Recent Read: Old Black Magic

 

Old Black Magic

Back in 1990, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston was the victim of a massive art thief of 13 works with a worth estimated to be about 500 million dollars. To this day, the thief remains unsolved.

This little hit of history is used as the inspiration for Ace Atkins latest entry in the Spenser series, created by the late Robert B. Parker. Twenty years ago, three pieces, a Picasso sketch, a Goya painting, and the  most important of the group, an El Greco work called The Gentleman in Black, dating back to the late 1500’s were stolen from one of Boston’s top Museums. After so many years, most believe the artwork was sold, probably overseas or maybe even destroyed.

A private investigator by the name of Locke has been on the case all this time with little success in finding the artwork or the thieves. But now Locke is seriously ill, he’s dying and turns to our wise-cracking hero Spenser to continue investigating the case.

Our butt kicking anti-hero with a cause accepts the case for Locke, that and a five million dollar reward. Spenser reviews Locke’s files and with the help of Vinnie Morris, a man whose tendency is to be on the wrong side of the law, the P.I.  begins a long and winding trail in search of the missing artwork.

Spenser is not a man who scares easily, a good thing because he runs across some folks who rather see him dead than find the missing art. The road is murky, but Spenser does what he does best. So does keeper of the flame, author Ace Atkins. He keeps Parker’s voice alive and well in this entertaining entry in the series. My only problem is Spenser’s ace in the hole when trouble comes along, Hawk is missing in action.

 

Favorite Quotes on Writing

Twelve favorite quotes on writing from ten authors I admire.

Thompson-jim

There is only one plot – things are not what they seem. – Jim Thompson

Truman-Capote

You can’t blame a writer for what the characters say. – Truman Capote

elmore-leonard

If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it. Or, if proper usage gets in the way, it may have to go. I can’t allow what we learned in English composition to disrupt the sound and rhythm of the narrative. – Elmore Leonard

Kurt-Vonnegut

Every sentence must do one of two things: reveal character or advance the action – Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

Edgar-Allan-Poe-Charles-Smeldon

A short story must have a single mood and every sentence must build towards it.  Edgar Allan Poe

I wish I could write as mysterious as a cat. –  Edgar Allan Poe

Block

One thing that helps is to give myself permission to write badly. I tell myself that I’m going to do my five or 10 pages no matter what, and that I can always tear them up the following morning if I want. I’ll have lost nothing—writing and tearing up five pages would leave me no further behind than if I took the day off. – Lawrence Block

King

When your story is ready for rewrite, cut it to the bone. Get rid of every ounce of excess fat. This is going to hurt; revising a story down to the bare essentials is always a little like murdering children, but it must be done. – Stephen King

If you don’t have the time to read, you don’t have the time or the tools to write – Stephen King

laura-lippman

There’s always time to read. Don’t trust a writer who doesn’t read. It’s like eating food prepared by a cook who doesn’t eat. – Laura Lippman 

RaymondChandlerPromoPhoto

The more your reason, the less you create. – Raymond Chandler

Parker

Sure, I have advice for people starting to write. Don’t. I don’t need the competition. – Robert B. Parker

Visions of Maine – Part One

A few photographs from a recent trip to one of my favorite states.

Arcadia National Park

Aecadia National Park-1-4167

Bar Harbor Reflection

Bar Harbor Reflection-4441

Bar Harbor

Bar Harbor -4351

Bar Harbor Sunset

Bar Harbor Sunset-4343

Colburn Shoe Store (Oldest Shoe Store in America) – Belfast, Maine 

Couburns Shoestore -Belfast-CW-.jpg

Arcadia National Park

Arcadia National Park-3-4196

Recent Read: Nightmare in Pink

pinkIn his second outing, Travis McGee,  John D. McDonald’s beach bum/salvage consultant who take 50% of whatever he recovers for his clients, has left his Florida home base for the asphalt jungle of New York City.

He has come to NYC to help the delectable sister of an old army buddy whose boyfriend was murdered on the city streets in what the police ruled an apparent mugging. While investigating the death, and a bit of romance, we learn the murdered boyfriend was into some shady dealings involving millions of dollars. While investigating,  Travis finds himself drugged, hallucinating and in a horror house  masquerading as a mental institution.

When reading, one has to remember this is 1964, because Travis is the kind of guy who has problems with women working. However, that does not stop our hero from bedding our lady friend  before and after she discovers her now dead boyfriend was not who he said he was. Hey,  someone had to help her recuperate from her melancholy.

While, admittedly I did not care for this book as much as the first book in the series (The Deep Blue Goody-by), and if you can excuse the 60’s sexism, McDonald, still fine tuning his long time anti-hero,  has crafted a strange, off-beat ending that you won’t see coming.

 

 

Recent Read: Born to Run

BorntorunIf you ever had the opportunity to experience the spiritual, soul-stirring, sermon preaching, exhaust filling concerts of Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band then you will be right at home with this autobiography. Born to Run is a memoir like no other. Then again, Bruce Springsteen is a rock and roll artist like no other. He has absorbed, inhaled, assimilated, learned, the history of rock, blues, country and soul blending it all with everything in his heart, his mind, his intellect and his spirit. Elvis, The Beatles, Chuck Berry, The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan and others were his teachers. He learned well.

While I purchased the eBook version of Springsteen’s tomb of a memoir, it laid there for a while. I finally ended up borrowing an audiobook version from a local library and listened to the more than 18 hours of Springsteen himself telling his story. I wasn’t sorry. Hearing Bruce himself added elements that would have been completely missed in reading the book. His style, his spirit, his cadence, his voice are as important as the written words.

The first part of the book focuses on his early years growin’ up in a dysfunctional Jersey family: a distant alcoholic father, a loving mother, and poverty. His father’s family had an unspoken history of mental illness. Bruce also discusses his own chronic battles with bouts of depression over the years. It’s all straightforward; not shying away from revealing the bad  and the difficult times in his life. Like all of us, those early years were a vital part in his development and his future. These many years later, his journey has been at times that of a haunted and tortured artist.

For me, the most interesting parts though were when Springsteen dives into his creative process. It’s well known he is a control freak and hates to let go. During his early years, Springsteen was a member a few struggling groups. For a control freak, he had to be in charge. That’s why it evolved into the Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. Everyone had their say, but Bruce has the final say. His work, always personal, would take on social themes and causes like Vietnam Vets, nuclear energy and always the struggle of the working man, those still searching for their piece of the American pie.

Born to Run is at times heartwarming, heartbreaking, rambling, inspiring and definitely written in the artist’s voice.

 

From Real to Reel: Still Photographers at the Movies – Bunny Yeager

Bunny Teager

This is the 6th installment in this series.

Linnea Eleanor Yeager was born  in Wilkensburg, Pennsylvania, a suburb of Pittsburg. When Linnea was 17, she and her family moved to Miami. That was in 1946. A longtime movie fan, she somewhere during this period adopted the nickname of Bunny which she procured from Lana Turner’s character, Bunny Smith, in MGM’s Weekend at the Waldorf (1945). She developed an early interest in photography and began photographing friends. After graduating from Edison High School in Miami, Yeager registered as a student at the Coronet Modeling School and Agency.  Bunny won a few beauty contests including a ‘Sports Queen’ contest where she was crowned by a pre-Marilyn Monroe Joe DiMaggio. She began to receive modeling jobs and they kept on coming. At five foot ten, with a voluptuous figure, Bunny was perfect for modeling. She also had another not so secret weapon. She made her own bikinis. In those days, bikinis were rare. Models were still wearing one-piece swimsuits. Over the years, Yeager would make bikinis for herself and her models. Though Bunny continued to model, her interest was mainly for working behind the camera. In 1953, she signed up for some photography classes. For one of her class assignments she took a couple of friends to Boca Rotan’s Africa U.S.A. park, the same park one year or so later she would take Bettie Page and shoot some of their best-known photographs. When still an amateur, Yeager sold her first photo, a picture of local model, Maria Stinger, also known as Miami’s answer to Marilyn Monroe, to Eye magazine.

Bunnty Stinger

Maria Stinger at Africa U.S.A in Boca Raton. Bunny Yeager’s first sale.

Bettie Page was already a popular model in New York’s seedy world of ‘camera clubs,’ men’s magazines, and for her work with Irving and Paula Klaw. On vacation in Florida, Bettie contacted a few photographers including Bunny Yeager. By this time, Yeager had some professional work to her credit, both in front and behind the camera, but was still new in the business.  The women worked well together. They did a wide variety of early morning shoots on Florida’s pristine beaches. The sunlight graced and exposed Page and Yeager’s other models for the natural beauties they were. Yeager designed many of the bikinis Bettie Page wore. During this period, Bunny asked if Bettie would mind working with animals. No problem, she responded. Bunny set up a photo session at Africa U.S.A. in Boca Raton. Bettie posed with a wide variety of animals: zebras, monkeys, ostriches, and cheetahs. Those photos became extremely popular, for Yeager her biggest sellers. Bettie’s skimpy outfit in the photos mirrored the wild animals’ fur. Yeager had another idea; a Christmas photo. She photographed Bettie kneeing next to a small Christmas tree wearing nothing but a Santa Claus hat and a smile. Playboy magazine, still in its infancy, and still accepting photographs from unknown photographers published the photo and used it as the centerfold for the January 1955 issue. Bunny received $100. Bunny has claimed to have taken at least 1,000 pictures of Page.

Bettie Page on the  each in Florida and Bettie and Bunny at Africa U.S.A. in Boca Raton 

The 1950’s and 1960’s were Bunny’s best years both as a photographer and as a model. She did a lot of her own modeling in front of the camera by using her camera’s timer. She did five photographic layouts for Playboy and even appeared in the magazine herself. Her photographs appeared in other girlie magazines of the day including Cavalier, Nugget, Escapade, Sunbathing, and the National Police Gazette, in addition to hundreds of pin-up calendars that men had hanging in locker rooms and elsewhere. Her work also appeared in more mainstream magazines like Cosmopolitan, Redbook, Esquire, and Women’s Wear Daily. Other work included working as a still photographer in Jamaica during the filming of the first James Bond movie, Dr. No. That famous white bikini shot of Ursula coming out of the water. Yep, that was photographed by Yeager.

Andress

Ursula Andress on the set of Dr. No. Photograph by Bunny Yeager

In the 1970’s, times changed. Magazines like Playboy, Penthouse, and others wanted more graphic pictures, something Yeager was not willing to do. Her girl next door innocent, yet sexy look was out of style for magazines like the hardcore Hustler. It wasn’t until the 2000’s when Yeager’s photography began to regain its due fame. In 2010, the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh presented Bunny Yeager: The Legendary Queen of the Pin-up. The show was a collection of twenty-eight self-portraits. They were both artful and sensual and became an influence on modern-day photographers like Cindy Sherman. Other exhibits followed. Over the years there have been a series of books published on her work. One of the last before her death was Bunny Yeager’s Darkroom Pinup Photography’s Golden Era by Petra Mason. Bunny died in 2014 at the age of 85.

Books by Bunny Yeager

 

Bunny Yeager on Film

In the 2005 film, The Notorious Bettie Page, Bunny is portrayed by Sarah Paulson. It’s a small role as brief as her real-life collaboration with the model. The movie itself seems all too innocent; Page’s acting career, modeling, bondage photos and eventually her path back to religion. The film ignores Bettie’s later years of depression, a nervous breakdown, and her lack of compensation for the photos and movies she did. Gretchen Mol does an excellent job as Page; as expected Bunny’s career and accomplishments are ignored.

That said, Bunny had a diverse career in the movies mostly behind the scenes. In 1968, she appeared in a small role as a Swedish masseuse in the Frank Sinatra P.I. film, Lady in Cement. She also appeared in the Paul Newman film, Harry and Son (1984) and in an episode of the TV series B.L. Stryker (1989) in which she once again played a masseuse.

Bunny also appeared in a few low budget exploitation films mostly playing herself in films like Bunny Yeager’s Nude Camera (1963), Bunny Yeager’s  Nude Las Vegas (1964), Nudes of Tiger Beach (1965), all directed by exploitation maven Barry Mahon. Yeager also appeared in a series of documentaries, the most prominent included 100 Girls by Bunny Yeager (1999), Herschell Gordon Lewis: The Godfather of Gore (2010), and Bettie Page Reveals All (2012).

Bunny was also behind the scenes as a still photographer, most prominently as previously mentioned in Dr. No (1962). Other films were in the pre-porn exploitation film world of works like Nude on the Moon (1961) and Blaze Starr Goes Nudist (1962) both directed by the prolific Queen of Sexploitation, Doris Wishman.

You can read earlier installments in the From Real to Real: Still Photographers in the Movies by clicking right here.