Tuesday, March 31, 2009


Learn more about William Wellman, Joan and James, and Maude Fulton -- my favorite latest discovery -- here. Although I'm thrilled to think of all those lovely William Wellman movies waiting in my DVR, it's the story of Maude Fulton that really grabbed my attention:

"Raised in the Kansas newspaper biz by her Dad, the editor of the local daily, she wrote a novel by the age of 15, “whose theme was ‘The Curse of Rum’”. She bounced from job to job, including singing pop songs at a department store, until she learned stenography and was hired by a railway office, where she likely soaked in the bravado of the train engineers that suffuses Other Men’s Women. Bored with office work, she soon lit out for the stage in NYC. She was performing in Mam’zelle Champagne on the roof of Madison Square Garden in 1906, when the millionaire Henry K. Thaw shot and killed architect Stanford White for fooling around with his young wife, Evelyn Nesbit (who was also romanced by John Barrymore). Thaw’s trial was the first to be dubbed 'The Trial of the Century.'"

I so want to be like Maude Fulton!

Friday, March 27, 2009

Afternoon Tea and Dressing For Dinner

Dear Spinsters,

This Friday I would like to talk about luxury. There are plenty of things that can make you feel luxurious regardless of how broke you are. In these troubled times (as we are so fond of saying now) it is imperative that we never let ourselves feel stretched or destitute. Though we may have very little, materially speaking, our genteel poverty must be marked by a specifically spinsterish ability to raise ourselves above mere accidents of circumstance, hold our heads high and revel in all life's beautiful feasts, though we may have them only in smallish bites.

One of these things is afternoon tea. It can be a mug of Lipton, microwaved, but it is still a ritual. Between four and four-thirty, I make it a habit to sit down and enjoy silence, peace, and nice cup of tea. I may be sitting at a wooden table I found in someone's abandoned apartment with a table cloth from Century 21 housewares, but I have a fetching white china teacup with a blue rim, and nobody knows I get my Liptons in boxes of 100 for $3.99. (For the record, I do take the time to boil my water stove-top. Ruggles would be proud.) Sometimes a literal cup of tea isn't advisable -- for the caffeine-sensitive spinster -- but it is imperative that you have a little treat to fend of world-weariness and drudgery. Preferably with something sweet. (If you are on a diet, I am afraid I am not speaking to you in this post, for we cannot ever really be friends. If you are eating Activia and portions of something labeled "100 calories," you are the female equivalent of a douchebag, sorry.) Afternoon tea is more than a mere snack: it's what separates us from the animals, and no lady should live without it.

"Those Bond No.9 samples smell good!"

Dressing for dinner ought to occur, at least on weekend (if you are employed) just after tea. It should be a long-ish ritual, not rushed, and should demarcate the mundane (day) from the delightful (night). Without it, you've just got one long day. Not only does it prepare you to look your best, but it imparts a subtle, deliciously luxurious feeling -- there's that word again -- and sets you up quite nicely for the cocktails and dinner (and further cocktails) that I hope are making up the rest of your evening. Even if your evening wear consists of an army jacket and combat boots, always take the time to properly apply your eyeliner. Life's just too short for you to walk out of the house looking plain.

Life's also too short to feel deprived and impoverished, so always take your time and have a nice cup of tea every afternoon ... and remember that you've got the exact same stuff in your cup that Betty Windsor drinks, and drinking it from a golden chalice wouldn't make it taste any better.

Your Beloved Aunt

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Fightin' Crime

I'm off to fight crime today. With a real-life detective and everything. I hope he's exactly like Inspector Maigret!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Three more years of Chuy!

Thank god -- Chelsea Lately is on the air for another three years. Where else could we get round tables of this quality? You know, with the fat guy and the gay guy and that girl who isn't funny? God, that's quality programming. Now if you'll excuse me, I've got to get back to the Golden Girls. Dorothy, Rose and Blanche are dressed like caddies, stalking Bob Hope.

Monday, March 23, 2009


In case you can't read that, the caption says: "Sturges the director tells Sturges the writer what he thinks of his script." Just another cute thing I found in my Preston Sturges book that I thought I'd share, because it delights me.

That's all. Carry on.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Ladies make the best scenarists

This article about Dana Fox, Diablo Cody, Liz Meriwether and Lorene Scafaria in today's NYT makes me want to assemble a dream team of screenwriter-girlfriends to hold my purses during premieres. (I wonder if Karen McCullah Lutz and Kirsten Smith would let be be on their team ... or maybe just run errands for them.) The article goes into Cody's writing process a little bit -- you know, beyond the rhyming dictionary -- and she admits to crying up to four times in a working day.

I think the average writing day for me goes a bit like this: coffee, reading, breakfast, procrastinating, elevenses, pacing around room with tape recorder and heart palpitations, lunch, a nice walk, some Actual Writing, afternoon tea, more Actual Writing, this time with talking aloud as my characters, cocktails, a light supper, a movie, any movie, just something to get me out of the house, a late dinner, and nightcap. No tears, but much cracking myself up at jokes which later prove to be unfunny. Note also the ratio of six parts eating to two parts writing.

Now I'm just sitting here thinking who I'd like on my dream team, and I can only conclude that first and foremost it would have to be Liz Lemon.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

The Witches of Eastwick

Just finished The Witches of Eastwick -- I'll read anything with a witch in it -- and found is surprisingly tender. Surprising because I saw the movie first, which has that violent black magic blowout at the end. The book is much more low-key, much more about a time in three womens' lives when they have this friendship, and how that dynamic changes when a newcomer intervenes. All friendships are subject to the wax and wane of the natural course of time, and this perhaps is what invests the books with a certain sadness. Interlacing the story with good old fashioned New Englandy imagery, and adding a layer of supernatural metaphor (their casual magic is "real" in the narrative, but come on, it's a metaphor) is a clever stroke. And finishing the story with an ode to witches, water, New England, and things past is the swiftest, most uncomplicated route to my heart.

"The witches are gone, vanished; we were just an interval in their lives, and they in ours.
But ... rumors of the days when they were solid among us, gorgeous and doing evil, have flavored the name of the town in the mouths of others, and for those of us who live here have left something oblong and invisible and exciting we do not understand. We meet it turning the corner where Hemlock meets Oak; it is there when we walk the beach in off-season and the Atlantic in its blackness mirrors the dense packed gray of the clouds: a scandal, life like smoke rising twisted into legend."

Have I reviewed The Witch of Blackbird Pond yet? Perhaps I should, though I warn you I was disappointed by a recent reading. I remember liking it as a child, and then being dismayed when I read it this past Christmas to find out that it was mostly about the Connecticut Charter.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

White Pages

Screenplays have gotten shorter in the past half-century or so. A modern screenplay averages 100 pages in length, and a sign of good writing now is leaving plenty of "white on the page."

It wasn't always so. In the '40s, as talking pictures began to hit their stride, screenplays were rather lengthy and wordy, or at least they would seem to be by today's standards (I don't have any screenplays from the earliest talkies, but I might update this later if I get my hands on one).

This Preston Sturges script for The Lady Eve clocks in at 200 pages. Now, it's a shooting script, so it contains scene directions and other things which wouldn't be in a spec script, or even an earlier draft. But it's still fairly representative:

The sluglines look different, but otherwise the formatting is still basically the same. The major difference one notices when reading a Sturges script is how detailed the scene descriptions are.

In Chinatown, we see something much closer to what we're used to. Again, this appears to be a shooting script, so some of the scene description is allowable in a way that it wouldn't be in a spec, but still, it's very, very detailed: In case it's too small to see, the paragraph says, "Gittes stares at her. He's been charged with anger and when Evelyn says this it explodes. He hits her full in the face. Evelyn stares back at him. The blow has forced tears from her eyes, but she makes no move, not even to defend herself."

In a contemporary script, 40-Year-Old Virgin, we have scene description in its current incarnation :
This is what is now considered an acceptable amount of prose on a page.

I'm not sure I have an opinion one way or another -- I'm a skimmer rather than a reader myself, so I actually enjoy not having to read a lot of description -- but I just find it interesting to chart the evolution. There's a fine line between overwriting and trying to get a prose style to convey your story ideas, and the line seems to be getting finer and finer, as we strive to use the fewest words possible. It kind reminds me of the old joke, "Brevity is ... wit."

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

I Miss Shamrock Shakes

I'm not crazy about St. Patrick's Day. Too many drunk weirdos for my taste. But I love Shamrock Shakes. When I was little, I used to get a free shake on P-Day because of my green eyes. Does anyone else remember this? Shamrock Shake giveaways for green-eyed people? Did my parents make this up to make me feel "special?" Anyhoo, apparently you can find the elusive elixir in Buffalo and Ireland but not, sadly, in New York City. I might just go to the store and get some mint chocolate chip ice cream instead, but it won't be the same.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Black Orchids?

Play Nero Wolfe and check out some rare orchids at the Brazilian Orchid Show at the New York Botanical Garden. Definitely worth the trip to the Bronx ...

Friday, March 13, 2009

Fan Friday: Muriel Spark

In Muriel Spark's writing, "evil is never far away, violence is a regular visitor and death is a constant companion," or so says the Times anyway. I just finished a collection of Muriel Spark's Ghost Stories -- I particularly relished "Another Pair of Hands" and "The Portobello Road" -- and I have to say I did like that light touch, that sort of, "Oh dear, I've just died," approach to the ghost story. There's something refreshing about treating ghosts as a commonplace, rather than as Something Of Which You Should Be Very Afraid.

Normally I don't bother with biography, but I have to say I like this little detail, from her obit:

"In London [during the war] she landed a job with the Foreign Office in a secret division that disseminated black" propaganda, a brand of disinformation she described as "detailed truth with believable lies." The reports, broadcast on what masqueraded as a German radio station, used real names and addresses to lend veracity to invented stories, and the announcers were German prisoners of war. Although the fabricated news items were aimed at undermining the Nazis, there were times when they worked too well and surfaced as news in the British press."

This sounds like a premise for a novel, a recipe for insanity, or both (kinda reminds me of this novel Senselessness which is awesome and you should all go out and buy and I should write about later, because it surely deserves its own post).

I also like that she went through a post-war Dexedrine phase, apparently to stave off hunger during this period of rationing, which gave her severe hallucinations: "The words she had once manipulated turned on her, trapping her in a fog of anagrams and crosswords and convincing her that a code ran through the literature she read."

I suppose it's easy to be matter-of-fact about supernatural incidents slipping in on your orderly world when you're hallucinating six hours a day.

Michiko Kakutani has thoughtfully provided aspiring Sparks with a formula: "Take a self-enclosed community ... that is full of incestuous liaisons and fraternal intrigue; toss in a bombshell (like murder, suicide or betrayal) that will ricochet dangerously around this little world; and add some allusions to the supernatural ... Serve up with crisp, authoritative prose and present with 'a light and heartless hand.'"

How light and how heartless? Well, this is what Muriel had to say about her estranged son, who grew up to be a wannabe artists and a thorn in her side:

"He can't sell his lousy paintings, and I have had a lot of success. He keeps sending them to me and I don't know what to do with them. I can't put them on my wall. He's never done anything for me, except for being one big bore."

For some reason there's nothing more endearing to me than someone who freely admits they don't like their own children (or at least admits to a bit of benign neglect). Well, maybe someone who's a lousy mother, a worse housekeeper, and happens to see ghosts on a regular basis. That's definitely someone I'd like to have over for coffee.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Death Duty

In honor of tax time, I'd like to link to my short story, Hell Audit. Give it a read and check out my slightly revamped website while you're at it!

That's it! Click on the links now, there's a good reader.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Termite News!

Check out R. Emmet Sweeney's latest brilliance over at the TCM blog. Unlike me, he actually knows stuff about the movies he reviews, so you might even learn something.

Barbie Turns Fifty

Apparently Barbie turned 50 yesterday. Bravo, you old slag. I like that she's old enough to play AbFab Barbie with now. I submit my nomination for the Edina doll, above. I suppose Patsy could be played by her:

Some feminists think playing with Barbies is damaging. I say, "I played with Barbies constantly and I turned out fine." I think anyone reading this blog can attest to the fact that I'm perfectly normal. And I'm in good company:

Monday, March 09, 2009


Yesterday I was jotting down an important thought in my notebook ("My spirit animal is an Oreo cookie") when I came across the following cryptic note:

"Operation Maximum Velocity was a complete failure."

I have no idea what that means but it made me laugh for about half an hour. I realize now it's not actually funny.

Friday, March 06, 2009

PSA - Wear a Blue Scarf for Afghan Women

Ladies, spinsters, scholars! Listen up!


8 MARCH 2009

ACROSS AFGHANISTAN–one of the most hostile places in the world to be a woman–more than 10,000 women will come out of their homes to call for PEACE WITH JUSTICE. They will each wear a blue scarf.

ACROSS THE WORLD, people have committed to showing their solidarity to the women of Afghanistan. You can too.

Wear a BLUE SCARF on March 8.
POST YOUR PHOTO with a blue scarf to this page.
Tell us WHERE IN THE WORLD you are.

INSALLAH, the world will be painted BLUE on March 8.

Join the facebook event “BLUE SCARF CAMPAIGN for the WOMEN OF AFGHANISTAN

Spread the message, visit the blog, wear a blue scarf in solidarity, gather with your friends, document the event and send it to the Peace with Justice for Afghanistan blog so they can post it!

Why does this matter? Because somewhere on this planet a young girl is being denied the right to learn to read. What would your mother say if she knew you were just going to let that slide?

Even if you haven't got the time/means/camera/scarf to participate by sending a photo, at least spread the word, or write a note of support on their Facebook page. I have it on good authority that this is a legitimate group (my source being a professional woman who's been working in various NGOs in Afghanistan for the past three years, and knows whereof she speaks), so please do lend your support.



Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Random Observations about Film Forum

"This old thing? I just wear it to the movies."

1. At Film Forum, there will be at least one girl in the audience who is dressed like she's in the movie. At a Godard screening, you will find two or more girls who look like Anna Karina. At Breadlines and Champagne, there will be at least one girl wearing a snood/seamed stockings/slim skirt/all of the preceding.

2. After seeing enough movies in the B&C series, you will begin to mystify your friends by saying things like, "Joan Bennett is so underrated" and "Jake!" You will also become even more obsessed with James Cagney and forgive Spencer Tracy for becoming so irritating in his later years.

3. Some FF crowds will clap when Joan Blondell appears on screen, some won't. You want to be in the house with the former, because they will also clap when certain minor characters appear on screen. These will be cameos by people so obscure you've never heard of them but each will have his own fan club, probably headed up by the people you're sitting with. If you're really lucky, one of them will tell you about the time her friend's dad dated Gene Tierney.

4. You have a fifty-fifty chance of sitting next to a fat guy at any given screening.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Shameless self-promotion

Yesterday I launched my new website, designed by the multi-talented Rodrigo Brandao, amid much fanfare (we totally high-fived each-other, like, six times). I also have a short Believer article out right now, co-authored with the eminent critic R. Emmet Sweeney.