Photo: 1955 Cadillac hearse, listed on EBay at $7,500.
Queen of the Dead—dateline December 5, 2011
• With Loretta Young and Clark Gable as parents, Judy Lewis was bound to be a knockout—and since she looked like a Photoshop mash-up of Young and Gable, everyone knew damn well who her parents were, despite their lifelong denial. Lewis (who died on November 25, at the age of 76) was conceived during the filming of The Call of the Wild (heh heh), while Saint Loretta the Young was divorced and Gable married to his second wife. (Really, I think even the pope would have given Loretta a dispensation on schtupping 1935-era Clark Gable.) Young later “adopted” her daughter from a cooperative orphanage, and Judy did not find out the identities of her biological parents till later in life—she and Loretta Young remained close, but Gable never even privately admitted his fatherhood (his death in 1960 just before the birth of his “only child” was widely considered a great tragedy—Clark Gable could be a real putz sometimes). Lewis acted on TV (Perry Mason, Outlaws, 77 Sunset Strip, Kitty Foyle, Police Woman, One Day at a Time), though she never approached stardom; she later worked as a psychotherapist in Los Angeles.
• Wildly eccentric British director Ken Russell, 84, died on November 27—he directed two of my favorite modern musicals, The Boy Friend and Tommy (and that’s how old I am, that I think of those as “modern.”) His other colorful, sexual and over-the-top films included Women in Love, The Devils, Lisztomania, Altered States and The Lair of the White Worm. “The nascent music-video aesthetic of the ’80s can be traced to the slick surfaces, rapid montage and voracious pastiche of his films,” noted Dennis Lim in The New York Times. Russell himself once said, “I’d rather . . . gamble than play it safe. If I err it’s by overstating, but I try to get it right.” The story goes that Russell sat behind two doughty British dowagers at a screening of Women in Love, and after Alan Bates’ and Oliver Reed’s nude wrestling scene, one remarked, “Now, that’s a lovely carpet.” I re-watched the scene on YouTube and she was right, that is a lovely carpet.
• You know how I adore starlets and countesses, so I was goggle-eyed to read the Telegraph’s obit this week of Maureen Swanson, who was both. Swanson—later the Countess of Dudley—died on November 16, at the age of 78. Once touted as “the next Vivien Leigh,” the breath-taking beauty appeared in such 1950s films as Moulin Rouge, Knights of the Round Table, A Town Like Alice, The Spanish Gardener and Robbery Under Arms. Her scandalous 1961 marriage to Lord Ednam (he divorced his wife to marry Swanson, and his father, the Third Earl of Dudley, gave them The Cut Direct) lasted till her death. It was not smooth sailing, though: British papers accused her of various affairs, and she won a suit against a book which claimed she was one of the “popsies” in the Profumo prostitution scandal. Swanson was proud of her early ballet, stage and screen roles, once chiding a reporter in verse: “You’re a verbal varlet/To label me a Fifties starlet!”
• Knoedler & Company, one of New York’s oldest and most distinguished art galleries and dealers, closed this week after 165 years in business. Their 19 East 70th Street townhouse was sold in February (for a neat $31 million), but the sudden shuttering came as a shock: the Times wonders what will become of the company’s “enormous library that includes letters, photographs, sale records, stock books and catalogs going back to 1863.” Michael Knoedler founded the company in 1846, before New York had much of anything in the way of museums, galleries or dealers—in the years since, it supplied art to museums worldwide, to such famous collectors as Morgan Mellon and Frick, as well as to wealthy and middle-class New Yorkers eager to add a lovely new Sargent or Pollock to the foyer. When told of the closing, Lucy Mitchell-Innes, president of the Art Dealers Association of America, said, “Goodness me, that’s pretty stunning,” which pretty much sums things up.