Julius LeBlanc Stewart, whose work I discovered via Femme Femme Femme, was an American artist who studied and worked mostly in Europe.  He was a pupil of Jean-Léon Gérôme and Raimundo de Madrazo.  He absorbed Gérôme's technical skills, to a degree, but generally followed de Madrazo in his choice of subjects, contemporary interiors and portraits, mostly of women, that usually featured a sensual treatment of fabrics.  These portraits remind one strongly of John Singer Sargent's and are often very fine:

Stewart, like Sargent, was a late Victorian — he lived until 1919 — and like Sargent was attracted to the free brush-strokes of the Impressionists, always allied, however, with a rigorous academic draftsmanship and a concern for the evocation of space for dramatic effects.

Like many Victorian academic painters, Stewart sketched very freely, with an eye to the surface effects of paint on canvas, preserved in a limited way in the more finished work he exhibited.  Degas struck a different balance between sketch and “finish”, but the dynamic was exactly the same.  Below is a Stewart sketch:

He did a series of nudes in outdoor settings that evoked mythological subjects, but only
nominally.  They have the frankness and the contemporary feel of Anders Zorn's very similar scenes:

Like Tissot, Stewart loved the spatial dramatics of figures on ships, as with the painting at the head of this post.

The late Victorians influenced by Impressionism but still not seduced away from academic formalism constitute a fascinating group, though Sargent is the only one of them who has any kind of reputation today, alas.


In my earlier post on the film version of The Subterraneans, I suggested that its producer Arthur Freed was probably attracted to Kerouac's novel because it offered him a chance to do a modern-day version of La Bohème, with modern-day music, specifically the be-bop jazz that so inspired Kerouac and the people he wrote about in the book.  I can't imagine that Freed himself was much inspired by be-bop, but he had a collaborator at MGM who was, in the person of André Previn.  Previn had recently been the musical supervisor on Gigi, Freed's last great conventional musical, but also performed progressive jazz as a pianist with small combos in clubs.  He was someone who could bridge the gap, musically at least, between the Freed unit at MGM and the world of the beats.

On one level it was a canny commercial calculation.  Twenty-eight years later playwright Billy Aronson had the idea of doing a contemporary musical based on La Bohème and began collaborating with composer Jonathan Larson on what became Rent, one of the most successful musicals in Broadway history.

The difference between the The Subterraneans and Rent was that Rent was written, eventually almost entirely by Larson, from inside a modern Bohemia, as Kerouac's novel was.  Larson was employed as a waiter in a diner in downtown Manhattan while he worked on the play and Kerouac was pretty much perennially beat, even when he became famous, mostly due to his heavy drinking.

The film version of The Subterraneans, by contrast, was written from the outside looking in — it simply reeked of inauthenticity.

This is a bit surprising, since the script's credited author was Robert Thom (above), who went on to achieve a kind of immortality as the writer of several cult-movie classics, including Roger Corman's Crazy Mama and Death Race 2000.  He had a wild, transgressive vision, much like Kerouac's, and it's odd that he was so tone-deaf to Kerouac's voice and milieu.

Perhaps Thom was heavily rewritten, but in any case the result was dreadful.  Kerouac's (and Puccini's) tragedy was given a happy ending, and Kerouac's interracial couple was transformed into an international couple, the Mardou Fox of the novel, half black and half American-Indian, becoming the exotically French Leslie Caron.

Those changes alone wouldn't have been necessarily fatal — the real disgrace was that the actors were given preposterous cornball pseudo-beat poetic lines to spout — lines that would have made Kerouac gag, and that branded the film as irredeemably square . . . irredeemable even by the music, which is quite wonderful.

Sarah Vaugn and Gerry Mulligan and Previn himself appear as performers on-screen, and Previn's underscoring has a plausible jazz feel, fresh and original.  (A soundtrack album, below, was released on LP and is now available, with additional material, on CD.)

The rest of the film is just an embarrassing reminder of what might have been.

You have to give Freed some credit, though, for ambition and intuition, if nothing else.  He knew a good idea when he saw it — a radical one for its time — even if, in this case, he didn't quite know how to pull it off.


This is the beginning of Milt Caniff's comic-strip masterpiece and he was just starting to flex his muscles as a visual stylist, but check out the sudden shift to the night-time silhouette of Terry at the end of this Sunday page and the three dynamic panels that follow it.  They have the rhythm and surprise of a well-edited shot sequence in a movie, ending in the beautiful but vaguely ominous overhead view of the junks heading for their fateful rendezvous with the steamer.

It's brilliant stuff.

More to come.


On Patrick's Day I wrote about Mick Moloney's wonderful album of Harrigan and Braham songs, McNally's Row of Flats.  (You can buy it here, and you should.)

I hear from the artist that a follow-up album is due out in October, called If It Wasn't For the Irish and the Jews, covering songs from later in Edward Harrigan's extraordinary career as a creator of musical shows.

I can't wait!


As a producer, Arthur Freed worked to strike a balance between old-fashioned show-business values, which he revered, and formal innovations which would keep those values alive and accessible to contemporary audiences.  When he swung too far towards innovation he produced what might be called “interesting failures” — like Yolanda and the Thief, for example.

One of his most interesting, and most reviled, failures was The Subterraneans, from 1960 — the first Hollywood film ever made from a Jack Kerouac novel.

Kerouac wrote the novel in three days in the early Fifties and couldn't get it published for several years.  It eventually emerged above-ground as a 35-cent Avon paperback original.  It got a drubbing from critics but apparently sold well enough.   We think of Kerouac as an avant-garde artist today, forgetting that On the Road was a national best-seller.  In the Fifties he wasn't necessarily thought of as an “uncommercial” artist.

Still, it's easy to see why The Subterraneans scared off publishers and annoyed critics — it reads like a novel written in three days, which has its advantages and disadvantages.  On the one hand it has the hurtling energy of a great jazz improvisation.  On the other hand it's messy, uneven and often self-indulgent.  Even Charlie Parker never tried to improvise a solo for three days running.

You might well ask what Freed, a producer of MGM musicals, the creator of Meet Me In St. Louis, saw in this material, but the answers are actually fairly obvious.  For one thing, he saw La Bohème.  The story and setting of Kerouac's novel, consciously or unconsciously, mirror the story and setting of Puccini's opera, a show-biz perennial.  Kerouac wrote an obliquely romantic tale of doomed loved among modern Bohemians — the “subterraneans” of Frisco in the Fifties, a particular clique of beats.

For another thing, Kerouac's book, like the subterraneans he wrote about, was obsessed with be-bop jazz, which suggested musical possibilities for the film.  It was never planned as a musical, per se, but it featured on-screen performances by some high-powered West-Coast jazz musicians and a jazz-inflected score by André Previn.

A genuine wunderkind, Previn was part of the Freed unit at MGM.  He could do conventional arranging and composing for musicals in the MGM house style, but was also attracted to contemporary jazz.  As a pianist he performed progressive jazz himself, quite respectably, in club settings very like the ones depicted in The Subterraneans.  (Previn actually appears in the film leading a jazz trio.)

A contemporary La Bohème with contemporary music was clearly what Freed was after, and it wasn't a bad or uncommercial idea at all, as Rent was to prove several decades later — even if Freed failed to pull it off in the case of The Subterraneans.

In an upcoming post I'll discuss what went wrong, so dreadfully, dreadfully wrong, with the film, and why it didn't become the Rent of its day.  In that post you'll meet, perhaps for the first time, Robert Thom, who wrote the very bad script for The Subterraneans but later went on to a kind of immortality as the author of several cult-movie classics, including Roger Corman's Crazy Mama and Death Race 2000.


Warner Home Video has just announced what I think may be the most important development in home video since the introduction of the DVD — The Warner Archive.  It is making available, online and for U. S. customers only, selected titles that Warner doesn't plan to release widely but that will be manufactured on demand for customers who order them, at $19.99 each.

The DVDs will be burned, rather than pressed, with no extras, but Warner promises professional-quality transfers, with 16×9 enhancement for the widescreen films.  The site provides sample clips from most of the films offered and the quality is indeed impressive.

Many films that would otherwise fall between the cracks will see the light of day, opening up, I suspect, a whole new customer-driven market, much as Netflix did.  Netflix made certain assumptions about what kinds of films their customers would want to see (i. e. mostly new ones) which turned out to be totally wrong (people wanted to see mostly older films), but they had a system in place which allowed the market to define itself.

Warner is also co-opting the black market for films unreleased on DVD, which can almost always be found somehow online, usually in barely watchable versions burned from tapes of old TV broadcasts.  With luck, the Warner model will find its way into the world of public film archives, encouraging them to make their holdings available cheaply to a wider public than the occasional theatrical screening could ever reach.

I placed an order on the Warner site the first time I visited it and can't wait to see the two Garbo silents in that order — Love (above) and Wild Orchids — and a talkie, Westbound, the only Scott-Boetticher Western still unavailable on DVD.  I'm sure you'll find something among the first 155 films offered that will tempt you, too — and Warner is encouraging people to submit their own requests for future offerings, which will be announced at the rate of about 20 new titles each month.

Early reports indicate that the site has been flooded with orders in its first hours of operation, in numbers far greater than Warner anticipated, all but overwhelming its system.  George Feltenstein, the Warner Home Video executive responsible for the project, is said to be thrilled by this response — and so am I.

Let's hope that Feltenstein's little experiment earns him a place alongside Jeff Bezos, of Amazon, and Marc Randolph and Reed Hastings, of Netflix — visionaries whose willingness to listen to consumers, rather than dictate to them, created new markets and made their companies tons of dough.

In any case, we're clearly looking into the future here.  How close that future is rests entirely in the hands of consumers.  So order something from The Warner Archive today and speed the plough.


The author of The American Gallery art blog, like the author of the Femme Femme Femme art blog, has switched hosts from Google to WordPress, fleeing Google's mindless and insulting “Content Warning”.  Other folks with Google-hosted blogs should consider doing the same, as a preventive measure and as a protest.

Both the above sites are well worth visiting.

The nude studies above are by Paul S. Brown, whose work I discovered via The American Gallery.  You can see more of his work here.


Yet another totally unobjectionable art-history blog has been branded with a “Content Warning” by Google, in response to unnamed readers' complaints.  The complaints presumably were directed against the sites (including Femme Femme Femme, which I wrote about earlier) because they sometimes feature paintings of female nudes, like the fine one above by Paul S. Brown.

Shocking, isn't it?

Brown also deals in food-related pornography, as in the scandalous still-life below, with its provocative depiction of “virgin” olive oil.  At least he had the decency to leave the skins on the onions.

The latest victim of Google's slander is The American Gallery, where I first encountered Brown's work, but I'm sure it won't be the last.  I suspect that the complaints come from either pranksters or religious kooks, but Google should be roundly condemned for letting them get away with it.  The blogging community really needs to rally around and put a stop to this nonsense.  Trust me, if you have a blog hosted by Google, this could happen to you.

Personally, I'm worried that impressionable young children will run across these “content warnings” and get the idea that there's something shameful about the female body and its celebration by artists throughout history.  The female nude in fine-art history is about the only thing our culture has left to set against the iconographic degradation of women in most modern popular entertainment.


. . . in 1817, Confederate General Braxton Bragg was born.

. . . in 1895, the Lumière brothers exhibited their first film, Exit Of Workers From A Factory, before an invited audience.

. . . in 1941, the Grand Coulee Dam went into full operation.


I'm happy to report that the author of the wonderful Femme Femme Femme site is in the process of switching hosts to avoid a shameful “Content Warning” unjustly appended to the site by Google, apparently as a result of complaints from unnamed viewers.

The site, as I've previously noted, posts images of women in art, including nudes, like the painting above, by Julius LeBlanc Stewart, but always with impeccable taste and discrimination.  The idea that a few unhinged neurotics can force Google to label such a site “objectionable” is actually quite frightening.  (Stewart's painting, incidentally, hangs in the Musée d'Orsay in Paris and has not to my knowledge inspired any widespread calls for its removal as an affront to public decency.)

Anyone who has a site hosted by Google should seriously consider switching to a different host immediately, as a protest, unless Google is willing to change its policy and apologize to the author of Femme Femme Femme.  I know this would be a pain in the neck, but accepting Google's irrational policy might in the long run lead to an even greater pain in the neck, if a few kooks decide that your site is objectionable.  So switch now if you possibly can and let Google know why you're switching.

Google, which has collaborated with the Internet censors of the totalitarian regime in China, has always argued that the Internet, in any form, will lead eventually to greater openness there.  In fact, it seems to be leading to greater intolerance here.

The new Femme Femme Femme site, still under construction, can be accessed by following this link.


If as a general rule you assume that officers and representatives of large corporations are morally depraved you'll never go far wrong in your dealings with them.  This is a bit different than saying such people are inclined to do bad things, since all of us are inclined to do bad things from time to time.  Moral depravity is a special condition which results from inhabiting a mind-set and a culture in which self-interest takes precedence over all other considerations — in which no value is higher than advantage to oneself or to one's organization.

This is, of course, a definition of the condition of a sociopath.  There is little point in judging or condemning a sociopath, because a sociopath has no conceptual tools for understanding the basis of such judgment or condemnation — and this can be baffling to those who do possess such conceptual tools.  It makes the behavior of the sociopath hard to predict.

You might have thought, for example, that the officers at A. I. G responsible in large part for driving their company, and the world, to the brink of financial ruin might now be appalled at what they did — wracked with shame that their lunatic greed forced millions of American taxpayers less fortunate than themselves to fork over a portion of their personal wealth to bail out A. I. G., lest its failure precipitate a global catastrophe.

Instead, these officers feel that a portion of this taxpayer wealth should be awarded to them in the form of bonuses — a kind of reward for their irresponsibility and moral nihilism.  This is how sociopaths reason — anything which benefits them is sensible and good.  They are shocked, or at least terribly confused, when others question this principle.

Barack Obama doesn't seem to understand that reforming our financial system involves dealing with, anticipating the behavior of, sociopaths — perhaps because so many of his financial advisers are themselves products of the sociopathic culture of Wall Street.

He'd better wise up fast or we're all going to be in very deep trouble — even deeper than the trouble we're already in.

Stephen Colbert has sarcastically suggested that the American public needs to become a howling, pitchfork-wielding mob bent on taking the country back from companies like A. I. G. and the politicians who enable them.  His suggestion is not without all merit.  When the fate of your nation, when your children's future and your grandchildren's future rest in the hands of sociopaths, the option of armed rebellion shouldn't be taken off the table altogether.


One of the loveliest sites online is Femme Femme Femme — it's one I visit almost every day and which has been listed among my favorite links (to the right there) for a long time.  It's a mostly visual blog that celebrates the female form in art with exceptional good taste.

On Monday, when visiting the site, I had to pass through a “Content Warning” message put up by Google, which hosts the site.  Someone apparently complained that the site contained “objectionable” material.  The image above (by Julius LeBlanc Stewart, from 1900) is about as “objectionable” as the site ever gets, if you think that paintings of naked women are objectionable, and if you do you should probably be in therapy.

Google in China has been a lapdog for that nation's totalitarian censors, and while it hasn't censored Femme Femme Femme it has kowtowed to the totalitarian sensibility by forcing the site's viewers to read and acknowledge what I can only describe as an unhealthy “opinion” about images of women in art.

That's objectionable.

I urge everyone to visit the site and send messages of support to its author — and if anyone knows how to complain to Google about its shameful behavior, please pass the information along.


Before George M. Cohan, before Jerome Kern, there was Edward Harrigan.  He wrote comedy sketches about immigrant life in New York City at the end of the 19th Century, later expanding them into full-length musical shows which became wildly popular.  He and his partner from an earlier career in minstrelsy, Tony Hart, performed in the shows, for which Harrigan wrote the songs, with music by David Braham, sometimes called the American Offenbach.

The songs on their own were just as popular as the shows but aren't widely known today, which is a shame, since they're wonderful — sweet, tuneful evocations of working-class life in Manhattan when folks from all over the world crowded into urban ghettos and tried to figure out a way to live together, to be Americans together.

Mick Moloney has recorded a delightful collection of Harrigan and Braham songs, including their wonderfully cheerful “Patrick's Day Parade”.  (You can buy Maloney's album here.)

“Patrick's Day Parade” moves me because it records the joy of people who were in their time so proud to be Irish and so proud to be Americans, and somehow saw no difference between the two kinds of pride.  “We'll shout hurrah for Erin go bragh and all the Yankee nation!”  We're unspeakably lucky to live in a country where such a paradox makes sense — where all of us can be proud to be Irish, even if our ancestors never set foot in the Emerald Isle.  It's the kind of cultural
appropriation that's part of the miracle of America.

People have likened America to a melting pot, but it was never that — more like an Irish stew.  The beef stayed beef and the potatoes stayed potatoes . . . it was the combination of disparate things that made the dish so satisfying, and still does.

So as one American to another — Erin go bragh!  (Or, as Michael O'Donohue used to say, in the true spirit of Harrigan and Hart — Erin go bragh and panties!)


Nate Salsbury (above) started out in show business just after the Civil War as a singer, eventually forming a vocal group called The Troubadours, who performed in variety shows.  Later he started writing full-length plays to feature his troupe.  In 1879 he wrote a play called The Brook, a story of ordinary people at a picnic who entertain each other with songs and comic turns.  It's considered to be a forerunner of the American musical comedy.

In 1882 he suggested to William F. (Buffalo Bill) Cody that they create an arena show about the wild west, an idea that wasn't new and that Buffalo Bill himself had been thinking about.  When Salsbury said he wasn't ready to plunge into the venture immediately, Bill put together a show anyway.  Its first season wasn't a flop but wasn't a big hit, either, and Bill convinced Salsbury to sign on as manager.

Together they created Buffalo Bill's Wild West, one of the great success stories of American show business and a cultural influence of almost immeasurable proportions.  To Bill and Nate, however, it was just a show.  Bill saw nothing odd about asking a theatrical impresario with stage experience to run it, Nate saw nothing odd about applying skills learned in playhouses to an outdoor spectacle involving horses and buffaloes.

In 1893 Buffalo Bill's Wild West had a wildly successful run at an arena set up just outside the grounds of the world's fair in Chicago.  A sixteen year-old kid named Florenz Ziegfeld (above) went to see it and was so enchanted that he ran off with the show when it left town, staying with it for six months until his father tracked him down and dragged him back home.

After years as a traveling impresario managing variety acts, Ziegfeld became a Broadway producer, inventing the Ziegfeld Follies, a kind of super-sized vaudeville show that featured headliners only, with more than a little burlesque thrown in for good measure, in the shapely and barely clad forms of the “Ziegfeld Girls”, chorines who did little more that parade around the stage looking beautiful.

The Wild West which had lured Salsbury away from Broadway set Ziegfeld off on a road that led him to prominence there — and eventually right back to a rendezvous with the destiny of the American musical, which Salsbury had helped inaugurate.

In 1927, Ziegfeld produced Kern and Hammerstein's Show Boat (above), perhaps the most important and influential production in the history of the American musical stage.  Just about twenty years later, Irving Berlin, as part of the tradition of integrated book musicals that Show Boat inspired, collaborated on Annie Get Your Gun, a Broadway musical about Annie Oakley and her career with Buffalo Bill's Wild West.

Ziegfeld wouldn't have seen anything odd about this, any more than Salsbury, Cody, Kern, Hammerstein or Berlin would have.  In Annie Get Your Gun, Buffalo Bill addresses a song to Annie that has become a show business anthem — “There's no business,” he sings to her, “like show business”.

Today, under the influence of academic specialization and the division of art into high-brow and low-brow categories, we see a great difference between “the Broadway stage” and, say, a circus, but earlier ages weren't bothered with such distinctions.  They knew that — to paraphrase Rudyard Kipling — “All show business is one, man!  One!”