Saturday, February 28, 2009

Song of Bernadette

Bernadette Peters
February 28, 1943

We admit it: we're not very fond of Bernadette. We walked out of her Annie Get Your Gun during intermission, and were tempted to do the same thing during Gypsy. Her voice does nothing for us (except on her fabulous, 1965 pseudo-Lesley Gore 45, "We'll Start the Party Again"). But she is undeniably a Broadway legend, so due respect must be accorded. And, it must be said, on the few occasions that we've seen her up close and personal -- including an evening at Cafe Luxembourg when we were seated so close together, we were practically sharing the same dinner -- she radiates Star Power. A shame we've never felt the same sparks when we've seen her on stage; but we will end this on a positive note: her skin is absolutely flawless. And trust us, we were examining it closely at Luxembourg.

Visit her official website here.

Guess Who?

Portrait of Dorian Leigh

She was Richard Avedon's favorite fashion subject; graced the cover of over 50 magazines within a six year span; and after her modeling career ended, ran her own modeling agency and gourmet restaurants in Paris. She was Dorian Leigh, the first supermodel (Janice Dickinson be damned), and for nearly a decade, she was one of the most photographed women in the world, appearing on the cover of Vogue no less than seven times in one year (1946).

A John Rawling portrait of Dorian Leigh for the cover of Vogue, 1946

By the mid-1950's, Leigh's fame had been surpassed by that of her younger sister, Suzy Parker; she starred in a few French films, then relocated to Paris to launch the city's very first modeling agency. Leigh was enormously successful, and there are tantalizing and scandalous tales of the former cover girl joining transatlantic forces with her mentor, Eileen Ford, to drive competitor John Casablancas out of business -- and out of his mind. Eventually, Leigh herself was "run out" of the industry, thanks to the illegal schemes of one of her five husbands, which is when she entered the restaurant business. Relocating to New York in the 1980's, Leigh penned several cookbooks, including one devoted to crepes. Her son, Kim, died at 21 by his own hand; after that, the reputed inspiration for the glamorous and hedonistic Holly Golightly became a Born Again Christian. She died of complications from Alzheimer's Disease in 2008, at age 91; but through the lens of Avedon and other genius photographers, the breathtaking elegance and mystique of Dorian Leigh will never age.

Hermione Gingold

Ah, we remember her well.

Our Wish For You

May your weekend go swimmingly.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Happy Birthday...

Elizabeth Taylor Hilton Wilding Todd Fisher Burton Burton Warner Fortensky
February 27, 1932

Fancy Miss Nancy

Flower Drum Song (1961)

Fabulastic Thombeau and That Darn Dray are just too clever; our latest Mystery Guest was the lovely star of The World of Suzie Wong (1960) and Flower Drum Song (1961), Miss Nancy Kwan, whom we patently adore.

In typically shortsighted fashion, Hollywood must have been asking themselves, How Do You Solve a Problem Like Nancy Kwan? After the initial hoopla surrounding Suzie Wong and Flower Drum Song died down, there were scant opportunities for Asian leading ladies. There were even attempts to "change" Nancy's image; she made an alluring French ye-ye girl...

...but was less convincing as Yvette Mimieux's doppelganger.

Kwan's mentor, producer Ray Stark (to whom she was under personal contract), protected her interests as much as he could: interestingly, Nancy's roles in Honeymoon Hotel (1964) and Arriverderci, Baby! (1966), two glamorous if inconsequential sex comedies, did not specify her characters as being Asian. This could have been a turning point in her film career (not to mention film history), but after her association with Stark ended, Hollywood backpeddled and handed her such decorative roles as "Nurse Tomiko Momoyama" in a (God help her) Doug McClure vehicle, Nobody's Perfect (1968), and "Yu-Rang" (geddit?) in The Wrecking Crew (1969), the last of Dino's smarmy Matt Helm spy spoofs.

The Wrecking Crew (1969)

The sad truth is, there was simply no place in Hollywood for a beautiful, glamorous movie star who happened to be Asian. Like Dorothy Dandridge before her, Nancy Kwan was hailed as a superstar in her first major films; and then found that there were no more roles being tailor-made for the ethnically-specific box she was confined to.

Still, La Kwan was Hollywood's first bona fide Asian leading lady, so homage must be paid. Had she come along a few decades later, perhaps she would have become the superstar she should have been. On the other hand, since she's been Hollywood's only bona fide Asian leading lady since the 1960's, times haven't really changed that much, have they?

Visit Nancy Kwan's official website here.

Hot Lips

Dandy Long Legs

With only these three outfits, our entire wardrobe would be complete.

Charles of the Ritz

Exacting, temperamental, and brilliant, master American couturier Charles James was not an easy person to know, or an easy designer to wear. His sculptural, extreme fashions were breathtaking works of art which ignored the natural contours of both the fabrics with which he worked, and the bodies of the women whom he dressed; the gowns demanded a certain subjugation of personal comfort, but James's discriminating clientele of some of the world's most elegant women undoubtedly felt the sacrifice worthy of the end result.

A Decade of Design exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum, 1948

Completely dedicated to the art of fashion, rather than the business of it, James produced less than a thousand designs in his 45-year career; and his lack of business acumen is almost as legendary as his legacy of beautiful clothes. He met his ultimate muse, his greatest champion, and his most formidable sparring partner in the equally willful personality of oil heiress Millicent Rogers. Their combatative, collaborative relationship (she would alter James's designs for her) was so artistically successful, it was showcased in an exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum in 1948. Titled "A Decade of Design," it featured clothes James had created specifically for Rogers over the past decade. An exotic, original beauty, Millicent Rogers certainly knew how to create her own style and wear almost anything; Charles James could ask for no better model.

HRH Sophia Loren

Why not?