Murnau & Max: Life & Death Struggle

 DATELINE: Noserferatu-too much?

Has it been twenty years since Willem Dafoe took on the role of Max Schreck as Nosferatu? And, John Malkovich played the great German director. Shadow of the Vampireis meant to be film history, horror in cinema, and ultimately docudrama to end all vampire tales.

It was like watching Burton and O’Toole in Becket in some kind of twisted duo version of clash of titans. They quibble like Fredric March and Spencer Tracy in Inherit the Wind.Yes, their screen confrontations are on this level.

Is it comedy, satire, or history? Perhaps it is all rolled into one silent screen classic, as the original depicted shadows over substance. You may laugh at the foibles of movie makers.

Unable to film Dracula, Murnau, the Herr Doktor of cinema, filmed on some remote location where an unknown actor, of Stanislavski Method, turned himself into a real vampire. Or did he?

The conceit of the movie is that Max was no actor, but a real creature of death whom Murnau located.

The film is looney in its hilarity. When Max misbehaves on the set, F.W. Murnau denies him makeup.  When Max Schreck begins to eat the cameraman, the two come to one of their marvelous argumentative scenes. Dafoe clicks his fingernails like a castanet and watches sunrise on film, moving us behind the hideous makeup. You can’t have a film like this without Udo Keir as well.

Two temperamental creatures want to make a movie to last for all time: and they do! Nosferatu’s spirit is captured in this behind-the-scenes account, however falsified or dramatized.

The ending is spoiled, purely preposterous, with Murnau directing the ultimate mass murders.

It’s koo-koo bird stuff, but dreams can be made of that too.

Jan Merlin: Statuesque Among the Stars, 1925-2019

  Jan with his Emmy Award!

My co-author and most important literary collaborator has gone from this world.

Jan Merlin might be recognizable to a generation or two of film and TV fans as the villain who populated a hundred TV shows. He made movies with Ann Sheridan, George C. Scott, and Woody Allen. He starred in two 1950s TV series, The Rough Riders—and Tom Corbett, Space Cadet, with Frankie Thomas.

A veteran of the Navy in World War II, Jan went from the military during the big war to the Neighborhood Playhouse where he learned the craft of acting, though he had many talents. He always thought his acting fame was a lesser role. He was always the antagonist to some western star, or some dubious military man.

Yet, despite playing dastardly villains almost constantly, with his Aryan looks (Polish American out of New York City), he was a genteel man with a sense of art and brilliantly self-educated. Like a generation of those who were never able to attend college, he more than made up for it with a dozen books to his credit. He loved fiction—drawing  upon his movie background, or his experiences in Japan after the war.

Together we did a half-dozen books of which I am most proud. We did only one work of fiction, The Paid Companion of J. Wilkes Booth. Most of our Hollywood history tales were based on his insider knowledge of how a set work, from knowing nearly every star of the 1950s and 1960s. He laughed they were all “six feet tall,” no matter what the truth might be.

We wrote about Boys Town, Billy Budd, Reflections in a Golden Eye, among other films, giving a unique perspective on daily life during the studio shoot. He knew Brando, Taylor, Clift, James Dean, in ways that others could never understand. He threw James Dean out of the Pier Angeli house at her mother’s request.

When we did not write books together, he gave me editorial and research insights for my books on James Kirkwood and Audie Murphy. Oh, he knew them too.

Now he is gone, irreplaceable in my life and in Hollywood history, with all those insights and memories. He had stories he would not tell about the damaged figures of show business. He took those secrets with him, as much as I wanted to hear them. He was loyal to the memory of the business he loved and hated.

Once I called it ‘Tinseltown’, and he reprimanded me: it was a cherished professional location, not a frivolous tabloid fantasy to him. He introduced me as his “son” on occasion, which amused me–and made movie star Frankie Thomas look at me with quite an impression.

Goodbye, dear Jan. I am so lucky to have known you and to have worked with you. I have been left a treasure trove of his life, and maybe one day I will tell what he told me. He was my touchstone to a bygone era and glorious movie history.

Time & Again Machine

DATELINE: Wells Novel on Screen Again

 Guy Pearce face-off with hologram enacted by Orlando Jones!

 

Back in 2002, forty years after the original classic George Pal movie, there came a remake of The Time Machine, based on the H.G. Wells classic.

This time the stalwart hero is Guy Pearce, and the story once set in London during the Victorian Age with an American as the time traveler, is now set in New York with an Austrailian as the American scientist. It doesn’t matter much as Guy Pearce is so brilliant, humorous, and always watchable. His rebel scientist eschews hats and wears his long hair greasy. It is quasi-Victorian, but totally Hollywood.

The film’s best moments are its paeon to the earlier film and story. As if to underscore the homage, they have brought Mr. Ed’s Alan Young out of retirement to play a cameo. He was one of the stars of the 1960 version.

Our favorite moment is when Orlando Jones shows up as a hologram at the New York Public Library who can tell us about the earlier movie, the Wells novel, and can even sing a tune from the bad musical version of the same.

The time machine itself is a Rube Goldberg mess that looks worse than the one used in 1960, and one character even calls it a “cappuccino maker.”

The impetus for time travel is, of course, the unfortunate death of our hero’s girlfriend. He goes back to fix the problem but discovers that you might go back a thousand times, but her death will occur every time, however differently.

The interesting travels through time also takes us 802,000 years into the future when the planet has clearly gone through some ice ages and re-growth. It is interesting that the evolving of humans seems minimal. You can blame that lack of insight on Wells, not the movie.

All in all, this old-fashioned and fun movie plays with the subject and our memories of it. It’s hard to believe that it was almost twenty years ago that it escaped our attention.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Trump’s Mantra: “Off with their heads!”

DATELINE: Trump as Queen of Heartless

If you remember your literature, you know it was the queen of Hearts that constantly solved all royal court problems by shouting, “Off with their heads.”

It’s now the mantra of the Trump administration.

If you cross the President, he wants you fired. There’s nothing new in this as he made it his tagline on TV where he starred as a buffoon in an American business satire.

Now he has taken the royal pledge of vindication to new heights, or depths. He has now started to emulate the Queen of Hearts, sending out his Mad Hatter, Wilbur Ross, secretary of commerce, to threaten to fire weathermen for saying a hurricane is not imminent.

Imagine! You are fired for doing your job. “Off with their heads,” and their paychecks. It is nothing new under the rainy reign of Trump.

Thousands of Bahamians have lost everything in Hurricane Dorian that nearly missed Alabama, but Trump won’t give them aid or assistance. They have lost their passports, and now he wants their heads on a silver platter. Let them die in misery is his motto.

“Off with their heads,” we expect that slogan to echo through his campaign rallies to come. Political opponents? Off with their heads! Musicians wives? Off with their heads! Media journalists? Off with their heads.

We can hardly wait for the worm to turn, and have the Congress vote for impeachment while shouting, “Off with his head!” That would make us a wonderland of a banana republic, which seems to be Trump’s fondest wish.

UnXplained Ends Too Soon?

 DATELINE:  Shatner Show Sort of Ends…

 Survivor Mysteries!

For the first batch of the UnXplained series, Shatner hosted a bunch of tales of survival and unusual, perhaps supernatural, abilities that caused people to overcome the worst odds. Now, the most extraordinary of these survival oments came when a commercial interrupted the series, and William Shatner himself promised us that the series is not done, after all, and will return “soon.”

Such a threat actually became a delight.

The series brought its limited run to another intriguing close with an episode that again brought disparate episodes into a kind of cohesive pattern.

We saw a six-year old boy, lost in wilderness, who walked 18 miles overnight to find a road to safety. He felt something was following him: coyotes, or something else. How he chose to make the right turns is something inexplicable all right. But he did it.

One of the hosts ofAncient Aliens recounted his boyhood experience, also unusual, when time stood still and he was able to rescue a 13-year old friend from going over a waterfall to certain death.

Another tale, close to our heart and chilling to our personal experience, related to a Titanic survivor, one of the bakers, whose story is often recounted in movies as an episode that many would call fictionalized. The wonderful scenes are from A Night to Remember!

Yet, the baker who was soused, inebriated, managed to survive in below freezing water for two hours when most others who fell into the Atlantic died, of hypothermia, in ten minutes.How did it happen? Why? No one can explain.

There was the tale of the man whose parachute did not open, and he fell three mile—defying all physical laws to end up with a broken spine (that also miraculously healed) and he was able to walk away from what should have been sure death.

And, one of the other tales told a weird, extra-sensory experience about a British woman, Clare Henry, whose avoidance of a foggy car crash that should have killed her was owed to a casual friend who had recently died in a car crash.

Yes, that friend was Princess Diana who appeared before Clare and directed her to pull off the road before she would have been killed in multi-car pileup.

 

The moments gathered together all featured some rising above physical laws and physics to areas of puzzling survival. There are hints of guardian angels and directive spirits, protective forces, and other dimensions, yet as some of the experts note:  these things have not been studied by science enough to figure out if there are forces in the universe that transcend our world.

 

Yes, we want old bill Shatner’s show to return.

 

 

 

 

 

Dangerous Hunting Game

 DATELINE: Richard Connell Classic

 Fay Wray Sees Something!

If you are looking for the prequel to 1933’s King Kong,you will have found it with this first major adaption of Richard Connell’s famous (or infamous) story called The Most Dangerous Game.

Right from the opening credits, you will recognize the style and tone of the classic big monkey movie. That’s for a number of reasons: foremost, the producers of the Kong and Son thereof films honed their approach to the topic with this classic.

You have the basic premise of a sea captain taking his ship and passengers out into remote and uncharted waters where lurks an island with mystery. It almost seems like the same prologue to each film.  Officers are concerned with strange locales not on maps.

Instead of Bruce Bennett (or is that Cabot), you have interchangeable leading man Joel MacRae as the resilient young adventurer. When he is washed up on the shores of a strange island, he meets none other than Kong’s leading lady, Fay Wray, who is also stranded there with her brother, played by—you guessed it—the man who gave us the Eighth Wonder of the World—Robert G. Armstrong (not Carl Denham this time, but a ne’er-do-well with the same personality).

They are the guests not of a giant gorilla but of the King of the Island, General Zaroff, (played in slimeball style of the 1930s by Leslie Banks). It seems he has a strange fetish: he likes to hunt big game that is truly dangerous, like people. Back in those pre-Hitler times, he was not a Nazi, crypto-Nazi, or neo-Nazi, but some kind of twisted member of the aristocracy.

With its chase scenes through the jungle, the pounding music, and the production values of Merriam C. Cooper, you have a sense of been-there, done-that, from the next year version of King Kong.

It is a delight to feel the similarity, and you keep wondering where the dinosaurs are.

 

Trans-dimensional and Spiritual Worlds

DATELINE: Psychics as Remote Viewers

tracking orbs the new wayPara-People (new terms for Ghosts?)

Tracking orbs and their passengers (Pp) aka para-people?

Not one week after holding a séance to try to connect with spiritual beings in another dimension, we were shocked that Ancient Aliens TV series released a new episode that detailed the notion that light energy is “Trans-Dimensional”.

In fact, they tied together the notion that extra-terrestrials and space craft was a misnomer for trans-dimensional craft and beings. The séance we held to talk to orbs that appear in my home was, rather, according to CIA experiments, a form of “remote viewing.”

They identify psychics as “remote viewers” who are able to see into orb craft and noted that the Pp (a designation for Para-Person was an angelic creature). This roughly corresponded with the message from a spirit that informed me that orbs were transportation devices.

The headquarters of a private group called ECTI tried to discern orbs in nightsky as a travel group, also designated as a dimensional highway through which beings from another parallel universe, or multiverse, were reaching Earth.

They had transcended time, offered communication to receptive humans—and were actually beings who may or may not be ghosts (or what we call ghosts). It was an interesting combination of religious and paranormal experts paired with astrobiologists and UFOlogists.

The notion that throughout the Bible and other religious documents that there are “seven levels” of heaven indicated that these were dimensions in which angels and spirits (by human designation) were Pp, visitors from another realm, according to remote viewers (psychics hired by government investigators).

Citations were made to Einstein and quantum physics as proof that other realms exist and have been identified as spiritual by religious leaders for centuries and time infinitum.

Another peculiar discussion centered on DMT, a minor chemical in the body, often replicated as a psychedelic drug, that floods the pineal gland upon death, making people have post-life dreams, or feeling that they have been abducted by aliens who are “angelic beings” by another nomenclature.

It would seem that vocabulary and concepts have been in consort between science and metaphysics, but that these are not apples and oranges, but fruit of an trans-terrestrial existence.

It was an eye-opening and intriguing examination of visitors from another “world” crossing a barrier through a vortex to offer us guidance, miracles of information, and protection for our own souls that may be sent into another dimension when we pass through a mysterious energy barrier we call death.

 

Moon Landing for Endeavour

DATELINE: Aging Badly.

aging badly Allam & Evans.

Sixth season, episode 2, takes place at the time of the Apollo Moon landing. So, it is only natural that the murder victim at Oxford is an astrophysicist. Endeavour is more earthbound than the astronauts in July, 1969.

Morse is an exhibits officer who routinely oversteps his bounds. His new superior sees him as a condescending twit, and he may be right. Morse’s friend, Jim Strange, notes that the brilliant detective has not lost his heavy-handed social skills.

This episode is directed by star Shaun Evans.

Thursday (Allam) keeps reminding him that they are part of a bureaucratic system that follows chain-of-command, but Endeavour is the rebel within the system.

While astronauts make giant leaps for mankind on the Moon, back on Earth there are small steps toward crime solving by hard-working detectives.

Perhaps what’s most interesting about the historical inaccuracy of the series is that the days when cops were despised by youth movement types, you have them with more virtue and dedication than Joe Friday ever showed.

As a mystery show, Endeavour always puts together disparate elements into a stew that may be overly complicated. Punch and Judy has now reached marionette TV space shows of 1969, where jealousy and spousal swapping are the hot topics of the day—and motive for murders.

The regulars (Roger Allam, Anton Lesser) and others recognize now how good they had it in the previous five seasons. Now, they are reduced to working under lesser talents while bigger events overwhelm the world.

Though this series is not as elegant or finely tuned as an Agatha Christie story, you may find it convoluted on the side of intellectualism. That’s a rare problem in this age of unusual idiocy in TV shows, detective programs, and characters in general.

 

 

 

 

 

David Suchet’s Evil Under the Sun!

DATELINE:  Poirot Dandy!

Poirot cast Great Cast!

We took in an old TV chestnut from almost twenty years ago, Evil Under the Sun, from the eighth season of the off and on series of David Suchet as it attempted to film every Agatha Christie episode.

This one had the delight of Poirot being sent off to a health spa in Devon to recover from his obese condition.

Miss Lemon (Pauline Moran) insisted that Captain Hastings (Hugh Fraser) accompany him. The classic regulars of the show are here in their element, perhaps beyond their element. Miss Lemon is sent by Poirot all around the countryside to do legwork for the case. Usually, Miss Lemon claims to have filing to do—and must decline any other assignments.

The other stand-up regular is Chief Inspector Japp (Philip Jackson) more respectful of Poirot in later seasons. Though he and Hastings are now semi-regular dinner companions, they are always murder investigators.

The health spa is filled with suspicious and dubious figures who claim the place is the opposite of health. Its torturous steam boxes and daft clientele are perfect candidates for murder and murder victim.

It becomes increasingly obvious to Poirot that the place is ripe for crime, even as he is served various vegetable drink concoctions.

Sometimes murder flows trippingly on Christie’s contrived plots, though this one clunks to a finish, it is still fun to behold. We can see the roots of disgust in Poirot at the human condition, though this low-budget, low-star power TV version is a delight compared to the overblown movie with Peter Ustinov as Poirot.

Most of this is the result of a delicious ensemble cast and a deep dedication to the color scheme of Art Deco.

Gathering all the suspects in the hotel dining room for a big Reveal loses none of its luster for mystery fans. It’s a gem.

 

 

 

American Experience Fails H.G. & Orson Too

 DATELINE: War of the Worlds

orson  Orson, not H.G.

We can usually count on American Experience documentaries to give us intelligent and insightful looks at history.

Nobody is perfect, and an attempt to look at the 1938 radio broadcast that made young hotshot Orson Welles a household name is disappointing. War of the Worlds probably owed more to the idiocy of audiences and their unsophisticated and non-critical thinking skills.

In some ways, not much has changed when it comes to the public and its media habits. However, radio as the first big democratic source of info learned that it’s not nice to fool people, even on Halloween.

Half-way through the broadcast, executives wanted to stop Welles, but Orson had a head a steam up—and he ignored his producer John Houseman and his writer Howard Koch. He did it his way: and it won him a contract in Hollywood. Houseman thought it was a terrible idea and that Welles never read Wells.

In his own rash dash style, Welles came up with a mimic newsreel approach to the topic, eschewing the real H.G. Wells for his own personality. After all, this was the man who put on Macbeth in Harlem with an all-black cast and set it in 19th century Haiti. He dared convention.

Welles provided a contrite and unbelievable apology next morning. It must rank as the worst performance he ever gave. He hardly could hide his smirk.

As for the documentary of the event, the film uses bad actors, emoting and faking, pretending to be people in 1938 (wearing period clothes in black and white film) who talk unconvincingly about their experience listening to the program. These imbecilic comments were based on real letters.

The technique fails miserably and demeans the entire hour-long episode of American Experience. Five weeks after the broadcast of 1938, the FCC fully exonerated Orson for his folly.

 

Five Movies with Spirits

 DATELINE: Oldies but Goodies

Mrs. Muir & Ghost

 

 

 

Crusty Dead Sea Captain?

You may well wonder why five of the most influential and fascinating fantasy films about timeless ghostly encounters were made in a short span of the 1940s.

Some theories have centered on the fact it was the time that millions of women lost their husbands and boyfriends to casualties of World War II.

Our selected films do feature a romantic drama complicated by the fatalism of war. Two movies present men (one maimed, one an alleged suicide), and two depict dead women (yearning for unrealized love).

The women characters grow up and grow old in long sequences of time passing. Two of the men are actually one man: Rex Harrison.

If you have not guessed the movies, here they are:

The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, wherein Gene Tierney meets a salty and dead sea captain at her new home, Gull Cottage (see photo above). In Blithe Spirit, a sophisticated writer finds his first dead wife jealously returned to claim her husband. (See photo below). It’s the only one in color, if that’s your preference.

Playful Blithe Spirit Rutherford as Madam Acardi

Between Two Worlds features a shipload of dead people learning their fate—and finding heaven and hell are the same destination and destiny.

Go to Hell?  Go to Heaven or Hell?

Life apparently is filled with apparitions and reincarnated souls, as told by these literary-styled tales.

 

Jennie, Dead Dream Girl  Jennie, Dead Dream Girl?

Portrait of Jennie featured a painter whose model seems to age a few years with every sitting—and who died before they met. In Enchanted Cottage, a location with magical qualities can help a disfigured war survivor and an ugly woman find themselves transformed into movie stars by an invisible benevolent force in the universe.

Enchantment Makeover  Enchanted Makeover?

If you are haunted by lost love, dead friends, and cheating fate, you may relate to these stunning films.

There are some fairly sophisticated quantum physics theories at work back in the 1940s. We hear about tears in the seams of time, or atmospheric conditions that give a place parallel universal magic, or we meet obese Examiners who measure your life like a haberdasher fitting a good suit.

In nearly every instance of these plots, you must ultimately give up the dead and continue your life until you may be returned to some dimension where death is ephemeral and an illusion.

Perhaps we love these movies because they tell the fortunes of a haunted landlord and his soulful tenant.

Our Cosmo Topper ties to a personal spirit parallel each of the story-lines of old celluloid ghosts. If there is a common thread for all these stories, it is a dimension called limbo. One day both parties will be reunited, if not reincarnated.

Stead Fast in the Titanic Library!

DATELINE:  Bookworms?

W.T. Stead & booksW.T. Stead, Spiritualist

Over 100 years ago, W.T. Stead was a big name in spiritualism.

He was one of the foremost proponents of life after death, and he used his pulpit of investigative journalism to publish many books and articles about the paranormal world. He was a man of steely gaze and intense demeanor.

Some historians credit him with being one of the founders of tabloid writing, in order to dismiss him as one of the age’s séance masters. Like Conan Doyle, he was an authority with the power of public support—and public ridicule.

So, what happened?

He booked passage on a ship across the Atlantic from his British home to lecture in New York about the occult topic of ghosts and spirits. Alas, the voyage was not a happy one: his accommodation was cabin C-89 aboard RMS Titanic.

Among the reports after the tragedy, his last night’s dinner table companions insisted that Stead told them how a medium friend had warned him that there was a chance of trouble on this trans-Atlantic trip.

Later, the witnesses to the comments were disparaged as exaggerating the story, though one wonders why anyone who survived the Titanic disaster would feel compelled to exaggerate their trauma or misremember a single detail of their vivid night to remember.

Among the survivor accounts, there was the stunning image: people saw W.T. Stead calmly sitting in the First-Class Reading Room of Titanic, smoking a pipe and perusing a book as it sank into the cold briny deep.

The image of the old man facing another world with singular and peaceful demeanor is striking amid chaos and panic of others unprepared to meet their destiny.

Like young Richard White, the elder writer loved the ambiance of a library—and chose to spend his last moments in such a haven. It is likely that Richard and Stead crossed paths, if not exchanged pleasantries at some point. They were both denizens of the Titanic library.

Poetic Richard may have been the only young man among the first-class passengers who might agree with Stead that the library provided a special comfort.

Years later, the daughter of Stead—herself a spiritualist—contacted a medium to conduct a session of automatic writing (Ouija board stuff) in which they contacted W.T. on the other side to give the particulars of the final moments of Titanic’s destruction.

He also provided a glimpse into the Blue Island, a dimension he called “beyond the veil”: a double metaphor for the Great Beyond, another part of the universe.

The saffron yellow sofa in the Library of the Titanic washed up on the shores of Nova Scotia several days after the sinking of the ship. Apparently, someone thought it might make a good life-raft.

Stead’s body was never recovered, like so many hundreds of his shipmates and fellow passengers who booked a date with destiny on Titanic.

Library of Dreams!

DATELINE:  Magic on the Bookshelves?

end table of Titanic   Brenda Duval’s Titanic End Table

We all know the famous baseball story by W.P. Kinsella, Field of Dreams, in which a man is inspired by a spirit of Shoeless Joe Jackson to build a baseball field in his cornfield.

As a result, he finds himself at the epicenter of spirit life.

We never presumed to be the builder of a “Library of Dreams,” yet it appears to be our role late in life. It was easy to change part of the house, the north wing, to a library to honor all the people who lived in the Spring Village area since 1800, but in particular we had a push by the main spirit who has reached out to us:  one of the passengers of the Titanic who met his end at an all-too young age of 21 years.

For decades, without knowing why, compelled by unknown forces, we have collected many items somehow associated with the infamous tragedy at sea that killed 1500 people: RMS Titanic.

Our part has been minor, pointing out only one more benighted victim of the arrogance of luxury and money in 1912. He is our spiritual chess-mate from Titanic.

Richard himself was privileged by birth, but also never had a chance to realize his potential as a poet and philanthropist.

Richard too loved libraries. The final library in his life was the First Class Reading Room on the Titanic. There is even a photo of him, back to camera, reading while his father was on deck, also photographed, looking for his son.

Within two days, they would drown.

Richard’s other favorite library belonged to his aunt, Julia White Castle, who married the Hawaiian pineapple king, James Castle. They had the largest library in Hawaii in 1900 in their Waikiki Diamond Head mansion.

Richard lived there for a year. While his brother went out to enjoy the climate and people, Richard enjoyed the hundred magazine subscriptions that arrived regularly .

Almost in irony, after Richard died, his brother Percy wrote over 25 books: they too adorn our library shelf.

Local artist Brenda Duval, painted a picture of Titanic at full steam atop an end table. It is a labor of love, as she has all four funnel stacks billowing dark smoke. Only three were functional: the fourth was for show. It was the one that fell off the ship after the iceberg hit. It smashed into the frigid water atop dozens who had jumped—and were struck by a lethal force before hypothermia killed them. Richard likely was one of these unfortunates.

All of this is part of our library of dreams, giving the spirits of Mill Circle their safe haven. Based on photos of the original First Class Reading Room, we proudly note that we have more books! We will maintain it as long as our own spirit holds out.

 

American Master: Andrew Wyeth, son of N.C.

 DATELINE: And father of Jamie Wyeth

Christina's World Another World?

As painters go, he was dismissed by a generation as the dark vision of Norman Rockwell, or the pastel version of Grant Wood.

Andrew Wyeth ignored all and remained true to himself: he is a giant of American art.

True enough, he was groomed for the role of independent artist by his father, N.C. Wyeth, whose vibrant and bold book illustrations inspired generations of readers. He was the guy who gave you early 20th century visions of Treasure Island and other classic novels. He was Scribner’s go-to artist of robust literary images.

N.C. felt smaller than life, making a big living in his art, but not true to what he felt he should have been. So, he instructed and mentored his son Andrew from an early age to become all the father never could.

If you don’t yet appreciate Andrew Wyeth, this documentary will educate you fast and completely. He was a man who never went to study European masters but stayed in PA and Maine to paint the bleak landscapes of his world. He also used a tempura style to mute the already dour, almost airless world of his art.

“Christina’s World” catapulted him into international fame. Few understood the stark horror of an invalid crawling home, which was the subject matter.

For a man who seemed to catch the wind on canvas, he was an easy mark for a wife who served as business manager, and a secret model named Helga who gave him 15 years of portraiture. In his old age, he released these works, which catapulted him back in the conversation of art masters.

He was dismissed for a time as not being abstract enough, experimental enough, and too sentimental with his deathly images. It’s no wonder: his father was killed by a hideous train accident.

Art and man conjoined in Andrew Wyeth, and the ample 20th century record of pictures, interviews, home movies, and his art work, provide us a documentary for the ages.

A Lump of Titanic Coal

DATELINE:  Fool or Ghoul?

lumps  Real or Fake?

When we chose to buy a small (and we mean small) piece of coal salvaged from the Titanic wreck site, we never expected to be excoriated as either a “fool,” or a “ghoul.”

Yet, here we are.

We purchased a rather expensive piece of coal with a certificate of authenticity, which may or may not be worth its weight in coal dust. Internet scams are made of such stuff.

Friends called us the victim of a scam, and others called us a grave robber. We point out that we have written extensively on dead people, even those who were our friends: is that exploitation too? Honoring those we admire and making a profit motivated people from Shakespeare on down the line of writers.

Those who know us well understand that we have lived in a house once owned by two victims of the Titanic’s sinking: the father and son Percival and Richard White. In fact, our home is haunted by these disembodied presences, likely ghosts or spirits.

As a result, we have dedicated ourselves to their memory—and have turned our library into a shrine of sorts, a Titanic Reading Room of First Class Order.

You see, we have discovered a photo of Richard in the Titanic library two days before it brought him to a watery grave. The picture was taken by a priest who disembarked at Liverpool with a camera full of first-class denizens on their way to doom.

As for the coal, it is legally the only object that can be retrieved from the Titanic debris field and sold.

Courts ruled it was not personal property. In fact, the Titanic Foundation uses the money to bring museum shows to the public.

The salvaged coal from a 1996 retrieval operation has been chopped into tiny pieces, about 400,000 of them. We cannot figure out why anyone wants a chunk, but we decided that our spirits might find the psychic energy in the coal to be helpful to manifesting themselves.

We may be opening up a Pandora’s Box in our home library, but orbs gallivant there nightly, and things go bump all the time. Richard is here too, guarding us from any miscreant of mischief.

So, we will provide regular reports on whether the lump of coal is residual or has caused intelligent hauntings. We await the noise in the library from a safe distance in the other wing of our house.

A security camera will give us insights and in-sounds. We expect to keep you, dear readers, posted.

If this light-worker is a bad boy, my lump of coal has arrived.

 For those interested, a website for GhostsofMillCircle.com provides information on visits to the Titanic Library at Mill Circle and walking ghost-hunter tours of the neighborhood on a limited basis. See the website for all details.