Tag: new york

Day 958: Day One Of Peace & Music

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“I have come to lose the smog

And I feel to be a cog in something turning.”

I have been trying to reconcile my relationship with the Woodstock festival for more than 20 years. “These are your grandparents,” I told my daughter as the movie played in our living room this week. But Woodstock reached further than its generation, even beyond the magnificence of its music. It was the temporary realization of pure Utopia – or at least that’s how its legend trickled down to me, some schmuck born 2400 miles away, five years after the last gnarly raindrop had voiced its opinion that the festival ground should be mud.

Perhaps the images of a groovy, grubby, smoky paradise are merely the false concoctions of media (in this case, the documentary film Woodstock) and reputation, but this is the image that tickles my imagination and tilts my longing toward that sensation of community, of parity, and of that shared experience of being billion-year-old carbon in the same cosmic stew with a few hundred thousand friends.

2014 not only boasts the 45th anniversary of the decade-defining event, it also features an aligned calendar, allowing for the three days of the original festival (August 15, 16 and 17) to land once again on a Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Today I’ll be exploring what built Woodstock from the sloppy ground up; tomorrow I’ll delve into the music and on Sunday the potent culture – real or imagined.

To begin among the festival’s roots, one simply must start with the sitcom.

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In 1967, lawyer Joel Rosenman (pictured above) and his friend John Roberts decided they wanted to write a sitcom about two entrepreneurs who fall into wacky weekly hijinks as they try to bring their business plans to fruition. For research they plopped an ad into The Wall Street Journal, claiming to be “young men with unlimited capital” looking for investment opportunities. Two of the men who responded, concert promoter Michael Lang and “Dead Man’s Curve” co-author Artie Kornfeld, intrigued the would-be comedy writers so much they abandoned their plans for television stardom and became the very entrepreneurs they’d planned to depict. Read more…

Day 952: Death & Money

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One might assume upon skimming this month’s selection of articles that the author has developed an unnatural preoccupation with death. The author would courteously disagree, and would remind you that no preoccupation with death is unnatural, unless it escalates to unreasonably eccentric behavior, like keeping makeup instructions for the undertaker in one’s pocket, just in case.

But it’s true, I have been seasoning this project with a salty array of morbid subject matter lately, and today will be no exception. But fear not – these are still quirky and jaw-slacking narratives of death-related weirdness, not ghoulish kilographs of doom and misery. I’m saving those for my next project, beginning in January: 1000 Words, 1000 Reasons Life Is Meaningless And We Should All Give Up And Embrace our Inevitable Demise. It’ll be a riot.

Our two protagonists today are the guy who wouldn’t die, and the other guy who didn’t actually live his entire documented life. For the former, we find a conspiracy to condemn a man to an early grave. The latter tale tells of a man kept alive on paper for decades after his innards stopped doing their thing. The common threads? Those two nefarious nasties: death and money. It’s always about death and money.

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Michael Malloy was a man who knew how to drink. Sure, he was Irish, and that can certainly explain a smidgen of Michael’s alcoholic fortitude, but by the amber ruler of whiskey, this dude was Super-Irish. The year was 1933; Malloy was living in New York City, homeless, jobless and perpetually so deep inside a bottle one could probably have gotten drunk by simply sniffing his hair. Naturally, he was the perfect guy to murder and make it look like an accident. And that’s precisely what five of his “buddies” tried to do. Read more…

Day 949: Rumble In The Laotian Jungle

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The air was as thick as a steak and almost as full of blood. Lieutenant, Junior Grade Dieter Dengler stared at each of his fellow P.O.W.s and wondered which of them would be up for the escape. There were three men from Thailand, one Chinese man, and an American “kicker” named Eugene DeBruin, all of whom had been working for the CIA’s Air America, covertly delivering food and supplies to refugees in the early stew of the Vietnam War. The other man was First Lieutenant Duane W. Martin, the only other American serviceman among them.

The Chinese man, Y.C. To, was suffering from a fever – he wasn’t likely to keep up. But postponement of the escape was not an option; one of the Thais had overheard a guard mutter something about taking the seven men out to the jungle and shooting them, making it look like they’d been trying to flee. Now the flee would have to be.

Dieter was the one who drew up the scenario. He’d slip out of his restraints while the guards were eating, grab some weapons, then let the bullets fly. Dieter had trained for this. He was ready.

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As a boy in Wildberg, Germany, Dieter had always dreamed of being a pilot. He’d never met his father, and was raised under the tutelage of his grandfather – the lone citizen of his hometown who had not voted for the Nazi Party. Dieter packed up what little he had and made for New York City, where he lived on the gritty streets for a week before popping into the local Air Force recruiting station. Read more…

Day 927: Justice Joe Pulls A Crater

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At the sputtering end of the era of utmost corruption within the governance of the city of New York, people had to – in the parlance of today’s aspiring gangstas – get got. Arnold Rothstein met his untimely end in 1928 (spoilers to any Boardwalk Empire fans), and in the wake of his demise the final vestiges of the Tammany Hall fist of political smarminess were poised to become rubble. This wasn’t the end of corruption in New York of course, only the final curtain for this particular brand of centralized evil.

On the filthy payroll were cops, city officials and judges – hell, if the Tammany Hall machine were still around they’d probably be using those Times Square Elmos to peddle fenced goods. Unfortunately for the families of those who were caught up in this web of political malfeasance, when someone was rubbed out, there wasn’t always an accompanying explanation.

This brings us to the mysterious vanishing of Associate Justice Joseph Force Carter of the New York Supreme Court. Here was a man poised in the toasty glow of a biopic-worthy legal career: sitting on the second-highest court in New York at age 41 and allegedly a contender for the next open spot on the US Supreme Court. Then one day, he vanished. Did he flee? Was he dispatched from this planet via a snub-nosed messenger? Was he secretly a ghost the entire time? No, probably not that last one.

This guy was corrupt? Really? With that honest face?

This guy was corrupt? Really? With that honest face?

In the summer of 1930, Justice Crater was vacationing with Stella, his wife, at their cozy cabin in Belgrade, Maine. Crater had only been appointed three months earlier, but he felt he deserved a little break. He received a call in late July, and announced to Stella that he needed to return to New York “to straighten those fellows out.” Nothing else was said, and the next day he was back in the couple’s swanky Fifth Avenue apartment.

Whatever pressing business had summoned Justice Crater to New York, it would have to wait until after his wild weekend in Atlantic City with his showgirl mistress, Sally Lou Ritzi. This guy couldn’t have been more of a cliché if he wore a tommy gun over his shoulder. Read more…

Day 925: The Titanic’s First Cinematic Splash

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Mention the 1997 James Cameron film Titanic to someone and you’re bound to get one of these responses:

“What an overpriced piece of CGI crap!”

“I loved that movie!”

“Not just a great film, but that Celine Dion song is the best!” (these are the people with whom I won’t spend a lot of my free time.)

There’s no question that Cameron’s movie – despite its mostly unnecessary formulaic love story – best captures the realism of the mighty liner’s demise. Other movies have focused on various passengers and dynamics aboard the RMS Titanic: The Unsinkable Molly Brown (1964) is a musical about the American socialite, Titanic (1953) is a movie filled with historical inaccuracies – also with a fictitious love story crammed into its frames, and A Night To Remember (1958) was a British film praised for its attention to detail.

But the first movie about the Titanic to hit the silver screen? We’ll have to venture deep into the realm of silent cinema, years before the advent of talkies and even years before the first World War. The first movie to capture the horrors of that fateful April night in the cold claws of the North Atlantic was called Saved From The Titanic. It was released on May 14, 1912. Twenty-nine days after the ship sank.

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The story of this lost classic begins and ends with the beautiful and talented Dorothy Gibson, a singer, dancer, Broadway performer and one of the first ladies of silent cinema to earn top billing as a genuine star. She was a natural comedic actress, working briefly at Lubin Studios but getting her big break with the American branch of Éclair Studios, which was based out of Paris. In the early spring of 1912, Dorothy took a six-week holiday with her mother in Italy. She was booked to sail home aboard – what else? – the Titanic.

Dorothy and her mother – both of whom had been up late playing bridge – were awake when the Titanic became intimate with that iceberg (or whatever actually happened – I’ve been over the conspiracy theories already). Along with the other bridge players they raced to lifeboat #7, which was the first to be lowered into the water at 12:40am, one hour after the collision. For almost six hours Dorothy Gibson bobbed through the waves, watching the unsinkable vessel’s final descent into the shadowy brine and listening to the desperate and doomed souls, fighting fruitlessly against hypothermia and/or drowning. Dorothy’s mind slipped off its axis; she was heard muttering “I’ll never ride in my little grey car again” over and over.

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Jules Brulatour, a successful movie producer with Éclair and (coincidentally?) Dorothy’s lover, heard of the disaster and immediately dispatched a fleet of tugboats dotted with cameramen to New York to capture the return to port of the RMS Carpathia, the ship which had rescued a heap of Titanic survivors. He stitched together his footage along with a few shots of the Titanic’s official launch, some old clips of Captain Edward Smith aboard the RMS Olympic, and some stock footage of icebergs. The newsreel was rocketed around the country in less than a week. People were buying tickets to movie houses just to see the footage.

This gave Jules an idea – why not throw together an actual film of the disaster? After all, he had the Carpathia footage, he had a top-notch studio at his disposal in Fort Lee, New Jersey (the pre-Hollywood Hollywood), and he also had a girlfriend who had actually been there, and who could provide details that no other screenwriter could possess. Whether Dorothy was persuaded to participate in the picture out of tribute to the lost souls who perished that night or because it would be a huge career boost, we’ll never really know.

The term 'Oscar Bait' had not yet been invented.

The term ‘Oscar Bait’ had not yet been invented.

The production was filmed at Éclair Studios and also aboard an abandoned transport vessel in New York Harbor. It took only a week to shoot, and the studio insisted on racing through the editing and processing stages so the film could land in theaters as quickly as possible. This was before the era of the feature film, so the entirety of Saved From The Titanic fit onto a single reel – it was only ten minutes long.

Dorothy Gibson starred as “Miss Dorothy”, a fictionalized version of herself. Miss Dorothy is shown arriving aboard the Carpathia and meeting her mother, father and fiancé. She tells the story of the sinking in flashback, after which the mother pleads with her fiancé to quit the US Navy, as the sea is simply too dangerous. The fiancé asserts his patriotism and the film fades to black. The lesson here is yes, people died and it was a tragedy… but AMERICA!

Kind of brings a tear, don’t it?

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Dorothy, who was said to have burst into tears several times throughout the film’s production, added to the realism by donning the same dress and overcoat she’d been wearing on the night of her rescue. I’m no psychologist, but it seems that reliving an unfathomable tragedy immediately after having experienced it – even wearing the same clothes – is not an advisable route to mental recovery. Critics picked up on the look of shock and devastation on Dorothy’s face throughout the movie. She probably didn’t have to do much actual acting.

The movie was released worldwide on May 14, 1912, less than a month after the events that inspired it. Motion Picture World praised the film and in particular the braveness of Dorothy’s performance. Éclair made a point of emphasizing the actress’s actual participation in the disaster, and promoted the authenticity her involvement had provided. The New York Dramatic Mirror was less kind with their review, finding it “revolting” that Éclair – and Dorothy herself – would capitalize on the worst maritime disaster in history.

This sounds about right. Had there been a 9/11 movie released within a month of the atrocities of 2001, most of us would have been disgusted, but ticket sales would have nevertheless been through the roof.

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Unfortunately, a 1914 fire at Éclair Studios destroyed the only known prints of Saved From The Titanic. All that remains are a handful of production stills and the movie’s dubious legacy of questionable taste. For Dorothy, making the film plummeted her fragile sanity into a frothing crisis. She retired from movies immediately after the film’s release, and despite being neck and neck with Mary Pickford as one of the two highest-paid actresses on the planet, she never made another movie again. She returned to stage work, and eventually moved to Paris, then to Italy, where she became an alleged intelligence operative and Nazi sympathizer.

Éclair eventually shifted their focus from movie-making to camera-making (the makers of the Woodstock film used Éclair cameras), but they found their curious niche in cinematic legend with this film. Was it a good movie? No one who has seen it is alive to say. Was it in poor taste? Perhaps. But at least it didn’t feature that deplorable Celine Dion tune. So that’s something.

Day 924: The Forbidden Foodstuffs

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It was the same conversation, every time I’d stay over at a friend’s place when I was a kid. Inevitably my friend’s mother would learn that I was Jewish (I was one of two in my grade, so word traveled), and she’d ask, “Will you eat [bacon/ham/shrimp, etc.]?”.

I never understood it. I was never Jewish by faith, only by chance of birth, which meant I’d accept none of the dietary restrictions, however I’d inevitably inherit a natural comedic timing and the inexplicable desire to own a media outlet. But give up on bacon? On luscious shrimp creole? On devouring my meat and cheese off the same plate? That’s blasphemy.

But it isn’t only pork and crustacean meat that my ancestry was trained to avoid, and it isn’t only the Jews who are hell-bent on depriving themselves of these protein-rich nibbles of bliss. There are taboo food and drinks across the spectrum. Some – like bacon, obviously – are ludicrously unnecessary sacrifices of outmoded traditions. Others make a little more sense.

 

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Pork is forbidden in Jewish, Islam and even Seventh-day Adventist Christians. Even the Phoenicians, Ancient Egyptians and Babylonians steered clear of munching on our little porcine friends, perhaps because they were dirty animals (they did like to feast on their own poop), or possibly because they were revered back then. Yet despite all those cultures waving away the opportunity to savor the unworldly pleasure contained in a rack of baby-backs, the USDA reports that pork is the most widely eaten meat substance around the globe. Read more…

Day 919: Meet The Watergate-Stained Mitchells

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The spyglass of history has not been kind to the Nixon administration. I was born exactly seven weeks after Richard Nixon handed in his resignation and took that long lonely walk into his murky legacy. My generation, who grew up in the Reagan/Bush era, found only one defender of the Nixon presidency in pop culture, and the passion written into Alex P. Keaton’s dialogue was clearly meant to be satirical.

Those of us who cared to look into it – and given that we were a generation late and a country north, there weren’t many of us – saw an unsympathetic troupe of tie-wearing bastards, farting in the face of the law and crapping all over the seat of absolute American power. It’s a tale of ancient American history to us, as intangible and ethereal as the Kennedy conspiracy, Dewey defeating Truman or the Hawley-Smoot Tariff.

But it makes for fascinating drama. Anyone who has avoided the Dustin Hoffman / Robert Redford movie All The Presidents’ Men because it looks like a laggy political drama and hey, there’s a new Transformers movie out and explosions are more fun – just stop already. Yes, explosions are fun but this shit actually happened. Scoundrel, Montgomery-Burns-type dickheads really held that much power and abused it to a pulp. Rather than re-tell the whole affair here (a thousand words would scarcely get us through the DNC headquarters’ flimsily-locked door), I’m going to spotlight one scoundrel in particular: John N. Mitchell. And his wife. I’ve got to talk about his wife.

Somehow the pipe makes him look more evil.

Somehow the pipe makes him look more evil.

For thirty years John Mitchell was a municipal bond lawyer, and from what I’ve read he seems to have embraced every lawyer stereotype. He was shady and just enough on the smarmy side to gather some powerful friends. One of those friends was Dick Nixon, who tapped Mitchell to be his campaign manager in 1968. During the campaign, there arose allegations that the Nixon camp somehow sabotaged the Paris Peace Talks, which could have brought about an end to the Vietnam War. Read more…

Day 917: That Big Ol’ Salad Plate Known As Earth

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There are certain scientific truths which appear to be inarguable. Light travels faster than sound, an explosion is exponentially more bad-ass when someone is walking slowly away from it, and the consumption of alcohol makes me a scientifically better dancer. But we have come a long way since our ancestors cracked two rocks together and created a spark which they attributed to the Mistress of Dark Magic.

We no longer give props to the gods for changing the seasons, and rather than attribute those weird sores on our bodies to an infestation of demons, we get a shot of penicillin and stop sleeping with skeevy people we meet at the bus station. Also, we can hop aboard a boat and cruise into the sequined azure horizon without fearing that we’ll drop off the edge of the planet-disc and tumble into the intangible ether.

Well, most of us can. There still exists – and I have no idea just how deeply into their cheeks their tongues may be pressed – a Flat Earth Society. In theory, there are still dozens of dubious doubters who suspect that the so-called globe theory is little more than a ruse being perpetrated by the scientific community for the purposes of… well, I’m not sure why scientists would want us to believe the planet to be a sphere. Globe sales? Communism? Probably communism.

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In defense of the ancients, there was really no way for them to know the earth was round. Homer and Hesiod both depicted a flat disc, with the water surrounding the land and stretching to some mysterious edge. Anaximander, a pre-Socratic philosopher whom Carl Sagan has credited with having performed the first ever recorded scientific experiment, saw us as living on the round top of a short, stumpy cylinder. Anywhere you went: India, the Norse lands, China… the earth was flat as a crepe. In fact the Chinese held on to their belief that the earth was flat and square (though the heavens were spherical) until they caught wind of European astronomy in the 17th century. Read more…

Day 909: The Real Grand-Daddy Of Motion Pictures – Louis Le Prince

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As an aspiring young (using the most broad and generous definition of “young”) film studies major, I was fascinated by the pre-Edison attempts at capturing moving pictures for subsequent viewing. Eadweard Muybridge used a long row of still cameras to capture a galloping horse’s stride, only to spurt the images in semi-full-motion through his zoopraxiscope. Coleman Sellers invented the kinematoscope, using a hand-cranked paddle machine to bring pictures to life. Then there’s Henry Renno Heyl’s phasmotrope, which demonstrated that every early cinematic invention had a cool name.

But we can’t forget ol’ Louis Le Prince, the Frenchman who patented his own camera that created a sequence of photos on treated paper. Like Muybridge, Sellers and Heyl, Le Prince’s work is seen as part of the multi-textured groundwork that gave birth to Thomas Edison’s magical moving-picture camera – the real genesis of the movie biz. Or so they say.

Except that Louis Le Prince’s story goes a little deeper than that. His is a tale, not only of innovation and genius, but of a curious – some might say suspicious – disappearance, and a very smarmy lawsuit against the man who would eventually get the credit for being the brains behind movie technology.

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Louis was a brilliant photographic technician, which was the 19th-century way of saying he was a brilliant photographer. There wasn’t much one could artistically accomplish with cameras back then, but Louis was renowned for his skills at fixing color photographs onto metal and pottery surfaces, which earned him the privilege of creating portraits of Queen Victoria and Prime Minister William Gladstone. He moved from Leeds (where he had been situated since his mid-20’s) to New York in 1881, a pioneer in his field. Read more…

Day 906: Lord Gordon-Gordon & The Case Of The Tycoon’s Million Bucks

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How does one judge the success of a swindle? To my hopelessly naïve and tragically honest mind, I believe one must be able to enjoy the bounty of one’s evil in order to truly rate it as a win. Others might disagree, claiming the mere act of absconding with a victim’s money is sufficient grounds for a toast of victory champagne. No matter how the cards tumble, a good scam makes for great human theatre.

When a British man adopted the curious name of Lord Gordon-Gordon and set out to pilfer a fortune from American railway interests, he was likely after the money and not the thrill of the swindle. To Jay Gould, the man who found himself a million dollars lighter courtesy of Lord Gordon-Gordon’s smooth and smarmy charm, it didn’t matter. He’d been taken. Humiliated. Kicked squarely in the fiscal nads. And he’d get his revenge, dammit.

The revenge itself is as weird a tale as whatever backstory Lord Gordon-Gordon might have used to explain his bizarre moniker. This is the story of how one schmoozy Brit almost singlehandedly instigated a war between the United States and Canada, all for the sake of a few bucks.

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Almost nothing is known about this man’s history. There’s a rumor that he may have been the illegitimate child of a North Country priest and his maid, but we don’t even know his real name so tracing his origin story is little more than an effort in fiction. He first appeared in London in 1868 under the name of ‘Glencairn’, insisting he was soon to become the heir to the title of Lord Glencairn, along with the immodest fortune that came with it. Read more…