Las Vegas, NV
May 20, 2020
Garrison Keillor hits Las Vegas with a new solo show!
April 18, 2020
Garrison Keillor comes to the Rochester Civic Theatre for a night of stories, songs, poetry, and humor. Tickets $50 and up
February 19, 2020
Garrison Keillor with Heather Masse at the Dakota. Night 2 of 2. Tickets $30+
February 18, 2020
Garrison Keillor with Heather Masse at the Dakota. Night 1 of 2. Tickets $30+
Here In The Psalm
by Sally Fisher
I am a sheep
and I like it
because the grass
I lie down in
feels good and the still
waters are restful and right
there if I’m thirsty
and though some valleys
are very chilly there is a long
rod that prods me so I
direct my hooves
the right way
I’m trying hard
to sit at a table
because it’s expected
and my enemies—
it turns out I have enemies—
are watching me eat and
spill my drink
but I don’t worry because
all my enemies do
is watch and I know
I’m safe if I will
just do my best
as I sit on this chair
that wobbles a bit
in the grass
on the side of a hill.
“Here In The Psalm” by Sally Fisher from Good Question. © Bright Hills Press, 2016. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)
On this day in 1930, the Motion Picture Production Code was put into effect, setting guidelines for the depiction of sex, violence, crime, and religion in American movies. Also known as the Hays Code, after Hollywood censor Will Hays, it was originally a list of 36 “Don’ts” and “Be Carefuls” and as such it was pretty ineffectual and tough to enforce until 1934, at which time films needed to pass review and receive a certificate of approval to be released. The Hays Code was used until 1968, when it was replaced by the Motion Picture Association of America rating system that we use today.
Hays, a former Postmaster General, was hired at the sum of $100,000 a year to polish Hollywood’s image, which had gotten rather tarnished in the 1920s by risqué content and off-screen shenanigans. The Supreme Court had ruled in 1915 that the First Amendment right to free speech did not extend to movies, and the film industry adopted the code hoping to avoid further government interference.
Based on a document created in 1929 by a lay Catholic and Jesuit priest, the document was decidedly moralistic in tone and actively set out to promote traditional values. Crime must be punished and criminals must not be presented as sympathetic characters; pre- or extra-marital sex must never be portrayed in a positive, enticing, or titillating light; authority figures must be portrayed with respect; the church and the clergy must not be laughable or villainous. Showing drug use and interracial romance were likewise outlawed. In 1934 the newly created Production Code Administration strictly enforced the code and gave itself the power to change scenes and whole scripts. As a result, Rick and Ilsa’s Paris affair and Inspector Renault’s sexual extortions in Casablanca were only hinted at. The film’s original ending, in which Ilsa doesn’t get on the plane but lives in sin with Rick, was also scrapped, and we saw instead Rick’s unselfish renunciation of his true love.
In the 1950s, the code was increasingly subverted by more racy foreign films, which weren’t bound by the Code, and the lure of television, which offered competition for the moviegoing audience. Some studios began releasing films without the PCA’s approval and found that they could still make a buck. Billy Wilder’s Some Like It Hot (1959) was one such picture, and it was a box office hit with its gambling, bootleg gin, cross-dressing heroes, and Marilyn Monroe’s tales of topless pillow fights. The Code’s death knell could clearly be heard, even over the movie’s hot jazz soundtrack.
It’s the birthday of poet and novelist Marge Piercy (books by this author), born in Detroit (1936). Her grandfather was a union organizer who was murdered while organizing bakery workers. Her grandmother was born in a shtetl in Lithuania, and Piercy grew up sitting in her kitchen and listening to her stories. She grew up working-class and Jewish in an era when anti-Semitism was a constant part of life. She witnessed the Detroit race riots (her first boyfriend was black, and she was beaten up for it) and she lost a friend to heroin when she was a teenager. She said, “I knew so many kinds of people, from a Wyandotte Native American to kids from the projects to kids up from Appalachia to strivers and strainers and gamblers and numbers runners. Detroit formed me.”
In 1976, she published Woman on the Edge of Time, a work of speculative science fiction about a working-class Latina woman who is committed to an insane asylum and whose experiences with time travel lead her to understand that her actions will influence the direction of the future. It became regarded as a feminist classic of science fiction.
Her books include the novels Braided Lives (1982), He, She and It (1991), and Sex Wars (2005), and the poetry collections The Moon Is Always Female (1980), The Art of Blessing the Day (1999), Made in Detroit (2015) and, most recently, On the Way Out, Turn Off the Light: Poems (2020).
Oklahoma! opened on Broadway on this date in 1943. It was based on a play called Green Grow the Lilacs (1930) by Lynn Riggs. Though the play, which was about settlers in the Oklahoma Territory, featured some old folk songs, it wasn’t a musical of the Broadway variety. Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein were both admirers of the play, and they had both independently tried to adapt it to the musical format, but their respective songwriting partners — Lorenz Hart and Jerome Kern — weren’t interested. So Rodgers approached Hammerstein about it. Usually, musicals were made up of fairly thin and joke-riddled plotlines that only served to string together the most important element: the songs. But Rodgers and Hammerstein were both committed to making the songs fit the story rather than the other way around. One of Broadway’s most beloved musicals, as well as one of its most successful partnerships, was born of their collaboration.
Nobody expected the show to do very well but Oklahoma! was an immediate smash hit and the first big Broadway blockbuster. It ran for over 2,200 performances. One of its stars, Celeste Holm, was not surprised at its success. A gypsy fortuneteller had told her that someone with the initials “R.R.” would change her life. “She said, ‘I see you surrounded by dancing cowboys,’” Holm later recalled. “It was the silliest thing I ever heard. I didn’t think a thing about it — until opening night, when I looked around and realized, Oh my God, there are the dancing cowboys!”
Today is the birthday of philosopher René Descartes (books by this author), born in La Haye en Touraine, France (1596). He’s been called the father of modern philosophy, but he considered himself a mathematician and scientist. He became interested in philosophy when he heard that the Church persecuted Galileo for his scientific theories. Descartes realized some of his own theories were also controversial, so he wrote a book called Discourse on Method (1637) about the necessity of doubt in scientific inquiry. He also wrote about beginning to doubt everything about his life, even the fact that he existed at all. But in the process of doing so, he realized that he couldn’t doubt the existence of his own thoughts, and he produced his most famous line: “I think, therefore I am.”
It’s the birthday of the poet Andrew Marvell (books by this author), born in Winestead, England (1621). He was a politician as well as a poet, and served under Oliver Cromwell during the period of the English civil war. Although he wrote several scathing satirical verses about the political upheaval of his times, his job was too public for him to safely publish them, so most of his work was published after his death. He’s now considered one of the best English poets of the 17th century.
His most famous poem is “To His Coy Mistress,” about a man trying to convince a young virgin to sleep with him. It begins, “Had we but world enough, and time, this coyness, Lady, were no crime,” and contains the lines, “The grave’s a fine and private place, but none, I think, do there embrace.”
Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®