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George VI (Albert Frederick Arthur George; 14 December 1895 – 6 February 1952) was King of the United Kingdom and the Dominions of the British Commonwealth from 11 December 1936 until his death. He was the last Emperor of India, and the first Head of the Commonwealth.

George VI (Albert Frederick Arthur George; 14 December 1895 – 6 February 1952) was King of the United Kingdom and the Dominions of the British Commonwealth from 11 December 1936 until his death. He was the last Emperor of India, and the first Head of the Commonwealth.

It was Christmas, 1939, and Great Britain was at war with Nazi Germany. Like his father before him, King George VI would continue the holiday tradition of addressing the British Empire in a live radio message. That year, he would broadcast from the royal country house at Sandringham, where he and his family would spend Christmas.

The Royal Residence at Sandringham, England

The Royal Residence at Sandringham, England

King George VI and his family leave Buckingham Palace, 1939, to spend Christmas at their country house at Sandringham. Pictured are the King and his wife Queen Elizabeth, daughters Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret Rose. Princess Elizabeth would become Queen Elizabeth upon the death of her father in 1952.

King George VI and his family leave Buckingham Palace, 1939, to spend Christmas at their country house at Sandringham. Pictured are the King and his wife Queen Elizabeth, daughters Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret Rose. Princess Elizabeth would become Queen Elizabeth upon the death of her father in 1952.

You will remember that King George VI was not a man comfortable with public speaking. His struggle to overcome a debilitating speech impediment – a stutter – was immortalized in the 2011 American Academy Award-winning film for Best Picture, “The King’s Speech.” A shy, nervous man, a heavy smoker and drinker (it would kill him at 56), King George VI would have preferred to have remained the Duke of York, living a quiet, out-of-the-public eye life with his sturdy wife and two rosy-cheeked daughters.

British Royal Princesses Elizabeth (l.) and Margaret Rose. February 1939, 7 months before the outbreak of WWII

British Royal Princesses Elizabeth (l.) and Margaret Rose. This photo was taken in February 1939, seven months before the outbreak of WWII.

King George VI – born Albert, called Bertie – never wanted to be king. He wasn’t supposed to be king. He was only king because his brother David had abdicated the throne in 1936 and he, Bertie, was next in line. Nevertheless, unwillingness aside, this unlikely monarch would rise to the occasion and be the very king the British people so sorely needed in a time of great trouble.

It was December 25, 1939, the day of the broadcast. Dressed in the uniform of the Admiral of the Fleet, the tall and too thin sovereign approached the table where two radio microphones were set up, taking his seat.

King George VI addresses his people on September 19, 1939, at the outbreak of WWII.

King George VI addresses his people on September 19, 1939, at the outbreak of WWII.

Taking a few deep breaths, he began to speak, slowly yet solidly. Measuring his words carefully, he spoke from the heart:

“A new year is at hand. We cannot tell what it will bring. If it brings peace, how thankful we shall all be. If it brings us continued struggle we shall remain undaunted.”

Toward the end of his nine-minute broadcast, he said:

“I feel that we may all find a message of encouragement in the lines which, in my closing words, I would like to say to you:”

He then read from a poem given to him by his 13-year-old daughter, Princess Elizabeth,

I said to the man who stood at the Gate of the Year,
‘Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.’
And he replied, ‘Go out into the darkness, and put your hand into the Hand of God.
That shall be better than light, and safer than a known way.’”*

He finished by saying,

“May that Almighty Hand guide and uphold us all.”

For a king not known for compelling speeches, this one would be a landmark. It united King and Country in common cause and inspired the people to hold fast. After all, at this point in history, no one knew that the Allies would triumph. Britain was to face five more years of war and brutal bombing by Hitler before the day of liberation would arrive. The end of 1939 was a shaky time and great leadership by King, Queen, and Prime Minister Winston Churchill would hold Britain steady against the Nazi aggressors.

Queen Elizabeth and King George VI of Great Britain stop at Vallence Road, Stepney, in the East End, London, to examine the debris following an air raid in the Second World War. October 4, 1945

Queen Elizabeth and King George VI of Great Britain stop at Vallence Road, Stepney, in the East End, London, to examine the debris following an air raid in the Second World War. October 4, 1945

King George VI pins a Distinguished Service Medal on Chief Petty Officer C.L.Baldwin in December 1939.

King George VI pins a Distinguished Service Medal on Chief Petty Officer C.L.Baldwin in December 1939.

Listen to the last four minutes of the King’s Christmas 1939 message here:

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

Click here for the full text of the King’s 1939 Christmas Message plus The REAL austerity Christmas: How a nation gripped by fear kept calm and carried  on three months after outbreak of war in 1939

*“The Gate of the Year,” by Minnie Haskins (1908)

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At a 1968 British society wedding in Kent, Hollywood legend Elizabeth Taylor snaps a souvenir picture of the Queen Mum (seated), mother of Queen Elizabeth II. The Queen Mum

At a 1968 British society wedding in Kent, Hollywood legend Elizabeth Taylor cannot resist snapping a souvenir picture of "the Queen Mum" (seated), mother of Queen Elizabeth II.

“The Queen Mum,” born Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon (1900-2002), was the beloved British Royal Family matriarch from 1953 until her death at age 101. Of Scottish birth, she served as Queen consort to her husband King George VI from 1936 until his death in 1952, when their daughter Princess Elizabeth took the throne as Elizabeth II.

During the London Blitz in WWII, the Queen Mum – who was then naturally referred to as Queen Elizabeth – insisted that she and the King remain in Buckingham Palace after it was bombed by the German luftwaffe. The Queen remarked to her mother-in-law that she was more affected by the bombing of the East End of London than by the bombing of the Palace:

“I’m glad we have been bombed,” she said. “Now, I can look the East End in the eye.” (1)

British King George VI and his wife Queen Elizabeth (later Elizabeth, the Queen Mother) survey the damage to Buckingham Palace from German bombs. Both the King and Queen were in the Palace when the attack hit the palace grounds and chapel on the morning of September 13, 1940. As they made their way to the palace shelter, they felt the Palace shake under the assault of high explosive and incendiary bombs. They were unhurt. Undeterred by the danger, the royal couple vowed to stay in London in the Palace.

I am still just as frightened of bombs as I was at the beginning,” the Queen wrote to a favourite niece. “I turn bright red and my heart hammers….I’m a beastly coward but I do believe that a lot people are, so I don’t mind! Well, darling, I must stop. Tinkety tonk old fruit and down with the Nazis.”(2)

Her indomitable spirit in the face of German aggression boosted British morale to such a degree that Adolf Hitler called her “the most dangerous woman in Europe.”

Her scary skinny sister-in-law, Wallis, the Duchess of Windsor, hated and mocked her, calling her by the unflattering nickname “Cookie” behind her back, mocking her love of sweets and resulting plumpness. The Queen Mum, however, did not hide her love of fun, jokes, champagne, and good food. In the 2010 movie, “The King’s Speech,” the Queen Mum, played by Helena Bonham Carter, is shown eating candies in the backseat of a car.

Her ultimate accolade for anyone or anything was “delicious.”(2)

Elizabeth, the Queen Mother

A new book by British monarchy chronicler, Brian Hoey, gives us yet another “behind the palace walls” glimpse of the Queen Mum enjoying her sweets.  Not in Front of the Corgis, scheduled for a June 2012 release, relates this anecdote: 

Lord Callaghan, when he was prime minister (1976-1979), was a frequent guest of the Queen Mother’s at Clarence House. Once, when just the two of them were present, she was eating from an enormous box of chocolates when he arrived.  She asked him if he would like one. He said, “Yes.” She then pointed to one in the middle of the box and said, “Have that one.” During the time he was eating his one specified chocolate, she ate three more. 

She then invited him to take another, once again selecting the one he should have. This went on for the remainder of the morning, with Her Majesty always pointing to the ones he could have.

As Callaghan left, he spoke to The Queen’s Page, asking why he was offered only particular chocolates by the Queen. The Page let him in on the secret:

“Those are the ones with hard centers. Her Majesty only eats the chocolates with soft centers.”(3)

(1) Source: BBC

(2) Source: The Daily Beast

(3) Source: The Daily Beast

Faithful readers:

  •  For more on the Queen Mum on this blog, click here.
  • For more on the British Royal Family on this blog, click here.
  • For more on Elizabeth Taylor on this blog, click here.
  • For more on Wallis, the Duchess of Windsor on this blog, click here.

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William and Kate drive Prince Charles' Aston Martin through the streets of London on their wedding day, thrilling the crowds.

Following a post-nuptials luncheon buffet for 650 guests given by Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace, Prince William took his new bride Kate out for a spin in his father’s vintage Aston Martin. The crowd in the street was taken by surprise to see the royal couple, the newly-christened Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, appear on the streets so spontaneously, and sent up mighty cheers, applause, and laughter as the 41-year-old blue sportscar rolled by. William and Kate waved and smiled as they passed the wildly exuberant crowds lining the curbs, waving British flags.

On the front of the car was a large red letter “L”  which stands for “learners permit” bordered by 4 red hearts. Red, white, and blue ribbons and bows decorated the front bonnet. White bows and colored party balloons -two bearing the initials C and W and others shaped like hearts and stars – fluttered gaily from the rear bumper. The novelty license plate proclaimed JU5T WED.

Prince William is distracted from his driving as an RAF helicopter salutes him overhead. Note the special license plate for his wedding day.

The royal car is said to have been specially decorated by that fun-loving prankster Prince Harry.

Best man Prince Harry waves to the crowd as he makes the journey by carriage procession to Buckingham Palace following the Royal Wedding of his brother, Prince William, to the lovely Miss Catherine Middleton.

A Range Rover followed close behind the snazzy convertible. Overhead a yellow Sea King Search and Rescue helicopter with the B Flight 22 Squadron did a flyby to honor the Prince on his wedding day. Prince William is an RAF Search and Rescue helicopter pilot with the same squadron based in Anglesey, Wales.  

RAF colleagues of Prince William did a flyby over Buckingham Palace on his wedding day.

The couple, who had just that morning exchanged televised wedding vows at Westminster Abbey before a worldwide audience of millions, were on their way up the Mall, 500 yards away, to Clarence House, where they would change their clothes for the night’s festivities.

William had already changed clothes once. He had worn a red Irish Guards tunic as he tied the knot but, for the drive down the Mall, had swapped the tunic for an Irish Guards frock coat. In the open auto, Kate still wore the Alexander McQueen wedding dress 

Prince William and the former Miss Kate Middleton, now known as the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, pose joyously for their official wedding pictures in the Throne Room at Buckingham Palace. April 29, 2011

“a glorious sweep of ivory and white silk gazar with hand-embroidered English and French Chantilly lace and 58 organza-covered buttons snaking up the back. It had a discreet v-neck, long lace sleeves and a train that measured nearly nine feet long. Middleton’s slender waistline was emphasized by the gown’s narrow bodice and slight padding at the hips—a nod to Victorian style.”

As for that spiffy sportscar….

Queen Elizabeth had given the Seychelles blue Aston Martin Volante DB6 MKII to her son Prince Charles in 1969 as a 21st birthday gift. The Prince of Wales -who is environmentally sensitive – converted it to run on sustainable fuel in 2008. It now uses E85 bioethanol, made from English wine wastage. The car is said to be roughly valued at £350,000.

Below is an old photo of Prince Charles taking his wife at the time, Princess Diana, William’s late mother, for a spin in the same Aston Martin convertible.

In this undated photo, Prince Charles and Princess Diana are seen driving away in the Prince's blue Aston Martin.

Readers: For more on the British Royal Family and the Royal Wedding, click here.

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Prince William and Kate Middleton announce their engagement at Clarence House, London, on November 16, 2010. They are both 28.

Prince William and Miss Catherine Middleton have made more decisions on their upcoming wedding,” Clarence House said in a statement, which was first released in a series of messages on Twitter.

The royal wedding will take place on Friday, April 29, 2011, at Westminster Abbey.

Kate Middleton will travel by car to the 11 a.m. service passing through some of Britain’s most historic sites – Pall Mall, Horse Guards Parade, Whitehall, and Parliament Square. The ceremony will be conducted by the Rev. John Hall and the couple will be married by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams.

Once the pair are husband and wife, they will travel along the same route that Middleton arrived in, but this time, in a horse-drawn carriage. Prince William’s grandmother, Queen Elizabeth II, will host a gathering at Buckingham Palace for guests. Afterward, William’s father, Prince Charles, will organize a private dinner for friends and family.

Source: Google News

Readers, for more on this blog about the royal wedding and the British Royal Family, click here.

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American actress Grace Kelly looks over her shoulder in Hollywood, California, March 1954. In April 1956, Kelly married Rainier III, Prince of Monaco, and became Her Serene Highness the Princess of Monaco. (“Grace Kelly: Floating on Chiffon,” Lisa’s History Room)

I was so excited to read in Vanity Fair that London’s Victoria & Albert Museum was featuring an exhibition of Grace Kelly‘s clothes. What a treat! I thought. Imagine all those beautiful 1950s dresses designed for actress Grace Kelly (1929-1982) together in one place. Of course I couldn’t get to London, I knew; I was recovering from spine surgery and we were building an addition to our house.

But what did that matter? I had my computer. With a few keystrokes and mouse clicks, I could cyber fashion stroll. I just assumed the V & A Museum would put the collection online as they had done with Queen Victoria and Prince Albert‘s jewelry collection. (See “Victoria & Albert: Art & Love & Teeth”)

I jumped to the museum website and found the exhibition: “Grace Kelly: Style Icon.” I got even happier after I read the promising blurb:

“Featuring dresses from her films including ‘High Society’ and ‘Rear Window,’ as well as the gown she wore to accept her Oscar in 1955, the display will examine Grace Kelly’s glamorous Hollywood image and enduring appeal.

It will also explore the evolution of her style as Princess Grace of Monaco, from the outfit she wore to her first meeting with Prince Rainier in 1955 to her haute couture gowns of the 1960s and ’70s by her favourite couturiers Dior, Balenciaga, Givenchy and Yves St Laurent.”

But much to my chagrin, I discovered that the exhibit is not posted online at the V & A. I was, at first, incredibly disappointed. In a mad haste, I scoured the Internet for images of the fashion display on newssites and blogs. I found a lot of articles but precious few images of the actual exhibit. But what I did find told a lot. To illustrate a point, here are two of those V & A showcase windows:  

A mannequin displays the dress Grace Kelly wore in “The Swan.” (1956) The exhibit, “Grace Kelly: Style Icon,” is at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London from April 17- September 26, 2010

The exhibition at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, “Grace Kelly: Style Icon,” includes dresses worn by Grace Kelly after she became Princess Grace of Monaco in 1956.

Yawn. Pretty dry stuff, huh? Dresses on mannequins have no sparkle. What they needed was Grace Kelly.

Grace Kelly as Lisa Fremont in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1954 thriller, “Rear Window.” (“Grace Kelly: Floating on Chiffon,” Lisa’s History Room)

So instead of trying to catalog for you all the dresses in the V & A, I have picked my personal favorite and shown it as worn by the eternally beautiful Grace Kelly. It is the Paris dress she wore as sophisticate Lisa Carol Fremont in the 1954 Alfred Hitchcock classic, “Rear Window.”

The dress with a fitted black bodice and deep V-cut bustline was designed for Kelly by Paramount Picture’s chief costume designer Edith Head. The full skirt falls to mid-calf, gathered and layered in white chiffon and tulle. From the nipped-in waist, a spray branch pattern falls playfully over the hip. Grace accessorized her high-fashion gown with white silk gloves, pearls, and a chiffon shoulder wrap.

To read the “Rear Window” script excerpt wherein “Lisa-Carol- Fremont” enters Jimmy Stewart‘s apartment wearing this outfit, click here.

Grace Kelly sits on steps in her “Paris” dress she wore in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1954 “Rear Window.” The gown had a light & airy quality with a slender waist and a beautiful skirt made from yards and yards of tulle and chiffon. The black and white confection was created by Paramount Pictures costume designer Edith Head. (“Grace Kelly: Floating on Chiffon,” Lisa’s History Room)

For more on Grace Kelly, click here.

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photo of Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace, March 28, 2007, by Annie Leibovitz
photo of Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace, March 28, 2007, by Annie Leibovitz

Annie Leibovitz photographed Queen Elizabeth. Here’s what she had to say about that experience.
Excerpted from Annie Leibovitz at Work, by Annie Leibovitz, published by Random House © 2008

The Queen

In 2007, a few weeks before Queen Elizabeth visited the United States for the 400th anniversary of the founding of Jamestown, I was asked to take her portrait. I was the first American to be asked by the Palace to make an official portrait of the Queen, which was very flattering. I felt honored. I also felt that because I was an American I had an advantage over every other photographer or painter who had made a portrait of her. It was O.K. for me to be reverent. The British are conflicted about what they think of the monarch. If a British portraitist is reverent, he’s perceived to be doting. I could do something traditional.

It’s ironic that the sitting with the Queen became controversial. I’m rather proud of having been in control of a complicated shoot. The controversy arose about two months after the pictures were published, when the BBC claimed that the Queen had walked out while we were shooting. This was completely untrue, and although they retracted the claim and issued an apology to the Queen and to me almost immediately, the scandal had a life of its own. The story, which came to be referred to as Queengate, wouldn’t die. Eventually the head of BBC One resigned over it.

When I was preparing for the shoot, I thought about using the landscape around Balmoral Castle, in Scotland. I brought this up in the very first conference call with the Palace. I said that Americans thought of the Queen as an outdoorswoman. I had been influenced by Helen Mirren’s performance in The Queen and I couldn’t help mentioning how much I liked her character in that film. There was a long silence on the other end of the line.

The second idea I had, after Balmoral, was to photograph the Queen on horseback. I asked where she rode and they said she went riding every Saturday at Windsor Castle. I said that I would love to see her in her riding clothes, and in a later conversation I asked if she could stop during her weekend ride and get off her horse and mount it again. That is, could I do a portrait of her in the trees. They said, No, it was not possible. She just rode the horse and came back, and, anyway, she didn’t wear riding clothes anymore. A few days later they said it was going to be Buckingham Palace and no horses.

I realized that I was going to need some time on the ground for this. When we arrived in London, we went straight to the palace and were shown all the rooms, including the throne room—everywhere except the private quarters. And then we scouted the back. There was a wintery sky and the trees didn’t have leaves. It was an appropriate mood for this moment in the Queen’s life. There was no way, however, that she was going to stand outside in formal attire.

For a sitting like this you don’t put all your eggs in one basket. You try to have as many options as possible. I kept thinking that somehow I would get the Queen outside, but I began choosing formal outfits. I narrowed the robes down to a very handsome Order of the Garter cape, but then we were told that she could wear only a white dress under it. We were lobbying for a gold dress. I was also hoping for a dress with more body to it. The Queen wears very streamlined dresses now that she’s older, and I wanted her in something with more volume. But she didn’t have anything like that. Finally everyone agreed that she could wear a gold-and-white dress under the Order of the Garter robe. The Queen was 80 years old. She was sturdy, but putting on and taking off a lot of heavy clothes is tiring, and she had to be dressed in layers to expedite things. The gold-white dress became the base.

I was still upset that I couldn’t get her outside. It was so beautiful out there. And it wasn’t cold or raining or anything. I began thinking about what Cecil Beaton had done. He brought in flowered backdrops. Beaton was big on backdrops. He made very stagy portraits. Perhaps because the pictures were made in black and white you don’t notice the backdrops. They sort of go out of focus. I realized that I could do something similar digitally. I decided to photograph the garden and the trees for a backdrop.

The Palace had given us 25 minutes with the Queen, so there had to be a battle plan. I chose a grand reception room, the White Drawing Room, as the principal setting because of the light from the tall windows. Supplementary lights had been pre-set so that when the Queen moved from one spot to another all we needed to do was switch them on. We had constructed a gray canvas backdrop in an anteroom, and she was to come in there wearing the Order of the Garter robe and the dress, but no tiara. The first shot was to be made on a balcony, with the sky behind her. That sky could be digitally exchanged later for the pictures I had taken in the gardens the day before. I didn’t want her to be wearing a tiara in the gardens.

The morning of the shoot, the Queen came walking down the hall very purposefully. She was definitely a force. This was all being taped by the BBC for a documentary. I would never have agreed to their being there if I felt I had any choice, but they had been following her around for months. Their microphone picked up her saying, “I’ve had enough of dressing like this, thank you very much,” as she marched down the hall. Later, when segments of footage for the BBC were edited for a promotional film, it appeared as if the Queen were stomping out of the photo session rather than going into it. Thus the brouhaha.

The Queen was about 20 minutes late, which we thought was a little strange. When that happens, you never know if it can be made up on the other end. My five-year-old daughter, Sarah, had come with us, and she curtsied and offered the Queen flowers, and I introduced my team. At this point I was in shock. The Queen had the tiara on. That was not the plan. It was supposed to be added later. The dresser knew that. The Queen started saying, “I don’t have much time. I don’t have much time,” and I took her to the first setup and showed her the pictures of the gardens. I think she understood what we had in mind. Then I walked her into the drawing room, probably sooner than I would have if things had been going well. She composed herself when I took some pictures.

I knew how tight everything was, especially with the loss of 20 minutes, and I asked the Queen if she would remove the tiara. (I used the word “crown,” which was a faux pas.) I suggested that a less dressy look might be better. And she said, “Less dressy! What do you think this is?” I thought she was being funny. English humor. But I noticed that the dresser and everyone else who had been working with her were staying about 20 feet away from her.

We removed the big robe, and I took the picture of the Queen looking out the window, and then I said, Listen, I was a little thrown when you first came in, and I have one more picture I’d like to try, with an admiral’s boat cloak. I was thinking of one of Cecil Beaton’s last pictures of the Queen. A very stark and simple and strong portrait in which she’s wearing a boat cloak. We went back into the anteroom, where the gray canvas backdrop had been set up, and she took off the tiara and put on the cloak. That’s the shot we digitally imposed on pictures of the garden.

Right after we finished, I went up to the press secretary and said how much I loved the Queen. How feisty she was. Later I mentioned to a couple of friends that she had been a bit cranky, but it was nothing unusual. What was remarkable about the shoot, and I wrote the Queen a note about this later, was something the BBC missed: her resolve, her devotion to duty. She stayed until I said it was over. Until I said, “Thank you.” We were finished a little before our allotted 25 minutes were up.

 

Readers, for more on this episode, read my post, “The Queen is Mad.”

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Queen Elizabeth and Michelle Obama at Buckingham Palace

Queen Elizabeth and Michelle Obama at Buckingham Palace

 As I mentioned in my recent post, “President Barack and Michelle Obama Give Queen Elizabeth an IPod,” the Obamas have visited Buckingham Palace and met with Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip. As the two couples mingled with other diplomats in London for the Group of 20 Meeting, First Lady Michelle Obama reached out and touched the Queen on her back. The Queen responded warmly, wrapping her right arm around Michelle’s waist. Those listening to the two women say that the Queen remarked on how tall Michelle is. They also were looking down and talking about their shoes.

Everyone’s buzzing about this historic moment: Michelle Obama touched the Queen! Royal protocol demands that no one touch the Queen. Even her royal consort, Prince Philip, must walk several paces behind her when the two are in public.

First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy and General Charles DeGaulle at a dinner at Versailles, France, June 1, 1961.

First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy and General Charles DeGaulle at a dinner at Versailles, France, June 1, 1961.

All this attention to the Obamas and their first visit to  Europe as the First Couple takes me back to 1961 when President John Fitzgerald and Jacqueline (pronounced JAK LEEN’) Bouvier Kennedy made a state visit to France. Jackie Kennedy mesmerized the French with her style and elegance. She spoke fluent French and boasted a paternal French bloodline (Bouvier). Jackie was so charming that she even won the heart of President Charles DeGaulle, a man not easily conquered. At a dinner at the Elysee Palace, DeGaulle talked extensively to Jackie, then turned to President Kennedy and said,  “Your wife knows more French history than any French woman.”

Jackie Kennedy so upstaged John on their trip overseas that the President joked, “I am the man who accompanied Jacqueline Kennedy to Paris.” Upon the Kennedys’ return to America, their popularity soared. The American public – and the rest of the world – had fallen in love with Jackie. To this day, she remains an American idol.

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