Sprinkled With So Many Coincidences

Peter Sellers plays Claire Quilty, a pompous hipster playwright, the alter ego and nemesis to James Mason’s lustful professor, Humbert Humbert. Lolita (Stanley Kubrick, 1962)

 
 

The novel Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov is sprinkled with so many coincidences that it is hard to tell when coincidence stops and fate begins. In this work, coincidence and fate are fraternal twins. Whether the reader picks up Lolita for second, third, or three hundred and forty-second reading, hidden little treasures of coincidences and connections spring out from their carefully selected hiding places.

Humbert Humbert has a first love experience when he is young with Annabel Leigh. (the character was inspired by Edgar Allan Poe‘s poem, Annabel Lee). It is a strange coincidence that  Humbert and his Annabell  also have their first romantic encounter by the Mediterranean. After her young tragic death, Humbert cannot get over his infatuation with young girls. However, it is not just any kind of young girl that he pines for. It is a strange breed, the breed of nymphet. When Lolita, the very embodiment of nymphets, first enters the scene, she peers over her sunglasses at Humbert. The sunglasses are a strange connection between Lolita and Annabel Lee. “Half-naked, kneeling, turning about on her knees, there was my Riviera love peering at me over dark glasses” . Lolita is a reincarnation of Humbert’s first love.

In Lolita, the name is used in reference to Mr. Clare Quilty, the man who takes Lolita from Humbert. Carmen and Clare being both male and female names, Lolita uses them to deceive Humbert into thinking he is a woman and no threat.

Several times throughout the novel, Humbert refers to Lolita as his Carmen.
“O my Carmen, my little Carmen!
Something something those something nights,
And the stars, and the cars, and the bars and the barmen-
And, O my charmin’, our dreadful fights.
And the something town where so gaily, arm in
Arm we went, and our final row,
And the gun I killed you with, O my Carmen,
The gun I am holding now”

This song that Humbert recaptures here sums up his relationship with Lolita: their fights, car rides, men looking eagerly at her, and finally the gun that Humbert uses to kill Quilty.

There are a host of more passing literary allusions in Lolita, but they decorate rather than determine the death bound tragedy set by Poe, Proper Mérimée’s Carmen with other tales of love and revenge, and doppelgänger stories.

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Psychedelic Superheroes

 
 

Sunshine Superman is a song written and recorded by British singer-songwriter Donovan. The Sunshine Superman single was released in the United States through Epic Records in July 1966, but due to a contractual dispute the United Kingdom release was delayed until December 1966. It has been described as having, “proven to be [one of the] classics of the era,” and as, “the quintessential bright summer sing along”.

By 1966, Donovan had shed the overt Bob Dylan/Arlo Guthrie influences and become one of the first British pop musicians to adopt a flower power image. More importantly, his music was developing and changing rapidly as he immersed himself in jazz, blues, Eastern music, and the new generation of U.S. West Coast bands such as Jefferson Airplane and The Grateful Dead. He was now entering his most creative and original phase as a songwriter and recording artist, working in close collaboration with Mickie Most and especially with arranger, musician, and jazz fan John Cameron. Their first collaboration was “Sunshine Superman”, one of the first overtly psychedelic pop records.

Sunshine Superman reached the top of the Billboard Hot 100 in the United States, and subsequently became the title track of Donovan’s eponymous third album. The song was written for Donovan’s future wife Linda Lawrence. The lyrics of the song mention not only Superman, but also another DC Comics superhero, Green Lantern.

 
 

 
 

By the way, writer Grant Morrison referenced the song in an issue of Animal Man by creating Sunshine Superman, an African American version of Superman who was a member of the Love Syndicate of Dreamworld, from a world based on the drug culture of the 1960s.

 
 

 
 

Beautiful Stranger is a song by American singer Madonna and was released on May 29, 1999 by Maverick Records. It was written and produced by Madonna and British songwriter and musician William Orbit, who had previously worked on the 1998 studio album Ray of Light. The song was written for the soundtrack and motion picture Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me (Jay Roach, 1999). Mike Myers who plays the main role in the film, also appeared in the accompanying music video, directed by Brett Ratner. Beautiful Stranger is an up-tempo love song featuring heavily reverberated guitars and bouncy drum loops with lyrics telling a tale of romantic infatuation.It employs a lyrical theme and instrumentation similar to that found in the song Amazing which is included on Madonna’s album Music (2000).

Nymphet Found

 
 

It was amazing how many parents would write in, you know, from Montana and so on, saying: “My daughter really is Lolita!” – that sort of thing. But we looked at them all, and of course, Sue Lyon was just one of them – but the moment we saw her, we through “My God, if this girl can act” – because she had this wonderful, enigmatic, but alive quality of mystery, but was still very expressive. Everything she did, commonplace things, like handling objects or crossing a room, or just talking, were all done in a very engaging way… and, incidentally this is a quality which most great actors have, it’s a strange sort of personal unique style that goes into everything they do – like when Albert Finney sits down in a chair and drinks a bottle of beer, and, well, it’s just great and you think “God, I wish I could drink a bottle of beer like that”, or the way Marlon Brando, you know, pushes his sun-glasses on his forehead and just leaves them there instead of putting them in his pocket… and, well, they all have ways of doing everyday things that are interesting to watch. And she had this, Sue Lyon – but of course, we still didn’t know whether she could act. Then we did some scenes, and finally shot a test with James Mason, and that was it – she was great.

S.K. An Interview with Stanley Kubrick Terry Southern (July 1962. NYC)
Unpublished

 
 

Sue Lyon as photographed by Bert Stern. Look Magazine, 1962

 
 

NYMPHET FOUND

The problem of casting Vladimir Nabokov‘s Lolita provoked more of a stir in Hollywood than there would have been over an open call for dogs after the death of Rin Tin Tin. The late Errol Flynn once offered the services of his teen-age mistress, Beverly Aadland, along with his own for the part of Humbert Humbert, Lolita’s tragicomic, middle-aged lover. Director Stanley Kubrick was swamped with letters from U.S. mothers who thought their daughters just right for the part, surveyed 800 budding teen-agers before finally announcing the winner last week. Kubrick’s choice: Sue Lyon, a blonde, blue-eyed, 14-year-old junior high school girl from Davenport, Iowa, now living in Los Angeles with her widowed mother. Director Kubrick spotted Sue in a bit part on the Loretta Young Show, had her read for the part with James Mason, who will play Humbert Humbert, decided: “She is a natural actor. Also she has a beautiful figure along ballet lines.” Lolita and Sue closely resemble each other. Lolita, at 15, toward the end of the book, stands 5 ft. tall, weighs 90 Ibs.; Sue, at 14, stands 5 ft. 2 in. and weighs 102 Ibs. Sue’s picture used to appear in the J. C. Penney mail-order catalogue, for which she modeled junior dresses and bathing suits. Among her other distinctions: last year she won the Smile of the Year contest staged by the Los Angeles dental societies, and at East Hollywood’s King Junior High School she played the cello. Her principal finds her “not bizarre,” but if she is to play the role as Nabokov put it in the novel, she will have to be a “mixture … of tender dreamy childishness and a kind of eerie vulgarity.” Although he knows less about moviemaking than the average scriptwriter knows about lepidoptery (one of Nabokov’s scholarly specialties), the novelist himself wrote the movie adaptation. He had at first refused, but reconsidered after dreaming one night, while traveling in Italy, that he was reading the screenplay. Says he: “Almost immediately after this illumination, Mr. Kubrick called me again, and I agreed.” He is pleased with his own job: “The screenplay became poetry, which was my original purpose.” Inevitably, while working there, the ever-observant Nabokov kept a roving eye on Hollywood, a dreamland for which Lolita herself used to yearn. The movie colony may be hard put to know what to make of his conclusion: “It is quietest, sweetest, softest place in the world.” Time, October 10, 1960

A Crush on Lolita

Lolita is a novel by Vladimir Nabokov, written in English and published in 1955 in Paris and 1958 in New York. It was later translated by its Russian-native author into Russian. The novel is notable for its controversial subject: the protagonist and unreliable narrator, middle-aged literature professor and hebephile Humbert Humbert, is obsessed with the 12-year-old Dolores Haze, with whom he becomes sexually involved after he becomes her stepfather. “Lolita” is his private nickname for Dolores.

In April 1947, Nabokov wrote to Edmund Wilson: “I am writing … a short novel about a man who liked little girls—and it’s going to be called The Kingdom by the Sea….” The work expanded into Lolita during the next eight years. Nabokov used the title A Kingdom by the Sea in his 1974 pseudo-autobiographical novel Look at the Harlequins! for a Lolita-like book written by the narrator who, in addition, travels with his teenage daughter Bel from motel to motel after the death of her mother; later, his fourth wife is Bel’s look-alike and shares her birthday.

Some critics have accepted Humbert’s version of events at face value. In 1959, novelist Robertson Davies excused the narrator entirely, writing that the theme of Lolita is “not the corruption of an innocent child by a cunning adult, but the exploitation of a weak adult by a corrupt child. This is no pretty theme, but it is one with which social workers, magistrates and psychiatrists are familiar.”

The novel abounds in allusions to classical and modern literature. Virtually all of them have been noted in The Annotated Lolita edited and annotated by Alfred Appel, Jr. Many are references to Humbert’s own favourite poet, Edgar Allan Poe.

Chapter 26 of Part One contains a parody of James Joyce‘s stream of consciousness.

Humbert Humbert’s field of expertise is French literature (one of his jobs is writing a series of educational works that compare French writers to English writers), and as such there are several references to French literature, including the authors Gustave Flaubert, Marcel Proust, François Rabelais, Charles Baudelaire, Prosper Mérimée, Remy Belleau, Honoré de Balzac, and Pierre de Ronsard.

Vladimir Nabokov was fond of Lewis Carroll and had translated Alice in Wonderland into Russian. He even called Carroll the “first Humbert Humbert”.

Lolita contains a few brief allusions in the text to the Alice books, though overall Nabokov avoided direct allusions to Carroll. In her book, Tramp: The Life of Charlie Chaplin, Joyce Milton claims that a major inspiration for the novel was Charlie Chaplin‘s relationship with his second wife, Lita Grey, whose real name was Lillita and is often misstated as Lolita. Graham Vickers in his book Chasing Lolita: How Popular Culture Corrupted Nabokov’s Little Girl All Over Again argues that the two major real-world predecessors of Humbert are Lewis Carroll and Charlie Chaplin. Although Appel’s comprehensive Annotated Lolita contains no references to Charlie Chaplin, others have picked up several oblique references to Chaplin’s life in Nabokov’s book. Bill Delaney notes that at the end Lolita and her husband move to the Alaskan town of Grey Star while Chaplin’s The Gold Rush, set in Alaska, was originally set to star Lita Grey. Lolita’s first sexual encounter was with a boy named Charlie Holmes, whom Humbert describes as “the silent…but indefatigable Charlie.” Chaplin had an artist paint Lita Grey in imitation of Joshua Reynolds‘s painting The Age of Innocence. When Humbert visits Lolita in a class at her school, he notes a print of the same painting in the classroom. Delaney’s article notes many other parallels as well.

In chapter 29 of Part Two, Humbert comments that Lolita looks “like Botticelli’s russet Venus—the same soft nose, the same blurred beauty”, referencing Sandro Botticelli‘s depiction of Venus in, perhaps, The Birth of Venus or Venus and Mars.

In chapter 35 of Part Two, Humbert’s “death sentence” on Quilty parodies the rhythm and use of anaphora in T. S. Eliot‘s poem Ash Wednesday.

Many other references to classical and Romantic literature abound, including references to Lord Byron‘s Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage and to the poetry of Laurence Sterne.

After its publication, Lolita attained a classic status, becoming one of the best-known and most controversial examples of 20th century literature. The name Lolita has entered pop culture to describe a sexually precocious girl. The novel was adapted to film by Stanley Kubrick in 1962, and again in 1997 by Adrian Lyne. It has also been adapted several times for stage and has been the subject of two operas, two ballets, and an acclaimed but failed Broadway musical.

 
 

Lolita (Stanley Kubrick, 1992)

 
 

Bert Stern worked as a photographer on Lolita and shot the publicity photographs of Sue Lyon.

 
 

The Crush (Alan Shapiro, 1993)

 
 

The plot of The Crush was based on an actual incident involving the neighbor of Shapiro.

Bert Stern’s Muses

Shirley MacLaine, 1960

 
 

sue lyon 1961 bert sternSue Lyon, 1961

 
 

Liz Taylor, 1962

 
 

Sofia Loren, 1962

 
 

Marilyn Monroe, 1962

 
 

 Natalie Wood, 1964

 
 

Marisa Berenson, circa 1965

 
 

Goldie Hawn, 1965

 
 

Barbra Streisand, 1966

 
 

Ali MacGraw (for a Vogue cover photo shoot wearing  a bright printed silk dress with gold paillete trim by Oscar de La Renta), 1970

 
 

Madonna, 1981

 
 

Drew Barrymore, 1994