Tag Archive | Spencer Tracy

DESK SET

1957 – CinemaScope – Color by De Luxe – 20th Century-Fox

A couple of days ago, we had the pleasure to watch Desk Set, a crackling comedy which scored a genuine acting triumph for the romantic team of Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy.

One of the newly acquired DVDs to our archive, Desk Set invites one to the Research and Reference Department of the fictitious Federal Broadcasting Company in New York. Located on the 28th floor, this department is run by the self-assured, and regretfully unmarried, Bunny Watson (a newly rejuvenated Katharine Hepburn) who works congenially with smart, clean appearing co-workers: Bunny’s breezy ally and sturdy supporter Peg Costello (comedienne Joan Blondell, chosen over actress Thelma Ritter); Sylvia Blair (dashing Dina Merrill, daughter of billionaire Marjorie Merriweather Post, in her début role); and Ruthie Saylor (Sue Randall, aka. Marion Burnside Randall in her youthful freshness).

Equipped with a library containing a wide range of informative data for their manual reference, their responsibility in that corporate environment was to answer almost any query for information covering a wide field. Their motto: Be on time, do your work, be down in the bar at 5:30. As often as not, the kind of abstruse questions they encountered goes like: “What is the highest lifetime (baseball) batting average?”; “I’m trying to find out the truth about the Eskimo habit of rubbing noses. Do they rub noses, or don’t they?”….

Into their cheerful work place walked in a strange character who identified himself as Richard Sumner (Spencer Tracy). His face appeared stern, mask-like, almost as though he was trying to keep his feelings hidden. No sooner had he appeared, for reason initially unbeknown to these girls, he looked around the office and started measuring the layout with a tape measure – at one stage, seeking assistance of the girls for this purpose. Maybe he’s an interior decorator assigned to redecorate their department? – or to build a Midget golf?, or is it going to be a Snack bar?, or maybe they are getting an air-conditioning unit, finally? But he didn’t look anything like an interior decorator – rather like one of those men who’s just suddenly switched to vodka.

When Bunny met Richard upon her arrival back from an appointment at IBM and a small shopping at Bonwit’s, she had wondered if he is from the story department. But that was soon cleared when he revealed he’s a methods engineer – adding that every time he mentioned what he does, people go into a panic. Before she could extract further information, Richard was called upstairs to meet the company’s boss Mr. Azae at his office.

In fact Richard is the efficiency expert assigned there on secret orders of Mr. Azae (Nicholas Joy) to investigate ground setup to install an ingenious electronic brain which Richard has invented. The machine is to be initially activated at Bunny’s reference department. For that reason, Richard intends to hang around that department for a couple of weeks, maybe a month, to get a comprehensive picture of its working. According to Mr. Azae, it’s vital that this be kept a secret from everyone, especially the girls in Research. Of course, it’s almost impossible to keep anything a secret around there.

When Bunny accepted Richard’s invitation for lunch, Peg in her wisdom suggested she try the chicken with truffles, Poularde truffée, expecting Richard would take her to the marvellous Le Pavillon, the finest French restaurant in New York. In all sincerity, Richard’s idea of place for lunch was the rooftop of their building in that grey, chilly weather. What an ideal place for concentration where they can cheerfully banish thoughts of waiters, people, telephones, central heating – save for some pigeons up there – so what?

At the rooftop, a table was soon set. Bunny’s face looked as if she had suffered some bereavement. She noted that he had brought along roast beef, ham, cheese and plenty of hot coffee for a square meal. Their lunchtime conversation illuminated him about the little research she undertook on him and she showed off her knowledge that he is one of the leading exponents of the electronic brain in USA. Richard was just ahead of his time. He is the creator of an electronic brain machine called EMARAC…. the Electromagnetic Memory and Research Arithmetical Calculator – an electronic information retrieval system which offered quick access to enormous amount of detail – the machine she had seen at its demonstration at IBM earlier.

Of late, Peg was the first one to fear from the mistaken notion that the electronic brain will replace them sooner or later. Indeed, the electronic brain in the Payroll of their Federal Broadcasting Company was designed by Richard and no sooner had it installed there to perform tasks faster than the staff, half the department had disappeared. Worries about their jobs proved to be a persistent cloud over the heads of Sylvia and Ruthie while Bunny found herself drifting closer to Richard in spite of her affection for her conceited paramour Mike Cutler (Gig Young), the in-charge of her Reference Department, who found his relationship interfered by the intrusive methods engineer.

The wise-cracking, adorable Peg was trying to encourage Bunny to resist setting her heart on the elusive Mike who, having declared his love, isn’t proposing but even so, the starry-eyed Bunny seemed too willing to give it all up to become Mrs. Mike. In Peg’s book, Mike will certainly take romance but just isn’t the domestic type – he was running at least two horses.

At one instance, Bunny invited Richard to her apartment during a storm. She suggested he dine with her – well aware that the very fact they were dropped at her apartment by the office grapevine Mr. Smithers himself who had too lively a mind, would set tongues wagging soon. Inside the apartment, Richard kicked up his heels and made himself cosy in the man’s robe she lend him to replace his wet cloths and other accoutrements. This should be the starting point of a real relationship between them. But then before the dinner was over, they were taken by surprise when Mike suddenly turned up and in Mike’s amorous temperament, Richard’s mere presence in her apartment was enough to trigger misunderstanding.

Just as the girls feared, the machine was soon set up in their Reference department where a prim and officious Miss Warriner (Neva Patterson) from the lab arrived to run the EMARAC’s operation. Miss Warriner didn’t look like Dracula’s sister but, no doubt, was there to suck out their jobs. Then came the pink slips in their pay envelops bolstering their suspicion that they are to be canned – replaced by the electronic brain EMARAC or “Emmy”……

Known in UK under the alternate title “His Other Woman”, this lightweight comedy yarn produced by Henry Ephron is typical in having a sense of anxiety in an enclosed place where automation and love clash. Filmed at the 20th Century-Fox Studios lot and Rockefeller Center, Manhattan, New York City, director Walter Lang (King and I) blend the pace and the rhythm, the overtones and meaning of the screenplay as a whole. Desk Set teems with clever and witty dialogue, coffee break, 5 0’clock cocktail, rooftop luncheon, fabulous Xmas party, love affairs, few bars of songs, a good deal of tomfoolery, and that ever reigning universal compulsion called office gossip….before the happy finale.

The screenplay by Phoebe and Henry Ephron (parents of writer Nora Ephron) is based on the play Desk Set by playwright William Marchant. Before writing the screenplay, the Ephrons had gone to New York to make note of the spots where the laughs came in its Broadway stage production produced by Robert Fryer. The play had opened at the Broadhurst Theatre, New York on 24 October 1955 and starred Shirley Booth (Bunny Watson), Dorothy Blackburn (Peg Costello) and Byron Sanders (Richard Sumner). As of the closing date of 7 July 1956, it did 297 satisfactory performances.

Spirited actress Katharine Hepburn’s volatile style as Bunny Watson contrasts beautifully with the steady unpretentiousness and shrewd underplaying of Spencer Tracy as Richard Sumner – a role Spence had initially refused.

A whizz in biology, Katie wanted to be a surgeon but her fascination with acting led her to an acting career on Broadway in 1929. The Connecticut-born Katharine came over to Hollywood with aspiring actress Laura Barney Harding, and launched a magnificent career with her screen début in director George Cukor’s adaptation of Clemence Dane’s play A Bill of Divorcement (1932).

According to Cukor, Katie was quite unlike anybody he had ever seen and although she had never made a movie, she had a very definite knowledge and feeling right from the start. A Bill of Divorcement was soon followed by remarkable performance in Morning Glory (1933) based on Zoe Akins play. The movie brought her an Oscar for Best Actress – Katie’s first Oscar.

However, Katie’s public appeal was beset by her unspectacular looks and astringent quality of acting in her early films. Not unlike Greta Garbo and Marlene Dietrich who ignored what people thought, she too was gathering up reams of attention for wearing men’s clothes before it was acceptable. A magazine quoted her liking for dresses: “I do have a dress or two. I wear a dress only when it would look conspicuous to wear these clothes.”

Although at that time she was gracelessly branded box-office poison who emptied a theatre faster than a fire, she relentlessly worked her way to the threshold of glory through movies of some of the world’s renowned directors including John Ford, John Huston, George Cukor, David Lean, Stanley Kramer, Sidney Lumet, etc.

She is best remembered for Bringing Up Baby (1938) Katie’s first comedy; Holiday (1938); The Philadelphia Story (1940) all the above three with Cary Grant; The African Queen (1951) one of Katie’s favourite films; The Rainmaker (1956) with Burt Lancaster; and later in the screen version of Tennessee Williams’ short play,  Suddenly, Last Summer (1959) with Elizabeth Taylor; besides Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? (1967 – Oscar for Best Actress); The Lion in Winter (1968 – Oscar for Best Actress); The Trojan Women (1972) with Geneviéve Bujold; On Golden Pond (1981 – Oscar for Best Actress), etc.

The teaming of life partners Katie and Spence brought forth nine movies – starting their first pairing with the gentle sex-comedy, Woman of the Year (1942 – Oscar-winning screenplay by Michael Kanin and Ring Lardner, Jr.); Adam’s Rib (1949) and Pat and Mike (1952) – both films written by Garson Kanin and wife Ruth Gordon); Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? (1967) which was Spence’s last film appearance and Oscar-winning story/screenplay by William Rose; besides Desk Set, their eighth teaming and first film together in colour.

In Desk Set, Spence as efficiency expert Richard creates a sympathetic, complex character in spite of the initial suspicion of the reference department girls.

Milwaukee, Wisconsin-born Spencer Bonaventure Tracy had initially believed he might become a plastic surgeon. But following military service, he had taken up acting on stage. According to a magazine article attributed to MGM stock player Selena Royle, it was Selena who recommended Spence for a leading stage role when she was a star of a stock company in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Once when her company was to open, the show’s producer was distressed over the sudden departure of the leading actor. A replacement could not be arranged immediately from New York. At that time, a boy had walked in asking for a job. He had no experience but wanted to be an actor. Just as the boy started to walk away, Selena had suggested that he be allowed to read for the role. That boy, Spencer Tracy, was then accepted for the role which marked his entry into the profession. Shortly afterwards, Selena’s faith and helping wand worked again for Spence when she, on hearing that her friend George M. Cohan was preparing to produce a play called Yellow, obtained a copy of the play and rehearsed Spence secretly in the lead role. In the audition she managed to arrange for him, they knew he had a natural talent for acting. The final win-out for Spence was the lead role in Yellow – an ample qualification to graduate out of stock and to a grade-A Broadway play. Furthermore, it led him to the lead role in The Last Mile.

It was Spence’s performance in John Wexley’s successful powerful prison drama The Last Mile (initial title: All The World Wondered) which opened on Broadway in February 1930 that caught the attention of veteran director John Ford. He advised Fox Film Corporation to hire Spence who earlier had un-credited appearances in two short films of Warner Bros.

Coming over to Hollywood for a one-picture contract, he shared début feature-film roles with Humphrey Bogart in John Ford’s Up the River (1930). Then again, when Nunnally Johnson suggested casting him in the role of notorious gunman Jesse James’ brother Frank in Jesse James (1939), an unconvinced Darryl Zanuck had said “Tracy will never make a star. ….Just lacks the juice for a star.”

On the other hand, a book quotes director Stanley Kramer’s observation “….(Tracy) remains to me probably the world’s greatest moving picture actor. No one was more talented – it was the chemistry of his roles that made him so good.” That appeared more truthful since Spence’s talent was honoured with Oscars for Best Actor for two consecutive years for the role of Portuguese fisherman Manuel Fidello in director Victor Fleming’s Captains Courageous (1937) adapted from the 1897 novel of Bombay-born Rudyard Kipling; and for director Norman Taurog’s Boys Town (1938), a semi-biographical movie based on the charitable activities of Father Edward J. Flanagan. It was couple of years later during the formative days for the production of director George Stevens’ Woman of the Year when Spence and Katie met for the first time and became romantically involved.

The capable supporting cast of Desk Set includes: Ida Moore as the tiny old “trademark” woman who gets one cracking with her silent walk in appearances. Harry Ellerbe (office grapevine lawyer Mr. Smithers), Nicholas Joy (Mr. Azae), Diane Jergens (Alice), Merry Anders (Cathy), Rachel Stephens (Receptionist), Sammy Ogg (Kenny), and others…

The crew: Leon Shamroy (Cinematography), Robert Simpson (Film Editing), Cyril J. Mockridge (Music), Lyle R. Wheeler/Maurice Ransford (Art Direction), Hal Herman (Asst. Director), Charles LeMaire (Executive Wardrobe Designer), Ben Nye (Makeup), Helen Turpin (Hair styles). The credits also acknowledge the cooperation and assistance of the International Business Machines Corporation.

Broadway designer and three-time Academy Award for Best Costume Design winner Charles LeMaire’s outfits in this movie are versatility personified, the kind of tailored sophistication for the modern girl who wants to look chic on the job, for daytime dates, luncheons, and for dinner. Master costumer LeMaire who would leave his job at Fox in 1959 for freelancing had a track record of dressing just about every major movie star – among others Jean Peters, Gene Tierney, Susan Hayward, Anne Baxter, Celeste Holm, Thelma Ritter, Sophia Loren, Jennifer Jones, Marilyn Monroe,…,.

Following the world premiere engagement of Desk Set at the Roxy, New York attended by a goodly number of celebs, LeMaire’s original fashions conforming to the cinematic environment in the movie arose wide spread interest, especially among those working women who couldn’t resist new fashions or to look tailored and neat. As a toast to them, he had appearances at Bon Marché, and Strawbridge & Clothier store for style-shows to show off his outfits in Desk Set.

An amusing comedy that generates steady excitement to all types of audiences, Desk Set is rich in delights for all those who love office ambiance.  Until next time/Jo

Notes:

  • DVD/Blu-ray of most of the movies mentioned in this article is available with leading dealers.
  • For promotional purpose, DVD sleeves/posters are shown here. Source: Wikipedia, amazon.com, imdb and from my private collection.
  • This illustrated article is an affectionate nosegay to the movie reviewed above. Please refer to “About” of my webpage for more details.

(© Joseph Sébastine/Manningtree Archive)

The Strange Love of Martha Ivers

The Strange Love of Martha Ivers – (StarChoice: 28)

Excerpts from: The Importance of Being Kirk DOUGLAS 

 …… In one of her memoirs, beautiful actress Lauren Bacall wrote about how in 1945 she met star-finder/star-maker Hal Brent Wallis in the club car of the train while travelling to East with her husband Humphrey Bogart. Wallis, an independent producer since 1944 was on board the Santa Fe Super Chief train, bound for New York to look for new talents there. One night, over drinks in the lounge, she tipped Wallis to take a gander at the young and talented Kirk Douglas – a sort of a young Spencer Tracy – who was in a stage play in New York.

Lauren ‘Betty’ Bacall knew that Wallis always looked for an off-beat quality in his screen heroes.

A man with astute combination of imagination and executive ability, some of the potential actors Wallis found and expertly built them into stars of the screen included Jerry Lewis, Dean Martin, Charlton Heston, Dolores Hart, Elvis Presley, Polly Bergen, Anthony Franciosa, Barbara Stanwyck, Robert Cummings, Don Defore, Ann Richards, Kristine Miller, Douglas Dick, Betsy Drake, Marisa Pavan, Shirley MacLaine, …..

People abroad are hungry for film entertainment and share with American audiences a keen interest in new personalities. It is this desire for new faces that has prompted my continued search for talent and the signing of such people as Lizabeth Scott, Burt Lancaster, Kirk Douglas and Wendell Corey,” Wallis was quoted in 1947.

Betty had a similar story. Taking into heart the All-American dream of every girl in the country at that time, she had come to Hollywood to become a star. In 1943, New York socialite and legendary beauty Slim Hawks, wife of director/producer Howard Hawks, saw the 18-year-old model’s picture on the cover of Harper’s Bazaar (March 1943) and prodded Hawks to “get a hold of this girl” with that “down-under” look. This “great find” was cast with Humphrey Bogart in Hawks’ adaptation of the Ernest Hemingway novel, To Have and Have Not (1944). That had opened a whole new life to Betty.

In June 1945, Hollywood’s “Gentleman Producer” Wallis went to the Broadway production and was impressed by Kirk playing the helpful ghost of the Unknown Soldier of World War I on stage in The Wind Is Ninety (Jun 21, 1945 – Sep 22, 1945). Tellingly, Kirk’s performance earned him best notices for its warmth and sincerity.

At that juncture, Wallis’ company had three films lined up on the production board: The Searching Wind (1946, D: William Dieterle), The Strange Love of Martha Ivers and Perfect Marriage (1947 D: Lewis Allen). Kirk was summoned to Wallis’ office in New York and later to the coast…….

…….Kirk netted his debut role in Hal B. Wallis Productions’ gripping noir melodrama, The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946) as the husband of wealthy Martha Ivers, played by Barbara “Missy” Stanwyck, a trouper of vixen roles.

Effectively directed by Lewis Milestone, this exciting movie, from an unpublished story, “Love Lies Bleeding” by Jack Patrick (screenplay by Robert Rossen), told the grim tale of unbalanced emotions in the small industrial city of Iverstown in 1946 where, wealthy, conniving social climber Martha Ivers held a lifelong criminal secret over her weakling, drunkard husband, Walter O’Neil (Kirk Douglas), a district attorney.

During their adolescence years in 1928, Walter had witnessed Martha commit the murder of her bullying aunt Mrs. Ivers (Judith Anderson) in a fit of blind anger.

At that time, the little boy O‘Neil had affirmed Martha’s lie about a man having burst into the house and killed the aunt. In due course, Martha inherits a large family fortune from her dead aunt whom she loathed.

With murder and blackmail ruling the roost, The Strange Love of Martha Ivers is without a trice of comedy to lighten the tension.

Spectators who have seen this movie would recall Kirk’s introductory scene wherein his first dialogue on screen was the customary salutation of “Hello”.

And, with that one all-time favourite word, Kirk Douglas, at about age 30, took off to a promising start of his phenomenal career.

It was a befitting entry into the movie-stardom for Kirk who proved himself a fine actor who could measure up with such veterans as Van Heflin (back from war and on loan from M-G-M) and Barbara Stanwyck, in a role similar to the alluring double-crosser in the movie classic, Double Indemnity (1944, D: Billy Wilder).

Those who liked the smoky blonde Lizabeth Scott (born Emma Matzo in 1922) in her film debut You Came Along (1945, D: John Farrow), would want to see her don the role of Toni Marachek, the probationer from jail seeking love and companionship.

Cast over protests from female lead Stany, Scott’s Toni is the dynamic love interest of Sam Masterson (Heflin in his Johnny Eager (1941, D: Mervyn LeRoy) -type role), a professional gambler who learns that Martha has one murder to her name.

Perchance the true colours of costumes by master designer Edith Head wither their grandeur in monochrome. Setting pace to Victor Milner’s photography is also the music score by Miklós Rózsa which relate each character, setting, or situation to a musical theme.

This post-war period film was released on July 24, 1946 having completed production during October 2 – December 7, 1945. The Strange Love of Martha Ivers had its world premiere abroad TWA’s transcontinental Constellation trip departing Los Angeles on May 24, 1946.

Reportedly, about five months from the film’s release, the citizens of Kirk’s hometown in Amsterdam, N.Y, launched a pre-election campaign urging Kirk’s nomination for an award for his performance in The Strange Love of Martha Ivers, although the official Academy award nominations has not yet begun.

You probably wouldn’t prefer to meet any of the selfish, grasping characters of The Strange Love of Martha Ivers, but it’s an edge of the seat evil tale to watch unfold – without children.

Until next time, Jo

Notes:

  • Given that the abridged version of my write-up “The Importance of Being Kirk DOUGLAS” has by now exceeded 105 pages, it is deemed only fair that the write-up should come out, if possible, in its entirety in a book format. Therefore, only excerpts (movie reviews) from it are posted here.
  • Some of the DVD/Blu-ray of the movies referred to in this article is available with leading dealers.
  • DVD sleeves/posters credits: Wikipedia, amazon, imdb and from my private collection. Please refer to “About” of my webpage for more details.

(© Joseph Sébastine/Manningtree Archive)

The Roots and Wings of Valentine

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Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year – the holidays of the short evenings are over. The spring vegetables are slowly entering the markets. Given that love is the keynote of that sweetest day of February when moments are made into memories, shops have displayed pretty favours for exchange between lovers and couples to mark the Valentine’s Day. As usual, a good number of high-flying hotels will be a much sought after destination on the 14th of this month for the lovers and couples out for a memorable candlelit evening of gastronomy, drinks, music, romance and to feel like a million dollars.

2Where we live, distinctive venues for such occasions are many and more are sprouting up every other month. Ecstatic to get it going, the dining tables there will be prettily decorated with fresh flowers, ferns, bisque cupids, candles, tableware, in addition to scattered red rose petals over the table cloth where a wide range of delicacies will be served with emphasis on its appearance since eye has much to do with the flavour of all food. Some even have in-house Mehndi artists or caricaturist to enhance the romantic ambiance.

The succulent specialities on offer in many restaurants, especially on occasions of festivities, present an extensive spread of seafood, meat and vegetarian delicacies and gorgeous after-food deserts very much compatible to all those gourmets. There, only few of the dishes need any explanation. From past experiences, the cuisine for the V-Day could include freshly shucked oysters, poached lobsters with dill and limoncello cream sauce, river Prawn Saganaki, baked fish, Beef Stroganoff, Braised Balsamic Chicken, Porcini Pork Tenderloin, Broccoli Quinoa Casserole, asparagus salad, etc, incorporating many of the general favourites of authentic regional Indian favourites cooked to perfection by chefs and their skilful teams playing cupids at the live stations. Be it ever so humble, praise for their delicious food never misses to light up their eyes as if they had won the lottery.

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The objective is to make the Valentine’s Day the sweetest and memorable day of the year – touchingly sentimental, fun and ethical for those who wish to share their love and affection towards one another. In a time when affection and meaningful human communication takes a back seat as most eyes are buried in Smartphones, iPads, or other distractions, occasions like the V-Day reminds us to show that we love.

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The tradition of the Festival of Love probably owes its origins to one of the pagan Roman festivals, Lupercalia, the festival of fertility which was celebrated in mid-February in ancient Rome. As part of its ritual, two young boys of patrician families dressed in goatskins, daub their faces with the blood of sacrificed goat and dog, and during a traditional course whipped maidens with stripes of leather as they passed. Expressing joy and happiness, such lashes were appreciated reckoning they would miraculously prevent or cure infertility. Somewhere between belief and doubt lies the faith.

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After Christianity became more prevalent in Rome, the festival became associated with St. Valentine (1) a Christian priest and physician in Rome who was martyred on February 14, c. 269 AD (on the eve of Lupercalia) for being an advocate for the cause of peace and love. The book “Saint Valentine” by Robert Sabuda relates the story about how Valentine restored the blindness of a young girl with his deep faith and healing skills.

The custom of sending Valentines stems from a medieval belief that birds began to pair on the day Valentine was beheaded under the cruel Roman Emperor Claudius II Gothicus (Marcus Aurelius Valerius Claudius/Claudius the Goth, 268 to 270) who succumbed to plague in 270 AD. Amongst the customs that continued was the opportunity to choose a sweetheart or Valentine and letters or tokens can be sent secretly to the object of affection as a declaration of romantic love.

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The rejuvenation of this event, after a slack in popularity but persisting through writings including those of Geoffrey Chaucer (c. 1345-1400) and William Shakespeare (1564-1616), could be attributed to the innumerable cards, books, poems, songs, stage presentations and films that flourished since the eighteenth century onwards. Nevertheless, it is always those couples entwined in their genuine love for each other, blessedly always much abundant in the world, who have kept this tradition of love alive and blooming. Some of the legends and stories of love that sparkled as jewels through the timeline of our world has inspired millions and has undoubtedly caught the imagination of the world.

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I can think of many love deities and personalities in every culture dedicated to different fervours of love: Egyptian divinities Osiris and Isis; Roman Jupiter and Juno (Greek Zeus and Hera); Solomon and Sheba; Pharaoh Amenhotep IV (Akhenaten) and Queen Nefertiti; Orpheus and Eurydice; Queen Cleopatra and Mark Antony; Justinian and Theodora; Lancelot and Guinevere; Layla and Majnun; Shah Jahan and Mumtaz Mahal; Salim (Emperor Jahangir) and Anarkali (Nadira Begum or Sharf-un-Nissa);

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Queen Victoria and Prince Albert; Napoleon and Joséphine de Beauharnais; Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir; Romeo and Juliet; Tristan and Isolde; Robin Hood and Maid Marian; Tarzan and Jane. I do not exclude  those stars of the film world who, at certain times, had become real life romantic characters they played on screen (2):

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Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks; Ingrid Bergman and Roberto Rossellini; Sir Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh; Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy; Clark Gable and Carole Lombard; Rita Hayworth and Orson Welles; Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall; Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor; etc… the love is always in the air and for many of them sometimes everything falls together.

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Of the many customs built around this festival of love, few old customs like the artistic Victorian cards have sadly disappeared while more formal ways of messaging through emails or SMS or that great equalizer called WhatsApp have taken over in popularity.

11Then again, besides the enthusiasm of some couples, the reason Valentine’s Day has garnered more popularity today is due to the print and visual media and to the efforts of the corporate/marketing strategists striving to make it a gross consumer fest.

If the customary choices of the old school fancied Valentine cards, books, tokens, boxes of Belgian chocolates or selected kinds of gifts, and even considered a hug as a great gift; the preferences has presently progressed to all things high-flying – the posh sort – choices big and small, often putting some aficionados under “wallet” pressure – choices such as couture labels, a Visconti pen, a Supreme Goldstriker iPhone with the highest GB, a gorgeous clutch bag, a beautiful sparkling necklace, amazing Stuart Weitzman shoes, vintage boots, a Patek Philippe or Breitling wristwatch, luxury fragrances, a Lamborghini Veneno car, a holiday in The Bahamas, diamonds, secret tattoos, belly button ring, …. the list has become endless to maximize the vibes… The choice is ours.

Nevertheless, fresh flowers have always remained one of the popular gifts.

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To give fresh flowers – those embodiments of perfect beauty – to a sweetheart….. what gift could honestly be nicer and special? They even leave their fragrance on the hand that bestows them.

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When young mortal Adonis of Greek mythology lost his life owing to a wound he received from a boar during a chase, Aphrodite (Venus to the Romans), the goddess of love and beauty and the love of his life, found solace from her deep grief in the beautiful Anemone flower which sprung from his blood (or from her tears), until the gods of the lower world favoured her by allowing Adonis to spend six months of every year on earth with Aphrodite. And it is from Aphrodite’s son Eros (Cupid/Amor) that V-Day earned the grace of Cupid, the god of love – a wanton boy with arrows in a golden quiver, who is related to a thousand tricks and cruel sports – the most potent being the pierce from his golden arrow that would kindle love in the stricken heart.

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When my wife first came to meet me, she brought along an enormous bunch of fresh ivory coloured tulips in a box all the way from England, carefully looked after by the cabin crew of British Airways. Truly a heart of gold she has. She had specifically chosen that spring flower due to my ardent “tulipomania”. Of course, one’s own preferred choice would be different. A friend’s wife preferred velvety red roses from her husband since it’s the symbol of happy and passionate love, while another friend suggested that, if possible, we bring garden daisies to cheer his hospitalised wife when we visited her.

15Somewhere along the way, love has taken its place in the age-old form of art that associate flowers with different meanings. Floriography signifies the name of the language of flowers as practiced in traditional cultures in many parts of the world. The Japanese call it Hanakotoba.

As ivory coloured tulips will always be the symbol of true love for me, the symbolism and hidden meaning of those flowers that express love and affection, subject to change with various combination (3), is generally regarded as: Apple Blossom (Good fortune) – Balsam (Ardent love) – Jasmine (Grace and Elegance) – Lavender (Devotion) – Lilac (First Emotions of Love) – Orchid (Fertility, love and Beauty) – Red Tulip (Declaration of Love) – Sunflower (Adoration) – Violet (Faithfulness), Hibiscus (Sacred Love and Beauty)….

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Amongst the vast array of flowers lingers the “Forget-Me-Nots”, the lover’s flower. The legend has it that a valiant German knight slipped and fell into water when stooping to gallantly pick up some beautiful blue flowers growing in the water which his paramour wanted him to get for her. Before he finally sank under the water, he threw the flowers at his love and implored her to “Vergiß mein nicht” (Forget Me Not). It was the voice of genuine love that was calling out, to remind, “I will be always with you. I will love you just as you are.”   

Amore!   If love is the key to our hearts, no doubt, then the heaven is within us. Ciao, Jo

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Notes:

  • According to the Roman Martyrology, two persons under the name of Valentine were martyred on February 14, c. 269. One was St. Valentine who was buried on the Flaminian Way where a basilica was erected in 350. Another Valentine was the bishop of Interamna (Terni) about 104 kms from Rome, beheaded there by order of Placidus, prefect of Interamna. Many scholars believe that these two persons are the same.
  • The book Saint Valentine by Robert Sabuda and DVDs of the movies of the stars referred above are available with reputed dealers.

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 (©Joseph Sébastine/Manningtree Archive)