Saturday 31 December 2016

Ghost Stories for the Holidays: E. F. Benson's The Bus Conductor, The Room in the Tower and The Face...

Hate to disagree with you, Mark, but the best Benson story is The Face:

Ghost Stories
Selected and Introduced by Mark Gatiss
E F Benson

Mark Gatiss (Sherlock, Doctor Who, Game of Thrones) selects and introduces chilling tales by the unsung master of the classic ghost story - E.F. Benson.

There's nothing sinister about a London bus. Nothing supernatural could occur on a busy Tube platform. There's nothing terrifying about a little caterpillar. And a telephone, what could be scary about that? Don't be frightened of the dark corners of your room. Don't be alarmed by a sudden, inexplicable chill. There's no need for a ticking clock, a limping footstep, or a knock at the door to start you trembling. There's nothing to be scared of. Nothing at all.

Vintage Classics
Published 6th October 2016
192 Pages

Friday 30 December 2016

Dead Poets Society #21 Wallace Stevens: The Snow Man

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The Snow Man by Wallace Stevens

One must have a mind of winter
To regard the frost and the boughs
Of the pine-trees crusted with snow;

And have been cold a long time
To behold the junipers shagged with ice,
The spruces rough in the distant glitter

Of the January sun; and not to think
Of any misery in the sound of the wind,
In the sound of a few leaves,

Which is the sound of the land
Full of the same wind
That is blowing in the same bare place
For the listener, who listens in the snow,
And, nothing himself, beholds
Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.

Thursday 29 December 2016

Debbie Reynolds RIP

Debbie Reynolds obituary
The Singin’ in the Rain actor, who rose to fame with her youthful exuberance in 1950s musicals, had a prolific and ambitious career and resilience to match

Ronald Bergan
The Guardian
Thursday 29 December 2016 /

When Debbie Reynolds, wearing a skimpy pink flapper’s dress, burst out of an enormous cake at a Hollywood party in Singin’ in the Rain (1952), she simultaneously burst into screen stardom.

In fact, it was the sixth film appearance of Reynolds, who has died aged 84, but her first starring role. The casting of the inexperienced 19-year-old was a risk taken by Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen, the co-directors of the classic MGM musical about the early days of talkies. The gamble paid off, but not without some sweat and strain.

“There were times when Debbie was more interested in playing the French horn somewhere in the San Fernando Valley or attending a Girl Scout meeting,” Kelly recalled. “She didn’t realise she was a movie star all of a sudden.” Reynolds herself admitted later: “I was so confused. It seemed dumb to me ... reporting to the studio at 6am, six days a week and shooting till midnight. I didn’t know anything about show business.

“I learned a lot from Gene,” she added. “He is a perfectionist and a disciplinarian – the most exacting director I’ve ever worked for … Every so often, he would yell at me and make me cry. But it took a lot of patience for him to work with someone who had never danced before. It’s amazing that I could keep up with him and Donald O’Connor. This little girl from Burbank sure had a lot of spirit.”

She was born Mary Frances Reynolds in El Paso, Texas. Her father was a railroad mechanic and carpenter, who lost his job at the height of the Great Depression. After living from hand to mouth for a while, the family moved to Burbank, California when her father got a job with the Southern Pacific railroad. While at high school, Reynolds entered and won the Miss Burbank beauty contest. One of the requirements was “talent”, which she fulfilled by lip-syncing to a record of Betty Hutton singing I’m a Square in the Social Circle, which earned the 16-year-old a Warner Bros contract. (It was Jack Warner who gave her the name of Debbie.) But after a bit part in the Bette Davis comedy June Bride (1948), and playing June Haver’s bubbly young sister in The Daughter of Rosie O’Grady (1950), she took up a contract with MGM where she flourished, on and off, throughout the 50s and early 60s.

Prior to Singin’ in the Rain, Reynolds was noticed, in what amounted to a cameo, lip-syncing I Wanna Be Loved By You to singer Helen Kane’s voice in Three Little Words (1950). In Two Weeks with Love (1950), as a younger sister again, this time Jane Powell’s, the cute 5 ft 2in Reynolds stopped the show with 6ft 3in Carleton Carpenter in two numbers: Abba Dabba Honeymoon and Row, Row, Row, with her nifty tap dancing belying her statements of never having danced before Singin’ in the Rain.

Reynolds’s lively opening Charleston number in the latter film has her singing and dancing All I Do Is Dream of You with a dozen other chorus girls; she keeps up brilliantly with Kelly and O’Connor in the cheery matinal greeting Good Mornin’, danced and sung around a living room – even though during some of the more challenging steps, she stands by and lets the two men dance around her – and she is touching in the lyrical duet You Were Meant For Me with Kelly, who switches on coloured lights and a gentle wind machine on a sound stage to create a make-believe atmosphere.

In the plot, silent screen star Lina Lamont (Jean Hagen, unforgettable) has a risibly squeaky voice for sound movies and, unknown to the public, is dubbed by Kathy Selden (Reynolds). In reality, however, Debbie’s singing voice was dubbed by the uncredited Betty Royce, and Jean Hagen herself provided the speaking voice for Debbie dubbing her on screen because Reynolds was then handicapped by what Donen called “that terrible western noise”.*

This is Debbie's actual voice and not the final version on screen where she was dubbed by Betty Noyes

An effervescent Reynolds went on to star in a series of charming youthful musicals, this time using her own pleasant singing voice. I Love Melvin (1953) was one of the best, with Reynolds paired again with Donald O’Connor. The film opens with A Lady Loves, a musical dream sequence in which Debbie sees herself as a big movie star courted by Robert Taylor. This gives her a chance to be classy, in a tongue-in-cheek manner. Later she features in a witty acrobatic number entitled Saturday Afternoon Before the Game in which she is dressed as a ball being tossed around by a football team.

There followed The Affairs of Dobie Gillis, Give a Girl a Break (both 1953), Susan Slept Here, Athena (both 1954), Hit the Deck and The Tender Trap (both 1955). In the latter, a romantic comedy, Frank Sinatra is a confirmed bachelor and Reynolds is determined to trap him into marriage. In the same year, 23-year-old Reynolds married 27-year-old crooner Eddie Fisher. They became the darlings of the fan magazines, and co-starred in Bundle of Joy (1956), a feeble musical remake of the 1939 Ginger Rogers-David Niven comedy, which capitalised on their personalities as a happy young couple and the rumours of her pregnancy. (Reynolds gave birth to Carrie Fisher in October 1956.)

Meanwhile with the film musical in a moribund state, Reynolds showed that she could get by in straight acting roles, the first proof being in The Catered Affair (1956), a slice of Hollywood realism, with Reynolds as the daughter of working-class parents Bette Davis and Ernest Borgnine. This failed at the box office unlike Tammy and the Bachelor (1957), which was one of Reynolds’s greatest successes, the theme song of which (“I hear the cottonwoods whisp’rin’ above, Tammy! Tammy! Tammy’s in love!”) remained high in the hit parade for months. This entertaining piece of whimsy provided Reynolds as a backwoods girl in love with a wealthy man (Leslie Nielsen) with what was an archetypal role – a naive girl thrust into a sophisticated world … and triumphing.

In 1957, Eddie and Debbie were best man and matron of honour at the wedding in Acapulco of Fisher’s lifelong friend, impresario Mike Todd to Elizabeth Taylor. A little over a year later, Todd was killed in a plane crash, and Taylor sought solace in Fisher’s arms, causing a huge Hollywood scandal. Taylor who had been cast as the Grieving Widow, now found herself in the role of the Vamp, while Reynolds was widely and sympathetically portrayed as the Wronged Woman. However, the outraged moralistic public was unaware that the Fisher-Reynolds marriage was already in tatters although they continued to play America’s sweethearts in public, mainly because Debbie was pregnant with their son Todd (named after Mike) and they were worried that divorce would damage their popularity ratings. But divorce was inevitable and, on 12 May, 1959, Taylor, who had converted to Judaism when she married Todd, married Fisher at a synagogue in Las Vegas.

Despite being the divorced mother of two small children, Reynolds was never more active. In 1959, she was among the top 10 Hollywood box-office stars and appeared four movies that year: The Mating Game, Say One For Me, The Gazebo and It Started with a Kiss. None were world-beaters, but they got by on her effortless charm.

In November 1960, Reynolds married millionaire shoe-store magnate Harry Karl, and pursued her career with added vigour, though her roles hardly varied, whether she was playing Fred Astaire’s nubile daughter in The Pleasure of His Company or a feisty young widow with two children in The Second Time Around (both 1961) or a pioneer woman in the sprawling Cinerama Western How the West Was Won (1962), in which she is the only character who makes it through from the first reel to the last, ageing from 16 to 90.

In The Unsinkable Molly Brown (1964), for which she was Oscar-nominated. Reynolds throws herself around energetically in the title role of the backwoods girl (shades of Tammy, but with added robustness) who enters high society and survives the Titanic, displaying everything she had learned from past musicals, especially in the dance numbers Belly Up to the Bar, Boys and I Ain’t Down Yet.

After playing a man resurrected as a woman in the tiresome Goodbye Charlie (1964), the title role in The Singing Nun (1966), the mawkish biopic of the guitar-strumming Belgian nun who composed the hit song Dominique, she finally managed to bid farewell to her ingenue “tomboy” persona and portray a mature adult in Divorce American Style (1967). A rare Hollywood comedy with teeth, it cast Reynolds and Dick Van Dyke against type as a squabbling couple, who utter not a word as they prepare for bed in the best sequence. “That was a really hard part to get,” Reynolds commented. “The producer didn’t want me. He didn’t think I could play an ordinary married woman. I think he thought I had to be all ‘diva’d up’ and in a musical.”

When, Reynolds, now pushing 35, saw her film career gradually slowing to a virtual halt, she reinvented herself as a cabaret performer, appearing most frequently on stage in Las Vegas. Reynolds also shifted her attention to US television starting with 18 episodes of The Debbie Reynolds Show (1969-1970), a sitcom resembling I Love Lucy, in which she played a suburban housewife with ambitions to become a newspaper reporter. She continued to appear regularly on TV for the next four decades. What’s The Matter with Helen? (1971), a campy murder tale set in 1930s Hollywood in which Reynolds and Shelley Winters run a school for budding Shirley Temples, would be her last feature film for 20 years.

By the early 1970s, her marriage to Harry Karl was heading for the rocks, mainly because of his infidelities but also because he had gambled away both their fortunes. Luckily, Reynolds was still bankable and, immediately after her divorce in 1973, she made her Broadway debut in a revival of the 1919 musical hit Irene. The show, which ran for 18 months, gained Reynolds a Tony nomination, and was the first of several stage musicals she would appear in over the years: Annie Get Your Gun, The Unsinkable Molly Brown and Woman of the Year among them.

Reynolds returned to the big screen in the 90s, where she showed that she had lost none of her comic timing playing a number of sweet-voiced monster mums, having eerily maintained her kewpie-doll looks. These included Albert Brooks’s Mother (1996), her first leading film role for 27 years, In & Out (1997) and Zack and Reba (1998), as well as appearing in 10 episodes of Will and Grace on TV, portraying Grace’s mother, a would-be star whose propensity for breaking out into show tunes and impressions dismays her daughter. Reynolds was also known as Princess Leia’s mother, after Carrie Fisher found fame in the Star Wars movies.

Aside from performing, Reynolds had many other interests. In 1991, she bought a hotel and casino in Las Vegas, where she displayed part of her extensive collection of vintage Hollywood props, sets and costumes. But after her third marriage to real-estate developer Richard Hamlett ended, she was forced to declare bankruptcy in 1997. She later reopened her museum in Hollywood. Reynolds was also an indefatigable fund-raiser for The Thalians (a charitable organisation that provides mental health services from pediatrics to geriatrics in Los Angeles). She is survived by her son, Todd Fisher.

Debbie Reynolds (Mary Frances Reynolds), actor and singer; born 1 April 1932; died 28 December 2016.

* No. Betty Noyes supplied Reynolds' singing voice and Jean Hagen only provided Reynolds' voice when she was supposed to be dubbing Lina Lamont...

Wednesday 28 December 2016

Carrie Fisher RIP

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A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away...
Actor who played Princess Leia in Star Wars was also known for her bristling intellect and writing that mixed candour, sweetness and wit

Ryan Gilbey
The Guardian
Tuesday 27 December 2016

A less distinctive and eccentric performer than Carrie Fisher, who has died after a heart attack aged 60, might well have had an entire career eclipsed after playing one of the leads in the most successful movie franchise of all time. Fisher’s portrayal of the intergalactic rebel leader Princess Leia Organa in the Star Wars series certainly made her a household name: “In the street, they call out, ‘Hey, Princess!’, which makes me feel like a poodle.” But the films never defined her as they did some of her co-stars.

If anything, her bristling humour and intellect made it seem in retrospect as though she had been rather slumming it in those trumped-up B-movies. Certainly the snappy writing in her autobiographical novel Postcards from the Edge (1987) was light years ahead of anything she ever had to say on screen as Leia. She was unimpressed about her role in the first Star Wars (1977): “A lot of it was just running down corridors.”
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It came as no surprise, then, that she enjoyed a successful writing career alongside her increasingly intermittent acting appearances, with other novels including Surrender the Pink (1990) and Delusions of Grandma (1993). Her most recent book, The Princess Diarist (2016), drew on diaries she wrote while shooting the first Star Wars film in 1976 and included the revelation that she and her married co-star Harrison Ford had been romantically involved.

Anyone lacking Fisher’s tenacity would surely have been capsized by a Hollywood childhood marked by turbulence and scandal. Her parents, the actors Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher, divorced when she was 18 months old; her father ran off with Elizabeth Taylor while her mother turned to drink. Fisher grew up to have difficult relationships with each parent. As a child, she rarely saw her father; as an adult, they took cocaine together. Her arguments with her mother could be cataclysmic. As a teenager, Fisher once threw milk in Reynolds’s lap; Reynolds responded by putting baked beans in Fisher’s hair.

If anything, Fisher’s difficult background made her seem impossibly savvy and whip-smart. “I was going to be this nonchalant, seemingly tough kid,” she wrote in 1991. “I was going to handle it. I was going to put my head down and get through it as quickly as possible and get out.”

She gave off the impression of having no illusions about love, family or fame, and yet she would always be charmingly frank and self-deprecating about why another of her relationships or marriages had run aground – her marriages to the singer Paul Simon and the agent Bryan Lourd each ended in divorce – or why she had fallen prey to extended bouts of drug addiction.
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She spoke widely of her bipolar disorder, declared herself “Joan of Narc, patron saint of addicts”, claimed that therapy had been “my only serious relationship” and said of relationships: “Sex is out of my element. I’m much more successful during the cigarette.”

It was this mix of candour, sweetness and wit that prevented her from appearing bitter. No matter how hard her life was, or how poor some of her personal choices had been, her wry observations always seemed suffused with hope. She was no cynic.

Fisher was born and raised in Beverly Hills, Los Angeles, and lived in the media glare from an early age. The first published photograph of her, in Life magazine, was taken when she was just two hours old. She was educated at Beverly Hills high school and began putting on razzle-dazzle performances at friends’ barmitzvahs at the age of 13. By 15, her mother had roped her into performing alongside her, first in her nightclub act and then in 1973 on Broadway in the musical Irene. Fisher then enrolled at the Central School of Speech and Drama in London.

“She never played a grand game or pulled rank,” her classmate, the actor and director Selina Cadell, told the Guardian in 2015. “She was just a lovely person with this amazing sense of humour. We think of sharp, witty people as being very resilient but she had a striking softness and vulnerability.”
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In 1975, Fisher made a brief but memorable film debut propositioning Warren Beatty in the satire Shampoo, before landing her big break on Star Wars, where she sported a hairstyle she described as “hairy earphones”. She was already drinking heavily and taking drugs (cocaine, LSD, Percodan) and her addiction only intensified, along with her fame, following the colossal success of the movie and its immediate sequels, The Empire Strikes Back (1980) and Return of the Jedi (1983), in which there was less running along corridors and more sparkling banter, particularly between her and Ford.

She later explained that drugs “managed something in me that I was too lazy to manage on my own, this thundering emotion and verbal excitement that would roar out of me. It still can: I can still take a dinner party hostage but I try not to.”

She had her stomach pumped after overdosing on Percodan in 1985. “I’m glad they did it,” she said, “because that was a very powerful piece of evidence that drugs and I had to part ways.” That incident, and a subsequent month-long spell in rehab, formed the basis for Postcards from the Edge. The novel was filmed by Mike Nichols in 1990 from Fisher’s own screenplay, with Meryl Streep and Shirley MacLaine playing characters based on the author and her mother respectively. She was also a highly paid Hollywood script doctor; films that benefited from her uncredited polishes or rewrites including Sister Act (1992), The Last Action Hero (1993), The River Wild (1994) and The Wedding Singer (1998).
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Her non-Star Wars film appearances were sporadic and not especially notable, with the exception of parts in The Blues Brothers (1980), Woody Allen’s Hannah and Her Sisters (1986), When Harry Met Sally (1989) and David Cronenberg’s Hollywood satire Maps to the Stars (2014). In the last of these, in which she played herself, her face seemed oddly immobile, though rumours that she had undergone plastic surgery were never confirmed.

She was, however, an outspoken critic of Hollywood’s treatment of women, and revealed that she had been asked to lose weight to play Leia both in the original Star Wars and the seventh instalment, The Force Awakens (2015), nearly 40 years later. “They don’t want to hire all of me – only about three-quarters! Nothing changes, it’s an appearance-driven thing. I’m in a business where the only thing that matters is weight and appearance. That is so messed up. They might as well say get younger, because that’s how easy it is.”

Latterly she had become a much-loved figure on social media along with her French bulldog Gary, whose Twitter account had around 16,000 followers to her 1.13m. She also had an acerbic cameo in the acclaimed Channel 4 sitcom Catastrophe. Although Fisher did not shoot any new footage for the Star Wars prequel-cum-spin-off Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016), she made a surprise appearance at the end of the movie in digitally manipulated footage drawn from her 1977 performance, and had recently finished production on Star Wars Episode VIII, to be released in December 2017.

She is survived by her daughter, Billie, from her marriage to Bryan Lourd, by her mother and by her brother, Todd.

• Carrie Frances Fisher, actor and writer, born 21 October 1956; died 27 December 2016

Ah, to work for a highbrow newspaper. Let's run down her most popular role but still get in the bit about rumours of plastic surgery... Did I hear you say, "Scoop?"

Monday 26 December 2016

Rick Parfitt and George Michael RIP

Goodbye Rick Parfitt, you were one of rock's heroes
People mocked Status Quo, but they were wrong – this was one of the most powerful British rock bands of all, and at their heart was Rick Parfitt’s crushing rhythm guitar

Michael Hann
The Guardian
Saturday 24 December 2016

There he would be, stage right, dressed almost always in a shirt – usually white, or blue denim – with one too many buttons undone, untucked over blue jeans, white sneakers on his feet. His white Telecaster would be held with its neck at a 45-degree angle – the better to synchronise swinging it with his Status Quo bandmate of decades, Francis Rossi – and from it would come riff after riff after riff after riff, unyielding, implacable.

I dare you to laugh at Rick Parfitt. People did, often and long, but they were wrong. Parfitt was one of the greatest British rock’n’rollers, and if Status Quo had long since passed into light entertainment, so what? They had earned the right to make money, playing to appreciative crowds; they had earned the right to do whatever they wanted. It’s just a shame Parfitt couldn’t be with them on stage until the end – at their gigs in the run-up to Christmas, illness had made him an absentee.

You didn’t go to Quo for chameleonic reinvention, like Bowie. You didn’t expect a mastery of styles and intoxicating sexuality, as with Prince. You’d look long and hard for insight into Cohenesque insight into the human condition. But what you did get, especially from the classic “Frantic Four” line-up of the 1970s, was rock’n’roll as a physical force, something that hit you like a cannonball. Their breakthrough album, 1972’s Piledriver, was aptly named.

When the Frantic Four reunited for a series of gigs in 2013 and 2014, they were a reminder of what Quo had been, and a lesson that it was well within their powers to return to that. And at the centre of that bludgeoning onslaught was the rhythm guitar of Parfitt, his downstrokes turning his right hand into a blur, hitting the barre chords again, again, again, again. And when he took to the mic to perform one of his own songs, Rain, it was as heavy in its own way as anything I had ever seen on the stage at the Eventim Apollo, or Hammersmith Odeon, or whatever you want to call it – as crushing as Slayer or Iron Maiden or Judas Priest or Them Crooked Vultures. It was breathtaking.

Quo’s music – so often characterised as “heads-down, no-nonsense, mindless boogie” – was hardly sophisticated, but it gets treated with a contempt it really doesn’t deserve. It’s true that even in their heyday their albums could be patchy, but at their best they were punk before punk, their dedication to stripping away the fripperies as wholehearted as the Ramones, and their willingness to turn the blues into a hypnotic drone making them something akin to a Norwood Neu!, as Saint Etienne’s Bob Stanley once suggested to me.

It would be fair to say that Parfitt never seemed to make any great claims for profundity. He appeared happy enough for Quo to be A Bit Of A Larf – hence the appearances in ropy films (Bula Quo!), the cheerful admission that he and Rossi were off their nuts on cocaine through the recording of Band Aid – rather than one of the building blocks of British rock music.

Beneath it all, though, and for a long time, there was darkness. His two-year-old daughter drowned in 1980; he had recurrent health problems – a heart attack and a quadruple bypass in 1997, another heart attack, another heart attack. And the drugs and drink years turned out not to have been a non-stop party.

“Through the late 70s and all through the 80s I was a bit of an ogre,” he told our own Simon Hattenstone in 2007. “I fell into the sex, drugs, rock’n’roll big time, and Richard, my eldest son, saw me at my worst. It was a big shock for him and he deserted me. I don’t blame him ’cos I was just not with it, I wasn’t here … Richard has described me as turning into a Mr Hyde. He said, you just became a different person, and it was almost like being out of a movie where you’d wake up and all the facial hair had gone and the claws had been drawn back, and you wake up and you’re this normal person for a very short space of time until you decide to drink the potion again. For three or four years he didn’t talk to me, and he came back to me at about 14. Wisely his mother kept him away from me.”

So the cheery, laughing man you saw on stage had won the right to that persona. And for all his rock star affectations – the flapping shirt, the bling, the golden mane that had started to look a bit out of place quite a long time ago – the thing about Parfitt was that he didn’t seem like a rock star, so much as what an ordinary bloke would be like if he were transformed into a rock star.

That might account for the love people had for Quo, for they really were a group who were loved. That’s why they could continue playing arenas – because they were, in a way that only hard rock bands really can be, a “people’s group”. They were reminiscent of things that people like, rather than the things they aspire to – a night at the pub, rather than on the dancefloor at Studio 54; a day trip to the seaside, instead of a month in Mustique; chewing the fat with your mates, not trying to think of something to say to a supermodel. And at the heart of it was what seemed to be a deep and genuine love between Parfitt and Rossi, bandmates for almost 50 years, and friends for longer.

Mystery and magic have a place in rock’n’roll, of course they do. But so, too, do their less exciting counterparts – familiarity, reliability, certainty. Parfitt and Status Quo embodied those characteristics, and they shouldn’t be scoffed at. No one says of Nile Rodgers, “Yes, but all he does is disco.” They celebrate the fact that he took one thing and took it to a state of perfection. Of course, disco is glamorous; it’s flashing lights and beautiful people and New York and the thrill of the night. Status Quo were last orders and the geezer in the tour T-shirt and Croydon and the bus home. But that’s life. To be perfect at one small part of music’s great display is a colossal achievement in itself. 

Goodbye, Rick Parfitt. You were one of rock’s heroes.

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George Michael obituary: "a full scale phenomenon"
Wham! singer who went on to a solo career and became Britain’s biggest pop star
Adam Sweeting
Monday 26 December 2016

George Michael, who has died aged 53 of heart failure, was Britain’s biggest pop star of the 1980s, first with the pop duo Wham! and then as a solo artist. After Wham! made their initial chart breakthrough with the single Young Guns (Go for It) in 1982, Michael’s songwriting gift brought them giant hits including Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go and Careless Whisper, and they became leading lights of the 80s boom in British pop music, alongside Culture Club and Duran Duran. His first solo album, Faith (1987), sold 25m copies, and Michael sold more than 100m albums worldwide with Wham! and under his own name.

Michael remained a major figure in the music industry even when his record releases slowed to a trickle in the later part of his career, and a loyal fan base ensured that his concert tours always sold out. However, from the late 1990s onwards he was beset by a string of personal crises and clashes with the law caused by drug use. He had always felt ambivalent about the demands of stardom, and found it difficult to balance his celebrity status with his private life. After years of concealing his homosexuality, he eventually came out in 1998, after being arrested for engaging in a “lewd act” in a public lavatory in Beverly Hills, California.

He was born Georgios Kyriacos Panayiotou in Finchley, north London. His father was a Greek Cypriot restaurateur, Kyriacos Panayiotou, who had married Lesley Angold, an English dancer. The family moved to Radlett in Hertfordshire, and George attended Bushey Meads school, where he became close friends with Andrew Ridgeley. The pair formed a ska-influenced quintet, the Executive, in 1979, then in 1981 re-emerged as a duo, Wham!. They recorded some demos of their songs (written by Michael), and were promptly signed by the independent label Innervision.

Their debut release was the single Wham Rap! in June 1982, one of the first singles by a British group to include rapping. It didn’t chart, but the follow-up, Young Guns (Go for It), in October 1982 reached No 3, thanks to a timely appearance on Top of the Pops featuring a nightclub-style dance routine by the Wham! duo and backing singers Shirlie Holliman and Dee C Lee. Wham Rap! was reissued as Wham Rap! (Enjoy What You Do) and shot into the top 10, where it was followed by Bad Boys and Club Tropicana in 1983.

With Wham! blossoming into a full-scale phenomenon, their debut album Fantastic (1983) charged to the top of the charts. Wham! were now battling with Culture Club to be top act in Britain’s so-called “new pop” boom.

Michael and Ridgeley had become aware that their Innervision contract was bringing them a very poor return on their efforts, and having signed a deal with the Sony subsidiary Columbia Records for America, they chose to forfeit royalties from their debut album to sign with CBS (later bought by Sony) worldwide.

The decision proved wise, as their second album, Make It Big (1984), turned them into a global success story, spinning off singles such as Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go, Careless Whisper, Freedom and Everything She Wants. In 1985, Wham! achieved a massive publicity coup by becoming the first western pop group to visit the People’s Republic of China. The visit was filmed by the director Lindsay Anderson as Foreign Skies: Wham! In China (1986).

However, Michael was already eyeing up a solo future. Despite being included on Make It Big, Careless Whisper was credited to “Wham! featuring George Michael” in the US and was issued as a Michael solo single in other territories. By the time Wham! called it a day with a spectacular final concert at Wembley Stadium in June 1986, Michael had already released his first solo single, the chart-topping A Different Corner. Music from the Edge of Heaven (1986) was the final Wham! album, and The Edge of Heaven their farewell single. 

Michael topped the charts again in early 1987 with a duet with Aretha Franklin, I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me), and that autumn released his first solo album, Faith, to critical and commercial acclaim. Produced, written and arranged by Michael, it spawned hits including I Want Your Sex (considered too explicit by some radio stations), Faith, Father Figure and Kissing a Fool. In 1988 Michael set out on a world tour, which was a major commercial success but left him feeling exhausted, isolated and dubious about the entire rigmarole of superstardom.

His follow-up disc, Listen Without Prejudice Vol 1, did not appear until 1990, and signalled Michael’s preoccupation with becoming recognised as a serious adult artist. Though Praying for Time brought him a chart-topping single in the US and the album reached No 1 in the UK, the level of sales was substantially lower than for Faith. He hardly helped his case by refusing to appear in any of the videos for the album’s singles. For the video for Freedom ’90, he recruited a batch of supermodels, including Naomi Campbell and Cindy Crawford, to lip sync the lyrics in his place.

In 1991 Michael and Elton John enjoyed a mutual triumph with their duet version of John’s Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me, a song they had performed together at the 1985 Live Aid concert and which they now recorded live at a Michael concert at Wembley Arena. It topped both the US and British charts. Michael was growing unhappy with his relationship with his record company, however, and in 1992 he began legal proceedings against Sony, claiming he was bound in artistic servitude to a company that “appears to see artists as little more than software” and claiming that Sony had failed to promote Listen Without Prejudice properly (it sold “only” 8m copies).

Panayiotou and others v Sony Music Entertainment (UK) Ltd came to the high court in October 1993, and was seen as a test case that could have dramatic repercussions across the music industry should Michael win. Although the legal proceeedings shed light on various restrictive practices in the business, he did not, since Justice Jonathan Parker found that Michael’s contract was “reasonable and fair”. One casualty of the lawsuit was Listen Without Prejudice Vol 2, which Michael scrapped, donating some of its songs to the Red Hot + Dance charity project to raise money for Aids awareness.

In 1993, the Five Live EP (released on Parlophone in the UK and Hollywood Records in the US) included tracks from the 1992 Freddie Mercury tribute concert at Wembley Stadium at which Michael sang with Queen, along with some live tracks from Michael’s 1991 Cover to Cover tour. Proceeds from the EP went to the Mercury Phoenix Trust to help combat Aids.

The following year, Michael premiered a new song, Jesus to a Child, at the inaugural MTV Europe music awards. The long, melancholy piece was written after the death of his lover, Anselmo Feleppa, who had died of an Aids-related brain haemorrhage in 1993, and when it was released in January 1996 became his first solo single to enter the UK charts at No 1. Another single, Fastlove, emerged in April 1996, followed a month later by his third solo album, Older, which was dedicated to Feleppa. It was on Virgin in the UK and David Geffen’s DreamWorks label in the US, where it went platinum. The album set a record in the UK by becoming the first ever to produce six Top 3 singles. That year Michael was voted best British male artist at the Brit awards, and received his third Ivor Novello award as songwriter of the year.

Intervals between releases of new material were growing ever longer, though Michael retained a powerful popular appeal. In 1998 came Ladies & Gentlemen: The Best of George Michael, a compilation containing his best-known songs as well as duets and tracks from compilations not previously featured on his own albums. The album would become one of his biggest, going on to sell 15m copies. Nor was it entirely retrospective. The first single from it, Outside, was a new song, about Michael’s arrest by an undercover policeman in a public lavatory in Beverly Hills a few months earlier. The policeman in question, Marcelo Rodriguez, tried unsuccessfully to sue Michael for emotional distress caused by the video for Outside, which depicted policemen kissing. Michael now let it be known that he had been in a relationship since 1996 with the businessman Kenny Goss; they remained together until 2009.

In 1999 came Songs from the Last Century, a collection of cover versions spanning such disparate pieces as Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?, My Baby Just Cares for Me and Wild is the Wind. It was his lowest-performing solo release, not even breaching the top 150 on the American Billboard chart, though it reached No 2 in Britain. He now embarked on a lengthy period of recording material for a planned album of new material, the first fruit of which was the 2002 single Freeek!. He followed this with Shoot the Dog, a political piece attacking Tony Blair and George W Bush for their warlike posturing in the run-up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

Perhaps even more surprising was the news, in 2003, that Michael had re-signed with Sony. The studio released his fifth studio album, Patience (2004), and it jumped to the top of the UK chart, and, although it would not climb higher than 12 on the US charts, it was a hit throughout Europe. It also generated a batch of singles, including Amazing and Flawless (Go to the City). Although Michael announced that Patience would be his last disc to be given a physical release (as opposed to digital download), this apparently did not apply to compilations, since 2006 brought a chart-topping greatest hits album, 25, as well as the 25 Live tour, his first in 15 years.

After several arrests for drugs offences, in 2010 Michael was fined and given a five-year driving ban and a prison sentence after admitting driving under the influence of drugs, having crashed his Range Rover into a Snappy Snaps photo store in Hampstead.

Nonetheless, he had evidently rediscovered his appetite for performing and recording. In 2011 he made a cover version of New Order’s hit True Faith for the Comic Relief charity, and recorded an MP3 version of Stevie Wonder’s You and I as a wedding gift for Prince William and Kate Middleton.

He launched his Symphonica Tour in Prague in August 2011. However, it was cut short when he fell ill with severe pneumonia in November, after the tour had reached Frankfurt, and he was admitted to hospital in Vienna.

He spent a week in intensive care and was not discharged from hospital until 21 December. Two days later he made a public speech outside his home in Highgate, north London, saying that the staff at the Vienna general hospital had saved his life. He suffered a further medical emergency in May 2013, when he had to be airlifted to hospital after he fell out of a car travelling on the M1.

In June 2012 Michael released the single White Light to mark the 30th anniversary of Wham Rap!. In March 2014 he released Symphonica, which became his seventh solo album to top the UK chart. This month, it was announced that he was working on a new album with producer and songwriter Naughty Boy. Also in the pipeline was a film, provisionally titled Freedom: George Michael, due to accompany the reissue of his 1990 album Listen Without Prejudice Vol 1. With Michael as narrator, the film would feature stars including Stevie Wonder, Elton John, Liam Gallagher and Mary J Blige as well as the supermodels who had appeared in his Freedom! ’90 video.

• George Michael (Georgios Kyriacos Panayiotou), singer and songwriter, born 25 June 1963; died 25 December 2016

Saturday 24 December 2016

H. G. Wells - The Haunted Ceiling: a gothic tale for a winter's night

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Unseen HG Wells ghost story published for first time
The Haunted Ceiling, a macabre story of strange goings-on in an old house, is thought to have been written in the mid-1890s

Sian Cain
The Guardian
Thursday 24 November 2016

Here’s a gothic tale for a stormy night: a man called Meredith converts a room in his house into a cluttered and untidy study, and one day asks a visiting friend if he can see anything strange on the ceiling.

“Don’t you see it?” he said.
“See what?”
“The – thing. The woman.”
I shook my head and looked at him.
“All right then,” he said abruptly. “Don’t see it!”

This is the beginning of a newly discovered HG Wells ghost story, called The Haunted Ceiling, a macabre tale found in an archive that Wells scholars say they have never seen before. It will be published for the first time this week, in the Strand magazine.

The story was discovered when Andrew Gulli, editor of the Strand, heard that the University of Illinois held a substantial archive of Wells’s works. He promptly hired an assistant to photocopy hundreds of manuscripts and sorted through them to see if he could find something new.

“Initially, from the titles of the manuscripts, I thought I happened upon lots of unpublished works, but those thousands of pages were narrowed down to this delightful story,” Gulli told the Guardian.

He called it “a vintage Wells story – you have a supernatural event, characters with two schools of thought on the event, [and] the literary type versus the scientist. This reminds me of his story The Red Room, but we have a more of a twist with The Haunted Ceiling.”

Wells scholars have dated the story to the mid-1890s, when the author was about 30. This would mean that he wrote The Haunted Ceiling around the same time he produced his more famous ghost tale, The Red Room, which depicts a sceptic’s terrifying night attempting to discredit claims a castle room is haunted.

While most famous for science fiction books like The Time Machine and The War of the Worlds, Wells frequently wrote gothic tales about doubters confronted with supernatural events, often leading to ambiguous and haunting endings. Stories like The Story of the Inexperienced Ghost, in which a man relates an occult encounter, then becomes more agitated until he collapses and dies. The narrator observes: “Whether he did indeed pass there by that poor ghost’s incantation, or whether he was stricken suddenly by apoplexy in the midst of an idle tale – as the coroner’s jury would have us believe – is no matter for my judging.”

The Haunted Ceiling is so obscure that two Wells scholars, Patrick Parrinder and Michael Sherborne, told Associated Press that they had never seen it before. Comparing the style and content to other Wells stories, they dated it to around 1895: a time when ghost stories were popular and Wells was both prolific and strapped for cash.

“So the puzzle is, why was this one either never sold, or if sold never published?” asked Parrinder, while Sherborne called it “not one of Wells’s very best stories, but it is a skilfully assembled anecdote which would, I think, be very effective as a self-contained magazine item.”

Gulli added: “The reason we released it now is to keep up the tradition of having ghost stories read during the cold months and during the holiday. There is something very cosy about it: the old house, the main characters playing chess and discussing this odd ceiling, but at the same time you have something very macabre and unsettling.”

Michael Sherborne on
 "The Haunted Ceiling" by H.G. Wells
Michael Sherborne on The Haunted Ceiling by H. G. Wells

Michael Sherborne
The Strand Magazine
23 November 2016

We had a chance to chat with Professor Michael Sherborne about “The Haunted Ceiling” an unpublished story by H.G. Wells which we’re publishing in the holiday issue of the Strand Magazine. Professor Sherborne was kind enough to share his expertise with us and speculate on why this short story was never published. 

AG: When do you think that Wells wrote this story? It seems like a very old manuscript.

MS: It sounds like 1894-96. The opening paragraph uses the phrase “the darkness … grew apace,”which also occurs in The Time Machine. The opening of The Time Machine also features the wordpatent, liberal combination of dashes and brackets, a scene where professional men chat about strange topics, and the use of someone smoking to break up the dialogue. So early 1895 maybe? The story has a resemblance to “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, which I think came out in 1892 in the USA; I don’t know if it had appeared in Britain, though.

AG: Physically it was very difficult to decipher and looking at his manuscript of The Time Machine, you could also see the writing was very tough to transcribe. Who transcribed the works of Wells?
MS: Wells’s wife edited and fair-copied his work. Her handwriting was virtually identical to his, but neater. I believe at this stage the typing was done by his cousin Bertha Williams.

AG: There is a mention of Sickert in the story; did Wells ever meet the artist?

MS: I’m not aware of any Wells-Sickert connection.

AG: What was his attitude toward ghosts and the occult? From the little that I know about Wells, he was a firm atheist but this story definitely has the feel of someone who ventured into a story about spirits.

MS: Wells had no time for the occult, but he knew there was money to be made from ghost stories. Although he was a champion of science, he understood that the universe was a mysterious place of which scientific knowledge was limited and provisional. In someone’s autobiography, maybe the cartoonist David Low, there’s a conversation where Wells admits this limitation and the writer retorts that it lets every superstition back into contention.

AG: His short story, “The Red Room,” was vintage Wells. How would you describe this story’s mood compared to some of the other horror stories that Wells wrote?

MS: “The Red Room” is feverish, even melodramatic, as are some Wells’s other horror stories. Some, of course, are comic like “The Inexperienced Ghost.” The very best. Like “ Elvesham,“ have a subtle mix of moods. I’d say “The Haunted Ceiling” was restrained and understated. Wells is trying to lull the reader into believing that there will be a simple, rational explanation, only to surprise us.

AG: Why do you think that Wells has not faded into obscurity like many of his contemporaries?

MS: There’s no short answer to this question unless we use that ambiguous word genius. There are so many aspects to Wells’s legacy and the best of his stories have so many strengths. Like all of us, he did, wrote, and said a huge amount of tosh, but there was also a part of him that was extraordinarily astute, a mixture of intuition and informed, wide-ranging intelligence, which cut through the jumble of appearances to see the truths and trends beneath.

AG: Are any of the themes of this story similar to anything else that Wells wrote?

MS: I think feminists could have a field day with this story. Impatience with the marriage bond runs through Wells’s work and life. Here, female presence is excluded from the story, with several examples of the narrator sniping at Meredith’s wife, but the repressed female element then returns accusingly in the form of the face in the ceiling. It could be relevant that the best-known book of verse by George Meredith, Modern Love, depicts a disintegrating marriage. Wells refers to it in a later short story, “Miss Winchelsea’s Heart.”

AG: How did these manuscripts end up in Illinois of all places?

MS: Wells died in 1946. At this period, having sold most of its assets and borrowed goods and money from the United States to fight two world wars, Britain was a financial wreck. (We only finished paying back the American loans in 2006.) The US, in contrast, was the wealthiest nation in history. No one in Britain could or would put up the money to buy the archive of a once-fashionable author, now rather looked down on by the elite. Professor Gordon N. Ray at Illinois could and did.

AG: Anything that readers you think should know about Wells?

MS: There’s so much! Everyone knows he was a science fiction writer, but he wrote many outstanding books of all kinds and was involved in so many activities and causes, not the least his work at the end of his life formulating and advocating human rights.

AG: What are your favorite Wells short stories and novels?

MS: Short stories: “The Country of the Blind,” “The Door in the Wall,” “The Star,” “The Story of the Late Mr. Elvesham,” “Under the Knife,” “The Man Who Could Work Miracles.” Novels: The Time Machine, The Island of Dr. Moreau, The War of the Worlds, Tono-Bungay, The History of Mr. Polly. Also two little-known novels from the 1920s: Christina Alberta’s Father and Mr. Blettsworthy on Rampole Island, which the publisher Peter Owen is reprinting next year with introductions by me explaining their merits!

The Haunted Ceiling by H. G. Wells analysed by Patrick Parrinder

Patrick Parrinder
The Strand Magazine
24 November 2016

We had the pleasure of interviewing Professor Patrick Parrinder who discussed the recently published short story by H.G. Wells titled, “The Haunted Ceiling.”

Gulli: When do you think that Wells wrote this story? It seems like a very old manuscript.

Parrinder: I agree with Mike (Professor Michael Sherborne) that he must have written it in the mid-1890s, when his output of short stories was at its greatest, as was his financial

dependence on writing and selling short fiction. So the puzzle is, why was this one either never sold, or if sold, never published?

One clue to its date is the pile of Athenaeums in Meredith’s room; the magazine closed in 1921, but rather lost its way after about 1900, as I remember, when it was in some ways superseded by the TLS.

Another is the reference to Sickert, though I can’t throw any other light on this. On the other hand, George Meredith was a very well-known English novelist who died in 1909. It might have been awkward to have published a story during his lifetime in which the main character, a “literary man,” bore his name.

Gulli: Physically it was very difficult to decipher, and looking at his manuscript ofThe Time Machine, you could also see the writing was very tough to transcribe. Who transcribed the works of Wells?

Parrinder: He had more than one typist who worked for him and regularly corrected the typed drafts, but like most handwriting, his gets easier to read with practice. There are one or two phrases in the transcription that had me wondering—for example, in the opening lines, was Meredith really always “leaving” his matches rather than losing them?

Gulli: What was his attitude to ghosts and the occult? From the little that I know about Wells, he was a firm atheist but this story definitely has the feel of someone who ventured into the spirits.

Parrinder: He wrote quite a few ghost stories in the 1890s, as did many other popular writers at the time, so was happy to respond to the demand for them. Sometimes the “ghost” has a pseudoscientific explanation in his writings, though in this one, the “scientist” may be able to explain the marks on the ceiling, but not their haunting effect.

Gulli: His other short story, “The Red Room,” was vintage Wells. How would you describe this story’s mood compared to some of the other horror stories that he wrote?

Parrinder: It has a more whimsical, comic aspect—the story of an untidy, whiskey-sodden, pipe-smoking “literary man” whose terror seems to be groundless until, in the end, it is explained and he is vindicated.

Gulli: Are any of the themes of this story similar to anything else that Wells wrote?

Parrinder: The scientist Bordell who, to some extent, explains the mystery, and the contrast between the “scientific” and the “literary” mind are typical of Wells.

Gulli: How did these manuscripts end up in Illinois, of all places?

Parrinder: Wells’s archive was auctioned after his death and was acquired on behalf of the University of Illinois by Professor Gordon Ray, best known for his biography of Thackeray. Unfortunately, Professor Ray never finished his projected Wells biography.

Gulli: Anything that you think readers should know about Wells?

Parrinder: A lot of Wells’s well-known short stories, like “The Star” and “The Country of the Blind,” are very different from this, but he wrote many remarkable stories of the paranormal: “The Plattner Story,” “Under the Knife,” “The Story of the Late Mr. Elvesham,” “The Door in the Wall,” and others.

Gulli: What are your favorite Wells short stories and novels?

Parrinder: Among his novels, The Time Machine, The War of the Worlds, The Invisible Man, Tono-Bungay, and others… but if you have got the Wells bug, you won’t stop there!

Wednesday 21 December 2016

J. D. Salinger's For Esmé - with Love and Squalor on television? Perhaps not...

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The film J. D. Salinger nearly made
What happened when a TV producer got the writer’s permission to adapt a beloved short story?

Jill Lepore
The New Yorker
21 November 2016

In the woods, someone had built a labyrinth, a maze edged with stones. It began where a spoked handwheel, rusted red, had been pressed into the dirt as if it were a sundial, a clock, stopped. The path was overgrown with ferns. It twisted and turned and snaked around in a coil until it ended at a murky well fed from a spring where a person, quiet of heart, is meant to meditate. That person is not me. Nearby, a stone Buddha the size of a small girl watched from the crooked stump of a fallen birch.

I saw the place one summer, an eighteenth-century farmhouse in Vermont on a hillside that was once a farm but had become a forest. Ruins were everywhere. The overgrown labyrinth; stone walls; the foundations of barns; a pine shack, collapsed; abandoned roads; a junk yard at the bottom of a ravine, a little village of bathtubs and glass bottles and old stoves and washbasins; dumped cars, a Plymouth of indiscernible vintage, a Volkswagen Karmann Ghia, its hood and trunk popped open, like an upturned deerstalker cap. Grapevines climbed up the mopey branches of a willow. Wasps had lain siege to the barn. There was a wooden rocking horse in the shed, a faded Victorian settee in the attic, and, crammed in between the rafters, resting on plaster made of lime and horsehair, there were corncob husks that had been fashioned into Colonial dolls, folded and tied into the shape of skirted girls.

Usually, I need to know who lived in an old place or else the curiosity bores through my bones. I pore over deeds. I dig up gardens. I once found, beneath the floorboards of a three-story Queen Anne, an issue of “The Golden Library of Choice Reading for Boys and Girls,” from 1886. I figured out the name of the little girl who must have owned it, and when I found her gravestone I read her a story. Everyone has a labyrinth. History is mine.

I discovered that the man who built the farmhouse, in 1779, felled trees and hewed timbers in a wilderness where an alarming number of settlers quite entirely lost their minds. One filled his house with thousands of books, declared it a college, and then tried to beat his brains out with an axe; a surgeon saved him by drilling a hole in his skull, but the poor man later cut his throat with a razor and lay down to die between two hemlock logs. Another man left town, cut his throat in a field, regretted it, and tried to stuff grass into the wound but was unable to stanch it.

More recently, there was Henry. He lived in the farmhouse, very happily, until his death, in 2003, when he was nearly eighty. “Henry used to have a big vegetable garden over there,” neighbors told me, pointing to a cleared field. The woodstove in the barn? That was Henry’s. The labyrinth? Built by Henry’s wife. Henry had been a miller. Henry once had a cow. Henry made cheese. People called him Henry the Cheeseman. Henry read stories to schoolchildren; he did all the voices. He wrote and performed in a one-man play about Thoreau. Henry wasn’t his real name; he may have taken it from Thoreau. Henry, when he was younger, and in Hollywood, was named Peter Tewksbury. He directed Elvis, Fred MacMurray, Danny Thomas. And, when he was Peter Tewksbury, Henry the Cheeseman persuaded J. D. Salinger to make a movie of “For Esmé—With Love and Squalor.”
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Peter Tewksbury going over the script with some of the cast of It's a Man's World

I walked back to the labyrinth. “Esmé” is a story read in the middle of the twentieth century by girls of unquiet heart sometime after reading “Ramona the Pest” and “Harriet the Spy” but before reading “Emma” and whichever one of the Judy Blume books is the one that has sex in it. (“For Esmé,” my best friend wrote, inscribing for me a copy of “The Phantom Tollbooth.”) I eyed the Buddha. I’d have to find Esmé and dig her up. I got out my spade and my axe.

J. D. Salinger’s eight-thousand-word story, “For Esmé—With Love and Squalor,” appeared in The New Yorker on April 8, 1950. It’s one of his best stories, and one of his shortest; at the last minute, he cut six pages. Not much happens in it except that a terribly lonely man writes a story for a terribly clever girl. Salinger is sometimes compared to Lewis Carroll; Esmé was his Alice. The New Yorker rejected a lot of his stories but loved “For Esmé,” and Salinger got more letters about it than he received for anything else he’d ever written. “The Esmé story was just the shot in the arm I needed,” he told his editor, the boost that made it possible for him to finish the book he was trying to write; “The Catcher in the Rye,” Salinger’s only novel, was published a year later. There was talk of a movie. Billy Wilder wanted to make it, but Salinger refused. He told Elia Kazan, “I fear Holden wouldn’t like it.” (“If there’s one thing I hate, it’s the movies,” Caulfield says on page 2.) Salinger didn’t hate the movies, but he regretted having sold an earlier story, “Uncle Wiggily in Connecticut,” to Samuel Goldwyn, who padded it into a daffy romance called “My Foolish Heart.” “My contempt for Hollywood is immeasurable,” Salinger wrote. Also, he didn’t think “The Catcher in the Rye” would necessarily make a good movie. “There are readymade ‘scenes,’ ” he explained to one rights-inquirer, but “the weight of the book is in the narrator’s voice.” To another, he sent a testy telegram: “im afraid the answer is emphatically no repeat emphatically.”
The infamous British edition...

For a long time, Salinger had the same policy for “Esmé.” A month after the story appeared, “an English film maggot,” as Salinger called him, said he wanted to make a movie out of it; Salinger wasn’t interested. In 1953, “Esmé” was reprinted in Salinger’s “Nine Stories,” a collection whose U.K. edition was titled “For Esmé—With Love and Squalor: And Other Stories.” The following year, the BBC tried to acquire the rights to adapt “Esmé” for a radio drama series hosted by Laurence Olivier. Salinger said no. In 1958, Salinger’s U.K. publisher sold paperback rights to the story collection to a publishing house that issued a cheap pocketbook whose flashy cover pictured Esmé as a dishy blonde, with the tagline “Explosive and Absorbing—A Painful and Pitiable Gallery of Men, Women, Adolescents, and Children.” Salinger never spoke to the publisher again.

“Some of my best friends are children,” Salinger wrote in 1955. “In fact, all of my best friends are children.” There were two kinds in his work: earlier versions of himself, and girls. Some Salinger stories, Norman Mailer once said, “seem to have been written for high-school girls,” which was untrue but seems to have been the worst insult Mailer could think of. Salinger was among a crowd of postwar writers whom Leslie Fiedler called Teenage Impersonators, along with Mailer, Jack Kerouac, and William Burroughs. One reason that Salinger’s writing can seem juvenile is that it contains no adult sexuality, which is not the case with Mailer, Kerouac, and Burroughs. Sex would have ruined Salinger’s girls, narratively speaking, since their purpose is to serve as moral housekeepers, the cleaners of men’s souls. As Fiedler pointed out, “The series which begins with ‘Esmé’ goes on through ‘A Perfect Day for Bananafish,’ where the girl-savior appears too late to save Seymour, oldest of the Glass family; and reaches an appropriate climax in ‘Catcher in the Rye,’ where the savior is the little sister.” When I was a little sister, girls who were readers had, as a rule, two choices: stories about boys or stories about unsullied girls. (So many little Nells, so few Elizabeth Bennetts.) Salinger knocked my kneesocks off, at least until “Lolita” ruined him for me, which wasn’t Salinger’s fault. But these things happen.

The Teenage Impersonator impersonated only boys. Salinger is Holden, but Salinger is not Esmé. Salinger wasn’t worried that Esmé wouldn’t like a film about her; he was worried that he wouldn’t. In any event, it’s hard to imagine “For Esmé—With Love and Squalor” as a film, because it’s mainly narration, with only three ready-made scenes; four, tops. The story is brief. In April, 1944, an unnamed sergeant, an American soldier stationed in Devon before the invasion of Normandy, wanders into a church where a children’s choir is rehearsing. Esmé is a singer in the choir. “She was about thirteen, with straight ash-blond hair of ear-lobe length.” After the rehearsal, the sergeant goes to a nearby tearoom, where Esmé turns up. “She was with a very small boy, unmistakably her brother, whose cap she removed by lifting it off his head with two fingers, as if it were a laboratory specimen.” She joins the sergeant at his table:

I remarked that it was certainly a terrible day out.

“Yes; quite,” said my guest, in the clear, unmistakable voice of a small-talk detester.

Esmé’s father has been killed in North Africa. She wears his watch on her wrist. She asks the sergeant what he did before the war. He tells her that he’s a short-story writer:

She nodded politely. “Published?” she asked.

It was a familiar but always touchy question, and one that I didn’t answer just one, two, three. I started to explain how most editors in America were a bunch—

“My father wrote beautifully,” Esmé interrupted. “I’m saving a number of his letters for posterity.”

They agree to correspond, and she asks him to write a story for her. “ ‘Make it extremely squalid and moving,’ she suggested. ‘Are you at all acquainted with squalor?’ ” The second half of the story, the squalid part, takes place six weeks after V-E Day, in a house in Germany, the onetime home of a Nazi official. The sergeant, having witnessed untold horrors, is unkempt, sleepless, half-mad. At his writing table, he fingers a copy of Joseph Goebbels’s 1941 book, “Die Zeit Ohne Beispiel.” (“Time Without Precedent”). A package arrives from Devon, containing a letter from Esmé, with a note from her little brother, who is learning to spell—“hello hello hello hello hello hello hello hello hello hello love and kisses”—and, wrapped in tissue, her father’s watch, its crystal smashed, time stopped. He writes to Esmé, “You take a really sleepy man, Esmé, and he always stands a chance of again becoming a man with all his fac—with all his f-a-c-u-l-t-i-e-s intact.”

Then, in 1962, Salinger got a letter from Peter Tewksbury, he of the cheese, an Emmy Award-winning television director, best known for “Father Knows Best” and “My Three Sons.” Salinger had a 16-mm. projector at his house. He borrowed reels from the Dartmouth library; he loved to watch old movies, like “The Lady Vanishes.” But the only TV show that Salinger watched in 1962, according to Tewksbury, was his new series, “It’s a Man’s World.” Tewksbury wanted to adapt “Esmé.” Salinger agreed.

J. D. Salinger was born in New York in 1919, Peter Tewksbury in Cleveland in 1923. They both attended prep school; after high school, Salinger went to N.Y.U., Tewksbury to Dartmouth. Then began the war. A generation of young men knew death before they knew sex, love as salvation. Salinger was drafted in 1942, Tewksbury in 1943, the same year as my father, who, like Salinger and Tewksbury, came back broken. After the war, there were girls, to help fix them. Salinger and Tewksbury got married. Salinger wrote stories; Tewksbury directed plays. Tewksbury turned to television in 1954, when he directed an episode of “Life with Father.” In the nineteen-fifties, while Salinger wrote about the Glass family, who had appeared, as children, on a quiz show called “It’s a Wise Child,” Tewksbury directed a hundred and thirty-four episodes of “Father Knows Best.” He won an Emmy in 1959. He and his wife had three sons and a daughter. In 1960, he produced and directed “My Three Sons.” No director is more intimately responsible for television’s vision of American family life during the Cold War.

In May, 1961, Newton Minow, the chairman of the F.C.C., dared an audience of American broadcasters to watch a full day of their own programming, which he described as “a vast wasteland . . . a procession of game shows, formula comedies about totally unbelievable families, blood and thunder, mayhem, violence, sadism, murder, western bad men, western good men, private eyes, gangsters, more violence, and cartoons.” Tewksbury was stirred. Having earned a great deal of money and acclaim for NBC, he got free rein to develop a new series with the working title “The Young Men,” an hour-long drama about four boys—two teen-agers and two college students—living on their own in a houseboat on a river in the Midwest. (The college scenes were shot at Marietta College, in Ohio.) He wanted nothing phony: no infallible fathers, no staginess, no hammy dialogue, no fake kids. “We want to do young people as they really are,” Tewksbury said. “Kids solving problems without family authority.” From Universal City, he sent out a casting call to talent agents: “Since we are not looking for established, so-called ‘stars’ or ‘name actors,’ we intend to explore not only all of your clients, but to find and talk to every possible actor we can whether or not he has an agent and whether he lives in this area or Chicago or Slapout Holler, Arkansas.”

Tewksbury travelled across the country by bus. He found Randy Boone, a folksinger, working in a coffee shop in North Carolina, and cast him as Vern, a modern-day Huck Finn. Glenn Corbett, who’d done a few small parts in movies, played Wes, who was working his way through college while raising his younger brother, Howie, played by thirteen-year-old Michael Burns. For the role of Tom-Tom, a college student from a wealthy family in Chicago, Tewksbury cast Ted Bessel, a stage actor who’d been training in New York with Sanford Meisner, who, in 1961, made a recording of Gene Wilder and Mary Mercier performing a dramatic reading of “Esmé.” Tewksbury wrote Bessel a letter, in the voice of Tom-Tom, signed it “Caulfield,” and added a postscript: “If you think you would like to play the role of the man who wrote the enclosed letter, call me.”

To Tewksbury’s dismay, NBC changed the show’s title to “It’s a Man’s World.” The first episode aired in September, 1962. Kennedy was in the White House, Salinger was America’s favorite author, Bob Dylan had just released his first album. The network’s publicity department was hard-pressed to describe what Tewksbury was up to. “The series features offbeat, super-realistic drama,” a brochure ventured. One TV critic told readers that he’d been unable to get NBC to show him the pilot: “No one at the network or the agency level would green-light a preview.”

“It’s a Man’s World” is an amazingly strange and interesting television show. On the set, Tewksbury was a fanatic: wiry, dishevelled, intense, and a little terrifying. “Peter Tewksbury is a mid-century modern artifact,” Michael Burns told me. He was a director of the old school. He refused to call the actors by their real names, even off set. “He always called me ‘Howie,’ even thirty years later when we lived in Vermont,” Burns said. When he needed tears, he drove actors to tears; when he needed fear, he raged at them. Tewksbury had a lot at stake in the experiment, and a sense of calling; his actors rallied behind him, passionately. “This is not a show,” Corbett said. “It’s a cause.”

Much of the dialogue was improvised. Plot is minimal. Here’s Nora, Tom-Tom’s girlfriend, a bohemian artist played by Ann Schuyler, twenty-five, entering a middle-class living room: “Beethoven on the bed, Beiderbecke in the bathroom, Brubeck on the bread box. Let me out!” (“Schuyler” was a stage name; the actress had once been Tewksbury’s children’s babysitter.) In one episode, Vern, lonely and restless, borrows Wes’s Jeep to drive to the city of Exeter to get a tattoo. He brings Howie along, leaving word of where they’ve gone. Neither of them realizes that “driving over to Exeter” is a euphemism for losing your virginity. (There are prostitutes in the city.) Wes and Tom-Tom and their girlfriends, in a panic, follow Vern and Howie to Exeter, hoping to rescue the boys from a too-early experience of “female companionship.” The story ends with Vern deciding to use the money he was going to spend on a tattoo to call his parents from a pay phone. Later, he bounds onto the houseboat, where the other three boys are asleep in their bunks like so many Lost Boys of Neverland. He wakes them up to tell them the news from home, a monologue that runs to eight uninterrupted pages in the script, with bits like this: “Grandma Hodges has been right sick. She was visiting over at Uncle Benny’s and she was climbing over this stile and she fell down and tore something loose in her side. They had to take her to the hospital in Raleigh but she didn’t want to go. She said she was afraid she’d die down there and she didn’t want to go with a bunch of strangers around her. So momma went down and stayed with her. And now she’s on the mend. My Uncle Luther and his wife Aunt Honey were staying with my folks this weekend. My Daddy kind of let on that he’d be glad when they left.” (The script was written by Earl Hamner, who went on to create “The Waltons,” recalling his John-Boy childhood.) “The Beverly Hillbillies” débuted the same month as “It’s a Man’s World”; where it had mockery, “It’s a Man’s World” had tenderness.

Early praise was lavish. The Washington Post’s TV column ran with the headline “new series aiming at salinger’s types.” Critics gushed: “A disarming lack of pretension.” “Bowled me over with its charm and its decency.” “A revolutionary program idea starring nobody . . . almost documentary in form . . . an unprecedented television experiment.”

The ratings, though, were terrible, and in November NBC announced that the show would be cancelled. Tewksbury was devastated. He’d left his wife and children for Schuyler, who was fifteen years younger than he was. Tewksbury read stories aloud every night. “He’d do all the voices,” one of his kids told me. One night, he was reading “Esmé” to Schuyler at the kitchen table. She later explained that Tewksbury put the book down on the table and said, “My God, this would make such an extraordinary film.” So he sent a package to Salinger, containing two 16-mm. reels, episodes of “It’s a Man’s World,” and a letter noting his debt—“This series would never have occurred had I not been so influenced by your work”—and inquiring about the film and television rights to “Esmé.” Salinger didn’t reply.

Meanwhile, Tewksbury was waging a campaign to save “It’s a Man’s World.” He called the network’s decision a slap in the face of Newton Minow. He put together a press release, amassing evidence of the show’s popularity with high-school and college students. He wrote to hundreds of newspaper editors, called critics, and took out classified ads. He insisted that the ratings were meaningless. Bessel and Boone drove across the country in Wes’s Jeep, stopping at college campuses and at rallies, where protesters carried signs that read, “No Cancellation Without Representation.” Bessel said, “Look, it’s everything everybody’s been yelling about, Minow and the rest. We’re the first film show that put improvisations on the air.” Tens of thousands of fans wrote letters of protest to NBC.

Some critics said good riddance. “Even the trailers for ‘Man’s World’ are confusing,” one wrote, and “the show itself ends up being what, for the want of a nastier word, we’ll call heart-warming.” But many threw their support behind Tewksbury. NBC’s chairman, Robert Sarnoff, was forced to defend the decision. He insisted that ratings were the only way for a network to make scheduling decisions, and that the alternative—government regulation of the entertainment industry—amounted to a violation of freedom of speech. Tewksbury fought on. Congress opened an investigation into the ratings system.

The last episode of “It’s a Man’s World” aired on January 28, 1963. One stormy night, Tewksbury and Schuyler flew to Manchester, New Hampshire, and rented a car. They drove to Windsor and stopped at the general store, where they got Salinger’s address (according to accounts given by Schuyler, in interviews recorded a few years before her death, in 2014). They knocked on the door. Salinger answered.

“I’m Peter Tewksbury, and I want to make a film of Esmé.”

“You’re the one who made ‘Man’s World’?”

Tewksbury said yes.

Salinger took Tewksbury and Schuyler into the kitchen. They talked about “It’s a Man’s World,” and then about “Esmé.”

“You could practically lift it off the pages just the way it’s written,” Tewksbury said. “So filmic.”

“What do you think about Esmé?” Salinger asked.

“She’s right on the edge between the innocent wise child and the woman,” Tewksbury said. “And the whole story rests on that moment. It is like an in-breath the moment before it’s an out-breath, or a minor chord that builds up to that peak moment before it becomes a major.”

Salinger agreed to allow Tewksbury to make the film on one condition: Salinger would cast Esmé. Tewksbury went home and began working on the script. He broke the story into scenes and made some changes to their sequence. He sent a draft to Salinger. Three days later, Salinger returned it, having undone every change to the original story. Tewksbury revised the first two scenes, making slight changes to the dialogue, and sent Salinger another draft. Back it came, with every alteration reverted.

In March, Congress convened hearings as part of its investigation into the ratings industry. Tewksbury was the first person to testify. He was questioned by a congressional staffer named Rex Sparger:

Mr. Sparger. Comparing the amount of promotion done by the network in relation to “My Three Sons,” what percentage of that promotion for “It’s a Man’s World”—how would you relate these two?

Mr. Tewksbury. Well, just as a guess, without being able to be that specific, really, on that question, I would say that maybe “It’s a Man’s World” got 5 or 10 percent of what we got on “My Three Sons.”

Mr. Sparger. What is the effect, in your opinion, from your experience of promotion of a show?

Mr. Tewksbury. Well, I think that is an excellent way to buy a good rating. In fact, I think it has been pretty true all throughout that if you want to get a good rating, you will hire yourself a bunch of publicity men, and, by golly, there is your rating for you.

Tewksbury charged that ratings could be bought; entertainers complained that Nielsen was destroying television (Johnny Carson testified: “You have to project your career on a set of numbers”); Congress was concerned that ratings were inaccurate. The hearings lasted for months. It later turned out that Sparger was writing an exposé called “How to Rig TV Ratings for Fun and Profit”; Nielsen sued, asking for $1.5 million in damages.

Tewksbury left Washington. He’d been hired to direct an M-G-M film, “Sunday in New York,” starring Jane Fonda. But he kept working on the “Esmé” script. After more back-and-forth, he acceded to Salinger’s demands. He told Schuyler, “We’ll just film this exactly as he wrote it, because if we don’t, we won’t be doing this film.”

Salinger admired Tewksbury, and not just for “It’s a Man’s World.” “Tewksbury is a young director on the way up, and all that,” Salinger wrote, “but he’s also quite a thoughtful guy, in a nice sense.” Salinger had another reason for working with Tewksbury, though. There was a girl.

She was the daughter of a New Yorker writer, Peter De Vries. Salinger and De Vries had been friends since the nineteen-forties and had grown close in the nineteen-fifties, when they both lived in Westport, Connecticut. Salinger rented a house down the road from De Vries’s, and spent a lot of time there while he was writing both “The Catcher in the Rye” and “For Esmé.” De Vries and his wife had four children, two boys and two girls. They adored Salinger. In 1959, one of the children, Emily, aged ten, was diagnosed with leukemia. Her parents took her to Sloan Kettering for treatment. De Vries wrote to Salinger, “We are now asked to consider a universe to which beautiful children and villainous single cells that destroy them are of equal significance—or indifference.” The treatments were brutal. De Vries wrote to James Thurber, “When Emily had no longer any spine left she supported herself on her sternum.”

In an autobiographical novel, “The Blood of the Lamb,” De Vries wrote of sitting in children’s wards with children as wasted as scarecrows, of watching mothers making wigs for their daughters out of dolls’ hair, of X-rays and methotrexate, and of his prayers: “I ask, my Lord, permission to despair.”

When Emily fell ill, De Vries’s other daughter, Jan, was the age of Esmé. She was something like Esmé: solemn and bookish. She got interested in acting. “How we revel in her enchantment with her newfound theatrical world,” De Vries wrote to Salinger. “She is lovely. Oh, how can everything be so utterly wonderful at the same time that it is so unutterably awful?” Emily died in 1960. Salinger began writing to Jan De Vries, and she began visiting him in New Hampshire. When he came to New York, they spent time together. He told her that she’d be perfect for the part of Esmé.

In July, 1962, The New Yorker published a story about Emily, written by De Vries’s wife, Katinka Loeser. It ends with a mother in a chair by her daughter’s empty hospital bed, her hands in her lap: “And she sat there and waited for the little girl to come back.” Jan De Vries wrote to Salinger. She was about to start college, at Boston University. She wanted to be an actress. He wrote back in September. He gave her advice. Salinger met with Tewksbury in January. Jan De Vries dropped out of college. “Production discussions with Peter Tewksbury,” Salinger wrote to her that spring: “A very nice guy, and most forbearing. A good understanding of things, or so I feel.” Some time later, after they’d settled on the script, he arranged for Tewksbury to meet her. By now, Jan De Vries was eighteen. Tewksbury called Salinger, and told him, “I really wish I didn’t have to say this but I do: she’s too old. So there will be no film.” In July, 1964, Salinger wrote Jan a rambling, three-page letter of explanation—a tangle of regret, apology, and misdirection. “A long talk on the phone with Peter Tewksbury,” he began. “What he mainly said to me was that at this point in your life you would have to act your way through the part of Esmé, and he felt certain in his own mind that there was something not really suitable about that. He really meant, I think, that you’ve grown up into a full-fledged ingénue.” She was distraught.

On June 19, 1965, The New Yorker published a very long Salinger story, “Hapworth 16, 1924,” which took the form of a letter from summer camp written by the young Seymour Glass. After that, Salinger refused to publish another word. He turned away reporters. He was an avid letter writer; sometimes he wrote to young women. Some of those letters found their way into archives; others remain in private hands; some have been sold. In 1986, Salinger sued Random House and blocked the publication of a biography by arguing that it violated the copyright he held in his unpublished letters. Jan De Vries died in 1997, at the age of fifty-two. She never had an acting career. Through Salinger, she’d become passionate about holistic medicine and New Age spiritualism. She was a psychic; she wrote a book about shamanism. She’d kept his letters. At her death, Salinger sent her family a letter of condolence but, instead of the original, he sent a photocopy, so that no one could sell it.

Salinger died in 2010. His unpublished stories, rumored to run to many volumes, are allegedly stored in a bunker where he did most of his writing. The script of “For Esmé—With Love and Squalor” could be there, too. Tewksbury wondered, not long before his own death, whether his two reels of “It’s a Man’s World” might be in that bunker.

After the Esmé project, Tewksbury made more television shows, and a few more films. Toward the end of the nineteen-sixties, he threw his Emmy out the window of a car and left Hollywood. He and Schuyler moved to a farm in Vermont, then to California, then to Canada, then back to Vermont. They had two children. They bought a cow. Schuyler became a Tai Chi master. She laid those stones and made that labyrinth, out in the woods. Tewksbury learned to make cheese by driving from dairy to dairy, talking to farmers. He got a job at the Brattleboro Food Co-op as a dishwasher. He worked his way up to the cheese counter. “I know the cheeses and I know the people,” he wrote, in his only book, “The Cheeses of Vermont.” In 2001, a reporter from the Times found him after calling every Tewksbury in the phone book. Tewksbury agreed to meet him at the co-op. He came out from behind the cheese counter with his hat on and sat down. He gave the reporter fifteen minutes, the length of his break. He did not mention J. D. Salinger.

I left the labyrinth and went back to the barn. I laid my spade on the floor. I hung up my axe. I wondered who owned that Karmann Ghia. I crammed a jackknife into my pocket and went back to the woods. I figured I might be able to pry open the glove compartment.

Tuesday 20 December 2016

Alfred Hitchcock's To Catch a Thief - In Search of the Villa Noel Fleuri

I stumbled across this 30 minute BBC radio programme about the background to Catch a Thief...

In Search of the Villa Noel Fleuri

The American thriller and travel-writer, David Dodge (1910-1974), is best known for his 1952 novel To Catch A Thief, which Hitchcock turned into an iconic film three years later. Unusually for Hitchcock, half the film was shot on location, and the Riviera is as much a star as Grace Kelly (in her final film - she met Prince Rainier during a publicity shoot and became Princess of Monaco) and Cary Grant (whom Hitchcock tempted out of retirement with this script).

Dodge's book was inspired by a real incident when he briefly became the number 1 suspect for a daring cat-burglary at his rich neighbour's villa. It is the story of John Robie, a reformed cat-burglar who must prove his innocence by catching the thief who is duplicating his methods. His pursuit leads him into the arms of beautiful American heiress Francie Stevens.

Jean Buchanan tells the story and attempts to locate the Villa Noel Fleuri, where these dramatic events ultimately resulted in one of Hollywood's best-loved films. In the course of her quest Jean visits Golfe Juan, the fishing port between Canne and Nice where the Dodges arrived in France; she's given a tour of the Carlton hotel in Cannes by the Chef-Concierge, Stephane Fanciulli, who shows her the very room where Grant and Kelly watched - and made - fireworks; she makes a notable discovery in the Nice-Matin newspaper archives and attempts to consolidate her finds on maps held in Vallauris.

She is assisted by Randal Brandt of the Bancroft Library at the University of California Berkeley and by Dirk Dominic, an expert in To Catch A Thief locations. While Paul Gambaccini lends his expertise in film.

Producer: Marya Burgess

You lucky people still have 26 days to listen to this here:

And because there's no excuse needed:

Monday 19 December 2016

Patti Smith on singing at Bob Dylan's Nobel Prize ceremony...

Image result for patti smith
How Does It Feel

Patti Smith
The New Yorker
14 December 2016

I was born in Chicago on December 30, 1946, within the vortex of a huge snowstorm. My father had to help the taxi-driver navigate Lake Shore Drive with the windows wide open, while my mother was in labor. I was a scrawny baby, and my father worked to keep me alive, holding me over a steamy washtub to help me breathe. I will think of them both when I step on the stage of the Riviera Theatre, in Chicago, on my seventieth birthday, with my band, and my son and daughter.

Despite the emotionally wrenching atmosphere that has engulfed us during the Presidential election, I have tried to spend December immersed in positive work, tending to the needs of my family, and preparations for the new year. But, before Chicago, I had yet to perform a last important duty for 2016. In September, I was approached to sing at the Nobel Prize ceremony, honoring the laureate for literature, who was then unknown. It would be a few days in Stockholm, in a beautiful hotel, overlooking the water—an honorable opportunity to shine, contemplate, and write. I chose one of my songs that I deemed appropriate to perform with the orchestra.

But when it was announced that Bob Dylan had won the prize and accepted, it seemed no longer fitting for me to sing my own song. I found myself in an unanticipated situation, and had conflicting emotions. In his absence, was I qualified for this task? Would this displease Bob Dylan, whom I would never desire to displease? But, having committed myself and weighing everything, I chose to sing “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall,” a song I have loved since I was a teen-ager, and a favorite of my late husband.

From that moment, every spare moment was spent practicing it, making certain that I knew and could convey every line. Having my own blue-eyed son, I sang the words to myself, over and over, in the original key, with pleasure and resolve. I had it in my mind to sing the song exactly as it was written and as well as I was capable of doing. I bought a new suit, I trimmed my hair, and felt that I was ready.

On the morning of the Nobel ceremony, I awoke with some anxiety. It was pouring rain and continued to rain heavily. As I dressed, I went over the song confidently. In the hotel lobby, there was a lovely Japanese woman in formal traditional dress—an embroidered cream-colored floor-length kimono and sandals. Her hair was perfectly coiffed. She told me that she was there to honor her boss, who was receiving the Nobel Prize in Medicine, but the weather was not in her favor. You look beautiful, I told her; no amount of wind and rain could alter that. By the time I reached the concert hall, it was snowing. I had a perfect rehearsal with the orchestra. I had my own dressing room with a piano, and I was brought tea and warm soup. I was aware that people were looking forward to the performance. Everything was before me.

I thought of my mother, who bought me my first Dylan album when I was barely sixteen. She found it in the bargain bin at the five-and-dime and bought it with her tip money. “He looked like someone you’d like,” she told me. I played the record over and over, my favorite being “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall.” It occurred to me then that, although I did not live in the time of Arthur Rimbaud, I existed in the time of Bob Dylan. I also thought of my husband and remembered performing the song together, picturing his hands forming the chords.

And then suddenly it was time. The orchestra was arranged on the balcony overlooking the stage, where the King, the royal family, and the laureates were seated. I sat next to the conductor. The evening’s proceedings went as planned. As I sat there, I imagined laureates of the past walking toward the King to accept their medals. Hermann Hesse, Thomas Mann, Albert Camus. Then Bob Dylan was announced as the Nobel Laureate in Literature, and I felt my heart pounding. After a moving speech dedicated to him was read, I heard my name spoken and I rose. As if in a fairy tale, I stood before the Swedish King and Queen and some of the great minds of the world, armed with a song in which every line encoded the experience and resilience of the poet who penned them.

The opening chords of the song were introduced, and I heard myself singing. The first verse was passable, a bit shaky, but I was certain I would settle. But instead I was struck with a plethora of emotions, avalanching with such intensity that I was unable to negotiate them. From the corner of my eye, I could see the the huge boom stand of the television camera, and all the dignitaries upon the stage and the people beyond. Unaccustomed to such an overwhelming case of nerves, I was unable to continue. I hadn’t forgotten the words that were now a part of me. I was simply unable to draw them out.

This strange phenomenon did not diminish or pass but stayed cruelly with me. I was obliged to stop and ask pardon and then attempt again while in this state and sang with all my being, yet still stumbling. It was not lost on me that the narrative of the song begins with the words “I stumbled alongside of twelve misty mountains,” and ends with the line “And I’ll know my song well before I start singing.” As I took my seat, I felt the humiliating sting of failure, but also the strange realization that I had somehow entered and truly lived the world of the lyrics.

Later, at the Nobel banquet, I sat across from the American Ambassador—a beautiful, articulate Iranian-American. She had the task of reading a letter from Dylan before the banquet’s conclusion. She read flawlessly, and I could not help thinking that he had two strong women in his corner. One who faltered and one who did not, yet both had nothing in mind but to serve his work well.

When I arose the next morning, it was snowing. In the breakfast room, I was greeted by many of the Nobel scientists. They showed appreciation for my very public struggle. They told me I did a good job. I wish I would have done better, I said. No, no, they replied, none of us wish that. For us, your performance seemed a metaphor for our own struggles. Words of kindness continued through the day, and in the end I had to come to terms with the truer nature of my duty. Why do we commit our work? Why do we perform? It is above all for the entertainment and transformation of the people. It is all for them. The song asked for nothing. The creator of the song asked for nothing. So why should I ask for anything?

When my husband, Fred, died, my father told me that time does not heal all wounds but gives us the tools to endure them. I have found this to be true in the greatest and smallest of matters. Looking to the future, I am certain that the hard rain will not cease falling, and that we will all need to be vigilant. The year is coming to an end; on December 30th, I will perform “Horses” with my band, and my son and daughter, in the city where I was born. And all the things I have seen and experienced and remember will be within me, and the remorse I had felt so heavily will joyfully meld with all other moments. Seventy years of moments, seventy years of being human.