Sunday, 29 September 2013

The Infamous Kitty Fisher - The First Celebrity

She inspired a nursery rhyme, fascinated Casanova, was painted by Joshua Reynolds and depicted on snuff boxes, but who was Kitty Fisher?

Catherine Marie Fisher's early life is shrouded in mystery but was almost certainly ignominious. We don't even know when she was born. Yet this girl, who started out as a milliner, became one of the most famous courtesans of the eighteenth century. She bedded men of wealth and position in society and her appearance and dress were widely copied. She appeared in trashy broadsheets - the tabloids of the day - and men took snuff from boxes decorated with her scantily clad picture.

In 1763, Giacomo Casanova visited London and was introduced to her. He said:

She was magnificently dressed, and it is no exaggeration to say that she had on diamonds worth five hundred thousand francs. Goudar told me that if I liked I might have her then and there for ten guineas. I did not care to do so, however, for, though charming, she could only speak English, and I liked to have all my senses, including that of hearing, gratified. When she had gone, Mrs Wells told us that Kitty had eaten a bank-note for a thousand guineas, on a slice of bread and butter, that very day. The note was a present from Sir Akins, brother of the fair Mrs Pitt. I do not know whether the bank thanked Kitty for the present she had made it.

So, the great lover got away from her. But many others didn't.

Kitty was a great self-publicist - in common with many celebrities today - and loved being the centre of attention. Her affairs were not confined to single men. One of her most infamous was with the 6th Earl of Coventry, whose wife, Maria Gunning, was her great rival. One day, Countess Rosenberg-Orsini (herself one of Casanova's conquests), wrote of an encounter between the two women:

"The other day they ran into each other in the park and Lady Coventry asked Kitty the name of the dressmaker who had made her dress. Kitty Fisher answered she had better ask Lord Coventry as he had given her the dress as a gift." The altercation continued with Lady Coventry calling her an impertinent woman, and Kitty replying that she would have to accept this insult because Maria became her 'social superior' on marrying Lord Coventry, but she was going to marry a Lord herself just to be able to answer back"

Another trip to the park caused yet another scandal for Kitty - and one she made the most of. She was out riding one day when her horse threw her. Kitty fell, her skirts blew up and revealed rather more than a respectable lady should. Bear in mind also that ladies didn't tend to wear panties in those days, as they were considered unhygienic. At first, Kitty appears to have been mortified and burst into tears, but she recovered herself quickly enough, laughed heartily and summoned a sedan chair. Onlookers were scandalised and a few more column inches were added to the scandal rags, as the incident was widely reported.It did Kitty's 'career' no harm at all and you can't help wondering if she staged the whole event.

Kitty's lifestyle was lavish by any standards, financed by her lovers and admirers. She employed liveried servants - the first of her class to do so, according to Countess Rosenberg-Orsini. She was bold, brash and men adored her, as did artists. In addition to a number of portraits by Joshua Reynolds, Kitty was painted by Philip Mercier, Richard Purcell, Nathaniel Hone and James Northcote. And she influenced other branches of the arts as well. A country dance, bearing her name, was published in 1764. Kitty also inspired the nursery rhyme, Lucy Locket. A seemingly innocent little children's ditty, it takes on a whole new meaning when you remember that 'locket' was also slang for vagina and that prostitutes used to tie their pockets around their thighs with ribbons. The rhyme really refers to Kitty's habit of stealing other women's husbands:
"Lucy Locket lost her pocket,
Kitty Fisher found it;
But ne'er a penny was there in't
Except the binding round it."
In 1766, Kitty finally bagged her own well connected husband  - John Norris, son of the  MP for Rye. She settled down in her husband's family home at Hemsted, now the site of the prestigious public school, Benenden. She became noted for her charitable acts, especially in her work for the poor. Sadly, her respectable life didn't last long. Four months after her wedding, she died. The cause has been variously attributed to smallpox or lead poisoning - the latter resulting from the extensive use of lead based cosmetics at the time.

Kitty got her wish to be buried in her finest ball gown and she was interred in Benenden churchyard. Many would argue that she was the real first celebrity - famous for being infamous.

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Released Sept. 27th - The Guardians Crown - WIN PRIZES!

The Guardians Crown is the exciting climax to Wendy Owens' paranormal series - The Guardians - which started with Sacred Bloodlines. Here's the blurb:

Gabe is finally forced to answer the ultimate question, will he give his life to save the world? What about just to save the one he loves the most? The Guardians struggle to find another way--ideas that don't involve Gabe's death--to defeat Baal. Time is running out. What will Gabe choose? What price will he pay for that choice?

And now for a tantalising short extract:

As Michael watched her speak, he swallowed hard, remembering in that moment it was more than her beauty he had fallen in love with. “I don’t know what to do,” he replied, his words barely audible.
“People need hope Michael, as much as they need a leader. You and Gabe are the answer to both of those things. You’ll lead the people of earth to victory and Gabe will give them the hope they need to keep going,” Mirada said, her voice sensitive, yet unwavering.
“I don’t know if I can,” For the first time in Michael’s life he was completely unsure of what he should do. He had lost all sense of purpose.
“You can, and I’ll be at your side every step of the way,” she said with a smile.
“Are you serious?” Michael asked, his heart now racing.
Falling to her knees she embraced him, their lips meeting in a passionate kiss. She pulled away, looking into his eyes. “I’m never going to leave your side again.”
Michael felt as if his heart might burst. With the death of the council he had felt as though he had lost everything that mattered to him, but here in his arms, he found the last piece of hope he had left in the world. “We have to go back and help Gabe.”
“Why, what’s wrong with Gabe?” Mirada asked.
“They found a book that says the guardians crown is real,” Michael explained.
“Well it is real, or it was,” Mirada stated, staring back at Michael.
Michael watched as she rose, taking a seat next to him on the bed and wrapping her fingers around his. “What do you mean it was?” he asked.

What does Mirada know that nobody else seems to? Read The Guardians Crown to find out if The Guardians have a chance to change their fate or simply must face their destiny.

Now, see below, for details of all the exiciting prizes and how you can win them:
Author Bio:
Wendy Owens was raised in the small college town of Oxford, Ohio. After attending Miami University, Wendy went on to a career in the visual arts. After several years of creating and selling her own artwork, she gave her first love, writing, a try.
Since 2011, she has published a young adult paranormal series, The Guardians, which will contain five books total, as well as a novella.
Wendy now happily spends her days writing—her loving dachshund, Piper, curled up at her feet. When she's not writing, she can be found spending time with her tech geek husband and their three amazing kids, exploring the city she loves to call home: Cincinnati, OH.
Author Links:

Saturday, 21 September 2013

Of Poodles and Pearls...The Scandalous Duchess of Argyll

 "Always a poodle, only a poodle! That, and three strands of pearls! Together they are absolutely the essential things in life."

So said Margaret, Duchess of Argyll, beloved of the press for a generation, and, poodles aside, those three strands of pearls brought her notoriety, a much publicised divorce and social ostracisation.

She was born Ethel Margaret Whigham on 1st December 1912 and died on 25th July 1993. During her lifetime she managed to cross boundaries no one had dared to approach before and created a scandal the like of which had never been seen.
With Charles Sweeny on their wedding day

Her beauty in her early years brought her relationships with publisher Max Aitken, Prince Aly Khan and, following her presentation at court as a debutante, an engagement to the 7th Earl of Warwick. This did not lead to marriage though, as Margaret's passions had moved on - to Charles Sweeny, an American amateur golfer who duly became her first husband. In order to marry him, she converted to Catholicism and the wedding took place on 21 February 1933. Never one to shy away from publicity, her much heralded Norman Hartnell wedding dress ensured Knightsbridge became gridlocked with sightseers and photographers.

The couple had three children (one stillborn) but the marriage did not last and they were divorced in 1947 perhaps because Charles couldn't take anymore of his wife's faithlessness. In 1943, she had suffered a terrible fall down a lift shaft, cracking her head in the process. Her injuries resulted in a loss of taste and smell and her subsequent insatiable sexual appetite has been attributed, by some, to this accident. On the other hand, maybe her close brush with death merely caused her to decide life was too short to hold back her natural inclinations!
Ian Campbell, 11th Duke of Argyll

She proceeded to have a string of affairs with high born and well connected men until, in 1951, Ian Campbell, the 11th Duke of Argyll, became her second husband. A divorcee with a reputation could hardly be viewed as an ideal match in the aristocratic circles of the day but, in fairness to Margaret, the Duke himself had been married and divorced twice before. When he married his first wife, the Duke's idea of a honeymoon treat was to take her to a French brothel to witness the proceedings!

 The Duke and his new Duchess were not destined to enjoy a "Happy ever after". Marriage did nothing to constrict Margaret. She continued with her wicked, wicked ways. Maurice Chevalier, Bob Hope and a significant percentage of the male population of Inverary (near to the Duke's ancestral home), enjoyed the Duchess's unique brand of hospitality. One 17 year old called Michael Thornton was out on a walk one sizzling hot day when the Duchess approached him and offered him a drink and a hot bath. As he lay in the tub, in walked a nude Margaret and promptly joined him.
Douglas Fairbanks Jr.

She did little, if anything, to hide her peccadilloes from her husband and the Duke eventually obtained an injunction to bar her from the castle and a petition for divorce followed in 1963 - the same year as the Profumo scandal. The Duke raided his wife's possessions and determined 88 possible co-respondents in the divorce case, but named only four of them on the petition.

Never had so much salacious behaviour hit the headlines. And the Duke had found photos to back up his claims of his wife licentious and debauched behaviour. The most infamous of these was a set of Polaroids, depicting two "headless men" enjoying oral sex from the Duchess, who was naked, except for her three strand pearl necklace. Various identities have been attributed to these men, but most likely contenders were the actor Douglas Fairbanks Jr., and the politician and son in law of Winston Churchill - Duncan Sandys.
Duncan Sandys

The Duke also found a gold diary where Margaret had written the letter 'v' on dates when she had her extra-marital flings. 

For her part, the Duchess responded by choosing to counter-petition, naming her own stepmother!

The resulting court case amassed a 40,000 judgment, where the judge described the Duchess as, "a highly sexed woman who has ceased to be satisfied with normal sexual activities and has started to indulge in disgusting sexual activities to gratify a debased sexual appetite".
The divorce was granted, but neither party emerged with any glory. Socially, the Duke suffered more than the Duchess as he was blackballed by White's - his gentlemen's club - and generally  treated as something of a pariah. He married for the fourth time later that year and died in relative obscurity in 1973.

Margaret, did her penance from society for a short time before returning, falling out with her daughter and adopting two boys. But her finances were perilous and, by 1978, she had to sell her house in Upper Grosvenor Street, London. Unaccustomed to 'making do', she took a five room suite at the Grosvenor House Hotel, successively moving to smaller and smaller accommodation there as the money dwindled still further. Poodles came and went, the man from Asprey still came to wind the clocks once a week and she retained her 'essential' live-in maid.

In 1990, the hotel had decided her bills had gone unpaid long enough and evicted her. She moved to an apartment and then to a nursing home and, along the way, managed to fall out with pratically everyone around her, including her maids. She accused one of running up huge overseas telephone bills and another of abusing her and calling her a "Mayfair whore".
The Duchess in 1988

 Needless to say, when she died in 1993, the whole scandal of her 1963 divorce resurfaced and her legacy will forever be defined by a three strand pearl necklace, two headless men and a set of Polaroids.

Thursday, 12 September 2013

Duelling Divas - Bette Davis and Joan Crawford

It all began in 1935, with a film called Dangerous, but the feud never ended - not even when one of the protagonists was dead.

Bette Davis was 27 years old, already a successful actress and married to an actor whose own career had never taken off. Her co-star was Franchot Tone, a 30 year old actor with matinee idol looks and a near aristocratic pedigree. Bette's marriage was passionless and dead, and Franchot awakened fires in her that she neither wanted, nor was able, to quench. Unfortunately, he was spending his lunch breaks in the arms of newly divorced MGM headliner, Joan Crawford, returning to the set smothered in her vivid red lipstick. In this, their first battle, Crawford won - something Bette would neither forgive nor forget. Tone and Crawford married shortly after filming ended, and Bette was left to lick her wounds.

Joan Crawford and Franchot Tone
Joan Crawford was well known as both bisexual and promiscious. She is said to have remarked of Bette, " I wouldn't mind giving her a poke if I was in the right mood." Apparently, she tried on a number of occasions to add Bette to her stable of alleged Lesbian liaisons - said to include Marilyn Monroe, Greta Garbo and Barbara Stanwyck among others. But Bette was a confirmed heterosexual and rebuffed her every time. Joan didn't take kindly to it. Yet more fuel was added to the fire of their mutual hatred.

At the Oscars in 1935, Bette wore a simple blue dress, convinced she wouldn't win the Best Actress Oscar for which she was nominated. Much to Joan Crawford's ire, she did - and Crawford was even more angered by the sight of her husband embracing her rival. As others were congratulationg the winner, all Joan would say in her favour was, "Dear Bette! What a lovely frock."

In the 1940s, Crawford moved from MGM to Warner Bros - Bette's studio - and demanded the dressing room next to hers. Bette was conscious that her own star was on the wane.Great parts were difficult to come by - and now she had a bitter rival competing with her on her own doorstep.

Joan Crawford won the eponymous role in Mildred Pierce, her first film for Warners and, as if to rub more salt into a gaping wound, she went on to win the Best Actress Oscar that year, along with a $200,000 per film, seven year contract with the studio. It is to be hoped someone ensured that all sharp objects were kept well out of Bette's reach while Crawford was on the lot!

While they may have fought and clawed each other for every significant role, neither could fight the inevitability of time marching on. Both stars were ageing in an era where there were even fewer decent parts for women over 40 than there are today. By the early 1960s, both were viewed as box office has beens. No one wanted to know. Until, that is, Crawford found a film they could both star in.

In an interview with Louella Parsons, the famed and feared Hollywood reporter told Davis that Crawford had suggested they might make a film together. She asked Bette what her reaction would be. Bette told her in no uncertain terms that such a venture would only happen "When hell freezes over". Evidently, by this time, she had sensed the approach of the fourth ice age because, after much deliberation, she agreed.

Whatever Happened to Baby Jane tells the story of an ageing former child star - Baby Jane Hudson - played by Davis, who still dresses in ringlets, topped off by grotesque make up. She lives in a decrepid mansion with her wheelchair bound, crippled sister - played by Jane Crawford. Baby Jane takes great delight in abusing the woman who can't fight back.

Studio after studio turned the film down until, eventually, producer director Robert Aldrich went ahead independently, on a tight budget and with a six week shooting schedule. He must have had easier stars to work with. The two constantly needled each other and their mutual enmity even led to actual physical assault. In a scene where Baby Jane repeatedly kicks her sister, who has fallen from her wheelchair, the ankle strap from Bette's shoe gashed Joan's scalp, leaving an injury requiring three stitches. bette insisted it was an accident but Joan took her revenge in another scene, where Baby Jane has to drag her across the floor. Unbeknown to Davis, Joan had secreted a heavy weightlifter's belt (containing lead) under her dress. Bette nearly threw her back out, while Joan calmly stood up and walked off set.

Through all of this and down the decades, both stars maintained there was no hatred or rivalry between them. No one believed them.

Whatever Happened To Baby Jane went on to become one of Holyywood's most celebrated films and Davis was nominated for her second Oscar. Her rival didn't receive a noimination and when the Oscar went to Anne Bancroft, it was Joan Crawford who accepted the award on her behalf. For her part, Bette was convinced Joan had lobbied against her, robbing her of what she considered to be her rightful award.

Another film, pairing the two - Hush, Hush Sweet Charlotte - went into production. Again Robert Aldrich produced and directed and he and his two co-stars looked forward to making the sort of fortune they had reaped from their earlier success. But this time, the Davis-Crawford feud proved to be the deal breaker. Joan's marriage to Tone was ancient history and since then she had been married to the chief executive of Pepsi Cola. Bette Davis gathered the cast and crew on the set and ordered only Coca Cola to be served. Bitchy pettiness continued and eventually Joan Crawford contracted a rather convenient bout of pneumonia, withdrew from the film and Olivia de Havilland stepped in.

Curiously, both women had more in common than they would have wished. Both were married four times. Both had children who grew up to hate them. Both disinherited those children. In Crawford's case, this was her adopted girl and boy, Christina and Christopher. Christina responded by publishing a vitriolic bestselling biography of her mother, Mommie Dearest, which painted a horrific picture of a violent, abusive, sadistic and alcoholic mother. Bette's daughter, Barbara Davis Hyman (known as B.D.) also wrote a biography of her mother. My Mother's Keeper portrays Bette as "a mean-spirited, wildly neurotic, profane and pugnacious boozer, who took out her anger at the world by abusing those close to her".
with Robert Aldrich

Joan Crawford died in 1973, at the age of 71. In 1987, Bette Davis was on the set of her last film, The Whales of August, and launched into a bitter tirade against the long dead star. Director Lindsay Anderson ordered her to stop. He had been a friend of Joan's. Bette's response was to blink those expressive eyes and say, "Just because a person's dead doesn't mean they've changed."

Bette died in 1989. She was 81.

Maybe the similarites didn't end with number of husbands or shared animosity with offspring. Both of these great actresses were flawed characters. Maybe when they looked at each other, it was a little like staring into a mirror. And neither particularly liked what they saw.