Wednesday, 31 March 2010

I really do not happen to like champagne

Playboy Magazine were clearly determined to feature a photograph of Fred Astaire, drink in hand, in their January '62 issue; so much so in fact, that they rather desperately ran with a picture despite three separate refusals from the man himself. Understandably annoyed but ever the gentleman, Astaire made his displeasure known by sending this remarkably restrained, beautifully polite letter to Auguste Spectorsky, the magazine's editorial director at the time.

Transcript follows.


December 22, 1961

A. C. Spectorsky, Editorial Director
232 East Ohio Street
Chicago, Illinois

Dear Mr. Spectorsky:

Thank you for sending me the advance copy of January Playboy Magazine in which there is a photograph of me in the "Toasting the New Year" article.

However, since you have asked me for my comments, I feel it only fair I should tell you the circumstances under which this photograph appeared. First I was asked from the Eastern office of the magazine to pose for a picture with a drink in my hand. I stated that I respectfully declined the invitation since I have no favorite drink and did not wish to appear in the article. A few weeks later I was called on the telephone by someone at the local Playboy office and was again approached about posing with a drink in my hand, which I again declined. I was then asked if I objected to the use of a photograph from one of my pictures, namely "The Pleasure Of His Company", in which I am holding a glass of champagne, to which I again specified that I did not wish it used and that I did not wish to participate in this article with a drink in my hand since I had no favorite drink. This was thoroughly understood.

Perhaps you can understand now why I am amazed at the use of this photograph of me with a glass of champagne in my hand "Toasting the New Year". Obviously there is no harm done but I just want to point out to you that I really do not happen to like champagne.

With kindest regards, I remain,

Sincerely yours,

(Signed, 'Fred Astaire')



Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Joan of Arc's Call for Arms

November 9th, 1429, with her forces' weaponry and other supplies severely depleted following months of successful fighting, Joan of Arc dictated and signed the following letter to the population of Riom in the hope of rounding up replenishments in time for the Siege of La Charité. Approximately 17 years of age and illiterate, Jeanne was more determined than ever to assist Charles VII in his battle to rid France of the English, but ample reinforcements never arrived and this particular siege was abandoned. Luckily however, the most important, pivotal battle had already been won.

Tragically - less than two years later - young Jeanne was sold to the English, found guilty of heresy and then burnt at the stake.

Translated transcript follows, courtesy of Allen Williamson.

Dear and good friends, you well know how the town of Saint-Pierre-le-Moutier was taken by assault, and with God's help I intend to clear out the other places which are against the King. But because so much gunpowder, projectiles, and other war materials had been expended before this town, and because myself and the lords who are at this town are so poorly supplied for laying siege to La Charité, where we will be going shortly, I pray you, upon whatever love you have for the well-being and honor of the King and also all the others here, that you will immediately send and donate for the siege gunpowder, saltpeter, sulfur, projectiles, arbalestes and other materials of war. And do well enough in this matter that the siege will not be prolonged for lack of gunpowder and other war materials, and that no one can say you were negligent or unwilling. Dear and good friends, may Our Lord protect you. Written at Moulins the ninth day of November.

(Signed, 'Jehanne')

Monday, 29 March 2010

Beloved Father

Wishing for some form of acknowledgment from her estranged father in 1702, twelve-year-old Jahanna wrote the following heartbreaking letter to Peter Besallion, a French Canadian who at the time was a successful Indian trader living in newly-formed Philadelphia. Unfortunately any response that may have been sent is yet to be unearthed, but it is known that young Jahanna did not receive any of his considerable inheritance.

Transcript follows.

Beloved Father

My only Desier is, that my dier father would be pleast to Remamber me, for I understand that you are my only father, my mother Jahanna Sioute Shee take noe care of me for Shee gave me away hwen I was a Little Child to Anna Couvenowen, whar I have bin these 12 yeare and a halfe and have bin well brougt up and mantand that I can (di?) in the house wat belongs to it. Now My only Desier is that my beloved father would be pleas to Remamber his Diere Child; and Send me few word back again that Should mak me glad and Satisfigd in my mine that I hav a father in Life; My hombey Respect to my Diere father for ever Petter Beselion.

Jahanna Beselion

New York 27
of August 1702

Thursday, 25 March 2010

The most beautiful death

Brave New World novelist Aldous Huxley was diagnosed with cancer in 1960, at which point his health slowly began to deteriorate. On his deathbed in November of 1963, just as he was passing away, Aldous — a man who for many years had been fascinated with the effects of psychedelic drugs since being introduced to mescaline in 1953 — asked his wife Laura to administer him with LSD. She agreed.

The following letter — an incredibly moving, detailed account of Aldous's last days — was written by Laura just days after her husband's death and sent to his older brother Julian.

Transcript follows.

(Source: The fantastically comprehensive The Vaults of Erowid; Image of Aldous Huxley via.)

6233 Mulholland Highway
Los Angeles 28, California
December 8, 1963

Dearest Julian and Juliette:

There is so much I want to tell you about the last week of Aldous' life and particularly the last day. What happened is important not only for us close and loving but it is almost a conclusion, better, a continuation of his own work, and therefore it has importance for people in general.

First of all I must confirm to you with complete subjective certainty that Aldous had not consciously looked at the fact that he might die until the day he died. Subconsciously it was all there, and you will be able to see this for yourselves because beginning from November 15th until November 22nd I have much of Aldous' remarks on tape, For these tapes I know we shall all be immensely grateful. Aldous was never quite willing to give up his writing and dictate or makes notes on a recorder. He used a Dictograph, only to read poetry or passages of literature; he would listen to these in his quite moments in the evening as he was going to sleep. I have had a tape recorder for years, and I tried to use it with him sometimes, but it was too bulky, and particularly now when we were always in the bedroom and the bed had so much hospital equipment around it. (We had spoken about buying a small one, but the market here is flooded with transister tape recorders, and most of them are very bad. I didn't have time to look into it, and this remained just one of those things like many others that we were going to do.) In the beginning of November, when Aldous was in the hospital, my birthday occurred, so Jinny looked carefully into all the machines, and presented me with the best of them - a small thing, easy manageable and practically unnoticeable. After having practiced with it myself a few days, I showed it to Aldous, who was very pleased with it, and from the 15th on we used it a little every day recording his dreams and notes for future writing.

The period from the 15th to the 22nd marked, it seems to me, a period of intense mental activity for Aldous. We had diminished little by little the tranquillizers he had been taking four times a day a drug called Sperine which is akin, I understand, to Thorazin. We diminished it practically to nothing only used painkillers like Percodon a little Amitol , and something for nausea. He took also a few injections of 1/2 cc of Dilaudid, which is a derivative of morphine, and which gave him many dreams, some of which you will hear on the tape. The doctor says this is a small intake of morphine.

Now to pick up my point again, in these dreams as well as sometimes in his conversation, it seemed obvious and transparent that subconsciously he knew that he was going to die. But not once consciously did he speak of it. This had nothing to do with the idea that some of his friends put forward, that he wanted to spare me. It wasn't this, because Aldous had never been able to play a part, to say a single lie; he was constitutionall unable to lie, and if he wanted to spare me, he could certainly have spoken to Jinny.

During the last two months I gave him almost daily an opportunity, an opening for speaking about death, but of course this opening was always one that could have been taken in two ways - either towards life or towards death, and he always took it towards life. We read the entire manual of Dr. Leary extracted from The Book of the Dead. He could have, even jokingly said don't forget to remind me his comment instead was only directed to the way Dr. Leary conducted his LSD sessions, and how he would bring people, who were not dead, back here to this life after the session. It is true he said sometimes phrases like, "If I get out of this," in connection to his new ideas for writing, and wondered when and if he would have the strength to work. His mind was very active and it seems that this Dilaudid had stirred some new layer which had not often been stirred in him.

The night before he died, (Thursday night) about eight o'clock, suddenly an idea occurred to him. "Darling," he said, "it just occurs to me that I am imposing on Jinny having somebody as sick as this in the house with the two children, this is really an imposition." Jinny was out of the house at the moment, and so I said, "Good, when she comes back I will tell her this. It will be a nice laugh." "No," he said with unusual insistence, "we should do something about it." "Well," I replied, keeping it light, "all right, get up. Let's go on a trip." "No", he said, "It is serious. We must think about it. All these nurses in the house. What we could do, we could take an apartment for this period. Just for this period." It was very clear what he meant. It was unmistakeably clear. He thought he might be so sick for another three of four weeks, and then he could come back and start his normal life again. This fact of starting his normal life occurred quite often. In the last three or four weeks he was several times appalled by his weakness, when he realized how much he had lost, and how long it would take to be normal again. Now this Thursday night he had remarked about taking an apartment with an unusual energy, but a few minutes later and all that evening I felt that he was going down, he was losing ground quickly. Eating was almost out of the question. He had just taken a few spoonsful of liquid and puree, in fact every time that he took something, this would start the cough. Thursday night I called Dr. Bernstein, and told him the pulse was very high - 140, he had a little bit of fever and whole feeling was one of immanence of death. But both the nurse and the doctor said they didn't think this was the case, but that if I wanted him the doctor would come up to see him that night. Then I returned to Aldous' room and we decided to give him an injection of Dilaudid. It was about nine o'clock, and he went to sleep and I told the doctor to come the next morning. Aldous slept until about two a.m. and then he got another shot, and I saw him again at six-thirty. Again I felt that life was leaving, something was more wrong than usual, although I didn't know exactly what, and a little later I sent you and Matthew and Ellen and my sister a wire. Then about nine a.m. Aldous began to be so agitated, so uncomfortable, so desperate really. He wanted to be moved all the time. Nothing was right. Dr. Bernstein came about that time and decided to give him a shot which he had given him once before, something that you give intravenously, very slowly - it takes five minutes to give the shot, and it is a drug that dilates the bronchial tubes, so that respiration is easier.

This drug made him uncomfortable the time before, it must have been three Fridays before, when he had that crisis I wrote you about. But then it helped him. This time it was quite terrible. He couldn't express himself but he was feeling dreadul, nothing was right, no position was right. I tried to ask him what was occurring. He had difficulty in speaking, but he managed to say, "Just trying to tell you makes it worse." He wanted to be moved all the time - "Move me." "Move my legs." "Move my arms." "Move my bed." I had one of those push-button beds, which moved up and down both from the head and the feet, and incessantly, at times, I would have him go up and down, up and down by pushing buttons. We did this again, and somehow it seemed to give him a little relief. but it was very, very little.

All of a sudden, it must have been then ten o'clock, he could hardly speak, and he said he wanted a tablet to write on, and for the first time he wrote - "If I die," and gave a direction for his will. I knew what he meant. He had signed his will as I told you about a week before, and in this will there was a transfer of a life insurance policy from me to Matthew. We had spoken of getting these papers of transfer, which the insurance company had just sent, and that actually arrived special delivery just a few minutes before. Writing was very, very difficult for him. Rosalind and Dr. Bernstein were there trying also to understand what he wanted. I said to him, "Do you mean that you want to make sure that the life insurance is transferred from me to Matthew?" He said, "Yes." I said, "The papers for the transfer have just arrived, if you want to sign them you can sign them, but it is not necessary because you already made it legal in your will. He heaved a sigh of relief in not having to sign. I had asked him the day before even, to sign some important papers, and he had said, "Let's wait a little while," this, by the way, was his way now, for him to say that he couldn't do something. If he was asked to eat, he would say, "Let's wait a little while," and when I asked him to do some signing that was rather important on Thursday he said, "Let's wait a little while" He wanted to write you a letter - "and especially about Juliette's book, is lovely," he had said several times. And when I proposed to do it, he would say, "Yes, just in a little while" in such a tired voice, so totally different from his normal way of being. So when I told him that the signing was not necessary and that all was in order, he had a sigh of relief.

"If I die." This was the first time that he had said that with reference to NOW. He wrote it. I knew and felt that for the first time he was looking at this. About a half an hour before I had called up Sidney Cohen, a psychiatrist who has been one of the leaders in the use of LSD. I had asked him if he had ever given LSD to a man in this condition. He said he had only done it twice actually, and in one case it had brought up a sort of reconciliation with Death, and in the other case it did not make any difference. I asked him if he would advise me to give it to Aldous in his condition. I told him how I had offered it several times during the last two months, but he always said that he would wait until he was better. Then Dr. Cohen said, "I don't know. I don't think so. What do you think?" I said, "I don't know. Shall I offer it to him?" He said, "I would offer it to him in a very oblique way, just say 'what do you think about taking LSD [sometime again]?'" This vague response had been common to the few workers in this field to whom I had asked, "Do you give LSD in extremes?" ISLAND is the only definite reference that I know of. I must have spoken to Sidney Cohen about nine-thirty. Aldous' condition had become so physically painful and obscure, and he was so agitated he couldn't say what he wanted, and I couldn't understand. At a certain point he said something which no one here has been able to explain to me, he said, "Who is eating out of my bowl?" And I didn't know what this meant and I yet don't know. And I asked him. He managed a faint whimsical smile and said, "Oh, never mind, it is only a joke." And later on, feeling my need to know a little so I could do something, he said in an agonizing way, "At this point there is so little to share." Then I knew that he knew that he was going. However, this inability to express himself was only muscular - his brain was clear and in fact, I feel, at a pitch of activity.

Then I don't know exactly what time it was, he asked for his tablet and wrote, "Try LSD 100 intramuscular." Although as you see from this photostatic copy it is not very clear, I know that this is what he meant. I asked him to confirm it. Suddenly something became very clear to me. I knew that we were together again after this torturous talking of the last two months. I knew then, I knew what was to be done. I went quickly into the cupboard in the other room where Dr. Bernstein was, and the TV which had just announced the shooting of Kennedy. I took the LSD and said, "I am going to give him a shot of LSD, he asked for it." The doctor had a moment of agitation because you know very well the uneasiness about this drug in the medical mind. Then he said, "All right, at this point what is the difference." Whatever he had said, no "authority," not even an army of authorities could have stopped me then. I went into Aldous' room with the vial of LSD and prepared a syringe. The doctor asked me if I wanted him to give him the shot - maybe because he saw that my hands were trembling. His asking me that made me conscious of my hands, and I said, "No I must do this." I quieted myself, and when I gave him the shot my hands were very firm. Then, somehow, a great relief came to us both. I believe it was 11:20 when I gave him his first shot of 100 microgrammes. I sat near his bed and I said, "Darling, maybe in a little while I will take it with you. Would you like me to take it also in a little while?" I said a little while because I had no idea of when I should or could take it, in fact I have not been able to take it to this writing because of the condition around me. And he indicated "yes." We must keep in mind that by now he was speaking very, very little. Then I said, "Would you like Matthew to take it with you also? And he said, "Yes." "What about Ellen?" He said, "Yes." Then I mentioned two or three people who had been working with LSD and he said, "No, no, basta, basta." Then I said, "What about Jinny?" And he said, "Yes," with emphasis. Then we were quiet. I just sat there without speaking for a while. Aldous was not so agitated physically. He seemed - somehow I felt he knew, we both knew what we were doing, and this has always been a great relief to Aldous. I have seen him at times during his illness very upset until he knew what he was going to do, then even if it was an operation or X-ray, he would make a total change. This enormous feeling of relief would come to him, and he wouldn't be worried at all about it, he would say let's do it, and we would go to it and he was like a liberated man. And now I had the same feeling - a decision had been made, he made the decision again very quickly. Suddenly he had accepted the fact of death; he had taken this moksha medicine in which he believed. He was doing what he had written in ISLAND, and I had the feeling that he was interested and relieved and quiet.

After half an hour, the expression on his face began to change a little, and I asked him if he felt the effect of LSD, and he indicated no. Yet, I think that a something had taken place already. This was one of Aldous' characteristics. He would always delay acknowledging the effect of any medicine, even when the effect was quite certainly there, unless the effect was very, very stong he would say no. Now, the expression of his face was beginning to look as it did every time that he had the moksha medicine, when this immense expression of complete bliss and love would come over him. This was not the case now, but there was a change in comparison to what his face had been two hours ago. I let another half hour pass, and then I decided to give him another 100 mg. I told him I was going to do it, and he acquiesced. I gave him another shot, and then I began to talk to him. He was very quiet now; he was very quiet and his legs were getting colder; higher and higher I could see purple areas of cynosis. Then I began to talk to him, saying, "Light and free," Some of these thing I told him at night in these last few weeks before he would go to sleep, and now I said it more convincingly, more intensely - "go, go, let go, darling; forward and up. You are going forward and up; you are going towards the light. Willing and consciously you are going, willingly and consciously, and you are doing this beautifully; you are doing this so beautifully - you are going towards the light; you are going towards a greater love; you are going forward and up. It is so easy; it is so beautiful. You are doing it so beautifully, so easily. Light and free. Forward and up. You are going towards Maria's love with my love. You are going towards a greater love than you have ever known. You are going towards the best, the greatest love, and it is easy, it is so easy, and you are doing it so beautifully." I believe I started to talk to him - it must have been about one or two o'clock. It was very difficult for me to keep track of time. The nurse was in the room and Rosalind and Jinny and two doctors - Dr. Knight and Dr. Cutler. They were sort of far away from the bed. I was very, very near his ears, and I hope I spoke clearly and understandingly. Once I asked him, "Do you hear me?" He squeezed my hand. He was hearing me. I was tempted to ask more questions, but in the morning he had begged me not to ask any more question, and the entire feeling was that things were right. I didn't dare to inquire, to disturb, and that was the only question that I asked, "Do you hear me?" Maybe I should have asked more questions, but I didn't.

Later on I asked the same question, but the hand didn't move any more. Now from two o'clock until the time he died, which was five-twenty, there was complete peace except for once. That must have been about three-thirty or four, when I saw the beginning of struggle in his lower lip. His lower lip began to move as if it were going to be a struggle for air. Then I gave the direction even more forcefully. "It is easy, and you are doing this beautifully and willingly and consciously, in full awareness, in full awareness, darling, you are going towards the light." I repeated these or similar words for the last three or four hours. Once in a while my own emotion would overcome me, but if it did I immediately would leave the bed for two or three minutes, and would come back only when I could dismiss my emotion. The twitching of the lower lip lasted only a little bit, and it seemed to respond completely to what I was saying. "Easy, easy, and you are doing this willingly and consciously and beautifully - going forward and up, light anf free, forward and up towards the light, into the light, into complete love." The twitching stopped, the breating became slower and slower, and there was absolutely not the slightest indication of contraction, of struggle. it was just that the breathing became slower - and slower - and slower, and at five-twenty the breathing stopped.

I had been warned in the morning that there might be some up-setting convulsions towards the end, or some sort of contraction of the lungs, and noises. People had been trying to prepare me for some horrible physical reaction that would probably occur. None of this happened, actually the ceasing of the breathing was not a drama at all, because it was done so slowly, so gently, like a piece of music just finishing in a sempre piu piano dolcemente. I had the feeling actually that the last hour of breathing was only the conditioned reflex of the body that had been used to doing this for 69 years, millions and millions of times. There was not the feeling that with the last breath, the spirit left. It had just been gently leaving for the last four hours. In the room the last four hours were two doctors, Jinny, the nurse, Rosalind Roger Gopal - you know she is the great friend of Krishnamurti, and the directress of the school in Ojai for which Aldous did so much. They didn't seem to hear what I was saying. I thought I was speaking loud enough, but they said they didn't hear it. Rosalind and Jinny once in a while came near the bed and held Aldous' hand. These five people all said that this was the most serene, the most beautiful death. Both doctors and nurse said they had never seen a person in similar physical condition going off so completely without pain and without struggle.

We will never know if all this is only our wishful thinking, or if it is real, but certainly all outward signs and the inner feeling gave indication that it was beautiful and peaceful and easy.

And now, after I have been alone these few days, and less bombarded by other people's feelings, the meaning of this last day becomes clearer and clearer to me and more and more important. Aldous was, I think (and certainly I am) appalled at the fact that what he wrote in ISLAND was not taken seriously. It was treated as a work of science fiction, when it was not fiction because each one of the ways of living he described in ISLAND was not a product of his fantasy, but something that had been tried in one place or another and some of them in our own everyday life. If the way Aldous died were known, it might awaken people to the awareness that not only this, but many other facts described in ISLAND are possible here and now. Aldous'asking for moksha medicine while dying is a confirmation of his work, and as such is of importance not only to us, but to the world. It is true we will have some people saying that he was a drug addict all his life and that he ended as one, but it is history that Huxleys stop ignorance before ignorance can stop Huxleys.

Even after our correspondence on the subject, I had many doubts about keeping Aldous in the dark regarding his condition. It seemed not just that, after all he had written and spoken about death, he should be let to go into it unaware. And he had such complete confidence in me - he might have taken it for granted that had death been near I certainly would have told him and helped him. So my relief at his sudden awakening at his quick adjusting is immense. Don't you feel this also.

Now, is his way of dying to remain our, and only our relief and consolation, or should others also benefit from it? What do you feel?

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Burroughs has gone insane

Early 1957, Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg travelled to Tangier to join William Burroughs; their mission to assemble and edit Burroughs' many fragments of work to form a 'readable' Naked Lunch manuscript. Kerouac arrived early and, during a break from socialising with Burroughs, the 'old familiar lunatic', wrote to Lucien Carr and his wife Francesca in order to update them on the project's progress. That handwritten letter - essentially a fascinating account of Burroughs' behaviour in his prime - can be seen below.

For related material - including other correspondence, manuscript pages and photographs - I very highly recommend visiting Columbia University's online exhibition, "Naked Lunch": The First Fifty Years.

Transcript follows.

Dear Lucien & Cessa — Writing to you by candlelight from the mysterious Casbah — have a magnificent room overlooking the beach & the bay & the sea & can see Gibraltar — patio to sun on, room maid, $20 a month — feel great but Burroughs has gone insane e as, — he keeps saying he's going to erupt into some unspeakable atrocity such as waving his dingdong at an Embassy part & such or slaughtering an Arab boy to see what his beautiful insides look like — Naturally I feel lonesome with this old familiar lunatic but lonesomer than ever with him as he'll also mumble, or splurt, most of his conversation, in some kind of endless new British lord imitation, it all keeps pouring out of him in an absolutely brilliant horde of words & in fact his new book is best thing of its kind in the world (Genet, Celine, Miller, etc.) & we might call it WORD HOARD...he, Burroughs, (not "Lee" any more) unleashes his word hoard, or horde, on the world which has been awaiting the Only Prophet, Burroughs — His message is all scatalogical homosexual super-violent madness, — his manuscript is all that has been saved from the original vast number of written pages of WORD HOARD which he'd left in all the boy's privies of the world — and so on, — I sit with him in elegant French restaurant & he spits out his bones like Mr. Hyde and keeps yelling obscene words to be heard by the continental clienteles — (like he done in Rome, yelling FART at a big palazzio party) — I'll be glad when Allen gets here. — Meanwhile I explores the Casbah, high on opium or hasheesh or any drink or drug I want, & dig the Arabs. — The Slovenija was a delightful ship, I ate every day at one long white tablecloth with that one Yugoslavian woman spy. — We hit a horrendous tempest 2 days out, nothing like I ever seen, — that big steel ship was lost in mountains of hissing water, awful. — I cuddled up with TWO TICKETS TO TANGIER and got my laughs, I read every word, Cess, really a riot. — Also read Kierkegaard's Fear and Trembling which you should read, it's down on your corner. — Right now I'm high on 3 Sympatinas, Spanish bennies of a sort, mild. — Happy pills galore. — The gal situation here is worse than the boy situation, nothing but male whores all over, & their supplementary queens. — Met an actual contraband sailing ship adventurer with a mustache. Etc. More anon. Miss you & hope you're well. Jack.

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

For your future information...

An offer of $600 from Reader's Digest to reproduce one of his stories elicited the following response from Ernest Hemingway in November of 1952. Just two months previous, on September 1st, a week prior to its release in book-form, Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea was published in its entirety in LIFE Magazine, and over the course of the next two days five million copies of the publication were snapped up by an adoring readership. Professional reviews were also overwhelmingly positive and served to revive Hemingway's reputation; the novella later winning the Pulitzer Prize and proving instrumental in Hemingway's subsequent Nobel Prize in Literature. Little wonder then, that he wasn't tempted by Miss Johnson's proposal.

Transcript follows.


November 5 1952

Dear Miss Johnson:

I am very sorry that I cannot give you permission to re-publish "On the Blue Water," which first appeared in the April 1936 issue of Esquire. There is one book by me about the sea on sale at present and have no wish to saturate the public.

For your future information I would never be interested in re-printing anything, ever, anywhere, for the fee you name.

With best wishes,

Yours very truly,

(Signed, 'Ernest Hemingway')

We offered $600

Story killed

Monday, 22 March 2010

The trouble with Chinese...

Following the 1946 release of The Wild Flag (a collection of essays previously published in The New Yorker) author E. B. White - now best known for his novels Charlotte's Web and Stuart Little - was contacted and questioned by a Mr. Wells with regard to his usage of the word 'Chinaman'. White responded with the letter seen below.

Transcript follows.


BRYANT 9-5200

3 November 1946

Dear Mr. Wells:

I don't want to change Chinaman to Chinese in that sentence. When I wrote the piece, I first wrote Chinese and then changed it to Chinaman, at the risk of offending the people who find something derogatory in the word. I'm not sure I recall my reason for making that change, but I think I wanted (in that particular spot) a word that had no more than one meaning, and could only refer to an individual. The trouble with the word Chinese is, it is an adjective as well as a noun, and it not only is both singular and plural, but it always sounds plural because of the "s". A Chinaman is a man, beyond any doubt. A Chinese sounds somewhere between a tapestry and a couple of Chinamen.

I shall not try to defend further my use of the word. When I'm writing something I almost always give way to my ear, when I get in some sort of diction trouble or grammar trouble. A Chinaman is a man of China, just as a Frenchman is a man of France. (Of course, to people along the coast of Maine a Chinaman is still a ship.) I guess Chinaman came to have a vaguely derogatory connotation because virtually every mention of the Chinese people, a generation ago, was patronizing. You took your Pop's detachable cuffs to the Chinaman's to be laundered, and the yellowness of the proprietor's skin (like the yellowness of the dirty cuffs) proved that there was something wrong with him. Nobody ever referred to a Chinaman in any but a derogatory tone; and this must have smelled up the word itself. I think the odor will disappear from the word when the mist rises from our state of mind. (Somebody better get in and block that metaphor.)

At any rate, I am quite sure that "The Wild Flag" contains nothing derogatory to the Chinese. Any Chinaman who finds anything derogatory in that sentence will have to come straight to me.

Many thanks for pointing out the word. I hadn't forgotten that it was there.


EB White

Friday, 19 March 2010


From the archives of Heritage Auctions comes what appears to be the hilarious last page of a letter from Comic-Con co-founder and letterer Shel Dorf to legendary DC Comics editor Julie Schwartz. Usually I'd refrain from posting less than the entire missive but this particular sheet, written on Dorf's early '80s letterhead and bearing a striking Superman illustration, is just too fantastic and amusing to brush to one side.


Transcript follows.


Since "Superman" was created by a couple of Jewish kids from Cleveland, that makes him Jewish. Raised in a small town by a "Goyisha" couple, he probably never knew. Also, they didn't have a Synagogue in town, so he probably wasn't Bar-Mitzvah'd. It's doubtful that he was Circumscised. The foreskin of the superbaby would've been impossible to cut! What a mess!

Knowing that "Lois Lane" was her professional name, I checked old records and discovered that her real name was Lois Farbotnik. So a union between them would be "kosher" Let's hope we can all straighten out this mess soon.

yrs for Comic Fandom, I remain Sincerely,


Shel Dorf

Thursday, 18 March 2010

Fifty Lady Sharpshooters Await

As the Spanish-American War loomed in April of 1898, celebrity sharpshooter Annie Oakley - a Buffalo Bill performer so famous that she was essentially the world's first female superstar - decided to donate her resources to the government by sending the following letter to then-U.S. President William McKinley. The offer was simple: Oakley would supply the military with a fifty-strong army of female sharpshooters so talented as to be indispensable at war. Much to her dismay the powers-that-be politely declined, but undeterred and forever the patriot she later repeated the offer prior to World War I. The response was the same.

Transcript follows.

America's Representative Lady Shot

Nutley N J

Hon Wm. McKinley President

Dear Sir, I for one feel confident that your good judgment will carry America safely through without war. But in case of such an event I am ready to place a company of fifty lady sharpshooters at your disposal. Every one of them will be an American and as they will furnish their own Arms and Ammunition will be little if any expense to the government.

Very truly

Annie Oakley

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Respectfully yours, Clint Eastwood

On October 26th, 1954, 24-year-old aspiring actor Clint Eastwood — yet to make his debut on the big screen — penned the following extremely polite letter to Billy Wilder and warned the director of his poor performance during an on-screen interview; footage he feared Wilder would use in lieu of a screen test. The week previous, Wilder had agreed to meet Eastwood on the recommendation of fellow director Arthur Lubin with a view to possibly using him in his forthcoming movie, The Spirit of St. Louis, a biographical feature film based on the life of aviator Charles Lindbergh.

As we now know, James Stewart was eventually given the part, and Eastwood found another route to success.

Transcript follows.

(Source: Geoff Harding; Image: Clint Eastwood, via.)

Tuesday, October 26, 1954

Dear Mr. Wilder,

Thank you for taking your time to see me last Tuesday when Mr. Arthur Lubin was kind enough to introduce us on your set. Mr. Solly Baiano of Warner Brothers seemed quite enthusiastic about my possibilities for the Lindbergh role, when he met me here at Universal where I am under contract.

I was concerned when you mentioned to Mr. Lubin that you would like to see a test. The only one Universal has made was one of those difficult interviews in which I felt I was not very good, even though I was given a contract on the strength of it. When the time comes for casting, I would appreciate so much your letting me talk with you rather than seeing this test, for I have improved in every way since that time. I feel the qualities you might be seeking can better be found in a personal interview.

Again, may I thank you and trust I did not take too much of your time. I now look forward to our next meeting.

Respectfully yours,

Clint Eastwood

4020 Arch Drive
North Hollywood

Monday, 15 March 2010

Metal fasteners, tape, and staples

It's surprising to think that two astronauts on the brink of leaving Earth would have either the time or inclination to respond to mail from enthusiasts, but that's exactly what happened in May of 1969 when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin replied to a young Belgian by the name of Jean Etienne. Jean's father - an amateur radio operator - was eager to pick up the crew's radio transmissions from the Moon and so Jean, clearly an optimist, seized the opportunity to ask them personally by post. Below is their response, complete with the frequencies required by Jean's father and some information about the spacecraft's heat shield that makes the operation sound - to the layman at least - worryingly lo-tech.

Of course the tape and staples held everything in place, and two months later Armstrong and Aldrin became the first humans to step foot on the Moon.

Transcript follows.



MAY 22 1969

Jean Etienne
rue Joseph-Bovy, 17
Embourg (Liege)

Dear Jean:

Thank you very much for your letter to Colonel Aldrin and myself.

The shield is made of a number of types of insulating materials such as aluminum foil — and a number of different types of thin plastic sheets of various colors. They are fastened to the spacecraft with metal fasteners, tape, and staples. The same kind of insulation will be used on the moon landing. There are a number of different transmitters, all of low power. Frequencies are as follows:

2101.8 M Hz
2287.5 M Hz
2272.5 M Hz
2106.4 M Hz
2282.5 M Hz
259.7 M Hz
296.8 M Hz

Again, thank you for your interest in writing to us.


(Signed, 'Neil Armstrong')

Neil A. Armstrong
NASA Astronaut

(Signed, 'Edwin E. Aldrin Jr')

Edwin E. Aldrin, Jr.
Colonel, USAF
NASA Astronaut

Friday, 12 March 2010

I am going to put the Commission out of commission

Born in 1863, one-time blacksmith Bob 'The Freckled Freak' Fitzsimmons was the world's first three-division champion boxer and, as a result of his phenomenal upper-body strength, possessed the hardest punch of all fighters by quite a margin. Just prior to writing the following letter on his truly magnificent, befittingly boastful letterhead, the boxing commission had refused to renew his boxing license on account of his age (he was 51) and he was clearly furious. Refusing to accept the decision he appealed, but to no avail; his last fight took place that year. Three years later Fitzsimmons passed away after suffering from pneumonia.

Transcript follows.


JOHN MEEK, Manager

To Sporting Editor:
Who, in your opinion, is the best fighter of to-day and also of all times?
We may say, Bob Fitzsimmons, everything considered.
N.Y.Evening World, Dec.2, 1913

Bound Brook, NJ
Jan 7th 1914

My Dear Mr Biglow

I received the beautifull smoking jacket also the bottle of Byes and I thank you for them the coat fits fine but the Wiskey I will leave for my friends to drink, and I hope I will never touch Wiskey again it is no good. I am training hard now. I fight Dan Daley on the 22 of this month at Wiliams Port Pa and I fight the Boxing Commission next week. I am going to put the Commission out of commission they have no right to bar me from boxing and stop me from geting a living, they have even bared me from sparing with my son in an exibition even if I was offered 1000 a week I would not be alowed to get it by sparing in NJ State a fine job they have done, but we will suprise them before long. I had Mabel out Monday night to dinner. We dined at three places then I walked home with her to the Welington Hotel. I do not think she is very happy but she has herself to blame and no one else, I feel sorry for her anyway. Trusting you are injoying good health, and I wish you and yours a Happy New Year.

Sincerely your friend

Robert Fitzsimmons

Thursday, 11 March 2010

Lou Gehrig's Disease

In July of 1939, after nine years of fruitless treatment, multiple sclerosis sufferer Bess Bell Neely took a chance and wrote to baseball legend Lou Gehrig in the hope that he may be able to help. Gehrig himself had been diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis the previous month following a visible decline in his health for the best part of a year, and on July 2nd he had no choice but to retire from the Yankees. Just two weeks later, he replied to Neely with the following encouraging letter.

Despite the early signs of improvement at Mayo Clinic, Gehrig passed away less than two years later, aged just 37. Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis is now known as Lou Gehrig's Disease by many.

Transcript follows.



Dear Mrs. Neely-

It is with deep regret that I read of your condition, sclerosis. However, the condition in which I am afflicted may differ from the way you are infected, so if I told you of my treatments I might be hurting you instead of helping.

I cannot too strongly urge you to visit Mayo Clinic as soon as you see your way clear. You may feel that you cannot afford it but I can assure you they are the most reasonable institution imaginable - and I'm sure they will find out in short order what will prevent growing worse each year. I too was doctoring with no success, and in less than a month I definitely feel they have checked it for me. I have gained about 8 pounds in the last 3 weeks since my return.

A visit now may seem very expensive, but in the long run I believe you will agree it was the cheapest.

May I wish you every success and a quick recovery.


Lou Gehrig.

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Advice for an aspiring architect, in 1931

In December of 1931, as the Great Depression took hold, a young man by the name of Richard Crews wrote to a number of prominent architecture firms in the city of Chicago. Soon to enter the profession himself, Crews was curious to learn about an established architect's typical working day, and so sent letters to local masters of the trade to find out from the best possible source. Four incredibly gracious responses arrived, including the one below; a letter filled with honest, sage and extremely quotable advice from Charles Morgan, a highly regarded architectural artist who in the '20s and '30s provided renderings for a number of large firms such as Frank Lloyd Wright. Had he written it today, I'm sure much of the advice would remain.

Many thanks to F.A. Bernett Books for allowing me to show the letter (which, incidentally, can be bought at their website along with the other three).

Transcript follows.

thirty third floor 333 north Michigan Ave

telephone Randolph 6014


Richard Crews
4524 Malden Avenue
Chicago, Illinois

Dear Richard Crews:

I am sorry to be delayed these few days in answering your letter of Dec. 21st but I shall hasten and do it before the new year.

Of course, you would be more interested in what an architect does in a day's work in normal times, than now. So if you will excuse the liberty I shall make the discussion, or at least the answer, on what an architect should do in a day's work.

An architect should, unless it is impossible, answer his mail the first thing in the morning. Then his mind is free to plan and design upon the problems of his clients. He goes to work planning from within outward just as truly as from the ground upward. There are very few real architects who get big jobs because it is only the politician who gets big jobs, and the politician never has time to be an architect. So by all means the architect should learn to do small jobs well, because of the very fact that if he is sincere he shall probably never get big ones.

The architect should always remember that Jesus was an architect and that to be entitled to the same name he should love truth and beauty above all else.

An architect is too busy to bother much about luncheon. A sandwich at noon is enough. He draws or builds models most of the day because that is an aid to his imagination. Imagination is the only quality that is creative.

Above all else the artist must not copy. Imitate nothing except principle. That is best understood by reading such as Henry Thoreau's "Walden" and of the lives of great people.

A real architect like a good man in any business does not waste any time whatever doing things of which he might be ashamed. He must above all be a sincere artist.

I congratulate you upon your choice and sincerely wish you much strength and happiness. Make no compromise from that which you know is right.

Sincerely yours,

(Signed, 'Charles Morgan, Chicago Associate of Frank Lloyd Wright.')

December 30, 1931

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

A charming apology from Lewis Carroll

As Tim Burton's take on the story consumes moviegoers across the world, it seems a good opportunity to read a letter or two from the original creator of Alice in Wonderland: Charles Dodgson. Both letters were written by Dodgson - better-known by most under his pseudonym, Lewis Carroll - to a young friend called Isabel Seymour in May of 1869, just four years after the release of the first Alice novel, and concern a railway ticket he had forgotten to pass on to the child. The second letter in particular is a fantastic demonstration of his ability to transform the most ordinary of situations into an entertaining story. 

The letters were kindly supplied by The Rosenbach Museum & Library in Philadelphia; home to one of the finest Lewis Carroll collections in the world where hundreds of related letters, photographs, books - even original drawings by Sir John Tenniel - can be enjoyed. A visit to their website will reveal more. 

Transcripts follow.

First Letter

Second Letter


First Letter
The Chestnuts,
May 15, 1869

My dear Isabel,

Words cannot tell how horrified, terrified, petrified (everything ending with "fied," including all my sisters here saying "fie!" when they heard of it) I was when I found that I had carried off your ticket to Guildford. I enquired directly I got there whether ­anything could be done, but found you must have arrived in London some time before I got here. So there was nothing to be done but tear my hair (there is almost none left now), weep, and surrender myself to the police.

I do hope you didn’t suffer any inconvenience on account of my forgetfulness, but you see you would talk so all the way (though I begged you not) that you drove everything out of my head, including the very small portion of brain that is usually to be found there.

Miss Lloyd will never forgive me for it—of that I feel certain. But I have some hope that after many years, when you see me, an aged man on crutches, hobbling to your door, the sternness of your features may relax for a moment, and, holding out the forefinger of your left hand, you may bring yourself to say, "All is forgotten and forgiven."

I hardly dare ask what really happened at Paddington, whether the gentleman and lady, who were in the carriage, helped you out of the difficulty, or whether your maid had money enough, or whether you had to go to prison. If so, never mind: I’ll do my best to get you out, and at any rate you shant be executed.

Seriously, I am so sorry for it, and with all sorts of apologies, I am sincerely yours,

C. L. Dodgson

Second Letter
Ch. Ch. Oxford
May 29, 1869

My dear Isabel,

I was so sorry to hear from Miss Lloyd of your not being well, and I hope you will not think of writing to me about 'Alice' till you are well enough to do so. I only write this on the chance of your being in the humour to read it, or to have it read to you. When you are in that state, I should like you to know the real reason of my having carried off your railway-ticket. You will guess by this, of course, that my last letter was a hoax. Well, you told me, you know, that it was your first railway-journey alone: naturally that set me thinking, "Now what can I do to give her a really exciting adventure?"

Now three plans occurred to me. The first was to wait till the train had started from Reading, and then fire a pistol through your carriage-window, so that the bullet might go near your head and startle you a little. But there were two objections to this plan—one, that I hadn’t got a loaded pistol with me, the other, that the bullet might have gone in at a wrong window, and some people are so stupid, they might not have taken it as a joke.

The second plan was to give you, just as the train left Reading, what should look like a Banbury-cake, but should afterwards turn out to be a rattlesnake. The only objection to this plan was, that they didn’t keep that kind at Reading. They had only common Banbury-cakes, which wouldn’t have done at all.

The third plan was to keep the ticket, so that you might be alarmed when you got to London. Of course I arranged thoroughly with the Guard that the thing was not to be overdone. He was to look a little stern at first, and then gradually to let his expressive features kindle into a smile of benevolence. I was very particular on this point and almost my last words to him were, "Are you sure you can manage the benevolence?" and I made him practice it several times on the platform before I would let him go.

Now you know my whole plan for making your journey a real Adventure. I only hope it succeeded. So, hoping much to hear you are better again, I remain very truly yours,

C. L. Dodgson

P.S. I must tell you candidly that the whole of this letter is a hoax, and that my real reason was—to be able to make you a nice little portable present. Friends suggested a corkscrew, a work-box, or a harmonium: but, as I cleverly remarked, "These are all very well in their way, but you can only use them sometimes—whereas a railway ticket is always handy!" Have I chosen well?

Monday, 8 March 2010

Einstein on astrology

A brief 1943 letter from Albert Einstein to a Eugene Simon, care of Rabbi Herman Simon, in which the renowned scientist clearly makes his opinion of astrology known. This flies in the face of many astrologers' claims that Einstein was a firm supporter of the subject; these beliefs all stemming from the following quote, incorrectly attributed to him in a 1951 book by Swiss-Canadian astrologer Werner Hirsig:
'Astrology is a science in itself and contains an illuminating body of knowledge. It taught me many things, and I am greatly indebted to it. Geophysical evidence reveals the power of the stars and the planets in relation to the terrestrial. In turn, astrology reinforces this power to some extent. This is why astrology is like a life-giving elixir to mankind.'
Transcript follows. Many thanks to Claire for the image.

January 7, 1943

Mr. Eugene Simon
c.o. Rabbi Herman Simon
184 East Willmore Ave.
St.Paul, Minn.

Dear Sir:

I fully agree with you concerning the pseudo-science of astrology. The interesting point is that this kind of superstition is so tenacious that it could persist through so many centuries.

Very truly yours,

(Signed, 'A. Einstein')

Professor Albert Einstein.

Thursday, 4 March 2010

When a real and final catastrophe should befall us...

On April 9th, 1948, a month before Israel declared independence, just over one hundred residents of Deir Yassin were massacred by members of two militant Zionist groups - Lehi and Irgun - as part of an effort to cleanse the area of its Arab population. The next day, Albert Einstein wrote the following passionate letter to Shepard Rifkin, a New York-based representative of Lehi who had recently written to Einstein in the hope of garnering some high-profile support for the group's efforts. His belief that Einstein - a man who publicly backed the creation of a Jewish homeland in the British Mandate of Palestine, but by different means - would agree to such a suggestion was clearly misplaced.

Transcript follows.

April 10, 1948

Mr. Shepard Rifkin
American Friends of the Fighters
for the Freedom of Israel
149 Second Ave.
New York 3,N.Y.

Dear Sir:

When a real and final catastrophe should befall us in Palestine the first responsible for it would be the British and the second responsible for it the Terrorist organizations build up from our own ranks.

I am not willing to see anybody associated with those misled and criminal people.

Sincerely yours,

(Signed, 'A. Einstein')

Albert Einstein

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

What hath God wrought?

The United States' first publicly demonstrated telegram was dispatched on May 24th, 1844, by the system's developer, Samuel Morse. The telegram's message - What hath God wrought? - was chosen from the bible by the daughter of Morse's friend, Henry Ellsworth, and successfully travelled from Washington, D.C. to Baltimore, Maryland, instantly stunning the general public. Below is a photo of the outgoing paper tape. Each code character's corresponding letter was subsequently handwritten underneath by Morse himself.

Click here for the full, extremely wide image.

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Happiness is within you...

Please excuse me while I exhibit another music-related letter, again courtesy of the near-bottomless Hard Rock Memorabilia vaults. Today's poetic gem was penned rather beautifully by the late Jimi Hendrix on an unknown date, to a girlfriend he affectionately called 'little girl'. It's all at once exceptionally sweet, gently encouraging and yet another example of the musician's effortless cool.

Even his handwriting sings.

Transcript follows.

Thanks to Jeff at Hard Rock for another wonderful letter. As always, a visit to the Hard Rock Memorabilia website is recommended to all, and don't forget to pay them a visit on Facebook.

little girl.....

happiness is within unlock the chains from your heart and let yourself grow—
like the sweet flower you are.....
I know the answer—
Just spread your wings and set yourself

Love to you forever

Jimi Hendrix

Monday, 1 March 2010

This was dictated before the world fell in on me

The main body of this letter was dictated by then-Vice President of the United States Harry Truman on the morning of April 12th, 1945. In it, he tells sister-in-law May Wallace of his ever-increasing workload after just three months in a role for which he didn't actually campaign. Just hours after the letter was dictated, President Roosevelt passed away, and when a shocked Harry Truman eventually returned to sign the letter - at which point he also hand-wrote the postscript - he was President of the United States.

Transcript follows.


April 12, 1945

Mrs. George P. Wallace
605 West Van Horn Road
Independence, Missouri

Dear May:

Certainly did appreciate your letter of the Ninth and so did the whole family.

I am sending young Perryman the picture which you suggested.

I imagine that Spott is getting fatter and fatter. I have gained nine pounds myself. What do you think of that? So Spot and I will be in the same class.

Glad you liked the Buffalo speech.

The situation here gets no better fast. It looks as if I have more to do than ever and less time to do it, but some way we get it done. If I don't get this letter dictated to you, I will never get it written.

Tell George and Frank and Natalie hello. Bess and Margaret and Mrs. Wallace all want to be remembered. They are all in good health and spirits.

Sincerely yours,

(Signed, 'Harry')

Harry S. Truman

This was dictated before the world fell in on me. But I've talked to you since and you know what a blow it was. But - I must meet it.