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Friday, February 11, 2011

Like Those Other Sticky Valentines

Legend has it that Valentine was a priest who served during the third century in Rome. When Emperor Claudius II decided that single men made better soldiers than those with wives and families, he outlawed marriage for young men — his crop of potential soldiers. But, the sympathetic Valentine, realizing the injustice of the decree, defied Claudius and continued to perform marriages for young lovers in secret.

Some also believe Valentine helped Christians escape torture in harsh Roman prisons, and when Valentine's actions were discovered, Claudius ordered that he be put to death. ("Valentine's Day,"

In fact, one legend contends that Valentine actually sent the first "Valentine" greeting himself. While in prison, he is believed to have fallen in love with a young girl — who may have been his jailor's daughter — who visited him during his confinement.

Supposedly, before Valentine died, he wrote her a letter, which he signed "From your Valentine." It's no surprise that by the Middle Ages, Valentine was one of the most popular saints in England and France. Certainly, he is believed to be the most romantic.

In honor of Valentine, the blog is featuring some women worthy of interest as special ladies of love. This mixture of women from history cites legend and fact to draw personal portraits of each lovely, unique female. A valentine of special interest, each may niche an initial or two in history's tall tree of love.


Legend portrayed Cleopatra as a self-indulgent temptress who used sex and seduction to rule Egypt, yet little is known about Cleopatra the person. She was of Greek descent, became queen at 18, was highly educated and spoke several languages. Cleopatra was said to be a mistress of disguise and costume who could reinvent herself to suit the occasion.

In his A.D. 75 Life of Antony, Plutarch tells us, "Her actual beauty...was not so remarkable that none could be compared with her, or that no one could see her without being struck by it, but the contact of her presence...was irresistible.... The character that attended all she said or did was something bewitching."
(Amy Crawford, "Who Was Cleopatra?", April 1 2007)

Both a sex kitten and gifted politician, Cleopatra was exiled at 21 after a power struggle with Ptolemy. She smuggled herself back into her palace in Alexandria, where Caesar was taking advantage of Egypt’s political turmoil. Somehow, with natural charisma and fluency in nine languages, she persuaded him to help her re-establish her power.

Together they wowed the illiterate crowds as they sailed up the Nile on the royal barge. She was pregnant by that time. When Caesar was assassinated, she installed their little son, Caesarion, as her co-ruler. As with Caesar, she later consorted with Mark Antony, bearing him three children and traded her financial support for his wars for his backing of her rule in Egypt.

Ava Gardner

Ava Gardner's much chronicled off-screen life showed her to be the wild child who did what she wanted when she wanted; others be damned – whether it was dating married men, openly courting bullfighters or throwing back whiskey shots like a man.

Gardner's complicated, passionate relationships opposite a wide spectrum of Hollywood’s leading men fascinated the public the most – from her odd hook-up with the diminutive king of the box office, Mickey Rooney, to living under the thumb of Svengali husband, bandleader Artie Shaw.

But it was her tumultuous union to crooner Frank Sinatra which brought the actress the most chronicled pain and pleasure of her life, leading to obsession, abortion and suicide attempts. They were married in 1951 and divorced in 1957, unable to survive the pressures of their careers and their jealousy of each other. People magazine classified Frank and Ava’s marriage as one of the “Romances of the Century.” The fact that Sinatra could never control his real-life barefoot contessa would haunt him until the day he died, making the Sinatra-Gardner union one for the ages.

Elizabeth Taylor

If the young Elizabeth Taylor was an up and coming talent today, she'd probably be considered one of Hollywood's leading sex symbols. In her prime, Taylor possessed sultry, sexy features, a very voluptuous figure, and was very open about her passion for lovemaking.
 ("Elizabeth Taylor,"

Taylor was dating billionaire Howard Hughes, who was known for his liaisons with several hot, young Hollywood starlets, when she was just 17. Hughes could have had just about any woman he wanted back in the day, which is an indication of just how gorgeous young Liz was.

She has been married eight times (twice to legendary actor Richard Burton), and became infamous for breaking up other people's marriages.

Her performance as the uber-sensual Maggie "The Cat" in Cat On A Hot Tin Roof is the epitome of Taylor's seductiveness. Taylor is considered one of the great actresses of Hollywood's golden age.

Empress Theodora

Theodora is considered to be the most influential and powerful woman in the history of the Byzantine Empire.
In her early life, Theodora was employed as an actress. She was remembered for her daring entertainment skills, off stage however, she lived a normal youthful life and was most remembered for her wild parties.

Theodora would earn her living by a combination of her theatrical and sexual skills.Theodora made a name for herself with her portrayal of Leda and the Swan, during which she stripped off her clothes as far as the law allowed, lying on her back while some attendants scattered barley on her groin and then some geese picked up the barley with their bills. She also entertained notables at banquets and accepted a multitude of lovers. 

Theodora is considered a great female figure of the Byzantine Empire, and a pioneer of feminism, because of the laws she passed, increasing the rights of women. As a result of Theodora's efforts, the status of women in the Byzantine Empire was elevated far above that of women in the Middle East and the rest of Europe.
Empress Theodora is a saint in the Orthodox Church, commemorated on November 14.

Queen Zingua

Also known as Nzinga Mbande or Ana de Sousa Nzinga Mbande, Queen Zingua was a 17th Century queen of the Ndongo and Matamba Kingdoms of the Mbundu people in southwestern Africa. According to the Marquis de Sade's The Bedroom Philosophers, she declared a law of "vulgivulguability" (on pain of death women were to make themselves available at all times for sex).

It is said, the queen had a huge harem of men, and her men fought to the death in order to spend the night with her. Then, after a single night of lovemaking, they were put to death as an "honor" to their love.Some accounts of her life claim that she adopted cannibalism to impress a neighboring tribe.

Bridgit Bardot

The explosive sexiness of French actress Bridget Bardot created a wild frenzy in the 1950s. Her naturally hot looks appealed to men everywhere. Promoted as "The Sex Kitten," Bardot quickly became the embodiment of legend. Since the dawn of movies there had been actresses who were, to be mildly put, "alluring," but to dub an actress as a "SEX Kitten?" That's pretty hot stuff in the suppressed and proper 1950s.

Known as the Mistress of Pout, her eyes projected a bewitching innocence that hid some sort of mysterious female essence. She was different than the also very sexy, Marilyn Monroe. But Marilyn was more, well, American brash. Bardot was French mysterious...more exotic. And being the sex "kitten," she was more youthful than the all-woman Monroe.
(Wyatt Newman, "'Sex Kitten' Bridget Bardot..." October 31 2005)

Bardot was the subject of Simone de Beauvoir's 1959 essay, The Lolita Syndrome, which described Bardot as a "locomotive of women's history" and built upon existentialist themes to declare her the first and most liberated woman of post-war France.

Mae West

Stanley Walker said, "Before the rise of the lush Mae West, sex in the United States was treated either with extreme seriousness, even to the point of dolor, or it was laughed at and razzed. Mae West — — by adding a slightly burlesque overtone to the by-play between the sexes — — made everybody feel more comfortable except the censors, who felt rather vaguely that there was something wrong in her technique, though for the life of them they never made it clear whether it was because they took her acting seriously or as something amusing. Miss West can invest the simple phrase, 'How do you do?' with a sexy quality which is the distilled essence of all the  bordellos of all time."
(Stanley Walker, Mrs. Astor's Horse, 1935)

American actress Mae West, born in 1893, was known for her bawdy double entendres.West made a name for herself in Vaudeville and on the stage in New York before moving to Hollywood to become a comedienne, actress and writer in the motion picture industry. One of the more controversial movie stars of her day, West encountered many problems including censorship.

She is probably best remembered for her parts in the films "She Done Him Wrong" in 1933 opposite a very young Cary Grant, and the highly successful comedy "My Little Chickadee" opposite fellow former Vaudeville comedian W.C. Fields in 1940.

Her first starring role on Broadway was in a play she titled Sex, which she also wrote, produced, and directed. Though critics hated the show, ticket sales were good. The notorious production did not go over well with city officials and the theater was raided with West arrested along with the cast.

West was prosecuted on morals charges and, on April 19, 1927, was sentenced to ten days for "corrupting the morals of youth." While incarcerated on Welfare Island (now known as Roosevelt Island), she dined with the warden and his wife and told reporters that she wore her silk underpants while serving time.
(Patrick Bunyan, All Around the Town: Amazing Manhattan Facts and Curiosities, 1999)

When pressed about her private life, she takes one of Jimmy Walker's phrases and says, "I will match my private life with any woman's."

Greta Garbot

Born Greta Lovisa Gustafsson in 1905, Greta Garbot was a Swedish actress primarily remembered for her work in the United States during Hollywood's silent film period and part of its subsequent golden age; in total she appeared in 27 movies.

Except for the very early days of her career, Garbo was reclusive; she seldom signed autographs, rarely attended social functions,answered no fan mail, and she gave few interviews. Her refusal to give interviews gave rise to the press reporter jargon "pulling a Garbo" or "going Garbo" referring to any such actions. (The New York Times,1936)

"What made Greta Garbo unique? Rouben Mamoulian, who directed her in the 1933 film Queen Christina, attempts to answer this question:
1. "First, it was her look. She had the ideal photogenic face.  'Am I crazy, or is it possible that whatever we use she looks beautiful?' I challenged her cameraman Billy Daniels: 'Let's see if we can ruin her.' So he took a light and put it below her face, in the harshest kind of grotesque angle. She still looked magnificent. It was a God given gift Greta had, as opposed to, say Dietrich. Marlene looked beautiful on film, but it sometimes took two hours to light her."

2. "Second, Garbo was thoroughly intuitive. Her subconscious has sensitivities to moods, to subtleties of emotion and feeling that cannot be reasonably explained. With Garbo, there was no point in being logical. Instead, I used metaphors. For instance, once I said: 'Greta, you know the way a flower opens to the light? That is the way your face will look when you see John (her co-star). From those few words, she knew instinctively what I meant -and gave it to me. It was one subconscious talking to another."

3. "Third, Garbo had grace of movement, which can make or break a performer. She moved beautifully. But in her case, there was an added element which was something of a mystery. It was her capacity for stirring up the spectator's imagination. With certain actors, they call it charisma ... charm. 'Some people can walk into a room, you look at them, and there is nothing there. Someone else walks in, and you can't take your eyes off of her, or him. There's always something there. With Garbo there was always more in the spectator's eye and mind than there was on screen.'" (Rouben Mamoulian, reported in "How to Know Greta Garbo,"

Playwright Robert E. Sherwood (Hollis Alpert, "Saga oof Greta Lovisa Gustafsson - Saga of Greta Garbo," The New York Times, September 5 1929) observed.

"She (Garbo) is one of the most amazing, puzzling, most provocative characters of this extraordinary age. She definitely doesn't belong in the 20th century. She doesn't even belong in this world."

kisses are a better fate
than wisdom.
~e.e. cummings
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