Keillor & Company with Prudence Johnson and Dan Chouinard. A performance of classic love songs, poetry, The News from Lake Wobegon, and a conversation about Why You Should Go On Getting Older
March 4 in Kent, OH Keillor & Company with Prudence Johnson and Dan Chouinard. A performance of classic love songs, poetry, The News from Lake Wobegon, and a conversation about Why You Should Go On Getting Older
Keillor & Company: A PRAIRIE HOME HOLIDAY. Let’s come together for a Christmas sing-along, some Poetry, the News from Lake Wobegon and some holiday cheer with Prudence Johnson and Dan Chouinard.
Dec 11 in Joliet, IL Keillor & Company: A PRAIRIE HOME HOLIDAY. Let’s come together for a Christmas sing-along, some Poetry, the News from Lake Wobegon and some holiday cheer with Prudence Johnson and Dan Chouinard.
Dec 10 in Ottumwa Iowa Keillor & Company: A PRAIRIE HOME HOLIDAY. Let’s come together for a Christmas sing-along, some Poetry, the News from Lake Wobegon and some holiday cheer with Prudence Johnson and Dan Chouinard.
by Tony Hoagland
And when we were eight, or nine,
our father took us back into the Alabama woods,
found a rotten log, and with his hunting knife
pried off a slab of bark
to show the hundred kinds of bugs and grubs
that we would have to eat in a time of war.
“The ones who will survive,” he told us,
looking at us hard,
“are the ones who are willing to do anything.”
Then he popped one of those pale slugs
into his mouth and started chewing.
And that was Lesson Number 4
in The Green Beret Book of Childrearing.
I looked at my pale, scrawny, knock-kneed, bug-eyed brother,
who was identical to me,
and saw that, in a world that ate the weak,
we didn’t have a prayer,
and next thing I remember, I’m working for a living
at a boring job
that I’m afraid of losing,
with a wife whose lack of love for me
is like a lack of oxygen,
and this dead thing in my chest
that used to be my heart.
Oh, if he were alive, I would tell him, “Dad,
you were right! I ate a lot of stuff
far worse than bugs.”
And I was eaten, I was eaten,
I was picked up
down into the belly of the world.
“Sentimental Education” by Tony Hoagland, from Unincorporated Persons in the Late Honda Dynasty. © Graywolf Press, 2010. Reprinted with permission of the estate. (buy now)
It was on this day in 1864 that a group of rebels failed in their attempt to burn down the city of New York.
By 1864, things weren’t going well for the Confederate Army, and it seemed unlikely that they could gain enough military ground fighting in the South to win the war. So Jefferson Davis turned to political maneuvering. There was a group in the North known as the Copperheads, or Peace Democrats, who strongly opposed Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War. They wanted peace, but they wanted it for complex reasons — they didn’t exactly support slavery, but many of them sympathized with Southern slaveholders; and they didn’t want Lincoln to free the slaves, partly out of racism and partly out of fear that freed slaves would move North and compete for jobs. The Copperhead movement was most popular in rural areas of Ohio, Illinois, and other Midwestern states, where they were wary of the North’s quick industrialization. They called for a return to America’s core values. And they were especially harsh in their criticism of Lincoln, calling him a “fungus from the corrupt womb of bigotry and fanaticism,” a “tyrant,” and a “butcher.” They circulated material about Lincoln’s pact with the devil, and portrayed him as a black man, “Abraham Africanus.”
Davis was hopeful that he could join forces with these Northern sympathizers. He had received coded letters claiming that there were 490,000 Copperheads ready to organize and act against Lincoln and the government. Davis sent Jacob Thompson, a former senator and Secretary of the Interior, to Toronto, to head up a Confederate Secret Service. Thompson set up a plot for Confederate agents to sneak down to Chicago, where the Democratic National Convention would be in September. Their plan was to free almost 20,000 Confederate soldiers who were locked up in Illinois, and those soldiers would unite with the Copperheads into a huge army that would materialize right in the North and force Lincoln to divert troops to the Midwest. At the same time, one of the Copperheads would be endorsed by the party and win the election away from Lincoln, and the Civil War could end in a way that the Confederacy and the Copperheads liked.
But the plot didn’t materialize. No one is sure how many Copperheads there really were in the Midwest, but the numbers are probably exaggerated, and in any case there was a big gap between hating the President and being prepared to join a rebel army. So nothing came of that idea.
Instead, a new plot was hatched, this time to burn down New York City just before the presidential election. Eight young Confederate officers, all under the age of 30, went to Toronto to plan the mission. Unfortunately for them — and fortunately for Lincoln, the North, and the city of New York — the men had been distinguished soldiers but they weren’t very good secret operatives. Their plan involved burning several targets each, using a substance called “Greek fire,” a combination of phosphorous and turpentine that ignited as soon as it had contact with air. But they weren’t going to get the Greek fire until they arrived in New York, so none of them practiced using it before they got to the city, at which point they spent a few minutes playing around in Central Park. But the police had been tipped off, and right before the elections, thousands of Union troops arrived in New York to maintain the peace. Sherman’s recent victory in Atlanta had refueled Lincoln’s popularity, and he won easily. The group decided to postpone their arson. Instead of choosing the sites most likely to spread a fire, like lumber yards and the gas works, they chose mostly hotels. They decided to make piles of furniture and bed linens and at a certain time, all light them on fire.
And on this day in 1864, they gave it a try. They set fire to 13 hotels, a pier, a barge, and Barnum’s Museum. But the fires failed. Only one hotel was seriously damaged, and no one was badly hurt. It turns out that the men hadn’t known to open the doors and windows — with them shut, the phosphorous didn’t have enough oxygen and just smoldered and went out. The remaining fires were quickly discovered by staff at the hotels and put out by the fire department. What could have been total devastation is now an almost forgotten event.
On this day in 1947, the president of the Motion Picture Association of America announced an official blacklist of the Hollywood Ten, a group of nine screenwriters and one director. Often conflated with the Senate subcommittee headed by Joe McCarthy in the 1950s, the blacklist was in fact a concession to the House Committee on Un-American Activities, whose investigation of Communism in the movies began a month before McCarthy even took office, and three years before he came to any kind of national attention. Although government officials like McCarthy would eventually accuse everyone from clergymen to public school teachers of harboring Communists, the hunt began in Hollywood, centered on writers, and was helped along by the movie executives who on this day agreed to punish anyone the HUAC saw fit.
The American Communist Party had swelled in ranks during the height of the Great Depression, when its campaigns for the rights of the poor attracted members who hadn’t yet heard of the atrocities committed by Stalin’s Communist regime. It was especially popular among young artists and within Hollywood’s progressive climate. By the end of World War II, however, reports of brutal repression in Soviet-controlled states began to reach America, where the increasingly conservative political atmosphere considered Communism a threat. HUAC, the committee charged by the House of Representatives to investigate anyone having Communist or Fascist ties, announced that they would look into allegations that Communists were secretly planting propaganda in U.S. films. They released a list of 43 witnesses they intended to subpoena. Nineteen of those named announced that they would not testify if called.
The hearings began in October of 1947, when several movie professionals, including Walt Disney and Ronald Reagan, testified that indeed, the Communist influence was real and dangerous. Of the 19 people who’d promised to refuse participation, only 11 were actually summoned. One of them, the German playwright Bertolt Brecht who’d written a single Hollywood screenplay, worried that withholding his cooperation could detain him in the States. He answered the Committee’s questions — truthfully stating that he’d never been a member of the Communist Party, and carefully skirting other questions about his political beliefs — and left for Europe the very next day.
The remaining 10, now known as the Hollywood Ten, made good on their promise. Although being affiliated with the Communist Party was perfectly legal — and they had all been at one time, or still were — they resented the implication that this made them “un-American.” Fearing persecution and standing on the principle that such an investigation was itself un-American, each declined to answer the Committee’s questions, citing their First Amendment rights and some protesting the committee’s activities as unconstitutional. On November 24, the Hollywood Ten were cited for contempt of Congress. All would serve time in prison.
That same day, a convention of almost 50 high-level film executives met in one of the most luxuriously appointed suites of the Waldorf-Astoria, many of them having rushed from the West Coast to attend the meeting. The following day, on November 25, the group publicly announced their intention to blacklist the Hollywood Ten, vowing to refuse them work until they had declared under oath that they were not Communists, and declaring that they would likewise refuse work — or fire — anyone else who was known to be a Communist.
The fact that this announcement came after a two-day session suggested that there may have been some original dissenters within a group that included the head of every major studio, but ultimately they presented a united front. They worried about their writers generating so much bad publicity, and they didn’t appreciate the suggestion that — in an almost assembly-line studio system that relied heavily on them to approve every script and every casting choice — a writer could have the power to subvert their authority and sneak in hidden messages. Their press release, forever after called The Waldorf Statement, did acknowledge the inherent problems with their policy, saying, “There is the danger of hurting innocent people. There is the risk of creating an atmosphere of fear. Creative work at its best cannot be carried on in an atmosphere of fear. We will guard against this danger, this risk, this fear.” They did not suggest how they would guard against it, however.
Indeed, although HUAC had failed to find any evidence of Communist messages in the movies or coercion within the industry, the prospect of being associated with anything or anyone tainted by Communism inspired a growing hysteria, and a growing blacklist. When the committee began another round of hearings in 1951 — urging everyone called in to “name names” of suspected Party members — hundreds of screenwriters, actors, directors, producers, composers, musicians, animators, and scene designers ceased to get work even if they weren’t officially blacklisted or even accused of anything. The mere mention of their name in the HUAC proceedings was enough to scare off film execs.
Although screenwriters were originally the primary target of HUAC’s investigation and comprised a majority of the blacklist, they fared perhaps better than other artists. Unlike actors and directors, many screenwriters were able to change their name, or write under the name of a friend who wasn’t on the list. In fact, Dalton Trumbo, one of the original Hollywood Ten, won the Best Screenplay Oscar for the 1956 film The Brave One under the name “Robert Rich.” Trumbo had served a year in a Kentucky prison, moved to Mexico with his family for two years, and then quietly returned to Los Angeles to resume working under a pseudonym. When the press couldn’t find “Robert Rich” after his Oscar win and discovered the real writer was on the blacklist, the resulting scandal helped to finally soften the stranglehold of the list. In 1960, Trumbo received credits for both Exodus and Spartacus, the first time his name had appeared on-screen in more than a decade.
It’s the birthday of children’s author and illustrator P.D. Eastman (books by this author), born Philip Dey “Phil” Eastman in Amherst (1909). Eastman is best known by children and parents for his books within the Dr. Seuss imprint “Beginning Books,” like Go, Dog. Go! (1961) and Are You My Mother? (1960). These books came toward the end of a long career in animation that included helping create and write for the character Mr. Magoo. But it was the work he did while serving in World War II that most influenced the eventual course of his writing.
Eastman was inducted into the Army in 1943, where, because of his work experience at Walt Disney and Warner Brothers Studios, he was assigned to the Signal Corp’s First Motion Picture Unit, headed by the legendary film director Frank Capra. Eastman served in an animation unit with Munro Leaf, whose children’s book The Story of Ferdinand(1936) about a bull who preferred smelling flowers to bullfighting, had been made into an Oscar-winning Disney film. They were led by Ted Geisel, an advertising cartoonist whose contract had allowed him little leeway in other creative pursuits. He’d turned, like Leaf, to writing kids’ books. And before joining the war effort, he’d published four volumes to modest success.
Capra had created the concept for an animated series aimed at educating young — and sometimes illiterate — enlisted men; Eastman, Leaf, and Geisel wrote episodes for the short films that were then by produced by Warner Brothers. The series was called “Private Snafu,” and centered on a dimwitted soldier whose name was an acronym for a military phrase familiar — and amusing — to the audience, which the opening narrator announced as “Situation Normal: All … All Fouled Up!” Snafu taught by negative example, leaking secrets that allow the enemy to torpedo him in one film, failing to properly camouflage himself and getting bombed in another. The cartoons — complete with scantily clad women and minor cursing — were often soldiers’ favorite offering of the biweekly newsreel.
After the war, Eastman continued to work as a writer and storyboard artist for animated productions and TV commercials. More than a decade had passed when Ted Geisel, now internationally famous as Dr. Seuss, asked his former subordinate Eastman to write a children’s book for his brand-new children’s imprint, Beginner Books. The books were all modeled after the recent and massive success of Cat in the Hat (1957), with a limited vocabulary but an entertaining subject matter to hold children’s interest. They were, minus the risqué content, not unlike their wartime collaboration.
It’s the birthday of American steel magnate and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, born in Dunfermline, Scotland (1835), the son of a weaver and political radical. His father instilled in young Andrew the values of political and economic equality, but his family’s poverty taught Carnegie a different lesson. At the age of 12, the boy worked as a milkhand for $1.20 per week. When the Carnegies immigrated to America in 1848, Carnegie was determined to find prosperity. One of the pioneers of industry of 19th-century America, Andrew Carnegie helped build the American steel industry, which turned him into one of the richest entrepreneurs of his age.
In 1868, at age 33, Carnegie wrote himself a memo in which he questioned his chosen career, a life of business. He kept the letter for his entire life, carefully preserving it in his files. In the memo, he vowed to retire from business within two years, believing that the further pursuit of wealth would degrade him. Carnegie eventually sold his steel business and gave his fortune away to cultural, educational, and scientific institutions for the improvement of mankind.
Over the course of his life, Andrew Carnegie endowed 2,811 libraries and many charitable foundations as well as the internationally famous Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. He also bought 7,689 organs for churches. The purpose of the latter gift was, in Carnegie’s words, “To lessen the pain of the sermons.”
It’s the birthday of the novelist Helen Hooven Santmyer (books by this author), born in Cincinnati, Ohio (1895). When she was five years old, she moved with her family to the small town of Xenia, Ohio, where she grew up. As a young girl, she was inspired by the Xenia Women’s Club — an early feminist intellectual organization — to go off to New York and get a job as a secretary for Scribner’s Magazine, where she met many writers, including Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald.
But after a few years of living in New York City, and then studying at Oxford, she moved back to Xenia where she was elected to the membership of the Xenia Women’s Club that she had so much admired as a little girl.
She was writing all the time and even published a few novels, but they had little success. It was only after her retirement that Santmyer began to delve into the history of her hometown, eventually writing a collection of essays called Ohio Town: A Portrait of Xenia (1862). Then she began an epic novel about a small-town women’s group based on her own Women’s Club of Xenia. The finished product …And Ladies of the Club (1982) was more than 1,300 pages long. It was published by the Ohio State Press and sold about 300 copies.
The book sat on a few library shelves around Ohio, unread for the most part, until the mother of a Hollywood executive happened to read it and she passed it on to her son. He thought the book would make a good mini-series, so he bought the television and movie rights to the novel. It was reissued in a paperback and became a Book-of-the-Month Club selection, reaching No. 1 on the New York Times best-seller list in 1985. Helen Hooven Santmyer had become a best-selling novelist and literary celebrity at the age of 88.
It’s the birthday of physician and essayist Lewis Thomas (books by this author), born in Flushing, New York (1913). He’s the author of The Lives of a Cell: Notes of a Biology Watcher (1974), The Medusa and the Snail: More Notes of a Biology Watcher (1979), The Youngest Science: Notes of a Medicine Watcher (1983), and Late Night Thoughts on Mahler’s Ninth Symphony (1984).
When Thomas entered Princeton in 1929, his interest was biological research with the hope of increasing the effectiveness of treatment. His other great interest was the poetry of Pound and Eliot.
During World War II, Thomas did field research on typhus and encephalitis for the U.S. Navy. He landed with the Marines during the invasion of Okinawa carrying a special case full of laboratory white mice. After the war, he built up his academic credentials at various medical schools and eventually, in 1973, became president of the Sloan-Kettering Institute in New York City, one of the world’s largest facilities devoted to cancer research.
Now at the top of his profession, Thomas attained popular recognition for work of an entirely different sort. He had written or co-written more than 200 scientific articles, but it was his series of short essays that was receiving attention. His essays were loosely modeled on the essays of Montaigne. The series had been appearing on the back pages of The New England Journal of Medicine since 1971 as informal essays.
Thomas wrote late at night, quickly and without an outline, usually shortly after the deadline. He addressed his readers as friends in a conversation, not as scientific colleagues, and he included no reference notes at the end. His essays mix facts about the human body with personal meditation and thoughts about the connectedness of man and the universe.
In 1974, Viking Press collected 29 of the essays, exactly as they had appeared, in The Lives of a Cell, which was awarded the National Book Award in 1975, nominated in both the arts and the sciences categories but finally selected for arts and letters. Within five years, it had been translated into 11 languages and sold more than 250,000 copies.
Lewis Thomas said: “The great secret of doctors, known only to their wives, but still hidden from the public, is that most things get better by themselves; most things, in fact, are better in the morning.”