Wednesday, July 31, 2013

425 Years Ago Today

It was on July 31, 1588, that The Spanish Armada was first sighted off the coast of England.

The map, created shortly after Britain’s defeat of The Spanish Armada, traces the path of the doomed Spanish fleet.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

One Hundred Years Ago Today

Leo Frank at his trial.

The trial of Leo Frank began on July 28, 1913, in Atlanta. The trial went on into August.

Frank’s trial was one of the most disgraceful episodes in the annals of American jurisprudence.

In the year after Frank’s conviction and murder, one-half of Georgia’s citizens of Jewish faith left the state permanently.

Friday, July 26, 2013

11 April 1943: USS Minneapolis Leaves Pearl Harbor

USS Minneapolis departing Pearl Harbor on April 11, 1943.

A heavy cruiser, USS Minneapolis escaped damage at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, because the ship was at sea for gunnery practice.

USS Minneapolis was a participant in many of the greatest naval battles of The Pacific Theater: the Battle Of The Coral Sea; the Battle Of Midway; the Battle Of Tassafaronga; the Battle Of The Philippine Sea; and the Battle Of Surigao Strait.

It was at the Battle Of Tassafaronga that USS Minneapolis suffered grievous damage—in fact, the ship was almost lost. Exceptional damage control (always an American naval specialty) and exceptional seamanship allowed the ship to limp to Pearl Harbor for months of repairs.

The photograph captures the moment USS Minneapolis, after five months in port during which much of the ship was rebuilt, sailed from Pearl Harbor to resume active service.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Pforzheim 1945

The church tower, burned out, still stands, surrounded by total destruction.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Germany 1940: Pforzheim

Early in the war, Pforzheim still displayed its centuries-old charm and beauty.

Nine weeks before the war ended, Pforzheim suffered the most devastating air raid of the entire war on the European front.

On February 23, 1945, 379 aircraft of the RAF attacked the town. In a 22-minute raid, 83 per cent of the town was destroyed and one-third of the civilian population was killed.

To this day, Pforzheim retains its place in history as the victim of the most efficient air raid ever.

After the war, no attempt was made to rebuild Pforzheim in its pre-war form. Even the post-war street grids were drawn from scratch.

America 1940: Pie Town, New Mexico

People of Pie Town, New Mexico, in 1940.

Saturday, July 20, 2013


Ten years ago this month, The Guthrie presented a new stage adaptation of Jane Austen’s “Pride And Prejudice”.

I never saw that production—my middle brother and I were traveling in Europe most of that summer—and my parents never bothered to see the 2003 production.

A week ago, The Guthrie opened yet another production of “Pride And Prejudice”, in a different adaptation. I am puzzled that The Guthrie has returned to the material after so brief an interlude. “Pride And Prejudice” has never cried out for a stage presentation—and “Pride And Prejudice” certainly does not warrant two expensive productions by the same company a decade apart.

Critical notices for the current production of “Pride And Prejudice” have now appeared. Reading between the lines, as one must do in the Twin Cities (since negative reviews are banned here), I think it is obvious the reviewers do not consider the production a success.

People who have seen the production have not been impressed, either. They say the production is unstylish, unsubtle if not ham-handed, and unworthy of a great theater. “More Neil Simon than Jane Austen” is how a colleague described the production.

I think we shall have to take a pass.


I have never understood the appeal of Ernest Thompson’s “On Golden Pond”.

The play is not well-constructed, the play is not well-written, the play’s message is maudlin. The author covers well-trodden ground without freshness and without insight (and without much skill). Is there a more over-exposed sentimental commercial comedy?

Bloomington Civic Theatre recently opened a new production of “On Golden Pond”, and I think we shall have to strike “On Golden Pond” from our list, too. We cannot summon enthusiasm for the venture.

In 1979, my parents caught one of the first performances of “On Golden Pond” on Broadway, only days after opening night.

“On Golden Pond” had received mostly pans from the New York critics, and to this day my parents are clueless why they chose to see “On Golden Pond” instead of something else.

I should add that my parents LOVED the original production of “On Golden Pond”. My parents insist that Frances Sternhagen and Tom Aldredge were overwhelming as Ethel and Norman, and that the two actors gave the performances of their lives.

Apparently early performances of “On Golden Pond” on Broadway were played with a very hard edge. There was a lot of “bite” in the production, and an undercurrent of nastiness, and a brittle toughness to the characters that audiences found off-putting.

Over the course of that first Broadway run, sentimentality seeped into the production—and one unintended consequence was that the play at last found an audience and was able to enjoy a respectable run. However, the onset of sentimentality basically ruined whatever drama was hidden in the material—and “On Golden Pond” has generally been played as sentimental slop ever since.

This unfortunate practice probably has been reinforced by the weepy and unwatchable film version: audiences now expect a stage presentation to be as gooey as the film.

I am not confident there is anything salvageable in “On Golden Pond”. In any case, as we are not in a frame of mind to sit through the thing, we will not be in a position to find out whether BCT can reveal hitherto unrevealed depths in the play.

Friday, July 19, 2013

1948: Gertrud And Paul Hindemith

Gertrud and Paul Hindemith at their home in New Haven in May 1948.

The Hindemiths had purchased a house in New Haven in 1945, five years after arriving in the U.S. and five years after settling into New Haven, where Hindemith had joined the faculty at Yale.

The Hindemiths acquired U.S. citizenships in 1946.

The Hindemiths were to retain their American citizenships until the ends of their lives.


In Spring 1946, Hindemith wrote a letter to friends back in Germany, describing what he had encountered in America:

Although the country was not unknown to us, the adjustment to completely different surroundings, new working and living conditions, was a not inconsiderable problem. At any rate, the hospitality of the country and the overriding principle of mutual politeness reigning here made adaptation easy. The absence of any enviousness, nosiness and block-warden mentality was particularly welcome after the bad experiences in the old home country.

Personally, we never had the slightest difficulties. We were neither placed in concentration camps nor ever made to feel that we were, after all, enemy aliens. During the difficult wartime period, too, the generally friendly and considerate character of all segments of the population we contacted was shown in the best light. The only restriction in freedom was in the limitation of freedom of movement: if one wanted to travel, one needed a permit from the state capital. It was granted without exception, however.


One of Hindemith’s composition students at Yale was George Roy Hill, who envisioned a career as a composer until he settled on a much different career path: filmmaking.

Hill was born and reared in Minneapolis. Hill’s family at one time owned a morning newspaper, the Minneapolis Tribune, which in 1982 merged with an evening newspaper, the Minneapolis Star, to become the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

Had he lived to see it, Hindemith, who possessed a wonderful sense of humor, no doubt would have been amused by the fact that one of his students went on to direct the ribald “Slap Shot”, surely the funniest sports film ever made—and probably the finest.

1947: Pierre And Madame Monteux

Pierre and Madame Monteux (and Fifi) in April 1947, during a stop on the San Francisco Symphony’s 1947 transcontinental tour.

During the tour, the San Francisco Symphony played 56 concerts in 53 cities in 57 days.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

1946: Josef Krips

The greatly-undervalued Josef Krips in Vienna in July 1946.


Conductor Calls Off His American Debut

New York, New York July 18, 1950 (AP)—Orchestra conductor Josef Krips called off his American debut today and flew back to Europe to escape being deported. The 48-year-old chief conductor of the Vienna State Opera left after immigration authorities gave him a choice of going voluntarily or being deported without a hearing. He was to have conducted the Chicago Symphony Orchestra tonight.


Conductor’s Rebuff: New York Detention For Josef Krips

London, July 21, 1950 (Reuters)—“I shall not conduct in America again until I have had an apology,” declared Josef Krips, the Austrian conductor, when he arrived in London yesterday. He had been ordered out of America after a three-day detention on Ellis Island. Krips was to have made his American debut conducting the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. “Although I had a visa and a passport in order, they told me I could not stay,” he said. “They gave no reason.” He said that New York immigration officials asked him if he were a Communist and whether he had been a Nazi.


Following Krips’s 1950 expulsion from America, numerous newspapers and magazines—The New Republic and Musical America leading the charge—published stinging editorials, sharply rebuking immigration officials for treating Krips in so shabby a manner.

Ironically, it had been American officials that had installed Krips at the helm of the Wiener Staatsoper as soon as the war was over, Krips being one of the few conductors in Central Europe in 1945 entirely untainted by the Period Of National Socialism.

Krips, unable to secure work in The Reich owing to Krips’s Jewish antecedents (Krips himself was Roman Catholic), had spent the war years working in a factory in Belgrade.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Katharine Hepburn In Costume For “Desk Set”

Katharine Hepburn in costume for “Desk Set”.

I believe the costume modeled by Hepburn in the photograph is that worn by the actress in her entrance scene a few minutes into the film.

In that scene, Bunny Watson (Hepburn), director of research for a national television network, has arrived at her office midway through the morning, having attended an early-morning demonstration elsewhere of a new IBM mainframe computer.

Watson’s employees, guided by Watson’s assistant, Miss Costello (Joan Blondell), grab Watson, yank off her coat, and tell her she must pretend she has been in the office all morning. This stratagem is necessary, they believe, because the mysterious Richard Sumner (Spencer Tracy) has been nosing around the office all morning—and, they believe, Sumner is an outside efficiency expert contracted by management to downsize the research department.

Such proceedings propel into action one of the finest comedies ever made—and surely one of the subtlest. “Desk Set” has the lightness and texture and perfection of angel food cake at its highest realization.

One may make an argument that “Desk Set”, never intended to be anything more than a commercial project, is in fact high art—and this is so despite the fact that the film’s director, Walter Lang, was a Hollywood back-lot hack with three decades of B-Movie experience (and worse) behind him.

What elevates “Desk Set” are the sophistication of the film’s design, the sophistication of the performances (even the smallest roles are expertly cast and superbly underplayed), and the sophistication of the screenplay.

“Desk Set” has one of the greatest screenplays ever written. Writers Henry and Phoebe Ephron took an existing stage play, kept the basic plot, but otherwise rewrote everything, including every single line of dialogue. Theirs may be the most polished, gleaming script ever written for the screen.

On its initial release in 1957, “Desk Set” attracted small audiences, perhaps because the film was viewed by the public as just another Hepburn/Tracy movie, a species of which the public had grown tired. (After “Desk Set”, there was to be only one more Hepburn/Tracy film—and only after a wait of ten years, in a project financed independently, without major studio backing.)

While “Desk Set” did not capture the public’s attention in 1957, the film did capture the attention of the Writers Guild. Hollywood writers know good work when they see it, and they gave the Ephron screenplay every possible writing award under the influence and control of the Writers Guild—and they aggressively lobbied for the Ephrons to be awarded all prizes beyond the control of the Writers Guild. Such efforts worked: the Ephrons picked up an Academy Award as well as every conceivable critics prize for their “Desk Set” screenplay.

“Desk Set” is very much a minimalist film. The color design, albeit brilliant, is muted, even spartan. The camerawork is similarly minimalist. The editing is so unobtrusive that one fails to notice it. The only music is title music, played during the opening and closing credits.

And yet everything about the film is gloriously professional, polished to the highest sheen.

The film is also stylish to an astonishing degree. An uncanny blend of artifice and naturalism, “Desk Set” is one of the few films of the 1950s that may be regarded as genuinely chic.

Because of its bold minimalism, its effortless professionalism and its high style, “Desk Set” has always reminded me of late Mondrian.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Arnold Toynbee In 1952

Civilizations die from suicide, not by murder.

Arnold Toynbee (1889-1975)


The case of Arnold Toynbee is a strange one.

Toynbee’s reputation began to collapse in the last two decades of his life. At the time of his death, Toynbee was viewed as little more than a gadfly. Nonetheless, his death produced a full round of lengthy obituaries, all respectful (if guarded). Toynbee obituaries make interesting reading today.

As a general rule, Toynbee is no longer taught—and, far worse for his reputation, he is no longer discussed.

I am doubtful that a Toynbee reassessment and revival are imminent. Toynbee was a generalist in his field, and often got facts wrong, and produced prose that was characterized more by clumsiness than clarity. Further, I believe it would not be unfair to note Toynbee’s fundamental lack of originality, the single quality that most of all has consigned Toynbee’s many volumes to the remotest corners of research libraries.

One of Toynbee’s most boneheaded errors was misjudging Adolf Hitler. Toynbee met Hitler in 1936 in Berlin. At the time, Toynbee described Hitler as “sincere”, and Toynbee went on to submit lengthy reports to the British diplomatic service, reports in which Toynbee argued that Hitler had no interest in European conquest.

Toynbee had clearly fallen under Hitler’s spell, as the following Toynbee submission reveals:

Most of the time, my eyes were following Hitler’s hands. He had beautiful hands. His gestures were eloquent, as well as graceful. His voice, too, was, unexpectedly to me, agreeably human in its pitch and cadence.

Toynbee somehow managed to overcome his disastrous 1936 reading of Hitler. Toynbee’s years of greatest prominence and greatest influence were the 1940s and the first half of the 1950s, years in which Toynbee’s earlier half-baked assessment of Hitler was forgotten—or deliberately overlooked.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Appointment With Death

Last evening, for an evening out, my middle brother and Joshua and I went to Theatre In The Round to see the company’s production of Agatha Christie’s “Appointment With Death”.

A little over a year ago, we had seen another Christie play at Theatre In The Round, “The Hollow”. Word-of-mouth around town has been that this season’s Christie production is better than last season’s Christie production, so we decided to take our chances with “Appointment With Death”.

“Appointment With Death” opened in London in Spring 1945, only weeks before the war in Europe ended. The production was not a success, and enjoyed only a brief run. No New York production was to follow (there has never been a Broadway production of “Appointment With Death”).

Christie created her play from her 1938 novel of the same name. As with “The Hollow”, Christie eliminated the character of Hercule Poirot from the stage version, knowing that Poirot was more a literary device of crime fiction than a character serving the needs of drama.

Further, Christie created a different ending for the stage version of “Appointment With Death”, going so far as to change the identity of the murderer.

Christie stage vehicles are too-leisurely-paced and too-filled with exposition; plot mechanisms are neither fresh nor imaginative.

It is the tissue of minutiae that Christie plants in both novels and stage works, and the unwinding and unraveling of that tissue of minutiae, that provides whatever rewards readers and audiences can muster from Christie.

We enjoyed “Appointment With Death” more than we had expected. “Appointment With Death” has a degree of cleverness; by the standards of its genre, the play is well-constructed, the clues skillfully presented—and yet skillfully concealed at the same time.

The production’s director had done a splendid job of staging the tale. The action proceeded lucidly, even stylishly, and the director was able to overcome the dead spots in the text, of which there are more than a few. I was very, very impressed.

The director’s name was John Gaspard. According to the program booklet, “Appointment With Death” was Gaspard’s sixth production for Theatre In The Round—but it was the first I had seen. Gaspard is better-known as a director of feature films than stage productions. Based upon his work in “Appointment With Death”, I would go see Gaspard's stage work again in an instant. He is very talented, and very imaginative, and should be working at The Guthrie.

Theatre In The Round offers ten productions each season. “Appointment With Death” was the final production of the 2012-2013 season, and the fourth production of the season we caught.

Theatre In The Round has announced yet another Christie play for next season, “Spider’s Web”.

Three Christie plays in three seasons: I think that is too much.

We shall not be there.

Mstislav Rostropovich Demonstrating Bad Table Manners

Mstislav Rostropovich demonstrating bad table manners.

One may forgive the man anything given his recording of the Bach Cello Suites.

Rostropovich waited until late in life to record the Bach Cello Suites. Rostropovich’s Bach, in my estimation, is superior to the Bach of Pablo Casals. I return to Rostropovich’s Bach over and over and over; I think it is sublime.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

In The Bosom Of Fools

Anger dwells only in the bosom of fools.

Albert Einstein

The Other Great Calvin

Cal, Jr., with his father, Cal, Sr., in 1987.

Cal, Sr., was to die of cancer twelve years later, at the age of 63.

Coolidge’s Inaugural Parade

4 March 1925: Calvin Coolidge’s Inaugural Parade on Pennsylvania Avenue.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Lincoln’s Funeral Procession

Abraham Lincoln’s funeral procession on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington.

Monday, July 08, 2013

Blackwood’s Magazine: One Of The Final Issues

One of the final issues of Blackwood’s Magazine.

In 163 years of publication, Blackwood’s never once changed its cover.

My father subscribed to Blackwood’s for the last five years of the magazine’s existence, and he still has the old issues.

Blackwood’s Magazine was utterly unique. There was—and is—nothing like it.

Reading through old Blackwood’s issues is a genuine luxury.

Saturday, July 06, 2013

The Cover Of The First Issue Of Newsweek

The cover of the first issue of Newsweek.

The magazine, for its first issue, rounded up all the usual suspects: Roosevelt, Van Papen, Hitler, Stalin, Molotov . . . the biggies of the time.

In a way, it was sad to witness first the decline and then the demise of Newsweek . . . but the fields of journalism and publishing have been unable to attract talent in the U.S. since the decade of the 1970s. One result of the precipitous decline in talent entering journalism and publishing is that their products became first unprofitable, then unmarketable and finally unsaleable.

It was all tediously predictable.

Thursday, July 04, 2013

To Commemorate The Day

Asher Durand (1796-1886)
The Catskills
The Walters Museum, Baltimore

Oil On Canvas
62 1/2 By 50 1/2 Inches


“The Catskills” is one of Asher Durand’s most acclaimed works. Durand painted it on commission from William T. Walters, patriarch of Baltimore’s Walters family (in whose namesake museum the painting now hangs).

As a general rule, the Walters family did not collect American art; the family’s passions were Greek and Roman antiquities, Medieval artworks and Old Master paintings.

I was, in consequence, startled when I came face-to-face with this masterpiece at The Walters Museum in March 2009. At the time, “The Catskills” was hung in the long, Louvre-like gallery of European paintings on the top floor of the Walters’s newest of three adjacent buildings. I had not expected to encounter there a prime example of American Transcendental landscape painting. “The Catskills” is the finest Durand painting I have seen (I have never seen “Kindred Spirits”, owned by the Crystal Bridges Museum).

In December 2007, Joshua and I had traveled to Washington to see three important art exhibitions: a J.M.W. Turner exhibition; an Edward Hopper exhibition; and an exhibition of portraits exploring Spain’s connection to The American Revolution.

A fourth important exhibition had been in the city at the time, but Josh and I had skipped it: an exhibition of 57 Durand landscape paintings, the largest such exhibition ever assembled. Josh and I were fools to have missed the Durand exhibition.

My father’s Christmas gift to my mother that year was a trip to Washington to see all four exhibitions—and in January 2008 my parents traveled to Washington to see the exhibitions.

At the Durand exhibition in Washington, “The Catskills” was on prominent display, having been loaned by The Walters.