Women in Horror: Coven

 

As part of my February Women in Horror series, today I am featuring the fabulous actresses of American Horror Story.  The most famous of these are perhaps Angela Bassett, Kathy Bates and Jessica Lange.

These three ladies did not begin, nor spend their acting careers exclusively in Horror. All three had Oscar-nominated silver screen performances in a variety of genres before they came together on the bizarre cast of AHS. Yet they make the small screen sizzle in their frightful performances. The characters they have played range from carnival freaks to asylum inmates to psychopathic killers. And of course, witches!

No season of AHS showcases women as well as Season Three: Coven.

It all begins at Miss Robichaux’s Academy in New Orleans. The resident students are modern day descendants of those who escaped Salem hundreds of years before. Current coven members include the clueless Zoe (Taiessa Farmiga) who recently discovered her dark powers cause brain hemorrhages. Zoe will uncover more talents slowly and find she can operate a chain saw well.

Queenie (Gabourey Sidibe) is a descendant of Tituba. Queenie, like a human voodoo doll, has an ability to inflict pain upon others while doing herself harm which she does not feel.

Nan (Jamie Brewer) is an autistic clairvoyant who will read your every thought.

Madison (Emma Roberts) is  a spoiled actress who has seen the seamier side of life.  (Madison has more rough times ahead including death and resurrection. Stay tuned.)

The girls are under the care of Ms. Cordelia Foxx (Sarah Paulsen)  owner and operator of the Academy. Cordelia will be given a very interesting “sight”…

At the academy, the girls are to learn the fine arts of sorcery and magick that will help them lead their coven into the future.

The only problem is, the academy is falling apart. Cordelia’s leadership is weak. She has always lived in the shadow of her estranged mother Fiona Goode (Jessica Lange) who happens to be the Supreme Witch – the powerful queen who is able to perform the Seven Wonders.

To make matters worse, back in the bayou, a swamp witch named Misty Day (Lily Rabe) has been burned at the stake. Luckily for Misty, she is a necromancer and is able to revive herself from death.

Fiona, worried about the new persecution, heads back the academy to take matters in her own hands. A few field trips are in order for the trainees.

But it won’t be easy.

Dark and evil happenings have long occurred in New Orleans. Back in the 1800’s Madame LaLaurie (Kathy Bates) became so sadistic toward her slaves and family members that voodoo queen Marie Laveau (Angela Bassett) decided to bury her alive! Madame LaLaurie has been living in a casket for three hundred years.

The aging Fiona, obsessed by the notion of youth and eternal life, frees Madame LaLaurie from her coffin in hopes of discovering some longevity secrets. She also makes her way into the 9th ward where the ageless Marie LaVeau has operated the same beauty shop for some three hundred years.

Her secret? Marie has made a deal with voodoo god Papa Legba. And his terms didn’t come cheap. But Marie won’t be revealing her secrets to Fiona any time soon; the voodoo priestess has been engaged in a power war with the witches for centuries.

Excitement ensues as Fiona’s powers dwindle, while she realizes that one of the young prodigies is destined to be the next Supreme. But who?

Watch the series to find out!

Fiction and Truth: Madame LaLaurie

The truth behind some of the characters of Coven is as gory as the series itself. Take, for example, Madame LaLaurie.

The real Madame Delphine LaLaurie (1787 – 1849) was a Creole socialite who spent her time hobnobbing with the upper echelon of fashionable New Orleans.

Madame LaLaurie, a three time widow, apparently kept a respected place in society until April 10, 1834, when a fire broke out in the LaLaurie residence. Police and fire marshals arrived. There in the raging flames they found Madame LaLaurie’s cook, a seventy-year-old woman, chained to the stove by her ankle. The cook later said she herself had set the fire as a suicide attempt, as living under the confines of Madame LaLaurie had become intolerable and she was afraid she might be “punished” by being sent to the “upper chamber”.  Slaves taken to this chamber never came back.

Bystanders responding to the fire attempted to enter the upper chamber to ensure that everyone had been evacuated. Upon being refused the keys by Delphine, they broke down the doors.

As you may have suspected, the “upper chamber” was a real life chamber of horrors.

According to the New Orleans Bee, they found “seven slaves, horribly mutilated … suspended by the neck, with their limbs stretched and torn from one extremity to the other.”

The slaves had been imprisoned in the chamber for several months. They were “emaciated, and showed signs of having been flogged with a whip, bound in restrictive postures, and wore spiked iron collars which kept their heads in static positions.”

When the discovery of the abused slaves became widely known, the good people of New Orleans came to attack the LaLaurie residence. According to the newspaper, this angry mob “demolished and destroyed everything upon which they could lay their hands”. The sheriff intervened, but by the time the destruction was complete, “scarcely any thing remained but the walls.”

The real, restored LaLaurie Mansion can still be found on Royal Street in the French Quarter.

The real Delphine LaLaurie then reportedly high tailed it to the docks where she jumped a boat for France and was never heard from again,

In American Horror Story, Delphine does not get off so easy. Suffice it to say, she will pay for her crimes in unusual ways…

Once exhumed from her coffin, Fiona brings Delphine back to the house and decides it might be fun to make her serve as the slave of Queenie. When Marie Laveau gets involved, there is further hell to pay.

You can’t blame Marie for being angry. Among Delphine’s many crimes, perhaps the worst was when she took her houseboy Bastien – who happened to be Marie’s lover – and changed him into a real life minotaur by attaching a bull’s head to his body.

Marie Laveau

The real Marie Laveau  (1801– 1881) was a highly respected Louisiana Creole practitioner of Voodoo.  Her practice included rootwork, conjuring, Native American and African spiritualism, mystic Catholicism and what is known today as “New Orleans Voodoo.”

Marie Catherine Laveau was born as a free woman of color in the French Quarter of New Orleans. Her mother, Marguerite Henry, also a free woman of color, was of Native American, African and French descent. Her father, Charles Laveau Trudeau, was a white surveyor & politician who served on the New Orleans City Council and also as an interim mayor.

On August 4, 1819, Marie married Jacques Paris, a French immigrant who had fled the  Haitian Revolution in the former French territory Saint-Domingue.   Their marriage certificate is preserved in the St. Louis Cathedral in New Orleans.  The wedding mass was performed by Father Antonio de Sedella. They had two daughters, Felicite in 1817 and Angele in 1820. Jacques died in 1820.

Marie then entered a domestic partnership with Christophe Dominick Duminy de Glapion, (a white man of French descent) with whom she lived until his death in 1855. They had 7 children according to birth and baptismal records. Apparently, two of her daughters were also named Marie — and had striking resemblances to their mother. The daughters also practiced voodoo, and may have been confused with their mother. This lead to the belief that Marie could be “in two places at one time” and also had abnormal longevity — as her daughters were seen about town after her death and may have been confused with Marie Sr.

Or were they? Many superstitions are still associated with Marie’s grave. Some folk believe she still walks the earth, and have been known to petition her for favors.

Marie is, of course, most famous for her magick.  Rumors state she had a pet snake, Zombi, named after an African god. She was also a devout Catholic. Her practice mixed invocations of  Roman Catholic saints with African spirits. She was known to cure mysterious ailments. She could exact revenge when justice was needed.

The real Marie Laveau did indeed own a beauty parlor.  She was a hair-dresser for wealthy New Orleans women.  It is said she had a network of informants she developed through her beauty shop connections. She appeared to excel at “obtaining inside information” on her wealthy patrons. (She was, after all, a politician’s daughter!)

The Marie of American Horror Story is just as slick politically. However, due to her bargain with Papa Legba she will bear no children of her own (although she may have to kidnap a few from the local hospital to keep Legba happy.)

With this much historical and horrific material, you can imagine the gore that peppers this series. If you have not yet seen it, I suggest you do so immediately! Cook up a pot of jambalaya, watch by candlelight and be transported. Appreciating the performances of these amazing women is a great way to celebrate Women in Horror Month.

 

 

 

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Anne Rice, Mother of Vampires

 

She is the mistress of the macabre, the weaver of witch tales, a native New Orleanian who may never have made her mark in the world if it weren’t for her near blood thirsty curiosity about what it would be like to interview a vampire.

We are only twenty seven days away from Halloween, and no countdown would be complete without a tribute to Anne Rice, my all-time favorite living author!

Luckily, today happens to be her birthday.  (I’m sure it is no coincidence that this woman came into the world so near to Halloween.)

Anne Rice was born on October 4, 1941 in New Orleans, Louisiana. She was the second of four daughters. Her parents, Howard and Katherine O’Brien, were of Irish Catholic descent. The family lived in the hard-scrabble, impoverished section of town known as the Irish Channel, where they rented a 3-room shotgun house. Most of Anne’s childhood was spent dealing with the hardships of poverty and her mother’s alcoholism.

Curiously, Anne is not her real name – her parents actually named her Howard, after her father.  Regarding her unusual name, Rice has said:

“My birth name is Howard Allen because apparently my mother thought it was a good idea to name me Howard. My father’s name was Howard, she wanted to name me after Howard, and she thought it was a very interesting thing to do. She was a bit of a Bohemian, a bit of mad woman, a bit of a genius, and a great deal of a great teacher. And she had the idea that naming a woman Howard was going to give that woman an unusual advantage in the world.”

In their defense, it is true that women with androgynous names sometimes do get certain advantages in life. This idea of boy-girl names for little girls became more popular in later decades. Consider Taylor, Beau, Ricki, Sammie, etc.  In the 1940’s, however, it must have been a pretty shocking thing to do.

Little Howard did not like her name at all. When she went to first grade at St. Alphonsus School, the nun asked her name and she replied. “Anne.”  It stuck. Her parents agreed to legally change her name in 1947.

New Orleans is a spooky and beautiful town, known for its ghosts and cemeteries. The dead are famously “buried above ground.” This is not so appalling as it may sound – it simply means that New Orleans adapted the French-Catholic custom of burying the dead in above ground in tombs and mausoleums, rather than underground coffins.

The cemeteries of New Orleans are legendary, hosting tales of folklore sure to fire any imagination. The Louisiana government takes no part in maintaining the tombs, so the upkeep of a deceased loved one is purely a family affair. This leads to a certain beauty – each tomb is personal, a work of art.

Here I am with my niece at St. Louis Cemetery #1 in the French Quarter.  In the tomb behind us lies none other than New Orleans voodoo queen Marie Laveau!

New Orleans Cemetery

The O’Brien family lived right around the corner from Lafayette Cemetery #1. This was Anne’s childhood playground. It was in Lafayette that Anne would later place the tombs of her characters Lestat the vampire and the Mayfair witches.

Anne’s childhood was heavily influenced by her Catholic religion.  Black cloaks, dark confessional booths, rosary beads, candlelight vigils and marble statues that seemed to come to life were all part of her sensibilities. Not to mention symbolic blood drinking as designated by the sacraments.  Mix that with extreme poverty, family dysfunction,  cemeteries, voodoo, hoodoo, Mardi Gras – and we can easily see what fueled Anne’s wicked imagination.

When Anne was just fifteen years old, her mother died due to complications of alcoholism. Her father, unable to cope with four daughters, placed the girls in foster care at Saint Joseph’s Academy.  According to Anne, Saint Joseph’s was: “something out of Jane Eyre … a dilapidated, awful, medieval type of place. I really hated it and wanted to leave. I felt betrayed by my father.” Charles Dickens was Anne’s favorite author, and it seems her own childhood was a bit of a Victorian Bleak House.

Saint Joseph’s Academy

Two years later, in 1958, Howard Rice retrieved his daughters and moved the family to Richardson, Texas. There, Anne met her future husband Stan Rice, while both were students at Richardson High School. Although Anne left Texas after high school and moved to San Francisco, she remained in touch with Stan.  While Anne was in California, Stan sent her a telegram asking her to marry him.  She said yes! The two were wed in Texas in 1961 when Anne was twenty and Stan was just eighteen. They were married for forty one years until Stan’s death in 2002.

While living in San Francisco in 1973, Anne wrote her first novel Interview With the Vampire.  She has stated that vampire literature was nearly nonexistent at the time, but she thought it would be “fun to interview one.”  The novel was published in 1976 and quickly became a best seller. Anne then wrote The Vampire Lestat and Queen of the Damned. The Vampire Chronicles had begun!

In 1988 Anne moved back to New Orleans with her husband and son, Christopher. Having become wealthy from her book sales, Anne purchased a mansion in the garden district. She then began writing The Witching Hour, the first of the Mayfair Witch Trilogy. The house that Anne lived in was located at 1239 First Street. It is the coolest house ever! It became as much a character in the books as the Mayfair witches themselves.

Here’s me in front of the magnificent house — a must-see if you are ever in NOLA!

New Orleans Anne Rice House

In 2004, after the death of her husband, Anne moved back to California and has lived there ever since.

Interview With the Vampire was made into a movie in 1994. It starred Brad Pitt, Tom Cruise, Kiirsten Dunst and Antonio Banderas. The movie received critical acclaim. Three more of Anne’s novels were made into movies – Queen of the Damned, Exit To Eden and The Feast of All Saints.

For many years, Anne had given up film rights to her own novels, because movie studios had optioned them.  In 2015, Anne regained the rights and set about trying to turn the entire Vampire Chronicles into a television series. In 2017, Paramount Television and Anonymous Content optioned the rights to 11 books. The series was picked up for broadcast on Hulu, and should be premiering sometime in 2019. I can’t wait!

Fun Facts:

  • To date, Anne has written 41 novels.
  • In addition to Gothic and horror, Anne also writes erotic novels under the pseudonyms A. N. Roquelaure and Anne Rampling.
  • Cosmopolitan magazine called her “the queen of sexy vampire fiction”.
  • Although her vampires are known for their charm and sensuality, none of them actually have sex. Because they are, you know, vampires…

  • Anne tried reading Bram Stoker’s Dracula as a teenager and was too terrified to finish the book. As an adult she attempted it again and loved it.
  • Anne became a self described “Atheist” after leaving the Catholic Church at age 18.
  • In 1998, Anne returned to the church. After twelve years as a practicing Catholic, she renounced Christianity, stating: “I remain committed to Christ as always but not to being ‘Christian’ or to being part of Christianity.”
  • Anne almost joined the world of the dead herself, in 1998, when she fell into a diabetic coma. She came close to death once again in 2004 when she suffered a bowel obstruction and surgery.
  • For several years, after her return to New Orleans, Anne held an annual Halloween vampire ball at the mansion on First Street. The ball is still going strong, now operated by the Anne Rice/ Vampire Lestat Fan Club.

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  • The Rice’s first child, a daughter named Michele, died from leukemia when she was just six years old. The loss devastated them.
  • Anne, a self-described ‘alcoholic’, stopped drinking in 1979 after the birth of her son Christopher. She has stated that she did not want him to have the same childhood she did, in dealing with an alcoholic mother. Anne has made public service announcements regarding alcohol and sobriety.
  • Anne has stated that she chose vampires as her means of self expression, because she was facing painful issues which she could not discuss directly.
  • Regarding the movie Interview With the Vampire, Anne claims “Brad Pitt played me, because I am Louis.” Louis, as you may recall, was the most ‘human’ and conflicted of the vamps.

Happy Birthday Ms. Rice! Wishing you Immortality 🙂

 

 

 

 

A Streetcar Named Desire

 

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“They told me to take a streetcar named Desire, then transfer to one called Cemeteries, then ride six blocks and get off at — the Elysian Fields!” So begins the opening lines of Tennessee Williams’ most famous play, spoken by would-be  femme fatal Blanche Dubois.

Tennessee Williams won a Pulitzer Prize for this 1947 play, which tells the story of Blanche, an aging southern belle who, after a series of devastating personal losses pays a visit to her sister Stella in New Orleans’ French Quarter.

Stella lives in a shabby, run down two flat with her brutish and bullying husband Stanley Kowalski (played by  then-unknown Marlon Brando.)  Blanche is immediately both intimidated by and attracted to Stanley, who becomes relentless in his quest to expose dark secrets from Blanche’s past.

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Rest assured, the secrets are very dark  — there was  a marriage to a gay man resulting in his suicide, for which Blanche feels responsible. There were clandestine hotel encounters, possible prostitution, and an affair with a high school student that ended her career.  (Blanche had been a teacher.)

What follows is Blanche’s psychological demise. There is a controversial rape scene, the birth of a baby and Blanche’s threadbare conclusion as she is hauled off to a mental institution:”I have always depended upon the kindness of strangers.”

blanche

In 1951 the play was made into an academy award winning movie, starring Vivien Leigh as Blanche and Kim Hunter as Stella. (Hollywood did its best to tone down the homosexual sub plot as well as the rape scene.)

In the end, Stanley, Stella and Blanche were all victims of their own desires. Stanley wanted power, Stella wanted love and Blanche wanted security. Or did they?

The true genius of this play is its conflicting virtues and sexual politics.  It is very hard to name a hero or a villain.  Tennessee Williams was quoted as saying he wrote the play for the “mentally ill and the misunderstood.”  He had a mentally ill sister whom he commemorated in ‘The Glass Menagerie’.  Tennessee himself had a few nervous breakdowns, as did Vivien Leigh. And yet —  I could have sworn the author was rooting for Stanley the whole time.

Although the names ‘Desire’, ‘Cemeteries’ and ‘Elysian Fields’ are actual New Orleans destinations, the symbolism will not be lost on mythology fans. The Elysian Fields in Greek mythology is the soul’s final resting place — ironically a resting place of the heroic and virtuous.  The names imply that it is our desires that bring our demise (the cemetery) and then take us on the Elysian Fields — a parallel of Blanche’s streetcar journey.

At any rate, nothing says ‘Desire’ like this steamy scene between Kim Hunter and Marlon Brando. “HEY STELLA!!”

 

 

Happy Mardi Gras!

 

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Eat drink and be merry, for tomorrow we fast 🙂

If you are lucky enough to be in New Orleans, Rio de Janeiro, or some other designated Mardi Gras  center today, more power to you!  As for the rest of us, we can still don a mask, eat jambalaya and jiggle  to some great music.

This video features one of my favorites, ‘Iko Iko’ by the Dixie Cups, with a montage of fabulous Mardi Gras Indians. Hope you like it!

 

In case you were wondering how this crazy celebration  got started, and what put the ‘fat’ in Fat Tuesday, here is a (very brief) history of Mardi Gras as it evolved through the Catholic Church.

 

And for those who can’t get enough of Dixieland, here are around two hours of it for your listening pleasure. Have a fantastic Fat Tuesday!