Saturday, September 25, 2021

Quote of the Day (Judith Viorst, on ‘The Best of Friends’)

“The best of friends, I still believe, totally love and support and trust each other, and bare to each other the secrets of their souls, and run—no questions asked—to help each other, and tell harsh truths to each other when they must be told.

“But we needn't agree about everything (only 12-year-old girl friends agree about everything) to tolerate each other's point of view. To accept without judgment. To give and to take without ever keeping score. And to be there, as I am for them and as they are for me, to comfort our sorrows, to celebrate our joys.” —American essayist, journalist, poet, and psychoanalysis researcher Judith Viorst, “Friends, Good Friends—and Such Good Friends,” Redbook, October 1977

Friday, September 24, 2021

Quote of the Day (F. Scott Fitzgerald, Sending Up a Down-at-the-Heels Screenwriter)

“[Studio exec] Jack [Berners] looked at him—he saw a sort of whipped misery in Pat's eye that reminded him of his own father. Pat had been in the money before Jack was out of college—with three cars and a chicken over every garage. Now his clothes looked as if he'd been standing at Hollywood and Vine for three years.”—American novelist, short-story writer, and screenwriter F. Scott Fitzgerald (1896-1940), “A Man in the Way,” in The Pat Hobby Stories (1941)

Longtime readers, I hope, have noticed a pattern in this blog: the first and last days of the workweek feature a humorous quote. (Comic relief is seldom more necessary than during these times, I think.) But I don’t think many of you would have expected to see such an item from F. Scott Fitzgerald, born 125 years ago today in St. Paul, Minn.

But, as I made clear in this post from three years ago, Fitzgerald’s life—even his desperate last few years as a Hollywood screenwriter—furnished material for his irony and wit.

Few were more responsible for his tragic image than himself. He often obscured his humor through his self-mythologizing as the symbol of Jazz Age excess and comeuppance, as well as his discounting of short stories produced under the crushing financial pressure to pay for his wife Zelda’s mental treatment and daughter Scottie’s education.

The 17 Hobby stories, written for Esquire Magazine, did help relieve some of this stress. According to David S. Brown’s biography of the novelist, Paradise Lost, they earned him a total of $4,250, or $68,000 in current dollars.

In a sense, the series—neither as long nor as complex as his more ambitious short stories of the Twenties and early Thirties—enabled him to tap into personal and creative instincts towards comedy that had existed from his early manhood. All his life he loved pranks, and friends remembered how he would laugh at his own expense.

A quarter century before The Pat Hobby Stories, he had written pieces for Princeton’s humor magazine and a two-act musical comedy for the university’s Triangle Club.

Moreover, several of his 1920s works sparkled with elegant mockery:

*“The Diamond as Big as the Ritz” (1922) centers on the world’s richest man, Braddock Washington, who conceals from the world a diamond so large that “if it were offered for sale not only would the bottom fall out of the market, but also, if the value should vary … there would not be enough gold in the world to buy a tenth of it.”

*“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” (1922) has a title character who so unnerved all around him by a process he can’t control—aging in reverse—that they are driven to upbraid him without hope for his correction: “There’s a right way of doing things and a wrong way. If you've made up your mind to be different from everybody else, I don't suppose I can stop you, but I really don't think it's very considerate."

* “The I.O.U.” (once thought lost, then finally published in The New Yorker in 2017) is narrated by a publisher with unabashedly commercial instincts. (“I would rather bring out a book that had an advance sale of five hundred thousand copies than have discovered Samuel Butler, Theodore Dreiser, and James Branch Cabell in one year. So would you if you were a publisher.”)

* “How to Live on $36,000 A Year" (1924, later part of his posthumous collection, The Crack-Up), is a tongue-in-cheek essay on living well beyond one’s means. (According to the budget he and Zelda had formulated, as their early spending spree ended, “Our allowance for newspapers should be only a quarter of what we spend on self-improvement, so we are considering whether to get the Sunday paper once a month or to subscribe for an almanac.”)

The subjects of Fitzgerald’s early satire were social status and social expectations. By the time of The Pat Hobby Stories, the source of his humor had become the absurd lengths to which characters will go to avoid personal catastrophe.

The protagonist of these stories, Pat Hobby, became, in effect, a means by which Fitzgerald could laugh at his own straitened circumstances by imagining someone even more desperate—not just an alcoholic devalued by the Hollywood dream factory, but a womanizer and con artist without the esteem that the novelist’s contemporaries felt for him.

“The series is characterized by a really bitter humor,” Fitzgerald wrote Nathan Kroll, who was considering turning it into a play, “and only the explosive situations and the fact that Pat is a figure almost incapable of real tragedy or damage saves it from downright unpleasantness.”

Nobody will ever group Fitzgerald with Mark Twain, Robert Benchley and James Thurber among the greatest American humorists. But, unlike frenemy Ernest Hemingway, his was a generous humor, unmarked by cruelty, even as he depicted those like himself who lost their footing on the ladder to success.

Ironically, though unsuccessful in his attempts to succeed on screen and stage, Fitzgerald provided comic fodder for others through The Pat Hobby Stories. In 1987, Christopher Lloyd (most famous as the erstwhile Rev. Jim of Taxi and Dr. Emmett Brown in Back to the Future and its sequels), took on the role of the hilarious hack in the “Pat Hobby Teamed With Genius” installment of the PBS trilogy Tales From the Hollywood Hills.

Then, two years ago, the Edinburgh Fringe mounted its own adaptation of the stories, with Paul Birchard (in the image accompanying this post) as the screenwriter.

Thursday, September 23, 2021

Song Lyric of the Day (Bruce Springsteen, for Those We’ll ‘Meet and Live and Love Again’)

“I'll see you in my dreams
When all the summers have come to an end
I'll see you in my dreams
We'll meet and live and love again.”—American singer-songwriter Bruce Springsteen, “I’ll See You in My Dreams,” from his Letter to You CD (2020)
Bruce Springsteen, my favorite musician, was born 72 years ago today in Long Branch, New Jersey. My favorite album of his nearly five-decade career remains the first one I encountered by him as a high-school sophomore, Born To Run, a song collection revolving about youth, yearning and searching and running for a place in the world.
But over the last year, I have also felt an emotional tug towards the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Famer’s Letter to You. Inspired partly by the loss of former bandmate George Theiss, it is not about lives in motion, but those at eternal rest. Rather than the summers of Springsteen’s youth, heated by the desires for love and all his music could achieve, he is now, as in the attached photo, accepting that winter is here.
Like many other people—and particularly those in my baby boomer age group—I’ve lost more than the usual number of relatives and friends in the last year, to both COVID and non-COVID-related issues. So, whenever I’ve listed to The Boss’s mournful meditation on loss and mortality, their images come to mind with insistent poignancy, along with the assurance I share with Springsteen that we’ll rejoice again in the afterlife.

Quote of the Day (Matthew Arnold, on Self-Knowledge)

“O air-born voice! long since, severely clear,
A cry like thine in mine own heart I hear:
‘Resolve to be thyself; and know that he,
Who finds himself, loses his misery!’"—English poet-critic Matthew Arnold (1822-1888), “Self-Dependence,” from The Poems of Matthew Arnold, 1840-1867 (1909)

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Quote of the Day (Josep Pla, on Autumn and the Sea)

"Autumn is the season most suited to the work of men today. At this time of year city dwellers discover that streets and squares are clean and luminous, the air is light and cool, and people walk with a spring in their step. Since this has to do with temperament, I think I am a man of the sea and working at sea is what I find most congenial, agreeable and easy to grasp. I cannot disassociate the sea from autumn." — Catalan journalist and author Josep Pla (1897-1981), diary entry for Nov. 9, 1918, in The Gray Notebook, translated by Peter Bush (2013)

I took the image accompanying this post when I was on vacation in the autumn of 2014 in Beaufort, SC, by the Atlantic Ocean.

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Song Lyric of the Day (The Beach Boys, on Summer, ‘Gone Away’)

“Summer's gone
Summer's gone away
Gone away
With yesterday.”— Jon Bon Jovi, Joseph Thomas, and Brian Wilson, “Summer’s Gone,” performed by the Beach Boys on their That's Why God Made the Radio CD (2012)

(The picture accompanying this post shows The Beach Boys back in their Sixties heyday, including two Wilson Brothers who have died: Carl and Dennis. They are "Gone away/With yesterday," like the youth of the surviving members of the band--and, indeed, that of the first two generations of their listeners.)

Quote of the Day (Virginia Woolf, on ‘The Beauty of the World’)

“The beauty of the world which is so soon to perish, has two edges, one of laughter, one of anguish, cutting the heart asunder.” —English novelist-essayist Virginia Woolf (1882-1941), A Room of One’s Own (1929)