Robson takes Li out of U.S. Open

Not content to just take out three-time U.S. Open champion Kim Clijsters, 18-year-old British star Laura Robson upset Cincinnati champion Li Na today in the second round in Flushing Meadows. Robson, showing no sign of nerves at any time, beat Li 6-4, 6-7, 6-2. It was a big victory--in its own way--more significant than Robson's defeat of Clijsters. Li, after her Cincinnati win, appeared poised to make a full run at the U.S. Open, and then--just like that--she was out of the tournament in the second round.

Robson used her big lefty serve to her advantage, and she put a lot of racquet speed on her forehand in order to destabilize the forehand-heavy Li. Robson broke Li six times and played fearlessly throughout the match. Her next opponent will be defending champion Sam Stosur, who defeated Varvara Lepchenko today. To quote Robson: "I have had a fairly tough draw, haven't I?"

Robson was easily the big story of the day, but also of note is Nadia Petrova's defeat of Lucie Safarova. Petrova had first and second serve percentages of 80 and 54, and she hit 10 aces. Her next opponent will be 2006 champion Maria Sharapova, who put an end of Mallory Burdette's U.S. Open run.

Marion Bartoli defeated countrywoman Kristina Mladenovic in straight sets, and the third Frenchwoman left in the draw--Pauline Parmentier--was defeated by Petra Kvitova. Bartoli and Kvitova will play each other in the round of 16. Also winning was Anna Tatishvili, who defeated Mandy Minella 7-5, 6-0.

Top seed Victoria Azarenka had an easy time of it in her night match. She defeated Zheng Jie 6-0, 6- 1 in just under and hour. Azarenka has lost only six games in three rounds.

5th seeds Vania King and Yaroslava Shvedova  had a real fight on their hands in doubles today, but they finally prevailed 6-7, 7-6, 6-4 against Nina Bratchikova and Alexandra Panova. Serena Williams advanced, as did top seeds Liezel Huber and Lisa Raymond. 2nd seeds Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci also went through to the next round, as did 3rd seeds Andrea Hlavackova and Lucie Hradecka.

In mixed doubles, Kim Clijsters and Bob Bryan advanced to the second round, as did top seeds Liezel Huber and Max Mirnyi.

A note to readers: I'm heading back to Louisiana in the morning and won't get to watch the morning matches, but all should be well by the afternoon. There was terrible flooding from Hurricane Isaac in several of the towns near us, especially in a town that got the spill from a levee breach (haven't we heard that before?). Our parish (county, to normal people) has been under a curfew, and people on the east side have had to boil their drinking water. Beaches on the Mississippi Gulf Coast have been closed because of debris and concern about water quality. Overall, it's a mess, but services have already been restored to my neighborhood.

This is just how it is in south Louisiana. As August comes to a close, you check the U.S. Open television schedule, print your draw sheet, and flee to Alabama.

U.S. Open--what they said

It's been an extremely busy summer, and I have still managed to stay injury‑free. That's a big thing.
Laura Robson

I think she gave up chasing balls, and now she is chasing balls.
Virginia Wade, referring to Laura Robson

Will you go home at this point? What are you going to add to your arsenal so you can move to the next round?
Of course I have to take free days off. I can't go back to tennis court tomorrow. I mean, this should be killing me....
Li Na

I still wake up in the morning and feel like I can be better and motivated. I have energy and I'm healthy. What else can you ask for?
Maria Sharapova

I don't see how I can not be relaxed.
Laura Robson

So, yes, friends, Maria Sanchez and I got a win at the United States Open on Wednesday. Sounds more epic when you spell it out.
Irina Falconi

...Is it good to get a lefty before another lefty?
Yeah, I think that's probably a good thing. You never know when you're going to run into them.
Samantha Stosur

You have Wayne Rooney tweeting about you.

He called me Robinson. I saw that when I was stretching.
He blamed it on predictive text.
Can you blame that on predictive text, though? I'm not so sure.
Laura Robson

I was watching the junior girl qualifiers and boy qualifiers. I saw a lot more serve and volley players than before. We see Federer coming in more to end points quicker. Is that something we will see in the future?
Not from me.
Maria Sharapova

Friday cat blogging--waiting for Isaac edition

Kerber wins drawn-out battle against Venus Williams at U.S. Open

During the first set of her second round U.S. Open match against Angelique Kerber, Venus Williams simply could not hit two successful overheads in succession. Over and over, she smashed balls into the net. It didn't help that she got in only eight of 22 first serves, and that she double-faulted five times. Making only seven unforced errors to Williams' 15, Kerber won the set 6-2.

The second set was a different story, though it took Williams four games to hold serve for the first time in the match. Williams continued to make a lot of unforced errors, but she served better, and she also enjoyed a huge swell of crowd support. Kerber, in the meantime, started thoughtlessly--and too safely--hitting the ball back to an increasingly dangerous Williams.  Striking hard and coming forward aggressively, Williams overcame an obviously rattled Kerber (we've seen that before) and broke the German when she served for the match at 5-4. Williams would go on to win the set 7-5.

Kerber's funk extended to the third set. In fact, when Williams went up 4-2, Kerber looked so disgusted, it was hard to imagine that she could make any kind of comeback. But in the seventh game, the German player hit a winning stretch volley to get to break point. She waved her finger in the air, demanding that the crowd give her at least a little bit of affection, and then she smiled. It was a moment of relief for Kerber, and probably for most viewers. When Kerber gets down on herself, it's painful--but nevertheless interesting--to watch her.

The 6th seed didn't have an easy time holding after she made that stunning volley, but she did hold. That volley would prove to be a turning point. Kerber fought her way to 4-all, and broke Williams at 5-all. She then won the set 7-5, and advanced to the third round. Williams became error-prone toward the end of the match, and that was certainly part of the story, but the other part was that Kerber started returning with more forethought and authority.

That match lasted two hours and 45 minutes, and the good news for Williams fans is that Williams appeared to be physically comfortable through the entire thing.

Kerber hit only 20 winners to Williams' 43, but the German player also made only 25 unforced errors to Williams' 60. Williams double-faulted 16 times, and seven of those double faults occurred in the final set. Her game just wasn't clean enough to overcome the steady Kerber. But the game was there, and the endurance was there, and that's really good news, when we consider all that Williams has been through in the past several years.

Kerber has become dangerously proficient at winning three-set matches (19 of 22). She showed tonight that she can also overcome some really negative emotions. But she can't afford to continue to lose her edge in hitting her groundstrokes, like she did tonight for a number of games.

We've seen only two rounds, and Kerber is the last German standing. Kerber's next opponent is Olga Govortsova. If she gets past her, as expected, she'll probably have to deal with Sara Errani, and that could be interesting. Dominika Cibulkova and Agnieszka Radwanska are in Kerber's quarter, too, as are Roberta Vinci and Jelena Jankovic--a good mix of baseline stalwarts and tricky all-court players.

U.S. Open--what they said

You haven't seen the last of me yet.
Serena Williams

Anyone out there who's ever choked to death at a match at the club, you know how Sloane Stephens is feeling right now.
Pam Shriver

She's very bubbly, that's for sure. She's very happy and upbeat. I do see myself a little bit. But I think over the years I calmed a little bit. 
Ana Ivanovic, answering a question about Sloane Stephens

What did you like about your game today?
Did you see it?
Serena Williams

This is tennis, so anything can change very quickly.
Agnieszka Radwanska

Pironkova's posed there, hand on her hip--the international sign for "I'm extremely disgusted."
Kristen Bartel

Cibulkova and Vinci among 4th day winners at U.S. Open

I was disappointed to see Johanna Konta go out today, especially since she served for the match. But Olga Govortsova (glad to see her do well, too) prevailed, 2-6, 6-2, 7-5. Bojana Jovanovski showed off some of her best tennis against 13th seed Dominika Cibulkova, but Cibulkova won in two tiebreak sets. That was a really good match. I also really enjoyed watching Lara Arruabarrena-Vecino, who lost to Jelena Jankovic.

Not all of the matches were available for me to watch, but most of them were, and the one I enjoyed most was the match played between Yaroslava Shvedova and Roberta Vinci. On paper, it was a battle of two contrasting styles--only Shvedova has more touch than one might think, and Vinci can hang in during a baseline rally when she has to.

Shvedova dominated the first set, and won it 6-3. Vinci took over in the second, and won it 7-5. The final set was up for grabs, and was exciting to watch. There were five breaks of serve in that set alone (12 in all), and--in the end--it was Vinci who held it together mentally, and won 7-5.

The match had everything, including power, spin, trickery, and ongoing forays to the net by both opponents. It was a pleasure to watch.

Other matches weren't such a pleasure to watch. Agnieszka Radwanska looked lost in her first set against Carla Suarez Navarro. Down a set and a break, Radwanska suddenly cracked a forehand that seemed to turn on a switch in her head. From then on, it was all about Radwanska, who won eleven straight games. She defeated Suarez Navarro 4-6,  6-3, 6-0.

Sloane Stephens had a time of it, trying to close out Tatjana Malek, who didn't give Stephens the kind of baseline pace she likes. It took Stephens three sets to win, and there were many wobbles along the way. Serena Williams beat Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez, but the Spaniard's trickery did wear Williams' patience a bit. Sara Errani ran over Vera Dushevina, who won only one game.

And--look who's in the third round of the U.S. Open: Tsvetana Pironkova! Pironkova, as always, went from brilliant to baffled and back again throughout her match against Ayumi Morita. When her serve was working, Pironkova was very dominant, but then it would stop working, and she would get into trouble. She had some help today from Morita, however, who wound up double-faulting the match away. Pironkova defeated Morita 7-5, 6-2.

I really like the U.S. Open Lacoste dress; my favorite is the gray, but I like them all. And I like Venus's dress (the design looks like roses on a trellis) a lot, though I can't imagine anyone but Venus wearing it with such panache. (There's a bit of Ted Tinling in that dress; I think he would have really liked it.)

There are three Frenchwomen who have made it to the third round--Marion Bartoli, Pauline Parmentier and Kristina Mladenovic. I doubt if anyone saw that coming.

In her press conference today, Ana Ivanovic (not surprisingly) explained that women's tennis is so popular because the players demonstrate that "girls can still be girls and yet do sports and be very athletic."

Defending champion Sam Stosur plays Varvara Lepchenko tomorrow. Lepchenko could give Stosur a bit of trouble. If the defending champ wins, will we see the Stosur Shuffle again? I kind of hope not. I would rather leave that kind of thing to Petko (or Radwanska with Petko). After you've seen the Petko Dance, do you really want to see anything else? I don't.

Laura Robson, who took Kim Clijsters out of the tournament, will play Li Na in the third round. Li is favored to win, of course, but the one thing we can be sure--one way or the other--is a press conference that will make us laugh. I think Li is the funniest woman to ever play on the tour, but for humor, Robson is no slouch, either.

Defending champions win mixed doubles thriller at U.S. Open

Defending champions Melanie Oudin and Jack Sock won their first round match at the U.S. Open tonight, and it was a real thriller. Oudin and Sock played 5th seeds Katarina Srebotnik and Nenad Zimonjic. Srebotnik and Zimonjic won the first set 6-4, and Oudin and Sock won the second, 6-3. The super-tiebreak was--well, a super tiebreak. Oudin and Sock saved four match points, and won 15-13 on their second match point.

Melanie Oudin was such a standout in this match. She was simply fearless, attacking the net, trading face-to-face volleys with Zimonjic, and coming up with some really impressive passing shots.

In women's doubles, top seeds Liezel Huber and Lisa Raymond advanced. Kim Clijsters and Kirsten Flipkens did not; they were defeated by Chuang Chia-Jung and Zhang Shuai. Kim Clijsters has one more event at this tournament; she and Bob Bryan are partners in mixed doubles.

U.S. Open--what they said

I'm the most proud of my mental performance out there.
Mallory Burdette

I'm not movie star. I'm athlete. I have to do good job on the tennis court. So I was feeling if I can't doing well, why the sponsor should come for me? They can come for another athlete. I really wanted to do well, but sometimes didn't work.  I think I was make a lot--how you say--pressure for myself. I was feeling after I win a Grand Slam, against some player, face to face, they are feeling they nothing to lose. They come to court, boom, boom. Suddenly I'm losing match so easily. It's not still strong in mind.
Li Na

Kvitova is not enjoying herself immensely today.
Virginia Wade

This feels like the perfect place to retire; I just wish it wasn't today. I gave it my all today and it just wasn't good enough at the end of the match.
Kim Clijsters

She can just put holes in you when she plays like that.
Luke Jensen, referring to Li Na

Would you describe shopping as your hobby? 
No. Not hobby. I think it's something that every girl enjoys to do when they're in a good mood, but mostly when they're in a bad mood, I would say. 
Victoria Azarenka

She plays on a big stage almost every day because she's so good. It's hard out there sometimes. You get outside of yourself and you're worrying about things you can't control. That's one of the things she does a very good job of. You can tell she's in the zone every time she walks up to play a point.
Mallory Burdette, referring to Maria Sharapova

I knew I had to hit as many balls as I could and get as many back as I could, and just work my butt off.
Laura Robson

How do you feel coming in, especially coming off the win at New Haven? Do you feel you have tremendous momentum in this tournament?

I think that it's good because I'm still feeling that the tournament is continue and it's not Grand Slam, so I think that it's good that I don't have a time to be nervous too much. 
Petra Kvitova

We're playing here in New York. There's so much media. Could you step back and say the one or two things we Americans don't understand about your country, what would that be?
Why Chinese still use chopsticks? Why Chinese have to put the family name first, right? I think lot American people couldn't understand, yeah. Two thing already. I couldn't find a third one.
Li Na                   

Clijsters makes early exit at U.S. Open

A year or so ago, I wouldn't have given Laura Robson a chance to beat Kim Clijsters at the U.S. Open. Robson had the serve, she had the shots, but her footwork and speed just weren't up to playing someone as athletically superior as Clijsters. But over the past several months, as Robson has no doubt "grown into" her body, she has refined her court movement. We saw just how much she has refined it today. Playing on Arthur Ashe Stadium, the 18-year-old Brit took out the three-time U.S. Open champion in two tiebreak sets. It was a good match by any standard. And though it was sad to see Clijsters go out in the second round in the last singles match of her career, it was kind of mesmerizing to watch Robson.

With her left-handedness as a natural advantage, Laura Robson repeatedly struck the ball with such smooth authority that it seemed natural to wait for her to have some kind of collapse. She showed how tough she was when she saved three set points when her opponent served at 5-3 in the first set, and when the collapse did come, it was a small one, and she recovered quickly. Robson held two match points when Clijsters served at 5-6 in the second set, and when the Belgian player saved those, there was a strong hint of a Clijsters comeback. But Robson faced the second set tiebreak with the same resolve she had faced the first one; she simply out-hit Kim Clijsters.

The sudden end of Clijsters' singles career (she's playing in doubles and mixed doubles in Flushing Meadows) provided the day's biggest drama, for obvious reasons. The day's biggest on-court drama, however, belonged to Marion Bartoli, who had to fight like mad to escape the clutches of Romina Oprandi. That was a hitting contest. Bartoli won 6-1, 1-6, 7-5, and I was tired from just watching the match. Bartoli's victory puts her back into the top 10 (and takes Caroline Wozniacki out of the top 10).

And then there was Mallory Burdette, who has taken her wild card very seriously. Today, the Stanford star defeated Lucie Hradecka 6-2, 6-4, and she did it with first and second serve percentages of 79 and 67. Burdette is an aggressive player who is pleasant and articulate off the court. I'm enjoying every moment of her U.S. Open run. I suppose I should savor it--Burdette's third round opponent is Maria Sharapova.

Casey Dellacqua gave her a good run, but Li Na emerged victorious. Also advancing were top seed Victoria Azarenka, defending champion Sam Stosur, Petra Kvitova, and Russian veteran Nadia Petrova. Kristina Mladenovic pretty much ran over 17th seed Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, and Anna Tatishvili ended Sorana Cirstea's brief run.

Tomorrow, wild card Venus Williams will play 6th seed Angelique Kerber. Kerber defeated Williams at the Olympic Games, and tomorrow's contest is expected to be the match of the day.

Is it my imagination, or are the ESPN commentators doing a better job than usual? Chris Evert has certainly returned to form as a commentator--about time. I can't comment on Tennis Channel because I have no access to it at the hotel where I'm staying; in the morning, I watch everything online.

U.S. Open--what they said

Just doing my best. Not really have much point to defend from last year. At least this is the good thing. You know, I'm really trying to do better results than last few years.
Agnieszka Radwanska

Do you have specific goals or steps that you look at?
I do.
Getting into the top 10, winning again?
Yes, but it never happens the way you want it to. That's one thing I found out throughout my whole career. When you don't make it to one goal, just make some more.  But, of course, I'm looking forward to the top 10, all that great stuff. I feel like I have it in me.
Venus Williams

There are a lot of players who have gone pro right away, and that path has worked for them, but if you're on the fence even just a little bit or stressed about the decision, you're only going to get more stressed if you turn pro. College tennis is a more controlled environment, and there's such a support system in place for players, so it's much easier to improve and get better....
Mallory Burdette

Novak Djokovic was asked about you and Jelena having dropped a little bit since you all came up at the same time.  He said you both have the ability and you were No. 1 and won a Grand Slam. He said it's just mental at this point. Your agree with that?
Yeah, it is a lot to do with confidence. I think also since the first time I entered the game has evolved and there is lot more girls that strike and they have nothing to lose. They play really, really well and they're very dangerous. But, yeah, definitely it's just not the belief of, you know, beating those, you know, top players at the moment.
Ana Ivanovic

We've had a Kiki and a Coco, and all sorts of things going on.
Hannah Storm

It is not easy. For me, the recovery is very hard after the match.
Kimiko Date-Krumm

I think sometimes I get so involved in my serve I forget to play the rest of the point. It's definitely a balance. But for me and anybody else, when your serve is in, the rest of your game is beautiful usually.
Venus Williams

Her serve is good enough for men's tennis, as well.
Novak Jokovic, referring to Serena Williams

What is all this like? You're in the second round of the U.S. Open. It's quite a big change for you, isn't it?
To be honest, I actually feel kind of normal, as I would hope to. I feel like I've matured since Wimbledon. Also that was definitely a big eye‑opener. A lot of things were going on. I recently became British, my first Grand Slam, my first main draw. It was an epic match.  I think I got a lot of that initial nervousness out of the way there. So I feel much more prepared here with these sort of things. I'm just happy that I'm able to stay level.
Johanna Konta

She's lying on the ground like a dead frog....
Sloane Stephens, referring to Christina McHale and her long wait to get on the court

Drama builds on day 2 of the U.S. Open

It's just the second day of the U.S. Open, but the drama has already begun. Most of it occurred in a match which received little attention: Johanna Konta--who was playing in her first major--came from 1-5 down in the second set to achieve a straight-sets win over Timea Babos. There was a 14-deuce game at 5-3, which Konta won. Konta's 6-2, 7-5 victory puts her into the second round against Olga Govortsova, who defeated 29th seed Tamira Paszek in straight sets.

Moving on to a match that received a lot more attention: 8th seed Caroline Wozniacki, playing with the knee injury that took her out of New Haven, lost in straight sets to Irina-Camelia Begu. Wozniacki was clearly struggling throughout the match, but--to her credit--Begu played extremely well in both sets, and her serving was superb.

Yaroslava Shvedova beat her close friend and doubles partner, Vania King. Serena Williams rolled past Coco Vandeweghe, 6-1, 6-1, in just 56 minutes. Sloane Stephens held her nerve and defeated 22nd seed Francesca Schiavone. For a few moments--toward the end of the second set--it looked like this match might turn into a typical Schiavone drama-filled comeback, but Stephens didn't let it happen; she won on her third match point.

Who would have thought that, at the end of the second round, Angelique Kerber and Tatjana Malek would be the last two Germans standing? Sabine Lisicki, Julia Goerges and Andrea Petkovic (understandably) went out yesterday, and today, it was Mona Barthel who said goodbye to Flushing Meadows. Barthel lost to Bojana Jovanovski. The two remaining Germans face two players from the USA in the next round. Malek will play Sloane Stephens, and Kerber will play Venus Williams, who beat countrywoman Bethanie Mattek-Sands today. Kerber beat Williams at the Olympic Games, so there's some built-in drama surrounding their U.S. Open second-round match.

Both Ana Ivanovic and Jelena Jankovic advanced today, as did Sara Errani and Ekaterina Makarova. Kiki Bertens beat Christina McHale, and.Irina Falconi lost to Olga Puchkova. Stephens, Williams, Williams, Varvara Lepchenko, and Mallory Burdette are the five players from the USA who are still in the draw.

Tomorrow, world number 1 Victoria Azarenka takes on Kirsten Flipkens, who--on her good days--is fun to watch. Kim Clijsters plays Laura Robson.

Passing shots

We have ESPN2 in our hotel now, so I can watch more than one match at a time. The cats have become their hotel-loving selves (they are seasoned evacuees), and are playing with their toys and chasing each other.

You can buy Sugarpova online, and why wouldn't you? Flirty, Sporty and Quirky (I know--I want to name some, too) have already sold out. Sugarpova is also available at selected stores throughout the USA, and will soon go international.

Sorana Cirstea is blogging from the U.S. Open.

World number 1 Victoria Azarenka is the newest international Brand Ambassador for the Citizen Watch Company.

Here is another "Strong Is Beautiful" video:

U.S. Open--what they said

Did you realize how close you were to having a golden set?
Yeah, I knew at 4‑Love, 40‑Love that I hadn't missed a point and the match had been going pretty quick and obviously in my favor. It did pop into my head for a split second. Then I hit the double fault and it was erased and I was quickly on with the next point.
Samantha Stosur

If you become a mom, would you bring your kid to an academy? Do you like the academy environment?
That's a tough question. Obviously if my kid wants to play sport and I feel like that would be beneficial to the kid, then yes. But I hope not.
Maria Sharapova

You've got a nice little winning streak going now. How are you feeling on court?
I mean, I really have to say I really happy I can win first match of these few years. Last few years always lose first round. So, yeah, I see the schedule, I say, Okay, you have to do for yourself. You really have to win the first match, otherwise same like last year and now I have to pack, I have to go back to airport to fly back home.
Li Na

But overall I think once she settled down, I think she was pretty happy with the way that she played. So that's good to know that she's pleased with the experience. Obviously I saw her afterwards. It was pretty funny. It was all like a lot of excitement. She had a friend in there who still plays juniors, as well. So it was kind of fun to still see the youngsters.
Kim Clijsters

My name is Irina Falconi. Professional tennis player who is competing in this year’s United States Open. I’m also an avid blogger and writer. I am also a part-time comic and fortune teller. No joke.
Irina Falconi

Ultimately can a gumball stand up to a truffle?
It depends what your preference is. I mean, mid-afternoon I'm not a big truffle person; I'm more of a gum girl. But it depends what everybody likes.
Maria Sharapova 

If they're in Flushing Meadows....

 ....there must be a hurricane coming.

The fountain at Five Points in Birmingham
Greetings to all from Birmingham, Alabama. Birmingham is one of my favorite cities, but I'm not here for the great art and the great restaurants--I'm here because you-know-what is about to hit you-know-where. After watching much of the Open in hotel rooms during Katrina and Gustav, I now associate the tournament with rain, wind and misery. And here I am, once more, in a hotel room, but with no Tennis Channel and no ESPN2 (no kidding--ESPN2 is not functioning throughout the entire hotel). The television channels are supposed to be re-set in the morning, and I have live streaming--if there aren't too many guests using the wireless connection. Worst case scenario: I spend a lot of time in the lobby.

Being from Louisiana, I've done many hurricane evacuations. Today, I decided to make a fashion statement on my way out, and what better way to represent the insanity of an approaching hurricane than to honor Queen Chaos?

I did get to see some of day 1, before we left the state. I wasn't surprised by the Lisicki upset. Both Sabine Lisicki and Sorana Cirstea can come apart mentally, but Cirstea kind of likes to pull these upsets at big events. The German player won the first set, but after a rain delay, the momentum changed dramatically; Lisicki gave Cirstea her championship point with a double fault.

Lisicki, of course, wasn't the only German seed to depart. Julia Goerges was defeated in straight sets by qualifier Kristyna Pliskova. And Andrea Petkovic, who just recently returned from a very long injury layoff, also went out in the first round. Angelique Kerber, Germany's top player, who will play Anne Keothavong tomorrow.

USA player Lepchenko defeated Mathilde Johansson 6-3, 3-6, 7-5.

The Lady in Gold: Adele Bloch-Bauer

One of the wonderful things about living in New York are the museums, big and small.  The Neue Galerie on 5th Avenue is one of my favorites, particularly because of this painting.

Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I
Neue Galerie, NY

This lovely lady in gold is Adele Bloch-Bauer, painted in 1907, by this gentleman, Gustav Klimt, one of the foremost painters of fin-de-siecle Vienna.

The painting was bought by Ronald Lauder for $135 million dollars in 2006 after the painting was finally released by the Austrian government to the relatives of  Adele Bloch-Bauer who fought for over 8 years to have the painting and 4 others returned to the family.  From the moment that I saw the painting in the museum, I've been curious about this beautiful woman with the rather sad eyes who was painted by one of my favorite painters.  It turns out that I'm not the only one who has long been fascinated by the subject of the painting. Lauder stated that as a young teenager of 14, he too had become fixated on the painting.

According to Anne-Marie O'Connor in her new book entitled Lady in Gold: The Extraordinary Tale of Gustav Klimt's Masterpiece, Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer, it took Klimt 3 years to paint Adele's portrait.  At the time, Adele was a 21 one year old married socialite from a well to do Jewish family. Her father was the head of one of hte largest banks in the Hapsburg Empire, as well as head of the Oriental Railway, whose Orient Express ran from Berlin to Constaninople. At the age of 17, she'd married Ferdinand Bauer, a sugar-beet baron who was 17 years older than she was.  Adele's sister Therese had married Ferdinand's brother Gustav.  After their marriages, the couples hyphenated their last names to Bloch-Bauer.

Adele was apparently not only very intelligent but also a bit bohemian compared to her more staid hubby.  She was also considered a bit of a rebel, she had wanted to attend university, or to have some sort of intellectual job.  Instead, she bowed to convention and married. Although her husband adored her, commissioning not one but two portraits of Adele from Klimt, Adele was frustrated with her life.  Unfortunately Adele and her husband were unable to have children which meant that she had failed in her primary duty.  Instead, Adele threw herself into the world of art patronage, nobbing with some of the most influential mind in Viennese society, including Schnitzler, and Freud.  One of her closest friends was Alma Mahler who came very close to having an affair with Klimt as a teenager. Adele's niece Maria describes in her in the book as being somewhat cold and impatient with children.  Adele smoked which was tres risque for the time, especially in public.

Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer II, 1912, 
 private collection

There is speculation that Klimt and Adele were lovers were a brief time.  Adele was the only woman that he painted twice. No one knows for sure since Klimt left very little in the way of private letters or a diary.  He was known to be a bit of a scoundrel, Wikipedia writes that he had 16 illegitimate children.  Unlike Adele, Klimt grew up dirt poor, so poor that he didn't go to school for a year because his parents were embarassed by his shabby clothes. Initially Klimit just hoped to become an art teacher, he had no vision that he would one day be considered one of the greatest Austrian artists. Of course that happened after his death.  While he was alive, Klimt was considered a rebel, an artistic heretic.  He refused to paint pretty pictures of landscapes, or society portraits like Winterhalter or Markt.  Klimt was influenced more by the work of the Impressionists in Paris and then later by the works of Matisse & Picasso.  Shunned by the Viennese aristocracy, Klimt looked to the rich Jewish industralists as art patrons.

Klimt didn't look like a painter, he looked more like a sculptor or a wrestler.  He was tall, and built like an ox.  Typically he wore large smocks and sandals to paint, designed by his companion Emilie Floge, with nothing on underneath.  People talk about his charisma, almost an animal magnetism.  Looking at his photographs, I can definitely see how he seduced so many women.  Klimt seemed to have not only loved women, but respected them as human beings.  He understood that they had sexual desires like a man, there are several drawings in the Neue Galerie that Klimt did of women in the throes of ecstasy or pleasuring themselves.  For most of his life, he lived with his mother and his sisters.

Both Klimt and Adele died young, in their 50's.  Klimt died in 1918 just as World War I was ending, Adele died several years later of meningitis.  Their secrets died with them. 

The Lady in Gold is a fantastic read, a vivid portrait of a world that was lost with the advent of World War I, it's also the story of a family and what they endured, as well as a brief history of the Jews in Vienna.  It's a pretty quick read, and well worth it.  There is happiness and sadness, particularly the rift that developed in the family over the fight for the family's Klimt paitings.  Although the family made a great deal of money from the sale of the 5 paintings, I think it's a shame that the two portraits of Adele are seperated.  I don't know why Lauder didn't buy the 2nd painting.  It would have been wonderful if the paintings could all have gone to a museum.  Perhaps one day.

In the meantime, if you get a chance, please do visit Adele at the Neue Galerie and then head downstairs to Cafe Sabarsky for a piece of sachertorte and a cup of strong Viennese coffee with whipped cream.

How "open" is the Open?

Today, Rennae Stubbs said she thought the women's U.S. Open draw was more "open" than experts were predicting. I agree. Though Serena Williams is an obvious favorite, other players--namely, Petra Kvitova and Li Na--have peaked recently, and shown their readiness to compete in Flushing Meadows. Add to this reality the fact that the U.S. Open has become something of an issue for Williams in the past few years--the famous "foot fault" incident of 2009 and the "hindrance" issue of 2011.

Can Williams win another U.S. Open? Of course. But she does have some competition.

There are other players who could step in and win. Maria Sharapova isn't being talked about much, but she's nevertheless a contender, as is world number 1 Victoria Azarenka. Defending champion Sam Stosur doesn't seem like a contender, but last year, she very quietly went about the business of breaking all kinds of records and then going home with the trophy.

Azarenka, Li and Stosur are all in the same quarter, but there's more--three-time U.S. Open champion Kim Clijsters is in that quarter, too, as are some potentially dangerous players--Julia Goerges, Sorana Cirstea, Sabine Lisicki (those two play each other in the opening round), and Varvara Lepchenko. Clijsters could run into trouble as early as the second round, in which she is most likely to meet Laura Robson. This is a tricky quarter, filled with top players and upset specialists, and anything can happen.

The second quarter has Sharapova and Kvitova headed toward each other, yet again. Nadia Petrova, Lucie Safarova and Marion Bartoli (not much of a threat lately, but you never know) stand in the way. Perhaps most significant, however, is the presence of Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in that quarter. Seeded 17th, the Russian has been on a comeback journey lately--and though she has a potentially tough first round against Daniela Hantuchova--her chances of advancing are good. Pavlyuchenkova is deceptively proficient, and is perhaps finally coming into her own.

The third quarter is anchored by Caroline Wozniacki and Serena Williams, and--while we all know how we think this is going to go--danger does lurk, in the form of Sloane Stephens and clever New Haven runner-up Maria Kirlenko.

Cincinnati runner-up Angelique Kerber shares the fourth quarter with a recently-ailing (recurring shoulder injury) Agnieszka Radwanska. Venus Williams and Tamira Paszek (you never know) are also in that quarter, as are Christina McHale, Sara Errani and Stanford champion Dominika Cibulkova. Former big-time doubles partners Vania King and Yaroslava Shvedova play each other in the first round. Either is capable of pulling of an upset later in the tournament, but one has to look especially at Shvedova as a dangerous opponent.

First round matches of interest:

Barbora Zahlavova Strycova vs. Kirsten Flipkens: They are both so much fun to watch.

Sorana Cirstea vs. Sabine Lisicki: Drama potential!

Nadia Petrova vs. Jarmila Gajdasova: Meltdown potential (both ways)

Melanie Oudin vs. Lucie Safarova: Can Oudin do it?

Marion Bartoli vs. Jamie Hampton: Bartoli had better be ready.

Daniela Hantuchova vs. Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova: Already noted

Peng Shuai vs. Elena Vesnina: Always fun

Bethanie Mattek-Sands vs. Venus Williams: Potential high-quality entertainment (or not)

Vania King vs. Yaroslava Shvedova: Already noted

Urszula Radwanska vs. Roberta Vinci: Just because (note: Vinci just won her first outdoor hard court title)

There are so many questions involving this Open. Will Serena Williams be able to keep her focus away from the umpires? Will the weather turn more humid and cause Petra Kvitova's asthma to do her in? Will Kvitova be too exhausted to compete at her top level? Will Kim Clijsters, who is about to retire, suddenly go on a big tear and take out top players? Will a rested Victoria Azarenka pull out her earphones, remove her hoodie, and run over the rest of the field?

We'll know the answers soon!

U.S. Open predictions

Steve Tignor--Serena Williams
Darren Cahill--Serena Williams
Peter Bodo--Serena Williams
Chris Evert--Serena Williams
Richard Pagliaro--Serena Williams
Ed McGrogan--Petra Kvitova
Pam Shriver--Serena Williams
Cliff Drysdale--Serena Williams
Brad Gilbert--Serena Williams
Todd Spiker--Li Na*
Patrick McEnroe--Serena Williams
Greg Garber--Serena Williams
Kamakshi Tandon--Petra Kvitova
Mary Joe Fernandez--Serena Williams
Ravi Ubha--Victoria Azarenka
Matt Wilansky--Serena Williams
Courtney Nguyen--Serena Williams

*carla's Beautiful Selections--Serena Williams

Kvitova wins in New Haven

Petra Kvitova saved a set point in the first set tiebreak, and then saved another set point in the second today when she won the New Haven championship match against Maria Kirklenko. It was a very good match--quite deserving of its final status--and it showed just how much Kirilenko has worked on her already-admirable game.

Commentator Rennae Stubbs--observing Kvitova's second set fatigue, when she "went off"--kept asking what was wrong with the Czech player. Has she never seen Kvitova play?! Kvitova (who didn't drop a set in New Haven) often takes a hard road to get to the end, and sometimes the end just isn't what she had expected. Today, though, she came back more than once to defeat the clever and hard-hitting Kirilenko 7-6, 7-5.

Kvitova, the winner of the U.S. Open Series, won in both Montreal and New Haven.

Top seeds Liezel Huber and Lisa Raymond won the doubles championship, defeating 2nd seeds Andrea Hlavackoa and Lucie Hradecka 4-6, 6-0, 10-4.

Vinci wins Texas Open

Roberta Vinci won the Texas Open yesterday when she defeated Jelena Jankovic 7-5, 6-3 in the final. Jankovic served for the first set, but was broken. She was down 0-3 in the second set, but caught up for 3-all, then had break points against Vinci, but was unable to convert them. This is Jankovic's fifth loss in a final this season. The Dallas win gives Vinci her seventh WTA title (her first on an outdoor hard court).

Stanford champions Heather Watson and Marina Erakovic won the doubles championship. They defeated Lega Dekmeijere and Irina Falconi 6-3, 6-0.

Passing shots

Petra Kvitova has won the U.S. Open Series. Kvitova's quarterfinal victory over Lucie Safarova in New Haven puts her in first place.

The U.S. Open draw has been announced, and the Heather Watson curse continues. Watson's first-round opponent is Li Na. More on the draw soon.

Roberta Vinci has advanced to the final of the Texas Open in Dallas. Her opponent will be Jelena Jankovic, who defeated Casey Dellacqua in the semifinals. Vinci defeated Bojana Jovanovski 6-0, 6-0. Ouch.

Vera Zvonareva has withdrawn from the U.S. Open because of a viral illness.

Here's a look at the previously mentioned special Fila Kim Clijsters tribute collection. I like it.

Caroline Wozniacki, the defending champion in New Haven, has a knee injury and may not be able to advance to her semifinal match. She played through the injury and defeated Dominika Cibulkova in the quarterfinals.

The WTA has released the second part of its "Strong Is Beautiful" campaign. Here is one of the best photos ever. And here is one of the videos:

Radwanska retires in New Haven

Top seed Agnieszka Radwanska, whose shoulder injury came back to haunt her a couple of weeks ago, retired today in New Haven against Olga Govortsova. Govortsova won the first set 6-0, and when she was ahead 2-1 in the second, her opponent retired. The U.S. Open begins in less than a week, which doesn't bode well for Radwansksa. On the other hand, she has done extremely well before while injured---and that includes her 2011 back-to-back Asian wins--so we'll just have to wait and see.

Sloane Stephens won nine games in a row against Marion Bartoli, putting her ahead 3-0 in the third set, but she lost. Bartoli defeated her 6-1, 0-6, 6-3.

In Dallas, 2nd seed Jelena Jankovic has made it to the third round, having defeated both Yaroslava Shvedova and Arantxa Rus.

Li wins Cincinnati championship

Sometimes a match has such a distinct turning point, one can almost place a bet on the outcome after that point has passed. Such was the case today in the eighth game of the second set in the Cincinnati championship match between 5th seed Angelique Kerber and 9th seed Li Na. After winning only one game in the opening set and going down a break in the second, Li fought for around 13 minutes in that eighth game, watching multiple chances to break go by. But break she finally did, and after that, the match was all about the Chinese star.

This was Li at her best, playing a smart game (with new coach Carlos Rodriguez) and not falling into the same fate as Petra Kvitova did. Li slowed herself down and took every advantage of an exhausted Kerber, who appeared to be having some trouble with one of her thighs. Li hit three times as many winners as Kerber, and she served well. Kerber's defensive skills are high, but she faded in the third set, as Li moved her around the court expertly and took almost total control of the match.

This is Li's first title--a big one--of the year, though she played in three other finals. Depending on how Kvitova does in New Haven, Li could win the U.S. Open Series. At any rate, she can now be considered a serious contender at Flushing Meadows.

The doubles title was taken by Andrea Hlavackova and Lucie Hradecka, who defeated Katarina Srebotnik and Zheng Jie 6-1, 6-3. This is the eighth title for the team. Hlavacova and Hradecka won the French Open in 2011, and they were the runners-up this year at Wimbledon.

Li and Kerber to play in Cincinnati final

Tomorrow, for the second week in a row, Li Na will have a chance to win her first title of 2012. Li beat an ailing Venus Williams 7-5, 3-6, 6-1 in a semifinal that had its good moments, but that was inconsistently played by both opponents. Williams' back was bothering her from the moment she stepped onto the court, but she kept right on playing.

In the other semifinal, the relentless Angelique Kerber got her eighth win over a top 10 player this year when she beat Petra Kvitova 6-1, 2-6, 6-4. "She didn't know what's going on," Kvitova's coach said of the 4th seed's first set performance. She didn't. She redeemed herself in the second set--in a big way--but you know Petra. By the time the third set rolled around, she was engaging in yet another festival of unforced errors, and Kerber is getting harder and harder to put away these days, even when her opponent is playing better than Kvitova did.

After Kerber went up 5-2 in the third, Kvitova broke her. Kerber then had a match point on her opponent's serve when Kvitova hit a forehand error outside of the ad court. Kvitova saved the point with an ace, and went on to hold for 4-5. Kerber soon had two match points on her own serve, one of which Kvitova saved, but the German player took the match on her third match point.

Kerber, seeded 5th, hit 16 winners and made 19 unforced errors. Kvitova hit 44 winners and made 56 unforced errors. The math says it all.

The Czech team of Andrea Hlavackova and Lucie Hradecka will compete in the doubles final against Katarina Srebotnik and Zheng Jie. Srebotnik and Zheng defeated Nuria Llagostera Vives and Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez today in the semifinals.

If Kvitova had won her semifinal match, she would have also won the U.S. Open Series. But with her loss to Kerber, the series remains open for someone to win.

Cincinnati semifinals should be worth watching

Who would possibly want to get into a hitting contest with Petra Kvitova?

Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova would! In a day of very enjoyable quarterfinals, Pavlyuchenkova may have lost, but she let everyone see why she is still one to be watched. In fact, the rally that the Russian won in the sixth game of the second set was easily worth the price of admission. Pavlyuchenkova served really well, and wasn't afraid to take a big (but sometimes subtle) game to Kvitova. In the end, though, it was Kvitova who knew what to do, and her 6-3, 7-6 victory takes her to the semifinals, in which she'll play Angelique Kerber.

Kerber played with great steadiness of mind as she defeated Serena Williams, of all people, in straight sets. Williams was clearly not feeling it, and her frustration was on display throughout much of the match. One can't help but think that fatigue was a major factor. Kerber defeated Williams 6-4, 6-4.

Li Na practically ran through Agnieszka Radwanska, and beat her 6-1, 6-1. Radwanska had her shoulder (you know, that shoulder) tended to in the second set, and part of the time, she seemed to be just barely setting up her shots. None of this bothered Li, who is suddenly looking like her old hard court master self.

And then there was Venus Williams. Williams and Sam Stosur engaged in a very well-played match, which could have gone either way, but it was Williams who prevailed, 6-2, 6-7, 6-4. The two players broke each other 11 times and played for over two hours and 34 minutes--and Williams looked filled with energy, even at the end. She was thrilled, and surely this match marked a turning point for her, because here she is, suddenly, in the semifinals in Cincinnati.

Earlier in the day, the ESPN commentators had a lot to say about Caroline Wozniacki, who lost her quarterfinal match to Pavlyuchenkova. They talked about whose "voice" Wozniacki really hears as she trains, and Brad Gilbert was adamant in stating that there should be only one voice. He also said he thought Wozniacki's number one priority should be to get her movement back to its former level. "Confidence equals two steps quicker on the court," Pam Shriver noted. In all, it was a thoughtful discussion.

Friday cat blogging--birthday edition

Here is a photo from the archives, with Velma greeting Roxie with a big tongue smack. The sisters are 9 years old this month, though we have no way of knowing the exact date of their birth--they are rescue cats. Happy Birthday to Roxie and Velma!

Passing shots

The following players have received wild cards into the main draw of the U.S. Open: Melanie Oudin, Bethanie Mattek-Sands, Nicole Gibbs, Mallory Burdette, Victoria Duval, Julia Cohen, Casey Dellacqua, and Kristina Mladenovic.

As many of us suspected, the drop in Montreal's humidity level helped Petra Kvitova survive the Rogers Cup tournament, despite her asthmas, which tends to flare up in North America.

Here is a feature story on Varvara Lepchenko.

Sugarpova will be officially launched as a product on Monday, August 20. Maria Sharapova will be at the 5th Avenue Henri Bendel store to give the world a first taste of her new candy.

Tennis Channel will feature Kim Clijsters Week beginning August 20. Five of the Belgian star's memorable matches will be shown.

Angelique Kerber is blogging from Cincinnati.

It's time to get to know Ekaterina Makarova.

Lucie Safarova is now in the top 20 (she's currently number 19 in the world), which means that two Czech players are in the top 20 for the first time in 17 years. Petra Kvitova is the world's number 5 player.

If you miss Dinara, you'll love Petra

I miss Thrill Ride. I really do. But a fan can get some of her heart-stopping behavior in Petra Kvitova, who frequently tends to do things the hard way. Today, Rogers Cup champion Kvitova was up against Mona Barthel, who only recently turned her poor season around. Barthel won the first set, Kvitova won the second, but was broken in the third. This story had a happy ending for the Czech star--she won the final set 7-5--but she took the long road to get there.

Peng Shuai, who took out Jelena Jankovic in the first round, advanced to the third round with a straight set win over Roberta Vinci. Both Carlsbad champiion Dominika Cibulkova and Yaroslava Shvedova retired, the one with a right elbow injury, and the other with heat illness. Tamira Paszek, Christina McHale and Nadia Petrova retired in their matches yesterday.

Also yesterday, Marion Bartoli's season continued in its downward direction when she lost in the second round to Johanna Larsson.

Sloane Stephens has reached the third round in both singles and doubles. Her doubles partner is Varvara Lepchenko.

Also reaching the third round is Venus Williams, who defeated both Maria Kirilenko and Chanelle Scheepers.

The Glamorous Gunning Sisters: Lady Anne Davenport

This week we have the final installment in author Deborah Hale's series on The Glamorous Gunning Sisters: The Next Generation.

Lady Betty Hamilton’s cousin, Lady Anne Coventry, did not move in such exalted circles, but she did manage to create every bit as great a scandal. Lady Anne was born in 1757, the third of Maria Gunnings children by the Earl of Coventry. Like her cousin, she experienced early loss with the death of her mother when she was only three. The earl took an interest in his heir, but little in his daughters, Maria and Anne. Shuttled between the family estate, Croome, and Brighthelmstone, they were left mostly in the care of their French governess and their uncle by marriage, Gilly Williams.

One person who did take an interest in the child was famed wit and eccentric George Selwyn, a friend of Williams who had also been admirer of Annes mother. Selwyns interest in “Nanny,” as he called her, was described by contemporaries as singular (an 18th century euphemism for obsessive and rather creepy). In a biography of the Duchess Argyll, Horace Bleakly recounts, “in the subsequent correspondence will be found many pleasing proofs of the anxiety with which he (Selwyn) watched over the welfare of the offspring of his deceased friend and of the parental and almost romantic affection with which he regarded the interesting child.

Selwyn expected updates on her health and spirits in every letter he received from Williams. He sent Anne and her sister gifts for which she wrote him a thank-you note in French, asking him to visit. In a letter to Selwyn in 1765 when Anne was eight-years-old and her brother ten, their father sounds disturbed by Selwyns interest in his children: “I have refused so many applications to let the little boy leave Marybone, that I must beg of you not to ask it. There is no one but Duchess Hamilton has liberty to send for him, and it would be very inconvenient to extend that privilege any farther. In a post-script, he added, I shall not trust you in a post-chaise with Nanny a year or two hence.”

Was Selwyn as much a pedophile as his correspondence and actions make him sound, and did he ever act upon his obsession? Were Annes subsequent actions those of a child alternately neglected and spoiled, as contemporaries suggest, or might they have been the self-destructive behaviour of a sexual abuse victim?

When Anne was seven, her father remarried Barbara St. John who was an affectionate stepmother. Williams wrote to Selwyn, “I wish her indulgence may not, in the end, prove worse than a little wholesome reserve and moderate restraint.” Not long afterward, he complained to Selwyn of the childs behaviour: I told Nanny what you have brought for her, though by the by she does not deserve it, for, from the want of all restraint and contradiction, she grows so intolerably passionate, that I wish one time or other she does not hurt her sister. In another letter, he wrote, “There is seldom a night she does not fight us all round. The very last night of all, she hit me a box of the ear, and told her good-natured stepmother not to be so impertinent as to trouble her head about her.” He concluded by predicting, “I fear she will be outdone before she knows she is to blame.”

After this, Williams’ letters to Selwyn grew less frequent. His last mention of Anne was in 1766, when he wrote, “Nanny is well and in beauty.” His last letter in 1770 contained no mention of the girl, who would have been thirteen. By that time Selwyn seemed to have taken a special interest in the young daughter of Lord and Lady Carlisle. Eight years later, Lady Anne was mentioned again in the Selwyn correspondence by his niece, Mary Townshend: "I am told of another intended marriage not upon so solid a foundation; Mr. E, Foley to Lady Anne Coventry. Except Lord Deerhurst (her brother) takes them on his establishment, I do not see how they are to subsist.” Miss Townshend’s brother Thomas also mentioned Lady Annes marriage with distinct disapproval: “You have heard, I suppose of Ned Foley's match with Lady Anne Coventry. The trustees settled the jointure; who settled the match, God knows.”

It was a far less brilliant match than Lady Betty Hamilton had made, and no more happy. Edward Foley, was the second son of a newly created baron. Though his family had a large fortune, Ned and his equally profligate brother seemed determined to spend and gamble it all away. Nine months after the wedding, The Annual Register for 1779 announced, Rt Hon. Lady Anne Foley of a son.The child must have died very young for sources indicate the couple had no family. “Within a few months of the wedding,” wrote Horace Bleakley, the conduct of the lady had provided the scandalous chronicles with new material.” So numerous were Lady Annes lovers that it was rumored she sent the following note to General Fitzpatrick, "Dear Richard, I give you joy. I have just made you the father of a beautiful boy...P.S. This is not a circular.”
For several years Ned Foley seemed content to let his wife take as many lovers as she wished, until she began an affair with the Earl of Peterborough. By this time Foley may have run through Lady Annes jointure and possibly saw the wealthy peer as a chance to profit from his unsatisfactory marriage. Or perhaps he was looking to settle down and have children he could be tolerably certain he had sired. Foley brought charges of “criminal conversation” (the legal term for adulterous sex) against Lord Peterborough and won £2500 in damages equal to over half a million US dollars in todays money.

When Foley sought to divorce her, Lady Anne fought back. Her lawyer argued that “Lady Anne Foley had been guilty of infidelity with many persons before; that Mr. Foley knew it in some instances, and was cautioned against Lord Peterborough, yet that he kept him in his house when his lordship wished to go, and told him not to be vain of Lady Anne's favors, for that she shared them to all men alike; that he left him in the house alone with her for days.” Unfortunately, the court decided against her. Not only did Foley drag Anne through the humiliation of a divorce, where her infidelity was discussed in detail in both Houses of Parliament, he made further money by publishing all the salacious details in a pamphlet that is still in circulation!

Perhaps miffed at the amount of money the dalliance had cost him, Lord Peterborough had no intention of making an honest woman of Lady Anne once she was free. Besides, an earl did not need an infertile wife with a notorious reputation. The lady did not languish, however. Within two years she married Samuel Wright, a captain in the 15th Hussars, who was the son of a prosperous banker. The couple retired to his home in Nottinghamshire to live out the rest of their days in the peace that had long eluded her.

August Book of the Month - Marilyn: The Passion and The Paradox

Marilyn Monroe in The Prince and The Showgirl

Today marks the 50th anniversary of the death of Marilyn Monroe. I hope that Marilyn is looking down to see just how much of an impact her life and career has had on the world.  From the iconic Warhol portrait to Sir Elton John's song "Candle in the Wind" it feels as if Marilyn is somehow still alive. She's inspired everyone from Madonna to Mariah Carey to Lady Gaga. In fact, one could say that Madonna owes her entire career to Marilyn Monroe.  Mariah Carey owns Marilyn's white piano and Lindsay Lohan recreated her last photo shoot for New York Magazine.  In the past year alone we've had Michelle William's Oscar nominated performance in My Week with Marilyn (an accolade that eluded Marilyn throughout her career) and Katherine McPhee and Megan Hilty duking it out to play Marilyn on the TV series SMASH.

Conspiracy theories abound about Marilyn's death, particularly after the revelations of her relationships with both JFK and RFK.  Was Marilyn murdered because she threatened to tell the world about her affairs with the two brothers? Was it just an accidental overdose? Or had Marilyn's life so spiraled down that she no longer wanted to live? Those are questions that the world will probably never have answers too.

There are many people who just don't 'get' Marilyn. I know that I was one of those people.  Watching old movies as a child, I was drawn more to actresses like Vivien Leigh and Olivia de Haviland.  I didn't understand that Marilyn was much more than a wiggle, a breathy voice and large breasts.  It wasn't until I started stufying acting in high school that I really began to appreciate her performances in movies like Some Like it Hot and The Misfits. Even in small roles like Miss Caswell in All About Eve, there is a feeling of sadness and vulnerability about her performance.  I started reading biographies about her, the two best being the memoir written by Susan Strasberg (the original Anne Frank on Broadway) and Barbara Leaming's biography.

Now Bloomsbury has published a major new biography on Marilyn by Lois Banner just in time for the 50th anniversary of her death. There's been a lot of hype about this book in Vanity Fair and Elle magazines, great reviews from Booklist and Publisher's Weekly. Any reader expecting a juicy, gossipy book to read on the beach will be thoroughly disappointed.  This is not the book for you.  Marilyn: The Passion and the Paradox is a much more nuanced and authoritative look at the life of the screen siren.  The biography is not only a pyschological portrait but also a cultural history of the first 60 years of the 20th century.

A great deal has been written on line concerning the 'revelations' in the book that Marilyn may have had affairs with women.  Banner doesn't really give any concrete evidence but it shouldn't really be surprising.  Marilyn believed in free love, she was also incredibly emotionally needy, and a people pleaser. She also was constantly searching for both a father/protector as well as a mother figure to replace her own mother who basically abandoned her from birth due to mental illness and lack of money into a series of foster homes. Marilyn would see her mother on weekends until Gladys was admitted to a mental hospital.  Her mother's best friend Grace also shuttled Marilyn into different foster homes and once into an orphanage.  Granted it wasn't a Dickensian orphanage, but Marilyn's abandonment issues ran deep.  Marilyn as bisexual is not that big of a shock.

The first section of the book which details Marilyn's childhood and early teenage years tends to drag a bit. I was fascinated to learn that Marilyn as a child suffered from a stutter, it's the first time that I've ever read that in a biography. Banner also deduces that Marilyn may have suffered from dyslexia.  One of things that I've always found interesting about Marilyn is how her insecurities deepened and grew, the more famous that she became. She never felt that she was good enough.  Banner makes a credible case for Marilyn's lateness and insistence on several takes as being part of her need to be perfect, no doubt another legacy from being shuttled around from one home to another.

Banner astutely points out something that I think tends to be forgotten with Marilyn, how hard she had to work for her stardom.  Studio executives, amazingly enough, had no faith in Marilyn as either as an actress or a star.  Zanuck only took notice when the audience did. Banner suggests that Marilyn's past as a party girl, attending studio parties that were mostly men, may have hurt her in the eyes of the studio.  Too them she was just a piece of ass that got passed around. They treated her like a joke.  I was also impressed by how seriously Marilyn took her craft, studios normally paid for actors to take singing and dancing lessons but not for her.  She paid for all of that herself out of her salary and her modeling jobs. It was Marilyn's determination and skill that made her a star.  She manufactured the persona of Marilyn Monroe, not the studio.

Banner also pointed out that Marilyn was very open about that fact that she had been sexually abused as a foster child which was not openly discussed in the 1950's.  Marilyn was a pioneer in a way that she talked about sex and sexuality in interviews, in a notoriously puritanical decade.  She was pre-sexual revolution.

Banner is an excellent writer and she definitely has a deep love and understanding of Marilyn that I've seen from only a few other biographers. The book is at it's best when Banner is discussing some of Marilyn's earlier films, the ones that sort of get lost in the shuffle, in order to concentrate on her later films after she became a star. My one complaint about the book is that it tends to be a bit repetitative.  It's not necessary to repeat a bit of information that you've told the reader two pages before yet again.  Our attention span is not yet that bad! Despite that one flaw, Marilyn couldn't have asked for a better biographer to interpret her life story for the 21st century. Marilyn comes across as a deeply complex woman. Hopefully readers of the biography will be motivated to seek out some of Marilyn's earlier films like Niagara or Don't Bother to Knock.