Fashion’s Future?

Giles Deacon and supermodels Elize Crombez, Karen Elson, Missy Rayder, Hana Soukupova, Stella Tennant, Eugenia Volodina, Marija Vujovic and Raquel Zimmermann (DNA Model Management, NYC) photographed by Sølve Sundsbø for Harper’s Bazaar, December 2005

Advertisements

Madame Butterfly Throughout the World

“Dovunque al mondo lo Yankee vagabondo
si gode e traffica
sprezzando rischi.
Affonda l’áncora alla ventura…
Affonda l’áncora alla ventura
finchè una raffica
scompigli nave e ormeggi, alberatura.
La vita ei non appaga
se non fa suo tesor
i fiori d’ogni plaga,…
…d’ogni bella gli amor.”

(The whole world over,
on business and pleasure,
the Yankee travels all danger scorning.
His anchor boldly he casts at random…
…His anchor boldly he casts at random,
until a sudden squall
upsets his ship, then up go sails and rigging.
And life is not worth living
if he can’t win the best
and fairest of each country,…
…and the heart of each maid.)

Dovunque al mondo (Throughout the world).
Aria From Act I

 
 

 
 

Madama Butterfly (Madame Butterfly) is an opera in three acts (originally two acts) by Giacomo Puccini, with an Italian libretto by Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa. The libretto of the opera is based in part on the short story Madame Butterfly (1898) by John Luther Long – which in turn was based partially on stories told to Long by his sister Jennie Correll and partially on the semi-autographical 1887 French novel Madame Chrysanthème by Pierre Loti.

Long’s short story was dramatized by David Belasco as a one-act play, Madame Butterfly: A Tragedy of Japan (1900). After premiering in New York, Belasco’s play moved to London, where Puccini saw it in the summer of 1900.

 
 

 
 

Puccini wrote five versions of the opera. The original version in two-acts, which was presented at the world premiere at La Scala on 17 February 1904, was withdrawn after the disasterous premiere. Puccini then substantially rewrote it, this time in three acts. This second version was performed on 28 May 1904 in Brescia, where it was a great success. It was this second version that premiered in the United States in 1906, first in Washington, D.C., in October, and then in New York in November, performed by Henry Savage‘s New English Opera Company (so named because it performed in English-language translations). Madama Butterfly is a staple of the standard operatic repertoire for companies around the world, ranking 7th in the Operabase list of the most-performed operas worldwide.

ACT 1

In 1904, a U.S. Naval officer named Pinkerton rents a house on a hill in Nagasaki, Japan, for him and his soon-to-be wife, “Butterfly”. Her real name is Ciocio-san, (cio-cio, pronounced “chocho”: the Japanese word for “butterfly” is chō 蝶). She is a 15-year-old Japanese girl whom he is marrying for convenience, since he intends to leave her once he finds a proper American wife, and since Japanese divorce laws are very lax. The wedding is to take place at the house. Butterfly had been so excited to marry an American that she had earlier secretly converted to Christianity. After the wedding ceremony, her uninvited uncle, a bonze, who has found out about her conversion, comes to the house, curses her and orders all the guests to leave, which they do while renouncing her. Pinkerton and Butterfly sing a love duet and prepare to spend their first night together.

ACT 2

Three years later, Butterfly is still waiting for Pinkerton to return, as he had left shortly after their wedding. Her maid Suzuki keeps trying to convince her that he is not coming back, but Butterfly will not listen to her. Goro, the marriage broker who arranged her marriage, keeps trying to marry her off again, but she won’t listen to him either. The American Consul, Sharpless, comes to the house with a letter which he has received from Pinkerton which asks him to break some news to Butterfly, that Pinkerton is coming back to Japan, but Sharpless cannot bring himself to finish it because Butterfly becomes very excited to hear that Pinkerton is coming back. Sharpless asks Butterfly what she would do if Pinkerton were not to return. She then reveals that she gave birth to Pinkerton’s son after he had left and asks Sharpless to tell him.

ACT 3

Suzuki wakes up in the morning and Butterfly finally falls asleep. Sharpless and Pinkerton arrive at the house, along with Pinkerton’s new American wife, Kate. They have come because Kate has agreed to raise the child. But, as Pinkerton sees how Butterfly has decorated the house for his return, he realizes he has made a huge mistake. He admits that he is a coward and cannot face her, leaving Suzuki, Sharpless and Kate to break the news to Butterfly. Agreeing to give up her child if Pinkerton comes himself to see her, she then prays to statues of her ancestral gods, says goodbye to her son, and blindfolds him. She places a small American flag into his hands and goes behind a screen, cutting her throat with her father’s hara-kiri knife. Pinkerton rushes in. He is too late.

From the hill house, Butterfly sees Pinkerton’s ship arriving in the harbour. She and Suzuki prepare for his arrival, and then they wait. Suzuki and the child fall asleep, but Butterfly stays up all night waiting for him to arrive.

Although almost no singing occurs during the film, much of the underscoring is from or based on Puccini’s opera Madama Butterfly, and much of it in the corresponding places of where it would occur in the opera

 
 

ADAPTATIONS

 
 

Mary Pickford, wearing a peacock feather printed kimono, writing at a desk. Silent film version of Madame Butterfly (Sidney Olcott, 1915). Olcott, reportedly wanted Pickford to be more reserved and Oriental and walked off the set in protest of her too Americanized Cio Cio San

 
 

The Toll of the Sea (Chester M. Franklin, 1922). The plot was a variation of the Madama Butterfly story, set in China instead of Japan. It was the second two-color Technicolor motion picture ever released and the first film made using Technicolor Process 2

 
 

Madame Butterfly (Marion Gering, 1932). A non-singing drama made by Paramount starring Sylvia Sidney and Cary Grant in black and white. Although almost no singing occurs during the film, much of the underscoring is from or based on Puccini’s opera Madama Butterfly, and much of it in the corresponding places of where it would occur in the opera

 
 

The film Fatal Attraction (Adrian Lyne, 1987) starring Michael Douglas and Glenn Close makes several references to Madame Butterfly, and the soundtrack features extracts from the opera. Scorned and dangerously obsessed former lover Alex Forrest (Close) finds comfort in and identifies heavily with Cio-Cio San. The original, abandoned ending of the film shows Alex committing suicide in an identical fashion as Cio-Cio San while Un bel dì plays in the background

 
 

Miss Saigon is a musical by Claude-Michel Schönberg and Alain Boublil, with lyrics by Boublil and Richard Maltby, Jr. premièred at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, London, on 20 September 1989. It is based on Giacomo Puccini’s opera Madame Butterfly, and similarly tells the tragic tale of a doomed romance involving an Asian woman abandoned by her American lover. The setting of the plot is relocated to the 1970s Saigon during the Vietnam War, and Madame Butterfly’s story of marriage between an American lieutenant and Japanese girl is replaced by a romance between an American GI and a Vietnamese bar girl

 
 

M Butterfly (David Cronenberg, 1993). The screenplay was written by David Henry Hwang based on his play of the same name

 
 

Pinkerton is the second studio album by the American alternative rock band Weezer, released on September 24, 1996. the album is named after the character BF Pinkerton from Giacomo Puccini’s 1904 opera Madama Butterfly, whom Rivers Cuomo described as an “asshole American sailor similar to a touring rock star”. Like the opera, the album contains references to Japan and Japanese culture

 
 

The artwork on the album’s cover is Kambara yoru no yuki (Night snow at Kambara), an ukiyo-e print by Hiroshige

 
 

Behind the album’s CD tray is a map with the title “Isola della farfalla e penisola di cane” (Italian for “Island of the Butterfly and Peninsula of Dog”). On the map are a ship named USS Pinkerton and “Mykel and Carli Island”, an allusion to Weezer’s fan club founders. In a 2005 appearance on The Howard Stern Show, Cuomo explained that the names listed on the map are those who influenced him during the writing of the album, with Howard Stern being one of those influences

 
 

For more information visit The Genealogy of Style’s Facebook page:

https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Genealogy-of-Style/597542157001228?ref=hl

After a Royal Mistress

Portrait of Madame de Pompadour, François Boucher, 1759

 
 

Pompadour refers to a hairstyle which is named for Madame de Pompadour (1721-1764), mistress of King Louis XV. Although there are numerous variations of the style for both women and men, the basic concept is hair swept upwards from the face and worn high over the forehead, and sometimes upswept around the sides and back as well.

After its initial popularity among fashionable women in the 18th century, the style was revived as part of the Gibson Girl look in the 1890s and continued to be in vogue until World War I. The style was in vogue for women once again in the 1940s. Variations of the pompadour style continue to be worn by men and women in the 21st century.

 
 

The Weaker Sex: The young man imagines himself the latest victim of some fair entomologist“, Charles Dana Gibson, 1903

 
 

Portrait of Lady Astor, John Singer Sargent, 1908-1909

 
 

Among women, the hairstyle has become marginally popular again in the first few years of this century. It can be created by ratting at the roots of the hair on the sides of the pompadour towards the top of the head. Then the hair is combed up and over the ratted hair, off the forehead, the front up in a curl straight back, and the sides pulled back towards the center.

 
 

James Dean. Photo: Phil Stern, c. 1955

 
 

Elvis Presley, circa 1956

 
 

Elvis Presley. Photographer unknown, 1957

 
 

Pompadour style quickly became a stereotypical feature of rebels and nonconformists, and gained popularity especially after the rise of rock ‘n roll legend Elvis Presley, who sported the same look. In recent years the pompadour hair style has been adopted by those enamoured with vintage culture of the late 1950s and early 1960s that includes antique cars, hot rods, American folk music, rockabilly bands, Little Richard, and Elvis , as well as actors such as James Dean and Desi Arnaz.

 
 

Morrissey’s hairdo is inspired by his evergreen idols Elvis and Jimmy Dean

 
 

Nowadays, the pompadour hairstyle is worn on celebrities which include Justin Bieber, Bruno Mars, Macklemore, David Beckham, Zac Efron, Zayn Malik of One Direction, Alex Turner of Arctic MonkeysJustin Timberlake and many others.

Sensuality Unveiled

For the calendar’s 50th anniversary (2014), Pirelli is unveiling a never-before-seen Helmut Newton-lensed collection of photographs that was supposed to be for 1986. Serendipitously, 2014 and 1986 share the same calendar year.

 
 

In 1985, Pirelli’s British and Italian teams both commissioned a 1986 calendar – Britain enlisting photographer Bert Stern, Italy enlisting Helmut Newton. Until then, the project had been handled solely by the UK arm of the company.

A slight ruckus ensued as to which version would be published. Coincidentally, Newton had to abandon his project mid-way through shooting due to personal issues, and as such the commission was won by his contemporary Stern.

Nevertheless, Newton’s vision was completed by his faithful assistants Manuela Pavesi and Xavier Alloncle – to his precise specifications – and then stored in the Pirelli archives as a ‘family heirloom’ waiting for the right occasion to step into the limelight.

The Blonde and the Brunette

Marilyn Monroe in Jackie wig. Photos: Bern Stern, 1962

 
 

MARILYN AND JACKIE’S 11-YEAR ITCH

Text by Wendy Leigh

The Observer,  Sunday 22 June 2003

 
 

At first glance they couldn’t have been more different. Jackie, the pristine American princess born into East Coast high society, who glided effortlessly into marriage with multi-millionaire’s son Senator John Fitzgerald Kennedy, and then into the White House as First Lady. And Marilyn, the bleached blonde bombshell from the wrong side of the tracks, illegitimate daughter of a mother who went insane and a father she never knew, with a sexual radiance so white hot that it catapulted her from pleasuring ageing Hollywood tycoons, on to the silver screen and into immortality.

Yet while researching my novel, The Secret Letters of Marilyn Monroe and Jacqueline Kennedy, I discovered that, like many wives and mistresses who share the same man, in reality Marilyn and Jackie were sisters under the sheets. It became clear to me that Marilyn was Jackie’s equal and that her illicit affair with Kennedy was significant. For years, that affair has been was painted as brief, fumbling – a one-night stand which might, mainly because of Kennedy’s fascination with Marilyn’s dizzying status as America’s reigning sex goddess, have only temporarily transcended his usual hit-and-run amorous encounters.

But their liaison was far from brief. The future President met the actress in 1951, at the house of Marilyn’s agent and Jack’s friend, Charles K Feldman. Kennedy was an up-and-coming senator, a bachelor playboy whose political campaign was funded by his father’s vast fortune. Marilyn was on the brink of stardom. Their affair was to last 11 years, ending with one final meeting in Manhattan’s Carlyle Hotel just hours after Marilyn had sung ‘Happy Birthday, Mr President’ in such an erotically charged way that the columnist Dorothy Kilgallen noted: ‘It seemed like Marilyn was making love to the President in front of 40 million Americans.’

If their affair lasted for 11 years, it was also far from superficial, as a cache of letters from Kennedy to Marilyn, now in the possession of Marilyn’s heirs, attests. Monroe was Kennedy’s long-term mistress, a serious rival to his wife.

Yet below the surface, Marilyn and Jackie shared many similarities. Growing up, they both adored Gone With the Wind, worshipped the Empress Josephine and idolized Clark Gable – Marilyn kissing his picture goodnight as a child, fantasizing that he was her father, and Jackie insisting that her own father, Jack Bouvier, was Gable’s double. Both women retained whispery, baby-doll voices as adults, often playing ‘Daddy’s girl’ with the men in their lives. Even when she was in her late fifties, Jackie simulated a little-girl quality around Maurice Templesman, the last man in her life. And Marilyn actually addressed her third husband, Arthur Miller, as ‘Daddy’. Both had difficulties conceiving a child.

They shared a love of salacious gossip. According to Truman Capote, Jackie was set on discovering what a mutual friend was like in bed. Capote was also Marilyn’s confidant of choice, revealing to him how she witnessed Errol Flynn playing ‘You Are my Sunshine‘ on the piano with his penis.

Naturally, their jetset lifestyles rocketed Marilyn and Jackie into the same orbit. When Jackie met Hungarian actress Zsa Zsa Gabor, Gabor gave her skin-care advice. Marilyn met Zsa Zsa in less felicitous circumstances, on the set of All About Eve, in which she starred with George Sanders – with Gabor, his then wife, ever present. Zsa Zsa’s reasons were clear. She later recalls George telling her: ‘The doorbell rings and there stands Marilyn in a beautiful sable coat. I asked her what she wanted and she opened the coat. Marilyn was stark naked underneath. Who am I not to make love to a woman like that?’

Marilyn and Jackie each met and flirted with Krushchev and Sukarno; Aristotle Onassis acted as a go-between for Prince Rainier when Rainier wanted to marry Marilyn. And while Onassis never met Marilyn, he did, of course, meet Jackie, whereupon, according to Onassis’s biographer, Willi Frischauer, ‘he compared her to a diamond – cool, sharp at the edges, fiery and hot beneath the surface’.

Jackie and Marilyn both favoured Chanel; Jackie wore Chanel designs, Marilyn slept in Chanel No 5. Their hairdresser of choice was Kenneth, who created Jackie’s trademark bouffant, and advised Marilyn to dye her pubic hair blonde so that it didn’t show through her clinging clothes. Marilyn and Jackie shared a number of lovers and admirers. British actor Peter Lawford, Jack Kennedy’s friend and sometime pimp, was one of them.

Robert Mitchum also appealed to both women. Jackie enthused that he had always been her favourite movie star. Marilyn, who co-starred with Mitchum in River of No Return, said: ‘Mitchum is one of the most interesting, fascinating men I’ve ever known’, but drew the line at a threesome with Mitchum and his stand-in, Tim Wallace: ‘Ooh,’ said Marilyn, ‘that would kill me.’ ‘Well, nobody’s died from it yet,’ Wallace snickered. ‘Ooh, I bet they have!’ Marilyn told him, ‘but in the papers they just say the girl died of natural causes.’

After Kennedy’s death, rumours raged that Jackie and Frank Sinatra had an affair. Their relationship dated back to the Inauguration Ball, to which Frank escorted Jackie. Watching the footage of that night, the chemistry between them is palpable. Marilyn, in turn, had a sporadic affair with Sinatra. One night, according to her maid, Lena Pepitone: ‘She absent-mindedly wandered downstairs with nothing on to look for Frank. She said that she was lonely and just wanted to talk to him. After walking through one empty room after another, she finally opened the door to the smoking-room where the card game was in session. Frank was livid. “He yanked me to one side and ordered me to get my ‘fat ass’ back upstairs.” How dare she embarrass him in front of his friends.’

Marlon Brando dazzled Marilyn and Jackie. He met Marilyn in 1955; there was a strong attraction between them; she called him Carlo, reporting that he was sweet and tender. In the late Sixties, Jackie had dinner with Brando at a Washington club and danced with him afterwards. According to one of Brando’s friends: ‘Jackie pressed her thighs against his and did everything she could to arouse him. They talked about going away on a skiing vacation together, just the two of them. Brando could feel Jackie’s breath on his ear. He felt Jackie expected him to make a move, to try and take her to bed.’ However, having drunk too much, Brando was fearful he might be impotent, so made his apologies and left.

Apart from sharing President Kennedy’s bed, Marilyn and Jackie both had affairs with his brother, Bobby. Jackie’s affair with Bobby, in the years following Jack’s assassination, has only recently been revealed by C David Heymann in his biography RFK . ‘Socialite Mary Harrington was staying at a house next to the Kennedy compound in Palm Beach in 1964. “I was looking out a window on the third floor and there was Jackie, sunbathing in the grass wearing a black bikini bottom with no top. Then Bobby, wearing a white swimsuit, emerged from the house and knelt by her side. As they began to kiss, he placed one hand on her breast and the other between her legs. After a few minutes, she stood up and wrapped a towel around her. Together, Bobby and Jackie disappeared into the house.'”

Ultimately, it appears that the wife was as libidinous as the mistress. Yet neither of them was as highly sexed as the man in their lives. Jack Kennedy insisted that if he didn’t have sex on a daily basis he would get a headache, and claimed: ‘I’m not through with a woman until I’ve had her three ways’. But according to Jackie’s friend, Peter Duchin: ‘Jackie was very, very romantic, but not sexy’, while Peter Lawford alluded to Marilyn’s ‘romanticism’.

Perhaps it is natural that, from the start, Marilyn and Jackie were enthralled by one another. When she was working as a young reporter in Washington, Jackie invariably asked men: ‘If you had a date with Marilyn Monroe, what would you talk about?’ And Marilyn’s fascination with Jackie was such that she even dressed as her for a Life magazine shoot, donning a black wig and pearls for the occasion.

When Marilyn died at the age of 36 in 1962, Jackie, the wronged wife, declared sombrely: ‘She will go on eternally.’ Jackie herself died on 19 May 1994, the thirty-second anniversary of the night on which Marilyn Monroe sang ‘Happy Birthday, Mr President’ to her lover, Jack Kennedy.

Charming Eyes

Elizabeth Taylor before playing the role of Cleopatra. Alberto De Rossi did the Make-up.

 
 

Stills from Cleopatra (Joseph L. Mankiewicz, 1963). The film earned Elizabeth Taylor a Guinness World Record title, “Most costume changes in a film”; Taylor made 65 costume changes.  Renié, (born Irene Brouillet) who was nominated for five Academy Awards, finally won an Oscar for her work on the stunning costumes of this movie, in collaboration with star designer Irene Sharaff.

 
 

Photo by Bert Stern

 
 

“In terms of beauty, Elizabeth Taylor was born charmed. Not only was she born with sapphire eyes that looked violet in some lights, but she also had Distichia – a rare condition that meant she was born with a double eyelash. How lucky to always be screen-ready, with a natural set of false lashes! Even as a child actress Taylor was told she had grown up eyes – too mature, apparently, for her face. Her looks were disconcerting to an audience who were used to the super sweet golden curls of other child actresses of the time, like Shirley Temple.

Luckily for Taylor, her transition from child to adult actress went smoothly and her long career on camera and stage produced some of the most referenced beauty looks of the last century. Taylor trends include Cleopatra eyes (which hadn’t looked so chic since the first Century BC), beauty spots, mega brows, and another trend that set the runways alight this AW13 season.

In 2007 my brief for Alexander McQueen’s show was to watch, and be inspired by, Anthony & Cleopatra. I was just so captivated by Elizabeth Taylor’s mesmeric eyes, the shimmers of light and the milky quality of her skin. We went on to create the MAC For McQueen range, designed to give that incredibly, celestial, other-worldly quality.”

Charlotte Tilbury

 
 

Charlotte Tilbury’s notes and working process. “Make-up is the icing on the cake, what helps to complete my fantasy on the catwalk”, McQueen said.

 
 

McQueen became the first designer to participate in MAC’s promotion of cosmetic releases created by fashion designers. The collection, McQueen, was released on 11 October 2007 and reflected the looks used on the Autumn/Winter McQueen catwalk. The inspiration for the collection was the Elizabeth Taylor movie Cleopatra, and thus the models sported intense blue, green, and teal eyes with strong black liner extended Egyptian-style.

 
 

In Memory of Elizabeth Howe, Salem, 1692, Alexander McQueen’s 2007 Autumn Winter Collection

 
 

The inspiration for this show is autobiographical. The collection of Grecian dresses and warrior-like moulded bustiers came to life after the designer’s mother (Joyce) traced the McQueen family tree back to Elizabeth Howe, one of the victims of the Salem witch hunts in 1692.

So, McQueen is related to several of the women who were hung following the Salem witch trials — and this leads into a sartorial exploration of witchcraft in general. The subject is traced back to its Pagan roots and then to Ancient Egypt, the pyramids and the worship of the sun and the moon.

The set is dominated by a huge screen onto which is projected a film directed by Alexander McQueen featuring close ups of beautiful, naked women apparently floating in limbo. The clothes reflect both protection and fertility — a new cocoon shape is designed to mimic the contours of an ovum. The catwalk is black and embellished with a blood red crystal pentagram.

 
 

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.