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Images from Broadway cast recordings and movie soundtrack recordings, especially the sizable LP covers, can take me back to little Martha sitting on the floor of her childhood bedroom rapt, absorbing entire scores, imagining the linking dialog, wondering about stage moments.  Sure, I didn’t use that language then, but that’s what my screwed up little face was doing.  Where were people standing, what happened before the song and after the song and how did the people look when they were singing the songs? I listened to The Sound of Music (1965) day and night for weeks on end after I’d seen the movie, and came to the Mary Martin and Theodore Bikel 1959 version later when I discovered it amongst my mother’s LPs downstairs.  Because I was quite aware of Julie Andrews, from The Sound of Music movie and Mary Poppins (1964, another disc I played all day every day until I knew every word), and I’d been taken to see My Fair Lady (1964) that same year I was 5 at the Fisher Theater (did they show the movie in the stage theatre section of the building?  I have no idea) on a visit with my mother to Detroit relatives after my very first plane ride.  I felt like a princess.  And I of course had no idea that Julie Andrews’ spirit informed My Fair Lady too — the role that should have been hers but if she hadn’t been passed over, she wouldn’t have been available for Mary Poppins and THEN where would we be?  All of us, pining for the perfect beautiful nanny mother, even when we had wonderful mothers who were, more often than not, wittier and perhaps just as beautiful but maybe not first thing in the morning.

I did soon figure out the Andrews connection to My Fair Lady in mom’s LP collection and that haunting, funny, scary Hirschfeld drawing), and moved on to that same year’s Broadway recording of Funny Girl (1964) — I memorized the cast recording long before the film released in 1968.  And I was probably among a minority of 10-year-old viewers of the film who immediately bemoaned the absence in the film of “His Is The Only Music That Makes Me Dance” from the stage score.  And my heart’s embrace of  Judy at Carnegie  Hall (1961) about this same time period (again thank mom) brought another magic voice, another storyteller in song, into my life.  And more iconic album cover art.  (I go on about this recording and memories of mom in a blog entry last April: http://wp.me/p1dUHf-lb.)

As I get a bit older I meander in the Sondheim direction.  A Little Night Music (1973) won my soul during its first month on Broadway in its initial run, a treat among many others during my first trip to New York City from the American Midwest.  This original album is now framed on my bedroom/office wall, as is a copy of Judy at Carnegie Hall, and several other memorable album images.  Graphic art — it makes us happy.

And all that informs my response today to a current display at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center.  Truth be told, I was wandering through the building today on my way from the Lincoln Center plaza side toward Amsterdam Avenue.  In the hallway between point A on the building’s east side and point B on the west, I chance upon a current display “Design: Fraver — Four Decades of Theatre Poster Art” that stops me in my tracks.  So many familiar images, so some images recently cherished.  The 2002 Kennedy Center Sondheim Celebration festival cover image for a summer long festival during which I saw most offerings as a then-resident of Washington DC.  Some images evoke distant memories — such as Fraver’s design for the poster (and program) art for Circle in the Square‘s Night of the Iguana in 1976.  I saw this 1976 production, probably on one of my frequent 5-plays-in-a-weekend trips to NYC from Harvard.  While I had forgotten the year of that viewing, the exhilaration (and slight panic) of those student days of eager absorption and thrilling experiences came back in a wash.

And a final treat in this exhibit:  the designer’s poster for the upcoming Follies production at the Kennedy Center.  From the wall plaque, the designer’s own words: “After many concepts, the poster that I felt really captured the essence of the show was the ripped and faded wall of past Follies attractions creating a showgirl’s face.”  I may not be able to see this new production but I can still trill to this image.  “In Buddy’s Eyes”, “I’m Still Here”, “Could I Leave You?”.

And it all starts with a poster image.  Show iconography.  Sense memories.  Yes.

© Martha Wade Steketee (March 8, 2011)

Judy Garland on set. A Star is Born (1954).

Katharine Hepburn on location. Summertime (1955)

Since mid December 2010 on tumblr — a blogging site that seems best suited to sharing images quickly and seamlessly as a  kind of “blogging lite” — I have been playing with a theme, a meme,  of “lolling”.  Lolling as a way of selecting (from thousands) and sharing images from the movies and performances of Katharine Hepburn and of Judy Garland I have been collecting from fan sites and other means over the past few years.

[My main tumblr page is at msteketee [dot] tumblr [dot] com.  My “archives” page which displays text and image entries like a proof sheet, is at msteketee [dot] tumblr [dot] com [forward slash] archive.  The site is like the wild west and I’m not sure I’ll keep a blog there, but for the time being, there it is.]

I selectively have now made my way through the Hepburn oeuvre, then the Garland oeuvre, movie by movie (with the occasional play thrown in for Hepburn), in alphabetical order.  I select for image quality, I prefer black and white, and for this run through the riches it’s all about the lolling.

“lolling — present participle of loll (Verb)1. Sit, lie, or stand in a lazy, relaxed way: “the two girls lolled in their chairs”.2. Hang loosely; droop: “he slumped against a tree trunk, his head lolling back”.”— Merriam-Webster – The Free Dictionary

I have been playing with the idea that in these publicity portraits, production stills, screen captures, on set encounters something might be revealed about each actress.  Perhaps.  Lolling between takes and at rest and posing and chatting with colleagues.  Moments of repose in public by two women who lived very public lives.  Two icons, two women I greatly admire for their talent and in part how they each quite differently lived their lives.  One was present and reserved.  One was present and may have given, willingly given, a great deal of herself away.  In Anna Deavere Smith‘s show Let Me Down Easy (her musings through multiple characters on health and culture and end of life), she quotes the DC sports writer Sally Jenkins on the nature of athletes and their attitudes towards their mortal coil: “Athletes aren’t happy unless they’re actually used up.”  I wonder whether this personality attribute might relate in different measure to Hepburn and Garland.  Long-haul, family home to visit then live in, paced life style with consistency of routine and sense of place versus shifting residence, performance focused.  I refrain from further assertions or conclusions, but the concept is for me evocative.

Katharine Hepburn on set. Bringing Up Baby (1938).

We have beauty.  Check.  We have presence.  Check.  We have focus.  Check.  We have intensity.  Check.  And here we may be venturing into the areas that, from our vantage point outside the lives of these outsized characters …  I’ll reach for quotations by others now to elaborate some thoughts.  Then leave this post with some final images.

Hepburn’s great friend Garson Kanin, for a time estranged and finally reconciled, wrote of her and of her several-decade relationship with Spencer Tracy in 1971’s Tracy and Hepburn: An Intimate Memoir.  (The fact of this book, that Kanin would dare to write about the open secret of their relationship, caused the estrangement from Hepburn.  At some point after  Ruth Gordon passed away and Kanin was married to Marian Seldes, there was a “life is too short” moment and all parties decided to forgive and be friends again.) Observations by a witty and fine writer about several witty and fine human beings, creates quotable language on almost every page about Kate.  Each word relates to the “lolling” meme in my mind: Hepburn had her own style in every moment, and a lanky ease.   Tracy and Hepburn, p. 152:

“In the largest sense, Katharine Hepburn’s popularity has never waned because people know (magically, intuitively) that she stands for something, even if many of them have no clear idea as to what that something is.  They recognize that in a time of dangerous conformity, and the fear of being different, here is one who stands up gallantly to the killing wave.”

Judy Garland on set. In The Good Old Summertime (1949).

Several contemporaries and colleagues of Garland provide reflections on her style, focus, intensity. John Fricke‘s Judy Garland: The World’s Greatest Entertainer (1992) features a range of intriguing commentary from the era of A Star is Born.  On page 145, Doris Day is quoted:

“Some Hollywood faces seem to have been made for cameras.  Judy had such a face — right, left, up, down, it didn’t matter…. She was one of the funniest, wittiest ladies I have ever known, a marvelous conversationalist who would set me laughing until I actually doubled over…. [Garland was] the most tightly wound person I ever knew…. She kept so much of herself locked up, but what she did let out was beautiful.”

Judy Garland and George Cukor on set. A Star is Born (1954).

And a final present.  Our women together on the set of the movie in which one starred, directed by the husband of the other.  Focus, intensity, beauty in repose.

Vincente Minnelli, Judy Garland, Katharine Hepburn on set. Undercurrent (1946).

© Martha Wade Steketee (January 24, 2011)

I read plays.  I attend plays.  I review plays.  I quickly note fragments of dialogue that capture my fancy.  Tickle my funny bone.  Pick your whimsical reference.  During last night’s Golden Globes telecast I engaged in a Twitter spree I summarize here, inspired by this instinct to capture quips and turns of phrase that delight me.

(“Twitter spree” — is that an existing or new Twitter phrase?  I use it to mean  that sudden spate of Twitter activity inspired by a live event communally experienced.  Oscars, Emmys, Golden Globes inspire this play-by-play commentator in me who usually hangs back.)

These are ordered sequentially as I noted them, during the broadcast, Eastern time, from 9pm to 11pm, plus a little red carpet action.  The action begins with one line from Jane Lynch on the red carpet.  I shall annotate in square brackets some context for each of the 14 phrases listed here.  Sequential not preferential order.  You can make your own decision on that score.

  • “I have slept with Brad Pitt but I never met him”. [Jane Lynch, who had just met Brad Pitt on the carpet, when asked on the Red Carpet whether they had met before.]
  • “Just don’t look at it when you touch it” [Gervais advice to Hugh Hefner’s new fiance.]
  • “Ashton Kuchner’s dad Bruce Willis” [Gervais doing the introductions]
  • “Screw that, kids”  [Chris Colfer in his charming acceptance speech for his sometimes bullied gay character on Glee, telling the kids out there who are told not to dream big what to say about that.]
  • “Holly effing crap” [dang who said this? it was in an acceptance speech.]
  • “Are these porn films?” [Gervais again, in listing film titles for one of the presenters]
  • “Don’t turn the channel, we’re still stars”. Steve Carell. [upon taking the stage with Tina Fey to present.]
  • “I am nothing if not falsely humble.” [Jane Lynch accept for her role in Glee]
  • “Those few hours we spent at the Maritime Motel”  [Surprised Melissa Leo addressing the producer, I believe, of the movie that got her the award, thankful for what got her there, who didn’t think through the double entendre in her choice of words.]
  • “Thank you to public school teachers. you don’t get paid like it, but you’re doing the most important work in america”  [one of the Glee folks accepting]
  • “Right now this is all that stands between me and a Harley Davidson” [Colin Firth on his award and approaching a big birthday.]
  • “I think I can cope with just about any age as long as I can still see her.” [Colin Firth on that same big birthday and his adorable adoration for his partner.]
  • “There has got to be an easier way to get a standing ovation”.  [Michael Douglas on taking stage, post cancer recovery]
  • “Thank you to god for making me an atheist” [Ricky Gervais as the credits were rolling.]

I have edited out my random references to fashion and other details and focus, instead, on the list I began assembling, on the fly, of contenders for favorite lines of the night.  Instant commentary is so much fun, and often results in lists unlike those that appear on news shows the day after.  Thank you all for playing.

My usually blather-y Twitter feed located here: http://twitter.com/msteketee

© Martha Wade Steketee (January 17, 2011)

I seek life lessons from many sources.  Plays I’m reading (often in a hurry, often on a deadline, often after which I am challenged to commit to a report my reactions and responses), books I devour, movies I adore, chance encounters, billboards, overheard dialogue fragments.  Often the dis-embodied, uncontextualized sentence is the most fun, right?  Make your own meaning, enjoy the turn of phrase, no obligation to make the pieces fit.

About a year ago I attended a screening of a 1926 silent as part of some research I have been privileged to conduct as dramaturg on an evolving project about Dorothy Ponedel.  One of the first female make-up artists in the movies, friend to stars, intriguing gal.  When she first arrived in Hollywood she made her way into the movies as an extra, often uncredited.  Sandy is one of those outings during which Dot has about 20 seconds of screen time in various guises, usually in group scenes.  My blog entry about that screening in November 2009 here: http://wp.me/p1dUHf-j

I recently looked through some snapshots I took with my cell phone during the screening (we had the “don’t tell me I don’t want to know” go-ahead from the sympathetic projectionist) and came across some of these little pearls of wisdom.  Dialogue cards from the movie, but fun to consider as chance bits of wisdom in the “life lesson” frame of mind.  I may or may not annotate these myself.  I leave them here for your ruminations.

For more about this film, see: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0017344/

© Martha Wade Steketee (January 7, 2011)

In the middle of the Dream Factory, Hollywood city of symbols, rises a temple to movies and handprints, footprints (and hoof and paw prints) in the front courtyard — Grauman’s Chinese  Theatre.  Plans and construction happened in 1926 (and perhaps before).  The building held its Grand Opening on May 18, 1927, and was opened to the public the following day.  [Building history summarized here: http://www.manntheatres.com/chinese/.]

So other than appreciating the locale, its role in American movie history, and the pageantry surrounding the movies and people who are part of the movie industry, what does this all have to do with me?  It has to do with images on paper.  In blueprint blue.

Over the past five years or so, I have developed a business relationship with a rare book dealer located in Manhattan.  When he and I first began discussing items of interest to me (anything related to Judy Garland and Katharine Hepburn and old Hollywood and the theatre — we talk about a huge array of items and the vast majority are far far far out of my financial league), I lived in Washington, DC.  During the time we have been communicating via email and mail I have lived in Washington, DC, Chicago, IL, Philadelphia, PA, and now New York, NY.  Through the years I have purchased play scripts and film scripts, some that have come with published first edition hard cover copies of the scripts or movie stills or other treats.  And over the past few years I have been tantalized by an offering that was available for a while, then purchased, then recently available for sale again — two images for which my dealer pal arranged a massively reasonable price for me in exchange for several items in my possession and some cash and a future sale — it gets complicated. Two beautiful 1926 construction blueprints for Grauman’s Chinese Theatre.

This week I met my now local dealer pal in his West Village office and  took possession of two pieces of faded, worn, folded, records of stages of the construction of a dream.  An old acquaintance from a distance becomes a familiar acquaintance close up.

Here are low resolution, slightly cropped, versions of my new possessions.

Grauman's Chinese Theatre. Elevation of Entrance Pavilion & Street Elevation. Dated February 4, 1926. 44" x 30 "

Grauman's Chinese Theatre. Interior design and planned modifications. Last revision date June 1926. 44" x 30 "

© Martha Wade Steketee (December 14, 2010)

After a year of blogging (and some years of blather on discussion boards and other internet communities) I have reached a perhaps inevitable moment — the splinter moment.  I began this adventure on my original blog urban excavations (msteketee.wordpress.com) at a time of upheaval in my life: a recent move from Chicago, a city I adore, to the East Coast and what turned out to be stage one of my current adventure living in Manhattan.  Spring 2009 selling property in a major American city to move east in two stages.  Three major moves in two years.  It has indeed been a time to reflect.  L. Frank Baum has something to say about that.

The following is from Chapter 9 “The Scarecrow Plans an Escape” in The Marvelous Land of Oz (the first sequel to The Wizard of Oz).  First, some text from the 1904 title page to set the scene: “The Marvelous Land of Oz.   Being an Account of the further adventures of the Scarecrow and Tin Woodman and also the strange experiences of the Highly Magnified Woggle-Bug, Jack Pumpkinhead, the Animated Saw Horse and the Gump; the story being A Sequel to The Wizard of Oz“.

Tip was looking out the window.

“The palace is surrounded by the enemy,” said he “It is too late to escape. They would soon tear you to pieces.”

The Scarecrow sighed.

“In an emergency,” he announced, “it is always a good thing to pause and reflect. Please excuse me while I pause and reflect.”

My adventures always include traveling and writing.  My “further adventures” blog wise have led me to focus increasingly on theatrical writing, including writing on productions as formal reviews and reflections on panels and other theatrical events.  My original blog has now become two.  My Gemini soul loves this.  urban excavations (msteketee.wordpress.com) is now focused exclusively on live performance reviews and reflections.  This new blog looking outside (mattiewade.wordpress.com) contains all other entries from the old blog, entries outside that specific focus, and new entries along these lines.

With a nod to Garland (because, let’s be honest, it’s instinctual) I’ll end this entry with a quotation.  And look forward to further musings with all y’all.

“In the night, every night, we’ve known somehow it would come to this.”

— Irene Hoffman Wallner (Judy Garland) in Judgment at Nuremberg (1961)

© Martha Wade Steketee (December 1, 2010)

 

Mr. Morgan's Library (East Room). The Morgan Library & Museum.

 

The Morgan Library and Museum has been a New York City favorite place to visit for the past 10-15 years.  In a building completed in 1906 to house the private study and library of financier Pierpont Morgan, the average person, for a fee, is able to ogle one of the more opulent structures in America. An “Italianate marble villa, designed in the spirit of the High Renaissance … considered one of New York’s great architectural treasures”, according to the press release distributed at the “media preview” I attend with my pal Kerry on Thursday October 21, 2010.  The press preview focuses on the imminent public reopening of the original 1906 structure that has been closed the public for a few months of rehab and refurbishing and buffing and polishing.  The 2006 Renzo Piano designed expansion and renovation completes the airy modern multi-dimensional experience of this space, with the requisite groovy gift shop at cafe.

This joint houses so many stunning works on paper (manuscripts ranging from monk-illuminate religious texts to several Gutenberg Bibles to ancient cuneiform cylinders to a letter written by Elizabeth I to … ) it is impossible to list the riches.  Get to know this venue, visit often, appreciate the beauty, attend to the temporary exhibit schedules. When visceral reactions to this massive concentration of wealth abate  …  focus on the splendors and majesty and wonders of the items in the holdings and now more fully on stunning display for all to view.

Back to the press preview event this week.  For a moment, indulge me in imposing some theatre critical commentary upon an otherwise nicely designed press preview experienced yesterday morning.  Press opening as performance.  First the pleasantries.  There is a lovely classical small group string quartet in Piano addition lobby/courtyard with soaring glass panes, coffee and bites, as we wait for formal comments and tours to begin.  Opening words are offered by the excited and articulate Director of the Museum, William M. Griswold.  Kerry and I also luck out by having the Director as our “tour guide” for when several groups of the assembled press folks were led around the refurbished original building after the opening remarks concluded.

And now for the criticism.  Before we are released to our color-coded touring groups, another staff member delivered the text of the letter quoted below.  If you’re a meek researcher, don’t try to be an actor.  Hire an actor to do a dramatic reading or just read the words.  In this case some hapless and I’m sure otherwise well qualified academic curator or museum administrator (not the charming Director), reads from a letter written by Thomas Jefferson to his daughter Martha with a bad kind of English accent.  Thomas Jefferson with a second-rate generalized bad British accent.  O my god.  Really, Morgan, the embarrassment of acting riches in this City should really tell you something.  Don’t act like a clueless academic in such a setting again but if you must wander into accents and dramatic readings — talk to the Lark Play Development Center or talk to a student training program.  Hire a professional.  Do something but don’t do this again.

 

image: Martha Steketee

 

The words from this letter are now printed in a display case that holds the letter manuscript located in the rehabbed 1906 McKim Building Rotunda.  This is Jefferson writing to daughter Martha who was largely brought up in Europe, instructing her to buck up, stop complaining, take note of what differentiates the European from the American character, especially in the 1700s.  Perhaps whining contemporaries could read these words and get back to basics.  Mr. Jefferson:

“It is part of the America character to consider nothing as desperate; to surmount every difficulty by resolution and contrivance.  In Europe there are shops for every want.  Its inhabitants therefore have no idea that their wants can be furnished otherwise.  Remote from all other aid, we are obliged to invent and to execute; to find means within ourselves, and not to lean on others.  Consider therefore the conquering of your Livy as an exercise in the habit of surmounting difficulties, a habit which will be necessary to you in the country where you are to live, and without which you will be thought a very helpless animal, and less esteemed.”

I will scheme to identify a project that will allow me to obtain research credentials and spend time with the materials in the vaults and resources of this amazing place.  From tourist to local haunt.  In one lifetime.

more about the Morgan and this restoration: http://themorgan.org/McKim/default.asp

© Martha Wade Steketee (October 22, 2010)

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