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APRIL 23, 1983: SATURDAY MORNING SUPERSTAR

Athlete turned actor, Buster Crabbe (Clarence Linden Crabbe II), looking back over his career, could easily have said “been there, done that.” After winning Olympic gold in 1932 for freestyle swimming, Crabbe dived into the movies, eventually starring in over a hundred movies, first taking a turn as the jungle hero in Tarzan the Fearless in the 1933 serial and a variety of jungle men in movies such as King of the Jungle that same year,  Jungle Man in 1941, and the 1952 serial King of the Congo.
Leaving the jungle for the far reaches of space, he played both Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon. His three Flash Gordon serials were Saturday morning staples in the 30s and 40s. The serials were also compiled into full-length movies. They appeared extensively on American television in the 1950s and 60s, and eventually were edited for release on home video. Later on television, Crabbe also found his way into the French Foreign Legion. As his acting career wound down, he became a spokesman for his own line of swimming pools. He died on April 23, 1983.

Don’t Try This at Home

According to the National Rifle Association, guns don’t kill people, people kill people.  On the other hand, if you were to make a fist with your index finger pointing at your intended victim, and shout Bang, bang, you’re dead, chances are the only injury inflicted would be to your pride as you endured the derisive laughter all around you.

On yet another hand, take the case of William Lawlis Pace. Nine-year-old Billy was accidently shot in the head by his older brother. Pace died on April 23, 2012.  In his sleep.  At a California nursing home – 94 and a half years after the incident. The bullet was still in his head.

Doctors in Texas where the shooting took place left the .22 caliber bullet in his head because – well, because that’s what they do in Texas.

In 2006, Pace was crowned the Guinness world record holder in the category of “unwanted cranial ammunition acquisition.” A proud moment indeed, and Wayne LaPierre did not attend the ceremony.

Thank God, the Second Amendment still protects a citizen’s right to walk around for 94 years with a bullet in his head.

Matilda, Part 4: Starry Starry Night

Humberto and Odus had already powered through a bottle of Harold’s rum in anticipation of the evening and were speculating once again on the lengths to which their prisoner might go to avoid being set afloat, even though, Humberto promised Odus, she’d be set afloat anyway, when she emerged from below, radiant, slightly flushed, blonde hair neatly combed. She wore a delicate gossamer dress.

“Sorry I took so long,” she said, smiling and sitting on the edge of a chaise lounge. Humberto had killed the engines earlier, and the yacht now gently rocked with the movement of the water.

“That’s all right,” he said, staring at her. “You’re very pretty.”

“Goddamn,” mumbled Odus, staring as well.

“Thank you,” said Matilda. “May I have a drink?”

“Yes, yes,” said Humberto, pouring rum into three tumblers. The two men had discussed at length exactly how much they should let her drink so she might reach a peak of wild abandon, yet not pass out, although Odus had made it clear that her passing out wouldn’t make any difference to him.

“It’s a beautiful night,” said Matilda, sipping at her rum. “So starry.”

“Great night for gettin’ it on,” said Odus, grinning and gulping at his rum. Matilda smiled at him, and Odus accepted her smile as encouragement. “Great night for really gettin’ it on,” he added. Matilda just smiled again, then lowered her eyes to her drink. Humberto and Odus downed their drinks, and Humberto filled their glasses. They watched and fidgeted as their quarry sipped in slow motion.

“How about a little chugalug?” said Odus, lifting his glass. “To a starry gettin’ it on night.” They all emptied their glasses, and Humberto winked at Odus who burped in reply. Humberto quickly refilled the three glasses. Matilda looked around.

“I’ll kind of miss the yacht. But Harold will just get another one, so it doesn’t matter much. How many boats have you stolen?”

“Six, seven maybe,” said Humberto.

“So are you really gonna go through with it?” said Odus.

“Of course,” said Matilda. “I promised.”

“Well, when we gonna do it?” shouted Odus.

“Soon,” said Matilda. “After I have another drink. I need to get warmed up.”

“You get yourself good and hot,” said Odus. He was sweating again. “I gotta pee first, anyhow. Save my place.” He stood and walked away, swaying as though they were adrift in a stormy sea.

“I really don’t like him very much,” said Matilda, looking at Humberto through big eyes. “It would be better with just the two of us.”

Humberto grinned. “He’ll probably pass out any way. Here, we’ll help him along.” He poured more rum into his missing partner’s glass and winked at her.

“Just us two,” said Matilda, putting her hand on his arm. She spotted Odus weaving toward them and said more loudly: “And after you steal them, can you always sell them – or fence them – do you fence boats?”

“I guess so,” said Humberto, also in a stage voice. “Sweet Leilani will pay $100,000 for this baby.”

“Wow,” said Matilda. “Who’s Sweet Leilani?”

“He runs a saloon in Caracas,” Humberto answered.

“He?”

“Real name’s Jack McIntyre,” said Odus, still standing and swaying. “They call him Sweet Leilani ’cause it’s Sweet Leilani’s Saloon. Why don’t you take your clothes off now, and be sweet t’us.”

continued

Matilda is one of the 15 stories from Calypso, Stories of the Caribbean, available as an ebook or in a print edition with real pages and everything.

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APRIL 10, 1953: 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.

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APRIL 4, 1914: TO BE CONTINUED

The Perils of Pauline, one of the earliest American movie serials and a classic example of the damsel in distress genre, premiered in Los Angeles on April 4, 1914. Every week for twenty weeks, actress Pearl White faced imminent danger and sure death at the hands of pirates, hostile Indians, gypsies and various mustachioed villains, escaping at the last possible second through her own ingenuity, resourcefulness and pluck. Her adventures in Pauline and the follow-up Exploits of Elaine were popular movie fare through the 1920s. Neither serial was a true “cliffhanger” in which episodes end with an unresolved danger to be resolved at the beginning of the next installment.  Instead White jumped in and out of the jaws of death in each installment.

Like many other silent film stars, Pearl White performed her own stunts for the serial, at considerable risk. During one scene, the hot-air balloon she was piloting escaped and carried her across the Hudson River into a storm, before landing miles away. In another incident, she permanently injured her back in a fall.

And of course White was more than once tied to railroad tracks by a mustache-twirling villain. One such scene was filmed on a curved trestle in New Hope, Pennsylvania on the Reading Company’s New Hope Branch. Now referred to as “Pauline’s Trestle,” it is a tourist attraction offering rides from New Hope to Lahaska, Pennsylvania, across the original trestle.

Wretched Richard’s Little Literary Lessons — No. 6

cliff-hanger

[klif-hang-er]

noun

1. a melodramatic adventure serial in which each installment ends in suspense in order to interest the reader or viewer in the next installment.

2. a situation or contest of which the outcome is suspensefully uncertain up to the very last moment:

Stopping for a moment, she convinced herself that she had to have a good lead over her pursuers, if they were even following her. She had to find Paul. Looking around, however, she realized that not only didn’t she know where Paul was, she didn’t know where she was. She decided to work her way back in the same general direction from which she thought she had come, keeping herself hidden. If they were chasing her, they would not be stealthy. She’d hear them before they saw her. And try to find Paul. Or someone else to help. But who?

Her foot caught the bottom of her sarong, and she fell to the ground. “This damn outfit,” she said aloud as she tried to untangle herself. “I might as well be wearing a strait jacket.”

She pulled herself up to her hands and knees and looked around. There just a few feet ahead of her, two golden eyes blazed in the dark. At first they were disembodied, hovering in the air, but as they stared at her, she began to discern an outline of whatever it was that possessed the eyes. It was big, really big, and as black as the night around it. It was a cat, at least four feet at its shoulders. And it wasn’t purring.

Get me off this cliff.

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APRIL 2, 1902: THE TERRIBLE, TERRIBLE BIDDLE BOYS

Admission was ten cents. The movie lasted about an hour. There were no cartoons or newsreels. The first theater to show an actual movie was the Electric Theater in Los Angeles on April 2, 1902. The Capture of the Biddle Brothers was an adventure melodrama based on actual events.

A few months earlier, condemned prisoners Jack and Ed Biddle escaped from a Pennsylvania jail using tools and weapons supplied to them by the warden’s wife, Kate Soffel. “Our picture, which is a perfect reproduction of the capture, is realistic and exciting,” the producer exclaimed — breathlessly one might imagine. Two sheriff-filled sleighs pursue the Biddles and Soffel through the white and drifting snow. The dastardly trio turns to make a stand, shotguns and revolvers blazing. Ed Biddle is shot, falls to the ground in a snow bank. On one elbow, he continues to fire shot after shot until he collapses. The second Biddle continues to fire, and he too is shot. Mrs. Soffel seeing the hopelessness of their situation, if not the error of her ways, attempts to shoot herself. All three are captured. The brothers both die of their wounds. Mrs. Soffel survives, but a reconciliation with her warden husband is probably unlikely.

The movie itself did not survive, and the names of the actors are lost to history. Oddly enough a remake — well maybe not exactly a remake — was released in 1984.  Mrs. Soffel starring Diane Keaton and Mel Gibson once again tells the tale of the terrible, terrible Biddle brothers. But not for a dime.

You oughtta be in pictures

He’s a skinny kid with an obnoxious grin, big eyes, and an even bigger appetite.  As a clock relentlessly counts down the minutes, this animated glutton devours a bag of popcorn, a hamburger, a hot dog and ice cream.  With three minutes to go, it’s a candy bar.  Two minutes, pizza.  One minute — not another bag of popcorn!  He licks his fingers one at a time, gives us a final grin, and invites us to enjoy the second feature.  If that kid brings a tear to your eye, a tiny tug at your heartstrings, then you too lived your salad days during the Age of Popcorn with Real Butter — in the America of the drive-in theater.

What a wedding of technology and environment, the drive-in — John Wayne and Grace Kelly and Rock Hudson up there, larger than life, against a starry backdrop that stretched forever.  For me, drive-in theaters provided not only countless evenings of entertainment; one drive-in also gave me my first summer of gainful employment.

They all had names like Star View, Auto View, Park View (or Vu in the spelling fashion of the day) so that you knew right away that it wasn’t a hardtop, a wonderful but not widely-used name for the traditional indoor theater back in the late fifties when the abundance and importance of drive-ins required such distinctions.  My drive-in was the Romantic Motor View, and romantic it was — the entire Salt Lake City valley stretching out beyond its screen, Mount Olympus looming behind.

The Motor View was a family affair, owned and operated by the Petersons — in fact, the Petersons lived in their theatre:  their home formed the base of the massive wide screen.  Old Man Peterson, red-faced and ill-tempered, yelled at people and cooked while his wife and daughters stood behind the counter and worked the hungry crowd.  At intermission, a storm cloud of salt and pepper and more salt and pepper rose over the grill as Old Man Peterson, caring not a whit about hypertension or cholesterol, turned out burger after burger.  They were the best burgers I ever tasted even though each one took a week off your life.  In a nearby room, a brother-in-law ran the projector, and outside, a Peterson son held sway over a two-acre asphalt empire and everything in it, including me.

Upon my arrival each evening, I took up a post near the huge chain-link gate that separated the three-hundred-car auditorium from the nonpaying public.  Between the highway and me stood the double-bayed ticket booth that resembled a drive-up bank teller more than a box office, positioned so that up to fifty cars could wait in line without blocking traffic.  Patrons received tickets at the booth, then drove to the gate where I would deftly tear their tickets in half.  I wondered, of course, why they didn’t place the ticket booth at the gate, dispense half tickets and eliminate an extra step, but I was making thirty-five cents an hour and I wasn’t about to speak up and abolish my own job.

Tearing tickets was mindless activity at best, so I otherwise occupied my mind by trying to guess which car would hit which little kid on his or her way to the playground, access to which required fighting incoming traffic.  I also pondered big questions such as why so many teenagers came to drive-ins alone until I began to hear the giggling from the trunk.  Perhaps I should have said something, but I found anyone old enough to drive quite intimidating.  The playground closed twenty minutes before showtime, freeing the Peterson son from his duties as operator of the four-horse carousel, so he could relieve me at the gate.  This in turn allowed me to wander through the rows of cars, squeegee in hand, ready and willing to wash windshields.

During the first movie, I was expected to stay near the exit to somehow prevent anyone who was determined to sneak in without paying from doing so.  I was also to watch for signs of clandestine entry over the six-foot fence that ringed the Motor View.  Then, as the first movie ended, I would stand at the center of the exit, waving a flashlight, directing outbound traffic, as if a  95-pound kid could control a stampede of Fords and Chevys and Plymouths, each with some kind of special permission to be the first car out.

During the second feature, I continued to keep an eye peeled for signs of illegal entry while roaming the drive-in as kind of a trouble-shooter whose main concern was turning off speakers when cars left.  The Petersons believed that leaving them on was wasting sound.  Frequently though, I’d just sit down against a speaker post and watch Sayonara for the fifth time or To Catch a Thief for the third.  Occasionally, I’d sleep.

I worked there just that summer of ’56, but I became a regular patron of the Motor View and many other Views and Vus.  And yes, I would occasionally enter via the trunk of an automobile, but I didn’t like it one bit.  I fully expected to die there in the darkness because Psycho had already started and my friends in the front of the car had forgotten me.  Or that if the trunk lid did open, I would find myself facing the entire Salt Lake police force, guns drawn, trigger fingers itching.

Summer after summer, the drive-in experience gradually evolved from that of trying not to park next to prying adults who disapproved of what you were doing in the privacy of your own (parent’s) DeSoto to trying not to park next to libidinous teenagers who were doing God knows what (and how) in the back seat of that VW bug.  Over the summers, drive-in film fare changed as well:  Sayonara and To Catch a Thief gave way to Teenage Cannibals Eat Peoria and Sexual Fantasies of a Swedish Meatball  –a death knell to come.

There are few drive-ins left, and they are endangered.  The kids prefer cineplexes in malls, and their families watch cable or stream Netflix. No one seems to find stuffing three or four adolescent bodies into the trunk of a car or watching a movie through moving windshield wipers fun anymore.  Maybe the drive-in really does belong to another era, those years that marked the height of America’s love affair with the automobile, when gas stations commanded all four corners of busy intersections and no one yielded to pedestrians — they’re mostly gone, like the faithless lover’s kiss that was (to quote the movie I saw six times) written on the wind.

And somewhere that little kid with the obnoxious grin sits, watching TV, stuffing himself with popcorn.  He’s fat now, and there’s fake butter on the popcorn.

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MARCH 21, 1867: ON A SHOW BOAT TO BROADWAY

“Curtain! Fast music! Light! Ready for the last finale! Great! The show looks good, the show looks good!”

American Broadway impresario, Florenz “Flo” Ziegfeld, Jr. was born March 21, 1867 (died July 22, ZigfeldFollies19121932). The theater bug came to Ziegfeld early; while still in his teens, he was already running variety shows. In 1893, his father, who was the founder of the Chicago Music College, sent him to Europe to find classical musicians and orchestras. Flo returned with the Von Bulow Military Band — and Eugene Sandow, “the world’s strongest man.”

Ziegfeld was particularly noted for his series of theatrical revues, the Ziegfeld Follies, inspired by the Folies Bergère of Paris – spectacular extravaganzas, full of beautiful women, talented performers, and the best popular songs of the time – and was known as the “glorifier of the American girl”.

“Let us grant that a girl qualifies for one of my productions. It is interesting to note what follows. First, it is clearly outlined to her what she is expected to do. She may be impressed at the outset that the impossible is required, but honest application and heroic perseverance on her part plus skillful and encouraging direction by experts very seldom fail to achieve the desired results. But it is only through constant, faithful endeavor by the girl herself that the goal eventually is reached.”

He also produced musicals in his own newly built Ziegfeld Theatre – Rio Rita, which ran for nearly 500 performances, Rosalie, The Three Musketeers, Whoopee! and Show Boat. Several of his musicals hit the movie screens, including three different versions of Show Boat. William Powell played Flo in the 1932 biopic, The Great Ziegfeld, and a 1946 film recreated the flamboyant Ziegfeld Follies.

Wretched Richard’s Little Literary Lessons, No. 4

pro·tag·o·nist
prōˈtaɡənəst,prəˈtaɡənəst
noun
A protagonist is the main character in any story, such as a literary work or drama:
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.

 

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March 6, 1941: The Bigger They Are

If asked to name an important sculptor, the name John Gutzon de la Mothe Borglum, would not come tripping off most people’s lips, although his most important work certainly would. Borglum died on March 6, 1941, leaving the monument he had worked on since 1927 uncompleted.

Borglum sculpted big: a portrait of Abraham Lincoln carved from a six-ton block of marble, a 76 by 158 foot bas-relief of Confederate heroes, and what would have been his biggest ever, the 60-foot heads of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt carved into the granite face of Mount Rushmore in South Dakota.

Although his work remains admired, his legacy was tarnished by his strong nativist leanings, including membership in the Ku Klux Klan.

Mount Rushmore is home to 2 million visitors and has been extensively depicted throughout popular culture, probably most famously in the climactic chase scene in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1959 thriller North by Northwest with Cary Grant swatting at secret agents from Lincoln ‘s forehead. Hitchcock later admitted: “I wanted Cary Grant to hide in Lincoln’s nostril and then have a fit of sneezing . . . the Department of Interior was rather upset at this thought. I argued until one of their number asked me how I would like it if they had Lincoln play the scene in Cary Grant’s nose. I saw their point at once.”

The Nose Knows

Cyrano de Bergerac, born in 1619, is of course best known in the modern times for his nose. According to legend, it was quite large. Depending on which account you accept, Cyrano was either a French aristocrat, author and military hero with a big nose or the descendant of a Sardinian fishmonger who suffered from syphilis with a big nose. He was an early writer of science fiction, and in his most famous work, The Other World, Cyrano travels to the moon using rockets powered by firecrackers where he meets the inhabitants who have four legs, musical voices, and firearms that shoot game and cook it — the TV rights are still available, if you’re interested.  A  lesser known work, Noses from Mars, is self-explanatory.

Then we come to the story of Cyrano himself and how he courted the fair Roxanne on behalf of his friend Christian.  Although these people are real, the story is alas! pure fiction, which is probably just as well, for Roxanne was Cyrano’s cousin and had they ever consummated their relationship, their children would have been half-wits with big noses.

 

Here (in a very clever segue) is a little story about big noses:

All Day, All Night Marianne, Part I: Roberto’s Dilemma

Toussaint conned his small motorboat to the empty spot at the pier, near where Roberto lolled, dangling his big bare feet in the warm water. The boat, like Toussaint’s shirt and shorts, had the scars of a life well lived. On each side, the hand-lettered word taxi just above the waterline made it an official vehicle for transporting passengers up, down, and around the island’s seven-mile coastline.

Toussaint nodded and took up a cross-legged position next to Roberto.

Roberto grunted in reply.

“What’s the matter?” asked Toussaint.

“Nothing,” answered Roberto in a child’s whine, the kind that begs for additional prodding. “Nothing. I was at Pigeon Beach today.”

Toussaint sighed. “Man, you gotta get over this.”

“I can’t. She’s just so beautiful. She was there playing with the children again. And again she didn’t even see me. When she looked in my direction, it was like I wasn’t even standing there. She just looked through me like I was invisible, a ghost or something. Perhaps if she wasn’t so beautiful, she could see me.”

“Perhaps,” said Toussaint, turning it over in his mind. “But if she could see you, maybe she would see you ugly.”

“I’m not so ugly.”

“Of course not,” said Toussaint with a reassuring grin. “But you’re no Jean Paul either.” Jean Paul was the young man held up as an example of what young manhood was all about. The other men didn’t like him much – he was so knowledgeable and so arrogant – but they had to grudgingly agree that he was the handsomest of them all. And he paraded his handsomeness and pursued all the young women on the island, even many of the tourists. His only notable failure was with Marianne, Roberto’s young woman at Pigeon Beach, and this gave Roberto some small satisfaction. But as Toussaint tactfully pointed out, if Jean Paul couldn’t win Marianne, what possible chance could Roberto have?

“You should say something to her,” Toussaint argued. “You can’t expect her to pay you no mind, standing there like the ghost of Albert Verra.” In island history, Albert Verra had the dubious distinction of being the ultimate coward, selling out his island once to the French and once to the Spanish.

“I try, but I am afraid.”

“Maybe I have an idea for you, Roberto,” said Toussaint, lowering his voice even though there was no one within thirty yards of the pier. “You know the fine gentleman from that city I can’t remember that’s very close to London, the one who takes my water taxi wherever he goes and pays me very generously? Him and me, we’re friends now. He talks to me about all sorts of things. He’s very educated in literacy – that’s reading important books by dead people and looking at pictures and listening to music, all by dead people. It seems people who write books and paint pictures and make music become important when they die.”

“What good is being important if you’re dead? Doesn’t sound all that educated to me.”

“How would you know educated, man?” said Toussaint, just a little miffed at Roberto’s effrontery in questioning him. “His name is Herbert and he’s got two last names. Now, do you want me to help you, or do you want to spend your life on the beach staring at her with your mouth open and your brain shut until you both get old and die?”

continued

 

This story originally appeared in American Way, the inflight magazine of American Airlines.  It is included in Calypso, Stories of the Caribbean.

 

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February 23, 1885: Hanging Around in England

In November 1884, Ellen Keyse was found dead in the pantry of her hangingExeter, England, home. She had been beaten and her throat had been cut. John Lee, who worked for the wealthy victim was charged with the crime. The 19-year-old was found guilty and was sentenced to be hanged on February 23, 1885.  On the day of his comeuppance, Lee was led to the gallows, where his executioners placed a noose around his neck. They pulled the lever that would release the floor under him and drop him to his death. The big oops: John Lee was not dispatched — red faces all around. The apparatus had been thoroughly tested the previous day and had been in fine working order. They tried once again. Nothing. And again. Still a no-go. Flabbergasted, they returned Lee to his prison cell, while they pondered the situation.

The authorities remained mystified, so they did what authorities often do when mystified. They attributed the malfunction to an act of God, and rather than risk God’s anger, they commuted his sentence and removed him from death row. He spent 22 years in prison, and upon being released, promptly set sail for America.

Bye Bye Miss American Pie

Silent film star Mabel Normand died on February 23, 1930, after a short but stellar career as an actress, screenwriter, director and producer. She collaborated with Mack Sennett and appeared with Charlie Chaplin in a dozen films and Fatty Arbuckle in another 17. It was in one of those films,  that she made cinematic history , in a scene that she became associated with for the rest of her career , when she received a pie in the face from Fatty Arbuckle.  This bit of slapstick became a staple in comic films from then on, and it is the rare comedian who has not received at least one pie in the face.

Pie throwing reached something of a peak in 1965 in the film The Great Race.  In a technicolor pie fight scene  that took five days and cost over $200,000 to film, a total 4,000 pies were hurled in just over four minutes.