Bessie Smith – Nobody Knows You When You’re Down And Out

This is my first song pick for Hanspostcard’s song draft. Nobody Knows You When You’re Down And Out.

I got into Bessie Smith from listening to Janis Joplin and reading about her. Bessie’s voice sends chills up my spine…that is my litmus test. This particular song grabs me because of Smith’s voice and vibe of the recording. She sings it, means it, and she lived it. The sound of the record and her voice is just unbeatable. Yes we have digital now but digital could not give you this sound.

If you are not familiar with her…do yourself a favor and check her out.

I can imagine Dorothy Parker, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Clara Bow all listening to this in the 20s and 30s.

This song was written by Jimmy Cox in 1923 just as the roaring twenties were taking off. There are many versions but Bessie Smith recorded hers in 1929 with a small trumpet section. It was released right before the stock market crashed and the start of the Great Depression.

Many artists (Peter, Paul and Mary, The Chad Mitchell Trio, Dave Van Ronk, Otis Redding, Popa Chubby, The Allman Brothers Band, Rod Stewart, Janis Joplin, B.B. King, Nina Simone, Sam Cooke, Bobby Womack, Katie Melua, Dutch Tilders, Steve Winwood with The Spencer Davis Group, Emmy Rossum, Leslie Odom Jr.) have covered this song but Bessie’s is my go to version.

She was born in Chattanooga, Tennessee, on April 15, 1894. She lost her dad while she was an infant and her mom when she was 7-8 years old. She was raised by her tough older sister. To help support her orphaned siblings, Bessie began her career as a Chattanooga street musician, singing in a duo with her brother Andrew to earn money to support their poor family.

She is credited with recording more than 160 songs between 1923 and 1933. Smith performed on stage throughout the southern United States and recorded with such jazz greats as Benny Goodman, Louis Armstrong, and Coleman Hawkins.

Before the Great Depression, Bessie was the highest paid black entertainer in the world, collecting as much as two thousand dollars a week to perform. She was accompanied by great musicians such as Louis Armstrong, Lonnie Johnson, and Benny Goodman.

This song was recorded New York City, May 15, 1929.

Mahalia Jackson, Janis Joplin and Norah Jones who have all given her credit as their inspiration.

On September 26, 1937, Smith was severely injured in a car accident while traveling from a concert in Memphis to Clarksdale, Mississippi, with her companion Richard Morgan. She was taken to a hospital, where she died.

By the time of her death, Bessie was known around the world appear with the best players of the day at theaters coast to coast. Bessie’s voice and showmanship drove her from poverty to international fame as a singer of blues tunes, many of which she wrote and co-wrote.

Bessie Smith has been inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame, winning posthumous awards for her 1923 single “Downhearted Blues,” 1925 single “St. Louis Blues” with Louis Armstrong, and a 1928 single “Empty Bed Blues.” Smith has also been honored with a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Blues Hall of Fame, and the Big Band and Jazz Hall of Fame.

Janis Joplin: “Back in Port Arthur, I’d heard some Lead Belly records, and, well, if the blues syndrome is true, I guess it’s true about me…So I began listening to blues and folk music. I bought Bessie Smith and Odetta records, and one night, I was at this party and I did an imitation of Odetta. I’d never sung before, and I came out with this huge voice.”

Nobody Knows You’re When You’re Down and Out

Once I lived the life of a millionaire
Spending my money, I didn’t care
I carried my friends out for a good time
Bying bootleg liquor, champagne and wine

Then I began to fall so low
I didn’t have a friend, and no place to go
So if I ever get my hand on a dollar again
I’m gonna hold on to it till them eagle’s green

Nobody knows you when you down and out
In my pocket not one penny
And my friends I haven’t any
But If I ever get on my feet again
Then I’ll meet my long lost friend
It’s mighty strange, without a doubt
Nobody knows you when you down and out
I mean when you down and out

Mmmmmmmm…. when you’re down and out
Mmmmmmmm… not one penny
And my friends I haven’t any
Mmmmmmmm… Well I felt so low
Nobody wants me round their door
Mmmmmmmm… Without a doubt,
No man can use you wen you down and out
I mean when you down and out

The General (1927)

Hanspostcard is hosting a movie draft from 12 different genres…this is my Silent Movie entry.

Buster Keaton was a little off kilter to his comedy peers. He was more subtle than Chaplin or Harold Lloyd. Keaton used non movement to his advantage. You would see him in a crowd easily. They would be moving along and his stillness would get your attention.

Chaplin had two rivals in comedy at the time. Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd. Lloyd was more successful than Keaton but he was more of an actor playing a comedian on screen. Charlie and Buster were stage trained natural comedians and made some of the best comedies of the teens and twenties…and some would say all time.

Buster was an excellent filmmaker. I would put him over Chaplin in that regard. Buster didn’t fake stunts…he didn’t like cutting in at the last minute. He wanted the gag or whatever it was to be filmed in one shot and completely natural.

This is Buster Keaton’s civil war era masterpiece. It was released in 1927 to mediocre reviews. Keaton was ahead of his time and it caught the audience by surprise. This movie is now considered one of the best movies ever made. Buster wanted to make it look real to the era. He told his crew to make it so authentic that it hurt. This film is a reference point to some people to see what the Civil War looked like.

This film contained the most expensive shot in silent movie history. Buster had free rein on this movie and it showed. His budget was $750,000 dollars which was huge at the time for a comedy. Buster had a bridge built just to have a train go across it and crash. The single scene cost 42,000 in 1927 dollars. In today’s money that would be over half a million. But doesn’t it look great?

Buster made the movie in Cottage Grove Oregon. Animal House would be made there 51 years later. When World War 2 came, the train was pulled out of the creek bed and used for scrap iron. People say you can still find fragments around this site of the train.

This movie was based on a true story in the civil war known now as The Great Locomotive Chase or Andrew’s Raid.

The Great Locomotive Chase unfolded during the early years of the Civil War, an attempt by Union forces and sympathizers to destroy railroad infrastructure north of Atlanta, Georgia in hopes of eventually capturing the strategic city of Chattanooga, Tennessee. The celebrity locomotive in what also became known as Andrews’ Raid was the Western & Atlantic Railroad’s General. The American Type 4-4-0 steamer was commandeered by James Andrews himself (leader of the raid) and used throughout the chase where he traveled northward from Atlanta causing as much damage as he could. Unfortunately, the hasty Union plans were too slow and disorganized to cause serious damage and most of those involved were eventually captured.

Buster made very few changes in the story. He kept his eye on details though. The cannon he used in the film was built to the specs of the Civil War Era.

When he shot the cannonball from the cannon railway car on the train to land in the locomotive… he kept trying different measures of powder to get it right until he had to use tweezers to get the right amount. He would do gags without camera trickery when he could. Below is the cannon shot… shot without cuts.

He worked for an independent producer Joseph Schenck so he had complete control of his movies. A little while after this movie lost money he had to go into the studio system and still managed to make a couple of great movies for MGM but after that, the studio would control everything he did which meant the quality of his movies took a nose dive.

Keaton was an incredible filmmaker. This movie is a true chase movie. Buster is either chasing the General (train) after it was stolen or being chased by the Union Army in the “Texas” until it crashes in the ravine.

If you have never seen a silent movie…this is a good one to start at…this one and The Gold Rush by Chaplin.

This is one I hope I will be able to see on the big screen one day.

It ranks #155 on the best movies ever on IMDB.

Cast

  • Buster Keaton – Johnnie Gray, Director, Editor, Screenwriter
  • Marion Mack – Annabelle Lee
  • Glen Cavender – Capt. Anderson
  •  Jim Farley – Gen, Thatcher
  •  Fred Vroom – Southern General
  • Richard Allen – His Son
  •  Joe Keaton – Union General
  • Mike Donlin – Union General
  • Tom Nawn – Union General
  • Charles H. Smith – Mr. Lee, Screenwriter
  • Ray Thomas – Raider
  • Jimmy Bryant – Raider
  •  Ross McCutcheon – Raider
  • Charles Phillips – Raider
  • Anthony Harvey Raider
  • Edward Hearn – Union Officer
  • Budd Fine-Raider
  • Frank S. Hagney – Recruiting Officer

Tilt-A-Whirl History

You know that tilt-a-whirl down on the south beach drag
I got on it last night and my shirt got caught
And they kept me spinnin’
Didn’t think I’d ever get off

Bruce Springsteen – 4th Of July, Asbury Park (Sandy) 1973

My favorite carnival ride ever is the Tilt-A-Whirl. When the carnival came to town I would use all of my tickets to ride on the Tilt-A-Whirl.

After a few years, you would pay one price and get stamped. I would get off the Tilt a Whirl and get right back on again. If I were rich I would get one for the back yard. I am terrified of heights but I love spinning.

Herbert W. Sellner, a woodworker, and maker of water slides invented the Tilt-A-Whirl in 1926 at his Faribault, Minnesota, home.

Sellner got his inspiration in his kitchen. He would put his young son, Art, on a chair on the table and move the table around. If he could make his son giggle with glee, Herb wondered, why not spread the joy?

The spinning ride debuted the next year at the 1927 Minnesota state fair, the same year Sellner Manufacturing opened a factory in Faribault and began a production run that would eventually churn out more than 1,000 Tilt-a-Whirls.

Nearly 700 of the rides are still in use. The oldest known working example is a 1927 model. In 2011, Sellner Manufacturing was sold to a company in Texas, where Tilt-a-Whirls are still being made.

The Big Fella by Jane Leavy

This is one of the many books on Babe Ruth. He was one of the most written about person in the 20th century. Jane Leavy took a different approach to write the book. She jumps around in time periods but it’s not distracting. I found out things I never knew about the Babe and that is the reason I wanted to read it. Thanks to Hanspostcard again for another great recommendation.

When I was growing up I read everything I could about Babe Ruth. I never was a Yankee fan and never will be but I do love this period of the Yankees. Unfortunately, some people think of Ruth as this huge obese baseball player because of movies like the terrible “The Babe” in 1992. When Babe came up he was a great athlete and didn’t start getting out of shape until his last years. One thing that I would love to see about the Babe is a well-made movie…we have yet to see it.

The man’s popularity was only rivaled by Charlie Chaplin. If anyone was made for a time period it was this man. He could be crude, brash, stubborn, and generous and was the idol of millions of kids during the 20s and 30s. He was so much better than anyone of his peers that it seemed unfair. The man could rise to the occasion when needed. He did everything big, whether it was hitting a home run, striking out, or living his unfettered life.

Sometimes an athlete is just so much better than his peers and they would be a generational talent. Tiger Woods and Michael Jordon would be in this select group.

When Babe retired in 1935 with 714 home runs the closest player to that mark at the time was his old Yankee teammate Lou Gehrig with 378 home runs (after the 1935 season)…that is a difference of 336 home runs. That is domination.

Ruth had an agent by the name of Christy Walsh. Walsh was basically the first sports agent of his day. He created a highly successful syndicate of ghostwriters for baseball’s biggest stars, coining the term “ghost writer” in the process. Walsh, in many ways, was a pioneer in the public relations field. The relationship between the two was interesting to read about.

The Babe made 70 grand a season playing for the Yankees and at least the same on advertising and barnstorming across the nation in small towns bringing baseball to towns that never would have seen Major League Baseball in the offseason. He was still grossly underpaid for the money he brought into the Yankees. When he would play, the crowds would increase dramatically.

Although black players were stupidly not allowed to play in the Major Leagues at that time, Babe and Lou Gerhig’s teams played black teams in towns all around in the offseason.

If you have interest in Babe Ruth I would recommend this book and Robert Creamer’s book Babe Ruth: The Legend Comes to Life.

“I swing big, with everything I’ve got. I hit big or I miss big. I like to live as big as I can.” – Babe Ruth

 

 

Edna Purviance

When I first started to read about and watch Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton in the 90s I noticed in most of Chaplin’s early short films this beautiful lady with expressive eyes as his leading lady. Chaplin never found a better leading lady than Edna.

Edna was born in Paradise Valley, Nevada in 1895. In 1900 her parents moved to Lovelock where they ran the Singer Hotel, though they later divorced. Edna was musically inclined and played the piano well. Shortly after her high school graduation, she moved to San Fransisco, took a business course and began work as a secretary.

While searching for a leading lady in 1915 an associate of Chaplin suggested a girl he remembered as a regular at a local San Francisco café. After rejecting several chorus girls, Chaplin arranged a meeting with Purviance, who he was impressed by her beauty and personality but still wasn’t sure she was right. They went to a party and Chaplin claimed he could hypnotize her and she said he could not in front of everyone… she ended up going along with the joke and pretended to be hypnotized and that won Chaplin over.

In real life as in the films, Purviance and Chaplin were romantically involved, and they remained close friends even after their affair was over in 1918. While he entertained serious thoughts of marriage, he also had doubts that he expressed in his 1964 Autobiography. Edna also had her reservations as well.

Chaplin continued to feel not only friendship but responsibility for Purviance, and she drew a small monthly stipend from his film company for the remainder of her life. Edna was his leading lady from 1915-1923.

Purviance eventually married John Squire, a Pan-American Airlines pilot, in 1938. They remained married until his death in 1945. Edna died of throat cancer on January 13, 1958.

A quote from Edna from IMDB

Mr. Chaplin asked me if I would like to act in pictures with him. I laughed at the idea but agreed to try it. I guess he took me because I had nothing to unlearn and he could teach me in his own way. I want to tell you that I suffered untold agonies. Eyes seemed to be everywhere. I was simply frightened to death. But he had unlimited patience in directing me and teaching me.

 

 

 

 

The Unknown Chaplin

A three-part documentary based on unseen footage from Charlie Chaplin. Chaplin ordered all of his outtakes burned but some did survive. This gives us a glimpse of how he constructed a story. He relied on inspiration and rarely had anything planned out in advance and that lead to classic scenes.

He would rearrange sets and actors and if a good mistake happened he would act on it and stretch it out. This was a good way to waste thousands of dollars worth of film but it also made him a comedy genius. Chaplin said he would build sets without an idea in his head but would be inspired.

Below is an outtake he never used in his feature “City Lights” which It would have been interesting if he would have kept it in. He takes the simplest prop…a piece of wood and works a scene around it in a grate.

The documentary was in three parts.

My Happiest Years – This part is mostly on his early Mutual shorts years in 1916-1917

The Great Director – Actresses and Actors talk about working on Chaplin’s films.

Hidden Treasures – A look at a variety of informal, private or salvaged pieces of film by or relating to Chaplin, including home movie footage, visitors to his studios, and several sequences that were edited out of his final films.

Like the Buster Keaton biography A Hard Act To Follow this was produced by Kevin Brownlow and David Gill. It’s worth chasing these down or click on this link in youtube. 

 

 

Artist Neysa McMein

I discovered Neysa McMein through Harpo Marx’s autobiography “Harpo Speaks” and I looked up her artwork. I’ve seen her art plenty of times by reading and collecting 20’s and 30’s magazines but never knew the artist. She was also a member of the famed Algonquin Round Table.

She sold millions of magazines with her covers for McCall’s, Saturday Evening Post, Collier’s, McClure’s, Woman’s Home Companion, Photoplay, Liberty, Associated Sunday Magazine, Ladies World. Ad work: memorably for Palmolive; also Cadillac, Lucky Strike, Adam’s Gum, Coke, Hummingbird Hosiery, Gainsborough Hair Nets, Colgate.

She painted portraits of two sitting presidents, Warren G. Harding, and Herbert Hoover.

She also created the first Betty Crocker and updated her through the years.

 

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Neysa marching in 1917 in a Suffrage Parade.

Harpo Marx said this about Neysa: The biggest love affair in New York City was between me—along with two dozen other guys—and Neysa McMein. Like me, Neysa was an unliterary, semi-illiterate gate-crasher at the Algonquin. But unlike me, she was beautiful and bursting with talk and talent. A lot of us agreed she was the sexiest gal in town. Everybody agreed she was the best portrait and cover artist of the times.

She taught Harpo Marx how to paint and according to Harpo she only had one failing as a teacher: Neysa had one failing as an art instructor. It was, as far as I knew, her only failing, period. That was her passion for fires. If a siren or bell should sound during one of our late-night seminars, that was the end of the seminar. Neysa was such a fire buff that she once dashed to Penn Station and jumped on a train when she heard there was a four-alarm fire burning in Philadelphia.

The Harpo quotes are from his autobiography “Harpo Speaks.”

Neysa died in 1949 and was inducted into the Society of Illustrators’ Hall of Fame in 1984.

To see more of her artwork check out this from Pinterest. 

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The Algonquin Round Table

I’ve read about this gathering for years. Writers, Editors, Artists, Humorists, Actors, Actresses and Reporters would gather at the Algonquin Hotel for what has been known as the 10-year lunch. They would hold court jesting with each other about a number of topics. It was not the place for the thin-skinned. Groucho Marx, the king of insults never felt comfortable there. He once said, “The price of admission is a serpent’s tongue and a half-concealed stiletto.” 

Round Tabler Edna Ferber, who called them “The Poison Squad,” wrote, “They were actually merciless if they disapproved. I have never encountered a more hard-bitten crew. But if they liked what you had done, they did say so publicly and whole-heartedly.” Their standards were high, their vocabulary fluent, fresh, and very tough. Both casual and sharp-witted, they had incredible integrity about their work and endless ambition. Some of the members of the Round Table came together to work on each other projects. They essentially networked with each other. George Kaufman teamed up with Edna Ferber and Marc Connelly on some of his stage comedies, including Dulcy and The Royal Family. Harold Ross of The New Yorker hired both Dorothy Parker as a book reviewer and Robert Benchley as a drama critic.

By 1925, the Round Table was famous. What had started as a private gathering became public. The country-at-large was now attentive to their every word—people often coming to stare at them during lunch. Some members began to tire of the constant publicity. The time they spent entertaining and being entertained took its toll on several of the Algonquin members. In 1927, the execution of Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, whose case had divided the country and the Round Table… seemed to cast a pall over the group’s antics.

Dorothy Parker believed strongly in the pair’s innocence, and upon their deaths, she remarked “I had heard someone say and so I said too, that ridicule is the most effective weapon. Well, now I know that there are things that never have been funny and never will be. And I know that ridicule may be a shield but it is not a weapon.”

As America entered the Depression, the bonds that had held the group together started to break. Many members moved to Hollywood for work or on to other interests. It didn’t officially end…it just faded. All in all, it lasted around 10 years.

The last gathering of the Algonquin Round Table was when Alexander Woollcott died in 1943. They all hadn’t met there in years…but the surviving members went straight there after the funeral for the last time.

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Members and Part time-Members who would drop by

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George S. Kaufman (1889–1961): Playwright, New York Times drama editor, producer, director, actor. Wrote forty-five plays (twenty-six hits), won two Pulitzer Prizes.

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Alexander Woollcott (1887–1943): Drama critic for New York Times and New York World, CBS radio star as the Town Crier, model for the character of Sheridan Whiteside in Kaufman and Hart’s “The Man Who Came to Dinner”.

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Beatrice B. Kaufman (1894–1945): Editor, writer, socialite. Married to George.

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Harpo Marx (1888–1964): Actor, comedian, musician, card player.

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Dorothy Parker (1893–1967): Vanity Fair drama critic, New Yorker critic. Celebrated poet, short-story writer, playwright. Wrote Hollywood screenplays. Champion for social justice.

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Franklin P. Adams (1881–1960): Columnist at the New York Tribune, the New York World, and the New York Evening Post; wrote the “Always in Good Humor” and “The Conning Tower” columns. Always known as FPA.

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Robert Benchley (1889–1945): Vanity Fair managing editor, Life drama editor, humorist and actor in short films.

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Heywood Broun (1888–1939): Sportswriter at New York Tribune, columnist at New York World, author; helped found Newspaper Guild.

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Marc Connelly (1890–1980): Newspaperman turned playwright; cowrote plays with George S. Kaufman. Won Pulitzer Prize for play The Green Pastures.

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Edna Ferber (1887–1968): Novelist and playwright. Cowrote plays with George S. Kaufman, including Dinner at Eight. Won Pulitzer Prize for her novel So Big. Wrote Show Boat, Saratoga Trunk, Cimarron, and Giant.

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Ruth Gordon (): American film, stage, and television actress, as well as a screenwriter and playwright. Later in life starred in Harold and Maude.

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Margalo Gillmore (1897–1986): Actress and “the baby of the Round Table.” Starred in early Eugene O’Neill plays.

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Jane Grant (1892–1972): First female New York Times general assignment reporter; co-founded The New Yorker with husband Harold Ross.

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Ruth Hale (1887–1934): Broadway press agent, helped pass Nineteenth Amendment for women’s rights, married Heywood Broun.

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Margaret Leech Pulitzer (1894–1974): Magazine short story writer turned serious historian. Married Ralph Pulitzer; after his death, she earned two Pulitzer Prizes in history.

Alice Duer Miller (1874-1942):  A writer from the U.S. whose poetry actively influenced political opinion. Her feminist verses made an impact on the suffrage issue.

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Neysa McMein (1888–1949): Popular magazine cover illustrator, painter. Wrote about party games.

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Herman J. Mankiewicz (1897–1953): Press agent, early New Yorker drama critic; cowrote plays with Kaufman, produced Marx Brothers movies. Won an Oscar for co-writing Citizen Kane.

 

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Brock Pemberton (1885–1950): Broadway producer and director. Wrote short stories.

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Harold Ross (1892–1951): Founded The New Yorker with his wife, Jane Grant.

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Arthur H. Samuels (1888–1938): Editor of Harper’s Bazaar.

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Robert E. Sherwood (1896–1955): Vanity Fair drama editor, Life editor, author, playwright who won four Pulitzer Prizes. Won Oscar for writing The Best Years of Our Lives.

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Laurence Stallings (1895–1968): Ex-reporter, editorial writer for New York World. Collaborated with Maxwell Anderson on What Price Glory?

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Donald Ogden Stewart (1894–1980): Author, playwright, screenwriter. Won Oscar for The Philadelphia Story.

Frank Sullivan, who became best known for his articles and Christmas poems in The New Yorker, lived most of his life in Saratoga Springs.  Forty years after his death, Frank Sullivan’s career as a writer is being rediscovered and celebrated in his hometown. Photo courtesy Saratoga Room at Saratoga Springs Public Library

Frank Sullivan (1892–1976): Journalist turned humorist. longtime contributor to The New Yorker.

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Deems Taylor (1886–1966): Music critic turned populist composer. Wrote libretto for The King’s Henchmen with Edna St. Vincent Millay. Started national concert series. Narrator of Disney classic Fantasia.

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John V. A. Weaver (1893–1938): Poet who wrote in street vernacular, literary editor of the Brooklyn Eagle

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Peggy Wood (1892–1978): Actress in musical comedies, plays, early TV star.

 

 

https://www.biography.com/news/algonquin-round-table-members

 

 

Buster Keaton: A Hard Act To Follow

This is a three-part documentary made in 1987. It is one of the best documentaries I have ever seen…not just about Buster but anyone.  Each part is almost an hour long. Kevin Brownlow and David Gill wrote and directed this mini-series. This documentary is interesting for fans and non-fans alike. I have watched it multiple times and showed it to friends to didn’t have much interest in silent movies and they ended up liking it.

Brownlow also worked on “Hollywood” (a 13 part history of the silent era that later I’ll review), The Unknown Chaplin, and Harold Lloyd: The Third Genius.

This is in my top 5 of documentaries to recommend to people…I just wish it was easier to get. I had to order it from Europe to get a DVD copy of this.  You can watch all of them on Youtube...below

Buster Keaton was not only a great comedian but a great filmmaker. Some of his special effects in Sherlock Jr and other movies stand up today. I always thought that while Chaplin had the best comedy character…Keaton was the better filmmaker.

Part One (From Vaudeville to Movies)

Covers his vaudeville childhood with his parents. Because of child labor laws, his parents would claim that Buster was an adult actor. They would dress Buster to look old. This part goes through Vaudeville and up until Buster meets Roscoe Arbuckle and starts his career in movies.

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Part Two (Star Without a Studio):

Part Two sums up his great silent movies. He did not work in the studio system…Buster had free reign with his movies in most of the 1920s working for Independent film executive Joe Schenck. Part two shows some of the best scenes from his silent movies until he had to join a studio (MGM) that along with his drinking helped ruin his career.

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Part Three (Genius Recognized):

This part is the downfall and the comeback. Buster worked through the early thirties in some successful talkies but soon by the end of the 30s he was working as a gag writer. He was soon largely forgotten until he appeared in “Sunset Boulevard”, commercials and TV. Buster was in a movie with Chaplin called Limelight in 1952. He began to be praised by historians, critics, and fans alike before he passed away in 1966.

 

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There is a new Buster documentary out called ‘The Great Buster: A Celebration’ by Peter Bogdanovich that I have yet to see. I plan to track it down soon. Either way, this one will be hard to beat.

 

Below is Buster Keaton: A Hard Act to Follow…the complete series.

 

 

 

Runnin’ Wild by David Stenn

I got this book in the 90s and just reread it yet again. I’ve gone over Clara Bow earlier but I wanted to add more about this book. It is a well researched interesting book on the great silent movie actress. I have huge respect for Clara Bow as an actress and as a person. She was outspoken in a business where very few women were at that time.

David Stenn separates fact from fiction about Clara. In the book, Hollywood Babylon Kenneth Anger makes many unflattering statements about Clara which Stenn proves were false. Was Clara wild at times? Yes but no wilder than many of the other actresses in the 20s and nothing compared to today…She was just honest about it.

Actress Lina Basquette said: “She wasn’t well liked amongst other women in the film colony. Her social presence was taboo, and it was rather silly because God knows Marion Davies and Mary Pickford had plenty to hide. It’s just that they hid it, and Clara didn’t.” Bow knew the truth. “I’m a curiosity in Hollywood,” she said. “I’m a big freak because I’m myself!”

Her mother suffered from mental illness, Clara once woke with her mother standing over her with a knife saying she was going to kill her. Her father abused her and used her all of his life and may have sexually abused her. She made it against all odds to the top. There was a point in the twenties that she was the biggest female star receiving 45,000 fan letters a month.

Paramount would use her to push lightweight films and hardly ever place her in a great film. Because of this practice, she is only known well for a few films. When silent movies evolved into “talkies” Greta Garbo was given two years to prepare for the change…Clara, who was a bigger star was given a matter of weeks. She would appear on the screen and your eyes would stay with her. She did a few sound pictures and was successful but did not enjoy it as much as the silent films.

She retired and married Rex Bell (a part time cowboy actor) and moved to Nevada in the 1930s to have and raise a couple of children. One of her children, Rex Bell Jr. had this to say about the book.

“A lot of crap biographies have been written about mom, but the one that is accurate is ‘Clara Bow, Runnin’ Wild’ by David Stenn,” Bell said, noting that he first learned his mother was abused as a child from that book that was supported by medical records.

Clara was in the first movie that won an Oscar… Wings … The other movie she is known for is It made in 1927. She was soon known as The IT Girl.

I recommend this book highly. Clara Bow had a hard life growing up in Brooklyn and against all odds turned into one of the biggest stars of the 20s. She was honest to a fault and herself to the end.

Where Clara, Rex, and their children lived…The Walking Box Ranch.

Drive-In Movie Theaters

I remember Drive-In Theaters from way back. My sister is 8 years older than I am. When she was 16 I was 8 and mom made her take me with her on dates and that included the Drive-In. Most Drive-Ins charged by the person so guess where I was located? A mile up from the Drive-In I would know the routine…I would climb in the trunk. I remember smelling the old dirty tire and whatever else…I would hear us roll over the gravel and then the car would stop…my sister would let me out.

I would climb in the back seat and start watching. Although I make fun of her for this I actually enjoyed it. It was fun to do as a kid. I was a laid-back kid anyway. I remember the only movie showing one time was an R rated movie. It was called “Revenge of the Cheerleaders” from 1976…I got quite an education on the female anatomy. She would tell me don’t look now… then she and her date would go out and talk to friends parked around. I was of course looking and I never told mom…I knew I would not get to come back if I told her.

There are a few around here and once in a while, we will go see them. No Cheerleaders though.

In 1933, eager motorists park their automobiles on the grounds of Park-In Theaters, the first-ever drive-in movie theater, located on Crescent Boulevard in Camden, New Jersey. Richard Hollingshead opened it up. He thought of it because his mother was to large for theater seats. He charged just 25 cents per car.

The Drive-In didn’t really take off until the in-car speakers were invented by the late 40s. By 1958, the number of drive-ins peaked at 4,063.

Indoor theaters were more practical because they could show a movie 5-6 times a day and not have to worry about the weather or being light so the Drive-In’s started to get B movies (Revenge of the Cheerleaders!) and the fad started to slow down. Also, land value pushed the Drive-In’s out.

Now there are roughly 400 Drive-Ins left in America.

In Nashville, they are building an indoor Drive-In Theater. When it is finished I will check it out. You will not drive in with your car…you will walk in and sit in one of the classic cars they will have ready for you…I’m ready…but no trunks

A rendering of the August Moon Drive-In theater planned

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The Gold Rush

This is a great movie that was made in 1925 by Charlie Chaplin. It has two of Chaplin’s most famous scenes in this movie…Dance of the Dinner Rolls and when Charlie and his partner get so hungry in a cabin that Charlie cooks his shoe and they eat it. The actual shoe was made of licorice and candy…they both ended up sick after the shoot.

The plot involves Big Jim (Mack Swain) who strikes gold but a blizzard hits and he gets lost. Along comes the lone prospector (Charlie Chaplin) looking for riches. They both find a criminal’s (Tom Murray) cabin to take shelter from the storm and eventually take the cabin over. They are stuck there through the winter with nothing to eat. Big Jim imagines Charlie is a chicken at one time with a very good special effect.

Some people have misconceptions about silent movies. Some think they are fast and jerky…they are not. That was caused early on by not having the correct projector to play them when they were transferred to video. Many of them look much better than the reruns of Andy Griffith or movies from the 50s. They had beautiful cinematography because that is what they relied on to convey the story.

The full feature films of Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton are clear and beautiful to watch and very funny. I’ve always thought comedy translated better through the silent era than drama…although there are great dramas such as “Sunrise” that were brilliant.

I would suggest this movie to anyone who is willing to give a silent movie a chance. It’s rated as one of Charlie’s best movies. City Lights, Modern Times, and The Kid are also great Chaplin films. His best sound film, in my opinion, is The Great Dictator.

There are two versions of this movie. One with the title screens and one where Charlie recorded his voice narrating instead of titles. I have found the original one with titles more enjoyable.

This movie is #137 on the IMDB top 250 movies of all time.

https://www.imdb.com/chart/top?ref_=tt_awd

 

Harpo Speaks

I have mentioned this book before but not in detail. It is my favorite autobiography I’ve ever read. He starts off in his childhood in the late 1800s and ends up in the 1960s. I have read this book at least 7-10 times. It’s always my traveling companion on trips just in case I need something else to read. I’ve read books by and about Groucho and others written about the Marx Brothers but this book that Harpo and Rowland Barber wrote tops them all. He doesn’t go through all of the movies by detail but he packed so much living in his life that his life was full enough without much info about the movies.

He was always himself no matter what. The Brothers never would conform to anyone’s standards. He was counterculture before counterculture. Harpo jumped out of the window in 2nd grade and never came back but ended up hanging out with some of the best-known intellectuals of the 20th century and was a member of the Algonquin Round Table but yet he could hardly spell. He frequently stayed at William Randolph Hearst’s super-estate San Simeon. He called himself a professional listener…the only one of the bunch.

He taught himself the harp and played with an unorthodox style. Professional harp players would ask him to show them how he played some of the things he did…

Harpo was a good friend of Alexander Woolcott and Wolcott would invite Harpo and a select few to Neshobe Island in Lake Bomoseen in Vermont that Woolcott owned for the summers to play games and hang out every day. Harpo could make life interesting in the dullest of surroundings. He was friends with Robert Benchley, Salvador Dali, Dorothy Parker, Charles MacArthur, Alice Duer Miller, George Bernard Shaw,  Beatrice Kaufman, and Ruth Gordon.

Wolcott also arranged for Harpo to tour Russia in the 1930s. Harpo actually did a bit of Spy work for the American government at the time…transporting some papers on his leg out of Russia to America.

If you read this just to read about the Marx Brothers movie career…don’t…if you want to know what they went through to get where they did…then yes read it. This book tells what old-time Vaudeville was really like. Not a romantic version of it by some old timers that told their story after they retired. Awful boarding houses, spoiled food, and harassment by promoters.

He never seemed to age in spirit. He kept up with new things and was not stuck in the past.

His son Bill Marx wrote a book later on about his life with Harpo. When the Beatles came out Bill…who studied jazz and played piano, hated them. Harpo told him in 1964 that he better start liking them because their songs would last through time. He said this in 1964 before the Beatles matured. The guy had been around George Gershwin, Oscar Levant, and Irving Berlin. Bill said in 1970 he was playing piano in a club somewhere and what was he playing? Let It Be… “Dad was right.”

Harpo married Susan Flemming when he was 48 in 1936. George Burns asked him in 1948 how many children did he want to adopt? Harpo said “I’d like to adopt as many children as I have windows in my house. So when I leave for work, I want a kid in every window, waving goodbye.”

Harpo was known to wake one of his children up in the middle of the night if he worked late just to play games with them.

They ended up adopting 4 children…below was the house rules for the kids…

  1. Life has been created for you to enjoy, but you won’t enjoy it unless you pay for it with some good, hard work. This is one price that will never be marked down.
  2. You can work at whatever you want to as long as you do it as well as you can and clean up afterwards and you’re at the table at mealtime and in bed at bedtime.
  3. Respect what the others do. Respect Dad’s harp, Mom’s paints, Billy’s piano, Alex’s set of tools, Jimmy’s designs, and Minnie’s menagerie.
  4. If anything makes you sore, come out with it. Maybe the rest of us are itching for a fight, too.
  5. If anything strikes you as funny, out with that, too. Let’s all the rest of us have a laugh.
  6. If you have an impulse to do something that you’re not sure is right, go ahead and do it. Take a chance. Chances are, if you don’t you’ll regret it – unless you break the rules about mealtime and bedtime, in which case you’ll sure as hell regret it.
  7. If it’s a question of whether to do what’s fun or what is supposed to be good for you, and nobody is hurt whichever you do, always do what’s fun.
  8. If things get too much for you and you feel the whole world’s against you, go stand on your head. If you can think of anything crazier to do, do it.
  9. Don’t worry about what other people think. The only person in the world important enough to conform to is yourself.
  10. Anybody who mistreats a pet or breaks a pool cue is docked a months pay.

 

If you are looking for an autobiography…get this book.

Here is a small portion of Chapter 1 of Harpo Speaks!

I’ve played piano in a whorehouse. I’ve smuggled secret papers out of Russia. I’ve spent an evening on the divan with Peggy Hopkins Joyce. I’ve taught a gangster mob how to play Pinchie Winchie. I’ve played croquet with Herbert Bayard Swope while he kept Governor Al Smith waiting on the phone. I’ve gambled with Nick the Greek, sat on the floor with Greta Carbo, sparred with Benny Leonard, horsed around with the Prince of Wales, played Ping-pong with George Gershwin. George Bernard Shaw has asked me for advice. Oscar Levant has played private concerts for me at a buck a throw. I have golfed with Ben Hogan and Sam Snead. I’ve basked on the Riviera with Somerset Maugham and Elsa Maxwell. I’ve been thrown out of the casino at Monte Carlo.
Flush with triumph at the poker table, I’ve challenged Alexander Woollcott to anagrams and Alice Duer Miller to a spelling match. I’ve given lessons to some of the world’s greatest musicians. I’ve been a member of the two most famous Round Tables since the days of King Arthur—sitting with the finest creative minds of the 1920’s at the Algonquin in New York, and with Hollywood’s sharpest professional wits at the Hillcrest.
(Later in the book, some of these activities don’t seem quite so impressive when I tell the full story. Like what I was doing on the divan with Peggy Hopkins Joyce. I was reading the funnies to her.)
The truth is, I had no business doing any of these things. I couldn’t read a note of music. I never finished the second grade. But I was having too much fun to recognize myself as an ignorant upstart.
 
 I can’t remember ever having a bad meal. I’ve eaten in William Randolph Hearst’s baronial dining room at San Simeon, at Voisin’s and the Colony, and the finest restaurants in Paris. But the eating place I remember best, out of the days when I was chronically half starved, is a joint that was called Max’s Busy Bee. At the Busy Bee, a salmon sandwich on rye cost three cents per square foot, and for four cents more you could buy a strawberry shortcake smothered with whipped cream and a glass of lemonade. But the absolutely most delicious food I ever ate was prepared by the most inspired chef I ever knew—my father. My father had to be inspired because he had so little to work with.
I can’t remember ever having a poor night’s sleep. I’ve slept in villas at Cannes and Antibes, at Alexander Woollcott’s island hideaway in Vermont, at the mansions of the Vanderbilts and Otto H. Kahn and in the Gloversville, New York, jail. I’ve slept on pool tables, dressing-room tables, piano tops, bathhouse benches, in rag baskets and harp cases, and four abreast in upper berths. I have known the supreme luxury of snoozing in the July sun, on the lawn, while the string of a flying kite tickled the bottom of my feet.

I can’t remember ever seeing a bad show. I’ve seen everything from Coney Island vaudeville to the Art Theatre in Moscow. If I’m trapped in a theatre and a show starts disappointingly, I have a handy way to avoid watching it. I fall asleep.
My only addictions—and I’ve outgrown them all—have been to pocket billiards, croquet, poker, bridge and black jelly beans. I haven’t smoked for twenty years.

The only woman I’ve ever been in love with is still married to me.

My only Alcohol Problem is that I don’t particularly care for the stuff.