The Thomas Crown Affair (1968)

Criminals, Lovers, Sexual Chess Champions. McQueen and Dunaway Style.

Want to make next year’s Valentine’s Day more memorable? Start planning a heist. Not small-time petty theft, but Art heist of the highest order, Monet’s $200 million, San Giorgio Maggiore at Dusk. Once in possession of your art object, act like it’s no big deal. This is sure to turn your partner on and he/she will want to sleep with you immediately. But, instead go play an hour-long game of dirty, naked, one-on-one…chess.

At least, that’s what Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway would have done. In their stylish 1968 film, The Thomas Crown Affair, the dashing millionaire (a million was quite enough back then), played by Steve McQueen, meets his unlikely match, an Insurance Investigator played by the preternaturally sexy Faye Dunaway. The Faye Dunaway character tries to seduce McQueen into giving up details of the heist, but somehow during the ‘investigation’ she gets her heart stolen too. (Or is it the other way around?)

[expand title=”READ +”]But forget the details and lose the plot, this movie (and indeed, this post) is all about style and an impossibly contrived love story. Watch this exquisitely styled film for its luscious cinematography and its Martini mix of flirtation, innuendo and loudly said un-saids. No doubt, a lot the sex happens off-camera. All we get to see is an elaborate and multi-position chess scene, masterfully fore-played by McQueen and Dunaway. So does the guy get the girl or the $200 million painting? Does the girl get her millionaire in bed or into high-security prison? It doesn’t matter, switch off the brain and get all mushy in the name of V-day. We think that love is a crime worth committing, just don’t get caught stealing the Monet.

Text by Howard Collinge- The Unique Creatures 


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The Flower-In-The-Rifle Guy of 1967

Anti-war activist. Master Tactician. Accidental Sartorialist.

The image of the Flower-in-the Rifle-Guy, photographed at a Pentagon ‘Levitation Rally’ in 1967, has become one of the most iconic anti-war images of our time. The young man’s real name is George Harris, an eighteen-year-old actor from New York who got swept up in the real life drama of his time, the Vietnam War.

Sartorially speaking, not only did Harris choose his turtle-neck sweater well, but his carefully placed carnation, deep in the loaded barrel of a Military Policeman’s rifle, had a kind of daring panache that any A-list stylist, then or now, would be proud of. This simple act of defiance was a brilliantly staged peace tactic, taking both the military and the media by surprise. This was Flower Power in action.

Before the idea of ”Flower Power” became synonymous with psychedelic drugs, promiscuous sex and hippies, it was a phrase coined by Beat poet Allen Ginsberg to describe a political movement of passive, non-violent protest. In his November 1965 essay, “How to Make a March/Spectacle”, Ginsberg advocated that protesters should be provided with “masses of flowers” to hand out to policemen, press, politicians and spectators.The use of props like flowers, toys, flags, candy and music were meant to transform anti-war rallies into a form of street theatre, thereby reducing the fear, anger and threat inherent to protests.

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In particular, Ginsberg wanted to counter the “spectre” of the Hells Angels motorcycle gang who not only supported the Vietnam War, but equated war protesters with communists and lazy good-for-nothing bums. Today, people with views like these are part of a gang called Republicans. A word of caution for young people with strong ideals and style: Be careful when poking daisies in the face of heavily armed policemen. In 2012, you’ll be dubbed a terrorist and punched to the ground by several large law enforcers. Worse still, you’ll get tazed in the groin!

We at Unique Creatures have no specific advice on this matter, but we suspect the answer lies in using creativity and boldness in some small, but powerful way. Here’s how some ordinary people were expressing their creativity and boldness in 1967: A guy called Jimi Hendrix used his guitar to mesmerize millions of people into making love and peacing out. A dude called Evel Knievel got angry and jumped over 16 cars on his motorcycle, proving it’s better to be Evel than Evil. And a band called The Beatles released an album called “Magical Mystery Tour,” inspiring millions to go seek…magic and mystery.

Text by Howard Collinge- The Unique Creatures 


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George Plimpton

The Invincible Everywhere Man.

George Plimpton seemed to be everywhere, doing everything, just at the right moment. He was at Bobby Kennedy’s assassination in 1968 and helped wrestle down the killer, Sirhan Sirhan. He was in Norman Mailer’s apartment the night the writer stabbed his wife. He was there when the world’s shortest poem rolled from Muhammed Ali’s smooth tongue: “Me-We”. He was the first to interview Ernest Hemingway on ‘The Art of Writing’. He was a quarterback for the Detroit Lions. He pitched to Willie Mays at Yankee Stadium. He performed as a trapeze artist for the Clyde Beatty-Cole Brothers Circus. He raced across the desert in the grueling Baja 500. He was an extra in Lawrence of Arabia and played a role in the film, Good Will Hunting. He photographed centre-folds for Playboy magazine. He performed with the New York Philharmonic and did a stand-up comedy act at Ceasars Palace. He dated Ava Gardner, Rita Hayworth and Candice Bergen.

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And this was just in his spare time. His more serious occupation was editor-in-chief of The Paris Review, the famous literary magazine, which he co-founded in 1953. The Review published the works of great writers such as EM Forster, Vladimir Nabokov, Ernest Hemingway, Doris Lessing and Iris Murdoch. “George” as he was affectionately known, was also a champion of young writers. “Like probably a hundred other writers, he started my career. I always felt the greatest debt of gratitude,” said Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Jeffrey Eugenides, who recalled that The Paris Review ran excerpts of his first book, The Virgin Suicides.

Plimpton enjoyed a lifetime of making literature out of nonliterary pursuits. He boxed with world champion Archie Moore and lived to write the story. He pitched to Willie Mays at Yankee Stadium and wrote Out of My League. In his book Paper Lion, he documented his punishing stint training with the NFL’s Detroit Lions in 1963. Over his fifty year stint with The Paris Review, Plimpton authored over fifteen books, most which were born out of “participatory journalism”, a method where he put himself into the heart of the action in order to properly write about the subject.

When the writing and editing were finished, “George” would throw the wildest parties at the 72nd St office in New York; a preppy, literary, alcoholic, heterosexual alternative to Andy Warhol’s Studio 54 scene, just a few blocks away.

Plimpton’s true gift was that he would literally try everything, even if he were going to get hurt or humiliated. A 1971 cartoon in The New Yorker shows a cleaning lady on her hands and knees scrubbing an office floor while saying to another one: “I’d like to see George Plimpton do this sometime.” In another cartoon in The New Yorker, a patient looks up at the masked surgeon about to operate on him and asks, “Wait a minute! How do I know you’re not George Plimpton?” A feature in Mad Magazine titled “Some Really Dangerous Jobs for George Plimpton” spotlighted him trying to swim across Lake Erie, strolling through New York’s Times Square in the middle of the night, and spending a day with Jerry Lewis. Perhaps George’s greatest moment was when he appeared in an episode of The Simpsons, “I’m Spelling as Fast as I Can”, as host of the “Spellympics”. Here, the cartoon George attempts to talk Lisa Simpson into losing the spelling bee with the offer of a college scholarship at a Seven Sisters College and a hot plate, claiming “it’s perfect for soup!” George Plimpton, gentleman editor, literary patron and participatory journalist of everything, died in September 2003 at age 76, having lived a thousand splendid lives.

Text by Howard Collinge- The Unique Creatures 


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Tenzing Norgay

The Buddhist Daredevil who climbed the world.

Before the days of big corporate sponsorship and instant Youtube fame, a young Tibetan man of Sherpa origins, Tenzing Norgay, quietly climbed the biggest mutha-fucka mountain of all, Mount Everest. He was driven simply by curiosity, wonder and the friendship of co-climber, Edmund Hillary.

The two men became the first recorded humans to reach the summit of Everest, which may as well have been the moon in those days, given its unfathomable height and physical impossibility. Many had already failed to reach planet earth’s coveted penthouse, including Tenzing himself, who had been employed as a high-altitude porter on several expeditions.

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But it was on May 29, 1963, in dangerously ball-shrinking temperatures, that Tenzing and Hillary literally stepped on top of the world, enjoying 15 minutes of transcendental fame. Only one photo was taken of this historic moment, featuring Tenzing alone. Unfortunately, no picture was taken of Hillary at the summit, as Tenzing didn’t know how to use a camera.

“It has been a long road … From a mountain coolie, a bearer of loads, to a wearer of a coat with rows of medals who is carried about in planes and worries about income tax.”Tenzing Norgay.

Tenzing adjusted to his new ‘famous’ life with grace, yet it was not always easy for him. He had suddenly become a political symbol, which involved him unwittingly in controversies he didn’t understand or care about. He was a simple man who liked and understood life on a simple, straightforward level.

Tenzing Norgay was named by Time Magazine as one of the 100 most influential people of the 20th century.

Text by Howard Collinge- The Unique Creatures 


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Leigh Bowery

The Polysexual Performance artist who shocked London.

As a plump and studious young man growing up in a working-class Australian town, Leigh Bowery was made to feel uncomfortable in his own skin. So it’s probably no coincidence that he spent the rest of his life making others feel uncomfortable in theirs.

He was a walking, talking mass of color and confrontation, wearing the most outrageous costumes wherever he went. He pushed the concepts of body-shape, fashion and art in bold new directions, inspiring a generation of designers and artists, including Alexander McQueen, Vivienne Westwood and The Scissor Sisters. Boy George called him “modern art on legs.” Lucien Freud painted a whole series of nude portraits of him.

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Using his loud, fun and abrasive wit, which matched the size of his body, Bowery shocked his way into London’s nightclub and art scene. He even started the infamous “Taboo” – a club night that became London’s version of Studio 54, only much wilder and without the celebrities – although they came flocking later. For everyone stepping through the doors of Taboo, it was a truly unforgettable experience. Through the late 80s, Bowery was invited to host numerous club nights from New York and Tokyo to Rome.

“The extraordinary thing was that it was never drag – it was really costume,” said William Lieberman, former chairman of 20th Century Art at New York’s Museum of Modern Art. “I mean, he wasn’t trying to imitate or personify anyone else. He was simply creating a new being.”

When Bowery died of an AIDS-related illness on New Year’s Eve 1994, his passing was marked by sizable obituaries in The New York Times, all the London broadsheets and, weirdly (but aptly), a large number of Japanese newspapers. Since then he has been celebrated in three books (two biographies and a collection of photographs); in a documentary movie by American filmmaker Charles Atlas and in a music video for U2, as part of their PopMart tour.

Text by Howard Collinge- The Unique Creatures 


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Nikola Tesla

Hyper-Electric Mystic Genius.

Nikola Tesla was one of those electrifying intellects whose radical inventions placed him dangerously on the precipice between freakish scientific mind and weirdo madman mystic. But despite being largely unknown in popular culture, he is behind most of the technology that surrounds us today.

The Croatian-born engineer, who spoke eight languages and memorized books of poetry, almost single-handedly developed technology that harnessed the power of electricity for household use, inventing things like electrical generators, FM radio, remote control, robots, spark plugs, fluorescent lights and giant Frankenstein-esque machines that shoot lightning bolts through the air.

He had an other-worldly ability to visualize the most complex machines – performing advanced calculus and physics equations in his head whilst lesser geniuses fumbled with chalk. But his visionary thinking clashed with the harsh world of businessmen and commerce. Most of his revolutionary ideas were stolen or manipulated from him, chiefly by Thomas Edison, who made vast fortunes from Tesla’s ideas, leaving Tesla struggling and poor most of his life. (Yes, the light-bulb was Tesla’s idea).

Tesla’s inventions were so far ahead of his time that many thought he was insane. He once lit 200 light bulbs from a power source 26 miles away, freaking out the sharpest scientific minds of the day. However his eccentric reputation was partially warranted. Tesla often claimed to receive cosmic visions in the middle of the night, he spoke to pigeons (only the urbane ones) and occasionally thought he was receiving electromagnetic signals from extraterrestrials on Mars. There’ll be an App for that soon and we won’t even blink an eyelid.

When Tesla died in 1943, J. Edgar Hoover aided by the FBI confiscated all of his personal paperwork and indecipherable scribbles, locking them away, just to be safe. Despite holding 700 patents at the time of his death and developing technology that would lead to the second industrial revolution, Tesla died penniless and alone in a small hotel room in New York City.

Text by Howard Collinge- The Unique Creatures 

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She melted the man who melted the clocks.

It is a rare woman who can inspire a man to paint himself blue, stick red geraniums over his ears or smear his body with goat dung and fish glue. But Gala Dali was able to drive Salvador to many unusual activities, most of which became art.

“I don’t do drugs. I am drugs.” Salvador Dali

Gala may have been the consummate artist groupie (she was first married to French Poet Paul Eluard and had a lusty affair with Max Ernst) but she was unquestionably the love of Salvador Dali’s life, spending 53 of his 84 years with him. She was the creative muse that set him free, but also the iron nail that pinned down his floating surrealist world.

“I name my wife: Gala, Galushka, Gradiva; Oliva, for the oval shape of her face and the colour of her skin; Oliveta, diminutive for Olive; and its delirious derivatives Oliueta, Oriueta, Buribeta, Buriueteta, Suliueta, Solibubuleta, Oliburibuleta, Ciueta, Liueta. I also call her Lionette, because when she gets angry she roars like the  Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer lion”

Salvador Dali

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Whilst Dali was busy painting melting clocks, Gala was out shopping for young lovers, most of whom Dali approved himself. (Dali was generally afraid of sex and was a practitioner of candaulism). A feisty character, Gala kept up her young lovers well into her 70s.

“There is a great mystery around her,” observes art historian Elliott King. “She let Dali be the showman — but she was the person behind the screen, making a lot of the decisions.”

Even at 87, the fiery Gala punched Dali in the face after a heated argument, giving him a black eye. Her impact was real and lasting.

In 1982, Gala died at the age of 88. Her death devastated Dali and his health declined rapidly until his own death only four years later.

Text by Howard Collinge- The Unique Creatures 


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Almodovar Women

A Technicolor palette of emotion and complexity

She’s a Prada-wearing Nun who deals drugs. She’s a bullfighter. She’s a girl in a coma who gets pregnant. She’s a struggling single mother; a woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown; a hostage and a sex toy. She’s a fighter. She’s a daughter. She’s a prostitute. She is feisty, passionate, vulnerable and earthy.

Pedro Almodóvar’s career as a director has been inextricably linked to his portrayal of women. His representations of women have led to accusations of misogyny, but also admiration for his deep understanding of women. These two distinct labels have been applied to the award-winning Spanish filmmaker throughout his career and while seemingly at odds with one another, both hold some truth.

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“Yes, women are stronger than us. They face more directly the problems that confront them, and for that reason they are much more spectacular to talk about. I don’t know why I am more interested in women, because I don’t go to any psychiatrists, and I don’t want to know why”.

What Almodóvar Women have in common, apart from their characterization as victim or martyr or heroine, is that they are survivors. They struggle to overcome tragedies and adversities that often involve the men in their lives and a betrayal of some kind. A key Almodovar Women trait is that they overcome hardships together, forming close bonds and a deep reliance on each other, a collective force against the harshness of life.

As Pedro Almodovar said of his own upbringing, “It was the women in our house who were in the saddle. If men are the gods, women are not only the presidents, but all the ministers of the government”.

Text by Howard Collinge- The Unique Creatures 


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Peter Beard

The Half Tarzan, Half Poet who captured Africa.

Peter Beard, the original wild-man-poet-adventurer, has been as fearless roaming the nightclubs of Manhattan as the plains of Kenya. He liked to surround himself with dangerous things. Sometimes pretty women, drugs and booze; other times lions, guns and trampling elephants. For the son of a wealthy industrialist, this was not the typical career choice.

Beard’s dashing spirit inspired the likes of Mick Jagger, Salvador Dali and Francis Bacon. Andy Warhol, his friend and neighbor (in Montauk, NY) once described Beard as:

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“One of the most fascinating men in the world…he’s like a modern Tarzan. He jumps in and out of the snake pit he keeps at his home. He cuts himself and paints with the blood. He wears sandals and no socks in the middle of Winter. He lived in a parked car on 13th Street for six months. He moved when he woke up and found a transvestite sleeping on the roof.”

Even though this Tarzan had many Janes, the one who stirred the loincloth of his youth was the brilliant Danish author Karen Blixen (aka Isak Denison) who wrote Out of Africa. The novel inspired Beard to travel to Africa in the late 50s, barefoot and penniless, but it was the beginning of a creative period that would inspire his magnificent journals and artworks.

Beard’s defining secret may be that he does not care (or know) what the world thinks of him. He is a photographer who has contempt for photography, a diarist whose words are pictures and his pictures, words. He is a city playboy who only feels at home in the wild. He is a trust-fund kid who was perennially broke.

 Text by Howard Collinge- The Unique Creatures 


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