Tuesday, 31 January 2012

On the Meaning of Life

In July of 1931, author and philosopher Will Durant wrote to a number of notable figures and asked, essentially, "What is the meaning of life?" His letter concluded:
Spare me a moment to tell me what meaning life has for you, what keeps you going, what help—if any—religion gives you, what are the sources of your inspiration and your energy, what is the goal or motive-force of your toil, where you find your consolations and your happiness, where, in the last resort, your treasure lies. Write briefly if you must; write at length and at leisure if you possibly can; for every word from you will be precious to me.
Durant received many replies, a selection of which were compiled in the book, "On the Meaning of Life." By far the greatest response, in my opinion, came from the great H. L. Mencken. It can, and should, be read below.

(Source: On the Meaning of Life; Image: H. L. Mencken in 1927, courtesy of Vanity Fair.)

Dear Durant

You ask me, in brief, what satisfaction I get out of life, and why I go on working. I go on working for the same reason that a hen goes on laying eggs. There is in every living creature an obscure but powerful impulse to active functioning. Life demands to be lived. Inaction, save as a measure of recuperation between bursts of activity, is painful and dangerous to the healthy organism—in fact, it is almost impossible. Only the dying can be really idle.

The precise form of an individual’s activity is determined, of course, by the equipment with which he came into the world. In other words, it is determined by his heredity. I do not lay eggs, as a hen does, because I was born without any equipment for it. For the same reason I do not get myself elected to Congress, or play the violoncello, or teach metaphysics in a college, or work in a steel mill. What I do is simply what lies easiest to my hand. It happens that I was born with an intense and insatiable interest in ideas, and thus like to play with them. It happens also that I was born with rather more than the average facility for putting them into words. In consequence, I am a writer and editor, which is to say, a dealer in them and concoctor of them.

There is very little conscious volition in all this. What I do was ordained by the inscrutable fates, not chosen by me. In my boyhood, yielding to a powerful but still subordinate interest in exact facts, I wanted to be a chemist, and at the same time my poor father tried to make me a business man. At other times, like any other realtively poor man, I have longed to make a lot of money by some easy swindle. But I became a writer all the same, and shall remain one until the end of the chapter, just as a cow goes on giving milk all her life, even though what appears to be her self-interest urges her to give gin.

I am far luckier than most men, for I have been able since boyhood to make a good living doing precisely what I have wanted to do—what I would have done for nothing, and very gladly, if there had been no reward for it. Not many men, I believe, are so fortunate. Millions of them have to make their livings at tasks which really do not interest them. As for me, I have had an extraordinarily pleasant life, despite the fact that I have had the usual share of woes. For in the midst of these woes I still enjoyed the immense satisfaction which goes with free activity. I have done, in the main, exactly what I wanted to do. Its possible effects on other people have interested me very little. I have not written and published to please other people, but to satisfy myself, just as a cow gives milk, not to profit the dairyman, but to satisfy herself. I like to think that most of my ideas have been sound ones, but I really don’t care. The world may take them or leave them. I have had my fun hatching them.

Next to agreeable work as a means of attaining happiness I put what Huxley called the domestic affections—the day to day intercourse with family and friends. My home has seen bitter sorrow, but it has never seen any serious disputes, and it has never seen poverty. I was completely happy with my mother and sister, and I am completely happy with my wife. Most of the men I commonly associate with are friends of very old standing. I have known some of them for more than thirty years. I seldom see anyone, intimately, whom I have known for less than ten years. These friends delight me. I turn to them when work is done with unfailing eagerness. We have the same general tastes, and see the world much alike. Most of them are interestd in music, as I am. It has given me more pleasure in this life than any external thing. I love it more every year.

As for religion, I am quite devoid of it. Never in my adult life have I experienced anything that could be plausibly called a religious impulse. My father and grandfather were agnostics before me, and though I was sent to Sunday-school as a boy and exposed to the Christian theology I was never taught to believe it. My father thought that I should learn what it was, but it apparently never occurred to him that I would accept it. He was a good psychologist. What I got in Sunday-school—beside a wide acquaintance with Christian hymnology—was simply a firm conviction that the Christian faith was full of palpable absurdities, and the Christian God preposterous. Since that time I have read a great deal in theology—perhaps much more than the average clergyman—but I have never discovered any reason to change my mind.

The act of worship, as carried on by Christians, seems to me to be debasing rather than ennobling. It involves grovelling before a Being who, if He really exists, deserves to be denounced instead of respected. I see little evidence in this world of the so-called goodness of God. On the contrary, it seems to me that, on the strength of His daily acts, He must be set down a most cruel, stupid and villainous fellow. I can say this with a clear conscience, for He has treated me very well—in fact, with vast politeness. But I can’t help thinking of his barbaric torture of most of the rest of humanity. I simply can’t imagine revering the God of war and politics, theology and cancer.

I do not believe in immortality, and have no desire for it. The belief in it issues from the puerile egos of inferior men. In its Christian form it is little more than a device for getting revenge upon those who are having a better time on this earth. What the meaning of human life may be I don’t know: I incline to suspect that it has none. All I know about it is that, to me at least, it is very amusing while it lasts. Even its troubles, indeed, can be amusing. Moreover, they tend to foster the human qualities that I admire most—courage and its analogues. The noblest man, I think, is that one who fights God, and triumphs over Him. I have had little of this to do. When I die I shall be content to vanish into nothingness. No show, however good, could conceivably be good for ever.

Sincerely yours,

H. L. Mencken

Monday, 30 January 2012

To My Old Master

In 1864, after 32 long years in the service of his master, Jourdon Anderson and his wife, Amanda, escaped a life of slavery when Union Army soldiers freed them from the plantation on which they had been working so tirelessly. They grasped the opportunity with vigour, quickly moved to Ohio where Jourdon could find paid work with which to support his growing family, and didn’t look back. Then, a year later, shortly after the end of the Civil War, Jourdon received a desperate letter from Patrick Henry Anderson, the man who used to own him, in which he was asked to return to work on the plantation and rescue his ailing business.

Jourdon’s reply to the person who enslaved his family, dictated from his home on August 7th, is everything you could wish for, and quite rightly was subsequently reprinted in numerous newspapers. Jourdon Anderson never returned to Big Spring, Tennessee. He passed away in 1907, aged 81, and is buried alongside his wife who died six years later. Together they had a total of eleven children.

(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; Image: A group of escaped slaves in Virginia in 1862, courtesy of the Library of Congress.)

Dayton, Ohio,

August 7, 1865

To My Old Master, Colonel P.H. Anderson, Big Spring, Tennessee

Sir: I got your letter, and was glad to find that you had not forgotten Jourdon, and that you wanted me to come back and live with you again, promising to do better for me than anybody else can. I have often felt uneasy about you. I thought the Yankees would have hung you long before this, for harboring Rebs they found at your house. I suppose they never heard about your going to Colonel Martin's to kill the Union soldier that was left by his company in their stable. Although you shot at me twice before I left you, I did not want to hear of your being hurt, and am glad you are still living. It would do me good to go back to the dear old home again, and see Miss Mary and Miss Martha and Allen, Esther, Green, and Lee. Give my love to them all, and tell them I hope we will meet in the better world, if not in this. I would have gone back to see you all when I was working in the Nashville Hospital, but one of the neighbors told me that Henry intended to shoot me if he ever got a chance.

I want to know particularly what the good chance is you propose to give me. I am doing tolerably well here. I get twenty-five dollars a month, with victuals and clothing; have a comfortable home for Mandy,—the folks call her Mrs. Anderson,—and the children—Milly, Jane, and Grundy—go to school and are learning well. The teacher says Grundy has a head for a preacher. They go to Sunday school, and Mandy and me attend church regularly. We are kindly treated. Sometimes we overhear others saying, "Them colored people were slaves" down in Tennessee. The children feel hurt when they hear such remarks; but I tell them it was no disgrace in Tennessee to belong to Colonel Anderson. Many darkeys would have been proud, as I used to be, to call you master. Now if you will write and say what wages you will give me, I will be better able to decide whether it would be to my advantage to move back again.

As to my freedom, which you say I can have, there is nothing to be gained on that score, as I got my free papers in 1864 from the Provost-Marshal-General of the Department of Nashville. Mandy says she would be afraid to go back without some proof that you were disposed to treat us justly and kindly; and we have concluded to test your sincerity by asking you to send us our wages for the time we served you. This will make us forget and forgive old scores, and rely on your justice and friendship in the future. I served you faithfully for thirty-two years, and Mandy twenty years. At twenty-five dollars a month for me, and two dollars a week for Mandy, our earnings would amount to eleven thousand six hundred and eighty dollars. Add to this the interest for the time our wages have been kept back, and deduct what you paid for our clothing, and three doctor's visits to me, and pulling a tooth for Mandy, and the balance will show what we are in justice entitled to. Please send the money by Adams's Express, in care of V. Winters, Esq., Dayton, Ohio. If you fail to pay us for faithful labors in the past, we can have little faith in your promises in the future. We trust the good Maker has opened your eyes to the wrongs which you and your fathers have done to me and my fathers, in making us toil for you for generations without recompense. Here I draw my wages every Saturday night; but in Tennessee there was never any pay-day for the negroes any more than for the horses and cows. Surely there will be a day of reckoning for those who defraud the laborer of his hire.

In answering this letter, please state if there would be any safety for my Milly and Jane, who are now grown up, and both good-looking girls. You know how it was with poor Matilda and Catherine. I would rather stay here and starve—and die, if it come to that—than have my girls brought to shame by the violence and wickedness of their young masters. You will also please state if there has been any schools opened for the colored children in your neighborhood. The great desire of my life now is to give my children an education, and have them form virtuous habits.

Say howdy to George Carter, and thank him for taking the pistol from you when you were shooting at me.

From your old servant,

Jourdon Anderson.

Friday, 27 January 2012

To the next Burglar

As he slept upstairs on September 8th of 1908, two young burglars entered Mark Twain's home, took an entire sideboard into the garden and proceeded to break it open. They were eventually caught by police with a stash of silverware. The next day, with the help of an aspiring young artist named Dorothy Sturgis, Twain produced the following note for the attention of future burglars. From that day on, it was permanently attached to his front door.

Transcript follows.

(Source: Stanley Gould; Image of Mark Twain via Wikipedia.)


To the next Burglar.

There is nothing but plated ware in this house, now and henceforth. You will find it in that brass thing in the dining-room over in the corner by the basket of kittens. If you want the basket, put the kittens in the brass thing. Do not make a noise — it disturbs the family. You will find rubbers in the front hall, by that thing which has the umbrellas in it, chiffonier, I think they call it, or pergola, or something like that.

Please close the door when you go away!

Very truly yours,

S.L. Clemens

Thursday, 26 January 2012

Thou eunuch of language

Robert Burns is considered one of the greatest poets ever to have lived. He was also, judging by the following letter, more than capable of responding to his few critics. It was penned in 1791 in response to a recent review that criticised a supposed abundance of "obscure language" and "imperfect grammar" in Burns’s poetry, and is perfect in every way.

(Source: The Works of Robert Burns, Volume 4; Image: Robert Burns, courtesy of the BBC.)

Ellisland, 1791.

Dear Sir:

Thou eunuch of language; thou Englishman, who never was south the Tweed; thou servile echo of fashionable barbarisms; thou quack, vending the nostrums of empirical elocution; thou marriage-maker between vowels and consonants, on the Gretna-green of caprice; thou cobler, botching the flimsy socks of bombast oratory; thou blacksmith, hammering the rivets of absurdity; thou butcher, embruing thy hands in the bowels of orthography; thou arch-heretic in pronunciation; thou pitch-pipe of affected emphasis; thou carpenter, mortising the awkward joints of jarring sentences; thou squeaking dissonance of cadence; thou pimp of gender; thou Lyon Herald to silly etymology; thou antipode of grammar; thou executioner of construction; thou brood of the speech-distracting builders of the Tower of Babel; thou lingual confusion worse confounded; thou scape-gallows from the land of syntax; thou scavenger of mood and tense; thou murderous accoucheur of infant learning; thou ignis fatuus, misleading the steps of benighted ignorance; thou pickle-herring in the puppet-show of nonsense; thou faithful recorder of barbarous idiom; thou persecutor of syllabication; thou baleful meteor, foretelling and facilitating the rapid approach of Nox and Erebus.


Wednesday, 25 January 2012

May the muses embrace you

In September of 1988, Salman Rushdie's fourth novel, The Satanic Verses, was published in the UK to both critical acclaim and immediate controversy. By February of 1989, following months of protests and death threats, his execution was ordered by way of a fatwā issued by the Supreme Leader of Iran, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. Rushdie was then put under police guard, and he went into hiding. The controversy continues to this day.

In the early 1990s, as the furore raged, the following letter of support was written to Rushdie by novelist Norman Mailer.

(Source: The Rushdie Letters; Image: Salman Rushdie in 1988. Source.)

Dear Salman Rushdie,

I have thought of you often over the last few years. Many of us begin writing with the inner temerity that if we keep searching for the most dangerous of our voices, why then, sooner or later we will outrage something fundamental in the world. and our lives will be in danger. That is what I thought when I started out, and so have many others, but you, however, are the only one of us who gave proof that this intimation was not ungrounded. Now you live what must me a living prison of contained paranoia, and the toughening of the will is imperative, no matter the cost to the poetry in yourself. It is no happy position for a serious and talented writer to become a living martyr. One does not need that. It is hard enough to write at one's best without wearing a hundred pounds on one's back each day, but such is your condition, and if I were a man who believed that prayer was productive of results, I might wish to send some sort of vigor and encouragement to you, for if you can transcend this situation, more difficult than any of us have known, if you can come up with a major piece of literary work, then you will rejuvenate all of us, and literature, to that degree, will flower.

So, my best to you, old man, wherever you are ensconced, and may the muses embrace you.


Norman Mailer

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

I am a lousy copywriter

British-born David Ogilvy was one of the original, and greatest, "ad men." In 1948, he started what would eventually be known as Ogilvy & Mather, the Manhattan-based advertising agency that has since been responsible for some of the world's most iconic ad campaigns, and in 1963 he even wrote Confessions of an Advertising Man, the best-selling book that is still to this day considered essential reading for all who enter the industry. Time magazine called him "the most sought-after wizard in today's advertising industry" in the early-'60s; his name, and that of his agency, have been mentioned more than once in Mad Men for good reason.

With all that in mind, being able to learn of his routine when producing the very ads that made his name is an invaluable opportunity. The fascinating letter below, written by Ogilvy in 1955 to a Mr. Ray Calt, offers exactly that.

(Source: The Unpublished David Ogilvy: A Selection of His Writings from the Files of His Partners; Image: David Ogilvy, courtesy of Ads of the World.)

April 19, 1955

Dear Mr. Calt:

On March 22nd you wrote to me asking for some notes on my work habits as a copywriter. They are appalling, as you are about to see:

1. I have never written an advertisement in the office. Too many interruptions. I do all my writing at home.

2. I spend a long time studying the precedents. I look at every advertisement which has appeared for competing products during the past 20 years.

3. I am helpless without research material—and the more "motivational" the better.

4. I write out a definition of the problem and a statement of the purpose which I wish the campaign to achieve. Then I go no further until the statement and its principles have been accepted by the client.

5. Before actually writing the copy, I write down every concievable fact and selling idea. Then I get them organized and relate them to research and the copy platform.

6. Then I write the headline. As a matter of fact I try to write 20 alternative headlines for every advertisement. And I never select the final headline without asking the opinion of other people in the agency. In some cases I seek the help of the research department and get them to do a split-run on a battery of headlines.

7. At this point I can no longer postpone the actual copy. So I go home and sit down at my desk. I find myself entirely without ideas. I get bad-tempered. If my wife comes into the room I growl at her. (This has gotten worse since I gave up smoking.)

8. I am terrified of producing a lousy advertisement. This causes me to throw away the first 20 attempts.

9. If all else fails, I drink half a bottle of rum and play a Handel oratorio on the gramophone. This generally produces an uncontrollable gush of copy.

10. The next morning I get up early and edit the gush.

11. Then I take the train to New York and my secretary types a draft. (I cannot type, which is very inconvenient.)

12. I am a lousy copywriter, but I am a good editor. So I go to work editing my own draft. After four or five editings, it looks good enough to show to the client. If the client changes the copy, I get angry—because I took a lot of trouble writing it, and what I wrote I wrote on purpose.

Altogether it is a slow and laborious business. I understand that some copywriters have much greater facility.

Yours sincerely,


Monday, 23 January 2012

Something extraordinary

July, 1922. In the final paragraph of an otherwise unremarkable letter to his editor, Maxwell Perkins, author F. Scott Fitzgerald passionately announces his desire to begin writing "something extraordinary and beautiful and simple and intricately patterned."

The novel he had mentioned for the first time was The Great Gatsby.

Transcript follows. Image kindly supplied by Gareth M.

Image: Gareth M.

Dear Mr. Perkins:

Glad you liked the addenda to the Table of Contents. I feel quite confident the book will go. How do you think The Love Legend will sell? You'll be glad to know that nothing has come of the movie idea & I'm rather glad myself. At present working on my play — the same one. Trying to arrange for an Oct. production in New York. Bunny Wilson (Edmund Wilson Jr.) says that it's without doubt the best American comedy to date (that's just between you and me.)

Did you see that in that Literary Digest contest I stood 6th among the novelists? Not that it matters. I suspect you of having been one of the voters.

Will you see that the semi-yearly account is mailed to me by the 1st of the month — or before if it is ready? I want to see where I stand. I want to write something new — something extraordinary and beautiful and simple & intricately patterned.

As Usual

(Signed, 'F Scott Fitzgerald')

Friday, 20 January 2012

The other guy just blinked

In April of 1985, in a misguided attempt to revitalise the brand, The Coca-Cola Company stunned millions by announcing their decision to change the formula of Coca-Cola. Almost as soon as "New Coke" was unveiled, the backlash began, and in fact the reaction was so negative that within three months the old formula had been reintroduced.

On hearing rumours of Coca-Cola's initial change of formula, the ecstatic CEO of PepsiCo, Roger Enrico, sensed a misstep and pounced. He sent the following celebratory letter to all staff. It was then displayed as a full-page ad in the New York Times.

(Source: The Real Coke, the Real Story; Image: Guardian.)

April 21, 1985

To all Pepsi Bottlers and
Pepsi-Cola Company personnel:

It gives me great pleasure to offer each of you my heartiest congratulations.

After 87 years of going at it eyeball to eyeball, the other guy just blinked.

Coca-Cola is withdrawing their products from the marketplace, and is reformulating brand Coke to be "more like Pepsi." Too bad Ripley's not around...he could have had a field day with this one.

There is no question the long-term market success of Pepsi has forced this move.

Everyone knows when something is right it doesn't need changing.

Maybe they finally realized what most of us have known for years: Pepsi tastes better than Coke.

Well, people in trouble tend to do desperate things...and we'll have to keep our eye on them.

But for now, I say victory is sweet, and we have earned a celebration. We're going to declare a holiday on Friday.


Best Regards,

Roger Enrico
President, Chief Executive Officer
Pepsi-Cola USA

Thursday, 19 January 2012

"Our little baby is dead"

On April 14th of 1851, Dora Dickens, the ninth child of Charles Dickens and his wife, Catherine, died unexpectedly after suffering convulsions. She was just 8-months-old. The next morning, Charles wrote the following letter to Catherine — miles away from home recuperating from an illness, oblivious to the situation  —  and, in an effort to break the news gently, delicately informed her that their daughter was gravely ill and to expect the worst.

Catherine returned home the next day.

(Source: The Letters of Charles Dickens, 1850-1852; Image: Charles Dickens, aged 49, courtesy of The Telegraph.)

Devonshire Terrace

Tuesday Morning
Fifteenth April 1851

My dearest Kate.

Now observe. You must read this letter, very slowly and carefully. If you have hurried on thus far without quite understanding (apprehending some bad news), I rely on your turning back, and reading again.

Little Dora, without being in the least pain, is suddenly stricken ill. She awoke out of a sleep, and was seen, in one moment, to be very ill. Mind! I will not deceive you. I think her very ill.

There is nothing in her appearance but perfect rest. You would suppose her quietly asleep. But I am sure she is very ill, and I cannot encourage myself with much hope of her recovery. I do not—and why should I say I do, to you my dear!—I do not think her recovery at all likely.

I do not like to leave home. I can do nothing here, but I think it right to stay here. You will not like to be away, I know, and I cannot reconcile it to myself to keep you away. Forster with his usual affection for us comes down to bring you this letter and to bring you home. But I cannot close it without putting the strongest entreaty and injunction upon you to come with perfect composure—to remember what I have often told you, that we never can expect to be exempt, as to our many children, from the afflictions of other parents—and that if—if—when you come, I should even have to say to you "Our little baby is dead", you are to do your duty to the rest, and to shew yourself worthy of the great trust you hold in them.

If you will only read this, steadily, I have a perfect confidence in your doing what is right.

Ever affectionately,

Charles Dickens

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Dear Son

In May of 1962, 37-year-old Malcolm Scott Carpenter became just the second American to orbit the Earth, as he piloted the Aurora 7 into space. On the eve of this historic journey, his father, Marion, proudly wrote him the following wonderful letter.

(Source: For Spacious Skies; Image: A photo of Earth, taken by Scott Carpenter during the Mercury-Atlas 7 mission in July of 1962. Source.)

M. Scott Carpenter
Palmer Lake

Dear Son,

Just a few words on the eve of your great adventure for which you have trained yourself and anticipated for so long — to let you know that we all share it with you, vicariously.

As I think I remarked to you at the outset of the space program, you are privileged to share in a pioneering project on a grand scale — in fact the grandest scale yet known to man. And I venture to predict that after all the huzzas have been uttered and the public acclaim is but a memory, you will derive the greatest satisfaction from the serene knowledge that you have discovered new truths. You can say to yourself: this I saw, this I experienced, this I know to be the truth. This experience is a precious thing; it is known to all researchers, in whatever field of endeavour, who have ventured into the unknown and have discovered new truths.

You are probably aware that I am not a particularly religious person, at least in the sense of embracing any of the numerous formal doctrines. Yet I cannot conceive of a man endowed with intellect, perceiving the ordered universe about him, the glory of the mountain top, the plumage of a tropical bird, the intricate complexity of a protein molecule, the utter and unchanging perfection of a salt crystal, who can deny the existence of some higher power. Whether he chooses to call it God or Mohammed or Buddha or Torquoise Woman or the Law of Probability matters little. I find myself in my writings frequently calling upon Mother Nature to explain things and citing Her as responsible for the order of the universe. She is a very satisfactory divinity for me. And so I shall call upon Her to watch over you and guard you and, if she so desires, share with you some of Her secrets which She is usually so ready to share with those who have high purpose.

With all my love,


Tuesday, 17 January 2012

We both share the same goal

Author Douglas Adams had been trying for many years to bring The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy to the big screen when, in December of 1997, a deal was made with Disney to do exactly that. Initially Adams was understandably delighted, but by April of 1999 — after multiple rewrites of his screenplay in response to minimal, unproductive communications with Disney executive David Vogel — he had become incredibly frustrated with the project's progress.

During the return flight of a fruitless trip to L.A. that month, close to boiling point, Adam wrote the following letter to Vogel, complete with a comically long list of ways for him to get in touch. The letter worked, and a productive meeting between the two subsequently took place. Sadly, Douglas Adams passed away a couple of years later, three years before the finished movie was released.

(Source: The Salmon of Doubt, via Lee Kemp; Image: Douglas Adams, courtesy of the Guardian.)

Douglas Adams
48 Bloomsbury Terrace
London, Nl-6TS

April 14, 1999

David Vogel
Walt Disney Pictures

Dear David,

I've tried to reach you by phone a couple of times. Perhaps it would have helped if I'd explained why I was calling: I was in the States for a few days and thought it might be helpful if I came across to L.A. so that you and I could have a meeting. I didn't hear from you, so I'm on a plane back to England, where I'm typing this.

We seem to have gotten to a place where the problems appear to loom larger than the opportunities. I don't know if I'm right in thinking this, but I only have silence to go on, which is always a poor source of information. It seems to me that we can either slip into the traditional stereotypes — you're the studio executive who has a million real-world problems to worry about, and I'm the writer who only cares about seeing his vision realised and hang the cost and consequences — or we can recognise that we both share the same goal, which is to make the most successful movie we possibly can. The fact that we may have different perspectives on how this can best be achieved should be a fertile source of debate and iterative problem solving. It's not clear to me that a one-way traffic of written "notes" interspersed with long, dreadful silences is a good substitute for this.

You have a great deal of experience nursing major motion pictures into existence. I have a great deal of experience of nursing The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy into existence in every medium other than motion pictures. I'm sure you must feel frustrated that I don't seem to understand the range of problems you have to contend with, just as I feel frustrated that I haven't had any real creative dialogue with Disney about this project yet. I have a suggestion to make: Why don't we actually meet and have a chat? I could be in L.A. for next Monday (4/19) or early the following week. I would invite Disney to bear the cost of this extra trip over. I've appended a list of numbers you can reach me on. If you manage not to reach me, I shall know you're trying not to, very, very hard indeed.

Best wishes,

Douglas Adams

Email: dna@tdv.com

Assistant (Sophie Astin) (and voicemail): [Redacted] (between 10 A.M. and 6:00 P.M. British Summertime)
Office fax: [Redacted]
Home (no voicemail): [Redacted]
Home fax: [Redacted]
UK cell phone (and voicemail): [Redacted]
US cellphone (and voicemail): [Redacted]
Other home (France): [Redacted]
Jane Belson (wife) (office): [Redacted]
Film agent (US) Bob Bookman: [Redacted]
Book agent (UK) Ed Victor (office): [Redacted] (UK office hours)
Book agent (UK) Ed Victor (office): [Redacted]
Book agent (UK) Ed Victor (home): [Redacted]
Producer: Roger Birnbaum: [Redacted]
Director: Jay Roach (Everyman Pictures): [Redacted]
Jay Roach (home): [Redacted]
Jay Roach (cellphone): [Redacted]
Shauna Robertson (Everyman Pictures): [Redacted]
Shauna Robertson, home: [Redacted]
Shauna Robertson, cellphone: [Redacted]
Robbie Stamp, Executive Producer (UK) (office): [Redacted]
Robbie Stamp, Executive Producer (UK) (home): [Redacted]
Robbie Stamp, Executive Producer (UK) (cell phone): [Redacted]
Janet Thrift (mother) (UK): [Redacted]
Jane Garnier (sister) (UK) (work): [Redacted]
Jane Garnier (sister) (UK) (home): [Redacted]
Jakki Kelloway (daughter's nanny) (UK): [Redacted]
Angus Deayton & Lise Meyer (next-door neighbours who can take a message) (UK): Work: [Redacted], Home: [Redacted]:

Restaurants I might conceivably be at:

The Ivy (UK): [Redacted]
The Groucho Club (UK): [Redacted]
Granita (UK): [Redacted]
Sainsbury's (supermarket where I shop; they can always page me): [Redacted]

Website forum www.douglasadams.com/forum

Monday, 16 January 2012

I know what love is

In 1936, in the midst of an unrelenting workload and the near-demise of his marriage, legendary landscape photographer Ansel Adams suffered a nervous breakdown. After a stay in hospital, desperately in need of escape, Adams then returned with his family to the one place where he could find solace: Yosemite, California.

Some months later, as his health returned, he wrote the following beautiful letter to his best friend, Cedric Wright.

(Source: Letters of a Nation; Image: Ansel Adams in Yosemite, California, c.1942, courtesy of ck/ck.)

June 19, 1937

Dear Cedric,

A strange thing happened to me today. I saw a big thundercloud move down over Half Dome, and it was so big and clear and brilliant that it made me see many things that were drifting around inside of me; things that related to those who are loved and those who are real friends.

For the first time I know what love is; what friends are; and what art should be.

Love is a seeking for a way of life; the way that cannot be followed alone; the resonance of all spiritual and physical things. Children are not only of flesh and blood — children may be ideas, thoughts, emotions. The person of the one who is loved is a form composed of a myriad mirrors reflecting and illuminating the powers and thoughts and the emotions that are within you, and flashing another kind of light from within. No words or deeds may encompass it.

Friendship is another form of love — more passive perhaps, but full of the transmitting and acceptance of things like thunderclouds and grass and the clean granite of reality.

Art is both love and friendship, and understanding; the desire to give. It is not charity, which is the giving of Things, it is more than kindness which is the giving of self. It is both the taking and giving of beauty, the turning out to the light the inner folds of the awareness of the spirit. It is the recreation on another plane of the realities of the world; the tragic and wonderful realities of earth and men, and of all the inter-relations of these.

I wish the thundercloud had moved up over Tahoe and let loose on you; I could wish you nothing finer.


Friday, 13 January 2012

For Aspiring Editors

Young novelist William Saroyan dreamed of one day editing a magazine, and so in 1936 sought advice on that very aspiration from the great H. L. Mencken, a hugely influential man who had, in the 1920s, founded and edited his own title.

Saroyan sent him a polite letter. Mencken responded with the priceless reply seen below.

(Source: The New Mencken Letters; Image: H.L. Mencken, courtesy of Enoch Pratt Free Library.)

25 January, 1936
San Fransisco, California

Dear Saroyan,

I note what you say about your aspiration to edit a magazine. I am sending you by this mail a six-chambered revolver. Load it and fire every one into your head. You will thank me after you get to hell and learn from other editors there how dreadful their job was on earth.

(Signed, 'H.L. Mencken')

Thursday, 12 January 2012

I know, Mother, I know

In 1969, Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Anne Sexton wrote the following, overwhelmingly heartfelt letter to her 15-year-old daughter, Linda, after battling mental illness for much of her adult life; a battle, in fact, that saw her take up poetry on the advice of her therapist. Sadly, just five years after this emotional missive was penned, Anne took her own life. She was 45-years-old.

(Source: Anne Sexton: A Self-Portrait in Letters; Image: Anne Sexton reading with her daughters, Linda and Joyce. Source.)

Wed — 2:45 P.M.

Dear Linda,

I am in the middle of a flight to St. Louis to give a reading. I was reading a New Yorker story that made me think of my mother and all alone in the seat I whispered to her "I know, Mother, I know." (Found a pen!) And I thought of you — someday flying somewhere all alone and me dead perhaps and you wishing to speak to me.

And I want to speak back. (Linda, maybe it won't be flying, maybe it will be at your own kitchen table drinking tea some afternoon when you are 40. Anytime.) — I want to say back.

1st, I love you.

2. You never let me down

3. I know. I was there once. I too, was 40 and with a dead mother who I needed still.

This is my message to the 40-year-old Linda. No matter what happens you were always my bobolink, my special Linda Gray. Life is not easy. It is awfully lonely. I know that. Now you too know it — wherever you are, Linda, talking to me. But I've had a good life — I wrote unhappy — but I lived to the hilt. You too, Linda — Live to the HILT! To the top. I love you, 40-year old Linda, and I love what you do, what you find, what you are! — Be your own woman. Belong to those you love. Talk to my poems, and talk to your heart — I'm in both: if you need me. I lied, Linda. I did love my mother and she loved me. She never held me but I miss her, so that I have to deny I ever loved her — or she me! Silly Anne! So there!



Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Nothing good gets away

John Steinbeck, born in 1902, was one of the most acclaimed authors of his generation, responsible for a body of work that boasts, most notably, The Grapes of Wrath, East of Eden, and Of Mice and Men—all classics which have been read and adored by many millions in all corners of the globe, and which resulted in Steinbeck being awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1962. Four years before that happened, his eldest son, 14-year-old Thomas, wrote home from boarding school and told of Susan, a young girl for whom he believed he had fallen. Steinbeck replied the same day with a wonderful, heartfelt letter of fatherly advice, on the subject of love, that couldn’t have been more fitting.

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.

(Image: Thom and John Steinbeck with their father in 1954, courtesy of UC Berkeley.)

New York
November 10, 1958

Dear Thom:

We had your letter this morning. I will answer it from my point of view and of course Elaine will from hers.

First—if you are in love—that’s a good thing—that’s about the best thing that can happen to anyone. Don’t let anyone make it small or light to you.

Second—There are several kinds of love. One is a selfish, mean, grasping, egotistical thing which uses love for self-importance. This is the ugly and crippling kind. The other is an outpouring of everything good in you—of kindness and consideration and respect—not only the social respect of manners but the greater respect which is recognition of another person as unique and valuable. The first kind can make you sick and small and weak but the second can release in you strength, and courage and goodness and even wisdom you didn’t know you had.

You say this is not puppy love. If you feel so deeply—of course it isn’t puppy love.

But I don’t think you were asking me what you feel. You know better than anyone. What you wanted me to help you with is what to do about it—and that I can tell you.

Glory in it for one thing and be very glad and grateful for it.

The object of love is the best and most beautiful. Try to live up to it.

If you love someone—there is no possible harm in saying so—only you must remember that some people are very shy and sometimes the saying must take that shyness into consideration.

Girls have a way of knowing or feeling what you feel, but they usually like to hear it also.

It sometimes happens that what you feel is not returned for one reason or another—but that does not make your feeling less valuable and good.

Lastly, I know your feeling because I have it and I’m glad you have it.

We will be glad to meet Susan. She will be very welcome. But Elaine will make all such arrangements because that is her province and she will be very glad to. She knows about love too and maybe she can give you more help than I can.

And don’t worry about losing. If it is right, it happens—The main thing is not to hurry. Nothing good gets away.



Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Aida will gather dust in the archives

In May of 1872, having recently travelled twice to watch Aida, a disappointed Italian gentleman named Prospero Bertani decided to write a letter of complaint to the opera's composer, Verdi, and ask for his money back; not just for the show, but for his expenses too. Amused, Verdi responded by forwarding the letter to his publisher, Giulio Ricordi, with instructions. The chain of correspondence can be seen below, along with a written promise from Bertani never to watch the opera again.

To Bertrani's dismay, Verdi later arranged for his letter of complaint to be published in a number of Italian newspapers.

(Source: Verdi's Aida: The History of an Opera in Letters and Documents; Image: Village Vault.)

Verdi to his publisher, Giulio Ricordi:
St. Agata, 10 May 1872

Dear Giulio,

Yesterday I received from Reggio a letter which is so amusing that I am sending it to you, asking you to carry out the commission I am about to give you. Here is the letter:
Reggio, 7 May 1872

Much honored Signor Verdi,

On the second of this month, attracted by the sensation your opera Aida was making, I went to Parma. Half an hour before the performance began I was already in my seat, No. 120. I admired the scenery, listened with great pleasure to the excellent singers, and took great pains to let nothing escape me. After the performance was over, I asked myself whether I was satisfied. The answer was in the negative. I returned to Reggio and, on the way back in the railroad carriage, I listened to the verdicts of my fellow travellers. Nearly all of them agreed that Aida was a work of the highest rank.

Thereupon I conceived a desire to hear it again, and so on the forth I returned to Parma. I made the most desperate efforts to obtain a reserved seat, and there was such a crowd that I had to spend 5 lire to see the performance in comfort.

I came to the following conclusion: the opera contains absolutely nothing thrilling or electrifying, and if it were not for the magnificent scenery, the audience would not sit through it to the end. It will fill the theatre a few more times and then gather dust in the archives. Now, my dear Signor Verdi, you can imagine my regret at having spent 32 lire for these two performances. Add to this the aggravating circumstance that I am dependent on my family, and you will understand that his money preys on my mind like a terrible specter. Therefore I address myself frankly and openly to you so that you may send me this sum. Here is the account:

Railroad, going: 2.60
Railroad, returning: 3.30
Theatre: 8.00
Disgustingly bad dinner: 2.00

Twice: 15.90

Total: 31.80

In the hope that you will extricate me from this dilemma,

I am yours sincerely,


My address: Bertani, Prospero; Via St. Domenico, No. 5.
Imagine, if to protect a child of a family from the horrible specters that disturb his peace, I should not be disposed to pay that little bill he has brought to my attention! Therefore by means of your representative or a bank, please reimburse 27.80 lire in my name to this Signor Prospero Bertani, 5 Via St. Domenico. This isn't the entire sum for which asks me, but... to pay for his dinner too! No. He could very well have eaten at home!!! Of course he will send you a receipt for that sum and a note, by which he promises never again to go to hear my new operas, to avoid for himself the danger of other specters and for me the farce of paying him for another trip [...]
Ricordi to Verdi:
Milan, 16 May 1872

Dear Giuseppe,

As soon as I received you last letter I wrote to our correspondent in Reggio, who found the famous Signor Bertani, paid the money, and got the proper receipt! I amc opying the letter and receipt for the newspaper, and I shall return everything to you tomorrow. Oh, what fools there are in this world! But this is the best one yet!

The correspondent in Reggio writes me: "I sent immediately for Bertani, who came to me right away. Advised of the reason for my invitation, he first showed surprise, but then said: 'If Maestro Verdi reimburses me, this means that he has found what I wrote fim to be correct. It's my duty to thank him, however, and I ask you to do it for me.'"

This one is even better!

Pleased to have discovered this rarity of the species, I send the most cordial greetings to you and Signora Peppina.

Prospero Bertani to Verdi:
15 May 1872

I, the undersigned, certify herewith that I have received the sum of 27.80 lire from Maestro Giuseppe Verdi, as reimbursement of my expenses for a trip to Parma to hear the opera Aida. The Maestro felt it was fair that this sum should be restored to me, since I did not find his opera to my taste. At the same time it is agreed that I shall undertake no trip to hear any of the Maestro's new operas in the future, unless he takes all the expenses upon himself, whatever my opinion of his work may be.

In confirmation whereof I have affixed my signature.

Bertani, Prospero

Monday, 9 January 2012

A flabby mass of clichés

Back in 1950, Alfred Hitchcock hired Oscar-nominated screenwriter Raymond Chandler to pen the script for his next project, Strangers on a Train — a thriller based on Patricia Highsmith's novel of the same name. Almost immediately their ideas clashed, and before long their working relationship deteriorated beyond repair, apparently culminating with Chandler remarking loudly one day, within earshot of the director, "Look at the fat bastard trying to get out of his car!"

Soon Chandler was let go; his drafts largely discarded. He wrote the following angry letter to Hitchcock some time later, after reading the final script.

(Source: The Raymond Chandler Papers (2000); Image: A Certain Cinema.)

December 6th, 1950

Dear Hitch,

In spite of your wide and generous disregard of my communications on the subject of the script of Strangers on a Train and your failure to make any comment on it, and in spite of not having heard a word from you since I began the writing of the actual screenplay—for all of which I might say I bear no malice, since this sort of procedure seems to be part of the standard Hollywood depravity—in spite of this and in spite of this extremely cumbersome sentence, I feel that I should, just for the record, pass you a few comments on what is termed the final script. I could understand your finding fault with my script in this or that way, thinking that such and such a scene was too long or such and such a mechanism was too awkward. I could understand you changing your mind about the things you specifically wanted, because some of such changes might have been imposed on you from without. What I cannot understand is your permitting a script which after all had some life and vitality to be reduced to such a flabby mass of clichés, a group of faceless characters, and the kind of dialogue every screen writer is taught not to write—the kind that says everything twice and leaves nothing to be implied by the actor or the camera. Of course you must have had your reasons but, to use a phrase once coined by Max Beerbohm, it would take a "far less brilliant mind than mine" to guess what they were.

Regardless of whether or not my name appears on the screen among the credits, I'm not afraid that anybody will think I wrote this stuff. They'll know damn well I didn't. I shouldn't have minded in the least if you had produced a better script—believe me. I shouldn't. But if you wanted something written in skim milk, why on earth did you bother to come to me in the first place? What a waste of money! What a waste of time! It's no answer to say that I was well paid. Nobody can be adequately paid for wasting his time.

(Signed, 'Raymond Chandler')

Sunday, 8 January 2012


One of the most popular letters on Letters of Note is Bowie's charming reply to his "very first American fan letter" back in 1967, written excitedly when he was just 20 years old and yet to make his mark on the world, even typed on a sheet of his manager's stationery for lack of his own. Fast forward 7 years — to April of 1974, post-Ziggy — and it was a different story, as illustrated by the following letter of Bowie's, again in response to fan mail. He now had his own (brilliant) letterhead, and he was busy; so busy that he sent many similar form letters to other adoring followers.

A month after sending this particular missive, Bowie moved from London to New York.

Transcript follows. Image very kindly supplied by the lady to whom the letter was sent, Susie Maguire. Many thanks!

Dear Suzy,

Thank you for your letter.

Please forgive the amount of time that has elapsed since I received it but as you know I am either on the road performing or in the studio recording singles and albums until I sit down with a stack of fan mail every two or three weeks, I don't realise how much has accumulated.

At the moment I am finishing me new album and I hope you are enjoying "Rebel Rebel", which will be included in the album. I am mad on it. Hope you are.

I want you to all know and tell your mates that the mail I've been receiving about performing live again is starting to get to me. I can't promise but I think you lot will lure me back!

You know it is your letters and cards and applause after each show which makes me able to carry on and devise new ideas and schemes to entertain you and make me happy. DON'T EVER STOP.

Love on ya!

(Signed, 'Bowie')

Friday, 6 January 2012

Wind the clock, for tomorrow is another day

Author E. B. White won numerous awards in his lifetime, and with good reason. Born in 1899, he was one of the greatest essayists of his time, writing countless influential pieces for both The New Yorker and Harper's; in 1959, he co-authored the multi-million selling, expanded edition of The Elements of Style; he wrote children's books which have gone on to become classics, such as Stuart Little and Charlotte's Web. He was also responsible for writing hundreds of wonderful letters.

In March of 1973, he wrote the following perfectly formed reply to a Mr. Nadeau, who sought White's opinion on what he saw as a bleak future for the human race.

(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.)

North Brooklin, Maine

30 March 1973

Dear Mr. Nadeau:

As long as there is one upright man, as long as there is one compassionate woman, the contagion may spread and the scene is not desolate. Hope is the thing that is left to us, in a bad time. I shall get up Sunday morning and wind the clock, as a contribution to order and steadfastness.

Sailors have an expression about the weather: they say, the weather is a great bluffer. I guess the same is true of our human society—things can look dark, then a break shows in the clouds, and all is changed, sometimes rather suddenly. It is quite obvious that the human race has made a queer mess of life on this planet. But as a people we probably harbor seeds of goodness that have lain for a long time waiting to sprout when the conditions are right. Man's curiosity, his relentlessness, his inventiveness, his ingenuity have led him into deep trouble. We can only hope that these same traits will enable him to claw his way out.

Hang on to your hat. Hang on to your hope. And wind the clock, for tomorrow is another day.

[Signed, 'E. B. White']

The Book of Letters of Note

Thanks to you lot, the Letters of Note book is now fully funded! It's amazing news and means that — barring disaster — the book will be published in October of this year. All I need to do now is write it. Enormous thanks to everyone who got the project this far by either pledging or spreading the word, and please bear in mind that the book can still be pre-ordered at the Unbound website despite the target having been met. 

Until the book's finished I'll continue to update this blog, however in order to make my life easier and free up some valuable time I've decided to start featuring some letters without accompanying scans. I've amassed thousands of them over the years and, although they're image-less, all are worthy of inclusion in the archives; this seems like the perfect opportunity to feature a few. All complaints relating to this development should be forwarded to anger@lettersofnote.com. 

Huge thanks again,


Thursday, 5 January 2012

Like all frauds your end is approaching

In November of 1964, fearful of his connection to the Communist Party through Stanley Levison, the FBI anonymously sent Martin Luther King the following threatening letter, along with a cassette that contained allegedly incriminating audio recordings of King with women in various hotel rooms — the fruits of a 9 month surveillance project headed by William C. Sullivan. Unsurprisingly, King saw the strongly worded letter as an invitation for him to take his own life, as did an official investigation in 1976 which concluded that the letter "clearly implied that suicide would be a suitable course of action for Dr. King."

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; Image of Martin Luther King by Dick DeMarsico, via Library of Congress.)


In view of your low grade, abnormal personal behavior I will not dignify your name with either a Mr. or a Reverend or a Dr. And, your last name calls to mind only the type of King such as King Henry the VIII and his countless acts of adultery and immoral conduct lower than that of a beast.

King, look into your heart. You know you are a complete fraud and a great liability to all of us Negroes. White people in this country have enough frauds of their own but I am sure they don’t have one at this time that is any where near your equal. You are no clergyman and you know it. I repeat you are a colossal fraud and an evil, vicious one at that. You could not believe in God and act as you do. Clearly you don’t believe in any personal moral principles.

King, like all frauds your end is approaching. You could have been our greatest leader. You, even at an early age have turned out to be not a leader but a dissolute, abnormal moral imbecile. We will now have to depend on our older leaders like Wilkins a man of character and thank God we have others like him. But you are done. Your “honorary” degrees, your Nobel Prize (what a grim farce) and other awards will not save you. King, I repeat you are done.

No person can overcome facts, not even a fraud like yourself. Lend your sexually psychotic ear to the enclosure. You will find yourself and in all your dirt, filth, evil and moronic talk exposed on the record for all time. I repeat — no person can argue successfully against facts. You are finished. You will find on the record for all time your filthy, dirty, evil companions, male and females giving expression with you to your hidious abnormalities. And some of them to pretend to be ministers of the Gospel. Satan could not do more. What incredible evilness. It is all there on the record, your sexual orgies. Listen to yourself you filthy, abnormal animal. You are on the record. You have been on the record — all your adulterous acts, your sexual orgies extending far into the past. This one is but a tiny sample. You will understand this. Yes, from your various evil playmates on the east coast to [redacted] and others on the west coast and outside the country you are on the record. King you are done.

The American public, the church organizations that have been helping — Protestant, Catholic and Jews will know you for what you are — an evil, abnormal beast. So will others who have backed you. You are done.

King, there is only one thing left for you to do. You know what it is. You have just 34 days in which to do (this exact number has been selected for a specific reason, it has definite practical significant. You are done. There is but one way out for you. You better take it before your filthy, abnormal fraudulent self is bared to the nation.

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Scratching the Back of the Hand that Feeds You

In December of 1958, advertising executive Leo Burnett — a hugely influential force in the industry who had a hand in creating, amongst many other things, the Jolly Green Giant, Tony the Tiger, and Marlboro Man — sent the following memo to all staff within his agency, and reminded them of their unwritten duty to at least try the very products they helped to advertise to the nation; the sales of which funded their salaries.

(Don't miss the P.S.)

Transcript follows. Image courtesy of AdAge.

Image: AdAge

December 16, 1958


FROM: Leo Burnett

Re: Scratching the Back of the Hand that Feeds You

This is a land (and a company) of free choice and free speech.

In this memo I would like to exercise my own right to free speech to express some thoughts about choice.

I hope you know me well enough to realize that your opportunities with this company have nothing whatsoever to do with your personal way of life or the products you use. Loyalty, obviously, cannot be legislated.

Nevertheless, I would like to get off my chest some thoughts that have been smouldering for a long time. I present them only as the way I personally feel. If they don't relate to you, that's that, and no harm done.

As you well know, your income and mine are derived 100% from the sale of the products of our clients.

During the 36 years I have been in the agency business I have always been naively guided by the principle that if we do not believe in the products we advertise strongly enough to use them ourselves, or at least to give them a real try, we are not completely honest with ourselves in advertising them to others.

The very least we can do is to remain neutral, and I guess this memo was touched off by two recent incidents.

Recently I overheard one of our people sound off with some loud and derogatory remarks about what lousy cars Chrysler makes -- how they fall apart -- "I guess I'll stick to a Chevy, etc."

In another instance I heard one of our people who smokes Winstons, I believe, say to a group of outsiders, when offered a Marlboro, "I can't smoke those things!"

I'm sure you'll agree that this is going a bit too far.

The net of the way I feel is this:

Naturally you don't need to do all your banking at Harris, but you should certainly think of Harris when opening a new or separate account.

Maybe you don't eat canned vegetables, but if you do, those products with the Green Giant label should find a space in your shopping cart.

Certainly nobody would suggest that you tear up your insurance program, but shouldn't you look at the Allstate story on any new coverage you want?

If the picture is still sharp on your old RCA, keep on looking, but do look at Motorola when you change. The same applies to vacuum cleaners and washing machines.

Maybe you have bunions and need a special orthopedic shoe, but you might consider Buster Browns or Robinhoods for those nice, normal feet your kids run around on.

When you go on your next car-trading expedition, one of the Chrysler lines should at least be on your looking-list.

Generally, the products of our clients enable us to have a good breakfast, keep the house clean, wash our clothes, fertilize our lawns, neatly plaster up cuts and bruises, gas up the car (one of "ours"), insure it, keep our faces, teeth, and dishes clean, bake a cake or pie, have soup, tuna, spaghetti, peas or corn for lunch or dinner, send our hogs to market faster, make our hens lay more eggs, walk well-shod and relax with a good cigarette while we watch TV or listen to Stereo Hi-Fi.

I recognize the unconscious spirit of rebellious independence that exists in all of us, and the compulsion you or I may have to demonstrate that we wear no man's yoke. I have always felt, however, that there were better and more rewarding ways of doing this than in conspicuously avoiding or flouting the products of the people who pay our way.

I'll let the kids off the hook. I don't believe in the principle of reminding them of where their living is coming from. (They'll learn soon enough as it is.) If, for example, they are attracted to a premium offered by General Mills or General Foods, bless their fickle little hearts. We'll catch 'em next time.

I guess my feeling is pretty well summed up in the remarks of the vice-president of a competitive agency. When asked why he was smoking a not-too-popular brand of cigarettes which his company advertised, he replied:
"In my book there is no taste or aroma quite like that of bread and butter"
Leo Burnett/ms

P.S. Inasmuch as this memo expresses an entirely personal point of view, I can't resist adding that if any of us eats those nauseating Post Toasties or Wheaties, for example, in preference to the products of Kellogg's, I hope he chokes on them; and if any of us fertilizes his lawn without first trying Golden Vigoro, I hope it turns to a dark, repulsive brown. If you smoke cigarettes and your taste is so sensitive that it discriminates strongly between "our brands" and competitive ones, please, as a personal favor, don't put the competitive package in front of me on the conference room table, because it does things to my blood pressure.


Monday, 2 January 2012

New Year Greetings

Here we have a wonderful New Year's greeting from the early-1980s, written on an exposure sheet by the late-Norman McLaren—a pioneering animator who in 1941 established an animation studio at the National Film Board of Canada in Montreal, a studio in which he produced numerous award-winning films and taught countless aspiring animators until his retirement in 1983—and circulated amongst his fellow animators.

Happy New Year!

Transcript follows. Image from the collection of Kaj Pindal—huge thanks to Amir Avni.

To all animators
New Year Greetings
from Norman McLaren

My best wishes for seven hundred and fifty six million, eight hundred and sixty four thousand frames of hale and hearty good health in 1983.

For the two to three hundred million frames of them when you will be unconscious, may your R.E.M. sleep be dappled with delightful, delicious or delirious dreams.

Of the approximate one hundred and fifty two million when you are at work, may they be crammed with contented cat-purring craftsmanship enlivened by many million-frame bursts of consummate creativity.

As for the 352 million frames of leisure time, may you find tranquility, peace, joy, happiness or jubilation, or whatever you are searching for.

There will be nearly nine million frames spent eating; be it gluttonous or graceful, be it gallimaufrous or gourmet, may you always have goluptious gustification.

Of the "I-don't-know-how-many" million frames you will spend in amorous activity may you have sinless, sweet, soulful and sensational sex!

God bless you.



1 SEC. 24 = 24
1 MIN. 24x60 = 1,440
1 HR. 24x60x60 = 86,400
1 DAY 24x60x60x24 = 2,073,600
1 YEAR 24x60x60x24x365 = 756,864,000
10 YRS. 24x60x60x24x365x10 = 7,568,640,000
100 YRS. 24x60x60x24x365x10x100 = 75,686,400,000

(I hope I'm correct.)


As you know, our CONSCIOUS impression of time is very elastic. The greater the cerebral or emotional activity the shorter seems a second; the lesser the cerebral & emotional activity (COMPLETE BOREDOM) the longer seems a second.



The day was a year at first
When children played in the garden;

The day shrank down to a month
When the boys played ball;

The day was a week thereafter
When young men walked in the garden;

The day will last forever
When it is nothing at all.

Theodore Spencer
20th century American poet.