Asked what he’d like on his tombstone, George Carlin said, “Jeez, he was just here a minute ago.”
Edgar Wallace died after completing a rough draft of King Kong, and James Ashmore Creelman’s script was slow and dialogue-heavy. So Merian C. Cooper gave the job to Ruth Rose, the wife of his co-producer. Rose had never composed a script before, but she knew how to write tightly — the opening line of dialogue, “Hey! Is this the moving picture ship?”, replaces several pages of exposition with seven words. After Kong is subdued on Skull Island, she accomplishes his transfer to New York with a simple speech by filmmaker Carl Denham:
Send to the ship for anchor chains and tools. Build a raft and float him to the ship. We’ll give him more than chains. He’s always been king of his world, but we’ll teach him fear. Why, the whole world will pay to see this! We’re millionaires, boys — I’ll share it with all of you! In a few months it’ll be up in lights: ‘Kong, the Eighth Wonder of the World!’
Ernest B. Schoedsack said his wife’s script was easy to shoot because “the characters are believable — I didn’t have to ask them to do anything impossible or ridiculous.” And Cooper added, “Ruth used just the kind of romantic dialogue I wanted. It was perfect.”
Catcher Harry Chiti pulled a sort of ontological sleight in 1962.
On April 25, while playing for the Cleveland Indians, he was acquired by the expansion New York Mets for a player to be named later.
Seven weeks later, on June 15, he was sent back to the Indians as the “player to be named later” — he’d been traded for himself.
Three other players have since achieved the same feat: Dickie Noles, Brad Gulden, and John McDonald.
Accomplishments of Max Woosnam, the “greatest British sportsman”:
- Won gold and silver medals in tennis (on the same day) at the 1920 Olympics
- Won the doubles title at Wimbledon
- Compiled a maximum break of 147 in snooker
- Made a century (100 or more runs in a single innings) at Lord’s Cricket Ground
- Captained the British Davis Cup team
- Captained Manchester City Football Club to runner-up for the Football League Championship of 1920–21
- Captained the England national football team
At Cambridge he represented the university at football, cricket, lawn tennis, real tennis, and golf. He was chosen to captain the British football team at the Olympics but had to decline, as he’d already committed to the tennis team. And he once beat Charlie Chaplin at table tennis with a butter knife.
He’s not well remembered today because he never gave an interview and considered it “vulgar” to play professionally. “He achieved so much more than so many modern sportsmen without ever receiving or asking for a fraction of the praise or attention,” his daughter Penny recalls. “It would have been all too easy for him to make more of a name for himself, to seek out a place in the newspapers, but that just wasn’t him, just wasn’t what he was all about.”
Monster a Go-Go! stops rather than ends. Director Bill Rebane abandoned the science fiction horror film in 1961 after running out of money, and Herschell Gordon Lewis picked it up in 1965 to pair with one of his own movies as a double feature. By that time the original cast were unavailable to complete the filming, so Lewis had to make do with what he had, which led to some awkward moments. At the end, as scientists are closing in on the radioactive monster that has replaced astronaut Frank Douglas, it suddenly disappears and a narrator says:
As if a switch had been turned, as if an eye had been blinked, as if some phantom force in the universe had made a move eons beyond our comprehension, suddenly, there was no trail! There was no giant, no monster, no thing called ‘Douglas’ to be followed. There was nothing in the tunnel but the puzzled men of courage, who suddenly found themselves alone with shadows and darkness! With the telegram, one cloud lifts, and another descends. Astronaut Frank Douglas, rescued, alive, well, and of normal size, some 8,000 miles away in a lifeboat, with no memory of where he has been, or how he was separated from his capsule! Then who, or what, has landed here? Is it here yet? Or has the cosmic switch been pulled? Case in point: The line between science fiction and science fact is microscopically thin! You have witnessed the line being shaved even thinner! But is the menace with us? Or is the monster gone?
What does this mean? None of it is explained. Lewis called his film a parody, but Rebane called it “the worst picture in the world.”
French composer Charles Koechlin rarely watched films until he saw The Blue Angel in 1933 and became captivated by “the formidable realm of the cinema.” He set to work and in a few weeks produced a Seven Stars Symphony, with a movement dedicated to each of seven actors of the day: Douglas Fairbanks, Lilian Harvey, Greta Garbo, Clara Bow, Marlene Dietrich, Emil Jannings, and Charlie Chaplin.
Interestingly, Robert Orledge writes in his biography of the composer, “The fifth, sixth and seventh movements, depicting Marlene Dietrich, Emil Jannings and Charlie Chaplin, are based on a cipher system of Koechlin’s own devising, in which the themes spell out the stars’ names, and in the case of the Emil Jannings movement virtually tell a film story in music.” I’ll try to find out more about that.
In Notorious there’s a strangely chaste scene of passion in which Ingrid Bergman and Cary Grant hold one another, gaze into each other’s eyes, and declare their love, but only intermittently kiss. Grant even places a phone call during the clinch. The reason is the Hays code, a set of moral guidelines that Hollywood had adopted in 1930. Among other things, it declared that:
The sanctity of the institution of marriage and the home shall be upheld … Excessive and lustful kissing, lustful embraces, suggestive postures and gestures, are not to be shown.
The practical rule was that a screen kiss must not last more than 3 seconds. So Alfred Hitchcock simply toed that line. Bergman later recalled, “We just kissed each other and talked, leaned away and kissed each other again … the censors couldn’t and didn’t cut the scene because we never at any one point kissed for more than three seconds … we nibbled on each other’s ears, and kissed a cheek, so that it looked endless.” In fact it lasted two and a half minutes.
Early in his dancing career, Bill “Bojangles” Robinson performed on a custom double staircase that added drama to his act, increasing his visibility to the audience while amplifying his steps. In What the Eye Hears, Brian Seibert writes, “What the stairs did for Robinson was reveal how he played with the structure of the music through how he played with the structure of the staircase.”
Robinson went through 20 to 30 pairs of clogs a year with footwork so impeccable that a listener under the stage couldn’t distinguish his right foot from his left. A less efficient dancer might have found the narrow steps daunting, but Robinson danced effortlessly “up on the toes,” keeping his feet neatly underneath him while displaying dazzling control and timing.
“As generations of imitators would learn to their grief, the properties of the staircase that magnified Robinson’s mastery equally magnify the slightest imperfection,” Seibert writes. “Dancers tell a story in which he had his musicians cut out for three and a half minutes while he continued dancing. After the allotted time, the musicians came back in, cued by a metronome that Robinson couldn’t hear. He was exactly on beat.”
C.A. Lejeune wrote of The Iceman Cometh, “It is longeth and it stinketh.”
The New York Post titled its review of a new Clifford Odets play: ODETS WHERE IS THY STING?
Walter Kerr after the Broadway opening of I Am a Camera: “Me no Leica.”
Of a 1920s play whose author happened to be a vicar of Brockenhurst, the Daily Graphic’s critic wrote that it was “the best play ever written by a vicar of Brockenhurst.”
George Jean Nathan on a 1920s musical: “I’ve knocked everything in this show except the chorus girls’ knees, and there God anticipated me.”
Brooks Atkinson on First Impressions, a 1959 musical version of Pride and Prejudice: “Farley Granger played Mr. Darcy with all the flexibility of a telegraph pole.”
Walter Kerr on Jay Robinson in Buy Me Blue Ribbons: “Mr. Robinson has delusions of adequacy.”
John Mason Brown on a 1937 production of Antony and Cleopatra: “Tallulah Bankhead barged down the Nile last night as Cleopatra and sank.”
Nathan on Maureen Stapleton’s opening in 1953’s The Emperor’s Clothes: “Miss Stapleton played the part as though she had not yet signed the contract with the producer.”
Dorothy Parker on a 1931 Empire Theatre production: “The only thing I didn’t like about The Barretts of Wimpole Street was the play.”
George S. Kaufman on Gertrude Lawrence in Skylark: “A bad play saved by a bad performance.”
A critic wrote that that Wilfrid Hyde-White had spent one West End performance “prowling round the stage looking for laughs with the single-mindedness of a tortoise on a lettuce-hunt.”
Max Beerbohm once had to greet a great Edwardian actress after watching her give a tedious performance. Thinking quickly, he said, “Darling! Good is not the word!”
Early American radio producers discovered that they could create a convincing crowd sound by having a group of actors repeat the word walla over and over. This technique is still sometimes used in film and TV productions — besides walla, actors sometimes mutter “peas and carrots,” “watermelon cantaloupe,” “natter natter,” or “grommish grommish.” In Europe the word rhubarb is often used.
British comedian Eric Sykes’ 1980 television special Rhubarb Rhubarb plays with this idea by removing all other dialogue: Sykes relies almost entirely on sight gags, and the scant spoken dialogue consists of people saying the word rhubarb. The 1980 program was a remake of Sykes’ 1969 film Rhubarb, which presses this conceit even further: Everyone says “rhubarb,” all the characters are named Rhubarb, car license plates read RHU BAR B, and a baby speaks by holding up a sign that says RHUBARB. “A visual gag,” said Sykes, “is worth three pages of dialogue.”