06 August 2016

Olive Thomas Restored

For almost 100 years, Olive Thomas' final resting place—a mausoleum at Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx—has sat untouched while nature has taken its course. Until now.

Last year, under the guidance of resident craftsman Rob Cappiello, a group of interns participated in a stone conservation program established in connection with the World Monuments Fund and the International Masonry Institute, working on the restoration of a series of small mausoleums at Woodlawn. One of those was Olive's. Yesterday, I went up to Woodlawn and met with Cappiello and Woodlawn's membership manager, Anastasija Ocheretina, to talk about the work that was done and to see the results in person. As you can tell from the photos below, they made a world of difference.

 The photo on the left is from a few years ago. The photo on the right was taken yesterday. Photos by Michele.

Before and after photos. Photos by Michele.

The mausoleum looks bright and clean, its details emerging like the rings above the columns, which you can now see are composed of flowers (tulips, perhaps?). They also removed the hideous wasp nest that was at the top of the door (thank you for that). Cappiello and his crew's first job was removing all of the biogrowth before dealing with the black carbon staining. "We started with the least aggressive method, just scrub brushes with water and light detergent then gradually moved up to a product called Restoration Cleaner—it’s a mild, vinegar type acid, which got rid of most of the carbon staining," he said. They also repaired all of the mortar joints to protect the mausoleum from water damage.

The mausoleum was picked for the project because of the type of dirt on it, the configuration of the mortar joints, and the stone that was used for its construction. "It's a very hard stone so you can’t do much damage," said Cappiello "It was a simple monument for them [the interns] to work on. Now they’re getting more fancy, working on curved cornices and such."

Working on the mausoleum had an effect on at least one of the workers. "We worked on so many buildings in the city, like the Waldorf Astoria, that all have a story that we never really get to know. We just go there and do the work," said Cappiello "Over here, when Susan [Susan Olsen, the director of Historical Services at Woodlawn] started telling me about Olive, I went online and couldn’t stop reading about her. She got me; I’m a fan."

Even with all of Cappiello and his crew's hard work, there's still more that needs to be done like the door, which needs to be refinished and protected and the glass cleaned. Some plans are being hatched to see the second phase of restoration completed. To keep up-to-date on the progress, follow me on Twitter at @madcapheiress25 where I will tweet any new developments and Instagram at @madcapheiress25 for photos. 

30 April 2016

Where Did She Go?

Wondering where I've gone? 

I'm still here, busier than ever before (or at least that's how it feels). I haven't forgotten this blog or you dear readers but my schedule is not what it once was. Unfortunately, until I can find some time to sit down and write the posts here will be few. So until I can share more tales with you, please follow me on Instagram or Twitter to see what I'm up to. 

17 March 2016

Happy St. Patrick's Day

Glencar Lake. Photo from here.

As I've done in the past, I'm celebrating the holiday on the blog by sharing a poem by my favourite Irish poet (my favourite poet really), W.B.Yeats. So Happy St. Patrick's Day and bain taitneamh as!

I Am of Ireland
'I AM of Ireland,
And the Holy Land of Ireland,
And time runs on,' cried she.
'Come out of charity,
Come dance with me in Ireland.'

One man, one man alone
In that outlandish gear,
One solitary man
Of all that rambled there
Had turned his stately head.
'That is a long way off,
And time runs on,' he said,
'And the night grows rough.'

'I am of Ireland,
And the Holy Land of Ireland,
And time runs on,' cried she.
“Come out of charity
And dance with me in Ireland.'

'The fiddlers are all thumbs,
Or the fiddle-string accursed,
The drums and the kettledrums
And the trumpets all are burst,
And the trombone,' cried he,
'The trumpet and trombone,'
And cocked a malicious eye,
'But time runs on, runs on.'

'I am of Ireland,
And the Holy Land of Ireland,
And time runs on,’ cried she.
'Come out of charity
And dance with me in Ireland.'

10 March 2016

IT Girls, Flappers, Jazz Babies, and Vamps

Clara Bow in It (1927)

Tomorrow begins Film Forum's two-week series "IT Girls, Flappers, Jazz Babies, and Vamps" or as I call it, my big birthday present. Yes, there will be 31 films shown featuring  some of the loveliest and greatest of the silver screen starting with Kay Francis and Miriam Hopkins in Ernst Lubitsch's witty Trouble in Paradise (1932) and ending with Clara Bow in Dorothy Arzner's delightful Get Your Man (1927). In between there's Louise Brooks, Marlene Dietrich, Barbara Stanwyck, Joan Blondell, Greta Garbo, Jean Harlow, Joan Crawford, Anna May Wong, Colleen Moore, and more. I am trying to limit myself to only seeing films that I haven't seen on the big screen before but that rule might just get broken (I'll report back on which screenings I attend). So thank you Bruce Goldstein and Film Forum for scheduling this series during my birthday month. And if anyone is looking for me during the next few weeks, you'll know where to find me.

For more information about the series, visit Film Forum.

09 March 2016

The Scream

"The Scream" Edvard Munch (1895)

“Munch and Expressionism,” the latest exhibit at the Neue Galerie, explores how the Norwegian Evard Munch influenced his German and Austrian contemporaries and German Expressionism. Included in the show are more than 80 paintings and works on paper by Munch and other artists like Max Beckmann, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, and Egon Schiele. This mix allows viewers to see shared themes of mortality, alienation, and anxiety and for Munch’s work to stand out. It's also refreshing to see a woman artist, Gabriele Munter, included; her painting “The Blue Gable” (1911) was one of my favourites in the show.

An exhibit of Munch wouldn’t be complete without his most famous work, The Scream, an iconic symbol of modern angst. Here the painting gets its own room, dark and cozy. Munch created four versions of “The Scream” yet the one on display, the 1895 version done in pastels, may be the most interesting. It’s the only one to have remained out of a museum and in private hands. It’s also the one that includes a poem painted on the frame by the artist that describes the origin of the work:

“I was walking along the road with two Friends / the Sun was setting – The Sky turned a bloody red / And I felt a whiff of Melancholy – I stood / Still, deathly tired – over the blue-black / Fjord and City hung Blood and Tongues of Fire / My Friends walked on – I remained behind / – shivering with Anxiety – I felt the great Scream in Nature – EM.”

 “The Scream” has been reproduced so many times that it’s become kitsch yet it’s striking to see in person, brighter than any postcard or poster. The strong strokes of colour have a feeling of urgency, as if the artist dashed off the work in a hurry. The oppressive orange sky, the seemingly endless bridge above the swirling blue water below, and the alien-like features of the figure in the forefront grab your attention, leaving you with a sense of unease.

“Munch and Expressionism” is at the Neue Galerie until June 13, 2016.

03 March 2016


Today is Jean Harlow's birthday. Born in Kansas City, Missouri on March 3, 1911, she was the original blonde bombshell. Gorgeous, smart, and funny, she starred in a series of wonderful films in the 1930s before dying all too soon at the age of 26. I've written before about my love for Harlow who is one of my favourite stars from the Golden Age of Hollywood. The scene of her sitting in bed eating chocolates and reading magazines in Dinner at Eight is a situation I am always aspiring to be in, and I only wish I could deliver a putdown like she could ("Ya big ape"). So Happy Birthday, Harlow!

02 March 2016


Tonight I attended an after hours event at the Whitney Museum. While I did check out the new exhibits, I probably enjoyed the gallery with selections from the Whitney’s permanent collection the most. In one section among works by Edward Hopper, Man Ray, and Joseph Cornell is the painting “Cocktail” by Gerald Murphy (1927).

During the 1920s, Americans Gerald and Sara Murphy lived a charmed life on the French Riviera. Cultured and stylish, they swam, sunbathed, danced, and dined with their circle of friends who included the likes of Fitzgerald, Hemingway, and Picasso. It was also the decade that saw an artistic outpouring from Gerald who produced 14 paintings in the Cubist-style, which were well received. Tragedy struck the Murphys in 1929 when their son, Patrick, became ill with tuberculosis; Patrick and his brother, Baoth, would both die a few years later. Gerald never painted again.

Today, only eight of his paintings are known to still exist including “Cocktail.” It is a perfect painting for the Jazz Age. Titled after what one drank in a speakeasy, it features a martini glass and cocktail shaker along with a corkscrew and an all-important lemon for a twist. There’s also a large box of cigars. Devoted to his family, Gerald included five cigars to represent him and his family members. The collection of items, lined up in an orderly fashion, is modern and sophisticated, just like its painter. 

01 March 2016

Dear March

Dear March - Come in - 
Dear March - Come in -
How glad I am 
I hoped for you before -
Put down your Hat -        
You must have walked -
How out of Breath you are -        
Dear March, how are you, and the Rest -
Did you leave Nature well -        
Oh March, Come right upstairs with me -
I have so much to tell -

I got your Letter, and the Birds -        
The Maples never knew that you were coming -
I declare - how Red their Faces grew -                
But March, forgive me -        
And all those Hills you left for me to Hue -        
There was no Purple suitable -        
You took it all with you -                
Who knocks? That April -
Lock the Door –
I will not be pursued -
He stayed away a year, to call
When I am occupied -
But trifles look so trivial
As soon as you have come,
That blame is just as dear as praise
And praise as mere as blame.
—Emily Dickinson

03 February 2016

Pavlova of America

During the 1920s and 30s ballerina Harriet Hoctor, dubbed the "Pavlova of America” by showman Florenz Ziegfeld, charmed audiences with her graceful and unique dancing. Double-jointed, she was able to bend her body backwards and execute a perfect question mark, as seen in this photo, and incorporated her backbend into many of her dances.

Born on September 25, 1905 in Hoosick Falls, New York, she made her Broadway debut at just 15 in the chorus of the Ziegfeld produced musical Sally (1920) starring Marilyn Miller. After dancing on the vaudeville circuit, she was asked by the Duncan Sisters (huge vaudeville stars at the time) to join the cast of Topsy and Eva, a musical version of Uncle Tom's Cabin, which toured the country before opening on Broadway in 1924. After a 20-week run, Hoctor went on tour again before returning to Broadway for A La Carte (1927). 

Harriet Hoctor in The Three Musketeers (1928), Photo by Maurice Goldberg. While Hoctor was lovely
as a blonde, I like the bob and general flapper attitude in this photo. 

Having made an impression on Ziegfeld, she was cast in three of his productions: The Three Musketeers (1928), Show Girl (1929), and Simple Simon (1930). During this time Hoctor also participated in recitals, showing off her dance skills in various pieces including one based on The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe for which Hoctor tapped out of the sounds of the bird. This was accomplished by toe tapping en pointe, which is exactly what it sounds like— dancing en pointe with taps attached. Although not the only dancer to utilize this style of dance, Hoctor was one of the best.

In 1932, she travelled to London to perform at the Hippodrome in Bow Bells where she received huge ovations from the audience. Returning to New York, she appeared in a series of productions including Earl Carroll’s Vanities (1932) before she turned to film. She played herself in The Great Ziegfeld (1936) and danced with Fred Astaire in Shall We Dance (1937) for which George Gershwin wrote a number specifically for her titled “Hoctor’s Ballet.” Back in New York, she was a member of the Ziegfeld Follies of 1936 along with Josephine Baker and Fannie Brice.

She spent the rest of the decade and the war years dancing on stage, including performing and choreographing dances at Billy Rose's nightclub the Diamond Horseshoe, after which she retired and ran the Harriet Hoctor Dance School in Boston for many years. She passed away on June 9, 1977.

Her appearance in Shall We Dance comes at the end of the film. She's in the first part of this clip (before the dancers with the creepy Ginger Rogers masks appear). Notice her name on the marquee in the opening shot? Look at how beautiful and effortless her movements are and how perfectly paired she is with Astaire. It was rumoured that Ginger Rogers didn’t want to make this film at first and that Hoctor was going to replace her. Rogers decided at the last minute to take the part. At least Hoctor got her own ballet, and we get to see it. Enjoy.

20 January 2016

The Sweetheart of Lisbon

Beatriz Costa (1930)

Beatriz Costa (1907-1996) was a huge Portuguese theatre and film star who, unfortunately, is not very well known here in the States. I became intrigued from the moment I first saw her image. Portuguese, dark bob, only five feet tall, that could be a description of me! (Sadly though, I can neither sing nor dance.) Of course, I wanted to find out more about her. Most of the information I did find was in Portuguese so apologies in advance for anything that I've translated poorly.

She was born Beatriz da Conceição in Mafra, Portugal on December 14, 1907. As a young girl she helped her mother who took in sewing and taught herself how to read at the age of 13. Enamoured with the stage, she used a connection of her stepfather’s to get a letter of introduction to a theatre manager in Lisbon and at age 15 she made her professional stage debut as a chorus girl in Tea and Toast (1923). She was shortly after renamed Beatriz Costa by Luis Gallardo.

Beatriz Costa from a studio session in Rio (1929)

The following year the theatre company travelled to Brazil where Costa earned raves from the public and the press, especially for her performance of the song “Mademoiselle Boy.” She returned to Portugal two years later where she continued to star in a variety of musical shows.

In 1927, she made her screen debut in The Devil in Lisbon followed the same year by Fátima Milagrosa in which she danced a tango with the future director Manoel de Oliveira. She also began sporting bangs, which would become her trademark. Although she was successful in film, she continued to perform on stage in a series of productions before going on another tour of Brazil. When she returned, she met with Paramount’s European representative and won the lead in Her Wedding Night, a remake of a Clara Bow picture and one of the first Portuguese talkies. Filmed in Paris, it brought Costa even more accolades.

By the 1930s, Costa’s bubbly personality and comedic talents had made her incredibly popular and she was given the nickname, “the Sweetheart of Lisbon.” In 1933, she starred in her biggest film yet, A Song of Lisbon. Billed as the “first Portuguese film made by Portuguese people,” A Song for Lisbon ushered in Portugal’s Golden Age of Cinema. In 1937, Portuguese moviegoers voted her the “Princess of Portuguese Cinema.” 

She ended the decade by making her last film, The Village of White Clothes, and returning to Brazil where she stayed for ten years, performing at the Casino da Urca; she would later refer to this time as “the best years of my life.” It was there in 1947 that she wed the Brazilian writer and sculptor Edmundo Gregorian. But the marriage didn't last, and they divorced two years later.

In 1949, she made a triumphant return to Portugal where she starred in a series of successful plays including Play the Music and Carry On. After her performance in Está Bonita a Brincadeira in 1960, she retired from the stage and travelled the world, attending theatre festivals and visiting with various celebrities. When she returned to Portugal, she moved into the Hotel Tivoli in Lisbon where she would live for the rest of her life. There she began a second career as an author, writing successful books about her career and experiences. I’m happy to report, she sported a bob with her trademark bangs even in old age. Although she received many requests to return to the stage she refused, citing the decline in the quality of theatrical shows. Costa passed away on April 15, 1996. 

Song of Lisbon is one of her few films to survive. Watch this clip where Costa awkwardly dances around and cannot hit a high note. She's funny and adorable in this scene and throughout the rest of the film; no wonder she was called the Sweetheart of Lisbon.

19 January 2016

It's Your Own Fault

"Something's always happening here. If you're bored in New York, it's your own fault."—Myrna Loy

18 January 2016

Boston Common at Twilight

Yesterday was the first snow of the season. In honour of the occasion, I’m taking a look at a favourite winter painting.
When I lived in Boston, I spent many hours at the Museum of Fine Arts. “At Dusk (Boston Common at Twilight)” by the American Impressionist Childe Hassam was one of my favourite paintings. Today, looking at it instantly conquers up a nostalgic mix of memories of both Boston and winter snow.
Here we see a mother with her two children feeding the sparrows on the Tremont Street Mall in Boston Common (a handy location for Hassam as it was across the street from his studio). This wide promenade in the Common, lined with elm trees on one side and Tremont Street on the other, was created for Bostonians to have a place to take a stroll, perhaps in the afternoon or on a Sunday dressed up in church finery. So refined.
While the site looks different today—the promenade was broken up with the addition of two subway entrances—it’s still recognizable as the Boston Common I’ve walked through so many times. What’s interesting to note is that the Common Hassam painted reflected changes that had occurred during his time as well; by the mid-1880s an increase in commerce in the area had resulted in new buildings and streets crowded with trolley cars and carriages.
I particularly love the light in the painting from the pink warmth of the setting sun behind the trees to the orange glow from the windows in the buildings. As for the snow, Hassam painted a very accurate depiction of snow that’s been walked upon. Looking at that path, I know all too well that by the next day it would have turned into a sheet of ice to be traversed at your own risk. Oh, winter in Boston. How beautiful (and dangerous) you could be.

05 January 2016

Between the Pages

Constance Bennett in Lady With a Past (1932)

A new year, a new slew of books to review. I read quite a few books last year but not nearly as many as I would have wanted. These are some of the titles I finished in 2015. And as a new year brings fresh starts, Bookshelf will be called Between the Pages going forward. Now, please, read on.

My Life in France—Julia Child and Alex Prud’homme
Paul and Julia Child moved to France in 1948 for Paul to start his job with the US Information Service. En route to Paris, they stopped for lunch at a restaurant in Rouen. Julia would later refer to it as “the most exciting meal of my life.” Thus began her life-long love affair with la belle France. In Paris, Julia began exploring all aspects of French cuisine, taking classes at the Cordon Bleu and ultimately writing her classic cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking. The book is filled with charming anecdotes of her time in France from merchants she befriended to her experiments in the kitchen to the great love affair with her husband. Be warned: reading this will make you want to buy a ticket for France.

In 1930s Paris a blind girl named Marie-Laure learns the layout of her neighbourhood via a hand-carved miniature version lovingly created by her locksmith father while in Germany a young orphaned boy, Werner, discovers he has a gift for fixing radios. As the Germans descend on Paris, the Seas of Flame—a cursed diamond from the Museum of Natural History—is secreted out of the city to the seaside town of St. Malo where Marie-Laure and Werner’s paths will ultimately cross. I wasn’t expecting to like this novel as much as I did but the non-linear narration made for compelling storytelling and some of Marie-Laure’s scenes were particularly moving.

Mrs. Roosevelt’s Confidante—Susan Elia Macneal
Maggie Hope is back, this time travelling with Churchill to America to visit Roosevelt to discuss the country’s entry in the war. The mysterious death of one of Mrs. Roosevelt’s secretaries threatens to falsely expose the first lady to a scandal of epic proportion, and it’s up to Maggie find the killer and protect the nation. I’ve enjoyed all of the Maggie Hope books and this one in particular. I especially liked the behind-the-scenes look at the Roosevelts in the White House (FDR whipping up cocktails and lots of appearances by Fala) and the descriptions of Washington during wartime.

The Other Typist—Suzanne Rindell
Rose Baker is a police typist in 1920s New York, spending her days typing up confessions and her nights alone in her rented room in Brooklyn. Her world is changed with the hiring of a new typist, Odalie Lazare, whose fashionable appearance and carefree attitude fascinate Rose. Before long she is drawn into Odalie’s life, sharing her flat and frequenting speakeasies. But there’s something sinister bubbling under the surface that’s destined to result in murder. Reminiscent of a Patricia Highsmith story, Rindell does a good job at building the tension in the story and leaving the reader guessing at the ending.

Girl Waits with Gun—Amy Stewart
In 1914, the three Kopp sisters were driving in their horse and buggy in Patterson, New Jersey when a man hit them with his motorcar. The sisters tried to invoice for the damages but Harry Kaufman, the silk factory owner who had been behind the wheel, retaliated with threatening letters and rocks thrown through the sisters’ windows. The local sheriff did what he thought best—gave the sisters rifles for protection. This is the basis for Stewart’s novel, which revolves around the oldest sister, six-foot tall Constance, who uses her height to intimidate Kaufman and indeed waits with gun. This was a favourite read of mine last year. Stewart does a great job at fleshing out the portraits of the Kopp sisters and demonstrates how one can tell a fictional account of a real event well.

The Goldfinch—Donna Tartt
Thirteen-year old The Decker and his mother are viewing an exhibit at the Met when a bomb goes off, killing her and leaving Theo unharmed with a dead man’s ring and Carel Fabritius’ “Goldfinch” in his possession. Finding temporary shelter at the Upper East Side home of a classmate, he’s soon whisked away by his father to Las Vegas where Theo embarks down a drug-laden road with his only friend, a Ukrainian boy named Boris. When Theo returns to New York, he becomes an apprentice to an antiques dealer who lost his partner in the blast, the same deceased man whose niece Theo loves. It took me a while to get around to reading this book, and I’m so glad I did. Despite its heft, I found myself finishing it in a few days, drawn to the story of Theo and the fate of that glorious bird.

01 January 2016

Hello, 2016!

Hello, 2016! My list of new year's resolutions is long and complex, created with the full realization that most of them will not be achieved but there's no harm in wishful thinking is there? At the top of that list is a resolution to make the most of the next twelve months. No more procrastination—it's time to act (or dance if the occasion calls for it). So lets enjoy 2016 and all the possibilities it brings.

Gif of Louise Brooks from Love 'Em and Leave 'Em (1926). Taken from here.


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