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.

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.

TRENDING TOP TWENTY, 2016: An Update From The Future

Nostradamus gazed into a font of water to see what tomorrow would bring. Often he would drop a single solid gold coin into the bowl just because he liked to hear that “kerplunk” sound.  Quirky, but bankable.

Jeane Dixon used a fax machine and a hair dryer– making mostly inaccurate prophesies from her bathroom, often seated on her throne in Queens. Her secret?  Sponge baths, foot soak and an incontinent poodle. Today she is most remembered for her supposed prediction of JFK’s assassination and a horoscope book for dogs.

Trends. Futuristic forecasts. Oh, how unpredictable the predictable can be.

For a number of years now I’ve been using my own predictive devices– a chipped Fiesta bowl filled with guacamole and a cocktail stirrer from the late Edgewater Beach Hotel– to tell the vintage future. Corn chips shaped like Donald Trump’s head, circa 1980 (more hair, less spray) also greatly assist my cognitive abilities, but that’s optional. Today a single Dorito can be used in his place, the difference being virtually undetectable, even to multiple ex-wives.

So flashback with me now as we revisit my Top 20 Fiesta/Guacamole/Chip-induced predictions from a mere four years ago: Obama had just been re-elected, Hurricane Sandy was hitting the East Coast and Bruce Jenner still had the balls to be a Republican. Some things never change.

We’ll rate these stale premonitions as FALSE, STILL TRUE, MOSTLY TRUE or JURY’S OUT. Basically the same verdict as the O.J. Simpson trial.

 So again, in 2012, I predicted:

1. Crème de la crème Vintage Couture. With vintage fashion continuing to be a hot new thing, overseas sweatshops will knock off retro styles, creating an even stronger demand for authentic vintage couture. Take that Pajama Jeans!

VERDICT: MOSTLY TRUE

2. Cufflinks Are To Men What Shoes Are To Women. How can both sexes possibly need another pair? Yet they do– and they’re not sharing either obsession with their children.

VERDICT: STILL TRUE

3. It’s OK to Alter “As Found” Antiques. Say goodbye to dark wood furniture. Finally it’s acceptable to take these brown elephants and strip and stain them into designer colors (that aren’t white!) High quality “as is” vintage furnishings are fair game for alteration.

VERDICT: MOSTLY TRUE. However “All White” is now making a nasty comeback in unfortunate supremacist corners.

4. Straight Razors & Shaving Paraphernalia. Beards, mustaches, sideburns– they’re all back in the fuzzy fashion of half-shaven men. No electric razors in this hairy fraternity, this groom is grooming. I see no end in sight for the desires of the hirsute.

VERDICT: MOSTLY TRUE, but trimming back.

5. Wristwatches. Not that time has ever been hard to grasp (see your iPhone/Android), but collecting timepieces and wristwatches will return like there’s no time left. New designers will continue to knock off vintage styles, pushing old time and timers into the rarefied pricing air.

VERDICT: TRUE

6. Royal Copenhagen Ceramics. The vintage Scandinavian craze continues but serious collectors are getting serious about the pottery of Nils Thorsson. Though they look like props from “I Dream of Jeannie,” that’s only half the attraction. In our glaze into the future the quality of Thorsson’s product designs override the kitsch factor.

VERDICT: JURY’S OUT

7. Hello, Facebook: Good Buy vs. Privacy. Facebook’s Marketplace morphs into the upscale answer to Craigslist. Online hook-ups are a bore compared to scoring real family jewels– or fashions or furnishings. The new STD is: “Sell That Designer” (fill in the blank.)

VERDICT: MOSTLY TRUE

8. Vernacular Snapshots & Film. You have a camera w/phone in hand. But where’s the film? It’s obsolete. Snapshots are history on a paper that we don’t produce anymore. Yet in basements, attics, garages, thrifts and fleas they’re being snapped up faster than a Polaroid One Step. Here’s one instance when technology killed a market while boosting another. When Bill Gates and The Getty Museum are buying up vast vernacular photography collections from even minor collectors, this story is far from developed.

VERDICT: TRUE

9. Estate Sales. Nothing to do this weekend? Estate sales have long been THE thing to do and everyone is having one. Even people who aren’t dead yet. Why wait to die when you can sell right now and drink your profits tonight?

VERDICT: TRUE

10. Taxidermy. Whether you’re a designer, an oddities collector or just a hipster in need of a broader hip, good taxidermy is a dying art with a second life. Consequently demand and scarcity command big prices in this narrow field of dead prey. Though political correctness often limits availability, quality items are the real rarities in this under-stuffed market.

VERDICT: TRUE.

11. Vintage Guitars. While Hai Karate morphed into Axe for Men– both attempting to make men more desirable for mating– the romantic/machismo of being a rock star never missed a beat. Nor did the prices on quality Axes. Don’t tell me bad boys don’t get more action than good. (See bad girls… frequently!)

VERDICT: MOSTLY TRUE

12. Breweries Never Die, But Cocktails Toast Forever. The cocktail never really left us– We just stopped serving him after that inappropriate comment he made at Thanksgiving dinner about your mother and her semi-nude SPANX. Apparently “giblet” isn’t always a term of uterine endearment. Who knew? Still, responsible drinking is always in fashion– unlike “responsible smoking” which never really caught on without someone getting bitch slapped.

VERDICT: MOSTLY TRUE

13. Generation Y Craves Drama. All that angst, all that pain and suffering of being 20-something. Exactly why the Victorians invented the fainting couch. It was all too, too much! But if you still seek that extra crispy dramarama of life, look no further than the Baroque, Art Nouveau and Arts & Crafts styles of the 19th century for a solid decorating breakdown. Gilt (guilt!) chandeliers, snuff boxes, sterling cigarette cases (for calling cards, of course.) There’s nothing sadder in your future than something you didn’t buy today.

VERDICT: MOSTLY TRUE

14. Men as Dandies / Dandies as Men. With working environments becoming ever more casual, formal occasions will see men dressing in more sartorial attire. Pocket squares & dapper colors will show off a more adorned evening attire even in the straightest of men. The future’s so bright because sexuality has never been more gray.

VERDICT: TRUE

15. The Unfrozen Ice Breaker Question. “Where did you go to school?” will be replaced by “What do you collect?” Now everyone is a would-be designer, professional collector, kitsch expert or hop scotch champion. The future will be filled not only with more interesting people but also more interesting questions. The collecting craze will redefine itself once more with the assistance of vintage reality TV– and it will be just awful.

VERDICT: TRUE

16. Italian Glass. Is it Murano? Or just Murano-esque? Is it an ashtray? Doesn’t matter. As long as the signature is acid etched and/or retains the original label. Point is: Glass has been blowing hot for many a year and there appears to be no turning down the temperature in this collecting kiln. The only way to get burned is to overpay.

VERDICT: FALSE (See: I Lost My Ass in Glass)

17. Found Objects, Lost Objections. Another recent trend with no end in sight, mostly because collectors never seem to run out of alleys to plunder and pillage. Yes, there are thousands of online sites that illustrate the step-by-step method of turning a hubcap into a chrome beret, a kicky bathroom ceiling fixture or a rusty Chip & Dip Set. Recycling will be to decorating what Kathy Griffin is to Anderson Cooper: Snarky Girlfriends.

VERDICT: MOSTLY TRUE

18. Lighting. Now that your love affair with all things IKEA has ended badly (due to that near fatal cinnamon roll overdose on a lumpy futon), has a light bulb gone off in your head? Has your bookcase collapsed like a smashed Swedish meatball?  If so, then there’s only one thing we can all agree upon: the future needs better lighting. Especially great vintage lighting. So don’t curse the darkness and spend the money. Lighting prices rarely fade.

VERDICT: TRUE

19. Artificial Limbs and Railroad Timetables. Believe it nor not, this is a very real request of one of my hardened collector friends who will remain nameless, if not unscheduled. Yes, this may conjure up an uncomfortable image in your head but it’s the disturbing thought that counts. Everyone collects something. Who appointed you Judgy-Wudgy Bear? Face it: one man’s trash could be another man’s stomach pump collection. Yet what does the future hold? In this one collector’s dream train, apparently a leg up on someone’s botched travel plans.

VERDICT: MOSTLY TRUE, but still damn odd.

20. Celebrity DNA. Have I gone too far? Just around the future’s corner are concepts we’ve barely dreamt. If John Lennon’s tooth can bring $31,000 today, consider what tomorrow may bring? More wisdom than a bridge could cross. A DNA sample of Marilyn Monroe’s hair might be cloned into endless varieties of beauty products and/or Irish tax shelters. And there’s certainly enough of Michael Jackson floating about to create some thrilling talent treatment or other: Billie Jean Two Point Oh No! Or might Monica Lewinsky’s little blue dress have the last laugh… if not offspring?

VERDICT: TRUE.

(Update: Truman Capote’s ashes (YES!) are up for auction on Sept. 23-24, Julien’s Auctions, Los Angeles. http://www.juliensauctions.com/press/2016/icons-and-idols-hollywood-harold-lloyd.html )  Don’t say I didn’t warn ya…

And that’s the thing about the future. It just keeps giving–

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