Road Rules

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

“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

“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

“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.


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

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.”

Across the Universe

During a newspaper interview in March 1966, John Lennon said that the Beatles were “more popular than Jesus.”

On August 13, radio station KLUE in Longview, Texas, organized a bonfire in which protesting Christians burned their Beatles records.

The following day, the station’s broadcast tower was struck by lightning, rendering the news director unconscious and knocking the station off the air.

(Thanks, Zach.)

Fact and Fiction

Wonder Woman and her Lasso of Truth were created by a pioneer in lie detectors.

While a graduate student at Harvard after World War I, William Moulton Marston had developed a systolic blood pressure test to detect deception.

Twenty-five years later, while proposing a female superhero to DC Comics, he suggested a magic lasso that would force those it captured to tell the truth.

He was inspired by his wife, Elizabeth. “Not even girls want to be girls so long as our feminine archetype lacks force, strength, and power,” he said in 1943. “The obvious remedy is to create a feminine character with all the strength of Superman plus all the allure of a good and beautiful woman.”