The 1960s were rife with super-duper-glamorous spies, weren’t they? James Bond was one of the earliest and also the best-known. Ian Fleming published Casino Royale in 1953, and the movie series started in 1962 with Dr. No. But there were many others: The Avengers, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., I Spy, Mission: Impossible, James Coburn’s Derek Flint, Dean Martin’s Matt Helm—they were all over the place.
Emma Peel notwithstanding, the general arena was a bit heavy on the testosterone, so Peter O’Donnell invented “England’s fabulous, feminine answer to James Bond,” as one of the first published editions had it. (In Pulp Fiction, Vincent Vega is reading the edition at the top of this post on the toilet just before he meets his untimely demise.)
In 1966 Joseph Losey directed Modesty Blaise starring Monica Vitti and Terence Stamp and Dirk Bogarde. Some of the book covers below use images of Vitti in the role.
Modesty Blaise never had the sales that James Bond enjoyed, but she was quite popular through the 1970s and 1980s, and Souvenir Press was publishing several Modesty Blaise titles as late as 2006. As you can see below, O’Donnell’s handful of Modesty Blaise titles (Modesty Blaise, Sabre-Tooth, I, Lucifer, The Impossible Virgin) were translated in many countries, including France, Germany, Israel, South Africa, Finland, and Brazil.
The Modesty Blaise Book Covers website is obviously indispensable for a post like this—alas, many of the images are a bit too small for use here, but I was often able to find reasonable facsimiles elsewhere on the internet. In some cases I liked the cover so much and couldn’t find a larger image so I just lived with the mild graininess, sue me!
If you’re an 80s kid like me, you might really, really appreciate these handmade NeverEnding Story tablet covers. I found three of them online made by two different Etsy shops. The prices can range anywhere from $29.95 to $50. I have linked where you can buy ‘em under each image.
Playwright Eugène Ionesco was one of the founding fathers of the Theatre of the Absurd, a school defined by cultural historian Martin Esslin (in his influential 1960 book of the same title) as a genre which dramatized Albert Camus’s philosophy that life is inherently sans meaning. That our existence on Earth is both absurd and pointless. That we’re born into a godless world. We live. We die. Along the way we might do certain things—even perform acts of great compassion or heroism—but ultimately none of it really matters. Death swallows everything and everyone in the end.
While trying to learn English via the ASSiMiL method for teaching foreign languages (which requires phonetic memorization of mundane “conversational” sentences) Ionesco was inspired by the company’s book Anglais Sans Peine (“English Without Toil”) and the generic “characters” within it, “Mr. and Mrs. Smith,” to write his first play, La Cantatrice Chauve or The Bald Soprano. It was debuted in Paris in 1950 but initially not much of a success.
When the play opens, we meet Mr. and Mrs. Smith in their drab sitting room. He is hidden behind his newspaper, smoking a pipe and clicking his tongue. She is darning socks. After a long moment of “English silence,” Mrs. Smith announces:
“There, it’s nine o’clock. We’ve drunk the soup, and eaten the fish and chips and the English salad. The children have drunk English water. We’ve eaten well this evening. That’s because we live in the suburbs of London and because our name is Smith.”
Ionesco’s special talent was ridiculing authority figures, brutally portraying humankind’s insignificance and lampooning the banality of everyday communication. He would artfully employ clichés and witless truisms as dialogue. His characters often talk right past one another, if not simply shouting non sequiturs into the wind. No one is ever listening to what anyone else is saying in his plays.
The Bald Soprano was composed as a sort of continuous loop. The last scene contains stage instructions to begin the performance over again, from the very first line but with “the Martins” (the dinner guests of the Smiths) doing the lines that the Smiths had just said, and vice versa. And then repeat. And then repeat again. Ionesco’s point is that the characters and their banal, absurdist dialogue are interchangeable. None of it matters. Who cares?
The Bald Soprano has been continuously performed in France since 1957 at the Théâtre de la Huchette and due to the simplicity of the language lesson-level dialogue it has been translated into many, many languages and staged the world over. Indeed, it’s one of the most widely performed plays of all time.
H.G. Wells’ 1898 novel War of the Worlds has famously inspired at least seven motion pictures as well as an infamous, historic, and hysteria-inducing radio broadcast, directed and narrated by the late, great Orson Welles in 1938. The radio-play caused such panic that public outcry called for stricter regulation and guidelines by the FCC. Be that as it may, the overall success of the radio program helped to secure Orson Welles’ reputation and fame as a serious dramatist.
One figure not often associated with, but connected to the genius of War of the Worlds, was the American writer and illustrator Edward Gorey.
From 1953 to 1960, you couldn’t swing a dead cat without hitting some magnificent book cover (and very often text) illustrated by the artist Edward Gorey. Gorey would eventually become quite successful as an artist and author of his own material, eventually penning over 100 books, but from 1953 to 1960, he lived in New York City and worked as an illustrator in the art department of Doubleday. He toiled alongside other unknown artists like young Andy Warhol, illustrating the works of famous mainstream authors such as Thomas Wolfe, Henry James, Anton Chekhov, and Franz Kafka.
One example of many of Gorey’s stunning book covers.
Thankfully, both Gorey and Warhol would eventually break out of their respective ruts and change the art world forever. Gorey’s unique pen and ink style made him popular with fans as diverse as children and goths. During his tenure at Doubleday, he illustrated kid’s books as well as classics like Bram Stoker’s horror masterpiece Dracula. When he struck out on his own, he even dabbled in what can only be described as “asexual pornography.” But it’s toward the end of his time at Doubleday that he was asked to add his stark trademark pen and ink style to illustrate a new edition of the H.G. Wells’ classic The War of the Worlds. This was for the Looking Glass Library series, which was published in 1960. (Most of Gorey’s own works are obscure and hard to find, but there are collections of his work available through The Gorey Store found in The Edward Gorey House online.) Gorey begins each chapter of The War of the Worlds with one of his eerily unmistakable pen and ink sketches.
Here are some striking samples of his work from this special edition of The War of the Worlds, when Gorey took on the Martians:
Writer, musician, raconteur Dave Hill is the author of the upcoming comic anthology Dave Hill Doesn’t Live Here Anymore. Dave Hill is a very, very funny man. But you don’t have to take my word for it. Dick Cavett, Andy Richter, Malcolm Gladwell and John Hodgman also think he’s pretty hilarious. John Oliver must like Dave, too, because he uses “Go” by Dave’s band, Valley Lodge, as the jaunty theme tune for his Last Week Tonight with John Oliver show on HBO. Apparently Samantha Bee is a Hill fan, as well, since she had Dave on her new Full Frontal program earlier this week, serenading some college-educated Donald Trump supporters with a little ditty he’d composed about Trump especially for the occasion (see below).
And Dave actually knows what he’s singing about from experience. He really knows Donald Trump. Or at least he is—or was—once very, very briefly acquainted with the Donald for about an hour or so back in 2004…
The year was 2004. Both NBC’s The Apprentice and really fun cell-phone ringtones had taken an unsuspecting public by storm. I had managed to elude both—I kept my phone on vibrate and was ready to stare in bemusement at anyone even thinking of telling me I had been “fired.”
But I needed money, so when the call came to write ringtones for Donald Trump, a quiet businessman from Queens who had been reluctantly thrust into the spotlight by the seventh-most popular program on network television at the time, I said yes. I had been doing some freelance writing and one of my clients was among the tangle of corporations assigned to the case. Fortunately, they decided to throw me a bone.
Of course, I knew a thing or two about Trump already. He had flawless hair; he slept on piles of money each night; given the choice between having something not gold-plated or entirely gold-plated, he chose door number two every time. Still, I wanted to do the best job possible, so I had one of Trump’s minions send me copies of two of his books, Trump: The Art of the Deal and Trump: The Art of the Comeback, as well as an anatomically correct Trump doll that would tell me all sorts of things every time I pressed its back, something I couldn’t help but do repeatedly as soon as it came into my possession.
“You really think you’re a good leader?” the doll would ask, seemingly out of the blue. “I don’t.”
A little harsh, maybe, but also something I probably needed to hear.
Despite all the hours I spent playing with that doll, though, I had my work cut out for me. Somehow, in what I can only assume was the result of someone putting a gun to Trump’s head, NBC owned the rights to his electrifying catchphrase “You’re fired!” The challenge was mine to figure out what else he might say—to write some slogans people might want to hear coming out of their phones besides those two magical words that had already galvanized a nation.
“Your services are no longer required at this place of business!”
“Please stop showing up here for work, okay?”
“Die, you anus!”
These are but a few of the alternatives to “You’re fired!” that I proposed. In the end, though, it was decided that Trump’s ringtone avatar would be less cutthroat and more inspirational, encouraging cell-phone users to answer promptly so they could take advantage of a big business opportunity or maybe just hurt someone’s feelings. I whipped up a few dozen Trumpist gems. Track ‘em down if you like; I imagine they’re still out there somewhere, priced to move.
“This is Donald Trump. I have no choice but to tell you . . . you’re getting a phone call.”
“I’m Donald Trump and this is the call of a lifetime!”
“This is Donald Trump. Answer your phone now—it might be me calling.”
Maybe not my finest hour, but, hey—the customer is always right. After that, I assumed my work was done, but I ended up being asked to attend the actual taping, too, at none other than Trump Tower.
“You mean I’ll actually be in the room while Donald is saying the stuff I wrote?” I asked a guy from the ringtone concern.
“Yes,” he said, placing a hand on my shoulder for emphasis. This was officially about to be the biggest thing anyone in my family had ever done, including fighting in wars or any of that other crap my older relatives always went on about. Naturally, I couldn’t wait to tell them.
“I’m working with Donald Trump,” I told my mom over the phone.
“Who?” my mom asked.
“Donald Trump,” I told her. “The guy from The Apprentice.”
“David got a job with Tony Crump,” my mom yelled to my dad in the next room.
“That’s nice,” my dad yelled back.
They were pumped.
When the big day rolled around, I put on a suit and tie and worked as many hair products into my scalp as possible before heading over to Trump’s offices in midtown Manhattan to meet the other dozen or so people required to complete a task of this magnitude.
As expected, Trump HQ was beyond opulent. It was as if a blind decorator had been given an unlimited budget and told he’d never work in this town again.
“This way, please,” a Trump representative, who was difficult to focus on amid all that sparkle, said before leading us to a conference room. Along the way, I spotted Donald Jr. sitting in an adjacent office, his hair perfect, as he no doubt bought or sold something without even thinking about it. It ruled.
“You have one hour,” the rep announced, prompting everyone in the conference room to spring into action, turning it into a makeshift recording studio. A few minutes later, the doors opened and in walked Trump, somehow looking even Trumpier than I’d anticipated. He wore a suit and tie and, of course, his trademark scowl. And though he stood mere feet from me, I found I had no further insight into his hair-care regimen. Looking into his coiffure did nothing to demystify it. In fact, it only confused me more.
“Right this way, Mr. Trump,” a ringtone specialist said, gently urging him toward the microphones while being careful not to actually touch him.
“Let’s make this quick,” Trump grunted, already sounding like the ringtones I’d written. “I’ve got a busy day ahead of me.” At this point, a mild panic set in as everyone in the room became convinced he or she might very well be “fired” or at least told to wait by the elevators at any moment. As for me, though, I couldn’t help but relax a bit; it had suddenly occurred to me that Trump might not be the oblivious blowhard everyone thinks. I mean, sure, he was a blowhard, maybe even the biggest blowhard of all time, but he also seemed totally self-aware, like he knew he was just playing a character, and that as soon as we left, he’d run into Ivanka’s office, shut the door behind him, and squeal, “I got ‘em again, honey!” Something about that made me actually kind of like the guy, if I sat there and thought about it long enough.
Moments later, after a technician had scrambled to hit any and all record buttons, Trump began barreling through the ringtones, printed on large cue cards that would remain easily readable even when he squinted judgmentally, which was always. Occasionally he’d give emphasis to a different word or see if getting angrier might help sell things a bit more. Meanwhile, everyone else in the room remained pinned to the wall, just trying to get through the proceedings intact.
Things seemed to be going well enough until about twenty minutes later, when Trump paused abruptly and began scanning the room in the manner that, by now, haunts people’s dreams the world over.
“Who wrote these things?” he barked, pointing at the cue cards like he wanted them taken out back and shot.
“That guy! Dave Hill!” at least five people volunteered in unison, their tone suggesting they would happily stab me right then and there if Trump would just say the word.
I figured I might start gathering my things at this point, but before I could, Trump looked at me, dropped his scowl, and said, “You’re a very good writer.”
“Thanks,” I said with a nod, sensing a trap. For the remaining forty minutes or so of the recording session, Trump refused to address anyone in the room but me. Others tried to intervene, but as soon as they finished talking, Trump would turn to me, his right-hand man, and ask, “What do you think, Dave?”
It was a weird kind of trust to have earned, sure, but it was also kind of cool—especially considering that otherwise I probably would have been just sitting at home scanning Craigslist for missed connections.
As the session wrapped up, I recalled something else I’d learned about Trump through my tireless research: he hates shaking hands. Naturally, this made my mission clear. This will be the true test of our love, I thought as I stood waiting for any others brazen enough to approach Trump to say whatever they were gonna say with their hands glued to their sides before get- ting the hell out of his sight, dammit.
With the path clear, I approached him for some bro time.
“Nice working with you, Donald,” I told him.
“You, too, Dave,” he said.
“Thanks,” I replied. I gingerly extended my hand. I could feel eyebrows across the room rising in slow-motion panic.
Will he? Won’t he?
Against all odds, Trump slowly reached out and grabbed my hand, shaking it not so firmly, as if to suggest his henchmen might be waiting for me outside and not so softly as if to suggest a quality hang in Montauk was off the table. No, this was just right—perfect, in fact, almost like he was a regular human being who had done this sort of thing before. All these years later, that shake still feels like a victory of some sort, but I’m not sure for whom.
As I sit here writing this in my underpants, Donald Trump continues his disturbing bid for the American presidency. And I find myself hoping more than ever that he really is only playing a character, that maybe he’s just the greatest performance artist of our time, a modern-day Warhol or slightly chattier Marina Abramovíc who will any day now say “Tada!” and take a bow, then go open an all-you-can-eat shrimp joint in the Outer Banks or something.
With each passing day, I fear I may be wrong. Still, whatever happens, it’ll always be nice to look back on that day at Trump Tower and think, “Sure, he’s a hate-spewing boob who somehow manages to sound even angrier and crazier than that doll I still can’t help but drag out from under the bed every once in awhile…and, yes, he’s even got that certain awful something to win the endorsement of the unicellular Sarah Palin. But put the two of us in a room together for an hour and, goddamn, do that son of a bitch and I make one hell of a ringtone.
We’ve blogged about this wicked-cool board game—loosely based off of Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream—by artist Alyx Baldwin back in 2009, but I see it’s making the rounds again. Plus I think it’s time to give this game another go-round because it deserves the attention. Just look at how much thought and consideration was put into this board game!
In 1964, Stanley Kubrick wrote to Arthur C. Clarke. He told the science fiction author he was a “a great admirer” of his books, and “had always wanted to discuss with [him] the possibility of doing the proverbial really good science-fiction movie.”
My main interest lies along these broad areas, naturally assuming great plot and character:
The reasons for believing in the existence of intelligent extra-terrestrial life.
The impact (and perhaps even lack of impact in some quarters) such discovery would have on Earth in the near future.
A space probe with a landing and exploration of the Moon and Mars.
Clarke liked Kubrick’s suggestions. A meeting was arranged at Trader Vic’s in New York on April 22, 1964, at which Kubrick explained his interest in extraterrestrial life. He told Clarke he wanted to make a film about “Man’s relationship to the universe.”
The author offered the director a choice of six short stories—from which Kubrick picked “The Sentinel” (published as “The Sentinel of Eternity” in 1953). The story described the discovery of strange, tetrahedral artefact on the Moon. The narrator speculates the object is a “warning beacon” left by some ancient alien intelligence to signal humanity’s evolutionary advance towards space travel.
Over the next four years they worked together on the film—two of which were spent co-writing the screenplay they privately called How the Solar System Was Won.
Director and Author.
Kubrick and Clarke decided to write a book together first then the screenplay. This was to be credited: “Screenplay by Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke, based on a novel by Arthur C. Clarke and Stanley Kubrick.” It turned out slightly differently as the book and screenplay were written simultaneously. While Kubrick made the film “a visual, nonverbal experience,” Clarke widened the story out, explaining many of the events Kubrick left open-ended. The director wanted to make a film that hit the audience “at an inner level of consciousness, just as music does, or painting.”
In an interview with Joseph Gelmis in 1970, Kubrick described the genesis of both the book and script:
There are a number of differences between the book and the movie. The novel, for example, attempts to explain things much more explicitly than the film does, which is inevitable in a verbal medium. The novel came about after we did a 130-page prose treatment of the film at the very outset. This initial treatment was subsequently changed in the screenplay, and the screenplay in turn was altered during the making of the film. But Arthur took all the existing material, plus an impression of some of the rushes, and wrote the novel. As a result, there’s a difference between the novel and the film…I think that the divergences between the two works are interesting.
Clarke was more direct. He wrote an explicit interpretation of the film explaining many of its themes. In particular, how the central character David Bowman ends his days in what Clarke described as a kind of living museum or zoo, where he is observed by alien life forms.
The director on a sound stage at MGM Studios, Borehamwood, England.
Kubrick was less forthcoming. Though he did share some of his thoughts on the meaning and purpose of human existence in an interview with Playboy in 1968:
The very meaninglessness of life forces man to create his own meaning. Children, of course, begin life with an untarnished sense of wonder, a capacity to experience total joy at something as simple as the greenness of a leaf; but as they grow older, the awareness of death and decay begins to impinge on their consciousness and subtly erode their joie de vivre, their idealism – and their assumption of immortality. As a child matures, he sees death and pain everywhere about him, and begins to lose faith in the ultimate goodness of man. But, if he’s reasonably strong – and lucky – he can emerge from this twilight of the soul into a rebirth of life’s elan. Both because of and in spite of his awareness of the meaninglessness of life, he can forge a fresh sense of purpose and affirmation. He may not recapture the same pure sense of wonder he was born with, but he can shape something far more enduring and sustaining. The most terrifying fact about the universe is not that it is hostile but that it is indifferent; but if we can come to terms with this indifference and accept the challenges of life within the boundaries of death – however mutable man may be able to make them – our existence as a species can have genuine meaning and fulfilment. However vast the darkness, we must supply our own light.
Similarities between shots and designs in ‘2001’ and Pavel Klushantsev’s ‘Road to the Stars’ (1958).
Kubrick involved himself in every aspect of the film’s production—from costume and set design, technical specifications, the requirements of specially designed cameras, to the building of a 32-ton centrifuge used to create the interior of a space craft. Kubrick was greatly influenced by Pavel Klushantsev’s Road to the Stars from 1958—and exploited many of the designs, crafts and ideas featured in that film.
Rapid technological improvements have created unforeseen societal chaos and this change is just starting to pick up speed. Our economic operating system—the “program” at the heart of Capitalism itself—is deliriously out of control. The economy no longer serves the human race, just a tiny elite sliver of it. The rest of us, whether we realize it or not, to a certain extent toil on their behalf. Think about it: How did the Waltons become the richest family in America, amassing a collective fortune of around $150 billion, if not by siphoning off a micropayment from every single gallon of milk, bottle of shampoo or box of Hostess Ding Dongs sold there? Bud and Sam Walton might have started Walmart, but all their offspring did was win the lottery at birth.
If you think that sounds predatory—and it should—just wait until you get a load of what the big technology firms have in mind for us…
I asked my friend of some twenty years some questions over email.
Richard Metzger: You write how the operating system of capitalism is obsolete, creating vast spoils for a select group of lucky human beings who are more or less basically leeching off the rest of mankind’s activities, and in a world of increasing automation to make things even worse. What’s the new book’s diagnosis of the modern economy?
Douglas Rushkoff: That sounds like a pretty good diagnosis to me. Or I suppose those are the symptoms? The underlying problem is not a disease, however. It’s not that corporate capitalism has been corrupted by greed or even by the startup economy of digital businesses. The system is working precisely as it was designed to.
It’s just that the transfer of value from people and places into capital used to happen a bit slower. And our companies tended to do it to other places more than to us. So in the 1400’s, British East India Trading Company might have enslaved thousands of Africans or taken land from the people of the West Indies - where today it’s Walmart bankrupting our towns and Uber extracting labor from drivers.
So now, the extractive power of expansionary, growth-based capitalism has been turned against us. The same sorts of companies are growing, but at the expense of all humans - not just those we can’t see. And the startup economy does all this a whole lot faster. A company goes from zero to a billion in 24 months. And it only does that by abandoning its original goals of helping people do something new, and instead adopting scorched earth policies toward its own markets.
That’s the real problem: companies that want to be around for a long time need to keep their markets - their customers and suppliers and workers - healthy and viable. Once companies are in control of venture capitalists, that’s no longer the goal. They haven’t bought the company to own it, but to sell it. They only need their markets to survive long enough to get to the exit - the IPO or acquisition that lets them cash out.
In the process, the company can use its war chest of investment capital to regulate the marketplace in its favor, or undercut the prices of the competition. It’s not about doing business; it’s about selling the company.
Okay, if that’s the diagnosis, then what’s the remedy? Is there one?
There’s not a single remedy. That’s the one-size-fits-all ethos of the industrial age: figure out the solution, then scale it universally! (And make a ton of money in the process.) Rather, the solution set will be as varied as the people and communities of our planet. The first step is to remember that human beings retain their home field advantage as long as they stay in the real world, on planet earth. We are the natives here - the corporations and technologies and business plans are all invented alien. That’s part what the SF protesters mean when they lay in front of the Google buses.
The way to reduce the power of the companies extracting value from our economy is to begin transacting locally and laterally. Do as much locally as you can. See your town or city as the economy. If there’s people with needs, and people with skills, you have the basis for an economy. You just may need to develop an alternative means of exchange, such as a local currency or favor bank.
Of course that doesn’t replace the entire economy. People look at a suggestion like that, and they immediately thing I’m arguing that cash, banking, corporations, iPhones, and automobiles go away. We can’t help but think of things in apocalyptic terms. But all I’m suggesting is that we balance out even just a little of our Walmart or Amazon purchases with some more local, small-scaled value creation and exchange.
The other remedy is for those developing new technologies or applications not to accept so much venture capital. They still think that getting a lot of money for their idea is the best way to build it. But it’s not. The more money you take, the less control you have over the future of your company. When you take in VC, you have already sold your company to someone who doesn’t care about your app, your customers, your employees, or your mission. Kiss it good-bye. They only care about selling your business to someone else - to the next round of investors - and that means plumping it up. You will be forced to pivot from whatever you wanted to do, to something they think can let them sell the company. It doesn’t even have to make money - it just has to destroy a market and claim a monopoly over what’s left.
The other morning here at Dangerous Minds Towers (Scotland), while I sat sifting through the mailbag looking for presents and antique snuff boxes, m’colleague Tara McGinley popped a fascinating article in front of me about a wild “Tiger Woman.”
At first I thought this tabloid tale was perhaps about the woman who had inspired Roy Wood to write his rather wonderful and grimy little number “Wild Tiger Woman” for The Move. As I read on, I realized this story of a rebellious singer, dancer and artist’s model was unlikely to have been the woman Wood had in mind when he wrote his famous song.
No, this particular “Tiger Woman” was one Betty May Golding—a drug addict, a boozer, and a dabbler in the occult. She had a string of lovers, worked as a prostitute, had been a member of a notorious criminal gang, an alleged Satanist, and had once even tried to murder Aleister Crowley. This was the kind of impressive resumé one would expect from the original “wild child.” Not that Ms. Golding would have given two hoots for any of that:
I have not cared what the world thought of me and as a result what it thought has often not been very kind… I have often lived only for pleasure and excitement.
You go girl!
Betty May was born Elizabeth Marlow Golding into a world of poverty and deprivation in Canning Town, London in 1895. The neighborhood was situated at the heart of the city’s docks—an area described by Charles Dickens as:
...already debased below the point of enmity to filth; poorer labourers live there, because they cannot afford to go farther, and there become debased.
To get an idea how deprived and “debased” this district was—Canning Town even today “remains among the 5% [of the] most deprived areas in the UK.” Plus ca change…
A typical London slum 1909.
When Betty was just an infant, her father left the family home, leaving her mother to support four children on a pittance of 10/- a week—roughly the equivalent of $1.50. The family home was a hovel with no furniture and no beds. The family slept on bundles of rags, cuddling together to keep warm.
Her mother was half-French with beautiful olive complexion and almond eyes. The struggle proved too much for her and Betty was sent off to live with her father who was then residing in a brothel. Her father was an engineer by trade but he preferred to spend his time drinking, fighting and thieving. He was eventually arrested and sent to jail.
In her autobiography Tiger Woman, published in 1929, Betty described herself as a “little brown-faced marmoset ... and the only quick thing in this very slow world.” She earned pennies by dancing and singing on the street. After her father’s arrest, she was passed from relative to relative eventually staying with an aunt who described her as “a regular little savage.”
One of her earliest memories was finding the body of a pregnant neighbor hanging from a hook. The woman had caught her husband having sex with her sister.
Her face was purple and her eyes bulged like a fish’s. It was rather awful.
Eventually Betty was sent to another aunt who stayed out in the country in Somerset. Here she attended school but soon the teenager was in trouble after having an affair with one of her teachers.
I can hardly say, in the light of what I have learnt since, that we were in love. At least perhaps he was. Certainly I was fond of him.
When their illicit relationship was discovered, Betty was given an ultimatum.
There was a great deal of fuss and it was made clear to me that unless the friendship came to an end it would be the schoolmaster who would be made to suffer.
After a rather tearful scene with my aunt I was packed off with a few pounds.
Betty in her gypsy dress.
Arriving in London in 1910 Betty could only afford one outfit:
...but every item of it was a different colour. Neither red nor green nor blue nor yellow nor purple was forgotten, for I loved them all equally, and if I was not rich enough to wear them separately ... I would wear them, like Joseph in the Bible, all at once! Colours to me are like children to a loving mother.
With her exotic looks and green eyes, Betty looked every part the gypsy and was later known for her song “The Raggle Taggle Gypsy.” The novelist Anthony Powell described her as looking like a seaside fortune teller. Betty also delighted in her costermonger background:
I am a true coster in my flamboyance and my love of colour, in my violence of feeling and its immediate response in speech and action. Even now I am often caught with a sudden longing regret for the streets of Limehouse as I knew them, for the girls with their gaudy shawls and heads of ostrich feathers, like clouds in a wind, and the men in their caps, silk neckerchiefs and bright yellow pointed boots in which they took such pride. I adored the swagger and the showiness of it all.
The Café Royal in 1912 as painted by artist William Orpen.
At first, Betty worked as a prostitute before becoming a model, dancer and entertainer at the hip Café Royal.
The lights, the mirrors, the red plush seats, the eccentrically dressed people, the coffee served in glasses, the pale cloudy absinthe ... I felt as if I had strayed by accident into some miraculous Arabian palace… No duck ever took to water, no man to drink, as I to the Café Royal.
The venue was the haunt of Bohemians and artists—Augustus John, Jacob Epstein, the “Queen of Bohemia” Nina Hamnett, heiress Nancy Cunard, William Orpen, Anna Wickham, Iris Tree and Ezra Pound.
Betty’s flamboyance and gypsy attire attracted their interest and she had affairs with many of the regulars. She modelled for Augustus John and Jacob Epstein. Being an artist’s model was a grey area that often crossed into prostitution. Many of May’s contemporaries in “modelling” died in tragic circumstances—either by their own hand or at the hands of a jealous lover.
The artist Augustus John looking rather pleased with himself.
Betty’s life then took the first a many surprising turns when she became involved with a notorious criminal gang.
In 1914, she met a man she nicknamed “Cherub” at a bar who took her to France. Their relationship was platonic but after a night of drinking absinthe Cherub attacked her:
He clasped me round the waist, pinning my arms… I struggled with all the strength fear and hate could give me.
With a supreme effort I succeeded in half-freeing my right arm so that I was enabled to dig my scissors into the fleshy part of his neck.
Betty escaped to Paris where she met up with a man known as the “White Panther” who introduced her into the one of the ciy’s L’Apache gangs. She later claimed it was this gang who nicknamed her “Tiger Woman” after she became involved in a fight with one of the gangster’s girlfriends. When separated by the gang leader she bit into his wrist like a wild animal.
Now part of gang, Betty became involved in various robberies and acts of violence—in one occasion branding a possible informer with a red hot knife. This experience led her to quit Paris.
Apache gang members or hooligans fighting the police in 1904.
To be honest, Betty’s autobiography reads at times like a thrilling pulp novel and without corroborative evidence seems more like fiction than fact.
Returning to London, Betty resumed work as a singer and dancer. She sought a husband and found two suitors: the first died after a mysterious boating accident; the second blew his brains out one fine summer’s day. Betty eventually married a trainee doctor Miles L. Atkinson, who introduced her to the joys of cocaine.
I learnt one thing on my honeymoon—to take drugs.
Atkinson had an unlimited supply of cocaine via his work with the hospital. The couple embarked on a mad drug frenzy. They fell in with a den of opium smokers. May’s drug intake escalated to 150 grains of cocaine a day plus several pipes of opium. She became paranoid—on one occasion believing the world was against her after ordering a coffee at a cafe and the waiter served it black. She decided to divorce Atkinson, but he was killed in action in 1917 while serving as a soldier in the First World War.
Betty then met and married an Australian called “Roy”—not believed to be his real name—who weaned her off drugs by threatening to beat her if ever he caught her taking any. However, she divorced Roy after catching him having an affair.
Continuing with her career as an artist’s model, Betty sat for Jacob Epstein and Jacob Kramer, who she claimed painted her as the Sphinx.
Jacob Kramer’s painting ‘The Sphinx’ (1918).
Her notoriety grew after the publication of a book Dope Darling by David “Bunny” Garnett, which was based on Betty’s life as a coke addict. The book told the story of a man called Roy who falls in love with a dancer Claire at a bohemian cafe. Claire is a drug addict and prostitute. Roy believes he can save Claire by marrying her. Once married, Roy gradually becomes a drug addict too.
In the book, Garnett described Claire as being :
...always asked to all the parties given in the flashy Bohemian world in which she moved. No dance, gambling party, or secret doping orgy was complete without her. Under the effect of cocaine which she took more and more recklessly, she became inspired by a wild frenzy, and danced like a Bacchante, drank off a bottle of champagne, and played a thousand wild antics
But all of this was by way of a warm-up to her meeting the Great Beast.
‘Dope Darling’ by David Garnett.
In 1922, Betty met and married the poet Frederick Charles Loveday (aka Raoul Loveday). This dear boy (aged about twenty or twenty-one) was an acolyte of Aleister Crowley. With a first class degree from Oxford University and a book of published poems to his name, Loveday was utterly dedicated to Crowley and to his study of the occult.
Crowley first met Loveday at a dive in London called the Harlequin. He liked Loveday—saw his potential and claimed he was his heir apparent—but he said this about many other young man that took his fancy. He was however reticent in his praise for May—describing her as a “charming child, tender and simple of soul” but impaired by an alleged childhood accident he believed had “damaged her brain permanently so that its functions were discontinuous.” This condition was exacerbated by her drug addiction—though he was complimentary in her strength of will in curing herself.
Crowley believed he could save Loveday from the “vagabonds, squalid and obscene, who constituted the court of Queen Betty.”
In his Confessions, Crowley recounted a typical scene of Betty “at work” in the Harlequin:
In a corner was his wife, three parts drunk, on the knees of a dirty-faced loafer, pawed by a swarm of lewd hogs, breathless with lust. She gave herself greedily to their gross and bestial fingerings and was singing in an exquisite voice ... an interminable smutty song, with a ribald chorus in which they all joined.
Crowley moved to Sicily where he established his Abbey of Thelema at Cefalu. He wanted Loveday—and to a lesser extent May—to join him there. However, Loveday had been ill after an operation and several friends including Nina Hamnett warned him off going. But Loveday was determined and the couple traveled to the Abbey.
Arriving there in the fall of 1922, Betty and Loveday were soon party to various sex magic rituals under Crowley’s direction. On one occasion, Betty chanced upon a box filled with blood soaked neckties. When she asked Crowley what these were, he replied that they had belonged to Jack the Ripper and were stained with the blood of his victims.
Crowley may have tut-tutted about Betty’s sexual hi-jinks with other men in the club, but he didn’t seem to mind all the fucking and sucking that went on at the Abbey. Betty was unsure about Crowley. She was intrigued by the occult and her superstition kept her belief from wavering. But she never fully trusted him.
Everything came to a head after a black mass where Crowley commanded Loveday to kill a cat and drink its blood. Crowley claimed the cat was possessed by an evil spirit. Loveday beheaded the cat and greedily drank its blood. Within hours he fell ill and died, on February 16th, 1923.
Betty blamed Crowley for her husband’s death and swore revenge—deciding to kill him.
More on Betty May and her life of sex and drugs and the occult, after the jump…
“Art,” Paul Klee (1879-1940) once observed, “does not reproduce the visible; rather, it makes visible.” It’s a fair description of Klee’s rich and diverse body of artworks produced during his forty year career. Just looking at his phenomenal output of some 10,000 artworks tells a fairly accurate history of Modern Art, as Klee adopted, studied then discarded the ideas and forms of the twentieth century’s major artistic movements—Expressionism, Cubism, Surrealism, Abstraction and the Bauhaus school.
Klee became a great artist, and was also a poet, writer, composer and musician, but he could have been just an ordinary, run-of-the-mill traditional painter had he not had a startling epiphany in his early twenties, circa 1900. He was studying painting under artist Franz von Stuck in Germany. Klee excelled at drawing but was deeply frustrated and dissatisfied by his lack of aptitude as a painter. He felt unable to express himself, to move beyond mere reproduction. One day, he was browsing through his old belongings in the attic when he chanced upon paintings he had made as a child. There in front of him was what he was desperately trying to achieve—immediacy, vibrancy, and color.
Klee later wrote:
Children also have artistic ability, and there is wisdom in there having it! The more helpless they are, the more instructive are the examples they furnish us; and they must be preserved free of corruption from an early age.
It changed his approach to painting and so began the career of one of the twentieth century’s most influential artists.
Everyone’s seen a Klee painting—they’re forever appearing on greeting cards or postcards or posters. His work is ubiquitous because he kept developing and changing as an artist while maintaining a very personal vision. When collected together in a gallery, the variety and power of each of his paintings demands close attention “like reading a book or a musical score.”
‘Park near Lu’ (1938).
During his life, Klee wrote down his theories and ideas about art in various notebooks. In particular two volumes of lectures he gave at the Bauhaus gymnasiums during the 1920s—The Thinking Eye and The Nature of Nature—are “considered so important for understanding Modern Art that they are compared to the importance that Leonardo’s A Treatise on Painting had for the Renaissance.”
Pages from the ‘The Thinking Eye.’
If that wasn’t grand enough of blurb for a book jacket, the renowned art critic, anarchist and thinker Herbert Read (1893-1968) declared Klee’s notebooks as:
...the most complete presentation of the principles of design ever made by a modern artist – it constitutes the Principia Aesthetica of a new era of art, in which Klee occupies a position comparable to Newton’s in the realm of physics.
The reason these notebooks are so valuable is perhaps best described by Klee himself who claimed when he came to be a teacher he had “to account explicitly for what I had been used to doing unconsciously.”