August 13, 1942: Dead, a Deer, a Female Deer

At some point, practically everybody on the planet has laughed and cried with Flower the Skunk, Thumper the Rabbit, the Great Prince of the forest and his unnamed mate, and Bambi, the title character in the Walt Disney classic first released on this date in 1942. It has become a favorite of generation after generation of kids and critics alike and ranks third in the American Film Institute’s all-time best animation features, “…the crowning achievement of Walt Disney’s animation studio.”

     It wasn’t a big success out of the gate. The New York Times said: “In the search for perfection, Mr. Disney has come perilously close to tossing away his whole world of cartoon fantasy.” Another critic called it “entirely unpleasant.” Hunters called it “an insult to American sportsmen.” Even Disney’s daughter complained, saying that Bambi’s mother shouldn’t have died. When Walt said he was just following the book, she protested, saying that he had taken other liberties before, and that Walt Disney could do whatever he wanted.

     As it was, we didn’t see Bambi’s mother die on-screen. They decided it was emotional enough without showing it. And there was much more we didn’t see. We didn’t see the six bunnies modeled after the Seven Dwarfs. They became five generic rabbits and Thumper. The squirrel and chipmunk comedy team didn’t make the final cut, nor did the two falling autumn leaves conversing like an old married couple. The civilization that Bambi destroyed by stepping on an ant hill and a family of squabbling grasshoppers didn’t pass the “What’s this got to do with Bambi?” test.  And Walt was talked out of showing a man burned to death by the fire that he inadvertently started.

     Oddly enough, Bambi is also listed in the Top 25 Horror Movies of all Time by Time magazine, because it “has a primal shock that still haunts oldsters who saw it 40, 50, 65 years ago.” Which brings us back to the question, did Bambi’s mother really have to die?

 

Now, nature, as I am only too aware, has her enthusiasts, but on the whole, I am not to be counted among them. To put it bluntly, I am not the type who wants to go back to the land; I am the type who wants to go back to the hotel. ― Fran Lebowitz

 

August 12, 1881: Ready When You Are, C.B.

Cecil B. DeMille was a larger-than-life filmmaker throughout the first half of the last century as well as God’s public relations director. Born in 1881 in Ashfield, Massachusetts, he went on to enter the world of theater as an actor, director and playwright.  He helped to establish Paramount Pictures and co-directed his first film, The Squaw Man, the first of over 70 films, in 1914. Through the years, he burnished his reputation with lavish biblical epics such as The King of Kings, Samson and Delilah, and The Ten Commandments.

     DeMille created the first movie to have a budget of more than $1 million, paving the way for his future epics “with a cast of thousands.” Although he was adept at directing thousands of extras, he had a bit of a problem with individual actors, becoming a tad tyrannical on the set.  When making redsea1927′s King of Kings, DeMille demanded that in order to preserve the film’s spiritual integrity, the actors all had to enter into contracts promising that they would not do anything “unbiblical” for five years — that included going to baseball games,  frequenting nightclubs and  driving sexy cars.

     He saw no reason his actors shouldn’t risk their lives for the good of the film.  Although Victor Mature was a superhero in Samson and Delilah, DeMille said he was “100% yellow” because he refused to wrestle a lion. Paulette Goddard lost future roles with the director by refusing to play with fire in Unconquered.

     And he loved spectacle – the parting of the Red Sea in The Ten Commandments, the toppling of the temple in Samson and Delilah, train wrecks in The Road to Yesterday, Union Pacific and The Greatest Show on Earth, and the destruction of a zeppelin in Madame Satan.

     Gloria Swanson immortalized DeMille in a movie he didn’t direct, Sunset Boulevard, with the frequently repeated line: “All right, Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my close-up.”

Give me any two pages of the Bible and I’ll give you a picture.  — Cecil B. DeMille

August 11, 1894: Poparazzi

Sometimes great ideas just come falling from out of nowhere, like that apple that beaned Isaac Newton while he sat under a tree daydreaming. Such was the case with Frank Epperson, born on August 11, 1894. Frank wasn’t a scientist or an inventor or any such thing. In fact, he was only 11 years old when he had his Eureka! moment.

Little Frank, who lived in Oakland, California, loved a soda concoction made by dissolving a flavored powder in water. One day as he was mixing his drink, he was distracted by something or other and left the drink with his stirring stick on the porch, completely forgetting about it.

Well, didn’t the Oakland temperatures plummet that night to a record low. The next morning Frank discovered his drink, completely frozen, the stirring stick standing straight up. You guessed it — the very first Popsicle. Only Frank called them Epsicles when, a few years later, he began to sell them to the public at Neptune Beach and later when he applied for a patent for his “frozen confectionary.”

Somewhere along the way, he changed the name to Popsicle, and in 1925 he sold the rights to the Joe Lowe Company of New York. The Popsicle eventually acquired some cousins — Fudgsicle, Creamsicle and Dreamsicle — and in 1989 it was swallowed up by Good Humor, a subsidiary of corporate giant Unilever.

And Along Came Popsicle Pete

In 1939, Popsicle Pete became the official spokesman for Popsicle products. He was introduced on the Buck Rogers radio program, urging listeners to send in wrappers and win neat prizes. Popsicle Pete was . . . well, make your own characterization:

August 11, 1984: Why Bartlett’s Ignored Reagan

President Ronald Reagan was about to deliver a scheduled radio address on August 11, 1984. While testing his microphone before the speech, Reagan quipped: “My fellow Americans, I am pleased to tell you today that I’ve signed legislation that will outlaw Russia forever. We begin Ronald Reaganbombing in five minutes.”  Reagan’s aides laughed heartily at their boss’ obvious joke; many others didn’t. Some dismissed his remark as an example of poor taste while others thought it to be a major embarrassing political gaffe — certainly not his first. Reagan’s sense of humor didn’t play well with the folks at Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations who pretty much ignored him during their compiling of quotes.

Among the Reagan remarks that didn’t find their way into the noted encyclopedia of clever speech included his 1969 response as governor to student protestors at the University of California at Berkeley — “if there has to be a bloodbath then let’s get it over with,” his comparison between politics and prostitution, and these gems:

“I’ve noticed that everybody that is for abortion has already been born.”

I am not worried about the deficit. It is big enough to take care of itself.”

“What makes him think a middle-aged actor, who’s played with a chimp, could have a future in politics?”

The Soviets, for their part, were not amused, and the president’s approval rating among American voters nosedived just long enough to give Democrats the fleeting thought that Walter Mondale might soon be president.

Exactly five years later, Vice President Dan Quayle uttered these memorable words:  “Mars is essentially in the same orbit. Mars is somewhat the same distance from the sun, which is very important. We have seen pictures where there are canals, we believe, and water. If there is water, that means there is oxygen, that means we can breathe.”

A team of linguists continues to study the meaning of the quote.

August 10, 1749: More Powerful Than . . .

Thomas Topham, born in London about 1710, was brought up in the trade of carpentry and eventually found himself as the landlord of a small pub, the Red Lion Inn. Though he was by no tophammeans remarkable in size, he was endowed with extraordinary muscular powers and was able to entertain the patrons by performing various feats of strength. Crowds began to gather at the inn, not to drink but to see him perform.  To entertain the crowds, he might break a broomstick by striking it against his bare arm or lift a horse and toss it over a fence or roll up a pewter plate weighing seven pounds as another man would roll up a sheet of paper. In addition to his freakish strength, Topham could also sing in a basso profundo voice said to be so deep and resonant that it was scarcely human.

     Strong as he was, he had basically a gentle nature. Sure, he might wrap an iron pipe around the neck of a man who irked him, but all in all he was a good-natured soul.

Naturally, the fame of this amazing strong man spread throughout England, and he became known as the Modern Samson.  He continued to wow bigger and bigger crowds – lifting 200-pound weights on his little finger or a six foot long oak table with his teeth, smashing a coconut by striking it against his ear, bending a one-inch thick iron bar around his bare arm with one blow.

     Alas, great fortune was not to continue for our Modern Samson. Like his biblical namesake, he was done in by the wiles of his very own Delilah. On August 10, 1749, his world came crashing down like that ancient temple when he discovered his wife’s infidelity.   After stabbing her to death, he used the knife on himself; dying from his wounds shortly thereafter.

She stood there laughing
I felt the knife in my hand and she laughed no more
My, my, my Delilah
Why, why, why Delilah
So before they come to break down the door
Forgive me, Delilah, I just couldn’t take any more.

— Delilah, as sung by Tom Jones

August 9, 1639: Tiptoe Through the Boroughs

Jonas Bronck was the Norwegian son of a Lutheran minister born sometime around 1600. Or he was a Swedish sailor in the Danish Merchant Marine. Or a Dutch Mennonite who fled the Netherlands because of religious persecution. Or German.

In any event, he was an immigrant to the Dutch colony of New Netherland during a time when the greetings-bronxDutch were trying to increase its colonial population by relocating folks who had gone broke during the bursting of the tulip mania bubble in 1637. The English, who didn’t give a whit about tulips, were copulating and populating the New World like so many limey rabbits, and the Dutch were urged to get out of those wooden shoes and get with it.

Thus, Jonas Bronck arrived in New Netherland in 1639 aboard a ship ostentatiously named The Fire of Troy, whereupon he purchased himself a large tract of land from the Lenape Indians for 400 beads. (You will remember that Dutch wheeler-dealer, Peter Minuit, who snapped up Manhattan for 26 bucks.)

Bronck’s 500 acres was just across the river from the village of Harlem, an easy commute to the Apollo Theater even then. Although Bronck traded with the local Indians, relations were not good, thanks to the Dutch practice of frequently murdering large numbers of Indians. Eventually, the Indians told Bronck to take his 400 beads and shove them, then killed him to reinforce the point.

Eventually, those populating English took over the Dutch lands. Jonas Bronck might have been completely forgotten, but for the river that retained Bronck’s name, mangled a bit to become the Bronx River. By extension, the land around it became The Bronx (and living there known as Bronxitis). This is fortunate, for the original Indian name was Rananchqua.

We’ll have Manhattan, Rananchqua and Staten Island, too?

 ♥

I don’t need bodyguards. I’m from the South Bronx.  — Al Pacino
Yes, Terry and the Pirate is available in the Bronx.  Or you can get it from  Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Apple.

August 8, 1988: Crazy Eights

Numerologists had a field day back on 8/8/88. To start, the temperature in New York City reached a high of 88 degrees. Out in Minnesota, the Twins scored their second triple play of the season and eightyeightbeat Cleveland – by a score of 6-2. Meanwhile, the Cubs and the Phillies attempted to play the first ever night game at Wrigley Field but were rained out in the fourth inning with the score 3-1 (you do the math). The number was not lucky for Alan Napier, who played Alfred the butler in the Batman television series. He died. He was in his eighties.

     You might guess that the celebration in Eighty Eight, Kentucky, was a dandy one and it was. Numerologists descended on the little town in hordes, taking advantage of the 88 cents per gallon gasoline and the 88 cents meatloaf special at the Eighty Eight Restaurant. The celebration was over ten times (11) more festive than the one in Eight, West Virginia.

     But the numerology prize goes to a young lady named Kelly in Hackensack, New Jersey.  She was born at 8:08 in the morning, the eighth baby delivered that day, by a doctor who had eight of his own children. She naturally weighed in at 8 pounds 8 ounces.   And all the while her father paced nervously in the waiting room, humming “Beat Me Daddy, Eight to the Bar.”

 

First the doctor told me the good news: I was going to have a disease named after me. ― Steve Martin

August 7, 1966: Cinco de Cugat

Francesc d’Asís Xavier Cugat Mingall de Bru i Deulofeu was born in Spain and emigrated to Cuba when when he was five. He was trained as a classical violinist and played with the Orchestra of the cugatTeatro Nacional in Havana before coming to the United States in 1915, where he rode the tango craze to stardom in movies and night clubs. Eventually Cugat and his orchestra became the resident musicians at New York’s Waldorf Astoria.

     On August 7, 1966, Cugat took his fifth stab at marriage with Charo, a Spanish guitarist and comic actress. One can only wonder why the 60-year-old Cugat would marry a 20-year-old who could barely speak English. It must have been her flamenco ability. Cugat’s previous wife, the sultry Abbe Lane, couldn’t play a lick.

     As a recording artist, Cugat followed dance trends carefully; his tango years were succeeded by  takes on the conga, the mambo, the cha-cha-cha, and the twist when each was in fashion. He had major hits with his recordings of “Pefidia” and “Brazil.”

     Cugat is the only band leader in the Conductors Who Hold Chihuahuas While Performing Hall of Fame.

“I would rather play Chiquita Banana and have my swimming pool than play Bach and starve.” ―Xavier Cugat

August 6, 1874: The Ears of Texas Are Upon You

Western justice once more prevailed when law officers killed one Jim Reed, a black hat of minimal notoriety who would probably have passed quietly into desperado oblivion had he not married Myra Maybelle Shirley. starrMyra Maybelle came from a once prosperous family whose business in Carthage, Missouri, had been wiped out by the Civil War. The family moved to Texas when she was 16 years old, and it was there that she fell in love with Jim Reed, a family acquaintance from Missouri who had served as a Confederate mercenary. They were married in 1866.

Reed was a lousy husband, more into horse racing and gambling than farming. He gravitated toward a nasty Cherokee named Tom Starr, who led a brutal gang of thieves. Starr (who wore a string tie fashioned from the ears of the men he had killed) mentored Reed in the art of rustling and running whiskey (and possibly a murder here and there).

Myra Maybelle, or Belle as she was now called, was the mother of two children. Nevertheless, she began to take part in her husband’s career, attending several robberies as though they were fancy dress balls, wearing velvet skirts and plumed hats. As fame and the law began to dog them, the Reeds went back to farming in Texas where they could give their children a more respectable upbringing. Too respectable for Reed evidently, for he soon grew antsy and returned to crime, holding up a stagecoach.  And once again they had the long arm of the law all over them.

With a hefty reward offered for Reed’s capture – dead or alive – bounty hunters joined the hunt. Reed was able to elude them for a bit, but on August 6, 1874, one of his fellow gang members killed him for the reward money. Two years later, Belle married Sam Starr, the son of Reed’s Cherokee partner, and became famous as the Bandit Queen, Belle Starr. Sam Starr died in a gun battle, and three years later Belle too cashed in her ill-gotten gains, bushwhacked by hombres unknown.

 

Did you know that five out of three people have trouble with fractions. ~Calvin Trillin

August 5, 642: Arm and the Man, I Sing

A lock of hair from Elvis’ head, a scrap of material from something worn by a Beatle – we know how these things are sought, treasured, and fought over by modern day groupies. We should not be surprised to learn that it was always thus, although, if anything, this practice was far less civilized in the past. Take the case of Saint Oswald, English King of Northumbria, son of the pagan King Aethelfrith, the Ravager of Bernicia.

     Though both pagan and Ravager Jr., Oswald was a benefactor of the poor. Legend has it (as legend will) that Oswald was sitting at meal one day when a throng of beggars came to his gate for relief. This generous man sent them the meat from his own table, and there not being enough to feed them all, had one of his silver dishes cut into pieces to distribute among the rest. Aidanus, a Scottish bishop visiting Oswald, upon witnessing this gesture, took Oswald by the hand and said: “Nunquam inveterascat haec manus!” (“May this hand live forever”).

     Nice thought, but this being the Dark Ages, forever lasted only until August 5, 642, when Oswald was killed in battle by a neighboring king. Oswald’s comrades, remembering Aidanus’ blessing, sorted through his body parts and took care to preserve his arm. The arm was saved and treasured and eventually sold to a wealthy collector of saints’ arms. Rumor has it that it eventually found its way to a secret private collection where it stands alongside a lock of Elvis’ hair and a scrap of skivvies once worn by a Beatle.

 

One thing vampire children are taught is, never run with a wooden stake. ~ Jack Handey

August 4, 1855: Familiarity Breeds Contempt (Page 76a)

People in Cambridge, Massachusetts, used to pester John Bartlett, who ran the University Book Store, asking for quotations on various subjects. Finally, to make his life easier, he assembled a collection of the more popular quotations. So beginning August 4, 1855, when people asked for a quotepithy quote, he could reply, “Look it up in your Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations and stop bugging me.”  His book contained 258 pages of quotations by 169 authors, primarily from the Bible, Shakespeare, and the important English poets. This was a bit of an undertaking, Bartlett pointed out. How does one decide if a quotation is familiar? A quote may be on a first-name basis with one person while completely unknown to another.

Nevertheless, the book was a big success, and Bartlett authored three more editions before becoming a partner in the publishing firm of Little, Brown, and Company. In all, he supervised nine editions of the work before his death in 1905.

Various other editors stepped in for a series of editions, and in 1955, the 13th Edition was celebrated as the Centennial Edition.  Along about the 15th Edition, the work started annoying critics. One critic said it would be the downfall of the series: “Donning the intellectual bell-bottoms and platform shoes of its era, Bartlett’s began sprouting third-rate Third World, youth-culture, and feminist quotes,” part of “a middle-aged obsession with staying trendy.”  The 16th Edition offended some folks because it included only three minor Ronald Reagan quotations (FDR had 35 quotes, and JFK 28). The editor answered the criticism by saying he didn’t like Reagan.

In the 17th Edition (2003) he took heat for including the likes of J.K. Rowling, Jerry Seinfeld, and Larry David while cutting classic quotes.  He did include six Reagan quotes but admitted “I was carried away by prejudice. Mischievously I did him dirty.”

“Me want cookie!” — Cookie Monster as quoted in Bartlett’s