Monday, 31 January 2011

A Not-so-fond Farewell

On March 27th, 1990, with 34 episodes and a string of clashes with its main star under his belt, an exasperated Jeff Harris announced his resignation as executive producer on Roseanne by taking out a full-page ad in Daily Variety. On it was printed the following farewell letter. Breaking point was apparently reached when Roseanne Barr's new husband, Tom Arnold, furious that his power to edit scripts had been questioned, allegedly attempted to strangle Harris.

Transcript follows. Image courtesy of Ronan A.

Image: Ronan A.

March 27, 1990

To my friends at Carsey-Werner Company, ABC, to the cast, crew and staff of "Roseanne":

My sincere and heartfelt thanks to all of you.

I have chosen not to return to the show next season. Instead, my wife and I have decided to share a vacation in the relative peace and quiet of Beirut.

Executive Producer

Friday, 28 January 2011

Men are climbing to the moon but they don't seem interested in the beating human heart

On February 5th of 1961, a recently divorced, mentally exhausted Marilyn Monroe was taken by her psychiatrist, Dr. Marianne Kris, and committed to the Payne Whitney Psychiatric Clinic in New York. A harrowing stay in a padded cell followed, cut short after four days thanks only to an intervention by her first husband, Joe DiMaggio. On March 1st, Monroe — resting at the New York Hospital — wrote the following six-page letter to her other psychiatrist, Dr. Ralph Greenson, and spoke of the ordeal.

Sadly, a year later, Greenson found Monroe dead at her home in Los Angeles.

Transcript follows.

(Source: Cursum Perficio; Image of Marilyn Monroe via.)

[Erroneously cropped text:] 'Was it Milton who wrote "The happy ones were never born"? I know '

March 1, 1961

Just now when I looked out the hospital window where the snow had covered everything suddenly everything is kind of muted a green. The grass, shabby evergreen bushes -- though the trees give me a little hope -- the desolate bare branches promising maybe there will be spring and maybe they promise hope.

Did you see "The Misfits" yet? In one sequence you can perhaps see how bare and strange a tree can be for me. I don't know if it comes across that way for sure on the screen -- I don't like some of the selections in the takes they used. As I started to write this letter about four quiet tears had fallen. I don't know quite why.

Last night I was awake all night again. Sometimes I wonder what the night time is for. It almost doesn't exist for me -- it all seems like one long, long horrible day. Anyway, I thought I'd try to be constructive about it and started to read the letters of Sigmund Freud. When I first opened the book I saw the picture of Freud inside opposite the title page and I burst into tears -- he looked very depressed (which must have been taken near the end of his life) that he died a disappointed man -- but Dr Kris said he had much physical pain which I had known from the Jones book -- but I know this too to be so but still I trust my instincts because I see a sad disappointment in his gentle face. The book reveals (though I am not sure anyone's love-letters should be published) that he wasn't a stiff! I mean his gentle, sad humor and even a striving was eternal in him. I haven't gotten very far yet because at the same time I'm reading Sean O'Casey's first autobiography --(did I ever tell you how once he wrote a poem to me?) This book disturbs me very much in a way one should be disturbed for these things --after all.

There was no empathy at Payne-Whitney -- it had a very bad effect -- they asked me after putting me in a "cell" (I mean cement blocks and all) for very disturbed depressed patients (except I felt I was in some kind of prison for a crime I hadn't committed. The inhumanity there I found archaic. They asked me why I wasn't happy there (everything was under lock and key; things like electric lights, dresser drawers, bathrooms, closets, bars concealed on the windows -- the doors have windows so patients can be visible all the time, also, the violence and markings still remain on the walls from former patients). I answered: "Well, I'd have to be nuts if I like it here" then there screaming women in their cells -- I mean they screamed out when life was unbearable I guess -- at times like this I felt an available psychiatrist should have talked to them. Perhaps to alleviate even temporarily their misery and pain. I think they (the doctors) might learn something even -- but all are only interested in something from the books they studied -- I was surprised because they already know that. Maybe from some live suffering human being they could discover more -- I had the feeling they looked more for discipline and that they let their patients go after the patients have "given up". They asked me to mingle with the patients, to go out to O.T. (Occupational Therapy). I said: "And do what?" They said: "You could sew or play checkers, even cards and maybe knit". I tried to explain the day I did that they would have a nut on their hands. These things were furthest from my mind. They asked me why I felt I was "different" (from the other patients I guess) so I decided if they were really that stupid I must give them a very simple answer so I said: "I just am".

The first day I did "mingle" with a patient. She asked me why I looked so sad and suggested I could call a friend and perhaps not be so lonely. I told her that they had told me that there wasn't a phone on that floor. Speaking of floors, they are all locked -- no one could go in and no one could go out. She looked shocked and shaken and said "I'll take you to the phone" -- while I waited in line for my turn for the use of the phone I observed a guard (since he had on a grey knit uniform) as I approached the phone he straight-armed the phone and said very sternly: "You can't use the phone". By the way, they pride themselves in having a home-like atmosphere there. I asked them (the doctors) how they figured that. They answered: "Well, on the sixth floor we have wall-to-wall carpeting and modern furniture" to which I replied: "Well, that any good interior decorator could provide -- providing there are the funds for it" but since they are dealing with human beings why couldn't they perceive even an interior of a human being".

The girl that told me about the phone seemed such a pathetic and vague creature. She told me after the straight-arming "I didn't know they would do that". Then she said "I'm here because of my mental condition -- I have cut my throat several times and slashed my wrists" --she said either three or four times.

I just thought of a jingle:

"Mingle - but not if you were just born single"

Oh, well, men are climbing to the moon but they don't seem interested in the beating human heart. Still one can change but wont -- by the way, that was the original theme of THE MISFTIS -- no one even caught that part of it. Partly because, I guess, the changes in the script and some of the distortions in the direction and .....


I know I will never be happy but I know I can be gay! Remember I told you Kazan said I was the gayest girl he ever knew and believe me he has known many. But he loved me for one year and once rocked me to sleep one night when I was in great anguish. He also suggested that I go into analysis and later wanted me to work with his teacher, Lee Strasberg.

Was it Milton who wrote "The happy ones were never born". I know at least two psychiatrists who are looking for a more positive approach.


I didn't sleep again last night. I forgot to tell you something yesterday. When they put me into the first room on the sixth floor I was not told it was a Psychiatric floor. Dr. Kris said she was coming the next day. The nurse came in (after the doctor, a psychiatrist) had given me a physical examination including examining the breast for lumps. I took exception to this but not violently only explaining that the medical doctor who had put me there, a stupid man named Dr. Lipkin had already done a complete physical less than thirty days before. But when the nurse came in I noticed there was no way of buzzing or reaching for a light to call the nurse. I asked why this was and some other things and she said this is a psychiatric floor. After she went out I got dressed and then was when the girl in the hall told me about the phone. I was waiting at the elevator door which looks like all other doors with a door-knob except it doesn't have any numbers (you see they left them out). After the girl spoke with me and told me about what she had done to herself I went back into my room knowing they had lied to me about the telephone and I sat on the bed trying to figure if I was given this situation in an acting improvisation what would I do. So I figured, it's a squeaky wheel that gets the grease. I admit it was a loud squeak but I got the idea from a movie I made once called "Don't Bother to Knock". I picked up a light-weight chair and slammed it, and it was hard to do because I had never broken anything in my life -- against the glass intentionally. It took a lot of banging to get even a small piece of glass - so I went over with the glass concealed in my hand and sat quietly on the bed waiting for them to come in. They did, and I said to them "If you are going to treat me like a nut I'll act like a nut". I admit the next thing is corny but I really did it in the movie except it was with a razor blade. I indicated if they didn't let me out I would harm myself -- the furthest thing from my mind at that moment since you know Dr. Greenson I'm an actress and would never intentionally mark or mar myself. I'm just that vain. Remember when I tried to do away with myself I did it very carefully with ten seconal and ten tuonal and swallowed them with relief (that's how I felt at the time.) I didn't cooperate with them in any way because I couldn't believe in what they were doing. They asked me to go quietly but I refused to move staying on the bed so they picked me up by all fours, two hefty men and two hefty women and carried me up to the seventh floor in the elevator. I must say at least they had the decency to carry me face down. You know at least it wasn't face up. I just wept quietly all the way there and then was put in the cell I told you about and that ox of a woman one of those hefty ones, said: "Take a bath". I told her I had just taken one on the sixth floor. She said very sternly: "As soon as you change floors you have to take another bath". The man who runs that place, a high-school principal type, although Dr. Kris refers to him as an "administrator" he was actually permitted to talk to me, questioning me somewhat like an analyst. He told me I was a very, very sick girl and had been a very, very sick girl for many years. He looks down on his patients because I'll tell you why in a moment. He asked me how I could possibly work when I was depressed. He wondered if that interfered with my work. He was being very firm and definite in the way he said it. He actually stated it more than he questioned me so I replied: "Didn't he think that perhaps Greta Garbo and Charlie Chaplin perhaps and perhaps Ingrid Bergman they had been depressed when they worked sometimes but I said it's like saying a ball player like DiMaggio if he could hit ball when he was depressed. Pretty silly.

By the way, I have some good news, sort of, since I guess I helped, he claims I did. Joe said I saved his life by sending him to a psycho-therapist; Dr. Kris says he is a very brilliant man, the doctor. Joe said he pulled himself up by his own bootstraps after the divorce but he told me also that if he had been me he would have divorced him too. Christmas night he sent a forest-full of poinsettias. I asked who they were from since it was such a surprise, (my friend Pat Newcomb was there)-- they had just arrived then. She said: "I don't know the card just says "best, Joe". Then I replied: "Well, there's just one Joe". Because it was Christmas night I called him up and asked him why he had sent me the flowers. He said first of all because I thought you would call me to thank me and then he said, besides who in the hell else do you have in the world. He said I know I was married to you and was never bothered or saw any in-law. Anyway, he asked me to have a drink some time with him. I said I knew he didn't drink -- he said he now occasionally takes a drink -- to which I replied then it would have to be a very, very dark place. He asked me what I was doing Christmas night. I said nothing, I'm here with a friend. Then he asked me to come over and I was glad he was coming though I must say I was bleary and depressed but somehow still glad he was coming over.

I think I had better stop because you have other things to do but thanks for listening for a while.

Marilyn M.

PS: Someone when I mentioned his name you used to frown with your moustache and look up at the ceiling. Guess who? He has been (secretly) a very tender friend. I know you won't believe this but you must trust me with my instincts. It was sort of a fling on the wing. I had never done that before but now I have - but he is very unselfish in bed.

From Yves I have heard nothing - but I don't mind since I have such a strong, tender, wonderful memory.

I am almost weeping.....

Thursday, 27 January 2011

You can beat it just like I did

On September 5th of 1994, eager to pose a question, 8th-grade student Branden Brooks found himself raising his hand during the Q&A session of a presentation by then-Senator Joe Biden. After the event, having noticed the young man's stutter as he spoke, Biden pulled him to one side:
Sen. Biden told me that he used to stutter as a kid but never let it interfere with his life goals. In fact, Sen. Biden added that he would purposely seek public speaking opportunities (such as acting in plays) to force himself to speak in public.
A week later, Branden received the following letter. Immediately acting on Biden's advice, he successfully ran for class president and held the position throughout high-school and college. Since graduating, he has worked in Delaware as a prosecutor.

Transcript follows.

(Source: Branden Brooks; Image: Joe Biden, via.)



Dear Branden —

It was a pleasure meeting you yesterday. You are a fine — bright — young man with a great future ahead of you if you continue to work hard.

Remember what I told you about stuttering. You can beat it just like I did. When you do, you will be a stronger man having won. Also remember, every time you are tempted to make fun of someone with a problem, how it feels when you are made fun of. Treat everyone with respect and you will be respected yourself.

Your friend,

Joe Biden

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

I'm the nurse in your famous shot

On August 14th of 1945, as millions celebrated the surrender of Japan and, effectively, the end of World War II, photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt snapped the above picture of an elated sailor kissing a nurse in New York's Times Square. Within a week it had been published in LIFE magazine, and to this day remains one of the most iconic photographs ever committed to film. It would be another 34 years before the identity of the nurse was discovered; unveiled in 1979 as a result of the following letter to Eisenstaedt from the lady herself, Edith Shain.

Transcript follows.

(Source: LIFE; Image above, via Wikipedia.)

Dear Mr, Eisenstaedt:

Now that I'm 60 - it's fun to admit that I'm the nurse in your famous shot "of the amorous sailor celebrating V.E. Day by kissing a nurse on New York's Broadway." The article in the Los Angles Times, which described your talents, stimulated the recall of the scene on Broadway.

I had left Doctors' Hospital and wanted to be part of the celebration but the amorous sailor and a subsequent soldier motivated a retreat into the next opening of the subway. I wish I could have stored that jubilation and amour for use P.R.N.

​Mr Eisenstaedt, is it possible for me to obtain a print of that picture? I would be most appreciative.

I regret not having met you on your last trip to Beverly Hills.

Perhaps next time. If not - I'll understand because "it's not only hard to catch him - its hard to keep up with him."

Have fun.


Edith Shain

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

A Plea for a raise, By Jack Kennedy

Late-1927, having just become a Boy Scout and acutely aware that his weekly allowance wouldn't cover the costs of such a lifestyle, 10-year-old John F. Kennedy approached his father and asked for a raise of 30¢. Keen to teach the future President a quick business lesson, Kennedy Sr. immediately told him that, unless his plea was put in writing, it wouldn't be heard.

The following letter soon arrived at his desk.

Transcript follows. Image courtesy of the JFK Library, who recently unveiled approximately 200'000 pages of newly-digitised content for all to peruse. Highly recommended. Huge thanks to Michael Ezra for the tip.

Image: JFK Library

A Plea for a raise
By Jack Kennedy

Dedicated to my
Mr. J. P. Kennedy

Chapter I

My recent allowance is 40¢. This I used for areoplanes and other playthings of childhood but now I am a scout and I put away my childish things. Before I would spend 20¢ of my ¢.40 allowance and in five minutes I would have empty pockets and nothing to gain and 20¢ to lose. When I a a scout I have to buy canteens, haversacks, blankets, searchlidgs, poncho things that will last for years and I can always use it while I can't use a cholcalote marshmellow sunday with vanilla ice cream and so I put in my plea for a raise of thirty cents for me to buy scout things and pay my own way more around.


John Fitzgerald Francis Kennedy

Monday, 24 January 2011

I do not feel that Madonna is ready yet

1981: Not believing her to be "ready yet", then-President of Millenium Records Jimmy Ienner politely turns down an aspiring singer by the name of Madonna after listening to four or her songs; his least favourite of which - Love On The Run - can be heard above. Her debut album was released by Sire Records just two years later, to mixed reviews.

Transcript follows.

Mr. Alec Head
c/o Media Sound
311 West 57th Street
New York, N.Y. 10019


Dear Alec:

I enjoyed listening to Madonna. The production, arrangements and she are very strong. The direction is a good one, in my opinion. The only thing missing from this project is the material. I liked "I Want You", "Get Up" and "High Society", but I did not like "Love On The Run" at all. I do not feel that she is ready yet, but I do hear the basis for a strong artist. I will pass for now, but I will wait for more.

Good luck and thank you for thinking of me.

Best regards,


Jimmy Ienner

Friday, 21 January 2011

However, since you are twelve...

These days Bill Dobrow is a successful drummer, having recorded and toured with a whole host of successful acts that include The Black Crowes, Sean Lennon, and Martha Wainwright; however a career in music wasn't always his dream, as evidenced by the following rejection letter he once received after applying to become a Marine. Hats off to Dave Turner for such a warm response.

Transcript follows. Image courtesy of the Flickr pool of Crown Publishing, who featured the letter in Bill Shapiro's wonderful book, Other People's Rejection Letters.

Image: Flickr

The Few. The Proud. The Marines.

Mr. Bill Dobrow
148 Poineer Dr
West Hartford, CT 06117

Dear Mr. Dobrow:

We appreciate your interest in the Marine Corps.

However, since you are twelve, you won't be eligible to be a Marine for a while. But as our way of showing appreciation for your interest, we are enclosing a special Marine memento.

I want to give you this advice: The Marine Corps wants you to stay in school and get your diploma. The more education you have, the more valuable you will be -- to yourself, and to the Marines. Then, when you have graduated, ask one of our recruiters about the variety of technical training skills we offer.

Thanks again for your interest in the Corps.


(Signed, 'Dave Turner')

Dave Turner
Major, U. S. Marine Corps

Enc.: Eagle Iron-On

Thursday, 20 January 2011

I'm sending you a poem

In 1970, eager to spread the word about a low-key magazine he had just launched, the editor of the very short-lived Vishtaroone sent a copy of its first and possibly only issue to the frontman of T. Rex, Marc Bolan. Ever-gracious, Bolan responded to the fan with three things: a handwritten letter; an as-yet-unpublished poem to be used in the next issue, and the offer of more original material in future. All without charge.

Transcript follows. Images kindly supplied by Jeff at Hard Rock; owners of a staggering amount of music memorabilia who have a regularly updated, highly recommended Facebook page.  

thank you For sending me your magazine, time is always short so I'm sure people will like your work. I'm sending you a poem. If you like it, periodically when I have things I'm unlikely to publish you're welcome to use them.

be well
in pain & peace

as a friend

Marc bolan


Spare some thought when curtaining out the night. For is it not the platform on which the morning is staged.

one bent day, a man at a play
climbed in thru my window way
a top tall hat all on him sat
a silver sheild around him kneeled.

meadows wild, this elderly child
told me of, a broken glove, a
token of love. From a person he'd once
been part of, and in natural night
he took flight, giving me an
apple from a box he held, and another
hat beautifully Flat with eastern
brocade on the parts that were frayed

© copyright marc bolan 70.

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

I think that 'She' is worth 20 K. S. Mines

December, 1886: Following the enormous success of his previous book, King Solomon's Mines, novelist H. Rider Haggard writes to fellow author George Barnett Smith and, fearing its dark tone will limit the novel's audience, pessimistically introduces his new book, She. He needn't have worried. To this day She remains one of the most successful and influential novels of all time, having sold over 80 million copies in 44 languages by the year 1965.

Transcript follows.


29. Dec. 86

Dear Mr. Barnett Smith,

I am sending you a copy of my new book which I hope that you will accept. I don't know how you will like it. It is a humble attempt to deal with the probable effect of immortality informing the substance of the mortal, not an easy subject. I fear that the atmosphere of gloom & terror necessarily surrounding such a subject may prevent the book from being as popular as K. S. Mines with the general as distinguished from the cultivated public. Myself however, I think that 'She' is worth 20 K. S. Mines, certainly it has cost me nearly twenty times as much thoumght & labour.

Hoping that you may like it believe me

Very truly yours,

H. Rider Haggard

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Dear Sixteen-Year-Old Me

In 2009, a gaggle of notable personalities were asked to contribute to a book entitled Dear Me: A Letter to My Sixteen-Year-Old Self in order to raise money for the Elton John AIDS Foundation; the idea being for each celebrity to write a letter to themselves, aged sixteen. Below is a charming example of such a missive, written by Elton John in March 2009, to himself in 1963.

The book - which also features contributions from Stephen Fry, Annie Lennox, Debbie Harry, Jonathan Ross, Danny Wallace, Yoko Ono, Emma Thompson, and others - is highly recommended.

Transcript follows. Image courtesy of Joseph Galliano.

March 8th 2009.


Dear Reg,

You are a very young 16. you know nothing about sex — you don't even know what a "queer" is. Trust me when I tell you — you are "queer"; you are a gay boy. I made the mistake of not having sex until I was 23! I loved being with another man and felt relieved that I finally knew who I was. I made the mistake of falling in love too soon because I was naive and romantic. My advice to you is never to chase love — it will find you when you least expect it. Have FUN, have lots of safe sex and enjoy your sexuality. Be proud of who you are and, as you get older and wiser fight for gay rights — I'm 46 years older than you are, and we have a long way to go. In certain countries we are still not treated as equals, especially by the so-called "Christian" Church. I made a lot of mistakes. Stay away from drugs — they're a waste of time. Stand up for every human being's rights. Be loving, kind and strong. Set an example. You're going to have a hell of a life!!

Love you

Elton x


Monday, 17 January 2011

I'll be waiting to see your names someday on the big screen

Over the course of seven years in the 1980s, three young friends — Jayson Lamb, Eric Zala and Chris Strompolos — undertook the mammoth task of remaking their favourite movie, Raiders of the Lost Ark, shot-for-shot; a premiere for the finished piece even took place in 1989, in a local auditorium. However, it was a hugely successful screening of the since-forgotten film in 2003, at the Butt-Numb-A-Thon festival in Austin, that generated the buzz which led to the note below — a priceless letter of appreciation to the amateur filmmakers from the greatest source possible: Steven Spielberg.

Transcript follows.

(Source: Wired.)

February 6, 2003

Dear Chris,

Wanted to write and let you know how impressed I was with your very loving and detailed tribute to our RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK. From the hugely imaginative substitution of a dog for a monkey that your Indy carries around on his shoulder to the smallest detail of Indiana's voice rising when he says, "It's a eat 'em." (Which, by the way, is something I asked Harrison to do when he had to recreate the line in the ADR room.)

But beyond all the mimicry of the original RAIDERS, I saw and appreciated the vast amounts of imagination and originality you put in your film. Again, congratulations. I'll be waiting to see your names someday on the big screen.

All my best,

(Signed, 'Steven Spielberg')


Thursday, 13 January 2011

We will never get past Viet Nam if we sweep it under the carpet

Mid-1976, during what would become one of the most troubled shoots in the history of cinema, Apocalypse Now director Francis Ford Coppola wrote the following apology to Marlon Brando as a result of his recent elusiveness; the reason being, he explained, further re-writes of the script — in particular with regard to Brando's character, Colonel Leighley (later Kurtz). In what is a truly insightful letter, Coppola's frustrations are palpable as he first details the reasoning behind the evolution of Leighley/Kurtz; then speaks of the public's need to face the horror of Vietnam "head on"; and finally makes known his desire to finish this "nightmare" of a movie so as to "move people, and to help put this war in perspective".

Transcript follows. Image courtesy of Christie's.

Image: Christie's


Dear Marlon,

I got a note from Debbie saying that she brought you the retyped script and spent a little time with you. I am sorry that I was so elusive those few weeks I was in California. That time was like a dream to me, and I was so anxious to get the script done, and solve all its problems, that I kept putting off sending it and meeting with you, thinking I would break its back any day. Before I knew it, I had run out of time, and the whole enormous machinery started up again. Essentially, what I tried to do, and am still working on was to rethink the character of Leighley from a doped-up madman, to a sincere, rational -- maybe even great officer who finds himself totally at odds with the Generals in command, and gives way to his own instincts about the way to wage this war. The reason he is in the field, commanding is by his own choice -- he was called in to settle a Montagnard revolt, and chooses to 'revolt' with them, to go off, across the border, where he can follow his own inclinations. He believes the war must be fought with everything, that it cannot be limited war insofar as the V.C. are not fighting a limited war. Consequently, he gives way to his irrational parts, the 'savage' parts in all of us -- sort of like opening a Pandora's box -- like teaching innocent natives how to kill with modern weapons, and reawaking almost forgotten lusts for killing and savagery. But in doing that, he is also kindling those near forgotten lusts in himself as well. Leighley is an extraordinary man, because he always tells the truth -- but he goes too far, and he is consumed by it. I guess that's what this movie is really about. About facing the truth, and then rising beyond it. We will never get past Viet Nam if we sweep it under the carpet -- we must face it, head on, as ugly and horryible as it will seem out in the open. And then by facing it, we can put it behind us. We do not have to feel guilty -- guilt is a destructive emotion -- we have only to judge ourselves, and go on. And we can't beat ourselves to death about those contradictory parts of us: the fact that we want things the way we want them, the fact that we lust after things, and enjoy satisfying those lusts -- even the lust to kill. The truth is that those things do exist -- but in balance with instincts of tenderness, compassion, charity -- The interesting thing about this character is that he is whole, he is irrational and rational all in one, and that is what people are like.

I'm writing this note to you to let you know that I am still working on this thing, and will continue to work. I have new pages, maybe they have progressed, maybe not. But, as you know, I have an open mind and a hunger to make this be good, and to move people, and to help put this war in perspective. Naturally, I welcome your collaboration. When you come here, I know -- we will relax and take it one step at a time, and find the way to make the scenes work. The things I have shot already -- especially the briefing scene, I think work very well, and are much more complex than indicated in the script -- I will show it to you if you think it helpful.

This movie has been a nightmare for me, but I am trying to take it slowly, one step at a time, letting my intuitions guide me.

I really think you're help at this point, will push me where I want to go. Please don't worry about anything, nothing is impossible, and together we can accomplish anything, even make a movie about Viet Nam.

Sincerely, FRANCIS


Wednesday, 12 January 2011

A lot of people believe that beauty is some kind of conspiracy

August 1981, in a bid to gain some high-profile support for a fledgling theatre company with which he was involved, John Carey wrote a letter to author Kurt Vonnegut and asked for his backing. Below is Vonnegut's generous, insightful reply.

Transcript follows. Image courtesy of John Carey.

Image: John Carey

228 E 48 NYC 10071 Aug 18 1981

Dear John Carey --

I thank you for the shirt and the friendly letter. I suspect that much of the official resistance you have met, and the bitterness, too, grows from the belief that the arts are unmanly. They are also foreign-inspired. So any man out that way who is asked to support the arts feels that he is being accused of homosexuality and treason. Why wouldn't he be sore?

You can use my name on your board, I guess, although I generally try to keep off of letterheads unless I am able to be of substantial assistance. When I moved to this address, I went into the office of an interesting looking little institution next door -- to find out what they did. So they explained that they set up burn clinics all over the world, and had begun doing this in Viet Nam, and so on. At the end of their explanation, though, they said that I really should have known something about their work already, since I was on their letterhead. A few years back, I had even signed a deeply moving appeal for funds, with photographs and all. Good for me.

I congratulate you people on being in the raging mainstream of the arts. It is commercial artists like myself who operate in the backwaters. I inhabit still, tepid waters clogged with dollar bills. I never see people. I've forgotten all about them.

Guard yourself at all times. A lot of people believe that beauty is some kind of conspiracy -- along with friendly laughter and peace.

Cheers --


Kurt Vonnegut

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

I have no wish to have a man who doesn't know me tell me who I am

Writing to a John Presser in July of 1978, science fiction author Robert Heinlein speaks of his disdain for Heinlein in Dimension; a critical analysis of Heinlein's work - and unauthorised biography of sorts - by Alexei Panshin that was published a decade previous, and which ultimately attracted legal threats from Heinlein. The book, which can be read in its entirety here, has continued to court controversy ever since.

Transcript follows. Image courtesy of L. W. Curry.


15 July 1978

Dear Mr. Presser:

I agree with you; I disagree with your friend Paul. Any competent fiction writer can assume many roles, many points of view, any age, either sex. If he can't do this he had better get into some other trade.

Ask your friend Paul whether or not he figured out ahead of time that the writer James Tiptree, Jr. is in fact a woman.

I agree with you that Paul's notion is both preposterous and, in most cases, an invasion of privacy.

For years I avoided reading HEINLEIN IN DIMENSION--eventually I needed to for legal reasons. I did not want to read it because I have no wish to have a man who does not know me and who is considerably less than half my age tell me who I am, what I think, and what my evaluations are.

Panshin wrote that while he was in college, and, according to letters I have seen, dashed it off in about a month while getting ready for his semester exams. As may be, he wrote it without ever having laid eyes on me or spoken a word to me.

As to whether or not he succeeded in "analysing" me from my stories, I will limit myself to one item:

He divides my work into three periods: the third he calls my period of "alienation"--to this he assigns a definite starting date.

I have won four Hugos for "best novel," an unmatched record. Three of these four were voted to me by the fans during that so-called "period of alienation"--and approximately 90% of my total book sales in my entire life were during that same period of "alienation."

I could go on endlessly--but there isn't time. This won't change the mind of your friend; when a man makes up his mind without evidence, no evidence disproving his opinion will change his mind.

All good wishes,

(Signed, 'Robert A. Heinlein')

Friday, 7 January 2011

Don't do it for anyone else

It's incredible to think that Keith Haring was only alive for 31 years, given the impact of his work. In New York particularly, his public pop-art greeted many thousands of people every day, and internationally he was, and still is, highly regarded. He also left behind a valuable legacy that includes, alongside his artwork, the Keith Haring Foundation; launched in 1989 "to assist AIDS-related and children's charities", said disease being the cause of his death just a year later.

Below: a brief letter of advice he wrote to an aspiring artist and fan of Haring's work, circa-1987.

Transcript follows. Image courtesy of Gotta Have It.

676 BROADWAY N.Y.C. 10012 212-477-1579

Michael -

Thanks for your letter. I draw everyday. When I was 15, I wanted to be an artist so I drew all the time. It was my only visible talent.

Whatever you do, the only secret is to believe in it and satisfy yourself. Don't do it for anyone else.

Good luck,


Thursday, 6 January 2011

I expect to make the best movie ever made

Writing to Stanley Kubrick in 1968, then-semi-retired actress Audrey Hepburn politely turns down his recent offer and asks that he keep her mind for future work. The role she refused? Joséphine de Beauharnais, the love-interest in Kubrick's unfilmed epic: a large-scale biographical film based on the life of Napoleon Bonaparte for which Kubrick ultimately amassed a gigantic, almost unparalleled archive of research material.

Next, the unfinished draft of a letter from Kubrick to an associate three years later in which, undeterred by MGM pulling out in 1969 due to soaring costs, he lays out a revised proposal and states, "I expect to make the best movie ever made." Kubrick's 1969 screenplay for the movie can be found here.

Transcripts follow. First image courtesy of the Kubrick Archive; second courtesy of powrtoch. Both can be found alongside other correspondence in the suitably grand book, Stanley Kubrick's Napoleon: The Greatest Movie Never Made.

17 Nov '68

Dear Mr. Kubrick

Thankyou for the kind letter you wrote me - I am flattered and happy you would like me to work with you.

I still don't want to work for a while so cannot commit or involve myself in any project at this time.

I hope you understand this..... and will think of me again someday?

Thankyou again

Warmest wishes

Audrey Hepburn

Oct 20 1971

1. I propose we make a deal to film Napoleon based on the following premises.

2. I will do a new screenplay. Naturally, in the two years since the first one was written I have had new ideas.

3. It's impossible to tell you what I'm going to do except to say that I expect to make the best movie ever made.

4. Budget 4,000,000 bellow the line. Part of this, about 1,000,000 to be spent in Romania for the large scenes.

5. The interiors and small extreiors to be done on location with a very small French documentary sized shooting unit. Idea is to save money, shoot available light to make it look real (like Clockwork Orange) and y exploit the fully dressed interiors of the period which are readily available in France.

6. Above the line: Napoleon, SK, MGM debt, UA debt, no other big stars would be envisioned. I suggest actors of the ipecapable calibre of Ptarick Magee (Mr Alexander in CWO) and others are readily available at reasonable non- star deals.

7. I would employ the stop and go three picutre production approach. Theory being that big pictures run s away because a l hughe strip boar is made and when the film starts planning stops. All the key people are too burdened down with day to day responsibilities. Idea would be to have 1. picture with 1-10 people, interirs France. Natural light and simulated. Very lowo overhead.

2. Stop and re plan for x modest exteriors x-y number of crowd.

3. Big exteriors Romanina: battles, marching, revolution.

Each section will be planned in front, but there will be time to re assess everything between each film. All personell except x y z will be dismissed. actor deals will be predicated on this approach.

8. Roll of Cyrus Eaton company.

9. 35mm full aperture but no scope. Can blow up to 70mm height with normal proportions if so desired.

10. Plan to start shooting small section on------ middle on----- big on--------

11. What immediate action has to be taken: Permissions in France, Romanina deal, locations scouted in France and Romania, script, additional money for writers and book rights,

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

The mass audience will never learn

On April 14th, 1960, comedian Steve Allen wrote the following letter to journalist Nat Hentoff, congratulating him on his latest Village Voice column (available to read here) in which Hentoff questioned some unfavourable reviews of Lenny Bruce's stand-up act. Bruce, recently a guest of Allen's on his prime-time talk show, had caused widespread controversy following his arrival in New York; indeed, it only worsened, and over the coming years he was arrested numerous times as a result of his act. Following a six-month obscenity trial in 1964, he was sentenced to four months in a workhouse. He died before the appeal was heard.

In 2003, Bruce was posthumously pardoned for his conviction by New York Governor George Pataki.

Transcript follows. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Steve Allen

April Fourteen 1960

Mr. Nat Hentoff
Village Voice
150 East 77th Street
New York, N. Y.

Dear Nat:

Great piece on Lenny Bruce and the New York critics in the Voice. If I had had the time, I was going to write essentially the same thing myself. I was astounded that the supposedly hippest town in the world could give Lenny such a knockdown. He and Sahl are, to my mind, humorists of truly giant stature.

Interesting point: modern art, modern jazz, modern sculpture, modern poetry, modern politics, modern science, modern philosophy, etc., seem to leap far ahead of their audiences. The mass audience, which evidently will never learn, is not content to say "I just don't understand this new jazz." The usual comment is "It's not funny ... it's not jazz ... it's not poetry," etc. I kick this point around in an autobiography of sorts (MARK IT AND STRIKE IT) to be published this summer by Holt. Also go over the Meeting of Minds thing.

Best regards,

(Signed, 'Steve')



Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Script-written cartoons are like rap music

Happy new year everyone.

To begin 2011, below is a letter from Ren & Stimpy creator John Kricfalusi (on letterhead of his now-defunct production company, Spümcø) to a fan, in which he discusses Rocky and Bullwinkle; reveals his love for Roger Ramjet; debates storyboard-written vs script-written cartoons; and then compares the latter to rap music.

Transcript follows. Image courtesy of S. Bairn.

Image: S. Bairn

5625 Melrose Ave. 2nd Floor
Hollywood, Calif., 90038
(213) 462-2943
FAX (213) 957-1128

Bernie Hogya
37 Eisenhower Drive
Sayreville, NJ 08872

May 5, 1995

Dear Bernie -

When I was a kid, I really liked Rocky and Bullwinkle. I loved the way the characters looked, and I still like their voices. Today, I find the cartoons pretty boring, mainly because of the writing. The writing style is somewhat based on radio comedy from the '40s and '50s. As radio comedy, the Jay Ward cartoons aren't as funny as the best of their inspirations. As animation comedy, it's not as good as the best of cartoons. Interestingly, there have been far more cartoons written in script form, and we still have yet to come even close to Bugs Bunny or Snow White. By the way, Bill Scott, who was the head writer of the Jay Ward cartoons, was a cartoonist. He learned his craft of cartoon writing by doing storyboards for UPA, Warner Brothers, and possibly other studios. Alex Anderson, who created Rocky and Bullwinkle, was an animator.

The funniest "written" cartoon I've ever seen is Roger Ramjet. Its scripts were written and performed by radio people, then the soundtracks were handed over to Fred Crippen and Bob Kurtz, two very funny animators who took the scripts and made the material even funnier by drawing hilarious-looking characters and using a very clever cutting style to draw attention to the jokes and ironies.

The artists were allowed to use their skills, skills writers don't have, to enhance the scripts. I find this show much more entertaining than anything Jay Ward ever did. The Jay Ward cartoons, particularly after Rocky and Bullwinkle, just seem slow and lazy to me. They're too easy. Actually, my favorite parts of Rocky and Bullwinkle are the title sequences and the little bumpers between the cartoons. These are visually very clever. I love the one with Rocky and Bullwinkle popping out of the cornfield.

Rocky and Bullwinkle, The Simpsons, Roger Ramjet and Beavis and Butthead are the most successful "written" cartoons, and they're minute exceptions. The vast majority of script-written cartoons are horrible. While there are certainly horrible storyboard-written cartoons too, I think you would find a higher percentage of good storyboard-written cartoons compared to bad, than good script-written cartoons compared to bad. And, as I said earlier, the best of the script-written can't touch the best of the storyboard-written. Script-written cartoons are missing a vital element of the cartoon art form -- the cartoon part. They're sort of like rap music. Rap music is music without the music. It's rhythm only. Some of it's very appealing. But does the best of it compare to real music -- music written by musicians? Would you compare Ice Cube to Tchaikowski?

Thanks for bringing up this point. You've made me think about it and I might even write an article about it. Keep watching cartoons.

Your Pal,

(Signed, 'John K.')

John K

encl: TV Cartoon paint for your enjoyment