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Catch – as – Catch Can

Excitement is soaring for high-class racing action in Dubai where horses are a passion. This excitement is hardly surprising in the Arabian Peninsula – the region from where the pure-bred Arab stock had emerged to become lauded as the oldest of the world’s recognised breeds – their influence in creation of the Thoroughbred generally acknowledged all over the world.

A land of startling contrasts, Dubai of United Arab Emirates, has, years on, offered a sparkling calendar of interesting equestrian pursuits and leisure activities such as courses for riding skills, show-jumping, dressage, polo, horse riding trips, etc, through its various clubs and stables. The Dubai World Cup (DWC) 2017 will take place on Saturday, March 25 at Meydan Racecourse where the 2017 DWC Carnival is underway.

As for me, UAE is the region in which I had flown in the most number of times, for short visits and transit – like drive traffic, all stop and go, since I very often flew with regional Airlines from the early-nineties – a silent witness to the city’s astonishing growth to today’s modern metropolis, Dubai (which I was told is a mixed Farsi and Arabic word meaning literally, two sides of the water. I have also heard its meaning being referred to the Hindi words “Do – bhaee” (Two – Brothers)! Few documents may exist before 1799 when the local inhabitants were primarily engaged in fishing and harvesting pearls. But at the creek of Dubai, one can still see the big wooden dhows and smaller, short-keeled sambuqs.

Of the many activities complementing the Dubai World Cup is a Solo Show by Said Atabekov, the internationally renowned Uzbekistan born contemporary artist, who now lives and works in Kazakhstan.

Titled “66 Lbs”, Atabekov’s show featuring photo, video and site installation, can be viewed at Andakulova Gallery (Unit 18, P4 Level, Damac Park Towers DIFC) in Dubai during March 06th – May 12th, 2017. What attracted me to this show is not simply because it featured horses.

With a good number of original “sporting art” also bolstering our love of arts, paintings of sedate hunting or race horses are not alien to our house. From the horse’s first appearance in a convincing anatomical form in an Assyrian bas-relief of the seventh century BC, at length, it has been an inspiration in all forms of arts and later in literature for the majesty and grace of this spirited animal “par excellence”. Over time, many terms sprang out of its name: horse-radish, horse-parsley, horse mushroom, iron horse, pale horse, white horse, brazen horse, wooden horse, Trojan horse, horse bridge, horse-power, horse trading, …..

The largest physiques of horses I have come across, to name but a few, are the set of four horses (Triumphal Quadriga) at Basilica di San Marco in Venice; the wooden horse inside il Salone of the Palazzo della Ragione; Donatello’s equestrian statue of Gattamelata on Piazza del Santo (both in Padua); and such other statues in many piazzas and squares in Europe.

According to classical mythology, Poseidon created the horse. Indeed, from the domestication of the horse, possibly by the tribes of the steppes flanking the Caspian Sea thousands of years ago, the horse has been the friend and companion of man, prized for his beauty, loved for his docility. Eaten, sacrificed, worshipped, it gradually became a means of transport, communication and of horseback conquest in the heroic age. As a story goes, in the early centuries before Jesus Christ, when the Greeks colonised Southern Italy and brought in thousands of horses, the luxurious people of Sybaris trained all their horses to dance to the sound of music – of flutes in particular. Then again, there was also a time when some were addicted to the atrocious practice of sacrificing live horses to their gods or bury them with their masters.

The show’s distinctiveness is the bridge the artist has built between the past and the present with strong images that resonate with tradition – with emphasis on the ancient nomadic game of Kokpar of Kazakhstan. A primitive version of polo, played in two considerably different forms: tudabarai and qarajai, the game Kokpar  has two (or more) teams on horseback competing to pick a headless goat carcass off the ground (zamin-gir) without dismounting or snatch it from someone else at full gallop (chakka-gir) and carry it over the goal line. Usually, the credit for best horsemanship, strength and courage goes to the winning team.

Being aware of this as I am – it is gross the way it sounds. But the element of my main interest in this equestrian sport, part of the cultural backbone of some countries, is merely the nomadic tradition and the strict set of rules it accentuates. According to this solo show, the mandatory weight of the animal carcass used for the game which is fixed as 66 Lbs – hence, the title of this Show.

The Kazakh horses are traditionally an ancient breed originally bred in that region and are exceptionally hardy and competent to withstand extreme climatic conditions. Kokpar (known in a variety of names or simply as “catch-as-catch can”) of the Central Asian countries is one of the games fostered not only out of necessity – but also for recreation as well. The game, which probably owes it origins to the period of reign of the Macedonian king Alexander the Great (B: 356 BC – D: 323 BC) or Genghis Khan (B: 1162 – D: 1227) of the Mongol Empire, or to the Turkic-Mongol people, is part of the contests devised to provide, in times of peace, excitement as well as to retain fitness, readiness and skill of horse and horsemen for sudden deployment in unexpected wars. Such activities also aided to counter their boredom resulting from specific exercise in one place.

Specialization in such games enabled the noblest horse and its valiant rider to attain mutual equilibrium as one unit – as can be visualised in the artistic depiction of half-man and half-horse – the fabulous centaur of Greek mythology – the fusion where man dominates mentally and dictates the strategies taking advantage of the obedience, physical strength and exceptional memory of the horse – a feat attained from the animal owing to kind and patient training.

Whereas, in the mounted folk game of Kokpar, known in Afghanistan as Buzkashi (buz, a goat and kashidan, to pull) (Mongolian baz-kiri), the goat (or calf) carcass is the objective for the contesting buzkashi riders (chapandazan) who to carry it off to a “goal”.

The 51-year old artist Atabekov has captured the vibes and thrill of Kokpar by actually riding amidst the two teams of powerful masculine participants on powerful horses – his camera mopping up their emotions, vanity, endurance and the intensity of their action in all its complexity.

The mayhem of lurching, rearing, bumping, kicking, biting, leering, cursing in the midst of dust, noise and sweat as it happens when they engage in grapple from each other in fierce competitive spirit, sometimes (unintentionally!) hitting out at the opponents (not at their horses) with their camchin (buzkashi whip with wooden handle). In his relentless effort, the artist has endeavoured to draw attention of the viewer to the game and spirit of Kokpar and the national sport of Kazakhstan.

Back to you…soon. Jo

The concluding instalment of this two-part serial will follow.

Notes:

  1. The horse in the title header is one of those stationed by the Colosseum of Roma, Italy
  2. My thanks are particularly due to Karen Fernandez, Andakulova Gallery, Dubai for her interest and the pictures and in-put on the artist.

(© Joseph Sébastine/Manningtree Archive)

Heirlooms – On Memory Trail

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Concluding instalment of the two-part serial: Heirlooms – Old Habits Die Hard

Whenever we travel to countries where we have consolidated friendships, we often get the wonderful chance to attend parties. To be honest, when I am away from home, I would rather be a guest there than a host.

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Some fifteen years ago, attending a dinner party in the house of a Singapore businessman I know in a professional capacity, I had the opportunity to see some fine examples of old walnut, and mahogany cabinets of his Indonesian ancestors, dating back to the 18th century.

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Whenever I popped over to Singapore, a country of gentle memories for me, we would set aside business interests and shared wonderful dinner time when he would bring his personal histories up to date. A sparkling personality, whenever he spoke, he had that confident reassuring voice you feel when an aircraft pilot speaks before the take-off.

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Once, I got so engrossed in the history of Dutch Batavia and romance of each cabinet (couple of them were in marquetry) explained by my friend that our earlier conversation about Australian Aboriginal breast-plates was completely overridden in his talk. It was real pleasure to closely see those lovely “conversation pieces” and perceive how his narrations about family possessions developed as an acute reminder of the joys and fascinations of collecting.

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Romance and antique collecting go hand in hand. Speaking about Fort Cochin in our local grounds, an area which had experienced Portuguese/Dutch/English settlement since 1500s, old reputed (especially Anglo-Indian) families of Fort Cochin once had many valuable possessions reminiscent of that era.

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These heirlooms had pride of place in their living room as something that is functional and to enhance the home and status. Many early family heirlooms such as old furniture, Christian figures, wall carvings, photo frames, porcelain, books, bric-a-brac, have, over the years, been lost due to negligence, lack of proper antique restorers, shifting of residence or on the open market – some of which can still be found in those local don’t-touch-or-we’ll-make-you-pay sort of places in Jew Town. However, for most of such families, besides the traditional recipes from that bygone era, a Bible or framed photos of ancestors, family photo albums or a wedding dress or similar has always retained their charm as heirlooms.

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8Having recognised the value of their possessions in context with the settlements, I believe there are still those few who had refrained from throwing out a potential pot of gold. They have retained them for their descendants in perpetuity.

In the future, those items must become worth more for sheer rarity, apart from its association with our past. Who knows what things scorned today will be tomorrow’s highly prized?

The possessions in our home which we consider precious could not all be of great monetary value but nevertheless remain priceless to us. One of the near recent additions is an early 19th century Bible, quite bulky and slightly soiled, which we acquired from an antique seller in Portobello Road near Notting Hill Gate in London.

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Even though we had to pay through the nose to acquire it, that was less worrying compared to the effort it took to bring it home to Cochin since, during that trip, we had to traverse in a pre-scheduled journey by Eurotrain to Paris, and to Milan, to Padua, to Florence, to Rome and home via Dubai. Having brought home under the stewardship of our daughter Bianca, its arrival here was met with such greater happiness that all those hardships seemed insignificant.

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For ages, the Bible, the world’s most famous book, has not only earned its place as an important family heirloom, but has gained an accretion of ceremonial use. The last time we saw the images of couple of Bibles together was on the television when beautiful Melania Trump’s hands held two Bibles upon which her husband, President-elect Donald John Trump took the ceremonial oath of office as the 45th President of the United States of America, on January 20, 2017.

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I understand that the bigger Bible, an 1853 King James version bound in burgundy velvet with metal trim, which rested directly on soon-to-be First Lady Melania’s right palm belonged to President Abraham Lincoln upon which he was sworn in for his first inauguration in 1861. The smaller one on the top belonged to President Trump, gifted to him by his beloved mother on June 12, 1955.

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If that smaller Bible has not already been regarded as a family heirloom, the occasion of that swearing-in ceremony has no doubt catapulted its transition into one. Maybe, that Bible would eventually be passed over to one of President Trump’s children – probably to his youngest son.

5The strength of a nation lies in the individual. And the people are progressive. Who can predict now the chance that, probably many years into the future, on a January 20th, that son himself may stand tall at the same spot where his father had stood at the west front of the Capitol in last January, with his left palm resting on his heirloom Bible.

Predictions are difficult. Going forward, only God knows who has more than a walk-on-part in history. So this is faith. Until next time, Jo

PS: Dear reader, this article about family heirlooms is definitely apolitical.

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(©Joseph Sébastine/Manningtree Archive)

Heirlooms – Old Habits Die Hard

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Few weeks earlier I came across a small book about the traditional qualities of gem stones corresponding to each month of the year. Garnet, the birthday stone attributed to January, was naturally the first in the order of analysis. Having been born in the first month of the year, I was indeed curious to refresh my info about Garnet and its hypothetical force. When the book’s evaluation touched upon the Amethyst of February and its associated Sincerity, it made me recall an incident I heard about a woman’s beautiful Amethyst flower brooch, a family heirloom from her mother, which she had lost just before she bid adios for good to Middle East in the late 1990s.

Time leads us with many memories and family heirlooms have co-existed with durable memories – making some of the family’s best moments to stay with us. From Kings and Queens to the Shah of Iran to Philip Niarchos to our next-door neighbours, old, rare, treasured possession from a great ancestor has been part of many of us.

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003Not everyone can have a Rotschilds collection, of course. The only disparity exists in the varied types of the possessions – which may bore the shape of a grandiose mansion; a lake house; delicately carved antique furniture of great and small; paintings; exquisite silver, gold jewellery; beautiful silverware; fine old pottery and porcelain, glasswares; metalwares; antique costumes and accessories; mother’s wedding dress; grandmother’s engagement ring; an enchanting tablecloth of genuine Nottingham Lace; a hand-made Persian rug; a Japanese Kaga-ware vase; a rare manuscript or book; clocks, gold/diamond studded watches and precision instruments; a Cartier set of gold lighters, gold cigarette case; a knitted lace shawl, frock or bedspread; a grand piano; stamps, banknotes, coins and medals; a Swan Vestas matchbox; crested cuff-links, bowler hats; a water Buffalo horn walking stick from the time of the Raj; collection of ties and tie-pins; dolls and dolls’ houses; a Kathakali mask, a 20th century enamelled advertising sign,…. – the list is unlimited.

Part of a family’s heritage and traditions, family heirlooms have been, in most cases, passed on by succeeding generations duly tagged with relevant stories vis.a.viz., who made, purchased, owned or used them. However, some of such original items, including those considered out-dated or unfashionable or treated with utter disinterest, could lay discarded or banished in the attic or end up with collectors through antique dealers, car boot sales, fairs, markets, roadshows, auctions and also through such dubious trade dealers where remarkable range of fake objet d’arts were also manufactured with “period look” to sell off as antiques – taking care they would not be exposed through anachronisms of stylistic detail and construction.

Whether created, or bought, or inherited or found, almost all collections start with one or very few items. The numerous art galleries, museums, curio shops and other trade outlets mushrooming all around the world owe their larger slice of trade revenue to the increasing number of connoisseurs of antique and valuable rarities that diversify into categories of utility, adornment, and decoration.

For their assistance, numerous price guides and specialised books are now available on every subject of antique collecting to distinguish “pottery from porcelain from bone china from stone china.”

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From personal experience, I know the surge of euphoria a true admirer gets every time he/she pass by or examine the favourite antique and unique objects in his/her possession. Having spent enormous amount of time trawling antique shops and markets in many countries, we have experienced the pain of lost opportunities to acquire exquisite objects due to restriction on weight during travel or due to other impediments. But the feeling is far worse when you lose a cherished personal possession. The topic brought to mind an amusing short story which I had read a long time ago.

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Right, I will get to the point. Of the few letters which had arrived for young Ann and her husband one fine morning in the 1940s, two were of importance. The first was from Ann’s sister-in-law – inviting them to the upcoming christening ceremony of her daughter on the following day. The other letter, from her husband’s Aunt, brought news of her arrival for dinner that day. Another reason for the visit was to collect Ann’s husband’s great-grandfather’s christening mug, a sort of heirloom, which was in Ann’s possession. That silver mug will be used for the new-born baby to cut her first tooth as had all her ancestors cut theirs.

The information threw Ann into a panic. Where had she put it? The psychological adage is that, if you don’t encode, you can’t retrieve. She remembered having placed it on the top shelf in the pantry with all the other odds and ends. As her mind raced like a sprinting hamster in an exercise wheel, her body wasn’t far behind. An extensive ransack of the house after her husband had left revealed that the mug was nowhere to be seen. She burst into tears at the vague realisation that, in a clumsy careless moment, she had accidently thrown the mug down the incinerator chute together with a whole big basket full of discarded items following the comprehensive tidying-up of a couple of weeks ago.

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When Ann’s young neighbour learned about her anguish over the burnt mug, she simply laughed it off and suggested that Ann go to one of those many silversmiths/antique shops in London and get an old mug. She is sure to find a suitable one there. Everyone turns a christening mug into cash sooner or later. They would get the inscription on it, if any, altered.

Ann was startled. How she can pitch such an idea! However, with a little prodding from her neighbour her mind was made up. After all, no point crying over the onion. It’s gone. With the advice rattling around her head, she quickly located the right mug at a silversmith in London, altered the inscription on it and was back home with the “heirloom” in time for dinner with her husband and his Aunt.

Upon arrival, the Aunt silently appreciated the inscribed silver mug. She wouldn’t have missed the heirloom since it was strategically placed by Ann on the dining table in front of Aunt’s place for maximum focal point.

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In due, the husband had rushed in. He was apologetic for being late. Ann’s mind signalled an internal red alert when, quite suddenly, he presented a silver mug to them. She sat perplexed when her husband explained that he had taken the mug in the morning to have it cleaned and polished. He beamed as if he was one of life’s doers. The next moment, his high-founded confidence faltered as his eyes fell on the shiny mug on the table.

All the while, the Aunt sat there with a serene exterior. Presently, she reached into her bag and placed a third mug on the table – positioning it in a straight row with the other two mugs. For a millionth of a second neither of the couple moved, frozen in time and space. Then, their Aunt related the snapshot of the story about how she had luckily chanced upon the original mug last week at an antique shop where Ann’s husband had sold it due to shortage of cash.

I wonder, how many nature lies in human nature. Jo

The concluding instalment “Heirlooms – On Memory Trail” of this two-part serial will follow soon.

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(©Joseph Sébastine/Manningtree Archive)

Lovescapes of Hearts

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Have you ever looked for love in the petals of a rose…. or a tulip? If the answer is yes, then this write-up is for you.

Just as in real life and in literature, opera, poetry and in lyrical music, love’s tenderness, beauty, joy and fall out has been eulogised in fantastic depictions on the silver screen. To many movie-goers, most of those vintage movie magic by renowned film personalities are like love letters, though short of handwritten in ink, but visual illustrations of romance set amidst glamour and mystery – joy and melancholy. Made to touch heart strings and to stay with the viewer long after it ends, few are nevertheless unabashedly sentimental and manipulative or even cheapo exploitation flicks.

Here below are representative posters of some renowned movies heralded in the romantic genre made in a span of 50 years during 1930s to 1970s:

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Until next time, Jo

Note:

  1. I have limited the selection of movies to those only forming part of my cinematic collection of 6,000 movies plus. The omission of many fine representations including details of the movies are simply due to lack of space.
  2. Most of the movies in the pictorial section above are available with amazon.com, amazon.co.uk and other leading dealers.
  3. Posters/DVD sleeves credits: amazon.com, en.wikipedia, imdb and from my private collection.
  4. This illustrated article is an affectionate nosegay to movies of the past. Please refer to “About” of my webpage for more details.

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Joseph Sébastine/Manningtree Archive)

Telly Savalas in the Limelight

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Part II of Mr. Telly Savalas, Back to the Limelight…., Please!

Kojak hoisted the 49 year-old Savalas to superstardom, bestowing on the Greek the status of a sex-symbol, whose trademark quip in his Graeco-Yiddish-Brooklyn accent: “Who loves ya, baby?” engaged wide attention. The title role also brought the actor with a mole on his left cheek an Emmy and two Golden Globes. (Telly revived Kojak in some TV episodes during 1985-1990.) image

As film after film came his way, his commitment to his career not only remained progressive, but Telly had also acquired a taste for wealth and the lifestyle that went with it – savouring the attention his fans bestowed on him. They fed his ego, reaffirming the appeal of Savalas the Star. Like in all aspects of his life, his self-indulgent lifestyle reflected on his stylish images, airbrushed to perfection, on the cover of glossy magazines to the licence plate of his car which flashed “Telly S”.

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He met friendly receptions wherever he went for shooting movies or not. He had a great time in southwest Africa in 1975 shooting Killer Force (aka. The Diamond Mercenaries, D: Val Guest, 1976). Likewise, the German fans were happy to see him in West Berlin for the location work of Inside Out (aka. Hitler’s Gold/The Golden Heist, D: Peter Duffell, 1975). In Berlin, the children rolled up their sleeves to have their arm autographed by him while the girls greeted him with fresh red roses and handful of lollies which he often gave away.

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Keeping up with the then trend in Hollywood for racehorses, Telly ventured into horse racing when actor Walter Matthau turned down an offer to invest in a racehorse. With producer/director Howard W. Koch taking half interest, Telly acquired the other half at $3000 in an American thoroughbred racehorse whom he named Telly’s Pop (either after the lollipops he devours or his late-father who took him to his first horse race as a boy in New York).

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Although Telly later admitted on his CBS-TV show that he does not know anything about horses, audiences who had seen The Scalphunters, Mackenna’s Gold, etc, know that he could handle a horse.

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Telly dipped his toes into championship gambling and promotion of brand products. Lifting himself into the line-up of singing stars of stage and screen such as Mae West, Ethel Merman, Noel Coward, Robert Mitchum, Jayne Mansfield, Harry Belafonte, Christopher Lee, he forayed into the music industry and had some chart success – tunes that would make Duke Ellington tap his shoes seven-feet under.

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By the age of 54, Telly had won over audiences with his nightclub act in Lake Tahoe and Las Vegas where one of the highlights was a bouzouki dance he performed with his brother Constantine. In November 1975, at the wish of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, Telly sang at her Royal Command Palladium concert where celebrities like Count Basie, Charles Aznavour, etc performed in spite of the bomb scare that autumn. During that time, the media reported him playing golf with world’s top golfer Tom Weiskopf on the Ailsa golf course at Turnberry in Scotland.

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Often things in life simply don’t go according to set decisions. Telly never forgot the break he got from Burt Lancaster into movies which he reciprocated to the career of others. A 1975 newspaper reported actor Gene Hackman talking on the Douglas show about how Telly, while preparing to move from New York to start out his acting career in Hollywood, suggested to Hackman to “get his skates on” and head for the West Coast where the real action is – which resulted in Hackman’s entry into films on the Coast. Like Telly, the film Mad Dog Coll also marked the debut of Gene Hackman. Telly also played an active part in philanthropy and philhellenism. However, as always, there are different perspectives about Telly bordering on arrogance and rudeness I have also come across during my research.

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For the Greek-American icon who once said that he carried his Hellenism like a badge of merit, the opportunity to play a real Greek on Greek soil came in 1978 in the WW2 POW adventure film, Escape to Athena (D: George Pan Cosmatos, 1979) which had an all-star cast including Roger Moore, David Niven, and Claudia Cardinale.

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In his autobiography, actor Roger Moore wrote about his location days for Escape to Athena on the isle of Rhodes when he brushed up on his gambling at the tables of the local casino which were also frequented by Telly. Stuntman Vic Armstrong’s autobiography also contains interesting pieces about the location shooting of this movie – about how, in the early hours, a bored Telly would phone him to play a game of poker.

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Telly visited Greece again in early 1982 for location shoot in Laconia for My Palikari (American Playhouse, D: Charles Dubin). He turned this into a family affair and had his young son Nicholas from Los Angeles christened at the church in the village of Anogia, the birthplace of Telly’s mother.

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Meanwhile, his career progressed with movies including Capricorn One (D: Peter Hyams, 1977), Beyond the Poseidon Adventure (D: Irwin Allen, 1979), Border Cop (aka. Blood Barrier, D: Christopher Leitch, 1979), Hellinger’s Law (D: Leo Penn, 1981), Fake-Out (aka. Nevada Heat, 1982), Alice in Wonderland (D: Harry Harris, 1985), The Dirty Dozen: The Deadly Mission (D: Lee H. Katzin, 1987), The Dirty Dozen: The Fatal Mission (D: Lee H. Katzin, 1988), Mind Twister (D: Fred Olen Ray, 1994), Backfire! (D: Dean Bell, 1995), etc.

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Augmenting his taste for the international high life, he was regularly featured in forgettable European movies shot across the Atlantic. Some of them were as dull as a wet Good Friday but made pots of money. Having worked with European moviemakers earlier, Telly was at ease with the European way of shooting schedules and locations all over Europe. In the movie business, one gets to work closely with a lot of people. His further outings into Continental productions also gained him good rapport with more moviemakers as well as with industry professionals and eminent personalities.

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A Town Called Hell (D: Robert Parrish, 1971) and A Reason to Live, A Reason to Die (D: Tonino Valerii, 1972) were shot in spaghetti film locations in Almeria and Madrid. His repertoire of European productions also included the Charles Bronson-Jill Ireland vehicle Città violenta (aka: Final Shot/The Family/Violent City, D: Sergio Sollima, 1970), Crime Boss (D: Alberto De Martino, 1972), Senza Ragione (aka Redneck, D: Silvio Narizzano, 1973), Faceless (aka. Les prédateurs de la nuit, D: Jesús Franco, 1987).

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Besides Telly’s appearance in Horror Express (1972), Italian director Mario Bava and producer Alfred Leone cast him in Lisa and the Devil (Lisa e il Diavolo, 1973 – re-edited into The House of Exorcism (1975)) as the devious butler Leandro, the Devil who lured Lisa (Elke Sommer) into the Spanish villa of a blind Contessa and her deranged son. It is in this masterpiece of Mario Bava, mainly shot during the latter half of 1972 in Toledo, outside Madrid and Barcelona that Bava showed the lollipop sucking Telly to great effect, and the sucker became Telly’s trademark in Kojak by late 1973.

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While his continuous interest in Continental filmmaking extended to the 1991-93 TV series  Ein Schloß am Wörthersee shot in Austria and Italy, Telly had also appeared in faraway locations like Australia where he shot Rose Against the Odds (D: John Dixon, 1991).

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Hollywood Boulevard’s Walk of Fame awarded him his Star in 1983. The following year, Telly and his third wife Julie Hovland were married. Having promised to be together for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, they remained married until his death.

On Saturday July 23, 1988, the tragedy struck. Christina Savalas, Telly’s mother and a leading American artist whose “Picassolike” work received local and international exhibitions, died of heart failure at age 84 at Providence Saint Joseph Medical Center, Burbank, California.

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On Saturday, January 22, 1994, one day after his 72 birthday, surrounded by wife Julie Hovland and family, Telly died of Prostate cancer at the suite he kept at the Sheraton Universal Hotel, Universal City. According to the death certificate, the cause is stated as Renal Failure/Metastatic Disease/Transitional Cell Cancer of Bladder.

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After services at St. Sophia Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Los Angeles, Telly was buried at Forest Lawn Memorial Park, Hollywood Hills, Los Angeles, on January 25, 1994. The large marker on the lawn of his grave contains the header “Telly Aristotle Savalas” (a) followed by the quote from Aristotle:

The hour of departure has arrived,

and we go our ways –

I to die and you to live.

Which is better God only knows.

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Telly has gone. Has he fulfilled his aims and ambitions? The question brings to mind a letter the French novelist and playwright Honoré de Balzac, when quite a young man, wrote to his sister about his aims and ambitions: “….. I have two and only two passionate desires – to be famous and to be loved. Will they ever be satisfied?”  As for Telly, maybe none may dispute that he had fulfilled both the desires Balzac was referring to.

Until next time, Jo

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Notes:

  1. The spelling of the middle name on the marker and the Certificate of Death: 39419004248 dt. 22-1-1994 shown in a website differs.
  2. This article owes its source to various newspapers, books, magazines, visual media, etc.
  3. Films forming part of the collection of Manningtree Archive are marked in bold.
  4. Most of the movies and books referred to in this article are available with amazon.com, amazon.co.uk and other leading dealers.
  5. DVD sleeves credits: amazon.com, en.wikipedia, imdb and from my private collection.
  6. This illustrated article is an affectionate nosegay to the movies and performers of the past. Please refer to “About” of my webpage for more details.

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(©Joseph Sébastine/Manningtree Archive)

Mr. Telly Savalas, Back to the Limelight…, Please!

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Part I

Life with many beginnings and endings is a progression of cycles. Just like the years before, the New Year arrived in the cyclical order – ushering in the divisions of days, weeks, months, various seasons, in conjunction with personal social relationship events such as the dates of birthdays, weddings, anniversaries, etc. Within the past three weeks of January in the present calendar, there were few birthdays (including mine on 18th) and anniversaries of people I have had the privilege of knowing – and also a reminder of more to come as the year progresses – a good number of which must be reinforced by remembrance.

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Those with nostalgic longing for movies of the second half of the 20th century would not have to jog their memory much to remember the late Telly Savalas, the Film/Television actor, TV show host and Singer. Telly shared his birth and death in January – on consecutive days of 21st and 22nd. In many of us, the image of Telly Savalas was moulded not only from the characters he portrayed in a string of movies or from his presentations in Television, or the music albums but also from the wide attention he generated to himself by display of his images in a wide range of American-International magazines.

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Of those movies featuring him in a succession of devious characters, one could easily think of the box-office hit, The Dirty Dozen (D: Robert Aldrich, 1967) which presented Telly as a convict and brutal rapist; he was an earthy renegade killer whose frumpy mistress (Shelley Winters) described him as having “as much feelin’s as a bald-headed hog” in The Scalphunters (D: Sydney Pollack, 1968); a black marketer in Battle of the Bulge (D: Ken Annakin, 1965); a no-good army sergeant in Mackenna’s Gold (D: J. Lee Thompson, 1969), a sadistic bandit leader in A Town Called Hell (D: Robert Parrish, 1971); a crooked narcotics agent in Clay Pigeon (D: Tom Stern, 1971); the cold-blooded assassin in L’assassino… è al telefono (D: Alberto De Martino, 1972)….. and so the list goes on until he came across his alter ago Kojak.

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Like the bald headed Hollywood actor Yul Brynner, it is difficult to fully fathom the real story of Telly Savalas since he told a different story in every other interview – a phenomenon I had noticed while researching for this article.

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Aristoteles Savalas (a) was born in Garden City, New York, on January 21, 1922 (b). He was the second son of artist Christina Kapsalis (a former Miss Greece beauty queen from the Greek village of Anogia) and to Nicholas Constantine Savalas (originally spelled Tsavalas – hailing from the village of Gerakas), who made a fortune in tobacco, lost the lot and made another fortune in the bakery business. As teenagers, both his parents had emigrated to America in the early 1900s.

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The second of five children (three brothers: Constantine Socrates, George Demosthenes, Theodore Praxiteles and sister: Katherine), in his earlier days, Aristoteles who spoke fluent Greek, had to sell newspapers, shine shoes and work as a lifeguard to help support the family. Somewhere along the way, he became regularly known as Telly. Having enrolled in the army in 1941 and following four years of service during the World War II he was discharged duly decorated with a Purple Heart for injuries sustained. How he was wounded in the war is unclear – quite similar to the ambiguity about how his left index finger got slightly mangled.

7With the intention to pursue a career in the diplomatic service, Telly graduated in psychology from Columbia University where he had met Katherine Nicolaides. After his father’s death, Telly married Katherine in 1948 and together they had Christina. Following few years work with the Near East Information Services branch of the U. S State Department as host of the Your Voice of America series, ABC (American Broadcasting Company) News hired him as a producer. Having left ABC in January 1959, he had his first TV acting role in And Bring Home a Baby, of Sunday Armstrong Circle Theatre (1950–1963). Burt Lancaster saw his work and drew him to California to appear in episodes of the CBS TV series The Witness (1960-61).

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About the age of 39, Telly had forayed into acting in feature films, debuting with Mad Dog Coll (D: Burt Balaban, 1961) which chronicled the career of the Irish American gangster, Vincent “Mad Dog” Coll. Telly portrayed the role of another Lieutenant in the crime drama film The Young Savages (D: John Frankenheimer, 1961), the first of Burt Lancaster’s four picture deal with United Artists (the other three being Birdman of Alcatraz (1962), The Train (1964) and The Hallelujah Trail (1965)).

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Luck played into his hands when, impressed by his performance in the roles of Al Capone and “Lucky” Luciano in The Witness in which the life and crimes of America’s notorious rogues are investigated at a committee of inquiry; and also in The Young Savages shot in New York, Lancaster provided him the important role of the solitary row prisoner Feto Gomez of Leavenworth Prison in the prison biography, Birdman of Alcatraz. This breakthrough role earned Telly an Academy Award nomination as Best Supporting Actor.

Following his divorce from Katherine, in early 1960s when his film roles were mainly villainous, he got married for the second time to Marilyn (Lynn) Gardner.

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When director George Stevens’ cameo-packed dramatization of the life of Jesus Christ, The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965) was announced, many eyebrows were raised at the parade of famous actors in unexpected roles. The casting of Telly as Pontius Pilate drew smiles from those who thought that a Brooklyn accent has no place in a Biblical epic.

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Stevens thought that the 6’1” Telly would look more virile and powerful in the role of the Roman prefect (governor) of Judaea if he shaved his head. Telly found the proposition extremely attractive and decided to go on with life as it was before retaining his signature bald look he took for his role in this Bible epic. Whyever not?

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He simply chose to shave his head for the look. By the way, men generally don’t grow beards because they dislike shaving – but because they think their whiskers make them look better and give them a distinctive image.

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He is on record in an interview as saying about the time Telly told his mother Christina vis-à-vis his casting in The Greatest Story Ever Told. She had rounded things off with the remark: “You are joking!” and she continued, “You’ll make a Marvellous Jesus!” She must hold the world record for being the world’s most optimistic mother.

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Telly had a memorable role as James Bond’s notorious arch-rival Ernest Stavro Blofeld in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (D: Peter Hunt, 1969) in which stuntman Joe Powell nearly got killed doubling him in the bobsleigh in Switzerland. Two of his co-stars of The Greatest Story Ever Told, Donald Pleasance and Max von Sydow also played Blofeld in You Only Live Twice (D: Lewis Gilbert, 1967) and in Never Say Never Again (D: Irvin Kershner, 1983).

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Of his bald head, he once said that “everyone’s born bald.” In spite that Telly was typecast as a villain for being entirely bald, audiences took him to their hearts – believing that in the baddie they saw onscreen rested a sweet nature. His strong features and ethnic look came handy for the role of Shan in Genghis Khan (D: Henry Levin, 1965).

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The success of that film gave his career further fillip earning him roles in Buona Sera, Mrs. Campbell (D: Melvin Frank, 1968), The Assassination Bureau (D: Basil Dearden, 1969), Kelly’s Heroes (D: Brian G. Hutton, 1970); Pretty Maids All in a Row (D: Roger Vadim, 1971), etc.  For the title role of Pancho Villa (1972), the bald look was vindicated by the shaving of his head in prison during the opening sequence.

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Since 1974, after a long separation Telly and Marilyn were divorced. According to the mini documentary “Telly Savalas: The Golden Greek”, he had met the beautiful Sally Adams while working on the movie, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service  (c). In 1973, Cojack with ‘c” hit the TV screens and his luck seems to improve.

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Although the bald-headed, deep, gravel-voiced Telly had been acting since the late 1950s, real popularity came looking for him in the title role of the famous CBS TV series Kojak (October, 1973-April, 1978) which was a spun-off from the made-for-TV pilot, The Marcus-Nelson Murders (D: Joseph Sargent, First American Broadcast: March 8, 1973).

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Few initial instalments showed him wade through a stereo-typed routine of law-and-order claptrap. But soon Kojak became a prime program as the series turned tough and reasonably true – taking on the look, sound, feel, taste, and smell of the New York crime investigations.

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Working out of a Precinct of Manhattan, Telly’s Lieutenant Theo Kojak, in fabulous three-piece suit, displayed a more credible human being. Much of the vicious power and toughness Telly had displayed in his earlier villainous roles were there. But the exception was that, in his new persona as the stubborn and tenacious good guy Kojak with a deep concern for people and justice, his wrath was targeted against the crooks, spooks and killers. Audiences related to Kojak’s passionate belief in equality and fairness and his vehement opposition to police bureaucracy. Well, you know the rest.

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While Telly reigned supreme in the role of the chrome-domed streetwise cop’s cop with a sweet tooth for sucking lollipops and a penchant to wisecrack snazzy lines, Telly soon became indelibly identified with the character of Kojak. “Telly and Kojak are one and the same,” Telly said in a TV interview, drawing a parallel between him and Kojak.

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His love for the suckers, I mean, his serious attitude towards the lollipops, reportedly to replace Telly’s addiction for long thin cigars, was initially featured in Episode eight “Dark Sunday” of Kojak in December 1973. This addiction for suckers could have its origins in Toledo, Spain and to Italian director Mario Bava, the father of Italian horror films.

This concludes Part I.  Part II will follow. Jo

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Notes:

  1. The spelling of first name is based on Certificate of Death: 39419004248 dt.22-1-1994 shown in a website although the name on his tombstone differs;
  2. The date is based on his death Certificate;
  3. Some sources maintain that Telly met Sally while working on the movie, The Dirty Dozen.
  4. This article owes its source to various newspapers, books, magazines, visual media, etc.
  5. Films forming part of the collection of Manningtree Archive are highlighted in bold.
  6. Most of the movies and books referred to in this article are available with amazon.com, amazon.co.uk and other leading dealers.
  7. DVD sleeves credits: amazon.com, en.wikipedia, imdb and from my private collection.
  8. This illustrated article is an affectionate nosegay to the movies and performers of the past. Please refer to “About” of my webpage for more details.

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(©Joseph Sébastine/Manningtree Archive)

A Winsome Sweet ‘17

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2The New Year’s Day 2017 has arrived with hopes – giving new courage and belief for a fresh start. The transitory period when the old year gives way for the new often kindles a curious manifestation of optimism in us and inspires hope for a “happy and better New Year” – free from the misfortunes of the year just gone by. Inwardly, this feeling is merely a repetition of the optimism that inspired us at earlier New Year’s Eves when it was wished that the ensuing New Year would bring its own heaven. Even though the year’s outcome was contrary to our expectation, yet again, when the clock struck the first note of midnight at the New Year’s Eve, and the bells ring, the fire crackers were lit, Auld Lang Syne was sung to be followed by other old, new, nostalgic medley of seasonal carols and songs, and toasts were raised, we take fresh heart to, once again, hope for the best.

New Year’s Day is the eighth day after Christmas and traditionally, bears the name “Octava Domini” (In Octavas Domini) in the Gelasian and Gregorian Sacramentaries. The first of January appeared as an ecclesiastical festival at Rome for the first time at the beginning of the ninth century, where it is called from the first Circumcisione Domini. The idea and date of this festival are derived from the Gospel of St. Luke (Chapter II. 21), since eight days after birth, the Christmas child of Virgin Mary was circumcised and received the name Jesus, a personal name. The year ends with the birth and begins with the naming.

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This year’s crib in our house

The traditions and customs related with New Year’s Day were concerned with bringing good luck for the coming year. When the year dies out at the chimes of the midnight hour, and when the traditional toast and ubiquitous salutations of “Happy New Year” and “Good Health” resonate the air and people hugged, kissed and shook hands; whatever be the attitude of the body, certain thoughts in some of us would become silent prayers turned heavenward, thanking for the past years and hoping for the best times and good health. Holy Toledo! The truth is you cannot savour the joys of life without good health.

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It is also a time for New Year resolution – decisions intended to abandon a bad habit or adopt a good one in the New Year, most popular being the decision to give up smoking and to diet which are always updated as time passes by. According to a survey, two people out of three made such resolutions but most soon break them.

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Back in December 2013 we were in Bangkok for the festive season. There was political unrest in the country at that time between red and yellow shirts. But rather than let the tourism go haywire and celebration of people curtailed, the sensible local authorities, very efficient to cope with the matters of their positions and departments, did not clamp on any undue restrictions which was laudable.

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On that warm Saturday morning of December 2013, I was waiting to keep my appointment at one of my favourite Foot Reflexology parlours in Bangkok which I had managed to reach from my hotel with some difficulty. As many of you will know, Bangkok is notorious for traffic congestions, but since yesterday (Friday, 27th) the streets were unusually packed as the New Year revellers flocked out of Bangkok to their villages. A friend of the owner of the parlour, a middle-aged Thai was also in the lobby with me waiting for the arrival of his friend. A great conversationalist, he is known to me from my earlier visits. That was the extent of our acquaintance. Having known that I write about Bangkok, he wisely used my waiting time to give me a run through about some of the many traditions and customs of his land – most of which I had come to know over the years in some finery.

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9When our conversation touched upon Songkran festival (marks the start of the traditional Thai New Year which falls during April), he suddenly switched the topic to the hair style he would be getting at the adjoining salon either on 30th or 31st (specifically on Monday and Tuesday which he believed are the only good days for getting haircut!!) in time for the New Year’s Eve. At that time, his hairdresser would remove the red-shades from his natural jet black hair worn too long by Thai standards. Although I tried to avert the conversation from being nosy about his personal choice, he went right ahead and told that he is clearing the red shades for his elder sister who has invited him to her house for late dinner on the New Year’s Eve which he intended to attend, after cutting-short his own razzle-dazzle with his friends at the local pub.

8As assigned, he would be the “first-foot” to enter his sister’s household to usher in the New Year. This fairly clear-cut custom, which has many versions, is based on a Hogmanay (a New Year’s Eve in Scotland) tradition, and still kept up in some Far Eastern and Australian households.

It is believed that if the first person to cross the threshold of a house after midnight, when the old year ends and the New begins, is a dark haired man, a year of good luck will follow. Since her brother’s last “first-foot”, she had experienced lesser gale over the domestics. And certainly, once more the elements of specific gifts a “first-footer” usually brings which symbolised life, hospitality and warmth is in his consideration to take along with him.

For his sister, who displayed great strength and furious energy to go through the ritual of sweeping her whole house thoroughly on 31st of every December, the recruitment of her brother to make the necessary entrance at her house is rooted on her belief that it should be someone with dark hair and not of her household.

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Family ties are stronger at Christmas and New Year time – and louder, too. First of January is Global Family Day, too. Mind you, he would have his fun in her home ground – the whisky, the songs, the smile, the smells – and the mishmash of games: shuffleboard, Ping-Pong, Bingo, cards, and God knows what else. To reach her home at that time of the night without the bow-wow of stray dogs in her street would be a benefit since any stray dogs living in the premises on New Year’s Eve were particularly cleared because, according to his sister, they brought bad luck.

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People do strange things hoping for best things ahead. Not long ago, a European chef of Mandarin Oriental spoke about a Thai chef’s unbridled enthusiasm for anything associated with superstitions. The Roman belief that misfortune would come into a house by anyone entering with his left foot first, is a custom which is strictly followed with right foot by his family. They have a tradition to criss-cross certain rituals of the Thai Songkran festival also with the customs of New Year’s Day.  The ingredients they used in this respect, forming part of the ritual of bathing of Buddha statues during Songkran, consists of five bowls containing different-coloured floating flowers – each colour to represent prosperity in a variety of forms: Rose Red to bring a tranquil life devoid of obstacles; Marigold Orange to signify success and wealth; Anchan Blue representing strength to overcome obstacles; Pandan Green for peace without problems; and Jasmine White to symbolise a joyful life.

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The question about how a fairly intelligent and even moderately educated person could inwardly believe these superstitions – that number 13 is unlucky, or that one should not start a new venture on Friday, etc., in spite of its universal acceptance, is, how-do-you-say-it, much like a pyramid balanced in unstable equilibrium upon its point. Nevertheless, people do knock on wood; take a pinch of salt and throw it over their left shoulder; or refuse to walk under a ladder, and hope that, “touch wood”, this New Year would hopefully go down in memory as the year they moved into the house of prosperity, good health, peace, joy and all things of goodness – with the baggage of serious misfortune safely left behind. I remember the saying, if you must leave your old house and move to a new one do not take your old broom with you.

Thank you for riding with me during the past year. I raise a toast: Here is wishing my friends and readers a lovely, peaceful and prosperous new 2017. Jo

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(©Joseph Sébastine/Manningtree Archive)