For the Record

Letter from Eddie Cantor to Groucho Marx, Jan. 9, 1964:

Dear Julius,

Since being inactive as a performer I’ve done quite a bit of scribbling. This is my fourth year writing a column for Diners’ Club Magazine.

Will you please send me as quick as you can two lines which have brought you the biggest laughs. I would appreciate it for my next column.

Gratefully,

Eddie

Groucho responded:

Dear Eddie:

Briefly (and quickly) the two biggest laughs that I can recall (other than my three marriages) were in a vaudeville act called “Home Again.”

One was when Zeppo came out from the wings and announced, ‘Dad, the garbage man is here.’ I replied, ‘Tell him we don’t want any.’

The other was when Chico shook hands with me and said, ‘I would like to say good-bye to your wife,’ and I said, ‘Who wouldn’t?’

Take care of yourself.

Regards,

Groucho Marx

The Swallows Return

Swimming in the Nile at age 10, Hadji Ali discovered he could ingest large amounts of water and bring it up again without ill effect. He parlayed this talent into a career as a “regurgitation act” in music halls and carnivals around the world, playing even to Tsar Nicholas II at the Winter Palace in 1914.

The performance above, from Laurel and Hardy’s 1931 Spanish-language film Politiquerias, includes Ali’s famous closing stunt, in which he ingests both water and kerosene and then upchucks them variously onto an open flame.

All of this was received with surprising tolerance by the era’s audiences — Judy Garland named Ali her favorite vaudevillian — but at least one club cut short an engagement when they found it was “killing their supper shows.”

AAAAAAAAAAUUGH

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

In 1947, Charles M. Schulz was working as an art instructor at a Minneapolis correspondence school when the accounting department hired a pretty redhead named Donna Mae Johnson. “I just thought she was wonderful,” Schulz said. On his way in to work he would stop off on the second floor to draw cartoons on her desk calendar, and in February 1950 they began to date.

The trouble was that Donna had a second boyfriend, a local boy named Alan Wold whom she had been dating since 1948. “I knew quite soon in the relationship that it was Al that I wanted,” she said, yet “I really loved Sparky too at the same time.” She asked her diary on May 8, 1950: “How will you ever decide?”

On June 14, after signing a deal with a newspaper syndicate to publish his comic strip, Peanuts, Schulz went to her and proposed marriage.

All she could say was “I don’t want to marry anybody. I just wish everybody would leave me alone.”

He pressed her for three weeks, but she was firm. Schulz eventually moved to Colorado, married Joyce Halverson, and started a family, but he kept in touch with Donna for the rest of his life. One night he grew sentimental listening to Joni James sing about unrequited love, “and that was the mindset that got me going on Charlie Brown sitting at the playground, eating his lunch, and he looks across the playground, and he sees the little red-haired girl, and from that, that whole series came, one thing after another.”

“You never do get over your first love,” he said at age 75. “The whole of you is rejected when a woman says, ‘You’re not worth it.'”

Monk’s Notes

Steve Lacy played soprano saxophone in Thelonious Monk’s quintet for 16 weeks in 1960. He took down the pianist’s advice in a spiral notebook:

thelonious monk performance notes

“Monk’s tunes were ideal and difficult, and interesting, intriguing, and satisfying,” Lacy remembered later. “I started and I’ve never stopped looking into his music.”

Blood Sports

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Two bygone amusements that we’re well rid of:

In fox tossing, popular in the 17th century, foxes would be released into an arena in which slings were laid between pairs of participants. If a fox crossed a sling, they would fling it into the air, usually killing or severely injuring it. The highest toss won the contest.

In goose pulling, a live goose was tied by its feet to a rope stretched over a course, and each competitor would ride under it at full speed and try to pull off its head.

“This pastime is not one to be commended on the score of humanity,” noted Baily’s Magazine of Sports & Pastimes in 1902, “but it did something to test horsemanship; the goose we may be sure did not hang in a state of resigned quietude, and if the horseman had not a good seat he ran an excellent chance of coming a heavy cropper in his attempt to seize the writhing neck.”

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Remington_-_A_Gander-Pull.jpg

Another Fad

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Before the existence of the association of clubs (1857), and when [baseball] was to be learned only from witnessing the practice and match games at Hoboken, the prejudice which existed against the game could scarcely be imagined. The favor with which it was regarded may be judged from the observation used by an accidental witness of a game who, after looking for a while, with unfeigned astonishment exclaimed: ‘I can’t see what fun such great, big men can find in hitting a little ball with a big stick and run away like mad, and kick at a sand bag.’

DeWitt Baseball Guide, 1868

Dangerous Years

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Arthur Miller’s first impressions of Marilyn Monroe, on the set of As Young As You Feel, 1950:

We had just arrived on a nightclub set when Marilyn, in a black open-work lace dress, was directed to walk across the floor, attracting the worn gaze of the bearded [Monty] Woolley. She was being shot from the rear to set off the swivelling of her hips, a motion fluid enough to seem comic. It was, in fact, her natural walk: her footprints on a beach would be in a straight line, the heel descending exactly before the last toeprint, throwing her pelvis into motion.

When the shot was finished she came over to [Elia] Kazan, who had met her with [agent Johnny] Hyde on another visit some time before. From where I stood, yards away, I saw her in profile against a white light, with her hair coiled atop her head; she was weeping under a veil of black lace that she lifted now and then to dab her eyes. When we shook hands the shock of her body’s motion sped through me, a sensation at odds with her sadness amid all this glamour and technology and the busy confusion of a new shot being set up. She had been weeping, she would explain later, while telling Kazan that Hyde had died calling her name in a hospital room she had been forbidden by his family to enter. She had heard him from the corridor, and had left, as always, alone.

Bird Watching

When director George Pal first came to the United States from Hungary, animator Walter Lantz helped him obtain U.S. citizenship. As a tribute to their friendship, Pal inserted Woody Woodpecker into most of his films:

  • In Destination Moon (1950), a Woody Woodpecker cartoon explains the principles of space travel.
  • In When Worlds Collide (1951), Woody is visible in an airport scene at the beginning of the film.
  • In War of the Worlds (1953), Woody’s figure is visible among the branches of a tree as the Martian spacecraft first fly over.
  • In Tom Thumb (1958), Woody’s laugh can be heard during a Russ Tamblyn dance sequence.
  • In The Time Machine (1960), a little girl drops a Woody Woodpecker doll.
  • In The Power (1968), George Hamilton looks in a store window and sees a mechanical Woody.

In Doc Savage (1975), Pal’s last film, the reference is subtle. No woodpeckers appear in the film, but near the end an elderly woman is helped across the street by a Boy Scout. The woman is Grace Stafford, Lantz’s wife — and the voice of Woody Woodpecker.

Turn, Turn, Turn

hampton court maze

The hedge maze at Hampton Court has been entertaining visitors since 1695, occasionally belying its reputation for ease. In Jerome K. Jerome’s Three Men in a Boat (1889), Harris says, “We’ll just go in here, so that you can say you’ve been, but it’s very simple. It’s absurd to call it a maze.” Then, after two miles of wandering:

‘The map may be all right enough,’ said one of the party, ‘if you know whereabouts in it we are now.’

Harris didn’t know, and suggested that the best thing to do would be to go back to the entrance, and begin again. For the beginning again part of it there was not much enthusiasm; but with regard to the advisability of going back to the entrance there was complete unanimity, and so they turned, and trailed after Harris again, in the opposite direction. About ten minutes more passed, and then they found themselves in the centre.

http://books.google.com/books?id=t80kAQAAIAAJ

Mazes have exercised a peculiar fascination for the mathematically minded. The young Lewis Carroll composed this one for a family magazine — the object is to make your way from the outside to the central space; it’s acceptable to pass over or under another path, but a single line means your way is blocked.

http://books.google.com/books?id=hvDuAAAAMAAJ

Cambridge University mathematician W.W. Rouse Ball constructed this maze in his garden. He notes that unless a loop surrounds the goal, the wanderer can defeat any maze by trailing one hand along a wall, and “no labyrinth is worthy of the name of a puzzle which can be threaded in this way.”

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Hampton Court is modest in comparison to the modern hedge maze at Longleat, a stately home in Somerset. Its 16,000 English yews enclose 1.75 miles of paths that require an hour and a half to traverse; the course includes six wooden bridges from which to plot a path to the goal, an observation tower.

And Tennessee’s Odyssey mirror maze covers 5,000 square feet with a field of eight-foot mirrors set at 60-degree angles to create the illusion of an enormous vaulted crypt:

In solving any of these, as Harris discovered, the chief danger is overconfidence:

Said a boastful young student from Hayes,
As he entered the Hampton Court maze:
“There’s nothing in it.
I won’t be a minute.”
He’s been missing for forty-one days.

— Frank Richards