From Captain Nice to murder she wrote

Get Smart co-creator and serial overachiever, Buck Henry, was Oscar-nominated for writing credits on The Graduate, directed the Academy Award winning Heaven Can Wait and acted in over 60 films and television series including The Man Who Fell to Earth, Catch-22 and 30 Rock.

Buck Henry autograph

Henry was also the creator of an obscure 1960s comedy series that rode the camp superhero wave established at the time by Batman.

Only 15 episodes were made of the curio known as Captain Nice, but its behind-the-scenes story is an extraordinary one.

captain nice pjs

The premise of the show involved police chemist Carter Nash (played by William Daniels, who also voiced KITT in the 1980s series Knight Rider), a mild-mannered mummy’s boy who discovers a super serum that allows him to fight crime in an outfit resembling a onesie whipped up by Stephen Hawking.

The real star though was Carter’s would-be girlfriend in the police department, meter maid Sgt Candy Kane, played by Paula Prentiss’ younger sister Ann.

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In what was an otherwise pretty vapid, albeit masterfully written, show Ann’s portrayal of Kane was a palpable pressure cooker of unrequited desire for Nash that bristled so manifestly it bordered on improper.

Prentiss was a tour de force in a tour de farce.

Sgt Kane was a go-getter with a level of sexual confidence that Barbara Feldon could only dream of, making Agent 99 sound to me like an exasperated, whining cheerleader by comparison.

Kane

Ann appears 4:20

With the benefit of hindsight, the intensity Prentiss brought to her role goes some way to explaining how she ended her days in a Santa Monica prison serving 19 years for two attempted murders.

That they were directed at her 86 year-old father along with her brother-in-law, the esteemed actor and director Richard Benjamin (married to Paula), only made it more riveting.

Paula and Benjamin

Ann’s sister Paula and husband Richard Benjamin

Before she died in 2010, I wrote to Ann Prentiss in prison. Her long sentence was perplexing to me given that ultimately nobody was hurt and that the courts also noted Ann was suffering from severe mental problems at the time of the attempts.  Alas, little of the detail is to be found online and not entirely surprisingly, I never heard back from Prentiss.

Regardless, I wanted her to know that I was a fan of her largely unheralded acting turn as Sgt Candy Kane.

Who knows what Buck Henry made of it. He was never on record as saying. But I still like to think of Ann Prentiss as a class act … even if it was only within the confines of Captain Nice’s hilariously wobbly sets.

ann prentiss head shot

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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.

If You Are the One … and only

Up to 50 million Chinese regularly tune into the country’s most popular dating show, If You Are the One (Fei Cheng Wu Rao), 非誠勿擾, or by its literal translation ‘If not sincere, then do not disturb.’

fei-cheng-wu-rao

And therein lies the fascination for Western audiences in gaining greater insight into Chinese popular culture.

While the excessively blinged-out chrome set looks like Fountain Gate shopping mall crossed with a Hillsong Rock Spectacular, its scratch-the-surface-get-more-surface appearance and absurd sound effects, epileptic lighting and biliously mawkish 90s pop can be somewhat deceiving.

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Because whether it’s the lone male suitor doing his best to impress the panel or the 24 single women registering their interest or otherwise at their personal podium, none seems the slightest bit inclined to sugar-coat their responses.

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As a female contestant famously retorted to a smitten bachelor who suggested they go on a bike ride, “I’d rather cry in a BMW than laugh on the back of a bicycle.”

In its earliest incarnation around 2010, If You Are The One’s young professional contestants became increasingly obsessed with annual earnings and material possessions.  One male contestant even went so far as to present his bank statements to the audience.

It was around this point that officials from the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television stepped in to regulate the show, claiming it was spreading the wrong values and in so doing curbed all references to financial wealth and sex.  Regardless of The Party’s efforts towards the taming of the shrewd, If You Are the One remains one of the country’s most popular shows, with contestants enjoying fame and on occasions infamy as a result of their one-off appearances.

plastic bags

Curiously there is also an Australian connection. The show was based on the presciently named Taken Out, which was axed by Network Ten in 2008 after just a month, only to have its format re-imagined and successfully exported to 19 countries including China.

Before Taken Out was, er, taken out.

Before Taken Out was, er, taken out.

The irony is that it bombed in Australia because it was deemed thimble-deep in terms of character and plot development.  Instead Australian audiences have chosen to delude themselves that The Bachelor, Beauty and the Geek and The Farmer Wants a Wife deliver greater depth and gravitas.  So it’s intriguing that what was dismissed as too low brow for Australians is in truth far more sincere, transparent and insightful than any of the televisual navel fluff we choose to pick over here.

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If You Are the One is both a juggernaut and a genuine conundrum; populist life writ large while simultaneously charming and strangely modest.

Perfect matches don’t occur too frequently, with the male suitors more often than not leaving empty-handed. Yet when a coupling does eventuate, the grand prize is usually no more than a pair of shoes.

One custom made shoes

And for losing males, If You Are the One’s equivalent of the diamond-set memento is to have his email address splashed onscreen at the end of the show.

As avid watcher Jonathan Rowbotham noted ‘It’s macabre, scary, awkward, touching, trite, profound and the best introduction to modern Chinese culture ever. I think the clincher for me is the way it can transform from the trite and shallow to soft and profound in a nanosecond.’

Amen, Jonathan.

If You Are the One (SBS2, 6.30pm most nights)

jonathan

This post is dedicated to Jonathan Rowbotham, who regularly read my blog and suggested this show as a subject for it.  ‘If you haven’t seen it and you like The Shaggs and Jan Terri, then I think you’ll like this.’  Indeed I do. Thank you and goodnight.

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.

Crazy Kickstarters that put the arse into ars gratia artis

For reasons that remain somewhat unclear, Kickstarter’s Potato Salad Guy has captured everyone’s imagination these past few days. Having asked for a mere $10, he’s now been pledged over $70,000 and his humble (if you’re being polite … otherwise utterly banal) plans have gone viral. Here are some other crazy Kickstarter ideas I wrote about a few months back.

THE MEANING OF LARF

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.

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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…

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Like Wow Wipeout: The wild, brief ride of surfing’s ultimate playboy

Bunker Spreckels sounds like the kind of name you’d find on a Wall Street lobby listing.

But the great grandson of sugar baron Claus Spreckels and stepson of Hollywood icon Clark Gable had altogether different ideas, spurning Hollywood for an ascetic life in Hawaii building surfboards and eating the fruit that grew freely off the shores of Oahu.

Clark Gable, Wife No 5, Kay and the Spreckel kids.

Clark Gable, Wife No 5, Kay and the Spreckel kids.

His ancestral connections gave Spreckels privileged access to Hawaiian royalty along with rare insight into the deep cultural and spiritual secrets of its people’s surfing history.   He became a fearless rider of great skill as well as a lover of martial arts and hunting. He was also a nationally ranked archer.

Bunker credited Gable with piquing his interest in his non-surfing pursuits. ‘Clark was from that ‘no crap’ school of acting and that’s the way he lived too.  I learned from him what a fuck-tit the acting business is.  He also taught me how to shoot, use knives and bullwhips … and how to use a dictionary’.

After Gable’s death Bunker used his Oscar as a doorstop, which one can only assume Gable would have thoroughly endorsed.

In his late teens Bunker’s simple, almost monastic existence in Hawaii saw him evolve into an early pioneer of revolutionary short, hard-edged surfboard design, which many consider the forerunner of today’s ubiquitous fish surfboard. bunker_spreckels (1) But then suddenly in 1970, everything changed.

At the age of 21 Bunker unexpectedly inherited $50 million due to a sequence of family deaths.  Bunker turned up to the bank in an armoured car and picked up the entire amount in cash, which he secreted in a coastal hideaway he likened to the Batcave.  Bunker’s bunker, if you like.

And then the Party On switch was flicked and overnight Bunker’s life read like a scene out of Boogie Nights. Bunker set up ‘branch offices’ around the world; The Hotel George V in Paris, Hotel Edward in South Africa and Sunset Tower in Hollywood and proceeded to launch himself into a feverish rampage of psychedelics and sex. bunker-spreckels At his most debauched he was taking LSD daily and claimed to bed sixty four women in a week. preview_bunker_spreckels_480x368_1012281502_id_403701 Inevitably surfing started to take a backseat to drugs, sex and wild road trips.  Becoming increasingly delusional about his rock star-like persona, Bunker recruited photographer Art Brewer to document his days. No salary, but all expenses paid.  Brewer described the experience as ‘pure 24/7 crazy shit. Anything could happen and it did.’

Legendary skateboarder Tony Alva added ‘I don’t think anyone was too stoked about the way Bunker lived his life, because he basically carried himself like a fucking rock star. He was like a big party coming through town.  He’d wear the most bizarre shit; really tight capris with crazy Chelsea boots and huge ass ‘70s shades.  When he stepped out of the car, people would freak out because he looked like a cross between Bruce Lee and Elvis’. Bunker_Spreckels_interv_Oahu_Nov_1976 In just six years of inheriting the family fortune, he was dead, aged 27 as a consequence of his excesses. _bunker_spreckels_07_0706081429_id_7891 That Spreckels had become a pompous B-grade caricature more fitting for a Hollywood condo or Palm Springs timeshare is not only ironic, but also a tragic tale, given that he was clearly capable of much greater things.

A man of substance indeed … sadly, in both senses of the word too.

Bunker77 trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jp8Co0XCVII

My Top 30 Country & Western song titles

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  1. If the phone don’t ring, it’s me not calling you up.
  2. I still miss you baby, but my aim’s getting better.
  3. You’re the reason our kids are so ugly.
  4. If you can’t live without me why aren’t you dead yet?
  5. She got the ring and I got the finger.
  6. If I can’t be number one in your life then number two on you.
  7. If I had shot you when I wanted to, I’d be out by now.
  8. I gave her my heart and a diamond and she clubbed me with a spade.
  9. I don’t know whether to kill myself or go bowling.
  10. At the gas station of love I got the self-service pump.
  11. Get off the table, Mabel (the $2 is for the beer)
  12. Walk out slowly backwards so I’ll think you’re walking in.
  13. My give-a-damn’s busted!
  14. If I were in your shoes, I’d walk right back to me.
  15. Tequila makes her clothes fall off.
  16. (Pardon me) I’ve got someone to kill.
  17. Since you left me Ruth I’ve been so ruthless.
  18. My wife ran off with my best friend and I sure do miss him.
  19. I’m so miserable without you it’s like having you here.
  20. She’s acting single and I’m drinking doubles.
  21. I would have wrote you a letter but I couldn’t spell YUCK.
  22. Velcro arms, Teflon heart.
  23. Drop kick me Jesus through the goalposts of life.
  24. Get your biscuits in the oven and your buns in the bed.
  25. Thanks to the cathouse I’m in the doghouse with you.
  26. I ain’t never gone to bed with an ugly woman but I sure woke up with a few.
  27. Get your tongue out of my mouth, I’m kissing you goodbye.
  28. Did I shave my legs for this?
  29. I wouldn’t take her to a dog fight cause I’m afraid she’d win.
  30. I went back to my fourth wife for the third time and gave her a second chance to make a first class fool out of me.

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.

Alba marriage 2 freak on

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.

horseriding

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.

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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

The Del Rubio Triplets; 3 gals, 3 guitars, 1 birthday

Some 20 years ago, my friends Julie, Mandy, Alison and I scaled three flights up Sydney’s Kinselas nightclub to witness the platinum-bouffanted, leggy septuagenarian guitar goddesses, the Del Rubio Triplets in action.

Del Rubio 1

Whip itjpg

Their insanely campy, goofy and sugar-coated rendition of Devo’s Whip It! was just one of the drawcards, along with a rolled gold repertoire of 1,000+ songs that included The Doors’ ‘Light My Fire’, The Bangles’ ‘Walk Like an Egyptian’ and The Pet Shop Boys’ ‘What Have I Done to Deserve This?’.

We bathed in the aura of their sublime sequinned splendour that evening while simultaneously getting rinsed on a heady cocktail of high-octane anticipation mixed with unbridled exuberance at the prospect of seeing the triplets up close and personal for the first (and as it turned out only) time.

You’d be hard pressed to find a more curious act than the Del Rubio Triplets, so it’s not exactly surprising that their unique brand of sass actually masked a veritable mass of contradictions.

del rubio babies

Eadie, Elena and Mildred Boyd, born just 15 minutes apart on August 23 1921 in the Panama Canal zone, remained inseparable throughout their lives and never married.  A friend called them ‘completely dysfunctional without each other’. In fact, according to Milly, they would tell would-be suitors “First comes God, second comes our sisters, third comes our music. You’ll have to wait in line!”.  Evidently the queue never progressed much, if at all.

Del Rubio young 4In their youth, the Del Rubio’s found a modicum of fame via Bob Hope and his 1950s nightclub circuit, and were renowned for their flashy low-cut, thigh-high costumes. Yet they eschewed a crack at real celebrity, the glittering lifestyle of the entertainment world and all its rich trappings for a quiet life away from the glare of stardom in a three bedroom mobile home in San Pedro that they shared for decades until Eadie’s death in 1996.

del rubio holiday inn

They also never made much of a fuss of the fact that their great uncle was American president Woodrow Wilson, and their low-key off-stage demeanour only hinted at their devout Catholicism.

The triplets with their great aunt, the First Lady.

The triplets with their great aunt, the First Lady.

Yet for all the conservatism, when they were rediscovered in the mid 1980s by Grammy Award winning songwriter Allee ‘Neutron Dance’ Willis, they opted for low-cut leotards, miniskirts, gaudy blue eye shadow and go-go boots in appearances on everything from Married … With Children, Pee Wee’s Playhouse, Night Court, The Golden Girls and a McDonald’s television commercial.

Married ... With Children

Married … With Children

Their Sydney performance was riotous fun and our locust-like descent on the merchandising stand after the show was testament to it. So by the time Eadie, Elena and Mildred emerged from behind the curtains and we found ourselves chatting with them, we were all precariously close to synchronised spontaneous combustion.

Jules, Luce, Al and Mand get a triple treat.

Jules, Luce, Al and Mand get a triple treat.

But there was more high drama to come.  In all the excitement I momentarily lost my balance and nearly crash-landed onto a guitar which had been left lying on the floor behind us.  One of the finest moments of my life unfolded then and there; a night which might otherwise have unravelled in the most horrific way.  Somehow I managed to execute a commando roll away from the instrument mid flight and I will go to my grave thanking the Flying Spaghetti Monster for it, given that those guitars were their very first; three identical Martin models presented to the girls by their beloved father in their childhood, which the Del Rubio’s continued to play throughout their 50+ year career until their very last performance.

I put the trip into the triplets that night.  I’m just mightily relieved they didn’t have to rename their act, 3 gals, 2 guitars, 1 birthday, on my account.

Sydney’s Grotta Capri – the Restaurant at the End of the Universe

In the suburban wasteland of my youth, the scorching sun bleached dog poo to a whiter shade of pale on bitumen of black lava and mournful sounds of punters losing their crumpled notes at the nearby racecourse wafted pointlessly across west-facing shopfronts with half closed blinds, as if the windows’ eyes were cast downward in shame.

Amidst this soulless, stultifying stillness stood the preposterous oasis that was the Grotta Capri restaurant.

Grotta Capri interior 2grotta 1

I hated growing up in Kensington as passionately as I loved the Grotta Capri, often wondering how a suburb as unprepossessing as mine could be worthy of such grandeur.  It was as if a meteorite with a Rococo pop sensibility had crash landed on Planet Banality; a folly of shell-studded stalactites, fish tanks, Tyrrhenian trompe l’oeil awash with blue light and, in its early days at least, waterways complete with sound effects running beneath illuminated Perspex underfoot.

grotta bar

Grotta exterior good

That it was a restaurant was largely peripheral to proceedings.  The plastic sleeve was the tastiest thing on the menu and most of what got served up looked like crumbed cocker spaniel anyway.  

Of far greater note were the cocktails.  For reasons which remained unclear, there was an over-reliance on Advocaat in most of the recipes, making for a frothy tipple that just about scrambled itself on the way down.  Quite handy then that the accompanying mermaid and dolphin-themed plastic swizzle sticks, glowing like uranium under the black light, could be used to fish out the coagulated egg swinging from your epiglottis like Miley Cyrus.

If that didn’t make for enough high weirdness, the tables were occupied by SP bookies with bad rugs and polyester slacks that crackled with static, accompanied by their dubious, er, business associates from the neighbouring racetrack – the sort of people who put the ‘colourful’ into ‘racing identity’.

Grotta Capri filming Underbelly in 2011

The Grotta Capri played host to both the famous and infamous, featured in the Australian film favourite Muriel’s Wedding and television series Underbelly, and it was with utter delight that as an adult I also got to accompany Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds for dinner when they were on tour, not so much for the name-dropportunity but to witness how comprehensively perplexed and uncomfortable they appeared to be amongst all that hideous fabulousness.

I shed a salty tear or two in 2010 when the Grotta Capri closed after 60 years. While Giovanni Battista’s ode to the life aquatic might have been made out of chicken wire and cement, it played a distinguished role for me in nourishing the vivid imagination of a small child in what was otherwise a vapid suburban commuter belt of antimatter.

grotta exterior night

I’m just sorry Douglas Adams never made it to the Grotta Capri because if nothing else, its Advocaat-crash cocktails would have given the Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster a run for its money any old day.

(Ps. So long and thanks for all the Fishermen’s Baskets)

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