Femmes Fatales Aug 9 2023
ALTO PLAYER
A song thought forgotten can always be remembered.


This photo shows Broadway actress Altonell Hines, who performed on the New York City stage during the 1930s in the shows Porgy and Bess and Four Saints in Three Acts. Unfortunately, like many early Broadway performers, after her career she faded into obscurity. However, she was somewhat rediscovered, partly thanks to a photographic portrait shot in 1934 by the famed Carl Van Vechten as part of an unfinished project titled, "Noble Black Women: The Harlem Renaissance and After.” The photo wasn't printed until 1983 when it went on exhibition at the Smithsonian Institute. Hines never saw it—she'd died in 1979.

Nevertheless, she's an interesting example of how obscurity never has to be permanent for stars of yesteryear. Archivists and biographers have always resurrected long dead public figures, but the creation of the internet has accelerated that process, and now hundreds of formerly forgotten personalities from history are restored into the cultural consciousness each year. It's the coolest thing about the internet, if you ask us. The above shot, which is not from the Noble Black Women collection, was made in 1935. You can see a few more images of Hines on the website of the New York Public Library, at this link.

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Hollywoodland Apr 5 2019
REINVENTING LAMARR
She was more than just a movie star.

Smithsonian.com published an in-depth story yesterday about Austria-Hungary born Hollywood icon Hedy Lamarr, and how her technical genius helped bring the world Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPS, and cell phones. Hah! Get with it Smithsonian. We talked about this under-discussed aspect of her life years ago.
 
It's curious that no matter how many times people write about Lamarr's technological exploits it never seems to become a generally known aspect of her personality. Maybe people want to see her as a beautiful actress, and much of the interest stops there. The Smithsonian piece will probably help change that a bit, and it's well written also (though considering what digital technology has wrought we'd probably add the phrase "for better and worse").

Yesterday's piece comes in tandem with the Smithsonian's Washington D.C. based National Portrait Gallery acquiring a rare original Luigi Martinati poster painted to promote Lamarr's 1944 thriller The Conspirators. We have no idea what it cost, but certainly a pile of money, since Martinati was not just a great artist, but one who tended to focus more on portraiture in his promos. You can see what we mean just below, and by clicking here and scrolling. As for Lamarr, we'll doubtless get back to her—and all her interesting facets—later.
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Intl. Notebook Oct 27 2010
PAINT MISBEHAVING
Censored mural making grand reappearance in downtown Los Angeles.

In 1932, during the heyday of pulp and in the midst of the Great Depression, a Mexican artist named José David Alfaro Siquieros was commissioned to paint an 18 by 80 foot mural on a wall above Olvera Street in downtown Los Angeles. Olvera Street at that time was a contrived copy of an idyllic Mexican village market, designed mainly to bring tourists to that part of town and help clean up L.A.’s image, which due to gangsterism and police corruption was as bad as those of places like Chicago and St. Louis. The mural’s theme was to be “Tropical America,” and when completed the piece would be partially visible from the street and would fully face City Hall.

But Siquieros was aware that all around Southern California police were breaking up union meetings, beating ethnic minorities and deporting Mexicans—even those who were American citizens—by the boxcar-load. So instead of the idealized tropical mural his benefactors expected him tounveil, he used spray paint and bold colors to create a shocking protest piece. The central figure of the mural was a Mexican or Indian man bound to a strange, double cross with an American eagle perched above, talons extended.

The piece embarrassed city fathers. It was immediately condemned and whitewashed, but not forgotten. Almost from the day of its censoring, Mexican-American activists fought to have the mural restored and now they’re getting their wish. Because of the covering of white paint, the original piece survived where it would otherwise have weathered into nothingness. Now the white paint is being cleaned off, and what remains of the original mural is set to go on display in 2012, with a digital image projected on top to fill out the colors and missing segments.

Siquieros died in 1974 after a long career and copious acclaim. One of his most enduring murals adorns one of the buildings of the UNESCO protected Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México. When he wasn't paiting he found time to have many political adventures. For a time, he was forced to go into hiding because of his close links to a group that tried to assassinate Leon Trotsky. His political activities cost him numerous commissions, yet the quality and influence of the pieces he completed was undeniable, and he continued to grow in stature.

Today his art resides in places as far flung as Teheran and Washington, D.C.’s Smithsonian Institute, which is kind of funny when you consider those two countries can agree on art but little else. But in any case, to the list of places where Siquieros has made a lasting mark, he'll be adding, almost eighty years late, L.A.’s Olvera Street.

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History Rewind
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
June 23
1973—Peter Dinsdale Commits First Arson
A fire at a house in Hull, England, kills a six year old boy and is believed to be an accident until it later is discovered to be a case of arson. It is the first of twenty-six deaths by fire caused over the next seven years by serial-arsonist Peter Dinsdale. Dinsdale is finally captured in 1981, pleads guilty to multiple manslaughter, and is detained indefinitely under Britain's Mental Health Act as a dangerous psychotic.
June 22
1944—G.I. Bill Goes into Effect
U.S. president Franklin D. Roosevelt signs the Servicemen's Readjustment Act into law. Commonly known as the G.I. Bill of Rights, or simply G.I. Bill, the grants toward college and vocational education, generous unemployment benefits, and low interest home and business loans the Bill provided to nearly ten million military veterans was one of the largest factors involved in building the vast American middle class of the 1950s and 1960s.
June 21
1940—Smedley Butler Dies
American general Smedley Butler dies. Butler had served in the Philippines, China, Central America, the Caribbean and France, and earned sixteen medals, five of which were for heroism. In 1934 he was approached by a group of wealthy industrialists wanting his help with a coup against President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and in 1935 he wrote the book War Is a Racket, explaining that, based upon his many firsthand observations, warfare is always wholly about greed and profit, and all other ascribed motives are simply fiction designed to deceive the public.
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