30 August 2013

Labor Day Weekend

A three-day weekend is always a wonderful thing, especially now when this madcap heiress is feeling sleep-deprived. My plans are to take a lot of naps, look at some art, go for some walks with my camera, and stock up on school supplies (my academic career may be behind me but I will forever act like a student around this time of year). I hope everyone gets a nice break from work, and I'll be back soon with some more tales. Happy Labor Day!

27 August 2013

Swing Time

Sunday afternoon I decided at the last minute to head over to the New York Historical Society to see the exhibit “Swing Time: Reginald Marsh and Thirties New York,” and I’m so happy that I did.

Through colourful, crowded paintings as well as prints and photographs, Reginald Marsh (1898-1954) captured New Yorkers, specifically working class New Yorkers, in all their glory and grittiness—shop girls, sailors, burlesque performers, subway riders, hustlers, bums. His paintings, which sometimes bring to mind the photos of Weegee (who is represented in the exhibit along with some of Marsh’s other contemporaries), are filled with overblown characters, often with exaggerated bodies and features. Like the city they call home, they are brash and bold.

Walking through the exhibit, one gets a peek at different aspects of city life. There is the hustle and bustle around 14th Street with its shops and elevated train (his office was nearby in Union Square) as well as forms of entertainment from movie going (a favourite image of Marsh's) to frolicking at  Coney Island. And then there's an exploration of the city’s nightlife. We’re not talking the opera here but dance halls and burlesque houses. In “Harlem, Tuesday Night at the Savoy,” Marsh shows blacks and whites dancing together, their bodies practically spilling out of the painting while in "Star Burlesque" a lone dancer looms over the crowd of leering men like a queen surveying her subjects.

What’s most striking about the exhibit is the large number of paintings depicting the working woman—whether at the office or after hours. Marsh seems to have had a fascination with these women. During the 1930s, women in the workplace were becoming more common as was the idea of the single, working woman. Yet Marsh does not glorify them. In "Hudson Bay Fur Company" the women modelling in the window of the fur store resemble burlesque dancers, a fine line drawn between the two professions, while in “A Paramount Picture” a woman stands beneath a poster for Claudette Colbert in Cleopatra, an obvious juxtaposition between the glamorous Hollywood goddess and the tired, working woman below. 

Throughout all of the works is a sense of movement, of a city never standing still. Marsh managed to capture a particular time in the city, one that we know primarily through old black and white movies and photographs, in a way that helps bring New York in the 1930s to life.

“Swing Time” is on display only through September 1, 2013. If you’re around, try and see it this weekend. For more info, visit here.

26 August 2013

The Love Trap

Laura La Plante and Neil Hamilton in The Love Trap.

A dear friend of mine with whom I share a love of old movies gave me a load of pre-code and silent films earlier this year for my birthday (I really am a lucky girl). Included was William Wyler’s The Love Trap (1929).

Evelyn Todd (Laura La Plante) is a young wannabe chorine in the big city who gets fired from the chorus. Her friend Bunny (Jocelyn Lee) tells her she can make $50 "just for looking pretty" if she comes to a party being hosted by Guy Emory (Robert Ellis). She agrees and there meets the pompous Judge Harrington (Norman Trevor) before receiving the unwanted advances of Emory. She rejects him and returns home only to discover she’s been evicted, her belongings thrown out on the street. Broke and alone, Evelyn begins to cry (did I mention it also starts raining?) but all is not lost. A knight in shining armor arrives in the form of a young man named Peter (Neil Hamilton, who would go on to play Comissioner Gordon on TV's Batman) who immediately falls for Evelyn’s damsel in distress. He grabs Evelyn and loads her belongings into a series of taxis and takes her away to get married. Later, when Evelyn meets his snobbish family, she’s horrified to discover that Peter’s uncle is none other than the disapproving Judge from the party. So it’s up to Evelyn to prove that she truly loves her husband.

The Love Trap is a charming rags to riches story with a strong cast including the especially impressive La Plante. She proves to be quite likeable and seems at ease moving between lighthearted scenes and moments of heartbreak. I also love her clothes, especially her dance costume. Speaking of which, my favourite scene is the opening when Evelyn gets fired (watch it here). The director is hilarious and her reaction priceless.

The film is unique in that it's one of those rare half silent/half talkie films made during the transition in Hollywood to sound. The first half of the film is silent with a musical score and sound effects (a tapping foot, the clicking of a door) while the last 25 minutes turn into a talkie with full-on dialogue. The changeover begins with the delivery of two short lines followed by a long sequence of silence, which is effective in merging the two formats. Wyler handles it well and the sound is pretty good although I would have been just as content if it had remained silent throughout. Regardless, it's worth checking out.

23 August 2013

Choose Well

"Buy less, choose well."—Vivienne Westwood

This statement rings so true to me. I live in an extremely tiny flat that could give many hotel rooms a run for their money therefore I can't bring too much stuff into my place or I will start feeling claustrophobic. I thought I was doing a pretty good job but recently I've been feeling crowded in my own home. I'm tempted to just get rid of everything and start over, taking my time to choose only those items that I love. But that's not exactly realistic and so I shall have to be content with some serious spring cleaning and drooling over Pinterest boards instead. Have a wonderful weekend, everyone!

Image from here.

22 August 2013

Happy Birthday, Mrs. Parker!

Happy Birthday to Dorothy Parker who was born on August 22, 1893 in Long Branch, New Jersey. Readers of this blog know that Mrs. Parker is a role model of mine (minus the drinking problem) whose work and wit I greatly admire. When I first began this blog, I wrote under the pseudonym "Mrs. Parker" in honour of the woman who continues to be an influence over here at Tales of a Madcap Heiress. To celebrate her day, why not have a cocktail in her honour (a whiskey sour or a Manhattan would be appropriate), listen to a little Jazz, and read a poem or two from The Portable Dorothy Parker. You could also listen to this recording of Tallulah Bankhead performing Mrs. Parker's "A Telephone Call" here. Go celebrate and remember what Mrs. Parker said, “I'd rather have a bottle in front of me than a frontal lobotomy.”  

21 August 2013

Amelia Visits

Myrna Loy, Cary Grant, and Amelia Earhart on the set of Wings in the Dark.

Wings in the Dark (1935) is a melodrama starring Cary Grant as a pilot and engineer working on new technology to help flyers in bad weather conditions and Myrna Loy as an aviatrix who takes on dangerous stunt work to support Grant after he’s blinded in an accident. When Loy gets into a dangerous situation, it’s up to Grant to help her fly to safety. 

Wings in the Dark is not one of Grant or Loy’s best films. But it is memorable for a photo shoot that occurred during filming when Amelia Earhart stopped by the set for a visit with the stars.

George Putnam, Earhart's husband, with the two famous women.

Earhart, who was as popular and stylish as any actress, looks right at home in front of the camera. And we can only imagine that it must have been a treat for Loy to meet the woman who was the model for Loy's character in the film. I especially like the shot of the two of them laughing, their eyes closed—just two women having a chat.

20 August 2013

Oh My Goodness

I planned to write something today but am exhausted. Instead, I'll share with you some photos I stumbled upon by the wonderful photographer Imogen Cunningham. Shot in 1932, these images show a 28-year old Cary Grant at the beginning of his glorious film career. To quote Shirley Temple, "oh my goodness."

To see other images by Imogen Cunningham, visit here.

19 August 2013

Mystery Woman

So much is learned about a person by looking at their face. But what do you do if a persons' face is hidden?

“Woman Seen from the Back” (ca. 1862) is an intriguing photograph by the French photographer Onésipe Aguado, which can be found at the Met. In the image, no hint of the woman’s face is given. Rather we see only the back of her head and shoulders.

And so we make assumptions based on what is shown. Her hair is dark and heavy, twisted into an elegant knot. Probably done with the help of a lady's maid. Her comb and matching large strand of beads along with her dress and silk shawl are fashionable and imply she is a woman of means. And a bared shoulder asks the viewer to look upon her as an object of desire. But still, what about her face? 

You wonder. Was her nose small or large? Were her eyes round or almond shaped? Were her lips thick or thin? What about her complexion? All of these pieces add to our visualization of a person, which in this case we can only guess. I’ve read that there’s another photo that shows her face but I almost don’t want to see it so I can keep the image I have conjured up in my mind. For as long as she remains with her back turned, she is forever a mystery woman whose identity is unknown.

16 August 2013

Trade My Heart

"I wish I could trade my heart for another liver so I could drink more and care less."—Tina Fey

Oh so true, Tina Fey. I think I'll start working on the "drink more part" tonight. Have a great weekend, everybody, and until next time here are a few links you might like.

Happy to see a piece in the New York Times about the buildings and locations in New York/New Jersey where silent films were made. Olive Thomas was even mentioned. Read it here.

I'm a little late hearing about this news but did you know that the two candidates running against each other for mayor of Paris are both women? Could New York be far behind? Find out more about them here.

Jovanotti was someone whom I first listened to when living in Italy and decided to revisit some of his songs this morning. Take a listen here.

And speaking of Italy, when it comes to Italian food I'm partial to dishes from Venice. I recently picked up Polpo by the owner of the London restaurant and was happy to discover some great Venetian recipes. Check it out here.  

Finally, weekend plans include a Sunday trip to Film Forum to see the classic horror film The Tingler (1959) with Vincent Price shown in Percepto and Psychedel-O-Rama! Details here.

15 August 2013

Butterfly Girls

While perusing the New York Public Library’s online gallery, I stumbled upon a curious collection: a series of cigarette cards depicting flappers with butterfly wings. Produced by the British American Tobacco Company in 1928 they’re odd yet beautiful. Each of the 50 cards in the series features a different butterfly girl and a description about the particular butterfly on the back. 

I love the colours of the cards and the wonderful details: the Banded Soldier appears to be powdering her nose; the Death's Head Moth's gown would fit right in at a Paris nightclub. And look at the male butterflies checking out the Glanville Fritillary. Lovely.

To see all 50 of the cards, visit here.

14 August 2013


Jean Harlow

The pile of books by my bed has grown smaller over the summer, helped along by a self-imposed ban on buying any new books until the pile is gone. Yet it would probably be even smaller without my frequent trips to the library. Oh, well. Here are the some of the books I've read this season. 

Z: A Novel of Zelda FitzgeraldTherese Anne Fowler
A fictionalized retelling of Zelda Fitzgerald’s life from Zelda’s point of view. Often depicted by biographers as a crazy woman who was a burden to her husband, F. Scott Fitzgerald, this book paints a more sympathetic portrait of the famed flapper. Disclosure: I normally don’t read novels about famous people whom I like (main reason I still haven’t read The Paris Wife) but was given an advance copy of this book by a friend. As a work of fiction the novel was all right but if you want to know about the real Zelda then check out some of the many non-fiction accounts out there.

The Anatomist’s WifeAnna Lee Huber
The first book of a new historical mystery series. In 1830 Scotland, Lady Darby (Keira) is a painter and a social outcast; the widow of an anatomist whom it is believed did experiments on the dead with Keira’s help. While living with her sister and brother-in-law a murder is committed during a house party, and Keira finds herself working alongside the arrogant enquiry agent Sebastian Gage to try and catch the murderer. I am a big fan of this genre and loved this book. Can’t wait to read the next instalment.

The Uninvited GuestSadie Jones
At a large manor house in the English countryside, a family’s birthday celebrations are interrupted by the arrival of a group of survivors from a nearby train wreck. Soon secrets from the past surface, class barriers are broken, and identities are revealed. If you're looking for a typical mystery novel with likable characters, this is not the book for you. Filled with a dash of surrealism, it's an excellent ghost story that I quite liked.

The Ladies of the CorridorDorothy Parker and Arnaud D’Usseau
In a residence hotel on the Upper East Side lives a group of lonely women, some single, some widowed, whose long days are broken up by reading the latest mystery novel or going to the movies. In the lobby they sit, gossipping about the residents and killing time. Surprisingly, this was the first time I had read this play (don’t know how that happened) and it being a work by Mrs. Parker, I of course liked it. Also kinda made me wish that these type of hotels still existed.

The Expats: A NovelChris Pavone
Kate Moore is a former CIA agent living in Luxembourg with her husband and children, attempting to start over as a stay-at-home mom. But when an American couple arrives in town whose story doesn’t add up, Kate finds herself being pulled back into her old life. I enjoyed the aspects about living abroad in Europe but often found myself wondering how Kate could have ever been a secret agent with the amount of mistakes she makes. Not a good sign for a spy when the reader knows something is up before she does.

Born in Berlin to an American father and an Italian mother, Weiss spent her childhood shuffling between two continents, speaking multiple languages. Through it all the kitchen remained her one constant and this memoir explores her love of cooking and the particular foods and dishes that remind her of key moments in her life. The book made me want to try some of the recipes that are included but started to feel long about half way through.

For previous Bookshelf posts, go here, here, here, and here.

13 August 2013

The Nance

Last month I saw Douglas Carter Beane’s The Nance, a funny and moving play about a burlesque company in late 1930s New York. Chauncey Miller (Nathan Lane) plays the "Nance," an effeminate man who minces about the stage, tossing out double entendres. This stock character is normally portrayed by a straight man but Chauncey is gay at a time when being out of the closet is not only unacceptable, it can get you beaten up and thrown in jail. It is a dangerous time in the city not only for gay men but for burlesque; Mayor LaGuardia is up for reelection and his vice squad is cracking down on the bawdy shows as a way to score points with voters. Will Chauncey and his fellow actors survive or will the lights go out for them?

Chauncey is a man divided. On stage, he is the silly joker without a care in the world whose goal is to make the audience laugh. Off stage he lives a life in the shadows, frequenting dingy automats and second-rate restaurants where other gay men gather for clandestine meetings. Chauncey begins the show toeing the line (he's a Republican, a nice twist to his character) but by the end gathers the courage to be true to himself and stand up to the law and the world, even if it means the end of his career.

The bleak scenes of Chauncey’s off stage life are juxtaposed with the performances and antics of the burlesque company, which were great fun. Corny jokes, shimmies and shakes, song and dance routines along with backstage bickering give the audience an idea of what a burlesque show was like when pretty girls in pasties shared the stage with vaudeville acts. The only thing missing was a dancing dog.

Nathan Lane was perfect as Chauncey. An actor who can win laughs from the audience one minute while making them cry the next, he conveyed the character's complexity in ways few others could. He was surrounded by a strong supporting cast including Cady Huffmann as the outspoken, communist dancer Sylvie, Lewis J. Stadlen as Efram, the straight star to Chauncey’s Nance with a spot on old-time New York accent, and Jonny Orsini as Ned, Chauncey's young lover and the newest addition to the company.

The set design by John Lee Beatty was great, from the rotating set that allowed the audience to simultaneously see a performer doing his/her routine on stage and the other actors backstage to the authentic automat where Chauncey and Ned first meet. This combined with the costumes by Ann Roth and music by Glen Kelly helped to paint a picture of a bygone time in all its faded glamour and ugliness.

The Nance has finished its run but you can read more about it and see some clips from the show here

12 August 2013

Michelle Williams for Vuitton

Michelle Williams looks absolutely amazing in the ads for Louis Vuitton’s Fall 2013 handbag campaign. Posing with their iconic Capucines bags and their new W model, Williams’ blonde crop and bold dark lips and nails make a striking statement. The images, shot by Peter Lindbergh, have this bobbed brunette tempted to change hairstyles and colour (although I know I would need a stylist following me around to get my hair to look as good as that).

For more on the campaign, visit here.

01 August 2013


Hello, darlings (said in a Tallulah Bankhead voice). The month of August is upon up, which means one more month of potential heat waves (ugh) and more blasting of the AC. I hope everyone enjoyed my film challenge posts last month; it definitely made me think of many films I need to re-watch. I will be taking a short break from blogging this coming week to work on a project but will be back soon with some more tales (not all of which will be about film, promise). In the meantime, you can follow me on Instagram and check out my pins on Pinterest


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