Captain Marvel

John Whiteside Parsons (born Marvel Whiteside Parsons 1914 – 1952), better known as Jack Parsons, was an American rocket propulsion researcher at the California Institute of Technology.He married Helen Northrup in April 1935.

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“He was an acolyte of Aleister Crowley, an employee of Howard Hughes and a victim of L. Ron Hubbard. Though obscured by wild rumor and sinister presumptions, Parsons’ reputation has survived among devotees of rockets and of magic. His relationship with his mother was intense and possibly incestuous. He has been described as good looking and promiscuous, working his way through the secretarial pool at Aerojet.

still from Secretary found here

Along with his more scientific pursuits, he also tried to create a “Moon Child,” a magic being conjured via mystic ritual who would usher in a new age of unfettered liberty and signal the end of the Christian era and its outmoded morality.

Parsons had no formal education beyond high school. Yet his deep knowledge of explosives, formed through early issues of Amazing Stories and stints with explosive powder companies, earned him a leading role in a small gang performing rocketry experiments at and around Caltech in the ’30s. In those days, rocket science was the province mostly of twisted dreamers, not serious scientists. His gang was not-so-affectionately dubbed the Suicide Squad for the series of alarming explosions they caused on campus. Eventually they were exiled to the Arroyo Seco canyon to conduct experiments in discovering stable, usable rocket fuels. (They discovered plenty of unstable, unusable ones along the way.)

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Then World War II changed things. The U.S. military called upon these smoke-streaked stepchildren of Caltech, hoping to use their crazy rocket gadgets to propel planes into the air in places without adequate runways. Gradually the gang of misfits evolved into the Jet Propulsion Laboratories. Parsons designed new rocket fuel after rocket fuel, and eventually they succeeded in inventing jet-assisted take-off.

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While inventing the castable rocket fuel that made the space age possible, Parsons simultaneously explored the frontiers of inner space, building the other half of his weird reputation. He became enraptured with the writings of the British occultist Aleister Crowley and joined the L.A.-based Agape Lodge of Crowley’s Ordo Templi Orientis. Crowley’s American lieutenants seized on the charismatic and successful scientist as a potential savior for their movement; he began donating almost all his salary to the upkeep of his lodge brethren. 

image found here

Eighteen year old Sarah Northrup began living with Parsons and Parsons’ wife, Sara’s half-sister Helen Northrup; later, Parsons and Sara became involved in an affair, which caused strife with Helen and eventually led to Helen leaving with another Lodge member, Wilfred Smith, who also had a reputation as a legendary womaniser.

Wilfred Smith found here

After the war Parson’s occult activism attracted the young L. Ron Hubbard into his life and home. The pulp writer, pre-Dianetics, took off for Florida with Jack’s mistress, Sarah Northrup, and most of his money, supposedly to buy boats to bring to California and launch a business operation they’d jointly own. Hubbard never came back. The official Scientology line –unsupported by any evidence–is that Hubbard was sent by Naval Intelligence to break up Parsons’ evil occult sex ring.

Hubbard found here

During his last days Parsons was reduced to working for Hollywood movies, making tiny explosive squibs that mimicked a man being shot. This from someone who once dreamed of blasting man into outer space. Some people regard the 1952 explosion that killed him in his Pasadena backyard lab as mysterious. One close pal, though, didn’t see much of a puzzle. He noted that “Jack used to sweat a lot and [a coffee can in which he was mixing explosives] just slipped out of his hand and blew him up.”

A crater on the dark side of the Moon has been named after Parsons. His last girlfriend, Marjorie “Candida” Cameron went on to become a successful painter and actress in avant-garde films. She is sometimes cited as the inspiration behind the Eagles song “Hotel California”

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a new dawn for the dowdy doppelganger

Dawn Langley Simmons (1937-2000) was born Gordon Langley Hall, the illegitimate son of Vita Sackville-West’s chauffeur.  

image of Gordon before becoming Dawn found here

“Jack Hitt, a journalist who grew up in Charleston across the street from Mrs. Simmons and wrote about her for GQ magazine, remembered her as a figure with a piercing stare, a pillbox hat and ”a Dippity-Do hairstyle, a dowdy doppelganger of Jackie Kennedy.’

image found here

Mrs. Simmons was a person around whom legends swirled. She lived in a grand house filled with antiques and a hidden garden. She was said to have had a coming-out party for two of her dogs, who were displayed on velvet cushions in the living room, dressed in chenille, long gloves and pearls.

image found here

Mrs. Simmons was born with an adrenal abnormality that caused her female genitalia to resemble a male’s and was thus raised as a boy. She always maintained that she was — unequivocally — female. In his late teens, Mr. Hall emigrated to Ontario, where he worked as a missionary, teacher and midwife among the Ojibwa Indians, according to his book about his experiences, ”Me Papoose Sitter”. He also wrote books about Princess Margaret, Jacqueline Kennedy and American Evangelism.

image found here

Moving to New York in his twenties, Mr. Hall met the actress Margaret Rutherford. She and her husband, Stringer Davis, were so enchanted with Gordon that they adopted him.

Stringer and Margaret found here

During that time Gordon also befriended the painter Isabel Whitney, who left him $2 million at her death in 1962. He moved to Charleston, settling into a faded 1840 house on Society Street in the Ansonborough section, which had a large gay population. He became friendly with Charleston’s grandes dames, restored his house and filled it with Chippendale furniture, mirrors said to belong to George Washington, and bed steps said to have been owned by Robert E. Lee.

image by Joan Perry found here

Then in 1968 Gordon underwent a sex change operation at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, and became Dawn Pepita Langley Hall. The following year she married her 22-year-old black butler, John-Paul Simmons. The publisher of ”Dawn: A Charleston Legend” was quoted as calling it the first documented interracial marriage in Charleston’s history. A bomb threat forced the couple to move the wedding from a Baptist church to the bride’s home, and the gifts were destroyed by a firebomb.

image found here

In England, Miss Rutherford was reported to have said, ”I am delighted that Gordon has become a woman, delighted that Dawn is to marry a man of another race, and delighted that Dawn is to marry a man of a lower station, but I understand the man is a Baptist!

John the Baptist found here

Soon, Mrs. Simmons appeared to be pregnant. Then in 1972, she began strolling with a baby carriage bearing a little girl whom she called Natasha. In 1974, after a period of turbulence in which she accused her husband of selling her belongings to buy whisky, the family moved to Catskill, N.Y. Some time later, Mr. Simmons was confined to a mental institution near Albany. 

Dawn died in September 2000. Her daughter asked that she be remembered as the family woman she was, devoted to her children.

accordions and gin

Moura Zakrevskaya, variously Countess Benckendorff and Baroness Budberg (1891 – 1974) was the daughter of an eccentric tsarist nobleman. He was so obsessed with the pyramids that he built a replica – which still stands today – on his Ukrainian estate.

Moura found here

“Her first husband (murdered while she was away in Russia) was a minor Estonian noble. She gained the title of ‘Baroness’ through her second husband. He was soon discarded but the title never was

She met British diplomat and spy, Bruce Lockhart, in Petrograd after travelling there alone to try to secure family property amid the turmoil. She later followed him to Moscow, where both were arrested by the authorities.

Bruce Lockhart found here

The legend maintains that Moura secured her own release from the Lubyanka by offering the commandant sexual favours. Whatever the truth of this, she brought food and books to Bruce Lockhart until he was exchanged for a Soviet agent held by the British. 

Lubyanka prison courtyard found here

In 1934 their relationship was further mythologised by a Hollywood film. “British Agent” was directed by Michael Curtiz, of Casablanca fame, and starred Leslie Howard as Bruce and Kay Francis as the enigmatic Moura.

Kay Francis found here

Bruce Lockhart’s departure left her alone and penniless in Moscow. She found work with Maxim Gorky and soon became his secretary and lover. Through Gorky, Moura came to know both Lenin and Stalin, and she remained part of his entourage until his death in 1934. 

image found here

Towards the end of this period she was spending increasing time in London, establishing herself as a fashionable hostess and a star of the Russian émigré community. The press began to mention her as a friend or “companion” of H. G. Wells.

H G Wells found here

This relationship worried the British authorities. In its early days espionage was closely connected with literature. W. Somerset Maugham had been sent to Russia in 1917 with the ambitious mission of keeping Russia in the war and preventing the Bolsheviks coming to power.

W Somerset Maugham found here

The Moscow Embassy had already warned that Moura was “a very dangerous woman“. Worse, she had once presented Stalin with an accordion. Her file recorded: “She drinks like a fish. She can drink an amazing quantity of gin without it showing any apparent slow-up in her mental processes.”

image found here

The ageing Wells offered in London what Gorky had offered in Moscow: security and an entrée to society. Moura’s own explanation was that the attraction was sexual – Wells’s skin, she said, smelled of honey – though she refused to marry him or even remain faithful.

watch a great honey badger video here

She was under surveillance by MI5 as a possible spy for over thirty years yet they never managed to find her guilty of anything.

Published in: on March 22, 2012 at 7:53 am  Comments (47)  
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queer stories of a queer craze

In 1898, R J Stephen wrote this article –  TATTOOED ROYALTY: Queer Stories of a Queer Craze for The Harmsworth Monthly Pictorial Magazine.

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“What wonder, then, that tattooing is now the most popular pastime of the leisured world? For one of the best-known men in high European circles, the Grand Duke Alexis of Russia, is most elaborately tattooed. And Prince and Princess Waldemar of Denmark, Queen Olga of Greece, King Oscar of Sweden, the Duke of York, the Grand Duke Constantine, Lady Randolph Churchill, with many others of royal and distinguished rank, have submitted themselves to the tickling, but painless and albeit pleasant, sensation afforded by the improved tattooing needle, aided by the galvanic current, the genius of the artist supplying the rest of the operation.

Lady Randolph Churchill found here

The Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, like his cousin Alexis of Russia is another elaborately tattooed man; but even his decorations, and those of other profusely tattooed men, fall short in point of quantity when compared with those marks upon the body of that Greek gentleman who was exhibited not long ago at the Royal Aquarium, whose body was completely covered with fine tattoo work, every square inch of it.

world’s most tattooed man found here

Professor Riley’s work is pronounced to be the finest in the world. The present fancy for being tattooed, according to Professor Riley, mainly exists among men who have travelled much; while ladies have also taken a strong liking to this form of personal decoration, which, from a woman’s point of view, is about as expensive as a dress, but not so costly as good jewellery. In place of spending her spare time posing in front of the camera, or reclining her head in the dentist’s chair, or placing herself resignedly in the hands of her hairdresser, or for the purpose of passing her time in the “off” season, the lady about town now consents to be pricked by the tattoo artist’s needle, and to have her forearm or shoulder adorned with a mark such as this – a serpent holding its tail in its mouth – a symbol representing eternity.

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Tattooing has its humorous side. A lover who once felt a passionate love, got the artist to imprint a single heart of charming and delicate outline, coloured in all the blushing tints, with the name of his loved one stamped thereon. Three years later he followed the artist to London, and, seeking him out, with face pallid, the light of his eye almost gone out, and looking utterly miserable and careworn, he requested that the tattooer imprint under that same symbol, in bold, big letters, the word “deceived”.

A well known army officer had tattooed over his heart the simple name of “Mary” with a lover’s knot, but six months afterwards the same gentleman had the uncanny word “traitress” tattooed underneath.

An English actress had a butterfly tattooed on her fair shoulder, the initials of her fiance, “F.V.” being placed underneath. Not long afterwards she also came back and had the “F” converted into “E” and the “V” into “W”, the letters reading “E.W.” She eventually married “E.W.” and to this day “E.W” thinks his initials were the first tattooed on her arm.

image found here

Professor Riley is at the present time engaged in etching on a man’s back Landseer’s famous picture “Dignity and Impudence”. He is also outlining on the chest of a Scotch baron a copy of Constable’s famous etching, “Mrs. Pelham,” after Sir Joshua Reynolds, the original of which fetched, at Christie’s, the record sum of 425 pounds.

Dignity and Impudence by Landseer found here

While most people are pleased to go through the performance of being tattooed just for the fun of it, many approach the tattooer with a serious object in view. Eschewing all fancy designs, they choose frequently their own name and address as an aid to identification in case of accident

Stargate address tattoo found here

Tattooing spread among the upper classes all over Europe in the nineteenth century, but particularly in Britain where it was estimated in Harmsworth Magazine in 1898 that as many as one in five members of the gentry were tattooed. There, it was not uncommon for members of the social elite to gather in the drawing rooms and libraries of the great country estate homes after dinner and partially disrobe in to show off their tattoos. As well as her consort Prince Albert, there are persistent rumours that Queen Victoria had a small tattoo in an undisclosed ‘intimate’ location. Winston Churchill’s mother, Lady Randolph Churchill, not only had a tattoo of a snake around her wrist, which she covered when the need arose with a specially crafted diamond bracelet, but had her nipples pierced as well.

Lady Churchill and Winston found here

Published in: on March 20, 2012 at 7:58 am  Comments (48)  
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oh isn’t he gorgeous?

George Raymond Wagner (1915 – 1963) was an American professional wrestler best known by his ring name Gorgeous George.

Gorgeous George and Betty found here

At 5’9” and 215 pounds, Wagner was not physically imposing by professional wrestling standards, nor was he an exceptionally gifted athlete. Nevertheless, he soon developed a reputation as a solid worker. In the late 1930s, he met Elizabeth “Betty” Hanson, whom he would eventually marry in an in-ring ceremony. When the wedding proved a good draw card, the couple re-enacted it in arenas across the country. Around this same time, Vanity Magazine published a feature article about a pro wrestler named Lord Patrick Lansdowne, who entered the ring accompanied by two valets while wearing a velvet robe and doublet. Wagner was impressed with the bravado of such a character, but he believed that he could take it to a much greater extreme. 

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Betty (George’s wife) told how he got the name Gorgeous George. In the early 1940s he had a wrestling match at the Portland Oregon Armory. As he walked down the aisle to the ring, there were two mature women on his right. One of the women loudly exclaimed: “Oh, isn’t he gorgeous?” That word struck a chord with him and he immediately decided he would be “Gorgeous George.” As Elsie Hanson, Betty’s mother, was a skilled seamstress, George asked her to make him some resplendent capes that would accentuate his new persona. From then on George wore those capes in all his matches.

photo by Stanley Kubrick found here

Gorgeous George was soon recruited to Los Angeles by promoter Johnny Doyle. Known as the “Human Orchid,” his persona was created in part by growing his hair long, dyeing it platinum blonde, and putting gold-plated bobby pins in it. Furthermore, he transformed his ring entrance into a bona-fide spectacle that would often take up more time than his actual matches. He was the first wrestler to really use entrance music, as he strolled nobly to the ring to the sounds of “Pomp and Circumstance,” followed by his valet and a purple spotlight.

George and Jeffries found here

Wearing an elegant robe sporting an array of sequins, Gorgeous George was escorted down a personal red carpet by his ring valet “Jeffries,” who would carry a silver mirror while spreading rose petals at his feet. While George removed his robe, Jeffries would spray the ring with disinfectant which George referred to as “Chanel #10″ (“Why be half-safe?” he was famous for saying) before he would start wrestling.

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Moreover, George required that his valets spray the referee’s hands before the official was allowed to check him for any illegal objects, which thus prompted his famous cry “Get your filthy hands off me!” Once the match finally began, he would cheat in every way he could. Gorgeous George was the industry’s first true cowardly villain, which infuriated the crowd. His credo was “Win if you can, lose if you must, but always cheat!”

image found here

His first television appearance took place on November 11, 1947 and he immediately became a national celebrity at the same level of Lucille Ball and Bob Hope (who personally donated hundreds of chic robes for George’s collection) while changing the course of the industry forever. No longer was pro wrestling simply about the in-ring action; George had created a new sense of theatrics and character performance that had not previously existed.

Bob and Lucille found here

By the 1950s, Gorgeous George’s starpower was so huge that he was able to command 50% of the door for his performances, which allowed him to earn over $100,000 a year, making him the highest paid athlete in the world. His most famous match was against longtime rival Whipper Billy Watson on March 12, 1959, in which a beaten George had his treasured golden locks shaved bald before 20,000 delighted fans at Toronto’s Maple Leaf Gardens and millions more on national television.

image found here

Advanced age and extended alcohol abuse had taken their toll on his body and as his wrestling career wound down, Wagner invested $250,000 in a 195-acre turkey ranch built in Beaumont, California, where he used his showman skills to promote his prized poultry at wrestling matches. He raised turkeys and owned a cocktail lounge in Van Nuys, California, which he named “Gorgeous George’s Ringside Restaurant”.

Gelatin turkey found here

Published in: on March 18, 2012 at 5:30 am  Comments (55)  
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the cone of confabulation

This excerpt is taken from a longer article written by Lawrence Weschler for Harper’s Magazine in 1994. You can read the whole piece here. Or you could visit the Museum of Jurassic Technology in Culver city, California and see these things for yourself.

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“Donald R. Griffith, Rockefeller University’s eminent chiroptologist and author of Listening in the Dark, was reading the field reports of an obscure nineteenth century ethnographer named Bernard Maston. While working in 1872 among the Dozo of northern South America, Maston reported having heard several accounts of the deprong mori, or piercing devil, which he described as “a small demon which the local savages believe able to penetrate solid objects,” such as the walls of their thatch huts and, in one instance, even a child’s outstretched arm.

Deprong Mori found here

Griffith, as he later recounted, “smelled a bat.” He and a band of assistants undertook an arduous eight month expedition to the Tripsicum Plateau, where Griffith grew increasingly convinced that he was dealing not with just any bat but with a very special bat indeed, and specifically the tiny Myotis lucifugus, which though previously documented had never before been studied in detail.

bat found here

Furthermore, these particular bats had evolved highly elaborate nose leaves, or horns, which allowed them to focus their echowave transmissions in a narrow beam, which could account for the wide range of bizarre effects described by Maston’s informants.

needle felt bat found here

Griffith devised a brilliant snaring device consisting of five solid lead walls, each one eight inches thick, twenty feet high, and two hundred feet long — all of them arrayed in a radial pattern, like spokes of a giant wheel, along the forest floor. The team affixed seismic sensors all along the walls in an intricate gridlike pattern, and proceeded to wait.

radial pattern found here

Early on the morning of August 18, the sensors recorded a pock. The number three wall had received an impact twelve feet above the forest floor, 193 feet out from the center of the wheel. The team members carted an X-ray-viewing device out to the indicated spot, and sure enough, at a depth of 7 1/8 inches, they located the first Myotis lucifugus ever contained by man, “eternally frozen in a mass of solid lead.

x ray device found here

The story of Myotis lucifugus, the Dozo and the deprong mori, Bernard Maston and Donald R. Griffith can be found in a small, nondescript storefront operation located in Culver City in the middle of Los Angeles’s pseudo-urban sprawl: the Museum of Jurassic Technology.The door is likely to be opened by David Hildebrand Wilson himself, the museum’s founder and director.

David H Wilson found here

I suppose I should say something here about Wilson’s own presence, his own look, for it is of a piece with his museum. I have described him as diminutive, though a better word might be “simian.” His features are soft and yet precise, a broad forehead, short black hair graying at the sides, a close-cropped version of an Amish beard, sans mustache, fringing his face and filling into his cheeks. He wears circular glasses which accentuate the elfin effect. He’s been described as Ahab inhabiting the body of Puck (a pixie Ahab, a monomaniacal Puck), but the best description I ever heard came from his wife of twenty-five years, Diana, who one day characterized his looks for me as those of “a pubescent Neanderthal.”

Puck found here

After my museum visit I went to the library and looked up the ethnographer Bernard Maston: no record found. I typed in “Donald R. Griffith”: no record found. I tried that reference by title too — Listening in the Dark — and that time I hit pay dirt, except that the book had a different subtitle and its author was Donald R. Griffin, not Griffith. I went upstairs to look over the book’s index but found no references to Maston, the Dozo, or any deprong mori. I went back downstairs, tracked down Griffin’s whereabouts, and called him. I started out by explaining about the museum (he’d never heard of it) and its exhibit about Donald R. Griffith — “Oh no,” he interrupted. “My name is Griffin, with an n, not Griffith.” I know, I said, I know. I went on to ask him if he’d ever heard of a bat named Myotis lucifugus. “Of course.” he said, “It’s the most common species in North America. We used it on all the early research on echolocation.” Did its range extend to South America? Not as far as he knew, why? As I proceeded to tell him about the piercing devils and the thatch roofs, the lead walls and the X-ray emanations, he was laughing harder and harder. Finally, calming down, he said, “No, no, none of that is me, it’s all nonsense — on second thought you’d better leave the spelling of the name Griffith the way it is.” 

********************

He never ever breaks irony — that’s one of the incredible things about him.” says Marcia Tucker, the director of New York City’s New Museum, about David Wilson. It turns out there’s a growing cult among art and museum people who can’t seem to get enough of the MJT — I encountered it everywhere I turned: the L.A. County Museum, the Museum of Contemporary Art, the Getty. “When you’re in there with him,” Tucker went on, “everything initially just seems what it is. There’s this fine line, though, between knowing you’re experiencing something and sensing that something is wrong. There’s this slight slippage, which is the very essence of the place. And Wilson’s own presence there behind the desk, the literal-minded way in which he earnestly answers your questions — it all contributes seamlessly to that sense of slippage. Visiting the Jurassic is a bit like being in psychoanalysis. The place affords this marvelous field for projection and transference. It’s like a museum, a critique of museums, and a celebration of museums — all rolled into one.”

image found here

I SO want to go there…… don’t you?

Published in: on March 14, 2012 at 8:37 pm  Comments (41)  
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a menagerie of three

Bryher (1894 – 1983) was the pen name of the novelist, poet and magazine editor Annie Winifred Ellerman.

Bryher found here

Her father was John Ellerman, who at the time of his death in 1933, was the richest Englishman who had ever lived. He lived with her mother Hannah Glover, but did not marry her until 1908. During the 1920s, Bryher was an unconventional figure in Paris. Her circle of friends included Ernest Hemingway, James Joyce, Gertrude Stein, Sylvia Beach and Berenice Abbott. 

James Joyce by Berenice Abbott found here

In 1918 she met and became involved in a lesbian relationship with poet Hilda Doolittle (better known by her initials, H.D.). The relationship was an open one, with both taking other partners. In 1921 she entered into a marriage of convenience with the American author Robert McAlmon, whom she divorced in 1927. Both Bryher and H.D. slept with McAlmon during this time.

Hilda Doolittle found here

That same year she married Kenneth Macpherson, a writer who shared her interest in film and who was also H.D.’s lover. H.D., Bryher, and Macpherson lived together and traveled through Europe in what the poet and critic Barbara Guest termed as a ‘menagerie of three’. In Switzerland, overlooking Lake Geneva, the couple built a Bauhaus-style style structure which they named Kenwin. They formally adopted H.D.’s young daughter, Perdita. In 1928, H.D. became pregnant with Macpherson’s child, but chose to abort the pregnancy. Bryher divorced MacPherson in 1947, she and Doolittle no longer lived together after 1946, but continued their relationship until Doolittle’s death in 1961.

Kenneth Macpherson found here

Although Bryher’s and Macpherson’s marriage lasted for twenty years, both Macpherson and Bryher had many extra-marital affairs. Bryher was lesbian but Macpherson was distinctly bi-sexual. After spending a few months in New York in 1935, Macpherson eventually based himself there to focus on writing and photography. It was during this time that he met Peggy Guggenheim, the wealthy American art collector, who instantly fell in love with him.

Peggy found here

By 1947, Macpherson was spending much of his time in Switzerland and Italy. He bought a home on Capri, “Villa Tuoro”, which he shared with his lover, the photographer, Algernon Islay de Courcy Lyons. In 1965, he retired to Tuscany to work on a book about Austrian doctor, Elisabeth Moor. Moor was Capri’s doctor from 1926 until the early 1970s and was one of the island’s more colourful characters.

Capri found here

For a daughter of the Austrian emperor’s hairdresser, born in 1885 in Vienna, the prophecy of a career in medicine would have been a most unrealistic scenario, requiring not only talent and a strong determination, but also a rebellious spirit. 

son of the last Austrian Emperor found here

She was one of only two women admitted to the medical school, the other being her Jewish girlfriend, whose cousin was one of her first lovers. Her memories from medical school recall more lovers than courses. At the age of 24 she was deeply in love with an 18-year-old Swiss painter, Gigi Moor, whom she subsequently married shortly before obtaining her medical degree. 

She gave birth to a son, but she and her husband maintained an open marriage, with Gigi having an affair with a German cellist and our heroine falling madly in love with a Russian tenor. Elisabeth always boasted that a woman cannot know what real love is if she has not made love with a Russian. After the war she had another child with Gigi in Switzerland, and they subsequently moved to Italy. Her emotional needs seemed satiated by the two children and many lovers, and her marriage subsequently dissolved.

My favourite Russian found here

After the divorce she left Switzerland and arrived at Capri, her favorite place from previous visits. She was poor as a beggar, with two barefoot children, one dress and nothing else, not even underwear. But a license to practice medicine assured her independence.

Why should one care about the memories of an egotistic “impossible woman” whose life was so disorderly? Graham Greene’s preface offered no explanation except his admiration for this small square creature with eyes as blue as the windows of the cathedral of Chartres, big teeth and wild electric hair as alive as a bundle of fighting snakes. She was a woman who was tough and demanding, who frequently bullied her patients. But when she departed, she left a vast emptiness among the inhabitants of the island of Capri. 

snake hair bag found here

Published in: on March 12, 2012 at 8:59 am  Comments (51)  
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poodle extremism

Recently I read Jane and Michael Stern’s Encyclopedia of Bad Taste. This is what they had to say about poodles:

image found here

Poodles are not sissies; they aren’t even French. But it’s easy to understand how they got their reputation if you see one in full dress clip. It is a stunning sight, like topiary shrubbery but able to beg, fetch, roll over, and play dead. To gaze upon a standard poodle in a “Miami Sweetheart” cut with centered fur hearts on hips and back, pantaloon legs sculpted lathe-smooth, tassel ears, a Van Buren mustache drooping from its muzzle, a ribboned topknot, and a wagging pompon tail, parading along the boulevard in a rhinestone collar at the end of a jeweled lead, is to see an animal that has become a walking, barking work of art.

Van Buren (and more facial hair) found here

Before the idea of shearing and clipping poodles took off, they were well-respected European gun dogs, and their coats were clipped by hunters as a means of improving their performance. In fact, the most familiar fey poodle look, known as the “lion” cut, was developed to help them slog through rugged swamps. Poodles needed their thick coats for warmth in the cold water, but it was a hindrance when they swam fast, and it caught on brush; so only the hindquarters were sheared, with cuffs left around the ankles and hips to protect against rheumatism. Even the gay ribbon tied around the topknot had a purpose: Each hunter marked his dogs’ heads with his own colors, allowing groups of hunters to tell their dogs apart.

lion cut (and more) found here

In the same spirit of making cute things cuter, the poodle’s ordinary colors (a wide range, including blue, gray, silver, brown, cafe-au-lait, apricot, and cream) were supplemented by vegetable dyes that could turn them more shades than nature ever knew. The Vita coat company made “Marron” to make beige poodles a lovely chestnut brown and “Silver Sheen” to cause  silver-coated poodles to sparkle. But the serious poodle colorist started with a white-coated dog. “Women like to make them the same shade or a contrasting shade, to go with their wardrobes,” observed “Miss Cameo” (Kay Waldschmidt), the great poodle stylist of the fifties, who worked in St. Louis and Tucson. Miss Cameo also advised coloring poodles for Easter or Christmas, suggesting pink, orchid, and green as especially becoming.

images found here

Nearly every glamorous movie star had one, or at least got herself photographed with one: Joan Crawford had a toy poodle; Jayne Mansfield  had a couple of standard poodles that she regularly dyed pink to match her home. Doris Day played an American chorus girl who has to pass for a diplomat in a musical called April in Paris. To promote the film and signify the pretense of the masquerade, she appeared on the cover of Collier’s holding a sextet of clipped and dyed poodles: two pink, two aqua, one green, and one gold.

Joan and friend found here

Teenage girls wore stylish poodle skirts decorated with felt appliqued French poodles wearing rhinestone collars; ladies bought handbags with embroidered poodles on the side and decorated their powder rooms with wallpaper that had pictures of poodles strolling down the Champs-Elysees. Poodles were now commonly known as French poodles, and vast numbers of them got named Fifi, Gigi, and Pierre

image found here

As they grew in popularity, that aspect of them that was considered the most French, their ridiculous haircuts, was even more exaggerated. Miss Cameo’s Poodle Clipping Book in 1962 featured step-by-step instructions and such chapters as “Basic Round Head Styles,” and “Mustaches.” In a revealing chapter called “Why Your Poodle Should Be Well Groomed,” the answers to the rhetorical question include:

1} An ungroomed poodle doesn’t look like a poodle at all!

2} It will bring you prestige in many ways.

3} When you go on vacations or trips, you will be able to take him with you, because most motels and hotels do not object to a clean, well-groomed poodle, even though they have a “NO DOGS ALLOWED” sign posted.

4} He is a thing of beauty and should be kept that way.

In the instructional section of The Poodle Clipping Book” Miss Cameo takes the reader from basic “Puppy Trim,” “English Saddle,” and “Continental Clip” to such stupendous styles as the “Bell Bottom Banded Dutch” cut (with a rounded head like a Cossack’s hat), the “Scottsdale Exquisite” (puffs on legs and hocks, tasseled ears, pointed head), and the “Triple Puff Sweetheart” (heart-shaped puffs on jacket and hips, double puffs on back legs, single puffs on front legs). In her preface to her magnum opus, Miss Cameo says she knows that publication of the Poodle Clipping Book will permit other professional poodle stylists to pirate her work. But she is not disturbed. She concludes her remarks, “As long as poodles look better, I will have my reward.”

image found here

Published in: on March 9, 2012 at 9:09 pm  Comments (53)  
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a ring of wandering birds

Perhaps, like me, you thought that youth culture began after the Second World War. Jon Savage tells us otherwise:

Beginning in Germany during the early 1900s, the Wandervogel—literally, wandering birds—rejected the onset of the materialist, consumerist, mass-production society in favor of researching folklore and tramping around the countryside. After the Great Crash of 1929, Germany’s economy went into meltdown and youths were disproportionately hit: Half a million adolescents wandered round the country in hopeless vagabondage. 

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One of the most bizarre groupings was discovered by the investigative journalist Christine Fournier in Berlin during 1930, who called them “Ring” youth gangs and typified their attitude with the phrase “a hatred of society.” A year after the Crash, there were about 14,000 feral kids between 14 and 18 living rough in the outskirts of Berlin (a district that was circled by a “Ring” of avenues, hence the term).

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Homeless and adrift from adult society, these kids organized themselves into gangs with bloodthirsty—often Indian-derived—names like Blood of the Trappers, Red Apaches, Black Love, Black Flag, and Forest Pirates. They supported themselves through crime: petty burglary, theft, larceny, and prostitution, both male and female.

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This was fairly standard-issue stuff for juvenile delinquents, but what was extraordinary about the Ring youth gangs was their sheer number and the sophisticated savagery of their social structure. In the late 1920s, they had consolidated into one large federation with geographically zoned groups (e.g., the South Ring, the East Ring) led by a “Ring Bull.”

By the early 1930s, they had established elaborate codes of behavior. Prospective members had to go through sexual rituals—a pagan “baptism” often involving public intercourse or masturbation—before admission. The initiation ceremony almost always degenerated, according to Christine Fournier, into a “drunken binge, a mad orgy.” She called it “a spontaneous return to barbarism.”

human orgy art found here

In 1932 French journalist Daniel Guerin, on a visit to Germany, encountered a wild gang near Berlin. They looked like Wandervogel but “had the depraved and troubled faces of hoodlums and the most bizarre head coverings: black or grey Chaplinesque bowlers, old women’s hats with the brims turned up Amazon-fashion, adorned with ostrich plumes and medals.”

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He also noted “handkerchiefs or scarves in screaming colors tied around the neck, bare chests bursting out of open skin vests with broad stripes, arms scored with fantastic or lewd tattoos, ears hung with pendulums or enormous rings, leather shorts surmounted by immense triangular belts daubed with all the colors of the rainbow, esoteric numbers, human profiles, and inscriptions.

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Guerin thought they were “a strange mixture of virility and effeminacy,” and worried that “those who would know how to discipline these masquerade Apaches could make real bandits out of them.” Some did become Nazis—like Winnetou, a prominent Ring Bull. But others went underground: They continued to live free, wandering and harassing Nazis wherever they could.

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The Nazi regime had been at its weakest in the industrial heartland, the Rhine-Ruhr region, and in the early war years neighborhood gangs in those cites began to form with the express intention of avoiding Hitler Youth service. They were given the generic name of Edelweiss Pirates—like the Ring gangs, they had taken edelweiss badges as their insignias—and had fabulous names like the Shambeko Band (Düsseldorf) or the Navajos (Cologne).

insignia found here

Inevitably, the Edelweiss Pirates came into conflict with the Hitler Youth, and when they did, they would clobber them. In 1941, it was noted that “they are everywhere. There are more of them than there are Hitler Youth. And they all know each other, they stick close together. They beat up the patrols, because there are so many of them. They never take no for an answer.”

Hitler Youth found here

As the war went on, the regime’s desire for control escalated, as did the opposition to it. In Cologne, a large group of Edelweiss Pirates hooked up with escaped concentration-camp prisoners, deserters, and forced laborers in a program of armed resistance that culminated with the assassination of the local Gestapo chief. The Nazis publicly hanged 13 Pirates in the city center, including the 16-year-old leader of the Navajos, Barthel Schink.

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I dream of Genia

Queenwilly alerted me to this story about Eugenia Falleni via the Sydney Morning Herald from the archives at Sydney’s Justice and Police Museum 

Eugenia found here

The case of a transgender husband, Harry Crawford (Eugenia Falleni) convicted of murdering his wife had 1920s Sydney society in thrall, writes Tim Barlass.

By all accounts, Annie Birkett died a horrible death. Her charred body was found in open land near a flour mill in Chatswood, with cracks to her skull that could have formed through intense heat or by violence.

see larger image of Annie Birkett here 

Photographs of Mrs Birkett recently obtained by the Justice & Police Museum reveal her to be a refined and attractive woman, described later by one witness as ”very ladylike, a very quiet reserved woman never seen under the influence of liquor”.

But when she disappeared, Crawford told others that she had ‘‘cleared out with a plumber”, that she was a heavy drinker and that he had seen her a couple of times since then in Sydney.

It was not the victim that gave the case such notoriety in 1917, but her transgender husband, Harry Crawford, who was eventually convicted of her murder. 

Eugenia found here

On 19 February 1913 at the Methodist Parsonage in inner city Balmain, claiming to be a widower aged 38, Crawford went through a marriage ceremony with Annie Birkett, a widow of 35 with a 13-year-old son. Annie set up a confectionery shop in Balmain, evidently unaware that her husband was not a man, while Harry continued as a peripatetic manual worker.

Now Adriano Zumbo makes confectionery in Balmain

In 1917, after Annie had apparently threatened to report her husband to the authorities for his deception, the couple quarreled and Annie disappeared. Her body was discovered in October that year, partially burned and with cracks to the skull, in a forested picnic area near the Lane Cove River, but it remained unidentified for over two years. In the meantime, in September 1919, Harry Crawford underwent another marriage ceremony with Elizabeth King Allison, a spinster.

Spinster found here

Also in the intervening time, Annie’s son had alerted the police to his mother’s prolonged disappearance; the body of Annie was exhumed and identified, and Harry was arrested on 5 July 1920. At the time of his arrest, while living with Elizabeth in a house in Stanmore, he asked to be placed in the women’s cells and requested that his wife be not apprised that he was not a man. Among male clothing in a locked leather suitcase, police located an ‘article’, later exhibited in court, made of wood and rubber bound with cloth in the shape of a phallus or dildo.

image found here

At Falleni’s preliminary hearing and trial for murder at Darlinghurst courthouse in October 1920, the ‘Man-Woman case’ created a press sensation, with the accused appearing in the dock first in a man’s suit and then in women’s clothes. Falleni pleaded not guilty to the murder, but her alleged immorality in passing herself off as a man was made much of in the popular press, which portrayed her as a monster and a pervert.

Chief Justice Sir William Cullen in his summing up said: ”It would almost seem incredible that two people could live together for three years without Mrs Birkett discovering that an imposition had been practised …”

female johnny depp impersonator found here 

She was convicted and condemned to death, but her sentence was commuted to detainment at the Governor’s Pleasure. When released from Long Bay Prison eleven years later in February 1931 she became the proprietor of a boarding house in Paddington, Sydney. On 9 June 1938 she stepped off the pavement in front of a motorcar in nearby Oxford Street, and died of her injuries the following day.

Paddington Reservoir Oxford Street found here

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