from my sketchbook: brigitte helm

love kills
Nineteen-year old Brigitte Helm couldn’t have imagined what she signed on for. With lofty aspirations of starring on the big screen, the Berlin teen joined a cast of  thousands on director Fritz Lang’s vision of a dystopian future, Metropolis. She was subjected to Lang’s attempt at presenting gritty realism and, in 1927, without the aid of CGI, every special effect was an experiment. Lang had Brigitte, along with five hundred children, perform in cold water tank to achieve the illusion of a flooded city. He insisted on setting a large fire in another scene, causing the hem of Brigitte’s dress to ignite. Brigitte, who played a dual role as Maria and her robot double, the Maschinenmensch, was nearly suffocated inside the weight of her elaborate, but poorly functioning, metal costume. When filming on the early science-fiction epic was completed, she never worked with Lang again.

Brigitte made thirty films during a career that lasted only eight years. She retired from motion pictures in 1935, when she married for the second time. Brigitte, a native German, incurred the wrath of the Nazis, as her husband, Dr. Hugo von Kuenheim, was Jewish. However, after Brigitte was imprisoned for a series of traffic accidents, Adolf Hitler, a huge film fan, personally saw to it that all manslaughter charges against the actress were dropped. 

Brigitte and her husband moved to Switzerland in the mid-3os. She was offered the title role in The Bride of Frankenstein, but turned it down in favor of a life of anonymity.

Brigitte got her wish. She passed away in 1996, staying out of the spotlight for sixty-one years.

IF: money

machen gelt

Recently, I had a Twitter conversation with my internet buddy, Philadelphia singer-songwriter-holder of a Guinness Book World RecordAdam Brodsky.

Evidently, folksinger Loudon Wainwright III is featured in a current commercial for retail giant Walmart and Adam didn’t like it one bit. In typical “Josh Pincus” fashion, I smart-assed him. Our exchange went like this (including “two cents” added by Jim Taggart [@tagjim], who I do not know) :

I hope Adam has the sense of humor I think he does.

Between August 3, 2003 and September 21, 2003, Adam Brodsky set the Guinness World Record for the Fastest Tour by Solo Performer with 50 shows in 50 states in 50 days, and then performed in Washington DC the following night.

IF: radio

radio is a sound salvation

Long before Jeff Dunham, even long before Paul Winchell, there was Edgar Bergen.

Bergen started off as a ventriloquist in vaudeville. He was offered an appearance on Rudy Vallee’s radio program. Bergen proved himself so popular, he was given his own radio show, The Chase and Sanborn Hour (sponsored by the then-famous coffee company), in 1937.  Bergen and his cast of characters — smart-ass Charlie McCarthy, slow-witted Mortimer Snerd and man-hungry Effie Klinker — delighted America well into the 1950s, when television became the leader in home entertainment.

If you think about it, Edgar Bergen had one of the easiest jobs ever. He was a ventriloquist on the radio. Think about that for a moment — a ventriloquist on the radio! He applied a visual form of entertainment to an audio outlet. I often wondered if he even bothered bringing the dummy to the show. The home audience certainly would have never known. Makes you look at Edgar Bergen’s radio career in a whole different light.

Bergen passed away in 1978. His last appearance was a cameo in The Muppet Movie. The film was dedicated to his memory.

from my sketchbook: sebastian cabot

French!

Stints as a mechanic, a chauffeur, valet and chef were not a good fit for Sebastian Cabot. He wanted to act — a type of lying, as he called the profession.

Sebastian worked regularly in films for thirty years, beginning with his debut in Alfred Hitchcock‘s 1936 thriller Secret Agent. (Actors Michael Rennie and Michael Redgrave also made their debuts in the film.) He was just as comfortable in Shakespearean tales as he was in science fiction and adventure films.

In the 60s, he was recruited  by Disney and made memorable voice-over contributions to The Jungle Book, The Sword and The Stone and several Winnie-the Pooh featurettes. He also joined the cast of the TV sitcom Family Affair as the stuffy Giles French, “gentleman’s gentleman” to wealthy bachelor Bill Davis (played by Brian Keith).

After five seasons, Family Affair was canceled, but Sebastian remained a staple on television. He appeared in several made-for-television Christmas-themed movies and hosted an anthology series of ghost stories (aptly titled Ghost Story). He even recorded an album of Bob Dylan songs, with unintentional hilarious results.

In the late 70s, he resided in British Columbia. After suffering his second stroke in three years, Sebastian died in 1977 at the age of 59.

In 2012, during an interview on the Late Show with David Letterman, comedian Billy Crystal mentioned Sebastian Cabot’s name. Letterman remarked that the actor’s name hadn’t been heard in 30 years. As the show broke for a commercial, Sebastian’s picture was displayed on camera in tribute.

from my sketchbook: faith bacon

Well I guess it would be nice/If I could touch your body/I know not everybody/Has got a body like you

As a teenager traveling through Paris in the 1920s, Faith Bacon began her career as a dancer through a chance meeting with singer Maurice Chevalier. She performed in Paris reviews exclusively in the nude, using bubbles, flowers and fans as props.

When she returned to the United States, she appeared in Earl Carroll’s notorious nude Broadway showcase Vanities. New York law prohibited performers from moving while appearing nude. Faith skirted the law by introducing fans into the act, claiming that they were technically “clothing.” She became synonymous with “The Fan Dance.” In July 1930, when the club was raided for indecent exposure, Carroll defended Faith with claims that she wore a thin cover of chiffon, and only gave the illusion of being nude. He, too, maintained that the fans used in the act could (and should) be considered coverings. Charges were dropped and Faith continued to perform a slightly “toned-down” version of the dance.

Faith landed a spot in the renowned Ziegfeld Follies, where she was a regular feature for three years. During her run, she sued popular (and rival) burlesque dancer Sally Rand, who also performed a fan dance. Rand countered by saying the fan dance had been around since Cleopatra’s time. The lawsuit was thrown out, but Faith insisted on being billed as the “Original” fan dancer.

In 1933, Faith was giving a performance atop a glass drum, when it cracked. She fell through, badly cutting her thighs on the broken glass. When the cuts healed into disfiguring scars, Faith sued the Lake Theater Corporation for $100,000. She settled for $5,000, which she foolishly spent on a ten carat diamond.

Soon, Faith found it difficult to secure work. She had gained a reputation for being difficult and eager to sue. In 1948, she sued a carnival promoter, accusing him of putting tacks on the stage on which she was dancing barefoot. Again, Faith lost the case.

On September 26, 1956, depressed with no money and no prospects, Faith jumped to her death out of a Chicago hotel room window, falling two stories and landing on the roof of an adjacent saloon. Her friend, grocery store clerk Ruth Bishop, tried to grab Faith’s skirt as she climbed out of the window but Faith tore free. Faith was 46 years old.

from my sketchbook: laura branigan

How Am I Supposed to Live Without You
After a stint as a backup singer on for Leonard Cohen on an early 70s European tour, Laura Branigan knew she wanted a career as a professional singer.

Impressed by her four-octave range, Atlantic Records chief Ahmet Ertegun signed Laura to a contract. She released her debut album, a collection of up-beat pop songs and ballads, in 1982. The record’s lead single, “Gloria,” earned Laura a Grammy nomination. It was featured in the popular film Flashdance, although it did not appear on the soundtrack album. She was a guest star on the 1983 edition of Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve, where she performed her hits “How am I Supposed to Live Without You” and “Solitaire.”

The 80s saw Laura’s greatest success with a slew of albums and singles, including her biggest hit “Self Control” and guest appearances on popular TV series like CHiPs and Knight Rider. In the 90s, Laura concentrated on versions of songs made famous by other artists, including Vicki Sue Robinson’s “Turn the Beat Around.”

In 2002, Laura performed the title role in Love, Janis, an off-Broadway musical based on the life of Janis Joplin. Her time with the production was short-lived, as a misunderstanding in filing with the Actors’ Union forced her to drop out.

Laura died in her sleep, in 2004, of a previously undetected cerebral aneurysm. She had been experiencing regular headaches, but did not seek medical attention. Laura was 47. Her management company still maintains her musical catalog and has released three “Greatest Hits” packages, as well as re-releases of all of her studio albums, in the years since her death.