Thursday, January 31, 2019

Rupert's Land

In his novel, Lonely On the Mountain, Louis L'Amour refers more than once to Rupert's Land. This was a designation to a large section of Canada and a relatively small portion of what is now the United States. The name came from the fact that the area was included in an English Royal Charter which had been granted to the Hudson Bay Company, which was under the governorship of the King's cousin, Prince Rupert of the Rhine.

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Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Written across that generation

"As children of the Depression, they managed their new prosperity carefully. . . . As couples, they all shared a natural resistance to conspicuous consumption. Moderation in spending was as important to them as faithful marriages, well-behaved children, and church."

(from The Greatest Generation, by Tom Brokaw)

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Sometimes you cannot be picky about your company

A man experienced in dealing with the female sex knows that the policy to pursue, when a woman issues an order, is not to stand arguing but to acquiesce and then go off and disobey it, and Freddie had wasted no time trying to persuade Sally to change her mind and allow him to patrol the grounds of Castlewood. He had simply gone and done it. For the last hour he had been, in defiance of her wishes, walking round and round the house like the better type of watch dog, his eye alert for nocturnal marauders. The complete absence of these had induced ennui and, like George, he was delighted to see Chimp. He would have preferred to pass the time of night with someone who looked a little less like something absent without leave from the monkey house at the zoo, but he knew that he was in no position to pick and choose. Valley Fields goes to bed early, and this at such an hour was the best it could provide.

(from Ice In the Bedroom, by Sir Pelham Wodehouse)

Monday, January 28, 2019

Trampas: Hollywood changed a bad guy to a good guy

Hollywood has long been guilty of painting criminals with a gilded hue. No doubt the real-life Robin Hood, for example, was much more concerned with robbing the rich than he was giving to the poor. But those were actual historical figures, and the practice has been commonplace in cinematic history.

But at least once Hollywood reformed a fictitious character as well. If you have ever read the novel The Virginian by Owen Wister, you know that the character Trampas was the worst sort of bad guy, who eventually was shot by the hero. When the long-running TV series came along, Trampas was there, but he had been changed to a lovable ranch hand who, though he had his weaknesses, was obviously one of the good guys. Actor Doug McClure played the character and made it his own.

Sunday, January 27, 2019

Don't bother me now!

"What was that?" he gasped.

"What did you think it was?" said Dolly. She spoke with an asperity understandable in the circumstances. No girl cares to be asked foolish questions at a moment when she is trying to make certain the top of her head has not come off.

(from Ice In the Bedroom, by Sir Pelham Wodehouse)

Saturday, January 26, 2019

Romance during war time

As corny as those black-and-white movies about love and marriage during the war years may seem now, they were a reflection of what was happening to couples across the country. Newly married couples didn't have an opportunity to adjust slowly to the complexities of suddenly sharing a life.

And then they were separated, often for years. Husbands were living in an intensely male environment, trying to deal with the stresses and dangers of war, while young wives were left at home, staying with relatives or living alone in strange cities, working when they could or caring for a child conceived before the father shipped out and born while he was away.

(from The Greatest Generation, by Tom Brokaw)

Friday, January 25, 2019

He made his opinion clear

It is one of the drawbacks to the historian's task that in recording dialogue between his characters he must select and abridge, giving merely the gist of their remarks and not a full stenographic transcript It will be enough to say, therefore, that Lord Blicester, touching on his nephew's moral and spiritual defects, left nothing unspoken. The word "wastrel" occurred with some frequency, as did the adjective "hopeless." By the time he had rounded into his peroration, the conclusion anyone hearing it would have come to was that it was a mystery how such a despicable member of the human family as Frederick Fotheringway Widgeon had even been allowed inside a respectable establishment like Barribault's Hotel.

(from Ice In the Bedroom, by Sir Pelham Wodehouse)

Thursday, January 24, 2019

On the home front when World War II started

In 1940 only about 54% of the homes in America had complete plumbing - running water, private bath, and flush toilet. Almost a quarter of the homes had no electrical power. Economists estimate that most American homes in 1940 had only 1000 square feet of living space. In 1998, they estimate new single-family homes have more than double that, a little more than 2100 square feet of living space.

(from The Greatest Generation, by Tom Brokaw)

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Old Concrete Brain

She loved him dearly and yielded to no one in her respect for his ability to sell worthless oil stock to the least promising of prospects, but, except for this one great gift of his, she had no illusions about his intelligence. She knew that she had taken for better or worse one who was practically solid concrete from the neck up, and she liked it. It was her view that brains only unsettle a husband, and she was comfortably conscious of herself possessing enough for the two of them.

(from Ice In the Bedroom, by Sir Pelham Wodehouse)

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Fairbanks moved in high company

Douglas Fairbanks certainly was Hollywood royalty. He was the son of one of the great stars of the silent movie era, and was one of the best of the swashbucklers (the best, in my opinion). He served on Lord Mountbatten's commando staff during World War II and received the Silver Star. In 1949 he was knighted and became Sir Douglas. He moved in the highest social circles in the UK, often entertaining Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip at his London mansion.

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Monday, January 21, 2019

One tough job

There was another role for the women of the Nurse Corps [during WWII]. They were surrogate mothers. Wandrey writes of working in a shock ward in Sicily and seeing an eighteen-year-old who was just brought in from the ambulance. "I went to him immediately," she said. "He looked up at me trustingly, sighed, nd asked, 'How am I doing, nurse?' I was standing at the head of his litter. I put my hands around his face, kissed his forehead, and said, 'You're doing just fine soldier.' He smiled sweetly and said, 'I was just checking up.' Then he died."

(from The Greatest Generation, by Tom Brokaw)

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Dolores Hart and Patty Duke

When I first saw a picture of actress (later nun) Dolores Hart, I thought she was Patty Duke. Fairly remarkable resemblance.

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Tongue twister lawyers

In at least one of his novels, P. G. Wodehouse invented the law firm of Shoesmith, Shoesmith, Shoesmith, and Shoesmith. Just imagine being their receptionist and having to answer the phone with that name a hundred times a day.

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Why tarry?

Leila Yorke was a woman who believed in doing it now, and although Sally was extremely fond of her, there were moments when she found herself wishing that she would less often model her behavior on that  of those American hurricanes which become so impulsive on arriving at Cape Hatteras.

(from Ice In the Bedroom, by Sir Pelham Wodehouse)

Friday, January 18, 2019

Asta: A well-paid pooch

Skippy was the name of one of Hollywood's most talented and famous dogs. He was called Asta in the famous comedy/mystery The Thin Man, and went on to appear in (at least) 21 movies before he retired in 1941. He was an absolute scene-stealer, and seemed to work very well with William Powell and Myrna Loy in the Thin Man series of movies. He was paid $250 per week. If you calculate the inflation rate between 1941 and 2018, that translates to $4270 per week.

He is pictured below with Wendy Barrie on the set of It's A Small World.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

A large lad

"I was engaged to him once."


"Broke it off, though, when he started to bulge at every seam. Couldn't keep that boy off the starchy foods. I don't mind a poop being a poop, but I draw the line at a poop who looks like two poops rolled into one."

(from Ice in the Bedroom, by Sir Pelham Wodehouse)

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Revol Bunin's mother's death

Revol Bunin was a minor Russian composer (1924-1976). His mother had always been sickly, and when she was dying (when he was 14), she asked him to play the piano for her. Through the night he played Bach, Beethoven, Mozart and Mussorgsky. The next morning he had his first attack of asthma, the disease that ultimately would kill him.

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Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Those loopy authors

It was some slight consolation to me in this dark hour to reflect, as I tooled back to the house, that the news I was bearing would, if he were still eating sardines, cause those sardines to turn to ashes in Boko's mouth. I am not a vindictive man, but I was feeling in no amiable frame of mind towards this literary screwball. I mean, it's all very well for a chap to plead that he's an author and expect on the strength of that to get away with conduct which would qualify the ordinary man for a one-way ticket to Colney Hatch, but even an author, I felt - and I think with justice - ought to have had the sense to glance through his car before he locked it up for the night to make sure there weren't any shipping magnates dozing in the back seat.

(from Joy in the Morning, by Sir Pelham Wodehouse)

Sunday, January 13, 2019

The real-life Mikado

You have no doubt heard of The Mikado, an operetta by Gilbert and Sullivan? Well, of course, there was and is a real-life Mikado (although that title is now considered obsolete in English). Emperor Akihito is the current holder. The Imperial House of Japan is the oldest continuing monarchical house in the world.

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Saturday, January 12, 2019

Myaskovsky Symphony #19 - for band, not for orchestra

One of the lesser-known (undeservedly) Russian composers was Nicolai Myaskovsky. He was interesting for several reasons, not the least of which was the number of symphonies he composed (27). His 19th symphony is unique in that it was for band, not for orchestra. I doubt that you will find very many orchestral composers who wrote symphonies for concert bands. It became a part of the standard repertoire for Russian bands. According to the YouTube notes on this symphony:

"In Russia there was a great tradition of the bands. With the political changes, excellent military bands were formed, their importance being so great that their directors came to be named Major Generals only because of their musical merits. Therefore it is not strange that Myaskovsky composed them a symphony."

Friday, January 11, 2019

Ol' Seal Beam

There is, or has been, such a thing as a "sealed beam" headlight. During the year I attended school at Alma (my sophomore year), the local policeman was known among the student body as "Seal Beam," because he had once upon a time bragged about his new set of headlights.
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Thursday, January 10, 2019

She must be one tough babe

Circumstances had so arranged themselves as to extract most of the stuffing from what had been a closish boyhood friendship, but I had to respect a man capable of turning on Florence like a tiger. I would hardly have thought Attila the Hun could have done it, even if at the peak of his form.

(from Joy in the Morning, by Sir Pelham Wodehouse)

Wednesday, January 09, 2019



Students of American political history need to be paying close attention to the broad overview of the landscape these days. Twice before in our history the more conservative of the two dominant political parties was replaced: the Federalists gave way to the Whigs, and the Whigs were eclipsed by the Republicans. (That is the modern Republican party of Abraham Lincoln. In Thomas Jefferson’s days the more liberal of the two parties was termed Republican, then Democratic-Republican, and finally Democratic.) We could be seeing that happening again, because the Republican party, it appears to me, is perilously close to self-destruction.

Mr. Trump knows precisely where his base of support is (those who would actually vote FOR him), and he has done a masterful job of playing to that support and keeping them deliriously happy. They love him. The problem is that that base, though very deep, is not very broad. And the President has no apparent desire to broaden his support beyond that base. His policies, by themselves, MIGHT have done it; but his behavior has rendered it very near to being an impossibility. I have no idea who David Frum is, but he expressed it nicely: “Trump’s conduct as candidate and President long ago deprived him of any power to persuade anyone not already predisposed to support him.” What he means is that Mr. Trump’s policies are almost beside the point, because so many people have become disgusted with him personally that they ignore anything positive he might say or do.

What that means is that the Republicans’ only hope is that the Democrats are stupid enough (and they probably will be) to nominate some left-wing nut whose behavior is as obnoxious, offensive, and seemingly-deranged as the President's has been, thus making a level playing field. They seem to have a growing field of candidates to choose from with those dubious qualifications. IF the Democrats can somehow stumble across a candidate who at least has a public persona that comes across as dignified and somewhat reasonable, Mr. Trump could be in serious trouble in the next election.

What will determine the next presidential election (assuming Mr. Trumps runs again) will be the “hold your nose” factor. What do I mean by that? Those are the voters who are not really voting FOR a candidate, but are holding their noses against the political stench coming from one candidate, voting for that person anyway, in order to vote AGAINST the other candidate who is even more objectionable to them. Sometimes, if you hold your nose, you can block out the scent. But, if the smell is so strong that even holding your nose won’t shut it out, then you either vote for the other candidate, or more likely, just do not vote at all in disgust.

Mr. Trump is so utterly self-absorbed that he would never notice the odor, since he assumes that if he says, “Everybody loves me,” the fact that he said it automatically makes it true. But the rest of the Republican party OUGHT to be aware of what is going on – and they ought to be alarmed. I suspect some of them are, but the combined rigidity of the backbones of the current Republican leadership is roughly equivalent to warm Jello, so they are studiously avoiding anything that might make Mr. Trump upset.

The problem that the Republicans have is that since the days of Wilson they have been, for the most part, the minority party. That means a hundred years. Over that period more people have identified fundamentally with the Democrats than with the Republicans; but in some elections enough of the “swing” middle of the political spectrum would slide over that the Republicans could win. At the moment their base of support is narrow enough that they cannot afford to lose anyone. Thus, the noisy Trump base has evidently petrified them to the point that they are scared to death to do anything to lose them, even if it means risking the dissolution of their party in the long run. In a two-party system, neither party will be able to be dominant in the long term without being able to get the votes in the middle – “moderates” we call them. During the peak of FDR’s administration perhaps the Democrats were past that point, but it has been a rarity. The Republicans are allowing Mr. Trump to maintain his base of perhaps 20%, but they are placing in dire jeopardy the middle of the body of voters. They are taking a huge risk that the entire party becomes identified as “Trump’s party,” with no one within the party who constitutes “the opposition.”

Disgust is a powerful motivator. Irritation might cause us to stay away from an individual whenever we have the opportunity, but disgust can cause us to sever all relationship with him. I believe the GOP is greatly underestimating the disgust factor in the current political landscape; and it is just possible that the overlooking of a critical political factor could do them permanent, irreparable damage. IF that is the case, then we could be on the cusp of a permanent shift in the American political landscape. Two years ago the Republicans had the presidency and both houses of Congress, and a golden opportunity to shift the balance of power strongly in their favor. In those who short years they have gone from that to the distinct possibility of having done just the opposite.

Young students of political science should pay attention, because this does not happen very often. You may be watching something about which you can tell your grandchildren, "I was there."

Tuesday, January 08, 2019

He would not have made it around here

One of the characters in P. G. Wodehouse's novels is D'Arcy "Stilton" Cheesewright. He is a policeman. I am sorry, but that name would just not work for a cop in western Arkansas. He would be laughed out of town in no time.

Monday, January 07, 2019

Seven is a lot

Actress Jeanne Crain had seven children. That is an unusually high number for Hollywood, where women are greatly concerned about their figures.

Sunday, January 06, 2019

An apt description of some folks I know

(And likely of me, if the truth were told)

"Useless as life preserver for fish."
(from Charlie Chan's Chance)

Saturday, January 05, 2019

Don Rickles was really funny

We saw a rerun of the Dick Van Dyke Show this week that featured comedian Don Rickles as a guest star. Rickles was a busy stand-up jokester with a thick NYC accent who specialized in insult humor, especially along ethnic lines. After he would make an ethnic dig, he sometimes would ask the audience, "Is he laughing or walking toward me?" Likely in this hyper-sensitive age, his humor would not work as well, but it was funny in its time.

On one occasion, Rickles ribbed mobster Joe Gallo  in a routine despite being warned not to do so. Gallo accepted the digs in good humor.

Friday, January 04, 2019

Once over lightly, thanks

The mind of the New York Customs inspector being the unpleasant, suspicious thing it is, a motion picture star returning to her native land from a visit to Europe usually finds the clearing of her baggage a rather lengthy process. But today Lottie had got through quickly. The official told off to examine her belongings had begun by examining the little wickerwork basket which she was carrying, and after that had seemed unable to put any real heart and thoroughness into his work. His sense of duty was strong enough to make him ask her to unlock he trunks, but his whole attitude when going through them had been that of a man who has had his lesson and felt that prudence is best. Perfunctory about sums it up. [There had been a small alligator in the basket.]

(from The Luck of the Bodkins, by Sir Pelham Wodehouse)

Thursday, January 03, 2019

Mayhem on his mind

What he was giving at this moment was a perfect representation of one of those men who are always getting arrested by the police for loitering with intent. A policeman, had one been present, might have been uncertain as to whether Reggie was meditating murder, arson, robbery from the person with violence, or the purchase of chocolates after eight p.m., but he would have known it was something pretty bad.

(from The Luck of the Bodkins, by Sir Pelham Wodehouse)

Wednesday, January 02, 2019

A word I had never used

In his novel, The Luck of the Bodkins, Sir Pelham Wodehouse uses the term "inspissated gloom." That was a new one on me. It means "thickened or congealed." (Inspissated - I did already know what "gloom" means.)

Tuesday, January 01, 2019

Frontier Circus

This was a television series that aired for one season in 1961-62. It has a unique idea: a circus that toured the old west, complete with all the problems that you might expect in such a project. Because it was so different it is enjoyable to watch, although one can see why it only lasted one season, since the concept starts to grow a little threadbare after a while. Chill Wills is part-owner of the circus and the central character. It is available on YouTube and is worth watching.