The Phantom of Fifth Avenue: The Mysterious Life and Scandalous Death of Heiress Huguette Clark by Meryl Gordon is a biography. Huguette Clark, born near the beginning of the twentieth century, was the daughter of the nation’s second richest man and grew up in luxury. She was a lively and social philanthropist who relatives one day realized, had become gradually more distant until she virtually disappeared. What happened to this once vibrant personality?
The Phantom of Fifth Avenue: The Mysterious Life and Scandalous Death of Heiress Huguette Clark is an infuriating read. It is a dispassionate account of the life of Huguette Clark, and what happened to her once she went into isolation. The biography was written by the journalist, Meryl Gordon. What is infuriating about the book is the connection that Gordon builds between her subject and the reader and then the revelation that she was basically a tool for gain in her later years outlined in an objective fashion that could not make clearer the motivations of the century-old woman’s carers. Continue reading The Phantom of Fifth Avenue: The Mysterious Life and Scandalous Death of Heiress Huguette Clark by Meryl Gordon
To End All Wars; a Story of Love, Loyalty and Rebellion 1914-1918 by Adam Hochschild is a look at the often ignored World War I moral objectors along with those people who wholeheartedly believed in the cause.
Is it the job of the historian to moralize and pontificate? History is propaganda written by the winners, so to read a book highlighting the moral objectors is supremely interesting. To sermonize that an event already placed in history shouldn’t have happened is not appealing. People died in World War I. It happened. It’s done. It’s 100 years in the past. History is about facts and while “woulda” “shoulda” and “coulda” are nice to suggest that a war in which an estimated 37 million people (civilian and military) died was a waste of human life. Maybe. But it happened and isn’t it a disservice to chide key figures in history-making portraying them as Keystone Cop archetypes. Despite my distaste at the author’s position, the story of the objectors is one that should be told and was presented with delicacy, mindful of the challenges they faced. Continue reading To End All Wars; a Story of Love, Loyalty and Rebellion 1914-1918 by Adam Hochschild
In Anne Perry and the Murder of the Century by Peter Graham, it’s 1954 and Juliet Hulme and her friend, Pauline Parker, killed Pauline’s mother. The crime, committed by two teenage girls who lived rich fantasy lives and simply did not want to be separated when Juliet would be sent to South Africa, rocked Auckland, New Zealand. Anne Perry and the Murder of the Century chronicles the crime, trial and Peter Jackson film that led to the hunting down of the two long released convicts.
It seems a widely known fact that English author, Anne Perry, was born as Juliet Hulme and spent five years in prison after she and Pauline Parker were convicted of killing Pauline’s mother. Given the first name when released from prison and returning to England, she took her stepfather’s last name. A secret for many years, the release of Peter Jackson’s Heavenly Creatures brought the crime back to the public eye and interest in tracking down the now elderly teen killers. Continue reading Anne Perry and the Murder of the Century by Peter Graham
On December 31, 2018 Hector Xtravaganza, Grandfather of the House of Xtravaganza (one of the early Latino drag families), died at the age of 60. Hector was featured in Paris is Burning and served as a consultant on the Ryan Murphy show about the New York gay ballroom scene of the 80s. Pose.
DVD Publication Date: February 22, 2012
Paris is Burning was filmed in the mid to late 1980s and chronicles the ball culture of New York City’s Black, Latino, Gay and Transgender community.
Paris is Burning follows the largely African-American Ball scene in New York City. Livingston became interested in the scene when she met a group of young gay men doing what they called “voguing” in Washington Square Park. Thinking the ball scene would make an interesting University project, the men suggested she contact the creator of the vogue moves, Will Ninja, who introduced her to the ball scene where contestants would have walk off competitions in a variety of categories. Contestants would be scored on a number of categories including realness of drag whether it be boy drag (banjee – or passing as straight), girl drag or androgyny. In exploring the ball scene, Livingston connected with many individuals and highlighted their stories.
As a parent, this documentary tore at my soul. On the one hand there’s the pageantry and over the top nature of the ball scene. A place to be accepted and celebrated for people who normally found themselves on the outside of 80’s mainstream society. A celebration of acceptance, open hearts and love. In the ball setting of everything goes live people who want to be who they are. They want love and happiness and the societal idea of normalcy. Venus Xtravaganza is a trans woman supporting herself as a call girl while dreaming that one day she’ll have the life she’s always wanted. People who love and accept her. People who see her as the woman she knows herself to be. Her longing for a life she’d never have was heart stirring. In my review of this movie I don’t wish to pontificate on gay rights but my heart broke for Venus in her dreamy desire for a life she would never have (not to give anything away). What we’re left with is a clear, unvarnished look at a woman who is hurting no one in her longing for the life of a suburban lady who lunches. Her end is heartrending and tragic and I will admit to wishing that things had worked out differently for this compelling young person.
As a longtime viewer of RuPaul’s Drag Race and follower of drag culture, watching Paris is Burning shined a light on how much the fore-bearers of the ball scene influence gay culture. The drag houses of the film still exist and thrive and the sense of community shines in the artists appearing on our screens weekly. Livingston showed the good and the bad. The nurturing “families” and the danger of daily survival. I searched wikipedia for many of the key players in the film after finishing and many of them lived on their terms and, sadly, met an early end. Hector Xtravanganza became a key player in HIV/Aids activism.
Paris is Burning is engaging, enlightening, joyful, heartbreaking and informative. It is a must see for humanity. Check it out today. I don’t know why I waited so long.
In Hell’s Princess: The Mystery of Belle Gunness by Harold Schechter, Belle Gunness was a serial killer who operated between 1884 and 1908. She killed at least 14 people (including her own adopted daughter) but possibly as many as 40. Detected in 1908, she apparently died in a house fire with her remaining three adopted children, and though a man went to trial for the arson and murder, not everyone was convinced.
Let me say right from the start, Hell’s Princess: The Mystery of Belle Gunness is one of the most compelling books I’ve read in a long time. Not a generally well-known serial killer today, Belle Gunness was a Norwegian-American who operated out of La Porte, Indiana. Her victims appear to have been exclusively her fellow Norwegian immigrants. She’d advertised in the Norwegian papers located in Chicago for a handyman and then would operate a love scam quite a lot like we see today online. Continue reading Hell’s Princess: The Mystery of Belle Gunness by Harold Schechter
Set mostly in 1964, Kit Walker (Evan Peters) is accused of killing his wife (Britne Oldford) and locked up in Briarcliff Manor, an asylum that houses the criminally insane. Court appointed psychiatrist, Dr. Oliver Threadson (Zachary Quinto) is assigned to asses Walker’s ability to stand trial. Reporter Lana Winters (Sarah Paulson) requests access to the asylum as she sees exposing the mistreatment of the patients as the making of her career. Sister Jude (Jessica Lange) denies her access so Lana sneaks in and is injured. Jude initially uses the injury and then Lana’s homosexuality to keep her locked away. Dr. Arthur Arden (James Cromwell) is using the patients to make the ultimate human beings. Dark forces are at work. In modern day in the ruins of Briarcliff will history repeat itself?
Asylum is the second show in the American Horror Story series.
There is a lot going on in Asylum. There are serial killers, alien abduction, demon possession, war criminals, the list goes on. The show tackles homosexuality, interracial marriage, unchecked medical practices and the abuses that occurred unchecked in asylums of the era. People treated as sub-human and disappeared easily. Each character is deeply complex and unique in their own right and few are truly evil, simply misguided in their approach to what they think is best for the world.
As would be expected from the calibre of performer to appear in a Ryan Murphy production, the acting is beyond reproach. I read a tweet not long ago that lauded Evan Peters as the Meryl Streep of the modern age and I can’t say that I disagree. He is an absolutely phenomenal artist. In Kit he is traumatized, confused and desperate. Kit is a man fighting for his life and the audience believes the urgency of his dilemma. Lily Rabe appears in this second outing as Sister Mary Eunice, a nun imbued with childlike innocence who turns evil. Frances Conroy appears briefly as an angel of death of sorts and her brief appearances are simply breathtaking. Though there are sex scenes in Asylum, they are less pronounced than in Murder House though, I must warn viewers that might be triggered, there is a pretty brutal rape scene that is in no way gratuitous.
Because of the many directions in which the stories go, some of them simply aren’t done very well. I know that there are lines throughout that will connect in the final season, perhaps the very poorly executed alien story-line that seems like an afterthought will re-emerge in Apocalypse. The backstories of the varied inmates (woman accused of killing her family, sex addicts, Anne Frank, Pepper – a nonverbal patient who appears as a main character in the later installment Freak Show, etc…). Each character is explained and their motivations explored. Innocent and guilty melted together and forced to survive. Sister Jude rules the roost but she’s at odds with Doctor Arden believing that the experiments Briarcliff’s founder, Monsignor Timothy Howard (Joseph Fiennes), has given Arden the space to perform is against nature but she soon finds herself with a greater adversary…her past.
I expected to be deeply uncomfortable with the cruelty of the Asylum and was but was intrigued with where the story would go and was not disappointed. The tie in of the past storyline with it’s present counterpart was expected but really well done. Adam Levine and Jenna Tatum are perhaps not the strongest actors in the piece but their brief appearance certainly makes its mark. Sarah Paulson especially was a standout as a later life Lana Winters.
To say much more would be giving away the story so if you are one of the few people who haven’t seen this series and enjoy well acted drama, check it out. Let me know what you think.
American Horror Story Asylum is available as a DVD, Blu-ray and on Amazon Instant Video.
Noted novelist and screenwriter, William Goldman, died today at the age of 87. Goldman’s first original screenplay was Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1967) which he followed with some of his well-known scripts that include The Princess Bride (1973) and Marathon Man (1974), which were originally novels. One of my favorite Goldman novels is No Way to Treat a Lady (1964), so I’ve chosen that work to share with you. If this novel doesn’t appeal to you, look into this very diverse author’s body of work. There is something out there perfectly suited for your tastes.
Publication Date: 1964
No Way to Treat a Lady was originally published under the name Harry Longbaugh and written over a two week period, No Way to Treat a Lady imagines that there were two Boston Stranglers who were aware and deeply jealous of each other and follows the investigation to track them down.
Aired: October 5 – December 21, 2011
DVD Release: September 25, 2012
In American Horror Story: Murder House, on the precipice of divorce, Ben (Dylan McDermott) and Vivian (Connie Britton) relocate from Boston to a renovated mansion in Los Angeles with their daughter Violet (Tassia Farmiga) in order to start again. Little do they know that the great price that they got on the mansion is due to its dark history of violence. Will they become eternal tenants to be the rare people to leave the house alive? Continue reading American Horror Story: Murder House
Jacob Martin (Chace Crawford) is a mechanic who has been estranged from his father for many years when a lawyer contacts him to say that his father has died. Jacob travels to his hometown of Detroit for the reading of the will and discovers that his father had a sister he never knew about but who was a patient for many years at Eloise Hospital in Westland, Michigan and is assumed to have died there. The only thing standing between Jacob and the immediate transfer of his father’s wealth is proof of the sister’s death. Jacob and his friend Dell (Brandon T. Jackson), make the trip to Eloise where the administrator tells them that the file is in the “Annex” and will take time to locate. Jacob and Dell make a plan to slip into the Annex at night to find the file themselves with the help of Eloise expert and oddity collector Scott (P.J. Byrne) and his very reluctant sister, bartender Pia (Eliza Dushku). What they encounter may not be worth the money they stand to gain.
I had high hopes for Eloise. I grew up about 20 minutes away from the hospital. There was a teacher supply store very near that my mom liked to frequent and when I’d see the cemetery, even at a very young age, it seemed creepy and mysterious. Many years later (mid-90s) while working at the Ann Arbor library a photographer exhibited pictures he’d taken in one of the abandoned buildings and whenever I had the chance I’d look at them envisioning when they were full of life and activity and, in a sense, that’s what Eloise brings us.
The story opens with Pia, a lone survivor, sitting on a bed while she’s questioned by an investigator who tells her that the three men have been confirmed dead and Scott could only be identified with dental records. What happened during what seems like it should be a quite straightforward night in the abandoned hospital? Eloise, as a story, raises a few questions. Are we supposed to be afraid? The evil doctor H.H. Greiss (Robert Patrick) rules the hospital like a sadistic tyrant and according to the movie is well known for his “fear therapy.” The idea is that in order to conquer ones fears a person must be placed in an extreme confrontation with them. If a person is claustrophobic an appropriate “cure” is to stuff them in a body bag and then a locker in the morgue. There are several examples of the fear therapy shown and as awful and misguided as they are, they read as a distraction from the real story-line which involves parallel timelines existing in Eloise. The hospital comes to life little by little. Pia walks down a hallway and sees babies in newborn cots and then looks down a hallway to see a little girl holding a box. Jacob sees patients, doctors and nurses bustling around. While there are several “idiot viewer” signs (LOOK AT THIS! This is going to be IMPORTANT), ultimately the story is a very simple one that is neither frightening or thrilling. Jacob is taken to the day his aunt (played by Nicole Forrester) dies and, coincidentally, a devastating (wholly fictional) fire that destroyed several of the buildings on the Eloise campus happened.
The actors weren’t given much to work with but their acting can’t be faulted. Jacob is the stereotypical brooding anti-hero, Dell is a wild child mixed up in drugs and hard living, Pia is a sardonic bartender with a hard life and a heart of gold who has sacrificed her life for her developmentally disabled brother. Griess is psychotic and seems to half believe in fear therapy and half get a kick out of how horrible it can be. He’s the standout in the cast leading a public display like a cult leader selling his followers on their own demise.
So did I like this movie. No. It had a lot of promise but never really carried through. Everything seemed disconnected and leading to a predetermined result without really giving any thought to making sense or engaging the viewer. I turned off Eloise several times during it’s 89 minute run. Ultimately I was left disappointed because given the promise of the location, I’d expected so much more.
To cap this review, I’d like to highlight the danger of a good story. Looking online I see a lot of people who claim Greiss as fact. From what I’ve read, he’s entirely fictional and the actual Eloise in its day was a lovely and progressive place to live out your remaining years. Elijah McCoy, the African-Canadian inventor and engineer, spent the last year of his life there. There were community gardens and bakeries and by all account, Eloise was a lively and lovely place. Recently the Friends of Eloise led ghost tours that sold out in a matter of minutes from ticket release. The cemetery is said to be haunted and the former asylum did experience deaths credited to medications of the day like opium but there was no Greiss and quite the contrary to the assertion that patients never left, they did and they lived happy lives.
If you’d like to see a movie about Eloise, this is the only one I’ve heard of and if you’re interested, check it out. Let me know what you thought.
Eloise is available as a DVD, Blu-ray and on Amazon Instant Video.
Stacey Ashton has disappeared. While Melanie Foster thinks she may have run off with Melanie’s husband. It soon becomes clear that there’s a good chance that she was murdered. But by who? Can suave, handsome, best-butt-in-the-nation, man-for-the-ages Brett Cornell solve the case Brett Enters the Golden Circle is the fifth book in the Brett Cornell series.