IF: princess

You keep using that word, I do not think it means what you think it means

“I had two little daughters – I think they were 7 and 4 at the time — and I said, ‘I’ll write you a story. What do you want it to be about?’ One of them said ‘a princess’ and the other one said ‘a bride.’ I said, ‘That’ll be the title.'”
— William Goldman

William Goldman was an award-winning novelist, playwright and screenwriter. He passed away in 2018 at the age of 87.



DCS: baby esther

boop boop a do

In 1930, animator Max Fleischer released the cartoon short Dirty Dishes, featuring a sexy, anthropomorphic French poodle, drawn by staff artist Grim Natwick. The character sang the song “Crazy Town,” which was augmented by a few “boop-boop-a-doo”s. In subsequent cartoons, the character was refined by studio animators Seymour Kneitel and Berny Wolf and soon became “Betty Boop” and scat-singing became her trademark. Audiences were wild for Betty Boop… except for singer Helen Kane.

Helen Kane was a jazz-singing flapper, performing regularly in vaudeville. She appeared on stage in the early 1920s. A few years after her debut, she appeared in a musical called A Night in Spain. In the show, Helen sang “That’s My Weakness Now,” and ad-libbed a bit of scat-singing… specifically “boop-boop-a-doo.” Audiences loved it and Helen became a star overnight.

As the popularity of Fleischer’s Betty Boop grew, Helen filed a lawsuit against the studio. Her suit claimed that Betty Boop was a deliberate caricature of her, created unfair competition, and had ruined her career. The lawsuit was brought to trial in 1934. During the course of the trial, it was revealed that Helen Kane actually stole her entire act after seeing “Baby Esther” Jones, a ten-year-old singer, perform in a Harlem nightclub. An early sound film was shown in the court room and Judge Edward J. McGoldrick watched closely. Baby Esther’s singing, mannerisms and her “boop-boop-a-doo”s were all the convincing the judge needed. He ruled, “The plaintiff has failed to sustain either cause of action by proof of sufficient probative force. In my opinion, the ‘baby’ style of singing did not originate with Helen Kane.” The case was dismissed and Helen was disgraced.

Baby Esther Jones, however, toured Europe. She performed for royalty in public and private shows. Despite her age, Baby Esther was touted as a miniature Josephine Baker. After Europe, Baby Esther was welcomed to South America, where her talents were lauded all over Brazil. She returned to the United States in 1930, where she headlined with Cab Calloway.

Baby Esther fell out of the public’s favor as she grew older. She was replaced in the spotlight by other black child singers. Baby Esther retreated into obscurity. She passed away, but it is unclear exactly when. She has been referred to by jazz scholars and aficionados as “Betty Boop’s black godmother.”



DCS: korla pandit

black history month 2020

Korla Pandit was a pioneer in the musical genre known as “exotica.” He played the Hammond organ and grand piano, giving a new, otherworldly life to standard tunes like “Over the Rainbow,” adding rapid runs, unusual breaks, and piano intermezzo. Beginning in 1949, Korla Pandit’s Adventures In Music was featured on Los Angeles’ KTLA. Korla would sit silently at his keys and, for the duration of the fifteen-minute program, play a variety of musical numbers while staring intently at the camera. An off-screen narrator would introduce the maestro as hailing from New Delhi, India, the son of a French opera singer and an Indian Brahmin government official. As his popularity grew, Koral was befriended by Hollywood stars like Errol Fynn and Bob Hope and he appeared in several films including The Thief of Bagdad.

Except Korla Pandit was living a lie.

In reality, Korla Pandit was, in fact, John Roland Redd, an African-American born in St. Louis, the son of a Baptist preacher. He adopted the Indian persona at the suggestion of his wife, Disney animator Beryl DeBeeson. The couple married in Tijuana , Mexico, as interracial marriages were prohibited in the United States. Exploiting his light complexion, first John used the name “Juan Rolando” before changing to the more exotic “Korla Pandit” and passing himself as Indian. He and his wife concocted a backstory and they fashioned a flashy wardrobe to complete the illusion. Korla kept up his appearance at all times — both on camera and off. His family would come to see his perform, but never speak to him. He would visit them, in full “costume,” but did so covertly and never with his wife or children.

In 1967, Korla and his family moved to British Columbia to avoid his sons being drafted into service in the Vietnam War. He performed in clubs in the late 70s in San Francisco, where he began to speak, delivering mystic messages of a somewhat spiritual nature. With his television popularity on the decline, he performed anywhere that would hire him — including pizza shops, department stores, supermarkets and car dealerships. He did experience a slight resurgence in popularity during the “Tiki music” revival of the 1990s. Korla even had a brief cameo in the Tim Burton biopic Ed Wood in 1994 and recorded with the Southern California punk band The Muffs.

Korla succumbed to a heart attack in 1998 at the age of 77. His children were unaware of their father’s true identity and heritage until after his death. His son, John, actually debated the truth.



DCS: abbey lincoln

black history month 2020 week 1

With Billie Holiday as an influence, Abbey Lincoln made a career performing standards, as well as her deeply personal original songs in jazz clubs through the country. She sang on her husband Max Roach‘s civil rights-themed album We Insist! in 1960. Her own lyrics were often connected to the civil rights movement.

Abbey was cast in dramatic roles in several films, including Nothing But a Man with Ivan Dixon and For the Love of Ivy with Sidney Poitier. She made guest appearances in episodic television, including All in the Family, The Name of the Game and Mission: Impossible. Her final role was in Spike Lee’s 1990 film Mo’ Better Blues.

Abbey passed away in 2010 just a few days after her 80th birthday.



IF: trial


DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Prepare yourself for the witness box.
COURT CLERK: Take off your hat.
JUDGE: Take off your hat.
COURT CLERK: Raise your right hand.
JUDGE: Please take off your hat.
COURT CLERK: Raise your right hand.
COURT CLERK: Now put your left hand here.
JUDGE: Will you please take off your hat!!
COURT CLERK: Raise your right hand.
JUDGE: Take off your hat!!!
COURT CLERK: Raise your right hand.
COURT CLERK: Will you get rid of that hat?
CURLY: Raise your right hand.
COURT CLERK: Raise your right hand!!
COURT CLERK: Do you solemnly swear to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth?
COURT CLERK: Do you solemnly swear to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth?
CURLY: Are you trying to give me the double talk?

Classic lowbrow humor from Curly Howard and company in the 1936 short Disorder in the Court.



DCS: kobe bryant

black mamba

I remember when Kobe Bryant was a phenom at Lower Merion High School, just outside of Philadelphia. There was a lot of controversy and second-guessing when he decided to forgo college and make himself available for the NBA Draft upon his graduation from high school.

The rest, as they say, is history. Obviously, he made the right decision.

Kobe died on January 26, 2020 when his private helicopter crashed in the hills above Calabasas, California. He was 41 years old.



DCS: bee palmer

I wish that I could shimmy like my sister Kate

Chicago-born Bee Palmer was a popular dancer in the early part of the 20th century. She toured with some notable jazz musicians, always under the name “Bee Palmer’s New Orleans Rhythm Kings.” The Rhythm Kings, however, were more successful after they parted ways with Bee.

In 1910, Bee introduced a new provocative dance, shaking her shoulders to accentuate her chest. The dance, called “The Shimmy,” caused an uproar, although it did gain her fans and afforded her the nickname “The Shimmy Queen.” The Milwaukee Evening Sentinel was prompted to write “Bee can wiggle and squirm and sway with the best in the business, but she seems a trifle ashamed of herself, as, indeed, she ought to be.”

She joined the famed Ziegfeld Follies in 1918. Later she performed on the stage with W.C. Fields and Will Rogers. Bee also claimed herself as co-writer of the pop standard “Please Don’t Talk About Me When I’m Gone,” a song that was cited as using virtually the same chord sequence as the 1925 composition “Has Anybody Seen My Gal?”

In the 20s, Bee had a scandalous affair with boxer Jack Dempsey, which culminated in a lawsuit by her current husband, pianist Al Siegel.

By the early 1930s, Bee’s style of singing and dancing fell out of favor. She was more suited for vaudeville and she just faded from the public eye. She passed away in obscurity in 1967 at the age of 73.



IF: red panda

not a panda

I have been participating — without fail — in the online illustration blog Illustration Friday since 2006. Most weeks, they present a word that is wide open to many interpretations. Except this week….

This week, the word is “red panda.” I didn’t know what a “red panda” was until I Googled it. It turns out — much to my surprise — it is not a subspecies of panda. It is also not related to raccoons, skunks or weasels. It was once believed to be a relative of the bear family, but that has since been discounted. Now, it seems, the red panda is the only living species of the genus Ailurus and the family Ailuridae. That means they are like nothing else on earth. So, of course, it is on the endangered species list.

So, what exactly is a red panda? I’m still not sure.

I took my first shot a wildlife drawing. There are so many of my contemporaries that are much more accomplished at this, I fear this will also be my last attempt at wildlife drawing.