Saturday, September 8, 2012

Parting the Curtains of Time

This week: Gala Gown Fail, the Guggenheim opens, a somewhat awesome Republican candidate.  And David Bowie makes another surprise appearance!

"Gala pink satin dress, left, lighted by Persian pear-shapes of bogus seed pearls, bugle beads and rhinestones.  By Gigliola Curiel of Milan."  Made for Bergdorf Goodman.  Lipstick is "Rose Pompom"  by Guerlain, which is interesting because I've never once seen an ad for Guerlain makeup in any vintage American magazine.  Have a weakness myself for this stuff - heavy, redolent, tenacious - but I also have a knack for the wrong shade.

Gigliola Curiel, "of Milan," was a house designer for Bergdorf Goodman from the mid-1950s until her death in 1969.  Seems to have been a popular designer of real clothes for real women.

There is a similar dress running around in a recent (2012) Vogue - it somehow looked fresher now, even though it had that self-conscious retro feel.  I finally figured out what's wrong with this dress:  the next thing that must happen in this photo is for the model to fling off the skirt, revealing perhaps a little tulle skirt - one of those magician's helper things - then off comes the top, down comes the hair, etc. etc.   On the other hand, the fabric reminds me of overly-plush upholstery.  I'm afraid this is a "no."

To recap:  Why this blog?  Because, thanks to Google, Youtube, Spotify, NYT online, and Netflix, the whole oddball project is possible.  As I sold Vogue after Vogue from earlier years, I hated letting go, not so much for the fashion, but for the cultural mishmash of "People Are Talking About . . ."  Were they really?  And then what happened?  Some people deemed worthy of full-page photos in the 1950s I had never heard of.  They no longer existed - not found in early Google searches, at any rate.   I then noticed that I had the same thoughts about PATA from five years ago.  You just never know what goes on in the mind of a Vogue editor.

So - it's December, 1959.  You are a woman of a certain age and class and you need to know what you need to know now.   We'll keep Vogue in Roman and me in Italic.

Except for the title:  new shine

People are talking about . . . The lights of the new season, the new names, the old names brighter than ever, the steady-on excitement, even the shoves and shouts of sidewalk standees at opening nights.  The jam-up of spectators in long lines to get into the new Guggenheim Museum, that luminous, exquisite enclosed bubble in which the collection, including the greatest Kandinskys in the world, is framed in air and light, some brilliantly cantilevered in space by James Johnson Sweeney, the Museum's director . . . I have not been to the Guggenheim, damn it.  Nor the Carnegie.  But let's go back to 1959 and wander through the Guggenheim with our behatted fellow New Yorkers: (be patient - you eventually get inside the building.  Completely amateur film is exactly like my own phone video efforts.)

Interesting.  Reminded me of the British Museum, the Rotunda Building in Oakland, oh - the hated (by me as well) San Francisco Public Library.  So - a mixed bag, but the huge atrium must be a cliche by now.  Vogue goes for "luminous, exquisite bubble,"  let's read the Times review.  Highlight:  ". . . a war between architecture and painting in which both come out badly maimed."  Ouch.  Reviewer describes a scheme not unlike the Ikea showroom, in which you are forced to wander further and further into a spiral with only the lucky glimpse of an elevator to save you.  Further investigation reveals that reviewer John Canaday was a relentless enemy of modern art and modern architecture.  (I myself see nothing in Abstract Expressionism.)  A provocateur, actually.  If you were to go to the Guggenheim this weekend, you could catch the end of a retrospective of works collected by James Sweeney during the 1950s.  

. . . Nancy Walker's leering crouch . . . Rhoda's mother?  That Nancy Walker?

Apparently so.  When I was messing around earlier, I found a clip of Nancy Walker from a 1959 television variety show, but it seems lost forever now.  HOWEVER  - simply had to throw this in:  David Bowie and Nancy Walker on the Dinah Shore Show.  Not too much of Nancy, but . . . 

(People are talking about) . . . The voices on radio summing up their reactions:  'But, Wow!' Huh?  . . . The slightly grey-haired Maynard Ferguson, a happily non-cerebral trumpeter, whose wildly sweet register remains a delight until he reaches too high . . . First, that seems a bit gratuitous.  Second, I thought Maynard Ferguson was a character on The Dobie Gillis Show, so what do I know?  Third, I don't care for trumpets.  But let's take a look:

That was totally cerebral.   And I know what Vogue means about the high notes.  

(People are talking about) . . . Small Bert Wheeler, whose timing is as accurate as a railroad watch, in The Gang's All Here, playing the semi-disguised role of Jesse Smith (a friend of President Harding), known in life as "The Happy Grafter," a sporty fixer with the moral sense of a tsetse fly, and the clothes sense remaining from his earlier life as a shopkeeper in Washington Court House, Ohio; in Washington, D.C., he chose many of Mrs. Harding's clothes."  Bert Wheeler?  Silent film star?  President Harding? I cannot even picture him.  We're pulling back curtain after curtain of time in this blog and getting wound up in the fabric.  Here we are in 2012.  1959 is 53 years ago for us.  The film of the opening of the Guggenheim was last month for Vogue readers.  The Harding administration was 38 to 36 years ago for our Vogue readers - which would put it at 1974-1976 for us, not that long ago for me.  Nixon resigned in '74 - remember it well.  President Harding lasted two years, between Wilson and Coolidge.     He died in San Francisco, after suffering through a cross-country tour while in declining health.  A quick WikiPeek reminds me that this is the Teapot Dome Scandal guy - I thought it was Grant.  (Yes, I am an idiot.)  First newspaper publisher to be elected, a conservative Republican in some ways - but still light-years more liberal than today's gaggle.  Scandal after scandal, yet religiously tolerant, signed "first major social welfare program" in the country:  Sheppard-Towner Maternity Act.  (Only around for eight years, but inspired New Deal.)  Made speech in Birmingham, Alabama advocating civil rights for black Americans.  And it goes on and on - why isn't this guy a hero for today?  Also known for wild White House drinking fests during Prohibition.  And what's this about his pal picking out his wife's clothes?  Better and better. . . So, Vogue readers in 1959 would have remembered this guy.  Here's Bert Wheeler on the Pat Boone show in 1958:

And from 1929 -- there are a whole slew of Bert Wheeler clips on YouTube, one rather strange one with Spanky of Our Gang.  This one's short.

The play itself, The Gang's All Here, written by the people who wrote Inherit the Wind, starred Melvyn Douglas and seems to have been a straight-down-the-line political drama.  Bert Wheeler seems to have had a very small role.  Let's continue to part the curtains of time and, especially since it is Convention Season again, let's go to the Republican Convention of 1920.  I wonder what they would have made of the one just past.  

That was kind of long and had some random wood-chopping toward the end.  Here's a one-minute clip:  

Let's Not Go to the Movies This Week.  Sorry.  Next week:  a trip to the Four Seasons, Jane Fonda and I finally see a Bergman film.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Winged Victory: the Madame Gres Green Velvet Coat

This week:  Manhattan as art; clothes as sculpture; comedy as tragedy.   But first:

This looks better on the page.  For sure it looked better in the gallery.   I couldn't find a lot about Erich Locker, except in fall of 1960, he had a tepidly-reviewed show called "Manhattan" at the Architectural League of New York.  I really like this, though.     His exhibition was a year after this, then he disappears from the NYT forever.  Blurbage, in perfect Vogue-ese.

This minute -- in lights  Here, the early winter lights of New York -- a sight, marvellously man-made, unique in the world.  In December, New York looks like a myth, feels like a song writer's catalogue of contrasts and delights.  This sight has its own unrepeatable moment in time; it will never again form precisely the same constellation -- even a minute later, one light more or less from now.  Among its special semaphores at this moment; entertainment shined up for the holidays, beaming to fresh effect.  Who shines brightest, what newest, is told about in the 10 pages that follow here, a holiday gathering of theatre, people, music, talk, and party clothes.  

Irving Penn photos.

Blurbage:  This-moment brilliance:  a sense of luxury:  a Gres magnificence of Venetian green -- taffeta, velvet and pleating that moved like a winged victory through the Paris Collections this season.

The New York Times also highlighted the green ensemble as one of the outstanding offerings of the Paris collections.  What we can't see is the dress underneath - strapless and draped, a Madame Gres trademark.   And she designed her entire 1959 collection in nine days.

This dress didn't find its way into the retrospective at a museum of sculpture in France (she began her career as a sculptor), but there are several coats with similar sleeves.

I am surprised a the gold frosting.  We've seen gold stockings as well this year.  Funny how these things really do wash up in waves on the fashion shores.

Let's go to the movies!

*  Irresponsible widower with young son is set to rights by clueless, but well-meaning brother and sister-in-law.  Lovableness ensues.  In theory.

* Odd misfire from Frank Capra and everyone involved.  To think that this guy directed It Happened One Night.  Cringe-inducing "comedy" that can only end in tragedy after the credits roll.  Frank Sinatra has a seamy appeal as failing Miami hotel owner involved with "kooky" beatnik Carolyn Jones (quite good) whose one idea to save fortunes is to put together million dollar syndicate to build a Disneyland in Florida with a former pal, now tycoon.  Miscast Edward G. Robinson as brother swoops down to rescue ginger kid from poverty and shiftlessness - not a bad idea!  Thelma Ritter also quite good as his wife in thankless roll.   Eleanor Parker strange as ultra prim widow pegged as new mother for ginger kid - she's ginger herself!  Eleanor Parker, speaking in that phony refined lady movie-star voice shows up 58 minutes in.  Now there is drama -- what about lush Carolyn Jones?  She leaves!  That's it for that!  Now we have the gambling away all the money at the dog track scene . . . and down it goes from there.

Carolyn Jones seems to be wearing pale blue nail polish - which helped to make her seem both dated (beatnik) and contemporary (has own mind and sex life).  How utterly shocking it would have been if she had also had tattoos.

* "High Hopes!"  Who ever liked that song?   Why is it even in this movie?  Oops!  There goes another rubber tree plant. . . Who can watch this without wondering about the dynamics between these two professionals?  I just wouldn't want my kid near any of the Rat Pack.  Here's  the stomach-churning Oscar-winning song for 1959:

Next week:  diving into the first of six pages of PATA (People Are Talking About) - drilling down deep into the upper-middle brow culture of 1959.  First up:  the Guggenheim, Maynard Ferguson, and Bert Walker (who?) . . .

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