Friday, August 31, 2007

My French Barrel Clock of 1854

I have loved this clock for ages. I have had it for ages. I bought it from a Danish Clock restorer in 1991. I have used it all the time for the last 16 years. Now the clock is well over 150 years of age and still it keeps on ticking. I guess it would put John Cameron Swazy and Timex to shame. But this clock today resides in my library. It will be with me till I assume room temperature. I love barrel clocks from France.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

My philosophy of life..revisited

I wrote this piece a year ago. It was written deep in the middle of the night. I was restless and I wrote the feelings that were at the time quite important to me. I have gone over this and added a few items..But basically it is as I wrote it. I feel the same today, however it is a very troubling thing to see this world on the very brink of world war.
I have seen all the advertisements from the 1930's that were speaking against war. But war came and the world had no choice. Now we are against a rock and a hard place....Where will this lead, and where will all of these troubles head us toward? If I was able to say so I would. But I am but one man who sees history repeating itself....That alone scares me!

When will we ever learn to love each other?

Now back to what I wrote last year

I have been thinking as of late on what life is and means to me. I have been thinking of what life means to others.
This mudball earth that we all share seems to be closer to a really bad turn of events than it has perhaps in its whole existence.
I have often talked here about life and love..and that we should respect our fellow man...But there is more to it than that.

I feel that most people are inherently good..I feel that most people when given the opportunity will take the high ground...
I believe that most people love their families and friends...I believe that most people hate war and it horror...I believe that most people wish for peace...
I believe that we are in a most dangerous moment in the history of this small mass in this vast universe.
But we are in a world now where it is not the masses, but a select few are causing such terrible horror in the world.

So where do we go? What do we do?

I can say love your friends and enemies but that will go nowhere...

I could say look to religion...But we are killing each other because of religion!

I guess we have to look at life in a way that we have not looked before....or in a way we have not in a long time.

I feel that life is hard at times..and we go through many trials and horrors. But it is ourselves that brings strength. I know we can fall back on our religious icons...but in reality it is you that makes life worth while. The religion makes us feel better and we think it helps....Whatever religion you are talking about....They are all basically the same.

But once again I mention that it is you .. You make the difference.

My philosophy of life is that I have learned to understand life as best I can. I try to handle it as well as I can. I do not blame others for any of my hardships...I understand that I am the answer to the riddle of life.

When I see people blame others for their troubles, sorrows, emotional stability, and violent nature on those of their past I feel so sad. People are so happy to pass the buck and blame another for their problems. It relieves them of responsibility.

Life is very simple, but often we make it very difficult with our moods, thoughts, concepts and religions.

Go back to the core of life, the basics.....We are not any different from those who walked this world 100 years ago...We are not too far from the people of 1000 years ago...Just our toys are better...Or are they?????

As John Quincy Adams said in the Amistad Trial in which he fought for the freedom of the black slaves and won. ...That great man should be honored in so many ways. Much more than he is now.

He said "Who we are, is who we were." That is truly a strong point in where we are now. For who we are right now is truly who we were so many years ago.

The simpleness of life years ago was in many way a blessing...with our technology and "what we call progress" we have made such a mess of things......The simplest things are always the longest lasting and most successful.

Why because they are simple that is all.

We do very much influence our world with our thoughts and feelings...I often think that matter may be influenced by thought.
Thomas Edison once wrote that "matter is intelligent".... I often wonder if it truly is?

With this thought in mind..Maybe we need to slow down a bit...Look at ourselves in the collective mirror and say slow down ....

Life is a wonderful can bring great joy and sorrow...But the benefits far outweigh the negatives......Slow down my friends..look around...pick up a book...take a breath....

To my friends of the world ..let's all try to do the same...For we do all inhabit this little mudball called earth. We cannot go anywhere..we are all stuck here together.

Perhaps we cannot all be friends on this planet, but we can try to understand each other before it is too late. If I may say so, it is pretty darn late on this world's clock...We better do something soon!!!

As it says on rail road crossings...Stop, Look and Listen.......It really is time we did NOW!!

Sunday, August 26, 2007

The 1883 Liberty Head Nickel...One coin that caused a whole heck of a lot of problems.

Here is the face of the Liberty nickel of 1883.

Here is the back of the 1883 Liberty nickel.

It was a beautiful coin, so well designed, and attractive. But the only problem with it was that no one put the word cents on it. A nickel of course is a five cent piece and everyone knows that today.
But in 1883 we had gold coins that ran in values of one, five, ten, and twenty dollars.
So when the Liberty nickel came out and just had a large V for five on the back it opened up the coin to be used in a way the United States Mint had never intended it .
People gold painted them, gold sputtered them, gold washed them in any way to make them look like a five dollar gold piece. Of course everyone took them as five dollar gold pieces as it simple said five on the back.

This caused a wild time in the Treasury Department and all hell broke loose in the United States Mint!
Immediately they stopped production of the Liberty Head Nickel and redesigned the back of it. So instead of simply having a large V, it had under the V the word CENTS!
This stopped the misuse of the Liberty Head nickel, but a whole lot of people had been really taken advantage by this scam. It was the last coin ever made by the United States Mint that did not say "exactly" what it was valued at. They had learned their lesson and it was a very embarrassing one.

So today the 1883 nickel is a popular and valuable coin for collectors. As it was one coin through error and cleverness that became something it was never intended to be!

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Jack Benny...A few good stories about this most wonderful comedian.

Jack Benny 1894- 1974

I was one of the lucky ones to grow up with Jack Benny. He was not as famous as he has been in the 1930's - 1950's...He was at the point of time I remember him..legendary!
I was his biggest fan from the early 1960's on. I enjoyed his shows and specials. I loved it when he made cameo appearances on shows on TV. He was perhaps one of the few people on TV I really admired. I still can recall with great clarity the many shows I watched on TV.
Gosh he was on everything..Laugh in, Lucy, The Dean Martin Show, The Smothers Brothers, The Dean Martin Roasts, The Jack Benny Specials, The Johnny Carson Show, and so many others. Today I can see some of these shows on "youtube" Which allows us to see great shows from the past that are just as funny as they were 30-40 years ago.

Of course I was crestfallen when he died in 1974. I remember the day..December 26, 1974. I wrote in my diary that day "We will laugh again, but never so well".

But let's go back a few years when he was the king of the radio and early TV. He made a great name for himself as a comedian. In many ways he was not one, he was a comic actor.
In real life he was a quiet mild mannered man. Sometimes a very moody brooding one. He had for much of his life the strong mood swings. His closest friends were understanding and loved him. For the bad moods were few and far between. For most of the time he was the sweetest and most considerate person you could ever meet.

One of his greatest problems was his great success. He created a character that was nothing like the real Jack Benny. But one that would attract and amuse nearly every person who came into contact with it.
The character Jack Benny was a cheap, arrogant, sneaky, proud, kind'a foolish, an awful violin player, and one to never allow a penny to pass his way without scooping it up.
The real Jack Benny was very much the opposite....He was generous, warm, friendly, very intelligent, a darn good violinist, and the best audience any comedian could ask for. When watching other comedians he would fall on the floor laughing uncontrollably..He was the best audience you could ever have.

But everyone knew about Jack Benny. As many would expect that he would be just like the character that he played on radio , TV, and movies. This caused some very awkward situations.
The real Jack Benny was often the victim of the character Jack Benny. In fact it was a great burden for him as you will see in some of these stories that I will share with you....

Perhaps one of the greatest stories about Benny comes to us from the early 1960's......
He was at an airport and going to do a show. He decided to run to the bathroom before leaving the airport. In those days they charged ten cents to get into a stall. You would put the dime in the slot and then you could get into the stall. Well, he got in and did what he needed to do and then headed off to the waiting taxi.
Once in the taxi he realized that he must of dropped his wallet on the floor in the stall. So he ran back to the airport and got back into the bathroom. He looked around and saw his wallet deep inside the stall.
Then he came to the sad understanding that he did not have a dime on him to get in. So he had to slide under the door on the floor to reach in and grab his wallet.

Just as he was doing that, another fellow walked into the men's room and immediately recognized Benny as he was sliding on the floor to get into the stall! The fellow just looked at Benny and said....basically ..

..It is true what they say about you!...

Try as he may Benny could not convince the fellow and did not have the time to do so either. It was one of the many times that his character preceded him and marked him as a tightwad.

Another time he was at the Hospital for check ups and he had just relieved himself in the bathroom. Just as he walked out the nurse handed him a cup and asked for a sample. He tried!...All he could muster up was a few drops. When he handed the very slightly filled cup back to the nurse she looked at him and said..."You don't give anything away do you?"...

When he would ride in a taxi he would often give good tips to the drivers. One such driver said to Benny after receiving a five dollar tip....(remember this is the 1960's)......"Mr Benny don't spoil the illusion". So Benny asked for the money back. The driver was not that disillusioned.

These issues would haunt him at dinners, theaters, lounges, and sports events. He would often give tons of money to charities and funds.

Jimmy Stewart the great actor had a wonderful story about Jack Benny that was so amazingly funny...First off you have to know that it is not true.... But so fits Benny's character...Here is Stewart's cute story about Benny....

You know I owe a lot to this great generous man sitting here. You may not know this but Jack Benny saved my life once.
One Christmas when I first came to Hollywood I needed a blood transfusion and Jack donated his blood for me. And I was thinking as I was starting to get his blood, I will have to get him a gift in the order of fifty dollars when I get out of here. After I was half filled with his blood I said well maybe a Twenty five dollar gift would be just fine. By the time it was all over I decided a Christmas card would be just fine!

That was the image!

Perhaps one of his greatest loves was the violin. He was nothing like the mindless, useless, pathetic violin player that he portrayed. He was quite a violinist.

I got the chance to ask one of his violin partners about Benny's playing. That was the great violinist Isaac Stern who I spent time with in December of 2000. I asked him what it was like to play with Benny?
He said that it was an experience and that while Benny did not have the power in his bowing, he was far better than made out to be. That is not to say he was good, said Stern. But he was very good for what he was and how old he was.
It was Stern and Benny who did several concerts at Carnegie Hall to raise money for the august institution to preserve it from the wreckers ball. Most of the work was done by Stern, but there was quite a bit of help from Benny.
Benny would in time raise for Symphonies around the world an amazing two million dollars. While never charging a cent for his services.

Benny did own a real Stradivarius violin and did practice 2 to 3 hours a day! When on stage he played dreadfully, but when on the concert stage he played as well as he could. Often it was amazing, sometimes it was filled with mistakes here and there. But the audience expected him to be lousy. So there was never a problem when it came to his fiddling. Today his violins are part of the collection of L.A. Symphony Orchestra.

Where ever he went he was mobbed by people. He understood it was fine and part of his responsibility as a performing artist. His daughter recalled how he would just be very calm and spend time with fans. He was never pushy or rude. But always a gentleman.

He was a big fan of Chicken Fried Steak. It was something that most fancy places would not have. So he was always delighted to find a roadside dive or diner that had it. It was one of his great delights.
I had never had it. So recently I went to dive type restaurant that had it and ordered it. I will never do so again. It was just as you would imagine it..Steak covered with greasy batter like on fried chicken. I am glad I had the experience and was thinking of him as I ordered it. But I had indigestion for a day after.

Lastly, Benny had a problem from the time of the early 1930's that no matter where he went he was recognized and followed. In 1972 he played a concert with the Jerusalem Symphonic Orchestra under the baton of Zubin Mehta.
One day while having some free time he left the hotel and walked around Israel. No one knew him, and as he returned back he said to Zubin ...Basically saying that it was nice to be an average person for a while. It was something he had never experienced for nearly 40 years...and he enjoyed it.

If you get the chance read about him. He was such a groundbreaking artist in so many ways. The idea of the stand up comedian is his development. The wonderful style and stare was amazing. He taught Johnny Carson how to handle an audience and in Carson's style you always saw the touch that was Benny's. His legacy is one of laughter. Even the comedian Benny Hill used that famous name in tribute to the great innovator.

In Benny's own words about why he was so successful and people associated and understood him so....He said that "They (the people) are educated to understand my character, and therefore they can find the humor in just about everything that I do".

I must say that I feel sorry for people today who do not recall him or understand this comic genius.

But every great performer has his time...I cannot imagine Benny today in this age of Mad TV, Red Neck Humor, or even Saturday night live. I do not think that the audience is comically educated enough to enjoy such humor anymore.
Today it is fast, furious, and in your face.
The days of building up to joke for 10 minutes are of the past.....Our understanding of humor is like our cooking....It has reached the age of the microwave. It has to be fast. If it takes too long we loose interest.

I still don't mind waiting....and I am happy I am old enough to have seen the great days of comedy. And seeing the great acts in their later years. It was a time much unlike now. Think of it between 1960-1970 all the great shows on TV. It was perhaps the last gasp of Vaudeville. And all the great performers who had worked in many cases most of the 20th century had their twilight on TV. Jack Benny was no exception. His career started in 1909, and ended 65 years later. He started in Vaudeville and left us doing Laugh In, Johnny Carson, Dick Cavett, The Lucy Show, The Smothers Brothers, The Dean Martin Show, The Jackie Gleason Show, The Ed Sullivan Show, and so many others and specials. What a way to go...On the top!

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Anne of Green Gables..The story of the orphan girl from Prince Edward Island is more popular in Japan than in nearly any other place in the world.

One of the books from the anime series in Japan. It is amazing how popular Anne of Green Gables is in Japan.

From Wikipedia.....
Anne of Green Gables (Anne with the Red Hair (赤毛のアン, Akage no Anne?)) is an animated television series adapted from the novel Anne of Green Gables, produced by Nippon Animation in Japan in 1979. It was broadcast from January 7, 1979 to December 30. All 50 episodes. It has been exported to neighbouring Asian countries and also to Europe and Canada (Anna dai capelli rossi in Italian, Anne la maison aux pignons verts in French, Ana de las tejas verdes in Spanish and Anne mit den roten Haaren in German). As with the novels, the animated version of Anne is much beloved in Japan to this day.

These are figures from the anime series made in Japan. I really love these little figures and also the anime series that it comes from.

Anne of Green Gables is a book written by Canadian author Lucy Maud Montgomery; it was first published in 1908. It was written as fiction for readers of all ages, but in recent decades has been considered a children's book. Montgomery found her inspiration for the book in a newspaper article describing a couple that was mistakenly sent an orphan girl instead of a boy, yet decided to keep her. Montgomery also drew upon her own childhood experiences in rural Prince Edward Island. Montgomery used a photograph of Evelyn Nesbit, clipped from an American magazine and pasted on the wall above her writing desk, as the model for Anne Shirley, the book's protagonist. It has become one of the most popular series of books written.

So in Japan the book, story, characters, have near reached a cult. In this country it is liked but not so wildly. I have always been fond of it. It meant a great deal to me when a dear friend brought me the book and figures from Japan.

I have read the book and so recall the 1985 made for TV series of this for public television. I loved it so. I confess I needed tissues as I watched it as well. I so recall the amazing performance of Colleen Dewhurst. It was one of her last performances and in my opinion one of her best.

If you have never read the book...I truly recommend it.

Patricia Murphy's Restaurant...One of the great old restaurant's in Yonkers, NY....I have a wonderful little memento of the place from 1965

Menus from this great place which has long since vanished. It was a major destination in the 1950's and 60's.
The food there was wonderful. It was famous for the roasts and wonderful meals. It was a place were everyone would be dressed in a most formal fashion. Men and boys in a jacket and tie, and the ladies what ever their age in dresses.

I remember the formal settings and white tablecloths. I would have a Shirley Temple when there. It was a drink for kids that would resemble an adult drink. It was usually ginger ale with red cherry juice put in it. I felt pretty sophisticated with that.

The waiters were all so fashionable, and the music was lovely. It was of another world. Today I could not really imagine such a place that was not in the center of Manhatten to have such a success.
I know someone who was the voice of Patricia Murphy's restaurant for a while. He would make all the annoucements. His memories of the place are not as warm and friendly as mine. But one never feels the same when you work somewhere.

There were people dressed in costume whatever the period of time was or what holiday was taking place. It was always an event to be there.
I was 8 years old when I was there and received a wonderful reminder of that trip which I still have and cherish.

Here is a great picture of the entrance into the great restaurant. It was chock filled with gardens and fountains. It was truly an event to go there.
I have warm childhood memories of the place. The warm popovers that were always around. The fresh butter that came with them was wonderful too. There were interior gardens and fountains. When the holidays would come in December. There would be massive Christmas trees and little figures that would adorn the tables and every bit of the place.

Here is the little toy that I was given when I went to the restaurant with my family during the Christmas season of 1965. I love this little piece. I remember playing with this on the car ride back from Yonkers.
Now the reason how it survived was it was put in a box and forgotten. It ended up at my grandmothers. When my grandmother died in 1990 I found it and it has been with me ever since.
I would love to find a few more but look as I have tried I have not. But maybe it has more value as just being that one piece that I had when but a little boy.

Today that little fellow resides in my library and I see it every day. And I guess it is the oldest thing that I have from my childhood.

Lastly in the 1960's many cheap items that were sold in this country came from Japan. In fact that was a joke here that if it was cheap look and see where it was from and you would see ...Made in Japan.

Now in these days if you see .."made in Japan".. You know it is much better made than anything almost anywhere.
How much the whole world has changed in the 42 years since I got this little fellow from Patricia Murphy's restaurant in Yonkers New York.

You don't see this on cheap little trinkets anymore.

The little figure from Patricia Murphy's Restaurant as it sits in my library

I thought it would be nice to show where that fellow sits now in my library. It is one of my greatest treasures.

Monday, August 06, 2007

The dedication of the Lincoln memorial...May 30, 1922

The 3 major participants Chief Justice (ex Pres) William H. Taft 1857-1930, President Warren G. Harding 1865-1923, Robert Lincoln 1843-1926.

Crowds and veterans wait in the late spring sun for the dedication to take place. Also to take a look at the Chief Justice. Who would be the master of ceremonies, See the President who was such a splendid speaker, and Robert Lincoln who was the last living link to the the 16th President in 1922...It would also be his last public appearance. It was an event that had been anticipated for decades. Finally over 60 years after he had taken office, Lincoln's magnificent temple was dedicated.

At the event the North and South were on hand..Old veterans from the Blue and the Gray were there hand in hand as they came to honor the man who saved the nation.

Lastly, there was a contest for a poem to be read at the event...The winner was Edward Markham. He read his poem entitled..."Lincoln, the man of the people".

This poem was chosen out of two-hundred-fifty Lincoln poems by the committee headed by Chief Justice Taft, to be read at the dedication of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., in 1922.
One hundred thousand people were present and two-million more were listening in on the radio.
President Warren Harding delivered the address. Then Edwin Markham read his poem.

Lastly, there was an early public address system and there were amplifying horns placed on the top of the memorial so the many spectators could hear. It gave a somewhat baseball stadium sound, but it was one of the first attempts to use such a system. If you look at the picture of the dedication you can see the horns all along the top of the memorial.
There were no recordings made of the event. So those who were there, and those who had a radio, were able to hear the addresses and the poem like no one else would ever hear.

Here is the poem...


Lincoln, the Man of the People

When the Norn Mother saw the Whirlwind Hour
Greatening and darkening as it hurried on,
She left the Heaven of Heroes and came down
To make a man to meet the mortal need.
She took the tried clay of the common road--
Clay warm yet with the genial heat of Earth,
Dasht through it all a strain of prophecy,
Tempered the heap with thrill of human tears
Then mixt a laughter with the serious stuff,
Into the shape she breathed a flame to light
That tender, tragic, ever-changing face;
And laid on him a sense of the Mystic Powers,
Moving--all husht-behind the mortal vail.
Here was a man to hold against the world,
A man to match the mountains and the sea.

The color of the ground was in him, the red earth,
The smack and tang of elemental things:
The rectitude and patience of the cliff,
The good-will of the rain that loves all leaves,
The friendly welcome of the wayside well,
The courage of the bird that dares the sea,
The gladness of the wind that shakes the corn
The pity of the snow that hides all scars,
The secrecy of streams that makes their way
Under the mountain to the rifted rock,
The tolerance and equity of light
That gives as freely to the shrinking flower
As to the great oak flaring to the wind--
To the grave's low hill as to the Matterhorn
That shoulders out the sky. Sprung from the West,
He drank the valorous youth of a new world.
The strength of virgin forests braced his mind,
The hush of spacious prairies stilled his soul.
His words were oaks in acorns; and his thoughts
Were roots that firmly gript the granite truth.

Up from log cabin to the Capitol,
One fire was on his spirit, one resolve--
To send the keen ax to the root of wrong,
Clearing a free way for the feet of God,
The eyes of conscience testing every stroke,
To make his deed the measure of a man.
He built the rail-pile as he built the State,
Pouring his splendid strength through every blow:
The grip that swung the ax in Illinois
Was on the pen that set a people free.

So came the Captain with the mighty heart;
And when the judgment thunders split the house,
Wrenching the rafters from their ancient rest,
He held the ridgepole up, and spikt again
The rafters of the Home. He held his place--
Held the long purpose like a growing tree--
Held on through blame and faltered not at praise--
Held on in calm rough-hewn sublimity.
And when he fell in whirlwind, he went down
As when a lordly cedar, green with boughs,
Goes down with a great shout upon the hills,
And leaves a lonesome place against the sky.

Then the temple was given to the people....Eighty five years ago in 1922.