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: