Captain America, Thor, and my cardiac well-being


Libby Gelman-Waxner, in her “Premiere” column, printed a letter from a reader who said: “I notice you only like movies if you think the star is attractive. That’s not what movies are all about.” Libby replied: “Oh yes they are.”


So I watched the trailer for the new “Captain America” movie. Oh my goodness. Chris Evans (the beefy Human Torch in the “Fantastic Four” movies) starts out weak and puny (CGI, naturally), but then Stanley Tucci (sporting a beard and a hilarious accent) puts him into a big metal sarcophagus, injects him with Grow Juice, and –


Well, the result is just breathtaking. One of my favorite moments in the trailer is when the woman scientist furtively touches his bare chest, just to see if it’s real.


I burst into tears and went into arrhythmia at the same time.


And then there’s “Thor.”


The title character is played by some blond monster named Chris Hemsworth. He’s more scruffy than handsome. But there’s a scene (see, Thor’s been tossed to Earth by the All-Father Odin, played by Anthony Hopkins, and he has to bunk with a nice human family for a while) in which he comes out of the bedroom wearing only pajama bottoms, and Natalie Portman scrutinizes him with frank admiration . . .


Oh my poor heart, I can’t take too much more of this.


But once again, Libby is absolutely right.


This is exactly what movies are all about.



Scandale du jour



A friend recently told me that he likes reading about old Hollywood scandals.


Me too! I said. Fatty Arbuckle? Thelma Todd? Wallace Reid?


He looked at me blankly. Rock Hudson, he said. Tab Hunter.


Okay. I acknowledge that Rock and Tab are “old Hollywood.” It’s only my advancing age that makes them seem – well, contemporary. It seems like just the other day when Doris and Rock were turning out fizzy romantic comedies, and Tab Hunter was big and blond and handsome, and we wanted so badly for both Tab and Rock to be gay. And then – guess what!


I discovered Kenneth Anger’s epochal scandal collection “Hollywood Babylon” a long time ago. I learned from his books how Lupe Velez really died, and why Charlie Chaplin had to leave the country, and how much Douglas Fairbanks loved cocaine.


Those scandals all happened before I was born, in the distant 1920s and 1930s and 1940s. They seemed quaint.


And then I realized that this is how Rock Hudson and Tab Hunter seem to my (much younger) friend. They seem old-fashioned. They seem quaint.


Ouch! And ouch! Again.


Gimme my specs and my walker. I’m outta here.








Economics 101


Economics never was my strong suit. I only ever took one class in the subject, and I did poorly.


It seems to me, speaking as an (embittered) outsider, that economics is the least scientific of the social sciences.


The world of trade is full of quantifiable factors – the money supply, population, prices, interest rates. You can build up all kinds of theories regarding the interrelation of these factors, and all kinds of elaborate structures: formulae, systems of formulae. Then you can add social motivations (although economists have never been very good at understanding human behavior, if you ask me).


And – voila! – a theory.


But every theory is incomplete. There are just too many different quantifiable factors.


This does not deter economists, however.


At any given time, there is at least one economist – let’s call him Economist X – whose predictions have actually come close to the mark: inflation (or deflation) has occurred, the market has gone up (or down), commodity prices have risen (or fallen).


So now Economist X is the world champion economist.


Until next week, when Economist X’s theory falls apart.


About a month ago I heard a TV economics pundit say (with complete assurance) that the market would continue to go up, and that the economy was recovering, and we no longer had to fear a double-dip recession.


This was just before the Japan earthquake and tsunami, and the Fukushima disaster, and the civil war in Libya.


Events like these are now called “black swans.” They are, as I understand it, unexpected dire events which impact society and the economy negatively.


And – guess what? – there are economists who are trying to quantify the impact of these unquantifiable-by-definition events.


This is why the only piece of economic forecasting I trust comes from Homer Simpson:


“The price of postage stamps will climb ever higher.”




Filthy Hollywood anecdote #1




Please, if you’re offended by bad language, read no further.


The rest of you, nestle near me and listen.


So: Tallulah Bankhead. She had, ahem, quite a sexual appetite. But she was a Broadway star before she came to Hollywood, and was supposed to be a fragile Southern blossom. It was quite an event when she condescended to come west and appear in the movies.


A big party was planned by the studio, to greet Miss Bankhead.


Everyone wanted to be invited.


Including the three Marx brothers.


(Groucho, by the way, was kind of a culture snob. Harpo was a funny kindly soul. And Chico was a gambler and a ladies’ man.)


The studio knew that the Marxes were a little on the unpredictable side. The word was finally delivered to them: You can come if you behave yourselves. Do not do anything to embarrass yourselves, or (more importantly) Miss Bankhead.


So: the party. Miss Bankhead, delicate and lovely, comes down the receiving line. At length she greets the three Marxes.


Groucho is at his most European and dignified.


Harpo smiles impishly.


And Chico looks her up and down, leers at her, and says, “You know what? I’d really like to fuck you.”


The onlookers gasp.


Time stands still.


And Miss Bankhead laughs merrily and says: “You dear old-fashioned boy! And so you shall.”



Sunday blog: Elizabeth Taylor in “Suddenly, Last Summer”


Elizabeth Taylor passed away this week at the age of 79. Brian Williams, on the NBC Nightly News, called her “the last queen of Hollywood.”



Kim Novak will be having a fit right about now.



Here’s a remembrance of the very beautiful and fragile Elizabeth at her height: “Suddenly, Last Summer,” 1959, with Montgomery Clift and Katherine Hepburn. (I looked for a better clip, but couldn’t find one. This is the theatrical trailer. Do yourself a favor and watch the whole movie.)



One Hollywood story, true or false (but it’s according to Garson Kanin):



This movie was filmed not long after the car accident in which Montgomery Clift was seriously injured (you can see, even in the trailer, that his face is strangely immobile). The director Joe Mankiewicz and the producer Sam Spiegel both had little patience for Monty, whom they considered a basket case, and they both treated him badly on the set. Taylor and Hepburn did everything they could to help Monty through the filming.



On the last day, Hepburn asked Mankiewicz: “Are we done? No more filming?”



“No more filming,” Mankiewicz said. “All done.”



“Good,” Hepburn said.



And she spat in his face.







Karl Pilkington’s seven wonders of the world


Partner and I recently watched a Science Channel series called “An Idiot Abroad.” In it, Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant send their “friend” Karl Pilkington abroad to see the Seven Wonders of the World. He does travel commentary, and he endures Ricky and Stephen’s stupid long-distance practical jokes: they book him into bad hotels, they make him eat terrible food, they send him on interminable camel rides, etc., just to watch him twitch and be uncomfortable.



First of all, Karl is not a genius, but he is by no means the “idiot” of the title. He may be a Little Englander and a twit, but frankly, it is not much fun watching someone suffer in a garbage-filled noisy hotel room.



Which leads me to the observation that Ricky Gervais is an immense jerk. I never much cared for him before this, but now I know for sure that the annoying-nimrod character he plays in “The Office” and his other productions is just an extension of his real personality. Listening to him whinny and wheeze with helpless laughter as he mocks Karl is almost unbearable. (Stephen Merchant seems less of a toxic personality, but if he’s abetting Ricky in this, he needs to spend a few weeks in purgatory too.)



You may be wondering why we kept watching the show, if it’s so terrible.



We kept watching because Karl is very endearing.



Karl is frank and clear-minded. He is unimpressed by antiquity for its own sake. (When shown a picture of the Pyramids, he says that his local city council would have the things torn down.) He gets tired when he’s travelling, and he gets sick of novelty. He is occasionally rude, but then again, he’s being thrown into some peculiar situations; only a saint can be good all the time.



And there are many scenes of splendor:


  • Karl floating in the Dead Sea enjoying himself, until he finds someone’s used Band-Aid in his belly button.

  • Karl unimpressed by the Christ of Corcovado, which he compares to a pylon.

  • Karl (quite correctly) pointing out the pollution in China and the garbage in Egypt.

  • Karl in Petra, remarking that living in a palace may not be great, but living across the street from a palace is terrific, because – well, you wake up every morning and look out the window and you see a palace!

  • Karl finding that the laid-back attitude of the people in Mexico is actually very appealing.

  • Karl, wide-eyed, being given a neck-cracking massage by an insane-looking Chinese man.



They’re talking about a follow-up series. I know what I’d like to see: Karl chasing Ricky Gervais around an enclosed space with a two-by-four, slapping him around and making him really whinny and wheeze.




Great-grandpa Bromley


The other day I stumbled upon Viola Bromley’s “The Bromley Genealogy,” written in 1911, with beautiful old illustrations and photos of the family dating back to the early 1800s.



This interests me because I am a Bromley myself. It was my Grandma Williams’s maiden name, and they always did say I looked like Grandma.



Luke, the first Bromley in America, washed ashore somewhere around Westerly, Rhode Island in the early 1600s. Luke begat William, who begat another William, who begat Bethuel, who begat another Bethuel. The family circulated around New England and into upstate New York over the next few hundred years. One of the Bethuels jumped the border into Canada in the late 1700s. (Presumably he was waiting out the American Revolution until it got resolved one way or the other.)



Bethuel Junior had a son named Herrick, who recrossed the border into Monroe County in upstate New York, just in time to fight in the War of 1812, presumably for the United States. He was even promoted in rank during the war.



(It’s strange to see an entire lifetime – birth, marriage, children, death – done up in a brief indexed paragraph, with maybe a few words of background to fill it out. It makes you wonder how your own paragraph will read, when your time comes.)



Herrick had a son, Herrick Junior. And this, for me, is the funniest and strangest note of all:



Herrick Jr.: Born 1827. Went to California in the early ‘50s. He married there and had children, but we are unable to trace them. It is said he went to Alaska and died there.”



I can continue the story.



Herrick did not move to Alaska. His first wife died, and he moved from California into Washington Territory, where he took a second wife named May Lunsford. They had a daughter Minnie, who had a son named Floyd.



Floyd had four children of his own, the youngest of whom is me.



So: what was your great-great-grandfather doing during the War of 1812?





The discreet charm of Matt Damon


I think we feel about modern celebrities the way the Greeks felt about their gods: we’re in awe of them, we daydream frequently about having sex with them, we’re perversely delighted when they do stupid things, and we attribute superhuman qualities to them. (Seriously, if I have to hear about Charlie Sheen’s “stamina” one more time, I – well, I don’t know what I’ll do.)



We all have our private objects of worship. (I’ve told you about my friend Apollonia’s devotion to that baboon-headed stick figure Robert Pattinson. Each to her own, I say. But seriously!)



This leads me to “The Adjustment Bureau,” and to Matt Damon.



Partner and I saw it last weekend. It’s harmless. Mostly it’s a chase movie, like the Jason Bourne movies, except the chases seem somehow not very intense.  It’s got a big chunk of romantic comedy in it, and some “Here Comes Mister Jordan”-type theology, and a seriously squishy happy ending.



But through it all shines the all-American face of Matt “Cutiepie” Damon.



Okay, I think he’s adorable. I allow that his features aren’t perfect enough to be called “beautiful.” But he rings my bell. He has blue eyes and an appealing squint, and a nice strong jaw, and nice even features. He used to look athletic; he now looks formerly athletic, which also has its charms. (Even when he’s chunky, as in “The Informant!”, he’s cute.) I’m always startled to discover that he’s not a blond. He looks, somehow, like an extra in a Leni Riefenstahl movie. But nicer.



And I am fairly certain that he could snap that praying-mantis matchstick Robert Pattinson in half if he wanted to.



So Apollonia and her vampire-wannabe boyfriend better watch out.








P. L. Travers and Mary Poppins


I finally read the Mary Poppins books about ten years ago, at the urging of my friend Sylvia. (Sylvia is one of the few people whose reading suggestions I listen to.)



Within a few pages, I realized that this was not Walt Disney’s Mary Poppins.



P. L. Travers, the author, was a tough cookie. She did not approve of the Disney film, and she made sure Walt Disney knew it.



Her tough grouchiness is exactly that of the original Mary Poppins.



If you look at Mary Shepard’s original illustrations, Mary Poppins is not drawn as an English rose nor a Julie Andrews lookalike. She has an odd nose and a funny chin. She considers herself very attractive nonetheless, and often primps in the mirror (one of her idiosyncracies that Julie Andrews used in the movie).



If you think she’s a trilling ninny, however, think again.



She is dangerous in the book. She is almost (but not quite) evil.  She is formidable.  The cobra in the zoo refers to her as “cousin.” Nobody, but nobody, messes with her. She is acquainted with all manner of supernatural forces, and they all treat her with enormous respect.



And this kind of over-the-top awe is no doubt exactly what Victorian and Edwardian children felt for their nannies.



Travers was not a namby-pamby. She knew AE, and Gurdjieff, and Yeats. The Poppins books are full of myth and symbol.



So: try to get Julie Andrews (sweet as she is!) out of your head, and read some of the original P. L. Travers.



She will impress you.




Be loyal to your oil


My friend Apollonia and I have occasional verbal slapfights, as I’ve said. They are usually about something stupid. “How many kinds of vinegar do you have in your kitchen?” she said challengingly.



“White,” I said. “Apple cider. Wine.  Balsamic. Um -”



“Where did you get the balsamic?” she shot back.



Job Lot,” I said with shame. “Two dollars a pint.”



“You lose,” she said gloatingly. “By default.”



“Oil,” I said, hungry for a rematch.


“Vegetable,” she began. “Olive oil. Um -”


“Ah ha!” I shouted. “Almond oil. Hazelnut oil. Walnut oil. Sesame oil. Olive oil. Corn oil. Safflower oil.”


“Oh, fine,” she grumbled. “You win.” She shot me a look. “You better use ’em up, babe. They go rancid, you know.”


My mother used Wesson Oil. You could fry an entire loaf of bread in it, per their frequently-aired 1970s commercial. It had precisely no flavor at all. In those days, we didn’t know that oil was supposed to have flavor. We knew about olive oil, but it was foreign and strangely suspect, like hot peppers and curry powder and chow mein noodles.



Now, of course, we know about the Power Of Oil. This explains the proliferation of exotic oils in my pantry. I use the walnut / hazelnut / almond oils in baking, and they haven’t gone rancid yet, thank you very much Apollonia.


But: the other evening, I saw something which blew even my oil-soaked mind.


I was buying some pre-dinner items at our local grocery store: torpedo rolls, tortillas, duck sauce, the usual.  While strolling down the International Foods aisle, I spotted a can of something peculiar, and pulled it down from the shelf to see what it was. “The Republic of Tea Stir Fry Tea Oil,” I read. “Cold pressed from 100% pure certified organic tea seeds.”



Tea oil!



If it hadn’t been fifteen dollars, I would have bought it on the spot.


Apollonia would croak!




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