Posted in Wretched Richard's Almanac

JANUARY 13, 1404: SILVER THREADS AND GOLDEN NEEDLES

On January 13, 1404, the British Parliament under the guidance of King Henry IV signed into law an act that would endear them all to millions of today’s schoolkids — the Act Against Multipliers. Oops. Turns out he wasn’t outlawing multiplication tables. Back then multipliers were what we know as alchemists.

Alchemy actually had a somewhat noble background. Alchemists sought to purify, mature and perfect certain things — an elixir of immortality here, a cure-all for disease there, perfection of the human body, perfection of the human soul. But what really got the alchemists’ juices flowing was the use of philosopher’s stone to transform base metals into “noble metals” such as gold and silver.

And that’s exactly what Henry was making illegal — the possibility of some commoner making himself very rich, causing a redistribution of wealth and income equality that would bring ruin on the state. It would be as if in the U.S. today any Tom Dick or Harry could own as large and garish hotel as a president.

Therefore “none from henceforth should use to multiply gold or silver, or use the craft of multiplication, and if any the same do, they incur the pain of felony.” Off with their heads, most likely.

Philosopher’s stone is available from Amazon.

Where’s a Henry IV When You Need Him?

On January 13, 1854, alchemist turned musical inventor Anthony Foss received a patent for his accordion, a strange device shaped like a box with a bellows that is compressed or expanded while pressing buttons or keys which cause pallets to open and air to flow across strips of brass or steel, creating something that vaguely resembles music. It is sometimes called a squeezebox. The person playing it is called an accordionist (or squeezeboxer?)

The harmonium and concertina are cousins. And, yes, there is a World Accordion Day.

M – I – C.  K – E – Y . . .

The first Mickey Mouse comic strip appeared on January 13, 1930:

Island in the Sun, Conclusion

Several days passed before the bulldozer arrived.  During that time, Santo kept a constant vigil at the olive tree.  During the day, tourists passing by would sometimes stop to talk to Santo.  Most had already heard of the crazy man and his olive tree, but Santo’s disarming smile and his bullfriendliness would make them wonder whether he were crazy or merely a man with a cause, which is hardly so crazy.  Knowing that he remained night and day at the tree, some would bring him food and would sit and talk with him while he ate.

The young couple from the south of England shivered as Santo told them about sleeping on the dock in Trinidad after loading a banana boat and awaking to find a fat tarantula sitting on his chest staring at him.  The three ladies from California gushed over his tales of Spain during the last days of Generalissimo Franco.  And the young Montrealer listened until well after midnight as Santo talked of his time in Algeria with the French Foreign Legion.

The bulldozer arrived early the next morning.  Santo had to shake himself awake, and for a moment, he thought he was awaking from a nightmare in which he was about to be eaten by a huge yellow monster.  But even with his eyes open, the yellow monster remained, growling at him.

“Go away, crazy one,” shouted Luis Jordan from atop the chugging beast. Luis was a young man who had come to the island to do construction work; he didn’t belong on the island.  He was an angry, combative young man, frequently picking fights, and Santo didn’t like him much.  “You don’t think I’ll plow you down, do you, crazy man?”

“I am not crazy,” answered Santo.  “Go away.”

“Don’t be smart with me, crazy man.  You won’t stop me.  I don’t care if you live or die.  You’re trespassing.  I can plow you under and nobody will say anything.  I’ll take down that damn tree, and I’ll take you down with it.  Believe me.”

“I believe you.”

“As you should,” boasted Luis.  “Now stand aside.”

“I can’t stand aside.  This is my place.  It was my mama’s and my papa’s, and it was their mama’s and papa’s.  Go away and leave me alone.”

“I warned you,” said Luis, grinning as though he were really happy that Santo would not move, that he would have the pleasure of plowing him under.  “Good riddance to your lunacy.”  The bulldozer’s engine whined, and the beast lurched forward.  Santo stood his ground as the yellow monster bore down on him, it’s driver laughing.  Santo closed his eyes.

The Crystal Coral Beach Club was a magnificent place.  It straddled a mile’s worth of white sand beach and bathed it in grandeur and opulence.  Open for the first time this season, it was an unqualified success, drawing tourists from throughout the world and remaining fully occupied.  Hopes were high that it would bring years of prosperity to the tiny island.

On this day, the first anniversary of groundbreaking for the beach club, a large throng of tourists had gathered together.  The story of the Beach Club’s shaky beginnings had traveled from the swimming pool to the tennis courts to the lounge and to the bright blue water and back.  This was to be a celebration of that day of confrontation.

The olive tree had grown to nearly ten feet and was beautiful to behold; looking at this tree, it was hardly surprising that so many people considered olive trees holy.  Santo emerged from the modest house just beyond the tree, a house flanked by hibiscus, bougainvillea, and the beach club’s 156 luxury rooms.  Santo the celebrity beamed as he joined the others at the tree and shared a toast with the couple from the south of England, the three ladies from California, the Montrealer, and the others who had been here last year, the ones who had ignored the metallic whine of impending doom to suddenly join Santo in front of his tiny tree, linking their arms with his in defiance of the bulldozer.

With a grin, Santo pointed to where, even though it defied all the rules of horticulture and all the laws of botany (but didn’t surprise Santo or his friends one little bit), a single olive clung tenaciously to a branch of his olive tree.

 Listen to Island in the Sun

Island in the Sun is one of 15 stories in Calypso, Stories of the Caribbean.

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Posted in Wretched Richard's Almanac

OCTOBER 28, 1913: PRESENT BRICKS

 

krazzee2

PRESENT BRICKS

  The editors of the New York Evening Journal did not think it suitable for the comics section. The public didn’t much care for it. But publisher William Randolph Hearst liked it and gave it a permanent place in the Journal, beginning October 28, 1913.

   Krazy Kat was a carefree, simple-minded, gender-confused cat (sometimes a he, sometimes a she), desperately in love with a mouse. It isn’t just unrequited love; Ignatz Mouse, a rather despicable little rodent, positively hates Krazy and endlessly schemes to throw bricks at Krazy’s head. Poor Krazy sees this as a sign of affection.

   Add a dog – Officer Bull Pupp, a police officer who dotes on Krazy and makes it his purpose in life to prevent Ignatz from throwing bricks and to haul him off to jail when he’s caught in the act. This peculiar love triangle takes place in a surreal Arizona (or is Arizona naturally surreal?), where the strip’s creator George Herriman had a vacation home.

   The premise was simplistic, the humor slapstick, but critics have loved it for 100 years. During it’s thirty-year run, it gained such admirers as H.L. Mencken, Jack Kerouac, E.E. Cummings and Willem de Kooning, and many modern cartoonists have cited the strip as a major influence on their work.

krazy-kat-19190211-s

 

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OCTOBER 4, 1582: TEMPUS FUGIT, REALLY FUGIT

Alice in Donaldland, Part 4: The Caterpillar’s Press Briefing

Read Part 1

“Who are you?” said the Caterpillar. This was not a particularly encouraging beginning to a conversation.

“My name is Alice. At least I think I’m Alice. It’s been a rather confusing day.”

“Can’t you see you’re interrupting a very important press briefing?”

“But there’s no one here but you and me.”

“Where are your credentials?”

“I’m afraid I don’t have any credentials,” Alice replied politely. “But I do have a couple of questions.”

“No credentials, no questions. Next.”

Alice watched as the Caterpillar looked around as if waiting for someone to say something. She was about to speak up herself when the Caterpillar bellowed: “How many times do I have to answer the same question? You might get some new answers, if you’d ask some new questions. Next! The Queen has addressed this many times, and I have no intention of addressing something the Queen has already addressed, and you have his address so go there or somewhere else. Next!”

Alice watched dumbfounded as the Caterpillar once again looked around. When the Caterpillar looked in her direction, Alice raised her hand. The Caterpillar stared at her angrily and said: “I answered that question on Monday. This is Wednesday and I’m not going to answer again on a Wednesday. Come back next Monday. Next!  The Queen has never grabbed anyone, although the Queen does have big hands.  Next!”

Alice raised her hand again, but the Caterpillar ignored her and continued: “I have a great deal of credibility. I’m sitting here taking your stupid questions. That shows the kind of press secretary I am as I try to provide information while you display hostility with your fake news and your fake questions. Next! Must you constantly bring up the White Knight and his horrific herd of 54 sniveling democreeps and their deplorable Witch Hunt. Why don’t you ever bring up the Queen’s many positive accomplishments that are making Donaldland great again?”

At that moment, the White Rabbit came running up, panting. “Am I late?”

The Caterpillar glared at the White Rabbit and said: “The Queen has no plans to fire the White Rabbit. Even though his recusal in the face of the White Knight Witch Hunt was a despicable dereliction of duty, the Queen remains very sort of confident in him.”

Incoming tweet: “White Rabbit is OUT!! Nice enough guy but not very smart. Tiny hands, big ears. SAD!!! But off with his head!!!!”

Part 5, Coming Monday

TEMPUS FUGIT, REALLY FUGIt

In 1582, the Gregorian Calendar was adopted for the first time with Poland, Portugal and Spain leading the way. The calendar was implemented by and named after Pope Gregory XIII . He didn’t like the Julian Calendar in use at the time because Easter kept creeping back to an earlier time of the year so that eventually it would fall in the middle of winter, even on Christmas Day (which wasn’t creeping) and really confuse Christians.

Jews didn’t care a whole lot because they were already up to year 5303. Muslims were back at 1001. The Chinese were celebrating 4278 (Year of the Horse). Certain scientists were way ahead of everyone else at 11582, having added 10,000 years to the current year to make the starting point the beginning of the human era (like they knew what day that was) instead of the birth of Jesus who they say wasn’t born in 1 BC but in 4 BC (lied about his age) and wasn’t born on his birthday (Christmas).

But back to the Christians for whom it was October 4, 1582, and also for whom tomorrow would be October 15, because Pope Gregory took ten days right out of the calendar to put Easter back where it had been when he was a boy.  calendarWell, you can just imagine how upset folks who had birthdays or special anniversaries or doctors’ appointments between October 5 and 14 were.

Some people just refused to use the new calendar. Many European countries fell into line later in the year. But many Protestant countries thought the new calendar was part of a Catholic plot . Britain (and its colonies) didn’t come along until 1752. The Greeks didn’t start using it until 1923. And a few malcontent members of the U.S. Congress refuse to adopt it until Obamacare is repealed.

Calling All Crimestoppers

An all-American, tough but smart, police detective arrived on the crime scene on October 4, 1931. Chester Gould’s Dick Tracy comic strip first appeared in the Detroit Mirror. The strip continues to run to this day, although drawn by others since Gould departed for that precinct in the sky back in 1985.

Along with police procedure and gadgets such as the two-way wrist radio, the strip featured a bevy of colorful characters. There’s Tess Trueheart, Tracy’s lady friend and eventual wife, his adopted son Junior and his wife Moon Maid (an alien), their daughter Honey Moon, Junior’s second wife Sparkle Plenty and her parents B. O. and Gravel Gertie. An almost endless list of villains: Abner Kadaver, Art Dekko, Breathless Mahoney, Cueball, Flattop, Gruesome, Junky Doolb (blood backwards), Littleface Finny, the Mole, Mrs. Chin Chillar, Mumbles and Pruneface.  You’ll find an exhausting list here.

 

Cheap Halloween Thrills

Dark October nights are meant for ghost stories. Four old men get together to sit in front of a crackling fire, sip sherry, and tell each other tales of terror, but they will find themselves in the middle of their own ghost story, one that involves a dark secret from years ago and a present vengeance with horrendous accidents and ghostly encounters. The cast makes the movie: Fred Astaire, Melvyn Douglas, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. and John Houseman are the four old men in the 1981 film, Ghost Story.

1 The Shining

2 The Exorcist

3 Beetlejuice

4 Invasion of the Body Snatchers

5 Ghost Story

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AUGUST 25, 1913: WE HAVE MET THE ENEMY

WE HAVE MET THE ENEMY

Starting his career as an anonymous young storyboard artist for Walt Disney Productions on Donald Duck cartoons and other shorts, the cartoonist who would later be compared to everyone from Lewis Carroll and James Joyce to Aesop and Uncle Remus moved to the animation department in 1939. There, during the next five years he contributed to such Disney classics as Pinocchio (Gepetto in the whale), Fantasia (a drunk Bacchus riding a donkey), and Dumbo (the crow sequence).  Walt Kelly was doing pretty well at $100 a week.

During the 40s, Kelly devoted himself more and more to comic book art at Dell. The little possum with whom he is now most closely associated came on the scene in 1943 in Dell’s Animal Comics. Pogo would go on to star in 16 issues of his own comic book and 26 years as a syndicated newspaper comic strip.  Along with Pogo, there were  Albert the Alligator, Churchy LaFemme (a turtle), Howland Owl, Beauregard (Houndog), Porkypine, and Miz Mamzelle Hepzibah (a skunk).

Kelly’s liberal political and social views were rarely disguised as he used the strip to champion the powerless and the oppressed and to satirize political dogmas and figures such as Senator Joseph McCarthy (Simple J. Malarkey, a gun-toting bobcat), Vice President Spiro Agnew, and FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover. Many newspapers dropped Pogo, and others moved it to the editorial page. Walt and Pogo were probably most remembered for their campaign on behalf of the environment and the battle cry: “We have met the enemy, and he is us.”

Walt Kelly died in 1973.

kelly

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AUGUST 24, 1850: MEET ME AT THE FAIR

MEET ME AT THE FAIR

London’s Bartholomew Fair, a wild celebration on the eponymous saint’s anniversary, died not with bartha bang but a whimper after enduring for more than seven centuries, Although originally established for legitimate business purposes, the fair had become all eating, drinking and amusement (for shame!) and a bit of a public nuisance with rowdiness and mischief.

Serious pursuits, uplifting exhibits, and dramatic entertainments had given way to shows and exhibits catering to the lowest common denominator of British fair-goers tastes – conjurers, wild beasts, monsters, learned pigs, dwarfs, giants. A prodigious monster with one head and two distinct bodies, a woman with three breasts, a child with three legs. A mermaid with a monkey’s head and the tail of a fish. Puppet shows, pantomimes, and coarse melodramas. A pig-faced lady and a potato that looked like King Henry VIII.

Eventually the fair grew less curiouser and curiouser, and on August 24, 1850, when the mayor went as usual to proclaim the opening of the fair, he found nothing to make it worth the trouble. No mayor went after that, and in 1855 the fair rolled over and expired.

I went to the animal fair,

The Birds and the Beasts were there.
The big baboon, by the light of the moon,
Was combing his auburn hair.
The monkey, he got drunk,
And sat on the elephant’s trunk.
The elephant sneezed and fell on his knees,
And what became of the monk, the monk?
The monk, the monk, the monk.

— Minstrel Song

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JUNE 16, 1917: WHIPPING BOY

whipping boy

Harrison Ford cracked a mean bullwhip as the title character in the Indiana Jones series of films. Ford wasn’t born brandishing a bullwhip; he had to learn it for the films. And he was taught by bullwhip master, Lash LaRue born on June 16, 1917.

Like many actors in the 40s and 50s, LaRue spent most of his career making B-Westerns. Originally hired because he looked enough like Humphrey Bogart that producers thought this would draw in more viewers, he used his real last name as the name for most of his film characters. He was given the name Lash because, although he carried a gun, he was noted for preferring to use an 18-foot-long bullwhip to take on bad guys. Lash not only disarmed bad guys, he performed many stunts such as saving people about to fall to their doom by wrapping his whip around them — often while at full gallop on Black Diamond, his trusty horse — and pulling them to safety. Lash, like a guy named Cash, was also known for always wearing black.

After starting out as a sidekick to singing cowboy Eddie Dean, he earned his own series of Western films and his own sidekick, Fuzzy Q. Jones (Al St. John), inherited from Buster Crabbe. He also got his very own villainan evil, cigar-smoking twin brother, The Frontier Phantom.

His films ran from 1947 to 1951. The comic book series that was named after his screen character lasted even longer, appearing in 1949 and running for 12 years as one of the most popular western comics published.

face down in a cranberry bog, part 5: driving mr. corpse

We needed my car because she had asked me, and I had agreed, to mind the body for a few hours while she got a government car and fussed with the paperwork so that the vehicle would never have been on the island. I had agreed to this cloak-and-dagger enterprise only because I couldn’t come up with a better one and, face it, I was seduced. When I returned I found her standing at the scene of the accident, looking down into the bog. For a moment, I was afraid she’d moved him again. She smiled and took my hand as I reached her, then led me off toward the bushes, our arms swinging between us – a most romantic portrait, except for the corpse. He was still lying face down and I was happy for that. The red boxer shorts had been cloaked by a distinguished dark gray governmental suit.

“You dressed him,” I said.

“It was the least I could do,” she said, with a little laugh. “After all, I undressed him.”

We lugged the body out of the bushes and slipped it into the trunk of my car, keeping a wary watch for prying policemen until the deed was done.

We agreed to meet at my place – foolish, perhaps, but my garage is more private than most places. I slept for two hours – fitfully, even though the morning had exhausted me – and, once up, puttered impatiently, waiting for her arrival. Finally I turned on the TV and watched two senators calling each other names over an appropriations bill. The political repartee immediately brought to mind the politician in my trunk and I felt the need to check up on him – possibly afraid he’d disappear again. I went to the garage and, with just a little foreboding, carefully opened the trunk. Unwarranted foreboding, for he was still there. I never thought I’d be relieved to find a body in the trunk of my car. Unfortunately, he had shifted, and his ghostly face now looked up chidingly, suggesting that I was somehow unAmerican. I tried to push him back over and felt something hard in the jacket pocket. I reached in and pulled the object out – a knife, an ugly knife. Working almost mechanically now in the grip of this new fear, I unbuttoned the crisp white shirt and – to no great surprise – found a wound in his chest. Looking back to the knife, I was certain it was the father of the wound.

I returned to the house. On TV the smiling anchor paused to glare at me as though I had been holding up his news program and only now could he continue . . . “And boarding a private jet at Logan Airport, here is Prince Leopold, chief of state of this tiny but strategically important nation. No one has indicated why the Prince made this secretive trip to the United States, but rumors suggested that he was seeking financial backing to save his crumbling empire. Those rumors, and his own angry statements, suggest also that he is going home empty-handed. His companion, thought by many to actually be his mistress….”

And there she was, my bicyclist, my co-conspirator, my would-be lover, once again gazing at me. Even though she was getting on that plane and even though the smile wasn’t there, I could see it in her eyes – she probably still loved me.

The knife is sitting on the table in front of me. I’m sure mine will be the only prints on it. Did she seduce him for the cause, hoping to blackmail him, or did she kill him because he turned them down? Did she actually make love to him? Probably not. Probably just the promise of it, like the promise to me. I probably should feel sorry for myself. A lot of people bicycle to ‘Sconset, but I’m pushing sixty and had to stop halfway. And now there’s a knife on my table, a dead Secretary of State in the trunk of my car, and the chief of police doesn’t like me much.

The snarl at the other end of the line tells me I’ve reached him. “Hello there. I don’t know if you remember me. I’m the one who found the body this morning – you know, the body that disappeared. Well, you’re not going to believe this. No, let me put that another way. This is quite extraordinary, but I’m sure if you look at it logically and carefully, you will believe it. Anyway . . .”

 

This story is included in the collection Naughty Marietta and Other Stories.

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APRIL 27, 1899: I COULDA BEEN A TENOR

I COULDA BEEN A TENOR

Walter Lantz, who was born in 1899 to Italian immigrant parents,  actually had the surname Lanza until an immigration official anglicized it. Had he not, Walter could have grown up to be an opera singer rather than the creator of Woody Woodpecker and many other cartoon characters.

The first of these characters was Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, star of a 1928 cartoon series for Lantz_OswaldUniversal Studios. The character, who bears more than a passing resemblance to Mickey Mouse, had once belonged to Disney. Lantz won it in a game of poker.

Other less memorable characters followed: a trio of chimps, Meany, Miny and Moe; Baby-Face Mouse; Snuffy Skunk; Doxie (a dachshund); and monkeys Jock and Jill. One character stood out from the crowd – Andy Panda became the comic star for 1939.

A year later, Lantz married actress Grace Stafford. While on their honeymoon, Walter and Grace were pestered by an insistent woodywoodpecker02woodpecker pecking on their roof, and Grace suggested that Walter use the bird as a cartoon character. Woody Woodpecker appeared for the first time in an Andy Panda cartoon and soon became a leading character.

Mel Blanc was originally the voice of Woody Woodpecker, but after only three cartoons, he left to join Warner Brothers. Lantz held anonymous auditions for a new Woody. Lantz’s wife Grace made a secret audition tape and was chosen to be the new voice. She continued in the part until production ceased in 1972.

Woody Woodpecker is the only comic character to have his own hit song. Kay Kyser recorded “The Woody Woodpecker Song,” a top hit and Academy Award nominee in 1948.

Ho-ho-ho ho ho! Ho-ho-ho ho ho! Oh, that’s the Woody Woodpecker song.  They don’t write lyrics like that anymore.