Percy and Rose

‘A boy’s best friend is his mother,’ goes the old song, which couldn’t be an apter opening to Rob George’s play Percy and Rose, written for the centenary of the celebrated Australian composer and concert pianist Percy Grainger (1882-1961), known to his friends as ‘Perks’ and best known to posterity for his modern arrangements of traditional folk songs like ‘An English Country Garden’ and ‘Danny Boy’.

The action centers on his uncommonly close, peculiar relationship with his mother Rose, who raised him on a literary diet of Scandinavian folk tales that gave him romantic ideas about Nordic warriors and a fixation on the interconnectedness of pleasure and pain.

Rose is both proud and ashamed of her son: proud of his talents, ashamed of his kink. The first half of the play, which takes place while they are living in London, deals at length with her efforts to bring him back to sexual ‘normality’ by introducing him to a pretty young lady, Margot Harrison, as his live-in piano pupil and then prospective bride. ‘A mother cannot be a wife as well,’ she tells him. ‘You should be married, then perhaps you would not have these strange sexual tastes.’

This leaves Percy with a problem: how to explain those unconventional tastes to a butter-wouldn’t-melt-in-her-mouth English girl who thinks butter wouldn’t melt in his either. The tastes? ‘I get a lot of pleasure out of pain,’ he tells a friend:

‘A man has to have the strength to tie the woman down, to stop her running away and he has to whip her to stop her giggling, just as a stallion sinks his teeth into the mare’s neck as he mounts her. All of my sexual pleasure comes out of this cruel joy. … To see red welts on white skin. I love the sight of white, pure, full breasts and yet all I wont to do is to whip, burn, slash and desecrate them. Do you find that strange?’

Rose is Percy’s central focus, but she is determined to be supplanted by Margot: ‘My role in his life will be over. I will be like a schoolteacher handing over her class to the next grade.’ Percy, on the other hand, believes that only his mother can love him, and sees a wife as merely the object of his lust. And so, halfway through the play, he introduces Margot to his kink:

PERCY: Would you raise your skirts so that I might look at you?

(Margot withdraws with mock horror.)

MARGOT: Why, Percy Grainger!

PERCY: Please?

(She demurely shows a bit of ankle.)

PERCY: No, higher than that.

(Her skirts are raised to her knees.)

PERCY: I want to see the tender, white, full flesh of your thighs.

(She holds her skirts to her waist. Percy admires them.)

PERCY: Yes, they are very nice, like purest silk. Now bend over.

Margot is curious: is he trying to make her a better pianist, she asks.

PERCY: No, a better lover.

(She bends over.)

PERCY: Support yourself on the piano.

MARGOT: What is that for?

PERCY: Just do as you are told. Now I want to see your bum.

(Margot is getting a bit worried.)

MARGOT: But Perks, what if Rose should…?

PERCY: She won’t.

(She raises her skirts over her waist again.)

PERCY: Are you comfortable?

MARGOT: Oh, yes, as comfortable as can be…

PERCY: I said I wanted to see your bum.

(He wrenches her bloomers down. Margot is surprised.)

MARGOT: Percy!

PERCY: Don’t move.

(She stays.)

MARGOT: Can we not go to your bedroom?

(He ignores her as he admires her bum.)

PERCY: Your bum is so white, so clear, so unmarked.

MARGOT: Why should it be otherwise?

PERCY: You know, you are not progressing as well with your music as you should.

MARGOT: I don’t get time to practice.

PERCY: You must be punished.

(Margot laughs and turns to put her arms around his neck.)

MARGOT: Punished! Oh Percy darling, whatever are you talking about?

(He pushes her back down and holds her there by her hair.)

PERCY: You ungrateful, untalented, wretched girl. How dare you come here and waste my valuable time.

(He smacks her on the bum. She screams.)

MARGOT: I will try harder in future.

PERCY: I know you will, for I will give you a lesson you will never forget.

(He smacks her again.)

MARGOT: Percy, stop it. you have no right.

PERCY: I have every right. You are a very disobedient pupil.

(Smack.)

MARGOT: That is enough, Perks, it’s not funny!

PERCY: Of course not, I am deadly serious.

(Smack.)

PERCY: This is not a game. Now keep still. Do as you are told.

(Smack.)

MARGOT (screams): Stop it! Stop it!

PERCY: Now that I have put some colour in your cheeks, don’t you feel invigorated?

MARGOT: No! Let me go!

(She starts to lash out and kick at him in an attempt to get away.)

PERCY: Well then, my flighty young mare, this calls for the horsewhip.

(As he reaches for the whip, Margot struggles free.)

MARGOT: No!!!

PERCY: Oh yes, I really must lay waste to your beautiful body.

MARGOT: What are you saying? Why are you doing this? Perks!

(She backs away as Percy approaches her with the whip.)

PERCY: You will enjoy it, I am sure.

MARGOT: No! I don’t want to. Stop it!! Stop it!!

(She screams.)

She is unconvinced by his assurance that ‘the joy is exquisite’, and the whip is never plied. ‘I do love him,’ she tells Rose later in the scene, ‘but not in that way.’ And so Rose shows her the door: the engagement is off.

Afterwards, Margot spreads gossip about Percy, though since it is true it can hardly be said to be malicious. His liking for flagellation is considered merely comical, but wagging tongues are scandalized by the depth of his relationship with his mother. He only escapes Rose’s emotional domination after her death. The last scene of the play sees him meet a Swedish girl, Ella Strom, during a game of deck quoits. She fulfills all his long-held fantasies about being in thrall to a ‘Nordic goddess’, but she is disappointed when he tells her that he loves her like a sister. ‘Ah,’ he reassures her, ‘but a sister is someone to whom my lusts are sharper and more unbridled than towards a non-related sweetheart.’ He proposes marriage with uncommon self-assurance: ‘my sex powers are so great that you will be forever satisfied.’ It’s an offer she can’t refuse (well, she doesn’t, anyway), and in the final moments of the play, as the stage direction puts it,

‘Percy gives Ella a firm smack on the rump.’

It looks as if they are going to be very happy together.

‘The play does not set out to capitalize cheaply on Percy’s kinks,’ said the Sydney Morning Herald in a review of the first production, which opened at the Adelaide Festival on March 10, 1982, with the actor-pianist Dennis Olsen as Percy and Deborah Little as Margot.

Percy and Rose Dennis Olsen & Deborah Little

And Daphne Grey doubled as both Rose and Ella, the latter ‘replacing Rose’s anxiety with spanking cheerfulness’, as another reviewer wryly phrased it.

The production was a smash hit and toured Australia for the best part of a year, taking in Canberra, Sydney and Melbourne, where it closed on August 20, 1983; it was also adapted for radio with the original cast. In 1999 it was also made into a movie, Passion, with Richard Roxburgh and Emily Woof, which is well worth watching – but not if your only interest is in M/F spanking scenes, because the flagellation is a lot more extreme and a lot less specifically targeted.

But onstage, at least, a small part of the play’s success seems to have lain in what happens to Margot at the climax of the first half, as described by the British reviewer Michael Billington:

‘Even when the hero takes down his fiancée’s drawers and starts to spank her bottom, the audience murmurs its delighted approval.’

Of course, it does help the atmosphere of what Billington called ‘cosy kinkiness’ that, in complete contrast with the 1999 screenplay, the script takes care to abort the smacking before it gets heavy with the whip – though five bottom-reddening smacks with the open hand must have been quite enough for Deborah Little in the course of an 18-month run!

Photographer of the Week: Alistair

Alistair, who shoots for Silent Photography of Adelaide, has a lot of strings to his bow. You’ll be glad to know that one of them, alongside motors and portraiture, is pin-up.

The style is vintage…

The absence of inhibitions is modern…

And the absence of modern inhibitions is… welcome!

Time to change ends now, girls!

Come on, do it properly!

If you are interested in Alistair’s work, please visit his Instagram account.

The Ubiquity of Hairbrushes

Which famous movie spanking does this drawing represent?

Unless you already happen to know, you could be forgiven for not guessing that it comes from a newspaper ad for Public Deb No. 1 (1940), in which spoiled soup heiress Penny Cooper (Brenda Joyce) is publicly spanked in a Russian restaurant by patriotic waiter Alan Blake (George Murphy).

In the scene as it appears onscreen, Penny is wearing a black dress and Alan is in pseudo-Cossack garb to suit the theme of the restaurant.

Maybe we shouldn’t be all that surprised by the white dress in the drawing, since it helps the artist keep the two figures distinct. Maybe the tux makes sense as an attempt to represent a waiter without having to go into the exact particulars of the story, in which it’s relevant that he’s dressed as a Russian. But the third anomaly is more puzzling: the hairbrush!

The answer partly lies in its being commonplace, almost ubiquitous. The earliest reference I’ve found to someone being spanked with a hairbrush dates from the 1860s, so by the time of Public Deb it was a venerable instrument of domestic punishment. Parents used it to spank their daughters.

Husbands used it to spank their wives.

Though wives didn’t always take it lying down:

So if a naughty girl was going to be spanked, there was a very fair chance that what she’d be feeling was the back of the hairbrush.

One woman who could testify to that was New York nightclub hostess Marcia Estardus.

05a Marcia Estardus

At New Year’s 1927, she found herself at a party in the apartment of the notorious millionaire Harry K. Thaw. She also found herself across his knee making the acquaintance of ‘a great big hairbrush’:

Exactly why Thaw did it never came out in the ensuing assault trial, because he refused to testify in his own defense lest the other side should delve into his shady past, and so ended up paying $75,000 damages. But it’s reasonable to infer a sexual motive, especially since the incident also involved the partial tearing off of her clothes. So it’s not entirely unexpected to find the hairbrush making appearances not only in straightforward representations of mainstream social behavior, but also in the ‘spicy’ literature of the late 1940s, whose pretence of social realism was as scanty as the girls’ outfits:

And from thence it’s only a short trip to the 1950s fetish photography of Irving Klaw, which, being bespoke, was rather hit or miss. Naturally I’ve selected examples that tend to fall somewhere near the ‘hit’ side, though it’s the quality of the models’ work that stands out rather than that of the photography.

It would have been an astonishing fluke if Klaw’s most iconic model had got away without an occasional encounter with the brush:

And so the implement also found its way into the modern ‘Bettie Page’ genre of glamor photography.

And now that we’ve definitively crossed the border between the social to the sexual world, we can look at a modern example of hairbrush spanking in television comedy: the 1997 anthology show Tracey Takes On, in which Janie Pillsworth (Tracey Ullman) has a secret desire to be spanked, and in particular to be spanked with a hairbrush. Her husband won’t cooperate and DIY proves unsatisfactory:

But a newspaper ad for ‘Perfect Punishments’ leads to her to the professional help of Stuart (Ron Perlman), who grants her wish:

By the looks of it, it may have hurt more than she expected!

And, if you’ll pardon the expression, there’s the rub. Outside of kink, a hairbrush spanking is something a girl really doesn’t want to happen to her.

12 Grand Ole Opry 1940

If she encounters an irate father, or husband, or boyfriend wielding the brush, on spanking bent,

then there’s only one thing for it:

13 1950

And that starts to explain a mystery that we’ll be pursuing in the next part of this article.

Kiss Me Kate: 2019

With the show’s return to Broadway after two decades away, 2019 really shouldn’t have been a depressing year for Kiss Me Kate, but it was. The February production at Chaffin’s Barn Theatre, Nashville, Tennessee, starring Matthew Carlton and Martha Wilkinson, showed the way the wind was blowing. The two actors were revisiting roles they had played at the very same theater in the 1990s, but there was a signal difference between the two productions: in 2019, the spanking was done offstage – which completely undermines the play’s treatment of it as an egregious public insult that motivates Lilli’s attempted early exit from the show. Sadly, but predictably, an idiotic Nashville reviewer praised the decision for creating ‘doubt as to exactly who is on the receiving end of the taming’.

This kind of censorship reached its natural conclusion with the Broadway production starring Kelli O’Hara and Will Chase,

which had the script adapted in an effort to eliminate perceived sexism. Sadly but inevitably, this involved cutting out the spanking altogether: the director, the two stars and the adapter, Amanda Green, had a preliminary meeting and were unanimous in one opinion, to wit, ‘None of us wanted to see her spanked’ – so the business was out of the show right from the start. Meanwhile, several local theaters across America that had scheduled productions of Kiss Me Kate, did something even more drastic, but much more honest: when certain individuals complained that they were putting on a sexist musical with, horror of horrors, a spanking scene, KMK was pulled and replaced with something else.

I’ve written elsewhere about this irrational, illiberal, toxic phenomenon, so there’s no need to go on at length about it now. Instead, let’s accentuate the positive and settle down to enjoy the productions that did happen, in which Lilli was spanked, was seen to be spanked and was also shown being spanked in pictures released before or after the event. We begin on February 1 at a liberal arts college in Minnesota:

Also opening on February 1, and running until February 10, at a high school in Connecticut:

And the next day, KMK opened at St Petersburg Opera, Florida, and also ran until February 10. Michael Kelly was Fred, and during rehearsals he used social media to ‘tweet’ a KMK spanking picture from 1961 at Michele Sexton, anticipating what he was going to do to her onstage:

You may also like to know that the parts were understudied by Stephen M. Ray and Caitlyn McKechney, who would have had an experience similar to the above in their own rehearsals!

Also in February, at a high school in Oklahoma:

The musical played from March 22 through April 14 at the Ice House Theatre in Mount Dora, Florida, with this tabletop spanking:

And from April 18 through 28, at a community college in New Jersey:

An amateur production ran at Tinkers Farm Opera, Stourbridge, England, May 8-11. Here are husband-and-wife team Dan and Kate in rehearsal:

Skylight Music Theatre in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, produced a month’s run of Kiss Me Kate, May 17 to June 16, and made some publicity play of capitalizing on the fiery Latino temperaments of its two stars, Cuban Andrew Varela and Puerto Rican Rana Roman.

You might think this would make for an enjoyably tempestuous fight scene. But the production also suffered from 2019’s ongoing fit of irrational nerves about the spanking. At least, unlike more pusillanimous productions, the director, Ray Jivoff, didn’t cut it out: he recognized that it was ‘hard-baked’ into the show as part of an escalating sequence of progressively more unprofessional tit-for-tat behavior by Fred and Lilli, meaning it couldn’t be removed and had to take place onstage. But he also accepted the view that in itself it is an especially problematic moment, and tried to defuse it in the way it was staged. Here’s his version:

Repeat for emphasis: this is the spanking scene, not the later wedding scene when Petruchio carries off Kate over his shoulder. The objective was to put Lilli into a position where she could hit back at the same time as she was being spanked: OTS allows her to reach his rear end just as much as it lets him reach hers, so the thing can be ‘balanced’ in mutuality. The bespoke synopsis in the program makes it explicit:

Fred steps out of the play and throws Lilli over his shoulder, carrying her offstage as he spanks her and she spanks him.

At least they were trying, but of course, they’d totally missed the point that the spanking is his affront against her, and that it gets balanced by hers against him before and after. And as a result the production also painted itself into a corner and wound up having to change the wedding scene to avoid a duplication of business, meaning Kate was carried off like this:

It’s just not the same! But at least we can award points not only for rightly keeping the spanking onstage in a difficult climate, but also for the way the aftermath was presented, with Lilli’s phone call to tell her military beau what happened. Most productions have her upright and rubbing her rear, but in Milwaukee there was absolutely no doubt whatsoever that Miss Vanessi couldn’t sit down:

Apparently untroubled by American neuroses, Europe carried on regardless. June 28 saw the opening of a production at the Eutin theater festival in Germany, with Peter Bording and Patricia Hodell. It ran for two months, closing on August 24. And quite clearly nobody (with the probable exception of Miss Lilli Vanessi) was embarrassed by the spanking scene:

In this Bulgarian production, which opened in Burgas Opera September 4, Marco Apostolov’s Fred chose a less compromising angle for the spanking of Edelina Kaneva’s Lilli:

November 5-9 saw a production by Our Lady’s Musical Society in Motherwell, Scotland:

And later that month, from November 21 through 24, here are husband and wife Tony and Angela Lowe in the production by Brussels Light Opera Company:

In December, in the south of France, here’s Fred caught in the act of raising Miss Vanessi’s skirt:

And on the very last day of the year, KMK opened at Theater Stralsund in Germany. Patricia Hodell returned to the role she had played in Eutin during the summer, and her Fred was Christian Alexander Muller. Here they are in rehearsal, trying the spanking scene one way…

and another:

But all of that doesn’t overturn the general sense that 2019 was a relatively disappointing year for KMK spanking. So let’s get a more balanced perspective by considering the fortunes of the spankingless Broadway revival with Kelli O’Hara, which began previews on February 14, officially opened a month later and closed June 30 – a run of less than five months overall, outstripped by almost every previous major revival and paltry compared with the 1077 performances of the original 1948-52 Broadway production, or the 881 (plus previews) of the revised 1999-2001 version. On the whole, the critics were underwhelmed, and although those connected with the show have tried to spin it as award-nominated, largely on the basis of four Tony nominations, the truth is that none of those four translated into a win, and the nomination for Best Revival of a Musical was less an accolade than an inevitability in view of the fact that Broadway saw only one other musical revival that year, Daniel Fish’s edgy version of Oklahoma! (which won, deservedly). This bowdlerized Kiss Me Kate was not so much award-nominated as award-losing. It would be ludicrously tunnel-visioned to suggest that was simply because they removed the spanking, but it is fair to say that Amanda Green’s overall efforts to sanitize the book were not felicitous, and deserve no praise.

Even so, it is sad to have to end with the observation that we can expect more of the same in years to come. Towards the end of 2019, a spring 2020 production at the University of Virginia pre-announced itself as paying ‘homage to the iconic Cole Porter show while also reimagining it for a modern audience’, and you can guess what that likely means for our favorite scene. It looks as if we remain stuck with the notion that Kiss Me Kate is not just a play to be performed (or else left in the historical archive), that it is also a problem that must be solved for the sake of twenty-first-century theatergoers who are presumed to have narrower minds than their parents and grandparents. Hopefully at least some modern audiences, especially in the more genuinely liberal and open-minded countries of Europe, will conversely remain stuck with, and so have the opportunity to enjoy, the spanking scene.

Photographer of the Week: Glamzoom

Glamzoom is the soubriquet of a photographer who works in Hämeenlinna, Finland. He seems mainly interested in photographing people, and the particular person he has photographed most relevantly, in 2016, is Minna Löppönen:

Now let’s try it with the dress off…

There’s one thing about shooting in an amusement venue like this: you never know who you’ll meet.

Some people find clowns scary – and with good reason!

Bad luck, Minna!

If you are interested in Glamzoom’s work, please visit his online portfolio.

The Flaxton Bot

There’s a strange moment in the British junior mystery series The Flaxton Boys, made in 1971 but set in 1928. It concerns Mary Porter, played by Heather Page, the pretty young keeper of the village shop and post office.

As the scene begins, she is up a ladder, dusting shelves and apparently ignoring a patient but elderly customer, played by Arnold Ridley (best remembered as Private Godfrey in the greatest of all British sitcoms, Dad’s Army). But what she’s actually doing is wiggling her bottom – and it goes on for ages.

In case there’s any doubt about what’s intended, the shot then cuts to a close-up: the screen is filled with that area of her anatomy!

Her sweetheart (Victor Winding) comes into the shop, picks up a hairbrush that happens to be lying on the counter, gives a rakish look at Ridley, then reaches out and whacks her gyrating rear – which is unfortunately just out of frame, though at least the smack! is clearly audible.

Then he puts the brush in Ridley’s hands and hides below counter level so that, just for a moment, the old man gets the blame. You can watch the scene here.

The Flaxton Boys is not without its share of merry japes, but this one is oddly inconsistent with the series’ overall tone: the show is about the adventures of two schoolboys, whereas this is a bit of mild, light-hearted sexual play between adults. It is also a character moment completely unconnected with the plot. And the circumstantial set-up is somewhat contrived: why is she doing the dusting, at such length, when there’s a customer waiting to be served, and what is the hairbrush doing on the counter of a grocery store and post office? And that brings us to the strangest thing of all: why use a hairbrush at all when he could just do it with his hand?

Partly, of course, it sets up, and serves as focus for, the comedy moment of misdirection onto Arnold Ridley, who really has no other reason to be in the scene. But it also raises another, more complex issue that we shall be considering at greater length in the coming weeks.

More Laure

Laure & Jacques 1967

You wait patiently to track down the television production of Laure et les Jacques… and then, like buses, two come along at once!

We already knew about the production shown in France on December 12, 1967, with the original stage Laure, Geneviève Fontanel, getting spanked by a new Jacques, Bernard Fresson; we have seen on-set photos of the spanking in rehearsal and in full costume. One thing that isn’t obvious from the latter, but which emerges forcefully from the video, is how completely Jaques has ripped off Laure’s dress: in the stage version, he only tears off the top half, but on television, the whole garment comes off leaving her in a lacy mini-slip, with the pleasing consequence that her black panties become visible in the course of the spanking.

It now emerges that this wasn’t the first television production of Gabriel Arout’s play: the Norwegians got in first with a production shown on May 23 the same year. The play was retitled Skilsmissefeber (Divorce Fever), and starred Inge Marie Andersen as Lolo and Henki Kolstad as the relevant Jacques. Here they are performing the key scene:

For my money, the French production is better staged and shot, but in Norway the spanking is longer (14 slaps, compared with 8 in France). And of course it’s invidious to compare a very good spanking scene with an outstanding one, especially when we don’t have to choose between them: you can see the Norwegian production here, and you can download the French production here for a very modest price. Happy viewing!