May 15, 1482: Toscanelli’s Comet

Paolo Toscanelli, born in 1397, was your typical Italian Renaissance Man, dabbling in everything from astronomy to mathematics to philosophy to cartography. He rubbed elbows (and influenced) the likes of Leonardo da Vinci and Christopher Columbus. In fact, that fickle finger of fate could have just as easily pointed at Paolo instead of Columbus.

As we all know, Christopher Columbus as a boy used to sit on the docks in Genoa watching ships slowly disappear over the horizon. While all the other boys sitting on the docks attributed this phenomenon to the ships falling off the edge of the world, Christopher determined that ships were gradually disappearing because the world was actually round. A fairy tale, of course. Columbus knew the world was round because Paolo Toscanelli told him it was round. Toscanelli even gave Columbus a map (a flat map admittedly) that showed Asia to the left on the other side of the Atlantic. Neither of them had reckoned on that other continent lying in-between. Yet Columbus got an October holiday and a city in Ohio while Toscanelli got squat.

Another near miss for Paolo was his observation of a comet in 1456. Although Paolo was the first to identify it, it remained known only as the Comet of 1456 until 300 years later when English astronomer Edmond Halley predicted its 1759 return and got naming rights.

Paolo died on May 15, 1482, ten years before Columbus sailed the ocean blue and some 350 years before “Halley’s” Comet did an encore.

May 15, 1856: Over the Rainbow

She threw her arms around the Lion’s neck and kissed him, patting his big head tenderly. Then she kissed the Tin Woodman, who was weeping in a way most dangerous to his joints. But she hugged the soft, stuffed body of the Scarecrow in her arms instead of kissing his painted face, and found she was crying herself at this sorrowful parting from her loving comrades.

Glinda the Good stepped down from her ruby throne to give the little girl a good-bye kiss, and Dorothy thanked her for all the kindness she had shown to her friends and herself.

Dorothy now took Toto up solemnly in her arms, and having said one last good-bye she clapped the heels of her shoes together three times saying, “Take me home to Aunt Em!

Lyman Frank Baum, born in Chittenango, New York, in 1856 (died 1919), was best known for writing The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, although he wrote a total of 55 novels, 83 short stories, over 200 poems, and made many attempts to bring his works to the stage and screen.

In 1897, after several abortive early careers, Baum wrote and published Mother Goose in Prose, a collection of Mother Goose rhymes written as prose stories, and illustrated by Maxfield Parrish. The book was a moderate success, allowing Baum to quit his door-to-door sales job and devote time to his writing. In 1899, Baum partnered with illustrator W. W. Denslow, to publish Father Goose, His Book, a collection of nonsense poetry. The book was a success, becoming the best-selling children’s book of the year. Then in 1900, the duo published The Wonderful Wizard of Oz to critical acclaim and financial success.   The book was the best-selling children’s book for two years after its initial publication.

Oz was a popular destination long before the famous 1939 screen version of the book.  A  musical  based closely upon the book,  the first to use the shortened title “The Wizard of Oz”, opened in Chicago in 1902, then ran on Broadway for 293 performances.   Baum went on to write another 13 Oz novels.

Baum’s intention with the Oz books, and other fairy tales, was to tell American tales in much the same manner as the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen , modernizing them and removing the excess violence.  He is often credited with the beginning of the sanitization of children’s stories, although his stories do include eye removals, maimings of all kinds and an occasional decapitation.

Most of the books outside the Oz series were written under pseudonyms. Baum was variously known as Edith Van Dyne, Laura Bancroft, Floyd Akers, Suzanne Metcalf, Schuyler Staunton, John Estes Cooke, and Capt. Hugh Fitzgerald.

Baum wrote two newspaper editorials about Native Americans that have tarnished his legacy because of his assertion that the safety of white settlers depended on the wholesale genocide of American Indians. Some scholars take them at face value, others suggest they were satire. Decide for yourself.

The Pioneer has before declared that our only safety depends upon the total extermination of the Indians. Having wronged them for centuries we had better, in order to protect our civilization, follow it up by one more wrong and wipe these untamed and untamable creatures from the face of the earth. In this lies safety for our settlers and the soldiers who are under incompetent commands. Otherwise, we may expect future years to be as full of trouble with the redskins as those have been in the past.

January 14, 1874, 1886: Talk to the Animals

Today was a red letter day for children who love to read and want their reading sparked with fascinating characters and vivid imagination. Two burgess1major authors who spent their lifetimes entertaining the younger set were born on January 14, 12 years and an ocean apart.

Born in Sandwich, MA in 1874, Thornton Burgess was a conservationist and prolific writer of children’s books, producing 170 books between 1910 and 1965 – several titles every year (with an amazing 19 in 1914 alone). His books celebrated nature, featuring the many animals that lived in the Green Meadow and Green Forest.

Mother West Wind “How” Stories an early collection of 16 stories that told how Lightfoot the Deer learned to jump, how the eyes of Old Mr. Owl became fixed, how Drummer the Woodpecker came by his red cap and so on. Other collections told when, where and why various animal things happened – Wild Kingdom without Marlin Perkins or TV commercials The various forest and meadow creatures that had their own adventure books included Peter Rabbit, Jimmy Skunk, Grandfather Frog, Little Joe Otter, Granny Fox, Jerry Muskrat and Digger the Badger to name just a few.

Burgess published his last book, an autobiography, in 1960. That same year he published his 15,000th story. He died on June 5, 1965, at the age of 91.

Hugh Lofting, on the other hand, wrote only a dozen books. Born in 1886 loftingin Maidenhead, England, his books featured the amazing Doctor Doolittle from Puddleby-on-the-Marsh, a character he first created in letters to his children during his World War I service in the Irish Guards. The Story of Doctor Dolittle: Being the History of His Peculiar Life at Home and Astonishing Adventures in Foreign Parts Never Before Printed began the series in 1920 and was followed two years later by The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle.

Yes, Doctor Doolittle could talk to the animals and so much more. He ran a post office, a circus and a zoo, took voyages to exotic places around the world, went to the moon. According to the neighborhood mussel-man, he was a nacheralist – “a man who knows all about animals and butterflies and plants and rocks an’ all.” Not only could he talk to and understand animals, he had written history books in monkey-talk, poetry in canary language and songs for magpies to sing. And his books teem with animals too – not just pigs, rats, owls, seals and badgers but pushmi-pullyus and wiff-waffs as well.



December 18, 1966: You’re a Mean One

grinch-thumb-525x325-23201In 1957, the most infamous Christmas curmudgeon since Ebeneezer Scrooge made his debut in a picture book called How the Grinch Stole Christmas by the amazing Dr. Seuss (Theodor Geisel). It marked the first time an adult had been featured as the main character in a Seuss book and the first time a villain had starred. The book has remained a classic since then. Some conspiracy theorists suggest (and the doctor concurs) that the Grinch is Dr. Seuss himself. In the story, the Grinch complains that he has put up with the Whos’ Christmas celebrations for 53 years. Dr. Seuss was 53 when the book was written and published.

Several years later, on December 18, 1966, the furry misanthrope, now a sickly shade of green, was ready for prime time – television, that is. Chuck Jones of Warner Brothers cartoon fame brought the story to living room screens featuring Boris Karloff as narrator and Grinch. In addition to providing the story, Dr. Seuss created the lyrics for the songs featured in the animated special. (The songs were sung by Thurl Ravenscroft, who some will remember as the bass voice on Rosemary Clooney’s  “This Ole House” or Tony the Tiger – “They’re grrreat!”)

The word grinch has found its way into dictionaries as a person whose lack of enthusiasm or bad temper spoils or dampens the pleasure of others. “Noise, noise, noise, noise.”


November 26, 1865: O Frabjous Day

On a summer afternoon boat trip in the early 1860s the Reverend Charles Lutwidge Dodgson told the three Liddell sisters – Lorina, Alice and Edith – a story that featured a bored little girl named Alice who goes looking for an adventure. The girls loved the story, and ten-year-old Alice asked Dodgson to write it down for her. In November of 1864, Dodgson gave Alice the handwritten manuscript of the story called Alice’s Adventures Under Ground, with his own illustrations,, dedicated as “A Christmas Gift to a Dear Child in Memory of a Summer’s Day”.

A year later on November 26, 1865, he gave the book to the world with a new title, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, published under the pseudonym Lewis Carroll.  The book in which Alice falls down a rabbit hole into a world filled with outlandish anthropomorphic characters was not a big success at the time; it has since become a giant of “children’s” literature and Lewis Carroll’s language and logic have become fixtures in modern culture and literature.

Alice as depicted by Rev. Dodgson
Alice as depicted by Rev. Dodgson

“I can’t explain myself, I’m afraid, sir,” said Alice, “because I’m not myself, you see.”

From the original by Tenniel
From the original by John Tenniel

“Begin at the beginning,” the King said, very gravely, “and go on till you come to the end: then stop.”

Alice by Arthur Rackham
Alice by Arthur Rackham

“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”
“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.
“I don’t much care where –” said Alice.
“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go.”

alice charles pears
Alice by Charles Pears

They drew all manner of things — everything that begins with an M . . . such as mousetraps, and the moon, and memory, and muchness — you know you say things are much of a muchness.

Alice by Charles Robinson
Alice by Charles Robinson

The hurrier I go, the behinder I get.

Alice by George Soper
Alice by George Soper

The rule is, jam tomorrow and jam yesterday-but never jam today

Alice by Harry Rountree
Alice by Harry Rountree
alice disney
By Disney Studios

Speak roughly to your little boy
and beat him when he sneezes!
he only does it to annoy,
because he knows it teases!

By Mervyn Peake
By Mervyn Peake

By Robert Ingpen

September 4, 1992: They’ll Never Replace Fart Jokes

You’ve got this great idea. Take all those funny home videos people sent you that were too risqué for the TV program Funniest Home Videos and use them to create a brand new TV program called Naughtiest Home Videos. Better still call it Australia’s naughtiestNaughtiest Home Videos because that’s where the racy adult program aired on September 4, 1992.

How racy? Well, there were shots of various animals’ private parts, both animals and humans humorously having sex (which not only begs the question how do you have sex humorously but also blurs the line between human and animal), people losing their clothing in unusual ways, an elderly woman removing an envelope from a male stripper’s skivvies using her dentures, two men lifting a barbell without using their hands . . . well, one could continue listing these hilarious bits but one would be in danger of laughing so hard one would pee one’s pants.

“I’d like to sincerely say that if we’ve offended just one of you, we’ve failed,” said the show’s host returning from the first commercial break. “We were hoping for half a million offended viewers by now.”

It took an agonizing 34 minutes for the network owner, who was enjoying a quiet dinner out with friends, to hear about the program and call the studio to cancel the program or, in his words, “get that shit off the air.” Almost immediately, a network announcer said: “We apologize for this interruption. Unfortunately, a technical problem prevents us continuing our scheduled program for the moment ” and the show made history, being the shortest running television series ever.

The following morning was not a pleasant one for anyone who had had anything to do with airing the program. They were berated loudly and had their careers cut just as short as Australia’s Naughtiest Home Videos.

Rabbits Behaving Badly?

As far as we know, there were no racy bits featuring anthropomorphic rabbits scheduled for the unseen portion of Naughtiest Videos. A much tamer depiction of the same had it’s beginnings a century earlier in a letter written on September 4, 1893, peterrabthat included an illustrated story about a rabbit named Peter. The letter was written by Beatrix Potter to the five-year-old son of her former governess, Annie Moore. Moore suggested that the story be made into a book.

Potter further developed the storyline, added additional illustrations, and in 1901, self-published 250 copies of The Tale of Peter Rabbit. Today with 45 million copies sold it remains one of the most popular children’s books of all time.

Howie Morris

Howie Morris, born September 4, 1919, ( died 2005) was best known for his portrayal of Ernest T. Bass on the Andy Griffith Show and numerous characters on Sid Caesar’s Your Show of Shows.

Inspirational Quote for 9/4/16


September 24, 1991: Oh, the Things You’ll Write

Probably the foremost children’s book author of the 20th century died on September 24, 1991, at the seussage of 87. Dr. Seuss, Theodor Geisel, published 46 books for children including a new kind of first reader that sent Dick and Jane into well-deserved retirement.

Dr. Seuss was born in the early 1920s, when Geisel (born in 1904) was attending Dartmouth College. Among his pursuits there was work on the humor magazine Dartmouth Jack-O-Lantern, for which he rose to the rank of editor-in-chief. However, one dark day at Dartmouth, Geisel was caught drinking gin at a party in his room. This was frowned upon by the Dean, who insisted that he resign from all extracurricular activities, including the college humor magazine. To continue work on the Jack-O-Lantern surreptitiously, Geisel began signing his work with the pen name Dr. Theophrastus Seuss. (Other pseudonyms included Theo LeSieg and Rosetta Stone.

Geisel had a successful career in advertising (Flit, Standard Oil, U.S. Army) and as an editorial cartoonist denouncing fascists, racists, isolationists and Republicans.  But it was his children’s books that gave him lasting recognition. His first, published in 1937, was And to Think I Saw It on Mulberry Street. He followed with such celebrated books as The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins, Horton Hatches the Egg, Horton Hears a Who!, and How the Grinch Stole Christmas!. In 1954, Geisel was challenged to write a book using only 250 words appropriate to beginning readers, “a book children can’t put down.” Nine months later, using 236 of the words given to him, Geisel completed The Cat in the Hat.

Geisel made a point of not beginning the writing of his stories with a moral in mind. “Kids can see a moral coming a mile off,” he said.

Numerous adaptations of his work have been created, including 11 television specials, four feature films, a Broadway musical and four television series.

“Today you are You, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is Youer than You.”

“I meant what I said and I said what I meant. An elephant’s faithful one-hundred percent!”

“If you never did you should. These things are fun and fun is good.”

“They say I’m old-fashioned, and live in the past, but sometimes I think progress progresses too fast!”

“I do not like green eggs and ham, I do not like them Sam-I-Am.”

“Writing simply means no dependent clauses, no dangling things, no flashbacks, and keeping the subject near the predicate. We throw in as many fresh words we can get away with. Simple, short sentences don’t always work. You have to do tricks with pacing, alternate long sentences with short, to keep it vital and alive…. Virtually every page is a cliffhanger–you’ve got to force them to turn it.”

“Adults are just obsolete children and the hell with them.”

September 13, 1916: A Tale of Two Chocolate Factories

When Roald Dahl’s mother offered to pay his tuition to Cambridge University, Dahl said: “No thank you. I want to go straight from school to work for a company that will send me to wonderful faraway places like Africa or China.” And Dahl born on September 13, 1916, did go to wonkafaraway places — Newfoundland, Tanzania, Nairobi, and Alexandria, Egypt, where as a fighter pilot a plane crash left him with serious injuries.

Following a recovery that included a hip replacement and two spinal surgeries, Dahl was transferred to Washington, D.C., where he met author C.S. Forrester, who encouraged him to start writing. His becoming a writer was a “pure fluke,” he said. “Without being asked to, I doubt if I’d ever have thought to do it.”

Dahl wrote his first story for children, The Gremlins, in 1942, for Walt Disney, coining the word. He didn’t return to children’s stories until the 1960s, winning critical and commercial success with James and the Giant Peach and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Other popular books include Fantastic Mr. Fox (1970), The Witches (1983) and Matilda (1988).

Despite his books’ popularity, some critics and parents have have taken him to task for their portrayal of children’s harsh revenge on adult wrongdoers. In his defense, Dahl claimed that children have a cruder sense of humor than adults, and that he was simply trying to satisfy his readers.  Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was filmed twice, once under its original title and once as Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory.

Dahl died in 1990 and was buried with his snooker cues, an excellent burgundy, chocolates, pencils and a power saw. Today, children continue to leave toys and flowers by his grave

September 13, 1857

hersheyAnother really big name in chocolate was born on September 13, 1857. After a few years dabbling in caramel, Milton Snavely Hershey became excited by the potential of milk chocolate, which at that time was a luxury. Hershey was determined to develop a formula for milk chocolate and that he could sell to the mass market. He produced his first Hershey Bar in 1900, Hershey’s Kisses in 1907, and the Hershey’s Bar with almonds was in 1908. Willie Wonka created a chocolate factory; Milton Hershey created a chocolate empire with its own town, Hershey, Pennsylvania.