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.

image found here

“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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poodle extremism

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

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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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death car cutie

A google search for “death car” brings up some strange stories. China made headlines in 2006 with this:

image found here

Zhang Shiqiang, known as the Nine-Fingered Devil, first tasted justice at 13. His father caught him stealing and cut off one of Zhang’s fingers. Twenty-five years later, Zhang met retribution once more, after his conviction for double murder. He was put to death in China’s new fleet of mobile execution chambers that dispense capital punishment from specially equipped “death vans” that shuttle from town to town.

Makers of the vans say the vehicles and injections are a civilized alternative to the firing squad. The switch from gunshots to injections is a sign that China “promotes human rights,” says Kang Zhongwen, who designed the Automobile death van in which “Devil” Zhang took his final ride.

image found here

Along with the death vans, the company also makes bulletproof limousines for the country’s rich and armored trucks for banks.  “I’m most proud of the bed. It’s very humane, like an ambulance,” Kang says. He points to the power-driven metal stretcher that glides out at an incline. “It’s too brutal to haul a person aboard,” he says. “This makes it convenient for the criminal and the guards.”

The next result from Google took me here:

When Mrs. Ruth Warren arrived to claim her stolen car (after Bonnie and Clyde were ambushed in it), Sheriff Henderson Jordan refused to release it claiming that she would have to pay $15,000 to get it back. She had to hire an attorney to represent her before a Federal Judge who threatened to send the sheriff to jail, if he did not return the car to Mrs. Warren.

Bonnie and Clyde found here

The Death Car, recently displayed at “Terrible’s Casino” in Osceola, Iowa in August of 2007 is currently being displayed at Terrible’s St. Jo Frontier Casino in Saint Joseph Missouri. At the time of his death, Clyde Barrow was wearing a light blue western style shirt. It sold at auction for $85,000. A one inch swatch of the dark blue trousers he was wearing, can be purchased by you, and you need not mortgage your home to own this tangible piece of clothing.

 

image found here (click to enlarge)

And then there’s this article about Buckminster Fuller’s “charming death car”

Obsessed with sustainability, beloved futurist (and architect, designer, inventor, and all-around visionary) Buckminster Fuller spent his career dreaming of a Utopian future. He drafted plans and built prototypes of devices  that would fulfill his dreams, and two of them are on view at an installation going up in the Miami Design District’s pedestrian plaza.

Putting today’s Prius to shame, will be the Dymaxion 4 car, lovingly reconstructed by Norman Foster for a double dose of starchitectural magic. Fuller’s three-wheeler vehicle, which he intended to eventually give flight with jet engines, had a fuel efficiency far ahead of its time at 30 miles per gallon, while its aerodynamically efficient teardrop shape and rear-mounted Ford V-8 engine brought it to 120 miles per hour. With seating for 11, it would have been perfect for family road trips (had the safety precautions been more finely tuned — it unfortunately turned over and killed its driver at the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair).

image found here

pretty boys and party animals

Allan Carr made his reputation producing and promoting such major movie hits as Grease, Tommy and the Broadway smash La Cage aux Folles.

Allan Carr (left) found here

Carr also anointed himself Hollywood’s social patriarch, hosting extravagant parties with guest lists that included legends as well as rising stars. Invitations to his opulent home with its bars, disco, and private rooms where guests could indulge their cocaine habits or sexual exploits were highly coveted.

Allan Carr and Joe Namath found here

In Party Animals (Da Capo Press), author Robert Hofler examines the glittery life and drug-riddled excesses of the overtly gay Carr in delightfully delicious detail. Grease may have been the word, but nothing lubed Carr’s wheels better than pretty times, pretty caftans, pretty drugs and pretty boys.

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Throughout the 1970s he threw bigger and better parties than anyone else in Hollywood. Even though he was morbidly obese and openly gay (and Hollywood was very homophobic then) his invitations were like gold among the town’s celebrities and powerbrokers. He titled his parties like movies: the Roman Polanski Rolodex Party, the Mick Jagger Cycle Sluts Party and the Truman Capote Jailhouse Party where upon arrival, each guest was frisked and fingerprinted. At the Rudolph Nureyev Mattress Party, Carr laid out hustlers in every room, like canapés, for his guests’ entertainment. Young, hairless men  staged priapic wrestling matches. And people queued up to ride sexually voracious stars as if they were Disneyland attractions.

Nureyev found here

There was a lot of cocaine and many gorgeous and willing young men and women. Other people had A-list parties, but they didn’t invite the hot pool boy from next door. Allan Carr did. He also invited a lot of rock stars like Elton John, Rod Stewart and Alice Cooper, who were very new to the Hollywood scene. Carr had great respect for old Hollywood, so you’d find Mae West and Groucho Marx there too. He always made sure that there was something for every sexual orientation at his parties.

image found here

He had hidden cameras in the discotheque in his basement and used to entertain himself by watching what the celebs did down there from his TV in the master bedroom. But this voyeurism was for his personal entertainment only, he would never have used it to embarrass anyone. Creating the neologism “glitterfunk” to describe himself, he sashayed forth in a wardrobe of flowing caftans and kimonos, ankle length mink coats and vixenish diamond jewellery, his small round head ringed with curls permed by Vidal Sassoon.

Vidal and Mia found here

He released a cannibalism exploitation movie called Survive! right before United Artists was going to make a similar film called Alive! Time Magazine called it “the nastiest ninety minutes ever to appear on screen”. Carr also said, “I’m making a movie version of Grease. Maybe UA can beat me to it and release a film called Vaseline.”

The entire making of Can’t Stop the Music was a comedy of errors. He cast it with a lot of ex-boyfriends, but on the set they got out of hand and Allan had to issue an edict: Anyone caught having sex on the set would be fired! One night he went to see Maxwell Caulfied in Entertaining Mr. Sloane off-Broadway. He wanted to cast Caulfield in Grease 2. Carr’s date was Valerie Perrine, and on the way to the actor’s dressing room he said to Perrine, “Who’s going to get lucky tonight, me or you?”

image found here

He turned his homosexuality into a calling card. He was the Auntie Mame gay court jester, if you will. In 1989, Allan Carr produced what has come to be called the worst Oscars ever. It’s the one where a tone-deaf Rob Lowe serenaded a squeaky-voiced Snow White in the opening number. Even before the big night, some Hollywood oldtimers were outraged that this “flamboyant” man was in charge of the sacrosanct Oscars. Flamboyant was code for gay.

image found here

There were a lot of innovations at that 1989 Oscars, ones that still carry on today. “And the Oscar goes to…” was Carr’s idea. Before him, they used to say “And the winner is…” on every awards program. But the biggest innovation of all was the extended coverage of the red carpet. Again, Carr was a real showman, and he believed that the fashion should be emphasized. All this red carpet hoopla that we have today started with Carr.

worst oscar dress of all time? see more here

Published in: on February 13, 2012 at 9:43 pm  Comments (49)  
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marrying well – mazarinette style

Hortense Mancini, duchesse Mazarin (1646 – 1699), was the favourite niece of Cardinal Mazarin, chief minister of France, and a mistress of Charles II, King of England, Scotland and Ireland. She was the fourth of the five famously beautiful Mancini sisters, who along with two of their female Martinozzi cousins, were known at the court of King Louis XIV of France as the Mazarinettes.

Hortense found here

In 1661, fifteen-year-old Hortense was married to one of the richest men in Europe, Armand-Charles de la Porte, duc de La Meilleraye. Upon marriage to Hortense, he was granted the title of duc Mazarin. On the death of Cardinal Mazarin soon after, he gained access to his wife’s huge inheritance, which included the Palais Mazarin in Paris, home to many pieces of fine art.

floral replica of the Palais Mazarin found here

The marriage was not a success. Hortense was young, bright, and popular; Armand-Charles was miserly and extremely jealous, not to mention mentally unstable. His strange behaviour included preventing milkmaids from going about their job (to his mind, the cows’ udders had strong sexual connotations), having all of his female servants’ front teeth knocked out to prevent them from attracting male attention, and chipping off and painting over all the “dirty bits” in his fantastic art collection. He forbade his wife to keep company with other men, made midnight searches for hidden lovers, insisted she spend a quarter of her day at prayer, and forced her to leave Paris and move with him to the country.

“Milkmaid” by Ava Seymour found here

It was at this point that Hortense began a lesbian love affair with the sixteen-year-old Sidonie de Courcelles. In an attempt to remedy his wife’s ‘immorality’, her husband sent both girls to a convent. This tactic failed, as the two plagued the nuns with pranks: they added ink to the holy water, flooded the nuns’ beds, and headed for freedom up the chimney.

image found here

Despite their differences, Hortense and her husband had four children though she had to leave them behind when she escaped from her hellish marriage in 1668. The French King Louis XIV declared himself her protector and granted an annual pension of 24 thousand livres. A former suitor, the Duke of Savoy, also declared himself her protector.

King Louis XIV as a child found here

The English ambassador to France, Ralph Montagu, enlisted her help in increasing his own standing with Charles II by replacing the king’s current mistress, Louise de Kerouaille. Hortense was willing to try. In 1675, she travelled to London dressed as a man; her penchant for cross-dressing is thought to be an outward expression of her bisexuality.

Louise found here

By mid-1676, Hortense had fulfilled her ambition; she had taken the place of Louise de Kerouaille in Charles’s affections. This might have continued had it not been for Hortense’s promiscuity.

Firstly, there was her lesbian relationship with Anne, Countess of Sussex, the king’s illegitimate daughter. This culminated in a very public, friendly fencing match in St. James’s Park, with the women clad in nightgowns, after which Anne’s husband ordered his wife to the country. There she refused to do anything but lie in bed, repeatedly kissing a miniature of Hortense.

image found here

Secondly, she began an affair with Louis I de Grimaldi, Prince de Monaco. Charles remonstrated with her and cut off her pension, although within a couple of days he repented and restarted the payments. However, this signified the end of Hortense’s position as the king’s favourite.

Hortense’s death was recorded in 1699: “She was born in Rome, educated in France, and was an extraordinary beauty and wit, but dissolute, and impatient of matrimonial restraint; when she came to England for shelter, lived on a pension given her here, and is reported to have hastened her death by intemperate drinking strong spirits.”

Hortense may have committed suicide, keeping her life dramatic until the very end. When she died, her creditors seized her corpse and forced her husband to ransom it before they would send it to France. Once her husband had Hortense back under his control, so to speak, he refused to bury her for almost a year, carrying her coffin with him from place to place before finally allowing it to be interred by the tomb of her uncle, Cardinal Mazarin.

tomb of Cardinal Mazarin found here

Her sister, Olympia, Countess of Soissons, was also famous for her infidelities. Fascinated by astrology, she was implicated in the Affair of the Poisons and fled from France. Her son Eugene was a transvestite, and there were rumors that Louis XIV was his real father. Other notable relatives of Hortense included four great granddaughters (all sisters from the same family); each in turn became a mistress of Louis XV.

Madame de Pompadour doll found here

spare me the bag inspection

Alexander Comstock Kirk (1888 – 1979) was a United States diplomat. I think he would have been rather a pleasure to hang out with…..

His family’s wealth was derived from America’s largest soap manufacturing concern. Its national brands were “American Family” for laundry and “Juvenile” for the bath.


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At age 9, he attended the Art Institute of Chicago until his family decided he was too young to be drawing nude models. He was then sent to work incognito in a soap factory until his identity was discovered. 


Andy Warhol as a child found here

Kirk joined the American Diplomatic Service in 1915. He managed the State Department budget for a time in the 1920s, and later said he thought it “an obligation” to spend the entire amount in order to support the argument for additional appropriations. While posted to Cairo, Kirk kept one house in the city for lunch, another near the pyramids for dinner and sleeping, and a houseboat on the Nile.

houseboat on the Nile found here

While posted to Berlin, he lived in an enormous mansion in the swank Grunewald neighborhood. A visitor described it as “one vast hall after another, and he quiet and alone in the midst of it. Very funny; a little like the theatre.” His staff of servants spoke only Italian. He held “a large buffet luncheon every Sunday noon, as a means of revenging himself for such hospitality as his position required him to accept.

Karl Lagerfield designed the Schlosshotel in Grunewald

In 1945 he attributed “his excellent health to the fact that he has never worn himself down by any form of exercise more violent than scratching, which he only does when suffering from insomnia at 6 a.m.”

A few years after Kirk’s retirement, as Senator Joseph McCarthy launched a campaign against suspected homosexuals in government, one investigator’s report charged that certain State Department employees “were very close personal friends of former Ambassador Alexander Kirk who is not now in the service but who had a very bad reputation of being a homosexual and certainly protected a lot of homosexual people.

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He was a carryover from an older day when to be rich entitled you to be eccentric, and he made the most of the privilege. As a gesture of defiance, and in the indulgence of a fine sense of the theatrical, Kirk presented himself as the sort of American career diplomat of which the American philistine has always been the most suspicious: elegant, overrefined, haughty, and remote. His conversation consisted largely of weary, allusive quips.

image found here

Kirk claimed he escaped from diplomatic functions by whatever ruse the situation required. At one embassy in Rome he found it necessary to leave by a door he could only reach by going under a grand piano. “In a case of this sort, Kirk recommends slow motion, which, he says, often prevents witnesses from even noticing a maneuver which, if executed fast, might horrify them.”

image found here

Retiring after his mother’s death, he disclaimed all further interest in the Foreign Service. He had entered it, he solemnly maintained, only to spare her having her bags inspected at frontiers.

Published in: on January 28, 2012 at 10:58 pm  Comments (49)  
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a wolfe at the door

Elsie de Wolfe (December 20, 1865? – July 12, 1950) was an American actress, interior decorator and a prominent figure in New York, Paris, and London society.

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De Wolfe began her professional career in theatre, making her debut as an actress in Sardou’s Thermidor in 1891, playing the rôle of Fabienne. On stage, she was neither a total failure nor a great success; one critic called her “the leading exponent of . . . the peculiar art of wearing good clothes well.”  She became interested in interior decorating as a result of staging plays, and in 1903 she left the stage to launch a career as a decorator.

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She introduced a variety of things, including the cocktail party, comfortable chaise lounges, faux finish treatments, animal prints and delicate writing tables. While Elsie designed the interiors of many prestigious homes she also did opera boxes and a dormitory.

Danish dormitory found here

She continued to design interior spaces for a long list of prestigious clients and wrote several books and articles. During World War I she volunteered as a nurse in France, and it wasn’t until nearly the end of her career that, at the age of 61, she married diplomat Sir Charles Mendl, making front page news in the New York Times.

Shortly after her marriage, she scandalized French diplomatic society when she attended a fancy-dress ball dressed as a Moulin Rouge dancer and made her entrance turning handsprings. A guest chided her: “Elsie, it is wonderful to be able to turn handsprings at your age. But do you think it is in perfect taste for the wife of a diplomat to perform acrobatics in a ballroom?”

unknown Moulin Rouge dancer found here

The Times said that “the intended marriage comes as a great surprise to her friends,” perhaps because since 1892 de Wolfe had been living openly in what many observers accepted as a lesbian relationship. During their nearly 40 years together, Elisabeth Marbury was initially the main support of the couple. Dave Von Drehle speaks of “the willowy De Wolfe and the masculine Marbury… cutting a wide path through Manhattan society. Gossips called them “the Bachelors.” Shortly before the First World War, they both set up house at Versailles with Ann Morgan, heiress to the Pierpont fortune, forming an eccentric menage a trois dubbed the Versailles Triangle. 

Anne Morgan and Anne Dike found here

The parties she gave were always a success as she knew how to hold people’s interest. In 1930, for example, she hatched the idea for “murder parties“, a type of party game that was entirely new. On her appearance, too, she lavished much fervour and fantasy. Her morning exercises were famous. In her 1935 autobiography, de Wolfe wrote that her daily regimen at age 70 included yoga, standing on her head, and walking on her hands.

image found here

Having been at thirty a vaguely plain woman with a marmoset face, Lady Mendl improved her looks throughout the years. She maintained a svelteness of figure throughout her life and introduced pale blue or heliotrope coloured hair. She was also one of the earliest, most successful devotees of facial surgery. In later years there was much speculation about her age, and when she was over eighty Lady Mendl came into her own as a beauty, acquiring an almost mythical look of serenity.

image found here

Published in: on January 26, 2012 at 11:38 am  Comments (56)  
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break a leg – twice

Émile Buisson (1902 – 1956), a French gangster, was proclaimed French Public Enemy No. 1 for 1950. One of nine children, he and his brother Jean-Baptiste, both turned to crime at an early age.

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Emile served his first term in jail at the age of sixteen in a penal battalion in North Africa. The brutality of these battalions was unspeakable, however Emile managed to distinguish himself and earn the Croix de Guerre. But back in France, he again turned to crime and served many short terms in jail.

image found here

In 1932 he helped to rescue his brother from jail with a bold plan. Jean-Baptiste had himself transferred to Strasbourg model prison at Ensisheim by confessing to a crime in Strasbourg and getting three years added to an eight year sentence. Once there he broke his leg by smashing it with a table leg. He was transferred to hospital, and that same night he jumped from a first floor window, breaking it again. But with the help of Emile, he made a clean getaway.

image found here

Emile committed his first big robbery in 1937, earning himself the nickname “Crazy Mimile”. He was arrested one month later but escaped while awaiting trial. In 1941 he robbed the Credit Lyonnais bank, killing two employees in cold blood. Shortly after this he was caught by the Gestapo and sent to a military prison. This time he escaped by simulating lunacy until he was transferred to an asylum. 

image found here

Over the next few years he took part in many holdups, always using sten-guns and Citroen ‘traction’ front wheel drives. Following the war, Paris was considered a dangerous city where gang killings were commonplace. The police were armed with sub-machine guns but after accidentally shooting an old drunk gentleman and a bus full of passengers they were forced to be a little more cautious with their firearms.

image found here

He was finally arrested in 1950 by Roger Borniche, a French detective of the Sûreté Nationale and author of a number of books.

more dogs here

Borniche had started out as a singer, but his fledgling musical career was interrupted by the German invasion. In 1943, he joined the Sûreté Nationale as an inspector to avoid being shipped to a forced labor detail.

image found here

In 1947, he was assigned to capture the escaped murderer, Emile Buisson. Borniche kept critical investigative files in his office, forcing the other investigators to bargain with him for their contents. He also competed with the other agencies for informants, who tried to play the investigators against each other for more rewards. He was sometimes shadowed by other investigators and would have to lose his “tail” to meet with an informant.

He was able to bargain with informants by offering them a signed permit to remain in Paris (despite being banned from the city by other police forces) and by delaying distribution of official warrants, keeping the notices locked in his desk. Borniche forced an informant to lead Buisson into a trap where he was captured eating lunch in a restaurant. Borniche was rewarded with a promotion and a 30,000 franc bonus. He retired in 1956 and  formed his own detective agency in Paris. His first set of memoirs, Flic Story, became the basis of a 1975 film featuring Alain Delon as Borniche and Jean-Louis Trintignant as Buisson.

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the benefits of naked dancing

Karyn “Cookie” Kupcinet was born to Chicago Sun-Times columnist Irv “Kup” Kupcinet and his wife Essee.

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At his peak Kup delivered six columns a week, hosted a late-night talk show, and added color commentary for the Chicago Bears. And while Kup was everyone’s friend, Essee wouldn’t cross the street to piss on you if you were on fire – unless, of course, you were on the “A” list. From the moment Cookie was born, Essee was besotted and determined to make her a star.

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She introduced her daughter to diet pills and crash dieting. Around the time she moved to NYC to study with Lee Strasberg, Karyn began a two-year odyssey of plastic surgery on her chin, nose, ears, and eyes that resulted in the loss of much of her natural beauty and expressiveness on camera.

She moved to Los Angeles in 1960 after Jerry Lewis offered her a walk-on part in The Ladies’ Man. She continued to work sporadically for the next couple of years including small parts on Hawaiian Eye, Perry Mason, and The Andy Griffith Show – while developing an addiction to amphetamines and getting arrested for shoplifting – two books, a sweater and a pair of Capri pants.

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In 1962 she was dating a young actor named Andrew Prine. Karyn took the relationship seriously, talking family and marriage. Prine – not so much. While being seen with a fresh face in Hollywood was good for his career, her constant amphetamine-fueled clingy act was wearing a bit thin and Prine broke it off to date other more glamourous (and less neurotic) women.

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Karyn took to stalking Prine, cutting letters and phrases out of magazines, composing profanity-filled hate mail and sending them anonymously to her ex-boyfriend. 

On 30 November 1963 friends drove to her West Hollywood apartment after not hearing from her since the previous Wednesday. An acrid smell was emanating from the second story porch, where several newspapers, two magazines and a copy of Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer were surrounding her WELCOME mat. Inside, her nude, decomposing body was discovered laying face down on the couch with the television turned on.

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A cup of coffee was on a stand near a pile of magazines shredded and cut up with scissors. Drawers were pulled out and clothes thrown about the room. In the bathroom, 13 bottles of medications were found in the cabinet. The autopsy reported the cause of death was “murder by manual strangulation.”

As the years passed, several theories surrounding her death emerged. A favorite theory of the lunatic fringe / JFK conspiracy nuts is that Karyn was overheard by an operator in Oxnard, California screaming “The President is going to be killed!” twenty minutes before the assassination, and that she was the victim of a mob hit.

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Another theory held by writer James Ellroy, is that Karyn was stoned to the gills, danced alone naked in the apartment, fell or hit her neck on an object then slumped face down on the couch and died. He bases his theory on the fact that a book on the benefits of naked dancing was found in the apartment and the coroner may have been a drunk prone to mistakes.

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There were five other possible suspects in her death – Andrew Prine, Edward Rubin, Robert Hathaway, William Mamches, and David Lange.

According to police interviews, writer Rubin came over to Karyn’s apartment on Wednesday evening. They talked for an hour and then Karyn went for a walk around the block. She ran into actor friend Hathaway and asked him back to her place where the three of them hung out together. Rubin and Hathaway stayed watching TV until 11:00 pm and then left, locking the door behind them. Karyn spoke briefly with Prine on the phone around midnight. Unemployed actor Mamches claimed not to have seen Karyn for three weeks. Rubin, Hathaway, and Mamches were all friends of Prine and shared a rental house together. Lange (brother of actress Hope Lange) lived directly below Karyn and claimed to return home drunk from his date with Natalie Wood around midnight on Wednesday, and did not hear anything unusual.

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In police interviews Rubin, Hathaway, and Mamches all stated that they had never dated, hit on, or had sex with Karyn and all just knew her as a mutual friend of Prine. Lange was questioned repeatedly because he was known as a full-blown, falling-down drunk who had a habit of walking into other neighbors’ apartments unannounced. Kup and Essee always felt the Prine was the killer.

Karyn’s brother Jerry lives in Los Angeles and has directed such shows as The Dating Game, The Richard Simmons Show, and Susan Powter infomercials, as well as Judge Judy. His daughter Karyn “Kari” Kupcinet briefly took to the stage and worked in daytime soap operas. However she quit show business and opened an erotic storefront called G Boutique in Chicago. Andrew Prine lives in the Valley just outside Los Angeles and slowly started working again appearing in CSI, JAG, Six Feet Under, and ironically enough, Murder, She Wrote.

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they really knew how to party

The most memorable costume balls in France occurred between the two world wars. *

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Prince Jean-Louis de Faucigny-Lucinge, who attended all of them and gave two with his late wife, Baba, a noted beauty, has described some of the better ones. “It was a mixture that created the event. Let us say Picasso would have done the decor, Valentine Hugo the costumes, Georges Auric the music, Lacretelle or Cocteau or Morand would have written a little scenario.”

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The theme would be announced several months in advance so that costumes could be made and invitiations be argued over (the people one invited to costume balls were not necessarily the ones one would have dinner with). The most important part was the guest’s arrival, or entrée, for which he or she might have commissioned an aubade by Poulenc or a verse by Cocteau.

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Sometimes guests included professional dancers in their entrées and underwent a training program to be able to keep in step. Although Elsa Maxwell once came as Napoléon III and the bearded Christian Bérard as Little Red Riding Hood, travesties were not the thing. The point was, quite simply, to look marvelous. And everyone did.

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To record the evening such photographers as Horst and Man Ray would snap individuals or groups. Among the inevitable beauties at each ball were Lady Abdy who, says Cecil Beaton, invented size, being over six feet tall, the Duchess de Gramont, Baba de Lucinge, Countess Jean de Polignac, Princess Natalie Paley and Daisy Fellowes. Chanel attracted attention among the frills of the Second Empire ball by wearing black widow’s weeds and attended another party dressed as a tree.

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Some went to great expense, while Man Ray appeared in a rayon laundry sack whose corners he had cut out for his arms and legs and carried an egg beater in one hand. The Surrealist Roland Penrose attended another ball dressed as the clock that struck at the moment Tristam Shandy was conceived. 

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“People had taken such trouble to dress and prepare themselves that sometimes they weren’t very comfortable and they were so excited about appearing that by two in the morning they were tired out. It never lasted terribly late.”

One party where Lucinge and several other guests were extremely uncomfortable was the Bal des Matières in 1929, at which guests were asked to wear costumes of strange materials. Charles de Noailles wore an impeccable tailcoat in oil cloth, Lucinge was a knight in paper armor designed by Valentine Hugo. “It was rather coarse packing paper. I hated it. I disliked the look of it and it was very uncomfortable. I was pleased on no account.”

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For the same ball, the writer Maurice Sachs pondered on whether to wear feathers or furnishing fabrics and decided instead to cover himself in pebbles, causing his dancing partners considerable discomfort. “I should have worn shells,” he said later. 

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* extract from A French Affair by Mary Blume