Tuesday, May 31, 2016

I REMEMBER MAMA

From the movie I REMEMBER MAMA



In conversation the other day with my mail lady, an extraordinary young woman with two sons in high school, she mentioned her Swedish grandmother and aunts, Helga, Olga, Eva and Uncle Leonard. We laughed, wondering how an uncle Leonard got tossed into such a bunch of Swedish names. When she boasted of her grandmother's independence in living alone into her late nineties and of her grandmother's fabulous cooking, including a recipe for Swedish Meatballs, which she promised to share with me, I was suddenly reminded of one of my very favorite movies, I REMEMBER MAMA. In the movie, Mama prevails on a literary editor to read her daughter's novel by offering her Mama's classic Swedish Meatballs recipe.

This was a novel and memoir by Kathryn Forbes about her Norwegian American family growing up in San Francisco at the turn of the century. It was turned into a play on Broadway by John Van Druten and was so popular and ran so long to such acclaim that it was made into a movie, which is available on DVD.

Having always been an aspiring writer myself, what I love most about this movie and play is that is was written by the daughter about her mother and their family with her mother's help and encouragement, even in their difficult circumstances. Both Mama and Katrin are strong, intelligent and fascinating women.

Here is the excellent Amazon review of this classic film.

"This high point in the 1940s vogue for movies about family life at the turn of the century was directed by George Stevens (Shane), and stars Irene Dunne as the matriarch of a Norwegian family that faces hard knocks with grace in 1910 (or so) San Francisco. Based on John Van Druten's hit play (derived from Kathryn Forbes's autobiographical memoir), the film is gorgeously rendered and quite moving as an act of memory. The sterling cast of character actors--Edgar Bergen, Rudy Vallee, Oscar Homolka, Barbara Bel Geddes, Ellen Corby, Cedric Hardwicke--add great texture and a depth of experience that make the film feel quite lived-in. Hardwicke's turn as a penniless boarder who "pays" his rent by reciting from classic literature is a special highlight. --Tom Keogh"

There is so much wonderful humanity in each scene of this film, that I get verklempt just thinking of it and a lump in my throat. It's sentimental in the best way, never saccharin, and wise without pomposity or pretension. If you love family dramas, it's without question one of the best ever done.

Monday, May 30, 2016

TWO NICE GUYS FINISH FIRST





If you love theater or are just interested in biographies of great Americans, you will be delighted by this heart warming story of two self made men from very different backgrounds who became life long Broadway musical comedy writers in the early Twentieth Century when Broadway was still the Great White Way.

Howard Lindsay could be seen age five hawking newspapers on the Atlantic City boardwalk to help his struggling family and sneaking in to see all the shows that the vacationing public was mad for, singing groups, acrobatic acts, popular plays and musicals hoping to get to Broadway. Hard work and study earned him a scholarship to Harvard, where he attended one year and decided to become an actor instead. Touring the country as actor and stage manager for the next several years, he learned his craft acting in vaudeville TOBY shows, and working with several of the foremost actresses of his day, including Lynn Fontanne, touring in MEDEA, AS YOU LIKE IT and other first rate shows.

Russell Crouse was the son of an Ohio newspaperman who eventually took his family to Oklahoma. From the wilds of the frontier, Crouse worked his way east covering stories and theater for some of the best newspapers in the US before getting himself hired in New York City by THE GLOBE. He was a deeply religious man, who taught Sunday school and loved theater.

Both men served in The Great War, WWI, before they made it to the big time. Howard married a spunky, charming actress from North Dakota, Dorothy Stickney, who co-starred with him onstage in LIFE WITH FATHER, which he and Crouse had written. Many well known actors turned down both leading roles; however, the play was a huge success and went on to become the longest running play in Broadway history.

The team of Lindsay and Crouse wrote, directed and produced many more immensely popular plays, including ARSENIC AND OLD LACE, and several musical comedies, culminating in writing the play for THE SOUND OF MUSIC.

It's a charming, fascinating story of two very interesting characters who were loved by everyone they worked with and were also great successes in their chosen profession. They both seem to have lived charmed lives, giving themselves totally to their work and families.

The author writes so well adding so many interesting details and insights that you simply won't be able to put the book down. That this author writes so well about the theater is no surprise for Cornelia Otis Skinner was the daughter of a famous character actor and not only was she the author of several best sellers like OUR HEARTS WERE YOUNG AND GAY, the hilarious account of a summer in Europe just after WWI with her best friend Emily Kimbrough, where they even met H. G. Wells, but she wrote an enthralling biography of the great Sarah Bernhardt, MADAME SARAH.

Ms. Skinner was also a celebrated actress onstage and in film. She plays a dastardly villain, way ahead of her time, in the romance/horror classic film THE UNIVITED with Ray Milland. A terrific movie which I highly recommend.

So if you're looking for an engaging and entertaining read that will gently educate you about the history of American theater and make you an insider on all sorts of theater lore and strange traditions, don't miss this book.

Jurassic Park vs Sophocles



New York City is a theater town and has been for over a hundred years. If I think back, I can remember every single live performance I have ever seen. Wondering if theater was really as potent an experience for others as it had always been for me, I conducted a small experiment with my son. (He was part offspring, part science experiment.) He was just six years old, and having grown up in LA, he was a child of the movies. 

The penultimate movie of his and every other little boy's life at that time was Jurassic Park. It had real dinosaurs racing around killing other real dinosaurs and people. I do not exaggerate when I say that at the local park on any given day, every boy was consumed with acting out his own version of 'The Raptor', and they all had sound effects. (Incidentally, all boys love making sound effects. Girls may, too, but I didn't have a girl so can't say.) Each boy had captured some vital characteristic of the monstrous raptor and was menacing one and all. What was amazing, was that all the interpretations were quite unique, and yet there was no mistaking them for anything but a Jurassic Park raptor.

But, our son had never been to a live theater performance. Those are hard to come by in Los Angeles. With an actor for a dad, who had done lots of live theater, and a mom who was a theater devotee, I was very curious to see how the kid would respond to real theater as opposed to movies. The only thing I could come up with was a performance of 'Oliver Twist' the musical at his school. I thought it would be a good introduction, since he'd be part of an audience of mostly children. 

The son type person consented to attend, but only under protest. He thought the whole thing sounded stupid. But, at last the big day came. From the first moment, I knew I had made a terrible mistake. The theater was a messy classroom with a small stage on one side. The piano was onstage with the cast. The best that could be said of it was that the children playing the parts of Oliver and the others in Fagin's gang were lively and trying hard, but getting no help at all. I cringed as I suffered through the first act, feeling that my experiment had gone very wrong, and vowing to make no fuss at intermission when my son was disgusted and insisted on leaving.

It was a horrible production; not just amateurish, but haphazard, with no thought given to anything theatrical, like costumes, scenery, staging, curtain, or acting. They had made no effort at all to help the imagination along in suspending reality and drawing the audience into the story. It was also an abbreviated version, with only a few of the songs. That was forgivable, because none of the kids were professionals. The two or three songs they'd included were nicely done.

Released from audience bondage by the intermission, we headed out for some lemonade. My disappointment was so great, I was simply waiting for my son to demand to go home. Instead, he turned to me, his face shining with enthusiasm, "Mom," he exclaimed, "it's better than Jurassic Park." 

Staggered, thunderstruck, astonished! I was completely stunned and will never forget those words. Even if he'd seen a fabulous Broadway production with all the bells and whistles, I would never have expected it to be in any way comparable to Jurassic Park. Such was the impact of live theater on his young sensibility that even a poor production was felt by a six year old to be better than the number one movie of his entire life. Astonishing. Beyond even my wildest hopes. Actually beyond my understanding. I learned much more from his reaction than I had expected to learn.

The experiment proved one thing for absolute certain: live theater, even poorly done, has a power that should never be underestimated. It's almost as if we are programmed to respond to theater in a uniquely profound way. I mean better than Jurassic Park? The movie that spawned a million boy raptor's? 

The Greeks who invented theater were really onto something big and powerful. In those distant millennia, fraught with conflict, superstition, and war, they recognized theater as a force for molding the will and understanding of humanity. If we remember Aeschylus's Oresteia, or Sophocles Oedipus, tragedies that move the human spirit from the self destructive vanity of vendetta, vengeance, and inter familial murder to the validation of faith in the superiority of the Goddess Athena's justice, we can begin to understand how five hundred years before the birth of Christ, theater helped men take the first halting steps toward western, humanist civilization. Just gives me chills to think of it. But, theater always does that to me. And I guess I'm hardly alone in that experience. 

There is something visceral about being in the audience of a live theater performance. Theater is more than the sum of its parts. It's got plot, action, acting, sometimes music, story, moral, and theme,which combine to reveal many things to the intellect. But when you sit there in the dark and witness real live people acting out a play, the experience circumvents your normal channels of discrimination. You are moved in a deeper way than almost anything else can accomplish. Theater began as a sacred, religious rite. It still carries that power because theatrical performances speak to your deepest spiritual self.


  

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Sappho and the Ice Age

Sappho

Sappho, probably the first LGBT super star, famous, brilliant Greek poetess, born on the isle of Lesbos, (yeah) around 630 BC. That means she was born six hundred and thirty years before Christ. The United States has only been around for about 236 years. So between the birth of Sappho and the birth of Christ, the United States could have come and gone 3 times. She was born that long ago, (but not in a manger). Keep those dates in mind as you read a few fragments from her poetry:

Love has shaken my heart
like a stormwind falling on oaks along the hillside...
Again Love the looser of limbs has struck me,
a bittersweet inescapable creature.

And

Equal of the gods he seems to me,
that man who sits face to face with you
and listens closely as you speak in sweetness
and listens again

as beautifully you laugh: a sound that sets
my wild heart fluttering in my bosom.
For when I look at you even a moment
I cannot speak at all,

my tongue is frozen, and on that instant
a subtle fire runs underneath my skin,
with my eyes I see nothing and in my ears
I hear a roaring.

Sweat runs down all over me and a tremor
takes hold of my whole body. I am paler
than grass in summer, and I feel myself
close to the edge of death.

Beautiful, moving, and we can't even appreciate her poetry fully without being able to hear the music of the ancient Greek words she wrote in.


From Wikipedia: "The bulk of her poetry, which was well-known and greatly admired through much of antiquity, has been lost; however, her immense reputation has endured through surviving fragments.:

The exquisite elegance and refined sensibility of Sappho, and her fame for hundreds of years around the ancient world all testify to the advanced level of civilization of the age she lived in, where subtlety of thought, feeling and expression were highly developed, and were also capable of being widely distributed around a very large geographic area; and all this without the internet, she must have written on clay tablets, or papyrus something equally unwieldy. Amazing, huh?

Even though she lived more than six hundred years before Christ, clearly, she wasn't living in a cave, wearing bearskins or chomping down on Woolly Mammoth legs for supper. Much like us, she wore clothes of wool, linen or silk, ate olives, fish, bread, cheese and wine, learned to read and write, and had a profession besides being an aristocrat.

So, if today is 2015 AD, and she was born about 630 BC, that means she lived 2615 years ago, writing terrific love poetry that everybody around the Mediterranean was happily reading. 

So, as my grandfather used to say, put this in your pipe and smoke it. The last glacial age, when all of Canada, much of the US, Europe and Asia were buried under ice about two miles thick, that's right, ice two miles deep-- hard to imagine that much ice, isn't it?--well, that ice only melted about 11,700 years ago, which means that Sappho lived only about 9000 years after most of the northern hemisphere was groaning under miles thick of ice. 


Last Glaciation map
In nine thousand short years, mankind recovered from near annihilation by ice to create language, writing, reading, reliable food supply, plumbing, architecture, music, oh just a bunch of good stuff.

And if you look at the ancient Egyptians, they started to become the greatest civilization around the Mediterranean about 3100 BC, which is 5115 thousand years ago, or half way back to the last ice age, which we are actually still coming out of. 

So what I don't get is when people start talking about global warming, what are they talking about, exactly? Obviously, Canada isn't under two miles of ice anymore. The whole of Canada rises an inch a year, rebounding from having all that heavy ice crushing it. Obviously, the planet has gotten warmer. It started eleven thousand and seven hundred years ago. No one knows why. Not even Al Gore. Nobody was flying planes or driving SUV's eleven thousand years ago when the ice was melting PDQ. Was it auroch's emitting methane gas that melted all those glaciers? I'm sure there are many theories.

One interesting theory is that it is the yearly monsoon rains that contribute to repeated global coolings and ice ages. The monsoons occur due to the ever increasing height of the Himalayas, which causes the moisture laden clouds from the ocean to condense into rain as they rise up the mountains and increase chemical weathering as they cascade downhill. Could this effect trigger the continuing series of ice ages? I don't fully understand this hypothesis, but you can't ignore immense factors like the monsoons or the Himalayas, can you?

Monsoons and CO2  

All the same, I for one am darn glad that the glaciers melted, and I'll bet Sappho was, too.   




A LITTLE DAILY WISDOM

Julian of Norwich


This excerpt is from a book called A LITTLE DAILY WISDOM Christian Women Mystics, translated and pieces chosen by Carmen Acevedo Butcher.

The May 28 entry of daily wisdom about anger is a favorite of mine, having been the daughter of a redheaded father with the well known Irish temper, not that he ever struck anyone in anger. But, for instance, infuriated with me during my teen years, he once threw a china teapot out the window, breaking both window and teapot, and loudly blamed me. Even then I knew he was absolutely just in blaming me. I had been horrible. Poor man later came up to my room and apologized. May 28th was his birthday. But having had a father like that, and an Irish temper of my own, I knew that God could not be angry at us. Even my hot headed father knew his anger was wrong.

This quote is a translation from a Julian of Norwich's REVELATIONS OF DIVINE LOVE about her visions from God when she nearly died. It was written in the Fourteenth Century. She was a Christian mystic and theologian.

"Our good Lord, the Holy Spirit -- endless life dwelling in our souls  -- always protects us and gives us peace. Through grace, God's Spirit brings each soul to tranquility and makes it obedient and reconciles it to God. Our good Lord constantly leads us on this path of mercy while we're in this unpredictable life.

"In my vision I saw no anger except on humanity's side, and God forgives us that, for anger is nothing else but an irrationality and our antagonism to peace and love. It comes from a lack of power or a lack of wisdom or a lack of goodness, and this lack is not in God. It is on our side, because -- through sin and dejection -- we have in us an anger and a constant opposition to peace and love.

"In God's lovely look of compassion and sympathy, He revealed this truth often because the foundation of mercy is love, and the business of mercy is protect us in love. This was revealed to me in such a way that I could perceive nothing about the qualities of mercy outside of the fact that it is all love in love."

Friday, May 27, 2016

ODE IN MAY


Burne-Jones -Wedding of Sir Tristram


What is so sweet and dear

As a prosperous morn in May,

The confident prime of the day

And the dauntless youth of the year,

When nothing that asks for bliss,

Asking aright, is denied,

And half of the world a bridegroom is

And half of the world a bride.


A TOBY SHOW





By Aurand Harris.
Cast: 3m., 4w., plus extras for vaudeville entr'actes. A Toby Show brings back to the stage an American folk character of Toby, a country bumpkin who through naiveté, honesty and homespun humor outwits the city slickers. Toby is a great role for an energetic actor. The play is a colorful segment of American drama. This farce melodrama recreates traditional situations and stock characters through jokes and stage business. Starring in Cinderella, Toby enacts a comic variation of the fairy godmother. With music and specialty numbers, the production excitingly evokes the joy of experiencing an authentic example of American folk theatre, fitting for children of all ages. Costumes are American upper- to working-class clothing from 1915. One int. set. Approximate Running Time: 1 hour, 40 minutes 

In his twenties, Howard Lindsay, later a celebrated writer, actor and director, got plenty of experience onstage when he was cast in a traveling tent show in the early 1900's. These were shows that played in small towns across the country. He had ten days to learn six parts as the leading man.

"Being cast as the leading man was not as impressive as it sounds. Jack Percy's bills were all "Toby" shows. The Toby was a character peculiar to rural American theater in the early part of the Twentieth century, although he may have appeared earlier than that. He was portrayed not as an out and out clown but as a good natured yokel, complete with red wig and farmer clothes. When things go wrong, it is Toby who straightens them out. When the hero and heroine find themselves in danger, it is Toby who rushes to the rescue. The leading man hardly scores. Howard in that role found he could score even less when he was informed that when Toby (played by the manager Jack Percy himself) came onto the stage, all the other actors were expected to "fade" (a tent show term for underplaying). The rest of the time they could overact and yell their lungs out, which they did. Jack Percy, secure in his position as boss and "Toby" player gave some good advice for anyone appearing in his sort of show. Realizing that Howard's acting was too legitimate, he told him that the "man with the biggest gun and the loudest voice is the hero"."

"Howard had a busy eight weeks. In addition to having him play six leads, every afternoon Percy would drive him in his open touring car around the main streets and squares of every town, so that he could ballyhoo through a megaphone. "Great show at the Big Tent tonight." When he wasn't on stage, he was obliged to put on a white coat and sell Cracker Jack through the audience."

And kids today think they multi task. Phooey! They don't have any idea what kind of multi tasking they could do if they had to.

 "Excerpt from LIFE WITH LINDSAY AND CROUSE.



Thursday, May 26, 2016

THE STORY OF LOUIS PASTEUR




This is such a great movie, I cannot recommend it highly enough. Only a truly great actor like Paul Muni could adequately bring to life the brilliance, intelligence, courage, determination and deeply moving humanity, humility and compassion of Louis Pasteur, the chemist who discovered microscopic bacteria and put an end to all the suffering and death that had always and literally plagued mankind. My son watched this and was astounded at the difficult fight Pasteur had to convince doctors that they themselves were killing their patients by carrying disease from one to another without washing their hands or cleaning their aprons. The movie has it all, drama, danger, humor and most of all you understand why it was so hard for intelligent scientists to accept a new idea. But above all this is a very entertaining and inspiring story because it is so well told and based on the real man.

Although it's now published by a French company, it plays on a regular DVD and is fully in English, because it was originally a Hollywood classic film.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Margaret Lockwood



Recently have given myself a free YouTube Margaret Lockwood festival. She does not disappoint and is always worth watching. Some actors are like that. Her film performances are often in old fashioned romances and tear jerkers, but she brings her characters so fascinatingly to life that she transcends the genre and captures your heart and mind. There's always a twist in her interpretation, some hidden and compelling force of character that she exudes which brings the story to captivating life. An actress who is always enjoyable is a rare find, in my book.

Love her in THE WICKED LADY   co-starring James Mason

BEDELIA

JASSY


NIGHT TRAIN TO MUNICH    co-starring Rex Harrison

And of course the Hitchcock classic, THE LADY VANISHES.



Every one of these movies is free on YouTube will provide very satisfying evening entertainment.

Friday, May 20, 2016

SUGAR


Archimboldo, Italian 1500's


Has there ever been a generation in the history of the world that was more obsessed with what they eat than this current crop of 20- 40 yr olds. OMG! Sugar is the latest arch villain apparently causing your brain to focus entirely on sugar and be unable to think. It's my son and his friends' theory that sugar in the diet explains the entire mess the world is in today. But they want food labeled with the content of extra sugar as opposed to natural sugar. I guess they never saw the label 'unsweetened'.

My son considers me an alcoholic if I have one glass of wine. (Sugar) Eating bread is the road to perdition (carbs turn into sugar), even green vegetables have, HORRORS!!! sugar. No, not meat, too? But, apparently that juicy steak is loaded with sugar. I'm at a loss to know what to eat.

But I am old and I, the gourmet cook, have fought the battle of the ignorant eater before. I never surrender my joy of eating to food fear. When they said butter is bad for your cholesterol, I said phooey! Every vegetable in the world tastes better with a bit of butter. And in my day, eating vegetables was considered good for you. Today, the question is does the goodness of fiber undo the badness of sugar. Well, go ahead, give up cauliflower and Brussel Sprouts and say it's because of the sugar. Your mother knows the truth. However, recently, they discovered that butter is high in Vitamin D, which is a miracle vitamin that prevents cancer and does so many other great things. No one has said to me, wow, you were right. Butter is so cool and saves lives and makes even broccoli taste great. No. Do I get funding from the government to continue my defense of good eating? No sir. And that my friends is a great injustice.

I held out for olive oil when everybody was going on about the saturated fat and advising a switch to canola oil. Cook without olive oil? Good God in Heaven, is the world ending? What's the matter with you people. If eating olive oil kills you, I'd rather be dead. Well, then two decades or so later, they discover that cholesterol has nothing to do with heart attacks and may in fact be good for you. Score another one for MOI! Has the Nobel Prize committee called yet?

Eggs were another victim of the cholesterol hysteria. But, eggs are a fighting issue with me. Not only do I require them for everything from poached, fricassee, soufflé, meringue, and plain old scrambled, not getting my eggs is something that I might actually start an armed insurrection over. Rebellion in aisle three. Woman trashing the egg beaters in the fridge. Eggs. Vitamin D. Get your facts straight, or just give in and eat what tastes good. If it's well cooked, well seasoned and eaten without guilt, it's going to be much better for you than some health food served with a heaping dose of guilt and angst.

If you have any influence, please call the Pulitzer people or those crazy Norwegians and tell them if they want to do the right thing with their precious Nobel prize, (and really, if it weren't for Alfred and his dynamite, who would even have heard of Norway, I ask you?) I am here waiting to be recognized for standing tall against food superstition and preparing tasty dishes for all and sundry. I feel that my act of supermarket heroism has been a "great benefit to mankind", or would be if only anybody ever listened to me. But of course, they're too busy scarfing down my six egg sponge cake topped with boiled egg white icing. Drat.


Rogers and Hart






My absolute favorite song writers, Rogers and Hart, wrote so many poignantly, piquantly romantic songs. Ella Fitzgerald sings them best. Captures the subtly and the humor, without overdoing it. Of course, Ella is beyond the praise of ordinary mortals like me.

Here's Ella's version of THERE'S A SMALL HOTEL. A near perfect song sung by the perfect Ella Fitzgerald.

Ella Fitzgerald THERE'S A SMALL HOTEL

Other Rogers and Hart:

BLUE MOON,

I DIDN'T KNOW WHAT TIME IT WAS,

BEWITCHED, BOTHERED AND BEWILDERED,

MY FUNNY VALENTINE,

THE LADY IS A TRAMP,

WHEN OR WHERE.

All on YouTube. Treat yourself to a listen. All are incredible no matter who sings them.

Here's Cecile McLorin Salvant, doing I DIDN'T KNOW WHAT TIME IT WAS. Wonderful

Cecile McLorin Salvant I DIDN'T KNOW WHAT TIME IT WAS

GREAT FREE MOVIE



Just watched THE CLOUDED YELLOW movie last night on YouTube and loved it! It's an old black and white Brit film starring a vital, young Trevor Howard and lovely young Jean Simmons who seems to have been born to be a terrific actress. Both of these performers are working at the top of their game in this movie, which is a gripping romance chase film with many surprises in a well worked out plot, fascinating characters, great script, terrific supporting cast and lovely scenery. And free on YouTube. Does it get better?

Thursday, May 19, 2016

THE SOUND OF MUSIC




I had the great good luck to see the original Broadway production of The Sound of Music with Mary Martin, and let me tell you that woman could stop a show with her voice and emotion. I also love the movie with Julie Andrews.

Not long ago I purchased the original book by Maria Augusta Trapp, her original memoir on which the musical was based. Although the story is somewhat different, it still captures the magic of the stage production. But the book is also wonderful on its own. What a story! What the Trapp family went through escaping from Austria and trying to pay their bills by singing in the USA. They arrived for their first cross country singing tour with eight children, Maria pregnant with the ninth and four dollars in their pocket. They had to go back and forth to Europe several times due to visa problems, but this was difficult because World War Two was starting and many European countries were eventually closed off due to fighting.




They travelled in buses, then two large autos until gasoline was rationed and they had to beg gas to get back to their home in Philadelphia from Colorado. Just when you think things can't get worse, they buy a farm in Vermont and their roof blows off. They are registered as enemy aliens, but their two sons are drafted into the Army. They lose their tenors and must revise their whole program of motets and multi part harmony or starve and lose the farm. War rationing keeps them from fixing their farm. Really, Job in the bible has nothing on them.

More pictures and story at Mashable

But Maria is such an inspiring person. Always seeing God's will in the things that happen to them. And it does seem to be true that when something awful happens, it turns out to actually be something that leads to something very good.

This is an exciting memoir and a romantic one. Loved it.