Monthly Archives: September 2012

Thought of the Day 9.29.12 Elizabeth Gaskell

“Sometimes one likes foolish people for their folly, better than wise people for their wisdom.”
Elizabeth Gaskell

Elizabeth Gaskell, in portrait of 1851 by Geor...

Elizabeth Gaskell, in portrait of 1851 by George Richmond (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Elizabeth Cleghorn Stevenson was born on this day in London, England in 1810. Today is the 202nd anniversary of her birth.

The youngest of eight children, she was just a little over a year old when her mother died. Her father, William Stevenson, a Scottish Unitarian minister, was not up to taking care of the baby  and Elizabeth (Lily) went to live with her maternal aunt Hannah Lumb, whom she affectionately referred to as her “more than mother,” at Heathwaite House  in  the small town of Knutsford, Cheshire. There she enjoyed the affections of several aunts and other single ladies (either widows or spinsters) in the town. Her aunt taught her read. She went to Miss Byerlys school at Barford House and later to Avonbank in Stratford-on-Avon. Her education was traditional for a well-bred Victorian girl. She learned the classics, art, music and social graces at finishing school, while her father encouraged her writing and her brother John (John and Elizabeth were the only siblings to survive past infancy), who was in the Merchant Navy, sent her books and wrote her letters from his posts around the world .

When Elizabeth was nine she visited her father in London. He had remarried, and, unfortunately, Elizabeth did not get along with her new stepmother, Catherine Thomson. To complicate matters William and Catherine preferred their own children, and Elizabeth often felt like the odd man out. Eventually she was sent to live with a distant relative, another William, William Turner. Turner was a

A staunch proponent of reform and the abolition of oppressive and inhumane practices such as slavery, his outspoken criticisms profoundly affected Elizabeth’s values and her perspective on life. [The Literature Network]

Elizabeth Gaskell around the time of her marriage, 1832 (Image courtesy: Jane Austen’s World)

She married William Gaskell, a minister in Knutsford in 1832. The Gaskells lived in Manchester. They had six children; a stillborn daughter, a son, who died in infancy from scarlet fever, and four girls.  “As the wife of a minister and mother to four growing girls, Gaskell’s life was hectic: they both taught Sunday school and volunteered for much-needed charitable causes in Manchester.” [The Literature Network] — Manchester, a mill town, had a lot of poor and working poor and Gaskell witnessed it first hand as she worked among them lending charity where she could.

Still, Elizabeth found time to write, keeping a diary about her growing daughters and the job she and her husband were doing as parents. William and Elizabeth collaborated  on some poems, Sketches among the Poor which were published in 1837.

In 1840 Clopton Hall, Elizabeth’s first solo work to be published, appeared in William Howitt’s  Visits to Remarkable Places. It was attributed to “a lady.” Later that year Howitt included her Notes on Cheshire Customs in his The Rural Life of England.

She used the pseudonym Cotton Mather Mills to write short story fiction until she published her first novel, Mary Barton in 1948.

In Mary Barton Gaskell drew on the devastation she felt after loosing her son. She also wrote about the hardships of the poor she saw all around her. The novel was published anonymously but it garnered praise from admirers like Charles Dickens, Thomas Carlyle, Charles Kingsley and John Ruskin. Other critics, however, were not so kind. They didn’t appreciate her scathing portrait of conditions in the mills or her calls for social reforms.

Real life Knutsford circa 1860, was the model for fictional Cranford. [Image courtesy Jane Austen World]

Dickens was so enamored with her writing that he published her next work Cranford in serial installments in his journal Household Words. Gaskell drew on her life with her Aunt Lumb and the kind (if opinionated) women of Knutsford for the characters and setting of her fictionalized Cranford.

In this witty and poignant comedy of early Victorian life in a country town, Elizabeth Gaskell describes the uneventful lives of the lady-like inhabitants so as to offer an ironic commentary on the diverse experiences of men and women. [The Literature Network]

Cranford was published in book form in 1853. As was Gaskell’s novel Ruth.

Like Mary Barton, Ruth raised a lot of eyebrows in Victorian England as its title character is a “fallen woman.” But Gaskell’s point is not the seduction or Ruth’s “loose morals” but the circumstances that led to the affair, and the web of lies and deception that cover up her “fall”. The novel is a little uneven with some of the characters merely looking down their Victorian noses disapprovingly  in a 2 demensional cartoon manner — Mrs. Benson–  or accepting their fate with angelic grace — Ruth– while, fortunately others are more fleshed out and interesting — the kind Thurstons totally won my heart. [Can some one please make this novel into a movie so Peter Dinklage can play Rev. Thurston?]

North and South is the second of Gaskell’s “industrial novels.” It was better received than Mary Barton because it gave  a more even-handed description of life in a mill town. In North and South Gaskell has the working poor (and — when a strike devastates the town — the sometimes NOT working poor) but she also gets into the head of the Mill Owner, Mr. Thornton. Between both camps is Margaret Hale who happens to be the daughter of a minister. North and South was serialized in Household Words before it was published as book.

DVD box art from the mini series of North and South. [Image courtesy: Amazon]

Her next book was far more personal. Elizabeth Gaskell met Charlotte Bronte in 1850 while in the Lake District.  The two became close friends, writing frequently. They visited each other several times. After Charlotte’s death in 1855.

the Reverend Patrick Bronte, for himself and on behalf of Brontes’s husband Arthur Bell Nicholls, asked Gaskell to write her biography in response to gossip and speculation. The Life of Charlotte Bronte was published in 1857. Gaskell spent much time researching, gathering material, and reading the letters of the eldest Bronte sister, and while she had set out to write a biography, the first edition was seen as an artful weaving of fact and fiction.  [The Literarure Network]

It was  “a pioneering biography of one great Victorian woman novelist by another.” [Google Books]

In 1863 she was paid 1,000 pounds for her novel Sylvia’s Lovers. (Mary Barton had brought her only 100 pounds.) A tragic love story set against the Napoleonic Wars Sylvia’s Lovers is one of her least well known novels.

England is at war with France, and press-gangs wreak havoc by seizing young men for service. One of their victims is a whaling harpooner named Charley Kinraid, whose charm and vivacity have captured the heart of Sylvia Robson. But Sylvia’s devoted cousin, Philip Hepburn, hopes to marry her himself and, in order to win her, deliberately withholds crucial information—with devastating consequences. [Good Reads]

Cover of Wives and Daughters. [ Image courtesy:]

Wives and Daughters was also serialized (this time in Cornhill Magazine) before it came out as a novel.  It was the last book Gaskell wrote before she died (She didn’t quite finish it, and it was left to Frederick Greenwood to finish it off.)  Molly Gibson’s mother died when she was very young

Wives and Daughters centers on the story of youthful Molly Gibson, brought up from childhood by her father. When he remarries, a new step-sister enters Molly’s quiet life – loveable, but worldly and troubling, Cynthia. The narrative traces the development of the two girls into womanhood within the gossiping and watchful society of Hollingford. [Good Reads]

Gaskell also wrote dozens of short stories, especially ghost stories that she published both in magazines and in collections.

English: Elizabeth Gaskell (1810-1865)

English: Elizabeth Gaskell (1810-1865) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Elizabeth Gaskell died unexpectantly of a heart attack on November 12, 1865.


Published works by Elizabeth Gaskell  [Courtesy: The Titi Tudorancea Learning Center]


Mary Barton (1848)
Cranford (1851–3)
Ruth (1853)
North and South (1854–5)
Sylvia’s Lovers (1863)
Wives and Daughters: An Everyday Story (1865)

Novellas and collections

”The Moorland Cottage” (1850)
”Mr. Harrison’s Confessions (1851)
”The Old Nurse’s Story” (1852)
”Lizzie Leigh” (1855)
”My Lady Ludlow” (1859)
”Round the Sofa” (1859)
”Lois the Witch” (1861)
”A Dark Night’s Work” (1863)
”Cousin Phillis” (1864)

Short stories (partial)

Libbie Marsh’s Three Eras (1847)
Christmas Storms and Sunshine (1848)
The Squire’s Story (1853)
Half a Life-time Ago (1855)
An Accursed Race (1855)
The Poor Clare (1856)
“The Manchester Marriage” (1858), a chapter of A House to Let, co-written with Charles Dickens, Wilkie Collins, and Adelaide Anne Procter
The Haunted House (1859), co-written with Charles Dickens, Wilkie Collins, Adelaide Proctor, George Sala and Hesba Stretton.
The Half-brothers (1859)
The Grey Woman (1861)


The Life of Charlotte Brontë (1857)


Thought of the Day 9.28.12 Gwyneth Paltrow

“Beauty, to me, is about being comfortable in your own skin. That, or a kick-ass red lipstick.”
–Gwyneth Paltrow

03092011-DSC_0697_Gwyneth Paltrow

03092011-DSC_0697_Gwyneth Paltrow (Photo credit: brixton21)

Gwyneth Kate Paltrow was born on this day in Los Angeles, California in 1972. She is 40 years old.

Paltrow has show business in her DNA. Her father, the late Bruce Paltrow, was a film producer and director, and her mother, Blythe Danner, is an Emmy and Tony Award winning actress. Brother, Jake, is following in his father’s footsteps as a director.

Gwyneth grew up in Santa Monica. The family moved to Massachusetts when she was 11 and she split her time there between summer stock at the Williamstown Theatre Festival in the Berkshires and the all girls Spence School in Manhattan during the winter.

“My playground was the theatre. I’d sit and watch my mother pretend for a living. As a young girl, that’s pretty seductive.” [Paltrow]

She flirted with Anthropology at the UC Santa Barbara, but Acting called and she dropped out.

At 19 she made her film debut in the movie Shout in which John Travolta plays a  teacher at a West Texas home for boys who helps the kids learn to love music through the magic of Rock and Roll. She was Young Wendy in Steven Spielberg’s Hook. After a slew of made for television movies she returned to the big screen in 1995 in Se7en opposite then love interest Brad Pitt.

In 1996 she sparkled in the title role of Emma. It’s always a good career move to play a Jane Austen heroine in my opinion, and  Paltrow did a delightful job with the role of Emma Woodhouse. [Emma is my first pick of Paltrow movies that  you should put on your Netflix queue — if you don’t already own it.]

Paltrow as Emma [Image courtesy: Austenitis]

Now a Hollywood a-lister, Paltrow had an impressive run of  films in 1998; a modern version of Great Expectations with Ethan Hawke, Sliding Doors, A Perfect Murder (a remake of Dial M for Murder), Hush, and the magnificent Shakespeare in Love.

Paltrow plays Viola de Lesseps opposite Joseph Finnes’ Shakespeare in a story of mistaken identity, love, comedy and drama worthy the bard. With Geoffrey Rush, Judi Dench and Collin Firth in supporting roles, Shakespeare in Love is fantastic. Paltrow and Dench won Oscars and the movie took home Best Picture.  [Shakespeare in Love is my second Paltrow pick for your Netflix queue.]

She was in Anthony Minghella’s The Talented Mr. Ripley opposite Matt Damon and Jude Law in 1999.

In 2000 she showed the world that she could sing in Duets with Huey Lewis. Then played opposite her long time friend Ben Affleck in Bounce.

She had roles in the ensemble movies Anniversary Party & The Royal Tenenbaums in 2001. And co-starred with Jack Black in the comedy Shallow Hal.

Paltrow and Arron Eckhart played the sexiest literary researchers EVER in an adaptation of A.S. Byatt’s Possession. The pair uncover letters linking two Victorian writers (played by Jeremy Northam and Jennifer Ehle.)

Paltrow and Eckhart in Possession [Image]

Paltrow rather famously said:

“I don’t really understand the concept of having a career, or what agents mean when they say they’re building one for you. I just do things I think will be interesting and that have integrity.”

which explains the swings from serious/dramatic roles to the campy fun fest that dot her filmography. She took on poet Sylvia Path in Sylvia  (Blythe Danner played her mother) then the next year she played reporter Polly Perkins in the highly stylized retro/sci fi Sky Captain and the World of Tommorow. Then it was back to serious Gwyneth for Proof.

She had small roles in Infamous, Love and Other Disasters, and Running With Scissors and a supporting role in The Good Night before landing the role of Pepper Potts in the big budget film Iron Man opposite Robert Downey, Jr.. She reprised the role in Iron Man 2 and in the Avengers. (And because you can never flog a dead horse too much… you can look for Pepper Potts AGAIN inIron Man 3 in 2013)

She brought out the pipes again for Country Strong where she played struggling country singer Kelly Canter. Here’s “Shake That Thing” from the movie:

Paltrow has had three guest spots on the popular television show Glee as substitute teacher Holly Holliday.

She had a small but pivital role in Contagion. The film also stars  her Talented Mr. Ripley co stars Matt Damon and Jude Law, and her Possession co-star Jennifer Ehle. [Contagion is another movie you should put in your queue.]

This  year you can see her in the romanic comedy Thanks for Sharing with Mark Ruffalo and Tim Robbins.



Hi everybody — Just wanted to introduce the new icon. You’ll be seeing it instead of my photo. What do you think?

Cheers, Rita

Thought of the Day 9.27.12 Clementine Paddleford

“Beer is the Danish national drink, and the Danish national weakness is another beer. ”

“Never grow a wishbone, daughter, where you backbone ought to be.”
Clementine Paddleford

Clementine Paddleford was born on this day in Stockdale (near Manhattan), Kansas in 1898. She grew up with a strong connection to the land and people who tilled it.

Clementine Paddleford as a girl. [Image courtesy: K-State Libraries]

She rode a horse to school, where she learned to love writing at an early age. She loved food too. She learned to cook by her mother’s side in their Kansas kitchen.

In a memoir called “A Flower for My Mother,” she wrote of fresh-picked corn and strawberries, ice cream made from new-fallen snow. [A Life in the Culinary Front Lines, by R.W. Apple, Jr, 11/30/05 The New York Times]

At 15 she worked for the Manhattan (Kansas) Daily Chronicle writing “personals” — She would borrow the family car and go down to the meet the 4 A.M. train for Kansas City and report  on which locals got on the train. It wasn’t journalism at its finest, but it was her first paid gig. She went to Kansas State Agriculture College and graduated in 1921 with a degree in Industrial Journalism. Industrial Journalism was a “boys club,” most women took home economics, and Paddleford was a trailblazer.

She moved from Manhattan, Kansas to Manhattan, New York and attended the Columbia School of Journalism at night while she worked reviewing books for Administration (a business magazine) and the New York Sun during the day. She specifically requested lengthy, more difficult, scientific books because, although she only earned $3 or $4 for a review, she could usually sell the book for $5 to a dealer. She also wrote women’s features for the New York Sun and the New  York Telegram

Later Paddleford became the woman’s editor for Fame and Fireside working there until 1929. When a change of management led to her leaving the publication she began to write on a freelance basis, mostly about food.

At home writing. [Image courtesy: The New School]

At 34 she was hospitalized for a malignant tumor on her larynx. She had the growth removed, along with her vocal chords. The operation left her with a breathing tube, and she had to re-learn how to talk. Her voice was never the same and she declined to speak in public after the operation. As for the breathing tube? She took it in stride.

She disguised the tube with a velvet choker that became part of her trademarked look and continued with her work. [the Found Recipe Box]

She worked as a food editor at the New York Herald-Tribune for 30 years from 1935-1966 bringing her signature editorial point of view to reviews and recipes. She made…

forty dollars a week to write six half-columns of advice to New York housewives on buying and eating. The job sounded like a cinch to Paddleford. Half a column a day shouldn’t take more than a couple of hours. And forty dollars was bread and butter. But what with her conscientiousness and her growing interest in the job, it wasn’t long before she was putting in as much as twelve hours a day combing food markets and writing the column. [Clementine Paddleford: her Passion is Food, by Josef Israels II, K-State Libraries; ]

She also did a weekly column at This Week Magazine and a monthly column for Gourmet Magazine. At her peak in the 1950’s and 1960’s she had 12 million readers.

Prior to Paddleford, food was treated in a dry academic manner. A recipe was just a list of numbers… x amount of flour… z amount of time in the oven… Paddleford brought the  food life. She told a story around the recipe.

Before Paddleford, newspaper food sections were dull primers on home economy. But she changed all of that, composing her own brand of sassy, unerringly authoritative prose designed to celebrate regional home cooking…[from the book description of Hometown Appetites: The Story of Clementine Paddleford]

She did the same when reviewing a restaurant or exploring the local cuisine …

We opened the mail one morning to learn a barrel of frogs’ legs… was coming our way. They came. We gave half of them away and cooked the rest for an important little dinner for three. The very thought of frogs’ legs sent memories reaching back to our first interest in the “greenies”—as we used to call frogs. Then we children were the hunters along the banks of a creek out Kansas way. We were small savages with clubs who caught froggies with a wallop over their noggins, took them home, and ate the shanks, a choice morsel. We’d wind up with only a few mouthfuls after a couple of hours’ work, but it seemed worth the effort. [Food Flashes, Clementine Paddleford, March 1951, Gourmet Magazine]

Paddleford was a food explorer too. She loved to go to remote places and discover the local cuisine. She learned to fly so she could get to places more quickly. She even had dinner on a nuclear submarine to see what the sailors had in the mess hall. (She came away from the encounter with a recipe for hamburger pie for 100 and one for brownies for 80.)

Well, I couldn’t write about Clementine Paddleford without sharing one of her recipes. Here is Hurry-Up Marble Cake

Hurry-Up Marble Cake

Here’s an old-time marble cake with a new-time trick, one double quick–no splitting the batter. Use your spatula as a wand–marbleize by magic. Pour the batter into layer-cake pans, drizzle over syrup made without cooking, using a ready-prepared cocoa. Swirl the spatula through the layers and dark chocolate spirals will show when the cake’s cut. The same method can be used to marbleize the frosting. Another day bake the marble loaf.

Double Marble Cake

1/2 cup instant sweet milk cocoa
2 tablespoons boiling water
2 1/2 cups sifted cake flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup shortening
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
1 cup sugar
2 egg yolks
1 egg
1 cup milk

Combine cocoa and water; stir until smooth. Set aside. Sift together flour, baking powder and salt. Combine shortening and vanilla. Gradually add sugar and cream well. Add egg yolks and egg, one at a time, and beat well. Add flour mixture alternately with milk. Pour into 2 9-inch round cake pans lined with wax paper. Drizzle cocoa mixture back and forth over both layers. With a spatula or knife, “swirl” through batter to marbleize. Bake at 325°F. 25 to 30 minutes. Cool in pans 10 minutes. Remove from pans, peel off paper. Cool thoroughly. Frost with marble frosting. Yield: 1 9-inch layer cake.

Marble Frosting

Combine 1/2 cup instant sweet milk cocoa with 2 tablespoons boiling water and stir until smooth; set aside. Combine 2 egg whites, 1/3 cup water, 1 1/2 cups sugar and 2 teaspoons white corn syrup (or substitute 1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar) and beat constantly over boiling water with rotary beater for 7 minutes, or until frosting holds its shape. Remove from water and beat for 2 minutes. Pour cocoa mixture over top of frosting in double boiler; do not stir. Spread between layers and on top and sides of cake. Frosting will become marbleized when spread.

Quick Marble Loaf Cake

Combine 1/2 cup instant sweet milk cocoa with 1 1/2 tablespoons milk; stir until smooth, set aside. Sift together 2 cups sifted cake flour, 1 tablespoon baking powder and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Combine 1/2 cup shortening and 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla. Gradually add 3/4 cup sugar and cream well. Add 2 eggs, one at a time, and beat well. Add dry ingredients alternately with 3/4 cup milk. Fold in chocolate mixture gently several times to marbleize batter. Pour into a 10x5x3-inch pan lined with wax paper. Bake at 350°F. for 1 hour. Cool in pan 10 minutes. Remove from pan, peel off paper and cool cake thoroughly. Yield: 1 loaf cake. []

Thought of the Day 9.26.12 George Gershwin

Life is a lot like jazz.. it’s best when you improvise.
 –George Gershwin
English: George Gershwin, 28 March 1937 Azərba...

English: George Gershwin, 28 March 1937 Azərbaycan: Corc Gerşvin, ABŞ bəstəkarı, 28 mart 1937 Español: George Gershwin, 28 marzo 1937 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Jacob Gershvin was  born on this day in Brooklyn, New York in 1898. Today is the 114th anniversary of his birth.

His parents were Russian Jewish emigrants. He had three siblings, Ira, Arthur and Frances. His parents bought a piano and paid for lesson for Ira, but it was George who took up the instrument. At 15 he left school and began to work at New York’s Tin Pan Alley. (He changed his name George Gershwin when he entered the professional music world.) He sold his first song, “When You Want ‘Em, You Can’t Get ‘Em; When You Have ‘Em, You Don’t Want ‘Em,” for $5.

Music theatre folk-lore has it that one day Gershwin was performing his composition “Swanee” at a party when Broadway star Al Jolson heard it. Jolson added the song to his show in 1919 and it became his signature song. Gershwin rose in the ranks of New York City song composers.

Gershwin collaborated with Arthur L. Jackson and Buddy De Sylva on his first complete Broadway musical, “La, La Lucille” [American Masters; George Gershwin]

He worked in Vaudeville for a bit, and in 1920 he teamed up with lyricist Buddy DeSylva for a one-act jazz opera, Blue Monday.

opening bars rhapsody in blue - gershwin

opening bars rhapsody in blue – gershwin (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

At 25 his Rhapsody in Blue for solo piano and orchestra debuted in New York. It combined Gershwin’s twin musical loves a jazz and classical. Bandleader Paul Whiteman commissioned the piece  and it was premiered in a concert titled “An Experiment in Modern Music on February 12th with Gershwin at the piano. His other “serious music” includes Concerto in F, An American Paris and his Second Rhapsody (originally New York Rhapsody.)

In 1924, when George teamed up with his older brother Ira, “the Gershwins” became the dominant Broadway songwriters, creating infectious rhythm numbers and poignant ballads, fashioning the words to fit the melodies with a “glove-like” fidelity. []

George and his brother Ira worked together in 1924 on the musical Lady Be Good. The show opened at the Liberty Theatre and starred  Fred Astaire and his sister Adele and featured the songs “Fascinating Rhythm, “O Lady Be Good” and,  “The Half of It, Dearie, Blues.”  You can hear Gershwin’s complicated rhythms and the jazz chords that he would build on in later compositions like Rhapsody and Blue in this  early recording of “The Half Of It, Dearie, Blues“…

Oh, Kay! a musical about an English Duke and his sister turned American bootleggers opened at the Princess Theatre in 1926. It featured the dance number”Clap Yo’ Hands,” the love duet “Maybe” and “Someone To Watch Over Me“.

Funny Face opened in 1927, again with the Astaires in the lead. Songs included “S’Wonderful”, “My One and Only,” He Loves and She Loves” and “Let’s Kiss and Make Up.” An updated of Funny Face opened on Broadway as “My One and Only” in 1983 and ran for over 700 shows. And Hollywood made a move starring Fred Astaire and Audrey Hepburn in 1957 called Funny Face and using four of the songs, but with a different plot.

In Strike Up the Band America declares war on Switzerland. The original production only made it to previews in Philadelphia in 1927, but the Gershwins revised it and brought it to Broadway in 1930.  The songs “The Man I Love,Strike Up the Band,” “Soon,” and “I’ve Got a Crush on You  were added to the Gershwin Song Book from the show. [If you ignore all the other links in this post, do yourself a favor and click on I’ve Got a Crush on You — I pulled the incomparable Ella Fitzgerald’s smooth as silk rendition of the Gershwin classic… and no matter how crazy / busy your day is… you deserve this 3min. 18sec. piece of musical heaven.]

True to its name, Show Girl, is all about show business. It starred Ruby Keeler as an up and coming show girl Dixie Dugan. Other “A list” performers like Jimmy Durante and Eddie Foy, Jr. filled out the bill.  It  was produced by Florenz Ziegfeld. Songs includeHarlem Serenade,” andLiza (All the Clouds’ll Roll Away)” [– Ruby Keeler was married to Al Jolson and he used to come see the show several times a week and sing this, the last song, out loud from the audience, lovingly, to her. ]

In 1929 he wrote the score for the Fox film Delicious. His “New York Rhapsody” (which later became his “Second Rhapsody”) and a five-minute dream sequence was all that the producers chose to use of his score. Gershwin was disgusted.

In 1930 Girl Crazy hit the stage. It starred Ethel Merman, and made a star out of Ginger Rogers [to read the Thought of the Day Ginger Roger’s profile click HERE.]. The show was made into 3 movies,  and while the films shared many of the stage show’s  most popular songs — like “Embraceable You,”But Not For Me” and “I’ve Got Rhythm” — the plots lines deviated from the original.

Of Thee I Sing premiered in 1931 and became the first musical to win a Pulitzer Prize in 1932.
This all-American political satire focuses on the election campaign and Presidency of John P. Wintergreen, whose party, lacking a viable platform, runs on love, promising that if elected he will marry the partner chosen for him at an Atlantic City beauty pageant. When he falls for Mary Turner (a campaign secretary who bakes a mean corn muffin) instead of Diana Deveraux (the fairest flower of the South and winner of the pageant), trouble begins! [MTI Music theatre International]

His ground breaking, genre defying Porgy and Bess came out in September of 1935. George wrote the music, DeBose Heyward wrote the libretto, and Heyward and Ira Gershwin wrote the lyrics. It was based on Heyward’s novel Porgy  Gershwin intended it to be a folk opera.  Although it is considered a modern masterpiece now, the show flopped when it premiered on Broadway. It had revivals in 1942 and 1952, but it and didn’t get the recognition it deserved in the  opera world until the Huston Grand Opera staged it in 40 years later (1976). Songs include “It Ain’t Necessarily So,” “Bess You Is My Woman Now,” and “Summertime.”

Disappointed in the reception that Porgy and Bess received on Broadway he moved to Hollywood. He and Ira worked with RKO movies to score Shall We Dance, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers’s 10th film. He won an Academy Award for his song “They Can’t Take That Away from Me” from the film.
Starting in early 1937 George Gershwin began to have blinding headaches and the sensation of smelling burned rubber. He was diagnosed with a brain tumor. He died  on July 11, 1937.

Congratulations to ritaLOVEStoWRITE faithful follower, and fabulous writer, Kate Shrewsbury for having her blog post “My Battered Roman Eagle” selected as Freshly Pressed on WordPress. I’ve reposted it here, but you should go check out her blog too! Way to go Kate!!!

Kate Shrewsday

The heavens opened.

And duty called, even on a Sunday. For school, a display on the Victorians, ready for a public event on Monday evening, was necessary. And I needed Victorian artefacts.

I trawled the sources of Victorian wooden toys in my mind and decided wistfully that a trip into our local market town was going to be a must. I must make a wet, crowded, expensive drive, alone because everyone else in the house had colds.

I braced myself. I got in the car. And I turned the ignition key, backed out of the drive and got on the road.

I found a parking place in a great shopping cathedral and scuttled off through the fat drops of rain to the museum, a worthy red-brick building. I walked through the doors into a museum which, with the gloom outside, looked as if the caretaker had already turned half the…

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Thought of the Day 9.25.12 Shel Silverstein

“Listen to the mustn’ts, child. Listen to the don’ts. Listen to the shouldn’ts, the impossibles, the won’ts. Listen to the never haves, then listen close to me… Anything can happen, child. Anything can be.”

–Shel Silverstein

[Image courtesy: Poetry Foundation]

Sheldon Allan Silverstein was born on this day in Chicago, Illinois in 1930. Today is the  82nd anniversary of his birth.

Shel grew up in the Logan Square area of Chicago. He was notoriously private and seldom gave interviews so there is not much know about his early life. In one of the rare interviews he gave he said:

“When I was a kid—12 to 14, around there—I would much rather have been a good baseball player or a hit with the girls, but I couldn’t play ball. I couldn’t dance. Luckily, the girls didn’t want me. Not much I could do about that. So I started to draw and to write. I was also lucky that I didn’t have anybody to copy, be impressed by. I had developed my own style…” [Publishers Weekly, February 24, 1975.]

At 12 he became interested in cartooning and would practice his drawing by tracing comics, including Al Capp, from the “funny papers.” He attended the University of Illinois (for “One useless semester”), and the Art Institute of Chicago (for a summer session) before landing at Roosevelt University. It was a Roosevelt that he was first published, his cartoons appeared in the Roosevelt Torch.

In 1953 he was drafted into the US Army. He served from 1953-1955 and worked as a cartoonist for Stars and Stripes Newspaper. He said in a later Stars and Stripes interview that the Army  helped his art work because he didn’t have to worry about selling the cartoons anywhere. He was guaranteed 3 square meals a day. The Army also gave him the structure of a daily deadline. [To read the entire Stars and Stripes interview go to Off On a Tangent: Shel Silverstein Stars & Stripes Interview] His book Take Ten is a compilation of the cartoons he drew for Stars and Stripes.

Take Ten cover art. (Image courtesy:]

When he got out of the Army he found it difficult to sell his work on a regular basis. He freelanced for Sports Illustrated and Playboy and in 1956 he became a staff cartoonist for Playboy. He contributed poems and published several collections of his cartoons through the magazine.

Then in 1963 things took a turn.

“…at the suggestion of fellow illustrator Tomi Ungerer, he was introduced to Ursula Nordstrom who convinced him to begin writing for children. One of Silverstein’s most popular books, The Giving Tree, was published in 1964.” [Shel Silverstein, Introduction by Meghan Ung. Humanities on the Internet]

Cover art for The Giving Tree [Image courtesy:]

No on had wanted to publish the book. They thought it was too sad for a children’s book. They thought it was too short. They couldn’t pigeonhole it as either for adults or children. But they all agreed it was wonderful. Then Harper and Row gave it a chance and it became a classic in children’s literature.

Here’s the 1973 animated movie of The Giving Tree narrated by Silverstein:

1974’s Where the Sidewalk Ends, a collection of poetry for children, won the New York Times Outstanding Book Award. The collection has been republished several times with Silverstein added poems at the 25th and 30th anniversary.  Here’s one of my favorite poems from the book, Hug o’ War:

Hug o’ War

I will not play at tug o’ war.

I’d rather play at hug o’war.

Where everyone hugs

instead of tugs,

Where everyone giggles

and rolls on the rug,

Where everyone kisses,

And everyone grins,

And everyone cuddles,

And everyone wins.

Next up was The Missing Piece is a beautifully written story about a circle who is looking for its soul mate. The nontraditional ending is both truthful and bittersweet.

A Light In the Attic brought more wonderful poems and illustrations. [Backward Bill always cracked us up at our house…]

…Backward Bill’s got a backward pup.

They eat their supper when the sun comes up…

Silverstein’s illustration of Backward Bill. [Image courtesy:]

Silverstein wrote a sequel to The Missing Piece called The Missing Piece Meets the Big O (see below) which won the 1982 International Reading Association’s Children’s Choice Award.

The Shel Silverstein collection  — “borrowed” from the shelves of an obliging independent brick and mortar bookstore, Greetings and Readings, Hunt Valley, Maryland.

Silverstein also had a musical side. He played guitar and wrote songs, including the Johnny Cash hit A Boy Named Sue, the Irish Rovers “Unicorn Song” and the Dr. Hook song “The Cover of the Rolling Stone.” He performed on several albums (both his own and others.)

He was also a playwright. He had a hit with The Lady or the Tiger Show a play where contestants in a game show have to choose between two doors. Behind one door is a beautiful woman, behind the other door is a man-eating tiger. He co-wrote Oh, Hell! with David Mamet for Lincoln Center. The two worked together again on the film Things Change.

Silverstein died of a heart attack on May 10th, 1999 in Key West.

Shel playing his guitar. [Image courtesy: 105.7 Hawk]

Here’s the YouTube video for The Missing Piece Meets the Big O, I’d never read this book, or seen this video, but I just loved the message and had to share it…

Everybody loves a frog (and my plan for world domination)

A quick note to thank every one for stopping by today.

I should have known that a Thought of the Day about Jim Henson and Kermie  would do well, but I was pleasantly surprised to log on this evening and see the spikes in today’s stats. [Drumroll please…] I’m happy to report that today ritaLOVEStoWRITE had its very best day ever! By 7:40pm the site had reached a whopping 153 hits, for an all time total of over 5,000 hits! Whoot!

Here’s a map showing where all those hits are coming from…

Map reflecting all time hits.

Actually this is about a week old. Ghana, El Salvador,  Suriname, Algeria, Oman, Kuwait and Reunion have joined since then. I’m learning a lot about geography. (Reunion is an island nation off the east coast of Madagascar, btw.)

Personally, I would love to see a few more of the countries on this map get filled in. Not just because it is cool to see the continents fill up, or because it would give me a RISK (game) sense of satisfaction to pick up Greenland so I would have all of “North America,” but because I have something to say.

If I could actually send a message to the world it would be similar to the advice Kermit gave in a Men’s Health interview in November of last year.

  1. Challenge yourself to help others.
  2. Accept people for who they are.
  3. Roll with life’s ups and downs.

I would add

4. Live peacefully and with joy in your heart. And
5. Do something (small or large) to help save the planet every day.

So, thanks for stopping by the blog, and if you happen to know some one who might like ritaLOVEStoWRITE please send them a link and invite them to stop by (especially if they’re in Greenland.)


Thought of the Day 9/24/12 Jim Henson

“My hope still is to leave the world a bit better than when I got here.”
–Jim Henson

James Maury Hensonwas born on this day in Greenville, Mississippi in 1936. Today is the 76th anniversary of his birth.

He grew up  near Leland,  Mississippi exploring the countryside around his home. He was encouraged to pursue his artistic side, but he didn’t see a puppet show until the family moved to Washington, D.C. in the late 40’s. Henson recalled the family getting their first television as “the biggest event of his adolescence.” He enjoyed watching early puppet shows like Kukla, Fran and Ollie, Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy, and Bil Baird and Charlemagne the lion. While still at Northwestern High School he got his first TV experience on WTOP-TV where he created and performed puppets for The Junior Morning Show on Saturday mornings. At the University of Maryland  Henson  was a studio arts major with hopes of working that into a career in stage or television design.

As a freshman he worked for WRC-TV on a five-minute long program that ran nightly at 6:40 pm called Sam and Friends. For the show he created a cross-breed of a marionettes and hand puppets  which he called “muppets.” Muppets were more flexible and could express more emotion than traditional puppets. Instead of painted wood he used foam rubber-covered with fabric which gave the creatures soft bodies. He gave them large mouths “that allowed them to convey a wide range of emotions.” [The Mississippi Writers Page]

The Sam and Friends characters were donated to the National Museum of American History in Washington, DC [Image courtesy: National Museum of American History]

Here’s a sketch from Sam and Friends

He asked fellow UofM freshman Jane Nebel to help him on the show. Hensen and Nebel married in 1959 and had five children together.

Sam and Friends ran for six seasons and…

proved the stepping stone for a series of commercials that brought him nationwide fame. Soon, he was making guest appearances on such national network programs as The Steve Allen ShowThe Jack Paar ShowThe Tonight ShowEd Sullivan, and The Jimmy Dean Show, and weekly appearances on The Today Show …[The Mississippi Writers Page]

Muppets, Inc. grew. Jim and Jane added puppeteer and writer Jerry Juhl, puppet builder Don Sahlin and puppeteer Frank Oz to the fold. In 1968 they created a special for National Education Television “Muppets on Puppets” a 9 minute mini documentary on the world of puppeteering.

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The next year Sesame Street premiered. Children’s Television Workshop asked Henson and his creative team to develop a family of muppets to populate Sesame Street. They came up with Bert and Ernie, Big Bird, Oscar the Grouch, Grover, the Cookie Monster and others.

Hensen, center, works on Sesame Street. [Image courtesy:]

Next came  the weekly syndicated variety show, The Muppet Show, starring Kermit. The show included an expanded cast of muppets (like Miss Piggy, Gonzo, the Count, and Elmo) and featured a human guest star. It ran from 1976 to 1981.

Here’s a clip from the show featuring John Cleese…

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Movies followed. Henson found success with both Muppet productions and other puppet enhanced movies like The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth.

Henson won 18 Emmy Awards, 7 Grammy Awards and 4 Peabody Awards in his 30 year career and touched millions of lives. He died from complications of pneumonia in New York on May 16, 1990. Here’s “Just One Person” (one of my favorite Muppet songs) performed at Henson’s tribute.

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