Friday, December 31, 2010

All Right, Mr. DeMille, I'm Ready for My Close-Up

As this year comes to a close I wanted to watch another classic movie, and although I am not planning a New Year's Eve for two, I did want to watch the crazy shenanigans of Norma Desmond in Sunset Blvd. (Paramount Pictures, 1950).  The film stars Gloria Swanson as Norma Desmond, a washed up silent film star, and William Holden as unsuccessful writer, Joe Gillis.  At first Joe is only helping Norma with her crazy, lofty, and nonsensical script - a script that Norma believes will mark her return to the pictures.  But it soon becomes apparent that Norma has fallen in love with Joe and she lavishes him with jewelery, fine clothes, and that infamous New Year's Eve party for two.  As Joe gets wrapped up in Norma's illusions of re-gaining her fame, he also realizes that she is crazier than anyone thinks, and he has also fallen in love with his friend Betty Schaefer, who is an aspiring writer who reads scripts at Paramount.  Norma gets wind of this and an argument ensues.  I won't give the whole movie away, but I will say that the film deserves all of the accolades it has garnered over the years.  From the casting to the costumes, writing, and cinematography, Sunset Blvd. is a must-see film.  Gloria Swanson's performance is riveting, and the whole picture is just really creepy and foreboding, but also kind of seductive and fascinating.  A great way to spend an evening in.
Photo by toestubber from Flickr Creative Commons
Here is some trivia on the film and I hope that the new year is filled with bright stars, big pictures, and not too many close-ups.
  • In 2007 Sunset Blvd. was listed on their 10th anniversary list as the 16th best American film of the 20th century by the American Film Institute.
  • Right before William Holden came on board to play Joe Gillis, Montgomery Clift was signed to do the role for $5,000 dollars a week.
  • The shot of Gillis dead in the pool was achieved using mirrors at the bottom of the pool and shooting from above.
  • There are several cameos in the film, including Hedda Hopper, Cecil B. DeMille, and Buster Keaton.
  • Norma Talmadge may have been the inspiration for the character of Norma Desmond, and for the character of Lina Lamont in Singin' in the Rain (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1952)
  • The swan bed that Norma Desmond sleeps in for the film was first used in the film The Phantom of the Opera (Universal Studios, 1925)
  • Norma Desmond's home in the movie was an actual house belonging to the former wife of J. Paul Getty.  It was used five years later in the film Rebel Without a Cause (Warner Bros., 1955).  Unfortunately it was torn down just 2 years later in 1957.
  • The line "All right, Mr. DeMille, I'm ready for my close-up" was ranked the no. 7 movie quote out of 100 by the American Film Institute.
  • William Holden celebrated his 31st birthday during filming, and Gloria Swanson celebrated her 50th.
  • The film got 11 Oscar nominations, it won 3, but it did not get Best Picture.  All About Eve (Twentieth Century Fox, 1950) won for Best Picture that year.
  • While the movie was in production it was code-named "A can of beans" because of how Hollywood was being portrayed and the fear of a bad reaction.

Gloria Swanson as Norma Desmond
Photo by cirne from Flickr Creative Commons

Friday, December 24, 2010

Movie Review: Holiday Inn, 1942

Marjorie Reynolds during her screen test for the movie
Photograph: Elliot Elisofon; LIFE Photo Archive
When it comes to holiday movies there are plenty of choices.  It's a Wonderful Life, A Christmas Story, Home Alone, and Miracle on 34th Street, to name a few.  However, there is nothing like the combination of Christmas, a love triangle, Fred Astaire, a great story, and singing and dancing numbers a plenty, which you can find in the classic movie Holiday Inn (Paramount Pictures, 1942), starring Bing Crosby (Jim Hardy), Fred Astaire (Ted Hanover), Marjorie Reynolds (Linda Mason), and Virginia Dale (Lila Dixon).  The story begins with performers Jim, Ted and Lila.  Ted steals Lila away from Jim and the two begin their own performances leaving Jim behind.  Jim leaves the limelight and starts farming, because that is his dream - the simple life.  A year goes by and Ted gets the idea of opening up a nightclub that is only open during the holidays (in order to continue his lazy ways - which I love, since I excel at laziness).  When Jim meets up with Ted and Ted's manager again, he lets them in on his new idea.  They dismiss it, but Ted's manager gives Jim's card to a floral shop girl who is looking to break into show business (Linda).  Linda ends up at the Holiday Inn and soon her and Jim are on a roll with performances throughout the year for each holiday.  When Lila ends up leaving Ted for someone better (a guy she thinks is a billionaire), Ted comes crawling back to Jim, and subsequently he also falls for Linda.  The whole stealing Jim's girls away is sort of a hobby for Ted, and I think that's why I was totally rooting for Jim the whole time.  Towards the end a Hollywood deal comes the way of the Holiday Inn, but Jim declines it, still hoping for that simple life, and Ted and Linda leave him in the dust.  But Linda is really in love with Jim and is getting miserable out in Hollywood.  Jim also misses her and business isn't the same at the inn without them, so he goes out to Hollywood to get her back.  In the end Lila also comes back to Ted, and Jim and Linda reunite, with both couples dancing and singing the night away into the new year.

Honestly I have to admit that sometimes musicals bore me, especially modern day ones (I walked out of the theater during Chicago), but for some reason musicals like Holiday Inn are completely endearing to me (maybe it's just that old Hollywood charm).  I know White Christmas starring Crosby in 1954 is kind of a re-working of Holiday Inn, but honestly I would give this one a try first.  It's quieter, less flashy, and in black and white, but it's also pretty darn good.

Here's some more trivia on the film, and I hope everyone's days are merry and bright in the coming year.  Happy Christmas Eve!
  • The Holiday Inn hotel chain is named after this movie (it was founded in 1952 by Kemmons Wilson).
  • The song "White Christmas" was written for this movie by Irving Berlin.  It won the Academy Award for best original song in 1943, and to this day it is the second best selling music single ever (the first is Elton John's re-working of "Candle in the Wind", "Goodbye England's Rose", which only surpassed it in 1997). (Note: this article still says "White Christmas" is the best selling music single ever)
  • As a Christmas gift to the studio, Fred Astaire worked for two weeks without pay during filming of Holiday Inn.
  • The Navy Relief Society received the proceeds from the New York premiere of the film.
  • The sets from Holiday Inn were re-used during the filming of White Christmas (Paramount Pictures, 1954).
  • The shoes worn by Fred Astaire during the firecracker dance sequence were auctioned off for $116,000 dollars' worth of war bonds.
  • The "drunk dance" in the film reportedly had Fred Astaire drinking two shots of bourbon before the first take and one shot before each subsequent take, until they finally got the shot during the seventh take.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Book Review: Ten Cents a Dance by Christine Fletcher

Bloomsbury USA Children's Books, 2008; 356 pages; ISBN 1599901641
My Goodreads
Rating: 5.5 stars

I saw this and figured it was the perfect read for a nostalgic librarian
like myself. The story takes place in 1940's Chicago right before the United States enters into World War II. This is an excellent book that I wish I would have picked up sooner, but I'm glad I finally did. Ruby, her mom and her sister live in "The Yards" of Chicago. Ruby's father has passed away, so her family is left in a pretty dire financial situation. Ruby's mom is diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis and has to stop working, so Ruby goes to work at the meatpacking plant. Then she hears about "dancing halls" where girls get paid a-dime-a-dance. Ruby loves to dance and is determined to get her family out of the yards, so she takes the job. She has to learn the hard way what taxi dancing is really all about and all the while she lies to her mom, her sister, and sometimes even to herself to continue working as a taxi dancer. There are also issues of first love, racism, friendship, and of course the war. The author did an excellent job of presenting period details throughout the book. She talks about what everything cost, the style of the dresses the taxi dancers wore, the shoes, the makeup, and even where they would eat after a long night of dancing. There are also parts of the story that talk about the music of the era, which is especially important to Ruby since she absolutely loves to "hoof" (slang for dancing). I thought the story was extremely well-written, well-researched, and well-paced. The period details are excellent, as well as the language and the characterizations. It felt authentic and heartfelt and I just had to give it more than five stars.

Photo: From website

Friday, December 10, 2010

Hostess with the Mostess

Photograph: Martha Holmes; LIFE Photo Archive
With the holidays upon us it seems a perfect time to blog about that bygone get together known as the cocktail party. Lately I've come across many articles and internet sites that offer up classic cocktail party fare, such as pigs in a blanket, shrimp cocktail, canapes, deviled eggs, and coconut shrimp, to name a few.  What I love about the cocktail party is the idea of converging in someone's home, mingling, enjoying a few cocktails, some hors d'oeuvres and basically getting treated to a night out without really going any where. People dressed up, they made an effort to be a great hostess and host and they opened up their homes to friends, family, and even work associates in order to celebrate the season.

I'm thinking the following would help any hostess with the mostess in perfecting their holiday cocktail party.  For example these handy dandy crib sheets for making cocktail party conversation will help you get the conversation started with a short list of literary and historical anecdotes: Cocktail Party Cheat Sheets from

Also, here are some classic cocktail recipes to get the party started:
Old Fashioned
1 Sugar cube
3 dashes Angostura Bitters
1 tablespoon Club Soda
1 oz. Bourbon
1 Lemon Peel
How to: Muddle sugar cube, bitters, and club soda in a rocks glass.  Stir in the bourbon and the ice.  Garnish with the lemon peel.

1 oz. Gin
1 oz. Sweet Vermouth
1 oz. Campari
How to: Shake all ingredients with ice and strain into a cocktail glass.

2 oz. Rye Whiskey
1 oz. Sweet Vermouth
2 dashes Angostura Bitters
1 Maraschino Cherry
How to: Swirl all ingredients with ice and strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with cherry.

For a good 'ole Martini, see my previous post here.

Finally, some helpful articles and sites that list classic cocktail hors d'oeuvres:
Cocktail Party Invitation from

Friday, December 3, 2010

The Purse-fect Accessory for a Night Out

Seems like around this time of the year everyone is asking "What to wear, what to wear??".  Well that's fine and dandy, but I also love to figure out what clutch or purse to pair along with my holiday outfits.  Do I want to match the color perfectly to my little black dress or do I want to go with a pretty print to give it some punch and a dash of the unexpected?  Here are some of my favorite vintage clutches that I currently own, as well as what I would pair them with if I had a limitless clothing budget.  

I'm loving this rich emerald color. Dress by Just Cavalli from Net-a-Porter website.
I have always loved a leopard print paired with a bold red. Dress by Roberto Cavalli from Net-a-Porter website.
This clutch is not for the feint of heart, so neither is this dress. Dress by Emilio Pucci from Polyvore website.

Here are some stores to try in case you want to venture out the purse-fect vintage clutch for yourself.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Book Review: The Carrie Diaries by Candace Bushnell

Balzar + Bray, 2010; 400 pages; ISBN 0061728918
My Goodreads Rating: 4.5 stars

Being a fan of Sex and the City and a teen librarian I obviously had to read this one and I'm so glad that I did. Personally it really gave more substance and background to Carrie Bradshaw's character. I loved her confidence, her humor, and her willingness to try something just because she felt she should. You get to meet her dad, her sisters and her high school friends (these characters never really come up in the TV show). She also starts dating and finds out who her true friends are. Her characterization really does align with the Carrie Bradshaw of Sex and the City (the show), even with some of the language and the way she carries herself and dresses herself. The only thing that didn't line up (and this is very minor) is her ability to cook. At one point in the book she makes coq au vin. I'm sorry, but I seem to remember that Carrie Bradshaw in NYC was not at all adept to cooking. We also see Carrie the athlete, which we don't really see much of in Sex and the City the TV show. So all in all I really loved getting the scoop on Carrie in high school. By the end of the book I was all smiles, especially when you see her arrive in New York and make a phone call to one of the characters in SATC (I won't give it away). A note to parents: there is a bit of cussing, sex, and drinking in this, so it's probably more appropriate for older or more mature teens, and of course adults. Sex and the City 2 the movie was released on DVD October 26th, and I also thought that it was à propos to blog my Carrie Diaries review today since it is Black Friday.

Photo: From website

P.S. The sequel to The Carrie Diaries is slated for publication in May 2011 - Summer and the City, which takes place during Carrie's first summer in NYC!!

Friday, November 19, 2010

I Give Thanks for Cartoons

With Thanksgiving around the corner my mood is getting more and more frisky and jovial.  What's more perfect to convey this state of mind than some very cute, and of course classic, Thanksgiving cartoon shorts.  Check them out and I dare you not to feel even the tiniest bit of that holiday mien.

Holiday for Drumsticks (Warner Bros., 1949)

The Little Orphan (Metro Goldwyn Mayer, 1948)

Pilgrim Popeye (Paramount Pictures, 1951)

Friday, November 12, 2010

My Look Back: 1954

Sadly, my favorite artist (see last post) passed away this precise year, but there were of course much brighter things happening this, the year of my own Chinese Zodiac animal, the horse.  For one the Audrey Hepburn classic Sabrina (Paramount Pictures, 1954) was released, and for second that leads me to the exciting news of being featured on a storyboard for the newest ArcLight Cinemas location in El Segundo, which had its grand opening on November 5th.  For the photo shoot I mentioned that my all time favorite movie was Breakfast at Tiffany's (Paramount Pictures, 1961), so they prompted me to strike a pose à la Holly Golightly (please don't judge).  It was actually very strange getting photographed by professionals - I have to definitely give credit to all those who do this for a living.  It was not easy.  Fun, yes, but not easy.  I'd do it again though.  Here are a few other things that caught my eye as I looked back to 1954. 

  •  The movie Rear Window (Paramount Pictures, 1954), starring James Stewart and Grace Kelly, was released.
  • Marilyn Monroe married Joe DiMaggio.
  •  Lord of the Flies by William Golding was published.
  • The first Burger King opened in Miami, Florida selling burgers and shakes for 18¢ each.
  • The Miss America Pageant made its debut on television for the first time.
  • Oprah Winfrey, John Travolta, Christie Brinkley, Jerry Seinfeld, and Denzel Washington were born.
  • Ernest Hemingway won the Nobel Prize for Literature.
  • The film Godzilla (Toho Film (Eiga) Co. Ltd., 1954) made its debut in Tokyo, Japan.
  • Peanut M&M's were introduced.
  • The song "Fly Me to the Moon" was released.  The song's original name was "In Other Words" and it was written by Bart Howard.
  • Trix cereal was first introduced by General Mills.
  • General Electric introduced appliances in various colors besides the standard white.

Friday, November 5, 2010

I Love Frida Kahlo

Self-Portrait from

Hands down my favorite artist in the world is the late Frida Kahlo.  I loved the movie based on her life, all of her paintings (especially the one above), her brief, crazy, beautiful life, and did I mention that my dog's name is Frida?  It seems November is the month for Frida.  Frida and Diego Rivera divorced in November 1939 (but were remarried in December 1940), he passed away on November 24th, 1957, the movie Frida (Handprint Entertainment, 2002) was released on November 20th, 2002 in Mexico, and one of the most recent works about the artist was just released November 1st entitled Frida Kahlo: Face to Face by Judy Chicago and Frances Borzello.  Her work can be permanently found in Mexico City, but from time to time museums all over the world will feature her art.  I would love to one day visit Casa Azul, but for now I'll have to make due with the handmade cards I make in her honor and of course Frida the dog (and her brother Ché). 

Friday, October 29, 2010

Tricks, Treats and Threads

This year I decided to dress up as a mystic fortune teller (one of my go-to costumes). First let me start by saying that Halloween is my absolute favorite holiday, and perhaps my favorite day of the year (even more than my birthday sometimes). Since I can remember I have always loved Halloween. The costumes, the trick-or-treating, the jack-o-lanterns, the parties and even just the sheer fact that once a year your neighbors all let you come to their house for candy (and, um, am I the only one that loves getting a sneak peek of the inside of their homes? Anyone!? Anyone!?).  Every year you see new costume trends, especially those centered around the media (can we say Lady Gaga and Jersey Shore?), but I think the classics are always the best, and of course, homemade is better. 


Friday, October 22, 2010

Book Review: Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

Victor Gollancz, 1938; 448 pages; ISBN 1844080382
Goodreads Rating: 4.5 stars

As Halloween approaches (my absolute favorite holiday), I was
reminded of one of the very few suspenseful novels I have read, and of course it's a classic. At first I wasn't too impressed with the "suspenseful" aspects of the book, but once I got into the characters, the setting, and the plot, I was hooked and definitely not disappointed. I've been wanting to watch the Hitchcock version (Rebecca, Selznick International Pictures, 1940) of this book for ages, but I didn't want to watch it without having read the book first. I loved the writing, the atmosphere, the characters and just the whole story. It wasn't necessarily scary, but the sense of it was very foreboding, like something was going to happen and you didn't know what. I was truly surprised at the climax and even though the title character never really appears in the story, she appears through the character's reverence towards her; it was like I hated her but I wanted to meet her still. It took me a few weeks to get through this, but not because it wasn't a page turner, it's just that I chose to digest it a little bit at a time.  As soon as I finished the novel, I watched the film version.  I have to say that they did an excellent job of capturing the novel in the film, which was due in large part to the producer's controlling demeanor.  Nonetheless I was very happy with the casting and the way the movie unfolded.  It had that same suspenseful edge that the book had, without being in any way gory, blatant, or sensational.  I'm a Hitchcock fan, so I'm familiar with some of his other films, but I do have to say that this one is not as Hitchcockian (which is actually a real word!) as some of his other works.  If you are looking for something a bit more on the subtle side for the scary season, I would venture to find a copy of the film, or just curl up with the original.

Photo: From website

Friday, October 15, 2010

Here Comes the Bride....

Photo from (LIFE Photo Archive)
Photo from (LIFE Photo Archive)
I have a lifelong love of weddings.  How can you not love them?  A celebration of love, a gathering of friends and family (dressed up, mind you), food, drink, music, and an endless array of decor and fashion to critique, copy or adore!  So far this month I've attended one wedding and next week I will attend another, which got me thinking about bridal looks that seem to be back from the past and those that have stayed there. We've all seen the whole birdcage veil comeback (which I actually really adore), and I'm also noticing some tea-length ballgown dresses for brides (as well as for bridesmaids). I haven't yet seen the bridesmaids-in-veils trend of the 50's and 60's (photo above is of President Johnson's daughter, Lynda Baines Johnson's wedding), or the whole puffy, long-sleeve dress action of the 40's (this bride doesn't seem to fond of it), but there is no denying that certain "vintage inspired" looks are pretty evident elsewhere. Red lipstick, pin curls and forties inspired do's, gloves, skinny ties for men, and antique brooches and hair adornments. Even pastel colors seem to be back, with yellows, blushy pinks, pale blues, and sea foam greens making it into the latest issue of Brides Magazine and on the über popular wedding website, The Knot.  Here are my favorite vintage looks that are making their way back down the aisle, and I'm looking forward to attending my next wedding extravaganza later this month (for now I'll have to settle for my new favorite show, Four Weddings on TLC and the absolutely stunning website Style Me Pretty).
Photo from Flickr Creative Commons
Photo from
Photo from

Friday, October 8, 2010

They Say the Neon Lights are Bright on Broadway

Chandelier in the Pantages Theatre
I am so excited to be going to see The Phantom of the Opera at the Pantages Theatre this weekend.  Which got me thinking about all the beautiful theatres we have in Los Angeles, and my favorites of course.  The Pantages is definitely up there, as is the Westwood Crest Theatre in Westwood.  I also love the Egyptian, the Palladium, and the El Rey TheatreEl Capitan is beautiful too, but the seats are tiny!  The Music Box theatre is also quite wonderful, especially if you go for a private event and get to experience their rooftop lounge (which I was very lucky to do so last year).  Although theatre history here in Los Angeles may not quite extend to that of a city such as New York, I think it's definitely worth the drive and the time to go and experience these historic landmarks, especially to get that 'Old Hollywood' feeling.  Most have that art deco feel, which is so opulent and luxurious, but some also carry their own unique take on a theme, like the Egyptian.  Many theaters were built for the sole reason of a new movie premiere, while others were just a sign of the times.  I'm listing some trivia here for each of my favorite theatres.
  • The Westwood Crest Theatre, opened in 1940 and was designed by Arthur W. Hawes.  The theater first opened as a live theatre and is also known as the Magestic Crest Theatre.  Currently it operates as a movie theatre and before the movie begins, a falling star shoots across the ceiling, bursting onto the screen as the curtains open (it's worth going to see any movie here just for that falling star).
  • The Pantages Theatre, opened in 1930 and was designed by B. Marcus Priteca.  Originally the theatre showed movies as well as live Vaudeville acts.  In 1949 Howard Hughes acquired the theatre and had his personal offices on the second floor.
  • The Egyptian Theatre, opened in 1922 and was designed by architects Meyer and Holler.  Originally the theatre was supposed to have a Spanish theme, but at some point this was changed to Egyptian because of all the hype in the world over King Tutankhamun's tomb (you can still see this Spanish influence in the roof pans, which have a tiled effect).  The theatre was the location of the first ever Hollywood movie premiere.
  • The El Rey Theatre, opened in 1936 and was designed by Clifford A. Balch. Originally it was opened as a movie house, but it currently serves as a music venue, although it can be booked for private events (I would love to have an event here!).  In the 1980's and 90's it operated as a nightclub called 'Wall Street'. I wonder if the Douglas/Sheen movie Wall Street (Twentieth Century Fox, 1987) had anything to do with that?  In any case, I saw the sequel last weekend, and in my opinion it's worth a look.
  • The Hollywood Palladium Theatre, opened in 1940 and was designed by Gordon Kaufmann.  Kaufmann also designed the Santa Anita Racetrack and the Los Angeles Times building.  The Palladium opened in the Fall of 1940 with a dinner and live music by Frank Sinatra and the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra (admission was $1 and dinner was $3).  Over the years it has hosted charity balls, auto shows, political events and radio broadcasts.  It currently operates as a concert venue.
  • The El Capitan Theatre, opened in 1926 and was designed by the firm Morgan, Walls and Clements.  For the first decade of operations the theatre was a venue for live productions.  In 1941 Orson Welles' Citizen Kane (RKO Radio Pictures, 1941) was premiered after Welles couldn't find a theatre that would be willing to show the film.
  • The Music Box Theatre, opened in 1926 and was designed by the firm Morgan, Walls and Clements.  It has also been known as the Fox, the Henry Fonda Theatre, and the Pix.  It originally opened for revues in the style of Ziegfield, but when this didn't work out it was the stage for many live productions, including the play Chicago featuring Clark Gable in 1927 (perhaps the picture below from the LIFE Photo Archive was taken sometime that year).
Photograph: AMER(USA) Hollywood; LIFE Photo Archive

Friday, October 1, 2010

My Look Back: 1955

Photo from Flickr Creative Commons by anyjazz65
Back in May I did a look back to 1958 in honor of my mom's birthday. Now I'm looking three years earlier, at 1955, the year my dad was born.  As we near the holiday season, shopping is inevitably an activity that follows suit.  Although I love to do some shopping, it can be somewhat of a hassle when the crowds get large and the parking lots are full.  Oh what I would give to just be able to stroll my way through an afternoon of shopping on a wide thouroughfare with a couple of friends and my billowy, circle skirt.  On such a shopping trip in 1955 you might be able to find the following in stores and in your town for the very first time:

Friday, September 24, 2010

History of a Cocktail: The Sazerac

Photo from Flickr Creative Commons by Infrogmation
Ok so this pre-dates most of what I like posting about, but who cares, this cocktail is delish, classic, and therefore timeless. I don't usually stray from my vodka drinks, but I'm pretty much open to anything. From the looks of it this cocktail's history is not only long, but also mysterious and secretive (insert moody, melodramatic music here). The cocktail emerged some time in the 1830's and has been hailed as the first cocktail to be invented in the United States (although there is evidence that this is untrue). The basic ingredients are rye whiskey, bitters, a sugar cube or simple syrup and absinthe. It's usually garnished with a lemon peel and served in an old fashioned glass. I think the art form of the drink is in the preparation (and the brand of liquors you use as well). I'm sure every bartender has their own method, but basically you take two old fashioned glasses, one is filled with ice. In the empty one you muddle the sugar component and the bitters, then you add the whiskey. Next you empty the ice from the first glass and pour in some absinthe to coat the inside of the now cold glass. The excess absinthe is discarded. Finally you pour the original mixture of whiskey, bitters and sugar into the coated, cold glass, and garnish with some lemon.  I'm no professional, so I opted for trying out the drink from someone who knew what they were doing.  I tried it at a very cozy, almost cave-like bar called The Falls in Downtown L.A.  It was much too dark for me to take a picture of the drink with my outdated iPhone, so thank you Flickr Creative Commons for the pic.  Honestly it was just as much fun drinking this cocktail as it was watching the bartender make it.  When he had to drain the glass of absinthe he actually tossed the glass up in the air.  The taste was not my usual cup of tea, but I was pleasantly surprised.  I can only describe it as rich, woodsy and definitely manly.  I would almost call it seductive, if you can call a drink that, and I guess I just did.  It's not a drink for the feint of heart and certainly not a drink you would knock back all night, unless you sipped them very slowly.  I would say that if you've never tried one, you should at least do so once. According to some the drink was originally made with cognac instead of whiskey. Also, although the ingredients of the cocktail are well known, the original method or recipe is what remains ambiguous. The name itself is derived from either the Sazerac Coffee House in New Orleans (opened in 1859) or a cognac brand called Sazerac-de-Forge et Fils. Additionally here are some gems that all relate to the Sazerac Cocktail:

  • In the movie, State of the Union (Liberty Films, 1948), starring Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy the character of Judge Alexander's wife favors the Sazerac cocktail and Katherine Hepburn's character gets tipsy drinking them.
  • The Sazerac is the official cocktail of Lousiana.
  • The Sazerac is featured in The Savoy Cocktail Book, which was first published in 1930 and continues to be in print to this day. The book contains many classic recipes and was penned by legendary barman Henry Craddock (he invented the White Lady and popularized the Dry Martini). The book takes it's name from The Savoy Hotel in London.
  • The Sazerac Bar in the Roosevelt Hotel in New Orleans has a gunshot hole in one of its doors towards the back of the bar that legend says was meant for Huey P. Long, the Democratic politician from Louisiana who was popular for his ideas, but was also accused of fascism (The video contained on this page of the Roosevelt's website gives further insight into the famous Sazerac Bar).
  • Much controversy has been stirred simply because the Sazerac is made with absinthe (which is probably the most controversial spirit out there). However the absinthe is only used to coat the glass that you drink a Sazerac from. Absinthe's reputation has long been smeared simply because at one point it was said to have dangerous, addictive and psychological effects on those who drank it. The presence of the chemical thujone was largely to blame (a very small quantity), but it has been proven that the spirit is not any more harmful than any other spirit. In 2007 it made its way back to the United States after having been banned since the early 1900's.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Book Review: Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger

Scribner, 2009; 406 pages; ISBN 1439165394
Goodreads Rating: 3 stars

At the time I read this book I had been meaning to read The Time Traveler's Wife because of all the hype (with the movie and everything), but all the copies at work were checked out, so when I saw Her Fearful Symmetry come in, I grabbed it. I have to say that up until 3/4 of the way in I was set on giving it 4 stars, but the way things ended totally disappointed me. **Stop here if you haven't read this, BIG SPOILER ALERT** First off let me run down the basic plot and characters of the book. Elspeth and Edie
Noblin are identical twin sisters. At a relatively young age Elspeth (who lives in London) dies of cancer, and her lover Robert is left with a huge hole in his life from her absence. Elspeth's sister, Edie, has been raising her own twin daughters in the United States. After Elspeth's death, the twins, Julia and Valentina, are surprised to learn that Elspeth has left them her London flat. They travel to Europe and start getting to know the aunt they never met by living in her flat. So here is where it gets weird (and this is something you don't learn until the end). When Edie and Elspeth were young they decided to trade places to try and trick Elspeth's fiance, Jack. The "original" Elspeth (playing the part of Edie) sleeps with Jack and becomes pregnant with the twins, Julia and Valentina. The charade continues all the way to the United States until a few months after the twins are born, when Edie and Elspeth switch back. So the "original" Edie takes the place of Jack's wife and the "original" Elspeth (the twin's real mom and Jack's original fiance) goes back to London. So by the time the twins themselves travel to London they don't know that their birth mother is actually the one who died. There is more to the story that I won't go into, and other characters, but basically at the end of the book Elspeth's ghost kills her own daughter Valentina in order to live again and be with Robert. She completely robs her of a chance to live an independent life, a life of designing, traveling, working, and being on her own - away from her controlling twin Julia. By the way, Julia bothered me the entire time. Why was she so clingy? I was so glad when Valentina starts to stand up to her and I was looking forward to seeing Valentina on her own (but Elspeth totally ruined it). I guess the only real happy ending is Martin & Marijke (a couple who live in the same building as Elspeth). In the end I was glad that Robert abandons Elspeth, and I was totally expecting her to have another set of twins when we learn she is pregnant. Overall I enjoyed the writing, the characterizations, the settings, and even the plot at some points - just not at the end. I didn't want a complete happy ending, but I thought that Elspeth was just so selfish and manipulative, and she didn't deserve to take Valentina's life away and get a chance to live once more. Now that I've read this book and consequently, The Time Traveler's Wife (I had to read it before I watched the film), I can say that Niffenegger's writing can be really great, but oh-so-confusing. Her characters are all pretty out there and I can appreciate the fantastical elements, but I just can't appreciate being robbed of a happy ending where the good characters get some kind of redemption. I'll think twice before I pick up another one by this author.

Photo: From website

Friday, September 10, 2010

Jewels are a Girl's Best Friend

Like the saying goes, everything old is new again, and crystal brooches are no exception. These handy-dandy accessories are great for dressing up just about anything, from a cashmere sweater to a favorite clutch or coat. I have a few stashed away, but my favorite one was owned by my great-grandmother (who from what I was told was very stylish and kind of flashy). I inherited this piece, along with a great black faux fur coat that at the time had the brooch pinned to it. Since then I've used this brooch on just about everything, from dresses to head scarves to purses. The versatility is endless. That's the great thing about costume jewelry, no matter what, it's pretty timeless and there are infinite uses for costume pieces. You can find it for relatively little money on eBay, at flea markets and garage sales, pawn shops, and even brand new pieces at trendy mall shops. 
There are even books dedicated to this jewelry sector, such as Costume Jewelry by Judith Miller (DK Adult, 2007) and my favorite Jewels of Passion: Costume Jewelry Masterpieces by Sherri R. Duncan and Deby Roberts (Schiffer Publishing, 2008), which includes stories behind some of the most beautiful pieces created in the 20th century by designers like Christian Dior, Kenneth Jay Lane, and Trifari. Ultimately I think what draws me to costume jewelry, and especially brooches, is that they are fashion pieces that most people can afford and they can completely change the look and feel of the most simple article of clothing or accessory. In a recent trip to The Hollywood Museum I got a chance to see some pieces owned and used by two of my favorite icons, Marilyn Monroe and Lucille Ball, and knowing that these two ladies also enjoyed a big hunk of crystal and rhinestone around their neck or on their lapel, just confirms how jewelry can really be a girl's best friend (or at least their best accessory). 

Marilyn Monroe accessories used during early screen tests & Lucille Ball's personal jewelry collected from her home on Roxbury Dr.

Book Cover Photos: From website

Friday, September 3, 2010

A Sweet & Hot Labor Day

Here are some Labor Day festivities happening in the Los Angeles area, including a music festival featuring music from the 1920's, 30's, 40's and 50's that is sweet and hot (not in that order).

Jazz at LACMA Series and Latin Sounds LACMA Series
September 3rd Kamasi Washington and the Next Step
6pm BP Grand Entrance FREE
September 4th Violinist Susie Hansen and her 9-piece band
5pm Hancock Park FREE

Sweet & Hot Music Festival
September 3rd - 6th

All Day at the Los Angeles Airport Marriott (check website for ticket prices)

LA County Fair
September 4th - October 4th

Opens at 10am on September 4th (check
website for ticket prices)

Los Angeles Times Celebration of Food & Wine
September 5th

12pm-8pm Paramount Studios, Hollywood $55 General Admission
(kids 9 and under free w/adult)

Long Beach Blues Festival: The KJazz Blues Bash
September 4th
7pm Carpenter Performing Arts Center at CSULB
$55 General Admission
The Taste of Beverly Hills
September 2nd - September 5th
Times vary by day 9900 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills (check website for ticket prices)

September 4th - September 6th
10am-6pm Downtown Hermosa Beach FREE

Dance Downtown at the Music Center (Samba)
September 10th (after Labor Day, but who cares, it's free!)
6:30pm-10pm Music Center Plaza, Downtown Los Angeles FREE

Plus, you can always do a walking tour of Santa Monica, Los Angeles, or a food tasting tour of Old Pasadena or Farmer's Market/3rd Street.

(Photographs: Flickr Creative Commons)