CALLAHAN TORMEY

wehadfacesthen:

"It took more than one man to change my name to Shanghai Lily."

Marlene Dietrich and Clive Brook in Shanghai Express  (Josef von Sternberg, 1932)

(Source: bellecs)

— 10 hours ago with 381 notes
Me and Mrs. Rosenberg

image

I used to live in a high rise apartment building in Chicago, Illinois that had an overwhelmingly large population of Jewish widows. I ended up becoming quite friendly with many of them. Cookie, Thelma, Harriet, Eleanor. A veritable stable of adopted Bubbies. I recently finished writing a fictionalized short story of some of these ladies for issue three of Majestic Disorder magazine. They were and are darling yentas, who elevated matzo ball soup to pure delight. My favorite part of my days spent in that building was walking down a mezuzah lined hallway and happily bumping into one of them and getting involved into a long kvetch about some meschuga thing that had happened.

Perhaps because these ladies are on my brain, having just finished the short story for which they were the basis, but I keep thinking of Joan Rivers and the increasingly bleak reports of her health. It seems more and more unlikely that she will pull through this dilemma, and if she does, that she will be quite the same, her brain already having suffered some damage from the amount of time she was without oxygen. 

A lot of people have quite visceral reactions to Joan, many can’t stand her. I’ve always adored her, for perhaps some obvious reasons. Her husband’s name was Edgar Rosenberg and in my mind, in a sense, I’ve always thought of her as Mrs. Rosenberg. She’s like those ladies I lived with. A yenta of a certain age. Mrs. Rosenberg, who happens to tell dirty jokes for a living. 

Of course that’s not the image she always presented to the world. And for some, it’s impossible to see beyond her Borscht Belt brashness, which I think it could be said quite a bit of is rooted in anti-semitism or misogyny. Nothing quite so feared as an opinionated woman. And an opinionated old woman? Why didn’t she know her place?

Joan never knew her place. She was doing abortion jokes before Roe V. Wade. “I had this girlfriend. Wore white to her wedding. Wore white! Every usher went ha! I’m telling you this girl, she’d had 14 appendectomies, if you know what I’m saying. Back and forth to Puerto Rico.” 

Even as recent as the last month or so she was doing Anne Frank jokes in promotions for her latest book, “Diary of a Mad Diva.” “Anne Frank, I know her quite well and god she never shuts up. ‘I’m an author, I’m an author. ‘One book, Anne, I say to her! I’ve written twelve books. Yours doesn’t even have an ending! ‘The Nazis are coming up the…’ The what, Anne?! Coming up the what?!” 

To people who are offended by such jokes, Joan was asking them to be smarter. Think beyond their politically correct mindset. She made us laugh by being so outlandish, yes, but she was also trying to remind us of the Holocaust, remind us of back alley abortions, not let go of these topics. Not let go of the anger, the indignation. Her own version of “Never forget.” I passed a store the other day and in the front window was a coat, lined with wide horizontal stripes of black and gray. It was a rumpled looking material. In my mind, I immediately clucked, and thought to myself “Auschwitz chic?” And then I thought, “Joan would know what I mean.” She did much the same with jokes about the Iraq war. 

And sometimes the jokes didn’t always quite land. She’s not afraid to bomb. Some comedians get to a point after however many HBO specials or selling so many tickets that they lose that ability to go to the scary place that stand up is. After doing stand up for fifty some years, she remained fresh by constantly trying, ever earnest in her attempts. to go to those places and talk about things that many people don’t want to talk about. Some would rather forget.

Her most well known phrase, of course, is “Can we talk?” Usually peppered after some punch line where she says something truly outrageous, “Oh please! Can we talk?” Meaning can we get real? Can we just be honest about this situation, people? My favorite thing that I’ve noticed she says quite often, but less conspicuously, is after landing a punchline, she does this conversational tick, where she says, “It is just…” drifting off, never finishing the thought. “My vagina is so dry, I took a bath the other day and all the water went whoosh! (audience laughs, she keeps going) It is just….” 

Even though Joan still remains on life support and hasn’t left us, I’ve been thinking a lot about who she was and how she’s gone through life. It seems silly, perhaps even hackneyed to have to state the obvious, but there’s not a lot of acknowledgement of who Joan really was. That she was one of the few women to blaze that trail. Trailblazer, such a cliche. And she would hate the use of the word more than anybody. “I’m not ready to be thanked,” she said in the 2010 documentary on her. There seems to be a little more awareness of her contributions because of that documentary. Not enough in my mind. 

I’m not a comedian but I’ll say thank you anyway because I’m grateful for her. Grateful for her existence. For going to those scary places, for reminding us about injustices and for making us laugh while reminding us. She was more than “Who are you wearing?” She was Mrs. Rosenberg too. The fearless Mrs. Rosenberg. And the thought that the world might not have her for much longer? It is just….

— 1 day ago with 8 notes
#Joan Rivers 
"Change your hair, change your politics, change your tax bracket. Reinvent yourself, my dear, or the world will pass you by. Keep changing and when one door shuts, you’ll turn the knob and open another."
Virginia George Kaplan
— 3 days ago with 1 note
operaqueen:

Angela Lansbury and Bea Arthur, rehearsing for the original Broadway production of Mame. 1966.

operaqueen:

Angela Lansbury and Bea Arthur, rehearsing for the original Broadway production of Mame. 1966.

— 1 week ago with 1051 notes
#Mame  #Angela Lansbury  #Bea Arthur 
The first few months after our wedding, I spent hours every day on the sofa, just reading. Now that I no longer had a proper job, life felt like a permanent holiday! Gianni was worried. He could see I had no aptitude for domestic concerns. One day I received a phone call from Contessa Volpi, a Venetian “dragoness” who owned magnificent houses and was known for her savoir faire as a hostess. Gianni had obviously asked her to come to my rescue. “You must come and see me,” the old lady roared imperiously into the phone. “I hear that you don’t know how to run a home.” That’s when she told me a line I shall never forget: “Remember, my dear girl,” she said, “all one needs to catch a husband may be a bed, but it takes a whole house to keep one!”
Contessa Volpi taught me many things, some more useful than others: how many pairs of sheets one needs for each bed, where to have them embroidered with one’s initials, how many porcelain services one needs—things like that. She also gave me counseling on the number of servants needed for each house, where to have their uniforms made, and how to manage their working hours. She taught me the importance of good “placement” for formal dinners and how to create a successful menu. Contessa Volpi tried to teach me to be parsimonious, something she excelled at. After every dinner she personally smashed all the empty wine bottles. “But why?,” I asked naïvely. “That way,” she answered, “staff won’t be tempted, at future dinners, to claim that more wine has been consumed than in reality, swindling the extra bottles for themselves.”
- Marella Agnelli, “Marella Agnelli: The Last Swan”

The first few months after our wedding, I spent hours every day on the sofa, just reading. Now that I no longer had a proper job, life felt like a permanent holiday! Gianni was worried. He could see I had no aptitude for domestic concerns. One day I received a phone call from Contessa Volpi, a Venetian “dragoness” who owned magnificent houses and was known for her savoir faire as a hostess. Gianni had obviously asked her to come to my rescue. “You must come and see me,” the old lady roared imperiously into the phone. “I hear that you don’t know how to run a home.” That’s when she told me a line I shall never forget: “Remember, my dear girl,” she said, “all one needs to catch a husband may be a bed, but it takes a whole house to keep one!”

Contessa Volpi taught me many things, some more useful than others: how many pairs of sheets one needs for each bed, where to have them embroidered with one’s initials, how many porcelain services one needs—things like that. She also gave me counseling on the number of servants needed for each house, where to have their uniforms made, and how to manage their working hours. She taught me the importance of good “placement” for formal dinners and how to create a successful menu. Contessa Volpi tried to teach me to be parsimonious, something she excelled at. After every dinner she personally smashed all the empty wine bottles. “But why?,” I asked naïvely. “That way,” she answered, “staff won’t be tempted, at future dinners, to claim that more wine has been consumed than in reality, swindling the extra bottles for themselves.”

- Marella Agnelli, “Marella Agnelli: The Last Swan”

— 1 week ago with 4 notes
#Marella Agnelli  #Contessa Volpi  #I want a Contessa Volpi in my life 
"But surely you must have despised the man after all he had done to you?”
We were crossing the long aqueduct through the lagoons which leads to Venice-Mestre, but there were no signs of the beautiful city, only tall chimneys with pale gas flames hardly visible in the late-afternoon sunlight. I was not expecting my aunt’s outburst.
She turned on me with real fury as though I were a child who had carelessly broken some vase she had cherished over the years for its beauty and the memories it contained. “I despise no one,” she said, “no one. Regret your own actions, if you like that kind of wallowing self-pity, but never, never despise. Never presume yours is a better morality."

Travels With My Aunt by Graham Greene

— 2 weeks ago with 1 note
#Travels With My Aunt  #Graham Greene  #Travel  #morality 

Radio production of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? starring Elaine Stritch.

— 4 weeks ago with 24 notes
#Elaine Stritch  #Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf  #Radio play