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 snuff coloured beaver

Not long after tobacco was introduced to Europe, snuff taking was developed.

making snuff

A huge snuff user was the Emperor of France, Napoleon I (1769-1821). It was estimated that he would use three kilograms of tobacco monthly. He did it often during the day, as in his time, there was not yet a way of consuming enough tobacco to last a whole day. It was a year before his death that the snuff double barrel pistol was invented . The amunition chamber was filled with tobacco and the barrels were placed under the nose, the trigger was pulled, and the shot delivered enough tobacco to the nose to last for an entire day.

snuff bottles

Not everyone was taken with the pistol up the nose method and different social classes used different ways to inhale.

The French historian Henri d’Allemagne aptly describes this:

“To take snuff, people of noble birth were meant to tap on the lid, take a few grains with the tip of their slender fingers, to make a slight gesture and to inhale the powder with ecstasy.

On the contrary, the countryman digged his thumb and forefinger inside the snuff box in order to take out a large pinch of tobacco, putting it on the back of his left hand and snorted it in a noisy way while rubbing his nose.”

Record of a Sneeze

In 1904 Margaret Thompson demonstrated her love for snuff by including these instructions in her will

“I Margaret Thompson being of sound mind etc. do desire that when my soul is departed from this wicked world, my body and effects may be disposed of in the manner following: I desire that all my handkerchiefs that I may have unwashed at the time of my decease, after they have been got together by my old and trusty servant Sara Stewart, to be put by her, and by her alone, at the bottom of my coffin, which I desire may be made large enough for the purpose, together with such quantity of the best Scotch snuff as will cover my Deceased body.

But I strictly charge that no man may be suffered to approach my body till the coffin is closed, and as it is necessary to carry me to my burial which I order in the following manner: Six men to be my bearers who are known to be the greatest snuff takers in the parish of St. James, Westminster.

Instead of mourning, each to wear a snuff coloured beaver hat which I desire to be bought for the purpose and given to them. Six maidens of my old acquaintance to bear my pall, each to wear a proper hood, and to carry a box filled with the best Scotch snuff to take as their refreshment as they go along.

modifications of the beaver hat

I desire my old and faithful servant, Sarah Stewart, to walk before the corpse and to distribute every twenty yards a large handful of Scotch snuff to the ground and upon the crowd who may possibly follow me to my burial place on which condition I bequeathe her ¬£20. And I also desire that at least two bushels of said snuff may be distributed at the door of my house in Boyle Street.”

No snuff was required at King George V’s funeral cortege

Published in: on June 5, 2010 at 8:21 am  Comments (34)  
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