Sunday, 27 February 2011

Style Icon XIX: Ian Lancaster Fleming

James Bond inventor Ian Fleming (1908-1964),was something of a snappy dresser, with his loosely knotted polka dot bow tie and his suede loafers. Here he is an an airport, looking very pleased with himself. Recently, the government of Jamaica has renamed Boscobel Aerodrome: Ian Fleming International Airport, which is a nice gesture, especially as it is the airport which he used.

Style Icon XVIII: Rudolph Valentino

I have already written about him on this site but he could not be omitted from the roll call:

He is seen with his second wife, Natacha Rambova (really called Winifred Hudnut!), who gave him a platinum slave bracelet (visible on his right wrist in the photograph), which he never removed and, indeed, it provoked a critical editorial from a journalist and a great deal of acrimony. He still wore it after the divorce from Rambova and his manager, George Ullman, said that he was entombed wearing it - which makes sense to me because who, except a thief, would have had the heart to remove it? Moreover, Ullman orchestrated the funeral and would have seen Valentino in the coffin. However, I have discovered a report that a platinum chain was shown in a glass case, under guard, at the auction of Valentino's possessions, in December 1926 but no one seems to know for sure what happened to it; which is amazing for something that was so famous at the time and, maybe, suggests that the chain shown at the auction (and, presumably, sold) was not the chain; if that is right, the new owner probably knew this and so it just sank into obscurity, while the famous chain is still on Valentino. I rather hope so.

Three Style Icons For the Price of One: Bogey (XVI); William Holden (XVII) and Audrey Hepburn

The still is from Sabrina (1954).

Friday, 25 February 2011

Andy Garcia Off-screen

Here is Garcia off-screen at a recent film awards in Deauville, with one of his daughters. He is carrying off a four-in-hand tie with his DJ-Tux far better than most of them do and he has nearly convinced me!

Style Icon XIV: Andy Garcia

Just to prove that, if I have one foot in the past, I am still looking forwards: Andy Garcia is in the still from his wonderful film The Lost City (2006)in which he stars and directs. The co-stars include the delectable Inès Sastre; Bill Murray and Dustin Hoffman. Slated by the mainstream critics, it is still, to my mind, a great film: centring on the 1959 revolution in Cuba and its consequences.

Born in 1956 in Cuba, the family later moved to the USA. Garcia first found full recognition when he played Vincent Mancini in The Godfather Part III (1990) and he was nominated for a best supporting actor Oscar ; he was also in The Untouchables (1987) and the more recent Ocean's Eleven -Thirteen film series.

Some Living Style Icons

In due course, we will be turning to the likes of: Tom Cruise, Vinny Jones, Ricky Gervaise, Jonathan Woss, Wayne Rooney, Jamie Oliver, Jimmy Carr and Nicholas Cage.

This will be the day that Lucifer feels the need for an astrakhan-collared overcoat with matching Jinnah cap; a pair of chamois gloves and a cashmere-backed, silk muffler, against the cold, as Hell starts to freeze over.

This post has no picture.

Thursday, 24 February 2011

'Our Man in Havana'

You can nearly see him moving. It's a very amusing film indeed. Left click for a larger view:

Style Icon XIII: Noel Coward


Noel Coward (1899-1973) in his brown DJ-Tux on a dried lake bed in the Nevada desert, during his cabaret tour of the USA "I like America. America's OK". The photograph is by Loomis Dean (1917-2005), for Life magazine

In Which We Serve

In Which We Serve (1942), written and starred in by Noel Coward and co-directed by him with David Lean, must be one of the best (if not the best) propaganda war films ever made; a fact reflected by the award, in 1942, of an honorary Oscar to Coward for his achievement in its production. In the midst of war, they mustered a star cast, including Celia Johnson (as Captain Kinross's wife); Bernard Miles as Chief Petty Officer Hardy; Derek Elphinstone as Number 1; Michael Wilding as the Flag Officer; Joyce Carey as Mrs Hardy; John Mills as Ordinary Seaman Blake and Richard Attenborough as a powder-handler, who is caught shirking his duty (later redeeming himself). There is a stirring voice-over by Leslie Howard, not long before he died on war service; all making for a wonderful way in which to fill 114 minutes: the story is told in flashback of the events leading to the sinking of the fictional HMS Torrin (which are loosely based on the sinking of Captain Lord Louis Mountbatten's ship HMS Kelly in the battle of Crete) and the lives of the officers and crew and their families in war-torn Britain.

In the picture the captain is addressing his officers and crew.

Style Icon XII: Michael Wilding

Michael Wilding (1912-1979), shown above with his second wife (1952-1957) Elizabeth Taylor, had a film career which began in the early 1930s with bit parts. Probably his most memorable films are In Which We Serve (1942); English Without Tears (1944); The Courtneys of Curzon Street (1947); An Ideal Husband and Spring in Park Lane (1948); Maytime in Mayfair (1949), and then later on, Waterloo (1970) and Lady Caroline Lamb (1972).

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Ebony Wood

The main types of ebony are Macassar ebony and Gabon ebony. Gabon is the blackest ebony, which (seldom ever completely black), may range in colour from dark green (streaked with black), through shades of brown to black. It has a number of applications, including: razor handles, brush backs, buttonhook handles, knife handles, inlay, piano keys, walking sticks, fruit bowls, and chess pieces. Although it is a hard dense wood, it is also brittle and may easily crack under pressure; therefore it needs careful handling when in the making and in subsequent use. Soft woods are sometimes 'ebonized' with stain to make them resemble ebony. Indeed, even ebony is sometimes stained or lacquered (as is probably the case with the above military pattern hair brushes), to give it a solid black appearance.

Monday, 21 February 2011

Style Icon XI: Robert Donat

Judy Garland once said that when she sang the song Dear Mr Gable (You Made Me Love You), in Broadway Melody (1938), she was really singing it to Robert Donat (1905-1958) and, two years later, in the year that the Technicolor, all-time-blockbuster Gone With The Wind was released, with Clark Gable as Rhett Butler, Robert Donat's consummate performance as Mr Chips in Good-bye Mr Chips brought him that year's Oscar for best actor, above several other strong contenders. Walter Matthau once said that he had been in a West End London pub with Donat when a little old lady came up to him and asked for his autograph and then said "You're such a comfort" and, watching the films, it is possible to see what she meant. He didn't make as many films as they wanted him to, owing to chronic, extreme ill health and many film roles that have become classics (such as Willie in Hobson's Choice, actually starring John Mills), would have been his as first choice. Of the films that he did make, Mr Chips; The Winslow Boy (1948) and The Thirty Nine Steps (1935) are my favourites; although his last film appearance, as the mandarin in The Inn of The Sixth Happiness (1958), is especially moving: his character fades out from the screen with the words: "We shall not see each other again, I think. Farewell" and Robert Donat died before the film was released. Donat was also a renowned stage actor.
In the still from The Thirty Nine Steps, he is with co-star Madeleine Carroll.The Hawes & Curtis hound's-tooth suit was spoiled in the chase sequence when he was hiding under the waterfall on the moor and Donat made such a fuss about it that Hitchcock had Hawes & Curtis make a new one - but with short trousers.

Sunday, 20 February 2011

Style Icon X: George Brent

Bette Davis' favourite male lead was George Brent (1899-1979). Brent had been born in Ireland and went to America during the difficult period leading to Irish independence. From 1930, he starred in a host of films, including thirteen with Bette Davis, from Front Page Woman (1935) to Jezebel (1938) and The Great Lie (1941). His last film, after a long absence from the big screen, was in Born Again in 1978. One of his four wives was Ann Sheridan, featured below in this blog. In this picture he is with Bette Davis.

Saturday, 19 February 2011

O! All Right Then! Here's a Living One: Lena Headey

And she is English to boot.

Not to forget Grace Kelly.

As though we might:

Vivien Leigh

Ann Sheridan

Rita Hayworth stripping off ... a single glove

And Loretta Young.

Hedy Lamarr

And another favourite photograph; this time of Hedy Lamarr. To my mind there isn't an actress of modern times who comes even close to them. Those old Hollywood moguls certainly knew how to pick them. Some other favourites are coming up.

Ava Gardner

I just discovered this photograph of Ava Gardner and would like to share it, as I think that it is most beguiling. In fact, her spectacular beauty aside, it is a great photograph, because it captures something else. I don't know what it is. Who does? That's the million dollar question, isn't it? The answer would be worth a lot more.

Friday, 18 February 2011

Style Icon IX: John Gilbert

Satuday's icon will be Valentino's greatest rival; the tragic John Gilbert, The Great Lover (1897-1936), seen here with sometime real life clinch, Greta Garbo, in A Woman of Affairs (1928):
Gilbert was an early silent film star and a best remembered early film is Monte Cristo (1922). Moving from Fox to MGM, he starred in The Merry Widow (1925) and La Boheme (1926) and it was in 1926 that he first starred with Greta Garbo in Flesh and The Devil. He would have counted her amongst his four wives but she failed to turn up to the ceremony and and an argument erupted; he decked Louis B Mayer, who then gradually destroyed his film career. However, Garbo and Gilbert continued to be paired on screen in Love (1927), and A Woman of Affairs. He did move into talkies but his career declined. He starred once more with Garbo, in Queen Christina (1933) but he was already in the grips of alcoholism and even an affair with Marlene Dietrich couldn't keep him alive. He died, aged 38, in 1936.

Style Icon VIII: George Sanders

I have just lost the text that I had written for this about George Sanders (1906-1972). I believe that this was caused by an anti-virus merchant interfering with my computer because I refuse to subscribe to its products. Does anyone else have this kind of experience with these twisters? I shall have to come back to the text later as I am pushed for time.

Meanwhile, in the above stills, he is playing, in order: Jack Favell "Rebecca's favourite cousin", in Hitchcock's Rebecca (1940); theatre critic Addison De Witt in All About Eve (1950), for which he won the Oscar for best supporting actor, and Benjamin Ballon in Pink Panther sequel A Shot in The Dark (1964).

That's all for the moment from cyber The Village of The Damned!

As for the rest: out of all his many films, maybe he will be most remembered for Rebecca; All About Eve;; playing Leslie Charteris' Saint, long before Roger Moore; The Ghost and Mrs Muir (1947), and, of course as the voice of Shere Khan in the animation film of Rudyard Kipling's Jungle Book (1967). He had a well modulated baritone singing voice that brought him a part (which he declined) in Show Boat and was also an accomplished pianist. Four failed marriages, a career in the doldrums and declining health led him to kill himself in Spain in 1972.

Thursday, 17 February 2011

Style Icon VII: 1961 Bentley S2 Continental 4 door saloon 'The Flying Spur'

With special, long, low, sweeping coachwork by H J Mulliner, the Bentley models (as opposed to the RR models later made) were the only ones rightfully called the Flying Spur, after the crest of the Johnstone clan, to which belonged the chairman of H J Mulliner at that time. Built between 1959 and 1962, equipped with a 6.231 litre, V8 engine; a top speed of 113 MPH and a touring speed of 112 MPH, it is one of the sleekest and most alluring touring cars that Bentley ever built. A surprising number of them are still being driven and, I dare say, will be driven for decades yet, as succeeding generations of 21st century production cars (even buildings, come to that), are being 'recycled'.

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Style Icon VI: Rex Harrison

Born Reginald Carey Harrison (1908-1990), he adopted the name Rex at the age of ten and started acting at the Liverpool Playhouse at the age of sixteen. His first big break came in 1927 in a London production of Charley's Aunt but it was his performance in Heroes Don't Care that made Alexander Korda sign him for film work and they made the amusing Storm in A Teacup in 1936 but he continued with stage work, including French Without Tears (1936) and Design For Living (1939). He undertook War Servive between 1942-1944 and, after the War, had his first big film success in Blithe Spirit (1945), shortly followed by The Rake's Progress.

Hollywood claimed him and films included Anna and The King of Siam (1946) and The Ghost and Mrs Muir (1947) (which I remember watching with a fairly unemotional female work colleague one rainy afternoon until she burst into quite astonishing and uncontrollable tears at the end!).

Bell, Book and Candle was a further stage play (1950) and there were parts in several plays by George Bernard Shaw, leading to My Fair Lady, a musical adaptation of Pygmalion on stage in NY and London between 1956-1959 (my parents saw it just after they were married). He took his second Tony award and the Oscar for best actor for the film performance in 1964. For many years he had kept a villa at Portofino, Italy, where he enjoyed spening time with his six wives. He has been cited, by Archie Leach, as one of the influences in his creation and development of Cary Grant.

In this picture he is with Jack Warner and Audrey Hepburn: all very sveldt.

Saturday, 12 February 2011

Style Icon V: Scrope Berdmore Davies

Scrope (pronounced 'Scroop') Berdmore Davies (1782-1852), was a son of a Gloucestershire clergyman who went to Eton with a King's scholarship and thence to Cambridge, where he eventually became a fellow of King's College. He became friends with Byron in 1807 and shared adventures of wine, women, song and high stakes' gaming with him in London. One night, Davies was left, by his despairing friends, to 'the demons of the dice box', to which he had already lost a packet, but they discovered him the next morning fast asleep; his chamber pot brimming over with banknotes to the tune of about one thousand pounds. So adroit a gambler was he that, by 1815, he had amassed about twenty two thousand pounds and he also had the benefit of his King's College fellowship. However, by 1820 (fours years after Brummell), he fled in debt to the continent, where he enjoyed a longer sunset that Brummell, dying during the night of 23-24th May 1852 of a seizure. He was buried in Montmartre Cemetery.

Byron rated him as one of the cleverest men that he knew in conversation and, although he is less remembered now than Brummell, he surely shared the template for Brummellian restraint in dress and demeanour, together with a lambent wit.

Papers found in a trunk in a Pall Mall bank in 1976 turned out to have been left behind by Davies, and included meticulously kept gaming books, showing that he had used method in his gaming; an original manuscript of part of Byron's Childe Harold's Pilgimage as well as many letters from Byron and early drafts of poems by Shelley.

Byron once remarked that it was a shame that Davies had not abandoned his King's College fellowship and married so that he could have sired some Scrooples.

As to Davies's own wit: on Brummell's attempts to learn French after his exile, Davies remarked that Brummell, like Buonaparte in Russia, had been stopped in his endeavour by the Elements.

Friday, 11 February 2011

Style Icon IV: Ronald Colman

Ronald Colman (1891-1958) was originally a stage actor; although he made a couple of early English silent films. Invalided out of the First World War, he reached the USA in 1920 where he again acted on the stage. However, he also made some silent films and the best remembered of these is probably Beau Geste in 1926. It was the coming of the talkies though that brought out his greatest strength, a wonderful speaking voice. The films came thick and fast, including: Bulldog Drummond and Raffles (1930); A Tale of Two Cities (1935); The Prisoner of Zenda and Lost Horizon (1937), and he gave an Oscar-winning performance in A Double Life.

Always displaying a carefree style, he has fan clubs to this day.

Thursday, 10 February 2011

Style Icon III: Robert Cummings

I slightly regret that I did not start this subject with some kind of ordered framework - but never mind! Sometimes, Robert Cummings (1910-1990), is said to have been the John the Baptist to Archie Leach's Cary Grant and adopted similar well-cut but understated clothes. He could even mimic an English accent in the earlier days of cinema when, as again now, this was a desirable trait. The son of a doctor and a church minister, he went to drama school because the family had been hit by financial disaster and he discovered that he would be paid to learn to act! He starred in the 1933 Ziegfeld Follies and is now especially remembered for Hitchcock's Saboteur (1942)and Dial M For Murder (1954). He was noted for the fact that he never carried anything in his pockets, to preserve the line of his suits.

Book II

Book II History of Men's Accessories: A Short Guide for Men About Town was published a little late on 9th February 2011 and is now available.

Style Icon II: Sir Anthony Eden, 1st Earl of Avon

Anthony Eden (1897-1977), was the third son of a pugnacious baronet called Sir William Eden who, later in life, used the Cavendish Hotel of Rosa Lewis as his London base; maybe because both of them loved a good feud and they feuded, more or less humorously, with each other and Rosa always had a soft spot for his children, especially Anthony's sister, Marjorie.

Anthony Eden was a very young Foreign Secretary, during the Second World War and, having been kept waiting in the wings by an elderly Churchill, became Prime Minister briefly in 1955-1957. He was especially noted for his youthful style, which included double-breasted waistcoats with single-breasted suits and the revival of the black Homburg hat, first introduced to England from Germany by Edward VII, although largely eclipsed by the snap-brim felt hats which the hatter Scott's (in a building that still stands on the eastern corner of Old Bond Street and Piccadilly), was amongst the first to sell in large numbers in England, from the 1920s. Indeed, even to this day a black Homburg is often called an 'Anthony Eden'.

Here he is dressed for his country house and in Town dress.

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Style Icon I: Robert Taylor

The naked ape has heaved himself out of his pipe-smoking chair, decided that Pope was right and the proper study of mankind is man, and made his way to the old film annuals, where there lurk some style icons of the past of the kind that Hollywood just does not produce anymore. "First up" (since he was American), is Robert Taylor (1911-1969). Early films included Camille, opposite Greta Garbo and A Yank at Oxford, opposite Vivien Leigh; although his most memorable film is Quo Vadis, with Deborah Kerr. Married for some years to Barbara Stanwyck, they shared a large ranch at Brentwood, LA.
It is, to my mind, a pity that most youngsters these days want to look, at worst like a beatnik's ghost (I acknowledge a member's moniker on and, at best, David Beckham.

Monday, 7 February 2011

Walked-up or 'rough' shooting

This can be great fun and is often to be enjoyed on one’s own land or on that of friends. It just means going out with gun dogs (probably spaniels or pointers), spreading out in a line to walk the game up and picking off whatever seasonable game, rabbits or pigeons (these last two not actually game) that you walk-up. Airborne snipe come in groups, called ‘walks’ or ‘wisps’ and woodcock come in ‘falls’. These are not strictly game either (at least not defined as such by statute). Bags of shot snipe or woodcock are counted in ‘couples’. Woodcock, rising up, suddenly and vertically, with great speed, are amongst the most challenging birds to shoot. There is even an exclusive (but meritocratic) club, called The Shooting Times’ Woodcock Club, for guns who have been witnessed shooting a couple of woodcock with ‘a right and a left’, without lowering the gun.

This kind of shooting is a relaxed and relaxing way to enjoy some sport, as well as the least expensive shooting to be had and often results in something for everyone’s pot. Just remember to bear in mind how many men and dogs are in your party and be aware of where they are at all times so that you do not shoot over them. Also take care to ensure that you do not shoot over or near any highway or footpath and remember that, even where there are no footpaths, there might be trespassers or adventurous children; therefore, again do not shoot into any area that you cannot clearly see is free of humans, dogs, farm animals and other wildlife and walk with your gun (preferably broken), pointing at the ground. Moreover, if you are on someone else’s land and there are crops under foot, be sure that you do not trample them; close gates that are supposed to be closed; if you are forced to climb a gate, put your gun on the ground and climb over the hinge side of the gate (if you climb the latch side, the leverage will weaken the hinges). Do not (especially with a gun), scramble through prickly coverts and over hedges. Douglas Sutherland in his amusing book, The English Gentleman, mentions a nice little rhyme in relation to gun safety:

Never, never let your gun
Pointed be at anyone…
All the pheasants ever bred
Will not make up for one man dead.

As with wildfowling, when shooting walked-up game, quarry identification is important as it is both illegal and thoroughly irresponsible to shoot protected species or game out of season.

Saturday, 5 February 2011

Of Atheism

The principal reason that I am not an atheist is that I am an optimist. However, whenever I have been tempted to think that we just go into an eternal sleep perpetua nox dormienda I think of: Sir Thomas More; of John Donne (especially his poem A Hymn To God The Father), and of Dorothy L Sayers. If minds as great as theirs embraced a conventional faith, then who am I to doubt it? The picture is of Sir Thomas More.

Thursday, 3 February 2011

The BBC and PC

I generally regard myself as something of a reactionary to the creeping tide of political correctness and the nonsensical flotsam and jetsam that it washes up. However, I cannot for the life of me understand why CNN sports' reporters were fired over a fairly light (if derogatory) remark about a female football linesman (when they thought that they were off air) but the bumbling and oafish Jeremy Clarkson and that little drip Richard Hammond were not instantly dismissed by the BBC for their sustained barrage of planned and scripted broadcasting of insulting remarks against the Mexican people. Indeed, there is even an argument that the Governors of the BBC have demonstrated that they are incapable of governing the institution and that they should all be removed and replaced. Clarkson and Hammond like to portray themselves as the hard men of cosmopolitan sophistication but, in reality, they are a pair of immature loud mouths.

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Something of Angels and Phantoms

I know a middle-aged woman, who is retired from a successful banking career and is now a councillor of a London borough and, consistent with all that, is not a taker of illegal drugs or a drunk or, for that matter, frankly, even terribly imaginative. She told me, in some detail, of the occasion when an Angel appeared to her. She even said that it was ten feet tall with feathered wings the colour of dried blood and that she could feel the air from them as it passed her. She did not feel afraid and could not see its face but she believed that it had come to take the soul of a dying person whom she knew (and who was indeed in the act of dying at that moment). That is the most that she could say about it.

I have written about St Mewan church in Cornwall before. It was the country church to which I used to be taken when I was a child. The rector who christened me 'X', outlived his successors 'Y' and 'Z' and (so far as I know), never mentioned anything to corroborate or to deny the experiences of his successors. The old rectory (since sold off) is probably 18th century (maybe older in parts). It was lived in by all the rectors and their families until the 1970s. Y and Z both independently told my father that they had seen a the form of a small child cross the drawing room weeping and disappear through a wall (I am not sure whether the observers heard anything). Now, it sounds like something out of set direction from a Hammer Horror movie. However, these were mature men and, from their vocation, one might assume completely honest. Moreover, they were not related or associated with each other in any way and I am not even sure that they knew each other at all.

In the case of the Angel: either it happened or it did not; accept or reject the account of my sober, honest friend. In the case of the phantom in the rectory, there is compelling evidence to suggest that the events are true. Maybe such phantoms are strong impressions left behind that we can sometimes sense - but even so.

Do I believe in these phenomena? I have to say that I have sensed an atmosphere of evil in a house and I had an undeniable impression (tinged with a sense of ecstasy), of my late sister's reassurance to me, just after she died, that all was well (that is the only way that I can describe it) and I have often wondered about some people (that I have fleetingly met), who seemed, in retrospect, super-human. For example (and the most recent of very few examples): a few days ago I was working away here when I heard a clapping at the front gates so I went up to them and there was a very old couple standing there. The woman was in better shape than the man who was bent over but they both had a laboured shuffling motion. The woman apologised for asking but asked whether I could spare them two Reis (equal to about US$ 1 in Brazilian currency) to buy some food. My Good Lady had gone to the shop around the corner and I did not have any money to hand so I explained this and, with a resigned smile, the woman looked at me and then they both started to shuffle off. I felt an immense pang of pity, shame and guilt (just as Laurence Sterne describes in A Sentimental Journey after he had denied the priest alms) and ran indoors to see whether I could find any shrapnel lying around. I did find a cache of coins and raced out after them. They had gone a little way along the road and appeared surprised and pleased to see me and my small gift and they thanked me, smiled and went on and I returned to the house. As I got to the gates, I turned to look after them but they had completely disappeared and, for some reason, I was not surprised. There are only houses and gardens at the point that I had seen them and I am quite sure that they did not live in any of them and no one mixes visiting people with a little begging from their neighbours. No, they were strangers. They could not possibly have reached the next turning off this road in the time that they had before I reached the house gates so what had happened? I have a feeling that they were not human and, maybe, they were 'Angels' sent to test me. I know that this sounds as though I am off my head but I assure you that it is no more than usual.