Monthly Archives: August, 2013

August 31: The “First Sound From the Future”

Hatsune MikuMeet Hatsune Miku, one of Japan’s biggest pop stars. According to her biography, Miku is 16 years old, 5′ 2” and weighs 93 pounds. Oh, and by the way, she’s not human. Hatsune Miku is an entirely digital pop star, a singing synthesizing computer program that was released to the public six years ago today. Her name, incidentally, is Japanese for “first sound from the future.”

Now, that might sound a little weird, so allow me to break down just what Hatsune Miku is. First off, she’s a computer program. The Hatsune Miku program, developed by Crypton Future Media, uses vocal samples to create songs. How it works is that Crypton hired voice actress Saki Fujita to say individual Japanese phonics at a controlled pitch and tone. Users of the Hatsune Miku program take these phonic soundbites, combine them together to form words and then set them to music. So, anyonewho owns the Miku program, be they a professional composer or a fifteen year old kid in her bedroom, can compose a song for Miku and then publish it on a website set up by Crypton where Miku fans can download fan-made songs. According to Crypton, Miku has a repertoire of over 100,000 original songs. Some of the more popular fan-composers have even been hired by Crypton to write “official” Hatsune Miku songs.

Now, let’s say that you’re a tech company that’s created a big pop star, you’d probably think that there might be people interested in seeing your creation perform, and you’d be right! A hologram of Hatsune Miku, backed by live musicians, has performed around Japan to sold out crowds. She even played to a packed house at the Nokia Theater in Los Angeles during the 2011 Anime Expo. The giant hologram of the computer generated pop star is amazingly detailed: Miku dances, plays a little guitar and sometimes even becomes overcome with emotion in response to all the love from her fans.

Really from a production point of view, Miku is the perfect pop star. She’ll never be involved in a tabloid scandal or send out an ill conceived tweet. She’s always available to record a new track and, as long as the program works, she’ll never hit a bum note in concert. Miku’s next performance will be in November at the Theatre du Chatelet Opera House in Paris, where she will participate in an opera that will feature only computer generated performers.

So, one of the songs in Hatsune Miku’s “official” repertoire is “Clover Club,” named after the cocktail of the same name. I’m no J-pop fan, so I can’t tell you if the song is any good, but I can attest to the greatness of this drink. The Clover Club was the favored libation at Philadelphia’s Bellevue-Stratford hotel in the pre-Prohibition era. The drink’s name comes from a mens club that regularly met at the Bellevue-Stratford. It’s a sweet and tart drink which utilizes egg whites. For more on how to safely make a drink with egg whites, see our note on the topic from last month.

Clover Club

  • 1 1/2 ounce Gin
  • 3/4 ounces lemon juice
  • 1/4 ounces raspberry syrup
  • 1 egg white

At first, dry shake all ingredients for about a minute in a cocktail shaker so the drink can emulsify. After about a minute of dry shaking, add ice and shake for a bit more. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

Tomorrow: A trip to the moon.

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August 30: The Monster’s Mother

Mary ShellyToday we celebrate a woman, born on this day in 1797, who gave birth to a monster that haunts the world to this day. The woman was Mary Wollstonecraft Shelly, and her monster was a novel called Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus.

You’re probably already familiar with the Frankenstein story, but do you know how the novel came about? In May of 1816, the poet Percy Shelly, Mary Godwin (Although the couple’s friends and Mary herself called her “Mrs Shelley,” the two were not yet married) and their son traveled to Geneva to spend the summer with Lord Byron and his guests. It was an especially rainy summer, so the group were largely confined to the house and often told old ghost stories and folk tales. One evening, the topic of conversation turned to the philosopher and poet Erasmus Darwin, a man who was said to have reanimated dead tissue. All of this lead to Byron making the suggestion that the company go about writing their own supernatural tales.

So, Mary Godwin began working on her story about a scientist who decides to play god and bring life to a creature made of human remains. Much like in Greek mythology, where Prometheus created humanity from clay and then stole fire from Zeus to give to humanity, Victor Frankenstein would steal Zeus’ lightning to create his creature. Godwin described the process of writing Frankenstein as like being in a walking dream, with the idea of a “hideous phantasm of a man stretched out, and then, on the working of some powerful engine, show signs of life, and stir with an uneasy, half vital motion” seeming to emerge fully formed within her mind. The tale soon grew into a short story, and Percy Shelley encouraged her to expand the idea into a full length novel.

Now, with any good discussion of Frankenstein, it’s time to be pedantic. If you know where I’m going with this, feel free to say it along with me: Frankenstein is the name of the scientist, not the name of the creature! In the actual novel, Victor Frankenstein’s creation is referred to by a variety of terms, including “monster,” “creature,” “demon,” “fiend,”  and simply “it.” Sometimes during tellings of the story, Shelly would refer to Frankenstein’s Monster as Adam, a reference to the Biblical first man, and a name that has stuck with many Frankenstein fans.

It’s also interesting to note that, contrary to many contemporary interpretations, in the original novel “Adam” is not a brutish simpleton unable to say phrases longer than “Fire bad!” and the like. The creature, as written by Shelly, learns to speak proper English and later on in the novel rants against his creator’s actions. Despite some of the creature’s more heinous actions (i. e. murdering a couple of people near and dear to Dr. Frankenstein), one still sympathizes a bit with him. After all, he didn’t ask to be brought back to life, forced into an existence as an abomination. If you, like I, are of that opinion, I think it’s fair to view Frankenstein’s Monster as one of fiction’s earliest anti-heroes.

Amusingly, although it was legendary director James Whale who helped shape the now common impression of the monster as having “the mental age of a ten-year old boy and the emotional age of a lad of fifteen” in his two Boris Karloff starring films, Frankenstein and The Bride of Frankenstein, he also felt a deep respect for the creature. According to some biographical sources, Whale viewed his two Frankenstein films as dark comedies, which is completely understandable when you look at Colin “It’s alive! It’s alive!” Clive’s performance as Dr. Frankenstein. However, Whale thought that everything was fair game for mockery, except the monster! In Whale’s interpretation,  despite being immature of mind, the monster had a quiet dignity and humanity underneath his reanimated tissue, a quality that was lacking in the rest of the story’s characters.

We’re a little over two months out from Halloween, so you might want to save today’s drink for then, but really Mary Shelly’s birthday is as good a day as any to drink a Frankenstein! I found this recipe online, and it’s an appropriate monstrous drink seemingly made up of whatever spare parts the mad doctor who created it happened to have lying around in his laboratory. It’s a dark green cocktail filled with all manner of fruit flavors with a punch like a lightning bolt.

Frankenstein

  • 1/2 ounces Green Melon Liqueur
  • 1/2 ounces Blue Curaçao
  • 1/2 ounces Peach Schnapps
  • Splash of Orange Juice
  • Pineapple Juice
  • 1/2 ounces Jägermeister

Pour each ingredient (except the pineapple juice and Jagermeister) into a Collins glass with ice. Fill with pineapple juice, stir, and then float the Jagermeister on top.

Tomorrow: A pop star who’s performed in front of sold out crowds, but doesn’t really exist. (We’ll explain.)

August 29: The Last “Wild” Man

IshiAlthough I’ve largely tried to fill this blog with happy or exciting tales, sometimes the most interesting thing to happen on any given day is a sadder occasion, and such is the story of Ishi, the last “wild man”, who joined the occidental world on this day in 1911.

Ishi was the last member of the Yahi, a Native American tribe that was native to Northern California. Before the Gold Rush, there were over 400 Yahi in California, but the promise of easy money brought miners and settlers out west. With these new arrivals to California came environmental destruction, unfamiliar diseases like smallpox and outright genocide. Many of the Gold Rush era settlers were not above killing Yahi in their sleep, and others offered bounties for the murder of any Yahi. It was into this horror that Ishi was born, sometime in the early 1860s.

In 1865, young Ishi was present at the infamous Three Knolls Massacre, when pioneers and cattlemen slaughtered 40 Yahi tribesmen. Only 30 Yahi, including Ishi, escaped and of those 30 that survived the massacre, roughly half were soon killed by cattlemen. The remaining few Yahi went into hiding, and the once mighty tribe was largely considered to be extinct.

In 1908, a group of surveyors came across a camp occupied by a man, a young girl, and an elderly native woman believed to be Ishi, his sister and his mother. The man and girl escaped, but the woman was sick and immobile. The surveyors raided the camp of its goods, but did not harm the woman. By 1911, the rest of Ishi’s family had died, leaving him the last member of his tribe. So, on August 29, 1911 a starving Ishii was “discovered” as he attempted to steal meat near the town of Oroville, California. Ishi was taken into custody by a local sheriff, and the story of a “wild man” received nationwide media attention.

Soon after, a team of UC Berkeley anthropology professors took Ishi in, wanting to learn about Yahi culture. These anthropologists befriended Ishi and were able to preserve some of the cultural history and language of the Yahi. Sadly, Ishi had no immunities to the diseases of modern civilization and was often ill during his time in society and succumbed to tuberculosis in March of 1916.

So, as you remember Ishi today, perhaps you might want to sip on a California Cocktail. It’s a fairly basic whiskey cocktail, with some honey notes (from the Drambuie) and an herbal finish (care of the Campari).

California Cocktail

  • 1 ounce Canadian Whiskey
  • 1 ounce Dry Vermouth
  • 1 ounce Drambuie
  • 1 dash Campari

Stir all ingredients in mixing glass with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

Tomorrow: The mother of a monster.

August 28: All Hail King Kirby

kirby_self_portraitWho was the most influential pop artist of the 20th Century? Most art history scholars would point to names like Andy Warhol, Jasper Johns or that plagiarist hack Roy Lichtenstein. As great as two of those artists are, their influence pales in comparison to Jack Kirby, who was born on this day in 1917. Kirby helped shape the look of the modern superhero, inspired generations of artists who grew up with his work and to top it all off, his creations still play a vital role in contemporary culture.

Kirby got his start drawing all manner of adventure comics in the 1930s: sci-fi, western, pirates, etc. However, Kirby made his first big mark on comics in March 1941 when he and Joe Simon created Captain America. The first issue of Captain America Comics is one of the greatest images ever sketched, depicting our star-spangled hero punching Adolph Hitler in the face and presumably breaking the Fuhrer’s jaw. Oh, and may I remind you, this was a full nine months before the United States entered World War II! Kirby would continue working on comics until he was drafted into the Army.

After the war, Kirby would go back to comics art, working in a variety of pulp fiction styles, and even helping to create the “romance comics” genre. However, that achievement would pale in comparison to Kirby’s next trick, creating a universe. In November 1961, Kirby and collaborator Stan Lee released the first issue of The Fantastic Four. Fantastic Four represented a new approach to superheroes, different from the heroes made popular during the 1930s and 1940s Golden Age. While many of the superheroes of the past were born with their powers, the Fantastic Four gained their powers in an accident and while the average superhero saw their powers as a gift, FF member Ben Grimm (aka The Thing) rightly viewed his incurable transformation into a humanoid rock monster as a curse. On top of all that, the Fantastic Four were a family who (for the first few issues at least) didn’t wear costumes, instead they fought crime in contemporary fashions.

The Fantastic Four were just the start, as soon Kirby would co-create a whole universe of characters for Marvel Comics. The list of characters and concepts Kirby co-created for Marvel includes dozens of the all-time great comic book heroes and villains (and the subjects of many future hit movies). Here are but a few of the familiar names Kirby created for Marvel: The Mighty Thor, Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, the X-Men, Magneto, Doctor Doom, Galactus, the Black Panther, the Silver Surfer and also an obscure superhero team called the Avengers.

Kirby would leave Marvel in the 1970s due to creative differences, and went to work for rival DC Comics. At DC, Kirby created what is considered by many to be his masterpiece: The Fourth World, a tale of a battle between literal good and evil that combined Greek mythology with techno-futurism. Written and drawn by Kirby, the Fourth World saga detailed the battle between the planets New Genesis and Apokolips, as heroes like the mighty warrior Orion and the master escape artist Mister Miracle sought to stop Darkseid, the lord of Apokolips and living embodiment of all evil, from discovering the “Anti-Life Equation” which would allow him to subjugate all living things and bring an end to that troublesome notion of free will. Kirby didn’t shy away from the obvious allegorical elements of the stories, and in fact embraced the story’s more over the top elements by constantly adding new crazy sci-fi concepts and peppering the narration and dialogue with purple prose and Shakespearean turns of phrase. Somehow, Kirby managed to make all of these mad elements work together and created a gripping tale of the ultimate battle between good and evil.

In addition to his comics work, Kirby’s other projects included designing wonderfully whacked-out costumes for a 1969 production of Julus Caesar at UC Santa Cruz, and the concept art for a unproduced film adaptation of the novel Lord of Light. Although that film would never come about, Kirby’s concept illustrations would later be used by the CIA to help pull of the “Canadian Caper,” as depicted in the 2012 film Argo. So, for those of you keeping score at home, between The Avengers and Argo, that’s two films from last year that Kirby was partially responsible for.

So, raise a glass to the King of Comics and his lasting legacy with a drink named after one of his iconic characters, The Silver Surfer. Although this drink won’t give you the Power Cosmic, it is a nice fizzy blend of lemon-lime flavors and potent clear liquors.

The Silver Surfer

  • 1/2 ounce Silver Tequila
  • 1/2 ounce White Rum
  • 1/2 ounce Vodka
  • 3 ounces lemon-lime soda
  • A dash of lemon juice
  • A dash of lime juice

Pour all the liquors into a highball glass with ice and top with lemon-lime soda, then add the dashes of the juices. Garnish with a lemon slice and a lime slice.

Tomorrow: The last of the Yahi.

August 27: Waltz In Swing Time

Swing TimeNow, last week I talked about how great a dancer Gene Kelly was, so it’s only fair that I sing the praises of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, especially as today is the 77th anniversary of the release of their best film, Swing Time. When it comes to Golden Age Hollywood musicals, Singin’ In The Rain‘s blend of music, comedy and dance makes it the best, but without a doubt Swing Time has the better soundtrack.

Jerome Kern and Dorothy Fields’ songs for Swing Time make up what’s probably the best collection of songs ever written for one movie. Almost every one of the film’s songs has become a staple of the “Great American Songbook,” including the beautiful ballad “The Way You Look Tonight,” an amazing love song that is one of the finest winners of the Academy Award for Best Original Song, and the damn funny tale of love gone sour “A Fine Romance.” It’s amazing that 77 years later these songs are still playing an active role in pop culture. Don’t believe me? Well, the Nat King Cole recording of Swing Time‘s first number, “Pick Yourself Up,” served as the score to an unforgettable sequence on Breaking Bad last season.

Of course these songs would be nothing without the people who made them famous: Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers who bring a real sense of romance to the film. So, if you want to give your life a little vintage Hollywood class this week, might I suggest watching Swing Time while sipping on a nice Ginger Rogers cocktail? Although the drink’s name is an obvious tribute to the actress-dancer who famously did everything Fred did, but backwards and in high heels, it’s name seems to be more of a commentary on its ingredients. If you like the taste of ginger, then you will probably love this drink.

Ginger Rogers

  • 8 to 12 mint leaves
  • 1/2 ounce ginger simple syrup
  • 1 1/2 ounces Gin
  • 1/2 ounce lime juice
  • ginger ale

Place the mint leaves in the bottom of a Tom Collins glass. Pour the ginger simple syrup in and muddle the syrup and mint together. Fill the glass with ice, then pour in the remaining ingredients, and then top with ginger ale. Stir with a bar spoon and garnish with a lime wedge.

Tomorrow: All hail the King Of Comics!

August 26: The Voice Of God

Don-LaFontaineIn a world of voice artists, one man stood out from the rest. A man with a baritone so powerful, that he was referred to as The Voice Of God. A man who was a Hollywood legend, despite most people not knowing his name or face. A man who made the phrase “In a world…” iconic. That man was Don LaFontaine, born on this day in 1940.

Chances are, you may not know LaFontaine, but you’ve definitely heard his voice. Over his nearly fifty year voice over career, LaFontaine used his dulcet tones to narrate thousands of movie trailers, tv commercials, video game ads, radio spots and even one Academy Awards telecast. LaFontaine got his start in the film industry by writing copy and editing movie trailers and radio ads. In fact, one of his first notable jobs was writing copy for ads for Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.

LaFontaine’s big break came when he was working as a sound engineer and copywriter for the trailer for an MGM western called Gunfighters of Casa Grande. The day that the narration for the trailer was supposed to be recorded, the voice actor who was hired for the job didn’t show up. Presumably someone in the booth turned to LaFontaine and told him to give the narration a try and the rest was history. LaFontaine would go on to do trailers for movies from every genre and from every major movie studio. In addition to being Hollywood’s most in demand SAG member, LaFontaine also helped nurture new talent who had an interest in the voice artist industry. Tragically, LaFontaine died at the age of 68 in 2008. His last performance was as the narrator of an episode of the cartoon Phineas And Ferb. His last line in the episode was, of course, a reference to his iconic catchphrase: “In a world… There. I said it. Happy?”

Would you believe that very few voice actors have cocktails named after themselves? So, I had to think a little bit outside of the box, and went searching for a cocktail that riffed on “In a world…” and came across a recipe for a World Cocktail. This drink is a sweet and exciting mix of several alcohols that will surely be the smash hit of the late summer.

World Cocktail

  • 1/2 ounce Light Rum
  • 1/2 ounce Gin
  • 1/2 ounce Orange Flavored Vodka
  • 1/2 ounce sweet & sour mix
  • 1/2 ounce Blue Curaçao
  • 2 ounces white grape juice

Pour all ingredients into a highball glass with ice and stir.

Tomorrow: A Fine Romance

August 25: Connery, Sean Connery.

Bond MartiniPrior to being cast as Commander James Bond in 1962’s Dr. No, Sean Connery (who celebrates his 83rd birthday today) was just another working actor. He had done some stage work and some films, including a prominent role in Walt Disney’s Darby O’Gill and the Little People, but it was his performance as Bond that catapulted him onto the A-List.

But did you know that Connery wasn’t the first choice for the role of 007? Dr. No producers Harry Saltzman and Albert R. Broccoli initially wanted Cary Grant to play the part, but allegedly Grant would only commit to one picture and the Bond producers were looking for someone who’d be willing to star in a series of films. Many notable actors were considered for the part: Patrick McGoohan (who had previously played a spy on Danger Man, and would later take on a similar role on The Prisoner), David Niven (who would play one of several James Bonds in the pseudo-spoof Casino Royale), and a young actor named Roger Moore (who would take over the role of Bond in 1973’s Live And Let Die).

Eventually, the Daily Express newspaper held a contest to find James Bond. The winner, a model named Peter Anthony, did a screen test for Saltzman, Broccoli and Bond creator Ian Fleming. where it quickly became apparent that Anthony looked the part but could not act it. So, the team tested one of the contest’s runners up, Sean Connery who arrived at the audition scruffy looking and in shabby dress. Despite his appearance, the producers liked Connery’s roguish, devil-may-care spirit and would soon offer him the role. Director Terence Young would take the young actor under his wing, and teach him the ways of Bondian class and style. Fleming was less than impressed with the casting of Connery, saying “I’m looking for Commander Bond and not an overgrown stunt-man.” However he would change his tune after seeing the premier screening of Dr. No, and in later Bond novels Fleming would give the superspy a half-Scottish, half-Swiss heritage.

Oh, one last thing. In 1970 the Saltzman and Broccoli were looking for a new actor to play Bond after On Her Majesty’s Secret Service star George Lazenby quit, or according to other sources fired from, the franchise. Eventually, Connery would be courted back for one more film (1971’s camptastic Diamonds Are Forever), but not before a few other actors were considered for the part…including a now ex-model named Peter Anthony.

So, to honor Sean Connery, there’s really only one drink we can make: The Vesper, created by Commander Bond himself in the novel Casino Royale:

“A dry martini,” he said. “One. In a deep champagne goblet.”
“Oui, monsieur.”
“Just a moment. Three measures of Gordon’s, one of vodka, half a measure of Kina Lillet. Shake it very well until it’s ice-cold, then add a large thin slice of lemon peel. Got it?”
“Certainly, monsieur.” The barman seemed pleased with the idea.

Later on in the book, Bond names the drink after his love interest the mysterious Vesper Lynd. In real life, the Vesper was created by Ian Fleming’s friend Ivar Bryce and Fleming wrote a special note in Bryce’s copy of Casino Royale reading “For Ivar, who mixed the first Vesper and said the good word.” Amusingly enough, although the Vesper (made shaken, not stirred) has become forever associated with Bond, this is the only time in any of Fleming’s novels that he orders the drink.

We have to make two notes about the ingredients: In the sixty years since the publication of Casino Royale, Kina Lillet was reformulated and rebranded as the now fruitier and less bitter Lillet Blanc, so pick up a bottle of Cocchi Americano and use that instead. Gordon’s Gin has also been reformulated in the last sixty years and the original 90 proof gin is no longer available, so if you want your Vesper to taste like Bond’s, track down a 90+ proof gin like Bombay Sapphire.

Vesper

  • 3 ounces Gin (preferably 90 proof)
  • 1 ounce Vodka
  • 1/2 ounce Cocchi Americano aperitif wine

Pour everything into a cocktail shaker and “shake it very well until it’s ice-cold,” strain into a “deep champagne goblet” and “add a thin slice of lemon peel.”

Tomorrow: In a world…

August 24: Pompeii’s Last Day

VesuviusBroad sheets of flame were lighting up many parts of Vesuvius; their light and brightness were the more vivid for the darkness of the night… it was daylight now elsewhere in the world, but there the darkness was darker and thicker than any night. -Pliny The Younger

Today we go way back to 79 CE to mark the anniversary of one of the most famous volcanic events of all time: The eruption of Mount Vesuvius, which led to the burial of the towns of Pompeii and Herculaneum. Most historians believe that the eruption happened on this day in 79, but there is some debate. Namely, some have pointed to the discovery of bodies wearing warmer clothes that would be out of place in late August, which some historians say indicates that the eruption might have happened in the fall.

As both Pompeii and Herculaneum were buried in ash, and there were only a handful of accounts of the eruption, including Pliny the Younger’s quoted above, the towns became forgotten over the ensuing centuries. Some people even began to suspect that the towns were just a myth like the lost city of Atlantis.

It wasn’t until 1599 that the lost towns were rediscovered when workers digging an underground channel to divert the river Sarno dug up some of the ruins. An architect (yes, an architect, not an archeologist) was brought in to help unearth some of the ruins and discovered a fresco that included a wall inscription mentioning the decurio Pompeii, “the town councillor of Pompeii”.  Over the ensuing centuries, the two towns were further excavated, and countless artificats and many surprisingly well preserved fresco were discovered including in one house, a mosaic reading  “Cave canem“. Latin for “Beware of dog.” Oh, and of course the large amount of erotic and fertility themed artwork (Honestly, what else would you expect from Roman Empire?) present in Pompeii has led some nutters to say that the eruption of Vesuvius was divine retribution.

Hopefully, we’ll never see an eruption like that of Vesuvius in our lifetimes, but just to provide some added insurance, why not make a sacrifice to Bacchus, God of Wine and Merry Making by drinking a Vesuvius Cocktail. It’s a grappa based cocktail with citric and herbal notes, a perfect drink for an Italian evening in late August.

Vesuvius Cocktail

  • 1 ounce Grappa
  • 1 ounce Benedictine
  • 1/4 ounce Triple Sec
  • 1/2 ounce lemon juice

Combine in a mixing glass with ice, stir and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

Tomorrow: Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang

August 23: Gene Kelly’s Birthday

KELLY, GENEDuring the Golden Age of Hollywood, film goers were frequently treated to performances by two of history’s greatest dancers: Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly, the latter of whom was born on this day in 1912.  Now, while Astaire brought the ballroom to the big screen, it was Kelly who was was both the superior actor and the more adventurous dancer.

Kelly tried to make dancing more accessible to everyone. Rather than sticking with traditional ballroom, his choreography drew from a wide variety of influences including ballet, tap, folk, jazz and modernist styles and sometimes light touches of slapstick or martial arts. Rather than adopting the formal wear worn by previous generations of dancer, Kelly danced in the outfit of the common man: suits, t-shirts and slacks with loafers and even the occasional sailor suit in lieu of the traditional top hat and tails. Kelly also aimed to create a more athletic approach to dance, trying to show the discipline was not too far removed from the world of sports.  As Kelly once said, “There’s a strong link between sports and dancing, and my own dancing springs from my early days as an athlete…I think dancing is a man’s game and if he does it well he does it better than a woman.”

Aside from what he did on camera, Kelly made huge innovations behind the camera too. Whereas in the past, cinematic dance photography was limited to shots that largely didn’t move, Kelly decided to make the camera a partner in dance, creating choreography that moved around the film set leaving the camera to follow the dancer in constant motion. Kelly was constantly looking for a new trick, sometimes it would be a novel idea for choreography (dancing in puddles in the title number from Singin’ In The Rain, combining tap with roller skating while singing “I Like Myself” in It’s Always Fair Weather) and sometimes it would be a new cinematic technique (dancing with his mirror image in Cover Girl or with the cartoon duo Tom & Jerry in Anchors Away).

However, as great as all that innovation was, the best thing about Kelly was that in every one of his performances you can tell that this was a man who loved his work. He made dancing look effortless, and even in his last role, in the otherwise dreadful Xanadu, Kelly looks like he was having the time of his life. All the joy of a Kelly performance can be seen in his trademark smile, easily the best grin in cinema history: warm, inviting and a little mischievous, as if he’s saying “Hi, thanks for coming out, we’re going to have a lot of fun tonight.”

Unlike Kelly, you might need a drink or two to make you a better dancer. If that’s the case, I recommend a drink named after what’s probably his second best known film, An American In Paris. It’s a French spin on the classic Manhattan (Really it should be called a Frenchman in New York, but I digress.) which throws the sweet blackcurrant liqueur crème de cassis into the traditional Manhattan mix. It’s a graceful drink with a masculine edge, not unlike Gene Kelly.

An American In Paris

  • 1½ ounces Whiskey
  • ½ ounce Crème De Cassis
  • ½ ounce Dry Vermouth
  • ½ teaspoon lemon juice

Combine in a cocktail shaker with ice and shake, strain into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with a lemon slice.

Tomorrow: “Pompeii’s nice if you want to make a vacation of it though. But you gotta set your alarm for Volcano Day.”

August 22: Dorothy Parker’s Birthday

Dorothy Parker“Everything I’ve ever said will be credited to Dorothy Parker.” -George S. Kaufman

Dorothy Parker, the legendary wit, writer, drinker and critic who helped set the tone for the Roaring Twenties was born on this day in 1893. Parker was one of the sharpest tongues of the 1920s, able to produce a one liner or witticism quicker than anyone.

Parker began her literary career in the mid-1910s as a writer for Condé Nast’s Vogue and Vanity Fair. In 1918, she was named Vanity Fair‘s theater critic. However, her often sarcastic reviews of mediocre plays would lead theatrical promoters to pressure Vanity Fair to fire her. Eventually, the magazine woul give in and sack Parker in 1920. Two of her close friends and fellow Vanity Fair writers Robert Benchley and Robert E. Sherwood would quit the magazine in protest of her firing. Obviously, in those days you could leave a publication and be safe in the knowledge that another one would be willing to hire you.

It was during these early years at Vanity Fair that Parker, Benchly and Sherwood began their decade-long lunch at the Algonquin Hotel. The regular lunch date would evolve into “the Algonquin Round Table,” a group of some of jazz age New York’s cleverest writers, critics and actors who would meet at the hotel for a lunch filled with anecdotes and battles of wits. Many of the members would feature the exploits of the Round Table in their newspaper columns, leading to Parker and her friends gaining a national reputation as great wits. That reputation was so great that in 1925 when Harold Ross started up a new magazine called The New Yorker, Ross invited Parker and Benchly to serve on the magazine’s board of editors because he knew potential investors and readers would be drawn to those two writers prose.

Parker would continue to write for many leading publications until her death in 1967. A long time supporter of civil rights, Parker left her entire estate to the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. foundation.

Before we get to today’s drink, I should address one of the many quotes attributed to Parker, in fact perhaps the best known fake Parker quote. As she was one of the world’s leading wits, many funny (and not so funny) quips have been attributed to Parker. One of these is a brief poem that goes as follows:

I like to have a martini,
Two at the very most.
After three I’m under the table,
After four I’m under my host.

Parker was a big drinker, so it would make sense for her to craft a line like this, but some have speculated that this is not a Parker line. Although there are reports that upon being asked how she enjoyed a cocktail party she recently attended, Parker might have responded by saying “Enjoyed it? One more drink and I’d have been under the host!” In fact, the earliest known publication of a variation on this poem was in a 1959 issue of The Harlequin, a humor magazine published at the University of Virginia. Amusingly enough, even Parker was sick of all the quotes people claimed she said, saying “I hardly say any of those clever things that are attributed to me. I wouldn’t have time to earn a living if I said all those things.”

Now, you may be asking, is there a Dorothy Parker cocktail? Well, of course there is! It is my understanding that Parker preferred drinking scotch and gin, but sadly this is a vodka drink. The Dorothy Parker comes from San Francisco restaurant Town Hall, and is a slight twist on the original Cosmopolitan, which was a much stronger drink than the modern Cosmo. Whereas the modern version of that drink mixes lemon vodka with triple sec and the juices of limes and cranberries, the original Cosmopolitan used gin, triple sec, lemon juice and raspberry syrup. The Dorothy Parker on the other hand calls for lemon vodka, triple sec, Chambord raspberry liqueur, lemon juice and a bit of champagne. I personally suggest exhanging gin for the lemon vodka to make it more like something Parker would drink.

Dorothy Parker

  • 1 1/2 ounces Lemon Vodka (or Gin)
  • 1/2 ounce Triple Sec
  • 1/4 ounce Chambord
  • 1/2 ounce lemon juice

Shake in a cocktail shaker with ice, and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Top with champagne and serve.

Tomorrow: What a glorious feelin’, I’m happy again.