Monday, March 31, 2014

Capa, Hitchcock & Rear Window

Commander K. and Hitch, Hoxton, UK
Statue by Antony Donaldson

One of my great heroes, Robert Capa (, inspired one of my favorite movies, Rear Window (  This film was directed by Alfred Hitchcock ( and starred Jimmy Stewart -- two other heroes of mine.

June 6, 1944, Omaha Beach, Robert Capa
Robert Capa was a Hungarian-born photographer who documented the Allied liberation of Western Europe in World War II.  He was fiercely anti-fascist, but also disdained socialism -- my kind of guy!  He took extraordinary risks as a war photographer.  His mantra was "If you're pictures are no good, you're not close enough."   He got closer than any other photographer on June 6, 1944.  Only eight out of the 100 or so shots that he took that day survived the developing process.  Those eight shots, however, are truly amazing.

On the day that Paris was liberated, August 25, 1944, Capa rode into the capital city "on a tank made by the Americans who had accepted me, riding with the Spanish Republicans with whom I fought against fascism long years ago, I was returning to Paris-- the beautiful city where I first lean red to eat, drink and love."  (Source: Slightly Out of Focus, Robert Capa

Ingrid Bergman 1915 - 1982
After the war he met and had an affair with the actress Ingrid Bergman who had been sent to Europe in 1945 to entertain the many American troops in the European Theatre of Operations.  Just after the war Alfred Hitchcock cast Bergman in Notorious with Cary Grant.  Capa hung around the set where he became friends with the famous director.

Capa was totally committed to his trade as a photographer which meant that he had to be ready to travel on a moment's notice to war zones and other locations.  He could not commit himself to a traditional marriage with Bergman who also could not accompany him into dangerous war zones.

On the set of Notorious (1946) Bergman turned to Hitchcock as her father confessor, telling of her frustrations with Capa between takes.

Alfred Hitchcock Blue plaque
153 Cromwell Road, London
Photo courtesy: Tim Lyons
Hitchcock remembered these tales of the adventurous photographer and the glamorous beauty and incorporated them into his film Rear Window.  Jimmy Stewart and Grace Kelly starred in Rear Window which follows the adventures of a bed-ridden photographer (racing accident) who may or may not have witnesssed a murder from outside the window of his NYC apartment.  Stewart had, like Capa, exposed himself to great danger in world War II piloting over 20 missions in a B-24.  (

Hitchcock statue, Hoxton
Gainsborough Studios
The enormous bust of Hitchcock made by Antony Donaldson can be found in London's east end neighborhood of Hoxton.  Gainsborough studios was used by Alfred Hitchcock during his "English" period.  The statue is surrounded by apartment buildings which could easily provide a location for an updated version of Rear Window.

Rear Window was released in 1954, the same year that Robert Capa stepped on a land mine and was killed in Vietnam.

Source: Richard Whelan's Introduction to Robert Capa's 1947 memoir Slightly Out of Focus

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Thursday, March 20, 2014

Peggy Guggenheim Collection

1898 - 1979
In 1948 Peggy Guggenheim, an American heiress, bought the Palazzo Venier dei Leoni in Venice to house her growing art collection.  She first opened her collection to the public in 1949.  The Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice ( features a splendid collection of modern art.
Commander K. on Peggy's throne, Venice, IT
Peggy was the daughter of Benjamin Guggenheim who had died while crossing the Atlantic on the Titanic in 1912.  On hearing the news of the collision with the iceberg, Guggenheim changed into his evening wear and was last seen drinking cognac and smoking a cigar with his valet.  His French mistress, L√©ontine Aubart, survived the Titanic disaster and lived until 1964.

Silver Bed Head, Alexander Calder, 1946
She founded the Guggenheim Jeune gallery in London in 1938.  Peggy lived for 30 years as an expatriate in Venice, from 1949 until her death in 1979.  She was an exceptionally shrewd art collector who was willing to take colossal risks.  Hitler's invasion of Poland in September 1939 was like a starting pistol to Peggy Guggenheim who began an almost frenzied shopping spree for art while in Paris at that time.  She managed to flee from Paris to Grenoble only days before the Nazis rolled into the capital in 1940.  Fearful for her life as a Jewish woman in Vichy France, Peggy managed to escape to the USA in the summer of 1941.
Half-Length Portrait of a Man, Picasso, 1939
PGC, Venice
She returned to a war-ravaged Europe in 1947 and soon bought her Venetian Palazzo.  For many years she lived in the Palazzo Venier dei Leoni, sharing its space with visiting tourists.  This unfinished 18th century Palazzo is positioned on the Grand Canal.

The eternal Masculine lifts us ever upward!
The Angel of the City, Marino Marini, 1948
Peggy loved her Lhasa Apsa dogs.  All fourteen are buried near her final resting place in her beautiful sculpture garden just beside the museum.

Peggy's Lhasa Apsa Memorial
The Sculpture Garden has many treasures...

Chariot, Fritz Koenig, 1957
She had a fine eye and was a discriminating collector.

Voice of Space, Magritte, 1931
Peggy was an American eccentric who lived a bohemian lifestyle.  Peggy was said to have had a voracious sexual appetite.  She was married and divorced three husbands, a writer and two artists (including Max Ernst).  She had an affair with Samuel Beckett.  She is alleged to have had over 1,000 different partners.

Maiastra, Brancusi, 1912?
PGC, Venice
Benjamin Guggenheim went down with the Titanic;  Peggy Guggenheim went...well, she went nearly everywhere!
Pomona. Marino Marini, 1945
Peggy Guggenheim lived life on her own terms.  She experienced many tragedies including the probable suicide of her artist daughter Pegeen.  Nevertheless, near the end of her life she summed it up thus, "I look back on my life with great joy. I think it was a very successful life. I always did what I wanted and never cared what anyone thought. Women's lib? I was a liberated woman long before there was a name for it."

Windows Open Simultaneously, Robert Delaunay, 1912
PGC, Venice
Commander Kelly says, "Today her collection brings joy to millions.  If in Venice, go check it out!"

You can now purchase Commander Kelly's first book, America Invades or on

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

The Bear Museum, Ladin

Baby Cave Bear, Museum Ladin, San Cassiano, IT

This week Putin's Russian bear found her Crimean bear cub.  This mommy will not let her baby out of her sight for a very long time!
San Cassiano, IT
In the heart of the Italian Dolomites one can find the Museum Ladin -- a Bear Museum (!  It lies in the picturesque town of San Cassiano which is a paradise equally for winter sports and summer hiking.

In 1987 Willy Costamoling, an alpinist and local businessman, stumbled upon the Conturines cave while he was looking for fossils and minerals.  He had neglected to bring his flashlight.  On a second visit, equipped with illumination, he discovered the Hall of skulls.  He brought some pieces of skull back to a Viennese Professor of Paleontology who returned the following year to excavate.

Bear Skulls: Brown, Polar, Ladin (Ursus ladinicus), and Gamssulzen (Ursus ingressus) 
They had found a graveyard of giant Mountain cave bears who lived around 25 to 60 thousand years ago.  These bears were much larger than the Brown bears or even polar bears that we know today.  They have determined from the shape of their teeth that these were pure herbivores -- like today's Panda bears.

These Italian bears would, therefore, never have ordered pepperoni pizza.  "Solo con fungi per favore!"
Cave Bears Chilling
Temperature extremes were much greater in the time of the Cave bears.  During the summer these bears would seek refuge from the heat in high mountain cave (the Conturines cave entrance is at 2,750 meters above sea level) while during the winters these bears would hibernate.  During hibernation they could survive for months without food or water.

These bears could live up to 35 years -- almost twice the 20 year lifespan of today's brown bears.

No evidence of humans was found in this cave.  Not even a pizza delivery box.

Weighing in at 1200 kg versus 250 kg for today's European brown bear, these cave bears would have been much bigger than the ones featured in the bear-baiting street entertainments that Elizabeth I apparently preferred over Shakespeare's plays in the back alleys of London.

Ursus ladinicus skeleton, San Cassiano

These bears became extinct about 24,000 years ago, probably due to climate change.  Some will be disappointed that Man-made emissions do not seem to have played a role here!  A great glacial ice age probably proved too cold for them to survive.  There is no vegetation growing today at this altitude near the site of Conturines cave.

The Museum Ladin opened in 2011.  If you can't bear another run on the slopes go check it out!

Rumors that these magnificent creatures may have crossed an ancient land bridge and migrated to Berkeley, California are completely unfounded!


You can now purchase Commander Kelly's first book, America Invades or on