I've worked in publishing professionally since my teen years.
To date, my stories and articles have appeared in print and online throughout the US.
I'm proud of my work, and capable of writing about practically any topic, although the material I enjoy most tends to focus predominantly on film, music and the individuals who create the art.
While A&E has been my bread and butter, unique and unusual history has been the icing on the cake.
Initially, you're going to feel like you're in familiar territory as elements of such Joan Crawford films as "A Woman's Face" (1941) and "This Woman is Dangerous" (1952) blend lightly with the Olivia de Havilland psycho twin vehicle "The Dark Mirror" (1946).
In "Stolen Face" Plastic surgeon Philip (Paul Henried) fishes a convicted female felon (Lily, played by Lizabeth Scott) out of prison and reconstructs her slashed up face to look like that of a professional concert pianist who rejected him (Alice, also played by Lizabeth Scott) in the earlier moments of the movie. In an effort to recreate the sophisticated woman he fell in love with, Philip tries to give Lily a "My Fair Lady" makeover (Scott somewhat successfully pulls off a British accent) by immersing her in upper crust British culture.
He eventually realizes you can take the girl out of the prison, but you can't always take the prison out of the girl.
Not surprisingly, Lily starts to get really bored and that annoying psychopathic side she's been hiding begins to emerge, driving her to steal diamonds and furs from pricey department stores and throwing riotous parties in the doctor's genteel home (Scott seems to be having a lot of fun with the Lily character).
Just as Lily begins her certifiable trip down Lunacy Lane, Alice shows up on the scene, unaware of her doppelganger and ready to marry Philip, who has begun to contemplate ways to rid himself of the cheap and tawdry beast he has created.
While Lily is somewhat reminiscent of the lead character Ann Savage plays in "Detour"(1945), it's difficult not to feel sorry for her: she's out of her cultural element and she's been forced to be something she's not in order to fulfill the doctor's failed romantic desires.
When Scott as both Lily and Alice finally come face to face, the end result is both unexpected and disconcerting. Lily didn't ask for this, and in my opinion, ultimately doesn't deserve the brutal comeuppance.
Regrettably, the film comes to a rather abrupt end, all wrapped up in a dark ribbon and leaving you wondering if Director Terrence Fisher (multiple Christopher Lee "Dracula" films) ran out of funds or over his shooting schedule.
An investigation or a trial for the doctor followed by some media frenzy would have been reasonable, along with an explanation regarding Lily's aberrant behavior.
All of that might have been a bit too big for this film, which was clearly a budgeted effort. Regardless, it was cool to see Lizabeth Scott playing multiple roles and creating a character other than herself, as well as experiencing some motion picture history.
It's been over 50 years since their deaths here in Charlotte. Many longtime residents have heard or know first hand the the tale of Daisy and Violet Hilton, the internationally famous conjoined twins who became celebrities of vaudeville, stage and a handful of obscure (but fascinating) films.
After a lifetime like a roller coaster ride, they ended up in Charlotte in July, 1962, while on a film promotional tour. They had appeared in Charlotte at the old Carolina Theater in 1945 and it was thought another appearance here seventeen years later would be as successful.
It was not, and they were left high and dry by an under-handed manager to fend for themselves in a town they were barely acquainted with.
I've written about them before for Creative Loafing and Charlotte Magazine in greater detail. I have to admit – they've always held a personal fascination for me. They spent their final years here, working as a produce clerks at a local grocery store, before succumbing to the Hong Kong flu epidemic in 1969. As it turns out, they've become a personal fascination for a number of other people, as well.
Broadway playwright Bill Russell produced a musical about their lives, titled “Sideshow,” after a personal friend gave him a copy of a paperback booklet (Daisy and Violet had sold at theatrical and night club appearances) that was uncovered at a flea market. The show initially debuted in 1997 to moderate success, was later revamped and continues to stage on theaters in the US and abroad to this day.
They were also the subject of a nonfiction book titled “The Lives and Loves of Daisy and Violet Hilton: A True Story,” by Dean Jensen, and, most recently, the focus of a documentary by filmmaker and actor Leslie Zemeckis.
“Bound By Flesh,” us currently available on Amazon Prime Video for streaming.
“I discovered their story while working on another documentary called 'Burly Q,'” Zemeckis explains. “Then I read Dean Jensen's book. I became totally obsessed and realized I wanted them to be the subject of my next project.”
Zemeckis spent a large part of the effort in research and tracking down people that were acquainted with Daisy and Violet. She lucked out when she came upon their goddaughter. “Camille (Rosengren) was probably my greatest find during the research process,” Zemeckis recalls. “As their goddaughter, she knew so much about them and had a lot of stories to share.”
Zemeckis is quick to confirm she was so taken by the Hiltons because of the unique challenges they faced during their lives.
“They made the best of their situation,” she explains. “In the process, they achieved stardom. And we don't have people like this around now. With prenatal care and the advances in medicine today, most twins are separated, so you're not going to see 'Siamese' twins. At that time, sideshows were part of our culture, but it's not now. They became famous because of what they were.”
Leslie Zemeckis is married to veteran filmmaker Robert Zemeckis (“Romancing The Stone,” Back To The Future,” “Death Becomes Her,” “Forest Gump,” “What Lies Beneath” and “Polar Express,” among many others), so she's no stranger to the production process. Her husband (who is credited as executive producer in “Bound”) was on hand to share his thoughts about the effort. “He was,” says Leslie. “He would watch the clips with me and tell me if they made sense and if it flowed well. It was great to have his input.”
In addition to the current on-demand screening on Amazon, it's available on DVD. Zemeckis also confirmed she's also about to close on a deal for international distribution of “Bound By Flesh,” which will take Daisy and Violet's story to 21st century audiences around the globe.
It's with a touch of melancholy to note that Daisy and Violet would not live to realize the notoriety they had yet to achieve. Nearly half a century after their deaths in a small two-bedroom bungalow in what was then a small southern town, the Hilton Twins are still beloved, perhaps even more so today,
“I think they were lucky to have landed in Charlotte,” Zemeckis observes. “They were with a community they felt protected by and had some security that wasn't there previously. They were with people that were supportive, and they were happy.”
This story originally appeared in Creative Loafing.
Janelle Monae, the avant-garde chanteuse of hip-hop, dance and sci-fi retro musicals, returns to Atlanta Nov. 6 and 7 for two appearances at Variety Playhouse as a special guest of the exalted Athens indie band Of Montreal.Monae captured the media spotlight with the single “Tightrope,” released earlier this year on the critically acclaimed CD “ArchAndroid.”
The video for the single features the artist and a cast of several others in vintage-styled tuxedos dancing, singing and rapping about hanging on to reality amid the rush or lack of success. It’s set against the backdrop of an insane asylum.
The performer is turning heads by defying popular music standards in presentation and personal style. Rather than bounce about barely clad singing about hot sex and financial success, Monae chooses to dress like Fred Astaire with a pompadour and delve into the equality of androids in the future. She has qualities reminiscent of Grace Jones, tween-age Michael Jackson and even Cyndi Lauper, yet she’s something that’s never quite been done before.
Her appearances here will be her last in the U.S. before she begins a European concert tour in December, followed by performances in Australia in January.
Q: Where did you learn to dance like you do?
A: I ask myself that all the time. Instinct. I try not to choreograph too much. I love the element of surprise. I love not knowing what I’m going to do, and the best stuff comes when the music moves you. It’s like dancing when no one’s watching. That’s my motto.
Q: Why is the film “Metropolis” one of your favorites?
A: I’m a huge fan of science fiction, and “Metropolis” is the godfather of the genre. It’s a silent film, but the message really spoke out to me. One of the quotes that really inspired me was “the mediator between the mind and the hand is the heart.” I’ve always thought of myself as being the heart. I want to be the one that brings us all together and unites us.
Q: How often are you still in Atlanta?
A: From time to time, I’m in Atlanta. From time to time, I’m on Saturn, Mars or I’m in Kansas. I’m all over. When I was in Atlanta, I was living in a small cave out in Roswell, Ga. I think Atlanta has a lot of fresh ideas. And because it’s such a college town, you get a lot of very hungry and vibrant students who are ready to shake the world. I love new ideas and people who are ready to go out into the world and shift it.
Q: I see so many things in your presentation that remind me of other great performers: young Michael Jackson, James Brown, Grace Jones, Dizzy Gillespie, even Marlene Dietrich. Do you think you’re an old soul?
A: I believe spirits can live within people. I believe in predestination. Whatever my journey is has already been written for me. And I have been equipped with the tools -- I’m learning and there are spirits that are watching out for me. I can feel that. I do believe this has been prepared. I don’t understand everything, I don’t know exactly what will happen next year around this time, but I feel I’m being guided by a very special spirit in music and outside of music.
Q: What do you want your music to do to the world?
A: I want my music to be the world’s choice of drug whenever they want to laugh and dance, to feel euphoric or cry. The music that we create is an emotion picture, and it’s meant to invoke emotion. Most importantly, I want this music to heal the people, and bring them together.
Concert preview: Janelle Monae with Of Montreal. 8:30 p.m. Nov. 6, 8 p.m. Nov. 7. $25 in advance, $27.50 day of show. Variety Playhouse, 1099 Euclid Ave. 404-524-7354, www.jmonae.com .
This story originally appeared in the Atlanta Journal Constitution..
Lily Tomlin is one of America’s foremost comediennes, and she continues to venture across an ever-widening range of media, starring in television, theater, motion pictures, animation, and video. Throughout her extraordinary entertainment career, Tomlin has received numerous awards, including: six Emmys; a Tony for her one woman Broadway show, “Appearing Nitely;” a second Tony as Best Actress, Drama Desk Award and Outer Critics’ Circle Award for her one woman performance in Jane Wagner’s “The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe;” a CableAce Award for Executive Producing the film adaptation of “The Search;” a Grammy for her comedy album, “This is a Recording,” as well as nominations for her subsequent albums “Modern Scream,” “And That’s the Truth” and “On Stage;” and two Peabody Awards — the first for the ABC television special, “Edith Ann’s Christmas: Just Say Noël” and the second for narrating and executive producing the HBO film, “The Celluloid Closet.”
These days Tomlin has been hard at work on the Netflix series "Grace and Frankie" with her co-star Jane Fonda.
Recently on tour with her one-woman show “An evening of Classic Lily Tomlin,” she'll appear at Greenville’s Peace Center Nov. 15.
Tomlin took time to speak with Q-Notes by phone from her Los Angeles home the morning after production wrapped on “Twelve Miles.”
QN.Tell us about your new show — what can we expect?
LT. I do lots of characters, about 10 to 12. It’s very informal, with more interaction with the audience. I’ll talk about Greenville a little bit.
QN. What are you going to say about Greenville?
LT. I don’t know. I’ll think about it before I get there. I’ll do some research on the city before I come. My parents are from Paducah, Ky., and I’ve spent a lot of time down south — so I’m familiar with the southern style. I’m well acquainted with the area. But as to what I might say? I’d probably say I might read from the Bible, but it’s so full of homosexuality people might get offended.”
QN. I understand you’ve also finished a new movie recently?
LT. It’s called “The Walker” and it’s set in D.C. It’s a very slim slice of a skewed way of what goes on in politics. Woody Harrellson plays a single guy who is friends with all these rich ‘women of a certain age.’ Kristin Scott Thiomas and Lauren Bacall are also in the movie. We play this group of friends that are very close to Woody’s character.
QN. Looking back over your career, what moment so far do you remember with particular fondness?
LT. I’ve had the good fortune to do a lot of fun projects and work with good people. “Nashville” was my first movie. I got to work with Altman and I got nominated for an Academy Award. Then there was “The Late Show” — I loved that. I won the Silver Bear at the Berlin Festival and I was all happy until I found out there was a Gold Bear. I did “Nine to Five,” “All of Me,” “Big Business” with Bette Midler and I got to work with David O’Russell in “Flirting With Disaster.” I’m crazy about David O’Russell. I’ve been lucky to do a lot of projects and get a lot of good casting. “The Search” was a big moment for both Jane and me. As a theater piece I love that play.”
QN. According to your bio I see that you’ve collaborated with your partner Jane Wagner for many years. How did the two of you meet?
LT. We had some mutual friends and I was working on Edith Ann and Jane had written an after school teleplay called “JT “ that she won an Emmy for. It was so critically acclaimed they ran it year after year. It was so wonderful — it was so tender and secure and edgy. I contacted her and I wanted her to help me with my Edith Ann album. So she came over and I fell madly in love with her.
QN. How long have you been together and what do you think accounts for the success of your relationship?
LT. We’ll have been together 36 years in March. As for the relationship — It’s a matter of commitment and something that binds you soul wise. I don’t know what it is. I can’t imagine Jane not being in my life. If you really know what there is to love about someone it really can’t be violated. Our families are intertwined and I’m close to her sister too. It just is.
QN. In all the characters you’ve created, which one, or ones do you think are most like you?
LT. It’s hard to think any of them aren’t. I think they’re all just some part of me. I’m a little bit of all of them. From Edith Ann to Sister Boogeywoman. There are some characters that I think live in your body a bit more easily. Even those early characters — I feel like I am those people when I’m doing them. I like Edith because it’s fun to be a kid and fidget around and do things like kids do.
QN. Can you tell me the name of an actor or actress that you’ve worked with that has really left you awestruck with their capabilities?
LT. Meryl Streep is just fantastic. Even in that part in “Prarie Home Companion.” I saw her three times in “Prada.” Bette Midler is incredible. Steve Martin is a really gifted comic performer. Tom Waites, he is so unto himself and Lauren Bacall is amazing! She’s 82. She was so young when she started so she has just about known everybody in Hollywood history.
QN. I know you’re out. You know you’re out. Why do you think so many people just don’t seem to get it?
LT. They either put it together or refuse to put it together. I don’t know what people think. Maybe I’m inarticulate or something. I remember one time I was on a talk show with Danny Thomas and he was saying everybody should go to Vietnam with Bob Hope. I said I would prefer to go with Jane Fonda. So Danny Thomas was all up in my face screaming at me and my aunt had seen it on television and said “oh that was so cute.” Cute? I was trying to make a political statement and Danny Thomas was screaming at me. I just don’t think because of the characters I’ve played people put me together with politics.
Charlotte was once home to several Drive-In movie theaters. With warmer weather finally here, I started to remember days of childhood and what a good time it was. We’d pile in a car with family and friends and a bunch of us would spend the night inside the family auto or on the hood watching some crazy horror flic.
After all the reminiscing, I thought it would be fun to go again, but I couldn’t seem to find any more. A perplexing question arose: were they all gone?
Unfortunately, many have slipped through the cracks of time. But not all..
In Charlotte proper, Drive-In theaters have gone the way of restaurants such as Wiener King and shopping centers like Eastland Mall. Up until last year, there was the old Belmont Drive-In just across the Gaston County line, but it has since closed down.
Years ago, Charlotte was brimming with the once-popular family entertainment getaways. They were a fun and inexpensive night out on the town for a date, partying with friends or family time with mom, dad and all the kids.
Pack everybody into one of those giant old massive eight-cylinder sedans, pay the requisite price for a carload, hook one of the driver’s side squawk boxes onto your door and watch the latest big screen hits or the best in bad B-Movie fare, usually in a double feature..
“By the time my parents were taking my sister and me to the Thunderbird Drive-In back in Charlotte, it was the 1970s and drive-ins were already becoming a thing of the past,” says Vera Saxxon, who grew up here, but now makes her home in Denver, Colorado.
“My folks used to talk about going to the Queen City Drive-In on dates when they first met in the 1950s. It sounded like a much more romantic time then. Classic cinema under the stars. What could have been better?”
In addition to the Thunderbird (which touted the most neon-lit theater marquee in the region) and the Queen City, Charlotte also boasted a number of other outdoor cinemas such as the Fox, a South and North 29, the York Road Drive-In and the Viking Twin, among others.
As Saxxon indicated, the world of Drive-In theaters began to take a nose dive by the 1970s. Venues that kicked off decades earlier with mainstream family fare eventually switched to budget gore and some would later even opt for X-rated “adult films.”
With rising gas prices, small and cramped boring cars and the advent of home video, people began to turn away from drive-ins by the early 1980s. In Charlotte of the 21st century, they now exist only in memory. But don’t despair. All is not lost if you’re willing to take a short drive to one of the city’s nearby suburbs. You can still catch celluloid at its finest (well, sort of) on the big screen and under the stars at three locations that won’t drain your gas tank dry.
Not coincidentally, all of them kick off drive-in season with the arrival of the Easter holiday weekend. In Albemarle there’s the Badin Drive-The town of Kings Mountain still attracts crowds to the Hounds Drive In, while Shelby continues to entertain locals and nearby residents with screenings at the Sunset Drive-In. Although many film fans today view drive-ins as obsolete, there’s something to be said for the retro experience. On a temperate clear night, in any kind of convertible – it’s an adventure that can’t be beat.
Growing up in a modest early 20th century house in my birthplace of Charlotte, N.C., especially on the west side, meant one thing for sure — we weren’t the richest folks in town.
Despite the fact we didn’t always have the money to get every toy I saw or the hottest new car on the market — we did have a large extended family that enjoyed spending time together.
In the early years when my sisters and I were still kids, the family would visit my grandparents in Rutherfordton, N.C., (the natives just skip right over those three syllables in the middle and call it “Ruv-ton”) for the annual Thanksgiving dinner.
My grandparents lived in a big old farm house that seemed like it was in the middle of nowhere. I can still recall riding up a dirt road from a state road to get to their long driveway. The minute the wheels of my dad’s Ford Falcon station wagon touched the drive a hoard of mixed-breed mutts would charge down to meet us, barking happily as if to announce to my grandparents that visitors had arrived.
The same scene would play itself out again multiple times as aunts and uncles would arrive with cousins and other family members.
By the time a crew of 25 or so had gathered, it was time to eat. My grandmother — who was very much the portrait of an elderly woman from the American ’30s (sturdy shoes, a house dress, small round frame glasses, gray hair in a bun) — emerged from the kitchen. Her face was wet with sweat from cooking over the hot stove and the resulting steam had caused multiple wisps of gray hair to loosen themselves from the otherwise tightly bobby-pinned bun.
“Are you folks ready for some Thanksgiving Dinner?” She would ask in her warm, grandmotherly voice.
Every year she would prepare the same thing: a ham, a turkey, endless selections of beans: peas, green beans, pinto beans and lima beans (beans were not a favorite of mine at this point in time — especially limas and green peas), stuffing, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce (jellied and shaped like a can), macaroni and cheese and baskets and baskets of dinner rolls.
The adults would serve themselves and all gather at the large formal table in the dining room, while the children were served by my grandmother personally at smaller tables she had sat up in the den.
For the years I can recall, and before she became too frail for big family gatherings, this was the standard procedure.
I would always end up at the same seat at the same little table. And it was always the table with the strange little drawer. So perfect for putting things in. So odd that I was always so carefully guided to that place.
“You sit here,” she would say, pointing to the place I knew she would. Then she would place my two sisters and a cousin at the three other available seats around the small, square table.
A few minutes later she would re-emerge from the kitchen, plates loaded up with all of the aforementioned items and invariably a heaping helping of limas or green peas. She always looked me directly in the eye and smiled whimsically as she placed the plate in front of me. “Be sure you eat all of that young man. You’re too skinny!”
I’m not exactly sure when it all began, but at some point a few years prior — in an effort to escape the foul tasting limas or green peas — I had scooped the offending offering into the tiny drawer in front of me.
Somewhere along the way I think it became a game for my grandmother. I can only imagine the first time it happened she was horrified to find a drawer of cast off lima beans.
Initially, she was probably unsure as to whom the culprit actually was — but after the second year, I’m sure it became obvious.
Why would she place me at the same seat each year? The beans were always gone from the previous visit. There were never any moldy or petrified bipodal seeds to be found in the empty drawer. Clearly, someone must have cleaned them out.
That someone could only have been her.
I envisioned in my head the conversation she and my grandfather might have had the night before.
“You know Bill and Dot will be down tomorrow with the kids?” She’d ask.
“Yes. And a bunch of other screaming monsters,” my grandfather would moan. “We’re getting a might too old for this, don’t you think?”
“Don’t be silly,” she’d chuckle.
“Besides, I always get a bit of a laugh out of making that jumpy little boy of theirs put his lima beans in the drawer again.”
Did she know? How could she not? Was she playing with me?
Regrettably, I never found out the answer to the question. A few years later my grandfather died and shortly after that grandmother had a stroke — which landed her in a care facility. We went to visit her a few times, but she never really did seem to recognize any of the grandchildren.
For the most part — I recall her as a quiet and serious, well-mannered woman. It’s difficult for me to picture her playing head games for a chuckle.
But it makes me laugh to think she probably had the same twisted sense of humor I do today. Every year around this time I can’t help but remember those days so long ago — and my grandmother: a little old woman who was messin’ with my head on Thanksgiving Day.