Sunday 31 October 2021

Eva Cassidy – Voice of an Angel

This week sees the 25th anniversary of the death of American folk/soul/blues singer and guitarist Eva Cassidy. With her powerful soprano voice, she was best known for the song Over the Rainbow and the album Songbird.

Born in February 1963 in Washington D.C. she grew up in Maryland and at an early age displayed a great interest and talent in singing and playing the guitar. At age 11 she started performing with a band at weddings, parties and pubs, but due to her shyness she suffered greatly from stage fright. Over the following years her career spiralled, having much success and winning many awards along the way.

In 1993 she had a malignant mole removed from her back and three years later, around July 1996, after noticing an ache in her hips which persisted, she underwent x-rays where it was found that she was suffering from a fracture. 

However further tests found that the cancer had spread to her bones and to her lungs, and was terminal with it being estimated that she only had 3-5 months to live. Sadly chemotherapy was ineffective and she passed away on November 2nd, 1996 at the age of 33.

Two years after she passed away, her music was brought to the attention on British audiences by Mike Harding and the late Terry Wogan on BBC Radio 2. Soon after the compilation album Songbird went to the top of the UK album charts, almost 3 years after its initial release. This chart success in the UK led to increased recognition throughout the rest of the world and her posthumously released recordings have sold over 10 million copies.

Sunday 17 October 2021

Upside Down!

60 years ago on 18th October 1961, the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, USA famously hung Henri Matisse’s artwork Le Bateau upside-down.

No one noticed for 47 days and it was eventually hung the right way up on 3rd December when an eagle-eyed visitor noticed the mistake.

Le Bateau, by Henri Matisse

On that morning the museum opened a new exhibition “The Last Works of Matisse” unaware that the work had been hung upside down. In the 47 days that elapsed until it was discovered, 116,000 people had visited the exhibition including Matisse’s own son Philippe, an art dealer.

To be honest, the mistake is quite understandable considering it was a simple paper cut-out work of a sailboat and its reflection.

New York stockbroker Genevieve Habert visited the exhibition three times, each time becoming more convinced of the error. She contacted the New York Times newspaper explaining her belief that Matisse would never put the main motif on the bottom and the lesser on top.

She pointed this out to a museum employee whose response was that they cannot be responsible for the printers who published the catalogue which showed the work the right way up.

The exhibition closed on 4th December meaning Le Bateau was only ever on display the right way round during the removal.

Monday 11 October 2021

Defender of the Faith

500 years ago today on 11th October 1521, Pope Leo X granted the title “Defender of the Faith” to King Henry VIII of England and Ireland.

Pope Leo X

It recognised the King’s defence of the sacrament of marriage, the supremacy of the Pope, and his opposition to the Protestant Reformation and the ideas of Martin Luther.

It was conferred in recognition of Henry’s book ‘Defense of the Seven Sacraments’ The title was also used by his wife (at the time), Catherine of Aragon. 

Henry VIII

After Henry decided to break with Rome 9 years later and declare himself the head of the Church of England, the title was revoked by Pope Paul III and Henry was excommunicated (Pope Leo X died of pneumonia aged 45 in December 1521.

However in 1543 the English Parliament conferred the title on Henry VIII and his successors.

The title has been inherited by all English and British monarchs since then.

Thursday 30 September 2021


Starring John Wayne, Kim Darby, Glen Campbell, Robert Duvall and Dennis Hopper (amongst others), True Grit (1969) was an American Western classic that told the story of a US Marshall (Wayne) and a Texas Ranger (Campbell), being hired by a young girl (Darby), to help track down her father’s murderer, deep inside Indian territory.

The movie was based on the novel written by Charles Portis and was directed by Henry Hathaway. The screenplay, written by Marguerite Roberts, had the distinction of being described by Wayne as the best he had ever read.


John Wayne won a Golden Globe and a ‘Best Actor’ Academy award for his role as Marshall Rooster Cogburn. Indeed, in an illustrious career spanning 50 years, it was to be his only Oscar, and is generally thought of as being awarded more for sentimental reasons to honour his illustrious career, rather than for the actual role he played. Many critics actually consider his portrayal of Cogburn as ‘over-the-top’ and ‘hammy’.


Kim Darby was not the original choice to play the part of Mattie. Mia Farrow was originally cast, and was thought to be very keen on the role. However, whilst making a previous film in England, she had been advised by her then co-star Robert Mitchum, never to work with Henry Hathaway under any circumstances as he was ‘cantankerous’. 

For that reason, she approached the producer of “True Grit”, Hal B Wallis, with the request to replace Hathaway in the director’s chair with Roman Polanski, with whom she had previously worked on ‘Rosemary’s Baby’. When Wallis refused, Farrow quit the role.

It is believed that John Wayne had promised the part to his own daughter Aissa, but Hathaway refused to cast her. Wayne later pressed for the role to be given to singer Karen Carpenter (The Carpenters) who he had previously met when hosting a show. She actually read for the part, but was turned down, mainly because of her lack of acting experience. Others considered for the role included the likes of Tuesday Weld, Sally Field and Sondra Locke.

Although playing the part of a 14 year old girl, at the time of filming Kim Darby was closing in on her 22nd birthday. Darby and Wayne did not get on at all. He considered her to be ‘unprofessional on the set’ and they hardly spoke a word to each other off camera. He is actually quoted saying that “she was the goddamn lousiest actress I ever worked with.” 

Kim Darby wasn’t the only member of the cast that Wayne had problems with. It is believed that there was also friction between him and another co-star Robert Duvall.

The role of Texas Ranger ‘Le Boeuf’ very nearly went to Elvis Presley, but his manager, Colonel Tom Parker, was insistent that to play the part, he would require top billing. When this was not forthcoming, Glen Campbell received the nod, although Hathaway disliked his portrayal describing it as ‘wooden’. He later went on to claim that the singer was only cast so that he would go on to have a hit with the theme song, therefore helping to promote the movie.

Sequels and remakes

Some 6 years after the original movie, John Wayne reprised his role in “Rooster Cogburn”, this time directed by Stuart Millar and co-starring Katherine Hepburn. It was to be his penultimate film and was poorly received by critics, being only a moderate hit at the box office. Even with the indifferent reviews, there were plans to make a further sequel entitled “Sometime”, but it never came to anything and Wayne’s last performance on screen came a year later in “the Shootist”. He died of stomach cancer in 1979.

In 2010, the Coen Brothers produced a remake of the original starring Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon and Hailee Steinfeld (in the role of Mattie). This adaptation kept much closer to Portis’ book, focussing more so on Mattie’s point of view than the Cogburn character, and has all the hallmarks of the Brothers usual stunning cinematography and authentic dialogue and accents. 

The fact that Steinfeld is more similar in age to her character doesn’t go amiss either, and her performance is powerful, believable and indeed a joy to watch.


The Coen Brothers remake gains an IMDB rating of 7.8, which is a half point better than the original version. It has to be said that both adaptations have their good aspects, but the rating is probably a fair judge on the merits of the two productions.

Friday 24 September 2021

Birthday of a UK Sportstar - Superstar

150 years ago today on 24th September 1871, Charlotte 'Lottie' Dod, a British sportswoman who was highly skilled in a variety of sports, was born in Cheshire.

Lottie Dod, aged 20

Best known as a tennis player, she won the Wimbledon ladies’ singles tennis championship 5 times, the first of which at age 15 in 1887. She remains the youngest winner of the title which is a record unlikely ever to be taken away from her.

She also won the British Ladies Amateur Golf Championship, played hockey for the England ladies' national team on two occasions (which she also helped found) and won a silver medal for archery at the 1908 London Olympics.

The Guinness Book of Records has named her the most versatile female athlete of all time, along with track and field athlete, and fellow golfer Babe Zaharias.

She passed away in June 1960, aged 88.

If the BBC SPOTY had been around in those days, I think it’s pretty certain she would have carried off the trophy on numerous occasions.

Saturday 11 September 2021

The Creation of Play-Doh

65 years ago on the 16th September 1956, the child's modelling toy Play-Doh first went on sale in the USA. 

However in the 1930's, it was originally marketed as a wallpaper cleaning substance, but was relaunched as a modelling compound when the inventor’s nephew discovered that nursery school children were using it to make Christmas ornaments.

Originally concocted as a pliable, putty-like sunstance by Noah McVicker of the Cincinnati-based soap manufacturer Kutol Products, it was devised as a product which would clean coal residue from wallpaper. But as coal-based home heating made way for natural gas in the 40s and 50s, it resulted in a decrease in the amount of internal soot produced and the market for the putty decreased substantially.

McVicker's nephew Joe McVicker, who joined Kutol in a remit to save the company from going bust, was the brother-in-law of nursery school teacher Kay Zufall. She had seen a newspaper article which described the making of art projects using the putty and had tried it out on her students who enjoyed using it. She persuaded the McVickers to manufacture it as a child's toy and the rest, as they say, is history. 

Kay Zufall
It was Ms Zufall and her husband who came up with the name Play-Doh; the McVickers had wanted to call it Rainbow Modelling Compound.

Friday 10 September 2021

Silent Movie Star Arrested for Rape and Murder: 100 years on.

100 years ago on 11th September 1921, American silent movie star Fatty Arbuckle was arrested for rape and murder.

Arbuckle pictured in 1919 with his dog Luke.

Roscoe Conkling "Fatty" Arbuckle was an American silent movie star, comedian and screenwriter who started out at the Selig Polyscope Company, moving on to the infamous Keystone Company where he worked with, amongst others Harold Lloyd. He was credited with mentoring Charlie Chaplin and discovered Buster Keaton and Bob Hope. 

He was one of the most popular and highest paid Hollywood stars of the 1910's and in 1920 signed a contract to the value of $14,000 (equivalent to $181,000 in 2020).

Arbuckle was the defendant in three widely publicised trials between November 1921 and April 1922 for the alleged rape and manslaughter of actress Virginia Rappe. Rappe had fallen ill at a party hosted by Arbuckle at San Francisco's St. Francis Hotel in September 1921, and died four days later. 

A friend of Rappe accused Arbuckle of raping and accidentally killing her. The first two trials resulted in hung juries, but Keaton testified for the defence in the third trial, which acquitted Arbuckle, and the jury gave him a formal written statement of apology.

Despite Arbuckle's acquittal, the scandal mostly overshadowed his legacy as a pioneering comedian and pretty much ruined his career. 

Arbuckle died in his sleep from a heart attack in 1933 at the age of 46, reportedly on the day he had signed a contract with Warner Brothers to make a film which he hoped would resurrect his reputation and career.