Tag Archives: Napoleon I

May 3rd

On this day in 1808 the brother-in-law of famous alleged-shortarse, Napoleon had hundreds of Madrid citizens shot because they’d had the temerity to be all rebellious about his sneaky takeover of Spain. The incident was part of the Peninsular War and if one is being fair, the Spanish weren’t exactly lovely wee innocents at the start of it. Here, my dear readers, is a potted breakdown of what, er, went down.

Goya's painting of the executions

A couple of years previously, Napoleon had announced a Continental Blockade, which forbade the importation of British goods to continental Europe. Everyone, except the Portuguese and Swedes went along with this. In 1807, Napoleon decided that the Portuguese needed a bit of invading and in Secret talks, he told the Spanish he’d give them Portuguese territory if they gave him a hand. The Spanish wanted the Portuguese fleet so they were well up for it. Ergo, the Spanish didn’t start out as the innocents in this life-size game of Risk.

All was going well-ish, but at the beginning of 1808 the French army started its “stealth invasion” of Spain. At first the Spanish happily welcomed the large numbers of French “reinforcements”, but in February, Napoleon ordered his army to seize various Spanish ports and the invasion stopped being all stealthy and became official.  Even then, some citizens weren’t that fussed about it as they weren’t overly enamoured of their own rulers, but things got a bit serious when Napoleon got the new King (the old one had been kicked off the throne) and his family to go to Bayonne and so that he could make him abdicate and stick his brother, Bonaparte on the throne (which went on to happen on May 5th). The people of Madrid were not even a little bit happy about this and a large crowd converged around the royal palace in an attempt to stop the removal of the family. General Joachim Murat (Napoleon’s brother-in-law and the future King of Naples) got his troops to fire on the crowd. Mistake. People were killed, more people got angry, the rebellion spread, the Spanish barracks at Monteleon disobeyed French orders and joined in, and by the end of the day about 150 French soldiers had been killed by the rebels.

Joachim was raging about the whole thing, so he issued a proclamation to the effect that the nice people of Madrid had been led

Manuela Malasaña who was 18 when she was executed

astray by some bad people, but not to worry because he was going to have those bad people shot dead.  Actually, he wasn’t quite as nice as that. He went on about French bloodshed, prohibited all public meetings, made everyone hand in any weapons they had and shot dead hundreds of rebels just to show everyone else what happened if you messed with Napoleon’s mates. While it was a good, if particularly shitty, idea in principle, in practice all it did was give fire to the cause of the rebellion, which spread to other cities and parts of Spain and made the Spanish very angry indeed.  The fighting that broke out across the country was known as guerilla, or “little wars”. I have to say, hand on heart, that I don’t know for sure that this was the first use of this term; it probably wasn’t. What is certain, is that it came into general use as a result of the Peninsular War. So, there you go fact fans.

Other tying up loose end facts are: the day became a public holiday in the Madrid reason and was celebrated as Dos de Mayo; Goya painted depictions of the uprising and one called El Tres de Mayo de 1808 en Madrid, which are in the Prado; the area where the Monteleon Barracks were, is now known as Plaza de Dos de Mayo and the district surrounding the square is known as Malasaña in memory of Manuela Malasaña who was one of the heroines of the revolt. Oh and Murat and Napoleon eventually got their arses kicked out of Spain.

Today was the birthday of Mary Astor, an actress you’ll almost certainly have seen on the screen, but whose name may be unfamiliar to you.

Mary Astor smoking a tab

She was not one of the Astors, in fact she wasn’t an Astor at all. She was born Lucile Vasconcellos Langhanke and her screen name was cooked up by the head of Paramount, Jesse Lasky, the producer Walter Wanger and the Queen of Gossip, Hedda Hopper. It suited her. Mary Astor had an air of elegance about her that demanded a name that was less of a mouthful than the one she was born with.

She was in Hollywood from an early age, brought there by her parents who were very much stage parents and very much into siphoning off as much of their daughter’s earnings as they possibly could. For most of her youth she was living on $5 a week from her $2,500 salary, with her parents pocketing the rest and controlling her movements. When she finally broke away from them at 26 years old, they sued for support and got $100 a month. In between times she was making films and making a name for herself. She was also getting married. Her first marriage ended in tragedy when her husband was killed in a plane crash. She had a nervous breakdown, but remarried the doctor who nursed her through it. It wasn’t a  happy union and within a few years she was in New York having an affair with the playwright, George Kaufman. This wouldn’t have been a huge scandal, the studios were pretty good at covering things up, but Mary kept a diary and when she divorced her husband, he stole the diary and tried to use it as evidence against her in a custody trial.

Part of Mary’s USP was the ladylike air she had, so when extracts of her diary were read out, such as:  “I don’t know where George got his staying power.” and “Ah, desert night – with George’s body plunging into mine, naked under the stars …” and “We shared our fourth climax at dawn.” It’s fair to say that there was quite  lot of shock and “Oh my gosh! She has sex and likes it. Criminy!” going on. Her husband had sought to exile her from her daughter’s life and to destroy her career, but he wasn’t successful. She started filming Dodsworth after the trial, the producer Samuel Goldwyn had been advised to replace her, but he refused, and it went on to be an Oscar nominated hit. Later in her career she was the femme fatale in The Maltese Falcon and the beloved and loving mother in Meet me in St Louis. She won a best supporting actress Oscar for her role in The Great Lie. But her life wasn’t always happy. She had drink problems, two more marriages, which failed, suicide attempts and, on her mother’s death, the revelation that her mother had hated her.

She didn’t go under, she found she had a talent for writing wrote two memoirs, the first of which, published in  1959, was totally candid, in a way that most stars were not, about the troubles she’d had in her life and barely touched on her film career. She also wrote six novels and after a long break from Hollywood, she acted again in the 1960s, but most of the rest of her life was devoted to writing.

Mary was a fine woman. When people got over the notion that they thought she was a lady, they realised that she was so much more. A brave, fine, honest woman, a broad with chutzpah and charm. And a damned fine pianist to boot! Happy birthday, Ms Astor. You acted fine, you lived fine and good gosh, you wrote really naughty about the whole sex thing!

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February 26th

On this day in 1815 Napoleon Bonaparte escaped from Elba where he had been sent to live in exile by the rulers of most of Europe who had invaded France, defeated him and made him sign The Treaty of Fontainebleau, in which he agreed to stop being emperor, to abdicate, to agree that none of his descendants would ever try to take the thrones of France or Italy and that he would bugger off to Elba, where he could be a pretend emperor and nothing more. This happened in April 1814 and Napoleon stayed there for just over nine months before getting all “Sod this for a game of soldiers!” and making his way back to France to get his old empire back.

Yes, you can see the outline of his winky.

And who was this man who put the fear of god into the heads of states of Europe. There’s a lot we think we know about Napoleon, but only some of it is true. He wasn’t French, he was Corsican and only learned to speak French when he went to school  there. He learned well, but his spelling remained appalling which made his fellow students take the piss out of him. Children are such darlings!  And then there’s his height. We’ve all heard of the Napoleon complex which is the whole thing about short men being all aggressive and fighty because they feel that their lack of stature makes them less manly, but unfortunately for Alfred Adler who came up with this theory and cited Napoleon as a prime example of it, Napoleon wasn’t actually a short-arse. Bonaparte was about 5’6 or 5’7. This might be seen as toward the shorter end of the spectrum today, but it was about average back in his day. There are a couple of reasons that his height may have been underestimated. Firstly, it suited his enemies to see him as a little diddy man. They could mock  him and try to undermine him on the grounds that he was nothing but a jumped up dwarf. Secondly, Napoleon, far from having a complex about his alleged lack of stature, surrounded himself with tall men in his elite guard; they had to be at least 6ft or no dice. This may have given idiot onlookers the notion that he was shorter than he was, although if they’d had any sense they’d have noticed that the men around him were virtual giants.

So, that’s  a bit of Napoleonic background. Of course image and nationality aside, he was also a bit of a shit hot general who came from humble beginnings, got to be Emperor of France and had wars with everyone in Europe for shits and giggles. But, by 1814, things weren’t going quite as well for him. He’d had a bit of trouble in Russia and the rest of Europe had decided to stop hating each other for five minutes so they could all concentrate on hating him. Hence the Treaty of Fontainebleau and getting sent to Elba for being a very naughty boy indeed. He put up with it for a while, but when he started getting wind of plans to dump him on an island in the Atlantic or maybe just do away with him completely, he got back to France, pretty certain that he’d have the support of his people.

He did. For all of 100 days – well 111 days, but 100 sounds so much better. He got armies back, the French were all “Our boy is back in town!” and he was all “Yeah! We’re gonna show those mofos that you can’t mess with us and get away with it!” and then came Waterloo. As Abba once sang “My, my, at Waterloo Napoleon did surrender.” He had to. It all went a bit tits up with him for a variety of reasons, not least his dreaded bum grapes. He’d suffered with them for years and it meant he couldn’t sit on his horse for too long because, well because he got dreadful arse ache. He was getting older, his piles were getting worse and at Waterloo he had to keep getting off his horse, which made reviewing his troops and figuring out strategic type stuff a bit difficult. It wasn’t Wellington that won the battle it was Farmer Giles.

Napoleon found himself exiled again. Although he managed to get out and about a bit, most notably to San Dimas in California where he enjoyed their local water slide and ice-cream, he was pretty much stuck on St Helena for the rest of his life. As he may have written himself (although he’d have misspelt it) C’est la vie, c’est la guerre!

Today was the birthday of probably the best cartoonist, animator and director of animated shorts, ever! Tex Avery entered the world in 1908 in Taylor, Texas.

He left Texas behind for good when he moved to California in 1931 and began working in a succession of animation studios including

Elmer Fudd and Bugs Bunny in their first official outing together

Warner Brothers and MGM. He developed Porky Pig and Elmer Fudd into the characters we know today and created Daffy Duck and Bugs Bunny. More than these characters, he gave Looney Toons it own crazy, anarchic style and made shorts which appealed every bit as much to adults as they did to children. In fact Red Hot Riding Hood (see below) was pretty much made for adults and Red was getting grown men hot under the collar long before Jessica Rabbit strutted her stuff.

Tex was a pioneer, a genius, a mad man and we all have so much to thank him for. If  you don’t love his cunning cartoonery, you may have been born without  soul, so think on.

Happy birthday you wonderful man and the rest of you? Th-th-that’s all folks!

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