Tuesday 30 December 2008

Close your eyes now and your heart will take you there

Happy birthday today to the lovely Sheryl Lee Ralph. Who? I hear people ask.

This oft-forgotten diva was one of the original cast of Dreamgirls on Broadway, is latterly a minor star of US daytime soap operas, and is a significant champion of fundraising for AIDS charities.

But it is for this song that I (alongside a generation of queens) am eternally grateful. For way back in 1984, when I entered the long-lost "Tunnel" club in Cardiff, my first ever venture into a gay club, still a quivering virgin, it was this Hi-NRG classic that was playing.

The world changed with Sheryl Lee Ralph...

In The Evening
Where are people when you need 'em
When you need some help
They're just not around
Doesn't anybody work here?
I ain't got all day
What a crazy town

New York
Life in the city can be so hard
But after dark
New energy finds me
I light up the night and live like a star

In the evening the real me comes alive
I can feel it
In the evening
Something happens that I can't describe
But it helps me to survive
It's like magic
Like something in the air
You can feel it
Close your eyes now
And your heart will take you there
Just let it take you there

Monday morning in the line at the bank
Standing around trying to cash a check
To pay for a one-room apartment with a beautiful view
Of the alley in the back

All day you got to fight
To keep it for the rights
Every day I work like a soldier
Working to live, living for the night

New York
New energy finds me
I light up the night and live like a star

Feel it
Feel it feel it
Feel it

Sheryl Lee Ralph on Wikipedia

Monday 29 December 2008

The great Puppini riot 2008

We went to the South Bank last night to see the wonderful Puppini Sisters, full of post-Xmas relief, and in need of a laugh. What a peculiar evening it turned out to be...

OK, we have nothing against Mr McAlmont (David) - we weren't expecting a support act, but he's quite good. Even when he turned out to be there not to sing, but to play as DJ, spinning some jolly 1940s tunes as a warm-up, we didn't mind. However this caused some rumblings amongst the audience, who began complaining they'd turned up at 7.30pm to see the Puppinis and not to "listen to the radio".

Like sheep, this discontent led to one or two walk-outs, followed by a few more, and more, loudly proclaiming they wanted their money back. Fearing a riot, the management unexpectedly announced an early (and extended) interval, poor David departed the stage, and we milled out to queue at the loos and the bar. I have never known anything like it at any concert before - and believe me, I've seen some crap support acts!

The atmosphere was still a bit chilly when the curtain call rang out, and we resumed our seats for the arrival of the main event. I love the Puppini Sisters, and they did us proud with their jaunty Andrews Sisters-style pastiches of classic numbers like Heart of Glass, Crazy in Love, The Smiths' Panic, and Wuthering Heights, together with some original 1940s material, and their own numbers - including my personal favourites (I Can't Believe I'm Not A) Millionaire and Soho Nights.

Despite a very shaky costume change (which presumably took so long because we'd had our unplanned interval so early), they gave a sterling performance in the face of the bloody awful acoustics of the Queen Elizabeth Hall, and the miserable faces of the audience - who were quite pathetic when it came to the sing-a-long numbers.

I can't help wondering if the Puppini Sisters should stick to what they know - they are at their very best in smaller, club-style venues, after all. Both the venue and the South Bank audience seemed to conspire to make this a less-than-perfect evening with an otherwise brilliant act.

Here's a collection of the girls' greatest...

Puppini Sisters

Sunday 28 December 2008

"Communications ready, sir. Communications officer as ready as she’ll ever be."

Celebrating today the birthday of Nichelle Nichols, better known as Lieutenant Uhura in Star Trek, there are a few things that we should know about this remarkable lady:
  • Not only was hers the first non-"servant" part for a black woman on mainstream American TV, but she shared the very first ever inter-racial kiss on TV when she and Captain Kirk had a little intimate moment.
  • Her great-grandfather, James Gillespie, was Welsh.
  • Nichelle always was, and still remains, a campaigner for civil rights - both those of black people and on behalf of gay and lesbian equality.
  • She was a "glamour model" before Star Trek brought fame and fortune, but was always an accomplished singer, performing with Duke Ellington and Dizzie Gillespie.
Here are some examples of her talents (including her [truly incredible] vocal version of the Theme from Star Trek)...

...and here, Miss Nichols speaks out on gay rights:

We love her.

Uhura official website

Saturday 27 December 2008

Best single of 2008?

Well, according to Billboard (the magazine that is the epitome of American "taste" - if that isn't an oxymoron!) the "best" single of the year was Beyonce's deeply unimpressive Single Ladies. Considering that she beat the genuinely good Santogold/Santigold to the top of this chart - a list that also includes Coldplay (bleurgh) - it just about sums it up really.

Although the Brits won't be announced until January (and there is no guarantee that the great unwashed of Britain - in conjunction with The Sun's "Bizarre" column for gawd's sake - will come up with a much better list given the huge sales of X-Factor dross and bloody Estelle), I can safely assume that two faves of mine Duffy and Sam Sparro will be among the listings.

However, in hindsight, for its pure enjoyment factor as much as anything else, my own nomination for best single of 2008 in any chart would have to be be this...

Friday 26 December 2008

The most exciting woman in the world, RIP

An intrinsic part of my life, Eartha Kitt is dead. I am distraught.

Eartha was the artiste who outshone them all - she saw Dinah Washington, Billie Holiday, Pearl Bailey, Nina Simone and Sarah Vaughan come and go, she was courted by Howard Hughes and Orson Welles, yet all her success and her long-term relationships (with film producer Arthur Loew Jr and cosmetics mogul Charles Revson) failed to bring her happiness after a sad and abusive childhood.

She was apparently considered "too white" to be treated seriously in the black music fraternity. Of the experience she said "I was ostracised by ... black people for twenty-five years because they were conditioned by the media into thinking that all black people should be singing the same kind of music". But white society in general considered her an "uppity" black woman.

Yet by the time she had reached her mid-twenties Eartha Kitt was headlining at top clubs in the United States and Europe and rubbing elbows with such twentieth-century heavyweights as physicist Albert Einstein and Indian prime minister Nehru.

At the peak of her success at the end of the 60s - sell-out cabaret appearances, hugely successful songs like C'est Si Bon, Uska Dara, An Old-Fashioned Girl, I Want to Be Evil and Santa Baby, and an acclaimed part as Catwoman in Batman - she famously clashed with First Lady Mrs (Lyndon B.) Johnson over the Vietnam War and overnight the work dried up for Eartha in the USA.

She only made a real commercial comeback - with the help of her largely European gay fan base - in the 1980s with a string of Hi-NRG songs, including Where Is My Man? - the soundtrack to my own coming-out.

It was not just for her exotic beauty and strangely haunting talents, but for her resilience in spite of setbacks that we loved Eartha Kitt. I was overjoyed a few years ago to have the privilege of seeing her on stage at the Sondheim 70th Birthday Gala "Children Will Listen", and it was inevitable that we would cheer the roof off the Palladium at her choice of song - what else but I'm Still Here?

The world has lost a truly great star - and we will never see her like again. RIP.

Eartha Kitt biography

Thursday 25 December 2008

Wednesday 24 December 2008

Twisted Christmas

...and let that be an end to it! Ho Ho F*****g Ho.

Tuesday 23 December 2008


Just because... I feel like making everyone else suffer for her "art", here's a lovely number from one of Wales' greatest exports, Miss Dorothy Squires. Dear old Dotty had a hard life: married one minute to Roger Moore, the next minute the butt of everyone's jokes - except of course her ultra loyal gay following.

You can tell why the drag queens loved her...

Dorothy Squires official website

Monday 22 December 2008


With all the fuss and bother in the press at the moment about "which is the best version of Hallelujah?", I find myself wading into the debate.

I couldn't give a fish's tit for that hopelessly desperate lass from some reality TV show, nor that dead drug addict's version, nor that miserable sod that wrote the bloody song in the first place...

THIS is the only "Hallelujah" worth listening to...

Sunday 21 December 2008

Madge has a Brazilian?

Apparently Our Glorious Leader Madonna (50) has been enjoying her Brazilian excursion, and rumour has it that a local model Jesus Luz (21) has caught her eye.

Well, who could blame her?

New York Post article

Saturday 20 December 2008

The death of Miss Spectacular

One of my leaving prezzies was a real curiosity. My friend John-John gave me a copy of the soundtrack of a Jerry Herman musical that none of us had heard of before (unusual for a theatrical queen, I know)! On further investigation, it became clear why...

The musical in question, Miss Spectacular, was never staged. Jerry had been coaxed out of semi-retirement to write the score for a lavish Las Vegas production at the Mirage Hotel. The manager was even prepared to build a whole theatre to accommodate it, and musical thesp Tommy Tune was to be its director. Sounds perfect - but then disaster struck when in 2000 the Mirage chain was bought out by MGM-Grand, who (for some bizarre reason) shelved the whole project.

So the first musical by one of the greatest musical theatre composers for more than a decade was confined to being produced as a "concept album", albeit with a great cast including Michael Feinstein, Steve Lawrence and Christine Baranski.

It is a crying shame, as the show sounds (as always) fabulous, and could make a fantastic production if someone, somewhere, would only stage it. Cameron Mackintosh, are you listening?

[This clip opens with "I Wanna Live Each Night" from Miss Spectacular]:

Read more about the demise of Miss Spectacular

Friday 19 December 2008

Grace Jones is edible

Wow! At this time of year, you usually expect a Terry's Chocolate Orange or perhaps a box of Matchmakers, but trust Grace Jones to come up with a much more appealing option - chocolate covered bits of her own body!

I bet these would sell better than the Pic'n'Mix at Woolies' closing down sale...

Read more on Towleroad

The woman is, and always has been, a genius...

Thursday 18 December 2008

Como se puede bailar? es un escandolo

It hardly seems possible that it is eight years since Kirsty MacColl was killed in that boat "accident". Such a magnificent talent, from her early days with New England and There's A Guy Works Down the Chipshop Swears He's Elvis through Days and the best Xmas record ever Fairytale of New York with the Pogues (back in the charts again this year, I see), to this classic.

I love it! RIP...

I once met a man with a sense of adventure
He was dressed to thrill wherever he went
He said lets make love on a mountain top
Under the stars on a big hard rock
I said in these shoes?
I dont think so
I said honey, lets do it here.

So Im sitting at a bar in Guadalajara
In walks a guy with a faraway look in his eyes
He said Ive got as powerful horse outside
Climb on the back, Ill take you for a ride
I know a little place, we can get there for the break of day.
I said in these shoes?
No way, Jose
I said honey, lets stay right here.

No le gusta caminar. no puede montar a caballo
(I dont like to dance, I cant ride a horse)
Como se puede bailar? es un escandolo
(how can I dance? its a scandal)

Then I met an Englishman
Oh he said
Wont you walk up and down my spine,
It makes me feel strangely alive.
I said in these shoes?
I doubt you'd survive.
I said honey, lets do it.
Lets stay right here.

No le gusta caminar. no puede montar a caballo
(I dont like to dance, I cant ride a horse)
Como se puede bailar? es un escandolo
(how can I dance? its a scandal)

Wednesday 17 December 2008

To think I did all that, and may I say - not in a shy way...

A very appropriate song for today. I leave work on Friday after nine years...

It'll be good to have a rest!

Tuesday 16 December 2008

Three old broads

In these times of doom, gloom, cold weather and redundancy, I cheer myself up by delving into the world of showbiz. And what better way is there?

Here's a fabulous extract from The Royal Variety Show in 2001 that features three of the greatest showgirls ever to work together - Miss Babs Windsor, Miss Cilla Black and... Miss Lily Savage! Enjoy...

Monday 15 December 2008

Monday blues - cured again

Thank heavens for Raffaella Carrà on a miserable Monday!

Sunday 14 December 2008

England’s Stately Homo

"Life was a funny thing that happened to me on the way to the grave."

"An autobiography is an obituary in serial form with the last instalment missing."
Quentin Crisp

We paid fitting homage last night to the most influential camp gay man of the 20th century Quentin Crisp, on the occasion of the centenary of his birth. Organised once more with great chutzpah by Rupert Smith and Paul Burston aka The House of Homosexual Culture at the South Bank, this gala was a real treat!

Opening with the enigmatic La John-Joseph who unexpectedly performed a striptease, removing a tweedy conservative suit to reveal another, more characteristically Quentin-esque blue outfit and chiffon scarf, we knew we were in for an eclectic night.

"I recommend limiting one's involvement in other people's lives to a pleasantly scant minimum."
Quentin Crisp

Our invited panel of guests all spoke from a slightly different perspective about their friendship with Mr Crisp (he always referred to people with the formal "Mr", including "Mr Christ" and even "Mr The Ripper"). We heard from his boigraphers Paul Bailey and Andrew Barrow, the "living embodiment of Quentin on Earth" Bette Bourne and, with a moving compilation film of home movies and first hand accounts from his family, the great man's great nephew Adrian Goycoolea.

Apart from the ever fabulous Bette's extract from his one-man show Resident Alien (showing again in the new year at the New End Theatre apparently!), the real highlight for us was an exclusive preview of some scenes from the forthcoming ITV drama An Englishman in New York, a sequel to the classic 1975 ITV drama The Naked Civil Servant and once more starring John Hurt as Quentin.

"If at first you don't succeed, failure may be your style."
Quentin Crisp

In a typically bizarre closing piece, David Hoyle loudly proclaimed his feelings about Mr Crisp's influence on his own life, and on ours, in his own inimitable way - it is a lttle known fact that the artist formerly kinown as The Divine David was one of only a handful of people who went to the cremation ceremony after Quentin's sudden death while on tour in Manchester.

"Fashion is what you adopt when you don't know who you are."
Quentin Crisp

The finale was the much-vaunted Quentin Crisp look-alike contest. Although Paul did ask if I would join the line-up on stage, I felt that merely wearing a pink fedora might not stand up to the competition, and the winner among the strange beauty pageant was some pretty chicken (unusually dressed more like Mary Tyler-Moore for some reason) - understandably a far more likely candidate for the top prize of being photographed for the cover of QX magazine...

A truly grand piece of entertainment all in all, and one I wouldn't have missed for the world!

Saturday 13 December 2008

Cash in the Attic

News today that a routine valuation at a pensioner's bungalow turned up two fantastic long-lost Aubrey Beardsley illustrations in the downstairs loo - which have now been sold for £200,000 - gives me mixed emotions.

Read the story in The Telegraph

The discovery is great news for the art world. Beardsley was a magnificently decadent artist, a camp and delicate eccentric who mixed in aesthete circles with the likes of Oscar Wilde and Whistler, and quite rightly has claim to be one of the greatest influences on art and fashion to this day, despite the fact he died at the age of 26. Some of his most infamous drawings, inspired by Japanese art, featured enormous cocks, and were based on themes of history and mythology, including his illustrations for Aristophanes' Lysistrata and Wilde's Salomé.

But I can't help thinking - why can't something like this amazing discovery happen to me? I always think that way whenever I watch the Antiques Roadshow and some ghastly pot that an old biddy keeps her teeth in turns out to be a priceless Ming dynasty ceremonial vase, or some oik finds a valuable ivory Netsuke at a jumble sale...

Why didn't I have a mad old Auntie with a rambling house and treasure in the attic? Why is it that every jumble sale I go to, the nearest thing I get to "valuables" is a collection of albums by Nana Mouskouri or some chipped Wade Whimsies?

Ho hum...

Friday 12 December 2008

He’s walkin’ down some street in town and I know he’s lookin’ there for me

In yet another example of "who knew she was still alive?", today we celebrate the 70th birthday of that archetypal all-American singer Concetta Rosa Maria Franconero - otherwise known as Connie Francis.

Specialising in teary ballads such as Who's Sorry Now? and harmless pop numbers like Lipstick On Your Collar, she was a huge star (in the Doris Day mould) in the pre-Beatles early 60s. By the end of that decade, her particular brand of middle-of-the-road ditties was so out of fashion she retired from recording altogether. While on a "comeback" tour in the 1970s Connie was tragically raped in her motel room, and latterly became an advocate for victims' rights.

It is however this number that keeps Connie Francis high in the ranks of gay icons - a song that the lady herself apparently refers to as "The Gay National Anthem"...

Where the boys are, someone waits for me
A smilin' face, a warm embrace, two arms to hold me tenderly
Where the boys are, my true love will be
He's walkin' down some street in town and I know he's lookin' there for me

In the crowd of a million people I'll find my valentine
And then I'll climb to the highest steeple and tell the world he's mine

Till he holds me I wait impatiently
Where the boys are, where the boys are
Where the boys are, someone waits for me

Till he holds me I wait impatiently
Where the boys are, where the boys are
Where the boys are, someone waits for me

Connie Francis International Fan Club

Thursday 11 December 2008

Blog will eat itself

At Polari last night the bloggers came together to celebrate the art of blogging with readings by bloggers, and performances by bloggers... It's like being a Mason ..

What another fabulous night it turned out to be!

Skiving off the opportunity to reveal himself to his adoring public with the feeble excuse of being 10,000 miles away in Sydney, London Preppy sent a (rather pretty) substitute in his friend Mean (sic). The reading almost didn't take place at all as the original substitute reader didn't show up, and the extracts to be read out were only on email. Freedom - typical gay bar - had run out of printer toner, and there was a mad scramble to try and find an internet cafe in Soho to print it out... But, with his choice of a typically cynical blog about gay gym bunnies, we were enthralled.

Celine treated us to another of her bawdy classics, unsurprisingly featuring a whore from Soho, and then the main act took the stage.

Our real star was the ever-lovely Clayton Littlewood, reading (and performing) extracts from his blockbuster Dirty White Boy - Tales of Soho (which began as a blog). Brilliant as always, Clay embellished his reading with a full re-enactment of a couple of scenes:

- Arch decadent dandy Sebastian Horsley was played with spooky realism by - Sebastian Horsley!

- And the fans' favourite character Leslie was portrayed with effortless campery by none other than the lovely Dexter Clark - Celebrity Hairdresser - minus the wig(!).

Brilliantly entertaining stuff! With the house as packed as it was last night, I hope Clayton shifted a few copies of the book.

Yet the biggest laugh of the night was still to come, and it was one that very few people could have been prepared for...

Yes, indeed! As a precursor to the rest of the jollities that DJ Paul Burston had lined up for us, both he and the effervescent Rupert Smith donned skirts and flashed their scanties at the begging masses - complete with "Grace" and "Jones" emblazoned across the important bits! I bet the lady herself would have been proud.

We ended the evening pissed on expensive gin and heady with a range of music from Cole Porter to the 10 minute Macarthur Park Suite by Donna Summer...

A genius night, and I look forward to more divine decadence in January!


Wednesday 10 December 2008

The end of the world?

As the news breaks today that our galaxy is in fact swirling around a massive black hole - a news item that will be a feast for the tabloids, no doubt, despite the fact that it is 158 thousand, million, million miles from the Earth - I thought I'd pluck some items from the bizarre world that is my brain...

Black Hole discovered

Tuesday 9 December 2008

Bagpuss is dead

Sad news - Oliver Postgate, who created some of our best loved children's TV programmes is dead, aged 83.

His output was staggering: Noggin the Nog, The Pogles, Bagpuss, The Clangers, Ivor the Engine... Ah, the innocence of childhood. RIP.

Oliver Postgate's Smallfilms

Monday 8 December 2008

A halfwit in a leotard stands on my stage

As redundancy looms, I find it even more important to post something to cheer us up on a Monday.

Tony Christie's latest album Made in Sheffield, a collaboration with Jarvis Cocker, was released a couple of weeks ago. I have yet to hear it (but hopefully I'll get it at Xmas) but here's a brilliant earlier collaboration between the two - one of my favourite records of all time...

Marie has set up home
With a man who's half my age
A halfwit in a leotard stands on my stage
The standards have fallen
My value has dropped
But don't shed a tear
Some walk like they own the place
Whilst others creep in fear
Try if you can to walk like a man
But you don't come near

You've got to fly like an eagle
Prowl like a lion in Africa
Leap like a salmon home form the sea
To keep up with me
You've got to walk like a panther tonight
Walk like a panther tonight

The old home town just looks the same
Like a derelict man who had died out of shame
Like a jumble sale left out in the rain
It's not good, Its not right
The standards have fallen
My value has dropped
But don't shed a tear
Some walk like they own the place
Whilst others creep in fear
Try if you can to walk like a man
But you don't come near

You've got to fly like an eagle
Prowl like a lion in Africa
Leap like a salmon home form the sea
To keep up with me
You've got to walk like a panther tonight
Walk like a panther tonight

Where did you leave all self respect
You look like a reptile your house is a wreck
You're existence an insult
Stains that are suspect cover your clothes
The standards have fallen
My value has dropped
But don't shed a tear
Some walk like they own the place
Whilst others creep in fear
Try if you can to walk like a man
But you don't come near

You've got to fly like an eagle
Prowl like a lion in Africa
Leap like a salmon home form the sea
To keep up with me
You've got to walk like a panther tonight
Walk like a panther tonight
Walk like a panther tonight

Made in Sheffield - Tony Christie

Sunday 7 December 2008

The man who dressed Marilyn

"Billy Dear, please dress me forever. I love you, Marilyn."

William Travilla was a spectacularly successful fashion designer, who had the very good fortune in the 1950s to cross paths with the stunning screen icon Marilyn Monroe, for whom he designed some of her most famous frocks.

We went to see the exhibition of some of Travilla's most lauded costumes yesterday - and what a breathtaking ensemble they were. The red sequinned number from Little Girls from Little Rock, the pink dress from Diamonds are a Girl's Best Friend, the beautiful gold lame frock that was considered too risqué for the American censors, and THAT dress - the white full-skirted one that featured in Marilyn's most famous scene in The Seven Year Itch.

Travilla's career out-spanned his seven films with Marilyn, and costumes he designed for Betty Grable, Judy Garland, Linda Grey in Dallas (he was apparently credited with creating that "huge shoulder pad" look of the big 80s soaps), Whitney Houston, and Rachel Ward in The Thorn Birds were all included in the exhibition, along with a vast collection of memorabilia, original sketches, photos and messages of thanks from stars as diverse as Errol Flynn and Jaclyn Smith...

We were very glad to catch it, as the touring exhibition leaves the UK for Oslo today. Beautiful!

William Travilla

Saturday 6 December 2008

The Boys, the Boys...

We went to see a live recording of Radio 2 Friday Night is Music Night "starring" John Barrowman last night. As you might imagine, with the current popularity of the multi-talented Mr Barrowman (Torchwood, reality TV contests and current "fruit and nuts" controversy), the queue was a round the block at the Mermaid Theatre, as hundreds of people had also applied for free tickets from the BBC website.

Unfortunately the lovely John had a throat infection and couldn't sing (nor did he get his nuts out - boo!)

So a hastily-gathered selection of "friends" from various West End shows performed the evening's repertoire instead. No bad thing, as the assembled company are quite a talented bunch (if obviously under-rehearsed in the circumstances).

A couple of the players were familiar - the lovely Daniel Boys (currently in Avenue Q, and who starred in a recent Cosmo centrefold) and Sally-Ann Triplett (who we've seen on stage in Acorn Antiques the Musical and other shows) among them - but others were new to us, including Shona Lindsay (formerly in Phantom), Matt Rawle (currently in Zorro) and the very cute Peter Grant, an accomplished jazz/lounge artist whose Matt Monro covers made us really sit up and take notice...

Altogether, given the circumstances they put on a great show even without the uber-professional John Barrowman, who had evidently chosen his own favourite numbers to perform (which left the others slightly in the deep end musically, as they were not always the songs that suited their own repertoire).

A fabulous (free) evening's entertainment nonetheless!

Here's an example of the boys' (singing) talents...

Friday Night is Music Night

Friday 5 December 2008

It will never be the same again!

Despite all the rumours and denials (see below), it seems that the sometimes funny, sometimes downright irritating Graham Norton is going to replace the venerable Sir Terry Wogan as presenter of the Eurovision Song Contest, after all.

Read the announcement from the BBC

Life will never be the same again...

Thursday 4 December 2008

Makin’ Whoopee

It is apparently actor Jeff Bridges' birthday today. Not one of my favourite actors, he was nevertheless one of the co-stars of the classic film The Fabulous Baker Boys, back in the 80s - for which we are eternally grateful if only for this classy scene featuring the gorgeous pouting Michelle Pfeiffer... Enjoy!

Wednesday 3 December 2008


As the cold snap really starts to hit, with Arctic winds hitting London and Alaskan conditions in Scotland, here's an appropriate song that came to mind...

Tuesday 2 December 2008

La Divina

"It is very difficult to speak of the voice of Callas. Her voice was a very special instrument. Something happens sometimes with string instruments - violin, viola, cello - where the first moment you listen to the sound of this instrument, the first feeling is a bit strange sometimes. But after just a few minutes, when you get used to it,
when you become friends with this kind of sound, then the sound becomes a magical quality. This was Callas."

Had she lived, today would have been the 85th birthday of the diva Maria Callas.

Although born in the USA, her singing career began in her native Greece - to where her mother had moved the family - even during the German occupation of WW2. After the war, she briefly moved back to America, but it was in Italy that the music establishment began to really sit up and take notice of the budding opera star.

In post-war Venice she was a massive success. Callas demonstrated to the world the sheer versatility of her voice and talent by taking on not one but two demanding (and stylistically different) roles - Wagner's Brünnhilde and Bellini's Elvira - in the same season! She went on to triumph at La Scala in Milan throughout the 1950s, which mounted many new productions specially for her by directors such as Herbert Von Karajan, Margherita Wallmann, Luchino Visconti and Franco Zeffirelli, and the international legend "La Divina" (the divine one) was born. She dazzled audiences in Chicago, New York and London - and with her striking looks and stylish attire she soon became a media darling, even if she was rumoured to be temperamental and difficult to deal with.

But it was during the twilight of her full-time operatic career in the late 50s that she really drew the attention of the media, when she embarked on a scandalous (for the time) affair with billionaire shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis. The two later married, but more scandal ensued when Onassis left her in 1968 for the President's widow Jackie Kennedy. Always battling with ill-health (she was rumoured to be anorexic and was almost blind), Maria Callas died alone in Paris in 1977, and was hysterically mourned across the world.

We still have the music by which to remember one of the world's most magnificent operatic divas...

Maria Callas website

Monday 1 December 2008

Ersatz Elevator

In an attempt to lighten the dreadfulness of going to work on a Monday morning, I just had to post this little gem that Madame Arcati discovered...

Sunday 30 November 2008

Oh The Fairies

Oh, the Fairies, whoa, the Fairies
Nothing but splendour and feminine gender.
Oh, the Fairies, whoa, the Fairies
Oh for the wing of a Fairy Queen.

We went to a matinee Music Hall show by the Players Theatre company today, and what a fantastic time we had...With sing-along songs such as Daisy Daisy and Hold Your Hand Out You Naughty Boy, performed by some true stalwarts of the theatre, we were in our element!

With what must possibly have been the oldest audience in the world ever - just by walking into the theatre we managed to lower the average age by about twenty years - it was a miracle there was any audience interaction at all, but everybody joined in to the best of their ability. Half of them didn't need the song sheets, as they probably remembered the songs from the first time around.

The Players Theatre has been going since 1936, and is a camp old institution. Indeed the company's traditional opening number is a song called Oh, the Fairies. Its original home was under the Villiers Street arches opposite gay mega-club Heaven, but despite losing that premises they have maintained the traditions made famous on the BBC in The Good Old Days ever since.

There were some great performances indeed - especially Mr Peter John's rendition of Nobody Loves a Fairy When She's Forty - and to celebrate I found a version of this that is startlingly similar:

Saturday 29 November 2008

Everybody would like to be Cary Grant

On this day in 1986, the world lost one of its greatest stars, Cary Grant.

Born Archie Leach in Bristol, he began his showbiz career in an acrobatic Music Hall troupe before being selected for a screen test by a Hollywood agent. But, remarkably it was the diva Mae West who was responsible for the real launch of his career. Ignoring his lack of film experience she famously said, "If he can talk, I'll take him."

Effortlessly stylish, beautiful to behold and fiercely independent, Cary Grant refused to be owned by any one studio - an unprecedented move for a budding actor in the mogul-dominated movie business of the 1930s, and one that led him to pick and choose the films he wanted to appear in, working particularly closely with Alfred Hitchcock.

And he certainly wasn't short of offers - he famously turned down roles in blockbusters such as A Star is Born, Roman Holiday and even James Bond. The offers weren't confined to films either. He was apparently one of Howard Hughes' sexual conquests, and he was rumoured to have been in a relationship with Randolph Scott.

He was famously obsessed with Sophia Loren, but their liaison was doomed before it began, largely due to her loyalty to Carlo Ponti. He ended up marrying five times, once to the Woolworth heiress Barbara Hutton.

He left showbiz once the romantic lead roles began to dry up, yet remained one of the world's best loved actors until his death. Once told by an interviewer: "Everybody would like to be Cary Grant", Grant is said to have replied, "So would I." A true star!

Cary Grant on IMDB

Friday 28 November 2008

Paris in the Spring, a-haaaa

Continuing my quest to entertain the masses with a selection of weird music (it's a great hobby), here's a couple of numbers by the lovely Jonathan & Darlene Edwards.

Jonathan and Darlene were the alter egos of top US singer Jo Stafford and her orchestra leader husband Paul Weston. Both superb musicians in their own right, they created the talentless cabaret duo as a party piece to entertain their friends, but they soon developed a successful recording career of their own - and in turn influenced such later talents as Les Dawson and even Kiki & Herb...

Jonathan & Darlene on MySpace

Thursday 27 November 2008

Camp bedfellows indeed

It's not until you gather together a selection of personal tastes collected in one place at one time, that the proverbial penny drops how eclectic your taste really is... And so it was, as I spent some time today (off work suffering with this dreaded lurgy) adding onto VisiTrax the latest set of CDs we have accumulated.

There they lay, the weird and the wonderful - Leona Anderson's Music to Suffer By, Beryl Reid's Music Hall Singalong, a 3 CD collection of Brigitte Bardot, four CDs of Jonathan & Darlene Edwards, Duffo's Ground Control to Frank Sinatra, Disco Tex & the Sex-o-Lettes, Bonzo Dog Band, Carol Channing, Mel Brooks and Eartha Kitt - all of them crying out for attention (which they will all get, in turn).

And on it went - Frankie Goes to Hollywood remixed, Tony Randall's Warm & Wavery, a "New Beat" compilation from 1987, Ernie Kovacs' Record Collection, Peter Wyngarde, Miss Kittin & The Hacker, Anna Russell and DiscolongaMax...

I am exhausted. But it is a most peculiar thing to behold once the titles appear in their alphabetically ordered columns in the database.

In the words of George Melly (in his preface to the fabulous book, and my eternal inspiration, Camp - The Lie That Tells The Truth by Philip Core):

"As someone wrote about an obituary column, it is extraordinary the way people die, (for here substitute "camp it up") in alphabetical order.

"Where else would one find Caravaggio and Barbara Cartland or Cardinal Newman adjacent to Beverley Nichols? Camp bedfellows indeed!"

Wednesday 26 November 2008

You’re not Sydney Tafler, I’m not Dirk Bogarde

Out of my sick-bed and onto the sofa - the best therapy I can get is to watch old black and white movies. Lucky we have Passport to Pimlico to rely on (and a selection of other Ealing comedies and Margaret Rutherford films)...

Here's a taster:

Passport to Pimlico BFI entry

This film is a great joy - anything that has Stanley Holloway, Hermione Baddely, Charles Hawtrey, Margaret Rutherford and Sydney Tafler in it must be good!

And so this song comes to mind. (It must be the Lemsip...)

Common as Muck
You're not Bridget Bardot, I'm not Jack Palance.
I'm not Shirley Temple by any circumstance,
Or Fred Astaire

You're not Sydney Tafler, I'm not Dirk Bogarde.
I'm not very stylish and you're not avant garde,
Or Lionel Blair

We're as common as muck.
Bonne chance, viel glück, good luck
Where bold is beautiful we don't give a damn
Luvva duck, we're as common as muck.

You're not Victor Hugo, I'm not Patience Strong,
I'm not Rodney Rygate or Yvonne Goolagong.
Shirley Abicair, Oh!

I'm not Nellie Melba, you're not Nellie Dean
We do our best endeavours to keep our doobries clean
Because we care!

We're as common as muck.
Buona fortuna, vayas con Dios, good luck!
Where bold is beautiful we don't give a damn.
Luvva duck, we're as common as muck.

We're as common as muck.
Bonne chance, viel glück, good luck!
Where bold is beautiful we don't give a damn.
Luvva duck! We're as common as muck.

PS If anyone knows who Rodney Rygate is, I'd be grateful for the information...

Tuesday 25 November 2008

Norwegian Wood

Mischief strikes me again as the news headlines are full of the Boy George Norwegian whore blackmail story. So I just had to post this.

and this...

[NB Samtykkende" = "consensual" in Norwegian.]

Monday 24 November 2008


It is the 45th anniversary of the murder of Lee Harvey Oswald, the man who assassinated President John F Kennedy, changed the course of American politics and destroyed the world's optimism that there could be a swift end to the Cold War.

To mark the occasion here's a little sample of songs from Stephen Sondheim's lauded but commercially unsuccessful musical Assassins. A weird choice of theme for a musical, it was based around the story of Oswald and other gun-toting mad people who either shot or attempted to shoot US Presidents.

The show was unfortunate in its timing. It was first released in 1990, an era of gung-ho George Bush Snr politics and the invasion of Kuwait by Iraq, and later attempts to revive it were hit by the events of 11th September 2001. It hasn't been on stage since, and I have never seen it, but any excuse for a bit of Sondheim...

Sunday 23 November 2008

His world is a strangely refined and beautiful one

"His world is a strangely refined and beautiful one, which must be explored slowly, and with a curiosity which will, little by little, give way to admiration and love."

Ah, Romain de Tirtoff... Who? I hear you ask.

Yet, 116 years since his birth into a prestigious aristocratic St Petersburg family, we still adore this enigmatic man and his work. Having designed his first successful costume design at the age of five, at age 19 the young Romain left home and moved to Paris where he became a junior designer with the esteemed couturier Paul Poiret.

There, partly to save his estranged family from shame, and partly as a camp construct that suited the decadence of that era, he chose thenceforth to be known by the French pronunciation of his initials - and thus was born the genius known as Erté.

From his early years learning from the masters in their art, the apprentice soon eclipsed his tutors to become the most famous designer of them all - often referred to as the "Father of Art Deco". For the next 22 years he gained fame and fortune creating cover art and illustrations for the magazine Harper's Bazaar, designing 250 covers and numerous drawings for its fashion pages. After a brief move to Hollywood where he designed sets for flamboyant silent films including Ben Hur, Erté left the magazine to create sets and costumes for theatre and opera. He often modelled them himself...

Erté designed the most over-the-top extravagant costumes and stage sets for Diaghilev's wildly successful Ballets Russes, for the Folies-Bergère in Paris and for George White's Scandals in New York, utilising colours, fabrics, jewels, textures and sinuous lines unprecedented in the theatre. For the next 40 years, he dressed the greatest and most stylish stars of the day, including Josephine Baker, Marion Davies, Lillian Gish, Mata Hari and Anna Pavlova.

His images of impossibly tall, slender, uncompromisingly glamorous female forms continue to be wildly popular today - largely thanks to the "rediscovery" of Erté by London art dealer Eric Estorick in 1967 - and exhibitions, lithographs, books and other reproductions of his work still sell to millions. Indeed, flushed by the revival of his fame, Erté carried on working until his death in 1990, at the age of 97.

Of the three Erté prints we have in our collection, perhaps the most iconic is Symphony in Black - an image that these days may be found on gifts, cards and even wrapping paper, and must rank as one of the most popular fashion drawings ever...

Erté was indeed a genius.

Homoerotica in Erté designs

Saturday 22 November 2008

So, farewell then...

The papers are filled today with various accounts from "friends close to the couple" about the true reasons for the Madge'n'Guy divorce.

Having had a bit of a crush on the lovely Mr Ritchie for many years I just wonder which lucky bitch will end up grabbing this rather lovely (and now available) hunk next?

Lowering the tone somewhat, too mark this momentous occasion here's a tasteful little fan "tribute"...

Friday 21 November 2008

World’s greatest tap dancer

The lovely Eleanor Powell was born on this date 96 years ago.

Always a better partner to Fred Astaire than his more famous pairing with Ginger Rogers, Eleanor was indeed born to dance, discovered as she was as part of the Vaudeville Kiddie revue.

She was without a doubt the greatest female tap dancer on screen during the heyday of 30s and 40s musicals, and as well as Astaire, she co-starred with leading men such as Jimmy Stewart, Robert Taylor, Nelson Eddy, and Robert Young. Her shining star faded towards the end of the decade, as more and more parts passed over to newer talents such as Judy Garland.

She married one of her co-stars Glenn Ford and eventually retired from showbiz, only returning briefly in cameo parts in films with novelty stars like Esther Williams, and occasionally on TV variety shows.

Watching her stupendous dancing skills always cheers me up, and here's some examples, starting with a classic:

Possibly my favourite Art Deco cinematic moment:

And a well-constructed video mash-up of the more - ahem - unexpected kind:

Eleanor Torrey Powell (21st November 1912 – 11th February 1982)

Thursday 20 November 2008

Oh, Mama!

My obsession with the weird, wonderful and bizarre was well and truly piqued today as I spotted amongst the coverage of the launch of the Hugh Jackman and Nicole Kidman film Australia, one of that country's more colourful cultural icons hove in front of the cameras.

Maria Venuti is apparently a popular entertainer, singer, actress and television personality - and what a personality... Looking for all the world like some bizarre cross between Nancy Walker, Cleo Rocos and Dusty "O", this is one larger-than-life lady! Among her "classic" film roles are appearances in the delightfully-titled Fistful of Flies and Fat Pizza...

With her huge bazookas, lip gloss and boas, she really deserves to be better known in the UK - Jeremy Joseph, are you listening?

MP3: Maria Venuti sings Just One Of Those Things

And the lady on stage...

All about Maria Venuti

Wednesday 19 November 2008

Three cheers and dammit!

With the "risk of redundancy" situation in work getting even more difficult, and my employers telling me I am not "matched" to a job I already do, I'm with Shirley MacLaine on this one...

I've run the gamut, A to Z;
Three cheers and dammit, C'est la vie.
I got through all of last year, and I'm here!
Lord knows, at least I was there, and I'm here!
Look who's here! I'm still here!!

Tuesday 18 November 2008

Don’t Cry Out Loud

We finally caught up with the last of the series Beautiful People last night, and I can't resist giving yet another round of applause for this fantastic show! It more than accurately portrays the experiences I, and many other gay boys, went through as a camp youngster growing up in parochial small-town hell.

Based on the life of Simon Doonan, this is the work of an effete genius, and I can't wait to read his autobiography...

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