Friday, October 30, 2015

With Gort and Gary Cooper

Patricia Neal with the robot Gort in 1951's science fiction classic 'The Day the Earth Stood Still.'
Without a contract at Warner Brothers, deep into her four-year, now-public affair with the very married Gary Cooper, and recovering from an abortion that would haunt her for three decades, Patricia Neal faced a challenging year in 1951.
“I was no longer the young darling of Hollywood,” she recalled in her autobiography, As I Am. “I was the unsympathetic side of a triangle. Gary sensed my increasing anxiety and grew more tender toward me. Actually, he was under as much tension as I was. I could see it in his face, feel it in his body. But of course, he did not talk about it. I did not know he was becoming very ill.”
Luckily, Neal secured a three-film deal at Twentieth Century Fox.
“My first film of the new Fox contract was going to be a science fiction thriller called ‘The Day the Earth Stood Still.’ I was not encouraged in the least, but I did not want to begin my career at Fox by going on suspension. The director was Robert Wise, who had been good to me in the past. He believed in the project and wanted me to do it. I am very glad I said yes. I worked with an old friend, Hugh Marlowe, and a new one, Michael Rennie.
“I do think it’s the best science fiction film ever made, although I admit I sometimes had a difficult time keeping a straight face. Michael would patiently watch me bite my lips to avoid giggling and ask, with true British reserve, ‘Is that the way you intend to play it?’
“The press was relentless now. They followed me everywhere, even onto the set, but I would not speak to them. The publicity department made up responses for me to their questions about Gary. So in print, I could be vague (‘We’re just good friends’) or cute (‘If I were in love with him, I’d be silly to advertise it. After all, he is a married man.’) or even haughty (‘I do wish people would find something else to talk about’).
“Dear Michael, who was as exasperated as I was, thought I should honor their questions with my favorite line from the film.
“ ‘Miss Neal, did you break up Gary Cooper’s marriage?’
’Klaatu barada nikto!’” 

Thursday, October 29, 2015

The Small Face of War

“They were not only photojournalists, they were essayists and artists,” recalled the Paris-based CBS newsman David Schoenbrun in his book On and Off the Air.
“Dr. Huxley asked Chim (David Seymour) to do a special study of the children of Europe who had lived through the war. He did a photo album that was shown at exhibits around the world, winning critical acclaim everywhere.”
“One was a shell-shocked little girl of about 10, who had lived through savage bombings. She was asked to do a drawing of the war. Chim’s picture showed her staring wildly at the camera, her hair tossled, while behind her on the blackboard was her ‘drawing,’ a tangled, mad scrawl of squiggles and clashing lines going every direction with no form or shape. It was a powerful portrait of the deeply disturbed mind.”
And that, my friends, illustrates why the term “war of choice” is more obscene than any expletive. 

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Caped Wonder Stuns City on CBS

Melissa Benoist as the Girl of Steel in the CBS series "Supergirl."
Well, CBS’s Supergirl is terrific. For one thing, it’s perfectly cast. Melissa Benoist brings that Chris Reeve goofy charm to Kara, and is winningly sunny without being sappy — no easy feat. The romantic comedy/heroic adventure mix seems to work well. And CGI has finally reached the point of being able to do justice to a Kryptonian on the tube.
The fact that Kara is Superman's “older” cousin, also sent from the doomed planet Krypton to protect him as a baby, is a nice touch from one of the comic book versions.
Trapped in the Phantom Zone at age 13, she arrives on Earth years later, after Superman is an established hero. He places her with foster parents, the Danvers, played by Dean Cain and Helen Slater, in another nice touch (They played Supergirl in the movies and Superman in Lois & Clark).
Kara has spent the years since trying to fit in, and works for Cat Grant in a Devil Wears Prada situation (alongside Jimmy Olsen, who has left the Daily Planet, having been sent by Superman to check up on her).
My single misgiving about the series is that, like Arrow and The Flash, it gives us yet another superhero “pit crew." Superheroes, by definition, are the last people who should need help. Or a lot of backchat. This show, Daredevil — I never thought we'd see superhero TV shows this good. And they’re poles apart in attitude and atmosphere, but both about genuine heroes.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Extra! Captain Comet Thwarts Robot Revolt!

I have always had a special fondness for Captain Comet, the first mutant superhero in comic books. Created by John Broome and Carmine Infantino (and drawn above by Murphy Anderson and Joe Giella), the character is poised precisely between the Golden and Silver Ages, an oasis in the superhero desert of the early 1950s, and foreshadows the streamlined elegance of DC science fiction and superheroes like the Flash. A true Man of Tomorrow — he is evolved 100,000 years beyond his time — Captain Comet was a Superman updated from the Depression to the postwar flying saucer era. The story above is from Strange Adventures 29 (1953).
DC Comics always had more giant, threatening tops than one would imagine (from Strange Adventures 10, July 1951)

Here's the first part of the mutant superhero Captain Comet's origin story from Strange Adventures 9 (June 1951).

Monday, October 19, 2015

Fox News Attacks the Forces of Goodness

Fox News, in its brief yet oddly overlong, tedious and much-stained career, has attacked Superman, Wonder Woman, Captain America, Jedi knights and Mr. Rogers. I sense a pattern beginning to emerge...

Bill Paley: Go Broadcast, Young Man

The son of an Eastern European Jewish immigrant to Chicago who’d started a successful cigar company, William S. Paley was, by 1928, a young man looking to make a mark in a young industry, broadcasting.
By 1938, Paley was on the cover of Time Magazine
He’d received a million dollars worth of stock in the Congress Cigar Company, and wanted to use part of it to buy a controlling interest in New York-based UIB, the United Independent Broadcasters, a rival to the industry leader, NBC. But he couldn’t do that without his father’s approval.
“After thinking it over, Sam told his son that he approved of the UIB purchase, that Bill should use $400,000 of his stock funds to buy (Jerome) Louchheim’s interest, and that the family would contribute another $100,000,” wrote Lewis J. Paper in his Paley biography Empire. “Paley was delighted and surprised, but most of all surprised. He had convinced himself that Sam would never release him from the cigar business, and he could not resist asking his father why he had yielded. Sam replied that it was all a matter of good business sense. ‘Well,’ he told Bill, ‘if you succeed, it’ll be a bigger business than what you’re in now; and if you don’t succeed,’ his father added, ‘you will have had a lot of experience which might be very useful in the cigar business and to me, and so, on balance, I think you ought to try it.’”
After some hard bargaining, Paley succeeded in securing 50.3 percent of UIB’s stock for $503,000, the day before his 27th birthday.
“Paley was no doubt excited when he arrived at UIB’s office on an upper floor in the tower of the Paramount Building in midtown Manhattan. But the reception was something less than he had hoped for. A stocky office boy refused to admit the boyish-looking president, demanding to see credentials and to know the purpose of his visit.”
The purpose of his visit was to run the company for several decades, as soon as he changed its name to CBS.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

'Bridge of Spies:' Cold War, Warm Hearts

Tom Hanks stars as Brooklyn lawyer Jim Donovan, a Jimmy Stewart type in over his head in 'Bridge of Spies.'
Tom Hanks is terrific as the American constitutional man of honor in “Bridge of Spies,” standing up for the lives of an innocent young man and two spies, one American and one Russian, against the fear, paranoia and hair-trigger national ruthlessness of the nuclear 1950s. I deliberately postponed reading reviews until afterward, but I did catch Dann Gire’s apt reference to Capra. That’s it, it’s heart-tugging Cold War Capra. It’s that utterly absorbing kind of film I call a day-breaker. 
I didn’t realize Spielberg had directed it until I noticed that it had three endings. Bring a discreet hanky.
I’ve been on that bridge — the Glienicker Brücke across the Havel River connecting the Wannsee district of Berlin with the Brandenburg capital Potsdam — but it didn’t look so romantic when I was there the year after the wall fell.
As our bus passed over it, our German guide mentioned casually that this had been “that bridge where they traded the spies,” and all the thrilled American journalists shouted, “Stop the bus! Stop the bus!”

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Bad Meal at Black Rock

The Ground Floor restaurant
In 1965, the new Eero Saarinen-designed building on 52nd Street at Sixth Avenue — swiftly dubbed “Black Rock” — was CBS President Frank Stanton’s baby.
“Consistent with his own taste in art, the furnishings and fixtures reflected a sleek, modern look,” wrote Lewis J. Paper in his book Empire: William S. Paley and the Making of CBS. “Glass, chrome and modern paintings dominated the interior space. Even the location and quantity of plants received careful consideration.
“The only exception to the master plan was (CBS Chairman of the Board Bill) Paley’s office. It continued to reflect his own (and very different) tastes. The French gaming table remained as his desk, rich paneling still adorned the walls, comfortable couches were placed strategically, exquisite paintings hung on the walls, and various artifacts — an old CBS microphone, the cigar-store Indian and later a photograph of Edward R. Murrow — all helped to provide a warmth that seemed even more pronounced because of its stark contrast with the rest of the building.”
But the urbane and sophisticated gourmet Paley had his own baby —a haute cuisine restaurant on the ground floor, eventually to be called The Ground Floor.
“The notion of owning a restaurant had always appealed to Paley, especially as the years went by,” Paper said. “Decades of culinary experience had only added to his knowledge and heightened his interest in planning a restaurant. It would, of course, have to feature the best in everything — from its design to the food to the service. Friends noticed the considerable energy he put into the restaurant — picking a name, shaping the décor and planning the menu.”
The interior design reflected the exterior of Black Rock, but the restaurant’s manager, Jerry Brody, thought that was a mistake. “He felt the building was too cold and stark for a restaurant,” Paper said. “Then there was the cost of the fixtures. Bill Paley wanted the best, but the cost made it that much more difficult for the restaurant to show a profit. All of which might have been overcome if the restaurant became popular, but Bill Paley’s zest for food was not matched by his success as a restaurateur.”
Brody suggested a northern European steakhouse, but Paley said no. It must be French cuisine.
Paley in his apartment foyer with his Picasso, "Boy Leading a Horse"
“He went to France almost every year, knew the food and it would draw the right kind of customers — sophisticated people, those who appreciated the finer things. But all these plans and hopes and expectations could not guarantee results. No matter how much time Paley spent in the kitchen tasting the soups and other fare (which he did almost every day), The Ground Floor did not produce the business that Bill Paley wanted, that he felt he deserved.”
In 1968, restaurant critic Gael Greene described the chilly ambience. “The Ground Floor is a perfect room to end an affair in,” she wrote. “The tables are far enough apart to announce the break in a firm voice, and the ambiance is stern enough to discourage sloppy emotionalism.”
“But Boss Paley mingles with everyday folk in the dining room. Leonard Lyons moves through the grill, antennae clicking off the celebrities du jour – Donald Pleasence, Sloan Simpson, an author or two drinking breakfast. And good grief! Bob Dylan’s manager Albert Grossman tieless, unjacketed, grizzled gray locks to the shoulder, Ben Franklin specs … the oldest hippie in the world. Mostly, though, the grill is lined with youngish executives expense-accounting each other. Restrained, subdued: That is not a bar to get sloppy drunk in … not a room to unlax in.”
“It was a never-ending source of frustration,” Paper wrote. “He knew food, he knew New York City and yet he could not make the kind of mystical connection to customers that he had made with his programming. And those who confronted him with the obvious truth proceeded at their peril.
“There was the time, for example, when Stanton, Fred Friendly and Bill Leonard met with Paley one afternoon shortly after The Ground Floor had opened. Paley asked the three executives if they had eaten at the restaurant. In fact, they had all just eaten there — and thought it was terrible. Neither Stanton nor Friendly dared to speak the truth, though. They mumbled that it was fine, just fine. But Bill Leonard loved food as much as Paley, and the two of them had spent many occasions passing away hours discussing food. Leonard could not compromise the truth on so important a matter, and he blurted out, ‘It was awful. The food was terrible. Fred had a fish dish and got sick. The service was bad and the prices were way out of line.’ As Leonard continued, on and on, the color started to drain from Stanton’s face, and the effect on Paley was obvious. ‘It was as though I had said his mother had been caught with a young man,’ said Leonard. The meeting ended more quickly than anyone had anticipated, and the phone was ringing for Friendly almost as soon as he and Leonard returned to the news offices on West Fifty-seventh Street. Friendly reported that it was Stanton with a message for the deputy news chief. ‘Tell Leonard,’ said Stanton, ‘that he has just set the News Division back 10 years. He’s wrecked everything. All Paley can talk about now is the restaurant.’”
“All he wanted, he told friends in 1965, was a simple place where a secretary could go downstairs and have lunch for seven or eight dollars,” David Halberstam wrote in the Atlantic. “His pleasure was enormous when the restaurant finally opened, and his disappointment equal when it was not a wild success. At one point Paley, puzzled by the lack of its success, turned to the restaurateur running it for him, Jerry Brody, and suggested that they might try a supper club for those who eat around 11 p.m., something that Paley liked to do after an evening of concerts or theater.
“ ‘Bill,’ said Brody, ‘there ain’t no supper business in this town.’
“ ‘No?’ answered Paley, puzzled. ‘Why not?’
“ ‘Because everyone’s home watching the tube.’”
Paley’s restaurant evolved into the Ground Floor Café, the American Charcuterie and then the sixth incarnation of the venerable Rose Restaurant. Today the location offers the haute Asian fusion of the China Grill.

Fascist GOP Sinking in the Moral Quicksand

And thanks to Michael Jones for the meme

Thursday, October 15, 2015

The End of Edward R. Murrow

Broadcast journalism legend Edward R. Murrow

“On April 27, 1965, I was flying over the Atlantic on my way back from a two-day meeting with Hugh Greene, director general of the BBC, and his news chiefs,” recalled Fred Friendly, who was then the head of CBS News, but who had partnered with Edward R. Murrow in high-profile, high-principled news broadcasts during the previous decade.
“We were over the Irish Sea when the stewardess came back with a message for me relayed from Shannon. ‘Your friend Mr. Murrow died today,” she said.
Murrow, who’d developed lung cancer and had lived for two years after an operation to remove his left lung, died in his home two days after his 57th birthday
“The plane was two-thirds empty and it was as good a place as any to be silent for five hours,” Friendly wrote. “When we got near enough to the United States for communication, I asked the pilot to give CBS in New York a brief message to be sent to all bureaus and correspondents. In it, I quoted something Ed said in his last radio broadcast to the English people when he left London after the war: ‘You lived a life instead of an apology.’ My message said that this quotation fit Ed Murrow as much as it did the British people, and that it was something for the profession he left behind to aim for.
“In Remembrance Rock, ‘The Old Abider,’ the term of affection Ed and I had for Carl Sandburg, wrote: ‘…The shroud has no pockets … the dead hold in their clenched hands only that which they have given away.’ Ed Murrow, who slept too little and worked and smoked too much, had always said he wanted ‘to wear out, not rust out.’ He did. He went to the grave with nothing — not even his voice was left at the end — but for a man with no pockets in life, he died the richest man I’ve ever known.
“During the period of Murrow’s service in Washington and his long illness, there was no more attentive a friend than (CBS Chairman of the Board William S.) Paley, and this meant much to Murrow. The chairman traveled to La Jolla, California, to visit him, called him often for advice on news matters and made it clear to Ed, as did everyone in the news division, that his return to CBS as an active broadcaster or as a consultant was both needed and desired.”
“I don’t know which of all the farewells would have pleased him most, but two brief paragraphs from Eric Sevareid’s broadcast of April 27 come closest to what I felt:
“There are some of us, and I am one, who owe their professional life to this man. There are many, working here and in other networks and stations, who owe to Ed Murrow their love of their work, their standards and sense of responsibility. He was a shooting star; we will live in his afterglow a very long time.”

If Murrow Had Worked for Cable News in WWII

If Edward R. Murrow had worked for cable television news during World War II: “Is London being destroyed by German bombs? Looks like it! All up in flames! Wiped right out of existence! A lot of panic out there in the streets that will UNDOUBTEDLY get a lot worse! Buckingham Palace has probably been BLOWN to BITS already, don’t you think, Tiffany? Up next: What’ll Windsor and Wally be wearing at Wimbledon this year?”

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

A Shameful Harvest of False Balance

Edward R. Murrow reports on America's "Harvest of Shame"

The now-virulent problem of journalistic false balance is not a new one. Objectivity is a fine thing — right up to the point where it is employed as a means of hiding the truth.
In the fall of 1960, when Edward R. Murrow gave voice to America’s voiceless migrant farm workers in an award-winning documentary, CBS reacted to the loudly voiced pressure from the economic interests that exploited the migrants. In Due to Circumstances Beyond Our Control, Fred Friendly recalled, “The management was concerned about such programs as 'Harvest of Shame,’ even though they knew it was done fairly; what they wanted was a ‘balanced’ hour. But though objectivity is part of responsible reporting, all arguments, as Murrow had said, are not equal … As Murrow once asked, ‘Would you give equal time to Judas Iscariot or Simon Legree?’”
After all, a purely objective watchdog never barks.

Monday, October 12, 2015

A Sentimental Journey on a Roundabout Train

I had only the vaguest and most powerful memories of this 1958 book, Roundabout Train, which my grandmother read to me over and over as I went to sleep for my afternoon naps when I was 4 years old. I finally found it again today. We lived near a railroad track in Effingham, IL, and I loved trains. How I especially loved those trains with eyes.

Paley and Murrow: See It No More

CBS journalists Edward R. Murrow and Fred Friendly in happier days

More than McCarthy finally did in the award-winning, groundbreaking CBS News series See It Now.
Edward R. Murrow and Fred Friendly had helped end Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s reign of anticommunist terror with their much-applauded 1954 exposé, but their reporting made them a political target.
Nevertheless, they didn’t back down from controversy, but even subsequent seemingly noncontroversial topics for the show — on the fate of small farmers, on Hawaiian statehood — attracted bizarre denunciations and demands for equal time.
The corporate taste for the predictable profits provided by mindless, soothing programming and Murrow’s ethical imperatives about the journalistic responsibilities of the television medium continually clashed.
CBS Chairman of the Board William Paley
The showdown came in the office of CBS Chairman of the Board William Paley in 1958. Paley had long been a principled and hands-off supporter of Murrow’s high-minded journalism, but he had grown weary of the headaches they caused him. And big profits beckoned from the cheap quiz shows (whose corrupt practices, ironically, would eventually give him bigger headaches than See It Now ever had).
Friendly described the scene in his memoir Due to Circumstances Beyond Our Control, noting that: “…Paley quietly said, ‘But I thought that you and Fred didn’t want to do ‘See It Now’ anymore.’
“ ‘Bill, what I am proposing is a procedure by which we share in the decision about equal time and under which we could continue to do ‘See It Now,’ Murrow said. ‘Of course we want it to continue.’
“The chairman replied with the firmness that goes with final authority. ‘I thought we’d already decided about ‘See It Now,” he said flatly.
“Whereupon enforced calm vanished, and 45-minute scene ensued in which these two commanding figures, the industry’s foremost reporter and its top executive, who had been intimate friends for 20 years, faced each other in a blazing showdown with all guns firing.
“One brief burst of dialogue told it all.
“ ‘Bill,’ Murrow pleaded at one point, ‘are you going to destroy all this? Don’t you want an instrument like the ‘See It Now’ organization, which you have poured so much into for so long, to continue?’
“ ‘Yes,’ said Paley, ‘but I don’t want this constant stomach ache every time you do a controversial subject.’
“ ‘I’m afraid that’s a price you have to be willing to pay. It goes with the job.’
“Nothing else that was said mattered. After seven years and almost 200 broadcasts, “See It Now’ was dead.”
Astute filmgoers will have recognized that conversation, which appears almost verbatim in Good Night and Good Luck, George Clooney’s 2005 outsstanding film about Murrow’s battle with McCarthy. The movie is remarkably faithful to the actual history recorded by Friendly, with David Strathairn, Frank Langella and Clooney’s dialogue frequently an exact reproduction of the words of Murrow, Paley and Friendly.
As the ‘50s faded and the ‘60s soared, Friendly sized up why the prestigious program had died.
“The fatal complication — all the other symptoms could have been treated — was the very strength that made Murrow unique. The man who could decide to do a program about McCarthy or Radulovich, or fly off to see Chou En-lai, or to report on smoking and lung cancer, could only do these broadcasts because of his fortitude and independence, and those same virtues which gave CBS distinction also brought it controversy, enemies and ‘stomach aches.’”
“What Paley and (CBS President Frank) Stanton did not realize at the time, and what we failed to articulate — if in fact we truly understood it — was that Murrow’s independent spirit was the biggest asset the corporate body had. CBS couldn’t afford a platoon of Murrows, but logistically and spiritually, it could certainly support one responsible, universally respected, if not unanimously applauded, reporter who was able and willing to do and say precisely what a corporation could not.”

Why the Nazis and the KKK Hated Superman

To learn why, click here.
Superman wraps up WWII, from Look Magazine in February 1940.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Nothing Can Protect a Nation Against Itself

In the 1940s, the conquered French were tortured by their German occupiers. By the 1950s, the freed French were torturing the Arab natives in colonized Algeria. That irony was not lost on philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre.
“Sartre wrote a sensational review, published in L’Express, of Henri Alleg’s book The Question, an account of being tortured by paratroopers in Algiers,” wrote Ronald Aronson in his book Camus & Sartre.
“Beginning with the memory of the Germans torturing the French at Gestapo headquarters in 1943, Sartre recalled that the French had declared it to be impossible that ‘one day men should be made to scream by those acting in our name. There is no such word as impossible: in 1958, in Algiers, people are tortured regularly and systematically… Appalled, the French are discovering this terrible truth: that if nothing can protect a nation against itself, neither its traditions nor its loyalties nor its laws, and if 15 years are enough to transform victims into executioners, then its behavior is no more than a matter of opportunity and occasion. Anybody, at any time, may equally find himself victim or executioner.’”
The French government inadvertently underlined the truth of Sartre’s words by immediately trying to censor them.
“His powerful denunciation caused L’Express to be confiscated by the authorities on March 6, 1959, and during the next several weeks the article became famous by being published in a pamphlet, confiscated, then appearing in a scroll that could only be read with a magnifying glass, and finally being published in Switzerland,” Aronson noted.
Writing in 1961, Sartre eloquently examined the full extent of what the tortured felt prepared to do once they turned torturer.
“Violence in the colonies does not only have for its aim the keeping of these enslaved men at arm’s length; it seeks to dehumanize them,” Sartre wrote. “Everything will be done to wipe out their traditions, to substitute our language for theirs and to destroy their culture without giving them ours. Sheer physical fatigue will stupefy them. Starved and ill, if they have any spirit left, fear will finish the job; guns are leveled at the peasant; civilians come to take over his land and force him by dint of flogging to till the land for them. If he shows fight, the soldiers fire and he’s a dead man; if he gives in, he degrades himself and he is no longer a man at all; shame and fear will split up his character and make his inmost self fall to pieces.”
Before Bush and Cheney’s regime, I too thought it impossible that men should be made to scream by those who were acting in the name of my nation. During and since Bush and Cheney’s regime, I too discovered that nothing can protect a nation against itself, least of all rebranding it a “homeland” to justify the use of torture.
Sartre wrote, “We are living at the moment when the match is put to the fuse.” And I know just how he felt.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Dan Hagen, Time Master

DC Comics' Showcase 26 from May-June 1960, at right, has cover art by Joe Kubert.
Within a half-century span, comic books can effectively operate as limited-range time machines for me.
Because I loved them so much when I was young, just reading a Silver Age story can take me back to that precise moment in that spring of 1960 when I was 5 and the world’s colors all seemed as vivid as those four in the comics, or that autumn of 1962 when I was 7 and the civilization of the planet Earth actually faced destruction, or that January of 1966 when I was 11 and one of my superheroes was, wonder of wonders, suddenly the biggest hit on television.
So reading a feature like Rip Hunter, Time Master is an ironic experience in seeing time, both real and fictional, collapse upon itself, something like one of those paintings of an infinite regression…