Thursday, April 16, 2015

The Nethercutt Collection: The House That Merle Norman Cosmetics Built

Everyone's house has a smell.  Frustratingly, it is nearly impossible to distinguish the fragrance of one's own home because years of living in a particular aroma leave the olfactory senses distinctly immune (finally putting to rest the old saying that has been haunting me my entire life, "He who smelt it, dealt it").  As a child, I was especially concerned with the different smells of houses.  One of my childhood friends' homes smelled like a perpetual batch of buttery croissants was freshly baking.  Another's home smelled of wheat grass and sandalwood.  Yet another's home had the crisp and comforting smell of chlorine; his was the "cool" house featuring an architect-designed swimming pool with waterfall.  Having spent a good part of my childhood around families of much greater means than mine, I always assumed that if rich houses smelled rich, then our tidy but modest home must have smelled of festering bologna and day-old diapers.  Years of neurotic nose-blindness were laid to waste one fateful day when I walked into a "fancy" neighbor's home and was immediately assaulted by the stench of stone-cold goat urine.  Stale.  As one is loath to find a goat within the suburbs of Southern California, I committed each subsequent trip across their threshold to full-bloodhound mode, sniffing out the fetid source of the home's signature scent.  For reasons inexplicable, I always suspected their ancient family Bible, haughtily perched in the same location, silently bragging about the baptisms and marriages of Mayflower descendants and a commitment to Christian idealism.  I still don't know if that was the origin but I now know that the Bible was probably purchased at auction and that people of independent means can often smell like the product of incontinent "weens."  Yes, money needn't necessarily equate to the perfume of prosperity.

To wit, when passing through the bas-relief doors of solid brass into the
house that Merle Norman Cosmetics built, one is greeted by the rather
plebeian, if not entirely unpleasant, aroma of axle grease and rubber tires.

To adulterate Fats Waller's famous quote for my own pun-ny benefit, "One never 'nose,' do one?"  Nevertheless, while circling the soaring marble columns, taking in the grandeur of a mirrored, recreation deco-era auto palace filled with beautifully-restored antique automobiles lit by glittering chandeliers, one cannot escape the distinct whiff of wealth.  Started by Mrs. Merle Nethercutt Norman in the 1920s, the eponymous cosmetics company (currently helmed by her great-nephew) has, over the past nine decades, amassed a world-class collection of rarities, featuring priceless cars and automated music machines.  After many seasons of gathering dust on the wacky tacky adventure list, The Nethercutt Collection finally made its way to the top, happily finding us in sunny Sylmar, CA.

Housed behind the windowless edifice of a monolithic, late-'60s commercial building, the Nethercutt Collection was officially started by Norman's successor, nephew J.B Nethercutt.  His passion for collecting, restoring, and entering historically-significant automobiles into competition has been transformed from a hobby into a slightly-obscure but must-see destination for car enthusiasts, history buffs, and high-class hoarders everywhere.  Open to the public since 1971, the collection contains sports cars, executive sedans, luxury touring cars, roadsters with rumble seats, and even an Isotta-Fraschini.  "Have you ever heard of Isotta Fraschini?"   

I fell for the tonal stripes (a stock option) on the 1930 Ruxton in a big way!

One of the first electric cars

Besides an insipid fascination with things that are fast and shiny, Mr. Tiny is not a car guy - but the Nethercutt might have changed that.  In spite of the numerous Concours titles the Nethercutts have won for their amazing 1920s-30s automobiles, they are no snobs when it comes to vehicles of all makes and models.

It didn't matter that I was bigger than this four-seater Vespa,
I was in love with a pretty little surrey with the fringe on the top!

And I could never turn my nose up at a customized '79 lowrider Lincoln!

What we saw on the first floors of the collection would have been enough to keep our imaginations quite busy.  To see all of the crown jewels, however, one must venture onward and upward!

The landing of the grand staircase is home to the simultaneous-recording
grand piano on which George Gershwin played/recorded "Rhapsody in Blue."
It was a bit thrilling to be accompanied by Mr. Gershwin as we ogled Maybachs,
and Daimlers, and Rolls-Royces.

The uppermost floor of the collection, "Cloud 99," is accessed via the "Stairway to the Stars."
The one-and-one-half spiral staircase is decorated with gilt sconces and a swirling music
staff that is an actual transcription of the well-known song - the Nethercutt's favorite. 

Cloud 99 is a grand salon used for special events and corporate entertaining.  The bulk of the room is open, the walls lined with an unrivaled collection of nickelodeons and orchestrions (completely animated music machines that briefly substituted for live bands in beer gardens, restaurants, and dance halls before the introduction of the jukebox). 

The floor is covered by thousands of square-feet of green, hand-tufted
carpet with sculpted flowers, meant to evoke a field of wild flowers.

A large, oval-shaped dining room features large mirrors at either end, creating and infinite reflection of both the diners and the antique, crystal chandeliers.  The ceiling of that dining room is adorned with Classical frescoes in the style of Michelangelo.  Studying the heavenly subjects, a few faces stand out amongst the seraphim.

The J.B. Nethercutt's and their cherubic children!
Isn't this the best?!?!!  Sometimes having more money than you know what to do with is an AMAZING thing!!!

Whilst on Cloud 99, visitors are treated to demonstrations of the nickelodeons, orchestrions, and the mighty Wurlitzer organ (one of the largest in the world).  Understandably, video recording was strictly prohibited; oddly enough, I was one of the few people who obeyed the rules!

A small fraction of the organ's smallest pipes, is dramatically lit during the performance.

The beautiful, central figure on the largest of the orchestrions.

A primitive, psychedelic light at
the apex of a Wurlitzer Nickelodeon.

By the turn of the 21st Century, the Nethercutt Collection outgrew its home and a new building was constructed across the street, called the Nethercutt Museum, to house the bulk of the automobile collection, a library, and a Edwardian-era, private Pullman car. Each and every one of the cars is operational and is driven on regular rotation; with approximately 150 cars in the collection, I am astonished that they rejected my offer to become a full-time driver!

The Nethercutt Museum

The movie Tucker was a family favorite so it was a delight to see a beautifully-
restored model of the extremely-limited-edition, 1948 car of the same name.

Rudolph Valentino's car!!! 

The car that dreams are made of.
The 1930 Rolls Royce Phantom II Town Car that once
belonged to Hollywood star, Constance Bennett

1937 Bugati

As a lover of miniatures, it was a treat to walk through the Pierce-Arrow Travelodge Trailer,
pulled by a matching Pierce-Arrow, and then find the scale-model of the same in a display case.
The only thing I couldn't understand was the pair of contemporary camping chairs; with so much
time, money, and energy put into the restoration, why couldn't we find some period-appropriate
chairs on eBay?!?!!  

"All Aboard!"
Mr. Tiny at Nethercutt Depot

Representing the golden age of rail travel, the 1912 Pullman private car (pulled by a 1930s engine)
includes multiple bedrooms, bathrooms, a fully-functioning kitchen, a dining room, and parlor.

The Nethercutt collection is so much larger than we could represent here (the hood ornaments alone would take a whole year to catalogue); so, if you've got a free afternoon to "sail away on a lazy daisy petal," then sail on over to the Nethercutt Collection.  Even if the household aroma may be decidedly automotive, the smell of J.B. Nethercutt's success is still very sweet.

"Stairway to the Stars" - Ella Fitzgerald

The Nethercutt Museum & Collection
15151 Bledsoe St
Sylmar, CA


Mr. Tiny

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Crazy Crafty: My Blue Bunny Baby

If I'm not mistaken, Easter is the time for envy, the time for recognizing that the plastic Easter grass is indeed much greener on the other side of the fence - or in this case, the continent.  At least that is how I feel every time I catch a glimpse of the vintage Easter Bunny collection found in the Jersey shore home shared by Jenny & Aaron from Everyday is a Holiday (see here).  One bunny in particular has always caught my eye because I have never seen one in the wilds of Southern California's vast vintage landscape.  In fact, I very rarely see any kind of vintage Easter paraphernalia here, which makes me incredibly suspicious of the heathens by whom I am surrounded.  Setting aside the religious context of the Easter holiday, I think the world is in dire need of more chicks, chocolate eggs, and plush bunnies in that seasonally-specific pastel palette.  The bunny of Jenny's & Aaron's in which I find immeasurable inspiration is one of those crazy, stuffed bunnies with the face of a baby.

It may look even odder than it sounds.
Nevertheless, I want one!
(photo courtesy of Everyday is a Holiday)

The truth is that I covet the entirety of their bunny collection but there is something so equally sweet and disturbing about a baby-faced Easter Bunny that makes it a wacky tacky standout.  I mean, is this thing meant to be a spooky escapee from Dr. Moreau's infamous island or just an angel-faced kid in a costume?  Either way, I loved this human-hare hybrid and wanted one for my very own.  Because I have voluntarily removed myself from the regular activity of vintage "hunting and gathering," however, the acquisition of one such bunny would be relegated to either the unlikelihood of a gift (it's absolutely ages until my next birthday) or to making one myself.  Having gone the angel-faced-kid-in-a-costume route last year, this year it was time to celebrate the Easter season by making a genuine, homemade, blue bunny baby.

It all started with the face.
In cleaning out their 94-year-old garage, my brother and sister-in-law were
unnerved by the feeling that they were being watched.  I think they were
slightly relieved upon finding a cache of vintage, plastic doll faces that they
subsequently exorcised and then gifted to me.  Slightly flummoxed with how
to handle them, I was glad to finally have a project in which I could put at least
one of these little cherubs to good use (stay tuned, I'm sure they'll make a recurring
appearance in future Crazy Crafty projects - creepy clown kiddo, anyone?).

Even though the scant yard of vintage, blue cotton velvet that was too little to make into anything else wasn't quite within the range of traditional Easter hues, I slated it for my own velveteen-type rabbit.  In order to complete my bunny, the only thing I needed to buy was a small amount of blue satin to line the ears.  Have you ever tried to join satin and velvet in the shape of a rabbit ear?  It stinks.  Extremely fiddly in their own distinct way, each material left me ready to pull my hare hair out.  In the end, I was hoppy with the ears' imperfections.

Blue enough for you?
Did you see how sweet and delicate the vintage example of the bunny baby was?
Mine, on the other hand, is as sweet and delicate as a big, electric-blue punch in
the throat.  Even when I am trying to make something simple and lovely, my
wacky tacky instincts beat subtlety into utter submission!

Luckily, I had just enough aqua yarn to eke out a fluffy tail and the crudely-
executed crochet trim around the bunny baby's face (a necessity to disguise
the edges).  The ears are supported by an internal framework of heavy-gauge
floral wire.  In a show of my own surrender to the color story, I selected the blue
background and garden of blue, tissue-paper flowers.  The blue eggs are there
just to prove that, just like brown chickens and brown eggs, blue Easter eggs
come from blue Easter Bunnies. 

While I refuse to turn into one of those people who refers to his collection of inanimate objects as "children," I get such a surge of pride every time I look at the latest addition to the wacky tacky family that I feel like handing out cigars.  If you don't have a bunny baby of your own (or the inclination to make one), consider a lovingly-rendered version of Jenny's & Aaron's bunny baby in the form of a Jumbo, Wood-Mounted "Baby Bunny" Print from the Everyday is a Holiday online store to add some Easter awesomeness to your holiday decor - any holiday.

As a photographic thank you to our pals from Everyday is a Holiday
and in an effort to promote our own brand of cross-crafty, inter-
seasonal understanding, we saddled up our oversized, Christmas 
Dream Pet to give Baby Blue (take that, Knowles-Carter family) a
ride to the big Easter egg hunt.  Everyday really is a holiday!

A Happy, Happy Easter to you and yours, from our funny little bunny!!!

"Funny Little Bunnies" (1934)


Mr. Tiny

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Kitsch-en Kounter: Pink Lemonade Pavlova

It may seem supremely un-wacky tacky, but the fact is that I have a passion for film noir.  I think it is because I am particularly simple-minded, not always understanding the many convolutions of plot but usually able to grasp the concept of good guy and bad.  I rather enjoy the exaggerated stylings of both the fast-paced, slang-ridden dialogue and the crisp, well-tailored clothing and hats (film noir has the best costuming).  As much as it is film noir's biggest cliché, I am nevertheless amused when characters are marked as "hard-boiled."  I would relish the opportunity to be so described.  I couldn't even be described as soft boiled.  At this point, the best I can ever hope for is "poached" - gelatinous, ghostly white, and ultimately, quite runny.

As disgusting as eggs (and their human counterparts) are when pondered too deeply, I can't help but love them.  Over-easy, scrambled, coddled, or fried, I will take an egg just about any way it comes.  When in Japan, we went to a hip pizza joint in Kyoto that served both our pizza and our salad with quivering poached eggs atop, baptized so briefly in boiling water that they appeared to be held together by prayer alone.  Wanting to avoid the nightmare of every international traveler (a raging case of salmonella poisoning), everyone in our party rather coyly ate all the way around the eggs.  Mary said that if she was going to get any kind of food poisoning, she wanted it to come from subpar sushi or contaminated horse meat.  Feeling brave, I finally broke the yolk; the velvety, richly-golden goodness that flowed therefrom blessed every remaining bite of that meal.

Where do baby bunnies come from?
Easter eggs!

Yes, eggs are magical - except for the gross white stringy part.  Because they are so versatile and so symbolic of the Easter season, I wanted to highlight eggs in our Easter Kitsch-en Kounter recipe, using them in two ways that I had never had the temerity to use them before.  I have always wanted to make a Pavlova, that pillowy, '20s-era, meringue confection from New Zealand named for Russia's greatest ballerina, Anna Pavlova.  Given that it is Easter, I thought I'd make the pavlova a pale pink.  Options for filling a pink pavlova are endless but in my best effort to again feature the humble egg, I opted for a thick, rich lemon curd.  I can't tell if it was a good idea to combine two things I'd never made before into one Easter dessert but as in many cases, ignorance can be empowering, if not entirely blissful.

The Pink Lemonade Easter Pavlova
A blissful view this ain't but blissfully delicious it was!!!
There really was no good side from which to take the finished product's photo but I
suppose it is as important to share the ecstasy of victory as well as the agony of defeat.
Fortunately, a bed of dyed-green coconut makes everything better.

For both the crackly, crumbly (and maybe under-baked) pavlova and the smooth, luscious lemon curd I will take full credit.  As I was ad lib-ing a meringue recipe for the pavlova, I thought to myself, "This baking stuff is easy.  I don't know why the experts always make it sound like such an exact science..."  I guess that's because it is.  Removing the pink, lemon-perfumed pavlova from the oven, it looked perfectly puffed and pretty; as it cooled it started to rapidly deflate.  When it came time to assemble it, it started cracking around the edges.  Undeterred, I figured the lemon curd (made with strict adherence to recipe guidelines), the pink mommy & me Easter bunnies, the speckled eggs, and the bed of freshly-mown coconut grass would be enough to disguise its many imperfections.  As delicious as the lemon curd was, its powers to save the pavlova pile-up were quite limited.  As with most Kitsch-en Kounter experiments, it comes down to a matter of the tortoise and the hare; taste reigns supreme, with looks running a very distant second.  Actually, I can't be sure if that makes "taste" the tortoise of the hare...

Thinking that I might get ambitious and make a black & white pavlova as
a tribute to film noir, I went ahead and made a chocolate bunny as well.
Based on the "roaring success" of the pink pavlova, I figured I'd let
sleeping Easter Bunnies lie...especially since their unblinking, beady,
pink eyes kept following me around the room.

Are you making any special recipes for Easter this year?  Have you ever experienced a triumph in making a pavlova?  With a video of the triumphant Anna Pavlova dancing her signature piece, "The Dying Swan" (an accurate reflection of our pavlova), we wish you and yours a very Happy Easter!

"The Dying Swan" - Anna Pavlova


Mr. Tiny

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Hollywood House Hunting: William S. Hart Hacienda

Confession time.  My name is Mr. Tiny and I am an architectural voyeur.  One of my very favorite pastimes is entering homes (mostly lawfully) to see the manner in which people live, to steal decorating ideas, and to exchange whispered bon mots with my companions regarding drapery lengths and furniture placement.  It is a particular pleasure to cross the threshold of historic homes that offer a glimpse into the thoughtful interior architecture from days of yore.  

Given the general consensus, as presented by HGTV and its ilk, I am definitely among the minority who abhors the notion of everyone in my kitchen via an "open concept."  The fact that Mr. Tiny's Kitsch-en Kounter projects are top secret make me appreciate that many older homes offer purposeful distinctions between the living areas and the working areas, adjacent though they may be.  Homes offering such distinctions allow me to imagine myself taking up residence.  After our recent tour of the William S. Hart Ranch & Museum of Newhall, CA, my imagination had me easily installed as lord of the manor or ruler of the ranch, at least! 

"La Loma de los Vientos"
William S. Hart Ranch & Museum - Newhall, CA

The Spanish-Colonial facade of William S. Hart's hill-top manse is slightly misleading in that it perhaps doesn't convey the grandeur befitting one of early Hollywood's greatest film stars.  Born in New York state in the waning days of the Civil War, William S. Hart was a renaissance man whose stardom came as the result of the many careers he tried - including stage acting.  Having once been castmates with legendary film producer, Thomas Ince, Hart was convinced he could move to California and become a star.  By 1925, after seventy pictures (mostly Westerns), Hart was considered Hollywood's undisputed king of the cowboys - with a kingly income to match (he was reputedly making more than Charlie Chaplin).  Life imitated art and in his retirement, Hart selected a large parcel of land in the Santa Clarita Valley on which to live out the wildest of his wild west dreams.

William S. Hart
December 6, 1864 - June 23, 1946

The home may look unprepossessing but at approximately 10,000 square feet, the house became a roomy retreat for Hart and a host of his Hollywood compatriots.  With construction completed in 1927, the Hart Ranch, known as "La Loma de los Vientos," became the primary, and final residence, of Mr. Hart and his sister, Mary Ellen.

The sprawling grounds includes many outbuildings including a bunk house and a watchtower/gatehouse
bearing the Spanish name of the estate; "La Loma de los Vientos" translates to The Hill of the Winds.

Immortalized in oil, Bill Hart and his faithful companion, Fritz the horse.
Fritz was Hollywood's first celebrity horse and is said to have been welcomed
to Hart's star-studded dinner parties.

My favorite parts of the house were the hand-
painted Southwest/Native American motifs. 

The circular foyer with its spectacular, vaulted, wagon-wheel ceiling has an adjacent
powder room that graciously afforded road-weary luminaries a place to freshen up.

The beautiful dining room, the breakfast room, and kitchen

The first floor of the home looked like it was paved in bricks.
In fact, it was thousands of redwood blocks that were set
by repeatedly flooding the floor, swelling and locking the
blocks into place.

Rarely do I walk into a home and think, "I wouldn't change a thing."
The only thing that needed changing in the magnificent, second-floor living room of the Hart house was my tune.

A few of the bedrooms and an all-original bathroom

William S. Hart was so wacky tacky in his heart that he included a
bedroom built especially for his beloved dogs.  Dogs eventually laid
to rest in the...

Dogs Graveyard!!!

More than just a house, more than just a pet cemetery, the museum includes a small feeding area for animals (deer, pigs, cows, chickens), a circa-1910 ranch house, log cabins, and sprawling grounds.


It would be impossible to come to the William S. Hart Ranch & Museum without feeling a bit like Hollywood royalty.  The minute I crossed the threshold of La Loma de los Vientos, I earnestly wished that I could move in on a very permanent basis - the very reason I am always conflicted when estates become county institutions/museums.  Even though I find the least expensive Southern California's real estate to be cost prohibitive, the historic landmark status truly eliminates any possibility of me one day owning the property.  And that's a bummer.  On the other hand, were the Hart Ranch and others like it to remain private properties, jerks like me would never get the chance to wander the grounds and dream.

If, in some bizarre twist of fate, I should ever take up residence at the Hart house,
my only real concern would be the persistent pest problem in the trees.

As well as coveting the house, I will also confess that my maturity level (falling way below developmental guidelines for a thirty-something) encouraged me to laugh every time we saw the historic landmark sign and say, "William Shart Ranch & Museum, more like it."  I really should have been more reverent because the benevolent man who built this house always knew that one day he would want to share it with the world; "When I was making pictures, people gave me their nickels, dimes, and quarters.  When I am gone, I want them to have my home."

Thank you, Mr. Hart!

I guess the takeaway is that if you leave your doors unlocked, chances are you will come home to find Mr. Tiny respectfully admiring your built-ins and definitely, definitely, definitely not trying on your clothes...

William S. Hart Ranch & Museum
24151 Newhall Ave
Newhall, CA


Mr. Tiny

The William S. Hart Ranch & Museum is one of the special venues included in the yearly Santa Clarita Cowboy Festival.  Tiny & Mary are proud to be featured performers at the 2015 festival on Sunday, April 19.  Please visit the festival website for more details.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Crazy Crafty: That's MISTER Potato Head to You!!!

I don't know if "Potato Head" has ever been used as an ethnic slur against the Irish, but I think it is high time that the Irish, and those of us who boast some kind of vague Gaelic heritage (mostly by way of seasonal, marathon viewings of The Quiet Man (1952) and Darby O'Gill and the Little People (1959), claim the term as our own.  An entire corner of the toy industry was founded on transforming the humble potato into a thing of greatness and that, as they say, is no small potatoes!

Invented in 1949, with distribution by the Hasbro toy company beginning in 1952, Mr. Potato Head has been a mainstay of toy store shelves for nearly seventy years.  Right up there with the Easy Bake Oven, old Mister Potato has never experienced a season of famine.  Year after year, the farmers at Potato Head Farms must supply a bumper crop to keep up with perennial demand.  Using the 1949 toy/craft as inspiration, I set forth on our St. Patrick's Day Crazy Crafty!

It was obvious from the image on the front of the original "Mr. Potato Head Funny Face Kit,"
that making Mr. Potato Head a leprechaun was not going to be too big a stretch.

The original Mr. Potato Head Funny Face Kit included only prosthetic appendages and accessories, requiring the use of an actual potato.  Not until 1964 did the kit come complete with the lumpy, plastic potato body, so well known to folks of my generation.  Always one to bring a little vintage wacky tacky stylings to the holiday proceedings, however, I decided to go old school and craft a homemade potato head with only materials I could find around the house - including fresh produce.  While challenging in its own right, finding a picturesque potato would prove to be the easiest part of this holiday craft.

I mean, have you ever sewn shorts for a potato?
Authoring this blog has taken me down some roads of questionable creativity, but this was a first.
The eyes are made of layered buttons.  The hat, ears, nose, glasses, and shoes are made of paper.
The eyebrows and muttonchops are made of unraveled yarn, while the bet is grosgrain ribbon.  The
legs are made of wire wrapped in yarn and the pipe is made of a bamboo skewer, paper, and a cotton
ball.  And who needs arms when you have the luck o' the Irish and the magic of the leprechauns!
I was particularly pleased to be able to use my grandmother's pot as our little leprechaun's pot o' gold!

This potato has eyes!!!
Speaking of eyes, I think I have unwittingly discovered how I want my next pair of specs to look.
Can someone please manufacture these glasses in a size suitable for the world's largest potato head?

Did you ever play with Mr. Potato Head or his lovely wife?  According to Wikipedia, Mr. Potato Head was the first children's toy to advertise on television.  Obviously, the strategy of marketing directly toward children was a winner.  Lo, this many years later, children (and the perpetually childish) continue to play with their food, making funny faces with Mr. Potato Head!

An early commercial for Mr. & Mrs. Potato Head Kits

Happy St. Patrick's Day!!!


Mr. Tiny