Sunday, November 23, 2014

Berowne's 247

(Looks like a virus has got hold of my blog.  I hope you'll be tolerant; I apologize if it looks screwed-up this week.)
    The Original Team: the Four “A”s
(Also for Three Word Wednesday and ABC Wednesday: "T" is for "Team")

No quiz this week.  Berowne is back with another bit of personal history.

For those of you who have had the dubious pleasure of following this blog over the past year or two may know, I used to work in the film business.

As a cinematographer I was destined never to be listed among the great names in the history of moom pitchas, but I managed to get by.

I began, as so many do in this field, with little film jobs for business: training movies, employee-relations, safety films, technical instruction, top executives issuing vital – or kinda vital – messages , and of course the potential gold mine for the struggling cinematographer: Public Relations films.

Every business of any size in this land seems to need a PR film to distribute to an eagerly waiting world.  They aren’t hard to write and produce since they’re pretty much all the same.

The message they put across is that we’re better than the other companies, losers mostly, who are in the same field.  We have better products, better customer relations, better business philosophy, und so weiter.

But what distinguishes our outfit - what makes us the leader – is our key ingredient…

(Here we should have music: cymbals crashing or something similar,)

Our people!

Yes, it’s the people who work here who have made us the envy of the entire industry.  (Presumably those other outfits have orangutans).

Well, after some years of this, I hopefully wanted to try something else.  I made a film on my own, no sponsor - someone I'd have to distrust - to deal with.  To my surprise, it turned out well and a top film company, United Artists, took it for national distribution.

I went to meet the folks at UA.  They introduced me around and then asked if I’d like to see a bit of history.

I said of course.  They showed me an office that looked as though it had seen many years of service.  This, they explained, is where the team, the original four artists, signed the papers that formed the new company back in 1919.

That was a bit of a shock.  Because I knew enough about that outfit to know who those four folks were.  They were united and no question, they were artists.  There’s a picture of them at the beginning of this post.

That’s Doug Fairbanks there on the left, then Mary Pickford.  Next to her is the one and only Charlie Chaplin, with D W Griffith on the right.

They were the “A” in “UA.”

I’m well aware that a large portion of our younger population today may not have heard of all of them, but for older types like me those were some of the founding virtuosi of the art of the cinema.  Standing in that office, I had the feeling that their spirits lived on.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

246 Quiz Answer

Alicia Florrick of the TV series “The Good Wife”
(As played by Julianna Margulies)
(Also for Three Word Wednesday and ABC Wednesday: "S" is for "Stress")

I’m hoping you’ll know, or at least have heard of, this young woman.

 “Young” woman?  Well, she’s in her forties, and for someone my age that’s young.

I have come to realize that she’s a perfect model of the many gals of our time who “want it all.”  They want a high-powered, and high-paying, job and they want to have a thriving marriage and to be a successful parent too.

She manages – almost - to do this.  But it’s obvious her marriage isn’t as thriving as it could be, and her kids are having a rocky adolescence.

Sometimes she has to stop and wonder if this having-it-all stuff is a bit toxic, if it's really worth it.  She works in the legal field and her days are crammed with meetings - and some of the meetings can get pretty fiery - and when the meetings stop the writing work begins: a never-ending stream of memos and reports.  And the phone calls go on all day.

When she’s finally home she’s involved in her kids’ sporting events, music lessons, family meals, school problems, etc.

Of course, there are a great many folks throughout the land who would wonder, what’s she complaining about?  What if she had our notoriously difficult life – like, for example, where’s our next meal coming from?  Because it’s simply a fact that she is living a life of affluence.

She is very well paid for her work and, here’s the kicker, her husband is - the Governor!  He makes a few bob in that line of work too, so as far as finances go the family is doing fine.

But still, I have to wonder how long she can keep this up.  She loves her job, she loves her family, she loves her business career, and yes, she even likes the money.  What she does not love is the stress and strain and the idea that one of these days she may collapse and have to take a year or two off just to recover.

I don’t know if it makes her story any more believable if I tell you that she isn’t actually a person, she’s a fictional character. 

Who is she?

(The answer will be posted Saturday.)
 

Sunday, November 9, 2014

245 Quiz Answer

"Al"

(Also for Three Word Wednesday and ABC Wednesday: "R" is for "rare")

Two chaps are talking about an old friend.  Who’s the friend?

“Al told me to say hello.”

“Great!  Tell him hello back.  I haven’t seen Al in years!  How’s he doing?”

“Oh, okay I guess.  He found a place with a government agency, the patent office.  Crucial work, I suppose, but not much in the way of salary.  And really boring.”

“That’s kinda surprising.  Back in school we all thought Al was the one who was going to go places, right?”

“Yeah, it’s a bit depressing.  I went to visit him at work.  You wouldn’t believe – checking out applications, making copies, answering letters.  Tons of paper.  Looked to me like it was secretarial stuff.”

“And he had the best grades in our class.  Well, at least he’s working.”

“To top it off, he got a malignant note from management that said he had just been passed over for promotion.  They told him he didn’t seem to be capable of understanding modern technology like typewriters.”

“Well. It’s a new century; he’s gotta be able to understand typewriters because they’re soon going to be everywhere.”

“I felt he should quit, but it took him a year or so of yearning just to get this job; he’ll hang on to it.  He has hobbies and other interests in his private life.”

“Hobbies?  Like what?”

“Well, you know Al, he’s different; he’s kind of rare.  He was always secretive, always involved in things that he claimed were important but that none of us could understand.  All part of an act, I guess.”

“I heard he got married.”

“Right.  But if you run into him don’t bring that up; he’d rather not talk about it.  I guess he wasn’t a perfect husband but worse, he was far from a perfect father too.  They had a kid, a little girl, but Al had the baby sent off to be taken care of by someone else; he never even saw her!”

“Unbelievable.”

“I don’t know if I should be saying this, but I’m a bit worried about Al’s – well, his mental stability.”

“Why do you say that?”

“Well, last time I saw him he told me he spent weeks thinking about the connection between space and time.  Sounded a bit loony to me, but I was too polite to mention it.”

The answer will be posted Saturday.

 

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Berowne's 244

(Also for Three Word Wednesday and ABC Wednesday: "Q" is for "quizless")

Berowne's weekly quiz is quizless this week, because I wanted to tell you the following story.

I wanted to write you about a certain mother-in-law.  I found her life fascinating.  I thought you might find it interesting, too.

Let’s zip back, via time travel, a few hundred years or so to the court of Catherine the Great, Empress of all Russia.
Though she became the Russian Empress, she was from Germany and her actual name was Sophie Friederike Auguste von Anhalt-Zerbst-Dornburg.  No wonder she preferred Catherine.

Among her other activities in Russia, and believe me there were many, she started the first school for women in Russian history.  It was called Smolny.  It was a remarkable institution, pictured above, there on the right, as it looked in the 1700s.
Now, still using our time-travel device, we zip forward to the early 20th century.  Smolny was now firmly established as an institution of learning for young ladies of the Russian nobility.  As the Russians put it, a “school for noble maidens.”  Reason I find this all so interesting is that one of the noble maidens was to become my mother-in-law.

(You knew Berowne would get around to working himself in here somewhere.)

She was a member of the minor nobility because her father was a major general of the Czar’s army.

In the year 1917 she was just seventeen years old, and it was in that year that her pleasant, cosseted life was met with disaster.  She was devastated to learn that her father was assassinated by his own troops and the country was taken over by Soviets and one Vladimir Lenin. 

She and her mother were in great danger just by being there – after all, the revolutionaries slaughtered the entire royal family - so they had to quickly leave the country.  I can only imagine what that 17-year-old girl must have gone through; all she had known was a highly sheltered, almost gossamer, existence.  They struggled desperately to get to Istanbul, then finally, years later, to Paris.

Paris was chock-full of Russian refugees from the revolution; folks whose social position had plummeted - grand dukes working as headwaiters, generals driving taxis.
It’s ironic that back in Russia Lenin, looking around for a suitable headquarters for him and for what was to become the Soviet HQ of the world-wide Russian Revolutionary empire, settled on this famous girls’ school, Smolny.

I have to be honest; after I married into the family I had mother-in-law troubles.  She could, at times, be difficult.  So, it might easily be said, could I.  But then I would remember the incredible life she had led and I would do my best to avoid causing her too many present-day problems.

She has been gone for many years now, but I don’t think she would mind my telling you her remarkable story.

  

Sunday, October 26, 2014

243 Quiz Answer

The answer is: ale.  Shakespeare’s frequent references to ale in his plays is not surprising because it was the one drink taken daily by most men, women and children of that time. Water enjoyed little favor, even for personal hygiene.  As mentioned earlier, John Shakespeare, Will’s dad, was for a time Stratford’s official ale-taster.


Also for ABC Wednesday: "P" is for "Potable")

News item: The past few years have been California's driest on record. Forecasters predict that punishing droughts like the current one could become the new norm.

Which got me to thinking.  What would we do without drinking water?

A question you may never have asked yourself; generally speaking, water is available for us to drink.

I came up with this question while studying Shakespeare because in his day the water was not to be trusted, it was usually too polluted to drink.

But they had to have something.  Little kids getting up in the morning, wandering into the kitchen for their breakfast, the sixteenth-century equivalent of Cheerios, had to have something to wash it all down with.  It wasn’t milk, wine or cider; they were too expensive for daily imbibing.

Tea and coffee were not introduced into England until about fifty years after Shakespeare’s death, so that he would have had no experience and probably no knowledge of those two beverages.  Imagine an England with no tea…

Well, there was a beverage that was cheap and plentiful; kids drank it regularly as did everyone else.

And just because everyone drank it, Shakespeare’s town, Stratford-Upon-Avon, appointed a special officer to oversee it.  Maybe they couldn’t make the water clean but they could make this stuff potable and not too dangerous. 

Will Shakespeare’s dad held this office for a while; it was one of the many town offices he held during his rise from semi-literate farm hand to – ta-da! – mayor of Stratford.

You can have the same stuff for breakfast today, though not many do.

(I don’t.)

What was it?

(The answer will be posted Saturday)

 

 

Sunday, October 19, 2014

242 Quiz Answer


Cleopatra had herself smuggled secretly into the palace to meet with Julius Caesar.  Plutarch in his "Life of Julius Caesar" gives a vivid description of how she entered past the guards rolled up in a carpet.  Evidently their meeting was a friendly one; nine months later Cleopatra gave birth to their son, nicknamed Caesarion, "little Caesar."


(Also for Three Word Wednesday and ABC Wednesday: "O" is for "Owen")

I wrote the following scenelet, thinking it might remind you of a well-known historical event.  What event?

“I’m sorry, Ted.  You and I, we’ve been friends for a couple of years and I love you – but not, if you see what I mean, in that way.  I hope we can stay friends.”
“Sure, Jen, no hard feelings.  I always thought we’d make a great couple, but some things were just not meant to be.  Anyway, I’ll always be there for you, if you ever need my help.” 

“Well, now that you mention it, there is something you could help me with.  You might think it’s a bit silly, but I’d really like to meet Mr. Owen.”

"What!?" 

“I thought you might react like that.  I know, he’s the boss and I’m just an employee…”

“Jennifer, try to clamber back aboard reality!  Owen is the CEO of one of the largest Fortune 500 corporations in the country.  Your chance of ‘meeting’ him in some sort of social situation is close to zero.”
“I know.  But you know so many people in this firm, I thought…”
“I don’t know Owen!  He’s up there on the penthouse level and I’m down here on the third floor.  How did you ever come up with the idea of meeting the big cheese anyway?”
“Well, I read that after his divorce he’s now an eligible bachelor so I thought if he ever got to know me, the real me, he might think I was just the kind of girl he’s looking for.”
“I don’t think there’s any evidence that he’s ‘looking for’ anyone.  Jen, don't go on the defensive; forget about the CEO.  There’s a lot of nice guys on the staff here – me, as one example – that you can meet a lot more easily than Herr Owen.”
“I know all that but I can’t get him out of my mind.”
“But to get back to your original question, how on earth could I help you meet Owen?”
“Well Ted, you may not be aware of it but there’s a general feeling in the department that you are a guy with a fertile mind and a lot of good ideas.  Some of them are sort of wild and crazy, but often they seem to work.”
“So you want a wild and crazy idea as to how to meet the top boss?”
“Exactly.”
“Well – you know…  I do have an idea that just came to me.  You'd have to be pretty needy to do this , but I think it would be wild and crazy enough for anyone.  He’s having his office remodeled and I’m in charge of the new furniture, drapes, carpet and so on.”
“I’m listening.”
“Suppose – you did say ‘wild and crazy,’ right?  Suppose we had you rolled up in that huge new carpet, then when it’s delivered to his office you pop out and say, ‘Hi, Mr. Owen!  I’m Jennifer!”
“Wow.  I’m afraid that’s a bit too much.  That could never happen in reality.”
“But it did.”

(The answer will be posted Saturday.)

Sunday, October 12, 2014

241 Quiz Answer

Romeo believes, mistakenly, that Juliet is dead; he is devastated.
He decides that he does not want to live without Juliet, and says "I will lie with thee tonight".  He sees an apothecary and asks him for a deadly drug.  (Act V of “Romeo and Juliet”)
(Akso for Three Word Wednesday and ABC Wednesday: "N" is for "Neal")
A bleak story for you this week.
Neal is depressed because he has learned that the girl he loves has just died.  He wants to do away with himself too.  He goes to a drugstore to try to get some poison that will do the job.  I wrote the following scenelet because I thought it might remind you of a Shakespeare play.  Which play?
“Why did you come to me?”
“I read an article in the morning paper. Seems this old drugstore has been around for the last 100 years or so. A local landmark.”
“That’s right. My grandfather started it  He was a gifted pharmacist."
“And now the paper says the town is going to lose the landmark because you’re heading into bankruptcy and closing down the place.”
“Uh – what does any of this have to do with you?”
“Well, I thought I could be of help. I have a plan and I'd like to put it in motion. With the right amount of money you could avoid bankruptcy and fix this place up like new.”
“That’s kind of funny. The bank won’t loan me a cent and you, a drugstore customer I’ve never seen before, are going to loan me enough to pay off everybody? Is that what you’re saying?”
“I’m not going to loan it to you. As you say, I’m a customer. I’ll purchase stuff and pay you well for what I buy.”
“I think I’m beginning to see what you’re getting at. You want me to sell you items of pharmacology that the law prevents me from selling without a doctor’s prescription. And then you’ll give me a large amount of cash.”
“I couldn’t have phrased it better myself.”
“Listen, I made an intense  little vow to myself long ago. I’ll have nothing to do with druggies. The best thing you could do right now is just leave peacefully.”
“Sure, I’ll leave. But then your future will be nothing but bankruptcy and this fine old store will rot away. I can prevent all that with just one business deal.”
“Has it occurred to you, aside from the moral issue, that this would be illegal?”
“No one, absolutely no one, would ever know about it – just you and me.”
“I wouldn’t be able to sleep nights.”
“How many nights are you going to be able to sleep after you lose the store? And a guy your age, the only kind of job you’ll be able to get will have you saying, 'You want fries with that?'”
“How – how much money are we talking about?”
“Here. I prepared this envelope. There’s enough in it to solve all your problems.”
“I – I never would have believed I could do anything like this. If I do it, I’ll do it under protest.”
“Sure.  Then you go off and get a good night’s sleep – and I’ll get a good long sleep.”
(The answer will be posted Saturday)
 

Sunday, October 5, 2014

240 Quiz Answer


“Show Boat,” a great classic of the American theatre, was first produced on Broadway in 1927.  There have been many other versions of the show since.  One of its hit songs was “Make Believe.”   
Also for Three Word Wednesday and ABC Wednesday: "M" is for "Meeting."
(I wrote the following scenelet, thinking it might remind you of a well-known theatrical production.  Which production?)

“The draft beer here is excellent.”

“What?  That’s your idea of a pickup line?”

“Well, it beats ‘You come here often?’”

“Not by much.”

“Let me start over.  I take the liberty of pointing out that you are a very attractive young woman.  Would you be interested in some friendly, not to mention entertaining, conversation?”

“If it you promise it won’t be too friendly.  I should explain.  I don’t usually hang out in bars, but today’s a special day so I thought I’d drop into this place for a celebratory drink.”

“What happened?  You’ve been made CEO of a Fortune 500 corporation?”

“No, I don't mean to sound arrogant or to showboat but I was just appointed head of my department.  I am now monarch of all I survey – all six cubicles.”
 
“Six cubicles!  We should celebrate together.  Are you interested in game-playing?”

“I was afraid there would be something crude like that.”

“No, no, this is a different idea.  I mean a real game, no hanky-panky stuff, which I thought we could play right here.”

“I – guess I might be interested.”

“That’s what this game needs, wild enthusiasm.  It’s a variation of an oldtime entertainment called Let’s Pretend.”

“And I’m supposed to pretend to be a farm animal or something similar, and make the appropriate noises?”

“No, this is a supple, modern version.  For example, when I saw you sitting there at the bar, someone I had never seen before, I thought it would be great if I could make believe we’d known each other for years.”

“And the ‘make believe’ part would be me doing the same thing?”

“Exactly.  Couldn’t you?  Couldn’t I?  Couldn’t we?”

“Yes, I see that could be kind of fun.”

“We could talk over old times.  Remember that night when we were in high school and my car’s carbureter broke down?”

“I was pretty sure you didn’t know what a carbureter was, but neither of us cared as long as it broke down.”

“Ha.  Those were great days together.”

“Yes, they were.”

“And of course there was that special moment when I told you…”

“Told me what?”

“You know.”

“When you said ‘I love you’?”

“Exactly.  Trouble with this game of make-believe is, the pretending breaks down and reality takes over - because, to tell the truth, I think I do.” 

(The answer will be posted Saturday.)  
 
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