Electric Ladyland: the high-wattage wit of drag queen names

The Stonewall Riots of 1969, widely considered the single most important event leading to the gay liberation movement, were no laughing matter … or so I had thought.

As it turns out one of its finest moments, at least by my reckoning, came when demonstrators countered an impenetrable wall of helmeted, club-carrying police with a high-kicking chorus line worthy of The Rockettes. The police, incensed with their machismo-spoofing shenanigans, broke ranks and charged at demonstrators with venomous ferocity and truncheons swinging.  But they’d met their match. Protesting drag queens, towering over the constabulary in their heels, proceeded to belt the crap out of them with their handbags.

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And in its own very small way, that devilish sass, hilarity and exuberance is what draws me to the cornucopia of comedy gold that is a drag queen’s ultimate calling card … her name.

From the rich pantheon of nom de plumes comes the most obvious anatomical word play; Dixie Normous, Penny Tration, Wilma Ballsdrop, Tess Tosterone and Ivana Cockatoo.

Particularly popular amongst drag acts are medically-themed monikers; Ginger Vitis, Ella Phantitus, Angie O’Gram, Anne Thrax, Madam Ovary, Dinah Thirst, Sarabelle Palsy and Anna Rexia.

Then there are those utterly devoid of any delusions of grandeur; Robyn Sevenelevens, Mary KMart, Carlotta Tendant, Summer Clearance, Show White Trash and Lois Carmen Denominator.

On the flip side there are the shining literary classics; Hedda Gobbler, Holly Goheavily, Bridgette of Madison County, Agnes of Gosh, Venus de Mile High-Lo and Barbra Seville.

As well as the star-studded; Marianne Unfaithful, Tallulah Bunkbed, Karen Carpenteria, Estee Lauder Harder Faster, Clare Booth Luce Change, Zsa Zsa Lahore and Gina Lola Golden Gate Bridgeda.

Sydney gay culture vulture and former drag queen Simon Lloyd (aka Mandy Vice Rabies) recalls Lady Bump, Cindy Pastel, Portia Turbo and Victoria Bitter sashaying through clubs in the late 80s with equal parts talent and talons.  More recent Australian acts include Minnie Cooper, Maxi Shield, Joyce Mange, Sheila Blige and Dawn Service (who only ever appears on ANZAC Day).

Maxi Shield, Ophelia Shaft and Joyce Maynge.

Maxi Shield, Ophelia Shaft and Joyce Mange

My personal favourite as far as distinctly Australian names go is the indigenous drag queen with the delicious title of Nana Miss Koori.

Nana Miss Koori

Nana Miss Koori at Damien Minton Gallery Nov 2013

And it seems I’m far from alone when it comes to the lure of a seriously good drag queen name if the Facebook group Drag Names!!!!!!!!!!!! (twelve exclamation marks mandatory) is anything to go by.  2,600 members have posted hundreds of suggestions including Beverly Hillbilly, Anna Phylactic, Madonna Kebab, Synthia Sizer, Mena Pause, Uretha Franklin and Vaseline Dion.

Vaseline Dion ... oh hang on ... no, that's just Celine Dion.

Vaseline Dion … oh hang on … no, that’s just Celine Dion.

But don’t despair if your own creative spark isn’t exactly lighting up the room like spotlit sequins under a mirror ball. Let an algorithm do the work for you at Drag Queen Name Generator. And for the littlest diva of them all, there’s The Drag Queen Baby Name book, which is sure to put some bling on that teething ring.

drag queen baby name book

It’s not often that I’m prone to quoting Dolly Parton. But in this case I’ll make an exception because she and I are more in tune than I thought possible.  ‘It’s a good thing I was born a girl. Otherwise I’d be a drag queen’.  Were the latter indeed the case, let the record show that I would have chosen to make my own debut as Pixie Lated.

The Meaning of Life, Larf AND Liff

Less known about Douglas Adams, the creator of the seminal Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series, is that Richard Dawkins dedicated his treatise The God Delusion to him and that Adams made two brief appearances in the fourth series of Monty Python’s Flying Circus.

Adams does Python

Adams does Python

Also hiding in the gargantuan literary shadow of Hitchhiker’s is a little handbook and dictionary of sorts called The Meaning of Liff, which Adams co-authored with John Lloyd in 1983.

Meaning of Liff book

The book which, incidentally, was in large part the inspiration for my blog’s name, also has a connection with the film,The Meaning of Life.  Hardcore Python fans will recall that the opening sequence of the gravestone reads Liff before the lightning bolt strikes the final F and converts it to an E.

Lloyd himself is an intriguing character who, oddly enough, I inadvertently struck up an email exchange with last year on a business-related matter.  At the time I had no idea that he was also the creator of QI and wrote for Not the Nine O’Clock News, Black Adder and was part of the winning Trinity College team in 2011’s University Challenge.  Never mind that he collaborated with Adams on Hitchhiker’s and The Meaning of Liff.

John Lloyd

John Lloyd

How I came to be in contact with Lloyd is another story for another time, but suffice to say I was over the moon when I realised that I was corresponding with the man whose name lay alongside Adams’ on the cover of one of my favourite books.

I love The Meaning Of Liff for its fine balance of practical intent coupled with absurd realisation.

Simply put it is a dictionary of things that there aren’t any words for yet. Rather than inventing new words though, Adams and Lloyd thought they’d make existing place names work harder for their keep by assigning them new definitions because the words were already recognisable entities without as such having any sense or meaning attached to them.

The book’s forward says it best:

In Life* there are many hundreds of common experiences, feelings, situations and even objects which we all know and recognise, but for which no words exist.

On the other hand, the world is littered with thousands of spare words which spend their time doing nothing but loafing about on signposts pointing at places.

Our job, as we see it, is to get these words down off the signposts and into the mouths of babes and sucklings and so on, where they can start earning their keep in everyday conversation and make a more positive contribution to society.

Douglas Adams & John Lloyd

*and indeed Liff

Liff itself is a small village near Dundee in Scotland and is repurposed to mean: A book, the contents of which are totally belied by its cover. For instance, any book the dust jacket of which bears the words ‘This book will change your life’. Nice.

Some of my other favourites?

Beccles The small bone buttons placed in bacon sandwiches by unemployed guerrilla dentists.

Barstibley A humorous device such as a china horse or small naked porcelain infant which jocular hosts use to piss water into your Scotch with.

Gastard Useful specially new-coined word for an illegitimate child (in order to distinguish it from someone who merely carves you up on the motorway, etc).

Malibu The height by which the top of a wave exceeds the height to which you have rolled up your trousers.

Nazeing The rather unconvincing noises of pretended interest an adult has to make when brought a small dull object for admiration by a child.

Neen Sollars Any ensemble of especially unflattering and peculiar garments worn by a woman which tell you that she is right at the forefront of fashion.

Skibbern Noise made by a sunburned thigh leaving a plastic chair.

Spofforth To tidy up a room before the cleaning lady arrives.

Vobster A strain of perfectly healthy rodent which develops cancer the moment it enters a laboratory.

Whaplode Drove A homicidal golf stroke.

Whasset A business card in your wallet belonging to someone you have no recollection of meeting.

Happily Australia makes the briefest of appearances thanks to the entry for Yeppoon:  One of the hat-hanging corks which Australians wear for making Qantas commercials.

My mother has always said that if you’re struggling to find a present for the person who had everything, a back scratcher is the solution.  Wise words though they may be, I’d prefer to tickle my friends’ funny bones with a copy of The Meaning of Liff any old day.

From tattoo coups to tattoo spews

The inking of flesh has been doing the rounds since the Stone Age across almost every culture on the planet, but never has the pursuit been as all-pervasive than at this point in time.

Once the domain of rebels, social outcasts and misfits, dolphin and unicorn tattoos and tramp stamps now rub shoulders with fashionistas and mall rats alike.

Love them or loathe them, like pretty much everything else in life, tattoos are in the eye of the beholder; from the extraordinarily artistic and inspired to the god-awful equivalent of Cake Wrecks and Awkward Family Photos.

Tattoo coups

tattoo spews

 

Noble rot: The Duchess of Alba

When you’re 87, a duchess seven times over and Spain’s richest woman, who’s going to stop you marrying your toy boy civil servant and dancing a barefoot jig at the wedding?

FILE: Duchess of Alba Suffers Broken leg While On Vacation In Rome

Such is María del Rosario Cayetana Alfonsa Victoria Eugenia Francisca Fitz-James Stuart y de Silva’s offbeat appetite for everything from spouses to the surgeon’s scalpel, that her event-filled life has compelled her to pen not one but two autobiographies.

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Papped, snapped and clapped at the nuptuals.

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Husband #3

Credited by the Guinness World Records as having more aristocratic titles than anyone else in the world (over 40 noble and 150 hereditary ones), as the head of the House of Alba her portfolio includes castles, palaces, country houses and land across Spain including her birthplace, the Liria Palace in Madrid, along with a priceless collection of 250+ oil paintings by the likes of Rembrandt, Goya, Van Dyck and Rubens.

Alba young family

In her youth Picasso asked the Duchess to pose nude for him but she refused on the basis that she found modelling boring.  Instead she spent her formative years rubbing shoulders with the aristocracy’s inner sanctum along with American royalty, namely Jackie Kennedy.

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Horsing around with Jackie Kennedy

But after her first marriage to the son of the Duke of Sotomayor in 1947, considered the last feudal wedding in Spain and the world’s most expensive at that time, the Duchess went on to snub her resculpted retrousséd nose at the establishment by making an illegitimate defrocked Jesuit priest and her former confessor, husband number two in 1978.

Alba marriage 1

Wedding #1. Her dress is thought to have inspired Alexander McQueen’s efforts for Kate Middleton.

She was at it again in 2011 when she married her third husband, a man 24 years her junior, causing such a ruckus in the family that she divided her $3 billion fortune between her children and grandchildren just to shut them up. The tactic appeared to work with her saying  “They’re more or less satisfied … at least they can’t put up any more objections.”

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Spam sandwiched between husband #3 and Tom Cruise.

duchessofalbavanityfair_nirjml

Little Photoshop of Horrors

These days the Duchess is better known for her electrocuted shock of fairy floss hair, flamboyant fashion sense, including an extensive array of bikinis she’s taken to sporting on the Riviera and for her relentless pursuit of surgical enhancements.

Bikini show

A one woman Bikini Atoll

While there’s not much to love about a life writ large by a self-indulged, self-absorbed existence of entitlement, there is always something to appreciate about the privileged few who do a fine job of hoisting themselves by their own petard. So the fact that the Duchess of Alba’s remodelled face is now reminiscent of one of Picasso’s later, more contorted masterpieces, seems rather fitting.  Perhaps it should be renamed Albatross.

alba freak on close up at bullfight

Crazy Kickstarters that put the arse into ars gratia artis

Kickstarter funding succeeded well ahead of its December deadline for the creation of the world’s largest jock strap, which only goes to prove that what constitutes creativity is also in the eye of the beholder.

With over $1 billion in pledges under its belt since 2009 and with its current poster girl, The Veronica Mars Movie raising $2 million in the first 24 hours of its appeal, Kickstarter is now a serious crowdfunding business model and something of a juggernaut.

Veronica-Mars-Movie-Kickstarter-616x425

But I prefer to think of it as a Petri dish of quixotic artistic lunacy where a meeting of creative nutjobs and their zealots’ wallets can mosh with their sweaty dosh.

Scratch the surface and you’ll realise that some of the weirdest creative pursuits that got the thumbs up from the rabble start to make Kickstarter feel more like the Colosseum …. if Derek Zoolander was Nero and the whole spectacle was being broadcast by Public Access TV with a pilled-up Liza Minnelli doing presenter duties.

For your edification, I present five perplexing if not utterly dubious concepts that got the green light (or perhaps not).

1. Giant inflatable of Lionel Richie’s head (funded)

Created specifically for Bestival, a four day music festival in the Isle of Wight, the sculpture garnered double its appeal from 211 backers and came to fruition in October last year, as such ‘head-lining’ the event.

kickstarter lionel

2. Tentacle Bento – a rape-based card game (funded)

At last, an intuitive card game that lets you become a tentacle monster which rapes an assembly of school girls specifically lined up for that purpose. Suspended in May last year but not before it made three times as much money as it needed, with over 600 backers. Kickstarter’s reason for suspending it? The campaign was ‘too sexy’.

TBsplash

3. Bring your dick to the table! (not funded)

Intended as a ‘fun reminder’ that women are equal when negotiating at the boardroom table, the perpetrator clearly has a serious case of penis envy. Her manifesto? ‘If all it takes is a dick, then here is mine. Now, let’s get down to business!’

Kick bring your dick to the table

4. Drop a baby grand onto a pyramid of champagne glasses (funded)

And why the hell not?

kickstarter piano champagne

And my personal favourite?

5. Kickstarter fund to buy Kickstarter (not funded)

Aiming to raise the $19 million it was valued at by worthofweb.com at the time the appeal was submitted by comedian and rabble-rouser Eric Moneypenny, Kickstarter rejected it on the basis that they don’t do ‘fund my life’ projects. Moneypenny insisted he was just following a dream and takes issue with Kickstarter being the judge and jury of his.

And as he points out, ” It’s not like there was nothing in this for them. Kickstarter makes a profit off of every successful Kickstarter, so Kickstarter would’ve made even extra money from my purchase.”

The fact that a $10,000 pledge only got you a pizza party with ‘new Kickstarter CEO Eric Moneypenny’, probably didn’t help much.

kickstarter (1)

For more crazy Kickstarters and a double dose of ‘arse gratia artis’ try:

Yourkickstartersucks.com and Freakstarter.com

The Wild Wild World of fashion’s WILD & LETHAL TRASH

Walter Van Beirendonck, the unlikely 90’s fashion guru who looks like a cross between a Hell’s Angel and the Jolly Green Giant, captured my imagination when at one of his collection’s showings in Paris the front row seats normally reserved for celebrities and editors were occupied by stuffed bears, relegating the fashionistas to the back row behind the toys.

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It was Walt’s ‘fuck you’ to the fashion establishment at a time when it was bookended by haute couture’s firmly entrenched elitism and the ‘flavour of the month’ sombre deconstructivism of the Japanese school led by Commes des Garcons’ Rei Kawakubo.

Van Beirendonck burst on to the scene with cult clubwear label, Wild & Lethal Trash (W&LT, pronounced Walt); a riotous mashup of sci-fi, neon, ethnic, holographic, hi-tech, in-your-face, fetish, cartoony clothing which at first glance appeared to be no more than a visual cocktail of corrosive fun cooked up by a caustic adolescent mainlining raspberry cordial.

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But on closer inspection W&LT’s work reveals deeper layers of meaning on everything from the environment and safe sex to the class system and the media, delivering a hearty meal that includes an amuse bouche of provocation, entree of social commentary and main course which carves up fashion snobbery (in fact Van Beirendonck was the very first designer to stream his shows live for all to see and put his collections online for all to access). That he completes his fashion feast with a dessert hit of psychopathic optimism and unbridled joie de vivre is the icing on the cake indeed.

Van Beirendonck is probably best known for his superhero outfits for U2’s 1997 PopMart tour, but he’s also designed costumes for the Paris Opera Ballet, collaborated with Bang and Olufsen, Coca Cola and, somewhat  ironically, even Commes des Garcons.

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But his footprint extends far beyond the Northern Hemisphere, with Australia’s own connection to Van Beirendonck running threefold; a collaboration with Australian industrial designer Marc Newson in 1998, a t-shirt project for electronica outfit The Avalanches in 2002 and until October this year, the staging of ‘Dream the World Awake’ at RMIT University’s Design Hub in Melbourne, the first major retrospective of his work outside Europe.

Perhaps it’s because Australia is still a relatively young, irreverent and essentially optimistic country that we find we have so much in common with Walter and his ethos.

I’m just hoping we can further lure him into our clutches with an Antipodean diffusion label collaboration called W&LTzing Matilda.

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The author’s one remaining (and much loved) Van Beirendonck creation, Bought somewhere in the early 90s in Paddington, Sydney.

Give it up for the one … the only … JAN TERRI!

IMDB chooses to mock Jan Terri as ‘the endearingly bad Italian-American singer/songwriter; plain, dumpy with a gratingly nasal off-key voice, uproariously awful songs and astonishingly low rent music videos’.

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Yet I consider Jan Terri a rock goddess of singular persuasion and much prefer the description afforded her by the Dangerous Minds website; that of ‘legendary outsider’.

I first crossed paths with Jan some fifteen years ago when music industry notable Matthew Donlevy shared her seminal ‘Journey to Mars’ video with me.  I was smitten from word go.  Jan was intense, confident and brimming with chutzpah.  As Matthew said, “I liked her glamour and how serious she was with her act. I believed what she believed.”

Janice Spagnolia was born in 1959 in Chicago, graduated from Columbia College with a degree but ended up a limousine driver while simultaneously blending her kick-arse songwriting skills with a performance style that is best described as ‘having an argument with your own song’.  Because stylistically Jan’s dogged musical approach could be said to put the Terri into terrier.

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http://youtu.be/hLqvQUoxLFI

Back in the 90’s before viral meant anything other than medical, Jan’s music gained an underground cult following amongst the music industry, with Marilyn Manson taking a particular shine towards her, so much so that he booked her for a birthday gig as well as an opening act for a number of his Chicago shows in the late 90’s.

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But after an appearance on Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show in 2000 Jan Terri all but disappeared off the scene, purportedly to look after an ailing mother.  That is, until Dangerous Minds reported in 2011 that Jan had recorded a new holiday ditty called ‘Excuse My Christmas’ which inexplicably starts with Jan yelling ‘Where’s my Fatino Lamp?’.

So where is she now?  As it turns out I’ve chanced upon her recently launched Kickstarter funding effort to complete ‘No Rules’, which is to be her final album.  Jan’s scraped together enough cash to record its first single, called Skyrockets, which is already on high rotation in my head thanks to some compelling lyrics such as ‘Skyrocket to hell, for taking my love for granted’.  Positively anthemic stuff in my books.

Jan’s Kickstarter fund has a short window of only 30 days, closing on November 8. Her target is $4,000. So far she’s received $130.  I’ll be kicking the tin myself and encourage you too, given she’s prepared to accept donations of just $1 or more.

http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/janterri/no-rules

Jan Terri is one unique package and a beacon of individuality. Jan’s more introspective lyrics sometimes feel like a distant relation of the Wiggins sisters. And like The Shaggs, Jan has played by her own set of rules in the most compelling fashion.

That is a splendidly noble pursuit, one that I find thoroughly inspiring and which I believe warrants more of our interest, attention and concern than Miley Cyrus ever did.

https://www.facebook.com/JanTerriOfficial

Guru Adrian – The Cult of No Adult

Dear Anthony Robbins.  I admire you. I really do. You make lots of people feel great about themselves

But there is only one life coach for me, and that is Guru Adrian.

And I ‘m not alone.  The Guru’s disciples are scattered around the globe and for each he means something a little different; in France he’s The Guru You Have When You’re Not Having a Guru, in Japan he’s the Guru of No Wave Consciousness and in Australia he is simply known as The God of Fun.

So who is Guru Adrian?

According to legend, Adrian Speshelperson was born in Beecroft in 1664, discovered the Secret of Eternal Youth with a Junior Science Kit at the age of seven and hasn’t aged a day since.

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In the late 1980s, the Guru made regular appearances in Countdown magazine dispensing his sage advice and in the mid 90s was feted by LA studio Hanna-Barbera, hoping to turn Adrian’s transcendental wisdom into an animated series.

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But in 1989 things took a sinister turn in the form of Chairman Kevin, a commercially-driven Adrian rip-off conceived by an evil advertising agency of some note, Lowe Howard-Spink to flog a brand of crisps.  As Adrian’s closest confidante David Art Wales said at the time ‘Guru Adrian stands for truth and fun.  Chairman Kevin seems to stand for cheese and onions.’

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Fortunately the Guru’s revolutionary philosophy, Adrianetics, remains untainted by MSG and continues to help us all master consciousness and avoid becoming Groan Adults.

The principle of Adrianetics is also not discordant with Ralph Waldo Emerson’s much quoted ‘Life is a journey, not a destination’.

In the Guru’s case though, Adrian prefers to articulate it via the Four Big Questions: Who Am I? Why Am I Here? Where Am I Going? Can I Have a Window Seat?

While some may like to trivialise Guru Adrian as Pee Wee Herman crossed with the Dalai Lama, I have lived every day of my life in accordance with the Guru’s manifesto:

  1. Thou shalt make fun of life
  2. Thou shalt be youknighted
  3. Thou shalt not commit adultie
  4. Thou shalt keep an attitude of gratitude
  5. Thou shalt be for giving
  6. Thou shalt ride the porpoise of life
  7. Thou shalt heed not groan adults
  8. Thou shalt offer no whine list
  9. Thou shalt have No Age consciousness
  10. Thou shalt be afraid not

So is Guru Adrian a cult? I certainly hope so.  I for one enjoy drinking his thoroughly refreshing brand of Cool Aide every single day.

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http://guruadrian.com/

The Aboriginal tightrope walker who duped Hitler & Mussolini

Few people are aware of the fact that in the 1930’s, Adolf Hitler issued an Aboriginal Australian tightrope walker with a German passport so he could come and go as he pleased. Moreover Mussolini awarded the same man a medal for his death-defying performances, declaring him to be ‘a beautiful stud of a man’.

How do I know? Because the man in question was my great uncle.

Con Colleano started life as Cornelius Sullivan in Lismore in rural Australia in 1899, one of ten born to an Irishman and his Aboriginal wife. The circus was in their blood and it soon became apparent that Con displayed a rare talent on the high wire with his confounding dexterity and balance.

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Seven years to perfect a stunt (mustn’t have been much on tv!)

The teenage Con spent seven years perfecting what was considered worldwide to be an impossible feat on a tightrope  – a forward somersault, the act of which deprived the walker from being able to sight the wire on landing.

He became a sensation at Sydney’s Tivoli theatre, where he met my great aunt Winnie, who performed as one of its coquettish soubrettes.  While Con was a handsome man with matinee idol looks he was somewhat of a rough diamond, so Winnie played an integral part in teaching Con to dance, swirl a Spanish cape and add panache to his routine and in doing so transformed his act from one focused on mechanical landings to charismatic entertainment that incorporated daring flourishes with the sublime grace and speed of a ballet dancer. Con was then able to pass himself off as an exotic Spaniard and Winnie’s WASPish looks would no doubt have helped act as a decoy to his indigenous roots.

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Con and Winnie: Look into my eyes, look into my eyes ….

Con made his mark on the world stage in the most extraordinary fashion at New York’s Hippodrome in 1923. Unaccustomed to a venue of its size and blinding stage lights, he missed the first of his forward somersault attempts, being heavily sliced across the chest by the wire on his way down.  The next attempt knocked him unconscious as he fell ten metres with a thud to the floor. Undeterred he mounted the wire a third time by which point the audience was crying out for him to stop as blood saturated his costume. It was only when the managers turned out the stage lights in an effort to break up the crowd that he took his final opportunity, battered and bruised, to mount the wire one more time, and in doing so sighted and landed the forward somersault.  A ten minute standing ovation ensued followed by several days recovering in hospital.

The legend of Con Colleano was born and he and Winnie went on to travel the world performing for British royalty, the Fuhrer and Il Duce amongst others, earning the jaw-dropping amount of $1,000 US a week from Barnum and Bailey and Ringling Brothers in the 1920’s (alas, we never saw a penny of it!).

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The ups and downs of being the Wizard of the Wire

Apart from his forward somersault, perhaps Con’s most impressive and theatrical feat was removing his matador pants on the wire mid-bounce, and because Con was by that time a rich man he was able to invest in a kick-arse camera and develop his skills as a cinematographer. Fortunately some of his home movie footage now lives on Youtube, including the infamous pants-removing routine.

View more on Con: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vAupEIwcYjI

While Con was unquestionably charismatic in a circus environment and was screen-tested as a possible replacement for Valentino in Hollywood, he was a quiet and unassuming man and the closest he got to celluloid fame was as an uncredited stunt double for Charles Boyer in the 1943 film, Flesh and Fantasy.

flesh and fantasy

Still from the movie, Flesh & Fantasy (not to be confused with the Billy Idol song)

Sadly Con and Winnie ultimately lost all their money indulging in a luxurious lifestyle, giving it away to friends and making a disastrous investment in a pub in outback Australia in the 1950s (what were they thinking?).

Returning cap in hand to the US hoping for some circus openings which never happened, Con and Winnie lived out the rest of their union in Miami until his death in 1973, after which Winnie returned to our family home in Sydney, by which point she had a grating American accent capable of breaking glass and drifted around our house with the air of Blanche Dubois crossed with Carol Channing.  I thought her somewhat of a dolt and I am ashamed of that now particularly knowing how much she saw of the world and the historical figures she rubbed shoulders with.

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I’m thinking of taking a leaf out of Great Aunt Winnie’s book

However one aspect of this story will never stop delighting me.

The humiliation of Hitler’s Ayrian racial superiority at the hands of Jesse Owens at the 1936 Berlin Olympics is of course etched in history.  The fact that on a much smaller scale some years prior, our very own Con Colleano was feted by Hitler as a righteous example of Spanish Ayrian supremacy is quite the achievement, and one of which Lismore, if not all of Australia can be suitably chuffed, for its impressively subversive qualities if nothing else.

Maximum respect, Uncle Con.

Weng Weng: The secret agent who punched above his weight

The gob-smacking thrill that was my first experience of Weng Weng, the diminutive Filipino actor who starred as Agent 00 in a series of spy-spoof hits in the 70’s, delivered a sensory overload of pulsating extravagance. Or as Weng Weng devotee and documenter Andrew Leavold would call it, ‘a cranial haemorrhage you can never recover from’.

ImageAnd what’s not to go thoroughly berserk over? Weng Weng was 2ft 9 inches …. impersonated James Bond … toted a machine gun … travelled in a jetpack … and kicked martial art butt on sets as wobbly as the heaving breasts he buried himself in.

But how easy it would have been to compartmentalise Weng Weng as a cheap curio and momentary hit of kitsch as disposable as a Krispy Kreme wrapper.

From the moment I first clapped eyes on Weng Weng it was a certain sadness beneath the surface of his smiles that struck me just as hard, and I suspected there was more to Ernesto de la Cruz’s story than ‘Weirdo of the Week’ status.

Weng Weng was born with primordial dwarfism, the youngest of five, but remained defiantly ‘mischievous and cheerful’, so much so that he took an interest in martial arts as a young boy and by the early 70’s was being shopped around to film producers, culminating in his first starring role in 1978’s ‘Chopsuey Meets Bigtime Papa’ opposite the Bruce Lee of the Philippines, Ramon Zamora.

While Weng Weng went on to become a box office favourite in his country, climaxing in a special citation award from Imelda Marcos, by 34 he was dead from a heart attack, most likely the result of a serious drinking problem that escalated once the roles dried up and he was spat out by the system.

So it’s heartening to know that I’m not alone in finding the Weng Weng story a richly intriguing one worth retelling, if only posthumously.

Australian Andrew Leavold is a man on a mission and one who also wears his (he)art on his sleeve as evidenced by the impressive Weng Weng tattoo he sports.

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Wedded to Weng Weng: Andrew Leavold

Beyond unfurling the mystery of Weng Weng’s back story through intensive research and the accumulation of some serious air miles, Leavold has been deeply affected by the ‘humanity of his saga, which touched me more acutely than I could ever have imagined’.

Well on its way to realisation, his Kickstarter-funded ‘In Search of Weng Weng’ documentary will see its world premiere in Melbourne late November. There is also his book of the same name, based on his PhD thesis, which will be released after the film.

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The documentary’s release is slated for November 2013.

That Weng Weng is being recognised two decades after his death with the respect and admiration that appears to have been largely missing from his brief life, would no doubt have brought a sincere smile to Ernesto’s otherwise wistful face.

View an action montage of Weng Weng here:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1EiHxQ8RhcQ

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The author gets her first dose of Weng Weng.