Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Quote of the Day (Norman Cousins, on ‘The Case for Hope’)

“The case for hope has never rested on provable facts or rational assessment. Hope by its very nature is independent of the apparatus of logic." —Editor-essayist Norman Cousins (1915-1990), “Hope and Practical Realities,” Saturday Review World, Dec. 14, 1974

Monday, October 25, 2021

Quote of the Day (Alexander Pope, on the Obliviousness of Fools)

“Out with it, Dunciad: let the secret pass—
That secret to each fool—that he's an ass.
The truth once told (and whereby should we lie?),
The queen of Midas slept, and so may I.
You think this cruel? Take it for a rule,
No creature smarts so little as a fool.”—English poet Alexander Pope (1688-1744), An Epistle from Mr. Pope, to Dr. Arbuthnot (1735)

Sunday, October 24, 2021

Spiritual Quote of the Day (Joseph Mary Plunkett, on Christ, the Reaper)

“The sun rose up at midnight,
The sun rose red as blood,
It showed the Reaper, the dead Christ,
Upon His cross of wood.
“For many live that one may die,
And one must die that many live—
The stars are silent in the sky
Lest my poor songs be fugitive.”—Irish poet, journalist, and patriotic martyr Joseph Mary Plunkett (1887-1916), “The Stars Sang in God’s Garden,” in Joyce Kilmer’s Anthology of Catholic Poets, with a supplement of more recent poems edited by Shaemas O’Sheel (1939)
(The image accompanying this post, a detail of the painting Christ Crucified, was part of the Scuola di San Rocco in Venice, by the late Italian Renaissance master Jacopo Tintoretto (1518-1594).

Saturday, October 23, 2021

Movie Quote of the Day (‘Psycho,’ With a Subtly Suspenseful Sequence)

Milton Arbogast [played by Martin Balsam]: “I'm a private investigator. I've been trying to trace a girl... that's been missing for, oh, about a week now from Phoenix. It's a private matter. The family wants to forgive her. She's not in any trouble.”

Norman Bates [played by Anthony Perkins]: “I didn't think the police went looking for people who aren't in trouble.”

Arbogast: “I'm not the police.”

Norman: “Oh, yeah.”

Arbogast: “We have reason to believe she came along this way. Did she stop here?”

Norman: “No one's stopped here for a couple of weeks.”

Arbogast: “Mind looking at the picture before committing yourself?”

Norman: “Commit myself? You sure talk like a policeman.”

Arbogast: “Look at the picture, please.”

Norman [looking at it]: “Mm-mmm. Yeah.” 

Arbogast: “Sure? Well, she may have used an alias. Marion Crane's her real name... but she could've registered under a different one.”

Norman: “I tell ya, I don't even much bother with guests registering any more. One by one, you drop the formalities. I shouldn't even bother changing the sheets, but old habits die hard. Which reminds me...”

Arbogast: “What's that?”

Norman: “The sign. A couple last week said if the thing hadn't been on... they would've thought this was an old, deserted...”

Arbogast: “You see, that's exactly my point. Nobody'd been here for a couple weeks... and there's a couple came by and didn't know that you were open. As you say, old habits die hard.”— Psycho (1960), screenplay by Joseph Stefano based on the novel by Robert Bloch, directed by Alfred Hitchcock

I am afraid that, for all its formal cinematographic brilliance as an experiment in low-budget Gothic horror, the lesson of Psycho for subsequent filmmakers lay less in how to scare audiences—i.e., how to make them feel delicious tingles at the back of their necks over something that might or might not occur—than in how to shock them, with depictions of gore (though much of this, given censorship regulations of the day, was simulated).

But moments of anticipation, a tightening of mortal stakes for the film’s characters, did exist, even though they were not of the conspicuous kind present, for instance, in the famous shower scene. Such was the encounter—a portion of which I’ve excerpted here—between Norman Bates and Arbogast, a detective hired by the employer of embezzler Marion Crane.

What the audience knows—but Arbogast doesn’t—is that Marion has been stabbed to death in Bates Motel. But in the lines I quoted above, Norman—despite his attempts to stonewall the detective—has made a slip.

It's the slip that a nervous person, hoping to fill a conversational void or to add a detail that might add more weight to what he's said, might make. It’s a small error, maybe the kind that you or I might not immediately realize in the ebb and flow of a conversation. 

But Arbogast immediately pounces on Norman’s contradiction. He pursues the accidental disclosure that people have indeed stopped at the motel, and he uses it as an opportunity to persuade a now-tenser Norman to allow him to check the motel register and establish that Marion, under an assumed name, checked in. 

From there, the conversation gears shift rapidly. Little physical action occurs between Balsam and Perkins that would constitute a normal marker of suspense (a body dangling from a cliff, say, or two arms reaching for a gun).

No, the suspense lies in what is said and what is not—Arbogast's flat declaration that something is amiss (“If it doesn’t jell, it isn’t aspic, and this ain’t jelling”), followed by his increasingly confrontational, accusatory questions (“Did you spend the night with her?... Then how would you know she didn't make any calls?”) and Norman’s stuttering responses and sweating attempts to end the conversation-turned-interrogation.

Alfred Hitchcock didn’t give his actors much direction, believing that he’d chosen them for their skill and that they’d figure out how to play their scenes. Here, Martin Balsam justifies that faith.

Over the course of his long career, the character actor won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his role in the mid-Sixties comedy A Thousand Clowns, acted in classics like Cape Fear, 12 Angry Men and Murder on the Orient Express, and appeared before a sizable weekly audience as Carroll O’Connor’s Jewish business partner in Archie Bunker’s Place.

But as Arbogast, he made the most of short screen time and limited plot function to suggest character dimensions not apparent in his dialogue.

The audience already knows something about Norman—his shyness, his domination by “Mother,” his weirdness beneath that nice-young-man exterior. But here, Balsam establishes Arbogast.

Well-schooled in his craft, the detective is cool and confident but also can be blunt, brusque and maybe cockier than this setting previously unknown to him might warrant. 

He has learned that something has happened here. But, once he glimpses “Mother” in the window in the house on the hill, the chief instinct of his profession—curiosity—leads him to disregard the chasm between his knowledge and the real situation.

His entry into that dark, foreboding house is inevitable, then, as is his ill-fated encounter with “Mother” on its stairs.

In October, which has become the de facto month for horror depiction on film and television, Psycho holds pride of place. The sequence I’ve discussed supplies many of the sinews of this classic—and, following the surprise dispatching of the focus of the first third of the movie, Marion, follows with that of Arbogast, whom we had only shortly before expected to relentlessly pursue her killer and bring him to justice.

The detective proved inadequate to the task. Blessed with the intelligence to sense a crime, even one different from the embezzlement he’d been hired to investigate, he still lacked the imagination to comprehend the level of insanity and evil—not to mention the danger that represented to him—in this sleepy backwater of the American Southwest. Who could?

Song Lyric of the Day (Joni Mitchell, on ‘Where the Wealth's Displayed’)

“Where the wealth's displayed
Thieves and sycophants parade
And where it's made
The slaves will be taken.” — Singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell, “Dog Eat Dog,” from her CD of the same name (1985)

(The photo of Ms. Mitchell accompanying this post came from an Asylum Records ad from 1974.)

Friday, October 22, 2021

TV Quote of the Day (‘The Carol Burnett Show,’ As a Bragging Hubby is Quizzed by a Cop)

[Roger has been bragging to wife Carol and Sis about how he defended himself and then chased a mugger. A detective has come to their home to take Roger’s statement.]

Police Detective [played by William Conrad]: “Let me ask you this, if I may: How tall was the assailant?”

Roger [played by Harvey Korman, pictured] [glances back at Carol, nervously]: “How tall?”

Detective [looking up from writing in notebook]: “Yes, from the ground up, of course.”

Roger: “Uh…” [leaning over, whispering so Carol won’t hear]: “Five-three.”

Detective [taking more notes] [loudly]: “Assailant was five feet, three inches.”

Roger [grimacing as he looks at Carol, who now has a skeptical look on her face]: “Yeah, I’d say that was about it.”

Carol [played by Carol Burnett]: “Kung Fu strikes again!” [Makes karate-chop sign, frowning.]

Detective: “And how old would you say he was?”

Roger [standing up, angrily]: “Look, is all this necessary?”

Carol: “How old would you say he was?”

Roger: “Uh…uh…about sixty.”

Carol: “The big six-o!”

Roger: “Well, he was a wiry guy…looked dangerous.” [raises fists]

Carol: “You mean to say you chased a five-foot three, 60-year-old man a block and you couldn’t catch him?”

Roger: “Well, I almost had him. He hit me with his cane.”

[Carol walks away.]

Roger: “Where are you going?”

Carol: “I’m going into the bedroom. I just hate to laugh in front of company.”—The Carol Burnett Show, Season 6, Episode 23, “Carol and Sis” skit, original air date Mar. 17, 1973, directed by Dave Powers

Thursday, October 21, 2021

Quote of the Day (W. B. Yeats, on Literature, ‘Always One Man’s Vision of the World’)

“Literature is always personal, always one man’s vision of the world, one man’s experience, and it can only be popular when men are ready to welcome the visions of others. A community that is opinion-ridden, even when those opinions are in themselves noble, is likely to put its creative minds into some sort of a prison.” —Nobel Prize-winning Irish poet-playwright William Butler Yeats (1865-1939), “An Irish National Theatre” (2008), in Collected Works in Verse and Prose of William Butler Yeats, Vol. 4 (e-book edition, 2015)

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Quote of the Day (Thomas Mann, on ‘The Artist's Highest Joy’)

“Thought that can merge wholly into feeling, feeling that can merge wholly into thought — these are the artist's highest joy.” — German novelist and Nobel Literature laureate Thomas Mann (1875-1955), Death in Venice, translated by H.T. Lowe-Porter (1911)

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Quote of the Day (Stephen King, on Horror Tales and Morality)

“Within the framework of most horror tales we find a moral code so strong it would make a Puritan smile.” —Novelist Stephen King, Danse Macabre (1981)

Monday, October 18, 2021

Tweet of the Day (Laura Benanti, on Fantasy Football)

“If I ever say the words ‘my fantasy football team,’ just know it is code for ‘I've been kidnapped please help me.’"—American singer-actress Laura Benanti, tweet of Aug. 29, 2013

The image accompanying this post shows Ms. Benanti during the curtain call for the Radio City Music Hall New York Spring Spectacular. It was taken Mar. 22, 2015, by slgckgc.

Sunday, October 17, 2021

Spiritual Quote of the Day (Freeman Dyson, on Science, Religion and Unsolved Mysteries)

“Science is exciting because it is full of unsolved mysteries, and religion is exciting for the same reason. The greatest unsolved mysteries are the mysteries of our existence as conscious beings in a small corner of a vast universe. Why are we here? Does the universe have a purpose? Whence comes our knowledge of good and evil? These mysteries, and a hundred others like them, are beyond the reach of science. They lie on the other side of the border, within the jurisdiction of religion.”—Physicist, tech visionary, and author Freeman Dyson (1923-2020), acceptance speech for the 2000Templeton Prize for Progress in ReligionMay 16, 2000

Saturday, October 16, 2021

Quote of the Day (Zach Helfand, on the Umpire’s Strike Zone)

"For many years, an umpire’s strike zone was like an extension of his personality. Some umpires were literalists, uncompromising. Some preferred expediency; their boundaries were enormous. No matter who was working, when it rained suddenly everything was a strike. [Joe] West, the record-holding umpire, is a burly man with a Carolina drawl who moonlights as a country singer and used to pal around with Merle Haggard. He told me one umpire described the old standard for learning the strike zone as ‘You call them strikes until someone goes, “Hey!”’ Another of his friends liked to say, ‘The strike zone is like a television set, and every now and then you need [Hall of Fame Baltimore Orioles manager] Earl Weaver or Billy Martin’—the Yankees’ volatile manager in the seventies and eighties—'to come out and adjust the knob.’ Martin once sent an umpire a Christmas card that read ‘I hope you and your family have a wonderful holiday season.’ On the inside, he wrote, ‘Because you sure had a horseshit summer.’ Video evaluation has reined in some quirks, but the strike zone still changes measurably depending on the score, the team batting, and the pitcher’s race.”— Zach Helfand, “Invasion of the Robot Umpires,” The New Yorker, Aug. 30, 2021

You can be forgiven for thinking that in this offseason, San Francisco Giant manager Gabe Kapler might be sorely tempted to pull a Billy Martin and send Gabe Morales an unpleasant holiday greeting.

The first-base umpire did little to slow down—and, I’d wager, much to accelerate—the movement towards the video-evaluated decisions chronicled by Helfand in his New Yorker piece. In Thursday night’s deciding game of the Giants-L.A. Dodgers NLDS playoff series, Morales sent Wilmer Flores and the rest of the Giants to an aggravated, sorrowing postseason by calling a third, game- and series-ending strike on the first baseman.

Most of the rest of the civilized world believes that Flores checked his swing. That sentiment was not undercut in the slightest by Morales' feeble post-game explanation of his decision. ("I don’t have the benefit of multiple camera angles when I’m watching it live. When it happened live, I thought he went, so that’s why I called it a swing.")

The call certainly short-circuited any chance that Flores could have kept the rally alive long enough to tie the score, or maybe win the game. No amount of talk about how it was a game for the ages will salve the wounds of Giant fans.

Forget about masks, chest protectors, and leg guards: During a game, an umpire’s best equipment are ear plugs, so he won’t tune out insulting references by managers and fans to his ancestry. After a game, he is well advised to avoid any electronic medium that talks endlessly about the contest and his role in it.

Some years ago, an acquaintance of mine yelled out on behalf of her beloved Mets, “Hey ump, I’m blind, and even I can tell that was a ball!” Her taunt provoked much appreciative laughter and cheers at Shea Stadium back then. I suspect that from now on, more than a few Giant fans would echo her.

(The image accompanying this post, if you haven’t guessed, comes from Bull Durham, with Kevin Costner’s catcher Crash Davis being tossed from the game for arguing a call by an ump.)

Friday, October 15, 2021

Quote of the Day (P. G. Wodehouse, on a Valet’s Unusual Literary Taste)


“‘The sky is the limit. State your desire.’

‘Well, sir, there has recently been published a new and authoritatively annotated edition of the works of the philosopher Spinoza. Since you are so generous, I would appreciate that very much.’

‘You shall have it. It shall be delivered at your door in a plain van without delay. You’re sure you’ve got the name right? Spinoza?’

‘Yes, sir.’

‘It doesn’t sound probable, but no doubt you know best. Spinoza, eh? Is he the Book Society’s Choice of the Month?’

‘I believe not, sir.’” — English humorist P. G. Wodehouse (1881–1975), Joy in the Morning (1947)

The valet (and Spinoza aficionado) in the above quote is Jeeves, the indispensable wingman to his utterly clueless employer, Bertie Wooster. They were embodied for a transatlantic TV audience in the 1990s series Jeeves and Wooster, starring (from left to right in the accompanying photo) Stephen Fry as Jeeves and Hugh Jackman as Wooster.

I’m not sure I would want to live in a world where, in one country or another, the creator of this duo, P.G. Wodehouse, would not be a book society or book club’s Choice of the Month.  

Born on this day in 1881 in Guildford, England, he had, by the time of his death 93 years later, published 90 books, 40 plays, and 200 short stories and other writings. He is also, at one and the same time, one of the most polished stylists and funniest writers in the English language.

As good as it is to discover Wodehouse on one’s own, it is even better to hear his work read by a fellow master craftsman. Such was the case in February 2018, during the one-man show John Lithgow: Stories by Heart. One of the two tales conjured up by the versatile actor at that marvelous matinee performance was Wodehouse’s “Uncle Fred Flits By.”

For a fine introduction to Wodehouse for newbies, see this fine appreciation of the comic novelist by blogger Robert Pimm.

Joke of the Day (Rhea Butcher, on an Unusual Breed of Witches)

“What do you call a group of really tidy witches? A self-cleaning coven.”— American stand-up comedian, actor, writer, producer, and podcast host Rhea Butcher, quoted in “Laugh Lines: Scared Silly,” Reader’s Digest, October 2018

The image accompanying this post is, of course, Elizabeth Montgomery as witched-turned-perfect-suburban-housewife Samantha Stevens on the Sixties sitcom Bewitched.

This is how much she wants to fit in: to clean her house, she uses a vacuum cleaner rather than her usual way to get what she wants—wiggling her nose!

Thursday, October 14, 2021

This Day in Musical History (Loesser’s Saucy ‘How To Succeed In Business’ Takes Broadway)

Oct. 14, 1961—Capping a postwar era in which the executive suite became a cultural preoccupation, the satiric How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying opened on Broadway at the 46th Street Theatre and promptly became a smash. An adaptation of a 1952 bestseller by Madison Avenue maven Shepherd Mead, the musical went on to post 1,417 performances and win the Pulitzer Prize.

But before achieving critical and popular success, the production (hailed as a “sassy, gay, and exhilarating evening” by the Herald Tribune’s Walter Kerr) had to overcome almost as many obstacles as its main character, the relentlessly ambitious window-washer J. Pierrepont (Ponty) Finch.

The irreverent show represented the last Broadway triumph of composer-lyricist Frank Loesser, who had scored his big hit over a decade before with Guys and Dolls, and the first for actor Robert Morse, playing the go-getting protagonist.

The Eisenhower era burst of American prosperity led the entertainment industry to question the notion of success, on film (Executive Suite, The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit, The Apartment) and TV (Rod Serling’s Patterns). But seldom has the subject been dealt with in such a cheeky manner as How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying.

Ponty’s aim: Reach the top of at the World Wide Wicket Company. His method: Gain the trust of president J.B. Biggley. His obstacles: Biggley’s idiot nephew, Bud Frump (played on Broadway by Charles Nelson Reilly) and Hedy LaRue, whose employment depends less on her typing and shorthand skills than on her obvious anatomical charms.

Although Loesser had written the book for his musical-opera hybrid The Most Happy Fella (1956), he turned the job over this time to Guys and Dolls collaborator Abe Burrows. Loesser’s songs now sprang more organically from the material, a seamless web of the kind of romance found in other musical comedies with a wealth of targets from the world of business: nepotism, the junior executive, diet fads, the ad campaign, the secretarial pool, the office break, and sexism.

In the entire wonderful history of American musical comedy, the lyricists who rivaled Loesser in wit can be numbered on only one hand. 

In one number, he could send up the old-boy network that ran corporations, their sentimental collegiate ties, and the objects of their hatred as sports fans (the “chipmunks”) in “Grand Old Ivy.” 

In another, “I Believe in You,” he penned the kind of love song so often found in musicals, except this time the hero was directing the sentiments to himself as he looked in a mirror—the kind of ironic distance between words and action that Stephen Sondheim would demonstrate mastery of a decade later.

But Loesser and Burrows (who also directed) were fortunate indeed in finding a lead with the manic, zany energy to play Ponty, who assiduously applies the lessons of the kind of American self-help manual dating all the way back to Ben Franklin’s The Way to Wealth.

With his elfin build, gap-toothed smile, and irrepressible energy, Morse was a theatrical Huck Finn, somehow making likable a character with more than a few unsavory Sammy Glick aspects—and was rewarded for his efforts with a Tony Award for Best Actor in a Musical.

Even having the right lead didn’t guarantee success for the show, though. Along the way, according to a 50th anniversary retrospective Playbill article by Mervyn Rothstein, the show had to contend, before its opening, with:

*the replacement of original choreographer Hugh Lambert with Bob Fosse, who, with practically no time left for preproduction work, had to figure out the show’s numbers at night with wife-muse Gwen Verdon;

*a near-disastrous decision by producers Cy Feuer and Ernie Martin, frustrated by an underperforming out-of-town box office, to rename the show—only to be successfully argued out of the idea by press agent Merle Debuskey; and

*Loesser’s short-lived exit from the show over co-star Rudy Vallee’s never-ending rehearsal insistence on improvements—a departure ended only when he got Feuer to agree to punch out the 1920s crooner when the production concluded (which was never acted upon).

How To Succeed has been successfully revived twice since its original production, featuring turns by Matthew Broderick and Daniel Radcliffe as Ponty. 

Morse, Vallee and Michele Lee (who took over as love interest Rosemary later in its run) repeated their roles in the 1967 movie adaptation—which, though it did not enjoy the success as on Broadway, is still regarded as a largely success transfer to the big screen.

The years after the show brought different fates for veteran Loesser and rising star Morse.

Loesser never again reached the heights he’d enjoyed with Guys and Dolls and How to Succeed. His 1965 musical, Pleasures and Palaces, closed out of town. As critic Terry Teachout notes, in a perceptive essay in Commentary Magazine, the songwriter—depressed that rock ‘n’ roll was rendering his brand of music obsolete—had given up his craft entirely before his death in 1969. 

His demise occurred before he could see revived interest in the Great American Songbook tradition in which he had played such a part through his work in theater and on film (including the saucy—and now rather controversial—Christmas song, “Baby, It’s Cold Outside”).

Increasing alcohol abuse in the Seventies and early Eighties led Morse to the hell of the dinner-theater circuit and even unemployment. But a turn towards sobriety resulted in him winning a second Tony for his turn as author Truman Capote in the 1989 drama Tru, and since then he has worked steadily again in film and on TV.

It was through the latter medium that, now-wizened, the former boyish star achieved his most recent burst of fame, as ad agency founder Bertram Cooper in the long-running cable series Mad Men

You can bet that showrunner Matthew Weiner didn’t mind any memories viewers might have had of Morse in his earlier turn sending up the Sixties business world. Weiner even allowed Morse a sendoff unusual even for that series by having him staging his goodbye as a musical number.

Quote of the Day (Albert Camus, on Ignorance)

“One always has exaggerated ideas about what one doesn't know.” — French novelist and Nobel Literature laureate Albert Camus (1913-1960), The Stranger (1942)

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Song Lyric of the Day (Paul Simon, With Insight Into Contemporary Thought Processes)

“All lies and jest

Still, a man hears what he wants to hear

And disregards the rest.”— “The Boxer,” written by American singer-songwriter Paul Simon, released by Simon and Art Garfunkel on their Bridge over Troubled Water LP (1970)

Happy birthday to Paul Simon, born 80 years ago today in Newark, NJ.

Some years ago, a late, dear friend of mine described Bob Dylan as the master poet of his generation and Simon as the master psychologist. There was more than a bit of the poet in Simon, too, but time has borne out that the Grammy-winning musician is indeed an explorer of the soul in all its rootlessness and alienation.

From “The Sound of Silence,” his first big hit with Art Garfunkel, through “American Tune,” the wistful elegy he created in the Watergate era, Simon—for all his concern about the nation’s politics—has largely preferred to comment obliquely on what’s roiling the country through meditations on what lies beneath rather than explicit protests.

Even “The Boxer,” which he admits to writing in a period of frustration over harsh criticism of his songwriting (the pugilist’s departure from the ring paralleled his half-hearted wish to exit the music scene), has come to take on a different cast. The title character “disregards” the warnings of others away from his change of life and embrace of a violent occupation, in favor of what he prefers: the “lies and jest.”

It’s not a bad forecast of what contemporary politics has become: groups refusing to listen to others, putting aside history and wiser counsels for more seductive siren calls, leaving them none the better for the experience.

Quote of the Day (Eleanor Roosevelt, on Preparation and Obstacles)

“About the only value the story of my life may have is to show that one can, even without any particular gifts, overcome obstacles that seem insurmountable if one is willing to face the fact that they must be overcome; that, in spite of timidity and fear, in spite of a lack of special talents, one can find a way to live widely and fully. Perhaps the most important thing that has come out of my life is the discovery that if you prepare yourself at every point as well as you can, with whatever means you may have, however meager they may seem, you will be able to grasp opportunity for broader experience when it appears. Without preparation you cannot do it. The fatal thing is the rejection. Life was meant to be lived, and curiosity must be kept alive. One must never, for whatever reason, turn his back on life.” —First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962), The Autobiography of Eleanor Roosevelt (1961)

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

Quote of the Day (Lord Byron, on ‘The Moral of All Human Tales’)

“There is the moral of all human tales:
   'Tis but the same rehearsal of the past,
   First Freedom, and then Glory—when that fails,
   Wealth, vice, corruption—barbarism at last.” — English Romantic poet George Gordon, Lord Byron (1788-1824), Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, Canto IV (1812)
Over the weekend, while watching a DVD of the 1935 horror classic, The Bride of Frankenstein, I groaned for a second as I listened to that sequel’s opening, a framing sequence featuring author Mary Shelley and her circle. The moment that offended me came courtesy of actor Gavin Gordon, playing one of the Shelleys’ dearest friends, Lord Byron.
Whether taking the initiative to try it himself or doing so at the urging of director James Whale, Gordon, a Southerner, spoke his lines in the plummiest possible English accent. To eradicate the impression, I found the above quatrain, much to my relief.
The tough-minded observer of the human spectacle behind these verses was nothing like the creature of the film: a pompous poet in love with his own voice, even while speaking to his friends. In his forecast of the fate of great powers, the real-life Byron also identified the third stage in which America finds itself now: “Wealth, vice, corruption.”

Monday, October 11, 2021

Tweet of the Day (Anne Theriault, on a Child’s Eating Preferences)

“9yo didn’t want to try my lemon loaf, but when I rebranded it as ‘lemonade cake’ he was interested.” — Toronto-based writer Anne Theriault, tweet of Apr. 24, 2020

Sunday, October 10, 2021

Spiritual Quote of the Day (Michael Novak, on How God Used Love ‘To Show What He Is Made Of’)

“[L]ove is no simple thing. It is not what we might at first think it is. We spend a lifetime being instructed in its secrets. Love is shallow enough for ants to walk safely across, deep enough for elephants to drown in. Saints of great soul endure many torments being inflamed by it.

“In this vast cosmos, such as science knows it, we humans (even as an entire race, from beginning to end) are barely a speck in silent space, unimportant, less enduring than galaxies and stars—less so even than many plants, insects, and viruses—here today like the grass of the field, tomorrow gone. Yet for us in our unimportance, God wished to show what he is made of, to let us look behind the veil at the love that moves the sun and all the stars, and to draw us into acts of caritas.”—American Catholic theologian, philosopher, novelist and diplomat Michael Novak (1933-2017), “The Love That Moves the Sun,” originally published in Crisis, December 1995, reprinted in The Myth of Romantic Love and Other Essays (2017)

The image accompanying this post is “The Creation of Eve” portion of the Sistine Chapel, by the Italian Renaissance artist Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475-1564).

Saturday, October 9, 2021

Song Lyric of the Day (Elvis Costello, on Friends’ Attitudes)

“Some of my friends sit around every evening
And they worry about the times ahead
But everybody else is overwhelmed by indifference
And the promise of an early bed.” —"Radio, Radio,” written by rock-and-roller Elvis Costello, performed by Elvis Costello and the Attractions on the LP This Year's Model (1978)

Friday, October 8, 2021

Quote of the Day (Shaquille O'Neal, on Halle Berry)

"So when I was young, I used to stutter. She's the only woman that makes my stuttering come back."—Basketball Hall of Famer Shaquille O'Neal, on his reaction to seeing Halle Berry coming down the stairs during a Los Angeles Lakers-New York Knicks game, quoted in Antoinette Bueno‍, “Shaquille O'Neal Recalls When Halle Berry's Beauty Completely Stunned Him at the Free Throw Line,” ETOnline, Sept. 22, 2021

Well, that’s not the end of the story. At the free-throw line, Shaq turned Coach Phil Jackson apoplectic at something other than a referee when he called a completely unnecessary timeout in this game to urge teammates to get him the ball, as Ms. Berry would be watching him.

But, in the end, the Lakers coach couldn’t have minded too much. O’Neal, whose 52% career free-throw percentage made him one of the worst shooters from the line in NBA history, managed to make his this time as he felt himself watched by the actress.

I burst out laughing when I heard this anecdote on my car radio last week. It was such a typical Shaq thing to say and do, wasn’t it?

Speaking of Ms. Berry and sports…congratulations are due on her directorial debut, Bruised—a movie in which she also stars as a single mom who works as a mixed martial arts fighter. If the film is good, let’s hope the Oscar-winning actress gets another shot behind the camera in her future.

(The image accompanying this post was taken of Ms. Berry in Hamburg, Germany, on Aug. 5, 2004—right around the time she left such a vivid impression on Shaq.)

Thursday, October 7, 2021

Quote of the Day (Edmund Burke, on ‘The Great Error of Our Nature’)

“The great Error of our Nature is, not to know where to stop, not to be satisfied with any reasonable Acquirement; not to compound with our Condition; but to lose all we have gained by an insatiable Pursuit after more.”—Anglo-Irish statesman (and father of conservatism) Edmund Burke (1729-1797), A Vindication of Natural Society (1756)

Wednesday, October 6, 2021

Quote of the Day (Poet Robert Francis, On ‘The Memory of Apples’)

“In the long haze of dog days, or by night
When thunder growls and prowls but will not go
Or come, I lose the memory of apples.
Name me the names, the goldens, russets, sweets,
Pippin and blue pearmain and seek-no-further
And the lost apples on forgotten farms
And the wild pasture apples of no name.” —American poet Robert Francis (1901-1987), “Remind Me of Apples,” in The Virginia Quarterly Review, Autumn 1948

Tuesday, October 5, 2021

This Day in Film History (Gloria Grahame, Oscar-Winning Good-Bad Girl, Dies)

Oct. 5, 1981—In New York’s St. Vincent's Hospital, actress Gloria Grahame—far from her Hollywood zenith due to insecurity and scandal, with her body badly weakened by the cancer she had fought for years—died at age 57.

There’s a good chance that this Christmas, as well as so many others over the last half-century, millions of Americans will catch Grahame in her early eye-catching, scene-stealing role as Violet Bick, the blonde flirt who served as a foil to Donna Reed’s wholesome small-town girl as an early rival for Jimmy Stewart’s affections, in It’s a Wonderful Life.

In a way, that role would prefigure several of the film noir characters in which Grahame would shortly specialize: Crossfire, In a Lonely Place, The Big Heat, Human Desire, and Odds Against Tomorrow.

I’m thinking of the nightmare sequence in Frank Capra’s Yuletide classic, where Stewart’s George Bailey gets to see what life would have been like had he never been born. One of the many people whose life is changed for the worse, in the dark honky-tonk town now known as Pottersville, is Violet—not given a chance to start life out of town through a loan from George, but instead hauled away screaming by cops arresting her for prostitution.

Grahame was the ultimate “good-bad girl”—a woman who moved easily across, and beyond, the traditional confines of the goddess, the siren and the victim prototypes of noir. These characters’ vivacity led them to seek excitement, but as objects of the male gaze they drew trouble—whether as the anxious girlfriend of a screenwriter with an unexpected violent streak (In a Lonely Place), the lonely mistress of a racist heist participant (Odds Against Tomorrow), and, perhaps most notably, a gangster’s moll who, for defying him, suffers hideous disfigurement at his hands (The Big Heat).

While her role as the sweet southern belle who serves as the muse of her novelist husband in The Bad and the Beautiful had none of these violent overtones, it was every bit as tragic, and it helped Grahame win a Best Supporting Actress Oscar in 1952 on her second try.

The ceremony should have been Grahame’s moment to celebrate. But she was so anxious that her four-word acceptance speech (“Thank you very much”) led to whispers that she had been drunk, and her dismay at how she looked onscreen resulted in repeated plastic surgery that only subtracted from her appearance.

Far worse would engulf her by mid-decade, when she appeared in the screen adaptation of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s musical Oklahoma. In this case, her nervousness had a more solid foundation: unlike others in the case, she was not a professional singer. Her apprehension took concrete, and unwelcome, form when she struck co-star Gene Nelson on the set, virtually sealing her reputation as difficult to work with.

But her reputation took its biggest hit with the 1960 announcement of her marriage to her former stepson Anthony Ray. Anthony’s father, director Nicholas Ray and another ex-husband of Grahame’s, Cy Howard sued Grahame, suing her for custody of their respective child with her. The resulting sensational headlines reportedly led Grahame to a nervous breakdown at the most difficult passage that actresses in that time experienced: career decline at age 40.

I was surprised to find, while channel-surfing the David Janssen series The Fugitive, that Grahame had appeared in an episode. But these small-screen appearances became more characteristic of her career in the 1960s than the high-profile movies of the prior decade.

Through most of the Seventies, Grahame toiled onward, in supporting roles in theater, television, and onstage. Even in the last six years of her life, as cancer increasingly ravaged her, she bravely continued working and maintained a relationship with a younger lover, Peter Turner—a period recounted in the biopic Film Stars Don't Die in Liverpool, starring Annette Bening as the actress.

In a retrospective of Grahame’s best films on the Web site of the British Film Institute, David Parkinson aptly summarized the nature of her appeal: “With her lisping voice and sleepy eyes, Grahame… gave femme fatality a raw but touchingly vulnerable sensuality, ensuring she was always much more than just good at being bad…. At her best…, Grahame lit up the screen with her beguiling, intense presence.”

Quote of the Day (Jonathan Franzen, on Fiction)

“Fiction is a particularly effective way for strangers to connect across time and distance.” —American novelist Jonathan Franzen, Freedom: A Novel (2010)

Monday, October 4, 2021

TV Quote of the Day (‘The Munsters,’ With Grandpa Interrupted on a Crucial Project)

Herman Munster [played by Fred Gwynne]: [shouting] “Grandpa, chow time!”

Grandpa [played by Al Lewis]: [shouts back over the noise of his machinery] “Just start without me. I'm inventing a machine that's going to achieve world peace!”

Lily Munster [played by Yvonne De Carlo]: “We're having broiled shark and tossed centipede salad.”

Grandpa [to himself]: “Well, the world waited this long, it can wait a bit longer." —The Munsters, Season 2, Episode 17, “Just Another Pretty Face,” original air date Jan. 13, 1966, teleplay by Richard Baer, directed by Gene Reynolds

Sunday, October 3, 2021

Spiritual Quote of the Day (Richard Rohr, on Resilience and Faith)

“Resilience is really a secular word for what religion was trying to say with the word faith and why even Jesus emphasized faith even more than love. Without a certain ability to let go, to trust, to allow, you don’t get to any new place. If you stay with order too long and you're not resilient [enough] to allow a certain degree of disorder, you don’t get very smart, you just get rigid. Unfortunately, this is what characterizes so many religious people. They’re not resilient at all. Then there's another set of people, maybe represented by the millennial generation, who have settled down in disorder—that there’s no pattern, there’s nothing always true….I think such faith in both good order and accepting disorder—creating a new kind of creative reorder—is actually somewhat rare.”—Richard Rohr, Franciscan friar and founder of the Center for Action and Contemplation, quoted in “Soapbox: The Columnists—WSJ. Asks Six Luminaries to Weigh in on a Single Topic; This Month: Resilience,” WSJ., Fall 2021

Saturday, October 2, 2021

Quote of the Day (Vivian Gornick, on Humiliation)

“Nothing, nothing, nothing in the world can destroy the soul as much as outright humiliation. Every other infliction can eventually be withstood or overcome, but not humiliation. Humiliation lingers in the mind, the heart, the veins, the arteries forever. It allows people to brood for decades on end, often deforming their inner lives.”—American essayist, journalist, and memoirist Vivian Gornick, “‘Put on the Diamonds’: Notes on Humiliation,” Harper’s, October 2021

(Photograph of Vivian Gornick taken Oct. 4, 2018, through YouTube by librairie mollat.)

Friday, October 1, 2021

Quote of the Day (Robin Williams, on His Youthful Sports Prowess)

“I was good at cross-country. I wrestled...at 107, which is pretty much male anorexic. I played one football game as a freshman. I was so bad, the coach said, ‘You know, there's another sport called soccer.’”— Oscar-winning American actor/comedian Robin Williams (1951-2014), quoted in Dan Patrick, “Just My Type,” Sports Illustrated, February 25, 2013

Thursday, September 30, 2021

Bonus Quote of the Day (David Denby, on ‘Consummate Actress’ Deborah Kerr)

“Deborah Kerr…started out by portraying nuns and nice English ladies. It is commonly said that she saved her career by playing openly sexual women. This is true, though one hastens to add that, unlike the era’s bombshells, Kerr, a consummate actress, displayed many different ways of being sexy….Deborah Kerr made maturity exciting. There’s no one remotely like her today.”—David Denby, “Critic’s Notebook: To Eternity,” The New Yorker, Nov. 12, 2007

Deborah Kerr was born 100 years ago today in Helensburgh, Scotland. The “openly sexual” characters that Denby had in mind were undoubtedly the compassionate (and neglected) football coach’s wife in Tea and Sympathy and the bitter (and horribly hurt) officer’s wife in From Here to Eternity.

Kerr’s versatility and range enabled her to elevate even decidedly pedestrian material to something like a touch of class. With stronger scripts, such as From Here to Eternity and the 1961 adaptation of Henry James’ “The Turn of the Screw,” The Innocents, she played a central part in the making of classics.

Long after her film heyday, I saw her in a 1980s TV remake of Billy Wilder’s Witness for the Prosecution. I chuckled at the starchiness she injected into the barrister’s nurse played in the original by Elsa Lanchester. I kept hoping, in vain, to see more of her.

The next time I saw her was far sadder: in 1994, when Hollywood finally got around to awarding her the Oscar she should have won decades before (and even this time, it was a consolation prize—an honorary Lifetime Achievement Award). My heart sank at the sight of the nervous, aging woman onstage far from the vibrant actress of my memory.

Fortunately, we have those films to remind us of her subtlety, elegance—and a deeper, luminous quality present in the accompanying photo, explained, not long before her death in 2007, by her second husband, writer Peter Viertel:

“The camera goes right through the skin. The camera brings out what you are, and in her case, there was always a kind of a humanity that she had in all of the things that she played . . . I think she made movies that have never worn off their splendor.”