Monday, August 31, 2009
Edna St. Vincent Millay moved into the narrow house at 75-1/2 Bedford in 1924. It was Millay and her husband who remodeled the home, adding a skylight and the Dutch gabling on the front and back. The other famous tenant to live in the house is anthrpologist Margaret Mead. Mead was living there with her sister and brother-in-law, the cartoonist William Steig (best known today, perhaps, as the creator of Shrek).
The New York Post has a feature on the house, including a photo essay that doesn't reveal much about the interior, but does have a picture of the unique four-in-a-row burner stove. Over at Curbed, you can download the floorplan as you mull over whether or not $2.75 MM is a good price for owning a conversation piece.
God, I wish I had $2.75 MM for this house. I mean who wouldn't want to live in a piece of NY history? Sure it's narrow, but I'm just one person, I don't need that much space.
Friday, August 28, 2009
But after graduating with a degree in English from the University of Pennsylvania, I realized that I was basically unemployable--for everyone already spoke English! I tried a stint at a publishing house in England for a year--but in the end decided that I didn't want to expatriate myself for life. I tried a year at a Madison Avenue advertising agency in NYC--and decided that helping create toilet paper commercials wasn't the way I wanted to spend my life. I taught writing for many years at an Upstate New York College and while there was much that I found enjoyable and rewarding in this occupation, the "paper load" was crushing. In the end, I realized that the best (non-criminal) way for me to earn a living was by writing.
Q. Saint Joan is much better known than your heroine, Pope Joan. Why is that, and what differences do you see between these two women?
Saint Joan, also known as Joan of Arc, was an admirable woman, no doubt about it. But she was a much more typical "woman religious" than my heroine. Joan of Arc was an ignorant peasant, unable even to read or write. She had to mark the documents that consigned her to the flames with an "X", for she couldn't sign her name. She was also a virgin--a very important component of female sainthood (in France, she is called "Jeanne la Pucelle"--Joan the Virgin). She had a mystical connection to God; He spoke to her and told her what to do. This kind of mystical connection with God is very typical of female saints--and it in no way overturns the traditional view of women as the "lesser of the sexes"--for the Bible says that God speaks preferentially to "the least among us".
Pope Joan, in contrast, was a woman of brilliant intellect. All the chronicle accounts describe her as a prodigy of learning--just like Mozart was a prodigy of music. She was, simply put, the smartest person of her day. She was NOT a virgin--as those familiar with her story know. She had no mystical connection with God, nor is she especially known for the purity of her faith. She was a woman who wielded power--real power, secular power (for the papacy back in the ninth century was every bit as much a secular as a religious office)--and she wielded this power with integrity and compassion.
In my view, this makes her a much more "accessible" heroine than Jeanne d'Arc. She was a flawed and very human woman--certainly no saint--but one who affected her world greatly, and who left a wonderful legacy of female empowerment through learning to future generations.
Q. One of the most amazing things about the book is your recreation of 9th century Europe. I felt as if I were really there. How did you go about researching the book?
Q. How would it have been possible for a woman to pass herself off as a man for so long and under such circumstances? How would a woman be able to hide her menstrual periods, and the disposal of the evidence of a period, since they did not have disposable products?
Those doubts were laid to rest with only two weeks of research. Turns out that we women are SO darn good at male disguise! We've been pulling it off with enormous success throughout history--often in conditions much more difficult than Joan's. Over 400 women are known to have fought in our own Civil War (both sides, North and South). Military uniforms were much more "body-revealing" than the loose robes worn in the ninth century. And these 'male imposter" soldiers had to sleep in tents, or in open fields, right beside men! What, one wonders, did these women do about their menstrual periods? In my novel, I explain how Joan pulled this off in the ninth century--but you have to read the novel to find out!
Proof that women can successfully master this disguise is evidenced by the legions of women who have done it successfully throughout history. In the Author's Note at the end of my novel, I give many examples. Most recently, you might want to check out the book "Self-Made Man"--a book written in 2006 by a woman who disguised herself as a man and entered a monastery for three months--and no one guessed that she was a woman.
So women CAN pull off male disguise because we HAVE done so, over and over again, throughout time. Turns out that the interesting question about Joan's story isn't "How did she do it?", but "Why did she do it?" Which leads nicely into your next question.
Tuesday, August 25, 2009
The musical Molly is a scrappy foul-mouthed illiterate tomboy who survived a flood on the Colorado river at six months old (one of the more disturbing scenes in the film). Molly dreams of a better life, of being rich and living in Denver, sort of a western Eliza Doolittle. Fleeing the hovel where she lives with her drunken Irish father and brothers, she travels on foot to Leadville, CO. She meets J.J. Brown by accident when he comes upon her while she's bathing. He's a miner who would rather fish and paint than mine. He teaches her to read and falls in love with her. But Molly wants to marry a rich man. She gets a job as a dancehall girl to save money to move to Denver. However, Johnny stakes a claim to Molly's heart and she marries him, which she regrets until Johnny to please her, uses his talent for mining and immediately strikes it rich, making $300,000 in three days. Molly hides the money in the stove, which Johnny accidentally lights to keep warm. No problem, Johnny just goes out and strikes it rich yet again.
The Browns move to Denver, buy a huge house and in their gaudy finery, they try to crash high society but they are shut out until a Monsignor suggest they go to Europe to get some polish. In Europe, the Browns rough edges are smoothed out a bit, and they are welcomed by European royalty as something of a breath of fresh air. The couple return to Denver, and are finally accepted by high society, but Johnny hates the attentions paid to Molly by Prince DeLong. When Molly returns to Europe, Johnny behind. After realizing that Johnny is her true love, Molly travels back on the Titanic. As the Titanic sinks, Molly keeps up the spirits of her fellow survivors by getting them to sing. At the end, Molly and Johnny are reunited.
The musical and movie Molly is a coarse, crude woman with a heart of gold. Unfortunately the events depicted in the musical and the portrait of Molly are a combination of myth and caricature. The true story of Margaret Tobin Brown is more interesting and complex, then the simpleton portrayed in the musical. For one thing, she was never called Molly, only Margaret or Maggie (the book writer of the musical said that Molly was easier to rhyme than Margaret). She was born in Hannibal, MO not Colorado.
Margaret's parents were Irish immigrants who had both been widowed with one daughter each. They married and added to their family with five more children. Margaret was born July 18, 1867, two years after the Civil War ended. Her family were lower middle class, her father worked long hours for the Hannibal Gas Works. Margaret and her siblings attended a local neighborhood school until they were old enough to go to work, making her far from the illiterate character in the movie. When she was seventeen, she moved to Leadville, CO to live with her older sister who had married. She got a job working in a local department store, attending chuch picnics and other local events.
When she was eighteen, she met James Joseph Brown, thirteen years her senior, and fell in love. Brown had moved to Colorado from Pennsylvania, his parents like hers had been Irish immigrants. Despite the fact that Margaret had planned on marrying rich, she married J.J. for love. "I wanted a rich man, but I loved Jim Brown. I thought about how I wanted comfort for my father and how I determined to stay single until a man presented himself who could give the tired old man the things I longed for him. Jim was as poor as we were, and had no better chance in life. I struggled hard with myself in those days. I loved Jim but he was poor. Finally, I decided that I'd be better off with a poor man who I loved than with a wealthy one whose money had attracted me." They were married in Leadville's Annuciation Church soon after she turned 19 in September of 1886. The Browns had two children Lawrence and Helen Brown.
Contrary to the film, it took 8 years of hard work before the Browns became rich and the Little Jonny mine was owned by J.J.'s employers, the Ibex Mining Company. When his engineering efforts proved successful in the production of an ore seam at the mine, the owners gave him 12,500 shares of stock and a seat on the board. The Browns soon moved to Denver, where Margaret became part of the social whirl. They owned a country home called Avoca as well as a fine house in town. Margaret had long been involved with women's rights. She helped to establish a local chapter of teh National American Women's Suffrage Association in Leadville and worked in soup kitchens to assist the families of the miners'.
In Denver, she continued to be an outspoken advocate for the causes that she believed in, often putting her money as well as her mouth into the cause. She became a charter member of the Denver Women's Club, and a supporter of Judge Ben Lindsay who helped to establish the juvenile court system in the United States. It was columnist Polly Pry who first nick-named her Molly and called her Unsinkable after her adventures on The Titanic. While Molly and J.J. were not members of the 'Sacred 36' Denver's answer to Mrs. Astor's 400, they were very much a part of Denver Society.
They both worked on improving themselves after their marriage. Margaret eventually attended the Carnegie Institute (now Carngeie Mellon) in Pittsburgh for a year. She learned French, German, and Russian, learned to yode (a skill she later used to entertain guests at parties), and studied the roles of Sarah Bernhardt. Margaret cut a dashing figure in Denver, always dressed in the latest fashions, with huge hats and a walking stick decorated with flowers. Margaret wasn't a snob, she was fascinated with Colorados' multicultural culture. She created a version of the Chicago Exposition in Denver and invited the local Indian tribes as well as the African-Americans living in Denver to participate.
Margaret travelled widely, particularly in France, which she loved. As well as NY and Denver, Margaret also had a cottage in Newport, RI where she became friends with Alva Vanderbilt Belmont and the Astors. It was her love of travel and her use of the media to promote her causes that caused her marriage to end in separation. While J.J. loved to travel, he was happiest in the West. He also thought that a woman should only have her name in the paper, 4 times in her life. He wasn't happy to see the his hard-earned money go to causes that he didn't particularly support. In 1909, after 23 years of marriage, the Browns formally separated. Although they never reconciled, they remained fond of each other. After J.J. passed away in 1922, Margaret declared that he was the best man in the world, and she would never remarry.
Margaret's most famous adventure on the Titanic almost didn't happen. She was in Paris with her daughter Helen when she received word that her first grandson was ill. While Helen went off to London, Margaret booked passage on the first ship that she could, the Titanic. When the Titanic was struck by an iceberg on April 15, 1912, Margaret busied herself helping others on board into lifeboats. When her lifeboat was rescued by the Carpathia, she tried to help others by getting the word out via telegraph to their families. Unfortunately the telegraph office was so backed up the messages were never sent. Back in NY, she spent days caring for the survivors. For her work, she was hailed as heroine.
Margaret ran for congress in 1909 and for the Senate in 1914, but the war intervened, and her sister's marriage to a German baron, led Margaret to believe her campaign would not be successful. Margaret lectured across the country on the Titanic and other subjects such as women's rights. She also lobbied to have women in the military, and took care of the miners in the aftermath of the Ludlow massacre. In France, she helped to create a military hospital and provided money for an ambulance corps. For her efforts, she was awarded the French Legion of Honour.
After her husband's death, Margaret and her children were briefly estranged as they fought over who should have control over J.J.'s estate. Margaret Tobin Brown died in 1932 at the age of 65 from an undiagnosed brain tumor. She was buried in Westbury, NY next to her husband J.J. Considering how much they both loved Colorado, it is sort of ironic they are buried so far from the state they loved.
The burnishing of Margaret's myth happened soon after her death. Margaret Tobin Brown was the closest thing to royalty Denver had ever seen. Heck, she even hobnobbed with royalty, being presented at court in England, and befriending a member of the Romanov's. Gene Fowler, a newspaper reporter, wrote a chapter on Margaret in his novel Timberline. He repeated the stories of Margaret surviving a flood and added new ones, particularly the idea that Margaret was an inspiration for Mark Twain. While her father was friends with Twain's father, and she spearheaded a campaign for a musem to Twain in Hannibel, Margaret and Twain were not friends.
While Margaret might have been amused by the legend she became after her death, her children were less amused. They had long lived underneath the shadow their parents cast while they were alive, and the shadow was still continuing. Both tried to live very private lives, Lawrence however was obsessed with learning about his mother's life before she moved to Leadville. He left behind 4 boxes of material to the Denver Historical society on his mother after his death, asking that they not be opened for 25 years. Only Helen lived long enough to see the musical and movie made from her mother's life. She passed away in 1970.
Margaret Tobin Brown lives on to this day as 'The Unsinkable' Molly Brown. She's as much a part of the myth of the Old West as Wild Bill Hickcock and Calamity Jane. She's been honored as a famous Missourian on the Missouri Walk of Fame, and her great-granddaughter Helen Benziger McKinney travels the country lecturing about her famous ancestor. She stands as a symbol of not only the indomitable spirit of the American woman, but also the American dream.
Molly Brown: Unraveling the Myth - Kristen Iversen, Johnson Books
The Unsinkable Molly Brown is available on DVD
Molly Brown house Museum, Denver
Monday, August 24, 2009
This "B-I-N-G-O" BEAUTIFUL BLOG AWARD means that this blog is...B: BeautifulI: InformativeN: NeighborlyG: Gorgeous O: Outstanding.
Please look carefully at as many blogs as you can to find the top FIVE blogs that YOU think also exemplify these standards and pass it along to them. Please don't break this chain of FIVE!
Accordingly I pass on the BINGO Award to:
1. Beautiful: Amy at Passages to the Past
2. Informative: Evangeline at Edwardian Promenade
3. Neighborly: Ms. Lucy at Enchanted by Josephine
4. Gorgeous: Heather at Georgiana's Gossip Guide to the 18th Century
5. Outstanding: Eliza at History Undressed
Saturday, August 22, 2009
Not only have there been a lot of books, but there was a revival of Schiller's Mary Stuart on Broadway recently with Janet McTeer (magnificent) as Mary and Harriet Walter as Elizabeth. I picked up a book called A Question of Guilt by Julianne Lee at the RWA conference in July in DC. This book is very reminiscent of the great Josephine Tey's Daughter of Time in which a detective, while convalescing examines the evidence against Richard III.
In a Question of Guilt, it is three days after the execution of Mary Stuart and the streets of London are buzing with the news. But not everyone is convinced that the scandalized Queen of Scots was guilty of plotting against her cousin, Elizabeth I - or that she was involved in the murder of her husband, Henry Darnley. Scottish-born Lady Janet de Ros, wife of a wealthy English merchant, thinks the ravishingly beautiful Mary was merely an innocent bystander, betrayed by the machinations of a disloyal court. Determined to uncover the truth, Janet travels from Fotheringhay Castle to Edinburgh to pursue an investigation that could endanger her life - and bring disgrace to her own family.
As Janet investigates, the story is told from the point of view of the people that she is interviewing. Part historical fiction and part mystery, the story is also a portrait of an Elizabethan marriage. Janet risks not just her life but her marriage to her husband Henry to find out the truth.
Philippa Gregory's novel wrote a novel of Mary Queen of Scots called The Other Queen. In September, noted historian Carolly Erickson's book the Memoirs of Mary Queen of Scots will be released. Here's a description of the book:
Born Queen of Scotland, married as a girl to the invalid young King of France, Mary took the reins of the unruly king dom of Scotland as a young widow and fought to keep her throne. A second marriage to her handsome but dissolute cousin Lord Darnley ended in murder and scandal, while a third to the dash - ing Lord Bothwell, the love of her life, gave her joy but widened the scandal and surrounded her with enduring ill repute. Unable to rise above the violence and disorder that swirled around her, Mary escaped to England—only to find herself a prisoner of her ruthless, merciless cousin Queen Elizabeth. Here, in her own riveting account, is the enchanting woman whose name still evokes excitement and compassion—and whose death under the headsman’s axe still draws forth our sorrow.
I haven't read Carolly Erickson's historical fiction but I have read many of her biographies over the years, and I'm eager to see what she does with Mary.
A new biography of Mary was also released just this month. I was intrigued by the title 'An Accidental Tragedy.' I haven't read this one yet but the author, Roderick Graham is not only Scottish, educated at Edinburgh University but he was also the producer of Elizabeth R with Glenda Jackson, a BBC series that was shown on Masterpiece Theater in the 1970's and is now available on DVD.
There is still supposed to be a major film about Mary starring Scarlett Johansen. I'm hoping that it only concerns itself with Mary's early years up to her imprisonment in England but Scarlett is way too young to be playing the middle-aged Mary, nor does she have the acting chops for the part.
Wednesday, August 19, 2009
Chanel was not the first woman designer to break into the male dominated world of fashion in Paris, Madeleine Vionnet and Jeanne Lanvin were already designing by the time Chanel opened her first milliner’s shop. The first major fashion house was created by an Englishmen Charles Worth. He was soon joined by Jacques Doucet and finally Paul Poiret, the man who released women from the straightjacket of the corset early in the 20th century. But Chanel was the first designer to use ordinary fabrics such as jersey, and flannel that were normally associated with the working classes in her designs, and the first to use design element usually found in men’s clothing such as open collared shirts, and men’s ties.
Like many Scandalous Women, Chanel was a master of reinvention. Along the way, she disavowed anyone who knew the true story of her early life. Chanel was born on August 19, 1884 in a hospice to Albert Chanel, an itinerant peddler and Jeanne Devolle. Her parents were not married, making her illegitimate, a fact that she kept hidden out of embarrassment. She was named Gabrielle Bonheur after the nun who took care of her mother. When she was 11, her mother died suddenly and her father disappeared from her life for good. None of Chanel’s relatives were interested in taking in five children, so they were quickly separated; Chanel and her sisters were sent to an orphanage run by nuns in Aubazine, while her two brothers were sent to a work farm. Chanel would later claim that she had been raised by maiden aunts who were cruel to her. Chanel and her sisters lived at the convent for six years, during which Chanel learned how to sew, but it was her Aunt Louise who Chanel spent time with during school holidays who taught her how to sew with imagination..
At the age of twenty, Chanel and her Aunt Adrienne, who was the same age, were living in Moulins, working in a lingerie and hosiery shop. To make extra money, Chanel also worked in a tailor shop, helping to fit the soldiers garrisoned in the town. It was while singing on stage as a lark that Chanel got her nickname of ‘Coco.’ As she sang a song about a Parisian lady who had lost her dog named ‘Coco,’ the crowd of soldiers chanted the refrain. The nickname stuck as Chanel continued to sing as yet another part-time job but her voice was too small make it on the stage as a full-time career.
But it didn’t matter because Chanel had already met the man who would change her life, and introduce her not only to a whole new world but also to the man who was the love of her life. Etienne Balsan came from a wealthy family who had made their fortune in textiles (his older brother Jacques later married Consuelo Vanderbilt Marlborough). At the time of their meeting Etienne was a soldier but he planned to leave the army to raise thoroughbred horses. He and Chanel came to an understanding and she moved in with him at Royallieu, even though he had already had a live-in mistress. Chanel accepted his offer because it was an escape from what she perceived was a dead-end life. Without a dowry and no great beauty, Coco knew that no honorable man with prospects would marry her. Instead she accepted Etienne as her protector. She was twenty-one at the time.
For six years she lived with Balsan. Etienne was no snob, he was friends with the demimonde of Paris as well as the denizens of the high stakes world of horseracing. Chanel was well aware of her outside status in this world. Even then Chanel stood out amongst the sea of overdressed women with huge hats who attended the races at Longchamps and Deauville. Chanel instead dressed like a schoolgirl, with tailored suits, and boater hat. When she rode, she wore jodhpurs like a jockey. Chanel was dark, slim, with sharp black eyes that took in everything. She relished her outsider status at the same time that she railed against it. She was defiant, and pugnacious, determined and ambitious. Since she couldn’t flutter and flatter like his other lady friends, Chanel became Balsan’s buddy, his chum and sidekick, one of the boys. To compensate for her insecurities, she ridiculed the society women they met at racecourses.
Finally, Chanel became bored at doing nothing and being so dependant on Etienne. She was already making hats for his lady friends, so she asked him to set her up in a millinery shop. Instead he offered her his Paris apartment while he attended business in South America, but first he persuaded her to go hunting with him in the Pyrenees. It was here that she met Arthur ‘Boy’ Capel the only man she ever loved. A year older than Chanel, Capel was English, an accomplished polo player, who spoke fluent French. He was handsome with dark hair, and striking green eyes. He loved people, so engaging that people found themselves confiding their deepest secrets to him. His family, who were Catholic, had made their money in coal. Unlike most English gentlemen of his class, Capel worked for a living and enjoyed it. He took the family fortune and multiplied it, diversifying into shipping.
Capel supported Chanel’s ambitions to open a millinery shop. Chanel fell in love. “To me, he was my brother, my father, my whole family,” she later said. When he left early to go back to Paris, Chanel left everything and followed him to the train station, leaving Balsan only a note that read “I am leaving with Boy Capel. Forgive me, but I love him.” Capel on his part loved Chanel's determination and chutzpah. He financed Chanel's first stores and his own clothing style, notably his blazers, inspired her creation of the Chanel look. The couple spent time together at fashionable resorts such as Deauville, but he was never faithful to Chanel. Despite this, Chanel loved him; she hoped that he would marry her. They moved into together while Chanel set up shop in Etienne’s apartment where made hats at first for his former mistresses and then for the society women she met through Boy. He taught her about business since Chanel didn’t know the first thing about overdrafts or inventory.
By the time of the First World War, Chanel had three shops, her first in the Rue Cambon in Paris near the Ritz Hotel, the second in Deauville, and the third in Biarritz. Timing is everything, and Chanel was always in the right place at the right time. The war changed the way women dressed, as middle and upper class women found themselves volunteering in hospitals, driving ambulances, working in offices, and munitions factories while the men were at war. They needed a new style of dressing and Chanel provided it. She was the first to come up with what we now call ‘sports clothes,’ simple dresses of jersey that draped the body that were loose not figure hugging. Simple tops and jackets that reflected the ease of everyday living.
A lieutenant in the army, Boy was busy working behind the scenes as a go-between the French and the English, due to his close relationships with politicians in both governments. Towards the end of the war, Chanel sensed that something was wrong, that he was becoming elusive but she was shocked when Boy told her that he was engaged to be married. His new bride was a war widow and ambulance driver named Diana Lister Wyndham, the daughter of Lord Ribblesdale. Chanel felt betrayed but knew that she could not give him a brilliant marriage, or aristocratic connections. Chanel’s friends rallied around her after Boy’s marriage while her business kept her occupied.
No one was more surprised than Chanel that Boy came to her just before Christmas 1919 to tell her that he missed her, that he wanted her back. He stayed with her for a few days, before leaving to go to Cannes to stay with his wife, who was pregnant, and his sister. He never made it. He had an accident on the road to Cannes; a tire on his car had burst, causing the car to overturn. Boy had been killed in the fire that resulted. Chanel immediately set off for Cannes. She was too late for Boy's funeral, but a driver took Chanel to the site of the crash. She got out, walked to the wreckage, and touched it with her hands. Sitting on a stone, she turned her back, and cried.
Chanel’s early years have been long fascinated movie makers. So far three movies have been made of her early life. The first, Chanel Solitaire (1981), directed by George Kaczender and starring Marie-France Pisier as Chanel, and Timothy Dalton as Boy Capel. It is not available on DVD, only VHS. The television movie Coco Chanel debuted on Lifetime Television, starring Shirley MacLaine as a 70-year-old Chanel. Directed by Christian Duguay, the film also starred Barbora Bobulova as the young Chanel, Olivier Sitruk as Boy Capel. There is also a film starring Audrey Tautou as the young Coco, and American actor Alessandro Nivola as Boy Capel, directed by Anne Fontaine. The film is titled Coco avant Chanel, it was released in France on 22 April 2009, and in the States it will open on September 25, 2009 in New York and Los Angeles.
Sunday, August 16, 2009
That's the plot of the 1943 MGM musical, based on a 1939 Broadway musical with music by Cole Porter, starring Ethel Merman as May. The movie version jettisons most of the music (only 3 of the songs from the musical are used), and delays the dream sequence until almost 50 minutes into the movie. I'd heard about this musical for years but never got around to watching the movie version until recently.
The musical has very little to do with the historical Madame Du Barry. In the movie version, she's his mistress in name only. While Louis showers her with gifts, she has put out yet (very unlike the real Madame Du Barry!). The movie also has nothing to do with historical accuracy either. Tommy Dorsey's orchestra shows up as an 18th century version of a Big Band orchestra, and the costumes are 18th century musical comedy than the real thing.
This movie was the first musical from MGM filmed entirely in technicolor and the first to feature Lucille Ball as a redhead. She dyed her hair for the role and decided to keep it. If you only know Lucille Ball from I Love Lucy, she is a revelation in this film. She plays May Daly as the proverbial gold-digger with the heart of gold. No matter how hard she tries to marry for money, her heart just won't let her. Gene Kelly doesn't really get to show off here the way he does in subsequent MGM musicals. One gets the feeling that the studio is still trying to figure out what to do with him. Red Skelton is the star of the film, showing off physical comedy skills and a sweetness that makes him more than a cheaper version of Danny Kaye. His reactions when he discovers that he has traveled back (or so he thinks) to the 18th century are hilarious. However, the movie is almost stolen by Zero Mostel in his film debut as Rami the Swami.
I highly recommend this film as an entertaining diversion for a rainy afternoon, particularly if you like musicals.
Friday, August 14, 2009
I certainly will be making my vacation plans to attend. It boggles the mind as to who they are going to get to play Anna, Howard Stern, and Larry Birkhead, not to mention Hugh Hefner. I've seen Jerry Springer the Opera, and it was a night I will never forget (David Soul from Starsky and Hutch played Springer).
What I want to know is if the writers are going to include the incident of the Ghost and Ms. Smith. Anna would pretty much say or do anything for publicity. One of the more bizarre stories that she told was the one of her having sex with a ghost. As she told FHM magazine, “A ghost would crawl up my leg and have sex with me at an apartment a long time ago in Texas. I used to think it was my boyfriend, and then one day, I found it wasn’t. I was freaked out at first about it, but then I was, like, well you know what? He’s never hurt me and just gave me amazing sex, so I have no problem.”
Anyone else intrigued by the idea of Anna Nicole the Opera?
Monday, August 10, 2009
Mary Surratt was born Mary Jenkins in Waterloo, MD in 1823. She grew up around slavery and accepted it as a way of life. Her parents were slave-owners, owning a modest plantation, although her father passed away when she just two years old, leaving her mother to pick up the pieces as best she could. Elizabeth Jenkins didn’t remarry, instead she became a competent manager of the properties that her husband left, actually expanding the holdings considerably.
When Mary was sixteen she met John Surratt, who was ten years her senior. Married in 1840 in Washington, DC, over the next four years, Mary gave birth to three children, two sons and a daughter. Married life however turned out to be more of a curse than a blessing. The couple suffered financial worries mainly due to John Surratt’s drinking and gambling. He was also thought to be emotionally and physically abusive to Mary.
Having no one to turn to, Mary confided in her parish priest Father Finotti. The relationship caused gossip and Father Finotti was transferred to Massachusetts. In 1853, John saved enough money to buy property on which he erected a tavern/boarding house in Prince George’s county. The property was twelve miles from Washington, DC, placing it at the crossroads for travelers coming to and from the capitol. While Mary was able to send her children off to school, not wanting them to grow up in the raucous tavern atmosphere, the majority of the work running the tavern fell on her shoulders. 1n 1854, after John Surratt was appointed the area’s postmaster, the town was renamed Surrattsville (now Clinton, MD).
By April 1861, the Civil War had begun. Maryland, although still part of the Union, was a hotbed of confederate sympathizers, including the Surratt family. It was later stated at her trial that Mary Surratt was devoted ‘body and soul to the cause of the South.’ Their eldest son Isaac joined the Confederate army, and John Surratt Jr. was soon working for the Confederate Secret Service as a courier.
The tavern also became known as safe haven for rebel sympathizers, couriers and spies although outwardly they all professed allegiance to the Union. In 1862 John Surratt died suddenly, probably from a severe stroke, leaving Mary burdened with debt. Although the tavern business had done well, John’s drinking and gambling had consumed a great deal of the profits. Mary was now faced with the prospect of being forced into bankruptcy. After consolidating her debts,in 1864, Mary Surratt decided to move to the house she owned in Washington at 541 High Street. The tavern in Surrattsville she rented to an ex-policeman named John Lloyd, who would later provide the key evidence against her in the conspiracy trial. Like the tavern, the boardinghouse soon became known as a safe haven for rebel sympathizers. Although the capitol of the union, Washington still harbored a number of people sympathetic to the South although outwardly pro-Union. Mary’s son John continued his work as confederate courier, although Mary worried constantly that he would be forcibly drafted into the Union army.
John soon made a new friend that would change not only their lives but also the nations. His name was John Wilkes Booth, the devastatingly handsome and incredibly racist actor and confederate sympathizer. A member of the famous Booth family, he had already fallen out with his older brother Edwin, when Edwin admitted that he had voted for Lincoln (Edwin Booth had also once saved the life of Robert Todd Lincoln) Like the Surratts, Booth was from southern Maryland. Booth later boasted that he too had worked for the Confederate secret service. Given his celebrity status as an actor, and his ability to move freely between the North and the South, it seems more than likely.
Booth was introduced to John Surratt Jr. by another name familiar to history, Dr. Samuel Mudd, another confederate sympathizer from southern Maryland. Mudd later became infamous after the assassination for setting Booth’s leg, while Booth was fleeing the authorities. Booth was soon a frequent visitor to Mary Surratt’s boarding house in Washington. As well as being incredibly handsome, Booth was also charming and persuasive (he was found to have pictures of 5 of his girlfriends in his pocket after his death). Mary’s daughter Anna was quite sweet on the handsome actor, and it has been speculated that Mary wasn’t immune to his charms either.Soon Booth had involved Mary’s son John, and several other conspirators in a plot to kidnap Lincoln.
Over the months of planning, Booth spent a great deal of time at the boarding house. He was also seen in private conversations with Mary, although no one knows what they talked about. Soon after Lincoln’s second inauguration, the conspirators decided to grab Lincoln on the way back from his weekend retreat, but the President foiled them by changing his plans.Booth was incensed at being thwarted. He’d already missed an opportunity to assassinate Lincoln at the inauguration. On Palm Sunday, Robert E. Lee surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House. The week before Richmond had fallen to Union forces. Mary Surratt was seen to weep over the South’s failure and defeat as the capitol erupted into revelry at the news.
Louis Weichmann, a friend and former schoolmate of John Surratt Jr. lived at the boarding house on H Street. He later testified that on the day of the assassination, April 14, Mary Surratt sent him to hire a buggy for another two-hour ride to Surrattsville. Weichmann reported that Surratt took along "a package, done up in paper, about six inches in diameter." Surratt and Weichmann arrived sometime after four at Surratt's tavern. Surratt went inside while Weichmann waited outside or spent time in the bar. Surratt remained inside about two hours. Between six and six-thirty, shortly before their return trip to Washington, Weichmann saw Mary Surratt speaking privately in the parlor of the tavern with John Wilkes Booth. At nine o'clock, Surratt saw Booth for a last time when he visited her home in Washington. After the visit, according to Weichmann, Surratt's demeanor changed--she became "very nervous, agitated and restless."
Three days after the assassination, on April 17, 1865, Mary Surratt was arrested at her boarding house on H Street. It didn’t help her case, that Lewis Powell, one of the conspirators who had attempted to kill Secretary of State Seward, showed up at her front door claiming to be a workman. Although she denied she had ever seen him before, his appearance, plus a bullet mold and cap, were enough to warrant her arrest. Mary proclaimed her innocence; she denied any knowledge that she knew what Booth had planned. She claimed that her trips out to the tavern were simply to collect a past debt. However her tenant John Lloyd testified that she had given him packages to hold for Booth.
Mary was taken to prison where she was held, until her trial, which proceeded swiftly. There were arguments that continue to this day about whether or not the defendants should have been tried by a military tribunal instead of a civil trial. It is possible that the government worried that it would be hard to find an impartial jury amongst the pool of eligible men in Maryland, Washington and Virginia. She was tried along with seven other conspirators including Lewis Powell, who proclaimed her innocent, George Azerodt, and David Herold.
Although Mary had the money to hire a good defense lawyer, her case was given over into the hands of two inexperienced associates in the law office of her chief counsel Reverdy Johnson, who disappeared after the first few days in court. The prosecution made mincemeat out of the defenses witnesses to her character. Mary didn’t help herself by appearing in court everyday heavily veiled so that no one could see her face, nor did she give her lawyers a convincing argument for her actions. Since criminal defendants were not allowed to take the stand, Mary was not able to give her side of the story. The tabloids were hungry for blood, vilifying her on a daily basis, attacking her looks and her character, accusing her of hastening her husband’s death.
She was convicted mainly on the testimony of Louis Weichmann and John Lloyd. The jury voted the death penalty for her but added a recommendation for mercy due to her "sex and age." The recommendation was that the penalty be changed to life in prison. 5 of the 12 commissioners of the military tribunal petitioned President Andrew Johnson to show clemency because of her age and sex. Although only 42, she was at least two decades older than the other defendants. By 19th century standards, she was an old woman. President Andrew Johnson maintained that he never was shown the plea for mercy although several cabinet members stated that he was. Judge Advocate Joseph Holt said he had been in Johnson's presence when the president read the plea. However, Johnson believed that Mary Surratt ‘kept the next that hatched the egg,’ of the conspiracy and deserved to be hung (he also said that more women during the war should have been hung. Nice man!).
And where was her son John? Well after the aborted kidnapping, John continued his work as a courier. He was actually in Elmira, NY when the assassination occurred; from there he fled to Canada since it was neutral and had no extradition with the United States. From there he made his way to Europe where he served in the Pope’s army. It wasn’t until two years later that authorities caught up with him in Egypt and brought him back to stand trial in 1867. Surratt maintained that his mother was innocent as well but it was too much, too little, too late since she was dead. Surratt’s trial ended in a mistrial.
As for Mary, she went to the gallows on July 7, 1865, along with Powell, Herold and Azerodt. Right up until the end, people expected that her sentence would be commuted. Four years after her death, her daughter Anna petitioned successfully to have her mother reburied in Mount Olivet cemetery in DC. Her grave simply reads Mrs. Surratt.
Although during her trial, newspapers and public opinion considered her guilty, after her execution the tide swung the other way. Mary Surratt’s situation pointed out the changing roles of women in society, particularly during the Civil War where women not only served as nurses but also as soldiers, spies, abolitionists, wearing pants in public. Women particularly working in espionage posed a dilemma for Union soldiers and federal officials. Did they treat them like they would a man? Or did they deserve special treatment because of their sex?
It seems clear from the evidence that Mary knew about Booth’s plan to kidnap the President, whether she knew about his plan to assassinate Lincoln is still unclear and historians will probably still be debating this point for years to come. While Powell claimed Mary was innocent, George Azerodt and David Herold claimed until the end that she was not. What is clear is that Mary Surratt gave safe harbor to Booth, treated him like family, and aided and abetted his efforts. Perhaps if John Surratt had given himself up when Mary was arrested, she would have been spared.
The Assassin’s Accomplice – Kate Clifford Larson, Basic Books, 2008
Manhunt: The 12 Day Hunt for Lincoln’s Killer – James L. Swanson, HarperCollins, 2006
Assassination Vacation – Sarah Vowell
A Treasury of Foolishly Forgotten Americans – Michael Farquhar, Penguin, 2008
Tuesday, August 4, 2009
Amidst a backdrop of alleys, galleries and flesh-houses of 19th-century industrial London, Desperate Romantics follows the life and love affairs of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, a group of revolutionary artists as well-known for their intertwining love lives as for their ground-breaking paintings. The scandalous love triangles with their models became the subject of much gossip among their contemporaries, particularly as these relationships often crossed the class barriers of polite Victorian society.
Rafe Spall stars as William ‘Maniac’ Holman Hunt, a founding member of the Brotherhood; Tom Hollander plays the influential art critic and patron John Ruskin; Aidan Turner is Dante Gabriel Rossetti, notorious for seducing his models; Samuel Barnett plays John Everett Millais, whose relationship with Ruskin’s wife, Effie, played by Zoe Tapper, created fevered public speculation; Amy Manson plays Rossetti’s true love Lizzie Siddal, the model for Millais’ most highly regarded painting, Ophelia; Sam Crane plays Fred Walters, the group’s loyal friend and diarist; and Jennie Jacques plays Annie Miller, the prostitute whose relationship with Hunt has dramatic repercussions.
This colourful drama from BBC Drama Production is written by award-winning writer Peter Bowker (Blackpool, Occupation) and executive produced by Hilary Salmon (Criminal Justice, House Of Saddam), for BBC Drama Production. Co-executive producer is Franny Moyle, whose factual book, Desperate Romantics: The Private Lives Of The Pre-Raphaelites, has inspired the drama series. The series is produced by Ben Evans (Kenneth Williams: Fantabulosa!, Curse Of Comedy).
Kate Harwood, Controller, Series and Serials, BBC Drama Production, says: “Desperate Romantics paints a modern, vivid and irreverent portrait of a group of young painters whose attitude to the establishment makes them comparable to the punks a hundred years later.”
Aiden Turner (Millais) and Tom Hollander (Ruskin)
The actors all look young and sexy and the costumes gorgeous. After I wrote my post on Lizzie Siddal, I began to wish that someone would make a miniseries out of their story and here it is. I've read some reviews that say the production takes some historical liberties, which I know is going to tick me off but I'm willing to give it a chance. Since I am blessed with a region free DVD player, I will be reviewing this series as soon as it comes out on DVD. However, I just discovered that episode 2 is up at YouTube, so I'll have to check it out. I will also in the upcoming months be writing posts about Jane Morris and the love triangle between Millias, John Ruskin and his wife Effie Ruskin, one of my favorites because it has a happy ending.
Monday, August 3, 2009
While there have been many historical fiction books written about Mary, most famously The Other Boleyn Girl, this appears to be the first straight-up biography of Mary in years. I have no idea whether or not this book will be released in the States or not. I hope so, although since it was just published in the UK, we may not get it for several months.
Another interesting book I found was this one about Lady Jane Grey and her sisters Katherine and Mary. Everyone has heard about Lady Jane Grey, the 9 day Queen, but her sisters were also put under pressure because they were so close to the throne.
The dramatic untold story of the three tragic Grey sisters, all heirs to the Tudor throne, all victims to their royal blood. Lady Jane Grey is an icon of innocence abused. Remembered as the 'Nine Days Queen', she has been mythologized as a child-woman sacrificed to political expedience. But behind the legend lay a rebellious adolescent who became a leader, and no mere victim. Growing up in her shadow, Jane's sisters Katherine and Mary would have to tread carefully to survive. The dramatic lives of the younger Grey sisters remain little known, but both women became heirs and rivals to the Tudor monarchs, Mary and Elizabeth I. To gain Queen Mary's trust, teenaged Katherine ignored Jane's final request not to change her religion, only to risk her life with a marriage that threatened Queen Elizabeth's throne. While Katherine's friends fought to save her, the youngest Grey sister, Mary, stayed at court. Though too poor and plain to be significant, she looked set to escape the burden of her royal blood. But then she too fell in love and incurred the Queen's fury. Exploding the many myths of Lady Jane's life, and casting fresh light onto Elizabeth's reign, acclaimed historian Leanda de Lisle brings the Grey sisters' tumultuous world to life: at a time when a royal marriage could gain you a kingdom, or cost you everything.
Another interesting book is one on Henry VIII's mistresses. I'm intrigued by this book because apart from Mary Boleyn and Bessie Blount, I haven't been aware that Henry had that many mistresses compared to say Charles II who pretty much populated Restoration England with his children.
Everybody thinks they know the tale of King Henry VIII's wives: divorced, beheaded died; divorced, beheaded, survived. But behind this familiar story, lies a far more complex truth. This book brings together for the first time the 'other women' of King Henry VIII. When he first came to the throne, Henry VIII's mistresses were dalliances, the playthings of a powerful and handsome man. However, when Anne Boleyn disrupted that pattern, ousting Katherine of Aragon to become Henry's wife, a new status quo was established. Suddenly noble families fought to entangle the king with their sisters and daughters; if wives were to be beheaded or divorced so easily, the mistress of the king was in an enviable position. While Henry VIII has frequently been portrayed as a womanizer, author Philippa Jones reveals a new side to his character. Although he was never faithful, Jones sees him as a serial monogamist: he spent his life in search of a perfect woman, a search that continued even as he lay dying when he was considering divorcing Catherine Parr thus leaving him free to marry Katherine d'Eresby. Yet he loved each of his wives and mistresses, he was a romantic who loved being in love, but none of these loves ever fully satisfied him; all were ultimately replaced. "The Other Tudors" examines the extraordinary untold tales of the women who Henry loved but never married, the mistresses who became queens and of his many children, both acknowledged and unacknowledged. Philippa Jones takes us deep into the web of secrets and deception at the Tudor Court and explores another, often unmentioned, side to the King's character.