Wednesday, August 25, 2010

"Shuffle Off To Buffalo" featuring Ruby Keeler

One of Canada's earliest exports to the dream factories of Southern California was Ruby Keeler - born on this day in 1909; to call her the pride of Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, is to discount her popularity in the rest of the country - and indeed the world. Admittedly, Keeler's family moved to New York City when she was three, giving her a tenuous Canadian connection at best, but that's good enough for generations of this country's pundits to claim her as our own.

Here Keeler is seen as the bride in this clip from the sublime early musical comedy, 42nd Street (1933)*, which lit up movie screens just as the Great Depression was darkening many a doorway; choreographed by Busby Berkeley, the number also features the cynical comedy stylings of Ginger Rogers (eating an apple) and Una Merkel (with the banana), performing in the show-within-a-show.

*Receiving probably the world's worst pep talk by the show's director Julian Marsh (Warner Baxter) which is nonetheless one of the most frequently quoted passages from the movie...
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Remembering... Truman Capote

'Happiness leaves such slender records; it is the dark days [that] are so voluminously documented.' So wrote Truman Capote amongst the notes he made for his unfinished and indeed unfinishable magnum opus, Answered Prayers. It's a telling statement, shining light into the darkest days of his life, which came as it was ending; from out of all of life's lessons, one can choose to heed the good or the bad - Capote chose the bad, and so followed a pill-strewn path beside a river of booze to an early grave...

PhotobucketTo such a reckless sybarite as Capote, talent was a hindrance, one he overcame with bitterness and apathy; for all that his talent had given him, in the end he chose to return the favour by giving it nothing back in return, at which point it dwindled away till it was gone.

Sensing the end of his life was near, and bullied into the will to live by his well-meaning friends, Capote made his last journey - to California, to visit Joanne Carson - only a few days before he died. It was on this day in 1984 she came to wake him; finding him physically listless she sat with him, whereupon he talked for hours as he drifted into unconsciousness, at which point he died. Although the coroner could find 'no clear mechanism of death', those with poetry in their soul will know that, although he'd once lived with a fervour startling to onlookers, in the end, Truman Capote had simply lost the will to live.

However those who knew him chose to remember him - whether as a bitchy viper or an oddity or an artist of towering talent (and he was indeed all of these and more besides) - the finest memorial he received was Gerald Clarke's detailed, warts-and-all biography, published in 1988.
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Pop History Moment: The Death of The Duke of Kent

As mysteries go, the one surrounding the death of The Duke of Kent - fourth son of England's George V and Queen Mary and therefore uncle to the current Queen - on this day in 1942 is as impenetrable as the fogs which occasionally swirl around the Scottish coastline where the Short Sunderland in which he was travelling en route to Iceland crashed.

PhotobucketIn lieu of an official explanation for what His Royal Highness was doing there, all we who dabble in history have to go on are rumour and innuendo; in the case of The Duke of Kent, fortunately, the rumour and innuendo are as thick and juicy as porterhouse steak. So let's tuck in, shall we?

There are those who maintain the Duke was some sort of spy, and seeing as it was wartime and he was a military officer, his death in the line of duty was an effective piece of propaganda to show that the Royal Family suffered from the effects of World War II not unlike many others. That the plane may have been shot down because it was thought to contain Nazi diplomat and Hitler's poodle Rudolf Hess is another theory that, when floated, stays aloft far more efficiently than the plane ever did.

The Prince, of course, was something of a scandal within the Royal Family, well-known in aristocratic circles for liking a bit of cock as well as a bit of coke; certainly, the sympathy for his widow, the sublimely elegant Princess Marina, bears out the image of the long-suffering wife, which she managed to string out into long-suffering widowhood until her own death in August 1968, two days after the 26th anniversary of her husband's untimely demise.
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Tim Burton: A Select Filmography

Why is it whenever I see a picture of Tim Burton - born on this day in 1958 - I hear theremin music? Seriously, this guy makes my little goth heart flutter - and since he's shacked up with Helena Bonham Carter, the Queen of the Goths herself - even more so. Burton's last cinematic offerings were 2009's animated 9 and the much-anticipated Alice in Wonderland (co-starring Johnny Depp) which debuted in Spring 2010.  Next up is Burton's own take on the eerie 1960s soap opera Dark Shadows...

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketSweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007)
Corpse Bride (2005)
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005)
Sleepy Hollow (1999)
Mars Attacks!! (1996)
Ed Wood (1994)
The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)
Batman Returns (1992)
Edward Scissorhands (1990)
Batman (1989)
Beetlejuice (1988)
Pee-wee's Big Adventure (1985)
Frankenweenie (1984)
Vincent (1982)

(What kind of birthday does one wish the King of the Goths, anyway? Surely not a happy one...)
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In Memoriam: Althea Gibson

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketNot content to break the colour barrier in women's singles tennis, Althea Gibson - who was born on this day in 1925 - later teamed up with Angela Buxton (who is Jewish) and kicked some serious bigot butt in doubles as well.

Over the course of her career, Gibson won five Grand Slam singles titles, including Wimbledon in 1957 and again in 1958, and 11 doubles, again including Wimbledon three years running (1956-8) paired with Buxton.

Proof that on centre court, the only thing that need be all-white is the uniform.
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The Serious Business of the Funny Pages

For nearly 30 years, from 1948 to 1975, Walt Kelly's Pogo was one of the smartest strips in the funnies...

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketLaden with trenchant, often political, satire and featuring a cast estimated at over 300 characters, Kelly never shied away from the hot stories of the day like his more anodyne brethren.

In his most memorable battle Kelly took on Senator Joseph McCarthy at the height of his reign of terror as the chair of the House Un-American Activities Committee; he also parodied Kruschev, Castro, Nixon, and Hoover (as in J. Edgar).

In the strip shown at right (prepared for Earth Day in 1971) Pogo and his friend Porkypine meet the problem of litter and environmental degradation head-on, and pull no punches.

Walt Kelly - who died in October 1973 - was born on this day in 1913.
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"I Was Made For Lovin' You" by KISS

From 1979, one of the biggest hits of what has been a very big career for KISS; nearly half a lifetime ago now for lead singer and bassist Gene Simmons, who today turns 61. As big as the band was, they might have been even bigger if only they'd found a way to bring a little theatricality to their act...

I Was Made For Lovin' You first appeared on their album Dynasty, adding a distinctly disco flavour to the band's usual hard rock sound, in keeping with the times; while Paul Stanley handles rhythm guitar and vocal duties (and Ace Frehley lead guitar, with Peter Criss on drums, as usual) Simmons lays down an infectious - some would say contagious - bass riff.
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Ivan the Big Pushy Jerk Just Doesn't Scan

Part of the problem may be in the translation... Not that Ivan Grozny's not a perfectly good name (and, given recent events in the Chechen capital, Grozny is an obvious synonym for terrible). Just that Ivan the Scary or Ivan the Asshat doesn't quite have that kingly ring to it.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketThe question remains: was he really all that bad?

Oh sure, as a child he was known to defenestrate pets (even though it wasn't called that yet). He introduced serfdom to Russia, essentially enslaving the country's peasant class. He also raped and killed and bullied, apparently as a hobby. In 1581 he assaulted his son's wife (for wearing what he considered inappropriate attire) until she had a miscarriage; when his son found out and got mad, Ivan killed him too. Accidentally, of course.

Okay, so he was a creep. But on the plus side, he... He... Wow, this is harder than I thought it'd be.

He introduced the printing press to Russia (then exiled all the printers when they were critical of him), founded a rudimentary Parliament (in order to grease the palms of nobles and clergy so they'd support him), and opened up Russia to new trading partners, notably the British via the Muscovy Company (no doubt at some profit to himself).

He did order the gorgeous St. Basil's Cathedral to be built... As a tribute to himself for the bloody capture of a neighbouring enemy, the Khanate of Kazan. Of course, then he blinded the architects so they couldn't replicate it.

In the end he died a bully's death; syphilitic, his body loaded with mercury, the first Tsar of Russia was almost certainly murdered. But there must have been a time there, when he was very young, such as on this day in 1530 when he was born or shortly thereafter, when at least his mother loved him.

For all that, his actions point to serious mental illness; one minute filled with towering rage, the next prostrate with religious fervour and supplication. His early writings indicate a boy, orphaned at eight, surrounded at court by poisoners (including the ones who may have killed his parents); wracked by the paranoia wrought by bullying, he overcame his outcast state by outdoing the cruelties of his oppressors.

Again, that's not an excuse, merely a reason.

'What's in a name?' quoth Shakespeare; apparently, in the case of Ivan the Terrible, a good deal of accuracy. Not even the most motivated of revisionist historians could make much of a victim out of this villain; I know, because I tried. Oh, how I tried...
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Happy Birthday Regis Philbin

When they call him Mr. Showbiz, they're not kidding!

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketWith nearly 16,000 hours on television he holds the world record, and not even 2007's bypass surgery could slow him down...

His cohosts - Sarah Purcell, Mary Hart, Kathie Lee Gifford, and now Kelly Ripa - may have a penchant for achieving notoriety, but how many of them would have done it without Reege?
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Now Showing - The Gym Mambo, from "West Side Story"

It's always been one of my favourite movie moments - smack dab in the heart of one of my favourite movies - and what better way to honour the man who wrote its music than by simply enjoying it.

Leonard Bernstein may have lived a conflicted life (which began on this day in 1918) but his work overflowed with resolution, conciliation, and togetherness - as embodied in this number, the Gym Mambo*, from the 1961 film West Side Story. Watch for a brief appearance by John Astin as the principal, as well as the film's other principals, including Rita Moreno.

*Under normal circumstances I wouldn't include a subtitled clip, but it's the only one available for some reason.

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