throughout her final illness, during which she confronted her considerable travails and fought back with everything at her disposal. In both Chasing Farrah and on Farrah's Story she did what she had always done - raised awareness of an important issue which was too little talked about - almost to her dying breath.

If I may be so bold as to paraphrase Charles Townsend at the close of each of those silly, golden episodes: Goodbye Angel...

*I simply cannot stand on formality and call one of the foremost icons of my childhood anything else right now.
**Which sold as many as 12 million copies, earning her more in royalties than her salary from
Charlie's Angels!
***Aside from great hair, that is.

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"Freeek!" by George Michael

I can't very well publish two George Michael videos (on this, the occasion of his birthday) and not publish a third, now can I?  I mean, what kind of hat trick would that be?*

Released in March 2002 - a full two years before his album Patience - Freeek! rocketed to the top of record charts across Europe, aided no doubt by this super-sexy sci-fi-inspired video...  And yet Freeek! was just the first of six amazing singles from that album; it would be followed by Shoot the Dog, Amazing, Flawless (Go To The City), Round Here, and John and Elvis Are Dead - proof positive that despite his tabloid travails, George Michael remains an artist of the highest calibre.

*Technically, not a hat trick at all!

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"Too Funky" by George Michael

George Michael's sexuality had long been an open secret by 1992, when he recorded Too Funky - along with two other tracks* - for the AIDS/HIV charity album Red Hot + Dance; I mean, obviously this video could only have been made by a gay man. Seriously, just look at it!**

A n y w a y... The fact that his coming to terms with being gay represented a personal struggle for him and he wasn't simply remaining closeted for the sake of his career - or because he belonged to some crackpot religion founded by a closet case, as a strictly hypothetical for instance - kept many of the usual suspects (like Outlook magazine and its attack poodles Queer Nation) at respectful bay.

Nevertheless, it would be another half dozen years before the words would actually come out of his mouth, and then they only did so because he was caught in flagrante cliché with an undercover cop in a public men's room in Los Angeles...

*The provocatively-named (and -themed, given the state of his closetedness at the time) Do You Really Want to Know and Happy.
**Technically the video was directed by Thierry Mugler, and in it his own outrageous fashions adorn such catwalk stalwarts as Julie Newmar, Linda Evangelista, Tyra Banks, Beverly Peele, Nadja Auermann, Shana Zadrick, Emma Wiklund, Rossy de Palma, and Estelle Hallyday under the frenzied supervision of harried show organizer Lipsinka.  Still, methinks Mugler is no stranger to the mysteries of man-on-man love...

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"Careless Whisper" by George Michael

Even as the emerging phenomenon known as Wham! was poised to burn itself out in a flash of hairspray and teenaged caprice, it was becoming obvious that at least one of the members of the duo was in possession of the kind of talent which could potentially lead to something greater than even the sum of its very hunky parts. Longevity in the music business, though, is a very elusive thing indeed; it requires luck and very little else, as too many massive talents toiling away in obscurity can tell you.

Co-written jointly by George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley before they made it big with their 1984 album Make It Big, Careless Whisper exposed two essential elements which basically doomed Wham! to the dustbin even as it was peaking: the first of these was the incredible showmanship of George Michael, and the other was his dab hand behind the scenes, at the mixing board...

Now, no offense to George Michael - whose birthday it is today - but I've always found Ridgeley to be far and away the prettier of the two; in the video for Everything She Wants, for instance, Ridgeley's ease on camera and general yumminess allowed me to forego the purchase of porn for at least two years, despite the fact that I was 14 at the time. I believe, though, that it was George Michael's all around skills which allowed him access into the stratosphere of stardom while Ridgeley remains the ultimate 80s trivia footnote. After all, Michael first recorded Careless Whisper with legendary producer Jerry Wexler; unhappy with the result, George re-recorded the song, slapped an unforgettable saxophone riff onto the front of it, and the end result was strong enough to knock pop juggernaut Two Tribes by Frankie Goes to Hollywood off the top of the UK chart after an incredible nine week run.

So while Careless Whisper may have within it the single cheesiest lyric in pop music - 'I'm never gonna dance again / guilty feet have got no rhythm...' - it was responsible for launching the career of one of the world's foremost male vocalists*...

*And probably played a significant part in the conception of countless babies besides!
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Happy Birthday George Michael

There comes a time in the life of many successful artists when their creative output trails off, and their celebrity becomes more important than their art; that's usually about the time their coverage on the Pop Culture Institute inevitably also tapers off and eventually disappears altogether...

PhotobucketSo far there's no danger of that happening to George Michael, whose early work with Wham! set the stage for a hugely successful solo career, and whose solo career continues to move from strength to strength to this day. Four of Michael's solo albums - Faith, Listen Without Prejudice Vol. 1, Older, and Patience - have established him as a consummate songwriter, no less than other works - such as Songs from the Last Century - have shown him to be a gifted interpreter of other people's music, as well as highly accomplished in the subtle art of the duet, and a vocalist of stunning range and artistry.

Born on this day in 1963, Michael met his future collaborator Andrew Ridgeley at Bushey Meads School; a ska band they started called The Executive quickly gave way to Wham! in 1981, and while the band's fame was short-lived it was also white-hot. Their first album, Fantastic, gave them a massive overnight success in the UK, but it couldn't have prepared them for the success of 1984's Make It Big; on the basis of the insanely catchy earworm Wake Me Up Before You Go Go alone, Wham! were poised for superstardom. Their career, however, took a slightly different trajectory; Ridgeley was soon jettisoned in favour of Michael's own ambition, as evidenced by the 1984 single Careless Whisper, which was billed as being by Wham! featuring George Michael...

Ever since then he's walked the fine line between being an artist on his own terms and a piece of meat suitable for exploitation by his record label; his various tabloid battles over his sexuality and drug use have given the chattering classes their reasons to chatter, but in the end he's always come back to the music...
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Pop History Moment: "Another World" Went Off The Air

On this day in 1999 the final episode of TV soap opera Another World was aired after 35 years, after a total of 8891 episodes. Created by Irna Phillips along with William J. Bell and set in the fictional milieu of Bay City, the show followed the lives and loves of the city's residents, especially as they related to the Cory family, at the end personified by the inimitable Victoria Wyndham, who had played Rachel Cory from 1972 until the final episode.

Other standouts on the show were Douglass Watson as Rachel's suave husband Mac, Constance Ford as Rachel's mother Ada, Felicia Gallant (played by Linda Dano and initially modeled after Jacqueline Susann), superhot Stephen Schnetzer as Cass Winthrop, Vicky and Marley Hudson (good and evil twins once played by Anne Heche), and the greatest - or at least the campiest - villainess in the history of daytime television Cecile de Poulignac, played to the hilt by Nancy Frangione (with Charles Keating as Carl Hutchins coming a close second as villains go).

At the time of Another World's cancellation NBC was criticized for removing a show with a dedicated audience (despite dwindling ratings) from its daytime lineup in favour of something new and untried - the truly grotesque Passions, which lasted just eight years before viewers were put out of its misery.
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POPnews - June 25th

[The scene depicted in the Cornaro Window is the grueling test of wits that was the awarding of a 17th Century doctorate... There, in the Duomo di Padova and in the presence of University of Padua authorities - as well as the professors of all the faculties, the students, and the majority of the Venetian Senators, together with many invited guests from the Universities of Bologna, Ferrara, Perugia, Rome, and Naples - the Lady Elena spoke for an hour in classical Latin, explaining difficult passages selected at random from the works of Aristotle. It is said she was listened to with rapt attention, and when she had finished, received plaudits as Professor Rinaldini proceeded to award her with the insignia of the Doctorate, placing the wreath of laurel on her head, the ring on her finger, and an ermine mozetta around her shoulders. Uh... You GO girl!]

524 CE - At the Battle of Vézeronce, waged by the main claimants to the throne left vacant by the death of the Frankish King Clovis I - his four sons Childebert I, Chlodomir, Clotaire I, and Theuderic I - the Franks defeated the Burgundian King Sigismund, although Chlodomir was killed (tradition has it by Sigismund's brother Gundomar III).

1530 - The Augsburg Confession was presented at the Diet of Augsburg to the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V by the Lutheran princes and Electors of Germany.

1678 - Elena Cornaro Piscopia became the first woman awarded a doctorate of philosophy, a scene illustrated today in the Cornaro Window (designed by Louis Comfort Tiffany) in the West Wing of the Thompson Memorial Library at Vassar College.

1741 - Maria Theresa of Austria was crowned King of Hungary - not the first time a woman had reigned over Hungary, but nearly... Mary I was also queen regnant, twice, in the late 14th Century. Despite the Pragmatic Sanction promoted by her father - Charles VII, Holy Roman Emperor - Maria Theresa's accession to the throne of Austria had caused the War of Austrian Succession (better known in North America as the Seven Years' War) which broke out in 1740.

1788 - Virginia became the 10th US state.

1876 - At the Battle of the Little Bighorn Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Custer was killed, a rare First Nations victory during the Indian Wars for Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse, and Chief Gall.

Photobucket1906 - Following their attendance at the premiere of the musical revue Mam'zelle Champagne, Pittsburgh millionaire Harry Thaw shot and killed prominent architect Stanford White at the roof garden of what was the second incarnation of Madison Square Garden (which White himself had designed and built); Thaw's ire was due to White's affair with Mrs. Thaw - better known as model and actress Evelyn Nesbit. The killing was fictionalized in the superlative 1975 novel Ragtime by E. L. Doctorow (which was later made into a movie and a stage musical) having already been the subject of the 1955 film The Girl in the Red Velvet Swing, starring Joan Collins, Ray Milland and Farley Granger - which had as a creative consultant none other than Nesbit herself.

1938 - Dr. Douglas Hyde was inaugurated the first President of Ireland.

1944 - The Battle of Tali-Ihantala, the largest battle ever fought in the Nordic Countries, began as part of the Continuation War, the second of two wars fought between Finland and the Soviet Union during World War II.

1947- The Diary of Anne Frank was first published, in Holland, as Het Achterhuis; Anne's father Otto Frank had been given the diaries by Miep Gies, who had not only been instrumental in hiding the family but had later rescued the diary from the Gestapo.

1948 - The Berlin Airlift was instituted as a means to relieve the situation caused by East Germany's Berlin Blockade.

1950 - The Korean War began with the invasion of South Korea by North Korea - an action condemned by the United Nations.

1975 - Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi compelled President Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed to declare a State of Emergency in India under Article 352 of the Indian Constitution, suspending civil liberties and elections following Mrs. Gandhi's conviction by the Allahabad High Court on charges of corruption 13 days earlier.

1991 - Croatia and Slovenia declared their independence from Yugoslavia.

1993 - Kim Campbell was chosen as leader of the governing Progressive Conservative Party of Canada and thus became the country's first female Prime Minister. In political terms she was a sacrificial lamb, though; at the next federal election later that year her party was so soundly defeated she even lost her own seat, to political newcomer (and my MP) Hedy Fry.

1996 - The Khobar Towers bombing in Saudi Arabia killed 19 American servicemen.

1997 - An unmanned Progress spacecraft collided with the Russian space station, Mir.

1998 - In Clinton v. City of New York, the US Supreme Court decided that the Line Item Veto Act of 1996 was unconstitutional.

2008 - Zimbabwean dictator Robert Mugabe had his honourary knighthood stripped by HM The Queen.
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