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Posts Tagged ‘Joan Crawford’

Staff Picks: Milk-guzzling Sheriffs, Metallic Fiber, @MythologyBot

May 6, 2016 | by

A still from Flamingo Road.

In 1955, Stith Thompson, a folklorist at Indiana University, published the first volume of his Motif-Index of Folk-Literature. Betraying every bit of the gumptious optimism of the midcentury milieu in which it was conceived, the work was intended as “a systematic arrangement of the whole body of traditional literature.” Eventually it grew to six volumes, but lately it has found a new life on a microscale. Every three hours, @MythologyBot raids Thompson’s index and drops a new motif, a sort of freeze-dried folktale, into the feeds of its thousand-plus followers on Twitter: “Fetish betrays fugitive,” “Ghost laid by prayer,” “Rainbow as loincloth.” Given the primary-election season that we’ve all just cowered through, it’s hard to insist that any of us needs more bewilderment in our lives. But @MythologyBot’s little gusts of absurdity are often just the thing, I’ve found, to disperse the mental drear. —Robert P. Baird

I’ve been going to the movies a lot since I moved to New York, particularly to Metrograph, an art-house theater on Ludlow Street that grandly claims to be “the ultimate place for movie enthusiasts.” Last week, my boyfriend and I saw Flamingo Road (1949), a work of high Hollywood melodrama starring Joan Crawford as Lane Bellamy, who begins the film as an impoverished carnival dancer stranded in a small town in the South. Glowing and assured, Bellamy gets a job at a local diner; her goal is to live on the town’s most prosperous street, the eponymous Flamingo Road. But when a flirtation develops between Bellamy and the town’s deputy sheriff, her ruin becomes the obsession of Sheriff Semple, a milk-drinking political wire-puller who’s grooming the deputy for the governor’s seat. It’s luminous to see a woman in early Hollywood assume a role so empowering. In her own life, Crawford had recently reemerged as a star—Flamingo Road mirrors all the energy of her comeback and is blighted only by knowing of Crawford’s self-destructive final years, when she became a recluse after seeing an unflattering photograph of herself. “If that’s how I look,” she said, “then they won’t see me anymore.” —Caitlin Love Read More »

I Am Not Resigned!

June 28, 2013 | by

I think we can all agree that what this day needs is Joan Crawford dramatically reading Edna St. Vincent Millay’s “Dirge Without Music.”



Browbeaten: The Eyebrow

June 7, 2012 | by

My first “boyfriend” broke up with me at camp in a letter that read, “You look like the girl from Planet of the Apes—I mean the ape she played, not the girl who played her.” He meant Helena Bonham Carter in the Tim Burton version that had come out that summer. More specifically, he meant that for an eleven-year-old, I had very unruly and freakishly thick eyebrows.

Having kempt mine since that summer (on a necessarily frequent basis), I notice eyebrows more often than is normal; they bear special significance to me. Midway through Alfred Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt, Charlie confronts her uncle about his awful secret life as a woman strangler. Sitting across from him at a seedy bar, she watches his hands painfully wringing a napkin, then she tells him all that she knows: wordlessly, she raises a single eyebrow. The plot hinges on that one thin line of hair. Read More »


Cherchez la Femme

November 16, 2011 | by

Kermit Westergaard, an interior designer, had come to SoHo from his home in the neighborhood where Greenpoint, Brooklyn, nudges up against Ridgewood, Queens, to attend a 110th anniversary retrospective of works by Erté, the “father of Art Deco,” at the Martin Lawrence Gallery. Westergaard, an affable, lightly balding man, seemed somewhat underdressed in comparison to the other gallery attendees, but clothes were in fact the purpose of his visit: from his mother, the theatrical producer Louise Westergaard, he had inherited twenty costumes designed by Erté. The garments are in a storage locker, and Westergaard hoped to find someone at the gallery who could put them to use. “I would rather have the drawings of the costumes than the costumes themselves,” he said, somewhat sadly. “I mean, what do you do with them?” He held a catalog of the costumes under his arm, and took it out to show me. They were exquisite, diva-worthy confections: stars and pearls and spiderwebbed dresses, halolike headpieces, cascading nets of rhinestones, and silver lamé. They brought to mind the sparse garb of the exotic dancer and spy Mata Hari, for whom, in fact, Erté had also designed, in 1913.

Stardust, the 1987 Broadway musical from which Westgaard’s collection comes—for which Matel also produced a special series of porcelain Barbies, all wearing Erté’s designs—was one of the artist’s final efforts before his death in 1990, at the age of ninety-seven. He was born Roman Petrovich Tyrtov (the name is usually Frenchified as Romain de Tirtoff) in Saint Petersburg in 1892. Read More »


Screen Shots

October 27, 2011 | by

An early foray into fandom: I was eleven, maybe twelve, full of lust and greed. After school let out that day, my mother picked me up to go grocery shopping at Gemco, the massive warehouse supermarket that had recently opened on the outskirts of our Sacramento Valley town. Inside, while she got a cart and started making her rounds, I hung back at the newsstand, in my Catholic school uniform, and tore photos of boy heartthrobs from glossy teen magazines and then stuffed them into the waistband of my blue plaid skirt.

C. Thomas Howell.

I didn’t consider it stealing. I wasn’t taking the whole magazine, just a few pages. I didn’t even think about the fact that I was defacing property. Nor did I contemplate simply asking my mother to buy me the magazines. I wasn’t going to put these photos up on my bedroom wall; they would go inside my closet. This was the early eighties, so I would’ve been obsessed with The Outsiders—Ponyboy, Johnny, Soda, all the rest. Into my skirt went Rob Lowe. Into my skirt went C. Thomas Howell

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A Week in Culture: Elizabeth Samet, Professor and Writer

March 23, 2011 | by


What better way to launch this diary than with a little detour, en route to meet some friends, along the street of pianos? I love the Sunday morning silence of this short stretch of West 58th Street between Broadway and Seventh Avenue: all those Steinways, Bechsteins, and Bosendorfers asleep inside their showrooms. Outside there’s only the light jingle of the collar on a small but imperious terrier, its owner dragging sleepily behind. The terrier—preferably Fox or Welsh—is my ideal virtual dog. I can admire one in passing; then someone else can take it home. The canine’s playful condescension always calls to mind my favorite couplet, Alexander Pope’s epigram, which the poet had engraved on the collar of a puppy he once gave the Prince of Wales: “I am his Highness’ dog at Kew/ Pray tell me Sir, whose Dog are you?”

My Piano Street Strut concludes a musical weekend. Let’s start in reverse order: Lucinda Williams, Webster Hall, Saturday night. Webster Hall has its own time zone: doors open at 6; show starts at 7; or maybe 7:45, as they inform you at the door; or, in fact, a little after 8, when Lucinda Williams steps onto the stage saying, “Sorry.” The hall is packed, and the crowd can’t get enough. Many are obvious veterans of her shows; they keep screaming, “Lu!” and lifting their beers in tribute. My favorite Williams recordings are bundles of bitterness, but I’m just not hearing it this night1.

But what chance did anyone really have after Ann Hampton Callaway at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola on Friday? I raced home from a late night at work to meet friends in from D.C. for the show, which was delayed a bit because of some water problems at the club. Never underestimate the cosmic force of a diva: Callaway can conjure the elements. Water flowed again. And then Tony Bennett appeared. Yes, he did. Callaway improvised a song of tribute to him. It’s that capacity for improvisation, that singing on the precipice, I so admire about Callaway’s artistry. She often speaks of the importance of “live music,” and then she lives it right there in front of you.

The first time I saw her she improvised a song using whatever unlovely, unmusical words the audience happened to suggest. I attended that show in the company of Callaway’s father, the great Chicago journalist John Callaway, who died in 2009. He interviewed me once and quickly became a friend. John was the most delightful correspondent: we wrote to each other about politics, sports, and books. (He was a fan of Henning Mankell mysteries.) And when he came to New York, I looked forward to dinner and stories of the old City News Bureau in Chicago. How is it that we can feel so deeply the loss of people we’ve known but a short while? Maybe it’s because there are so many stories left to tell.

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  1. Confession: we leave early, narrowly avoiding (thanks to my peacemaking skills) what was sure to be some unpleasantness over a jostled elbow and a spilled beer, threading our way past some very unhappy-looking patrons sprawled on the stairs, departing before (I learn later) Williams sings “Change The Locks,” which may well have offered all the bitterness anyone could crave. By the way, were those pieces of the ceiling that kept falling into my drink?