Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Fran Fullenwider

Concerning the last item in my previous blog:

Fran Fullenwider was born in Harlingen, Texas on 16 November 1945. We can deduce German ancestry, though the Anglicised surname, which in Fran's case was a source of amusement, must originally have been Fullenwieder (literally: refill).

In the 1950s she moved permanently to the United Kingdom. As a child, she performed horse stunts in films. Later she studied at the New York University film school and also graduated from the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art.

Fullenwider’s physique would pre-determine her acting career: at 5ft 2in and 110 kg, she would be chosen primarily for character or comedy roles. Initially, like most young girls, and with Twiggy all the rage, she dreamt of a svelte figure, but by the age of 21 she realised this was pointless and decided to let it rip.

Accordingly, from the 1970s she was affiliated with UGLY, the alternative modelling agency in London—this agency is said to specialise in freaks, but you will not find as many as you'd think: a cursory glance at the female models shows some are far from one, being simply a bit heavier than the skin-and-bones, semi-androgynous Hollywood norm. The story is told—by a representative of the company, according to a blogger—that Fullenwider came in looking for a job as a secretary, but that since the office was designed for some much smaller, she was offered to join as a model instead. She did well, and landed roles in both film and television. Her first television credits were a role as Angela Daniels in the episode "Any Complaints?" (1973) of Doctor in Change and a role as 1st Girl in the Pub in the episode "Golden Boy" (1975) of Sweeney. Her first film credits included The Mutations (1974), L’ispettore Regan (TV series, 1975), Una sera c’incontrammo (1975), and The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975), during the production of which she angered Jim Sharman by having a coughing fit.

By 1975 she was auditioning for Federico Fellini, with whom, she would become friends. Godfrey Hamilton, who shared a house with her at a NW6 address in London during this period, tells the story:

one day in the mid-1970s she was called for an interview with Fellini, who was in London looking to cast Casanova, and when Fran returned home from the meeting she reported that – intriguingly – she had *shared* the audition/interview with Marianne Faithfull (“in a really naff frock.”) Fran was quite saddened that the Great Man had wanted Marianne to tell him all about that infamous o/d in Sydney- why had she, how had she, where was she at the time what was she thinking and feeling,… Fran thought it all a little demeaning (to Marianne) and felt Faithfull had been unnecessarily hassled.

Fellini didn’t choose Fullenwider, but, as I mentioned in my previous blog, the Italian director would express a desire to use her in some future film. Unfortunately, he died in 1993, before the right project came along.

More roles followed all the same, including The Pink Panther Strikes Again (1976), L’affittacamere (1976), and Melodrammore (1977), plus two appearances in the TV series, The Basil Brush Show (1975  - 1978): one in the episode date 27 December 1975 and one three years alter in "Basil Brush's Magical Christmas". Fullenwider also participated in one of the first Miss Alternative World pageants. Her stage name is said to have been 'Miss Southern Comfort'.

By the late 1970s Fullenwider was getting plenty of attention. The magazines made much of her dimensions and the fact that she had no interest in reducing them. One magazine even added 200 lbs to her real weight, which would, over time, reach 286lbs (BMI: 52.3)—some say even higher. Hamilton has quoted Fullenwider as saying, in relation to her name, 'I kinda grew into it'. The fact is, however, that there was no shortage of male interest and she was deluged with fan mail and even marriage proposals.

Next she was cast as a Buxom Beauty in The Monster Club (1980), with Vincent Price in the lead role.

Book dealer Callum James, who also houseshared with Fullenwider (for six years and with the aforementioned Hamilton), tells that

[w]hen she was approached to appear in Monster Club her stipulation was “a fee of $1500, a ‘Special Guest Star’ credit, and a limo to and from the studio.” The studio, in response, said yes to all her requests.

After this, her roles became fewer. She appeared in an episode of Wurzel Gummidge, a British children’s TV series, also in 1980, as well as in an episode of Angels, another TV series, and in three films: the Nutcracker (1983), Al limite, non glielo dico (1984), and Eat the Rich (1987).

With fees in the order of $1500, one has to wonder about Fullenwider’s funding, but a blog quotes correspondence from a fan who may supply an answer, although how reliable it is, I cannot say; writing in September 2008, he stated:

I'm a law student at Baylor University, in Waco TX. We were talking about probate today, and our prof. read us an old Texas newspaper article about, of all people, Fran Fullenwider!! Apparently, Ms. FnW inherited millions from a wealthy TX aunt she never met, while living in England. The article described Fran as an "Italian moviestar and romantic lead", and said that she was 5'2" tall and weighted [sic] 220 lbs. Just thought it was funny to hear about her in an otherwise boring class.

In 1993 Fullenwider would be cast as Emer Trueba in The House of Spirits, a film based on Isabel Allende’s eponymous novel. She would share credits with major Hollywood stars, including Jeremy Irons, Glenn Close, Meryl Streep, and Antonio Banderas. Yet, the film, which cost $40,000,000, made a huge loss and fell into obscurity.

Her final role would be as Countess in the episode "The Oval Portrait" of Tales of Mystery and Imagination, a 13-episode British TV series based on the collection of short stories by Edgar Allan Poe first published in 1908. Fullenwider’s career thus ended in the Horror genre, the same way it had begun. Overall, she was more popular in Italy, where she played romantic comedy roles, than in the English-speaking world, and this is reflected by the fact that she has a page only in the Italian-language Wikipedia.

Until her death, Fullenwider resided at 26D Randolph Crescent, London, W9. She passed away at Princes Grace Hospital on 2 May 1997, aged 51. The cause of death was cardiac arrest and gastrointestinal bleeding.

It will be noted that, other than her death, address, and film credits, the publicly known details of Fullenwider's life are all anecdotal. And the personal information comes from postings in various amateur blogs dedicated to horror films, hardly reliable sources—indeed, I had to excavate the nethermost depths of the internet to find it, encountering all manner of freaks and weirdos in the process. I suppose this only "adds to the fauna and the flora", as Jonathan Bowden used to say.

Sunday, 10 August 2014

Navigations in Popular Culture - Part 1

The second season of American Horror Story is set in a lunatic asylum, where just one song is offered to inmates for purposes of recreation. The song is left playing in the common room over and over again, all day long, and inmates are forbidden to stop it or prevent it from playing; indeed, doing so results in punishment (the asylum is run with an iron hand by a cruel nun, played by Jessica Lange). If the inmates were not crazy before being committed, they were surely driven crazy once they were, if only from having their psyches ceaselessly pounded by a song that, on top of it, consists of two melodies repeated without variation from beginning to end.

The song in question is "Dominique", by Sœur Sourire, from the album The Singing Nun. The singing nun was Jeanine Deckers (1933 - 1985), a Belgian nun of the Dominican Order, who was both the composer and performer. The single, "Dominque", released by Philips Records, and proved an international hit, outselling Elvis Presley during its tenure in the chart. Deckers recorded the album at the encouragement of her superiors, who had noticed her songs were very popular at the convent and with visitors, and thought it would be a good source of revenue.

Deckers gained nothing but sorrow from "Dominique". The royalties (at least $100,000) went straight into the convent's bank account. Her second album was ignored. And her relations with her superiors deteriorated to the point that she was forced out of the convent. She carried on as a lay Dominican, but she was prevented by Philips from using her stage names (both Soeur Sourire and The Singing Nun), which hampered her musical career, as, obviously, without them no one knew who she was.

Subsequently, the government came looking for a cut, and issued her with a $63,000 tax bill. She argued that the proceeds of her music had gone to the convent, but the convent denied any liability since she was no longer with them and, besides, they couldn't pay. Deckers thus spent the remainder of her years in serious financial trouble. In 1982 she attempted to solve them with a synth-pop version of "Dominique", but her efforts proved in vain. Three years later, citing her financial worries, she committed suicide by lacing alcohol with an overdose of barbiturates.

The synth-pop version of "Dominique" can be watched in YouTube, where a user has supplied video taken from Federico Fellini's film, Roma (1972). The scenes depict a runway show with models in religious garb. Among these there are two clad as Daughters of Charity, complete with oversized cornettes, whose extremities are made to flap as wings as the "nuns" make their way through the runway.

Now, the cornette had been already been phased out eight years earlier, on 20 September 1964, when the Daughters of Charity, a 45,000-strong society for apostolic life founded by Saint Vincent de Paul, were ordered to don a reformed habit, an act that was 13 years in the making and involved a measured and detailed consultation. The original habit, with its distinctive cornette, had been in use since the society's foundation in the 17th century. The Daughters of Charity worked in the field and were not required to remain cloistered; the choice of headdress was aimed at having these nuns look like middle-class women.

Fellini was friends with Fran Fullenwider, an American actress, originally from Texas, who made a career in Italian comedy, but who had roles in The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975), The Pink Panther Strikes Again (1976), and The House of Spirits (1993). I met her in 1994 and saw her a couple of times. By that time she had grown very large and had difficulty going down a flight of stairs. She invited me to join her and a couple of friends of hers for lunch at The Groucho Club, a private members club oriented towards publishing media, arts, and entertainment personnel. Needless to say I felt like a fish out of water there, even though I am a publisher, an artist, and a musician, but Fullenwider was kind and engaging company. Fullenwider told that Fellini desired to use her in a film, but death overtook him before a suitable project passed through his desk (he'd died the year before).

After that I never saw Fullenwider again, though it appears she left this world three years later. I only found out many years after the event, when a morbid blogger put her death certificate online.

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Remembering Roald Amundsen (16 July 1872 - 18 June 1928)

 Roald Amundsen

Roald Amundsen was born 142 years ago today. Amundsen was a Norwegian polar explorer, best known for leading the first expedition to reach the South Pole.

Roald Amundsen was born into a family of shipowners and captains in Borge, south-eastern Norway. The fourth son in the family, and inspired by Fridtjof Nansen's crossing of Greenland and Franklin's lost expedition, he craved a life of exploration in the arctic wilderness, but his mother wanted him to avoid the maritime trade and made him promise to become a doctor instead. He kept his promise until she died, when he was 21 years of age. At that point, he promptly left university and set out for life at sea.
Roald Amundsen 
Amundsen's first polar trek was as first mate aboard the Belgica in the Belgian Polar Expedition of 1897-1899. The expedition was the first to winter in the Antarctic, after ship became frozen in on the sea ice, off Alexander Island west of the Antarctic Peninsula. The crew were ill prepared for the harsh conditions, but the doctor, the American Fredrick Cook, who would a decade later claim to have been the first man to reach the North Pole, saved them from scurvy by hunting animals and supplying a diet of fresh meat. Amundsen learnt that in the absence of citrus fruit, fresh meat will supply vitamin C.

In 1903 Amundsen led his first expedition, aiming to traverse the Northwest Passage. This had been attempted several times previously without success. Amundsen tackled the problem by hugging Canada's northern coastline and using a small fishing boat, the Gjøa, weighin 45 tons. This proved key to a successful crossing, for in places the water was shallow as 3ft deep. In the course of his expedition, Amundsen learnt vital survival skills from local Nesilik people, including the value of using dogs for transportation and animal skins for clothing, as opposed heavy woolen parkas, which are not effective against the cold when wet.

Next, Amundsen set his sights on the North Pole. However, while preparing the expedition, news reached him that Fredrick Cook and Robert Peary, each leading a separate expedition, had reached 90º N, so he switched his goal to the South Pole. At this time, Robert Falcon Scott, who had already made an attempt on the South Pole a decade earlier, was preparing a second one, and Amundsen was aware of this. Amundsen kept quiet about his intentions until he reached Madeira.

Amundsen's South Polar expedition was thoroughly professional, and he reached his objective a month ahead of Scott, experiencing far less trouble and with his men intact. In fact, they returned to base slightly heavier than they set out, while Scott's men starved on the ice and died on the Ross Ice Shelf during their return journey, having encountered unusually cold temperatures. Aware of the controversies surounding Cook and Peary's claims to the North Pole, around which there was already an air of fraud, Amundsen took pains to ensure he was in the correct spot. Amundsen gives his own account of the expedition in The South Pole (1912) which I have reviewed here. The account of Scott's expedition was given by Apsley Cherry-Garrard in The Worst Journey in the World (1922) which I have reviewed here and is probably the best travel book ever written. Though his expedition was successful, Amundsen was criticised, firstly for being underhanded about his aim, and secondly for designing his expedition as a race (which was not strictly true, as his book includes a great deal of scientific observations). By contrast, Scott, who had organised a chiefly scientific expedition, became a tragic hero. Yet, there is no denying that Amundsen's was a masterly execution. He wrote:
I may say that this is the greatest factor—the way in which the expedition is equipped—the way in which every difficulty is foreseen, and precautions taken for meeting or avoiding it. Victory awaits him who has everything in order — luck, people call it. Defeat is certain for him who has neglected to take the necessary precautions in time; this is called bad luck.
Roald Amundsen - At the South Pole, December 1911

Not satisfied, in 1918, at 46 years of age, Amundsen launched a third expedition, projected to last no less than seven years, and involving a crossing of the Northeast Passage and drifting in the ice over the North Pole. Inspired by Nansen's earlier expedition in the Fram, he sought to go further east and further north than his predecessor. His efforts proved a failure and led to his bankruptcy in 1923; his boat, the Maud, ended up being seized as collateral by his creditors. Nevertheless, this expedition yielded a much scientific data.

Not one to be defeated, Amundsen then made two attempts to reach the North Pole, using aircraft. The first attempt, made in 1925, failed, but Amundsen organised a miraculous escape. One of his two aircraft was damaged, so the only way out was to pack the whole crew into the surviving one. Using up only 400g (less than a pound) of food, the men shoved 600 tons of snow and ice to clear a runway, and just managed to become airborne over the cracking ice. A successful attempt was made the following year, a few days after that of the American Richard E. Byrd. Though Byrd was later awarded a Medal of Honour, his claim to having reached the pole became controversial, and some think he travelled 80% of the distance to the Pole before turning around due to an oil leak. Moreover, claims were later made that both Byrd and his pilot both confessed privately not to have reached the Pole. If so, Amundsen would have been the first, though only by air, and his claim has never been controverted.

Amundsen met his end while on an Artic rescue mission. Members of Italian explorer Umberto Nobile's crew, flying on airship Italia, had crashed on the ice while returning from the North Pole. It is thought that Amudsen's flying boat crashed in fog in the Barents Sea; he may have died in the crash or shortly afterward, but none of the bodies were ever found.

Today, the American-run South Pole station is jointly named after Amundsen and Scott. There are also various geographical features named after Amundsen, including Amundsen Sea, Amundsen Glacier, Amundsen Bay, Amundsen Basin, Amundsen Golf, Mount Amundsen, and even a crater in the Moon's south pole.

  • Nordvestpassagen, 2-vols, 1907. Translated as The North-West Passage: Being the Record of a Voyage of Exploration of the ship "Gjøa" 1903–1907, 1908.
  • Sydpolen, 2-vols, 1912. Translated as The South Pole: An Account of the Norwegian Antarctic Expedition in the "Fram," 1910–1912, translated by A. G. Chater, 1912.
  • Nordostpassagen. Maudfærden langs Asiens kyst 1918–1920. H. U. Sverdrups ophold blandt tsjuktsjerne. Godfred Hansens depotekspedition 1919–1920. Gyldendal, Kristiania 1921.
  • Gjennem luften til 88° Nord (by Roald Amundsen, Lincoln Ellsworth and other members of the expedition, 1925). Translated as Our Polar Flight: The Amundsen-Ellsworth Polar Flight, 1925; also as My Polar Flight, 1925.
  • Den første flukt over polhavet, with Lincoln Ellsworth and others, 1926. Translated as The First Flight Across the Polar Sea, 1927; also as The First Crossing of the Polar Sea, 1927.
  • Mitt liv som polarforsker, 1927. Translated as My Life as an Explorer, 1927.
Further Reading:
  • Hugo Decleir, Roald Amundsen's Belgica Diary. The first Scientific Expedition to the Antarctic (Bluntisham Books, 1999).
  • Roland Huntford, The Last Place on Earth: Scott and Amundsen's Race to the South Pole (Hodder and Stoughton, 1979)
  • Tor Bomann-Larsen, Roald Amundsen (The History Press, 2006)
  • Rainer-K. Langner, Scott and Amundsen – Duel in the Ice (London: Haus Publishing, 2007)
  • Bruce Henderson, True North: Peary, Cook, and the Race to the Pole (W. W. Norton and Company, 2005)

Thursday, 10 July 2014

The Day Germany Conquered Brazil

I am not a football fan, so I have ignored the 2014 FIFA World Cup.

However, even I could not help but take notice when news of Brazil’s pulverisation by Germany reverberated around the globe.

Seven goals for Germany, only one for Brazil, and the latter a late one in the match, so Brazil’s dreams of planetary football supremacy were crushed in the most humiliating way possible, right on their home soil.

I’ve seen the photographs of tearful, depressed, bewildered footballers, zombified by the catastrophe.

I’ve also seen the photographs of serious, stunned, and furious Brazilians, witnessing history being made in the pitch of shame.


My imagination has run wild, speculating about the possible consequences of such ignominy for a nation that prides itself on footballing prowess; for a nation that lives and breathes football, from the cradle to the grave.

I would imagine that in Brazil the next month will be one of national reflection and analysis.

Wives still weep. Husbands still rage.

Children have refused to go to school, and ripped up their limited-edition World Cup sticker collections.

The otherwise cheerful, colourful tabloid, Meia Hora, blacked its front page the following morning, stating ‘Não vai ter capa’ (There will be no coverage), explaining ‘Today, we are too ashamed to make jokes. We’ll come back tomorrow*’, with the asterisk clarifying: ‘While you were reading this, Germany scored another goal’.

Heads will have to roll, for sure.

But resignations or fulminations from employment will not suffice.

More drastic measures will have to be taken, to symbolise the national fury.

It may be, even, that this will precipitate the next presidential elections.

The demand could be made, that Pelé announce a candidacy.

Violent demonstrations have already erupted in Rio.

A bus was burnt out in Sao Paulo. In Copacabana, angry youths attacked and robbed innocent tourists.

Luiz Felipe Scolari, the Brazilian manager, has begged on his knees for forgiveness.

I would imagine he faces the electric chair.

Julio Cesar, the Brazilian goalkeeper, has deemed the occurrence of a football going past him seven times in a row ‘inexplicable’.

He likely faces the garrote, the gallows, or the gas chamber.

As for the rest of the team, I would imagine they face a summary trial. The likely sentence, the sentence most likely to be considered just, is life in prison, in a maximum security facility, with forced labour and no possibility of parole.

Arrests will be taking place in the coming days.

And it could well be that of this crop of Brazilian footballers will be made to ‘disappear’.

Perhaps an obscure provincial newspaper will report—euphemistically—‘the prisoners attempted to escape; the guards were forced to use their regulation weapons’.

Perhaps, suddenly importing an ancient Chinese custom, their families will be killed off to the third generation—to extinguish the bad footballer gene.

Perhaps there will be a day, soon, that will in future be talked about as ‘O Dia da Corda’—the day of the rope; the day when Brazil was purged, cleansed, purified, in a manner that would have made even Stalin smirk with approval.

It is a good thing for them that Brazil is not under Sharia law, because it could be that, under certain interpretations of it, the punishment ordained by Islam is the cutting off of the feet.

And perhaps, a few conservative clerics would have even suggested cutting off a little bit more.

We’ll have to see what the next days weeks will bring.

However, one thing is certain: 2014 will be remembered in infamy—or glory, depending on your blood—as the year Germany conquered Brazil.