Monday 20 November 2023

Reflections on ... Tomato Soup Cake

Further adventures in baking: on Sunday the boys were coming round, so I whipped up Tomato Soup Cake from B Dylan Hollis’ essential Baking Yesteryear cookbook (“the best recipes from the 1900s to the 1980s”). I know it sounds odd, but tomato soup cake was a housewife’s staple in the 50s, 60s and 70s (I remember my mother making it when I was a kid), it’s an extremely user-friendly recipe (I’ve made it twice now) and you can’t actually taste the tomato soup (it tastes primarily of cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves). This is the third recipe I’ve made from Baking Yesteryear (I’ve already done peanut butter bread and date and walnut loaf – both excellent) and can verify Hollis never steers you wrong. (He suggests icing it with cream cheese frosting. I cheated by buying a tub from the store). Recommended!

Watch B Dylan Hollis break it down here.

Saturday 21 October 2023

Reflections on ... the hates and loves of Ann-Margret in 1964


In 1964, then-23-year-old starlet Ann-Margret bared her soul to 16 Magazine about her “hates and loves” (or, as they put it at the time: “Here they are - the deep-down, intimate secrets of your favourite new star!”). I think Ann-Margret speaks for all of us here! (Please don’t tell me some publicity agent or anonymous hack cobbled this together – the disillusionment would be overwhelming). Pull up a chair – this is one LONG mutha of list. 

She hates for anyone to yell at her. She cried the first time a bandleader loudly chewed her out for being late to a rehearsal.

She hates dresses with lots of ruffles and frills. They make her feel like "... a Christmas tree!"

She hates vegetables - especially cooked spinach.

She hates to cook or anything to do with the kitchen.

She hates people who say nasty things about other people whom they don't even know.

She hates the fact that no matter how she rushes, she has a tendency to be late.

She hates to see too much make-up on a woman.

She hates to see an animal hurt.

She hates people who "...kid around with someone's emotions".

She hates gossip of any sort.

She hates rain.

She hates herself when she fluffs a song or dance, even during a rehearsal.

She hates people who think that show business is all whipped cream and glamour. Ann-Margret says: "It's one of the toughest professions in the world".

She hates it when people call her a star. "Right now, I am just a very fortunate girl", she earnestly maintains. "A star is someone who sustains, like Bette Davis".

She hates for people to try and pry into her personal life.

She hates the thought of sitting still for more than five minutes at a time.

She hates to have to straighten up her room.

She hates reports that she dates just for publicity.

She hates for people to tell her how to run her life.

She hates grey days and grey colours.

She hates people who complain and feel sorry for themselves.

She hates it when there is a mechanical failure in her car or motor scooter.

She hates to be told she ought to act such-and-such a way, because "... it's the thing to do".

She hates herself for being so painfully shy when it comes to meeting new people.

She hates jealousy of any kind.

She hates aggressive girls who brag that they can twist a man round their little finger.

She hates to get up early in the morning.

She hates prejudice in any form.

She hates to diet.


She loves going to football and basketball games.

She loves to ride her motor scooter through the Hollywood hills.

She loves a steak.

She loves to wear dark glasses.

She loves animals of all sorts.

She loves chocolate malts for breakfast.

She loves a windy night.

She loves big, shaggy sweaters.

She loves performing for a live audience.

She loves saving things. She has a huge chest, hand-carved by an uncle in Sweden, in which she stores all her mementos.

She loves sad movies - even though they make her cry.

She loves the colour black.

She loves to sleep under lots of blankets.

She loves pizza with ginger ale.

She loves browsing through family photo albums.

She loves Cantonese food.

She loves talking on the phone. She has two "Princess" models in her bedroom.

She loves water-skiing.

She loves collecting stuffed animals - the pride of her collection is a huge lavender poodle Eddie Fisher gave her in New York. She took it back to California on the plane - strapped in the seat next to her.

She loves flowers and greenery of any sort.

She loves baked potatoes with sour cream, chives and butter.

She loves to travel - especially back to Sweden for a visit with relatives.

She loves the name Skuby. So far, it's the "handle" for her Yorkshire terrier (also a gift from Eddie Fisher).

She loves her red motor scooter and her red compact convertible car.

She loves window-shopping.

She loves the excitement of Las Vegas.

She loves watching parades.

She loves laughing and seeing others laugh.

She loves working with Elvis Presley.

She loves weddings. Last year she was maid of honour at the nuptials of Sharon Louver of Summit, N.J., and Joanie Stremmel, of Wilmette, Ill., both of whom had been her best friends since the sixth grade. She caught Janie's bouquet!

She loves dancing - especially the Twist.

She loves the new house she bought for herself and her parents in fashionable Benedict Canyon.

She loves the beach - day or night.

She loves Marlon Brando's acting.

She loves little children.

She loves Capri pants.

She loves candlelight dinners.

She loves watching TV.

She loves Sammy Davis, Jr. and Elvis Presley records.

She loves modern furniture.

She loves being alone for a certain part of every day.

She loves her good luck charms - a miniature red horse, ivory Buddha, smooth beach pebble and tiny hula doll named "Jungle Julie".

She loves writing in her diary.

She loves playing a jukebox.

She loves holding deep philosophical conversations.

She loves suede jackets.

She loves riding a bicycle.

She loves to write letters and receive them. Write to her at 8966 Sunset Boulevard, Hollywood, California.

Saturday 7 October 2023

Reflections on ... Little Richard: I am Everything (2023)


I finally watched the 2023 documentary Little Richard: I Am Everything. (It's streaming on Amazon Prime). Director Lisa Cortés succeeds in making it feel cinematic, and the archival performance footage of Richard in his prime alone is worthwhile. The best “talking head” contributors are Richard’s late exotic dancer girlfriend Lee Angel and pioneering transgender nightclub entertainer Sir Lady Java - and John Waters, of course! (Waters recalls he used to shoplift Richard’s records as a kid, and that his signature pencil-line mustache is a direct “twisted tribute”). By comparison, big name guests like Mick Jagger and Tom Jones mostly offer show biz platitudes (and Billy Porter is self-aggrandizing). 

One thing it accomplishes nicely: so often hidebound rock critics and filmmakers get hung up on "who influenced who" which descends into "who ripped off who" as if it’s always a negative thing. It's common knowledge that when “the Georgia Peach” was just starting out as a performer without his persona cemented, two flaming queer Black male rhythm and blues musicians - Billy Wright and Esquerita - inspired his musical approach and appearance (the towering, processed conk, thick make-up and mustache). As one of the talking heads savvily argues, Richard didn’t “steal” from them: rather, they provided a mirror for Richard to see his true self. 

Similarly, Cortés gives Ike Turner his due. A musical expert notes that Richard's piano playing was beholden to Turner’s, something Richard admitted (he raved about the impact of hearing "Rocket 88", the 1951 Kings of Rhythm track widely considered the first-ever rock'n'roll single). Yes, Ike was a monster to Tina, but his trailblazing musical genius must be acknowledged. 

Also: I am Everything zeroes in on Richard’s commercial eclipse. Various theories are offered: all the acclaim went to Elvis. Richard was simply so black and queer that he threatened the musical establishment. And, of course, he kept jettisoning rock’n’roll to record gospel music instead. But ultimately, as someone clarifies, in the fifties, Richard’s primary audience was teenagers – the ficklest audience of all! By the early sixties, they’d simply moved on to the next big thing. 

The finale where Cortés demonstrates Richard’s effect on modern pop culture with a montage presumably meant to represent his spiritual descendants (Cher! Harry Styles! Lady GaGa! Lizzo!) is misbegotten. Are we meant to think anyone who ever wore sequins owes Little Richard a debt? (At least the inclusion of Lil Nas X - a modern flamboyant Black male performer - is apt). Richard was instilled with a sense of shame and guilt as a child, and throughout his life alternated between extreme hedonism and extreme fundamentalist Christianity. Sadly, as one commentator argues, Richard set a great liberating example for other people but rarely truly enjoyed that liberation himself.

Monday 28 August 2023

Reflections on ... the Diva exhibit at The V&A Museum


/ Grace Jones with flowers at the Drury Lane Theatre, London, October 1981 by David Corio /

Who’s up for some “diva worship”? My quick review of the Diva exhibit at The Victoria & Albert Museum (Pal, Fenella and I went on Sunday 27 August). 

The first floor (featuring early divas of opera, stage, silent cinema and golden age Hollywood) is a treasure trove. Things fall apart somewhat on the second floor, which brings us to the present day and the concept of “diva” seems to stretch to any random modern female pop star with a vaguely “empowering” message (or at least the ones who’ve loaned outfits for the exhibit. Let’s be grateful at least that Taylor Swift and Dua Lipa weren’t included. I wonder if the V&A regrets the emphasis on Lizzo given her current blizzard of bad publicity and legal woes). We could all bicker about our personal favourites not being featured, but it feels like glaring omissions that Marlene Dietrich and Madonna are barely represented (surely the Cinema Museum in Berlin could have loaned a Dietrich costume from their permanent collection?). And Eartha Kitt is represented by just an album cover! If they’re going to declare Elton John, Freddie Mercury, Prince and Lil Nas x honorary “male divas”, then why not include Divine, who was a diva of both cult cinema and hi-NRG disco? 

Conclusion: The Diva exhibit is enjoyable but ultimately superficial and best approached as "eye candy". It’s on until 7 April 2024. 

Here are my highlights:

/  Theda Bara in Cleopatra (1917) /

/ Costume designed for Carole Lombard by Paramount’s Travis Banton, 1930s / 

/ Left to right: gown worn by Judy Garland at Carnegie Hall (1961). The cocktail dress Bette Davis wears as Margo Channing (designed by Edith Head) in All About Eve (1950) and a dress worn by Joan Crawford in Mildred Pierce (1945) by Milo Anderson (that particular costume choice feels a bit underwhelming, huh?) / 

/ Closer look at Davis' "Margo Channing" dress /

/ One of the costumes Marilyn Monroe wears as Sugar Kane in Some Like It Hot (1959), designed by Orry-Kelly /

/ Mae West’s Travis Banton-designed costume for I’m No Angel (1933) /

/ Costume worn by Elizabeth Taylor in Cleopatra (1963) by Irene Sharaff /

/ Costume worn by Vivien Leigh in a stage production of Duel of Angels (1958) /

/ The “flame dress” Bob Mackie - maestro of the strategically-placed sequin! - designed for soul queen Tina Turner to wear onstage in 1977 /

/ Above: two Bob Mackie creations for his definitive muse and collaborator - Cher! /

/ Dolly Parton in doll form (circa 1978) /

/ Now THESE represent religious artifacts! Edith Piaf's little black dress (and tiny shoes!) alongside her comb, hairbrush, throat spray and make-up bag /

/ High priestess of punk Siouxsie Sioux’s harlequin catsuit by Pam Hogg circa 2007 / 

/ Deborah Harry's acid-yellow punk ensemble by Stephen Sprouse / 

/ Outfit worn by Lil Nas X to the MTV Awards, 2021 /

/ That's all that Queen Eartha Kitt gets - an album cover! (Albeit a gorgeous one!) / 

Wrapping things up on a high note: moulded acrylic breastplate by Issey Miyake as worn by glamazon Grace Jones /

Read more here. 

Saturday 26 August 2023

The Next Lobotomy Room Film Club: The Leech Woman (1960) on 21 September 2023


Are you anxious about the specter of old age? Do you dread the inevitable ravages of time? Honey, we all do! Let’s watch a movie that exacerbates those fears! (To clarify, I mean aging of the female variety! A man ageing is entirely fine, obviously!). 

Yes! Join us at Fontaine’s cocktail bar in Dalston on Thursday 21 September when the FREE monthly Lobotomy Room cinema club (devoted to Bad Movies for Bad People) presents ultra-trashy 1960 exploitation movie The Leech Woman! (Tagline: “Her evil jungle-born secret of eternal youth … drained the love and life from every man she trapped!”). 

The Leech Woman opens with suave endocrinologist Dr Paul Talbot (hunky Phillip Terry – an ex-husband of Joan Crawford!) bickering with his embittered, haggard and alcoholic older wife June (Coleen Gray, best remembered for co-starring opposite Tyrone Power in disturbing 1947 noir Nightmare Alley). We know June is evil because she’s wearing one of those Cruella de Vil-style fox fur stoles with the heads still attached). 

/ Out of what terrifying jungle rites had come her awesome secret – for prolonging life – and regaining youth and beauty? Estelle Helmsley as Malla /

They are interrupted by the arrival of Dr Talbot’s mysterious new patient – a shriveled ancient-looking woman called Malla (Estelle Helmsley) who claims to be 150 years old and to know the secret of restoring lost youth – but first they must accompany her back to her ancestral village in Africa. And ominously, Malla hisses to June, “You are the one in my dreams of blood!”  What could possibly go wrong? 

Every victim makes her young … beautiful … and more dangerous than before! Coleen Gray as June Talbot /

There are voodoo rituals. Human sacrifice. Stock footage of screeching monkeys and hissing snakes. Quicksand. But weirdly, no leeches! Spaces are limited, so reserve your seat now! 

Lobotomy Room Goes to the Movies is the FREE monthly film club devoted to cinematic perversity! Third Thursday night of every month downstairs at Fontaine’s cocktail lounge in Dalston! Numbers are limited, so reserving in advance via Fontaine’s website is essential. Alternatively, phone 07718000546 or email The film starts at 8:30 pm. Doors to the basement Bamboo Lounge open at 8:00 pm. To ensure everyone is seated and cocktails are ordered on time, please arrive by 8:15 pm at the latest.

Full details on event page. 

Monday 21 August 2023

Remembering Jean Hill (15 November 1946 – 21 August 2013)


“The doorbell rang, I opened the door and there she was – my dream-come-true, four-hundred pounds of raw talent. I carefully invited Jean in, and the first thing she did was goose me to totally unnerve me. She asked for a drink and got it. She laughed and said she had no objections to nudity (“I’ve got a lot to show, honey”), would certainly dye her hair blonde (“Big deal. I’ve had blonde hair twice before”) and asked for a special chair that wouldn’t break when she sat on it. After listening to her give a hilarious reading from the script, we went over the contract, I gave her an advance on her salary, and it was settled.” 

/ John Waters recalling his first encounter with Jean Hill when she auditioned for Desperate Living in the book Shock Value (1981) / 

“Could the mighty Jean Hill in her very heart have been a deeply sincere, vulnerable and perhaps even a (gasp!) shy person? Actually, I think she was, and her outrageous persona was a way to compensate for this and connect with people and get them to drop the bullshit, prejudice and affectation and deal with her person-to-person. She refused to be labelled. She was fat, she was black, and her health problems forced her to become a kind of permanent “patient,” and she was sometimes on welfare, so she was also filed as a “charity case,” but she refused to be put in any of these boxes or to be looked down upon. She was forged in defiance. There is nothing unique about that — the ghetto is full of defiant people, but it becomes special when that defiance is coupled with intelligence, wit, humour, compassion and a flair for the absurd, and that’s what made Jean stand out in any crowd.” 

/ From the Bright Lights Film Journal's lyrical, sensitive obituary for Jean Hill by Jack Stevenson / 

Died on this day ten years ago: John Waters’ majestic “soul diva” Jean Hill (15 November 1946 – 21 August 2013), unforgettable as Grizelda in his 1977 bad taste punk classick Desperate Living. (She also makes a fleeting but vivid cameo appearance in Waters' 1981 film Polyester). 

Tuesday 15 August 2023

Happy 60th Anniversary to Promises ... Promises! (1963)

 “The movie is a bedroom farce about a writer (Tommy Noonan) and his wife (Jayne) who are on a cruise with their friends, a famous actor (Mickey Hargitay) and his wife (Marie “The Body” McDonald). Tommy and Jayne want to have a baby, and Jayne takes various concoctions cooked up by the ship’s doctor. Tommy, who believes he is sterile, also drinks potency potions. There is a bedroom mix-up, a female impersonator who does Tallulah Bankhead imitations and two short sequences of Jayne thrashing about in bed bra-less, having disturbing dreams. It was because of these sequences that the movie was only shown in “art” theatres. Jet Fore, who was publicist for the movie, had erotic posters of Jayne printed up with a lot of words about the first time ever au naturel for a major star. Each sequence lasts about thirty seconds and bears no relation to the rest of the film which is as clean as a troop of Girl Scouts … In Promises … Promises! Jayne, wearing wedgies and skin-tight pedal pushers, straddles an open door and rubs her calf suggestively up and down against it. One expects the door to moan. It was theatre of sex at its most laughable.”

/ From Jayne Mansfield and the American Fifties by Martha Saxton, 1975 /

“It was at this point that Jayne made the most inexplicable, self-destructive move of her career, one that tipped her over from fading star to unemployable dirty joke. Actually, it was two moves: she agreed to star in the cheesy softcore porn film Promises … Promises! and to pose topless for Playboy … Why did Jayne agree to do nude scenes and in such a cheap film? She was not stupid or naïve when it came to show business – she had to have known no major studio would star her after this, and that family-friendly TV would be off-limits. But she had to work, even if she was a big nude fish in a small scummy pond.”
/ From Jayne Mansfield: The Girl Couldn’t Help It by Eve Golden, 2021 /

Today in smut history: the notorious Jayne Mansfield "nudie" movie Promises … Promises! was released sixty years ago (15 August 1963). It definitively ended the "reputable" part of her career.