Saturday, December 22, 2012

No Room at the Speakeasy, or, I'm Dreaming of a Wet Christmas

Barring a Christmas miracle, I'll be away from the computer on the 23d, 24th, and 25th. In the meantime, enjoy the holiday as it was celebrated in the 1920s (in pop culture, at least):

By John Held Jr, probably the most popular cartoonist of the era.


Clara Bow, "The It Girl."

Christmas card.

Didn't that company just go belly up?

 A Salacious Santa.

You never know what Santa might have picked up after a trip around the world


Gloria Swanson is ready for her close-up, Mr DeMille.

Christmas at the Fitzgeralds.

Here's an Italian postcard. They had flappers, too, though they seemed to dress a little warmer.

The automobile had become more commonplace.

Why, even Santa was driving one.

Christmas in LA.

Prohibition did put a damper on things. If you're not familiar with 1920s fashions, I can assure you what that gentleman holding the spray bottle is wearing was way out of style, even back then. But maybe that's the whole point. It's the fogies who want to spoil all the fun.


Mary Pickford.

That "wotever it is" looks like a paint roller brush, doesn't it?

OK, I see a keyboard, but where's the screen?

Louise Brooks.  Her signature bob hair style defined the flapper look. Speaking of flappers...

...not everyone had a positive view of them.

OK, I've shown you the side of the 1920s that the purveyors of popular culture wanted you to see. They wanted you see it back then, and they want you see it now. But for most people, it wasn't as glamorous as all that. Here's some pictures of ordinary people celebrating Christmas:

OK, enough with the ordinary people already. One last look at Clara Bow:

All of the above photos were culled from various places around the Internet (unimaginable in the 1920s)

This was fun, and I might do it again next Christmas. To avoid repeating myself, though, I'll have to jump ahead ten years to the 1930s.

Expect a lot of Salvation Army Santas.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

In Memoriam: Daniel Inouye 1924-2012

Politician. Democratic senator from Hawaii 1963-2012

"In 1941, the date December 7th was a day that evoked anger, fierce patriotism and dangerous racism. Soon after that day, I suddenly found myself, pursuant to a decision by the government and along with thousands of Japanese Americans declared 4C, enemy aliens. It was a difficult time. I was 17."

Enemy alien or not, Inouye enlisted in the US Army, and lost part of his right arm during a charge on a machine gun nest in Italy.

“This is my country...Many of us have fought hard for the right to say that. Many are now struggling today from Harlem to Da Nang that they may say this with conviction. This is our country.”

--Keynote address to the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. Yes, THAT 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago.

"There exists a shadowy government with its own Air Force,
its own Navy, its own fundraising mechanism, and
the ability to pursue its own ideas of national interest,
free from all checks and balances, and free from the law itself."

In the late 1980s, Inouye chaired a special committee investigating the Iran-Contra scandal.


Sunday, December 16, 2012

Quips and Quotations

Random violence is incredibly infectious.

--Nicholas D. Kristof

We are a country of excess. So it's not the violence, per se, but the exacerbation and constant repetition.

--Norman Lear
Anyone with a gun can go out and commit an act of terrorism, even without a political affiliation.

--Aaron McGruder

What does it tell you that applications for guns since the shooting are up 41 percent in Colorado, and that our cameras found about 50 people in line at one gun shop yesterday outside Denver?

--Brian Williams, shortly after the shootings at Columbine.

Eighty-six percent of the gun death of children under the age of 14 internationally is right here in the United States of America. It is madness.

--Congresswoman Nita Lowry (D-New York)

I can calculate the motion of heavenly bodies, but not the madness of people.

--Isaac Newton

Pain is real when you get other people to believe in it. If no one believes in it but you, your pain is madness or hysteria.

--Naomi Wolf

The most dangerous creation of any society is the man who has nothing to lose.

--James A. Baldwin

Neither the life of an individual nor the history of a society can be understood without understanding both.

--C. Wright Mills
In these times you have to be an optimist to open your eyes when you awake in the morning.

--Carl Sandburg

Friday, December 7, 2012

This Day in History

On December 7, 1941, one empire inadvertently begat another:


Saturday, December 1, 2012

Quips and Quotations (Apocalyptic Arias Edition)

I see the bad moon arising.
I see trouble on the way.
I see earthquakes and lightnin'.
I see bad times today.
Don't go around tonight,
Well, it's bound to take your life,
There's a bad moon on the rise.
I hear hurricanes ablowing.
I know the end is coming soon.
I fear rivers over flowing.
I hear the voice of rage and ruin.
Don't go around tonight,
Well, it's bound to take your life,
There's a bad moon on the rise.
Hope you got your things together.
Hope you are quite prepared to die.
Looks like we're in for nasty weather.
One eye is taken for an eye.
Don't go around tonight,
Well, it's bound to take your life,
There's a bad moon on the rise.

--John Fogerty

When the saints go marchin in
Oh, when the saints go marching in
Lord, how I want to be in that number
When the saints go marching in
And when the sun refuse to shine
And when the sun refuse to shine
Lord, how I want to be in that number
When the sun refuse to shine
And when the moon turns red with blood
And when the moon turns red with blood
Lord, how I want to be in that number
When the moon turns red with blood

--19th century spiritual and 20th century jazz standard (go figure.)

Don’t you understand what I’m tryin’ to say
Can’t you feel the fears I’m feelin’ today?
If the button is pushed, there’s no runnin’ away
There’ll be no one to save, with the world in a grave
[Take a look around ya boy, it's bound to scare ya boy]
And you tell me
Over and over and over again, my friend
Ah, you don’t believe
We’re on the eve
Of destruction.
-- P. F. Sloan, by way of Barry McGuire

That's great, it starts with an earthquake, birds and snakes,
an aeroplane - Lenny Bruce is not afraid.
Eye of a hurricane, listen to yourself churn,
world serves its own needs, dummy serve your own needs.
Feed it off an aux speak,, grunt, no, strength,
The ladder starts to clatter with fear fight down height.
Wire in a fire, representing seven games, a government for hire and a combat site.
Left of west and coming in a hurry with the furies breathing down your neck.
Team by team reporters baffled, trumped, tethered cropped.
Look at that low playing!
Fine, then.
Uh oh, overflow, population, common food, but it'll do.
Save yourself, serve yourself. World serves its own needs, listen to your heart bleed dummy with the rapture and the revered and the right - right.
You vitriolic, patriotic, slam, fight, bright light, feeling pretty psyched.
It's the end of the world as we know it.
It's the end of the world as we know it.
It's the end of the world as we know it and I feel fine.

--Berry, Buck, Mills, and Stipe

I couldn't take it any longer
Lord I was crazed
And when the feeling came upon me
Like a tidal wave
I started swearing to my god and on my mother's grave
That I would love you to the end of time
I swore that I would love you to the end of time!
So now I'm praying for the end of time
To hurry up and arrive
'Cause if I gotta spend another minute with you
I don't think that I can really survive
I'll never break my promise or forget my vow
But God only knows what I can do right now
I'm praying for the end of time
It's all that I can do
Praying for the end of time,
So I can end my time with you!!

--Jim Steinman, by way of Meat Loaf

In time the Rockies may crumble,
Gibraltar may tumble,
There're only made of clay,
But our love is here to stay.

--The Gerswhins

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Going for the Old

Every so often, I skim through a page on Wikipedia titled "Deaths in 2012." Two months from now I'll be skimming through "Deaths in 2013." Last year, I was skimming through "Deaths in 2011." You get the idea. I do this to see if anyone obscure but notable has passed on but whose obituary didn't make my daily paper, or if it did I missed it because it was too small, or too far below the fold, or whatever. By "obscure but notable" I mean has-beens or never-weres, folks who are not, or are no longer, famous, but aren't quite unheard of either. That's how I found out about this fellow's passing:

Clive Dunn, 92, British actor (Dad's Army) and singer ("Grandad"), complications following operation.
 If you're not familiar with Dad's Army, it was a situation comedy popular in Great Britain from the late '60s to the mid- '70s. Taking place during World War II, it concerned a unit of the Home Guard, British volunteers deemed unfit to serve in the regular army, often due to age, and so did their part in this special service as a secondary line of defense in case the Nazis invaded, which, fortunately, they never did. I discovered Dad's Army about 15 years ago on a Youngstown PBS affiliate and found it hilarious. Dunn, though not the star of the show, was memorable as Lance-Corporal Jones, an elderly veteran of previous wars who couldn't stop talking. Here's Dunn in action:


While he was still on Dad's Army, Dunn released a song called "Grandad" that sat on top of the UK singles charts for three weeks in 1971, making him an unlikely pop star:

Some rather nubile granddaughters he's got there, huh?

When I read that Dunn was 92 at the time of his death, I originally thought nothing of it. Dad's Army first aired in 1968, quite a while ago, and Dunn had played an old man on it, so it was only natural that he'd be up there in years.

Then I did the math. As I said earlier, Dunn's character was a veteran who couldn't stop talking. Especially about earlier military engagements. In more than one episode, he mentions the Boer Wars, which were fought at the end of the 19th century. At the very least, Lance-Corporal Jones would have been close to 70 by the time of World War II. If the actor who played him was 70 in 1968, he'd...suddenly, 92 no longer seemed old but unusually young.

I did some research on Clive Dunn. He was actually 48 when he first appeared on Dad's Army. Here's a picture of him around that time, but out of character:

A middle-aged man. A touch of grey, laugh lines, but nothing that cries out "elderly." To play Jones, Dunn must have died his hair white, and further obscured his true age with glasses, but I think it was mostly his skill as an actor that made him such a convincing senior.

And it wasn't his first senior moment, either. In 1960, when he was 40, Dunn played a doddering old man on another British sitcom called Bootie and Snudge. After Dad's Army went off the air in 1977, Dunn played an elderly character yet again in a kids show called, appropriately, Grandad. That lasted until 1984, by which time Dunn was an actual senior citizen.

He then promptly retired.

Over the years, there have been other actors who've risen in their profession. Dunn's fellow Brit Alastair Sim made a career out of playing old men. Americans probably know him best as Ebenezer Scrooge in the '51 film version of A Christmas Carol. Sim himself was 51 at the time. Here in the States, Walter Brennan played elderly roles from the late 1930s, when he was relatively young, all the way to the early 1970s, when he was decidedly old. Redd Foxx was all of 50 when he first portrayed the 65-year old Fred on Sanford and Son. Foxx's childhood friend LaWanda Page played 60-something Aunt Esther on the same show. Estelle Getty was one year younger than Bea Arthur when she played the latter's mother on The Golden Girls.

And so, while the rest of us wash that grey right out of our hair, cover up those liver spots and wrinkles with anti-aging creams, have face-lifts, eye-lifts, neck lifts, and pump our faces up with Botox in a futile effort to hang on to our youth, there are those hardy souls among us darting in the opposite direction.

While they're still able to dart.     


Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Post-War, er, Post-Election Analysis

I'll try and make this brief. Barack Obama won last night. Those of you aware of my politics will know I see this as a good thing. But not too much of a good thing. The President will still have to contend with a divided Congress, a divided nation, a divided world, and, if the Hubble telescope ever detects life on another planet, probably a divided galaxy as well. Like Bill Clinton before him, Obama may just end up a lonely centurion on guard duty at the gates of Rome, nervously flailing his sword at the approaching barbarian hoards.

Maybe it's unfair of me to call them barbarians. They're just well-meaning folks who simply want to return this country to those halcyon days of yore when blacks were serfs, women were indentured bedmates who knew how to cook, gays were unimaginable, indigenous people were trespassers, Genesis was science, literacy was a luxury, arsenic cuisine was unregulated, soot was a precaution against sun stroke, windows were for dumping out chamber pots, and you didn't have all these meddlesome laws prohibiting four-year olds from earning an honest living working in iron smelting plants with a half-day off for Christmas. These are the people, some of them either in Congress or just financing it, that Obama has to contend with for the next four years. I don't know that he'll have time to do anything else. So, if you're expecting some sweeping changes in his second term that will transform this country into a fairer, more equatable place with justice and opportunity for all, regardless of race, religion, gender, or social status, then...

You must be a right-wing Republican. That's exactly what they're afraid will happen

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Quips and Quotations

Life beats down and crushes the soul, and art reminds you that you have one.

--Stella Adler, acting teacher. Among her students were Marlon Brando, Judy Garland, Robert De Niro, Elaine Stritch, Harvey Keital, and Warren Beatty, though probably not all in the same class. 



Saturday, October 27, 2012

Recommended Reading

George McGovern died last week while I was either in the midst of writing a recent post on politics, or responding to comments on it. It was 40 years ago that McGovern first ran for president, bucking the odds and party establishment to secure the Democratic nomination, only to lose by a landslide in the general election. If you'd like a better understanding of that period of history, don't bother with The Making of the President: 1972 or anything "respectable" like that. Instead, put your trust in the good gonzo doctor:

"If the current polls are reliable... Nixon will be re-elected by a huge majority of Americans who feel he is not only more honest and more trustworthy than George McGovern, but also more likely to end the war in Vietnam. The polls also indicate that Nixon will get a comfortable majority of the Youth Vote. And that he might carry all fifty states... This may be the year when we finally come face to face with ourselves; finally just lay back and say it — that we are really just a nation of 220 million used car salesmen with all the money we need to buy guns, and no qualms at all about killing anybody else in the world who tries to make us uncomfortable. The tragedy of all this is that George McGovern, for all his mistakes... understands what a fantastic monument to all the best instincts of the human race this country might have been, if we could have kept it out of the hands of greedy little hustlers like Richard Nixon. McGovern made some stupid mistakes, but in context they seem almost frivolous compared to the things Richard Nixon does every day of his life, on purpose... Jesus! Where will it end? How low do you have to stoop in this country to be President?"

To be fair to Tricky Dick, the U. S. involvement in the Vietnam War did end on his watch--but only after he first expanded the war to Cambodia, essentially destroying that country in the process--KJ

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Civics Tested

If you look underneath the title, Shadow of a Doubt, on top, you'll see a none-too-brief description of what this blog's all about. Everything, essentially.  But the first three topics are "Social commentary, cultural commentary, political commentary..." When I first started this blog in the spring of '08, though all three were mentioned, it was pretty much political commentary all the time. The reason being, 2008 was an election year, and politics was my muse. The election was always on my mind. I wrote about Hillary. About Obama. About McCain. About Biden and Palin. About the debates. I was vigilant. Whatever hat was thrown in the ring, I'd check for lice. Whatever babies were kissed, I'd check for mono. If any backroom deal was being made, I'd make sure it wasn't from the bottom of the deck. If any mud was slung, I'd make sure it wasn't fertilized--by a bull.

All this was four years ago. Now, it's 2012, another election year, and I'm shocked to find I haven't written about it at all. Why have I been so remiss?

Much of it has to do with time, and the lack thereof. I'm working some unusual hours now, and I'm not at a computer as often. For small things like "Quips and Quotations" or "In Memoriam" it's not really a problem, but the essays that form the heart and soul of this blog (even if nobody reads them) now take much longer, sometimes three whole weeks instead of just one as before. Now, if I'm writing about some old movie or TV show, it doesn't matter. Old is old, and it will still be old after three weeks. But politics, current events, are about the here and now. If I had written about, say, Mitt's dissing of the 47%, it might have not been posted until two weeks after the other 53% percent decided the election. That essay would have been about as relevant as MySpace.

It's not just time, though. Over the past three years, this blog has evolved into an exploration of pop culture, especially past pop culture. That doesn't always rest easily with the politics. If I had all the time in the world to write, I'd probably have three blogs. One devoted to pop culture, one to politics, and the third to personal reminiscences and the like. As it is now, I try to shove all three of those things into Shadow of a Doubt (with a few crumbs tossed every now and then to the otherwise famished Ancient Celluloid.) Now, all three do come from the same brain, same mind, same sensibility. For instance, I saw my recent recent essay on Welcome Back, Kotter as being vaguely left-wing. But I don't expect you to find it left-wing, right-wing, left-leg, or right thigh. Not at the risk of you getting indigestion and then calling the health inspector to check this place out.

OK, in the above paragraph, I just revealed which way I lean politically. Yes, I'm a liberal, progressive, lefty, bleeding heart, pinko (just don't call me a communist; I strongly believe the Five Guys hamburger chain should remain in private hands. I don't want the government messing with those toppings!)

Fear not, conservative readers (I know I have at least one. Maybe I'll hear from that person in the comment section.) I 'm not about to spend the rest of this essay trying to convince you to vote for Obama instead of Mitt. I doubt if you're even persuadable at this point. I just felt I had to get my political ideology out there, or else the rest of this essay would become much too abstract to make sense. It would be like searching for a naked albino in a snowstorm.

I'm also a Democrat. The difference between being a Democrat and a liberal or a progressive or a lefty or a bleeding heart or a pinko is you have to register to be the former. The Democratic Party is supposedly entrusted with representing the liberal point of view in government, and compared to the other side--the Republican Party--they do just that. Except they don't. Not always. Or they do it long after liberals and progressives have moved on to other things. I don't have a problem with that. I understand political realities. What bothers me--and makes it a bummer to write, even think, from the liberal point of view at times--is that the Democratic Party, often for reasons of bald strategy and no other, gets to define liberalism.

I'll give you one example. After 9/11, President Bush's approval rating shot up spy drone high, and he was hailed a great leader for simply being the leader when the whole, sorry thing happened. To counter this, the Dems dreamed up the Department of Homeland Security. When I first heard that a department of that name was being proposed, I thought to myself, isn't it already the Pentagon's job to secure the homeland?  Of course, in spite of all the money thrown at it in the previous 50 years, the Pentagon couldn't even secure itself on 9/11, much less the rest of the homeland. But this new department wasn't going to involve the Pentagon, nor NORAD, nor the CIA, nor the FBI. Instead the idea was to take a bunch of agencies that theretofore has little to do with each other, such as Customs, the Secret Service, the Coast Guard, the INS, FEMA and the Plum Island Animal Disease Center, and put them under one roof. This way, in case of an emergency, instead of federal workers having to take cab rides all over the District of Columbia, they could just stroll down a hallway. Something like that. So, if Democrat = liberal, then I guess the Department of Homeland Security stands as one of liberalism's crowning achievements in this still-new century, for all the good that did waterlogged New Orleanians after Hurricane Katrina. Yes, you could, and should, blame Bush for putting an inexperienced and incompetent political hack in charge of FEMA, but the fact that it was now part of a larger Department of Homeland Security didn't prevent such incompetence from taking place. Really, when the department was being proposed, the Republicans in Congress had every right to attack the Democrats for creating yet another bloated, federal bureaucracy. Instead, for political reasons of their own, they went along with it this time.

Another problem with Democrats = liberal, is that Democrats running for, or already in office, don't like to be, and don't like voters to be, reminded of the "= liberal" part. Both Presidents Clinton and Obama, either themselves or through their spokesmen, have on occasion dissed liberals, some of whom have been rushed to the hospital for emergency tongue surgery after biting down too hard in the name of party loyalty.

It's enough to make some liberals pine for this Jill Stein chick as a third-party candidate. Actually, everybody of every political persuasion occasionally pines for a third-party candidate, if not necessarily for Ms. Stein. Earlier this year saw the Unity08 movement for disaffected centrists. It fizzled when people saw movement spokesman Sam Waterson talking about it on TV and assumed it was a commercial for TD Ameritrade. Something like it could still pop up in the future. Until ten, maybe 15, years ago, I considered myself a centrist, so I know where those people are coming from. They don't want the boat rocked, as the liberals would do, but also don't want that same boat to turn around and head back, as the conservatives would have it do (in case you're curious, I stopped being a centrist once I realized the boat's compass could be tampered with.) Even some conservatives unhappy that the Republican Party isn't moving fast enough at privatizing turning lanes may want a third party.

But the math is against it. Contrary to popular belief, the American form of democracy isn't based on majority rule. Instead, the candidate who gets the most votes wins.

OK, I can hear you now: "Kirk, what the hell are you talking about? 'Majority' and 'most' means the same thing!" Actually, they only mean the same thing in a two-, not three-, party system. I'll explain. Say there's a table with 20 apples. Tom sits down and takes 8 of these apples. Dick grabs 7, leaving Harry with 5. Who has the most apples? Tom, obviously. But he doesn't have the majority, because Dick's and Harry's combined are more than that. Tom, in fact, has a minority of the apples. He just gets more, that's all.

So, while it's tempting to vote for someone other than the lesser of two evils for a change, with a third party, you may find that the greater of three evils gets in office instead.

Is there anyway this all could  be improved? Well, you could change the law to favor the "majority" over the "most.' Two ways come to mind. You could have a two-part first-choice, second-choice election. If nobody gets a majority, the candidate with the least amount of votes is disqualified. Another election is held, with a nice clear-cut majority/most winner. This way, a liberal could let his hair down and vote for Ralph Nader in the first election, and then more realistically for Al Gore in the second. A conservative could make a principled vote for Pat Buchanan in the first election, and then vote for the more moderate George W. Bush in the second (at least everybody thought he was more moderate in 2000.)  I think we'd have a much clearer understanding of what the electorate really thinks about things. A better compass, so to speak.

Another way, one that I increasingly favor, is to add NONE OF THE ABOVE onto the ballot. Worried about the effect of money on elections? The Koch brothers could go through their entire fortune until they'd have nothing left but a single roll of Angle Soft toilet paper between them, and still couldn't defeat NONE OF THE ABOVE at the polls. Don't like negativity in politics? What kind of smear campaign could you possibly have against NONE OF THE ABOVE? Could you call NONE OF THE ABOVE a communist? If there's anyone who is not now or never been, it's NONE. Accuse NONE OF THE ABOVE of having sex with an underage intern? How would you know if she was on top or bottom?

OK, I can hear you now: "But, Kirk, suppose NONE OF THE ABOVE wins the election? Won't it look rather odd on inauguration day having the presidential limo go down Pennsylvania Avenue with no one in the back seat to wave at the crowds?"

If NONE OF THE ABOVE wins, you would then have a second election, this time without NONE on the ballot. Whoever got the most votes would win that election, but they'd go into office a bit humbled, a bit chastened. There would be no beating on the chest about how they have a mandate, about how the people have spoken.

Well, I suppose he or she could always brag they were second to NONE.


Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Vital Viewing (Ships That Pass Through the Night Edition)

John Lennon was born on this day in 1940. He gave many, many interviews over the years, but here's one in 1974 by a man you normally don't associate with rock music:

Six years later:

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Brought to You By Nabisco

Andy Williams died--lemme check--two days ago. I can't say I paid much attention to him over the  years. I'm in no way prejudiced against his style of singing, which in my youth was referred to a "easy listening." I just have an easier time listening to Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, Nat King Cole, or Perry Como than I do Williams. "Moon River" is a great song, but I prefer the way Audrey Hepburn sang it in Breakfast at Tiffany's. And it's nice Williams stood by his ex after she was accused of shooting and killing her ski instructor, but I can no longer remember if she was found guilty or not (well, I am on the Internet, so let me check again...misdemeanor criminal negligence, 30 days in jail plus a small fine.)

Now that I think about it, there was a point in my life when I did pay attention to Williams. I was 8 or 9 and used to watch his variety show on TV. I didn't watch because of him particularly. I just happened to have liked variety shows, of which there were many when I was a kid. Singing, dancing, and comedy skits all under an hour. The format seems just about extinct now. You can still find singing and dancing and comedy skits on TV, but it's all been divvied up. Saturday Night Live gets the skits, American Idol the singing, and Dancing With the Stars, obviously, the dancing. A further example of the fragmentation of the media.

William's show had this recurring skit that I eagerly looked forward to each week. A talking bear would try to finagle some cookies out of Williams, but to no avail. I found this hilarious when I was 8 or 9. Now I just find it a bit strange. Of course, that may even be a better reason to look forward to it each week. Here's a clip of one such skit, in which the bear enlists the aid of a svelte Kate Smith (don't ask me to explain that countdown in the middle of the screen; best I can figure is that whoever originally put this on YouTube taped it on a 40-year old VCR):

A word about Kate Smith, a popular radio performer of the 1940s. If you're not familiar with her, you may be puzzled, after watching that clip, as to why I referred to her as "svelte".  Well, here's what she looked like in her prime:
That's in the 1940s. As you can see, she had slimmed down considerably by the time she appeared on Andy William's show in 1970. She was relatively, comparatively, svelte.
As for that talking bear, did you see how he fell backwards at the end of that skit? Obviously, the poor creature collapsed from hunger. And what did Kate Smith do? Just stand there and laugh. How cold. How callous. I hope those cookies made her fat all over again. It would be her just desserts! 

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Quips and Quotations (Algonquin Round Table Edition)

To err is human; to forgive, infrequent

--Franklin P. Adams

Posterity is as likely to be wrong as anybody else

--Heywood Braun

A hick town is one where there is no place to go where you shouldn't go

--Alexander Woollcott

I like to have a martini,
Two at the very most.
After three I'm under the table,
after four I'm under my host. 

--Dorothy Parker

Epitaph for a dead waiter - God finally caught his eye

--George S Kaufman

For a nation which has an almost evil reputation for bustle, bustle, bustle, and rush, rush, rush, we spend an enormous amount of time standing around in line in front of windows, just waiting.

--Robert Benchley (and just think, he died a good half-century before the first Apple store opened)

Razors pain you,
Rivers are damp,
Acids stain you,
And drugs cause cramp.
Guns aren't lawful,
Nooses give,
Gas smells awful.
You might as well live. 

--Dorothy Parker (a four-time suicide survivor)

There are two kinds of people in the world, those who think there are two kinds of people in the world, and those who don't.

--Robert Benchley

Nothing risque, nothing gained

--Alexander Woollcott (allegedly impotent due to a bad case of the mumps)
I didn't like the play, but then I saw it under adverse conditions--the curtain was up

--George S. Kaufman 

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

In Memoriam: Hal David 1921-2012

Lyricist. Best known for his collaborations with Burt Bacharach. Magic Moments. (There's) Always Something There to Remind Me. Alfie. Walk On By. What's New, Pussycat? What the World Needs Now. I Say a Little Prayer. Do You Know the Way to San Jose? What Do You Get When You Fall In Love? I'll Never Fall In Love Again. The Look of Love. Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head. (They Long to Be) Close to You. To All The Girls I Love Before (music by Albert Hammond Jr.)

The songs should be like a little film, told in three or four minutes. Try to say things as simply as possible, which is probably the most difficult thing to do

--Hal David

Hal, we had a great run and I'm so grateful we ever met.

--Burt Bacharach

"Say a Little Prayer." Performed by Dionne Warwick, the artist David and Bacharach worked with most frequently.

"What's New Pussycat." Tom Jones intro to the 1966 movie of the same name. Dig that psychedelic animation!

"What the World Needs Now." Performed by Jackie DeShannon. Dig that psychedelic black-and-white!

"Raindrops Keep Fallin' On My Head." Performed by BJ Thomas. More psychedelic black-and-white.
"Always Something There to Remind Me." Performed by Naked Eyes. The 1960s meets the 1980s.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Vital Viewing (We Sure Showed Those Rooskies Edition)

I just now--really, about 15 minutes ago, which would have been 1:43 PM EST--found out that Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon, had died. How did I get this breaking news? Did I get it online? No. The last time I was online would have been yesterday at a little before 5:30 PM. I check both The Daily Beast and The Huffington Post frequently for breaking news events, and there was nothing at that time.  Did I see it on TV? No. Got rid of the cable some time ago, and now just get static.  Did I hear it on the radio? Driving from my apartment building to the Circle K down the street takes less than a minute, not worth the effort to turn it on. I finally found out Armstrong died when I walked into the store and bought the Sunday Plain Dealer. It was right there on the front page. It might have well been 1969, for as up-to-date I am on things.

Odd that I should get the news in such a low-tech way, considering Armstrong's achievement was so high-tech at the time. Actually, it's high-tech now, since no one in the 43 years since has come up with a suitable encore (by the way, subtract 43 years from 1969. You get 1926. It will be another year before Lindbergh crosses the Atlantic.)

I have mixed feelings about the space program. Unlike most other kids of my generation, I never particularly wanted to be an astronaut when I grew up. A cartoonist, stand-up comedian, movie star, sitcom star, rock star, author, Mad Magazine writer, late-night horror movie host, newspaper columnist, talk show host, disc jockey, and TV news anchorman, yes. I wanted to be all those things at one time or other as a kid, but not, for some reason, an astronaut. I was a fool not to have had such an ambition. Why, with the same worldwide audience that Neil Armstrong commanded, it would have been an opportune time to impress all of Earth with my Boo-Boo imitation ("Gee, Yogi...") Instead, Armstrong wastes the moment babbling on about small steps and giant steps. Some people just don't know how to rise to the occasion.

Even if I didn't want to be an astronaut, I was fascinated by the space program as a kid. Especially if blast-off occurred during school hours, and they rolled the TV into the classroom so we could all see it and get a break from having to divide 38 into 826401 (the pocket calculator wouldn't come along until I was in about the sixth grade.) And really, it was just plain exciting. Just plain entertaining. Nonfiction science-fiction, if that makes any sense. But should millions of taxpayers money be spent just to keep a little kid like me entertained? Especially if I'd rather be a late-night horror movie host anyway? I'll answer those questions, and maybe raise a few more, in a future post about the space program.

For now, here's what all the excitement was about in '69:


Tuesday, August 21, 2012

In Memoriam: Phyllis Diller 1917-2012


 Onstage comes something that, by its own description, looks like a sackful of doorknobs. With hair dyed by Alcoa, pipe-cleaner limbs and knees just missing one another when the feet are wide apart, this is not Princess Volupine. It is Phyllis Diller, the poor man's Auntie Mame, only successful female among the New Wave comedians and one of the few women funny and tough enough to belt out a `standup' act of one-line gag.

--Time Magazine, 1961

It's my real laugh. It's in the family. When I was a kid my father called me the laughing hyena.

--Phyllis Diller

Saturday, August 4, 2012

In Memoriam: Gore Vidal 1925-2012

Writer. The City and the Pillar. Visit to a Small Planet. The Best Man.  Julian. Washington DC. Myra Breckenridge. Burr. Myron. 1876. Creation. Lincoln. Empire. Hollywood. The Golden Age. Palimpsest. And hundreds of trenchant, acerbic, often hilarious, essays.

"Apparently, a democracy is a place where numerous elections are held at great cost without issues and with interchangeable candidates."

"As societies grow decadent, the language grows decadent, too. Words are used to disguise, not to illuminate, action: you liberate a city by destroying it. Words are to confuse, so that at election time people will solemnly vote against their own interests."

“Half of the American people have never read a newspaper. Half never voted for President. One hopes it is the same half.”

“Today's public figures can no longer write their own speeches or books, and there is some evidence that they can't read them either. ”

"Writing is thinking"

“The malady of civilized man is his knowledge of death. The good artist, like the wise man, addresses himself to life and invests with his private vision the deeds and thoughts of men. The creation of a work of art, like an act of love, is our one small yes at the center of a vast no.” 

“Style is knowing who you are, what you want to say, and not giving a damn." (If Vidal ever did give a damn, he certainly kept it to himself--KJ)

Jim flushed. “She’s full of crap. I’m not afraid of her or anybody. Besides, I do my traveling on the other side of town.”

“Really?” John was interested and Jim was glad he had lied.

“Sure.” He was mysterious. “Bob and me go over there lots of times. All the baseball team does, too. We don’t want to mess around with ‘nice’ girls.”

“I guess not.”

“Besides, Sally isn’t so fast.”

“How do you know?”

“I just do.”

“I’ll bet Bob Ford said that about her.”

[From Aaron Burr's (fictional) journal]:...Jefferson was a ruthless man who wanted to create a new kind of world, dominated by independent farmers each living on his own rich land, supported by slaves. It is amazing how beguilingly he could present this contradictory visions. But then in all his words if not deeds Jefferson was so beautifully human, so eminently vague, so entirely dishonest but not in any meretricious way. Rather it was a passionate form of self-delusion that rendered Jefferson as president and as man (not to mention as writer of tangled sentences and lunatic metaphors) confusing even to his admirers.

In an afterword to the novel, Vidal informs the reader that he thinks Burr is being a little hard on Thomas Jefferson.

I am Myra Breckinridge, whom no man will ever possess. The new woman whose astonishing history started with a surgeon's scalpel and will end who-knows-where. Just as Eve was born from Adam's rib so Myron died to give birth to Myra. Did Myron take his own life you will ask. Yes and no is my answer. Beyond that my lips are sealed. Let it suffice for me to say that Myron is with me and that I am the fulfillment of all his dreams. Who is Myra Breckinridge? What is she? Myra Breckinridge is a dish and don't you ever forget it you motherfuckers - as the children say

He thrust his enormous Reinquist deep within her Whizzer White.

Vidal protested a 1973 anti-pornography Supreme Court ruling by replacing dirty words with the names of the justices who voted for the decision. In a re-issue of the novel  decades later, he let the four-letter words back in.

"Gentlemen, I know some of you personally from the past. I know all of you by name and repute. I am glad that this conference continues, and I will do what I can to give assurance and reassurance to the Southern state that we mean them no harm. It is true that I was elected to prevent the extension of slavery to the new territories of the Union. But what is now the status quo in the Southern states is beyond my power--or desire--ever to alter."

A Southern congressman challenged Lincoln. "Will you uphold the laws, where previous presidents did not? Will you suppress the likes of Mr. John Brown and the Reverend Garrison, who preach war against us and our property?"

"Well, we hanged Mr. Brown, and we put Garrison in prison." Lincoln was mild. "That strikes me as a reasonable amount of suppression."

The final chapter of Vidal's novel is devoted to a fictional meeting between President Theodore Roosevelt and newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst...

"...I was also stuck with the fact that once you start a war, you have to have heroes. So you--of all people--came bustling along, and I told the editors, 'All right, build him up.' So that's how a second-rate New York politician, wandering around Kettle [San Juan] Hill, blind as a bat and just about as effective, got turned into a war hero. But you sure knew how to cash in, I'll hand you that. Of all my inventions you certainly leapt off  the Journal and into the White House. Not like poor dumb Dewey, who just stayed there in cold print until he ended up wrapped in fish at Fulton's Market..."

"...Of course, there are surprises, here's one. When you're out of a job, and need money to feed that family of yours, I'll have you write for me, the way Bryan does. I'll pay you whatever you want."

Roosevelt produced his most dazzling smile. "I may be a hypocrite, but I'm not a scoundrel."

"I know," said Hearst, with mock sadness "After all, I made you up, didn't I?"

"Mr Hearst," said the President, "History invented me, not you."

"Well, if you really want to be highfalutin, then in this place and this time, I am history--or at least the creator of the record."

"True history comes long after us. That's when it will be decided whether or not one measured up, and our greatness--or it's lack--we be defined."

"True history," said Hearst, with a smile that was, for once, almost charming, "is the final fiction. I thought even you knew that."

One day, in the spring on 1950, I was invited to lunch by a very ambitious, very young southern novelist who wanted to shine in those social circles that are, for the most part, closed to very young ambitious southern writers. Like Capote, he wanted to be accepted by what was known than as cafe society, and like Capote, he had mistaken it for the great and largely invisible to outsiders, world that Proust had so obsessively retrieved from lost time. In later years , I liked to pretend that Capote had actually picked the right ladder and I would observe,... Truman Capote has tried, with some success, to get into a world that I have tried, with some success to get out of. Truman was surprisingly innocent. He mistook the rich who liked publicity for the ruling class, and he made himself far too much at home among them, only to find that he was to them no more than an amusing person who could be dispensed with, as he was when he published lurid gossip about them. Although of little interest or value in themselves, these self-invented figures are nothing if not tough, and quite as heartless as the real things, as the dying Swan discovered when he found that his life meant less to his esteemed ... than her pair of red shoes.

Truman Capote was one of several famous people with whom Vidal feuded. He had public quarrels with William F. Buckley and Norman Mailer as well. As for the above quote, not knowing any rich people, I have no idea if Capote picked the right ladder or not. I do know the unfinished novel that came out of it, Answered Prayers, is a helluva read. As is Palimpsest.