Wednesday, 30 June 2010

I'd rather die than formally address a group of people

In 1970, the late-William Steig won a coveted Caldecott Medal for his children's book, Sylvester and the Magic Pebble, and although delighted to receive such recognition for his work, the subsequent awards ceremony presented the glossophobic Shrek! author with a problem in the form of an acceptance speech. The nervous letter below was written by Steig a month prior to said event and perfectly illustrates a fear held - in varying degrees - by most.

Incidentally, Steig's fantastic, endearing acceptance speech was received incredibly well by all in attendance. It can be found in its entirety below the letter.

Transcript follows.

May 10, ’70

Dear Mr. Heins,

Bob Kraus just read your letter to me (the one about my Caldecott acceptance speech) over the phone. I’m afraid now that in addition to having to make a speech, which for me will be like walking on red hot embers & broken glass, I will have the additional burden of feeling that my speech will leave people dissatisfied & make me seem both ungracious & ungrateful. I sincerely meant what I indicated in the opening of my speech: I would almost rather die than have to formally address a group of people larger than two in number. I’ve successfully avoided doing so for 50 years; I’ve been depressed ever since January & will not realize happiness again until after June 30th when my trial is over. I’ve told this to many people, but no one believes me & I feel like a character in a Kafka novel. Please believe me when I say that speaking only a few words will require a superhuman effort for me; that I can no longer, in my sixties, hope to change my character; that I am making this effort only out of genuine gratitude; and also because I worry about my publisher, who could be an innocent victim of my neurosis.

I want to make more books, books good enough to win prizes, & I’m hoping that my inability to make speeches will not hamper my progress.

Sincerely yours

William Steig

William Steig's Caldecott Award Acceptance Speech, 1970
The last time I spoke formally to a group of people anywhere near this size was over a half-century ago, at P.S. 53 in the Bronx. I very quickly got tongue-tied and forgot what I was supposed to say. I have avoided this kind of confrontation ever since then. I was a poor speaker at age ten, and I've grown rustier with the years. So -- to reduce my discomfort, and yours -- I shall make this a short speech. Anyway, as a matter of form, it should not be as long as the little book that landed me here.

Among the things that affected me most profoundly as a child -- and consequently as an adult -- were certain works of art: Grimm's fairy tales, Charlie Chaplin movies, Humperdinck's opera Hansel and Gretel, the Katzenjammer Kids, Pinocchio. Pinocchio especially. I can still remember after this long stretch of time the turmoil of emotions, the excitement, the fears, the delights, and the wonder with which I followed Pinocchio's adventures.

Often, at work, or in everyday living, I do things or have experiences for which I find symbols that somehow derive from Collodi's great book. Recently I had a dream in which I was being led towards a place of judgment by two policemen, each with a firm grip on one of my arms. No doubt I was feeling guilty about something. But the scene was right out of a similar episode in Pinocchio, and I am sure that was its derivation. And it is very likely that Sylvester became a rock and then again a live donkey because I had once been so deeply impressed with Pinocchio's longing to have his spirit encased in flesh instead of wood.

I am well aware not only of the importance of children -- whom we naturally cherish and who we also embody our hopes for the future -- but also of the importance of what we provide for them in the way of art; and I realize that we are competing with a lot of other cultural influences, some of which beguile them in false directions.

Art, including juvenile literature, has the power to make any spot on earth the living center of the universe, and unlike science, which often gives us the illusion of understanding things we really do not understand, it helps us to know life in a way that still keeps before us the mystery of things. It enhances the sense of wonder. And wonder is respect for life. Art also stimulates the adventurousness and the playfulness that keep us moving in a lively way and that lead us to useful discovery.

Books for children are something I take seriously. I am hopeful that more and more the work I do for children, as well as the work I do for adults, will approach the condition of art. I believe that what this award and this ceremony represent is our mutual striving in the same direction, and I feel encouraged by the faith you have expressed in me in honoring my book with the Caldecott Medal.

I want to express my appreciation and gratitude to my friend and publisher, Bob Kraus of Windmill Books, who has the insight that I -- and others like me -- could make a contribution in this field, and who, because he himself is an artist, recognizes that the artist-publisher relationship is a symbiotic relationship, mutually beneficial not only in terms of monetary reward but in the more lasting reward of producing worthwhile work and being culturally useful.

Finally, I want to say that I still feel the pleasure and the gratitude that I felt when Mary Elizabeth Ledlie telephoned me from Chicago. And I love you all. I love you because you must love me. Anyway, that's how I understand your liking my work, which is a large part of me. Thank you.

Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Marvel are the droppings of the creative world

Mid-1987, after nine years as editor-in-chief, Jim Shooter was fired from his position at Marvel Comics and almost immediately, Vince Colletta - an oft-criticised Marvel inker and friend of Shooter who, it is suggested, had long been given work only due to his strong bond with the boss - found himself ostracised by his remaining colleagues. Soon, with little work reaching his desk and relationships increasingly strained, Colletta - clearly still angry at the dismissal of Shooter - wrote the following letter to the management.

The following letter contains language some may find offensive.

Transcript follows.

Marvel are the droppings of the creative world. You were destined to float in the cesspool till urine logged and finally sink to the bottom with the rest of the shit but along came Jim Shooter who rolled up his sleeves and rescued you.

He gave you a title, respectability, power and even a credit card that you used and abused. He made you the highest payed Editors in the history of the business. He protected you against all that would tamper with your rights, your power and your pocketbook.

He backed you against all Prima Donna free lancers no matter how big...his pockets were always open to you. No cry of help was too small for him to turn his back on.

As heard in the "Brass" section of the company..."He never asked for anything for himself...always for his men."

The roof over your head, the clothes on your back, the car you drive and the trinkets you buy for your blind wives and girlfriends you owe to the Pittsburg kid.

For all he did for repayed him by attacking him like a pack of yellow, prickless faggots. Ripping away his flesh from his body and laughing and pounding your chest like conquering ghouls and long after his bones were dry you continued to pour salt on them to squeeze every ounce of pain out of him.

Not the slightest whimper or cry or tear came out of this man. With you still biting at his ankles, he put on his coat and walked away...Displaying more class and poise in defeat than all of you did in victory...Jesus had one Judas...Jim had many, those that speared him and worse, those that watched...

I stuck by him and for that you've nailed me on the same cross...I thank you for that...It's an honor to be crucified with Jim Shooter...a man who none of you will ever be.

Vince Colletta

Monday, 28 June 2010

We are sinking fast

Two telegrams, both sent within hours of each other and both painting an entirely different picture of the same tragic situation. The first, received by S. S. Birma at approximately 01:40hrs on April 15th, 1912, is the last complete distress call to have left the radio room of RMS Titanic, the passenger steamship which - forty minutes later - sank completely, hours after colliding with an iceberg. The second telegram, sent by White Star Line a couple of hours later to the General Post Office of London (employers of the postal staff aboard RMS Titanic), incorrectly reported no loss of life following the collision. In fact, 1517 people perished in total.

Note: CQD means 'All Stations: Distress', whilst MGY was Titanic's call sign. SOS surely needs no introduction.


We are sinking fast passengers being put into boats




Friday, 25 June 2010

Yours Faithfully, Adolf Hitler

In September of 1931, a young British journalist working for the Berlin office of the Daily Express invited the most unlikely of figures to contribute to a forthcoming feature in the newspaper. The feature in question was to be a series of articles relating to the current financial crisis in Britain, each written by a foreign 'celebrity', and Sefton Delmer - the 27-year-old bilingual journalist - attempted to recruit Adolf Hitler. Despite having already met Delmer on a number of occasions, the future Führer declined by way of the courteous letter seen below.

Transcripts in German and English follow. Enormous thanks to Sam Dodgin for supplying the translation.


MÜNCHEN, DEN 30. Sept. 1931.


Sehr geehrter Herr Delmer!

So ehrend für mich Ihre liebenswürdige Aufforderung ist, meine Ansichten über die derzeitige Krise in England mitzuteilen, so gross sind aber auch meine Bedenken, mich einer solchen Aufgabe zu unterziehen. Ich fürchte, dass vielleicht ein Teil des englischen Publikums es als anmaßlich empfinden würde, wenn ich als Deutscher Auffassungen in einer englischen Zeitung vertrete, die nach meinem besten Wissen und Gewissen nichts anderes sein könnten, als eine Kritik politischer Maßnahmen und Vorgänge, die bisher leider auch von einem grossen Teil des englischen Volkes sicherlich als richtig angesehen worden sind. Ich hoffe ja allerdings, dass gerade aus dieser Krise heraus in England die Geneigtheit wachsen wird, aus eigenem Ermessen die letzten zwölf Jahre einer Nachprüfung zu unterziehen. Ich würde glücklich sein, wenn sich daraus eine Überwindung jener unseligen Kriegspsychose in solchem Umfange ergeben könnte, dass die von mir und meiner Bewegung ersehnte Anbahnung eines wirklich herzlichen Verhältnisses zwischen dem englischen und deutschen Volk endlich Wirklichkeit würde. Denn ich glaube, dass die nunmehr hereinbrechende Krise überhaupt nur durch ein engstes politisches Zusammenarbeiten jener Nationen gelöst werden kann, die in der Wiederaufrichtung eines natürlichen europäischen Gleichgewichtes die erste Voraussetzung zur Beschäftigung mit jenen grossen Weltfragen sehen, unter denen auch England heute leidet.

Ich bitte daher nochmals, von dem mich so ehrenden Ersuchen absehen zu wollen und ich verbleibe

Ihr sehr ergebener


Herrn D. Sefton Delmer
Berliner Büro des Daily Express
Berlin W 10, Viktoriastr.11.
Translated Transcript
Dear Herr Delmer!

Your kind request to publish my views on the current crisis in England was an honour for me, matched only by my reservations about undertaking such a request. I fear that perhaps a section of the English public would consider it presumptuous if I, as a German, presented views in an English newspaper, which could, to the best of my knowledge and conscience, be nothing other than a critique of political methods and traditions, which have certainly been seen hitherto as right by a greater part of the English people. I do certainly hope that out of this crisis the inclination will arise to view the last 12 years as a test, as in my own estimation. I would be happy if from this an overcoming of that wretched wartime mentality could to some extent be achieved, so that the development of a warm relationship between the German and English peoples that my movement longs for would finally be a reality. I believe that the currently occurring crisis can only be resolved through close political co-operation of those nations, which see a natural European balance as a prerequisite to giving fresh heart to the consideration of those worldwide issues, under which England suffers with the rest of us.

I again wish you to accept my declination of your honourable request and I remain

Yours Faithfully


Wednesday, 23 June 2010

You are about to embark upon the Great Crusade

On the evening of June 5th, 1944, just hours prior to the D-day landings in Normandy, copies of the letter seen below - Eisenhower's Order of the Day - were distributed to members of the allied forces. The meticulously crafted, highly encouraging call-to-arms was drafted by Eisenhower himself over a period of four months, and remains one of the most important documents in military history.

Transcript follows.


Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen of the Allied Expeditionary Force!

You are about to embark upon the Great Crusade, toward which we have striven these many months. The eyes of the world are upon you. The hopes and prayers of liberty-loving people everywhere march with you. In company with our brave Allies and brothers-in-arms on other Fronts, you will bring about the destruction of the German war machine, the elimination of Nazi tyranny over the oppressed peoples of Europe, and security for ourselves in a free world.

Your task will not be an easy one. Your enemy is well trained, well equipped and battle hardened. He will fight savagely.

But this is the year 1944! Much has happened since the Nazi triumphs of 1940-41. The United Nations have inflicted upon the Germans great defeats, in open battle, man-to-man. Our air offensive has seriously reduced their strength in the air and their capacity to wage war on the ground. Our Home Fronts have given us an overwhelming superiority in weapons and munitions of war, and placed at our disposal great reserves of trained fighting men. The tide has turned! The free men of the world are marching together to Victory!

I have full confidence in your courage and devotion to duty and skill in battle. We will accept nothing less than full Victory!

Good luck! And let us beseech the blessing of Almighty God upon this great and noble undertaking.

(Signed, 'Dwight D. Eisenhower')

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

The quilt is beyond beautiful... Beyond!!!

In April of 2008, members of various online communities came together in an effort to send their idol, Johnny Depp, a unique quilt for his birthday the next year, and by February of 2009 it had been crafted. The quilt, comprising of over a hundred small squares of material - all signed by various fans around the world - was then sent to Depp that April. He graciously responded with the letter seen below, just a month later.

Transcript follows. For more information about the 'Namaste Project', visit this blog.

Puerto Rico, 25th May, 2009

Dearest Susan & All Those Involved With The Making Of...,

Upon opening the package I received recently, I, of course, had no idea what to expect. It didn't matter however, since nothing could have prepared me for what I found. After I had picked myself back up off the floor, I knew the first thing I had to do was write to you all!!!

The quilt is beyond beautiful... Beyond!!! I have no idea how these few words can offer up any more than scant reward for such a tremendous effort, but please know that I am at my most sincere, when I say that the generosity of spirit from everyone involved with the construction of this astonishing work of art has truly, truly touched me. I am profoundly grateful. How kind, thoughtful and wonderful of you all to produce something so personal and so perfect for my birthday!!!

Thank you, to you all, from the bottom of my heart. You are diamonds, all of you, and of course, friends. Your magnificent creation, and the names thereon, will live proudly in my abode, with my precious famille and I, for evermore.

Your friend,

With all love and respect=



Monday, 21 June 2010

To All Potty-Mouthed Inbetweeners

At the risk of featuring too much Disney-related correspondence within such a short space of time, here we have an intriguing inter-office memo passed on to all members of the studio's Inbetween Department in 1939 due to an influx of 'gross language' amongst certain artists. It seems the management were concerned about the impact of such coarse chatter on the company's female staff. The memo instantly brings to mind the first missive ever featured on Letters of Note.

Also of note, and my final Disney document for a while - I promise - is the 1946 Cartoon Continuity Chart.

Transcript follows.



TO MR All personnel IBT Dept.
FROM MR Hal Adelquist
DATE January 17 1939
SUBJECT Departmental conduct

Attention has been called to the rather gross language that is being used by some members of the IBT Department in the presence of some of our female employees.

It has always been Walt's hope that the Studio could be a place where girls can be employed without fear of embarrassment or humiliation.

Your cooperation in this matter will be appreciated.

Friday, 18 June 2010

What you say should be applied to others rather than to me

In January of 1890, six months before his death, a lengthy review of Vincent van Gogh's work appeared in the highly influential French gazette, Mercure de France. The entirely positive article is notable for two reasons, the first being that this was the only such review of the artist's work to be published during his lifetime; however, also noteworthy is the response from van Gogh himself, in the form of a letter (seen below) written to the critic responsible: Albert Aurier. In it, a thankful but very humble van Gogh attempts to deflect Aurier's praise toward his influences - namely Gauguin and Monteicelli - whilst staunchly defending the work of Jean-Louis-Ernest Meissonier. Also mentioned are the artist's famous Sunflowers paintings.

Transcript and translation follow, both courtesy of the Van Gogh Museum.


Cher Monsieur Aurier,

Merci beaucoup de votre article dans le Mercure de France, lequel m’a beaucoup surpris. Je l’aime beaucoup comme oeuvre d’art en soi, je trouve que vous faites de la couleur avec vos paroles; enfin dans votre article je retrouve mes toiles mais meilleures qu’elles ne le sont en réalité, plus riches, plus significatives.– Pourtant je me sens mal à l’aise lorsque j’y songe que plutôt qu’à moi ce que vous dites reviendrait à d’autres.– Par exemple à Monticelli surtout. Parlant de “il est – que je sache – le seul peintre qui perçoive le chromatisme des chôses avec cette intensité, avec cette qualité métallique, gemmique”– s’il vous plait d’aller voir, chez mon frère, certain bouquet de Monticelli – bouquet en blanc, bleu myosotys & orangé – alors vous sentirez ce que je veux dire. Mais depuis longtemps les meilleurs, les plus étonnants Monticelli sont en Ecosse, en Angleterre. Dans un musée du nord – celui de Lille – je crois – il doit cependant encore y avoir une merveille de lui, autrement riche et certes non moins Français que le départ pour Cythère de Watteau. Actuellement M. Lauzet est en train de reproduire une trentaine de Monticelli. Voici –, à ce que je sache, il n’y a pas de coloriste venant aussi droit et directement de Delacroix; et pourtant est-il probable, à mon avis, que Monticelli ne tenait que de seconde main les théories de la couleur de Delacroix; notamment il les tenait de Diaz et de Ziem. Son tempérament d’artiste à lui, Monticelli, cela me semble être juste celui de l’auteur du Decamerone – Boccace – Un mélancolique, un malheureux assez résigné, voyant passer la noce du beau monde, les amoureux de son temps, les peignant, les analysant, lui – le mis de côté. Oh! il n’imite pas Boccace, pas davantage que Henri Leys n’imita les primitifs.– Eh bien, c’était donc pour dire que sur mon nom paraissent s’égarer des chôses que vous feriez mieux de dire de Monticelli, auquel je dois beaucoup. Ensuite je dois beaucoup à Paul Gauguin avec lequel j’ai travaillé durant quelques mois à Arles et que d’ailleurs je connaissais déjà à Paris.

Gauguin, cet artiste curieux, cet étranger duquel l’allure et le regard rappellent vaguement le portrait d’homme de Rembrandt à la galerie Lacaze, cet ami qui aime à faire sentir qu’un bon tableau doit être l’équivalent d’une bonne action, non pas qu’il le dise, mais enfin il est difficile de le fréquenter sans songer à une certaine responsabilité morale.– Quelques jours avant de nous séparer, alors quea la maladie m’a forcée d’entrer dans une maison de Santé, j’ai essayé de peindre “sa place vide”.

C’est une étude de son fauteuil en bois brun rouge sombre, le siège en paille verdâtre et à la place de l’absent un flambeau allumé et des romans modernes. Veuillez à l’occasion, en souvenir de lui, un peu revoir cette étude laquelle est toute entière dans des tons rompus verts et rouges. Vous vous apercevez donc peut-être que votre article eût été plus juste et – il me semblerait – en conséquence plus puissant – si traitant la question d’avenir “peinture des tropiques” et la question de couleur, vous y eussiez – avant de parler de moi – fait justice pour Gauguin et pour Monticelli. Car la part qui m’en revient ou reviendra demeurera, je vous l’assure, fort secondaire.–

Et puis, j’aurais encore autre chôse à vous demander. Mettons que les deux toiles de tournesols qui actuellement sont aux vingtistes ayent de certaines qualités de couleur et puis aussi que ça exprime une idée symbolisant “la gratitude” – Est-ce autre chôse que tant de tableaux de fleurs plus habilement peints et qu’on n’aprécie pas encore assez, les Roses trémières, les Iris Jaunes du père Quo[st]? [Les mag]nifiques bouquets de pivoines dont est prodigue Jeannin?– Voyez-[vous], [il me sem]ble si difficile de faire la séparation entre impressionisme et  [autr]e chôse, je ne vois pas l’utilité d’autant d’esprit sectaire que nou[s] [avo]ns vu ces dernières années, mais j’en redoute le ridicule.–

[Et] en terminant je déclare ne pas comprendre que vous parliez d’infamies [d]e Meissonnier. C’est peutêtre de cet excellent Mauve que j’ai hérité pour Meissonnier une admiration sans bornes aucunes; Mauve était intarissable sur l’éloge de Troyon et de Meissonnier – combinaison étrange.–

Ceci pour y attirer votre attention jusqu’à quel point à l’étranger on admire sans faire le moindre cas de ce qui divise si souvent malencontreusement les artistes en France. Ce que Mauve répétait souvent était à peu près ceci, “si l’on veut faire de la couleur il faut aussi savoir dessiner un coin de cheminée ou d’intérieur comme Meissonnier.”–

Au prochain envoi que je ferai à mon frère j’ajouterai une étude de cyprès pour vous si vous voulez bien me faire le plaisir de l’accepter en souvenir de votre article. J’y travaille encore dans ce moment, désirant y mettre une figurine.– Le cyprès est si caractéristique au paysage de Provence et vous le sentiez en disant: “même la couleur noire”. Jusqu’à présent je n’ai pas pu les faire comme je le sens; les émotions qui me prennent devant la nature vont chez moi jusqu’à l’évanouissement et alors il en résulte une quinzaine de jours pendant lesquels je suis incapable de travailler. Pourtant, avant de partir d’ici, je compte encore une fois revenir à la charge pour attaquer les cyprès. L’étude que je vous ai destinée en représente un groupe au coin d’un champ de blé par une journée de mistral d’été. C’est donc la note d’un certain noir enveloppée dans du bleu mouvant par le grand air qui circule, et opposition fait à la note noire le vermillon des coquelicots.

Vous verrez que cela constitue à peu près l’assemblage de tons de ces jolis tissages écossais carrelés: vert, bleu, rouge, jaune, noir, qui à vous comme à moi dans le temps ont paru si charmants et qu’hélas aujourd’hui on ne voit plus guère.

Recevez en attendant, cher monsieur, l’expression de ma gratitude pour votre article. Si je venais à Paris au printemps je ne manquerais certes pas de venir vous remercier en personne.

Vincent v. Gogh

lorsque l’étude que je vous enverrai sera sèche à fond, aussi dans les empâtements, ce ne sera pas le cas avant un an – je croirais que vous feriez bien d’y donner un fort vernis. Et entretemps il faudra plusieurs fois la laver à grande eau pour faire évacuer complètement l’huile. Cette étude est peinte en plein bleu de Prusse, cette couleur de laquelle on dit tant de mal et de laquelle néamoins Delacroix s’est tant servi. Je crois qu’une fois les tons du bleu de Prusse bien secs, en vernissant vous obtiendrez les tons noirs très noirs nécessaires pour faire valoir les differents verts sombres.–

Je ne sais trop comment il faudrait encadrer cette étude mais y tenant que cela fasse penser à ces chères étoffes écossaises, j’ai remarqué qu’un cadre plat très simple, mine orange vif, fait l’effet voulu avec les bleus du fond et les verts noirs des arbres.– Sans cela il n’y aurait peutêtre pas assez de rouge dans la toile et la partie supérieure paraitrait un peu froide.

Translated Transcript
Dear Mr Aurier,

Thank you very much for your article in the Mercure de France, which greatly surprised me. I like it very much as a work of art in itself, I feel that you create colours with your words; anyway I rediscover my canvases in your article, but better than they really are — richer, more significant. However, I feel ill at ease when I reflect that what you say should be applied to others rather than to me. For example, to Monticelli above all. Speaking of ‘he is – as far as I know – the only painter who perceives the coloration of things with such intensity, with such a metallic, gem-like quality’ – if you will please go and see a particular bouquet by Monticelli at my brother’s place – bouquet in white, forget-me-not blue and orange – then you will feel what I mean. But for a long time the best, the most astonishing Monticellis, have been in Scotland, in England. In a museum in the north however – the one in Lille I think, there must still be a marvel by him, far richer and certainly no less French than Watteau’s Departure for Cythera. At present Mr Lauzet is in the process of reproducing around thirty Monticellis. Here you have it, as far as I know there is no colourist who comes so straight and directly from Delacroix; and yet it is likely, in my opinion, that Monticelli only had Delacroix’s colour theories at second hand; in particular he had them from Diaz and Ziem. It seems to me that his, Monticelli’s, artistic temperament is exactly that of the author of the Decameron – Boccaccio – a melancholy man, an unhappy, rather resigned man, seeing high society’s party pass by, the lovers of his day, painting them, analyzing them, he – the outcast. Oh! He does not imitate Boccaccio any more than Henri Leys imitated the primitives. Well, this was to say that things seem to have strayed onto my name that you would do better to say of Monticelli, to whom I owe a great deal. Next I owe a great deal to Paul Gauguin, with whom I worked for a few months in Arles, and whom, besides, I already knew in Paris.

Gauguin, that curious artist, that stranger whose bearing and gaze vaguely recall Rembrandt’s Portrait of a man in the La Caze gallery, that friend who likes to make one feel that a good painting should be the equivalent of a good deed, not that he says so, but anyway it is difficult to spend time with him without thinking of a certain moral responsibility. A few days before we parted, when illness forced me to enter an asylum, I tried to paint ‘his empty place’.

It is a study of his armchair of dark, red-brown wood, the seat of greenish straw, and in the absent person’s place a lighted candlestick and some modern novels. If you have the opportunity, as a memento of him, please go and look a little at this study again, which is entirely in broken tones of green and red. You may perhaps then realize that your article would have been more accurate and – it would seem to me – thus more powerful – if in dealing with the question of the future ‘painting of the tropics’ and the question of colour, you had done justice to Gauguin and Monticelli before talking about me. For the share that falls or will fall to me will remain, I assure you, very secondary.

And then, I would also have something else to ask of you. Supposing that the two canvases of sunflowers that are presently at the Vingtistes have certain qualities of colour, and then also that they express an idea symbolizing ‘gratitude’. Is this any different from so many paintings of flowers that are more skilfully painted and which people do not yet sufficiently appreciate, père Quost’s Hollyhocks, Yellow Irises? The magnificent bouquets of peonies which Jeannin produces in abundance? You see, it seems to me so difficult to separate Impressionism from other things, I cannot see the point of so much sectarian thinking as we have seen these last few years, but I fear its absurdity.

And, in closing, I declare that I do not understand that you spoke of Meissonier’s infamies. It is perhaps from that excellent fellow Mauve that I have inherited a boundless admiration for Meissonier; Mauve was endless in his praise for Troyon and Meissonier – a strange combination. This is to draw your attention to how much people abroad admire, without attaching the slightest importance to what unfortunately so often divides artists in France. What Mauve often repeated was something like this, ‘if you want to do colour you must also know how to draw a fireside or an interior like Meissonier’.

I shall add a study of cypresses for you to the next consignment I send to my brother, if you will do me the pleasure of accepting it as a memento of your article. I am still working on it at the moment, wanting to put in a small figure. The cypress is so characteristic of the landscape of Provence, and you sensed it when saying: ‘even the colour black’. Until now I have not been able to do them as I feel it; in my case the emotions that take hold of me in the face of nature go as far as fainting, and then the result is a fortnight during which I am incapable of working. However, before leaving here, I am planning to return to the fray to attack the cypresses. The study I have intended for you depicts a group of them in the corner of a wheatfield on a summer’s day when the mistral is blowing. It is therefore the note of a certain blackness enveloped in blue moving in great circulating currents of air, and the vermilion of the poppies contrasts with the black note.

You will see that this constitutes more or less the combination of tones of those pretty Scottish checked cloths: green, blue, red, yellow, black, which once appeared so charming to you as they did to me, and which alas one scarcely sees any more these days.

In the meantime, dear sir, please accept my grateful thanks for your article. If I were to come to Paris in the spring I shall certainly not fail to come and thank you in person.

Vincent v. Gogh

When the study I send you is dry right through, also in the impasto, which will not be the case for a year – I should think you would do well to give it a good coat of varnish. And between times it should be washed several times with plenty of water to get out the oil completely. This study is painted in full Prussian blue, that colour about which people say so many bad things and which nevertheless Delacroix used so much. I think that once the Prussian blue tones are really dry, by varnishing you will obtain the dark, the very dark tones needed to bring out the different dark greens.

I do not quite know how this study should be framed, but as I really want it to make one think of those dear Scottish fabrics, I have noticed that a very simple flat frame, bright orange lead, creates the desired effect with the blues of the background and the dark greens of the trees. Without this there would perhaps not be enough red in the canvas, and the upper part would appear a little cold.

Thursday, 17 June 2010

Will you please have a brilliant idea?

From the office of author Ian Fleming in 1961, below is a letter requesting the services of artist Richard Chopping, the man responsible for creating the iconic dust jacket illustrations that helped strengthen the James Bond brand. Chopping's trompe l’oeil paintings - each of which took a month to produce - had already featured on four Bond novels, and having just finished writing The Spy Who Loved Me, Fleming was keen to secure his talents yet again. The finished cover can be seen here.

Interestingly, at the beginning of last decade Chopping made his long-held, previously unmentioned frustrations public when interviewed, saying in part:
He was a mean and vain man. I regret having anything to do with him. The paintings I did for his dust jackets are now worth thousands and they sold as many books. But he would not even let me have me royalties. Quite honestly, I'm sick to death of it all [...] I have been swindled all the way along the line. I was quite fond of doing the early work but it became a bore and I hate the books.
Transcript follows.

(The copyright in this letter is owned by the Ian Fleming Estate and is reproduced here with the Estate's permission. Further use of the letter is not permitted without the Estate's express permission.)

4 Old Mitre Court.
Fleet Street, E.C.4.
Ludgate Circus 8655

22nd June, 1961

My dear Dickie,

The jacket season has come round again and I and Capes do pray that you will once again be the artist for the same fee of two hundred guineas, if you still think that reasonable recompense.

If, as I desperately hope, you agree, we are in rather a quandary this time to suggest a suitable motif, and it occurred to me that you might have some brilliant idea for there are no emblems in the book which would be in any way suitable.

The title of the book is “The Spy who Loved Me” and so what suggests its-self of course is a juxtaposition between a dagger or a gun and an emblem representing love, rather on the lines of your gun with a rose.

But what can we use now?

How about one of those frilly heart shaped Valentines with a dagger thrust through it?

Or there might be young ivy leaves entwined in a garden gun, or forget-me-nots.

But none of these ideas thrill me with the possible exception of the Valentine with a splendid red heart pierced by a dagger.

But it crossed my mind that you have painted many keepsakes for people and that something might conceivably suggest its'-self to you.

Anyway, first of all, will you please do the jacket and, secondly, will you please have a brilliant idea?

I am back on all fours again and any time you are in London we could meet perhaps here and rub our two brains together.

I will now ring up Heywood Hill and see if they have any Valentines.

Yours ever,


R. Chopping Esq.,
The Store House,
The Quay,
Wivenhoe, Essex

Copy to Mr. Michael Howard.

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

I am quite sad that you are ill

Today I bring you a vibrantly illustrated 'Get Well Soon' note - presumably coloured in such a way so as to cheer up its recipient - sent to renowned French poet Jean Cocteau in 1916 during a short period of bad health. The letter was sent to him by his friend, Pablo Picasso; a man who needs no introduction.

Image courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. A translated transcript follows.

Translated Transcript
My dear Cocteau

I am quite sad that you are ill. I hope that you will be well soon and that I will see you. At Montparnasse next Wednesday's festivities in honor of the musician I hope to see you. I have good ideas for our theater story - we shall talk about it.

Best wishes


Tuesday, 15 June 2010

How to Train an Animator, by Walt Disney

It's difficult to overstate the importance of the following eight-page memo. Written by Walt Disney in December of 1935 to Don Graham — a highly respected art teacher from Chounaird Art Institute tasked with helming art classes for Disney animators — this missive signalled the birth of a structured training program that would subsequently enable Walt's studio to produce hit-after-hit during the Golden Age of Animation. For aspiring animators, this is absolutely essential reading; for everyone else, assuming you have even the slightest interest in the development of one of the world's most influential entertainment companies, this is simply an engrossing, inspiring read.

Transcript follows.

(Source: Michael Sporn Animation; Image: Walt Disney at work, via.)



Right after the holidays, I want to get together with you and work out a very systematic training course for young animators, and also outline a plan of approach for our older animators.

Some of our established animators at the present time are lacking in many things, and I think we should arrange a series of courses to enable these men to learn and acquire the things they lack.

Naturally the first most important thing for any animator to know is how to draw. Therefore it will be necessary that we have a good life drawing class. But you must remember Don, that while there are many men who make a good showing in the drawing class, and who, from your angle, seem good prospects – these very men lack in some other phase of the business that is very essential to their success as animators.

I have found that men respond much more readily to classes dealing with practical problems than to more theoretic treatment. Therefore I think it would be a very good idea to appeal to these men by conducting these classes with the practical approach in mind. In other words, try to show in these classes that the men can make immediate practical application of what they are being taught.

The talks given by Fergy, Fred Moore, Ham Luske, and Fred Spencer, have been enthusiastically received by all those in attendance. Immediately following these talks, I have noticed a great change in animation. Some men have made close to 100% improvement in the handling and timing of their work. This strikes me as pointing a way toward the proper method of teaching in the future.

The following occurs to me as a method of procedure:

Take the most recent pictures – minutely analyze all the business, action, and results, using the better pieces of animation as examples going thru the picture with these questions in mind:

1. What was the idea to be presented?
2. How was the idea presented?
3. What result was achieved?
4. After seeing this result – what could have been done to the picture from this point on, to improve it?

Encourage discussion on the part of the men present; if possible, have some of the animators over to talk to them about the problems they were confronted with in the picture, and what the animator himself would do if he had the chance to do the animation over.

I believe these classes could be combined for presentation to all the animators, young and old as well.

It wouldn’t be bad if you made up a list of the qualifications of an animator in order of importance. Then all these men could see what it takes to be an animator, and could check on themselves to see how nearly they approach the desired perfection.

The list should start with the animators ability to draw; then, ability to visualize action, breaking it down into drawings and analyze the movement the mechanics of the action. From this point, we would come to his ability to caricature action – to take a natural human action and see the exaggerated funny side of it – to anticipate the effect or illusion created in the mind of the person viewing that action. It is important also for the animator to be able to study sensation and to feel the force behind sensation, in order to project that sensation. Along with this, the animator should know what creates laughter – why do things appeal to people as being funny.

In other words, a good animator combines all these qualities:

Good draughtsmanship
Knowledge of caricature, of action as well as features.
Knowledge and appreciation of acting
Ability to think up gags and put over gags
Knowledge of story construction and audience values
Knowledge and understanding of all the mechanical and detailed routine involved in his work, in order that he may be able to apply his other abilities without becoming tied up in a knot by lack of technique along these lines.

This is all very rough – just a jumble of thoughts – but what I plan is that we get together after the holidays, as suggested above, and really get these plans worked out in detail. Then we should strive to see that all the men whom we are drilling for animators, are given the chance to develop along the lines outlined.

I am convinced that there is a scientific approach to this business, and I think we shouldn’t give up until we have found out all we can about how to teach these young fellows the business.

The first duty of the cartoon is not to picture or duplicate real action or things as they actually happen – but to give a caricature of life and action – to picture on the screen things that have run thru the imagination of the audience to bring to life dream fantasies and imaginative fancies that we have all thought of during our lives or have had pictured to us in various forms during our lives. Also to caricature things of life as it is today – or make fantasies of things we think of today.

The point must be made clear to the men that our study of the actual is not so that we may be able to accomplish the actual, but so that we may have a basis upon which to go into the fantastic, the unreal, the imaginative – and yet to let it have a foundation of fact, in order that it may more richly possess sincerity and contact with the public.

A good many of the men misinterpret the idea of studying the actual motion. They think it is our purpose merely to duplicate these things. This misconception should be cleared up for all. I definitely feel that we cannot do the fantastic things, based on the real, unless we first know the real. This point should be brought out very clearly to all new men, and even the older men.

Comedy, to be appreciated, must have contact with the audience. This we all know, but sometimes forget. By contact, I mean that there must be a familiar, sub-conscious association. Somewhere, or at some time, the audience has felt, or met with, or seen, or dreamt, the situation pictured. A study of the best gags and audience reaction we have had, will prove that the action or situation is something based on an imaginative experience or a direct life connection. This is what I mean by contact with the audience. When the action or the business loses its contact, it becomes silly and meaningless to the audience.

Therefore, the true interpretation of caricature is the exaggeration of an illusion of the actual; or the sensation of the actual put into action. In our animation we must not only show the actions or reactions of a character, we must picture also with the action the feelings of those characters. My experience has shown me that the most hilarious of comedies is always based on things actual, possible, or probable. That idea, behind the things I just mentioned above, can be incorporated in every stage of instruction – from the life drawing clear on thru to the planning and staging of the work.

I have often wondered why, in your life drawing class, you don’t have your men look at the model and draw a caricature of the model, rather than an actual sketch. But instruct them to draw the caricature in good form, basing it on the actual model. I noticed a little caricature of one of the models in the life class made by Ward Kimball, and it struck me that there was an approach to the work that we should give consideration. I don’t see why using this method, you can’t give the class all the fundamentals of drawing the need and still combine the work with the development of a sense of caricature.

Would it be a good idea to take a man like Joe Grant and see what could be worked out with him along the lines of giving a talk some night on an approach to caricature, a Harpo caricature – what he sees and what he thinks about when he is trying to make a caricature. It might be advisable to have a talk with Joe on this.

I started out early last fall to work out some sort of system with you for teaching elementary phases of animation in a systematic way. My thought at that time was not to go too straight. That’s why I wanted to get somebody to demonstrate various walks in a comic way.

I still think this is a very good idea, and constitutes a far better approach for the younger men than giving them too many straight natural things that direct their minds to the unimaginative end of the business. It is possible that with the comedy, you can still teach them the fundamentals of all these actions.

Take for example, the walk. Why can’t you teach the fundamentals of a straight walk yet combine it with some person that is giving an exaggeration or a comic interpretation of a straight walk. Perhaps for very elementary instruction, it might be best to present straight action; but not to keep giving them straight action as they progress and gain a little experience... Start them going into the comedy angle or caricature angle of the action. For example – a fat person, with a big pot belly: What comedy illusion does he give you?

You could at the same time instruct the classes regarding the reason why he has to move a certain way (because of his weight, etc.) Present the walk soliciting discussion on:

What illusion does that person, fat with pot-belly, give you as you see him?
What do you think of as you see him walking along?
Does he look like a bowl of jelly?
Does he look like an inflated balloon with arms and legs dangling?
Does he look like a roly-poly?

In other words, analyze the fat person's walk and the reasons for his walking that way.... BUT DON’T STOP UNTIL YOU’VE HAD THE GROUP BRING OUT ALL THE COMEDY THAT CAN BE EXPRESSED WITH THAT FAT PERSON’S WALK; also all the character – but drive for the comedy side of the character.

Take a skinny person – somebody that’s loose jointed, angular, shoulder blades showing – what does he suggest? Does he look hung together with wires like a walking skeleton? Does he look like a marionette flopping around? Does he look like a scarecrow blowing in the wind? What illusion is created by the walk, by the movement, of that skinny loose-jointed person?

In discussing a short person, with short legs – he would naturally have quick movements – seems to move very fast – would have to take twice as many steps as a taller person, thus making him look as if he were going at a greater speed. What illusion do you get from a person like that? Does he strike you as a little toy wound up and running around on wheels? Does he look like a little Pekinese pup? A dwarf? or midget?

There are a number of things that could be brought up in these discussions to stir the imagination of the men, so that when they get into actual animation, they’re not just technicians, but they’re actually creative people.

In the study of other problems, is it possible to bring out more the exaggeration of form and action – as in the study of the balance of the body? Can we bring that out even to an exaggerated point? It will probably make it stronger to them – make them realize more the necessity of that balance of the body – and yet point out how they can utilize that to strengthen their business when they get into animation, as in bending. In someone bending over – can we show the exaggeration in that action by showing how the pants pull up in back to an exaggerated degree that becomes comical? Can we show how the coat stretches across the back, and the
sleeves pull up and the arms seem to shoot out as from a turtle-neck as they shoot out of the sleeves? What can we do to bring these points out stronger to the men?

In lifting, for example – or other actions – we should drive at the fundamentals of the animation, and at the same time, incorporate the caricature. When someone is lifting a heavy weight, what do you feel? Do you feel that something is liable to crack any minute and drop down? Do you feel that because of the pressure he’s got, he’s going to blow up, that his face is going to turn purple, that his eyes are going to bulge out of their sockets, that the tension in the arm is so terrific that he’s going to snap? What sensations do you get from someone rising – different ways of rising? Sitting? When somebody is sitting – when he sits down and relaxes, does it look as if all the wind goes out of him? Does he look like a loose bag of nothing? Also, in pushing... in the extremeness of a push, the line shoots right down from the fingertips clear down to the heel. In pulling – show the stretch, and all that. Bring out the caricature of those various actions, at the same time driving at the fundamentals of them – the actual.

The various expressions in the body are important. The animators go thru animation and don’t make the positions of the body – hold positions and relaxed positions – express anything. They try to do all the expression with the parts that are moving, whereas the body should enter into it. Without the body entering into the animation, the other things are lost immediately. Examples – an arm hung on to a body it doesn’t belong to, or an arm working and thinking all by itself. I think something could be worked out to develop this point, even if you got a person up behind a screen, a model perhaps, and threw a light on them. Have the class do nothing but watch the silhouette as the model goes thru different poses, noting how the body enters into the expression of an action. Or we could photograph the action to show to the men. The study of this would be a big help toward making the men realize the value of getting the story and the business over in the rough drawings that is the action itself, rather than depending on little trimmings, on the clothes, facial expressions, and things like that to put over the business.

If the animators get the groundwork right, that is, the action underneath all these trimmings right – then what they add is going to be twice as effective. It’s a very important point that we must impress on the new men and the older men.

After we have given the men all the suggestions we can that have to do with expressing ideas through the body, then we can come down to the value of the facial expression – the use of the eyes, eyebrows, the mouth – their relation to one another – how the eyes and the mouth have to work together sometimes for expression – how they may work independently for expression at other times. In other words, then we would go into the combined use of expressive features and expressive actions of the body. Then it would be good to take one away from the other, and see which is the most important.

We should have courses in staging and planning. These courses can be given by some of our more successful animators.

Also we should try to show how to analyze a scene or piece of business before starting to work on it. We should try to show the men ways of visualizing action in their minds, breaking the action so that the men are prepared in advance to begin animation of the action and know thoroughly what they are going to animate. So many of the men start in now and have no idea what they’re going to do when they start the scene. They know what they’re supposed to do, but they can’t break it down in a systematic way that will enable them to go knowingly ahead.

Many men do not realize what really makes things move – why they move – what the force behind the movement is. I think a course along that line, accompanied by practical examples of analysis and planning, would be very good. In other words, in most instances, the driving force behind the action is the mood, the personality, the attitude of the character – or all three. Therefore, the mind is the pilot. We think of things before the body does them. We also do things on the spur of the moment by reaction to stimuli that are telegraphed to the mind by the nerves, etc. There are also things carried out by the subconscious mind – reflexes, actions that have become habit through repetition, instincts. In other words, the subconscious mind is an assistant often times in carrying out things that may or may not have been taught, Examples of that are sleeping, lighting a cigarette and throwing a match away without any thought, whistling, walking, running, sitting, etc. It’s not necessary to think of those actions.

But certain actions we do think about – certain actions we deliberately plan. We plan them very quickly in our mind. The point to bring out here is that when a character knows what he’s going to do, he doesn’t have to stop before each individual action and think to do it. He has planned in advance in his mind. For example – say the mind thinks, "I’ll close the door – lock it – then I’m going to undress, and go to bed." Well, you walk over to the door – before the walk is finished, you’re reaching for the door ... before the door is closed, you reach for the key ... before the door is locked, you’re turning away – while you’re walking away, you’re undoing your tie – and before you reach the bureau, you have your tie off. In other words, before you know it, you’re undressed – and you’ve done it with one thought, "I’m going to go to bed."

A lot of valuable points could be brought out to the men in showing them that it is not necessary for them to take a character to one point, complete that action completely, and then turn to the following action as if he had never given it a thought until after completing the first action. Anticipation of action is important.

This enters into animation in many ways and we have many serious difficulties coming up because of the men’s inability to visualize things in the proper way.

I think a good study of music would be indispensable to the animator – a realization on their part of how primitive music is, how natural it is for people to want to go to music – a study of rhythm, the dance – the various rhythms that enter into our lives every day – how rhythmical the body really is – and how well balanced the body really is. That, in itself, is music. In other words, it could be music in the body. We dance – we can keep time to rhythm without ever being taught – a baby does it – cannibals do it. But fancy dancing or any trick stuff, we have to learn. There are things in life that we do to rhythm that come natural to us. Notice how rhythmic an action like pounding with a hammer is! There’s a reason for that. You must have that rhythm or you can’t carry out that action completely. Also, sawing a board. See how necessary it is to have a good rhythm for that. Also, walking ... if you walked without rhythm, where would you get? You’d have to be thinking all the time what to do next. You’d have to set your mind to walking rhythmically, instead of doing it naturally.

Naturally the body is very well balanced. When one hand dose something, the other serves as a balance to it. There are various things that combine balance in the body – subconscious balance ... and yet the animators do not know it. They will do something with one hand – they don’t know what to do with the other, so they will do something entirely contrary to what that hand should be doing, because they don’t understand the basic concept of balance. This idea of balance of the body ties in with the idea of expression of the body. If there is balance, it adds expression to the things that the body is doing. If you don’t have that balance of the body, then your expressions are wrong, insincere, unconvincing. Those concepts also tie in with overlapping action.

In other words, we could work out all these basic concepts in such a way as to show them all related, interdependent, and have to do with each other, and we could tie them together in various ways, showing different combinations of their application. We will thus stir up the men’s minds more, and they will begin to think of a lot of these things that would never occur to them otherwise if the way weren’t pointed out to them.

I’d like also to have a study of dialog. I want to prepare a course on dialog – phrasing and rhythm of dialog, moods and character of dialog, expressions, gestures, directness, use of the eyes, eyebrows, mouth, head, arms, body, tongue, inhalation and exhalation, and various other aspects that have to do with the successful picturization of dialog in the cartoon. Let’s see if we can’t organize something like this and get it going right after the first of the year.

4 c.

Monday, 14 June 2010

I am excited about going into space

In 1985, having been selected by NASA from a pool of thousands, 37-year-old social studies teacher Christa McAuliffe began preparations in an effort to become the first 'teacher in space'. The project was the result of a very successful effort by the U.S. government to provoke wider public interest in the STS-51-L space program, and as such McAuliffe - already an incredibly affable character - was quickly thrust into the limelight and subsequently adored and supported by millions. Below is just one of many fan-mail responses McAuliffe wrote during the build-up; this particular example to a 14-year-old boy scout named Michael, eager to hear her thoughts on UFOs.

Tragically, on January 28th, 1986, as a worldwide audience of many millions looked on, McAuliffe and her six fellow crew members perished as Space Shuttle Challenger broke apart just 73 seconds after launch.

Transcript follows.

Teacher In Space Project

Reply to: AP

Michael Gross
398 W. Cherry
Winchester, IL 62694

Dear Michael:

I am delighted that you took the time to write. You sound like a very busy person with all of your activities. When I was 14, I really wasn't sure what I wanted to do, but I was very, very active in scouting, just as you are.

I am excited about going into space on the Shuttle and I hope that people like you are going to be interested in space as perhaps a job opportunity later on in life. I have always been the type of person who figured out that perhaps we are not the only people around in space, so UFO's have been something that I have been interested in.

Training at the Johnson Space Center here in Houston has been very exciting for me and I look forward to my Shuttle flight in January.

Enclosed is the photograph you requested, and thanks again for writing.


(Signed, 'Christa')

S. Christa McAuliffe


Oklahoma State University (Support Contractor)

Friday, 11 June 2010

Science fiction should be mainly about people

In 1969, despite the best efforts of its cast, crew and unrelenting fanbase, the original Star Trek television series was cancelled by NBC after 79 episodes due to supposedly poor ratings. In the following letter, written in 1973 to a lady named Judy Thomases, the show's creator - Gene Roddenberry - praises the show's fans, admits to giving Spock a 'slight look of the devil' in order to please the show's female audience, and speaks of his desire to see the show revived. A fascinating read.

A scan of the first page can be seen below, followed by a transcript of the entire letter.

Warner Bros.

4300 Warner Boulevard
Burbank, California 91505
(213) 843-6000

March 8, 1973

Miss Judy Thomases
25 Woodland Road
New City, New York 10956

Dear Miss Thomases:

Forgive my delay in answering your last letter. Yes, my schedule has been very tight with two television movie-pilots on their way.

Let me answer your questions in the order you layed them our:

a. The profile of our fans run anything but typical. They range from grammar school children to university presidents and astronauts. I think the one thing that characterizes all of them no matter whatever their age is youth. It is important to the typical STAR TREK fan that there is a tomorrow. Also, I think they pretty much share the STAR TREK philosophies about life, the fact it is wrong to interfere in the evolvement of other peoples, that to be different is not necessarily to be wrong or ugly.

b. Fans are involved in all sorts of activities and I think the fans themselves can give better answers to this than I can.

c. Yes. The main unprecedented thing is that they are interested mainly in the ideas promoted by STAR TREK rather than in a usual fan thing of merely having a crush for some particular actor.

d. STAR TREK fans are generally anything but silly. As answered above they range broadly in age and social status. Over the years we've learned a great respect for them and are particularly delighted when some aspect of STAR TREK has been important in their lives such as incouraging them to continue their education or learn to participate fully in the world about them or believe in the dignity and value of life everywhere

e. No.

f. Answered above. They are interested in ideas in the show, and what it tries to say.

g. STAR TREK says that it has not all happened, it has not all been discovered, that tomorrow can be as challenging and adventurous as any time man has ever lived. I think also it is interesting that STAR TREK came along at a time that the nation was becoming deeply involved in Vietnam and STAR TREK very strongly spoke against this by dramatically illustrating why it is wrong to interfere with other people, why other cultures can be equal and better to leave alone, why it is wrong to kill for any reason what-so-ever.

h. Yes. We did think Spock became very interesting to fans, I did purposely give him a slight look of the 'devil' because I thought that might be particularly provocative to women, particularly when his nature contrasted so greatly to this. I'll take credit for formulating Spock and guiding the character, then give as much credit to Leonard Nimoy for making it work, and also credit to the writers who kept it going in many story situations.

Answering your questions in paragraph 3:

a. I think I've given STAR TREK'S main message above.

b. It did not have a sufficiently high audience rating in regards numbers of people. Later when they went to another demographic system of rating audience by its purchasing power they discovered that STAR TREK was much superior to most other shows. This, obviously, is important in commerical television where the whole point of the thing is to reach people who can buy the products that are advertised. However, by the time they began measuring under that system the following year, STAR TREK had already been cancelled. If STAR TREK were on the air today with the same demographics, it would stay on the air as most shows are now trying to achieve STAR TREK'S audience profile which is considered rather ideal.

c. I withdrew from the show during the 3rd year in an effort to force NBC to give us a better time slot and better treatment.

d. STAR TREK had no 'magic formula' unless you consider respect for the audience and hard work a formula. It has been my opinion for years that science fiction, like any other story, should be mainly about people with hardware being secondary. It seems to me the networks and stations have wasted a lot of money seeking some mysterious formula in STAR TREK when really you make your science fiction the same way you make any other good story and there are no shortcuts.

e. I would love to see STAR TREK revived under the proper conditions. All of us who worked on the show have a great affection for it. However, I am only a partial owner of STAR TREK which is also owned by Paramount and NBC. Paramount owns the copyright to it and the ultimate decision is really in their lap. They refer to their existing STAR TREK episodes being re-run as their "79 Jewels" and of course they think twice before putting a new one on if it would destroy the value of the ones they already have. I don't think it would, but this so far has been fear of their business people.

Sincerely yours,


Gene Roddenberry

Thursday, 10 June 2010

Could you send me a little something?

Hot on the heels of Steve Martin's personal letter comes another fan mail response  again with a humorous post-script  but this time courtesy of Martin's sorely missed Planes, Trains and Automobiles co-star: the late, great, John Candy. It was sent in December of 1984, just months after Candy's breakout role in Splash had hit the screens, and three years before his fantastically funny performance opposite Martin caused millions to sob with laughter.

Transcript follows. Many thanks to Paige.

John Candy
R.R. #1
Queensville, Ontario
L0G 1R0

December 11,1984

Curt A. Silvers

Dear Curt:

Hoping this letter finds you in good health. In response to your letter, I'm sending you a photo.

Sorry about the delay. Fortunately, I've been busy...oh, enough excuses. I'm sure you don't buy that anyway.

I promise to keep in touch more often. Honest. I really mean it. I'm not lying. I'm not. Honest. I gotta go, okay?

Your friend from the North,


John Candy

P.S. Could you send me a little something? Acting isn't working out like I planned.


Wednesday, 9 June 2010

You don’t understand "ordinary people"

Unhappy at being treated "increasingly badly" at the Institute for Advanced Study in 1985 and as a result eager to begin an institute of his own within which to continue his research, 26-year-old computer scientist Stephen Wolfram looked to ex-colleague and physics Nobelist Richard Feynman for advice. Feynman's honest, humorous, and less than encouraging response can be read below. Needless to say Wolfram didn't heed his advice and the next year founded UIUC's Center for Complex Systems Research; then, in 1987, he formed Wolfram Research, the company responsible for releasing Mathematica in 1989 and, more recently, Wolfram Alpha.

A much-needed transcript follows. Many thanks to Keeley.


October 14, 1985

Dr. Stephen Wolfram
School of Natural Sciences
The Institute for Advanced Study
Princeton, NJ 08540

Dear Wolfram:

1. It is not my opinion that the present organizational structure of science inhibits "complexity research" - I do not believe such an institution is necessary.

2. You say you want to create your own environment - but you will not be doing that: you will create (perhaps!) an environment that you might like to work in - but you will not be working in this environment - you will be administering it - and the administration environment is not what you seek - is it? You won't enjoy administrating people because you won’t succeed in it.

You don’t understand "ordinary people." To you they are "stupid fools" - so you will not tolerate them or treat their foibles with tolerance or patience - but will drive yourself wild (or they will drive you wild) trying to deal with them in an effective way.

Find a way to do your research with as little contact with non-technical people as possible, with one exception, fall madly in love! That is my advice, my friend.


(Signed, 'Richard P. Feynman')

Richard P. Feynman


Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Pixar films don't get finished, they just get released

Mid-2008, hoping at best to receive a signed photo from his idol in return, a young man named Adam wrote to Pete Docter, the award-winning director of Monsters, Inc. and, more recently, Up. In the letter he spoke of his admiration for Docter and, as an amateur filmmaker and huge Pixar fan, mentioned his desire to work for the studio in the future. Lo and behold, months later the lovely handwritten note seen below arrived on Adam's doorstep. Says Adam:
Here is what I received from Pete Docter, one of the most influential and important people at Pixar, the best animation studio on the planet.
Transcript follows. Many thanks to Adam for allowing us to feature his letter. Be sure to check out his blog, Disney, etc.

Recommended Reading: The Art of Up.


Hey Adam!

First off, let me apologize for taking so long to respond to your very kind letter. Things are pretty nuts around here. You had asked for an autographed photo of me; I don't really have anything like that, not being famous. But here is a drawing of me for you.


I'm sure you can see the resemblance.

You are sure right about the importance of a good story in movies. Unfortunately, it's not as easy as it sounds. It takes a lot of work (and rework, and rework and rework) to get it right. And even then quite often we're not 100% pleased.

As John Lasseter likes to say, our films don't get finished, they just get released.

Hope you enjoy "UP" next year!

Pete Docter

Monday, 7 June 2010

Earth, by the way, is a garden of delights

A good luck gift from Marlon Brando prior to filming his first major role, as Superman no less, provoked the following letter of thanks from the late-Christopher Reeve in 1977. Of course, seasoned actor Brando was playing Jor-El, Superman's father. Please excuse the quality of the scan. As always, a much needed transcript follows.

29th March, 1977

Dear Marlon,

Just to let you know that your wonderfully thoughtful gift passed safely through the time warp and arrived here ripe and ready and was deeply appreciated.

I have had surprises before but to have your blessing on the first day of this new adventure in my life is, without doubt, the best.

Earth, by the way, is a garden of delights - in case you wondered. I will do my best to follow your advice, dad, because you are the light. How come you know so much???



Friday, 4 June 2010

Lennon: 'Society only likes dead artists'

On September 27th, 1971, a fortnight prior to the opening of an exhibit by Yoko Ono at the Everson Museum of Art in Syracuse, New York, the area's local newspaper - The Post-Standard - ran an article entitled 'Art or Hokum?', in which an anonymous journalist questioned the museum's motives when agreeing to the show. In part:
'We wonder, however, whether the Everson is presenting her "first one-man museum show" because it is great art, or whether the exhibition was merely the means of bringing to the Everson a man whose former group he once described as "more popular than Christ." If the latter is the case, the Everson will add greatly to its normal attendance, but at a tremendous loss of good taste and of respect in the art world.'
Almost immediately the piece was brought to the attention of a furious John Lennon, who quickly responded in writing with the letter seen below. Its content was published in the newspaper on October 7th.

Transcript follows.

Hotel Syracuse

Dear whoever wrote that Hokum about ART,

I'd forgotten about people like you! Well well - you still exist, of course, in other small towns across the world...

I was wondering - what on earth has what the husband of the artist said, four or five years ago, got to do with the current 'This is not here' show at Everson Museum by Yoko Ono? -brought here by a man this town should be proud of - Jim Harithas - i mean did people really discuss Picasso's - wifes - gossip. I'd also like to know since when this nameless ghost at the Post-Standard represented the so called art world? Yoko and i are pretty close to a few artists, (we are artists!) and as artists, we can tell you that the 'art world' is not in the 19th century, and one thing artists down the centuries have been up against is bourgois mealy mouthed gossip from the 'grey people' (or Blue Meanies!) Society only likes dead artists. i'm afraid Yoko and myself cannot oblige,

love anyway

John & Yoko

P.S. Why don't you come and see the art - i'm sure the man you think i insulted would turn the other cheek and come.

P.P.S. You forgot to mention the other man from the former group (George Harrison) who is was a highly religious - fervent disciple of Christ? Hare Krishna et al.

Thursday, 3 June 2010

A Personal Letter From Steve Martin

Celebrities are faced with a dilemma as their star ascends: the fan mail that used to trickle to the front door now needs its own home, and replying to those messages of support is suddenly a full-time job of its own. A small few battle on valiantly, determined to respond personally to each and every piece of correspondence regardless of the trouble, expense or delay; most, however, take the easy, altogether more sensible route and produce a form letter, to be signed and used as a stock reply for every fan. Impersonal and slightly disappointing, yes, but a response nonetheless.

Trust comedy legend Steve Martin to plump for the latter option but still, thanks to a dab of perfectly pitched humour, come out smelling of roses. Back in the day, he replied to fan mail with “A personal letter from Steve Martin,” a form letter in which just a few words were personalised for each recipient, and which was hilarious precisely for that reason. This particular example was sent to a 17-year-old fan named Jerry Carlson in 1979, the year The Jerk, arguably one of the funniest films he has ever starred in, was released.

Transcript follows. This letter, along with 124 other fascinating pieces of correspondence, can be found in the bestselling book, Letters of Note. For more info, visit Books of Note.

(Source: Chattering Teeth - reproduced with kind permission of Jerry Carlson and Steve Martin; Image: Steve Martin, via.)

The Aspen Companies
Aspen Film Society
Aspen Recording Society
Aspen Merchandising
Aspen Artist Management


DEAR Jerry,




(Signed, 'Steve Martin')



Wednesday, 2 June 2010

Come on now Marlon, put up your dukes and write!

Late-1957, with his newly released novel attracting near-universal praise from critics, Beat author Jack Kerouac aimed for the sky and wrote the following passionate letter to Marlon Brando in an effort to bring his work to the big screen. The novel in question was On the Road, and Kerouac — desperate to capitalise on the incredibly positive reaction — wanted Brando to first buy the rights to the movie adaptation, and then play the part of Dean Moriarty opposite Kerouac's Sal. Sadly for him, Brando never responded.

Francis Ford Coppola eventually acquired the movie rights in 1980; On the Road was released in May of 2012.

Transcript follows.

(This letter, along with 124 other fascinating pieces of correspondence, can be found in the bestselling book, Letters of Note, the paperback of which is NOW ON SALE!)

Jack Kerouac
1418½ Clouser St
Orlando, Fla

Dear Marlon

I'm praying that you'll buy ON THE ROAD and make a movie of it. Don't worry about the structure, I know to compress and re-arrange the plot a bit to give perfectly acceptable movie-type structure: making it into one all-inclusive trip instead of the several voyages coast-to-coast in the book, one vast round trip from New York to Denver to Frisco to Mexico to New Orleans to New York again. I visualise the beautiful shots could be made with the camera on the front seat of the car showing the road (day and night) unwinding into the windshield, as Sal and Dean yak. I wanted you to play the part because Dean (as you know) is no dopey hotrodder but a real intelligent (in fact Jesuit) Irishman. You play Dean and I'll play Sal (Warner Bros. mentioned I play Sal) and I'll show you how Dean acts in real life, you couldn't possibly imagine it without seeing a good imitation. Fact, we can go visit him in Frisco, or have him come down to L.A. still a real frantic cat but nowadays settled down with his final wife saying the Lord's Prayer with his kiddies at you'll seen when you read the play BEAT GENERATION. All I want out of this is to able to establish myself and my mother a trust fund for life, so I can really go roaming around the world writing about Japan, India, France etc. ...I want to be free to write what comes out of my head & free to feed my buddies when they're hungry & not worry about my mother.

Incidentally, my next novel is THE SUBTERRANEANS coming out in N.Y. next March and is about a love affair between a white guy and a colored girl and very hep story. Some of the characters in it you know in the village (Stanley Gould etc.) It easily could be turned into a play, easier than ON THE ROAD.

What I wanta do is re-do the theater and the cinema in America, give it a spontaneous dash, remove pre-conceptions of "situation" and let people rave on as they do in real life. That's what the play is: no plot in particular, no "meaning" in particular, just the way people are. Everything I write I do in the spirit where I imagine myself an Angel returned to the earth seeing it with sad eyes as it is. I know you approve of these ideas, & incidentally the new Frank Sinatra show is based on "spontaneous" too, which is the only way to come on anyway, whether in show business or life. The French movies of the 30's are still far superior to ours because the French really let their actors come on and the writers didn't quibble with some preconceived notion of how intelligent the movie audience is, the talked soul from soul and everybody understood at once. I want to make great French Movies in America, finally, when I'm rich...American Theater & Cinema at present is an outmoded Dinosaur that ain't mutated along with the best in American Literature

If you really want to go ahead, make arrangements to see me in New York when you next come, or if you're going to Florida here I am, but what we should do is talk about this because I prophesy that it's going to be the beginning of something real great. I'm bored nowadays and I'm looking around for something to do in the void, anyway—writing novels is getting too easy, same with plays, I wrote the play in 24 hours.

Come on now Marlon, put up your dukes and write!

Sincerely, later,

(Signed, 'Jack Kerouac')

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Negro Bucks and White Hoodlums

In the iconic 1963 photo shown above, a young Tougaloo College lecturer and two of his students defiantly stage a sit-in at a whites-only Woolworth's lunch counter in Jackson, Mississippi whilst surrounded by disapproving onlookers. All three are covered in sugar, salt, mustard and their own blood. In the middle, head turned, is Joan Trumpauer Mulholland (nee Trumpower), at the time one of just two white students at the predominantly black college and already a seasoned civil rights activist. Two years previous, Joan had been arrested at a train station as a Freedom Rider and imprisoned for two months. Below is a letter sent to her mother by the jail's condemnatory superintendent.

Read more about the photo at the website of Hunter Gray, the admirably calm, slop-covered gentleman seen in the photo.

Transcript follows.

(Source: Breach of Peace.)

Mississippi State Penitentiary



Mrs. Merle Nelson
5150 Wilson Blvd.
Arlington 5, Virginia

Dear Mrs. Nelson:

I have your letter in regard to your daughter Joan Trumpower.

If there is any medicine that you want her to have, if you will send it we will see that she gets it.

Your daughter is receiving plenty of food, has been provided with a tooth brush, tooth paste and whatever else she actually needs.

I notice that you state that as a mother of a minor that you want to be notified in case of any emergency. What I cannot understand is why as a mother you permitted a minor white girl to gang up with a bunch of negro bucks and white hoodlums to ramble over this country with the express purpose of violating the laws of certain states and attempting to incite acts of violence.

If you are concerned enough, you could post bond for your daughter and have her released. Such action will have to be taken up with the Sheriff of Hinds County, Jackson, Mississippi.

Very truly,

(Signed, 'Fred Jones')

Fred Jones, Superintendent