SEPTEMBER 19, 1975: A, ALLIGATORS ALL AROUND

A, ALLIGATORS ALL AROUND

Back in 1967, folks looked around and suddenly noticed a dearth of alligators.  Not in Vermont, of course. Vermont has always had a dearth of alligators. And some Vermonters are perfectly happy with that.  But they looked around swampy places like Florida, Louisiana, and Alabama and saw a lack of these creatures that had been abundant since prehistoric times.

They should have seen it coming. Alligator shoes. Alligator handbags. Alligator wallets. Alligator briefcases. Alligator jackets. Alligator cutlets.alligator Basically anything you make from a cow you can make from an alligator. And it’s swankier. (You probably wouldn’t want to milk an alligator though.) Everyone was after alligators and we began to run out of them, so they made the endangered species list.

Alligators enjoyed being on the endangered species list. Along with giving them a certain cachet, it protected them. And they prospered. Life was good. And they went forth and multiplied. And multiplied. They multiplied so energetically that eight years later on September 19, 1975, they were removed from the endangered species list. O frabjous day!

Alligator watch fob anyone?

That Gator Got Me Pegleg

Those swampy places that were occupied by alligators often provided hideaways for another endangered species — mean, swarthy pirates. From their swampy hideaways they could sail out and pillage and plunder and do a host of mean, swarthy pirate things.

A certain segment of society longs for the golden age of piracy (certainly a lot more than the golden age of alligators). It is these folks that celebrate International Talk Like A Pirate Day with the same gusto that the Irish celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. The day began as an inside joke between two friends but gained momentum when they sent a letter about their invented holiday to a humor columnist who promoted the day.

And how does one talk like a pirate? One takes a listen to the patron saint of the holiday, English actor Robert Newton, who specialized in piracy portrayal, most notably as Long John Silver in the 1950 Disney film Treasure Island. Arrrr, matey.

Or talk like an alligator.

You’ll find plenty of pirate talk (along with romance, adventure and lots of gratuitous swashbuckling in Terry and the Pirate.  “Hangin’ be a proper death.  Or how about we shoot ‘im.  Not weaselly like in the back but man-to-man like, facing him front on and puttin’ the bullet atween ‘is eyes.”  Check it out.

 

 

 

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SEPTEMBER 16, 1953: A MILE WIDE AND AN INCH DEEP

A MILE WIDE AND AN INCH DEEP

Released on September 16, 1953, The Robe is a Biblical epic of great length and width, stretching on for over two hours and stretching from one side of the theater to the other through the magic of CinemaScope. It was the first film presented in CinemaScope, 20th Century Fox’srobe-1953 high-class answer to the trendy vulgarity of 3-D.

The titular robe is the one worn by Jesus at the time of his crucifixion, and the film explores the answer to the question whatever happened to that robe, what happened to the drunken Roman tribune who won it in a dice game, who was that . . . all right, that’s more than one question, but it’s a long film.

Richard Burton is the drunk Roman tribune Marcellus who ends up possessing the robe and can’t seem to get rid of it. At one point, he tries to use it as a cover during a rainstorm and when he places it on his head, he begins to dance and shout. Different story. When he places it over his head, he gets to feeling all guilty about killing Jesus. He is also transformed into a Christian and begins turning the other cheek a lot. He is reunited with his childhood sweetheart Diana who is supposed to marry the evil Emperor Caligula in a plot thickener. In the dramatic Biblical conclusion, Diana rejects Caligula, and Marcellus tries to trick him into touching the robe and thus turning into a Christian. Caligula isn’t fooled. He also has the last laugh,  sentencing both Marcellus and Diana to death. Demetrius goes on — oh, we failed to mention Demetrius. It’s a big wide screen and there’s a lot going on. Demetrius is a Greek slave played by Victor Mature who hasn’t been turned into a Christian yet, but probably will be during the sequel Demetrius and the Gladiators.

If He’d Only Had That Robe

Many centuries later (after the setting of the story not the release of the film), a noted cardinal and theologian who took his Christianity quite torquemada1seriously rose to a position of power in Spain. Tomás de Torquemada became the Grand Inquisitor for the Spanish Inquisition, a sort of religious movement known more for conformity than tolerance.

Torquemada didn’t care for heresy, apostasy, sorcery, sodomy, polygamy, blasphemy, usury and most isms. He had little use for Jews or Moors. He was, however, a big fan of torture and burning at the stake, pastimes he enjoyed freely until Pope Alexander VI had him put on a leash in 1494. This may have precipitated his death four years later.

You would probably think Torquemada was not a particularly good subject for a musical. You’d be wrong.

 

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SEPTEMBER 15, 1907: IT WAS BEAUTY KILLED THE BEAST

IT WAS BEAUTY KILLED THE BEAST

W.C. Fields cautioned against working with children or animals because they’re sure to steal the scene. You might say the same about a 50-foot gorilla. But scream queen Fay Wray had the big guy eating out of the palm of her hand (actually she spent quite a few scenes in the palm of faywrayhis hand). Born Vina Fay Wray on September 15, 1907, she became well-known for her roles in a series of horror movies, spanning the evolution from silent to talkie. But it was her role as the love of King Kong’s life that remained her primary claim to fame throughout a 57-year career in both movies and television.

In 2004, Peter Jackson approached her for a cameo in his remake of King Kong. She turned down the role, saying that the first Kong was the true King (Long live the King). Fay Wray died in her sleep that same year, before filming of the remake had begun.

Two days later, the Empire State Building went dark for 15 minutes in her memory.

King Kong had more than its share of “you’re going to regret saying that” lines, such as:

“Yeah, but what’s on the other side of that wall; that’s what I wanna find out.”

“He’s always been king of his world, but we’ll teach him fear.”

“Suppose it doesn’t like having its picture taken?”

Working the Little Gray Cells

In 1920, a new detective appeared upon the literary scene.– a former Belgian police officer with twirly “magnificent moustaches” and an egg-shaped head. Hercule Poirot debuted in The Mysterious Affair at Styles, the first novel by Dame Agatha Christie, “the Queen of Crime,”agatha born on September 15, 1890. It is one of 66 detective novels and 14 short story collections featuring the Belgian detective and several other characters, most notably Miss Marple.

Christie’s career was full of superlatives. She is the best-selling novelist of all time, over 2 billion copies of her books having been sold. Her books are the third most widely-published in the world, trailing only Shakespeare and the Bible. And Then There Were None is the best-selling mystery ever — 100albert_finney_plays_poirot million copies thus far. The Mousetrap is the longest running stage play with more than 25,000 performances and still running. The Murder of Roger Ackroyd was named the best crime novel ever by the 600-member Crime Writers’ Association.

Hercule Poirot appeared in half of Christie’s novel and in 54 short stories. By midway through her career, she was finding him “insufferable.” And by the 1960s she described him as an “egocentric creep.” Finally in the 1975 novel Curtain, she disposed of him (although the book was written many years earlier and stored in a bank vault for publication at the end of her life). Most of her books and stories have been adapted for television, radio and movies.

Agatha Christie died in 1976.

 

It is the brain, the little gray cells on which one must rely. One must seek the truth within–not without. ~ Hercule Poirot

AUGUST 18, 1930: A DOG WALKS INTO A BAR

A DOG WALKS INTO A BAR

The world of Disney (as opposed to Disney World) is “peopled” by a group of cartoon animals who walk on two legs, talk intelligibly and dress stylishly. Mickey came first. Then Minnie. Add Donald plutoDuck, Daisy Duck, and Goofy, and you have five of the characters known as the Sensational Six — the superstars of the Disney universe. The sixth character joined the group on August 18, 1930, with the release of the cartoon short Chain Gang. But he was different from the other five. He walked on all fours, barked and was completely naked. He was an animal animal.

Pluto was nameless in his debut vehicle. It wasn’t until a month later and a second appearance in The Picnic that he acquired the clever name Rover. In the cartoon, Rover belongs to Minnie Mouse who brings him along on a picnic with Mickey. In a Mitt Romney moment, Mickey ties the dog to the back of the car before driving off and dragging him behind. But when the poor pooch spots a couple of frolicking rabbits, he ends up dragging the car and its mouse occupants on a merry chase.

The following year, Rover returned as Mickey’s pet with the new name Pluto the Pup. The origin of that name is the subject of argument. It was back in 1930 that the now ex-planet Pluto was discovered. Was this the source of his name? Or were both planet and dog named after the Roman god of the underworld? And then there’s that other great mystery: If Pluto’s a dog and Goofy’s a dog, why is the latter anthropomorphic and the former not?  Walt remained mum.

 

 

 

 

 

AUGUST 15, 1935: WILL POWER

WILL POWER

Cowboy, vaudeville performer, humorist, social commentator and motion picture actor, Will Rogers was one of the world’s best-known celebrities in the 1920s and 1930s and adored by the Will-Rogers-StampAmerican people. Known as “Oklahoma’s Favorite Son,” Rogers was born in 1879 to a prominent Cherokee Nation family in Indian Territory (now part of Oklahoma). During his amazing career, he traveled around the world three times, wrote more than 4,000 nationally-syndicated newspaper columns, and starred in 71 movies (a majority of them silent ) and several Broadway productions. He was the top-paid Hollywood movie star at the time, and in 1934, was voted the most popular male actor in Hollywood.

     As a radio broadcaster and political commentator, he was the leading political wit of the Progressive Era.  He called politics “the best show in the world” and described Congress as the “national joke factory.”

     Rogers died on August 15, 1935, with aviator Wiley Post, when their small airplane crashed in Alaska.

Never miss a good chance to shut up.

 

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There are three kinds of men. The one that learns by reading. The few who learn by observation. The rest of them have to pee on the electric fence for themselves.

 

We can’t all be heroes because somebody has to sit on the curb and clap as they go by.

 

When I die, I want to die like my grandfather who died peacefully in his sleep. Not screaming like all the passengers in his car.

 

Will-Rogers-Quotes-1

Ten men in our country could buy the whole world and ten million can’t buy enough to eat.

 

The best way to make a fire with two sticks is to make sure one of them is a match.

AUGUST 12, 1881: READY WHEN YOU ARE, C.B.

READY WHEN YOU ARE, C.B.

Cecil B. DeMille was a larger-than-life filmmaker throughout the first half of the last century as well as God’s public relations director. Born in 1881 in Ashfield, Massachusetts, he went on to enter the world of theater as an actor, director and playwright.  He helped to establish Paramount Pictures and co-directed his first film, The Squaw Man, the first of over 70 films, in 1914. Through the years, he burnished his reputation with lavish biblical epics such as The King of Kings, Samson and Delilah, and The Ten Commandments.

     DeMille created the first movie to have a budget of more than $1 million, paving the way for his future epics “with a cast of thousands.” Although he was adept at directing thousands of extras, he had a bit of a problem with individual actors, becoming a tad tyrannical on the set.  When making redsea1927′s King of Kings, DeMille demanded that in order to preserve the film’s spiritual integrity, the actors all had to enter into contracts promising that they would not do anything “unbiblical” for five years — that included going to baseball games,  frequenting nightclubs and  driving sexy cars.

     He saw no reason his actors shouldn’t risk their lives for the good of the film.  Although Victor Mature was a superhero in Samson and Delilah, DeMille said he was “100% yellow” because he refused to wrestle a lion. Paulette Goddard lost future roles with the director by refusing to play with fire in Unconquered.

     And he loved spectacle – the parting of the Red Sea in The Ten Commandments, the toppling of the temple in Samson and Delilah, train wrecks in The Road to Yesterday, Union Pacific and The Greatest Show on Earth, and the destruction of a zeppelin in Madame Satan.

     Gloria Swanson immortalized DeMille in a movie he didn’t direct, Sunset Boulevard, with the frequently repeated line: “All right, Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my close-up.”

Give me any two pages of the Bible and I’ll give you a picture.  — Cecil B. DeMille

AUGUST 1, 1953: DON’T TAKE YOUR GUNS TO TOWN

In 1953, a new type of western hit the movie screens. Moviegoers were looking for something more complex than the head-em-off-at-the pass, white hat/black hat fare that Hopalong Cassidy and Roy Rogers had been dishing out through the forties. They felt more sophisticated and shaneworldly, and they wanted their cowboys to be more sophisticated and worldly as well (even though most cowboys never strayed beyond Montana).

A gun-toting drifter with only one name rides down out of the rugged Teton Mountains into a fertile valley where a family of homesteaders – a man and wife, and their only son — eke out a living.  Shane as played by Alan Ladd is conflicted, a basically good man who lives by his gun, anxious to give up his wandering and get a normal life. Well, that’s fine, but the local cattle baron and his thug Jack Palance aren’t about to let that happen. At the end of the movie, Shane realizes he can’t escape his past, and in a great cinematic moment, rides off wounded (mortally?) past the gravestones on Cemetery Hill, and out of town, into the sunrise, with the young boy calling after him: “Come back, Shane!”

Gary Cooper gave us another nuanced hero during the early 1950s in the masterful High Noon.

And if you want to talk nuanced, there’s John Wayne:

“Never apologize, mister, it’s a sign of weakness.”

“Life’s hard. It’s even harder when you’re stupid.”

“A man’s got to do what a man’s got to do.”

Or maybe not.

JULY 29, 1887: NAUGHTY NOMADS AND SINGING SOTS

NAUGHTY NOMADS AND SINGING SOTS

Born in 1887, Sigmund Romberg moved to the United States in 1909 and, after a short resume builder in a pencil factory (as a sharpener?), found work as a pianist.  An instrument here, an instrument there, and pretty soon he had his own orchestra. He published a few songs that caught the attention of the Shubert brothers, who in 1914 hired him to write music for their Broadway shows. Next day on his dressing room, they hung a star.

 

Career off and running, he wrote his best-known operettas, The Student Prince in 1924, The Desert Song in 1926, and The New Moon in 1928.

 

The Student Prince was the most successful of Romberg’s works, the longest-running Broadway show of the 1920s at 608 performances, even longer than the classic Show Boat.  The “Drinking Song,” with its rousing chorus, was especially popular in 1924, with Prohibition is full swing:

Drink! Drink!
  Let the toast start!
  May young hearts never part!
  Drink! Drink! Drink!
  Let every true lover salute his sweetheart!
  Let's drink!

The Mario Lanza version from the 1954 movie remains popular with imbibers everywhere.

The Desert Song (with lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein) is your typical superhero-adopts-mild-mannered disguise-to-keep-his true-identity-secret saga much like Zorro and Superman but with better music and no phone booths. The Red Shadow loves a beautiful and spirited girl, who loves his hero persona but not his wimpy side.  Will true love win out over hero worship? After much sophisticated music, lust in the dust and naughty humor, we learn the answer, especially in a lavish 1929 film production of the operetta – but only until the 1940s when it became illegal to view or exhibit the 1929 film in the United States because the folks in charge feared the naughty bits would morally harm us.

A second feature version was made in 1943, which had our hero fighting the Nazis, and a third version with Kathryn Grayson and Gordon MacRae in 1953 was about as squeaky clean as you can get.  Thank god for censors.

I drink to make other people more interesting. ― Ernest Hemingway

JULY 22, 1959: THE MOON IS ALIVE WITH THE SOUND OF MUSIC

THE MOON IS ALIVE WITH THE SOUND OF MUSIC

Plan 9 From Outer Space is not the worst picture ever made. It’s probably not even the worst film to premier on July 22, 1959. The film has been featured in countless retrospectives, Turner Classic Movies, and documentaries. It’s been adapted for the stage, in comic books and computer games. It’s music has been featured on a CD. It’s been colorized!Plan_9_Alternative_poster

     And, of course, it was obviously the model for NASA’s grand hoax ten years later, the so-called moon landing and moonwalk.  Rumor has it that NASA even gave its charade the code name Plan 10 from Outer Space. Yet  even with all those scientists working on it, they couldn’t get the string holding up the Apollo spacecraft just right.  Nor did they include a single Bela Lugosi walk-on – his emerging dramatically from a crater would have been the perfect touch.

     And there you have the main argument – can any film featuring Bela Lugosi be the worst film ever made.  No way.   Lugosi has several scenes in Plan 9, even though he was dead and buried with a stake through his heart when the film was produced.  And narration by the Amazing Criswell. Had Criswell narrated the moon landing many more people would have believed in it.

     Some naysayers fault the film’s dialogue. “Can your heart stand the shocking facts about grave robbers from outer space?” Is that anywhere near as bad as “Doe, a deer, a female deer?”  Plan 9 from Outer Space is not the worst film ever made. The Sound of Music is.

And the Dish Ran Away with the Spoon

Or the Mound of Susic as the Reverend William Archibald Spooner, born July 22, 1844, might have called it.  The Reverend gave his name to that bit of word play known as a spoonerism. For example:

“Give three cheers for our queer old dean.”

“Is it kisstomary to cuss the bride?”

“The Lord is a shoving leopard.”

 

JULY 21, 1865: ALL HAT AND NO CATTLE

ALL HAT and NO CATTLE

We all know from movies, pulp fiction and other pop culture that the streets of the Old West were littered with the remnant losers of showdowns that took place practically on the hour. gunslingTwo steel-jawed gunslingers coolly staring at each other, contemplating who would draw first and, more importantly, who would draw fastest. Conspiracy theorists are quick to point out that most gun battles took place between drunks who only managed to hit their adversaries because they were standing a foot away — or if they were at a distance, were most likely hiding behind a handy horse or schoolmarm and aiming at somebody’s back.

True, but there was a sort of Code of the West based on the gentlemanly European tradition of dueling in which opponents behaved with good breeding before attempting to kill one another. The Code of the West required that a person resort to a six-gun on the city streets only in matters of major import such as the defense of one’s honor or life, and only if the opponent was also armed. If the Code were followed, a gunslinger could pretty much kill another gunslinger without fear of punishment.

On July 21, 1865, Springfield, Missouri, saw just such a classic showdown. Wild Bill Hickok had a reputation as a real hotshot with a gun, so it is a bit surprising that a former Union soldier agreed to a showdown after an argument with Wild Bill over a card game or the upcoming Presidential election or something.

Armed with sodas and popcorn, a huge crowd of onlookers watched as the two men approached each other from the far ends of the long street. When the two men were still way beyond field goal territory, the challenger drew and fired wildly in Hickok’s direction. Ever cool, Hickok, drew his own revolver, took careful aim, and put a bullet through his opponent’s chest.

Having been true to the Code, Hickok remained a free man. Unfortunately, several years later, Wild Bill was done in by someone not so fastidious about playing by the rules. A young gunslinger with absolutely no sense of gallantry shot him in the back of the head while he played cards.

When my time comes, just skin me and put me up there on Trigger, just as though nothing had ever changed. — Roy Rogers