Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Vincent Price: contradictions

Posted By on Tue, Apr 12, 2011 at 7:12 PM

“The shrieking of mutilated victims became the music of his life.” The Pit and the Pendulum, 1961

Other than paint-by-number, oil paintings on canvas barely existed outside of large cities in 1950s America. Without museums or art galleries, it was a tire store hoping to elevate its image and expand its product line which brought art to the small towns of south Louisiana.

Sears, Roebuck and Co. started as a mail order catalogue company in the late 1800s. Eventually their automotive services superseded their reputation as a department store, and they aggressively pursued a change in their image by incorporating fine art.

They hired a famous actor, Vincent Price, to lead this elevated national crusade.


“The first thing in selling a work of art is to have respect for the customer’s taste,” explains Price in an instructional video teaching sales associates to sell art from the ‘Vincent Price Collection for Sears.’

Together Price and Sears sold more than fifty thousand pieces of art, original paintings, prints and woodcuts by Rembrandt, Picasso, Chagall, and many unknowns, with traveling exhibitions between 1962 and 1971.

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Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Happy Birthday, Tennessee

Posted By on Tue, Mar 22, 2011 at 11:05 PM

“They told me to take a streetcar named Desire, and transfer to one called Cemeteries, and ride six blocks and get off at — Elysian Fields!” —Blanche DuBois, T.W.

I cannot remember a time that I existed unaware of Tennessee Williams. And yet, the truth is that I discovered him like a déjà vu only twelve years ago. It was 1999, and George Rodrigue and I contemplated leaving Lafayette, Louisiana, my husband's hometown of more than thirty years, and living instead in New Orleans.

Although we have long and separate personal histories* with the city, we hoped to understand it better, to make a committed move based not only on the obvious practical reasons, but also on the less obvious passionate ones.

Our colorful research included related fiction: A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole, The Keepers of the House by Shirley Ann Grau, and Jitterbug Perfume by Tom Robbins. George, who prefers his fiction shortened and dramatized, listened to my nightly summaries as though we sat around a campfire, telling stories like cowboys.

Thinking About Blanche, the official poster of the 2006 Tennessee Williams Festival, New Orleans
  • George Rodrigue
  • "Thinking About Blanche," the official poster of the 2006 Tennessee Williams Festival, New Orleans

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Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Just another old dress ... or not

Posted By on Wed, Mar 16, 2011 at 3:45 PM

“This was woman incarnate — unashamedly flirtatious in her nonchalant disregard of the stir she was causing, sensual, sensational, crazily chic and, above all, supremely sure of herself.” — Pochna, Christian Dior*

At 5:30 a.m. on the Ides of March, I pondered with distaste at what a better person I would be if my first thoughts of the day regarded world peace as opposed to my wardrobe. But the truth is that I wondered what to wear on my birthday, and I ran through the mental checklist of my closet, long ago abandoning the ridiculous phrase (according to my husband), “I have nothing to wear,” in favor of finding just the right thing, the fashion statement that complements my mood that day, reflecting not how I want to be seen by others, but how I see myself.

Still under the covers, I settled on a black silk and lace wrap-dress, not near as sexy as it sounds, but rather romantic, soft, and sentimental, the dress I wore in the last photograph I have with my mom.

Hours later, dressed for a birthday lunch at Galatoire’s, I stared in the mirror and observed that the Laundry by Shelli Segal design looked outdated. Glancing again at the photograph, I realized that the dress was perfect for a family dinner in 2004 and, even though I can’t pinpoint the exact reason, nothing but an old dress today.

I settled instead on a dress by Prada, so outrageous and unpopular that it hung crushed between discounted clothes on a sales rack in Las Vegas, where I purchased it for a fraction of its equally outrageous original price.

Spring 2008, Prada Runway
  • Spring 2008, Prada Runway

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Thursday, February 24, 2011

Restoring St. Anthony’s garden (behind St. Louis Cathedral)

Posted By on Thu, Feb 24, 2011 at 9:49 AM

Nearly one year ago George Rodrigue moved his New Orleans gallery from its rented location of twenty years at the corner of Royal Street and Orleans Street to a permanent location at the corner of Royal Street and Pere Antoine Alley, adjacent to St. Louis Cathedral.

Although by outward appearances this is a simple move across the street, the change holds resounding significance for an artist who longed for a gallery of his own and who remains deeply connected to an historical city. The week we signed the purchase papers, the Monseigneur himself called to ‘welcome us to the neighborhood,’ despite a relocation of no more than twenty feet.

The new Rodrigue Gallery takes up an enormous space on the bottom floor of a four-story historic French Quarter building. The upper floors overlook both Royal Street and Pere Antoine Alley, named for a popular pastor, from 1774 to his death in 1829. Together with his friend, Voodoo Priestess Marie Laveau, they focused their efforts on assisting New Orleans’ large slave population, especially women and children.

Portrait of Pere Antoine, Edmund Brewster, 1822
  • Portrait of Pere Antoine, Edmund Brewster, 1822

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Tuesday, December 14, 2010

It's one for the money ...

Posted By on Tue, Dec 14, 2010 at 1:16 PM


Rock ’n’ roll will never die — and apparently neither will the ways to make money from the Elvis Presley estate. The most recent I’ve seen is a $2 bill bearing images of The King — for just $19.95 plus $5.95 shipping and handling — and advertised as a perfect present for that hard-to-buy-for person on your gift list. I guess it seems more and more like a bargain the closer you get to Christmas.

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Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Dolores Pepper

Posted By on Tue, Dec 7, 2010 at 5:01 PM

Dolores Pepper was born on the Miracle Strip, the beaches of Okaloosa Island, behind the condominium where I lived with my mother and sister in Fort Walton Beach, Florida. It was spring break 1982, and my cousin Kelly and I, each of us covered in baby oil and holding a TAB, walked away from the umbrellas and families behind our building towards the boys and beer behind the Ramada Inn.

"What’s your name?” a towel of guys called out to my curvy cousin.

“Flower,” she replied.

The boys ogled her as we walked over. She flirted and made party plans while I stood behind, an invisible beanpole barely blocking their sun.

As we strolled back to our abandoned babysitting duty (my sister and her friends), I asked Kelly about the name. She explained to me that we’d have a lot more fun as other girls, namely Flower Anne and Dolores.

“I’m Dolores?”

I couldn’t figure it out. My whole life I dreamed of another name, and she knew it: Emily, the name I gave to every Barbie, Madame Alexander doll and pet parakeet. (I named my goldfish, each one of them, George, but that’s another story).

“It sounds better when I call to you,” she explained: “Dolores, Doilin’! Come see!”

(…as in, “Dolores, Dahlin’! Over here!”…as in, “Dolores, Darling! Come with me!”)

She was correct, of course.

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Saturday, October 30, 2010

No second line this weekend ...

Posted By on Sat, Oct 30, 2010 at 9:41 AM


Start: D.W. Rhodes Funeral Home, 1716 N. Claiborne Ave. Out Claiborne to St. Anthony. Right on St. Anthony to N. Robertson to St. Bernard Ave. Right on St. Bernard Ave. to N. Claiborne Ave. Left on St. Philip.

Stop: Charbonnet Family Services, 1615 St. Philip. Proceed down St. Philip to Treme St. Left on Treme to Barracks St. Right on Barracks to Little People's Place.

Stop: Little People's Place. Proceed down Barracks to N. Rampart St. Right on N. Rampart to Ursulines St. Right on Ursulines to St. Claude Avenue. Right on St. Claude.

Disband: Backstreet Cultural Museum, 1116 St. Claude Ave. Presentation and Refreshments.

Honoring Al Morris, Chief of the Northside Skull & Bone Gang, 1942-2010 and Ernest Skipper, creator of “Shot Gun Joe,” 1948-2009.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Anne Rice uses Facebook to announce her breakup with Christianity

Posted By on Thu, Jul 29, 2010 at 11:09 PM

Anne Rice, the New Orleans novelist who famously feuded with Al Copeland, famously rededicated her life to the Church to write only about the life of Christ, famously moved out of the Garden District and to La Jolla, Calif. a few years back, famously stopped writing books about sexy vampires and started writing books about sober Saviors (then left the door open for maybe one more sexy vampire book), has announced a new chapter in her life. Via her Facebook page:

For those who care, and I understand if you don't: Today I quit being a Christian. I'm out. I remain committed to Christ as always but not to being "Christian" or to being part of Christianity. It's simply impossible for me to "belong" to this quarrelsome, hostile, disputatious, and deservedly infamous group. For ten ...years, I've tried. I've failed. I'm an outsider.

Why? Rice elaborates:

In the name of Christ, I refuse to be anti-gay. I refuse to be anti-feminist. I refuse to be anti-artificial birth control. I refuse to be anti-Democrat. I refuse to be anti-secular humanism. I refuse to be anti-science. I refuse to be anti-life. In the name of ...Christ, I quit Christianity and being Christian. Amen.

For English majors and Southern lit fans, this all may sound a bit familiar; it was 1952 when the Southern author Flannery O'Connor wrote Wise Blood, in which one of the characters forms the "Holy Church of Christ Without Christ." The difference here seems to be that O'Connor didn't have Facebook, and God only knows what she would've thought of the late lamented Straya (now Copeland's Cheesecake Bistro).

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Monday, July 12, 2010

Harvey Pekar: Rest in Splendor

Posted By on Mon, Jul 12, 2010 at 8:48 PM

Harvey Pekar, the cartoonist behind American Splendor, died this morning at his Cleveland home at the age of 70. Memories of Pekar are already flooding the Web, along with official obits (The New York Times, The Washington Post).

In the early 2000s, Pekar was coaxed into being a sometimes-Gambit contributor by former editor Michael Tisserand, who was a huge fan of the man and his work. In 2003, Tisserand even wrote his own American Splendor-type comic about his interactions with Pekar and had it illustrated by Rhett Thiel.


Today, in honor of Harvey Pekar, we're running that comic again (download the whole thing here), and presenting Michael Tisserand's remembrance of his cantankerous friend:

Lonnie Johnson, Fats Domino, Dennis McGee, Clifton Chenier, Kid Ory. Thanks to Harvey Pekar, these aren't just Louisiana music legends. They were comic heroes in the pages of Gambit Weekly.

Pekar is known to most people for his American Splendor comic book, his memorable appearances with David Letterman, and the acclaimed movie American Splendor, in which he appeared as himself. For a few years in the early 2000s, he also became an occasional Gambit contributor. His masterful portraits of local musicians managed to convey essential biographical information, Pekar's own opinions, and a dash of wry wit in just a few words and images. It was a great honor to work with him.


Shortly after Katrina, I wrote in an essay that I returned to my Gambit office shortly after the waters went down and salvaged my Harvey Pekar bobblehead, a gift from arts editor David Lee Simmons. The essay was picked up by the alt weekly in Harvey's home town of Cleveland, and the next day I received an email from Joyce Brabner, Pekar's wife. "Interesting priorities," she wrote. "Until reading this I believed that I would be the only one thinking to grab and save Harvey Pekar in the event of a catastrophe."

That was the last contact I had with either Harvey or Joyce ... almost. A couple years back, Harvey was appearing in Chicago to promote a comics anthology that he had edited. I was living there at the time and when we met up, I was feeling pretty forlorn about missing New Orleans and the chain of events that had brought me north. Harvey certainly recognized self-pity when he saw it. "You're writing and your wife's got a good job," he said. "What have you got to complain about?"

I started to answer him, but then stopped. What did I expect? A soft shoulder from the man who made timeless art out of a decades-long drudge job as a hospital file clerk? When Pekar scoffed, it was like being serenaded by a master soloist. As he explained in the film American Splendor: "If you’re the kind of person looking for romance or escapism or some fantasy figure to save the day, guess what? You’ve got the wrong movie."

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Sunday, June 20, 2010

Betty Fox on the closing of the Mother-in-Law Lounge

Posted By on Sun, Jun 20, 2010 at 8:54 PM

This afternoon, we spoke to Betty Fox, the daughter of Antoinette K-Doe, who has been keeping the family's Mother-in-Law Lounge open for a year and a half since her mother passed away unexpectedly on Mardi Gras 2009. Betty sounded exhausted down to her soul.

"I really have to do this. It's actually overwhelming," she said. "Everybody has a certain niche for something. My mama's niche was this place, but it's not mine. It's just not mine. I been doing this a year and a half and I'm just tired."

Regarding the sale of the bar's contents, Betty said she was keeping the family's personal mementos (including the famous K-Doe mannequin, the costumes, and the photos), but would be selling the fixtures at a garage sale/silent auction on July 10. "I'm going to sell the tubs in the yard, and some of the household stuff, but I'm keeping the family things. I want to maybe open a museum in a year or so.

"Right now I need to find a house," she said. "I been sleeping on a couch in the bar for a year and a half. People don't know that. Upstairs, there's no electricity or water, there's mold, and the termites have eaten up everything, it's not livable ... people don't know the half of it. I want to get me a house.

"I have to do this," she said, "for my own sanity."

The garage sale/silent auction begins at 10 a.m. on Sat. July 10 at the Mother-in-Law.

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