Friday, June 21, 2013

Well, Shut Mah Mouth!, Dept.

There's a word.  When, you know, you take delicious Freude from someone's Schaden?  I swear, it's on the tip of my tongue.

Oh, Paula, Paula, Paula.  Your vision of ol' Rastus from down de Big House, smilin' an' shuckin' an' stoopin' an' bowin' before de Massa Lady has doomed you to shocking pink skin and a pungent, lasting stink.

Today, she was fired off Food Network, which originally launched her, her death-by-lard repertoire and her two personality-free sons into an orbit of dripping celebrity.  Her reputational recovery challenges aside, the question for her empire is: Does a sizable enough portion of her audience and clientele speak in private, even to the present day, as she did?  And is there another slice of her demographic deep-dish triple-cream pie chart that'll say: Well, she's sorry, you know, it's Chrischun to forgive?; hey, pass th' butter-fried butter and th' bacon treacle, would'ja, hon?

Are they in preproduction for Meryl Streep's Paula yet?

Friday, June 07, 2013

Beware of Crete's Barren Glyphs, Dept.

Margalit Fox, The Riddle of the Labyrinth

Just finished this a few days ago, and it was quite excellent.  A history of the effort to translate the tablets written in Linear B that were found on Crete as part of Arthur Evans' 1900 excavation at Knossos and subsequently on the Greek mainland.  The book focuses on the three principal players in the translation effort: Evans; Michael Ventris, the British architect and language prodigy who eventually cracked the code; and Alice Kober, the American classicist and college professor whose meticulous efforts laid the groundwork for Ventris' eventual success.

As much as a fascinating history of this intellectual crusade, the book is an effort to claim for Kober the credit she'd been denied in her time and since.  She died young, before Ventris finished, and her own reticence and painstaking diligence prevented her from making the sorts of claims that would've drawn attention to her efforts and successes.  And, of course, she was a woman academic at a more-benighted time in American history.

Two thumbs up.  The author is a New York Times journalist--she works in The Grey Lady's obituary department--who trained as a linguist, so she is doubly qualified to write about both overlooked lives and those spent in the pursuit of the key to a language.

Thursday, June 06, 2013

Water Life, Dept.

Film actress Esther Williams has died at 91.

Despite being a musicals fan, I don't think I've ever seen an Esther Williams film straight through.  Since childhood, I've known what they look like.  And, thanks to That's Entertainment!, feel that I've seen all the best bits of her MGM oeuvre.

She did not, from what I read today, have an easy life, between abusive or parasitic men and the wear and tear (ruptured eardrums, broken neck) of doing all her own water work.  And, from what she wrote in her autobiography The Million Dollar Mermaid, her co-workers weren't any help.

According to the book, when she, in likely her biggest non-swimming role, made 1949's Take Me Out to the Ball Game, Stanley Donen and co-star Gene Kelly, who co-wrote the story and collaborated on the musical staging, were utter dicks who made her the butt of their jokes, an experience she describes as "pure misery."

She also can't have been pleased, eight years later, when Silk Stockings featured Janis Paige in the role of a dipsomaniacal swimming movie star who constantly whacks at her head to knock out the water though she's nowhere near a pool and who answers a reporter's question regarding what she thinks of Tolstoy (whose War and Peace she's filming as a musical)by saying, "There's absolutely no truth to the rumors; we're just good friends."

At any rate, she left behind a ton of onscreen charisma and some of the most OTT musical numbers in film history (the above done by Busby Berkeley, somehow unsurprisingly).  If you've never seen her, That's Entertainment really is the best collection of, and introduction to, her work.