Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Fashion Icon

Halloween, 1962: What exactly are we looking at here? A phantom? The Grim Reaper? The Cuban Missile Crises had ended just a few days earlier, so maybe it's some kind of radiation suit, one that comes in basic black. Actually, it's none of those things. According to multiple sources, it's someone dressed as a...

 ...garment bag. You know what a garment bag is. It has a zipper and a hanger, and when you go traveling, it's what you might put a suit or nice dress in so it's less likely to get dirty or wrinkled. I don't know if it works all that well when there's a human being inside, but it's this particular individual's Halloween costume. If nothing else, it's original.

Or maybe not so original, because in this color picture, someone else decided to dress up as a garment bag, though this one was red. The two children in-between the garment bags have relatively more conventional Halloween costumes. The little boy appears to be a skeleton, and the little girl a witch. Anything else to say about this picture? Well, it's a very elegant-looking bedroom.

 Here they are again in the, room? Dining room, maybe? With all that fancy furniture, it's certainly not a rec room.

 Here they are walking down what appears to be a rather large hallway, or a humongous foyer. Look at those big windows. I bet it takes a lot of Windex keeping them clean.

OK, I've kept you in suspense long enough. Let me tell you who these folks are. I'll start with the red garment bag:

It's Jean Kennedy Smith, sister of...

...the then-President of the United States, John Fitzgerald Kennedy. And the black garment bag? According to multiple sources (including the JFK Library) it's...

...none other than First Lady Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy (I wonder if Oleg Cassini designed her costume.)

As for the two children, the little boy skeleton is Steve Smith Jr., Jean's son, and the little girl witch is Carolyn, the President's and First Lady's daughter. Carolyn's brother John-John may have been too young for Halloween at that point.

However, a year later (again, according to the JFK library), John-John did indeed get into the act (looks like some recycled costuming here.)

It's nice to know Jack and Jackie weren't above having a little fun during their short stay at the White House, but the joke may have been on them, because all these years later...

...they've become Halloween costumes themselves.

Friday, October 26, 2018

Vital Viewing (Street Urchin Edition)

Actor Jackie Coogan was born on this day in 1914 (he died in 1984.) He was only six years old when he shot to motion picture stardom as the abandoned child that Charlie Chaplin reluctantly takes under his wing in 1921's The Kid. In the following clip from the 1970s, Coogan, by then in late middle-age (or early senior citizenship), describes a tearjerker scene from that film. Literally. It's his tears that's being jerked:

Coogan's description of the crying scene reminds me of another child star named Jackie that came along a decade later. In his autobiography, Jackie Cooper claimed a director once got him to shed tears on camera by falsely telling him that someone had shot his dog! Fortunately for Coogan, Chaplin, who directed as well as wrote and starred in the film, was not nearly as devious.


But all this talk about shedding tears belies the fact that this movie is a comedy. And like most Charlie Chaplin comedies, it's often funny as hell (at least it's funny as hell if you don't mind people moving their lips without anything resembling speech coming out.) In the following tribute to the free enterprise system, the Little Tramp and the little boy put their entrepreneurial skills to work:


Like all kids, Coogan's character gets into scrapes (as does his adoptive father):


 After all that violence, you might like a clip that's a bit more homespun:

Pancho Charlie.

But back to Coogan. As I said before, The Kid made young Jackie a star, and he remained one throughout the 1920s. He also made a lot of money, an estimated $3 million, that, as a minor, he couldn't spend. So he waited until he turned 21 (when one legally arrived at adulthood in the 1930s), only to find out his mother and stepfather (who was also his manager) had spent most of it! Coogan successfully sued them for what remained, some $250,000, but after all the legal expenses, got only $126,000. The litigation did make the news, resulting in the enactment of the California Child Actor's Bill, informally called the "Coogan Law", that specified 15% of a child actor's earnings be placed in a trust. Coogan could have used all the specified earnings he could get. As with a lot of child stars, the job offers began to dry up as he aged. It didn't help matters any that, however cute a kid he may have been, he didn't grow up to have leading man looks. So he became a character actor, and, in 1964, landed this arguably immortal television role:

 A clip from The Addams Family:

It's not exactly what you would call Chaplinesque, but Coogan was pretty funny as Uncle Fester. And besides, it's almost Halloween. They're creepy and they're kooky, mysterious and spooky...

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Graphic Grandeur (Tortured Adolescence Edition)

Cartoonist Bob Montana, best known for the comic book and comic strip character Archie Andrews, was born on this day in 1920 (he died in 1975.) A few weeks ago Montana was honored by the town of Meredith, New Hampshire, where he spent much of his adult life:

Now let's take a closer look at this goofy teenage boy, who, for reasons I've never quite understood, is the object of a fierce rivalry between two of Riverdale High's hottest female students:

The above examples are from the 1940s and '50s. The phrase "raging hormones" had yet to be coined, but clearly needed to be.

Though Montana continued to draw the newspaper comic right up to his death, around 1960 or so (dates vary), a very fine cartoonist by the name of Dan De Carlo became the head artist of the Archie comic book line, and remained so for the next four decades (he died in 2001.) His style was a bit different from Montana's, more streamlined, less rambunctious (and the red-headed leading man finally got that overbite taken care of.)  However, the gang of Riverdale teens...

...weren't any less amorous. In fact, they may even have been more so.

Now that I think of it, didn't they start teaching sex education in schools around 1960 or so?

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Quips and Quotations (Thought Process Edition)

We do not learn from experience...we learn from reflecting on experience.

--John Dewey 

Monday, October 15, 2018

Home, Jeeves

1940: The man on the left is American journalist Angus Thuermer, an obscure figure now and an obscure figure even then but one whose career choices allowed him to become a bemused witness to history on at least two occasions (he was later a CIA spokesman during the time of Watergate.) The man on the right is not so obscure. It's P.G. Wodehouse, the celebrated author who wrote humorous stories about the British upper-class, most notably those involving the young aristocratic halfwit Bertie Wooster and his supremely capable valet Jeeves, who earned much of his pay bailing his employer out of whatever trouble he had gotten himself into. Wodehouse had been a successful writer for going on three decades now, had earned himself a lot of money, so one might expect this interview to be taking place in some country estate, maybe a penthouse, or perhaps a posh hotel suite, but no, it instead took place in... a German-run prison for enemy nationals.

So how in the world did a man who wrote stuff like this:

“Oh, Jeeves," I said. "About that check suit."
"A trifle too bizarre, sir, in my opinion."
"But lots of fellows have asked me who my tailor is."
"Doubtless in order to avoid him, sir."
"He's supposed to be one of the best men in London."
"I am saying nothing against his moral character, sir.” 

...or this:

Besides, isn't there something in the book of rules about a man may not marry his cousin? Or am I thinking of grandmothers?

...or this:

I hadn't heard the door open, but the man was on the spot once more. My private belief, as I think I have mentioned before, is that Jeeves doesn't have to open doors. He's like one of those birds in India who bung their astral bodies about--the chaps, I mean, who having gone into thin air in Bombay, reassemble the parts and appear two minutes later in Calcutta. Only some such theory will account for the fact that he's not there one moment and is there the next. He just seems to float from Spot A to Spot B like some form of gas.

...or this:

 "Goodbye, Bertie," he said, rising.
I seemed to spot an error.
"You mean 'Hullo,' don't you?"
"No, I don't. I mean goodbye. I'm off."
"Off where?"
"To the kitchen garden. To drown myself."
"Don't be an ass."
"I'm not an ass...Am I an ass, Jeeves?"
"Possibly a little injudicious, sir."
"Drowning myself, you mean?"
"Yes, sir."
"You think, on the whole, not drown myself?"
"I should not advocate it, sir."
"Very well, Jeeves. I accept your ruling. After all, it would be unpleasant for Mrs. Travers to find a swollen body floating in her pond."

...or this:

 “What ho!" I said.
"What ho!" said Motty.
"What ho! What ho!"
"What ho! What ho! What ho!"
After that it seemed rather difficult to go on with the conversation.”

...or this

“There are moments, Jeeves, when one asks oneself, 'Do trousers matter?'"
"The mood will pass, sir.” 

...end up under the thumb of somebody who wrote stuff like this?:

 The application of force alone, without support based on a spiritual concept, can never bring about the destruction of an idea or arrest the propagation of it, unless one is ready and able to ruthlessly to exterminate the last upholders of that idea even to a man, and also wipe out any tradition which it may tend to leave behind.

--Mein Kampf

The answer is taxation. As Wodehouse sold more and more books, and made more and more money, he despaired at seeing so much of it go to His Majesty's Government, and, as he worked on and off on Broadway and in Hollywood, the Internal Revenue Service. He thought it unfair that both the United Kingdom and the United States should claim him as a resident for tax purposes, so in 1934 he and his wife Ethel moved to Le Touquet in Northern France, and made that their permanent residence (though he remained a British subject). The two were still in Le Touquet in 1939 when France and Britain declared war on Germany. They were still there in Le Touquet in 1940 when the German army found that a shortcut through Belgium allowed them to go around that pesky Maginot Line. They were still there in Le Touquet when the British military skedaddled out of Dunkirk. And they were still there in Le Touquet when, in his own words, “I was strolling on the lawn with my wife, when she lowered her voice, and said, ‘Don’t look now, but here comes the German army.’”

For the first two months of occupation all Wodehouse and his wife had to do was report to German authorities. Then it was decided that all male enemy nationals under the age of 60 (Wodehouse was then 59) be rounded up and sent away. After short lockups in several places, Wodehouse ended up in an insane asylum-turned-prison in Tost in Upper Silesia, in what was then part of Germany (today it's in Poland.) Associated Press reporter Angus Thuermer, based in Berlin (the U.S. had not yet entered the war) got wind of all this, and, sensing a scoop, made his way to Upper Selisia. Since there had been some puzzlement outside of Nazi-occupied Europe as to what exactly had happened to the best-selling author, this was indeed a major story. Diplomatic pressure from the U.S. (where the writer had made a lot of influential friends) was put on Germany to release Wodehouse, or at least find him better accommodations. Hoping it might keep America out of the war, the Nazis chose the latter.

Wodehouse and wife Ethel (who had been allowed to stay behind in Le Touquet) were put up in one of the best hotels in Berlin, paid for through the German royalties of his book. He had been a best-selling author there, too. They also asked him to do them a little favor. Would he please do a few radio broadcasts for The Reich Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda (Goebbels' outfit) that would then be aired in the still-officially isolationist United States. Actually, I don't know if they were that polite about it, but Wodehouse agreed. The five broadcasts together were titled How to be an Internee Without Previous Training, and were made up of humorous anecdotes of POW life ("If this is Upper Silesia, I'd hate to see what Lower Silesia is like.") They were essentially non-political, and Wodehouse hardly endorsed the German war effort, but didn't denounced it either.

These didn't just end up getting broadcast in America, where everyone got a good giggle out of them, but also in Blitzed-out England, where Wodehouse's I'm-living-under-Nazi-occupation-LOL tone didn't go over very well at all. His books were removed from several libraries, and newspapers called him a "traitor, collaborator, Nazi propagandist and a coward" and he was said to have "lived luxuriously because Britain laughed with him, but when the laughter was out of his country's heart, ... [he] was not ready to share her suffering. He hadn't the guts ... even to stick it out in the internment camp." As Wodehouse himself conceded at a much later date, "Of course I ought to have had the sense to see that it was a loony thing to do to use the German radio for even the most harmless stuff, but I didn't. I suppose prison life saps the intellect."

The Wodehouses stayed in Germany until 1943, when, thanks to Allied bombing, they were allowed to move to Paris, which is where they were when that city was liberated in August of 1944. The noted British journalist Malcolm Muggerridge, who during the war worked as an intelligence officer with the M16 interrogated Wodehouse shortly thereafter, decided that he hadn't committed treason after all, and had been no more than a 60-year old Bertie Wooster, a rich kid who had gotten himself into trouble. Another intelligence officer gave a more formal interrogation that lasted four days, and came to the same conclusion. Wodehouse was free to go, but go where? To jail, because now the newly-liberated French had him arrested, possibly on the advice of those in Britain who did not agree with their own intelligence agencies' conclusions. He eventually was released in January of 1945, and allowed to leave France in June of 1946. Wodehouse didn't feel he could go back to Britain, where resentment against him still ran pretty high, so he and Ethel fled to the United States, to New York State, to Long Island, and finally, to...    


...The Hamptons (hey, a war refugee has to go somewhere.) Wodehouse became a U.S. citizen in 1955, and continued to have books published on a yearly basis until his death in 1975. Shortly before he died, the forgiving British decided to knight him, but the long trip to his native land (which he hadn't laid eyes on since the 1930s) would have been too much for a man in his 90s. In 1999, a newly released intelligence document revealed that British officials in 1946 had second thoughts about letting him go free, and it was recommended that if he ever return to the United Kingdom, he be tried for treason.

So what to make of all this? Was he secretly a Nazi sympathizer, as some have alleged, or just in the wrong place at the wrong time? Wodehouse wrote 71 books in his life, and gave numerous interviews, but thanks to his witty elusiveness, it's difficult to pin down how he felt about anything. He spent his life writing about the British upper-class, but the magistrate's son, despite the money he made, never actually was one of them. Did he like that upper-class, or despise it? His stories can be read either way. His work has been enjoyed by both liberals and conservatives (as well as fascists and communists.)

My best guess is that P.G. Wodehouse was both Wooster and Jeeves. He could get in trouble, but was supremely capable enough to get himself back out.