Photo of the funeral of Victor Hugo, listed on EBay at $1,600.
Queen of the Dead – dateline March 5, 2012
• Omigosh, I had such a crush on Peter Tork. Yes, I know, it’s Davy Jones who died on Leap Day, at 66. But he was too boyish for me, I was more a Peter Tork kind of girl (and let’s not get started on Monte Markham— *sigh*). Anyway. I did love the Monkees, and Davy really was the most talented: like Mickey Dolenz, he’d been a child star (Coronation Street, the Artful Dodger in Oliver!) before pop fame hit. In 1988 he told Gary James that the life of a boy-band pop star was not all you might think: “The Monkees ’67-’68 tour, I might’ve got laid twice . . . It was always the crew that got laid, not the guys.”
• Yet another “last silent movie star” has died—Pola Illéry, on February 15, at age 103. Most famous as the gamin of René Clair’s Sous les Toits de Paris (1930), she was born in Romania and made a handful of late-silent French films before Clair discovered her. Illéry’s career was brief: about a dozen films, including Le Petit Chaperon Rouge (with Jean Renoir) and Quatorze Juillet (with Annabella). She fled Europe with the rise of Hitler and became a volunteer nurse with the Red Cross. Illéry married, had four children, and settled in Scranton, Pennsylvania, as “she felt it exemplified the beauty of America.”
• 1940s starlet Martha Stewart—not to be confused with the homemaking icon of the same name—died on February 25, aged 89. Stewart was a radio and big-band singer, who also appeared in the Broadway show Park Avenue (1946-47). Her first film was the Vivian Blaine/Carmen Miranda vehicle Doll Face (1945); she went on to brighten (usually in supporting roles) such movies as I Wonder Who’s Kissing Her Now, Daisy Kenyon, In a Lonely Place (a terrible film of a wonderful book—honest, read the book!) and Aaron Slick From Punkin Crick. Stewart segued into TV in the 1950s, with appearances on Jackie Gleason, Red Skelton and Alfred Hitchcock’s shows, also singing on numerous variety shows.
• I have only been in New York since 1980, so I am still kind of a newcomer. But more and more I find myself giving my “what used to be there” tours of beloved ghost sites. Just in the past month or so, we have lost three: first, The Algonquin’s Oak Room, one of the last cabarets in the city. The Algonquin has long been my favorite hangout—not only for its history, but for its Grandma’s Parlor atmosphere, its resident cat, its tea selections. The Oak Room—opened the same year I arrived in New York, no doubt in celebration of that fact—hosted such greats as Barbara Cook, Karen Akers, Harry Connick, Jr., Julie Wilson, Barbara Carroll, and the late Mary Cleere Haran. Just this week, the Times also announced the closing of the 111-year-old Monkey House at the Bronx Zoo—which is sad news for zoo-goers, though no doubt a boon for the monkeys. And Bill’s Gay Nineties Restaurant and Piano Bar, a three-story tradition on East 54th Street, is being forced out of business by its rapacious landlord. It was opened in 1924 as a speakeasy by Bill Hardy, a Jazz-Ager nostalgic for La Belle Epoch, just like Marion Cotillard in Midnight in Paris. Cara Buckley writes in the Times, “Moving from floor to floor, gripping the solid dark-wood banister, one gets the sense of walking through a well-loved old private home. Peeping out the windows, framed by red velvet wallpaper, glass doors or wooden shutters, and onto Midtown’s blank-faced high-rises feels like looking from a cozy past into a daunting future.”