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Saturday, 29 September 2012


Stereographs from the 1931 Colonial Exposition in Paris.

"Colonization is legitimate. It is beneficial. These are the truths that are inscribed on the walls of the pavilions at the Bois de Vincennes."
Marcel Olivier, Delegate general to the 1931 Colonial Exposition

It was the last, and if size means anything the greatest colonial exposition, and it was in Paris in 1931, which was fitting because the French had really invented the idea of the world fair devoted to colonial power and all that entailed; civilization, power, human zoos. Spread across the 1000 hectares of the Bois de Vincennes, Parisians called it Lyauteyville after Marshall Hubert Lyautey, who ran the whole show and knew a bit about colonialism having served in Algeria and Indochina, led the 1902 invasion of Madagascar and been Governor of Morocco for some thirteen years. The nickname is revealing. Outside of the military Lyautey was considered as something between an imperialist throwback and a megalomaniac. He never hid his political belief; he would die in three years but not before boasting he was on the verge of overthrowing the socialist government with his cadre of young fascists. You could say he was the perfect man for the job of running the exposition.

The key to success for any world’s fair lay in its architecture. It was the expression of everything the event stood for. Pushed for time and money, the directors of the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago made the sudden decision to render all the buildings white. Knowing nothing of their motives, visitors were astonished at how modern and visionary everything looked. Each expo had to have its centrepiece, the Crystal Palace in London in 1851, the Eiffel Tower at Paris in 1889 and the Colonial Exposition would have its own, a seventeen metre high cascading fountain built of steel that was soon labelled ‘le cactus’.  That single nod to the 20th century aside, Paris’s leading architectural firms were called on to built faithful copies, of grand monuments such as Angkor Wat but mostly more traditional structures such as a Buddhist temple, a mosque or a street in Tunisia. You can come up with a few reasons why that was but you can’t discount lack of imagination. The effect wasn’t that different from the claims made for early stereographs; you didn’t have to go to Senegal or Laos to experience it. Of course you couldn’t smell Senegal or feel the tropical heat of Laos but you weren’t going to catch blackwater fever either.

By 1931 colonialism was a disreputable word across Europe. You could thank King Leopold of Belgium for that; no other single person did so much to stain the concept, but World War 1 had also made a lot of people aware of how rotten the heart of the aristocracy was, and now the international economy had collapsed it didn’t take complicated arithmetic to work out that the loudest supporters of empire were also responsible for the mess the continent was in. The French Communist Party reasoned it could respond to the Expo with its own it called La Verité sur les Colonies. It turned out to be only a little more popular with the general public that it was with the authorities. That may have been because instead of fake Asian temples, exotic dancers, food stalls and bars it would run a series of panels and lectures dedicated to racism, slavery and other forms of exploitation. What humour the left had was provided by L’Humanité, the only Parisian newspaper consistently critical of the expo. It published heavy handed cartoons showing Lyautey on display in a cage and a circus woman standing over the expo entrance, a guillotine. The African and Asian students liked the idea of an alternative expo but the government jailed most of their leaders until the real one was over. Another problem was that La Verité sur les Colonies was getting a lot of its funding from the Soviets so it was inclined praise the workers’ paradise while ignoring reports of Siberian labour camps. All up it was dismissed as a failure, except by a group of African and Vietnamese students who came away convinced that the future for their countries lay in Marxist theory.

Meanwhile back in the real world, or what passed for that in the Bois de Vincennes, the architects had discovered that it wasn’t so easy to build faithful replicas. Size was an issue; some great monuments – Angkor Wat was one – would have swallowed up most of the park grounds while others couldn’t be accurately reproduced without resorting to construction methods that were either lost to time or required such attention to detail that the buildings wouldn’t be finished until long after the expo had also faded from living memory. In the end it would become a compromise; sun baked mud replaced with quick drying plaster and intricate sculpturing with readymade moulds. It wasn’t a complete disaster. The Tunisian village was given a careful patina of decayed and crumbling brickwork and if the Parisians let themselves they could just about imagine they were in North Africa; just about because as every architect knows a city is made of people and the Tunisians in this village were for display purposes only.

One of the visitors during the opening weeks was the Belgian cartoonist Georges Remi, there with his parents and his girlfriend who constantly moped because he was more interested in sketching than paying attention to her. As Hergé, Remi was barely known outside of Belgium but his second Tintin adventure, Tintin au Congo, was just weeks away from publication in Le Petit Vingtième. It was too late then for any claims the expo had any influence on Tintin au Congo but it would have its effect for years afterwards. The sketches weren’t a waste of time. As Tintin flew around Asia, the Middle East and Africa they would provide the basis for street scenes and buildings, Hergé instinctively knowing we’re inclined to recognize something authentic in the fake while the real often disappoints.
In the 1970s Hergé would confess his depictions of Africans were naïve (not in time to stop the book being banned in British libraries) but after June 1931 any French or Belgian boy visiting the expo had his impressions of Africa from Tintin au Congo confirmed.

For Lyautey and his committee the expo was intended to be proof that colonialism was a mutually beneficial transaction. We took the minerals and the agricultural products but we gave back education and modernization. That was an argument the communists could have shot down without trying, but they wouldn’t necessarily win public sympathy. Colonialism might have brought to mind images of slavery but empire was a word that could still get people standing to attention with their hands over their hearts. You can see all of that in the cyanotype stereographs taken of the expo at night. They transform ancient ruins into 20th century monuments; Had Angkor Wat ever looked this spectacular? For sure, nobody who actually lived there ever saw it lit up against a backdrop of searchlights.

One another thing about these photos: according to reports the expo was pulling in crowds of 60 000 a day. So where are all the people?

1931 Colonial Exposition, Paris

Friday, 21 September 2012


“I like America, just as everybody else does. I love America, I gotta say that. But America will be judged.”
Bob Dylan

It’s only 500 words long but it may be one of the best pieces of journalism produced in America in the 19th century. Every sentence holds a precious revelation about human nature that takes us to places Hawthorne, Thoreau and Whitman (but not Poe) scarcely dared imagine. Since returning from the South Seas where he lived among cannibals, (as one did in those times) Otis Massachusetts resident Edward Hazard has scratched a living as a carny attraction, thrilling his audience when he remarks that he still has “a yearning for roast baby”. Now he has been sentenced to a month’s jail for raiding an old neighbour’s pork barrel. Hazard is unrepentant when a local farmer sneers, “Yer’d better have stuck to man meat and let the pork alone.” “I wouldn’t want to chew your tough old carkiss,” he snarls back. You can hear the tobacco juice thud on the sawdusted floor. “Only five cents to see the oldest cannibal in Berkshire County”, the placard outside his tent reads, reminding us in its unassuming way that there are several other human flesh eaters out there in the Massachusetts woods. That world is long gone now and when you read this article think of the line Jack Nicholson’s character George Hansen came out with in Easy Rider.  You know, this used to be a helluva good country. I can't understand what's gone wrong with it.”
The man above is not Edward Hazard but it isn’t hard to believe it could be. Sometimes it seems there is hardly a portrait of a 19th century American who doesn’t look like a hell raising Baptist, a liquor crazed assassin or some other fanatic.  

 In the 19th century the US was a wonderful place to be religious. The only restrictions on belief were what your denomination placed on them and if you disagreed with those you could always stat your own church. Hundreds did, including John Noyes. The Oneida community he established in the late 1830s (contemporaneously with Mormonism) is famous for two things. One was its doctrine on sexual practices, a litany of codes of conduct that included ‘complex marriage’ wherein every man in the community was married to every woman and two people could not live together exclusively without a third’s permission. ‘Male Continence’ required that men should not ejaculate inside women, an idea that stemmed from Noyes’ wife Harriet delivering several stillborn children and his subsequent notion that he had wasted a fair bit of seed in the process. “Ascending Fellowship’ was the most dubious. Younger members had to learn the distinction between sex and love ad one way was to introduce virgins to other members ‘closer to God’, that is, older. It meant of course that older men in the community had their choice of virgin girls though the older women were expected to break in the boys. By the 1880s the communities scattered across the north east of the USA had started to fracture and one tried and tested American way to reunite them was to form a joint stock company, so Oneida Inc was formed, becoming famous throughout the US as the manufacturer of silverware and cheap ceramics. Later it branched into garden furniture.
Given the proliferation of heretical, communistic, free love sects blossoming across America in the 1840s and 50s, you might think Catholicism was regarded as fairly staid, yet no other denomination was regarded with greater suspicion or had as many rumours of dark practices attached to it. The girls in this tintype were either photographed in Maine or in Canada, in which case they’d most likely either be of Irish or French descent.  

 The newspapers of the late 19th century are full of news stories of people going mad on their wedding night, brawling with the in-laws, with jealous suitors and literally in Adam Symes’ case. In January 1879 he married Jennie Graham after what to all appearances had been a normal engagement. Around 11 the wedding party broke up and the newly titled Mr and Mrs Symes went to bed. About an hour later Adam Symes left the house, only partly dressed (whatever precisely that means, but it was mid-winter) and wasn’t seen till Sunday, five days later, when the owners of a hotel in a nearby village brought him home. He had no recollection of being married and didn’t recognize his wife. The next stop was the asylum.
A slower fuse burned in Uriah Wales’ brain. After his wife made a joke about his church, the Free Christians, he announced that he would not speak to her until she’d ‘seen the error of her ways’.  From then on all correspondence was conducted with their son as the go-between. Ten years later Wales was in church when his wife entered, walked to the front and announced, ‘I do not believe any man who is truly religious can ignore his wife for ten years. Uriah, get down on your knees, be awakened to the error of your ways and ask forgiveness for your sins.” Shocked, or embarrassed, Wales ran out and wasn’t seen by anyone until the next Sunday when he suddenly appeared at the church door, walked down the aisle and embraced his wife. “The Lord has forgiven all,” he announced. ”And I am a Christian at last.” Good to hear.
Maybe the humour has dated but 120 years ago people laughed at the same things we do, especially marriage. He has been off to the Married Men’s Club. Such places still exist, mostly it seems as support groups, that is, in complete agreement with, men who want to have affairs or spend a few guilt free hours at a strip club.

 Cupid looks on approvingly as she burns an impressive stack of letters. Was this an actual ritual back then? The peculiarities of marriage make you think it may have been.
Heartbroken at the news the boy she was betrothed to had been killed at the battle of Wilson’s Creek, the girl took to her room with a chicken as her only companion. They ate meals off the same plate and her family overheard her having long conversations with it. Somehow – the newspapers skipped over this bit - a dog killed the bird. Thereafter she sat by the window, refusing to speak to her family or take food, and stared out the window at the clouds.
A few years later Elizabeth Krehber, 20, appeared before a magistrate in Brooklyn claiming her husband had beaten her. When the husband, Christian Krehber, appeared to answer the allegations an alternative story emerged. Mr Krehber, 75, said he had arranged for the marriage with a certain Caspar, peddler and occasional bride finder. Christian at least confirmed Elizabeth’s assertion the marriage was not happy. He stated that she frequently beat him about the head, once with an axe. She also broke one of his fingers.

On April 19 1897 Kansas farmer Alexander Hamilton added his story to the hundreds of other reports of the strange aircraft seen over the plains in the last year. Most witnesses had played it down, describing a ubiquitous cigar shaped machine that did little more than emit a loud hum and scare the livestock, but Hamilton claimed he’d seen one of the occupants lean out, lasso one of his heifers and haul it on board. The dead animal was discovered on a neighbour’s property the next day, with no hoof-prints nearby. The problem was – this came out much later – Hamilton belonged to a liars’ club. He and his pals passed the time in the general store making up tall tales, which says something about the dearth of entertainments available in those times. Go forward six years and another from those parts, William Martin, began producing real photo postcards of giant corn-cobs, potatoes, apples, rabbits and locusts. The same down-home sense of humour intended to raise the same dry chuckles, but Martin can be credited with helping to create an indigenous vernacular. In a few years exaggeration postcards like his would be all over the Midwest.   
The real mystery of the 1896 – 97 UFO sightings incidentally is who was flying a powered dirigible over the Midwest of the US and why did he keep his identity hidden. Aeronauts already acknowledged that such a vehicle was feasible and whoever first successfully built one stood to become rich. 

 What did Americans think of that land above the 60˚ parallel? Canadians did burn down the White House in 1812, which no doubt left some with a grudge that would live on through the generations (technically speaking it was the British but they came from across the border), and they spoke French up there, which was reason enough not to trust them, but mostly you think the country itself was considered a vast wasteland of snow and forest, until gold was discovered on the Klondike River in 1895. The Yukon was probably the worst place in the world to find gold; officially the climate is considered sub-arctic, but that only means it could hit lows of -50˚ in the winter while the summers were short, brutally humid and infested with mosquitoes and black flies. So what inspired a group of New York women from the city’s wealthiest and most notable families to establish the Woman’s Klondike Expedition Syndicate in 1897? You might want to think they had a grand dream for women to seize the control of capital but the scheme involved travelling by Pullman coach across the US, by steamer to arrive in Dawson City then leave for the goldfields in a series of supremely outfitted horse drawn vans complete with sleeping quarters and wait-staff. Before leaving New York the women were expected to buy some of their own provisions including a small pillow and two corduroy dresses lined with flannel. “This expedition,” the prospectus read, “goes out in the early Spring, thoroughly equipped and bounteously provisioned.” Among the crew would be a surgeon, an assayer and a photographer. Somehow, but you have to say not surprisingly, the Woman’s Klondike Expedition Syndicate quietly disappeared from the news pages.
Whoever produced this postcard ignored one of Martin’s essential rules. You weren’t seriously meant to think his images were genuine but you were expected to wonder why they looked like they were.

 See Niagara Falls and die. A lot did, some accidentally though you wouldn’t say by chance when their barrel smashed on the rocks below, while others were drowned attempting to navigate the whirlpools in a reckless effort to get as close to the cascades as possible. But Niagara Falls was also a favoured destination for suicides. This is understandable; anyone who leaped from the top knew they couldn’t survive. The odd thing is that to get to the Falls from Toronto or New York, where most of the suicides came from, required time, money and effort, three things likely to dissuade any but the most determined. Niagara Falls was a very public place to do yourself in. At any time of the year it was full of sightseers so suicide was an exhibition, a display of revenge against a world that had disappointed. No real surprises then that most jumped with a broken heart. Nothing else is so likely to make sensitive souls feel that the world is against them.
No surprise either that Niagara Falls was the honeymoon capital of North America. What could be more romantic than facing nature’s awesome power while holding the hand of your new spouse? Where else could you experience the sheer magnitude of your life-changing decision so viscerally? What’s a little hard to understand then is why so many honeymooners chose to be photographed in a studio with the Falls as a painted backdrop when the real thing was just metres away? It would be considered very peculiar today to travel to Niagara Falls and be photographed against a studio prop. Back then the photographer’s studio was an essential stop of the honeymooners’ itinerary.

 He looks like the culprit behind this story reported in 1872 – long before he was born, but that’s not important. At a school picnic in Idaho a boy kills a snake, species unspecified, and wraps it around a girl’s neck. She screams, understandably, and can’t be consoled, throwing a dampener on the event. A week later however she seems to have recovered and leaves her house. On the street she meets the boy, is convulsed with panic and drops dead.
But he called also be the boy known only as Jaggers. Offended that he was asked to donate money for the hungry children of India, he reasoned that their life was better than his. He after all didn’t have the opportunity to hunt tigers or go about all day dressed in nothing more than a loincloth. Gathering ten of his school friends together, he had them to dress in rags and coat themselves in coal dust then they marched to Sunday School where he announced that he was founding a new religion and the Christians ought to donate to their charity. A severe caning was enough to persuade him to fear the Lord.

We – non-Americans, that is – still think America is strange but when we say that these days it’s usually with the implication that something has gone wrong, or been lost. The carnival sideshow is a thing of the past. You have to be in your fifties to remember an actual half man/half woman, boxing tents and girlie shows, and a bit older than that to recall a time when you couldn’t leave the grounds without having your photo taken in a studio car, boat or plane. People will say that the freaks moved out of the sideshow and into the streets but America staked its credibility on being open to outsiders, and excess, so no one was too surprised to hear of cannibals living in the Massachusetts forest and to make your new religion work you had to sell notions that were far fetched enough to convince some you couldn’t be making it up. Look at the faces of these two. This is the stuff that has really been lost, a belief in the power of innocence.


Saturday, 1 September 2012


Hollywood in the 1920s
 “We didn't need dialogue. We had faces!”
Gloria Swanson as Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard, 1950

 There are people who insist that the 1920s were Hollywood’s first and last golden age and everything that came after was an anticlimax. They aren’t talking about the films, a lot of which are now unwatchable except as curiosities, (Seriously, who actually laughs at Charlie Chaplin films these days?) but the stars. Hollywood’s concept of glamour was still evolving and it fell to the stars to set the rules. They didn’t have a Hays Code to impose a sterile creativity on films, the gossip magazines didn’t intrude deeply into private lives except through very subtle innuendo and it was still possible to be scandalous. A woman who smoked, drank and went through several husbands in as many years was dangerous, in a glamorous way of talking.  
Gloria Swanson’s most famous role was as Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard, where she played the public persona of Gloria Swanson the silent movie goddess; isolated, imperious and trapped in a fantasy entirely constructed by popular culture. “I am big. It's the pictures that got small,” she says with something between a sniff and a snarl. Perhaps, but as Sunset Boulevard made plain, worshipping the past is another way of consigning it to oblivion.

 What’s left to say about this man? No other actor from the silent era has had his mythology analysed in such minute detail and by corollary, the known facts about his life. Still, when you look at his films now the effect they had at the time becomes a wonder. Was it really true that women fainted in their seats when he batted his eyelids on screen? Watch one of his films now and it’s not mere cynicism to think that says less about Valentino’s screen presence than it does about a psychic emptiness in American women’s lives. And suddenly it makes sense that a generation on, their daughters needed to swallow a handful of pills just to push a shopping trolley down an aisle.

 Speaking of oblivion and lost classics (which we are) Kenneth Anger’s Hollywood Babylon was once essential reading and still ought to be. Written in a tone of bitchy mock outrage, it wallowed joyously in the sordid gossip we might have missed. Here’s one story Anger didn’t cover but only because it came to light after the book was published. At the beginning of the 1930s Howard Hughes and Billie Dove were an item until he suddenly called things off. People speculated – he was one of the world’s richest men, she considered the world’s most popular actress - but neither Hughes nor Dove made any public comment. Some time after disease obsessed Hughes’ grotesque death in 1976 a friend named William Haines spilled the juice. One weekend golf pro (We’ll get to that.) Roy Wilder told Hughes that he had been treated for the pox, the next weekend Hughes discovered Wilder and Dove testing the suspension in the back of his Rolls Royce saloon. He – Hughes - swore never to touch the actress again. What does this story tell us? Well, it’s revealing that Dove’s infidelity bothered Hughes’ neurosis more than his emotions - how very Hollywood - and interesting, I suppose, that behind the glamorous façade of their relationship, Dove needed more than the man who had everything could give her. And then there is the golf pro. In the depths of the Depression some men could do quite well for themselves without having what anyone else would call a real job. That’s heartening. But what’s really telling is that when the ‘truth’ finally comes to light we’re mostly unimpressed. It seems trivial. Are we really more sophisticated or just inured by decades of trashy behaviour by the glamorous elite?
Here’s another detail about Billie Dove. When Harlem jazz singer Eleanor Harris needed a pseudonym she took the first name of her favourite actress and her acknowledged father’s surname and became Billie Holiday. If you ever had to sum up the image of America in the 1920s with a single photo, this one of Billie Dove would suffice. Tackily glamorous, ditzy and excessive, a woman who doesn’t have time to stop and think, forget about settling down. Odd really that she is almost forgotten these days.

 If you were white and had a gift, Hollywood had a place for you. It didn’t care where you came from. One of the rewards of becoming heavyweight champion was that studios would quickly turn up offering a handsome cheque for a film guaranteed to be forgotten within days of its release. Jack Dempsey’s credits include KO for Cupid, Society Knockout and Health Farm Wallop, though the clips available for The Prizefighter and the Lady suggest he wasn’t just a monosyllabic piece of window dressing. Throughout his reign as champion he was close to Hollywood, having married Estelle Taylor who appeared in films such as The Ten Commandments and The Whip Woman (The plot doesn’t meet expectations). This Ross Card is dated between 1925 and 1926, when Dempsey was touring Europe. You can guess the photographer was German. The Americans preferred Dempsey to look fierce and unkempt and wouldn’t have approved of their hero with slick backed hair and in evening clothes.

 The Sheik (and his son) was just one of dozens of oriental fantasies produced during the silent era but it was also the most popular, generating parodies from the moment it was released. In 1927 Bebe Daniels starred in She’s a Sheik, which only slightly changed the standard plotline of a beautiful woman needing rescuing from a desert tent Like several other actresses here she started out very young, playing her first role before the cameras when she was seven and appeared alongside Harold Lloyd in some of his comedies when she was fourteen. Her career was erratic, dropped by a studio and picked up by another that made her a star again before interest waned and another studio came along. In 1921 she was briefly jailed for accumulating unpaid speeding fines and on her release made The Speed Girl, about a woman whose love of fast cars couldn’t be restrained by the law. Press photos show an orchestra serenading Ms Daniels from outside her cell.

 When Drew Barrymore started going off the deep end in the 1990s gossip columnists were relatively gentle - gossip columnists being the type who watch a car crash and shout, ‘someone should call an ambulance!’ - because, they reminded us, she was John Barrymore’s grand-daughter, so what did you expect? Barrymore (John) was a notorious drunk in an era when it was still possible to eke out a little sympathy and be acclaimed as a genius by excess in itself, but was he a great actor? Well he was one of the first who was identified by playing Shakespearean roles on film, even if those films are usually and wisely brushed off as pretty ordinary. Barrymore’s decline was rapid and has been blamed on tainted bootleg liquor he drank during Prohibition. His most infamous role was played after his death when someone stole his body from the funeral home and planted it in his old buddy Errol Flynn’s house. It’s another one of those stories with so many culprits sworn to by so many ‘who were there’ that it begins to sound like you couldn’t care less. 

 Speaking of Hollywood Babylon, this brings us to Clara Bow and a story that in 1927 she bedded the entire University of Southern California football team including one Marion Morrison, who for obvious reasons would change his name to John Wayne. During her relatively brief acting career Clara Bow was the subject of an encyclopaedia’s worth of sex rumours; the football team story seems one of the mildest. Why? It seems she never cared too much for Hollywood’s pretensions or her public image. She was an early sex symbol but of a particular kind; frank and down to earth without much hint of feminine weakness. In other words, the all American girl was capable of expressing her own sexuality. That, you think, is what really offended certain sensibilities.  

 While John Wayne was still running up and down a football pitch, in the 1920s there were two great stars of the western, Tom Mix and Hoot Gibson, and both could claim to have been real cowboys, or as close as a man could get without wearing a six gun and a tin star. Gibson had been a champion rodeo rider before heading to Hollywood with the idea of becoming a stuntman. Soon enough he was starring in such forgotten films as The Four Bit Man, The Rattler’s Hiss, Ridin’ Wild and 40 Horse Hawkins. When John Ford was just starting out as a director, Hoot Gibson was one of his preferred actors. Even though Gibson made a relatively straight transition to sound, Ford discovered Wayne, who had everything Gibson did save the authentic background.

 Clara Bow and John Wayne in a sweaty locker room, John Barrymore’s corpse in Errol Flynn’s living room, Gloria Swanson going through husbands like they were cheeses in a Parisian fromagerie; thank the lord for Mary Pickford, who bought some dignity and taste to the scene. Her star burned as brightly as Bow’s, she was equal in her independence and set on getting things her way yet was protected from gossip and manufactured scandal. If you are wondering why, this photo says a lot. Does she look like the type to take on a football team? Stories suggest she wasn’t quite the ever gracious and elegant society queen she was portrayed as but like Bill Clinton and John Gotti she was adept at deflecting her accusers.

 And speaking of political leaders with squalid reputations, and Italian crime bosses, this brings us to Anita Page. One measurement of a star’s value was the amount of fan mail received each week and at the end of the 1920s Page was getting it by the truckload. One of her most ardent worshippers was Italian Prime Minister Benito Mussolini. Though Page responded to his letters and received an offer of marriage, it soon became inappropriate for her publicity machine and she was asked to stop. Mussolini didn’t however and it later emerged that Page’s mother was regularly sending him signed photographs, no doubt hoping her daughter would marry into power and respectability. But this is not the strangest story of Page’s life. In 1933 she retired from acting – she was 23 years old – and quickly vanished from public consciousness, until 1996 when she started appearing in a series of trashy horror films. Journalists lined up to interview one of the last surviving actors of the silent age and she was happy to oblige. Now in her nineties, cocooned in an LA bungalow, attended to by a retinue of pretty gay actors and wrapped in 1920s gowns, she was Norma Desmond in the flesh.