Top 5 Wonders of the World That Never Were… Well, Mostly

Plop

Or flop? Most people are content with: “What’s new?” or “What’s different?” Oddly, I am interested in “What isn’t” or more correctly, what hasn’t been realized. Nothing bothers me more than being promised something, then not getting it. Maybe it goes back to some childhood memory of a disappointing Christmas, but don’t tell me I’m getting something and then back out of the deal. You know who you are and you promised.

As the drag actor Divine once screamed, “I wanted Cha-Cha heels!”

The following are my Top 5 Wonders of the World That Never Were: 5 big things on my wish list of wonderful that never came to pass. Personally, I feel cheated… and you should too.

1. THE CHICAGO SPIRE

Cancelled skyscrapers are nothing new in America or throughout the world. However, Chicago has a long and famous architectural history with projects that never got off the ground. Literally. Very few “A” list architect become famous without first building something notable in Chicago. This has been true ever since an impatient cow in need of milking kicked Mrs. O’Leary’s flame and fortune into the future. Cleared a lot of land for Frank Gehry.

The Chicago Spire was a dream project. In the end, that’s all it was, but for a brief moment it was a star. Conceived as one of the tallest buildings in America at 2,000 ft./150 floors, the structure had everything going for it. A famous architect: Santiago Calatrava. An incredible location just a few hundred feet from Chicago’s tourist-crazy Navy Pier and lakefront. Plus it was a design worthy of awe. Yes, perhaps, inspired. But best of all, it was in Chicago.

The project was approved by Chicago’s City Counsel in 2007 faster than any proposal in the city’s history. And do you know how many Aldermen have construction companies with their own projects in the works? Plenty. Being an Aldermen is a part time job, so they all have extra time to buy property, run hot dog stands, shake down unlicensed dog walkers. Important things. Still all this was put aside to push through the approval on this massive skyscraper. Back then, what Major Daley wanted, Mayor Daley got. It’s the City of the Big Shoulder Pads, remember?

When the bottom (and in the case, also the top) of the real estate market popped, it was over. Though the Spire’s developers were able to secure leases for the bottom floors of the structure with retail, multiplexes and multi-Starbucks, the condos above remained unsold. Except for the top penthouse (141st & 142nd floors) purchased by Ty Warner inventor (kind word) of the Beanie Baby, the building remained unsold. Warner’s 10,000 duplex was listed at $40 million but the final sales price was never disclosed. Given the building’s ultimate demise, I’m certain his deposit was returned: Seamore the Seal, Hong Kong Bear and Aldi, the Alchohol Alderman Antelope.

After the hotel concept was scrapped, all that was left were the unsold condos between the retail development on the bottom floors and Kingdom of Beanies above. Oh, and lawsuits in between. Lots and lots of lawsuits.

What remains today is a very large hole in the ground. When it rains there’s plenty of room for Seamore Seal and his friends to flounder in the glory of what wasn’t.

2. THE TITANIC HOTEL

There’s bad taste– and then there’s the Titanic Hotel, Las Vegas. This recreation of the fated luxury liner RMS TITANIC was to be a themed resort and hotel boasting some 1,200 rooms. Scale, as you know, is everything in Vegas– be it a cup sized for your quarters or your bosoms– this development was no different. Measuring approximately 400 feet in long it was to be constructed across from the Sahara Hotel and Casino.

Though the entire project was nixed by City Counsel (imagine the sinking ship-themed simulator ride!) surprisingly the web site is still up at TitanicHotel.com. Check it out for some amazingly cheesy graphics and every ice reference to be found in your frozen thesaurus. I can’t imagine what the marketing people had in mind: “Gamble with your money, not your life?” This looks worse than a Dead Sea Carnival Cruise.

3. PEE-WEE LAND

This is a story that is perhaps more urban myth fiction than reality fact, but I’m telling it anyway.

At the height of Pee-Wee Herman’s fame and fortune, the boy in the ill-fitting suit had the world on it’s knees, a position Miss Yvonne was not always unfamiliar. In addition to the Pee-Wee’s Playhouse franchise and the phenomenal success of a young Tim Burton’s “Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure,” this little P.W. was making huge bucks. At the zenith of his frenzy Herman had yearly merchandising sales in excess of $25 million, mostly from toys. Yet in the works were many things, including: a line of kids clothes at J.C. Penney, a breakfast cereal and yes, as mentioned in People Magazine in 1989, his own amusement park. “A warped version of Disneyland,” he predicted/lied(?) at the time.

Though people were throwing land at him like magic words (“bukkake”) the rumor mill whispered Pee-Wee was buying up property in Hollywood under assumed names– (Constance Amnesia, Placenta Flambe’, Chastity Stirrup, etc.) in and around where the Kodak Theatre now stands. I have not been able to locate the photo– I saw it only once and cannot verify its authenticity– but the property had been fenced off and a sign posted, “Coming Soon… Pee-Wee Land!”

Sadly, when Pee-Wee’s little slacks hit the floor, so did Pee-Wee Land. Captain Carl and Cowboy Curtis were replaced by two vice detectives in that now infamous L.A. porn theatre raid. (Yes, Pee-Wee came THIS close to relaunching a West Coast Village People!)

The rest, as they say, is his story. Not that anyone believed it. Did the media, the public and the world overreact? In hindsight, perhaps. He seems a fine man, a funny actor and he created a character that will live forever. Rather like Chaplin’s Little Tramp, except Pee-Wee’s white loafers tended to stick.

The same cannot be said for Pee-Wee Land. Was it just a dream on paper? Just a fib Pee-Wee told?  And could not the psychically disembodied Jambi have given Pee-Wee a heads up? Of course, no one ever wants bad news. Especially on a pink Princess telephone.

Now we can only imagine what wondrous rides would have been inspired by the original Playhouse and the fun we would have had.”Woulda, coulda, shoulda!” Right, Pee-Wee?

4. SUNSET BOULEVARD: THE MOVIE MUSICAL – But wait you say, “This is happening!” Um, perhaps/maybe. This “on again/off again” movie musicalization of Andrew Lloyd Weber’s Hollywood opera has been stop-lighted so often, it’s enough to make you want to shoot anyone seeking a midnight swim.

Rumor reads that Glenn Close has snagged the role of the tragic Norma Desmond, but you know Meryl Streep can play anything, including that dead monkey part in cameo. Barbara Streisand’s name was floated about for a time, but then she wants to direct. And Cecil B. DeMille, sorry Lloyd Weber, would never hear of it.

There was an ancient story that Weber offered the part to Madonna, but she wasn’t about to play someone THAT old. Don’t cry for me, Argentina. Or 10086 Sunset Boulevard, for that matter. That’s the downside of creating a Diva: you give and you give, yet still it’s hard to fill those big heels and bigger egos. This is not the first time Sir Andrew has created a monster; the movie version of Phantom made a big PLOP sound in both the river beneath the opera house and at a theatre near you.

My personal casting: Barbara Streisand as Norma Desmond (eccentric/crazy); Tatum Channing as Joe (stud puppet paradise); Patrick Stewart as Max (elegant and faded sexy).

5. HAND-CARVED COFFINS: THE FILM

Originally published in Andy Warhol’s Interview Magazine and later in “Music For Chameleons,” Truman Capote’s “Hand-Carved Coffins: A Non Fiction Account of an American Crime” is second only to “In Cold Blood” for the genius of the conceit, if not the writing. Returning to his “non fiction novel” format Capote places himself in this intriguing tale of a serial killer, but with a twist: before their cleverly devised deaths each victim receives an exquisitely made miniature hand carved coffin with their own tiny photo inside. Chills!

A detective investigating the case falls in love (of course) with a soon-to-be victim. He must solve the case before she too is killed in a mostly grizzly way. Capote himself meets with the killer, but he may have met his match. Can he prove the killer’s guilt or innocence? Could you be next? (Hint: Don’t accept any UPS deliveries!)

According to author Steven Bach’s “Final Cut,” the film rights to “Hand-Carved Coffins” were originally secured by United Artists for $250,000 just prior to their corporate sinking by the notorious Michael Cimino’s budget busting “Heaven’s Gate.” Hal Ashby had been slated to direct. Truman took the money and croaked in 1984, though not before United Artist hit the ground first. 20th Century/Fox would later pick the option where the would-be film has about floated for years– most recently to the estate of Dino De Laurentis.

“Hand-Carved Coffins” could very well be the greatest unresolved literary hoax of our time, but that’s just another odd feature to this true(?) crime puzzler. To this day it remains one of the most unusual films never made.

Have a suggestion for more “Wonders of the World That Never Were?” Let me know!

By Duane Scott Cerny.  Copyright 2016.

Is This The World’s First Mid Century Modern Love Song?

A love song about mid century modern design?  Is this a musical first? Do we care?

Broadway Antique Market (BAM!), one of Chicago’s largest retailer of vintage furniture and artifacts, has released “I’m All In Love With Vintage”– a music video homage to a dozen+ Mid Century Modern Designers such as Charles & Ray Eames, Eero Saarinen, Russel Wright, Paul McCobb, Thonet, Nogucci, blah, blah. Rather a laundry list of notables, but still somewhat cleverly done.

Says song lyricist Danny Alias, “We wanted to tell a simple story that would speak to today’s young, vintage buying client, to take them on a retro dream, a mid mod fantasy.  Not sure we succeeded, but it was crazy, campy fun.”

Actor and cabaret artist Jordan Phelps delivers some Broadway-bound vocals to inspire this retail flashback. I must credit Debbie VanLeeuwen-Bellingham of the Herald News with this spot on review: “Watching Jordan Phelps is like listening to Josh Groban while watching Fred Astaire.”

While standing in a vast showroom of vintage modern furniture, Jordan Phelps captures a curious timelessness as he contemplates good design, and sings– “This is yesterday’s future… today!”

Works for me… DSC

MORE INFO:

(Read Only If You Liked The Video, Otherwise Save Your Time With The Sordid Details)

Jordan Phelps (Recording Artist) is a Jeff Award nominated singer, actor and cabaret performer. Contact: BonJordan@comcast.net

Danny Alias (Lyricist/Video Writer/Director) has been in the “business of showing” since the early 1980s. As co-founder of Persona Records, Chicago’s earliest House Music label, he helped launch the careers of Frankie Knuckles, Jamie Principle and countless others artists, co-producing 3 of the top 25 House records of all time. In 2015 his cult single “Civil Defense: Reworks” was re-released by French savant Ivan Smagghe’s KILL THE DJ label, the pop duo GET A ROOM, and more British bootlegs than he cares to admit. Contact: AliasDanny@Rocketmail.com

Mark Contorno (Composer) has been creating music and theatre for over 40 years, writing, directing and living his art. Among current projects: 2 Tommy Jameson plays, “Princess Pig Face” and “Murderous Innocent,” plus a production of his long lost classic, “The Harlequin.” Contact: MarkContornoSongs@gmail.com

BAM! Chicago Magazine tagged Broadway Antique Market “the gold standard for modern design.” Winner Best Antiques Store- TimeOut Chicago, Reader, New City, Chicago Tribune, Chicago Magazine, Chicago Social.

BAM: “Recycling 1950 Since 1990.”

Contact: Antiques@BamChicago.com

http://www.LoveWithVintage.com
http://www.BamChicago.com

Titanic’s Belfast Museum: Some Thoughts on 9/11

100 years from now, how will be remember 9/11? Since that horrific day America has remain conflicted over how it happened, what it meant, and most importantly, where do we go from here? For some, the answers will evolve over decades. For others, the answers will never be found.

The world has faced similar tragedies before– The 1912 sinking of the Titanic is regarding as the first global disaster, as the newly invented telegraph was first used to announce to the world the horrendous calamity. At the time the event was unthinkable, beyond the catcalls of “unsinkable.” Quite simply, people DID NOT believe that it actually happened. It was– to use the word of the time– unprecedented. The scale of the disaster was beyond emotional acceptance; the loss of life, staggering. Nearly every ethnic nationality was represented in the death toll and it all occurred within the largest moving object ever created by the mind of man: Titanic.

Of course, 9/11 was no accident. But the World Trade Center, the tallest towers in the world, twin monuments to the ingenuity of 20th century man, was gone. Now less than two decades later, the magnificent 9/11 museum is finally in place, and ground zero remains a construction site. The wound is still that fresh.

But might there be a lesson here? Perhaps it can be found via the architects and engineers who conceived TITANIC BELFAST.

After ten decades of media and multi-media exploitation– the books, the films, the 3D recreations, the touring exhibits, and oh yes, the auctions of recovered artifacts– what could possibly be left to say? When did disaster morph into entertainment?

Happily there is one crucial element waiting to be explored: Humanity– The thousands of people (and the city) that built Titanic. Why not return home, return to its birthplace, and go back to where it all began and will always remain? The heart.

Architecturally TITANIC BELFAST resembles both the four corners of the ship itself (in actual height) as well as the imagined scale of the infamous iceberg. It’s a visual twist that foretells the attention to detail and design to come, elements crucial to the success of this venture. The facade juts out at angles of some 25 degrees with over 3,000 anodized sheets molded origami-like into complex designs, 2/3rds of which are completely unique, inventing varying light patterns at every angle. In a sense it reflects where the ship meets the sea; the sea meets and sky.

Visitors move through 10 clever exhibits beginning with “Boomtown Belfast”– where they meet the men who built the great ship– the names of each designer, their photos, personal information, even comments from friends about what they were like as people, the inventors humanized. In a fashion, this is like speaking with the parents of a lost child and discovering who that child was. No one else could ever tell this story.

The next gallery is perhaps the most inventive. Called the “Arrol Gantry and Shipyard Ride” it is an electronic dark ride that recreates the art of 19th century shipbuilding through the use of CGI animation and various special effects. This is not a cheesy Disney-inspired carnival ride, but more of a simulator experience that tastefully takes visitors through the more dangerous aspects of the ship building trade.

What follows are detailed exhibits covering the launch of the Titanic, fitting out the ship with in a million details of practicality and luxury, the maiden voyage, the sinking, the aftermath, and finally a review of the myths and legends concerning the event. This last exhibit is an exploration of the wreck and an oceanic center.

What is missing, most thankfully, are the original artifacts that have found their way into traveling museum collections and auctions alike. One explanation is the staggering cost of acquiring these items in an ever-escalating market. The other, however, is that TITANIC BELFAST is not about a cup and saucer. It’s not about a life preserver. It’s not about the button off a First Class Officer’s jacket. If this is what you’re looking for, Google the next Titanic touring show near you.

No. TITANIC BELFAST is a tribute to those that built and sailed on this iconic ship. It is a chronicler of the event and it’s aftermath… from 1912 to now. More than a single lifetime, with the emphasis on life.

It is not about an Iceberg. It is noted, but not dwelt upon. It melted away, unlike the memory of some 1,500 souls who sailed on the most futuristic ship of its time, unlike the thousands who built this astounding vessel. They live now at TITANIC BELFAST.

And here is the lesson learned: the memory of 9/11 cannot be of terror. Even now, a scant 15 years out from that day, the wound is still too painful. We are still much, much too close to the event to focus our perspectives. We may think we have, but we haven’t. It too was unprecedented, staggering– the event impossible to wrap our most modern minds around.

A telegraph announced a great tragedy to the world– Unbelievable. 9/11 unfolded on live television and repeated in an endless loop on another new invention, the internet. Incomprehensible.

So consider that it has taken the town of Belfast, the mother and father of Titanic herself, 100 years to absorb the event in this most magnificent and dignified way.

100 years from now, what will we make of 9/11? After millions have toured the museum, examined the artifacts, and with millions more re-experiencing the event through mass mediums we cannot imagine, what will there be left to say?

I pray that we think of those that built World Trade. Pray for those that lost their lives that day… In the towers… In those fated planes… At the Pentagon… In a field outside of Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

I pray that we cherish the resiliency of the human spirit that endured such a past of heartbreak, such a present of uncertainty, such a future filled with challenges unknown.

Another great monument once split the sky, inspired the world, then disappeared. Yet from this chaos we can glean reflection, we can seek an elemental calm. From water and wind, through fire and ice, we always endure.

In the distance we will always hear the mariner’s cry, “Sail on. Sail on.”

More Info: http://www.TitanicBelfast.com

 

By Duane Scott Cerny.  Copyright 2016

Is Politics Dirty? It Is If You’re Doing It Right…

Jane Byrne Was Not A Witch. She was a Democrat. And everyone knows Democrats make terrible witches. Conflict is not their best feature. Plus there are those cat allergies.

Now take a flashback in history. A time of upheaval, political instability and– can you believe it? A snow storm that would change the course of Chicago history forever.

Yes, Jane Byrne rode a blizzard into the Mayor’s office. Surprise one. But then she shook up a city that needed to be shaken. Badly.

The late Richard M. Daley was quite successful at keeping Hollywood out of Chicago– Too many gangster movies didn’t do much for tourism– or business, particularly his.

But in 1980, Jane Byrne reopened a door locked tight since the city’s short lived silent film era. A seemingly insignificant film at the time, “The Blues Brothers” was a rebirth for Chicago film and television. Hollywood was now a suitor at Chicago’s door and he had cash money to spend.

So thank you to the late and great Jane Byrne. The Chicago film industry exists because of you. The millions spent here in the years that followed would become a testament to your enduring influence on Chicago’s future. It also paid my rent for years!

But what of this “Byrne The Witch” poster? Remember that Jane Byrne was unfairly disliked by Congress… sorry, I mean, the Aldermen of Chicago… nearly paralyzing her administration. It seems the real evil were the men behind the curtain.

So the story goes: Soon after her election, the “evil cabal” (her words) realized they were stuck with Jane Byrne and they created a few hundreds of these scarce posters for local taverns, pool halls, ethnic weddings, union events. Yet when the Chicago Police discovered the infamous poster’s printing press in a northwest side basement, it was beaten into fragments with shovels and billy clubs.

Shovels & Billy Clubs? In Chicago, I believe that’s best served with a side of fries.

The Loss of Genius: How Philip Seymour Hoffman Made Truman Capote Even More Famous

The death of Truman Capote in 1984 surprised no one. The little man seemed to have been slowly dying for years. When the end finally came it was not a shock so much as a collective relief. A long-time addiction to booze and prescription pills had taken its toll on a life lived, perhaps, too well. He didn’t intentionally O.D… or probably didn’t. But like Hoffman the details here are murky.

Capote’s death would join a pantheon of writers who found solace, if not a sizable part of their creativity, in the emptying of a bottle.

 Capote was not prolific, however he achieved what few others had– to write what was acclaimed then and remains a modern American literary masterpiece.

After a slew of highly regarded short stories, Capote penned his first novel “Other Voices, Other Rooms,” followed by the thin but oh-so-successful “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.” Capote then threw himself into an eight year odyssey culminating in the creation of his ground breaking non-fiction novel “In Cold Blood.”

By the time history had it’s say Capote would change the face of documentary fiction writing, and in the same turn, influence the evolving maturity of American film.

Beyond prolific, the 47 films of Philip Seymour Hoffman secured his lofty position as an iconic movie star. His Broadway credits alone thrust him to a level unparalleled. His talent was unquestionably enormous; his worldwide fame equally echoed. So perhaps the bigger-than-life scale of his death, the wave of loss which swept across the country on a snow frosted February morning, simply matched the magnitude of a life that could only grow more unwieldy. The days that followed were counted in the increasing number of bags of heroin found, adding to an ever-louder chorus of “Why?”

The careers of Capote and Philip Seymour Hoffman met in a near operatic way… with Hoffman no less than psychically channeling Capote in his portrayal of this writer at the top of his literary fame and game. He recreated the lilting voice and over-dramatic face of an odd, lonely little man… “a homosexual, a genius.” Truman’s own words. Now this film documented the making of “In Cold Blood” and told much more than just a behind-the-scenes story line.

Hoffman himself was a chameleon very similar to Capote, morphing from role to role with fully realized performances that seemed to thrive inside our frail human condition with the resiliency of no other actor of his time. Just as the real life Capote could charm both the rednecks of Kansas and the socialites of Manhattan with the slur of his silver-charmed tongue, Hoffman was the perfect artist to mirror another frighteningly talented life.

It was not surprising that Hoffman won the Academy Award for Best Actor for his seminal portrayal of Truman Capote. The collision of these two great talents was angst’s most perfect storm.

Blessedly, Hoffman leaves us with so many cherished performances. The porn star struck young man in “Boogie Nights.” The priest of questionable child molestation charges in “Doubt.” The charismatic shaman (or con man) in “The Master.” And of course, the troubled brilliance that was Truman Capote. These unlikely outcasts challenged more than just our notion of sexuality. Hoffman’s considerable skills defined such sexual acts as first being experienced in one’s own head, not groin. He made us look and look hard. Then soft. Like the peeling of an onion he could strip away the layers until only the rawness of the real was left. There was never time for tears in watching a Hoffman performance. He made you look quick. He made you care.

In a twist of coincidences that would have been deleted from a novice’s screenplay, Hoffman took on the persona of Truman Capote and made him even more famous.  Stranger still, this sad event has now doubled down on their parallel deaths.

No one understood fame better than Capote. He didn’t invent it so much as re-invent it.  Capote’s own 1966 “Black & White Masked Ball” was regarded as “The Party of the Century– And it seriously was. It was a triple “A” lister’s orgasm of celebrity guests, probably the largest one time gathering of the famous and infamous that defined the celebrated 1960’s. Both a book and film were produced about the infamous one-night-only event.

Though countless biographies and memoirs about Capote have been published, Hoffman’s re-invention remains the consummate performance that eerily illustrated Capote’s life.  Fairly or unfairly, the film “Capote” will be the work for which they will both be best remembered. 

Any reader with a working knowledge of the life of Truman Capote understands that he would have loved this bizarre outcome– Not the death of the man who brought him back to cinematic life– but God’s bold underscoring of their intersecting destinies. Capote now adds yet another chapter to his ever-growing infamy a full 30 years after his passing. And one particular bon mot comes to mind…

Capote relished in the telling and re-telling (on various TV shows of the era) the following story: while eating in a posh NYC restaurant, a drunken man approached him. “Aren’t you that famous writer guy?” the over-served man spit out. “My wife says she wants your autograph but I told her you’re a fag!” The man then proceeded to unzip his fly and place his penis on Capote’s linen covered table. The man barked,”Why don’t you autograph this?”

Truman clicked his trademarked tongue off the roof of his mouth and rolled his eyes with glazed amusement. “I couldn’t possibly give you an autograph, sir…” Truman drawled.  “However, I will initial it.” And with pen in hand, Truman did just that.

That was Truman at his smartest, if not snarky, best. Capote liked nothing more than to incite if not enrage, so the shock that would surround Philip Seymour Hoffman’s overdose would not pass unappreciated by him. And though so dismally unfortunate, it is still deliciously bizarre, so curiously impossible. Both men are now bonded by this event, as if some cosmic knot has tied the two together forever, their deaths a package set we do not wish to accept.

We are left with the passing of their unparalleled success– only to accept the death itself.  At least for now. But in time, just as Janis Joplin passed into the death of Jim Morrison, and he into Elvis, and he into John Belushi, and he into River Phoenix, and he into Heath Ledger, and he into Michael Jackson, and he into Prince, and he into Robin Williams. On and on.  We will look back at these great talents and remain in awe.

On a cold Winter morning in NYC’s Greenwich Village lay a row of flowers in a doorway. All that remains is sentiment. Yet if there was ever a doubt that Philip Seymour Hoffman might be forgotten, Truman Capote took care of that long ago.

Chameleons, you see, never really disappear.

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