Monthly Archives: February 2018

It was nice to see you Marlene

On the late morning of Tuesday 27th February 2018 (yesterday) I was scanning through my weekend magazine to see what was on.  On page 55 I found that, at 12.35pm in their Film 4 program on Freeview 15; Freesat 300; Sky 315 & Virgin 428 (HD429) was a 1939 film – ‘Destry Rides Again’.  The star, playing the sheriff, was James Stewart that ‘makes an enemy, later a friend, in the shape of a sultry saloon singer’.  No mention was made of the real name of that woman but I knew who she was – I had written about her in my posting earlier this month.  It was Marlene Dietrich!

I wonder if I could make this a valid excuse to sit at home and watch more films!

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The War was over and Marlene moved on

After the 2nd World War things began to change for so many people.  Marlene was one of them! In 1953 she was offered $30,000 per week to appear live at the Sahara Hotel in Las Vegas.  The show was short and mainly consisting of a few songs associated with Marlene and her daringly sheer “nude dress” – a heavily beaded evening gown of silk soufflé that gave an illusion of transparency.  Surprise Surprise – it attracted a lot of publicity!  One of these ‘attractions’ led to her being signed to appear at the Café de Paris in London the following year.  She also had her Las Vegas contracts renewed.   From that point forward to the mid-1970s she was a highly paid cabaret artist, performing live in large theatres in major cities world-wide.

Marlene employed Burt Bacharach as her musical arranger starting in the mid-1950s; together, they refined her nightclub act into a more ambitious theatrical one-woman show with an expanded repertoire. Her repertoire included songs from her films as well as popular songs of the day. Bacharach’s arrangements helped to disguise her limited vocal range – she was a contralto – and allowed her to perform her songs to maximum dramatic effect.

Francis Wyndham offered a critical appraisal of the phenomenon of ‘Dietrich in Concert’ when he wrote in 1964: “What she does is neither difficult nor diverting, but the fact that she does it at all fills the onlookers with wonder … It takes two to make a conjuring trick: the illusionist’s sleight of hand and the stooge’s desire to be deceived. To these necessary elements (her own technical competence and her audience’s sentimentality) Marlene Dietrich adds a third—the mysterious force of her belief in her own magic. Those who find themselves unable to share this belief tend to blame themselves rather than her.”

At this time Burt Bacharach felt he needed to devote his full-time to song writing. Together, they recorded four albums and several singles between 1957 and 1964.  However – Marlene had come to rely on him in order to perform and, in a TV interview in 1971 she credited Bert Bacharach with giving her the “inspiration” to perform during those years. She said:-

‘From that fateful day on, I have worked like a robot, trying to recapture the wonderful woman he helped make out of me. I even succeeded in this effort for years because I always thought of him, always longed for him, always looked for him in the wings, and always fought against self-pity…  He had become so indispensable to me that, without him, I no longer took much joy in singing. When he left me, I felt like giving everything up. I had lost my director, my support, my teacher, my maestro.’

In November 1972 a version of Marlene’s Broadway show ‘An Evening with Marlene Dietrich’ was filmed in London.  It was titled ‘I Wish You Love’ and Marlene as paid $250,000 for her co-operation but she was unhappy with the result. Non-the-less the show must go on and in January 1973 it was broadcast on the BBC in the UK and on CBS in the US.
Continue reading The War was over and Marlene moved on

Marlene Dietrich and the 2nd World War

In December 1941, the United States entered World War II, and Marlene became one of the first celebrities to help sell war bonds. She toured the US from January 1942 to September 1943 (appearing before some 250,000 troops on the Pacific Coast leg of her tour alone) and was reported to have sold more war bonds than any other star.  During two extended tours for the non-profit United Service Organizations Marlene – along with others such as comedians and musicians – provided live entertainment.

In 1943 Marlene assumed the honorary rank of Colonel in the American Army and began to make radio broadcasts – and then to make personal appearances on behalf of the American war effort.

In 1944 and 1945, Marlene performed for Allied troops in North Africa, Italy, France and the UK.  She also went into Germany – her place of birth – with Generals James Gavin and George Patton.  When asked why she had done this, in spite of the obvious danger of being within a few kilometres of German lines, she replied, aus Anstand“out of decency”.   Wilder later remarked that she was at the front lines more than Eisenhower!

Her revue, with Danny Thomas as her opening act for the first tour, included songs from her films, performances on her musical saw – a skill she had originally acquired for stage appearances in Berlin in the 1920s – and a “mind reading” act that her friend Orson Welles had taught her for his Mercury Wonder Show.  Marlene would inform the audience that she could read minds and ask them to concentrate on whatever came into their minds. Then she would walk over to a soldier and earnestly tell him, “Oh, think of something else. I can’t possibly talk about that!”

American church papers reportedly published stories complaining about this part of her act.  Right or not – in 1944, the Morale Operations Branch of the Office of Strategies Services (OSS) initiated the Musak project – a musical propaganda broadcasts designed to demoralize enemy soldiers. Marlene was the only performer who was made aware that her recordings would be for OSS use.  A number of songs were made in German for the project and included “Lili Marleen”, a favourite of soldiers on both sides of the conflict.  Major General William J Donavan, the head of the OSS, wrote to Marlene, “I am personally deeply grateful for your generosity in making these recordings for use.”

 

Valentine day with a difference

 

As I write this I am aware that Valentine’s Day is close at hand – well tomorrow as I write and today when you see it!.  What should I – must I – do on that special day?  I’ve been checking and have come across the cutting from the ‘Mainichi Daily News’.  On a page I found a story that may be fun – its headline are ‘Valentine’s Chocolate has various meanings’. I had to be intrigued so I bought a copy of the paper.

Oh – did I tell you where I found this?  The newspaper is the ‘Mainichi Daily News’; it was – and far as I am aware still is – published in Tokyo and Osaka – and I bought it there on Tuesday 11th February 1986.

The story – on this page – starts with a 13 year old girl called Fumiko who explains: ‘There was this boy that I really liked, but I was too shy to talk to him.  When Valentine’s Day came, I presented him with a homemade chocolate heart.  He said he didn’t want it and gave it back on the spot.”  All over the world, Valentine’s Day gives people the chance to say “I love you”.  Here in Japan it also gives you the chance, if you’re a high school boy, to say “get lost”!

The newspaper in 1986 says: ‘Valentine’s Day in Japan is a strange institution.  It was introduced into the country in the 1960s by confectionery companies, as a means of boosting chocolate sales.  In that respect it has been a resounding success. Unlike other countries where cards and miscellaneous gifts change hands, chocolate is firmly established here as the standard token of love.’

Later on in the newspaper we have: ‘This can lead to such heart-breaking refusals as Fumiko’s.  On the other hand, it does vastly increase the institution’s efficiency as a way of getting teenagers together.  For while the British are scurrying around trying to work out who sent the card, and whether it was meant seriously or not, the Japanese system in its purest form is a perfect matchmaker.’

Let’s now let’s us move forward to 2018 and there we find a strong tradition of women giving chocolates to men on Valentines Day. There are two types of chocolates, “Giri-choco” (obligation chocolate), and “Honmei-choco”.

Giri-choco is meant to be for friends, colleagues, bosses, and close male friends. “Giri” means obligation hence this Giri-choco has no romance involved. On the other hand, Honmei-choco is given to a boyfriend, lover, or husband with true love.

Japanese women often prepare the Honmei-choco by themselves as many of them think it is not true love if they just buy the readymade chocolate at shops. You will start seeing large displays of chocolate, often heart-shaped in department stores and grocery stores from mid-January. Days before the Valentine’s Day, stores get packed with a large variety of chocolates, the cooking tools, and women!

What is more unique in Japan is that there exists a “White Day” which takes place on 14th March – exactly one month after Valentine’s Day. On White Day men are supposed to give return gifts to women who gifted them chocolates on Valentine’s Day. More often the colour of the chocolate is white because of the name of the day. Flowers, candies and other gifts are also popular along with the chocolates. Again, department stores have many advanced reminders with gift displays so men will have no excuse to forget about this special day which is important for women.

 

Marlene and her ‘other life’.

A lot had happened for Marie Marlene Dietrich since her birth in Berlin, Germany on the last Friday in December 1901. War had come and gone – and was back again for the 2nd time.  She had married; given birth to her daughter; parted company but kept in touch with her child’s father.  She has developed her skills and moved to Hollywood and, in 1930, made her first film – ‘Morocco’ – with Gary Cooper.  In 1932 she was in ‘Blond Venus’ with Cary Grant.  In both of these films – and others – she seemed to be typecast as a woman of low morals but, in 1939, she was cast as ‘Frenchy’ a Western saloon hostess – a change that would provide much for the future.  We’ll look at them later – but now we can have a look at another aspect of her life.

Marlene was beginning to select her own lovers – with Josef von Sternberg probably being the first.  It is said that Marlene juggled her lovers with the skill of a practical joker. At dawn her ‘visitor’ would sneak out of whatever rented Hollywood mansion she was living in at the time and then go back and ring the front doorbell as a polite visitor and sit down with Marlene to a breakfast of Scrambled Eggs!

When Marlene was taking part in a 1984 documentary ‘Marlene’ by Maximilian Schell she refused to be seen on camera but was ‘happy’ to talk and to snap “There have been 55 books written about me”.  It’s quite possible that another 50+ books have followed.

Steven Bach’s ‘Marlene Dietrich: Life and Legend’ gives us a different slant but both agree that she slept with von Sternberg – also Maurice Chevalier; John Gilbert; Douglas Fairbank Jr; the screenwriter Mercedes de Acosta (on the rebound from Greta Garbo); Kirk Douglas; Yu Brynner; Frank Sinatra; James Stewart (her co-star in the western Destry Rides Again) – and quite a lot more!  Other sources add John Wayne, Maurice Chevalier and one General Patton!

Not ‘recorded’ as much but near as many meetings were Marlene’s relationships with members of her own sex – Edith Piaf being one.  In one of her diaries she was quoted as saying: “Women are better but you can’t live with women.”

Next week we’ll go back to the worlds of filming and war.

Buddy Holly’s legacy for us

Buddy’s funeral was held on Saturday 7th February 1959.  Up to that date the records that had been released in the British charts were:

‘Peggy Sue’ [first entered 6/12/57; 17 weeks in the charts; reached number 6]
‘Listen to Me’ [first entered 14/3/58; 2 weeks in the charts; reached number 16]
‘Rave On’ [first entered 20/6/58; 14 weeks in the charts; reached number 5]
‘Early in the Morning’ [first entered 29/8/58; 4 weeks in the charts; reached number 17]
‘Heartbeat’ [first entered 16/1/59; 1 week in the charts; reached number 30]

Buddy’s death changed things here in the UK.  In all we had 18 chart ‘hits’ ranging from:

‘It doesn’t matter anymore’ which entered our UK charts on 27th February 1959 and, for 3 weeks from 24th April 1959, held the UK’s number one slot.

In the 17 other entries we have ‘Brown-eyed Handsome Man’ entering the charts in March 1963 and spending 17 weeks there and reaching 3 in the charts.  Close behind on 6th June 1963 we have ‘Bo Diddley’ reaching number 4 in a 12 week stay.

Just to round off this whole story – I have just spent a rather nice 15 minutes or so listening – and watching – some real Buddy Holly with him on stage.  Have a look – it cost nothing!

Stolen from the stables – and never seen again.

Wednesday 8th February 1983 was the day the racehorse Shergar was stolen from its stables at the Ballymany stud in Newbridge, County Kildare, Ireland. At about 8.30 on that winter evening a Ford Granada pulling a horsebox, a van and another car entered the stable yard where Shergar ‘lived’. Two masked and armed men burst into the home of head groom Jim Fitzgerald, locked his family in a downstairs room, and forced him – at gunpoint – to release Shergar from his security protected stable.

There were six raiders in total and they pushed the horse and Jim into a horsebox and drove off. Jim was released four hours later some 40 miles away from the stud farm. The gang told him that they would telephone a ransom demand by lunchtime the next day.

Jim called the police, was picked up and questioned by detectives for several hours before he was released. The police then put listening devices in his home in preparation for the promised telephone call. It was not until the morning of 10th February that a ransom demand was phoned through. £2 million was demanded but, by the end of that day, the ransom figure had dropped to £40,000, the equivalent of £1,000 for each of the 40 shares in the horse. All 34 of the shareholders refused to pay the money on the basis that they wanted to deter future kidnappings. Over the following days there were numerous hoax calls and false alarms received by the police and media about sightings of the horse.

Shergar was never found; the insurers refused to pay out without evidence of the horse’s death; and his kidnappers have never been officially identified. Sean O’Callaghan, a former IRA member turned informer, later wrote in his book ‘The Informer’ that the horse had been killed by its abductors soon after it was taken because they were unable to handle him.

Nicknamed “Shergar – the wonder-horse” after the 1950s film and television ‘Champion the Wonder Horse’, this ‘wonder horse’ had been named European Horse of the Year in 1981 and had retired from racing that same September. Lloyds of London had carried an insurance premium of £300,000 when he was in competition and valued him at £10 million at stud.

María Elena Santiago & Buddy Holly – music & sadness

Buddy’s wife was born María Elena Santiago in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Her mother died when Maria was 12 years old and, in 1953, her father had sent her to live with her aunt in New York City where she worked as a receptionist for a music publisher – ‘Peermusic’.  As a receptionist Maria Elena probably first met Buddy in August 1957 when, as rising stars, he and the Crickets first visited Peer Southern Music in the Brill Building on Broadway to meet their publishing manager Murray Deutch – Maria’s boss.

It was a day or so before Thursday 19th June 1958 – the day when Buddy recorded ‘Early in the Morning’ in New York’s Pythian Temple – that Buddy had asked Maria out. She had never been out on a date and told Holly he would have to ask her aunt for permission. Buddy promptly got her aunt’s permission and five hours into their first date, Buddy handed a rose to Maria and asked her to marry him!  On August 15, 1958, less than two months later, they were married in Buddy’s hometown of Lubbock, Texas.

They settled down there until Buddy broke up with his band, ‘The Crickets’, and moved to New York. It was in October 1958 that Santiago-Holly went on tour with her husband and took on promotional duties. Buddy also formed the Maria Music publishing company with which “Stay Close To Me” was filed.  Buddy produced Lou Giordano’s version of the song which was issued on Brunswick records on Tuesday 27th January, 1959.

Buddy and Santiago had been married for just six months at the time of the crash.  Maria Santiago-Holly learned of Buddy’s death from the reports on television. She was a widow and did not attend the funeral – nor has she ever visited the grave site. She told the Avalanche-Journal: “In a way, I blame myself. I was not feeling well when he left. I was two weeks pregnant, and I wanted Buddy to stay with me, but he had scheduled that tour. It was the only time I wasn’t with him. And I blame myself because I know that, if only I had gone along, Buddy never would have gotten into that airplane.”

Maria Santiago-Holly suffered a miscarriage shortly after due, we are told, to “psychological trauma”

Buddy Holly’s funeral was held on Friday 7th February 1959, at the Tabernacle Baptist Church in Lubbock. The service was officiated by Ben D. Johnson, who had presided at the Holly’s wedding just months earlier. The pall-bearers were Jerry Allison, Joe B. Mauldin, Niki Sullivan, Bob Montgomery, Sonny Curtis, and Phil Everly. Waylon Jennings was unable to attend, because of his commitment to the still-touring Winter Dance Party.

Buddy’s body was interred in the City of Lubbock Cemetery, in the eastern part of the city, with his headstone carrying the correct spelling of his surname – Holley – and a carving of his Fender Stratocaster guitar.

Buddy had gone – but his work would live on – and on – and on!

Marlene Dietrich – a Dance Hall Queen

In the mid 1930’s things had begun to unravel for Marlene.  In her films she had become typecast as a woman of low morals.  Then, her chance of change came in 1939 when she was cast as “Frenchy” – a Western saloon hostess in ‘Destry Rides Again’.

1939 marked an incredible year in Hollywood cinema – one that saw probably the greatest variety of landmark films in its history: Stagecoach, Gone With the Wind, Ninotchka, The Wizard of Oz, Gunga Din, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, The Grapes of Wrath, Wuthering Heights, are just a few. It was also a year where Westerns like John Ford’s ‘Stagecoach’ were reaching new artistic heights. Another to rise above the past was ‘Destry Rides Again’ a new kind of film which was a complex synthesis of several genres – comedy, romance, musical and Western revenge fantasy. Director George Marshall twisted these together in a unique and entertaining blend that helped redefine the genre’s sense of irony and purpose.

In the story Kent – the saloon owner and unscrupulous boss of the town of Bottleneck – has the town’s sheriff, killed when he asked one too many questions about a rigged poker game. Kent and “Frenchy”, his girlfriend and the dance hall queen, now have a stranglehold over the local cattle ranchers. The crooked town’s mayor, Hiram J. Slade, is also in collusion with Kent and appoints the town drunk, Washington Dimsdale, as the new sheriff, assuming that he will be easy to control and manipulate. But – what mayor Slade does not know is that Dimsdale was a deputy under the famous lawman Tom Destry, and is able to call upon the latter’s equally formidable son, Tom Destry, Jr. – played by James Stewart – to help him make Bottleneck a lawful, respectable town.  Destry confounds the townsfolk by refusing to strap on a gun in spite of demonstrating that he is an expert marksman. He still carries out the “letter of the law”, as deputy sheriff, and earns their respect.

A final confrontation between Destry and Kent’s gang is inevitable.  However, “Frenchy” is won over by Destry, changes sides and, when a final gunfight ensues, “Frenchy” is killed in the crossfire, and the rule of law wins the day.

This film began a new direction for Marlene because it released her from the typecasting of old.  In 1996, Destry Rides Again was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, and aesthetically significant”.

 

The Soviet journey landed safely

The Russian Luna 9 unmanned spacecraft has been traveling safely since its launch on Monday and now, on Thursday 3rd February 1966, the landing challenge had arrived.  At an altitude of 8,300 kilometers (5,200 miles) from the moon’s surface it now had to be turned around and prepared for the best – or was it ‘the worst’? At c75 kilometers (46.531 miles) the radar altimeter jettisoned the side modules, inflated the air bags and fired the retro rockets.

I can imagine the majority back at base sitting or standing with fingers and/or legs crossed.

At 250 meters (820 feet) from the surface the main retrorocket turned off and 4 outrigger engines cut in to slow the module.  At 5 meters (16 ft) above the lunar surface level a sensor touched the ground, the engines cut, the landing capsule was ejected and at a speed of 22 kph (14 mph) the spacecraft bounced a number of times before coming to rest on Thursday 3rd February 1966 at 18:45:30 UT.

In less than five minutes after landing four petals that covered the top half of the module open to improve stability – the TV camera system began working!

Whilst Soviet authorities did not immediately release images, the scientists at Jodrell Bank in England reacted promptly and within a very short time the pictures were published worldwide.

Three years later the first humans stepped out on the surface of the moon – but that is a different story!