Thursday, 22 December 2011

Merry Christmas!

I've decided to break with tradition today as this is the last post of 2011. Rather than feature a letter, I've chosen a couple of charming Christmas cards that were sent to family and friends, circa 1920, by Harry Houdini. They're both delightful.

I'm taking a short break now. Letters of Note — and Lists of Note, and Letterheady — will resume in 2012, at which point my batteries will have recharged. I hope you all have a fantastic Christmas.

P.S. I'll still be active on Twitter.

P.P.S. The Letters of Note book still isn't funded. Take a look and please help if you can!

First image courtesy of Houdini Himself; second image courtesy of Boston Public Library.




Tuesday, 20 December 2011

I would like to get out of this world

Back in 1950, looking to publicise a new exhibition named "Conquest of Space," the Hayden Planetarium in New York publicly announced that they were accepting reservations for the first trip into space, whenever that may be. Unsurprisingly, in the coming weeks and months applications from all corners began to arrive at the museum, from would-be space travellers of all ages. A selection of the letters have recently been put online by the AMNH, and can be seen here.

Below is just one of the application letters, written by a high-school student and notable if only for the postscript, in which the real reason for his application becomes clear.

Transcript follows. Image courtesy of the American Museum of Natural History. Found via Boing Boing.



Transcript
Dear Sirs:

I have just read in a Newspaper that you are reserving passage on the first spaceship that goes to Mars — for anyone who wants to go. At the present time I am a student attending High School, and I will be unable to go until I finish college... But from what I hear you won't be attempting the trip for quite a good many years to come.

My name is: Nordahl [Address redacted]

P.S. I would like to get out of this world before the H-Bomb blows it sky high.

Monday, 19 December 2011

It's just terrific

February, 1976. Producer Jan Harlan writes to Stanley Kubrick and speaks passionately about a new piece of technology so impressive that it could lead to "shots which would not enter your mind otherwise." That invention was the now-ubiquitous Steadicam, and Harlan was right to be so impressed. Indeed, Kubrick shared his enthusiasm, so much so that the Steadicam was used extensively and to great effect in his next movie, The Shining — most notably the smooth tracking shots in the hotel's corridors — and in every film of his that followed.

Transcript follows. Image from the amazing book, The Stanley Kubrick Archives.



Transcript
10. Feb. 76

ED DI GUILIO CAMERA BRACKET

Dear Stanley,

I saw this new contraption for hand-held shots in action. It's just terrific. Enclosed a photograph of one of the prototypes. The whole secret is a perfect balance of the camera and the arm AND a spring loaded- tension arm which separates the body movement from the camera to an astonishing degree. The operator can run and the camera moves through the air as if held on a string from above. I saw a roll of film this morning shot by Haskel where the operator sits on a crane - the crane comes down the the ground, the operator gets of the seat and walks away, no cut. Not only will this thing safe a lot of money and time by avoiding tracks, but you could do shots and think of shots which would not enter your mind otherwise. You see, I am sold on that think, although it costs $30,000.--. Ed will be in London on Feb 25 for 4 hours and I told him to send you that roll of film which I saw. I promised him that you will send it back to him within a few days. He will just arrange with someone that the roll is delivered to you.

Ed will be in Copenhagen in 2 weeks and I have asked him to see Mr. Jakobsen and find out for himself what is happening. I assume that Jakobsen has not contacted you in the meantime.

best Jan


Friday, 16 December 2011

America is pretty empty without you kids

Groucho Marx wrote this lovely letter to U.S. troops stationed in Suriname in 1943, in response to a request from a Corporal Darrow to send a morale-boosting message. Groucho doesn't disappoint, and cracks a couple of gentle jokes about life back home and his attempt to grow some vegetables; there are even a few genuinely touching remarks towards the end. The icing on the cake has to be the paper on which it's typed — a sheet of the comedian's unmistakable letterhead.

Transcript follows. Image kindly supplied by Callum.


Image: Callum

Transcript
GROUCHO MARX

August 18, 1943.

Dear Corporal Darrow,

You asked me if I have a message for the soldiers in the jungle. I could probably send one but it would be collect and would only run into money. I imagine it's difficult enough to stay awake on those lonely islands without having to read messages from me.

I don't want you to worry much about the 4-Fs back home -- true, we have been deprived of a few things but nothing of any importance. We don't get much meat any more -- the butcher shops have nothing in them but customers. Fortunately, I don't rely on the stores for my vegetables. Last spring I was smart enough to plant a Victory garden. So far, I have raised a family of moles, enough snails to keep a pre-French restaurant running for a century and a curious looking plant that I have been eating all summer under the impression that it was a vegetable. However, for the past few weeks, I've had difficulty in remaining awake and this morning I discovered that I had been munching on marijuana the whole month of July.

Anyhow, we miss all you boys (I have a son in the Coast Guard) and we wish you were all back again raising hell and children. We are doing what little we can to further the war effort -- we buy bonds, play service camps and short-wave broadcasts to our soldiers on the foreign fronts. We drive carefully, we take no vacations and, in general, do what we can. God knows it's little enough. We all know that you boys are doing the real job.

In closing, all I can say is good luck, God bless you all and hurry home -- remember, America is pretty empty without you kids.

Yours,

(Signed, 'Groucho')

Cpl. Jerone G. Darrow,
Force Headquarters,
U. S. Army Forces in Surinam,
Camp Paramaribo, Surinam,
Dutch Guiana.

Thursday, 15 December 2011

You are now my Enemy

From the pen of Benjamin Franklin comes a furious letter, written in 1775 to William Strahan — a British Member of Parliament who had, until that point, been a friend of thirty years — as the American Revolutionary War took hold. Franklin quickly had a change of mind after penning it, and it was never sent; however, word of its content later circulated and it soon become famous.

If anything, it's a lesson in how to sign-off with style.

Transcript follows. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.



Transcript
Philada. July 5. 1775

Mr. Strahan

You are a Member of Parliament, and one of that Majority which has doomed my Country to Destruction. You have begun to burn our Towns and murder our People. — Look upon your hands! They are stained with the Blood of your Relations! — You and I were long Friends:— You are now my Enemy, — and

I am,

Yours.

B. Franklin

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

A bag of wind

George Orwell wrote the following letter to his publisher, Frederic Warburg, in 1948. At the time, he was valiantly attempting to finish the first draft of his latest novel whilst "under the influence of" tuberculosis, and was still undecided as to the book's title. Sadly, that book — the incredible Nineteen Eighty-Four, published in June the next year — would be his last, as Orwell passed away in January of 1950. It has since become one of the most successful and influential pieces of literature of all time.

A bonus also lies in the letter's final paragraph, as Orwell offers his opinion of the philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre.

Transcript follows. Image courtesy of Stephen Curry; photo taken at the British Library.


Image: Stephen Curry; photo taken at the British Library

Transcript
Barnhill
Isle of Jura
Argyllshire
22.10.48

Dear Fred,

You will have had my wire by now, and if anything crossed your mind I dare say I shall have had a return wire from you by the time this goes off. I shall finish the book, D.V., early in November, and I am rather flinching from the job of typing it, because it is a very awkward thing to do in bed, where I still have to spend half the time. Also There will have to be carbon copies, a thing which always fidgets me, and the book is fearfully long, I should think well over 100,000 words, possibly 125,000. I can't send it away because it is an unbelievably bad MS and no one could make head or tail of it without explanation. On the other hand a skilled typist under my eye could do it easily enough. If you can think of anybody who would be willing to come, I will send money for the journey and full instructions. I think we could make her quite comfortable. There is always plenty to eat and I will see that she has a comfortable warm place to work in.

I am not pleased with the book but I am not absolutely dissatisfied. I first thought of it in 1943. I think it is a good idea but the execution would have been better if I had not written it under the influence of TB. I haven't definitely fixed on the title but I am hesitating between NINETEEN EIGHTY-FOUR and THE LAST MAN IN EUROPE.

I have just had Sartre's book on antisemitism, which you published, to review. I think Sartre is a bag of wind and I am going to give him a good boot.

Please give everyone my love.

Yours

(Signed, 'George')

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Why don't you write a story?

Below is a short, sweet, and very impressive letter written by Elizabeth Taylor in reply to a note from a downbeat fan whose pet bird, "Chips," had recently passed away. Her gentle advice to the young girl — to write a story about the late-pet — is admirable; even more notable, though, is the fact that Taylor herself was just 13-years-old at the time of writing.

Transcript follows. Image kindly supplied by Nicholas Burr.


Image: Nicholas Burr

Transcript
Elizabeth Taylor

January 24th, 1946

Dear Jean,

I was so sorry to hear about your bird dying, Why don't you write a story about Chips ? Just as if you were writing to me, and tell all about it right from the beginning, and all the cute things she did. That's what makes stories interesting, to have all the little details just as if you were telling a friend, and soon you'll find how easy it is to write.

Do you want me to tell you when my book comes out ? Lots of luck.

Sincerely,

(Signed, 'Elizabeth Taylor')

Monday, 12 December 2011

From your friend "Babe" Ruth

Says Dawn:
My late-father's friend, Freddy, contracted Polio when they were kids, and apparently he had a tough time of it. A couple of weeks into his lengthy stay at the Children's Hospital in Boston, Freddy (a baseball nut) was given this letter. It was from his hero, Babe Ruth, and is just so sweet. My dad told me Freddy spoke about the letter every single day for the next few months. No surprise really.
Transcript follows. Image kindly supplied by Dawn.


Image: Dawn

Transcript
BABE RUTH
NEW YORK

Jan 15 - 1932

Hello Fred

I have received some very nice reports about you and the nice way you are getting along. Now I want you to keep it up and it will not be long before you will be and running around.

You are only eight years now and who knows that some day the umpire will say Freddy Clark Jr. now batting for Babe Ruth — say Freddy? Will that be great or not. Now I want you to keep your fight and think of me.

From your friend "Babe" Ruth

Friday, 9 December 2011

The Heroes of Our Time



June, 1964. Marlon Brando sends a telegram to Martin Luther King and declines an offer to assist in a forthcoming demonstration due to ill-health and legal troubles.

Brando was an active supporter of the Civil Rights Movement, both vocally and financially, and in fact had been standing just "a few steps behind Dr. King when he gave his 'I Have a Dream' speech" in 1963. After his assassination in 1968, Brando took a break from the acting world in order to dedicate himself to King's work.

Transcript follows. Images courtesy of The Brilliance of Brando (Above), and Christie's (Below).



Transcript
WESTERN UNION
TELEGRAM

June 10, 1964

DR. MARTIN LUTHER KING, C/O DR. HAYLING, 79 BRIDGE ST.,
ST. AUGUSTINE, FLORIDA

DEAR DR. KING:

THANK YOU VERY MUCH FOR CALLING. I RECENTLY RETURNED FROM THE HOSPITAL AFTER HAVING HAD AN ATTACK OF SEVERE BLEEDING FROM AN ULCER. I HAVE BEEN SUBJECT TO GREAT PERSONAL STRIFE IN MY OWN LIFE AND AM OBLIGED TO GO INTO COURT THURSDAY. I FEEL HONORED THAT YOU ASKED FOR WHAT ASSISTANCE I COULD GIVE. I CANNOT AT THIS TIME BE OF ASSISTANCE. IT DISTRESSES ME THAT I WILL NOT BE ABLE TO JOIN YOU. I FEEL THAT THOSE WHO TAKE ACTIVE PART IN DEMONSTRATIONS FOR EQUALITY AND FREEDOM ARE THE HEROES OF OUR TIME AND DESERVE NATIONAL HONOR AND ACCLAIM AND I REGARD IT AS AN HONORABLE DUTY TO PARTICIPATE. I WILL BE OUT OF THE COUNTRY HOPEFULLY BY FRIDAY BUT I WILL RETURN BY THE FIRST OF AUGUST AND AT THAT TIME I AM SURE I WILL BE ABLE TO PARTICIPATE IN THE ACTIVITIES OF LIBERATION. WITH GREAT RESPECT AND REGRET I AM SINCERELY YOURS.

MARLON BRANDO

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Herbs is his Majesty's



On January 16th of 1980, Japanese customs officials found 7.7 ounces of cannabis in Paul McCartney's luggage as he entered the country, resulting in a 10-day stay in a Tokyo prison and the cancellation of the Wings tour of Japan. After being released, he was told never to return. 

The highlight of the whole ordeal came five days in, when Paul's friend — the slightly eccentric, inimitable reggae legend that is Lee "Scratch" Perry — sent a message to Tokyo's Minister of Justice in an effort lend his support. His entertaining plea can be enjoyed below.

Transcript follows.

(Source: Jamie Rowland; Image: Lee "Scratch" Perry, via.)



Transcript
21 JANUARY 1980

ARK OF THE COVENANT
5 CARDIFF CRESCENT DR.
KINGSTON, JAMAICA
AIR WHITE SMOKE SIGNAL
EARTH MOON BASE
JUDA ONLY LAW HOUSE
ISRAEL LIGHT HOUSE

MINISTER OF JUSTICE
1-1-1 KASUMIGASEKI
CHIYODA-KU
TOKYO, JAPAN

Dear Sirs,

I LEE PIPECOCK JACKSON PERRY would LOVE to express my concern over your consideration of one quarter kilo to be an excessive amount of herbs in the case as it pertains to master PAUL McCARTNEY.

As a creator of nature's LOVE, light, life and all things under the creation sun, positive feelings through songs, good times and no problems. I find the Herbal powers of marijuana in its widely recognized abilities to relax, calm and generate positive feeling a must.

Herbs is his Majesty's. All singers positive directions and liberty Irrations. Please do not consider the amount of herbs involved excessive.

Master PAUL McCARTNEY's intentions are positive.

BABY BLUE GREEN STAR
PIPECOCK JACKSON
LEE "SCRATCH" PERRY
BANANA I PEN JA
NATURES LOVE DEFENDER

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Don't say it

Back in the mid-1980s, a young man in his early-20s named James Harmon began writing to a huge number of notable people — authors, academics, actors, thinkers; all of whom he admired — and asked, "If you could offer the young people of today one piece of advice, what would it be?" Over the coming years Harmon continued to write, and slowly but surely the replies appeared. In 2002, a selection were published in the fantastic book, Take My Advice: Letters to the Next Generation from People Who Know a Thing or Two.

Below is just one of those responses — a handwritten reply from Ken Kesey, author of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.

Transcript follows. Image courtesy of the wonderful Glenn Horowitz.



Transcript
Kesey
[Redacted]
Dec 15, 1986

James Harmon
[Redacted]

Dear James:

Here's some advice I have been giving to just-marrieds over the last decade or so:

Don't say it. It's too hard to take it back. I've seen too many loves sundered by too much needless honesty. These psychological ding-dongs that tell people to speak their minds to their mates, to vent their spleens? What do they accomplish? All they produce is a lot of lonely self-righteous minds & ventilated spleens.

Ken Kesey

P.S. Faye & I have been married 35 years. KK

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Advice from Harper Lee

A young fan of 'To Kill a Mockingbird' named Jeremy wrote to Harper Lee in 2006, and asked for a signed photo. He didn't get one, but instead received this lovely piece of advice from the author that is far more precious.

Transcript follows. Image courtesy of Nate D. Sanders.



Transcript
06/07/06

Dear Jeremy

I don't have a picture of myself, so please accept these few lines:

As you grow up, always tell the truth, do no harm to others, and don't think you are the most important being on earth. Rich or poor, you then can look anyone in the eye and say, "I'm probably no better than you, but I'm certainly your equal."

(Signed, 'Harper Lee')

Monday, 5 December 2011

Lists of Note

Dear All,

I'd like to introduce you to Lists of Note, a website I've just started which is — unsurprisingly, given its name — a blog dedicated to noteworthy lists. Whilst searching for letters over the past couple of years I've often come across fascinating lists, written by all manner of people for many different reasons. Some are amusing, others tear-jerking; some are adorable, others disturbing. From to-do lists to to-not do lists; love lists to death lists — in time, no matter what your interests, there will be something in the archives to keep you engrossed.

The intention is to build a collection in a similar manner to the archives here at Letters of Note, and I'll be updating both sites in tandem, when possible. Even the layout is identical apart from a splash of green. Only a handful of lists are present at the moment but many more will be added in the coming days and weeks, and, as with Letters of Note, your suggestions are very welcome. Don't worry if there's no image of the list; the content is far more important.

Also, while I have your attention, I still need just over 800 supporters for the Letters of Note book. We have 40 days left to hit target, at which point I can start writing. If you haven't already, head over to Unbound and learn more. Without your help, the book won't materialise.

Thanks!

Shaun

YOUR ANONYMOUS GODARD

Mid-1968, the British Film Institute invited acclaimed filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard to open a series of lectures at the National Film Theatre in London. A fee was agreed, the invite accepted, and flights booked. In the days prior to the event, the BFI received two telegrams from Godard. The first can be seen below. The second cable arrived the morning before his planned arrival, and read:
WILL NOT COME TOMORROW MOVIES HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH CIGARETTES AND REALITY WITH SMOKE YOUR UNKNOWN GODARD
100 members of the audience accepted a refund; the rest settled for a screening of Vivre sa vie.

Transcript follows. Image courtesy of the BFI.


Image: BFI

Transcript
TS 15/113 LN H0073 XF7964
NEUILLYSURSEINEPPAL 4651 60 19 1210

NATIONAL FILM THEATER SOUTH BANK WATERLOO LONDON

IF AM NOT THERE TAKE ANYONE IN THE STREET THE POOREST IF POSSIBLE GIVE HIM MY 100 POUNDS AND TALK WITH HIM OF IMAGES AND SOUDN AND YOU WILL LEARN FROM HIM MUCH MORE THAN FROM ME BECAUSE IT IS THE POOR PEOPLE WHO ARE REALLY INVENTING THE LANGUAGE STOP YOUR ANONYMOUS GODARD

Friday, 2 December 2011

Space: The Final Frontier



On August 1st of 1966, just weeks before NBC's season premiere of the original Star Trek series, two of the programme's producers — Bob Justman and John Black — contacted Gene Roddenberry and asked him to quickly write the show's now-famous opening monologue (see clip above), to be recorded by William Shatner. For the next week or so the three men exchanged drafts by memo, a couple of which can be seen below. Roddenberry came up with the final draft on August 10th, an hour before it was recorded.

Transcripts follow. Images courtesy of Star Trek Prop Authority.






Transcript
DATE: AUGUST 1, 1966
SUBJECT: STANDARD OPENING NARRATION
TO: GENE RODDENBERRY
FROM: BOB JUSTMAN

Dear Gene:

It it important that you compose, without delay, our Standard Opening Narration for Bill Shatner to record. It should run about 15 seconds in length, as we discussed earlier.

Regards,

Bob

RHJ:sts
cc: John D.F. Black

---------------------------

DATE: AUGUST 2, 1966
SUBJECT: STAR TREK Opening Narration
TO: GENE RODDENBERRY
FROM: JOHN D. F. BLACK

Gene....

Think the narration needs more drama.

Follows an example of what I mean... at about 15 to 17 seconds

KIRK'S VOICE

Space...the final frontier...endless...silent...waiting. This is the story of the United Space Ship Enterprise...its mission...a five year patrol of the galaxy where no man has gone before...a STAR TREK.

John D. F.

cc: R. Justman
JDFB/ms

---------------------------

DATE: AUGUST 2, 1966
SUBJECT: STAR TREK OPENING NARRATION
TO: GENE RODDENBERRY
FROM: BOB JUSTMAN

Dear Gene:

Here are the words you should use for our Standard TEASER Narration:

"This is the story of the Starship Enterprise. It's mission: to advance knowledge, contact alien life and enforce intergalactic law ... to explore the strange new worlds where no man has gone before".

Regards,

BOB

RHJ:sts
cc: John D.F. Black

[Roddenberry's handrwitten notes]

---------------------------

DATE: AUGUST 10, 1966
SUBJECT: STANDARD OPENING NARRATION
TO: GENE RODDENBERRY
FROM: BOB JUSTMAN

Dear Gene:

As per our conversation last night on the phone, it is absolutely imperative that we record with William Shatner the Standard Opening Narration for the STAR TREK Main Title as soon as possible.

Need I say more? ?

Love and kisses,

XXXXX

BOB

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Stephen Hawking on Time Travel



In 1995, with their forthcoming 15th anniversary issue in mind, The Face magazine approached Stephen Hawking and asked him for a time travel formula. They soon received the following response by fax.

Transcript follows.

(Source: The Face's former editors, Richard Benson & Johnny Davis; Image: Stephen Hawking, via.)



Transcript
UNIVERSITY OF CAMBRIDGE
Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics
Silver Street, Cambridge, England CB3 9EW

FAX

From: Sue Masey, Personal Assistant to Professor S W Hawking
To: Johnny Davis

Number of pages: 1 (Including this one)

Date 6 April 1995

Thank you for your recent fax. I do not have any equations for time travel. If I had, I would win the National Lottery every week.

S W Hawking