A Few Words

At the climax of the 1934 film The Black Cat, Boris Karloff recites a “black mass” over a swooning Jacqueline Wells:

Cum grano salis. Fortis cadere cedere non potest. Humanum est errare. Lupis pilum mutat, non mentem. Magna est veritas et praevalebit. Acta exteriora indicant interiora secreta. Aequam memento rebus in arduis servare mentem. Amissum quod nescitur non amittitur. Brutum fulmen. Cum grano salis. Fortis cadere cedere non potest. Fructu, non foliis arborem aestima. Insanus omnes furere credit ceteros. Quem paenitet peccasse paene est innocens.

This sounds marvelous in Karloff’s portentous baritone, but it’s weaker in translation:

With a grain of salt. A brave man may fall, but he cannot yield. To err is human. The wolf may change his skin, but not his nature. Truth is mighty, and will prevail. External actions show internal secrets. Remember when life’s path is steep to keep your mind even. The loss that is not known is no loss at all. Heavy thunder. With a grain of salt. A brave man may fall, but he cannot yield. By fruit, not by leaves, judge a tree. Every madman thinks everybody mad. Who repents from sinning is almost innocent.

He might have added Omnia dicta fortiora si dicta Latina: “Everything sounds more impressive in Latin.”

Yankee Panky

The New York Yankees saw an unusual trade in 1972: Pitchers Mike Kekich and Fritz Peterson traded families. Kekich traded his wife, Susan, two children, and a Bedlington terrier for Marilyn Peterson, the two Peterson children, and a poodle. “We didn’t trade wives, we traded lives,” Kekich said.

“They were really close, and their families were close,” remembered Yankees catcher Jake Gibbs, who had played with both men. “I guess we just didn’t know how close. Of course, they were both left-handers. You can never tell about lefties.”

The storm of attention that accompanied the trade began to erode the players’ friendship — Yankees executive Dan Topping quipped, “We may have to call off Family Day this season” — and Kekich was traded to the Indians later that year.

Marilyn Peterson and Mike Kekich eventually ended their relationship, but Fritz Peterson married Susanne Kekich in 1974 and raised four children with her.

The two friends were never close again. “All four of us had agreed in the beginning that if anyone wasn’t happy, the thing would be called off,” Kekich said. “But when Marilyn and I decided to call it off, the other couple already had gone off with each other.”

Wave Function

From a description of Hawaiian amusements by first lieutenant James King on James Cook’s third expedition to the Pacific, 1779:

But a diversion the most common is upon the Water, where there is a very great Sea, & surf breaking on the Shore. The Men sometimes 20 or 30 go without the Swell of the Surf, & lay themselves flat upon an oval piece of plank about their Size & breadth, they keep their legs close on top of it, & their Arms are us’d to guide the plank, they wait the time of the greatest Swell that sets on Shore, & altogether push forward with their Arms to keep on its top, it sends them in with a most astonishing Velocity, & the great art is to guide the plank so as always to keep it in a proper direction on the top of the Swell, & as it alters its directs. If the Swell drives him close to the rocks before he is overtaken by its break, he is much prais’d. On first seeing this very dangerous diversion I did not conceive it possible but that some of them must be dashed to mummy against the sharp rocks, but just before they reach the shore, if they are very near, they quit their plank, & dive under till the Surf is broke, when the piece of plank is sent many yards by the force of the Surf from the beach. The greatest number are generally overtaken by the break of the swell, the force of which they avoid, diving & swimming under the water out of its impulse. By such like excercises, these men may be said to be almost amphibious. The Women could swim off to the Ship, & continue half a day in the Water, & afterwards return. The above diversion is only intended as an amusement, not a tryal of Skill, & in a gentle swell that sets on must I conceive be very pleasant, at least they seem to feel a great pleasure in the motion which this Exercise gives.

This is believed to be the first written account of surfing.

Road Rules

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Zoomandbored.jpg

Guidelines adopted by director Chuck Jones in making Warner Bros.’ Road Runner-Wile E. Coyote cartoons, from Jones’ 1999 memoir Chuck Amuck:

  1. The Road Runner cannot harm the Coyote except by going “beep-beep!”
  2. No outside force can harm the Coyote — only his own ineptitude or the failure of the Acme products.
  3. The Coyote could stop anytime — if he were not a fanatic. (Repeat: “A fanatic is one who redoubles his effort when he has forgotten his aim.” — George Santayana)
  4. No dialogue ever, except “beep-beep!”
  5. The Road Runner must stay on the road — otherwise, logically, he would not be called road runner.
  6. All action must be confined to the natural environment of the two characters — the southwest American desert.
  7. All materials, tools, weapons, or mechanical conveniences must be obtained from the Acme Corporation.
  8. Whenever possible, make gravity the Coyote’s greatest enemy.
  9. The Coyote is always more humiliated than harmed by his failures.

“The Road Runner and Coyote cartoons are known and accepted throughout the world,” Jones wrote. “Perhaps the lack of dialogue is one reason. If you want to laugh, you can do so at any time, whether in Danish, French, Japanese, Urdu, Navajo, Eskimo, Portuguese, or Hindi. ‘Beep-Beep!’ is the Esperanto of comedy.”

Pro Tips

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:AdeleFred1921.jpg

“Dancing is a sweat job. … When you’re experimenting you have to try so many things before you choose what you want, that you may go days getting nothing but exhaustion. This search for what you want is like tracking something that doesn’t want to be tracked. It takes time to get a dance right, to create something memorable. There must be a certain amount of polish to it. I don’t want it to look anything but accomplished, and if I can’t make it look that way, then I’m not ready yet. I always try to get to know my routine so well that I don’t have to think, ‘What comes next?’ Everything should fall right into line, and then I know I’ve got control of the bloody floor.” — Fred Astaire

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Babe_Ruth_Red_Sox_1918.jpg

“How to hit home runs: I swing as hard as I can, and I try to swing right through the ball. In boxing, your fist usually stops when you hit a man, but it’s possible to hit so hard that your fist doesn’t stop. I try to follow through in the same way. The harder you grip the bat, the more you can swing it through the ball, and the farther the ball will go. I swing big, with everything I’ve got. I hit big or I miss big. I like to live as big as I can.” — Babe Ruth

http://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Ernest_Hemingway_in_London_at_Dorchester_Hotel_1944_-_NARA_-_192672.tif&page=1

“Don’t get discouraged because there’s a lot of mechanical work to writing. … I rewrote the first part of A Farewell to Arms at least fifty times. … The first draft of anything is shit. When you first start to write you get all the kick and the reader gets none, but after you learn to work it’s your object to convey everything to the reader so that he remembers it not as a story he has read but something that has happened to himself. That’s the true test of writing.” — Ernest Hemingway

The Verdict

The 1990 antitrust case United States v. Syufy Enterprises settled a dispute regarding monopoly among Las Vegas movie exhibitors. But it became famous for another reason: It appears that Ninth Circuit Judge Alex Kozinski hid more than 200 movie titles in his opinion. Here’s a sample (italics mine):

“Absent structural constraints that keep competition from performing its levelling function, few businesses can dictate terms to customers or suppliers with impunity. It’s risky business even to try. As Syufy learned in dealing with Orion and his other suppliers, a larger company often is more vulnerable to a squeeze play than a smaller one. It is for that reason that neither size nor market share alone suffice to establish a monopoly. Without the power to exclude competition, large companies that try to throw their weight around may find themselves sitting ducks for leaner, hungrier competitors. Or, as Syufy saw, the tactic may boomerang, causing big trouble with suppliers.”

It’s a bit hard to tell how many of these are deliberate, as they appear natural in context, and Kozinski won’t say. But working with Leonard Maltin’s TV Movies and Video Guide, the Brigham Young University Law Review found 215 titles in the opinion. You can try your own hand at it — the full text is here.

Strangers

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Strangers_on_a_Train_-_In_the_dining_car.png

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.

Unstable Orbit

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

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

Curtain Call

Reviewing a play in 1917, Heywood Broun wrote that Geoffrey Steyne’s performance was “the worst to be seen in the contemporary theater.” Steyne sued him for libel, but a judge threw out the case.

In reviewing the actor’s next production, Broun wrote, “Mr. Steyne’s performance was not up to his usual standard.”