Girl of the Hour || Patti McGee

21/06/2012 § 1 Comment

Skating above, 19 year-old California girl Patti McGee, who was the first National Girls’ Skateboarding Champion in 1965 and the first female pro skateboarder.  She was sponsored by Hobie (owned by the orange juice company Vita Pak) and appeared on the cover of Life Magazine.  Patti actually started out as a surfer in San Diego but took up skateboarding when it became popular in the mid-sixties (Life actually called it a “craze”).  I’m not sure what I admire more, the fact that she skateboarded barefoot or the fact that she maintains that impressive platinum beehive while doing it…

A few gems I discovered:
Patti on What’s My Line, one of my very favorite gameshows.

I love what she’s wearing, and how flummoxed the host appears.

A girl skateboarder AND an extension phone?!? Amazing!

Happy Go Skateboarding Day!

Photos taken by Bill Eppridge, via Time & Life.

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Woman of the Hour: Margaret Bourke-White

14/06/2012 § Leave a comment

Today is the birthday of photographer Margaret Bourke-White.  Born in 1904 in the Bronx, Bourke-White was one of four original LIFE Magazine staff photographers and an accomplished photojournalist.  She holds a number of notable “firsts” to her name — my favorites include the fact that she was the first woman war correspondent and was the first woman allowed to fly on combat missions (both during WWII) — and created an exceptional, varied body of work.

I frequently come across Bourke-White’s photos and portraits in the LIFE Archives, but the one you see above is one that I hadn’t seen before today.  She stands on the scaffolding of the still under-construction Chrysler Building in 1931.  She is 27.  She hasn’t yet been to war.  With her slickly bobbed hair, leather jacket and massive camera, she is outfitted for an adventure.  The look on her face tells you she won’t stop until she finds one.  I love this picture.  Full stop.  But I also love pictures like the one below, of Bourke-White in Algeria in 1943, in front of the Flying Fortress bomber in which the photographed the US attack on Tunis.

If you’d like to see some of Bourke-White’s most iconic work, the LIFE blog has put together a lovely portfolio in honor of her birthday.  It’s a must-see if you admire this amazing photographer as much as I do.  Find it here.

Images via Time/LIFE Inc.

Girl of the Hour: Billie Samuels

06/02/2012 § 4 Comments

Billie Samuels, kick-ass girl cyclist, 4 July 1934.

Via The Sydney Morning Herald, Thursday 5 July 1934:

CYCLING.

GIRL’S RECORD ATTEMPT.

Miss Billie Samuels started on her attack on the women’s record from Sydney to Melbourne, held by Miss Valsa Barbour, at 10 o’clock yesterday morning. She will ride to a schedule which will bring her to the Melbourne G.P.O. at 2 p.m. on Saturday, a total time of 3 days 7 hours. This is about three hours faster than the present record. Miss Samuels provides for stoppages of about four hours in Goulburn (132 miles), five hours in Holbrook (333 miles), and five hours in Seymour, Victoria (501 miles), in addition to regular meal stoppages of about 30 to 40 minutes every 40 or 50 miles.

Miss Samuels arrived at Moss Vale at 4.39 p.m., almost 2 hours ahead of schedule time. She encountered rain from Camden to Moss Vale, but is looking fit.  Miss Samuels resumed her ride three-quarters of an hour later.

Images via the State Library of New South Wales.

Previous Persons of the Hour: 
Photographer Gerda Taro

Race car enthusiast, sailor and playboy Briggs Swift Cunningham II

The Wanderlust

16/12/2011 § Leave a comment

Image via National Library of Wales.

Islwyn Roberts of Llanbedr, Merionethshire, a Welshman who would hitchhike his way around the world and then return home to sit on a bench in town and read stories about his adventures to anyone who would listen.  A mostly deaf war veteran, Islwyn managed to get all the way to Algeria on £6 in 1949.  He returned home to Wales, but set out again in 1958 for a year-long trip that included stops in Egypt, South Africa, Patagonia (in South America) and Canada.

The Wanderlust
by Robert W. Service

The Wanderlust has lured me to the seven lonely seas,
Has dumped me on the tailing-piles of dearth;
The Wanderlust has haled me from the morris chairs of ease,
Has hurled me to the ends of all the earth.
How bitterly I’ve cursed it, oh, the Painted Desert knows,
The wraithlike heights that hug the pallid plain,
The all-but-fluid silence, — yet the longing grows and grows,
And I’ve got to glut the Wanderlust again.

Soldier, sailor, in what a plight I’ve been!
Tinker, tailor, oh what a sight I’ve seen!
And I’m hitting the trail in the morning, boys,
And you won’t see my heels for dust;
For it’s “all day” with you
When you answer the cue
Of the Wan-der-lust.

The Wanderlust has got me . . . by the belly-aching fire,
By the fever and the freezing and the pain;
By the darkness that just drowns you, by the wail of home desire,
I’ve tried to break the spell of it — in vain.
Life might have been a feast for me, now there are only crumbs;
In rags and tatters, beggar-wise I sit;
Yet there’s no rest or peace for me, imperious it drums,
The Wanderlust, and I must follow it.

Highway, by-way, many a mile I’ve done;
Rare way, fair way, many a height I’ve won;
But I’m pulling my freight in the morning, boys,
And it’s over the hills or bust;
For there’s never a cure
When you list to the lure
Of the Wan-der-lust.

The Wanderlust has taught me . . . it has whispered to my heart
Things all you stay-at-homes will never know.
The white man and the savage are but three short days apart,
Three days of cursing, crawling, doubt and woe.
Then it’s down to chewing muclucs, to the water you can eat,
To fish you bolt with nose held in your hand.
When you get right down to cases, it’s King’s Grub that rules the races,
And the Wanderlust will help you understand.

Haunting, taunting, that is the spell of it;
Mocking, baulking, that is the hell of it;
But I’ll shoulder my pack in the morning, boys,
And I’m going because I must;
For it’s so-long to all
When you answer the call
Of the Wan-der-lust.

The Wanderlust has blest me . . . in a ragged blanket curled,
I’ve watched the gulf of Heaven foam with stars;
I’ve walked with eyes wide open to the wonder of the world,
I’ve seen God’s flood of glory burst its bars.
I’ve seen the gold a-blinding in the riffles of the sky,
Till I fancied me a bloated plutocrat;
But I’m freedom’s happy bond-slave, and I will be till I die,
And I’ve got to thank the Wanderlust for that.

Wild heart, child heart, all of the world your home.
Glad heart, mad heart, what can you do but roam?
Oh, I’ll beat it once more in the morning, boys,
With a pinch of tea and a crust;
For you cannot deny
When you hark to the cry
Of the Wan-der-lust.

The Wanderlust will claim me at the finish for its own.
I’ll turn my back on men and face the Pole.
Beyond the Arctic outposts I will venture all alone;
Some Never-never Land will be my goal.
Thank God! there’s none will miss me, for I’ve been a bird of flight;
And in my moccasins I’ll take my call;
For the Wanderlust has ruled me,
And the Wanderlust has schooled me,
And I’m ready for the darkest trail of all.

Grim land, dim land, oh, how the vastness calls!
Far land, star land, oh, how the stillness falls!
For you never can tell if it’s heaven or hell,
And I’m taking the trail on trust;
But I haven’t a doubt
That my soul will leap out
On its Wan-der-lust.

Woman of the Hour: Photographer Gerda Taro {also, Waiting for Robert Capa}

17/10/2011 § 4 Comments

Photograph by Gerda Taro

Greetings from glorious San Francisco.  Currently sitting in Four Barrel Coffee, sipping a delicious iced coffee (or three), enjoying the Indian summer and the constant stream of rather handsome gents passing through (ladies, take note).  I’ve been reading an amazing book about an amazing woman whilst on my week-long California trip and I wanted to discuss it with you.

Robert Capa, and his brother Cornell, are among some of my favorite photographers, but when I began to investigate into their life histories, I discovered a bit more than I bargained for.  In short, Robert Capa never actually existed.  The man known as “Robert Capa” was actually a photographer named Andre Ernő Friedmann, a Hungarian Jew born in 1913.  “Mr. Capa” was created in the 1936 in response to rising Nazism in Europe.  The imaginary photojournalist with the American-sounding name easily secured work that a Jew couldn’t.

But Friedmann didn’t dream up Robert Capa alone.
Enter: Gerda Taro

Gerda Taro

Born Gerta Pohorylle to a Jewish Polish family living in Germany in 1910, Gerda was the companion and partner of Robert Capa.  They met in Paris in the 1930s, where both were refugees.  While she initially served as his assistant, Gerda eventually learned the art of photography from Robert.  They fell in love and both published work as “Robert Capa,” and Gerta became Gerda.  When civil war broke out in Spain in 1936, the two travelled there together to photograph the conflict.

Capa and Taro

“Taro and Capa represent a sort of romantic vision of the stateless person involving themselves in terrible battles: the social battles, the political battles of the time.

It was during the Spanish Civil War that Taro began to establish herself as a photographer apart from Capa, with a style of her own and the use of a different kind of camera from Capa.  While Capa’s photographs illustrate his love of movement and spontaneity, Taro’s photographs are more posed and place more emphasis on intimate moments.  Around this same time, Taro also refused Capa’s marriage proposal.  Capa would never marry for the rest of his life.

Robert Capa

Gerda Taro

Crushed by a tank at the age of 26 in 1937, Gerda Taro was the first female photojournalist to cover the front lines of a war and the first to die doing so.  Possibly her most familiar image is the one that opened this post, of a Spanish female soldier practicing with her pistol while wearing heels.  Her photographs from the front lines are amazing.  I am in awe of her courage and creativity.  The woman was a badass.

“Taro is part of a small pantheon of women photographers who saw photography as an extension of their political commitment and of their role as new women.

So, about that book I mentioned…

Waiting for Robert Capa retells Robert and Gerda’s amazing story.  Author Susana Fortes weaves a gripping tale of historical fiction that is recently translated from Spanish.  It begins in Paris and follows them to wartime Spain.  I have not been able to put the book down during my trip and I highly recommend you pick it up.  I’ve also noticed that one of my favorite directors, Michael Mann, has snapped up the film rights… You can bet that I will be watching this project with interest.

Man of the Hour: Briggs Swift Cunningham II

26/09/2011 § 2 Comments

Briggs Swift Cunningham II

“…the millionaire amateur who devotes his time and money,
his enthusiasm and his burning energy to the pursuit of a breakneck sport.”
TIME Magazine, 1954

Briggs Swift Cunningham II was born to race.  Hailing from a wealthy Ohioan family — his father had interests in railways, meat-packing, commercial real estate, founded Citizens’ National Bank, and was the chief financier of two young developers named William Cooper Procter and James Norris Gamble (perhaps you’ve heard of them?) — Cunningham, or “Mr. C,” was a moneyed sportsman who dedicated his life to dominating gentlemanly pursuits, and did it with the kind of style rarely seen today.  Born in 1907, he left his mark most notably in the realms of auto and yacht racing.  Were he born today, I still have a hard time imagining him doing anything else.  Cunningham doesn’t strike me as the kind of man who would base jump.  Just doesn’t have the same elegance.

As a child Cunningham summered in the Northeast, where his love for sailing was born.  After his family relocated to Southport, CT he joined the Pequot Yacht Club at the age of 17, thus beginning a love affair with yachting that would last over 30 years.  He entered Yale to become an engineer, but it didn’t stick.  He left university and married first wife Lucy Bedford, daughter of a Standard Oil heir, whose enthusiasm for sport and yachting — and money to burn — matched his own and on their honeymoon they travelled the world, attending regattas and watching the Monaco Grand Prix.  Monaco would spark the beginning of Cunningham’s love of auto racing.  He spent the years before WWII racing the seas and cars and getting his pilot’s license.  He was also an excellent shot.  When he was turned down by the US Navy on account of his age and asthma, he just bought his own aircraft and flew anti-submarine patrols along the eastern seaboard with the Civil Air Patrol and US Coast Guard throughout the war instead.  The man wasn’t one to take limits — or the word “no” — seriously.

After the war, he turned his attention to auto racing, with an eye on competing — and winning — in the 24-hour races at Le Mans, France with American cars and drivers, a feat never performed.  In 1950 he entered the race with two modified Cadillac Coupe de Villes against a field of Ferraris, Aston Martins and Jaguars and still managed to come in 10th and 11th.  The next year he returned with a car he designed and built himself.  That car failed to finish in 1951, but the design he introduced the 1952 season was his most successful and considered by many to be the first true American sports car: the Cunningham C-4R.  The C-4R finished fourth at Le Mans — Cunningham himself drove 20 of the 24 hours because his partner was ill! — with Cunningham (and American automotive manufacturing) earning the esteem of the European racing establishment.  Americans were no longer merely hot rodders.

Cunningham C4R. Image via Team Quail.

We also have Cunningham to thank for the familiar racing color scheme shown above.  In 1950, when he entered his first race at Le Mans, America did not yet have an established national racing color, so he picked one — white with two broad blue stripes that stretched the length of the car.  The stripes were called “Cunningham stripes” for years.  Cunningham continued to manufacture cars until 1955 and they remain highly prized by collectors, as evidenced by the excitement surrounding the discovery of the final missing C-3 — one of only 25 cars manufactured — in a Connecticut barn just a few weeks ago.

Missing C-3. Image via WSJ.

Cunningham would also excel in the realm of yachting in the 1950s.  In 1958, he was tapped to skipper the American yacht Columbia in the America’s Cup, leading to a rout of the British challenger, Sceptre, 4-0.  In September of that same year, LIFE photographer George Silk captured some amazing images of the yacht race and teams in Newport, Rhode Island.

Skipper of the Scepter, Graham Mann, with Cunningham.

The Columbia, left, and the Scepter.

Skippers Cunningham, Mann and chairman of the
America’s Cup Race committee, John Dickerson (far right).

Cunningham at the helm.

”Briggs was like a fine violinist with boats,” said Victor Romagna, who sailed with Cunningham in the competition. ”He would need someone to do the tuning, as one might with a Stradivarius, but afterwards, we would hand the boat back to Briggs. Then he would play the instrument absolutely perfectly.”  Via: NYT.

Racing Committee.
Cute shorts, gents.

Sceptre.

Columbia race team.

Weatherly yacht and team.

After his victory at the America’s Cup in 1958, Cunningham continued to sail the Columbia, as a member of the New York Yacht Club.  As was typical for Cunningham, he also managed to introduce a technical innovation to sailing in the form of a now-commonly used device called the “Cunningham” that adjusts sail tension.


Was pleased to find footage of Cunningham, circa 1956, at the Pequot Yacht Club.
The film is silent, but he appears around the 3 minute mark, dressed in black.

Cunningham continued to race at Le Mans into the 1960s, but instead drove teams of Corvettes, Maseratis and Jaguars.  When he became unable to compete as he grew older, he began to unload his massive collections.   He sold off his cars in the late 1980s and he parted with his libraries of motoring and yacht books, his art collection and his models in the early 1990s, much of it going to the Herreshoff Marine Museum in Bristol, Rhode Island.  Fittingly, he was inducted into both the America’s Cup Hall of Fame and the Motor Sports Hall of Fame.

Cunningham died in 2003 at the age of 96, survived by his second wife Laura, children, stepchildren, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

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