JULY 3, 1954: WHOOPS, THERE GOES THE FIRST PROP

WHOOPS, THERE GOES THE FIRST PROP

In 1954, a gaggle of Hollywood VIPs boarded a DC-4 airliner headed from Hawaii to California. Their troubled flight made a bit of film history — in Cinemascope, no less. The High and the Mighty premiered on July 3, 1954, with a roster of stars that included Claire Trevor, Robert Stack, Laraine Day, Phil Harris, and shepherding them through the sky, John Wayne.

Introducing the scenario that would be used so successfully by the Airport movies of the 1970s as well as countless other disaster movies, the film details the lives and interactions of the passengers and crew when calamity strikes the flight. Calamity comes in the form of a ‘whoops there goes the first prop’ moment and another, followed by a nasty engine fire. Co-pilot Wayne leaps to the fore and (spoiler alert) guides the plane to its destination. And what happened to the pilot, you ask. The pilot, played by Robert Stack goes all squishy and useless (probably because Wayne produced the film and Stack didn’t).

Stack, incidently, showed up in a 1980 film that brought the air disaster genre to its illogical conclusion. In Airplane he stays on terra firma trying to talk an experienced pilot through a landing: “Striker, listen, and you listen close: flying a plane is no different than riding a bicycle, just a lot harder to put baseball cards in the spokes”.

Composer Dimitri Tiomkin won an Academy Award for his original score of The High and the Mighty.  The title song was nominated for an award but did not win.

MIAMI WIT

Dave Barry, born July 3, 1947, is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and humorist who wrote a nationally syndicated column for The Miami Herald from 1983 to 2005. He has also written numerous books of humor.

• The word user is the word used by the computer professional when they mean idiot.

Dave-Barry-

• If you were to open up a baby’s head – and I am not for a moment suggesting that you should – you would find nothing but an enormous drool gland.

• Although golf was originally restricted to wealthy, overweight Protestants, today it’s open to anybody who owns hideous clothing.

• Scientists now believe that the primary biological function of breasts is to make males stupid.

• Gravity is a contributing factor in nearly 73 percent of all accidents involving falling objects.

• Dogs feel very strongly that they should always go with you in the car, in case the need should arise for them to bark violently at nothing right in your ear.

• The simple truth is that balding African-American men look cool when they shave their heads, whereas balding white men look like giant thumbs.

• Thus the metric system did not really catch on in the States, unless you count the increasing popularity of the nine-millimeter bullet.

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JUNE 28, 1926: IT’S GOOD TO BE THE KING

IT’S GOOD TO BE THE KING

“Humor keeps the elderly rolling along, singing a song. When you laugh, its an involuntary explosion of the lungs. The lungs need to replenish themselves with oxygen. So you laugh, you breathe, the blood runs, and everything is circulating. If you don’t laugh, you’ll die.”

     Mel Brooks, born June 28, 1926, has kept the world rolling along since he broke into the entertainment business in early TV. Director, screenwriter, composer, lyricist, comedian, actor 01f/26/arve/g2659/024and producer, he is best known for his comic film farces and parodies.

     He began his career as a stand-up comic and writer for Sid Caesar’s Your Show of Shows then teamed up with fellow writer Carl Reiner, as The 2000 Year Old Man. In the 70s he became one of the most successful film directors, producing such comedy classics as Blazing Saddles, The Producers, Young Frankenstein (numbers 6, 11 and 13 on the American Film Institute’s list of the top 100 comedy films of all-time), The Twelve Chairs, Silent Movie, High Anxiety, History of the World, Part I, Spaceballs and Robin Hood: Men in Tights. The musical adaptation of his first film, The Producers, became a smash hit on Broadway. Brooks is one of the few entertainers with the distinction of having won an Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar and a Tony award.

A true funny man, no joke was ever beneath him.

mel2
Well, it got so that every piss-ant prairie punk who thought he could shoot a gun would ride into town to try out the Waco Kid. I must have killed more men than Cecil B. DeMille. It got pretty gritty. I started to hear the word “draw” in my sleep. Then one day, I was just walking down the street when I heard a voice behind me say, “Reach for it, mister!” I spun around… and there I was, face to face with a six-year old kid. Well, I just threw my guns down and walked away. Little bastard shot me in the ass. So I limped to the nearest saloon, crawled inside a whiskey bottle… and I’ve been there ever since.

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Paul Revere was anti-semitic! Yelling all through the night, the Yiddish are coming the Yiddish are coming!

Every human being has hundreds of separate people living under his skin. The talent of a writer is his ability to give them their separate names, identities, personalities and have them relate to other characters living with him.

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JUNE 18, 1913: THEY CALL IT SAM’S SONG

THEY CALL IT SAM’S SONG

Violinist, meat-packer, usher, tinsmith, elevator operator, and lyricist, Sammy Cahn (no relation to Kublai or Genghis) penned his first lyrics at the age of 16 – “Like Niagara Falls, I’m cahnFalling for You,” not one of his most notable successes. But he kept writing them, giving up those other professions, until he got it right, and got it right again, and again.

     Over the course of his career, Cahn was nominated for 23 Academy Awards, five Golden Globe Awards, an Emmy and a Grammy. In 1988, the Sammy Awards, for movie songs and scores, were created in his honor.

With Jimmy Van Heusen, Cahn wrote so many songs for Frank Sinatra that the two were almost considered to be his personal songwriters. Oscar winners “Three Coins in the Fountain,” “All the Way,” and “High Hopes” were all introduced in films by Sinatra.  Add “Love and Marriage,”  “The Tender Trap,” “My Kind of Town,” “Come Fly with Me” and a host of others.

     The pair also won an Oscar for “Call Me Irresponsible” and received nominations for “Pocketful of Miracles,” “The Second Time Around,” and “Thoroughly Modern Millie.” Cahn and Jule Styne added nominations for “I’ll Walk Alone,” “I’ve Heard That Song Before,” and “It’s Magic.”

Cahn was born on June 18, 1913, and died in 1993.

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.

JUNE 11, 1933: WEREWOLF? THERE WOLF.

WEREWOLF? THERE WOLF.

Actor, comedian, director, screenwriter, author and activist Gene Wilder was born on June 11, 1933.  After his first film role playing a hostage in Bonnie and Clyde, he went on to star in such memorable films as Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, The Producers, Young Frankenstein and Blazing Saddles.

 

wilderInvention, my dear friends, is 93% perspiration, 6% electricity, 4% evaporation, and 2% butterscotch ripple.” — Willy Wonka in Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory

 

“The clue obviously lies in the word “cheddar.” Let’s see now. Seven letters. Rearranged, they come to, let me see: “Rachedd.” “Dechdar.” “Drechad.” “Chaderd” – hello, chaderd! Unless I’m very much mistaken, chaderd is the Egyptian word meaning “to eat fat.” Now we’re getting somewhere!” Sigerson Holmes in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes Smarter Brother

 

“You’ve got to remember that these are just simple farmers. They’re people of the land. The common clay of the New West. You know – morons.”The Waco Kid in Blazing Saddles

 

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“This is a nice boy. This is a good boy. This is a mother’s angel. And I want the world to know once and for all, and without any shame, that we love him. I’m going to teach you. I’m going to show you how to walk, how to speak, how to move, how to think. Together, you and I are going to make the greatest single contribution to science since the creation of fire.” – Dr. Frankenstein in Young Frankenstein

 

wilder2

I’m in pain and I’m wet and I’m still hysterical! – Leo Bloom in The Producers

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

APRIL 28, 2004: IT WAS SHEAR PLEASURE

IT WAS SHEAR PLEASURE

Some folks will go to great lengths to avoid sitting in a barber’s chair. So it seems will some animals. A New Zealand Merino sheep named Shrek — not to be confused with the bald green guy of the same name — really didn’t want to be shorn. So he went on the lam in the late 90’s, living as a fugitive, hiding in caves, always looking back over his shoulder.  He avoided capture for six years but alas someone finally fingered him and he was apprehended in April 2004. And on April 28, the now incredibly woolly Shrek went under the shears. It took a mere 20 minutes to denude him, and the entire indignity was nationally televised. The suddenly svelte Shrek gave up 60 pounds of wool, enough to suit 20 New Zealanders.

Now famous, he took tea with the Prime Minister on his tenth birthday and was allowed to spurn the shears for another 30 months before being shorn on an iceberg off the New Zealand coast (certainly a jumping the shark event). Shrek bought the sheep farm in 2011.

Sardine in Honorable Tin Can

Following the death of Warner Oland, who had successfully brought the character of Charlie Chan to the screen in 16 films, Twentieth Century Fox began the search for a new Chan. Sidney Toler, who was born in Warrensburg, Missouri, on April 28, 1874, was chosen to play the detective, and filming began less then a week later on Charlie Chan in Honolulu. Through four years and eleven films, Toler played Charlie Chan for Twentieth Century Fox. Fox terminated the series in 1942, following the completion of Castle in the Desert. Sidney Toler went on to star in eleven more Charlie Chan films for Monogram Pictures. Very ill during the filming of his last two Chan pictures in 1946, Toler died in 1947.

The character of Charlie Chan was created for the novel The House Without a Key in 1925 by Earl Derr Biggers. Biggers loosely based Chan on a real-life Honolulu detective named Chang Apana. He conceived of the heroic Chan as an alternative to the many stereotypical villains such as Fu Manchu that typified the so-called Yellow Peril, a prevailing vision of the menace of Asia. Sounding like a turn-of-the-century Donald Trump, Horace Greeley, editor of the New York Tribune intoned: “The Chinese are uncivilized, unclean, and filthy beyond all conception without any of the higher domestic or social relations; lustful and sensual in their dispositions; every female is a prostitute of the basest order.” Luckily, Greeley is remember more for urging young men to go west.

Over four dozen films featuring Charlie Chan were made, beginning in 1926. Movie-goers took to Chan, but in later years critics found that in spite of his good qualities he too was an Asian stereotype. Many also objected to the fact that he was played by Caucasian actors in yellowface (although Keye Luke who played Chan’s number one son in 7 films was a bona fide Chinese-American actor).

In addition to his great detection, Charlie Chan was noted for the aphorisms sprinkled liberally throughout the films. A handful of the very many:

Accidents can happen, if planned that way. (Dark Alibi)

Action speak louder than French. (Charlie Chan at Monte Carlo)

Bad alibi like dead fish – cannot stand test of time. (Charlie Chan in Panama)

Detective without curiosity is like glass eye at keyhole – no good. (Charlie Chan in the Secret Service)

Even wise fly sometimes mistake spider web for old man’s whiskers. (Charlie Chan’s Chance)

 

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APRIL 23, 1983: SATURDAY MORNING SUPERSTAR

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.

Sick in de stomach, Part 2: What to give a man who hates everything

“So old Albert’s a sick’un, is he?” said Basil, downing his first rum of the day. Basil had always thought himself to be a descendent of the pirate, Sir Basil Ringrose, and as each day sailed toward sunset and the rum clouded his horizon, he metamorphosed into the pirate himself.

“That’s too bad,” said Mutton, Basil’s young protégé, whose mind was also clouded, even without the benefit of rum. “Being sick doesn’t feel very good.”

“Albert’s only sick for one reason,” Peaches declared. “Tomorrow’s his birthday.”

“Why would his birthday make him sick?” asked Christian, Peaches’ ward and the youngest and wisest of the three men who sat with her at one of the six tables on the open pavilion that was Albert’s Booby Bay Cafe.

“I don’t know,” said Peaches. “I guess it’s because he’s old and foolish, and birthday’s make him feel older and more foolish. And this one’s his seventieth so he’s really old and really foolish.”

“Old Albert ain’t so foolish,” said Basil, coming to his rescue, which was the proper thing to do since he was drinking Albert’s rum.

“He’ll get over it,” said Peaches. “By Monday, he’ll be himself – for better or worse.”

“Seventy years,” mused Basil, as he lumbered over to the bar and refreshed his rum. “Here’s to old Albert bein’ seventy.” He took a drink. “By rights, we ought to be givin’ the little frog a birthday present of some sorts.”

“What do you give the man who hates everything?” asked Christian.

“A watch,” suggested Mutton. The others had long since given up trying to follow Mutton’s thinking.

“Where would we get a watch?” complained Christian. “We’d have to go to Guadeloupe to get a watch. We don’t have time.”

“If we had a watch, we’d have plenty a’ time,” chortled Basil.

“Besides,” said Christian, not nearly as amused at Basil’s joke as Basil, “he probably would hate a watch.”

Basil chuckled on for a few more minutes, then said: “I know somethin’ Albert don’t hate.” He grinned, smug in his ownership of a piece of knowledge the others lacked.

“What would that be?” asked Peaches, the only one willing to give Basil his satisfaction.

“Turtle soup,” Basil pronounced. “Old Albert likes turtle soup a whole lot.”

“You’re right,” said Christian. “I’ve heard him say how much he loves turtle soup.”

“He loves turtle soup made in Paris,” said Peaches.

“Is turtles of the French persuasion somehow different than ordinary turtles?” Basil scoffed. “A seafarin’ man knows a turtle is a turtle.”

“Unless it’s a terrapin,” said Christian with a smirk.

“Isn’t that a canvas thing?” asked Mutton, looking bewildered.

“Ain’t no such thing as a canvas turtle, boy,” said Basil. “They’d be awful chewy.”

“Turtle soup would be nice,” Peaches mused.

“And medicinal,” added Christian.

“But we don’t know how to make turtle soup,” said Peaches.

“What’s to know?” said Basil. “You gets a turtle and puts him in a soup pot and cooks him up.”

“We can figure it out,” said Christian. “We cook the turtle in water. That makes broth. And vegetables. And bay leaves. I know bay leaves are important in soup. And Albert talks about sherry.”

“Sherry be a sissy drink,” said Basil.

“It goes in the soup, Basil. Albert says it complements the turtle.”

“It’s old Albert what oughtta compliment the turtle,” said Basil.

“I don’t think I’ve ever heard Albert compliment turtles or anything else,” said Peaches, not wanting the boys to be disappointed.

“What I meant was . . .” said Christian. “Oh, never mind. This afternoon we’ll go out and find all the ingredients.” Mutton gave him a lost look. “The things we just talked about that go into the soup. Then tomorrow we’ll start cooking, and tomorrow night, turtle soup for Albert’s birthday dinner.”

“Lead on, Cap’n,” said Basil, and the three of them marched off, leaving Peaches with profound doubts about the soup project but unwilling to interfere with their gift to the ailing Gallic gargoyle.

continued

Sick in de Stomach 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.

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.

APRIL 4, 1914: TO BE CONTINUED

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 pantherthey 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.