Sunday, January 31, 2010


In one month I have accomplished many things toward my eventual goal. Not enough, to be sure - but it's January. Most of the hard work comes later. In an effort to work towards my goal of writing about a play set in Cleveland in 1936, I have done slight research on a number of areas, and I have attempted to share some of those findings here. They are not deep, but at least I have been keeping at it every single night.

I have a new play which is in development. I have joined certain relevant organizations. I have submitted work. I have created a game plan for the year. My hiatus is marked out clearly on my calendar.

For the month of February I will be looking into conferences, looking into publication, continuing this basic research and opening the tour of my new play. I am very busy. I am not wasting time. Good for me.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

The Sit-Down Strike

Prior to arriving at the idea of a sit-down strike, laborers who wanted to go on strike risked violent retaliation, replacement workers taking their jobs, and their fate resting in the hands of the union leaders to settle the dispute. In the early 30s, the "sit-down" meant a small number of workers could stop working, where they were, halting production, making scab workers impractical, strikebreakers risk damaging expensive machinery, and they protesting proletariat even got to stay out of the elements. When first implemented, they were very successful, and even fostered a greater sense of work unity, as they had the opportunity to converse more under these circumstances and create a greater sense of, might I say, comradeship.

Under threat of a wage cut in early 1936, employees at Firestone in Akron staged a sit-down strike which was settled in two days. Less than two weeks later, there was a sit-down at Goodyear. An injunction against picketing was ignored and 150 new deputies found themselves facing 10,000 united Akron workers. The strike was settled within the month.

In December came the longest sit-down strike ever, at Fisher Body Plant in Flint Michigan. The UAW damanded recognition from General Motors. The strike spread to other major cities, including Cleveland, and eventually over 70% of their plants sat idle. GM demanded the governor of Michigan step in with their militia and there was great fear of bloodshed. FDR eventually stepped in (not physically, of course) and the strike was settled in February, 1937.

In 1936 there were 48 sit-down strikes. The following year there were 477.

Howard Zinn, A People's History of the United States

Friday, January 29, 2010

Langston Hughes

James Mercer Langston Hughes, (February 1, 1902 – May 22, 1967) was born in Joplin, Missouri, but spent most of his childhood with his grandmother in Lawrence, Kansas. After her death, he eventually reunited with his mother and and they and his step-father moved to Cleveland, where he attended high school.
The Hughes' home in Cleveland was sold in foreclosure in 2009; the 2.5-story, wood-frame house on the city's east side was sold at a sheriff's auction in February for $16,667. - Wikipedia
Hughes had relocated to New York and gained success on Broadway with Mulatto, when he accepted the position of playwright in residence at Karamu House from 1936 to 1939, a position only recently-revived and currently held by Michael Oatman.

In 1936 alone several of his plays received world premieres, including Little Ham (opened March 24) about a Harlem numbers game. Plain Dealer critic William McDermott said, "as a folk-picture of Harlem life it is rich in character in humor."

Other premieres included When Jack Hollers (written with Arna Bontemps, the cast included Margaret Williams as Queen Esther, Jack Stewart as Bogator, Paul Banks as Rev. Lovelady, William Day as Jerico, Don McGregor as Sid Lowery and Nolan Bell as Arcie) and Troubled Island, a "historical panorama" about Haiti that had a cast of sixty-five and was later adapted into an opera by William Grant Still.

When I was an actor-educator at Karamu in 1991, the offices for the education department were in the space previously occupied by Hughes' old apartment.

To this day Karamu produces Langston Hughes' Black Nativity during the holidays.

Showtime in Cleveland

Thursday, January 28, 2010

A Night at the Opera (film)

Released in November, 1935, the Marx Brothers' A Night at the Opera is quite simply the funniest movie ever made. Groucho, Chico and Harpo (sans Zeppo - though I really like Zeppo) were at the peak of their powers, and as everyone knows, there's only one way to go from there.

Jumping from Paramount to MGM, they now had fabulous budgets to make films that looked a lot less like stage plays put on film. It also meant they were obligated to put show-stopping (or to put it another way, funny-halting) musical numbers in, which only works in this, their first film because those numbers included Alone - which, again, I really like, as performed by Kitty Carlisle and the guy they picked to stand in for Zeppo. It's a beautiful love song and I paid to download it from iTunes. There's also all those great numbers in the racially-questionable Italian party scene.

The worst part (and I know, this is well-trod ground) is that the Brothers' Marx would no longer be crazy anarchists tearing down whoevers world it is the movie takes place in (college, high society, Fredonia) but instead neutered clowns performing in the service of someone else's dream.

Still. The crowded cabin scene, the contract, rearranging the hotel suite, Take Me Out to the Ballgame - and my favorite quote:
You're willing to pay him a thousand dollars a night just for singing? Why, you can get a phonograph record of Minnie the Moocher for 75 cents. And for a buck and a quarter, you can get Minnie.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Modern Times

"A story of industry, of individual enterprise - humanity crusading in the pursuit of happiness."

DISSOLVE TO: Sheep herded through a narrow pen.

DISSOLVE TO: Working men crowding up through the subway onto the sidewalk.

Good God! Chaplin was a COMMUNIST!

Sorry, I meant satirist.

In spite of the advent of "talkies" Chaplin insisted as late as 1936 that his Tramp character would not survive as a powerful image if he spoke. Modern Times was his last silent film, and largely regarded as one of his best. His comic depictions of the de-humanizing nature of modern industry have been emulated by scores of other performers. The American Film Institute rated it the 81st greatest film of all time in 1998 - raising that to the 78th greatest film two years ago.
Witness the subtlety and comic timing of the scene in which the Tramp is arrested for communist agitation. Just released from a psychiatric ward, the Tramp happens to see a flatbed truck with a long load, trailing an obligatory red warning flag at the end. When the flag falls off the back of the load, the Tramp helpfully scoops it up, waving it to try to get the driver’s attention — not realizing that a throng of unemployed workers from his old job has come up behind him, demonstrating in the streets. To the police, of course, the Tramp waving his red flag at the head of the crowd looks like the leader of these agitators; and he is quickly bundled off to jail.

Note how gracefully Chaplin weaves together the demands of (a) his medium (although the film is black and white, we know the flag is red because it comes from the back of the long load on the flatbed), (b) his comedy-of-errors genre (an innocent attempt to help is mistaken for political agitation — just the kind of thing that would happen to the Tramp), (c) the continuity of his story (the demonstration doesn’t simply appear from nowhere for the sake of the gag, but flows naturally and logically from past events), and (d) the social concerns underlying the film (the workers’ plight mirrors real problems — as does that of the Tramp, neither the first nor the last to be wrongly persecuted for the belief that he is a Communist). - Decent Films Guide

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Howard Swanson

Howard Swanson (1907-1978)
"The only thing I live for is my music."

Swanson and his family left Atlanta when he was nine years-old and moved to Cleveland. In 1925 he graduated from Glenville High, but that same year his father died forcing him as the eldest of three children to join the workforce. He was employed with the U.S. Postal service for over ten years, but continued the musical instruction his mother had insisted upon for all of her children.

In 1930 he sought to continue his piano instruction by taking courses at the Cleveland Institute of Music, where his teachers encouraged him to take night work so that he could take a full load of music course during the day. This is where we find him in 1936, after deciding that it would be more time-effective to be a composer, that striving to become a professional pianist was impossible while holding down a job.

He would eventually study in Paris with Nadia Boulanger until the war forced him to return to the States and languish for several years until his first symphony (based on the Langston Hughes poem The Negro Speaks of Rivers) was performed at Carnegie Hall. He achieved fame in New York and was able to return to to Europe to continue his studies.
In virtually all of his compositions, Swanson worked within the conventional forms of classical music, but he was able to infuse them with a personal style grounded in African American traditions. - New Georgia Encyclopedia

Monday, January 25, 2010

Noble Sissle

Noble Sissle (July 10, 1889 – December 17, 1975) was born in Indianapolis, and moved with his family to Cleveland in 1906 when his father became minister of Cory Methodist Church at E. 35th & Scovill. At the age of seventeen he attended Central High where he played baseball and football, and sang with the glee club.
During World War I, Sissle entered the Army and became the drum major of an Army band that caused a sensation in France by playing a form of ragtime music. The 369th Infantry Band, led by Lt. James Reese Europe, began calling itself a "jazz band." Reese’s Army band not only helped popularize the new music among U.S. soldiers, but it was the first exportation of jazz, America’s new art form. Sissle said at the time, "The jazz germ hit France and it spread everywhere" they went. - Joe Mosbrook, Jazzed in History
Mosbrook also credits Sissle with discovering Sidney Bechet, and being part of a vaudeville act with Eubie Blake. Sissle composed the classic tune I'm Just Wild About Harry, and three years before The Jazz Singer created a short film with Blake called A Phonofilm that was first shown at the Palace Theatre in December, 1923. He had a history of breaking racial barriers, working clubs that had previously hired only all-white ensembles.

In 1935 Sissle hired a young chorus girl from the Cotton Club to sing with his Franco-Harlem Revue, and she was singing for them when they played in Cleveland for a week in October, 1936. Her name was Lena Horne.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Edward VIII & Mrs. Simpson

There was a time we may have had an American Queen of England. 

Okay, not really. But wouldn't it be nice to think so? 

Following the death of his father, King George V, Edward Albert Christian George Andrew Patrick David Windsor (though his friends all called him David) ascended the throne of England on January 20, 1936. 

He more famously abdicated on December 11. Though he was quite a popular man as Prince of Wales, beloved especially by the working classes, no one it seems could stand his lover, the twice-divorced American Wallis Simpson. This did not stop some unfortunate producers from creating the worst musical I have ever seen, based on this subject matter. 

Always debuted at the Victoria Palace Theatre in Spring, 1997 where my wife and I caught it during previews. The review in the Sunday Times included my favorite headline for the theater review ever; Wallis and Vomit. As suggested in on the musical-oriented website Record Cabinet:
By the time "Always" surfaced, attitudes to the royal family were drastically changing, and were indeed to be further affected by the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, later that year. And this perhaps is the show's mistake - its 'ultimate love story' is about two apparently selfish, uninspiring and uninteresting people for whom it is impossible to feel sympathy.
Though even during intermission I scoffed at the idea of buying on the CDs they were hawking, I soon regretted that decision as I had no proof to offer any one as to what I had experienced. In the past several years I began searching on eBay - but it was my brother in London who found it first on (duh) 

And oy, it's all naff. 

This contemptuous attitude springs no doubt from the negative taint David left on the monarchy, though his grand-nephew Charles could show him a thing our two about rehabilitating one's reputation. 

However, if people think you are shallow enough to abandon monarchy for love - and spend the rest of your life living shallowly and, it must be mentioned, for example, being seen socially with Hitler ... well, maybe you were a dick in the first place. And not the proper subject for a romantic, entirely unironic musical.

For the first time ever, Time Magazine gave its Man of the Year award (1936) to a woman, Mrs. Wallis Simpson. This may have been because she had a penis.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

The Man Who Cannot Die

The Phantom was introduced to an unsuspecting newspaper reeading public in February, 1936. He was the first comic superhero to feature a skin-tight costume and a mask that does not show eye pupils. His origins are arcane and difficult to understand.

His parents were murdered right in front of him and he develops a fierce desire to fight evil dressed as a bat. No? He was bitten by a radioactive spider. No? How about this - he is the decendant of a 16th century sea captain who was murdered by pirates, and his birthright is to retain the tradition of emulating an African god that strikes fear into the hearts of the unrighteous with his pistols, his pet wolf, and rings he uses either to scar his victims or mark his friends as a warning to those who would harm them.

No, he has no powers, but intellect, cunning and - what? No, no one killed his parents in front of him, his 19xGreat-Grandfather was killed by pirates and - what? No, he is American, sort of, but he lives in Africa in Skull Cave and - what? Yes, I said a wolf. He also has a horse. And an elephant.

Yeah, there was a movie starring Billy Zane, this was before Titanic.

Apparently there was some controversy regarding the color of his costume, which everyone knows is purple. Except it was in black and white until 1939, and even then different countries gave him different colors. His outfit was even described as gray in the text on numerous occasions.


Friday, January 22, 2010

Hunt Fiend In 4 Decapitations

Once upon a time I was the artistic director of a late-night theater project at Dobama Theatre. Trying to decide what slate of original projects to create for the second season, I shared with my boss, Joyce, the artistic director of the theater proper, the idea of making a musical out of the Kingsbury Run murders.

We could call it TORSO! THE MUSICAL!

It was a joke. I made her actually gasp. But seriously ... it was a joke. Five years later, the Play House actually produced a musical about the Kingsbury Run murders. There is no satire any more, just cheese.

The first historical record of a decapitated body dumped into that ancient stream bed called Kingsbury Run was in November ... 1905. By 1935 we can deduce that the person who would eventually be called the Cleveland Torso Murderer (tm) would be no less than fifty years old.

We know this. An unidentified woman washed ashore in Beulah Park in September, 1934. Coroner Arthur J. Pearce said the expert level of butchery suggested that it was done by a medical expert. He later admitted the cutting was no, in fact, that professionally done.

In early 1936 the dismemberment of Florence Pollilo was described as "expertly" done by Coroner Pearce, except for the gashes to the pelvic area. Otherwise, only a professional could have severed a human like that. Her head was never found, unlike Edward Andrassy's head, they found that. They also found his penis, but that was in a can some yards away.

Unlike the "Tatooted Man" found on June 5, 1936, three days before the Republican National Convention began. His genitals were un-mutilated. For your interest, a "death mask" of his head was put on display at the Great Lakes Exposition but never identified - in spite having been viewed by thousands. They still have this plaster mask at the Cleveland Police Museum.

By this time the media was lumping all of these disparate murders together, and calling for action. Eliot Ness remained silent, leaving his detectives to do their work. By September, and the discovery of a "7th victim" he began to be more public in his assessment of what was happening. Thankfully, they could blame marihuana for the madness.
"There is a plentiful supply of this deadly weed in Cleveland" - Michael J. Collegeman, head of the local Federal Narcotics Bureau.
... to be continued.

Source: John Stark Bellamy II, The Maniac in the Bushes: More True Tales of Cleveland Crime and Disaster

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Ruth McKenney

Saw Harvey Pekar at the library this morning, he was perusing the for-sale racks. Went over, said "hi," he had that look again which either means, "who are you?" or "are you going to bother me?" I asked if he knew anything about labor unrest in the 30s and he said that's really not his area.

But then he told me about Ruth McKenney, who is probably best-known today for her book My Sister Eileen, which was adapted into the musical Wonderful Town. What fewer people know today is that she was a reporter for the Akron Beacon-Journal and wrote the book Industrial Valley about the Akron rubber strike of 32-36.
In 1939 Industrial Valley came out to an outcry from Akron community leaders. Akron evangelist Bill Denton urged the Chamber of Commerce to file suit in the federal court, saying the book was full of "profanity, slander and communistic tendencies." That same year, the book won an honorable mention in the non-fiction category at the American Writer's Congress. - Akron Women's History
I imagine the book did have communistic tendencies, as she was a Communist.

LATER: "Industrial Valley" is sitting on one of our bookshelves. Just sitting there. I love this house.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Mayor Burton

Harold Hitz Burton (June 22, 1888 – October 28, 1964) served as the 45th mayor of Cleveland, Ohio, a member of the United States Senate and later Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. He was known as a dispassionate jurist who prized equal justice under the law. - Wikipedia
Bipartisanship is a quaint ideal. Burton was an Ohio State Representative and then law director of Cleveland before being elected as Mayor in 1935, running as a Republican. He held that position until 1941 when he was elected to the U.S. Senate where he met and befriended Truman. Harry S. made him a Supreme Court Justice in 1945.

As the 45th mayor of the city, he has been credited with rooting out organized crime and his pious public demeanor gained him the nickname the "Boy Scout Mayor."
When Burton became mayor of Cleveland in 1935, the city was infested with underworld mobs, riddled with police graft. He appointed young Eliot Ness safety director, started a clean-up which had spectacular results. One racketeer it dredged up was Albert Ruddy, who this week was convicted of shaking down building contractors for thousands of dollars during his 20-year reign as a union tsar. Burton earned for Cleveland, once a city shamed by its record of traffic deaths, the National Safety Award in 1939 and 1940. He turned his attention to public health, and this year Cleveland won the National Health Award. He has fought for free speech and tolerance. To Cleveland this year went the National Civil Liberties Award. - Time Magazine, Oct. 1940
He secured over $40 million in federal funds towards relief assistance, and championed Cleveland as a convention center - the Great Lakes Exposition and the Republican National Convention occurred under his watch.

I find it difficult to imagine he initiated those events, as they occurred in the first full year of his term.

Additional Soucres:
Ohio History Central
Encyclopedia of Cleveland History

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Bob Feller

Robert William Andrew "Bob" Feller (born November 3, 1918 in Van Meter, Iowa), nicknamed the "Heater from Van Meter", "Bullet Bob" and "Rapid Robert", is an American former Major League Baseball pitcher. He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962. - Wikipedia
It has been suggested {{weasel}} that Feller could throw well over 100 mph. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1962, the same year as Jackie Robinson, about whom Feller famously said - in 1947 - that "baseball doesn't need black players." By the early 60s, however, he had apparently changed his mind (whew) and stated he was proud to be inducted with Mr. Robinson. In spite of this, he - like many other players - made money during the off-season by barnstorming, and often played with Negro League players, including future team-mate Satchel Paige.

Feller played for one team for his entire 18 year professional career. Some players used to do that. His debut was on July 19, 1936, against the Washington Senators at League Park, when he threw 15 strikeouts. He was 17 years-old, and graduated from high school the following spring.

Side note: The Indians began playing at the new Cleveland Municipal Stadium in 1932, but by 1933 so many fans had complained about the size of the outfield, the resumed play at League Park except for Sundays and holidays.

More trivia, and this is pretty topical given recent news - Feller came out against Mark McGwire ever being inducted in the Hall of Fame, stating in 2006, "I know a bum when I see one."

And also for the record - Bob Feller is one of two baseball players to have candy bars named after them. The other was Reggie Jackson. It's a good bar bet.


Monday, January 18, 2010

The Torso Murders and Wikipedia

From the Wikpedia Cleveland Torso Murderer entry:
During the time of the "official" murders, Eliot Ness was the Public Safety Director of Cleveland - a position known in other cities as police commissioner. Ness was unsuccessful in the investigation, and despite his history of the capture of Al Capone, Ness's career as a detective ended shortly after the murders stopped. Because of what was seen as Ness' failure to capture the killer, it has been said that Eliot Ness was the Torso Murderer's 13th "victim".
"It has been said," indeed. Poetic, but false.

"The Public Safety Director had supreme authority over municipal law enforcement and ancillary services." (Paul Heimel, Eliot Ness: The Real Story) He was in charge of the police and fire departments, a responsibility broader than that of Police Commissioner. He was not a "detective" and though he was called upon to make comments about the so-called Mad Butcher it was not his "case."

Ness' career as Safety Director ended four years after the last in this series of murders ended in 1938. Following a few years of slipping popularity, on March 5, 1942 Ness was responsible for a hit-and-run accident. Witnesses suggest he had been drinking earlier that evening, yet Ness did not formally resign until April 30.

Some may say his increased use of alcohol may have been caused by his failure to catch the Mad Butcher. But his career path, though maybe a little tragic, is kind of ordinary.

LATER: I tried to clean it up a bit. How does this sound?
During the time of the "official" murders, Eliot Ness was the Public Safety Director of Cleveland, who has authority over the police department and ancillary services, including the fire department. Ness was unsuccessful in the investigation, and despite his history of the capture of Al Capone, Ness's career as a detective ended four years after the murders stopped because of a hit and run accident he was involved in that had nothing to do with these murders.
No? I'll keep working at it.

EVEN LATER: I love Wikipedia. Someone already polished my prose and removed the last bit about the hit-and-run accident ... which is fine by me, the accident is irrelevant. Trying to suggest these murders are what ended Ness' career is also a fun party game.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Father Coughlin

And while we're on the subject ...

Father Charles Edward Coughlin, a Canadian-born priest, and once a supporter of FDR's, famously turned against him and campaigned against him in 1936. On July 16 he was the final speaker before a convention at Public Hall. What began as a calm, reserved speech escalated into a feverish screed, where he had to undo his clerical collar and take off his jacket. He denounced the money-changers of the Federal Reserve, and the crowd of ten thousand stood in admiration as he championed his own National Union for Social Justice:
As far as the National Union is concerned, no candidate who is endorsed for Congress can campaign, go electioneering for, or support the great betrayer and liar, Franklin D. Roosevelt....I ask you to purge the man who claims to be a democrat from the Democratic Party—I mean Franklin Double-Crossing Roosevelt.
The culmination of the first convention of the NUSJ was held before 42,000 supporters at Municipal Stadium. Following his speech, where he called FDR a Communist (I mean, come on) he collapsed from exhaustion.

His Union Party nominated William Lemke for President, and after the 1936 election he descended further into Anti-Semetic rhetoric, expressing sympathy for Hitler and Mussolini, and championing American isolationism from World War II.

-David H. Bennett, Demagogues in the Depression: American Radicals and the Union Party, 1932-1936 (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1969)
-Karen G. Ketchaver, Father Charles E. Coughlin—The “Radio Priest” of the 1930

Saturday, January 16, 2010

The Plot Against America (book)

The godfather of all paranoid "what if" totalitarian-fetish fantasies remains Orwell's 1984. That story, set in the future, paints a picture of what life would be like if Communism came to England.

There are those (you know, folkies like Billy Bragg, for example, or hippies like Alan Moore) who would suggest that by the year 1984 totalitarianism had indeed come to Britain, though in this case it was Thatcher's "fascist" regime, and not the dreaded Commies. When one's party is out of power, one is given to hyperbole.

Unlike Orwell's novel, where the government of Big Brother was established some time in the past, It Can't Happen Here happens in the "present" dramatizing what it would be like for a fascist-like dictator to be elected President, leading up to that election, and then that which happens afterwards.

I can't remember which I read first, Sinclair Lewis' play (based on his own novel of the same name) or Philip Roth's The Plot Against America. Roth's book owes a great deal to the former novel, following a fictional past where Charles Lindbergh runs for President in 1940 and defeats the two-term FDR. In addition to social programs which oppress Jewish Americans, the suggestion Roth makes is that by having an Anti-Semitic President will embolden a large part of our population to openly express the contempt for Jews which has always simmered unspoken.

What strikes me as interesting is that if, for example, we elected a Jewish President, even today, whether that pot wouldn't boil over, anyway. I mean, no one would call it bigotry, no one is bigoted anymore, but a Jewish American President would have to be a Socialist, wouldn't he or she? I mean, that wouldn't be the America we grew up with, would it? That's not our America.

I digress.

The act of witnessing the destruction of America, of imagining it, of describing jack-booted thugs marching down Main Street, taking our guns, pressing our children into service, throwing bricks through store windows of the opposition, pulling people from their homes in the middle of night - or even during the day ... from It Can't Happen Here to The Plot Against America, it makes for great drama. The thrill you get, like watching a great horror film, imagining your own death, it's almost a human need.

Little surprise these morbid thrills have become such big business.

Friday, January 15, 2010

The People's Theatre

The People's Theatre was a short-lived workers' theater established in Cleveland during the Depression. Modeled after New York's Theatre Union and Workers Laboratory Theatre, it was begun by Howard Da Silva, a native Clevelander who had returned after being raised and trained in New York. The Peoples Theatre made its debut ca. July 1935 with the first Cleveland production of Clifford Odets's strike drama, "Waiting for Lefty". After 2 more programs of proletarian plays given before predominantly union audiences, it opened its own theater in a former club at 4300 Carnegie Ave. on 23 Dec. 1935 with a production of Rudolf Wittenberg's anti-war play, "The Ostriches". Espousing the drama of social problems over that of escapism as its aim, it listed such names as Odets, Eva Le Gallienne, John Howard Lawson, and K. Elmo Lowe on its advisory board. The troupe of aspiring professionals and devoted amateurs gave at least 2 programs of one-act plays early in 1936, but Da Silva's return to New York left it without experienced leadership. "Class of `29", presented in Nov. of that year, was apparently its final production. - Encyclopedia of Cleveland History

Thursday, January 14, 2010

James Cleveland Owens

James Cleveland "Jesse" Owens (September 12, 1913 – March 31, 1980) was an American track and field athlete. He participated in the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin, Germany, where he achieved international fame by winning four gold medals: one each in the 100 metres, the 200 metres, the long jump, and as part of the 4x100 meter relay team.

Owens was named James Cleveland when he was born in Oakville, Alabama. "J.C.", as he was called, was nine when the family moved to Cleveland, Ohio, where his new schoolteacher gave him the name that was to become known around the world. The teacher was told "J.C." when she asked his name to enter in her roll book, but because of his Southern accent she thought he said "Jesse". The name stuck and he would be known as Jesse Owens for the rest of his life.

On the first day (of the 1936 Olympics) Hitler shook hands only with the German victors and then left the stadium. Olympic committee officials then insisted Hitler greet each and every medalist or none at all. Hitler opted for the latter and skipped all further medal presentations. On reports that Hitler had deliberately avoided acknowledging his victories, and had refused to shake his hand, Owens recounted:

When I passed the Chancellor he arose, waved his hand at me, and I waved back at him. I think the writers showed bad taste in criticizing the man of the hour in Germany.
He also stated:
"Hitler didn't snub me—it was FDR who snubbed me. The president didn't even send me a telegram."
Jesse Owens was never invited to the White House nor bestowed any honors by Presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR) or Harry S. Truman during their terms. - Wikipedia

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Eliot Ness

Eliot Ness (April 19, 1903 – May 16, 1957) was an American Prohibition agent, famous for his efforts to enforce Prohibition in Chicago, Illinois, as the leader of a legendary team of law enforcement agents nicknamed The Untouchables. - Wikipedia
"Famous for his efforts." It would be churlish to say he failed. Capone did, after all, go to prison - for tax evasion. The two individuals met once, Ness was head of the police detail which escorted Capone to the train that would take him away. There is no record of their exchanging any words.
Ness: "Did you ever think you wanted something more than anything else in the world and then, after you got it, it wasn't half as good as you expected? Has that ever happened to you?" - Eliot Ness: The Real Story
Ness is famous for another great failure. Departing him hometown of Chicago, he spent some time busting up stills and almost getting killed by hillbillies before becoming Cleveland's Safety Director in late 1935, responsible for overseeing the Police and Fire Departments. He was not a detective or a man on the street policeman, he was a political appointee with the responsibility of managing the safety of the sixth largest city in America.

Shortly before his tenure began, mutilated bodies were left, on occasion, around the city. They were eventually attributed one killer, the so-called Torso Murderer. Ness never caught this supposed serial killer, and there are those who claim this fact plagued him with doubt the rest of his life. Married three times and most likely infertile, Ness died a penniless alcoholic in Coudersport, PA. Like Ulysses Grant before him, he managed through a co-writer to squeeze out a biography before his death and it is that book that made it possible for him to be so popular, to this day, especially, it would seem, among hip-hop artists.

Of course, it is easy to simplify a man's life, someone else's life, just as it is to simplify a murder case - when you are looking for a particular narrative, you can bend the facts however you like. Ness was a successful Safety Director, bringing Cleveland up to the 1930s with modern police techniques that brought down crime and arguably improved the quality of life in the city.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Tell Your Children

Tell Your Children is a film directed by Louis Gasnier, a cautionary tale against evils of marihuana. The production was bankrolled by a church group to share with parents of young people, but soon after production it was purchased by producer Dwain Esper, and re-edited to highlight its more sensational aspects, to be released as an "exploitation" film.

The plot surrounds a den of dope-fiends who draw innocent young teenagers into their circle, and they all fall into a depraved spiral of non-consensual sex, hit-and-run accidents, murder, spastic boogie-woogie piano and insanity.

Tell Your Children
may have had its roots in good intentions, but the script and performances are so unintentionally over-the-top that it is just hilarious, whether you are stoned or not. By presenting it as an "educational film", Esper was able to skirt the Hayes Code.

The film fell into obscurity until the 1970s when it was discovered in the Library of Congress by NORML activists and, as a copyright-free entity, was widely distributed through college campuses to the enjoyment of all. Like a lot of people my age, I saw it first on Night Flight.

It should be mentioned that it did not have the title Tell Your Children any longer once Esper bought the rights for it. He re-named it Reefer Madness.

Monday, January 11, 2010


Note: This is a scattershot collection of common vernacular from the period. Some of these words are racist, and some sexist, several are vulgar or potentially obscene and offensive. They are slang.

Most were found in a book from the 80s on American slang, and a few I found in It Can't Happen Here.
alligator: dude, jive
all reet: all right, jive
angel: homosexual
apple: any large town or city, jazz
balling: black; "fun"
the berries: the best
Big Apple: popular dance, late
big moment: sweetheart, lover
big school: jail, hoboes & underworld
big trouble: The Depression, hoboes
bitchy: good-looking, classy
blanket stiff: hobo
bindlestiff: hobo
bodgie: male jitterbug, jive
body and soul: lover
boog: to dance
boomer: ladies man
boondoggle: spend public funds lavishly
bring down the house
brown Abe: penny, jive
browned off: angered
builder-upper: anything that builds confidence,
burn one: draw a glass of beer
carpetbag: to make a good impression, students
carry a load: to be drunk
carry the torch: to love sufferingly
carve: to give a thrill, jive
chinchy: cheap, squalor, black
clinch: to hug
clotheshorse: fashionably dressed person
cool: to kill
cow: young woman
cow-simple: in love with women
creep: jerk
cut a rug: dance, jive
cut the cackle: knock it off (“It Can’t Happen Here”)
demon: a dime
doozie: some superior person or thing,
fall down and go boom: to tumble heavily
fall up: to stop by, black
flivver: cheap car (“It Can’t Happen Here”)
foolish powder: heroin
from hunger: unpleasant, contemptible
fruit: homosexual
fuzz: police, black
gasser: anything amusing
gay: fun (“It Can’t Happen Here”)
gay: homosexual
gee: a guy, a man
get/take a hinge at: to examine
get down to cases: talk seriously
G-man: FBI agent
goof: one's cellmate
gorilla: ruffian/hired killer
gormless: stupid, slow
grab-joint: carnival, place that sells souvenirs, food, etc.
groaner: crooner
gun: hypodermic needle
hardware: badges, id jewelry
have one's ass in a sling: to be in trouble
have it off: have sex with
hod: black passenger, racist
hooey: nonsense
hoosier: prison guard
Hooverville: slum of makeshift shacks
hotcha: expressions of pleasure
hot short: stolen car
hustle: hurry (“It Can’t Happen Here”)
icky: oversentimental
it: sex appeal
it girl: young woman with sex appeal
jam: to play spontaneously (music)
jeff: white person, black
jerk: idiot
jitterbug: swing dance, also swing enthusiast
jive: swing music
john: toilet
junker: junkie
just one of those things
lead-pipe cinch: a certainty
loafer: slacker (“It Can’t Happen Here”)
natural-born: innate, black
nervous Nellie: nervous person
nice work if you can get it: (often w/sexual overtones)
nod: on the ..., drug induced stupor
oomph: sexually attractive
on the cuff: on my bill (“It Can’t Happen Here”)
out: way to escape (that's your out)
parlor pink: mildy radical socialist, political liberal
payola: graft, bribery
percolate: to run smoothly, to stroll, relaxed
: (also, to perc or perk)
pet peeve: cherished annoyance
phooey: exclamation
pin (someone’s) ears back: punish someone
pink chord: mistake in improvising music
pitch (or fling) woo: kiss and caress
plonk: bad wine
poop: info, data
poop sheet: data, instructions
previous: tight, snug
prowl car: police car
punchy: exhibiting brain damage due to blows to the head
put (someone) in the picture: to fill them in on information
quick: tight, snug
rent party: where one’s friends buy drinks & food to help pay the rent
roach: butt of a joint
rocket: a complaint or rebuke
rub: hugging and kissing session
rusty dusty: buttocks
scare, the: extortion based on menace
scatter-joint: nightclub
schmaltz: blatant sentimentality
score: share of the loot
scratch: mention of one’s name in the media (esp when its useful)
screwball: eccentric person
scrud / double scrud: disease, painful (vd)
scuttlebutt: gossip
send up: parody
shag: to tease and harass
Shangri La: ideal place
shit hits the fan: trouble breaks out
shoot the works: get it done (“It Can’t Happen Here”)
short end of the stick
Shorty George: a jitterbug dance: also the Big Apple, the Shag, the Lindy Hop
shot in the arm: invigorating influence
shovel shit: to lie, exaggerate
skate: to avoid a debt
slab: bed
slay: to impress powerfully
slick chick: attractive woman
slugfest: a baseball game where a lot of base hits are made
smoke-eater: firefighter
solid: wonderful, remarkable
squeeze one: prepare a glass of o.j.
stick (one’s) neck out: risk something
stud: a stylish man
student: newly addicted
swing: musical style
swish: homosexual
take someone for a ride: murder by kidnapping/also the swindle
talkie: talking movie
that’s all someone needs: ironic statement
that way: in love (he was that way about her)
tight as Kelsey’s nuts: stingy
Tommy man: gangster with tommy gun
too much: overwhelming
tops: superior
clueless: ignorant late
trigger: gunman
truck: to dance the jitterbug
turf: the street
twenty-one: an order of lemon or limeade
twerp: jerk
two and a half: small glass of milk
unhep: uncool
unlax: relax
up the wall: crazy
vines: stylish clothing, suit
viper: marijuana dealer
wail: to play jazz well
way out: original and bold musician
whodunit: mystery
with: lunch counter, assumed accompaniment (two coffees with, to go)
with bells (knobs/tits) on: empahtically
wolf: sexually agressive man
wooden kimono: pine overcoat
woof: talk idly
worry wart: worries excessively
zombie: vacant, strange person

Sunday, January 10, 2010

It Can't Happen Here

Image result for it can't happen here cleveland
"It Can't Happen Here" is a semi-satirical political novel by Sinclair Lewis published in 1935. It features newspaperman Doremus Jessup struggling against the fascist regime of President Berzelius "Buzz" Windrip. In 1936, Lewis and John C. Moffitt wrote a stage version which is still produced. The stage version premiered on October 27, 1936 in several U.S. cities simultaneously, in productions sponsored by the Federal Theater Project. - Wikipedia

The play opened in 18 different cities, including a Cleveland production at the Carter Theater on East 9th Street, directed by Theodore Veihman. This production brought the story from Vermont to central Ohio, and included references to Akron and Cleveland.

 The three-week run featured the Federal Music Project Marching Band on its sold-out opening night, and critic William McDermott (no fan of the FTP) wrote in the Plain Dealer that the show "sometimes moves slowly, but it moves." - Showtime in Cleveland
"We Want to do 'It Can't Happen Here' because it is a play by one of our most distinguished American writers. We want to do it because it is a play about American life today, based on a passionate belief in American democracy.

The play says that when dictatorship comes to threaten such a democracy, it comes in a harmless guise, with parades and promises; but that when such dictatorship arrives, the promises are not kept and the parade grounds become encampments.

We want to do 'It Can't Happen Here' because, like Doremus Jessup and his creator, Sinclair Lewis, we, as American citizens and as workers in a theatre sponsored by the government of the United States, should like to do what we can to keep alive the 'free, inquiring, critical spirit' which is the center and core of a democracy."

- Hallie Flanagan
from "Free, adult, uncensored: The living history of the Federal Theatre Project"
Would you know a dictatorship coming if you saw one? I mean ... really?

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Governor Alfred M. Landon

The Republican convention in Cleveland that June reflected the divide within the party: The most rousing speech came from ex-president Herbert Hoover, who told the delegates that Roosevelt's second term would result in the "violence and outrage by which European despotisms have crushed all liberalism and all freedom." The Hoover speech, reported the Times the next day, produced "wild and uncontrollable bursts of frenzy" in the partisan audience.

But the Republican nominee, Governor Alfred M. Landon of Kansas, did not share Hoover's apocalyptic vision or his ability to whip up the crowd. Alf Landon, a forty-eight year-old oilman who had built his reputation on fiscal austerity, was the only Republican governor to win election in the West in 1932, and he repeated the feat two years later. He planned to attack the Roosevelt administration for overspending. But Landon was a bland candidate in every respect: a man of medium height with gray eyes behind rimless glasses. Although he was privately charming, his speech was flat and drawling and he had no gift for oratory. Father Coughlin, who should know, once described Landon as "a most honest man but the most colorless candidate in the history of the United States."
- Furious Improvsation: Hpw the WPA and a Cast of Thousands Made High Art out of Desperate Times, p. 129-130
It should be noted that, in an attempt not to appear like a demigod, Landon accepted the nomination of his party in absentia on 11 June. Does this mean he was not even in Cleveland, at all, for the convention?

Friday, January 8, 2010

Sam Wanamaker

Sam Wanamaker was born in Chicago on 14 June 1919.

His first job in the theatre was acting in Shakespeare, ironically in a representative Globe which was one of the highlights of the Great Lakes’ World Fair (sic) in Cleveland, Ohio. This early experience significantly influenced his entire career.

In 1949 Sam paid his first visit to the UK to star in (a) film.
- Shakespeare's Globe
Check the provided link for additional info on Sam and his cv, especially his British cv. The significance of his first visit to London, following his formative experiences in Cleveland, have become ensconced in myth.

He had apparently developed a burning desire to see the original theater where Shakespeare's plays had been performed, or what reconstruction thereof had been created to commemorate it. Shocked to discover that not only were there no functioning, or even non-functional Globe-like structure anywhere in the City, there was also merely a blackened plaque on the wall of a brewery to mark that Shakespeare's or anyone else's theater had even been near there.

And so began the almost fifty year drive of this Chicago-born, Cleveland-trained, Hollywood-employed and Washington-blacklisted, American theater artist to recreate a legitimate, accurate, professional recreation of Shakespeare's Globe Theatre. None would argue that due to his efforts, Shakespeare's Globe (which celebrates it's fourteen season this year - which was as long as the original Globe existed before burning to the ground) opened in the summer of 1997.

Wanamaker died in 1993.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Howard Da Silva

He was born Howard Silverblatt in Cleveland, Ohio, the son of Benjamin and Bertha Silverblatt. His parents were both Yiddish speaking Jews born in Russia. He had a job as a steelworker before beginning his acting career on the stage. He changed his surname to the Portuguese Da Silva, despite not having any relationship with Portugal. - Wikipedia
Da Silva was not involved with the Old Globe Theatre, though one of my earlier treatments of the subject puts him there. By 1937 he has moved to New York, joining the company of Orson Welles' infamous production of The Cradle Will Rock as well as the original production of Oklahoma! Like Wanamaker, he was blacklisted during the HUAC era. I know him mostly as Ben Franklin in the film version of 1776, a role he originated on Broadway.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Old Globe Theatre

Showtime in Cleveland: The Rise of a Regional Theater Center by John Vacha has a section on the Old Globe Theatre exhibit at the Great Lakes Exposition. There were approximately 30 actors employed for $15 a week, presenting six to eight of these performances (which ran 30 minutes to an hour) every day.

The repertoire included Julius Caesar, The Taming of the Shrew, The Comedy of Errors, As You Like It, A Midsummer Night's Dream and Henry VIII.

Henry VIII? WTF?

Reports suggest it was hard going early in the season, pulling in tiny audiences but by the end of the summer they were playing for hundreds of exposition visitors.

Now here's the weird thing ... I found an Old Globe facsimile playbill as I was cleaning my desk last month, and I have completely forgotten where I got it, I do not know if I printed it online, if someone dropped it off for me, or what, I simply cannot remember. But it does include a list of the company for some of the shows and I would like to follow-up on as many names as I can.

There are two stand-outs in the ensemble, from an historical perspective, including Arthur Kennedy, who went on to originate the role of Biff in Death of a Salesman and was also in the original production of The Crucible. David Wayne also went onto greater success in Broadway productions of Finian's Rainbow and Mr. Roberts.

And then there's young Sam Wanamaker, who at the age of seventeen played mostly "spearcarriers" even in these abbreviated productions. He would later act and direct in films, become a target of HUAC, and most notably establish Shakespeare's Globe Theatre in London.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Great Lakes Exposition

The Great Lakes Exposition was held in Cleveland, Ohio, in the summers of 1936 and 1937, along the Lake Erie shore north of downtown. The fair commemorated of the centennial of Cleveland's incorporation as a city. Conceived as a way to energize a city hit hard by the Great Depression, the exposition drew 4 million visitors in its first season, and 7 million by the end of its second and final season in September 1937. The exposition was housed on grounds that are now used by the Great Lakes Science Center, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and Burke Lakefront Airport, among others.
- Wikipedia
The Exposition featured a facsimile of The Globe Theatre, presenting a company of actors performing vastly scaled-down versions of Shakespeare's plays, including A Comedy of Errors, Julius Caesar, and others. These were, like, 45-minute adaptations. The Globe was featured in 1936 only.

Other References:
Sex, Celebrity & Carnival Charm (Cleveland Magazine, July 2006)
The Cool History of Cleveland

LATER: Prepped submission.

Monday, January 4, 2010


Assembling my library ... there were several volumes of Cleveland history I had picked up during the 1990s, the heyday of Cleveland history tomes, apparently. I already own the Encyclopedia of Cleveland History, the Encyclopedia of Cleveland Biography, and Fine Arts In Cleveland though I was unaware they were all created by the same people. Duh.

Flipping through Fine Arts in Cleveland: An Illustrated History (The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History, Vol 3) while the kids tumbled off to sleep is a refresher course in theater of the period, so instead I was opening my eyes to areas in which I am weaker, the art museum, the orchestra, and so on.

SEVERANCE, JOHN LONG (8 May 1863-16 Jan. 1936), industrialist. Born in Cleveland, he graduated from Oberlin College in 1885 and returned to Cleveland to work for Standard Oil. In 1899 he was instrumental in founding American Linseed Co., into which Cleveland Linseed was merged. In 1901 he organized and became president of Colonial Salt Co. His other business connections included serving as chairman of the board of Cleveland Arcade Co. and Youngstown Steel Door Co., and as director of Cleveland Trust Co. and Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co.

Philanthropically, he was president of the Cleveland Museum of Art and Musical Arts Association. Besides being a liberal benefactor to the art museum during his life, at his death he left it a collection valued at over $3 million. In 1929 he gave the city $1.5 million to build a concert hall for the Cleveland Orchestra; in 1930 increasing his donation to $2.5 million in memory of his wife, who died in 1929. Severance died childless in Cleveland and is buried in Lake View Cemetery.

- Encyclopedia of Cleveland History
He lived a block from my house, where the big-box-mall Severance Center now stands. His considerable art collection was donated to the museum, a grand fountain from the interior of his home is now a piece of exterior art near the Police Station. Fine Arts in Cleveland says he died penniless.

Looking forward to re-reading: IT CAN'T HAPPEN HERE (playscript)

Sunday, January 3, 2010

The Tens

For new year's we took the kids to a small party at the parents of an old schoolmate of the girl's. The place was here in town, just four couples, a lot of chat with a small army of kids making a constant cacophony upstairs. We found out later they were playing ZOMBIE for most of the night.

The plan was to leave early, but everything was going so well, neither of us wanted to leave before midnight, the kids got to stay up to watch the ball drop, a concept which was a little ominous to the boy; Why the countdown? Doesn't that happen before things get destroyed?

Early in the evening, the subject turned to local celebrity books and one man I had just been introduced to made a side comment to the other and I realized I was must be sitting between a local publisher and the son of a local TV personality.

Cleveland truly is a small city. And all the interesting people live in the Heights.

I spoke with the local book publisher about the play. He wasn't impressed with the subject - Cleveland in 1936. It won't sell. In order to attract an audience I would need to appeal to the nostalgia factor - how about a play about Cleveland in the 50s or 60s?

Of course, I am not obligated to sell this play, I merely need to write it.

He did make one very good point - the best way to reflect the times is to interview people who lived then ... and that is a problem. My parents were born the year before, in 1935. And they are turning 75 this year. How many sentient 90 year-olds can I find?

Do you have any suggestions?

LATER: Evening spent adapting previous work for submission.

Saturday, January 2, 2010


Two playwrights received fellowships this cycle, I had coffee with the other one on Wednesday night. We weren't planning world-playwriting-domination, he just happens to be the most-produced playwright in Cleveland, and I am in desperate need of professional guidance.

My time with him was extremely valuable, as I hoped it would be, I do hate going into meetings not knowing what the questions are but that's the thing, as much as I feel prepared to write my ass off this year, I do not have a list in front of me of all the other things you need to do to be a big, grown-up professional ... well, anything, really. I think I know, but I do not know from experience or guidance or anything. I like to ask people who know how to do things, I do not like to reinvent anything.

We discussed agents, agencies, publishing, how much of your house you can write off for taxes, software, hardware, Google alerts, conferences, local companies - and more!

Next: New Year's Eve and how everyone is a potential contact.

LATER: This is why you have a blog, people will tell you things - from Kevin:

-- ---------------------------
Here are five important things the IRS wants you to know about claiming the home office deduction.

1. Generally, in order to claim a business deduction for your home, you must use part of your home exclusively and regularly:
• As your principal place of business, or
• As a place to meet or deal with patients, clients or customers in the normal course of your business, or
• In the case of a separate structure which is not attached to your home, it must be used in connection with your trade or business

For certain storage use, rental use or daycare-facility use, you are required to use the property regularly but not exclusively.

2. Generally, the amount you can deduct depends on the percentage of your home that you used for business. Your deduction for certain expenses will be limited if your gross income from your business is less than your total business expenses.

3. There are special rules for qualified daycare providers and for persons storing business inventory or product samples.

4. If you are self-employed, use Form 8829, Expenses for Business Use of Your Home, to figure your home office deduction. Report the deduction on line 30 of Schedule C, Form 1040.

5. Different rules apply to claiming the home office deduction if you are an employee. For example, the regular and exclusive business use must be for the convenience of your employer.

For more information see IRS Publication 587, Business Use of Your Home, available on or by calling 800-TAX-FORM (800-829-3676).

Link: Publication 587, Business Use of Your Home

Friday, January 1, 2010

The Fellowship Year

Happy New Year. My name is David Hansen, I am a playwright living in Cleveland Heights, Ohio, and I have too many blogs.

I could have chosen - I still could, I guess - to keep one, all-encompassing "I am David Hansen" blog. I could write about all of my various projects and there would always be something new, a new post every day. Maybe more than one a day.

But I decided a long time ago that the people who want to read about running marathons may be turned off by the talk about stillbirth, and that those interested in perinatal demise may not be in the mood for vampires. So every time I have embarked on a new project, I start a new blog. This is colossal time-waster. But welcome to the Internet.

This blog is dedicated to my work as Creative Workforce Fellow, endowed by the Community Partnership for Arts and Culture to pursue my career as a playwright.

Details to follow.