Good Books: Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson; Good Movies: Treasure Island, 1950

Sometime around 1951, I saw Treasure Island  and was delighted. What a great movie, I thought, and the hero was a kid! Like me! About a year ago I got a DVD that promised to be a copy of the original film. I am fully aware that memories tarnish over time and did not expect Treasure Island to hold up after more than sixty years. But it did! I read Treasure Island as a kid and several times since, it is a fine novel. And I have seen a number of illustrations for the book done by different artists, and read the Classics Illustrated comic. Anyway, I want to review the movie (as it exists on DVD) and take a look at the book with an eye to plot differences. Along the way, I’ll mention some of the illustrators who worked on this title. (This post is image-heavy and may take a while to load. Many of the illustrations will embiggen if you click on them.)

Stevenson claimed to have been inspired by a map, possibly of one of the Scottish isles re-imagined as a pirate treasure location, by his step-son. (The map is reproduced in many editions of the book.) He also says that he set out to write a book for boys. And although it is true there are no girls in the book — the only female character is Jim’s mother, who does not appear in the Disney film at all — many young women read this novel or watch this movie with enjoyment. (One woman who was enthralled by Treasure Island was J.M.Barrie’s mother, who tried to hide her enjoyment from her novelist son for fear she would be seen as disloyal.)

The map (from the Swanston Collected R.L.Stevenson, available at gutenburg.org)

The map (from the Swanston Collected R.L.Stevenson, available at gutenburg.org) The Disney film map shows only the islet in the bottom right corner, which is where the treasure is buried.

The book begins with Jim Hawkins saying that all these events occurred years before, which is taken by cranky critics to be a spoiler, because that means the reader knows that Jim will survive. That just shows how little these critics understand literature. Anyway, Jim’s recollections begin with the wasting away of his father who dies leaving Jim and his mom to look after the Admiral Benbow Inn, located in coastal Devon. A guest named Billy Bones takes up residence at the inn during the period of Mr. Hawkins’ decline, and he is a thoroughly disagreeable mean drunk. He promises various payments to Jim’s parents and Jim himself, and cheats all three. He threatens the guests, has nasty drunken fits, and is generally a blight on the landscape. Here we might note that Stevenson never romanticizes his pirate characters — they are all scum and you don’t want to turn your back on any of them. Bones enlists Jim as lookout: the boy is to watch for seamen inquiring about him and, in particular, he is to watch for a one-legged man, who is to be feared.

Finlay Currie as Billy Bones, getting ready to take his last drink.

Finlay Currie as Billy Bones, getting ready to take his last drink.

One day, a man with a nasty scar on his face does turn up at the Admiral Benbow, looking for Billy Bones. This is where the Disney movie begins. Jim lies and says he knows no such man but the scarred man notices a sea-trunk, marked “WB” and knows that this means “William Bones”. Jim reports to Bones (played by Finlay Currie, who I believe, never, ever played a thoroughly unlikeable character) who immediately identifies the scarred man as Black Dog, which is not a name associated with Goodness and Mercy. In the book, Bones and Black Dog clash and Billy Bones drives the other pirate away.

Billy Bones: catches his sword in the inn sign when he swings at Black Dog by John Cameron; gets the Black Spot by Derek Eyles; is found dead by Louis Rhead

Billy Bones: catches his sword in the inn sign when he swings at Black Dog by John Cameron; gets the Black Spot by Derek Eyles; is found dead by Louis Rhead

Soon enough, another visitor arrives at the Admiral Benbow: Blind Pew, an uncanny figure who latches onto Jim with a vulture grip and demands to be guided to Billy Bones. This scene is handled much the same way in both book and movie. Pew makes Jim guide his hand to that of Bones and drops something into it. “Now that’s done!” he cackles and scuttles away. Bones opens his hand to reveal the Black Spot! A piece of paper with a black circle on it and the words, “after dark”, in the movie. The book has it after ten o’clock. “We have time,” shouts Bones, “We’ll do them yet!” But he collapses and dies. In the book, Jim informs us that this is the second person he has seen die, the first being his father. Now, memory of the first being “fresh in his heart”, he bursts into tears, though he never liked Billy Bones. What he doesn’t say is that he will witness quite a few more deaths over the next year or so.

Pew grabs Jim,left to right: by Frank Godwin, a comics artist whose masterful pen and ink illustrations are some of the best for Treasure Island; Roberto Innocenti, for a 2012 Italian translation of the novel.; Mervyn Peake, from 1947m still in print.

Pew grabs Jim,left to right: by Frank Godwin, a comics artist whose masterful pen and ink illustrations are some of the best for Treasure Island; Roberto Innocenti, for a 2012 Italian translation of the novel.; Mervyn Peake, from 1947 still in print.

In the movie, the dying Bones gives Jim a packet. In the book, he finds it in Billy Bones’ sea-chest which he and his mother are pillaging for the money owed them. Jim’s mother refuses to take a nickel more than her debt but the coins are all manner of issues and denominations and it takes a while to calculate. Jim urges her to take the lot, but she won’t because that is not the Right thing to do. So they are almost caught when the pirates suddenly swarm around the Admiral Benbow, not waiting until the appointed hour at all, those scurvy swabs. Jim and his mother hide outside while he ponders that they might be killed because of his mother’s “greed”. But, of course, it was not just greed, but righteousness, that caused her to delay. Jim is not quite what moderns call an unreliable narrator, but Stevenson makes it clear that he does not always see things the way others — including the reader — might. Later, Jim demonstrates a rather cavalier attitude toward doing the Right Thing. Have I made it clear yet that I admire Stevenson’s writing?

Now the cavalry arrives in the form of a posse of revenue agents called by Jim through the local lord, Squire Trelawney. The details and differences between book and movie aren’t important. What is important is that, during the confusion when the armed guard arrives and the pirates scatter, Blind Pew falls under their horses and is killed. In the book, that is; on the DVD nary a trace of Pew amongst the pirates. I thought I remembered… but possibly that’s an illustration I recall. Maybe Disney couldn’t bear to kill a blind man, even if that same blind man is one of the nastiest villains ever imagined. “It’s that boy,” says Pew, when the pirates can’t find the map, “I wish I had put his eyes out.” There’s echoes of fairy tales and myth in that declaration.

Top: Classics Illustrated #84 by Alex Blum. The face in the chopped-off panel at right is that of Billy Bones. Bottom: Pew seeking the aid of his shipmates, who have fled, by N.C. Wyeth, possibly the most famous illustrator for this story; Pew is ridden down by Edmond Dulac. Dulac was a great illustrator, but chose to see everything in Treasure Island from a distance. There is little of characters in his illustrations.

Top: Classics Illustrated #84 by Alex Blum. The face in the chopped-off panel at right is that of Billy Bones. Bottom: Pew seeking the aid of his shipmates, who have fled, by N.C. Wyeth. Wyeth’s colors are often very similar to those of the Technicolor Disney film; Pew is ridden down, by Edmund Dulac. Dulac was a great illustrator, but chose to see everything in Treasure Island from a distance. There is little of characters in his illustrations.

Jim turns the map over to Squire Trelawney and Doctor Livesey. The doctor, who had ministered to Billy Bones and tried to get him to stop drinking, is very upright, courageous, and, for Disney, a sort of father figure to Jim. In fact, the movie turns on which dad Jim will choose: the upright Livesey or the scoundrel Silver — but that’s yet to come. The Squire is a bluff gentleman, thick as a post, who cannot keep from blathering every thought that winks into his head. The Doctor tries to rein him in, but Squire Trelawney is a fool. Not that Doctor Livesey would allow you to say that, because he is as loyal as he is upright. At any rate, these two and Jim decide to sail after the treasure on the map.

The Squire sets out to Bristol where he finds a ship, the Hispaniola, and Captain Smollett to command her. He also runs his mouth about a treasure map and all the wrong type of seaman are attracted to him. All this is much the same in book and movie, except that Disney leaves out Jim taking leave of his mother and his old home. The lad setting out on his life adventure with both joy and apprehension, and the leavetaking of home, is older than fairy tales and the beginning of many great stories. Stevenson glosses this device. When Jim sees the boy who has been apprenticed to take over his work, he has an attack of tears. Then:

I am afraid I led that boy a dog’s life; for as he was new to the work, I had a hundred opportunities of setting him right and putting him down, and I was not slow to profit from them.

Jim is, you see, not a stainless hero but a genuine human being with both good and bad traits.

Jim leaves home, by N.C.Wyeth. Wyeth’s illustrations are perhaps the best-known. The original paintings are three feet by four and cost Wyeth an enormous effort but one that he felt was worth it. He called the Treasure Island illustrations “far better in every quality than anything I ever did.” Wyeth’s version has remained in print since 1911. (See end notes for more details on this edition.)

In Bristol, Jim finally meets the Old Sea-Cook, as an alternate title of Stevenson’s novel calls him. Long John Silver is a charming fellow. Although Jim remembers Billy Bones’ warning and is alarmed to meet a one-legged man, Silver soon charms him. In the movie, Silver gives Jim a pistol, which will figure in the later action; in the book, he simply talks Jim around. At one point, Jim spots Black Dog and gives the alarm. Silver sets men after the pirate, but, of course, they don’t catch him.

A bit more about Long John Silver from the book: He is now fifty years old. The men call him Barbecue. They say he has education and could have been something more than an ordinary seaman. And he is powerfully strong. Even with only one leg, the other seamen fear him. Silver has a wife, partner in his Bristol inn. She is a woman of color, a “negress” in the novel. The Squire has some casually racist things to say about her that Stevenson later exposes as gas when Silver explains to the other pirates that, the instant the Hispaniola sailed, his wife had sold up the inn and all their belongings, and now awaits his return with Flint’s treasure at a certain secret place in England. Silver also explains compound interest to his pirate buddies and says if they have any sense (which he knows they don’t) they will invest their loot, a little here, a little there, so as not to arose suspicion.

Long John Silver by Frank Schoonover, as played by Robert Newton, by Edward A. Wilson

Long John Silver by Frank Schoonover, as played by Robert Newton, by Edward A. Wilson

Both book and movie describe Silver’s outer trappings, the one leg, his parrot named Captain Flint that squawks “Pieces of eight! Pieces of eight!” Both present him as a charming, scheming rogue — but he is also a murderous villain, more so in book than movie.

Perhaps here is the place to talk about Robert Newton’s wonderful performance as Long John Silver. It is said that Newton, who had been a major star in English film, was a complete alcoholic. The director, Byron Haskin, kept him working by continually asking his advice on how to do scenes and treating him with the respect due a legendary actor. If so, we owe Haskin a debt of gratitude for eliciting this great performance. (Haskin says that he simply let Newton rip and chew all the scenery he wished.) And it is a performance that everyone remembers. Every time someone goes “Arrrr” on Talk Like A Pirate Day, he is quoting Robert Newton, who adapted his native West Country dialect to the role. But kids in 1951 were the people who really appreciated the Newton performance. Robert Crumb has written about his older brother, Charles, who tied up a leg and crutched around the neighborhood so much that he actually damaged his ability to walk for a while. Others may speak of Wallace Beery or Charlton Heston (haven’t seen that one myself) but Robert Newton’s is The Great Portrayal of Long John Silver for ever. So I say.

From Robert Crumb, Treasure Island Days and from an early comic scripted by Charles, drawn by Robert. (The Complete Crumb Comics vol. 13 and vol. 1, respectively.)

From Robert Crumb, Treasure Island Days and from an early comic scripted by Charles, drawn by Robert. (The Complete Crumb Comics vol. 13 and vol. 1, respectively.)

The Hispaniola sails and the voyage is uneventful except for the death of the first mate, Arrow. He is drunk when he goes on deck in a storm and is swept away. In the book, Jim learns later that Silver has been feeding rum to Arrow; in the movie, Jim is made accomplice to Arrow’s killing by bringing the rum to Silver. That’s pretty heavy and something Stevenson would have made more of. As it stands, Jim winds up his adventure with PTSD — but that’s yet to come.

“Here ye are, Mister Harrow. Sweeten the plum duff to yer taste.” Arrow chugs at the bottle before lurching on deck. Silver pushes him above with his crutch.

Jim goes to fetch an apple from the barrel that stands where every man can help himself. Doctor Livesey thinks this a good health measure, Captain Smollett (in the book) believes it will make the men soft. Smollett is a brave commander, set in his ways. Some time or other I expect some grad student has written a thesis or a dissertation on Stevenson’s approach to class — his characters simply accept it as part of the world they live in, often they are ruled by assholes and that’s the way of it — but someone else can look that paper up. Where was I? Oh, yes! The apple barrel.

The barrel is almost empty and Jim climbs inside to get an apple. Then several men group outside. One is John Silver, another is one of the non-pirate seamen, Dick. Silver (in the book) talks of days sailing with Flint, how he lost his leg and Pew his eyes in the same battle. It was an educated surgeon that amputated his leg, “knew Latin by the bucket”, but that didn’t save him: “He was hanged like a dog, and sun-dried like the rest, at Corso Castle.” Dick declares he will join the pirates — in the book, they call themselves “gentlemen of fortune”. Then both in book and movie, Silver speaks of his plans. Israel Hands wants to move now and take the ship, but Silver reminds him that, although they can steer a course, none of the seamen can set one. He bids them wait until all the treasure is aboard. In the book, he says that he would have them sail halfway back to England, to at least the trade winds region, but he knows that that the impatient pirates won’t hold out that long. He says that when they reach the island and the ship is loaded with treasure, then they will kill the others. One thing, says Silver, “I claim Trelawney. I’ll wring his calf’s head off his body with these hands.”

A pirate approaches the apple barrel and Jim fears he will be discovered — the movie does this well, with a pirate knife descending to pierce either an apple or Jim — when the cry is heard: “Land ho!” And everyone rushes to see.

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Jim calls a council in the Captain’s cabin. There, he tells Smollett, Squire Trelawney, and Doctor Livesey of what he has heard. Everyone recognizes that only Silver keeps the crew from open mutiny. Aside from the four in the cabin, only three brought from Trelawney’s estate can be counted on (says the book). So they are seven against nineteen, nine against twenty in the movie. Now comes a key moment.

In the book, Jim is told to keep his ears open. He is worried but agrees. In the movie, Doctor Livesey tells Jim to stay friends with Silver, something that causes him some dismay — “Stay friends with him?”. (Bobby Driscoll was a good actor.) One surrogate father tells Jim to spy on the other, who is not made out to be quite the villain that Stevenson created. Here is the setup for the drama of the movie’s final scene.

Robert Newton and Bobby Driscoll on the way to the island, before Jim gets away. Good old charming Long John Silver. Even the movie can't completely whitewash him.

Robert Newton and Bobby Driscoll on the way to the island, before Jim gets away. Good old charming Long John Silver. Even the movie can’t completely whitewash him.

Action in the book is compressed in the film, but the effect of both is that Jim is ashore on the island when the pirates aboard the Hispaniola try to take the ship, against Long John Silver’s orders. Then occurs perhaps the most horrifying event in the book, so chilling that Disney left it out of the movie.

Jim has scampered ashore and hides from the pirates. After a while he hears Silver arguing with Tom, who refuses to join the pirates. Their argument is interrupted by a scream from another part of the island. Someone else who refused to join the pirates has been murdered. Tom walks away from Silver who hoists himself on a tree branch and hurls his crutch so that it strikes Tom’s spine with bone-breaking force:

Silver, agile as a monkey, even without leg or crutch, was on top of him next moment, and had twice buried his knife up to the hilt in that defenceless body. From my place of ambush, I could hear him pant aloud as he struck the blows.

Death of Tom: by Frank Godwin, Louis Rhead -- Rhead worked in black and white, then colored a few pages for the publisher. Both B/w and color versions may be seen in the Gutenberg.org edition ; Mervyn Peake

Death of Tom: by Frank Godwin; Louis Rhead — Rhead worked in black and white, then colored a few pages for the publisher. Both b/w and color versions may be seen in the Gutenberg.org edition ; Mervyn Peake.

Jim falls into a swoon and lies senseless, overwhelmed by the sight. And, when I read this part, I lost any liking whatsoever for Long John Silver. But you may differ. After all, there were many folks who found Ted Bundy charming. And I do not intend this as an off-hand comparison. It seems to me that Stevenson has created a character who is a model sociopath — not that Stevenson knew the term — charming, manipulative, ruthless, and completely without remorse. I can visualize Silver ruling a gang or a prison block. Stevenson has described a particular kind of villain that now has a label.

Now the situation is: the pirates have taken the ship, Captain Smollett, Doctor Livesey, Squire Trelawney, and three loyal men are barricaded in an old stockade. Jim runs into Ben Gunn, marooned for three years and dreaming of cheese, toasted mostly, who guides him to the stockade and asks for a meeting later with someone of that party. Jim delivers his message to the stockade and the Doctor says he will speak with Ben Gunn. In the book, he mentions that he has a piece of Parmesan cheese in his snuffbox, “very nutritious”, and will give it to old Ben. But first the pirates attack the stockade with the ship’s cannon.

Ben Gunn by Ralph Steadman.

Ben Gunn by Ralph Steadman.

The cannonade failing, Long John Silver arrives under a flag of truce. Captain Smollett refuses to treat with him, offering instead to take back any pirate who surrenders to a fair trial in England. Their parley finished, no one offers a hand to help Silver up. In the movie, we can see Jim feeling sorry for Silver, but not in the book.

The pirates attack the stockade in earnest. There is fierce fighting and, when it is over, the Captain’s party has five men left (one wounded), the pirates, eight. So the odds have improved, but the situation is desperate. In the movie, Doctor Livesey gives Jim the map and tells him to buy his life with it if necessary. In the book, this comes later.

Attack on the Stockade. Top: N.C.Wyeth; Abraham Gray kills the big boatswain, by Bohuslav Mikes (Czech edition, 1967). Gray left the pirates to join Jim's party. He makes it back to England; Mervyn Peake. Bottom: Ralph Steadman

Attack on the Stockade. Top: N.C.Wyeth; Abraham Gray kills the big boatswain, by Bohuslav Mikes (Czech edition, 1967). Gray left the pirates to join Jim’s party. He makes it back to England; Mervyn Peake. Bottom: Ralph Steadman.

That night, the Doctor leaves to meet with Ben Gunn and Jim goes on his own excursion. Jim knows that if he can cut the Hispaniola free from her anchorage, she will drift into the beach. He determines to bring this about. He does not ask permission or advise anyone of his plan, he just leaves. At the end of the novel, Captain Smollett tells Jim that he won’t sail with him again. “You’re too much of the born favorite for me,” he says, which is an interesting observation. In the book, Jim grabs a brace of pistols from the common armory as he leaves; in the movie, he has the weapon given him by John Silver.

TI_jim_master

Jim locates Ben Gunn’s goat-skin coracle and paddles out to the Hispaniola. He cuts the hawser and climbs up a rope while the coracle is demolished by the larger vessel. Along the way, he witnesses a fight to the death between Israel Hands and another pirate. Hands, who is injured and drunk, staggers topside and collapses by the rail. Jim surveys the fallen pirate, then sets to steering the Hispaniola so that it grounds on the beach. Meanwhile, Israel Hands recovers and tries to get Jim to help him. But it is a ruse! Hands tries to grab Jim. In the book, Jim pulls out a pistol and pulls the trigger, but the powder is wet and Jim clambers aloft to recharge his pistols. In the movie, he simply climbs the rigging. Hands follows, knife in teeth, and here is a great scene in both book and movie. “One more step, Mister Hands, and I’ll blow your brains out!” Hands throws a knife that catches Jim in the shoulder as he fires his pistol(s). Hands falls to the deck. Now Jim can chalk up a killing to his credit.

“One more step, Mister Hands, and I’ll blow your brains out.” Left to Right: Frank Merril; Bobby Driscoll in the Disney version; Frank Godwin; Bohuslav Mikes.

Jim contemplates the two corpses in the water, by Zdenek Burian from a Polish edition of 1947. These deaths take a toll on Jim, in the book.

Jim contemplates the two corpses in the water, by Zdenek Burian from a Polish edition of 1947. These deaths take a toll on Jim, in the book.

The ship is beached and Jim makes his way ashore. He struggles through the jungle to the stockade where he collapses on the floor and discovers that the place has been taken over by pirates! In the book, Doctor Livesey wants to get away from the stockade, which is located in a malarial swamp, and he knows that the treasure has been moved to Ben Gunn’s cave, so he wants to go there to protect it. The Doctor later explains that it bothered him to leave Jim, but “I did what I thought best for those who had stood by their duty; and if you were not one of these, whose fault was it?” The movie is not so clear on why the stockade is given over to the pirates.

Long John Silver takes him in hand and says that the minute he spied the Hispaniola on the beach, he knew the game was up. Now he wants Jim to help keep him from hanging and, in return, he’ll keep the pirates from murdering Jim. Jim also discovers, in the book, that Doctor Livesey has given Silver the treasure map along with the stockade, something that neither Jim nor Silver understand. “There’s something under that,” says Silver, “Something, surely, under that, Jim — bad or good.” In the movie, Silver finds the map in Jim’s shirt when he tends to him.

Doctor Livesey comes to the stockade next day to tend the wounded. Jim gives his promise not to attempt escape and, when he has the opportunity to bolt, doesn’t take it. In the movie, Jim bites on a musket ball as the doctor does something unseen but painful to his knife wound. I can’t tell you how much that impressed me when I first saw the film. The doctor leaves and the pirates confer amongst themselves, finally giving Silver the Black Spot. There is a wonderful bit when Silver sees that the paper has been cut from a Bible.  He shakes his head; the pirates have brought disaster on their heads with that blasphemy.  Then he uses the treasure map to regain leadership of  the gang. This is where the treasure lies, he says, and the pirates examine the map and pronounce it genuine. The other thing is, Jim Hawkins is a hostage to prevent treachery from Smollett’s group. So, the Black Spot is rescinded and Jim will live yet a while.

“I had a line about my waist, and followed obediently after the sea-cook, who held the loose end of the rope, now in his free hand, now between his powerful teeth. For all the world, I was led like a dancing bear.” Jim complains about his indignity. A chapter later, he is afraid: “Now and again I stumbled; and it was then that Silver plucked so roughly at the rope and launched at me his murderous glances.” Left to Right: Frank Merrill, Louis Rhead, Mervyn Peake.

The pirates — only six left now — set out to get the treasure. Jim is tied up and dragged along by Silver. “It’s only for show,” Silver says in the movie, but in the book, as they get closer to the treasure, Jim senses that Silver is switching sides again and may knife him the instant he is of no value as a hostage.

They locate the spot where the treasure is supposed to be and it’s gone! Now, once again, George Merry tries to take leadership from Silver. Long John, meanwhile, has backed away from the pirates and is on the other side of the empty treasure pit when Merry threatens him. Then shots ring out from the trees! One pirate drops dead, George Merry is wounded and Silver takes the opportunity to kill him. “‘George’, said he, ‘I reckon I’ve settled you.'”

Finding the treasure: magazine illustration by Douglas Crockwell. Silver settles with George Merry, Michael Foreman, from an edition still in print

Finding the treasure: magazine illustration by Douglass Crockwell. Silver settles with George Merry: Michael Foreman, from an edition still in print

It transpires that Ben Gunn has removed all the treasure (except the bar silver) to his cave. Captain Smollett’s party, six men including Ben Gunn, seven counting the captive Long John Silver, use the only unwrecked boat to transfer wealth to the Hispaniola. There are still three pirates (besides Silver) on the island, but they seem unable to concoct a plan. Now, book and movie become very different.

In the film, Silver seizes an opportunity to grab Jim’s pistol — the one he had given the boy — forcing the others to leave him with the boat. He rows, and Jim is supposed to steer, but the boy purposely runs the boat aground. Silver jumps out to shove the craft free. He asks Jim for help, and, when that isn’t given, points a gun at his head. But Silver hasn’t the will to shoot Jim and he lowers the pistol. He tries desperately, on his one leg, to free the craft. The Doctor leads a party that is closing in. Earlier, Silver had made a little speech about giving Captain Flint to Jim as a trinket, because creatures don’t take well to prison. Now Jim jumps up and pushes the boat free. Silver waves good-bye, raises a sail, and is away. The Doctor lays a hand on Jim’s shoulder and admits to some liking for Long John Silver himself. End of movie.

In the book, the skeleton crew of the Doctor, the Squire, Jim, Abraham Gray (the only seaman to survive, he came over from the pirates), Ben Gunn, Silver, and Captain Smollett (who is wounded and unable to do anything heavy) maroon the three surviving pirates, then sail the Hispaniola to the nearest port in Spanish America and there pick up a crew. While in port, Ben Gunn helps Silver to escape so that he cannot disturb their homeward voyage, Silver has stolen a sack of gold worth perhaps £400. Everyone thinks that is a cheap price to pay for getting rid of the old pirate. Jim fills us in on what happens to some of the others: Ben Gunn runs through a thousand pounds in less than three weeks, but finds a place; Captain Smollett retires from the sea; Abraham Gray buys his own ship and becomes a master; nothing is said of the Squire or the Doctor. Nothing is known of Silver’s fate. (Nor the marooned pirates, one of whom has malaria.) As for Jim:

The bar silver and the arms still lie, for all that I know, where Flint buried them; and certainly they shall lie there for me. Oxen and wain-ropes would not bring me again to that accursed island; and the worst dreams that ever I have are when I hear the surf booming about its coasts, or start upright in bed, with the sharp voice of Captain Flint ringing in my ears: “Pieces of eight! Pieces of eight!”

Stevenson was criticized for the violence in Treasure Island, but I think he is honest about its effects. Just as he is honest about every character in the book: the upright Doctor who would abandon Jim in favor of those who had done their duty; the gasbag Squire who happens to be the best shot of the party and does some damage to the pirates; the wicked Long John Silver who would only slit your throat if it meant profit to him; and Jim Hawkins, who would disobey any order if he took a notion, who saved the expedition, and who now finds his dreams haunted.

None of this is to disdain the movie. Disney, too, was criticized for too much violence and bowdlerized this film when it was released to television in the 1970s. (The DVD has been restored.) The Disney narrative is a bit different, what with the father/son overtones instead of the boy’s brush with psychopaths, but it is still a great movie.

And a great book. Stevenson was a straight-forward storyteller, but he always understood the ramifications of his narrative and the personalities of his characters. And look at the details! The map. The description of the island (it has rattlesnakes). The careful consideration of 18th Century sailing. The wonderful names: Israel Hands, Benjamin Gunn, George Merry — every one of them sings out England! An England of yeomen and sailors, a vanished vision perhaps, but still… Vladimir Nabokov was one critic who recognized Stevenson’s genius and wrote/lectured about Doctor Jekyll and Mister Hyde in his Lectures on Literature. Enough. You get it or you don’t.

More On The Movie:

Disney had money tied up in Britain, where post-WWII currency restrictions meant that he couldn’t remove it. So he decided to film this, his first movie not to include animation, in England, where the money he was owed could go into production. He had been thinking about an animated version of Stevenson’s book and had the rights so it seemed a natural project.

Young Bobby Driscoll had starred in Song Of The South and So Dear To My Heart, films that combined animation with live action. He received a special juvenile Oscar for his work in So Dear To My Heart. But, in England, legal problems arose with Disney using a foreign juvenile lead. Disney’s lawyers managed a one-month delay in court proceedings, which Disney used to film all of Driscoll’s parts, then shipped him back to America. The English courts were not amused and Disney paid a modest fine. But Driscoll could no longer work in England.

Some filming was done around England, some on a set with painted backdrops, and some on the ship. The Hispaniola was a re-fitted cargo ship (used to transport coal) that was a hundred years old. After the Disney movie, it was moored as a tourist attraction, then used again as a set for the 1956 production of Moby Dick.

Robert Newton returned in Long John Silver, directed by Byron Haskin in 1954. He had a few other movies but died from alcohol-related problems in 1956 at the age of 50.

Bobby Driscoll was slated to play in other Disney films, but there were problems. Disney could not clear the rights to Tom Sawyer, which was to star Driscoll, for instance, and a role in Robin Hood was axed because he could not work in England. He did the voice of Peter Pan for Disney and also served as reference model for Peter’s facial expressions in that movie. As puberty set in, Disney could not find a role for Driscoll. The young man had acne which was covered over with heavy makeup. The teen-ager turned to drugs, and did a stint in prison in 1961. In 1965, he cleaned up and went to New York where he became involved with an arty crowd, including Andy Warhol. He got back into heroin and OD’d in 1967 or ’68. His body was not identified for a year and a half until his parents, who had been searching for him, sent his fingerprints to the New York police. He was a fine actor who deserved better.

The DVD released in 2002 is serviceable, but do not try to load the player software on the disc. I could not play the DVD in DVI or Microsoft Media Player, but James River Media Player did okay. Technicolor is saturated and rich. Particularly in the opening sections at the Admiral Benbow Inn, everything has a sheen, as though some kind of weird dew was falling everywhere. If it doesn’t look that way on your TV, then adjust that machine!

The Book:

The 1911 Scribner’s edition of Treasure Island illustrated by N.C. Wyeth is the one to get if you are looking to buy a copy. Scribner’s re-photographed the Wyeth paintings and the illustrations are first rate. I cannot tell if Scribner’s is still reprinting this book or not, but copies of this edition are available. You can also read the Scribner’s edition with thumbnail versions of Wyeth’s paintings on the Net.

A better internet version is that of 1915 illustrated by Louis Rhead. (The credits state Rhead and Frank Schoonover, but Schoonover only did the 1922 dust jacket/frontispiece.) Or you can read the one illustrated by John Cameron. An edition made for Spanish-speaking people with troublesome English terms linked to their definition includes illustrations by George Roux (the original illustrator), Milo Winter, Wyeth, and Rhead, as well as  pictures of other 18th Century maritime objects.  The 1924 edition illustrated by Frank Godwin is available on-line if you are a Questia or Playster member.

Although nineteen illustrators (plus Robert Crumb) have been referenced in this post, that only scratches the surface. Early illustrations by George Roux and Frank Merrill may be seen here. The University of Minnesota has 450 illustrated editions collected by Lionel Johnson as of the year 2000. And there is a partial list at the Robert Louis Stevenson Archive. Possibly no book except Alice In Wonderland has had more good illustrators work on it, and this is still happening. In 2015 the V & A Award for book illustration went to Sterling Hundley for the Folio Society edition of Treasure Island. (None of those illos are reproduced here.) Most of the illustrated editions mentioned in the post are out of print. I have avoided more recent English illustrated editions — Michael Foreman’s 2009 version is, I think, the only exception. In-print editions besides the Hundley and Michael Foreman’s include those of Mervyn Peake, John Lawrence, Matthew Cruikshank, Robert Ingpen, and many others. Condensed or edited editions abound and are to be avoided.

Non-illustrated editions of interest include the 1905 “Biographical” edition with essays by Stevenson and his wife, and a 1909 annotated edition.

Remembrance Day: The War Memorials of Ernst Barlach

When war broke out in 1914, Ernst Barlach decided to enlist. He believed the romantic nonsense of the day — that war was a revitalizing, renewing force — but these beliefs were confounded by the casualty rates that were soon reported. Even so, Barlach wanted to see for himself and was finally pronounced fit for service in 1915, even though he was 44 years old and had a heart condition. By 1916, Barlach had seen enough and obtained his release from the armed forces. He was now a committed pacifist. The Christmas issue of der Bildermann has a Barlach lithograph on the cover. The Virgin Mary is depicted with hands to her face surrounded by seven swords, medieval symbols for the Seven Sorrows of Mary. “Give Us Peace” the picture pleads.

At the War’s end, there was tremendous demand for memorial cenotaphs and Barlach was approached about designing several. He finally accepted a commission from the Nicolai Church at Kiel and reworked his Bildermann design into a large wood sculpture with the aggrieved figure of Mary thrusting forward from a panel that included the seven swords. “My heart bleeds with grief but You give me strength” read the inscription. This memorial was destroyed during World War II.

Barlach’s next commission was for the church in Güstrow where he lived in seclusion most of his life. Finally installed in 1927, the sculpture is a bronze casting more than two meters long and is suspended over the baptismal. It depicts an angel, arms folded and eyes closed hovering above the heads of humanity. The expression on the angel’s face is one of deep compassion felt by this other-worldly being for the human beings below who are inflicting so much pain on one another. “Recollection and inner reflection” was the proper attitude for a war memorial to inspire, said Barlach.

[Wikimedia Commons photo: Jens Burkhardt-Plückhahn]

[Wikimedia Commons photo: Jens Burkhardt-Plückhahn]

While modeling the angel’s head, Barlach became aware that it resembled fellow artist, Käthe Kollwitz. Kollwitz was three years older than Barlach and was, like him, associated with the Secession Movement, though neither was particularly interested in being described as a Movement artist. Even though she was opposed to war, Kollwitz had given permission for her youngest son, who was under age, to join the Army. Ten days after he enlisted, the boy was killed. Kollwitz was devastated by grief and guilt. She began designing a memorial for her son, destroying several versions before finally creating the bereft couple that kneel in mute agony among the graves of the fallen at Vladslo.

Left, Kathe Kollwitz, 1919 [Wikimedia Commons], Right, Head of Gustrow angel[Barlach Museum, Wedel

Left, Kathe Kollwitz, 1919 [Wikimedia Commons], Right, Head of Gustrow angel[Barlach Museum, Wedel]

For the 1929 memorial at Magdeburg, Barlach returned to wood sculpture, a favored medium. A large panel features three German soldiers at top, possibly meant to show a young recruit, a junior officer with bandaged head, and an older reservist. The central figure embraces a large cross inscribed with the dates “1914 1915 1916 1917 1918”.  At the bottom are the heads of a weeping woman, a rotted corpse wearing a helmet, and a self-portrait of Barlach, hands to his horrified face, gas mask hanging from his neck.

[Wikimedia Commons photo: Chris 73]

[Wikimedia Commons photo: Chris 73]

The memorial was attacked by Nazi ideologue Julius Rosenberg who claimed that the soldier on the right was a Russian. (Strangely,  this concept has persisted with some people still believing that the figures are German, French, and Russian, respectively.) The attempt to link Barlach with Russia was part of a campaign to paint him as a non-German. Barlach was also called a Jew and a Communist.

The grieving mother has been a theme in Western art at least since the Mater Dolorosa of the medieval era and developed into the Pieta of the Renaissance. Barlach had begun his memorials with this image, now he returned to it for the 1931 cenotaph at Hamburg. A grieving pregnant woman comforts a younger girl. This bas-relief was carved on one side of a large stele which had these words carved on the other side: “40,000 sons of the city gave their lives for you”. Barlach did not write the inscription and was not overly pleased with it.

Hamburger Ehrenmal [ via Bilder Blog

Hamburger Ehrenmal [ via Bilder Blog]

The memorial was seen by Nazis as an insult to soldiers and the nation. The mother’s features were described as Slavic and accusations about Barlach’s racial affinities and politics were published. The 76ers, a Hamburg veterans group, lobbied to have the stele removed. But Barlach’s international reputation made Hamburg afraid of embarrassing itself. Louis Mumford, for instance, praised the work and described its opponents as “Ku Klux Klansmen”. “What really troubles the Nazis is that the whole monument is so free of pomp and bluster..,” he wrote. In 1933, the city compromised by allotting space for the 76ers own memorial which depicts a group of more than eighty heroic soldiers and bears the inscription: “Germany must live even if we must die.”

Barlach was working on another memorial that featured a Pieta design of a woman holding a dead soldier in her lap, but the political atmosphere had become so poisonous that he gave it up. Barlach was disdainful of the Nazis and was open about this with his friends. Although he was careful about not allowing his letters to fall into government hands, Barlach’s attitude was well-known in official circles. One by one, his war memorials were taken down. The relief on the Hamburg stele was replaced with an eagle. Friends spirited away the Magdeburg carving before it was seized by the authorities. In 1938, the Kiel angel was removed and was later melted down to be turned into war materials. Some of Barlach’s friends rescued the plaster mold that he used to form the sculpture and cast a new copy which they kept hidden.

Die Klage: Memorial for Ernst Barlach by Kathe Kollwitz, 1938 Casting is about 27 X 25 cm. [via Christie's Auction House ]

Die Klage: Memorial for Ernst Barlach by Kathe Kollwitz, 1938 Casting is about 27 X 25 cm. [via Christie’s Auction House ]

By now, Barlach’s work was officially declared “degenerate” and non-German, a silly accusation to make about wood sculpture that so obviously is derived from medieval German forms. In 1938, authorities seized works exhibited by Barlach and Kollwitz. Later that year, Barlach’s heart finally gave out.

After the Second World War ended, Barlach’s work was brought out of hiding. The Magdeburg panel was remounted. The Hamburg stele was repaired and a controversy now rose about whether the 76er memorial should be removed. Eventually, it was decided to let it stay but with various disclaimers attached to it (including counter-sculptures) by the city. The Güstrow angel was placed in Cologne. Güstrow asked for its return but that city was in the East and the angel became a Cold War issue. In 1953, Cologne made another casting, this time from a mold prepared from their copy, and presented it to Güstrow where it regained its place over the baptismal font. Every year, on the anniversary of the angel’s removal, the church observes a ceremony where members silently recollect and reflect on the past.

William Price Fox, Jack Davis, Southern Fried

William Price Fox grew up in South Carolina. In 1943, at the age of seventeen, he joined the army. “Horrible mistake”, he says in a later story. But he got through that, went on to New York, where he worked as a salesman and hung out with writers. One day, the story goes, a writer for the Village Voice was unable to fill his daily quota of words and got Fox to step in and write his column for him. Fox says that he never knew it was so easy and began writing full time. He was published in Saturday Evening Post, Sports Illustrated (writing about golf), and other slick magazines of the 1950s and 60s.
I recall once hearing Fox interviewed on the radio. He talked about growing up in the South and quitting high school and the interviewer, some young woman who had recently graduated with a degree in Journalism or Media or something, said that it was amazing that he could go on to be a writer. “Well,” said Fox, “I always was good with my hands.”
In 1962, a number of Fox’s short pieces were collected and published as an original paperback in Fawcett’s Gold Medal line. These paperbacks were usually priced at 35¢ but Southern Fried fetched 40¢ a copy. Maybe the extra nickel was to pay Jack Davis to illustrate the book.
Georgia-born Jack Davis drew comics for EC and Mad and later did movie posters, book covers, and all kinds of other illustration work. Davis is Fox’s contemporary and the perfect choice to illustrate his work.
This post is about Southern Fried but mostly to show all of Davis’ work for this book, which is otherwise (I think) unavailable.

fox_cover
In 1974, some stories were added to the book which was re-issued as Southern Fried Plus Six. Some of the original stories were edited for re-publication including the first one, “Lower Elmwood”, which was re-titled “Lower Mulberry”. The paragraphs that this drawing illustrated were cut for reasons that escape me:

…before the cars there were bikes. There were handlebars to be asjusted and seats that needed saddle-soaping. And they’d take the brakes apart and drop the hundred wafer parts into a shallow pan of gasoline. They’d clean the parts and check for nicks and sand. And then they’d pack the brake sleeve with thick dope applied with a flat popsicle stick and slowly fit the metal wafers into place…
And then the spoke wrench…that tiny little white steel butterfly that looked like a jew’s-harp. And it would be quiet and they’d squat or sit on Coca-Cola crates around the wheel and watch and listen for the warps…

fox_elmwood

The tone here is nostalgic and, in the stories where the main character is a young boy, the time is the early 1940s. Sometimes, to bring the action closer to the present day, Fox hedges events into the 1950s. But, with a few exceptions, think of the time as 1940.

“Wilma” is about a sweet good-time girl who introduces our adolescent protagonists to sex:

fox_wilma

There was a question and answer period and Esco and I really asked them. About Orientals, about fat people, thin people, old people. About dogs and animals, about dogs and people, about goats and sheep. And more, and worse than that and better than that. Nothing fazed her and the few answers she didn’t know, she said she would check.

fox_pitfight

In “Pit Fight” a nasty guy brings in a wildcat to fight dogs in the pits. It is a slaughter. Right here, I should say that Fox may write some funny stuff but he doesn’t blink at the bad parts of the South, either. It is what it is. Anyway, a smart hound is trained to go after the cat and the story is mainly about the boy narrating and his feelings about the whole thing.

fox_easyboy

“Eugene Talmadge and Sears Roebuck Co.” may be about another bad part of the South, at least if you recall that Talmadge was an arch-racist who thought the occasional lynching necessary to keep blacks in line. But Fox’s study is of the man speechifying on the campaign stump, something Talmadge loved to do. Talmadge was governor of Georgia twice in the 1930s, served again 1941-43, was elected a fourth time in 1946, the year he died. His tag-line ending to a speech:

“You got three friends in this here world and I want you to know it.”
“Tell us, Gene.”
He raised one finger, pointed it at the sun, and addressed the back row and the two men leaning on the buckboard.
“You got Sears Roebuck Company — and I want you to know it.”
“That’s right, Gene.”
A second finger…a louder voice to the back row…the two leaning on the buckboard and the two seated in the Ford by the drain ditch drinking corn whiskey out of a mayonnaise jar.
“You got God Almighty — and I want you to know it.”
“That’s right, Gene.”
And then he crashed his steel heels into the gallery boards, snapping his suspenders, rared back like he was going to lift a whole bale of cotton single-handed and roared to the men by the buckboard, the men in the Ford, to the sky, the swamp, and down the drain ditch the length of Calhoun County…
“And you got Eugene Herman Talmadge of Sugar Hill, Georgia, and I want you to know it.”

fox_talmadge

“The Ordeal of Lonnie Register” is a key story in this collection because it’s about story-telling. Lonnie is a door-to-door salesman. He sells “kerosene lamps, chenille bed spreads, hairbrush and mirror sets, and religious statues and plaques that glowed in the dark.” His rival, Frog Jones, is also a door-to-door salesman. No matter how hard Lonnie works he finds it hard to make a sale. Frog, on the other hand, would make two calls and wind up with two sales. They work at night, so that the glow-in-the-dark items can be demonstrated, and during the day hang out at Doc Baker’s drugstore, telling stories. But no matter how good Lonnie Register’s stories are, Frog’s are better.
The frustration of working so hard and showing so poorly against Frog gets to Lonnie and every couple of months he goes on a wild binge that winds up with him under arrest and having to do roadwork on the chain gang. Well, he didn’t wear a chain “but there would be a man in a black hat on shotgun” watching him. Lonnie is on the road gang when it is assigned work in town, right outside Lonnie’s house in fact. His wife has the blinds drawn and has shut the children up in the back so they won’t witness their father’s humiliation. Folks in the drugstore are busy not staring and trying not to make Lonnie feel bad. Frog, who has poor eyesight, doesn’t notice him until Lonnie’s airedale runs up to his master and jumps all over him. “Lonnie tried to shoo the dog away but you know how airedales are.” Frog sees the dog and:

fox_lonnie

Following this humiliation there is an epic story-telling battle between Frog and Lonnie and… But you already know, Lonnie just isn’t going to win.

fox_fastnerves

“Fast Nerves” is about a gambler named Greenwood Knox who succumbs to nervous exhaustion after long episodes of card-playing. For instance, after seeing Joseph Cotten demonstrate Power X in From the Earth to the Moon he leaps up in the movie theater and climbs over the seats, yelling “With that power I could rule the world!” Next thing, he believes that he is Oral Roberts, only better:

…he was grander, wiser, more benevolent than Roberts. He could raise the dead, fertilize the land, cause fish to bite, and most of all he could give away money.

Greenwood gives away all his cash, spreads general mayhem, and is committed to a mental institution. Eventually he is released and goes back to gambling, but his hands start to shake and he knows it’s only a matter of time before he breaks down again. Electroshock therapy steadies him for a while but the treatments take all Greenwood’s money. Then his buddy, mechanic Chauncey Jones, comes up with an idea:

[Chauncey] led him out to the Buick and patted the winged figure on the radiator.
“This old horse will kick up a thousand volts if I put her on the floor.”
“Whoa, now, Chauncey…”
“Greenwood, it ain’t any more than like tipping your tongue to a flashlight battery.”

fox_youallright

Oh, yeah! But it works and Greenwood gets back to his work with hands “steady as ping pong paddles”.

“Razor Fight At The St. Louis Cafe”: Round House Brown doesn’t say much, but when Bad Dave Hill taunts him into a razor fight, Round House communicates in very immediate fashion. This is one of the stories that was edited and a chunk removed for the reprint version. I don’t know why. If the story is racist, then the section that’s removed doesn’t make it less so.

fox_razor

“The Buzzard’s Lope”:  Slim Elmo Brown is from the backwoods — Shell Bluff, Georgia along the Horse Creek Valley — and is pretty shy at the weekly square dance, but he comes out of his shell and shows people how to dance. Or, at least he shows them one version of dancing:

Slim Elmo spins the girl out and jumps up in the air. He comes down hard on one knee with his head back.
“You reckon he’s been taken hold of?”

fox_buzzard

He squats and dances in the squat. He rushes forward in a high head-back screaming leap. The floor boards make a crashing noise and the audience goes wild. Black rubber heel marks are all over…
“…it’s Horse Creek Valley all right. Claims they call it the Buzzard’s Lope down there…”
“You shore he ain’t been taken hold of? Keep an eye on his tongue when he comes by.”

fox_leroyjeffcoat

Leroy Jeffcoat plays for the Columbia Green Wave, an amateur baseball team. “The name must have come from the fact that most of us got drunk on Friday nights and the games were all played on Saturday.” Leroy isn’t much of a ball player, but he owns a snazzy uniform. In fact, he owns two of them, while one is at the cleaners, Leroy is wearing the other. This is his permanent outfit. “His was the long season.”

Fox_leroyuniform
There’s always somebody too hungover to play, so Leroy gets into most of the games. He reads everything he can find about baseball and he can imitate any ball player ever; he can hit like Ted Williams or Stan Musial or Joe DiMaggio except when he’s actually in a game, then he tries to hit like all three of them at once, gets confused, and strikes out. Most of this story is about the time that the Green Wave goes to play the State Penitentiary team, a game that they dread because the convicts play to Win:

We came to bat and Franklin Folk, our catcher, led off. Their pitcher’s name was Strunk and he was in jail for murder. The first pitch was right at Franklin’s head. He hit the dirt. The crowd cheered. The next pitch the same thing. Franklin Folk was white as a sheet.

Franklin becomes too scared to swing and strikes out. The game continues that way:

At the end of five innings we didn’t have a scratch hit. The Pen had fourteen runs and the pitcher Strunk had three doubles and a home run.
We didn’t care what the score was. All we wanted to do was get the game over and get out of that prison yard.

That’s when Leroy Jeffcoat demands to be put in the game. “I can hit that son of a bitch.” So Leroy gets in the game, playing first base. Strunk comes up to bat.

“Let him hit! Let him hit, Ed! I want to see that son of a bitch over here…Send that bastard down here. I want him. I’ll fix his ass.”
The crowd cheered Leroy and he tipped his hat like Stan Musial.
The crowd cheered again.
Strunk bellowed, “Shut that nut up, ump.”
The umpire raised his hands. “All right, over there, simmer down or I’ll throw you out.”
The crowd booed the umpire.
Leroy wouldn’t stop. “Don’t let him hit, Ed. Walk him. Walk that beanball bastard. He might get a double. I want him over here.” Ed looked at Franklin Folk. Folk gave him the walk sign.
Two balls…three balls…
“You getting scared, you bastard? Won’t be long now.”
The crowd laughed and cheered.
Again the Musial touch with the cap.
Four balls…
Strunk laid the bat down carefully and slowly walked toward first. Strunk got close. The crowd was silent. Leroy stepped off the bag and Strunk stepped on. Leroy backed up. Strunk followed. Everybody watched. No noise. Leroy stopped and took his glove off. He handed it to Strunk. Strunk took the glove in both hands.
Leroy hit him with fastest right I’ve ever seen.
…Leroy got him off balance and kept him that way while he pumped in four lefts and six rights.
They led Strunk back to the dugout bleeding.
The crowd went wild.
Leroy tipped his hat Musial-style…

fox_leroyfight

The Green Wave comes up to bat in the ninth with the score 21 to 0 against them. Strunk is pitching. He hits one man with a pitch and walks two more, loading the bases, so he can pitch to Leroy Jeffcoat.

So Leroy came up with the bases loaded and the prison crowd shouting “Leroy Jeffcoat is our boy.”
He pulled his cap down like Musial and dug into the box like DiMaggio. The crowd cheered and he got out of the box and tipped his hat.

fox_leroybasesloaded

All this time, Strunk is getting angrier and angrier. His first pitch is right at Leroy’s head. “Leroy flicked his head back like a snake but didn’t move his feet.” The crowd boos Strunk and the umpire goes to the mound to talk to him. Strunk tells the umpire to go to hell. The next pitch hits the bill of Leroy’s cap and the umpire wants to put him on base.

Leroy shouted. “No. He didn’t hit me. He’s yellow. Let him pitch.”
The crowd cheered Leroy again.
Two convicts dropped out of the stands and trotted across the infield to the mound. They meant business. When they talked Strunk listened and nodded his head. A signal passed around the infield.

The next pitch is perfect and Leroy connects with it for an honest single, but the fielders keep bobbling the ball and Leroy keeps running:

He ran in spurts, each spurt faster than the last. The throw to third got past the baseman and Leroy streaked for home, shouting.
He began sliding from twenty feet out. He slid so long he stopped short. He had to get up and lunge for home plate with his hand. He made it as the ball whacked into the catcher’s mitt and the crowd started coming out of the stands.
The guards tried to hold the crowd back and a warning siren sounded. But the convicts got to him and paraded around the field with Leroy on their backs. The game was called at this point and the reserve guards and trustees came out with billy clubs.

I’ve maybe quoted too much from this story but the writing is just about perfect and so funny. Jack Davis may have thought so, too, because he did more illustrations for it than any other in the book. Anyway, there’s lots more to the story that I didn’t quote and somewhere in there Fox mentions that there is a tale about Leroy Jeffcoat and the Green Wave playing the State Mental Institution but he doesn’t say anything more about it. I’m glad because it’s probably more fun to just imagine what might have happened.

“Dear Diary” and “Dear Diary: Wanda” are two pieces narrated by a young man just in the Army as Fox was in 1943. Our hero is seventeen but: “Air Corps think I’m eighteen. Also think I finished one year of college. If they discover I finished one year of high school, will be washed out, sent home. Maybe should tell them now.”
Our hero trains, gets homesick, gets promoted, goes back home on leave, meets proud parents, and struts into high school. And so on. He has adventures — drinking, fights — and continues growing up. No Davis illustration for the first “Diary” story.
Wanda lives in Odessa, Texas, where the young man is training. He falls in love with her, or else he wants to get into her pants and can’t tell the difference. He pictures her as wife and mother:

fox_diary

Wanda’s dad tells him that she is a slut. Our hero is offended. He sleeps beside her one night but is determined to keep everything chaste. Next day she is in bed with an officer. Our hero’s heart is broken but he is full of forgiveness. Doesn’t matter; Wanda doesn’t want to see him any more:

And to think of that divine creature lying there before me in the moonlight with a slip barely on, squirming and asking for it. That’s right, squirming and asking and begging for it, and me so goddam full of love and horse shit, I didn’t know what to do.
Live and learn…

Yes. And that’s what the “Dear Diary” stories are about: living and learning.

“The B-Flat Cornet” is a sentimental reminiscence by an elderly ex-jazz player. As a memorial to a certain era of music, it works, but it’s far from the best story in the collection.

fox_cornet

Fox says his father was in a band of that era: “My dad played the trumpet, the guitar, and the piano. He sang. He was a member of a half-white, half-black band. They called themselves “The Hawaiians” and sang in Spanish.” He also says his father was in jail, made whisky, and was in the Navy like the father of the “Dear Diary” narrator.

fox_fried

The title story is narrated by a young man working at Doug Broome’s in the Five Points area of Columbia, South Carolina. There’s a soda fountain at one end and the kitchen at the other. This kind of place was all over the South before McDonald’s and Hardee’s came along, but the soda fountain suggests a pre-WWII place rather than one from the 50s.
The narrator works in the kitchen with a black man called “Preacher” because he’s in his last year at Bible College. The soda fountain is run by a white asshole named Fleetwood Driggers. Fleetwood dislikes Preacher and there is racial antagonism there. This boils up into a huge contest between Fleetwood and Preacher over who can work the soda fountain the best. I’m not going to get into the details; it’s a good story and you can read it for yourself.
One thing, of all the editing and re-writing done to stories before bringing out the re-issue, this story (in my opinion) suffers the most. First off, here (and in other stories like “Fast Nerves) Fox uses Oral Roberts as an example of revival preacher, possibly because Roberts was more likely to be familiar to Yankee audiences. Roberts went on great Crusades across the US in the late 1940s and afterwards, sometimes claiming to be able to raise the dead. So a big part of this story is when a Roberts revival lets out and 8000 people suddenly descend on Doug’s Bar-Be-Cue. In the re-issue, all mention of Oral Roberts is removed from every story and his name is replaced by that of a fictitious Sonny Love or even Billy Sunday, who died in 1935. I don’t know, maybe lawyers had something to do with it. Maybe that’s why Doug’s in Columbia was changed to Holly Yates’ place in Moss Hill and all his competitors renamed as well. Here’s a bit cut out of the story, just the last sentence here:

…the heat around the grill and the frypots had risen and nothing would put it down. Sweat was running down Preach’s nose and ears into the barbecue and lettuce and he couldn’t stop it. He grinned at me and said, “Native juice.”

Now why cut that out? The part where Fleetwood calls Preacher a nigger is kept in, so if it’s fear of racism, that fear is misplaced. But maybe this is just an historical artifact, an example of white editors in the 1970s trying to catch up with times that were a-changin’.
In case I haven’t made this crystal clear: it was a mistake to edit these stories at all. Well, there’s two places where it’s not so bad. Changing Lonnie Register’s dog from an airedale to a labrador is all right, and I understand changing Marilyn Monroe to a different sex goddess since she was dead (but Sophia Loren?)

fox_coleymoke

Coley Moke lives back in the swamp and makes whisky. Teen-aged boys come around and give Moke comics books in exchange for being allowed to drink and pass out in his shack. And Coley Moke tells them stories, mostly about his dogs. He claims that, if a “federal man” came around, one of his hounds would grab the bucket of hooch and run off with it into the swamp. Davis illustrated this in the title cut. Coley was married once:

“Yeah, I suspect I miss that old gal. Wonder what she looks like now. She was something all right. Up at dawn, cook a first class meal and then go out and outplow any man or mule in the county and every Sunday, rain or shine, we had white linen on the table and apple pie. …ain’t nothing I like better than apple pie.
“Sometimes we didn’t speak for a week. It was nice then, real nice. As long as I kept quiet and minded the still and my dogs everything was fine. But we started talking and then the first thing you know we were arguing and then she began throwing the dogs up in my face.

fox_nicethen

“Yeah, I was lying here with old Sport. He was Brownie here’s father. He was young then and high spirited and, you know, sensitive. When Emma Louise got up from her chair and come over he must have seen it in her face. They never had gotten along. He crawled off the bed and went outside. If I live to be two hundred, I’ll never forget those words…
“She said, ‘Coley Moke, you are the sorriest man on God’s green earth. Here it is almost winter, we got no money, we got no food, and you just lay there and stare up at that leaky roof. And what’s more, you’ve gone out and taken our last hog and traded it for another dog.'”
Coley smiled and leaned forward. Then his face set mean and hard. “Emma, Emma Louise,’ I said, ‘if I told you once I told you a hundred times. …But since you seem to not hear I’m going to tell you one more time. I traded that hog and I got me a dog for the plain and simple reason that I can’t go running no fox with no hog.”

fox_drinkit

There’s been a lot about making whisky in these stories, but this tale, along with the fine illustration by Jack Davis, is pretty much a primer on the subject. Lamarr Peevy narrates the story of how he drove to New York City to straighten things out with a bar-owner who has been buying his product. It’s a really funny story and I recommend it even if you don’t want to make whisky.

“Monck’s Corner” is a short piece about a drinking adventure — or maybe, an adventure in getting drunk. No illustration.

The last piece in the original collection is called “Tourist” and this is (possibly) the Village Voice story that started off Fox’s career. The narrator is visited by a friend from the South. They do the town, or at least a piece of it:

We hadn’t been south of Thirty-fourth Street, east of Sixth Avenue, or north of Fifty-fourth Street. But we’d been thorough. We’d had pizza, coconut juice, knishes, pig’s feet, paella, and Him Soon York, and Jack had been sick on Broadway and Forty-second Street.

This piece is just about perfect but, like the rest of this book, better in the original than the edited re-issue. Either way, though, reprint or original, you owe it to yourself to run down a copy of Southern Fried. It’s just a whole lot of fun.

Hobbity Houses

After filming all those Tolkien movies, there were a bunch of sets left standing in New Zealand. These have been turned into tourist attractions. A lot of people will pay to tour a hobbit house.

Peter Jackson outside a NZ hobbit house. [ABC]

Peter Jackson outside a NZ hobbit house. [ABC]


Of course, most are now homes for sheep.
hobbit_sheep
The charm of hobbit houses has drawn many people around the world to build and live in them. This one is from Wales:

hobbit_wales
This one may be closed down by neighbors because the builders did not get permits and ignored local building codes. (Article and film here.):

hobbit_nopermit_snow
This one from Montana which has a hobbit village all its own):

hobbit_montana
This structure by artist Zube at Whistler, B.C. pre-dates the Jackson films and was called “The Mushroom House”. It sold for $3.5 Million:

hobbit_mushroom-house
So, of course, there are more Mushroom Houses. You can tour this one (if you’re willing to put up with awful commentary by the realtors trying to sell the place), it is billed as an “Art Icon House”:

hobbit_mushroomnew
Now there is something to be said for living in an objet d’art and a whole lot to be said against it — does the roof leak? what kind of plumbing does it have? and, most important, how do I clean this sucker? It’s one thing to spill something awful on your living-room floor, it’s something else to consider that you have just ruined a masterpiece. But, hey! Isn’t this a swell looking place:

House built by Pennsylvania architects to house Tolkien memorabilia of a collector. That's right, no one lives there! See above link for interior shots -- they are cool!

House built by Pennsylvania architects to house Tolkien memorabilia of a collector. That’s right, no one lives there! See above link for interior shots — they are cool!

But why do these dwellings have such appeal? Perhaps it’s all about curved lines, which are generally more interesting to look at than blocky forms. We live our lives, away from home, in cubicles, so why not rest our psyches, along with our bodies at home? Well, there are reasons — the shapes of furniture and objects that need to be stored and… But say, look at this:

 

Staircase at Gaudi's Casa Battlo.

Staircase at Gaudi’s Casa Battlo.

 

The curviest of architects was Antonio Gaudi who based his lines on natural forms. They are compelling:

Fireplace at Casa Battlo by Gaudi.[©Ignasi de Solá-Morales]

Fireplace at Casa Battlo by Gaudi.[©Ignasi de Solá-Morales]


But there are two differences between Gaudi’s work and hobbit houses: first, Gaudi worked on a larger scale. His buildings are usually large spaces meant for many people to use. Single-family dwellings are exceptions:

One of the two houses completed at Park Guell, originally meant to be a housing development in Barcelona. [via kkmusic]

One of the two houses completed at Park Guell, originally meant to be a housing development in Barcelona. [via kkmusic]


The second big difference between Gaudi and hobbitry is that his work reaches up while hobbit houses lie low. That’s the difference between designing for the open Catalan plains and the thick forests of Europe. Hobbit houses without trees or sticking up above the earth just look wrong:

Hobbiton in Montana. Possibly a hobbit motel. A little more grass and less gravel, a few more trees, closeup, and less of the wretched murals and tschotkes -- you might have something.

Hobbiton in Montana. Possibly a hobbit motel. A little more grass and less gravel, a few more closeup trees,  and less of the wretched murals and tschotkes — you might have something.

But I don’t want to speak against other people’s feelings about these structures, especially when I find some of the New Zealand hobbit houses so inviting:

hobbit_invitingnz

Gustaf Tenggren

In 1935, Walt Disney was trying to work out a way to do better animated features. On a visit to Europe, he was enthralled by the work of the great children’s book illustrators of the day. He tried to hire Arthur Rackham — probably the best of those alive at the time — but Rackham had been diagnosed with the cancer that was to kill him in a few years and was unwilling to spend his last energies working for Disney.
Still, there many other excellent European illustrators that were available to Disney and some of them were already in the United States. Swiss-born Albert Hurter was hired to take charge of a new Disney department for concept development. Among the artists who worked under his direction were the Hungarian Ferdinand Horvath and, for a little while, the Dane Kay Nielsen. But few of these proved as important to the development of Disney’s animated films as Swedish-born Gustaf Tenggren.

Young Tenggren with added Disney ears.

Young Tenggren with added Disney ears.

Tenggren’s father was also an artist who left the family in Sweden while he travelled to the United States to work. Young Gustaf was encouraged by his grandfather, also a painter. He showed early talent and in 1917, at the age of twenty, he illustrated the Swedish children’s annual Bland tomtar och troll.

Tenggren cover for Bland tomtar och troll 1919 [via Nordic Thoughts]

Tenggren cover for Bland tomtar och troll 1919 [via Nordic Thoughts]


Bland tomtar och troll began publication in 1907 and quickly established itself as a national fixture that is still being published today. The great artist John Bauer set a high standard for the annual with his magnificent trolls but, in 1918, when he was only thirty-six, Bauer, his wife, and their son all died when the steam ferry Per Brahe capsized. Tenngren illustrated Bland tomtar och troll through 1926, working from America after he emigrated in 1920.

Illustration for Sven the Wise and Svea the Kind 1932. Note the Rackham tree.

Illustration for Sven the Wise and Svea the Kind 1932. Note the Rackham tree.

Bauer and Rackham were both obvious influences on Tenggren’s work. Rackham and Bauer each developed the coupling of ink-line with soft water-color washes around the same time. Tenggren picked up Bauer’s manner of portraying people and Rackham’s grasping trees. But he was more than an imitator, Tenggren had his own concepts and methods that he was still working out as a young free-lancer in the United States.

Title-page for Daulnoy's Fairy Tales, 1923. [via Animation Resources]

Title-page for Daulnoy’s Fairy Tales, 1923. [via Animation Resources]


The hey-day of the illustrated book was coming to an end in the 1920s. There were still children’s books, of course, and magazines and advertising. Tenggren tried them all before joining the Disney studio in 1936.

Box art for Blue Moon stockings, circa 1928.

Box art for Blue Moon stockings, circa 1928.

Albert Hurter’s concept artists worked up ideas that would serve as key illustrations for the animators. One of his first assignments was the Silly Symphony short “The Old Mill”. This short, like some other Silly Symphony cartoons were used by Disney to test out some of his new concepts and ideas. In this instance, the multiplane camera got a workout and Disnney’s European artists all had a hand in the artwork. Released in 1937, “The Old Mill” won an oscar and is often included in lists of greatest animated movies.

Tenggren study for "The Old Mill"

Tenggren study for “The Old Mill”

But all this was leadup to the movie that Disney knew would revolutionize the industry: Snow White.
Tenggren worked up character drawings of the dwarves, studies for their cottage, and other areas of the film. He used Rackham’s trees in the sequence where Snow White is in the forest.

Concept drawing for Snow White, 1937

Concept drawing for Snow White, 1937

The years spent developing and complating Snow White had exhausted everyone at the studio. Disney gave his employees a two-day holiday at Lake Norconian that he imagined would be a teetotal hotdog roast with campfire songs. Instead, according to Marc Eliot, the gang of young artists quickly turned the event into a drunken orgy. Disney was very angry, but the artists made a pact that if he fired one, they would all quit.

Pen rendering of the dwarves in their house, 1937

Pen rendering of the dwarves in their house, 1937

By all accounts Tenggren was quite a drinker and a womanizer, too. His first wife, who had emigrated with him from Sweden, left him when Tenggren took up with the woman who became his second wife. She is said to have been more accepting of his sexual peccadilloes.

Bambi study -- too complex for animation. [via John Sporn]

Bambi study — too complex for animation. [via John Sporn]


Some of those who worked with Tenggren say that he was snobbish and arrogant, others that he was reserved but not unfriendly. Either way, Tenggren hung on with Disney through the making of Pinocchio and began work on background concepts for Bambi.

Tenggren painting at Yosemite,1939.

Tenggren painting at Yosemite,1939.

For that project, Tenggren took long trips to Yosemite to draw and paint the trees — perhaps he was trying to exorcise the Rackham from his forest concepts. On one or more of these trips, Tenggren was accompanied by the teen-age niece of fellow Disney artist, Milt Stahl, who was none too pleased with the matter. Nor was Disney pleased with Tenggren’s complex forest scenes which did not lend themselves to animation. So Tenggren left Disney in 1939 under a cloud.

Pinocchio's town. Some say that Tenggren based his buildings on an actual German town.

Pinocchio’s town. Some say that Tenggren based his buildings on an actual German town.

Tenggren worked on virtually every scene in Pinocchio, but when that movie was released, his name was left off the credits.

Heidi from 1923 and Heidi from 1944, both by Tenggren.

Heidi from 1923 and Heidi from 1944, both by Tenggren.

Tenggren now developed a new style that was adapted to the Little Golden Books series. He illustrated The Poky Little Puppy, The Scrawny Tawny Lion, The Saggy Baggy Elephant, and so on, ad nauseum. But, in all fairness to Tenggren, some people love those books and The Poky Little Puppy is the best-selling illustrated children’s book of all time, with more than fifteen million copies sold. According to the Disney Wiki, Tenggren shows”an increasing use of phallic shapes” in his work of this period. You be the judge.

That poky puppy. Phallic imagery?

That poky puppy. Phallic imagery?

Toward the end of his life, Gustaf Tenggren became moody and depressed. He was deeply disturbed by Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring and his last paintings reflect a kind of environmental pessimism. (I cannot locate any of these of good quality.) A life-long smoker, he died of lung cancer in 1970.

Tenggren Saturday Evening Post cover from 1956.

Tenggren Saturday Evening Post cover from 1956.

Notes:
A great deal has been written about the Disney studio artists. In particular:
John Canemaker,Before the Animation Begins: The Art and Lives of Disney’s Inspirational SketchArtists
On Snow White see the official Disney release Walt Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs: An Art in Its Making
Lars Emanuelsson is working on a biography of Tenggren and has this website about him.
Animation Resources has several pages of scans of Tenggren work: see here and here.
The Illustrators page on Tenggren.
Filmic Light on Tenggren and Snow White

A lot of Tenggren advertising work may be seen at the American Art Archives.
Michael Sporn on “The Old Mill”

Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring

When I was fourteen, I got a stereo record player for Christmas. It was portable, so-called because it had a handle and wasn’t a piece of furniture. The lid came off and served as one speaker, the other was in the phonograph itself. It was cool. A little while after, I got a special record from Columbia that included samples of a bunch of Columbia stereo recordings and a set of noises that you could use to balance your speakers — there was a booklet explaining how to do this. So I balanced my speakers, cranked up the volume, and listened to the sampled music which was pretty humdrum until, suddenly, I was assaulted with a barrage of orchestral music, intensely rhythmic, heavy on percussion. I listened to the piece again. And again. Up to this point in my life, Little Richard had made the most exciting music I had heard but now I was listening to an excerpt from Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring by Leonard Bernstein conducting the N.Y. Philharmonic and it blew everything else I had ever listened to out of the water. Years after, I still find it exciting music, but that’s partly because now I know the story behind it.

In the early 20th Century, ballet had fallen into disuse in Europe, except in Russia, where a few composers and a state-supported performance system kept turning out interesting work. But a new group of composers had come on the scene after Tchaikovsky — Mussorgsky, Borodin, Rimsky-Korsakoff, and his pupil, Stravinsky. These composers were very self-consciously Russian and they played up an aspect of Russia stereotyped by outsiders that is now called Orientalism.

Diaghilev, Nijinsky, Stravinsky. Photo by Nijinsky's sister, circa 1911

Diaghilev, Nijinsky, Stravinsky. Photo by Nijinsky’s sister, circa 1911

Serge Diaghilev, showman and impresario, bundled together a number of Russian dancers, musicians, and artists and took them to Paris as the Ballets Russes in 1909. The dancers included Vaslav Nijinsky and, for a time, Anna Pavlova. The chief designer was Leon Bakst, who often worked with local artists, including Picasso. The Ballets Russes were a huge hit but Diaghilev soon became faced with the problem of topping his last performance.

Igor Stravinsky composed The Firebird and Petrushka for the Ballets Russes but, in 1912, began work on a very new, very iconoclastic piece about the birth of music itself. Stravinsky’s vision was informed by a Ballets Russes designer, Nicolai Roerich, a mystic artist who was inspired by the findings of archaeologists that were very recent. Roerich had worked out a notion of prehistoric ritual that he explained to Stravinsky.

Roerich, "The Great Sacrifice", 1912

Roerich, “The Great Sacrifice”, 1912

The idea was that, in the Spring, the Earth had to be served so that it would allow the generation of new life; the service was one of human sacrifice. Stravinsky was taken with this notion and began to compose the score for a ballet that would feature dancers conducting the ritual that would culminate in the sacrifice of the Chosen One, a girl who would — this being ballet — dance herself to death.

Nijinsky photographed by Stravinsky in 1911

Nijinsky photographed by Stravinsky in 1911

Meanwhile, in Paris, Diaghilev was in a sexual relationship with Nijinsky, but the affair seemed to be reaching a crisis point — possibly because Nijinsky was tired of being Diaghilev’s possession, possibly because of Diaghilev’s desire for variety. This was not a long-term relationship.

Nijinsky was the star of the Ballets Russes, the first male dancer to achieve the kind of fame later accorded Nureyev and Baryshnikov. He had begun to choreograph some of the Ballets Russes numbers, not always successfully. Meanwhile, he performed in costumes that were either over-the-top Oriental or hardly there at all. His Afternoon of A Faun shocked some people with its sexuality — but, then, the Parisian taste-making class wanted to be shocked and Diaghilev wanted them to buy tickets, so Nijinsky kept pushing at the boundaries of acceptability.

Things were mounting toward a crisis point. Nijinsky’s version of a new work by Debussy, Jeux, received a few catcalls and boos at its premiere, but there was no great scandal yet, just the sense of one waiting to happen.

Stravinsky at the piano, drawing by Jean Cocteau

Stravinsky at the piano, drawing by Jean Cocteau

When Stravinsky first played some of the Rite for Diaghilev he chose a part where the same chord is pounded over and over. According to Stravinsky’s recollection (and, let it be said now, Stravinsky is a most unreliable rememberer), Diaghilev asked, “When does it end?” He was trying to be polite, Stravinsky said later, but he snapped a reply, “When it’s over!” According to Stravinsky, the chastened Diaghilev sat quietly through the repetition of the piece.

Costume study by Roerich.

Costume study by Roerich.

It is difficult to imagine Diaghilev being chastened by anything and, soon as he could, he began talking up the new work that the Ballets Russes was going to perform: composed by Stravinsky, conducted by Pierre Monteux, choreographed by Nijinsky, set and costume designs by Nicolai Roerich. So it was that, May 29, 1913, The Rite of Spring was first performed at Gabriel Astruc’s brand-new Théâtre des Champs-Élysées.

There are many eye-witness accounts of what happened that evening and not one of them can be trusted. It is not simply that they contradict each other, it’s that the witnesses contradict themselves in the telling and re-telling of the tale. Many more people claim to have been there than the theatre could hold — was Picasso there? Probably not. Were Gertrude Stein and Alice Toklas? Or did they, perhaps, see a later performance? No one now can say: this was a pre-video event.

Costumes from  The Rite of Spring  on display at the Victoria and Albert Museum.

Costumes from The Rite of Spring on display at the Victoria and Albert Museum.

According to some accounts, there was a disturbance when the first notes of the piece played in the darkened theatre — a bassoon, playing in its upper register. (“Wouldn’t a saxophone be better, Mr. Stravinsky?” “I know the difference between a saxophone and a bassoon, and I want a bassoon!”) Other accounts say that the uproar began when the curtain rose on the dancers, clad in flannel dresses with long pigtails. The dancing was pigeon-toed stamping to the insistent rhythms of the orchestra. And those rhythms played off one another and against each other in groupings of notes that did not harmonize. There was no melody.

"Get a Dentist!"

“Get a Dentist!”

The women dancers struck poses discovered by Roerich’s archaeological research. When they cocked their heads against their hands, someone yelled, “Get a dentist!” and someone else yelled back, “Get two dentists!”

Lauren Stringer from her children's book,  When Stravinsky Met Nijinsky

Lauren Stringer from her children’s book, When Stravinsky Met Nijinsky

So it went. The cacophony from the audience grew and grew. Conductor Pierre Monteux had been told, “Keep on, no matter what!” And he did. When the dancers could not hear the music over the audience noise, Nijinsky stood on a chair in the wings shouting out the count in Russian. Stravinsky abandoned his seat and said something to the people around him, perhaps “Go to Hell!”. He remembered it in different ways. He went backstage where he may have held Nijinsky’s coattails as the choreographer leaned out over the stage shouting his directions. Someone, perhaps Diaghilev, perhaps Astruc, the theatre owner, flicked the houselights on, then off, several times to try to quiet things down. Some say that objects were hurled at the dancers, at the orchestra, at spectators. Others say that fistfights broke out. Some accounts have mass arrests of forty or more people, though this does not show up in the official police records. In other words, as my great aunt used to say, “A good time was had by all.”

Allan Moore (words) and Melinda Gebbie (art) from their pornographic work,  Lost Girls

Allan Moore (words) and Melinda Gebbie (art) from their pornographic work, Lost Girls

Afterwards, Nijinsky, Diaghilev, Stravinsky, and Jean Cocteau went out on the town. They wound up in the Bois de Boulogne, in the early hours, with Diaghilev weeping and reciting Pushkin at the top of his lungs. Or so Cocteau said. Stravinsky denied the story. He claimed that he, Diaghilev, and Nijinsky went to a restaurant where Diaghilev claimed that the evening was “exactly what he wanted”. There are a lot of stories about the events of that evening that I doubt. Did Saint-Saens really say, when he heard the opening notes, “If that’s a bassoon, then I’m a baboon.” I suppose he spoke in French, “basson” and “babouine” just don’t have that rhyme that the story requires. But I could be wrong. Stravinsky says that neither Saint-Saens nor Cocteau attended the premiere, but he could be misremembering.

Diaghilev and Stravinsky

Diaghilev and Stravinsky

Diaghilev may have been the genius behind the great scandal. He gave away tickets to young modernists, those who disdained the upper classes (who paid double price for their tickets) and, some say, he hired certain provocateurs to create a riot. Whether or not that is true, he was certainly pleased with the night’s events which guaranteed sellouts of the next five French performances and the four English ones that followed. This was not enough to make the event solvent — there were fifty or so dancers, ninety-nine or a hundred orchestra members (there was scarcely enough room to squeeze them into the pit) — and Astruc was paying double fee to the Ballets Russes. He went bankrupt. Ah well, c’est dommage!

The Ballets Russes now embarked on a voyage to South America to astonish the citizenry there — all except Diaghilev who claimed he was afraid of ocean voyages, though others say that he wanted an Italian vacation to check out the pretty boys. Anyway, on the trans-Atlantic voyage, Nijinsky proposed marriage to Romola de Pulzsky, a Hungarian woman who had been stalking him for more than a year. They did not share a language, so an intermediary was called in to translate. Romola, who had been warned by Marie Rambert, Nijinsky’s under-choreographer, that the man was gay, went ahead with the marriage. It was some time before it was consummated, but when that event was accomplished, Romola became pregnant. Back in Europe, Diaghilev was furious and fired Nijinsky from the Ballets Russes.

Romola and Nijinsky wedding, Buenos Aires, 1913.

Romola and Nijinsky wedding, Buenos Aires, 1913.

Nijinsky tried working with his own company, headed by himself, his sister, and her husband — the last two very accomplished dancers. But Nijinsky had no head for business or organization and things were not working out when, in August, 1914, the First World War put an end to all that. Nijinsky was in Vienna at the time and, as a Russian citizen, he was incarcerated as an enemy alien. But what goes around, comes around, and Diaghilev managed to spring him free. For a couple of years they tried to work together, but somehow the world was not so interested in ballet at that particular moment.

In 1919, in Switzerland, Nijinsky gave his last performance to a group of upper-crust types who attended him at his hotel. Nijinsky sat for a half hour staring unblinking into the eyes of his audience who dared not respond. Then he unrolled two great strips of cloth, overlaid them in a cross, and said, “Now I will dance you the war…. The war which you did not prevent.” He danced. They left. That morning, Nijinsky had begun a journal full of odd writings and his own drawings. The drawings are mainly of eyes, single staring eyes. Some have been gone over and over again so that the paper has worn away under his pen strokes. Over the next two years, his behavior became more and more erratic — he tried to drive his carriage into others, for instance, and he pushed or threw Romola down a flight of stairs. Finally, in 1919, he was committed to an asylum, diagnosed with dementia praecox, or as his doctor, Eugen Bleuler, later termed it, schizophrenia.

Nijinsky painting of an eye, 1920

Nijinsky painting of an eye, 1920

The war was not kind to anyone and the Russian Revolution wrecked any hopes that members of the Ballets Russes might have of going home: they were now bourgeois entertainment and not to be tolerated. Still, ballet lived on in Russia and, eventually, Stravinsky’s music was rehabilitated by Khruschev.

Diaghilev died from diabetic complications in Italy in 1929 and was buried on the island of San Michele near Venice. Nicolas Roerich continued to sail on into the mystic and settled in India where he died in 1947. The Roerich Pact of 1935 resulted from his work in trying to protect the world’s cultural heritage.

Roerich toward the end of his life. [Wikimedia Commons]

Roerich toward the end of his life. [Wikimedia Commons]

In 1920, The Rite of Spring was re-choreographed by Diaghilev’s new lover, Leonid Massine, and performed several times. In 1930, it came to America. The Pittsburgh performance was preceded by a work by Schoenberg, who requires a whole ‘nother level of appreciation. The lead dancer in the US performance was Martha Graham.

Roerich backdrop used in the American production.

Roerich backdrop used in the American production.

Stravinsky emigrated to the US in 1940. He drifted to Hollywood where he made contact with the vast group of European refugees already there.  Walt Disney, under the influence of Leopold Stokowski, was trying to put together a film of animated classical music. He had a notion of a prehistoric earth, dinosaurs battling, volcanoes raging, that sort of thing, but he could not find the proper music. Someone suggested The Rite of Spring. Disney got into it. He and Stravinsky talked for a while — both parties have given very different renditions of the discussion — and Stravinsky’s work got the nod.

Later, Stravinsky said that Disney had threatened him (or implied the threat) that he could do what he wanted since The Rite of Spring was not  protected any longer by copyright, the Bolsheviks having given up all that bourgeois claptrap. So, take it or leave it. Stravinsky took it — the amount of cash involved differs from one account to another. Those present at the actual events say that Stravinsky was pleased, but who knows.

Disney and Stravinsky studying drawings of dinosaurs in 1940. Does Igor look happy?

Disney and Stravinsky studying drawings of dinosaurs in 1940. Does Igor look happy?

Fantasia did not do well at the box office and Disney decided never to go highbrow again. Years later, when Disney re-issued the film they ran into a problem: an outfit named Boosey & Hawkes had obtained the copyright to The Rite of Spring in 1947.  In 1993 when Fantasia was scheduled for release as a video, Boosey sued, saying that Disney had only purchased theatrical rights from Stravinsky, not video rights. Disney settled for $3 Million. Of course, this is amusing to anyone who knows about the history of copyright and the manner in which Disney has extended it. For a little while, the Rite was in public domain but in 2012, a century after it was written, the piece went back under copyright. Right now, under the current rules, The Rite of Spring will not be copyright free until 2041.

In 1939, Nijinsky had improved somewhat, possibly as a result of insulin shock treatment (which, to me, sounds so barbaric that I can’t credit it), and went home, or to Romola’s home, in Hungary. He almost never spoke and hardly related to anyone — his daughter recollected him taking a bouquet that she offered him and clutching it silently to his bosom. In 1945, he heard Russian soldiers playing folk music near his house and went out to them and began to dance for the first time in a quarter-century. He died in 1950 in London.

Nijinsky and Romola post-War. [independent.co.uk]

Nijinsky and Romola post-War. [independent.co.uk]

Stravinsky kept on in the US. I recall seeing his Noah and the Flood on television in the ’60s. All that I remember was the depiction of the Heavenly Host, angels eternally singing to God, who were (I thought) made up to look like mechanistic puppets. He died in 1971 and, like Diaghilev, was buried on San Michele.

Marie Rambert was fired from the Ballets Russes at the same time as Nijinsky. Diaghilev suspected her of loving Nijinsky — which, perhaps, she did. She went on to become a major force in ballet, particularly in England. She died in 1982.

Joffrey reconstruction in 1987.

Joffrey reconstruction in 1987.

In 1979, Rambert assisted Millicent Hodson in an attempt to restore Nijinsky’s choreography for The Rite of Spring. After close examination of Nijinsky’s notes and other documentation, Hodson was able to reconstruct the original ballet, which the Joffrey Ballet performed in 1987. You can see a version here.

Many orchestral performances of The Rite can be accessed on line. There is a version by Pierre Monteux (who scoffed at the piece whenever anyone asked about it), Pierre Boulez, Stravinsky himself, and several versions by Leonard Bernstein as well as many national orchestras. There are also: an electronic version, an 8-bit version, several jazz versions, a couple by high school marching bands, mashups, and versions by groups such as Birdsongs of the Mesozoic. There are also several performances of the work for four hands and two pianos, though the original performance by Stravinsky and Debussy of that arrangement was not recorded, so far as I know.

A very good documentary on the music and listening to it is from Michael Tilson-Thomas’ Keeping Score. There are also videos available on the bassoon part (and how to play it), master classes in conducting the piece, and so on.

Joffrey Ballet in Los Angeles, June, 2013. [photo: Herbert Migdoll for The Joffrey Ballet]

Joffrey Ballet in Los Angeles, June, 2013. [photo: Herbert Migdoll for The Joffrey Ballet]

I am reliably told on the internet (so it must be true) that more than two hundred ballet versions have been staged. Boosey & Hawkes say that they have authorized a hundred and fifty.  Some follow, as best they know how, the original; some have very odd costumes; some have no costumes, completely or partially nude; some have a young man as the sacrificial victim; one Russian version has the victim’s lover exacting revenge on the tribal elders after the fact, an atheistic Communist political corrective; there is a native American version, an Australian aboriginal version, a Punk version (what?); a Japanese butoh version; and one where there are no dancers at all, just clouds of bone dust floating over the stage. Just do a search for “Rite of Spring” on YouTube and you will find versions to both thrill and appall you.

All of this would make Diaghilev smile, especially if he could get a cut of the box office. Nijinsky would be horrified; he believed in his version. Stravinsky, who became an American citizen in 1945 and lived in the States until his death, would just shrug it off, or make up a story about it all.

The BBC’s Riot at the Rite is a movie that retells the story of May 29. It has a somewhat hetero Nijinsky who sacrifices himself to Art, just as the Rite‘s dancer sacrifices herself to the Earth. There are other movies about the Rite and Nijinsky and even a play about Stravinsky and Disney.

Still, after all these years, The Rite of Spring is powerful music. Leonard Bernstein said that it was the most important orchestral work of the 20th Century. Stravinsky was one of the artists who created Modernism , the 2oth Century’s new take on Art. After World War I, younger artists imbued their work with a cynical, disillusioned edge, but for a long while, it was still the same Modernist patch being plowed. Now, of course, we are all Post-Modern and this stuff doesn’t mean so much: we can be all ironic about it. But, I want to say, The Rite of Spring still hammers my consciousness the same way that it did a half-century ago.