Sunday, April 13, 2014

Berowne's 215

(Also for Three Word Wednesday and ABC Wednesday: "N" is for "new")
From time to time, I’ve paused in my weekly quiz questions to write a little about some of my life experiences.  Folks have been kind enough to show interest in such posts, and Tess K. has been tolerant and welcoming – so here’s another.

Around the year 1950 television was just starting out as a mass medium.  And Berowne was just starting out as an announcer.   The fabulous salaries for tv announcers, by the way, were very much in the future. 


Here is a picture, taken aeons ago, of young Berowne, struggling to make a living on a new – also young, also struggling – television station.  As you can see, there was a sort of perversion of production values; it looked like they had just set up a flat and hung someone’s shower curtain on it.  That was it for set décor.

The TV show I emceed was titled the Weekly Starshine Theatre and it was a fairly grandiose name for what was usually an old cowboy movie, featuring old cowboys, which had been produced back in the days when a new and fascinating element – sound – had only recently burst upon the film industry.

Not many cinema folk of that early day understood much about sound equipment, which was why the actors in a film carried on impassioned conversations by shouting at each other, hoping they’d be heard by the mikes hidden behind flower pots and such.

But I couldn’t have cared less.  I was on TV.  Not many could say that.  Not many were watching, either.

The sponsor was a famous grocery chain and their ad agency had the idea that, in addition to dazzling our audiences with topflight entertainment, like wornout old movies, there would also be a weekly “live” feature.  In the moments when the film paused, I was to introduce each week a different actual grocery-store manager of the sponsor and chat with him on camera.  Who wouldn’t be interested in that?

So there I was, standing with that first week’s store manager, Herman Schlumpfbinder or something like that.  He had been given lines to memorize:  “Say, that was a corking good film,” he was to recite.  “It’s great to see the fine old movies!” 

I wondered which copywriter in the ad agency was responsible for the phrase “corking good.”  Who talked like that?  But I said nothing, thinking it was possibly some sort of secret store manager code that I didn’t understand.

Things did not go smoothly; they rarely did in those days.
 
I think it’s hard for folks today to realize what tv meant in that early era. It was all so newAs we waited for our cue I suddenly realized that Mr. Schlumpf-etc. did not look at alI well.  I could see that this magical new thing called television was just too much for him; he was overcome with stage fright.  He was clearly shaking and sweat was visibly pouring off him in rivulets.

I could have lived with that, but his condition affected me.  I feared what he might say or do and how I might have to respond.  I began shaking myself. 

Finally the cinematic masterpiece that was on the screen paused and I introduced my guest.  For a while he just stood there, staring at the camera, shaking and sweating and making odd little noises.  Then he pulled himself together and, suddenly animated, blurted out a single word: “Corking!”

I wondered what our TV audience, all two dozen of them, made of that.  Anyway, after that week’s episode the ad agency cancelled all future store manager interviews. 

Sunday, April 6, 2014

214 Quiz Answer


Aaron Burr was the third Vice President of the United States; he served during President Thomas Jefferson's first term.  In 1804 Burr killed his political rival Alexander Hamilton in a famous duel. Burr was never tried for the illegal duel, and all charges against him were eventually dropped, but Hamilton's death ended Burr's political career.


(Also for Three Word Wednesday and ABC Wednesday: "M" is for "madness")
As you may be painfully aware, the U S political races seem to be in full swing.  TV screens present the usual eager candidates claiming that their opponents are listless, incompetent blackguards, among other things.

Of course, this is nothing new; such vituperation has been more or less normal for generations.  It got me to thinking of a couple of our political figures of the past.

I thought of two chaps especially.  As far as they were concerned, they proceeded normally with their careers; in other words they each spent a lot of the time trash-talking, as we say today, the other.

There was a slight difference, however.

In our time quite a number of folks have made derogatory remarks about our Vice-President and he has done what he could to respond to his critics. 

Politicians generally are accused of being moody, talking a lot and doing nothing.  So it’s fascinating that there was a part of our history when we had one Veep who did plenty.

As to whether this turned out to be good or bad, there is no question.  It was bad. 

He stepped over the line.  He broke the rule.

Written or unwritten – or both - it was a solid rule, and politicians then and now did not break it.

You see, he shot the guy who was responsible for most of the trash talk against him, shot him and killed him.

If this was a story happening in our time and written as a farce, the Vice President would have been cheered by many, or at least by the NRA, and perhaps he would have gone on to be featured on TV talk shows as a successful celebrity, later appearing on “Dancing With the Stars.”   J

However, in those benighted days there was no television and many folks, including even those who had been his most ardent supporters, turned against him.  "Politicians shooting each other; it's horrible, it's madness!" they cried.  "It's got to stop!"

Well, that’s the story.  I guess I should cut this short; I don’t want to incite any political types of our time into similar action.

As for the weekly quiz question, what was the name of the Veep?

 

Sunday, March 30, 2014

213 Quiz Answer


The answer: Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats was a collection of whimsical poems by T. S. Eliot that became the basis for the musical Cats.
Bustopher Jones is not skin and bones -
In fact, he's remarkably fat.
He doesn't haunt pubs - he has eight or nine clubs,
For he's the St. James's Street Cat!
He's the Cat we all greet as he walks down the street
In his coat of fastidious black:
No commonplace mousers have such well-cut trousers
Or such an impeccable back.
In the whole of St. James's the smartest of names is
The name of this Brummell of Cats;

And we're all of us proud to be nodded or bowed to
By Bustopher Jones in white spats!


(Also for Three Word Wednesday and ABC Wednesday: "L" is for Lawrence.)
Folks always seem to do well with musicals on this quiz.  So how about another?  I wrote the following scenelet, hoping it might remind you of a well-known musical.  Give us its name.

“I’m surprised you don’t like Lawrence.  Everyone else does.”

“Not everyone.”

“Well, they’re putting him up for membership in our club so you should try getting along with him.”

“I get along with him fine.  He just has a personality that’s irritating.”

“What are you talking about?  Do the words jovial and friendly mean irritating?  Because that’s what he is most of the time.”

“No, the words pompous and pretentious mean irritating.  He appears to be operating under the belief that he’s the prime minister or something.”

“Ah.  You’re talking about that outfit he wears.”

“That’s part of it.  Black.  All black, every day.  He looks positively gaunt.”

“Why man, that’s the fashion of the time.  You don’t keep up with things.”

“And then there are the…”

“I see what you’re getting at.  It’s the spats, isn’t it?  That’s what irritates you.”

“Who wears spats, for god’s sake, in this day and age, just to walk around town?”

“Well, I guess you’re right; that is a bit pretentious.”

“And they’re bright white.  Along with that black getup, the spats are positively dazzling.  They’re like headlights.”

“So that’s it?  That’s all the vile things you can think of against him?  His white spats?”

“Well, actually, if he’s going to be a new member, someone should sit down with him and talk a bit about diets and such.   Someone as fat as he is should spend more time at the salad bar.”

“Please.  Surely you should be aware that it’s highly inappropriate these days to criticize someone as ‘fat.’  You might phrase it, he is somewhat overweight.”

“Somewhat overweight?  He’s a butterball!  He gives new meaning to the word ‘rotund.'  He's so fat he's starting to decompose."

“You go too far, as usual.  However, he does like to eat.”

“Right.  If you see him in a hurry there’s probably curry at his favorite restaurant.”

“Well, who knows?  It may lend our group some class if we’ve got a member who always wears white spats.”

 

Sunday, March 23, 2014

212 Quiz Answer


The answer: King Claudius decides to send the obstreperous Prince Hamlet on a trip to England.  England owes tribute to Denmark so the King also sends a sealed letter ordering that the youth be put to death upon his arrival there.  But Hamlet manages to read the letter…

(Also for Three Word Wednesday and ABC Wednesday: "K" is for "Kevin")
Here’s this week’s Berownial quiz question.  I wrote the following scenelet, thinking it might remind you of a well-known play.  Which play?
“At times you can be so – so exasperating!”

“Now, calm down, Mom.  You said you wanted to talk so let’s talk in a reasonable way.”

“But you’ve been offered a marvelous gift, a trip to England, all expenses paid, that just about anyone would be delighted with, and you say you’d rather not go!”

“Well, I appreciate it, of course.  It’s just that I have so much to do here at home.”

“’So much to do?’  All you do is mope about in your emaciated way, carping and complaining and driving everyone a little crazy.  Look.  You’ve always been interested in history; well, this gives you a chance to learn first hand about other lands.”

“Mom, listen.  Of course I’d love a trip like that.  It just comes at a bad time, that’s all.  And there’s something else – something sort of hard to talk about.”

“It’s Kevin, isn’t it?  Because you don’t get along with him you’re going to turn down the chance of a lifetime.  Why, the poor man has done everything he could for you and you just keep that chip on your shoulder, barely even being polite with him.  And now he’s offering you this wonderful gift.”

“That’s sort of just it.  Why does he want to send me off?  I have the odd feeling he just wants me out of the way.”

“Oh, that’s nonsense.  Someone tries to do something for you and you immediately suspect an ulterior motive.  You should show your appreciation.  You are going to go on that trip, even if we have to force you.”

“Think about this.  Just suppose – just for a moment – that I’m right.  That he’s being so generous just because. in a cunning way, he wants me out of here.  Well, the two of you right now are getting along well, but that could change.  When it does, watch out, Mom.  One of these days that degenerate may be trying to get rid of you, too.”

“Oh, you’re so – so exasperating!”

Sunday, March 16, 2014

211 Quiz Answer

 
Guys and Dolls is a musical based on stories by Damon Runyon.  “Fugue for Tinhorns” is a great song from the musical.  It’s a perfect classical music fugue, worthy of Johann Sebastian B. himself, all devoted to some small-time gamblers trying to figure out which horse to bet on.
 
(Also for Three Word Wednesday and ABC Wednesday: "J" is for "Jiminy C")
 
File:Horseracing Churchill Downs.jpg

I wrote the following scenelet, thinking I might enlist your help in coming up with the name of a well-known musical.  What’s its name?

“Are you talking about Jiminy C?  He had some trouble with a hoof; they thought they might have to operate.”

“Naw, it turned out to be nothing.  He’ll be racing today.”

“Well, if he does I got an authentic inside tip.”

“Yeah, we know about your inside tips.”

“This one’s a winner.  You know it rained, it poured, all last night.  And that means the track today is loaded with pure, undiluted mud.”

“H’mm.  You may have something.  From what I heard he’s supposed to do well on a muddy track.”

“This is my inside tip.  I got it because the jockey’s brother is a friend of mine.  This nag doesn’t just ‘do well’ on a muddy track, he loves mud!”

“And how would they know that?”

“Because they see how he reacts when he realizes he’s going to get to go out and splash about in a real muddy mess.  His phobia is actually a dry track.  And the mud means he enjoys himself so much that he takes almost ten seconds off his usual time for ten furlongs.”

“Wow.   And the morning line has Jiminy C figured at five to nine.”

“Right.  Which shows how little they understand the difference today’s muddy track is going to make for this race. “

“I take back what I said about your inside tips.  This is great.  I’ll lay down some real dough on this one.  I’m going to march up to that window and say, ‘I got the horse right here!’”

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Berowne's 210

(Also for Three Word Wednesday and ABC Wednesday: "I" is for "icon")

March 14 is the birthday of Sylvia Beach.  My recent report on Gertrude Stein went over fairly well so I thought I’d smugly skip the quiz this week so I could celebrate Sylvia’s birthday.

Flash back to the time when an eager young writer-producer, bright-tailed and bushy-eyed, was on a first assignment for a major production company: I was to write and produce a film on Paris, which would have a sequence devoted to the American expatriates of the 1920s. It was for Universal-International and was to be titled “One Man’s Paris.”


Doing my research on the scene, I was pleased to learn that Sylvia Beach, another icon from those Parisian roaring twenties, was still around. I phoned her and asked if we could get together. She suggested meeting at the cafe named Le Select. The Select! That rang a bell. There couldn’t have been a better place for such a meeting.

“’Café Select,’ he told the driver, ‘Boulevard Montparnasse.’” Jake Barnes in Ernest Hemingway’s “The Sun Also Rises.”

Cafe Le Select, Paris

Cafes then were, and to a degree still are, central to Paris life.  Cafe managers indulgently allowed writers to write in them, painters to paint them, and the Select (which has only been around for eighty years or so) represented the best traditions of the Parisian café. Sylvia Beach arrived and we had a wonderful conversation. She was then an elderly lady, but was full of youthful energy and vitality and she became very interested in the documentary I was there to make. She knew everything about the era in question, about all those earlier expatriate Americans, where they used to live and the cafes where they used to hang out.  She had known them all.

La Coupole was just across the street, and that was just steps away from La Rotonde and Le Dome at the next corner, but Le Select was the jewel of the crown – not just for the Americans but for people who came from all over the world. It was indeed a pleasure, sitting in that famous café, to have pointed out to me just where in the place Henry Miller used to meet Anais Nin for afternoon drinks, where Luis Bunuel sat, and which was young Pablo Picasso’s favorite spot. In our 21st century groups of Japanese tourists continue to show up, asking to see Hemingway’s table.


No question, the Select had its attractions, but it was no more interesting than the lady I was talking with. Living in Paris at the end of World War I, a New Jersey girl named Sylvia Beach had opened an English language bookstore and lending library that thousands came to know as Shakespeare and Company. She started her store just as the franc dropped in value and the exchange rate became very favorable so the shop flourished. It became a hangout for Americans.

As I spoke with her, I remembered that Shakespeare and Company had gained considerable fame after she more or less single-handedly published James Joyce’s “Ulysses” in 1922, as a result of Joyce's inability to get an edition out in English-speaking countries.

But things went from bad to worse for Sylvia because of the depression of the thirties. She managed to stay open because André Gide organized a group of devout writers into a club called Friends of Shakespeare and Company, which got a lot of publicity and helped the business to improve.






Then came World War II. The shop tried to remain open after the fall of Paris, but by the end of 1941 Sylvia Beach was forced to close. She kept her books hidden in a vacant apartment.



 It’s now a fable of our time that, as Paris was being liberated, Ernest Hemingway – reckless, flamboyant, heroic – drove up to liberate Sylvia and her bookstore.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

209 Quiz Answer

 
The answer: "Harvey"

(Also for Three Word Wednesday and ABC Wednesday: "H" is for "Herbert")
Here’s this week’s Berownial quiz question.  In a pensive mood I wrote the following scenelet, thinking it might remind you of a well-known production – as a play and as a film.  What’s its name?

“You have examined my brother Herbert?”

“Examined?  Well, I guess you could say that.  It was actually more of a pleasant conversation.  We chatted about various things.”

“Doctor, you mustn’t let him pull the wool over your eyes and try to get you to think he’s just another normal person.  That's not credible; he is not normal.”

“I’m going to have to ask you to let me be the judge of that.  There’s no such thing as a totally normal individual, but your brother comes close.”

“I knew this would happen.  Herb knows how to turn on the charm and be rational with a specialist like you, but once he’s out that door he’ll get back to acting like he usually does, which, believe me, is kind of crazy.”

“I’m afraid you have a tendency to exaggerate.  Here, let’s check his file.  It seems you’re upset because your brother returns to an infantile state from time to time.”

“Especially after he’s knocked back a couple of drinks.”

“Well, there you are.  That’s probably your explanation, right there.  Surely you’re aware that there are men, somewhat befuddled by inebriation, who will put a lampshade on their heads and dance about singing childish songs – though I’ve never actually done it myself.”

“No, no.  That’s not it.  That’s not what he does.”

“H’mm.  In the file it seems that what you object to is how your brother, a grown man, is devoted to stuffed plush animals, like a small child.  Having a favorite toy plush teddy bear is, of course, somewhat unusual for an adult, but I imagine research would show that quite a number of grownups find comfort or solace in such an arrangement.”

“But that’s the point.  To him, it’s not a toy.  And it’s not a bear.  It’s a real, living creature.”

“Have you considered just letting this be?  If this is what your brother wants to do, if this is his fantasy, why not let him have it?”

“Because he walks around with this thing and it makes him act real strange.  People who meet him for the first time come away thinking he’s kind of decrepit; in other words completely loony-tunes.”

“Let’s set up a meeting.  Have your brother come to my office; I want to examine that plush companion of his.”

“Wouldn’t do any good.”

“Why not?”

“Well, a key point is, his ‘plush companion,’ as you put it, is totally invisible to anyone except him.”

 

Sunday, February 23, 2014

208 Quiz Answer

Answer: Julius Caesar

(Also for Three Word Wednesday and ABC Wednesday: "G" is for "godlike")
I wrote the following scenelet, thinking it might remind you of a certain Shakespeare play.  Which play?

“Did you see that crowd as the general rode in from the airport?  What a mass of people! You’d think it was the president with that entourage and not just an army officer.”

“Well, I believe this army officer could be president, if he really felt like it.  The general returns bringing with him a list of victories that’s simply unprecedented.  The whole country is crazy about him.  To a great many he’s positively godlike.”

“You think he wants to enter politics?”

“It sure has happened in the past.  A great general returns from the wars and is practically handed the presidency on a silver platter.  Hard to turn down.”

“We should find out soon enough when he addresses the Senate this afternoon.  My guess is that all the senators are going to line up and offer their enthusiastic support without a single dissenting vote.”

“Yeah, but there are a few who are – well, just a bit worried.”

“I know what you mean.  There’s maybe too much enthusiasm for the general.  Too much applause, too much acclaim.  If the people are totally behind him, he’d have total power as head of state.  That would leave all that herd in the Senate without much to do.”

“And then there’s that wild rumor that’s been going around – I’m sure you’re aware of it.”

“Yes, I know what you mean.  It’s silliness.  That the general aspires to be appointed king, by acclamation.  Preposterous.  He knows this is a republic and is going to remain one.”

“According to the rumor…”

“You’ve got to stop listening to rumors.  This man was ready to give his life for the republic.  He’s not some kind of ungrateful beast who's going to be the one to turn our country into a monarchy.”

“But get this.  Leon, the driver who picked him up this morning, heard the general and his wife arguing – real loud, he says.  While he's slurping his morning coffee she's yelling at him.  She believes he actually wants that king deal and that it’s dangerous.  If he does have that ambition, she said, there’d be quite a few folks who’d try to get rid of him.  Including a number of senators.”

“I still think it’s just a silly rumor.  Hard to imagine a group of senators turning into murderers.”

 
 
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