Strangers

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Raymond Chandler to Alfred Hitchcock, Dec. 6, 1950:

Dear Hitch,

In spite of your wide and generous disregard of my communications on the subject of the script of Strangers on a Train and your failure to make any comment on it, and in spite of not having heard a word from you since I began the writing of the actual screenplay — for all of which I might say I bear no malice, since this sort of procedure seems to be part of the standard Hollywood depravity — in spite of this and in spite of this extremely cumbersome sentence, I feel that I should, just for the record, pass you a few comments on what is termed the final script. I could understand your finding fault with my script in this or that way, thinking that such and such a scene was too long or such and such a mechanism was too awkward. I could understand you changing you mind about the things you specifically wanted, because some of such changes might have been imposed on you from without. What I cannot understand is your permitting a script which after all had some life and vitality to be reduced to such a flabby mass of clichés, a group of faceless characters, and the kind of dialogue every screen writer is taught not to write — the kind that says everything twice and leaves nothing to be implied by the actor or the camera. Of course you must have had your reasons but, to use a phrase once coined by Max Beerbohm, it would take a ‘far less brilliant mind than mine’ to guess what they were.

Regardless of whether or not my name appears on the screen among the credits, I’m not afraid that anybody will think I wrote this stuff. They’ll know damn well I didn’t. I shouldn’t have minded in the least if you had produced a better script — believe me, I shouldn’t. But if you wanted something written in skim milk, why on earth did you bother to come to me in the first place? What a waste of money! What a waste of time! It’s no answer to say that I was well paid. Nobody can be adequately paid for wasting his time.

Raymond Chandler

John Steinbeck, Thornton Wilder, and Dashiell Hammett had already turned down the job. When Chandler finally did hear from Hitchcock, it was to learn he’d been fired.

In a Word

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periclitate
v. to endanger

Splish Splash

http://www.google.com/patents/US643094

In 1899 Otto Hensel invented an oscillating tub that could give a vigorous bath while conserving water:

The essential object of this invention is to provide a tub that will fill a long-felt want in hospitals, sanitariums, and other institutions, as well as in private residences, which will by a simple rocking motion agitate and throw the water with more or less violence against the body of the person in the tub.

In Sylvie and Bruno Lewis Carroll goes this one better with the Active Tourist’s Portable Bath, a bag in which one can bathe in half a gallon of water:

“The A.T. hangs up the P.B. on a nail — thus. He then empties the water jug into it — places the empty jug below the bag — leaps into the air — descends head-first into the bag — the water rises round him to the top of the bag — and there you are! The A.T. is as much under water as if he’d gone a mile or two down into the Atlantic!”

Tough Love

Irritating sayings of parents, compiled by students ages 12 and 13 at Toot Hill Comprehensive School, Bingham, Nottinghamshire, England, in 1978:

Isn’t it time you thought about bed?
It must be somewhere
You speak to him, Harold, he won’t listen to me.
Who do you think I am?
You’d better ask your father
It’s late enough as it is
Don’t eat with your mouth open
In this day and age
Did anybody ask your opinion
I remember when I was a boy
And after all we do for you
You’re not talking to your school friends now you know
Why don’t you do it the proper way
I’m only trying to tell you
What did I just say
Now, wrap up warm
B.E.D. spells bed
Sit up straight and don’t gobble your food
For the five hundredth time
Don’t let me ever see you do that again.
Have you made your bed?
Can’t you look further than your nose?
No more lip
Have you done your homework?
Because I say so.
Don’t come those fancy ways here
Any more and you’ll be in bed
My, haven’t you grown
Some day I won’t be here, then you’ll see
A chair’s for sitting on
You shouldn’t need telling at your age.
Want, want, want, that’s all you ever say

“I don’t think my parents liked me,” wrote Woody Allen. “They put a live teddy bear in my crib.”

Uptown Girl

A man has two girlfriends, one who lives uptown and the other downtown. He likes them equally, so he lets the trains decide which he will visit: He arrives at the train station at random times and takes whichever train arrives first.

Over time, he finds that he’s visiting the uptown girlfriend much more often than the downtown girlfriend, even though uptown and downtown trains arrive at the station equally often. Why?

Click for Answer

The Whistle

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When Benjamin Franklin was 7 years old he was charmed by the sound of a whistle owned by another boy, so he went to a toy shop and volunteered all his money for one. He played it all over the house, annoying his family, until they told him that he had paid four times its price. At that he cried with vexation, and “the reflection gave me more chagrin than the whistle gave me pleasure.”

For the rest of his life, Franklin recalled this episode as a warning to reckon the cost of every attainment:

When I saw one too ambitious of court favor, sacrificing his time in attendance on levees, his repose, his liberty, his virtue, and perhaps his friends, to attain it, I have said to myself, this man gives too much for his whistle.

When I saw another fond of popularity, constantly employing himself in political bustles, neglecting his own affairs, and ruining them by that neglect, ‘He pays, indeed,’ said I, ‘too much for his whistle.’

If I knew a miser, who gave up every kind of comfortable living, all the pleasure of doing good to others, all the esteem of his fellow-citizens, and the joys of benevolent friendship, for the sake of accumulating wealth, ‘Poor man,’ said I, ‘you pay too much for your whistle.’

When I met with a man of pleasure, sacrificing every laudable improvement of the mind, or of his fortune, to mere corporeal sensations, and ruining his health in their pursuit, ‘Mistaken man,’ said I, ‘you are providing pain for yourself, instead of pleasure; you give too much for your whistle.’

If I see one fond of appearance, or fine clothes, fine houses, fine furniture, fine equipages, all above his fortune, for which he contracts debts, and ends his career in a prison, ‘Alas!’ say I, ‘he has paid dear, very dear, for his whistle.’

When I see a beautiful sweet-tempered girl married to an ill-natured brute of a husband, ‘What a pity,’ say I, ‘that she should pay so much for a whistle!’

“In short,” he wrote, “I conceive that great part of the miseries of mankind are brought upon them by the false estimates they have made of the value of things, and by their giving too much for their whistles.”

Eastern Time

The most outlandish uncle of all was William Strachey. Notwithstanding his having lived in India only five years, and his association with the British empire having been slight and undistinguished, he persevered in upholding Eastern customs with far greater rigidity and a finer disregard for common sense than any other Strachey. Having once visited Calcutta, he became convinced that the clocks there were the only reliable chronometers in the world, and kept his own watch set resolutely by Calcutta time, organizing the remaining fifty-six years of his life accordingly. The results were disconcerting for his friends and family in England. He breakfasted at afternoon tea and lived most of his waking hours by candlelight. In visits to Sutton Court, his strange nocturnal habits earned him a reputation in astrology among the embedded Somerset folk.

— Michael Holroyd, Lytton Strachey, 1995

Water Battle

An odd number of people armed with water guns are standing in a field so that all the pairwise distances are distinct. At a signal, each shoots at his nearest neighbor and hits him. Prove that one person doesn’t get wet.

Click for Answer

Unquote

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“The eyes have one language everywhere.” — George Herbert

Unstable Orbit

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The Rainbow Room had a revolving floor in front of the band. [In 1934] Ray [Noble] would get up wearing white tie and tails and sit down at the piano on the revolving floor. We would go into a medley and Ray would play and talk to the people at the tables as he was being moved about. When he got about halfway around the circle he would be a half-block away from us. Claude [Thornhill] would then change keys on him. Ray would be playing ‘The Very Thought of You,’ say in E-flat, and Claude would change it to F and Ray would be stuck out there. When a half hour later the piano, moving circularly, got back to the bandstand Ray would be furious, and he would say, ‘For God’s sake, fellows, I am playing ‘The Very Thought of You’ in E-flat. What the hell are you playing?’

— Bud Freeman, Crazeology, 1995