erik lundegaard

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Friday April 08, 2016

Why Did Martians Land in Grovers Mill, NJ?

Monument to "War of the Worlds" in Grovers Mill, NJ

A monument in Grovers Mill, NJ.

From Howard Koch, a New York playwright hired by Mercury Theater to write Orson Welles' radio plays in 1938, in his memoir, “As Time Goes By”:

For my third assignment a novella was handed to me—H.G. Wells' War of the Worlds—with instructions from Orson to dramatize it in the form of news bulletins and first-person narration. Reading the story, which was set in England and written in a different narrative style, I realized I could use very little but the author's idea of a Martian invasion and his description of their appearance and their machines. In short, I was being asked to write an almost entirely original play in six days. I called [producer John] Houseman, pleading to have the assignment change to another subject. He talked to Orson and called back. The answer was a firm “no.” It was Orson's favorite project.

On Monday, my one day off, I made a quick trip up the Hudson Valley to visit my family. On the way back it occurred to me I needed a map to establish the location of the first Martian arrivals. I drove into a gas station and, since I was on route 9W where it goes through part of New Jersey, the attendant gave me a map of that state.

Back in New York starting to work, I spread out the map, closed my eyes and put down the pencil point. It happened to fall on Grovers Mill. I liked the sound; it had an authentic ring. Also it was near Princeton where I could logically bring in the observatory and the astronomer Prof. Pierrson, who became a leading character in the drama, played by Orson. Up to then hardly anyone had ever heard of this small hamlet surrounded by farmland; overnight the name of Grovers Mill was heard around the world.

There's a great description of Koch going to bed early on Sunday night, Oct. 30, 1938, waking up early, and, on his walk to the barbershop on 72nd street, hearing passersby talk of “invasion,” and “panic.” He assumed the worst: Some European country falling to Hitler's Germany. It was his barber who corrected him. How odd would that be? Your words causing mass hysteria? 

Koch, gentlemanly and circumspect in his writing, keeps finding hysteria. “War of the Worlds” led to Hollywood, where he wrote, or helped write, “Casablanca,” “Sergeant York,” “The Letter,” and “Letter from an Unknown Woman,” among others. But he was also tapped to write “Mission to Moscow,” a whitewashing of the Soviet Union when they were our allies during World War II, and as a result he was fingered by the man who tapped him, Jack Warner, before the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1947. He was one of the original “Hollywood 19,” blacklisted, and fled to Europe, where he and his wife continued to be hounded by the U.S. government.

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Posted at 05:35 AM on Apr 08, 2016 in category Books
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Tuesday March 15, 2016

Lois Chiles by Arthur Laurents

“In New York, Ray [Stark, producer of ”The Way We Were“], bubbling with that infectious enthusiasm, worked overtime at the job he wanted: casting young actresses. He took me with him to a casting session at an excellent Chinese restaurant convenient to his apartment on East Fifty-seventh. The other guests were Oleg Cassini and his very pretty girl who had no interest in becoming an actress, and an even prettier girl who was an actress and extremely interested in being recognized as one.

”Her name was Lois Chiles. I liked her; it was a pleasure just to look at her. Although she gave the impression of being the well-spoken, fresh-faced graduate of a very good private school, she got all Ray's jokes which flew thick, fast and dirty. The part she wanted in The Way We Were was a good one. The requirements for the role were simple; understanding the requirements for getting the role was also simple. Lois understood.

“'In other words,' she said to Ray as though she were talking to a broker who had just explained the contents of her portfolio, 'I get the part if I fuck you.'

”'Right!' Ray winked and laughed as though he might not have meant it. No one was going to catch him. Lois got the part.“

[Several months later...]

”The first person I saw on the set, however, wasn't Barbra [Streisand]; it wasn't Sydney [Pollack] or [Robert] Redford; it wasn't even Ray. It was Lois Chiles. She raced over, threw her arms around me as though we knew each other, and burst into tears. Sydney was mean to her, Redford was glacial, Barbra invisible, Ray ignored her—could we please have dinner please? Of course. Here, take my handkerchief, call me at my hotel later to fix the time.

“When she called, she asked: 'Would you mind if I brought a friend? Would it be alright?' 'Sure. Who's your friend?' 'Bob Evans.' Jesus. 'You don't need me, Lois. You're doing fine.' The Great Gatsby, her next picture, was produced by Bob Evans. Hollywood was full of Chinese restaurants.”

-- from ”Original Story By Arthur Laurents: A Memoir of Broadway and Hollywood."

Lois Chiles and Robert Redford in "The Way We Were"

And it all began in a Chinese restaurant.

Posted at 10:05 AM on Mar 15, 2016 in category Books
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Saturday March 12, 2016

Lena Horne by Arthur Laurents

“The core stars [at Gene Kelly's late 1940s parties] were Peter Lawford, Louis Jourdan, and Lena Horne. Lena was quiet, not wholly there; usually just sitting, sipping brandy near the piano where her husband, Lennie Hayton, doodled at the keyboard ... Lena Horne, PlaybillAlthough he was a musical director at Metro, his whole focus, professional and personal, was on Lena. He radically changed her career as a singer. It happened overnight, not in pictures—she was the wrong color for pictures—but at a downtown club called Slapsie Maxie on the night it opened. ...

”The voice deeper, the lyrics almost bitten and spat out, the eyes glittering, this was a new Lena. This Lena was angry sex. I gave the credit to Lennie because that was all I knew then ... [but] credit for turning the lady into a tiger doesn't matter; the angry sexuality was always there, uniquely hers, just growling while it waited to be let out of her cage.

“In the early Sixties, when we were so close, I asked her what was in her head when she came out on the elegant floor of the Waldorf in New York or the Fairmount in San Francisco. She bared her teeth in the smile those expensive audiences waited for. ”Fuck you,“ she said. ”That's what I think when I look at them. Fuck all of you.“

-- from ”Original Story By Arthur Laurents: A Memoir of Broadway and Hollywood."

Posted at 02:06 PM on Mar 12, 2016 in category Books
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Tuesday February 23, 2016

Mitch McConnell and 'Dark Money,' Part II

“One reflection of [the Koch brothers'] singular status was their relationship with the new majority leader of the Senate, Mitch McConnell. Only a few months before assuming that position, McConnell had been an honored speaker at their June donor summit. There, he had thanked 'Charles and David' and added, 'I don't know where we would be without you.' Soon after he was sworn in, McConnell hired a new policy chief—a former lobbyist for Koch Industries. McConnell then went on to launch a stunning all-out war on the Environmental Protection Agency, urging governors across the country to refuse to comply with its new restrictions on greenhouse gas emissions.”

-- from “Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right,” by Jane Mayer

Mitch McConnell

McConnell to Kochs: You complete me. 

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Posted at 09:27 PM on Feb 23, 2016 in category Books
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Mitch McConnell and 'Dark Money,' Part I

“The [James Madison Center for Free Speech]'s sole goal was to end all legal restrictions on money in politics. Its honorary chairman was Senator Mitch McConnell, a savvy and prodigious fund-raiser.

”Conservatives cast their opposition to campaign-finance restrictions as a principled defense of free speech, but McConnell, who was one of the cause's biggest champions, had occasionally revealed a more partisan motive. As a Republican running for office in Kentucky in the 1970s, when it was almost solidly Democratic, he once admitted 'a spending edge is the only thing that gives a Republican a chance to compete.' He had once opened a college class by writing on the blackboard the three ingredients that he felt were necessary to build a political party: 'Money, money, money.' In a Senate debate on proposed campaign-finance restrictions, McConnell reportedly told colleagues, 'If we stop this thing, we can control the institution for the next twenty years.'

-- from “Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right,” by Jane Mayer

Mitch McConnell Koch Brothers

Money, money, money. 

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Posted at 09:24 PM on Feb 23, 2016 in category Books
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