Over the years it seems that whenever I’ve Google-imaged a particularly fabulous diva, the best pics would belong to the blog Stirred, Straight Up, With a Twist. I have continually marvelled at the enormous, youarethere clear, unusual images and smiled at the succinct, sharp, witty text that accompanies them. But the author of those words and collector of those pictures remained somewhat of a mystery. Sure there was the thumbnail of a gent as dapper and sophisticated-looking as you’d expect. But apart from the ‘TJB’ next to his photo, there was no further clue as to his identity. Nor – frustratingly for me – a way to get in touch and express my love.
I recently happened across the facebook group Hollywood Babylon. Immediately hit with ‘How on earth have I inhabited facebook for so long and not had a CLUE that this was there?’: I felt home. And amongst the fabulously well-informed trivia-toting wonders was a familiar face belonging to one of the most prolific of HB’s posters: none other than the star of his own thumbnail, Mr Todd Brant, he of Stirred, Straight up, With a Twist. It made perfect sense that someone of his knowledge, wit and detail should be found here. Hurray! I could get more of a fix of the Brandt magic than just the blog and – BINGO! – get in touch with the man and tell him how much joy the blog and its content have given me over the years. I could tell him he simply MUST be interviewed for ‘Ethel Loves…’ and become the Honorary Mermaid he was born to be.
So darlings, with a tinkle of ice over gin and vermouth, the stab of an olive and a splash of its juice (take note: how I like mine), please join me and raise a glass to the wonderful Mr Todd Brandt.
Tell us about Todd Brandt – what’s your background?
One of my friends calls me “Queenie” — NOT because of any limp wrists, but because of the novel of that name by Michael Korda. That’s my one enigmatic answer, darling, and I promise to not be coy for the next sixteen questions.
When did you first fall for Old Hollywood?
I distinctly remember seeing “How to Marry a Millionaire” on afternoon television one day when I was sick and not at school. I must have been around eight or nine years old at the time. From then on, I was hooked. I would scour the TV Guide every week, highlight the old films that were playing, and if they were airing late at night, I’d set my alarm clock to, say, 4 a.m. to watch Barbara Stanwyck in “The Mad Miss Manton.”
In 1989, I contributed to my middle school paper. My contributions? Memorials for Bette Davis and Lucille Ball. Also that year, our English class final assignment was to write a book — literally, write a book. We wrote them, supplied illustrations, bound them, the whole nine yards. Ever the teacher’s pet, I wrote two: one was a work of fiction which borrowed very heavily from “All About Eve”; the other was what I considered to be the definitive biography of Marilyn Monroe.
How did Stirred, Straight Up, With a Twist come about?
I give all credit to the amazing, fabulous, talented “Thombeau,” whose late, lamented blogs “FABULON” and “Chateau Thombeau” are still legendary in all the right circles, darling. Seeing what he was doing completely influenced what I started doing.
Where do you get such amazing, massive pictures?
I don’t necessarily “create” when I blog, but I DO “curate.” It takes me a long, long time to find just the right images which fit the theme or concept that I have for a particular post. Every picture I use is by design, for a specific purpose. And I almost always use high-res images. I think that gives the blog a particular look and consistency.
You have a wealth of historical knowledge and a wonderful way with words yet you use them sparingly on the blog. Was it a conscious decision to have the images dominate on SSUWAT?
It is definitely a conscious decision, and there are two reasons. The first is partially answered in my response above: when I write a longer, more detailed “essay” post, it automatically necessitates, by my standards, very specific photos which are directly related to the text. You may have noticed that I do a lot of “triptych” style posts, with three related images. Those kinds of posts can take hours, just to find three images which carry out the theme I have in mind. (I’ve abandoned some ideas, because I couldn’t find the right image or images.) With an essay-style post, it obviously takes much, much longer, and I don’t always have the time (or energy!) to do so. The second reason is that even though I adore trivia and gossip and all of the minutiae of Hollywood information, I primarily envisioned SSUWAT from the very beginning as featuring beautiful, unique images — not the same tired ones that you can see almost anywhere — with funny or ironic titles/captions. I dream in captions and one-liners, darling. I reserve the essays for “special” occasions, or when I’m feeling particularly verbose and inspired.
Who are your top 5 goddesses and why?
Joan Crawford: For her unwavering self-discipline and unyielding determination to create herself from the ground up.
Judy Garland: For possessing more raw talent than any other human being of the 20th century.
Arlene Francis: For ineffable, unflappable, indisputable charm.
Marlene Dietrich: For creating the most flawless image possible, and then refusing to spoil the illusion.
Diana Ross: For inventing the pop diva template as we know it today, and for nurturing what’s essentially a small talent, then developing and polishing it to her best possible advantage.
You’re having a pool party at your Brentwood home circa 1938-1965. Who do you invite and what shenanigans occur?
Guy Madison, and I’d give the servants the day off, darling.
What are your favourite star biographies/ autobiographies?
I actually find a lot of the more “scholarly” biographies boring — the biggest exception I can think of is Sam Irvin’s exceptionally well-researched and thoroughly entertaining biography on Kay Thompson. It not only is a long-overdue, scrupulously detailed look at a vastly under-recognized performer, but it’s a great read. Movie star autobiographies can be entertaining, but so self-serving that you must take them with a shaker of salt. Personally, I think that the fluffy, advice/self help/memoir genre (of which “My Way of Life” by Joan Crawford is the Holy Grail) is not only the most entertaining, but probably closer to the true essence of these stars, as they saw themselves, than anything else. I’m letting my philistine side show through, but I’d rather read a tawdry dime-store paperback like “Jayne Mansfield’s Wild, Wild World” (1963) or a silly beauty guide like Arlene Dahl’s “Always Ask a Man” than a lengthy biography with annotations any day.
Your favourite star?
Joan Crawford. Definitely.
I’ve just discovered Hollywood Babylon on facebook and I LOVE the community – I feel like I’m home! What are your thoughts on the campness and queer appeal of Old Hollywood?
Without putting too fine a point on it, I think the queer community — particularly gay men, and particularly gay men of a certain age — completely understand the concept of creation. Creation of a new persona, creation of a new life, a new identity — creation of a community or chosen family. Old Hollywood glamour is all about creation and illusion. We not only understand that, we embrace it. Younger gays understand that, too, but I think the concept resonates more with people who lived through a less liberated time — when smoke and mirrors were the order of the day.
Do you ever take your martinis dirty?
I like a lot of things dirty, darling, but never my martinis.
Gin or vodka?
Gin. I never quite understood the vodka martini. It has no balls.
Bette or Joan?
Joan, of course. I adore Bette; I just happen to often champion the underdog. Joan was tough in her own way, but also insecure and running from her demons. I feel oddly protective towards her.
Streisand or Midler?
Streisand. I have my issues with her, but I can’t deny that the lady is pretty fucking incredible. I like Bette Midler, but I never thought she was half as fabulous or talented as her followers do.
Jayne or Mamie?
Jayne all the way, baby. I respect Mamie for still being alive and kicking, and she’s fun in those bad girl B movies, but Jayne took bad taste to such a stratospherically, operatically, insanely awesome level that one can’t help but just sit back and be amazed. I adore her.
Liz or Debbie?
What’s next for Mr Brandt?
If I were more of a planner, and more organized, I’d probably not only have a better idea, but I’d most likely be there by now! I just take life as it comes, darling, and I believe that enjoying life is appreciating beauty and surrounding yourself with it. Even if it’s only in your own imagination.