Category Archives: Out of the Past

The Last of the Chelsea Hotel


Just got my copy of Colin Miller and Ray Mock’s book, Hotel Chelsea: Living in the Last Bohemian Haven, about the few remaining residents of the legendary hotel.

Legendary? Well, for starters, the Chelsea is the hotel where Sid Vicious (maybe) murdered Nancy Spungen, and where Dylan Thomas drank himself to death. Mark Twain stayed there, and so did several survivors of the Titanic. Former residents include Bob Dylan and Madonna, Jackson Pollock and Bette Midler.

And Stanley Kubrick, Jimi Hendrix, Allan Ginsberg, and Patti Smith. And Jim Morrison. And Andy Warhol, but of course you probably already assumed that.

Oh, and the Chelsea is where Arthur C. Clarke wrote 2001: A Space Odyssey and Jack Kerouac typed On the Road.

In 2011, the Chelsea was sold to a real estate developer who closed the hotel “for renovations”.  Residents protected by rent regulations were allowed to stay, but no new tenants were accepted. The disruption and health hazards caused by renovation construction were widely perceived as an attempt by the new owners to drive the protected residents from the building.

The attempt was largely successful. Nine years later, the “renovations” are still ongoing, and only a few of the old residents are still living in the building. And not just living, but living well, which is the best revenge.

Here are some of their homes. (All photos found online.)


Janis Joplin at the Chelsea Hotel

Leonard Cohen had a brief, very 60ish thing with Janis Joplin at the Chelsea, and wrote two songs about it. Here’s “Chelsea Hotel No. 2”. (Mildly NSFW lyrics.)


Chelsea Girls and Lads All Must
As Chimney-Sweepers, Come to Dust

After Nico left the Velvet Underground, she released a solo album called Chelsea Girl which included a song about some of the speed freaks, debutantes, hustlers, drag queens, and heiresses who made up Andy Warhol’s assemblage of Superstars and who lived, sometimes, at the Chelsea Hotel. Here’s an audio-only recording of “Chelsea Girls”

Life on the Mississippi

Nobody dreams about air travel anymore. Nobody talks about the romance and adventure of flight. Travel by air has become almost indistinguishable from travel by bus, except, of course, that busses have more comfortable seats, more legroom, fewer restrictions on passenger movement, and no extra baggage charges. You don’t have to remove your belt and shoes before you’re allowed on a bus. I’ve heard you can even bring a bottle of Cherry Diet Pepsi onboard without being stopped by security.

But boats and ships! That’s where the magic lives. Talk about romance and adventure and intrigue! Just think about the many and varied classic films that have been set on boats:  Death on the Nile, Titanic, Lifeboat, The Poseidon Adventure, Mutiny on the Bounty, White Squall (ahem), and all those World War II Navy movies.

And riverboats—forever linked to the legacy of Mark Twain and to the ghosts of riverboat card sharks and mountebanks and lost souls like Spider John—might be the most captivating of them all.

So after lunch at Galatoire’s, I walked down to the Mississippi River to watch the boats go by.


Willis Alan Ramsey — “The Ballad of Spider John”

La Dolce Vita — A Classic Remastered

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of Federico Fellini, one of the truly great filmmakers of the 20th century. To commemorate the occasion, the British Film Institute is sponsoring a major two-month retrospective at BFI Southbank and the release of a restored version of the director’s 1960 masterpiece, La Dolce Vita.


The film opens with a scene in which a helicopter transports a statue of Christ over Rome to St. Peter’s Square. The Vatican was not amused by the Flying Jesus, and condemned the movie, which probably contributed to La Dolce Vita’s record-breaking box office success.


In one of the most memorable sequences from the film, the disillusioned journalist Marcello Rubini (Marcello Mastroianni) and the Swedish movie star Sylvia (Anita Ekberg) make a late-night visit to the Trevi Fountain.


Anouk Aimée, magnificent and breathtakingly beautiful, played the heiress Maddalena.


This remastered version of La Dolce Vita will eventually make it to the US, but a date for its arrival has not yet been announced.

Sotheby’s Auction Results: That Mario Buatta Chinoiserie Wallpaper Screen

I mentioned in an earlier post how much I lusted after one specific item from Sotheby’s auction of Mario Buatta’s personal possessions, the  “Louis XV Five-Fold Blue and White Chinoiserie Wallpaper Screen, the Wallpaper 18th Century”. I promised to post the sale price after the auction.

The auction is over now, and it was a huge success, bringing in $7.6 million, about 2½ times the official Sotheby’s high estimate.

And the screen? The pre-sale estimate was that it would go for $4,000 to $6,000.

It went for $15,000.

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.