- One of my favorite shows of the new year is ITV’s historical drama Mr Selfridge. In it, Jeremy Piven plays Harry Selfridge, the American entrepreneur who revolutionized retail in the US and UK. Born in the woods of Wisconsin, Selfridge worked at a store owned by a cousin of Marshall Field as a teen, and when other prospects didn’t work out (including trying to gain admission to the US Naval Academy), Selfridge went back to Field’s cousin to get a letter of introduction to Marshall. He began working at Marshall Field’s as a lowly sales clerk in the sock department, but soon rose to the top thanks to a neverending stream of ideas. It was Selfridge who came up with the idea of putting merchandise out so customers could see and feel it, instead of the old way of keeping it behind a counter. Selfridge moved perfumes and cosmetics to the front of the store, so that customers would smell enticing perfumes as they walked in. Selfridge pioneered the concept of prêt-à-porter in women’s clothing. He even invented the saying “x shopping days until Christmas” and is most likely the person who coined the phrase “the customer is always right”.
In 1906, Selfridge and his wife went to London on a vacation. He found London’s department stores lacking in almost every way: their selection of merchandise was limited, their sales methods were downright hostile to customers, and the whole system seemed at least 20 years out of date. He spent £400,000 (almost $58 million in 2011 dollars) building a new store in what was then a rundown section of Oxford Street. And it became a huge success. But things all went downhill for Selfridge from there. He loved his wife, but loved beautiful women, too. He’d often shower pretty show girls with furs and jewelry from his store.
But – and here’s the whole point of this post – as this article from the Daily Fail points out, the real story is even more amazing than the one on TV. The real Selfridge fell in love with a dancer named Jenny Dolly, and literally showered her with millions of dollars. Jenny loved ice cream, so Selfridge had it shipped by airplane to Paris every day, where Jenny was performing (no telling how much that cost in 1910!). He helped her buy a chateau near Fontainebleau and paid the equivalent of millions of modern dollars to decorate it. Jenny and her twin sister Rosie loved to gamble, and Selfridge would sit behind them at gaming tables, handing them stacks of thousand franc notes.
I won’t spoil it for you… but let’s just say it doesn’t end well for either Selfridge or the Dolly sisters. And if you haven’t seen the show yet, you should download it as soon as possible… it’s great!
- If, like me, you’re a fan of the BBC’s historical drama The Hour, you might want to read this article about whether the show deserves a third season (series). I love the show, and of course I want to see season 3 (and 4 and 5 and 6 and…). But the show’s ratings aren’t that good in the UK, and critical opinion has been sharply divided.
- My current favorite band, the Greek synthpop duo Marsheaux, are finally going to release their new album, Inhale, this April. Check out this sampler at SoundCloud. I CAN’T WAIT!
- Ever wonder what Andrew Ridgley, the other half of Wham!, is up to? Here’s your answer.
- Dashrath Manjhi was a poor laborer born a small village in Bihar, India. Manjhi’s wife died because she could not get medical attention. Although the nearest village isn’t that far away as the crow flies, the winding, circuitous mountain roads meant that the trip was 44 miles (70 km) one way. Heartbroken after her death, Manjhi swore that no other wives needed to die because of the roads. So from 1960 to 1982 he spent almost all his time, night and day, carving a road through a mountain. The result was a 360 foot long (110 m) road, 25 feet deep (7.6 m) in places and 30 feet wide (9.1 m)… chiseled by hand through solid rock. The road cut the route to the nearest village from 44 miles (70 km) to less than a mile (1 km).
- The Centro Financiero Confinanzas building in Caracas, Venezuela was supposed to be a glistening skyscraper dedicated to modern industry and finance. Started in 1990, building ceased in 1994 after the main investor died and the Venezuelan banking system fell into a crisis. Squatters moved in and quickly turned it into a city of its own. Read the fascinating story behind it here.
- Prince Charles recently visited The Florence Institute, a community center near Liverpool which had recently undergone a £6.4 million restoration. As he was leaving the Institute, patrons at a rundown pub nearby began gently hecking him… you know, stuff like “hey, Charles, why don’t ya come in for a pint?”:
To their complete surprise… he did! I guess ol’ Charlie isn’t the big stick in the mud most of us thought he was!