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Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Peace Be With You

Park Street Church, Boston, in warmer days.

A very Merry Christmas to those who celebrate it, and a Happy New Year to all.  In appreciation for the pleasure of your company this past year, I’m offering my eBook collection of essays from this blog, “Classic Films and the AmericanConscience” here from Amazon for free Christmas Day through the 27th.  This will be the last time this book is offered free; in the new year it will be available not only through Amazon but also through Barnes & Noble’s Nook, Apple, Sony, Diesel, Kobo, and Smashwords.
I’m going to take a couple weeks off to tend to some other business, but I’ll be back in late January.  I hope you can join me.
This is going to be a difficult Christmas for many who have suffered tragedy and loss this year; and for the people of Newtown, Connecticut, December will never ever be the same. 
A few weeks ago on my "Another Old Movie Blog", I blogged about “Cry Havoc” a movie which takes place in the Philippines during World War II.  I was reminded by many images through that film of my father. 
My father entered the Army in December 1942 and missed Christmas at home that year.  He had a wife and a new baby.  He was sent to the Pacific Theater of operations and island-hopped with all the rest of the gang, and Christmas of 1943 passed by, and then Christmas 1944.
There were no telephone calls home, no emails, only letters and tiny “V-Mail” notes that took weeks to get home.  He sent Christmas messages home in early November, hoping they would make it in time.
In the summer of 1945 he was in the Philippines, and endured horrific experiences he did not like to talk much about.  He also got malaria, which stayed in his bloodstream so that he continued to suffer a bout of it after he got home.  There were other injuries and wounds, but good news came when the Japanese surrendered, which was totally unexpected for regular GIs like my dad, who were convinced they’d be spending 1946, 1947, and 1948 still fighting the war. 
Now that peace was declared, his only enemy was time.  He wanted to get back home for Christmas 1945.
He had earned enough points to be rotated home.  Several weeks on a troop ship.  He passed under the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, which was the last thing he saw of the US when he left.  Now that he saw it again, he really believed he was home.
A few days being processed, and more days on the train because he lived on the other side of the continent.  After being in the jungle for three years, winter in the US was a shock, and his first telegram home contains the line, “COLD COUNTRY.” 
Leave it to a New Englander to squeeze in a comment about the weather in his first telegram to his wife.
Finally he arrived at Ft. Devens in the eastern part of Massachusetts, and a few more days of the mustering out process.  Medical exam, paperwork, ribbons and commendations, a clean uniform to home in, and finally a “ruptured duck” lapel pin to wear. 
But he lived in the western part of the state, so it was another train ride.  He sat in the station in Boston, waiting for his connecting train, and ate at a lunch counter.  The man behind the counter gestured to his ribbons and said, “You’re money’s no good here, son.  You’ve done enough,” and wouldn’t let him pay.
Decades later, my father still felt grateful, humbled, and embarrassed by the moment.
When the train pulled into the station, his wife and daughter were there on the platform.  His daughter wasn’t a baby anymore, but a little kid running around.  She had been told many times that the man in the portrait photo at home in the uniform was Daddy.  She got mixed up and thought anybody in uniform was Daddy and had to be told over and over again that, no, that’s not Daddy.
Finally her mother points to a tall, handsome guy stepping off the train and says, “There’s your Daddy.”  I’m thinking my sister, with all the wisdom of a small child thought, “Yeah, right.  Tell me another one.  I’m not falling for that again.”
It was January 1946.  He failed to get home for Christmas. 
In his last telegram he wrote “SORRY ABOUT THE HOLIDAYS.”  A real man sometimes apologizes for what isn’t even his fault.
My father was in his early 20s when he left.  He had fired weapons in war, but the experience did not make a man of him.  He was man because he had a family and took responsibility for them.  Responsibility is what made him a man, and he knew it.  He was good marksman, but he looked down on people who needed guns to make them feel manly, or make them feel safe.  It was a crutch for cowards, he thought.
I was tempted to use as a graphic and ad here published by an assault weapons manufacturer that inferred that manhood would be achieved by ownership of their product.  However, I refuse to print any words or images on this blog that are obscene.  That image and the message behind it are obscene.
My parents lost four Christmases, and the years ahead would not be easy.  As anybody knows, happy endings are only for movies.  But they accepted what they could not change, and tried to be resilient, and change what they could.
The people of Newtown must accept what they cannot change.
The rest of us must change what we can. 
Peace be with you.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

First Christmas Tree in Windsor Locks, Connecticut

Local legend has it that the first time a Christmas tree was put up and decorated in the United States of America appears to have occurred in Windsor, Connecticut.  A German POW in the Revolutionary War wanted to mark Christmas with a symbol of home.
He was a mercenary soldier, part of the Hessian troops employed by the British.  His name was Hendrick Roddemore.  He was taken captive during the Battle of Bennington, Vermont in August 1777, where American commander General John Stark’s colonial troops defeated the British.  Have a look here at our previous post on the Bennington Battle Monument.
Hundreds of Hessian troops were taken prisoner, and many were transported to Boston, then transferred in small groups around the region.  Hendrick Roddemore was sent to the Pine Meadows section of Windsor, Connecticut on the Connecticut River.  Later the area became the separate town of Windsor Locks.
He was put in custody of Samuel Denslow, who owned a 100-acre farm.  In a small cabin here, perhaps a day or two before Christmas, 1777, Roddemore took the extraordinary action of cutting a small growing tree from outdoors and put it inside the cabin.  We can imagine simple decorations, and may well imagine the curiosity of his captors.  Not only were Christmas trees not used to celebrate Christmas in the United States at that time, but Christmas itself wasn’t usually celebrated in New England, where our Puritan founders still held sway over our consciousness.  Christmas was not widely celebrated here until the following century.  Even up until around World War II, Thanksgiving was the larger holiday in New England.
Christmas was something those New Yorkers did.
The small cabin on West Street is no longer there, but the Noden-Reed Farm is now the home of the Windsor Locks Historical Society, and there is a stone marker planted on what is reckoned to be the site of the first indoor Christmas tree in the United States.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

S&H Green Stamps - from Big Y

Ever do your Christmas shopping with these?  S&H Green Stamps, once the symbol of American Middle Class wish fulfillment, began with the Sperry & Hutchinson company in 1896, but found its heyday from the 1930s through the 1960s.
A catalogue of items, including furniture, toys, and bongo drums that could be purchased by redeeming the stamps, occupied a place of honor in a kitchen drawer of every home.  Maybe not every home, but these stamps, no longer recognizable to younger generations, were familiar to Baby Boomers.
They were offered at grocery stores, gas stations, and department stores.  You can see this folder was supplied by the New England supermarket chain “Big Y”.  That’s a lot of 10-point stamps.
Here are one-point stamps.  The other denomination was 50 points.
The program ended sometime in the 1980s, and had ceased being popular long before that.  Before this book had a chance to be filled and redeemed for bongo drums, anyway.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Perry Como & Lena Horne Sing of New England...

Perry Como and Lena Horne sing in Boston in 1965.  Here is a "New England" medley of songs:

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Henry Clay Work - Middletown, Connecticut

Middletown, Connecticut hosts a statue on its town common, Union Green, to honor Henry Clay Work.  This self-taught 19th century song composer was born in Middletown.  His songs were extremely popular around the time of the Civil War, probably most famous of which was the spirited “Marching Through Georgia.” (Listen here on YouTube.)

Mr. Work’s family moved to Illinois when he was a small child, and were ardent abolitionists.  His father was once arrested and imprisoned for helping runaway slaves to escape; his home was a stop on the Underground Railroad.  After his release from prison, the family, now penniless, moved back to Connecticut.

Henry Clay Work started as a printer’s apprentice as a young man, but composed songs, without a piano, but with meticulous precision in his head.  “Kingdom Coming” was another hit, and the sorrowful temperance ballad -- now lampooned in parody -- “Come Home, Father” (Father, dear Father, come home with me now…).

His last huge hit was “My Grandfather’s Clock” in 1876.  (Listen here on YouTube:
Though Mr. Work’s music sold well in his lifetime, copyright as we know it did not exist, and poor investments made money a constant worry.  He died in his 50s of apparent heart trouble in 1884.

Popular music today may generate fame and fortune, but rarely has the social impact that it had in the 19th century.  Henry Clay Work’s songs reflected their era, spoke for a generation, and affected change as well.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

States of Mind: New England


This is to announce the publication of STATES OF MIND: NEWENGLAND, a collection of essays from my New England Travels blog, which has reached its fifth anniversary this autumn.
The smashing cover was created by Casey Koester, your friend and mine from the blog, Noir Girl.
The book has nearly 200 photographs.  It covers events and experiences from the early 19th century through the middle of the 20th century.  It’s currently available on Kindle (with a move toward other ebook publishers in the new year) and the paperback version will be on sale in December.  It’s going to be a coffee table-sized 8½x11 book, so I wouldn’t call it a stocking stuffer, but it could make a nice holiday gift.
The Kindle version will be offered FREE for five days only starting this Thursday, Thanksgiving, and running through Monday, November 26th.   Have a look and see what you think.  After that, it goes back to its list price of $7.99.
Here’s a blurb from the foreword:

This is a collection of essays I posted on my New England Travels blog (and a couple from another blog on theatre: Tragedy and Comedy in New England), which at the time of this publishing has just passed its fifth year.  Some of the articles were also previously published in magazines and newspapers. 

This book is a small slice of New England Travels, but there are no travelogue posts here, no photos of lighthouses or covered bridges.  Perhaps that might do for a future volume.  This book is not about New England the place as much as it is about New England the idea, and the ideas that came out of New England, specifically events that happened in the 19th century that shot us into the 20th century.

The photo on the cover is of the Mark Twain statue that stands in front of the library in Hartford, Connecticut where he made his home in later years and wrote his most famous novels.  It’s a good image, and a good metaphor for what this book holds for the reader: a titan of American literature, and in the rugged image hewn in bronze, a representation of the artistry and industry of this region.  I like how the 19th century figure is flanked by the modern 20th century steel-and-glass Hartford Public Library. 

“My subject is the New England mind, as it has found expression in the lives and works of writers,” Van Wyck Brooks wrote in his preface to The Flowering of New England 1815-1865, which like its sequel, New England: Indian Summer 1865-1915, has gone out of fashion as literary criticism, but that did not stop me from enjoying them in younger years.  My subject, too, is the New England mind, but though some writers are represented here, such as Louisa May Alcott, they are not given preference over industrialists or inventors, or soldiers.  All are presented in the context of greater things going on around them, or greater things yet to be.

Alcott is shown not as the famous author of Little Women, but as a young Civil War nurse.  Francis Lowell is shown not just as one of the founders of America’s industrial revolution, but in the context of how that revolution gave women a rise in society and economic and political power.  He was the first, after all, to give preference in hiring women over men in his mills, ostensibly so that he could pay them less. 

Annie Sullivan and Helen Keller are not presented as Teacher and her severely handicapped pupil, but as a New Englander and a Southerner whose partnership was the first and most successful union between North and South after the Civil War.

Melzar Mosman, largely forgotten as one of the foremost founders of bronze statuary in this country, is shown not just as the foundryman, artist, and sculptor, but as a Union Army private, an experience he would re-live with every bronze statue of a solider standing picket duty that came out of his foundry to find a home on town commons across New England, and of generals across America.  Mr. Mosman, incidentally, will be the subject of a future book.

The 19th century chapters seem to illustrate the spawning of ideas and inventions which made history; the 20th century seems to show us reacting to events, like hurricanes, and juggling consequences. In the 19th century, through the Industrial Revolution, we drew upon a new workforce (women), and created a market for manufactured goods.  In the early 20th century—we shopped—in grand, family-owned department stores just as paternalistic as the factories of the previous century.

 These then are slices of New England, not just the place, but the idea and social movement, and the force that largely determined what America would be like in the 19th and 20th centuries.  You can find its representation in the bricks and mortar of a factory building, or in the hobnailed boots of the mill girl who found both exhaustion and independence there. 

Thank you for your kind attention.  Now back to our regularly scheduled blog.


Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Steiger's Recipe Book -- Reader's Question:

Recently a reader contacted me about an item offered from Steiger's, the family-owned department store that had originated in Springfield, Massachusetts -- see our previous post here.

"I wonder if you know anything about a recipe book put out by Steiger's in the 40's? The title across the top is: "Steiger's Wishes You a Gingeriffic Christmas" and a picture of a gingerbread man below that with the following under the gingerbread man: Wake up! it's Christmas

The book contains recipes for cookies. If you could direct me to where I could find this book on line I would appreciate it."  

If anyone has any information about this recipe book so we can help this reader out, please contact me at   Thanks.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Old Covered Bridge - Sheffield, Massachusetts

Of the handful of covered bridges that remain in Massachusetts, the oldest, built in 1832, was burned down by vandals in 1994. Here is its replacement, constructed in 1998 as a reproduction of the original.

This bridge, however, is closed to vehicular traffic. It’s a 91-foot span in the Town Lattice style crossing the lazy Housatonic River in the Berkshire County town of Sheffield.

south side of the bridge

Interestingly, the WPA Massachusetts Guidebook of 1938 mentions two covered bridges, both over 100 years old, standing only a half-mile apart. Both bridges were still in use. What happened to this other bridge?

north side of the bridge

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Halloween, Houdini, and Holyoke

Halloween and Houdini seem to go together, and add to that, Holyoke.

An intriguing collection of Houdini memorabilia has been on display at the Wistariahurst Museum in Holyoke, Massachusetts for the last six weeks. The last day to see it is tomorrow, October 31st.

The items are from the famed Sidney Radner collection. Mr. Radner, a Holyoke native, was a magician himself who acquired the items from “Hardeen”, a fellow magician who was also Houdini’s younger brother.

In his vaudeville touring days, a 21-year-old Harry Houdini played Holyoke when he was first performing his escape from handcuffs in 1895. As he did in many communities for a publicity stunt, Houdini once escaped from the Holyoke jail under a challenge that he couldn’t.

Upon Houdini’s sudden death in Detroit on Halloween 1926, annual séances were conducted first by his widow, and then by magician societies around the country; Mr. Radner, before his death in 2011, presided over the Holyoke Houdini Séance.

Try to catch the marvelous exhibit at Wistariahurst before it disappears.

NOTE: Photo is from the Library of Congress collection, now in public domain.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Mount Sugarloaf - Deerfield, Massachusetts

You are standing on the back of a dead giant man-eating beaver.  According to Native American legend.  Maybe so.  This is the view from Mount Sugarloaf in South Deerfield, Massachusetts.  It's only just over 650 feet high, but it's placement on a wide valley floor lends the view a strangely spectacular sense of drama.  Especially at peak foliage season.

We're looking south in the above photo; that's Mt. Tom in Holyoke on the horizon.  Here below is looking eastward.

Across the Connecticut River you can see Mt. Toby in Sunderland.  No dead giant man-eating beaver over there.  And the volanic energy that created it is long since dormant.  So, it's safe to bring a lunch and go for a hike.  Our only sense of urgency comes from missing what's left of the fleeting peak season.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Makris Diner - Wethersfield, Connecticut

The Makris Diner has spent over 60 years watching the traffic speed by on the Berlin Turnpike in Wethersfield, Connecticut. It’s a good enough reason to stop.

It was built by the Jerry O’Mahoney Diner Company of Elizabeth, New Jersey, one of the largest manufacturers of metal pre-fabricated diners from 1917 (or 1913?) to 1941.

According to an article in the Hartford Courant by Donna Larcen, September 22, 2011, the Makris Diner has been standing in its present location since 1951. I don’t know if the building was in use in a different location for at least the previous 10 years -- these metal diners can be moved, after all -- but this undated postcard (1940s, early 1950s?) would seem to indicate that the place was always busy even then.

But there’s still plenty of booths and counter seating, so don’t pass it by. Eat slowly.  Enjoy that comfort food.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

West Cornwall Covered Bridge - Connecticut

The iconic red bridge has known its lonely moments, but this is not one of them. On a spanking fresh fall day, the West Cornwall Covered Bridge in West Cornwall, Connecticut is likely to be the scene of converging leaf-peepers with cameras.

Open to vehicular traffic, a minor traffic jam might occur when someone takes a little extra time to get that perfect shot.

Bridges were placed on this spot over the Housatonic River as early as the 1760s, but floods and ice swept them away. This present bridge was reckoned to have been built about 1864. It had been gray colored until 1957, when it was first painted red and took on the image of typical New England tourist brochure. According to the site mentioned below, the producers of the 1967 film, “Valley of the Dolls” used a shot of the bridge at the opening of the movie to represent an idyllic New England town.

Fame didn’t go to the bridge’s head. It’s still willing to mingle among the little people, it’s adoring fans, who cluster under its roof timbers and line up along the banks of the Housatonic as they set up for that perfect photo.

A covered bridge is a precarious structure. This one has been threatened (what hasn’t?) by the Hurricane of 1938, the 1955 flood, and a 1961 ice jam. An effort by the community in 1968 to save and preserve the bridge received the help of the Connecticut Department of Transportation to raise the bridge and insert a steel support under the roadway. Today it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

If you happen to be meandering through western Connecticut, have a look at West Cornwall’s lovely bridge. If it’s a sunny, leaf-peeping weekend and others have gotten there first, don’t mind. Get out your camera. You’ll get your turn. In the meantime, listen to the splash of the Housatonic on the stones below, and breathe the fresh air. It’s a good spot for a rest.

For more on the West Cornwall Covered Bridge, have a look at this West Cornwall Historical Society site, and this site for

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

USS Constitution - Old Ironsides

You can see Boston through the masts, which are truncated in this shot. The USS Constitution was undergoing a little refurbishment when these photos were taken two years ago. She’s presentable again, now on the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812, when Constitution came to fame.

She was launched long before, however, in October 1797, in Boston, not far from where Constitution remains berthed, still a commissioned ship in the US Navy, still the oldest commissioned warship afloat. She last sailed, briefly, under her own power in 1997 as part of her 200th anniversary. That had been for the first time since 1881.

The War of 1812 was such a convoluted episode in our history. President James Madison declared war on Great Britain over “Free Trade and Sailors Rights”, the latter a complaint over the nasty habit of British warships to increase the size of their navy by kidnapping US sailors.

New England nearly seceded over the war at the Hartford Convention, not wanting an interruption of trade with Great Britain.

We invaded Canada a few times, and were repelled each occasion. The final hopes of an autonomous state of Indian tribal control in the Midwest (or Northwest Territory as it was called then) -- supported by Great Britain, were dashed.

The peace treaty was finally signed in Belgium in 1815, but the Battle of New Orleans happened after that. Britain juggled the Napoleonic War at the same time, but when they finally dispatched Napoleon in 1814, they found time to burn Washington, D.C. And Francis Scott Key observed from the deck of a ship wondering in poetic form if the flag, or “Star Spangled Banner” was still there.

That’s a lot of unrelated, overlapping stuff to happen in war not often remembered today.

Though she did defeat four British warships in battle, the USS Constitution’s contributions did not affect the outcome of the War of 1812, but it provided enormous symbolism of a strong new nation. If the Revolutionary War gave us our independence from Great Britain, the War of 1812 solidified it politically, militarily, and especially psychologically. It was really our first taste of nationalism. A few decades after that Era of Good Feeling, national unity dissipated, bitter regionalism came back and led to the American Civil War.

The USS Constitution continues to remain an important symbol. “Old Ironsides”, a nickname earned in the War of 1812 after defeating the HMS Guerriere because the enemy’s cannonballs seemed to bounce off her, was also immortalized, of course, in poetry. This famous work of 1830 by Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. was used to promote the ship’s value for American prestige and to stir public support for it not to be decommissioned. The public responded, as it always does, to this sleek frigate with the patriotic legend attached.

Ay, tear her tattered ensign down!
Long has it waved on high,
And many an eye has danced to see
That banner in the sky;
Beneath it rung the battle shout,
And burst the cannon's roar;--
The meteor of the ocean air
Shall sweep the clouds no more.

Her deck, once red with heroes' blood,
Where knelt the vanquished foe,
When winds were hurrying o'er the flood,
And waves were white below,
No more shall feel the victor's tread,
Or know the conquered knee;--
The harpies of the shore shall pluck
The eagle of the sea!

Oh, better that her shattered hulk
Should sink beneath the wave;
Her thunders shook the mighty deep,
And there should be her grave;
Nail to the mast her holy flag,
Set every threadbare sail,
And give her to the god of storms,
The lightning and the gale!

She is not plucked apart, or when she is, she’s always put back together again. For more on the USS Constitution, have at look at the official Navy website, and here for the museum at the Charlestown Navy Yard where you can visit the ship.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Some Hollywood Stars in New England Summer Theatre

In the summer of 1952 Victor Jory departed Hollywood for one of his habitual stage runs and toured the summer theatre circuit, with Alexis Smith in Noel Coward’s “Private Lives”. The sophisticate role was a natural for Miss Smith, who was typecast as such by Hollywood since her film career began some 12 years previously. But unknown to many moviegoers, it was an even more natural fit for Victor Jory, who had a much longer film career, and a much, much longer stage career. Hollywood had already typecast Jory as a scruffy villain. On stage, he was urbane, witty, and devilishly charming.

From the Boston Daily Globe August 12, 1952:

“The Boston Summer Theatre may be air-cooled but it sizzled last night with the heat engendered by Victor Jory kissing decorative Alexis Smith in that famous second act of “Private Lives”…I never saw…quite as much vigor and passion as Miss Smith and Mr. Jory, who seemed to enjoy every second of the sophisticated romp…The dialogue is light, witty and thoroughly naughty; the acting should be on the same order. And Miss Smith and Mr. Jory live up to audience expectations. It was a wonderful evening and the audience was capacity.”

Alexis Smith had minimal stage experience when she was in college, but Victor Jory had played stock theatre everywhere from his early apprenticeship at the Pasadena Playhouse to stages across the continent and as far as Australia. He played Shakespeare, Ibsen, Moliere, and Shaw. He wrote plays, and directed them.

A year later, Miss Smith and Mr. Jory took another summer tour, this time with “Bell, Book and Candle.” From the Boston Daily Globe, June 28, 1953, Alexis credits Victor Jory for teaching her stagecraft:

“I can’t believe that anyone in the whole world could have taught me as much as Victor has about my job. Working with him is better than any training school of the theatre you ever heard of. Mr. Jory has a vast amount of experience and he is willing to share it. Some actors are reticent when it comes to giving newcomers tricks of the trade. Victor is generous and kind. He has taught me all I know about legitimate theatre.”

When she first met Jory, she had a different impression. This was on the set of her film “South of St. Louis” (1949), which we discussed here. Jory played a nasty villain. She thought him a “rather horrible person” who was, “dirty, bewhiskered and wearing baggy pants.”

This had become Jory’s fate by the 1940s. Syndicated Hollywood columnist Bob Thomas visited the set of “South of St. Louis”, as picked up by the St. Petersburg, Florida Evening Independent June 14, 1948:

“Victor Jory, the mug they love to slug, was being pummeled by Joel McCrea when I visited the “South of St. Louis” set. The poor guy was being bounced all over the barroom…”

After “South of St. Louis”, Alexis and Victor Jory worked on one more film together, “Cave of Outlaws” (1951). He’s still a villain here, but considerably cleaned up. He vies with Macdonald Carey for the love of the typically cool and aloof Alexis, and gets beaten up again. It was on the set of “Cave of Outlaws” where she and Victor got to know each other better. They talked of theatre, of his experience in it, and her desire to pursue it. They formed the plan of working together. In the following year, they found themselves in an unexpected hit in “Private Lives”.

The next year, they met with further success in “Bell, Book and Candle”. Their performances were sold out, largely on the strength of their previous hit. From the Lewiston (Maine) Evening Journal, July 3, 1953. Smith and Jory “broke all attendance records at the same theater last year with their presentation of ‘Private Lives’.” (At Lakewood.) They had opened their tour of “Bell, Book and Candle” in Ogunquit, Maine at the famed Ogunquit Playhouse “to the pleasure of all that saw them there.”

“Bell, Book and Candle” opened the Framingham, Massachusetts season that June 1953. James Lee, author of the “Backstage” column for the Worcester Evening Gazette, June 11, 1953, met Alexis Smith and Victor Jory at a party in Boston the week before.

“They were supposed to leave at 7:30 for another rehearsal of “Bell, Book and Candle”…Victor decided they had been rehearsing so arduously for a week they could skip that night’s practice, and prolong the party instead.

“But not Miss Smith. She liked the party, but she liked the rehearsal idea better. So they left and rehearsed.

“‘Never saw anybody so anxious for perfection,’ he whispered to me.”

In the above-referenced Boston Daily Globe article of June 28, 1953, the article by Marjory Adams, Jory further commented on his co-star:

“Alexis is one of the hardest workers in the theatre I have ever met…She has intelligence and imagination. She is able to concentrate. And it has been a hell of a lot of fun to work with her in both ‘Private Lives’ and ‘Bell, Book and Candle.’”

Jory was pronounced “superb” by the New London Day when they brought “Bell, Book and Candle” to the Norwich (Connecticut) Summer Theatre.

From Skowhegan to Schenectady, they covered New England and the northeast with both plays. Hollywood was entering an interesting period in the early 1950s. Between the studios cutting back on productions, the court-mandated breaking up of movie theater properties, the competition from television, and the Communist witch hunts going on in the industry, actors were being booted out from the system or else voluntarily fleeing for work on the stage or television. It was, not so coincidentally, one of the most celebrated periods of summer theatre.

The same year Smith and Jory brought “Bell, Book and Candle” to Ogunquit, Zachary Scott appeared there in “The Moon is Blue”, Richard Arlen brought “Mister Roberts”, and Cedric Hardwicke appeared in “Island Visit”. The latter two stars brought those plays that same summer to the Cape Playhouse in Dennis, Massachusetts. Macdonald Carey was at the Westport (Connecticut) Country Playhouse in “Day of Grace.”

In future seasons, Alexis Smith returned to New England summer theatre with a different partner, her husband Craig Stevens, who made fame as TV’s Peter Gunn, in the comedy “Critic’s Choice”, which played, among other stops, the Ivoryton (Connecticut) Playhouse in August 1961, and closed the season that year at Oguquit. They also appeared together in the comedy “Mary, Mary” which made a stop at the old Mt. Tom Playhouse (see this previous post on the Casino at Mt. Tom) in August 1965; and at the Westport Country Playhouse, and Ogunquit, in 1968 with the comedy “Cactus Flower”.  She returned to the Country Playhouse, and Ogunquit, in 1968 without Victor or Craig to appear in "The Coffee Lover."  Gabriel Dell was her lead.

Victor Jory's many other appearances included "The Happiest Millionaire" in 1958 at Ogunquit, and with Don Porter in "The Best Man" at the Cape Playhouse in 1976.  Mr. Jory was in his 70s at the time, and looking well and fit.

The 2012 season of summer theatre is ending hereabouts, and joins the memories of seasons past.

For more on Victor Jory - On Stage and Screen, have a look at yesterday’s post on my Another Old Movie Blog.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Hurricane of 1938 Marker - Wickford, Rhode Island

This Friday, September 21st marks another anniversary of the Hurricane of 1938, which we covered here in this three-part post. We don't hear too much about that monster storm anymore as the generation that experienced it firsthand is diminishing among our ranks.  But here and there the great storm left calling cards that remain.  The generation that experienced it wanted it remembered, too.

Here on the brick facade of a charming bookstore on the corner of Main and Brown streets in Wickford, Rhode Island is a plaque.

To measure by, lest we forget.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Blog Goes Dark

This blog goes dark today in remembrance of the murdered victims of 9/11.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

5th Year Anniversary

Post Office, Litchfield, Connecticut

This week marks the 5th anniversary of New England Travels.  I've enjoyed our journeys around New England, and back in time.  I hope you have, too.

As part of this anniversary, later on this year I'll be publishing a book that is a collection of some of the essays and photos from this blog.  The book will be available as an ebook through Barnes & Noble, Amazon, other online retailers, and also in paperback.  I'll be posting more about that in weeks to come.

Thank you so much for the pleasure of your company these last five years.

Jacqueline T. Lynch

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

You Are Here - Chester, Vermont

Even though the signal lights aren't flashing, always be careful crossing railroad tracks like these here in Chester, Vermont.  In the cartoons, somebody's always getting flattened by a train that zooms right in front of them the minute they put a toe on the track.  Wile E. Coyote, mostly.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Phyllis Thaxter - Court Square Theatre, Springfield, Mass.

Phyllis Thaxter died a week ago on August 14th. Though many will remember her film and TV roles beginning in the 1940s and ‘50s, through to her stint as Superman’s mother in the 1978 film, perhaps a few will recall the young actress who toured New England in the stage production “Claudia.”

Above we have the program cover advertising the national touring company of “Claudia” when it hit the boards at the Court Square Theatre in Springfield, Massachusetts. It ran for three days, March 29, 30, and 31, 1943. Miss Thaxter played opposite Donald Cook and Frances Starr. She understudied Dorothy McGuire as Claudia on Broadway, and when Miss McGuire won the film role of the popular play, Thaxter took over in the leading role on stage. Phyllis would have her own Hollywood career soon.

She was a New England girl, born and raised in Portland, Maine, her mother a former actress and her father, Sidney, a Maine Supreme Court judge. On a visit to her family in 1952, while swimming in the ocean, she developed the first frightening symptoms of polio. She was pregnant at the time, and required treatment in an iron lung for a brief period. Fortunately, the illness abated, she recovered her ability to walk, and had no difficulties delivering a healthy son some months later.

Phyllis Thaxter and her husband, Gilbert Lea, spent their retirement years between Maine and Florida. She was 92 years old. Her obituary in the New York Times is here.

These program pages from the Court Square Theatre display advertising from Springfield businesses of the day. Perhaps you remember True Brothers, Inc., Jewelers, or Converse Carlisle Coal Company, or J.E. Cheney and Staff opticians. Perhaps you went to the Hotel Bridgeway to dance in the Mayfair Room to Vin Breglio’s Society Orchestra.

Or bought your shoes at Stetson’s Shoe Shop on Bridge Street.

Or maybe you’ve never heard of them. Until now.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Tremont Theater - Boston

A reader, John Y., recently contacted me with these two great scans of postcards of the Tremont Theater.

I put them up on my Tragedy and Comedy in New England blog, but wanted to include them here as well, as this blog is where my theatre posts are now going.

His contribution is in response to this past post on Boston's Tremont Theater.

From John Y.: "Here you'll see an early, say, 1905 view of Tremont Street looking north towards Park Street. Just a hair to the right of center, if you look carefully, you'll be able to make out the "Tremont Theater" sign on the front of the marquis, the same as is on the first post card. On the right side of the marquis is "C. S. either Millard or Willard". The dance studio is upstairs and just to the right of that sign is a two-story tall Quaker Oats mural. Other businesses readable are Estley Organs and Weber Pianos. I'm confident that the white stone building at the right edge is the Masonic Temple.

Printed in Belgium for Kosmos Art Co., Boston, this view is dateable mostly because of the lack of electric and/or gas engine vehicles and the existence of the subway.
One of your bloggers, Herb, I think it was, correctly determined that the Astor Theater did occupy the building after our Tremont Theater.

If you or any of your friends would like, and you wouldn't mind being the connection, I'll be glad to share whatever views I have of the City. Just let me know what and whaere and I'll check my stuff."

Here is another from John's collection, dated a year later in 1906:

These are wonderful glimpses in Boston's magnificent theatre history, and I'd like to thank John very much for sharing them with us.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Plum Beach Lighthouse - Rhode Island

Today is National Lighthouse Day. We mark the establishment of America’s lighthouses through act of Congress in 1789 on this day. The lighthouse above is called the Plum Beach Lighthouse, and represents how both a love of lighthouse history and future preservation can come together.

It stands in Narragansett Bay, Rhode Island. The Jamestown Verrazano Bridge looms over it, though when the 53-foot lighthouse was constructed in 1899, there was no bridge here, and a need for aid to navigation around Plum Beach Shoal.

The Hurricane of 1938 wreaked havoc on the little light, and trapped the keeper and his assistant, who reportedly tied themselves down to the apparatus that turned the beacon. They made it through the storm, but the Plum Beach Lighthouse was put out commission only a couple years later, not through storm damage, but because of the first Jamestown Bridge that opened in 1940. The lighthouse was decommissioned in 1941.

For several decades it sat rusting, in a kind of legal limbo, until the Friends of Plum Beach Lighthouse were formed to restore and preserve it. The incredible task of restoring this lighthouse is detailed in the Friends of Plum Beach Lighthouse website here.

The lighthouse is now restored and the light, now a solar-powered beacon, was re-lit in December 2003.

For more on the history of Plum Beach Lighthouse, have a look here. For more on National Lighthouse Day, have a look at this website.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Speak Out Before You Die

We interrupt this blog for another in our continuing series of annoying announcements: the second book in my new “cozy” mystery series is available now as an ebook, and will be published in paperback in August.

For those who write book reviews on their blogs and would be interested, I’ll provide the first five people who email me, a free copy of the ebook (through a coupon on Smashwords to be read on any ereader device or on your computer) or a paperback book, or both if you prefer. My email is Please don’t leave your email or mailing address in the comments section. All emails and mailing addresses will remain private.

The cover is done by that extraordinary talent, Casey Koester, whom you might know better as Noir Girl from her blog.  The vector graphic style used here is the same style she applied on the first book in the series, Cadmium Yellow, Blood Red, and I hope her participation on these covers will continue for several more books. She’s terrific, as you can see. I like the whimsical nature of the illustrations, the feel of being both from the era of the stories (late 1940s, early 1950s), and yet still seeming clean and modern.

And now (drum roll) the blurb: Speak Out Before You Die, the second in the “Double V Mysteries” series reunites wealthy Juliet Van Allen and ex-con Elmer Vartanian on New Year’s Eve, 1949. Guests are gathered in snowbound mansion for the wedding of Juliet’s widowed father to an elegant younger woman just after the clock strikes midnight. When Juliet finds what appears to be a threatening note directed at her father, she calls Elmer to pose as a hired servant to help ferret out the danger…but midnight is approaching and time is running out. There may be murder as the old year dies.

What interests me about these characters of Juliet and Elmer, who began their partnership for mutual survival in the first book Cadmium Yellow, Blood Red -- is that neither is a mastermind sleuth. I’ve always been a bit annoyed at the great literary detectives who possess so much knowledge on bullet wounds and African poison darts, and who also seem to solve the crime in the last few pages of the book by producing evidence which the writer has withheld from the reader. (“I had my assistant wire these documents from the War Office last night which PROOVES that the colonel was a VEGETARIAN!”)

There’s a scene at the end of the movie “Murder by Death” (1976), the Neil Simon parody of great detectives where Truman Capote berates the famous sleuths for withholding clues from the reader until the last minute. When I first saw that scene as a teenager I agreed with his complaint, erupting in righteous indignation.

“Hey...yeah!” I said.

That was pretty much all I said at the time. I never claimed to be articulate, just indigant.

Fast forward to now and my two characters who are not geniuses. Juliet and Elmer are ill-equipped to find murderers. She is the daughter of a wealthy financier and museum administrator, and he is an ex-con, who had made more use of his opportunities to read literature in prison that she did at finishing school. They are intelligent enough, but not more than anybody else. They have no superior gifts. With their back stories, including the pain over the outcomes of their previous marriages, they carry a lot more emotional baggage than most.

The edge they have going for them is their growing relationship. Their trust in each other and their reliance on each other’s opinions and perspectives is what guides them through the sticky mess of who done it. Their relationship, with its ups and downs, will be the engine that drives the series, and takes them through the brave new world of the 1950s.

Speak Out Before You Die (the title, though appropriately lurid, is actually from a line in a poem by Alfred, Lord Tennyson) ebook version will be on sale for the next month at 99 cents, then will be ruthlessly jacked up to $2.99. The paperback will be sold for $12, plus postage. You’ll be able to buy the paperback directly from me, or in the coming weeks from CreateSpace or Amazon. Currently, the ebook is available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Smashwords:

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Hindenburg Over Hartford, Connecticut

Have a look at the Hindenburg flying over Hartford, Connecticut in October, 1936, from what is apparently someone's home movie.  Note the Olympic rings on the side.   In that year, both the Summer and the Winter Games were held in Germany, and this logo on the airship was a bit of public relations.  The following spring, of course, the Hindenburg would explode over Lakehurst, New Jersey.  Here it looms over the Traveler's building.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Mapping the Way

This map has been making the rounds on the Internet.  I don't know who created it, but I leave you to decide on the accuracy of the cartographer.  When visiting Tanglewood this summer, do be cautious about the dragons.  We've lost more than one motorist on the westernmost stretch of the Pike who decided to stop and feed them.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Summer Theatre in Maine - 2012

A look at some current offerings at summer theaters in Maine:

This is the final week for the Rogers & Hammerstein musical “South Pacific” at the Ogunquit Playhouse. Have a look here for the details, a look at their great reviews, and the remaining schedule for the summer. “Damn Yankees” comes up to bat July 25th.

At the famed Lakewood Theater in Skowhegan, “The Fox on the Fairway”, a comedy by Ken Ludwig, starts July 19th. Here’s the synopsis from the Lakewood Theater:

This tribute to the great farces of the 1930's and 1940's has more twists and turns than a par 4 dog-leg or a double breaking, 60 foot putt as sex and water hazards collide in a mapcap adventure about love and golf. It is time for the annual match between rival clubs Quail Valley and Crouching Squirrel. The Squirrel has hoisted the trophy for many years but Baldwin of Quail Hollow is optimistic. He has found a ringer and has made a hefty bet on the outcome. When his secret asset changes teams, Baldwin must hand the ball - and his bank balance - to his nervous assistant, Justin. Justin does surprisingly well until his fiance, ditsy waitress Louise, loses her engagement ring down the toilet. Justin is unable to concentrate and as the match is slipping away Baldwin finds an unlikely replacement who may just save the day. Baldwin's humorless wife Muriel is not amused when she hears about his bet...and we hear her long before we see her. But we will be more than amused as the sturdy harridan arrives to set things straight. Filled with mistaken identities, slamming doors, and over-the-top romantic shenanigans, it’s a furiously paced comedy that recalls the Marx Brothers’ classic. Discussing his play Ludwig concluded "My plays are an attempt to move the ball in the right direction – towards a sense of humanity and good fellow-feeling. I hope (audiences) come away feeling rejuvenated, inspired, and happier than when they went in the door." It's a gimme!

For details and the rest of the season, have a look here.

Rogers & Hammerstein’s “Oklahoma” runs at the Hackmatack Playhouse in Berwick through July 21st. For more details and the rest of the season, have a look at the website.

The Arundel Barn Playhouse in Arudel is celebrating their 15th Season. “Irving Berlin’s White Christmas” runs through July 14th, and then Rogers and Hammerstein’s “Cinderella” takes over on July 17th through August 4th. Have a look at the link for the rest of the season.

As we can see, Rogers and Hammerstein musicals still pack them in.

Please support these fine summer theaters in Maine, and that summer theater near you. You’ll find a bit more on the history of these theaters in my Tragedy and Comedy in New England blog. Though I don’t keep it up with current posts, have a look in the sidebar labels for an archive of blog posts.

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