Monthly Archives: June 2019

The Spanish Princess on Starz- Sexy and Surprising

Charlotte Hope is a redheaded, sexy and devious Catherine of Aragon in the Starz series The Spanish Princess. This may come as a shock to people who loved dark-haired Maria Doyle Kennedy as the pious Queen Catherine in The Tudors.  However, Charlotte Hope is much closer to the real Catherine of Aragon than many other portrayals. In fact, many parts of The Spanish Princess that viewers will assume have been added for effect, are really historical facts. Here are a few of the more interesting tidbits:

Catherine of Aragon did have light skin, blue eyes and red hair. Since she was Spanish, basically every movie or T.V. rendition has her with dark hair and often dark skin. In reality, she looked Scottish.

Ruairi O'Connor & Charlotte Hope in "The Spanish Princess"
Ruairi O’Connor & Charlotte Hope in “The Spanish Princess”

In 1501, Catherine of Aragon brought African servants with her to the English court and they turned out to be very popular. In particular, the English liked John Blanke who was known as an excellent trumpeter. For most English people in 1501, these were the first Africans they had even seen.  Most viewers probably assumed that the black servants in The Spanish Princess have been added just to make the show more appealing to modern audiences.  

Stephanie Levi-John in "The Spanish Princess"
Stephanie Levi-John in “The Spanish Princess”

In The Spanish Princess, Stephanie Levi-John is captivating as the real-life Lina de Cardonnes, the Lady in Waiting to Catherine and the first black woman to be a Lady in the English court. Aaron Cobham is Oviedo, a Moor who is the love interest of Lina and who was also a real person. Their fascinating love story shows how they try to serve Catherine loyally while still making a life for themselves. The writers of The Spanish Princess should be commended for focusing on people of color who have been consistently left out of most English histories of that time period.  

Aaron Cobham in "The Spanish Princess"
Aaron Cobham in “The Spanish Princess”

Catherine of Aragon was only 16 when she arrived in England but was already incredibly well educated. She was fluent and Latin and Greek and knew complex mathematics and logic. Members of the English Court who assumed they could outwit this “girl” soon found out they were no match for her sharp mind.

Charlotte Hope as Catherine of Aragon in "The Spanish Princess"
Charlotte Hope as Catherine of Aragon in “The Spanish Princess”

Young Catherine of Aragon was one of the most beautiful women of her time and blatantly used her sex appeal to control the man who eventually became King Henry VIII. When they married, Henry was just 18 and Catherine was 23. We all know that more than 20 years later, Henry would dump Catherine to marry Anne Boleyn. However, in the beginning, the woman who Henry lusted for was Catherine of Aragon.

Maria Doyle Kennedy as Catherine of Aragon in "The Tudors"
Maria Doyle Kennedy as Catherine of Aragon in “The Tudors”

Our only complaint about The Spanish Princess, is that Henry VIII (played by Ruairi O’Connor) is portrayed too much like the womanizer Henry became in his later years. The young Henry was, in fact, very serious in his studies of Theology and Music. Since he was the second son, he was never destined to become King until his brother Arthur died unexpectedly.  Henry had lived a very sheltered life and it was assumed he would enter the church or become a composer. It was Catherine who seduced Henry, not the other way around.

Of course, The Spanish Princess is meant to be an exciting series, not a documentary, and in that it succeeds very well.  

Revolutionary Road – Kate Winslet & Leonardo DiCaprio turn from Lovers to Haters

The 2008 movie Revolutionary Road is a shock to everyone who remembers Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio as the young lovers from the 1997 film Titanic. In Revolutionary Road Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio are April and Frank Wheeler, a 1950’s suburban couple who hate each other.  Revolutionary Road is an incredibly well-made film where the tension and suspense slowly build towards a final explosive ending.

Leonardo DiCaprio & Kate Winslet as an unhappy 1950s couple in Revolutionary Road
Leonardo DiCaprio & Kate Winslet as an unhappy 1950s couple in Revolutionary Road

In a way, Revolutionary Road is a new version of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, but in some ways even more shocking. In Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, it is obvious from the beginning that the Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor characters loath each other. In Revolutionary Road, April and Frank Wheeler at first appear to have a perfect life, with the small exception that they are slightly bored.

Elizabeth Taylor & Richard Burton in "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?"
Elizabeth Taylor & Richard Burton in “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”

But things start to spin out of control when April comes up with the wild idea that they should drop everything and begin a new life in Paris. The idea is absurd. Neither April nor Frank speak French, they have two small children and no job prospects other than April’s notion that she can work as a secretary for U.S. government agencies in Paris. Nevertheless, Frank jumps at the idea and looks forward to quitting his boring job and “discovering himself” in France.

Kathy Bates as a devious realtor in Revolutionary Road
Kathy Bates as a devious realtor in Revolutionary Road

Then reality and success start to split Frank and April apart. As soon as Frank knows he will been quitting his job, his performance improves. Since he is no longer afraid of being fired, he takes more chances and submits more creative ideas to senior management. This gets him noticed and promoted. There is also the added excitement of beginning an affair with a young secretary.  The more successful he becomes, the more he realizes how idiotic it would be to drop everything and move to Paris.

Zoe Kazan as a sexually harassed secretary in the 1950s in Revolutionary Road
Zoe Kazan as a sexually harassed secretary in the 1950s in Revolutionary Road

April, meanwhile is living more and more in a dream world and makes all the preparations to move, including putting the house up for sale and telling the kids they are moving. She starts to hate Frank when she understands that he no longer believes in the fantasy.

David Harbour & Kathryn Hahn in Revolutionary Road
David Harbour & Kathryn Hahn in Revolutionary Road

What makes Revolutionary Road so good is the extraordinarily powerful cast. Kathy Bates is Helen, a mild-mannered but devious realtor willing to say anything to make a sale. Michael Shannon is Helen’s grown son, who is a PhD in math but also very mentally disturbed.

Michael Shannon in Revolutionary Road
Michael Shannon in Revolutionary Road

He enjoys saying exactly the right things to help drive Frank and April apart. His superior intelligence means he knows precisely which wounds to prod to cause the maximum pain.

David Harbour and Kathryn Hahn are the next door neighbors, who are immensely jealous of Frank and April, but pretend to be their best friends.  Zoe Kazan is the secretary Frank has an affair with. Zoe Kazan perfectly portrays the emotions of a young woman in the 1950’s in a compromising position.

Why didn't Rose move over and let Jack climb onto the door?
Why didn’t Rose move over and let Jack climb onto the door?

One unexpected impact of seeing Revolutionary Road is that it makes us look at the movie Titanic in a whole new light. What would have happened to Jack Dawson and (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Rose Dewitt Bukater (Kate Winslet) if Jack had not drown in the cold Atlantic? Would they have lived happily ever after, or would they have become a miserable pair, slowly growing to hate the sight or each other? Would Rose have resented being married to an uneducated, unsuccessful artist? Would Jack have longed for all the other women he could have been with instead of Rose? (Or course, the most common question most people ask about Titanic, is “why didn’t Rose just move her fat butt over a little and let Jack climb up onto the floating door with her?”)

Leonardo DiCaprio jokingly addresses the Titanic controversy
Leonardo DiCaprio jokingly addresses the Titanic controversy

Titanic meanderings aside, Revolutionary Road is a powerful film and is well worth watching. Revolutionary Road has top actors at the top of their craft, with a riveting plot and an unexpected ending. We give it our highest rating.

Rules of Civility – a witty novel of 1938 New York

Rules of Civility by Amor Towles is a charmingly witty novel of two young women in 1938 New York as they take different paths through the stratified social maze of the city.

Katey is the well-educated but not wealthy narrator, and her best friend is Eve, a young woman of indeterminate social standing from the Midwest. The fact that neutral Midwest accents keeps you from knowing a person’s social class is something that truly annoys Katey.

You can always tell a rich New York girl from a poor one. And you can tell a rich Boston girl from a poor one. After all, that’s what accents and manners are there for.”

The lives of Eve and Katey are changed by a chance meeting in a jazz club with “Tinker” Grey a young man from the super wealthy “old money” circles, that most people can only dream of .

Rules of Civility - 1938 New York
Rules of Civility – 1938 New York

Throughout Rules of Civility, Katey finds herself occupying the two worlds of New York. By day she is a secretary with low wages that can barely pay for her minuscule apartment. At night and on the weekends she is hobnobbing with people who own mansions, Rolls Royces and summer estates in The Hamptons.

A career woman lunching in New York - 1938
A career woman lunching in New York – 1938

In 1938, life choices were relatively few for a poor young woman, no matter how well educated or intelligent. Eve embarks on the well-traveled path of finding a rich man to help smooth the bumps of life. Katey tries the much more difficult course of actually becoming a successful career professional at a time when such a thing was almost unheard of.

1938 New York - when all information came from newspapers
1938 New York – when all information came from newspapers

Evey page of Rules of Civility is a pleasure to read, with wonderful witticisms throughout. At one point, Katey visits The Plaza Hotel and has this encounter in the elevator.

“Before the doors closed a pair of honeymooners joined us.  Bright, rosy and young, they looked like they were ready to spend every last penny they had on room service. When they skipped down the hallway on twelve, I offered the elevator boy a friendly smirk.

Newlyweds, I said 

Not exactly, ma’am

Not exactly?

Not exactly newly. Not exactly wed.”

Amor Towles is an incredibly talented writer. He spent the first 20 years of his career in Finance in New York, and Rules of Civility was his first novel. He followed this with the brilliant Gentleman of Moscow.

Amor Towles - author of Rules of Civility
Amor Towles – author of Rules of Civility

It is wonderful to see that all successful new writers don’t have to be young. In fact, it is Amor Towels’ life experience that make him such a brilliant commentator on the world. Whatever he publishes next, I will definitely be the first in line to buy it.

Be sure to read our review of A Gentleman in Moscow.

Read our review of The Right Burgee – the book that shocked the yacht club set a half century ago

See all our book reviews


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Secrets of a White Shoe Law firm – the man who gets his hands dirty so the lawyers stay clean

I once worked for the most prestigious “White Shoe” law firm in New York, learning parts of the business the lawyers wanted to pretend didn’t exist. To even be considered “White Shoe”, a law firm must be at least 100 years old and only hire from the top 1% of the class of the top law schools. Partners deal directly with world leaders in business and politics on a daily basis. The lawyers work on all the esoteric legal issues of billion dollar business deals. But behind the scenes, was a man names Robert “B”who handled everything non-legal, so that the lawyers never got their white shoes scuffed. Robert came from a long line of New York City cops and physically and emotionally was as tough as iron. Here is just a small list of the issues Robert took care of:

No one actually wears white shoes at a White Shoe law firm
No one actually wears white shoes at a White Shoe law firm

Throwing out the under-performing lawyers.  The lawyers who got hired at my White Shoe firm have never failed at anything. They were the top of the class in their high school, and went to the top colleges where they were also top of their classes. They got into the best law schools and made Law Review. Then they got hired for a New York firm at a starting salary that is more than most people will earn in a lifetime. Then they fail and get fired. You see, every year, my firm would hire 60 new lawyers (Associates) and over a 10 year career path only 3 would eventually  be asked to become Partners. The other 57 have to get fired along the way to make room for the next classes being hired. Some of them simply can’t take the news. These are people who are used to getting awards, not pink slips.

Throwing out lawyers who don't bring in enough money for the firm
Throwing out lawyers who don’t bring in enough money for the firm

The fired Associate is privately told the news by the Managing Partner, but once and a while the Associate freaks out, starts screaming and even turns violent. That’s why Robert  always arranged to have three very large “maintenance” men working in the Managing Partner’s office when an associate was being fired. They would pretend to be fixing the thermostat, or adjusting a leg on the couch, or even dusting.

If the firing went well, the maintenance men did nothing. However, the second an Associate raised his voice to the partner, the Associate would be grabbed by 6 very large hands and hustled out of the office. If the Associate did not immediately quiet down, the maintenance men continued to move the Associate all the way through the building, right to the street. The Managing Partner pretended not to notice any of this.

Now you may object that I previously said the firing was “private”. You have to realize that in prestigious New York law firms, the non-legal “support staff” is invisible. It is like being a servant in England in the 1800s. Support staff at my firm only spoke to lawyers when spoken to. All lawyers were addressed by support staff as “Mr.” or “Ms.” while lawyers called all support staff workers by their first names even if the support person was 20 years older than the lawyer.  

My firm once published its own vanity book claiming it detailed “everyone” who had ever worked for the firm, with a short biography of each. Even lawyers who had only worked for the firm for 6 months 80 years ago were listed. No support staff, not even Robert, were mentioned in the book. Some of the support staff had worked for the law firm for 30 years and were very hurt by the publication. The book was just one more way of the lawyers reminding the support staff of the true social order.

Our White Shoe Law firm had a drug dealer working for it
Our White Shoe Law firm had a drug dealer working for it

Robert made sure bad stories never sullied the firm’s reputation. The toughest problem Robert ever faced was when one of the law firm’s data entry people got killed in Brooklyn. The story that hit the New York  news stations  was all about the tragedy of this innocent professional woman who was killed in the crossfire between two rival drug gangs. That’s not what happened. The real story is that she was in one of the drug gangs and the deal went bad. The last thing in the world the law firm wanted was for the news outlets to start publishing that a member of their firm had belonged to a drug gang.

 Robert made lot of phone calls to his friends and relatives in the police, to get the official police report written the right way.  No cash exchanged hands, but after that, many of the job openings in the support staff of the law firm just happened to get filled by the sons and daughters of the Brooklyn police officers who had responded to the drug gang shoot-out. It turned out to be a win-win. The police officers’ kids all were great workers.

The law can be flexible
The law can be flexible

Robert was always handy with a   “cash envelope” on construction projects Business was good and the law firm was expanding its offices. In downtown New York, trying to do construction in an occupied office building is a nightmare. It is almost impossible to get the material and equipment to the top floors. (All good law firms are on the top floors). There are lots of passenger elevators, but only a few freight elevators. You have to compete for the freight elevators with every other company doing work in the building.

An envelope of cash is always welcome
An envelope of cash is always welcome

Most buildings don’t have elevator operators any more, but every major New York Office building has a person in charge of setting all the elevators. If you try to just throw your construction material into one of the passenger elevators, that minor bureaucrat will make sure the landlord adds a huge fine to your next month’s rent. 

However, slip an envelope full of cash to this Elevator Tzar and suddenly 2 or 3 passenger elevators will magically be transformed into freight elevators for your project’s personal use. This may not sound like it is cost effective, but the envelope of cash is much less expensive than keeping 50 construction workers waiting for their material.

The Managing Partner wanted this flushed down the toilets every day
The Managing Partner wanted this flushed down the toilets every day

Protecting lawyers from their own stupid ideas – Once and a while a high ranking lawyer would try to get involved in the non-legal aspects of the business, with near disastrous results. Robert was there to politely put an end to such forays into his territory. One example of this was the time that the Managing Partner of the firm had watched an old documentary on T.V. about how the Iranians had reassembled shredded secret documents after taking over the American embassy in Tehran. The Managing Partner was convinced that someone was going to steal the mountains full of shredded documents the firm produced each day and then paste them back together like the Iranians had.

The Managing Partner told us that he had woken up at 3AM worried about this and had come up with his own brilliant solution. He wanted the law firm to purchase a giant machine that would pulverize the documents into fine white powder. He then proceeded to say the machine would pay for itself since we would no longer have to pay outside shredding firms or a garbage company. This was because the Managing Partner wanted us to take all this shredded powdered material and flush it down the toilets each day. Thousands and thousands of old legal documents a day first ground into a fine powder and then teams of office workers flushing them down toilets continually.

When the Managing partner announced his “powder and flush” idea to the non-legal staff, we all were very careful not to look at each other. We knew that if a single person so much as cracked a smile, we would all have burst out in uncontrollable laughter.

Then Robert did something amazing. With a serious tone and a perfectly straight face, he thanked the Managing Partner for his “well thought-out plan”. Robert then went on to say we would be researching types of machines, permits required and sewer regulations and would report back to the partner on the progress. Of course, we never did any of that. Any time the partner asked about the project, Robert confidently told him that the “research was progressing”. Eventually the Managing Partner got immersed in some very complex legal cases and forgot all about flushing shredded documents down the toilets.

Associates at law firms are just machines to be kept working at all times
Associates at law firms are just machines to be kept working at all times

Treating Associate Lawyers as Machines – Law firms are basically just factories and the Associates are just very expensive machines. Associates are all the lawyers striving to make Partner. They do the actual legal work and the firm bills out their time to clients. The Associates get paid a flat (very high) salary no matter how many hours they work. Therefore, billable hours less Associates salaries equals profit that goes to the Partners. The more time Associates spend at their desks doing legal work, the more profit for the Partners. If you are an Associate at a White Shoe law firm and you expect to stay employed you better have a minimum of 12 billable hours per day.

The key job of the non-legal staff is to make sure that the Associates never leave their desks. Associates are machines that need to be kept running at all times. Associates don’t go to lunch or dinner. Someone gets sandwiches and brings them to their desks. People pick up their laundry, take their spouses to the airport, buy birthday gifts for their kids and even wait for the cable guy to come to the apartment. In other words, Robert and his team do everything so that the Associates never leave their desks except to use the bathroom, and go home to sleep.

Sometimes Associates crack from this arrangement. At first it seems nice to have other people do everything for you can concentrate on work. Then Associates slowly begin to realize that they don’t actually have what most people would call “a life”.  They never see their spouses, kids or friends. Never go out to lunch, to shop or to just walk around the city. They are getting paid a huge amount of money to be a machine, but sometimes the machines break. Of course, if an Associate machine does break, Robert had some maintenance men who will quickly hustle it out of the building.

Old Partners at law firms still hold tremendous power.
Old Partners at law firms still hold tremendous power.

The Care & Feeding of Old Partners – The special few who do become partners are set for life, and that does mean life. When I was at the firm, one partner was 90 years old and he still came in every day. He lived in Manhattan and a car picked him up at his building each morning. One day, the regular driver was out sick, so Robert personally drove the car. Robert asked the old partner where they should go. The old partner decided it was such a beautiful day that instead of going to the office they should just drive around Central Park. The old Partner and Robert spent the morning touring the City and eventually the partner treated Robert to lunch at an outdoor café. The Partner told fascinating stories about his days as a young man in New York, and left a huge tip for the waitress. Robert told us that it was the best day of work he had ever had working anywhere.

The old partner did a lot more than just tell stories, which is why he was still at the firm at 90. He knew every judge in New York, and every politician that mattered. Whenever the firm really needed a  favor, it was the old Partner who called just the right judge or politician, and knew exactly what to say. He may have become a partner by working 16 hours a day 7 days a week as an Associate, but it was his natural charm that made him a success as a Partner.

This particular White Shoe law firm is still considered the best in the world and Associates still slave away fantasizing that they will be one of the chosen few to make Partner. Robert is still working behind the scenes taking care of all the unspoken problems. There is probably someone like Robert at every major law firm in the world, taking care of business and keeping secrets while the lawyers keep their white shoes clean.

Three Cats and a Rabbit – A poem of life at my house

The small cats are crazy, the big one is lazy,

The Rabbit, he rules the House.

Luna - the tiny troublemaker
Luna – the tiny troublemaker

When the Big Cat was younger,

in a fit of mad hunger,

He once ate a whole giant mouse.

Lubby - 16 years old and 13 pounds, taking a nap
Lubby – 16 years old and 13 pounds, taking a nap

The house we can’t sell,

since the rugs sort of smell,

and the woodwork is really a sight.

Sunshine chewing on the furniture
Sunshine chewing on the furniture

The moldings miss chunks and the rugs have some lumps,

where the Rabbit has taken bite.

The Big cat he purrs, while the small ones shed fur,

and race full speed through the night.

Miko - Luna's sister
Miko – Luna’s sister

I still love them all, though I do trip and fall

when the cats grab my feet on the stairs.

Lubby in a contemplative moment
Lubby in a contemplative moment

I may insane, but at least life’s not plain

In a house ruled by 4 tiny beasts.

Sunshine rules the house
Sunshine rules the house

I will end this weird poem, since the beasts start to moan,

And remind me it’s time for their treats.

Now I must go; the cats think I’m too slow,

and are starting their ear-splitting meows.

We’ll get new pets next time, whose dispositions are fine

Maybe nice goats or some cows.