Tuesday, December 08, 2020
Ghosts Are Dancing In Space
"Eugenia smiled, her eyes sparkling, as if a small butterfly with golden wings and diamond eyes were flying around inside her head..." That's my kind of writing! It's from POSTHUMOUS MEMOIRS OF BRAS CUBAS, by Machado de Assis, translated by Margaret Jull Costa and Robin Patterson. I have no other place to note it, so I note it here. As long as I'm here, I could tell you about a little email exchange that McNeil and I had recently. I told McNeil about BLESSED EVENT, a movie from 1932, which, I noticed while watching it recently, contains a passing allusion to television. A character ponders whether Dick Powell's sex appeal will translate to television, and another character makes a joke, which I paraphrase here: "Sex over the televison? It'll never catch on!" And I was filled with astonishment, as I often am, for no good reason. I was astonished, specifically, that the audience for BLESSED EVENT in 1932 would have been expected to know what television was. Well, right away, McNeil found a wikipedia page for a 1932 televison series called THE TELEVISION GHOST, which was just a guy dressed as a ghost for 15 minutes a week, telling you a story about how he got murdered. It seems to be legit, and of course I trust McNeil, but I could find scant secondary sources supporting its existence. When I checked the New York Times archives for "Television Ghost," I found that the august institution never saw fit to report on it. The combo of words did bring up articles with interesting headlines from the appropriate time period: WIZARD SCIENCE IS ANNIHILATING SPACE (that one had the subhead "Airplane, Televisor, and Radiophone are Signs of Wonders Yet to Come") and HOW TO EXPLAIN THE UNIVERSE? SCIENCE IN A QUANDARY and RADIO IMAGES AND 'GHOSTS' ARE DANCING IN SPACE. When I looked up the broadcaster of THE TELEVISION GHOST (the station W2XAB) I did find reviews for some of their contemporaneous programming, such as when Mayor Jimmy Walker (pictured, above) literally (I think) lifted a curtain from the "sensitive photoelectric cells, or radio 'eyes,'" to reveal George Gershwin playing the piano, among other entertainments. Anyway, then McNeil sent me an article about a machine they have over there in China that heats itself up to ten times hotter than the sun. What could go wrong? The next day or so, McNeil and I ended up in a lenghty, discursive disagreement (?) about Bogart and Bacall's house keys, and what hidden meaning we could draw from a photo we saw of them. When asked whether it was our most pointless discussion to date, McNeil announced his intention to "crunch the numbers" on that.