Why does a book written more than 40 years ago about a show business figure who peaked more than 70 years ago still sit front and center in my mind? I’m a retired TV and radio news reporter with more than 40 years in “the business”. The “news biz” is journalism, but it’s also performance, even for those of us who strive for objectivity.
Part of the job is celebrity too. When you appear on television five or six days a week for more than four decades, you become a household face. People ask for your autograph. You receive special treatment in stores and restaurants. Twelve years into retirement, folks still recognize me, tell how they grew up watching me on TV and ask for autographs. Mine is a regional celebrity although I’ve encountered fans almost everywhere I’ve travelled in the United States and overseas. I’ve always enjoyed and appreciated my celebrity. Yes, I miss it a bit when I’m not recognized but I don’t get depressed if I go unnoticed. I needed to share a little of my life because it puts my feelings about the story of Bert Lahr’s life into perspective. I really understood in a very personal way where the man was coming from.
I enjoyed the biographical side of the book. It speaks to history, the history of vaudeville and burlesque, show business venues that are frequently misrepresented. As a self-proclaimed trivia maven, I received a little education. Case in point: Clifton Webb, long perceived as a middle-aged effete, film actor actually was a well-received song and dance man in vaudeville. I learned the difference between vaudeville and burlesque. I came to appreciate the art form of what I used to perceive as Bert Lahr’s overly broad slapstick comedy. I understood how Lahr’s art form suffered at the hands of Hollywood film directors who tried to minimize his well honed craft and squeeze it into their movie concept of musical comedy.
Lahr’s comic genius never really had a chance to shine in Hollywood. “The Wizard of Oz” was the exception. But that success also spelled disaster in Tinseltown because Lahr never again received a film role like the Cowardly Lion. Years later, he would find similar frustration with television which tried to restrict his comedic moves in variety shows. Lahr didn’t think much of TV comic legends like Milton Berle and Sid Caesar. Ironically, both Berle and Caesar spoke highly of Lahr in lengthy interviews with me — even as they lamented the fading of their celebrity. But that’s another story. Back to Bert Lahr. Born into poverty, Lahr was always very conscious about being financially secure.
Even when he returned to Broadway where he found his greatest success over the years, Lahr never felt financially secure even though he was earning top star salaries. In later years, as a TV pitchman for Potato Chips, Lahr earned more money for a thirty-second commercial than he ever did for starring in a play, movie or TV special. He still didn’t feel financially secure.
Bert Lahr did find some unexpected late professional success with surprising turns in work like “Waiting For Godot” co-starring with the likes of E.G. Marshall. Lahr savored critical acclaim, but was never satisfied even when he received it. For all of his professional and financial success, he was an unhappy man. He was insecure as an aspiring comedian/actor seeking stardom. He was insecure as a star thinking others were always trying to undermine him. He was insecure as an aging, respected legend believing people had forgotten him even though he was recognized everywhere he went. Lahr was miserable as a husband and father — demanding but not giving. Lahr desperately needed the audience — the laughter, the applause — throughout his life. Sadly, he never appreciated the love and admiration he got from his family.
As the curtain closed on his life — with his loved ones gathered around him — Lahr still longed for his audience and their laughter and applause. He couldn’t let it go and move on, nor appreciate the good things life offered him. Lahr’s loneliness haunted me. The deeper I got into the book, the more painful I found reading his biography. I know first-hand how intoxicating and addictive celebrity is, especially when you fail to appreciate real life. Bert Lahr was never able to see the joys and sorrows of family and friends as “the real thing” that makes it all worthwhile. It’s the celebrity that is unreal and ephemeral.
It’s the people who love you who will sustain you after the curtain closes and the audience departs the theatre. That Lahr was never able to recognize what he had and accept the love that was there for him was his personal tragedy.
It’s a fine biography, but not a joyful reading experience. It is in many ways a cautionary tale, a reminder of how important it is to keep ones perspective and ones feet on the ground.
- Lessons From The Cowardly Lion | Courage (pinkballoons4lunch.com)
- Remastered ‘Wizard of Oz’ to Screen in 3D and IMAX Theaters (hispanicbusiness.com)
Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945
by Tony Judt
Reading PostWar was a project, an immersion experience during which I first unlearned, then relearned everything I knew of modern European history. It was worth the effort. This is a long book — 960 pages — crammed with so much information I had to read it twice before I felt I had a grip on the material.
Tony Judt was an historian with controversial opinions. He made no pretence of being a neutral observer. Not that any historian is really neutral. Every historian has an agenda. Whether or not he or she puts it out there for all to see is a matter of style, but there is no such thing as historical neutrality. If an historian is writing about an era, he or she has an opinion about it. All history is slanted, changed by the historians who write it.
Dr. Tony Judt believed the role of an historian is to set the record straight. He undertakes the debunking and de-mythologizing of post World War II European history. He lays bare lies that comprise the myth of French resistance, the “neutral” Swiss, the open-minded anti-Nazi Dutch — exposing an ugly legacy of entrenched anti-Semitism, xenophobia and ethnocentricity.
Although Judt follows a more or less chronological path from World War II to the present, he doesn’t do it as a strict “timeline.” Instead of a linear progression, he follows threads of ideas and philosophy. Tracing cultural and social development, he takes you from news events through their political ramifications. You follow parallel developments in cinema, literature, theater, television and arts, not just the typical political and economic occurrences on which most history focuses.
After two consecutive readings, I finally felt I’d gotten it. Postwar changed my view of the world, not just what happened, but what is happening.
Tony Judt and I were born in 1947. We grew up during same years, but his Old World roots gave him an entirely different perspective. He forced me to question fundamental beliefs. What really happened? Was any of the stuff I believed true? Maybe not. It was hard to swallow, but he convinced me. I believe it.
If you are Jewish (I am and so was Judt), and lost family during the Holocaust, this will stir up painful issues. The depth and breadth of European anti-Semitism and collusion in the destruction of European Jewry is stomach churning. Pretty lies are easier to deal with than ugly reality. It’s easy to understand why so much of what we know is wrong.
Even though I knew history, I didn’t grasp the impact of these years until Postwar made it real. I assumed, having lived these decades and followed the news, I knew what happened. I was wrong. What is reported by American media barely scratches the surface. The transformation of Europe from the wreckage of war to a modern European union is more extensive, complex and far-reaching than I knew. These changes affect all of us directly and personally. My understanding of current events is far better because of this book.
I read Postwar on paper, then listened to the audio version. Available from Audible.com, I recommend it to anyone with easily tired eyes. It has excellent narration and is a fine showcase for the author’s conversational writing style.
Postwar is analysis and criticism, not just “what happened.” The book is an eye-opener, totally worth your time and effort, an investment in understanding and historical perspective. It’s never dull. After reading it, you will never see Europe the same way.
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- Postwar by Tony Judt (booksintheblogosphere.wordpress.com)
I read a bunch of these books, but quit before reading all of them. I realized I didn’t need to buy another one because I could reread ones I already own. I don’t remember which was which. What’s more, it doesn’t matter because if you are reading these books, it isn’t for their literary merit or intricate plots. Or three-dimensional characters.
To say all of Sherrilyn Kenyon‘s books are the same is not overly harsh. Some books are longer than others. The covers are different as are the titles. Also, some characters have dark hair, others are blond. I think that sums up the differences.
It’s important to like explicit sex and a lot of it because that’s pretty much where these are at. All the books have the same characters and plot. The dialogue appears to have been copied from one manuscript and pasted into the next with the names changed. Characters recur in multiple books, so Ms. Kenyon doesn’t always have to change all the names. The formula has been highly successful and profitable for the author and publisher. Her books sell very well, probably because you always know what you’re getting.
This is just what the doctor ordered for late nights when you want something to read in the sleepy minutes before you fade. Nothing in any of these books will keep you awake.
Now for the plot. There’s a guy. He has suffered terribly — frequently tortured — and for no good reason. He’s immortal so the torture goes on a really long time, like thousands of years. He is a total hunk. Insanely handsome. Perfect body. Sex on a stick. He meets a young woman. She is stunning. Gorgeous, sensitive, caring, powerful and very horny. They have sex. They have more sex. Then, they have more sex. After that, she cures his neuroses and guilt complexes. She banishes his evil memories however horrific, even if they lasted for ten thousand years. Literally.
As a couple, they must fight to avoid being killed by other powerful (evil) immortals with amazing powers. They triumph because their powers are more powerful than the evil powers of the bad guys. And the author is on their side.
They get married, live happily forever after because somehow, she too has become immortal — if she wasn’t in the first place. Did I mention magical powers? Godlike powers? Godhood itself? That too. Oh, I almost forgot. Sometimes the main character is a woman, so reverse the sexes but retain the plot.
Apply this to every book in the series. Don’t worry about names. You won’t remember them. I was halfway through one book before I realized I’d already read it.
These are fun if you want what they offer: a lot of sex with hot immortal guys and gals who wear leather, drive expensive cars, fast bikes and have magical powers. Keep your expectations modest. Kenyon’s books are entirely predictable. You will never experience surprise or disappointment. If you want or expect more, you’ve chosen the wrong books. To quote a famous football coach, “It is what it is.” No more, no less.
The entire series is available on Kindle, Audible.com and in paperback.
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- Best of the Series: Acheron, by Sherrilyn Kenyon (Dark Hunter) (teepee12.com)
- A Dark-Hunter Novel by Sherrilyn Kenyon (heyymariah.wordpress.com)
- Sherrilyn Kenyon, Inferno (kddidit.wordpress.com)
Mistah Kurtz-he dead
A penny for the Old Guy
We are the hollow men
We are the stuffed men
Headpiece filled with straw. Alas!
Our dried voices, when
We whisper together
Are quiet and meaningless
As wind in dry grass
Or rats’ feet over broken glass
In our dry cellar
Shape without form, shade without colour,
Paralysed force, gesture without motion;
Those who have crossed
With direct eyes, to death’s other Kingdom
Remember us-if at all-not as lost
Violent souls, but only
As the hollow men
The stuffed men.
- – -
Eyes I dare not meet in dreams
In death’s dream kingdom
These do not appear:
There, the eyes are
Sunlight on a broken column
There, is a tree swinging
And voices are
In the wind’s singing
More distant and more solemn
Than a fading star.
Let me be no nearer
In death’s dream kingdom
Let me also wear
Such deliberate disguises
Rat’s coat, crowskin, crossed staves
In a field
Behaving as the wind behaves
Not that final meeting
In the twilight kingdom
- – -
This is the dead land
This is cactus land
Here the stone images
Are raised, here they receive
The supplication of a dead man’s hand
Under the twinkle of a fading star.
Is it like this
In death’s other kingdom
At the hour when we are
Trembling with tenderness
Lips that would kiss
Form prayers to broken stone.
- – -
The eyes are not here
There are no eyes here
In this valley of dying stars
In this hollow valley
This broken jaw of our lost kingdoms
In this last of meeting places
We grope together
And avoid speech
Gathered on this beach of the tumid river
The eyes reappear
As the perpetual star
Of death’s twilight kingdom
The hope only
Of empty men.
- – -
Here we go round the prickly pear
Prickly pear prickly pear
Here we go round the prickly pear
At five o’clock in the morning.
Between the idea
And the reality
Between the motion
And the act
Falls the Shadow
For Thine is the Kingdom
Between the conception
And the creation
Between the emotion
And the response
Falls the Shadow
Life is very long
Between the desire
And the spasm
Between the potency
And the existence
Between the essence
And the descent
Falls the Shadow
For Thine is the Kingdom
For Thine is
For Thine is the
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.
Dan Brown‘s Inferno is a page turner. The author has created a highly successful formula for his best sellers. They are highly entertaining, fast-moving, exotic. Inferno is no exception. In this adventure sent in Italy and loosely following stuff drawn from Dante Alighieri’s Inferno, he offers readers a sense of inclusion, as if we are all reading something that contains Truth and Meaning, but without requiring we perform any real mental exercise.
It’s a great formula really. Inferno – all 560 pages — is fast-paced and takes you on an exotic journey while feeding you tidbits of apparently arcane knowledge. You get to feel as if you’ve learned the secret handshake and can now enter an exotic and mysterious world.
As with all of Brown’s novels, Robert Langdon, my pick for The Most Interesting Man in the World, is hired (hijacked?) into helping unravel a mystery wrapped around an enigma. He must follow a trail, find and stop a catastrophe on which the fate of humankind hinges.
There is, of course, a beautiful woman of mystery … in this case, two. There are dangerous men of questionable loyalties, dreams and visions of death and plague. There is the inevitable evil genius who has constructed a terrible mechanism of ultimate destruction.The clock is ticking.
Only Robert Langdon, of all the professors in all the universities in all the world could possibly unravel the knot. This is made more difficult because, for much of the book, Dr. Langdon is suffering from amnesia and doesn’t remember several critical days and events. Not that this can stop the intrepid professor.
It’s almost as good as a trip to Italy, without the expense and stresses of real travel. Whatever Dan Brown may lack as an author, he has a remarkable gift for description. He brings his locations alive. You see them through his eyes in all their glory and it is, in my opinion, what raises his books above the ordinary and makes them memorable and so much fun.
It’s really something of a scavenger hunt, as Langdon and his companion(s) follow the bread crumbs (clues) to the ultimate destination. Will he get there in time? Can he stop IT from doing the dastardly thing the madman who set it in motion planned?
There’s a bit of a surprise ending to this book, a few extra plot twists leave the story wide open for a sequel. Inferno is a much better story than The Lost Symbol though he has yet to top The DaVinci Code.
If you examine it too closely, you will notice parts of it don’t make sense, but it’s fiction. Read it for fun; don’t take it too seriously. Also, Langdon makes leaps of logic beyond merely impressive; they show real psychic ability. And Langdon achieves all of this while suffering from amnesia! What a guy!
It’s not great literature, but it is great entertainment. It held my attention and if you’re looking for a fun book, give this one a read. It’s all action and manages to be sexy without anyone having sex, no small literary feat. If there’s a trip to Florence in your future, it’s a must-read.
Inferno is available in hardcover, including a large print edition, Kindle, paperback, audio CD and as a download from Audible.com. You can find it in bookstores pretty much everywhere.
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What with the NSA XBox thing, Year Zero keeps getting more and more relevant. So here it is again. Yes, it’s a rerun. And worth a re-read.
- – -
The author of Year Zero, Rob Reid does not have the kind of bio one would expect of a science fiction author. In fact, he was and is an entrepreneur and multi-millionaire, the kind of self-made multi millionaire who makes many of us realize what failures we are.
He was born in New York City, grew up in Darien, Connecticut, got his undergraduate degree at Stanford University in Arabic and International Relations. He earned an MBA from Harvard. In 1994 Reid moved to Silicon Valley where he managed Silicon Graphic’s relations with Netscape. In 1999 he became a founding member of IGN Entertainment which went public in 2000. IGN was acquired by News Corp in 2005 for $650 million.
Reid was the sole founder of Listen.com for which he served as CEO and Executive Chairman. Listen.com launched Rhapsody, a music streaming service, the first legal service of its kind. Rhapsody was bought by RealNetworks in 2003 and Reid continued to serve as one of its vice president until MTV purchased it for $230 million.
Thus when in 2012, Rob Reid wrote Year Zero, a science fiction novel about the music business and its impact on the universe, many people sat up and took notice. Who better to write about the Byzantine complexities of the music business than Rob Reid?
It is one of the funniest, scariest, weirdest science fiction novels I’ve ever read and certainly the only one that includes footnotes. The footnotes are hilarious too.
The scary part of the novel is not the story but how it mirrors the realities of the music business.
It turns out that Earth is the only planet in the universe that can create music worth listening to. It is not merely the best music in the universe. For all practical purpose, it is the only music. Other worlds have made something that had been called music … until the discovery of Earth’s music. From the moment our music was heard by the highly advanced sentient cosmos, there was no turning back. The year of the discovery of Earth’s music was Year Zero, the dawn of a new era for every planet in every galaxy everywhere. It also signaled the likely end of life on Earth unless some legal loophole could be found in our insanely punitive copyright laws.
If not, the combined amount of money owed to Earth’s music corporations would be so monumental it would bankrupt the entire universe. Unable to pay the bill yet obligated by inter-galactic law to pay it, the easier choice would be to destroy Earth, eliminating the problem and de facto, canceling the debt.
Whether or not you will find the book as fascinating and funny as I did is probably a matter of what you find funny. No one knows the intricacies of law as it pertains to the music industry better than Rob Reid.
The humans are funny and oddly heroic, each in his or her own way. People rise to the occasion. The aliens are deliciously bizarre and some of them also rise … or fall … to the occasion. The combination of law and the ridiculousness of the situation is hilarious.
Although Year Zero is every bit as weird as any of Douglas Adams’ books to which it has been compared, the strangeness of the story is based on actual law. Douglas Adams created the Improbability Drive from his own imagination. Rob Reid only has to quote the relevant law — which is every bit as strange as anything you could imagine. That’s scary.
I loved this book. I read it, read it again. Then I bought the audio book and listened to it twice more. I’ll probably read it several more times. I have a passion for this kind of tale. From the day I read how Alice fell down the rabbit hole, I’ve been hooked on literary insanity.
There is no sequel. It’s the only novel Rob Reid has written. Otherwise, he is the author of two non-fiction books: Architects of the Web about Silicon Valley, and Year One about life as a student at Harvard Business School.
I love this book. I bet you will too. Give it a read. If nothing else, you’ll learn everything you never wanted to know about the music business!
- Douglas Adams: The Writer At the End of the Universe (nerdist.com)
- Douglas Adams: still king of comic science fiction (guardian.co.uk)
- Rob Reid: Copyright infringement? Enlist the cutting edge field of ‘copyright math’ (nextlevelofnews.com)
By Dan Jones
PENGUIN GROUP Viking – 560 pages
Publication Date: April 18, 2013
This is a highly readable book. Although it is pure history, it’s so beautifully written, so lyrical it feels like a novel. Rarely has any book about this remarkable family given me the sense of destiny and the full impact of their influence and the romance of England’s premier ruling family. To a large extent, the Plantagenets defined England — perhaps even created it. This view of the Plantagenets was unique concept for me. As soon as I read it, it made complete sense. That the more than 200 year reign of this remarkable family, with its peaks and its depths continues to define British identity was something I’d never considered. Now it seems obvious, but like so many obvious things, I never noticed it until the author pointed it out.
It was wonderful to read history where the author appreciates not just the facts, but the drama, romance, story and myth. The imprint left by this ruling family on Great Britain is deep, pervasive and affects every aspect of England’s identity, even in the 21st century long after the family has — technically — disappeared. On many levels, this family can never disappear. They are part of the soil, the air, the heart of the island kingdom they ruled.
From its opening words, the book grabbed me and pulled me in. It “had” me before I had finished the preface, much less the first chapter.
Although I was predisposed to enjoy it, I had no idea how much I would enjoy it. This is a book that greatly and delightfully exceeded my expectations. I have read many books about the Plantagenets, both straight history and as literary “docudrama.” I am very familiar with the stories of each of the monarchs, the wars, the scandals, the affairs, the treachery. It could have been old news for me, but instead, it was like reading it for the first time. What a wonderful fresh voice the author brings to material that has been written about — one might think — to the point where you could reasonably question whether or not yet another tome on the subject serves any purpose.
Was anything new uncovered? Not really new information, but in many cases, a new way of looking at history I have read in many other books. Whether or not the information is new to you will depend on how much else you’ve read. There was no news in it for me, but I’ve been fascinated by the Plantagenets and the British Crown since I was a kid.
The debunking of characters like Simon de Montfort that seem to have surprised some readers wasn’t news to me. I have read sufficient French history of the period to thoroughly detest the man and didn’t need any more help. The same goes for most of these characters. It wasn’t new information that made the book so much fun for me, but the presentation and the obvious relish the author took in the stories and characters. His enthusiasm is infectious.
As you might expect, the book includes maps, lineage charts, all the family connections of the Plantagenets. The story covers that period from Empress Mathilda through Richard II’s loss to Bolingbroke. It stops in 1399, rather before the ascent of the Tudors. The author chose to end his narrative before the War of the Roses, leaving that long and ugly battle for England’s throne for the next volume. I look forward to reading that too.
At 560 pages, it is a long book. I had no trouble with its length other than finding enough time to read the entire thing. It wasn’t hard to become engrossed in each of its sections. Nor does it require any prior knowledge of the period, although prior knowledge certainly doesn’t hurt. You could hardly grow up an English-speaker and not have heard of most of the prominent people that strut, gallop or crawl across the pages. If you’ve read any English history at all, you have surely encountered these Kings, Queens, counselors, courtiers, ministers and more.
If you’ve read Shakespeare, you may feel you know this material well, but anything written by Shakespeare is strongly prejudiced in favor the usurping Tudors. It is untrustworthy as fact. Shakespeare is literature, not history and should be enjoyed as such.
I cannot recommend this book highly enough. It is a pleasure to read, whether you are a scholar, history buff, Anglophone or Anglophile, lover of historical novels … or innocently searching for a great read.
It’s available in hard cover, paperback, Kindle and audio. I don’t believe you could go wrong no matter what version you choose.
- Richard III, Act II, enter the lawyers with grave intent (thetimes.co.uk)
- Book Review: Plantagenet Ancestry: A Study in Colonial and Medieval Families (eogn.com)
- On Eleanor, love, and hatred (wytchofthenorth.wordpress.com)
- Conspiracy against a King: Michael Hoffman on Richard III (revisionistreview.blogspot.com)
- Skeleton Expected to be Confirmed as Richard III (eogn.com)
- Richard III legal fight to start next week (yorkpress.co.uk)
- VIDEO: Challenge over Richard III burial (bbc.co.uk)
- The Skeleton in the Car Park (OT) (theonlinephotographer.typepad.com)
- The Plantagenets: The Warrior Kings and Queens Who Made England (xlibrisbookreviews.wordpress.com)