Journalist. Mother. Bunny enthusiast. Pop culture junkie.

Journalist. Mother. Bunny enthusiast. Pop culture junkie.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

American Beauty: Scandal of a Century

This is the tale of a scandal that was so gripping, even President Roosevelt was obsessed with every detail.

Evelyn Nesbit was born to an upper-middle class family in Pennsylvania. Her father, a lawyer, died in 1893, leaving large debts and virtually no money.

Evelyn, her mom, and her little brother lived in poverty. As a child, Evelyn would often catch her mother sobbing alone in the kitchen, clutching bills she had absolutely no way of paying. Desperate to escape her wretched homelife, Evelyn used to read fairytales and wished with all her heart she could be a princess.

When Evelyn was 14, she turned heads everywhere she went. The copper-haired girl was drop-dead gorgeous. She was eventually offered a job modeling for artists in Philadelphia. She was delighted to find it paid her family's bills.

When she was 15, Evelyn and her family moved to New York City. Jobs were shoved in her face. Everyone wanted a piece of her. She instantly became a famous fashion model. She became such a huge celebrity, her face actually inspired the iconic "Gibson Girl" illustrations. Young girls idolized her and powerful men wanted to meet her.

One of those powerful men was Stanford White, the most famous architect in New York. He designed Madison Square Garden, the Washington Arch, and Tiffany's. He was in his mid-40s.

Despite being a married man with adult children, Stanford had a weakness for young girls. He treated the sweet, naive Evelyn innocently at first. He bought her presents, befriended her mom, and paid for her dental work. The 16-year-old saw him as a father-figure, so when he invited her up to his apartment one evening, she didn't hesitate to say yes.

Once inside the apartment, Evelyn was mesmerized by what she saw. There was a plush, red velvet swing in the middle of his living room! She squealed with delight as he pushed her in it. And then he offered her champagne! Her mother never let her drink! After an hour or so, she began to feel woozy. Stanford forced himself on her and raped her. Afterwards, she sobbed, ashamed at her foolishness for trusting him.

A couple years later, Evelyn found herself pursued by a cocky playboy named Harry Thaw. The lazy bachelor lived off his parents' millions, had no job, and joked to friends that he majored in "poker" while at Harvard. He thought Evelyn was super hot and wanted to marry her.

After resisting his sleazy advances for two years, Evelyn gave up and married him. She figured since she wasn't a virgin anymore, this was pretty much her only chance to bag a decent husband. Evelyn entered the union with no secrets, however, and told Harry how Stanford had deflowered her two years before. Needless to say, Harry was outraged.

A year after they were married, the couple went to a play at Madison Square Garden. Harry spied Stanford in the crowd and freaked out. He went up to the middle-aged man and shot him three times, screaming he was getting revenge for Evelyn's sake. Horrified audience members trampled to the nearest exits.

Harry was hailed as a hero by the American public, rather than a homicidal maniac. People admired the husband who stood up for his wife. They cheered him on during his trial, which was splashed all over the newspapers. It was all everyone could talk about.

For his deadly crime, Evelyn's husband was put in a mental institution for nearly a decade. When he got out, he immediately divorced Evelyn, because there was pretty much nothing left between the two. She received no settlement.

On her own, Evelyn struggled with alcoholism and drug addiction, and moved around a lot to make ends meet. Her numerous suicide attempts were never successful. She tried her hand at acting and dancing. When she got older, she opened an unspectacular nightclub and then taught ceramic art. Sometimes Harry would help her with money out of pity, but it was never enough.

She died in 1967 at the age of 82.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Barbra Streisand's Fashion Evolution

Today is Barbra Streisand's 70th birthday.

I'm lucky enough to have her #1 fan as my bff. Of course, I'm talking about Jonny. Seven years ago, he introduced me to Barbra's beautiful voice and extravagant style.

He used to sing me her songs and we would have Barbra movie nights, snuggling on the couch and drinking red wine.

I miss Jonny terribly. He's currently in New York City, chasing his dream. Right now, he's in production for an off-Broadway musical and he starts graduate school at NYU this August.

I've decided to show the evolution of Barbra's style over the past 50 years.

This post is dedicated to my sweet Jonny.



Barbra Streisand was raised in Brooklyn.

After graduating high school in 1959, Barbra immediately moved to Manhattan to pursue acting.

During these days, Barbra was like a teenage gypsy, traveling around with a cot, sleeping on the floors of friends' apartments, while she pursued her dream of being a star.

The oddly beautiful girl began singing eccentric arrangements of jazz hits in hole-in-the-wall night clubs, dim-lit gay bars, and underground cabaret hot spots in Greenwich Village.

Most people snickered when they caught a sight of Barbra back in the early 1960s. During a time when most girls her age were dolled up in Betty Draper sundresses, Barbra strutted the streets in thrift store chic, and even a few handmade gems. Ironically, today, Barbra's ragtag hipster style would be considered quite cool.

Here she is in 1963, wearing a gown she made out of a cotton gingham tablecloth. Years later, Barbra admitted everyone told her to wear cocktail dresses to her gigs but she ignored them all, preferring to wear her beloved vintage clothes and creative designs.

By the mid-1960s, Barbra's fame had exploded. She was the new Hollywood "it girl" and received a glamorous makeover, while staying true to her style.

Now a pop star and a movie star, she made headlines for sitting front row at a Chanel runway show, wearing a custom-made jaw-droppingly chic leopard skin suit. She hobnobbed with designers like YSL. Women around the globe scrambled to copy her outfits.


In 1970, Barbra starred in my favorite movie The Owl and the Pussycat and went through a sexy, long-haired hippie transformation.

This is my favorite Barbra era. She was sexy, vivacious, and carefree. She infused boho chic with old-school glam. In a recent interview with Instyle magazine, Barbra said this was her favorite fashion period as well.

By 1976, Barbra had succumbed to the poodle perm popular among American women.

Despite being a global superstar, however, she still held on to her love for ecclectic fashion.

In this famous publicity photo from A Star is Born, Barbra is wearing a gown she designed herself, by draping her silver and black shawls together.


Barbra grew out her perm throughout this decade. She also sported a lot of pink pastel sweaters and comfortable slacks.


By 1991, Barbra was a triple threat: singer, actor, and director. Her style was sleek and modern. Black started to become her trademark.

Check out that gorgeous necklace! It is actually a vintage piece from Tiffany & Co.


Barbra's style in the past decade can only be described as one word: majestic. Her look is graceful, elegant, and classy. She always looks like a queen, whether she's draped in sparkly antique jewels or wearing a powerhouse suit.

What do you think of Barbra's style throughout the years?

Sunday, April 22, 2012

The Taco Bell Guy

This afternoon, my parents and I went to Taco Bell.

We hadn't been there in years. We're more Chipotle people.

Anyway, as soon as we entered the place, we encountered a beaming 20-something-year-old guy juggling hot sauce packets.

When we approached the counter, he dropped them all.

"Oh, excuse me, my juggling skills are a bit rusty," he said, with a dazzling grin, before reaching on the floor to pick the packets up.

"What can I get you?" he asked.

We told him we needed time to think.

"Well my name is Scooter, so if you need help with anything at all, please holla at me," he said enthusiastically.

My dad eyed the menu skeptically.

"Is the Doritos Loco Taco any good?" he asked.

Scooter's eyes popped out their sockets.

"The Locos Taco is the most delicious item we have on the menu," he gushed. "And I'm not just saying that as your Taco Bell representative."

He put his hand on his heart.

"I actually had the distinct honor of meeting our guy out in Dallas who invented the Locos Taco," Scooter added. "It was a privilege. It was one of the most amazing experiences of my life."

I laughed. But my parents looked impressed.

When my parents and I finally decided to order, Scooter was very involved.

"You can't just order one Locos Taco! You need at least three!"
"Get a combo!"
"If you add an extra burrito supreme, I'll add an extra cheese sauce for you on the sly."
"Come on this is Taco Bell, everything is good."

By the time we brought our food to the table, my parents and I spent ten minutes trying to figure out who had ordered what. Why was there so much food? Who ordered the kids meal?! Wait, why did we order four drinks?

In the middle of our meal, I looked up and almost choked on my nachos. Scooter was standing right in front of us, grinning. How long had he been there?!

He sat down in our booth, across from me.

"In 1987, my parents went to a huge family reunion, everyone in the family was there, and it was held at a Taco Bell," he told us, solemnly. "One day later, I was born."

I stared at him, dumbfounded.

What the fuck? Why was he telling us this? Why was he sitting with us?

I looked at my parents, expecting them to be equally horrified. Instead, they seemed genuinely touched.

"That is a beautiful story," my mom said to him.

Scooter beamed.

"Our cinnamon twists are really good," he said, before taking our trash away.

My mom immediately went up to the counter to order cinnamon twists.

When we walked out of the restaurant, my mom couldn't stop talking about Scooter.

"Now there is a young man who loves his job," she said. "What a sweet guy. I'll definitely be coming to Taco Bell a lot more now. What a nice place."

I trudged behind my parents, still trying to comprehend what had happened. I glanced down at our receipt and almost fainted.

Normally when we go to a fast food place, our bill is around $10. This receipt said we spent more than $25. AT A TACO BELL. FOR THREE PEOPLE.

And that's when the realization hit me.

Scooter is a fucking genius.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Estate Sale Tips

I'm interrupting my Women in Jazz series to help make a positive change in your life.

I'm going to provide you with some invaluable tips about how to shop at estate sales.

Because when it comes to hitting up estate sales, I'm a fucking genius.

You're probably thinking, "But Jennifer, you're a fucking genius at everything!"

Touché, my friend, touché.

This is my story, take from it what you will. Or don't.

I grew up going to estate sales, because I have a mother who is a bargain-obsessed shopaholic. It wasn't until five or six years ago that I realized estate sales were perfect hunting ground for vintage fashion.

When going to an estate sale, it is imperative that you go on the first day.

If you do not, everything even remotely decent will be gone. All of the poor people, hipsters, vintage resellers, and fashionistas will have ransacked the house, leaving behind nothing but rusted crock pots and ridiculously-priced Victorian couches. Trust me.

Also, it is vital that you hit up estate sales in ritzy neighborhoods. In my city, there are a few parts of town filled with sprawling mansions, home to some of the richest people in America.

In the past five years, I have purchased the following at these high-end estate sales: a vintage Louis Vuitton bag, brand new Kate Spade bag, three Prada skirts, an Hermes scarf, Prada bag, vintage fur coat, emerald and sapphire necklace, emerald ring, and Free People skirt. These items ranged from $5 to $100.

If you see an item you want, but do not want to pay full-price, you must hide it. Because you will be able to go back the next day and get that item for half-off. I suggest discretely slipping the item into the nearest bathroom and placing it underneath the sink, because no one ever looks there. Or, a drawer in the bathroom. Once you start getting the hang of this process, you can be more creative and find even better hiding spots.

I did that last year with an Etro skirt and a fish purse. I ended up getting both for $12 on the 75 percent off day, because I hid them in a floorboard. This is a big deal because moments before, there had been three women fighting over that fish purse. I have only used the fish purse once in the past year, but it was worth every penny knowing that I now own something other women wanted.

If the house seems like the person who lives inside of it is crazy, or mentally unstable, you need to go there immediately. Nine times out of ten, those make the best estate sales, if not merely for entertainment value.

I've been to a sale run by two middle-aged women who were obsessed with Native Americans. Their entire house was filled with ancient arrowheads, decorative spears, and ugly ass paintings of warrior chiefs. It was the creepiest place in the world.

I've been to a sale run by a theater professor who once had Tom Hanks as a student. His entire house was filled with Hollywood memorabilia, which honestly should have been in a museum.

And most importantly HAVE FUN. Take a friend! Estate sale shopping is one of the coolest things on earth. Sometimes you score a deal. Sometimes you find a gem. Sometimes you don't. But the hunt is the best part. Not knowing what you're going to find is what makes it great.

I hope my tips help you!

**Update: Someone asked where to find estate sales. Just check the classified section of your local newspaper!**

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Women in Jazz: Lena Horne

Fans saw Lena Horne as a heart-breakingly gorgeous movie star with an apple-pie smile and voice made of silk.

Behind-the-scenes, co-stars and friends saw Lena as cold, calculated, and broken.

The world saw her as black.

Struggling for success during a civil rights revolution, it's no wonder there were many sides to the troubled jazz singer from Brooklyn.

Lena was born in 1917 into a middle-class family, who taught her never to tolerate racism and always act like a dignified lady.

When she was 15, her stage ambitious mother got her a gig as dancer for the Cotton Club, a famous hot spot in Harlem. She was introduced to the fast-paced world of jazz, rubbing elbows with Billie Holiday and Duke Ellington. She began getting more prestigious gigs.

Her sultry vocals, sparkling smile, and pretty light-skinned face made her an instant sensation with white audiences. It wasn't long before she was whisked to Broadway and recording albums.

In 1941, the 24-year-old became the first African-American signed to a long-term contract to MGM.

Unfortunately, the movie studio was perplexed with what to do with a black leading lady. Roles that should have gone straight to Lena ended up going to her white counterparts. She watched in dismay as Ava Gardner was dusted with dark makeup to play a mulatto in Showboat. It broke her heart to see the Viennese glam queen Hedy Lamarr play Tondelayo, the Congo goddess in White Cargo. And the role of that light-skinned black girl passing as white in Pinky? Lena never stood a chance of earning that Oscar-nominated part.

Instead, Lena was placed in all-black films or given musical cameos in big-budget motion pictures.

To help further her career, Lena raised eyebrows by marrying Lennie Hayton, a white composer. It worked. He got her gigs no black manager could ever have done in that time period, she later said. They later divorced.

Despite her success, reality always socked her in the gut. For example, she became seriously ill while headlining at the ritzy Savoy Plaza and wasn't even allowed to stay in one of the hotel's rooms to recover.

She became heavily involved with civil rights during this time period, participating in marches and speaking out at rallies. And she began to resent the upper-class white audiences who paid top dollars to see her perform. She developed a cool, distant exterior towards her fans.

In the 1950s, Lena was labeled a Communist by the government for her civil rights work. She was blacklisted from Hollywood and could not find work.

As the years passed, Lena regained her career and starred in movies, performed on Broadway, and appeared on television.

She passed away two years ago at the age of 92.

Here is Lena's most famous song, Stormy Weather:

What do you think of Lena?

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Women in Jazz: Peggy Lee

My boyfriend, Rian, is the film curator for the American Jazz Museum.

His job recently had him working with our city's film festival, to showcase rare clips from various jazz artists in history. We attended the screening last week and it was pretty bad-ass.

Through Rian, I've learned a lot about jazz, regarding the history and lesser-known artists.

So, I thought I would highlight a few fabulous female jazz singers in a series.

Our first lady is the blonde-haired, blue-eyed Peggy Lee.

Peggy was born in 1920 in North Dakota.

Having lost her mother when she was four, Peggy suffered a difficult childhood, putting up with an alcoholic father and abusive stepmother.

After graduating, she packed up her bags and moved to Hollywood, desperate to leave her miserable small-town life behind. Unfortunately, it didn't work. After spending months as a waitress, and even a carnival worker, Peggy went home, tail between her legs.

She started singing on a local radio station, which led to offers in other parts of the country. Soon, the 20-year-old beauty found herself traveling the country, playing at small venues.

She was performing in a ritzy Chicago nightclub in 1941 when Benny Goodman, a very famous bandleader, took notice. He asked her to sing in his orchestra, and not long afterwards, they began working in the studio.

She ended up releasing a couple of number one hits which not only sold more than one million copies, but made her an instant household name.

It was during this time that Peggy fell in love with Dave Barbour, a guitarist in Benny's band. The two married in 1943 and had a daughter. Unfortunately, Dave assumed that Peggy would gladly give up her singing career to stay at home and be a dutiful wife and mother.

Peggy obliged to his wishes for a few years, but could not help her itch to continue her career. She wrote songs in her spare time and in 1947, released several more songs that flew to the top of the jazz charts.

Her hunger for success and passion for music could not keep Peggy at home. She ended up divorcing her husband in 1951. Her career skyrocketed. She released numerous number hits, sold millions of albums, and even dabbled into acting.

What separated Peggy from her contemporaries is that during the 1950s, she was one of the only old-school jazz singers to embrace rock and roll. While her peers despised the new musical form, she loved it.

By the late 1950s, her obsessive workload began to take a toll on her health. She continued to record music, produce theater productions, and actively participate in charity work until her death, from diabetes, in 2002.

Here is Peggy's most famous song, Fever:

What do you think of Peggy's style and her music?