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To promote the film, "April in Paris," Doris Day appeared on a 1952 Collier's magazine cover with six dyed poodles.

Doris Day appears on the cover of Collier's 1952 magazine to promote her new film, "April in Paris." With her are 6 dyed poodles. Poodles became the most popular dog in the 1950s, when poodle skirts made their debut.

In post WWII America, the poodle dog became the rage. It went from being the 25th most popular dog in 1946 to No. 1 in 1960. All of a sudden, poodles

…were chic; they stood for modernity and sophistication, which anyone could shoot for, whether they were rich or just wanted to appear a la mode. Teenage girls wore stylish poodle skirts decorated with felt-appliqued French poodles wearing rhinestone collars; ladies bought handbags with embroidered poodles on the side and decorated their powder rooms with wallpaper that had pictures of poodles strolling down the Champs-Elysees. (1)

In the fifties, every glamorous movie star had a poodle – or was photographed with one.

Actress Joan Collins with her dyed pink poodle

Although they are not French, poodles came to be called “French poodles,”  recalled for their clever antics in French circuses. Thus, Americans bought poodles and gave them French names like Fifi, Gigi, and Pierre. They also took them to fancy groomers:

To gaze upon a standard (full-size) poodle in a “Miami Sweetheart” cut with centered fur hearts on hips and back, pantaloon legs sculpted lathe-smooth, tassel ears, a Van Buren mustache drooping from its muzzle, a ribboned topknot, and a wagging pompon tail, parading along the boulevard in a rhinestone collar at the end of a jeweled lead, is to see an animal that has become a walking, barking work of art.

Then the poodle enthusiasts went a step further. They attempted to make an animal that was already cute even cuter. They began to use vegetable dyes to dye the dogs to match their owners’ houses, moods, and outfits. Movie actress Doris Day epitomized this fad when she appeared in the movie, “April in Paris,” with six dyed poodles on leashes.

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Click to see:  Hiphop wedding dance jumps from youtube to The Today Show.

soul trainI watched that line dance and it took me way back –  to the 1970s –  to the TV dance show, “Soul Train,” hosted by Don Cornelius. I loved that show. Those kids could dance.  I watched “Soul Train” on Saturday mornings when I was in high school and college. It came on right after “American Bandstand.”

Line dancing ain’t new. We had disco fever forty years ago. Boogie down, baby!

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The Mole from The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame, illustration by E.H. Shepard

The Mole from The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame, illustration by E.H. Shepard

The following is an excerpt from the opening scene in the children’s literary classic, The Wind in the Willows. The Rat and the Mole are standing on opposite riverbanks, shouting across the river to one another in greeting. Rat is standing outside his snug riverside dwelling that includes a pier.)

“Hullo, Mole!” said the Water Rat.

“Hullo, Rat,” said the Mole.

“Would you like to come over?” enquired the Rat presently.

The Rat…stooped and unfastened a rope…then lightly stepped onto a little boat which the Mole had not observed. It was painted blue outside and white within, and was just the size for two animals; and the Mole’s whole heart went out to it at once, even though he did not yet fully understand its uses.

The Rat sculled smartly across and…the Mole stepped gingerly down…and …to his surprise and rapture found himself actually seated in the stern of a real boat.

Ratty and Mole out boating from The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame, illustration by E.H. Shepard

[T]he Rat shoved off and took to the skulls again. “Do you know, I’ve never been in a boat before in my life.” [said the Mole]

“What?” cried the Rat, open-mouthed: “never been in  a – you never – well I – what have you been doing, then?”

“Is it so nice as all that? asked the Mole shyly…[as he] felt the boat sway lightly under him.

“Nice? It’s the only thing,” said the Water Rat solemnly, as he leant forward for his stroke. “Believe me, my young friend, there is nothing – absolutely nothing – half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats. Simply messing,” he went on dreamily: “messing – about – in – boats; messing -“

“Look ahead, Rat!” cried the Mole suddenly.

It was too late.

Published in 1908, The Wind in the Willows, written by Kenneth Grahame, is a timeless tale of animal friends and their adventures along the Thames riverbank, in the Wild Wood, or on the Open Road.  The main characters are the laid-back Ratty, the dim but positive Mole, stern yet kindly Badger, and the irrepressible Mr. Toad of Toad Hall. To see more of E.H. Shepard’s drawings for The Wind in the Willows, click here.

 

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Madame X at the Met

"Madame X" by American portrait painter John Singer Sargent, 1884

"Madame X" by American portrait painter John Singer Sargent, 1884

In the Metropolitan Museum of New York hangs a seven-foot tall portrait of a rather pale woman in a black velvet evening dress held up by sparkly straps. “Madame X” was painted by the American society painter John Singer Sargent.  The subject of the painting is Madame Virginie Gautreau, a professional beauty, who moved in the top tiers of Paris society and was often mentioned in the scandal sheets for her numerous dangerous indiscretions and passion for self-display. It was 1884 and Madame Gautreau was the Talk of Paris.

It was only a year earlier that John Singer Sargent had met her at a party. Once he laid eyes on her, he knew at once he must paint a portrait of her as an homage to her beauty – and a boost to his lagging career.  He felt that if he painted her, all Parisian society women would flock to his studio demanding that he paint their portraits. Sargent sent word to Madame Gautreau that she must sit for a portrait; she consented, realizing that a rising tide lifts all boats. She, too, needed the publicity to maintain her social superiority. Once they agreed, Sargent began to paint,  devoting himself to capture the “strange, weird, fantastic, curious beauty of that peacock-woman, Mme. Gautreau,” noted one observer.

Madame Gautreau was rumored to take great pains to be beautiful:

Gautreau achieved her affected, highly artificial look with hennaed hair, heavily penciled brows, rouged ears and powdered skin. She was rumored to mix her powder with mauve tint and to ingest arsenic wafers to make her skin more translucent, giving it even more of a bluish-purple tint.

Not all thought she was lovely to look at. She had her detractors. Some said her white pallor and icy charm made her resemble a cadaver.

"Madame X" is shown as it must have originally appeared

"Madame X" is shown as it must have originally appeared

The painting that hangs in the Met today, “Madame X,” however, is not the same Madame X as the one that Sargent painted in 1884 and exhibited in Paris. That image no longer exists. We can only speculate what it looked like. The painting shown to the right here is what it may have looked like. That original, the one exhibited in Paris in 1884, showed Madame Gautreau’s dress with the right strap suggestively falling off her shoulder. (Compare to the painting at the top, the one at the Met. Her right strap, you’ll notice, sits firmly in place.)

When exhibited in Paris, the painting “with the falling strap” created an instant sensation but not in the way Sargent and Gautreau had hoped:


No sooner had the doors of the Palais de l’Industrie in the Champs-Élysées opened on May 1, 1884, than a crowd gathered in front of ”Madame X.” People hooted and pointed the tips of their umbrellas and canes at the painting. ”Look! She forgot her chemise!*” was heard over and over again. The critics were no kinder. ”Of all the undressed women at the Salon this year, the most interesting is Madame Gautreau . . . because of the indecency of her dress that looks like it is about to fall off,” wrote a critic for L’Artist. (*A chemise is a woman’s undergarment, a smock, that is worn under clothing and next to the skin. In that day, a French lady always wore a chemise under a dress.)

The painting was considered too provocative; sex pervaded it. Not even an actress, it was remarked, would wear a dress that shockingly low-cut and snug! And that strap! A little imagination conjured up a scene in which a slight struggle with a lover might knock Madame X’s right strap completely off her shoulder leading to… ! Paris was abuzz with the scandal. Madame Gautreau’s mother demanded that Sargent withdraw the painting from the exhibit. He refused.

John Singer Sargent in Paris studio 1885 with the revised painting of Madame X

John Singer Sargent in Paris studio 1885 with the revised painting of Madame X

The painting, considered a beloved masterpiece today but pornographic by 1884 Parisian standards of decency, was trashed by the Paris critics so badly that Sargent, having lived in Paris for a decade then, was eventually forced to move to London to continue his profession. Sargent revised the painting to show the gown’s right strap securely in place. It is this retouched painting that hangs in the New York Metropolitan today.

Zip ahead to 1938 and the Upper East Side of Manhattan. Dorothy Hale was wearing her Madame X dress when she jumped to her death from her penthouse apartment. To learn more, read “Frida Kahlo: The Suicide of Dorothy Hale.”

"The Suicide of Dorothy Hale" by Frida Kahlo, 1938/39

"The Suicide of Dorothy Hale" by Frida Kahlo, 1938/39

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French President Nicolas Sarkost arrives at Versailles Palace on June 22, 2009, to address Parliament. H condemned the use of the burqa in France, calling it an unacceptable symbol of "enslavement."

French President Nicolas Sarkosy arrives at Versailles Palace on June 22, 2009, to address Parliament. He condemned the use of the burqa in France, calling it an unacceptable symbol of "enslavement."

On June 22, 2009, President Nicolas Sarkozy of France arrived at Versailles Palace to address legislators, the first presidential appearance before Parliament since 1875. To protect the independence of lawmakers, presidents had been barred from entering Parliament since Charles Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte’s reign. Reforms carried out by Sarkozy’s party last summer, though, opened the way for him to speak to Parliament. (1)

Mr. Sarkozy entered through rows of French guards with raised swords and plumed helmets, then delivered an American-style state-of-the-nation address. In a sober, far-ranging speech, he spoke about the economy and his vision for the future of France. He saved his strongest comments for the most hotly-debated social issue in France:  the burqa. The burqa is a Muslim head-to-toe garment that some women wear to cloak their bodies and faces. Sarkozy’s declaration, “The burqa is not welcome in France,” was met with enthusiastic applause.

Two Afghan Women Wearing Burqas

Two Afghan Women Wearing Burqas

“We cannot accept to have in our country women who are prisoners behind netting, cut off from all social life, deprived of identity,” Sarkozy told Parliament. “”That is not the idea that the French republic has of women’s dignity. The issue of the burqa is not a religious issue. It is a question of freedom and of women’s dignity,” Mr. Sarkozy said. The burka is not a religious sign. It is a sign of the subjugation, of the submission, of women.”

Mr Sarkozy gave his backing to the establishment of a parliamentary commission to study the burqa and methods to stem its spread. In 2004, France banned Islamic headscarves in its state schools. France is home to five million Muslims, the largest Muslim population in Western Europe.

Two women, one wearing the niqab, a veil worn by the most conservative Muslims that exposes only a woman's eyes, right, walk side by side, in the Belsunce district of downtown Marseille, central France, Friday June 19, 2009. The French government's spokesman says he favors the creation of a parliamentary commission to study the small but growing trend of burqa wear in France. Luc Chatel says the commission could possibly propose legislation aimed at banning the burqa and other fully covering garments worn by some Muslim women.

Two women, one wearing the niqab, a veil worn by the most conservative Muslims that exposes only a woman's eyes, right, walk side by side, in downtown Marseille, on June 19, 2009. In France, the terms burka and niqab are often used interchangeably – the former refers to a full-body covering worn largely in Afghanistan with a mesh screen over the eyes, while the latter is a full-body veil, often in black, with a gap for the eyes.A parliamentary commission may study the small but growing trend of burqa wear in France and could propose legislation aimed at banning the burqa and other fully covering garments worn by some Muslim women. The study aims to discover whether the women wear the burka by choice or out of fear.

(1) “Sarkozy Backs Drive to Eliminate the Burqa.” The New York Times, June 23, 2009.

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"The Weaker Sex, by Charles Dana Gibson, 1903

"The Weaker Sex, by Charles Dana Gibson, 1903

“Illustrator Charles Dana Gibson’s (1867-1944) glamorous, winsome “Gibson girls” set the standard for female beauty in turn-of-the-century America. Here [in the above illustration], however, Gibson parodies his own creations, portraying his traditionally passive paradigms of womanhood as playfully assertive giants toying with a minuscule man.” (1)

(1) Library of Congress “Monstrous Craws & Character Flaws” Exhibit

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Abraham Lincoln, February 5, 1865. He would live less than 3 more months.

Abraham Lincoln, February 5, 1865. He would live less than 3 more months.

It was the morning of Friday, April 14, 1865, the last full day of Abraham Lincoln’s life. It was a beautiful spring day. The president was looking forward to an evening at the theater. Plays relaxed him, expecially comedy. There were some who looked down on him for being a theater-goer. They considered it lowbrow entertainment, especially for the commander-in-chief. Who were they to deny Lincoln a few minutes away from his troubling thoughts?

But that was all behind him now. The War Between the States was over. The terrible suffering had come to an end. Abe and his wife, Mary, had lost two sons to illness. That afternoon, he and Mary took a leisurely carriage ride. They spoke of the future together. Abraham was very happy. He said to Mary:

“We must both be more cheerful in the future.”

Abraham Lincoln's carriage that took him, Mary, Major Rathbone, and Clara Harris to Ford's Theatre on the night of his assassination. The carriage is a 4-passenger barouche. When the doors are opened, steps unfold.

Abraham Lincoln’s favorite carriage. It was the carriage that took him, Mary, Major Henry Rathbone, and Clara Harris to Ford’s Theatre on the night of Lincoln’s assassination. The carriage is a 4-passenger barouche. When the doors are opened, steps unfold.

Major Henry Rathbone

Major Henry Rathbone

Shortly after their return to the White House, they dressed for the theater – Ford’s Theater – to see “Our American Cousin” starring Laura Keene. Mary and Abe had had a dickens of a time finding someone to attend the performance with them. They had invited 12 people and all had declined. It was Good Friday, the most solemn day on the Christian calendar, and not a day many folks sought entertainment. Most were busy, some disapproved of theater in general. The Grants – especially Julia, the General’s wife – could not stand the idea of being confined in a theater box with Mary and her explosive temper.

Clara Harris photographed by Mathew Brady, ca. 1860-68.

Clara Harris photographed by Mathew Brady, ca. 1860-68.

Finally, a young couple the Lincolns were fond of – Major Henry Rathbone and Clara Harris – accepted their invitation. Henry and Clara had just become engaged. Oddly enough, Clara was Henry’s stepsister. When Henry’s father died, his mother married Ira Harris, Clara’s father.

The two couples arrived at Ford’s Theater in the president’s carriage after the performance had already begun. As the four entered the presidential box, decorated with American flags and a painting of George Washington, the actors froze on stage. The orchestra struck up “Hail to the Chief.” The audience clapped, cheered, and waved.

“The president,” remembered one theater-goer, “stepped to the box-rail and acknowledged the applause with dignified bows and never-to-be-forgotten smiles.” (1)

The applause died down as the Lincolns, Clara and Henry took their seats. Abraham settled into a rocking chair Ford had brought up from his office especially for him. He sat on the far right of the box. To the left, Mary pulled her chair close to her husband’s, nestling up to him at one point, and slipping her arm through his. On the left side of the box, Clara sat in a stuffed chair. Henry sat on a small sofa behind her and in the back of the box. Mary fretted that Henry couldn’t see the stage well from the sofa and said so.

One of the biggest laughs in the play came in the third act when the male lead delivered this line:

“Don’t know the manners of good society, eh?” he paused. “Well, I guess I know enough to turn you inside out, old gal – you sockdologizing old mantrap.”

This line always got a big laugh. Tonight was no exception. The audience – including the president – laughed and clapped. They made so much noise that only the people in the box heard the crack of a gunshot, as actor John Wilkes Booth had planned. Booth had crept into the presidential box and, with a derringer, shot the president in the back of the head.

an image of the Lincoln assassination showing, from left to right, Clara Harris, Mary Todd Lincoln, Major Henry Rathbone, President Abraham Lincoln, and John Wilkes Booth

The “Assassination of President A Lincoln” showing, from left to right, Clara Harris, Mary Todd Lincoln, Major Henry Rathbone, President Abraham Lincoln, and John Wilkes Booth

The rest was blue gunsmoke and confusion. The president was slumped forward in his chair with no visible wound. He looked as if he was sleeping. Henry grabbed the gunman who held his gun in one hand and a dagger in the other. Booth dropped the gun and slashed Henry in the arm and the head. Because of Henry’s interference, Booth was unable to make a clean jump out of the presidential box onto the stage below.  Booth caught his foot as he jumped, landing on the stage at a weird angle, and breaking his leg. Henry shouted into the audience, “Stop that man!” Clara yelled, “The president has been shot!”

John Wilkes Booth flees across the stage of Ford's Theater after having assassinated President Lincoln. He shouts "sic semper tyrannis!" (thus always to tyrants" and, perhaps, "The South is avenged."

John Wilkes Booth flees across the stage of Ford’s Theater after having assassinated President Lincoln. He shouts, “Sic semper tyrannis!” (Latin for “Thus it shall ever be for tyrants,” the Virginia state motto) and, perhaps also, “The South is avenged.”

Though Henry was weak from loss of blood and his wounds were serious, the president’s wound was mortal. By the next morning, the president was dead.

Henry survived the attack and, in 1867, he and Clara were married. They had three children. But all was not well with Henry. Perhaps because of his head wound, his mental health rapidly deteriorated. He heard voices and believed he was being persecuted and tortured. He became jealous of his wife’s attention to their children. Clara lived in utter terror of what Henry might do.

Eighteen years after Lincoln’s assassination, Henry Rathbone reenacted Booth’s brutal attack on President Lincoln – within his own home. Armed with knife and pistol, Henry attacked his family, murdering Clara with a pistol, trying to kill his children, then stabbing himself.  He lived and was declared insane. He was institutionalized in Germany for the rest of his life.

(1) Fleming, Candace. The Lincolns: A Scrapbook Look at Abraham and Mary. New York: Random House, Inc., 2008.

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