Tag Archives: Book Review

Did Newspaper Writers Really Used To Say “Stop The Press?”

Stop The Press and Other Movie Cliches

Skyline by Gene FowlerReading Gene Fowler’s highly entertaining memoir Skyline a reporter’s reminiscences of the 20’s  (Viking) 1961, I came across Fowler’s description on how newspaper writers talked shop or in this case didn’t.

Apparently those old films which featured newspapers as their settings did not capture the true vernacular of the field or their subjects according to Fowler.

In one passage, Fowler relates the following story when he was assigned to Oyster Bay, New York to cover President Theodore Roosevelt’s death in 1919. Fowler had just finished relaying his story via telegraph.

“Sign me off,” I said to the telegraph operator. So far as I know, none of us (reporters) ever used the supposedly classic term “thirty” at the end of our stories. That, and several other words and phrases which occur in motion picture scripts, was not part of our supposed lingo. For example, I never heard one Park Row man describe another as a “star reporter.” And if one of us even telephoned in with the legendary cry of “Stop the press!” he would have been turned over at once to Dr. Menas Gregory of Bellevue, or else fired.

Fowler’s memoir is a paean to 1920s New York with the central narrative focusing on the great newspaper writers and editors, now mostly forgotten. Continue reading

Book Review – Peter Arno

Peter Arno The New Yorker’s Most Famous Cartoonist Gets His Due

Peter Arno Maslin Book coverDays after Peter Arno’s death on February 22, 1968, President Lyndon Johnson wrote to The New Yorker editor William Shawn about Arno:

We all have our favorite memories of his comic genius. They seem so fresh in mind and heart that I believe he has a firm hold on posterity.

The nation can be glad of that, and grateful to The New Yorker for serving as Mr. Arno’s stage for so many happy years.

A private life is the most difficult to capture in a biography. For someone so famous during his heyday of fame, Peter Arno led a very private life. In his public life Arno hobnobbed with the famous, was once named the best dressed man in America and was the very definition of man about town. Yet Peter Arno never divulged his inner-self and is somewhat forgotten today.

Michael Maslin’s Peter Arno The Mad, Mad World of The New Yorker’s Greatest Cartoonist (Regan Arts) April 2016, takes up the challenge of unveiling Peter Arno’s life . Continue reading

Incredible, Strange Silly Laws

It’s No April Fools’, These 12 Incredible, Strange Silly Laws Are Real

There Ought To Be a Law dustjacketAmericans are under the impression that there are too many laws. Maybe so. There are many laws that seem unjust, unnecessary and in some cases foolish.

Compared to the past however, there are fewer silly laws on the books. Look back at American history and you might be surprised how many strange laws there once were.

William Seagle’s There Ought To Be A Law (Macauley), 1933, scoured state law books and compiled a couple of hundred laws in effect in 1933, many of them bizarre, others just confounding or silly.

Seagle writes that archaic laws remained on the books due to the passage of time and with no enforcement, legislators forgot that these laws were still statutes. Occasionally laws would be reexamined and states would rid themselves of the stranger ones. The following laws were repealed in the early part of the 20th century:

In Florida: “An Act to Prevent the Indiscriminate Digging of Holes in the Woods”

In South Carolina: A law that made it criminal to draw a check for less than one dollar.

In Massachusetts: A law prohibiting  the showing  of any movie lasting longer than twenty minutes.

Some laws that Seagle found strange, don’t sound so strange today.

For instance this law in Wisconsin doesn’t seem out of place with all the revisionist history happening now: A law forbids the use in the public schools of any history textbook “which falsifies the facts regarding the war of independence, or the war of 1812, or which defames our nation’s founders, or which misrepresents the ideals and causes for which they struggled and sacrificed.”

Seagle questions the intelligence of politicians and lawmakers. What event transpired that brought some legislator to write each one of these bills to enact the law?

How many of these laws are still in effect today? I would imagine most of them have been repealed. But you never know.

1 – Delaware: It is a misdemeanor to “pretend to exercise the art of witchcraft.”

2 – North Dakota: A law regulating carnivals expressly prohibits the dancing of the “hoochie -koochie.”

3 – Massachusetts, Michigan and Minnesota: It is a criminal offense to dance to the music of The Star Spangled Banner. Continue reading

The Death of Lemmy And Motorhead

Lemmy And Motörhead – Underpaid, Underappreciated & Undeniably Unique

Lemmy of Motörhead on stage at Vale Park 3/8/1981

Lemmy of Motorhead on stage at Vale Park 3/8/1981

Motörhead the most underappreciated band in the history of rock ‘n roll is dead.

That is the news confirmed by Motörhead’s drummer Mikkey Dee. “Motörhead is over, of course. Lemmy was Motörhead. We won’t be doing any more tours or anything. And there won’t be any more records. But the brand survives, and Lemmy lives on in the hearts of everyone,” said Dee.

Motörhead founder, singer, songwriter and bassist, Ian Fraser “Lemmy” Kilmister died in Hollywood, CA last week, Monday December 28, 2015 at the age of 70 . The official cause was an extremely aggressive form of brain and neck cancer that Lemmy had just been diagnosed with two days before. After the diagnosis Lemmy was stoic and figured he would live out the two to six months the doctor gave him as best he could.

Monday the 28th, Lemmy was in his house playing on a video game console that was shipped over to his apartment from the nearby Rainbow Bar & Grill where Lemmy normally spent hours playing the game. As he played, Lemmy nodded off and never woke up. With Lemmy’s death also comes the death of a band that toiled for over 40 years with no mainstream commercial success.

After a hellbent, hard-living life of extremes it’s amazing that Lemmy lived to be 70. On the other hand it’s hard to believe he is now gone. I really thought Lemmy would would not die, at least not in my lifetime. If anyone ever epitomized the lifestyle of sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll it was Lemmy.

Lemmy chain smoked, drank Jack Daniels like others drink water and probably took more speed than anyone else who ever lived. Yet through all the “bad” things Lemmy did to himself, he appeared indestructible, remained lucid in conversation and driven to perform until the very end. Lemmy had been battling various illnesses over the last two years and most recently was extremely depressed over the death of best mate, former Motörhead drummer Phil “Phlthy Animal” Taylor on November 11, 2015.

On December 11 in Berlin, Germany, Motörhead completed the second part of its  2015-16 world tour. The band then took a holiday break intending to return to Europe to continue the tour. A little over two weeks later Lemmy was dead.

In the days following Lemmy’s death other musical legends such as Ozzy Osbourne, Rob Halford and Gene Simmons have praised the founder and frontman of Motörhead. From all walks of life, everyone who encountered Lemmy said the same thing – he was a really good guy, not an asshole. For most rock stars with their inflated egos, being an asshole is an easy attitude to take on.

In Lemmy’s highly readable autobiography Whiteline Fever (Citadel, 2004), he said, “Fuck this ‘Don’t speak ill of the dead’ shit! People don’t become better when they’re dead; you just talk about them as if they are. But it’s not true! People are still assholes, they’re just dead assholes!”

No one will speak ill of Lemmy. Continue reading

The 19th Century Sexual Adviser: How Often Should You Have Sex?

1867 Advice On How Often and When You Should Have Sex According to a Prominent New York Doctor

In Woody Allen’s masterpiece Annie Hall (1977), there is a split screen scene in which Diane Keaton (Annie Hall) and Woody Allen (Alvy Singer) are each separately talking to their respective therapists. The questions and answers overlap one another setting up the following exchange.

Alvy’s Therapist: How often do you sleep together?

Annie’s Therapist: Do you have sex often?

Alvy Singer: Hardly ever. Maybe three times a week.

Annie Hall: Constantly. I’d say three times a week.

Too much or too little sex is really in the mind of the beholder.

Dr RT TrallSo what did one leading 19th century doctor feel was the right amount of sex? Apparently very little according to a book entitled Sexual Physiology A Scientific and Popular Exposition of the Fundamental Problems in Sociology by Russell Thacher Trall M.D,  published by Miller, Wood and Co. 1867, .

Doctor Trall (1812-1877), the author of the book, was a man well ahead of his time in many aspects, not so much in others; in 1853 he wrote a 118 page diatribe on the dangers of the “disease of masturbation,” which is a hoot to read. Trall who was religious but not a fanatic, maintained that drugs harmed the body; was a proponent of vegetarianism; vehement in his opposition to tobacco and alcohol; and in 1852 founded New York Hygieo-Therapeutic College, the first medical school to admit women on equal terms with men. In his Sexual Physiology book, Dr. Trall is quite frank about many topics; explaining the facts of life; divulging how the sexual organs work; and  he even includes a very forward thinking chapter regarding women’s sexual rights.

What caught my attention was the chapter on sexual intercourse. Dr. Trall writes with an almost shocked tone that he knows of people who have “indulged in sexual intercourse as often as once in twenty-four hours, and some who have indulged still oftener. ”

Frequency of Sexual Intercourse

For those who live riotously ; who are constantly goading their sexual passions into abnormal intensity by means of gross food, stimulating viands, and obscene associations, no better rule can be given than the less indulgence the better.

sexual physiology trallThe majority of young persons unite in matrimony with no education whatever on this subject; and habits, right or wrong, are soon formed which are apt to be continued through life. I have had patients who had for years indulged in sexual intercourse as often as once in twenty-four hours, and some who have indulged still oftener. Of course the result was premature decay, and often permanent invalidism. It was not because these persons were inordinately sensual, or unusually developed in the cerebellum, that they damaged themselves in this way. It was simply because they knew no better. Many a man who would have been a good husband if he had only known how, and who would not for his life, much less for the momentary pleasure it afforded, have endangered the health, or hazarded the happiness of a well beloved wife, has destroyed her health, happiness and life (some men several wives successively) by excessive sexual indulgence.

So with that introduction you should not be surprised by Dr. Trall’s opinion regarding the proper amount of sex for a married couple, which he finally gets to: Continue reading

Why Few Of Us Are “Normal” Human Beings (And That’s A Good Thing!)

According To Writer Donald Henderson Clarke, Normal Human Beings Are A Rare Breed

Man of the world bookDonald Henderson Clarke (1887-1958) enjoyed telling a good story. Clarke was able to accomplish that as a successful reporter for many New York newspapers including The New York World, New York Times, and the New York American. After his newspaper stint from 1907 through the 1920s, Clarke began writing books and screenplays which made him a tidy sum.

Born to a wealthy New England family, Clarke lived the life of a bon vivant, but always held a fascination for the underbelly of life. Besides writing about the famous and newsworthy, Clarke spent quite a bit of time with bootleggers, gangsters and prostitutes. Out of nowhere in his autobiography, Man of the World: Recollections of an Irreverent Reporter, 1951, Vanguard Press, Clarke makes an astute observation about the human condition.

64 years after this was written, this timeless description of normalcy and humanity still strikes a strong chord. Clarke’s quirky style comprises the longest run-on sentence I’ve read by a journalist, but I’ll forgive him the run-on, because he is right on the mark.

Good, normal human beings are a rarity, and we all should be thankful for that. They are dull, monotonously successful, exasperatingly even-keeled, always in good health. Of course, they should not be called normal.

Most human beings suffer from anxieties, worries, fears, suppressed desires, regrets for past sins, secret yearnings for future sins, aches, pains, toothaches, flat feet, ingrowing toe nails, body odors, hair in the wrong places, too little hair in the right places; they are too short or too tall or too plump or too lean; they wish they were married, wish they were unmarried, wish they could have a successful careers, are bored silly with successful careers, wish they had children, wish their children would hurry up and get married, wish their children would never marry, are afraid of hell, are afraid of the dark, are afraid of poverty, wish their noses were different, wish they were in society, are bored with society, wish they could know actors and actresses, wish they could get away from actors and actresses, shoot and poison their husbands, shoot and cut the throats of their wives, make love to the cook, make love to the chauffeur, talk virtue and think of vice, howl because Rossellini and Bergman have a baby without benefit of clergy – and wish they could be Bergmans or Rossellinis.

The average human being is full of imperfections which make him-her interesting. When the imperfections lead to explosions small or large, it makes the kind of news I like – the sort of news that reveals the human being for what he is – mortal and finite but clinging desperately to the idea that he is immortal and infinite; possessing nothing, no matter if he has millions of dollars, but soothing his fears with the false idea that he has possessions.

He is suddenly gone. Nothing is more ridiculous than the carcass left behind, unless it be the strangely patterned bits of cloth and leather with which he or she concealed that carcass from view. The discarded garments of one suddenly dead look tiny and silly.

Where did the spirit flit? Even several Christians will not give you the same answer. It depends on the particular belief of the particular Christian. Mohammedans will tell you Paradise, where warriors will have a bevy of houris to amuse them. Other religions, whose followers outnumber Christians, will give you other answers.

No human being ever went wherever it is and came back to tell about it in plain, everyday language. That would be one big, important, serious newspaper story I would like to cover.

Continue reading

An Interview With Avery Corman “My Old Neighborhood Remembered A Memoir”

Avery Corman, Author of Kramer vs. Kramer, Talks About His Latest Book: My Old Neighborhood Remembered A Memoir

My Old Neighborhood RememberedThe neighborhood is the Bronx. The time is World War II and the post war years. And the writer is Avery Corman. His newest book My Old Neighborhood Remembered A Memoir (2014) Barricade Books, is his first non-fiction book and is filled with wonderful recollections of growing up.

After graduating college Corman was working on the fringes of advertising and with the encouragement of a friend, Herb Gardner (A Thousand Clowns; I’m Not Rappaport; etc), he took a stab at writing a book. That effort was published as Oh God! A Novel (1971). After that hurdle Corman never looked back and he became a full-time novelist. Oh God! was eventually made into a very popular movie in 1977 starring George Burns and John Denver.

Some of Corman’s other acclaimed novels include The Bust-Out King (1977), The Old Neighborhood (1980); 50 (1987); Prized Possessions (1991); The Boyfriend from Hell (2006) and his most famous work, Kramer vs. Kramer (1977) which was adapted into a movie in 1979 and was the winner of five Academy Awards including Best Picture.

Avery Corman’s success must partially stem from his middle-class upbringing in the Fordham section of the Bronx during the 1940’s and 50’s, where he admits he was not the best student when it came to math and science, but did well in the humanities and was surrounded by a loving, extended family.

My Old Neighborhood Remembered A Memoir is more a series of vignettes rather than a straight autobiography and that style comes off well. Corman shares his memories of childhood during World War II up until he becomes a successful author in the late 1960’s. He paints beautiful word pictures, sometimes tinged with sadness, of growing up in a wondrous place that no longer exists. Most of the stories offer short bursts of family life, games, food, education, sports and all the things that contributed to making the Bronx a special place to grow up in.

Corman’s stories resonate with a tender glow of friendships, family and the feeling that neighborhoods were once really neighborhoods, where the familiarity of rituals, people and places were ingrained in the surroundings.

Here are parts one and two of an exclusive interview with Avery Corman.

Part I, Avery Corman talks about what made the Bronx a special place during the war. His unique living situation and school life.

In part II Corman Continue reading

Book Review – Yorkville Twins

Twins Grow Up In An Exciting, Post-WWII New York City

Yorkville twins coverIf there were more books like Yorkville Twins we would have a clearer picture and better understanding of what it was like for the everyday existence of ordinary people living in Manhattan in post-war New York City. Twins Joseph G. Gindele and John F. Gindele, weave funny, touching and poignant stories of growing up in Yorkville on the upper east side of Manhattan from 1944-1962 with their three siblings and immigrant parents.

Unlike many New York memoirs written by famous or infamous personages who lay their memories of privileged upbringings or Dickensian struggles in print, the Gindele’s recount the daily experiences of middle class family life in a New York that has now largely vanished. This is the New York of cobblestone paved streets where the milkman and the iceman made deliveries with horse drawn wagons. Pushcarts sold vegetables and kids played with erector and chemistry sets and took the time to cut out the backs of cereal boxes and  redeem them in the mail for prizes. Continue reading

The Devil’s Dictionary – Giving Words New Meanings

25 Definitions From The Devil’s Dictionary By Ambrose Bierce

Ambrose Bierce ph - Topham _ Cordon PressAmbrose Bierce (1842-1913?) was the cynic’s cynic. A writer and reporter of immense talent, Bierce served in the Union army during the American Civil War and was seriously wounded in the head. Bierce’s most famous work is the short war story “An Occurrence At Owl Creek Bridge.”

Satiric and biting in his verse, Bierce first published The Cynic’s Word Book in 1906 which contained uninhibited definitions of words from A-L. The second half of the work containing words from M-Z was published as The Devil’s Dictionary in 1911, which was the title Bierce preferred. It has been in print now for over 100 years and many of it’s tongue-in-cheek definitions are still quoted today. It is now in the public domain, so the book is available online for free and worth reading.

Bierce travelled to Mexico in 1913 to witness the Mexican Civil War and vanished without a trace.

Here are 25 of the best definitions from The Devil’s Dictionary:

APOLOGIZE, v.i.  To lay the foundation for a future offence.
BELLADONNA, n.  In Italian a beautiful lady; in English a deadly
poison.  A striking example of the essential identity of the two
tongues.
CAPITAL, n.  The seat of misgovernment.  That which provides the 
fire, the pot, the dinner, the table and the knife and fork for
the anarchist; the part of the repast that himself supplies is
the disgrace before meat.
CHRISTIAN, n.  One who believes that the New Testament is a 
divinely inspired book admirably suited to the spiritual needs of 
of his neighbor. One who follows the teachings of Christ in so  
far as they are not inconsistent with a life of sin.
DIPLOMACY, n.  The patriotic art of lying for one's country.
FAITH, n.  Belief without evidence in what is told by one who
speaks without knowledge, of things without parallel.
FRIENDLESS, adj.  Having no favors to bestow. Destitute of 
fortune. Addicted to utterance of truth and common sense.
HAPPINESS, n.  An agreeable sensation arising from contemplating
the misery of another. Continue reading 

The Greatest TV Game Show Ever

What’s My Line 1950 – 1967

Whats-My-Line-Cast-Dorothy-Kilgallen-death-November-8-1965 cr

A few years ago my Tivo was tuned into the Game Show Network weeknights at 3:00 a.m., taping every episode of the greatest TV game show ever made, What’s My Line.

Let me state it was not just a great game show, but one of the best television shows ever.

Unfortunately the series is not being broadcast now, but many segments of the show are available on Youtube.

To describe the brilliance of the show better than I ever could, we will refer to The Complete Directory to Prime Time Network TV Shows 1948 – Present by Tim Brooks and Earle Marsh (Ballantine 1988), an indispensable television reference book.

What’s My Line was the longest-running game show in the history of prime-time network television. It ran for 18 seasons, on alternate weeks from February to September 1950, then every Sunday at 10:30 p.m. for the next 17 years. The format was exceedingly simple. Contestants were asked simple yes-or-no questions by the panel members, who tried to determine what interesting or unusual occupation the contestant had. Each time the contestant could answer no to a question, he got $5, and a total of 10 no’s ended the game. The panel was forced to don blindfolds for the “mystery guest,” a celebrity who tried to avoid identification by disguising his voice.

That little game, by itself, hardly warranted an 18-year run, when other panel shows of the early 1950’s came and went every month. But What’s My Line was something special, both for the witty and engaging panel, and for a certain élan which few other shows ever captured. There were no flashy celebrities-of-the-moment or empty-headed pretty faces on this panel; they were obviously very intelligent people all, out to have some genteel fun with an amusing parlor game. Like (moderator) John Daly with his bow tie and perfect manners, it reeked of urbanity [“that’s three down and seven to go, Mr. Cerf?”]

The panelists who created this special atmosphere were an elite group. Continue reading