Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Blogs With "Content"

Before I ever heard of WOW, I had people ask me, what do you mean by a blog with “content”? So I thought I’d dig up one from last year.
First off – you’d think I’d have more important things to worry about – but you see, I’ve always thought it odd that kids in schools are taught that Henry Hudson discovered Manhattan, as well as the Hudson River. But he didn’t. Hudson wasn’t first…

There has recently been quite a to-do, not to mention a brouhaha – in other words, a fuss – over the fact that it’s an anniversary: it was four hundred years ago that Hank Hudson – a replica of his ship is shown above – sailed up the river of the same name.
From a local paper: “A fleet of 18 Dutch boats sailed into the New York harbor on Tuesday to begin month-long celebrations of the 400th anniversary of the discovery of New York by Captain Henry Hudson.”

So the claim is often made that it was Henry Hudson who was the first European to discover New York; that seems to be what is taught in schools.
But it’s wrong.
The score card should read like this: Hudson second; French first.
It’s simply a fact that not many people are aware that long before Hank H. showed up in New York in 1609, the French Navy had much earlier been there, done that.

It was in 1524 that the French arrived in what is now NYC, anchoring right there between what is now Staten Island and Brooklyn. Think of it – that’s 85 years before Hudson.

And when they showed up, Manhattan didn’t look much like this.

It looked like this.

With the warship La Dauphine leading the fleet, the French, who had been sent by the French King Frances I, arrived in New York harbor, where the Verrazano Bridge is today…

And the commander of the fleet, Verrazano, gave what is now New York City the name New Angouleme (in honor of the French King, who came from there). It was New Angouleme long, very long, before it was New Amsterdam.

Kids learn almost nothing about this in schools. Most New Yorkers have no idea that New York was once New Angouleme. But that’s okay; I’ve been to Angouleme and asked around. Most people there don’t seem to be aware of it either.
So here’s a toast of cognac (from the Angouleme region) to Henry Hudson and his trip, 400 years ago, up the river that bears his name. But as far as what the local paper recently wrote – that he discovered New York – that is simply not true.
As I said, you’d think I’d have something better to rant about, but for some reason I find this bit of history interesting.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010


When I first began this blogging life a few months ago, I was struck by what a remarkable, even miraculous, system this is.
For those of us of mature years, the miracle of internet communications is extraordinary. Never before in human history has there been a possibility for millions of people throughout the world to communicate so easily with and to listen to others – ignoring distance and time.
And blogging is one of the ways it’s done.
It struck me off the bat, right there at the beginning, that there was a key difference in blog posts. There were “chatty” posts and there were posts found in what might be labeled “blogs of substance,” posts that contained content, not just chat.
I must tread carefully here: I have no desire to offend anyone, or to appear elitist or condescending. I understand how valuable and how important it is for so many to be able to communicate with friends and family, chatting about routine daily events and happenings.
But I also wondered how many of the millions of folks in the blogosphere out there would be interested in blogs of substance – featuring posts with “content” that would help us all make the most of our blogging experience – and how one might go about finding them.
Then I came upon two very interesting women: Sandy and Pam. They had been thinking along the same lines. They did something about it.

They formed a support site named WOW, for Words of Wisdom, “…a place for bloggers who enjoy reading and writing great content to find each other.”
They go on to explain what they mean by “content”: “Great content is blog posts that are thought-provoking and/or insightful. Blog posts that make the reader stop and think and maybe even feel compelled to ‘join the conversation’ by leaving a well-thought-out comment. These posts can be serious or humorous. They can be about any topic. But what they have in common is content. Great content.”
By the way, WOW has nothing to do with ads or money-making blogs, nothing to do with “monetizing.”
If you’ve been looking for this type of “blog of substance,” visit WOW – which I’m hoping will become a kind of movement – and find out more:
Or you can email ‘em at:

Now, speaking of acronyms, we come to BON.
This stands for Blogger of Note. WOW regularly features a BON and suggests everyone visit the blog of that special blogger of note and leave a comment.
Reason I find this so interesting is that I heard it through the grapevine – (I have a friend among the California Raisins) – that the BON, the Blogger of Note, to be announced this coming Friday, is none other than simple, humble, self-effacing me.
There’s a big BON party planned; lots of champagne on ice. (Or there would be if I had any.) And of course there should be a BONfire, though I probably won’t have that either. But maybe I’ll be able to afford a box of BONbons. :-)
No matter. Being named a Blogger Of Note is a distinct honor, and I’ll enjoy my 15 minutes of fame this Friday. Hope you’ll drop around and say hello.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Magpie Entry #7

“The Flower You Threw to Me…”

Good morning, class. Welcome to “History of Spain 101.”
Our class will begin by covering the pre-war era – and when we’re dealing with Spain and speaking of pre-war, we’re really speaking of the era before the Spanish-American War.
I thought that a good way to start off is with a certain musical work, an opera, something that, even if you don’t much like opera, I’m sure you’re all familiar with. The reason I’m using it for this class is that the particular musical work I have in mind says a lot about the customs, traditions and moral attitudes of the country of Spain at that time.

It’s a story of an army man who was not just putting in his time before being released back into civilian society, but of a young career soldier who believed he had a great future in the Spanish Army.

When he wore the uniform and saluted his flag, he stood for centuries of tradition; he was constantly reminded of the glory days of the 16th and 17th centuries, when the Army of Spain was the most powerful and prestigious in Europe.

Let’s say his name was Don Jose. He was of course a young man of good family, all-important in those days, a capable, serious junior officer whose unblemished record unfortunately became – well, blemished. And all because of his love for a woman.

She was a Spanish Gypsy. The story of the Gypsies is the story of a persecuted minority. For centuries they had known discrimination, and this helped to create the emotions – of tragedy, sadness, joy and love – found in their music and dance.

All of which ultimately led to the well-known flamenco of today.

The soldier named Don Jose had fallen hard for a beautiful, tempestuous Gypsy girl who had danced for him; he was even ready to leave his promising military career to be with her.
The punishment for this was severe; he was jailed. While he was behind bars a strange thing happened.

As he stood at the window of his cell she threw a flower to him. He caught it and was fascinated by the flower’s fragrance. Though the flower, as flowers do, wilted and became dry, the fragrance remained, and it was to keep alive for him the memory of the beautiful girl for whom he had sacrificed so much.

Later, an operatic composer, Georges Bizet, was attracted by this romantic tale and composed a work that was to become a masterpiece, one of the most famous operas of all time. Among its best-known arias was one that had to do with the moment when the Gypsy girl threw the flower to the prisoner. (You’ve been able to figure out by now which opera we’re talking about?)
Here’s the scene:
Aria: “La fleur que tu m’avais jetee dans ma prison me’etait restee.”

“The flower you threw to me stayed with me in prison. It withered and dried, but it kept all the while its sweet fragrance, and I became intoxicated – because during the night I saw you!
“At times I took to cursing you, to cry out that I detested you. Why did destiny put you there, in my path?
“But then I realized that this was a kind of blasphemy because the only real feeling I had was a strong desire, a kind of desperate hope – to see you again, oh Carmen! to see you again!”

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Random, Sort Of, Thoughts

Some random thoughts to help us through our day.*
In San Clemente, California, a man ran naked through a tennis club and then poured hot coffee on his head before being arrested. Evidently he was not aware that there’s a local statute in San Clemente that prohibits pouring anything on one’s head but hot cocoa.

* Why do they keep serving shrimp with their tail shells on? Shrimp should be served completely unshelled. When I am dining at an elegant upscale social event, honoring an ambassador or some such world-class dignitary, which happens often :-), it is disheartening for me to have to wrestle the shell off the damn shrimp’s tail, causing bits of shrimp to fly about, some landing on my new tuxedo (thirty-five dollars at Walmart).
* I loved that General Motors guarantee (do they still have it?). Buy one of their automobiles, keep it for 3 months and if you don’t like it, return it – no charge. What they don’t seem to realize is that they are saying that they are pretty sure their cars will run for 3 months; after that, who knows?
* That may now be the Toyota guarantee.
* Political prognostication. Sarah Palin may well be successful as vice president in the next election, if President Beck allows her to run. :-)
* I realize Somalia isn’t usually a funny subject, but I got to thinking about what an arrest by local police might be like. One could imagine the following conversation. Cop, to Somali: “What’s Somali you?” Somali: “It’s not what’s Somali me; it’s what’s Somali YOU!”
* Mark Twain: “I never vote. It just encourages them.”
* As for the late year 2009, which has received a huge amount of criticism, I’m not really disgruntled about it. Though I can’t pretend to be gruntled.

* Poor Barack. He showed up with a couple of loaves and a few fishes and he was expected to feed everybody.
* I got a swine flu shot. I wish I hadn’t; the side effects are awful. I spent the morning out in the back yard snuffling for truffles.
* I feel dull, I feel hollow, if I’m not in your “Blogs I Follow.”
* What is Demi Moore half OF?
* Don’t you love it when you’re visiting a blog and after you read some illuminating information about the person you’re visiting, there’s an enticing little sign that promises to lead you “inside”: it reads “View My Complete Profile”? You click on this with an increasing sense of excitement and anticipation. The Complete Profile then turns out to be, word for word, exactly what you just read “outside.”
* Is it Keera or Keyera Sedgwick?
* Did you ever get the feeling that all the major charities in the country got together at a meeting a few years ago and everyone at the meeting came up with exactly the same idea; it must have seemed to be a stroke of genius. They probably all shouted out together: “Here’s what we should do! Let’s send address labels to everyone!”
* Idea for a “meet cute” moment for a film script. In an exciting match of co-ed curling, they both felt love at the moment when their brooms touched.

* What’s wrong with pro basketball? Well, when I watch a guy who’s 7 foot 11 or whatever, who practically has to bend over to drop the ball in the basket, the game seems to have lost James Naismith’s original purpose for basketball, which was to be something that could be played by just about everybody.

So here’s what I propose: a separate basketball league, to be called the 5-10 league, in which every player has to be 5 foot ten inches or LESS. No one over 5-10 would be allowed. What games those teams would play! What passing, what jump shots, what full-court presses, what razzle mixed with the dazzle! (A small commission should be made available to the person who originated the idea. :-D)

* I always look forward to receiving the Men’s Fashions section of the New York Times. It’s great to see pictures of clothes that I would never conceivably wear, along with pictures of items that no one I know would ever conceivably wear. Provides a strange sense of self-confidence.
* Didn’t General Tso ever eat anything but chicken?
* People who live in parts of the country where bagels are not available often write of how they PINE for bagels. I don’t get it. What is a bagel? It’s boiled dough. If you enjoy boiled dough you’re going to love bagels. :-)
* I enjoy reading those ads for “investment advisors,” who stand ready to advise you about your investments and who necessarily have to pretend they know what the stock market is going to do. If they knew what the market was going to do they wouldn’t be working as investment advisors; they’d be lying off the Bahamas in their 400-foot yacht.
All right, enough of this – back to work!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Magpie #6 Re-Do

"Well, Norbert – hope you don’t mind if I call you by your first name; we’re very relaxed around here."
"Sure. That’s fine."
"The President and I are looking forward to having you join us in this administration. What kind of work do you do?"

"I run a hardware store. For years I was known around town as 'Nails Norbert.' I’ve always emphasized two things – quality and integrity – in the products that I sell. For example, I provide the best in nails: American Quality Nails, with the emphasis on the word 'quality.'
"How’s your business doing?"
"Well, it was okay, but now the big chains, True Value and Ace Hardware, have moved into the area so I’ve had to diversify. I’ve turned over a part of my hardware store to confectionary items. For one thing, my daughter makes a great little product; we call it 'Giggle’s Gourmet Fudge.' You see, we called her 'Giggles' when she was little."
"Because she giggled a lot?"
"You guessed it! That’s it, exactly. So I’ve set aside a part of the store to sell her fudge. It’s got quality."
"Sounds very tasty."
"The other items I sell in the store have to do with the Long Island Ducks – you know, the ice hockey team."
"You own the team, or you’re the coach?"
"Oh, no. They ceased operations years ago, but it’s just like the nostalgia for the Dodgers in Brooklyn, there are still a lot of Long Island folks who love the Ducks, so I sell caps, jackets, collectibles. We used to have a saying back home, 'Once a Long Island Duck always a Long Island Duck.'"
"Catchy. Let’s see now; you own this business?"
"So you’re the CEO of your corporation? I’m just trying to fill out this form, you see, and we want to make it look good."
"CEO? Well, I guess you could say that."
"How many employees do you have?"
"Well, my wife Emma is sort of a math whiz; she handles the books and the financial stuff. And my nephew comes in after school to help."
"That is the total list of your employees?"
"Yes. "
"I see. H’mm. I note that you were in the Navy. How does Undersecretary of the Navy sound?"
"Wow. I never thought I might be that – what was it again? Undersecretary of the Navy?"
"Right. It’s not all that prestigious, actually. They’ve got floors-full of undersecretaries of one kind or another in Washington. But it’s a way of rewarding those who have been loyal to the President. You were a friend of his for years, as I understand?"
"Oh. No, that was my wife, Emma. She was a good friend of the First Lady way back when they were both in grammar school. They stayed in touch for quite a while after that. Haven’t heard from them in years, though."
"Well, you’re hearing from them now. My assignment is to find a suitable position for you in the administration. What was your rank in the Navy?"
"I was a striker."
"Hey, that sounds warlike. Is that like a sniper?"
"No. It's a term the Navy uses for a sailor, an ordinary seaman, who has applied for and is studying for a move up to petty officer third class. He is 'striking' for that rank, so he’s called a striker."
"And did you make it to – er – petty officer third class?"
"No. My enlistment ended just before I got up there. I retired from the Navy as a striker."
"Well, I won’t use that term on the form; it’s not a word this administration likes all that much. I guess Undersecretary of the Navy wouldn’t be a good fit."
"Is there anything else?"
"Well, there’s head of FEMA. Oh, wait. That’s already been filled. Let’s see… What do you know about Indian Affairs?"
"Ha. I guess they have ‘em, like so many others."
"Hey, Norbert, you are a card. Oh, this might be good. Civilian Inspector General to the Army Corps of Engineers."
"What would I have to do in that job?"
"Well, as the name would suggest, you, as a civilian, would generally inspect things and then report to the Army Corps of Engineers. As an example, you’d inspect the levees around the city of New Orleans, and report to them."
"Wouldn’t they hold it against me, that I don’t know much about that?"
"I don’t think so. None of them seem to know much about it either."

Friday, March 12, 2010

Magpie Entry #5

“I thought you’d have been able to glance at the script by now; you’ve had it three weeks.”
“Look at this pile of scripts on my desk. I’m supposed to read all of these, and more come tumbling in every day.”
“Yeah, but we’re family. What’s the use of having a sister married to a producer if he won’t read your script.”
“Well, she wouldn’t let up on me till I read the dam’ thing. So I read it.”
“Norman, let me put it this way. There’s a point where the phrase ‘Not very good’ turns into ‘This is nuts.’ That’s the point I’ve reached with your script.”
“That’s it! That’s it! ‘Weird,’ that’s the word you’re searching for, isn’t it, Max? And that’s just an ancient Anglo-Saxon word to describe what we today call ‘surreal.’ And that surrealism is what is going to make this moderate-budget movie into an international blockbuster!”
“Moderate budget? Fifty mill?”
“Today that’s moderate. As you read the script, couldn’t you see the universal appeal of this project? Think of it. The story of Pinocchio, who started out life as a little wooden boy, who grew up and fell in love with a beautiful young lady who had started out life as a little wooden girl.”
“That has universal appeal – to mebbe five-year-olds.”
“Yes, and that’s why we’re making sure we appeal to adults as well as kids.”
“That’s where Shakespeare comes in?”
“Right. The little wooden boy has grown up; his name is now Jonny Cedar.”
“What’s the girl’s name – Natalie Wood?”
“Max, you kill me.”
“That thought has crossed my mind. Say, maybe you could name the guy Jonny O’Cedar. We could get some great commercial tie-ins because the O’Cedar Company makes great mops, brooms and dustpans.”
“I see. Max, you simply haven’t understood the magical potential of this project.”
“What I do understand is the staggering cost of CGI production.”
“Again, you’ve hit upon it! There’s no computer-generated imagery involved! This will all be stop-motion. Frame-by-frame animation. Which means we can bring production costs way down. Fifty million? Forget about it. We plan to bring that down to, at the most, forty-five.”
“Whew. For a while there I thought you were expecting me to risk some real money. So you’re planning to use the same type of animation they used in making ‘Robot Chicken’?”
“Right. In a way this will be another ‘Robot Chicken,’ though raised to a higher intellectual level.”
“That won’t be easy.”
“Ha. Max, you should do stand-up.”
“I’m glad I wasn’t standing up when I read your script. So your two leads are basically animation figures?”

“You might put it that way. Here. Look at this. We don’t have the whole figure made as yet, but look at this, the girl’s hand. Exquisite work, right? Now, try to picture the famous balcony scene of ‘Romeo and Juliet.’ Jonny Cedar delivers those incredibly beautiful lines: ‘See how she leans her cheek upon her hand. O! that I were a glove upon that hand, that I might touch that cheek.’ That will become one of the most emotionally-moving moments in cinematic history.”
“Yeah, there won’t be a dry seat in the house.”
“I have to say, Max, I’m a little disappointed in your attitude.”
“Look. Even if your script made some sense, it would have a hard time making it up to the level of ‘lousy.’ In the first place, there’s no real conflict. Conflict, Norm! Conflict is what interests audiences, conflict is what sells.”
“Well, sure. We could add some conflict.”
“How about this? The young woodenish couple is parked on Mulholland Drive late at night and sort of making out.”
“I don’t think…”
“I know you don’t, Norman. So just listen. Out of the darkness of the night that surrounds them, and accompanied by heavy, threatening music, comes a terrifying figure – a woodcutter!”
“I see. Well, Max, thanks for your time. I’ve got to get over to Disney; they’ve shown some interest.”
“Good luck, Norman. Maybe you can get Woody Harrelson for the voice-over.”

Wednesday, March 10, 2010


Sunday, March 14th, will be the birthday of Sylvia Beach. I’ve never forgotten the meeting I had with her in Paris years ago; it meant a lot to me. So I thought I’d take the liberty of rerunning that post to celebrate her 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 famous name 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.”)

Cafes then were, and to a degree still are, central to Paris life – writers wrote in them, painters painted 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.

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.

She had gone into debt to bankroll the publication. Joyce would later show his gratitude by financially stranding her when he signed with another publisher, leaving Sylvia Beach in debt and suffering severe losses from the publication of that book.

Things went from bad to worse for her because of the depression of the thirties. She managed to stay open because André Gide organized a group of 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 in a jeep to liberate Sylvia and her bookstore.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Magpie Entry #4

“Scientific Breakthrough”

Ron: I guess we’re all aware of the reason for this meeting. We’re getting together tomorrow morning with a man who has developed an exciting new product, an item with fantastic potential, and he wants us to be his advertising agency. Take over, Blake.

Blake: Well, you saw the Powerpoint presentation. “Candy Babar” is being proclaimed as something revolutionary for this industry. An entirely new confectionery item, a new type of candy bar in the shape of the famous elephant – it's new in concept, new in philosophy, new in substance.

Ron: Right. This happens to be an historic occasion: it will be an honor for our agency to be associated with what is literally a revolutionary product. Why is Candy Babar revolutionary? It’s a candy bar that relies heavily on high-fructose corn syrup in a never-before-achieved solid and stable form – it’s a scientific breakthrough. By the way, be sure you get the client’s name right: R. Philip Dubieus. For those of you who haven’t met the man, this is important. His last name is pronounced Doobyess; as he puts it, there’s an emphasis on the “yess.” I need hardly tell you there are to be no wisecracks about his name and the word “dubious.” And he likes to be referred to as “R. Philip.”

Blake: Yeah, we met him last year. Remember, Ron?

Ron: For those who are new with our agency, Blake is sarcastically referring to a meeting just like this one last year. R. Philip brought in his latest product, “Plumber’s Friend,” for us to evaluate.

Blake: And Ron evaluated the hell out of it.

Ron: Look, I’ve admitted it. I messed up. I told R. Philip that “Plumber’s Friend,” a candy bar in the shape of a toilet plunger, would never sell.

Edna: But the “Plumber’s Friend” candy bar sold like hotcakes. It was the most successful candy bar in the country for a while last year. And we told the client it would never sell. Who knows what kids are going to go for?

Ron: I’ll tell you who knows: R. Philip Dubieus knows. He’s a damn genius. He’s the Bill Gates of the confectionery industry. And he’s giving us another chance. This time we’re not going to drop the ball.

Wendell: Or the elephant.

Ron: How does that help, Wendell?

Wendell: Sorry.

Blake: To top it off, we provided them with their motto – at no charge.

Ron: That’s true. During our meeting last year, as we were talking about the Plumber’s Friend candy bar, someone blurted out, “It’ll clean out your pipes!” They used it and paid us nothing for the use. But it turned out okay. R. Philip now feels he owes us.

Blake: R. Philip’s lawyers have of course contacted the estate of the folks who own the name “Babar.” They’re very interested and even enthusiastic about the possibilities. It was Dubieus Industries’ scientific unit that developed the new material.

Edna: Wait a minute. This guy is a candy-maker. He has a scientific unit?

Blake: He sure does, staffed with top scientists and researchers. They were responsible for the success of Plumber’s Friend. And they’ve got another winner in Candy Babar.

Ron: Tomorrow we must put across to R. Philip that in our advertising, in all media, the good-health advantages of high-fructose corn syrup will be emphasized. And by the way, we must at all times avoid expressions like “white elephant” with its negative connotations. And that goes for “the elephant in the living-room” saying, which is also negative.

Edna: (Sighs) Just between you and me, why do we wind up with products like this? We never get something like Campbell’s Soup.

Ron: Campbell’s Soup may well be outsold next year by this tasty little pachyderm. If we play our cards right, Candy Babar will be paying the salaries of quite a number of us in this agency for years to come.

Blake: You’re actually enthusiastic about this product.

Ron: Well, I keep thinking about our Plumber’s Friend fiasco. I was wrong about that; I’m not going to be wrong about this. As for TV, R. Philip wants the television commercials to look like the movie “Avatar.” He’s very aware of what’s going on in the culture.

Blake: Is he aware of what’s going on in law-suits?

Ron: We’ll deal with that later.

Edna: From what I’ve read, he’s going to get an actual elephant, paint him white and walk him around to school assemblies and so on.

Ron: What can I tell you – the guy thinks big. Now, R. Philip has a sort of special request. He has a friend, a young lady named Brandee – Sandee..?

Blake: Mandee.

Ron: Right, Mandee; her name has two “e’s” at the end.

Wendell: Bet that’s not all she’s got at the end.

Ron: I can’t tell you how great it would be, Wendell, if you would just shut up. Mandee Mullen, that’s her name. She’s 19 years old and she thinks of herself as a writer; she wants to write the TV commercials. Er, you’ve got nothing to say about this, Edna?

Edna: I’m speechless.

Wendell: So R. Philip has his own little candy bar…

Ron: What is the MATTER with you people! This is not some kind of joke! You know the kind of year we just had. This wonderful new product, Candy Babar, is going to keep our ship from sinking. Enough with the wisecracks!

Wendell: Sorry.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Laid-Back Shakespeare #6

If you've been following this series, "Laid-Back Shakespeare," you know we've spent some time on the story of the coat of arms, the heraldic device that meant so much to William Shakespeae and his father John and that would allow them to move up to a position among the gentry.

This is the sixth post in the series.

Theoretically the rank of "Gentleman" was an honor given because of family and service to the nation, but it was actually bought: you paid off someone to get it, in other words. Even so, there were standards you had to meet.

Over twenty years after John had applied to the College of Heralds for the rank of gentleman and didn’t get it, his son had moved on up to become a successful London playwright, actor and theatrical businessman. William Shakespeare felt he was in a position to try for the prize again.

The application was renewed. In 1596 Sir William Dethick, Garter King-of-Arms, granted the Shakespeare family a coat of arms, a rough sketch of which is shown above.

It has the items one might expect to find on such a device, a falcon, a spear, etc.; it was simple but it would do the job. Both father and son could now stop signing their names as Mr. Shakespeare and each could sign as Mr. Shakespeare, Gentleman – and Will, at least, did.

There had been some criticism that lately honors had been given out to too many types of people; riff-raff had to be kept out. In awarding the rank, Garter Dethick mentioned the Shakespeare connection to the Arden family, an ancestor of which had performed “valiant service to King Henry II of famous memory.” There is no historical evidence of any Arden doing anything of the kind, but perhaps Garter was simply trying to defend his decision for Shakespeare – who had paid well for the honor – and to avoid any future criticism. In addition, Dethick went on, the father, John, had served as bailiff, which meant he had been a Queen’s officer, and that was true.

Take another look at the sketch above. There are two lines scribbled at the bottom: they give a glimpse into the squabbles and rivalries that went on in the granting of such honors.

It seems that Garter, Sir William Dethick, was a contentious sort, but he may have met his match in the York Herald, Peter Brooke, who obviously felt granting such an honor to a commoner like this Shakespeare person was a huge mistake.

He wrote at the bottom of the sketch: “Shakespeare the player. By Garter.”

A whole world of Elizabethan custom, tradition, class, prejudice, rivalry, whathaveyou, is summed up in those two lines.

What Brooke is saying is this: “This guy is an ACTOR, for God’s sake! You don’t grant a coat of arms to actors.” Which was certainly, for the most part, true.
It’s difficult for us in our 21st century to realize the low esteem in which theatrical people, and the theatre generally, were held. There was then, to many, something shameful about this type of work.

It’s fascinating to note what his son-in-law, Dr. John Hall, wrote when Our Will retired to Stratford. Dr. Hall kept very careful records, noted down just about everything that happened, in his medical practice as well as in the daily goings-on of his family. He found himself now living with William Shakespeare, the greatest playwright who ever lived. And what he wrote about his famous father-in-law was – nothing, not a word. Hall was a Puritan.

He was probably simply embarrassed: perhaps he thought, all right, so he made a lot of money down there in London, but it was not respectable work.

The other line the York Herald wrote on the sketch, “By Garter,” was his way of saying, “It was Dethick who was responsible for this; I had nothing to do with it.”

For the final version of his coat of arms, Will Shakespeare wrote the words, in Old French, “Not Without Right.” I take this to mean: “My dad and I struggled for years to get to this place. We’re here and we have a RIGHT to be here – get used to it!”
Blog designed by Blogger Boutique using Christy Skagg's "A Little Bit of That" kit.