Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Yahrzeit - Ahead & Behind theTimes

My father died 17 years ago today. November 30 is also Mark Twain's birthday. I imagine Dad would have liked to be linked to Twain, however tenuously. Funny... I just now remembered that I read THE INNOCENTS ABROAD the one time I visited Dad at his home in L.A.

In his early years in Hollywood, Dad lent his voice to various progressive causes, which got him branded as "a Red sonofabitch" (allegedly by Columbia Pictures honcho Harry Cohn), then tailed for decades by the FBI. The sign proclaiming "SCHOLARSHIPS NOT BATTLESHIPS" in this photo from 1937 (below) would have been perfect for an anti-Vietnam War demonstration--or an Occupy rally now. Alas, Dad and the other peaceniks were proved wrong four years later, when battleships became vastly more necessary.

Westwood, Calif.--More than 1000 students of the University of California at Los Angeles walked off the campus in a peace strike as part of a nation-wide demonstration called by the United Student Peace Committee. --PHOTO SHOWS-- Lionel Stander, cinema actor, as he addressed the crowd of strikers, while standing on a truck parked near the campus. 4-22-37

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Another Piece of History

LinkMy latest acquisition (above) is an AP Wirephoto of my father from 1953. Caption:
NEW YORK, May 6--Rep. Harold Velde, left, (R-Ill. chairman of the House Unamerican Activities Committee, points a warning finger at witness Lionel Stander, seated at right, during the actor's testimony here today. Stander refused to tell the committee at an open hearing whether he had ever been a Communist. He said he was not now a Communist, but refused to say whether he was a party member between 1935 and 1948. Rep. Morgan M. Moulder (D-Mo.) sits beside Velde.
That appears to be the infamous Roy Cohn standing in the back at left.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Summer Reading Assignment for Obama & Congress

To the legislators of 2011 and most especially the candidates of 2012, I offer this excerpt from Charles Dickens's LITTLE DORRIT:

Containing the whole Science of Government

Whatever was required to be done, the Circumlocution Office was beforehand with all the public departments in the art of perceiving--HOW NOT TO DO IT.

Through this delicate perception, through the tact with which it invariably seized it, and through the genius with which it always acted on it, the Circumlocution Office had risen to overtop all the public departments; and the public condition had risen to be--what it was.

It is true that How not to do it was the great study and object of all public departments and professional politicians all round the Circumlocution Office. It is true that every new premier and every new government, coming in because they had upheld a certain thing as necessary to be done, were no sooner come in than they applied their utmost faculties to discovering How not to do it. It is true that from the moment when a general election was over, every returned man who had been raving on hustings because it hadn't been done, and who had been asking the friends of the honourable gentleman in the opposite interest on pain of impeachment to tell him why it hadn't been done, and who had been asserting that it must be done, and who had been pledging himself that it should be done, began to devise, How it was not to be done. It is true that the debates of both Houses of Parliament the whole session through, uniformly tended to the protracted deliberation, How not to do it. It is true that the royal speech at the opening of such session virtually said, My lords and gentlemen, you have a considerable stroke of work to do, and you will please to retire to your respective chambers, and discuss, How not to do it. It is true that the royal speech, at the close of such session, virtually said, My lords and gentlemen, you have through several laborious months been considering with great loyalty and patriotism, How not to do it, and you have found out; and with the blessing of Providence upon the harvest (natural, not political), I now dismiss you. All this is true, but the Circumlocution Office went beyond it.

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Back to Mr. Dickens

I kept thinking how much the US Congress dickering over the debt ceiling is just like Dickens's Circumlocution Office, with all the talk of why "it can't be done." So I put aside Susan Isaacs's LILY WHITE, which was boring me, in favor of LITTLE DORRIT, which isn't.

The cinematic opening, which I looked for in vain when I watched the BBC series, fits right in with the breathless weather we're having:
Thirty years ago, Marseilles lay burning in the sun, one day. A blazing sun upon a fierce August day was no greater rarity in southern France then, than at any other time, before or since. Everything in Marseilles, and about Marseilles, had stared at the fervid sky, and been stared at in return, until a staring habit had become universal there. Strangers were stared out of countenance by staring white houses, staring white walls, staring white streets, staring tracts of arid road, staring hills from which verdure was burnt away. The only things to be seen not fixedly staring and glaring were the vines drooping under their load of grapes. These did occasionally wink a little, as the hot air barely moved their faint leaves.

There was no wind to make a ripple on the foul water within the harbour, or on the beautiful sea without. The line of demarcation between the two colours, black and blue, showed the point which the pure sea would not pass; but it lay as quiet as the abominable pool, with which it never mixed. Boats without awnings were too hot to touch; ships blistered at their moorings; the stones of the quays had not cooled, night or day, for months.
This may be the last time I read my Penguin paperback edition, which I bought in 1984, as the pages keep fluttering out of the cracked binding. It's odd to have a book that I remember buying new to be looking--and especially smelling--so old.

Friday, August 05, 2011

Strange & Beautiful: Kevin Wilson & THE FAMILY FANG

The Family Fang, Kevin Wilson’s debut novel from Ecco Press, opens with:
Mr. and Mrs. Fang called it art. Their children called it mischief. "You make a mess and then you walk away from it," their daughter, Annie, told them.
And what a mess Caleb and Camille Fang have made of Annie and her younger brother Buster! Labeled “Child A” and “Child B,” from infancy they were pressed into service—not always willingly, or even wittingly—as key players in their parents’ notorious performance art pieces.

Having attended art school and hung around the Manhattan art/music scene of the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, I came of age with people like Caleb and Camille Fang. I was curious how Kevin Wilson managed to capture them and their milieu with such piercing, tragicomic accuracy....
More at Wild River Review

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Sunday, May 01, 2011

A New May Day

The view from my back fence this morning.

At a Denver riding club on May 1, 2006, Gomez the Thoroughbred threw me into a steel-pipe fence. My first-ever helicopter ride brought me to Swedish Hospital, where I spent a week in the multi-trauma unit. My body and psyche were as shattered as my glasses (see May 1, 2009, post with pic here).

Five years later, I'm finally healed. I think. I hope.

There's a difference between "healed" and "all better." After 3 surgeries on my right arm, I still have to carefully position it when I lie in bed. Three fingers on my dominant right hand remain partly to mostly numb. My right upper lip is numb; so is my right upper eyelid and my right forehead from just above the inner brow to the hairline. That eyebrow also is higher than the left, and doesn't go down when I frown. After rhinoplasty and 3 root canals, my nose and front teeth still hurt.

But the progress outweighs the remaining pain. For the first time in 5 years, the other day I was able to clasp my hands behind my back--and even raise them several inches. Last month my dentist applied a resin veneer to cover the gray on my dead right front tooth. So now I don't have to remind myself to keep my lips closed when I smile.

Even better, I no longer panic when I hear sirens or helicopters, or the news on radio/TV, or squealing tires on ads, or a football scrimmage (I still can't watch, but I never liked football anyway). Nor do I burst into tears when I see photographs of carnage or destruction in the newspaper, though I still have to cover some of them.

My short-term memory has returned. I couldn't remember a string of digits long enough to write down a phone number. I had to listen to a voice mail 3 or 4 times--first for the area code, then the exchange, then the next 2 digits, then the last 2. People thought I was kidding when I pleaded brain damage. I wasn't; 3 years after my accident a CT-scan finding was "traumatic brain injury."

"Time is a great healer," goes the old saying. True, but I wouldn't have gotten this far without the help of my gifted therapist in Denver, Mel Grusing, who practices Somatic Experiencing.

A new therapist just provided the last piece in my healing process. His name is Superstar, and he's a shaggy, battered little rescue horse at Blue Ribbon Farm in Tivoli, NY. After Gomez nearly killed me, I swore I'd never get on another Thoroughbred again. (Funny how my new digs back onto a racing horse farm, pictured at top.) But Superstar, who's the proverbial bombproof horse, made me eat my words. I've ridden him twice and can't wait to get back in the saddle.

Tally ho!

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Guffaw of the Day OR Hypocritic Oaf

I laughed out loud when I saw this AP headline:

LOVE the lede:
Newt Gingrich says his passion for his country contributed to his marital infidelity.
(Yes, and my passion for dessert contributed to my thighs.)

What follows is a motherlode of self-serving hypocrisy. Consider this gem:
The twice-divorced former U.S. House speaker has admitted he had an affair with Callista, a former congressional aide, while married to his second wife. It happened at the same time he was attacking President Bill Clinton for his relationship with White House intern Monica Lewinsky.
Takeaway (via Jon Stewart): There are 3 women who'd have sex with Newt Gingrich!

The piece ends with this emetic tidbit:
He also said former Georgia Gov. Zell Miller, a Democrat who has backed many Republicans in recent years, will serve as a co-chairman of his national campaign effort.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

In Cairo with Caravaggio

Above, a group of young men in Tahrir Square, by Moises Saman for The New York Times.

Below, "The Taking of Christ" (c. 1602) by Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, at the National Gallery of Ireland.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

The Ultimate Writing Prompt

My driveway was plowed early yesterday--apparently after the newspaper was delivered, as I spotted its bright blue plastic wrapper peeking out of a snow bank this morning. I read the "Weekend Arts" section over lunch and hit gold in an article about the Winter Antiques Show, A Smorgasbord of Fine Art, the Strange and the Old:
At Allan Katz, there is a sculpture of two voluptuous nude women, one fondling the other’s breast, smoothly carved from a solid block of mahogany. This comical, curiously erotic fusion of autodidactic craft and neo-Classical style is believed to have been created by an unknown artisan about 1920 for a Buffalo sex cult.
1920. Buffalo. SEX CULT.

Think of the possibilities: Farce, murder mystery, morality tale, amorality tale...against a backdrop of snow and Niagara Falls.

The mind boggles.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Snowy Fun in the Back 40

A snowstorm is Nature's way of saying "Stay home!" And I'd gladly hibernate inside, only I have this 64-pound bundle of joy that needs off-leash romps several times a day. So I put on the puffy jacket, pulled up the tall boots and ventured out.

Abby went over to the car, as usual, and was incredulous when I started walking up the street. After a bit of convincing--she didn't understand about the driveway not being plowed--she came bounding through the snow. We trespassed in our neighbors' backyards (nobody else was outside; go figure) then ended up in our own, where I took these pictures.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Happy Birthday, Dad!

Lionel Stander (center) in "The Big Show-Off"

My father would have been 103 years old today (the simplest date of all: 1/11/11). My latest acquisition of Lionel Stander memorabilia is a publicity still from The Big Show-Off, released in January 1945. I haven't seen it, but per the synopsis it seems to be a typical Republic Pictures "B" movie. Its one claim to fame is that it stars Dale Evans just before she hitched up with Roy Rogers.

I visited my mom and stepfather in Maine two weeks ago. While I was doing my morning stretches, I suddenly noticed a book, which I'm sure had been on the same shelf for 20 years: BUILDING A CHARACTER.

"Huh," I thought. "This might be useful in writing fiction." (I've been working on The Great American Potboiler, in fits and starts, for several years.)

I pulled the book down, and saw that the author was Constantin Stanislavski, inventor of "The Method" espoused by Jacob & Stella Adler, and countless other of Dad's actor friends. I opened it and was surprised to see that it was from the New York Public Library's Bloomingdale Branch, on West 100th St.

Even more surprising, my father's temporary library card was in the pocket, with our old West End Avenue address and phone number--proof that he had indeed moved back in with Mom and me. The book was borrowed Dec 16, 1961, and due on Jan 26, 1962. The overdue fine is 5¢ "per calendar day." That's almost $900 by now, so this is a very valuable book.

I felt a mental connection with Dad when I started reading BUILDING A CHARACTER: this was a book that he went out of his way to read. The Dewey card is stuck between the first two pages of Chapter Four: "Making the Body Expressive." Did Dad get bored and stop there? That chapter is a bit of a slog. But he was such a voracious reader--often a book per day--and Stanislavski's work so important that I'd like to think he read all the way through.

As luck would have it, today I found a bit on YouTube from "The Danny Kaye Radio Show," in which Kaye hilariously explains the Stanislavski Method to my father, who was a regular on the show. What I miss most about Dad is his voice, which is like no other. (I've never heard a credible imitation. When I was little my mother took me to the doctor because my voice was hoarse. Turned out I was trying to speak like Daddy.) So it's wonderful to be able to hear him long after his death--and long before my birth. He gets a few lines to set up the bit, then it's all Danny Kaye. Listen: