26 November 2015

Felix the Thanksgiving Parade Cat

The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is as much of a tradition today as turkey and pumpkin pie. The first parade took place in 1924 with nursery rhyme-themed floats and live animals borrowed from the Central Park Zoo. Originally called the Macy’s Christmas Parade (it was sponsored by a department store after all), it was renamed the Thanksgiving Day Parade in 1927. That same year some giant balloons were added to the mix including one of the popular Felix the Cat, the first in a long line of character balloons to grace the parade (Mickey Mouse would follow in 1934). Felix’s debut went smoothly until he became entangled with some telephone poles and caught fire.

Cats have nine lives though, and he was back the following year. This time round, the air in the balloons was replaced with helium so they could soar above the parade. At the end of the parade, the balloons were released into the air; a tag sewn into each promised a $100 prize to the finder if the balloon was returned to Macy’s. Unfortunately, the balloons burst upon release prompting the addition of safety valves so they could deflate slowly the next time round.

Felix continued to be featured in the parade. On November 27, 1931, the New York Times ran an article with the headline—“Felix the Cat Soars Gayly in Broadway.” In it they said that upon his release at the end of the parade, Felix started to float out to sea and pilot Clarence Chamberlin grabbed him with the wing of his plane and deposited Felix at the airfield. Yet a few days later it was reported that Felix had floated over to New Jersey where he ran into a high voltage wire and once again caught on fire.

Felix wasn’t the only cat to run into trouble. In 1932 another balloon cat, Tom-Kat, became entangled in the wing of a small monoplane, almost causing it to crash (it wasn’t really the cat’s fault; the plane’s student pilot had deliberately flown into the balloon in an attempt to capture it). After this incident, the organizers wisely decided to stop releasing the balloons.

In 1933, it was reported that Felix joined the parade, this time without incident. He would continue to be a part of the parade until 1938. While another famed cat, Hello Kitty, would become part of the parade beginning in 2007, Felix will always hold the honour of being the first cat (and character balloon) of the Thanksgiving Day Parade. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

20 November 2015


While I’ve read quite a few books this year, it’s been a while since I’ve written about any of them so here’s a belated instalment of Bookshelf with a few of those titles.

John Baxter shows why the City of Light during the 1920s was the place to be with a series of engaging stories. There’s le jazz hot, les Apaches, café life, Picasso, Hemingway and Fitzgerald, and much more. Also included are loads of photos and four walking tours so readers can visit many of the places mentioned. My only complaint is about the actual edition of the book, which reads as if it weren’t copyedited. There are a number of mistakes including the misspelling of people’s names and a wrong photo caption.

The Algonquin Round Table New York: A Historical Guide—Kevin C. Fitzpatrick
If you like New York history, writers, and artists then you’ll love this guide by Kevin C. Fitzpatrick. Filled with photos and maps, the book looks at the members of the famed Algonquin Round Table and their haunts from their homes and places of work to their favourite drinking establishments and final resting places. In addition to familiar faces like Dorothy Parker, Robert Benchley, and Alexander Woollcott, Fitzpatrick draws attention to often overlooked members of the group like Jane Grant, co-founder of the New Yorker, and art critic Murdock Pemberton who first took Woollcott and John Peter Toohey to lunch at the Algonquin Hotel, which naturally gets its own chapter. 

A Study in Death—Anna Lee Huber
Things are starting to look up for Lady Kiera Darby with her engagement to investigator Sebastian Gage and a return to accepting painting commissions. But when the sitter for her latest portrait is found dead, Kiera suspects foul play and finds herself once again working with Gage to catch a murderer while confronting her own past. This continues to be one of my favourite historical mystery series with an appealing setting (1830s Scotland) and a likable couple with great chemistry. 

Tinseltown: Murder, Morphine, and Madness at the Dawn of Hollywood—William J. Mann
The murder of director William Desmond Taylor on February 2, 1922 sent shock waves through the Hollywood community and remains unsolved to this day. William J. Mann examines the details of the case and Taylor's mysterious background while also looking at the lives of three actresses close to the director—Mabel Normand, Mary Miles Minter, and Margaret “Gibby” Gibson—as well as that of one of the most powerful men in the movies, Adolph Zukor. While Mann includes a ton of research and a fresh take on some familiar faces—including a sympathetic view of Will Hays of the infamous Hays code—I didn't agree with his final conclusions.

Suspended Sentences: Three Novellas—Patrick Modiano
This slim collection contains three novellas that all deal with the theme of disappearance: A man tries to find traces of a photographer who has drifted into obscurity; another recounts how during the war his parents sent him and his brother to live with friends who had a collection of unusual guests; and what really happened to a couple who committed suicide (or was it murder) years ago? The German Occupation of France is ever present in these tales, leaving their mark on the characters. I absolutely loved this book and cannot wait to read more by the author. His writing is superb, and I found myself thinking about the stories long after I had read the last page.

HollywoodGore Vidal
The power of Washington, DC and the endless possibilities of Hollywood are intertwined in Gore Vidal’s novel, part of the American Chronicle series. A fictional Washington newspaper publisher who goes west to become a silent screen star and her former lover, a US Senator, mingle with the likes of William Randolph Hearst, Charlie Chaplin, and the Roosevelts. Beginning at the start of World War I and going through to the Roaring Twenties, the book touches on everything from war propaganda films to political scandals. While a bit lengthy at times, Vidal offers readers a look at how these towns' players spin the truth as only he can.

14 November 2015

Happy Birthday, Lulu!

Today is the birthday of one of my role models—Louise Brooks. Born on November 14, 1906 in Cherryvale, Kansas, she conquered New York as a teen, dancing first with the famed Denishawn Dance Company before joining the casts of the George White Scandals and the Ziegfeld Follies

When the movies came calling, Brooks answered although she found the whole process rather boring. Usually cast as care-free flappers in light fare, Brooks got the chance to display some serious acting when she played a girl disguised as a boy on the run from the authorities in William Wellman’s Beggars of Life (1928).

With her stick-straight dark bob, pale skin, and lithe figure, Brooks epitomized the new woman of the 1920s. And she also had the flapper’s devil-may-care attitude in spades. Always a rebel, she insisted on living life on her own terms, even when her decisions were detrimental to herself. And so when G.W. Pabst asked Brooks to come to Berlin to make a film, she hightailed it out of Hollywood and headed for Europe where she made Pandora’s Box (1929), Diary of a Lost Girl (1929), and Prix de beauté (1930). Although not a hit at the time, Pandora's Box is now considered one of the best films of German cinema.

 When she returned to the States, Brooks made a few B movies but her career was over, and she faded into obscurity. It would take a few decades before she was rediscovered by film lovers, prompting the French cinephile Henri Langlois to declare, "There is no Garbo, there is no Dietrich. There is only Louise Brooks." In her later years Brooks turned to writing, publishing a well-regarded collection of essays, Lulu in Hollywood, in 1982 before she passed away on August 8, 1985.

I’ve long admired Brooks' talent, her personal code, and her style (one of the reasons why I wear my hair bobbed) so I am happy to say, Happy Birthday, Lulu!

12 November 2015

Happy Birthday, Grace!

Today is Grace Kelly's birthday. Born on November 12, 1929 in Philadelphia, she modelled and acted on Broadway before getting cast in some television series, which led to the movies. During a film career that lasted only five years, she managed to snag an Oscar for best actress for The Country Girl (1954) and star in three Hitchcock films—Dial M for Murder (1954), Rear Window (1954), and To Catch a Thief (1955)—before leaving Hollywood behind for life as a real princess in Monaco. 

One of the biggest style icons of the 20th century, Kelly is noted for her classic, elegant look and my favourite photo of her proves that she could look stylish in anything. In 1953, Kelly sat for photographer Milton H. Greene in his New York studio for a session for Look Magazine. Kelly wears a pair of trousers and Greene's suede jacket with black heels. With her feet up on the piano, she gazes back at the camera, looking fabulous. Below are some more images from the same session but the shot above remains my favourite.

Happy Birthday, Grace Kelly! 

09 November 2015

Google Celebrates Hedy Lamarr

A new Google Doodle debuted today of birthday girl Hedy Lamarr. What a lovely way to pay tribute to a woman who was not only one of the most beautiful women to ever grace the silver screen but who was an important inventor as well. 

Hedy Lamarr was born Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler on November 9, 1914 in Vienna, Austria. She began working in the movies in her teens including playing a bored housewife at age 18 in the Czech film The Ecstasy (1933), which included a scandalous nude scene. That same year she married a wealthy munitions manufacturer who did business with Mussolini and had Hitler over for dinner. Four years later, Lamarr fled her husband and ended up in Paris. Later in London she met Louis B. Mayer, the head of MGM, who changed her name and brought her to Hollywood.

There Lamarr made her American debut in Algiers (1938) opposite Charles Boyer. She would go on to star in a series of films with some of the screen's biggest stars like Clark Gable, Spencer Tracy, James Stewart, and John Garfield. Lamarr was typecast as the beautiful seductress, often of unnamed foreign origins. 

The talented Hedy Lamarr

She quickly grew bored with filmmaking and started working on inventions in her home. One evening during World War II, she met composer George Antheil and the two talked about torpedoes, something Lamarr had learned a lot about during dinner parties with her first husband (she would be married six times in total). Lamarr and Antheil were soon working on her idea that if you could learn how to make radio frequencies hop in a random pattern, you could keep the enemy from detecting and jamming frequencies used to guide torpedoes. The result of their collaboration was a frequency-hopping technology for which they received a patent in 1942. Yet their work wouldn't be used by the military until the Cuban Missile Crisis 20 years later. By that time Lamarr's acting career was over and Antheil was dead.

It was only toward the end of her life that Lamarr began to get attention for her work. In 1997, when she learned she was to receive the Electronic Frontier Foundation's Pioneer Award her response was, "It's about time." She passed away on January 19, 2000.

Lamarr and Antheil's invention became the basis of 
spread-spectrum technology, which is used today in cell phones and wireless networks. For this, we all have reason to give thanks to Hedy Lamarr.

01 November 2015

Now, November

November is here, which means colder days and walks in Central Park to catch the last colours of the season, the making of large pots of soup and the release of Beaujolais nouveau, the wearing of coats and the donning of scarves and gloves. Oh, and there's that turkey holiday as well. Have a fabulous month.


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