“The star-making machinery behind the popular song,” Joni Mitchell called it, and few musical acts these days wield the machine (if not the Big Machine) like Taylor Swift. With an album scheduled to drop Friday, everything is in gear, including the photographers:
This used to be one of my least favorite Swiftunes, but I have to admit, it’s grown on me during the past ten years:
It took me half that decade to catch on to the fact that she’s playing both female leads.
Arlo Guthrie once sang about the Group W Bench. I’m pretty sure this wasn’t it:
This turn-of-the-century advertisement for Ellen Tracy says perhaps a little more than it seems to. I mean, yeah, there are different hosiery colors, and the shoes aren’t exactly identical, but otherwise this is a shrine to conformity. Since this was almost certainly shot in New York City, everyone is reading what appears to be The New York Times: the two other Big Apple dailies are tabloids, and somehow you don’t, or at least I don’t, expect them to be reading The Wall Street Journal.
Tangential: There’s a scene early in John Duigan’s Flirting where the students at a girls’ boarding school have arrived for assembly, and as they’re seated, they all cross their legs, right over left, at precisely the same angle — except for a newcomer, played by Thandie Newton, who quite deliberately fails to fall in line.
As for Ellen Tracy, it’s just a name, coined by founder Herbert Gallen in 1949; the company flourished until 2002, when it was sold to Liz Claiborne.
Margaretha Geertruida Zelle, born in 1876, might seem to have been a contradiction in terms: an exotic dancer from the Netherlands? Then again, show biz does permit a certain amount of obscuring the facts, so Miss Zelle (who, for a while, was Mrs MacLeod) let it be known that she hailed from the Dutch East Indies — she’d lived there briefly with Mr MacLeod — and she adopted the sort-of-lyrical stage name Mata Hari. No one seemed to notice that she really couldn’t dance.
Her career as a sort-of-dancer did not last long, but she found herself in demand by the sort of powerful men who demand this kind of thing. And inasmuch as the Netherlands remained neutral during World War I, she could come and go more or less as she pleased. More than once she found herself involved in cloak-and-dagger stuff, at least nominally working for the French, but eventually fell in with the Germans, who found her work unsatisfactory and exposed her, so to speak, to Paris, which put her on trial and eventually ordered her execution by firing squad. It was October 1917; she was just forty-one.
A recent biographical video of “Agent H-21”:
Some of the pertinent French records were declassified in 2017, after a hundred years.
Gloria DeHaven, who made lots of movies for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, has the unusual distinction of having played her own mother in a movie: in the 1950 picture Three Little Words, a biopic of songwriters Bert Kalmar and Harry Ruby, she’s billed seventh as “Mrs. Carter DeHaven.” (Both Carter and Flora DeHaven had been vaudeville performers.)
In 1936, at eleven, she had a bit part in Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times; in the 1940s she blossomed, and after that, television beckoned.
Because we must, and because you already know the song, here’s Gloria singing “Who’s Sorry Now?” Melody by Ted Snyder, words by Kalmar and Ruby, from, yes, Three Little Words:
A mere 35 years after it was written, Connie Francis got a big hit from this very song. Gloria DeHaven probably heard it; she was working as late as 2000, and she lived to be 91.
For some reason, I was thumbing through some photos of Rihanna, and somewhere in the midst of them it occurred to me that she can be glam, or she can be goofy, but she’ll earn your attention either way. So here are three pix, two goofy, one glam:
Rumors were floating around that this week Rihanna would announce a new album; so far, nothing’s come of it. Still, it’s been three years since Anti. The fourth and most recent single from Anti was “Love on the Brain,” which she sang live at the Billboard Music Awards to dazzling effect:
Australia has three major over-the-air TV networks, one of which, inscrutably, is called the Nine Network. It draws higher ratings than both the Seven Network and Network 10. I have no idea how much of this is due to sportscaster Rebecca Maddern, who just turned forty-two, but I’m pretty sure she’s not hurting the network.
She got her first reporting job, though, on Seven, in 2002, and stayed there for fourteen years, moving to Nine in 2016 to host the AFL Footy Show, which probably needs no explanation if you’re at all familiar with Australian Rules Football. She stayed there for two years, moving to do a variety of sports-related programs on Nine.
You might expect that the Footy Show occasionally undertook the discussion of topics that weren’t Australian Rules Football, and you would of course be correct:
Fran Tarkenton never said anything like that, I’m sure.
Singer Nadia Ali, born in Libya to Pakistani parents on this date in 1980, grew up in, um, Queens, New York. She wrote the 2001 dance hit “Rapture” in half an hour: she and producer Markus Moser released it under the name “Vaiio,” which was subsequently deemed too close to a Sony trademark. So “iiO” they would be.
She and Moser split in 2005, though Moser continued to release iiO material on which she had sung.
After a couple of duets, she resurfaced with the single “Crash and Burn.” Over the next decade, dance music was very good to Nadia, but eventually she set off in another direction, under the name HYLLS: more pop, less dance. The first HYLLS release, “All Over the Place,” appeared in January 2018.
The Quizmaster was waiting to catch me with this one. “Name an Icelandic singer—” I took a breath “—who isn’t Björk.”
And all the air was sucked out of my lungs and out of the room.
So here we have a genuine Not Björk. Her name is Birgitta Haukdal Brynjarsdóttir, she turned 40 over the weekend, and half a lifetime ago, she took over as lead vocalist for a band called Írafár.
The album Allt sem ég sé — “Everything I see” — was an enormous hit by Icelandic standards, and this may have something to do with Birgitta showing up at the Eurovision Song Contest the next year, which was 2003.
“Segðu mér allt” — “Open your heart” — won the Icelandic final. At contest HQ, she sanfg it in English. She wound up placing eighth.
She’s kept a low profile since then, though she did make one more try at Eurovision with “Meðal Andanna” (“Among the spirits”) in 2013, and she released three albums, the most recent in 2011.
Kriti Sanon, born on this date in 1990, is an actress appearing in both Hindi and Telugu films. This wasn’t where she expected to be at twenty-nine: she studied engineering at first, with modeling as a side gig. Her film debut came in 2014 with 1: Nenokkadine (“1: I Am Alone”), in which she plays a journalist covering a schizoid rock musician.
She’s appeared in three films already this year, with two more out there in post-production somewhere. Herewith, a discussion of Panipal, which is not out yet, and Kalank, which is:
A big-budget (for Bollywood) production, Kalank struggled to make back its production costs. But as is almost always true in Indian cinema, the next gig is right around the corner.
News Babes, as they were once (or twice, or more) called, make for relatively simple research for Your Humble Narrator: they’ve spent most of their lives as News Babes, and there area always lots of pictures to be had. Such is the case with Erica Ruth Hill, forty-three today, who’s logged 21 years in the business, starting at TechTV — you remember TechTV, don’t you? — later moving to CNN, CBS, NBC, and back to CNN.
Inevitably with News Babes, there are guys with obsessions, one of whom crammed these bits into a single video:
She is not related to News Babe E. D. Hill, 57 next week, who has also been kicking around the business for years; she was last seen on, um, CNN.
Audiences, of course, dearly love pianist Yuja Wang: she sells out concerts all over the world. And it’s always seemed to me that the camera adores her, too, which makes her a must-follow on Facebook, especially if I feel like beating myself over the head for not being where she’s playing that week.
That second picture leads inevitably into this performance last month in Vienna. Rhapsody in Blue, anyone?
A measured pace throughout, though this fits with Gershwin’s intention that jazz should be played strictly in time for reasons of danceability. The crowd, of course, loved it.
Years of looking at fashion advertising have yielded up one conclusion: no distractions. This Chanel print ad from about twenty years ago isn’t necessarily trying to sell you shoes or bags, but it will, unlike most of the ads that were trying to sell you shoes or bags, tell you where to get them.
A brand with less self-confidence might have shown you their signature shoe, just to make sure they were on message. Chanel figures you already know that.
Have you ever met anyone named “Thylane”? Neither have I. Which means that if Thylane Léna-Rose Loubry Blondeau wants to be known henceforth simply as Thylane, there probably won’t be too many objections raised. Besides, she’s pretty well known already: at six, she was named by a panel of independent critics as the Most Beautiful Girl in the World. And at six, she’d already been modeling for two years, the sort of phenomenon that got her into something called Vogue Enfants at ten, where there was a brouhaha reminiscent of Brooke Shields’ early days: mere child made up to look grown-up.
At seventeen, that same Panel of Independent Critics gave her that same Most Beautiful title once more; she just turned 18 this past spring.
And in 2015, she had a small role in Belle & Sebastian: The Adventure Continues, which I presume is a sequel to the original. She dished to a French paper at the time:
Frankly, I thought she came off more appealing as a 14-year-old child actress than as a model of any age. Maybe it’s that whole models-are-supposed-to-scowl thing.
Once in a while, a name drops out of my mind, and then is suddenly summoned again for some reason. Thus it was with Garcelle Beauvais, Francesca “Fancy” Monroe on The Jamie Foxx Show for five years, and Valerie Heywood on NYPD Blue for twelve: easy to picture, hard to identify.
Until, of course, she wasn’t:
If your first thought was “Are there any more at home like you?” — and why wouldn’t it be? — be advised that she’s the youngest of seven, relocated as kinds from Haiti to Boston. And this isn’t as weird as it sounds:
I remember thinking “Geez, she must be at least 40 by now.” Well, 52 does qualify.
For many years I have said that what I was looking for, in the purely physical sense anyway, was a sweet smile and a nice pair of legs. This combination is not hard to come by, but it never approached my particular orbit. And fashion, as long as I can remember, might happily grant the latter, but the former just is not part of the deal:
Now there may be extenuating circumstances here, inasmuch as this ad appeared in Vogue in 1930, and in the wake of the crash of 1929 smiles were somewhat sparse. Still, even today, a model is expected to look like they got her out of bed too early.
Davenport Mills, out of Chattanooga, was the first manufacturer to produce hosiery made out of that newfangled nylon stuff, circa 1939. They survived into the 1960s.
3. She’s hot. Marianne Williamson isn’t just hot for a 66-year-old woman, she’s just plain hot-hot. Have we ever really had a hot president? I know a lot of people said this guy, but I never saw it. No offense to President Trump, but Marianne is way hotter. Time for an upgrade!
Said she in Healing the Soul of America (1997):
It is a task of our generation to recreate the American politeia, to awaken from our culture of distraction and re-engage the process of democracy with soulfulness and hope. Yes, we see there are problems in the world. But we believe in a universal force that, when activated by the human heart, has the power to make all things right. Such is the divine authority of love: to renew the heart, renew the nations, and ultimately, renew the world.
Number 4, Jim: she can use words like “politeia” and not sound ridiculous.
Maybe the name sounds like it could be, but Stacy Keibler, somewhere around five foot eleven, is not elfin in the least. (I have no idea whether she bakes.) Actress, model, wrestler — she’s done a lot in her 39 years.
She retired from wrestling back in 2006, did some television work, and here, she does the fox trot:
One of the DWTS judges tagged her as a “Weapon of Mass Seduction.” It didn’t help her in the long run; she finished third.
I had no ideas for this week’s Rule 5 stuff, so I decided that I would go with whoever came up next in the wallpaper rotation. So I waited a minute and fifteen seconds, and the desktop manager popped up a photo of Eva Longoria.
Okay. What didn’t I know about her? I mean, there was that Desperate Housewives gig (eight years), there was the marriage to now-retired NBA star Tony Parker (not quite four years), and the usual fawning coverage by lad mags (since puberty, it seems). Well, there’s that Master’s degree in Chicano Studies, a term they probably don’t use anymore, from Cal State Northridge. And apparently she didn’t learn Spanish until her mid-twenties.
And if you’re into Good Dresses or the series Grand Hotel, here she is with Seth Myers:
There is no circumstance under which I would not celebrate Rebecca Black’s birthday, and today, her twenty-second, the fans get the present:
A lyric video is already out, with what appears to be footage from the upcoming “real” video, due next week.
And 22 is old enough for the full Rule 5 treatment, right?
And purely by accident (yeah, right), I took a peek at her IMDb page, and was startled out of what wits I have:
From “Anyway” on down, this list contains a lot of music videos, some Web stuff, and that animation from China in which she did a voice character. I was not expecting to see two feature films. They’re both in post-production, which can mean any number of things; the most likely, I’m guessing, is “looking for a distributor.” Still, assuming IMDb hasn’t messed up the names, which seems unlikely: (1) it’s IMDb and they just don’t do that and (2) if she’s paying dues to the Screen Actors Guild, there’s nobody else billed with that name. I have yet to find a trailer, though, for either American Reject or Bad Impulse.
The other day, I mentioned somewhere that I could use a few more celebrity wallpapers; a couple of hours later, this link showed up in my inbox, and I decided that mere wallpaper wasn’t enough.
And so we get to talk about Kerry Washington, forty-two this year and looking every bit of twenty-nine. Half a lifetime ago, she graduated from George Washington (no relation) University with a double major in sociology and anthropology, and, oh yes, a Phi Beta Kappa key.
She is perhaps best known as Scandal’s fixer Olivia Pope, and more recently she appeared in Confirmation, a retelling of the Anita Hill/Clarence Thomas story on HBO. Here, she discusses both with Stephen Colbert:
And she’s married to Nnamdi Asomugha, retired Oakland Raiders cornerback turned actor; they have three children.
The truly wondrous aspect of Gypsy Rose Lee, aside from her, um, visual assets, turns out to be that she was a smartaleck almost before she was a stripper. The Wikipedant tells the story in his own imitable style, or lack thereof:
Eventually, it became apparent that Louise [Hovick, her real name] could make money in burlesque, which earned her legendary status as an elegant and witty striptease artist. Initially, her act was propelled forward when a shoulder strap on one of her gowns gave way, causing her dress to fall to her feet despite her efforts to cover herself; encouraged by the audience’s response, she went on to make the trick the focus of her performance.
The gownless evening strap! The mind boggles.
Louise had a younger sister, June, who made her way to the silver screen as June Havoc. They weren’t always the best of friends; the musical Gypsy, based on Louise’s memoirs, was apparently unkind to June, whose sympathies were bought off by the producers.
In the late 1930s, Gypsy Rose Lee was one of several prominent American showbiz backers of the Popular Front during the Spanish Civil War; the Front eventually collapsed due to intramural infighting, and Francisco Franco took over as dictator. (Franco died in 1975 and is still dead.)
The musical Pal Joey contains a song called “Zip,” which purports to be the innermost thoughts of Gypsy Rose Lee during her act. Bebe Neuwirth gives it a spin here:
Then again, it’s not hard to imagine Gypsy herself doing this song. Playing herself in the 1943 film Stage Door Canteen:
She died at fifty-nine in 1970; lung cancer took her away. We shall not see her like again.
My current desktop-wallpaper switcher contains about 400 files, some of which can be explained. I was scratching around for a name for a Rule 5 piece, and as the tenth minute concluded, Windows duly coughed up the next picture in the queue, and, said I, “Why not?”
So say hello to Cecily Strong, thirty-five, a regular on Saturday Night Live since the fall of 2012. She has a BFA in theatre from CalArts, experience with the legendary Second City troupe, and a portfolio of SNL characters, including one known simply as “The Girl You Wish You Hadn’t Started a Conversation With at a Party.”
Speaking of SNL, here’s Cecily as Judge Jeanine Pirro:
This is not the source of our second photo. More’s the pity.
As usual, my 60-minute psychotherapy session ended up with me talking for 110 minutes or so, and at some point the topic of conversation was New York Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, about whom I said this: “I don’t agree with much of what she says, but by gawd, she’s fun to watch.”
Someone else of whom I might say that is New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who apparently drew some flak for her shoes, of all irrelevant — and yet interesting — things. Shortly thereafter, this appeared on her Facebook page:
Ardern dwells in some of the same political space as AOC: she’s the head of the Labour party, which is definitely left-leaning without being as insane as Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party in the UK; she has a domestic partner, TV presenter Clarke Gayford, but they are not technically wed just yet. (Wikipedia uses the word “fiancé,” which suggests a ceremony to come.) Their daughter was born while Ardern was in office; she’s only the second head of government to give birth while head of government. (The first? The late Benazir Bhutto, of Pakistan, in 1990.)
Ardern on the Christchurch killer this year: “Speak the names of those who were lost, rather than the name of the man who took them.”
Before Kimberley Busteed was Miss Universe Australia — this would be 2007 — she was a competitive swimmer, and she’s dusted off her swimsuit a couple of times since then. Mostly, though, she is, per her Web site, “an Australian media personality, television presenter and media producer,” which sums her up pretty well.
Happy 38th to singer/songwriter Brandi Carlile, a woman of many musical styles anchored to a single point: “I’ve gone through all sorts of vocal phases, from pop to blues to R&B,” she has said, “but no matter what I do, I just can’t get the country and western out of my voice.” And indeed, some of her most compelling work is the sort of girl-with-guitar stuff that many do, but that few do consistently well.
That last picture: Catherine Shepherd was a charity coordinator for Paul McCartney when she and Brandi met; they were married in 2012. They have two daughters.
My own introduction to Brandi Carlile was the song “That Year,” from her third album, Give Up the Ghost (2009). It’s pitched so subtly that it takes a couple of listens to take in the whole story:
Give Up the Ghost made it to #26 on the Billboard Hot 200; each new album — she’s done six — has climbed just a little higher.
Given my keen grasp of the obvious, it seems implausible that I would get through all these iterations of the month of May without once making a reference to Swedish actress May Britt, which turns out to be her first name: she was born Maybritt Wilkens in 1934.
For some reason, in 1959, 20th Century-Fox decided to remake Josef von Sternberg’s 1930 classic The Blue Angel, with May Britt as Lola-Lola. May had legs, and she knew how to use them, but the reviews were terrible, and Sternberg actually sued Fox for allegedly diminishing the value of his original. They settled out of court.
Also in 1959, she caught the eye of Sammy Davis, Jr.; they dated for a year, and were married in 1960. The usual suspects were utterly scandalized; apparently this event was sufficiently traumatic that JFK felt compelled to disinvite Davis, whom everyone had expected to perform at the Kennedy inauguration.
The Davises had one child and adopted two more; they split in 1968 after Davis allegedly set his sights on Lola Falana.
About four minutes of The Blue Angel will show you that May Britt had the talent to hold her own, but Marlene Dietrich she wasn’t.
For the past couple of weeks, the Cultural Arbiters have been spewing about how the state of Alabama is some sort of Fourth World hellhole; most of my memories of the place are pretty positive, and so I decided to open this space to someone from Alabama with major talent and, yes, a great smile. So happy birthday, Octavia Spencer (47 we won’t mention the number). She was born in Montgomery and graduated from Auburn, and since we haven’t looked in on her in a couple of years, it seems like a good time to catch up.
Last time, release of The Shack was imminent, and some people got their BVDs knotted over it. Reviews were generally hostile. The box-office take, however, was formidable.
Coming up next week: Ma, an atypical horror film with a black lead, and a female black lead at that.
And she has three films coming out in 2020 — so far.
To touch on that whole “smile” business, we have two clips. First, some lighthearted banter with Ellen:
And the very antithesis of “lighthearted,” a scene from 2011’s The Help, which got Octavia the first of three Academy Award nominations and an actual win: