Raindrops pelted the landscape
And held little photos
Of aluminum crutches in each drop
Rolling down the glass.”—American poet, novelist, and short-storywriter Fanny Howe, “2011,” in Love and I (2019)
A cultural "omniblog" covering matters literary as well as theatrical, musical, historical, cinematic(al), etc.
(Not that there hadn’t been tension between them already on the set: In interview excerpts included in the blog, Cinephilia and Beyond, Bogdanovich related, “I had to keep Ryan from killing her” over the child’s inability to learn her lines.)
Works of Anatole France (2008)
speech to the crowd at Yankee Stadium on “Babe Ruth Day,” April 27, 1947
Seventy-five years ago today, for only the second time in history, all clubs in major-league baseball honored a single individual: Babe Ruth. The event was deeply poignant, because the mighty slugger had come down with cancer.
The center of activity that day was, appropriately enough, Yankee Stadium. Though The Babe had left the Bronx Bombers with his managerial ambitions unfulfilled, the stadium remained indisputably “The House That Ruth Built,” the site of his major feats as an everyday player.
“Babe Ruth Day” would not be the last time Ruth would visit the stadium—he’d be back a little over a year later, when his number was retired—but many of the more than 58,000 in attendance in April 1947 sensed that the end was drawing near for their hero, as the once-powerful hitter was helped to home plate.
If there was any doubt about his condition, Ruth removed it quickly. It remains shocking, if you click on the above link, to hear him rasping, “You know how bad my voice sounds. Well, it feels just as bad.”
But then, Ruth started speaking about the two things that had brought out the best in him as a player: youth and the game of baseball.
A classic at-risk youngster, Ruth credited his life being turned around after he’d been taught the fundamentals of baseball by Brother Matthias of St. Mary’s Industrial Training School, a Baltimore educational institution primarily for boys with behavioral issues. "If it wasn't for baseball,” he once said, “I'd be in either the penitentiary or the cemetery."
And now, Ruth told the crowd—and the lords of baseball—the right way and time to instruct youngsters in the game:
“As a rule, people think that if you give boys a football or a baseball or something like that, they naturally become athletes right away. But you can't do that in baseball. You got to start from way down, at the bottom, when the boys are six or seven years of age. You can't wait until they're 14 or 15. You got to let it grow up with you, if you're the boy.”
Over time, I’m afraid, baseball has forgotten the lesson that The Babe was trying to teach that day. There are so many other sports today competing for attention. How can young fans become attached to baseball when so many games are held at night and last so long?
The Name of the Rose, translated by William Weaver (1980)
Leaves from the Notebook of a Tamed Cynic (1929)
Morgan’s Passing (1980)
Greek novelist, poet, playwright and philosopher Nikos Kazantzakis (1883-1957), Zorba the Greek (1946)
The image accompanying this post comes from the 1964 adaptation of Zorba the Greek, with Anthony Quinn in the title role.
(Thanks to my friend Holly for bringing this to my attention.)
The Gulag Archipelago 1918–1956: An Experiment in Literary Investigation (1973)
It was one of the great ironies and tragedies of the life of Alexander Solzhenitsyn that the Russian novelist, who endured imprisonment, harassment, and exile at the hands of the Communist regime, was blind to the growing menace to his country posed by a former KGB operative.
Wrapping himself in the intense love of country and faith in God felt by Solzhenitsyn and so many of his countrymen—all the while ensuring that the material needs of the populace were met more than they had been in generations—Vladimir Putin consolidated absolute power by degrees. With an additional dollop of ego-stroking, he managed to fool even the great Russian writer and dissident into believing that he was merely restoring national greatness.
Too bad Solzhenitsyn could not have pondered again his own words about what happens when “unlimited power” is placed in the hands of people without the capacity to withstand temptation. But those of us in the West should not go away thinking it can’t happen here. It has, and may yet again.
, December 5, 1976
The same goes for me, I think, along with the need to tell someone somewhere about it in a manner that involves expression in an orderly fashion.
), on fears that he’ll “make Twitter bad,” in the “Cold Open” skit for Saturday Night Live, Season 47, Episode 18, Apr. 16, 2022
Easter Vigil in the Holy Night of Easter: Homily of His Holiness Pope Francis,” Apr. 20, 2019
The depiction of the Resurrection of Jesus in the accompanying image is by the German painter and graphic artist Bernard Plockhorst (1825-1907).
A few weeks ago, when TCM was running one of its assorted distant and more contemporary time-fillers between major presentations on its schedule, I caught this amusing short. I knew instantly that not only would it be appropriate for income tax season, but also that it afforded me another opportunity to extol the virtues of Robert Benchley.
Daily readers of this blog know that I quote frequently from this legendary wit from the Algonquin Round Table. But in prior cases, I quoted from among the 600 of his essays eventually collected into 12 volumes.
This short gave me the chance to allude to—and comment on—some of the work he did in Hollywood.
Towards the end of his life, Benchley’s already considerable drinking intensified over his belief that he had forsaken reasonably creative outlets such as his reviewing at The New Yorker and a radio show for more remunerative work in Tinseltown as a supporting player in full-length films and a star in his own shorts of less than 10 minutes.
A few weeks before his death, his physical and mental health had deteriorated so much that he stopped writing altogether.
The Hollywood work that Benchley regarded with such loathing consisted of 48 short “how-to” videos. One, “How to Sleep,” won Best Short Subject at the 1935 Academy Awards. I don’t know the particular conditions under which he made them, but they can still provide laughs for anyone in need of one—and who doesn’t?
Some contemporary readers on Amazon, commenting on one of Benchley’s books, have been known to write that they are “dated.” This strikes me as an essentially meaningless complaint. The same could be said of almost any work not released in the present moment.
If you want a better evaluation of his work, remember this: Four of the leading humor columnists in the last half-century—Russell Baker, Art Buchwald, Erma Bombeck, and Dave Barry—looked to Benchley for inspiration, according to Neil Grauer's wonderful 1986 appreciation of the humorist in American Heritage Magazine.
“How refreshing to read a biography of a humorist who was not, in real life, a son of a bitch,” wrote another great humor writer, Christopher Buckley, in commenting on Billy Altman’s 1997 book, Laughter’s Gentle Soul: The Life of Robert Benchley. “The worst that could be said of Robert Benchley was that he was a bit of a bounder to his wife, an absentee father to his sons, and ultimately a disappointment to himself. But for all that, his wife and sons were devoted to him, as he in his way was to them. His friends, who were legion, adored him. As he lay in the hospital, hemorrhaging to death from cirrhosis, forty people showed up to volunteer to give blood. How many writers could make that posthumous boast?”
(For a fine look at Benchley that focuses on his film work, see Stephen Mears' 2017 "TCM Diary" blog post for Film Comment Magazine.)
I read On the Border with Crook, The Truth about Geronimo, The Look of the West, and Western Words, and I subscribed to Arizona Highways. It had stories about guns—I insisted on authentic guns in my stories—stagecoach lines, speciﬁc looks at different little facets of the West, plus all the four-color shots that I could use for my descriptions, things I could put in and sound like I knew what I was talking about.”—Crime and western novelist, short-story writer and screenwriter Elmore Leonard (1925-2013) quoted in Gregg Sutter, “A Conversation With Elmore Leonard,” in The Complete Western Stories of Elmore Leonard (2004)
“Who Judas was, what he did, why he did it, and what he ultimately means have been debated within Christianity since its first decades. In the centuries since, many—believers and non-believers alike—have attempted to discern in his few scriptural appearances a personality complicated and large enough to merit the crime for which he is condemned. These myriad attempts have resulted in almost as many Judases as attempts. We have been presented with a Judas who is tormented and penitent, a Judas possessed by devils, a Judas possessed by the Devil, a Judas who is diseased, a Judas who is loyal, a Judas who does what he has to do, a Judas who wants Jesus to act against Rome, a Judas who is confused, a Judas who is loving, a Judas who loves women, a Judas who kills his own father, a Judas who works as a double agent, a Judas who does not understand what he has done, a Judas who kills himself, a Judas who lives to old age, a Judas who loves Jesus ‘as cold loves flame,’ a Judas who is the agent of salvation itself.”— Travel and short-story writer Tom Bissell, “Looking for Judas,” VQR, Summer 2009
In Israel’s Hinnom Valley over a decade ago, Bissell and a companion journeyed toward Hakeldama (alternatively, Akeldama), or Aramaic for “field of blood”—originally where children in the Old Testament were sacrificed, then made more notorious as the site that Judas Iscariot is alleged to have bought for betraying Christ, and where, tradition holds, he hanged himself in guilt-ridden remorse.
In the fascinating creative nonfiction piece that resulted, Bissell examined what is commonly accepted or disputed about the most notorious Apostle, including differences among the Gospel accounts of what led him to his shocking last act.
Unlike other sites in the Holy Land with less historical foundation, Bissell found, there are no physical signs pointing the way for pilgrims here. But the atmosphere, with its "caves, mud, and bushes," remained eerily desolate.
Moreover, on the ridge overlooking the field, loomed a contemporary reminder of the division and violence that Jesus came to ameliorate before becoming its victim: what modern Israelis call the Separation Barrier and Palestinians refer to as the Racial Separation or Apartheid Wall. That concrete wall, Bissell observed, “possessed the hideous gray inelegance of a supermax prison.”
The image accompanying this post, showing Judas Iscariot, in the right foreground, slipping away from the Last Supper to betray Christ, was created in the late 19th century by the Danish painter Carl Bloch (1834-1890).
editor-in-chief Merryn Somerset Webb, “Nagging Is Still the Best Way to Make Boards More Active,” The Financial Times, Apr. 2-3, 2022
, which she liked the best, because she could read the little encapsulated portraits of films without having to bother about the films themselves. But she lost her library when she broke out of jail, and it bothered her to live without books.”—American novelist-film critic Jerome Charyn, “White Trash,” in Bronx Noir, edited by S. J. Rozan (2007)
The image accompanying this post, of Jerome Charyn at the 2015 Library of Congress National Book Festival, was taken September 6, 2015, by fourandsixty.
Mike and Psmith (1953)
Our Secular Society Draws From the Well of Christian Tradition,” The Financial Times, Dec. 23-24, 2017
The image accompanying this post, a detail of the painting Christ Crucified, was part of the Scuola di San Rocco in Venice, by the Italian late Renaissance master Jacopo Tintoretto (1518-1594).
Trinidad and Tobago-born British Nobel Literature laureate V.S. Naipaul (1932-2018), A Bend in the River (1979)
[played by Audrey Meadows]: “I suppose you were cold sober, Ralph, the other night when you came charging in the house, ran in the bedroom, flung the window open, stuck your head out and started yelling, ‘Hey, Mrs. Gallagher, what's this cat doing in this apartment?’"
Ralph Kramden [played by Jackie Gleason]: “Well, I'll ask it again: What was the cat doing in this apartment?”
Alice: “It wasn't her cat. You had your raccoon hat on backwards.”— The Honeymooners, Season 1, Episode 30, “The Loudspeaker,” original air date Apr. 21, 1956, teleplay by Marvin Marx, Walter Stone and Jackie Gleason (uncredited), directed by Frank Satenstein
Essex’s Device (1595)
and Presidential candidate Horace Greeley (1811-1872), Recollections of a Busy Life (1868)
chief fiction editor Roger Angell, The Summer Game (1972)
Okay, traditional day doubleheaders are becoming an increasing rarity because of major league baseball’s attempt to maximize the dollars. But the owners still recognize, even in their usual money-grubbing way, that the diamond, grass and the players who run there are objects of hope and, sometimes, joy for millions.
[played by Carroll O’Connor]: “They just wanna get rid of us old guys over 50, that’s all, and put us out to pasture. Well I ain’t ready to be pasteurized!” —All in the Family, Season 6, Episode 9, “Grandpa Blues,” original air date Nov. 10, 1975, teleplay by Mel Tolkin and Larry Rhine, directed by Paul Bogart
, but a liberation into true humanity; the power to love, to belong to one another, to start again when things go wrong, to be grateful, to adore.”—Irish church historian Eamon Duffy, Faith of Our Fathers: Reflections on Catholic Tradition (2004)
The photo of Eamon Duffy accompanying this post was taken Apr. 24, 2010, by Fr. James Bradley from Southampton, UK.
“None of this has happened. Not only is the government not applying the lessons of the pandemic response to other disasters, but even within the pandemic itself, many elected officials have failed to apply the lessons learned at the beginning.”— Samantha Montano, assistant professor of emergency management at Massachusetts Maritime Academy, "We Didn't Get Serious About the Climate Crisis," Scientific American, March 2022
, October 2010
The image of David Spade accompanying this post was taken from a YouTube video on Nov. 19, 2016 by thepaparazzigamer.