Category Archives: Out of the Past

Sotheby’s Auction of the Mario Buatta Estate

Mario Buatta, affectionately known as “The Prince of Chintz”, died in October 2018 at the age of 82. On 23 January 2020, Sotheby’s will host an auction of his personal possessions, under the title Mario Buatta: Prince of Interiors.

Here’s a pdf of the full 236-page catalogue for the auction, suitable for downloading.

If I could pick just one item from that catalogue, it would be this:

The catalogue describes it as a “Louis XV Five-Fold Blue and White Chinoiserie Wallpaper Screen, the Wallpaper 18th Century” The estimate is between $4,000 and $6,000, but auction house estimates for this sort of thing are always absurdly low, so as not to frighten away potential buyers. I’ll post the real price after the auction.


Mario Buatta’s interiors were designed to be reminiscent of the rooms in an English country house. Here are some samples, found on the Web:

 

 


I’ve always thought of Buatta as the Ralph Lauren of interior design.

Ralph Lauren (né Lifshitz) was born in The Bronx in the 1930s, to first-generation Jewish immigrants from Belarus. Lauren has built his empire by styling clothes that reflect a classic old-money WASP sensibility, very different from the world of his youth.

Mario Buatta was born on Staten Island in 1930s, and grew up in a house where the living
room “was off-limits so that the vacuum tracks might not get disturbed.” Buatta became the master of a style that captured the look and feel of the English country house.

Peter Pan and Wendy at the Shakespeare Theatre in DC

This is the last weekend to catch Peter Pan and Wendy at the Shakespeare Theatre here in Washington, but tickets are still available for all remaining performances.

This being the 21st century, the show is notable for its non-traditional casting. Not only is Tinkerbell played by an actress, rather than by the usual flashlight beam or laser pointer, but Nana the dog is actually played by a dog, instead of by a man in a dog suit! Peter Pan and Wendy are given equal billing in the title. Most transgressive of all, Peter Pan is played by a young male, instead of by a mature lady!  Pretty woke, eh?

Here are some images from the show’s website:

The Darling Children's Bedroom

The Darling Children’s Bedroom

Pirates!

Pirates!

Yes, Pirates! And smart pirates, too. Not a one of them is smiling at that crocodile.

The Pirate Ship

The Pirate Ship

Tinkerbell

Tinkerbell

Wendy and Peter

Wendy and Peter


A Memorable Performance

Peter Pan has been performed on stage for more than a hundred years, but only rarely has a production been more memorable than the one that has become known as the “Greenport (Long Island) High School Peter Pan Fiasco of 2007”.

And cheers to the young cast, who kept their heads through all the chaos, knowing that The Show Must Go On.


Playing Peter Pan

In the Elizabethan Age, women were barred by law from appearing on stage, and female roles were played by men. In theatrical versions of Peter Pan, on the other hand, the role of Peter Pan, The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up, was traditionally played by a mature woman.

Some examples:

Jean Arthur was almost 50 years old when she played the role in the1950 Broadway production, and she was such a brilliant actress that she made it work. The show had music by Leonard Bernstein, and Boris Karloff playing the Captain Hook/George Darling roles

Mary Martin, 41, won the Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical for her performance in the 1954 Broadway version. After the show had closed, the cast reunited for a live broadcast of the production on NBC TV. It attracted 65 million viewers, which, at the time, was the biggest audience ever for a TV show.

Cathy Rigby was only 20 when she first played the role in 1974, but she starred in the musical’s 1990 Broadway revival, and then toured the show. She played Peter Pan into her 60s, retiring in 2013.

Little Women — Official Trailer

The 8th? 15th? 147th? film version of Little Women is headed right at us on Christmas Day, and can there be any doubt that this will be a hugely successful movie? From the trailer, it sounds as if Greta Gerwig has brought this staging of Louisa May Alcott’s mid-19th century novel into the 21st century, for better or worse. Probably for better.

Like (almost) all the previous film versions of Little Women, this one benefits from the talents of its superlative female cast, including Florence Pugh (English) as Amy, Saoirse Ronan (Irish) as Jo,  Eliza Scanlen (Australian) as Beth and Emma Watson (English, but born in Paris) as Meg. Laura Dern plays and Marmee and Meryl Streep plays Aunt March, because of course she does.

The male cast is equally impressive, with James Norton (English) as John Brooke,  and Louis Garrel (French) as Professor Bhaer, and Timothée Chalamet  (USA! USA!) as Laurie. It will be interesting to see what Bob Odenkirk, Saul Goodman himself, does with the role of Mr. March.


Out of the Past  —  Some Earlier Versions


Many people consider the 1933 version of Little Women the best.

The Little Women

Joan Bennett as Amy
Katharine Hepburn as Jo
Jean Parker as Beth
Frances Dee as Meg

Notes

Aunt March was played by the great Edna May Oliver who steals every scene she’s in, as she inevitably did in all her movies.
The German Professor Bhaer was played by Paul Lukas, who was Hungarian.
Joan Bennet was 23 and pregnant when she signed on to play 12-year-old Amy.


The next version came out in 1949, 16 years and one World War later.

The Little Women

Elizabeth Taylor (in a blonde wig) as Amy
June Allyson as Jo
Margaret O’Brien as Beth
Janet Leigh as Meg

Notes

Peter Lawford was Laurie.
The German Professor Bhaer was played by Rossano Brazzi, who was Italian.
Mary Astor played Marmee, but she’ll always be Brigid O’Shaughnessy to me.
June Allyson, 31 and pregnant, played 15-year-old Jo.


The 1978 miniseries was bad beyond belief. Oh, was it awful!

The Little Women

Ann Dusenberry as Amy
Susan Dey as Jo
Eve Plumb as Beth
Meredith Baxter as Meg

Notes

The senior roles were played by movie stars from the 1940s: Dorothy McGuire as Marmee, Greer Garson as “Aunt Kathryn March”, and Robert Young as “Grandpa James Laurence”.
None of the actresses playing the March girls was known to be pregnant while production was underway.
The sisters were played by television actresses who were TV-famous at the time, but are now largely forgotten. Their line readings were pure 1978 California-contemporary and their acting would have been just fine in a community theatre production, if the community was home to fewer than 500 people.
It’s impossible to ignore the cast’s ridiculous wigs.
The whole miniseries looked cheap. The sets, the costumes, and the mediocre performances all but shouted out “Low Budget”.

But there’s really only one thing you need to know to comprehend what a disaster this production was:
The German Professor Bhaer was played by—wait for it—William Shatner.
He’s Canadian, I think.


With its first-rate cast, the 1994 remake is right up there with the version made 61 years earlier, in 1933.


The Little Women

Kirsten Dunst as Younger Amy
Samantha Mathis as Older Amy
Winona Ryder as Jo
Claire Danes as Beth
Trini Alvarado as Meg

Notes

Susan Sarandon played Mrs. March and Christian Bale played Laurie.
The German Professor Bhaer was played by Gabriel Byrne, who is Irish.

The Return of “The Far Side”

“The Far Side” website, which will post a “Daily Dose” of Gary Larson’s classic cartoons, launched yesterday. The site includes weekly sets of themed strips and doodles from Larson’s sketchbooks.

Best of all, Larson told the New York Times that “I’m looking forward to slipping in some new things every so often.”

If you’re familiar with Larson and “The Far Side”, I don’t need to say anything more.

If you’re not, click that link right now! You won’t be disappointed.


You may be wondering why this post isn’t loaded with examples of Gary Larson’s brilliant art. It’s because I’m honouring the artist’s wishes, which he explains in A Letter From Gary Larson on the new website.

Another Christmas Ad from the UK: The Argos “Book of Dreams”, with an 80s Flashback

This is the 2019 Christmas ad for the Argos “The Book of Dreams” catalogue.

The little girl in the video is nine-year-old Nandi Bushell, who has been drumming since she was three. She has her own YouTube channel.

Here she is a year ago, joyously covering Led Zeppelin’s “Good Times Bad Times”.


When one of my nieces was a little older than the girl in the videos, I told her father that I’d promised to buy her a drum kit for Christmas, but only if she guaranteed that she’d practice drumming at least two hours a day.

I couldn’t make good on my promise, because shortly after I made it, he and his family moved, and didn’t leave a forwarding address.


Bonus

Here’s the full video for Simple Minds’ “Don’t You (Forget About Me)”.

I had some friends who loved Simple Minds until the band made the unforgivable mistake of becoming popular with the mainstream. That meant that they’d sold out, man, and were no longer acceptable to the fashionably unfashionable crowd that I hung out with at the old 9:30 club.

Me, I could never remember which musicians I was supposed to sneer at in any given week, and went on blissfully playing my tapes of New Gold Dream (81–82–83–84) and Sparkle in the Rain despite the band’s fall from counter-cultural grace.

Added to My “Someday” List: A Stay at L’Hôtel in Paris

Oscar Wilde’s last words, as he lay dying in a shabby Parisian hotel, were “My wallpaper and I are fighting a duel to the death. One or the other of us has to go.”  At least that’s the official story, and who would want to question it.

Oscar Wilde has been dead since 1900, but the hotel, known simply as L’Hôtel, still exists. Wilde wouldn’t recognize it, though. It has been massively upgraded and enhanced, and now rates five stars and boasts a Michelin-starred restaurant (currently closed for renovation).

The wallpaper has been replaced, too.

The Oscar Wilde Suite

The Oscar Wilde Suite

If you’re in Paris in mid-April—which means you’re already living a charmed life—you can spend a night in the 35 sqm (377 sqft) Oscar Wilde Suite, for as little as €766 ($848). I can’t embed the hotel’s video tour of the suite, but you can watch it here.


Exploring L’Hôtel

L’Hôtel

L’Hôtel

Reception

Reception

Chic Room

Chic Room

Mignon Room

Mignon Room

Grand Room

Grand Room

Le Restaurant

Le Restaurant

Le Bar

Le Bar


All images from L’Hôtel.

Moving Sale Find of the Year

For decades, this 8½ x 11painting hung over a hotplate in a kitchen in Compiègne, a small city north of Paris. It had been in the family so long that the 90-year-old woman who lived in the house said she had no idea where the painting had come from or how it had come into the family’s hands.

Last summer, the woman decided to sell the house and move, so she called in an auctioneer to assess whether anything in the house was salable. Everything else would be hauled off to the dump.

Philomène Wolf, representing the Actéon auction house, noticed the painting immediately. She thought it was a work of Italian primitivism, and urged the owner to get an expert evaluation. If she was correct, the little painting might be worth as much as €400,000.

Infrared reflectography confirmed the age of the painting and identified the painter. It was part of a work created in 1280, and it was painted by Cimabue, the 13th-century Florentine painter who is known as the forefather of the Italian Renaissance.

Last Sunday, the painting, now known as “Christ Mocked”, was sold at an auction outside Paris for more than €24,000,000—the highest price ever for a medieval painting.

According to The Guardian, “About 100 other objects from the house were sold for around €6,000 and the remaining furniture and decorations were disposed of at the local dump.”