Sunday, June 28, 2015

Blazing Saddles! Mel Brooks Turns 89 Today

Mel Brooks in a still from Blazing Saddles, 1974.
Care to guess which director has three of the top fifteen films on the American Film Institute's 100 Greatest Comedies?  It's none other than Mel Brooks, performer, writer, director, and producer of some of the finest comedy to grace the American stage, big screens in theaters, and the television screens in millions of our homes. Brooks started in comedy in the Catskills in the late 1940's, became a television comedy writer and performer in the early 1950's, and graduated to film direction with The Producer's in 1968. The rest is history, a laugh track of films including:

Blazing Saddles (1974)   "Pardon me while I whip this out."

Young Frankenstein (1974)   "Abby...Normal."

Silent Movie (1976)  "Non!"

High Anxiety (1977)   "Those who are tardy do not get fruit cup!"

History of the World Part I (1981)   "It's good to be the king."

Spaceballs (1987)   "May the schwartz be with you."

Robin Hood: Men in Tights (1993)   "Actually Scarlet is my middle name. My whole name is Will Scarlet O'Hara. We're from Georgia."

Dracula: Dead and Loving It (1995)   "I have been to many stakings - you have to know where to stand! You know, everything in life is location, location, location...."

The Producers (musical) 2001   "Will the dancing Hitlers please wait in the wings? We are only seeing singing Hitlers.

The Producers (film remake) 2005   "My blue blanket! Give me back my blue blanket!"

It's amazing to realize that Brooks has been entertaining us for over 65 years. He has no plans to stop. A musical production of Young Frankenstein is back in the news. What I find even more remarkable is the fact that the Mel Brooks on stage and film is most often the same man one finds in private life. How does he do it?  Regardless, we're wishing one of the funniest men on the planet a very happy birthday.

And now, an unforgettable three minutes and twenty seconds from the film he calls his personal favorite, the 1968 production of The Producers:


n.b.  The American Film Institute list referenced has The Producers at #11 , Blazing Saddles at #6 , and Young Frankenstein at #13.



Thursday, June 25, 2015

George Orwell: A Mind For Our Times

Six years ago the American polymath, William Katz - the man behind Urgent Agenda - posted this timely quote from George Orwell's novel, 1984:

The new aristocracy was made up for the most part of bureaucrats, scientists, technicians, trade-union organizers, publicity experts, sociologists, teachers, journalists, and professional politicians.

It has taken the American experience a bit more than two generations to take on the meaning of government by the "new aristocracy" Orwell described.

George Orwell Press Photo, 1932

So who was this prescient and enigmatic writer? George Orwell - Eric Arthur Blair - was born on this day in India in 1903, educated at Eton College, and through self-study and his experiences in Asia and Europe. Wikipedia defines him aptly as "an English novelist, essayist, journalist and critic. His work is marked by lucid prose, awareness of social injustice, opposition to totalitarianism, and commitment to democratic socialism."

Most of us know him only as the author of 1984 but there is much more to read and appreciate from this man who is consistently described as one of the most influential writers of the last century. If you only know him as a novelist, I suggest you read some of his early essays, especially Down and Out in Paris and London (1933), The Road to Wigan Pier (1937), and Homage to Catalonia (1938). These works explore social justice themes in some of the finest, most vivid, and descriptive writing to be found in modern English. For another aspect of Orwell's insight readers should explore his literary criticism, available in several compilations.

For a man who passed away at 46, George Orwell left us an enormous body of work that I am sure will influence social and political thought for a very long time.

For the visually inclined, here is the first part of a seven-part biography available on Youtube:

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

The First Single -Engine Round The World Flight Begins In New York In 1931

Wiley Post and Harold Gatty left New York on this day in 1931 on the first single-engine flight around the world.

The two successful ocean fliers during their stopover at the Central Airport in Berlin - Tempelhof about to start their flight to Moscow .
It's hard to believe this event occurred just fifteen years before my birth. We've come a long way in aviation and when you think about all the aircraft in flight around the world at this very minute the Post-Gatty flight seems insignificant. As readers of this blog know, I'm somewhat fond of aviation so I'm perfectly happy to give these pioneers the credit they deserve in a time when history seems little more than an afterthought.

Leonardo Dreams of His Flying Machine

Lyrics, Charles Anthony Silvestri

Leonardo Dreams of his Flying Machine…
Tormented by visions of flight and falling,
More wondrous and terrible each than the last,
Master Leonardo imagines an engine
To carry a man up into the sun…

And as he’s dreaming the heavens call him,
softly whispering their siren-song:
“Leonardo. Leonardo, vieni á volare”. (“Leonardo. Leonardo, come fly”.)

L’uomo colle sua congiegniate e grandi ale,
facciendo forza contro alla resistente aria.
(A man with wings large enough and duly connected
might learn to overcome the resistance of the air.)

Leonardo Dreams of his Flying Machine…

As the candles burn low he paces and writes,
Releasing purchased pigeons one by one
Into the golden Tuscan sunrise…

And as he dreams, again the calling,
The very air itself gives voice:
“Leonardo. Leonardo, vieni á volare”. (“Leonardo. Leonardo, come fly”.)

Vicina all’elemento del fuoco…
(Close to the sphere of elemental fire…)

Scratching quill on crumpled paper,

Rete, canna, filo, carta.
(Net, cane, thread, paper.)

Images of wing and frame and fabric fastened tightly.

…sulla suprema sottile aria.
(…in the highest and rarest atmosphere.)

Master Leonardo Da Vinci Dreams of his Flying Machine…
As the midnight watchtower tolls,
Over rooftop, street and dome,
The triumph of a human being ascending
In the dreaming of a mortal man.

Leonardo steels himself,
takes one last breath,
and leaps…

“Leonardo, Vieni á Volare! Leonardo, Sognare!” (“Leonardo, come fly! Leonardo, Dream!”)

Sources:, almanac

Deutsches Bundesarchiv, photo 102-11928


Sunday, June 21, 2015

Father's Day 2015

We had our differences over the years - a normal course of events - but in the final analysis he was a great and careful teacher and a constant and trusted friend. Most of all he was my loving dad. I thank him every day and will love him forever.

Here is my dad at seventeen, a high school graduate, holder of class medals in English and debate, and a seasoned thespian. The year was 1925. He was a mill town boy with high ambitions tempered by the security of a good-paying, full-time job in the midst of the Roaring Twenties. He never got the college degree he wanted but he was successful, building on his strong faith, a solid marriage, and a remarkable work ethic.When I look at this picture I am reminded that he only had four "good" years before the Great Depression and World War II brought him and the country he loved into sixteen years of hard times. Through it all he survived as a member of the "Greatest Generation" to see his nation prosper. 

Dad's been gone from this world for over thirty years. My children never knew him but I think they know him well. I've done my best to teach them who he was and honor him by carrying on his many traditions.
Dad in Fourth Grade                                                                                             1917-18

At the Home Place                                                          1928

Dressed for Community Theater, May 30                                             1932

Dad and Mom at her family's farm                                  1936

With the end of World War II in 1945, he left  mill town life and became self-employed. Faced with the slowly failing economy of the Rust Belt he moved in 1956 to better opportunities and retired after twenty years in the hospitality and food service industry. It was a field he loved dearly because of his commitment to quality service and customer satisfaction. He was "old school:" through and through and never met a stranger.  He was the greatest.

"...And The Summer Comes At Last."

In the Northern Hemisphere the great arc of the sun reaches its highest point in the sky today. It is the longest day of the year and the beginning of Summer. Tomorrow the solar arc begins its slow retreat toward the southern horizon. Although daylight will decrease the accumulation of heat will continue to raise atmospheric temperatures until late July. As this day marks the end of the season of renewal and the beginning of the season of growth and flower some words and music come to mind.

Summer In The South

The oriole sings in the greening grove
  As if he were half-way waiting,
  The rosebuds peep from their hoods of green,
  Timid, and hesitating.
The rain comes down in a torrent sweep
  And the nights smell warm and pinety,
The garden thrives, but the tender shoots
  Are yellow-green and tiny.
Then a flash of sun on a waiting hill,
  Streams laugh that erst were quiet,
The sky smiles down with a dazzling blue
  And the woods run mad with riot.

Paul Laurence Dunbar, 1903


Title quote, Robert Burns's poem, The Winter It Is Past

Friday, June 19, 2015

Happy National Dry Martini Day

Yes. There really is a national day for that delicious beverage staple, the dry martini. It is a classic though, no vodka allowed. Wikipedia has an informative post about the drink, including a few recipes.

It's after dinner here in the eastern U.S. and about time for a relaxing drink if one is so inclined. If so, here is some perfect jazz to accompany the progression of Friday evening and the close of National Dry Martini Day.


n.b. John Coltrane's Blue Train, released in 1957, consistently ranks among the top jazz albums of all time. Another fine jazz album for even easier listening is John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman, released in 1963 and also ranked among the very best jazz vocal albums of all time.

Juneteenth 2015

Emancipation                                                                            Thomas Nast, 1865

It's not a federal holiday but there will be official state celebrations of Juneteenth in forty-three states today. What is Juneteenth? As described by the Library of Virginia...

With its roots in 19th-century Texas, Juneteenth has grown into a popular event across the country to commemorate emancipation from slavery and celebrate African American culture. Juneteenth refers to June 19, the date in 1865 when the Union Army arrived in Galveston and announced that the Civil War was over and that slaves were free under the Emancipation Proclamation. Although the proclamation had become official more than two years earlier on January 1, 1863, freedmen in Texas adopted June 19th, later known colloquially as Juneteenth, as the date they celebrated emancipation. Juneteenth celebrations continued into the 20th century, and survived a period of declining participation because of the Great Depression and World War II. In the 1950s and 1960s Juneteenth celebrations witnessed a revival as they became catalysts for publicizing civil rights issues of the day. In 1980 the Texas state legislature established June 19 as a state holiday.

Undoubtedly celebrations of this historic event will be subdued this year by the tragic killings that took place in Charleston, South Carolina, on Wednesday. Through our prayers for the survivors of this assault let us also remember the hope that June 19 brought to those in Galveston in 1865. May that hope sustain us as a people seeking equality and justice as we weave this great tapestry called the American experience.


Library of Congress at