Monday, October 18, 2010

Gratuitous Brunette: Zac Efron


With each year that passes, I feel less and less pervy about Zac Efron... Which is good, because restraining orders are both a major hassle and entirely ineffective when it comes to a weapons-grade perv like myself.

Anyway, he's over 21 now, which means I now first and foremost respect him as a person and value his insights.

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Remembering... Lotte Lenya

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As a young girl (born on this day in 1898) it was Lotte Lenya's goal in life to be a dancer; after a few years swinging it around in the chorus-lines of Berlin she met a piano player by the name of Kurt Weill and ended up settling for being a Muse instead. She was cast in his show Die Dreigroschenoper, and a star was born...

The couple married in 1926 and soon became a part of an unparalleled artistic community in Germany in the dying days of the Weimar Republic; by the time Lenya fled the Nazi threat and decamped to Paris in 1933, though, they had become estranged, and she divorced him. Again, though, she found herself singing his songs, this time in The Seven Deadly Sins. In 1935 Lenya and Weill were reunited and together they emigrated to the United States; they remarried in 1937 and would remain together until Weill's death in 1950.

Yet even after Weill's death it is for her performances of his works that she is best-known. In 1956 she won a Tony Award for her portrayal of Jenny in The Threepenny Opera, the role that had first made her famous in 1928. A decade later she originated the role of Fräulein Schneider in Kander and Ebb's original Broadway production on Cabaret, whose music was a spot-on homage to that of Brecht and Weill.

Her movie roles proved she had her funny side as well; playing the Contessa in The Roman Spring of Mrs Stone (1961) - based on a novel written by Tennessee Williams, and for which she was nominated for an Oscar - she got a chance to procure young men for wealthy older clients, namely Warren Beatty for Vivien Leigh, as well as be the first person in the American cinema to call herself a 'chicken-hawk'. Though not a comedy the movie is nevertheless a laugh-a-minute. Similarly, as Rosa Klebb in From Russia with Love (1963) she's so camp she could have changed her name to KOA.
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In Memoriam: Pierre Elliot Trudeau

Only one Canadian Prime Minister has ever jazzed his potential electorate to such a degree that someone had to append the word 'mania' to his surname to describe the phenomenon, and it sure as Hell wasn't Arthur Meighen...

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketThe year was 1967, and as Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson was preparing to leave office, so was Canada preparing to leave the 1950s. Pearson was popular in the way that quiet people often attract quiet admirers - to him a golf clap would have been a thunderous ovation; his Justice Minister was also quiet, but he was quiet in an entirely different way...

Pierre Trudeau's tenure as Justice Minister saw an overhaul the likes of which the country had never seen - laws concerning divorce, homosexuality, and abortion more in line with the times were implemented. It was almost as though, following a century as an Imperial and Commonwealth Dominion, Canada was finally ready to be its own country. Trudeau's omnibus bill, Criminal Law Amendment Act, 1968-69, swept away the old so as to usher in the new as easily as would Trudeau's other masterpiece, Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms, a decade later.

Similarly, Trudeaumania shook Canadian society down to its very core, beginning in that centennial year... For many Baby Boomers the election of 1968 was their first chance to vote, and they sure as tooting weren't going to waste it by voting for some square who favoured the status quo. Trudeau was not only the first 20th Century Prime Minister born in the 20th Century (on this day in 1919) he was also the first Prime Minister elected in Canada's second century - single, athletic, and while not traditionally handsome, he was certainly attractive in other ways, as his never-ending stream of pretty dates could attest.

It didn't take long for his opponents to surface; whether the more staid rural Liberals in his own party or Quebeckers expecting one of their own to just hand them their sovereignty, Trudeau fought them all and won. To this day he's still dividing Canadians, who are still trying to come to terms with his legacy, especially as one of his more anodyne successors prepares to hand control of the Natural Governing Party - potentially even to one of Trudeau's sons, Justin, who could potentially become Canada's first PMILF*...

*Duh! What do you think it means?

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Pop History Moment: The Death of Jon-Erik Hexum

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketThere is a substantial amount of footage of Jon-Erik Hexum on YouTube; which is surprising, actually, for someone who was little more than a male starlet when he died, more 25 years ago now. I had the honour to watch most of it in preparation for writing this piece, and all I can say is that my high opinion of him hasn't changed one iota through the years, but has, in fact, increased...

In addition to handsome and charming he is gentle, soft-spoken, and funny - a real gentleman, despite the idiotic questions he's forced to answer, such as in this interview with Merv Griffin, which was so sleazy someone clearly felt the need to do a second one.

Hexum's death, in addition to the personal loss it presented, was also literally a tragedy - in fact, the kind of accident that could only happen on a movie set*.

On October 12th, 1984, while rehearsing a scene for the TV show Cover Up, Hexum accidentally shot himself in the head using a gun loaded with blanks, in front of dozens of shocked onlookers; he was pronounced dead six days later, on this day in 1984, at the age of 26.

* In fact, it happened again - in 1993 - to Brandon Lee.
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Happy Birthday Martina Navratilova

Between 1982 and 1990, Martina Navratilova won at least one Wimbledon's women's tennis title each year, spending a record-breaking nine consecutive seasons as a champion in the hallowed precincts of the All England Club; throughout the same era as she was dominating women's singles she was also a champion in women's doubles as well. Just ask Judy Nelson...

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketUnlike many professional athletes, who wait until their glory days have passed only to come out afterwards in order to sell more copies of their memoirs, Martina came out in 1981. Through it all she withstood a lot of the kind of sniggering misogyny that used to pass for adult entertainment in the 1980s. Her ploy for dealing with it? Playing better and better despite it....

Anyway, most of that contempt had evaporated by the time she retired; of course, by then she'd well proven herself by winning 18 Grand Slam singles (and 18 runner-ups), 31 Grand Slam women's doubles, and 10 Grand Slam mixed doubles titles, in addition to 167 other singles titles, not to mention career earnings of more than $21 million (none of which came from the lucrative endorsements she could have expected if she'd been among the many, many heterosexual women on the pro tennis circuit). It was, by any conceivable standard, one of the greatest careers in the history of professional tennis.

Since hanging up her racket in 2006 Navratilova's golden glow, confident soft-spoken demeanour, and egalitarian compassion have represented a significant line of defense in the War on Gays; whether at an after-dinner lecture or during a chat show appearance the concentration and work ethic she first honed on tennis courts around the world have made her an equally formidable opponent in the court of public opinion as well...

Currently dealing with breast cancer as aggressively as she used to play at the net, the Pop Culture Institute looks forward to wishing her many more happy birthdays in the decades to come.
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Pop Culture In Retrograde: "Daddy" by Julie London

In girl singer terms, it's inevitable that Julie London was always going to be a whole lot more girl than singer; not that she's anything less than a peerless vocalist despite what she herself called 'a thimbleful of voice', just that she's a whole lot more va-va-va-voom, as this video almost - but not entirely - fails to show. Still, you should consider yourself lucky for the paltry baud rate of YouTube, as there's no telling what this performance in hi-def might do your sensitive components*...

As great as this performance is, though, the song leaves me feeling distinctly icky; even watched ironically, I can't help be reminded that this is what today's Republicans have the utter temerity to call 'the good old days', and even 'simpler times'; thank goodness progress is inevitable no matter what obstacles it meets is all I have to say about that. Then again, I've always considered myself a fourth-wave feminist for insisting that women should avail themselves of whatever power they can in whichever way they can, whether in the boardroom or the bedroom - whether as brain or beauty or both** - so what do I know, eh?

Born in September 1926, Julie London died on this day in 2000, following a career on untold turntables, in smoky bars and on silver screens, and even tricked out in wet dreamy nurse's whites on Emergency!, produced by her ex-husband Jack Webb, (TV's Joe Friday of Dragnet fame).

*So totally a euphemism.
**Or neither, for that matter, although how a dumb ugly broad is gonna be successful I couldn't begin to tell you - I can tell you it probably involves really good management. That or a well-known surname...

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POPnews - October 18th

[The Regency TR-1 was the iPod of its day.]

1009 - The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, one of the most important of all Christian churches in Jerusalem, was completely destroyed by the Fatimid caliph Al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah, who hacked the Church's foundations down to bedrock.

1016 - Marauding Danes under Canute the Great, Thorkell the High, and Eiríkr Hákonarson defeated the Saxon forces of English King Edmund Ironside and Eadric Streona at the Battle of Ashingdon, which paved the way for Canute to become King of England.

1081 - The Normans defeated the Byzantine Empire at the Battle of Dyrrhachium.

1356 - An earthquake destroyed the Swiss town of Basel.

1386 - The University of Heidelberg opened, making it Germany's oldest such institution.

1685 - Legend has it France's King Louis XIV revoked the Edict of Nantes, which had protected French Protestants from religious intolerance; following the revocation, hundreds of thousands of Huguenots fled France, causing an early example of brain drain which may have contributed to the French Revolution.

1748 - The signing of the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle ended the War of the Austrian Succession.

1775 - African-American poet Phillis Wheatley freed herself from slavery.

1851 - Herman Melville's novel Moby Dick was first published as The Whale by Richard Bentley in London.

1867 - The US formally took possession of Alaska from Russia, a deal conducted by Secretary of State William Seward; despite secessionist views held by former Alaska governor Sarah Palin, she never did undo the deal.

1922 - The BBC was founded.

1925 - The Grand Ole Opry began broadcasting on WSM, where it's been broadcasting every Saturday night since, making it the longest-running radio program in US history.

1929 - Women were considered persons under Canadian law thanks to the participation of Emily Murphy, Henrietta Muir Edwards, Nellie McClung, Louise McKinney and Irene Parlby - known as the Famous Five - in the Persons Case.

1945 - A group of the Venezuelan Armed Forces, led by Mario Vargas, Marcos Pérez Jiménez and Carlos Delgado Chalbaud, staged a coup d'etát against then president Isaías Medina Angarita, who was overthrown by the end of the day.

1954 - The first transistor radio - the Regency TR-1 - was announced by Texas Instruments; when it went on sale a month later it retailed for $49.95, and despite the price (akin to $350 in today's money) 150,000 were sold in short order.

Photobucket1963 - Following the surprise resignation of Harold Macmillan as Prime Minister, Her Majesty The Queen invited Sir Alec Douglas-Home to form her next government; having won the leadership of the Conservative Party over Rab Butler and Quintin Hogg at a raucous convention, under the terms of the Peerage Act 1963 Home was then compelled to declaim his Earldom and other titles, give up his seat in the House of Lords, and contest a by-election in Kinross & West Perthshire in order to reside at 10 Downing Street.

- The Soviet probe Venera 4 reached Venus and became the first human spacecraft to measure the atmosphere of another planet.

1989 - East German leader Erich Honecker resigned.

1991 - Azerbaijan declared its independence from the Soviet Union.
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