Category Archives: Movie reviews

A movie review of “Swamp Water…”

A chilling shot from Swamp Water, the 1941 movie that got me “hooked on the Okefenokee…”

*   *   *   *

Once upon a time, I said this blog would focus mostly on movie reviews:

Those reviews – when they happen – are a throwback to my time at the University of South Florida, in 1976. I reviewed movies for the student newspaper, The Oracle.  (Before it got all famous and well-known.) I liked films enough to make that my minor.

That’s from THAT “WASP” NAME, above. But the last review I did – technically – was “Joseph Welch, dead at only 69? OMG!” I reviewed a 1959 movie I’d seen many times, Anatomy of a Murder. It starred Jimmy Stewart as the defense lawyer in a murder trial, but it also had Joseph Welch as the trial judge. That review focused mainly on the fact that Welch had died at a mere 69 years of age, three months “after I’d just turned 69.” So I reviewed Anatomy in passing. (Aside from saying he died way too early, I also noted that Welch was the “real-life lawyer famous for dressing down Joseph McCarthy during the Army–McCarthy hearings.”)

The last real review I did was “Imitation Game” – Revisited, in February 2018. But that post just reviewed a review of the same movie in April 2015, Oscar Wilde and “gross indecencies.” It was a review-of-a-review. Bottom line? “It’s been a while since I’ve done a real movie review.”

In this post I’ll review Swamp Water, the 1941 “film noir crime film” directed by Jean Renoir and starring Walter Brennan and Dana Andrews. Mostly with an eye on how it got me hooked on the Okefenokee Swamp. Hooked in the sense of trying three times to cross it from east to west, and finally succeeding last February, detailed in I paddled across the Okefenokee – finally

It all started when I was 10 or 12 and first saw the film. (In the early 1960s.) The scene I remember most was Walter Brennan getting bitten on the cheek by a smiling – and sinister – water moccasin. (As he knelt over to part some bulrushes, to get a drink of “swamp water.”)

I’ve been fascinated ever since…

Which brings up how different the real Okefenokee is, compared to how it got portrayed by Hollywood. (In the film especially.) It seems like every person I talked to about canoeing into the Swamp last February had the same response. “Are you crazy? It’s dangerous in there!” In short the Okefenokee has a terrible reputation, and I think it started with Hollywood and Swamp Water. I’ll focus on that in this review, the difference between “Hollywood” and reality.

The movie starts with opening credits rolling against what seems a view of the Suwanee Canal. There’s dramatic, heart-pounding music, followed some time later by a calming version of “Red River Valley.” (To dramatize the dangers of the Swamp, compared to life in the “civilized” world?) The film itself begins with a graphic, saying those people who live around the edge of the Okefenokee know “that its sluggish waters were filled with alligators and that its boggy forests harbored the deadly cottonmouth snake. They feared these creatures, but much more they feared the unexplored vastness in which a man might disappear, never to be seen again.”

Which leads to the first question: Are the waters really “sluggish?” Later on that.

After the graphic comes a cross, formed by two pieces of tree branch, shown at the top of the page. The “cross” is topped with a human skull and draped with Spanish moss. The camera pans left, to show a group of flat-bottomed boats poled by standing men. (Again, poling up what seems to be the Suwanee Canal.) Dana Andrews, as “Ben,” is in his boat with his dog. He stops in front of the cross-and-skull to blow a hunting horn. Other boats come up, and the men see – off in the distance – what may be what they’re looking for, two trappers who had disappeared in the Swamp. The camera switches to a huge bull gator, lurking on the shore, menacing. The men pole over and find what they’ve been looking for, another boat, flat bottom up.

Finding the boat, one man says, “No need to look no fu’ther.” Another adds, “No, they was gator-et.” (Eaten by gators.) All they find is a hat. As they paddle away, a sneaky, shadowy head looks out from the bushes. (It’s Walter Brennan, as Tom Keefer, a fugitive from a trumped-up murder conviction.) On the way home Ben’s dog sees a deer, jumps in the water and disappears after it. After they get back to civilization, Ben decides he has to go back in, to find his dog.

But first he has to tell his father of his plans. His father yells, “You be careful, and stay clear of that swamp!” After more argument he yells again, “stay clear of that swamp!” Ben says that’s where his dog jumped out of the boat, so he has to go back in. A big fight follows. His father says to be back tomorrow night and a third time, “stay clear of that swamp!” After yet more argument the father yells, “You be here tomorrow night or don’t come back at all!”

Before going back into the Swamp, Ben stops by a general store to get shells for his shotgun. Asked where he’s headed, he says, “Okefenokee.” The men in the store all turn around and look at him in stunned silence. The clerk says, “You mean you’re goin’ in alone?” (I went in alone three times.) Various insults follow. One man makes a production of checking out Ben’s hat. He says he wants to see if it’ll fit him, because “that’s all they’re going to find of you.”

There’s more in the scene with Tom Keefer’s daughter and a sackful of cats two men are supposed to drown, but that’s not relevant here. I have to focus on that unity-and-coherence “stuff” that real writers are supposed to do, so back to Ben heading into the dreaded Okefenokee. He poles down what appears to be a side channel, and the camera shows a gator slinking into the water, menacing. He poles into some thick trees and brush, blows his horn, and hears his dog off in the distance. He jumps in the water, leaving his boat and supplies and goes floundering toward the sound of his dog. The first thought that came to me: “What are you, an idiot?”

Meaning: No one in his right mind in the Okefenokee would jump out of his boat and go floundering around in the water, looking for some lost dog. Sure enough, Ben soon finds himself in a predicament. After what seems an eternity of floundering around in the muck, he finds dry ground. (Relatively speaking.) In the next scene night has fallen.

Ben sits hunched over. He has his shotgun, but nothing else. (He has however been able to light a fire.) He hears fierce growling in the not-too-distant. (Something I never heard.) He tries to stay awake, but soon falls asleep and Tom Keefer sneaks up behind and bops him on the head. In the morning he sees his dog barking and whining, happy to see Ben. He also sees that his hands are tied behind him. He sees a man with his back to him and asks, ‘Who are you?” The man slowly turns and for the first time we see Walter Brennan’s face full on.

In the dialog that follows, we learn what happened to the two missing trappers. Tom tells Ben, “Them was cottonmouth bit.” He also tells Ben, “You’re in the Okefenokee for good.” With his conviction for murder – trumped up or not – Tom can’t afford to let Ben go free, despite Ben’s promise not to tell anyone that Keefer is still alive. Tom also says that without his help, Ben could never find his way out of the Swamp. (Of course, if Ben hadn’t left his boat?)

Tom turns his back on Ben, to get some coffee. Ben gets a big stick and sneaks up, but in the ensuing confrontation Tom tosses the hot coffee in Ben’s face, then throws him to the ground with a judo throw. He talks again about how hard it is to find your way out of the Swamp, then says. “You’re in here for life.” Then comes the really creepy part.

That night Tom goes to get a drink of water. As shown in the image below, the camera shows a lit-up cottonmouth off to the viewer’s left, coiling and smiling. (Evilly?) After the snake bites Tom on the cheek, he recoils, eventually stumbles back to the campsite, and falls to the ground.

Next morning, we see Ben digging a grave. He gets up and prays, looking up, before going back to the campsite to get the body. He arrives only to find Tom alive, well and sipping a cup of coffee. Explanations follow. For one thing Tom says, “Just made up my mind to get well.” More to the point, “I bet I been cottonmouth-bit a dozen times.” (And apparently built up an immunity.) Ben has Tom’s knife, which he used in part to clear brush and help dig the grave. But he adds, “I cut that snake bite, to make it bleed.” Tom thanks Ben and says, “You can have your gun back.”

In other words, Tom is grateful that Ben helped save his life, and Ben starts to believe that Tom is innocent. To see the rest of the story you can check various reviews, but that’s as far as I watched. (To the part where Walter gets “cottonmouth bit,” and a bit beyond.)

Wikipedia has a short review, with all but the first sentence dealing with the movie after Tom and Ben “form a partnership in which Ben sells the animals hunted and trapped by both until townsfolk become suspicious.” For a smorgasbord of reviews, see Swamp Water (1941) … User Reviews – IMDb. One such review – “Old classic, May 29, 2001 – sounded familiar to me:

I can remember seeing this movie as a kid and getting the bejesus scared out of me. The darkness and uncertainty of the swamp terrified my young imagination and the image of the skull atop a cross touched all my Roman Catholic primal fears. My impression of the swamp, i.e., crocs, gaters and snakes, topped with a dark image of the fugitive played by Walter Brennan, lasted for years. 

Which brings us back to that glaring difference between Hollywood and reality. On the first question –  Are the waters of the Okefenokee really “sluggish?” – the answer is a resounding No. The city of Jacksonville once proposed a “40-mile pipeline be constructed from the Okefenokee Swamp to the city for drinking water. Natural, pure water from the Okefenokee Swamp is highly valuable and has been sought after for centuries.” Further, old time sailing vessels – called “tramps” – sailed hundreds of miles out of their way to get the water. “This water was found to be healthful and pure, and lasted a long time in wood barrels used by earlier mariners.”

And from personal experience I can say there’s a definite current in the the Okefenokee, sometimes quite strong. That certainly helps to keep the water “healthful and pure.”

As for the movie’s other claims, in a total of four trips into the Swamp – 10 days all told – I didn’t see a single snake of any kind, let alone a cottonmouth. As to people getting gator et, “No alligator attacks on humans in the swamp have been recorded in the last 80 years.” (When they started keeping records.) That’s according to the University of Georgia’s River Basin Center, which adds: “It is important, however, not to feed gators or try to touch them. Habituating gators to human contact makes them dangerous.” No attacks, let alone fatal attacks.

Which brings us to the Fatal alligator attacks in the United States – Wikipedia. One thing to note is that the number of fatal gator attacks has increased dramatically, from one in the 1950’s to eight in the 2010’s. That’s the last full decade, but since 2020 there have been seven such fatal attacks, with seven years left in this decade. Another thing to notice is that most of the attacks are in Florida, followed by Texas, Louisiana and South Carolina. And near ponds close to retirement communities and golf courses. So, with those statistics there’s one logical conclusion:

You’re safer from gator attacks INSIDE the Okefenokee than out in the “civilized world.”

Happy canoeing. And take that Hollywood hype with a grain of salt. (Or maybe a bushel.)

*   *   *   *

The “smiling” cottonmouth, at left is about to bite Tom Keefer, at right..

*   *   *   *

The upper image is courtesy of Swamp Water 1941 Movie – Image Results. It was accompanied by another review, posted June 19, 2009, by Steve Lewis, who had been “producing Mystery*File on and off since the early 1970s.” See also MYSTERY*FILE ON-LINE:

Devoted to mystery and detective fiction – the books, the films, the authors, and those who read, watch, collect and make annotated lists of them.

The lower image is also courtesy of the Image Results site. I clicked on a photo of a big, hulking bull gator, which accompanied a page linked to California I clicked on “View Page,” and went to a “Snakes in Movies” page with eight photos. The first four showed Walter Brennan’s infamous scene where he got bitten on the right cheek by a Cottonmouth. The photo above is the third of the four. The “Herps” site is a “Guide to the Amphibians and Reptiles of California.”

Re: Joseph Welch dying at 69. “Born in 1890, he played in Anatomy of a Murder in 1959, and died not long after that. ‘Sixteen days before his 70th birthday, and fifteen months after the release of Anatomy of a Murder, Welch suffered a heart attack and died on October 6, 1960.’” My 69th birthday was in mid-July, and mid-October would be three months after that.

Re: “It all started when I was 10 or 12.” For starters see 2015’s Operation Pogo.

Re: Okefenokee water being “sluggish.” See Okefenokee: The Swamp Next Door That Is a National Treasure. Here’s the complete quote referred to in the main text:

The Okefenokee Swamp produces “black water,” which looks like tea. Organic plant material decomposing in the swamp brews under sunlight releasing tannins that color the water. The “black water” flows to the Atlantic Ocean passing through Cumberland Sound, just north of Amelia Island. This water was found to be healthful and pure, and lasted a long time in wood barrels used by earlier mariners. Old sailing vessels called “tramps” would come hundreds of miles off their course for St. Marys River water. Vessels that docked in the port city of Fernandina could procure barrels of “swamp water” for voyages. Many years later, the city of Jacksonville proposed a 40-mile pipeline be constructed from the Okefenokee Swamp to the city for drinking water. Natural, pure water from the Okefenokee Swamp is highly valuable and has been sought after for centuries.

Another article called the Swamp “the kidneys of the earth, filtering contaminants from the water flowing from the Suwanee and St. Mary’s Rivers.” From the February 5, 2023, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, B5, “Okefenokee: ‘This Earth is us, we just can’t let it get away.'” It reviewed “Sacred Waters: The Okefenokee in Peril.” For more options Google “sacred waters okefenokee in peril.” My local – oldest – brother handed me the article a few days before I headed south to the Swamp.

Re: Gator attacks in the Swamp. The full link: Okefenokee FAQ & Resources – The River Basin Center.

.”*   *   *   *

“Joseph Welch, dead at only 69? OMG!”

Joseph Welch, at left – “Judge Weaver” in Anatomy of a Murder – at the 1954 McCarthy hearings

*   *   *   *

AnatomyMurder2.jpgThe other night I started re-watching the 1959 movie, Anatomy of a Murder, starring Jimmy Stewart. (I should say, re-watching again. It’s one of those rare classic movies, like Casablanca, that I can watch over and over again. One law professor said it was “probably the finest pure trial movie ever made.”)

And one of my favorite characters in this classic courtroom crime film is Joseph N. Welch. He plays the judge presiding at the murder trial in Iron Bay, a resort town in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. (The regular “UP” judge is indisposed, so Judge Weaver – Joseph Welch – is brought in from the Lower Peninsula.)

Some background. Ben Gazzara plays Army Lieutenant Frederick Manion, who guns down a local tavern keeper, Barney Quill, an hour or more after Quill raped Manion’s wife Laura. (Played by Lee Remick.) Stewart plays defense attorney Paul Biegler, who used to be the town prosecutor, but lost the election to Mitch Lodwick. (Who feels that – due to the importance of the case – he needs to call in the help of state Assistant Attorney General Claude Dancer, played by George C. Scott.)

Incidentally, both the film and novel that inspired it were based on an actual Michigan case in 1952. There the defense used the concept of “irresistible impulse” – based on an obscure 1886 state supreme court holding – to win an acquittal “by reason of insanity.”

Two days after trial that defendant was judged to be sane by a psychiatrist and released. (Only to be divorced by his wife, also soon after trial.) In Anatomy, Lt. Manion is released as well, but then he and his wife skip town before attorney Biegler can get the lieutenant to sign a promissory note for $3,000. (The amount he agreed to pay Biegler while in jail awaiting trial. But note, a “real” defense lawyer would have gotten the promissory note well before that, most likely before trial but at least right after the verdict. That’s why the call it artistic license.)  

But back to Joseph Welch: Aside from playing Judge Weaver in Anatomy of a Murder, he was a “real-life lawyer famous for dressing down Joseph McCarthy” – left, with counsel  Roy Cohn – “during the Army–McCarthy hearings.” For some background on that

June 9, 1954. The hearings were in their 30th day, the result of Senator Joseph McCarthy‘s “aggressive investigations of suspected Communists and security risks” within the U.S. Army. (As well as a counter-accusation that Committee Counsel Roy Cohn – at right in the photo above – had pressured the Army “to give preferential treatment to G. David Schine, a former McCarthy aide and friend of Cohn’s.”)  

Joseph Welch served as Army counsel, and on June 9 challenged Cohn to give his alleged list of “130 security risks” to the U.S. Attorney General. McCarthy responded that Welch should “check on Fred Fisher, a young lawyer in Welch’s own Boston law firm.” Fisher had once belonged to the National Lawyers Guild, in what Welch considered a youthful indiscretion. McCarthy insisted it was a “Communist front.” When McCarthy continued his attacks Welch responded:

Until this moment, Senator, I think I have never really gauged your cruelty or your recklessness. Fred Fisher is a young man who … came into my firm and is starting what looks to be a brilliant career… Little did I dream you could be so reckless and so cruel as to do an injury to that lad. It is true he is still with Hale and Dorr… It is, I regret to say, equally true that I fear he shall always bear a scar needlessly inflicted by you. If it were in my power to forgive you for your reckless cruelty I would do so. I like to think I am a gentleman, but your forgiveness will have to come from someone other than me.

JosephNWelch.jpgMcCarthy tried to renew his attack on Fisher, but Welch interrupted. “Let us not assassinate this lad further, Senator. You’ve done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?” McCarthy tried to attack Fisher yet again, but Welch would have none of it. He refused to discuss the matter further, said that if there was a God in heaven it would do neither McCarthy nor his cause any good, then prompted the chairman to call the next witness. “At this, those watching the proceedings broke into applause.”

For one thing, I’d say we could use a lot more “Joseph Welch” in today’s political arena…

*   *   *   *

But what also struck me – as I watched Welch preside over the “Anatomy” trial – came when I started wondering how old he was when he did the movie. “I’m guessing, what? 80? 85?

I did some research, and learned that when Welch died he was way too close to how old I am now. Born in 1890, he played in Anatomy of a Murder in 1959, and died not long after that. “Sixteen days before his 70th birthday, and fifteen months after the release of Anatomy of a Murder, Welch suffered a heart attack and died on October 6, 1960.”

Which leads to a personal note: I just turned 69, and 16 days before my 70th birthday will be next June, 2021. So again: OMG! On the other hand, I’m guessing that Judge Welch didn’t exercise seven hours a week like I do. (Including yoga, weights and hour-bouts of stair-stepping, with a 30-pound weight vest and 10 pounds of ankle weights. See also my 2018 post, A Geezer’s guide to supplements. For my part, I want to live to at least 120, like Moses.)

But I’m not the only one “of a certain age” these days paying lots more attention to good habits, exercise and nutrition. That Christie Brinkley still looks good too – at a “mere slip of 65…”

My how times have changed!

*   *   *   *

Christie Brinkley at age 65 – in 2019 – and “Times have indeed changed!”

*   *   *   *

The upper image is courtesy of the Joseph N. Welch link in the article, Anatomy of a Murder – Wikipedia. The full caption: “Welch (left) being questioned by Senator Joe McCarthy (right) at the Army–McCarthy hearings, June 9, 1954.” See also Joseph N. Welch – Wikipedia.

The poster image is also courtesy of, Anatomy of a Murder – Wikipedia. The “teaser” at the top of the poster reads, “Last year’s No. 1 best-seller … This year’s No. 1 motion picture.”

Some notes on Fred Fisher (1921-1989). After the Army-McCarthy hearings, he went on to become a partner at Hale and Dorr, Welch’s firm. In 1973–74, he served as president of the Massachusetts Bar AssociationFisher died in 1989 in Tel AvivIsrael, where he was lecturing. In his New York Times obituary, Fisher was referred to as a “McCarthy target.” 

Ironically, G. David Schine – who the Army said got preferential treatment because of Cohn’s pressure tactics – also died “young,” at 68 in a plane crash. He started life as “the wealthy heir to a hotel chain fortune,” and after the Army-McCarthy hearings went on to a career in Hollywood, most prominently as a firm producer. Also a musician, he once “conducted the Boston Pops Orchestra in place of Arthur Fiedler at a concert,” at which some members of the orchestra refused to play. One musician commented later: “That man ruined my father’s life. No way I was going to play for him.”

The lower image is courtesy of Christie Brinkley 2020 – Image Results. The image accompanies an article from the UK Home | Daily Mail Online, “Christie Brinkley, 65, reveals major cleavage in breezy outfit as she is joined by daughter Alexa Ray Joel, 33, for star-studded Polo Hamptons Match & Cocktail Party.” Note: The article and photo were dated 2019, when she was actually 65. 

A review of Ric Burns’ “Pilgrims” DVD…

“The actor Roger Rees renders [William] Bradford beautifully,” in Ric Burns’  “The Pilgrims…”

*   *   *   *

Just for a change of pace, I offer this review of a DVD I just finished watching:  American Experience: The Pilgrims, a documentary film by Ric Burns.  (Available at 

I must say that – overall – I found the tone pretty depressing.  I wrote before – in Thanksgiving 2015 for example – that of the 102 Pilgrims who landed in November 1620 at Plymouth Rock, less than half survived the first year.  (To November 1621.)  And of the 18 adult women, only four survived that first winter in the hoped-for “New World.”   (Illustrated at left.)

I just hadn’t appreciated the extent of that loss on an emotional level.  Another way of saying that – just as at Jamestown, started in 1607 – there was a whole lot of human suffering:

The major similarity between the first Jamestown settlers and the first Plymouth settlers was great human suffering…  November was too late to plant crops.  Many settlers died of scurvy and malnutrition during that horrible first winter.  Of the 102 original Mayflower passengers, only 44 survived.  Again like in Jamestown, the kindness of the local Native Americans saved them from a frosty death.

In Thanksgiving – 2016, I wrote that the “men and women who first settled America paid a high price, so that we could enjoy the privilege of stuffing ourselves into a state of stupor.”  But the Ric Burns film brought that suffering home in a way I hadn’t fully appreciated before.

And by the way, the full caption for the picture at the top of the page reads, “The actor Roger Rees renders Bradford beautifully;  it was among his last performances before his death in July,” 2015.  Which could be both prescient and ironic.  That is, while Rees died at 71 – when life expectancy today is about 78 – William Bradford lived to the ripe old age of 67, when life expectancy was about half that.

There’s more about that at the end of this post…

But what I found most fascinating was how Bradford’s journal, Of Plymouth Plantation, proved the truth of the old adage, “Everything perishes, save the written word.*”  For starters, here’s what Wikipedia said about Plymouth Colony in general:

Despite the colony’s relatively short existence, Plymouth holds a special role in American history…  The events surrounding the founding and history of Plymouth Colony have had a lasting effect on the art, traditions, mythology, and politics of the United States of America, despite its short history of fewer than 72 years.

And what gave “Plymouth” such a special place in American history was Bradford’s journal,  Of Plymouth Plantation. (Which proves again, “Everything perishes, save the written word.”) And which brings up another thing that I hadn’t realized:  That the book was almost lost to history.

That is, the original manuscript was left in the tower of the Old South Meeting House in Boston during the American Revolution.  But after British troops occupied Boston, it disappeared “for the next century.”  The missing manuscript was finally re-discovered, “in the Bishop of London‘s library at Fulham Palace,” and printed again in 1856.  It was only after much finagling – including a verdict ultimately rendered by the Consistorial and Episcopal Court of London – that the manuscript was brought back to the U.S. and given to Massachusetts in 1897.

That’s a point noted by the New York Times’ In ‘The Pilgrims,’ Ric Burns Looks at Mythmaking(Including the one about the Plymouth “Signing of the Mayflower Compact,” at left.)

Mr. Burns’s most inspired touch is to end not in the 1600s, but two centuries later, by following what happened to Bradford’s journal.  It disappeared during the Revolutionary War, then was rediscovered in the mid-1800s…  The Mayflower passengers suffered terrible hardships, and from the Indians’ point of view their arrival was ultimately a dark day.  But not on Thanksgiving.  “There’s been a tremendous amount of memory produced around the Pilgrims, but there’s also been a lot of forgetting,” the literary critic Kathleen Donegan notes, adding later: “We don’t think about the loss.  We think about the abundance.”

Or consider this, from Who Were the Pilgrims Who Celebrated the First Thanksgiving.  “The first winter, people died from dysentery, pneumonia, tuberculosis, scurvy, and exposure, at rates as high as two or three per day.  ‘It pleased God to visit us then with death daily,’ Bradford wrote.”

But the Pilgrims were “inventive enough” to conceal their losses from the Indians:  “inventive enough, as Donegan notes, to prop up sick men against trees outside the settlement, with muskets beside them, as decoys to look like sentinels to the Indians.”

The point is this:  Our “Forefathers” – and Foremothers as well – suffered greatly to come to America, and usually much more than we appreciate.  More than that, from the beginning they were “aliens in a strange land.”  Which brings up Deuteronomy 10:19, where God said to the Children of Israel:  “You are also to love the resident alien, since you were resident aliens in the land of Egypt.”  And that’s a point worth remembering these days…

But let’s close with a note of hope and cheer, at least for me.  That is, rumor has it that William Bradford was one of my long-ago ancestors.  If that’s true, I hope I inherited his longevity gene.

That earlier “Bradford” lived to a ripe old age of 67.  That was at a time when life expectancy for that time and place was about half that long.  See for example, life expectancy in American in the years 1750-1800.  That is, the life expectancy a century after Bradford’s time – he died in 1657 – was 36 years.  So if that “1.86 factor” applied to me today – with a  male U.S. life expectancy of 76 years – I should live to be 141.  (Giving me another 74 years.) 

And who knows, I might end my years with the old-age benefits of King David:

King David was old and advanced in years;  and although they covered him with clothes, he could not get warm.  So his servants said to him, ‘Let a young virgin be sought for my lord the king, and let her wait on the king, and be his attendant;  let her lie in your bosom, so that my lord the king may be warm.’  So they searched for a beautiful girl throughout all the territory of Israel, and found Abishag the Shunammite, and brought her to the king.  The girl was very beautiful.  She became the king’s attendant and served him, but the king did not know her…

(In the biblical sense.)   On the other hand, King David didn’t have all the “better living through chemistry” advantages we have today.  And that will no doubt increase by, say, 2080?

Something to look forward to…

*   *   *   *

*   *   *   *

The upper image is courtesy of Review (NYT): In ‘The Pilgrims,’ Ric Burns Looks at Mythmaking.

Re:  “Everything perishes save the written word.”  The quote is from Techniques of Fiction Writing: Measure and Madness, by Leon Surmelian.  Surmelian cited Plato as saying the poet – including but not limited to the writer of fiction, and maybe of such essays as these – creates “not by science or technique, not by any conscious artistry, but by inspiration or influence of some non-rational, supernatural influence.”  Which could apply to the writers of the Bible, which Surmelian implied by saying a true writer “is the medium of some higher spirit that gets into him.  He is literally inspired.”

But – Surmelian continued – the writer needs more than mere inspiration, by and through “what mysterious power dwells within him.”  (The “madness” in the book title.)  He needs “measure:”

Through measure a story is given the structure and style that snatch it from the chaos of reality and fix it in the memory of man.  We remember through measure.  We move from the unrealized to the realized through measure.  Through measure writing resists the ravages of time.  Everything perishes save the written word, says an old eastern proverb.

From the 1969 Anchor Books paperback edition, at pages 242-44, emphasis added.

The image to the right of the paragraph ending, “Bradford lived to the ripe old age of 67, when life expectancy was about half that,” shows the “Coat of Arms of William Bradford.”

Also from (New York Times) Review: In ‘The Pilgrims,’ Ric Burns Looks at Mythmaking:

The Pilgrims and their fellow travelers weren’t terrorists, of course (despite an instance of putting the severed head of a perceived enemy on a pole), but they and those who followed certainly did effect a cultural conquest.  Some versions of their story play that down, partly because a plague resulting from earlier contact with Westerners brought widespread death to coastal Indians in the Northeast just before the Mayflower arrived. God, it seemed to some, killed off the Indians to make way for the whites, a view this program corrects.

 Here’s more from Who Were the Pilgrims Who Celebrated the First Thanksgiving:

It draws on the unique, nearly lost history, Of Plymouth Plantation, written by William Bradford, the new colony’s governor for more than 30 years, whom the late actor Roger Rees portrays from a script derived from Bradford’s book.

Right from the start, the death rate was awful. Mortality had been enormous at the Jamestown colony, where by 1620 nearly 8,000 people had arrived, although the settlement was struggling to keep its population above a thousand. Bradford’s history recalled the Pilgrims’ anticipation of “a hideous and desolate wilderness, full of wild beasts and wild men.” Ferrying in supplies from the ship meant wading through ice-cold water, at one point with sleet glazing their bodies with ice. The first winter, people died from dysentery, pneumonia, tuberculosis, scurvy, and exposure, at rates as high as two or three per day. “It pleased God to visit us then with death daily,” Bradford wrote…

See also PBS Documentary “The Pilgrims”: A Review.

The lower image is courtesy of King David Abishag – Image Results.  The painting may actually show Bathsheba, see Moritz Stifter Bathsheba – Image Results, and/or Bathsheba Painting – Image Results.  The “Abishag” connection was gleaned from “Interesting Green: Reflection – King David and Abishag,” from  But see also Is Veryfatoldman.blogspot legit and safe?  (Review).

“The noose has to tighten SLOWLY…”

*   *   *   *

There’s been a lot of hubbub lately about Donald Trump’s pardon power.  And a lot of Americans worry that he could use that pardon-power so freely that he could avoid any successful prosecution.  (Either against himself or against any of his underlings.)

The first question has already been answered:  He can’t pardon himself.  (See No Donald, you CAN’T pardon yourself.  And even if he could, that “self-pardon” would only apply to federal crimes, not state crimes or civil suits.)  But that still leaves the question:  “If Trump pardons anyone and everyone who could incriminate him, wouldn’t that be the same as ‘pardoning himself?’”

All the president's men.jpgThe answer?  “Not necessarily.”  Which brings us back to the years from 1972 to 1974.  Back to “Deep Throat,” Richard Nixon, the Watergate scandal, and the movie – and book – All the President’s Men.

And for you thinking this is “like deja vu all over again,” it is…  

*   *   *   *

First of all, I wanted to call this post, “The truth will come out…”  (Because that’s what I believe.)  Then I started re-reading All the President’s Men, the 1974 book by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein.  I was looking for the part where “Deep Throat” lectured Woodward on the importance of building a conspiracy investigation slowly, “from the outer edges in.”  (In an obscure parking garage at 3:00 a.m…)  

I checked out the hard copy from a local library – my paperback is somewhere “lost in my house” – and eventually found the passage in question.  Then I started typing in the lecture, and the phrase “the rope has to tighten slowly” sounded ever so much better.

*   *   *   *

But here we cut to the chase.  Specifically, could Donald Trump use his pardon-power so freely that he could avoid any successful prosecution?  Put another way, what would happen if Trump pardoned all those lower-level minions who could possibly incriminate him?

Just this.  Since those “minions” will have been pardoned, they will no longer face the prospect of incriminating themselves.  Which means they can be compelled to testify.  And if they refuse to testify, they can be jailed for contempt of court.

And once they testify, a prosecutor – or Democratic Congress – can start building a case against Trump for obstructing justice.  For one thing, granting pardons to hide a criminal act is a criminal act itself.  Which brings us to the old saying, “The wheels of justice turn slowly, but grind exceedingly fine.”  (As illustrated at left.)

And today’s antithetical version: “Why is the Mueller investigation taking so long?”  (Note that that complaint was lodged as early as five months after Mueller was appointed.  Which brings up the classic American need for instant gratification, but that’s a whole ‘nother story…)

*   *   *   *

Which brings us back to 1974, and “Deep Throat” lecturing Bob Woodward on the importance of building a conspiracy investigation slowly.  You can read the full lecture – and background – at page 196 of the Simon and Schuster (1974) hardback, All the President’s Men:

“A conspiracy like this … a conspiracy investigation … the rope has to tighten slowly around everyone’s neck.  You build convincingly from the outer edges in, you get ten times the evidence you need against the Hunts and Liddys.  They feel hopelessly finished – they may not talk right away, but the grip is on them.  Then you move up and do the same thing to the next level.  If you shoot too high and miss, then everybody feels more secure.  Lawyers work this way.  I’m sure smart reporters do too.  You’ve put the investigation back months.  It puts everybody on the defensive – editors, FBI agents, everybody has to go into a crouch after this.”

The book added, “Woodward swallowed hard.  He deserved the lecture.”

The point is this:  The Mueller Investigation started over a year ago, in mid-May, 2017.  So far – it appears – it has resulted in 17 indictments and five guilty pleas.  So what happens if Trump starts pardoning more lower-level people?

Simply this:  They lose their Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate themselves.  They can be compelled to testify, on pain of being jailed for contempt of court.  The Mueller Investigation might end, but we would begin a whole new series of state criminal proceedings.  As in any state like New York where “The Donald” or his minions have done business.

And the “noose-tightening” would start all over again…

*   *   *   *

*   *   *   *

The upper image is courtesy of Noose Tightening Image – Image Results

Re: Pardons and the Fifth Amendment.  See Would a full presidential pardon void an individual’s 5th Amendment protection, and Donald Trump Pardons: How a Pardon Could Backfire.  For a fuller explanation of “contempt of court” in such circumstances, see If you’re pardoned, can you be compelled to testify about your crime?

Re:  “The wheels of justice turn slowly.”   See Justice – Wikiquote, under the letter “F,” which noted the saying has “appeared in various forms over the millennia, going back as far as “Euripides circa 405 BCE.”  In other words, the concept was known at least over 2400 years ago.  

Re:  The Mueller investigation starting on or about May 17, 2017.  See Robert Mueller, Former F.B.I. Director, Is Named Special Counsel for Russia Investigation.

Note that the ellipses (“…”) were in the original “Deep Throat” quote in All the President’s Men.

For the guilty pleas and indictments, I Googled “mueller investigation indictments and guilty pleas.”

Note that the change from “rope-tightening” to “noose-tightening” was a bit of creative license.

The lower image is courtesy of Just The Facts Ma’am – Image Results.  But see also Joe Friday – Wikipedia, which noted that Detective Friday never actually used the phrase:  “A common misattributed catchphrase to Friday is ‘Just the facts, ma’am.’ In fact, Friday never actually said this in an episode, but it was featured in Stan Freberg‘s works parodying ‘Dragnet.'”  See also FACT CHECK: Dragnet ‘Just the Facts’ –

*   *   *   *


“Imitation Game” – Revisited

The “super-spymaster” on the left didn’t know that the guy on the right was a “poofter…”

*   *   *   *

I confess – I “do not deny but confess” – that I’ve been lax in posting new essays for this blog.  One excuse is that I’ve been focusing more on my art.  (For one thing, I’ve finally gotten to the point – after 66 years – that I actually feel like I know what I’m doing when oil painting.) 

Be that as it may, it’s high time to publish another post.

In this case, I’ll re-visit a previous quasi-movie-review of The Imitation Game:

[The] 2014 historical thriller film about British mathematicianlogiciancryptanalyst and pioneering computer scientist Alan Turing who was a key figure in cracking Nazi Germany‘s naval Enigma code which helped the Allies win the Second World War, only to later be criminally prosecuted for his homosexuality.

That’s what I cited in the April 2015 post, On Oscar Wilde and “gross indecencies.”

The gist of that post was that two men of arguable genius – Turing, and Wilde (in his way) – got persecuted during their lifetimes.  Only after they had died did people come to realize their genius.  (In Wilde’s case he “now brings tourists to Dublin,” as seen at right.)  In the case of another writer, John Steinbeck noted:

The only good writer was a dead writer.   Then he couldn’t surprise anyone any more, couldn’t hurt anyone any more….   I’ve heard he died alone.  And now he’s good for the town.  Brings in some tourists.  He’s a good writer now.

But we digress…  Getting back to The Imitation Game, I first saw the film – in a movie theater – in January 2015.  But I recently checked out a DVD copy from the local library, and started viewing it again, in segments.  That is, I haven’t had cable TV since June 2016.  (That’s when I got back from my grandson’s high-school graduation and found a TV screen with no picture  My cable provider ended up saying I had two choices:  Pay a one-time $50 fee to have a technician check out the problem, or pay another $8 a month.  I said, basically, “No, there’s a third option…”)  

The Imitation Game (2014).pngSo anyway, since June 2016 I’ve been watching mostly old VHS movies on a clunky old-time weighs-a-ton TV set.  But I recently graduated to a flat-screen TV, hooked up to the DVD player I bought years ago.  (But never managed to hook up to the clunky old-time weighs-a-ton TV set.)

So since June 2016, I don’t watch TV;  in the morning, or after a hard workout, or at night trying to wind down.  Instead I watch classic movies, on DVD, in segments.  And soon after starting to watch this film, I began to wonder, “Where was the evidence that Turing was homosexual?”

In this morning’s episode, I found out.

For one thing, the film opened – well after World War II – in 1951, with an apparent break-in at Turing‘s home,   Two police officers investigated, during which the lead officer got suspicious because of Turing’s secrecy.  In due course the “sidekick” followed Turing and discovered him making an “assignation.”  (With a younger “poofter,” who confessed his wicked ways.)

More to the point, the film then flashed back to World War II.  To the point where Turing had to propose marriage to the lone female code-breaker, Joan Clarke(Played by Keira Knightley, at right.) 

That was because she was invaluable to the team of code-breakers, but her parents frowned on her being so alone, with all those men, “and unmarried.”  (I.e., Turing wanted her to stay and help break the Enigma code that would help the Allies win World War II.  Times were different then, and besides, the code-breaking project was top secret.) 

At the engagement party at a local pub, Turing was troubled by the upcoming nuptials, and of course the wedding night itself.  Fellow code-breaker John Cairncross asked him why.  Turing responded, “What if I don’t fancy being with her, that way?”  Cairncross responded, “Because you’re a homosexual.  I suspected as much.”  He then warned Turing to keep his homosexuality a secret.  For one thing, “because it’s illegal.”  For another, “Denniston‘s looking for any excuse to put you away.”  Which brings up the need for some more background:

When Britain declares war on Germany in 1939, Turing travels to Bletchley Park, where, under the direction of Commander Alastair Denniston, he joins the cryptography team of Hugh AlexanderJohn Cairncross, Peter Hilton, Keith Furman and Charles Richards.  The team are trying to decrypt the Enigma machine, which the Nazis use to send coded messages.

For some further background, Denniston was “first head of the Government Code and Cypher School (GC&CS).”  He was first appointed “operational head of GC&CS in 1919 and remained so until February 1942.”  Which may explain his hostile attitude toward Turing.

That is, throughout the film Commander Denniston basically hated Turing’s guts.  For one thing, when he tried to fire Turing, the “poof” went over his head and wrote to Winston Churchill (Seen at left, in 1904.)  Churchill in turn put Turing in charge of the code-breaking project.  Which resulted in this anomaly, or at least oddity:  The “spymaster” who’d headed the British Government Code and Cypher School since 1919 didn’t realize Turing was a “poof,” but a lowly fellow code-breaker did(It also turned out that Cairncross was a Russian spy.)  Which led to this, my first response to the Turing-Cairncross exchange:

With spymasters like that, it’s a miracle we won the frikkin’ war!! 

*   *   *   *

Notice that my first response was not to ask why I didn’t remember the parts in the movie that showed Turing was gay.  I didn’t wonder, “Why did I have to ask myself, ‘Where was the evidence that Turing was homosexual?’”   But then, I never claimed to be either a super-spymaster or a master code-breaker.  Then too, I may have been hearing too much from that Donald Trump guy, and gone into Auto Attack Mode(“It was somebody else’s fault!”)

But maybe – just maybe – “there’s a third option…”   Maybe I had a repressed memory.

The truth is, Oscar Wilde and “gross indecencies” was a pretty depressing post.  Wilde went from the heights of fame and pleasure, literally to “the depths.”  From being one of the most successful playwrights of Victorian London, to his arrest, trial and conviction for gross indecency.  And after Alan Turing’s own arrest and conviction, he got the “choice” of spending two years in prison or undergoing court-ordered chemical castration.  The treatment left him impotent, and two years later – in 1954 – he committed suicide by cyanide poisoning.

On the plus side, in 2003 the U.S. Supreme Court issued Lawrence v. Texas (Over the objections of many conservatives.)  The Court held that “intimate consensual sexual conduct was part of the liberty protected by substantive due process under the 14th Amendment.”

And Britain – in 2017 – passed the Alan Turing law.  That law allowed pardons for men “cautioned or convicted under historical legislation that outlawed homosexual acts.”  And as Wikipedia noted:  “As of January 2017, some 49,000 men had been posthumously pardoned under the terms of the Policing and Crime Act 2017.”

I suppose that’s some kind of progress…

*   *   *   *

*   *   *   *

The upper image is courtesy of The Imitation Game (2014) – IMDb.  (“Photo” 102 of 102.)

Re:  The Winston Churchill photo to the left of the paragraph beginning “That is, throughout the film…”  Not to be unkind, but in that photo Churchill looks to be a bit of a “poofter” himself.  (To which I might add, “Not that there’s anything wrong with that!”)  Then of course there was Churchill’s famous quote, “The only traditions of the Royal Navy are rum, sodomy and the lash.”

The lower image is courtesy of Alan Turing – Wikipedia.  The caption:  “Statue of Turing by Stephen Kettle at Bletchley Park, commissioned by Sidney Frank, built from half a million pieces of Welsh slate.”  Two more notes:  1)  “In 1941, Turing proposed marriage to Hut 8 colleague Joan Clarke, a fellow mathematician and cryptanalyst, but their engagement was short-lived.  After admitting his homosexuality to his fiancée, who was reportedly ‘unfazed’ by the revelation, Turing decided that he could not go through with the marriage.”  And 2)  “In August 2009, John Graham-Cumming started a petition urging the British Government to apologise for Turing’s prosecution…  The petition received more than 30,000 signatures.  The Prime Minister, Gordon Brown [issued] a statement on 10 September 2009 apologising and describing the treatment of Turing as ‘appalling.'”

Movie review: “The Post” – It wasn’t REALLY 6-3!

Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks) and “The Post” staff get news from an old-timey (3-channel) TV…

*   *   *   *

The Post (film).pngI just went to see The Post, the “2017 American political thriller” featuring Meryl Streep as Katharine Graham and Tom Hanks as Ben Bradlee (The publisher and executive editor of the Washington Post – respectively – at the time in question.)

It brought back a lot of memories.

The film – set in June 1971 – covered the month when both the Washington Post and the New York Times ran afoul of the Nixon Administration.  Specifically, both newspapers ended up in the U.S. Supreme Court, charged – essentially – with treason.  At stake – also essentially – was the future of freedom of the press in the United States(You know, that pain-in-the-ass part of the First Amendment of the Constitution?)

The Washington Post was perhaps best known for its coverage of Watergate scandal:

[From 1972 to 1974], in the best-known episode in the newspaper’s history, reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein led the American press’ investigation into what became known as the Watergate scandal; reporting in the newspaper greatly contributed to the resignation of President Richard Nixon.

However, The Post (film) covers an earlier time:  June, 1971.

That was when first the New York Times, then the Washington Post began running a series of articles based on the Pentagon Papers (The 47-volume, 7,000-page assessment of the history of the Vietnam War.  It was ordered in 1967 by Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara, and ultimately concluded that the war was “unwinnable.”  The papers were “turned over (without authorization) to The New York Times by Daniel Ellsberg, a senior research associate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Center for International Studies.”) 

 The Nixon Administration charged Ellsberg with conspiracy, espionage, and theft of government property – i.e., the Pentagon Papers – for which he faced a possible 115 years in prison.  And the substance of The Post (film) is that “Kate” Graham herself faced criminal prosecution, not to mention personal bankruptcy and the loss of the “family paper.”  (The Post (newspaper

An aside:  The paper had been “in the family” since 1933.  That’s when Katharine’s father – Eugene Meyer – bought the paper in a bankruptcy action.  “In 1946, Meyer was succeeded as publisher by his son-in-law, Philip Graham” – Katharine‘s husband – who died in 1963.  (Which itself offers some interesting drama…) 

The point being that Katharine Graham had a lot to lose…

I could write a lot about The Post as both film art and a commentary on how history tends to repeat(My original title for this “article” – to avoid a redundant “Post post” – was “Movie review: ‘The Post’ – and history repeating itself…”)  And I will do more “posts on ‘The Post'” in the future.

But for today I’ll focus on journalism and its place in American law.

All the President's Men book 1974.jpgFor one thing, I majored in journalism because of “Woodstein” and the film All the President’s Men.  For another, after graduation in 1976 I went to work for the St. Petersburg Times – now the Tampa Bay Times – for five years.  Then I  went to law school intending to become a reporter specializing in the law and legal proceedings.

Which could explain my focus for today’s review.

Near the end of the film, the staff of the Washington Post got a telephone call – on a rotary phone, no less – announcing the Supreme Court’s decision.  At stake was not only freedom of the press, but also the personal and financial future of Katharine Graham and Ben Bradlee (U.S. Attorney General John Mitchell was quoted as saying, “Katie Graham’s gonna get her tit caught in a big fat wringer if that’s published.”)

The announcement?  “We won, 6-3!”  (Or words to that effect…)

My first reaction?  That the scariest part of the movie was that – back in 1971 – three Supreme Court Justices seemed to agree with the Nixon Administration.

And if that was true back then, what would happen today if the Trump Administration took a similar stand, from its own Enemies List?  Or worse, if Trump goes on to pack the Court?  But –  after further review – it turned out that Chief Justice Warren Burger – together with Justices John Harlan and Harry Blackmun – dissented only because of the “haste of the proceedings:”

[Burger] argued that in the haste of the proceedings, and given the size of the documents, the Court was unable to gather enough information to make a decision…  The Chief Justice did not argue that the Government had met the aforementioned standard, but rather that the decision should not have been made so hastily.

Which doesn’t mean the dissenters favored the government.  It only meant they thought the decision should not have been made so quickly.  (See New York Times v. United States.)

To give some perspective, the Times published its first article on June 13, 1971, while the Washington Post began publishing its own articles on June 18.  The Supreme Court heard oral arguments from the various parties on June 25 and 26, and rendered its decision on June 30, 1971.

Which means the whole process – from the first publishing to the government’s law suit to the final decision by the Supreme Court – took less than three weeks.  But in normal certiorari proceedings, “cases take approximately 12 to 24 months from the day they are petitioned until the Supreme Court issues a decision.”

On the other hand, the average schmuck trying to fix a decision in a state court must first “exhaust all state remedies” – which can take years – and such cases are rarely granted review.

At any rate, the fact that the three dissenting justices only felt the decision was rendered too quickly made me feel a bit better, and not so panicky.

At least for now…  In the meantime, consider this from one Thomas Jefferson:

…were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter. 

I’ll be writing more reviews of The Post in the future.

*   *   *   *

Official Presidential portrait of Thomas Jefferson (by Rembrandt Peale, 1800).jpg

*   *   *   *

The upper image is courtesy of The Post (2017) – IMDb.  Text and/or images were also gleaned from  The Post (2017) – IMDb and Pentagon Papers – Wikipedia.

RE:  “That pain-in-the-ass part of the First Amendment.”   That Amendment states:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press;  or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

Re:  The Pentagon Papers saying the Vietnam war was “unwinnable.”  The study also indicated that presidential administrations beginning with Harry Truman and Dwight Eisenhower also routinely lied to the American people as to why the war was necessary in the first place.

The photo to the right of the paragraph “To give some perspective,” is captioned “The Monday, July 21, 1969, edition, with the headline ‘The Eagle Has Landed’‍ – Two Men Walk on the Moon.” 

Re:  The “normal” length of time for Supreme Court proceedings.  See How long does a US Supreme Court case take –  “More commonly, cases take approximately 12 to 24 months from the day they are petitioned until the Supreme Court issues a decision.”  Re:  “Average schmuck” and “exhausting state remedies.”  See SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES, (courtesy of “law.cornell”), and U.S. Supreme Court: Failure to Exhaust Remedies Is an Affirmative Defense.  

And as another aside, Chief Justice Warren Burger also argued that the Times should have discussed the possible societal repercussions with the Government prior to publication of the material.

The lower image is courtesy of Thomas Jefferson – Wikipedia.  As to the quote, see also Jefferson’s preference for “newspapers without governmentJefferson on Politics & Government: Freedom of the Press, and/or Jefferson’s Warning to the White House |

Whatever happened to … Cassidy?

Whatever Happened To Randolph Scott – shown at right didn’t happen to “Hopalong…”

(… as in “Cassidy.”)

*   *   *   *

 There was a cute young volunteer at the office the other day.  (At the local Keep America Beautiful, where I work off and on as a supervisor.)   Her name was Cassidy.

So when the Big Boss Man called her “hopalong,” I got a bit confused.

assumed that maybe – when she put her bag behind the office table –  she’d done a little hop. Or maybe she’d had a limp the day before.  But later – working at the recycle bins – it hit me.  So I asked her about the nickname and she said, “Oh yeah, that’s what a lot of old guys call me!

I then asked if she knew who “Hopalong Cassidy” was.  She didn’t, so I got out my trusty smartphone – or a reasonable facsimile – and showed her the Wikipedia article, complete with pictures.  (Including the early “rough around the edges” version, by Frank Schoonover, at right.  It’s Hopalong Takes Command, “for the 1905 story ‘Fight at Buckskin.'”)

But that little episode set in motion a whole set of trains of thought(Or more precisely, train-lines of free association.)  

Those train-lines included – but weren’t limited to – the question, “Whatever happened to the guy who played Hopalong Cassidy?”  For that matter, “Whatever happened to the guys who played other old-time cowboy heroes?”

Those queries also include – but aren’t limited to – whatever happened to Randolph Scott, Lash LaRueJohnny Mack Brown, or for that matter, Gene Autry.  For one short answer, check sites like 10 Best Old Cowboy Movies, or Famous Old Western Actors, both courtesy of the Screen Junkies website.  Or you could check 16 Best Western Movies | The Art of Manliness, for more on the ongoing appeal of those old-time cowboys.   That short answer?

Few figures in history have had as powerful an impact on American masculinity as the cowboy.  For over a century, the cowboy has — for better or for worse — been a standard of rugged individualism and stoic bravery for the American male.  While the mythologization of the American cowboy began all the way back in the 1880s … it wasn’t until the advent of twentieth century cinema that the cowboy cemented his place as an icon of manliness.

Gene Autry.JPGThen too, through the magic of hyperlinks, you can check for yourself what happened to Randolph Scott, Lash LaRueJohnny Mack Brown, or Gene Autry.  (As shown at right.)

But we were talking about “Hopalong Cassidy.”  (“Hoppy,” for short.)

Clarence E. Mulford created Hoppy in 1904.  And in the original version, he was portrayed as “rude, dangerous, and rough-talking.”

(Not uniike Bugs Bunny or Woody Woodpecker.  Bugs was originally “loud, zany with a goofy, guttural laugh” and a “hayseed voice.”  But in later versions he was shown as “cool, graceful, and controlled.”  Woody too went on to “evolve over the years, from an insane bird with an unusually garish design to a more refined looking and acting character.”)

Be that as it may, in the movie version played by William Boyd – starting in 1935 – Hopalong Cassidy too was transformed into a clean-cut hero.  (As shown in the bottom image.)

…white-haired Bill “Hopalong” Cassidy was usually clad strikingly in black (including his hat, an exception to the western film stereotype that only villains wore black hats).  He was reserved and well spoken, with a sense of fair play…  “Hoppy” and his white horse, Topper, usually traveled through the west with two companions – one young and trouble-prone with a weakness for damsels in distress, the other older, comically awkward and outspoken.

Gabby hayes.pngIncidentally, George Reeves – who later played Superman – was one of those who played the “young and trouble-prone” sidekick.  And among those who played the older man – “comically awkward and outspoken” – was Gabby Hayes.  (Seen at left, he played Hoppy’s original “grizzled sidekick, ‘Windy Halliday.'”)   But Hayes left because of a salary dispute…

Also incidentally, Hayes went on to a long career as a movie sidekick.  He made 44 movies with Roy Rogers, 15 with John Wayne – “some as straight or villainous characters” – seven with Gene Autry and six with Randolph Scott:

Hayes, in real life an intelligent, well groomed and articulate man, was cast as a grizzled codger who uttered phrases such as “consarn it,” “yer durn tootin’,” “dadgummit,” “durn persnickety female,” and “young whippersnapper.”

But once again we digress.  We were talking about William Boyd, and about Cassidy, “Hopalong” or otherwise.  Boyd was born in 1895 and died in 1972.  The Boyd link too noted that Hoppy’s character changed drastically from the book to film versions:  “from a hard-drinking, rough-living wrangler to its eventual incarnation as a cowboy hero who did not smoke, swear, or drink alcohol (his drink of choice being sarsaparilla)…”

Then too, Boyd made the then-radical transition from movies to television.  When Hollywood branded him a “washed-up cowboy star” in 1948, Boyd made a desperate gamble.  He bought the movie rights, which set the stage for his moving to the new – and untested – TV format:

Boyd’s desperate gamble paid off, making him the first national TV star and restoring his personal fortune…  [He licensed] merchandise, including such products as Hopalong Cassidy watches, trash cans, cups, dishes, Topps trading cards, a comic strip, comic books, cowboy outfits, home-movie digests of his Paramount releases via Castle Films, and a new Hopalong Cassidy radio show, which ran from 1948 to 1952.

Married five times, Boyd retired from acting in 1953.  He invested in real estate and “moved to Palm Desert, California.  He refused interviews and photographs in later years, preferring not to disillusion his millions of fans who remembered him as their screen idol.”

Which I suppose could be an object lesson for some of today’s actors and sports figures, who play past their prime.  But in closing, let’s get back to “Cassidy.”

The Partridge Family David Cassidy 1972.jpgCassidy – as a first name especially – comes from the Irish and means “clever.”  (Or “curly-haired,” from the Gaelic Caiside.)  It first appeared “among the 1,000 most-popular names for American girls in 1981,” and reached a peak of popularity in 1999.  (When it was “the 99th most popular name for American girls.”)

And Wikipedia noted that “Cassidy may have become a first name due to baby-boomer parents naming their children after ’70s teen idol David Cassidy.  (Seen at right, or perhaps “the Grateful Dead song, ‘Cassidy.'”)

So here’s a newsflash for all those coming-of-age young ladies named Cassidy.  And who were given that name by baby-boomer parents  (And – most likely – by baby-boomer mothers who had the hots – when young – for David Cassidy.)


Now you know why all those old guys call you “Hopalong…”


*   *   *   *

The upper image is courtesy of Randolph Scott – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.  The caption:  “With Jack Lambert in Abilene Town, 1946.”

Also re: Randolph Scott.  Like Boyd, Scott retired – at age 64 – a  wealthy man.  Through “shrewd investments throughout his life,” he eventually accumulated “a fortune worth a reputed $100 million, with holdings in real estate, gas, oil wells, and securities.”  But neither “Randolph” nor “Scott” became associated with a teen idol, who later gave a name to a generation of baby-boomers.

Note also Cassidy (as a surname).  That common Irish surname translates to “descendent of Caiside,” a family from “County Fermanagh.  The Caisides were originally a medical family, who were hereditary physicians to the Maguires.”  The Maguires are also from County Fermanagh, but that surname is uncommon, and said to descend from “Cormac mac Airt, monarch of Ireland about the middle of the third century.”

The lower image is courtesy of The HOPALONG CASSIDY Poster Page, WILLIAM BOYD.

On “THE Revenant”

Man [against] the Wilderness…”   That’s pretty much the theme of The Revenant


Here’s a review of The Revenant, the 2015 “frontier revenge film.”  It’s set in 1823, in what later became the states of Montana and South Dakota.  The film – with Leonardo DiCaprio in the lead role – was “inspired by the experiences of frontiersman and fur trapper Hugh Glass.”

Revenant reviewIn a word, the film is intense.  But perhaps the best summary came from the first line of the Rolling Stone review.  (Which you’ll have to look up, on account of “we” are trying to be a class act here.  And a BTW:  “Brutal” is another good one-word description.)

Suffice it to say the film features breath-taking winter photography of the American West, “before the coming of the White Man.”  (In the words of The Hollywood Reporter, “brutal realism and extravagant visual poetry.”)  But that Ode To Beauty is interspersed with graphic images of the savagery it took to actually survive in that wilderness.  

And in what could be a related note:  “In European folklore, a revenant is a corpse that has returned from the grave to terrorize the living.” (See Revenant (disambiguation) – Wikipedia.)

That’s another good way to sum up the movie.

More to the point, the real-life Hugh Glass was called the revenant “from the 19th century French verb revenant, meaning someone who returns from a long absence, or a person or thing reborn.”  The nickname came after his epic 200-mile journey – in the dead of winter, down the Cheyenne River to Ft. Kiowa, shown at left – after being mauied by a momma Grizzly.

And speaking of a Man in the Wilderness, that was the 1971 film with a variation on the theme of basically the same story.

That film too was “loosely based on the life of Hugh Glass.”  It featured Richard Harris as “Zachary Bass” – not “Hugh Glass” – and John Huston as Captain Henry.  (See also Man in the Wilderness – Wikipedia.)  Captain Henry – the “hunting party leader” – showed up in both films. But Huston’s portrayal – of Henry as demented nemesis – was more like his role as Noah Cross in Chinatown.  In Revenant, the Captain is good-hearted but much too willing to trust…

Which is another way of saying the bad guys in Revenant are “Thomas Fitzgerald” and a youthful Jim Bridger.  Bridger went on to become one of the “foremost mountain men, trappers, scouts and guides who explored and trapped the Western United States.”  But in the 1823 expedition he was an “unwitting dupe” to Fitzgerald’s scheming and treachery.

Tom Hardy was admirable as Fitzgerald. (Shown at right.)  He’s the type of loudmouth, self-seeking blowhard who seems to plague every all-male gathering. (Or “hunting party” for that matter.)

Another note:  In various reviews there seemed to be some confusion between Thomas Fitzgerald and Thomas Fitzpatrick.  (The latter was known as (the) “Broken Hand,” from a firearms accident that mangled his left hand.)

So anyway, throughout the movie Fitzgerald constantly complains, badmouths, and is a general – and genuine – “PITA.”  For example, he’s the first to suggest killing Glass outright.  (After Glass was graphically mauled by a mother Grizzly Bear protecting her cubs.)

That’s because the company of hunter-trappers got ambushed by Arikara warriors to start the film.  As a result, some 16 of the 24 men in the hunting party got killed and/or scalped.  (Also shown graphically in the film.  The survivors’ escape is shown below left.)  

In turn, Glass’s injuries threatened to slow down the whole group, trying to escape further death at the hands of the Arikara.  And by the way, the film-Fitzgerald wore that bandana-like thing on his head because he’d been partially scalped.  (In an earlier run-in with another band of Indians.  And in an ode to karma, the job gets finished at the end of the film, “and deservedly so.”)  

 And speaking of gore, the film goes to great lengths to illustrate what Glass actually had to put himself through in order to survive.  (From both the harsh winter conditions and his injuries.)

For example, in one scene, “Glass” slits open a just-dead Indian pony, pulls out the entrails and crawls inside – naked – to keep from freezing.  (After yet another near-escape from death.)  In another sequence, Glass has to cauterize a still-open bleeding wound in his throat.  He applied gunpowder to the wound, then lit-it-to-explosion with some burning brush.  Which brings up the fact that for much of the movie, DiCaprio‘s dialog consisted of grunts and screams.  (And deservedly so…)

And aside from having to deal with:  1) the “Momma Grizzly,”  2) the Arikara,  3) big-mouth Tom Fitzgerald, and of course  4) the brutal winter conditions, Glass has another set of “villains” to deal with:  A party of horny French hunters and trappers.  But they’re not just direct competitors of the American fur trappers.  They also instigated the Arikara ambush in the first place.  (As a way of “stealing business away from [their] competition.”)

And aside from all that, they kidnapped the daughter of the Arikara chief.

Which brings up another gory scene.  Glass sneaks up behind one of the Frenchmen – raping the Ree maiden from behind – and slits his throat.  (“And deservedly so.”)  The girl ran one way through the snow, and Glass – on a stolen horse – galloped away in another direction.  But of course “we” knew she’d reappear in a later scene, and so she did.  (At the end of the movie, on variations of:  1) The enemy of my enemy is my friend;  2) Karma; and  3) Poetic justice.)

The long and short of it is that the story of Hugh Glass is a timeless classic, as shown by the 1922 newspaper feature shown below.  (Illustrated by Charles M. Russell.)  But unfortunately it’s not for everyone.  On the other hand, it provides a much-needed message to all the whiners, complainers, back-stabbers, badmouths, and blowhards who seem so prevalent today:

Walk it offNancy!”


A 1922 Milwaukee Journal article on “Hugh Glass’ exploits,” illustrated by Charles M. Russell… 

*   *   *   *

The upper image is courtesy of The Revenant (2015) Movie Photos and Stills – Fandango.  (As are the images of Tom Fitzgerald – Tom Hardy – and the hunter-trappers escaping across a creek, with DiCaprio in the middle, carrying a wounded man in a Fireman’s carry.)

The second-down (DeCaprio) image is courtesy of  ‘The Revenant’ Movie Review | Rolling Stone.  The caption:  “Leonardo DiCaprio in ‘The Revenant.’ (Kimberly French).”

Re: “Coming of the White Men.”  See Coming of the White Man – Wikipedia, about a sculpture in Portland, Oregon, depicting “two Native American men, including Chief Multnomah, looking towards the Columbia River upon the arrival of Lewis and Clark.”  See also, Coming of the White Men[:]  Geronimo His own story, for a Native American point of view.

Re:  “Brutal realism and extravagant visual poetry.”  Those were Todd McCarthy’s words, in his Hollywood Reporter review.  See The Revenant Reviews |

Re:  Jim Bridger.  As noted, Hugh Glass ultimately forgave Bridger for his part in the 1823 matter, largely because he was so young.   In the winter of 1824-1825, Bridger went on to gain fame as the first European American to see the Great Salt Lake.  He was also “among the first white men to see the geysers and other natural wonders of the Yellowstone region.”  And in 1830, Bridger and some other trappers “established the Rocky Mountain Fur Company, competing with the Hudson’s Bay Company and John Jacob Astor‘s American Fur Company for the lucrative beaver pelt trade.”  He remained active – serving as Army scout and guide – until 1865.

Re: The estimate of men killed in the initial film-ambush.  The sentence as originally written said “some two-thirds of the ‘white men’ were killed and/or scalped.”  But I felt that “neutral” phrasing didn’t do justice to the actual situation.  (Of a great number of American men killed.)  So I searched the Internet for the actual number of men in the hunting party, to no avail.  As an alternative, I counted the number of men in the “survivors’ escape” photo, added two, and multiplied by three.

 Re: “Walk it offNancy!”  A variation on that theme is “Get off your pity potNancy!”  Walk it off generally means to deal with a “negative emotional event without complaint; to take it like a man.” According to the Urban Dictionary, “pity potis a euphemism for generally “feeling really sorry for oneself.”  As to “Nancy,” that term is used “as a disparaging term for an effeminate man.”  (In other words, a man who couldn’t have done what Hugh Glass did.)  See also “nancy boy,” and “negative Nancy,” for similar disparaging terms apropos to a review of The Revenant.

The lower image is courtesy of the Hugh Glass link in the article, The Revenant (2015 film) – Wikipedia.

Charles M. Russell (1864-1926) was a noted “artist of the Old American West.”  Known as “the cowboy artist,”  he created “more than 2,000 paintings of cowboys, Indians, and landscapes set in the Western United States.”  An example:  The 1908 oil-on-canvas painting at right, “Smoke of a .45.” 

And incidentally, the director of The Revenant – Alejandro González Iñárritu  – won three Oscars in 2014, for directing, writing, and producing “Birdman.”  See my review at On “Birdman,” the movie.

*   *   *   *

For another good review see Hugh Glass, the Real Man of “The Revenant” Movie.  It identified Glass’s nemesis as “John Fitzgerald,” but also asked the rhetorical question, “Have we become a nation of wusses?”  I.e., some of the film crew walked off the set because of the difficult conditions: 

Behind the scenes, DiCaprio has told media outlets the remote locations and frigid temperatures – the movie was film only in natural light during winter – was one of the most difficult films he has done.  Those same factors led some crewmembers to walk off the set. Which begs the questions: have we modern-day Americans lost our ability to rough it in the wild?

I took the liberty of translating “our ability to rough it in the wild” to the more-direct question: “Have we become a nation of wusses?”  For one answer see Canoeing 12 miles offshore.

“In the Heart of the Sea”

image: Sperm Whaling:  The Chase

“Sperm Whales – The Chase…”


 I first read about the Essex 54 years ago.  (I was 10 or so.)

My aunt gave me a set of American Heritage Junior Books.  The one I liked best was The Story of Yankee Whaling.  (Published in 1959.)

But that book didn’t just include the story of the Wreck of the Essex. (With a POW – loosely translated as “angry whale” – ramming and sinking a ship, as shown in Ron Howard’s new In the Heart of the Sea.)

 Yankee Whaling also included the gory tale of Samuel Comstock, star of the “bloodiest mutiny in the history of American whaling,” on the whale-ship Globe:

The mutineers [in 1815] killed Captain Worth and three other officers.  Soon after William Humphries, one of the mutineers, was accused of plotting to take the ship; a kangaroo court of the mutineers tried him and, finding him guilty, hanged him.

Yankee Whaling had vivid descriptions of the mutineers hacking up some victims – mostly officers – and throwing others to the sharks.  (Just the stuff 10-year-old boys love to read.)

Which could mean the Globe mutiny will soon be “coming to a theater near you.”  In the meantime we have Heart of the Sea.  That movie shows a whale sinking a ship, then “stalking” the survivors 2,000 miles across the vast Pacific.  (In a bit of Hollywood hyperbole.)

In the Heart of the Sea poster.jpgOn the other hand – in 90 days at sea, in small leaky boats and without enough food or water – the eight survivors of the Essex did things that the Globe mutineers would likely have found revolting.  (See the classic joke, re:  “the peasants are revolting.”)

There’s more on that later, but first note Garry Wills‘ version of the Lord’s prayer.  His version reads, “and bring us not to the Breaking Point.”  (Instead of the usual “lead us not into temptation.”)

Briefly, Heart of the Sea tells the story of eight men – survivors of the original crew of 21 – who got forcibly taken to their breaking point, then well beyond that.

Which is another way of saying the original – true – story was bad enough.

The problem?  The true story of eight men surviving 90 days of living hell – on the vast Pacific – is both incredibly long and incredibly boring.  (On film anyway.)  Which is another way of saying that amount of living hell doesn’t translate well to film.  So in making the movie, Howard had to take liberties with some facts and make up others out of whole cloth.

Despite all that, the film earned my highest compliment.  I paid three times more than usual – to see the IMAX version – and still felt like I got my money’s worth.

Getting back to the Essex:  I read the American Heritage version 50 years ago.  Then five or six years ago I came across the book version of Heart of the Sea, by Daniel Philbrick.

The heart of the story – what made Philbrick’s book different – was that tale of eight men in small boats, undergoing 90 days of heat, hunger and thirst.  And the book version gave that long, boring ordeal its full scope.  But a film is like a shark.  It has to move – visibly – or it will “die.”  (Lose its audience.  Or to paraphrase McLuhan, “the format shapes the message.”)

Accordingly, in making a film of Heart of the Sea, Ron Howard came up with a workable yet eminently appealing mix of fact and fiction.  For starters, he used the classic seafaring style, focusing on “two quarrelling men in charge of a big ship, like Mutiny on the Bounty” – as shown at left – “or Jaws.”  (See “scurvy and beards.”)

Another twist was the flashback:  One remaining survivor – Thomas Nickerson – interviewed by Herman Melville (“Moby Dick“) some 30 years after Nickerson served as cabin boy on the Essex.

And “young cabin boys” raise an historical anomaly:

In 1822 … New England mothers sent their sons to kill whales in the Pacific Ocean at an age when modern parents would think twice about letting them have the car for a weekend.

Which brings up an early departure of fact in the film.  Melville actually interviewed Pollard, long after he’d lost his “captaincy.”  Some three years after the Essex sank, Pollard commanded the whale-ship Two Brothers when it sank.  (Off the Frigate Shoals.)  So by the time he got interviewed by Melville, Pollard had been demoted to “night-watchman” on Nantucket Island.  (And as such considered a “nobody” to the islanders.)

And speaking of anomalies:  The film showed First Mate Owen Chase as the real hero.  It also showed Pollard as both a man who owed his captaincy to nepotism – connections – and a lesser sailor than Chase.  But once the ramming happened, Pollard recommended a shorter course to a closer set of islands.  (A course that would take advantage of prevailing “tail winds.”)

But unlike the cliche “Captain Bligh,” Pollard let himself be persuaded by Chase.  So the three small boats set sail for South America – 2,000 miles away – against the prevailing winds.  But as Wikipedia noted:  “Herman Melville later speculated that all would have survived had they followed Captain Pollard’s recommendation and sailed west.”

(It seems Chase and the crew feared the closer islands – the Marquesas – were inhabited by cannibals.  Which seems highly ironic, given what actually happened later...)

In yet another departure from fact, the real whale didn’t stalk the boats 2,000 miles across the Pacific.  Nor did the whale “have a moment” with Chase, near the end of 90 days adrift.  (When Chase refused to harpoon the whale-stalker, despite Pollard’s goading to do so.)

The film did feature an accurate translation of a “Nantucket sleighride“,” as seen at right.   It also showed a “flurry:”  The dying whale spraying his tormentors with a mixture of blood from his pierced lungs, along with mucus and seawater.  (In some manner of Freudian anointing.)

Then there were the “chockpins” worn by experienced whalers.  What the film didn’t show: They were apparently worn to “get babes.”

Then there was the matter of the boats landing on Henderson Island.  (Not Ducie Island, as in the film.)  Years after the wreck three skeletons were found on Ducie Island.  They were believed to be from the lost third-of-three boats “never to be seen again,” but that was never confirmed.

And finally, the film ended with two popular tropes.   One was that of corrupt businessmen, in the form of a “board of inquiry.”  The money-grubbing businessmen on the Nantucket board were shown arm-twisting Chase and Pollard to say the Essex ran aground, and that the missing crew-members drowned.  (They were afraid of higher insurance rates.)

A “board of inquiry” that apparently never took place, or at least not in that way.

The other was the look into the future trope.  The film ended with Nickerson and Melville parting ways after the all-night session of drinking, recalling and writing.  Nickerson told Melville – with faint disbelief – of a “new” discovery of oil, in the ground, somewhere in Pennsylvania…

Which led to the cartoon “whale celebration” below..

*   *   *   *

All in all, Heart of the Sea is a film well worth seeing.  For those who’d love to get a feel for the pure adventure, “such as befell early and heroic voyagers…”  And especially for those who’d love to get a feel for being “alone, alone, all all alone, alone on the wide, wide sea…”

*   *   *   *

Whales “celebrating the discovery” of oil in Pennsylvania…

*   *   *   *

The upper image is courtesy of Artifact Article: Sperm Whaling: The Chase:

Three whale ships can be seen in the background, while two whaleboats are in the foreground.  In the whaleboats, boatsteerers are seen with their harpoons raised.  As they chase the whale, one can image that the call “thar She blows!” was sounded, as several whales can be seen spouting as they surface.

The illustration was by Benjamin Russell, born into a family of whaling merchants.  He started work in the office of a whaling agent in New Bedford, MA, but “showed more aptitude for drawing than business, often to the displeasure of his superiors.”  He later spent four years on the whale ship Kutusoff.  There his “acute observational sensitivity” resulted in sketches with “impeccable detail…  Russell’s images were rendered with mastered accuracy rather than artistic intention.” 

See also Benjamin Russell: Whaleman-Artist, Entrepreneur | New Bedford.

For more on the sources used in this post, see the notes below.

The “Story of Yankee Whaling” image is courtesy of American Heritage Junior Library | Series | LibraryThing.  See also American Heritage Junior Library | eBaywhere the book is available individually for $1.95, or as part of a set of seven, for $21.00.  For more on the author, see below.

Re: Samuel Comstock.  See also Globe (1815 whaleship) – Wikipedia, and Helter-Skelter on the High Seas –  The latter was a review of two books said to “unravel the saga of the bloodiest mutiny in the history of American whaling.”  Comstock was said to be “a keen ladies’ man,” to wit:  He possessed a “superabundance of something which the fair sex seemed to consider a very agreeable substitute.”  (For affection.)  Also this note, as previously noted:

In 1822 … New England mothers sent their sons to kill whales in the Pacific Ocean at an age when modern parents would think twice about letting them have the car for a weekend.

Re: “coming to a theater near you.”  See also In a World – TV Tropes.

Re: “Your majesty, the peasants are revolting!”  “They certainly are!”  See also Count de Money / “The People Are Revolting” – YouTube, and/or Ambiguity – Simple English Wikipedia, which noted the “British comedian Ronnie Barker said that he loved the English language because there are so many jokes you can make using ambiguity.”

Re: “breaking point.”  See Garry Wills’  What the Gospels Meant, Viking Press (2008), at page 87; found in Part II, “Matthew,” Chapter 5, “Sermon on the Mount:”

Our Father of the heavens, your title be honored … and bring us not to the Breaking Point, but wrest us from the Evil One.    

The usual translation in the Lord’s Prayer is – as noted – “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”  See Wikipedia.  My life experience tells me the term “breaking point” is more accurate and appropriate.  See also The True Test of Faith, in my other blog.

The “whale’s eye” image is courtesy of In the Heart of the Sea (film) – Wikipedia.  See also In the Heart of the Sea (book) – Wikipedia, which included this on the author’s sources:

Philbrick utilizes an account written by Thomas Nickerson, who was a teenage cabin boy on board the Essex and wrote about the experience in his old age;  his account was lost until 1960 but was not authenticated until 1980 before being published, abridged, in 1984.  The book also utilizes the better known account of Owen Chase, the ship’s first mate, which was published soon after the ordeal.

Re: Marshall McLuhan andthe format shapes the message.”  The Rotten Tomatoes review said the “admirably old-fashioned” film-story boasted “thoughtful storytelling to match its visual panache, even if it can’t claim the depth or epic sweep to which it so clearly aspires.”  My theory is that neither the depth nor epic sweep of the true story could have been adequately translated to film. 

The “Bounty” image is courtesy of Mutiny on the Bounty – Wikipedia.  The caption: “Fletcher Christian and the mutineers seize HMS Bounty on 28 April 1789. Engraving by Hablot Knight Browne, 1841.”

Re: The “whale-stalking.”  Wikipedia said that after ramming the Essex – twice – the whale “finally disengaged its head from the shattered timbers and swam off, never to be seen again.”  

Re: “have a moment.”  An allusion to the 1984 film, Moscow on the Hudson (1984)

Vladimir Ivanoff: [confronting a stranger following him down the street]  FBI?   Gay Man on Street:  FBI?  No.   Vladimir Ivanoff:  KGB?   Gay Man on Street:  No.  G-A-Y.   Vladimir Ivanoff: Gay?  Oh, no, no.   Gay Man on Street:  Sorry.  You have a nice face.  I thought we had a “moment” back there.

The “Nantucket sleigh ride” image is courtesy of

Re: the number of survivors and their length of time at sea.  It took 90 days for the Owen Chase boat to be rescued, with three survivors.  It took 95 days for the Pollard boat to be rescued, at a different location, with two survivors.  The three original boats were separated in a storm, and the boat headed by Obed Hendricks – “boatsteerer” – was never seen again.  Wikipedia: “A whaleboat was later found washed up on Ducie Island, just east of Henderson Island, with the skeletons of three people inside…  [S]uspected to be Obed Hendricks’ missing boat, the remains were never positively identified.”  Thus the eight survivors, including the three who stayed on Henderson Island.

Re:  “Look into the future” trope.  It’s actually known as Externally Validated Prophecy:  “When a character makes a prediction about the future which is not fulfilled in the work, yet an audience aware of history knows will be fulfilled.”

Re: “pure dispassionate adventure.”   The quote is from Robert Louis Stevenson’s Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes.  See also Donkey travel – and sluts and “Pity the fool” from my other blog.

The lower image is courtesy of Sperm whaling – Wikipedia, including the caption: “An 1861 cartoon showing sperm whales celebrating the discovery of new petroleum wells in Pennsylvania.  The proliferation of mineral oils reduced demand for their species’ oil.”   The caption in the cartoon itself:  “Grand ball given by the whales in honor of the discovery of the oil wells in Pennsylvania.”

*   *   *   *

Sources used for this post – or worth more reading:  Heart of the Sea (film) – WikipediaEssex (whaleship) – WikipediaHistory of whaling – WikipediaGirl on a Whaleship – ImagesEssex explainedand a review:  “Heart of the Sea” – Apollo 13 with scurvy and beards:

There was rumored to exist a secret society of young women on the island whose members vowed to wed only men who had already killed a whale.  To help these young women identify them as hunters, boatsteerers wore chockpins (small oak pins used to secure the harpoon line in the bow groove of a whaleboat) on their lapels.

See The Real Story Behind “In the Heart of the Sea,” which also included this:

The harpoon did not kill the whale. It was the equivalent of a fishhook.  After letting the whale exhaust itself, the men began to haul themselves, inch by inch, to within stabbing distance of the whale.  Taking up the 12-foot-long killing lance, the man at the bow probed for a group of coiled arteries near the whale’s lungs with a violent churning motion.  When the lance finally plunged into its target, the whale would begin to choke on its own blood, its spout transformed into a 15-foot geyser of gore that prompted the men to shout, “Chimney’s afire!” As the blood rained down on them, they took up the oars and backed furiously away, then paused to observe as the whale went into what was known as its “flurry.”

The site also noted that Melville interviewed Captain Pollard for his later book, Moby Dick, not Nickerson.  After a second failed whaling voyage, Pollard became the town’s night watchman; “To the islanders he was a nobody…”  For a lengthy account and history see the New York Times review.

A final note:  The American Heritage Yankee Whaling was written by Irwin Shapiro (1911–1981), an “American writer and translator of over 40 books, mostly for children and about Americana:”

After an initial foray into writing radical literature that encompassed his last year as a communist, Shapiro turned to children’s books…  He published many titles for Golden Books[, including one thought to be] a coded message about the imprisonment of American spy Isaiah Oggins in the GULAG…  The Library of Congress holds 44 titles in his name.

See Wikipedia, and also Irony … Literary Devices.

Alice’s Restaurant – Revisited

faux “Alice’s Restaurant” – which may be some kind of object lesson for today’s world.. 

 *   *   *   *

 And speaking of Thanksgiving!

Alice's Restaurant.jpg

Every year around this time I do my best to listen to Alice’s Restaurant.  (The “musical monologue by singer-songwriter Arlo Guthrie,” released in 1967.)  When it first came out – in 1967 – the war in Vietnam was at its height.  Then there was The Draft.

There’s more on all that later, but first a lighter note.

In 1993 I started a tradition of listening to Alice’s Restaurant every Thanksgiving.  It has nothing to do with eating turkey or getting together with family.  Instead it has everything to do with my favorite college football team playing its hated arch-rival.

Back in 1993 that favorite college football team won its first national title.  And it just so happened that for that Thanksgiving weekend I had to drive up to Jacksonville.  (My late wife was working as a traveling sales lady.  For a church directory company.)  It also just so happened that was when my team played the hated arch-rival that stood as a final obstacle to the title game.

And that’s when I heard the full rendition – on the radio, of Alice’s Restaurant – for the first time in years.  And as it happened, 1988 was also when I met the woman who became my first wife.  It also turned out that 1988 was when I started getting serious on making a ritual sacrifice for my team.  (Doing things to help them win.  See also sublimation – referring to my former hobby.)

So anyway, at the end of 1988 I drove home from a Christmas vacation in Yankee-land.  Coming through Gainesville, I heard the full rendition of Alice’s Restaurant for the first time since the 1960s.  (When I also saw the singularly-depressing movie of the same name.)

There followed five years of close, but no cigar for my favorite team, from 1988 to 1992.

But it was different in 1993.  For Thanksgiving that year I drove north – not south – when I heard the song.  For another thing, in 1993 my radio played the song not once, but twice.  The result was that my team won its first national title.  And the last big test before the title game itself was playing and beating my team’s hated arch-rival, on that Thanksgiving weekend of 1993.

So again – ever since then, since 1993 – I’ve done my best to listen to Alice’s Restaurant every Thanksgiving weekend.   And if that all seems weird, see Was Moses the first to say “it’s only weird if it doesn’t work?  But getting back to those “Good Old Days of Yesteryear…”

Segregated Super Bowl 1955For one thing, Alice’s Restaurant reminds us that – for many folks – those good old days weren’t so good.  (An example:  The image at right: “segregated seating at the Super Bowl in 1955.”   Note also the Latin “sic.”)

For another thing, the song itself was “notable as a satirical, first-person account of 1960s counterculture.”

I’m not sure if we have that kind of counterculture today.  (Unless you count “liberals,” as Fox News does.)  But back in 1967 we sure had one.   In Arlo’s case – and to many young men of the time – the “opposition” was to the Vietnam war.  And as Wikipedia also noted:

The ironic punch line of the story is that, in the words of Guthrie, “I’m sittin’ here on the Group W bench ’cause you want to know if I’m moral enough to join the Army – burn women, kids, houses and villages – after bein’ a litterbug.”  The final part of the song is an encouragement for the listeners to sing along, to resist the draft, and to end war.

Unfortunately we haven’t ended war yet.  (We still have plenty of those to go around.)

On the other hand, today’s young men no longer have to worry about the Draft.  (Which may or may not be a good thing, depending on your viewpoint.)  All of which reminds me of a conversation I overheard on a flight out to Salt Lake City a summer or two ago.

Bigmouth.jpgThere was an old bigmouth – about my age actually – sitting in the seat behind me.  He proceeded to “pontificate” to the young man next to him about the 1960s, and how much better they were than today.

I forgot exactly how he put it – and there’s more in the notes below – but his words literally blew my mind(To borrow an old idiom from the 1960s.)

Or to put it in the words of Alice’s Restaurant, his recollection of the ’60s fit in precisely with the definition of massacree.   (The term Arlo used in the full, original title of the song.)  The term itself -as used in the song and/or title – refers to “an event so wildly and improbably and baroquely messed up that the results are almost impossible to believe.”)

Which is how I reacted to this particular bigmouth.  It was only later – after the drive home from the airport, and while enjoying one of Utah’s famed 3.2 beers – that I started to remember some of the things that were going on back in the ’60’s.  Race riots.  Assassinations.  The war in Vietnam.  Draft dodging.  Draft resistance.  The upshot being that while some great music came from the era – including Alice’s Restaurant – the decade itself was not fun to live through.

And in a big way, the Sixties are still with us.  (As shown in the image at right.)  On the other hand, there’s an old saying:  “If you stand on the bank of the river long enough, you’ll see the bodies of your enemies floating by.”

Which is another way of saying that Arlo did a reprise of the song.  But I’d never heard the reprise, until this last Thanksgiving weekend.  (For the first time.  See e.g., Arlo Guthrie Returns to ‘Alice’s Restaurant’ 50 Years Later.)

And this was after routinely listening to the original twice – on CD – on Thanksgiving weekends.

On the reprise, Arlo’s voice was deeper and more mellow.  On the other hand, at times he seemed to “overplay his hand.”  (To add some drama that seemed a bit forced, which sometimes afflicts us older folk.  On the other hand, the original had the spontaneity of youth.)

But the big news was his account of visiting the Jimmy Carter White House.

In 1977, Guthrie got invited to the Carter Inauguration.  (Which he figured would be pretty much the only time he’d get such an invitation.)  Here’s what happened next.

Chip Carter (the president’s son) advised Guthrie that they had found a copy of the ALICE’S RESTAURANT album in Richard Nixon’s record library.  Guthrie … found that interesting [but] didn’t think much about it until years later, when Nixon died and there was all this talk about the 18.5-minute gap in the former president’s tape collection.  At which point, it occurred to Arlo that “Alice’s Restaurant” also clocked in at 18.5 minutes!

See “Alice’s Restaurant” and Watergate.  (See also the note below on Carter pardoning the Vietnam era “draft dodgers.”)  So one point of all this rambling is that Arlo Guthrie turned a patently absurd situation into a timeless classic.  (And a Thanksgiving tradition to many.)

But there’s another point.  People who “wax poetic” on the Good Old Days usually forget what it was like actually living then.  See for example On American History, “patched and piebald.”

Nothing was clear, inevitable, or even comprehensible…   The real drama of the American Revolution … was its inherent messiness.

And that’s not to mention the “fractious disputes and hysterical rhetoric of [those] contentious nation-builders.”  The upshot?  Fractious disputes and hysterical rhetoric seem to have been with us in the past, and remain with us “even to this day.”  Or as John Adams put it, “as it is now, ever was, and ever will be, world without end.”

On the other hand – in the spirit of Harry Golden – here’s a more positive spin:

Maybe these days today aren’t so bad after all…. 

 *   *   *   *

New York’s Lower East Side “in the early 20th Century…”

 *   *   *   *

The upper image is courtesy of Alice’s Restaurant | You Can Get Anything You Want…  This particular version is located at 17288 Skyline Boulevard, Woodside, CA.  (Not Stockbridge Mass:  “Stockbridge was the location of Alice’s Restaurant in the song of the same name by Arlo Guthrie which describes the town as having ‘three stop signs, two police officers and one police car.'”

For details about what happened to the original “Alice’s Restaurant,” see Wikipedia, and/or The original Alice’s Restaurant – Review of Theresa’s Stockbridge Cafe.

The original lead-in photo – seen at left – was courtesy of Draft evasion – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.  The original lead caption: “Potential “draft dodgers” – before the Draft lottery of 1969.”  The full Wikipedia caption, “U.S. anti-Vietnam War protesters at the University of Wisconsin–Madison.  A placard to the right reads ‘Use your head – not your draft card.'”

Re: church directories.  Aside from the link given, other directory companies today include Church Directories & Family Portraits – Lifetouch and Barksdale Church Directories.  In 1993, the company provided one “free” full-color photograph to each family.  The sales staff – who came to the church a week or two after the photographers – earned their commission by selling extra copies and/or photographs. 

Re: “the segregated seating at the Super Bowl in 1955.”  The image is courtesy of the blog ivman’s blague, “one French professor’s humorous and serious perspectives on life.”  (Listed above as  Good Old Days of Yesteryear.”)  Unfortunately, the first Super Bowl was not played until 1967 – not 1955.  (The Green Bay Packers beat the Kansas City Chiefs 35-10.)  See Super Bowl – Wikipedia.  But notwithstanding that “typo,” such segregation unquestionably existed in the 1950s… 

Re: “Counterculture.”  That’s a “subculture whose values and norms of behavior differ substantially from those of mainstream society, often in opposition to mainstream cultural mores.”

The Ethan Bronner quotes – listed below – are from his 1989 book, Battle for Justice  How the Bork Nomination Shook America.  (Anchor Books, published by Doubleday, at pages 249-50.)  

The “‘Patriotic’ Americans” image is courtesy of Liberal group claims Mitt Romney, Dick Cheney, Donald Trump, others are draft dodgers.  Regardless of its liberal bent, the article does provide a short-and-pithy summary of the ways to get a draft deferment in the Vietnam era.

The lower image is courtesy of Lower East Side – Wikipedia.  The caption:  “‘Cliff Dwellers‘ by Bellows, depicting the Lower East Side as its in the early 20th Century” (sic):

In Cliff Dwellers, George Bellows captures the colorful crowd on New York City’s Lower East Side.  It appears to be a hot summer day.  People spill out of tenement buildings onto the streets, stoops, and fire escapes.  Laundry flaps overhead and a street vendor hawks his goods from his pushcart in the midst of all the traffic.  In the background, a trolley car heads toward Vesey Street.    

The point being:  That’s how many used to live – in the ‘good old days’ – including Harry Golden.  Another positive note: My college team beat its hated arch-rival the Saturday after Thanksgiving 2015, possibly by virtue of my hearing Alice’s Restaurant “thrice,” including the reprise. 

 *   *   *   *

For more on Alice’s Restaurant, see The Story Behind ‘Alice’s Restaurant‘: the 50-Year-Old Song that Is Forever YoungArlo Guthrie Looks Back on 50 Years of ‘Alice’s Restaurant,’ 50 things about Arlo Guthrie’s ‘Alice’s Restaurant,’ and Arlo Guthrie Returns to ‘Alice’s Restaurant‘ 50 Years Later.

 *   *   *   *

Re: the draft.  See Vietnam War DraftDraft lottery (1969) – Wikipedia, and… article/0,28804,186225, regarding President Jimmy Carter’s pardoning the “Vietnam war draft dodgers” in 1977.  Other articles of interest include Was Trump a ‘draft dodger’? | PunditFact – PolitiFact, and How I Got Out of the Vietnam Draft – And Why That Still Matters.

 *   *   *   *

And finally, here’s a portion of the post where I started going off on a tangent

(Beginning with the sentence, “Unfortunately we haven’t ended war yet…”)

Unfortunately we haven’t ended war yet.  On the other hand, today’s young people no longer have to worry about the Draft.  (Which may or may not be a good thing, depending on your viewpoint.)  That “phasing out” started in 1969 with the Draft Lottery:

In the late 1960s, President Nixon established a commission to recommend the best ways to raise military manpower, to keep the draft or to institute a volunteer army.  After much debate … it was decided that an all-volunteer force was affordable, feasible, and would enhance the nation’s security…

And that’s what we’ve had ever since.  But Wikipedia also noted that the 1970s “were a time of turmoil in the United States, beginning with the Civil Rights Movement.”  Further, the draft lottery “only encouraged resentment of the Vietnam war” – and the draft – and “strengthened the anti-war movement.”  Which brings up a conversation I heard a summer or two ago.

I was flying out to Salt Lake City.  In the row right behind me, the older guy in the window seat was pontificating.  (Actually he was about my age.  The subject of his pontification – to the young man “captive audience” in the next seat – was how great things used to be – in the 1960s.

Bigmouth.jpgI forget exactly how this bigmouth put it, in his unchallenged opinion.

But what he said fit in precisely with the definition of massacree Arlo used in the full, original title of Alice’s Restaurant.  (Meaning “an event so wildly and improbably and baroquely messed up that the results are almost impossible to believe.”)  Or respond to in a timely manner.

It was only later – after the drive from the airport and the comfort of one Utah’s famed 3.2 beers – that I fully started to remember why the ’60s and ’70s weren’t so great.  Or more precisely, what exactly happened during those years of turmoil.

As Ethan Bronner noted, “In the 1960s much changed,” beginning with the U.S. Supreme Court. Court rulings began protecting the private possession of obscene materials (for example).  The Court did so under the theory that the right to receive information and ideas – “regardless of their social worth” – is fundamental to a free society.

But to many others, “the sixties were where America went wrong.”  To them, the government existed to make value choices.  To them, allowing such “free speech” as the 1978 March on Skokie (Ill.) led to feelings of “powerlessness and alienation of many Americans:”

Citizens’ efforts to take control of their lives and environments were further undercut by the growing power of courts and bureaucracies.  No wonder so many Americans dropped out of the political process…

Which could bring up the term Kafkaesque.  Illustrated by “Kafkaesque bureaucracies,” the term means something marked “by a senseless, disorienting, often menacing complexity,” and/or “by surreal distortion and often a sense of impending danger…”

Like I said, that’s where I started going off on a tangent, last night, as I tried to finish this post in time to be relevant to Thanksgiving weekend, 2015.

Black-and-white photograph of Kafka as a young man with dark hair in a formal suitAnd one final note, Franz Kafka – who’s name gave rise to the term “Kafkaesque” – died in 1924, at the age of 41.  He was noted for writings that explored “themes of alienation, existential anxiety, guilt, and absurdity.”   (Perhaps in his way not unlike Arlo Guthrie.)  See Wikipedia.

The point being that alienation, anxiety, guilt and absurdity seem to have been with us – as Adams noted – now and forever, “world without end.”