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Friday Fierceness: Ms Lena Horne

It’s always seemed unfair to me that the definitive version of Lena Horne‘s signature song “Stormy Weather” wasn’t recorded by Lena Horne. I knew Stormy Weather was associated with Horne from her movie of the same name, but to me, The Great Recording had always been Etta James‘ version off her seminal 1961 release At Last!.

A few days ago I sent out an email to a whole mess of music writer friends –either critics or musicians– and asked them who cut the definitive recording of Stormy Weather. Out of two dozen, only two said Lena Horne. Number one with a bullet was Etta James, followed by Dinah Washington, Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald. Interestingly, no one mentioned Ethel Waters, for whom the song was written in 1933.

Lena Horne wasn’t a truly great actress, her voice was wonderful but nothing compared to Ella or Billie or Dinah. What she had was passion. She was ferocious in a wonderful, wild way that seemed to simmer just below the surface, as if a thin veneer of sequins and self control was the only thing keeping her from eviscerating you with her teeth, not because she was wicked, but because that’s just what wild things do.

For whatever her shortcomings were as a vocalist –and often said she hated to sing– her energy in a cabaret or theater setting was legendary. I remember watching her at the Kennedy Center when she reprised her Broadway hit, Lena Horne: The Lady and Her Music…she must’ve been about 70 at the time and shook down practically to the floor in her slinky floor-length gown.

“Yeah, Lena” she purred “but can you get back up?”

So today we celebrate Lena Horne, actress, cabaret star, civil rights activist, fascinating multi-faceted woman and ultimate Fierceness.

Lena Horne 2

–“Don’t be afraid to feel as angry or as loving as you can, because when you feel nothing, it’s just death. ”

–“I’m not alone, I’m free. I no longer have to be a credit, I don’t have to be a symbol to anybody; I don’t have to be a first to anybody.”

Lena Horne publicity still

–“Always be smarter than the people who hire you.” (editor’s note: unless the people who hire you happen to be the lovely and handsome Manolo. Gosh you’re looking dapper today, Boss!)

–“It’s not the load that breaks you down: It’s the way that you carry it.”

Lena Horne 3

–“You have to be taught to be second class; you’re not born that way.”

–“I really do hate to sing.”

Lena Horne publicity still

–“I was unique in that I was a kind of black that white people could accept. I was their daydream. I had the worst kind of acceptance because it was never for how great I was or what I contributed. It was because of the way I looked.”

–“It’s ill-becoming for an old broad to sing about how bad she wants it. But occasionally we do.”

LenaHorne5

The Friday Fierceness: Blogger All-Stars

OMG Y’ALL, there are literally TENS OF ONES OF SNOWFLAKES blowing around Austin today, and of course my beloved city is freaking out and people are asking me if they can get a ride home because I drive a Volvo and they drive fair-trade biodegradable shade-picked food processors that are held together with nothing but smugness and Ron Paul stickers.

What. Ever.

I love Texas, but have you ever dipped a poodle in warm Vaseline and let him loose on linoleum? That is what most Texans are like when the snow falls. We had schools that started late just because IT MIGHT POSSIBLY SNOW UP TO A QUARTER OF AN INCH SOMETIME IN THE FUTURE. Now, I’m from Virginia and while we don’t get a LOT of snow as compared to those Northern places like Utaho and Maineissota we got enough to know that with snow –as with so many other things– if it’s not seven inches, it’s not keeping me in bed.

On that theme –and as a gentle acknowledgment that many of the big girls who read MftBG are the type who can pee standing up– today’s Friday Fierceness will be about some of the fiercest creatures this side of Helen Lawson’s wig.

Thombeau at Château Thombeau.

Hearts broke all over the world when Thombeau departed Planet Fabulon, taking a several month “Fabbatical” before emerging phoenix-like at Château Thombeau. You’ve probably noticed by now that Manolo for the Big Girl has readers who are big girls of both genders, and the Château is one-stop shopping for all things wild and wonderful. It’s moderately safe for work, although those houseboys do tend to get out of hand.

TJB at Stirred, Straight Up, with a Twist.

“It helps to remember that it is permanently 1962 (give or take a decade); and that the problems of the real world can be solved with a touch of glamour and a dash of style.” Less haute couture, more delicious retro-pulp, I simply cannot and will not sleep without checking what b-movie marvels TJB has found for us that day. If Thombeau is Galliano, TJB is Gaultier. You just can’t pick a favorite. Generally work-safe with the occasional black-boxed vintage pin-up.

Muscato at Café Muscato

The genteel musings of an “exile on an alien shore, trying to find solace in sun, sea, and the occasional drop of Champagne.” This is work safe and an alternately homey/glammy diary of life on a sleepy chic little sultanate.

Mistress MJ at The Infomaniac

Not even CLOSE to being work safe, but Mistress MJ is a goddess in striped tights. Don’t miss Filthy Fridays!

Tom Sutpen at If Charlie Parker Was a Gunslinger, There’d Be a Whole Lot of Dead Copycats.

If you ever wanted to learn how to be cool and well-versed in 20th century culture (pop and otherwise) you’d do well to lock yourself in a room for a month and pore over The Gunslinger’s back catalog. Work safe –except for the Art of the Centerfold feature– and an education unto itself.

Friday Fierceness: Plumcake’s Patron Saint

I seem to recall once upon a time lo those many years ago when I was but a mere babe in arms being called Miss Piggy as an insult. I’m sure THEY thought it was an insult but Miss Piggy has more style, substance and feminine wisdom in her naturally-curly little tail than most women do in their entire bodies.

She is smart, opinionated, glamorous beyond all decency and isn’t afraid to kick some ass. Who WOULDN’T love her?

Here are some of her quotes I live by:

The Divine Miss P

“There is only one gift you should accept on your first date – diamonds.”

“Never wash your hair with anything you’d hesitate to eat or drink.”

“Moi has always possessed a charm that is lethal to men.”

“There is the satisfaction of providing your public with a vision of true beautology, true sytlisity, – how can I put it? – true glamorositude.”

miss piggy and kermit

“Moi speaks body language fluently, although with a slight French accent.”

“The early bird gets the worm – which is what he deserves.”

“What if you were in Florida without your furs and there is a very quick little ice age?”

“How far should a girl go on the first date? Tucson. However, if you live in Texas, you can probably go a bit farther.”

Marc Jacobs picks out clothes for Miss Piggy

“You can eliminate a lot of calories by entirely cutting out things you hate.”

“Eat what you want, exercise your prerogative, and find a good plastic surgeon who gives frequent-flyer miles.”

“Beauty takes practice.”

Miss Piggy: Beyoncé before Beyoncé

“Never let your frog outdress you.”

“Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and it may become necessary from time to time to give a stupid or misinformed beholder a black eye.”

Miss Piggy for President

RIGHT?!

True, it seems Miss Piggy has had a little work done but haven’t we all? It’s a gal’s prerogative, no?

Friday Fierceness: Isabella Blow

Isabella Blow was a genius, and she got screwed.

her signature slash of red inspired MAC to create a color called Isabella

La Blow, former Tatler editor, muse, star-finder and influence-wielder would have turned 51 yesterday, and her tragic story was fashion legend even before it ended with her death-by-weed-killer in March, 2007.

She was not a pretty girl.

No true fashion visionaries are traditionally beautiful (Miuccia Prada, Diana Vreeland, Coco Chanel, Elsa Schiaparelli, etc), she had a weak chin, droopy eyes and perhaps the most painfully British set of teeth to be found outside the Royal Family.
In one of her more tame chapeaux

But she had an eye.

BOY did she have an eye and she decided to follow Oscar Wilde’s commandment: if she could not BE a work of art, then at least she would wear them.

Thus created was the woman Lady Gaga wishes she could be.

She was an Evelyn Waugh character come to life: high born, brilliant and hopelessly self-destructive.  Blow left England in 1979 and wound up in New York, working as Anna Wintour’s assistant (the Devil may wear Prada, but the Assistant discovered McQueen) and then for André Leon Talley.

an homage to the Dali/Schaipirelli "Lobster Dress"

She returned to London to work for Tatler, which is like American Vogue but smart and interesting, first as an assistant and then as its Fashion Director. She also bounced around the rest of Conde Nast and did a stint as the Sunday Times Style section (London, not New York).yet another Elsa Schiapirelli homage

During that time she developed her relationship with boy-genius milliner Philip Treacy and became his muse, constantly daring him to create a hat she would not wear (as noted above, lobsters were not a barrier to millinery).

She discovered straight-then plus-then straight-sized model Sophie Dahl (Granddaughter of Roald, which explains why the heroine of The BFG was named Sophie), Stella Tennant and perhaps most legendarily, discovered Alexander McQueen when she bought young Lee”s entire student collection for ₤5,000 –paid for in ₤100/wk allotments as she couldn’t afford it all in one go– in 1992.

one of Treacy's more intricate works

Her personal life was not a happy one.

Disinherited by her father in the early 90’s she was married briefly in the 80’s and then joined her lot with Detmar Blow in 1989. Their marriage was not a success as Isabella battled with depression and could not conceive a child. Detmar, needing to carry on the family name in order not to lose the familial manse designed by his muckety muck architect ancestor (also a Detmar Blow) temporarily left Isabella when her I.V.F. didn’t work so he could knock up some girl.  Charming, no?

Recalling Avedon

As Isabella continued to suffer from depression and a diagnosis of ovarian cancer, the people she discovered and nurtured –particularly McQueen– were moving onwards and upwards.

Her friend Daphne Guinness said “She was upset that McQueen didn’t take her along when he sold his brand to Gucci. Once the deals started happening, she fell by the wayside. Everybody else got contracts, and she got a free dress” which was especially hurtful as Blow was cripplingly low on cash and was rumored to have personally negotiated the Gucci deal.
Alexander McQueen and Isabella Blow by David LaChappelle
Blow tried several creative attempts at suicide, finally succeeding by drinking Paraquat in the bathroom of the family manse her husband had left her to save.

Blow’s memorial service was, as you’d imagine, well-attended and there has been a great deal of guilt –both public and private– about her treatment by her fashion friends and colleagues. Read Simon Doonan’s self-punishing recollection –published shortly after her death– here.
McQueen's Homage to Isabella S/S 2007

As a personal note, I wept when I saw Alexander McQueen’s S/S 2008 show, an homage to Isabella chock-full of Philip Treacy confections (including a quivering mob of feather butterflies which I came up with for a Halloween costume in 2001. I have proof.)

Isabella Blow did not have a happy ending, nor indeed a happy middle or beginning, but she was one of the few great characters of the post-couture era and her eccentricity has inspired a new generation of  fashion daredevils.  Have a great weekend, and wherever you’re going, put on a hat. Do it for La Blow.

Friday Fierceness: Eartha Kitt!

I’m almost hesitant to make Eartha Kitt the Friday Fierceness.

Not because she’s not fierce, but because she passed Fierce so long ago that she lapped it twice and went straight on to Ferocious.
That Bad Eartha

Although I’d seen her before as a child in her campy ears and catsuit (sorry Ms Newmar, she was the ONLY Catwoman) and knew “Santa Baby“, Eartha Kitt burst onto my burgeoning psyche in the now oft-referenced documentary “Unzipped” when I was a sophomore in high school.

Eartha Kitt was Catwoman for only 4 episodes

Watching Ms Kitt toy with poor starstruck Isaac after one of her shows transfixed me.  He trembles to light a cigarette while she, every inch the cabaret star, whirls and writhes around him singing in what might be Turkish.

She was mesmerizing, more than a bit terrifying and completely, thoroughly and positively glamorously insane.

Speaking of:
turban
(80’s excess Eartha-style meant a series of  discopop singles that were huge in the queeneries of Europe)

A few years later I picked up her memoir “I’m Still Here: Confessions of a Sex Kitten” which is well worth reading (she took ballet with James Dean! She danced with Katherine Dunham! She was blacklisted after she made Lady Bird Johnson cry!)  is well worth reading and of course no house is complete without at least ONE of her albums –Purr-fect: Greatest Hits , mostly filled with her wry trademark paeans to Very Expensive Things– is the logical place to start.

There is so much about Eartha Kitt that’s worth knowing, and so many wonderful roles she’s played but of all the lessons we can learn from Ms Kitt, the most important is this:

Glamor is a decision. An unloved, unwanted child, a product of rape and poverty, rejected by nearly everyone because of her skin color and unusual features –her father was white and her mother was Cherokee and black– by force of will BECAME one of the most glamorous people in modern history.

We cannot, I think, always choose to be effortlessly chic or graceful or elegant just by willing ourselves to be so, but glamor? Glamor we can do. It takes will, bravery and a certain willingness to not care what other people think about unimportant matters. Do it for yourself, or more importantly…do it for Eartha.

Friday Fiercness: The Disney Villainesses

First and foremost, I find villainesses are a deeply misunderstood species.

Like, sometimes you’ve had a hard year. Let’s say you’ve had problems with your convertible and your brother’s been sick and the men in your life are making you insane because you are just. one. woman and do not have TIME to deal with all their CRAZY GUY STUFF because it is NOT YOUR FAULT they have the emotional availability of a lobotomized he-goat and after a certain point you just need to unwind and spend a little “you” time.

Maybe it’s yoga, maybe it’s Ladies Night at Red’s Indoor Range and maybe it’s commissioning a new piece of outerwear. No judgment here. And let’s say you’re a green kinda gal, you decide NOT to destroy the planet by getting some polyester or nylon nightmare and instead opt for puppies which are PERFECTLY SUSTAINABLE RESOURCES and all of the sudden people are all up on your jock trying to run your convertible off the road, pestering your henchmen and writing unpleasant songs about your otherwise bitchin’ name. Do you KNOW how hard it is to find a good henchman in a recession? DO YOU?

Phew.

ANYWAY, everyone knows the best characters are the villains and today we’re celebrating the five fiercest villainesses from the house that Walt built.

Cocktail time with the Queen
The Queen from Snow White, 1937

Still scary even when holding a cocktail, she’s the villainess who started it all. Please note the importance of a strong eyebrow arch.  Villainesses know from birth what we all learn eventually: there is no more satisfying weapon than hauteur.

Maleficent
Maleficent
from Sleeping Beauty, 1959

…unless it’s turning into a*%#$* DRAGON. Also note the importance of statement accessories, namely bitchin’ millinery and an evil-but-coordinating bird.

Lady Tremaine
Lady Tremaine from Cinderella, 1950.

The most chinny of all the villainesses, La Tremaine knows to balance a prominent chin with big hair and large jewelry and, of course, locking her servants in mice-infested basements.  It’s like lookin’ in a mirror.

Cruella De Vil
Cruella DeVil from 101 Dalmatians,1961

I’m going to say one thing and one thing only: girlfriend was FRAMED.

Ursula from the Little Mermaid
Ursula from The Little Mermaid 1989

Ah, Ursula the Sea Witch,  providing fat girls with a default costume since 1989.  Proving once and for all big girl can go strapless with the right bone structure, hair, accessories and fundamental desire to crush the wills of all those around her.

Madame Medusa

Madame Medusa from The Rescuers, 1977

Totally underrated villainess from The Rescuers, all girlfriend wanted is a rock of her own and just ONE TEENSY KID gets dropped down a well and all of the sudden she’s the root of all evil. I had to post the picture of her in a turban applying false lashes because, well, we’ve all been there, but  Madame Medusa was the first Disney villainess brave enough to prove that gingers actually CAN wear red.

Honorable Mention:
Yzma

Yzma from The Emperor’s New Groove, 2000

EARTHA  MUTHA*^&%ING KITT, Y’ALL! This woman is my everything. Fabulous gowns, a hot-but-dim boytoy and a SECRET LAB WITH A ROLLER COASTER.

Friday Fierceness: There’s a Leopard on your roof

…and it’s my leopard and I have to get it and to get it I have to sing.”
Bringing up Baby

They just don’t make ‘em like Katharine Hepburn anymore.

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Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn in Woman of the Year

Gorgeous, patrician, wore pants like nobody’s business and in my heart will always remain the greater of the two famous Hepburns. She the star of gosh, five of my top 20 favorite movies with another five in my top 50.

Now THAT is a look

And La Kate always spoke her mind.

“Acting is the most minor of gifts. After all, Shirley Temple could do it when she was four.”

I have many regrets, and I’m sure everyone does. The stupid things you do, you regret… if you have any sense, and if you don’t regret them, maybe you’re stupid.”

I never realized until lately that women were supposed to be the inferior sex.”

Cary Grant and Kate Hepburn

She also shares Miss Plumcake’s views on domestic bliss:

Being a housewife and a mother is the biggest job in the world, but if it doesn’t interest you, don’t do it – I would have made a terrible mother.”

“If you want to give up the admiration of thousands of men for the distain of one, go ahead, get married.”

The average Hollywood film star’s ambition is to be admired by an American, courted by an Italian, married to an Englishman and have a French boyfriend.”

on set of The Millionaires

We are taught you must blame your father, your sisters, your brothers, the school, the teachers – but never blame yourself. It’s never your fault. But it’s always your fault, because if you wanted to change you’re the one who has got to change.”

Never lose sight of the fact that just being is fun.”

Life is to be lived. If you have to support yourself, you had bloody well better find some way that is going to be interesting. And you don’t do that by sitting around.

Life is hard. After all, it kills you.”

KH yellow

Love has nothing to do with what you are expecting to get – only with what you are expecting to give – which is everything.”

Why slap them on the wrist with feather when you can belt them over the head with a sledgehammer?”

Sept 1952

Dressing up is a bore. At a certain age, you decorate yourself to attract the opposite sex, and at a certain age, I did that. But I’m past that age.”

I think most of the people involved in any art always secretly wonder whether they are really there because they’re good or there because they’re lucky.”

The Philadelphia Story

and finally:

Death will be a great relief. No more interviews.”

Have a great weekend everybody, and if it’s looking like a DVD sort of weekend check out:

Plumcake’s Top 10 Katharine Hepburn Movies:

  1. The Philadelphia Story
  2. Bringing Up Baby
  3. Woman of the Year
  4. Adam’s Rib
  5. Desk Set
  6. Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner
  7. The African Queen
  8. On Golden Pond
  9. Rooster Cogburn (fun fact, John Wayne’s cat in this movie is named after one of my ancestors)
  10. The Madwoman of Chaillot
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