unsung sol

When I was a little girl my mother sent me to ballet classes. I can’t remember whether I lasted a full year or just one term, all I know is my mother yanked me out of ballet and sent me to elocution lessons instead. The rationale being that I had grown too tall to be a ballerina; it wasn’t until years later it dawned on me that it was because I showed a remarkable lack of talent and was always tearing holes in those expensive pink tights.


Still, I remain fascinated by the ballet world and the intriguing people who inhabited it, such as the Great Russian Impresario Sol Hurok whose crowning achievement was to bring the Bolshoi Ballet to New York.


“Impresarios are expected to live and talk big and Hurok plays the role with gusto. Almost every day he lunches at New York’s expensive Pavillon restaurant where between forkfuls of boeuf a la mode, he utters melancholy pronouncements on the state of the world.

Violinist Efram Zimbalist was Sol’s first big time Attraction. Later he signed up Anna Pavlova, Artur Rubinstein, Andres Segovia and many more famous names to be part of Hurok Attractions (agents merely have clients, impresarios have Attractions).

Like any impresario worth his gold topped cane, he has had to deal with crises. In 1922 he heard with horror that one of his stars, Isadora Duncan, had bared her bosom and denounced her Boston audience for false puritanism. He had to race over and explain her combination of eccentricities and talent to the offended mayor before he ran her out of town. He also helped shovel out snowbound ballerinas, returned hotel towels stolen by a basso, built stages on a day’s notice and reconciled a pair of Russian choreographers who were about to wage a pistol duel in Central Park.


It was in 1929 that he first tried to bring the Bolshoi Ballet to America but it took 30 years to make that dream come true. After countless attempts the Russian government agreed but only if he first toured the Moiseyev Dancers, a much less famous troupe. He did so with great success but was stalled again by a demand that he also present the obscure, 53 strong Beryozka Folk Dancers. Only after they proved just as successful was he permitted to present the Bolshoi Ballet at last.

Moiseyev Dancers

After four years I was allowed to stop elocution classes on the proviso I took up Irish dancing instead. Apparently,  neither my height, ineptitude nor torn stockings were any impediment to jigging

and yes, I did wear costumes like these depicted on the cookies found here

Published in: on April 17, 2010 at 7:45 am  Comments (43)  
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beware the jack dempsey erection

image found here

Lina Basquette was a prima ballerina and silent movie star who was married nine times. She also caught the attention of Adolf Hitler.

“The man repelled me so much” she recounted. “He had terrible body odour; he was flatulent. But he had a sweet smile, and above all, he had these strange penetrating eyes.”

image found here

Her first husband,  Sam Warner, was 20 years older than his bride.

“He died two years later of a cerebral hemorrhage at age 40. She had one daughter, Lita, by this marriage. Husband No. 2 was cinematographer J. Peverell Marley and they divorced about a year later. She was also widowed by Husband No. 3, actor Ray Hallam, who married her in 1931 and died that same year at age 26. Husband No. 4 and 5 was Theodore Hayes, former boxing trainer to prizefighter Jack Dempsey. They married in December of 1931 but it was annulled when it was found he was a bigamist; they remarried in 1933 but divorced two years later after having one son, Edward. Marriages to Husband No. 6, British actor Henry Mollison, No. 7, Warner Gilmore, and No. 8, Frank Mancuso, ended in divorce.

She also had an affair with Jack Dempsey

Dempsey was a strong, powerful youth who quickly discovered he had a talent for fighting. With the help of his older brother Bernie Dempsey, he began training to be a professional boxer. His other brother, John Dempsey, shot his own wife, then killed himself in a murder-suicide in 1927

Dempsey was for a short time, a part-time bodyguard for Thomas F. Kearns, president of The Salt Lake Tribune. When the United States entered World War I in 1917, Dempsey worked in a shipyard while continuing to box. After the war, he was accused by some boxing fans of being a draft dodger. It was not until 1920 that he was able to clear his name on that account, when evidence was produced showing he had attempted to enlist in the U.S. Army but had been turned down

But Jack Dempsey is not only the name of a famous boxer.

“It’s a cichlid fish that is widely distributed across North and Central America  Its common name refers to its aggressive nature and strong facial features, likened to that of the famous 1920s boxer.

In 1997 the San Francisco Chronicle reported that a man had died when he put a Jack Dempsey into his mouth as a joke: the fish erected its fin spines to avoid being swallowed, a characteristic cichlid anti-predator response, and became wedged in the man’s throat.

In an episode of Homicide: Life on the Street, a Jack Dempsey is recovered at the scene of a murder, and is taken home by an unsuspecting Detective John Munch, who intends to give it to his tropical fish-collecting girlfriend as a present. As a surprise, he places the fish in her aquarium, where it proceeds to devour $4,000 worth of her fish before being removed. Munch later refers to the fish as an “assassin who uses piranhas as toothpicks.”

Published in: on January 9, 2010 at 7:11 am  Comments (34)  
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