Friday, August 30, 2013

Our Favortite heroes and film combined: A grand guy, Sir Guy Grand

Well, you know, Youngman, sometimes it's not enough merely to teach. One has to punish as well...


Sir Guy Grand, as played by Peter Sellers in the film The Magic Christian.


"The lead character in The Magic Christian a 1959 comic novel by author Terry Southern, is Sir Guy Grand an eccentric billionaire who spends most of his time playing elaborate practical jokes on people. A big spender, he does not mind losing large sums of money to complete strangers if only he can have a good laugh. All his escapades are designed to prove his theory that everyone has got their price - it just depends on the amount one is prepared to pay them. Episodic in character, The Magic Christian is an unrelenting satire on capitalism and human greed."

"For example, Grand pays the actor playing a surgeon in a live television soap opera to deviate from the script, comment in drastic terms on the bad quality of the show, and walk off the set. In another episode, he secretly buys a respectable New York advertising agency, installs a pygmy as its president and has him "scurry about the offices like a squirrel and chatter raucously in his native tongue" in front of all the top executive staff and their prominent clients. In a third, he buys a cosmetics company and launches a big promotional campaign for a new shampoo which, as it turns out in the end, has a very detrimental effect on those who happen to use it. He also shows up at a safari in Africa with three natives carrying a howitzer. Grand´s final adventure takes place on board the S.S. Magic Christian."


"In the 1969 film directed by Joseph McGrath and starring Peter Sellers and Ringo Starr. It was loosely adapted from Southerns novel.

McGrath's film adaptation differs considerably in content from Southern's novel. Relocated to London in the 1960s, it introduces an orphan whom Sir Guy Grand picks up in a park and on a whim decides to adopt. The role was written with Ringo Starr (who plays it) in mind. A host of British and American actors (see cast) have brief roles in the movie, many playing against type. Episodic in character, The Magic Christian is an unrelenting and often heavy-handed satire on capitalism, greed, racism and other human vanities. Notable are the appearances of (pre-Monty Python) John Cleese and Graham Chapman (uncredited), who had written an earlier version of the film script, of which only the scenes they appear in survived.


Their misadventures are designed as a display of father Grand to his adoptive charge that "everyone has their price" - it just depends on the amount one is prepared to pay. They start from rather minor spoofs, like bribing a traffic warden (Spike Milligan) to take back a parking ticket and eat it (who delighted from the large bribe, eats its plastic cover too) and proceed with increasingly elaborate stunts involving higher social strata and wider audiences. As a father-son conversation reveals, Grand sees his plots as "educational" ("Well, you know, Youngman, sometimes it's not enough merely to teach. One has to punish as well.").

At Sotherby's art auction house, it is proudly claimed that an original Rembrandt portrait might fetch £10.000, yet to director Mr. Dougdale's (John Cleese) astonishment, Grant makes a final offer of £30,000 for it ('Thirty - thousand - pounds? Shit! I beg your pardon, I do beg your pardon!') and having bought it, proceeds, in front of a deeply shocked Dougdale, to cut with his scissors the portrait's nose from the canvas. In a classy restaurant he makes a loud show of wild gluttony, Grand being the restaurant's most prominent customer. In the annual Boat Race sports event, he bribes the Oxford team (where Graham Chapman plays a member of the rowing team) and makes them ram purposely the Cambridge boat, to win a screamingly unjust victory. Grand secretly buys a respectable

Grand and Youngman eventually buy tickets for the luxury liner S.S. Magic Christian, along with the richest strata of society. In the beginning everything appears normal and the ship apparently sets off. Yet soon, things start going wrong. A solitary drinker at the bar (Roman Polanski) is approached by a transvestite cabaret singer (Yul Brynner), Dracula (Christopher Lee) poses as a waiter, a cinema show turns out to be a "documentary" of a chirurgical merging of half a white man's and half a black man's bodies into one. Eventually passengers start noticing through the ship's CCTV that their Captain (Wilfrid Hyde-White) is in a drunken stupor and finally gets carted off by a gorilla. In a crescendo of panic the guests try to find their way to abandon ship. A group of them, led by the Grands, reach instead the machine-room, which turns out to be powered by hordes of topless rowing slaves, under the Priestess of the Whip's (Raquel Welch) command. As passengers finally find an exit and lords and ladies stumble out in the daylight, we discover that the liner had never really left the port. During the whole misadventure, father and son Grand look perfectly composed and cool, as if all this is one more of their pranks.

In the final scene of the movie, Guy Grand wanting to find out how far people can go for money, fills up a huge vat with urine, blood and animal excrement and sprinkles it avidly with paper money. In a choreographic way, a crowd of gents approaches the vat and after some indecision starts stepping in to grab the cash. Having forgotten all sense of disgust many even start taking dives in it.

Reception of the film.

Not surprisingly, most mainstream critics have been quite negative on the film, especially for its extensive use of black humour. Darrel Baxton, in his review for Splitting Image, refers to the film as of "the school of savage sub-Bunuelian satire"[1]. Christopher Null in filmcritic.com states that "it's way too over-the-top to make any profound statement"[2].

Some audiences may find it irritating to watch scenes of a multi-millionaire who has nothing better to do with his wealth than to use it to humiliate people who are much poorer than he is. Sir Guy Grand can easily afford the luxury of wasting his money on bizarre stunts, whereas his victims cannot. The underlying theme of the movie appears to be that people will do anything you request - if you offer them enough money. Of course people were already well aware of this fact back in 1969 when the film was released, which may account for its cool reception."

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

The Cat Who Came In From The Cold - On The Cud

Here's something very, very fun: a brand new Welcome To Weirdsville piece I wrote on the infamous "Project Acoustic Kitty" just went up on the delightful Aussie Cud site.

Here's a tease:


"Good morning, Mister Phelps. Your mission, if you decide to accept it, is to read the following without either shaking your head in absolute wonder or collapsing to the floor in hysterics. As always, should you or any of your IM force be caught or killed, the Secretary will disavow any knowledge of your actions. Good luck, Jim. This tape will self-destruct in five seconds..."

I mean, come on: it's bad enough that fun and weird history writers like myself can't just relax when people bring up ghosts or UFOs, ridiculous, conspiracy theories, or astrology without collapsing into hysterical giggles, gasping for air trying to get out, "You think that's strange? Wait until you hear this--" without that same bizarre universe throwing out yet another example of how truly, honestly, and totally surreal the planet really can be.

Okay, to be honest, the 1960s were a total benchmark for the odd ... especially in the world of already-far-too-odd world of espionage. It was, after all, when the CIA was drawing up plans to make Fidel Castro's beard fall out with hormone-tainted cigars or blow him up with booby-trapped seashells as they were dosing unsuspecting US citizens with acid – while on the other side of the world their opposite numbers were killing people with poisoned umbrellas and (by plan or their own stupidity) convincing the US that psychic remote viewing actually worked.

It should come as no surprise then that somewhere in this fuming cauldron of bizarre, someone, somewhere in Langley – the Directorate of Science And Technology to be precise – began to dream of a totally new information gathering technique.

What put this technique into the surreal, if not utterly insane, column were the recruits for this project. To be fair, animals had been used quite successfully by covert, as well as overt, operations for hundreds of years: horses have been used in combat since human beings first climbed on the back of one, birds – carrier pigeons to be precise – have been used for a very long time to get information from remote locations back to base, dogs have been trained for both combat as well as stealth assassinations, and -- adding to the crazy of the crazy the 1960s – trained dolphins were first imagined as Flipper with a suicide pill.

[MORE]

Monday, August 26, 2013

“My Baloney Has a First Name ….”

Wiki:
"A Literary Nightmare" is a short story written by Mark Twain in 1876. The story is about Twain's encounter with a virus-like jingle, and how it occupies his mind for several days until he manages to "infect" another person, thus removing the jingle from his mind. The story was also later published under the name "Punch, Brothers, Punch!"
The story is significant in that it is a fairly accurate description of a meme, and how it can replicate itself in a short time, thus acting like a virus in some respects.
The narrator, Mark Twain, sees a catchy jingle in the morning newspaper. The jingle promptly attaches itself to his mind, such that he loses concentration and can no longer remember what he ate for breakfast, whether he ate at all, and what words he was going to use in his novel. The jingle mentally incapacitates him, until, a few days later, he takes a walk with his friend, the Reverend, and inadvertently transfers the jingle to the reverend's mind. As this happens, Twain experiences a sense of relief, and returns to his normal life.
Some days after Twain was cured, the Reverend visits him; he is in a terrible state, as the jingle, which keeps on repeating in his head, has already disabled his concentration. He tells Twain of some incidents where the rhythm of the jingle influenced his actions, such as when churchgoers started swaying to the rhythm of his homilies. Taking pity on the man, Twain decides to cure him, and brings him to a meeting of university students. The Reverend successfully manages to transfer the jingle from himself to the students, curing himself and, at the same time, continuing the diabolical cycle of the jingle.
Conductor, when you receive a fare,
Punch in the presence of the passenjare!
A blue trip slip for an eight-cent fare,
A buff trip slip for a six-cent fare,
A pink trip slip for a three-cent fare,
Punch in the presence of the passenjare!

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Welcome to Weirdsville: Snowball's Chance In Hell


From the mythological specter of the doughboy who can only breathe mustard gas, to the coincidence of the crossword puzzle containing the code words for the Normandy landing, conflict can bring out both the best, and the downright strangest, in human behavior and belief. So much so, that it would take much more than this little slice of cyberspace for me to outline them all. Just limiting ourselves to inventiveness still packs weirdsville to it's sprawling borders: the American kamikaze bats with their still-classified incendiary explosives, the stone-skipping delivery of the British dam-busting bombs, the around-the-corner Nazi submachine gun, Patton's phantom army, and the War Magicians, which is one of my faves: a group of British dance-hall conjurers who put their slight-of-hand talents to work making tanks into trucks, trucks into tanks, everything else into something else, all to trick the Axis.

One of my all-time favorites, though, was the one that just, almost, nearly happened. But before I reveal this glorious monument to inventive mania, a little about its inventor. 

Like many British eccentrics, Geoffrey Pyke at first appears normal when viewed through Who's Who, but a closer examination always starts the head shaking. Not to say that Pyke didn't give his all and then some to the war effort - not at all. But it also would be incorrect to say that what Pyke did give could be called, at best, quirky - and, at best, bizarre. 

Apprehended trying to sneak into Berlin during the first World War, Pyke was sentenced to a prison camp. By noting that sunlight momentarily blinded his guards every day at one certain location, Pyke managed to escape, becoming something of a celebrity by accounting his daring escapades after the war. 

Assigned to the War Office during the second great conflict, Pyke threw himself into devising all kinds of clever (and even often practical) means of aiding the war effort. Stretcher-carrying sidecars for motorcycles? That was Pyke. Pedal-powered shunt cars for railway yards? Pyke. Marking a special motorized cart British commandos were to use with "Officer's Latrine" in German on them -- so the Nazi's would leave it well alone? You guessed it ... Geoffrey Pyke. Disguising British agents as avid golfers, and then sending them all throughout Germany to secretly gather signatures on a poll to convince Hitler that his people didn't want to go to war? You guessed it. Like I said, quirky at best.
But the concept that propelled Pyke from simple, fascinating, oddity to the military limits of the delightfully absurd was the one he hit on while pondering one of the great problems of the Second World War: that allied shipping was being literally cut to pieces by the merciless, and precise, German submarine fleet. Even Kaiser with his smooth assembly line of cheap shipping couldn't compete with the appetites of the Wolf Packs.

What was needed, Pyke considered, was some kind of strong military presence, a way of providing air cover for the desperately-needed merchant ships.
But there were a lot of Liberty Ships, far too many to cover with even a token fleet. Not only did those transport need protection, but they needed cheap and easy protection, something simple to assemble, able to carry long-range aircraft, and not so expensive as to draw valuable resources from the battle fronts. 

It would be easy to imagine Pyke sipping something cool when inspiration struck. But what really causes the head to shake is to remember that Pyke was a great British eccentric, and Brits (as anyone who has visited the UK can attest) are completely alien to anything tall, cool, and – especially - frosty. 

Maybe it was watching winter slabs majestically move down the Thames, or pale masses of crystals sluice down a gutter, but whatever the inspiration, Pyke had his vision. But before it could be put into anything even close to reality, Pyke had to solve one fundamental problem: ice melts.
Pyke's vision was a marvelous, gloriously absurd one: 300 feet wide, 2,000 long mid-Atlantic runways. Displacing 1,800,000 tons of water (26 times the Queen Elizabeth), they would carry aircraft, munitions, crew, and - naturally - a refrigeration system that would guarantee that their 50 foot walls wouldn't fall to their greatest enemy (even more than Germany): heat.

These iceberg battleship/aircraft carriers would have been the stuff of nightmares: massive white slabs of steaming ice, churning through the sea, a flurry of aircraft and support ships darting around their bulk. The Germans, my guess, would quake in fear more from the audacity and insanity of their concept than any weapons they could carry. 

But these tamed bergs wouldn't just depend on their mass and aircraft to defeat the German hordes. No sir, these were fightin' icebergs! Pyke envisioned a special system mated to the refrigeration equipment so the bergs could spray out supercold water, literally freezing enemy forces in their tracks. Code named Habbakuk after a character in the Bible known for saying: "I am doing a work in your days which you would not believe if told." To know truth, Preachers say, study the Bible. How very true in this case. 

But there was that big stumbling block to Pyke's incredible plans: his terrifying, freezing giants of the sea would turn to mid-Atlantic slush before ever encountering the Germans. The humiliation alone of having to scream for help as your ship literally melted around you was more than any sailor should ever bear. So, how to make nature act ... unnaturally? 

The answer actually came from Max Perutz, who named it after Pyke: take 14% sawdust and 86% water, freeze, and viola: a bizarre material you can saw like wood and won’t melt. Well, okay, it actually will melt, but just a helleva lot slower than regular ice.

Pyke was so excited by this frosty invention that he showed the stuff to Lord Mountbatten, who was so similarly afflicted that he rushed into Winston Churchill's bathroom and in a scene too close to Monty Python to be anything but real, dropped a block of the stuff in the PM's bath water. Maybe it was the audacity, the lunacy, of the idea, or some unknown properties of Pykete, but Churchill caught the bug: Pyke and his iceberg navy got the go-ahead. 

A site was found, a secret boat-house on Patricia Lake in Canada, and a small-size test was organized. Pyke was ecstatic as his materials were assembled into a model of his cold revelation. As a testament to either Pyke's brilliance or the twisted humor of the universe, the ice ship was a complete success: in other words, it didn't melt all through a hot summer. 

Alas, the landings at Normandy made the ice ships unnecessary. It's easy to imagine Pyke, face beaming in joy, standing on the frigid deck of his dream ship, envisioning its monstrous kin rolling through surging seas, throwing cascades of freezing death at the German Navy, just as somewhere else in the world the war was turning away from needing their frightening, protective presence.
As to what Pyke did after the war, it's hard for me to say: his strange dream of a frozen navy lasting longer than anything else he contributed. 

But one thing I can guarantee: Pyke could never see the onset of winter without thinking of his great ships, and the battles they might have won.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Nicodemus, by Broomstick out of Dustpan by Sweeper, the last of the exotic Brindle breed


Here's a fun little piece from  The Cud - that's now, of course, in my new book, Welcome To Weirdsville, about one of my all-time favorite pranksters: the legendary Brian G. Hughes!

Nicodemus, By Broomstick Out Of Dustpan By Sweeper, 
The Last Of The Exotic Brindle Breed

"A Priest, A Rabbi, and A Minister Walk Into a Bar–"

What?  You've heard that one?  How about: "There once was a man from Nantucket–"

That one too?  What about: "Yer Momma is so–"

Well, here's one who probably haven't ever heard, the one that starts: "There was this guy, named Brian G. Hughes..."

#

There was this guy, named Brian G. Hughes.  He was an Einstein, a Salk, a Beethoven, a da Vinci – but he wasn't a physicist, a doctor, a composer, or a painter.  He was, according to the society pages, a rather wealthy box manufacturer and a banker.  But his genus wasn't in cardboard or playing the market.

New York around the turn of the previous century was a pretty dull berg, full of overly stuffed shirts and far-too-puffed-out egos.  It was a dull place, a humorless place, a terribly stiff place – a city, and a society, that Brian G. Hughes saw as needing to be seriously goosed.

And goose it he did: with a flare and a flamboyance that shook New York from Battery Park to Queens.  Take for instance the time he donated a plot of valuable Brooklyn real estate to the city, to be made into a public park.  Great gesture, right?  Fine civic spirit, correct?  That's what the Board of Aldermen thought – until they actually took the time to check it out.  See, the plot of land Brian G. Hughes had donated was only a two-by-six foot plot.  Hey, he never said it would make a big park ...

Then there was the time he donated a mansion to a few well-respectable historical societies, one he claimed the Marquis de Lafayette had lived in during the War of Independence.  "Wow" went the Ladies of those Historical Societies, "What a find."  Until they checked out the real estate and discovered the mansion was actually a dilapidated flophouse in the Bronx.  Seriously lacking in the giggle department, the ladies tried to have him committed.  Now there was a hearing worth attending.

But real estate wasn't the only thing Hughes used in his pranks.  For instance, he would routinely hang out in front of Tiffany's and drop boxes of fake jewels – just to watch people scramble to snatch up the supposed treasures.  Another time he left a set of burglar tools out in front of a building.  Nothing special in that, right?  Well, the building was the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which prompted the – no doubt humorless – curator to close the entire landmark to frantically search for any missing paintings.

Love cats?  Well, Mr. Hughes did – though he hated the pomposity of cat shows.  One time he entered what he claimed was a spectacularly rare species.  The whole of New York was buzzing about this feline masterpiece, and it even won a ribbon, though later on it was revealed that the cat, "Nicodemus, by Broomstick out of Dustpan by Sweeper, the last of the exotic Brindle breed," had actually been a common stray bought from a hobo.

Love horses?  Well, Mr. Hughes ... I think you know where this might be going.  His "Orphan Puldeca, out of Metropolitan by Electricity" thoroughly impressed the horse show crowd, until one sharper-than-average person figured out that "Orphan Puldeca" meant "Often Pulled the Car" and Hughes admitted that his entry was a noble example of a simple trolley horse.

Say you happened to be in a downtown establishment during, alas, a totally unexpected downpour.  Why, look over there: a lovely – and apparently unclaimed – umbrella.  It wouldn't be theft, you argue with yourself.  You'll bring it right back, you conclude.  Except that the instant you opened the umbrella, one of hundreds placed around the city, a banner would unfurl proclaiming that the bumbershoot had been STOLEN FROM BRIAN G. HUGHES.

While Mr. Hughes was, no doubt, a charming person to know it was best not to accept tickets from him as he was known to (tee-hee-hee) print up hundreds different ones to all kinds of events – which never existed.

Then, perhaps the capper to a wonderfully colorful career keeping the too-well-heeled on their toes and putting pepper up the noses of the upper-crusts, he announced that he – at considerable expense and at tremendous personal risk – would embark on an expedition to deepest and no-doubt darkest South American in pursuit of the elusive reetsa.

For weeks New York was on the edge of its manicured toes, gasping in excitement into its perfumed handkerchiefs, as word of the Hughes expedition was leaked out until, just as high society feared they could take no more, it was announced that Hughes would be returning to the island – with a living, breathing resets!

The city was aghast, the city was amazed, the city was riveted.  By the thousands they came down to the docks to watch Hughes return, triumphant, from his perilous journey.  Then, those crowds frozen in suspense, the ship arrived and Hughes made his triumphant appearance – with is captured reetsa...

There was this guy, named Brian G. Hughes, who convinced all of New York City that he'd traveled to South America to capture the mysterious reetsa – that turned out to be a simple farm animal, which he led down the gangplank backwards.  Reetsa, naturally being "a steer" spelled backwards.

Here’s to you, Brian G. Hughes: the man who made an island laugh, a whole city giggle, who brought practical jokes to a whole new, and gloriously special, level: truly the last of a very special exotic brindle breed.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Erotica Esoterica: Dressing For Failure



History is rife with fashion disasters. If you had to pick a single decade where dress sense did a complete Titanic, though, it has to be the 1960s. Taking their sense of freedom to embarrassing extremes, fashion designers all over the world struck out in all kinds of ludicrous directions, proving in their enthusiasm for the unique that they proved themselves the bastions of absurdity.

One of the biggest themes designers seized on during the ‘60s was sex. It was everywhere, thanks to the revolution, so why not bring it into the world of fashion? True, fashion designers had always thought of themselves as the cutting edge of sensual allure, but here was a chance to really pull out the stops. Alas, there are some stops that simply shouldn’t be pulled.

Fashion radicals in the ‘60’s took two directions: less and more. Less being less clothing and added skin, and more being … well, call it more options – the designers’ way of blurring gender roles.

One of the highlights of the ‘less’ movement was the topless bathing suit. Agreed, it was developed and released in 1964 by Rudy Gernreich as a publicity stunt to get his name in the papers, it was still a perfect example of how fashion designers were pushing the design – and taste – envelope. Nothing more than a pair of bikini briefs with a pair of thin straps coming between the breasts – leaving them bare -- and down the back, the, Gernreich’s creation received an interesting of mix of horror and scorn. The horror came from the likes of Vatican, who proclaimed the suit “desperate and senseless adventure of impudent shamelessness”, and even the Soviet Union, who called it “back to barbarism” – of course the Vatican also said that Rock ‘n Roll was the devil’s soundtrack and Khrushchev was publicly outraged when he watched the filming of the Shirley MacLaine movie Can-Can, so at least the suit was in very good company. The worst criticism came from those in the fashion know, who pointed out that all one had to do to have a topless bathing suit was to buy a bikini and leave half at home – and literally half the cost of the $24 suit. The suit really only caused a stir here in the puritanical US (“The police are apprehensive of what these suits will reveal. I’m apprehensive they’ll reveal nothing,” said Mort Sahl), as European women, of course, had been bathing topless for decades.

Additionally banking on the expansive of bare flesh that seemed to be one of the defining factors of the decade – and perhaps spawned by the publicity around Gernreich’s suit -- the famous fashion designer Kenneth (and you know they have to be famous if they only have one name) announced in ’69 a whole line of makeup products for the bare bosom. With such descriptions as “tip blush,” and “cleavage delineator” you can imagine how fast these products flew off the shelves – and into the private collections of transvestites.

As part of the ‘more’ school of design, there were many experiments in gender experimentation in the 60s – including the failed attempt to try and raise interest in skirts for men. As reported in Paul Kirchner’s wonderful book, Forgotten Fads and Fabulous Flops, Seventeen magazine put boys in kilts in a spread, and even Time was hooked by this supposed next fad with a report that the garment industry had big plans to import the concept of the male skirt. Alas, no amount of publicity and wishful thinking in the mind of fashion designers could change the mind of the American male.

One of the best examples of fashion insanity owes a lot to the gender play experimentation of the ‘60s -- as a radical reaction against it. Eldridge Cleaver is known for many things: Black Panther Minister of Information; author of Soul on Ice; misogynist; jailed in connection with a shoot-out with the Oakland Police, ex-patriot living in Cuba, Algeria, and Paris; and -- ready for this? -- failed fashion designer.


Eldridge had this problem, you see, with the current state of men’s fashion. He felt that men should be able to enjoy all the stylish and comfortable pants being offered for women. Why should they get all the fun?

But Eldridge couldn’t just wear the new women’s slacks -- after all, there was this little problem he had about sexual identity (and he had a lot of issues with sexuality, just read Soul on Ice). So what to do about this garment dilemma? His answer was to create a whole new line of clothing, slacks with all the style and comfort of women’s pants without sacrificing his pathologically all-important machismo: Cleavers, the pants with an “appurtenance.”

Cleaver probably threw a lot of bombs during his Black Panther revolutionary days, but nothing compared to his Cleavers. While the pants component received some praise, it was that all-important “extra” feature that most people had issues with. After all, it was one thing to go through the supposed embarrassment of wearing ‘women’s’ pants, but quite another to wear them equipped with a very present, rather exaggerated 20th century version of a external jockstrap.

Luckily Cleaver’s vanished even quicker than cleavage makeup and the topless bathing suit, joining the ranks of Nehru jackets and bell-bottoms -- exiled to the deep, dark corners of fashion history. If we are lucky, their mistakes will never surface again -- but looking at the general history of garment insanity it’s more than like just a matter of time.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Nicodemus, by Broomstick out of Dustpan by Sweeper, the last of the exotic Brindle breed


Here's a fun little piece from  The Cud - that's now, of course, in my new book, Welcome To Weirdsville, about one of my all-time favorite pranksters: the legendary Brian G. Hughes!

Nicodemus, By Broomstick Out Of Dustpan By Sweeper, 
The Last Of The Exotic Brindle Breed

"A Priest, A Rabbi, and A Minister Walk Into a Bar–"

What?  You've heard that one?  How about: "There once was a man from Nantucket–"

That one too?  What about: "Yer Momma is so–"

Well, here's one who probably haven't ever heard, the one that starts: "There was this guy, named Brian G. Hughes..."

#

There was this guy, named Brian G. Hughes.  He was an Einstein, a Salk, a Beethoven, a da Vinci – but he wasn't a physicist, a doctor, a composer, or a painter.  He was, according to the society pages, a rather wealthy box manufacturer and a banker.  But his genus wasn't in cardboard or playing the market.

New York around the turn of the previous century was a pretty dull berg, full of overly stuffed shirts and far-too-puffed-out egos.  It was a dull place, a humorless place, a terribly stiff place – a city, and a society, that Brian G. Hughes saw as needing to be seriously goosed.

And goose it he did: with a flare and a flamboyance that shook New York from Battery Park to Queens.  Take for instance the time he donated a plot of valuable Brooklyn real estate to the city, to be made into a public park.  Great gesture, right?  Fine civic spirit, correct?  That's what the Board of Aldermen thought – until they actually took the time to check it out.  See, the plot of land Brian G. Hughes had donated was only a two-by-six foot plot.  Hey, he never said it would make a big park ...

Then there was the time he donated a mansion to a few well-respectable historical societies, one he claimed the Marquis de Lafayette had lived in during the War of Independence.  "Wow" went the Ladies of those Historical Societies, "What a find."  Until they checked out the real estate and discovered the mansion was actually a dilapidated flophouse in the Bronx.  Seriously lacking in the giggle department, the ladies tried to have him committed.  Now there was a hearing worth attending.

But real estate wasn't the only thing Hughes used in his pranks.  For instance, he would routinely hang out in front of Tiffany's and drop boxes of fake jewels – just to watch people scramble to snatch up the supposed treasures.  Another time he left a set of burglar tools out in front of a building.  Nothing special in that, right?  Well, the building was the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which prompted the – no doubt humorless – curator to close the entire landmark to frantically search for any missing paintings.

Love cats?  Well, Mr. Hughes did – though he hated the pomposity of cat shows.  One time he entered what he claimed was a spectacularly rare species.  The whole of New York was buzzing about this feline masterpiece, and it even won a ribbon, though later on it was revealed that the cat, "Nicodemus, by Broomstick out of Dustpan by Sweeper, the last of the exotic Brindle breed," had actually been a common stray bought from a hobo.

Love horses?  Well, Mr. Hughes ... I think you know where this might be going.  His "Orphan Puldeca, out of Metropolitan by Electricity" thoroughly impressed the horse show crowd, until one sharper-than-average person figured out that "Orphan Puldeca" meant "Often Pulled the Car" and Hughes admitted that his entry was a noble example of a simple trolley horse.

Say you happened to be in a downtown establishment during, alas, a totally unexpected downpour.  Why, look over there: a lovely – and apparently unclaimed – umbrella.  It wouldn't be theft, you argue with yourself.  You'll bring it right back, you conclude.  Except that the instant you opened the umbrella, one of hundreds placed around the city, a banner would unfurl proclaiming that the bumbershoot had been STOLEN FROM BRIAN G. HUGHES.

While Mr. Hughes was, no doubt, a charming person to know it was best not to accept tickets from him as he was known to (tee-hee-hee) print up hundreds different ones to all kinds of events – which never existed.

Then, perhaps the capper to a wonderfully colorful career keeping the too-well-heeled on their toes and putting pepper up the noses of the upper-crusts, he announced that he – at considerable expense and at tremendous personal risk – would embark on an expedition to deepest and no-doubt darkest South American in pursuit of the elusive reetsa.

For weeks New York was on the edge of its manicured toes, gasping in excitement into its perfumed handkerchiefs, as word of the Hughes expedition was leaked out until, just as high society feared they could take no more, it was announced that Hughes would be returning to the island – with a living, breathing resets!

The city was aghast, the city was amazed, the city was riveted.  By the thousands they came down to the docks to watch Hughes return, triumphant, from his perilous journey.  Then, those crowds frozen in suspense, the ship arrived and Hughes made his triumphant appearance – with is captured reetsa...

There was this guy, named Brian G. Hughes, who convinced all of New York City that he'd traveled to South America to capture the mysterious reetsa – that turned out to be a simple farm animal, which he led down the gangplank backwards.  Reetsa, naturally being "a steer" spelled backwards.

Here’s to you, Brian G. Hughes: the man who made an island laugh, a whole city giggle, who brought practical jokes to a whole new, and gloriously special, level: truly the last of a very special exotic brindle breed.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Walter H. Lambert


Walter H. Lambert was a British ventriloquist and female impersonator whose famous early 20th century vaudeville routine was a hospital skit in which his female character “Lydia Dreams" played a nurse, and his figure played an accident victim.  He was also an accomplished painter, famous for his 1903 large-scale painting of 225 Edwardian music-hall performers you can see here  (via)