Thursday, January 31, 2013

Happy Birthday, Jackie Robinson.

Painting by Graig Kreindler.

"He led American by example. He reminded our people of what was right and he reminded them of what was wrong.  I think it can be safely said today that Jackie Robinson made the United States a better nation."   American League President Gene Budig.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Tuesday's Overlooked (or Forgotten) Film: THE SON OF MONTE CRISTO (1940) starring Louis Hayward, Joan Bennett and George Sanders

This is the perfect tale of adventure and derring do for those who are not expecting grand scale screen pyrotechnics or grand vistas or even fabulous sets. Louis Hayward was always the poor man's Tyrone Power or maybe Errol Flynn, but he had a charming sort of oomph to his screen presence which made him a very entertaining fellow, especially in swashbuckling roles such as that of Edmund Dantes, Jr. - the Count of Monte Cristo. (He was also quite good in the 1945 version of And Then There Were None, the best film adaptation of one of Agatha Christie's most famous books.)

Here, as the current head of the Monte Cristo family's European banking concern, he has traveled to Lichtenburg, a tiny country in the Balkans to discuss a government loan with a certain General Gurko Lanen who, with the brutal tactics of a despot, has taken control of said principality. Gurko wishes to marry (in fact he insists on it) the Grand Duchess Zona of Lichtenburg (Joan Bennett) to cement his complete power over the country.

With the French on one side and Russia on the other (at least in the geography of this film) eager to make Lichtenbrg a thorn in the Kaiser's side, Gurko knows that with Zona as his bride, both countries would have to acknowledge the legitimacy of his rule.

However, Zona, sensible woman that she is, wouldn't marry Gurko if he were the last man on earth. (Can you imagine having a husband named Gurko? But I digress.) She has been witness to Gurko's atrocities and knows him for the monster that he is. Besides that she has developed a tendre for the swashbuckling hero of the people known as The Torch.

Unknown to Zona, The Torch is none other than the Count whom she has nothing but disdain for since he arrived in Lichtenberg and promptly approved a huge loan for Gurko. Masquerading as a fop with a pair of prince-nez, no less, the mincing Count has thrown his hand in with the revolutionary underground (spouting cries of 'liberty' and 'freedom') trying to defeat Gurko Lanen and his minions.

Of course I'll join your band of happy revolutionaries. Count me in. 

When it comes to 'mincing' Louis Hayward has a great deal of fun. There was always something in Hayward's eyes, a kind of devilish twinkle which always made me suspect he found the whole movie-making thing far too amusing to take seriously. This jaunty look of his usually served him well.

That and his ability to swash and buckle with the best of 'em - there are several fencing displays in the film and Hayward acquits himself creditably fighting several men at once. He Is the Count of Monte Cristo, after all - the greatest swordsman in Europe.

The Son of Monte Cristo, directed by Rowland V. Lee, is reminiscent of another 1940 film, The Mark of Zorro, with Tyrone Power as the dashing Zorro, hero of the oppressed.

Hayward is equally dashing as a cowardly fellow by day and swashbuckling hero by night. And like Zorro, he even gets to wear a mask and cape. No slashing of 'Z's' though he gets to leave notes behind signed 'The Torch'. (In this case I suppose a slashing of 'T's' might be seen as  a bit too copy-catty.)

A Grand Duchess's lot is not an easy one.

Prepare yourself, besides the aforementioned displays of fencing, there are silly Hansel and Gretel costumes galore (Joan Bennett is shackled with as unattractive a wardrobe as any Grand Duchess ever wore), daring escapes, foolish assignations, treachery, betrayal by creepy Ian Wolfe, soldiers who look like they came off the set of Laurel and Hardy's March of the Wooden Soldiers and act like it too and in the end a tension packed state wedding disrupted not only by The Torch but by a general uprising of the people finally fed up with Gurko's heavy handed shenanigans.


There is a surprising secondary cast of notables like Henry Brandon who plays the evil Silas Barnaby in the Laurel and Hardy film. Here he plays a good guy, one of two soldiers - supposedly Gurko's men - but in reality part of the underground. His pal is played by Clayton Moore who would later go on to play the Lone Ranger with a mask and a sidekick named Tonto.

I can't marry a man named Gurko. Think of the children.

George Sanders is wonderful as the Teutonic looking bad guy with a buzz cut and a case of lust for Lichtenburg and Zona. He spends a great deal of movie demanding Zona marry him. She  spends a great deal of the movie wringing her hands.

There's also Montagu Love as the stalwart Prime Minister Baron Von Neuhoff - a good guy who is Zona's only support in the government - for that he's thrown in a dungeon and sentenced to hang. (Until The Torch comes along and springs him from jail with lots of derring do.)

Best of all there's the always wonderful Florence Bates as Zona's lady in waiting. She doesn't have much to do but any Florence Bates is better than none.

Everyone in the movie speaks in a polyglot assortment of accents, the American voices sounding the most incongruous but that's normal for these sorts of low-budget things.

Despite all that, this is a very fun film I've been watching for years and for years I've always enjoyed it.

It's currently available on youtube here.

Be sure and check in at Todd Mason's blog Sweet Freedom to see what other Overlooked (or Forgotten) Films and/or other Audio Visuals other bloggers are talking about today.

P.S. Louis Hayward will also play the Grand Nephew of the Count in the 1946 film The Return of Monte Cristo. Can't remember seeing that one though I know I must have at some point. I love these sorts of films.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Sunday Salon: Maurice Quentin de La Tour (1704 - 1788)

Maurice Quentin de la Tour Self-Portrait

Maurice  of Saxony

Jean Restout

Study of A Woman's Face

Study for the Portrait of Anne Julie Boetie of St. Leger

Study for the portrait of Joseph Amedee Victor Paris, son of Paris Montmartel.

Marie Fel, 1757

Portrait of Manelli

Study for the portrait of Voltaire

Louis de Silvestre

Study for the portrait of Mrs. Rougeau

Isabelle de Charriere, 1767

Portrait of Unknown Man

Maurice Quentin de la Tour (1704 - 1788) was a long-lived, supremely gifted Rococo painter who specialized in pastel portraits of the many notables of his day.

His gift, I would say, was in being able to bring these 18th century figures to life in the eyes of a modern beholder. Unlike many portraitists of his day, he fashioned flesh and blood drawings and paintings, many of whose sitters seem quite modern in their attitudes and expressions. Proving once again, I suppose, that humans have always been the same, it's just the minutiae that changes.

These drawings stopped me dead in my tracks one fine day as I was looking about. I am very fond of pastels most especially because of my inability and fear of them. I never could master the damn things. They are forever a mystery to me.

Louis XV 

But look at de la Tour's work. Is it not amazing?

These people, with just a change of clothing and hair gear might walk off the canvases and into today's world without hesitation.

Source of these works: Wiki Paintings Art Encyclopedia

Friday, January 25, 2013


I doubt those of us who love Heyer would have forgotten her books, but it is hard to remember all the individual titles since she was a very prolific writer. Heyer not only wrote Regency romances, but 18th century ones (the era of powdered wigs) as well and also some rather good mysteries. (If you're not into romances, then for goodness' sake read the Heyer 'contemporary' mysteries, they're wonderful and are readily available in re-issues.)

The main thing I love about Georgette Heyer's historical romances (besides the topnotch characterizations and intriguing plots) are the good manners. These British societies of the past thrived on societal strictures (okay, occasionally inane strictures to be sure), but I'm convinced it was the insistence on good manners that helped keep everyone in line.

I'm of the opinion that there's nothing like a well-written romance novel to fix whatever ails you. The Regency romance was invented for the doldrums of winter. When you've read one too many mysteries and need a change of pace from murder most foul, the Regency is a perfect alternative. (Although there are occasionally some fancy dressed fops up to no good in these books, if anything as sordid as murder occurs, it's off the page and usually far, far away.)

A CIVIL CONTRACT (1961) is, for all intents and purposes, one of the best (if not the best) marriage of convenience stories ever written (I think I know whereof I speak since I've read a million of 'em). In this book I recognized many plot contrivances and twists of romantic fate that other writers would go on to 'borrow' for their own 'm.o.c.' plots over the years.

While Harlequin and Signet and the rest of 'em were/are publishing Regencies and other historical romances on a monthly basis - books I unashamedly gobbled up then and occasionally now - the authors, I realize, had lots to thank Georgette Heyer for. It was Heyer who set up the formula for these stories, a formula which even now is followed pretty rigidly. (Well, it was probably Jane Austen who perfected the original formulation, but you know what I mean.) Never mess with perfection.

Why? Because the reader expects certain things to happen in these sorts of books and hell has no fury like a thwarted romance reader.

A CIVIL CONTRACT is not strictly a 'romance' as we typically think of them. There's more here than may, at first glance, meet the eye - keen social observation for one thing: the occasionally unpalatable mix of marriage, social standing and the harsh realities of economics. Money is at the heart of the story of Miss Jenny Chawleigh - daughter of a very wealthy 'Cit' who, at the urging of her ambitious father, marries the financially strapped Viscount Lynton thereby saving his family home and lands. Though the 'm.o.c' motif is one which usually leads to romantic entanglements between the two main characters who remain unaware of said 'entanglement' until the happy ending - in this case, Georgette Heyer has given her likable characters a more realistic 'happy enough' ending.

Captain Adam Deveril, honorable officer and gentleman, one of the Duke of Wellington's men, must leave the field of battle when his father, the Viscount, is killed in an accident. Deveril inherits the family title and thus, since he is the only son, cannot risk being killed himself even if the battle to oust Napoleon is still on-going.

Unfortunately for Deveril, his feckless father was a wastrel who gambled away the family fortunes. Without money Deverill will be forced to sell off everything he owns, including the much beloved family home. Not only that but he is now unable to offer for the beautiful woman of his dreams since she, not to put too fine a point on it, must marry money as well though her family is in less straitened circumstances than Deveril's.

Enter Jonathan Chawleigh, one of Georgette Heyer's more vividly inspired and likable creations - an enormously rich but vulgar 'working man' with multiple dealings in the City and a rather plain daughter whom he wishes to see advance in society. Chawleigh, having hoped for an Earl, settles for a Viscount.

The daughter turns out to be the best thing that ever happened to Adam Deveril, though it takes him a long while to realize this. And while she may not be the love of his life, it turns out that the 'love of his life' was not especially suited to the life Adam would have wished to live. After all, a man must be comfortable to be happy. Very wise of Heyer to note this.

I have two other Heyers to recommend, books I've just finished reading during my own personal Georgette Heyer Mini-Read-A-Thon:

THE CONVENIENT MARRIAGE (1968) is set in the years before the Regency when men were wearing heels, jeweled frock coats and both sexes wore white wigs piled high and Marie Antoinette was still Queen in France - the grumbling of the 'lower classes' still fairly subdued.

Horatia Winwood, a daring seventeen year old chit of a girl devises a plan to save her older sister from a forced marriage to the Earl of Rule. The plan works better than the impulsive girl had hoped and therein lies the tale. Lots of fun, good manners, a duel, a kidnapping and a terrific love story.

A LADY OF QUALITY (1972) Set in the city of Bath, in the last days of the Regency, this is the story of twenty nine year old Annis Wychwood, beautiful, rich, outspoken and independent. Having refused all offers of marriage (she values her independence too highly), she is quite content to remain 'on the shelf' in charge of her own life.

But fate has other plans. Due to a series of haphazard circumstances, Annis is put temporarily in charge of a naive young girl on the run from her suffocating family and eager to sample the delights of society. The girl comes complete with a forbidding guardian (don't they always?) who is rumored to be the 'rudest man in Bath.'

Though, admittedly, both main characters are not as likable as many of Heyer's other inventions, it is still fun to read about their trials and tribulations - you know how it goes with the path of true love. As is usual with Heyer, the vibrant secondary characters almost steal the show.

Since we're expecting snow over the weekend, it will be a perfect time for me to settle in with a bunch of Georgette Heyers, cups of tea and some serious snacking.

Care to join me?

Also, don't forget to check in at Todd Mason's blog, Sweet Freedom to see what other Forgotten or Overlooked Books other bloggers are talking about today. Todd is doing the hosting duties for Patti Abbott this week.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Background: 'The Gossips' by Norman Rockwell

While searching for something else, I found this wonderful post on Rompedas, an art blog I'd never heard of before. (Isn't that always the way?) So I bookmarked the blog. But I was so taken (and intrigued) by one of the posts that I decided to share it with you with due credit given. Please use the link to read in detail about this wonderful piece of work by one of our greatest illustrators.

The Gossips cover was the most popular Rockwell Post cover in thirty-three years and sold the most magazines in five years. Rockwell had the idea for it twenty years earlier but he couldn’t quite get the ending until he thought to have the subject of the gossips (posed for by Rockwell) hear the story about himself at the end of the circle. Thousands of letters were sent to the Post asking what the gossip was they were passing along. An answer was never given. In an interview in December of 1948, Rockwell remembered that the woman who posed for the first lady in the picture, the one who had started the gossip, was still a little peeved at him. Not all of his subjects were critical. One model told a reporter, “It’s more fun posing for him than going to the movies. Norman keeps you in stitches with his funny stories.”

The original sketch by Rockwell for the cover.

The photo lay-out with models in position.

The final painting.

Norman Rockwell himself.
Again, Norman Rockwell.
Some of the reference photos used by Rockwell.

What a delight to be able see behind-the-scenes of one of Norman Rockwell's most famous and most beloved works of art. It was lucky for Rockwell that he apparently had an endless supply of colorful friends and neighbors to pose for his many commissions. Isn't it interesting how so many of these accommodating people had that 'typical American mid-western' look to them? It's almost as if they came straight from 'Central Casting'. This is how the early part of the 20th century looks to us in memory. I wonder if a lot of that is due to the heavy influence of Rockwell's art.

See more and read more about Rockwell and his contemporaries, at this link to the

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Tuesday's Overlooked (or Forgotten) Film: THE THIRTEENTH GUEST (1932) starring Ginger Rogers and Lyle Talbot

It's Overlooked (or Forgotten) Film day once again. Todd Mason, our genial host, will have all the links at his blog, Sweet Freedom, so don't forget to check in and see what other films, television or other audio/visuals, other bloggers will be talking about today. It's always an eclectic mix.

My entry is the 1932 mystery, THE THIRTEENTH GUEST, a film directed by Albert Ray and starring, of all people, Ginger Rogers.

Ginger looking befuddled and who could blame her?

This is one of those movies where the mysterious bad guy goes around dolled up in black from head to toe so we can't see who he is. The garbed killer spends most of the movie lurking in a secret room from whence he can watch what's going on in the deserted old house and oh yes, by the way, electrocute anyone who picks up a certain phone, while occasionally letting out a hideous screech just to let us all know he's supposed to be nutso. I love it.

Here's the situation: Thirteen years before the current story opens, a macabre dinner party was held in said old house belonging to the Morgan family. Thirteen settings were arranged around the table but the thirteenth guest never showed up. The head of the family (the father of girl who grew up to be Ginger Rogers, our plucky heroine) dropped dead as soon as he finished reading his proposed and rather strange will. The police soon determined though that the death was not murder but death by natural causes. Convenient - huh?

His wife is so stricken by the event that she seals up the house, leaves everything exactly the way it was - including the dinner table with chairs pulled up and settings still in place - and moves away. The house is left deserted by the family for thirteen years.

Ginger wondering, "Am I de trop?"

When Lela Morgan (Ginger Rogers) the heiress, turns 21 she receives a call from the family lawyer to go to the deserted house and meet him there. (She also has a letter from her dead father with a mysterious set of numbers.) And of course she goes at night when the house is most mysterious and spooky - I mean, wouldn't you?

Almost immediately thereafter there's a case of mistaken identity (not fairly revealed with observable clues but it's not that sort of story), and an unpleasant murder in which the body is found propped up at the dinner table.

The cops, of course, are flummoxed so what does the police chief do but call on his old friend, private detective Phil Winston (Lyle Talbot) for help. The smirking Winston works hand in glove with the cops (even giving orders and throwing his weight around) and they rely on his sleuthing smarts to solve the case - just like in real life.

When the family lawyer gets murdered and propped up at table as well, it's obvious that the killer is after the very same guests who were at the original dinner. Why? Well, that's never really explained even in the end. These sorts of movies never make much sense anyway, that isn't the reason I watch them. Murder with all the trimmings is to be expected, but if you also expect logic, then these are not the movies for you.

At any rate, I would have liked it if a couple more murders had occurred and showed up at the dinner table too, but you can't have everything.

My favorite scene - watch out Ginger!!

The cast is so/so except for Ginger who is always fun to watch. But I'm a fan of this sort of thing and I'm not all that picky, so I enjoyed myself and so will you if you're like me and don't expect too much except a darkly mysterious old house, a disguised killer, a group of assorted suspects, a will steeped in stupidity and murder most foul and illogical.

The movie is available to watch for free at youtube.

P.S. This story has been filmed a couple of times under slightly different titles, so don't be confused and misled. Hold out for Ginger Rogers.

P.S. PS. If you expect to find out who the thirteenth guest was or was not in the end - don't hold your breath. You get an answer but typically, it makes little sense.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Martin Luther King Day

'The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character - that is the goal of true education.'

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

12 Seascapes I'd Love to Own

American painter Winslow Homer (1836 - 1910) 'Breezing Up'

British painter Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775 - 1851) 'Snowstorm' 1842

American painter Frederick Judd Waugh (1861 - 1940) 'At the Base of the Cliff' 1908

American painter/illustrator N.C. Wyeth (1882 - 1945) for 'The White Company' by Arthur Conan Doyle pub. 1922

Italian painter Pietro Fragiacomo (1856 - 1922) 'Nocturne'

American painter Albert Bierstadt (1830 - 1902) 'Puget Sound' Detail

American painter Don Demers (1956 - ) 

American painter/illustrator Howard Pyle (1853 - 1911) 'An Attack on a Galleon' 1905

German/American painter/illustrator Anton Otto Fisher (1882 - 1962) 

British painter Geoff Hunt (1948 - )

British/American painter Edward Moran (1829 - 1901) 'Sailing by Moonlight NY Harbor'

British painter Joseph Mallord William Turner 'The Fighting Temeraire Being Tugged to her Last Berth to be Broken Up'

We've featured landscapes, still lifes, portraits (male, female and children) and today we're going down to the sea mostly in ships.