Thursday, July 26, 2012

What are you reading?

Hi everyone,

I'm packing to head home to Ohio for a fun weekend with family. I've been on an unintentional break from reading any books since The Artist's Way, so I may bring  a couple of options home with me to start. I'd consider R. Kelly's autobiography, Soula Coaster: The Diary of Me, but only if Gary Oldman reads it to me....

© Jimmy Kimmel Live

Have a good weekend, all!

Wednesday, July 25, 2012


One time, I moved some of the kittens to a different spot without checking with The Mother Kitty. She gave me a look and carried them back. I never did it again.

Carry (July 24, 2012)
(Illustration Friday: July 20, 2012)

Monday, July 23, 2012

Nobody does it quite like Fred.

Hi everyone,

Last week, the Smithsonian put me in the clouds with Gene Kelly at the Museum of American History. This week, they offered a date with Fred Astaire at the Hirshhorn Museum. Thursday night, Fred Astaire: Dancing with Geniusoffered a mix of lecture by fan/Fred expert Christine Bamberger with film clips and recordings to explore the dancer's life and work. 

Fred Astaire's name inevitably came up in whatever I read about Gene Kelly. People like to compare them because they were the two giants of dance at the time, but I never understood the comparison: Their styles are completely different. 

Growing up, I saw most of Fred Astaire's movies. But, unlike the instantaneous adoration that hit me with Gene Kelly, my love for Fred Astaire was more gradual. At first, I thought he was clumsier than Gene Kelly: To me, Fred always seemed to tap too hard and fast; I worried that he might fall over at any second. In my eyes, Gene just floated on air. 

As I got older, I realized that Fred Astaire would never fall over. He could do whatever he wanted with his feet, and everything would always be precise, elegant, and perfect. Someone who knew Fred said his body oozed dance, even when just walking down the street. I believe it!

The lecturer sounded just like me – if you replace Fred with Gene: She fell in love with Fred when she saw That's Entertainment! at 13.  She's a writer/editor for a government contractor, but she watches classic movies all the time. And, by now, she's learned so much about Fred Astaire that she can serve as an expert resource on the topic. 

I wouldn't call myself an expert on Gene Kelly, and I'm definitely not an expert on Fred Astaire: I haven't even read any books about Fred Astaire (yet). So, I was excited to go to this event to learn more about the other giant.

To my surprise, I knew most of what was highlighted in the lecture. I was amazed to find out, though, that Fred Astaire primarily thought of himself only as an entertainer and nothing much more. Always humble, he didn't consider or care much about being remembered for his talent. Instead he stayed focused on moving forward and trying new things. 

Well, Fred Astaire was entertaining! What I love most about him is his musicality; he always made his songs distinctly his own. In fact, songwriters of the day, such as George Gershwin and Cole Porter, asked him more than any other entertainer to introduce their songs in his movies. Fred Astaire had his own style of singing and seemed to play instruments with ease--talents that, I learned, he just "picked up along the way." As Christine said after we watched Fred play an elaborate tune on the piano, "It's not fair, is it?"

Ultimately, the lecture made me want to watch Fred Astaire dance. So, here's one of my favorites, "A Shine on Your Shoes," from 1953's The Band Wagon.

This dance makes me so happy! Of course, Fred is amazing. (You'll see what I mean about his musicality here.) This song was written in 1932 by Arthur Schwartz and Howard Dietz, and this is a wonderful version of it. But, for me, the shoe-shiner practically steals the show – I love this guy! He's beaming! His name is Leroy Daniels, a real-life dancing shoeshine man they found in Los Angeles. Check it out: 

Copyright: MGM

I suppose, if Fred Astaire showed up at my shoeshine stand, I'd be that happy too – especially if I had remembered to wear my pink socks.

Friday, July 20, 2012


When Simon first found us, he was lost. But, he says he picked us and our home out after months of thorough investigation all over town. He then devised the following elaborate, methodical plan:
Step 1. Lurk at the office.
Step 2. Spy on our daily routines.
Step 3. Spring out of the bushes when least expected.
Step 4. Turn on the charm.
Lost (July 13, 2012)
It worked!
The Mother Kitty does not believe Simon's story and has her own theories. But that's an illustration for another day.

Monday, July 16, 2012

What a Glorious Feelin'...

Hi Everyone,

I've been a fan of Gene Kelly since seeing his 1954 film, Brigadoon, on TV. I can't remember how old I was exactly--my early teens, maybe. But, after that, I read and saw everything I could get my hands on about Gene Kelly. I still do. I'm thorough like that.

Damaged from years of sun exposure and
an accidental water spill, I still treasure my autographed
photo of Gene Kelly! It reads, "Good Luck Gene Kelly"
He always makes the stem of the "y" into an "x" for a kiss,
but my autograph also has a little shamrock after his name. Joy!
When I was 15 or 16, I drew a Melissa's Kitties birthday card for Gene Kelly and included a note highlighting his greatness--which I'm sure he already knew--and declaring my unwavering devotion (which he probably didn't know).  Weeks later, I received an 5" x 7" photograph of him, looking dapper in a tuxedo. Amid jumping around and squealing at this most excellent piece of mail, I noticed a mark on his white shirt! Did delivery damage my new treasure? I stopped in my tracks and discovered that he actually autographed it with a blue ball-point pen. You can see the impression if you flip it over! Well, I jumped and squealed even more--until my parents came home and I could tell them all about it. Gene Kelly and I were pals for life!

Every year since, I made a birthday card for Gene and sent it off to the Beverly Hills address I had. Even though I didn't received another response from him, I was just glad to know he'd receive them. When he died in February of 1996, I was working an internship in New York City, where they dimmed the lights of Broadway in his honor. When I got back to Ohio, I had another piece a mail from Beverly Hills waiting for me: a printed card from Gene Kelly's wife, Patricia Ward Kelly, thanking me for being a loyal fan and letting me know that Gene appreciated it.

So imagine my glee when I got the e-mail announcement that the Smithsonian was hosting a screening of Gene's 1952 classic, Singin' in the Rain, at the new Warner Brothers Theater in the Museum of American History.  (Yes, I've seen it a zillion times, but once more is always a treat.) As if that weren't enough, co-star Rita Moreno and Gene Kelly's wife, Patricia, were scheduled to be there to participate in a question-answer session after the film.

I snatched up a ticket in 2 seconds! Read on to hear what happened!

The One Night People Were Disappointed That It Didn't Rain

As usual, I arrived too early. I joined a few other early birds who stood in the space between the museum's double-doors to enjoy the air conditioning. In the event description, we were invited to wear our raincoats and Wellies, but most of us couldn't imagine doing so in this heat. However, I did see a couple of good sports.

Although the museum closed at 5:30, and they weren't reopening for the event until 6:30, the nice security guards let us stay cool in our spots. A glass partition divided the four sets of doors into two and two, and we lined both sides of our partitioned space. While I was fiddling with the contents of my evening bag, I began to hear a whispered wave of excitement: "Oh, it's Mrs. Kelly!" "It's Mrs. Kelly!" "Mrs. Kelly!" "It's Mrs. Kelly!" By the time I realized what they were saying, Mrs. Kelly was making her way down the right-side line of bystanders, saying hello  and shaking hands with each of them. Why did I stand to the left?! I only saw the back of her head as she went through and watched as she greeted the event organizers inside. My luck.

Mingling with the Next of Kin to Greatness

The food tables were decorated with umbrellas and flowers.
Once allowed inside, I was pleasantly surprised: Finger foods, desserts, and cocktails were offered during a 1-hour reception prior to the film. I was happy about this, since--in my excitement--I'd forgotten about dinner. I stood at a round cocktail table with my drink and snacks, surveying the crowd.  I wasn't the youngest person here, but I was definitely in the minority. A couple joined me with their plates of salad, crackers, cheese, and bite-size cakes. They were surprised I was attending this event alone, which hadn't really occurred to me as odd. "I'm a big Gene Kelly fan," I explained. They told me that Mrs. Kelly planned to be here, which I confirmed, saying that I saw her when she arrived.

A little while later, I saw her again! She was mingling among us, just like a regular person! I pointed her out to my table companions, who didn't know what she looked like. Eventually, we all wandered our separate ways, and I began to lurk near Mrs. Kelly as she talked to others around the room. I am ridiculously shy and nervous in these rare situations, and I was trying to psyche myself up to talk to her.  (I was also waiting for an opening, which was hard to get.) I ran into the husband of my table-sharing couple, who reported that he had already greeted Mrs. Kelly. He laughed when I said I was building up my nerve to do so. But he doesn't realize what a dorky fan I am, which will soon be revealed!

I started to worry that my golden opportunity would slip away as Mrs. Kelly nearly finished working the room. I think that's when Gene Kelly smiled down on me and stepped in to give me a moment!

His wife turned a full 180, looked right at me, and began walking toward me. I smiled and inhaled to say something, but she beat me to it. She extended her hand to shake, and said, "Hello, I'm Patricia Ward Kelly. How are you enjoying this evening?"  I grasped her hand with both of mine, which I don't think I've ever done to anyone in my life. Then, I kind of went into blurt-it-out mode:
"Mrs. Kelly, I'm so happy to meet you! I am such a huge Gene Kelly fan!"
"Oh, how wonderful!"
"I used to send him handmade birthday cards."
"I probably still have them in my files." [What???]
"When he died, you sent me a printed note, thanking me for being a fan, and I just want to tell you that it really meant so much to me!"
"Oh, how wonderful!"
"I wanted to ask you, are you still working on his autobiography?" [Gene Kelly was working on an autobiography for the last 20 years of his life. One of the drafts was lost in 1983 when he had a house fire, and he had to start over. He met Patricia in 1985 and soon hired her to help him finish the book. They got married 5 years into this project. I planned to ask this question during the question-and-answer session, but I was so much happier to have this chance one-on one! I would have been much more nervous than I was now.]
She nodded, "Yes, it's turned into more of my own memoirs now, but I'm really focused this year on Gene's birthday."
"Oh, yes!"
"It's his centennial, you know, so I'm planning all sorts of events for that."
"Oh, that's wonderful! I have a blog and would love to go and write about all of them!"
"Oh, that would be wonderful!"
I love that everything is wonderful between us.

She asked me if I was on Facebook. I was, I nodded, but I began to panic at the realization that I had forgotten to bring any sort of business cards with me to give to her. It didn't matter, though, because--amazingly--she gave me one of hers! She said, "Please e-mail me and remind me of the story you told me, won't you?"
"Yes, thank you so much!"
"Enjoy yourself tonight!"
"I will, thank you!"
As she walked away, I realized that I never told her my name or ask to have my picture taken with her (as other people did). But I was already in the clouds, and at least I didn't faint.

Showtime at the Smithsonian's Museum of American History

The new Warner Brothers Theater opened earlier this year with a Humphrey Bogart film festival attended by Lauren Bacall and their son Stephen! (Can you believe I missed getting a ticket for that one?!) I imagined it to be a grand Art Deco MGM-glory-days sort of theater, but there's nothing fancy about it. In fact, it's pretty plain and small, which was just fine and actually preferred, as it makes for an intimate event. As we watched the film, Patricia Ward Kelly and Rita Moreno sat in the audience with us--not together and not even in the front rows--just in some random middle-of-the-room seats!

"I'm laughin' at clouds, so dark up above,
the sun's in my heart, and I'm ready for love."
Singin' in the Rain is Gene Kelly's signature film, the one he'll be remembered for most because of his iconic dance to the title song. Even if you don't like musicals or old movies, or whatever, you're bound to enjoy Singin' in the Rain because it's pretty fantastic in every way. Betty Comden and Adolph Green were hired by producer Arthur Freed to write the story and screenplay. Also a composer, Freed told the writers to take a catalog of his songs and build a story around it. "Call it Singin' in the Rain," was one of his few instructions.

Well, they came up with something great! The story takes place during the 1920s when movie studios were converting from the silent era to Talkies. During this time, some stars made the transition to sound smoothly. Others saw their careers dwindle because they couldn't handle the new technology and processes, had horrible speaking voices, or just couldn't memorize their lines. Most of the stories in this film are based on those of real people in movie history.

Gene Kelly co-directed (with Stanley Donen), choreographed, and starred in Singin' in the Rain. In it, he plays Don Lockwood, Monumental Pictures's biggest star, along side Lina Lamont (Jean Hagen). Rita Moreno plays an ambitious up-and-coming star named Zelda Zanders, who is under contract at Monumental Pictures. But, the story revolves around another contract player named Kathy Seldon (Debbie Reynolds). According to the gossip columnists, Don and Lina are an item on and off the screen, but trouble stirs when Don and Kathy meet and fall in love. If that weren't a big enough problem, dealing with the addition of sound to the movie business proves more difficult than anyone imagined and threatens to ruin all of their careers.

Comden and Green won a Writers Guild Award for "Best Written Musical." Donald O'Connor, who plays Don's best friend Cosmo Brown, won a Golden Globe for his performance, and Jean Hagen was nominated for an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress. Singin' in the Rain is #1 on the AFI's list of 100 Years of Musicals, and it ranks at #5 on the AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies list. If you haven't already, see it!

It was a special experience to see Singin' in the Rain among fellow fans of the film. Everyone laughed at all the jokes and clapped and cheered after every dance. I half-expected the stars to come out afterward to take their bows, just as they do in the movie after their premieres. But we had different guests.

Time for Some Girl Talk

After the film, our host, Dwight Blocker Bowers (director of the Warner Brothers festivals of classic Hollywood films and curator of entertainment collections at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History) introduced our guests. He began with Patricia, who interrupted him when he was telling too much of a story she wanted to tell herself. "Don't tell that story," she yelled from her seat in the audience. Instead, he mentioned snippets of it, which she approved with an "okay" here and an "okay" there. Then, she was interrupted by Rita Moreno, who sat  a few rows ahead of her. She stood up, pointed dramatically, and exclaimed, "Who is this woman?! Why does she get to tell you what you can and cannot say?!"
"Oh, sit down, Zelda!" Patricia responded. Our laughter erupted as the two ladies made their way to the stage.

The real stars of the night: Patricia Ward Kelly and Rita Moreno
It didn't occur to me to look for Rita Moreno during the reception. She was probably wandering around just as Patricia was. I wish I had had a chance to speak to her because I think we might be kindred spirits.

She spoke to us first, "I can't tell you how often [watching the film] I wanted to cry--and they're tears of joy! What a legacy this man has left. Do you know what made him unique, special, and one-of-a-kind? He introduced a new dance vocabulary. This is dance in Gene's DNA. It's American Dance."

It turns out that she's just as big a fan of Gene Kelly as I am! "From the time I was a little girl, he was my Dancing God," she said. She was under contract at MGM and still up-and-coming herself when she was hired to play Zelda. "I went to the studio every single day to watch--every single day. People say you go there to watch and learn. That's true but, really, the reason I was there was to see my idol. I just wanted to be there."

She described Gene switching hats as actor, choreographer, and director throughout the day, leaping out of and over chairs or cameras--whatever was in his way: "Really. Gene would jump. This man never just walked somewhere."

Gene asked her to cut her long hair into a bob for the part of Zelda, which she reflexively refused, thinking her family would be horrified. "Gene gave me a look, like, 'You're telling me, Gene Kelly, that you're not going to do what I'm telling you to do?!'" I immediately thought, 'Shit!' But he let me keep my hair and gave me that red wig you see in the movie."

Throughout the evening, when Patricia was talking, Rita kept interrupt to remind her to tell this story or that story. At one point, she exclaimed to us, "Oh, I'm so glad I met her yesterday!"

One of my favorite moments was when Rita talked about Gene Kelly's strong dance style, with punctuated, precise movements. When she first started, she didn't dance that way, and she said, "He really straighten me out! I mean, boy, did he let me have it!" Patricia thought she was talking about Gene, but she was referring to choreographer Jerome Robbins. Rita clarified, cocking her head to the side and collapsing in her seat with a smitten look, "Oh, nooo! Jerome. Not Geeene....Never Geeeene...." She sighed, paused, and shrugged, "I wouldn't have minded."

Patricia had equally entertaining stories. I was especially happy to hear how she first met Gene. I knew that she was hired as a writer for a documentary he was narrating. I didn't know that the documentary was filmed here at the Smithsonian, in the Air and Space Museum! She said that, at the time, she was a nerdy grad student and Herman Melville scholar from Colorado with long brown hair parted in the middle so that only her nose peeked through. She dressed as if she were still in Colorado--in a man's shirt, corduroys, thermal socks, and clogs. Gene Kelly was a last-minute replacement, filling in for Gregory Peck, as narrator of a Smithsonian documentary about writers. Patricia, who was hired for her Herman Melville expertise, knew who Gregory Peck was because she had seen To Kill a Mockingbird. She had no idea who Gene Kelly was or whether this person was a man or a woman (Gene or Jean). She'd never seen Singin' in the Rain.

Because Gene Kelly was such an enticing eligible bachelor who had every girl at the Smithsonian swooning, his handlers kept him away from them by sticking Patricia on him for the week. Of their first meeting, Gene said, "You looked like you just got off a horse. You walked like you just got off a horse. And, you talked like you just got off a horse." But, during that week, locked away in a room away from everyone else, they bonded playing word games and reciting poetry to each other. It wasn't until after he left for the airport when the week was up that someone told her, "You know, that guy's really famous," and recommended she ask for his movies at the video store. Sweet!

Patricia also read some great fan letters: "Dear Mr. Kelly, My mother never lets me jump off the furniture. Why did your mother let you?"

One letter was a bad review from a fourth grader who had to watch Singin' in the Rain in class: It was addressed to Patricia and said something like, "I did not like your husband's movie. Your husband's movie is short if you cut out all the songs and dances. Why didn't your husband cut out the dances and get to the point? Does he always just think about dance all the time?" I think the answer to that is yes. Patricia wrote a more elaborate reply to the fourth grader and will be meeting with the now 19-year-old sometime soon.

I even learned some new trivia! (Can you believe it?) Did you know:
  • Gene kept production notes of every minute of the day. I don't know if everyone does production notes, but Patricia read from some of his, and they were precise, like: 2:47 to 2:56 p.m. - Test camera with back lighting. 2:57 to 3:10 p.m. - Test camera without filter. Crazy-awesome details! 
  • All the taps are dubbed once the dances are filmed, and Gene always dubbed his own. He also dubbed Debbie Reynolds's dances for Singin' in the Rain
  • Gene's costumes were always form fitted one-piece outfits that showed off the dancer's body and emphasized the line of the leg. Patricia explained, "That's why his pants were specially cut to show off his thighs, which I'm sure we're all grateful for." Rita nodded enthusiastically. He also wore custom-made shoes that were loafers flexible enough to be pointed like ballet shoes.
Cyd Charisse got noticed in Singin' in the Rain. See why?
  • All women's skirts were monitored by the censors, who required that they be of a specific length. Gene followed this rule but designed slits up the skirts to show off more leg. Patricia pointed out Cyd Charisse's green dress as an example. It has slits all around it to show off her famous long legs. 
  • Gene was obsessed with Louise Brooks and originally wanted Rita Moreno to wear the bob wig fashioned after Louise Brooks's own style. (Rita expressed her distaste for it to us with a "Blaaach! Can you imagine--on me?!") Cyd Charisse ended up wearing it during her dance in the green dress. 
  • Rita's Spanish Dance teacher was Rita Hayworth's uncle and also the person who taught Gene Kelly Spanish Dance. (Rita exclaimed another, "Can you imagine!? My idol, and we had the same teacher!"
  • Donald O'Connor's "Make 'Em Laugh" dance was based on how he'd pass the time between takes. He kept everyone laughing by dancing with whatever happened to be around the studio at the time. This dance is one of the highlights of Singin' in the Rain. Although we ran out of time, Patricia and Rita both mentioned Donald O'Connor and Jean Hagen (Lina Lamont) as gems in the cast. They are! 
As a treat for reading (nearly) this entire post, here's a video of Donald O'Connor's performance of "Make 'Em Laugh."  It'll make you laugh, especially my favorite part--the big finish!

I could go on (and have). I think our guests would have too. Our host came to the edge of the stage to stop the conversation so that questions from the audience could be addressed, but Rita stopped him: "Are you serious? What are you doing there!" He sat back down.

They did eventually stop talking. "I think we have to," Patricia said. "Otherwise, the Smithsonian will kick us out, and I'll never be invited again." 
"But we'll get in the papers," Rita countered. "Imagine what the papers will say!"

Right on, Sister! 

Image/Video copyright credits: Images from the Smithsonian event: photographer Stephanie Green/Bloomberg; Singin' in the Rain poster, images, and video: MGM. 

Friday, July 13, 2012

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Special Delivery, Dad-Style

Hi everyone,

I'm slow drawing this week, still shaking off the lethargic hermit I became during the recent ridiculous heat wave. Instead, I've been reveling in the tolerable weather and getting back to my routines and yoga classes. 

While I work on this week's Illustration Friday topic, check out the jumbo tray Dad made me! 

Gift from Dad

Now, I just need to have people over so I can use it. Tea and snacks, anyone? (I think Lily prefers the butterfly.)

Thanks, Dad! 


Monday, July 09, 2012

Johnny Kitties: Celebrating Johnny Depp Film #22--The Man Who Cried (2000)

[What is Johnny Kitties? See Johnny Kitties: Celebrating Johnny Depp for all the details.]

This one's almost as depressing as Before Night Falls.
The Man Who Cried follows a Russian Jewish woman (Christina Ricci) as she searches for her father, who emigrated to American in 1923. Although he promised to send for his daughter and his mother once he was settled there, their village was attacked and burned soon after he left. Separated from her grandmother, she ends up on a ship to England, where she is renamed Suzie and brought up by a British family. Years later, Suzie's talent for singing earns her a job with a Paris theatre troupe. There, she meets Lola (Cate Blanchett), a fellow Russian from Moscow, and Cesar (Johnny Depp), a Romanian gypsy with whom she falls in love. But her Russian Jewish background suddenly puts her in danger when the Nazis invade Paris, and she is forced to decide whether to stay with her friends or head to America in search of her father.

As usual, Cate Blanchett won awards for her great performance here. This time, she got two for Best Supporting Actress--one from the Florida Film Critics Circle and one from the National Board of Review.

Happy birthday to me!
Although Johnny made this movie in 2000, it didn't hit theaters in the United States until the following year. In July 2001, I moved from Ohio to Washington, D.C., and The Man Who Cried was released in D.C. on my birthday, July 23--just for me, of course! I was still finding my general sense of direction in The District and my way around the Metro system, but don't think that stopped me for a second: I got on the train right after work, hunted down the one theater playing The Man Who Cried, and settled in (out of breath because I got lost trying to find the place).

To me, one of the best things about moving to D.C. was having a slew of movie theaters and bookstores accessible to me. (Sadly, neither this theater nor my favorite bookstores are around anymore.) I was excited to see this movie because--aside from the great cast--I was really impressed with director Sally Potter's earlier film Orlando, a beautiful piece of work starring Tilda Swinton. It set the bar high.

The Man Who Cried might not be as great as that movie, but it's a pretty good one. It marks Christina Ricci's first grown-up starring role, so she said it was nice to have her friend Johnny in the cast too. But that connection also made it weird for me to watch. Johnny's known Christina Ricci since she was 10 when they met on the set of Mermaids, which costarred Johnny's girlfriend at the time, Winona Ryder. While this was Johnny's third film with her, it's the first time they get anywhere near romantic. I guess if you don't know all that history, it wouldn't seem odd. (Did I just ruined it for everyone?) But, I couldn't help thinking of it. As she explained, "It's like kissing your brother." But you get over it; they're actors.

It's a good gift.
 This movie is sad, but it's got a nice slow pace with some beautiful shots that make you feel as though you're looking at pieces of artwork. The main thing I remember--and enjoyed most--about this film is that Johnny spends a lot of time saying nothing but staring moodily into the camera.  Sometimes, he does it while riding his white horse! Sometimes, it's in slow motion!!! Of course, there's a reason behind it: Johnny thought of Cesar as a man who was uncomfortable around people. "He's comfortable at a very base level, with his horse and animals, who are pure beings--innocent and honest." But, really, it's the most uplifting aspect of the movie--the staring. Even with the scar on the left side of his face, Johnny's pretty to watch. (And, when he does speak, he has a great accent, so he's nice to listen to too.)
Johnny would hate it if that's all I talked about. So, I'll also mention that this movie tells an interesting, powerful story about oppressed people who didn't have a voice at the time. I liked how Suzie and Cesar connected as outsiders, and how they helped each other while everyone was struggling to survive the war. Johnny compared the couple to Romeo and Juliet. "Cesar and Suzie had an unspoken understanding and recognition of each other," he said. "But there's no way they can be together, even without the war." Not everyone makes it through the war, but Suzie is a strong woman who eventually finds her own way.
The Kitties fit right in.
For Johnny, one of the best experiences he had while working on this movie was meeting Taraf de Haidouks, a Romanian gypsy folk band who played Cesar's family and who he continues to support. "For me, they are a model in the way they approach life," he said. "Despite all they went through--I'm talking about racism against Gypsies which went on for centuries and still exists today--these guys can play music which expresses the most intense joy. They have a gift to make you feel alive. They are among the most extraordinary people I have ever met."

They are an amazing band in their own right, but having Johnny Depp as a friend got them even more recognition. Following filming, Johnny attended award shows to present them with various honors and became one of their biggest cheerleaders, as seen at their own concerts and in the great 2006 documentary When the Road Bends: Tales of a Gypsy Caravan. For a while, when asked, he would mention them on talk shows as one of his favorite bands, a statement that was typically met with silence, bewilderment, and a quick new question. Always one to live in and appreciate the moment, Johnny definitely picked up some gypsy traits from these friends that are still apparent today.

Johnny Kitties: Celebrating Johnny Depp--Film #21--The Man Who Cried (2001) [March 22, 2012]

So, here they are, Kitty-style! When Cesar invites Suzie (Mini) to join him for a drink after hours, she is introduced to his brethren. In this lively bar scene, a dancer (Pablo Veron/B.J.) coaxes Suzie onto the floor. Watching, Cesar revels at how accepting she is of his world and how easily she becomes one of the family.

Of course, all of the other Kitties wanted in on this scene. Comet, Simon, and Norman are playing in the band while Ashes, The Mother Kitty, Mini, and Lily are enjoying it in the crowd.

What's next? 
Johnny does and deals lots of drugs in Blow.

(Aside from my illustration, all images © Universal Pictures)

Thursday, July 05, 2012


After a while away from yoga class (because I don't believe in going to class when it's a triple-digit oven outside), I started up again last week. As usual, I realize how much I've missed yoga within the first five minutes of practice--even if I feel like a creaky old lady. One of my favorite poses is Triangle.

Here, Mini demonstrates it:
  • Place your back foot parallel with the back of your mat and your front foot toward the top of your mat, pointed ahead. 
  • Outstretch your arms, facing toward the top of your mat.
  •  Reach your front arm as far as  you can before bending from the hip and placing your hand on your shin, ankle, or foot. 
  • Stretch your opposite arm toward the sky. 
  • Turn your gaze upward.
  • Breathe.
  • Use your core to lift and stretch in these opposing directions, maintaining your balance, as if between two panes of glass. 

Be sure to do both sides!

Ahhh, refreshing!

Refresh (July 4, 2012)
(Illustration Friday: June 29, 2012)

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Better Late Than Never: The 2012 Rainforest Fund Benefit

Hi everyone,

This concert, which took place on April 3rd, may be old news, but you might still like to hear about it. I used to e-mail a minute-by-minute report of this event to my friends. This year, I thought my blog might be an easier way to share. So, here you go!

Joining Sting and Friends--For a Good Cause

If you follow my blog, you're probably aware of my unwavering love for Sting and his music. The Kitties listen to his music just as much as I do. (See here.) When I moved from Ohio to D.C. in 2001,  I decided to attend my first Rainforest Fund Benefit Concert. The Rainforest Fund is a charity Sting and his wife, Trudie Styler, started in 1989 in an effort to help save the Amazon Rainforest and the peoples who live there. The concert, held at Carnegie Hall in New York City, was now easier for me to get to from D.C., and--to my surprise--it was relatively affordable!

The first time I went, I learned that each concert has a theme and, for the most part, the performers only sang songs related to it rather than their own. And, while this concert is for a great cause, it's also an excuse for Sting to get his friends together and have a big party. Along with Sting, regulars include Elton John, James Taylor, and Billy Joel (though he hasn't shown up for the last few). That year, guests Smokey Robinson, The Impressions, and Nina Simone joined them, among others. By the time Stevie Wonder appeared, playing his harmonica on Sting's song, "Brand New Day," I had decided to always go to this concert.

So far, I have. Produced by Trudie Styler, the concert is hosted every two years, and some years have been better than others. I admit, for me, the 2010 concert was so underwhelming that I questioned attending this year's event. But, at the last second, I realized that my "bad time" at that concert was more due to my own circumstances--work stress, buying a late ticket, unfortunate seating near obnoxious yuppies--rather than the concert itself. Besides, the year I don't go, Paul McCartney or Barack Obama will show up, and then I'll be sad.

So I bought my ticket, and it was obviously fate! This year's theme was Songs from the Silver Screen: If any concert was meant for me, this was it! (I do love my movies!)

As luck would have it, the day I left for my trip to New York, I felt like I had the flu. Every inch of my body ached, I had the chills, and my head was foggy. I took a freezing 4 1/2-hour bus ride, stepped out into the rain on 28th Street, and power-walked to my hotel on 49th. This year, I decided to stay in New York an extra night and packed my agenda. The first evening I was there, I attended another charity concert, which benefitted Paul Newman's charity, SeriousFun. I wrote about that here. (Believe me, I don't attend benefit concerts often; these just happen to be two charities that are close to my heart and which had events that were serendipitously back-to-back.) The Rainforest Fund Benefit was on the second night. By then, I was in full denial of my cold. So, on with the show....

What Every Concertgoer Should Know

Carnegie Hall is a beautiful building. The Isaac Stern Auditorium has crimson seating, golden ornate decor with cream walls, and a gigantic chandelier. It's very glamorous, so I always get dressed up--no matter how many people around me are in jeans and texting obliviously instead of soaking in the grand surroundings. Granted, I'm in the "cheap" seats, about seven flights up, from which the performers look like grasshoppers. It was extra-special this year when I realized I had forgotten my binoculars in my hotel room. Binoculars are good for seeing details. (I like to inspect things.) Luckily, I arrived really early because I'm neurotic that way. I had time, so I ran the eight blocks back to my hotel room, retrieved my binoculars, raced back to Carnegie Hall,  and up the seven flights of stairs to my seat with five minutes to spare. (Yeah, in heels--It never occurred to me to look for the elevator.) Yes, it's very glamorous.

The concert always uses a house band, usually comprised of the same group of people, if available, and always directed by drummer Michael Narada Walden. They're all amazing musicians, though I only recognize a few names. This year, the band added an orchestra in front, conducted by Gil Goldstein.

On the right side of the stage, there's always a cluster of chairs in front of the house band. These are for the performers who, instead of heading straight backstage, have the option to sit and watch each other perform until it's their turn again. Binoculars come in handy here. None of the reviews I've read about these concerts ever tell me what Sting or Elton John are doing on the side while James Taylor is singing a song for the audience. These are the kinds of things I like to know!

One other thing to note about this concert is that it's pretty relaxed. While I know they rehearse their songs and the show always runs smoothly, it feels as if they've all just shown up to sing on the spot as a special treat for us. Rather than have an official emcee, they introduce each other as they take turns performing. They joke, they hug, they laugh, they even mess up sometimes. Despite the grandeur of the atmosphere and the big names, the evening is intimate. I feel like a fly on the wall watching famous old friends being themselves and sharing their good time. To me, that alone is worth the pricey ticket.

Cue music! 

Okay, here's what I saw and heard:

  • The concert began with sweeping orchestral movie music, as four characters strolled out hand-in-hand. It was The Tinman (Sting, wearing a "tin" hat and big red heart pinned to the lapel of his black jacket), Dorothy (Meryl Streep in a white floor-length gown and ruby slippers, holding Toto in her arms), The Scarecrow (James Taylor wearing a scruffy hat and red bandana around his neck) and The Cowardly Lion (Elton John sporting a Badge of Courage and furry wristbands). They sang, If I Only Had a Brain.
  • James Taylor then sang Over the Rainbow on his own. When I first started coming to these concerts, James Taylor was the performer I was least excited about seeing, mainly because I didn't know much about him or his music. Since that first concert, he's become one of the people I look forward to seeing most. A pretty quiet guy with an amazing voice, he's always entertaining and really funny! He wasn't able to attend the 2010 concert, and I'm counting that as one of the strikes against it. I was so happy to see him here, even if this version of "Over the Rainbow" was a little too fast-paced for my taste and he sounded nothing like Judy Garland.
  • Sting was set to introduce the next performer as everyone else took their seats on the side. As he watched Meryl Streep getting settled, he said, "Ah, yes, like all women, she is many: She's the French Leiutenant's Woman, the devil who wears Prada, The Iron Lady, and, now, she's Dorothy!" Then, he introduced Vince Gill, who sang I Can't Stop Loving You with the house band's backup singers (four ladies and two guys). I'm not a big country music fan, so I'm unfamiliar with Vince Gill. But I was impressed.

  • Vince Gill then sang All I have to Do is Dream as a duet with Rita Wilson. Yes, that's Tom Hanks's wife. She has a debut album out of duets, and this is one of them. It was nice, but the best part was watching Meryl Streep swaying in her seat, singing along to it. Elton John, who sat next to her, joined in, and they were in the moment!
  • Welsh opera singer, Bryn Terfel, was next with Dream the Impossible Dream. I think we could all conquer the world after that.
  • Elton John dedicated Moon River to two people who recently passed away, bandmember Greg Clark and Whitney Houston, who had participated in this benefit before (though I never saw her). I'm so glad someone picked this song because I love it, but like "Over the Rainbow," I prefer the one I'm used to hearing. Elton John's voice is different from Audrey Hepburn's in every possible way. 
  • I was interested to see Roseanne Cash, who sang next. (Is it bad that my only reason is her relation to Johnny Cash? While, in general, I don't like country music, Johnny Cash is one of my rare exceptions.) She sang a fantastic version of The Ode to Billy Joe.
  • Elton John then introduced Bruno Mars, and I was shocked at how deafening the crowd became the instant he hit the stage. The woman who sat directly in my line of sight in the front row of my section served as a prime example: As Bruno sang Unchained Melody, she punched the air, whooped, and cheered with every fancy note. Apparently, I'm out of the loop about Bruno, but he was good.
  • Sting and Meryl Streep walked out next. "About 28 years ago now, I made a film with Meryl called Plenty, for which I spent one of the most enjoyable afternoons of my life making out with Meryl Streep on a sofa," Sting said. (Meryl belly-laughed!) "Our relationship has evolved since then...." (I totally forgot about that movie until he mentioned it! That relationship does not end well.) They sang Let's Call The Whole Thing Off, and it was super-sweet!
  • Then, James Taylor talked about the next song he planned to sing, Old Man River: "This is one of my favorite songs of all time, sung by the great...the great....uh, what's his name?" Someone shouted it from the audience. "Right! Paul Robeson, who was known just as much for his hard life and political views as for his beautiful voice." Of course, no one sounds like Paul Robeson, but James Taylor did a worthy version of this great song. 
  • Then, Sting strolled out with an umbrella, doodling just like Gene Kelly! He sang Singin' in the Rain  as a tap dancing lady twirled around him. She tried to coax him into some steps, but he shugged and stuck to singing. At the end, they wandered off stage arm and arm. I could go on about how nobody performs this song like Gene Kelly, but I appreciate the thought and effort. You know that Sting sang this one just for me
  • Jennifer Hudson then made her first appearance, singing the first movie song that I didn't recognize, called And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going. (Duh, it's apparently her signature song from Dreamgirls.) Jennifer Hudson has a great voice, is an American Idol finalist, earned an Oscar, and I know everyone loves her. I hate to say it, but she's too loud for my ears. 

Notes to Note During the Intermission

Sting's wife Trudie always makes a speech about the work of the Rainforest Fund during the first half of the concert. She did so just after Sting channeled Gene Kelly, promptly knocking me off my cloud and sinking my spirits with her passionate plea. But the first thing she did this year was point out and thank Bill Clinton for attending the concert! He was just sitting there in first-tier balcony! I went into action with my binoculars, but I didn't recognize anyone near him. Where was his security?! What's he doing here??? Wait, has Trudie started her speech?

Trudie's speeches about the plight of the Amazon Rainforest are always so intense that I end up feeling as though we're all going to die in 20 years if we don't do something about it. This time, she not only talked about the disappearing forest, but reported that a native tribe leader was just shot dead this past weekend while defending his land from illegal loggers. Enjoy the rest of the show.

I spent the intermission reviewing the notes I'd taken in the dark, making sure they're legible. I have tiny notebooks in which I write the names of the songs--or at least enough to remember what they were--and who sang them. I only do this at these kinds of concerts where there are too many singers singing songs that they don't normally sing because I won't remember anything afterward. I rarely pay attention to what I'm writing because I don't want to look down and miss anything on stage, so it usually ends up a slanted scribble of chicken scratch that only I can decipher. (I hope!)

On with the Show...

  • To open the second half of the show, Meryl Streep walked to center stage into the spotlight and sang, Wish Upon a Star. As Chris Farley would say, that was awesome.
  • Bryn Terfel then sang Roxanne. I just remembered now that Eddie Murphy sang this song in 48 Hours. Bryn sang "Roxanne" at Sting's 60th birthday concert at New York's Beacon Theatre last October. At first, I thought that was the only reason he was singing it again here--per Sting's request--because Sting thinks this version is his song's greatest transformation. I couldn't take it seriously then, and I still heard giggles around me in Carnegie Hall because it's still "Roxanne," the loud, angst-ridden Police classic. I get that Sting doesn't want to play it the same way every night, but turning "Roxanne" opera is just too much of a stretch. I thought the song sounded better this time around, though. Maybe it's because I've heard this version before or because the added backup singers made it more accessible. However, the best part of this performance was done by Channing Tatum and his wife, Jenna Dewan-Tatum, who danced the Tango! I started seeing Channing Tatum everywhere in the last year or so, playing goofball characters in movies and on Saturday Night Live. I was baffled by his name on the stagebill, but I just recently discovered the connection: He was in a movie that Trudie Styler produced in 2006 called A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints. (I don't remember him in this movie, but it's excellent and recommended!) Channing Tatum first got noticed as a dancer in Step Up  (in which he costarred with his wife). So now, I get it: He's got moves! 
  • Sting then sang the theme from MASH, Suicide is Painless. I didn't know this song had lyrics. They're depressing lyrics, but Sting's made a career out of singing depressing lyrics to uplifting tunes. He's good at it, and this was one of my favorite performances of the night!
  • Then, Rosanne Cash sang Everybody's Talkin', a wonderful song that was, again, sung wonderfully.
  • Next, James Taylor sang Shall We Dance, which was also wonderful. In the middle, he approached the performers seated on the side and held out his hand to each of the ladies. They all shook their heads in refusal, one by one, as he made his way down the line. Rita Wilson, who sat at the end, saved the day: She shrugged and accepted  his invitation. They danced around the stage for a bit and then back to her seat so he could finish the song.
  • Elton John introduced the orchestra and then addressed the audience: "It's been a tradition that I humiliate myself at this concert. [It's true.] This  year is no exception." He sang Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend as Channing Tatum slinked out to join him. As Elton sang, Channing adorned him with a giant diamond necklace. He also fastened a chain around Elton's waist, positioned so that a huge diamond dangled between his legs. Elton twirled and shimmied this trinket with bravado as Channing danced around him burlesque-style for the duration of the song. When it was over, they both cracked up, hugged, and scurried off stage. 
  • "Well, I guess I can cross that off my bucket list: Follow Elton at Carnegie Hall after a bedazzled dance.....Where's the Tango Lady?" Vince Gill was on his own. He sang Pretty Woman with one of the backup singers, and it was really good! 
  • Then, Jennifer Hudson returned and sang The Weight. It was still too much, too loud. But it might just be my ears because, afterward, Sting walked out and exclaimed, "'Follow that!' he said. "You can't." 
  • Sting gave the audience a look and continued, "But, I've got a secret weapon, Esperanza..." That's Esperanza Spalding, the Grammy-winning bassist extraordinaire! The first time I saw Esperanza, she was just starting out, appearing for the first time on the Late Show with David Letterman. Since then, she's shot to the top, and now I can say I knew her way back when. She is cool! Sting sang, Be Bop A-Lula, with Esperanza playing her giant double bass next to him. People in the audience squealed as if Sting were Elvis! That's entertainment.
  • Next, Elton John sang Rock Around the Clock, and all the performers, who were seated on the side, got out of their chairs and danced with each other: Rita Wilson and Sting, Jennifer Hudson and Vince Gill, Rosanne Cash and Bryn Terfel, Meryl Streep and James Taylor, Esperanza Spalding and Bruno Mars, and Channing and Jenna Tatum. 
  • Bruno Mars then took the stage next with a great rendition of Jailhouse Rock with the Tatums swing dancing throughout.

And Now, A Message from a President

It was time for another speech, which is unusual, but I guess it's also unusual to have a president in the audience. Bill Clinton took the stage! "I want to thank Bruno Mars for letting me channel my inner-Elvis," he said and did his best impression, "Thank you very much!" Like Trudie, he gave an impassioned speech about the disappearing rainforest, which he summed up with, "Well, you heard what Trudie said." His speech had a more uplifting pep talk flavor: We can do this! We can make change! It's possible to fix this, and we have to fix this! I felt a little better about things.

The End

For the finale, Esperanza Spalding appeared in the spotlight. Behind her, she was surrounded by the six backup singers. A capella, they sang the choral start of You Can't Always Get What You Want, one of my all-time favorite songs. (What movie is that in?) It was beauty-ful! I wished that she would have sung the whole thing herself, but for the finale, everyone has to participate. They all walked on stage, taking turns singing and thanking the band and guests.

The show has redeemed itself! It was fantastic this year, organized to perfection with no lagging moments and no show-hogging performers. It was a perfect balance of equal brilliance! Well done, everyone! 

There's a gala dinner after the concert, but it would take a good chunk of my savings to attend that. My celebration is much more low-key: I picked up a slice of sweet potato pie and a cup of herbal tea, which I enjoyed in my tiny hotel room in my pajamas in front of the TV watching Jimmy Fallon. It, too, was all very glamorous.


Image copyright credits: Rainforest Fund logo and concert poster: Rainforest Fund; If I Only Had a Brain photo: Getty Images; First Collage Photos--Rita Wilson and Vince Gill: WireImage; Bryn Terfel: Reuters; Roseanne Cash: AP; Bruno Mars: Getty Images; Sting and Meryl Streep: UPI; Jennifer Hudson: Getty Images; Sting and Trudie Styler: Getty Images; Second Collage Photos--Channing Tatum and Jenna Dewan-Tatum: WireImage; Channing Tatum and Elton John: AP;  Rita Wilson and James Taylor: Getty Images; Sting and Esperanza Spalding: Reuters; Dancing photo: UPI, courtesy of The Meryl Streep Forum; Bill Clinton: Getty Images; Finale photo: UPI, courtesy of The Meryl Streep Forum. 

Sunday, July 01, 2012


This one took me a while, mainly because it took The Kitties so long to get to their respective planets. They're on their way home now.

Space (June 30, 2012)
(Illustration Friday: June 22, 2012)