Tuesday, March 29, 2011

RIP Elizabeth Taylor 1932-2011

Reprinted from PoP--An Emporium of Popular Culture

La Liz. Arguably the first of the imperial-celebrities and the last of the great movie stars. An iconic screen beauty, a living, fire-breathing personification of American womanhood, glamour, and (yup) personal drama, she grew upright in front of the peepers of the masses, going from child actress to dowager spokesperson, all the while hip-hopping through eight marriages (two to Richard Burton, with whom she also made eleven movies), befriending and mentoring the self-named King of Pop, Michael Jackson , getting nominated for five Oscars and actually winning twice (for 1960’s BUtterfield 8 and 1966’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf), singlehandedly raising the national consciousness about AIDS, becoming an everlasting gay icon (and standing up in public for closeted stars Montgomery Clift and Rock Hudson), and ,for a while, becoming the highest paid actress in the Hollywood Dream Factory while being denounced by the Vatican, all the while her black-haired beauty and infinitely deep violet eyes searing an indelible image that will forever remain in big screen perpetuity.

Born in London, the daughter of a St. Louis art dealer and his actress wife, she wound up in Los Angeles at the age of 7 as her parents left England to escape the war, and then, at 11-years-old, grabbed a role as Roddy McDowall’s pre-teen honey in Lassie Come Home in 1943. It was National Velvet in 1944 that put her on the star-watching maps, and a central role in Father of the Bride (’50) that kept her there. Initially Taylor was a luminously pretty face and highly radiant presence, but working with strong directors and making good choices solidified her as something much more than another prefab confection, and screen goers (particularly woman), heaved, and sighed and hurt along with her as she executed more complex roles in strong pictures like A Place in the Sun ( ‘51 ), Giant (’56) (in which, tellingly, she was actually a year younger than her newcomer co-star and blazing constellation, James Dean), Raintree County (’57), Suddenly Last Summer (’59), the aforementioned BUtterfield 8 (’60), Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (’61), and finally her ultimate role as the harridan-like wife and hard-fading beauty of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (’66).

While Taylor , however historically and physically inauthentic, will always remain the living, breathing, eye-batting incarnate of Cleopatra; somehow her failed 1963 opus of the same name turned her career (and life) into something broader and more wide-ranging than cinematic stardom, as she began a new phase of perpetual public scrutiny, with hash-throwers, cosmetologists, and garage mechanics dishing the collective dirt on her romances, hairstyles, public drunkenness, diamond obsession, and seemingly dozen of visits to hospitals and doctors for a never-ending variety of ailments. Through it all, she managed to be simultaneously glamorous and thoroughly down-to-earth, consistently feisty and almost preternaturally sultry, unabashedly voluptuous and forever rash, a radiant diva with down-home urges and next-door neighbor actions, a public sinner and unknowing embodiment of feminine independence.

Her screen career may have actually topped off as the 1970’s arrived, but good work still remains here and there with films like Reflections of a Golden Eye (’67), Secret Ceremony (’68), and A Little Night Music (’78), yet she never suffered anything close to a career burn-out, making TV movies and commercials, advocating for charities, and continually making a splash when she deemed it worthy to step out into the public eye. Elisabeth Taylor (she personally disliked “Liz”), began her career as an emergent screen goddess with every view of the camera rendering her more emblematic , yet she wound up being a more than respectable actress, arguably ranking in the nether regions with the likes of Katherine Hepburn and Bette Davis. It’s doubtful whether will ever see the likes of her kind of outsized vocational orbit today, although one can certainly recognize elements of her success surfacing in the movie oeuvres of Julia Roberts and Angelina Jolie, while such contempo growing-up-in-public female celebs like Britney Spears, Lady Gaga, or even Madonna couldn’t collectively cause the commotion that the notorious single bat of a long eye-lash flickering past the deeply emerald eyes of Taylor’s could accomplish—it was a cinematic knock-out punch delivered with guile and ease.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Jane Russell: Mean, Moody, and Magnificent

(Reprinted from PopKrazy)

Obviously, once upon a time there were no Kardashian sisters, no up skirt websites, no mass produced semi-celebrity sex tapes, and no instantly publishable photographs of the glitterati sans underwear. Way back in the not-so-long-ago 1940 and 50’s, except deep under the furtive shadows of the deviant underground and the back room demi-monde, overt sexuality on display was unheard of. Unlike today, it was about suggestion, aura, dress style, costume, pose-- all of it artful artifice--with the exception of the somewhat innocent concentration on the one lowest-common-dominator feminine psychical characteristic commonly referred to as “curves”. Jane Russell, perhaps one of the greatest of all Hollywood Va-Va-Voom girls, had every ingredient listed in that last sentence, and she had ‘em spades.

Ernestine Jane Geraldine Russell was born deep in the middle of America, in Bemidji, Minn., in 1921. She and her family moved to SoCal when she was 9-months-old, and after graduating high school she enrolled in acting classes at Max Reinhardt’s theater workshop, also doing some minor league modeling. While working as an assistant in a chiropodist’s office a photo of her found its way to one of the US’s most infamous wayward sons, Howard Hughes, then beginning his filmmaking period, and he cast her at the age of 19 in 1940 as the temptress in his much ballyhooed western The Outlaw. Of course, the movie was plagued with Hughes’ usual weird karma, only getting a strange initial run in San Francisco in 1943, another one in New York in 1947, and it did not get an actual national release until 1950. Not of that seemed to matter, as it was unleashed with a torrent of publicity and controversy, much of it over a poster featuring Russell with the caption: “Mean…Moody..Magnificent,” and Russell immediately became part of the nation’s collective big screen firmament, with the actress’s charms labeled as particularly overt and unusually bourgeoisie (and somewhat scary since she came across as so fiercely carnal), undeniably a new breed of the long-standing movie-movie tough and glamorous broad.

The Outlaw poster might still stand as an appropriate visual definition of sultry, as it depicted Russell lounging in a haystack, eyes smoldering, a gun in one hand, and her open-topped skirt falling off one shoulder to focus attention on semi-bared breasts that looked more powerful then M-1 missiles. The Roman Catholic church made a hue and cry, stories surfaced that Hughes, the movie’s producer and boy genius (after casting Russell when supposedly spotting her himself at a doctor’s office) designed his own special contoured bra, although Russell long contended she never actually wore it, rendering each part of the tale equally apocryphal yet still long preserved as Tinseltown lore.

Russell was no great shakes as a dramatic personage, but her incandescent sexuality, a powerful mix of otherworldly knowingness, a sizzling personality, and torrid airs, virtually leaped off the big screen and she became a pin-up fave rave. She is wonderful teamed with Bob Hope in The Paleface (‘48) and inexplicably enough, fortuitously partnered with Marilyn Monroe in the Technicolor gem that is Gentleman Prefer Blondes (’53). Russell also acquitted herself quite well in Macao (’52), Son of Paleface (’52), The Las Vegas Story (’52), The Tall Men (’55), and The Revolt of Mamie Stover (’56).

The vagaries of pop culture are often windblown and propelled by avarice, but somehow Russell remerged in the70’s and all the way through the 80’s as the television spokeswoman for Playtex bras, which she touted on the small screen as the perfect accouterment for “full figured gals” like herself, thus becoming an extreme feminine object of desire and commerce twice in her public life. By then her big screen career had faded into the rearview mirror, and eventually both her looks and politics grew harsh; but, as always, we are blessed to keep her image fixed in a time and place where she stood tall as a Lioness among kitty cats, as among the most red-blooded of the screen sirens, as the magnificently full figured gal posing knowingly in the stable, ferocious, challenging, and notoriously exuding the deep mystique that signifies forbidden pleasures. Russell stands forever shimmering and perpetually radiant, an absolute knock-out, while never a knock-over.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Bar Talk # 4

Overheard Friday Night (3-5-11) at Nick-A-Nee
Providence, Rhode Island
(Purty much reported as close to verbatim as possible)

I was freaking rocking it in the luxury box. Rocking it!”

“The guy is not even thinking about do it legislatively; he’s doing it by decree.”

“If the NFL is going to go down for the count I’m worried that my fanatic brother might go down for the count, which makes the players, the owners, and my bro all complete idiots.”

"I always dig the whole Oscar thing, but it got harder and harder to watch Anne Hathaway act like she was making her debut in a ninth-grade version of My Fair Lady while James Franco looked like he left his script out in the back of the van right next his bag of high grade weed.”

“You didn’t think I was actually capable of deep thought.”

“I wonder how many of them are wishing me total ill will upon my departure?”

“The dude singing this song sounds like he warmed up by resting his nuts in a frying pan.”

“Charlie Sheen? He’s the man, laughing his way on the way to the bank via public breakdown and somehow pleasing fans, foes and the rest of the fascinated simultaneously. I’ve never watched his sitcom but I’m totally into the whole tiger blood performance piece.”

"He’s a fool to even think about her, because all she’s interested in is drinking expensive vodka until she starts falling down on top of the closest male with a fat wallet in the vicinity.”

“You play pool like a recovering sex addict. Shaky.”

“Just a little bit of Glenn Beck everyday is enough to make me want to choke the snot outta the next five people I run into.”

“It’s hard times on the planet earth times pie, my brothers.”

"Something’s going awry when Steven Tyler is somehow fresh again. C’mon, the guy looks like a mummified pirate crossed with an organ-grinder’s monkey on acid. I mean Aerosmith plays casinos now, don’t they?”

“Peter Jackson said that he stole a whole lot from Alfred Hitchcock. You remember him right?”

“Hey bubble butt; I love those acid washed jeans.”

“That potent combo of a funeral and a bar always proved irresistible to my ex.”

“I took her to the weenie joint for gaggers and then she told me she was a serious vegetarian.”

“Deer Tick and Low Anthem ought to have a “Who’s More Authentic and Sincere Contest", although they’ll kinda split the townie/ivy league votes.”

"Christine Aguilera looks more and more like Miss Piggy every time you see her.”

“Last time I smoked that guy’s shit it was like I totally went into the Wayback Machine and I couldn’t find Sherman.”

“Bob Giusti is like the minor league, Providence version of Charlie Sheen, just not as hilarious.”

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

RIP: Woody Fryman (1950-2011)

(Reprinted from Shaking Like a Mountain)

I always thought that name, Woodie Fryman, was yet another of those oh-so-succulent, sublimely apropos, only-in-the-landscape-of-baseball names that sound, well, pitch perfect. While a rabid baseball fan through the vast majority of Fryman’s career, I admittedly have no specific game memories of Fryman, no on-field exploits, not even a vividly recalled mental picture to fall back on. Nope, but Iremember the name, and I still find it comfortably resounding, and even, dare I say it, one of those baseball monikers that seem intrinsically poetic, as if they’ve been scribbled down by a high falutin’ authorial voice, or handed out by a set of salt-of-the-earth parents who just somehow knew that their baby boy was going to make an adult living playing a glorious childhood game.

Moe Drabowsky. Zoilio Versalles. Gates Brown. Manny Mota. Van Lingle Mungo. Junior Griffey. Sal Maglie. Coco Crisp. Biff Pocoroba. Harmon Killebrew. Dane Iorg. Jesus Alou. Gaylord Perry. Nomar Garciappara. Milt Pappas. Sixto Lezcano. Kiki Cuyler. Boog Powell. Elroy Face. Honus Wagner. Minnie Minoso. Tuffy Rhodes. Bernie Carbo. Enos Slaughter. Mookie Wilson. Hack Wilson. And, yes, Woodie Fryman.

Fryman, born in Ewing, Kentucky, made it to the majors in 1966 and stuck around until 1983, compiling a lukewarm lifetime won-loss record of 141-155, with 2411.1 innings pitched, a non-too-overwhelming ERA of 3.77, while piling up 1,587 strikeouts, and racking up 68 complete games and 27 shut outs. He pitched for six separate teams (in chronological order: Pirates, Phillies, Tigers, Expos, Reds, Cubs, and the Expos again), managed to toss four one-hitters, and was named to the National League All Star squad twice___ making him the sort of scrappy journeyman that predominate the rolls in major league baseball. No all-time sensation, he was consistently competent, just missing a perfect game in his rookie season with the Pirates and evolving into a late-career reliever, saving 17 games for the Expos in 1980. (He was also inducted into the Montreal Expo’s Hall of Fame in 1998, a Pyrrhic achievement if there ever was one.))

Woodie Fryman. Who knows? Without that name he may not have been destined to stand tall in the midday sun, leaning into a batter after a cursory glance at his catcher’s sign, a king of the hill toiling under the unwavering banner of America’s once greatest national pastime. Maybe he would’ve wound up being the guy unlocking the corner gas station doors at the break of dawn in Ewing, or traveling the backroads of the deep South trying to sell vacuum cleaners or household cleaning supplies, or possibly somehow uprooting himself to settle in as insurance man in a dull gray suit in Hartford, CT.

Maybe. But stop, and imagine that name, emblazoned on a Topps baseball card, with his everyman visage smiling from underneath one of his six specially designed home team caps, and you have to know that he found his proper calling, struggling through another tight spot late in the game, taking a deep breath and hurling that round bit of rawhide over the plate, willing himself a strike or a batter out, the crowd urging “C’mon Woodie,” or “ For Christ’s sake Fryman, get this bum out,” the right guy with the perfect name in a place that could never be righter.