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Yvette Mimieux and Ali Akbar Khan: Flowers of Evil

Yvette Mimieux I really can’t do better than The Encyclopedia of Sixties Cool in summarizing the career of Yvette Mimieux:

The California Girl: Los Angeles-born Yvette Mimieux began her career wearing a toga and fending off blue-skinned Morlocks opposite Rod Taylor in The Time Machine before settling down as the ultimate beach bunny in Where the Boys Are and then on the Dr. Kildare TV series. When hippie chicks replaced surfer girls in the public imagination, Mimieux updated herself accordingly, recording an LP, Baudelaire’s Flowers of Evil, in which she read poetry to a raga accompaniment by Indian master musician Ali Akbar Khan. As an empowered woman in the ’70s, Mimieux wrote a TV movie starring herself, and played a wronged woman in the cult classic Jackson County Jail. She still has a knack for doing the right thing at the right time in the right outfit; note her instructional yoga video. To judge from her appearance in a snug unitard, she still looks great in a bikini too.

So this is Yvette’s equivalent of, say, Shatner’s The Transformed Man LP: a chance to “show another side” of one’s creativity at the height of one’s fame. Unlike The Transformed Man it’s of interest beyond its obvious kitsch value.

Flowers of Evil LPAli Akbar Khan was one of the most respected musicians in the Indian Classical tradition, and if you can track down his Signature Series of CDs (or other recordings) it’s worth it. The label this appears on is Connoisseur, his own label, which released a lot of LPs of his music during the sixties, and the Signature CDs repress those LPs. The Baudelaire LP in question is remarkable in that it actually works, unlike Sidney Poitier’s LPs of Plato. The decadence and sensuality of Baudelaire’s lines is accompanied by a music that to a Westerner is also filled with decadence and sensuality.

  1. To a Passer-By
  2. A Voyage to Cythera
  3. Murdered Woman
  4. The Albatross
  5. Lethe
  6. Episode

Vladimir Nabokov: Lolita and Poems

In 1955, Vladimir Nabokov’s novel Lolita was published, in a small edition by an obscure French publisher with a penchant for pornography. Graham Greene pronounced it one of the three best books published that year, and “Hurricane Lolita” (as the Nabokovs referred to the intense publicity) gathered strength and swept over the Nabokov family, living at the time in Ithaca, New York.

The colossal fame and recognition had been a long time coming: the Nabokovs (Vladimir, his wife Véra, and son Dmitri) had spent the last few decades in near-poverty, travelling one step ahead of the Second World War (Véra was proudly and vociferously Jewish) and the Russian Revolution (both the Nabokovs’ aristocratic lives had gone up in smoke). Dmitri, when asked where his home was, answered that he hadn’t one — just “little houses by the side of the road.”

[publicity photograph of Nabokov] Lolita was composed between 1949 and 1953 (a novella featuring similar themes was written in 1939, and real-life incidents also contributed, perhaps), and is a road novel both literally and fictionally: the endless trip that Humbert Humbert drags Dolores Haze on to avoid awkward questions is the same trip the Nabokovs themselves took, Vera driving, Nabokov writing, the two of them catching butterflies along the way.

Once the novel hit the bestseller lists in America, the Nabokovs realized that this meant the end of their peripatetic life, and they settled in a hotel in Switzerland for the rest of their lives. Thanks can be — and presumably were — given to the formidable Véra who had twice rescued the manuscript from being tossed into a fire, as Nabokov wrestled with the book and realized that it might make him not so much famous as infamous.

[front cover of Spoken Arts Lolita LP] During the Sixties Nabokov was in high demand as a speaker (his presentation and reading skills honed by years of teaching literature at Wellesley and Cornell), and this LP captures Nabokov luxuriating in the acclaim both Véra and himself thought rightfully his. As with most examples of authors recording their own work, it’s a dramatically flat reading, Nabokov treading sonorously through his own text in his French-inflected English. (You can hear Nabokov reading excerpts from Pale Fire as well as Lolita with sparkling animation as the result of an appreciative audience being present courtesy of the New York Times.)

[photograph of Peter Sellers as Clare Quilty] The portion of Lolita read here consists of Humbert’s final confontation with the mysterious Clare Quilty (memorably brought to the screen in rather inflated fashion by Peter Sellers in Stanley Kubrick’s film), who has managed to wrest Lo away from Humbert’s cloying embrace. Thanks Sluggo for encoding this LP for me.

  1. Lolita: Part Two, Chapter 35
  2. The Ballad of Longwood Glen
  3. Rain
  4. Lines Written in Oregon
  5. On Translating “Eugene Onegin”
  6. An Evening of Russian Poetry
  7. The Swift
  8. The Discovery

Update: I’ve been alerted to a two-part video interview with Nabokov and Lionel Trilling about Lolita.

Update again: Nabokov’s unpublished novel-in-progress The Original of Laura is due to be published by Random House in November! I’m conflicted about this as it’s being done against his wishes, and posthumous novels are rarely satisfying, but second-rate Nabokov is better than most fiction, so …