Wednesday September 30, 2020
'This is What Trump is Like. Every Day.'
“Republicans are resigned to the fact that Trump is unlikely––or unwilling––to course-correct. 'Trump thinks he won. He didn't,' said another Republican with ties to the campaign. 'But does anyone have the balls to tell him that? No. They'd be fired.'
”Trump doesn't accept the consensus that the debate was a disaster because, sources said, he was unabashedly himself. 'The thing about the debate is people got to see why no one that has any integrity can work for Trump. This is what Trump is like in the Oval Office every day. It's why [John] Kelly left. It's why [Jim] Mattis quit,' said the prominent Republican. 'Trump doesn't let anyone else speak. He really doesn't care what you have to say. He demeans people. He talks over them. And everyone around him thinks it's getting worse.'“
-- from ”Trumpworld Panics Over Debate Fiasco as Campaign Turmoil Mounts," by Gabriel Sherman, on the Vanity Fair site
Wednesday September 30, 2020
I still haven't finished reading all of the New York Times' scoop on Donald Trump's tax returns, written by Russ Buettner, Susanne Craig and Mike McIntire, which broke Sunday afternoon, but the key elements are in the first few grafs: as president of the United States in 2017, Trump paid only $750 in federal taxes; the year before, as a candidate, he paid only $750 in federal taxes. And for 10 of the previous 15 years, he paid no federal income tax at all.
Some Dems, of course, with a penchant for turning any victory into defeat, immediately said it didn't matter and that it wouldn't change any minds and then went back to wringing their hands. But there is so much in the article that matters—and some of it may even matter politically. This part:
He reported paying taxes, in turn, on a number of his overseas ventures. In 2017, the president's $750 contribution to the operations of the U.S. government was dwarfed by the $15,598 he or his companies paid in Panama, the $145,400 in India and the $156,824 in the Philippines.
This is on money he made while president—in direct violation of the Foreign Emoluments Clause (Article I, Section 9 of the U.S. Constitution), which was designed to prevent federal officeholders from “corrupting foreign influences.” And yes, I know: We've been hearing about that damned Emoluments Clause since Day 1 and it's done jack shit in preventing Trump from such corruption. So no, that's not the part that matters politically. What matters politically is that the president of the United States pays foreign governments taxes but not our government. America First? Not even in the top 10.
Then there's this part, which may not matter politically—it involves math, and you know Americans and math—but it certainly matters in terms of national security:
His revenue from “The Apprentice” and from licensing deals is drying up, and several years ago he sold nearly all the stocks that now might have helped him plug holes in his struggling properties.
The tax audit looms.
And within the next four years, more than $300 million in loans — obligations for which he is personally responsible — will come due.
What does it mean to have a president in hock for half a billion dollars? And whose post-“Apprentice” influxes of cash have been mysterious and probably foreign? Adam Davidson has been writing about this forever. He assumes money laundering.
Back to reading.
Monday September 28, 2020
Baseball's First Sweet Sixteen
Fun fact: Every one of the 10 teams that made the MLB playoffs last year has made the playoffs again this year with the exception of the team that won it all, the World Champion Washington Nationals, who finished with the third-worst record in the National League: 26-34. Karma for this, maybe?
I swear, everything that man touches turns to shit.
Another fun fact from this odd Covid season: 16 teams made the playoffs, and the playoff lineup includes not only nine of the 10 from last year but also some of the teams with the longest playoff droughts. A year ago, Sept. 29, 2019, I wrote the following:
After the M's, the longest MLB postseason droughts are the usual suspects: Marlins (2003), Padres (2006), and the White Sox (2008). Every other MLB team has gone to the postseason this decade. Every one. Think of that.
And guess what? Every one of those teams made the playoffs (yay!) except for the Mariners (of course). I don't know if it's a sign of how long we've been down, or excitement that we now have a fun young team, but I almost take consolation in the fact that we finished with the best record of any AL team that didn't make the playoffs. That said, there's now a huge gap between the M's and the next worst team on the playoff-drought list:
- Seattle Mariners (2001)
- Philadelphia Phillies (2011)
- Los Angels Angels, Detroit Tigers (2014)
What would this year's postseason look like under last year's rules? In the NL, Braves, Cubs and Dodgers win their divisions, while the one-game wild-card battle is between the Padres and ... a three-way tie for the second wild-card team (Marlins, Cards and Reds). The only team definitely out is the Brewers. In the AL, the picture would be clearer: Rays, Twins and A's win their divisions, while the White Sox and Indians battle for wild card. Gone are the Astros, Blue Jays and ... Yankees. Ooh, so close.
Playoffs start tomorrow. Cable-less, I'll have to try to find a way to watch.
Sunday September 27, 2020
Movie Review: Mothers Cry (1930)
I watched “Mothers Cry” because of this Louella Parsons column, syndicated in The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Dec. 8, 1930, and touting a “young film comer” chosen for the lead in the new Warner Bros. gangster picture “The Public Enemy.” Not James Cagney, of course: Edward Woods. Most film fans, or at least Cagney fans, know that Woods was tapped for the lead but the roles were switched early in production. What I didn’t know was that the publicity machine had already begun working on Woods. The column also made me wonder why Woods was cast as Tom Powers in the first place. This part:
Young Woods, who played the role of the first boy to die in the stage production of “The Last Mile,” and Danny, the bad boy in “Mother’s Cry,” is just getting his foothold in Hollywood.
Woods never really impresses in “Public Enemy.” Maybe because he’s the nicer one? He’s the guy who’s horrified when Tom kills Putty Nose in cold blood. That’s his role. So maybe, as the bad boy in “Mothers Cry,” I’d be able to see why Warners cast him as Tom Powers in the first place. That’s why I watched this.
And … nope. In “Mothers Cry,” Woods has a thin, reedy voice, is as pale and powdered as any silent film star, and overacts. There’s nothing in the performance that makes you think: lead role in tough-guy gangster movie.
But “Cry” does have interesting similarities with “Public Enemy.” As well as strong differences.
“Public Enemy” is an early attempt at what became the Warner Bros. “social problem” film. In the nature/nurture argument, it takes both sides. Sure, Tom is a rotten kid, and his brother is upstanding; but look what happens to the brother: shell-shocked during the Great War, the sap. And maybe if it wasn’t for the Putty Noses of the world, Tom might’ve become a ding-ding on a streetcar. You never know. The social problem argument isn’t as strong as it would become in “I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang” and “Angels with Dirty Faces,” but it’s there.
In “Mothers Cry,” it’s non-existent. Danny’s a shitty kid who becomes a shitty adult who is executed for his shitty crimes. The end.
As you might gather from the title, it’s the story from the mother’s perspective and the whole thing is steeped in melodrama. Mary (Dorothy Peterson) marries Frank Williams, has four children with him, and is then widowed. She has to raise them on her own while working as a seamstress in a sweatshop. But she does it. And her kids grow up to be OK—mostly:
- Jenny (Evalyn Knapp), interested in homemaking, marries a boisterous, hard-working German, Karl Muller (Reinhold Pasch)
- Beattie (Helen Chandler), an idealistic, artistic spirit, can’t decide on a discipline
- Arthur (David Manners), good-natured, is interested in architecture
- Danny (Woods) becomes a two-bit hood
The worst part of Danny isn’t his two-bit hoodiness; it’s that he’s bad at it. As an adult, we first see him downing a shot with a dame and bragging how about he’s going to collect from both ends of a shady deal. Except she’s working with the gang he’s trying to cheat, and they show up behind him. “Give him the works,” she tells the boys, then addresses Danny. “So, Mister Wise Guy, you’re gonna collect from both ends? Yes, you are.” This is both a common idiom back then—sarcastic agreement with previous statement—and chilling promise.
It’s delivered. Danny is dumped, beaten and bloody, on his family’s front porch—a scene prefiguring the ending of “Public Enemy.” The family scurries to help but Danny knows the mob will be back and flees.
“Three years pass,” as the intertitles say. Arthur has just been awarded a prize for architectural design, the family is celebrating, and Danny shows up full of false bravado and with a floozy for a wife. The two spend an evening making everyone uncomfortable before the cops show up and haul Danny to prison for a crime he committed elsewhere. I guess he thought he was safe at home? Another mistake. As is the floozy. “You gotta keep him for a son,” she tells Mrs. Williams, as she skips town, “but I don’t gotta keep him for a husband.” So Danny can’t even get girls right.
Beattie, the idealistic one, flees, too (Danny makes her feel bad), and winds up in Palm Beach, Florida, where she gets a job as the public stenographer for a fancy hotel. One guest, Mr. Hart, keeps calling for her … and we see where that’s going. After she returns home, heartbroken, there’s a good scene where she tells Arthur all. She’s crying, he sits her on his lap and says with a solicitous smile, “Now, tell me everything.” As she begins, the screen dissolves from top to bottom. Then for several seconds, it remains black—and silent. Maybe five seconds? Seems forever in film time. When it dissolves back—from bottom to top—Beattie has reached the end of her sordid tale, and Arthur, shocked, is now holding onto her as much for support as to be supportive. Great scene. Plus the top-to-bottom dissolve is something I’ve never seen before.
The day she returns, of course, is the same day Danny gets out of prison. Arthur is now a huge success and Danny looks to scam him, but instead finds Beattie crying with her old love letters from the married Mr. Hart. Danny sees his chance—blackmail!—and tries to steal the letters, but he can’t even do this. Beattie simply takes them back and runs upstairs. So he shoots her. Dead. Now he’s on death row, where his mother goes to see him the day he’s to be executed. By this point, he’s got one thing left to lose. It’s the thing Cagney pretended to lose in “Angels with Dirty Faces,” and Danny raises the issue immediately:
All them newspaper guys that thinks I’m gonna flap can go jump in the lake. Cause I ain’t gonna flap, see. Cause I ain’t afraid.
She nods. He nods. She says goodbye. He says goodbye. She’s slowly led out. Then he twists the bars, emotes, and grunts out a desperate “Mama!” This is Woods’ best bit of acting. There’s a real undercurrent of desperation here. She tries to go back to him but the guard won’t have it. He grunts it out again: “Mama!” Then he breaks down. And that’s the last we see of him.
The perils of Helen Chandler
“Mothers Cry” is based on a best-selling novel by Helen Grace Carlisle, was adapted by Lenore J. Coffee, a prolific Hollywood screenwriter whose work includes the original non-musical version of “Chicago,” and was directed by Hobart Henley, a silent film actor and director whose last credit is from 1934.
The point of it all, the mother’s cry, is that the mother does everything for her kids and loses them all. Danny kills Beattie and the state kills him. Jenny and Karl leave because of the floozy—I think. Arthur stays but Mom pushes him away. There’s a media frenzy about Danny and she doesn’t want him caught up in it. But we get a coda. She visits him in New York, where it’s implied he’s designed the Chrysler Building, which, at the time of the movie’s release, December 1930, was the tallest building in the world.
Something similar actually happened with the actors. The mother, Dorothy Peterson, kept going like the mother in the movie. This is her first screen credit and IMDb lists 103 more until her final role in a 1964 episode of “The Patty Duke Show.” But the movie careers of the kids barely make it out of the 1930s. David Manners went from playing Arthur to playing the romantic lead in a string of horror films (“Dracula,” “The Mummy,” “The Black Cat”), but he quickly tired of Hollywood, left for a ranch, and never returned; his last credit is from 1936. Evalyn Knapp played Cagney’s sister in his first movie, “Sinners’ Holiday,” caused his death in “Smart Money,” and recreated the role of Pauline in a remake of the hugely successful silent serial “The Perils of Pauline” in 1933. But that was her high point. Her career was over by 1943.
Then there’s Helen Chandler. She’s great as Beattie, so lovely and fragile, you wonder why she didn’t become bigger. She was also in “Dracula,” and co-starred with Douglas Fairbanks in “The Lost Generation,” but her last movie credit is from 1938. What happened? This is her IMDb bio. It’s about the saddest I’ve read:
In 1937 Chandler left Hollywood to return to the stage, but a dependency on alcohol and sleeping pills haunted her subsequent career, and in 1940 she was committed to a sanitarium. Ten years later she was disfigured in a fire, apparently caused by smoking in bed. Helen Chandler died (following surgery for a bleeding ulcer) on April 30, 1965. Her body was cremated, and as no relative ever came forward to claim the remains, her ashes now repose in the vaultage section (off limits to visitors) of the Chapel of the Pines Crematory in Los Angeles.
As for Woods? He did this, “Public Enemy,” and only 10 more movies, generally fourth- or fifth-billed, and was done by 1938. He went on to produce and direct in the theater (for Les Schubert), and did promotional work (for 20th Century Fox), before retiring to Salt Lake City in 1975. His death in 1989 didn’t even rate a mention in the newspaper. Any newspaper. The only obits I could find were the kind family and friends pay for. One was in The Salt Lake Tribune, the other in the Los Angeles Times. The Times obit contains several errors. It says Woods acted in a movie called “Saturday’s Child,” when they probably meant “Hot Saturday”; and it gets his big movie wrong. They call it “Public Enemy Number 1.”
As to my original question: Why was he cast as the lead in “Public Enemy” when, even playing a tough guy in “Mothers Cry,” he’s not exactly tough? It could be his look. Lew Ayres was cast as the gangster lead in “The Doorway to Hell” earlier in 1930, with Cagney as his right-hand man, and “Enemy” seemed to follow that pattern. But while researching the question, I came across this fun fact: At the time of the Louella Parsons column touting Woods as a “young film comer,” guess who Woods was engaged to? Louella Parsons’ daughter. And now I’m wondering if maybe this connection had something to do with the original casting. According to Cagney biographer John McCabe, Warners producer Darryl Zanuck appreciated Woods’ connection to the powerful Parsons, and that’s why he was initially reluctant to switch the roles. Indeed, when he did it, Parsons wasn’t happy. According to Samantha Barbas’ biography “The First Lady of Hollywood,” she wrote this in her column:
“I happen to know the Cagney role was originally written for Eddie, but through the friendship of someone in the studio the big part was handed the other boy.”
Two things. While the writers—John Bright and Kubec Glasmon—had a preference for Cagney, the role of Tom Powers wasn’t written for anyone. But worse is the second part of her sentence. The nepotism she claims others engaged in is exactly what she’s guilty of. Hell, the “friends” she claims Cagney had at the studio were the writers. The second part of her sentence negates the first.
I will say this about Woods’ performance in “Mothers Cry”: If the studios were truly interested in deglamorizing criminals—as they always claimed—this was the way to do it. Woods’ Danny isn’t anyone you’d want to be. He’s not cool, he’s not respected, and he’s only feared by his fragile sister. Going with Cagney, Warners chose a more realistic, energetic, and lucrative path. Yes, they did.
Woods before his big scene; and before the fall.
Sunday September 27, 2020
2020 in a Tweet
After accusing Biden of being on drugs and Bloomberg of bribery, calling for the impeachment of a senator, repeating his usual vague insinuations about ballots and his usual vague promise of an Obamacare replacement, Trump has arrived at his golf club.— Daniel Dale (@ddale8) September 27, 2020
Saturday September 26, 2020
Still Waiting on that Universal Translator
Tacoma News Tribune, April 11, 1953, although it was syndicated all over the place.
Can't find much on Sullivan. Retired from Pacific Telephone and Telegraph in 1961, was on the board of New York Life, was elected chairman of Allied Properties in 1973, and his wife, Alice, died in 1980 at the age of 85. He survived her. Can't find his obit.
Friday September 25, 2020
'Given Mr. Carlson's Reputation...'
What Tucker called her doesn't matter because Tucker doesn't matter: legal ruling.
Amid the news insanity of the week—No. 1 being the refusal of the president of the United States to commit to a peaceful transfer of power, which should've been the biggest news story of the year but hardly made a peep among the usual legit-media suspects—there was, last night, not necessarily good news, but it did make me smile for a moment.
On the surface, no. On the surface, it was bad. Judge rules in favor of Fox News/Tucker Carlson in defamation lawsuit brought by Karen McDougal. I'd rather the opposite. And: Trump legal team to argue in Second Circuit in year-long subpoena of Trump's financial records by Manhattan DA. I'd rather we get the financial records finally. The financial records Trump promised to reveal when he won the 2016 presidential election, and which, ever since, he's fought in court to keep private.
But dig a little and the stories get amusing.
Trump's lawyers will argue before the Second Circuit that Trump's financial records are outside the purview of the DA Cyrus Vance Jr. and Vance should stick to the issue at hand: the involvement of the president of the United States in hush-money payments to porn stars and others prior to the 2016 election. That's what the president's lawyers want the case to be limited to. And the payments aren't even alleged. It's just a matter of how involved Trump was. So that's kind of amusing when you think about it.
And then Tucker. Oh, Tucker.
Backstory. Playboy playmate Karen McDougal has claimed a year-long affair with Donald Trump from 2006 to 2007, and it came up during the 2016 election. She sold that story for $150,000 to The National Enquirer, which, rather than publish the salacious details, squelched the story. Ronan Farrow wrote about those details years later for The New Yorker. The tabloid practice is called “catch and kill,” and it was done here, apparently, because the owner of the Enquirer, American Media, Inc., ws run by the aptly-named David Pecker, who is a friend of Trump's. That's the backstory.
Anyway, in 2018, after the Farrow article appeared, and I guess after McDougal told her story to Anderson Cooper on CNN, Tucker Carlson attacked her on his Fox News show. He accused her of extortion, which is the opposite of what happened. So she sued him for defamation.
Yesterday, Judge Mary Kay Vyskocil dismissed the lawsuit. She agreed with the Fox News lawyers. That McDougal was an extortionist? No, that wasn't the argument. The argument, brought by Fox News lawyers, is that Tucker Carlson shouldn't be taken seriously. From the New York Times story:
In reaching her decision, Judge Vyskocil relied in part on an argument made by Fox News lawyers: that the “general tenor” of Mr. Carlson's program signals to viewers that the host is “engaging in 'exaggeration' and 'nonliteral commentary.'” The judge added: “Given Mr. Carlson's reputation, any reasonable viewer 'arrive[s] with an appropriate amount of skepticism'” about the host's on-air comments.
So that's kind of amusing.
And not. There's still no accountability. Fox gets to call itself “News” and escape traps like this by saying, in effect, “Who are we? Nobody. We're just bullshitting. We're just a billion-dollar industry that attacks who we want for partisan reasons and gets away with it.” In effect, the judge just gave Tucker Carlson a license to lie.
Sincere follow-up for Judge Vyskocil: Would any “reasonable viewer” be watching Tucker Carlson's show in the first place?
Thursday September 24, 2020
Gale Sayers (1943-2020)
A couple of times a year I'll think the following:
The Lord is first
My friends are second
And I am third
That's a quote from the back cover of the dog-eared autobiography of Gale Sayers, “I Am Third,” that my older brother owned. I was a huge fan of baseball biographies but I never got into this one for some reason. I don't know if I finished it. But I always liked the title. And though I'm basically agnostic I always liked the sentiment.
My older brother did a good imitation of Sayers, too. OK, not Sayers. Billy Dee Williams as Sayers in the TV movie “Brian's Song,” which was based on some portion of “I Am Third.” Every boy I knew saw that movie. Every boy I knew cried at that movie. Whenever some kid claimed he never cried, that's the thing you'd bring up.
“Never? Not even at 'Brian's Song'?”
I certainly cried at “Brian's Song.” The theme song alone could make me tear up. But the scene that killed me was when Billy Dee as Sayers breaks down in the locker room talking about his friend Brian Piccolo, who had been diagnosed with cancer. One of the lines in that speech is the line my brother spoke when imitating Billy Dee/Sayers: “Brian Piccolo is sick, very sick.” I think about that line a couple of times a year, too.
Gale Sayers and Brian Piccolo became roommates and friends at a time of civil rights and civil strife, so it was a story, a news story, before it ever became a memoir and a TV-movie. They were roommates and numerically adjacent—Sayers #40, Piccolo #41—but opposites every other way. White, black. Brash, shy. Journeyman, superstar. Who couldn't write that story? And then the tragedy. Brian Piccolo was 26 years old when he died of cancer in 1970. Gale Sayers was 77 when he died yesterday of complications from dementia and Alzheimer's. That's a whole other tragedy, and probably football-related. He was diagnosed with it in 2013. Imagine if it were you. A doctor saying you will lose your mind before you lose your life. You will lose your self. Everything you think is you. But you'll still be there.
When I was a kid, Gale Sayers was the standard. I came in at that time. Jim Brown had already been making movies for six years when I began to pay attention to the NFL, and I thought of him the way I thought of someone like Y.A. Tittle: Someone from the dark ages: BSB—Before Super Bowl. But if you look at the numbers it's not even close. Brown dominated for a decade and then left on top with the most rushing yards ever, while Sayers dominated for four years basically and was gone. But he was beautiful in a way few football players ever were. He was already a college legend when he arrived in the NFL in 1965—the Kansas Comet—and he quickly became a football legend. “Give me 18 inches of daylight, that's all I need,” he was famous for saying, and he wasn't wrong. In his rookie season, in the mud of Chicago, he scored six touchdowns against the San Francisco 49ers in a 61-20 romp; nobody's done that since. The next season, he led the league in rushing yards and yards per game. Then he got injured. Knee. But he came back in 1969 and led the league in yards and yards per game. Then he injured the other knee and that was that. To be honest, I don't think I ever saw him play live. I saw him on “NFL Films” and on “Brian's Song.” My father repeated his name with reverence. He did an intake of breath and shook his head sadly and reverentially.
In his tribute, Joe Posnanski compares Sayers to Clemente in terms of beauty and impact, and it's not a bad comparison. Except Clemente actually had a full career; he played 18 seasons. Poz also suggests Sandy Koufax, another comet streaking across the sky, someone who blazed for a glorious moment and was gone. Again: not bad. Let me add another: Tony Oliva: showed up in the mid-60s and dominated: two batting titles in his first two years, a beautiful swing, a gorgeous player. Then knee troubles. Then another batting title. Then more knee troubles. Sayers showed up after Tony-O and left before him because football is that much more brutal, but he also got in the Hall almost immediately. Baseball's Hall still hasn't let Tony in. Maybe because he never quite had that cache. Or maybe because football knows its careers are short and brutish, and so, more than baseball, they appreciate the clean, clear leap of the salmon that has disappeared.