February, 2015

If I Don’t Like It, It Ain’t So

February 28th, 2015 12 Comments

Alan Colmes


A few months back, I received one of those silly emails that make the rounds of the internet. It was one of those snappy sayings done up to look vaguely like a bumper sticker, that said (approximately):

“Conservatives look at the facts and reach conclusions. Liberals look for facts to support their conclusions.”

Something like that. Since I deleted it as soon as I looked at it, I might have the wording slightly wrong, but it’s close enough; the kind of universal statement to which you don’t really pay much attention. However, given the second amendment debate I watched the other day on FOX News, I should have saved that email.

The debate was between Alan Colmes and a conservative radio show host with whom I’m not familiar, but the conservative pointed out that for the past thirty years, gun ownership has skyrocketed, while violent crime, including violent crime involving the use of a firearm, has decreased to levels unseen since the early 1960s.

Just to be very clear about what that conservative claimed, there are three governmental agencies (that I know of) that track such things: the Bureau of Justice; the Center for Disease Control; and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The FBI is and always has been fairly neutral when it comes to second amendment issues, but neither the Bureau of Justice nor the Center for Disease Control have a very good record of neutrality. The CDC has in the past labeled “gun violence” as an epidemic that can be compared to things like ebola or the influenza virus when it comes to how “gun violence” should be controlled. The BOJ is the statistic-gathering branch of the Department of Justice, which has a notoriously anti-gun bias. Each of those entities uses different methodologies for collecting data, so the figures vary somewhat with each agency, but all three show the same thirty year trend, which is a greatly increased degree of gun ownership (including concealed carry permits) and a greatly decreased degree of violent crime/violent crime with a firearm.

Alan Colmes’s response to these statistics? “Well, I don’t believe that.”

Wow. How do you debate someone who refuses to believe the sun rises in the east, or that the earth is round? Or is this a case of Alan Colmes being so mistrustful of every single branch of the United States Government that he won’t accept the government’s own research? He seems to believe all the other statistics the government sees fit to put out for public consumption.

I should have saved that silly email.

At the Movies: High Society

February 23rd, 2015 15 Comments

Grace Kelly closeup


It’s never a good idea to stick your foot through a Rembrandt.

Each age, each generation, tries to reinterpret certain classic plays. Part of the joy of living in a metropolitan area is going to see how different actors and directors approach certain plays, using them to reflect their individual times and circumstances. Take Hamlet. Between stage and film I’ve seen at least half a dozen different productions of Hamlet, probably more, some of the filmed versions multiple times, and I regret that I never had an opportunity to view others that have been done over the years, notably David Warner’s, which got sensational reviews half a century ago. Even lesser, more contemporary plays by lesser, more contemporary playwrights are fun to go see for the second or third or fourth time, if the original script was good enough to merit reinterpretation and the director and actors are good enough to handle the material. Noel Coward would be a good example: Between Broadway, repertory, and summer stock, I’ve probably seen half a dozen productions of Private Lives, for example, and with a competent company, I’d happily go see another half dozen. Laughter is good for one’s health and for one’s immortal soul.

So why is the same not true of movies? When a movie is a classic, the worst thing anyone can do is try to top it. Who would be fool enough to imagine he could do a remake of Gone with the Wind?

(I probably shouldn’t have dared to ask that question; some arrogant jackass in a multi-million-dollar studio office might pick up on my cosmic consciousness and try to make a cable television version, or adapt it somehow to a reality show. “Ah, don’t worry about the Civil War. Nobody remembers that stuff. We’ll set it in Syria, make it the Kurds against ISIS. It’ll be great. Of course, we’ll have to show a little more flesh with the girls, but we’ll make it work. We’ll give it a lot of special effects and more heart. We’ll film it IMAX 3D.”)

There are some exceptions. Occasionally, not often, the remake is better than the original. I happen to think the Cary Grant-Deborah Kerr version of An Affair to Remember is better than the original version, Love Affair, with Charles Boyer and Irene Dunne, even though both had the exact same script and both were written and directed by Leo McCarey. The 2000 TV version of The Man Who Came to Dinner, with Nathan Lane, Jean Smart, and Harriet Sansom Harris is, believe it or not, even better than the 1942 film with Monty Woolley, Ann Sheridan, and Bette Davis. To be fair, that’s not a completely fair comparison: the 1942 version of Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman’s brilliant and wacky masterpiece was a real, filmed work, while the TV version was a film of a live performance, but—and here I’m teetering on the brink of apostasy—the performances in 2000 were better, and I’m including, even specifying, Harris over Davis.

But for the most part, it is not a good idea to stick your foot through a Rembrandt.

High Society is a musical version of The Philadelphia Story, which was a film adaptation of the Philip Barry play of the same name. On the face of it, this was probably a hell of an idea at the time. Think about it. You take a great original script and have it gracefully adapted by Pulitzer and Tony Award winner John Patrick; you get Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, Grace Kelly, Louie Armstrong and his band; you have music and lyrics by Cole Porter; you have it directed by the great director and choreographer Charles Walters… Good Lord! It’s a no-brainer, an instant hit before you even start filming. How could it not be?

Well, maybe not.

It’s not bad; it really isn’t. It just can’t compare with the original, and that’s the primary problem with it: even at its best moments, it is overshadowed by the original.

Grace Kelly was the most exquisite thing ever to grace the screen, but as an actress, she can’t compare to Katherine Hepburn.

Frank Sinatra was a hell of a good actor, and had one of the greatest voices of all time, but he’s no Jimmy Stewart.

Bing Crosby was a great, suave, all-round entertainer, with a voice second only to Sinatra’s, and with charm and grace galore, but who in his right mind could ever hope to top Cary Grant when it comes to suavity and charm and grace?

Louis Armstrong. The best there ever was, the man about whose music Wynton Marsalis once said, “When life gets you down, Louie is always there to tell you everything is going to be okay,” about whom Bing Crosby said, “American music begins and ends with Louie Armstrong.” Louie Armstrong. When I die, I want his Strutting with Some Barbeque played at my funeral. But he’s wasted in this movie. He only appears three times, only one of those is less than superficial, even—by today’s standards, if not those of the pre-civil rights 1956 era—demeaning, and even that once he plays second fiddle to Bing Crosby.

(To give credit where credit is due, his presence in the movie, and his prominent billing were the result of Crosby’s insistence, just as a few years later Frank Sinatra would refuse to honor his contract with a Las Vegas hotel until Sammy Davis, Jr. was allowed to stay in the same hotel; a typical attitude of the time, when blacks were good enough to entertain, but not to share space with whites.)

By making it a musical, and allowing time for the songs, the original script had to be cut, and certain sequences were consequently lost. Remember Virginia Weidler as Dinah Lord singing “Lydia the Tattooed Lady?”

“She has eyes that folks adore so

And a torso even more so.”

That’s cut down to nothing to allow for songs that are, with the memorable exception of True Love and to a lesser extent, You’re Sensational, not at all memorable. Yes, the performances of those songs are spectacular, but other than True Love¸ can you whistle any other tune from that movie?

My bride, the never shy or diffident Darleen, called the first half flat, and I agree. It picks up in the second half, when Grace Kelly as a very drunk and subsequently very hung-over Tracy Lord seems less artificial than she does sober, and everyone seems to pick up the pace generally, but it never takes off as a vibrant and coherent whole in the way that The Philadelphia Story does from the get-go.

Is it bad? Is it a waste of time? No, but you’re far more likely to enjoy it if you’ve never seen the original.

Obamacare, Revisited

February 16th, 2015 20 Comments

Norman Rockwell Dr. painting


I do not love thee, Doctor Fell;

The reason why, I cannot tell,

But this I know and know full well,

I do not love thee, Doctor Fell.

Attributed to Tom Brown (satirical poet, 1662-1704)


I take pride in my willingness to admit when I have made a mistake.

(This is actually nothing more than cold comfort: when you make as many mistakes as I do, you better learn to derive satisfaction from admitting it. It’s like becoming a connoisseur of calf leather because your foot is in your mouth on such a regular basis.)

I have made no secret of the fact that I consider Barack Obama to be, hands down, the worst president we have ever had, a unique and singular (at least I sincerely hope he will be singular) combination of arrogance, ignorance, and incompetence. I extended that to his signature legislation, Obamacare, which I considered—and still consider—nothing more than a means of getting the wealthy to pay for the medical expenses of the poor while the government takes the credit, a thinly disguised means of transferring wealth from the productive and hardworking segment of society to those who are not productive, whether for lack of hard work or simply because they are misfortunate through no fault of their own.

Recent events, however, have caused me to re-think my attitude. Not about the real purpose of Obamacare, but about the validity of that purpose. After all, maybe taking money from the rich and giving it to the poor isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It just depends on which rich you’re taking from.

Twenty-five years ago, Darleen was kicked in the chest by a horse. It stopped her heart, and she was clinically dead for about three minutes. She spent a week in intensive care in the cardiac ward of a local hospital, and when they released her we were told she might have trouble down the road.

About ten years ago she began going to a famous cardiologist in Los Angeles. Annually, she has spent much time and we have spent much money for batteries of tests and little concrete information. This year, after unanswered questions during her annual meeting, unanswered questions to a follow-up letter, unanswered questions to a follow-up FAX, and more silence to the follow-up to the FAX that was the follow-up to the letter that was the follow-up to the office visit, I made another appointment for her and we drove down together.

We came home no wiser than we were when we left, and with the bitter taste in our mouths that comes from being made to feel a fool; specifically fools wasting the valuable time of our betters.

The next morning we sent a FAX to the records department requesting her entire file, and started our search for a new cardiologist.

Two days later we received an eleven-by eight inch envelope from the doctor’s office, and I marveled at the speed with which he had sent Darleen’s files and at how compact eight years’ worth of information was.

Well, not exactly. It was a come-on for, “An Enhanced Access Membership Program.”

Huh? Let me get this straight. If my insurance company is paying indecent sums of money, and I’m supplementing that out of my own pocket to the tune of what a new pick-up used to cost only a few years ago, shouldn’t I have access to my medical provider? I mean, isn’t that sort of, like, kind of what I’m paying for?

Apparently not. According to the Enhanced Access Membership Program brochure, if I want to actually lay eyes on the Great Man, and if I should have the unspeakable temerity to actually ask questions, questions, forsooth!, I better be prepared to pay extra. Specifically, I better be prepared to choose between their Silver Plan, their Gold Plan, or—oh, breathless excitement!—their Diamond Plan!

Well, it’s for Darleen, and diamonds are a girl’s best friend, so what the hell. I took a look at what the Diamond Plan offers me for a paltry pittance of $7500 per annum. That’s $7500 per annum on top of what they already get out of the insurance company, and on top of what we have to pay out of our own pockets to make up the difference between his bill and what the insurance company is willing to pay.

This is what we would get, and I’m not making any of this up:

  1. Our physician’s personal cell phone number for direct calls 24/7!

For $7500 a year, I’m calling him for little tête-à-têtes whenever I have insomnia. “Hey, Doc. How about them Packers? Not so hot this year.”

  1. Direct 24-hour, 7-day a week access to our personal physician by calling, text-messaging, or e-mail, at our choice!

You know, I’ve never gotten into texting. I don’t even own a cell phone, but by golly, now might be an ideal time to start learning. “Doc. R U sleeping?”

  1. Night and weekend availability of our personal physician!

For $7500 a year, does that mean he’ll drive the two-and-a-half hours out here to make a house call? Okie dokie. Will he do windows?

  1. Personal communication from our physician to discuss all tests and laboratory results!

Well, see, I sort of thought that should just come automatically with standard, unenhanced health care, but maybe you mean it includes his actually saying something beyond, “How long is this going to take because I’ve only got fifteen minutes?” (That’s a quote, by the way.)

  1. Preferred reserved two VIP parking spaces in the West Tower Parking Structure (subject to availability—must call ahead to reserve and confirm)!

Thank goodness! I just couldn’t stand to park in that tacky East Tower with all the unwashed hoi polloi. I assume that for $7500 a year the good doctor will personally sweep out my VIP parking space, and maybe put out a red carpet to keep my boots clean on my way to the elevator.

  1. Personal reception at our VIP parking space to ease our visit!

Cool. And if the personalized reception includes champagne on ice, that would indeed ease our visit.

  1. Parking is validated to all visits to the office!

I should bloody well hope so. Given what parking costs in LA these days, that perk alone is almost worth the $7500.

  1. EKG Wallet Card—new and improved!

I should hope so again. I wouldn’t want one of those old, tacky, unimproved cards. I mean, they’re just so, you know, yesterday.

  1. Dedicated phone lines with dramatically accelerated response!

A dedicated phone line? Isn’t that what you get automatically when you have the phone company install a line into your home or office? There is no such thing as a trunk line anymore.

There’s a whole bunch more along the same lines that we would get for our $7500 a year, the sort of stuff you used to get back in the old days just as standard service for paying your bill. Clearly times have changed, so maybe Obamacare isn’t such a bad thing after all. If it’ll take, oh, let’s say $7500 a year out of the pocket of some arrogant jerk and put said $7500 into my pocket, why I’m all for Obamacare.

Alfred Hitchcock Is Alive

February 10th, 2015 11 Comments

The Birds


…and making very weird movies in the southern Sierras.

I need a little ornithological help, so I’m reaching out to the kinds of people who read or contribute to Steve Bodio’s site (http://stephenbodio.blogspot.com) or anyone else who might know a little about birds. Or possibly the supernatural.

The property to the south of my place, about a quarter of a mile away, is owned by a guy who lives somewhere else. I think he plans to retire there, but in the meantime he rents out the two little houses, one to a gal who works in town, one to an elderly retired gentleman.

Over the years, working on my property, I have occasionally found golf balls over in that southwest corner of my little ranch: one or two here and there, and not often, perhaps once or twice a year. For several years I put it down to a previous renter with a horrendous slice practicing his swing, but he moved out years ago, and his slice wasn’t that bad. Nobody could have a slice that bad.

Then one day, riding a little used trail on the mountain at the north end of the valley, I found a golf ball under a pine tree. No one could possibly hit a golf ball that far, either with a slice or a hook or straight. The nearest golf course is four or five miles away in a straight line, over a mountain; hell, you couldn’t even shoot a golf ball that far out of canon. Very few people even go up that particular part of the mountain, the slope being steep and somewhat treacherous, so it wasn’t a question of someone dropping the thing.

When I mentioned it to a friend, he speculated that it was probably ravens who, like magpies, are apparently drawn to anything bright and shiny, and who have a highly developed sense of both tool use and play. While that sounds a little peculiar, I accepted it as the only logical explanation I could come up with. I have no idea why a raven might be attracted to a golf ball, but then they probably have no idea why I do certain things.

Starting six or seven months ago, I began finding more golf balls, three and four at a time, and once, seven of them, all in the same relatively small corner of my property, maybe a quarter acre strip.

But then yesterday things took an ominous turn. Cutting a long story short, without even trying, without poking around under trees or walking through the long grass, or straining my eyes, just in the natural course of doing some maintenance, I picked up thirty-two golf balls. Thirty-two! Just in that same small area.

Does anyone have a clue as to what might be going on?

I’ve been thinking about it, and here are the possibilities I’ve come up with:

  1. The elderly gent who rents the nearest house has slid into senility and taken to stealing golf balls from the courses in nearby communities and towns, and throwing them over onto my property for obscure reasons. There is now a warrant out for his arrest and the duffers at the nearest club have put a price on his head.
  2. The elderly gent, or the working gal, or both, or some other person or persons unknown is/are trying to gaslight me in some obscure fashion.
  3. While I am not and never have been a golfer, I do I write for a very elegant golf magazine, The Golf Sport (http://www.golfsportmag.com) and the ravens have somehow figured this out and think they are doing me a good turn.
  4. The ravens have decided to reclaim the earth and are practicing for all-out warfare. Today it’s golf balls; tomorrow it’s undetonated ordnance from one of the military bases over in the Mojave desert or Nevada. Take that, vile capitalist lackey of the imperialist American war-mongering machine!

A Letter to President Obama

February 6th, 2015 17 Comments

Barack Obama


Dear President Obama,

I would like to address some of your comments at the 2015 National Prayer Breakfast. To your credit, you did mention ISIS as a group that uses “religion as a weapon.” It might have been more accurate to say they are 7th century savages who use 21st century weapons to distort a religion, but no matter.

Unfortunately, you then stated:

“And lest we get on our high horse [sic] and think this is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ. In our home country, slavery and Jim Crow all too often was [sic] justified in the name of Christ.”

First, I find it offensive that you should presume to lecture Christians generally, and American Christians in particular, about the sins of our distant ancestors for the purpose of attenuating your own comments about ISIS, but I find it especially offensive that you should do so at the National Prayer Breakfast.

Second, this is the kind of adolescent sophistry taught by intellectually impoverished and ethically dishonest American radicals who hate America, men like your friend Jeremiah Wright. Instead of blaming Christians and Americans for the sins of yesterday, speak honestly to the people of today about the issues of today; don’t deflect attention from your own inaction by trying to assign guilt for crimes that occurred 1000 years ago.

Third, if you are going to be adolescent enough to try and deflect attention by assigning guilt, think carefully before you decide to engage in a fifth-grade tit-for-tat argument on issues about which you are clearly ignorant. The Crusades were originally called for by Pope Urban II primarily in response to Seljuq Turkish Muslims, who took Jerusalem from the relatively tolerant Egyptian Fatimid Muslims and then began to both persecute and oppress Christians in the city of Christ. A secondary motivation for the Crusades were the equally aggressive European ambitions of the same Seljuq Turkish Muslims, who were on the verge of taking Constantinople and destroying the Byzantine Empire on their way to Europe. And the final motivation was either the (pick one) fear or ambition of the maritime city/states of Italy (primarily Pisa, Genoa, Venice, Amalfi) whose commercial interests were threatened by the Seljuq Turkish Muslims’ increasing domination of eastern Mediterranean shipping routes. But no matter how you look at it, it was not random and arbitrary aggression on the part of Christians. And, for the record, if you read your history you will find the atrocities of the Crusades were pretty equally spread across both religions; neither side had a monopoly on brutality and savagery.

By “Inquisition” I assume you are referring to the Spanish Inquisition, because the Papal Inquisition of medieval times, and the later Roman Inquisition of Pope Paul III were relatively benign institutions, relying on excommunication rather than auto-da-fé. In fact, the Roman Inquisition was set up deliberately to counteract the Spanish one which was largely driven by secular forces as opposed to Christian ones, having been established by Ferdinand II and Isabella I for civil, not religious purposes. In any event, it can hardly be said to stand alone as a supreme example of evil. Were more people killed under the Inquisition than under the atheist Nazis? How about under Pol Pot? How about under the junta during the Argentine Dirty War? Or if you wish to remain approximately contemporaneous, how about under the rein of another Islamic Turk, Tamerlane (or Timur-i-lang) who may have butchered a greater percentage of the known world’s population than anyone else in history? You seem to think American Christians today should hang their heads in shame for the actions of our distant ancestors. Should we also judge Muslims by the sins of their fathers? How about, for a refreshing change, we just judge the radical Islamic terrorists of today by their own barbaric actions?

As for your reference to American slavery and Jim Crow, I would point out first that slavery was conducted in the name of mammon, not Christ, and that both of those abominable institutions were opposed and destroyed by Christians, in the case of Jim Crow most notably by Martin Luther King. Furthermore, if you counted every black killed under Jim Crow, from the end of the Civil War to the signing of the Civil Rights Act, a period of ninety-nine years, they would not amount to a fraction of the people butchered by the ISIS pigs during the past two years of your administration. Put that statistic on the wall of your presidential library as a proud part of your legacy. But don’t whitewash the actions of ISIS today by deflecting attention solely to the evil of venal Christians 1000 years ago.


Jameson Parker

How Not to Sell Your Book

February 4th, 2015 13 Comments



One of the revelations I had about publishing books was that I was supposed to be the one responsible for all the laudatory dustjacket stuff. You know, all that garbage you read on the inside of the dustcover at the bookstore, the fluff intended to make you buy the book: “A fast-paced, nail-biting thriller that will keep you panting on the edge of your seat, this incredibly brilliant, trenchant, magnificently written, moving, and insightful study of the high-stakes dangers in the day-to-day life of a small town tax preparer…”

That stuff. The author of the book is the guy responsible for all that high-falutin’ gobbledygook. He is expected to be one who gets you to buy his book, which is a convoluted way of saying the author is expected to be a professional salesman.

Silly me. I thought it was my job to write the damn thing and then go on to the next project.

Just to put this in perspective for you, when I was first trying unsuccessfully to create an acting career for myself in New York, there came a time when I began to weary of waiting tables, catching shoplifters, working for a moving company, driving a taxi, all while starving to death. With some help from my sister I got a job selling advertising space for the trade magazine division of a publishing company. Unfortunately, the magazines were all intended for the manufacturers of ancillary items in the women’s “foundation garment” (think underwear) industry, items like the little metal thingies (“thingies” is a technical term) used to fasten old-fashioned brassieres; zippers; little trim pieces for the edges of garter belts or something.

I bow my head to no man when it comes to my prurient desire to see pretty girls in scanty clothing, but the individual portions of that scanty clothing, without the pretty girls inside them, is not exactly entrancing. Beyond that, I was the world’s worst salesman. After six weeks of not selling a single inch of advertising space, the company politely suggested my talents might lie in some other field. Any other field but theirs.

The point is, I was not, am not, and never will be a good salesman. I’d be hard-pressed to sell bottled water to stranded travelers in Death Valley on the Fourth of July. And selling myself is out of the question. I was raised in a family where it was considered proper and in good taste to downplay one’s accomplishments. If you won the Pulitzer, the Nobel, the PEN/Faulkner, and the Booker, all on the same day, it was considered in good taste to shrug it all off with a self-deprecating, “Oh, yes. A lot of nonsense, of course. John Dough’s novel about the small town tax preparer really should have won. Much better.”

What’s more, when you write a book, when you finally type, “The End” at the bottom of page 972, you’re much too close to the thing to be able to see it with anything even remotely resembling objectivity. It’s why writers are constantly alienating everyone they know by asking them to read their latest and to then provide intelligent feedback. You can always tell when a writer has finished a book because his family members and friends all quietly slip out of town, cancel their internet service, and have their phone numbers changed.

All this was brought painfully home to me the other day. I got an email from the lady who does the PR and marketing for Range magazine. I recently wrote an article for an upcoming issue of Range (http://rangemagazine.com/) and the PR lady, casting frantically around for anything positive to say about me, went onto my book page on Amazon. She quoted some reviews of my last book, Changing Earth, Changing Sky, and sent them to me.

It hadn’t occurred to me to go on my Amazon page. My normal routine is to hit the computer first thing in the morning, try to get as many words out as possible before my eyeballs begin to slide down my face in viscous streams, and my brain turns into tapioca. Then I go off to do other things.

So I was a little stunned, and very thrilled to see the following:

Anne wrote: “…much grittier than I anticipated…not your typical romance, not your typical western… combines the best of both genres into one action-packed story that’s difficult to put down….”

Sue commented that it is a “…fantastic read by a talented author. As a girl I was a fan of Jameson Parker, the actor, and now I’m a fan of his writing. …a riveting story with many small moments that drew me in and tugged at my emotions.”

Mary Doebler noted the dangers and romance were both realistic: “…as I read the book I could not wait to see what happened next. I enjoyed the book immensely.”

Judy wrote that: “…the characters will stay with you when you’ve finished the story.”

Well. I mean to say. Golly.

But what really made me question this nonsense of the author doing his own PR was a review by T.D Bauer, who wrote: “I recently found some time to sit down with “CHANGING EARTH, CHANGING SKY” and planned on reading just the first few chapters, and once I started it I had a hard time putting it down.”

That’s very nice, very kind, very kind of all of them, but then T.D. Bauer went on to summarize the novel like this: “Kay is a young woman in a bad marriage. Her husband is a cheating scumbag. How does she deal with it? She drives far away and finds herself in Nevada where her soul searching begins in earnest, and where she starts to heal. In Nevada she meets Finn, a modern rancher who has some problems of his own. …a moment of violence brings them together, and … well, that’s all I am saying.”

Take a moment to read that again; then go to my Amazon page and read the pretentious tripe I wrote myself about my own book. You’ll have to read it there because I’m too embarrassed to reproduce it here. Which description makes you want to read the book? It sure as hell ain’t mine.

Maybe I’ll go back to selling pieces of women’s underwear.

At the Movies: The More the Merrier

February 2nd, 2015 7 Comments

jean arthur and little dog


The More the Merrier was on television the other night and my friend Tom Davis (Why Dogs Do That: A Collection of Curious Canine Behaviors, as well as many other excellent books about dogs) reminded me that I had written a blog about Jean Arthur. I had forgotten. In fact, I had forgotten so completely that it took me a while to find what he was referring to, which was actually a review of another Jean Arthur movie, If Only You Could Cook.

If Only You Could Cook is fun, but it simply isn’t even in the same league with The More the Merrier. Just at the basic level of performance you can’t compare the two films: Jean Arthur earned her only Academy Award Nomination for The More the Merrier, and it did earn Charles Coburn his sole Oscar for his role as rascally, charming cupid bringing Jean Arthur and Joel McCrae together in spite of World War Two, in spite of an inconvenient fiancé, in spite of the FBI, in spite of themselves. (Coburn does a magnificent, solitary tour-de-farce, looking for the trousers he was trying to put on that have mysteriously gone missing, that is worth the price of admission by itself.)

That’s pretty much the plot. What makes it work so well as a movie is an incomparable script attributed to Robert Russell, Richard Flournoy, Lewis Foster, and Jean Arthur’s husband, Frank Ross. It is attributed to them, though an uncredited contributor who may or may not have been the real influence responsible for the script was none other than Garson Kanin. (Garson Kanin was the man—along with his wife, Ruth Gordon—who was responsible for some of the classic comedies of all time, including Adam’s Rib, Pat and Mike, and Born Yesterday which was originally written for Jean Arthur, but which made Judy Holliday a star after Arthur pulled out due to stage fright. Kanin is also responsible for one of the greatest and truest quotes ever spoken about Hollywood: “The Hollywood laborers, the carpenters and painters, were always perfect. Then came the technicians, the electricians and special effects men. They were marvelous. However, the higher you climbed in the system, the lower the level of competence, until you reached the head of the studio, who turned out to be an idiot.”)

In my review of If Only You Could Cook I wrote about Jean Arthur’s vulnerability:

Jean Arthur was beautiful, but not a great beauty. She was talented, but so were many others. She was sexy, but not nearly as obviously or as much so as many others. She was charming, but so were all of the ladies of the screwball comedy genre. But what made her so singular was the combination of beauty, talent, sex appeal, charm, the voice, all of it masking a tremendous vulnerability and fragility. She obviously knew enough about herself to understand her strengths and weaknesses (she preferred to be photographed from the left only), and she said herself she loved acting, but she also was apparently so stricken with stage fright that she used to frequently throw up before filming a take. Many actresses and even some actors throw up from fear before a stage performance, but I have never heard of any other actor who threw up from fear before filming on a sound stage. It evidently became worse as she got older; she was the original choice to play the lead in Garsin Kanin’s Born Yesterday, but got so terrified she quit, making Judy Holiday a star. She had a nervous breakdown trying to do Shaw’s Saint Joan for director Harold Clurman. She walked out on two more Broadway plays, unable to stand the extreme stage fright, and finally walked out on her career. She became an acting teacher, first at Vassar (where one of her students was, supposedly, Meryl Streep), and later at the University of North Carolina, and finally retired to a reclusive life in Carmel, California where she steadfastly refused to do any kind of publicity or interview. Even at the height of her success she was as reclusive as Garbo.

These actions have, to me, all the earmarks of a very vulnerable person, and I believe it was that quality underlying the raspy wisecracks and the niceness that made her so…well, okay, charismatic.

It’s hard to reconcile that extreme vulnerability and reclusiveness with charisma, and of course I have no idea if she was charismatic in person, but there is that star quality to her when she is on screen that does not allow you to take your eyes off her.

But more than that is her talent. Director George Stevens, who knew a little about the business and talent, and who directed her in The More the Merrier, once said she, “…[was] one of the greatest comediennes the screen has ever seen.” And no less a director than Frank Capra, who directed her in Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, You Can’t Take It With You, and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, called her, “…[his] favorite actress.”

When you watch The More the Merrier, pay special attention to the scene where Jean Arthur and Joel McCrae sit on the stoop of their apartment building and say a bunch of meaningless words that have absolutely nothing to do with anything. What they’re saying in the scene is said with their bodies: he can’t keep his hands off her, and she desperately wants his hands all over her, but she keeps dutifully and reluctantly removing them and trying to talk. Then there is a close-up of her talking as Joel McCrae kisses her neck and she forgets not only what she was saying, but even the very word she was in the middle of pronouncing. It is an absolute tour-de-force of romantic/comedic timing, and there isn’t a man who can watch that scene without wanting to dive through the screen and back to 1943 to take Joel McCrae’s place.

That’s Jean Arthur.

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