|I’ve been a horse-racing aficionado since 1966, when I started watching the Triple Crown races on TV. My pick was Amberoid, who finished eleventh in the Derby, moved on up to third in the Preakness, then blasted home first by 2 1/2 lengths in the Belmont Stakes. Sorry Kaui King on crimping your Triple Crown bid. So it’s been lots of fun for me to bring my favorite sport into play in Always Play the Dark Horse. For verisimilitude, I drew on some real race horses’ interesting quirks when creating the equine players of my story.
Equipoise, a handicap star of the 1930s, was known as “The Chocolate Soldier” for his dark brown coat and his warrior-like determination to win. A tough horse, he ran for five seasons and won an impressive 29 of 52 starts. If he couldn’t outrun his competition, he wasn’t above taking a little chunk out of a horse who challenged him in a stretch drive – hence his disqualification in the 1934 Metropolitan Handicap. That loss actually was used for the final twist in the play and movie Three Men and a Horse. He brought such disqualifications on himself two other times as well, but he was also known as “the best assistant starter” for keeping fractious horses in line when he was set on the business of getting the race started clean. An honest, hard-working, hard-knocking horse (literally), Equipoise was a leading stakes and money winner.
Another champion handicap horse, equally determined but far less free with his chompers, was Kelso. For 4 years (1961-65) Kelso dominated handicap racing, knocking heads with such stars as Gun Bow, Mongo, Beau Purple, and Roman Brother. He was horse of the year four consecutive years and won one handicap triple crown as well four consecutive Jockey Club Gold Cups, eventually became leading money winner, just missing being the first horse to win two million dollars. Kelly may have been a tough nut to crack on the track, but he was a tenderhearted guy when it came to kids, letting them feed him ice cream sundaes. After he retired, his owner, Mrs. Allaire Dupont even turned him into a saddle horse, but Kelso was not one to poke along trails. She noticed he had an affinity for jumping natural obstacles on their rides, so to keep her equine friend from getting bored, she successfully trained him as a jumper. I can remember one of his exhibitions at a New York track where the old guy showed himself a master in yet another equine endeavor. The racehorse to jumper story almost made it into Dark Horse; but, alas, necessary cuts sheared it from the story. Maybe a sequel where this equine character makes a return engagement?
Devil His Due was a racer of the 1990s who looked as if he could have played the title role in Walter Farley’s Black Stallion series. Unusual for a champion stallion, he was not retired early but ran into his sixth year. Also unusual, he was sound enough to never have run on Lasix. I was even lucky enough to have seen him at Belmont Park when he ran in the 1994 Woodward Stakes. Unfortunately, it was Holy Bull’s day of glory not Devil’s. This black stallion still won more than his share of stakes: Pimlico Special, Brooklyn Handicap, Gulfstream Park Handicap, and back-to-back victories in the Suburban Handicap (with 1994 victories in the Brooklyn and Suburban, he copped two legs of the Handicap Triple Crown). He was especially admired for his determined stretch battle with Lured in the Wood Memorial, finishing in a dead heat for first with the other horse.
Our black stallion was also famous for a little escapade with the IRS, a version of which makes it into Dark Horse. Apparently, the IRS didn’t believe that the horse actually belonged to Edith Libutti, but thought the ownership was a tax dodge for her father. They had a court order to take possession of him. When trainer Allen Jerkins warned the IRS reps that race horses were temperamental and dangerous if not handled properly, the head agent snapped back that the government had a lien on Devil, could do whatever they wanted with him, going into the stall to seize him. Devil was having none of this: laying back his ears and barring his teeth, he chased the agents out. Apparently Devil was too tough even for the IRS. He was back on the track and winning that same racing season. Blackie in Dark Horse puts on a similar show, demonstrating that we should all use our horse sense – if not our flashing teeth and hooves.
Sources for information and Images on each of the thoroughbreds. If you believe the posting of an image here violates your copyright, please contact me and I will remove it. No violation of copyright intended.
Amberoid photo: Turf and Sport Digest Cover, September 1966
Devil His Due
The second day of December is not yet winter, with traces of muted versions of the fall colors lingering, especially in the trees and grass of an old cemetery, almost forgotten. On that date this year, Yang and I finally got to visit the Riverside Cemetery in Waterbury, Ct. When passing by on the highway, we would always look down on the Victorian Gothic chapel and monuments to those lost in death, leaving us fascinated by its haunting, melancholy beauty. Finally, we managed to make a trip there to explore. We were not disappointed.
Of course, we stopped first in Seymore for tea at Tea with Tracey, where I enjoyed a delicious fig and cherry tea and Yang took pleasure in a nice green tea. The array of tea sandwiches was yummy, and soon we were well fortified for our expedition into the past of Waterbury through its monuments to the passed. The day was appropriate, with grey skies and a nip in the air. As you entered, you are greeted with an exquisite monument to the Elton family. The bronze has turned a soft green, but the female figures flanking either side of the memorial urn are beautifully articulated. On one side is a shrouded figure of grief at death and on the other a hopeful one looking upward serenely. The execution of the figures is graceful and feeling. Interestingly, the handles of the urn are cherubs, somewhat menacing in demeanor. I think it’s kind of neat that the man’s name is John Elton. Reverse the order and you have . . .
You can find the actual grave of the Elton family deeper into the cemetery. Clearly this was one of the leading families of Waterbury in the 19th and early 20th centuries. I heard that there was even a highly regarded Elton Hotel in the town quite some time back. What has happened to them since? I can’t tell you. Perhaps there are some Waterbury historians reading this blog who would like to take that one? I’d love to know!
There were several others who were clearly prominent in the town, indicated by the plaques on their graves or the imposing nature of their monuments. One interesting sort was the Civil War veteran John Lyman Chatfield. This plaque tells the story of his wounding on the battlefield and subsequent death back in Waterbury. The bronze statue of him in uniform further attests to his history as a Civil Warrior. The Chatfield family must have been one with tremendous clout in the city to be able to leave such an imposing monument. Any local historians want to fill us in on more about him?
The Spencer family also must have been amongst the movers and shakers of 19th-century Waterbury. Witness the tall monument with the carefully carved likeness in relief. This guy must have worked awfully hard for his money and position because he does look rather cranky, don’t you think?
Here we have a doctor who must have had a great deal of success and done much good. The description of his work helping children reveals his value to the population. Perhaps that’s likely the reason for the sleeping children on the corners of the face of this elaborate tombstone. They are a little creepy though, don’t you think? I guess that’s why they’re so Victorian, the era of photographing your dead all dressed up to remember them by – if you were upper middle class.
And of course the BPOE was a force to be reckoned with in those days as well. If you were a high-antler and did a lot of good, then you’d certainly be properly memorialized, so check out this monument. I don’t remember of the chap honored here, unfortunately, but I had to get several shots of this elk. How does he compare with the elk in the Edson Cemetery of Lowell’s ? Click here for an earlier blog to make a comparison. The one in Lowell does have the advantage of being cleaned and returned to its original bronze glory. Anyway, I can’t help providing you with several shots of this wonderful statue. It’s so cool how his base is shaped as a rock crag and is set on the hillside, so that he presides over the rolling slopes of the cemetery.
And roll those slopes do! I think navigating that terrain is half the reason the injured ligaments in my knee haven’t healed yet! You notice that geography immediately on entering the cemetery, with mausoleums banking upwards to a bleak late autumn sky, almost as grey as their stone. I want to share images of the slopes of stone rolling through the cemetery, topped with trees whose mostly denuded branches scratch across the grey sky, the grass rusty brown, and an occasional shrub or tree bearing the maroons or dark orange of late fall. Definitely the perfect setting for a mystery or a tale of terror. I just have to work this place into a novel, too!
Of course the statuary revealed the entrancing work of inestimable craftsmen. There were so many haunting statues of women. For example, regard the deep feeling of this woman who guards the entrance to one family’s mausoleum. Is this an actual likeness to a wife or mother of the N.J. Welton family who preserved that family’s secure home? Was the truth of that family portrayed in this woman’s intense devotion, or are any conflicts whitewashed here for posterity?
This statue of woman and child from another branch of the Welton family seems to portray a sad loss. Did mother and child pass when both were young or are they immortalized as eternally young in the next world? The child seems afraid, burying herself in the comforting lap of her mother, who has one arm around her but raises her hand hopefully, while the other holds a book and looks into the beyond. Is she holding the Book of Life or the Bible? Her steadfast stare and gentle but firm hold on her daughter indicates her guidance of her family toward redemption. This seems a statuary representation if the Victorian Angel in the House.
It’s hard to select which other statues to show you, there are so many beautiful, poignant ones, so I’ll try to select the more unique. I was fascinated by the bronze cast of this woman, whose plaque celebrated her firm virtues. The photo doesn’t quite convey how massive the bronze form is. Her hair style, dress, and sandalled feet portray her as a Roman matron. so, clearly, she was a powerful force in her family, devoted to her duties there and preserving them. Again, the book she holds indicates learning and wisdom, though perhaps only in religion if it’s a Bible. More knowledge of the family and this woman might indicate she was actually learned in areas outside the woman’s domestic sphere. Anyone know something of her?
This statue was particularly intriguing, for the base was not a smooth column, but in the shape of a cairn, with the information of the family’s deceased inscribed on the individual stones. I’m fascinated by the creativity of the masons who contributed to the Riverside Cemetery. Their statuary is amongst the most unique I’ve encountered in my explorations of cemeteries.
Now this statuary tremendously intrigued me. Coming upon it from behind, both Yang and I thought it was a spectral figure in a shroud, a figure implying the mystery of the world beyond this. However, as we came around the front of the monument, we realized that what you saw from the front was a partially draped urn. This leads me to wonder if the artist intentionally played with our perceptions, implying the ineffablity of pinning down or defining death. Was he, perhaps, implying our thoughts of ghosts and spirits turn out to be nothing more than dust in a dead stone urn? Or was he implying that perception of death as final dissolution into dust and cold stone was a superficial view that we have to look behind or beyond to accept the mystery of the world beyond? Maybe I just think to much? I was an English professor; it’s an occupational hazard.
I’ll just wrap up with an image that delights me in my most melancholy, Keatsian vein.
Here we are with only two days left to November, closing out autumn. Though the season doesn’t officially end until December 21 or 22, depending on the year, the last day of November always feels like the turn of the page into winter with December 1st. So, I’d like to present you with a blog or two taking a lingering, pleasing look back at the “season of mellow fruitfulness.”
Last year, Yang and I celebrated Halloween during the day with a hike at Colbrook Reservoir in western Mass. Remember how we were in drought status that year? Well, that’s why we not only were able to have a memorable walk along the waterway on an abandoned two-lane paved road, but also could discern parts of the town that had been submerged by the flooding to create the reservoir. We even caught sight of the phantom bridge! This year we sought to repeat our adventure, with hopes of an even more pleasant outing since the weather was so much warmer than last year. Unfortunately, in 2021 we had so much more of something else than last year: Rain!
Last year there was water, shoreline, road, rocks and trees. This year, there was water, rocks, and trees. We were flooded out in both directions of the road from the parking lot. Yang mentioned that we also rode our bikes here the day after Thanksgiving last year; so, I commented that unless we had paddle boats, we weren’t doing any paddling here this year! Disappointed, I still managed to get some nice shots of foliage and water, as you can see. Yang had another idea, which also had been percolating in my head. We hopped in the car and headed just across the nearby border for Heublein Tower on Talcott Mountain in Connecticut! (If you want to get a look at what we saw at Colbrook last year, click here for my earlier blog .)
A little on Heublein Tower. Heublein was the third tower to stand on Talcott Mountain, built by German-born, American businessman from Hartford, Gilbert Heublein, While hiking the mountain with his fiancee, he promised her “a castle on a mountain,” keeping his promise after their marriage by constructing this tower. The edifice, which contained bedrooms on all but the pinnacle, a spacious ground-floor living room and foyer, dining room; second floor sun room, an elevator, and a ballroom on the glassed-in top floor was completed by 1929. Here, the Heubleins relaxed in their summer home, inviting guests and holding events that drew the cream of Hartford’s social crop. Heublein died in 1937, with his building falling out of use until bought in 1943 by The Hartford Times. Once again, it became the place to be for social events with celebrities of the era in attendance, including Tallulah Bankhead! Eventually, it was let slide by the Times and nearly bought by developers, until saved by the group Save Talcott Mountain. Now the mountain and the Tower are open to the public for hiking and viewing, as the area has become a state park. It’s a wonderful place to enjoy nature and some unique architecture. For more details on the Tower and the park, click here for the web site.
Hiking up the mountain isn’t too bad a hike at all. There are several trails to get to the Tower. The most popular one is a little steep at first, through autumn woods, but there are benches along the way if you’re out of shape and need a rest. We were in good enough shape not to! Then, you come out of the woods and onto a ridge overlooking the valley below. The view along this ridge is wonderful, and you might even see a hawk as we did! Some great overlooks.
The Tower itself is quite a treat! This old photo shows what the foyer and living room originally looked like. My shot lets you see an updated in-color version. The furnishings have been carefully assembled to approximate the style and taste of the original era. Though I’m not sure I would have wanted a big deer head on my wall, I would have loved to relax before that fireplace in a comfy chair or to play card games with friends on a crisp fall evening, with coffee or tea and scones for sustenance. And how about this nook by the window that looks out over a gorgeous mountain landscape, cascading fall colors into the valley below? How’s that for having breakfast or an afternoon tea? I wonder what flavor that cake is on the table?
Or maybe I’d take tea, solo or with companions, on this wonderful sun porch, warm with solar emanations? Could also be a great place to settle down and read or listen to the radio programs back in the day. And the view from up here ain’t bad, either.
How about some of those bedrooms? Not necessarily luxurious, but roomy enough. Plenty of sunlight during the day, should you wish to retire here. Pleasant, if not elaborate, decor. But you’re on a rustic retreat, so who needs frills? Though this set up is far from camping on the cold, hard New England bedrock. And, oh, those views when you get up in the morning! Imagine the rising sun setting aflame these fall colors!
One of the most interesting parts of the Tower is the observation deck. Originally, this area was known as the ballroom, as you can see from this old image of the earlier set up. Wouldn’t it be grand to dance away the evening on these hard wood floors? It could be a real Stardust Ballroom, with the twinkling lights of the darkened heavens glittering through the tall windows of all four sides of the room. Of course, you’d have to move away all that furniture. Great place for a big party!
Yet there’s no need to wait for evening to fall in love with the observation deck. During the day, you get views for miles, across Connecticut and into Massachusetts – an especially fine sight in the autumn, when the hills burst with colors. Feast your eyes!
Finally, returning to the first floor, towards the rear of the building, you find the formal dining room, gorgeous in wood paneling, dark wood furniture, marble fireplace, exquisite Persian rug, elegant china and cutlery, and painted medallion above the fireplace. How about the gorgeous beamed ceilings? It’s fun to notice that the door to the butler’s pantry is hidden in the shape of the paneling on one side of the fireplace, while a closet is similarly hidden on the other. Light pours in the windows.
Now, I ask you, would this not be the perfect setting for a mystery? This is how the UConn campus at Avery Point inspired me for Always Play the Dark Horse. So, how should we work this? Jessica and James are invited for a weekend by the owner, a mysterious sort who seems to know more about them than they about him or her? Or maybe it is someone they know, or think they do. Should guests start dropping like flies over a dinner in that elegant dining room? Should Jessica settle down to a quiet read on the sun porch, only to be interrupted by a figure sailing past to his/her death below? Should Liz also be on hand? What do you think?
Yang and I found a gorgeous old cemetery in Utica, NY when we went to the Joan and Constance Bennett film festival in Rome this past summer. However, life has just been so busy with all the prep for Dark Horse‘s release, then it’s actual release, that I just didn’t have time to put together a pictorial blog on it. Maybe that’s just as well, because aren’t we in just the right season for a sepulchral tour?
So, welcome to Forest Hill Cemetery. You know this is going to be one neat burial ground when you enter through these wonderfully Gothic gates. And the cemetery is definitely well-named, winding up above Utica on an extensive tree-shrouded, green hillside. Maybe we don’t have flaming autumn colors; however, the misty green mossyness perfectly emanates a Keatsian melancholy.
The statuary here was marvelously haunting: women, angels, urns, unique mausoleums, and one guy backed by a tree that seemed like something out of a Lovecraft piece. Let’s start with the angels. The first one that I noted, just getting out of my car (me not the angel), was a uniquely colored creature. It wasn’t as large as many or the others and the tip of one wing was chipped. Yet it’s lines were straight and powerful, grace and strength in a soft glow of gold.
Yet, there were other more traditionally imposing figures. This angel rose above a long bench that curved like his wings. It’s an imposing figure that makes you uneasily recall the Dr. Who injunction, “Don’t blink! On the other hand, this angel below sits peacefully atop the Ives family monument exuding comfort and repose. If it came to life, it would offer gentleness and compassion. The day’s sky, still a tad cloudy, softens the gleaming white of its stone.
This family must, indeed, have had clout! Not only do they have a fancy sepulchre, but they have two angels guarding the way to their entombed remains. Facing us, you can see that one angel holds a book, while, in the case of the one with its back to us, you can just make out its trumpet. Clearly that divine guy is ready to blow the horn to announce Judgment Day – or it’s Harry James.
Speaking of sepulchres, there are some really neat fancy ones here. This one makes me think of a stone beehive. It also has a medieval look. The stones fit together like the blocks of a castle. There are spires and arches like in a Gothic cathedral. Even fleur de lis are carved on joining stones on the sides and back. Note the brass door gone green. The graceful furl of draping ribbons carved on the doors evokes the unfurling of a gentle melancholy sigh, doesn’t it? Here’s a closeup so you can better perceive the detail. Notice how flowers trail from the end of the ribbons. A symbol of life’s fragility like a flower or of life’s renewal of flowers from seeds shed by flowers past/passed?
This mausoleum is more in the art deco vein. It’s shape is square-angled with blocks sharply cut. The woman on its metal door, though Grecian garbed, has the stylized posture of art deco figures. Pressing herself to a door carved with a gate of flowered shapes holding her out, her stance and expression are quietly yet powerfully sad. Is she reaching for the lost departed or is she a departed soul reaching back for life?
The statues of women representing faith, loss, families also abound here in some beautiful forms. I loved the view of this weather-stained woman peering down the hillside, through waving grass and dark green trees into the world beyond her, outside the grave. In a closer view from the front, you can see she supports stalks of harvested grain. The soul harvested from this earth? Or her life’s harvest of experience, carried into the next realm?
Here sits a pensive female, pure white against the greenery. Though she marks the reality of death, there is peace in her expression. Does she represent the soul’s passing into a realm beyond suffering to a place of calm contemplation or the quiet remembrance that those left behind have of loved ones now beyond the veil? I love capturing a close up of her features against the vivid blue streaked with the gauzy whiteness of clouds.
Here an angelic figure points an attentive Victorian mother and plump toddler heavenward. There are no wings on the rising figure, but there are definitely suggestions of her angelic nature. Interestingly, her trumpet points downward. A reference to the family in the world of the living below? The sculpture beautifully creates the illusion of the female figure rising through the sweep of her garments. I can’t help thinking that perhaps this monument commemorates the loss of a young wife and a child. Is the rising figure a younger daughter who had angelic qualities?
Then there is this far from traditional carving of gleaming white marble. The figure does not seem carved so much as transforming stone into a vibrant, pure flame consuming a body into a higher, ethereal form. Is her expression joyous, pained, both – combining the two in the ineffable constitution of the sublime.
Of course, we can’t forget about the gents, either. This chap must have been something, taking up the center of an enormous monument that surrounds him as if part of a capitol building or cathedral. Gothic arches and fancy urns denote his prominent family standing. You can see me standing there in front providing scale. The book he holds in his hand and his far away look seem to mark him as a scholar of some sort, or at the very least, a man of great learning.
I’m not sure who this guy was, but he certainly must have been important to get such a fancy statue of himself. He must have been wealthy, too, to be so well fed. Reminds me of Sidney Greenstreet. What do you think? Something else that’s neat is that if you look carefully behind him, you can see a tree that almost seems to have a cyclops eye; a long, bowed nose-trunk; and menacing upraised arms. The image didn’t photograph as well as it should have, but it’s still very Lovecraftian. Below is a picture of just that just shows that eldritch, daemonic tree, appearing to stride forth on an unspeakable quest of relentless destruction. And here’s a link to a list of Lovecraft’s favorite adjectives.
I’ve got to say that this tree also looks as if it’s up to no good, eldritch or otherwise. There’s a horror story in here somewhere.
There are still more wonderful monuments of unique shapes and beautiful scenes of a sea of stones, but I’ve just no more space. Perhaps, I can do a second edition on this cemetery. We’ll see. October is a busy month. Hmm, what’s that I hear tapping at my window pane? I hope it’s nothing cyclopean or eldritch.
Say “so long” to Forrest Hill as we drive out those wonderful Gothic Gates!
The first day of October, Yang and I journeyed to Windsor Locks for one of our favorite bicycle trails. It’s shorter than many of the ones we ride (about 9 miles round trip); however, the surrounding trees, along the Connecticut River on one side and the canal on the other, provided plenty of natural beauty-including natural habit for lots of interesting critters.
We wanted to make sure we got in a ride before too late in the season because the trail officially closes from November to April while the resident bald-eagle couple nest and raise their young. Sometimes they nest earlier than usual, so we lose out on a fall ride. The swift-flowing Connecticut River on one side and its attendant canal on the other provide them with plenty of fish and other tasty treats. As this picture shows, the nest is close enough to the trail for the eagles to be disturbed by passersby. Anyway, take a gander at that nest. Enormous, isn’t it?
As we started off at the trail head, I noticed that the lock gate had been held open by a log washed down into the canal. All the recent rain must have swollen the river so that it drove much debris down river and some over the dam to the canal. You can still see the canal wending beyond and banked by trees that we later found filled with Cedar Waxwings, Chickadees, Robins, and Yellow-rumped Warblers. Those warblers must get some teasing with a name like that. Yet that rump is a lovely bight shade of yellow! Not my photo, though. The little guys move way to fast for us to photograph! This was my first ever sighting!
Here’s how the trail looked as we were starting off. You can see the leaves subtly shifting from green to soft autumn yellow. At the beginning of the trail, they created an almost chilly canopy, but not too cold. It was a gorgeous, sunny fall day, with bright sunlight and a soft blue sky. The perfect day for a bicycle ride! There were also hints of red sumac and orange maple splashing through the green and yellow, creating beautiful early-autumn accents. You can see the river and the opposite bank through the trees as well. Don’t these berries also add a wonderful dash of contrasting color?
Those berries were not only attractive to us! We saw fleets of Cedar Waxwings dashing from tree to tree, hopping about to snack on these and other berries. They are one of Yang’s favorite birds with their slick buff-colored feathers, crests, triangular black masks, and bright yellow borders on their tails. Apparently, these guys may sometimes feast on berries that have fermented, and then you never know who might stagger about the trees! Again, they moved way too fast and were too distant for us to take pictures. However, as with the Yellow-rumped Warblers, our trusty binoculars gave us a nifty view of them, even if we couldn’t capture them on film. Fortunately this site did.
We did see lots of neat critters that day, though we couldn’t always get a shot for one reason or another. I did get this picture of a beaver’s den on the bank of the opposite side of the canal. There were at least two of three of them along the way. Apparently the beavers are starting a development here. We also saw a majestic Great Blue Heron on the canal banks opposite, lots of Mallard’s hanging out, turtles basking in the sun on logs, and even a Cormorant scanning for fish from a dead tree extruding into the canal.
There was another neat creature whom I barely avoided hitting with my bike as he was stretched across the road.
Trigger warning- and I’m not referring to Roy Rogers’ horse- if you’re askeerd of SNAKES, scroll right past this paragraph.
I thought this guy was pretty cool! He extended nearly half way across the road, even semi-coiled. I think this is similar to one we saw in the marsh on the Kingston, RI trail. Is it a black snake? He seemed to just chill for a bit while Yang and I watched him, then WHOOSH! he was across the road, down the bank, and headed for water. I bet he’s glad that the eagles aren’t back yet, because they find guys like him pretty tasty.
I thought that now I’ll just drop some lovely images from the trail on you. Isn’t it beautiful the way the canal reflects the changing colors in the trees and brush?
I love this image of the power lines extending to a tower across the river. You can see some of the changing colors in the plantation and the beauty of the river and the soft blue skies dashed with clouds, their white shadowed with slatey blue.
I love the way the bitter-sweet-yellow leaves and softening greenery embrace and curve about the rusty maroon of the railroad bridge here.
There’s almost a Lovecraftian touch to the exposed roots of ancient trees snaking through and over the red rock on the other side of the canal- as if they were something sentient. Heh, heh, heh.
SNAKE TRIGGER WARNING AGAIN!
“I’m ready for my closeup, Mr. DemIlle!”
Yellow-rumped Warbler: https://www.borealbirds.org/bird/yellow-rumped-warbler
In our first overnight trip away, Yang and I traveled to the renovated Capitol Theatre in Rome, New York for Capitolfest. This year’s subjects proved irresistible: the fabulous Bennett sisters, Joan and Constance! We were fortunate to see the theatre, designed by Leon H. Lempert and first opened in 1928, returned to much of its original art deco glory. However, our trip was even more of a treat. Not only did we get to see two Joan Bennett movies from early in her career that I’ve never seen, but we met up with wonderful friends from the Friends of Joan Bennett FB group: Kayla Sturm and Eve and Edward Lemon! It was a fun, heart-warming, and exciting experience.
First, let me tell you about the theatre – and share some images with you, too. Many of these are courtesy of Eve and Kayla. You can see that the original marquee is not the same, but the outside still has much of the original feel. Further, once you enter the lobby, you see wonderful polished wood doors and art deco detailing on the walls and ceiling.
The inside is spacious, seating over 1000 people, with plenty of room on the ground floor and in the balcony. The latter place is where we Bennettphiles sat. You can see that the screen is huge, just like in the old days that some of us are life-experienced enough to remember. Other Lowellians, remember the Strand Theatre, with that ginormous chandelier that none of us wanted to sit under – just in case? There’s me in the lower right corner, wearing my hat and my mask.
Note the organ just below and in front of the stage. The theatre was built in 1928, so silents still would have played there in the infantine era of sound. Also, people would love to hear pre-show concerts on that organ – before you got to the raffles, the cartoons, the newsreel, the Lower half of the double bill, then the feature. Here’s a closeup of the organ. We had a little concert, ourselves, before the start of Weekends Only. (Note: both these shots are courtesy of Kayla Sturm.)
She also photographed one of my favorite things to shoot: heads in relief. I wonder who these guys are? To me, they look like Eisenhower, Marx, and Peter Lorre; but I’m probably wrong.
How about this shot by Kayla of the gorgeous arches?
There were lots of early, pre-Production Code films by Joan and Constance – plus both Joan and Constance doing their bits against the Nazis in Manhunt and Madame Spy, respectively. Come to think of it, Joan practically made a cottage industry out of taking down goosesteppers: Manhunt, Confirm or Deny, The Man I Married, The Wife Takes a Flyer, and Margin for Error. Who needs John Wayne?! (That’s Kayla’s photo of the Manhunt poster).
Anyway, Yang and I saw two films I’d never seen before: She Wanted a Millionaire and Weekends Only. Hush Money had also been on the bill, but Disney forced the festival to pull it in a legal CYA move. That’s the technical term my lawyer nephew gave me. God bless UCLA for going to bat for the festival and still getting us these two films. They were something else. Millionaire is a humdinger, starting out as a romantic comedy and turning into a Gothic piece with a sadistic husband who lures a naif into marriage, using the typical secret passages, peep holes, and untrustworthy servants in his isolated, creepy mansion, but modernizing Otranto’s castle with high tech (for ’32) listening devices. His manipulations, viciousness, and violence would give Manfred, Brother Ambrose, and Schedoni a run for their money. Joan does get up the gumption to hang tough and give her tormentor what for; but, darn it all, they have her faint at a crucial moment. They just had to go all Victorian, didn’t they? Victorian, with the exception of Margaret Hale in North and South, who has to get hit in the head with a rock to go down for the count.
Weekends Only was interesting and enjoyable. Joan was a snappy, intelligent gal who grows up fast when her rich-girl paradise crashes and burns with the stock market in 1929. She’s smart and independent, so she’s is no easy victim to sly seductions or aggressive assertions. We also can tell that this is a pre-Production Code because it’s clear that when she and artist Ben Lyon fall in love and show that they genuinely care for each other there are a couple of fadeouts that indicate the two aren’t off for a round of pinochle. Of course, misunderstandings do gum up the romantic works; however, things get resolved in a way that suggests their reconciliation is believable. And the slick rich guy who wants Joan for his mistress bows out with humor. The depictions of the loft apartments where Joan and Ben Lyons live hint at an almost pre-noir dreaminess. Black and white is so evocative. I do wonder what happened to the two portraits painted for the movie. (Thanks to Eve for the shot of the film’s opening on that delicious big screen!)
Anyway, our crew had a wonderful time. We enjoyed films together. Traded Joan gossip. Got to know one another better. Had a lovely dinner ensemble after the first movie on Friday afternoon on the outside terrace at the Delta Lake Inn – thanks to Eve’s planning! Gosh, I had a great time. I can’t wait for another Joan festival to bring us all back together!
Images from Weekends Only and She Wanted a Millionaire from IMDb
Thanks again to Kayla Sturm and Eve Lemon for letting me borrow their photos for this blog.