Category: Fascinating People

Fascinating People

Square Celebrities’ Curvy Homes

Is there something about “square” entertainment legends that makes them commission really cool, curvy houses? Two examples (both on the market in recent months) might suggest so.

Via ABC News.

Exhibit A: the Malibu, CA hillside estate of American Bandstand host and “World’s Oldest Teenager” Dick Clark. Media articles about it invariably compare it to the house on another long-running ABC TV series, The Flintstones.  Originally listed last year at $3.5 million, it’s now been reduced for quick sale to $3.25 mil.


Exhibit B: the Palm Springs, CA desert mansion of comedy legend Bob Hope. Designed in 1973 by acclaimed architect John Lautner, its vast copper roof was intended to resemble a volcano. There’s a giant boulder in the middle, and a putting green and al fresco dining area outside. It can all be yours for a mere $50 million.

Street Scenes, Unseen


“Quite possibly the most important street photographer of the 20th century was a 1950s children’s nanny who kept herself to herself and never showed a single one of her photographs to anyone.”

That’s quite a statement. But it may also be true, in the case of Vivian Maier.

Maier’s works are now on display at the Photographic Center Northwest Gallery in Seattle, through March 23.

How Maier’s pictures were found and brought to the world’s attention is a story at least as fascinating as the pictures themselves.

As the site Messy Nessy Chic puts it, Maier’s discovery begins in 2007, when

…in 2007, a Chicago real estate agent and historical hobbyist, John Maloof, purchased a box of never-seen, never-developed film negatives of an unknown ‘amateur’ photographer for $380 at his local auction house.

As Maloof inspected and developed some of the negatives, he discovered a treasure trove of images, taken between the early 1950s and the late 1990s. They depict thousands of unposed instants of life on New York’s and Chicago’s streets.


Maloof tried to track down the pictures’ enigmatic creator, only in 2009 to find her Chicago Tribune obituary. She’d died at the age of 83.

Maloof’s own site,, describes what he’s learned since then about Maier:

 An American of French and Austro-Hungarian extraction, Vivian bounced between Europe and the United States before coming back to New York City in 1951. Having picked up photography just two years earlier, she would comb the streets of the Big Apple refining her artistic craft. By 1956 Vivian left the East Coast for Chicago, where she’d spend most of the rest of her life working as a caregiver. In her leisure Vivian would shoot photos that she zealously hid from the eyes of others. Taking snapshots into the late 1990?s, Maier would leave behind a body of work comprising over 100,000 negatives.

Maloof hopes to complete and release a documentary video, Finding Vivian Maier, later this year. (Here’s a preview trailer for it.)


For now, Maloof has a 144-page coffee-table book compiling part of Maier’s legacy, titled Vivian Maier: Street Photographer.

We Can Be Heroes, Just For One Day

“Out of work Sith Lord.”

The Emerald City Comicon, held at the Washington State Convention Center, has become an annual sign of Spring’s impending arrival in Seattle. It’s March! Time to shake off that Gore-Tex and wool. Time to reveal the unencumbered Real You to the world, by becoming your favorite fantasy character.


Like most “comics conventions” around North America, including the giant San Diego Comicon, the Emerald City Comicon is only partly about comic books and mostly about fantasy film/TV. This year’s special guests included Star Trek: TNG and X-Men star Patrick Stewart and ’60s Batman stars Adam West and Burt Ward.


But the real stars every year are the attendees themselves, channelling their copyrighted-and-trademarked icons.




Perhaps nowhere was this smelting of commercial art into folk art more obvious than with the guy who played the Star Wars theme on bagpipes, while riding a unicycle.

(P.S.: For a viewpoint on Comicon from an actual comics creator, check out Donna Barr’s blog.)

Harold Lloyd’s Christmas Tree

Walter Dymond, groundskeeper of Harold Lloyd’s estate, Greenacres, with the Lloyd Christmas tree. He was responsible for the construction of the Christmas tree from two trees (wiring the branches of one into the other), and placed the ornaments where Mr Lloyd directed. Harold and his wife Mildred decorated it every year from Thanksgiving to Christmas Eve, and collected thousands of ornaments for it from all over the world. It was 20 feet tall, 9 feet wide and almost 30 feet around. The tree was fire-proofed and remained up, all year ‘round. – (1972)

****Yeah, Harold Lloyd

International Banana Club Museum

The International Banana Club was founded back in 1972 by Ken Bannister, T.B. (Top Banana). This clubs purpose is to keep you smiling, get you more attention and recognition, give you a vehicle to keep spirits up and stay in good health.

What looks like a banana-is curio shop to us, serves as a networking vehicle for the founder and other members.

After all, the banana is the only fruit shaped like a smile 🙂

International Banana Club on Atlas Obscura

Banana Blog

Steve Bard’s Weird House

If UNUSUAL is what you’re looking for, step right this way…

Our friend, Steve, is a great guy who has a thing about collecting unusual treasures to surround him in his home. The collection is incredible, astonishing, visually overwhelming, and sometimes disarming in nature. We’ve posted several times in the past about Steve’s passion for finding items which are unique, yet compliment other items in his multi-layered mix of visual spectacle. Today’s post is a video filmed by Unusual Life’s Marlow Harris. To say his home is a museum of wondrous treasures is an understatement. Marlow’s new video captures of the true essence of Steve’s incredibly strange home. Enjoy!

Steve invites you to take a tour of his Weird House in Seattle

Here are links to our previous posts featuring Steve and his home with many more photos and videos…

Steve’s Strange House ! – from August 2009

Comics, lawsuits, science fiction and a very unusual home from 4/07

Extreme Home Tour – November 2010

Bad Wig and Ugly Tracksuit Walk

• HAPPY NEW YEAR 2011 !!! •

Meet at Noon, at the Kiddy Pool at the North end of Greenlake in Seattle on Friday, January 1st, 2011!

Here are photos from the last few years. We’ll do it again this year, Saturday, January 1st, rain-or-shine. See you then!

What a great way to get the New Year off on the right foot.

Luckily, wigs do offer some insulation from hangovers and there’s no need to fret about bad bed-head.

Rain-or-shine, umbrella’s & kids ok. Meet at the Kiddy Pool on the North end of the Lake at noon. I’m pretty sure we’ll all be pretty easy to spot.

More details on Seattle Twist.

Unusual Diabetes

Diabetes is a group of metabolic diseases in which a person has high blood sugar, either because the body does not produce enough insulin, or because cells do not respond to the insulin that is produced.

All forms of diabetes have been treatable since insulin became available in 1921, and the new book BREAKTHROUGH: Elizabeth Hughes, the Discovery of Insulin, and the Making of a Medical Miracle by Thea Cooper and Arthur Ainsberg outlines this amazing discovery.

Breakthrough is based on the stranger-than-fiction true story of politics and personalities, and the unusual stories about diabetes just don’t go away.

What would you think of a single malt whisky made from the urine of diabetics? Creator James Gilpin doesn’t sell the stuff, but rather gives away bottles as a public health statement.

From the product page:

Sugar heavy urine excreted by diabetic patients is now being utilized for the fermentation of high-end single malt whisky for export. The Whisky market is growing faster then any other alcoholic beverage worldwide. With a prevalent genetic weakness being exposed in the northern hemisphere leading to a sharp rise in type two diabetes, economists have found a new exportable commodity to exploit and are keen to capitalize on this resource quickly.

Large amounts of sugar are excreted on a daily basis by type-two diabetic patients especially amongst the upper end of our aging population. As a result of this diabetic patients toilets often have unusual scale build up in the basin due and rapid mould growths as the sugar put into the system acts as nutrients for mould and bacteria growth. Is it plausible to suggest that we start utilizing our water purification systems in order to harvest the biological resources that our elderly already process in abundance?

And there are more unusual stories too.

The Gila monster would seem an unlikely source for a diabetes drug. But Dr. John Eng, MD, of the Bronx VA Medical Center in New York, thought otherwise. He had studied with a Nobel Prize winning mentor, Rosalyn Yalow, who had developed a technique for isolating unique animal hormones.

Expanding on her work, Eng studied guinea pigs and chinchillas. Then in the late 1980’s, he read research that found that reptile venom affected the pancreas.

Gila monster venom—found in its saliva—seemed especially potent, so he ordered some from the catalog of a Utah sepentarium. Using his new technique, he isolated a substance that stimulated the pancreas to produce insulin, the hormone that is reduced in diabetes. Eventually, he patented a synthetic version of the Gila monster compound, now known as Byetta.

Interested in the origins of synthetic insulin and want to know more of this history
? Then you’ll want to get the new book BREAKTHROUGH: Elizabeth Hughes, the Discovery of Insulin, and the Making of a Medical Miracle by Thea Cooper and Arthur Ainsberg published by St. Martin’s Press.

Elizabeth Hughes was the fourteen-year-old diabetic daughter of the U.S. Secretary of State when she became one of the first recipients of an experimental drug. Weighing a mere forty-five pounds, she was barely a staring skeleton when she was taken to Toronto in 1922 to meet Frederick Banting, the extremely unlikely discoverer of insulin. Three months later she left Toronto to begin a new life, a life in which her diabetic condition remained a closely held secret for nearly sixty years.

You can meet the author of BREAKTHROUGH, Thea Cooper, Tuesday, November 16 at 7pm at Third Place Books at 17171 Bothell Way NE in Lake Forest Park and learn more about this unusual tale.

Extreme Home Tour

Gage Academy supporters recently took a tour of several artists homes and studios around the Seattle area in the Mighty Elvis Mobile. Hilarity ensued.

Gage Academy received a donation of $50 in gift certificates, so midway into our tour, we stopped at Dick’s Drive-in for lunch. Delicious!

We started the tour at Close Enough Engineering with Kim Hall and Steve Walker, then went on to the Paint-by-Number Salon and moved to the home and studio of Kelly Lyles, the home of Steve Bard and then ended the day at the beautiful home and studio of Ginny Ruffner.

Elvis Death Day

Elvis Grave

August 16th will be the 33rd anniversary of Elvis’ death, and I thought what better way to celebrate “Weep Week” than to write about Elvis Real Estate.

Reno Fontana lives in one of two homes owned by Elvis when he died. The first, of course, is Graceland in Memphis. The second is the home in Palm Springs on Chino Canyon Road that Elvis and Priscilla bought on April 14, 1970.

When Reno and then wife Laura were looking for a bigger house, he was thumbing through real estate magazines on a Friday night when he saw the Chino Canyon home listed. He called at 9 a.m. on Saturday. “Is it really Elvis’ house?” he asked. Assured it was, he responded, “I’ll be right there, and I am buying it.” He bought the house sight unseen for $1,275,000.

“When we moved in, within a matter of hours on the first day people were stopping by taking pictures,” Fontana relates. “We were so thrilled to say, ‘Would you like to come in and see the house?”‘ The Fontanas don’t share most homeowners’ objection to having a lot of strangers coming into their house. “Even though we own the house, we like to think we are caretakers,” Reno says. “It’s open for Elvis fans.”

Elvis Living Room

For the first few months, they invited people in for free. One day, after touring the home, a gentleman said, “It’s really gracious of you, but here’s $50.” After that, the Fontanas fully realized the value of what they had. Ninety percent of the furnishings belonged to Elvis. “You are not just seeing a house he used to live in. You are seeing a real part of his life,” Fontana says.

Because of his dedication to Elvis and Elvis fans, Fontana has researched and gotten confirmation from people who knew Elvis, and obtained written authentication whenever possible. He has a copy of the house title signed by Elvis and Priscilla Presley in 1970, when they bought it for $85,000. The Presleys were not the only famous owners. In 1960, McDonald’s founder Ray Kroc purchased the house; and in 1981, Frankie Valli bought it for $750,000. In 1986, Valli sold it to a Japanese corporation for $2.2 million. From then until the Fontanas purchased it, the home was open for a few weeks.

Elvis Chino Canyon Road on Zillow

Elvis Wedding Photo

The house on Chino Canyon Road is not the only piece of real estate that Elvis enjoyed in Palm Springs.

In 1967, Elvis and Priscilla were to be married by the pool in the backyard of the house. But the arrival of friends and family tipped off then-leading gossip columnist Rona Barrett (who also lived in the neighborhood) that a wedding was imminent. As the media descended upon the house, Elvis and Priscilla changed plans, deciding to get married in Vegas. In the middle of the night, they snuck into an alley behind the house, where a limo took them to Frank Sinatra’s learjet. They were married in the Aladdin Hotel.

The next day they returned to honeymoon in the Palm Springs house, which is how it got its nickname as the “Elvis Honeymoon House.”

Elvis Honeymoon House

Zillow’s estimate of Elvis’ Honeymoon House

Mark Ryden – The Gay 90’s – NYC opening


On April 29th, 2010, we at Unusual Life were thrilled to attend the gala opening of The Gay 90’s, the newest set of masterpieces by artist Mark Ryden. The show is at the Paul Kasmin Gallery in New York City. You can see the full show of 5 paintings, and 18 watercolors and drawing studies online at the Kasmin Gallery website, or in person at the gallery thru June 10th, 2010. 

Guests attending the opening were asked to dress in the Olde Tyme theme. Mark’s friends and supporters showed up from all over the country, ready to congratulate him on yet another remarkable body of work. The crowd was thick with artists, creatives, and smiling admirers.  

–  Click here for many fun photos from the opening celebration!  –









–  Click here for many fun photos from the opening celebration!  –



Unbelievable photo set from

It is Carnival Season in many countries around the world with a Roman Catholic heritage. Celebrations and parades put on just prior to the observance of Lent. Tomorrow will be the Mardi Gras in New Orleans, but the past couple of weeks have seen parades and celebrations throughout Europe, the Caribbean and South America – notably Venice, Italy and Brazil. Collected here are just a glimpse of some of the elaborate celebrations of this Carnival season.


More fabulous photos about the Carnival on

Bill Gates Livin’ Large

Bill Gates sitting on Big Furniture

Bill Gates, as Microsoft Corporation Chairman (left), looks at an empty oversized bowl on a giant kitchen table, accompanied by Portugal’s Science and Technology minister Mariano Gago at the knowledge and Living Science pavilion at the Parque das Nacoes, Lisbon, Portugal.

Want your own big furniture? Great Big Computer Key-stool

World’s Largest Chair

Unusual house chair


World’s Largest Useless Things



Erika Nelson’s cool traveling roadshow: World’s Largest Collection of the World’s Smallest Versions of the World’s Largest Things

Bill enjoying his retirement hobnobbing with the rich and famous:

Marlow Harris and Bill Gates
Marlow Harris and Bill Gates

Bill relaxing on a table in his office:


Happy President’s Day


To celebrate Lincoln’s birthday and President’s Day, the editors at have selected their favorite Lincoln tourist attractions and exhibits. From a much longer list, these 12 leapt onto the stage of infamy — from the Lincoln Watermelon Monument to the bronzed foundation of Lincoln’s Boyhood Home. There’s even one unmentionable exhibit (which they’ve chosen to mention, of course).


Buy Abraham Lincoln candy

Unusual Lincoln objects at Brown University



Abe Lincoln and Jesus Shrine


Lincoln Watermelon Monument