The Dastardly Past: the Tiffany Yellow Diamond.
“What a bonny thing,” he said. “Think what crimes are committed for such playthings as this. Great jewels are the devil’s pet bait.” Sherlock Holmes, “The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle”
From time to time, I plan to showcase examples of “the devil’s pet bait” in this blog, partly because jewels are an inducement to dastardly activity and partly because historic jewelry and jewelers fascinate me. Today’s feature is the Tiffany Yellow Diamond. This is a South African stone that weighed 287 carats when discovered at the Kimberley Mine in the 1870s. It was cut into a modified antique cushion brilliant that reduced its weight to 128.5 carats. It’s considered one of the largest yellow diamonds in the world. It was purchased by Charles Tiffany and his eponymous company still owns it. In 1961 they allowed Audrey Hepburn to wear it for publicity photos for the film Breakfast at Tiffany’s.
The Dastardly Past: The Scarlet Clue
On May 11, 1945 Monogram Pictures released The Scarlet Clue, a Charlie Chan mystery starring Sidney Toler. Toler had played Chan in the series since 1939, taking over from another non-Asian actor, Warner Oland. Benson Fong continued his ongoing role as Number Three Son, Tommy.
Apart from being great fun due to their hokeyness, the Charlie Chan movies raise serious questions. At the top of the list, of course, is why Hollywood insisted on Anglos in make-up playing the lead role? Perhaps studio moguls thought they were being sufficiently sensitive by casting Chinese actors as Chan’s sons, including Keye Luke, Victor Sen Yung, and the aforementioned Fong. It’s a mystery I intend to explore with Yunte Huang’s 2010 book, Charlie Chan: the Untold Story of the Honorable Detective and His Rendezvous with American History—which should arrive within the week. So please stay tuned. I’ll post on this topic again once I’ve read it.
The Dastardly Past: Robert F. Kennedy & Sirhan Sirhan
Such a lovely spot for such a dastardly act. The Ambassador Hotel. Author’s collection.
On April 17 in 1969, a jury convicted Jordanian immigrant Sirhan Sirhan for the assassination of presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy, whose support of Israel he had become obsessed with. Kennedy was gunned down in the kitchen of the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. He had just finished a speech and was shaking hands with one of the kitchen staff when the assassin began firing. Kennedy took three shots; in the melee other people were hit but not seriously injured. The busboy, who Kennedy had paused to greet, put his own rosary into Kennedy’s hands, and Kennedy was transported to a hospital where he died the following day. Sirhan Sirhan continues to serve a life sentence in California.
The Dastardly Past: Rebecca (1940)
On April 12, 1940, David O. Selznick Productions released Rebecca, based on the novel by Daphne du Maurier. Alfred Hitchcock directed this, his first American production and the only one of his films to win an Oscar for best picture. David O. Selznick had purchased the rights to the novel in 1938 for $50,000, but had difficulty casting the film. His first choice for Maxim de Winter was Ronald Colman, who refused the part. Selznick next considered William Powell and Laurence Olivier. Olivier came cheaper than Powell by $100,000 and so won the role. Joan Fontaine was one of several actresses, including Margaret Sullavan and Anne Baxter, considered for the part of the second Mrs. De Winter. The best bit of casting did not involve the leads, however. Dame Judith Anderson as the menacing housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers, outshone the principals and redefined malevolence. The movie, like Anderson’s performance, remains a classic.
The Dastardly Past: Beulah Annan.
On this day (April 3) in 1924, mechanic’s wife Beulah Annan of Chicago argues with her lover whereupon they both reach for a gun lying on the bed. Annan gets it first and shoots him, claiming self-defense. She is arrested, tried, and acquitted, becoming the inspiration for the character of Roxy Hart in the 1926 play Chicago, by Maurine Dallas Watkins. Watkins’ play has since been adapted as a silent movie, a remake starring Ginger Rogers, a stage musical, a revival, and a movie musical.
On this day: Some Like It Hot
On March 29, 1959, the Mirisch Company released one of the all-time great movies, Some Like It Hot. It starred Tony Curtis, Jack Lemmon, Marilyn Monroe, and George Raft. In the hands of anyone else it might have been just another romcom—albeit one set against the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre. With Billy Wilder at the helm, however, it crackles with the sly worldliness and vaguely misanthropic humor of Christopher Isherwood’s Berlin. Among its most remarkable features are an extended Cary Grant impersonation, innuendo far ahead of its time, and a dress that is barely there. A truly remarkable film on many levels.
A Mystery Writer’s Almanac—The Petrified Forest
On this day in 1936, Warner Bros. releases “The Petrified Forest,” starring Leslie Howard and Bette Davis. Based on the stage play by Robert E. Sherwood that ran on Broadway the year before, it gave Humphrey Bogart his first theatrical lead as gangster Duke Mantee. When the studio made the film version, Leslie Howard insisted Bogart recreate his role on film. The part made Bogart a star and he and his wife, Lauren Bacall, subsequently named their daughter Leslie Howard Bogart in Howard’s honor.