Special Report By Monica Sullivan
With all the "Best of the 20th Century" lists being compiled almost hourly, it's a humbling experience to see a list of the bestselling books of 1911-20, only one of which, Booth Tarkington's "Seventeen," I've ever read. The top authors of that decade were Jeffrey Farnol, who wrote a swashbuckler called "The Broad Highway," Gene Stratton Porter, who published "The Harvester," her third novel about Indiana swamp life, Winston Churchill (no, not THAT Churchill) who told the story of a priest coping with life in 1913 in "The Inside of the Cup" & Harold Bell Wright, who came up with "The Eyes of the World," deemed pornographic by at least one reviewer. Tarkington's "The Turmoil," H.G. Wells' "Mr. Britling Sees It Through," Vlasco-Ibanez's The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse" & two Zane Grey Westerns rounded out the list. Of the ten, only the books that were filmed are still remembered today, but when was the last time a librarian dragged any of them out of storage for eager readers of the 21st century?
Okay, okay, so the teens were a long, long, long time ago, but let's move forward half a century to the year 1965. In early 1999, I picked up a book called "Decades of Beauty." The cover showed stylish women of different eras walking down the street together. The concept, that we owe more to the past than we consciously realize, was intriguing. Then I got to page 144, which featured a large photograph spotlighting 54 women who made up a group called "The Classiest Class of 1965." Only three were identified: #51-actress Francesca Annis, #47-singer Lulu & #40-the model Nico, looking jaded long before she was tagged as an icon. Who were the others? Many months later, I finally tracked down a caption from an obscure British source. #50 was the impossibly young & cheerful singer Marianne Faithfull. #52 was actress Julia Foster, who appeared in British films, including "Alfie," for over twenty years. Judy Huxtable, #14 also made British films & was briefly married to one of the cleverest blokes of that era, the late Peter Cook. Actress Jane Birkin, #19, was the daughter of actress Judy Campbell & Birkin went on to become the mother of actress Charlotte Gainsbourg. Birkin's nude presence in the Antonioni masterpiece "Blowup" was considered scandalous since she was meant to be a much younger schoolgirl.
The remainder of the classiest class of 1965 evolved into society beauties, girlfriends of the rich & famous, pop singers, dedicated actresses or, more likely dilettante actresses, including one whose ambition was to be recognized as having the greatest legs in the world. Who chose these young women? Like the readers of the bestselling books of the teens, they're an historic blur. For a moment or two in recorded history, they represented the cutting edge between the future & the past. Inevitably, the past claimed them & they're not what we first recall when we think about the teens & the sixties. It's something to think about when we get too overwhelmed by the cosmic significance of the sizzling lists of today.
© 1999 - Monica Sullivan - Air Date: 12/29/99
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