Archive for the ‘MUSIC & DANCE’ Category

Readers, be sure to read my preceding posts on Princess Margaret’s October 1979 trip to America. Part One. Part Two. Part Three

Princess Margaret Is greeted by Lady (Bubbles) Rothermere at The Evening News British Film Awards In London. The Princess was the guest of honor and presented “The Major Award For The Year’s Best Film” which went To “Star Wars.” November 1978.  Photo by Evening News/Shutterstock (895422a)

Princess Margaret was in America.

On Monday, Oct. 15, 1979, Princess Margaret (1926-2001) departed Chicago and arrived in Houston, the second stop on her 1979 U.S. tour. She was in America to raise £4,000 in funds for the renovation of London’s Royal Opera House at Covent Garden. As far as she could tell, things were going swimmingly.

But then, that Tuesday, just five days into her 16-day tour, the Chicago Sun-Times printed an article by gossip columnist, Irv Kupcinet, in which he accused the Princess of saying “The Irish; they’re pigs,” at a Chicago dinner party the previous Saturday. The Princess had been seated at a table with Mayor Jane Byrne of Chicago. According to the journalist,

Mayor Byrne, of Irish descent, “was very incensed…and left the party as soon as possible.”

The Princess was having lunch with her social secretary, Lord Nigel Napier, in Houston, when they learned of the article in the Chicago newspaper. They were aghast. Princess Margaret was scheduled to appear in public that very day and tour the space center, NASA. Lord Napier issued a statement to the press:

“There is no truth in the allegations whatsoever. I was not sitting at the same table with the Princess but she said she did not make that remark. The mayor said ‘goodbye’ to the princess in the nicest possible way. There were no ill feelings at all. We say again there is no truth to the allegations.”


Famed heart surgeon, Dr. Denton Cooley, right, explains the preparation of a patient for surgery to Princess Margaret. The Princess is touring the Cardiovascular Center at St. Luke’s Hospital, Houston. The patient is in the surgical suite one floor below. Fort Worth Star Telegram, Oct. 18, 1979. AP photo.

The next day, Princess Margaret toured the renowned Cardiovascular Center at St. Luke’s Hospital, Houston, in which she viewed an open heart surgery. By then, a spokesperson for Mayor Byrne had released a statement that the Princess was referring to the Irish Republican Army terrorists who killed Lord Mountbatten as “pigs.” The Mayor did say that she felt the word, “pigs,” was an unfortunate choice made by the Princess. Strangely, the Mayor speculated further that guests at the weekend party may have misinterpreted a conversation in which she and the Princess talked about dancing and “Irish jigs.”

The journalist Irv Kupcinet was livid to learn of this disingenuous explanation by the Mayor.

“I got my information from a good source right on the scene. Why the hell would they be talking about Irish jigs when they were talking about Lord Mountbatten’s assassination?”

Neither Mayor Byrne’s nor Lord Napier’s repeated statements to the press could stop the wildfire from spreading. Was Mayor Byrne truly being gracious in her many explanations or was she, in her own political way, fanning the flames while seeming to appear gracious? After all, she was Irish. Certainly Irv Kupcinet was complicit in keeping the controversy alive and painting a target on Margaret’s royal back. And Margaret was no help. She never backed down. Self-effacing was not one of her qualities. She continued to deny that she had ever used the words, “The Irish, they’re pigs.”

The issue would not die down. A certain segment of the Irish American community became infuriated. As the controversy grew, and the newspaper articles spread from sea to shining sea, the threat to the Princess’ safety escalated dramatically. Just 27 hours before the Princess landed in Los Angeles—her next stop following Houston— on Thursday, October 18, the Los Angeles Police Department uncovered a plot by a “high-ranking member of the IRA” to assassinate the Princess at the Friday, Oct. 19 dedication of a new Rolls Royce facility in Beverly Hills.

Scotland Yard Inspector Alan Edser was Princess Margaret’s bodyguard at all times. He was armed with a standard Smith and Wesson .45 revolver and had undergone extensive firearm training.

The intelligence had come from Scotland Yard through the U.S. State Department which was quickly relayed to the LAPD. The LAPD had a photo of the suspect which they did not release but there was talk that he went by the name, “The Jackal” and was suspected in the murder of Lord Louis Mountbatten. The hit man had hired a film crew as a cover. He was pretending to be making a documentary on the Princess and wanted photos of her at the caviar and champagne event at the Rolls Royce building. The LAPD conducted a search of a West Los Angeles motel where the suspect had hidden out for two weeks in advance of the Princess’ visit but the room was empty. The security to protect the Princess was heightened. On October 24, 1979, when the Princess was on her way out of the country to the island of Mustique, the Los Angeles Times broke the story in full detail. The article, that ran for several pages, began on Page One, with these headlines:


Protecting the Princess

Report of IRA Death Plot Triggers Massive Security

The Provisional Wing of the IRA responded to the rumor that they were planning to carry out a hit on Princess Margaret, stating coolly that while the Princess was a “legitimate target” for an assassination attempt, such an operation would not be carried out on American soil.

Despite the danger, the Princess went ahead that Friday with the Rolls Royce dedication ceremony, although the police advised her to avoid any of her characteristic side trips on the way, to which she agreed. Linda Gray, famous for portraying the alcoholic “Sue Ellen Ewing” character on the popular Friday night soap opera, “Dallas,” was to join Princess Margaret at the presentation of a plaque. Because there was no bulletproof Rolls Royce limousine in existence, the Princess arrived at the service center in a bulletproof Cadillac limousine, with presidential style security. Along the route to the location, her security detail included an armed motorcycle escort, plain-clothes State Dept. agents, and a helicopter fitted out as air ambulance. Marksmen were situated along the motorcade’s route, according to Capt. Larry Kramer, Chief of LAPD Metropolitan Squad.

For her Los Angeles October 1979 stay, Princess Margaret enjoyed presidential style security, including a motorcade escort of 13 motorcycle police. The Los Angeles Times, Oct. 24, 1979.

Disappointing the assembled crowd at the Rolls Royce plant, Princess Margaret did not linger. She neither chit chatted with the crew nor partook of the tony refreshments. She left after thirty minutes.

Her schedule in Los Angeles was tight. There was a private dinner that same evening, a charity event the next day in the afternoon (Saturday), and, at 8:30 that evening, an intimate dinner party at the Bel Air home of Sue Mengers, the super agent to the A List Hollywood stars.

Hollywood celebrity super agent, Sue Mengers, is shown here with one of her clients, Jack Nicholson. Sue Mengers was besotted with the British royal family. She longed for an invitation to Buckingham Palace.

American celebrity super agent, Sue Mengers, referred to her stars as “My Twinkles.” Shown at center, Sue is joined by actress Faye Dunaway and film producer Robert Evans.

As usual, Margaret had seen Sue’s guest list in advance and had made several changes. She requested that the singer Barry Manilow be invited. Margaret was more at home with show biz types—singers and actors—than with politicians like Mayor Jane Byrne. Plus, she liked men much better than she liked women. She wanted to talk to men, not to women. She was sure that Sue would seat her next to two gorgeous men, whom she could charm. Lord Drogheda (pronounced Droy-da), head of the Royal Opera fundraising committee, who was traveling with her U.S. entourage, thought Princess Margaret was charming. At least he had said just such a thing at the beginning of the tour and to a reporter, no less. His quote had appeared in the newspaper.  Speaking of the Princess and her fundraising tour before it was launched, he was quoted as saying that

“I think it’s rather splendid. She [Princess Margaret] has never done anything like this before in her life. But I think you’ll find that when she goes to these different receptions,the trouble she takes to shake hands with people, and to make an effort with people, is quite remarkable. She is very bright, very perceptive, and has enormous personal charm.” (Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Oct. 17, 1979)

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Readers: For more on Princess Margaret on this blog, click here

Readers: For more on the British Royal Family on this blog, click here.



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The Fitzgeralds in their Paris apartment, 1926. “Scottie,” age 5, Scott, and Zelda

Zelda Fitzgerald‘s health improved greatly following an appendectomy in June of 1926 in the American hospital in Neuilly outside of Paris. Unfortunately, the same could not be said of her husband, American writer F. Scott Fitzgerald (1896-1940). Although his recently-published novel, The Great Gatsby (1925), had received mostly positive reviews from literary critics, it was not selling well.


il_794xn.1994892106_o3k1While Zelda (1900-1948) was still hospitalized, Sara Mayfield, Zelda’s childhood friend from Montgomery, Alabama, ran into Scott in Paris. She was having drinks with the son of the Spanish ambassador to the United States and Michael Arlen, whose novel, The Green Hat, was creating a sensation abroad. Scott joined them at their table. At first, the conversation flowed pleasantly. Scott complimented Arlen on his literary success.  A half hour and more drinks later, the conversation turned to the writing of Ernest Hemingway. Arlen did not think highly of it. Scott considered Hemingway his great friend and a great writer. Scott pounced on Sara’s friend, accusing Arlen of being

a finished second-rater that’s jealous of a coming first-rater.”

Someone diffused the situation and steered Scott off the subject. Then Scott was on his way to the hospital to see Zelda and asked Sara Mayfield if she would join him. She agreed. First, however, he decided he wanted to have dinner. He wanted to find Hemingway who may have returned from seeing the running of the bulls in Pamplona, Spain. He and Sara stopped at Harry’s New York Bar. Things turned nasty quickly. A newspaper man asked Scott if he was promoting Hemingway. Scott somehow got offended and wanted to punch the newspaper man. Fortunately, someone interceded and stopped him.

Sara and Scott never did get around to visiting Zelda. Scott got roaring drunk and passed out in the fresh food market, Les Halles.

More and more, Scott’s nights and days were passed in this way: no work done, drinking, and talking with friends, passing out and being put into a taxi and sent home alone.”

Once Zelda was sufficiently recovered from her surgery, the Fitzgeralds were back in the South of France in the area known as the French Riviera for the rest of that summer.


The Fitzgeralds ca. 1927. photo courtesy Mary A. Doty.

One evening in August, they were dining with two other American expatriates, Sara and Gerald Murphy  in the hills above the Mediterranean near Nice, France in St. Paul-de-Vence at La Colombe D’Or.

St. Paul-de-Vence is located where you see the red marker, approximately 20 km southwest of Nice in the hills.

St. Paul-de-Vence, South of France

La Colombe d’Or was a quaint and popular roadside bistro frequented by artists like Picasso, who sometimes paid for his meal with drawings. The open-air terrace restaurant is set on the edge of the ramparts of the ancient Roman hilltop town of Saint-Paul-de-Vence.  

That August evening, the Murphys had reserved a table for four on the elevated stone terrace overlooking the Loup Valley, two hundred feet below.

A view from the open-air terrace of the hotel/restaurant La Colombe d’Or. Image from the book La Colombe d’Or: Saint Paul De Vence

La Colombe D'Or today, a restaurant and hotel

La Colombe D’Or today, a restaurant and hotel

Midway through the meal, Gerald noticed that the famous American dancer, Isadora Duncan (1878-1927), was sitting at a table nearby along with three of her admirers. Gerald pointed her out to Scott and he and Sara told Scott who she was.

Now 48 years old, Isadora was no longer the lithe young dancer who had revolutionized the dance world by eschewing the rigidity of traditional ballet. In her heyday as a dancer who toured the globe, Isadora Duncan abandoned the plié, stiff-toed pointe shoes, and the tutu, preferring free form movement—skipping about in meadows and on beaches, barefoot, bare-legged, fluttering her arms about, wearing loose and flowing Greek tunics with long scarves trailing and billowing behind her.

Isadora dances for Ital war relief fund

Isadora Duncan dances for the Italian War Relief Fund during World War I. (Photo by George Rinhart/Corbis via Getty Images) 1917

Now 48 years old, Isadora was hugely fat and her dissipated life was legend. Her hair was dyed with henna.

Nevertheless, Isadora Duncan still had star power. Scott, enamored of fame, rushed over to introduce himself to her. He crouched at her side. He praised her artistry. Knowing that Scott was a writer, she divulged to him that she had a contract to write her memoirs; she had received a cash advance. As a result, she was being pressured to complete and submit the manuscript to her editor and, frankly, she was stuck. Scott offered to help. She wrote down her hotel and room number and handed this note to Scott. Scott was still fawning at her feet. Isadora reached down and began running her hands through his hair. She called him a centurion, her protective soldier.

At this point, Zelda, observing this scene, stood up on her chair, and, without warning, leaped over the table—and over Gerald, who was sitting with his back to the valley view—and dove into the darkness beyond and below the terrace. (Zelda was a proficient diver and swimmer.)

I was sure she was dead,”

recalled Gerald.

Shortly, Zelda reappeared. She had fallen down a stone staircase than ran down the hillside. Her knees and dress were bloody. Otherwise, she was remarkably all in one piece. Sara grabbed her napkin, flew to Zelda’s side, and began wiping away the blood. Gerald’s first thought was

that it had not been ugly. I said that to myself over and over again.”

Zelda Fitzgerald’s behavior would grow more and more peculiar and yet she would live another twenty-two years. In the fall of 1927, she returned to her childhood study of ballet and it became an obsession. She would practice 6-8 hrs a day to the point of exhaustion and a weight loss of 15 pounds.


Zelda in ballet costume, 1929.

In 1930, she suffered a mental breakdown and was hospitalized in Paris. From then on, she would drift in and out of various mental institutions in Switzerland, France, and the United States. She endured grueling and often inhumane and certainly experimental treatment for her diagnosis of “schizophrenia.” She would make progress and then exit the institution before, reliably, suffering setbacks and needing to be readmitted to the hospital. Her mental health spiraled downhill.


Fitzgerald, in his own words, “just couldn’t make the grade as a hack” writing Hollywood scripts for MGM. Illustration by Barry Blitt for the New Yorker

Meanwhile, Scott’s party drinking had exploded into full-blown alcoholism. He found it harder and harder to write in those gin-soaked years. But their daughter, Scottie, had expenses and Zelda’s hospitalizations cost a fortune so he had to write to make money. He wrote until the end of his days, although suffering ill health all the while. He died of a heart attack in Hollywood at the age of 44.

Isa Duncan 1903

Isadora Duncan, ca. 1903, wearing a signature neck scarf

After having met Scott Fitzgerald on the terrace of La Colombe D’Or, Isadora Duncan would live another full year. On the night of September 14th, 1927, she was riding in a open-top car with a friend in Nice, France, when the long, silk scarf she was wearing—her signature look was her long, silk scarf— became entangled in the spoke of one of the rear wheels, breaking her neck, dragging her backwards, and killing her instantly.

According to dispatches from Nice, Duncan was hurled in an extraordinary manner from an open automobile in which she was riding and instantly killed by the force of her fall to the stone pavement.”

Upon learning of Duncan’s tragic death by strangulation, the poet and Nazi collaborator Gertrude Stein acidly remarked:

 affectations can be dangerous”


Vaill, Amanda. Everybody Was So Young (1998).

Bruccoli, Matthew J. Some Sort of Epic Grandeur: The Life of F. Scott Fitzgerald (1981).

Milford, Nancy. Zelda (1970).

Taylor, Kendall. The Gatsby Affair: Scott, Zelda, and the Betrayal that Shaped an American Classic (2018).

O’Neill, Frances; Rennie, David Alan. F. Scott Fitzgerald in Provence-A Guide (2018).

The New York Times. 1927-09-15

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Princess Margaret of Great Britain sits in her living room at Kensington Palace. The walls are painted Kingfisher Blue, Margaret’s favorite color.

It was a summer day in 1980 when biographer Christopher Warwick first visited Princess Margaret in her home:

The first time I had lunch with her, we were just the two of us sitting in the dining room, having lunch at Kensington Palace, the house that William and Kate now live in.”

It would be the first of many such visits for the author. Margaret had selected Warwick to write her biography. Warwick said,

I got to know Apartment 1a very well indeed. The best way to describe it, it was like walking into an English country house. It was very elegant, it had an 18th-century quality about it, it was furnished with lovely antiques.

The entrance to Prince Margaret’s Apartment 1a was through Clock Court. 1961

When you went through the front door… straight ahead of you on the wall was [Pietro] Annigoni’s fabulous portrait of her from 1957.”

Biographer Christopher Warwick poses with Princess Margaret in the spacious entryway of her home, Apartment 1a, at Kensington Palace. June 1980. Note the 1957 portrait of Princess Margaret by Annigoni.

The painting features the 27-year-old royal standing in an English rose garden, a nod by the Italian artist to Margaret’s given name, Margaret Rose.

Princess Margaret by Pietro Annigoni, 1957. Exhibited at the National Portrait Gallery courtesy of then Viscount Linley. Photo © Christie’s Images Ltd, 2006. The artist captured Margaret’s sensuous beauty.

At that point in time, Margaret desperately needed Christopher Warwick or someone like Christopher Warwick. Her well-publicized affairs and 1978 divorce from her husband of 18 years, Lord Snowdon AKA Antony Armstrong-Jones, had made for bad headlines.  Her divorce was the first for a senior British royal in four centuries-since King Henry VIII.

Princess Margaret and her husband, Lord Snowdon, stand in the Clock Court outside their home at Kensington Palace, with their two children, ca. 1964.

The younger sister of Queen Elizabeth II, Margaret (1930-2002) had established herself as the royal family’s ‘wild child’. She was an enthusiastic party princess – drinking a vodka and orange juice pick-me-up upon her noon awakening, wine at lunch, and guzzling Famous Grouse scotch all night long, chain-smoking Chesterfield cigarettes in a long, tortoise shell holder-even while eating, and mingling like a commoner with rock stars like Mick Jagger and Marianne Faithfull.

Mick Jagger parties with Princess Margaret on the island of Mustique in the Caribbean. Both Mick and Margaret had homes there.

Spoiled and pampered, she kept late hours and did and said what she pleased—infamous for her acid-tongued put-downs and perverse cruelty to her hosts and guests—only occasionally performing royal duties such as ribbon-cuttings at new schools or showing up for a tour of a British factory to earn her keep of £55,000 annually, paid by the British people.

In 1970, the film producer Robert Evans flew to London to attend the Royal Command Performance of his film Love Story, in the presence of the Queen Mother. He was later to recall their brief encounter.

All of us stood in a receiving line as Lord Somebody introduced us, one by one, to Her Majesty and her younger daughter. It was a hell of a thrill, abruptly ending when the lovely princess [Margaret] shook my hand.

Margaret spoke. ‘Tony saw Love Story in New York. Hated it.'”

Princess Margaret defying convention. Smoking in public was just not done, not by a royal and certainly not by a lady. Undated photo.

Her servants and ladies-in-waiting were required to keep her ashtrays emptied after three cigarette butts and excoriated if they let her scotch glass run out of ice. If she was invited to a party, she required the hostess to let her see the guest list in advance. She struck off and added names of new guests as she pleased. As a guest at country homes or London dinner parties, she did not allow anyone to speak in her presence until she spoke first. Guests had to stay at the party until she left first. This might be 4 a.m. Upon her arrival at movie openings or galas, a tiara balanced on her elaborate, large and lacquered updo, she was presented with bouquets by adoring children. Women curtseyed. Men bowed and scraped. Flashbulbs popped.

Princess Margaret attends the opening of the Parliament in Jamaica, 1962.

The public could not get enough stories about Margaret—of her royal appearances and, later, of her bohemian life style—and the press kept churning them out. People had been engrossed in reading and hearing about the Princess since she had been born in 1930 in Glamis Castle, Scotland, during a thunderstorm.

Princess Margaret with her father, King George VI, ca. 1930

King George VI of Great Britain holds his daughter, Margaret Rose. 1931

Their interest heightened in the 1950s when she was eligible for marriage. She was glamorous and set fashion trends.

Who would Princess Margaret marry? Intense interest and speculation

An adoring fan broke into Margaret’s hotel room while she was touring Italy just to discover what color nail polish she used. Any indiscretions she made in the 1960s were largely suppressed by the press, in deference to the Queen and the Royal Family. But the Anti-Establishment changes brought about by the Swinging Sixties changed all that. By the 1970s, tabloids featuring lurid stories of famous people had become big business. The Daily Mirror, the Daily Mail, and the Sun were just some of the British tabloids paying large sums to anyone with a telescopic lens taking embarrassing pictures of famous people.

Then there were those published 1976 swimsuit photographs of Princess Margaret in the Caribbean with the drifter/sometimes landscape gardener Roddy Llewellyn, a man 17 years her junior, while Margaret was still married to Lord Snowdon. To worsen matters, Roddy was offered a music contract and he became a sort of pop star, always available for interviews. He had lived at a commune in Wiltshire and Margaret had gone there. Even the townspeople of Wiltshire and the anti-Establishment hippies at the commune had a price, it turns out, as they awarded the highest bidding tabloid with interviews about the goings-on between Margaret and her toyboy lover.

Princess Margaret swims off the coast of Mustique where she kept a private home. Feb. 1, 1976.

Roddy Llewellyn, Princess Margaret’s paramour, in the surf off Mustique, with Princess Margaret. Feb. 1, 1976.

Their romance became a scandal of major proportions.

The Princess’ reputation was damaged and so was the Crown’s. At the time, the economy of Great Britain was in a free fall, and poverty was on the rise. Headlines appeared,


Give up Roddy or Quit!

The Queen was livid, asking her prime minister,

 ‘What are we going to do about my sister’s guttersnipe life?’”

For some time, there had been a steady drumbeat to get rid of the Monarchy—the cost!—and Margaret fed the flames, sparking some serious anti-monarchical threats in Parliament to cut off her allowance. A Labour Member of Parliament called on Princess Margaret to resign the Royal Family and give up her £55,000 for those in need. He called her a “parasite.”

Princess Margaret did give up Roddy. She divorced Tony, a serial philanderer who benefited from Margaret’s notoriety; the Queen Mum adored Tony. Headlines followed,

Goodbye, Roddy: Margaret Cools Romance

Then Margaret hired the biographer Christopher Warwick to revamp her image. The biography was released in 1983. Kirkus Reviews called the authorized biography “tame” and “fawning”. Warwick himself confesses to having fallen under her spell from that first luncheon meeting. When they sat down, she had turned to him and said,

‘I expect before you met me, you thought I was the sort of person the tabloids said I was.'”

She then paused and said,

‘And now you know I’m not.'”

Warwick said,

‘It was so true that the woman I was talking to, the person I was getting to know, really wasn’t the person that I had read about in the tabloid press. I suppose it’s not unfair to say the public perception of her is divided.'”

The title of Warwick’s biography is Princess Margaret: A Life in Contrast. Readers complained that there was no contrast in the supposed “tell-all”. Margaret was portrayed in a flattering light as the dutiful royal.

The book’s other emphasis is on Margaret’s busy schedule (samples are provided) in justification of her cost to the Realm. (Kirkus)

I’ll offer you some contrast.

About that painting in that entrance hallway. To truly appreciate the story I am about to tell you, it is necessary to acquaint you with the physical layout of Princess Margaret’s home at Apartment 1a, Kensington Palace, London. This is where, three years after their marriage in 1960, Margaret and Tony made their home. It is a royal residence, known as a “grace and favor” home, one that the Queen bestows on qualifying individuals. As Warwick mentions, Apartment 1a, Kensington Palace, is where the five Cambridges—Prince William, Kate, George, Charlotte, and Louis—live today. Although there are over 120 such grace and favor homes in  Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle, the ones at “KP” are the most splendid.

Bird’s eye view of Kensington Palace. Find the highlighted apartment belonging to Prince William and Duchess Kate. Note the Clock Tower. The entrance to the inner courtyard known as Clock Court is under that Clock Tower. The entrance to the Cambridges’ home is through that private court.

President and Mrs. Obama visited the Cambridges and Prince Harry at Kensington Palace, Apartment 1a, in April 2016. These pictures give a better view of the entrance to the home.

The Obamas meet with the Cambridges and Prince Harry, April 2016, in Clock Court at Kensington Palace, just outside the entrance to the home of William, Kate, and their three children.

Princess Margaret dances with her husband, Lord Snowdon, 1962.

Apartment 1A is a four-story home with over 20 rooms. It is long and narrow. It is one of the homes in Kensington Palace, a grand, royal compound for many Windsors in Central London. To enter the home, one must drive under the Clock Tower into the secluded courtyard. The front door of 1A opens onto a long, wide, and spacious hall. This is where the romantic Annigoni portrait of Princess Margaret was hanging in February 1964 when Tony’s very good friend, the actor Peter Sellers, came for lunch. Tony had a brilliant career as a portrait photographer and was known widely. Sellers was famous for his “Pink Panther” role as the clumsy Inspector Clouseau.

On Seller’s arm that winter day was his new girlfriend. She was the Swedish film actress Britt Ekland, beautiful, big-eyed, with long, blond hair ALA Brigitte Bardot. She was 21 to Peter’s 38. Sellers had only met her the day before. He had seen her photograph in the newspaper and wanted to meet her, appearing at her room at the Dorchester Hotel.

Britt Ekland and Peter Sellers, early 1960s

On the way to KP, Sellers drilled Ekland on the protocol for being in the presence of a royal princess. Say, ‘Your Royal Highness’, on first being presented and ‘Ma’am’ thereafter. A deep curtsey was mandatory.

Ekland was surprised to discover that the Princess was quite relaxed. They sat down to a lunch of consommé, roast beef, and red wine. Brandy followed. Then Snowdon pounced. Would Britt like to pose for some ‘glamour pictures’? According to Ekland, the Princess supported this idea, rallying to the cause. Tony gave her one of his shirts to wear. Ekland said:

I was in a tweed costume and once the royal couple had gone, I slipped off my jacket and blouse and bra and exchanged it for the shirt.”

As she was changing, Tony and Sellers were hunting for the perfect place for the photo shoot. They settled on the wide hallway, where the Annigoni portrait was hanging. They opened the front door to let in the sunlight. Ekland did what she was told to do: pose in such a way that the incoming sunlight would silhouette her breasts and make them clearly visible through the shirt.

Ten days later, Sellers and Ekland were married. In April, they were in Hollywood, where Sellers was filming the Billy Wilder sex comedy, “Kiss Me, Stupid.” Around noon, Sellers took the sexual stimulant amyl nitrate. Over the next three hours, he suffered 8 heart attacks. He was rushed to Cedars of Lebanon Hospital where he remained for several weeks. On hearing of Sellers’ heart attack, Billy Wilder is reputed to have said, “Heart attack? You need a heart to have a heart attack!” Wilders replaced Sellers in the movie with the actor Ray Walston.

Ekland would go on to make more movies that revolved around her looks, including her turn as a James Bond girl, in 1974, starring alongside Roger Moore in “The Man With the Golden Gun.” She and Sellers divorced after four miserable years together, Sellers exhibiting a serious jealous streak. “I was really his little toy,” she recalled in an interview on “Loose Women.”

left to right: Peter Sellers, Lord Snowdon, Princess Margaret, Britt Ekland, 1965

left to right: Peter Sellers, Lord Snowdon, Princess Margaret, Britt Ekland, 1965

Lord Snowdon and Britt Ekland, 1967.


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Alexander Calder’s “Josephine Baker IV”. Calder Foundation

Josephine Baker was already the toast of Paris when American artist Alexander Calder arrived there in early 1926. Her show, “La Revue Negre,” which opened at the Theatre des Champs-Elysees on Oct. 2, 1925, was an instant hit. The finale of the evening was a “Charleston Cabaret,” whose featured number became known as “La Danse de Sauvage”:

A big, good-looking performer named Joe Alex, wearing next to nothing, paced onto the stage with a woman slung over his back: the 5-foot-8, coffee-colored Josephine, built like a Modigliani Venus. The handful of feathers she wore did not impede anyone’s appreciation of her nudity. She slid down her partner’s legs and proceeded to offer up to him every soft spot of her body, in musical time. In fact, she seemed to create musical time, her movement setting the pulse, with the orchestra going along for the ride. There wasn’t a dance step in sight, but “La Danse de Sauvage” created one of the great dance effects of the 20th century.

On Oct. 3, Josephine Baker woke up to find herself the American in Paris, her rear end the subject of odes, her thighs the subject of universal speculation. 1 

Josephine was 19.

Calder was entranced by Josephine.

Back in America, “Sandy” Calder had been a newspaper illustrator and a painter, but, in moving to Paris, he had abandoned all that and was newly dedicating himself to his love of wire sculpture. “I think best in wire,” he said. With his bare hands, a spool of wire, and a pair of pliers, Calder proceeded to twist, pinch, coil, and bend lengths of wire to capture Baker’s sensuous body and springy movements. Between 1926 and 1930, he created five of these roughly three-to-four feet tall “drawings in space” of the exotic Josephine Baker:

The swaying line of her arms and torso, the spiral breasts and the legs crossed in a dance movement came to life when the artist suspended the figures from a string. 2

Calder with “Josephine Baker IV” at filming of British Pathé newsreel,1929

American writer Ernest Hemingway said that French-American performer Josephine Baker was “the most sensational woman anyone ever saw.” photo: Josephine Baker, France, ca. 1920s, Atelier Sautier

For more on Josephine Baker, click here

For more on Alexander Calder, click here. 

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Photo Card No.101, Dancer Josephine Baker posing with a cheetah wearing a collar, photograph by Piaz Studios of Paris, Early 1930's. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

American entertainer Josephine Baker (1906-1975) with Chiquita. ca. early 1930s. Courtesy of Victoria and Albert Museum.

Ernest Hemingway called her “the most sensational woman anyone ever saw.” Pablo Picasso painted her, seeking to capture her alluring beauty, saying she had “legs of paradise.” She was Josephine Baker, the glamorous cabaret star that took Paris by storm during the Jazz Age of the 1920s and 30s. In her signature stage act, she appeared onstage wearing only high heels and a skirt made of bananas. She danced and sang with erotic frenzy and wild abandon. She was often accompanied by her pet cheetah, Chiquita, who wore a diamond collar and often escaped into the orchestra pit, terrifying the musicians and adding to the overall sensation of the moment.

Josephine Baker was the first person of color to become a worldwide entertainer and star in a major motion picture (“ZouZou,” 1934). Although born in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1937, she married a French man and became a French citizen.

josephine-baker1In 1939, France declared war on Nazi Germany for its invasion of Poland. Within nine months, the Nazis invaded France. Baker was recruited by the Deuxiéme Bureau, the French Military Intelligence, as an “honorable correspondent.” She was so well-known and popular that even the Nazis were hesitant to cause her harm. She made the perfect spy. As an entertainer, she had good excuses for traveling, which allowed her to smuggle secret orders and maps written in invisible ink on her musical sheets. On some occasions, Baker would smuggle secret photos of German military installations out of enemy territory by pinning them to her underwear. To operatives in the French Resistance as well as U.S. and British agents, she relayed information on German troop movements she had gleaned from conversations she overheard between officials with whom she mingled following her performances or at embassy and ministry parties. She also exposed French officials working for the Germans.  She hid Jewish refugees and weapons in her 24-room château in the South of France.

Her steadfast work for the French Resistance helped Baker to rise to the rank of lieutenant in the Free French Air Force. After the war, Baker was awarded the Croix de Guerre and the Rosette de la Résistance for her invaluable intelligence work in aid of her adopted country. She was made a Chevalier of the Légion d’honneur by General Charles de Gaulle.

Read more about Josephine Baker here on Lisa’s History Room.



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My husband Tom and I just returned from touring “Ladies and Gentlemen…The Beatles!” (June 13, 2015 – January 10, 2016) at the LBJ Presidential Library here in Austin, Texas. This fantastic traveling exhibit focuses on the years 1964-1966, when the British rock band landed in America and took the world by storm.

While some of the memorabilia in the museum was standard Beatles fare – clips of the Fab Four performing on the Ed Sullivan TV show, photos of George, Paul, Ringo, and John running from the ceiling to the floor,

George Harrison

George Harrison

Paul McCartney

Paul McCartney

Ringo Starr

Ringo Starr

John Lennon

John Lennon

videos of fans being interviewed,

Interviewer: Do you have Beatlemania?

Female Fan: Yes, but we don’t know why we act as we do.


“Love Me Do,” the Beatles first single, was released on Oct. 5, 1962

there were still plenty of choice nuggets to be discovered among the trove, including this “Love Me Do” 45 RPM record, signed by all 4 Beatles the day after it was recorded.

Included were John Lennon‘s first pair of granny glasses.


John  Lennon 1967

John Lennon 1967

The centerpiece of the show was one of John Lennon’s beloved Gibson guitars.

John Lennon's Gibson Guitar

John Lennon’s Gibson Guitar, 1962. John Lennon bought this electric-acoustic, Gibson J-160E guitar at Rushworth’s Music House in Liverpool, England, soon after the Beatles signed their first recording contract with Parlophone Records. The guitar cost £161 (approximately $450). Lennon used it on several famous Beatles recordings from 1963 to ’64, including “Please Please Me,” “She Loves You, and “A Hard Day’s Night.” The guitar made a limited appearance in Austin (June 13-29).

While we’re talking about John, here is a lock of his hair he bestowed on a British fan, signing his autograph with ‘love from “Bald” John Lennon xxx.’

John Lennon's autograph with lock of hair

John Lennon’s autograph with lock of hair

Featured was the original Ludwig drum head Ringo played on “The Ed Sullivan Show.”


Ringo’s drums

At an oral history booth, I made an audio recording of my personal recollections of the Beatles. I was nine years old when the Beatles made their first appearance – live – on the Ed Sullivan Show. It was August, a Sunday night, and a hot one. I grew up in South Texas, in the days before air conditioned houses. Our casement windows were cranked open.

When the Beatles debuted with“All My Loving,” the teen-aged girls in the audience went wild, screaming. Then we heard screams in the neighborhood. The next door neighbor children were screaming as they watched the performance.

The Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show. Feb. 9, 1964

The Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show. Feb. 9, 1964

Instead of playing house, my sister Loise, my neighbor, Katie, and I played a variation on that theme that we called “Beatles Wives.” We pretended we were each married to a Beatle and were waiting for the men to come home. We would get dressed up and plan the (imaginary) dinner we would serve them. I thought I was Jane Asher (Paul’s girlfriend at the time), as I was “married” to Paul McCartney.

My mother loved the Beatles as much as we children did. She would put one of their records on the stereo and we – my mom, my sisters, my neighbor friends, and I – would hold hands and dance around and around in a big circle in our living room. The album, “Beatles 65,” was a favorite.

Back at the LBJ exhibit: At the entrance, there was also a huge wall map of the United States pinned with ticket stubs for Beatles concerts.

In 1966, $4.50 bought you a ticket to a Beatles concert. The Candlestick Park, San Francisco, would be their last official concert. The 11-song set included hits such as  “She’s a Woman,” “Day Tripper,” “I Feel Fine,” “Yesterday,” and “Paperback Writer.”

In 1966, $4.50 bought you a ticket to a Beatles concert – in this case, the Beatles’ last official concert – at Candlestick Park in San Francisco, California. Their 11-song set included hits such as “She’s a Woman,” “Day Tripper,” “I Feel Fine,” “Yesterday,” and “Paperback Writer.”

(l. to r.) Paul McCartney and George Harrison perform at Candlestick Park, San Francisco, in August of 1966. This was their final official performance. They were burned out and complained that the fans were so loud they couldn't hear themselves playing the music.

(l. to r.) Paul McCartney and George Harrison perform at Candlestick Park, San Francisco, in August of 1966. This was their final official performance. They were burned out and complained that the fans were so loud they couldn’t hear themselves playing their music.

One wall case was devoted to Beatles products sold by Woolworth’s department stores: Beatles bubble bath, bobble-headed dolls, “Build a Beatle” kits, Beatle lunchkits, record holders, and rings.

Bobble headed Beatles

Bobble headed Beatles

I saved the best for last. Here is a song written in longhand by Paul McCartney.


This is an early draft of the song, “What You’re Doing,” written by Paul McCartney with help from John Lennon, 1964. During their first U.S. tour, the group rested in Atlantic City, where McCartney tossed this draft in the trash. It was retrieved by a maid and given to Atlantic City concert promoter George Hamid.

Our tour ended with a photo op of Tom and me walking across Abbey Road.





Readers: For more on the Beatles, click here

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Before “The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour” debuted on CBS television in 1972, Cher said,

Sonny and I wore clothes, but they were so kind of unisex, you know? Some people don’t even know I was a girl!”

Here is a glance back at the American singing duo, Sonny & Cher, in their unisex phase of the 1960s, before they launched their glitzier TV career:

Salvatore Phillip "Sonny" Bono (1935-1998) and Cherilyn Sarkisian (b. 1946) AKA known as the American singing duo, Sonny & Cher, are shown here in their trend-setting unisex fashion. 1965.

Salvatore Phillip “Sonny” Bono (1935-1998) and Cherilyn Sarkisian (b. 1946) AKA known as the American singing duo, Sonny & Cher, are shown here in their trend-setting unisex fashion. They were married from 1964-1975. They had one child: Chastity “Chaz” Bono. Photo 1965.

Cher and Sonny wear matching striped bell-bottoms. Sonny often wore a furry open vest, as he is here. ca. 1965

Cher and Sonny wear matching striped bell-bottoms. 1965

Cher's father was of Armenian heritage and her mother had some Cherokee blood. She played up her Native American heritage by wearing traditional costumes with beadwork and fringe and singing songs such as "Half-Breed" and "Gypsies, Tramps, and Thieves." Note the unisex theme in their outfits. ca. 1965.

Cher’s father was of Armenian heritage and her mother had some Cherokee blood. She played up her Native American heritage by wearing traditional costumes with beadwork and fringe and singing songs such as “Half-Breed” and “Gypsies, Tramps, and Thieves.” Note the unisex theme in their outfits. ca. 1965.

In 1965, the Sonny (r.) & Cher song, "I've Got You, Babe," knocked the Beatles off the top of the British music charts. English teenagers copied the singing duo's iconic fashion style. Their shows "attracted girls who were ironing their hair straight and dyeing it black, to go with their vests and bell-bottoms" ("Cher,' wikipedia). Cher was fond of fringe; Sonny, of fur.

In 1965, the Sonny (r.) & Cher song, “I’ve Got You, Babe,” knocked the Beatles off the top of the British music charts. English teenagers copied the singing duo’s iconic fashion style. Their shows “attracted girls who were ironing their hair straight and dyeing it black, to go with their vests and bell-bottoms” (“Cher,’ wikipedia). Cher was fond of fringe; Sonny, of fur. 1965

Cher hoped that her new variety show would revive her flagging career. Sonny & Cher had been a big hit in the early to mid-sixties but, in the last several years, their popularity had taken a nosedive. By 1971, when CBS offered them a TV variety show contract, their folk rock style of music had given way to heavier sounds by groups like “Cream” and “Iron Butterfly.” In spite of their revolutionary, hip clothing style that set fashion trends in the sixties, Sonny & Cher were quite conservative when it came to sex and drugs, and, in their wholesomeness, had lost their fan base. They needed a new look to make their show a success.

And Cher knew just who could give it to them. She had met him four years earlier, on the set of “The Carol Burnett Show.” He was Bob Mackie; he worked in the wardrobe department. Mackie recalled:

It was 1967 and I was working on a loose thread on a beaded gown and Cher came over and said, ‘Oh, someday, I’m going to have one of those. And we became friends after that.”

Fashion designer, Bob Mackie, AKA "The Rajah of Rhinestones" or "The Sultan of Sequins" with TV comedienne, Carol Burnett, with whom he worked from 1967-1978. Photo 1967. Courtesy Bob Mackie.

Fashion designer, Bob Mackie, AKA “The Rajah of Rhinestones” or “The Sultan of Sequins” with TV comedienne, Carol Burnett, with whom he worked from 1967-1978. Photo 1967. Courtesy Bob Mackie.

Now that Cher had a production budget, she hired Mackie to design splashy costumes for the “Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour” (1972-1975) as well as for many later productions. A collaboration that lasted forty-two years was born. From then on, Mackie designed clothes for Cher that left viewers with no doubt that Cher was all girl. With Bob Mackie in charge of Cher’s wardrobe, it was, all of a sudden,

Goodbye, baggy blouses and bell-bottom britches!


Hello, belly-buttons, bottoms, and bosoms!

Mackie outfitted Cher as a Native American princess for 'The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour' television show.

Mackie outfitted Cher as a Native American princess. Photo ca. 1973.

Cher in her 'Half Breed'outfit 1973

Cher’s song, “Half-Breed,” topped the Billboard charts for the week ending October 6,1973. Here she is shown debuting the song on “The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour.” She wears a Bob Mackie original costume: a headdress decked out in feathers, a sequined halter top, and a loin cloth that reached down to her platform shoes. Photo ca. 1963

Mackie transformed Cher from a shapeless hippie into a shameless sexpot. He created outlandish-for-the-day, navel-baring outfits bedecked with beads, sequins, and feathers topped off by enormous headdresses. Her skimpy outfits made the network censors question whether or not they were appropriate for prime time television. Cher’s bronzed and taut midriff was enviable.

Mackie had the time of his life designing for Cher:

 ‘She was like a big Barbie doll,’ he said. (1)

Cher 1975 B Mackie for tv special

Cher channels the Egyptian goddess Isis in this Bob Mackie costume designed for a 1975 TV special.

Cher’s TV shows were popular, as she was a talented singer, comedienne, and actress, but part of the reason she became such a towering success was because people tuned into her programs each week to see what she would OR WOULDN”T be wearing. And Cher never disappointed – thanks to Bob Mackie.

Cher began to make fashion statements on the red carpet, appearing at celebrity functions in “barely there” outfits by Mackie.

Cher and her designer Bob Mackie arrive at a Met gala, 1974. She is wearing a Mackie bodysuit embroidered with feathers and crystals. Mackie said of his muse, "She had such an unbelievable body. She could wear anything." This outfit would be featured on the cover of "Time" magazine the following spring. (1)

Cher and her designer Bob Mackie arrive at a Met gala, 1974. She is wearing a Mackie bodysuit embroidered with feathers and crystals. Mackie said of his muse, “She had such an unbelievable body. She could wear anything.” This outfit would be featured on the cover of “Time” magazine the following spring. (1)

Cher arrives at the 1974 Academy Awards wearing a Bob Mackie design.

Cher arrives at the 1974 Academy Awards wearing a Bob Mackie design.

Cher was miffed that she wasn't nominated for her 1985 starring role in the film, "Mask," prompting her to appear in her role as an award presenter in this provocative Mackie number. 1986

Cher was miffed that she wasn’t nominated for her 1985 starring role in the film, “Mask,” prompting her to appear in her role as an award presenter in this a provocative Mackie design that challenged the Academy’s dress code. 1986


(1) Barnard, Christopher. “Cher’s One-of-a-Kind Fashion Legacy,” November 10, 2010.  Vanity Fair. Web Exclusive.

READERS: For more Bob Mackie posts, click here.

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Diana Vreeland, Empress of Fashion, 1903-1989

Before her career as editor and columnist at fashion magazines Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue, Diana Vreeland, like other society women of her class, ran a little lingerie shop near Berkeley Square in London. She often traveled to Paris where she would buy her clothes, notably, Chanel. She remembered one such trip in the summer of 1932:

“One night in Paris, after I was married, a friend and I went to a little theatre above Montmartre to see a German[-French] movie called “L’Atlantide,” with a wonderful actress in it called Brigitte Helm, who played the Queen of the Lost Continent. It was the middle of July. It was hot. The only seats in the theatre were in the third balcony, under the rafters, where it was even hotter. There were four seats in a row, and we took two.

L'Atlantide poster 1932

“We sat there, the movie started…and I became totally intoxicated by it. I was mesmerized! …I was absorbed by these three lost Foreign Legion soldiers with their camels, their woes…they’re so tired, they’re delirious with dehydration…And then you see the fata morgana [mirage]. That means that if you desire a woman, you see a woman, if you desire water, you see water – everything you dream, you see. But you never reach it. It’s all an illusion.

“Then…a sign of an oasis! There’s a palm…and more palms. Then they’re in the oasis, where they see Brigitte Helm, this divine looking woman seated on a throne – surrounded by cheetahs! The cheetahs bask in the sun. She fixes her eyes on the soldiers. One of them approaches her. She gives him a glass of champagne and he drinks it. Then she takes the glass from him, breaks it, cuts his throat with it…

Brigette Helm as the Queen of Atlantis, the Lost Continent, shown here with one of her screen cheetahs.  "L'Atlantide" (1932)

Brigette Helm as the Queen of Atlantis, the Lost Continent, shown here with one of her screen cheetahs. “L’Atlantide” (1932)

“This goes on and on. I hadn’t moved an inch. At some point I moved my hand…to here…where it stayed for the rest of the movie. I was spellbound because the mood was so sustained. I was sucked in, seduced by this thing of the desert, seduced by the Queen of the Lost Continent, the wickedest woman who had ever lived…and her cheetahs!

The essence of movie-ism.

“Then…the lights went on, and I felt a slight movement under my hand. I looked down – and it was a cheetah! And beside the cheetah was Josephine Baker!”

Josephine Baker was a hit in Paris cabarets, singing, dancing, and goofing around. In the 1930s, she was the most successful American entertainer in Paris. She got rich fast and was a superstar. She is wearing her notorious silly but erotic banana skirt. ca. 1925

When Josephine Baker began performing her exotic, erotic, and peculiar dances in Paris cabarets in 1925, she became an instant hit, a superstar. In the thirties, she was the most successful American entertainer working in France. She was known as “The Black Pearl” and “The Bronze Venus.” Whether sitting high up in a giant bird cage covered with peacock feathers or dancing semi-nude in a skirt of dangling fabric bananas, audiences were captivated by her infectious charm. ca. 1925

Meanwhile, back to our story:

Diana Vreeland was chatting with Josephine Baker in the balcony of a hot theater, looking at a cheetah.

Diana says to Josephine:

“‘Oh,” I said, ‘you’ve brought your cheetah to see the cheetahs!’

“Yes,” she said,’ that’s exactly what I did.’

“She was alone with the cheetah on a lead. She was so beautifully dressed.  She was wearing a marvelous little short black skirt and a little Vionnet shirt – no sleeves, no back, no front, just crossed bars on the bias. Don’t forget how hot it was, and, of course, the great thing was to get out of this theatre we were in. The cheetah, naturally, took the lead, and Josephine, with those long black legs, was dragged down three flights of stairs as fast as she could go, and that’s fast.

“Out in the street there was an enormous white-and-silver Rolls-Royce waiting for her. The driver opened the door; she let go of the lead; the cheetah whooped, took one leap into the back of the Rolls, with Josephine right behind; the door closed…and they were off!

…Ah! Style was a great thing in those days.” (1)

American entertainer Josephine Baker (1906-1936) often performed onstage in Paris nightclubs with pet cheetah Chiquita. Chiquita wore a diamond collar. Sometimes, during a performance, Chiquita would decide to jump off the stage and into the orchestra pit, causing quite a ruckus. Early 1930s. Courtesy of Victoria and Albert Museum.

American entertainer Josephine Baker (1906-1936) often performed onstage in Paris nightclubs with pet cheetah Chiquita. Chiquita wore a diamond collar. Sometimes, during a performance, Chiquita would decide to jump off the stage and into the orchestra pit, causing quite a ruckus. ca. 1931. Courtesy of Victoria and Albert Museum.

Heads turned when entertainer Josephine Baker took her pet cheetah Chiquita on a walk, sometimes down the Champs-Élysées in Paris. Ca. 1930

Heads turned when entertainer Josephine Baker took her pet cheetah Chiquita on a walk, sometimes down the Champs-Élysées in Paris. Ca. 1930

Sheet music with Josephine Baker and Chiquita

Sheet music with Josephine Baker and Chiquita.

Comparing Josephine Baker to a beautiful Egyptian queen,  artist Pablo Picasso dubbed her “the Nefertiti of Now.” She posed for him in all her glory: “tall, coffee skin, ebony eyes, legs of paradise, a smile to end all smiles.” (2)

Gorgeous, talented, and funny Josephine Baker, an original. Undated photo, ca. 1930

Gorgeous, talented, and funny Josephine Baker, an original. Undated photo, ca. 1930

(1)Vreeland, Diana. D.V. New York: Da Capo Press, 1984

(2) Picasso quote


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Tanaquil Le Clercz, born in Paris to a French father and an American mother, studied dance in NYC. undated photo

Tanaquil Le Clercq, born in Paris to a French father and an American mother, studied dance in NYC. Tanaquil was the name of an Etruscan queen with prophetic powers. Undated photo

In 1944, when fifteen-year-old Tanaquil Le Clercq (1929-2000) was one of ballet master George Balanchine‘s star pupils, she danced the role of a girl stricken with polio in his short piece “Resurgence.” The performance was a March of Dimes benefit held at the Waldorf Astoria in New York City. The music was Mozarts String Quintet in G minor, and at the close of the plangent adagio [slow part]…

Balanchine, as the Threat of Polio, came onstage wearing a large black cape and enveloped her [Tanaquil]; she sank to the floor [stricken ill with polio]. In the final movement – a sunny allegro – she reappeared in a wheelchair, children tossed dimes, and she rose and danced again.”1

In 1944, few diseases frightened people more than polio. At that time, there was no cure. Polio struck in the warm summer months, sweeping through towns in epidemics every few years. It was known that polio was highly contagious. What was not known – and was particularly terrifying – was how the virus was transmitted. People did everything they had done in the past to avoid infection but these tactics never worked. They avoided crowds. They stopped going to theatres, swimming pools. Schools closed for weeks at a time.

Though most people recovered quickly from polio, some suffered temporary or permanent paralysis and even death. Many polio survivors were disabled for life. Charities like the March of Dimes raised money to help families deal with their stricken loved ones and to search for a cure. Finally, in 1955, a vaccine became available.

Tanaquil Le Clercq and Nicholas Magallanes in "Jones Beach," 1950

Tanaquil Le Clercq and Nicholas Magallanes in “Jones Beach,” 1950

For the next twelve years, Tanaquil Le Clercq /tan-uh-kill luh-clair/would continue to dazzle audiences of the New York City Ballet with her “perky young vivacity” and “crisp and tangy style.” With her long and limber flamingo legs, Tanaquil Le Clercq – “Tanny” to her friends – defined the Balanchine Ballerina style. Allegra Kent, a young dancer at the time, recalls those limber legs. Once she arrived at ballet class to discover Tanny with a bandage on her nose. Tanny explained her injury, saying that

she had just kicked her leg too high but that she was going to be fine.”2

Tanaquil Le Clercq in her long-limbed beauty, 1953

1954 ad for George Balanchine's smash hit, The Nutcracker

1954 ad for George Balanchine’s smash hit, The Nutcracker

New York City Ballet, front row, George Balanchine seated next to his muse on the right, prima ballerina Tanaquil Le Clercq, 1952

On New Year’s Eve 1952, Tanny became George Balanchine’s fourth official wife. Every dancer knew she was Balanchine’s favorite, his inspiration to create, his muse. And now she was his wife. She was 23; he was 48.

To understand Tanny’s broad appeal, here is a video clip from one of her 1956 Paris performances. In “Western Symphony,” a satire on the American Wild West, Tanny plays a dance hall girl strutting around a saloon with a cowboy.  She has wit:

The Paris performance of “Western Symphony” was part of a 10-week European tour, begun in August 1956, that encompassed Salzburg, Vienna, Zurich, Venice, Berlin, Munich, Frankfurt, Brussels, Antwerp, Paris, Cologne, Copenhagen, and Stockholm. It was an ambitious schedule, brutal and exhausting, especially when prima ballerina Maria Tallchief (Balanchine’s third wife) unexpectedly departed mid-tour and Tanny had to fill in for her. Although most of the dancers had been given the polio vaccine before the trip, Le Clercq decided at the last minute to wait.

Coughing, thin, and tired, Tanny collapsed in Copenhagen. On November 1, she was rushed to the hospital. She fell into a coma and could not breathe on her own. They placed her in an iron lung. Tanny had contracted polio. She was 27.

The iron lung ward at Rancho Los Amigos Hospital in Downey, CA, ca 1953. (Photo: PBS)

The iron lung ward at Rancho Los Amigos Hospital in Downey, CA, ca 1953. (Photo: PBS)

It made international news. “Tanaquil Le Clercq Stricken With Polio,” reported the New York Times on November 2, 1956. The dance world was shocked.

Tanny remained in the Blegdamshospitalet (Copenhagen Polio Hospital) for four and a half months before returning home. Although she survived the disease, she was permanently paralyzed from the waist down. The most beautiful dancer of the New York City Ballet would never walk again. Tanny, who had danced ballet since the age of 7, would never again dance. Her career was over.

But not her marriage. Balanchine took a year off to take care of Tanny himself. Deeply mystical, he could not shake the feeling that he had somehow played an evil part in her fate. He recalled that March of Dimes performance twelve years before when he had played the part of the Threat of Polio. He had reached out his foul hand and laid it on Tanny, afflicting her in what then seemed then but an innocent little play.

‘It was an omen,’ he would later say. ‘It foretold the future.'” 3

However, in the March of Dimes play, after the shower of dimes was bestowed on the wheelchair-bound Tanny, she retrieved her ballet slippers, put them on, and danced joyfully across then off the stage.

‘It was, alas, a balletic finale.’ Balanchine reflected. ‘Nothing like that ending will happen in Tanny’s real life.'” 3


Tanaquil Le Clercq and husband George Balanchine in an undated photo. They would divorce.


1 “Dancing Around the Truth” by Holly Brubach. The New York Times, February 15, 1012.

2 “Tanaquil Le Clercq.” Ballet Encyclopedia online.

3 Taper, Bernard. Balanchine: a Biography. University of California Press, 1996.

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Audrey Hepburn (ca. 1935-37, perhaps in Brussels, age 6-8)

Audrey Hepburn (ca. 1935-37, perhaps in Brussels, age 6-8)

It was May 9, 1940, and Audrey Kathleen Hepburn (Ruston) had just turned eleven years old. She was living in Holland with her mother, her two older brothers, and other relatives. Her father lived in London. Her parents were divorced.

To celebrate Audrey’s birthday, her mother, Dutch Baroness Ella van Heemstra Ruston, had bought tickets for her and Audrey to see a performance by the great English dance troupe, The Sadler’s Wells Ballet. The company was touring Holland, France, and Belgium. Audrey’s town of Arnhem was to be one of their stops.

Audrey (1929-1993) had been living in Holland for only nine months. Previously, she had been in boarding school in England. But, in September 1939, Hitler invaded Poland. All at once, England was no longer a safe place for a little girl, as it had declared war on Germany. At her mother’s request, Audrey’s father scooped up Audrey from her school and put her on a big orange plane to Holland (also known as the Netherlands), where her mother’s family lived. Holland intended to stay neutral in the war with Germany and was considered a safe place for riding out the conflict.

Audrey Hepburn and her mother Ella, Baroness van Heemstra Hepburn-Ruston, ca. 1936.

Audrey Hepburn and her mother Ella, Baroness van Heemstra Hepburn-Ruston, ca. 1936.

Audrey had not seen her dad since that day at the airport. She missed him so! Her parents’ divorce had left an aching hole in her heart. But on this particular May day, Audrey was not sad. She was looking forward to the ballet! Her mother had given her more than one reason to smile:

My mother had our little dressmaker make me a long taffeta dress. It went all the way to the ground, and it rustled. There was a little round collar, a little bow here, and a little button in front. The reason she got me this, at great expense, was that I was to present a bouquet of flowers at the end of the performance to…the director of the company.”

The evening finally arrived. Audrey wore her beautiful new long dress and got to see the famous Margot Fonteyn dance in “Horoscope” and “Façade” by choreographer Frederick Ashton. It was marvelous.

Margot Fonteyn in the Polka from Ashton's Facade, 1940. Fonteyn was the principal dancer of the Royal Ballet Company for 20 years.

Margot Fonteyn as the Polka from Ashton’s Facade, 1940. Fonteyn was the principal dancer of the Royal Ballet Company (originally the Sadler’s Wells) for 20 years.

Afterwards, Audrey’s mother took the stage and gave a formal thanks to the troupe first in Dutch, then in English. Next was Audrey’s big moment. To her surprise, her bouquet of tulips and roses was hurriedly accepted. A quick supper followed, as the dancers hustled about afterward, gathering up their props and costumes, to get on their bus to leave Arnhem that very evening. According to the British consul, there was suspicious German military activity nearby. The dancers didn’t want to get stuck in Holland if the Germans did attack and closed off the borders.

As Audrey’s head lay on the pillow that night, the Germans invaded Holland, Belgium, and Luxembourg. The Dutch were totally shocked. They never dreamed Hitler would attack them, his “Dutch cousins”! Just the night before, matter of fact, Hitler had made a radio broadcast, promising to all who listened that he had no plans whatsoever of attacking Holland. For five days, the Germans came down on the Dutch with the force of Hell. They never bothered issuing a formal declaration of war either.

 German parachutists invading the Netherlands, May 10-15, 1940

This is the city center of Rotterdam, Holland, following the German Blitz of May 14, 1940. A ceasefire was already in progress but the Nazis bombed anyway.

They blasted the city of Rotterdam with an air attack that killed 1,000 Dutch civilians and left 85,000 homeless (accounts vary as to the exact number).

Incendiary bombs were dropped on the Hague. Nazi troops tore through Audrey’s town of Arnhem, looting and despoiling as they pleased. The Germans threatened to bomb every Dutch city until they were demolished until Holland surrendered. The Dutch military, though terribly outnumbered, fought back anyway, but they were no match for the conquering horde, and were forced to surrender. After five days, Holland capitulated. It would be occupied by the Nazis for five very long years. The Germans wanted to take over the world and destroy the Jewish population.

At first, Audrey’s family was allowed to remain at their regal ancestral home, Castle Zypendaal (or Zijpendaal). Audrey Hepburn’s mother’s family was of Dutch nobility.

Audrey Hepburn's mother's family was of Dutch nobility. This is one of their homes, the Castle Zypendaal in Arnhem.

Audrey Hepburn’s mother’s family was of Dutch nobility. This is one of their homes, the Castle Zypendaal in Arnhem.

Over the next ten months, the van Heemstra bank accounts, securities, and jewelry would be confiscated by the Nazis. Rations were imposed on food and fuel which were soon in short supply for the suffering Dutch people. Food became completely nonexistent during the Hunger Winter of 1944 as the Germans cut off all imports of foods to punish the Dutch Resistance (secret group that fought back against the Nazis from inside Holland). During that time, Audrey confessed to eating bread made from flour from tulip bulbs and grass to keep from starving to death like 20,000 other Dutch citizens did that winter.

The Hunger Winter, 1944-45. Wood is taken from the tram rail in Holland to burn as fuel.

The Hunger Winter, 1944-45. Wood is taken from the tram rail in Holland to burn as fuel.

The German occupiers spread anti-English sentiment, banning the import of British jams and biscuits and outlawing the Girl and Boy Scouts. The Germans hoped they could whip the Dutch into a hatred for the English and recruit them in the battle against Britain.

Audrey Hepburn-Ruston was an English name and Audrey spoke English. She carried a British passport. With the Nazis cracking down on the English, the Baroness was worried. Quickly, Audrey’s mother gave Audrey a new identity as a little Dutch girl. For the war years, the Baroness changed her daughter’s name to Edda van Heemstra. Audrey – now Edda – took Dutch language lessons so she could pass as Dutch and not be arrested for being English. Audrey did not risk speaking English for the rest of the war.

Audrey Hepburn at a dance recital, 1944, Arnhem Conservatory, Holland (age 15)

Audrey Hepburn at a dance recital, 1944, Arnhem Conservatory, Holland (age 15)

Audrey was keen to be a famous ballet dancer and her mother was the quintessential stage mom. In 1941, Ella sent Audrey to the Arnhem Conservatory to study dance. It was then that Audrey decided that she wanted to grow up to become a ballerina. Her dream was to

“wear a tutu and dance at Covent Garden.”

Her mother made her ballet slippers from scraps of felt, as materials became scarcer and scarcer, since the Nazis took the best for themselves, always.

As a child of war, Audrey learned to cope with hunger, fear, and deprivation through art, music, and dance. Soon, though, she and some other dancers began staging private, secret dance shows to raise money for the Dutch Resistance.

I designed the dances myself. I had a friend that played the piano, and my mother made the costumes. They were very amateurish attempt – but…it amused people.”

The recitals were given in houses with windows and doors closed, and no one outside knew what was going on. Afterward, money was collected and turned over to the Dutch Resistance. To keep from being discovered, the audiences did not clap.

“The best audience I ever had made not a single sound at the end of my performance.”

Audrey Hepburn during a dance recital in Arnhem, Holland, 1944

Audrey Hepburn during a dance recital in Arnhem, Holland, 1944

Sometimes at these “black performances,” resistance workers attended. They gave the young performers money and folded messages to be stuffed into the children’s shoes and transported the next day to resistance workers. The children risked death to save the lives of resistance workers and Audrey was one of these children.

One winter day, Audrey was walking along a city street when three truckloads full of German soldiers toting rifles stopped suddenly. The soldiers ordered all the girls in their sight to line up and get in the trucks. Audrey did as she was told. As the trucks drove off, Audrey kept saying the Lord’s Prayer to herself in Dutch. Then the convoy stopped unexpectedly. Some soldiers jumped out and began abusing some Jews. Audrey said:

“I remember hearing the dull sound of a rifle butt hitting a man’s face. And I jumped down, dropped to my knees, and rolled under the truck. I then skittered out, hoping the driver would not notice me – and he didn’t.”

Audrey with father, preNazi Occupation, ca. 1934-35, age 5-6

Audrey with father, preNazi Occupation, ca. 1934-35, age 5-6

And where was Audrey’s father all this time? He was arrested in England and accused of peddling Nazi propaganda for the notorious leader of the British Union of Fascists, Sir Oswald Mosley. He remained under house arrest for the duration of the war on the Isle of Man with other suspected Nazi sympathizers.

Below are some beautiful drawings Audrey made during the war.

Audrey Hepburn's childhood artwork

Audrey Hepburn’s childhood artwork

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Whitney Houston talking to the audience before proceeding to perform "Saving All My Love for You" during the HBO-televised concert "Welcome Home Heroes with Whitney Houston" honoring the troops, who took part in Operation Desert Storm, their families, and military and government dignitaries, 1991.

from TMZ:

Whitney Houston‘s family was told by L.A. County Coroner officials … the singer did not die from drowning, but rather from what appears to be a combination of Xanax and other prescription drugs mixed with alcohol … this according to family sources.

We’re told Coroner’s officials informed the family there was not enough water in Whitney’s lungs to lead to the conclusion that she drowned.

Our sources say the family was told Whitney may well have died before her head became submerged.

And family sources tell us … it was actually Whitney’s aunt, Mary Jones, who discovered Whitney’s body in the bathtub. Mary had laid out Whitney’s dress for the evening on the bed and then left for about a half hour. When Whitney didn’t come out of the bathroom, Mary entered, pulled Whitney out of the tub and began administering CPR.

And we’re told … Whitney’s mom has arranged to have the singer’s body flown back to Atlanta, as early as tomorrow. The family was told the Coroner has no problem releasing the body because there is no evidence of foul play — and unless cops put a hold on the body, it can be flown back East.

Readers: For more on Whitney Houston here on Lisa’s History Room, click here.

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An emergency medical team removes Whitney Houston's lifeless body from her 4th floor room at the Beverly Hilton Hotel, L.A., on February 11, 2012.

TMZ reports that Whitney Houston may have drowned. Her body was initially found face down in the bathtub but had been removed by her bodyguards and staff before medical personnel arrived. Various pill bottles were found in her room at the Beverly Hilton Hotel. An autopsy will be performed to discover whether Ms. Houston died from an overdose, drowning, or another cause.

A bathroom at the Beverly Hilton Hotel much like the one in which Whitney Houston died.

Family members said Houston had been taking Xanax, prescribed for anxiety. TMZ reported that, the night before she died, Whitney Houston had been drinking alcohol heavily. Had she mixed the two drugs, it would have had a strong sedative effect, perhaps causing her to fall asleep in the bathtub and drown.

Paparazzi swarm around a coroner's van transporting Whitney Houston's body from the Beverly Hilton Hotel to the L.A. County morque for an autopsy.

Readers: For more on Whitney Houston here on Lisa’s History Room, click here.

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Before Whitney Houston signed a contract with Artista Records in 1983, she was a much sought-after teenage model. She was one of the first African-American women to appear on the cover of Seventeen magazine.

Whitney Houston (r.) enjoys an ice cream treat with an unidentified model in this 1981 issue of Seventeen magazine. Whitney was 18 years old.

Readers: For more on Whitney Houston here on Lisa’s History Room, click here.


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This Peace Love Whitney Jr. Hoodie honors the life of Whitney Houston with a peace sign, a heart, and a graceful treble clef to symbolize Whitney's musical gifts. This is one of the many offerings at CafePress.

More tasteful gifts from Cafe Press, these to memorialize the passing of the great American rhythm and blues singer Whitney Houston, with “Peace Love Whitney” t-shirts and gifts. Visit Cafe Press to see the cool designs for yourself.

Readers: For more on Whitney Houston here on Lisa’s History Room, click here.

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Whitney Houston (1963-2012) The legendary singer, actress, and producer won six Grammy awards, two Emmy awards, 30 Billboard Music Awards across her extensive career. She was probably best known for her megahit “I Will Always Love You,” written by Dolly Parton.

Gifted singer Whitney Elizabeth Houston (1963-2012) died today yet her voice lives on and has the power to move us.

This video features Houston singing the American National Anthem at the 1991 SuperBowl when the U.S.A. was involved in the Gulf War.

Readers: For more on Whitney Houston here on Lisa’s History Room, click here.

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