is his pistol better than mine?

Robert Vaughn’s first film appearance was as an uncredited extra in The Ten Commandments (1956), playing a golden calf idolater and also visible in a scene in a chariot behind that of Yul Brynner. In 2009 he wrote a book about his experiences in Hollywood, though I don’t think writing is really his forte.

Young Robert Vaughn found here

“In 1960 I was signed up for The Magnificent Seven, playing alongside Steve McQueen and Yul Brynner. Steve was intensely competitive. It wasn’t enough just to be successful – he had to be more successful than anyone else.

image of Steve McQueen found here

The rivalry between McQueen and Brynner was clear from the start. Steve started knocking on my door around 6.30am, an hour before we were due on set. Our conversations were always along the same lines.

‘Man,’ he would say in that husky whisper, ‘did you see Brynner’s gun on the set yesterday?’

image found here

‘I can’t say I noticed it, Steve.’ ‘You didn’t notice it? It has a fucking pearl handle, for God’s sake. He shouldn’t have a gun like that. It’s too fucking fancy. Nobody’s gonna look at anything else with that goddam gun in the picture.’

Of course, what Steve meant was that nobody would be looking at Steve McQueen.

Two days later, there was another early-morning knock on the door. ‘Did you see the size of Brynner’s horse? It’s goddam gigantic.’

Brynner, Connery and horse found here

This time I had noticed. ‘Actually, Steve, I’ve got the biggest horse of the Seven.’

McQueen shook his head. ‘I don’t give a fuck about your horse,’ he replied. ‘It’s Brynner’s horse I’m worried about.’

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

On Good Friday, work on The Magnificent Seven shut down and Brad Dexter suggested Steve and I visit what he called ‘one of the finest brothels in North America’.

Having spent nearly a decade wandering LA’s Sunset Strip, I’d met many ladies of the evening. I considered many of them friends, and had made it a rule not to do business with them. But I decided to tag along anyway.

image found here

We were driven to a lavish high-walled hacienda in a quiet district of Mexico City, where the blonde madam welcomed us like visiting dignitaries at an embassy cocktail party.

There were seven girls in the room. In stumbling Spanish, Steve told the madam that all seven should stay ‘because we are the Magnificent Seven’.

It seemed to me that we were just two very drunk Americans, and I wasn’t feeling very magnificent, but I did not object to Steve’s gluttonous suggestion.

image found here

I was flush with both pesos and dollars, having been too sick with an upset stomach in Cuernavaca to spend my daily allowance. So Steve and I adjourned to a room with many large pillows and the seven women.

If you’ve never experienced sex for seven, you’re undoubtedly interested in the salacious details. I can only say that, due to the tequila, we did more laughing than anything else.

Near midnight, I recalled that filming was scheduled for the next day. I said to Steve: ‘Let’s pay our bill and get out of here.’

I was yet to hear about Steve’s famous habit of not carrying money. He replied: ‘Hey, man, could you loan me some dinero?’

image by William Claxton found here

The bill came to something like $700 – pretty big money in the Sixties. I had about $400 on me, along with several hundred pesos, and I offered the whole wad to the madam.

‘I’m paying for three and a half senoritas, including tip,’ I said, hoping for a laugh.

The madam didn’t smile. Instead, she snapped her fingers and a huge hombre entered the room. Fixing a hostile glare on me and Steve, he reached out, grabbed my money, and asked: ‘How you plan to pay the rest?’

I smiled at Steve. He smiled at the hombre. The hombre … he no smile back.

image found here

Suddenly a light seemed to dawn in Steve’s alcoholic haze. Pulling out his wallet, he produced a Diners Club booklet containing coupons for use at restaurants. ‘How about these?’ he asked, pathetically. The hombre moved towards us. Several more mean-looking Mexicans materialised.

On cue, Steve and I spun around and pushed through some swing doors. Steve dashed towards the right, while I ran left down a long hall ending in French doors, and vaulted over a balcony.

image found here

I landed on moist grass, sprang up and ran to the high wall surrounding the villa grounds, where I scrambled up a trellis and flung myself on to the edge of the wall.

Eyeing the 12ft drop to the street below, I saw two bulky Mexicans standing there as if on guard. I dropped to the ground, expecting to be apprehended if not beaten to a pulp.

I stood up and smiled wanly at the two men. They merely smiled, said ‘Buenos noches,’ and strolled away.

The next morning, Steve arrived on the set 45 minutes late and badly hungover.

He’d talked his way out of the brothel by promising to pay the balance in full and to tip generously. His years on the street had served him well.

I’d like to have read Steve McQueen’s version of these two tales, or maybe Robert Vaughn needed a ghost writer to sharpen things up. What do you think, am I being too hard on RV’s storytelling abilities?

a lili by any other name

Danish painter Einar Wegener* (1882 – 1931) was a successful artist.

image found here

His life story is told in a book entitled Man into Woman, published in 1933. Einar was a perfectly normal boy, both physically and mentally. At the age of twenty he married; his wife Gerda was a painter too, and their marriage was a happy one. One day, an actress whose portrait was being painted by his wife was unable to come for her sitting. Einar’s wife persuaded him to wear stockings and heels and pose for the drapery and legs.

Gerda found here

Over time, Gerda became famous for her paintings of beautiful women with haunting almond-shaped eyes dressed in chic fashions. In approximately 1913, the unsuspecting public was shocked to discover that the model who had inspired Gerda’s depictions of petite femmes fatales was in fact Einar.

example of Gerda’s artwork found here

In 1930 Einar went to Germany for surgery, which was only in an experimental state at the time. A series of five operations were carried out over a period of two years. The first surgery, removal of the testicles, was made under the supervision of sexologist Magnus Hirschfeld in Berlin.

At the time of Einar’s surgery the case was already a sensation in newspapers of Denmark and Germany. The King of Denmark invalidated the Wegeners’ marriage in October 1930, and Einar managed to get his sex and name legally changed, receiving a passport as Lili Elbe.

Lili by Gerda found here

The rest of Lili’s surgeries were carried out in the Dresden Municipal Women’s Clinic. The second operation was to remove the penis, and transplant ovaries, which were taken from a 26-year-old woman. These were soon removed in a third then fourth operation, due to rejection and other serious complications. The fifth operation was to transplant a uterus and was intended to allow Lili, then nearing the age of 50, to become a mother. She soon after died of transplant rejections.

Gerda Wegener went on to marry an Italian military officer, aviator, and diplomat, Major Fernando Porta, and move to Morocco, where she would learn of the death of Elbe, whom she described to a friend as “my poor little Lily.” (By contrast, she described her second husband as “a magnificent, splendid and peerless hunk of man”.) After living for several years in Marrakech and Casablanca, the Portas divorced, and Gerda returned to Denmark, where she died in 1940.

image found here

Gerda is still recognised today as one of the leading art deco artists of the early twentieth century. Her book and magazine illustrations included both high fashion and lesbian and straight erotica. Lili was one of Gerda’s favourite models, wearing women’s clothes or nude. As a fashion designer in Paris, Gerda was influential in setting fashion trends. It is amusing to consider that the 1920s small breasted feminine ideal may have been influenced by Lili’s figure.

Gerda’s artwork found here

* As well as at wikipedia, information regarding Lili Elbe and Gerda was found here