31 July 2011

Sunning One's Pearls

Sara Murphy and pearls, Antibes, 1924.

"Her bathing suit was pulled off her shoulders and her back, a ruddy orange brown set off by a string of creamy pearls, shone in the sun."—F. Scott Fitzgerald

Sara Murphy was a friend and muse to many of the artists of the Lost Generation. In 1923 she and husband Gerald Murphy purchased a house in 
Cap d'Antibes in the South of France, which they named Villa America. There the Murphys threw parties and played host to their friends, including Fitzgerald, Picasso, Hemingway, and Mrs. Parker, turning the quiet town into a fashionable summer resort. Days were spent at the beach, where the Murphys and their guests swam and sunbathed (a rather new concept). Sara was known to wear her famous rope of pearls on the beach, always draped down her back so as to not spoil her tan in the front. She claimed the sun was good for the pearls. I think Sara was on to something and plan to do the same next time I'm at the beach.

28 July 2011

Summer Shopping

Walking around New York in the summer calls for the ducking into air-conditioned shops to escape the heat. Understandably one sometimes exits said shops with a bag or two in hand. So I thought I'd share with you some new favourite things I've picked up this summer (this does not include those new favourite things purchased online while escaping the heat by not leaving ones home at all). 

Shoegasm is kind of an institution in New York with loads of cute styles at affordable prices. I was drawn to these for their vintage appearance; they look lovely with a 1930s dress. And they’re super comfy, which is always a bonus in the shoe department.

As we can all agree, one can never have too many bags. The latest addition to my collection is the Chelsea Leather Reese Satchel from Coach. In a nice walnut colour (I think of it as classic British tan), it’s a perfect size, and I adore the shape. I’ve needed a non-black bag that I can use on a daily basis and this seems to do the trick.

The last thing I need in my flat is a bulky paper shredder but moments of paranoia leave me uncomfortable tossing certain papers in the garbage. These shredding scissors from Restoration Hardware help ease my mind. They're not as efficient as a machine but they do the job in a pinch.

A new summer favourite, Tatcha blotting papers are a great way to reduce the shine on ones face without disturbing your makeup. And unlike some other blotting papers, these don't leave a powdery residue on your fingers or face. I purchased mine from Space NK.

So dear readers, what are some favourite things you have picked up this summer?

26 July 2011

I Love Rock 'n Roll

Joan Jett and Deborah Harry. 

This photo reminds me of being a kid and listening to Joan Jett and the Blackhearts on the radio and that the first album I ever bought was Blondie's Parallel Lines. But most of all, it reminds me of just how cool these women were.

The year was 1978. Joan Jett and Deborah Harry were backstage at the Tower Theatre in Philadelphia where the lineup included the Runaways, the Ramones, and the Jam. A year later, Blondie would have their first number one hit in the U.S. with Heart of Glass. Three years later Joan Jett would top the charts with her version of the Arrows' I Love Rock 'n Roll. I wonder if they knew then that they would become rock icons?

Photo by Scott Weiner.

21 July 2011

Dior Addict

Although I am a big lipstick fan, I tend to always gravitate toward dark, matte colours. For the summer, I decided to branch out and try something different. The ads for the new Dior Addict lipstick had caught my eye and after trying it out I must say, it lives up to the hype.

With a gloss like consistency, it's more sheer than your average lipstick but still leaves a pleasing amount of colour. And I swear it makes my lips look fuller. There are more than 40 colours to chose from; I went with #681 Icone, which is a pretty rosy pink. The campaign for the lipstick is very cool and includes a short film with spokesmodel Kate Moss and music by Duran Duran. As she says, "a girl can't make an entrance without her lipstick." I couldn't agree more.

19 July 2011

Hot in the City

It's hot in the city, and it's only going to get hotter. This excerpt from The Seven Year Itch (1955) pretty much says it all.

15 July 2011

Baby Face

Barbara Stanwyck and Theresa Harris contemplate their future in Baby Face.

This afternoon I saw a screening of Baby Face, part of Film Forum's four-week long Essential Pre-Code Festival. And if the film was anything to judge the festival by, it's going to be a doozy.

Baby Face (1933) stars a brilliant Barbara Stanwyck as Lily Powers, the daughter of a smalltime speakeasy owner in Erie, Pennsylvania. Forced by her father to sleep with his customers, Lily turns to the neighbourhood cobbler, Cragg (Alphonse Ethier), for friendship and advice. He gives her books by Nietzsche to read and urges her to leave town, telling her to “Exploit yourself. Go to some big city where you will find opportunities! Use men! Be strong! Defiant! Use men to get the things you want.”

When her father dies in a still explosion, Lily takes Cragg’s advice and with her best friend Chico (Theresa Harris) in tow heads to New York where she gets a job at Gotham Trust and proceeds to sleep her way to the top.

Barbara Stanwyck and a young John Wayne.

Lily is ruthless in her goal to get rich. Men are tossed aside in her quest and some literally die for her. When one of them asks her for help she responds “I can't do it. I have to think of myself. I've gone through a lot to get those things. My life has been bitter and hard. I'm not like other women.” 

Stanwyck is perfect as Lily. With her lithe body and always knowing, dark eyes, she can turn on the charm in one instance while stopping a man in his tracks with a cutting response in the next. She is so good all of the male actors pale in comparison; the only memorable one is a young John Wayne who makes a brief appearance as one of the men she uses.

Along with the often clever dialogue are some amazing art deco sets (check out the foyer in her first upscale flat), great music (including Harris singing "St. Louis Blues"), and outfits by Orry-Kelly. Watch as the collars and cuffs on Stanwyck’s dresses get larger as she moves up in the company and her gowns become sleeker as she accumulates wealth. All of which makes for a highly entertaining and enjoyable ride.

The original version of Baby Face (before its release in 1933 it had to be re-edited to pass the New York State Censorship Board) was thought lost until 2004 when a copy was discovered in a Library of Congress vault in Dayton, Ohio. It’s since been restored, and is a great example of why film preservation is so important.

The Essential Pre-Code Festival runs through August 11 at Film Forum.

14 July 2011

Aux Armes, Citoyens

Happy Bastille Day! Besides making me wish I were sitting in a Paris cafĂ©, Bastille Day always reminds me of one of the greatest scenes from what may be my favourite film—Casablanca. So please watch and enjoy as Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid), with the help of Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart), one-ups the Nazis by leading a rousing rendition of La Marseillaise while Ilsa Lund (Ingrid Bergman) looks on with adoration. Viva la France.

12 July 2011

Commerce Street

Some of the hidden gems in the West Village are the streets themselves, one of which is Commerce Street. Just a block and a half long, it's filled with lovely 19th buildings and plenty of history.

Turning onto Commerce Street, I immediately came upon the home of Washington Irving's sister (above) and where some believe Irving wrote The Legend of Sleepy Hollow while on a visit.

While apparently nothing happened next door, the home two houses down was built in 1829 on the site where Aaron Burr once lived in 1800 before his infamous duel with Alexander Hamilton. The house was recently for sale and has what looks like a lovely extension at the back.

The beauty here is in the details. Across the street, window panes are comprised of circles of glass. I would love to see how the light looks hitting the room inside.

In 1924 a former box factory was converted into a theatre, which would become the Cherry Lane Theatre. Actress Kim Hunter, who originated the role of Stella in A Streetcar Named Desire, lived upstairs for 50 years until her death in 2002. Hunter's children, who grew up in the building, told the story of a nearby excavation in the 1950s that uncovered not only a river but thousands of turtles.

A house on the bend in the street displays its patriotic pride on the Fourth of July. Most of the buildings bring to mind early America and seemed an appropriate area to wander around on the holiday.

At the end of the street one finds twin houses (one of them is pictured above). Built in 1831 by a milkman, they have my favourite—mansard roofs.

I don't know if Commerce Street is the cutest street in the West Village but I'm going to put it pretty high on the list.

Photos by Michele.

08 July 2011

Stars with Dogs

It has been one long and trying week (ironic as it was technically short because of the holiday). So for all you readers who may have been feeling a bit stressed lately, I bring you something to smile about—stars with dogs.

Carole Lombard (above) surrounded by dogs and one cat (let's just go ahead and assume the cat, who looks like my Poe, is not amused).

Rudolph Valentino with two very large dogs. Rudy was a big dog lover, which only adds to his greatness. One of his dogs, Kabar, is buried in the Los Angeles Pet Cemetery.

Olive Thomas and a very small friend. Olive posed with many dogs for publicity photos including Don, the Inebriate dog, while she was in the Follies. But she also had various dogs as pets.

Two great faces: Buster Keaton and his bulldog. Bets are the dog was able to hold the pose the longest.

Jean Arthur with a Boston Terrier. I have found many photos of Jean with dogs and know that later in her life she became a big animal advocate, even getting arrested in 1973 after coming to the aid of dog whom a neighbor was neglecting (the charge was trespassing).

Gary Cooper with a lovely white pooch, who may be one of the Sealyham Terriers that he and his wife liked to raise (one of their Terriers took Best in Show at the 1936 Santa Barbara Kennel Club Dog Show).

Louise Brooks and a ham. I love this photo because it's always nice to see her smiling and looking relaxed. And the dog is a riot.

Jean Harlow was a huge animal lover and always had a menagerie of animals in her home including dogs, cats, and even ducks. I believe this is Oscar the Pomeranian who legend has it quit eating after Jean passed away.

My what a cutie. And the dog isn't half bad either. (The actor reading his script is Cary Grant, as if I had to tell you.)

Happy Weekend!

05 July 2011

The Doors of Chelsea

I love a red door.

In 1750, Captain Thomas Clarke bought a farm in Manhattan, which he named for the Old Soldiers Home at Chelsea in England. The property was inherited in 1813 by his grandson, Clement Clarke Moore, best remembered as the author of Twas the Night Before Christmas. Moore would go on to parcel his estate into lots, which he then sold to affluent New Yorkers to build “houses of good quality.” They in turn had to promise Moore that they would plant trees. He also donated an apple orchard to the Episcopal diocese who built the General Theological Seminary, which is still going strong. Today the neighborhood of Chelsea is my home and a place where one can still see remnants of its past, especially in the historic district—the area bounded by 8th and 10th Avenues and 20th and 23rd Streets. 

While different styles can be found among the houses—Federal, Gothic Revival, Greek Revival, and Italianate—one can also see rows of matching brick townhouses, which give a unified appearance to a block. Yet the doors in the area act as a distinct character for each home. This black door, for example, has a beaded pattern that creates its arches while the white door has pronounced, almost deco curves.

Many are painted in traditional colours like green (popular with the Federalists) but in other cases the owners have branched out into colours like purple, which add a modern touch.

And while some chose to paint their front doors blue, it's also been picked for below stairs doors as well (after all, If you're going to live below shouldn't you have a vibrant colour for your door?)

These are just a handful of the doors that I came across while walking a couple of blocks. There are many more to admire in Chelsea, which also has some nice rooftops as well.

Photos by Michele.

04 July 2011

Happy Fourth!

July 4, 1922 in Takoma Park, Maryland 

Happy Fourth of July everyone! I hope those of you here in the States are enjoying a relaxing day off from work. I know today is all about fireworks and barbecues but may I suggest taking a moment to reread the Declaration of Independence, which was adopted by the Continental Congress on this date in 1776. Authored primarily by one of my heroes, Thomas Jefferson, it really is a stunning document, especially the line "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness." How wonderful is it that our founding fathers stopped to consider our happiness? Amazing.

Photo from the Library of Congress.

02 July 2011

Last Flight

On this date in 1937 Amelia Earhart vanished over the Pacific, becoming one of the greatest mysteries in US history. The aviatrix, who had made a name for herself as the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic, was an international celebrity, a trendsetter, and an inspiration for countless young girls. Only the 16th woman to ever receive a pilot’s license, she helped to popularise flying and break down countless gender barriers.

Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan

On July 2, 1937, she was on the last legs of her journey to become the first woman to fly around the world. Flying a Lockheed Model 10 Electra, she and navigator Fred Noonan were on route from Lae, New Guinea to Howland Island, a tiny strip of land 2,556 miles away in the mid-Pacific. The Itasca, a US Coast Guard cutter, was stationed near Howland to serve as their radio contact. 

Unfortunately, something went wrong and while the Itasca could hear Amelia’s broadcasts, she could not hear theirs. At 7:42 am she sent the message “We must be on you, but we cannot see you. Fuel is running low. Been unable to reach you by radio. We are flying at 1,000 feet.” An hour later she sent the following message, “We are running north and south.” Those were the last words received from the plane.

A huge air and sea search commenced (the most expensive in Naval history at the time) but no sign of the two or the plane were ever found. Countless theories exist as to what happened including crashing into the ocean, landing on a different island, being captured by the Japanese and executed. My personal view is that they eventually ran out of fuel and crashed, but we will probably never know the true story. Yet however tragic her ending, it shouldn’t take away from her many other accomplishments and her lasting importance as a role model for generations of women. Godspeed Amelia.

01 July 2011

Happy Birthday Olivia

Olivia de Havilland turns 95 today. She may be the last surviving cast member of Gone With the Wind but there’s more to her than just playing Melanie Wilkes. She won the Academy Award twice, had a notorious long running public feud with her sister, Joan Fontaine, and starred in some of the great classics of the 1930s and 1940s.

As Arabella Bishop in Captain Blood.

A beauty with a cultured voice, she could play plain when called upon and do comedy while always maintaining a certain dignity. She made her film debut in 1935 as Hermia in A Midsummer Night’s Dream after being spotted in a production of the play at the Hollywood Bowl. That same year she played the flirty Arabella Bishop in Captain Blood, the first of eight films that would see her paired with Errol Flynn. 

Olivia de Havilland and Errol Flynn in The Adventures of Robin Hood.

The chemistry between the two stars was palpable and they remain one of the great screen duos from the glory days of Hollywood. Perhaps their best vehicle was The Adventures of Robin Hood in which Olivia played the regal Maid Marion who helps Robin Hood and his Merry Men, all in glorious Technicolor.

As Melanie Hamilton Wilkes in Gone With the Wind.

But it was her role as the caring Melanie Hamilton Wilkes in Gone With the Wind in 1939 that would make her a film legend. Olivia gave just the right amount of compassion and steely determination to the seemingly milk toast Melanie. And when Vivien Leigh couldn’t produce the appropriate retching sounds in the “As God as my Witness” scene, Olivia dubbed the noises. She wound up with an Academy Award nomination for best supporting actress but lost out to co-star Hattie McDaniel. She would later say, "Hattie deserved it and she got it. I thought I'd much rather live in a world where a black actress who gave a marvelous performance got the award instead of me. I'd rather live in that kind of world." 

In the 1940s, frustrated with the parts given her by Warner Bros, she began to reject scripts. The studio countered with suspending her, which caused her contract to be extended, a common practice at the time. Olivia decided to stand up to the studios and with the backing of the Screen Actor’s Guild filed a lawsuit in 1943. The following year she won and what became known as the de Havilland Law was enacted, which states that a personal service contract is for seven consecutive calendar years. This landmark decision changed the stronghold the studios had on its stars and allowed them more artistic freedom. The law is still helping artists today.

De Havilland’s roles started to improve and she was finally rewarded for her acting abilities. She not only took home two Academy Awards for best actress for To Each His Own (1946) and The Heiress (1949) but won acclaim for her nominated role as a woman who finds herself in a state insane asylum in The Snake Pit (1948), one of the first films to shine a light on the conditions in asylums.

Olivia’s talents extended beyond the big screen to both stage and television, and she even authored a humorous account of her experience living in France, where she moved in the 1950s, in Every Frenchman Has One, published in 1962.

Today she lives quietly in Paris, a shining example of a true classic Hollywood star. Happy Birthday Olivia.


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