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It’s rare that something other than a person – or perhaps the site http://damnyouautocorrect.com/ – makes me laugh out loud.  (I must say that that website makes me laugh so hard sometimes that my stomach muscles hurt.)   But this morning on the Bonnet Channel, which, if you haven’t already figured out, I watch early in the morning and late at night, there was a fairly complicated and boring movie from 1937 starring Rex Harrison and Vivian Leigh.  I was idly watching and checking my email and suddenly, the whole movie…erupted.

In one particular scene, set in a Scottish manor house, Rex filled the entire house with dogs.  Hundreds and hundreds of dogs of all shapes, sizes and breeds.  They completely took over the house.  And it was hysterical.  This is the first time in ages that I can remember laughing out loud at a movie.  It made my whole morning.

So if you ever have a chance, look up “Storm In A Teacup” and fast-forward to the dog scene.  You won’t be disappointed.

I watched “Sunset Boulevard” tonight.  Familiar with it?  William Holden?  Gloria Swanson? 1950? Black and white?  Yes? No?  It was on the Bonnet Channel tonight. 

I remember the first time I saw it.  I was in New York City staying at my usual hotel at 34th and Lex.  I saw it after a long day of meetings and I was enthralled.  It was one of those films that I’d heard about from my Mother since childhood – the line “I’m ready for my close-up” was commonly heard around our house.  It just took on a whole new significance when I finally saw the film.

Viewing it tonight, it took on a different quality for me.  Perhaps that’s the mark of a good movie – it can somehow match its message to your mood, as if it holds some universal hidden code that is only revealed to you piece by piece when you’re ready for it.

Tonight, I was caught up with the madness of the character of Norma Desmond.  Her obsession with staying young, with staying the star, with ensuring that her public still noticed her, with her devotion to living in the past and with her frantic desperation of staying in control of William Holden, her insanity around her “love” for him.  It was a brilliant portrayal by Gloria Swanson – even if she perhaps did ham it up a bit in spots.  I was so entranced by her and the message of madness that I paid very little attention to William Holden’s character, which is surprising as he has become one of my more favorite actors from the ’50s.

If you’ve seen the film, you know how it ends.  In fact, if you’ve seen the beginning of the film, you probably know how it ends.  But if you haven’t seen it, I won’t spoil it for you – as long as you promise to watch it.  (Go.  Go on!)  It’s a worthwhile way to spend a chilly evening, and as our world spins crazily around these days, it’s a voyeuristic view inside the mind of a madwoman.

And heaven knows there are too many of those roaming loose these days.

Today is Carmen Miranda’s birthday.  

The Brazilian Bombshell (or Notable Little One) would have been 101.  Born Maria do Carmo Miranda Da Cunha, she died at age 46.  As with our historic ladies I discussed yesterday, this vivacious woman, so full of life and spirit, found herself in a life that spiralled tragically downward. 

Trapped in an abusive marriage, addicted to amphetamines and barbiturates, and taking electic shock treatments for depression, she died of a heart attack following a performance on the Jimmy Durante Show. 

(She actually had a heart attack during her number on the show, but, ever the consummate performer, she carried on – she just came close to falling.)   After her body was taken back to Brazil for burial, the priest refused to  consecrate her soul due to her heavy make-up.  That little issue was resolved and millions of mourners lined up to see her interred at Cemitério São João Batista in Rio de Janeiro.

A hatmaker herself in her youth in Brazil (at a store called Olinda), she based her trademark towering fruit hat on the headdresses of the Baiana, the black women who sold fruit in the marketplaces of Bahia. 

While her father was not at all supportive of her musical aspirations, she became a wildly popular singer on the radio and club circuits of Brazil, and was invited to America to perform on Broadway.  She popularized the samba, which she performed in 6-inch platform shoes on stage, but she preferred to dance barefoot when she could get away with it.

Her path to stardom took her to Hollywood and the movie industry, and while it was not her first film, she attracted mass attention when she appeared as Rosita Murphy in Springtime in the Rockies.  (It’s actually the only film of hers that I’ve seen.) 

The hat, of course, came with her to LaLa Land, and at a diminutive 5-feet tall, the height of the hat no doubt heightened her image.  Talk in the town was that she refused studio chief Darryl Zanuck’s amorous overtures on principle — although I see nothing amorous about being chased around a couch by an unattractive half-naked man wanting my “tropical delicacies”.

While she retained dual citizenship in Brazil and Portugal (where she was born), her heart belonged to Brazil, and she was devastated when the Brazilian people criticized her for becoming “Americanized” when she visited in 1940.  But Brazilians can never completely fall out of love with a favorite daughter – visitors to Rio will find a museum dedicated to Carmen, as will visitors to Canaveses, Portugal, the town of her birth. 

A hot-air balloon called the “Chic-I-Boom” after one of her dance numbers, which portrayed a likeness of Carmen, was launched at the Albuquerque Balloon Festival in 1982, and Chic-I-Boom II is still floating at festivals today.

But the hat….let’s talk about the hat. 

There’s one on display in the museum in Portugal.  They inspired a line of turbans and a line of Bakelite jewelry in the 1940s that are highly collectible today. 

The hat (and the lady who wore it) became the model for the Chiquita banana logo.  

You can find online patterns for the quintessential fruit hat, which typically includes bananas (a must), apples, grapes, cherries, oranges, plums, feathers, beads, and twigs.  Carmen’s tallest hat (described by some as ten stories tall, but I have yet to determine the true height) was seen in the number “The Lady with the Tutti-Fruitti Hat” in the 1943 Busby Berleley film “The Gang’s All Here”.

The film also included hundreds of chorus girls dancing with six-foot bananas (that had to be held at waist-level rather than hip-level to reduce the phallic implications.)

Carmen has unfortunately been the object of ridicule in cartoons throughout the years,

and the inspiration for so many things that are just wrong.

I recall my Mother being quite fond of Carmen – that’s where I first learned about the fruit hat – though I never saw her samba.

So please, take a moment today and have a banana in honor of this wonderful lady.

As an aside, today is Read in the Bathtub Day!  If you’ve never done it, there’s no better time than the present. 

Just make sure you don’t drop the book.  Having lived in a bathtub one winter, I can tell you that it doesn’t enhance the quality of the experience.

On Sunday (was it Sunday?), I talked about angels.  Today, I want to talk about vampires.  Why, you may ask?  Well, several reasons, the foremost being that today is Bela Lugosi’s birthday, and as you know, he was the most famous portrayer of Dracula on-screen (though he was kind of hokey).

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It’s been interesting to watch the latest revival of interest in vampires with the publication of the “Twilight” series.  Of course, Twilight seems to have seeped its way into every marketing gimmick ever imagined – candy, cards, music, clothes, games, posters, jewelry, bookmarks, switchplates, and heaven only knows what else.  Kelsea said it seems to be taking over the universe.  I haven’t read the book, but I have seen the movie, and I am missing the appeal.  Unless it just sparks the imagination from a romantic standpoint – the whole thing of two people who meet and feel destined to be together, who seem to understand each other so well, who seem to be irresistably drawn to each other, who feel they want to be together, protecting and supporting each other, for eternity.  Ok, that sounds pretty good when I put it that way.

Just ignore that eensey detail that one of them happens to be undead.

But this is not a Twilight rant.  Nope, I’m not going to let Twilight take over MY blogging universe.  This is about vampires in general and my rambling thoughts.

I’ve had a fascination with vampires since childhood.  I was younger than Kelsea when one of my favorite Christmas gifts was “The Annotated Dracula.”  I still have it.  It’s a wonderful book, the original Bram Stoker manuscript with footnotes out the wazoo. 

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In 5th grade, my English teacher showed our class the 1922 silent German film “Nosferatu” with Max Schreck in the role of the vampire.  Mrs. Bugg (my English teacher) thrilled us with the rumor that Schreck actually WAS a vampire.  I’ll allow that he is one creepy dude in the film, in his previous and subsequent roles, and apparently in real life as well.  Anyway, that film has always remained in my mind.  It was truly vivid….those fingernails…those teeth…ewww.  A real classic.

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Bela never lived up to my expectations of a vampire.  But most other film vampires didn’t do the trick either – Christopher Lee?  No.  John Carradine?  Nope.  Louis Jourdan?  Closer (much closer).   And then we got to Frank Langella, and he was wonderful.  Handsome, suave, romantic – my dear friend Lisa Rohaly and I just adored him, and stayed out way too late one night in Columbus, Ohio to sit through the movie twice. 

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There it is – that fantasy-romance thing that currently appeals to teens, showing up in me when I was a teen.  Hmmm.

Of course, as an adult, one knows such things more than likely aren’t real.  There are people who are metaphorical bloodsuckers.  And there are cultists who are sort of vampire-wannabes.   And there’s some interesting viral stuff out there, purported to be from real vampires (who, by the by, are not undead), like this site: http://vampirewebsite.net/index.html.

I find it interesting that my daughter has a similar fascination with vampires and general supernatural stuff.  It’s not something I intentionally focused on with her, although she has “the shine”, too, so it may just be innate for her, as it seems to have been for me.  I will say she has more stomach for the disgusting side of creepiness than I do, like theatrical haunted houses and horror flicks.

Do I know if vampires exist?  Nope.  I know the mythology.  And that, as with angels, almost every culture has a touch of vampire lore.

I know that I have seen people on the streets of New York who were so fascinatingly vampirical in their everyday appearance that they took my breath away and I literally could not stop staring at them.  And that was really wierd for me, so wierd that I remember it now, almost 20 years later.

I know that, as Shakespeare said, “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”  (That’s from Hamlet, if you’re not up on your Shakespeare.)

I know that there are many kinds of energy in this universe and, just as with angels, a vampiric energy could likely be used for good or for evil.

I know that, even though Halloween is not my gig,  this is a spooky time of year, and it’s fun to speculate.

Halloween

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