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Tell Mama All

Matt Bomer, who lost the plum role of Christian Grey in the movie version of Fifty Shades of Grey, has landed an even better part—iconic actor Montgomery Clift in an upcoming biopic. Bomer is one of the most gorgeous men working in Hollywood today, but when I heard he had been cast as Clift, I first thought, Is he good-looking enough? Bomer is hot, but Clift’s beauty is timeless: “He was so gorgeous you could hardly look at him,” remembered his biographer, Patricia Bosworth. Elizabeth Taylor, Clift’s leading lady in A Place in the Sun, thought Montgomery Clift was the “most gorgeous thing in the world.” When she met Clift for the first time, her “heart stopped”—and a lifelong friendship began. Director George Stevens cast Clift in 1951’s A Place in the Sun on the strength of the actor’s 1948 debut performances in The Search and Red River. Clift’s impact on audiences was electric. Journalist Caryl Rivers wrote, “I think every girl who saw him in the quiet dark of a movie theater of a Saturday afternoon fell in love with Montgomery Clift.” In Sun, Clift played George Eastman, a poor relation who falls hopelessly in love with Elizabeth Taylor’s Angela Vickers, an elusive rich girl. Stevens, who won a best director Oscar for Sun, filmed his beautiful young stars in intense close-ups. The camera’s intimacy heightens George and Angela’s longing as they confess their love for each other. It’s almost too much too bear. “Oh, Angela, if I could only tell you how much I love you. If I could only tell you all,” Clift wails. Taylor’s reply is the stuff movie legends are made of: “Tell Mama, tell Mama all.” The teenage Taylor developed a deep crush on Clift, who was struggling with his sexuality at the time. Taylor told The Advocate in 1996, “I was 18 or 19 when I helped him realize that he was homosexual, and I barely knew what I was talking about.” Clift was thrilled to have a confidant and gave Taylor the nickname Bessie Mae. After receiving his third best actor nomination, for From Here to Eternity, Clift was off the screen for three years. In 1956, eager to work with Taylor again, he accepted the lead in Raintree County, a turgid Civil War costume epic. Leaving a party at Taylor’s Beverly Hills home, Clift followed actor Kevin McCarthy down the twisty canyon road but crashed into a telephone pole. McCarthy ran back to Taylor’s house and shouted to call an ambulance; Taylor ran down the road, climbed into the wreckage and cradled Clift’s bloody head. He began to gag and pointed at his neck—he was choking on his teeth. Taylor opened his mouth, thrust her hand down his throat and pulled out the loose teeth herself. Her love and loyalty to her wounded friend continued when she faced off against the press and photographers who had gathered at the accident scene. Taylor told them that if they dared to shoot Clift in this condition, she would never let them photograph her again. No pictures were taken. Thanks to her, Clift survived, but even after reconstructive surgery, his once beautiful face would never be the same. Clift made eight films after the accident, including Suddenly, Last Summer with Taylor in 1959. Taylor’s husband Richard Burton wistfully told Clift, “Monty, Elizabeth likes me, but she loves you.” Desperate to help Clift—by 1966, his painkiller and alcohol abuse had rendered him too risky to hire—Taylor used her own salary as insurance so he could be cast in Reflections in a Golden Eye. Before its filming began, however, Clift died in his Manhattan townhouse, on July 23, 1966. He was only 45 years old. Acting teacher Robert Lewis called the decade between Clift’s car accident and his death the “longest suicide in history.” But I would rather give Taylor, Clift’s Bessie Mae, the last word on the most beautiful man in movies: “I loved him deeply. He was my brother, my dearest friend.” Photo courtesy of Everett CONNECTS_Montgomery-Clift

by Colin J. Warnock

Sep 2, 2014

Happy Labor Day—Celebrate It Right

Labor Day is upon us. Though summer doesn’t officially end for a few more weeks, this is the season’s de facto swan song. For some scholars, the long weekend provides a few more days of freedom before classes resume; for the fashion conscious, it’s the last chance to put on white bucks and a seersucker suit. Those who are autumnally inclined may chirp about the sprightly crispness of the air, while soulful depressives feel a sense of denouement and detect a slight whiff of decay on the waning summer breezes. The poetic among us may take comfort in John Steinbeck’s observation, “What good is the warmth of summer, without the cold of winter to give it sweetness?” Many of us celebrate the holiday with backyard barbecues, the final blowout grilling sessions that have become as much of an American tradition as the Thanksgiving Day feast. We also head to the mall in droves to take advantage of Labor Day sales (only the Friday after Thanksgiving marks a bigger shopping frenzy). While browsing the aisles, we may pause to ask, Isn’t it a bit ironic that all those sales folks are working on a holiday meant to celebrate the American worker? Which brings up another question: Why do we get Labor Day off? In a nutshell, that’s because in 1882 a worker’s group, the Central Labor Union, staged a parade in New York City to celebrate its members. Within a few years, the first Monday in September had become the official national workingman’s holiday. Back then, unions were fighting hard for such rights as the eight-hour workday. Since then, the labor movement has helped secure the minimum wage, health insurance, Social Security and Medicare. But just as most of us join Labor Day celebrations without considering the significance of the holiday, American workers are giving less and less thought to labor unions themselves these days. Deregulation, an increase in imports, a shift from mass production to high-tech industries and a number of other factors have chipped away at labor union membership, which now stands at about half of what it was in 1980. I’ve been seething as Wisconsin governor and 2016 presidential hopeful Scott Walker has maneuvered to pass Act 10, a bill that severely restricts the power of public union employees to bargain collectively—all the more insidious since the public sector constitutes a significant portion of labor union membership. It’s also a sort of personal affront, since my labor activist aunt and uncle were longtime friends and colleagues of Wisconsin governor and later senator Gaylord Nelson, who in 1959 signed a law that made his state the first to grant public sector unions the right to negotiate contracts. And don’t even mention that nerdy little congressman from Wisconsin (let’s just call him P.R.), also a current presidential hopeful, who’s hell-bent on dismantling Social Security and other entitlements labor unions fought so hard to earn. These are pretty weighty affairs to ponder during summer’s last hurrah. You may just want to relax, which is, after all, what the holiday is all about. If you’re feeling altruistic, you might quietly reflect on the words of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who said, “It is…a fundamental individual right of a worker to associate himself with other workers and to bargain collectively with his employer.” Just don’t let the burgers burn. Photo courtesy of Everett CONNECTS_Labor-Day

by Stephen Brewer

Aug 29, 2014

Five Cats You Need to Know Now

In the pre-internet days, dogs ruled the roost. Think big studio names like Lassie, Toto and Snoopy. The Garfields and the anonymous “Hang in There” poster cats of the world were relegated to musty corners of comic book stalls and card shops. But the digital revolution has transformed cats into the disruptive entity of the celebrity pet business. In a word, they’re inescapable. With the inherent democracy of the internet, however, there’s a lot of chaff and very little wheat. Of course, the cat of the moment is Tardar Sauce, a.k.a. Grumpy Cat. Few can reach the heights of fame the Sauce has scaled: In a few short years she has amassed more than 6 million Facebook likes, made countless personal and television appearances and graced the front pages of The Wall Street Journal and New York magazine. She’s even a published author—witness her authoritative Grumpy Book—and has inspired a line of licensed products, including some coveted Grumpy Cat plushes. She proved a cat can truly have it all. Inspired by her success, many others are hungrily vying for the unofficial title of It Cat. Lil Bub has long been nipping at Grumpy’s heels, while Princess Monster Truck and Maru wait patiently in the digital wings. But allow us to introduce you to a new crop of fresh-faced upstarts that threaten to topple Grumpy from her gilded throne faster than you can say “Keyboard Cat.” Burton
With his icy blue eyes and steel-gray coat, Burton is a standout in seven grain at BreadedCats.com. Often called eccentric and reclusive, he is rumored to be intensely preparing for his next role—pumpernickel.
Burton Opie
Opie, a curvy Scottish fold, has gotten some insider buzz for his independent sitting and standing (SNS, for short) work at the Love Meow blog. In 2015 he hopes to cross over into more mainstream sites. He’s also a cat on a mission, dedicating his spare time to Scottish fold causes.
Opie Milla
A natural in front of the camera, Milla, another Scottish fold, is based in L.A. and is said to be named for another timeless beauty, actor Milla Jovovich. Ever the Hollywood scenester, this fetching feline boasts a potent Instagram presence.
Milla Dora
Dora recently raised eyebrows for her demure, nuanced work as “Dora in a Toque” for the Stuff on My Cat website. Ironically, Dora is a self-described homebody and first got into internet work to get over her shyness. Kudos, Dora!
Dora Ninja
Another recent standout at Stuff on My Cat, which is quickly becoming a virtual star factory, Ninja evinced consummate poise when piled under four of his plushy fellows. “Dedication and focus” would seem to be his mantra. Indeed.
Ninja Photo courtesy of kyknoord/Flickr CULTUREMAP_Hello-Kitties

by David Pfister

Aug 28, 2014

“Mulan the Musical”: Celebrating Feminine Fortitude

The last few weeks of summer leave avid New York theatergoers with slim pickings, outside of the unwieldy Fringe Festival’s hit-or-miss offerings. Fortunately the dearth of new productions prompted me to catch up with Mulan the Musical, a spectacular show that has been playing since June at La MaMa, the legendary experimental theater space in downtown Manhattan. Tucked away in this East Village venue—whose historical championing of a low-tech, avant-garde aesthetic is at odds with this show’s extravagance—Mulan is a dazzling, family-friendly surprise. The 75-minute thrill ride is performed by Beijing’s Red Poppy Ladies, an internationally renowned troupe of 12 female percussionists, founded in 2000. The Ladies have given concerts in more than 30 countries but may be most familiar to sports fans, after their appearances at the Olympic Games in Athens, Beijing and London. These young women are fiercely talented! Not only do they serve up rousing, yet expressively nuanced, synchronized drumming routines, in Mulan they also dance, sing, act, tumble, mime, juggle and do kung fu. Mulan is based on the 1,600-year-old Chinese folktale made famous in 1998 by the eponymous Academy Award–winning Disney animated film. It tells the story of a strong, brave girl named Hua Mulan, who disguises herself as a young man in order to replace her ailing father as a soldier in the emperor’s army. Though Mulan is Chinese and proves her mettle fighting the Huns, her tale carries a timely cross-cultural relevance: As the United States commemorates the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, we’re hearing similar stories of American women who disguised themselves as male soldiers, just as, at other times in our history, women cross-dressed to participate in many occupations reserved for men. Like the most sophisticated sort of musical-theater choreography—which reflects a story’s larger themes by going beyond just advancing the plot or developing a character—Mulan’s staging provides many imaginative reflections of its theme of feminine fortitude. Bright red handheld fans, typically associated with flirty femininity, augment pretty body movements in a girly ensemble dance, as might be expected. However, each time that coquettish accessory is flipped open or shut, it makes a startlingly loud clack, a no-nonsense noise bespeaking the young ladies’ considerable strength. The delicate dancing then shifts into a frenzied drumming sequence in which the women bang furiously on big tub-shaped drums with intimidating speed and intricacy. Their flawless rhythmic precision is even more impressive combined with the choreographed lifts and throws of their mallets and the unison turns and twists of their torsos. Yet the whole time they’re wowing us with their physical prowess, their long black ponytails swing back and forth with playful girlishness. Whether the performers are twirling nunchaku, gracefully fighting martial arts battles, sporting elaborate Beijing Opera–style masks and tickling us with slapstick and song, or punctuating their ferocious drumming with harplike arpeggios sounded by rippling finger movements, their commingling of conventionally feminine and masculine traits is what fuels the action. Mulan the Musical runs through September 13 at La MaMa and will tour Europe for two months beginning in January 2015. See it if you can. Photo courtesy of Red Poppy Ladies CONNECTS_Hua-Mulan

by Lisa Jo Sagolla

Aug 27, 2014