Sunday, March 30, 2008

One Day University

Very enjoyable! A member of the audience rightly called it "mind-expanding." There were four speakers, and I went to the session in Morristown. After the session, I signed up for the next one. Not cheap.

*Walter Sinnott-Armstrong of Dartmouth spoke about neuroscience and brain scans. Can we tell whether people are lying by checking their brains? Perhaps with 95% accuracy--but the whole subject is fraught with ethical questions.*

Paul Bloom of Yale on art--Why do we value the original at millions--and if it's revealed as a good copy, as worthless? Because of associations--the artist painted that. Just as an autograph is more valuable than a photocopy. What about a white sheet of paper that the artist looked at 1500 times? Bloom was justifiably skeptical. (Reminds me of John Cage's 7.5 minutes of silence.)

Richard Freedman of Haverford on music--Among other things, he talked about the wildness of the 3rd movement of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony. (I asked: Why is most music in a minor key sad? Lots of answers, he replied, but in other cultures a minor key doesn't necessarily mean sad music. I myself thought that, in Western culture, lamentations are in a minor key.)

Khalilah Brown-Dean of Yale talked about the prison paradox--how America has more prisoners than other countries, largely because of drug arrests. Convicts aren't entitled to Federal benefits (like subsidized housing), can't get licensed as, say, cosmoloists in various states, and can't vote. But they count as part of the local population when federal subsidies are calculated, so some areas love building new prisons. Prisoners bring in business--restaurants, hotels, shopping, etc. The conviction rate among blacks undermines their families, esp as more women wind up behind bars. A very disturbing talk she gave. I wonder: What's the relationship of this to the fact that so many US soldiers are black?

*I witnessed an accident--motorcycle with 2 passengers was cut off by a dippy female driver of an SUV. In my deposition, I said that the motorcycle was an old-fashioned one, with a passenger seat on the side. Later, I saw a photo: It was a normal motorcycle! How had I been so wrong?
The accident took maybe a minute. The picture embedded in my mind was: The woman passenger flying in the air, to the left of the male driver. I assumed that she was sitting in a chair next to him--instead of that the motorcycle was just turned around toward the right. A shocking mistake--but totally honest. (It had no bearing on the outcome. The lawyers were probably impressed that no one had coached me beforehand.)

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Opera Story

I'm reading a book about American opera singers by Peter Davis.

David Poleri (1921-67) had a ringing tenor but was guilty of unpredictable behavior.

"Once, while singing Carmen with the NYCity Opera on tour in Chicago, the temperamental Poleri reached the final scene, dropped his knife, shouted 'Finish it yourself!' and marched off the stage, leaving a perplexed Carmen, Gloria Lane, to stab herself to death."

Monday, March 24, 2008

Bel Canto

Here is a list of songs sung by wonderful singers--mostly of the past--

Caruso and Ruffo, Sip el ciel, Otello, Verdi

Giuseppe DiStefano, Salut demeure, Faust, Gounod

Jussi Bjoerllng, Robt Merrill, duet from Pearl Fishers, Bizet

Maria Jeritza, Vissi d’arte, Tosca

Miliza Korjus, Bell Song, Lakme

Victoria de los angeles, Ah fors’e lui, Traviata

Renee Fleming, Hymn to the Moon, Dvorak

Diana Damrau as the Queen of the Night

Cesare Siepi, Don Giovanni

John McCormack, Il mio tesoro, Don Giovanni

Richard Crooks, I’m falling in love with someone, Herbert

Rose Ponselle, Vissi d’arte, Tosca

Titta Ruffo, Di Provenza, Traviata

Mary Garden, At Dawning

Mary Garden, Depuis le jour

Chaliapin sings Don Quixote

Chaliapin as Don Quixote

Pol Plancon, aria from Le Caid

Horne-Sutherland, Flower duet, Lakme

Horne-Sutherland, Norma

Melba-Caruso, O Soava Fanciulla

Melba, Sempera Libera, Traviata

Sembrich-Scotti, Don Pasquale

Schuman-Heink, Erkonig

Lotte Schoene, Magic Flute

Paul Robeson, Summertime, Gershwin

Comparson of baritones--Rigoletto

Comparison of baritones, Barber of Seville

Lawrence Tibbett as Scarpia in Tosca

lotte lehman sings

David DeVries, La dame blanche

Aureliano Pertile, Di quella pira, Il Trovatore, Verdi

Lauri-Volpi, Di quella pira (he gets booed!)

Selma Kurz, Una voce poco fa, Barber of Seville, Rossini

Picking Movies

Picking movies to show to members of a movie club I started is no cinch.

We want good, little-known movies...and far too many of them are foreign! And it's hard to read the subtitles in the room we have. Besides which, a goodly number of movies that qualify are silents, and I know that many modern moviegoers can't abide silent movies.

Our films so far: Passion of Joan of Arc...Counselor at Law...Metropolis...City Lights...

I was thinking of Rififi, a crime movie--most of the viewers are men-- but even I had trouble reading the subtitles. Also, it seemed a bit old-fashioned. (I haven't finished watching it.)

I COULD show excerpts from music films-like Evensong, about Nellie Melba, and Aida with Sophia Loren.

I SHOULD show a Lubitsch film--maybe Merry Widow, which I saw again recently.

But I think I've hit upon a good idea: International House, with WC Fields and Burns and Allen. Finally, a comedy.

Movies: Enchanted

Clever and charming...the singing-and-dancing scene in Central Park was great...Amy Adams is a peach.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Jackie Mason says...

Commenting on rappers and their tendency to violence...

How come Tony Bennett never wanted to kill Bing Crosby?

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Definition of a good librarian

Test of a good librarian...

A child asks for a big book, red, about a dog,

and you fetch him a small book, yellow, about cat...

and it's the right book.

From a song sung by Paul Robeson

about a lovely black child...

Angel brought you in the night
Done forgot to make you white...

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Elmer Rice's Autobiography

Elmer Rice, “Minority Report”

Intelligent, interesting, well-written book by a deep-dyed liberal—playwright of Adding Machine, Street Scene, Counselor-at-Law (the last was made into a film, which I’m showing to our movie club).
Book published in 1963 when he was 71; he died a few years later.

His name was really Elmer Leopold Reizenstein, and he was a total unbeliever. He changed his name simply because Rice was easier to spell—not because of any anti-Semitism.

His book is a bit too defensive, and he’s too full of himself. But it’s an enjoyable read. Full of comments on celebrities. It needed an index!


He heard historian Chas A Beard at Columbia: “The seat of the American government was first established at the corner of Broad and Wall streets; it has remained there ever since.”

He listened to Thorstein Veblen at the New School: He could hardly hear him. “From his giant frame there emerged a barely audible mumble.”

He became wealthy early in life, thanks to his plays. “I have never been in debt, have never borrowed a penny, have never bought anything on credit.”

“Whenever my sons try to put me in my place, I remind them that I saw Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, George Sisler, Rogers Hornsby, Honus Wagner, Walter Johnson, Cy Young, Ed Walsh, Napoleon Lajoie, Grover Cleveland Alexander and many other immortals.”

As a child “…I did believe that if you touched a Negro the black came off on you…”

“There is sort of a pecking order among Jews, as among other peoples. In general German Jews look down upon their Russian and Polish coreligionists.” He quotes Abraham Cahan: “I often convict myself of currying favor with the German Jews. But then German Jews curry favor with Portuguese-American Jews, just as we all curry favor with Gentiles and as American gentiles curry favor with the aristocracy of Europe.”

He graduated from law school. “In the abstract, I considered the law as a majestic instrument for the impartial administration of justice, the protection of the wronged, the reparation of injuries. Yet in practice I saw it used for the avoidance of debt by shady bankruptcy proceedings, the collection of damages by trickery and coercion, the breach of contractual obligations by dubious technicalities, the manipulation of divorces by cynical collusion.
…. As a single example, on one exciting occasion a notorious bucket-shop operator evaded the police by hiding in our office. I had to stay late to attend the switchboard and divert inquiring calls. It was like taking part in a melodrama. It disturbed me greatly; nor was I appeased by the eventual surrender of the fugitive.”

“…it had become apparent to me that the law could be successfully practiced without much legal knowledge. Trial work consisted largely in influencing juries… The prospect of a lifetime of such activities was dismal.”

Isadora Duncan: “She was a heavy woman who at first glance seemed almost clumsy, but when shed began to dance one was aware of suddenly being in the presence of a great spirit and great artist. Dancing to the ‘Marseillaise,’ she stripped off her white robe…one breast completely exposed…[which] evoked a riotous demonstration.”

“Nijinsky must be mentioned separately, for I have never seen his equal. It is hard to believe that the human body could execute such convulsions and inform them with such grace and fervor.”

At a pacifist meeting in Washington on the eve of WWI, “…a brawny, shirt-sleeved young man on the platform was pounding his chest and shouting, ‘Here’s one who won’t fight!’” John Reed, author of Ten Days That Shook the World.

In the 1940s, during a panel discussion, he said that the Kerensky government fell because the soldiers were sick of the war. “Kerensky, who was a member of the panel, crossed the stage, shook his fist under my nose, accused me of being a Communist.”

He broke up with his first wife: They were “basically unsuited to each other.” “…other inharmonies are too intimate to be referred to.”

He once asked TS Eliot how often he had a really good press. “Twice, I should say.” Then added, “But my standard of a good press is rather high.”

Dorothy Parker, with whom he worked on a play: “I discovered that in the granite of her misanthropy there was a vein of softish sentimentality.”

James Joyce was “exasperatingly taciturn”; Dorothy Parker remarked, “I guess he’s afraid he might drop a pearl.”

One evening he watched as Sinclair Lewis consumed an entire bottle of brandy.

Switzerland: “For me it is the least interesting of all European countries…. man does not live by soap and water alone.”

After having tea and Mr and Mrs Thomas Mann, the wife was suddenly unfriendly as Rice was leaving: He had a cold, and had been using his handkerchief. Later, he discovered that the handkerchief was a tea napkin. Perhaps Mrs. Mann thought he had kept it as a souvenir.

In Paris in the 1930s: the Mass delegation of the Legionnaires were marching. The French cried: “Ou est la chaise electrique?” The men from Mass, interpreting it as a special tribute, “beamed and waved in grateful acknowledgement.”
The French were referring to the execution of Sacco and Vanzetti.

They rehearsed the play Street Scene in Fort Lee, NJ. It was tough “foraging for food in the dismal precincts of Fort Lee.”

He had met a lot of celebrities. Henry George. Helen Keller. Max Beerbaum. Emma Goldman (“an unattractive but earnest and intelligent woman”). Alfred Adler: “Loud and opinionated, constantly interrupting and contradicting….”

The Vicious Circle at the Algonquin Hotel: “Actually, the conversation, like most table talk, consisted mostly of gossip, complaints about the weather, the traffic, the servant problem and taxes, and much detailed discussion about the state of everyone’s health.” He admired Heywood Broun, who always said what he believed; and like almost everyone else, “Woolcott I never really liked.” He heard George S Kaufman say many devastatingly witty things, “but never a kind one.”

He disliked Claudette Colbert. Late to rehearsals, criticizing fellow actors, displays of temperament.

Thomas Wolf: “He always struck me as gauche, self-conscious and morbidly self-absorbed.” He was never to get through any of his books, which he called verbose and turgid.

Paul Robeson was not only black, but red.

On Dec 26 , 1927, there were 11 Broadway openings. Lots more theaters then!

Re Counselor at Law, he remembered an actor named Muni Weisenfreund – Paul Muni –and offered him the part. “Muni was brilliant.”

But opening night, he forgot his lines. Why? “I suddenly remembered that Robert Garland was out there; and all I could think of was that he gave me a bad review once.” Otto Kreuger played the lead in Chicago, tho Rice said he was not up to Muni.

Muni refused to play in the movie; he may have feared being typed as a Jewish actor. Barrymore was engaged; Rice had doubts about his rightness for the part, and felt he was definitely on the decline. (Alcoholism.)

“The picture was a great popular success. Barrymore was quite wrong for the part and had many shaky moments, but his magnetic quality mitigated his deficiencies.”

Theodore Dreiser also lived at the Hotel Ansonia. He and Rice were asked to sign a protest against Nazi outrages. Dreiser phoned Rice—should he sign? “Well, I don’t know. I’m against Hitler, but I’m all for what he’s doing to the Catholic Church.” Rice persuaded him to sign.

Counselor was to be played on TV. Who should play the lead? Rice suggested Muni or Gregory Peck. Neither was available. Rice then suggested Lee J Cobb, Ed G Robinson, Sam Wanamaker, Jose Ferrer, John Garfield. None were acceptable to the ad agency; all had been blacklisted! (This was at the height of the Communist scare.)

Everyone finally agreed on Garfield. Rice asked Garfield if he was a Communist; he said no. But the ad agency turned him down because he was a “controversial figure”—and his wife “was suspected of dubious affiliations.” Book doesn’t say whether the play was filmed or not—probably not.

I took the book out of the Woodstock NY library; it had last been checked out in 1976

Notes for Lecture on Great Singers of the Past (1)

Lecture notes

1famous singers

1—intended to be fun—not help you find as new job or a new career, or a new spouse, or get a promotion, or stop losing money in the stock market, or retire comfortably in your 40s, or live to be 120. It’s intended to provide you with the pleasure of listening to wonderful singers, whom you may not be familiar with, singing wonderful songs. So that the next time you go to a library, or a store that sells vocal music, you may think of renting or buying a disk of songs sung by people like John McCormack, Rosa Ponselle, or Richard Crooks.

2—It’s a shame that we don’t hear these people on the radio or TV. It seems that everybody wants to hear new singers – Renee Fleming, Cecilia Bartoli, Natalie Dessay, and so forth. There’s nothing wrong with that—but why overlook Elisabeth Rethberg? Yet you never hear these older singers on WQXR. We’re denying ourselves some keen pleasure in life when we neglect great singers of the past.
Woman I met, in her 30s, who had never heard Mario Lanza, Paul Robeson, or Ezio Pinza. Isn’t that pitiful?

3-Points: no one very recent included—like Jussi Bjoerling.
They will sing beautiful songs—with a lot of crossover—Victor Herbert, Rudolph Friml.
At least two singers every session—one for an hour, one for a half hour. The hour singer is one of my favorites—not necessarily better than the half-hour singer--the pairings are to show a contrast—today, a tenor who was born in NJ, Richard Crooks, and a bass who was born in Russia, Alexander Kipnis. But we’ll be flexible. Sometimes there may be three or more singers. Today, we will have three singers.
One is a surprise mystery guest.

4-some other points:
incredible number of gifted older singers! I’m always discovering someone new. That is, someone old who is new to me. If you discover an older singer you’re not familiar with, enter his or her name on youtube and see if anything is available. Then read the comments. A typical comment is: “You think Bergonzi was a great tenor? You’re nuts! He couldn’t hold a candle to Giuseppe di Stefano!”
A lot of very short-tempered people are opera buffs. But you can collect a lot of new names—new old names--by going to YouTube.
Another point: One question we might want to think about is: What makes a singer great? What are the qualities that unite exceptional good singers?

Another thing: Harold Schoenberg was a critic for the Times for many years, and exactly 25 years ago he wrote an article naming the 12 best opera singers who had appeared at the Met—providing that they had sung there for at least nine years. Nine years, because some fine singers had sung there ONLY nine years.
Here are the 12 singers:

I don’t agree with all these choices. Among my own favorites are Victoria de los Angeles, Cochita Supervia, Alexander Kipnis. And I’m no big fan of Nellie Melba or Marcella Sembrich. But…during this course, you will have an opportunity to hear all 12 of those singers, so you can make up your own minds.
What else?
Leave me your email address & I will send you the names of all the songs played during the hour.
Also, it seems to me that every singer’s career is divided into when they were young and when they were… er, mature. There’s often a big difference between them. Rethberg was a great singer when she was young, for example, not so great later on. The same tends to be true many other singers.
Finally…at certain opportunities, I will show you films of various singers. In particular, Cochita Supervia in an utterly amazing screen performance.

Today, we’ll start out with an obscure singer singing an obscure aria from an obscure opera written by an obscure composer. David Devries, who died in 1931, singing…

My point is: there are singers out there whom you never heard of who were absolutely GREAT. Hard to get a CD of Devries singing.

Next, a man who has been called the greatest bass of the 20th century: Kipnis. Born in the Ukraine, sang all over the world, wound up living in Westport, Conn., where he died in 1978. First, let’s hear him singing a song you may just possibly recognize if you’re an unusually sophisticated music lover. (Kipnis singing Jack Horner.)

We’ll come back to Kipnis if we have time.
Richard Crooks, the silver-voiced tenor, sang at the Met from 1933 to 1943. Born in Trenton, NJ…
(pick up from old notes)

Leave me your email address.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

When Tax Selling Makes Sense

1--You buy a stock--highly recommended by analysts, in an industry you think has a bright future--and it takes a bloodbath. You're not sure what to do. Among other factors to consider: Could you deduct the loss? I bought Valero recently; it started plummeting, and I didn't know why. Susan Byrne of the Westwood funds once told me that if a stock she bought does poorly, she sells it, figuring other people know something she doesn't. VLO has continued to fall. Too bad there isn't a word for the pleasure you get from selling a stock for a loss before it falls even further.

2--I once bought a Royce fund--at the wrong time. I sustained a sizable loss. I sold it, and used the money to buy another, different Royce fund--several of them are very similar. Worked out nicely. I ate my cake and had it. I have a loss on Wintergreen right now, and I plan to sell it and buy a similar fund.

Here are some large value funds that are (a) very good (b) no load and (c) have similar R squareds. (I have losses in the first two.) You could sell any for a loss and buy confidently buy one of the others.

Fund R squared

Dodge & Cox Stock 82
Excelsior V and R 78
MainStay ICAP Sel Eq 83
GAMCO Westwood 84

3. People who never sell to harvest tax losses are subsidizing those of us who do--by paying taxes that they could easily have avoided.

My New Student

She's from Santa Domingo, my new student in my English literacy class--
She works as a housekeeper here, although she has been a math teacher--

I wrote on a pad:

1 / 0 = ?

She wrote: 8 (on its side)

"infinity," I wrote--
"lazy eight"

I was impressed--

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Radio Puzzle

My course on finance attracted only 7 students--so it's being canceled--

But my course on famous singers has 44 people enrolled! Wow!


We don't hear old vocal music on the radio. You don't turn on WQXR and hear Rosa Ponselle, John McCormack, Titta Ruffo, Elisabeth Rethberg. You hear NEW recordings. Renee Fleming, Placido Domingo, Deborah Voigt. Why is this?

* Advertisers want WQXR to play new recordings--to sell new recordings.
* Listeners prefer something new--because the sound quality is better, because they expect something new from a news publishing company, because listeners are more interested in something new.

Conclusion: WQXR and other radio stations are making a mistake.

That's why I met a 30-year-old woman recently who never heard of

Ezio Pinza
Paul Robeson
Mario Lanza


Monday, March 10, 2008

Wallace Beery--from Wikipedia

According to E.J. Fleming's book "The Fixers" (about MGM's legendary "fixers" Eddie Mannix and Howard Strickling) Beery, gangster Pat DiCicco, and Albert R. "Cubby" Broccoli (who was also DiCicco's cousin and eventual producer of the James Bond films) allegedly beat comedian Ted Healy to death in a brawl. The book went on to claim that Beery was then sent to Europe by the studio for a few months until the heat was off, while a story was concocted for the public that three college students had killed Healy instead. (Immigration records confirm a four-month trip to Europe on Beery's part immediately after Healy's death, ending April 17, 1938.)[1] Oddly, a superb pencil drawing of Beery survives that was drawn on a film set by Healy, an amateur artist as well as the organizer and original leader of the Three Stooges (the act was originally known as "Ted Healy and His Stooges").

At best, Beery seems to have been somewhat misanthropic and difficult to work with, and Jackie Cooper, who worked with Beery in several films, called him in his autobiography "the most sadistic person I have ever known". Child actress Margaret O'Brien also worked with Beery, and ultimately had to be protected by crew members from Beery's insistence on constantly pinching her.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Movie Memories

I GREW UP in WNY--going to the Mayfair (which still exists), the Rivoli, the Rialto, the Alvin (lots of Westerns), the Embassy (high class), the Capitol (also high class), the Astor, the Temple, the Queen Anne (foreign movies). For first-run movies, Newark--where I rarely went--or Jersey City.

Sat mornings, my brother Roger and I worked hard to amass the money to see a movie--what was it, 12 cents?

Once we went to the Alvin, which was showing 3 Westerns. We enjoyed them. We decided to see them again. We sat thru 2 more movies, then left. We met our mother on the way home. Where WERE you kids?

At the Alvin, I asked for "one small." How old are you? Eleven. "They grow them big here in Guttenberg!" (I WAS 11, and not especially big.)

We liked going to the first show. Half-hour early. The lights dimmed. The curtain--a scary green thing at the Mayfair--parted. The audience got excited. The movie started! Cheers! Especially if there was a cartoon! (Remember 21 Cartoons?)

Roger and I went to the Rialto. Or the Rivoli, nearby. A mummy movie. We got in. We looked at the screen. A mummy was coming toward us! We both ran out!

The line to see Bambi was maybe 2 blocks long. It was almost impossible to see Pride of the Yankees.

They were such fun, those days! With contests! With serials! I fell in love with the Jungle Girl. So pretty, so sexy! Was it Frances Gifford?

comment on movies and me

good stuff. we had identical childhoods. i went to movie after movie. the fox in hackensack had all the 20th century and mgm films, the oritani had all the gangster films (WB) my favorites and the good westerns. the pascack and the westwood would get them the following week, so if you missed one in hackensack (10cents busfare) you'd catch it in westwood (5 cent fare, from oradell). saturdays were great: cartoons, two flicks, coming attractions, maybe a time marches on, a serial (i loved flash gordon), movietone news and cowboy pictures. we came out screaming like tarzan or dueling like errol flynn or acting tough like cagney or stoic like gary cooper. i was in love with laraine day . . . until she married leo durocher, then with the giants. betty grable was way overrated. i hated mickey rooney, who hammed up every scene he ever was in. and the same for that wacko betty hutton. i loved judy too. (and ann Rutherford wasn't so bad) as a kid i couldn't stand bette davis movies or Joan crawford, as an adult i loved 'em. sounds like fun reading. who's the publisher.

Love Affair

I, Too, Lost It At the Movies….

As a kid, movie stars were royalty to me. I was in love with Ann Blyth and June Allyson. I was in awe of Gary Cooper and Cary Grant. I remember going to one movie, drinking soda there, and thinking to myself: When I’m an adult I’ll go to TWO movies a day and drink lots of soda and eat lots of candy (chocolate, with nuts). I even listened, on the radio, to Lux Radio Theater, where movies were condensed. And I went to movie after movie.

So I’ve just enjoyed reading The Star Machine by Jeanine Basinger, all 500 plus pages of it. I relished the “gossip.” Wm Powell was married to Carole Lombard, was about to marry Jean Harlow. Loretta Young and Clark Gable had a kid, Judy, and Loretta raised it while claiming the kid was adopted. (I knew that they had had a kid.) I also enjoyed learning more about the people in movies—that Jean Arthur was neurotic, Joan Crawford clever.
Some things I didn’t like: The author has her pets and her non-pets. She grandly excuses Mel Gibson for being the idiot that he is, and dismisses people who turned their backs on movies (like Michelle Pfeiffer but not Deanna Durban). She does a number on Shearer/Thalberg. She loves Catholics—like Irene Dunne.* She is guilty of Wild Explanations—eg, why Betty Hutton was popular. (It had something to do with WWII. I remember that we kids were dubious about Hutton’s chewing the scenery.) You know, explanations like: people were depressed during the Depression, so they went to happy movies. Actually, people ALWAYS go to happy movies.

*As a teenager I hated Irene Dunne beginning when I heard her campaigning on the radio for some Republicans.

Interesting stuff from the book:

Robert Young said that Wallace Beery was “a shitty person.” (I heard Margaret O’Brian say on TV recently that Beery used to pinch her.)

Beery was nominated for best actor in The Champ, 1931-32, and got one fewer vote than Fredric March—so it was declared a tie.

When sound came, Paramount didn’t renew the contracts of various silent stars: Florence Vidor, Bebe Daniels, Richard Dix, Menjou, Jannings, Negri…

Jennifer Jones left Robert Walker for David O. Selznick.

Cyd Charisse’s name was Tula Finklea.

Dennis Morgan, a good singer, did NOT sing A Pretty Girl is Like a Melody in the Great Ziegfield. His voice was dubbed. “…an example of why people think Hollywood is insane.” (He was billed under his real name, Stanley Morner.)

The face of the gorgeous Linda Darnell was used as that of the Virgin Mary in Song of Bernadette.

Moviegoers don’t like it when actors don’t return to their usual roles. Example: Grant in None But the Lonely Heart. (I hated that glum film, too—I didn’t know it was by Clifford Odets.)

Frances Gifford spent two decades in a mental institution because of acute depression.

Fanny Brice sued 20th Century Fox because Rose of Washington Square (1939) was obviously based on her affair with Nick Arnstein, and the case was settled out of court.

Jane Powell at age 14 played in Song of the Open Road, playing a girl named Jane Powell, So Suzanne Burce’s name was changed to JP.

Jean Arthur married in 1928, and the marriage was annulled the same day.

Check into a website,

Joan Bennett once mailed Hedda Hopper a dead skunk.

O’Neill’s Mourning Becomes Electra “is a candidate for the worst movie ever made.”

Pauline Kael “repeatedly knocked …the dignified female stars of her era”… (Kael was wonderful!) Like Irene Dunne.

After Thalberg’s death, Shearer had a “red-hot lover affair” with George Raft, and was rumored to have had an affair with (“hold on”) Mickey Rooney.


Friday, March 07, 2008

The 12 Greatest Opera Singers*

*The asterisk is for: as chosen by Harold Schoenberg, former music editor of the NYTimes...singers up to 1983...had to sing at the Met for at least nine years. Why nine years? Because otherwise, Chaliapin and Ruffo couldn't qualify.

This is the 25th anniversary of Schoenberg's list, and it certainly made a splash. I can recall hearing Marilyn Horne being interviewed, and her expressing surprise (and delight) that she was named the leading mezzo. I myself recall my shock on reading that Marcella Sembrich made the list--a soprano from the very distant past.

That would make a nice music program: the 12 greatest opera singers. I don't agree with all the choices. My own favorite tenor happens to be Jussi Bjoerling, not Caruso. And where is Victoria de los Angeles? Conchita Supervia isn't there because she never sang at the Met, but I wish she had been mentioned.

His favorite soprano is Rosa Ponselle. My favorite is Elisabeth Rethberg. Listening to hear while a teenager, I became enthralled by vocal music, so I'm prejudiced. But Schoenberg feels guilty: So he sneaks her onto his final list.

Chaliapin as the greatest bass? Hmm. WQXR's George Jellinek didn't like him; said he took too many liberties. And what about Siepi and Pinza and Kipnis? (I'm a big Kipnis fan.) Granted, Chaliapin was, among other things, exciting.

Marcella Sembrich? I'm not impressed by her recordings.

Kirsten Flagstad? Well, OK. Lawrence Melchior, I always felt, had a big but dopy voice. OK, I'm not a perfect Wagnerite.

What struck me about Schenberg's article was how many great opera singers he mentioned...WHOM I HAD NEVER EVEN HEARD OF! LET ALONE HEARD SING! Emphasizing something I've said: There's a universe of good, older opera singers out there. Here are the names, and I'll check whether there are any YouTube recordings:

Armand Castelmary, Karin Branzell, Marion Telva (sang with Ponselle), Clarence Whitehall, Nino Martini (very good!), Edoado di Giovanni (Edward Johnson), Armand Rothier, Leon Rothier, Aureliano Pertile (excellent!), Albert Nieman, Jacques Urlus, Max Alvary.

On YouTube, by the way, Sillyname says: Mario Lanza was the greatest tenor. Responds Ridiculous Name: You must be kidding. You can't have heard Joe Schmoe sing this aria. Then they call each other vile names.

Look, I've heard of and heard Pol Plancon. And David Devries. And I even know that Deanna Durbin was to star in a movie biography of Schumann-Heink. I must be in the 90th percentile of people familiar with older opera singers. Yet there's this crowd of singers I'm not familiar with! Something to do in my old age--listen to all the older singers I'm not familiar with.

Actually, I'm teaching a course on older singers, starting soon, and I hope to repeat this course semester after semester.
Here's the tentative schedule:


Institute of New Dimensions
Great Singers of Bygone Days

Classes are Tuesdays, 10-1130am, at the Central Unitarian Church

March 18
Richard Crooks & Alexander Kipnis

April 1
Elisabeth Rethberg & Paul Robeson

April 15
Conchita Supervia & John McCormack

April 29
Lawrence Tibbett & Rosa Ponselle

May 13
Caruso, Chaliapin, Ruffo, Gigli, et al.

Back to Schoenberg.

Here's his top 12:

Sembrich, Melchior, Flagstad, Ponselle, Chaliapin, Caruso, Ruffo, Melba, Schumann-Heink, Schorr, Rethberg, Horne.


Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Bad Editors

1--They don't give you enough guidance. Perhaps because they want you to do something wrong, so they can blame you. And they don't want to be on record as having misguided you. (Bob Klein of Money was like that.)
2--They are all too ready to blame you--so their own superiors think all the problems are YOUR fault.
3--They continually communicate with you, sending you the same old stuff, to make it appear that they are busy busy busy.
4--When you see the final copy...and how bad it get a sinking feeling that you don't want your name on this.
5--They're grumpy. They have this vague feeling of disquiet.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Letter from Bank of America

Letter from bank says my check for $500 was cashed on Sat Jan 26--same day I put a stop on the check--
Earlier letter said check was cashed Monday Jan 28!

Police say that the fellow who cashed my check, trevor gutman, has other complaints against him--

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Response to an article on stupid Americans

(article mentioned that Americans can't find Iraq on a map)

Well, I'd have a hard time finding stuff on a map--Afghanistan? Somewhere near India--
I always hated geography--

But people have always been stupid--"credulous" may be the better word--

I remember hearing an interview with a Saudi Arabian soldier--he isn't afraid of dying--he'll simply go to heaven--but if any "son of a bitch" tries to kill him...!

There was an essay in a psychiatric journal some years ago..."L'homme stupide"--good title--

Didn't I read that a poll found that Reagan is considered one of our best Presidents?

Journalists are guilty. All the publicity that Ann Coulter gets. And Paris Hilton. My line: Coulter is actually Paris Hilton...without her brains. I'm infuriated that Coulter gets the publicity she does, and I HAVE complained to media responsible--

Journalists also are careful to give both sides--if a scientist said, the earth is a sphere, journalists would
get a quote from someone who belongs to the Flat Earth society--

I read a recent story in the Times about whether Fox news is biased or not--every piece of evidence in favor was then denied by a spokesman for Fox--nonsense--you could ask any visiting fireman and get the right answer--and I DID complain to the Times--

The article needed a line like: Everybody with half a brain knows that Fox-news is biased--