Friday, November 29, 2013

An anthology of alluring vinyl covers

Classique: Cover Art for Classical Music is a treasury after mine own heart, because I love to hunt out vintage LPs with great cover art and frame them. (I also have six cartons of vinyl that I can't bear to part with and a retro record player.) Back in the day when we didn't have so much media, one would pour over an album's cover art and liner notes whilst being mesmerized by the contents. The large format gave designers plenty of room to work with, and the results were often spectacular, as well as alluring.
The bold designs of Alex Steinweiss, who created the first graphic album cover, are much prized by collectors. The cover of the Taschen book on his work above uses his famous "Steinweiss" cursive font. Below are a few examples of the diversity of styles employed by cover artists to convey the music's character. The book covers the period from the 1950s to the 1980s.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Vintage Thanksgiving cards

Here are some sweet Thanksgiving cards you can download and e-mail to friends and family. Have a festive and safe holiday everyone!
 How about this for a holiday-themed book: The Gift of Thanks: The Roots and Rituals of Gratitude? Nice cover illustration too.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Bumble-Ardy: Maurice Sendak's valedictory kids' book

Bumble-Ardy, who began life as a cartoon boy Maurice Sendak created for Sesame Street in the 1970s, is the title character of his final children's book. When Sendak died in 2012, the sorrow and the accolades pervaded the media. In The Guardian, playwright Tony Kushner called him  "one of the most important, if not the most important, writers and artists to ever work in children's literature. In fact, he's a significant writer and artist in literature. Period."
"The book will challenge parents for the same reason it will thrill children: Briefly, it permits the dream of misbehavior without reproach or consequences."—The Atlantic.
NPR dubbed Bumble-Ardy "dark and deeply imaginative, much like his classic works Where the Wild Things Are and In The Night Kitchen. In the illustrations below, you can tell that the invitees at Bumbel-Ardy's ninth birthday bash and costume ball are having a bit of a "wild rumpus"themselves!
"For Sendak, visiting the land of the very young is not something that requires a visa. He is a permanent citizen."—Time
Where the Wild Things Are won the Caldecott Medal as the "most distinguished picture book of the year" in 1964, and was later adapted into an opera and a film. "The Wild Things were actually modelled, he said, on his Jewish uncles and aunts who racketed around his childhood, unpredictably and on the whole in a well-intentioned if slightly threatening vein."—The Guardian
In 1964, when the American Library Association awarded Wild Things the Caldecott Medal for most distinguished illustrated book, Sendak made the following comments in his acceptance speech: "[It's] an awful fact of childhood.The fact of [a child's] vulnerability to fear, anger, hate, frustration—all the emotions that are an ordinary part of their lives and that they can only perceive as dangerous, ungovernable forces. To master these forces, children turn to fantasy: that imaginary world where disturbing emotional situations are solved to their satisfaction…. Through fantasy, Max, the hero of my book, discharges his anger against his mother and returns to the real world sleepy, hungry and at peace with himself ... it is through fantasy that children achieve catharsis. It is the best means they have for taming Wild Things." He later told The Guardian, "I refuse to lie to children. I refuse to cater to the bullshit of innocence." And from NPR:
Sendak says his own unhappy childhood is the reason that danger lurks in his picture books. The Holocaust claimed the lives of many of his family members. The kidnapping of the Lindbergh baby terrified him. He had an uneasy relationship with his father.
"Childhood is a tricky business," Sendak says. "Usually, something goes wrong."
That theme got him into trouble with adult critics in the past, but he's not worried about how his younger readers will react.
"Kids," he explains, "are so shrewd."
Although boys are the protagonists of his most famous books, Sendak once admitted a soft spot for girls:
I would infinitely prefer a daughter. If I had a son, I would leave him at the A&P or some other big advertising place where somebody who needs a kid would find him and he would be all right. ... A daughter would be drawn to me. A daughter would want to help me. Girls are infinitely more complicated than boys and women more than men. And there's no doubt about that. We just don't like to think about it. Certainly the men don't like to think about it. I have lived my whole life with a dream daughter. 
In the final scene of Bumble-Ardy, the rumpus is over and all is well.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Duke Ellington and Alfred Hitchcock: outsized appetites

Two larger-than-life cultural figures whose outsized appetites seem never to have been satiated are Alfred Hitchcock and Duke Ellington. Appearances were essential to Ellington—who got the nickname "Duke" in high school, after all. Even during the Depression, Ellington brought five trunks of clothes and an extra one of shoes with him on tour. Yet as Terry Teachout reveals in his comprehensive new biography Duke: A Life of Duke Ellington, his calorie consumption wreaked havoc with his waistline and the fit of his snazzy clothes:
Beneath it all he wore a corset, a useful tool for a performer whose appetite for food was as gargantuan as his appetite for sex. One of Ellington’s nicknames was “Dumpy,” and Tricky Sam Nanton paid awestruck tribute to his capacity: “He’s a genius, all right, but Jesus, how he eats!” Some of his best-remembered quirks had to do with food, such as his practice of wrapping up a leftover chop in a handkerchief or napkin, then tucking it in one of his pockets after a meal. It was a habit he had acquired in his early days, when food, like money, was harder to come by. “After a while, you eat in self-defense,” he told Whitney Balliett. “You get so you hoard little pieces of food against the time when there isn’t going to be any.”
In the course of what the Boston Globe calls "an impressively lucid, compact narrative,"  Teachout quotes a journalist's description of Duke chowing down that seems almost Rabelaisian in its excess:
Duke, who is always worrying about keeping his weight down, may announce that he intends to have nothing but Shredded Wheat and black tea. . . . Duke’s resolution about not overeating frequently collapses at this point. When it does, he orders a steak, and after finishing it he engages in another moral struggle for about five minutes. Then he really begins to eat. He has another steak, smothered in onions, a double portion of fried potatoes, a salad, a bowl of sliced tomatoes, a giant lobster and melted butter, coffee, and an Ellington dessert — perhaps a combination of pie, cake, ice cream, custard, pastry, jello, fruit, and cheese. His appetite really whetted, he may order ham and eggs, a half-dozen pancakes, waffles and syrup, and some hot biscuits. Then, determined to get back on his diet, he will finish, as he began, with Shredded Wheat and black tea.
Ellington rehearses "Long, Long Journey" with Louis Armstrong during a session at the RCA Victor recording studio in New York, Jan. 12, 1946 (AP). Teachout has also written a critically acclaimed biography of Armstrong.
“I’m easy to please. I just want to have everybody in the palm of my hand.”
—Edward Kennedy ("Duke") Ellington.  
A self-taught musician who ranks as one of the greatest of all American composers, Ellington left behind approximately 1,700 works. Our current Ellington offerings in music include a Grammy-winning set of his suites, a collection of song interpretations by Sarah Vaughan, and a trio recording with Charles Mingus called Money Jungle.
I once read an article in which a journalist watched Alfred Hitchcock order and consume a multi-course meal at a Hollywood eatery that would make a Roman plutocrat blanch, yet turn around, still peckish, and order the entire repast again after dessert. When dining out, he would habitually have three steaks, followed by three bowls of ice cream.
I'm getting the sense that both men, although geniuses in their fields, were working out a sense of childhood deprivation through their appetites—for both food and women. At a recent 50th anniversary screening of The Birds at the Virginia Film Festival, Tippi Hedren confirmed rumors that Alfred Hitchcock tried to put the moves on her as they made both that film and Marnie.
A youthful Hitch and his wife, Alma Reville, in a library and below, with an impressive cake!
Well, at least Tippi Hedren gets to have the last word!

Friday, November 22, 2013

Kennedy assassination reports unfold on the wires

"STAY OFF ALL OF YOU   STAY OFF AND KEEP OFF   GET OFF" —wire services message after news flash about motorcade shooting in Dallas
President John F. Kennedy's assassination is all over the news today, as it was 50 years ago when he was struck down in Dallas. Television programs flash images of Jackie in her bloodstained pink suit (never cleaned, it remains in a vault at the National Archives), and a ceremony featuring the final paragraphs of the speech JFK never got to deliver is being held at Dealey Plaza. The University of Virginia library has a digital facsimile of the UPI wire services transmittals for the unfolding event, which is still horrific and gripping reading lo these many years later. (Right: the teletype printout of the UPI wire from Jacksonville, FL, from just before the first report of Kennedy’s shooting to the end of the day.)
I was at recess when the news spread like wildfire through the schoolyard in Ottawa, where my father was an exchange Air Force officer. For days, my traumatized parents haunted the basement where our tv resided, watching the live funeral coverage along with a shocked and grieving nation—and world. Anyone else who remembers hearing the news, please share when and where.
Robert Kennedy was photographed holding Jackie's hand and was at her side bolstering her up during the entire ordeal of the funeral. His and Jack's very special relationship is chronicled in The Kennedy Brothers: The Rise and Fall of Jack and Bobby by Richard Mahoney.
By one recent estimate, more than 40,000 books have been written on the Kennedy assassination(!) Larry Sabato, whose work on Kennedy's presidential legacy was profiled in a recent PBS documentary called The Kennedy Half Century, has this challenge for you on myths regarding J.F.K.
This photograph of then-Sen. John F. Kennedy and his brother, Robert Kennedy, was taken in April 1960 on the night of the Wisconsin presidential primary. The President was only 45 when he died. ( Life/Stan Wayman)
Read here about a previous attempt to kill Kennedy, after the election and before he took office.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Costumes of Hollywood royalty: dressed to the nines

Today I'm bringing you highlights from a fantastic exhibit called Hollywood Costume at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond. It's on view there from now through February 17, 2014 and is the only East Coast showing of the collection, curated originally by the Victoria and Albert museum in London. Exhaustively researched, it displays more than 100 of the most recognizable costumes designed for unforgettable characters in cinema. (I've linked throughout to discount books and DVDs relating to these film icons if you'd like to stock up.)
The exhibition includes cinema costumes from private and studio archives, and most have never been publicly displayed or available for viewing. It explores in detail how the design and use of costume has been central to the creation of some of the most iconic characters in popular culture and is a key component in what is one of the greatest art forms of the 20th century.  The artistry, mastery, and methods of Hollywood’s greatest costume designers is duly honored in this magnificent array of creations.
Showing different eras of sexuality and style are Marilyn Monroe's va va voom dress from The Seven Year Itch (1955); Claudette Colbert's seductive green silk satin gown from Cecil B. DeMille's epic Cleopatra (1934); Marlene Dietrich’s tuxedo from Morocco (1930); and her amazing chiffon gown for Angel (1937), trimmed in Russian sable and embroidered with hand-sewn sequins and Austrian crystal beads.

As if that wasn't enough, the exhibit is complemented by another one called Made in Hollywood, which showcases more than 90 original vintage prints by the most important photographers working there from 1920–1960. Selected from the Kobal Foundation collection in England, it features portraits of some of the greatest stars during the golden age of the film industry, including Chaplin, Garbo, Dietrich, Bogart, Gable, and dozens more. Right: Judi Dench wore this splendid getup to play Queen Elizabeth in Shakespeare in Love, 1998. The red costume behind it was worn by Katharine Hepburn in Mary of Scotland, 1936.
Above: Jean Harlow and Elizabeth Taylor, from the Kobel collection. Below: "super-duper Gary Cooper"; Dietrich strikes a pose; famous screen couples Gable and Crawford and Fred & Ginger.
Hedy Lamarr, one of the more fabled beauties of Tinseltown.
A Monroe candid
Vivien Leigh pondering better days in GWTW.
Boy genius Orson Welles
Fight Club costumes
Audrey Hepburn, being "loverly"
 Russell Crowe’s battle armor from Gladiator (2000) is featured, as are Charlton Heston’s duds from Ben Hur.
 Villains are not slighted either. Cruella de Vil and Ming the Merciless make a good couple, eh?

Further reading/viewing: