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I am a recovering liberal arts major. I adore my liberal arts education that fed (and continues to feed) my inquiring and often fragmented literary brain through film and history and literature and as little science and math as possible. And lots and lots of theatre. I once heard my Harvard classmate Peter Sellars, a number of years after we graduated, say in a public talk about living a life in the theatre and reminiscing about how the museums and libraries of his youth in Pittsburgh encouraged him to be “an interdisciplinary child”. I’ve always loved that phrase. I continue to follow that interdisciplinary, connection-finding (hey some call it ADD but hey it works for me), overlapping-meaning-seeking, discipline-wandering way through theatre projects, writing projects, research projects, and just getting to know a series of home base cities over the past few years. I also come from a long line of fabulous women, some thwarted in their dreams and some who crafted treasures I am just beginning to try to understand. And sometimes all these worlds collide as they did on October 19, 2010 in the South Court Auditorium of the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building of the 42nd Street Branch of the New York Public Library.

Once I obtained my New York Public Library card (see here for my theatre-life postings on that subject http://wp.me/p1dUHf-Cn) I began receiving presents in my email inbox announcing screenings and lectures and new acquisitions. Just the kind of thing that gets my geeky heart all a-twitter. And some weeks ago I received advance notice of three days of free public lectures on the subject of Virginia Woolf that I noted in my calendar. 10/19: “Goddesses and Ghosts: Virginia Woolf and Jane Ellen Harrison in Conversation”;  10/20: “When is a Printed Book as Good as a Manuscript? The Proof Copy of A Room of One’s Own“; and 10/21: “On Traffic Lights and Full Stops: Editing Mrs. Dalloway”. As my appointments developed in ensuing weeks, the 10/19 lecture, the first of the three lectures, on Woolf and Harrison (a boundary spanning anthropologist and classicist herself) emerged as the one lecture I could attend.

Virginia Woolf projected. Jean Mills standing.

Ah, a delight. Jean Mills, Assistant Professor at John Jay College, CUNY has been writing on the work of these two women for some time, and graced the assembled crowd with charming context, imagery, substance, conversation.  Woolf wrote in the pacifist essay Three Guineas (1938):

“… listen not to the bark of the guns and to the bray of gramophones but to the voices of the poets, answering each other, assuring us of a unity that rubs out divisions as if they were chalkmarks only … the capacity of the human spirit to overflow boundaries and make unity out of multiplicity”.

Mills presents the well documented case that Woolf (1882-1941) and Jane Ellen Harrison (1850-1928) certainly knew each other and had an intellectual relationship.  Mills argues that Harrison was for Woolf an “intellectual mentor” and that certainly the writing of the two women, their texts, talk to one another.   I love this kind of thinking that combines biography with thick and careful reading of texts and the ideas contained within them.

Harrison, as I learn in this talk that focused not on mythology but on political positions about pacifism, is a classical scholar who reinterprets Greek mythology through a feminist lens at the beginning of the 20th Century.  She eschews merely translating texts from the original Greek and Latin and instead illuminates archeological and anthropological facts and findings.   She interprets cultures and icons and goddesses.  She finds new meaning.

And as I listen to Mills discuss the legacy of this early 20th century thinker this lovely New York City afternoon, I recall, all too slowly, my own relative and her work in myth and anthropology and I wonder if there are any connections.  Cornelia Steketee Hulst, an archaeologist and the sister of my great grandfather Jacob Steketee, a woman who died a few years before I was born, published the book Perseus and the Gorgon in 1946.  I grew up hearing my mother speak with some pride of “Aunt Cornelia” who mother knew when she was a new bride, and who mom respected for living a life of the mind and having graduate degrees.  I think Mom wanted me to know all about her and the possibilities of this kind of life.  Mom had plans to name her final child Cornelia if it had been a girl (it was a boy she named Joe, who now has a delightful daughter of his own).  I will summarize Cornelia’s work in this book from Olympia Dukakis‘ 2003 memoir Ask Me Again Tomorrow.  In this book, Dukakis writes of the role this slim tome plays in her research for a role that becomes for her a continuing personal spiritual inquiry:

“From a box in the back of the store, I pulled out a small book called Perseus and the Gorgon, by Cornelia Steketee Hulst, an archaeologist who wrote about a 1911 dig on the island of Corfu.  The book was dedicated to Gorgo, a goddess figure from Greek mythology — she with the hair of writing snakes — so terrifying that anyone who gazed at her would turn to stone.  According to Hulst, the Gorgon of Corfu had once been the goddess Ashirat (which means happiness, energy, and joy).  When the island was overrun by Perseus (whose name means “to lay waste”), he cut off her head and sacked her temple.  He also decided that her name should be stricken from all written records and that henceforth she should only be known as Gorgon, the snake goddess.  In describing what Perseus had done, Hulst wrote that he had ‘buried in oblivion and covered with silence the teachings of the Great Mother.”

I flipped to the sources in Great Grand Aunt Cornelia’s book when I returned home from the Woolf-Harrison lecture and there in the alphabetized bibliography is the cryptic listing J. E. Harrison, Ancient Art and Religion; Themis.

My world’s collide and new moons and stars are formed, and perhaps goddesses spin off to find their own orbits.

© Martha Wade Steketee (October 20, 2010)

Washington, DC is a place of monuments and spectacle.  Theatre in politics and theatre on performing stages.  Washington also is a city I called home for eight years and a part of me will always be a bit in love with it — as an American city, as an assemblage of awe-inspiring architecture, as a city chock-full of world-class museums and surprise exhibits.

On a visit earlier this week, I stayed on 7th Street near theatres (including Shakespeare and Woolly Mammoth) and museums (including National Gallery of Art, the Building Museum, and two Smithsonian venues — the National Portrait Gallery, and the American Art Museum) and views of the Capital and the Washington Monument.  At the Building Museum I chanced upon an exhibit about America’s SIX world fairs during the Depression 1930s (from Chicago to New York and four other locations in between).  Another surprise was suggested to me by a new pal by email during my visit.  Be sure to visit the Rockwell show while you’re there, he said.  He had traveled to DC from New York City a few months ago especially for this exhibit.  I was in the midst of moving from Philadelphia to New York City during the middle part of this calendar year when this exhibit opened and hadn’t heard about it, but during that time period I was at the time lucky if I could attend to what was directly in front of my face.  Now that I was alerted to it’s existence, his exhibit by subject matter was one crafted for me, I thought.  And boy oh boy, did I have that right.

“Telling Stories: Norman Rockwell from the Collections of George Lucas and Steven Spielberg”
1st floor West, American Art Museum, Washington DC
July 2, 2010 — January 2, 2011
http://americanart.si.edu/exhibitions/archive/2010/rockwell/

Steven Spielberg and George Lucas have donated extensive portions of their private collections for a unique exhibit honoring perhaps the most iconic presentational American artists of the early and middle 20th century: Norman Rockwell.  Many millions know Rockwell’s work from decades of crafting magazine cover images for The Saturday Evening Post and other publications.  What Spielberg and Lucas as young men resonated to in the work of this older man is  outlined in a short film created for the exhibition called “George Lucas and Steven Spielberg: Reflections on Rockwell.”  The film runs in a loop in the corner of the display and features the two filmmakers discussing Rockwell and their drive to collect his prints, drawings, and paintings.  To these two collectors, Rockwell’s pieces were cast, scripted, staged to move us through the stories they tell or simply suggest. The artist’s works are intensely cinematic, they tell us.  We don’t always know for sure what has happened in each scenario portrayed in Rockwell’s still pictures, but we can impose a story, just as we always do when we view human tableaux in train stations or in parks or at neighboring tables in restaurants.  These are human stories in snapshots.

  • Rockwell: “A cover should be more than a one-line joke.”
  • Rockwell: “I tell the story through characters.”
  • Rockwell: “Story illustrations shouldn’t give away the plot.”
  • Lucas: Rockwell gives us “little bits of culture, captured like snapshots.”
  • Lucas: “A picture just has to touch the emotional side of a human being.”
  • Lucas on Rockwell constellations: “He cast the painting.”
  • Spielberg on the world Rockwell envisioned: “probably the way we hoped it had been.”

 

"Little Girl Looking Downstairs at Christmas Party", McCall's December 1964, oil on board, 10 x 101/2 inches, collection of George Lucas

 

It’s a stunning assemblage.  To remember a childhood, to remember a time that was or a time that never was, to enjoy an exhibit with seniors in their 70s and 80s and kids under 10 who all enjoy the imagery and understand the stories in the paintings — this is one for your short list.  My favorite image is a color oil sketch loaned by George Lucas entitled “Little Girl Looking Downstairs at Christmas Party” (for McCall’s December 1964).  This image evokes my own suburban upbringing, hearing the adults downstairs, wanting to be grown up so I could be part of the laughter and story telling and know what they were talking about, yet happy enough lurking upstairs in my pajamas, observing.  The budding brain of a dramaturg and observer.  For some, it speaks to their inner filmmaker.  Explore what the image and sister images in the gallery rooms evoke for you.

For more information on locations mentioned in this post:

© Martha Wade Steketee (October 13, 2010)

During the eight years I lived in Washington, DC, I grew to think of many of that city’s museums and galleries as second homes, including those that actually expect admission fees.  I would join some of the admission-charging private museums in alternate years — the Corcoran Gallery, for example, or the Phillips Collection — and blend them in with the no-fee-charging institutions.  I thrilled in the availability of world-class art and cultural artifacts on a whim for moments between meetings in government offices, or for a few hours of serious escape.  Ah, the many locales associated with the Smithsonian Institution and ah, the National Gallery of Art.  And while corners of favor and particular interests abound (a Katharine Hepburn portrait at the National Portrait Gallery or the Matisse room at the National Gallery’s East Wing for example), I grew to love in particular, with a free wheeling abandon, the eclectic and now remodeled National Museum of American History.  [http://americanhistory.si.edu/]  Frequent repeat visits to favorite objects over the eight years I lived in this fine American city.

The "Wizard of Oz" ruby slippers (one of several several existing pairs) on display in "America's Attic". image credit: smithsonian institution.

The museum that some have described as “America’s attic” captures a vast array of objects.  From the web site cited we find this text:

The Museum collects and preserves more than 3 million artifacts—all true national treasures. We take care of everything from the original Star-Spangled Banner and Abraham Lincoln’s top hat to Dizzy Gillespie’s angled trumpet and Dorothy’s ruby slippers from “The Wizard of Oz.” Our collections form a fascinating mosaic of American life and comprise the greatest single collection of American history.

When this particular museum was reopened in 2008 after a several year shut down for its most recent refurbishing, the New York Times’ coverage reminded us of the organization’s nickname — “America’s Attic”.   http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/21/arts/design/21hist.html

Archive portraits of the Shubert brothers. Left to right: Lee, Sam, and J.J. image credit: martha wade steketee

I spent time this week in the 2nd floor offices of the Shubert Archive in the Lyceum Theatre at 149 W 45th Street.  Archive Director Maryann Chach similarly describes her resources as “the attic or the garage for the organization”, a repository of both first and last resort, a place of repose for the essential detritus and effluvia of the business and artistic visions of her “country”, the culture she works for, the work and productions and buildings related to the theatre-producing Shubert brothers’ legacy.  [For even more about the Shubert legacy refer to the lusciously illustrated The Shuberts Present: 100 Years of American Theater published in 2001 by Harry N. Abrams.]

And unless anyone might conclude that I have wandered too far from my Judy Garland loving roots, note that one of the four full-time staff members did his dissertation on the performance history of Baum’s Oz (the original story).  And quite sweetly, the original American Judy Garland Club president, Albert Poland, is represented in the Archive’s resources with papers from his general theatrical management career.  From the Archive’s web site http://www.shubertarchive.org/ this general description:

“The Archive is the repository of significant collections of papers from contemporary general managers, including Albert Poland, Marvin Krauss, and Gatchell and Neufeld.”

That last bit was a surprise to me.  Garland touched many during her life time and legions more now years after her passing.  It never fails to stun me.  Presents when I least expect them.

Shubert Archive images on a table. image credit: martha wade steketee

© Martha Wade Steketee (September 24, 2010)

Blending attributes of making and observing and respecting the art.  This exercise in amalgamation is part of the journey I have been on over the past few years.  Along the way I have found George Jean Nathan and Kenneth Tynan. Each provides to me invaluable lessons in reacting to the wonders of the stage.

From Nathan I absorb a deeply American respect for voice and clarity of analysis and taking your work seriously.  From his Art of the Night, published in 1928, some words of wisdom (from a longer laundry list shared in a blog post earlier this year), in the form of “Advice to a Young Critic”, in the first chapter of this volume.

“The greatest weakness of the average critic is his wish to be more than a critic.”

“If you have violent prejudices, do not be afraid of them.”

“Take your work seriously, but not yourself.”

“Since you are an American, write like an American.”

“The chief fault with many critics is that they strive to divert to themselves the attention, if any, that their criticism should attract to itself.”

“A sound piece of criticism has never yet been spoiled by an injection of humor ….”

From Kenneth Tynan, I learn about erudite opinion making while having one’s own quirky favorites.  In particular, I embraced Tynan when I came across his remarks printed in the The New Yorker (23 May 1959),  pages 79 and 80, about Judy Garland’s May 1959 appearance at the old Metropolitan Opera House.

“Backed by a well-drilled revue company, Judy Garland sang in New York last week.  The engagement, which is now over, was limited; the pleasure it gave was not.”

Succinct.  Carefully crafted.  Didactically but intriguingly constructed.  Draws you in.

“Where else, as they say, but in America would you find Miss Garland at the Metropolitan Opera House while the Bolshoi Ballet was appearing at Madison Square Garden?”

Humor.  The almost snide (but we love him anyway) reflection of a Brit at this time just visiting New York for a short engagement himself.  Reflecting and opining freely from a certain remove.  And he can be snarky and we don’t care …

“She had some pretty decor to enshrine her, and a couple of stout supporting performers to keep us amused whenever costume changes forced her offstage…. But the magnet was Judy, the buxom minstrel girl, singing — in a variety of costumes, some becoming, some dreadfully not — her repertory of songs about smiling, rejoicing, and suffering.  Birds, naturally, flew over the rainbow, the trolley went clang-clang-clang, and the boy next door was just adored.  We also heard Harold Arlen’s lament for ‘The Man That got Away;” “We’re a Couple of Swells,” in which Miss Garland’s hobo makeup lent her a beguiling resemblance to Dylan Thomas; and a cluster of those phony, unforgettable numbers — such as ‘Swanee” and “Rock-a-Bye Your Baby with a Dixie Melody” — that white composers used to write about the black South.”

Don’t you love it when people from countries other than America express opinions about the cultural history and race relations here?  But you read on.

“Miss Garland is a squat woman now … “

Well, in 1959, there were some extra pounds yet truth be told, Garland’s 4 foot 11 inch frame did not allow for much extra.. but really, Ken, “squat”?  Well, onward we go …

“… and it takes some effort of puckering and wrinkling for her face to achieve the hopeful, trusting smile that first transfixed us.  but she can still do it, because she incarnates a dream. She embodies the persistence of youth so completely that we forbid her to develop, and permit her no maturity. Even in young middle age … “

[Note that Garland is just shy of 37 at the time of this May 1959 engagement.]

“… she must continue to sing about adolescence and all the pain and nostalgia that go with it.  When the voice pours out as rich and pleading as ever, we know where, and how moved, we are — in the presence of a star, and embarrassed by tears.”

Well now.  This is a man in command of his vocabulary and attuned to his critical faculties yet completely willing to give full sway to his fanaticism, his emotions.  This is a writer willing to share his passions without censoring them,  and allows us, if we’re willing, to go along the journey with him.  To feel the live experience.

I learn from this, as a writer, as a researcher, as an observer, as a critic.  Feel it, tell it, share it, express it fully.  And bring your reader, your audience, with you into the room.

© Martha Wade Steketee (September 19, 2010)

[This is a repository of items accumulated over a several year period.  With a bit of edge to my collection — I claim no dispassion.  Husband says: “you have to forgive him” and I still ask: “Why?”  A September 10, 2010 review of a Portland, Oregon concert resuscitates my aggravation.  No apologies, no explanations, just context.]

So in 2006, Rufus Wainwright announces he is going to do, as a tribute, the entire Judy Garland at Carnegie Hall concert.  As performed on April 23, 1961.  An assembly of songs performed and perfected, (arrangements, set list, song order, musicians assembled) through several countries and multiple cities prior to this event, and which Garland tours for the balance of 1961.  A set list that represents a career and a life.  And Judy at Carnegie Hall captures this artistry, arguably at the pinacle of Garland’s career and arguably one of the greatest evenings in the history of show business. A recording that has never gone out of print.

Wainwright decides to embrace this work in 2006.  And I hold my breath.  And he performs the concert in June 2006 several times at Carnegie Hall and repeatedly in multiple venues in the U.S. and around the world in 2006 and 2007.  CD and DVD versions of these concerts are released.  Rufus does his own press.  I keep track.

  • from Variety, Posted: Sun., May 28, 2006, 6:00am PT.  “Rufus over the rainbow” By Gordon Cox.

“It was the apotheosis of many colliding stars,” Wainwright speculates of the reasons behind the 1961 concert’s rep. “It was the beginning of the ’60s, so it was the final heave of that old-fashioned musical sound. And it was a moment when Judy’s decrepitude added an edge to her performance; it hadn’t quite taken over.”

”The songbook and the way these songs are built is so amazing that you could get out there and do it with a kazoo,” he said.

  • from National Public Radio, June 10, 2006.  Weekend Edition Saturday with Scott Simon [selections from interview transcript]

SIMON: Why have you chosen to do this?

Mr. WAINWRIGHT: Well, you know, I didn’t really know the original album too well, itself. I mean, I knew – I certainly heard tracks from it. But when they re-released the record on a double CD set, I bought that. Whenever I put on that record, that Judy Garland record, that concert, everything brightened. And I just couldn’t help but sing along, and so it was like a vision or a calling. That was the initial thing, but then there is a lot of other reasons as well.

***

SIMON: …one right after another, what did you learn about the artistry with which that whole playlist had been selected? And what did you learn about what it took Judy Garland to sing those songs one after another?

Mr. WAINWRIGHT: Anyone should be able to sing those songs. I mean, they’re just such amazing songs. The lyrics are impeccable and the arrangements. And really, if you have half a voice and those orchestrations, you can just kind of glide along. Really.

  • my own response to Stephen Holden about his Variety review of the June 2006 Rufus Concerts at Carnegie Hall:

I have read with interest your reviews .. actually one review that appears to have been augmented today … of the 6/14 and 6/15 Rufus concerts at Carnegie Hall.  They seem to report on the facts … and comment a bit on the response of the folks in the hall .. but not enough on the performance itself. Yes, I’m one of the legion Judy fans who have been a bit flummoxed at his decision to do this .. and also a bit confused by reviews of the performance itself. So … .with “shaky intonation” and “incomplete memorization” of lyrics (hey, isn’t that a basic job when you take on the oeuvre?) … still the reviews including yours seem to focus on the audacity of this “openly gay” performer who has dared to take on this iconic performance, and call him a hero for taking this on?  Even though he admits he knew little about Judy until a few years ago other than Judy as Dorothy … and that he has demonstrated in press leading up to the performances a breathtaking lack of respect for the performer whose shoes he attempts to inhabit?? A hero?

An audacious choice on his part, to be sure. but what do you think of this choice?  The original concert for some of us is seen not just as a tremendous evening of music but also the culmination of a person’s, a particular spectacular performer’s, career.  Mr. Wainwright seems to have approached the piece as a piece of performance art .. of opera. Commenting on it without having the voice for it …  and even having a true appreciation for the songs themselves.

He is an opera fan … and seems to have approached this as opera and performance art .. without having learned the material thoroughly.  What then is accomplished at the end of it?

“Q The Judy Garland tributes were a big hit. One question: Did Judy Garland ever play Boston?

A (Laughs) I’m sure she did. She was pretty road-bound at many points in her life and had to do shows in order to get her prescriptions.”

American singer/songwriter RUFUS WAINWRIGHT feared for his sanity towards the end of his JUDY GARLAND tribute tour – because he was sick of hearing the diva’s hits.

Wainwright – who famously packed out New York’s Carnegie Hall in 2006 with a performance of the iconic star’s best-loved songs – went on to perform the show, in full Garland costume, at a string of venues around the world, as well as releasing a CD and DVD of the concerts.

Now he admits he’s relieved to have returned to performing his own material.

He says, “It did become almost like a Terry Gilliam movie, like Brazil. “I’d be placed in this torture chamber where I’d have to sing Judy Garland songs for 20 years non-stop, it was getting surreal.”

And I read tonight. September 10, 2010,  a review of a Portland Oregon performance by Wainwright, that suggests that while rambling through other dimensions of his musical interests (pop, opera, standards), he can’t quite stay away from the Garland repertoire. http://www.urbanhonking.com/pica/2010/09/rufus_says_he_loves_portland_a.html.

The program ended with a sweetly somber song written by Anna McCarrigle, originally intended her sister, entitled “Kitty, Come Home.” Tears streamed down her nephew’s face as sang — his mother died less than nine months ago. But of course following deafening applause and a standing ovation, Rufus returned to the stage with Storm to belt out a tasty mash-up of “Get Happy” and “Happy Days are Here Again.”

It appears from these words that the reviewer does not  know that Wainwright was performing a well-known duet created for Garland and Barbra Streisand in 1963 for Garland’s CBS television show.  But this is not the reviewer’s fault.  Clearly Wainwright didn’t appropriately credit the duet, the creation, the provenance of this adventure.  Methinks Wainwright is conflicted about the boffo success of these arrangement that he asserts can sing themselves (hand out the kazoos!) and is confused by different responses these arrangements receive from the fans who respond to Garland’s humanity, and whatever his performances yield.  He wants to embody, yet he can’t possibly understand.  It seems a use of her legacy rather than a tribute to her artistry.  In his hands, couched by his words and actions, it always will appear that way to me.

© Martha Wade Steketee (September 11, 2010)

In a play I experienced as a reading this summer during the PlayPenn new play conference in Philadelphia, Clementine in the Lower Nine by Dan Dietz, a New Orleans jazz musician muses at one point about playing in groups and pick up bands for memorials.  This character reflects on selecting the music for a memorial, in what was a laugh line but one that struck me straight in the heart:

“Don’t let nobody pick the music but you.”

Well dang, I thought.  Speaking my language, this playwright and this musician.

For years now I have used a phrase with my fellow music lover, my comrade in arms, my life partner, my husband.  “Honey, that goes on The List.”  He will give me a smile in recognition, often wry, almost always with the undertone of: I really don’t want to talk about this, you know?  But he knows why I mention this from time to time, and out loud. We each have lost parents and beloved friends and family and have experienced varying degrees of disappointment with the services that have commemorated music-loving people we have loved. For some of these individuals, because the personal set list outlining their specific musical tastes and desires was not made explicit and available, music at funerals or memorials or other tributes was non existent or just not right.  Armed with these past experiences and my emotional connection to the music in my own life, I resolved to ensure that this does not happen in my case.

The music that will commemorate our lives must reflect our lives and not what a chance assortment of event planners (family, friends, people for-hire) might do at the end of our days.

My personal set list shifts and shimmies from year to year.  New entries appear, supplanting items of old.  I keep lists in journals from time to time, asserting (with no certainty) that this is, as of that particular day, “the list”.  I often say “this is on the list” when a particular performance comes on the radio or on a soundtrack or in a theatre or on our home audio systems.  Here are a few items on the current assemblage:

  • “Sing Sing Sing”.  Benny Goodman at Carnegie Hall.
  • “Stormy Weather”.  Judy Garland at Carnegie Hall.  April 23, 1961.
  • “Do It Again”.  Judy Garland at Carnegie Hall. April 23, 1961.
  • “More Than You Know”.  how many versions may I choose?  Ella Fitzgerald.  Barbra Streisand.  Judy Garland (Judy in Love, 1958).
  • “Just in Time”.  The Judy Garland Show (CBS 1963-64, episode 9); Blossom Dearie from her tribute to Comden and Green; Shirley Horn (I Love You Paris, 1994).
  • “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly?”.  Shirley Horn (I Love You Paris, 1994)
  • “When I Fall In Love”.  Miles Davis Quintet. Prestige Sessions
  • “My Funny Valentine”.  Miles Davis Quintet, Prestige Sessions.
  • “I Can’t Get Started”.  Bunny Berrigan (the original I listened to) or Artie Shaw (the version I favor these days)
  • “Why Can’t I?”. The Judy Garland Show (CBS 1963-64, episode 25)
  • “Poor Butterfly”. The Judy Garland Show (CBS 1963-64, episode 25)
  • “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?”.  Barbra Streisand.  The Barbra Streisand Album, 1963)
  • “Take Five”, “Blue Rondo a la Turk”.  The Dave Brubeck Quartet, Time Out.

And it’s not just a morbid preoccupation.  This review of the current favorites and ongoing emotional representations of my ongoing emotional past and present, is a kind of gut check.  A heart check.

More than you know.

© Martha Wade Steketee (September 7, 2010)

So I’m listening to and watching the 1959 film Anatomy of a Murder once again, yet again, this evening.  I often need to watch this marathon of a quiet, well-told tale of murder in Northern Michigan in several pieces.  One piece might include the scenes around James Stewart‘s Paul Biegler first meeting his new client (Ben Gazzara as Lieutenant Manion in his jail cell).  Another piece might focus on Paul’s first meeting alone (with Maida providing supervision and the occasional commentary) in his home/law offices with his client’s wife Laura, played by Lee Remick in all her tight slacks, little dog lapping beer, knowing innocence-ness.  Or I’ll focus on sequences in the courtroom, presided over by the great Joseph Welch as Judge Weaver.  Welch, a friend of John Voelker who wrote under his pen name Robert Traver the novel upon which this movie is based, was an attorney rather than an actor that the world grew to know in the Army-McCarthy hearings in 1954 (“Have you no decency sir?  At long last?”).  And always a highlight, a reward, for me is this  scene that comes close to the end of this three-hour marathon.  Maida (Eve Arden), Biegler’s s secretary, quietly reflects on why she’s counting on them to win the case — replacing a persnickety typewriter.  And Parnell (Arthur O’Connell) chimes in with his musings on the power of the jury system.

Maida bemused.

Anatomy of a Murder
Screenplay by Wendell Mayes
From the novel by Robert Traver
Final: February 25, 1959
p. 198

[Maida, Paul Biegler, and Parnell await the judgment of the jury and ponder philosophy and practicalities.]

MAIDA
Tell me we’re going to win. I’m counting on getting that promissory note from the Lieutenant. I hope we can borrow some money on it.  I need a new typewriter. Half the time the ‘p’ and the ‘f’ won’t strike on mine.  ‘Party of the first part’ sometimes comes out ‘arty o’ the irst art.’  It doesn’t make sense. It’s embarrassing.

PAUL
Arty o’ the ‘irst art. I like that. It has a ring to it.

<A moment passes.>

PARNELL
(puts his hat over his eyes)
Twelve people go off into a room. Twelve different hearts, twelve different minds, from twelve  different walks of life — twelve sets of eyes and ears, shapes and sizes — And these twelve people have to judge another human being  as different from them as they are from each other — and in their  judgment they just become of one mind — unanimous. It’s one of the miracles of man’s disorganized soul that they can do it — and most of the time do it right well. God bless juries.

© Martha Wade Steketee (August 27, 2010)

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