BONJOUR BALENCIAGA ~ LE DIX AND JEAN SEBERG

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Bonjour Tristesse the 1958 film is from a novel by Françoise Sagan and was published when she was only 18. This stylish film is one of Otto Preminger’s best. The French New Wave has influenced him in his opening shots, but only on a visual level. This is pure Hollywood on ever other level. The melding of the two styles works perfectly and begins by setting the stark mood in stunning black and white widescreen shots of 1958 Paris. The present is painted in shades of grey and silver,

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where Cecile portrayed by the beautiful Jean Seberg moves aimlessly thought her pointless upper crust Parisian life. Only when she encounters her father David Niven later in the evening does the past seep in on the edges of the Cinemascope frame in vivid color and finally takes over moving us from the present to last summer on the Riviera. The device is used several times as we move from past to present and finally at the end of the film it creates a stunning effect once you know what suddenly happened to Cecile and her father last summer. The thing that changed everything forever and allows Preminger’s camera to linger in the last frame of the film on Jean Seberg as she wipes away the make-up from her perfect face.

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David Niven is perfectly cast as Raymond the aging playboy father of Cecile. He has the cool style and humor of a man who can’t commit to any woman and treats his daughter like a playmate rather than his child. His particular talents as an actor are that he seems to be playing the “David Niven” character in most of his films but here in `Bonjour’ as he often does in so many roles he makes a nice little twist on the “character”. He catches you off guard to wrench his and the audience’s emotions and prove once again what a good actor he is.

The French actress Mylene Demongeout is delightful as Elsa, Ramon’s summer plaything. She thinks everything that happens to her is “Brilliant!” when in fact most of the time it isn’t at all. She is  “Brilliant!” in the role.

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At first Deborah Kerr also seems to be playing her role by rote but it is just a ruse to set us up for her fall. As does Niven she too digs deeper in to her persona as Anne Larson and carries the film to its surprise ending. She is a joy to watch as a film actress and here she is particularly wonderful.

Jean Seberg who with her short cropped spiked hair is the heart of the film. The emotional lens through which the audience experiences the unfolding story. In certain shots reminded me of Sharon Stone in her youth, Seberg had that kind of blonde goddess look that Miss Stone possesses. She was only 19 when she made the film and in the hands of her director she presents us with a sensitive and spellbinding performance as Cecile. She is at once a teenager in turmoil and a young girl on the verge of becoming a woman. This is a delicate high wire act that the young Miss Seberg executes with charm and elegance. She is fascinating to watch and just right for the role.

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The subject matter is even today a little shocking and indeed this is one of the films of the 1950’s that put the sin in Cinemascope. Despite the restrictions of the day or because of them filmmakers of that time were challenged in ways they are not today. Challenged to be inventive and insinuate things that we were supposedly too innocent or too naive to know happen in the world. Those filmmakers knew that the imagination is more vivid and titillating than what they might show. It was good that the antiquated production code of the Hayes office crumbled in the 60’s but with its passing we lost a whole vocabulary in film. Here is a wonderful example of the meeting of the Movies and 50’s cinematic innuendo that serves this delicate story to a tee. I think “Bonjour Tristesse” is `Brilliant!’

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I find that Cecile is at times very grown up and at others a typical teenager filled with angst and petty jealousy. What perfume would she sport?  Well for a young girl like Cecile who wants to be all grown up but still has a taste for sweeter fragrances only one will do. Le Dix by Balenciaga. Created in 1947 this Aldehyde Floral (Some call it a Chypre Floral) by nose Francis Fabron is a mature yet playful fragrance. Joyful and yet there is a dark sexy undertow to it. It contradicts the expectation one has for an aldehydic perfume by being more grounded and earthy than one would expect. And then there is a vanilla fruity ambiance that meets with the florals to make it into a scrumptious invitation to come in closer, close your eyes and brush your lips next to the ear of the wearer. You almost want to lick the skin when smelling it. If Cecile wore it there most definitely would be a Lotiaesque air about her yet without guile. Like when a little girl puts on her mothers perfume just to smell grown up.

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Perfumer Franics Fabron not only created Le Dix (The Ten) but is most famous for creating for Givenchey L’Interdit and for Nina Rici L’Air Du Temps. Three masterpieces of the late 40’s and early 50’s. Each of them should be rediscovered and enjoyed L’interditi and L’Air du Temps can be found in newer forms but you have to go on a hunt for vintage Le Dix.

It opens with top notes of aldehydes, coriander, peach, bergamot, and lemon. this is the fruity young opening that would capture Cecile’s attention. The bubbly sweet champagne cocktail that she might sip on the terrace overlooking the French hills tumbling into the Mediterranean Sea. With the rising heat of the southern afternoon the bubbles subside and the mid notes arrive, Lavender, a dry and very grownup Oris Root, (Lush and rich this adds a dusting of powder to the fragrance) and it mixes in with rose, ylang-ylang, and that very French note of Lily of the Valley. Here the fragrance moves away from the playful and toward a slightly more austere glamour. But his is just foreplay to what comes in the magnificent dry down. Pure dark sensuality and danger are introduced with a dose of Civet. The exotic woods of Peru Balsam, Sandalwood and layered over with a rich thick amber and then the huge vanilla and tonka bean bring in a frothy swirl of delectable deliciousness. Finally, around the 10th hour is settles into a lingering warm skin scent bolstered by white musk and vetiver.

Le Dix is a ten for me, a classic that I feel works as well today, as it did in 1947. If you like a floral that borders on a chypre with a fruity fresh edge then may I recommend it? It will work well for most women from 18 to 81 and in some cases, myself included for men with a daring and delicious sense of fun. Wear Le Dix and you will be brilliant.

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Liaisons Secrètes ~ EAU D`HERMES & ACQUA DI PARMA COLONIA

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After World War II movies became more frank in subject matter. This was in part due to the changing mores of the returning vets and the women they came home to. After the horrors of war things would never be the same for them or for Hollywood. The other factor was the slow demise over the 50’s of the studio system and the rise of television as a threat to the box office. The censors began to relax and allowed more adult themes to be presented on the big screen. By the early 1960’s movies were well on there way to growing up. Taboo subjects such as prostitution, homosexuality and adultery were now subjects Hollywood was now eagerly taking on.

One of the more interesting and surprisingly un-judgmental of these films was the 1960 Colombia release, `Strangers When We Meet’. Produced by Kirk Douglas’ company Bryna Productions and Richard Quinn Productions and taken from the novel by Evan Hunter the film is a fascinating look into the suburban lives of a Los Angeles architect, his wife and the other woman in his life.

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Kirk Douglas gives a fine, understated performance as the architect Larry Coe. It is a stark contrast to his epic Spartacus of the same year. At a cross roads in his life Larry is given the chance to build the kind of house he always wanted to for upcoming novelist Ernie Kovaks while his company wants him to go on doing the same dull work they expect.  He fights for his chance to take the chance of a life time with the skill of a fine screen actor. Add to this his character’s  meeting one fall morning with Miss Novak at at school bus stop, and you have not only a fine actor living within a character but the beginning of a truly electric cinema chemistry. An impact of flesh and desire that jumps off the screen.

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As his wife, Barbara Rush is outstanding in one of her finest moments on screen. She is cold and withholding yet needy of her husbands love. Her finest moments come in her scenes with Douglas where they argue over their future and in her chilling confrontation with the lecherous Walter Matthau on a dark rainy afternoon. A scene that is so shocking in its brutal and frighting portrait of a man who thinks women are disposable sexual objects. Barbra Rush is amazing to watch as she struggles to thwart off Matthau’s creepy advances.

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As Maggie Gault actress Kim Novak turns in a nuanced and deeply felt performance. She is a woman that men have been hunting down all her life. Her beauty is something that brings her only sorrow and despair through a string of meaningless affairs. Her husband seems to be the only man who has no interest in sleeping with her and though she does love him he drives her away embarrassed by her open and honest desire for him. When Douglas says to her on their first meeting in a supermarket, “You’re not so pretty.” it throws her and intrigues her. Throughout the affair she embarks on with Douglas she is smart enough to know that this like all the others will ultimately lead nowhere. In the final frames of the film she is shown this very fact when faced with another leering man.

Kim Novak is so cool and remote at times that it seems the perfect fit for her, the role of Maggie. She is the kind of natural actress that when left alone with her instincts and the eye of the camera she surprises the viewer with the dark emotions that live just beneath her lovely features. One scene among many where she shines is when she is confronted with her past and has to tell the truth to Douglas about it. This too shines a harsh light on how men expect women to behave when it comes to previous encounters with other men.

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The cinematography is wonderful to see in the widescreen aspect and shows the great talent of cinematographer, Charles Lang who also shot such classics as `Charade’ and “Some Like It Hot’ and the stunning “One-Eyed Jacks”.The score by George Dunning is the perfect meeting of the romantic and dramatic. It stands along side his classic scores for “Bell, Book, and Candle”, “The World of Suzy Wong” and “Picnic.”Jean Louis one of the top designers of costumes for actresses of the period turns in just enough suburban glamour to keep the ladies in the cast looking wonderful.

Director Richard Quinn pulls it all together with his usual style. He presents us with not only a good drama but also an interesting look at the suburban life of Los Angeles in 1960. The locations are memorable, the glamorous old Romanoff’s restaurant, the stunning house that is built through the course of the film, and the beautiful beach at Malibu where the lovers rendezvous. This film stands along with “Suzy Wong,” “Bell Book and Candle”, and “How to Murder Your Wife” as some of his best work. The film holds up after Fifty plus years as a fresh and timely look at the relationships between husbands and wives and lovers who are always “Strangers When We Meet.”

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Illicit love has a scent, the scent of the forbidden, of excitement, and danger.  In Strangers When We Meet we are presented with two of the most photogenic and arresting faces of the early 1960’s. Both Kirk Douglas and Kim Novak were at the height of their careers, fame, and beauty.

As Larry Coe, a well-dressed, smart, and stylish Southern California architect Douglas brings a gentle yet powerful machismo to the role. What would he splash on in the morning, every morning before he went to the drafting table to design his dream house. My cinematic nose tells me that it would be a classic, something that in fact in this period in history was becoming a byword of elegance and sophistication in the Movie Colony at the time. Cary Grant wore it, as did Ava Gardner in the 50’s. Larry Coe would have certainly been drawn to its simple straight forward beauty. Acqua di Parma Colonia. Created in 1916 it would be a perfect Citrus for the sunny casual lifestyle in Bel Air.

Woody, fresh and spicy with dominant notes of blended Italian citrus, sharp eye opening lavender and rosemary it would be perfect for him.  There is a dash of rose and jasmine that waft over the senses in the middle and are fine-tuned by a sharp bright Lemon Verbena. A shimmering smooth sandalwood with an earthy snap of vetiver and the laundry fresh white musk just make it perfect for both men and women. The dry down is subtle and lush with amber and patchouli joining in on the woody beauty of that sandalwood.  It is a classic that works it’s magic every time.  And If Larry did wear it well, Maggie Galt would I’m sure find it a scents memory that would stay with her the rest of her life. His scent … bitter sweet and haunting.

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As Maggie Kim Novak is conflicted in her sensuality, both yearning and repressed. Banked fires smolder in her soul making her irresistible to most men. She is smoky, both in her voice and in her movement. She trails and lingers and wafts. What better scent for her than Eau D`Hermes.  Created by Edmond Roudnitska in 1951 this leather based fragrance also has a warm spicy edge to it. A mix of masculine and feminine that like Acqua di Parma’s Colonia make it very wearable for both women and men.

It opens with a bold blend of cinnamon, lime, lavender, and cardamom. And a surprising sprinkle of clover. Oh, boy but it’s beautiful even arresting in this opening. Like Novak herself it is almost too much of a good thing at first, but you sink into it and get lost in its heart. A heart made up of a glorious jasmine, geranium, and a brilliant slightly sweet tonka bean.

As it wears over a long period of time (up to 8 – 10 hours on my skin)  the vanilla comes up to warm it and keep the leather in its base supple as a fine cedar along with a dry white birch add vibrant vibrations to the smooth sandalwood dry down.   It is a classic that adds class to whoever wears it or to any occasion. Even when you are meeting an intimate stranger.

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***

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HAPPY 100th BIRTHDAY TO ACQUA DI PARMA COLONIA

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HAPPY 100th BIRTHDAY TO KIRK DOUGLAS BORN DECEMBER 9, 1916

THE FIRST MEETING OF DOUGLAS AND NOVAK IN THE OPENING SCENE OF

STRANGERS WHEN WE MEET.

IDENTIKIT ~ A FRAGRANCE TO DIE FOR! CHANEL No. 19 Parfum

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“It takes one day to die, another to be born…” Elizabeth Taylor reportedly said those words to her director Griffi when she came on the set the day after she left Richard Burton for their first divorce. So with that mindset she went to work on one of her most unusual, daring and controversial films. From the moment “The Diver’s Seat” begins you know you are in a strange place. In Europe the movie was called “Idendikit” so, with two names tagged to it thus making it schizophrenic from the first it easily falls into the realm of the ambiguous art film genre of the late 60’s and early 70’s. It’s star, Elizabeth Taylor, appears here in one of her most remote and dangerous roles. She plays Lise a woman who is consumed by insanity and the desire to find the ultimate lover, the be all and end all of boyfriends you might say.

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As the film opens you are presented with a shattered view of a woman on the edge of something terrible. The camera moves in a disjointed way, past naked mannequins heads covered in tin foil. Is this Lise’s view of others or is it a reflection of her inner life? Or possibly her future.  Upon being told to take a holiday from work after causing a scene in the office the film opens with her preparations to take flight to Rome. The film jump cuts from past to present as the police in Rome try to reconstruct the mystery of her holiday in terrorist gripped Rome. Even Rome comes off as off kilter. This is not the Rome of Audrey Hepburn or Marcello Mastroianni but a city one hardly recognizes from the lack of typical filming locations one associates with “Made In Rome!” movies.

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(Lise meets Andy Warhol at Fiumicino International Airport)

Director Giuseppe Patroni Griffi succeeds in presenting a inimitably Italian cinema verite film of the Muriel Spark novel. This is a unique film and very much of it’s day. Its non-linear, experimental, almost documentary style will be hard to get into for any one not used to movies of this sort. But it is well worth the effort. So strange and challenging a film it is that it left the opening night audience at the 1974 Cannes Film Festival in stunned silence.

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(with Ian Bannan)

The cast is well chosen and gives some oddly memorable performances. Ian Bannan as the macrobiotic sex-nut who tires to pick up Lise on the plane to Rome seems almost as mad as she is. It is a wickedly off kilter wild-eyed performance. The charming and always wonderful Mona Washbourne is sweetly touching as the woman who befriends the mad Lise and in doing so leads her to meet the man of her dreams.

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(with Mona Washborne)

But the glue that holds it all together is provided by Miss Taylor who tops off her short list of insane characters from Susanna Drake (Raintree County) to Catherine Holly (Suddenly Last Summer) with this daring and shocking portrait of Lise. She opens up as an actress that at the time would have been unthinkable to most of her contemporaries from the old M.G.M. days. That’s one of the wonderful things about her film career. She came from an era in old Hollywood where she was trained and groomed to be glossy and perfect. But as times changed so did she and in doing so became much more than an MGM glamour girl, she became an actress with guts. In “The Driver’s Seat” she shows her chops as an actress and her willingness to accept challenges in her roles and in Lise she found a great one. One stunning image of her is when in her loud madwoman dress and raccoon painted eyes she challenges the airport security to frisk her. In that scene she seems totally there, totally gone, and totally in control as an actress.

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Even the sweetest perfume has a hint of madness in it. That darkness must exist in a perfume or it has no chance of being complex or perhaps even a classic in time.

Perfume played a huge part in the theater which was Elizabeth Taylor’s life. A life lived before us all which unfolded in a flurry of purple and glittering diamonds in the center of the strobbing glare of paparazzi press for the last half of the twentieth Century. She was famous for wearing Bal a Versailles when she conquered not only Rome in 1962 but but also the denunciation of her by Pope John XXIII. Later in the 1980’s she created Elizabeth Taylor’s Passion and thus launched “Celebrity” Perfumes in to a realm yet untested.  Her perfume “White Diamonds” is still to this day one of the top sellers on the market.

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(Elizabeth Taylor and Andy Warhol
at the 1974 screening of Identikit ~ The Driver’s Seat at Cannes)

It is interesting to ponder what perfume Elizabeth Taylor’s character Lise might have worn in the film “The Driver’s Seat”? Symbolism and nonverbal signals are an important aspect of her character, from her wardrobe, the way she applies her makeup and even the book she carries with her on her travels. Every visual aspect is covered in her quest. So, there must be a fragrance she employed to attract that which she seeks and in the end finds in the darkest part of the Borghese Gardens in the heart of Rome in the dead of night.

This fragrance must be green and full of life and promise and yet carry a dark heart and of the period, the early 1970’s.  For Lise it would be Chanel No. 19 Eau de Parfum (1970).  The last perfume made during Mademoiselle Chanel’s life, named for the date of her birth and a personal favorite of hers.

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It is known and loved as a superlative Green fragrance. It is in fact onion like in its layers upon layers of facets. Like enfiladed rooms opening one upon another leading to an unknown end. In fact, it is the marriage between the fresh crisp smell of grass and the opposing heavy indolic white flowers all wrapped up in a fine supple leather which only hints at its complex schizoid nature.  It is like slipping on a fine pair of white kid gloves be they for horseback riding in a French wood in spring or driving gloves for that mad getaway drive along the Amalfi coast in winter.  Both rides are just on the edge of losing control.

Then the darkness comes. It comes from the interior of that leather where deep under its folds you find nestled a dark dirty vetiver and a deadly serious oak moss. And deeper still below that there is the deeply sensual and frankly fleshy sex of Iris or perhaps full blown oris butter. Slipper smooth and intoxicatingly drenched over a softly sweet and green narcissus. The rose that lies in there near the heart is bleeding and barely alive encased in a coffin of sandalwood. And upon this coffin, is placed a wreath of lily of the valley and ylang-ylang. There under all that green rebirth in its beginning is the solemn promise that it will die.

No. 19  is in fact like Lise very beautiful and hides a complicated inner world of Belle vie et mort inéluctable. As Lise moved ever closer to her rendezvous in the dark gardens of her soul in the center of the eternal city she must have smelled the clean green of the grass and the bereavement in the decaying flowers where she lay down.

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One of the most wonderful aspects of No.19 is that anyone, man or woman can wear it. and at any age. It is timeless, ageless, classic and yet very modern.

POWER, PASSION, MURDER & PERFUME: “FALLEN ANGEL” (Movie Memory)

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I knew you’d come back Stella.

[She looks at him from her chair in disdain, rubbing her sore feet] Okay.

One of the great Femme Fatales of the Film Noir entrances. With that disgusted and tired look at her boss in the Diner Stella sets the tone for a nearly forgotten masterpiece from Director Otto Preminger: Fallen Angel 1945.

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“Fallen Angel” is overshadowed by Preminger’s Laura 1944 but today it is making a comeback.

This great and newly appreciated Noir from is packed with power, passion and sex. It has more wallop than I expected. In fact the shocker is like a slap in the face from a baby in a pram. It is dark and moody. The great cinematography by Joseph LaShelle turns the combined sunny locations of Orange California and Pismo Beach into a menacing and dangerous fictional beach town drenched in greed, deceit and murder. It’s dark nights are shot in great deep contrast and slashing shadows that illuminate danger rather than mask it. The music by David Raskin is haunting and perfect for the film and the screenplay by Harry Kleiner from the book by Marty Holland is sharp, and biting and in the dance scene at the bar a brilliant example of how to beat the Hayes Code to a pulp with innuendo and wit.

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The cast is outstanding with the lead Dana Andrews as a shady guy on the make willing to do almost anything to get what he wants. Alice Faye turns in a subtle and deeply colored portrait of a spinster about to be taken for a ride along with Anne Revere who shines as always as Faye’s uptight doubting sister. The wonderful Percy Kilbride shows that there is much more to him than Pa Kettle. He is brilliant as a hash house burger slinger in love with the hard edged tough as nails local femme fatale Stella.

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And what a fatal femme she is! Lush, gorgeous and much underrated Linda Darnell makes the aforementioned unforgettable entrance in the film and then proceeds to give us a modern no nonsense dame who knows there is only one way for her to get up and out of Nowheresville California. She cashes in on her looks and sex appeal with a biting glee and desperation that lights up the screen and nearly ignites the sets.

She plays this role with ease and a great command of the screen and shows that she was more than just a beauty in the movies. She was a movie star with great screen talent.
This is a wonderful film with a twist that will leave you gasping. Great movie and a star making performance by Miss Darnell.

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White flowers in her jet black hair and a slink and sway that could burn a church to the ground by just walking past it leads me to ponder the type of perfume Stella would wear? Fracas is a little to easy a choice and came out a year or so after the film. She may wear white flowers in her hair but she is too earthy and hard to be that obvious. L’Air du Temps is to soft and lovely for this Siren.  Those white flowers are a hiding her spiders web… she would be more pungent and almost too sweet, like near rotting plums and peaches about to turn brown in the sun. And there it is. the dark purple of Stella’s soul, bruised by too many men trying to trap her and leaving her hard and distrusting. She would wear Edmund Roudnitska’s dense and dangerous Femme from Rochas (1944) It’s dry Chypre in constant battle with the lush plum fruitiness of it makes perfect sense. Spicy, and above all like Stella, earthy and in your face. Oakmoss, leather, benzion, amber, cinnamon and vanilla add to the always changing and deceptive nature of Femme. It is indeed well named and arrived on the world fragrance stage at just the right time and place to match and meet on the Hollywood sound-stages the very fascinating creature, the deadly and enticing, Femme Fatale.

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OVER THE TOP ORGY IN ROME! (Movie Memory)

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Che bella citta Roma! Vincent Minnelli’s “Two Weeks In Another Town” is pure glamour, trash, camp and Hollywood glitz. In other words it is great fun. Don’t go into it expecting anything more than over the top soap opera with the suds on overflow and you won’t be disappointed.

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Rome takes center stage in the film and is shown in all its “La Dolce Vita” glory of 1962. So much was happening there at this time. The birth of the paparazzi, the filming of “Cleopatra” and the international “Jet Set” had just landed in Rome to make it the fun capital of the world. The film captures all of this with high gloss and a tip of the fedora to Fellini who had first shown a light on the goings on along the Via Veneto a few years earlier.

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Kirk Douglas plays a down and out movie star just released from a mental institution / rehab center when he is invited to fly to Rome by his old director and ex friend Edward G. Robinson to take a small comeback part in his epic being filmed at the famed Cinecitta Studios. Well I don’t want to spoil the fun so all I will say is that there are plenty of gorgeous Italians running amok and lots of fabulous jewels bedecking Cyd Charisse. Tons of locations throughout the Eternal City and even an orgy! But the highlight of the film is the climactic scenic drive through the streets of Rome that Douglas takes Miss Charisse on after the orgy. That drive has to be seen to be believed! Words fail me at the sheer joy of this over wrought fun fest.

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Trust me, it isn’t anywhere near the brilliance of “The Bad and The Beautiful” of which it is a kind of follow up on, But it is beautifully bad in the very best way.
The DVD says remastered. But don’t expect Blu-ray quality, it is fine nothing spectacular in it’s re-mastering. But the color is good and the picture is clear.

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All those jewels and great gowns on Miss Charisse lead me to wonder what perfume her character would have worn? Well, it has to be nothing less than, Caleche Parfum by Hermes, a heady floral aldeyhyde with seductive notes of Iris, Gardenia, Jasmine, Ylang-Ylang, Sandalwood and Amber. Those are just the notes that stand out to me. A lush, even cinematicly dramatic fragrance that is perfect of a night of abandon in Rome.

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UNA NOTTE A ROMA ~ Le Gemme Bvlgari Haute Parfum

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Slick and glittering of ruby and emerald reflected from the traffic lights, the Via Veneto was empty after the predawn spring rain. Nick Abbot walked down the steps of the Excelc6ior Hotel and trough the porte-cochère filled with the thrill of his first morning in Rome. He could not sleep from the excitement that keep waking him to whisper “five days in Rome…why are you sleeping?”

On the sidewalk near to where he remembered Marcello had returned Ekberg to the Hotel in black and white a half a century or more ago, he smiled. It really was Rome…and it felt like coming home.  He looked up the street. Café de Paris was half hidden by the sycamore trees its sapphire blue neon swirling. The sidewalk before it held the memory of Valentino as a youth bumping into destiny and Giancarlo Giammetti on that very spot.

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Beyond was the ancient Porta Pinciana gate in the Aurelian walls that opened onto the Borghese gardens. He crossed the street and just past the Fellini plaque he turned down the Via Ludovisi.

A Ferrari convertible sped past sending a spray of water up from the street. Caught momentarily in the headlights the water arched over the sidewalk and became spray of diamonds as they fell in slow-motion into a pool of shimmering platinum. The woman driving waved to him her fingers fluttering bejeweled in amethyst. In the rear view mirror He caught her smile, so like Claudia Cardinale’s.  He walked on not knowing where he was going. He just wanted to feel and smell and embrace the city he had waited forty nine years to come home to at last.

The only sound was the click of his heels on the cobblestones.

“Marcello! Where are you?”

At the sound of her voice he stopped and turned in front of the Villa Maraini? Silence, only silence. The kind that only exists in a city as it breathes slowly in and out as it sleeps.  There was no one behind him. He walked on past the Hotel Eden and turned left along via Francesco Crispi. The sidewalk became narrow and kept him close to walls washed in citrine and terracotta. A shutter opened across the street as he turned the corner onto via Sistina and he caught a glimpse of a dark woman. She looked down at him and laughed and shutters closed. That laugh was so familiar. He stopped…wait a minute. He knew that laugh and that dark beautiful face. Anna Magnani! But that was impossible. He laughed softly, it must be jet lag he thought and walked on toward the obelisk up ahead. At the Hassler the street opened onto a small piazza.

“There you are! We have been waiting for you.”

He turned to see young Monica Vitti standing in front of the spinning gold and glass revolving doors of the Hassler. Smoking a cigarette, she was black and white film incarnate. No color except for spectacular Technicolor diamond and emerald necklace which she touched lightly with her right hand. There was a matching ring. And likewise the earrings danced from her ears matched the entire suite. She dropped her cigarette onto the cobblestones and walked right through him. Astonished Nick turned to watch as the Italian star skipped in her evening gown to meet Alain Delon who was waiting in the shadow of the obelisk.

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“I can’t believe……” Nick’s heart skipped five beats as he saw them walk to a flight of stairs then disappear down them. He ran to the stairs and was stunned by his first sight of the Spanish Steps as they tumbled and spilled before him down to the Piazza di Spagna.

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The celluloid phantoms of Vitti and Delon were gliding down the steps toward the Via dei Condotti. Nick stepped down onto the first marble step worn by centuries of those who walked before him. The air became light, and the sound of Nino Rota’s music filled the sky as the first touch of dawn rose at the top of the steps over the Trinità dei Monti . Nick was near euphoria as he moved down and down amid a parade of cinema dreams. Ingrid Bergman passed on his right carrying a parasol…from her neck hung diamonds to dazzle the most jaded eye. She smiled at Nick. From his left came Virna Lisi dripping in scintillating stones she smiled into his eyes. As she passed him she caressed his chin with the tip of a finger and priceless rubies winked from her ears. Legends from every era of film came and went as he descended. Joan Collins in black pearls, Sharon Stone in gold, Grace Kelly in sapphires, Romey Schenider resplendent in amethyst. Audrey Hepburn met him half way down and took his arm. She was eating a gelato on a cone and held it out to him to take a taste. It was like nothing he had ever tasted before. Audrey then led him to the bottom of the Spanish Steps to the man waiting below. She kissed his cheek and vanished in swirl of stars.

Richard Burton stood before him. As he turned to lead the way he spoke as only he could in that baritone made in heaven at Shakespeare’s suggestion.

“’We will have rings, and things, and fine array’”

Nick followed unbelieving and wanting to go on forever in whatever magic this was.

Richard Burton stopped half way down the first block and turned. He smiled.

Nick looked up at the building. One word over the door. BVLGARI.

“That is the only word Elizabeth knows in Italian.”  Burton said.

The music stopped, the street was deserted …they were all gone except for Nick.

A touch of breeze up from the Tiber tosseled his hair and whispered in his ear.

“Welcome to Rome.”

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  ***

The new haute perfume collection of perfumes by Bvlgari is inspired by the iconic stones for which the Roman jewelry house is famous for. Six fragrances from six stones that create what Bvlgari calls “The Bvlgari Gems Road”.

The collection is called Le Gemme (The Gems) and it is something to celebrate.  The house known for adorning the necks, ears, wrists and fingers of most if not all of the legends of the 20th century and beyond has in the past impressed us with such fragrances as the amazing Bvlgari Black, The Jasmine Noir collection, The Aqua collection and Bvlgari Man collection and Omnia.  But with this new and very exclusive release the house is concentrating on perfumes that represent the very core of the Bvlgari brand. The soul of chic that is Bvlgari jewelry.

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First in the lineup is Ashlemah, (sweet dreams) is based on the amethyst. A stone associated with divinity, spirituality and purity. This perfume is the aristocrat of the line. It is highly sophisticated in nature and wears on the skin with regal beauty. Purple after all is the color of kings. The notes are lavender essence, Iris absolute and musk. No muddle of too many symphonic notes but rather a chamber piece of clarity and beauty. It opens in Lavender but the star in the evening sky is the imperial cool beauty of a lovely iris note. This is held aloft on the skin by a clean clear musk.

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Sunlight over Capri, Joy and la dolce vita are what we find in our second fragrance Maravilla (delight / marvelous ). The stone that we explore here is the golden Citrine, the stone of intelligence, and sunny disposition. In fact this chypre fragrance is my favorite of the line, bright, effervescent and shooting light and joy right off the skin. This is a lemon grove hugging the cliffs along the Amalfi Coast. The notes of Italian Lemon tree, Orange flower absolute are married to a playful and yet grounded rich patchouli. Again just three major notes and what a magic marriage of notes these three are. The patchouli with the two citrus notes is a brilliant move by the perfumer Daniella Andrier who is the nose for the entire collection. It is woodsy and warm. This will be a huge summer and spring hit.

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Mystery and solitude are Calaluna, the moonstone. The goddess, this stone is associated with magnetism, and intuition. Calaluna is also a beautiful isolated bay on the island of Sardinia. Azure waters and white warm sands are the signature of this place where the cliffs dotted with caves falls it the sea. This fragrance of White Iris, almond flavored Heliotrope and Sandalwood is warm and lonely. Not the sad kind of lonely but the self-possessed solitude of one who lives comfortably in one’s own skin. This is a very contemplative fragrance. When I wear it I feel the doors of introspection and discovery unlock and open before me. Truly beautiful, and again only three notes that blend to do all of this. Less is becoming the minimalist’s everything. That everything embodied here is the pinnacle of cool and chic.

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Lilaia was a Naiad of Spring to the Greeks and Romans. A fresh water nymph and daughter of the river Kephisos. She also lends her name to this green fresh fragrance by Bvlgari. Lilaia is inspired by the green Peridot a gem of rebirth and change. So fittingly this is a beautiful aromatic slightly fruity perfume. The notes are Galbanum, Mastic absolute, mint, bitter orange and musk. The Mastic give the aromatic resinous galbanum a full round lushness of a green Mediterranean forest of pine and cedar like accords. This to me smells like the umbrella pines on the Palatine hill in Rome. There in the Farnese gardens at the top of the hill just before you enter the ruins of the imperial palaces there is an overlook perched over the Forum. At that spot, under those umbrella pines you are enveloped in the most wonderful woody green scent. This to me is where Lilaia now lives singing her song in harmonious lovely notes.

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The Pink Tourmaline is a spitfire stone from Brazil, and at Bvlgari they call her, Amarena. In Italian, Morello Cherry. She is all about heat and glamour and a big bold flower in her hair. This fragrance sambas on the skin to a wonderful tune created by the notes of Amarena Cherry, Violet, Rose Centifolia and Tuberose. This is a glamorous floral that becomes more entrancing after the sun sets. In fact there is a rather playful war of the roses going on here. A tug of war between the temperamental rose and the heavy lidded languorous tuberose. But as you move into the fragrance the two kiss and make up ending in a rather intricate sexy tango. For a winter seduction under the stars in the Borghese gardens wrapped in chinchilla. Well look no further, is your arsenal of love.

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From across the empire and beyond the deserts of the Middle East came spices and the rarest of gems to tantalize and intoxicate the aristocrats and emperors of Rome. For thousands of years and to this day the markets of Rome such as the open air market at the Campo de’ Fiori are filled with wonderful smells. Here in the last presentation of Le Gemme, Bvlgari dazzles us with the exotic Noorah. Inspired by the Silk Road between China and Rome one particular stone made its way through the East to the capital on the Tiber. That stone was Turquoise. Noorah means the “exuberance of the heavens” and what a perfect name for this exotic sensual perfume. Galbanum, cardamom, and vanilla found in the markets of Rome are lush and interesting here in the opening. I pick up a rich sweet tobacco note along with the very intriguing note of candied dates from Arabia. The caravan from Petra has arrived! This one when it first hits the skin is a bit biting but settles down nicely into a warm embracing and very inviting scent.

I found it interesting with each fragrance in the line that they vary in intensity and each as it should for what it is. Some lighter as in the Maravilla and others bold and deep such as in Amarena. With them all I found the longevity to range from good to excellent. The most interesting aspect of that would be that at about five or so hours they seemed to die but then about twenty minutes later they bloomed anew. I found that delightful. In all they last between eight to twelve hours on my skin. Projection is fine Amerena being the one to push out the most. So there is, in this respect something to please almost any taste in that regard. Marketed to women for the most part they all, to me work well as unisex scents. So fellows don’t be shy, step up and try some truly wonderful fragrances to wear with that great Bvlgari watch.

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The line is making its U.S. debut this month April 2015 in a select number of Bloomingdales across the country. As for Europe I am under the impression it has already launched. The beautiful Bvlgari 6-piece Collection box of 10ml sprayers is available at $260. A 30ml bottle retails at $155 and the 100ml bottle at $310

Le Gemme Bvlgari collection has been a joy to explore. A wonderful olfactory journey though the past and present along a road paved with jewels, gems and memories.

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A COMEBACK…. “I hate that word! It’s a return!” Norma Desmond.

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I have been away from the written review since Novmeber 2014. This was due to my computer issues which have at last been adressed. More reviews are on the way but in the meantime here is something special from my YouTube review Channel. Get some popcorn, turn off the lights and hold on to your martini and gigolo… this one is scary.

BUONA SERA E BENVENUTI A BARNEYS! ~ Acqua di Parma Launch at Barney’s

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Last Thursday night I co-hosted the launch of Acqua di Parma at Barney’s NY here in San Francisco. I was invited by Michael Rogers the rep for the line at the exclusive department store to help set up the event and introduce him and the line to the Barney’s customers.

Here is what I had to say about the Acqua di Parma that night.

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As far back as I can recall I have found a fascination with the lands that are kissed by the salty waves of the Mediterranean. The golden glamour of Egypt, the mystery that is Marrakesh, the fallen heroes of Hellas, and the place where God met man in so many different languages, but of all these lands one claimed my heart when I was very young. There in the middle sea stretching down from Europe toward Africa like an exquisite Ferragamo boot is Italy.

In dark Cinemascope dreams, painted in lush strokes of Technicolor….as a little boy in the front row of the Fox Theater I found the map to my heart’s home. It was the 1950’s and after the horrors of World War II Hollywood went on location and in so doing took me and the rest of America on a grand tour. “Roman Holiday” made a Vespa ride through the eternal city the hart of bitter sweet romantic possibilities.  “Summertime” gave us Venice as we had never dreamed it could be, at any age.  De Sica showed us “The Gold of Naples”,

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Luchino Visconti swept across a Sicily now gone with the wind in “The Leopard” and Fellini gave us “8 ½” thousand ways to  re-imagine our dreams, It all happened in the darkness of that old theater. A darkness that to me was brighter than sunflowers in Tuscany and as fragrant as Parma violets.

 

In the midst of this boom of movie making in Italy the imported Hollywood stars I was watching on the screen, like Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn, Ava Gardner

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and David Niven discovered the Perfume house of Acqua di Parma. They fell in love with unique beauty of the fragrance first created in 1916, Aqua di Parma Colonia.

 

Think of it, 98 years ago. Hemmingway was driving an ambulance in the Alps, Paris was the last stop before Hell and the world was fighting for inches in trenches in the Great War to end all wars. Out of that terrible time came this beautiful fragrance and many more to follow.

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It survived World War I, this cologne fist created to scent newly sewn Italian suits and men’s handkerchiefs. The great depression didn’t diminish its beauty. And then it was liberated by the Allies on April 25, 1945 to a new world with a new look of glamour and sophistication. It became so interconnected with Old Hollywood that to this day it carries a cache of chic not many other houses can match. In one very real sense Acqua di Parma is Hollywood on the Tiber in a bottle.

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But it is much more than that to me. It is the smells of Italy. In each bottle from the Colonia of 1916 to the newest of the Blu Mediterranio it is there. The leather scented air of Florence, the Lemoncello nights of Positano. It is there in that little deco bottle. From the twisted juniper trees on high Sardinian cliffs to the rich gourmand blend of pasta and wine that is Rome. It is there.

 

When I finally made my way to Rome, to see it for myself, to be immersed in my own dream, and to wake every morning and realize it was better than any movie, it was real.  I smelled the trampled earth of the Circus Maximus after the rain, and a smoky incense swirl that meets the air when a church door opens, the flowers cut fresh at the foot of Giordano Bruno in the Campo di Fiori, and the shimmery slippery wet cobblestones of the via del Corso. Italy is fragrance, it is perfumed by history. These smells are the essence of Italy and as I breathed them in I knew at once that I had come home at last.  Now it is your turn to find your story in the bottle, your turn to smell Italy and become a part of the dream.

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***

 

We had a nice turnout and everyone enjoyed Michael’s presentation of all of the fragrances of the line. He was so engaging and entertaining. I was so impressed by the time and effort he put in to the presentation. The table was beautiful and there were even samples of the ingredients for everyone to smell. Every aspect of Acqua di Parma is hand made. Even the beautiful boxes the fragrance come in. Of particular interest were the new Leather and Oud fragrances. At the end of the event every guest received a goodie bag packed with samples to try out at there leisure.

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(Michael Rogers of Acqua di Parma)

 It was so much fun to be a part of this wonderful launch and I want to thank Michael and Christina and the entire fragrance department staff who are always hospitable and wonderful. And welcome to Barney’s Acqua di Parma!

 

If you are in the San Francisco area, do drop by Barney’s and say hello, smell some incredible fragrances and tell them I sent you.

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Barney’s NY San Francisco

77 O’Farrell Street

(415) 268-3500

ESCAPE TO SHANGHAI ~ Atelier d’Orient Shanghai Lily Tom Ford

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Margaret Fong watched as the typhoon rain made watercolor neon dragons race down the windows of the W Hotel Hong Kong. She sat in the window wrapped in a mink coat unable to sleep from the residue of adrenalin that had fueled her escape from San Francisco.  She could never go home again. What a strange circle completed its cycle to bring her to the place where her great grandfather many times over had left for America. 

She touched the hard as a diamond cold glass that protected her from the storm. Emerald skinned rain dragons with sapphire and ruby eyes seemed to turn a look at her from Victoria Peak.  Steam billowed from their nostrils as they took flight above the city then turned out over the harbor their glowing neon wings lighting the underbelly of the typhoon that battered Hong Kong. She smiled. She didn’t even know how to speak Cantonese.

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(Dragons borrowed from Skyfall)

She was rich now, richer than anyone in her family had ever been. The large canary yellow diamond on her finger winked at her with cool confidence. She brought her hand down from the window and licked the surface of the diamond then polished it with the sleeve of her mink. Perhaps it had been foolish to have bought it in the jewelry store downstairs. An impulse purchase when she arrived that morning just hours ahead of the storm. She glanced up at the television to see her face on the screen. She was the big story on a slow news day for CNN. She muted the sound.

Her next move had to be to stay on the move. A train would be better than a plane. But where to go, where does a woman who has just embezzled forty four million dollars from one of the richest high tec companies in the world hide?  She opened her purse and pulled out her newly forged passport and ID. The best that hot money could buy, Lily Chu Beijing, People’s Republic of China. She dropped the papers on the table and took out her scarlet lipstick and compact. The most beautiful girl from Galileo High School looked back at her in the tiny mirror.

Fan Bingbing as Lily Chu Escape to Shanghai(Fan Bingbing as Lily Chu)

That face had gotten her pretty far, her brains brought her the rest of the way; she decided not to freshen her mouth. She snapped the compact shut and looked back at the television. She was still on the screen. She grabbed the remote and changed the channel.

An old movie flickered in black and white fuzzy close-up glamour and filled the screen. She smiled in recognition of the images from the past. It had been one of her mother’s favorite movies because she loved Anna May Wong. Anna did nothing for Margaret; it was the glamorous blonde with the funny accent that had captured her imagination as a little girl. It was odd to see her now with her dialog in Cantonese subtitles at the bottom of the screen. The movie began to work its magic once again, even without sound. She flicked the mute button on just at Marlene Dietrich spoke to Clive Brook,

 Shanghai Lilly Marlene Dietrich

“It took more than one man to change my name to Shanghai Lily.”

The new Lily that was once Margaret laughed out loud. Maybe that was why she chose Lily for her alias; the name had stuck with her all these years. And Shanghai, that would be an interesting stop along her escape into the land of 1.3 billion. One quick phone call and she was booked on the midnight express to Shanghai.

The storm had subsided to a mere tropical annoyance as Lily Chu in dark glasses and wrapped in her new mink hurried though the Hung Hom station to catch her train to her future.  “Pardon me” she said as she brushed past a man in a black wool overcoat. He turned to watch her with icy sapphire eyes. Then with measured ease set out after her. Just as Lily settled into her compartment he train let out a low growl and then its high piercing whistle screamed.  As the wheels ground against the steel rails pulling the train out of the station, Lily had no idea that she was being followed to Shanghai.

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  *****

Tom Ford’s Shanghai Lily from his Atelier d’Orient line is an exotic, stunning entry into the Oriental Floral garden. It is languorous, lithe and liable to lead to trouble. I have no idea if the inspiration behind this perfume is the Marlene Dietrich character of Shanghai Lily from the Josef von Sternberg film “Shanghai Express” (1932). If not, well, this perfume certainly carries all the mystery and intrigue that is found in Dietrich’s portrait of a lady who one character describes as a “Coaster, a woman who lives by her wits along the China coast.”

The perfume is loaded with more notes than Lily’s steamer trunk is filled with French unmentionables.  They come at you all at once in a locomotive rush. Bitter orange, pink and black pepper, cloves, spices and incense kick of the exotic journey, I get a definite mince meat pie accord here that is delicious and long lasting.

In the center of the perfume there is exotica galore as the perfume continues its excursion along your pulse points. Floral notes push in on the opening notes layered over with a sensual labdanum, jasmine, rose and a hint of tuberose. It goes together with the spicy mix so well. And the peppers and cloves laid out in the opening meet up with olibanum, a light layer of barely perceptible vanilla and benzoin keep it from being too pretty.

The dry down at journey’s end is a solid base of cashmere wood, sassy castoreum, guaiac wood and vetiver. This combo keeps this perfume sexually ambiguous and as enticingly daring as Marlene Dietrich was in a man’s tux in the early 1930’s.  It is a well blended perfume that works to the advantage of both men and women. Lasting on my skin a good ten hours and leaving a va va voom sillage for those looking to make an entrance. And what an entrance this perfume makes. Pure star power all the way from opening credits to fade out, as directed by Tom Ford this Shanghai Lily is a box office hit.

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SHANGHAI LILY BY TOM FORD Four Gold Stars ****

(NOTE: PART TWO OF THIS STORY IS IN MY POST ENTITLED: A STRANGER IN THE NIGHT)

GO TO “L” ~ For the Beguiling Vickie Lester.

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Esther: (Walks up to the pay window on the studio lot) Paycheck for Esther Blodgett please.

Paymaster: “Go to “L””

Esther: Now wait a minute!

Paymaster: You’re new here right? You got a new name, you’re Vickie Lester, V. I. C. K. I. E.   L. E. S. T. E. R. Got it? Go to the window marked “L”.

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Esther: (walking way she tries the name on) Vickie Lester? Vickie …Lester. (It’s a fit) Vickie Lester!

I was only four years old when A Star Is Born staring Judy Garland premiered at the Pantages Theater on Hollywood Blvd. I don’t remember the locally televised premier when I lived in that hell hole of a town outside of Los Angeles, called Fontana. I don’t remember going to see it at the movies either. What I do remember is seeing the film and falling in love with it at nine when it was played every night for a week on the Million Dollar Movie. It was all about Hollywood, that mythical place just 50 miles to the west. That place that I wanted to be, not where I was, wedged between Kaiser Steel and the stinking chicken ranches. Which ever way the wind blew…it smelled like rotten eggs.

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Each night when the Million Dollar Movie came on at eight p.m. and the great Warner Brothers logo appeared on the tiny black and white television, I was there pushing my imagination inside that t.v. tube to another universe. The WB faded to reveal the night lit diamonds scattered below the Hollywood hills that made up my dreams, and as the searchlights twinkled on and the orchestra swelled I knew I was going to see a real movie about an unreal place. And then there was her, the star being born night after night and that song, a song that has followed me all my life.

(Outtake of That Song)

That was the first time I heard the name Vickie Lester and over the years that passed since that spring of 1960, through war and assassination, protest and peace, disco and the devastation that is AIDS, and the man that got away her story and music have been with me. As the years piled up my Hollywood dreams were put away but whenever Vickie Lester showed up on the screen they were dusted off and tried on of a few hours of dreaming. What I never imagined was that one day I would meet Vickie and she would turn out to be more wonderful than in the Movies.

STAR IS BORN

When I was just beginning my blog I surfed around to find other blogs that might be of interest to follow. One day I happened upon Beguiling Hollywood by Vickie Lester. Vickie Lester! At once I knew that anyone who would write under that nom de plume had to have a great sense of humor. Then to my delight I discovered that not only did she have a great sense of humor but she was a Hollywood history buff, a lover of the eclectic electrically exciting architecture of Southern California and a great, great writer and storyteller.  And most fun of all, being an insider in that town of make-up and make believe she had stories. She knows the dirt and how to dish it veiled just enough to keep her audience guessing. “Did that really happen?”  She won’t say for sure, and neither will I.

In time and over many posts and then a phone call or two and finally a visit to her home on a very Mildred Pierce street in Los Angeles we became friends. So close in fact that I call her Sis and she calls her big brother. It is a friendship forged by dreams and elevated by mutual admiration and a great recognition of souls and love.

Today is Vickie Lester’s Birthday and I would like to share with you this hope. The hope that for each of you a star has been born somewhere out there in the world where dreams really do come true, some one you can always call a dear and beloved friend. A special someone who is better and more exciting than any movie star in the firmament of the Hollywood heavens, someone like Vickie Lester.

Happy Birthday Sis…

Me and Vickie Lester

(Vickie Lester and Lanier Smith smelling wildflowers in the Hollywood Hills. Photographed by Lane Tibbs.)

Please do visit Vickie Lester’s blog Beguiling Hollywood

http://vickielester.com/

And her novel It’s In His Kiss comes out in June!!

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(Times Square 1954)

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