Friday, November 30, 2007

The Best Costume for Today

I'm a lazy cow, posting the second You Tube video in a row on my blog. I should just drop out of the writing game altogether and watch movies all day. Starting with this, a snippet from Grey Gardens, that 1975 documentary about Little Edie Bouvier Beale and her mother living in that old wreck of a mansion on East Hampton. It's a riveting film, and yet nothing happens.

You've seen it, haven't you? Tell me you've seen it. Well, I'll admit, I watched it for the first time last night, and now I'm simply mad about Edie. Did you know she's first cousin to Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis? Both girls attended Miss Porter's School in Farmington, Connecticut, which explains their shared East Coast, patrician vocal intonation.

I'd like to apologize to the Kennedy family right now for showing this clip on Bad Girl Blog because Edie herself was a very good girl indeed. She refused a marriage proposal from the richest man in the world, J. Paul Getty, most likely because he was a womanizing cad who got married five times, and Edie only ever cared about three things: swimming, dancing and the Catholic Church.

Still, Edie had some bad-girl backbone when it came to family matters. "You see, in dealing with me, the relatives didn't know that they were dealing with a staunch character," she says in another scene in the film. "And I tell you if there's anything worse than dealing with a staunch woman... S-T-A-U-N-C-H. There's nothing worse, I'm telling you. They don't weaken, no matter what."

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Janis Joplin Meets Gloria Swanson

This You Tube video is a beauty.

It's a meeting of two Bad Girl greats--Janis Joplin and Gloria Swanson--in the 1970s on Dick Cavett's talk show. Janis has an amazing laugh, Gloria is charmingly youthful, and Dick Cavett does a magnificent job of keeping his compusure.

Thursday, November 08, 2007


When I'm having nice sex, my mind tends to wander. For example, the other night I was making love with my baby, a wee bit high we were, as you do, and I was feeling so gorgeous and stretched out and free that my head floated off to somewhere else. I was all loved up, the music was playing, the lights were low, and there I was, back at the Frick Collection, 1 E. 70th St., NY NY 10021, which I had visited earlier in the day.

Images of the paintings I'd seen floated past my closed eyes in the dark, this man in particular:
Not much is known about "Portrait of a Man," Hans Memling, Netherlands, c. 1470-1475, though Memling frequently painted religious subjects and this may be the portrait of a cleric. A very intelligent and noble cleric, according to the Frick's description that appeared alongside the painting. I didn't see that. I was more interested in the stubble in his beard and the depth in his eyes. He's really very sexy. See the manly lines around his mouth and his big Gallic-looking nose? He reminds me of a French ski instructor I met a long time ago in the Alps.

There was something of a transference that night as his face floated into my head and briefly replaced the man in my bed. Mmmmm....

And then we were joined by a lady, who also came floating into my head:

"Lady Hamilton as Nature," to be specific, painted in 1782 by the English painter George Romney, who painted Emma Hamilton's portrait dozens of times at the height of her popularity in the 1780s.

Emma Hamilton was a full-on bad girl. A blacksmith's daughter born in 1761, she took full advantage of her youth and beauty to transform herself from a common brothel prostitute into a mistress for a few select men from London's high society.

Emma and the Honorable Charles Francis Greville were deeply in love, but when Charles started to look for a rich wife, he sent Emma to Italy to be the mistress of his uncle, Sir William Hamilton, British Envoy to Naples. Sir William liked Emma so much that he married her, and she became a party-throwing trendsetter with a love of gambling.

She also had a love of Lord Admiral Horatio Nelson, a one-armed, toothless sailor whose mild brain damage didn't prevent him from leading the Battle of Trafalgar of 1805, when the British defeated a combined French and Spanish fleet in the most significant naval battle of the Napoleonic Wars. Don't ask me for any more details than that, because military history makes my mind go numb.

"Their affair seems to have been tolerated, and perhaps even encouraged, by the elderly Sir William, who showed nothing but admiration and respect for Nelson," according to the Wikipedia entry on Lady Hamilton. "Emma gave birth to Nelson's daughter Horatia on January 31, 1801, at Sir William's rented home in Clarges Street, Piccadilly, London. By the autumn of the same year, Nelson bought Merton Place, a small ramshackle house on the outskirts of modern day Wimbledon. There he lived openly with Emma, and Sir William (along with Emma's mother) in a menage a trois that fascinated the public."

Within four years, Sir William died, Nelson died at Trafalgar, and Emma spent the money she had inherited from both of them on gambling and lavish living. After a year spent in debtor's prison, she moved to France, where she died in poverty of alcoholism-induced liver failure at the age of 54.

On a happier note, the wildly rich American industrialist Henry Clay Frick, 1849-1919, had a pash for Lady Hamilton. (I examined the book titles in his mansion's library, and he clearly had an Anglophilic turn of mind.) After buying Romney's portrait, he hung it over the foot of his bed so Emma's was the first face he saw every morning. That's a nicely circular way for me to end this story. Surely, Mr. Frick was a man who would have appreciated the painterly visitations that came into my head as I made love to my sweetie.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Reviving Skittles, Part 7: An Awful American Ending

Born and raised in the 20th-century Western world, I find it very difficult to understand why two people who love each other can't find a way to stay together, even if their families disapprove. I say that, and yet I once had a six-month-long love affair with a younger man who phoned me the Sunday after I met his family at a Thanksgiving weekend to say that I was too old for him. He tried to ease the blow by explaining that he was happy to have me as his lover, but that I just shouldn't get my hopes up for anything more because he could never marry me. I responded by saying that I never wanted to see him again.

I thought of this disastrous phone call when I read of Lord Hartington's offer to Skittles for the down payment on a house and a yearly allowance rather than marriage. It's a shame when two people who are well suited temperamentally and sexually and who share many interests stop seeing each other out of fear of what other people might think. According to the histories I found, an obsession with class distinction was one of Hartington's greatest weaknesses. This is what led him to tell Skittles: "Sometimes I think that it would be better for you if you could forget me because you are too good to be left in the world all alone so much, and some day you ought to find someone who will take care of you for the rest of your life…which I am afraid I shall never be able to do."

Uh, excuse me, Lord Hartington? To hell with you.

Skittles seems to have responded with wild anger, and she taunted Lord Hartington with stories of her bad behavior. Unfortunately, her side of the argument has been lost to time; the 8th Duke of Devonshire's heirs have his letters but not hers. But we do know that Hartington answered: “How unhappy it has made me this last year to think that you have been going all wrong.” At this point, I can imagine myself as Skittles, and I can see that the whole act of girlishly pleasing Harty Tarty is useless. So I might as well shock him instead.

"Good," I would say. "Let's see just how much more unhappy I can make you when I tell you all about the sex, fun and adventure I've been having without you." An innocent like Harty Tarty, with his sheltered upbringing, would have never understood the tough independence at Skittles' core. If it came to an end, she would steel herself to get over him more easily than he ever imagined. And in the meantime, she could try to make his life miserable.

When not furious with Hartington's obtuse self-righteousness, the 20-something girl from the Liverpool docks more than likely focused on the charms of staying right where she was, enjoying her courtesan's life in London. She couldn’t have relished the idea of socializing with Hartington’s boring set of country squires. Along with vaguely romantic thoughts of marriage, Skittles may not really have known what she wanted from Hartington, just that she wanted him. The dreamy gentleness of his character appealed to her, and I'm sure it frustrated her to find that he wasn't so easily bossed around.

In 1861, Skittles told Hartington that she might be pregnant. (Can't you just smell the desperation?) Though an actual birth or miscarriage was never mentioned in his letters, for a time he did accept the pregnancy as real. He wrote to her tenderly, suggesting that he was preparing himself to become a father even if he wasn’t willing to marry the mother of his child. “Mind you don’t squeeze yourself in too much,” he advised her on her corsets. “You must take great care of the little one, you know.”

Probably on the advice of family, in the autumn of 1862 Hartington escaped Skittles by going off on a six-month tour of North America. His stated reason for going was to visit his brother and see the Civil War at close range. But wasn't it lucky that the trip put so much distance between him and his darling little Skitsy?

As for Skitsy, a girl with an unusually robust constitution, she escaped to take the waters in Ems, Germany, which was the popular thing to do back then for people in fragile health. If she thought a sudden illness would bring Hartington back to her, it didn’t work. Lord Hartington sent Skittles a letter saying: “My poor child I trust you are better now, and that even if you have thought me very hard-hearted…you will begin to see that it must have been done some day and that putting it off only made it harder to both of us every day.”

Her answer was to follow Hartington to America. And I'll break in right now to say: "Skittles, don't do it!" Don't you just want to do a girlfriend intervention on her, and tell her she's making a big mistake?

It gets worse. Skittles had company, of course, choosing as her traveling companion a raffish young Irishman named Aubrey de Vere Beauclerk, a young man who had abandoned his wife in Ems to run off with Skittles. An inexperienced lover, Beauclerk was the sort who nevertheless bragged of his sexual exploits. Why Skittles would have chosen such a hot-tempered fop is a mystery, unless it was simply that he was there to flatter her vanity when she needed distraction--and he served as backup to her wounded ego, which might have needed even more backing up after she saw Hartington.

Skittles was young still, just 23, and fully capable of foolish behavior. (Then again, I don't think foolishness is age-specific. We've all heard stories of old fools.) Beauclerk, meanwhile, congratulated himself on winning Skittles as his prize, and then he became smitten. As you do. Skittles was such a lovely, entrancing girl, winning him over with her natural sympathy and sexual skill. They traveled first to Italy, leaving Beauclerk’s wife to find her own way home, before heading to America. If Skittles had to give up Lord Hartington, she wouldn't let him go without a fight.

Now, you could say this episode is the tiniest of moments in the history of Victorian England. But at the same time, it reveals so much about star-crossed lovers and the end of an affair that I'm going to stretch out each excruciating moment.

So here's the end of Skittles and Lord Hartington, without apology:

Thinking to surprise Hartington, and anticipating his look of delight, Skittles showed up unannounced one day at his New York hotel. He was stunned to see her there. Though he gave her a kindly reception as best he could, Hartington kept the meeting brief. His thoughts were turned to the Civil War, politics back home and the Duchess of Manchester’s place in his life. Skittles was a mistake of his waning youth.

In an anguished conversation, a conversation that Hartington had been hoping to avoid, he made it clear that Skittles needed him more than he needed her.

I'll invent what they said:

"My God, Skitsy, here you are in New York! I never expected to see you here, my darling girl."

"Harty, my sweet, I just had to look at your face. I've missed you so much."

"But dear girl, can't you see? This is just not on. Really, you must go back home."

"Is that all you have to say to me, after I've come this far? Oh, how I hate you!"

Corny, isn't it? These conversations always sound so corny when you're not in them. At any rate, Hartington knew with utter finality that when it came to love, he would never stray again from his class.

And Skittles? She resolved that no man would ever break her heart again. Her trip to America was the worst episode in her emotional life, and she returned to England determined to lead the full-on courtesan's life. (As for Beauclerk, the little weasel, he resolved to reconcile with his wife, and the happy ending there was that Skittles never heard from him again.)

Stayed tuned for Part 8, when Skittles runs off to Paris to put Harty Tarty behind her forever--and to properly learn the artful ways of the courtesan.