Thursday, July 27, 2006

The Brittanis...The last of a breed 1932-2000

As she leaves Miami in the 1980's

The ship as she looked to me in 1984

You can see the layers of plates held by rivets that caught my eye in New
York...that afternoon. She was a relic from the great age of ocean liners of the 1930's, and truly the last of her breed. Now the cruise ships look like floating box cars rather than ships!

The beautiful ship as she sailed down the Hudson river past the Twin Towers in NYC

On October 21 2000 as she was being towed to be scraped...she started taking on water and soon she sank...A more noble death for such a ship

As she looked in her early days

She was quite a beauty,,she sailed the ocean for many years. I saw her many times in New York...I will always recall the first time I saw her..I was driving down the Henry Hudson Parkway and passed the shipping terminals. As I went by I saw layers of plates and rivets...I stopped the car and just stared at the ship.....I did not know that there was still a ship sailing using that style of building...Same used on the Queen Mary, Titanic, etc.....I just looked and I parked my car and walked over so I could see it up close and look for the name of this relic from the past....and then I saw her name Brittanis. She was built in 1932 in Quincy, Mass. She was called the Monterey and made her maiden voyage on June 3, 1932.

When Pearl Harbor was bombed she was one of the first ships to go there along with the Aquatania...She arrived in Pearl Harbor December 16th with 3,000 soldiers and returned to San Francisco with 800 wounded. She sailed for many years and eventually became the Brittanis for Chandris Lines...sailing till 1998. She was being towed to be scraped when she started to sink....I was sad that I never sailed on her,but so glad I saw her so many times....She truly was the last of her kind......

Friday, July 21, 2006

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Thursday, July 20, 2006

Florence Foster Jenkins (1868-1944) The glory of the human voice?????

She was another larger than life person who was famous for being quite bizarre.

She fancied herself a singer, not just a singer ....An operatic soprano. She was referred to as a "cluckeratura", "the dire diva of din", "the caterwauling countess of cacophony", and a "hogcalleratura"

She was well versed in the history, art, language,interp, and style of music....the only problem was she had no talent.

When she sang it sounded like the gates of Hell had been opened, and the poor souls within were howling with anguish.

She was the wife of a Pittsburgh Doctor who would not let her seems her parents would not either. She finally divorced him and came to New York City and took this chance of fate to follow her dream...... In 1909 her father died leaving her a tremendous fortune. So money would never be a problem for her. She lived always in luxury.......

In 1912 she launched into her first concert....It was for society club women..Jenkins paid all the expenses, and hired a pianist and the sale of tickets help the ladies in their functions. She was adored by none other than Enrico Caruso, He listened to her sing ONCE...and loved her from afar after. Many liked her most amazing singing...

She was very popular in the society gatherings in New York...Finally she met the man who would work with her for many years Cosme' McMoon. This tortured individual would be her accompanist for the next 20 years...It is interesting when you hear recordings of Jenkins can hear McMoon trying to follow...and not really knowing where to go as she would sing a song in ways it had never been sung before (and never will again)
But who was he really?? McMoon's real name was Edwin McArthur...He was a major musical figure. He was a Conductor at the Metropolitan Opera House. In fact he was Kirsten Flagstad's favorite conductor. This was a lark for him once a year...

There was a Broadway play called souvenir which was lovely but very fictional. McMoon was the narrator as a older hack drinking much and playing at a piano bar...Well he really didn't exist. She is portrayed as a some what motherly matron..... That is not really true as we know McMoon was not real...She was known to be nasty, cheap, a snob, and many other unflattering qualities. She did not like to rehearse...She would appear once a year at her desired performance place. Then she would contact Mr. McArthur to come over and play Cosme' McMoon.

One wonders how much she knew and did not know....At the age of 76 she had no voice, few do at that age...She did not have a vibrato, she sounded like wailing cat....I think it was a great spoof to make money

I would like to list a few reviews of her singing.

"First Lady of the sliding scale"

"She clucked and squawked, trumpeted and quavered"

"Her singing was hopelessly lacking in semblance of pitch"

"She was undaunted by the composers intent"

"She was exceedingly happy in her work. It is a pity so few artists are. And her happiness was communicated as if by magic to her listeners who were stimulated to the point of audible cheering, even joyous laughter and ecstasy by the inimitable singing"

"Of her singing, she sounds as if she was afflicted by a low, nagging backache."

Let the critics say what they wished she was happy as a pig in mud as she sliced her way with McMoon musically.
She received cheers from many who learned how to deal with her absolutely dreadful singing..It was an event to see her. She became very famous for being dreadful....All the time she was content with the thought that the laughter she heard now and then from the audience was jealous rivals trying to overstage her. At least that is what she said.

Different audiences reacted differently to her...Some roared with laughter till tears came...Some sat in shocked silence....some took their ties, hankies, or whatever was avalable and stuffed them in their mouths to control their yelps of laughter...There was an art to that.
I interviewed a fellow who went to one of her concerts once, and he told me he had to stuff a napkin in his mouth to cut down on his laughter. People would often be over come with laughter ...some had to leave the hall to get their breath...Some of the old timers helped the young new audience members on proper mouth filling devices to control their yelps of laughter....It was a cult of cults...Was she real...I think she may have been, but I do believe she was more aware of things than she let on....She knew she was a hit and she played it too the max!

She made recordings..
They are nothing short of ...........I am not sure if there is a word in the English tongue to describe the records....they are a mix of fun, horror, amazement, shock and awe, awful noise, and bewilderment.......They are dreadful...but interesting......They were popular in their day...they were played at parties.....

Her performances were always sold out...They had to bring in the police in the calm the riot that would take place around her concert as there were always not enough seats for all who wanted to go...Her concert tickets were often sold outside for $20.00!! A lot of money in those days.

Her crowning achievement was her concert at Carnegie Hall....The concert sold out in a matter of days as soon as it was announced...2000 people were turned away on the day of the concert. Everyone there was trained on how to stuff your mouth with a hanky........

Her concert was a great success...She was dreadful and the audience loved her.... One month after that concert she died......She did it...She beat the odds and became a star.....What is more amazing She became a famous concert not being able to sing.
She died in a music store...I guess that makes sense...The music finally got even.

She wrote her own epitaph...."Some may say I couldn't sing, but no one can say that I didn't sing" AND SING SHE DID!!!!!! She knew what she was doing and the joke was on all of us!

Monday, July 17, 2006

Diamond Jim Brady The great gourmand 1858-1917 (He made eating an Olympic sport)

He was a great fashion plate, he was rich, he was a glutton for not only food but diamonds. He wore them like a soldier wore his medals. He had diamond encrusted watches, rings, cufflinks, tie clasps, stick pins, pens and anything else he could think of.

He was a railroad equipment salesman who would hold his clients near hostage as he would eat amazing amounts of food in their company and they would eventually work out a deal to get away. Hell...It worked. He grew rich as he worked his way up the ladder of life....He started as a baggage handler! Soon he was a multi millionaire.

Eating with Diamond Jim was the experience of a life time..For off his dress was most interesting..He would be adorned with diamonds ...His watch chain was made of emeralds...83 karats worth!!!!!!!! His ring had a diamond over 25 karats...His diamond encrusted watches were valued at the time (circa 1910) at $17,500 each and he had nearly 30 of them!! he maintained around 200 suits (custom made of course) and around 50 hats.

He was not an individual ...he was an event!

He had little education and was not concerned about it..He was rich and that was about all he cared about. To quote Jim about his diamonds "them as has 'em wears 'em"

Now what this man ate is what brought him note...Of course the diamonds helped...I will list some of his meals for you...

Hominy, eggs, muffins, corn bread, flap jacks, chops, fried potatoes, beefsteak. One gallon of orange juice

2 or 3 dozen oysters or clams

Clams, oysters, boiled lobster, deviled crabs, a joint of beef, nearly a whole pie, a gallon of orange juice

Platter of seafood, lemon soda

2 dozen lynnhaven oysters, half dozen crabs, 2 bowls of green turtle soup, 6 lobsters, two canvasback ducks, 2 servings of terrapin(turtle meat), a large sirloin steak, vegetables, Pastry by the yard, 2 gallons of orange juice, 2 pounds of chocolates.

He had a dinner companion quite often, know as Lillian Russell. She was a buxom stage actress in the age when women were worshiped if they looked like a bull moose. She fit the bill, and joined Diamond Jim on many eating adventures. They even got matching bicycles.....It does not seem to be that they used them much. He was huge (Titanic in size) and he loved it. She was just there for the ride.

He often gave dinner parties to massive groups and spent money like a drunk sailor...He was having a hell of a good time...At one dinner party he invited 50 guests and the dinner went on from 4pm till 900 am the next morning! The cost for this was a whopping $45,000! There were also party favors ...For each gentleman a diamond studded pocket watch and each lady a diamond studded brooch...These little gifts cost a mere $1,200 each...He was well liked and many a man would spend the day sharing with friends that he had shared a table with the great Diamond Jim!

His dinner plan was this...He sat at the table leaving 4 inches from the table to his enormous belly................When belly met table, dinner was over.

He ate candy all the time ...once when he went to a small candy store he was surprised by how good the candy was..So he wrote out a check for $150,000 to make sure they were there for him always...He was to be repaid in candy

This lifestyle finally caught up with him...He started to suffer from diabetes and stomach problems...But he would not change his lifestyle and he died .

.....Every major restaurant in New York City went into mourning

Diamond Jim was buried in many of his diamonds...the rest and there was a lot went to auction..and much of the money made went to the John Hopkins University hospital and their special "James Brady Urological clinic" The rest to New York Hospital..Where his body was examined after death and found to have a stomach 6 times the normal size.

To put it into words the celebrated restauranteur Charles Rector said "Diamond Jim was the best twenty five customers we ever had" .

.......Check please

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

The last Castrato Allessandro Moreschi 1858-1922

Today the idea of the Castrato is so far removed, but in the 18th and 19th centuries is was common practice. The voice of the soprano was almost always the castrato, it was not till the 19th century that women began to sing soprano roles. It was common in Italy to make male sopranos.....

Let me explain if you do not know it already what a male soprano was....A castrato was a man, who was as a boy soprano so good, so damn good...... that they removed his testicles so he would retain that soprano voice forever!!
I find that awful! !!! My thoughts are if you were a young boy in Italy and had a stellar had better run away! THE HELL OUT OF THERE!

However the castrato was popular in their was not till the mid 19th century that everyone finally stopped it all.

The Vatican was a strong supporter of castratos and used them in their choir......what is more amazing is that the last surviving castrato was recorded on disc during the period of 1902-1904.

The recordings were made by the Gramophone and Typewriter Company who went to the Vatican to record not only Professor Moreschi but also the Vatican Choir which was also joined by Moreschi.
There were a number of recordings made, but most were of inferior quality as they were made not in a recording studio, but on location.

The castrato voice was very odd one, it was a manly, female voice. It could be light and lovely and also very powerful and bleating.

Emma Calve made a recording once in which she stated how she sang was taught by a castrato.

I will be doing a story on the recording process of the time but for the moment I will give a short bit of info on what the acoustic recording process did to the voice.


Let's put it this way....when you made an acoustic recording sang or played into a recording horn. The recording process did to the voice amazing things......The best way to show how the acoustic process worked is to make a fist in front of your mouth and sing through your fist...You will hear a constrained sound not unlike singing through a garden hose. This is what the acoustic process did to the voice. So we have to be careful in our judgment....But pitch is pitch. In pitch Moreschi seemed ok, but as a great soprano he leaves much to be desired. Moreschi was the last of the castratos, he was not the greatest. But he is the only one we have on record. So when you listen to early recordings keep this in mind.


Moreschi seems to have had quite a career...He sang at the funerals of two of Italy's Kings, Victor Emmanuel II and Umberto I.

He retired from stage in 1913, although he remained director of the Vatican Choir till his death in 1922.

So today in our lives talking about music and musicians....and in time many people question if a singer is real or not...In the age of acoustic recording the voice of the last of the "man made" singers was captured and preserved for posterity......It would never be seen again......and when we think of religion and caring and love...How could they allow such an attack on a human being.

It was the church...and of course we know they represent God and all that was what do they care if they castrate a few men, it was to glorify the greatness of God. I always love to look at how nasty the church was and see how much they say others are nasty today!!!

I love hypocrites

All I can say is that it stopped...............................Amen

Monday, July 03, 2006

Myths about Lincoln

There are few historic figures that have garnered more myths than Abraham Lincoln. He was a man who no one knew anything about. He was wrapped in mystery...and he liked it that way.

There are several people who have fueled the mystery.....None perhaps more than William H. Herndon. The problem with Herndon was that there was no evidence often to back up what he was saying. Perhaps what he was saying was true too! But there are matters that leave one wondering what Herndon was thinking when he wrote them. But most of them open Lincoln's world to us. He was always ready to help many a researcher...He was sadly taken advantage by just about everyone. Today there are many who think that his information is flawed. Perhaps it is...but once again in many cases of his writing...WHO KNOWS?

Nicolay and Hay wrote a massive biography on Lincoln...But it is sadly very soft on many issues. Robert Lincoln was standing behind their shoulders...and they dared not displease him. Robert Lincoln's papers were the most important papers in their work so they were very careful to tread lightly where Robert Lincoln was not in agreement.

Speaking of Robert Lincoln, he was found one evening before a roaring fire in his home. Before the fire were many papers of his father that he felt were not good to share with posterity. So he had been burning them. he was advised to leave them alone, if he did is anyone's guess. His papers were finally sealed, with orders not to be opened till long after Robert Lincoln's death. What they revealed was less than exciting....One can only guess at what he destroyed????

I have heard stories that Lincoln was gay. Be cause he shared a bed with Joshiua Speed for 3 years. well in those days many shared a bed. Following this reasoning John Adams and Benj. Franklin were gay as they shared a bed as well.

Lincoln was NOT the simple man he was made out to be. He was a well practiced and calculating lawyer. Herndon said in his letters that Lincoln would use men and then toss them away like chess pieces. Lincoln the humble log splitter....In the 1860 Republican convention many delegates carried in logs that were split by Lincoln...where they came from who knows..... It was good press.

Lincoln was in many ways created ...But what no one knew was, how amazingly intelligent he was and what cunning he had....He made fools out of many who thought they would control him.

Lincoln's assassination led in many ways to the legend of what many thought Lincoln truly was.

I am of the idea that we will never really know Lincoln as he really was..But only a shadow of the man. There are too many holes in the complete story. But what we have and know makes us understand he was not like most people...He was very much his own man, and a very great one as well.
He was perfect for his time....In another time Lincoln would not be what he was.

There is an old adage that says ..Heroes know when to die. They also know when to have lived too!