Friday, December 19, 2014

Happy 34th birthday, Jake Gyllenhaal!


Jake Gyllenhaal attending the New York premiere of "Nightcrawler"

Nightcrawler (2014) Interview. Description: A young man stumbles upon the underground world of L.A. freelance crime journalism.

Gyllenhaal is a revelation once again, and the control of his instrument is a wonderful thing to witness. The character is unhinged, but precisely pitched. Unblinking and haunted, one imagines a rich back story for this character. While it's never explicitly stated, much is suggested by Gyllenhaal's fractured, on-the-edge performance and the environment around him; a lifetime of loneliness and isolation from an indifferent world that's about to crack and manifest itself in all kinds of ugly fissures. The harsh fluorescent brilliance of “Nightcrawler” is just how in tune Gyllenhaal, Gilroy and the movie are. Bloom and the movie slowly uncoil in tandem lock and step to unveil much more than an unsocialized loner who’s listened to too many of Tony Robbins' motivational speeches. But Gyllenhaal isn’t scene-chewing, and the humanity glimpsed early on is perhaps what makes his sinister transformation so creepy. "A friend is a gift that you give yourself," Bloom says with a cracked smile at a critical moment to Russo. It's both a veiled threat and a deeper reveal of a personality far more sociopathic than initially exposed.

When he finally gets a taste of success, Bloom becomes a tyrannical psycho unleashed through sheer force of will. And what's rather brilliant about Gyllenhaal's (and the movie's) characterization of Bloom's personal revolution is that it is both frightening and darkly hilarious. The repetition of this theme and Bloom's insistent self-motivational orations can be off-putting at first, but once Gyllenhaal's go-for-broke turn connects, these speeches click into gear, and they can be delightfully mordant. You just need to speak Gilroy-ese and go with the flow of this hectic patois that's perhaps indebted to Paddy Chayefsky's "Network."

Marginalized and having gone hungry for what feels like a lifetime, a ravaged economic disparity pulses through the crisp air of “Nightcrawler.” Luminescent with coyote-like eyes, Gyllenhaal’s like a hollowed out animal that spends nights hunting for marginal scraps to keep himself alive. But what separates the feral Bloom from all the night-time loners and losers in this particular wilderness is unremitting drive and unhealthy obsessiveness, It’s as if going hungry for so long has created an intensely sharp mind that just won’t quiet. And the inability to switch off is toxic. Source:

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Cornell Woolrich, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Raymond Chandler in Hollywood

Film-noir retrospectives are a specialty of the house at Film Forum. The venue marks the holidays by reviving two dozen classic films, most from the 1930s and ’40s, adapted from the fatalistic prose of Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, Cornell Woolrich and James M. Cain. The series goes beyond staples like “Mildred Pierce” and “Strangers on a Train” to present less-exposed films, such as a 1931 version of “The Maltese Falcon,” with Ricardo Cortez instead of Humphrey Bogart, and the racier tilt of pre-code Hollywood. Source:

Cornell Woolrich From Pulp Fiction to Film Noir (2006) by Thomas C. Renzi: "Cornell Woolrich began writing for movies during the period between 1928 and 1930 —The Haunted House, Seven Footprints to Satan, Children of the Ritz, and House of Horror, and he penned short stories for the pulp magazines Argosy, Dime Detective Magazine, Black Mask, etc., where detective, suspense and crime became his specialty. Although his stint as a screenwriter in the early ‘30s proved unfruitful, Hollywood discovered in the 1940s that Woolrich’s stories and novels were fertile ground for film, especially for film noir, and many of his works were adapted for the screen. “Woolrich isn’t in the league of Dashiell Hammett or Raymond Chandler as a weaver of mood through the precise or voluptuous phrase,” wrote Time magazine in 2003. But, they concluded, “You don’t read Woolrich for the writing, exactly. You read it for the atmosphere, the smoky, urban settings that enshroud his helpless or conscienceless characters… Woolrich deals in moral ambiguity on its way to becoming moral invisibility. In Woolrich, love and death — the act of love and the act of death — can be the same thing. The author’s triumph is to make the subjects and stories so varied while the tone is constantly dark, menacing, inescapable. This world-view is so consistent, it must be personal. In his fiction, the mystery man wrote his own autobiography, one page at a time.”

At the time of his death, he was working on a novel called The Loser; fragments have been collected in Tonight, Somewhere in New York (2005). To get a more detailed look into his personal life, read Cornell Woolrich: First You Dream, Then You Die by Francis M. Nevins, Jr. In Cornell Woolrich From Pulp Fiction to Film Noir by Thomas C. Renzi, twenty-two stories and thirty films are discussed: “The Corpse Next Door” (January 23, 1937; film, Union City [1979]); “Face Work” (October 1937; film, Convicted [1938]); “I’m Dangerous Tonight” (November 1937; film, I’m Dangerous Tonight [1990]); “I Wouldn’t Be in Your Shoes” (March 12, 1938; film, I Wouldn’t Be in Your Shoes [1948]); “All at Once, No Alice” (March 20, 1940; film, The Return of the Whistler [1948]); “C-Jag” (October 1940; film, Fall Guy [1947]); The Bride Wore Black (1940; film, The Bride Wore Black [1967]); “He Looked Like Murder” (February 8, 1941; film, The Guilty [1947]); “Nightmare” (March 1941; films, Fear in the Night [1947], Nightmare [1956]); The Black Curtain (1941; film, Street of Chance [1942]); “Rear Window” (February 1942; films, Rear Window [1954], Rear Window [television, 1998]); Black Alibi (1942; film, The Leopard Man [1943]; “Dormant Account” (May 1942; film, The Mark of the Whistler [1944]); Phantom Lady (1942; film, Phantom Lady [1944]); The Black Angel (1943; film, Black Angel [1946]); Deadline at Dawn (1944; film, Deadline at Dawn [1946]); The Black Path of Fear (1944; film, The Chase [1946]); Night Has a Thousand Eyes (1945; film, Night Has a Thousand Eyes [1948]); Waltz into Darkness (1947; films, Mississippi Mermaid [1969], Original Sin [2001]); “The Boy Cried Murder” (March 1947; films, The Window [1949], Cloak & Dagger [1984]); I Married a Dead Man (1948; films, No Man of Her Own [1950], J’ai epouse une ombre [1982], Mrs. Winterbourne [1996], etc.

Renzi is adept at scrutinizing the works, comparing them with other films, and investigating thematic elements and stylistic techniques. . Just one standout is his interpretation of Fear in the Night’s homosexual subtext; his attention to detail is fascinating; his persuasive breakdown makes perfect sense. Also handled well is his explanation of the perverse added elements put into the film Original Sin (2001), taken from Woolrich’s 1947 novel Waltz into Darkness. He argues that one of the reasons “extremely outrageous things” creepily creep into some movies — and, believe me, that is a gross understatement concerning the vile Original Sin — is to “satisfy the private perversions of the director.”

For a complex movie like The Chase (1946), Renzi gives us different ways of approaching the storyline; food for thought. There are some very minor blips here and there, none of which should deter you. The Shadow didn’t say, “Who knows what evil lurks in the minds of men?” Throughout the book he deftly references other, non-Woolrich, films if he found parallels in their stories; so I was surprised that he didn’t see the similarities in Woolrich’s novel I Married a Dead Man to While You Were Sleeping (1995), which starred Sandra Bullock.

Speaking of I Married a Dead Man, for the first film adaptation, No Man of Her Own (1950), he makes this interesting comment about star Barbara Stanwyck: “As a gifted actress, Stanwyck has the incredible ability to produce a blank stare that paradoxically conveys an impressive exterior while telegraphing a dark, turbulent malevolence roiling behind the mask.” Renzi’s approach here is authoritative, with several neat surprises in store for noir fans. This is a meticulous evaluation of the films and the author proves that he really knows his noir and Woolrich. Highly recommended. —"Let Me Tell You How I Really Feel...Again: More of the Best of Laura Wagner's Book Reviews from Classic Images" (2014) by Laura Wagner

The idea of a 1929 crash which was personal as well as national had already been worked out, although not in such detail, as early as 1931 when Fitzgerald wrote “Babylon Revisited.” But then he had not dreamed how bad the crash would be or how long the Depression would last. In fact, Scott’s short story had really been about Zelda’s crash, not his own. It was she who had gone into a mental institution in 1930, just as many of America’s corporations were going into receivership. Scott felt a great loss, but in some ways it was the kind of loss a man feels when a stock hits bottom: his treasure had been smashed to bits but he himself was still intact. Four years after “Babylon Revisited” was published, however, the incredible happened: Scott’s own head cracked. Arthur Mizener writes that Fitzgerald began by writing stories about “the sadness of the lost past,” but that in later stories, like “Babylon Revisited,” “the past is used only for exposition; they are about the grim present.”

For love, life, and drama to become confused past all untangling, the only thing that remained was for Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald to act out their real-life love in play form, and that is exactly the job one movie producer offered them. He wanted Scott and Zelda to play their fictional alter egos, Amory Blaine and Rosalind Connage, in the movie version of This Side of Paradise. Fitzgerald’s editor Maxwell Perkins, with ancestors buried in Puritan New England, was horrified by the idea. The author tried to win him over by promising that this would be his “first and last appearance positively.” But before Fitzgerald could give the producer a definite yes or no, the project was shelved. Scott and Zelda did not star in This Side of Paradise because the picture was never made.

Carmel Myers, the star, opened the door and welcomed the Fitzgeralds to a party and to Hollywood. Graciously, she guided the newcomers from celebrity to celebrity the way Jay Gatsby guided Tom and Daisy when they came to his party. The Fitzgeralds had earned their invitation several years before in Rome where they met Carmel Myers on the set of Ben Hur and watched as cameras recorded her diminutive beauty against a backdrop of “bigger and grander papier-mache arenas than the real ones.” On Miss Myers’ bookshelf stood a copy of The Great Gatsby, a souvenir of those days in Rome; it was inscribed, “For Carmel Myers from her Corrupter F. Scott Fitzgerald. ’Don’t cry, little girl, maybe some day someone will come along who’ll make you a dishonest woman.’” The Fitzgeralds had shown the star a good time in Europe and now she wanted them to have a good time in California. As Fitzgerald wrote his daughter Scottie, “Hollywood made a big fuss over us and the ladies all looked very beautiful to a man of thirty. This is a tragic city of beautiful girls— the girls who mop the floor are beautiful, the waitresses, the shop ladies.”

One of the ladies who looked the most beautiful was a young actress named Lois Moran. Miss Moran wanted Fitzgerald to be her leading man in a film and he seems to have wanted the same thing, so she arranged a screen test for him just as Rosemary Hoyt would later arrange one for Dick Diver in Tender Is the Night. Dick, profiting from his creator’s hindsight, is allowed to take a superior attitude, but Fitzgerald himself went before the cameras. The studio, however, decided not to make him a star. Unlike William Faulkner and other novelists who went to Hollywood only for the money, Fitzgerald wanted much more: he had come to believe that he could no longer write novels and short stories, but he thought that he could write pictures.

To reach the MGM commissary, known as the Lion’s Den, Fitzgerald had to leave the Thalberg Building and walk along a fenced-in corridor which led to the main lot, a sprawling, crowded place that looked like a blind city: almost none of its buildings had windows. There were rows of huge structures which from the outside were as shapeless and uninteresting as four-story cardboard boxes but were actually the sound stages where movies were being made. There were also a few office buildings, which in his unfinished Hollywood novel, The Last Tycoon, Fitzgerald described as “old building[s] with… long balconies and iron rails with their suggestion of [a] perpetual tightrope.” In Tycoon Fitzgerald remembered this huge dining hall as being “gay with gypsies and with citizens and soldiers, with the sideburns and braided coats of the First Empire.”

After Three Comrades (1938), Fitzgerald wrote Infidelity (1939), his best script yet; it was an original screenplay which looked back to the luxurious New York apartments and fashionable Long Island estates where Gatsby had loved a woman and lost his life. But the industry censor stopped the film because infidelity simply was not allowed in the movie houses in the thirties. Inexplicably, his chance to conquer Hollywood was already behind him, lost somewhere back in the vast obscurity of the Hollywood machine. —"Crazy Sundays: F. Scott Fitzgerald in Hollywood" (1972) by Aaron Latham

Raymond Chandler was a romantic, more like F. Scott Fitzgerald than the worldly Hammett, and through the character of Marlowe he became a haunting poet of place, this place, Los Angeles, whose split personality of light and dark mirrored Chandler's own. He caught the glaring sun, the glittering swimming pools, the cigar-stinking lobbies of seedy hotels, the improbable mansions, the dismal apartment buildings, the sound of tires on asphalt and gravel, the sparkling air of the city after rain and how the fog smells at the beach at night. "To take care of Cissy. That was his driving life force," Judith Freeman writes. Chandler worked in the oil business for Cissy, and he turned himself into a crime writer for his wife, while feeling he never "wrote a book worthy of dedicating to her." Source:

After the success of John Huston’s 1941 adaptation of Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon, starring Humphrey Bogart as Sam Spade, other studios started looking for hardboiled crime novels to put on the screen. Raymond Chandler never courted Hollywood but, in 1943, Hollywood came to him. Movie studios had been curious about his fiction from the start. RKO picked up the rights to Ray’s Farewell, My Lovely but, in what now seems a strange and rather ridiculous move, ditched both Philip Marlowe and the title.

The Falcon Takes Over (1942) uses Chandler’s plot, retains Moose Malloy and Anne Riordan, but relocates the action to New York City. Marlowe’s place is taken by the eponymous Falcon, a low-rent imitation of the Saint, played in this film by George Sanders. At roughly the same time, the plot of The High Window was being casually bent out of shape by an undistinguished screenwriter called Clarence Upson Young and reformed as Time To Kill (1942). In that film, Marlowe’s place was taken by detective Michael Shayne. Any reputation these all-but forgotten B-movies have today is because of their connection to Raymond Chandler. In the early 1940s, his carefully wrought novels were stripped of their plot and characters by film makers desperate for ideas and short on time. At any rate, to have adapted his fiction with any sort of care – to project the flickering, silvered image of Philip Marlowe on to a big screen and to show the seedy world of sex and corruption he inhabited – would have been impossible in 1943. At that time, Hollywood was in the grip of the Motion Picture Production Code (MPPC). This debilitating convention had come about in the early 1920s when fears that the lewd behaviour on screen would result in lewd behaviour off it. —"A Mysterious Something in the Light: The Life of Raymond Chandler" (2013) by Tom Williams

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

5 Healthy Oils to Keep in Your Kitchen

The phrase "healthy oils" may sound like a contradiction, but these nutrient-rich foods are indispensable when it comes to good living. Just a few teaspoons can boost your immune system, decrease your stress levels and reduce your risk of a heart attack. Just remember to use them in moderation; at 120 calories per serving, cooking oils can quickly pack on the pounds. Here are five healthy oils you should always keep in your kitchen.

1. Olive Oil

Is this Mediterranean superfood already a staple in your kitchen? For years, experts have hailed extra virgin olive oil for its heart-healthy benefits. Research has shown that supplementing your diet with quality olive oil can increase your good cholesterol and reduce the bad. When you exchange your regular butter or lard for olive oil and other monounsaturated fats, you can reduce your risk of heart disease. Whether you are baking, stir-frying or cooking in the oven, make sure that you choose a pure olive oil with a high level of antioxidants.

2. Sesame Seed Oil

You should not use sesame seed oil everyday, but once a week you can splurge on its unmatched nutty aroma and taste. This oil is best known for flavoring Asian stir-frys, but you can also add it to meat sauces and salad dressings for a unique experience. Toasted sesame oil contains important vitamins and minerals that may slow bacterial growth, prevent cellular damage and reduce your cancer risk. The high magnesium content has been shown to lower blood pressure and decrease glucose in diabetic patients.

3. Cottonseed Oil

Cottonseed oil had been a staple of the American kitchen for more than 40 years before World War II caused widespread shortages. Now, this versatile oil is making a comeback. New technologies and genetic enhancements have made it possible to produce a healthier oil with fewer pesticides. Cottonseed oil's high level of vitamin E fights free radicals and cancer development, while the fatty acid structure provides heart benefits. Because cottonseed has a muted, nutty flavor, it can be used virtually anywhere you might add canola or vegetable oil. The high smoke point makes it ideal for searing, browning and deep-frying.

4. Coconut Oil

Like cottonseed, coconut oil has undergone a leave-it-then-love-it comeback. The nutrients help the body process blood sugars, increase metabolism and endurance and fight off dangerous bacteria, viruses and fungi. It can also aid digestion. The light, mildly addictive flavor is a bonus. Try cold-pressed, virgin coconut oil with your popcorn, hash browns and baked goods.

5. Walnut Oil

If you worry about getting enough omega-3 fats and vitamins in your diet, walnut oil can help. This rich food delivers all of the nutritional benefits of whole walnuts without the mild bitterness. It can help to regulate brain functions, decrease artery inflammation and blood pressure and boost the immune system. Research from Penn State has even demonstrated a connection between consuming walnut oil and dealing with stress better. Pure walnut oil is loaded with vitamin K, vitamin C, vitamin E, magnesium, selenium, zinc, potassium, copper and phosphorus. Since it does not stand up well to heat, use this product as a finishing touch instead of as a cooking aid. Add roasted walnut oil to winter vegetables, apple cakes, cheese pastas, grilled fish and beef bourguignon. Mix with balsamic vinegar for a more complex salad topping.

Monday, December 15, 2014

"The Lady in The Lake" on TCM for Christmas

In 1947, MGM tried a new narrative trick. The studio wanted a way to mimic the first-person narration of Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe novels, so it hit upon the idea of shooting an entire film from the detective's perspective. The result was Robert Montgomery's The Lady in the Lake, and it's an odd watch. We're seeing the mystery from Marlowe's eyes, but we're not really Marlowe; our eyes don't see in black-and-white, for one, and they don't see in the Academy ratio. Watching it, you get the sense that there's always something you're missing, lurking just outside the frame. Source:

This splendidly gimmicky 1947 film noir classic, directed by its star Robert Montgomery, and based on the renowned hardboiled Raymond Chandler novel, was shot so that the whole story seems to be seen literally through the eyes of its private eye hero, Philip Marlowe.

When star Audrey Totter plants her lips on the subjective camera, the audience itself is kissed as the surrogate for Montgomery’s Marlowe. Montgomery directs himself in this unusual experiment whereby we never see him unless it’s in a mirror. Like the found-footage movies of the 90s era, the gimmicky idea soon becomes monotonous and contrived. But it still works reasonably well on this brilliant, highly complicated and involved Chandler yarn in which magazine editor Adrienne Fromsett (Audrey Totter) hires Marlowe (Montgomery) to search for her publisher boss Derris Kingsby (Leon Ames)’s missing wife, Chrystal.

The experiment is kind of at odds with the material and slightly works against it, ending up as a movie that’s less effective than it would be filmed straight. And yet the experiment intrigues, as you get involved in its intricacies and Chandler’s world-weary story easily and effortlessly carries the movie. And complaints that the plot’s too convoluted or too hard to follow are, as with the 1946 film of The Big Sleep, wrong-headed. You have to pay attention, but if you do, it’s all very clearly exposed.Immaculate players Totter, Ames, Lloyd Nolan (a cop, Lieutenant DeGarmot) and Tom Tully (as Captain Kane) look like they have been born to play Chandler. Jayne Meadows, Dick Simmons, Morris Ankrum, Lila Leeds, William Roberts, Kathleen Lockhart, Eddie Acuff, Wheaton Chambers, Jack Davis and Ralph Dunn also co-star. Source:

December, 28 2014 (SUNDAY) AT 10:00 PM: "THE LADY IN THE LAKE" (1947) ON TCM

"The day before Christmas, detective Philip Marlowe (Robert Montgomery) visits Kingsby Publications in the hopes of getting one of his crime stories published. Editor-in-chief Adrienne Fromsett (Audrey Totter) has an ulterior motive for interviewing Marlowe. She wants him to locate the missing wife of her boss, Derace Kingsby, so the publisher can begin divorce proceedings. You can tell by the title that Ms. Kingsby is probably going to be very wet and very dead when they find her. Happy holidays!

Lady in the Lake is a unique achievement in many ways. Not only is it actor Robert Montgomery's first solo directorial effort (he had previously helped John Ford complete They Were Expendable (1945) when the director fractured his leg on location), but it is one of the first films to tell the entire story through the eyes of the main character - Philip Marlowe. The subjective camera was a novel idea for a mainstream Hollywood picture, but the MGM executives who green-lighted the project were puzzled by the results. They thought they were getting the actor Robert Montgomery as part of the bargain too but only glimpsed him in a few scenes, including one in a mirror reflection.

Nevertheless, the publicity department had a field day promoting this unusual film noir entry with hook lines like "YOU accept an invitation to a blonde's apartment. YOU get socked in the jaw by a murder suspect!" And Montgomery does appear on camera at the beginning to set the whole gimmick up saying, "You'll see it just as I saw it. You'll meet the people. You'll find the clues. And maybe you'll solve it quick and maybe you won't." A good deal of the budget went toward elaborate camera set-ups and breakaway sets. "The real challenge was the filming itself, "Montgomery told writer John Tuska in his book, The Detective in Hollywood. "We had to do a lot of rehearsing. Actors are trained not to look at the camera. I had to overcome all that training. I had a basket installed under the camera and sat there so that, at least, the actors could respond to me, even if they couldn't look directly at me."

When MGM purchased the rights to Raymond Chandler's fourth Philip Marlowe mystery in 1945, they asked the novelist to adapt it for the screen. It would be the only time Chandler would write a screenplay based on his own work. The result, a rambling 175-page script, was deemed unfilmable and Steve Fisher was brought in for a rewrite. Chandler insisted on a screen credit until he read Fisher's revised screenplay and then wanted his name removed from the credits. While Chandler had issues with the subjective camera gimmick and the deletion of the Little Fawn Lake sequence (a key scene in the original novel), critics were impressed with the film. Newsweek called it "a brilliant tour de force," and The New York Times reported that "The picture is definitely different and affords one a fresh and interesting perspective on a murder mystery."

Lady in the Lake is also notable as Audrey Totter's first major starring role and for Jayne Meadows' tricky impersonation of three different characters while hiding her true identity. Director: Robert Montgomery, Producer: George Haight, Screenplay: Steve Fisher, based on the novel by Raymond Chandler Source:

To really enjoy the 1947 MGM film noir Lady in the Lake, it's crucial to accept the subjective camera angle Robert Montgomery uses, and fully give yourself to seeing things via this artificial first person lens. Allow some room for deviation, too, from the expected portrayal of Raymond Chandler's Phillip Marlowe character. It's worth leaving such preconceptions behind as the film pulls off the rare trick of being nasty and cynical while still maintaining its studio gloss as first rate entertainment wrapped in a decidedly noir package, Christmas bow and all. For all of the causticity shown by Marlowe, his scenes with Fromsett gradually reveal the desire to be vulnerable and start anew, with her, in a loving relationship. Again, maybe this isn't the Marlowe we're accustomed to elsewhere but Montgomery plays him as weary and stubborn and not terribly bright yet always, almost painfully, guarded.

His actions indicate that he wants to believe Fromsett's not involved with any of the unsavory parts of this case but he can't give himself to her until everything's been settled. Their many encounters really strengthen the film as we see the gears of romance turn much slower and more deliberately than is the norm in Hollywood. The sequence where Marlowe seems to come around involves a very domestic situation, at Fromsett's apartment. She's given him an uncharacteristically flashy robe as a Christmas gift, but Marlowe finds a card in the pocket addressed to Kingsby, indicating the robe was bought for her boss. But before Marlowe even has a chance to mention the card, Fromsett casually admits the whole thing and tells him she left it there on purpose, that she wants a fresh start where they're honest with each other. Source:

Friday, December 12, 2014

"A Luckless Santa Claus" (short Christmas story by F. Scott Fitzgerald)

Christmas time at the Fitzgeralds’ in Paris (1925): "Nanny kept busily admonishing us about the French customs: how they did not give gifts at Christmas but at New Years. Then we had a tree on the Avenue McMahon which Nanny & I decorated between sips of champagne until neither we nor the tree could hold any more of fantaisie or decor. We kept our decorations for years in painted toy boxes and when the last of the tails wilted & the last house grew lopsided, it was almost a bereavement." -Zelda Fitzgerald

The Holiday Season is upon us and what fun F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald Museum will have this Saturday! Their Annual Open House begins at 10:00am. Please join for holiday refreshments and enjoy free admission to the museum until 1:00pm. The event will be highlighted by a reading of F. Scott Fitzgerald's short story, "A Luckless Santa Claus," which will take place at precisely 12:00 noon. Fitzgerald wrote this when he was only 16-years-old, and it is truly a charming tale! Source:

"Miss Harmon was responsible for the whole thing. If it had not been for her foolish whim, Talbot would not have made a fool of himself, and—but I am getting ahead of my story. It was Christmas Eve. Salvation Army Santa Clauses with highly colored noses proclaimed it as they beat upon rickety paper chimneys with tin spoons. Package laden old bachelors forgot to worry about how many slippers and dressing gowns they would have to thank people for next day, and joined in the general air of excitement that pervaded busy Manhattan.

In the parlor of a house situated on a dimly lighted residence street somewhere east of Broadway, sat the lady who, as I have said before, started the whole business. She was holding a conversation half frivolous, half sentimental, with a faultlessly dressed young man who sat with her on the sofa. All of this was quite right and proper, however, for they were engaged to be married in June.

“Harry Talbot,” said Dorothy Harmon, as she rose and stood laughing at the merry young gentleman beside her, “if you aren’t the most ridiculous boy I ever met, I’ll eat that terrible box of candy you brought me last week!”

“Dorothy,” reproved the young man, “you should receive gifts in the spirit in which they are given. That box of candy cost me much of my hard earned money.” “Your hard earned money, indeed!” scoffed Dorothy. “You know very well that you never earned a cent in your life. Golf and dancing—that is the sum total of your occupations. Why, you can’t even spend money, much less earn it!”

“My dear Dorothy, I succeeded in running up some very choice bills last month, as you will find if you consult my father.” “That’s not spending your money. That’s wasting it. Why, I don’t think you could give away twenty-five dollars in the right way to save your life.”

“But why on earth,” remonstrated Harry, “should I want to give away twenty-five dollars?” “Because,” explained Dorothy, “that would be real charity. It’s nothing to charge a desk to your father and have it sent to me, but to give money to people you don’t know is something.” “Why, any old fellow can give away money,” protested Harry.

“Then,” exclaimed Dorothy, “we’ll see if you can. I don’t believe that you could give twenty-five dollars in the course of an evening if you tried.” “Indeed, I could.” “Then try it!” And Dorothy, dashing into the hall, took down his coat and hat and placed them in his reluctant hands. “It is now half-past eight. You be here by ten o’clock.” “But, but,” gasped Harry.

Dorothy was edging him towards the door. “How much money have you?” she demanded. Harry gloomily put his hand in his pocket and counted out a handful of bills. “Exactly twenty-five dollars and five cents.”

“Very well! Now listen! These are the conditions. You go out and give this money to anybody you care to whom you have never seen before. Don’t give more than two dollars to any one person. And be back here by ten o’clock with no more than five cents in your pocket.”

“But,” declared Harry, still backing towards the door, “I want my twenty-five dollars.” “Harry,” said Dorothy sweetly, “I am surprised!” and with that, she slammed the door in his face. “I insist,” muttered Harry, “that this is a most unusual proceeding.”

He walked down the steps and hesitated. “Now,” he thought, “Where shall I go?” He considered a moment and finally started off towards Broadway. He had gone about half a block when he saw a gentleman in a top hat approaching. Harry hesitated. Then he made up his mind, and, stepping towards the man, emitted what he intended for a pleasant laugh but what sounded more like a gurgle, and loudly vociferated, “Merry Christmas, friend!”

“The same to you,” answered he of the top hat, and would have passed on, but Harry was not to be denied. “My good fellow”—He cleared his throat. “Would you like me to give you a little money?” “What?” yelled the man. “You might need some money, don’t you know, to—er—buy the children—a—a rag doll,” he finished brilliantly.

The next moment his hat went sailing into the gutter, and when he picked it up the man was far away. “There’s five minutes wasted,” muttered Harry, as, full of wrath towards Dorothy, he strode along his way. He decided to try a different method with the next people he met. He would express himself more politely. A couple approached him,—a young lady and her escort. Harry halted directly in their path and, taking off his hat, addressed them.

“As it is Christmas, you know, and everybody gives away—er—articles, why”— “Give him a dollar, Billy, and let’s go on,” said the young lady. Billy obediently thrust a dollar into Harry’s hand, and at that moment the girl gave a cry of surprise. “Why, it’s Harry Talbot,” she exclaimed, “begging!”

But Harry heard no more. When he realized that he knew the girl he turned and sped like an arrow up the street, cursing has foolhardiness in taking up the affair at all. He reached Broadway and started slowly down the gaily lighted thoroughfare, intending to give money to the street Arabs he met. All around him was the bustle of preparation. Everywhere swarmed people happy in the pleasant concert of their own generosity. Harry felt strangely out of place as he wandered aimlessly along. He was used to being catered to and bowed before, but here no one spoke to him, and one or two even had the audacity to smile at him and wish him a “Merry Christmas.” He nervously accosted a passing boy.

“I say, little boy, I’m going to give you some money.” “No you ain’t,” said the boy sturdily. “I don’t want none of your money.” Rather abashed, Harry continued down the street. He tried to present fifty cents to an inebriated man, but a policeman tapped him on the shoulder and told him to move on. He drew up beside a ragged individual and quietly whispered, “Do you wish some money?”

“I’m on,” said the tramp, “what’s the job?” “Oh! there’s no job!” Harry reassured him. “Tryin’ to kid me, hey?” growled the tramp resentfully. “Well, get somebody else.” And he slunk off into the crowd.

Next Harry tried to squeeze ten cents into the hand of a passing bellboy, but the youth pulled open his coat and displayed a sign “No Tipping.” With the air of a thief, Harry approached an Italian bootblack, and cautiously deposited ten cents in his hand. At a safe distance he saw the boy wonderingly pocket the dime, and congratulated himself. He had but twenty-four dollars and ninety cents yet to give away! His last success gave him a plan. He stopped at a newsstand where, in full sight of the vender, he dropped a two-dollar bill and sped away in the crowd. After several minutes’ hard running he came to a walk amidst the curious glances of the bundle-laden passers-by, and was mentally patting himself on the back when he heard quick breathing behind him, and the very newsie he had just left thrust into his hand the two-dollar bill and was off like a flash.

The perspiration streamed from Harry’s forehead and he trudged along despondently. He got rid of twenty-five cents, however, by dropping it into a children’s aid slot. He tried to get fifty cents in, but it was a small slot. His first large sum was two dollars to a Salvation Army Santa Claus, and, after this, he kept a sharp lookout for them, but it was past their closing time, and he saw no more of them on his journey.

He was now crossing Union Square, and, after another half hour’s patient work, he found himself with only fifteen dollars left to give away. A wet snow was falling which turned to slush as it touched the pavements, and the light dancing pumps he wore were drenched, the water oozing out of his shoe with every step he took. He reached Cooper Square and turned into the Bowery. The number of people on the streets was fast thinning and all around him shops were closing up and their occupants going home. Some boys jeered at him, but, turning up his collar, he plodded on. In his ears rang the saying, mockingly yet kindly, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”

He turned up Third Avenue and counted his remaining money. It amounted to three dollars and seventy cents. Ahead of him he perceived, through the thickening snow, two men standing under a lamp post. Here was his chance. He could divide his three dollars and seventy cents between them. He came up to them and tapped one on the shoulder. The man, a thin, ugly looking fellow, turned suspiciously.

“Won’t you have some money, you fellow?” he said imperiously, for he was angry at humanity in general and Dorothy in particular. The fellow turned savagely. “Oh!” he sneered, “you’re one of these stiffs tryin’ the charity gag, and then gettin’ us pulled for beggin’. Come on, Jim, let’s show him what we are.”

And they showed him. They hit him, they mashed him, they got him down and jumped on him, they broke his hat, they tore his coat. And Harry, gasping, striking, panting, went down in the slush. He thought of the people who had that very night wished him a Merry Christmas. He was certainly having it. Miss Dorothy Harmon closed her book with a snap. It was past eleven and no Harry. What was keeping him? He had probably given up and gone home long ago. With this in mind, she reached up to turn out the light, when suddenly she heard a noise outside as if someone had fallen.

Dorothy rushed to the window and pulled up the blind. There, coming up the steps on his hands and knees was a wretched caricature of a man. He was hatless, coatless, collarless, tieless, and covered with snow. It was Harry. He opened the door and walked into the parlor, leaving a trail of wet snow behind him. “Well?” he said defiantly. “Harry,” she gasped, “can it be you?” “Dorothy,” he said solemnly, “it is me.” “What—what has happened?” “Oh, nothing. I’ve just been giving away that twenty-five dollars.” And Harry sat down on the sofa. “But Harry,” she faltered, “your eye is all swollen.”

“Oh, my eye? Let me see. Oh, that was on the twenty-second dollar. I had some difficulty with two gentlemen. However, we afterward struck up quite an acquaintance. I had some luck after that. I dropped two dollars in a blind beggar’s hat.” “You have been all evening giving away that money?”

“My dear Dorothy, I have decidedly been all evening giving away that money.” He rose and brushed a lump of snow from his shoulder. “I really must be going now. I have two—er—friends outside waiting for me.” He walked towards the door. “Two friends?” “Why—a—they are the two gentlemen I had the difficulty with. They are coming home with me to spend Christmas. They are really nice fellows, though they might seem a trifle rough at first.”

Dorothy drew a quick breath. For a minute no one spoke. Then he took her in his arms. “Dearest,” she whispered, “you did this all for me.” A minute later he sprang down the steps, and arm in arm with his friends, walked off in the darkness. “Good night, Dorothy,” he called back, “and a Merry Christmas!”

"A Luckless Santa Claus" (This story appeared in the Newman News on Christmas 1912).

Thursday, December 11, 2014

The 90th Anniversary of ‘The Great Gatsby’

In a few months, we’ll be celebrating the 90th Anniversary of The Great Gatsby, published for the first time in April 1925, although technically F. Scott Fitzgerald had completed his masterpiece in the winter of 1924. In June 1923, he had penned a genesis (referred by scholars as ‘Ur-Gatsby’) of what would become the Great American Novel, featuring the protagonist’s duality towards the figure of Father Schwartz —inspired by Father Fay, Fitzgerald’s headmaster at Newman college. The ‘Ur-Gatsby’ would be assimilated into his short story Absolution (June 1924).

Encouraged by his editor Maxwell Perkins to make new revisions, Fitzgerald had to “adumbrate” his Gatsby’s character, seen somewhat as “vague” by Scribner’s Publishing. On December 20, 1924, Fitzgerald sent a letter to Perkins from Hôtel des Princes in Rome, commenting about the novel’s chapter VII: “the trouble with Daisy — it may hurt the book’s popularity that it’s a man’s book.” While perfecting Gatsby, the Fitzgeralds had put a glittering tree with silver bells in their hotel room and attended a Christmas Eve party in honor of Fred Niblo’s Ben-Hur (the most expensive silent movie ever).

Armed with “sustained imagination of a sincere and yet radiant world,” Fitzgerald felt “an enormous power, more than I’ve ever had.” The masculine ideal of the 1920s for Fitzgerald was “the old dream of being an entire man in the Goethe-Byron-Shaw tradition, with an opulent American touch.” Despite innumerable analysis, there is still an indefinite quality that confers The Great Gatsby value as a mystifying and illimitable work of art. Due to a serious matrimonial crisis (Zelda’s liaison with Edouard Jozan), Fitzgerald declared he’d “dragged” his most renowned book “out of the pit of my stomach in a time of misery.” His conflicting sentiments during the Gatsby period emerged in a letter to Zelda: “no one believing in me except you… and then I was really alone with no one I liked.”

Much has been pondered about the enigmatic Daisy Fay Buchanan (whose conflated portrait was based on Fitzgerald’s old flame Ginevra King and his wife Zelda), although she is at moments almost a nondescript character, only defined by a minimal characterization. “Her voice is full of money,” Gatsby says of Daisy’s catchy vocal tone, prompting Nick to embrace his second cousin’s “inexhaustible charm”. Daisy is “the king’s daughter, the golden girl,” wrapped in white clothes and luxury, sometimes only “a disembodied face [that] floated along the dark cornices.” Actually, Fitzgerald advanced that in Gatsby there was “no important woman character”. The story revolved mainly around the intriguing kinship between James Gatz (Gatsby) and Nick Carraway (the Narrator), both clashing against the East Egg faction represented by Tom Buchanan (Daisy’s unfaithful husband).

One of the alternative titles for Gatsby was Among Ash Heaps and Millionaires, as if Fitzgerald –Malcolm Cowley writes in Fitzgerald: The Romance of Money (1973)– “were setting the two against each other while suggesting a vague affinity between them. Tom Buchanan, the brutalized millionaire, finds a mistress in the Valley of Ashes.”

“My characters are all Scott Fitzgerald. Even the feminine characters,” the complex author reckoned. In the recent critical essay Understanding Fitzgerald: The Great Gatsby (2014), Robert A. Albano clarifies: “Fitzgerald was able to incorporate the many sides of his own personality into the creation of The Great Gatsby. Fitzgerald himself was a romantic who ignored the reality in order to achieve a goal which many would have thought to be impossible.” However, Fitzgerald had confessed to John Peale Bishop: “I never at any one time saw him [Gatsby] clear myself — for he started as one man I knew and then changed into myself — the amalgam was never complete in my mind.”

The first kiss between Jay and Daisy (“the incarnation was complete”) is seen by Albano as a Biblical reference to God taking human form as Jesus Christ. Gatsby worships Daisy as his sacred duty: “the sacredness of the vigil.” Zelda remembered when she first danced with Scott (in 1918) in her dazzling novel Save Me the Waltz (1932): “There seemed to be some heavenly support beneath his shoulder blades that lifted his feet from the ground in ecstatic suspension, as if he secretly enjoyed the ability to fly but was walking as a compromise to convention.”

In An Almost Theatrical Innocence (2014), John T. Irwin asserts that Gatsby exemplifies (“Gatsby had broken up like glass against Tom’s hard malice…”) how “the Pausanian and the Ovidian myth of Narcissus lie at the heart of the myth of Pygmalion and Galatea.” Irwin continues: “Fitzgerald would also have been attracted to the Pygmalion-Galatea myth because of its subtext, its parabolic evocation of the male artist’s relationship to his work of art considered as a female double.” Fitzgerald was, as his Princeton friend Alec McKaig observed, “absorbed in Zelda’s personality.” Zelda’s influence was key in the shaping of Gatsby‘s sensibilities.

Jay Gatsby’s description is more an abstract illustration than a realistically detailed portrayal: “an elegant young rough-neck, a year or two over thirty, whose elaborate formality of speech just missed being absurd.” Daisy opines Gatsby resembles “the advertisement of the man,” alluding possibly to the models for J. C. Leyendecker’s drawings.

Inspecting the Chapter V, some parallels we find are chilling, like the apparition of Owl-Eyes (a character who attends Gatsby’s funeral following the departure of Nick and Gatsby’s father), “with enormous owl-eyed spectacles” at the Merton College Library. Owl-Eyes inevitably reminds us of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg (the phantasmagorical billboard “over the solemn dumping ground” — an Eliotesque Wasteland): “above the grey land and the spasms of bleak dust which drift endlessly over it, you perceive, after a moment, the eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg. They look out of no face but, instead, from a pair of enormous yellow spectacles.”

“I am too much a moralist at heart and want to preach at people in some acceptable form, rather than to entertain them,” Fitzgerald explained. That’s the reason real events are inserted in Gatsby under a caustic light, such as the Black Sox Scandal (“one man could start to play with the faith of fifty million people”), using Meyer Wolfscheim’s character as a variation of mobster Arnold Rothstein who conspired in the fixing of the 1919 World Series.

“Dishonesty in a woman is a thing you never blame deeply,” ironizes Nick when he learns of Jordan Baker’s vapid and invidious personality. According to Rena Sanderson’s analysis Women in Fitzgerald’s fiction (2006): “Fitzgerald expressed his uneasiness at the feminization of American culture… a symptom of a larger disorder – the decline of the West. Like Carl Jung, D. H. Lawrence, and Oswald Spengler, whose theories he admired, Fitzgerald believed that men and women had complementary natures and feared that a loosening of binary gender distinctions simply encouraged each side to adopt the worst characteristics of the opposite sex.”

Zelda’s early letters echoed her concepts about bisexuality (“two souls incarnated together”) —based on her mother Minnie Sayre’s theosophical doctrines— and greatly aroused Fitzgerald’s imagination. Zelda’s casual rapport with the bisexual novelist Nancy Hoyt or female artists (Romaine Brooks, Natalie Barney) could be misinterpreted as lesbian tendencies, especially when she obsessed with her ballet trainer Lubov Egorova. Fitzgerald’s attitude was of intense discomfort toward homosexuals (or ‘fairies’), observing in his Notebooks: “The great homosexual theses — that all great pansies were pansies.”

Zelda’s literary style showed her irrational, genially bended vision like a negative photograph of Fitzgerald’s elegiac pathos, most evidenced in Save Me the Waltz: “Asthmatic Christmas bells tolled over Naples. Alabama went to see the wax Nativities at Benediction. The gleam of gold damask on the altar was as warm and rich as what it represented. She said to herself that human beings have no right to fail. She did not feel what failure was.”

Blending Ginevra King’s flighty elitism and Zelda’s esoteric sensuality, Daisy is also a symbol of sexual illusion, since she’s not fitted anymore for the romantic soldier who had wooed her virginal version in 1917. In my book (pun intended), one of the scariest passages that damages Daisy’s aura irreparably: “in a defiant way, rather like Tom’s, she laughed with thrilling scorn. The instant her voice broke off, I felt the basic insincerity of what she had said. It made me uneasy, as though the whole evening had been a trick… as if she had asserted her membership in a rather distinguished secret society.” Likewise, Gatsby’s dark side is exposed through his interminable self-delusion: he’s not the lovesick soldier with an ‘incorruptible dream,’ but a duplicitous shady businessman.

“They were careless people, Tom and Daisy–they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness,” Nick claims, convinced that Gatsby’s ideals have been replaced by inertia. Gatsby’s innocent flaw was turning his magic into a social acclivity, while searching for his identity in Daisy (a woman he doesn’t know anymore). In Sex & Character (1906), Otto Weininger philosophized: “A man’s attempt to find himself in a woman, rather than simply seeing her, presupposes a neglect [of her]. This is where the parallel between the cruelty of eroticism and the cruelty of sexuality becomes complete… Love is Murder. Those who ‘couldn’t care less’ are incapable of love. Love is the most modest of all requests, because it begs for the highest.”

Fitzgerald places the green light shining from Daisy’s dock and the green land as symbols of a mythical Shangri-La. In the United States, Fitzgerald believed, the greatest Americans have “almost invariably come from the very poor class – Lincoln, Edison, Whitman, Ford, Twain.”

According to Maureen Corrigan in So We Read On (2014): “The great theme running throughout all Fitzgerald’s writing and his life is the nobility of the effort to keep one’s head above water, despite the almost inevitable certainty of drowning.”

When Fitzgerald courted Zelda in Montgomery (Alabama), she had taken him to Oakwood cemetery. Among the Confederate graves and the glorious vestiges of the past, the prodigy writer proposed to the Southern Belle. In another legendary letter, Zelda had enskied their shared reverie: “All the broken columns and clasped hands and doves and angels mean romances. Old death is so beautiful… We will die together —I know—Sweetheart.”

“He found that he had committed himself to the following of a grail. He knew that Daisy was extraordinary but he didn’t realize just how extraordinary a ‘nice’ girl could be. He felt married to her, that was all.” —The Great Gatsby

Article first published as The 90th Anniversary of ‘The Great Gatsby’ on Blogcritics