Thursday, December 24, 2009

The Birth of the Birth of Merlin

Tonight's the night! Jeffrey Scott Holland's adaptation of William Shakespeare's apocryphal Birth of Merlin is finally making its stage debut in NYC! Although flash photography is not permitted, flashless photography *is* allowed - so if you attend and take pics, we'd love to see them!

Friday, December 11, 2009

Безымянная звезда

Can-Can dancers, Soviet style. This clip is supposedly from the Russian film A Nameless Star (starring Anastasiya Vertinskaya) but looks much older. It's only nineteen seconds long but it's a real Georgiyevsk gem, and it's got that indefinable Voraxica quality.

View: Tabarin Can-Can clip from A Nameless Star

Monday, November 30, 2009

Drive-in Intermission Films

I'm perpetually obsessed with intermission snack-bar advertisements from theaters and drive-in theaters.

View: Intermission Films #1

View: Intermission films #2

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Helga Sommerfeld

German theatre and film star Helga Sommerfeld, perhaps best remembered today for the horror film The Phantom of Soho.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Merlin, JSH Style

Jeffrey Scott Holland's stage adaptation of William Shakespeare's The Birth of Merlin, long promised since Catclaw's inception almost two years ago, is finally here! It opens December 24 in Brooklyn, NY for four shows only - don't miss it!

What can you expect from this production? Here's some clues (Note: Spoilers!):

The play concerns a clown named simply Clown, who is escorting his pregnant sister Joan through the wilderness searching for the child's mysterious father, who turns out to be Satan. As Joan gives birth to Merlin, Satan summons Lucina (the Roman goddess of childbirth) and the Greek Moirae (The Fates) to witness.

Meanwhile, King Vortigern is attempting to build a new castle but it keeps collapsing. The King is told by his spiritual advisor that a "fiend-begotten child" must be blood-sacrificed to purify the construction site. At just that moment, the kooky entourage with baby Merlin shows up and, well, hilarity or something like it ensues.

The play was credited to William Shakespeare and William Rowley in a 1662 quarto, and the play has many fervent supporters of the Bard's hand in it. It also has many ardent detractors - like a certain Louisville professor who actually became visibly angry when I mentioned my intent to stage this play one day!

(It's important to remember that some plays we regard as in canon today once were considered heretically apocryphal. Pericles was once considered to be total Fakespeare before it finally became accepted. The Two Noble Kinsmen and King Edward III are relatively recent newcomers to mainstream acceptance, and Sir Thomas More is making great inroads towards it.)

Assorted warnings, cautions and caveats:

Do not attend if you are offended by a play featuring Satan being staged at Christmastime. Do not attend if you suffer from Coulrophobia (fear of clowns). Do not attend if you are offended by puppet nudity. Do not attend if you're scared of East Flatbush after dark.

There are no strobe lights in any Catclaw shows (we hates 'em!), but there is smoke, and there is splattering fake blood.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Le Cochon Danseur

I have no Earthly clue what is up with this French film from 1907. But who can say it isn't beautiful?

View: Le Cochon Danseur, 1907

Friday, October 23, 2009

Sayonara, Soupy

Milton Supman, aka Soupy Sales (January 8, 1926 – October 22, 2009), has moved on to better planets in search of a good egg cream.

Soupy was born in Franklinton, North Carolina, the son of a Hungarian dry goods merchant. The family later moved to Huntington, WV, just across the Kentucky border from Ashland. He graduated in 1944 from Huntington High School.

Soupy's dad nicknamed his three children "Hambone", "Chickenbone" and "Soupbone". Young Milton kept the Soupbone sobriquet into adulthood, by which time it generally became shortened to Soupy.

The Soupster moved to Cincinnati in 1949, where he worked in radio and as a performer in some of the area's seedy nightclubs. He began his television career on WKRC-TV with Soupy's Soda Shop (which is said by some to be the very first "Corny Collins"-style teenage dance television program) and Club Nothing!, a late-night variety show. Another variety TV show, Soupy's On!, followed in Cleveland a couple years later.

By 1953 Soupy was in Detroit, doing a puppet-filled kid's show called Lunch with Soupy Sales that ended up making him a nationwide success. The show, which changed its name to simply The Soupy Sales Show somewhere along the way, ran from 1953 to 1966, featuring many interesting guests for a kid's show, including Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis, Jr., and T-Bone Walker. This was probably the most awesome aspect of Soupiness, although playing Mrs. Drysdale's nephew on The Beverly Hillbillies and being parodied in a 1963 episode of The Jetsons as "Soapy Sam" is pretty damn cool too.

From 1968 to 1975, Sales was a regular panelist on What's My Line? and then was the host of a children's stunt show called Junior Almost Anything Goes. This ran on Saturday mornings for exactly one years, from September 1976 to September 1977. Next came The New Soupy Sales Show in 1978-1979, an attempt to recapture the glory of his 1960s show. It only aired 65 episodes, despite interesting guests like Alice Cooper.

Soupy's last TV starring role was 1983-1985, as the voice of Donkey Kong in the animated Saturday Morning Cartoon show Saturday Supercade.

Uncle Soupy spent the rest of the 1980s doing a radio show in NYC. His competitors in the market, Howard Stern and Don Imus, insulted and ridiculed him mercilessly on-air on their own shows. At least Soupy lived to see Imus' career hit rock bottom when Imus made racist remarks live on the radio. Soupy Sales, thou art avenged!

In addition to his bold TV surrealism, his promotion of puppetry, his biggest contribution to what we call Voraxical Theatre would be his show-within-the-show The Adventures of Philo Kvetch, wherein Soupy plays a noir-ish private detective (and actually smokes cigarettes on a children's show, which would be unthinkable in this politically correct era).

View: The Adventures of Philo Kvetch, Episode 8, Part 1

Monday, October 12, 2009

I'm Sailing On a Sunbeam

Lawrence Gray and the Duncan Sisters, with "I'm Sailing On a Sunbeam".

View: I'm Sailing On a Sunbeam (1929)

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Saturday, September 26, 2009

The Living Gasometer

Erik Jan Hanussen, in an article in Die Andere Welt (October-November 1931 issue), discussed various magical hoaxes, fakes, and tricks he had encountered in his career as a stage magician. Of them, the most baffling to me is the "Living Gasometer" stunt:

One day a young man came to me and showed me an amazing experiment. He placed a big steel siphon supposedly filled with acetylene gas in front of me, attached a tube to it, opened the valves, and apparently pumped his stomach full of flammable gas. He took an ordinary gas hose, which was attached to a bunsen burner, and then he ignited it. The gas - that was supposedly coming out of his stomach - flared up with bright, brilliant flames. The same stunt allowed the young man to cook two fried eggs on a gas stove from the gas, issued from a hose in his mouth; the Wonder-man also ignited a lamp, using ribbed tubing that was several meters long.

I was enraptured and awed by the feat until I was let in on the trick. Before the experiment, the Gas-Man places a sponge that is generously soaked in gasoline in his mouth. The fumes that are produced in the mouth feed the various combustibles. The whole time I wondered why my Living Gasometer was always so silent before his production started; today I don't wonder any more.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009


The Italian pop star Mina started as a rock and roller in 1959 and has recorded virtually every kind of music you can think of in the years since. Virtually unknown in America, she's immensely popular throughout Europe to this day.

According to Wikipedia:

Mina's TV appearances in 1959 presented the first female rocker in Italy. Her loud syncopated singing earned her the nickname "Queen of Screamers". For her wild gestures and body shakes, the publicity labeled her the "Tiger of Cremona". Having turned to light pop tunes, Mina's chart-toppers in West Germany and Japan in 1962–1964 earned her the title of best international artist in those countries. Originally in a surf rock style, her song "Renato" is now a pop standard in Estonia. Mina's more refined sensual manner was introduced in 1960 with Gino Paoli's ballad "Il cielo in una stanza", which charted in the Billboard Hot 100.

Mina's pregnancy and relationship with a married actor caused her to be banned from the public Italian channels in 1963 as her lifestyle did not accord with the dominant catholic and bourgeois morals. After the ban, the Italian broadcasting service RAI continued trying to prohibit her songs which were forthright in dealing with subjects such as religion, smoking, or sex (e.g. the songs "Ta-ra-ta-ta" and "Sacumdì Sacumdà"). To her "bad girl" image, Mina added a sexy appeal and a cool act featuring public smoking, dyed blond hair, and shaved eyebrows.

View: Gorni Kramer medley (1966)

View: "L'Orchestra" with Caterina Valente (1966)

View: "Spinning Wheel" (1972)

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Lid Lifters, Leisure, and Lopez

We need more Art Theatres, Fun Centers, and Smart Ballrooms.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Amalia Aguilar

Burlesque dancer/actress Amalia Aguilar, circa 1940s. Saith Wikipedia: "remembered for her films of the golden age of Mexican cinema, and called "The Tropical Whirlwind" in some reviews of the time due to her frantic form of dance."

View: Amalia Aguilar in Afro Mood, 1940s

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Let Dracula Die

From our Catclaw Theatre Diaries blog:

There's a whole universe of horror out there, so why must Actors Theatre of Louisville keep trotting out Dracula again and again, year after year? That's the question JSH asks in this week's Suspension of Disbelief, and provides a list of suggestions for spooky shows that might be a lot more interesting than the played-out old Bram Stoker bloodsucker. Read it here.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Appalachian Voodoo "Plankton" batt

New from Appalachian Voodoo Fibers!

Weight: 2.8 ounces. Contents: Merino, Alpaca, Firestar, Icicle, Angelina, Punta. Buy it here!

Saturday, August 22, 2009

The Magic Cloak of Oz

The Magic Cloak of Oz is a 1914 film directed by J. Farrell MacDonald, written and produced by L. Frank Baum, and co-produced by Louis F. Gottschalk. It's an adaptation of Baum's novel, Queen Zixi of Ix. The events of the film and the book take place in No-Land and Ix, two neighboring regions to the Land of Oz.

The music heard on this print is not the original score for the silent film, but rather is a hodgepodge of tunes taken from the 1902 Stage Musical of The Wizard of Oz. Those songs include "Just a Simple Girl From the Prairie", "The Traveler and the Pie", "My Little Maid of Oz", and "Phantom Patrol".

View: The Magic Cloak of Oz (1914)

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Monday, August 17, 2009

Cornelia Froboess

Cornelia "Conny" Froboess is a German actress and singer, perhaps best known for her schlager-pop teen idol years. Her first hit record was in 1951, at the age of 8, with the song "Pack Die Badehose Ein" (Pack Your Swimsuit).

Her film acting career spans from the 1962 Jean Renoir film The Elusive Corporal to 1973's Crazy, Total Verrückt to Werner Fassbinder's Veronika Voss in 1982. On the stage, she played Ellida in Ibsen's The Lady from the Sea in 1990. In 2004 she played Mary Tyrone in Eugene O'Neill's Long Day's Journey into Night and the title role in Bertolt Brecht and Margarete Steffin's Mother Courage and Her Children.

Here, we see two decidedly different sides of her, both taken from the 1959 German film Hula-Hopp, Conny.

View: Cornelia Froboess, "Diana" (1959)

View: Cornelia Froboess, "Mein Daddy" (1959)

Saturday, August 15, 2009

More Radio Theatre Gems

Since this week's installment of Suspension of Disbelief is revisiting this blog's posts on two 1960s attempts to revive the dying art of radio theatre - Theater Five and Black Mass - let's examine here some more dusty delights to download:

From 1970 to 1973, a syndicated radio show called The Devil and Mr. O repackaged old episodes of the 1930s/40s radio horror drama Lights Out, which can be heard here. From the archive-org entry's accompanying text:

Wyllis Cooper, who created, wrote, and produced it, was then a 36-year-old staffer in Chicago's NBC Studios. Cooper created his horror "by raiding the larder." For the purpose of Lights Out sound effects, people were what they ate. The sound of a butcher knife rending a piece of uncooked pork was, when accompanied by shrieks and screams, the essence of murder to a listener alone at midnight. Real bones were broken - spareribs snapped with a pipe wrench. Bacon in a frypan gave a vivid impression of a body just electrocuted. And the cannibalism effect was actually a zealous actor. Gurgling and smacking his lips as he slurped up a bowl of spaghetti. Cabbages sounded like human heads when chopped open with a cleaver, and carrots had the pleasant resonance of fingers being lopped off. Arch Oboler's celebrated tale of a man turned inside-out by a demonic fog was accomplished by soaking a rubber glove in water and stripping it off at the microphone while a berry basket was curshed at the same instant. The listener saw none of this. The listener saw carnage and death.

Dimension X was a short-lived but highly influential NBC radio program broadcast from April 8, 1950 to September 29, 1951. The first 13 episodes were broadcast live, which turned out to be a logistical nightmare, so the rest were pre-recorded. Later the television programs The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits would directly mimic this program.

An attempt was made to bring Dimension X back under the new name X Minus One, which ran from 1955 to 1958. Stories featured adaptations of cutting-edge Science Fiction writers like Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, Philip K. Dick, Robert A. Heinlein, Frederik Pohl and Theodore Sturgeon.

Meanwhile, The Hall of Fantasy ran in 1953 on the Mutual Radio Network, mixing inventive new scripts with older tales from the likes of Bram Stoker, Robert Louis Stevenson and Edgar Allan Poe.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Mr. and Mrs. Bluebeard

Greta Nissen and Joseph Marievesky as Mr. and Mrs. Bluebeard in No Foolin' (Ziegfeld American Revue of 1926)

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Rich Hayes

Still trying to find out more about the frightening-looking Mr.Hayes, since this old postcard piqued our interest. The book Vaudeville From The Honky Tonks To The Palace makes a passing mention:

There was a guy called Rebla who had a jerky style of juggling three balls (before W. C. Fields). Rich Hayes, who worked for Rebla at one time, was a very funny man in his own right and a fine juggler.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Kay Laurell

Kay Laurell, born in 1890. Appeared 96% nude in the Ziegfeld Follies as "September Morn" (photo above). Made a handful of films such as 1919's Valley of the Giants and 1921's Lonely Heart.

H.L. Mencken said she possessed "all the arts of the really first-rate harlot" and was "the most successful practitioner of her trade of her generation in New York." He stated, "Much of what I got from her, in fact, went into In Defense of Women".

(Photo below: Kay Laurell on the beach in Washington, D.C. circa 1922, accurately retro-colorized by Fredric Falcon on the wonderful photo site Shorpy.)



Despite the denial, apparently the incident was real, and it's unknown why she attempted the cover it up. She retired from showbiz in 1925, and died in 1927 of pneumonia.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Clean as a Whistle

A great striptease production number from the 1933 film Meet the Baron, which starred Jack Pearl, Jimmy Durante, Zasu Pitts, and the early Three Stooges when they still had the "Fourth Stooge" Ted Healy.

View: "Clean as a Whistle" from Meet the Baron (1933)

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Lotta Faust

Lotta Faust - surely that's not her real name! - was born in 1880 in Brooklyn, New York. She entered theatre at the age of 16, joining Denman Thompson's production of The Sunshine of Paradise Alley in 1896.

Her greatest fame came in 1904, in the role of Trixie Tryfle in the Broadway musical version of The Wizard of Oz. Her song "Sammy" was the biggest hit of the show, and like most of that production's libretto, it had little or not connection to the plot. Faust would break the Fourth Wall for the song, and pitch the love song directly to some (usually married) man in the audience each night, which was always good for laughs at the man's expense.

Her second biggest claim to fame was her scandalous scantily-clad Salome dance routine. According to Wikipedia:

During an interview she admitted to being unaware of the Biblical story of Salome. Her rendition of the Salome dance came from what she was told regarding the Wilde play. She said she felt as if she really were the 14-year-old Salome while she was dancing on stage. She experienced both the horror and fascination during her performances. For each appearance Faust danced as if she would never be able to repeat what she was doing. There were a number of other women who presented their versions of the Salome dance in the same era as Faust. Among these were Eva Tanguay, Vera Olcott, and Gertrude Hoffman.

Lotta died of pneumonia and complications following a surgery in January 1910, at a sanitarium on 33 East 33rd Street in New York City.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Aphra Behn

And then there's Aphra Behn, one of the greatest female playwrights of all time, and it's an unfortunate commentary on today's crop of scribblers that one has to go all the way back to the 1600s to find greatness such as hers.

In 1664, Aphra Johnson married a dutch fellow named Behn and settled down in England. According to Wikipedia, "Some scholars believe that the marriage never existed and Behn made it up purely to gain the status of a widow, which would have been much more beneficial for what she was trying to achieve. She was reportedly bisexual, and held a larger attraction to women than to men, a trait that, coupled with her writings and references of this nature, would eventually make her popular in the writing and artistic communities of the 20th century and present day".

In 1666 Aphra was recruited by the Royal Court as a secret agent to spy on Antwerp by Charles II. Her code name for her espionage was Astrea, a name she also used as a thinly-veiled pseudonym for her later writings. Aphra became the lover to a prominent and powerful member of royalty in the Netherlands, and from him she obtained important political secrets for use to the English monarchy's advantage during the Second Anglo-Dutch War. A spy in the house of love, indeed.

Somehow, despite her service for her country, she found herself penniless and sent to "debtor's prison". Wikipedia again: "By 1669 an undisclosed source had paid Behn's debts, and she was released from prison, starting from this point to become one of the first women who wrote for a living. She cultivated the friendship of various playwrights, and starting in 1670 she produced many plays and novels, as well as poems and pamphlets. Her most popular works included The Rover, Love-Letters Between a Nobleman and His Sister, and Oroonoko. Amongst her notable critics was Alexander Pope, against whom she has been defended."

What makes Behn so special is partially the startling openness of sexual topics for her time: incest, homoerotica, prostitution, crossdressing, lesbianism, and libertinism. The prostitute character Angellica Bianca in The Rover is widely regarded as being based on herself.

Of Behn's achievements, Virginia Woolf had this to say:

"All women together, ought to let flowers fall upon the grave of Aphra Behn... for it was she who earned them the right to speak their minds".

Other plays by Behn include: The Forced Marriage (1670), The Amorous Prince (1671), The Town Fop (1676), The Feigned Courtesans (1679), The City Heiress (1682), and The Emperor of the Moon (1687).

Quoting Wikipedia one more time: "Aphra Behn’s writing is unique for its time because of her use of the narrator’s voice and her innovative use of visual deceptions in her plays... Behn’s plays were also novel because she used visual cues in a way that they had never before been used. Dawn Lewcock comments on this ingenuity, saying "What is unique to Behn is not only her appreciation of the visual effects of a performance but also the way that she uses this to affect the perceptions of the audience and change their conception and comprehension of her plots and/or her underlying theme as she wishes by integrating the theatrical possibilities into her dramatic structure". Lewcock goes on to explain this with the mistaken identities present in The Amorous Prince where disguises play a crucial role in the plot of the play.

Behn's minor poetry, as collected in her Poems Upon Several Occasions (1684), is a veritable treasure-trove of her unabashed ideas about sexuality. These poems were written in the pastoral tradition, which she characterizes as specifically sexual. The world of the pastoral, which she fills with amorous shepherds and shepherdesses, creates for her a space in which to explore the nature and virtues of free love."