Friday, 30 December 2011

Like Fine Wine...Rudolph Valentino...

Women are not in love with me but with the picture of me on the screen. I am merely the canvas on which women paint their dreams.  --- Rudolph Valentino

Although Rudolph Valentino never lived long enough to age into his autumn years or beyond, I thought--browsing through photos of him taken throughout his life--he really did mature just as beautifully as a fine wine.

Most of us know THE Valentino of film glory. The first screen lover to break the mold of the wholesome boy next door the public had become accustomed to in early film. He was the first Latin Lover. To most--inlcuding this girl--he still, to this day, is the only Latin Lover and cannot be usurped from his position of celluloid sexuality.

But for those who aren't familiar with his life--with the stages which show a remarkable maturing and, more importantly, a very obvious growth in elegance and style--I wanted to spotlight him as my Like Fine Wine subject.

Would you believe this photo was the future Love God, the screen legend, the sachem of hearts? Yes, this is Valentino in 1913 on his way to America. Only here he was not Rudolph Valentino (later to be his screen name), but was Rodolfo Alfonso Raffaello Pierre Filibert Guglielmi di Valentina D'Antonguolla. Try saying THAT three times fast. Whew.

He was a kid alone in a big, new country. Scared. But he worked his way through life with any job he could get his hands on. Even gardening. He dreamed of having his own vineyard.

Young Taxi Dancer Rudolpho.

Utilizing his dark---and very foreign----good looks, the young man began work as a taxi dancer. Dancing for money. Wooing women. Different accounts report he did many other things for money during this period, but it remains to be proven.

With the sleepiest bedroom eyes in the world, how could he have missed fame? To this day, one of the most incredibly sensual men to have ever lived.

Valentino wanted to be in movies--the bright, shiny new penny of indutries--and hung around motion picture studios, taking work as an extra and small roles whenever he could.

Beginning to show more refinement. Still the exotic beauty.

And then---and then---his life became the stuff dreams are made of.

Screenwriter June Mathis, one of the most powerful women in the industry, spotted young Rudy in a nondescript role in a film. She was overwhelmedw with his dark beauty and used her influence to push for him as the lead in the anxiously awaited motion picture The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. This was a film even the top stars of motion pictures vied for. But Mathis knew her man, she knew what would make the film work. And she was right.

Valentino was cast---a virtual unknown---as Julio Desnoyers. Mathis' gut feeling paid off. A star was born.


Rudy in his famous tango scene from The Four Horsemen...The role that put his sopt on the map forever as the Love God.

He went on to make more films, all memorable. In all of them, he stole the scenes...

He was SO believable on screen, SO handsome, even the famous Nazivoma had him deleted from her famous death scene because his charismatic presence would steal her thunder.

He married a woman with a name as exotic as his own, Natacha Rambova.

The role for which he is perhaps most famous. The Sheik. Sweeping onto the screen as the hero of Edith Maude Hull's famous erotic novel, he took the world by storm...again. Women craved to be taken by their very own desert sheik, men hated him.

He played opposite THE Gloria Swanson in Beyond the Rocks. The public adored the pairing of their two screen darlings. But it was their only chance to co-star.

Blood and Sand as the fated Juan Gallardo. Getting more and more handsome by the minute.

While the public knew him mostly as the man behind the heavy actor's makeup, the real man--the Valentino on the street--was a suave, toned-down shadow of the screen's smoldering heartthrob. But still as handsome, if not more so.

A goatee. New look, started a craze in men's fashion. The sleek hair and goatee. Barbers protested, as more and more men started to go for this look and they lost business.

The real man loved to work on cars, and loved to buy elite foreign automobiles. And was quite the dangerous driver, as it's told he refused to wear glasses for his poor vision.

His last role, The Son of the Sheik, a sequel to The Sheik. He died the year this film was released.

Valentino died while on a trip to New York to promote his last film. Only thirty one years old.

Although he never had the chance to reach old age, he still matured through his short years and left the world with an unforgettable image of true beauty, potent sensuality and unmistakable class.

He died so very young, yet that brief life was just long enough to create a household name that still whispers romance and sets pulses racing...Rudolph Valentino.

This photo says it all.


Tuesday, 20 December 2011


This holiday season, I've felt my father's loss more than ever. So please accept this humble contribution to the magic that is all fathers as my gift to you for Christmas.

Bronx, 1944

The perfect Christmas Eve.

The heavy slate clouds had finally let go their burden, sending fat snowflakes—legions of delicate white crystal angels—swirling crazy and silent on the twilight breeze.
In the department store window, a collection of phonograph records hung from strings of glittery garland and the Christmas tree lights reflected on the shiny black disks.

The record jackets, propped in rows among blankets of fake snow and more lights, caught Carmen’s attention. Especially one. Thomas Beecham Conducts Carmen.

“Daddy.” Carmen shoved her hands deep into her coat pockets and shuffled sideways on the sidewalk to nudge her father. “Tell me.”

Benny Franchino shot a gloved hand to the spotless glass to brace himself against his daughter’s playful shove. He tugged the brim of his fedora. “Tell you what, baby?”

How embarrassing, how silly, to want to hear the story again. He’d been telling her the same tale since she’d been a tiny tyke—probably before she even learned to talk. In fact, for years she probably never even understood the words at all.

She should have outgrown it by the time she reached her teens but she hadn’t. She never would. And here she was at twenty-five, still wanting, needing to hear the ridiculous tale. And the funny part? It was make-believe, purely fabricated in her father’s unending supply of tall fables. But Carmen didn’t care. It had been created for her and her alone. And it made her smile.

Pointing to the Carmen record cover, she sideswiped her father once more. Even to ask for the cockamamie story, as though she believed it, sent heat to her cheeks. She shifted her gaze to the sparkly flakes on the sidewalk. “My story. The Carmen story.”

“Ah.” Benny nodded. "You mean the story of how the opera Carmen got its name?"

It didn’t take much to get him into the heart and mindset to retell the absurdity.

Yes, make me three years old again. “Yes!”

“Oh, well….” Adjusting his hat once more, Benny glanced to the thick gray sky as though the words hid in its depths. “It happened, just as I’ve told you a million times….”


“The composer needed a name for his newest opera.”

“And…?” Oh, how terribly silly to even be listening to—much less asking to have it told—this outlandish fantasy.

“He came to me, Benito Franchino, because he'd seen your ma and me strolling with you in your carriage.”

Noting the smile, so lost in another world, on her father’s face, Carmen’s heart ached. A nice, beautiful ache, though. Could she possibly love him more than at this very minute? She thought not. How could her soul not swell to nearly bursting, seeing the reminiscing in his soft brown eyes, the contentment on his handsome face?

It wasn’t only the story she found so sweet. It was how he told it.

“And they—”

“Wait a minute.” Rearing back in mock disapproval, Benny narrowed his eyes. “Who’s telling this story? Me? Or you?”

Carmen slipped her hand into the crook of his arm. She nuzzled into the comforting wool of his overcoat. “You."

“Well, the composer proceeded to tell us he’d been inspired by the beautiful kid in the carriage.”


“Yeah. You.” Benny stopped, brushed flakes from the brim of his hat and continued walking. “Could he please ask your name, he said. A child so beautiful, he said, I gotta name my opera after her.”

Wanting to be a little child again, Carmen tucked her chin, fishing for the words she still loved to hear. “I was beautiful?”

“Ay-ay-ay.” Benny’s gaze rose to the gloomy sky again. Was it a habit or did he really see answers there? “You were the most beautiful kid in the world.” He draped his arm about her shoulders, drawing her nearer. “You are beautiful, bambina.”

That rushed the warmth to her cheeks once more. Not embarrassed but pleased. “And so the opera composer…?”

“Oh, yeah, him!” He held up a finger. “Well, I put up a fight, of course. You know me.”


Benito Franchino, former middle weight boxer. His career may have been over, but the fire, the intensity, in his soul burned just as bright as ever.

“Your ma begged me to reconsider. You know she always saw a future as a singer for you.”

“She did.”

“And she’d be so happy, baby, to hear about your contract with The Met.”

“Are you happy about it?”

Her father stopped so abruptly, a tiny avalanche of snowy dust drifted from the brim of his hat. “Am I happy? Am I happy?” There went his stare, squinting to the heavens, then returning to her. “I’m so goddamn hap—” At Carmen’s surprised gasp, he grimaced. “Sorry about the language....” He made a sign of the cross. “I’m so happy. Oh, baby, if I could only shout to the world just how happy I am.”

Carmen’s throat tightened. Tears were soon behind and she swallowed past the constriction to fend them off. “I’m glad, Daddy.”

Too tough—as always—to get caught in the sappiness of the moment, Benny cleared his throat and shot out his cuffs. “So this opera fellow….”

“Yes. Him.” How the love inside her wrenched her heart. Tears did well to the corners of her eyes, only to sting in the chilly air.

“Well, he put up a pretty good argument, too. So, finally, your ma and me figured why not? Quite an honor it was, we thought. You know?”

“So that’s how the opera got its name.” Carmen sighed. Yes, it was a crazy story, so whimsical. But, even in its zaniness, so necessary.

Benny turned his face to the clouds where evening had finally snuffed the feeble, muted light of day. “Guess it’s time I got back.” This time his gaze didn’t leave the darkening canopy.

“Not yet, Daddy.” Carmen wrapped her fingers around his forearm to pull him closer, a desperate grip to keep him from leaving. To hold the day like a still life painting. “A malted at Bernbaum’s?”

With a forlorn glance at the bustle of Christmas shoppers—as though watching for an approaching train—he shook his head. “I’ve stayed too long already, sweetie. I have to go.”

Like the baby in the carriage in her father’s silly story, Carmen yanked away from him. “I hate—”

“Carmen.” His gloved finger touched her lips.

She gave the tears permission to fall in earnest.

Her crying always tore her father's heart out, and she could at least make him feel guilty for leaving.

“Baby. My baby girl.” The sadness in his voice assured he couldn't be deterred by her tears this time. “You know I can’t stay.”

Carmen stalked to the store window, her boots crunching on the thickening snow. “Then go. Go.” Jerking from his attempt to cup her elbow, she moaned, “Why drag it on, huh? Just go.”


“Why did you come anyway, goddamn it?”

“Carmen.” Was there a chuckle in his tone? “Pretty talk, bambina.”


“I tell you what. Maybe you’ll forgive me if you see what I left you.” Tucking a finger under her chin, he coaxed her to meet his eyes. “You just check under your Christmas tree. You just look, eh?”

“Sure.” Carmen shrugged away from his touch.

Somehow, it helped to bristle. She could pretend it didn’t hurt if she could feign anger. Of course, in time the resentment would fade and love would flood back in to fill the wounds. Love that would last until the day she died.

“No goodbye hug?” He made a big fist—the perpetual boxer in him—and gingerly grazed his knuckles on her cheek. His gentle prod was filled with the same sadness that rent her own heart in two.

Reluctantly, Carmen turned and leaned into him, melted into the familiar strength of his arms. She breathed in the comfortable aroma of his Bay Rum, the sweet smooth scent of his hair pomade.

Years in the boxing ring gave his arms such super human strength.

Carmen could hardly breathe in his tight embrace.

Tremors rippled through his body to hers. He was crying, too.
After a short eternity, he loosened his hold and stepped back. “You finished being mad at your old man?”

Shuffling and not able to stifle the smile sneaking to her lips, she murmured, “Yes.”

He swiped tears mingled with tiny snow crystals from his cheeks and turned to leave. Over his shoulder he blew a kiss. “Merry Christmas, baby.”

“Merry Christmas, Daddy."

He started down the sidewalk but stopped and jabbed a finger in the air at her. “Under your Christmas tree.”

And then he left—a tall, powerful figure in a long black overcoat and hat, blending into the flock of shoppers. Soon she couldn’t see him at all.

Carmen barely remembered the walk back to her tiny apartment. She stood on the stoop for a moment, drinking in the scene of the neighborhood kids shouting in the snow. Bundled in their thick coats, hats and gloves, they constructed a gaunt snowman. The white stuff hadn’t fallen thick enough yet to make much else—not after snowball fights, anyway.

With a sigh, she shuffled up the steps to the entrance and pushed through the thick wood door.

Christmas music from stereos echoed in the warmly lit stair well. Laughter pealed from behind closed apartment doors.
Maybe she’d go to a party later. After a good nap, she’d know if she felt up to mingling and wine and Christmas trees with big bulbs of bright light.

Upon entering her apartment, the first thing to greet her was her own tree. A tiny laugh escaped her. Why did she put up a tree every year? No one ever saw it but her. Yet she could no more think of not having a scant evergreen in the small abode than she could imagine holding back the wind with a butterfly net.

Growing up, she’d given up many childhood things. But a tree was the one thing she couldn’t part with. Maybe because of her parents, she figured. The warm, happy holiday memories she had of them when—no matter how little money they had—her father made sure there was a tree.

Kneeling on the worn carpet, she plugged in the lights and sat on her knees to watch the red, green, blue, yellow and white glimmer on the fragrant branches.

Peace. There was something so comforting about a green tree with lights and bogus icicles.

Carmen carefully plucked the snow globe from its cozy nest beneath the tree and wound it until Silent Night began to twinkle from its music box. She returned it to its lonely spot, dragged a couple of pillows from the nearby armchair and tossed them to the floor.

Reclining, she rested her head on the pillows and closed her eyes. The delicate music caroled from the globe and, within a few moments, Carmen drifted to sleep.

Later—had it been hours or minutes? She didn’t know—a soft, husky voice tiptoed through the mist in her mind. Under the Christmas tree, baby. Her father’s words filtered into her thoughts and excitement jolted through her. She jerked to a sitting position and studied the tree skirt for his gift.


Carmen’s body shook with the sobs that finally made it to the surface in her soul.

So it had been a dream. Just a dream. Beautiful, warm and tender, gut-wrenchingly loving. A year from—exactly, on Christmas Eve—the day he’d died.

There was no proof to assure he’d really visited her this evening. Yes, just a dream. Her father, so real, so touchable, so gentle. Daddy.

But even so, even that fleeting imaginary encounter, that silly re-telling of the absurd opera story was precious to her. She supposed it was the gift.

Out of the corner of her eye, she caught a glimpse of a something—something very small—nestled in the folds of the white tree skirt. Whatever it was, it wasn’t wrapped.

With trembling hands, she reached to pick up the item.
A tiny figurine of the saucy opera character, Carmen. The very porcelain trinket her father had given her on her fifth birthday.

The figurine which had tumbled from the knick-knack shelf years ago and shattered into a handful of countless colorful pieces. Its breaking had splintered Carmen’s heart into as many fragments.

But here it was, still worn but in one piece. Impossible.

She strained to scrutinize it through the limited lighting from the tree. It was the very same diminutive sculpture whose red dress had faded with millions of loving touches. The same chipped mantilla on the tiny opera singer’s shiny black hair.
But, oddly, no marks to show it had been repaired. Except for the fading paint and injured mantilla, it was as though it had never broken.

Carmen’s breath caught and she nearly dropped the trinket. Clutching it to her bosom, she closed her eyes tight. Now she knew she was dreaming.

Another search under the tree revealed no note, no explanation. Did it matter? Even if it was a dream, it was perfect and Carmen refused to let any doubt, any questions cloud the sunshine filling the small room.

With a huge sigh she lay on her back on the floor and scrunched the pillows under her head to get a full view of the bright star glistening through the window.

She touched the figurine to her lips, hoping it would still be there in the morning. Hoping it wasn’t only her imagination.
“Merry Christmas, Daddy.” Wrapping the statuette in her fingers and clutching it to her chest. “See you next year?”

Then she felt—didn’t hear, but felt like the tender touch of a palm on her cheek—his voice, Merry Christmas, bambina.

Carmen smiled to herself, closed her eyes and fell asleep.

Sunday, 18 December 2011

The Last Bus of the Night...

Chase down your passion like it's the last bus of the night.  ~Terri Guillemets

Do you believe in signs? I do.

In what will be the craziest, off-the-wall post I've probably every made, I wanted to share an event that happened to me. A sign. A beautiful, crystal-clear signpost on the road to my writing journey. 

Why crazy? Why off the wall? Because when you read it, you'll probably snicker. Hey, go ahead. I'm laughing at myself but--on the same token--it's just too powerful for me to ignore, though I even admit to myself how zany it is.

Last week I popped in a DVD from my Blockbuster queue. La Vie en Rose, a lavish French film of the life of the legendary French singer Edith Piaf. I highly recommend this movie, by the way. It's not only stunning cinematography but superb acting, especially by the lead, Marion Cotillard. 

Mid-way through the film the viewer was introduced to Piaf's lover, the love of her life as she called him, French boxer Marcel Cerdan.

And that's when it happened. My sign. 

The moment---the second---I saw the actor I knew him. I'd never seen him before in films, but I knew him intimately from my own writing. He was a character I'd written.
I knew him SO thoroughly that I immediately recognized him, even from just a shot of his back...the masculine silhouette of a stocky man in a dress coat and dark fedora. The slope of his shoulders, the outline of his body. 

I thought how very cool! There he was, in the flesh. His body, anyway. I'd seen his type many, many times. What? Did you think I invented the noir figure with overcoat and fedora? Nah. But, even so, I always appreciate it when I see its form in films and pictures. 

Then...then...the camera zoomed in on his face. He spoke. And no longer was he just a look-a-like, a resemblance to the TYPE of man I'd written, he WAS the man I'd written.

Just as Piaf recognized him, after just one date, as the love of her life...I knew him as the love of my writing. 

The gentle twinkle in his eyes, the tilt of his head, the style and darkness of his hair, his soft yet masculine voice, his shape, his five o'clock shadow, his hands, even down to his damn wrist watch. His personality. His very soul. It was my character.

In fact, guess what? I'm going to force him on you. I was ecstatic to find a scene on Youtube featuring his first date with the singer. He's played by French actor Jean-Pierre Martins.

 That's my guy. Those movie folk used him and never even consulted me. They stole my man. 

All kidding aside, it gave me wonderful chills to walk smack-dab, right into my own creation. To see him so perfectly, vividly brought to life.

It was a sign. A sign for what? 

Oh, geez, I get so excited thinking about this, I can hardly contain myself.

The fact is, this character--my name for his is Salvatore--was the very first character I ever penned. The very first. And, yet, through the few years that I've been writing, I've never quite placed him in the setting he belonged. I've written and re-written him so many times, I finally became frustrated I put him aside.
But a while back, I mentioned I was going to start back into my hetero romances. I saw a beautiful, romantic painting by Jack Vettriano titled Back Where You Belong. It touched my heart, it was that same dark character with the sleek hair. 

 Back Where You Belong by Jack Vettriano
Salvatore had begun to call again. My beloved character wasn't happy being buried beneath hundreds of other creations. He was there first, and by gods, he was demanding attention. 

And then, SO determined to be noticed again, he showed up in La Vie En Rose

Here's the part where you will agree I'm certifiably off my damn rocker. 

When I first saw the actor's smile, when he opened his mouth to speak? I cried. Yep, I cried, tuned up the waterworks and cried. Not a sweet little dainty cry, either, but kind of sobbing. Happy tears, the kind when you find something lost. So ecstatic you want to shout but there's no one to shout to. 

Who on earth would EVER understand that sort of emotion over something so silly? Another writer, maybe. Or maybe just anybody, everybody, who has a dream and they stumble right into it by accident. 

Or is it accidental? I don't think so. I truly believe in signs, and even hold in my heart that our characters--existing ones and ones who are merely dreams yet to come--DO speak to us, they DO let us know when their time has come.

And my man spoke to me. 

I've some other things to complete, but he is next. 

And another thing? In retrospect, I'm really sort of glad I did NOT write him back in the day when I changed him daily like a baby's dirty diapers. THAT was a sign that--at that time--I wasn't ready to write him. 

But, since I did envision him so long ago, I've learned a lot. I've got a universe of knowledge still left to learn, but I feel I'm at least in a position to return to him. 

Now he's smiling as I write that I'm taking him back to his roots, back to his original storyline.  

See? Told you I was crazy. 

But I'm hoping--no, I'm betting--that I'm not the only one who's encountered beautiful visions that nudged them onto the road, the direction they should go. You know. Signs.

Put your ear down close to your soul and listen hard.  ~Anne Sexton

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Like Fine Wine...Placido Domingo...

I don't remember the first time I saw the legendary tenor, Placido Domingo. But I DO remember the impact he had on me when I DID lay eyes on him. Well, do I even need to tell YOU? Think...this is C. Zampa. 

Domingo: tall, dark, handsome and...Spanish. His accent is delicate, lilting, sexy. And his voice, when he sings...smooth as the finest cognac, sensual as the softest silk touching skin.

I was head over heels, instantly.

I've never lost track of him during his career.

The first signs of aging were so subtle. But then, something inside him seemed to glow--this magnificent fountain of youth, this energy, this light deep in his eyes.

Gray hair appeared. But the inner beauty, the inner light. Still there, strong as ever. Oddly, he began to be more and more handsome.

The sensuality, the character, the beauty in those eyes. I can barely look into them without...swooning.

Eventually, the hair became this rich blend of gray and silver. Regal. Still so damn sexy. me, he's in his prime. Silver hair. Glorious. The eyes. Ah! That warm light, that maddening mix of geniality and sexuality...still there, strong as ever.

Placido Domingo. Living proof that--if that true light and spirit is inside---it cannot be diminished by time. It can only age fine wine.

Thursday, 8 December 2011

I've Had About Enough, Guv'nor...

I apologize in advance for my blog subject today. You've never seen me post on such a subject, and you probably never will again.

Just this once, though, please forgive me while I speak out on something I can't contain any longer. And close your 'ears' if I offend. I don't mean to.

I'm not into politics. You'll never see me in the middle of conversational cirlces at parties deep in a political debate.

Because I don't understand the inner workings of any of the levels of government, I don't speak up often. It'd be so damn easy to make a fool of myself, to get caught with my pants-of-ignorance down around my ankles.

But today I caught a youtube video, one of the newest in Governor Rick Perry's arsenal of campaign commercials.

And--although I'm still as dumb as a tree stump about politics--I DO recognize hatred when I see it.

And I saw hatred with a capital 'H' in this video.

To somehow find a way to connect the freedom of prayer in schools to gays serving in the military is--sorry, Governor--just plain stupid. Ignorant.

By producing this ad, Perry has not only embarrassed me as a Texan but I'd be willing to bet he's disappointed the very God whose platform he cowers behind.

No, I know nothing about politics. But I DO know I cannot tolerate a presidential platform which is founded on hatred of a group of people. To hear his bigoted, sanctimonious ad, I half expected him to be donned in a sheet.

And, Governor, please, please do NOT base your hatred-filled campaign on Christianity. The man on whom the very religion you cite didn't teach your brand of intolerance. He loathed it.

And one more thing, Rick Perry. When you stand on your pompous platform and say gays do not belong in the military, you're attacking friends of mine. Lots of them. And that does not set well with me.

Prayer in schools has nothing to do with gays in the military.

These gays you so hate are offering their LIVES to protect these children in these schools. They are willing to fight to protect YOUR children as well.

They are able bodied men and women who have every right to defend their country. You think their taxes are accepteble and I don't see you turning THAT away. In your supreme arrogance, money still talks--even gay money talks. Again, shame on you.

To my friends, again I apologize. Not for my thoughts, not for my words, but for the possibility it might offend any of you.
I have too many friends in the GLBT community, people who are precious to me and who are the salt of the earth.

And for once, for their sakes---and for the sake of our country's freedom to BE---I felt I needed to speak up.