Saturday, December 25, 2010

Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Stray Dog

Imagine that you are a young artist in St.Petersburg in 1912. Perhaps you are a talented musician, a futurist painter, or a dreamy poet. You are deciding on a night out. There would probably only be one choice for you - The Stray Dog.

The Stray Dog was a dark and smoky cellar on a corner of Mikhaelovska Square, decorated by Sudeikin, where artists with new ideas congregated. Here one could watch Tamara Karsavina dance in giant mirrors, listen to Anna Akhmatova recite her latest poem, or flirt with the handsome Gumylov. In her autobiography, Karsavina described how she danced in 'the midst of the audience in a small space encircled by garlands of fresh flowers' to the music of Couperin. Here the latest plays were performed and exhibitions were held. Even the manager, Boris Pronin, was an actor.

People entering the club signed their names in a pigskin book. Those who were not artists were given the derogatory name of 'pharmacists'. They had to pay to watch the artists perform.

The 'Queen of The Stray Dog', Anna Akhmatova used to sweep in dressed in black silk. In spite of her husband, Gumylov, flirting with the beautiful women, she must have had a good time there. She wrote:

"We are all revellers. We are all whores.
How unhappy we are together."

Tamara Karsavina (1910)
The Stray Dog lasted until 1919. It has reopened and is now a hip cafe in St.Petersburg: The Stray Dog

(This is a little bit out of time but I couldn't resist learning about this favourite haunt of Russian artists in the early twentieth century.)

Sunday, December 5, 2010

The Well-Dressed Music-Hall Star

Imagine having your leg amputated at 82! This happened to Albert Whelan, one of the most famous Australian music-hall entertainers. Yet he still made appearances and even did a stint on the BBC TV show, Life Begins at Eighty. One has to admire this kind of attitude!

Born in in Melbourne in 1875 as Albert Waxman, he made his start by singing for the miners in the goldfields in Western Australia. He changed his name and became part of the musical comedy team, Whelan & Wilson.

Whelan must have been extremely ambitious because he soon went to London. He made his debut as a dancer and singer at London's Empire Theatre in 1901. He was very versatile - he could play the piano and the violin, sing comic songs, and tell funny stories.

He toured the United States and appeared with Anna Pavlova at the Palace Theatre in 1912. I wonder what she thought of him! She might not have liked his singing, but she probably approved of his appearance. He always dressed immaculately for the stage. His outfit included an opera cloak, top hat and tails and white gloves.

Whelan was the first person to use a signature tune - The Jolly Brothers - which he whistled at the beginning and end of his performance.

Albert Whelan died in 1961.

Here he is singing with his son Gordon at the piano.

Albert Whelan Sings My Secret Passion
I found this article the other day. I was so pleased to see that Lucile Duff-Gordon was vindicated by her former secretary for the role that she played in the escape from the ill-fated Titanic: 95-Year Old Letter Settles Titanic Controversy.