Happy Birthday Edith Warton

Today is the 153rd birthday of the writer who said, “Life is always a tightrope or a feather bed. Give me the tightrope.” She wrote about frustrated love in novels like The House of Mirth (1905), Ethan Frome (1911), and The Age of Innocence (1920), for which she became the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize.  The world is a better place because she was in it and still feels the loss that she has left.

 

NAME: Edith Wharton
OCCUPATION: Author
BIRTH DATE: January 24, 1862
DEATH DATE: August 11, 1937
PLACE OF BIRTH: New York, New York
PLACE OF DEATH: St.-Brice-sous-Forêt, France
ORIGINALLY: Edith Newbold Jones

BEST KNOWN FOR: Novelist Edith Wharton was born to an old New York family, but is better known for her books Ethan Frome and The Age of Innocence.

Edith Warton came from a rich and snobbish New York family who lived off the inheritance of their real estate and banking tycoon ancestors, and she spent several years of her early childhood traveling around Europe. When she was 10, her parents re-settled in New York, around 23rd and Park Avenue. She was a teenage bookworm, reading insatiably from her family’s expansive library and feeling alienated and adrift in the New York high-society circles her family moved in. At 23, she married a family friend, a classy, good-looking sportsman named Edward “Teddy” Robbins Wharton, who wasn’t particularly fond of books. He had a tendency for manic spells, extravagant spending sprees, and infidelity. It was a long and miserable marriage.

She met Henry James in Europe and became good friends with him. He encouraged her to write about the New York City she knew so well and disliked. He said, “Don’t pass it by — the immediate, the real, the only, the yours.” And it was Henry James who introduced her to his friend Morton Fullerton, a dashing, promiscuous, intellectual American expat journalist who reported for the London Times from Paris. Edith Wharton fell hard for the man, filled her diary with passages about how their romance and conversation made her feel complete, wrote him pleading letters, and about a year into their affair, when she was in her late 40s, moved full-time to Paris, where he resided. The affair ended in 1911, the year she published Ethan Frome. She once wrote to him:

“Do you know what I was thinking last night, when you asked me, & I couldn’t tell you? — Only that the way you’ve spent your emotional life while I’ve … hoarded mine, is what puts the great gulf between us, & sets us not only on opposite shores, but at hopelessly distant points of our respective shores. Do you see what I mean?”And I’m so afraid that the treasures I long to unpack for you, that have come to me in magic ships from enchanted islands, are only, to you, the old familiar red calico & beads of the clever trader, who has had dealing with every latitude, & knows just what to carry in the hold to please the simple native — I’m so afraid of this, that often & often I stuff my shining treasures back into their box, lest I should see you smiling at them!

“Well! And what if you do? It’s your loss, after all! And if you can’t come into the room without my feeling all over me a ripple of flame, & if, wherever you touch me, a heart beats under your touch, & if, when you hold me, & I don’t speak, it’s because all the words in me seem to have become throbbing pulses, & all my thoughts are a great golden blur — why should I be afraid of your smiling at me, when I can turn the beads & calico back into such beauty —?”

He left her in 1911, and she stayed married to Teddy for a couple more years, though the two lived apart from each other during the last part of their 28-year marriage. She loved living in Paris, and there she mingled with people like André Gide, Jean Cocteau, Theodore Roosevelt, and F. Scott Fitzgerald, whom she once told: “To your generation, I must represent the literary equivalent of tufted furniture and gas chandeliers.” But she wasn’t prim or overly proper, and she famously enjoyed one of Fitzgerald’s scandalous stories, about an American couple in a Paris brothel, which he drunkenly related the first time he met her.

Modernist writers were among her contemporaries, but she didn’t use modernist techniques like stream-of-consciousness in her own writing, and she wasn’t a fan of it in others’. She once said about James Joyce’s Ulysses (1922), “Until the raw ingredients of a pudding make a pudding, I shall never believe that the raw material of sensation and thought can make a work of art without the cook’s intervening.”

She died in Paris at the age of 75. At the time of her death, she was working on a novel called The Buccaneers, about five rich American girls who set out to marry landed British men, so that they can have English feudal titles in their names, like “Duchess.” In her last days, she lay in bed and worked on the novel, and each page that she completed she dropped onto the floor so that it could be collected later, when she was through.
Many of her novels have been made into movies. The House of Mirth, The Glimpses of the Moon, and The Age of Innocence were all adapted into silent films around the 1920s. John Madden directed a version of Ethan Frome in 1993, the same year Martin Scorsese directed a film adaptation of The Age of Innocence. In 2000, Gillian Anderson starred in The House of Mirth, directed by Terence Davies.

Edith Wharton said, “There are two ways of spreading light: to be the candle or the mirror that receives it.”

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Happy Birthday Cristóbal Balenciaga

Today is the 120th birthday of the Spanish fashion designer Cristóbal Balenciaga.  The world is a better place because he is in it and still feels the loss that he has left.

NAME: Cristóbal Balenciaga
OCCUPATION: Fashion Designer
BIRTH DATE: January 21, 1895
DEATH DATE: March 23, 1972
PLACE OF BIRTH: Getaria, Spain
PLACE OF DEATH: Valencia, Spain

BEST KNOWN FOR: Cristóbal Balenciaga was a Spanish-French fashion designer and the leading couturier of Spain in the 1920s-30s. He moved to Paris during the Spanish Civil War.

Balenciaga was born in Getaria, a fishing town in the Basque province of Gipuzkoa, on January 21, 1895.[1] His mother was a seamstress, and as a child Balenciaga often spent time with her as she worked. At the age of twelve, he began work as the apprentice of a tailor. When Balenciaga was a teenager, the Marchioness de Casa Torres, the foremost noblewoman in his town, became his customer and patron. She sent him to Madrid, where he was formally trained in tailoring.[1] (Balenciaga is notable as one of the few couturiers in fashion history who could use their own hands to design, cut, and sew the models which symbolized the height of his artistry.)

Balenciaga was successful during his early career as a designer in Spain. He opened a boutique in San Sebastián, Spain, in 1919, which expanded to include branches in Madrid and Barcelona. The Spanish royal family and the aristocracy wore his designs, but when the Spanish Civil War forced him to close his stores, Balenciaga moved to Paris. Balenciaga opened his Paris couture house on Avenue George V in August 1937.

However, it was not until the post-war years that the full scale of the inventiveness of this highly original designer became evident. In 1951, he totally transformed the silhouette, broadening the shoulders and removing the waist. In 1955, he designed the tunic dress, which later developed into the chemise dress of 1957. And eventually, in 1959, his work culminated in the Empire line, with high-waisted dresses and coats cut like kimonos.

In 1960 he made the wedding dress for Fabiola de Mora y Aragón when she married king Baudouin I of Belgium. The Queen later donated her wedding dress to the Cristóbal Balenciaga Foundation.

His often spare, sculptural creations were considered masterworks of haute couture in the 1950s and 1960s.

Balenciaga closed his house in 1968 at the age of 74 after working in Paris for 30 years. He decided to retire and closed his fashion houses in Paris, Barcelona and Madrid, one after the other. Balenciaga died March 23, 1972 in Xàbia, Spain.

He taught fashion design classes, inspiring other designers such as Oscar de la Renta, André Courrèges, Emanuel Ungaro, Mila Schön and Hubert de Givenchy. Today the Balenciaga fashion house continues under the direction of Alexander Wang and under the ownership of the Gucci Group.[5]

On 24 March 2011 at San Francisco’s M.H. de Young Museum they celebrated the opening of “Balenciaga and Spain,” a 120-piece fashion retrospective of Cristóbal Balenciaga’s career. “You can’t even measure it,” said Rodarte designer Laura Mulleavy of Balenciaga’s influence. The $2,500-a-ticket fund-raiser for the museum drew 350 guests, including Marissa Mayer, Jamie Tisch, Gwyneth Paltrow, Orlando Bloom, Balthazar Getty, Maggie Rizer, Connie Nielsen, Maria Bello and Mia Wasikowska.

On 7 June 2011, the Balenciaga Museum was inaugurated in his hometown of Getaria by Queen Sofía of Spain and with the presence of Hubert de Givenchy, honorific president of the Balenciaga Foundation. The museum has a collection of more than 1,200 pieces designed by Balenciaga, part of them donations by disciples like Givenchy or clients, like Queen Fabiola of Belgium and the heirs of Grace Kelly.

Happy Birthday Rip Taylor

Today is the 80th birthday of outrageous comedian and prolific confetti thrower Rip Taylor. He was the host of the $198 Beauty Show. The show was crazy and I have no idea the point of this show, but it is hilarious and the 1970’s.

NAME: Rip Taylor
OCCUPATION: Film Actor, Theater Actor, Comedian, Television Personality
BIRTH DATE: January 13, 1934
PLACE OF BIRTH: Washington, D.C.
ORIGINALLY: Charles Elmer Taylor, Jr.

BEST KNOWN FOR: Comedian Rip Taylor is best known for his tacky costumes, handlebar mustache, wacky wigs and manic confetti tossing in his stage and film appearances.

Actor, comedian. Born Charles Elmer Taylor, Jr. on January 13, 1934 in Washington, D.C. Rip Taylor was a page in the U.S. Senate before being conscripted into the Army to serve in the Korean War. After he returned home, he got his start in entertainment as a stand-up comic. What began as a gimmick/tacky costumes, ridiculous props, a handlebar mustache, wacky wigs and manic confetti tossing would become his calling card.

During the 1960s and ??70s, Rip Taylor made regular guest appearances on variety shows for such comedic stars as Jackie Gleason, Phyllis Diller and Bobby Darin. The silly, befuddled comedian then found his ideal audience in children and was soon lending his voice for such cartoons as Popeye and The Addams Family. He also became known as the host for The $1.98 Beauty Show, a beauty pageant parody.

Rip Taylor has also appeared in films, and is probably best remembered for his appearance as a celebrity funeral guest in the cult comedy classic Amazon Women on the Moon. Other films include Wayne’s World 2, Jackass: The Movie and Jackass: Number Two.

FILMOGRAPHY AS ACTOR
Jackass 3D (13-Oct-2010) · Himself
Jackass: Number Two (22-Sep-2006) · Himself
The Dukes of Hazzard (24-Jun-2005) · Himself
The Aristocrats (Jan-2005) · Himself
Alex and Emma (16-Jun-2003) · Polina’s Father
Jackass: The Movie (21-Oct-2002) · Himself
The Silence of the Hams (13-Jul-1994)
Wayne’s World 2 (10-Dec-1993) · Himself
Indecent Proposal (7-Apr-1993) · Mr. Langford
Tom and Jerry: The Movie (2-Dec-1992) [VOICE]
Home Alone 2: Lost in New York (20-Nov-1992) · Celeb #1
DuckTales: The Movie: Treasure of the Lost Lamp (3-Aug-1990) [VOICE]
Amazon Women on the Moon (18-Sep-1987) · Himself
Things Are Tough All Over (9-Apr-1982) · Himself
The Gong Show Movie (9-May-1980) · Restaurant Maitre D’
The Happy Hooker Goes to Washington (7-Sep-1977) · Photographer
Chatterbox (Feb-1977)
I’d Rather Be Rich (26-Aug-1964)

#JeSuisCharlie

I write.  Daily.  Some of what I write makes it to the ether and is read by others, some does not (or perhaps has not yet).  I chronicle and highlight people that inspire me, of which many are writers.  Does that make me by a writer?  Is it what one calls oneself or what appears on one’s paychecks?  Profession or provocation?  I am a writer.

I feel a connection to writers.  I know the feeling of that perfect sentence, of finding the words in the right order that conveys what is inside your head.

“There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” – Ernest Hemingway

I will defend what you write to the end. Period.

I will not defend your writing when it is violence-inspiring ignorant yelling.  I appreciate a well-written manifesto, regardless how crazy I believe it to be.

Lastly, if your beliefs in your deity/god are on such a sandy foundation that you cannot handle a few satirical cartoons, you have bigger problems than the cartoons.  Research and understand what faith actually means.

We are still here. We are not afraid.

#JeSuisCharlie

Cupcakes – Creativity’s Antagonist

“Is there anything more blandly sweet, less evocative of this great city, and more goyish than any other baked good with the possible exception of Eucharist wafers than a cupcake?” – David RakoffHalf Empty

 

 

Barbara Bush – Humanity’s Antagonist

As if her fetid marsupium slash responsible for puking out a generation of unscrupulous GOP puppets isn’t enough reason to despise her, she also opens her mouth and speaks.  Her arrogance and hatred for the people her family has represented for decades is disgusting.

No one expects much from First Ladies, especially the Republican ones.  Read a couple books at an elementary school while it is filmed by the evening news, have a lunch for women in media, choose a cause (“Just Say No!”), but what I think is reasonable to expect is that they not be evil.

The late David Rakoff wrote it best.  Today is his birthday, please read it and follow his suggestion to commit it to memory and never forget.

“For most of my life, I would have automatically said that I would opt for conscientious objector status, and in general, I still would. But the spirit of the question is would I ever, and there are instances where I might. If immediate intervention would have circumvented the genocide in Rwanda or stopped the Janjaweed in Darfur, would I choose pacifism? Of course not. Scott Simon, the reporter for National Public Radio and a committed lifelong Quaker, has written that it took looking into mass graves in former Yugoslavia to convince him that force is sometimes the only option to deter our species’ murderous impulses.

While we’re on the subject of the horrors of war, and humanity’s most poisonous and least charitable attributes, let me not forget to mention Barbara Bush (that would be former First Lady and presidential mother as opposed to W’s liquor-swilling, Girl Gone Wild, human ashtray of a daughter. I’m sorry, that’s not fair. I’ve no idea if she smokes.) When the administration censored images of the flag-draped coffins of the young men and women being killed in Iraq – purportedly to respect “the privacy of the families” and not to minimize and cover up the true nature and consequences of the war – the family matriarch expressed her support for what was ultimately her son’s decision by saying on Good Morning America on March 18, 2003, “Why should we hear about body bags and deaths? I mean it’s not relevant. So why should I waste my beautiful mind on something like that?”

Mrs. Bush is not getting any younger. When she eventually ceases to walk among us we will undoubtedly see photographs of her flag-draped coffin. Whatever obituaries that run will admiringly mention those wizened, dynastic loins of hers and praise her staunch refusal to color her hair or glamorize her image. But will they remember this particular statement of hers, this “Let them eat cake” for the twenty-first century? Unlikely, since it received far too little play and definitely insufficient outrage when she said it. So let us promise herewith to never forget her callous disregard for other parents’ children while her own son was sending them to make the ultimate sacrifice, while asking of the rest of us little more than to promise to go shopping. Commit the quote to memory and say it whenever her name comes up. Remind others how she lacked even the bare minimum of human integrity, the most basic requirement of decency that says if you support a war, you should be willing, if not to join those nineteen-year-olds yourself, then at least, at the very least, to acknowledge that said war was actually going on. Stupid fucking cow.”
David Rakoff, Don’t Get Too Comfortable: The Indignities of Coach Class, The Torments of Low Thread Count, The Never-Ending Quest for Artisanal Olive Oil, and Other First World Problems

If only she stopped there, but she didn’t.

“What I’m hearing which is sort of scary is that they all want to stay in Texas. Everybody is so overwhelmed by the hospitality. And so many of the people in the arena here, you know, were underprivileged anyway so this (chuckle) – this is working very well for them.” –Former First Lady Barbara Bush, on the hurricane evacuees at the Astrodome in Houston, Sept. 5, 2005.

New Orleans residents housed in various post-Katrina evacuations camps lost their loved ones, homes, jobs, pets and possessions.  Their city sustained a tremendous amount of damage that is still not completely repaired.  That they had cots to sleep on inside a gigantic sports arena isn’t what most of them would consider a situation that is “working very well for them.”

Stupid Fucking Cow, indeed Mr. Rakoff.

Happy Birthday Sara Sherman Wiborg Murphy

Today is the 131st birthday of Sara Sherman Wiborg Murphy, one half of the amazing Jazz Age Lost Generation couple.  I think that I first ‘discovered’ Gerald and Sara Murphy when I was reading a collections of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s letters.  He and Sara wrote back and forth quite frequently, especially after Zelda’s first trip to the hospital.  I feel in love them while mourned the slow death of letter writing.  No one will ever publish a collection of text messages between anyone, that form of communication is one of the casualties on the other side of the conveniences of all this connectivity.

Copyright Estate of Honoria Murphy Donnelly/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY.

Gerald Clery Murphy and Sara Sherman Wiborg were wealthy, expatriate Americans who moved to the French Riviera in the early 20th century and who, with their generous hospitality and flair for parties, created a vibrant social circle, particularly in the 1920s, that included a great number of artists and writers of the Lost Generation. Gerald had a brief but significant career as a painter.

Gerald Clery Murphy (March 25, 1888 – October 17, 1964) born in Boston to the family that owned the Mark Cross Company, sellers of fine leather goods.

Gerald was an esthete from his childhood forward. He was never comfortable in the boardrooms and clubs for which his father was grooming him. He flunked the entrance exams at Yale three times before matriculating, although he performed respectably there. He joined DKE and the Skull and Bones society.[1]:237 He befriended a young freshman named Cole Porter (Yale class of 1913) and brought him into DKE. Murphy also introduced Porter to his friends, propelling him into writing music for Yale musicals.

Copyright Estate of Honoria Murphy Donnelly/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY.

Sara Sherman Wiborg (November 7, 1883 – October 10, 1975) was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, into the wealthy Wiborg family. Her father, manufacturing chemist Frank Bestow Wiborg, was a self-made millionaire by the age of 40, and her mother was a member of the noted Sherman family, daughter of Hoyt Sherman, and niece to Civil War General William Tecumseh Sherman. Raised in Cincinnati, her family moved to Germany for several years when she was a teenager, so her father could concentrate on the European expansion of his company. Upon returning to the United States, the Wiborgs spent most of their time in New York City and, later, East Hampton, where they were one of the first wealthy families to build a home.

In East Hampton Sara Wiborg and Gerald Murphy met when they were both adolescents. Gerald was five years younger than Sara, and for many years they were more familiar companions than romantically attached; they became engaged in 1915, when Sara was 32 years old. Sara’s parents did not approve of their daughter marrying someone “in trade,” and Gerald’s parents were not much happier with the prospect, seemingly because his father found it difficult to approve anything that Gerald did.

After marrying they lived at 50 West 11th Street in New York City, where they had three children. In 1921 they moved to Paris to escape the strictures of New York and their families’ mutual dissatisfaction with their marriage. In Paris Gerald took up painting, and they began to make the acquaintances for which they became famous. Eventually they moved to the French Riviera, where they became the center of a large circle of artists and writers of later fame, especially Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, John Dos Passos, Fernand Léger, Jean Cocteau, Pablo Picasso, Archibald MacLeish, John O’Hara, Cole Porter, Dorothy Parker and Robert Benchley.

Prior to their arrival on the French Riviera, the region was experiencing a period when the fashionable only wintered there, abandoning the region during the high summer months. However, the activities of the Murphys fueled the same renaissance in arts and letters as did the excitement of Paris, especially among the cafés of Montparnasse. In 1923 the Murphys convinced the Hotel du Cap to stay open for the summer so that they might entertain their friends, sparking a new era for the French Riviera as a summer haven. The Murphys eventually purchased a villa in Cap d’Antibes and named it Villa America; they resided there for many years. When the Murphys arrived on the Riviera, lying on the beach merely to enjoy the sun was not a common activity. Occasionally, someone would go swimming, but the joys of being at the beach just for sun were still unknown at the time. The Murphys, with their long forays and picnics at La Garoupe, introduced sunbathing on the beach as a fashionable activity.

They had three children, Baoth, Patrick, and Honoria. In 1929, Patrick was diagnosed with tuberculosis. They took him to Switzerland, and then returned to the U.S. in 1934, with Gerald in Manhattan, where he ran Mark Cross, serving as president of the company from 1934 to 1956; he never painted again. Sara settled in Saranac Lake, New York to nurse Patrick, and Baoth and Honoria were put in boarding schools. In 1935, Baoth died unexpectedly of meningitis, a complication of the measles, and Patrick succumbed to TB in 1937.  Archibald MacLeish based the main characters in his play J.B. on Gerald and Sara Murphy.

Later they lived at “The Dunes”, once the largest house in East Hampton, built by Sara’s father on 600 acres (2.4 km2). By 1941, the house proved impossible to maintain, sell or even rent, and the Murphys had it demolished, and moved to the renovated dairy barn.

Copyright Estate of Honoria Murphy Donnelly/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY.

Gerald died October 17, 1964 in East Hampton. Sara died on October 10, 1975 in Arlington, Virginia.

Nicole and Dick Diver of Tender Is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald are widely recognized as based on the Murphys, based on marked physical similarities, although many of their friends, as well as the Murphys themselves, saw as much or more of Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald’s relationship and personalities in the couple than the Murphys. Ernest Hemingway’s couple in Garden of Eden is not explicitly based on this pair, but given the similarities and the setting (Nice), there is clearly some basis for such an assumption. Interestingly, guests of the Murphys would often swim at Eden Roc, an event emulated in The Garden of Eden.

Calvin Tomkins’s biography of Gerald and Sara Murphy Living Well Is the Best Revenge was published in 1971, and Amanda Vaill documented their lives in the 1995 book Everybody Was So Young. Both accounts are balanced and kind, unlike some of their portrayals in the memoirs and fictitious works by their many friends, including Fitzgerald and Hemingway.
In 1982, Honoria Murphy Donnelly, the Murphys’ daughter, with Richard N. Billings, wrote Sara & Gerald: Villa America and After.

On July 12, 2007, a play by Crispin Whittell entitled Villa America, based entirely on the relationships between Sara and Gerald Murphy and their friends had its world premiere at the Williamstown Theatre Festival with Jennifer Mudge playing Sara Murphy.