The Ladies of Rockhaven

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Nestled among the hills and mountain ranges just beyond Los Angeles, Crescenta Valley was home to the indigenous Tongva people for thousands of years. During the Spanish colonial period it became part of the San Gabriel Mission. By the late 1800s, its warm, dry climate was attracting both tourists and health seekers, and after his wife’s death from tuberculosis, Dr. Benjamin Briggs moved there to build a sanitarium for those suffering from lung ailments. His success encouraged others to follow suit, including Merritt Kimball who founded a sanitarium for psychiatric patients. Perhaps the most unique of these pioneering establishments was Rockhaven, a sanctuary for vulnerable women opened by Agnes Richards in the 1920s.  Continue reading

‘Peak Strange’: The Jeanne Eagels Biopic

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Whenever I mention Jeanne Eagels, movie fans invariably ask if I’ve seen Kim Novak playing her onscreen. And my answer is usually this: “love Kim, hate the film.” Over at her Self-Styled Siren blog today, Farran Smith Nehme takes a closer look at the ‘Highly Fictionalised Biopics’ that were all the rage in 1957. (Jeanne’s friend, singer Helen Morgan, was another victim that year.) Continue reading

From ‘Soledad’ to Hope, With Lynch and Lana

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SOLEDAD is a new journal from my good friend Jeremy Richey, the maestro behind ART DECADES. Soledad is (of course) the Spanish word for solitude, which is one of my favourite things. It can be sad, but also beautiful – a state of mind reflected in the magazine’s black and white imagery. I’m proud to have contributed a sixteen-page article about David Lynch’s return to Twin Peaks for the first volume. It’s the opening instalment in a two-part series, and while I can’t promise to unlock all of its mysteries, I hope fans of the show will enjoy my personal impressions. Continue reading

Penny Marshall 1943-2018

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Carole Penny Marshall was born in the Bronx in 1943. Her mother Marjorie ran a dance school, and her father directed industrial films. Of Italian descent, he had changed his name from Masciarelli to Marshall. Their youngest daughter was named after Carole Lombard, the much-loved comedic actress and wife of Clark Gable, who had died in a plane crash the year before. Young Carole’s middle name was inspired by her sister Ronny, who was ‘saving her pennies’ to buy a horse: and it was that name, ‘Penny’, which finally stuck. The family lived in a building which also housed the young Neil Simon, Paddy Chayevsky, Calvin Klein and Ralph Lauren.  Continue reading

2018: A Year In Books

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With her third novel, My Year of Rest and Relaxation, Ottessa Moshfegh confirms herself as a major writer of our time. This darkly comic tale follows the sleepy adventures of a young, beautiful and rich but miserable New Yorker who embarks on a drug-fuelled sabbatical at the dawn of the 21st century. Moshfegh’s mischievous delight in the squalid details of everyday life powers her absurd yet visionary narrative.  Continue reading

2018: A Year in Film and TV

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I’m lucky enough to live just around the corner from the Duke of York’s, England’s oldest independent cinema; and so this year I made the most of my Picturehouse membership. I like movies that blend a touch of realism with a sense of style: Sean Baker’s The Florida Project, Mike Leigh’s Peterloo and Kore-Eda Hirokazu’s Shoplifters satisfied those needs.  Continue reading

2018: A Year in Music

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She may have left the stage decades ago, but 2018 was a vintage year for die-hard fans of the mysterious Bobbie Gentry, with a rare vinyl release on Record Store Day followed in September by a career-spanning CD box-set, The Girl From Chickasaw County Continue reading

Marilyn: A Public Icon, in Private

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Charles Casillo is a multi-talented author, actor and screenwriter. His books include the novel, The Marilyn Diaries – a reimagining of Monroe’s final years – and a biography of the novelist and gay icon, John Rechy. Casillo was also a consultant and researcher for J. Randy Taraborrelli’s The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe. In an appendix, Taraborrelli acknowledged Casillo as one of the “true experts” on Marilyn’s life, an “’ultimate’ Marilyn Monroe fan who understands her character and personality so well.” Now almost a decade later, with Marilyn Monroe: The Private Life of a Public Icon finally published, Taraborrelli hails it as “the book he was always meant to write.” Continue reading

Marilyn in Hollywood: The ‘Confidential’ Years

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Samantha Barbas is a professor of law at the University of Buffalo, specialising in the history of America’s mass media. Her previous publications include Movie Crazy: Fans, Stars, and the Cult of Celebrity (2001), and The First Lady of Hollywood: A Biography of Louella Parsons (2005.) In her latest book, Confidential Confidential: The Inside Story of Hollywood’s Notorious Scandal Magazine, she explores the lurid history and aftermath of a 1950s publishing phenomenon. Continue reading

The Muse Above My Desk

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Not long ago I acquired a very special painting by my artist friend, Fionn Wilson. Christine at 72 is based on one of the last formal photographs of Christine Keeler, captured by Pal Hansen just a few years before her sad passing in December 2017. I’ve decided to place it above my desk: Christine was (of course) the inspiration for my first book, Wicked Baby. And I was born in ’72, so it seems lucky in many ways. For me, this image represents a proud, independent woman looking back on her past and ahead to the future, always with unflinching courage and honesty. I also find it reassuring to contemplate this model of a mature woman, embracing wisdom and experience alongside her beauty and sensuality.  Continue reading