Posted in Wretched Richard's Almanac

February 27, 1902: Travels with Steinbeck

John Steinbeck was born and grew up in Salinas, California, a part of the fertile region he would later call the Pastures of Heaven in a collection of short stories and the setting for many of his works. The Nobel-winning novelist was born on February 27, 1902.

steinbeckjohnHis first critical and commercial success was Tortilla Flat set in and around Monterey, California, and featuring a small band of ne’er-do-well paisanos living for wine and good times after World War I. The novel was a sort of rogue’s tale, full of rough and earthy humor. From here Steinbeck moved on to more serious portrayals of the economic problems facing the rural working class in the social novels for which he became known — In Dubious Battle in 1936, Of Mice and Men in 1937, and his most important work The Grapes of Wrath in 1939, the saga of hardscrabble Oklahoma tenant farmers who became America’s migrant workers.

johnsteinbeck_thegrapesofwrathSteinbeck’s California did not take kindly to his portrayal. His books were banned, and in his hometown, twice burned in public protests. In fact, his books were banned in schools and libraries throughout the country and continued to be well into this century. Steinbeck was one of the ten most banned authors from 1990 to 2004 (according to the American Library Association), Of Mice and Men, sixth out of the top 100 banned books.

Later novels include Cannery Row, East of Eden, Travels with Charley,  and The Winter of Our Discontent. Steinbeck died in 1968.

Judy Drownded, Part 1: Where’s Judy?

Leland Armbrewster saw opportunity where others saw mere misfortune.

“Hurry, Raymond,” urged the young woman, skipping through the palms and sea grapes that separated the quiet beach from the laughter and tinny music spewing from the Crab Hole.

“It’s too late, Judy,” whined Raymond, padding behind. “It’s almost midnight, and we shouldn’t be here.” The rhythmic lapping of the water now overpowered the scratchy wail of “Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White,” a recording that was celebrating its fiftieth year on the Crab Hole juke box.

“But this is the best time,” Judy gushed. “Smell the frangipani. Look at all those stars. Look at me. She tugged at Raymond’s arm, dragging him to where the water lapped at their feet. “You know why it’s the best time?” She swayed back and forth, smiling at him, stupefying him with wanton eyes.

“Why?” asked Raymond.

“Because we don’t have to wear anything. And you’ll be able to see what all the others would die to see.” She unbuttoned buttons and untied ties, letting each of her few bits of apparel drop to the sandy beach. Raymond did the same, reluctant out of fear but hooked by desire. Judy finished undressing, and Raymond, pants off, shirt still on, stared at her, unable to move. She stood, letting him stare at her momentarily, then giggled, grabbed his pants and ran into the water.

“Come and get them,” she taunted. “Come and get me.”

“But . . .”

“I’m waiting.” Her voice had grown smaller.

“I can’t swim,” Raymond groaned.

“Don’t be silly.” Judy’s voice was now as far off as “Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White.” Raymond waded into the water, until it was above his waist and tugging him toward the deep end of the ocean. He realized it was hopeless; he dared go no further, no matter how much desire percolated within him. As he retreated, he heard the distant scream – Judy’s scream – just once, then silence.

“Judy,” he shouted. “Are you all right?” No reply. He called her name again several times, and when there was still no answer, he turned and ran. He scrambled across the beach, back through the palms and sea grapes, tripping often, to the road and to the Crab Hole, where “Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom” bleated a final musical orgasm. He crashed through the door. The six patrons inside grabbed their glasses of rum and looked up in surprise, the now silent the jukebox heightening the drama of the moment.

“Something’s happened,” Raymond shouted into the silence. “Something terrible.”

“Boy,” said Chicken Avery. “Do you know you got no pants on?”


Judy Drownded is included in Calypso, Stories of the Caribbean.

Posted in Wretched Richard's Almanac

February 24, 1827: A Midsummer Night’s Prayer Meeting

“The Family Shakespeare — in which nothing is added to the original text,censored-shakespeare but those words and expressions are omitted which cannot with propriety be read aloud in a family. My great objects in this undertaking are to remove from the writings of Shakespeare some defects which diminish their value.”

Thus read an introduction for the 1807 edition of Shakespeare’s works, finally made suitable for general audiences by Thomas Bowdler some 200 years after the Bard was safely buried. Certainly Shakespeare, were he alive, could not have objected to having the defects which diminished their value removed from his works. Shakespeare and family values — together at last.

Shakespeare no doubt would have thanked Thomas Bowdler who joined him in the hereafter on February 24, 1827.

Bowdler undertook this project, along with his sister Henrietta, thanks to childhood memories in which his father had entertained his family with readings from Shakespeare. Only later as an adult did Bowdler realize that his father had been leaving out some of the naughty parts of the plays, anything he felt unsuitable for the ears of his wife and children. Realizing that not all fathers were clever enough to censor on the spot, Bowdler decided it would be worthwhile to publish an edition which came already sanitized and “expletive deleted.” True to his word and to his credit, Bowdler did not add anything to the Shakespeare texts as some earlier tinkers had (Poet Laureate Nathum Tate had, for example, given King Lear a happy ending.)

More than a century later, scholars decided that sister Henrietta had a somewhat heavier hand in the expurgations than previously believed. Naturally, as an unmarried lady, it would have been scandalous for her to admit having read, much less understood, the naughty stuff removed.

Later publications by Bowdler demonstrated his interest in and knowledge of continental Europe (with France presumably excised). His last work was a rather monumental expurgated version of Edward Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire — no togas, no orgies — published posthumously in 1826. His version of Lady Chatterley’s Acquaintance turned out to be three pages long.

Bowdler has been recognized for his contributions to English literature by being awarded an adjective — bowdlerize, to change a book, play, movie, etc. by removing parts that could offend people.


Day of Note

February 24, 1969  –  Happy 50 Morgan Daybell




Posted in Wretched Richard's Almanac



Born in 1887, Sigmund Romberg moved to the United States in 1909 and, after a short resume builder in a pencil factory (as a sharpener?), found work as a pianist.  An instrument here, an instrument there, and pretty soon he had his own orchestra. He published a few songs that caught the attention of the Shubert brothers, who in 1914 hired him to write music for their Broadway shows. Next day on his dressing room, they hung a star.


Career off and running, he wrote his best-known operettas, The Student Prince in 1924, The Desert Song in 1926, and The New Moon in 1928.


The Student Prince was the most successful of Romberg’s works, the longest-running Broadway show of the 1920s at 608 performances, even longer than the classic Show Boat.  The “Drinking Song,” with its rousing chorus, was especially popular in 1924, with Prohibition is full swing:

Drink! Drink!
  Let the toast start!
  May young hearts never part!
  Drink! Drink! Drink!
  Let every true lover salute his sweetheart!
  Let's drink!

The Mario Lanza version from the 1954 movie remains popular with imbibers everywhere.

The Desert Song (with lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein) is your typical superhero-adopts-mild-mannered disguise-to-keep-his true-identity-secret saga much like Zorro and Superman but with better music and no phone booths. The Red Shadow loves a beautiful and spirited girl, who loves his hero persona but not his wimpy side.  Will true love win out over hero worship? After much sophisticated music, lust in the dust and naughty humor, we learn the answer, especially in a lavish 1929 film production of the operetta – but only until the 1940s when it became illegal to view or exhibit the 1929 film in the United States because the folks in charge feared the naughty bits would morally harm us.

A second feature version was made in 1943, which had our hero fighting the Nazis, and a third version with Kathryn Grayson and Gordon MacRae in 1953 was about as squeaky clean as you can get.  Thank god for censors.

I drink to make other people more interesting. ― Ernest Hemingway