2014 was a very good year for Stargayzing, both in terms of growing its readership—it doubled—but also (I hope), in terms of the quality of its writing. In addition to regular pop culture commentary here, I also began contributing to the Huffington Post, which has given Stargayzing the opportunity to reach an expanded audience (shout out to my friend Christopher Rudolph for facilitating this happy development). A recent HuffPo piece is a re-written version of My Worst Audition Ever? Or, The Danger of Playing Paddle Ball, Chewing Gum, and Singing “We Built This City” Simultaneously.
I historically take January off to recharge my creative batteries and 2015 will be no different. Along with the groundhog, Stargayzing will return on February 1, but before I jet, I want to leave you with a year-end list: The Top 20 Pieces of 2014. During the break Stargayzing will still be active on Twitter and Facebook, because to completely disconnect is social media suicide.
So as 2014 winds down, all of us at Stargayzing—or, in other words, me—would like to take a moment to extend our sincere best wishes to all of you for a happy and healthy 2015. As always, let’s take a moment to remember the Stargayzing motto from the great Oscar Wilde: “We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.”
Stargayzing Top 20 Pieces of 2014
When my mother and I visited Israel, I figured things would be too serious to provide me with material. I was wrong. As Nora Ephron’s mother said, “Everything is copy.”
Since I interviewed Bridget earlier in the year, her star has continued to ascend. She released an album called Pound It with her band The Tender Moments and I’ve just learned that she will star in her own Comedy Central special in 2015. Keep your eyes on Miss Everett.
This is the story that put me on the radar of James Gavin. At the time he was writing his hypnotic biography of one of the all time vocal greats, Miss Peggy Lee. The story sketched out in this piece wound up in the book and we ended up becoming very good friends. (I also enjoyed interviewing him for the blog upon the occasion of the book’s publication—was also reprinted in HuffoPo.)
When an Eating With the Stars piece does as well as Mr. Stanley’s sprouts, I am often confounded. I wonder, is it an enduring interest in Paul Stanley or a freakish fetish for Brussels sprouts? Oftentimes, the recipes I am certain will be big hits—Angela Lansbury’s Power Loaf comes immediately to mind—often underperform. Who knew that Paul Stanley’s Brussels Sprouts would be as popular as one of KISS’s greatest hits compilations?
This lovely piece by Elisa Casas continues to capture the imagination of readers; it reflects both the resonance of Laurel Canyon at the time of Joni’s residence as well as the enduring appeal of her early music.
Of all the stars we lost in 2014, the deaths of Philip Seymour Hoffman, Robin Williams, and Joan Rivers were most stunning, the obvious difference being that the first two were comparatively so young. The fact that Rivers passing at 81 felt as surprising as it did was a testament to her incredible vitality.
Writer Nancy Balbirer, author of the fantastic memoir Take Your Shirt Off and Cry as well as a frequent contributor to my blog, was lucky enough to have a personal connection to Rivers and kindly shared her thoughts with Stargayzing.
I feel as though I know Corinna Tomrley, who contributed this great piece. We connected through social media and, in true 21st-century style, have become friends without the benefit of ever having seen each other. I guess it’s because we have so much in common: a love of all things kitsch as well as an abiding appreciation for the great divas of show business.
Dr. Tomrley has written several pieces for Stargayzing; here she dissects the strange audio tapes of mid-century gossip columnist Shirley Eder, who spoke (and wrote) out of both sides of her mouth.
It’s hard to add much to the written canon of Barbra. Everything bit of Streisand minutiae has been crab-combed for decades, so imagine my sense of elation and personal mission when I happened upon something completely unique: her heretofore unreported but nonetheless important place in hip hop!
You see, I unearthed a resource that revealed Streisand masters—including some of her best-known hits—have, in fact, been extensively sampled over the years, frequently for below-the-radar mix tapes. Though it took months of painstaking research, I was able to musically illustrate this piece and finally reveal it to the world. Even longtime Streisand A&R man Jay Landers admired my attention to detail; you will too.
I had written a very popular piece in 2013 about self-penned Aretha Franklin songs that everyone should know. As a prolific interpreter of other writer’s songs, I was pleased to come up with a companion piece devoted to significant Franklin cover versions. The fact that this coincided with the release of her Aretha Franklin Sings The Great Diva Classics was a nice touch.
One of the nice things about my extensive collection of celebrity recipes is that, like a dash of salt, I can throw them into practically anything I’m writing about. Here, a story about my childhood fixation with “The Fonz” comes with an enticing recipe for Winkler’s steak broiled in beer.
I’m in Los Angeles at least once a year and I never fail to be captivated by the Hollywood Walk of Fame, specifically how it embodies the sadly ephemeral nature of stardom. Who are the forgotten people that get literally stepped on all day as tourists search for more familiar names? The answer, of course, is that they were once the household names of their day; a cautionary tale if ever there was one.
In this second edition, Stargayzing rescues ten more Hollywood names from obscurity.
By far the most terrible thing that happened all year was the loss of my beloved Brussels Griffon Oscar to congestive heart failure. The day after he died, I sat with a broken heart and wrote this piece, which must have resonated with many people who have experienced the intensity of this particular kind of bereavement.
God only knows why this awful-sounding recipe attained such high metrics, or maybe that is why. I mean who would want to eat a tofu cheesecake? In any event, I was thrilled and perplexed throughout the year when, seemingly out of nowhere, the Toni Braxton Tofu Cheesecake repeatedly popped up as a “most popular piece.” It’s just another sad cheesecake racking my brain like crazy.
As a twenty plus year record business “survivor,” I love writing these very personal lists of songs that should have been hits. As the pop music landscape gets ever more congested, it seems like there are only more songs that fall between the cracks. This augurs well for continuing this popular Stargayzing feature, but less well for pop music in general.
I wrote this piece in writer Sarah Saffian’s memoir class at Sarah Lawrence earlier this year but held it back until I turned fifty in November. Writing this piece was extremely difficult, but not nearly as difficult as the ramp-up to the milestone birthday itself. Once it passed, I felt immediately better—like I’d gotten over the flu.
This exclusive interview seems to be a perennial for the blog. I knew it would do well but I didn’t know that thousands of people would read it. Interviewing Jason was particularly gratifying and a bit challenging because we have been friends for so many years (nearly thirty).
In the months since I originally published the interview, Jason Gould has travelled the world on tour with his mom and proven beyond a doubt that a major recording career is his for the asking. I’m very proud of him and highly recommend his debut EP.
I love Quentin Crisp’s writing about Hollywood and have shared several of his insightful pieces, including short, pithy essays about Mae West and Joan Crawford. Why his piece about Jean Harlow (a great talent but certainly the least well-remembered of the three actresses) is by far the most popular, is a wonderful mystery.
I knew this was quite a yarn when I was living it and I knew again when I was writing it. I doubt my piece about Michael Jackson would be quite this popular if he hadn’t died; perhaps my story has benefited from the same sales spike as his music catalogue, only without the former’s attendant ability to mint money. Instead of checks I get nasty comments from readers who simply don’t want to believe anything negative about their icon and cleave to the version of the facts that most comfort them psychologically. I guess that’s what idols are for. To me, he was just another preternaturally gifted but deeply damaged casualty of fame; a show business trope at least as old as the Hollywood sign.
Memories are short and selective: does anyone even remember that no one uttered a kind word about this man for the last ten years of his life?
Oh, the controversy! What is essentially a selective list of 1940s-era hustler Scotty Bowers’ sexual assignations, culled from his autobiography Full Service, appears to be endlessly appealing to readers all over the world. The lesson, apparently, is that if I really wanted to make a living from the blog I should confine my writing to endless variations on the theme of “Who is Gay in Hollywood,” with the one exception being…
…”Who is Dead in Hollywood?” Or, to put a more positive spin on it, “Who is Still Alive?” The only thing that seems to fascinate readers more than sexual preference is death. Note to self: in 2015 write more about dead gay people in Hollywood.
You may also enjoy these popular pieces from 2014: