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January 10th

On this day in 236 a bloke called Fabian became the Pope.

Does this seem a little dull? I’m sorry about that, but all the stuff I could find for this day more or less bored the arse off me, so in the end I just went with Fabian because it was that or write about four paragraphs about how bloody boring January 10th is. Which I might still end up doing anyway, but meanwhile, back to Fabian.

Jesus the Dove flies into JPII face. The message being "why did you make this idiot pope?!"

There is one interesting thing about him becoming pope. You see, it is said that he wasn’t a bishop or a priest, or anything like that. He was a a simple layman who just happened to be in Rome when all the bishops had got together to elect a new pope (Anterus, the previous pope had died about a week before after being pope for only one month and ten days. It’s almost certain that he was murdered for being more trouble than he was worth. Cf. Pope John Paul I who might turn up here one of these days). They were all up for electing a Bishop, as was the usual way of things, but as they all stood around nattering about who’d make the best pope and comparing frocks and jewellery and stuff like that, a dove came along and sort of fluttered about over Fabian’s head.

Well, being religious sorts who knew their bible and all the stories it contained they all went “Bloody Nora! That dove is totally like Jesus innit! He’s telling us to elect Fabian! Er, do we have to do that? Really?”

The dove did not move while they were all prevaricating, so they decided

Fabian's deadly poo. Bishops look on and are heard to say "that turd will kill him!"

they’d better do what Jesus was telling them to through a bird, the big thickos. To be honest, it wasn’t that difficult for them to decide to go along with the dove, because even though being pope was a top job with well nice frocks and the best jewels in Christendom, given that Anterus had probably been murdered and they reckoned that the next pope would probably be done in as well, none of the bishops were that keen on being pope as they preferred being alive.

As it happened, Fabian turned out to be quite a good pope, sending people to places like France to tell them how nice it was to be a Catholic and doing some nice building and stuff around Rome. Oh and he also did something with Chrism, which wasn’t as rude as it sounds. So, he wasn’t murdered and got to be pope for fourteen years. He wasn’t murdered to death, he died of bursting a vein in his head when struggling to have a poo, just like Elvis.

And that is the story of Pope Fabian. Oh he got to be a saint as well, which given what we read about yesterday, doesn’t mean much of anything at all.

Still, nice as it was to talk about bishops in pretty frocks, doves and getting to be pope in olden times, I bloody hope there’s something more interesting to rabbit on about tomorrow. Let’s hope there’s a semi-interesting birthday for today. Fingers crossed, I’m off to have a look now.

Today is the birthday of Roderick Stewart. I mention this not because I give a flying fornication about Rod the Mod, but because until today I had no idea that his given name was Roderick and it amuses me no end.

Imagine having that face looming over you?

I’m not totally anti-Rod. The man’s done some good songs and stuff, but anyone who can sing “do you think I’m sexy” whilst wearing the most hideous leopard print tight trousers in the world is a bit of a joke. That and the fact that he keeps marrying the same blonde woman, just changing her for a slightly younger model every few years or so, which is just too icky for words.

But, blah, it’s Rod’s birthday. He will probably put on a kilt and a tartan hat and go on about how Scottish he is, despite being from North London and being a plastic Jock. Or joke, whichever you prefer.

It was also the birthday of Mary Ingalls, the older sister of Laura Ingalls

The real Mary Ingalls.

Wilder who wrote all the “Little House” books. Unlike the pretty crazily blue-eyed girl in the tv series of Little House on the Prairie, Mary never married, although she did go blind and did go to the blind school that the TV Mary went to. But there was not crazily blue-eyed teacher for her to fall in love with and get married to and so her non-existent husband did not fall over and get concussion and magically get his eyesight back and take her to NYC where he could finally be a lawyer and not a crappy old teacher. Her life was slightly less dramatic than that.

When she finished school, she went back home to live with Ma and Pa, made fly nets for horses and when her parents died went to live with her sister Grace and then with Carrie, before dying herself. I note that she did not live with Laura, who was probably to high and mighty to let her blind sister live with her by then.

Despite her dull life, it’s fair to say that Mary was probably more worthy of inclusion in this little blog than Roderick the Mod, because while she never accomplished much, she also never put her flabby arse into stupid trousers and pretended to be a bit half gay when she thought it was trendy. All in all, Mary the bland trumps Rod the twat.

Happy birthday to them both! Sort of.

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June 6th

On this day in 1654 Queen Christina of Sweden abdicated her throne and converted to Catholicism.

Queen Christina liked to have some sort of bird on her horse's bum when she was riding

While she’s known as Queen Christina, she was more properly a king. She took her oath as a king and she was brought up as a prince by the order of her father. Apparently when she was born she was so hairy that at first everyone thought she was a boy, which sounds odd to me. Surely if she was that hairy they’d have thought she was a monkey or a werewolf or something, but no, clearly they thought it was normal for a baby boy to be born covered in hair. Anyway, they noticed she didn’t have a winky and realised she was a boy. Her dad, Gustav II didn’t care, he was just overjoyed that she was bonny and healthy because four children had died before her and he wanted an heir. Her mother didn’t like her so much and spent the first six years of Christina’s life giving her a hard time for being a girl and causing her mother pain when she was born.  Then Gustav II was killed in battle and suddenly Maria, Christina’s mother, was all over her like a rash, clinging to her like a limpet and basically being a huge pain in the arse. Christina didn’t want to hurt her mother, but she did want her to eff the eff off. In fact she was such a pain that eventually she was sent off to live in another castle and Christina was brought up for a few years by her aunt Catherine, as per her father’s wishes.

Apart from having the mother from hell and losing her beloved father so young, Christina had a fairly good childhood and was an intelligent and capable young woman. She spoke many languages fluently, rode well, was well-versed in history and politics and was much admired throughout Europe. She remained in the background politically until she was 18 and then became Queen regnant proper. It’s fair to say that she wasn’t the best of queens, but that was as much due to circumstances as any shortcomings on her behalf. She steered clear of marriage, saying privately that she found the whole thing distasteful and while she enjoyed the company of men, her closest relationships and truest affections were directed toward the women in her life. Was she a lesbian? It’s hard to say for sure, but given her distaste for the institution of marriage and all it entailed, it’s fair to say that if she ever did have sex it was far more likely to have been with a woman than a man. She reigned as queen proper for a decade, but she never really enjoyed it. She had wanted to abdicate long before 1654 but kept agreeing to stay on because parliament begged her. She felt a bit of a hypocrite, ruling over a Protestant country when she was secretly a Catholic, but it also made her a very tolerant woman. She did not discriminate against anyone based on religious distinctions and believed that everyone should be allowed to worship as they saw fit. These were very liberal views for the time.

But la! She had a nice abdication ceremony and then buggered off through Denmark and down to Rome, where they were well happy to

She wasn't much of a looker

see her what with her being all famous and a Catholic convert. They didn’t even seem to mind too much that she’d made most of her journey dressed as a man. That was another thing about her: she did like men’s clothes. She made quite the impact among the gentle ladies of Italy who were astonished by her manners and the ease with which she comported herself. She got invited to loads of parties and everyone was keen to have her in their home because she was such a big celebrity. The rest of her life was spent between Paris and Rome with short trips back to Sweden and elsewhere before she eventually died in Rome and was buried in St Peter’s Basilica, which is well posh.

The thing that makes her stand out in history is that she wasn’t like others around her. She dressed how she pleased, she did what she wanted and she wasn’t at all bothered by the constraints of class and gender. That she managed to do this whilst still being accepted by the establishment of Europe and the Roman Catholic church, which was even more Conservative with a capital C and a “don’t you be  poof or a Jew or one of those funny laydeez around us, you fucking weirdos!” then than it is now. So much was her masculine demeanour and her deep voice noted at the time, that in the 60s her body was exhumed so that scientists could figure out if she was intersex and/or had a winky and a lala. They weren’t able to discern from her bones whether or not this was the case, but as there are diary entries along the lines of “Fuxace!!!!1 On the rag. Again!!!!111!1”, we do know that she menstruated, so she did have a lala even though she looked a bit like a man.

 

Today was the Birthday of the novelist, Virginia Andrews.

She may mean nothing at all to a lot of the men out there. To be fair a lot of women may also be going “Who?” But there are a lot of us who remember reading Flowers in the Attic and then if were obsessed nutters, the whole series of Dollganger novels. It’s fair to say that her books were the crack cocaine of trashy literature and we were her desperate little junkies all wanting just a little more of her sick and twisted little world.

Like Village of the Damned with added incest

If you’ve never read these books, here’s the story. In Flowers in the Attic we first come across the Dollganger children, Chris, Cathy, Cory and Carrie. Their parents are Christopher and Corrine. Christopher dies in a car accident and Corrine who is afraid of being destitute asks her mother, Olivia, if the children can live with her while she tries to get work, etc. Olivia is all “yeah, that’s fine, but your father cannot know about them, so we must hide them in the attic.” The kids are all “Do we have to?” and Corrine is all “Yeah, your grandfather didn’t like it when I married my half-uncle and he’d have a fit if he knew we had children, but he’s going to die soon, so I’ll be nice to him, he’ll leave me lots of money and then we can all live together.” and so the kids have to live in the attic. It’s horrible up there, Grandma’s a bitch, Mum pretty much reneges on her word, there’s arsenic, drinking blood out of hunger,one of the twins dies and Chris and Cathy end up doing sex. They escape when they realise that their mother is trying to murder them and head out to an unknown future.

Petals on the Wind, is even more batshit mental. The other twin dies, Cathy gets to be a ballet dancer and Chris a doctor. She tries to stay away from him, but he still loves her. She wants revenge on her mother. There’s death, love,madness, a fire, more death and then Chris and Cathy give in and pretend to be husband and wife. Onto If There Be Thorns which again ups the mentalism. Cathy and Chris are together with “their” children, except they’re not, they’re Cathy’s with her first husband and her mother’s husband. She’s nothing if not prolific when it comes to inappropriate relationships. They adopt a little girl. Everyone’s happy then Bart starts visiting the old lady next door who is … oh come on, she’s Corrine the evil mother with her evil butler and Bart gets made all mental by the pair of them and there’s another fire and more death and at the end, Cathy and Chris are safe and Bart’s a bit less mental.

Seeds of Yesterday concentrates on the children, Bart, Jory and Cindy. Bart is still mental, Cindy’s a bit of  a strumpet and Jory, a ballet

This is the woman who came up with this crazy web of incestuous madness

dancer, has an accident and ends up in a wheelchair. Much mentalism ensues. Chris is killed in a car crash just like his dad and Cathy goes up to the attic and dies. As you do. This is the end of the series, but then – oh joy (really, I wish I was being sarcastic, but I’m not) – there’s Garden of Shadows,  a prequel wherein the madness begins to make some sort of sense. Not in a real “oh well that’s all right then!” way, but more “Well bugger me with witch’s broomstick, the whole damn lot of them are a bunch of incestuous mentals!”

By this time, Virginia Andrews had died of breast cancer. The last book was partly written by her and partly by a ghost writer, Andrew Neiderman, who was hired by her estate. He is still writing books as Virginia Andrews, which brings a nice touch of real-life mentalism to her literary heritage. Not as crazy as the plots of the books she actually wrote, but pretty strange all the same.

Anyway! I’m sorry, I have introduced you to a strange world of wrong, or maybe reminded you of it, if like me you wallowed in this filth. I should have chosen a more worthy subject, but if it’s any consolation, going back through the plot summaries of these awful, trashy, outrageously schlocky books has made me want to read them again. Surely that is penance enough?

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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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April 26th

On this day in 1977 Studio 54 opened its doors to (some of) the public for the first time and for the next three years was the place to be seen in New York City, although it was probably for the best if you were not seen by the police if you were  snarfing cocaine and having a bit of sex in the balconies.

Yes, you can see that man's winky

The building where the nightclub was located is at 254 West 54th Street, which is partly where it got its name. But prior to becoming a big old discotheque, the building had been a theatre – Puccini’s La Boheme played there in 1977 – and then one of CBS’s radio and then TV studios. Under CBS it was called Studio 52 – because it was CBS’s 52nd studio – so when Rubell and Schrager and their other partners bought the building, they decided to use the “studio” and add 54 for its location.

Steve Rubell and Ian Schrager had previously owned a disco out in Queens called the Enchanted Garden, which is nicely ironic when one thinks of how snooty they were about the bridge and tunnel crowd at Studio 54. The bridge and tunnel crowd were and are the New Yorkers from the outer boroughs who travel into Manhattan. Manhattanites can be awfully snobby, but frankly Manhattan is so lush, that one can pretty much understand why. Anyway! The Queens disco had been quite successful and a PR woman by the name of Carmen D’Alessio had even had a couple of parties out there. She liked Steve and Ian’s style so she suggested that they buy the building and open the best club in the world ever. They agreed and that, laydeez and gennelmens, is how the club got to be. How it got to be the success it was, is mostly down to Carmen D’Alessio  who was a shit-hot PR woman and event planner. She got Bianca Jagger to ride a white horse into the club on her 30th birthday and she arranged the opening night guest list, and oh my, what a list it was. Mick and Bianca Jagger, Janice Dickenson (when she was a smokin’ hot model and not the overly-plasticised mentalist she is today), Mikhail Baryshnikov, Debbie Harry, Liza Minnelli, Martha Graham, Jerry Hall, Brooke Shields, Salvador Dali and newlyweds Donald and Ivana Trump among many, many others. Rumour has it that Warren Beatty, Woody Allen, Diane Keaton, Henry Winkler and Frank Sinatra were turned away at the door because the doorman thought they weren’t hot enough for the club. Chances are that’s some sort of urban rumour started by  Carmen D’A who knew that the public would eat up the idea of a club so exclusive that some of the biggest stars in the world weren’t good enough to get in. The door charge to get in was $8 and the club held 700 patrons so that amounted to $5,600 a night in cover charges, plus all the booze and shit. Rubell boasted that they made $7 million in their first year.

The club started big and continued big. It also lived most of its short life surrounded by scandals great and small. Within a month of

A montage of wasted slebs and the great unwashed

opening it had been closed down due to its lack of a proper liquor license. They re-opened immediately selling  juice and soda pop until their license came through. After Rubell’s boast of how much money they’d made in a year the club was raided and he and Schrager were arrested for skimming $2.5 million. There was a second raid in 1979 and the pair got arch-bastard and evil fuck Roy Cohn to defend them. On January 18, 1980 they were sentenced to three and a half years for tax evasion and later that year the club was sold. Rubell and Schrager went on to open more clubs and go into hotels as well. Schrager is still doing just that and is a very successful multi-millionaire. Rubell contracted AIDS and died in 1989.

The club only had three years of being at the apex of decadence, but its fame has lived on. In many ways it’s hard to know why. It wasn’t musically innovative; it played disco which was the thing at the time, but it didn’t introduce any new music or new acts. It wasn’t anything special, but the buzz around it was so wild that it was the place everyone wanted to get into and very few did. It was, I guess, the Woodstock of Disco, but with better clothes and coke rather than dope. These days the club is a theatre and most of its patrons are either dead or really boring. Or both. Thus is the merry-go-round of life. We all get a chance to sparkle for a few brief moments and whether we do or we don’t, there’s always a cardigan and slippers waiting in the wings.

Today was the birthday of Douglas Sirk.

His name may mean nothing to you, but if it does, you know that he was the director of such lush and beautifully shot films as All that Heaven Allows, Magnificent Obsession and Imitation of Life, among others. If these mean nothing to you, you may have seen Todd

A still from All That Heaven Allows. Totally stylish and totally OTT

Haynes’ Far From Heaven, which is a total homage to Sirk.  Or maybe you’ve fallen in love with Pedro Almodovar, who cites Sirk as one of his influences and my, can you see it.

Sirk’s films were commercially very popular in the 1950s, but the critics had no time for him, mostly because the films were very woman-centred and about heightened feelings and passion and that sort of thing. But there was far more to them than those short-sighted twats could see at the time. In the 70s a reappraisal of Sirk began and finally – and thankfully before  his death – his talent was finally appreciated by critics as well as the public.

I’m not going to add much more. Sirk was a magical film-maker and the best way to get your head around that is to watch some of his films and let the lushness wash over you like a Technicolor ocean of baroque passion. Do it. You’ll love it.

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March 31st

On this day in 1930 the Motion Picture Production code was instituted. It was more commonly known as the Hays Code after Will H. Hays, the prick who thought it all  up. The code set down rules about what could and could not be shown on screen. I could be fair to him and say it wasn’t all down to him – because it really wasn’t – but he was a weasle-faced little shitehawk who became very rich from his 30-year foray into film censorship.

 

The Broadway Melody (1929). This was not acceptable after the implementation of the Code

I guess you’d like a bit of background, so here goes. Hollywood was generally thought of as a den of vice and by and large this perception wasn’t far off the mark, but as the film industry got bigger and the scandals multiplied, the rest of America became quite vocal about how disgusted they were and something had to be done. There were quite a number of scandals. Some of you will have read about Roscoe Arbuckle or learned of him in an earlier post. His “scandal” was seen as the straw that broke the camel’s back, but it wasn’t the only one and was far from the worst. There were the drug scandals: Olive Thomas was a star of silent movies who was a noted coke-fiend and who died in Paris after a night of booze and gak. What actually killed her was drinking mercury bichloride. Her husband (Jack Pickford, younger brother of Mary) was using it for his syphilis and she mistook it for a sleeping draught and died. This shocked the good folk of middle America as did the fact that Clara Bow put it about, Charlie Chaplin kept getting off with very young girls and the murder of director and actor William Desmond Taylor. Possibly worse than the murder was the fact that in the aftermath, one of the suspects, a 19-year old actress called Mary Miles Minter was discovered to  have been his lover.  The scandal killed her career.

 

There were other scandals that the public didn’t know about (the probable murder of businessman Thomas Ince by William Randolph

A rudy nudy of gakhead Olive Thomas.

Hearst for one and boys doing boys and girls doing girls and everyone snorting or injecting anything they could get their hands on), but what they knew was enough to make them think that those dirty boys and girls should clean up their collective act. Now of course, this had nothing to do with what was on the screen, but it made people hypersensitive to any notion of rudery. Contrary to popular belief there was a bit of filth and hows-your-father in movies prior to the late 60s, but throughout the twenties there were efforts to get rid of it and the 1930 Code which stayed a bit lax for four years but hit home like a big old puritanical hammer in 1934 was the death knell for things that hinted at s-e-x. The rules were too many to go into here, but basically words like “prostitute” were verboten, hinting at homosexuality was out, nudity, well what on earth do  you think? Sex was bad and if anyone had it outside of marriage they were not allowed to be happy. Ever. All bad deeds were to be seen to be punished and there was to be no miscegenation (ugly word, but kissing or love between people of different colours or races).

 

Now, in some ways the code meant that film makers had to be really clever at putting in content that could be ever so slightly risqué but still get past the Code. With each decade that passed they seemed to be able to get away with more, but they often had to pay for it. “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn” was only allowed after the studio paid a fine for being all sweary (this blog would cost me a fucking fortune. Oops, there’s another one) and some careers were pretty much ended by the Code. Hello Mae West.

The sixties saw the Code becoming more difficult to enforce and more at odds with societal mores.  Finally it was dropped completely – in favour of the age rating system – in 1968. Now people were free to fuck or say fuck to their hearts contents. This was mostly a good thing, although those of us who’ve had to sit through Porkies would probably have been happy for the Code to stay in place for just a decade or so more.

 

Today is the birthday of wonderfully strange-faced actor, Christopher Walken.

For many years I feared Walken because of his face and the way he played Russian roulette in The Deer Hunter. However, then I saw the SNL skit with Blue Oyster Cult and the cowbell and the Fat Boy Slim video and I realised that he is not scary at all. He is great.

 

A rare not-so-scary photo of The Walken

Christopher was born Ronald Walken but changed his name in 1964 because Ronnie’s a bit of a duff name (Unless you’re Ronnie O’Sullivan and I have the lust for you).  He started out as a dancer but got into acting proper and not prancing around in the mid-60s. He came to real prominence with the aforementioned Deer Hunter and won an Oscar for that role. Since then he’s been putting that face on the screen and making some people afeard regularly and extremely well.

 

Mostly I just love him. He’s so still and contained, his voice is instantly recognisable and full of a certain je ne sais quoi. In short Walken is bloody wonderful and as such should have a birthday all full of joy, cake and dancing. And some booze and whores if he likes that sort of thing.

Happy birthday scary face! I’m not scared of you these days, but sometimes I like to pretend that I am!

 

 

Twinkle Toes!



 

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March 24th

On this night in 1944 76 men began breaking out of Stalag Luft III. If you’ve seen The Great Escape, then you have half an inkling of what was happening because this was that escape!

The man in charge of the whole thing was a British officer by the name of Squadron Leader Roger Bushell RAF. He was kept with other British officers in one part of the camp and at some point in 1943 he called an escape committee meeting and this is what he said: “Everyone here in this room is living on borrowed time. By rights we should all be dead! The only reason that God allowed us this extra ration of life is so we can make life hell for the Hun… In North Compound we are concentrating our efforts on completing and escaping through one master tunnel. No private-enterprise tunnels allowed. Three bloody deep, bloody long tunnels will be dug – Tom, Dick, and Harry. One will succeed!” This is just top, because it means that everything we saw posh officers say in British war films was pretty much true to life. And that is just what this bunch of men did; they attempted to make life hell for the hun, the cunning devils.

Big X. Roger Bushell the mastermind behind the escape

The notion was that if one of the tunnels was found, it would be all fine and dandy because the Germans would never guess that two other tunnels were being dug at the same time. No private enterprises was also a good idea because it meant that all the good escaping brains were being focussed on one spectacular escape. The original idea was to get all 200 men housed in the prison camp out at once. All of them to be wearing civilian clothing and all with forged papers and equipment. This was escape writ big with a huge capital E!

As Roger said, the tunnels would be bloody long and bloody deep. Digging them deep was difficult, but it also meant there was less chance of them collapsing and/or being discovered. A lot of what you see in the film about the disposing of sand and earth from the tunnels is accurate. They did put it into socks that hung down their legs and let it drop in little piles around the camp and in gardens that the prisoners were allowed to work. But as you can imagine this was not enough; there was an awful lot of earth coming up from these three mega-tunnels. The problem was partly resolved when a camp extension made Dick’s exit unworkable (an extension making dick unworkable? Who’d a-thunk it!), so Dick became a place to store equipment, clothing, documents and the earth and sand for the other tunnels. Even that wasn’t enough and in the end, they started getting rid of more of it under a seat and down in a huge gap in the camp theatre.

The Germans were well aware that something was afoot, but failed to discover any of the tunnels. The digging of the tunnels took place over a long period of time and included most of the men in the camp. Then late in 1943, the camp gained a huge influx of American prisoners who were also included in the escape plans. The increased activity got the guards even more suspicious and they discovered Tom in September 1943. Work then stopped on Harry until January 1944 because the men were aware that if Harry was to be of any use, they needed to hold back and allay suspicions for a while.

How did they get clothes? There were some friendly guards in the camp who were happy to give them clothes for bribes and to provide information like train timetables and give them official papers which they could then copy and forge. At this stage I could

Here's Harry, who no one was longing to marry. Look how narrow it is!

waffle on about all the details interminably, but la, la, la, most of the Americans were removed and therefore no Americans, except maybe one flight lieutenant escaped in March (Wot! No Steve McQueen on a motorbike!), things got more hairy, the Gestapo got more snoopy and what had been intended to be a summer escape became a spring one. There were 700 men in the camp at this time, but only 200 were to go. The first 100 were made up of serial offenders (i.e. tried to escape quite a lot), those who spoke German well and those who had put in a lot of work on the tunnels. This group was expected to have a very good chance of escaping. The next 100 were thought to have very little chance of success and they drew lots for inclusion. They mostly had no German and their papers were not as good as those of the first lot; they had to travel at night for the best chance of success. They were known as the “hard-arsers”.

So, here we are. It’s the night of the escape and they’re all scuttling along Harry and getting over any claustrophobia (the tunnels were only 2ft square, it makes me perspire like a pig just thinking about it) they might have. It wasn’t a good night for an escape. There was snow and the entrance door to Harry was frozen shut and it delayed the escape by an hour and a half. Then there was an air raid that turned off the camp electricity including the light in the tunnels that slowed them down even more. At about 1am the tunnel partially collapsed and had to be repaired. Of the 200 scheduled to escape only 76 got out. And then?

It was all a bit of a clusterfuck really. The 77th man through the tunnel was seen emerging by the guards and surrendered. The ones already out were contending with the coldest March in 30 years and the snow already mentioned was 5ft deep. The men heading to the railway station couldn’t find it until daylight because its entrance was recessed. In all 73 of the 76 men were recaptured almost immediately. Of those 50 were executed including Roger Bushell. The three who managed to escape were Per Bergsland and Jens Müller, both Norwegian, and Bram Van Der Stok who was Dutch. All three were pilots in the RAF.

The end of this almost ridiculous attempt was pretty tragic, but all the men involved knew they were risking their lives. As Bushell had said back in 1943, they wanted to give the Hun hell and they did. Too many of them paid for it with their lives, but it’s unlikely that any of them would have thought this too great a price to pay. The film is great. Entertaining, engrossing, dramatic and full of twists and turns, but the real life events were, if anything, even more dramatic even if they didn’t involve a motorcycle, a baseball and a half-blind forger who went on to turn into that dreadful murderer John Christie. Life is more of a shitstorm than fiction. True fact.

Today was the birthday of much maligned comedian and fall guy for Hollywood excess, Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle.

Arbuckle with his great friend Buster Keaton.

These days if Roscoe is remembered at all it is for the scandal that ended his career. His career is hardly known to us at all and his influence on the great names of his time is likewise forgotten. I’d like to tell you a little about Roscoe, but first we’ll get the scandal out of the way.

In 1921, Roscoe and a group of friends drove to San Francisco and booked three hotel rooms, one of which was to be their party room. One of the attendees was a woman called Virginia Rappe. She was taken ill at the party and two days later she died of peritonitis from a ruptured bladder. Roscoe was arrested on charges of rape and manslaughter. It was alleged that he had raped her and his body weight had ruptured her bladder and killed her. Three trials followed. The first trial resulted in a 10-2 not guilty verdict and was declared a mistrial. The second trial returned a 9-3 guilty verdict and another mistrial was declared. At the third trial the jury took just six minutes to return a unanimous not guilty verdict. Five of those minutes were spent writing this:

Acquittal is not enough for Roscoe Arbuckle. We feel that a great injustice has been done to him… there was not the slightest proof adduced to connect him in any way with the commission of a crime. He was manly throughout the case and told a straightforward story which we all believe. We wish him success and hope that the American people will take the judgement of fourteen men and women that Roscoe Arbuckle is entirely innocent and free from all blame.

I could honestly write page upon page about this. What happened to the man was an abomination. He suffered so much in the courts, in the press (that bastard William Randolph Hearst made a fortune out of maligning him), his films were banned, his career ruined and all for spite, rumour, gossip and people making up the most stupid stories in the world that had no basis whatsoever in fact.

Before all of this, Roscoe had been the highest paid star in Hollywood. He had a $1 million a year contract from 1918-1921, which was mental money in those days. He was hugely popular and incredibly talented. He mentored Charlie Chaplin and helped him come up with his little tramp character, he discovered Buster Keaton and later in 1927 also discovered and gave Bob Hope his start. He had

Roscoe with his last wife, Addie, not long before his death at the age of 46

started in vaudeville after being abandoned by his father upon his mother’s death (Roscoe was 12), because his father was convinced that Roscoe was a bastard. He also had a beautiful singing voice. Enrico Caruso heard him singing and told him he should give all the other nonsense up and be the second best singer in the world. On top of this he was a kind, gentle, generous and generally lovely man. Far from being a big old rapist, Roscoe was shy around women and known as the most chaste man in Hollywood by all who knew  him. He did however have a drink problem, which led to him having problems with his legs, which led to doctors prescribing morphine and you can guess what that led to.

Throughout the twenties it was difficult for him to find work and he was persona non grata in films. He went back to vaudeville and toured shows. His alcoholism remained a huge problem, especially as he lost most of the friends he had made in the movie business. There was one notable exception. Buster Keaton did all he could to help his friend and remained loyal until the Roscoe’s death. Things began looking up in 1932. He was signed by Warner Brothers to make some two-reel shorts, which were very popular – although the idiot British wouldn’t show them because of the decade-old scandal, FFS – and in 1933 he was signed to make a feature-length film with them. On June 28th 1933, he had finished his last two-reeler, he had the contract for the feature, his life was well and truly back on track. He said to friends that it was the best day of his life. That night he had a heart attack and died in his sleep.

He was a lovely man who was proof that sometimes there really is a whole lot of thick and disgusting smoke with no fire at all. Most of his films are lost as no one bothered to preserve the negatives. He was talented, generous, warm and kind and all of that meant nothing at all when a bunch of utter bastards decided to go after him. Happy birthday Roscoe and if you come just a little closer I have a custard pie just for you!

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