Jagged Sophistication: Cranberry

1931:  American actor Joan Crawford (1904-1977) sits on a stool with her face in her hand while Clark Gable (1901-1960) smokes a cigarette in a chair next to her on the set of director Clarence Brown's film, 'Possessed'. Crawford wears a blouse and a pleated skirt; Gable wears shirtsleeves.  (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Hollywood, 1931

A catnap and change of clothes later, I was downstairs swanning around among Patricia’s guests. Unlike her tennis party, these were genuine movers and shakers, people Patricia had assiduously collected as much for the reflected glamour as for what they could contribute to an evening. There were stars and writers (of books, not scripts), philanthropists, starlets, extra men, and a handful of notorious names that added a frisson of excitement I would quickly recognize as a hallmark of Patricia’s gatherings. Because no one knew what to expect at one of her parties, everyone was eager to attend.

Warned by my experience the previous night, I alternated between champagne and seltzer. I threw everything I had into the party, smiling, laughing, chattering, lighting cigarettes and fetching full glasses. By the time dinner was served and we were all laughingly finding our places, I had charmed half the party.

I was seated next to a Southern brunette and a fetchingly silvered older man who exuded gravitas. As the former debutante drawled her way through conversation with the man on her right, I turned to the man on my left.

“We didn’t have a chance to meet earlier,” I said. “I’m Peter Van Lawrence.” He deigned to glance at me.

“You’ve proved remarkably resilient,” he said. “I understand you’ve been in Los Angeles for less than a month?”

“That’s right,” I said, forcing myself to remain at the same conversational pitch even as I feared what was to come.

“And in that span of time you’ve ingratiated yourself into Patricia’s homelife and the office of Allan Short. That’s mighty fast work for someone so young.”

“Perhaps you’re unaware, but being pleasant has its advantages,” I said too sharply. He smiled down at his plate, neatly unfolding his napkin and smoothing it on his lap.

“Yes, I’ve also heard how pleasant you can be,” he said. “From a mutual… well, I wouldn’t call him a friend. Not of yours, certainly.”  Continue reading


A Softer League of Their Own

image001wThere was a time, before the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair made it popular and before Walter Hakanson christened it in 1926 by the name we all know it as, when softball was called kittenball. Or lemonball. Or pumpkinball. (Can we keep calling it kittenball?)

But here’s the thing—eventually, the game found widespread popularity as an indoor activity, something to keep baseball players sharp during winter months, but the very first game happened by accident at Chicago’s Farragut Boat Club on Thanksgiving 1887, when a Yale gentleman threw a boxing glove at a Harvard gentleman after a football game, and someone swung at the glove with a stick. Being gentlemen, they were all so tickled by this novel new sport that they immediately tightened up the glove, grabbed a broom handle, and set about playing. When rich white men set about to do something, they do it right!

Then again, all of this comes from Wikipedia so the game could have been invented by Mary Todd Lincoln when she accidentally hit a ball of yarn with a length of broadcloth. Who can say, ultimately?

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Mrs. Garfield Regrets She’s Unable to Lunch Today

Lucretia_Garfield_-_Brady-Handy-2Wikipedia isn’t always known for a dry wit, but every now and then, in some obscure corner, some well-intentioned (if frenzied) soul wins out. Such is the case with the entry for Mrs. James Garfield, the Widow Lucretia:

As First Lady, Mrs. Garfield researched the history of the White House furnishings with a view to restoring it to its former glory, but she contracted malaria and was unable to pursue the project.

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Living as a Real-Life Patrick Dennis

Tales From My Days of Unemployment…

December 2005

Monday morning, I called Danny to see if he was ready for me. “Yeah, come on over. Oh, and I’m having drinks with K.S. tonight, so I’m gonna bring you. He likes it when I bring tots, so look pretty.”

Later that day, while we were having a late lunch at The White Horse Tavern, Danny started filling me in on K.S. (who I keep wanting to call Perry Smith, but that’s wrong wrong wrong).

“Well, he’s the world’s leading expert on ancient Egypt, but don’t dare ask him anything about it. You aren’t worthy to discuss it with the master. There are probably only 12 people in the world who are allowed to talk about Egypt with him. He’s about 78, and he’ll probably tell you as soon as you walk through the door that he had prostate cancer and can’t fuck anymore; he can only get fucked. He married a Rockefeller, so he has piles of money. And he lives at 1 Beekman Place.”

“Beekman Place? Where Auntie Mame lived?!?”  Continue reading

Pick-Me-Uppers for the Down and Outers

image1An ounce of prevention is worth… very little when it comes to drinking, because one is never enough but two is probably already too many. Should you find yourself over-imbibing, here are some hangover cures from the 1949 Esquire’s Handbook for Hosts.

Barbatoge: Fill a glass with champagne; add a teaspoonful of brandy and a dash of curacao
Black Velvet: Half champagne, half stout
Crimson Cringe: Plain gin with a dash of grenadine
Flippant Hen: An egg in a short glass of beer
Spirit of ’76: Absinthe (pernod) and the white of bromo

And then there’s this…

Sea Captain’s Special (Distilled dynamite which may beg the question by putting your hangover off—until tomorrow): In an old-fashioned glass, place half a lump of sugar and douse it with Angostura; add 1 1/2 jiggers of rye and 1 lump of ice. Fill the glass with champagne. Top it off with 2 dashes of absinthe.

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Understanding Finality As an Adult

lonelyplace3Film writing, when done smartly and astutely, can be almost as transformative as film. And few are better at it than James Harvey, whose book Movie Love in the Fifties is essential reading for anyone who love classic film. He’s particularly strong when he devotes an entire chapter to Nicholas Ray’s masterpiece In a Lonely Place, possibly the most adult drama to ever come out of Hollywood (and starring KCD favorite Gloria Grahame). What other movie could possibly be described thusly:

Not only the final film but the presence and performance of both Grahame and Bogart make that earlier rejected ending, with its trashy, dumb irony, seem all but unimaginable. The grown-upness of Dix and Laurel is so central to our understanding of them—their ability to recognize too-lateness, to accept what cannot be unsaid or undone. Whatever their problems or flaws (sizable in both), they are not the sort of characters who need to be arrested or killed to understand finality.

Just reading that makes me want to watch the movie again—and that’s how I spent Labor Day this year, sitting with an audience of strangers in the dark at Lincoln Center, crying because a fictional relationship wasn’t destined to work out despite how much both parties wanted it to.

The Other Person in Hitler’s Tub

We all know Lee Miller in Adolf Hitler’s tub, right?


And here’s a second, less well-known version.


But did you know her traveling companion, David E. Scherman, also hopped in to rinse off?


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Jagged Sophistication: How Could Red Riding Hood Have Been So Very Good?

img266-1Hollywood, 1933

Tommy, Timothy, and I were propping up the bar at Tom’s, our usual Tuesday night spot. Tuesdays had the twin pluses of a piano player and no crowd, which meant that we could put in requests and actually hear the music. For the most part we favored singing along to our own requests over conversation.

I had put in a request for “How Could Red Riding Hood?” to the chagrin of everyone in the joint.

“Listen, Petey, this is the last time,” the piano player growled.

“It’s my signature tune,” I said calmly, if a bit slurrily. Adopting a pose—one hand curled under my chin, eyes wide—I hit my cue.

“Your friend has a great voice,” I heard someone say to Tommy as I finished.

“No, he doesn’t,” I said. “But he has great hearing.”  Continue reading

Life in The Factory

Miss Ivy NIcholson in halcyon days

Miss Ivy Nicholson in halcyon days

Tales From My Unemployment

December 2005

Tuesday night was the auction for Max’s Kansas City Foundation (created for struggling, established artists). Danny had a picture in the show of Iggy and the Stooges. He would have had more, but most of his other pictures from Max’s backroom had Lou Reed in them, and Lou ordered that no pictures of him be included.

Danny was, to put it mildly, annoyed.

“I’m taking this awful picture of Lou with me,” he said Monday night, holding a 5×7 picture in my face. “And I’m taking some adhesive, and sticking it to the wall! Hahahaha!”  Continue reading

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