Happy Birthday Jean Arthur

Today is the 114th birthday of Jean Arthur.

NAME: Jean Arthur
OCCUPATION: Academic, Film Actress
BIRTH DATE: October 17, 1900
DEATH DATE: June 19, 1991
PLACE OF BIRTH: Plattsburgh, New York
PLACE OF DEATH: Carmel, California
FULL NAME: Gladys Georgianna Greene

BEST KNOWN FOR: Jean Arthur was an American actress best known for her roles in films such as Mr. Smith Goes To Washington and The More The Merrier.

American actress Jean Arthur was born on October 17, 1900 in Plattsburgh, New York. She started as a model before working in film. Born Gladys Georgianna Greene, she formed her stage name from her two heroes: Joan of Arc (Jeanne d’Arc) and King Arthur. She appeared in small roles in silent films, and broke through when film began to incorporate sound. Her husky trademark voice in The Whole Town’s Talking (1935) won her fans and admirers. Arthur appeared in notable films such as You Can’t Take It With You (1938), Mr. Smith Goes To Washington (1939) and The More The Merrier (1943) which earned her an Oscar nomination. In later years, Arthur starred in her own television series and taught drama at Vassar College. She died June 19, 1991 in Carmel, California.

FILMOGRAPHY AS ACTOR
Shane (24-Apr-1953) · Marian Starrett
A Foreign Affair (7-Jul-1948) · Phoebe Frost
The Impatient Years (7-Sep-1944)
A Lady Takes a Chance (19-Aug-1943)
The More the Merrier (26-Mar-1943) · Connie Milligan
The Talk of the Town (20-Aug-1942) · Nora Shelley
The Devil and Miss Jones (15-May-1941) · Mary
Arizona (25-Dec-1940) · Phoebe Titus
Too Many Husbands (7-Mar-1940) · Vicky Lowndes
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (17-Oct-1939) · Saunders
Only Angels Have Wings (12-May-1939) · Bonnie Lee
You Can’t Take It with You (23-Aug-1938) · Alice Sycamore
Easy Living (7-Jul-1937)
History Is Made at Night (5-Mar-1937) · Irene Vail
The Plainsman (1-Jan-1937) · Calamity Jane
More Than a Secretary (10-Dec-1936)
Adventure in Manhattan (8-Oct-1936) · Claire Peyton
The Ex-Mrs. Bradford (13-May-1936) · Paula Bradford
Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (12-Apr-1936) · Babe Bennett
If You Could Only Cook (25-Dec-1935) · Joan Hawthorne
Public Menace (24-Sep-1935) · Cassie
Diamond Jim (2-Sep-1935)
Public Hero #1 (16-May-1935) · Maria Theresa O’Reilly
Party Wire (27-Apr-1935)
The Whole Town’s Talking (22-Feb-1935) · Miss Clark
The Most Precious Thing in Life (5-Jun-1934)
Whirlpool (10-Apr-1934) · Sandy
The Silver Horde (25-Oct-1930) · Mildred Wayland
Danger Lights (21-Aug-1930)
The Return of Dr. Fu Manchu (2-May-1930)
Paramount on Parade (22-Apr-1930)
The Saturday Night Kid (25-Oct-1929) · Janie
The Greene Murder Case (11-Aug-1929)
The Mysterious Dr. Fu Manchu (10-Aug-1929)
The Canary Murder Case (16-Feb-1929)

Happy Birthday Gracie Hansen

Today is the 92nd birthday of Gracie Hansen:  exactly what Seattle needed.  She famously said “The only difference between a rut and a grave are the dimensions.”  Take that to heart.

The irrepressible and brash Gracie Hansen — best remembered for presenting shapely showgirls in her glamorous Las Vegas-style burlesque nightclub at Seattle’s Century 21 Exposition (Seattle World’s Fair) in 1962 — was a most improbable individual to fulfill that role. She was a divorced, backwoods gal, with poor health, a garishly frumpy style, and no detectable musical skill. Yet she won friends easily. Fondly described once by Seattle Times  veteran reporter Don Duncan as “short, stout, big-busted,” by Seattle magazine as “short-necked and dumpy, the despair of dress designers,” and by Northwest historian Murray Morgan (1916-2000) as “short, raucous and witty” — the woman’s charm was largely based on that latter attribute. The easily underestimated but extremely well-read Hansen was also a nonstop font of homespun quips, sly double-entendre jokes, and ribald witticisms. Her Paradise International Club on the fairgrounds packed in crowds — in good part because of Hansen’s knack for generating newspaper headlines in the mildly scandalized town — while rumors of police raids, lawsuits, and Hansen’s own background as a Madam (untrue), kept gossips chattering endlessly. It was all a publicity agent’s dream come true — just as it was the Cinderella moment of Gracie Hansen’s difficult life — one that saw her move on to hosting another club in Portland, where she eventually launched a humorous campaign for mayor and later one for Governor of Oregon.

Quiet Desperation in Morton

Born in Shreveport, Louisiana, on August 21, 1922, Gracie Diana’s Sicilian father, Sam Diana, moved his family to Longview, Washington, where he opened a barbershop. After his death in 1930, she and her mother moved into an apartment above the Columbia Movie Theatre and young Gracie fell in love with Hollywood movies. After about eight years her mother married George Barner and they moved to Centralia where he was mayor. It was there that the ambitious Gracie converted her family garage into a theater and began producing shows with her new neighborhood pals. After high school, her mother refused to let her follow her dream of studying acting in New York City, and so Gracie eloped with a logger named Leo Hansen. They moved to the tiny rough-and-tumble logging town of Morton and in 1948 adopted a boy named Sam.

Her new hometown was a less than inspiring spot to live. It was a lonely place — one that Hansen talked about years later in an interview with Bellingham’s KVOS-TV, where she quoted no less than Henry David Thoreau in recalling that “I once read where ‘the mass of men live lives of quiet desperation’ — and until you’ve lived in a little town like this you’ll never know what desperation can be. Everybody is searching for something to do. And I think that’s how I became involved … of course I’ve always been a frustrated ham, and loved to do anything connected with shows —  when I was a child I wanted to be a movie star” (KVOS).

A string of jobs as a waitress, cook, and bank clerk didn’t satisfy Hansen’s thespian urge and neither did the dozens of community groups she joined. But then in 1953 she masterminded what became the town’s annual variety show presentation, the Morton Follies. Produced as a fundraising benefit for the local Parent-Teachers-Association (PTA), she organized and staged the two-hour show, which was humorously credited with this line: “Written, Borrowed, Stolen, Directed, and Produced by Gracie Hansen.” It was “a typical variety show using all the home talent. Most of the time we had a hundred people in the cast. Everybody’s got a little bit of ham in them! And geez those people would just get up there and give the most terrific performances. They were wonderful. We had a chorus line: we had ten of the young housewives (I think one time we figured out that they had about 26 children between them). I would get a dancing teacher to teach them how to dance and they worked real hard and they were terrific” (KVOS).

Morton Liquor Agency

Hansen suffered a divorce and also acquired the license to operate Morton’s liquor shop — which probably was a relatively thriving business in a boom-and-bust timber town whose economy fluctuated, as she admitted, “like the weather.” But alcohol also seems to have played a role in the demise of her role with the Follies. Word is that in time the shows began to get edgier, but Hansen attributed that to booze-fueled improvisation by amateur cast members rather than to her own scripting: “Some of these people would get carried away [laughter]! They’d say ‘Gee whiz Gracie, I’ve gotta have a little bit of fortification before I can get up there and make a fool of myself.’ And I sometimes wished I was clever enough to write some of the things they came up with — but some of the things were just too adult for the PTA. [laughter] and so we kinda just stopped it” (KVOS).

Seattle magazine noted that the 1959 show was to be the last: “As the years progressed … the dialog became racier and racier; when finally one logger, attired as Queen for a Day, hiked up his skirt and showed he had nothing on underneath but his boots, church groups closed down the show” (Halpin). And, even years later, one Morton resident (schoolteacher Geneva Partridge) confessed that “Opinion of Gracie is divided. Some are against her” (Dunsire).

Hansen counted only one person in Morton as a real friend. She got sick, endured several bank-busting medical operations, and while healing grew extremely bored and depressed just moping around her house. “You see, I used to work all winter on them. This was my project for the winter. And then that winter I had nothing to do and was very ill, and very broke, and feeling very sorry for myself. And I had this friend who came over and gave me this pep talk: ‘Gee look what you did with the Morton Follies. Why don’t you go up to the Seattle World’s Fair?’ Of course, I thought she was absolutely right!’ (KVOS). That advice from her friend Esther Lester really got her to thinking about a new future.

Showgirls vs. Science

By the late 1950s there was already plenty of news coverage of the massive planning efforts  and construction projects that would ultimately result in the Century 21 World’s Fair. And that got Hansen to thinking that maybe there would be opportunities for her there. Her first step was to jump into her battered old Buick and drive up to the fair’s planning offices up in the old Civic Auditorium. She arrived in the big city with high hopes, plenty of confidence and “Morton mud on my shoes. They were very amused [laughter]. And I just went in cold and said I wanted to put on a show. You see everybody has a mission in life and I decided that my mission must be to save the fair from Science. Well they were very amused and said ‘Well Miss Hansen don’t you call us, we’ll call you'” (KVOS).

Hansen returned to Morton and mailed off a few letters to Seattle and Olympia still seeking to gauge any possible interest in having her produce an expanded version of her naughty little Follies show. In April 1960, Al Rochester (1895-1985), Executive Director for the Century 21 Commission, sent her a letter (mailed to the liquor store in Morton), which stated that an “Administrative Assistant to the Governor [Albert D. Rosellini], wrote me that you had some interest in participation of some kind … . Would you be so good as to drop me a line and outline in some detail what you thoughts are on the matter. Then I shall be very pleased to follow through in any way possible.”  At the bottom of that still-surviving letter are clues to Rochester’s thoughts: inscribed in ink pen there are these handwritten notes: “Appointment 4-14-60 11:00 am ‘Girlie’ Show — I told her it was too soon …” (Rochester letter to Hansen, April 11, 1960).

Next Stop: Seattle

Hansen made the decision to head where the action was and, after finding a job at Seattle’s United Savings and Loan Associates, she moved here. “Then I made up this list … of all the people I’d ever heard of in Seattle who had money. And I began checking them off.  I would go and call on them on my lunch, or after work, or on Saturdays, and I would give them this pitch: ‘Have you ever been to a World’s Fair, or know anyone who has? And, if so, what do you remember?’ ‘Cause you know what they all remember: Little Egypt, Sally Rand, Billie Rose and some of those things. And no one can tell you about an exhibit they saw any place! So I formulated my pet theory that: Science will never replace sex or cotton candy” (KVOS).

One of those wealthy folks, Robert Chinn (625 S Jackson Street) — her boss at the bank and a gentleman quite prominent within the town’s Chinese community — agreed to help. In an hour-and-a-half on the telephone, he rounded up 18 friends who each invested $5,000 in Hansen’s dream to produce a big-time show at the fair. Of course, when the ecstatic would-be showbiz entrepreneur ran back to the fair’s offices, they didn’t believe her until they laid eyes on a bankbook showing the $90,000 she’d raised. “So, of course,” she recalled, “then they were very interested in talking about this” (KVOS).

Sedate Seattle vs. the Censor Board

Meanwhile, as planning for the fair progressed in Seattle, there were conflicting notions about what hosting such a huge cosmopolitan event might mean to the community. Seattle’s raucous past as an 1850s frontier village — a Wild West town that featured rowdy dancehalls and liquor bars, box theaters (in which male patrons fraternized in small rooms with female employees behind curtains), and houses of ill-repute like the infamous one supposedly operated by Madam Damnable — was a history many upstanding members of the community would like to have forgotten by the 1950s. And they sure didn’t want the fair to revive any of that wildness.

On the other hand, some interested parties figured that the town — soon to be sizzling under the glare of international media and the entertainment needs of worldly tourists — really ought to consider installing an “adult-entertainment” component to the fair’s offerings. It was in 1961, according Murray Morgan, that “State Senator Reuben Knoblauch [d. 1992] complained to the World’s Fair [C]ommission that too much emphasis and space was being devoted to an art exhibit which he said would not draw the crowds that high class entertainment or a skin show would attract. State Representative Len Sawyer, a member of the Commission, agreed and added that a cadaver in a medical exhibit in Canada was outdrawing an art exhibit” (Morgan).  So, Hansen’s “pet theory” obviously had other adherents. And, though the fair would boast plenty of high-brow culture (as well as a generalized futuristic high-tech science ambiance), plans were now underway to also accommodate more base attractions. Although the fair wouldn’t be able to boast of having a morbid cadaver on display, there would ultimately be opportunities to view “heavenly bodies” (Official Guide Book p. 112).

Sin Alley

Initially the fair contracted with Hansen to produce her show in a venue on the Boulevards of the World strip. As general planning progressed though, they discussed relocating her still-unnamed showplace to a discreet area underneath the north stadium stands — a zone they imagined might be marketed as Sin Alley.

Meanwhile, Hansen forged ahead by getting professional assistance — and she reached for the stars. “Being the frustrated ham that I am,” Hansen admitted, “I always read Variety and the show business papers, and I knew that there were two big names in the business that did first-class shows: Don Arden and Barry Ashton. And so I made a trip to Las Vegas and Los Angeles [in the summer of 1961] and I talked to Don Arden and Barry Ashton” (KVOS). At the time Arden was committed to producing the famous Lido Shows in Paris and at the Stardust in Vegas, but Ashton was interested in possibly serving as choreographer.

On November 3, 1961, The Seattle Times published an item showing Hansen with Ashton and his partner reviewing blueprints for a World’s Fair “Theater-Cafe.” Interesting, then, that documents from the fair’s internal archives seemingly reveal that the exact nature of Hansen’s participation still wasn’t fully nailed down. A November 15 letter from George K. Whitney (the fair’s Director of Concessions and Amusements) shows him touching base with San Francisco’s Hotsy Totsy Club, in which he states a desire to see someone bring in a “theater-restaurant night club similar in scope and program” to that city’s Bimbo’s 365 Club (which Ashton staged). It is mentioned that prime space is available, that Ashton has been hired, and even suggests that the program “would be the hit of Show Street.” The stipulation was that, with the time-clock ticking away towards a Grand Opening in April, the Hotsy Totsy folks needed to make an immediate decision. Intriguingly, on the November 16, The Seattle Times reported that just one day prior, Hansen had delivered a $90,000 check to the fair as an “advance guarantee against receipts.” And with that, it appears Hansen’s involvement — on Show Street — was locked in.

Show Street

From there things must have fallen into place at a rapid pace: A month later, on December 21, 1961, Time magazine reported that, yes, worry not, “the fair will have its undraped girls, in a ‘Las Vegas-type revue’ to be produced by one Gracie Hansen, an entrepreneuse who promises ‘a daring show with some nudity, but all in good taste.'” And that would take place within Show Street — the titillation zone of the fair located at the northeast corner of the grounds (where today’s KCTS-TV station is based). That same day saw a groundbreaking ceremony on the construction site — one in which Hansen (wearing a feathered hat) began charming the media saying: “This is my dream some true. I’m just a country girl from Morton. Very naive. Why, I didn’t know there were press agents until a few months ago.” Then, using a “gold-plated” shovel to turn a load of “diamonds,” she said “Diamonds are a girl’s best friend — but I’ll never knock rubies, emeralds or pearls” (The Seattle Times, December 21, 1961).

Show Street was a U-shaped complex of buildings, each containing a distinct “Adults Only” attraction — including the Polynesian Playhouse, the Diamond Horseshoe (and its Gay Nineties theme), the Galaxy (and its Girls of the Galaxy show), the Le Petit Theatre (and its naughty puppet show), and Backstage U.S.A. (and its risqué “Peep” show). Some of these offerings, ranging “from bad to indifferent, were organized to slop up the lascivious overflow” of people who arrived too late to get tickets to the highest profile feature of all. And that was Hansen’s mildly controversial Paradise International restaurant-theater which survived official scrutiny only because the “Seattle Censor Board was persuaded to raise its eyes to the heavens while the girls bared their breasts” (Morgan).

A Night In Paradise

On the fair’s opening night of April 21, 1962, Hansen’s plush, 700-seat Paradise International drew large crowds. Advance publicity of the controversial sort helped, but so too did the building’s attention-grabbing exterior neon sign: it was designed like an apple with a missing bite — an unmistakable visual allusion to traditional biblical notions of original sin. Or as Hansen pitched it to The Seattle Times in December 1961: “The apple tree in Paradise will be our symbol.” Although a certain segment of Seattleites was mildly scandalized, the Seattle Censor Board miraculously gave it the nod — possibly because, as Hansen would helpfully inform: Even though “‘some of our showgirls are nude from the waist up. It’s not thrust upon you. In fact, sometimes you have to look for them in there. And, as yet, no one has objected and found it distasteful, so I guess it’s a matter of presentation” (KVOS).

Hansen began each “A Night In Paradise” show — as staged by Ashton and supported by a pit-band led by Seattle’s aging 1920s bandleader, John R. “Jackie” Souders (d. 1968) — with a pure jolt of Mae West-like red-hot-mama irreverence, greeting her audience with a shout-out (that had actually been a trademark of West’s stylistic predecessor, Texas Guinan): “Hi-ya, Suckers!” After some joking around Hansen even sang a tune or two in her own endearing manner — which was “like a poor man’s Sophie Tucker, belting out red-hot chestnuts and always getting the biggest hand of the evening”.

Than, after that aural assault, the real action began — although as one scribe noted years later: “It was a ‘Vegas-style’ show that by today’s standards would probably look like a Daughters of the American Revolution luncheon but was then the ultimate in slap-and-tickle sophistication” (Palmer). True, those four floor-shows per night offered — to employ an old, old joke — two main points of interest: the bevy of buxom beauties (who sang and paraded their admirable physiques) and their over-the-top, and occasionally topless, costumes (all made in Hollywood by Lloyd Lambert) in ridiculous productions like the “Women of Mars.”

Spice Girls

Before long, the fair’s Performing Arts Director, Harold Shaw, stated that a few underperforming Show Street attractions needed to be overhauled from “stem to stern.” The problem, surprise surprise, was that he felt that they were not yet “spicy enough.” He lamented how “I could make that street hop if I had a free hand for two weeks.” What the place was lacking was “showmanship” and more nudity: “There isn’t a show worth doing unless it is keeping the censors busy. The censors would have to be on roller skates to keep up with me … . I don’t say I have all the answers but I am willing to help if they ask me” (The Seattle Times, June 6, 1962).

All this helpfulness only sparked the inevitable backlash from social conservatives, and even moderate politicians who also made known their objections to Hansen’s Paradise International and the other questionable Show Street venues. Longtime reporter Don Duncan noted that St. Matthews Catholic Church in Northeast Seattle’s Lake City neighborhood mailed in a letter of complaint which stated that “Such Pagan displays will show the world what they already suspect — that Americans are amoral, materialistic, sex-conscious, pleasure-seeking people. What an impression!” It was also reported that a Mr. H. H. Hill had written about his concerns that “Century 21 is becoming primarily a bawdy show or is it to be a science fair citizens were taxed to support” (The Seattle Times, June 27, 1962).

Physical Fitness

It didn’t help matters when the Shaw announced plans to introduce regular Monday “father-and-son” nights at Hansen’s shows — which had initially been advertised as a “break for dear old dad.” A week later, the fair’s great advocate, Governor Albert D. Rosellini (1910-2011), weighed in. In a letter written to a local Lutheran minister, he admitted that he was shocked by the idea. Rosellini’s office asserted that they’d already received 1,200 letters from an outraged public — and he informed the fair that they ought “to assure a more adequate regard for morality” (The Seattle Times June 27, 1962). That same piece from The Seattle Times informed that the fair’s manager, Ewen C. Dingwall (1913-1996), responded by noting that “every activity on Show Street must be approved by either the State Liquor Control Board or the Seattle Board of Theater Supervisors” (known informally as the Seattle Censor Board), and that “No activity is tolerated by us which does not have the approval of both agencies.”

Amid the simmering furor, the dads-and-lads concept apparently faded away but Shaw got in a parting shot by saying: “It’s time we shed our false puritanical morals and commence to beautify the human being — and make him beautiful as God created him.” Then, perhaps stretching things just a bit too far, Shaw told another newspaper that even more nudity at the fair would “be a boost for President Kennedy’s physical fitness plan. Americans don’t have beautiful bodies. The best way to stimulate beautiful bodies is to see them” (Seattle Post Intelligencer, June 28, 1962).

In hindsight, Morgan reckoned that, business-wise, the Show Street had been a disappointing mixed bag: “the puppets made a mint … and some of the other attractions were around for the last hurrah. But throughout the fair, Show Street was a financial embarrassment, in such trouble that not even well-publicized, carefully rehearsed trouble with the police could produce a profit” (Murray Morgan).

Initially Hansen had been delightfully glib about her club’s chances at success, telling reporters that “We may go broke, but we’ll never be flat-busted” (Halpin). Truth be told, although Hansen’s Paradise did manage, in the end, to pay off all its debts, its original investors remained rather bitter about not making a profit — and Hansen herself moved on with an empty savings account. But George Whitney may have been correct when — before the fair even opened — he predicted that “There is no question that when Century 21 has passed in limbo, the main feature to be remembered will be Gracie Hansen’s Paradise International” (The Seattle Times, December 21, 1961). Well, that, and maybe the Space Needle and Monorail…

Hansen’s Transformation

Part of Hansen’s secret for success was her state of self-awareness. As Seattle magazine once reported: “She has no illusions about the quality of her voice. ‘I have no voice at all,’ she rasps in a whisky bass that sounds like a fire roaring in a wood stove. ‘But if I don’t sing good — at least I sing loud” (Halpin, p. 36). And it wasn’t only her voice that was loud — so was her wardrobe. To start with, there were the absurd “thick false eyelashes, wigs, and enormous finger rings” (Duncan, 1985). Then too, the mink stoles, outrageous hats, and “richly brocaded velvet dresses” whose “outlandish ruffles would shame Liberace” (Halpin, p. 36).

Considering that Hansen also whirled around town in her (borrowed) gold-plated Buick — she instantly become “the most talked about woman in Seattle.” Indeed, “Gracie’s transformation into a siren was a remarkable example of mind over matter” — but she accomplished that with a combination of old-fashioned moxie, drive, and a heart of gold (Halpin, p. 36). All things considered, Hansen proved to be exactly what Century 21 needed — she “added just the right touch of humor and earthiness to Seattle’s science-oriented fair” (Duncan, 1985).

Morton Reunion

The 20th annual Logger’s Jubilee festival in little ol’ Morton welcomed Hansen back in a triumphal return appearance as their fair’s Homecoming Queen. On August 12, 1962, she, as Grand Marshal, rode on the back seat of an open convertible car in their parade down the town’s Main Street. One newspaper account of that day’s activities noted that her earlier showbiz activities there had made her “the talk of the town. Not all of the talk complimentary” (Charles Dunsire).

She arrived like a big city star in a chartered bus accompanied by “Show Street personalities, and a retinue of newsmen, photographers and press agents. Also aboard to keep things lively were a guitarist and clarinetist.” Hansen wore a silver sequined dress — one that “contrasted with the other elements of the parade, which included a long line of fully loaded logging trucks” (Charles Dunsire). But that didn’t stop fair officials from awarding Hansen with the, presumably coveted, golden ax.

A Heart of Gold

Then in 1977 it was discovered that for the past two years Hansen had been volunteering anonymously at Portland’s Volunteers of America senior center, serving meals to the elderly. Hansen told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer that she labored there as a way of “working off a guilt complex. I feel guilty about all the things I didn’t do for my parents when they were alive.”

Those who knew Hansen were not surprised by this news — Hansen had long before entertained patients at Children’s Orthopedic Hospital while dressed in a Santa Claus costume, and she also gave inspirational talks to most any community group that tendered an invitation to speak. Also in 1977 Hansen announced that she and her husband were selling their home and moving to Seattle where she wanted to “spice up the campaign” that the Paradise International’s former head of security — City Councilman Wayne Larkin — was launching in a run for mayor (Evans).

Say Goodnight, Gracie

Long plagued with poor health — she had been diagnosed as a diabetic in the mid-1950s — Hansen (who was last based in North Hollywood) endured at least six medical operations for various circulatory problems, and had a leg amputated in 1980. Then, finally, on January 9, 1985, Hansen died in Los Angeles after a last round of surgery. It was two full decades after she’d made her initial big splash in Seattle, but that news of her passing still merited front-page coverage in The Seattle Times.

The town still had a soft spot for the hick from the sticks who defied all odds to become an outrageous glamour icon — and one who never forgot where she came from. The ever-humble Hansen once freely admitted to that newspaper that Century 21 had been a career highlight: it was the “Cinderella point in my life … . I came barreling in from Morton and my whole life changed. I’ve been enjoying it ever since” (The Seattle Times, January 11, 1985) — and way back in 1966 she shared this inspirational thought with Seattle magazine: “I was fat and 40 and I came out of the hills and I made it. My message is this: if I could, who the hell can’t?”

 

The Great Seattle Fire – 125 Years Later

On the afternoon of June 6, 1889, John E. Back, a worker in Victor Clairmont’s cabinet-making shop near Front Street and Madison Avenue, was heating glue over a gasoline fire.  Sometime around 2:30 pm, the glue boiled over and caught fire.  The fire soon spread to the wood chips and turpentine covering the floor.  Back attempted to douse the fire with water which only served to spread the fire further.  The fire department arrived by 2:45, but by that time the area was so smoky that the source of the fire could not be determined.  At first it was assumed to have begun in the paint shop above Clairmont’s woodworking shop and the Seattle newspaper erroneously ran this story the next day.

By the morning of June 7, the fire had burned 25 city blocks, including the entire business district, four of the city’s wharves, and its railroad terminals.  The fire would be called the most destructive fire in the history of Seattle.  Despite the massive destruction of property, the only casualty was a young boy named James Goin.  However, there were fatalities during the cleanup process and over 1 million rodents were killed. Total losses were estimated at nearly $20,000,000 ($656 million in today’s dollars)

Over the next 18 hours, the blaze wiped out the town’s business district and waterfront. Miraculously, there were no human fatalities.  Because of the fire, the streets in downtown Seattle now sit up to 22 feet above the original street levels.

In a year’s time, Seattle had nearly been rebuilt. All the construction jobs sparked a population boom, and Seattle grew from a town of 25,000 into a full-fledged city of more than 40,000.

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Please Don’t Call It ‘Cap Hill”

 

jager cap hill

A new mural at 12th and Pine in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood encourages folks to visit “Cap Hill” and then quaff Jägermeister until they think they’re goddamn superheroes:

 

Finished just two days ago, the Jägermeister mural says: “Relive the night: You became legends on Cap Hill.”

But the ad campaign is bombing with people who actually live in Capitol Hill, the city’s historically gay neighborhood. For one thing, no self-respecting denizen would ever call it “Cap Hill” (a term strictly used by rural and suburban types struggling to sound colloquial). Moreover, the ads play into the worst fears of many locals who have watched the neighborhood become a magnet for racist, homophobic, violent bigots who drink themselves into a stupor—maybe doing shots of Jägermeister—and then attack people of color, gay people, and drag queens. Mike Hogan, who runs the hate-crime division at the King County prosecutor’s office, told The Stranger last year, “It’s common to see people not from our area… go up to the Pike/Pine district and offend there.” He said that “heavy intoxication” is linked to the crimes. “You just don’t get clean and sober defendants out harassing people like this.”

The locals fear, and the ad seems to confirm, that Capitol Hill is now being marketed as a destination for people unfamiliar with—or even hostile to—diverse urban cultures to visit, get shitfaced, and have delusions of legendary grandeur.

Which has led to quick counter-ad-campaign of all over the neighborhood,including this pretty genius posters:

About a dozen designs by Dax Ed Word Anderson that have appeared on poles in the last 48 hours.

Ryan Hoon, a cook at Linda’s Tavern, posted the flyers to push back against what he sees as the neighborhood’s exploitation.

“The high rises keep going up, the rent keeps going up, and the wrong crowd keeps coming in,” says Hoon in an e-mail. “Higher and higher incidences of violence coupled with homophobia, racism and sexism keep happening… I’ve fucking had enough, the flyers may be small, but it’s something… I don’t want to be forced out from new money and the fist pumping asshole.”

In other words, this looks like another case of businesses leveraging Capitol Hill’s attractiveness to sell their product—like diverse urban centers all over the world—and, in the process, destroying the very things that made it attractive in the first place. Jägermeister did not reply to a request for comment.

via Jägermeister Becomes Symbol of Gentrification and Gay-Bashing on “Cap Hill” | Slog.

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Happy Birthday Kurt Cobain

Today is the 47th birthday of Kurt Cobain.  I drive by his old house on my way home and even 20 years after his death, there are still people lighting candles and leaving flowers on the bench in the park  it is next to.  He was the reluctant crown-prince of my generation.  Had he lived, he would  an Indie Rock God Legend or a bloated cliche or a recluse.  There is no way to predict something that will never be.  We will always remember him as beautiful, and sad.  My family settled in  Aberdeen when they came to The United States.  The rain was heavy and constant.  There is a beautiful old mausoleum in the cemetery where my great-grandparents  are buried and when I am there, I wonder if Kurt liked it there.  If I were a kid growing up in Aberdeen, I would have made it one of my haunts, it is very quiet and empty and full of the forgotten founders of a town whose prime has passed.

Kurt Cobain

NAME: Kurt Cobain
OCCUPATION: Singer
BIRTH DATE: February 20, 1967
DEATH DATE: April 05, 1994
PLACE OF BIRTH: Aberdeen, Washington
PLACE OF DEATH: Seattle, Washington
FULL NAME: Kurt Donald Cobain

BEST KNOWN FOR:  A talented yet troubled grunge performer, Kurt Cobain became a rock legend in the 1990s with his band, Nirvana. He committed suicide at his Seattle home in 1994.

Singer, songwriter. Born Kurt Donald Cobain on February 20, 1967, in Aberdeen, Washington. A talented, troubled performer, Kurt Cobain became a rock legend with his band Nirvana in the 1990s. Growing up in a small logging town, Cobain showed an interest in art and music. He excelled at drawing, so much so that his talents were even apparent in kindergarten. He also learned to play piano by ear and enjoyed a kiddie drum kit his parents had given him. At his father’s urging, Cobain also played little league baseball. He sometimes spent time with his little sister Kim who was born in 1971, but both Cobain children had to deal with their parents yelling and fighting as their marriage became increasingly stormy.

After his parents divorced when he was nine, Cobain became withdrawn. He went to live with his father after the divorce. On the weekends, he would visit his mother and his sister. When his father remarried, Cobain resented his stepmother Jenny and her two children. One of the bright spots of this difficult time was a present he received from his uncle Chuck—a guitar. Although the instrument was fairly beat up, it inspired Cobain to learn to play and it offered him a respite from his unhappiness at home. Alienated and angry, he believed that his father always took his stepmother’s side and favored her children and his half-brother Chad who had been born in 1979. Cobain began experimenting with drugs in his mid-teens, and he pushed himself farther away from his father.

In 1982, Cobain left his father’s place and bounced around from relative to relative for several months. He then went to live with his mother who was with her boyfriend Pat O’Connor at the time. (They later married.) Attending high school in Aberdeen, he impressed teachers and students with his artistic talents. Cobain seemed to have odd tastes in subject matter, drawing a sperm transforming into an embryo for one project, according to Heavier than Heaven: A Biography of Kurt Cobain by Charles R. Cross.

Cobain’s life changed when he started listening punk rock. Discovering a local punk band, the Melvins, he befriended Buzz Osbourne, a member of the group. Osbourne introduced him to some other punk bands, such as the Sex Pistols. The Melvins often practiced in a space near drummer Dale Crover‘s house and a lot of fans, including Cobain, came to these sessions and hung out. As high school progressed, he was doing more drinking and drugging. Cobain also got into fights with his mother who was also drinking a lot, and he could not stand his stepfather.

Cobain spent much of 1984 and 1985 living in various places. He spent time living with friends when he could and sleeping in apartment building hallways and a hospital waiting room when he did not have any other place to crash. In July 1985, Cobain was arrested for spray painting buildings in town with some of his friends. His friends got away, but Cobain was caught and taken to the police station. He later received a fine and a suspended sentence for his actions. Several months later, Cobain started his first band, Fecal Matter. They recorded a few songs together at his aunt Mari’s house, but they never played any gigs.

The next year Cobain was in trouble with the law again after being found wandering around an abandoned building drunk at night. As a result, he ended up spending several days in jail. Cobain started playing music with bassist Krist Novoselic who was two years older than him. They knew each other from Novoselic’s younger brother Robert and from hanging around The Melvins. A local drummer named Aaron Burckhard soon joined in. Their first gig was a house party in 1987. This same year, Cobain started going out with Tracy Marander, his first serious girlfriend. The two eventually were living together in Olympia. Although they struggled financially, the couple seemed to enjoy the rock and roll lifestyle. Cobain spent a lot of his time exploring different creative outlets—writing, painting, drawing, and making collages.

In 1988, Cobain was able to make some of his rock ambitions come true. He finally settled on the name Nirvana for the group. They made their first single, “Love Buzz,” which was released by the small independent label Sub Pop Records. By this time, Burckhard was out and Chad Channing had taken over drumming duties. Nirvana’s popularity in the Seattle music scene was growing, and they released their debut album, Bleach, in 1989. While it failed to make much of a splash, the recording showed signs of Cobain’s emerging talent as a songwriter, especially the ballad “About a Girl.” Their signature sound, which included elements of punk and heavy metal, was also apparent on the album. Cobain felt mistreated by Sub Pop, believing that the company devoted more resources toward promoting other acts such as Soundgarden and Mudhoney.

While his band was struggling to make it, Cobain made a fateful connection in his personal life. In 1990, Cobain met his match in an edgy rocker named Courtney Love. The two met at a show at the Portland, Oregon nightclub Satyricon. While they were interested in each other, their relationship did not get off the ground until much later.

That same year, he got a chance to know some of his rock and roll heroes when the band toured with Sonic Youth. Nirvana was going through some internal changes at the time. Their friend Dale Crover filled in on drums as Cobain and Novoselic had kicked out Channing. After the tour, they finally found a replacement in Dave Grohl who had played with Washington, D.C., hardcore band Scream.

Despite their antiestablishment and punk tendencies, Nirvana made the leap to a major label in 1991 when they signed with Geffen Records. That same year, they released Nevermind, which spearheaded a music revolution. With the raw edges of punk and the blistering guitars of metal, their sound was labeled “grunge” for its murky and rough qualities.

The single “Smells Like Teen Spirit”—like many Nirvana tracks—modulated between the soft and the thrashing. And Cobain was equally convincing as he sang the song’s mellow chorus and as he screamed its final lines. It proved to be the group’s biggest single and helped take the entire album to the top of the charts.
Soon, Cobain was being called one of the best songwriters of his generation. This along with the rapid rise of the group put pressure on the talented and sensitive 24-year-old. Cobain began to worry about how his music was being received and how to regain control of a seemingly uncontrollable future. He had started using heroin in the early 1990s. The drug provided an escape as well as some relief for his chronic stomach problems.

Before Nevermind’s release, Cobain met up again with Courtney Love, now the lead singer and guitarist with Hole, at an L7 concert in Los Angeles. She was friends with Jennifer Finch, a member of the band who was also dating Dave Grohl at the time. Later that year, Cobain and Love started a whirlwind relationship that included letters, faxes, and numerous phone calls as the two were traveling with their respective bands. In February 1992, they got married and welcomed their daughter Frances Bean Cobain in August of that year. Both Cobain and Love were into drugs and often used together. They found themselves being investigated by social services after Love told Vanity Fair that she had taken heroin while pregnant. After a costly legal battle, Cobain and Love were able keep custody of their daughter.

Always volatile, Cobain’s relationship with Love was becoming more strained. The Seattle police came to their house after the two had been in a physical altercation over Cobain having guns in the house in 1993. As a result, he was arrested for assault. The police also took the guns from the home.

While his personal life was in turmoil, Cobain had continued success professionally. Nirvana’s highly acclaimed album In Utero was released in September 1993 and went to the top of the album charts. Full of highly personal lyrics by Cobain about his many life struggles, the recording featured a fair amount of hostility toward people and situations that Cobain reviled. He took on the recording industry with “Radio Friendly Unit Shifter.” It also had some more tender moments with “Heart-Shaped Box,” which is supposed to be about his marriage to Love. Guitar Player magazine described the album as having “a startling level of anger, energy, and jaded intelligence.”

While the band earned raves for the new album, Cobain had become more distant from the other members.

But he continued to press on, playing a gig with Nirvana in New York City in November 1993 for MTV’s Unplugged series and touring Europe that winter. Cobain and Love often fought about his drug use.

On a break during the tour, Cobain spent some time in Europe with his family. On March 4, 1994, while in his hotel room in Rome, Italy, he attempted suicide by taking an overdose of drugs. Love woke up and discovered that Cobain was in trouble. He was rushed to the hospital in a coma. While official reports said that it was accidentally overdose, Cobain had clearly meant to kill himself, having left a suicide note.

Returning to the United States, Cobain became a hermit, spending much of his time alone and high. Love called the police on March 18 to report that Cobain was suicidal. He had locked himself inside a closet with some guns and some medication, according to the police report. After interviewing Love and Cobain, it was determined that he had not threatened to kill himself, but Love called the authorities because he had locked himself in and would not open the door. She knew that he had access to guns. For their safety, the police took the guns and the medications.

A few days later, Love had an intervention for Cobain, trying to convince him to get off drugs. She herself traveled to Los Angeles after the event to try to get clean. Cobain eventually checked into a chemical dependency clinic in Los Angeles, but left after only a few days.

On April 5, 1994, in the guest house behind his Seattle home, a 27-year-old Cobain committed suicide. He placed a shotgun into his mouth and fired, killing himself instantly. He left a lengthy suicide note in which he addressed his many fans as well as his wife and young daughter. Despite the official ruling of his death as a suicide, some have wondered whether it was murder and whether Love had been involved in his death.

Even after death, Cobain continued to intrigue and inspire fans. The group released Unplugged in New York shortly after Cobain’s death and it went to the top of the charts. Two years later, a collection of their songs entitled From the Muddy Banks of the Wishkah was released, and again the group scored a huge hit, reaching the number three spot on the album charts.

With Cobain gone, there has been a struggle about what to do with what he left behind. Grohl and Novoselic fought with Love for years over Nirvana’s music. In September 2002, Love announced that they had finally resolved their long legal battle over unreleased material. An anthology of their songs, Nirvana, was released that year, including the previously unreleased track “You Know You’re Right.” Two collections that included other previously unreleased material followed with 2004’s With the Lights Out and 2005’s Sliver: The Best of the Box.

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Rear View Mirror – My Week In Review

This coming week, you need to vote. If you live in Washington State’s 26th Legislative District, please vote for Nathan Schlicher, it is time for Port Orchard to move forward and it simply cannot be done with it’s current representation.

This coming week, you need to decide if it’s going to be porch light on and the doorbell making the dogs bark all night while you hand out candy to kids that are too old to be trick or treating or if it is going to be porch light off and watching TV upstairs in the bedroom.  I have my vote already cast.

This coming week, you should probably get a flu shot.  Your insurance covers it.

I have finally input all the Waldina Style Icon birthdays into a calendar and have created a list of birthdays to celebrate.  I have made it public and you can subscribe to it in Google Calendars:  See Waldina Style Icons calendar in Google Calendar.  You can also just be surprised every day with a new birthday and a couple of fun facts about their the birthday person’s life.

On Waldina this week, I celebrated a lot of birthdays:  Sylvia Plath, Pablo Picasso, Johnny Carson, Joan Fontaine, and Gummo Marx.  I also added Schindler’s List to the Waldina Required Viewing Film Festival.

The Stats:

Total Followers:  221
Total Hits:  96,602
Hits This Week:  299

On Was & Pear this week, I posted illustrations of what some strange and unusual words mean, celebrated Marion Davies, Mary Astor, Norma Shearer, Sylvia Sidney, and Hedy Lamarr.  I posted photos of abandoned places and vintage Seattle landmarks like The Pacific Hotel (I lived across the street from there for five years).  Another huge fascination of mine is Hollywood Mysteries and Scandals, this week I posted the Mario Lanza Story, the Inger Steven Story, and The Vivian Vance Story.

The Stats:

Total Followers:   117
New Followers:  3
Total Posts:  1,123
New Posts:  39

Parris – Not So Secret Obsession

A friend reminded me of the Seattle Artist named Parris today.  If you lived in Seattle in the early 90s, you would see his work all over town.  There were murals and there were tons of business sandwich boards.  There are still a few around and when I see them, it’s like coming across an old friend.

I have read that Parris no longer paints and that saddens me greatly, but I would hope that he knows that still to this day, his art is appreciated, loved, and brings happiness to those of us that were in Seattle 20 years ago.  It reminds us of going to bars and cafes all over the city with our friend and being greeted by his work.  It reminds us of Thursday nights outside ReBar while we waited (of didn’t have to wait) to get inside to dance.  It reminds us of when independent businesses outnumbered homogenized chains.

I am on a mission to collect more photographs of his work that is still around they city.