Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Miles Davis

Sam Firsten opened Cleveland's own Cotton Club in June, 1954 at the corner of East 4th Street and Huron, featuring local son Jimmy Scott as emcee. The joint was established to showcase local jazz ensembles, though within a year Firsten was also booking national acts.

In November 1955 Firsten brought in the Modern Jazz Quartet, featuring Miles Davis and Teddy Wilson, not only to play night gigs but also Sunday matinees for teenagers - soda pop only, thank you. At this stage in his career, Miles Dewey Davis III (May 26, 1926 – September 28, 1991) had only recently kicked heroin, a plague which was currently affecting peers such as Sonny Rollins, Dexter Gordon and Art Blakey.

It has been suggested that touring the Midwest made it easier to stay away from drugs and from the hustling he had been engaged in during the early 50s to pay for his habit. The soda pop did not hurt.

Jazzed in Cleveland (Joe Mosbrook)

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

On the Waterfront

On the Waterfront was directed by Elia Kazan and starred Marlon Brando as a dock worker who acts as a whistleblower against elements of organized crime among longshoremen. In 1954 this film, its director, leading actor and "Supporting Actress" (in a lead role) Eva Marie Saint won Academy Awards for their work.

In 1952 Kazan had testified before the House Committee on Un-American Activities and named eight members of the Group Theatre who had been Communist Party members or sympathizers during the Depression. This act was part inspiration for Arthur Miller's The Crucible, and led to Kazan's being ostracized from the Hollywood community for the rest of his career.

In 1999 Kazan received a lifetime achievement award, which was fairly controversial event as many members of the motion picture community, including plenty who did not live through the events in question, chose to sit and not applaud.

Many have suggested that this slighting of Kazan was inappropriate, especially as Hollywood warmly welcomed Charlie Chaplin home for a lifetime achievement award after years of exile as a result of the Red Scare. As Los Angeles film critic Kenneth Thran put it, "We applauded when the great Chaplin finally had his hour. It’s now time for Elia Kazan."

Because having a personal political philosophy is exactly the same as identifying others' political philosophies before a hostile government committee. But I sarcastically digress.

Kazan chose this project in response to his own persecution by those who judged his actions, not least of whom his collaborative partner, Arthur Miller. Marlon Brando as failed boxer Terry Malloy, doing odd jobs for a corrupt union boss, gently tending his flock of pigeons, is a troubled and sympathetic figure, raising pigeons and trying to get by. The most familiar, oft-imitated line is "I coulda been a contender," but it's what Brando says next -- the plaintive, "I coulda been somebody" -- that rings mournfully in my ears. Terry's decision, after he witnesses a murder, to testify in court against the union bosses, is the central conflict of the movie.

How this down-and-out lug daring to finger murderous gangsters compares with the artistically and financially successful Kazan identifying those who never committed a crime, I don't know. But we all like to think of ourselves as the underdog. Especially the gangsters, you know?


Monday, August 29, 2011

Potter Village


Potter Village is the neighborhood within the seven connected streets of Castleton, St. Albans, Boynton, Radcliffe, Haselton, Woodridge and Edison (in the area between Monticello and Taylor). The name “Potter Village” comes from the fact that this neighborhood was once the location of a large farm owned by a family named Potter.

Beginning in 1923, the area was redeveloped into a residential neighborhood. At that time, the developer described it as “one of the most beautiful sections of the Heights.” Nevertheless, the neighborhood was mostly unpopulated until the late 1930s and early 1940s.

Today, almost 90 years after the establishment of the area as a residential neighborhood, these quiet tree-lined streets remain “one of the most beautiful” places in Cleveland Heights.
- Jim Goodluck, Potter Village Good Neighbor Association
Potter Village is not to be confused with Forest Hill, that expanse of land between Cleveland heights and East Cleveland which was once the domain of John D. Rockefeller -- home of Forest Hill Park and the Historic Heights Rockefeller Building ... Speaking of which, have you been to Rockefeller's for a cocktail or an intimate dinner yet? You should.

Whenever I mention where I live, someone invariably asks if its part of Forest Park, and I have to report that no, I live adjacent to Forest Hill in the less-fashionable South Of Monticello District ... or "SOMO." That was before our neighbor Jim discovered the neighborhood already has a name.

In 2009 after the collapse of the housing market and just before our eldest was about to start first grade, my wife took it upon herself to put out a call to the neighborhood to have a block party. At that time there were foreclosed or abandoned houses two yards to our left, three yards to our right, two across the street and two on the other side of our backyard fence. We wanted to know who our neighbors were, and at that time we'd been here almost sixteen years and really didn't know.

It's two years later. Last weekend we held our third annual Castleton-Potter Village block party with all of our friendly neighbors and friends. All those houses I mentioned now have people in them. Our youngest starts first grade in a week. The world spins.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Artist McGaw Sketches Federal Players

"It Can't Happen Here"
Cleveland Press, Wednesday, October 28, 1936
Artist: John McGaw

... why does everyone look so creepy?

Thursday, August 25, 2011


The Poets' League of Greater Cleveland was founded in 1974, to raise awareness of Cleveland area poets, and to support their endeavors. By the 90s they had expanded to include efforts of all literary writers, and became The Poets' and Writers' League of Greater Cleveland.

Excuse me for being a snark at this point in history, but who was the literary genius who gave a thumbs-up to the unwieldy monicker Poets' and Writers' League of Greater Cleveland? In 2007 the name was changed to something with more a satisfying mouthfeel -- The LIT. Soon after, the (former) PWLGC journal Ohio Writer was relaunched as MUSE.

For the first few issues of MUSE, LIT director Judith Mansour commissioned artists to create striking cover graphics, and invited local writers to write an introductory essay inspired by this image. I was asked to create something to compliment the July 2008 cover.

The image featured above is The Field Trip (Ancient Offering) by Thomas Frontini.
"Thomas Frontini's oil paintings are based on the premise that no matter how we may change and advance technologically, human consciousness is stuck in instinctual traps. Since this sad fact dooms man to a never-ending cycle of repeating past mistakes, Frontini translates dreamlike visions into parables of warning." - Elenore Welles, ArtScene Monthly Digest
Yes, that's what I saw, though I wrote my piece before I did any research on the artist. I saw a beach, a panda, a bowl of artificial food product, and a blonde girl about my daughter's age holding a damaged doll. The assignment was due around Father's Day, and that was also an inspiration.

This is what I wrote:

Click to download a PDF.

After 37 years, due to "mounting financial obligations and a significant reduction in funding support from all sources," The LIT will dissolve, the responsibilities of its workshops programs and perhaps even MUSE to be assumed by the Cuyahoga County Public Library. More info in

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

"Doremus Jessup can never die."

Be a Corpo! Kick the crap out of somebody.

Now, if you have read the stage adaptation of It Can't Happen Here, you have most likely not read the one which was performed by the Federal Theatre Project as part of a cross-country effort to open the same show on the same night - October 27, 1936. That version was co-authored in great haste by Sinclair Lewis and John C. Moffitt. Lewis was unhappy with the outcome, and revised the script for publication.

Lewis' 1938 version (available from Dramatists Play Service) has sixteen characters, performed in six scenes spread across three acts.

The original 1936 version, presented in Cleveland at the Carter Theatre, features no less than 27 names characters as well as numerous extras, performed in fifteen scenes - most of them entirely different sets.

It is this version, one entirely impractical to stage as a full-production but entirely within our means as a staged reading, that we will present on Monday, October 24 beginning at 7 PM at the Cleveland Public Theatre.

At first I thought, what the hell, just do the later version. It is a tighter script, no doubt. But there are several strong artistic and practical reasons to stage the original version.

First of all, what a unique experience! An historic occasion deserves a little reach.

Second, it doesn't matter that there are more actors, a staged reading is easily double-cast.

Third, the revised edition streamlines the course of events, but leaves out a great deal of outrageous detail, including the decent into madness of President "Buzz" Windrip, and the fate of Pastor Paul Peter Prang, a character loosely-based on (or entirely meant to represent) Father Coughlin.


But the real selling point for me is the ending. The 1938 edit leaves Doremus Jessup and Eppingham Swan face to face, each certain to die very shortly, but a shining ray of hope hanging over the proceedings as his daughter and grandson safely pass into Canada. The original version was much more dire, with Jessup escaping a concentration camp to an unknown fate while the imprisoned Prang prays over the dying form of a fellow inmate, while at the same time its Jessup's daughter Mary who holds the gun on Swan, allowing her boy to escape.

The 1938 revision is more Hollywood. The original 1936 version is much more interesting, inspiring, and non-traditional, and by that I mean less obvious macho bullshit. The original script is a big, beautiful, sprawling mess. And I think it's better that way. And that's what we're going to do.

All images from one of the New York City productions of "It Can't Happen Here," 1936.
Franklin D. Roosevelt Library & Museum

Sunday, August 21, 2011

I Dreamed of Rats

Terence Cranendonk
"I Dreamed of Rats"

For the past several years, artists have been leaning on the boundaries of live performance by creating interactive or intimate theatrical events, plays where the audience either has a (sometimes very limited) choice in the manner in which they observe or engage with the performance, or are made part of the performance itself in some creative fashion.

One of the most recent, much-ballyhooed productions in 2011 has been the arrival in New York City of Punchdrunk’s Sleep No More, in which an entire hotel is the setting for a remake of Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Emphasis is placed little on the text, and more on the mood and atmosphere. Audience members wear masks, watching as actors murder, party and have sex right in front of them -- and the audience is permitted to get as close to the action as they like (so long as they don’t touch anyone.) One review noted how audience members would pick up things to look at them, like discarded letters, or rummage through cabinets or cases, and discover something relevant everywhere they did.

Over ten years ago I heard of the Neo-Futurists staging their version of Crime and Punishment, where every participant (audience member?) was handed a portable cassette tape player -- like I said, over ten years ago -- and had to follow whatever instructions were given them through their headphones. Which room to walk to next, whether to act as accused or judge. Each audience member went in on their own, though they may find themselves in a room with another audience member, whom they most likely did not know, playing their part in that moment’s scenario.

Nick, Denny & I

Nick, my brother Denny and I joined the audience of Voice-In-Head at the Theatre Garage during the 2003 Minnesota Fringe which followed the same model only with absurdist results. We had minidisc players (things change) and were given instructions to carry out throughout the proceedings. My brother told a surprisingly funny joke, considering he is very bad at telling stories, and Nick apparently had two minutes to tell the audience anything he wanted, and chose to praise me and my overwhelming talent and general goodness, and that if everyone that night saw just one more show the the Minnesota Fringe, it had better be I Hate This, which was opening the next evening.

I didn’t hear any of this, my brother asked me later if that embarrassed me or if I was moved or anything because I had this frozen mask on my face the entire time Nick was lauding my glory. I had to admit that for the entire two minutes this was going on I was receiving complicated instructions about how it was soon necessary for me to leap up, swirl around the room and deliver the worst fake-Shakespearean monologue I could muster.

Even more recently, the concept of salon performances have swept the theater world. Not simply the type of play where actors perform for an audience of one (although that is also a big deal deal right now) but situations where an actor or small company holds a performance in their own home.

The first I became aware of such an idea was in the early 90s when I first learned of Wallace Shawn’s The Fever which he introduced to select audiences in an apartment near Seventh Avenue. Wow. That’s exclusive, I thought. I wonder who was there. Given the opportunity to experience such a thing, I would not pass it up. Strange that I never had the nerve to do it myself.

Because really, I feel there is an emotional leap required to attempt such a thing, even know that it has become en vogue. And it has to be artistically requisite. A solo performance, sure, but that seems arrogant in the extreme. I have thrown a party where you have to sit quietly while I talk about me for an hour. A narcissist’s wet dream.

Last year I attended a performance of Kirk Wood Bromley’s It Was a Set-Up … performed for an audience of 20 in his living/dining room in Gowanus, Brooklyn. It was an open, advertised performance, but only if you had a reservation would you receive the address. A play for three, a domestic drama, it was perfectly suited to the realist, well, real space and the confined proximity to the performers.

Yes, it took me twenty years to find and attend a salon performance.

A few weeks back my wife and received a Facebook invitation to Terence Cranendonk’s I Dreamed of Rats. Terry has been working on this piece for over fifteen years, a one-hour, solo adaptation of Gogol's The Inspector General. We attended last night, arriving just in time, at his lovely home in Akron, and joined an audience of eight for a startlingly good event. Terry has always been a member of the physical theater, and he is a joy to watch in performance. Surprise is humor, and his work consistently leaves me surprised and delighted.

And, as most nourishing artistic experiences do, last night’s event left me hungry, wondering what I will do next to fill it.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

It Will Happen Here

1936 Cleveland Production, Carter Theatre

Last week the good folks at Cleveland Public Theatre were appraised of a special event with Cleveland historical significance -- theaters around the nation are celebrating the 75th anniversary of the Federal Theatre Project’s nationwide opening of It Can’t Happen Here, the stage adaptation of the 1935 best-selling novel by Sinclair Lewis.

Brief background: The prove the scope of the Federal Theatre was capable of, and of its organizational abilities, it was suggested that a large number of participating theater across the nation open the exact same play on the exact same night. Why this particular play?
“Because it is a play about American life today, based on a passionate
belief in American democracy.”
- Hallie Flanagan, Federal Theatre Director
Enough said. The synopsis is simple enough; the good people of the United States, in dire economic straits, elect an attractive, populist senator as
President of the United States, who immediately begins a number of social programs which we might recognize as Fascist (see: Mussolini, Hitler.) Newspaper are closed, unions are centralized by the federal government. The entire story is told from the perspective of a small town in Vermont, and how these changes affect the citizens there.

In presenting the work is 21 different theaters in 18 cities across the nation, each theater was encouraged to adapt the work to their locale, so long as the design did not strain to emulate specific persons or political parties.
“Avoid all controversial issues … Our business is wholly a job of theatre.” - Federal Theatre Policy Statement
Good luck with that.

It Can’t Happen Here opened on October 27, 1936 in Cleveland at the Carter Theatre (redubbed “Federal Theatre”) at East 9th and Prospect in downtown Cleveland, kitty-corner from the Gateway, exactly where Marvel/Disney has been blowing up cars and buildings just this past week. The run was so successful it was sold out for three weeks and only closed because a children’s puppet show was scheduled to take its place in December.

Last week Cleveland Public Theatre contacted me to direct the staged reading scheduled for Monday, October 24, 2011 to celebrate this anniversary, and I was only too happy to get involved. I will provide details of the event as it develops.

This reading will be free and open to the public.

Photo from the Cleveland production.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Adventures of Mental-Man

Action Comics #196 (Sept. 1954)

Circulation at the Daily Planet is down, and gruff but loveable editor Perry White orders Lois Lane to create a comic strip. Now, while asking your star reporter to draft a comic strip makes as much sense as, I don't know, asking your classical music critic to start reviewing plays, the connection here might not seem odd to your average comic book reader. After all, Brenda Starr, Reporter had been a successful daily strip since 1940 -- and was even created by a woman, Dale Messick.

Of course, few knew Dalia "Dale" Messick was a woman at first, she changed her name to conceal that fact. She and Lois may have gotten along just fine. If Lois was a real person. I digress.

So, Lois sits down to write and draw a daily strip. The main character is Mental-Man, a hero with supernatural mental abilities! And he has a girlfriend named Laura Lovely, whom she draws to look exactly like herself! Good Lord! That is really ... embarrassing!

A comic strip about a superhero inside a comic book. Could have called him Meta-Man. Get it? See what I did ... there ...


After not too long, a real Mental-Man appears and asks Lois to marry him.

However, the entire "real" Mental-Man thing was a ruse to trick some actual villains who were planning to do bad things to the world. Working behind the scenes with Superman, Mental-Man was actually Aquaman in disguise ... because it was necessary to ... uhm ... fuck with Lois' head?

The 50s was a really bad time for superhero comic books.

Nice box.

Gay For Lois Lane

New Domain


Monday, August 15, 2011

Tonight With Steve Allen

The program Tonight With Steve Allen debuted on September 27, 1954, featuring bandleader Skitch Henderson and announcer Gene "Match Game" Rayburn. Allen shared hosting duties with Ernie Kovacs beginning in 1956 and the show was later helmed by Jack Parr beginning in 1957. This NBC late night talk show continues to this day under the more recognizeable name The Tonight Show, though the element of comedy Allen originally introduced to the show is no longer present.

Stephen Valentine Patrick William "Steve" Allen (December 26, 1921 – October 30, 2000) -- if that truly was his name -- was a remarkable talent. Watch this video of Steve interviewing one of his favorite subjects (and anathema to the network) Jack Kerouac in 1959. The dude riffs on the piano while conducting the interview.

Allen created The Tonight Show in New York in 1953 for NBC-TV before it went nation the following year. The program ran from 11:15 PM to 1 in the morning, broadcast live (because that's the only way you could broadcast) from New York City. Everything you know about late night talk shows was created by Steve Allen, no one has created anything he didn't do first.

Though Allen must be given credit for bringing individuals like Kerouac and Lenny Bruce onto his programs (people the networks must have wished he hadn't) he was irksomely stodgy about rock and roll. NBC gave him a primetime slot in addition to Tonight in 1956, The Steve Allen Plymouth Show where he famously put Elvis Presley into a tuxedo and asked him to croon Hound Dog to an actual dog.

Source: Wikipedia

Friday, August 12, 2011

Breaking the Bank

The famous Cleveland Trust Ameritrust Society Bank Rotunda at East 9th and Euclid.

Read more about it here!

The Avengers have been wreaking havoc on East 9th Street this week. I am not talking about facelift they gave the street to make it look like Seventh Avenue in Manhattan. I mean literal (fake) destruction on a massive scale.

First off they deface the historic Cleveland Trust building.


Witnessing the devastation, this woman from Shaker Heights said,
"I think it's fantastic! It's great for the city."

This afternoon I had a lunch date downtown and did my share of rubbernecking to take the sights of big trucks, large bits of fake concrete and no Scarlett Johansson. I thought the large, explosion-dusted billboards for AussieBum swimwear were a gag. But seriously? There really is an Aussiebum?


Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Screamin' Jay Hawkins

"It's Screamin' Jay Hawkins, and he's a wild man, so bug off."
- Stranger Than Paradise (1984)

Jalacy "Screamin' Jay" Hawkins (July 18, 1929 — February 12, 2000) was born in Cleveland, Ohio. The man studied classical piano and like his idol Paul Robeson, Hawkins had aspirations to be an opera singer. Instead, Screamin' Jay created rock and roll.

Okay, maybe he didn't. But he was the first singer (fronting for Tiny Grimes) at the Moondog Coronation Ball at the Arena on March 21, 1952, ergo Screamin' Jay Hawkins performed the first rock show in history. Unless he wasn't, because no one can agree whether or not Tiny Grimes went on first, or if the show even got under way because it was shut down before the first note was played.

In 1956 Alan Freed suggested Hawkins arrive in a coffin before performing his hit record I Put a Spell On You, and a legendary stage persona was born, incorporating outlandish voodoo-themed costumes and stage props into his act.

Source: Wikipedia

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

My Summer Story (1993)

There's a lot of movie-making going on around town this summer. I am happy to say that some of it is taking place in Cleveland Heights. Like most cities these days, we can use the cash and I am getting a little irritated by the people griping about Coventry getting blocked off now and then to shoot scenes for Fun Size or I, Alex Cross. People, please.

The big story is The Avengers shoot, which began yesterday, downtown. I have a map on the corkboard in my office informing me off which streets are shut down when. I have a date for lunch on Friday, maybe we will head down the East 9th and Euclid and do some star-gazing.

Apparently they are making Euclid Avenue look like 42nd Street. Only, you know ... smaller.

There hasn't been this much Hollywood activity at one time since 1993, when we were host to not one but two big-budget films, Double Dragon and the much-anticipated sequel to A Christmas Story.

Double Dragon was notable for its cost and calendar overruns, and Mayor White had to finally kick them out of the city as two weeks of blowing stuff up on the Cuyahoga turned into three weeks and then four.

As for that other film, I wrote a piece about that five years ago for Cleveland Magazine:
Lost Summer
by David Hansen
First published in Cleveland Magazine, June 2006

(Thirteen years after "My Summer Story" was filmed here and forgotten, one of the movie's extras rediscovers a so-so sequel in the shadow of its famous forerunner.)

Remember at the beginning of “My Summer Story” when the narrator remarks how sometimes events in our lives come and go before we realize how important they are?

Wait. Back up. You’ve never heard of “My Summer Story?” It’s the movie based on Jean Shepherd’s boyhood memories of growing up in Depression-era Northern Indiana. It was filmed here during the summer of 1993 and many Clevelanders, including me, took part as extras.

Still nothing?

It was the sequel to the 1983 holiday classic “A Christmas Story.” I know you’ve heard of that one.

Last December, you couldn’t pop a Red Ryder BB gun without hitting some reference to “A Christmas Story.” From Big Fun to Flower Child, any shop that could justify it had a leg lamp glowing in the window. The Cleveland Play House presented a stage adaptation, some of the original movie’s supporting characters made a public appearance downtown and a California man announced his plans to turn the West 11th Street home featured in the film into a museum. Then there’s TBS’s annual 24-hour “A Christmas Story” marathon that has made the movie a holiday favorite no matter where you live.

So whatever became of the sequel? I don’t recall it ever appearing in theaters. I do remember seeing a full-page ad in Premiere magazine advertising its upcoming release in 1994. By then it had a new title: “It Runs in the Family.” Then nothing. Bupkiss, as they say.

When I recently stumbled upon the film again (restored to its original title of “My Summer Story” for its video release), I wondered why the movie had been so quickly cast aside when it seemed to have so much going for it.

It had not one, but two Culkins (Macauley’s younger siblings Kieran and Christian) in the roles of Ralphie and Randy Parker, as well as Mary Steenburgen as “Mother” and Charles Grodin as the “The Old Man.”

Like “A Christmas Story,” Bob Clark directed the movie and wrote the screenplay with Shepherd and Leigh Brown. And, like its predecessor, “My Summer Story” was filmed in Cleveland. In fact, most of it was shot here. People often forget that apart from the Christmas parade, scenes with Santa Claus and exterior shots of Ralphie’s house, much of “A Christmas Story” was filmed somewhere else.

But for a few weeks in August 1993, “My Summer Story” took over downtown Cleveland. My involvement was brief. I was just a warm body in a costume as part of the Great Lakes Exposition scene (the part of the film where Ralphie buys a “killer top” from a gypsy). It was an impressively large set spread over the plaza beside Key Tower. (Look for me behind the camels. I’m wearing an orange Hawaiian shirt. Don’t blink.) Other shooting locales included the Palace Theatre, Wilbur Wright Middle School off 117th Street and Lorain Avenue, the industrial Flats and a large part of Tremont.

NewsChannel5 anchor Leon Bibb (then working for another station) was doing a story on the shoot and also worked as an extra. We were in the Expo scene together, so he and I meandered and chatted a little in the baking summer heat of Mall C, behind the camels.

“It was a long day,” Bibb remembers with a laugh. “Hardest $50 I ever made.”

Cleveland theater legend Dorothy Silver was one of the few Cleveland actors whose name appears in the film’s credits. She was “Neighbor No. 4,” in case you’re wondering.

“We had this long, long, long night shot,” Silver recalls. “I had no context for the scene; we didn’t know what was happening. It’s the ultimate impotence for an actor.

“I had a line or two — some kind of shouting, angry line. Not what I want on my gravestone.”

Whatever she said ended up cut from the film.

Local actor John Galbraith was only 15 years old when he played one of the Parker family’s numerous “hillbilly” neighbors, the Bumpuses.

“There were a lot of people of Irish descent there, and we shot around 4 in the morning,” he remembers. “This one woman brought out folk instruments, and we sang Irish folk tunes and it was pretty fun. … It was very Cleveland, the togetherness, the shoot — everything about it.”

What’s unfortunate is that none of those warm feelings come across while watching the movie. “A Christmas Story” leaves us to imagine the Bumpus family, because we only see their turkey-stealing hounds. What we get in “My Summer Story” is a caricature of the Appalachian poor that was better left in “The Beverly 

“It didn’t have the charm the first movie had,” Galbraith says.

That’s a criticism I heard a lot while collecting people’s memories of “My Summer Story.” I felt the same way after watching it again with my 3-year-old daughter Zelda. For example, Charles Grodin says “son of a bitch” a lot for presumed comedic effect, while in “A Christmas Story” the old man’s cursing is a lot of mumbling nonsense that leaves us to imagine the worst.

There’s also a lot of stupid, cartoon-like violence in the movie. Getting your tongue stuck to a flagpole is funny. Getting shot in the hind end with your own Red Ryder BB gun (especially after receiving the legendary warning: “You’ll shoot your eye out”) and then howling in pain for a full minute? Not funny.

And then there’s the issue of Christmas versus summer. When the motion picture of the musical “Annie” was released in summer 1982, the Christmas ending was revised to a timely Fourth of July finale. I don’t care how patriotic you are. Is it “The Magic of Christmas” or “The Magic of Independence Day”?

Watching the whole thing again now, “My Summer Story” doesn’t seem worse than a lot of other nonsense I see on television. And there are a lot of sweet bicycling scenes, with Ralph and his pals Schwartz and Flick tearing all over Tremont. The opening is particularly promising, as Ralph’s teacher Miss Shields delicately gives him the third degree for a book report on a smutty novel. And the old man’s passive but earnest attempts to bond with his pre-adolescent son are truly touching.

No, “My Summer Story” isn’t terrible. It’s just not as good as “A Christmas Story.” And Kieran Culkin, who has grown into an interesting actor in films such as “The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys” and “Igby Goes Down,” is not Peter Billingsley. The Great Lakes Exposition is not Higbee’s. A killer top is not a BB gun. Summer is not Christmas. And Charles Grodin is not Darren McGavin. Maybe they wanted to change the movie’s name because the film suffered so terribly in comparison to its predecessor.

In 1995 there was, at long last, a public showing of “My Summer Story” at the Cleveland Museum of Art. The film went down pretty well there, especially among the Bumpus clan.

“All the random extras, the nobodies, we enjoyed it,” Galbraith recalls. “It was very family-oriented, like ‘We’re the Cleveland people! We’re all Irish! We’re the Bumpuses!’ We were really a family.”

We’re still one big Cleveland family, sharing a forgotten summer story.
More on My Summer Story.

Monday, August 8, 2011

The Pledge of Allegiance

The Pledge of Allegiance was written by Socialist Frances Bellamy in 1892. It read:
"I pledge allegiance to my flag and the republic for which it stands: one nation indivisible with liberty and justice for all."
It was published in a children's magazine on the 400th anniversary of the discovery of Christopher Columbus by the native peoples of the Caribbean. Frances wrote the pledge to 'inoculate' immigrants and native-born Americans against the potential for radical subversion.

Bellamy wanted to include the words "equality and fraternity" but in 1892 those rights weren't really extended to everyone, certainly not women or blacks, so he kept his pledge brief and to the point. Today the pledge is no longer brief, and the original point has been considerably twisted.

DID YOU KNOW ..? The original pose for appropriately pledging your allegiance to the American flag involved giving it what would be familiar to everyone as what we call the "Nazi" salute. During World War II, President Roosevelt declared a hand over the heart was more appropriate. Already, the pledge had moved from something suggesting American unity to something much more personal and individual.

This picture is so fucking cute.

There were those who had pressed President Truman to add the words "under God" into the religion-free pledge, to no avail. Finally, in 1954 President Eisenhower attended a church service on Lincoln's birthday, at Lincoln's church, in Lincoln's pew. The pastor, a Reverend Docherty gave a sermon which argued the Pledge of Allegiance could be said by the citizen of any country to their flag ... that something was missing.


Yes. Once again, once and always, God was missing from America. Something must be done. And so, on June 14, 1954 a joint resolution of Congress added the words "under God" to the pledge.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Alfred Kinsey

"The only unnatural sex act is one which you cannot perform." - Alfred Kinsey
Alfred Charles Kinsey (June 23, 1894 – August 25, 1956) was, for a time, best known for his obsessive relationship with gall wasps. He traveled the nation in search of every variety, collecting in excess of 300,000 and mailing the eggs back to his home base in Boston. Many of them hatched in transit, wreaking havoc in post offices across America. That was nothing compared to what happened when he began to collect the sex lives of strangers.

DID YOU KNOW? Alfred Kinsey had attained seven years' worth of Boy Scout merit badges in twenty-four months? Get it? Kinsey was a BOY SCOUT.

His childhood was awful. Born the son of a carpenter, he lived in relative penury, mocked by his peers for wearing heavily-worn, mightily patched clothing, he also suffered from rickets and curvature of the spine. In addition, his father was an overbearing puritanical freak. It is little surprise to me that 1) he had extreme sexual hang-ups at a young age, not coming into his own (see how I did that) until later in life followed by 2) not only a keen interest in sexual relations but a desire to break free of all restrictions what so ever. He and his wife Clara McMillen were nudists and libertines.

But enough of this, just watch the movie, it's fun and it's got Laura Linney in it.

The Book of the Dead: Lives of the Justly Famous and the Undeservedly Obscure

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Like Family (book)

In the summer of 1998, when the wife and I visited the family perch in Flood’s Cove, Maine, I picked up her copy of Wally Lamb's She's Come Undone for my porch read. Can’t remember why, it wasn’t because Oprah had recommended it. But I did know it was the fictional tale of a girl coming of age during the late sixties and early seventies.

Just recently I had directed Sarah Morton’s Eighth Wonder of the World, a solo performance about coming of age traumas in Cleveland Heights. While we were on vacation that same summer the wife and I took a drive to Rockland to see a movie, The Last Days of Disco. I don’t know which storyline you were most interested in, but all I remember was the women. If it is a story about women trying to deal with the world, I want to hear it.

I am not going to pretend it is because I sympathize. Maybe I do, but I wouldn’t protest it. What I am, is fascinated. Women interest me. Men do not. Why should they, I know men. I hear about men all the time. Men are tedious. I grew up with two brothers, no sisters, girls are alien and frightening and delightful and they are pretty and they don’t talk about sports (much.)

Recently I was listening to the Book Review podcast and the editor in her late-20s was curious about why a woman would write a book like Allison Pearson's I Think I Love You, which involves a midlife reawakening to her adolescent passion for David Cassidy. This young, Millennium Generation editor woman didn’t get the David Cassidy angle, that whatever he meant to a generation of girls so very long ago, he doesn’t hold the iconic power of a Frank Sinatra or Elvis Presley or Justin Bieber.

Justin Bieber? Really? I get it, she does understand the iconic power of a David Cassidy -- only not yet. Because Justin Bieber is a David Cassidy, and not an Elvis or a Frank. And you have to be of a certain age to appreciate a certain stratum of pop culture. (I just spent the weekend with a number of women in their late 40s, I know of what I speak.) But if you are good at it, you may be able to illuminate a very specific time and era in a manner which makes it transcendent.

I mean, we’re all supposed to do that. All us writers.

As a pre-teen, I loved girl protagonists, like Harriet the Spy or I, Trissy. Trissy was a horror story from which I could not tear my eyes, detailing something I could not even comprehend at that point in my life -- the story of parents undergoing a divorce from the point of view of a girl about my age.

There were male role models, sure. Bilbo was a great inspiration, though not so much Frodo who is as much of a cypher as Harry Potter is. I read The Three Investigators, but did not coton to the Hardy Boys (blame Shawn and Parker for that.) Because Judy Blume was iconic girl lit, I was compelled not read it … but I wanted to. Very, very very badly.

These books were my glimpse into another world, where I was not wanted nor allowed. I do not know how much this has to do with my choice of love interests. All of my serious relationships have been with girls or women whose fathers were dead, departed or damaged. The only one who had what we call a normal family unit … well, that one didn’t go so well.

And with the lingering memory of Undone in mind, when it came to take something with me to Maine (because I needed to bring something) I noticed the wife had gotten Paul McLain’s Like Family out of the library. Perfect.

McLain has produced three novels; working backward, this year’s best-seller The Paris Wife, her first novel A Ticket to Ride (P.S.) and Like Family, her first novel, a memoir of her life as a foster child in Fresno, California.

Now I am conflicted. And disappointed. Not in the book, that I liked (and this is not a review.) Just by in people in general. Where is our communication?

Every book is its own universe, some share a basic set of rules, and when I am truly relaxed and let my mind wander and I can try and imagine which novels take place in the same universe, only in different places. Maybe in fantasy they can cross over, not with the characters interacting, but people from each story unwittingly crossing paths.

And if this a true story, and me and my characters exists in the same universe of the early 70s to the mid 80s, well no, these characters to not cross paths but they do inhabit the same world, speak the same language … or in most situations, speak the wrong language. As though every person is in their own isolated universe. Our narrator is unable to or does not have the words to express to those around her what she needs to know to navigate the world, this society, that house.

When you have been introduced suddenly into a new biosphere, that of an entirely different home, it is impossible for a child to know what to say. And yet, so it was in my own life. I just spent a week at my family’s ancestral vacationing seat, where we have been summering for over a century. For a comforting decade it has been just myself and my wife, with family, relaxing, kayaking, sunning, reading-and-drinking. But now we have the children, who, as everywhere else, move us out of our comfort zone into the wider world.

My girl is eight, and started where she left off with other girls in the cove she met last year -- the stepchildren of a woman who was a teenager there when I was a child. She has enough years on me to make no difference now and everything then, she was one of the “big kids.” There were rumors that she and one of my brothers actually tried dating one summer, you know, back then.

I watch as two of her older charges vie for the attentions of one of the boys. Making-out happens in the open, territory is marked, a victory is won, a heart is broken, the world spins.

As usual I sympathize with the girls.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Kay's Bookstore

One afternoon in June, 1955 my father was downtown looking for a summer job. Picture a street teeming with men in hats, suits, skinny ties. On this date like so many others he may have ducked into Kay's on Prospect near East 6th Street.

Owned and operated by Rachel Kowan (Mrs. Kay) Kay's was a three-story bookstore, and its mosaic tiled floors and walls were stuffed and stacked with books. The more I hear it described the more I imagine Lucien's library in the Sandman series, the one that contains every book that was only ever dreamed-of or never-completed. Esoteric and odd, you could find it, and much more, including arcane philosophy, anarchist manifestoes and a surprisingly collection of porn.

Like so many of his generation, you could find Dad perusing "health" magazines espousing the life-extending benefits of nudism. He recently described to me on thought-provoking photograph of a young woman grilling in the rain, wearing only a waist-length slicker.

And, you know, a smile.

On this particular day in question, my father was having little fortune lining up any kind of summer gig. He eventually stepped around the corner up to Euclid and into the Cleveland Trust rotunda, and applied. For his efforts he was hired as an alternate teller and general dogsbody (his words.)

Later my grandfather reported his surprise when a manager approached him in the commissary a few days later to rib him about not telling him that my Dad was now working as a teller. My grandfather replied with equal surprise that he didn't know either!

Anecdotal Evidence
Read this extended report on Kay's, including more great stuff in the comments section.