Monday, July 28, 2014

Living in a Chicken Coop

From that Frank Sinatra bio I continue to read: "Americans began spotting flying saucers: over Mount Rainier in Washington State; over Idaho, surrounding a United Airlines DC-3; over Roswell, New Mexico. And then all over the place... At the same time, Frank Sinatra was reporting to Culver City every weekday morning to play Ricardo, the kissing bandit." Ha ha! By editing out a grandiosely sweeping paragraph-and-a-half elaborating on "national anxiety," I have emphasized - perhaps unfairly! - the role of aliens in Frank Sinatra's film career. Meanwhile, McNeil is reading a biography of Robert Mitchum. "I am kind of amazed at how long he was poor. He and his wife lived in a converted chicken coop up until he made OUT OF THE PAST. I'm pretty sure that's right. If it's not, I'm really close. Then he got some money, but it was stolen shortly thereafter," writes McNeil.

Timely Article

Some fool in the New York Times today is complaining that GREEN ACRES is "empty-headed." Timely article! God I am sick of explaining GREEN ACRES to the New York Times ("click" here). A person - much less a TV critic, which is a kind of a person - engaging with GREEN ACRES on even the most basic level would understand that it is not "empty-headed." But I am not calling for the man's resignation. He may have a family to feed!

Saturday, July 26, 2014


Okay, so, for example, I learn from this Frank Sinatra book that the singer Marilyn Maxwell's real first name was Marvel. I think, That's neat! But in the next paragraph the author has to tell me that the name Marvel "was corny, but only slightly." What is it with this guy and his mania for declaring which things are corny and to what degree? These infinite distinctions! And a problem with women. I'm not saying it's the author's problem. Maybe he's just trying to "get in Frank's head." But "With Sinatra, women gathered like flies." That's typical of the book. I mean, why not bees? At least? Bees gather!


I still don't like this book about Sinatra. But I'm still reading it, so credit where credit is due. I just read the part where this kid named Alexander J. Dorogokupetz is sick of all the girls loving Sinatra so much, so he goes to a Sinatra concert and pelts him with raw eggs: "'I vowed to put an end to this monotony of two years of consecutive swooning,' Dorogokupetz said... 'I took aim and threw... it hit him... his mouth was open... I felt good.'" I don't know whether that last series of ellipses is from the original newspaper account or comes courtesy of the author. If that's the author's edit I have to acknowledge his skill. "I took aim and threw... it hit him... his mouth was open... I felt good." That's the best prose in the book so far! I thought I was reading Céline for a minute, and in fact throwing eggs at Frank Sinatra is something a Céline character would do. Maybe the credit goes to Alexander J. Dorogokupetz. The author also has the good instinct to quote the headline SINATRA HIT BY EGGS, which sounds like something from a Frank O'Hara poem... or at least has the punch of LANA TURNER HAS COLLAPSED! from that one Frank O'Hara poem. "I took aim and threw... it hit him... his mouth was open... I felt good."

Friday, July 25, 2014

My Cloak of Blue

Hey! This is real boring. But you know how I can't settle on anything to read right now. When I was cleaning my office recently - ha ha! I told you this was boring, and we're just getting started! - I found where I had hidden (and forgotten) the galley of a Frank Sinatra bio that came out a couple years ago, I guess. I hid it because my sister was visiting and I was giving her the hardcover for Christmas (I think)... hmm... and for some reason that doesn't make total sense, I guess I thought I needed to hide the galley from her... Well, I started reading it, and I'm not enjoying it very much... seems to me the author is trying to be Nick Tosches, but he comes off more like "a little boy lost in a big man's shirt," to quote Elvis Costello... lots of phony hepcat lingo and street talk in a loosey-goosey "novelistic" style, peppered with the occasional "classical allusion"... ugh. I mean, ugh unless you're Nick Tosches. (Hey, remember when I made that guy read a Nick Tosches book and he hated it? So I guess it serves me right.) BUT! Megan Abbott really liked this Frank Sinatra book, the one I can't get into, and she has never steered me wrong about anything, ever, and let's remember I am just in a bad mood all the time, for which I blame Errol Flynn and his depressing autobiography. I haven't recovered! Megan put her finger on the problem in an email this morning: "I think you've been reading too much chest-thumping male stuff in a row! You need to mix in something feminine, and sly!" So now that I have made excuses for the Frank bio, and introduced a reliable source who very much enjoyed it, I think it is okay to say it is bumming me out, and by bringing it out into the open I have allowed myself to tell you that it has an owl in it, well, young Frank is said to have a "night-owl disposition" and that's really all it takes for me, it totally counts, so this book can go on my obsessive list of books I happen to read that have owls in them and I don't feel bad about my mental health at all, thanks for asking. An owl is not a chicken, but they are both birds, so here is a Sinatra-based chicken from an old Warner Bros. cartoon. (Between typing that sentence and this one, I read some more of the Frank Sinatra bio. The author says that Tommy Dorsey had "a deliciously corny nickname, the Sentimental Gentleman of Swing." But I recalled that earlier in the book he refers to "a soupy, utterly forgettable Frank Loesser ballad," which he then quotes with snotty intent: "Here comes the night, my cloak of blue." I mean, what's wrong with that? What makes one of those things "deliciously corny" and the other "soupy" and "utterly forgettable" [you'll note I didn't forget it]? But of course I know that being a writer means making such blithely arbitrary distinctions hundreds of times per page. So you can see what kind of rotten mood I'm in.)

McNeil's Movie Korner

Welcome once again to McNeil's Movie Korner! Email from McNeil: "...just finished watching Dead End with [McNeil lists a couple of his kids here], so I looked up Billy Halop on IMDB and realized the next time we get together (whenever that is) we could have a Billy Halop film festival AND still see some of our all time favorites (the ones no one else will watch). Billy is in: Fitzwilly - uncredited as a restaurant owner * A Global Affair - cab driver * The Wheeler Dealers - uncredited subpoena server (I remember that scene!) * For Love or Money - elevator operator * Boys' Night Out - elevator operator * Too Late for Tears - boat attendant...I haven't seen this one, but it looks great and I don't know how it's escaped my attention." Thus ends McNeil's email. I hate to tell him I've never heard of FOR LOVE OR MONEY (though I can't believe we've never covered BOYS' NIGHT OUT on the "blog"). I should illustrate this "post" with a photo of Billy Halop, but (as McNeil implies above) you jerks don't care about Billy Halop. So here is an unusual publicity still of James Garner and Lee Remick from THE WHEELER DEALERS, since James Garner just died, but here he is in his underpants. :(

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Chat Box

I thought of a couple of neat things about the origins of tonight's ADVENTURE TIME episode. One is the title! "Thanks For the Crabapples, Giuseppe." We slapped that on the outline as a placeholder, never dreaming it would make it so far. Or maybe we did dream it would make it so far. I can't remember. We write these outlines so far in advance! And we start talking about them even earlier... I really can't remember whether this is true, but I think the first small inklings of "Thanks For the Crabapples, Giuseppe" came from a real face-to-face in-person chat Adam and I were having about ON THE ROAD and related literature in May of last year, probably not work-related at all, or so we thought, and then Pen and Kent came into the conference room and you know how it goes! Everybody starts talking and suddenly something clicks into place and there's the beginning of a story, maybe. Yet, several months later, when it came time to get the actual outline done - this raw material to be handed off to Seo Kim and Somvilay Xayaphone (who took it and exquisitely realized it and made it into something and elevated it with their writing and storyboarding) - I recall it as one of those rare times when we were right up against a deadline, and there were still some holes to fill. It was getting near the end of the business day (and week) out there in Los Angeles and both Kent and Adam had pressing meetings to attend... I remember that Pen was online from some remote location but we could not see or hear him via our video-conference apparatus for some reason... I thought we were wrapping up, and so did Adam and Kent... so the meeting ended with Pen and I a couple of stragglers, kind of texting each other in some kind of chat box... is that a thing? A chat box? Well, there was a box and we were both typing into it. I am going to call it a chat box. And as the clock was ticking down, and I was thinking about the people waiting for me just up the street at City Grocery Bar, Pen typed something like, "The poem needs to be written out." There's a poem in the episode, and Pen wanted us to decide exactly what was in it. It was supposed to make the Ice King cry, potentially. And up until that last possible moment it had only been indicated in the outline by something like, "Ice King reads a sad poem." So I just started typing iambic pentameter into the "chat box" - a simple ABAB rhyme scheme - while Pen typed things back like "Ha ha!" and "Yea!" Egging me on in the most pleasant way. I am not saying it was GOOD iambic pentameter, and the words don't even make sense if you think about it, and it's just a few quick lines, less than half a sonnet (closer to a quarter of a sonnet in the final episode, because two lines got cut), but it was quite a rush, I mean, this iambic pentameter pumped me full of adrenaline, I felt like an old-timey newspaper reporter, like Hildy Johnson (pictured) in HIS GIRL FRIDAY, for example. Like, we're getting this in under the wire! Like, "Get me the city desk!" So afterward I raced up to the Grocery and there were Dr. Theresa and Megan Abbott and Ace Atkins, as I recall it, hanging out on the balcony, and when I arrived they could tell I was pretty elated! Just from the mental experience of having to hurry up and write a poem. And then I recall it was a very pleasant evening and all sorts of nice strangers came out on the balcony and everybody was having a great time and I was thinking about what a fun job I have.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Jimmy's Soul Is an Enchanted Boat

Was it only yesterday that I was poking through that Hugh Kenner book, so pleasantly reminded of the ending of Samuel Beckett's novel MOLLOY, which was quoted therein? "Then I went back into the house and wrote, It is midnight. The rain is beating on the windows. It was not midnight. It was not raining." WHAT! That is the way to end a book. Then I grabbed up at random, through an obvious and clumsy process of association with the Kenner book, focused as it was on three authors, some of them Irish, some scholarly whatsit called BARBAROUS KNOWLEDGE: MYTH IN THE POETRY OF YEATS, GRAVES, AND MUIR, and I don't even know who Muir is, well, now I do a little, anyway, what's this thing doing in my house? Saw two lines of Shelley quoted: "My soul is an enchanted boat/ Which like a sleeping swan doth float..." And once again, as was sadly recalled and recorded for posterity in 2006, I thought about how all the other college freshmen and I were encouraged to laugh and scoff at P.B. Shelley like we were a bunch of big shots. Shame, shame, shame. Somehow "My soul is an enchanted boat," etc., made me think of Jimmy, who is moving to New Orleans. Maybe because his soul is an enchanted boat! I mean, maybe that's why I thought of him, not that maybe that's why he's moving to New Orleans, though come to think of it, maybe that's why he's moving to New Orleans.

The Delicately Nurtured Paula

So I don't know what to read right now. So I plucked THE CULT OF THE SAINTS by Peter Brown off the shelf and I saw "exorcism" in the index and I thought, "Oh no! I'm not going to read about that, am I?"... "To visit a late-antique Christian shrine could be a noisy and frightening experience. Jerome wrote of the first impact of the tombs of the prophets in the Holy Land on the Roman pilgrim Paula: 'She shuddered at the sight of so many marvelous happenings... she saw men howling like wolves, barking like dogs, roaring like lions, hissing like snakes, bellowing like bulls... women hung upside-down in mid-air, yet their skirts did not fall down over their heads.'" Somewhere on the next page Brown says, "It is hardly surprising that, when faced with such noisy and disturbing a phenomenon, modern scholars have, like the delicately nurtured Paula, blanched at the scenes enacted round the shrines of late antiquity." Ha ha, take that, modern scholars.

Rivet Hull Blah What

As I am sure you will recall I stopped reading that Errol Flynn autobiography but Megan told me to look at the ending and it was all about Errol Flynn staring at the sea and thinking about how the only thing he understands is the sea, I think, it's right over there but I don't feel like walking over there, but anyway, the sea is in there. So I switched over to WANDERER, which is all about Sterling Hayden strutting manfully around the deck of his schooner and he's very upset when somebody talks about the rivets in his hull because THERE ARE NO RIVETS IN HIS HULL, STUPID. And it's a lot better than the Errol Flynn book, probably, but maybe I just don't want to hear about boats and sailing and the sea for a while after all. So I picked up the book that Ace Atkins called "the most exciting Travis McGee adventure ever written about stamp collecting" and I looked on the back and read the promotional copy: "She was a six-foot knockout who knew a helluva lot about rare stamps..." Ha ha! So Ace wasn't kidding. So I opened to page one and right there in the first sentence it came back to me: Travis McGee is on a boat all the time. And by the second page we have such ominous sentence fragments as "Moonrise and hard rains. Swift fish and wide beaches." Uh-oh! And if there is one thing Travis McGee is sure to be doing besides fighting bad guys it is carefully polishing, by some minutely described method, some tiny wooden piece of nautical ornamentation on his precious boat. Sorry, boats! Sorry, the sea!

Plundered By a Mob

I asked Lee about it and he said that when Dr. Dee went on a trip "his library and his laboratory in Mortlake were plundered by a mob that called him 'the friend of the hell hounds.'" He wasn't a friend of the hell hounds!

Monday, July 21, 2014

36 Eggs

"Thus Bartholomew de Glanville, an English Franciscan friar, wrote about 1360 a most popular work, DE PROPRIETATIBUS RERUM, in 19 books, beginning with God and the angels and ending with colors, scents, flavors and liquors, with a list of 36 eggs." - Hugh Kenner, FLAUBERT, JOYCE AND BECKETT: THE STOIC COMEDIANS

Cleave the Heart in Shivers

In this John Lyly play Alexander the Great is going on and on about how because he's a king he just FEELS things more than everybody else, you know? And it's so hard to be in love when you're a king because you just FEEL EVERYTHING SO MUCH, not like one of you normal jerks. I'm not buying it! But then he says that his "sighs cleave the heart in shivers" and I was like, "Aw!"

A Sinister Role For Flavius Mithridates

Hey you know how in every single place you look on the "internet" it says that Pico della Mirandola wrote something called ORATION ON THE DIGNITY OF MAN that everybody is so jazzed up about? Well, according to this guy who translated this book of Pico's 900 theses that I have here, that title "first appeared ten years after Pico's death in a corrupt German reprint of his collected works." And this here guy is pretty upset about how everybody loves that fake title so much! But do you think the "internet" cares? Here's another funny part: "In the section of the text devoted to the Platonists, we find eight theses attributed to 'Adeland the Arab,' who Pico claimed was Plotinus's fellow student in Egypt under Ammonius Saccas... Both external and internal evidence, however, clearly show that Adeland the Arab was Adelard of Bath, the twelfth-century Englishman!" (You know I appreciate a learned scholar who is not afraid of exclamation points.) But the best part is right after that: "Here again there are reasons to suspect a sinister role for Flavius Mithridates, whose reputation in the Renaissance as something of a con man was apparently well deserved. Pico's involvement with this colorful figure - who liked to style himself as Pico's would-be but scorned lover - constitutes one of the strangest personal stories of the period, although it is one that is far from being completely understood." I know, I know! Now you are thinking of John Dee and Edward Kelley, right? And the time the angel told them to swap wives? Or maybe you are thinking of Paracelsus, and how he would "vanish under cover of night" when the heat was on, running around all drunk with his big sword and being a genius. Those were the days! There are not enough drunken, sword-brandishing geniuses anymore! We don't even have any young Rip Torns around to hit our Norman Mailers in the heads with hammers, or any Norman Mailers to bite other partygoers on the neck. John Dee had plenty of Pico and Paracelsus in his library, you better believe it, until that mob trashed his house that time, I can't remember why, I guess they were mad about something.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

So Dry As to Be Cryptic

I picked up THE SCARLET RUSE by John D. MacDonald at that used book stall. Asked Ace Atkins to rank it, as he's the expert on those books. "It's the most exciting Travis McGee adventure ever written about stamp collecting," Ace tweeted, deadpan.

Creakish From Age

Did I tell you about the time I was going to write a book called THE ALABAMIAD? Ha ha, what a dope. About 100 pages of it got saved and ended up as the title novella of my second short story collection YOUR BODY IS CHANGING. Tom Franklin was working on SMONK at the time, and SMONK was going to come out first, and Tom had the idea - which didn't last long - that SMONK was going to be titled or subtitled THE ALABAMIAD: BOOK ONE and then my book would be THE ALABAMIAD: BOOK TWO. A dumb old idea I still like. James Whorton came up with the title. I think I asked him what he'd call a book about everything ever in the state of Alabama and I believe he said without even a second of hesitation, "THE ALABAMIAD." But that's not why I called you here! One of my ideas was to start THE ALABAMIAD with 88 epigraphs about Alabama... what Melville did with whales in MOBY-DICK. And I found them! (Though now I have lost them.) Let me say I got out my copy of MOBY-DICK and counted the epigraphs by hand, so I'm not sure there are exactly 88 epigraphs in MOBY-DICK, nor do I even remember if that's the figure I came up with back then, but it sounds right. I think I was reading a book about FINNEGANS WAKE at the time, in which I learned (I think) that James Joyce had hidden a mention of every river in the world somewhere in the text of FINNEGANS WAKE. Knowing there is an Alabama River, I thought, yeah, why not get an epigraph for THE ALABAMIAD from FINNEGANS WAKE? (I got one from MOBY-DICK, too, of course. I'm sure you recall that poor ill-fated Pip the cabin boy is from Alabama.) Anyhow, that's how I dug around and came across, "With her halfbend as proud as a peahen, allabalmy, and her troutbeck quiverlipe, ninyananya." But that's not why I called you here! Yesterday when I was at Lee Durkee's house, he was telling me how he'd like to get on some Shakespeare search engine and find every mention of owls in Shakespeare for me. Now, I've stumbled on the owls in HAMLET and MACBETH kind of naturally, and I was afraid a search engine would be cheating, but then I recalled the FINNEGANS WAKE search engine where I found Alabama all those years ago. And I thought, you know, I should use it to hunt up some owls in FINNEGANS WAKE. There are plenty! "Owlets' eegs (O stoop to please!) are here, creakish from age and all now quite epsilene..." Just one of many examples. I don't think this is cheating because I'm never going to read FINNEGANS WAKE.

What's John Lyly Got Against Owls

Noticing that this John Lyly play (CAMPASPE) has TWO entirely different prologues, one for us normal jerks (which I quoted yesterday) and one for the fancy royal people at their fancy royal court with all their fancy royal ways. But in both cases, he's really sticking it to the owls. This is from the prologue at court: "We are ashamed that our bird, which fluttered by twilight seeming a swan, should be proved a bat set against the sun. But as Jupiter placed Silenus' ass among the stars, and Alcibiades covered his pictures, being owls and apes, with a curtain embroidered with lions and eagles..." Ugh, first of all, why did that dude have all these pictures of owls and apes if he was just going to cover them up with a dumb curtain? Here's a idea, stop buying pictures of owls and apes if you hate them so much. If you ask me, owls and apes have got it all over lions and eagles when it comes to good party times. Lots of people who appreciate owls and apes would be happy to get their mitts on those pictures, and you're just like, "Come on in, oh, wait a second, I need to throw something over these awful pictures of owls and apes I have lying around everywhere, sorry." Also, yeah, yeah, we get it, John Lyly. You're fishing for a compliment! Okay, okay, your play is great, it's not a bat or whatever, it's a beautiful swan, shut up, gee whiz. But I really do like his turns of phrase "a bat set against the sun" and the "ass among the stars."

McNeil's Movie Korner

Welcome once more to McNeil's Movie Korner, your only place on the "internet" to the get the latest and greatest news about Hollywood's star-studded hits of the silver screen in Tinsel Town Land! "Watched DONT MAKE WAVES yesterday. Jim and Henny Backus played themselves," McNeil writes. Then he expresses regret that he never got his copy of the Jim and Henny Backus autobiography for the Doomed Book Club. I told him he wasn't missing much except for the obsessive chapter[s?] where Jim and Henny Backus try to figure out who is constantly pelting their roof with rocks. It goes on for years! Did I tell you about this before? I don't know, who cares. One day Jim Backus's pal Keenan Wynn has had enough of this crud and he hops on his motorbike and races around the Hollywood Hills, searching for the perpetrator with the intention of wreaking a terrible vengeance. But nothing comes of it and somebody just keeps throwing rocks, enormous ones, at Jim and Henny Backus, or at their roof, anyway. This story takes up a large percentage of the book, as I recall. I feel like at one point the police locate a guy several miles away with a giant slingshot (or am I dreaming this?) but he's cleared of all charges and anyway the mysterious rocks of endless torment never stop coming. But anyway who cares about Jim and Henny Backus so here is Claudia Cardinale from DON'T MAKE WAVES with those sunglasses I like.