MAY 12, 1812: POETRY WITHOUT NAUGHTY WORDS

POETRY WITHOUT NAUGHTY WORDS

Edward Lear, born in England in 1812, was a true dabbler — artist, illustrator, musician, author, poet. Starting off his career as an illustrator, he was employed to illustrate birds and animals first for the Zoological Society and then for Edward Stanley, the Earl of Derby, who had a private menagerie. He also made drawings during his journeys that later illustrated his travel books. and illustrations for the poetry of Alfred Lord Tennyson. As a musician, Lear played the accordion, flute, guitar, and piano (not simultaneously). He also composed music for a number of Romantic and Victorian poems, most notably those of Tennyson.

Lear is remembered chiefly for his work as a writer of literary nonsense. He might easily have been given the title Father of the Limerick for bringing the much maligned form into popularity (without the raunchiness that later found its way into the form). LearIn 1846, he published A Book of Nonsense, a volume of limericks that went through three editions. In 1871 he published Nonsense Songs, Stories, Botany and Alphabets, which included his most famous nonsense song, The Owl and the Pussycat, which he wrote for the children of the Earl of Derby.

Lear’s nonsense books were successful during his lifetime, but he found himself fighting rumors that he was just a pseudonym and that the books were actually written by the Earl of Derby. Conspiracy theorists cited as evidence the facts that both men were named Edward, and that Lear is an anagram of Earl. A few even suggested he was born in Kenya, not England.

The Owl and the Pussy-cat went to sea
In a beautiful pea green boat,
They took some honey, and plenty of money,
Wrapped up in a five pound note.
The Owl looked up to the stars above,
And sang to a small guitar,
‘O lovely Pussy! O Pussy my love,
What a beautiful Pussy you are,
You are,
You are!
What a beautiful Pussy you are!’

Pussy said to the Owl, ‘You elegant fowl!
How charmingly sweet you sing!
O let us be married! too long we have tarried:
But what shall we do for a ring?’
They sailed away, for a year and a day,
To the land where the Bong-tree grows
And there in a wood a Piggy-wig stood
With a ring at the end of his nose,
His nose,
His nose,
With a ring at the end of his nose.

‘Dear pig, are you willing to sell for one shilling
Your ring?’ Said the Piggy, ‘I will.’
So they took it away, and were married next day
By the Turkey who lives on the hill.
They dined on mince, and slices of quince,
Which they ate with a runcible spoon;
And hand in hand, on the edge of the sand,
They danced by the light of the moon,
The moon,
The moon,
They danced by the light of the moon.

Naughty Words Without Poetry

Stand-up comedian, social critic, satirist, actor, writer/author George Carlin was born on May 12, 1937 (died 2008). Noted for his black humor as well as his thoughts on politics, the English language, psychology, religion, and various taboo subjects, he won five Grammy Awards for his comedy albums. Carlin and his classic “Seven Dirty Words” comedy routine were central to the 1978 U.S. Supreme Court case in which the justices affirmed the government’s power to regulate indecent material on the public airwaves.

In his own words:

george

Swimming is not a sport. Swimming is a way to keep from drowning. That’s just common sense!

Honesty may be the best policy, but it’s important to remember that apparently, by elimination, dishonesty is the second-best policy.

george-carlin2

The very existence of flamethrowers proves that sometime, somewhere, someone said to themselves, “You know, I want to set those people over there on fire, but I’m just not close enough to get the job done.”

Religion has convinced people that there’s an invisible man…living in the sky, who watches everything you do every minute of every day. And the invisible man has a list of ten specific things he doesn’t want you to do. And if you do any of these things, he will send you to a special place, of burning and fire and smoke and torture and anguish for you to live forever, and suffer and burn and scream until the end of time. But he loves you. He loves you and he needs money.

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MAY 7, 1885: COMIN’ THROUGH THE TV, SHOOTIN’ UP THE LAND

COMIN’ THROUGH THE TV, SHOOTIN’ UP THE LAND

An essential player in Hollywood westerns was the leadinggabby man’s sidekick, and many sidekicks became just as famous as their starring partners: Andy Devine was Jingles to Wild Bill Hickock, Pat Buttram and Smiley Burnette were both sidekicks to Gene Autry, Jay Silverheels was Tonto to the Lone Ranger, Leo Carillo was Pancho to the Cisco Kid. The top sidekick was, of course, Gabby Hayes, born May 7, 1885. Through the 1930s and 1940s, he was sidekick to Hopalong Cassidy in 18 films and to Roy Rogers in 41.

 

The third of seven children, George Francis Hayes was born in an upstate New York hotel owned by his father. As a young man, he worked in a circus and played semi-pro baseball while a teenager. He ran away from home at 17, and joined a touring stock company. He married Olive Ireland in 1914 and the duo enjoyed a successful vaudeville career. Although he had retired in his 40s, he lost money in the 1929 stock market crash, and he felt the need to work again.  He and his wife moved to California and he began his movie career, taking various roles until finally settling into a Western career.

 

Hayes first gained fame as Hopalong Cassidy’s sidekick Windy Halliday in many films between 1936-39. He left the Cassidy films in a salary dispute and was legally prevented from using the name “Windy.”   So “Gabby” Hayes was born.  He gained fame as a sidekick to stars such as John Wayne, Randolph Scott, and, of course, Roy Rogers – beginning with Southward Ho in 1939 and ending with Heldorado in 1946.

 

Offstage Hayes was the complete opposite of his screen persona – an elegant bon vivant, man-about-town and connoisseur. He died in 1969.

On the subject of his movies: “I hate ’em. Really can’t stand ’em. They always are the same. You have so few plots – the stagecoach holdup, the rustlers, the mortgage gag, the mine setting and the retired gunslinger.”

“You’re a good-looking boy: you’ve big, broad shoulders. But he’s a man. And it takes more than big, broad shoulders to make a man.” — High Noon

“There are only two things that are better than a gun: a Swiss watch and a woman from anywhere. Ever had a good… Swiss watch?” — Red River

“A gun is a tool, Marian; no better or no worse than any other tool: an ax, a shovel or anything. A gun is as good or as bad as the man using it. Remember that.” –Shane

“You don’t look like the noble defender of poor defenseless widows. But then again, I don’t look like a poor defenseless widow.” –Once Upon a Time in the West

MAY 2, 1843: THE TOWN THAT CRIED WOLF

THE TOWN THAT CRIED WOLF

Chances are you’ve never heard of Champoeg — unless maybe you’re from Oregon which is where it is, or was. Champoeg had the historical significance of being the first American government on the West Coast, having been established by representatives of Willamette Valley settlers on May 2, 1843, by a vote of 52-50. These representatives had held a series of meetings starting back in February to entertain measures to deal with the threat of wolves. During these so-called “Wolf Meetings,” the conferees established a series of civil codes (although its doubtful the wolves paid much attention to them).
When the Oregon Territory was created in 1848, Champoeg was cold-shouldered as upstart Oregon City became its capital. This despite the fact that Champoeg had become rather a bustling little metropolis with a steamboat landing, a ferry across the Willamette River, a stagecoach office, a granary and a warehouse. Ten streets ran north to south, crossed by six east-west thoroughfares.
Champoeg chugged along through the years as Oregon grew and gained statehood. Then in 1861, the Willamette River reared its ugly head, rising 55 feet above its normal stage, flooding the town and destroying every structure in it with the exception of two saloons (there’s a lesson here somewhere). Champoeg was never rebuilt after the flood; all that remains is a small monument describing it place in history and a stake marking a street corner (probably the one where a saloon stood).

“Well!”

Although he was first heard on radio as a guest of Ed Sullivan, Jack Benny debuted his own radio show for NBC on May 2, 1932. After six months he moved to CBS and then in 1933 back to NBC. Although he continued to jump back and forth on networks, his radio program lasted until 1955, some five years after his television program appeared.

Benny was a fixture on radio and TV for three decades, and is still considered one of the best. He was a master of comic timing, creating laughter with pregnant pauses or a single expression, such as his signature “Well!

Appearing with him over the years were Eddie “Rochester” Anderson, Don Wilson, Dennis Day, Mary Livingston, Phil Harris, Mel Blanc and Sheldon Leonard. Leonard helped Benny produce what was said to be the longest laugh in radio history. Leonard as a holdup man approached Benny and demanded “your money or your life.” Benny remained silent. Finally, Leonard said “Well!?” and Benny answered “I’m thinking it over!”

APRIL 16, 1850: CALL ME MADAME

CALL ME MADAME

Madame (Marie) Tussaud is arguably the world’s most famous wax sculptor. Born in France in 1761, she began her artistic career during the French Revolution, searching through corpses to find the heads of noted guillotine victims from which she made death masks. She herself was imprisoned for three months awaiting execution, but an influential friend intervened and she was released. She and her waxwork friends toured throughout Europe for 33 years before settling into a permanent exhibition in 1835 on Baker Street in London. There she gained prosperity and fame, managing her wax museum until her death on April 16, 1850.
Throughout Madame Tussaud’s long existence, its most popular feature has been the Chamber of Horrors (as pictured here).

Perhaps they could install a great big one in the white house

Inventor Walter Pichler is the genius behind the amazing TV helmet of 1967. This device allows a user to leave the outside world and slip into his or her own little world of information and entertainment. The user simply inserts his or her head into an capsule that resembles a small submarine and hopes that he or she doesn’t bump into something while enjoying the “virtual world” of Gilligan’s Island.

APRIL 10, 1953: COMIN’ AT YA

COMIN’ AT YA

The poobahs at Hollywood’s major film studios watched with amazement and envy as the independently produced 3-D movie Bwana Devil wowed audiences in late 1952.  Columbia Pictures quickly threw together a black- and-white thriller that for an hour hurled practically every prop on the set at the beleaguered audience. It was just as quickly forgotten.  Then on April 10, 1953, Warner Brothers released its entry — in color and stereophonic sound — House of Wax, a horror film starring Vincent Price as a sculptor who kills folks, covers them with wax, dresses them up as famous historical figures, and displays them in his wax museum. Audiences loved it, making it one of the biggest hits of the year. Even critics gave it a go. And although it took a while, the Library of Congress selected it in 2014 for inclusion in the National Film Registry, deeming it “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”

The film revived Vincent Price’s career, positioning him as the go-to guy when you needed a mad scientist or fiendish psychopath.  Although House of Wax had a couple of classic 3-D effects (the pitchman with a paddleball and a character who seemingly stands up in the audience and runs into the screen), it was not loaded down with them. This might have been because the director was blind in one eye and couldn’t understand what all the fuss was about.

And What Do We Suppose Jumbo the Elephant Really Was

On this day in 1985, Lancelot the Unicorn who had been touring with the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus — famous for outlandish attractions — was exposed as a fraud.  Audiences were appalled to learn that Lancelot wasn’t a real unicorn at all, just a goat with a horn surgically attached to its forehead.

IF IT HAD ONLY BEEN A NACHO

It would seem that in modern politics every president has been forced to deal with a scandal, big or small –vicuna coat, Watergate, Iran Contra, Stormy Daniels. Gerald Ford’s scandal would probably be trivial in comparison to most. But it may have cost him re-election. It was April 10, 1976, in San Antonio, Texas, at the Alamo, where a tiny faux pas morphed into the Great Tamale Incident as the President attempted to eat a tamale without removing the corn husk, playing into his reputation as a bit of a bumbler.

MARCH 24, 1990: THE TWO AND ONLY

THE TWO AND ONLY

After a lifelong career on radio with partner Bob Elliott, beginning in 1946 at WHDH in Boston and ending in 1987 on National Pubic Radio, Ray Goulding died on March 24, 1990.

Bob and Ray created and gave voice to such offbeat characters as domestic advisor Mary Margaret McGoon; adenoidal reporter Wally Ballou, Matt Neffer, boy spot-welder; and cowboy singer Tex Blaisdell who did radio rope tricks. The duo also parodied radio and television with spoofs that often outlasted the programs they were based on —  Mr. Trace, Keener Than Most Persons; Jack Headstrong, The All-American American; and the soap operas One Fella’s Family and Mary Backstage, Noble Wife.  They  successfully adapted their comedy to other media, including stage and television.

One enduring routine features Goulding as a rather dense reporter interviewing Elliott as an expert on the Komodo dragon.

Wretched Richard’s Little Literary Lessons — No. 4

pro·tag·o·nist
prōˈtaɡənəst,prəˈtaɡənəst
noun

A protagonist is the main character or one of the major characters in any fictional work such as a novel or drama.

 Identify the protagonist in the following:
Say let us put man and woman together,
Find out which one is smarter (and which is the protagonist)

Paul wasn’t sure, but the five-foot duck waddling through the throngs of laughing, crying, shouting, whining children appeared to be waddling toward him – a duck with a destination and, perhaps, a mission. Chances are it had spotted him scowling in a land where grinning is the norm, and it, by God, meant to do something about it.

“Enjoying the Magic Kingdom?” asked the duck upon reaching him. Despite its carefully sculpted plastic smile, this duck wasn’t going to cheer anyone up; its voice dripped sarcasm.

“Of course, I am,” Paul answered, adopting his very own duck attitude. “Isn’t that why you’re here? By the way, didn’t I somewhere get the idea that you’re all supposed to be pleasant and cheerful?”

“I’m not even supposed to talk. Just wave.” The duck waved and, in silence, could have passed for pleasant and cheerful, albeit of a fabricated sort.

“Then why did you talk to me?” Paul asked.

“Because you look bored – like you positively hate the place.”

“Ah, you’re not just an ordinary duck, you’re a member of the happiness squad, here to lift my spirits.”

“No,” answered the duck. “I thought you might have a cigarette.”

Who’s our protagonist?  Paul?  Huey (the duck)? Or two protagonists for the price of one?  Find out here.

February 26, 1928, 1932: I Found My Thrill, I Walk the Line

Two legends of early rock and roll share birthdays on February 26. One was born in New Orleans in 1928, the youngest of eight children; the other in Arkansas in 1932, one of seven siblings. One started as a boogie-woogie jazz musician, the other singing country music. They both burst onto the pop scene in a big way in the mid50s with the songs they remain identified with — “Blueberry Hill” and “I Walk the Line.”

fats_dominoAntoine Domino was the son of a Creole fiddler who began playing professionally in New Orleans honky-tonks at the age of 10. It was there he picked up the name Fats and the foot-stomping, driving piano sound that would become his signature as demonstrated in his first recording, “The Fat Man” in 1949. In

1955, his career got a boost from an unlikely source, Pat Boone, whose white cover version of “Ain’t That a Shame” helped Fats Domino’s version cross over to the pop charts where he remained. From then on, he needed no help from anyone — “Blueberry Hill”, “Blue Monday”, “I’m Walkin'”, “Walking to New Orleans” and on — 65 million records worldwide, until retiring back to New Orleans in the 1980s with only an occasional local appearance.

 

Johnny Cash moved to Memphis in 1954, hoping to become a radio

02 Aug 1970 — 8/2/1970: Close-up publicity portrait of singer Johnny Cash. — Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

announcer. At night he played with guitarist Luther Perkins and bassist Marshall Grant, known as the Tennessee Two. Cash visited Sun Records where he auditioned for Sam Phillips, singing gospel songs. Although Phillips had no interest in gospel, he eventually gave Cash a contract singing country. Cash recorded “Hey Porter,” “Cry Cry Cry,” and “Folsom Prison Blues,” which had some success on the country hit parade.  Then in 1956, “I Walk the Line” became No. 1 on the country charts and crossed over to the pop charts. Cash left the label in 1958 to sign a lucrative offer with Columbia Records, where his single “Don’t Take Your Guns to Town” became one of his biggest hits. Hit followed hit, many with his wife June Carter Cash, right into the next century.

Both Fats Domino and Johnny Cash have won just about every musical recognition there is. The Man in Black died in 2003, shortly after the death of his wife June: Fats died in 2017.

 

 

February 25, 1751: Monkey Business

In what would prove to be an endless parade, the first performance by a trained monkey in the United States was said to have been in New York City on February 25. 1751. Folks paid a shilling to watch the little creature dance, cavort, walk a tightrope and generally make a human of himself. Through the years such acts have gotten steadily bigger and better — think Clyde Beatty’s trained lions, dancing elephants, King Kong.

Monkeys have always been a favorite of course. As Haney’s Art of Training Animals pointed out back in 1869, monkeys have an ingrained passion for mimicking human beings (monkey see, monkey do) and they cut a fine figure in fine clothes. “Dressed in male or female apparel, the monkey’s naturally comical appearance is greatly heightened. Thus, one might be dressed to represent a lady of fashion, while another personates her footman, who, dressed in gorgeous livery supports her train. This is elaborated into quite a little scene at some exhibitions. A little barouche, drawn by a team of dogs, is driven on the stage, a monkey driving while a monkey footman sits solemn and erect on his perch behind. A monkey lady and gentleman are seated inside, she with a fan and parasol, he with a stovepipe hat. . . . Each performer is taught what he is to do, the most intelligent monkey being generally assigned the footman’s character.”

Now that’s entertainment.

Don’t Give a Damn About a Greenback Dollar

The Hoyt Axton song recorded back in the 1960s by the Kingston Trio expresses a bit of disdain for the paper currency of the United States. The disdain has been there right from the greenback’s debut a hundred years earlier.

greenback1862bThe greenback came about because of the need to finance the Civil War. The government had earlier issued demand notes to meet war expenses but they were insufficient. Other options such as borrowing from foreign governments at interest rates only loan sharks and credit card companies dare charge were unpalatable.

An Illinois businessman serving as a volunteer officer, Colonel Dick Taylor met with Lincoln and proposed issuing unbacked paper money: “Just get Congress to pass a bill authorizing the printing of full legal tender treasury notes . . . and pay your soldiers with them and go ahead and win your war with them also. If you make them full legal tender . . . they will have the full sanction of the government and be just as good as any money; as Congress is given the express right by the Constitution.”

Lincoln didn’t really like the idea but it beat going into deep debt to foreign creditors. He endorsed Taylor’s proposal, and on February 25, 1862, Congress passed the first Legal Tender Act, authorizing $150 million in United States Notes. The notes were printed with green ink on one side, thus their name.

February 18, 1953: Leaping from a Screen Near You

An exciting new kind of movie opened in New York City on February 18, 1953, and quickly took the entire nation by storm. It promised each and every theater patron the cinematic excitement of a lion in his or her lap. It was the latest attempt by desperate movie studios to pry people away from those insidious television sets that had popped up in living rooms everywhere, to get them back into theaters.  In a frenzy they had tried to beat the little box with Cinerama, Cinemascope and a host of other Deadly Cins.

The new kind of movie was of course 3-D, complete with those funny little glasses (sadly lacking a big nose and mustache), and this first film was called Bwana Devil. Not only did audiences have to sit through a newsreel and a featurette about folk dancing in a remote Himalayan village to get to the good stuff, they also had to endure an opening lecture on just how this modern marvel worked. A very serious scientist in a lab coat delivered this lecture. He described the 3-D process in numbing detail while the antsier members of the audience chewed Necco wafers and stared at him through those special glasses, wondering why he remained flat as a pancake in a lab coat.

Bwana Devil was a jungle flick (in case you wondered), obviously chosen so that it could feature lions and tigers and elephants and giraffes leaping from the screen onto the unsuspecting audience, causing most of the ten-year-olds to pee their pants. “Let’s see your 15 inch, black and white TV do that,” Messieurs Metro, Goldwyn and Mayer snickered.

And they continued to do that, with westerns, in which Indians would shoot flaming arrows indiscriminately into the audience – one of them right into the forehead of a kid sitting in the third row. Or creepy horror films in which a mad scientist reached into the audience plucking a comely teenager by the throat, pulling her out of her seat, sucking her into the screen never to be seen again.  And Cat-Women on the Moon — sexy moon maidens in black tights leaping into the aisles and luring ogling men into the lobby for who knows what? Hollywood had struck back.

To experience the sheer terror of 3-D, tape red cellophane over your left eye and blue cellophane over your right eye.  Then look at the picture below and Omigod! Look out for the tiger!.

tiger-large

 

Born on this day in 1745, Italian physicist Alessandro Volta, inventor of the electric battery (What is a flashlight?  A place to store dead batteries.) for whom the volt was named.  And in 1838, Ernst Mach, an Austrian physicist who gave his name to a unit of speed.  And way back in 1516, English physicist/queen Mary Tudor, who gave her name to the popular cocktail, the Tudor.

 

February 16, 1923: Mummies for Dummies

This could be the mother of all conspiracy theories. On February 16, 1923, mummy_2in Thebes, Egypt, English archaeologist Howard Carter entered the burial chamber of the Egyptian ruler King Tutankhamen — Tut to his friends and hangers on. As every schoolgirl knows, Tut died and was mummified back in 1324 B.C., give or take a year, while still a teen idol. As every schoolboy knows anyone foolish enough to enter Tut’s burial chamber would become subject to a pretty nasty curse — involving but not limited to crocodiles, snakes and scorpions.

Tut was the first mummy found in tact and with all his wealth untouched by tomb raiders. And his discovery left scientists scratching their heads. No one knew what had caused the young king’s death. Theories have popped up during the years — genetic disorders, disease, foul play.

An Egyptologist at California State University, Dr. Benson Harer, has come up with a dandy new idea: Tut was done in by an angry hippopotamus. Well, we all know what nasty tempers hippos have. They kill more people each year than lions, gorillas, you-name-it. And ancient Egypt was lousy with hippos — capsizing boats, stomping crops, stampeding through villages, chomping people in half with a single bite.

King Tut loved to hunt hippos, and every schoolgirl knows what dummies hippo hunters can be. We can imagine Tut happening upon a baby hippo: “Isn’t he cute? Let’s get closer. I wonder if his mother’s around somewhere.” Dr. Harer has a lot of scientific stuff that goes along with his theory, but what’s most interesting is the good doctor’s speculation that a coverup took place, with authorities stonewalling and concealing the pharaoh’s death by hippo for political reasons, fearing that the common folk might see Tut as less Trumplike, more Bushlike — or that the gods always liked hippos best. There you have it, slippery slopers — Hippogate!

 

When it comes to mummies, they don’t make them like this anymore:

Radio for Dummies

edgarbergenandcharliemccarthyBorn February 16, 1903, Edgar Bergen, along with his cohorts, Charlie McCarthy and Mortimer Snerd, got his start in vaudeville and one-reel movie shorts, but his real success came on radio of all places. The popularity of a ventriloquist on radio, when no one could see the dummies or even whether Bergen’s mouth moved, is a puzzler. But popular they were. Seen at a New York party by Noel Coward, who recommended them for an engagement at the famous Rainbow Room, they were discovered by two producers who booked them for a guest appearance on Rudy Vallee’s radio program. That quickly led to their own show which, under various sponsors, was on the air from 1937 to 1956.  Bergen died in 1978.