A postcard of a horse-drawn hearse listed on EBay with bidding starting at $2.50.
Queen of the Dead – dateline April 9, 2012
• The Telegraph hits another one out of the ballpark with their tribute to Peregrine John Wishart Fairfax, 12th Lord Fairfax of Cameron, who died on February 23 at 86. A Royal Lancer during the Allied advance through Italy, he later was a champion of the farming life. But here comes the creamy nougat center (sorry, centre) of the Telegraph’s obit, as they talk of his animal husbandry (watch that!) and “his passion for lurchers and longdogs” (I have no idea what that even means, but I blush just typing it). Fairfax kept a black and white rat with him during the war, till it was tragically eaten by locals, and—wait for it—“One of his party tricks was to dress for dinner, accessorised with a pair of white ferrets down his trousers. When he stood up, their red eyes would shine out from his nether regions in the candlelight.” Bliss! Thank you, Telegraph.
• Ursula Melita, who died at 93 on April 1, is the reason I hate ballet. Not that she taught me—I had all the grace and rhythm of Lucy Ricardo. It was my sister Debbi who was a member of Melita’s Ballet des Jeunes troupe, and I spent most of my childhood sitting out those rehearsals, listening to Melita pound the floor with her stick and shout, “Feef position, girlss!” Melita held classes throughout the Philadelphia area from the early 1950s through her retirement in 1986. She and her family fled Nazi Germany in 1938, and after a jaunt to Cuba they settled in Philadelphia. Melita’s Ballet des Jeunes—a school and dance company for girls (and a few boys) between 9 and 17—performed all over the US and in Europe. My sister, a very talented [“moderately talented,” she asserts] dancer, was with the company in 1968 when they danced for Princess Grace in Monaco (and here is where I get to sniff haughtily that Grace Kelly was not from the Main Line, she was born in Germantown). Anyway, Debbi had to give up dance when her knees gave out, but all those years of watching Search for Spring left me unable to even sit through The Red Shoes or The Black Swan—not even the promise of seeing ballet dancers suffer and die was sufficient bait. “Ballet gave me great-looking legs, a bonus when the hems got shorter,” my sister Debbi adds. “My final performance was memorable. We were flowers—there was a fan behind that blew scarves upward as a special effect. After my solo, the fan blades grabbed part of my costume, and chewed its way up my arm. I screamed, and looked up to see the entire company and Miss Melita lining the wings. She hissed: ‘Take off your top!’ Luckily a ten-year-old girl cleverly pulled the plug, saving me from an inadvertent entry to underage stripping in public.”
• Did you read that fabulous book Operation Mincemeat last year—or the earlier The Man Who Never Was—about the 1943 British plot to set the Germans off their scent with a decoy body, dressed up as a British officer with fake papers? One of the minor characters in the scheme, Jean Leslie, died on April 3, age 88. Girard was a pretty MI5 clerk whose photo—emerging from the sea in a swimsuit—was tucked into the body’s wallet, along with love letters from the imaginary girlfriend “Pam,” written by another MI5 worker. The sweet part of all this is that Leslie and Commander Ewen Montagu of Naval Intelligence developed a lifelong platonic romance, with him as the mythical “Acting Major William Martin” and her as “Pam.” Later in life, both happily married to others, they kept in touch with occasional notes: “Dear Pam, It was a voice from the past to see you in today’s papers and I can’t resist being another such voice and sending you congratulations. Ever yours, Ewen (alias Major William Martin).” It’s a story as interesting and much sweeter than the Operation that created it.
• I have been Google-Imaging all day and trying to figure out just why the paintings of Thomas Kinkade (who died at 54 on April 6) make me want to claw my eyes out. Kinkade’s work . . . well, it’s “pretty.” Stuff looks like stuff. Some of it kind of resembles a Disney version of Bierstadt or Turner. And I love many illustrators who are looked down upon as being commercial: Leyendecker, Amsel, Erté. Kinkade also gave us the giddily awful “NASCAR Thunder,” which is like “Dogs Playing Poker” and a velvet Elvis had a baby. The most critical thing I can think of from an art standpoint if that his colors are too bright: his landscapes look like someone did a pointillist version of a Maxfield Parrish, only instead of using dabs of paint, like Seurat, they used Peeps. I thoroughly enjoyed his New York Times obit; they are not usually known for their humor, but, get this: “After news of his death spread on Saturday, fans and critics alike remembered him on Twitter . . . ‘May your afterlife be as beautiful as your art,’ one person wrote.” Is that a subtle way of saying “Go to hell?” The Times also described his fan base as “homeowners who did not ordinarily buy art . . . fans and critics alike remembered him . . . from the living rooms of grandparents and the waiting rooms of doctors’ offices.” Oh, snap!