High Drama

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Owen_Wister.jpg

When Theodore Roosevelt was reelected president in 1904, his friend Owen Wister, author of The Virginian, sent him a congratulatory telegram:

RICHARD THIRD ACT ONE SCENE ONE LINES ONE AND TWO

The lines read “Now is the winter of our discontent made glorious summer by this sun of York.”

Roosevelt spent the next four years fighting a recalcitrant Senate and House. As he was leaving office he received another wire from Wister:

ROMEO AND JULIET ACT THREE SCENE ONE LINE THREE PRECEDING MERCUTIO’S EXIT

The line is “A plague o’ both your houses!”

War Games

In 1916 British movie houses thrilled to The Battle of the Somme, which depicted actual fighting in the trenches of France as it unfolded that summer. At the visual climax of the film (30:33 in the video above), the British Army goes “over the top,” climbing over the parapet and losing a number of soldiers as it advances on the German position.

“Oh God, they’re dead!” cried a woman in the audience. The Dean of Durham entered “a protest against an entertainment which wounds the heart and violates the very sanctity of bereavement.” And H. Rider Haggard wrote, “[I]t does give a wonderful idea of the fighting … The most impressive [picture] to my mind is that of a regiment scrambling out of a trench to charge and of the one man who slides back shot dead. There is something appalling about the instantaneous change from fierce activity to supine death … War has always been dreadful, but never, I suppose, more dreadful than today.”

Unfortunately, six years later a panel of experts pronounced the sequence a fake. The troops are not carrying heavy equipment, the grass is lush, and the trenches are open to sniper fire and unprotected against artillery, and, most telling, the camera positions would have been dangerously exposed to enemy fire if this footage were authentic. It appears that cameraman Geoffrey Malins had staged certain crucial scenes for the sake of the drama.

Malins had profited from the film’s notoriety with a book called How I Filmed the War in 1920. This came back to bite him: Another cameraman later described meeting a soldier who had “died” for Malins in a trench well behind the lines.

(Roger Smither, “‘A Wonderful Idea of the Fighting': The Question of Fakes in ‘The Battle of the Somme’,” Historical Journal of Film, Radio & Television, 13:2 [June 1993], 149)

Wash and Carry

https://www.google.com/patents/US185372

This is admirably simple: In 1876 Ethelbert Watts invented a portmanteau that doubles as a bathtub:

“The object of my invention is to provide a portmanteau, valise, traveling-bag, or other equivalent article used for the transportation of clothing, which shall be convertible into a bath-tub, so as to afford travelers in places where such conveniences are wanting the luxury or comfort of bodily ablution.

“Articles of clothing, &c., may be packed and carried in it as in any portmanteau or equivalent device. When it is desired to use it as a bath-tub the portmanteau is opened, as shown in Fig. 1, and the contents removed. Water is then poured in, when a bath may be enjoyed, as in a permanent tub or fixture. When the bath is over, the water is poured or dipped out, the interior dried by any suitable means, and the device is again ready for use as a portmanteau.”

Black and White

loyd chess problem

By Sam Loyd. White to mate in two moves.

Click for Answer

Fact and Fiction

fact and fiction

It is often very hard to tell a fake from an original, even when you know it must be fake. Think about the opening scenes of the movie version of Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code. Some scenes were shot in the galleries of the Louvre. The museum would not allow actors Tom Hanks or Audrey Tautou to remove Leonardos from the wall, so those scenes were shot in London. One hundred and fifty paintings from the Louvre were reproduced for the London set, using digital photography. Artist James Gemmill overpainted and glazed each, even copying the craquelure and the wormholes in the frames. When Madonna of the Rocks is removed from the wall, the back of the painting shows the correct stretcher placement and Louvre identification codes.

Dealers in Old Masters who saw the movie and were familiar with the originals in the Louvre confess to not being sure which paintings are copies … The answer is that every painting in the movie that is touched by Hanks or Tautou is a copy. Paintings that appear only as background in the Louvre are real. What happened to James Gemmill’s copies after the scenes were shot? No one will say.

— Don Thompson, The $12 Million Stuffed Shark, 2009

Short Orders

One afternoon the doorbell rang at Peter Sellers’ London flat. Sellers was working in his study upstairs, so his wife Anne answered the door. It was a telegram for her:

BRING ME A CUP OF COFFEE. PETER.

In 1960 Jerry Lewis and Henny Youngman were having lunch at a Miami restaurant when Lewis was mobbed by autograph seekers. Youngman slipped out to the lobby unnoticed and returned as if nothing had happened. Shortly afterward Lewis received a telegram from the hotel bellboy:

DEAR JERRY, PLEASE PASS THE SALT. HENNY.

In a Word

laquearian
adj. armed with a noose

funipendulous
adj. hanging from a rope

patibulary
adj. pertaining to the gallows

On Feb. 23, 1885, convicted murderer John Lee of Devon was brought to the scaffold and positioned on the trapdoor. The noose was fitted around his neck, and executioner James Berry pulled the lever.

Nothing happened.

Two warders tried to force the trapdoor to open under Lee, but they failed. They removed the condemned man and tested the door, and it worked. So they put Lee in position again, and again Berry pulled the lever.

Again nothing happened.

Exasperated, the warders again put Lee aside and set to work on the door, this time with hatchets. When they were satisfied, they returned him to the scaffold, and Berry pulled the lever a third time.

Nothing happened.

So the Home Secretary commuted Lee’s sentence to life imprisonment.

Righteousness

The autobiography of the 12th-century Muslim poet Usama ibn Munqidh tells of an incident in which the invading Crusaders appealed for a doctor to treat some of their number who had fallen ill. The Muslims sent a doctor named Thabit, who returned after 10 days with this story:

They took me to see a knight who had an abscess on his leg, and a woman with consumption. I applied a poultice to the leg, and the abscess opened and began to heal. I prescribed a cleansing and refreshing diet for the woman. Then there appeared a Frankish doctor, who said: ‘This man has no idea how to cure these people!’ He turned to the knight and said: ‘Which would you prefer, to live with one leg or die with two?’ When the knight replied that he would prefer living with one leg, he sent for the strong man and a sharp axe. They arrived, and I stood by to watch. The doctor supported the leg on a block of wood, and said to the man: ‘Strike a mighty blow, and cut cleanly!’ … The marrow spurted out of the leg (after the second blow) and the patient died instantaneously. Then the doctor examined the woman and said: ‘She has a devil in her head who is in love with her. Cut her hair off!’ This was done, and she went back to eating her usual Frankish food … which made her illness worse. ‘The devil has got into her brain,’ pronounced the doctor. He took a razor and cut a cross on her head, and removed the brain so that the inside of the skull was laid bare … the woman died instantly. At this juncture I asked whether they had any further need of me, as they had none I came away, having learnt things about medical methods that I never knew before.

Surrounded

Travel due north, south, east, or west from Stamford, Conn., and you’ll find yourself in New York state.

Sweet Reason

A brainteaser by Chris Maslanka:

A packet of sugar retails for 90 cents. Each packet includes a voucher, and nine vouchers can be redeemed for a free packet. What is the value of the contents of one packet? (Ignore the cost of the packaging.)

Click for Answer
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