Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Spring in Manhattan

Lest you think that we were idle during our hiatus, darlings, let us assure you that we were not. In addition to tending to our familial duties (and we thank you, sincerely, for your public and private messages of support, inquiries of concern, and all-around sweetness), March flew by in a whirl of nightclubs, theaters, restaurants and cocktail dens. Lunch at The Modern! Drinks at King Cole Bar! Dinner at "21"! Late night cabaret at The Oak Room at the Algonquin! It's a glamorous job, but somebody has to do it.

TJB and escort paint the town pink.

We kicked off the month by catching Marilyn Maye in her debut at Feinstein's at the Regency. Let us preface this by admitting that Feinstein's is our least favorite room in town, and, in all honesty, we've seen and heard the marvelous Marilyn do much better shows, and in better voice.

MARILYN MAYE: Still marvelous.

It's a testament to her brilliance, then, that even when fighting against an awkwardly-arranged room; a crowd for whom "hip" is usually associated with "replacement," rather than being "in the know"; and the unusual-for-Maye occasional misstep in song choice; this 82-year-young dynamo still puts across an act which is better than any other cabaret or nightclub performance you're likely to see by any other performer in this lifetime.

THEN AND NOW: Hair and lashes, still fabulous.

The Maye faithful have religiously followed her annual appearances at The Metropolitan Room downtown, appearances hallmarked by not only Maye's now-legendary chops and professionalism, but also a brilliant, laser-like precision in sequencing, formatting and execution. Her programs are not only master classes in singing, but in song choice and placement. But even when gamely giving a "newbie" audience a greatest hits, throw-everything-at-'em-and-see-what-sticks repertoire, Maye, as always, has the ability to create magic. A deliciously sensual "Lazy Afternoon" was sublime, seguing into Blossom Dearie's sexy, soulful "Bye Bye Country Boy." The latter is quickly becoming a Maye signature, along the lines of Murray Grand's terrific soap operetta, "Guess Who I Saw Today." Maye has sung that song so often, she could probably do it in her sleep and still be effective; thankfully, she's the 100% committed pro that she is, and totally devastates the crowd each and every time.

Forever and always a showstopper.

Other highlights: Steve Allen's lovely, little-heard "I Love You Today" (from MM's 1965 debut album for RCA); the glorious roof-raiser "Golden Rainbow" (the title song from Steve and Eydie's infamous 1967 Broadway show, and another favorite from Maye's RCA catalog); Sondheim's "Being Alive" cleverly bookended by Schwartz and Dietz' "By Myself"; Maye's now-famous seven-song-strong Cole Porter medley; and Porter's exuberant "I'm in Love Again" interpolated with a gorgeously-sung "I've Got a Crush on You" by the brothers Gershwin. The incomparable trio of pianist Tedd Firth, drummer Jim Ekloff, and bassist Tom Hubbard played their buns off, and added greatly to the evening's musical high points.

Did we mention that we've MET the legend herself? TJB, MM and SSUWAT's dear friend, Drew.

"I Love You Today"? Even in a less-than-perfect room, and with a slightly flawed program, Marilyn Maye has our affection forever and a day. And, thanks to the auspices of our darling friend Drew, we managed to sneak backstage after the show; and La Maye even remembered meeting us a few months before, or was sweet enough to pretend same. We left floating on air, high on the scent of her perfume and the lingering deliciousness of her talent. Later this week: reportage on performances by Dame Edna and Michael Feinstein; KT Sullivan and Mark Nadler; and Joyce Breach and Sir Richard Rodney Bennett.

Life is a cabaret!

Monday, March 29, 2010


...our last Mystery Guest was, indeed, the formidable Joan Shawlee, pictured above as the aptly-named "Amazon Annie" from Irma La Douce (1963). That was the third and last in a series of Billy Wilder films which finally showcased, to a broader audience, the comedic talents of a remarkable performer who'd been knocking around Hollywood for years in mostly undistinguished films. True, Shawlee had appeared in such major productions as From Here to Eternity (1953) and the Garland version of A Star is Born (1954 - that's Joan, introducing "Lola Lavery" at the opening scene's premiere: "She's a darling girl..."); but they were minor, bit parts, at best. Her "meatier" roles came in the form of such programmers as the immortal Prehistoric Women (1950).

Shawlee's star began to rise incrementally in 1956, when she scored the lead in a British sitcom called The Adventures of Aggie (broadcast simply as Aggie in the US, a year later). Portraying an American living in London, Shawlee's role was that of a fashion buyer who somehow found herself embroiled (weekly) with various nefarious underground agents and spies.


The scenarios were far-fetched, but this rise in visibility no doubt led to Shawlee's casting in the role of a lifetime: Sweet Sue, bandleader of the Society Syncopaters, in Billy Wilder's legendary Some Like it Hot (1959). In a film crammed with comic geniuses, all giving their full throttle to the pithy writing of Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond, Shawlee more than held her own.

SOME LIKE IT HOT (1959) - Shawlee is on the far right.

Shawlee's success as Sweet Sue led to further roles in Wilder's The Apartment (1960) and the aforementioned Irma La Douce. She also won a memorable recurring role on The Dick Van Dyke Show as Buddy's ex-showgirl wife, Pickles. From there on, Shawlee was never short of work, racking up an impressive number of television and film credits right up through 1985. Then, cancer felled what seemed to be an indomitable performer; Joan Shawlee left us on March 22, 1987. It seems only fitting that we remember her, fondly, in a month that is the anniversary of both her birth and passing. StewieG was the first to guess correctly, for which we present him with Sweet Sue's baton, to place wherever he pleases. Thanks for playing, darlings!

March 5, 1926 - March 22, 1987

This We Know For Certain

A bitch never changes her stripes.

After the Fall

In Crawford's Hair with Diamonds.

Monday Millinery

Friday, March 26, 2010


...it's so true! But your patience is greatly appreciated.

Bitch Goddess

March 23, 1904 - May 10, 1977

It's impossible to separate Joan Crawford from The Mommie Myth, although a "reclamation project" (to cop a phrase from Charles Busch) has slowly been building over the years. To distill Crawford's legacy and essence down to a one-note wire hanger joke is not only unfair, but virtually erases a huge, vital chunk of film history. Whatever her character flaws may or may not have been, Joan Crawford was a superstar of the first rank from the 1920's through the 1970's -- arguably, the greatest of them all (with apologies to Miss Desmond).

It's also worth remembering that, although the iconic image of a hardened, shoulder-padded Crawford is forever frozen in time and memory, she was actually brilliant at constantly reinventing herself, never -- revisionist history to the contrary -- allowing herself to become an anachronism...The flapper of the 1920's, the clotheshorse of the 1930's, the proto-feminist of the 1940's, the lusty older woman of the 1950's, the Grande Dame of the 1960's and 1970's -- these were all clearly defined epochs in the Crawford canon, each one distinct and different...

...For all of her legendary temperament, her overly-exacting standards, her mania for perfection, Miss Crawford, it must be said, never expected any more from her colleagues, co-workers, employees or children than she expected of herself. The fact that mere mortals could rarely, if ever, work or conduct their lives with the 200 percent commitment and discipline which Joan Crawford demonstrated throughout her entire career probably never even crossed her mind.

So, we think, a little love and a lot of respect is due. She came from nothing -- for all her Grand Lady pretentions and affectation, Miss Crawford made no bones about her own squalid childhood -- and although she clearly benefitted from the pampering services of Metro in the halcyon days of the Studio System, JOAN CRAWFORD, Star, was almost entirely the result of her own iron will, ambition, talent, and ferocious drive to escape her past. La Crawford's greatest creation, her towering performance, was being Joan Crawford, and she lived and loved it 24 hours a day. For that, we offer our thanks and gratitude.
Bless you, Joan! Wherever you are, we want you to know: We Understand.

March 26, 1944

Like the other misunderstood Great Lady, Joan Crawford, Diana Ross's famed temperament and legendary demands often overshadow her very real, very important contributions and talents. As the first black female superstar to achieve the level of celebrity previously only afforded whites, Diana Ross should be mentioned each night in the prayers of everyone from Halle Berry to Oprah Winfrey to Tyra Banks. She also, directly or indirectly, influenced and paved the way for at least three generations of singers, from Donna Summer to Whitney Houston, Janet Jackson to Madonna, Beyonce to Rihanna. Indeed, Diana Ross nearly single-handedly invented and defined what we now accept as the template for the "pop diva"...

...Love her or hate her (and both camps are legion), Diana Ross simply cannot be denied. Her name was written in stone in the pantheon of greats long, long ago. Much of the mean-spiritedness with which so many of her colleagues, music historians, and successors disparage her name and reputation can be traced to the fact that not only did Diana Ross have the audacity to be black and beautiful, but she also made it seem so easy -- and she wasn't sentimental about cutting her losses and leaving people behind who couldn't help her achieve her goals. How dare she!

At the end of the day, however, the numbers and tallies don't lie: nearly 50 years in the business, 18 Number One hits, an Oscar nomination, a Golden Globe Award, a special Tony, a Kennedy Center Honor, Billboard magazine's "Entertainer of the Century" citation, two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame... why
shouldn't we bow down and call her Miss Ross?


Friday, March 19, 2010

While We're Away

Please enjoy Miss Ross and her safety gays and safety extensions.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

While We're Away

Felix, Cookie and Norma are helping us celebrate Our Birthday today.

Don't mess with 'em - they'd rather fight than give up that beehive switch.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

While We're Away

Happy Saint Patrick's Day, darlings!

Remember: throwing up green beer is not glamorous. Have a Grasshopper instead!

Monday, March 15, 2010

And Now, a Word From Our Sponsor

Darlings, SSUWAT is going on a little hiatus. Not forever, mind you, and hopefully, not for long. Since it is permanently 1962-ish around here, and we weren't even born then, we shan't bore you with the messy, real life details. In all seriousness, one of the things we have made a concentrated effort to avoid being is a confessional, bleeding heart kind of blog. We are only interested in the pretty, fabulous, glamorous side of life here at SSUWAT, darn it, and that's the way it's going to stay! We do, however, need some time off to take care of things that, well, need taking care of. Have we thanked you lately for your almost two years of support?! Thank you, thank you, thank you. We'll be seeing you soon.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Not to Be Nasty...

...but it just isn't the same for us. We're sure she's a nice girl and all, but the phrase "Oscar winner Sandra Bullock" catches in our throat every time we attempt to say it. Of course, once you utter those fateful words, "And the Oscar goes to... Marisa Tomei, Helen Hunt, or Julia Roberts," anything can happen.

P.S. We're sorry for this lapse in updates, but we're unexpectedly taking care of some family health issues. We'll be back soon, darlings!

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Birthday Trio

Statuesque stunner Paula Prentiss (March 4, 1938) should have become a superstar: she had the requisite good looks, presence, distinctive voice, and sharp comic timing. Strangely, she never had that major "breakthrough" film which would have catapulted her into the major leagues: instead, she was the redeeming feature in a number of fluffy, inconsequential confections like The Honeymoon Machine (1961) and Man's Favorite Sport? (1964). Married since 1961 to actor Richard Benjamin, Prentiss's distaste for the Hollywood scene and her desire for a quiet family life no doubt contributed to her career's curious stall; she's semi-retired several times, but is always a refreshing and welcome presence when she chooses to dip her toes back into the entertainment pond.

Another starlet who chose marriage over a promising career was Lili Gentle (March 4, 1940). Her second cousin was none other than Tallulah Bankhead, and if Lili didn't have a fraction of the Alabama Foghorn's explosive fire, she was an appealing presence nonetheless. Actually, perhaps some of that Bankhead spiciness did rub off, after all; unlike such other "cutesy" starlets of the period as Maggie McNamara and Pat Crowley, Gentle came across as infinitely wiser, hipper, more knowing, and definitely less irritating. Her big break was playing Tony Randall's niece in Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? (1957), but the following year, she married the boss' son and became Daryl Zanuck, Jr.'s bride - effectively ending her budding movie career.

Continuing with our "She shoulda been a contender" theme, we come to the exquisite Miss Barbara McNair (March 4, 1934 - February 4, 2007). One wonders if McNair gritted those perfect teeth every time she saw or heard Diahann Carroll and Nancy Wilson, her two closest contemporaries whose success far exceeded her own. McNair had actually followed Carroll into the hit Broadway show, No Strings; but while Carroll went on to a successful film and television career - the groundbreaking sitcom Julia (1968-71), an Oscar nod for Claudine (1974) - McNair lasted for only one season with her own variety program, The Barbara McNair Show (1969-70), and her film roles veered towards the exploitative: If He Hollers, Let Him Go (1968), Stiletto (1969), Venus in Furs (1970). And while Wilson was carefully cultivating a long, lucrative relationship with Capitol Records (which lasted from 1959 to 1980), McNair seemed unable to forge a proper recording career, either, drifting from various small labels to a strange, brief union with Motown, where the nightclub chanteuse was presented as a discotheque diva. Still, McNair was a popular and well-liked entertainer, and it seemed that she would continue in that comfortable vein, until the bottom fell out in the 1970's: in short order, her highly-touted variety series was cancelled; she and her husband/manager, Richard Manzie, were busted for heroin possession; and then Manzie was murdered gangland-style as a result of his Mafia associations. To her credit, McNair persevered, continuing to perform, whether in nightclubs, cruise ships, or even retirement homes - and always flashing that bright, million dollar smile, whatever her private woes might have been. McNair passed away at age 72, her golden voice silenced by throat cancer.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

For Those Who Think Young

Although we share our dear Muscato's distaste, most of the time, for the pious Miss Loretta Young, even he would have to admit that this ensemble is pretty damn fabulous. A Balenciaga-inspired mink swing jacket? We're so there.

Shamelessly swiped from our French frère, Soyons-Suave!

Have You a Little Fairy in Your Home?

If he adores Fanny Cradock, chances are, you do.


...we dream in chiffon.

Birthday Serendipity

March 3. 1911 - June 7, 1937

March 3, 1903 - September 13, 1959