Lana Turner’s Gun

1973_deaths_lex_barker_lana_turner_1955I’ve been revisiting some of my favorite gallant leading ladies these days. Chief among them is, of course, Elizabeth Taylor. Say what you will about her life, her appetites (for men, jewels, food), and her talent, but she lived life with a gusto that few of us could hope to match. Remember when Montgomery Clift crashed his car outside her house, and she saved his life by reaching down into his throat and pulling out the front teeth he was choking on? And how, outside the hospital in a cab with an unconscious Monty on her lap, she responded to the cab driver’s insistence that he be paid the $10 fare by throwing a $10,000 diamond ring at him?

But these are told and retold stories. The one I want to tell today is Lana Turner’s.  Continue reading

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Real Talk: Take a Powder

“Hey, smart guy. Why don’t you take a powder and leave the adults alone?”

So why does “take a powder” mean to leave? No one knows! Yes, it’s going to be one of those entries in which I claim to answer a burning questions (for no one) but actually just shrug my shoulders and list a bunch of theories. Ladies’ choice!

Take a powder could come from the routine exclamation from doctors to patients—take a laxative powder for what ails you. Maybe! Or it could be a shortened version of, “I’m going to the powder room to powder my nose.”

In either case, it definitely originated in the 1920s and means to make a hurried—but discreet!—exit.

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Won’t You Spend an Hour with Bea Arthur?

Oh my. Don’t you wish we still lived in a world where a Bea Arthur could get an entire variety special on network TV? (Then again, this special seems to indicate that the variety special deserved to be put out of its misery.)

Special Note: Rock Hudson “would never ever take advantage of a woman.”

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Calling All Lovers

This Valentine’s Day, celebrate your love of the phone with 1967 Bell!

Also, hello strangers! We’ve been undergoing some major life and home renovations over the last four months that include brand new furniture and becoming single for the first time since 2008.


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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