Wednesday, April 29, 2015

What Do the Acting Folk Do?

Burton plays professor in "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?"
Richard Burton was an acclaimed actor rich enough to buy a $1,050,000 62.42 carat diamond as a bauble for his wife, who’d often been described as the most beautiful woman in the world. But he had a secret dream, a fantasy.
He wanted to teach college English.
Although he was a superb actor, that craft did not completely absorb the attention of this voraciously literate man. Biographer Melvyn Bragg noted in Richard Burton: A Life that Burton’s journals rarely discuss acting, and never discuss theory. “He could as well be a plumber out on a job and no doubt he would in some part welcome the analogy,” Bragg wrote.
Writing in 1968, Burton said, “I spent much of yesterday in a bath with a lot of body make-up on, which meant when I came home Elizabeth had to wash my back. I was back to the mines again and the women washing their husbands’ backs clean of the grime of the colliery.”
A little later, on a break from filming Staircase for Stanley Donen, Burton wrote, “So after this day is over, we have three delicious days off. We plan to hide in the hotel and not go out at all, except perhaps for an occasional meal. I shall read and read and read.”
Burton was thrilled to get the opportunity to fill in for a professor on sabbatical. “How funny it will be to be lecturing at Oxford without a degree!” Burton wrote. “Now I’ve always had this pregnant women’s yearning for the academic life, probably spurious, and a term of smelly tutorials and pimply lectures should effect a sharp cure.
“I would like to deal with either the medieval poets in English, French, Italian and German and possibly some of the Celtic like Welsh & Irish, or to confine myself to the ‘Fantasticks,’ Donne, Traherne, Henry Vaughan, George Herbert.
“The first poem in English that ever commanded my imagination:

“Sweet day, so cool, so calm, so bright
“The Bridal of the earth and sky:
“The dew shall weep thy fall tonight:
“For thou must die.
“Sweet rose whose hue angry and brave,
“Bids the rash gazer wipe his eye:
“They root is ever in its grave,
“And thou must die.

“And that’s not all. I mean that chap Herbert was indeed a box where sweets compacted lay. I am as thrilled by the English language as I am by a lovely woman or dreams, green as dreams and deep as death. Christ, I’m off and running and will lecture them until iambic pentameter comes out of their nostrils. Little do they know how privileged they are to speak and read and think in the greatest language invented by man. I’ll learn them.”

Friday, April 24, 2015

Richard Burton: The Subject was Sex

Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor
Richard Burton had no particular complaints about literary pornography or sex, and was suspicious of those who did.
“The unctuous rubbishy shit written about pornography is nonsense,” wrote the Welshman in his journal for Nov. 17, 1966. “Practically all good pornography is best-selling, so I understand, and yet I have never found anyone who when asked if they enjoyed it will ever admit it.”
“(Author Malcolm) Muggeridge quotes Hugh Kingsmill as saying that the act of love is ludicrous and disgusting. Speak for yourself, Kingsmill. I love its disgustingness and comicality. Put some jaundice in your eyes and the act of walking is ludicrous and obscene, and swimming and, above all, eating. All those muscles, in most people, 50 percent atrophied, sluggishly propelling people over land or through water or gulping oysters. Come off it.
“It is an important thing to kill cant and humbug even if one is a humbug oneself."
With his fine voice, the well-read actor could hold forth on many topics. And one of them, apparently, was homosexuality.
That nettled Gore Vidal, who recalled that whenever he met Burton, Burton would launch into “…an extravagant aria about why he was not homosexual. I’d listen as long as I could and then say, ‘Who cares, Richard? Let’s talk about dermatology. Now there’s a subject!’”
Burton was always touchy about his bad skin, so touché.

Mayhem and Eggs

Breakfast conversation at Arby's: A developmentally disabled young man and three old farmers are discussing the guns they would use to kill people breaking into their houses. It's apparently something that doesn't happen often enough to satisfy them.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

They Should Have Been Afraid of 'Virginia Woolf'

Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton in the 1966 film Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? either echoed or anticipated the tempestuous, all-absorbing marriage of Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor.
Burton had pushed Taylor to do it to improve her confidence and reputation as a real actor, something that had taken a beating in the reviews of their first film together, the out-of-control epic Cleopatra.
But Burton was still wrung out from having given a great performance during the difficult shoot of John Le Carre’s The Spy Who Came In from the Cold. First-time director Mike Nichols — hand-picked by Taylor — said, “He was the loneliest man I had met.”
“The broken, tender yet brutally tongued man here spoke words that echoed his own life and which ricocheted off the set and into the dressing rooms, into the house,” wrote biographer Melvyn Bragg in Richard Burton: A Life. “Elizabeth went up to 155 pounds and transformed herself into what Richard often called her — in fun? — a termagant. Their rows were nasty.”
Bragg notes, nevertheless, how his performance supports hers. “The crack of the dialogue — no doubt well rehearsed by Nichols — is entirely paced by Burton. He hammocks almost every sentence she speaks and lifts what could have been mere shrillness into that damaging desperation.”
So you could read their love between the lines, and something else within the lines. “’Virginia Woolf’ took a toll,” Bragg wrote. “When they separated for the first time (years ahead), Elizabeth said that she was ‘tired of playing Martha.’ Richard in his journals admits to a nature which, and not only in drink, could be ‘picky,’ ‘twisty,’ ‘nasty,’ ‘quarrelsome’ and the film licensed that. In one scene, she had to spit in his face. Nichols demanded take after take and Elizabeth eventually cracked up, wept, couldn’t do it anymore. Again on one occasion, Burton simply could not leave his dressing room — not drunk — couldn’t find the nerve to suffer the exposure that the part brought.”
Their greatest film together, Virginia Woolf brought an Oscar for Taylor but not Burton, whose go-it-alone attitude had once alienated too many people in Hollywood.
“Must we always make films together?” Burton once groused. “We’ll end up like Laurel and Hardy.”
As quick with a quip as Martha, Taylor replied, “What’s wrong with Laurel and Hardy?”

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Captain Marvel '67: When Villain Turns Hero

Those first half-dozen appearances of Marvel’s Captain Marvel in 1967-68, by Roy Thomas and Gene Colan, were dramatic and innovative.
The Kree invader Captain Mar-Vell was an alien spy and saboteur who, when accidentally compelled to pose as a super hero, found that he was gradually becoming one.
It’s a theme that has been reworked to good effect since, notably in Marvel’s Thunderbolts (when the Masters of Evil posed as a superhero team) and Superior Spider-Man (in which Dr. Octopus took over his archenemy’s identity).
But I’ve heard Stan Lee was unenthusiastic about Marvel Comics stealing the name and Shazam-born thunder of the famous Fawcett hero of the 1940s (it was his publisher’s idea). As the feature fell into other hands, it careened erratically into relative obscurity. What might have been, had Thomas and Colan stayed with it...

I understand that only the first issue was written by Lee. The next several issues were penned by Roy Thomas.
Captain Marvel battles another alien agent, the Super Skrull, in his second issue.
The public thinks Namor is the villain here, and Captain Marvel the hero. But they're being fooled in the space-born hero's fourth issue.

At Literate Leisure with Richard Burton

Actor Richard Burton at his favorite pastime.  The quotes below are from the Melvyn Bragg biography.
Richard Burton acted an affable in loco parentis role for Brook Williams, the son of Emlyn Williams, the author of The Corn Is Green. It’s a play about a boy given singular help by a dedicated adult.
“Emlyn was away a great deal: Burton knew what it was to have an absent father and knew also through Ifor the value of a much older brother. Brook was the beneficiary and never lost that status.
“We recreated some of Richard’s routines. Out in the red MG — still working well on a fine Sunday morning; drive the 20 minutes into Geneva Airport, having phoned the newspaper booth beforehand to make sure the Sundays were there. Perhaps a petit blanc in the bar, scanning the sports pages, the book pages, the reviews, marking down the longer pieces for later. A first stab at the crossword puzzle. Past the bookshop and a quick purchase or two — ‘You read this one, Brookie? Bloody good. I’ll get it for you. And I’ll have these two here.’ — back into the car and perhaps loop back through a favorite village for another petit blanc or maybe a vodka in the bar with the locals and return for lunch as likely as not over at the Café de la Gare and the local fish dish with the local wine. Boules in the afternoon, a game of tennis or table tennis in which no quarter was given, and then reading into the night, a glass or maybe two…” 

Sunday, April 19, 2015

A Tale of Two Hamlets

Richard Burton and John Gielgud
The young Richard Burton did credit to himself as Hamlet on the British stage in 1953, being described as a “moody, virile and baleful” prince with “dash, attack and verve.”
Winston Churchill saw it, muttered the lines along with Burton during the performance and then came backstage to Burton’s dressing room to ask, “My Lord Hamlet, may I use your facilities?”
Another celebrated Hamlet, Burton’s friend John Gielgud, also saw the performance, and was drily unimpressed.
Biographer Melvyn Bragg wrote, “After he had seen it, he came around to Richard’s dressing room to take him to dinner and, observing he was beset by visitors, said, ‘Shall I go ahead or wait until you’re better — I mean, ready?’ Burton loved to re-tell that story.”

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

The Burdening and Unburdening of the Burtons

The Burtons, Richard and Philip
The actor Richard Burton was neither the first nor the last young man to benefit from the presumably chaste devotion of a presumably gay older man.
Until he met his mentor, the upper limit of advancement for this Welsh coal miner’s son was some job where your neck stayed clean (Burton’s was in a clothing shop, and he absolutely loathed it).
A handsome lad with a steady gaze, rugby-mad, a troublemaker in love with language and life, the teenaged Burton needed someone who might broaden his horizons. He found him in Philip, another Welsh coal miner’s son who was 20 years his senior, but one whose mother had propelled him into the University of Wales, where he’d earned a double honours degree in History and Mathematics.
A teacher and playwright and church organist, Philip also worked as a freelance writer, producer and actor on BBC Radio in Cardiff.
“He read deeply and liked his own company,” wrote biographer Melvyn Bragg in Richard Burton: A Life. “He used to tell (his landlady) Mrs. Smith that ‘a cultured person is never lonely.’”
Perhaps not, but this austere, tidy man — “38, formidable and, locally, not a little feared” — was missing something that he found in a restless, fearless boy with smelly socks.
“You could see that the ‘rough and fearless’ young rugby player, the suspicious street boy now, despite his pock-fretten skin, coming into a youthful handsomeness which men and women alike would call ‘beauty,’ would break like a wave on the serenity of Philip’s rock of scholarship,” Bragg wrote.
“Scholarship and sport and money and poetry: four of the things that mattered to the young Welshman, and something else he needed more: opportunity. He had been given and had himself taken an immense amount out of that mining culture. But his was still a subject class. He and Philip … conducted what could be looked on as some kind of elaborate courtship ritual which would result in his hurtling onto a world stage.”
Philip worked ceaselessly and for years to provide Burton with acting training and opportunities. Burton moved out of his sister’s home into Philip’s “spotless bachelor” quarters at Ma Smith’s.
Philip and Richard with Elizabeth Taylor
“When he was in school I gave him every chance I could to play before an audience, both in the school and in the local YMCA,” Philip recalled in his memoirs. “He loved performing. When he first came to live with me, he showed some envy of his young brother Graham’s success at the local eisteddfodau, the Welsh competitive festivals. I pointed out that his voice had certainly ceased to be soprano, but he pestered me to teach him the solo for the next eisteddfodau. It was Sullivan’s ‘Orpheus with his lute.’ One evening I reluctantly agreed to go back to the school and attempt to teach him the solo. (I was the pianist in the school assembly which began the morning)… Richard faced the nonexistent audience and so couldn’t see my reaction as he gave vent to excruciating sounds. At last, I could contain my laughter no longer. He turned on me in dumbfounded fury. Then he stalked out angrily, exclaiming, ‘I’ll show you. Someday I’ll show you.’
“And he did. On the first night of ‘Camelot’ on Broadway, on Dec. 3, 1960, I went into his crowded dressing room after the performance and he greeted me with: ‘Well, I showed you, didn’t I?’ I didn’t know what he was talking about.”
When they met, Philip’s name was Burton, and Richard’s was Jenkins. To get Richard into a six-month program at Oxford while he was an air cadet, Philip adopted Richard as his ward as a way of resolving what he called the “question-raising ambiguity” of their relationship.
That relationship remained as complicated as it was intense. In an interview with the Telegraph, Rosemary Kingsland claimed she had an affair with Burton when she was 15 and he was 30. She said she believed Burton was referring to Philip when he told her, “There was someone [who had] been in love with me for ages and I knew it. I played him like a fish on a hook to get what I wanted.”
On another occasion, she said Burton called Philip “…a bloody arse-bandit. If I wasn't sitting on it, studying all those bloody books he set me, he would have stuffed himself up it.”
“Richard had built up a deep anger within himself and much of it was directed at Philip Burton,” Kingsland said. “He never mentioned him with affection. There was always a feeling of angst or regret.”
Whatever the relationship was, it remained deep.
“In later years, he always referred to me as his father,” Philip wrote. “He told me that, when he heard in 1957 that his father had died, his immediate reaction was, ‘Which?’” 

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Sing a Song of Sociopaths

Narcissus by John W. Kelley
 “The common features of a psychopath and sociopath lie in their shared diagnosis — antisocial personality disorder,” notes a World of Psychology article. “The DSM-5 defines antisocial personality as someone have 3 or more of the following traits:
1. Regularly breaks or flaunts the law
2. Constantly lies and deceives others
3. Is impulsive and doesn’t plan ahead
4. Can be prone to fighting and aggressiveness
5. Has little regard for the safety of others
6. Irresponsible, can’t meet financial obligations
7. Doesn’t feel remorse or guilt
“Symptoms start before age 15, so by the time a person is an adult, they are well on their way to becoming a psychopath or sociopath.”
“Both types of personality have a pervasive pattern of disregard for the safety and rights of others. Deceit and manipulation are central features to both types of personality.”
From the richest right wingers to their poorest Fox-fed little tools, these people define the word “deserve” to mean “Only I get any!!!”
I've had more than enough of psychopaths and/or sociopaths, thanks. Our whole kleptocapitalistic, warmongering society has. It's just this lack of empathy and compassion that is destroying us.
Authoritarian sociopaths already infest America’s boardrooms, and they completely control one of our two major political parties. They want to reestablish a feudal society with themselves as the unchallenged aristocracy. Even if you're uncomfortable with terms like "evil," these boys are basically a working definition of it — willing to crush centuries of civilization and human progress under the limo wheels.
We've always had sociopaths around. But when a society decides to put them in charge of things and celebrate them, the 11th hour has arrived.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Fox News Pushes Police State

Remember, there is no element of fascism Fox News will not defend, up to and including the summary execution of unarmed citizens by police.

Great Wealth and Immense Poverty

“The one event that separates American history into two distinct eras is not the Civil War but the Industrial Revolution,” wrote biographer Maury Klein in his book The Life and Legend of Jay Gould. “The shock waves of change unleashed by industrialization affected every aspect of American life, leaving in their wake confusion and a sense that everything had been pulled to polar extremes. Progress spawned great wealth and immense poverty, success and scandal, materialism and misery. Growth seemed to pull society apart at the seams, embroiling it in ugly and often violent clashes. Prosperity brought with it problems on a scale never before imagined. Amid this upheaval the old verities no longer seemed sure guides to behavior, often they seemed irrelevant or inapplicable to the new realities.”
The more things change, eh?

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Slumming on Coney Island on a Sunday in 1930

On a summer Sunday, more than a million people sometimes visited Coney Island. Photo by Weegee.

To the fastidious Lanny Budd the worst thing of all was their emptiness of mind. They had come for a holiday, and wanted to be entertained, and there was a seemingly endless avenue of devices contrived for the purpose. For prices from a dime up, you could be lifted on huge revolving wheels, or whirled around sitting on brightly colored giraffes and zebras; you could ride in tiny cars which bumped into one another, you could walk in dark tunnels which were a perpetual earthquake, or in bright ones where sudden breezes whipped up the women’s skirts and made them scream; you could be frightened by ghosts and monsters — in short, you could have a thousand fantastic things done to you, all expressive of the fact that you were an animal and not a being with a mind, you could be humiliated and made ridiculous, but rarely indeed on Coney Island could you be uplifted or inspired or taught any useful thing. Lanny took this nightmare place as an embodiment of all the degradations which capitalism inflicted on the swarming millions of its victims. Anything to keep them from thinking.
… (H)e got himself into a red-hot argument with a carload of his young companions, who had drawn their own conclusions from this immersion in carnality. Irma, who monopolized a half-mile of ocean front, was disgusted that anyone should be content to squat upon ten or a dozen square feet of it. Her childhood playmate, Babs Lorimer, whose father had once had a “corner” in wheat, drew political conclusions from the spectacle and wondered how anybody could conceive of the masses having anything to say about the running of government. “Noodles” Winthrop — his name was Newton — whose widowed mother collected a small fraction of a cent from everyone who rode to Coney Island on a street railway, looked at the problem biologically, and said he couldn’t imagine how such ugly creatures survived, or why they desired to.
—  From “Dragon’s Teeth” by Upton Sinclair

Thursday, April 2, 2015

The Strength of Superman

The words of a man who first played a great hero, and then proven he actually was one.