Showing posts from July, 2017

Polly Delano, FDR's Eccentric Cousin

Laura Franklin Delano was the very definition of eccentric: as a little girl she, most notably, refused to drink anything other than Apollinairis Water, an imported carbonated mineral water, earning her the nickname "Polly," while as an adult she dyed her hair purple and bounced around her house in silk pajamas while dripping in jewels. But it was for that very reason that she was the favorite of her famous cousin, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, whom she served till his death as a longtime confidante and friend.

Read any biography on FDR, and you will quickly learn that Polly Delano, along with another cousin, Margaret "Daisy" Suckley, was always at the President's side. Polly was born in 1885, the fourth child of Warren Delano III, President of the Delano Coal Company in Pennsylvania, and Jennie Walters Delano, daughter of a famous Baltimore art collector. The couple had met at Cambridge, and because Jennie's father had disapproved of their eventual…

Behind the Scenes of Streetcar

In honor of Sotheby's upcoming auction of more than 200 personal items from Vivien Leigh's estate in September in London, I thought I'd do a series of Vivien Leigh-focused posts over the next couple weeks. I must confess I don't know as much as I'd like to about her, so I've ordered a biography about her on Amazon which I intend to read shortly. Though she's most well-known for her role in Gone With The Wind, my personal favorite of her's is her role as the doomed Blanche DuBois in A Streetcar Named Desire. Interestingly enough, the wig she wore for the role is part of the Sotheby's auction, which you can read about HERE. I'll definitely be getting myself a copy of the auction catalog.

As a lover of Tennessee Williams and his most famous play, I equally love the film version of A Streetcar Named Desire and especially Leigh and Brando's roles in it. For her work, Vivien won her second Academy Award for Best Actress, the first, not surprising…

Hemingway and The Farm

The legend goes that Ernest Hemingway won the right to buy The Farm by rolling dice. . . or with the flip of a coin. Either way, it doesn't matter, since he lost in both cases to the owner of the piece, Evan Shipman, who decided to "give" Hemingway the painting, anyways, at the small price of 5,000 francs. Hemingway bought it as a birthday gift for his first wife, Hadley, bringing it home after he finally paid it off. "In the open taxi the wind caught the big canvas as though it were a sail, and we made the taxi driver crawl along," Hemingway said about bringing the painting home. "No one could look at it and not know it had been painted by a great painter."

A copy of the painting hangs near my desk, so I thought the tidbit about Hemingway would be interesting to share. After Hemingway and Hadley's divorce, she returned the painting to him, where it, presumably, made it through his two other divorces, as well. After his death, his widow, fourth a…

Geraldine Page and Sweet Bird of Youth

Recently I was reading excerpts from the book Tennessee Williams: Mad Pilgrimage of the Flesh by John Lahr, and I stumbled across some passages detailing actress Geraldine Page's involvement with one of Tennessee's most famous plays: Sweet Bird of Youth. As an avid fan of Tennessee Williams, Sweet Bird of Youth AND Geraldine Page, I thought I'd dedicate a post to it.

Geraldine Page, lovingly nicknamed Gerry by those who knew her, was no stranger to Tennessee Williams before her involvement in Sweet Bird. In 1952 she had starred in a revival of Williams' play Summer and Smoke, playing the lead role of Alma Winemiller so wonderfully, her performance was labelled legendary, and she reprised it again for a radio adaptation and the film version, which earned her an Academy Award nomination.

It was with her brilliant performance as Alma in mind that Elia Kazan, director of the play during its original production in 1959, had cast Geraldine Page to play the role of drug-addi…

The Times Nero Tried To Kill His Mother (And The One Time He Succeeded)

I've always found stories about the Ancient Roman Empire to be fascinating. The people, the places, the events, etc. almost read off like a modern day soap opera or television show. It's hard to believe some of these things really happened (some of them actually didn't, but were rather the product of the ancient writer's very creative imaginations. For example: Caligula appointing a horse to consulship? Yeah, that didn't happen) and terrifying to think about actually living through them. The story about the Emperor Nero and his mother, Agrippina, is one of my favorites, so much so I actually wrote a play about it.

Nero and Agrippina have one of the most interesting, complex and twisted mother/son relationships not just in Rome but in history. Their success in the empire were so intertwined with one another, that it was only natural that at some point or another one would see the other as a threat to their power that needed to be eliminated if they wished to retain…

Two of Stanley C. Weyman's Many Hats

In its May 7, 1951 issue, LIFE Magazine featured a brief article about the unmasking of a notorious imposter. At the top of the article was a picture displaying the many, many different hats found in the man's apartment: from tops hats, bowler hats and fedora , to a military cap, a panama and a boater. Suffice to say, both literally and metaphorically, Stanley Clifford Weyman wore many, many different hats in his lifetime.

An ambassador, a doctor, a lawyer, a naval officer, a Serbian diplomat and a smooth-talking reporter at the United Nations. During his seventy years of life, Stanley Clifford Weyman had posed as all of these things, often successfully for long periods of time. In fact, more often than not, he was only discovered as an imposter, not because he wasn't believable in the role he was playing, but because someone recognized him for who he really was and reported him either to the authorities or to the people he was posing around (Weyman notoriously didn't alt…

Details of the Petit Chateau: 660 Fifth Avenue

Completed in 1882, the mansion was built for William Kissam Vanderbilt, grandson of the famed millionaire Cornelius Vanderbilt Sr., "The Commodore," who founded the Vanderbilt family fortune, and his wife Alva. With the intention of using the home to signal her and her family's arrival into New York society, she collaborated with architect Richard Morris Hunt to design a French Renaissance-style townhouse known as the Petit Chateau.

The home was revolutionary in that, as the time, it was a blotch of bright limestone in comparison to the drab, dingy brownstones surrounding it, including the ornate, enormous triplex across the street occupied by Vanderbilt's father and sisters, and the town house occupied by Mrs. Caroline Astor, the doyenne of New York society, who had refused to acknowledge the Vanderbilt family by calling on them. In response, Alva famously decided to throw an elaborate costume ball, inviting everyone who was anyone in New York with the exception of…