those mmmarrying mmmen

In 1923 a General Zakhari Mdivani appeared in Paris. As a Mohammedan chieftain of the Caucasus, he was recognized as a Bey or Prince by the Russian Imperial Court which acknowledged all Georgian “Princes” possessed of a pair of shoes, a stone house, a flock of sheep and a rifle. Prince Mdivani (pronounced Mmmdivani) had little money, but he had his jewels; five children, three boys and two girls, all very good looking.

Ceremonial Men’s Dress of the Russian Imperial Court found here

First to arrive was David, the oldest and shaggiest. At that time Gloria Swanson had just married a French Marquis. Pouting blonde Mae Murray, then at the height of her career, decided that she too could afford a title. She took as her fourth husband Prince David Mdivani. With David married, brother Serge, the handsomest, promptly arrived, to be snapped up by Pola Negri.

David and Mae found here

As husbands, the two Hollywood Mdivanis proved an expensive luxury. With the first pinch of Depression, Pola Negri decided to get rid of her handsome Prince Serge. While Mae Murray was pondering whether to divorce David, he and Serge struck oil back of her bath house in Venice, California. They organized the Pacific Shore Oil Co. with Mae Murray putting up most of the cash. After he bankrupted her, she divorced him on grounds of “extreme cruelty, unreasonable jealousy and hostility toward her guests” in 1933. He was then involved with French actress Arletty for a time but ended up marrying Oil heiress Virginia Sinclair. They divorced in February 1964 with her claiming mental cruelty and continual harassment. 

Serge and Pola found here

Divorced by Pola Negri, Serge’s second venture was to marry Chicago Opera Singer Mary McCormic. But the indisputably most successful of the marrying Mdivanis was Alexis, the youngest and last to arrive in the U. S.  Shrewdly, he avoided Hollywood, confined himself to the hard money fortunes of the East, and got himself married to Louise Astor van Alen, great-granddaughter of the late, great Mrs. William Astor. When she divorced him, Alexis, undaunted, drifted over to Paris, then had the inspiration of marrying Miss Barbara Hutton, heiress to the Woolworth store millions.

Alexis and Barbara found here

He and Hutton divorced in Reno in 1935 and he moved on to Baroness Maud von Thyssen-Bornemisza. In August 1935, while driving his Rolls Royce en route to Perpignan he died in a car crash. He had careened into a culvert, turned over five times and was pronounced dead on the spot. His passenger Maud was reported as only slightly injured but also as having bit her tongue off and was rendered permanently speechless thereafter.

Baroness Maud found here

Reluctant to see the Astor Van Alen millions disappear from the Mdivani clutches, Serge married his former sister-in-law, Louise, in February 1936, but died in March in a polo accident in Delray Beach, Florida when his pony fell and kicked him in the head as Louise stood on the sidelines.

William Van Alen found here

is it necessary?

A letter from the Ministry office asked: “Is it necessary for your employees to climb a 6 foot, glass topped wall to get to work?”

image found here

Works manager Mr Terry Burrows thought the question amusing. So he replied: “The normal mode of entry for employees is by using the springboard provided, bouncing over the mill surround, climbing the outside of Dixon’s chimney, and descending inside the chimney and entering their place of work via the boiler house.” He ended his letter to the Department of Social Security: “Ask a silly question….”

Chimney found here

The letter was sourly received at the department’s offices in Carlisle. An official said: “Proper enquiries were instituted and there was no need for anyone to be flippant.” The department’s query was over an O H & S claim by an employee who injured his foot when taking a short cut to get to work by climbing over a wall.

image found here

In Whitehall, the Department of Social Security said: “Speaking generally, the success of such a claim would depend on whether it was necessary for workers to climb the wall to get to work, and whether such a practice was prohibited by the firm. Every case is judged on its merits.”

(Published in the Daily Mail)

Waiting for the judge. More mug shots here

Published in: on October 29, 2011 at 7:51 am  Comments (44)  
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the popular poisoner of Marseilles

Things are looking up for the convict in France (1933)

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“At any rate, they’re taken to where they’re going in cell-equipped autobuses now instead of in the old salad-basket cars which figured like extra cabooses on freight trains. The new penitentiary buses have just carried some two hundred lifers to La Rochelle, where they embarked for the island prison of St Martin-de-Re.

image found here

The stars of this year’s embarkation were the prisoner who poisoned two wives, Dr Laget, “freshly shaven, attired in tortoiseshell glasses, golf suit, cap of pearl grey, and yellow polka dot tie“; a strangler named Morveau, whose accomplice was a motorcycle acrobat named the Death-Defier, since dead of tuberculosis; young Davin, a rich moron who murdered an American playboy pal for fun and pocket money; a hot-tempered Frenchman who killed a motorcyclist for passing too close to him and a multitude of arch-crooks, killers and underworld rabble.

image found here

Fortune’s fool was there too, a murderer named Boyer who was to have been executed the morning after an assassin killed France’s President Paul Doumer. On the technicality that Boyer thus lost his last-minute chance of pardon, his sentence was automatically commuted to life imprisonment.

assassination of Paul Doumer found here

Convicts from the Devil’s Island bagne have been known to escape not singly but in groups on ten or fifteen, rather like tropical walking clubs. Dr Bougrat, one of the most popular poisoners of Marseilles, recently fled from his cell to Caracas, where he now enjoys a flourishing general practice, though nose and throat were his original specialty.

Dr Bougrat found here

handing it down to an inattentive son

Captain Philip Thicknesse (1719-1792) was an eccentric British author.

image found here

“He claimed he could, at any time, muster ten or a dozen knaves and fools, who would put £100 in his pocket, merely for holding them up to public scorn. The dozen could include a fumigating Duke, ten Lords, a white-headed travelling Parson, three Doctors of Physic, a broken, deaf and lame Sea-Duck, ten thousand five hundred Male Midwives, and about the same number of their silly female customers, a Bulgarian Bath Painter, two hundred Black Legs and a Dancing Master of Ceremonies.

male midwife toad found here

In 1742 he eloped with Maria Lanove, a wealthy heiress, after he abducted her from a street in Southampton and took up residence in Bath with her, taking full advantage of the social whirl of life. In 1749 Maria and his children contracted diphtheria; she and two children died, leaving only a daughter, Anna, to survive. When Maria’s parents died some time later, he spent much time in trying to claim their fortune. Thicknesse then married Lady Elizabeth Tuchet, but she died in childbirth in 1762. His third wife was his late wife’s companion, Anne Ford, whom he married on 27 September 1762. Anne was a gifted musician with a beautiful voice who was well-educated and knew five languages. She gave Sunday concerts at her father’s house, but her ambition was to became a professional actress and, in spite of her father’s disapproval, she left home to enter the stage. The couple spent a lot of time travelling in Europe.

gratuitous “gifted musician” photo by Terry O’Neill

Thicknesse died on one such journey near Boulogne, France, and was buried in this town. In his later life he had become an “ornamental hermit”. In his will he stipulated that his right hand be cut off, and that it should be delivered to his son, Lord Audley, who was inattentive

plush severed hand found here

the cult of the cricket

Royal courtiers in China kept singing crickets as early as the eighth century, housing the insects they’d caught in small golden cages next to their beds.

cricket cages found here

In their relations to crickets the Chinese have passed through three distinct periods : during the first period from early antiquity down to the T’ang dynasty, they merely appreciated the cricket’s powerful tunes; under the T’ang (A.D. 618-906) they began to keep crickets as interned prisoners in cages to be able to enjoy their concert at any time; finally, under the Sung (a.d. 960-1278) they developed the sport of cricket-fights and a regular cult of the cricket.

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As happened in China frequently, a certain custom first originated in the palace, became fashionable, and then gradually spread among all classes of the populace. The women enshrined in the imperial seraglio found solace and diversion in the company of crickets during their lonesome nights. Instead of golden cages, the people availed themselves of small bamboo or wooden cages which they carried in their bosom or suspended from their girdles.

image found here

During the summer the insects were kept in circular pottery jars made of clay and covered with a flat lid. Many potters made a special business of these cricket houses, and impressed on them a seal with their names. The crickets were kept cool as the heat did not penetrate the thick clay walls. Tiny porcelain dishes decorated in blue and white contained food and water for the insects, and they were also provided with beds or sleeping boxes of clay. Jars of somewhat larger size served for holding the cricket-fights.

image found here

In summer the insects were generally fed on fresh cucumber, lettuce, and other greens. During their confinement in autumn and winter, they ate masticated chestnuts and yellow beans. In the south they were also fed on chopped fish and various kinds of insects, and even received honey as a tonic. It was quite a common sight to see idlers congregated in tea-houses laying their crickets out on the tablesTheir masters washed the gourds with hot tea and chewed chestnuts and beans to feed them. Then they listened to their songs and boasted of their grinding powers.

chestnut tree found here

The fighting crickets received particular attention and nourishment, a dish consisting of a bit of rice mixed with fresh cucumbers, boiled chestnuts, lotus seeds, and mosquitoes. When the time for the fight drew near, they were given a tonic of bouillon made from the root of a certain flower. Some fanciers allowed themselves to be stung by mosquitoes, and when those were full of blood, they were given to their favorite pupils. The good fighters were believed to be incarnations of great heroes of the past, and were treated in every respect like soldiers.

mosquito larvae found here

Those with black heads and gray hair in their bodies were considered best. Next in appreciation came those with yellow heads and gray hair, then those with white heads and gray hair.

The tournaments took place in an open space, on a public square, or in a special house termed Autumn Amusements. There were heavy-weight, middle and light-weight champions. The wranglers were always matched on equal terms according to size, weight, and color, and were carefully weighed on a pair of wee scales at the opening of each contest.

image found here

A tickler was used for stirring the crickets to incite them to sing or fight. In Peking fine hare or rat whiskers were inserted in a bone handle for this purpose; in Shanghai, a fine blade of crab or finger grass. 

A referee who was called “Army Commander” or “Director of the Battle”, announced the contestants, recited the history of their past performances, and spurred the two parties on to combat. For this purpose he availed himself of the tickler described above, stirring their heads and the ends of their tails, then finally their large hind legs.

image found here

The two combatants would fight each other mercilessly. The struggle usually ended in the death of one of them, and it occurred not infrequently that the more agile or stronger one pounced with its whole weight upon the body of its opponent, severing its head completely

The sum of money staked on the contest was lodged with a committee who retained ten per cent to cover expenses and handed over the balance to the owner of the winning cricket. The lucky winner was also presented with a roast pig, a piece of silk, and a gilded ornament resembling a bouquet of flowers. The names of the victorious champions were inscribed on an ivory tablet carved in the shape of a gourd and these tablets like diplomas were religiously kept in the houses of the fortunate owners. The victory was occasion for great rejoicing and jollification and the jubilant winner strutted in the procession of his overjoyed compatriots, carrying his victorious cricket home.

image found here

Published in: on October 23, 2011 at 8:04 am  Comments (57)  
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warts and all

Misia Sert (born Maria Zofia Olga Zenajda Godebska; 30 March 1872 – 1950) was a pianist of Polish descent who hosted an artistic salon in Paris.  She married Thadée Natanson, a Polish emigre politician and journalist, who became the editor of a Parisian Dreyfusard journal.

Misia (1947) found here

Thadée started the Revue Blanche. Verlaine, Mallarmé and other famous painters duly gathered. Those who couldn’t paint Misia wrote poems for her. The painters had the privilege of immortalising her miraculous looks, which included a legendary pair of legs and a bosom that kept strong men awake at night thinking.

Misia by Renoir found here

Being published in the Revue Blanche was like getting into a party: you had to know Misia. At a party thrown by Misia’s brother-in-law to celebrate the completion of nine large panels by Vuillard, Toulouse Lautrec was the barman. Misia met Liszt, whom she remembered for his warts, long hair and transvestite travelling companionThree hundred people were present, of whom a large proportion were already famous and all promptly became drunk, since Lautrec’s cocktails consisted of several layers of different-coloured liqueurs. A room was set aside for casualties and ended up jammed with the bodies of Vuillard, Bonnard, etc

Toulouse Lautrec found here

When Natanson was on the brink of bankruptcy, the newspaper magnate Alfred Edwards saved him, on condition that he surrender his wife to him. Misia began living with Alfred Edwards in 1903.

Edwards was a coprophile, among his other charms, but he was also loaded. There were butlers, chandeliers and an endless supply of Louis XVI furniture. Misia played for Caruso while he sang Neapolitan songs, and told him to pipe down when she grew sick of them. Renoir longed to paint Misia with the famous breasts naked, but she would never bare them to him, probably because Edwards was lurking heavily in the adjacent room, ready to exact jealous vengeance even though the artist by that time was an all but total cripple.

Alfred Edwards found here

Misia eventually lost Edwards to the gorgeous young actress Genevieve Lantelme, who had started off as a whore at the age of fourteen. In 1911, Lantelme drowned in the Rhine. The newspapers licked their tabloid jaws over every detail. Referring obliquely to Edward’s bizarre sexual perversion as the cause of the murder, one journalist wrote “An unspeakable idea that I cannot even describe crossed his mind, an idea that he wanted the horrified and indignant actress to put into practice. She struggled and screamed and he threw her body into the water.” Edwards sued for libel and was awarded damages of one franc. 

Lantelme found here

Misia moved on to José-Maria Sert, a colourful, muscular painter of colourful, muscular murals. Sert was a tirelessly fiery Spaniard with enough cash to keep Misia in the style to which she had no real intention of ever becoming unaccustomed.

By 1923 Sert and Misia were both in love with the same girl, Roussy Mdivani, a junior member of the marrying Mdivanis. Roussy was chic as opposed to artistic. She was also young as opposed to old. The triangle lasted for as long as Misia’s pride allowed, plus a bit longer. Then she consoled herself with Coco Chanel, who took her turn to assume the dominant role.

Chanel found here

the original female dandy

Luisa, Marquise Casati Stampa di Soncino (1881 – 1957) was an eccentric Italian heiress, muse, and patroness of the arts in early 20th century Europe.

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“A celebrity and femme fatale, the marchesa’s famous eccentricities dominated and delighted European society for nearly three decades. She astonished society by parading with a pair of leashed cheetahs and wearing live snakes as jewellery. During a stay at the Paris Ritz, one of her boa constrictors escaped, causing much consternation among other guests and staff.

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In 1910 Casati took up residence at the Palazzo Venier dei Leoni, on Grand Canal in Venice (now the home of the Peggy Guggenheim Collection). Her soirées there would become legendary. Casati collected a menagerie of exotic animals, and patronized fashion designers such as Fortuny and Poiret. Nude servants gilded in gold leaf attended her. Bizarre wax mannequins sat as guests at her dining table, some of them even rumoured to contain the ashes of past lovers.

wax mannequin found here

She was tall and thin, with a pale, almost cadaverous face. Her huge green eyes were flanked by false eyelashes, slathered with black kohl, and she regularly used belladonna eyedrops to dilate her pupils. It is said that she once wore a freshly-killed chicken as a stole, and that on a separate occasion, she had her driver kill a chicken and pour the blood down her long white arms so that it dried in a pattern which pleased her.

blood spatter cushion found here

In 1896 she was one of the wealthiest women in Europe but by 1930, Casati had amassed a personal debt of $25 million. She fled to London, where she lived in comparative poverty and was rumoured to be seen rummaging in bins searching for feathers to decorate her hair. She died at her last residence, 32 Beaufort Gardens in Knightsbridge, on 1 June 1957, aged 76.

image found here

Casati was buried wearing not only her black and leopardskin finery but a pair of false eyelashes as well. She also shared her coffin with a stuffed pekinese dog.

Taxidermied Pekingese found here

she goes off with a bang

From a medical journal found here

SIR,-While I was reading the history of a newly admitted patient on the final ward round before Christmas a loud crack, like a pistol shot, rang out from the other end of the ward disturbing the proceedings. We found no commotion and no weapon, not even a prematurely pulled Christmas cracker.

Instead, there was a timid woman of 40, Mrs. A, who called out apologetically that it was her and her capsules. She told us that her general practitioner had prescribed Duogastrone (a special preparation of carbenoxolone sodium), which according to her doctor would dissolve beyond the stomach and heal her duodenal ulcer. She then explained in detail that since taking her capsules a loud shot would occur in her bowels from three to seven hours after swallowing them. She and her husband had many sleepless nights awaiting the “shot” at 2 a.m. after the evening meal at 7 p.m.

pill art found here

Two weeks before Christmas the television repair man had called in the afternoon to adjust the set while Mrs. A sat watching on the settee. Just as he was tuning the set she ” exploded.” The man dropped his tools and pulled the wires from the socket but could not find any electrical fault. He then turned to Mrs. A and suggested that the metal springs of the settee had broken.

image found here

Mrs. A, too shy to explain her abdominal secret, let him examine the settee. The medical and nursing staff and last but not least the patient herself can vouch for the truth of this story, which was not the result of surrender to Christmas spirits. It is felt that this new and somewhat dramatic Duogastrone side-effect should be known to others. We shall indeed be interested to hear if other patients have experienced intra-abdominal shots after taking Duogastrone.

We are, etc.,

C. C. EVANS.

J. B. RIDYARD.

The Royal Southern Hospital,

Liverpool 8

Billarion

Long before Brangelina came into being, Australia was home to the entity known as  Billarion

Young Angelina found here

Marion (Bill) Edwards, transsexual barman, pony trainer and bookmaker, was born in 1874 at Murchison, Victoria.  According to her fanciful memoir, Life and Adventures of Marion-Bill-Edwards, she worked on her uncle’s farm on the Goulburn River, and as a waitress, refused offers of marriage and ‘made hot love’ to women. About 1896 she decided to dress and live as a man, claiming that this earned her more money. Edwards later purported to have appeared as a female impersonator entertaining troops in Africa during the Boer War and to have delivered horses to India. He was, shall we say, very much a ladies man.

image found here

As William Ernest Edwards, in 1900 at St Francis’s Catholic Church, Melbourne, Marion went through a form of marriage with a 30-year-old widow Lucy Minihan, a lodging-house proprietor. In her memoir, Edwards claimed that they had a healthy sex life – although he always declared that Lucy never suspected his true sex. In 1905, arrested for burglary when found in a hotel at 3 a.m., Marion explained her presence by saying she was trying to catch a prowler. Fearful that her gender would be discovered she absconded to Queensland. Her ‘wife’, who had put up bail of £50, was sentenced to one month’s gaol for Bill’s default.

image of a different Lucy found here

After a second arrest in Brisbane in October 1906, women showered her with gifts and billets doux.  A celebrity once her masquerade was revealed, Edwards returned to Melbourne after a spectacular send off, appearing in court in female attire. She was described as a wealthy girl, rough rider, masquerader, alleged burglar, fighter, barman and ingenious lover. Taking advantage of the publicity, she performed as a sharpshooter in an exhibition between film shows at the Fitzroy Cyclorama where she accidentally shot a member of the audience. She also appeared at Kreitmayer’s Waxworks, billed as ‘The Far-famed Male Impersonator’.

Fitzroy Cyclorama found here

At her eventual trial in November 1906 she was found not guilty. About this time her memoir was published, illustrated with photographs of her posing in male and female garb. It was titled The Life and Adevntures of Marion Bill Edwards, the Most Celebrated Man-Woman of Modern Times: Exciting Incidents, Strange Sensations, Told in the Graphic Manner by Herself. Interviewed by Lone Hand in 1908, she was described as a modern Mademoiselle De Maupin: “She liked her own sex, and they liked her. The girls ran after her for she was a lovable man with nice ways.”

sharp shooter Annie Oakley found here

Although there are references to Edwards in Truth and police records on ‘sly-grog’ matters, nothing was proven. A newspaper article in 1927 referred to her as a pony trainer at Port Melbourne. Living in West Melbourne from 1930, her lesbian notoriety forgotten, but still in male attire, she worked in hotels, and iron foundries, and as a starting price bookmaker. Neighbours knew she was female but described her later as a ‘ nice old gentleman’. Bill preferred to appear as a male. Nevertheless, near the end of her life the Mount Royal Geriatric Home forced her to dress in women’s clothes. She died in March 1956 and was buried in Fawkner cemetery.

Fawkner Cemetery found here

jock and george and omi and jacob

The history of London tattoo artists is a fascinating one

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Jock Liddel  first began tattooing in his native Scotland at a time when there were only a couple of tattoo artists working there. After Jock moved to London in 1948 he took to visiting George Burchett at his Waterloo Road studio. George tattooed the famous showman ‘The Great Omi‘ and told a funny story how his name came about. He was in Burchett’s studio one day and asked if it would be ok to pay for his latest tattoo the next week – and with that Burchett was supposed to have said as the Omi walked out ‘There goes the great omi (owe me) and he will be owing me until the day he dies’.

The Great Omi sculpture found here

Jock spent his first years in London working alone – until he struck up what was to be a lifetime friendship with two of the great characters of the British tattoo scene. ‘I tattooed for years in my house – and one day out of the blue I met Jack Zeek and Charlie (Cash) Cooper and we became known as the ‘Crazy Threesome’ – because I was a drinker and Jack was a drinker but Cash was a better drinker than both me and Jack put together.’

Jack Zeek found here

‘One of the funniest things I remember was when I was out walking with my father one day and this bicycle came towards us with old Jacob Van Dyn riding it – with blood streaming down his face – as he had just been to Burchett’s place and had a red love heart tattooed on his nose’.

image found here

‘In the old days you never saw a book or a magazine advertising tattooing gear as it was a very secret organisation. The way we used to do it…the way to buy equipment… was from another tattooist…and you had to prove to them that you really wanted to come into the business for all the right reasons.’

image found here

Jock once appeared on British TV’s quiz show ‘The Sale Of The Century’ where not only did he win…he also took all the prizes home with him. He tattooed part of the design on (at the time – the world’s most tattooed man) Tom Wooldridge ‘The Leopard Man’ and he also appeared in many newspaper and magazine articles…including clippings on how Jock had the rights to the tattooed head of Jacob Van Dyn upon his death. Saying that of course…Ben Gunn, Cash Cooper, Jack Ringo, Ron Ackers and Micky Bloor also paid Van Dyn £5.00 pounds for the privilege of buying his tattooed head and face after his demise (no one ever got the head of course).

Leopard Man found here

Jacob van Dyn was rumoured to have been a bootlegger and a gunman for Al Capone. Whenever he was short of money he borrowed from London’s tattooists. The whole of his body was adorned but he was especially proud of the tattoos on his head which included the signs of the zodiac. His penis was also heavily tattooed. He was well known at Speaker’s Corner, Marble Arch and claimed to have been in every famous prison in the world, including Sing Sing and Devil’s Island.

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