Happy 100th Birthday, Dame Vera Lynn!
The wonderful Dame Vera Lynn was born Vera Margaret Welch in East Ham, Essex, 100 years ago today! Here are 10 VL Did-You-Knows:
- On March 17, 2017, Lynn celebrated her centenarian status by releasing a new album, Vera Lynn 100, breaking the record she set at age 97 to remain the oldest person to ever release a new album.
The album comprises some of her most beloved hits with her original vocals set to new re-orchestrations, with the addition of vocals from a number of contemporary British performers.
- On March 18, a charity concert at the London Palladium featuring some of Britain’s best contemporary talent paid tribute Dame Vera and her remarkable life and career. Queen Elizabeth was in attendance.
- Lynn was performing for audiences by the tender age of seven (which means she’s been in show business more than 90 years) and by 11 had taken a stage name, Margaret Lynn (she later returned to her given first name, Vera).
- She first performed on the radio, with the popular Joe Loss Orchestra, in 1935, and in 1936 released her first solo recording, Up the Wooden Hill to Bedfordshire.
- Lynn is best remembered today for her moving renditions of sentimental wartime favorites, such as The White Cliffs of Dover, A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square, There’ll Always Be an England, and her signature song, We’ll Meet Again. She further supported the war effort by hosting her own radio program, Sincerely Yours, on which she performed songs that were requested by soldiers and sailors. She also visited hospitals to meet with new mothers so that she could send their husbands who were serving overseas messages of love and support.
- Known during the war years as “the Forces’ Sweetheart,” Lynn performed for the troops in such remote and often dangerous locales as Egypt, India and Burma. For her tireless and courageous efforts, she was awarded the British War Medal and the Burma Star.
- After the war, she continued to record, topping the American charts (she was the first British performer to accomplish that feat) in 1952 with her recording of Auf Wiederseh’n Sweetheart. She was also a regular for some years on Tallulah Bankhead‘s American radio program, The Big Show.
- In the late 1960s and early ’70s, Lynn hosted her own variety television series on BBC1 and guested on a wide range of other TV programs.
- In all, Lynn placed 16 singles on the charts (UK, US or both) between 1948 and 1967. After the war, she continued to work for many worthy causes, including assisting ex-servicemen, disabled children, and breast cancer charities.
- In 1969, she was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) “for services to the Royal Air Forces Association and other charities.” In 1975, she was advanced to Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE). At age 85, Lynn founded the Dame Vera Lynn Children’s Charity, which provides support and education for families affected by cerebral palsy.
- In 2000, Lynn received the Spirit of the 20th Century Award as the Briton who best exemplified the spirit of the 20th century.
Happy birthday, Dame Vera Lynn, and many happy returns of the day!
We’re featuring the music of Dame Vera on Cladrite Radio all day long today and well into the evening, so be sure to tune in!
This story originally appeared in a slightly different form at guideposts.org.
Happy Birthday, Dan Duryea!
Given his screen persona, Dan Duryea, born 109 years ago today in White Plains, New York, might not strike the average movie buff as an Ivy Leaguer, but he was, in fact, a member of Cornell University’s class of 1928. He majored in English, but was interested in theatre, too. In his senior year, he even succeeded Franchot Tone as president of the college drama society.
Duryea went on to work in advertising for a bit until the stress got to be too much. A mild heart attack in his twenties convinced him to pursue an acting career instead, a move that paid off nicely. He appeared on Broadway in Dead End and The Little Foxes, and it was the latter play that provided his ticket to Hollywood. Though Bette Davis was named to replace his Broadway co-star, Tallulah Bankhead, in the role of Regina Giddens when Sam Goldwyn bought the rights to produce the cinema adaptation of the hit play, Duryea was retained to play her nephew Leo Hubbard, his cinematic bad guy (or, at the very least, his first weasel).
In an early 1950s interview with Hedda Hopper, Duryea claimed that his focus on playing bad guys was intentional, even planned:
“I looked in the mirror and knew with my ‘puss’ and 155-pound weakling body, I couldn’t pass for a leading man, and I had to be different. And I sure had to be courageous, so I chose to be the meanest s.o.b. in the movies … strictly against my mild nature, as I’m an ordinary, peace-loving husband and father. Inasmuch, as I admired fine actors like Richard Widmark, Victor Mature, Robert Mitchum, and others who had made their early marks in the dark, sordid, and guilt-ridden world of film noir; here, indeed, was a market for my talents. I thought the meaner I presented myself, the tougher I was with women, slapping them around in well-produced films where evil and death seem to lurk in every nightmare alley and behind every venetian blind in every seedy apartment, I could find a market for my screen characters.”
We’re not necessarily convinced that Duryea entered the movie business with that much foresight and wisdom, but it sounded good after the fact, and in any case, it’s certainly true that he came to be closely identified with the film noir genre and known for his memorable portrayals of sketchy (at best) characters, in classics such as The Woman in the Window (1944), Scarlet Street (1945),Criss Cross (1949), and Too Late for Tears (1949).
For our money, Dan Duryea was a sort of poor man’s Widmark, but as we see it, there’s not a thing in the world wrong with that.
A nice guy and dedicated family man in real life, Dan Duryea was married to his wife, Helen, for 35 years until her death and was an attentive parent, serving as a scout master and PTA papa to his two sons.
But on screen, he was the sniveling creep you hoped would get his. And while he usually did, he gave as good as he got.
Happy birthday, Mr. Duryea, wherever you may be—you heel, you.
Formerly Famous: Marion Barbara “Joe” Carstairs
Many a 1930s screwball comedy mined the eccentricities of the well-to-do, but it’s hard to imagine even the most imaginative screenwriter coming up with a character as eccentric as Marion Barbara “Joe” Carstairs.
Carstairs, a ballyhooed champion speedboat racer in the speed-crazed 1920’s, wasn’t memorable merely for being the fastest woman on water. Her visible tattoos, penchant for cigars, and preference for men’s clothing ensured she stood out in a crowd.
Born in London in 1900, Carstairs inherited her wealth from her maternal grandfather,
Living in Paris in her teens, Carstairs had her first lesbian experience, about which she later remarked, “My God, what a marvelous thing. I found it a great pity I’d waited so long.” Soon thereafter, she took part in an affair with Dolly Wilde, Oscar’s niece.
Carstairs served as an ambulance driver in France during World War I before traveling to Dublin to join the Women’s Legion Mechanical Transport Section. She returned to France following the signing of the Armistice to help to rebury the war dead as a member of the Royal Army Service Corps.
Carstairs returned to London to launch an all-female chauffeur service called the X-Garage in 1920 before selling that concern and turning her focus to speedboat racing.
Carstairs won a handful of championships in the 1920s, including the prestigious Duke of York’s Trophy, the Royal Motor Yacht Club international race, and the Lucina Cup. “I liked the boats,” Carstairs said. “I liked the way they behaved. I understood them.”
Carstairs earned the respect of her male counterparts in the world of speed-racing, and she proved to be a supportive and generous friend to many. Sir Malcolm Campbell, who held the world speed record on land and on water at various times in the 1920s and ‘30s, is said to have described Carstairs as “the greatest sportsman I know.”
Though she lived openly as a lesbian, Carstairs married her old friend Count Jacques de Pret in 1918 in order to gain access to her trust fund and appease her drug-addicted, adulterous mother, Frances Evelyn Bostwick, who disapproved of her daughter’s sexual proclivities. Upon Evelyn’s death, though, the marriage was annulled on grounds of non-consummation.
Carstairs bedded dozens of women in her life—among them, reportedly, actresses Tallulah Bankhead and Marlene Dietrich—but avoided long-term romantic attachments. It was said she kept a photographic file of 120 of the women she’d slept with, but her life’s companion was Lord Tod Wadley, a stuffed leather doll 12 inches in height that was a gift from a girlfriend in 1925.
What fostered Carstairs’ attachment to Lord Wadley is unclear, but she was rarely without him and even had tailored clothing made for him on Saville Row.
In 1934, Carstairs purchased Whale Cay (pronounced “key”)—a small island 30 miles northwest of Nassau and 90 miles east of Miami—for the sum of $40,000. She moved there and set up what might be described as a relatively benign fiefdom.
Quickly making the island her own, Carstairs hired locals from her own and neighboring islands to clear away vegetation and build an extravagant plantation that boasted a huge house for herself and her guests as well as small cabins for her workers, a dock, a school, a church, a fish cannery, and a general store.
Carstairs also undertook a reworking of the island’s social structure. New laws were created according to her whims (adultery and alcohol were outlawed), she took for herself the right and privilege to name all the island’s newborns, and she formed a private militia—complete with uniforms and machetes—to enforce these laws.
Shortly after arriving on Whale Cay, Carstairs had impressed the locals, many of whom were adherents of a form of voodoo known as obeah, by throwing a knife so skillfully she cut off the head of a snake several yards away. Many of the island’s residents also attributed special powers to Lord Wadley, so it’s not difficult to understand how Carstairs came so quickly to assume an almost royal role on the island.
Carstairs, who played host at Whale Key to many famous friends over the years (among them the Duke and Duchess of Windsor), was often seen by the island’s longtime residents riding about on her motorcycle, with the ever-present Lord Wadley strapped in behind her.
In 1975, long since out of the public eye and afflicted with failing health, Carstairs sold Whale Key, thereafter dividing her time between Miami and Long Island. When she died in 1993, her beloved Lord Wadley was cremated and buried along with her.
This story originally appeared in the Spring/Fall 2012 issue of Zelda, the Magazine of the Vintage Nouveau.
In Your Hat, pt. 12
|If you took a rabbit out of those suckers’ hats
They would squawk just the same:
They all have two strikes on them
When they are born.
“May every hat check bring you a fat check—and may no meanie neglect my Renee—who never wrecks hats each time she checks hats—Frances Williams.”
“Oh, look, I am in your book—thanks for letting me.”
“To Renee, who expects something clever from me but won’t get it.”
“To Renee, from her worst customer.”
“To a real and sweet girl, with loads of knockouts.
Lightweight Champion of the World.”
“Who takes what you give graciously. All life is a game of give and take. For what she takes she gives in a return a smile, a cheerful greeting and your belongings. May you go a long ways and prosper. Keep smiling Renee, it’s what we all go for.”
Duchess of Sardi,
Baron George Jessel,
Colonel of the Bronx Grenadiers
And Vis-count of Brownsville.”
“You’ll always be Miss Shapiro to me—one of my best yarns. Sidney Skolsky
P.S. She sleeps in the raw!”
“My hat’s off to you. (Get it?) Je parle français aussi. (I hope that’s right).”
“My autograph I here inscribe,
A member of the organ tribe
Poet (?) of the Organ.”
“Keep your face towards the sun and the shadows will fall behind you.”
“A mon amie Renee en souvenir des Ziegfeld Follies 1931.”
“A hat girl who has more in her head than all the brains those hats cover. A little princess on a door mat—An oriental pearl in a suffocating shell—a ruby in a musty purse, but watch her.”
“To Renee. In memory of my first daughter of four kilos.”
“Because I like red-heads.”
In Your Hat, pt. 2
Here’s Chapter 2 of In Your Hat, the 1933 tell-all memoir by Hat Check Girl to the Stars, Renee Carroll:
I DON’T claim that Ziegfeld missed a bet when I decided to become a hat check girl, but I fill a spoke in the wheel, and most of the boys want to go around with me.
Honestly, though, I can’t say I hate it when for no good reason at all Buddy Rogers kisses my hand as publicly as if we had been on the Roxy stage. Two girls who were squashing their noses against Sardi’s window well-nigh swooned when that happened, and I’d be fibbing if I said I was far from pulling a faint myself. Only a few weeks before I had been standing at the stage door of the Paramount Theater waiting to catch a glimpse of America’s Boy Friend, reveling in the usual girl’s thoughts about swinging in a hammock with Buddy Rogers at my side, or is it paddlin’ a canoe or listenin’ to the moon? I’d heard lots of people call the tall dark boy Bloody Rogers in jest, but it isn’t fair.
Well, anyway, he came into Sardi’s, handed me his hat, and then, inquiring after my health in a most solicitous manner, touched his lips to my hand. Maybe it’s true that a couple of the Broadway wise boys who were sitting in the restaurant did make noises that sounded suspiciously like Bronx nose blowing, but it was a dream of a moment. For a second I forgot that I was supposed to be sophisticated.
And Bob Montgomery, before he became what he is, and you know what that is, was just another of the nice Broadway gang. He was one of my “promissory nuts”, as I called the boys of that class, who were always promising things for the dim future.
In Bobby’s case, it was always the generous tip he was forecasting because he didn’t have even a dime in his jeans to leave for checking. Not that I minded at all, but business must be on the level. And whenever he’d pick up his hat, after unsuccessful attempts to land some work by being seen at Sardi’s during lunch, he’d say: “Put it on the cuff, Renee.” Unfortunately, I wear no cuffs except mental ones, and I keep remembering little things like that.
Especially I’ll never forget the little fellow who was so near-sighted that he once tipped me a penny, certain that it was a dime. And ever afterward, recalling his mistake, he would come into Sardi’s every day and say: “You remember me, don’t you, young lady? I’m the man who gave you a cent by mistake!” As if I’d ever forget a penny tip!
Tipping is a great art if you know how, and getting the tip—particularly from a celebrity—is even a greater one. Getting a man to tip without his being conscious of the amount is the most delicate and subtle operation in the world. Some day I’m going to write a book on “The Technique of Tipping.”
I’ve been talking a lot on this subject to professional waiters. I don’t mean the boys who are helping Mother along by taking up the table as a sideline, but those whose front handles are usually Oscar or Fritz, and in whose families waiting has been a profession for centuries. One of our waiters was so proud of his serving lineage he claimed that one of his ancestors served spaghetti on the Santa Maria!
People naturally hate to tip, especially when they have a Gallic strain in them. Generosity is not usually governed by economic conditions. Even when a man who tips a good amount ordinarily is almost broke, he will not let this be a factor in keeping him from tipping his usual amount. It’s the habitual tightwad who’ll skimp on service and then go out and let his girl friend rook him for some matched sables.
One day Walter Donaldson, the songwriter, drove up to the restaurant with Maurice Chevalier. It was summer, and as Chevalier came out of the auto, he took off his hat and threw it on the back seat. Donaldson kept his on.
I believe in the equal distribution of wealth, and when the two approached my booth, I stopped the inimitable Maurice.
“Mr. Chevalier,” I began. “I paid a dollar to see your newest picture last night.”
“Oh yes? And how did you like it?”
“I thought it was fine,” I told him.
“Thank you very much.”
“But, Mr. Chevalier, after I paid a dollar to see your picture, do you think it’s fair for you to leave your hat in the car to save a dime?”
I knew it wasn’t the nicest thing to do, but it worked like a charm. The Frenchman ran out into the street, retrieved his hat and deposited it with me.
“It will never happen again!” he assured me as his famous underslung lip curled forward in its traditional smile
“Merci, mille fois.” I told him in my best French. He tweaked my cheek and marched on. Walter Donaldson thought it was a riot and didn’t stop laughing for two days.
You think that money is everything
And yet it’s anybody’s spring.
Go make a fortune, become a king
And still it’s anybody’s spring.
And if you flash a bank roll
Do you suppose the brook would care?
Or that a rose would say
“There goes a millionaire!”
It’s more than diamonds around a ring
Because it’s anybody’s spring.
You may be born with the silver spoon
And yet it’s anybody’s moon
You couldn’t buy a ticket
To hear the first robin sing
It’s free because
It’s anybody’s spring.
Music by James Van Heusen, lyrics by Johnny Burke, 1944