Youtube Gold


By Corinna ‘Merm’ Tomrley

There are countless things on Youtube that are rather marvelous. There’s a handful, though, that are just so wonderful, so extraordinary, that we wonder why when we mention them to most people they’ve never seen them or even knew of their existence. These are videos we’ve even posted a lot but that for some reason still don’t get the attention and acclaim and cult status that they so deserve.

Ethel intends to put this right and give you – THINGS ON YOUTUBE YOU REALLY SHOULD KNOW ABOUT

 

  1. CHRISTOPHER WALKEN COOKING CHICKEN WITH PEARS

There is so much about this that is just really ace. Firstly, it’s Christopher Walken cooking chicken. It’s on shitty video in his kitchen. His hygiene practices are questionable (touching poultry and then touching your salt pig, Mr Walken? Salmonella City!). There’s his descriptions of things in that voice. There’s the cat.

Chris did go on to remake this with a proper TV crew and some bloke from that thing as his guest. We really wish he hadn’t because it takes away from the raw weirdness of the original. So don’t ever bother to watch that one but instead what this version over and over and over.

Best moment: the insipid, vile looking result that he produces.

 

  1. JOAN CRAWFORD IN THE SUPERMARKET

We were alerted to this treasure by the sublime Stargayzing. David Munk wrote so wonderfully about this bizarre ad that we won’t witter on ourselves too much. Suffice to say that the very idea of this film is enough to make the camp heart flutter. But the actuality of it surpasses anything you could imagine from such a concept. Warning: the opening music may make your ears bleed. But hopefully you’ll still be able to hear what comes out of Joanie’s mouth as she does her shop. Because it’s something else.

Best moment: Did she say ‘weirdo’?

 

  1. LEGO SILENCE OF THE LAMBS

As far as we’re aware, there was a plan for a full musical film of Lego SOTL, but this is all that got made. You may wish for more but it’s kind of great that this is all that there is. It’s enough. The concept itself is genius. The execution perfection.

Best moment: Put the fucking poodle in the basket

 

  1. MANDOM

Say it: ‘Mandom’. What a word. Who can we possibly get to advertise this ultra butch cologne? Who else but masc god Charles Bronson? The theme tune (one of the best ever, you’ll thank us for this earworm) tells us ‘All the world loves a lover’, but who exactly is Mr Bronson the lover of? For, although he has his Mandom shrine of products at home and he basically fucking showers in the stuff, there isn’t a single woman in this ad. There’s the piano player, there’s the creepy doorman and then in his apartment there’s… his pipe. Marvel at Mandom. We can only presume it stank to high heaven and could be used to remove varnish from the floorboards, just like all 70s perfumes.

Best moment: How Chuck takes off his shirt. There’s no chick to bitch about it strewn across the flat, after all.

 

  1. FAYE DUNAWAY EATS A BOILED EGG

It was informing our soul sisters Graham and Pal about Mandom brought the Dunaway egg film into our lives. Yes, the Bronson ad is extraordinary and funny but had we seen the egg advert? What? No. What? When Pal said ‘it’s Faye Dunaway eating a boiled egg’ he wasn’t exaggerating. Because that’s literally what it is. Actually, forgive us, it’s Faye Dunaway peeling and eating a boiled egg. Why is this sexy? Because it’s Faye Dunaway. Why is this weird? Because it’s a film star eating an egg. Why is it really weird? Because that’s all she’s doing in a beautifully lit black space. Why is it super weird? Because this egg eating activity is advertising a department store.

Best moment: Um… when she eats the egg? Actually, when she peels it and gives sexy cheekbones to camera. What is she going to do next? Oh she’s going to eat that bit of egg, the saucy minx!

 

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Bette & Joan: The Divine Feud – 25th Anniversary Edition!


 

Fabulous news, darlings! This week sees the release of the 25th Anniversary Edition of the best book ever: Shaun Considine’s Bette & Joan: The Divine Feud.

The new Gala edition has additional material including a chapter on Mr Considine tracking down missing (stolen!) photographs of Bette, Joan and other goddesses taken by the late, great photog Milton Greene. And – not to spoil the story – there’s tons of new images in the book to boot.

The Divine Feud isn’t just our favourite book; it is constantly professed by Bette and Joan fans as the best bio on either of them. If you have read it, you’ll know just how good it is and want this new edition for all the extra stuff. If you haven’t, you will definitely want this glorious tome in your lives, quick smart.

You can buy the print edition now and an ebook edition by Little, Brown will follow on the 29th January.

Now, altogether: (Joan) ‘Bette! Bette! Over here!’ – (Bette) ‘Christ! What a SILLY bitch!’

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Read our interview with Shaun Considine here

Note: we were deeply saddened to learn of the death of Shaun Considine in April 2015. Since first interviewing him for The Ethel Mermaids, Shaun and I had become incredibly close. As is the way these days, this friendship was developed online. We would email each other, sporadically. He’d send me a bit of news on his latest ventures, or a story remembered that he knew I’d appreciate. Stories about Julie Newmar, Judy Garland and the like. I loved hearing them and I always loved hearing from Shaun. He had projects that tragically weren’t completed when he died. He had written a follow up to his book Barbra: The Woman, The Myth, The Music (for which I wrote a chapter). Most excitingly, he had written a script based on his most famous and well-loved book, The Divine Feud, taking key moments from his biography. He was shopping it around and his dream cast, he told me, would be Cate Blanchett and Julianne Moore. He wanted a woman and/or gay director/producer. Because he would give me sketchy details about himself and his life, I wasn’t sure to what extent this script was seen by the right people at the time of Shaun’s death. It is bitter-sweet then to know that Ryan Murphy is basically making Shaun’s film as his television series ‘Feud’.

I’ve no doubt that Murphy will do an amazing job. It’s been acknowledged that Shaun’s book is the source material. And there’s no reason why Murphy and his team couldn’t have come to the idea themselves. They probably didn’t know that Shaun had wanted to do it. If they did I would hope that they would ask for access to his script and maybe use it if they could, in some way. I’ve no idea who handles Shaun’s estate now. Even though it breaks my heart that Shaun didn’t get to do his film and didn’t get to see his work turned into a project by one of the most exciting and important creatives of our time, I would hope that he would approve of the idea that someone else was doing it. And that he’d at last have got the more mainstream recognition he so deserved for his incredible work.

I miss Shaun so much I can’t even say. He’s one of those facebook friends who comes up on invite lists from time to time and it rips at my heart to see his presence there as if I could just drop him a line. And then I remember that he didn’t really do facebook because he mainly got inundated with messages from young men chatting him up, apparently. I would, instead, have dropped him an email and maybe he’d reply, sometimes he wouldn’t. He was so private and so piecemeal with what he shared, but I did know he’d been ill in those last couple of years. He’d disappear from communication for a few months and return to say he was suffering from a case of getting old, no details. Just more wonderful stories. And he said the loveliest things to me. I miss him, I love him. It was an absolute privilege to have known him.

– Corinna Tomrley

 

Ethel Loves Donald Urquhart


 

 If you look at Donald Urquhart’s art, it is no secret why we Ethel Mermaids should be obsessed with it. It’s not just the subject matters – full of Judy, Crawford, Bette Davis and queer references galore – but his precise style that gets to the heart of the matter and pulls you in with the joy and the pathos and the glory of it all. Urquhart is not just a great artist, however, but a vital part of the queer culture that goes back to before the Blitz Kid days. He is fascinating, funny and pure Mermaid gold. We couldn’t be more thrilled that he agreed to speak with us about his life, his work and the time he lived inside a Shagri-Las song…

What’s your background and how did you come to be an artist?

I grew up in Dumfries, Scotland and drawing was a means of escape from an early age. Becoming an artist has little to do with developing technical skills however; I feel it has more to do with developing sensitivity and humour – and I don’t mean the ha-ha kind of humour. How this cerebral arrangement forms is probably a combination of education and life experience. I was lecturing some art students a couple of years ago and told them that at 18-24 years old they shouldn’t be struggling through art degrees and getting heavily into debt when they could have been gaining experience and increasing their knowledge. When I was their age I didn’t have any opinions. I had nothing to say. So I became a fashion model and didn’t waste any paper on rotten art. Until I wanted to cause trouble.

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You’ve written a great essay about your drag journey – or journey as a reality creator – and how in the 80s gay scene, drag was sneered at. How it developed for you seems at once organic and subversively stealth. What do you think of the drag scene today, in particular the ‘alternative drag scene’?

To be brutally frank I can’t stand any of the so-called alternative drag scene. Some of my friends are involved with that scene and I am glad that they are enjoying doing what they are doing. My pleasure ends there. You watch a lot of these acts and to avoid boredom it is sometimes entertaining to picture what is going on in their minds. “I’m in drag. Camp. I’m referencing The Cockettes with my beard. Fabulous. I’m miming badly. That’s the joke. What a laugh. Tits and a hairy chest. I’m so alternative. I love this song. I wish I could sing. I just want to be able to say I am a performance artist. My dream is Edinburgh or Glastonbury. I’m getting paid. Deep down I want to be the new Leigh Bowery or Boy George. When I get this lot off I can go down the sauna and nobody will suss I’m a tranny. Best of both worlds. I love it. Why is nobody clapping?”

The trouble with a lot of these people is they really want to become celebrities. What I was doing was the exact opposite. You can’t fake decadence. You can’t merely pretend to be nasty and offensive, you either totally destroy people and leave them with a complex that no amount of pills or therapy can cure or you are wasting their time and yours. This attitude will not get you a media job. This approach is certain to backfire and you will have no business in showbusiness. I got the sack from a few cabaret jobs. I was the warm-up at Gaytime TV who left them cold. The talent show judge who was “too judgemental” (I thought I would judge the contestants as people too). Even when Heaven asked me to sit on a throne at the door and be bitchy to everyone who came in (through a microphone) I was told I had gone too far and never worked there again. Well. They asked for bitchy. Something I said must have really hit a nerve.

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Talking of your innovative cultural creation, you co-founded with Sheila Tequila and DJ Harvey the legendary club night The Beautiful Bend. There’s so much that came out of it: collaborations, performance, music. Do you miss it and that era? If you were to resurrect TBB for one night, who would be there, what would your outfit look like and what would the first song on the playlist be?

The Beautiful Bend goes wherever I go. I don’t know about missing those times as they are always with me in memories. Harvey came to Paris about a month ago and I met him at the gig. He is really up for doing another Beautiful Bend, or something that fuses our creativity – the only problem is that we are rarely in the same town for long these days. I’m still in touch with Sheila and we still have our two hour long highly bitchy phone chats. What I would love to do is have a Beautiful Bend with Sheila and Harvey. Just Sheila and Harvey. Turn up the music really loud and have sound effect of crowds laughing and cheering, glasses smashing, explosions. And have someone on the door telling everyone it is way too packed and nobody is allowed in, and everybody gets turned away. Crying all the way home.

Donald with Sheila Tequila and Bjork at the Sign of the Times opening
Donald with Sheila Tequila and Bjork at the Sign of the Times opening

Actually I would invite Mr Pearl too. That would be really special. He loves swishy disco from 1978 so the first record we would play would be ‘Beautiful Bend’, which is Harvey’s favourite record and where we got the name from. I don’t know what I would wear. Hopefully Sheila would bring a few bags of shoes from 1978 and we could have a Shoe Parade. Just the four of us. We all have different sized feet (7,8,9,10) so there would be an element of Shoe Jealousy going on.

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Much of your work is stylistically economical: either monochromatic or with few colours and measured lines, creating stark contrast with the flamboyant subject matters. You manage to distil the glamorous extravagance down to a few well-placed lines, skilfully capturing the essence of your subjects. Where do these stylistic choices stem from? What inspires your subject matter?

I’m very interested in Muriel Spark’s view of the novel as a short story that got carried away, and a short story being a poem that that somebody was too lazy or indulgent to distil down to its purest form. She was half-joking of course, but half-serious also. Nevertheless there is a truth there.

I am as much inspired by escaping reality as forcing people to face it. I suppose that “what inspires you?” and “who are your influences?” are stock questions in this sort of thing. The answer to both of them is ME.

You knew and collaborated with Leigh Bowery and were part of the 80s/90s alternative gay club/art scene. Leigh seems to have been a consistent part of your professional life since his death – for instance, you’ve assisted in archiving and curation of exhibitions, written about and created a zine about Leigh. He embraced simplicity and excess in equal measures. What are the meeting points in the worlds, sensibilities and artistic expressions of Donald Urquhart and Leigh Bowery?

In a similar way to Sheila, Leigh was one of my friends who was drawn to my descriptive powers and my love of detail. Leigh could stay on the phone for hours firing questions and I was always glad to relate the latest gossip, fleshing the scantest whispers of stories out into something a bit more lurid and grotesque.

We were both informed and encouraged by Scarlett Cannon, who was one of the most influential and inspiring people on the London club scene at that time. We were her boys and she was a sort of Miss Jean Brodie figure to us. “A celestial force for the good,” is how Pearl recently described her, recalling their first meeting at her club Cha-Cha’s.

We also were privy to an abundance of inside fashion and music information. You have to remember that we didn’t have the internet in those days so we physically had to go out and chat with as many people as possible. It was really exhausting usually, but we were young and nosey and hungry for cheap thrills – and serious pleasures.

I don’t know if you can tell that we shared a sick sense of humour? We also had a lot of time for the more extreme gay icons like Dorothy Squires and Danny LaRue. I can remember Leigh ringing me up, barely able to speak for laughing and playing a Live Dorothy Squires record down the phone. He laughed so much all through it that I could hardly hear it. Then he kept taking the needle back to the same place over and over again, but all the while tittering and laughing so I couldn’t hear it. He finally said “are you getting this in the VAN?” Squires was drunk on stage somewhere in Wales and she had a van parked outside recording her performance for posterity. I used to play Danny LaRue down the phone to him. You have to see LaRue’s film ‘Our Miss Fred’ – that is totally where Leigh got most of his moves and poses from. The fantasy fashion show sequence is 100% Bowery – the audience are all in Nazi uniform. Too much.

I was very lucky to have known Leigh from 1983 up to his death. I watched him transform from a slightly bashful lad with an Aussie twang, through ever more extreme fashions and attitudes, to his rather grand final incarnation. His voice was total Royal Shakespeare Company eventually. Of course the whole time we were sure we were going to die young, because everybody was always dying. That was what drove our flamboyant decadence. Every party was going to be our last. I do find it strange that eighteen years after Leigh’s death I am still here. As are a large number of our contemporaries. The dying pretty much stopped after Leigh died – but not entirely of course. The era of frequent funerals was harrowing all the same. I remember thinking to myself ‘Another funeral. Another graveyard. Another wake. Who’s next?’

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Your Alphabet series is brilliant. Unsurprisingly, we’re particularly drawn to your Joan and Judy Alphabets. They capture the camp, humour and iconology of the subjects; what keeps us hooked on them and why they are so fascinatingly delightful. Will there be any more alphabets in the future? If so, can you let us in on who or what you may be alphabetising?

I daresay there will be other alphabets. I’m not the kind of artist who can just roll their sleeves up and pick up a brush and whistle as they knock things out. I really have to find the right mood and become focused. The alphabets take a lot of planning and research. You have 26 alphabetically ordered points in which to describe your subject. Some letters are more difficult than others. I had a really tough time with my Margate Alphabet. The hardest letter was ‘O’.

I’m reading a biography of Tallulah Bankhead right now and although she would seem good material for an alphabet there seems to have been way too much going on in her life to nail her in 26 letters. Twenty six four letter words might be better.

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To paraphrase one of your wonderful art works, ‘the faggots love Judy’. Some lady-faggots love them some Judy too. She appears in a lot of your work. What, for you, is the queer appeal of Garland?

‘Those faggots love to GET HAPPY with Judy – but is their happiness REAL?’ – I think I have seen enough feigned happiness on the gay scene to make Pollyanna retch. You know when somebody pulls a really huge smile – all bared teeth – but their eyes are desperately searching for your approval? If you don’t smile back instantly they start to feel insecure and wonder if you hate them. Rather than going into the danger zone of looking at themselves and working out what it is you might not like about them, they try to turn it around onto you. “Are you alright? What’s wrong? You don’t look happy.” – “I’m not happy because you are grinning in my face. Go away.” How shallow are some people? We all have to go around beaming like junk jewellery or we’re killjoys. I’d love to be able to explain my lack of expression by saying “I’m the president of the Virginia O’Brien Fan Club” but would they get it? Hell, I’ve met queens that have never heard of Coral Browne.

For me the queer appeal of Garland is simply that she was camp and could be very bitchy. She was hilarious. Other gay people cling teary-eyed to poor little Dorothy singing ‘Over the Rainbow’ as though her sadness is theirs too. That’s the thing – there were many Judys. She was no one-trick pony. There’s a Judy for everyone. Pill poppers, drunks, fag hags, lesbians, fats, anorexics, the bitter, the disillusioned, the brave, the weak… One Judy fits all.

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There’s nothing quite like a train-wreck, tarnished or tragic blonde. How did you select those depicted in your Peroxides on Parole series? What do they mean to you? Do the contemporary crop of notorious blondes measure up to the cracked legends of these women? (Spears, Lohan, perhaps even Courtney Love immediately spring to mind).

Strangely I made those drawings by freeze-framing video tapes and then drew the sometimes distorted faces that jerkily flickered on the screen. So it was really down to which blondes I had video tapes of. Drawing with black ink on white paper, people only have black hair or white hair. There are no redheads or brunettes. There is something about a peroxide blonde that makes her a little shadier than a natural blonde. Like Kim Novak in ‘Vertigo’ or Tippi Hedren in ‘Marnie, she is a fake with something to hide as well as someone who goes to great pains to stand out.

I have no interest in Britney Spears. I might change my mind when she dies. Ditto Lohan. Courtney Love is more interesting, coming from the same trash pile as Pete Burns but she could try harder. Or maybe people could try harder to boost her “career”. I think she has great potential. Which is like saying I pity her for failing.

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One piece of peroxide I am shocked has not gone further is Margi Clarke. Can you believe she is working in a pub? At a ‘Fur Is A Drag’ night in Heaven I shared a dressing room with her and Chrissie Hynde. Chrissie was a bit nervous as she wasn’t used to singing along with a pre-recorded vocal. I thought a spliff might help but Chrissie started worrying about what she was wearing. It was a black lace shirt with a black waistcoat and black jeans. “Is this OK? – I mean. I NEVER wear black!” she said in all seriousness. Margi was set to model an apron which read “I’d Rather Go Naked Than Wear Fur” – but she was wearing a very obvious black bra and panties underneath. I tried to dissuade her. She wasn’t having it. Then I pointed out that she was going out in front of a thousand queens in a bra that was too small for her and caused fat to hang over it at the sides and back. Before I started on the panties she whipped her undies off. “You’re right,” she said, “and thanks. I’m going to get a new bra.”

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You have the choice to spend an evening at the home of Joan Crawford or an evening on the town of Judy Garland. Who do you go with and why?

An evening at the home of Joan Crawford without her being there – where I could snoop through her wardrobe and sex toys. That appeals to me, but I don’t know that I would have found her as entertaining company as a sozzled Judy out on the town. I’d go and get rat-arsed with Judy and sing all the songs.

In the mid 1980s I lived next door to a sweet old gay couple. They had both worked in the hotel trade all their days. They had met them all: Liz, Grace, Ava… One night they had been at a gay party in Chelsea. They came out and the first thing they saw was a woman lying drunk on the road. It was Judy Garland. They couldn’t rouse her – she was totally out of it. So one of them ran to a phone box and rang round all the hotels to find out where she was staying. Then they bundled her into a taxi and took her back. Their proudest possession was the signed photo and thank you note she sent them. A true star. If I had to choose between suffering the agonies of Judy Garland’s heart or Joan Crawford’s vagina I know which one I would pick. Christina! Fetch me my Fuck-Me pumps!

We love a zine and are all zinesters here. I see the zine-as-art-object fucking with ideas of high and low culture and, for me, so much of your work is doing that. What do you like about the zine format and what are your thoughts about DIY cultural production in general?

I see the zine as something easy to produce. All you need is a typewriter and maybe material for collage, access to a photocopier – and away you go. You don’t need a computer or anything complicated.

I used a brush (never a pen) with black ink for drawing as the photocopier reads this clearly. I didn’t rub out pencil marks as the crummy photocopier at my local post office wasn’t sophisticated enough to pick them up.

The most important aspect of a zine is quality of content. Otherwise don’t waste paper. If you are making a zine for your own entertainment just make the one and stay home.

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 Which Shangri-Las song do you live in?

I was going through a hell and high water seaside romance. It was really more draining than fulfilling, and one bleak morning it struck me that I was trapped in some melodramatic Shangri-Las Song – or all of them. I made that drawing and then it was turned into a print to raise funds for the Whitechapel Gallery. By the time I had got the prints my on/off boyfriend had decided that we should be “partners” as he called it. We were going steady at last. I gave him a signed print and told him that he had inspired the drawing. “Which Shangri-Las song were you thinking of?” he asked, looking quite flattered.

-“One of the ones where they both die in a horrible car accident at the end.” The look on his face told me that our love was doomed.

On the 8th August The Ethel Mermaids will be present, in Joan-drag and hawking our stuff, at Amy Grimehouse Presents Mommie Dearest. What’s your take on the book and film, and: will Donald Urquhart be in London to accept an invitation to come along too?

I don’t know what I’m doing in August. Paris closes down so there isn’t much point in me being here. I’ll certainly come along if I’m in town. With an axe.

I met Faye Dunaway just after Mommie Dearest came out. She used to shop in a fashion store I worked in called Jones. She had a whole running rail of things she had put on hold. She was lovely, but the problem with her was that she was always “in disguise”, you know – big dark glasses, floppy hat, long crochet waistcoat. Total spy garb. Nobody was meant to know who she was. She had a thing about Katherine Hamnett menswear. The trousers were no good as they didn’t fit but she loved the parachute silk shirts and poplin jackets. Once she got very excited about a red shirt, “I remember when Katherine was designing this!” she exclaimed before checking herself with “but that is giving the game away…”

What game? Was this a game? It probably was. In all the time I had spent serving her she hadn’t actually purchased anything. What I didn’t know was that she really hated the film. One afternoon I was unpacking a box of new jackets that had just arrived, and hanging them on the rails. Enter Dunaway, in mufty as usual. Smiling I said “You will be pleased to know, Miss Dunaway, that we only use wooden hangers in this store.”

Through her tinted shades I saw her eyes widen, her mouth turned down at the corners. It would have been great if she had yelled “NO… WIRE HANGERS…EVER!!” but she turned on her heel and stomped out in a fury without saying a word. I don’t know if she came back to the store as I was “made redundant” about a week later. I suspect because of her.

What was the question? Oh yes, Mommie Dearest, the never ending story of Big Bad Joan Crawford as told by her abused daughter. Christina has brought out a few extended versions which I haven’t read. I remember she had a blog that may as well have been called “And ANOTHER thing!” – she always has that bit more energy to spare for hammering another nail into Joan’s coffin. In her most recent tour she made no bones about hinting that Joan was responsible for Albert Steel’s death while answering a question from a fan. Did Joan really throw him down the stairs or was Christina remembering a scene from one of Joan’s movies?

The book may well be a memoir written out of revenge and skewed by a defective memory. B.D. Hyman’s ‘My Mother’s Keeper’ was a copycat effort by Bette Davis’ daughter to cause her mother pain. It did. They never spoke again. At least Christina waited until the bitch was DEAD.

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For an illustrated edition of Vanity Fair you chose the sublime Bette Davis as your Becky Sharpe. Why was Bette so useful for this project?

I was originally only going to show the key female characters, in an homage to George Cukor’s ‘The Women’. By way of homework I watched the film ‘Becky Sharp’ – the first colour movie – which was based on Vanity Fair. I really didn’t think that shrill Miriam Hopkins made a convincing Becky. She is great in some scenes but I thought that Bette Davis would have been much better. Davis and Hopkins loathed each other, and I decided to use Davis as my model for Becky Sharp – sort of a revenge from beyond the grave.

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In the book Becky first appears as a schoolgirl and at the by the end we don’t really know her age but it is clear that she has let herself go to a great extent, so I drew Davis going from fresh-faced ingénue to Baby Jane – and beyond. I think any reader with knowledge of Bette Davis films could easily imagine her in the role.

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Bette appears elsewhere in your work, for instance the incredible Davis Scowl depicting Bette in The Anniversary. Do we have your permission to get a tattoo artist to put your Bette on our Becky (Mermaid)?

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I think that’s a lovely idea. I’d really like to see the end result – depending on where the tattoo is. She’s not going to have her eyeballs done is she, so that she has ‘Bette Davis Eyes’?

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All images courtesy Donald Urquhart, Herald Street and Maureen Paley galleries

Ethel Loves Todd Brandt


 

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.

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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.

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 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.

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Judy Garland: For possessing more raw talent than any other human being of the 20th century.

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Arlene Francis: For ineffable, unflappable, indisputable charm.

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Marlene Dietrich: For creating the most flawless image possible, and then refusing to spoil the illusion.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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 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.

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Liz or Debbie?

Connie Stevens.

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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.

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Ethel Loves Wayne Hollowell


We at The Ethel Mermaids love a good recommendation. People who’ve hung out with us or hung out on our facebook page get a pretty good idea of our sensibilities. So when Mermate Jussi recommended artist Wayne Hollowell to me, Corinna Mermaid, we knew that our message had solidly permeated our devoted Ethelites. We haven’t been this excited about an artist in a very long time. I immediately invited Wayne to become an Honorary Mermaid by featuring him here on Mermania. We like to support, profile and chat with kindred spirits. Wayne is certainly that. But also, so much more. His art depicts those we love but in such a way as to truly tap into the Ethel Mermaids’ ethos: camp, queer, New Kitsch from old kitsch and a celebration of the spirit of the Diva and high-gay icon. With his new show ‘Drama Queen’ opening on the 26th June in New York’s Michael Mut Gallery, the timing could not be more perfect to share with The World of Ethel the work and the amazing artist who is Wayne Hollowell.

Describe your journey to becoming an artist?

I grew up in rural North Carolina the only son of a preacher and a teacher (I had 3 sisters). I was BLESSED to have parents who did not question my obsession with Streisand at age six! I cannot remember a time when I was not drawing. I also was lucky to find a best friend in 6th grade named Zane who shared my Hollywood obsessions! We spent hours pouring over the latest movie magazines, obsessing over CHARLIE’S ANGELS and wearing out Donna Summer albums! My mom and dad sacrificed so much to send me to North Carolina School of the Arts in the 11th and 12th grade where I had the greatest teacher Clyde Fowler (he is quite a legend). He introduced me to Warhol and even better John Waters. Again, my mom and dad somehow found a way to send me to Atlanta college of Art and while I cannot say I learned that much from the teachers there I did learn a lot from my friends (including RuPaul who lived near the school).

Liz Taylor Virginia Woolfe by Wayne Hollwell Acrylic on canvas 36x36
Liz Taylor Virginia Woolfe by Wayne Hollwell Acrylic on canvas 36×36

You made some amazing art films with Rupaul – how did that working relationship come about?

I had kind of lost interest in painting and was thinking I wanted to be a director. I cast RuPaul in several video movies which we would premiere at the local clubs. He was so fun and great to work with and was just full of pop culture knowledge. We really worked our butts off making those movies and it was just so much fun! Ru was always a star! We made “Mahogany 2” and I did this epic called “Comes the Blood” about a girl born with the head of a hog in turn of the century GA who is in love with her gorgeous brother. It was totally inspired by “The Color Purple” but I am sure Ms. Alice Walker would not have been amused. I went to NYU film school for one year but I just really could not afford it. I spent 14 years in NYC just sowing my wild oats, waiting tables, working in a leather bar, a hotel – you name it! All the while, feeling so frustrated that I was not doing what I was meant to do, which was to be an artist. It took a while to get to the point (I’m in my mid-40s) where I finally gave in and just said “this is IT… you are going to do this… do what you were BORN to do” (years of OPRAH finally sunk in to my brain). So now I live in Virginia, very dull and I cannot wait for the weekends when I can open my pinot grigio, put on my Max Steiner soundtracks and paint my Hollywood idols and the characters that have haunted and fascinated me since childhood.

Bette Davis Margot Channing by Wayne Hollowell Acrylic on Canvas 36x36
Bette Davis Margot Channing by Wayne Hollowell Acrylic on Canvas 36×36

In the statement for your new show, Drama Queen, you twin camp with tragedy in relation to the women you depict. This really spoke to me: I’ve long been fascinated by how the tragic diva is intrinsic in gay iconology. It’s part of what draws us to them but it’s still hard to put a finger on why they fascinate. For The Ethel Mermaids bad art is about camp, kitsch and queer. It’s also about a true joy and love for the subjects. It’s affectionate as well as being sometimes humorous. When I think about the queerness of bad art it’s the queering, a queer subversion. And the subjects were usually queerly subversive in themselves. Does that make sense to you in terms of your art, your interest in these stars and characters, and what attracts you to these subjects?

I think I am the living proof that we are BORN gay and I do believe we share a special love and appreciation for art, camp, tragic divas, beauty and fun that is almost universal.

I remember the first time I saw “A Streetcar Named Desire” when I was 11 on the late movie! Even though I didn’t totally understand it I was quoting Blanche, absolutely obsessed with her (the trampy teacher seducing her students in a run down motel). My friend Zane was equally obsessed and we set out to see everything with Tennessee Williams’ name attached to it. I don’t know what it is that attracts us to these characters and the actresses that bring them to life but I know it is something a lot of gays respond to. I have facebook friends in Brazil that are obsessed with Joan Crawford.

My mom tried to make me play junior high football but NO WAY was I having that, lol. Child I was in my room listening to Barbra belt the love theme from “Eyes of Laura Mars” over and over and drawing pictures of Faye Dunaway!

You’re an incredible, accomplished artist. Would you align your recent work in any way to the Bad Art work that the Mermaids do?

Wow! Thanks so much! I try to capture the sadness that draws me to these characters and also the camp which I love. I spend so much time alone painting but I LOVE every minute of it. I am the worst at drawing and each painting has about 15 versions underneath the final image. My sister Mary is a genius and always can tell me what is off about my drawings. I really could not do these without her. She gives me so many wonderful suggestions (the stars on the Little Edie painting were her idea). It’s just part of my process to consult with her, draw, re-draw until somehow I get the image Ok. I’m always amazed that I get it to look like who I am trying to paint. It’s always a struggle to get the eyes even, the nose correct, I am just a mess with proportions and I cannot draw ears and hands lol. I love the work you guys are doing. I think there is such a sense of fun and freedom and celebration in it! I hope my work conveys those same qualities! I think we both share a sincere love of our subject matter and so glad we are keeping these great ladies and characters alive through our art!

Oprah Vajayjay by Wayne Hollowell Acrylic on Canvas 36x36
Oprah Vajayjay by Wayne Hollowell Acrylic on Canvas 36×36

If you could have one of your subjects (alive, dead, character, your choice) sit for you in real life, who would you choose and in what setting?

I would choose Truman Capote! I just love him! I think he had such a wit and would have just been hilarious! I love he had martinis for breakfast and was such a gossip! The second subject would be a young Marlon Brando and I would do an extensive collection of nudes! Although Crawford is my favorite subject/muse, I think she would have intimidated me!

I’m relatively new to any kind of art scene and so far The Mermaids is it for me. Is there a gay/queer art scene either in your community, the US and/or online?)

I have found several wonderful artists on facebook who work in similar subject matter. Rocky Helminski and Mark Ritchfield are fantastic artists and a lot of their work celebrates the idols of old Hollywood. I don’t think it’s really “pop” art, I would say it’s kind of “pop” expressionism as I think our work has more feeling and emotion than “pop”, which tends to be kind of cold. I have been so amazed at the response to my work and it seems people really do enjoy the fun, the pathos, everything I am trying to put in it!

My first NYC show is 26-30 June at Michael Mut Gallery so my fingers are crossed! I’m so thankful to Michael Mut as well. I went and met him about my show and he was just so cool. He showcases a great roster of artists (George Towne is following me with a one man show) so I am humbled and so excited to be showing there! There are lots of great gay artists I have connected with just on facebook. The Leslie Lohman museum is a great resource and gallery!

Liza Minelli by Wayne Hollowell Acrylic on Canvas 36x36
Liza Minnelli by Wayne Hollowell Acrylic on Canvas 36×36

What’s next for Mr Hollowell?

I am doing two new series at the moment. The first is called “the GAY SAINTS” and is a series of portraits of great gay men and women who truly changed our world. From Harvey Milk to Bayard Rustin to Capote and Nureyev. I have around 12 done to date and I am planning on the series being about 50 portraits. I want it to be our collective KISS OUR ASSES to the DC monsters like Marco Rubio, Paul Ryan, Boehner all our “leaders” who fight so hard to DENY gay men and women basic human rights (although they sure do not mind taking our tax money to fund their wars). I also want it to be a series that young gay teenagers can see and be filled with PRIDE and inspiration!

The second series I am working on is called “LONESOME COWBOYS” (a nod to Warhol’s film) but it’s a collection of homoerotic cowboy paintings of some of Hollywood’s tragic cowboys and of course the camp figures. Joe Buck, Jack Twist, Montgomery Clift in “Red River” and of course, Joan Crawford (my favorite cowboy) in “Johnny Guitar”.

I also want to do more figure work. The artists that truly inspire me are Rocky Helminski, McDermott and McGough, Warhol and Alice Neel. My dream is to just be able to paint full time and I am working hard to make that happen.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

I am so thankful to be an artist. I am thankful for the friends, teachers and my amazing mother who pushed and encouraged me. It’s not the easiest path but I am so thankful it is mine. I just look forward to making more art! As OPRAH said on her last show “To God be the Glory”! I LOVE Oprah as you can tell lol.

You can catch Wayne Hollowell’s show ‘Drama Queen’ at Michael Mut Gallery, New York City, 26-30 June. See more of Wayne’s work on his Web site and his facebook art page.

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In defence of weird, weird celebrity art


Checking out the stats on The [now defunct] Ethel Mermaids’ Etsy shop I noticed a lot of recent traffic came from this blog. Thrilled to think we’d got a mention I found the entry. The author laments that there is a lot of ‘weird, weird celebrity “art” out there’ and asks of my portrait of Faye Dunaway as Joan Crawford in Mommie Dearest, ‘HOW?! WHY?!’

For those of us who get bad art the answer to the first questions is acrylic and pen on card. For those of us who get bad art, the second question needs no answer because it is not asked.

I’m not upset and I’m not being defensive. In terms of bad art, I find this fascinating. I’m actually perversely stoked that she reacted to it so strongly that she needed to bitch about it on her blog. (And that we got some traffic!) The description of the piece states that it is by a bad artist but she either missed that or didn’t think what it meant in terms of the picture. Or didn’t care. I’d gladly have a dialogue with her about it if she wants to, but can’t be bothered to initiate it as she didn’t ask me directly ‘why’ before she blogged and linked to my art in the first place. Instead, I figured I’d reciprocate by blogging about her blog post on our blog. Blog.

If we did have that conversation she might find out that whilst the pictures she  features in her blog post as examples of good, accessible, not amateur, not weird, weird celebrity art are very nice, bad art is about breaking down rigid, judgmental binaries of good and bad, talented and nontalented, capable and incapable. Bad art questions ideas of taste through undermining the classic hierarchy of high and low art. And bad art actually gives a lot of joy to a lot of people. For some bad art is simply about that pure joy. It can be all about the weird. Bad art is loved because it is camp and subversive and radical and fun and silly and righteous. It can be light as air or incredibly deep. Bad art can upset because it disturbs and that disturbance can come from all kinds of places – some valid, some that should perhaps be considered and questioned.

Bad art also offers a lot to those who do it. For the trained and those who might otherwise make art that would be judged as ‘good’ or ‘correct’, doing bad art can be an extremely liberating – if sometimes challenging -endeavour. It can offer a freedom, and bring the fun and joy back, to the process of creating. For those of us who are not trained and have always believed that we can’t and so shouldn’t bother trying, doing it can change our lives. I get tons of pleasure out of it and that would be enough. The fact that I have had enormously positive feedback since I produced my first piece and had requests, commissions, sold pieces and had work so tempting and wanted that it was stolen (and later paid for when the thief was suitably shamed), tells me that there are people out there who do get bad art and enjoy it enough to want it to happen. Some people will get and like bad art, some won’t. It’s all fine. Different (brush) strokes for different folks, eh? I for one can’t get enough of all the weird, weird celebrity art out there. I’ll keep on bad arting for all those who do get it, and even for those who do not.

By Corinna Mermaid

Ethel Loves Shaun Considine


We originally knew of Shaun Considine as the author of the sublime duel biography Bette and Joan: The Divine Feud. One of the best biographies ever written (if not the best), the book presents the greatest stories of these two Hollywood Queens as well as documenting their bizarre relationship built on a strange mix of rivalry, hate (Bette and sometimes Joan) and a longing for friendship (Joan in the early and latter years). The Divine Feud is a deliciously compelling read and if you haven’t ever done so then you really should give back your gay until you’ve read it. As if that weren’t enough, Mr Considine has also penned Barbra Streisand: The Woman, The Myth, The Music, an equally delectable tome about another of our fave divas and which led us to attempt to find out more about this author with the same taste in ladies as us. We found nothing about him outside of his own Web site, but through that we did discover that Shaun has also written a comprehensive study on Hollywood screenwriter Paddy Chayefsky and the thrilling new ebook The Oscar Letters. If that weren’t enough the site shares many of the photographs he has taken over the years as a photojournalist, capturing the 70s zeitgeist through an astonishing span of the decade’s most compelling stars.  He recorded the birth of the ‘New Cinema’ and the old and new generations who took to the stage as singers, performers and icons. Some of the most extraordinary and iconic images of women in entertainment from this era were taken by this man. The anonymous souls of NYC also attracted his lens and the beauty of all these images stands rightly alongside his gorgeous prose. Shaun Considine is an important biographer and documentary artist who has contributed a great deal to the culture. With that in mind, we set out to gather the details behind the work and the man and discover the stories behind the stories. We got so much more than we hoped for.

How did you come to write The Divine Feud and The Woman, The Myth, The Music?

During the 1960s I worked at Columbia Records in NYC as the coordinator of new releases, including those of Barbra Streisand. Hence, along with knowing those who worked with her, there were the many stories of what went on during the creation of her classic recordings and TV specials. In the 1970s, as a journalist and photographer, I covered the production of a few of her films, including A Star is Born. A decade later, when the prospect of my writing a book was being considered, her name was on many publishers’ lists.  I wrote an outline.   Three New York houses bid for the rights and voila – the “author” was born. When published, this also became my “Baptism by fire” as the book was done without the subject’s legendary control.

Bette and Joan, despite being a double feature, was great fun.  For me it began in the early 1970s, when by accident, I was caught between their verbal missiles. The feud until then was largely unknown. In the years that followed, a harvest of facts and delicious details was gathered.  I also interviewed both stars again; Joan, six months before she died and Bette, specifically for the book. That she was willing to talk about her relationship with “Miss Crawford” was a large plus. At the same time she was also curious about what I had uncovered, and specifically what the world saw in them together, as a team. “Because we had nothing in common,” said Bette.

Who have been your favourite people to photograph?

That went in cycles. During the 1970s, the wealth of films being made in New York City enabled me to meet and photograph a rich assortment of filmmakers. Amongst them the writers, directors, cinematographers and actors of such films as: Godfather II, Saturday Night Fever, Network, Manhattan, and Kramer vs. Kramer. The latter featuring a virtual galaxy of talent – director Robert Benton, the DP Nestor Almendros, star actor Dustin Hoffman, and newcomer Meryl Streep, who had to fight daily to keep her character and emotional balance intact.

Barbra Streisand on the set of 'Up the Sandbox' (Kershner 1972), by Shaun Considine.
Barbra Streisand on the set of ‘Up the Sandbox’ (Kershner 1972), by Shaun Considine.

At the same time the New York cultural landscape was teeming with rallies, live concerts, plays and recording sessions, including Sweeney Todd. The double duty of writing and photographing were, I guess, a natural high because it shielded me from taking drugs and other toxic pursuits.  Wise in retrospect, but without judgment; only the lingering regret of losing so many I was close to.

During the 1980s, when I started writing books, the photography continued. Usually late in the day, covering the real stars of New York City. The people in the streets and parks. Each of whom – man, woman, child, dog or cat, firmly believed they were the center of their own universe. Which they were and remain. The style, attitude, spontaneity, creativity and spirit of survival is amazing.  Never a dull moment in Manhattan or any large city or town when one keeps their eyes and ears open.

Street Artist on 5th Avenue by Shaun Considine
Street Artist on 5th Avenue by Shaun Considine

Through your involvement with the New York nightclub Arthur you were part of the birth of the disco in the 1960s – did it feel like a revolutionary cultural moment at the time?

Arthur – yes, as you said, it was the birthplace of international disco. The timing was right. It was 1965 and everything was ripe for explosion in New York City. The British Invasion of pop music and fashion was already underway when Sybil Burton – whose husband, Richard, had left her for a famous movie star – moved from London to Manhattan. With many of her show business friends in town, she decided to open a club where everyone – the British talents and their American counterparts – could meet. She invited key people from both groups to become members by buying shares in the club. I was asked to join after contributing free dance records.  No one, except Sybil perhaps, knew that Arthur would be such a success and would span four incredible years.

What was your role as ‘investor’? Did you have any say in how Arthur was run?

Our roles as investor-members were to simply relax and enjoy the freedom of the place. Sybil was the hostess and she ran the club, which was open to everyone. She was Welsh, with the attendant Celtic humor and hospitality. No airs, No pretensions. No one got preferential treatment and everything on the menu was reasonably priced. Frequently, if it seemed a young couple could not afford the cost, the check was waived.

Beyond the constant flow of super celebrity guests – from Paul Newman and Steve McQueen, to Princess Margaret and Dusty Springfield – Arthur at the same time helped to nurture and launch many of the decade’s major cultural changes. Not long after it opened, I brought in an acetate of a record that Columbia was reluctant to release. With no specific plan, except to share, I asked the club’s DJ to play the acetate, which instantly brought everyone to their feet. The song, “Like a Rolling Stone” by Bob Dylan, caused such a sensation that Columbia were forced to release it the following week. Wherein the legendary folk-rock revolution of the 1960’s was born.  For more on that, see “The Hit We Almost Missed” – New York Times Op Ed essay.

At the same time another club member – producer-director Hal Prince – was preparing a new musical for Broadway. With rehearsals about to begin, he had no leading lady. At Arthur he was introduced to a  candidate, a coy but sassy 20 year-old girl from Sussex, England. Jill Haworth could act (Exodus), but could not sing or dance professionally. Which was what Hal Prince needed for the role of Sally Bowles, in his radical new musical, Cabaret. When it opened the theme of rampant decadence in Weimar Germany greatly upset the conservative New York critics. Hence the ticket sales were paltry; until the more liberal knights and fair ladies of Arthur rushed forward to support the show. Cabaret became a rousing success. A second production opened in London, with another young non-singer (Judi Dench) as Sally Bowles. Its effect on the old-fashioned song-and-dance genre was seismic, and lasting.

Concurrently, another of Sybil’s close friends, Mike Nichols. was facing the imminent extinction of his first feature film. Laden with profanities, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? was about to be severely cut and rated X by the official censors. At Arthur, his current girl friend and social ally, Jacqueline Kennedy, told him not to worry. As the widow of the recently slain President, and close to public sainthood, she devised a plan on how to get the Catholic church to overlook the film’s dirty language. Jacqueline succeeded. Released with minimal changes the film, along with abolishing the industry’s strict, long-term ratings code, was a huge critical and commercial success. Sir Mike followed this with an equally risqué film, about a young man having an affair with an older woman, The Graduate, which  eclipsed everything else released that year.  Except for Bonnie and Clyde, produced and starring another habitue of the club, Warren Beatty.

Do you have any good Arthur stories for us?

As you surmised, there are many. Beyond the rampant social and creative crusades, there were the tales of the many famous and infamous guests. As I’ve said, everyone who was anybody went to Arthur. Everyone except the reigning female box office star of the decade – Elizabeth Taylor, who was not welcome, for obvious reasons (spousal larceny the main one). Undaunted, akin to Morgan le Fay in the original Camelot legend, Liz choose to ignore the embargo. Focusing her seductive wiles on the other club members, she attempted to get into Arthur – and failed – repeatedly.

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The Oscar Letters is so exciting! What are your favourite letters/stories in the book?

My favorite Oscar Letters interview was with Princess Grace, as told in the current ebook. She was the first to reply to my letter and the first to grant an interview, which we did in NYC. HSH was cool and gorgeous, appearing as if she just stepped from one of her classic Alfred Hitchcock films. When she sensed I knew her work and wasn’t a mere gaga fan, the conversation became livelier and continued way beyond the allotted time providing aspects of her career and the Oscars not divulged before.

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My favorite letter came from Simone Signoret, who sat at her desk in France and typed out everything she remembered about Room At The Top, the independent British film which brought her the Academy Award and worldwide fame. Deborah Kerr was nominated six times, and Thelma Ritter five, for best supporting.  Neither won, yet both remained grateful, and candid about their future chances.  “If it’s in the cards, I’ll get one someday,” said Ritter. “I’d be a hypocrite if I said I didn’t want one,” Miss Kerr confessed, feeling that someday sentiment might sway her chances. “They will finally say, ‘Oh, God! She’s been nominated so many times, we must give it to her.’”  She was right.  In 1991, the Academy gave Deborah Kerr an Honorary Oscar.

Who didn’t reply that you wish had?

Marlon Brando was hard to reach. I wrote two letters before his press agent replied. He was at Universal Studios in Hollywood, making a comedy with David Niven (the first Dirty Rotten Scoundrels). Marlon’s assistant asked for the questions. But he didn’t respond until a few months later. He called when he was in New York but didn’t divulge much about On The Waterfront or his Oscar. He only wanted to talk about the Civil Rights March in Washington, which he was about to participate in.

By our calculations, next year is the 25th anniversary of the first publication of The Divine Feud – are there any special plans to mark this occasion?

I wasn’t aware that next year is the 25th anniversary of Bette and Joan. David Shelley of Little, Brown has been a strong supporter of the book, so something special may be done. Currently I am working on a script, an adaptation of three specific sections in the book, which run together cinematically. So who knows what the legend of the two warring legions will be treated to next year.

 What is your opinion of the books Mommie Dearest [by Joan Crawford’s daughter, Christina] and My Mother’s Keeper [by Bette Davis’s daughter B.D.]?

I didn’t think much of Mommie.Dearest because it was published after Miss Crawford had died. Also it was much too brutal to be believable. Ditto the lurid film, which I believed drove a dagger into the over-the-top allegations. My Mother’s Keeper by Bette Davis’ daughter was published when she was alive and could respond. Which she did, in a chapter of her subsequent bestseller in which she addressed her daughter as “Dear Hyman”, her son-in-law’s surname. To be interpreted a few ways in Bette’s salute.

If you had to buy the ideal gift for Bette, Joan and Barbra, what would you choose for them and why?

I am not good at buying gifts for anyone, myself included. The only shops I frequent are book stores, so a gift would have to be a book, CD, or DVD. The topic would be dependent on the public’s current whimsy, or mine.

Who would you rather have dinner with out of the three?

My choice: Bette and Joan – together, in an Irish or English type Pub with the booze flowing and critical questions prepared. So, by the end of the evening, they would either have made some kind of peace; or they would finally have killed each other.

Joan Crawford and Bette Davis on the set of 'Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?', by Shaun Considine
Joan Crawford and Bette Davis on the set of ‘Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?’

 What has been the most shocking and/or enlightening revelation that you discovered about these women in the times that you encountered them?

Shocking? I was born in Brooklyn and one summer – pre-University – I lived in Birmingham, England, where I was a bus conductor. I loved “B’rum,” the swarms of factory workers and the late-night Teddy Boys trying to take over the bus.  Hence, nothing unusual or amiss startles me.   Re: Bette and Joan, in the beginning it was hard to fathom there would be any envy or jealousy between them. I naively assumed that as major Hollywood “movie stars,” they were way above such basic human emotions. At the end of their lives it surprised me to learn that Miss Crawford was the more vulnerable of the two, and that she really wanted to be friends with Bette Davis. But to accomplish that do she would have had to grovel. Being the quintessential movie star, Joan Crawford could never do that.

Do you think you’ll write any further super-diva biographies?

After my third full-length book, Mad As Hell – The Life and Work of Paddy Chayefsky (Hollywood’s best, and most honoured, screenwriter), I felt I had covered the gamut with biographical subjects.  There is a possible project on the 1970s. I kept a journal on that equally tumultuous decade, and photographed everyone I was lucky enough to meet or to stumble across. Some of the photos are on the 1970s page of my web site.

[And then Mr Considine delivered a morsel we hadn’t thought to enquire after…]

This question was not asked, but here’s the answer. Yes, I did meet Ethel Merman. In 1984, Ken O’Keefe – a good friend – hosted a Sunday brunch at Harper, his Upper East Side restaurant in New York. Ethel lived in the neighborhood and was invited. But she did not show up until three o’clock at which time we were at the bar, where, dressed in a chic mink jacket and red dress she took the seat next to me.   Her friend, Anna Sosenko, was with her. In an effort to be friendly I began to tell Ethel a story about how, as a teenager in London, I saw a film.   It was There’s No Business Like Show Business, and over the marquee there was a giant cut-out of Marilyn Monroe, with her name in lights. When I mentioned this to Ethel she instantly barked at me: “Whaddya mean? I was the star of that film.” Which is what I was going to follow up with. But Ethel, dismissing me, turned her back and said to Anna Sosenko: “this guy doesn’t know a fucking thing.”

A few days later Ethel had a brain seizure and eventually died. R.I.P. A true Broadway legend. Except thereafter at Harper, whenever her name was raised, my good friend Ken would always say: “It was Shaun Considine who killed Ethel Merman.”

Note: we were deeply saddened to learn of the death of Shaun Considine in April 2015. Since first interviewing him for The Ethel Mermaids, Shaun and I had become incredibly close. As is the way these days, this friendship was developed online. We would email each other, sporadically. He’d send me a bit of news on his latest ventures, or a story remembered that he knew I’d appreciate. Stories about Julie Newmar, Judy Garland and the like. I loved hearing them and I always loved hearing from Shaun. He had projects that tragically weren’t completed when he died. He had written a follow up to his book Barbra: The Woman, The Myth, The Music (for which I wrote a chapter). Most excitingly, he had written a script based on his most famous and well-loved book, The Divine Feud, taking key moments from his biography. He was shopping it around and his dream cast, he told me, would be Cate Blanchett and Julianne Moore. He wanted a woman and/or gay director/producer. Because he would give me sketchy details about himself and his life, I wasn’t sure to what extent this script was seen by the right people at the time of Shaun’s death. It is bitter-sweet then to know that Ryan Murphy is basically making Shaun’s film as his television series ‘Feud’.

I’ve no doubt that Murphy will do an amazing job. It’s been acknowledged that Shaun’s book is the source material. And there’s no reason why Murphy and his team couldn’t have come to the idea themselves. They probably didn’t know that Shaun had wanted to do it. If they did I would hope that they would ask for access to his script and maybe use it if they could, in some way. I’ve no idea who handles Shaun’s estate now. Even though it breaks my heart that Shaun didn’t get to do his film and didn’t get to see his work turned into a project by one of the most exciting and important creatives of our time, I would hope that he would approve of the idea that someone else was doing it. And that he’d at last have got the more mainstream recognition he so deserved for his incredible work.

I miss Shaun so much I can’t even say. He’s one of those facebook friends who comes up on invite lists from time to time and it rips at my heart to see his presence there as if I could just drop him a line. And then I remember that he didn’t really do facebook because he mainly got inundated with messages from young men chatting him up, apparently. I would, instead, have dropped him an email and maybe he’d reply, sometimes he wouldn’t. He was so private and so piecemeal with what he shared, but I did know he’d been ill in those last couple of years. He’d disappear from communication for a few months and return to say he was suffering from a case of getting old, no details. Just more wonderful stories. And he said the loveliest things to me. I miss him, I love him. It was an absolute privilege to have known him.

– Corinna Tomrley 

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