In 1957, the film star Joan Crawford toured the continent of Africa with her husband, Alfred Steele, the CEO of the Pepsi-Cola Company. She recalled their trip in her masterpiece My Way of Life. ‘Africa was,’ she wrote, ‘My baptism in Pepsi, and I have a great affection for that continent.’
“I remember, on that first trip, we arrived in Portuguese East Africa at seven in the morning. As we were approaching for a landing I said, ‘I can’t put on any makeup, Alfred. It’s just too hot. And nobody’s going to be there anyway. They don’t know me here.’
As we taxied in I saw in amazement that there were twenty thousand people in that little airport. ‘Who’s on board?’ I asked. ‘Who are they waiting for?’
He grinned. ‘You, darling!’
…During the African tour we spent a night at Treetops, that famous hotel built high in the trees in the middle of a game preserve where Elizabeth II was staying when she learned that she had become Queen of England. Way out there in the wilderness, it’s one of the most luxurious places in the world. The food can compete with that of ’21’ in New York.’
Joan Crawford, My Way of Life, Simon and Schuster, 1971.
Fred Lawrence Guile published his biography of Marilyn Monroe in 1969, one year after Robert Kennedy had been assassinated during his presidential run. Norma Jean: The Story of Marilyn Monroe revealed the film star’s affair with the politician, but not his identity.
“Marilyn did not remain completely in seclusion as she had during her similar break with Hollywood and the studio in 1955. Then she had not only withdrawn form the public eye, but socially as well. She had chosen to be alone to reassess her life and to recover her strength. This time she preferred privacy because she was involved with a married man. He was no in the industry; he was an Easterner with few ties on the coast. He had come West mainly to work out the details of a film production of a literary property in which he had had a hand and to escape the pressures of his work as a lawyer and public servant.
It anyone was to blame for the relationship that developed during his California stay, it was his host* who was connected with films and knew Marilyn enough to realize how vulnerable and exposed she was that summer… For the attorney, his holiday on the West Coast was a lark, a vacation from his wife and children. He and Marilyn were discreet, almost never venturing beyond the stuccoed wall surrounding the friend’s beachhouse…
…Their relationship had nowhere to go. Publicity about the affair might destroy all his chances for an important political career. How sensitive he was to Marilyn’s precarious emotional state is difficult ot assess. Within days of their meeting he and Marilyn became nearly constant companions, a relationship interrupted only by his flights to New York or Washington when called on some business that could not be resolved over the telephone.
*Likely Peter Lawford, a friend of Marilyn’s and the husband of RFK’s sister Pat.
Norma Jean: The Story of Marilyn Monroe, Fred Lawrence Guiles, 1969, W. H. Allen & Co. Ltd.
Giovanni (Gianni) De Michelis served as Italy’s Deputy Prime and Minister of Foreign Affairs. Accused of corruption and sentenced to a year and a half for bribery and six months for illegal financing, De Michelis went on to be elected a Member of the European Parliament for Southern Italy in 2004. While serving as Italy’s Deputy Prime Minister, in 1988 De Michelis found time to author a guide to his country’s discothèques, Dove Andiamo a Ballare Questa Sera? (Where to Go Dancing this Evening?), a book he promoted with spins on the dance floors of Italy’s nightclubs.
Newscaster: “The Deputy Prime Minister of the government Gianni De Michelis has written the first annotated guide to Italian discothèques for the habitues of the dance floor, complete with starred ratings in the Michelin guide style.”
“Dancing, dancing, the book is celebrated in the nocturnal capitals of Europe, and, obviously, Italy.”
Interviewer: “The right honourable Gianni Demichelis, this book is a bit like an invitation to other politicians and colleagues to descend onto the dance floor and to be a little less moralistic.Was that your intention?”
De Michelis: “No, all said, I didn’t want to write a book for politicians, and I don’t think they’re moralistic. Should it happen that intellectuals, industrialists, and other middle aged people might have a little bit of fear and be a bit timid with respect to discotheques, which in reality are very young. You throw yourself on the dance floor and dance, it’s very easy.”
The film adaptation of the book Fifty Shades of Grey recently made its cable debut in the UK. Yeah, I watched it. As befitting a story originally published on a Twilight fan-fiction site, the movie is set in Seattle, Washington, but the film was shot in Vancouver, British Columbia.
A meticulously lit and art-directed film, the scene of the wine-glass-wielding*-self-made-billionaire-and-sadist Christian Grey addressing his inamorata’s graduating class was obviously shot at a real university. A university which is– as the sign below the podium clearly states–located in Vancouver.
*If nothing else, Grey offers real insight into the romantic road map of a piss artist.
“Gore Vidal was a class ahead of me. He was so persuaded of his own abilities way back then that he sent in his own pieces to the school’s literary magazine, the Review, signing them with a fictitious name, perhaps that of a first year boy who lived in Dunbar, and then sat at the editorial meeting glorying in the praise heaped by the other editors on what was actually his own work (‘Who is this kid?’). Vidal later read a long, epic free-verse saga of mine about being lost in the Exeter woods one night, far beyond the river. Although the other editors dismissed it out of hand, he wrote me a note or spoke to me about it–a faint note of praise, but it was like a thunderclap from above.”
George Plimpton, “Exeter Remembered” The Man in the Flying Lawn Chair and other Excursions and Observations, Random House, 2004.
Some books begin slowly, gradually drawing a reader in, while others never quite take hold. Then there’s The Life and Times of Little Richard: The Quasar of Rock, which has this memory from the singer’s childhood on page 5:
“I used to give people rocks and things as presents, but I once did something worse than that. I had a bowel movement in a box, in a shoebox or something like that, and I packed it up like a present and gave it to an old lady next to Mathis Groceries, on Monroe street, in Pleasant Hill. I went to her on her birthday and I said, ‘Miz Ola, how you bin?’ And she said, ‘Oh, Richard, I feel so fine. Richard, you’re such a nice child.’ I said, ‘Miz Ola, I’ve just come to wish you a happy birthday, I’ve brought you a present. Look.’ She said, ‘Ohhh, thank you so much.’ So she took this big old shoebox with the stuff in it. I went off and waited around the corner of the house to listen for her reactions. I was hoping that she would open it while the other ladies were there, and she did. She wanted to show them what I had brought her. She said, ‘Let us see what Richard has brought for me.’ Then I just heard somebody say, ‘Aaaaaaa, aaaaaaahhh–I’m gonna kill him. I’ll kill him!’ She was crippled, but she leaped off the porch and she was walking without her stick! I laughed like a cuckoo! God bless Miz Ola, she’s dead now.”
The Life and Times of Little Richard: The Quasar of Rock, Charles White, Harmony Books, 1984.
Photograph: Anna Bleker
“Millions of words can be written– and have been–about how to look lovely. But there’s a final element that no amount of exercising, dieting, or mirror watching can give you. Charm.
Charm isn’t something you can turn on like a tap with a pretty little girl simper. It isn’t anything phony that you can pick up at the door on your way out, along with your coat. You know, animals can spot a phony faster than most people. I mistrust people who don’t like animals or understand them: how one dog can be snooty, one cat imperious, one dog beguiling, one cat sitting there quietly checking on you. Any wise little cat or dog knows at a glance whether your charm is real or manufactured for the occasion– and treats you accordingly. ”
Joan Crawford, My Way of Life, Simon and Schuster, New York.