Friday, 29 June 2012

Sex does not thrive on monotony

In the 1940s, at which point she — along with a collective of other writers that included her lover, Henry Miller — was earning $1 per page writing erotic fiction for the private consumption of an anonymous client, author Anaïs Nin wrote the following passionate letter to the "Collector" and made known her frustrations — frustrations caused by his repeated insistence that they "leave out the poetry" and instead "concentrate on sex."

Incidentally, some of those stories written by Nin were later published in the book, Delta Of Venus.

(Source: The Diary Of Anais Nin, Volume 3; 1939-1944; Image: Anaïs Nin, via.)

Dear Collector:

We hate you. Sex loses all its power and magic when it becomes explicit, mechanical, overdone, when it becomes a mechanistic obsession. It becomes a bore. You have taught us more than anyone I know how wrong it is not to mix it with emotion, hunger, desire, lust, whims, caprices, personal ties, deeper relationships which change its color, flavor, rhythms, intensities.

You do not know what you are missing by your microscopic examination of sexual activity to the exclusion of others, which are the fuel that ignites it. Intellectual, imaginative, romantic, emotional. This is what gives sex its surprising textures, its subtle transformations, its aphrodisiac elements. You are shrinking your world of sensations. You are withering it, starving it, draining its blood.

If you nourished your sexual life with all the excitements and adventures which love injects into sensuality, you would be the most potent man in the world. The source of sexual power is curiosity, passion. You are watching its little flame die of asphyxiation. Sex does not thrive on monotony. Without feeling, inventions, moods, no surprises in bed. Sex must be mixed with tears, laughter, words, promises, scenes, jealousy, envy, all of the spices of fear, foreign travel, new faces, novels, stories, dreams, fantasies, music, dancing, opium, wine.

How much do you lose by this periscope at the tip of your sex, when you could enjoy a harem of discrete and never-repeated wonders? Not two hairs alike, but you will not let us waste words on a description of hair; not two odors, but if we expand on this, you cry "Cut the poetry." Not two skins with the same texture, and never the same light, temperature, shadows, never the same gesture; for a lover, when he is aroused by true love, can run the gamut of centuries of love lore, What a range, what changes of age, what variations of maturity and innocence, perversity and art, natural and graceful animals.

We have sat around for hours and wondered how you look. If you have closed your senses around silk, light, color, odor, character, temperament, you must by now be completely shriveled up. There are so many minor senses, all running like tributaries into the mainstream of sex, nourishing it. Only the united beat of sex and heart together can create ecstasy.

Anais Nin

Thursday, 28 June 2012

Cowboys must be deranged

In July of 1964, a reader named Marian Forer wrote the following letter to John G. Fuller, the editor of a popular column in Saturday Review magazine called "Trade Winds" that collated whimsical news items and thought-provoking anecdotes from all corners. Forer's letter was later featured, in part, in the column. 

(Source: Dear Wit.)

Winnipeg, Manitoba

July 30, 1964

Dear Mr. Fuller:

I was struck (lightly) the other day by the following wonder: if lawyers become disbarred, and priests unfrocked, how might people in other paths of life be read out of their profession or calling?

It occurred to me then that electricians get delighted, and musicians possibly denoted. If these assumptions are correct, surely it follows that cowboys must be deranged, that models are deposed, and judges are obviously distorted. A medium who loses her license is dispirited, and it seems only poetic justice that a Far Eastener who is banished is disoriented.

I could go on and on, but I don't want to overload the mail handlers. An office worker who can't cope may, alas, become defiled.

Yours sincerely,

Marian Forer

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Oh Christ, the cook is dead

In February of 1977, a well-meaning teacher named Stephen Gard wrote to Spike Milligan after reading Monty, the third installment of Spike’s memoirs which focused on his life as a soldier in World War II, and asked some questions about the book. Says Stephen:
“My letter was written as a fan, but it did ask a lot of questions; questions that a lifetime of Goon-show listening had raised in my mind. The one that obviously annoyed Spike was, 'Why do so many Goon Shows, e.g. Tales of Men's Shirts, harp on the theme of military cowardice? After the line 'The prison camp was filled with British Officers who'd sworn to DIE rather than be captured,' [audience laughter] why did you come to the mike and say 'Thank you, fellow cowards!' Is it because you yourself were accused of this?”
Spike replied with the following letter.

(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.)

28th February, 1977

Dear Stephen,

Questions, questions, questions. If you are disappointed in my book 'MONTY', so am I. I must be more disappointed than you because I spent a year collecting material for it, and it was a choice of having it made into a suit or a book.

There are lots of one liners in the book, but then when the German Army are throwing bloody great lumps of hot iron at you, one only has time for one liners. In fact, the book should really consist of the following:

"Oh fuck"
"Look out"
"Christ here's another"
"Where did that fall?"
"My lorry's on fire"
"Oh Christ, the cook is dead"

You realise a book just consisting of those would just be the end, so my one liners are extensions of these brevities.

Then you are worried because as yet I have not mentioned my meeting with Secombe and later Sellers. Well by the end of the Monty book I had as yet not met either Secombe or Sellers. I met Secombe in Italy, which will be in vol 4, and I am arranging to meet Peter Sellers on page 78 of vol 5 in London. I'm sorry I can't put back the clock to meet Secombe in 1941, to alleviate your disappointment — hope springs anew with the information I have given you.

Another thing that bothers you is "cowardice in the face of the enemy". Well, the point is I suffered from cowardice in the face of the enemy throughout the war — in the face of the enemy, also in the legs, the elbows, and the wrists; in fact, after two years in the front line a mortar bomb exploded by my head (or was it my head exploded by a mortar bomb), and it so frightened me, I put on a tremendous act of stammering, stuttering, and shivering. This mixed with cries of "mother" and a free flow of dysentery enabled me to be taken out of the line and down-graded to B2. But for that brilliant performance, this letter would be coming to you from a grave in Italy.

Any more questions from you and our friendship is at an end.

Spike Milligan

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

We have listened long enough to the pessimists

In March of 1906, unable to preside over a public meeting of the Association for Promoting the Interests of the Blind, deafblind activist and author Helen Keller instead sent the following stirring letter to her good friend, Mark Twain. On the day of the event, Twain, who was chairing the meeting in Keller's absence, read her stunning letter aloud to all attendees and later included it in his autobiography, predicting that it would "pass into our literature as a classic and remain so."

It's very easy to see why.

(Source: Autobiography of Mark Twain: Volume 1; Image: Helen Keller, via.)

Wrentham, Mass., March 27, 1906

My dear Mr. Clemens:

It is a great disappointment to me not to be with you and the other friends who have joined their strength to uplift the blind. The meeting in New York will be the greatest occasion in the movement which has so long engaged my heart: and I regret keenly not to be present and feel the inspiration of living contact with such an assembly of wit, wisdom and philanthropy. I shall be happy if I could have spelled into my hand the words as they fall from your lips, and receive, even as it is uttered, the eloquence of our Newest Ambassador to the blind. We have not had such advocates before. My disappointment is softened by the thought that never at any meeting was the right word so sure to be spoken. But, superfluous as all other appeals must seem after you and Mr. Choate have spoken, nevertheless, as I am a woman, I cannot be silent, and I ask you to read this letter, knowing that it will be lifted to eloquence by your kindly voice.

To know what the blind man needs, you who can see must imagine what it would be not to see, and you can imagine it more vividly if you remember that before your journey's end you may have to go the dark way yourself. Try to realize what blindness means to those whose joyous activity is stricken to inaction.

It is to live long, long days, and life is made up of days. It is to live immured, baffled, impotent, all God's world shut out. It is to sit helpless, defrauded, while your spirit strains and tugs at its fetters, and your shoulders ache for the burden they are denied, the rightful burden of labor.

The seeing man goes about his business confident and self-dependent. He does his share of the work of the world in mine, in quarry, in factory, in counting room, asking of others no boon, save the opportunity to do a man's part and to receive the laborer's guerdon. In an instant accident blinds him. The day is blotted out. Night envelops all the visible world. The feet which once bore him to his task with firm and confident stride stumble and halt and fear the forward step. He is forced to a new habit of idleness, which like a canker consumes the mind and destroys its beautiful faculties. Memory confronts him with his lighted past. Amid the tangible ruins of his life as it promised to be he gropes his pitiful way. You have met him on your busy thoroughfares with faltering feet and outstretched hands, patiently "dredging" the universal dark, holding out for sale his petty wares, or his cap for your pennies; and this was a man with ambitions and capabilities.

It is because we know that these ambitions and capabilities can be fulfilled that we are working to improve the condition of the adult blind. You cannot bring back the light of the vacant eyes; but you can give a helping hand to the sightless along their dark pilgrimage. You can teach them new skill. For work they once did with the aid of their eyes you can substitute work that they can do with their hands. They ask only opportunity, and opportunity is a torch in the darkness. They crave no charity, no pension, but the satisfaction that comes from lucrative toil, and this satisfaction is the right of every human being.

At your meeting New York will speak its word for the blind, and when New York speaks, the world listens. The true message of New York is not the commercial ticking of busy telegraphs, but the mightier utterances of such gatherings as yours. Of late our periodicals have been filled with depressing revelations of great social evils. Querulous critics have pointed to every flaw in our civic structure. We have listened long enough to the pessimists. You once told me you were a pessimist, Mr. Clemens, but great men are usually mistaken about themselves. You are an optimist. If you were not, you would not preside at the meeting. For it is an answer to pessimism. It proclaims that the heart and the wisdom of a great city are devoted to the good of mankind, that in this, busiest city in the world, no cry of distress goes up but receives a compassionate and generous answer. Rejoice that the cause of the blind has been heard in New York, for the day after it shall be heard around the world.

Yours sincerely,

Helen Keller

Monday, 25 June 2012

Getting Star Trek on the air was impossible

In November of 1966, two months after the first Star Trek series premièred in the U.S., science fiction author Isaac Asimov wrote an article for TV Guide in which he complained about the numerous scientific inaccuracies found in science fiction TV shows of the day — Star Trek included. That show's creator, Gene Roddenberry, didn't take kindly to the jab, and immediately wrote to Asimov with a polite but stern response that also went some way to explaining the difficulties of bringing such a show to the screen. His letter can be read below.

Asimov apologised, and in fact became a good friend of Roddenberry's and an advisor to the show. Also below is a fascinating exchange of theirs that took place some months later, just as a problem arose relating to the relationship between Captain Kirk and Spock — a potentially damaging problem that Asimov helped to solve.

(Source: Star Trek Creator: The Authorized Biography of Gene Roddenberry; Images of Gene Roddenberry & Isaac Asimov via here & here.)

29 November, 1966

Dear Isaac:

Sorry I had to address it in this round-about way since I did not have your address and Harlan Ellison, who might have supplied it, is working a final draft for us and is already a week late and I don't want to take his attention away from it for even a moment. On second thought, I believe he is a month or two late.

Wanted to comment on your TV Guide article, "What Are A Few Galaxies Among Friends?"

Enjoyed it as I enjoy all your writing. And it will serve as a handy reference to those of our Star Trek writers who do not have a SF background. Although, to be perfectly honest, those with SF background and experience tend to make the same mistakes. I've found that the best SF writing is no guarantee of science accuracy.

A person should get his facts straight when writing anything. So, as much as I enjoyed your article, I am haunted by this need to write you with the suggestion that some of your facts were not straight. And, just as a writer writing about science should know what a galaxy is, a writer writing about television has an obligation to acquaint himself with pertinent aspects of that field. In all friendliness, and with sincere thanks for the hundreds of wonderful hours of reading you have given me, it does seem to me that your article overlooked entirely the practical, factual and scientific problems involved in getting a television show on the air and keeping it there. Television deserved much criticism, not just SF alone but all of it, but that criticism should be aimed, not shot-gunned. For example, Star Trek almost did not get on the air because it refused to do a juvenile science fiction, because it refused to put a "Lassie" aboard the space ship, and because it insisted on hiring Dick Matheson, Harlan Ellison, A.E. Van Vogt, Phil Farmer, and so on. (Not all of these came through since TV scripting is a highly difficult specialty, but many of them did.)

In the specific comment you made about Star Trek, the mysterious cloud being "one-half light-year outside the Galaxy," I agree certainly that this was stated badly, but on the other hand, it got past a Rand Corporation physicist who is hired by us to review all of our stories and scripts, and further, got past Kellum deForest Research who is also hired to do the same job.

And, needless to say, it got past me.

We do spend several hundred dollars a week to guarantee scientific accuracy. And several hundred more dollars a week to guarantee other forms of accuracy, logical progressions, etc. Before going into production we made up a "Writer's Guide" covering many of these things and we send out new pages, amendments, lists of terminology, excerpts of science articles, etc., to our writers continually. And to our directors. And specific science information to our actors depending on the job they portray. For example, we are presently accumulating a file on space medicine for De Forest Kelly who plays the ship's surgeon aboard the USS Enterprise. William Shatner, playing Captain James Kirk, and Leonard Nimoy, playing Mr. Spock, spend much of their free time reading articles, clippings, SF stories, and other material we send them.

Despite all of this we do make mistakes and will probably continue to make them. The reason—Thursday has an annoying way of coming up once a week, and five working days an episode is a crushing burden, an impossible one. The wonder of it is not that we make mistakes, but that we are able to turn out once a week science fiction which is (if we are to believe SF writers and fans who are writing us in increasing numbers) the first true SF series ever made on television. We like to think this is what we are trying to do, and trying with considerable pride. And I suppose with considerable touchiness when we believe we are criticized unfairly or as in the case of your article, damned with faint praise. Quoting Ted Sturgeon who made his first script attempt with us (and now seems firmly established as a contributor to good television), getting Star Trek on the air was impossible, putting out a program like this on a TV budget is impossible, reaching the necessary mass audience without alienating the select SF audience is impossible, not succumbing to network pressure to "juvenilize" the show is impossible, keeping it on the air is impossible. We've done all of these things. Perhaps someone else could have done it better, but no one else did.

Again, if we are to believe our letters (now mounting into the thousands), we are reaching a vast number of people who never before understood SF or enjoyed it. We are, in fact, making fans—making future purchasers of SF magazines and novels, making future box office receipts for SF films. We are, I sincerely hope, making new purchasers of "The Foundation" novels, "I, Robot," "The Rest of the Robots," and other of your excellent work. We, and I personally, in our own way and beset with the strange problems of this mass communications media, work as proudly and as hard as any other SF writer in this land.

If mention was to be made of SF in television, we deserved much better. And, as much as I admire you in your work, I felt an obligation to reply.

And, I believe, the public deserves a more definitive article on all this. Perhaps TV Guide is not the marketplace for it, but if you ever care to throw the Asimov mind and wit toward a definitive TV piece, please count on us for facts, figures, sample budgets, practical production examples, and samples of scripts from rough story to the usual multitude of drafts, samples of mass media "pressure," and whatever else we can give you.

Sincerely yours,

Gene Roddenberry


[Seven months later...]

June, 1967

Dear Isaac,

Wish you were out here.

I would dearly love to discuss with you a problem about the show and the format. It concerns Captain James Kirk and of course the actor who plays that role, William Shatner. Bill is a fine actor, has been in leads on Broadway, has done excellent motion pictures, is generally rated as fine an actor as we have in this country. But we're not getting the use of him that we should and it is not his fault. It's easy to give good situations and good lines to Spock. And to a lesser extent the same rule is true of the irascible Dr. McCoy. I guess it's something like doing a scene with several businessmen in a room with an Eskimo. The interesting and amusing situations, the clever lines, would tend to go to the Eskimo. Or in our case, the Eskimos.

And yet Star Trek needs a strong lead, an Earth lead. Without diminishing the importance of the secondary continuing characters. But the problem we generally find is this—if we play Kirk as a true ship commander, strong and hard, devoted to career and service, it too often makes him seem unlikable. On the other hand, if we play him too warm-hearted, friendly and so on, the attitude often is "how did a guy like that get to be a ship commander?" Sort of a damned if he does and damned if he doesn't situation. Actually, although it is missed by the general audience, it is Kirk's fine handling of a most difficult role that permits Spock and the others to come off as well as they do. But Kirk does deserve more and so does the actor who plays him. I am in something of a quandary about it.

Got any ideas?




In some way, this is the example of the general problems of first banana/second banana. The star has to be a well-rounded individual but the supporting player can be a "humorous" man in the Elizabethan sense. He can specialize. Since his role is smaller and less important, he can be made highly seasoned, and his peculiarities and humors can easily win a wide following simply because they are so marked and even predictable. The top banana is disregarded simply because he carries the show and must do many things in many ways. The proof of the pudding is that it is rare for a second banana to be able to support a show in his old character if he keeps that character. There are exceptions. Gomer Pyle made it as Gomer Pyle (and acquired a second banana of his own in the person of the sergeant.)

Undoubtedly, it is hard on the top banana (who like all actors has a healthy streak of insecurity and needs vocal and constant reassurance from the audience) to not feel drowned out. Everybody in the show knows exactly how important and how good Mr. Shatner is, and so do all the actors, including even Mr. Shatner. Still, when the fan letters go to Mr. Nimoy and articles like mine concentrate on him, one can't help feeling unappreciated.

What to do? Well, let me think about it and write another letter in a few days. I don't know that I'll have any magic solutions, but you know, some vagrant thought of mine might spark some thought in you and who knows.


[A few weeks later...]


I promised to get back to you with my thoughts on the question of Mr. Shatner and the dilemma of playing against such a fad-character as "Mr. Spock."

The more I think about it, the more I think the problem is psychological. That is, Star Trek is successful, and I think it will prove easier to get a renewal for the third year than was the case for the second. The chief practical reason for its success Mr. Spock. The excellence of the stories and the acting brings in the intelligent audience (who aren't enough in numbers, alas, to affect the ratings appreciably) but Mr. Spock brings in the "teenage vote" which does send the ratings over the top. Therefore, nothing can or should be done about that. (Besides, Mr. Spock is a wonderful character and I would be most reluctant to change him in any way.)

The problem, then, is how to convince the world, and Mr. Shatner, that Mr. Shatner is the lead.

It seems to me that the only thing one can do is lead from strength. Mr. Shatner is a versatile and talented actor and perhaps this should be made plain by giving him a chance at a variety of roles. In other words, an effort should be made to work up story plots in which Mr. Shatner has an opportunity to put on disguises or take over roles of unusual nature. A bravura display of his versatility would be impressive indeed and would probably make the whole deal a great deal more fun for Mr. Shatner. (He might also consider that a display of virtuosity would stand him in great stead when the time—the sad time—came that Star Trek had finished its run and he must look elsewhere.)

Then, too, it might be well to unify the team of Kirk and Spock a bit, by having them actively meet various menaces together with one saving the life of the other on occasion. The idea of this would be to get people to think of Kirk when they think of Spock.

And, finally, the most important suggestion of all—ignore this letter, unless it happens to make sense to you.




Your comments on Shatner and Spock were most interesting and I have passed them on to Gene Coon and others. We've followed one idea immediately, that of having Spock save his Captain's life, in an up-coming show. I will follow your advice about having them much more a team, standing more closely together. As for having Shatner play more varied roles, we have been looking in that direction and will continue to do so.

But I think the most important comment is that of keeping them a close team. Shatner will come off ahead by showing he is fond of the teenage idol; Spock will do well by displaying great loyalty to his Captain.

In a way it will give us one lead, the team.


Saturday, 23 June 2012

Yours in distress, Alan

Alan Turing was a human being of exceptional intelligence — a mathematical genius — and worked as one of the leading code-breakers during World War II. He is also considered to be the "father of modern computing" thanks to his pioneering work in the field of computer science. In 1950, before the term "Artificial Intelligence" had been coined, he posed the question, "Can computers think?" and proposed the Turing Test. His achievements are staggering.

In 1952, he was charged with gross indecency after admitting to a sexual relationship with another man, and as a result was told to choose either imprisonment or chemical castration as punishment. He chose the latter. Alan Turing was found dead on June 8th, 1954, a day after taking his own life. He was aged just 41.

Turing wrote the following letter in 1952 to his friend and fellow mathematician, Norman Routledge, shortly before pleading guilty.

Above: Benedict Cumberbatch reading this very letter. To see him doing the same on stage, along with many other performers reading their favourite letters in a magical setting, visit LETTERS LIVE.

(Source: Alan Turing: The Enigma - The Centenary Edition)

My dear Norman,

I don't think I really do know much about jobs, except the one I had during the war, and that certainly did not involve any travelling. I think they do take on conscripts. It certainly involved a good deal of hard thinking, but whether you'd be interested I don't know. Philip Hall was in the same racket and on the whole, I should say, he didn't care for it. However I am not at present in a state in which I am able to concentrate well, for reasons explained in the next paragraph.

I've now got myself into the kind of trouble that I have always considered to be quite a possibility for me, though I have usually rated it at about 10:1 against. I shall shortly be pleading guilty to a charge of sexual offences with a young man. The story of how it all came to be found out is a long and fascinating one, which I shall have to make into a short story one day, but haven't the time to tell you now. No doubt I shall emerge from it all a different man, but quite who I've not found out.

Glad you enjoyed broadcast. Jefferson certainly was rather disappointing though. I'm afraid that the following syllogism may be used by some in the future.

Turing believes machines think
Turing lies with men
Therefore machines do not think

Yours in distress,


Friday, 22 June 2012

I shall be waiting for you

In 1615, having successfully commanded an army at the Battle of Imafuku some months before, 22-year-old Japanese samurai and "peerless hero of the nation" Kimura Shigenari once again prepared to lead his men at the Siege of Osaka, despite his troops being heavily outnumbered. His young wife, Lady Shigenari, feared the worst and, having decided not to continue without her brave husband, wrote him the following farewell letter.

As predicted, Kimura Shigenari was killed during battle, and then beheaded. By that point, his wife had already taken her own life.

(Source: The Goodbye Book; Image: Lady Shigenari, via The National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo.)

I know that when two wayfarers take shelter under the same tree and slake their thirst in the same river it has all been determined by their karma from a previous life. For the past few years you and I have shared the same pillow as man and wife who had intended to live and grow old together, and I have become as attached to you as your own shadow. This is what I believed, and I think this is what you have also thought about us.

But now I have learnt about the final enterprise on which you have decided and, though I cannot be with you to share the grand moment, I rejoice in the knowledge of it. It is said that on the eve of his final battle, the Chinese general, Hsiang Yü, valiant warrior though he was, grieved deeply about leaving Lady Yü, and that (in our own country) Kiso Yoshinaka lamented his parting from Lady Matsudono. I have now abandoned all hope about our future together in this world, and, mindful of their example, I have resolved to take the ultimate step while you are still alive. I shall be waiting for you at the end of what they call the road to death.

I pray that you may never, never forget the great bounty, deep as the ocean, high as the mountains, that has been bestowed upon us for so many years by our lord, Prince Hideyori.

Thursday, 21 June 2012

I have now no further use for a birthday

In 1891, 8 years after his classic novel, Treasure Island, was first published in book-form, author Robert Louis Stevenson learned that the 12-year-old daughter of Henry Clay Ide — then U. S. Commissioner to Samoa, where Stevenson lived — was unhappy that her birthday fell on Christmas Day. Stevenson immediately hatched a charming plan, and soon sent the following letter and accompanying "legal" document to the family — a document in which he transferred the rights to his own birthday to young Annie. 

(Source: Selected Letters of Robert Louis Stevenson; Image: Robert Louis Stevenson, via The Guardian.)

19 June 1891

Dear Mr Ide,

Herewith please find the DOCUMENT which I trust will prove sufficient in law. It seems to me very attractive in its eclecticism; Scots, English and Roman law phrases are all indifferently introduced and a quotation from the works of Haynes Bayly can hardly fail to attract the indulgence of the Bench.

Yours very truly,

Robert Louis Stevenson



I, Robert Louis Stevenson, Advocate of the Scots Bar, author of The Master of Ballantrae and Moral Emblems, stuck civil engineer, sole owner and patentee of the Palace and Plantation known as Vailima in the island of Upolu, Samoa, a British Subject, being in sound mind and pretty well I thank you in body:

In consideration that Miss A. H. Ide, daughter of H. C. Ide, in the town of St Johnsbury, in the County of Caledonia, in the State of Vermont, United States of America, was born, out of all reason, upon Christmas Day, and is therefore, out of all justice, denied the consolation and profit of a Proper Birthday;

And considering that I, the said Robert Louis Stevenson, have attained an age when O, we never mention it, and that I have now no further use for a birthday of any description;

And in consideration that I have met H. C. Ide, the father of the said A. H. Ide, and found him about as white a Land Commissioner as I require;

Have transferred, and do hereby transfer to the said A. H. Ide, All and Whole of my rights and privileges in the 13th day of November, formerly my birthday, now, hereby, and henceforth, the birthday of the said A. H. Ide, to have, hold, exercise and enjoy the same in the customary manner, by the sporting of fine raiment, eating of rich meats and receipt of gifts, compliments and copies of verse, according to the manner of our ancestors;

And I direct the said A. H. Ide to add to her said name of A. H. Ide the name Louisa - at least in private; and I charge her to use my said birthday with moderation and humanity, et tamquam bona filia familiae, the said birthday not being so young as it once was and having carried me in a very satisfactory manner since I can remember;

And in case the said A. H. Ide shall neglect or contravene either of the above conditions, I hereby revoke the donation and transfer my rights in the said birthday to the President of the United States of America for the time being.

In witness whereof I have hereto set my hand and seal this 19th day of June in the year of grace eighteen hundred and ninety-one.


Robert Louis Stevenson

Witness: Lloyd Osbourne
Witness: Harold Watts

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

My mother declared my bedroom a disaster area

As one would expect, Ronald Reagan was the recipient of thousands of letters each month during his presidency--a mailbag so voluminous, in fact, that a gang of patient volunteers were tasked with opening them all on his behalf and passing him approximately 30 each week to read and respond to. This is just one example, sent by a 13-year-old South Carolina boy called Andy Smith. Reagan's reply follows.

(This letter, and many other fascinating pieces of correspondence, can be found in the bestselling book, More Letters of Note.)

Andy Smith
400 London Pride Road
Irmo, South Carolina 29063

April 18, 1984

Dear Mr. President,

My name is Andy Smith. I am a seventh grade student at Irmo Middle School, in Irmo, South Carolina.

Today my mother declared my bedroom a disaster area. I would like to request federal funds to hire a crew to clean up my room. I am prepared to provide the initial funds if you will provide matching funds for this project.

I know you will be fair when you consider my request. I will be awaiting your reply.

Sincerely yours,
Andy Smith


May 11, 1984

Dear Andy:

I'm sorry to be so late in answering your letter but, as you know, I've been in China and found your letter here upon my return.

Your application for disaster relief has been duly noted but I must point out one technical problem: the authority declaring the disaster is supposed to make the request. In this case, your mother.

However, setting that aside, I'll have to point out the larger problem of available funds. This has been a year of disasters: 539 hurricanes as of May 4th and several more since, numerous floods, forest fires, drought in Texas and a number of earthquakes. What I'm getting at is that funds are dangerously low.

May I make a suggestion? This Administration, believing that government has done many things that could better be done by volunteers at the local level, has sponsored a Private Sector Initiative Program, calling upon people to practice voluntarism in the solving of a number of local problems.

Your situation appears to be a natural. I'm sure your mother was fully justified in proclaiming your room a disaster. Therefore, you are in an excellent position to launch another volunteer program to go along with the more than 3000 already underway in our nation. Congratulations.

Give my best regards to your mother.

Ronald Reagan

Monday, 18 June 2012

We're sorry you've been misled

When released in 1979, Monty Python's Life of Brian was instantly banned in a number of countries due its supposedly blasphemous content, and faced countless angry protests from incredibly disgusted people who, more often than not, hadn't seen the film itself. In fact, so numerous were the written complaints that the Monty Python team had no option but to compose the following form letter with which to respond. Thousands were sent.

(Source: Calcium Made Interesting: Sketches, Letters, Essays & Gondolas; Image via.)

Dear __________

Thank you for your letter regarding the film Monty Python's Life of Brian. Whilst we understand your concern, we would like to correct some misconceptions you may have about the film which may be due to the fact that you have not had the chance to see it before forming your views. The film is set in Biblical times, but it is not about Jesus. It is a comedy, but we would like to think that it does have serious attitudes and certain things to say about human nature. It does not ridicule Christ, nor does it show Christ in any way that could offend anyone, nor is belief in God or Christ a subject dealt with in the film.

We are aware that certain organizations have been circulating misinformation on these points and are sorry that you have been misled. We hope you will go see the film yourself and come to your own conclusions about its virtues and defects. In any case, we hope you find it funny.

Best wishes,

Monty Python

Friday, 15 June 2012

Steve, I've got news

In July of 1988, a lawyer named Becky Klemt (above, pictured in 1990) contacted several California attorneys and asked for assistance in collecting some outstanding child support on behalf of her client — a lady whose husband, the debtor, had recently moved to Los Angeles. Six weeks later, by which time numerous firms had turned down her offer, Klemt received a reply from an attorney named Stephen Corris in which he stated his astronomical fees whilst also declining.

Becky Klemt then replied to Corris with a letter that soon circulated law firms all over the world, was hailed a "masterpiece" by a judge, spawned an article in the Wall Street Journal (in which Mr. Corris was labelled the "butt of a thousand faxes"), saw her appear on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, and, rather depressingly, provoked an offer from Penthouse to pose nude. She declined.

The entire exchange is below.

(Source: State Bar of Texas; Image of Becky Klemt in 1990 found in, and badly cropped by, The AGA Journal, 1990.)

Laramie, Wyoming
July 19, 1988

Mr. Stephen G. Corris
Attorney at Law
Irvine, California

Re: Broomell vs BroomeIl
Civil No. 16424

Dear Mr. Corris:

This firm obtained the enclosed Judgment against Defendant, Stephen H. Broomell, on June 4, 1987.

The Judgment remains only partially satisfied and there is due and owing as of this date principal and interest in the amount of $4,239.84. Interest accrues at the rate of $1.06 per day.

Would you please advise whether or not you would be interested in collecting on this Judgment and, if so, your fees for doing so. It's entirely possible that a letter from you to Mr. Broomell will be all that's needed.

I look forward to hearing from you.


Becky N. Klemt
Pence and MacMillan


August 8, 1988

Ms. Becky N. Klemt
Pence and MacMillan
Laramie, Wyoming

Dear Ms. Klemt,

I apologize for not getting back to you sooner, but I have been in and out of the office for the past six weeks. Seems that there's never enough time.

I want to thank you for offering me the opportunity to collect the judgment on behalf of Ms. Marcia L. Broomell, but, I must decline.

Without sounding pretentious, my current retainer for cases is a flat $100,000, with an additional charge of $1,000 per hour. Since I specialize in international trade and geopolitical relations between the Middle East and Europe, my clientele is very unique and limited, and I am afraid I am unable to accept other work at this time.

I am enclosing the copy you sent of the judgment and again, Ms. Klemt, I thank you for your thoughts. It was very nice of you.

Very sincerely,

Stephen G. Corris


Laramie, Wyoming 82070
August 17, 1988

Stephen G. Corris, Esquire
Attorney of Law
Irvine, California 92715

Dear Steve:

I am in receipt of your letter to me dated August 8, 1988, regarding collection of a judgment against Stephen Broomell. Steve, I've got news — you can't say you charge a $100,000.00 retainer fee and an additional $1,000.00 an hour without sounding pretentious. It just can't be done. Especially when you're writing to someone in Laramie, Wyoming where you're considered pretentious if you wear socks to Court or drive anything fancier than a Ford Bronco. Hell, Steve, all the lawyers in Laramie, put together, don't charge $1,000.00 an hour.

Anyway, we were sitting around the office discussing your letter and decided that you had a good thing going. We doubt we could get away with charging $1,000.00 an hour in Laramie (where people are more inclined to barter with livestock than pay in cash), but we do believe we could join you in California, where evidently people can get away with just about anything. Therefore, the four lawyers in our firm intend to join you in the practice of international trade and geopolitical relations between the Middle East and Europe.

Now, Steve, you're probably thinking that we don't know anything about the Middle East and Europe, but I think you'll be pleasantly surprised to find that this is not the case. Paul Schierer is actually from the Middle East — he was raised outside of Chicago, Illinois, and although those national newsmen insist on calling Illinois the Midwest, to us, if it's between New York and the Missouri River, it's the Middle East.

Additionally, although I have never personally been to Europe myself, my sister just returned from a vacation there and told me lots about it, so I believe I would be of some help to you on that end of the negotiations. Hoke MacMillan has actually been there, although it was 15 years ago, so you might have to update him on recent geopolitical developments. Also, Hoke has applied to the Rotary Foreign Exchange Student Program for a 16-year old Swedish girl and believes she will be helpful in preparing him for trips abroad.

Another thing you should know, Steve, is that the firm has an extensive foreign language background, which I believe would be useful to you. Hoke took Latin in high school, although he hasn't used it much inasmuch as he did not become a pharmacist or a priest. Vonnie Nagel took high school German, while Paul has eaten in Italian restaurants. I, myself, majored in French in college, until I realized that probably wasn't the smartest career move in the world. I've forgotten such words as "international" and "geopolitical" (which I'm not too familiar with in English), but I can still hail a taxi or find a restroom, which might come in handy.

Steve, let us know when we should join you in California so that we can begin doing whatever it is you do. In anticipation of our move, we've all been practicing trying to say we charge $1,000.00 an hour with a straight face, but so far, we haven't been able to do it. I suspect it'll be easier once we actually reach California where I understand they charge $5,000,000 for one-bedroom condos and everybody (even poor people) drive Mercedes. Anyway, because I'll be new to the area of international trade and geopolitical relations, I'm thinking of only charging $500-$600 an hour to begin with. Will that be enough to meet our overhead?

I look forward to hearing from you before you go away again for six weeks.


Becky N. Klemt
Pence and MacMillan

P.S. Incidentally, we have advised our client of your hourly rate. She is willing to pay you $1,000.00 per hour to collect this judgment provided it doesn't take you more than four seconds.

Thursday, 14 June 2012

If I’m not a writer then I’m nothing

In October of 1949, while working in public relations at General Electric, 27-year-old aspiring writer Kurt Vonnegut sold his first story to Collier's; just over a year later, he quit said job and began life as a freelance writer. The following two letters, both from Vonnegut, offer an intriguing glimpse into his mind during that period — the earliest sent to his father immediately after that first story was bought; the next to his friend, Miller Harris, not long after escaping General Electric in 1951, at which point he was avoiding writing for publications such as The Atlantic and The New Yorker and instead collecting "fat checks" from the "slicks" (glossy, well-paying magazines, e.g. Collier's, Saturday Evening PostCosmopolitan).

(Sources: Fates Worse Than Death & Look at the Birdie; Image: Kurt Vonnegut, via.)

October 28, 1949

Dear Pop:

I sold my first story to Collier's. Received my check ($750 minus a 10% agent's commission) yesterday noon. It now appears that two more of my works have a good chance of being sold in the near future. I think I'm on my way.

I've deposited my first check in a savings account and, as and if I sell more, will continue to do so until I have the equivalent of one year's pay at GE. Four more stories will do it nicely, with cash to spare (something we never had before). I will then quit this goddamn nightmare job, and never take another one so long as I live, so help me God. I'm happier than I've been in a good many years.



February 11, 1951

Dear Miller:

Thought, rather fuzzily, about something I want to add to my recent letter to you. It’s this business about the school: school of painting, school of poetry, school of music, school of writing. For a couple of years after the War I was a graduate student in the Anthropology Department at the University of Chicago. At the instigation of a bright and neurotic instructor named Slotkin, I got interested in the notion of the school (I’m going to explain what I mean in a minute), and decided to do a thesis on the subject. I did about 40 pages of the thing, based on the Cubist School in Paris, and then got told by the faculty that I’d better pick something more strictly anthropological. They suggested rather firmly (with Slotkin abstaining) that I interest myself in the Indian Ghost Dance of 1894. Shortly thereafter I ran out of money and signed on with G-E, and I never did get past the note-taking stage on the Ghost Dance business (albeit damn interesting).

But Slotkin’s notion of the importance of the school stuck with me, and it now seems pertinent to you, me, Knox, McQuade, and anybody else whose literary fortunes we take a personal interest in. What Slotkin said was this: no man who achieved greatness in the arts operated by himself; he was top man in a group of like-minded individuals. This works out fine for the cubists, and Slotkin had plenty of good evidence for its applying to Goethe, Thoreau, Hemingway, and just about anybody you care to name.

If this isn’t 100% true, it’s true enough to be interesting—and maybe helpful.

The school gives a man, Slotkin said, the fantastic amount of guts it takes to add to culture. It gives him morale, esprit de corps, the resources of many brains, and—maybe most important—one-sidedness with assurance. (My reporting what Slotkin said four years ago is pretty subjective—so let’s say Vonnegut, a Slotkin derivative, is saying this.) About this one-sidedness: I’m convinced that no one can amount to a damn in the arts if he becomes sweetly reasonable, seeing all sides of a picture, forgiving all sins.

Slotkin also said a person in the arts can’t help but belong to some school—good or bad. I don’t know what school you belong to. My school is presently comprised of Littauer & Wilkenson (my agents), and Burger, and nobody else. For want of support from any other quarter, I write for them—high grade, slick bombast.

I’ve been on my own for five weeks now. I’ve rewritten a novelette, and turned out a short-short and a couple of 5,000-worders. Some of them will sell, probably. This is Sunday, and the question arises, what’ll I start tomorrow? I already know what the answer is. I also know it’s the wrong answer. I’ll start something to please L&W, Inc., and Burger, and, please, God, MGM.

The obvious alternative is, of course, something to please the Atlantic, Harpers, or the New Yorker. To do this would be to turn out something after the fashion of somebody-or-other, and I might be able to do it. I say might. It amounts to signing on with any of a dozen schools born ten, twenty, thirty years ago. The kicks are based largely on having passed off a creditable counterfeit. And, of course, if you appear in the Atlantic or Harpers or the New Yorker, by God you must be a writer, because everybody says so. This is poor competition for the fat checks from the slicks. For want of anything more tempting, I’ll stick with money.

So, having said that much, where am I? In Alplaus, New York, I guess, wishing I could pick up some fire and confidence and originality and fresh prejudices from somewhere. As Slotkin said, these things are group products. It isn’t a question of finding a Messiah, but of a group’s creating one—and it’s hard work, and takes a while.

If this sort of thing is going on somewhere (not in Paris, says Tennessee Williams), I’d love to get in on it. I’d give my right arm to be enthusiastic. God knows there’s plenty to write about—more now than ever before, certainly. You’re defaulting, I’m defaulting, everyone’s defaulting, seems to me.

If Slotkin’s right, maybe the death of the institution of friendship is the death of innovation in the arts.

This letter is sententious crap, shot full of self-pity. But it’s the kind of letter writers seem to write; and since I quit G-E, if I’m not a writer then I’m nothing.

Yours truly,


Wednesday, 13 June 2012

'Music is 'life it'self

In 1967, jazz legend Louis Armstrong wrote this generous, heartfelt letter to a fan who, as a Marine stationed in Vietnam, had recently sent him some fan-mail. You wouldn't think they were strangers, as Armstrong's favourite laxative, "Swiss Kriss," is amusingly mentioned in the first paragraph (and in closing); he then goes on to reminisce about his childhood and the music he was exposed to; later on his wife, who had recently had a tumour removed, is discussed humorously and affectionately. He even ends with a song. The whole letter is really endearing.

Then there's Satchmo's idiosyncratic use of punctuation, which, if you've never seen it before, will probably charm and confuse you in equal measure. For reasons largely unknown, he sometimes peppered his writing with an abundance of capitalisation, apostrophes, quotations marks, dashes, and underlining — more often than not, in places you usually wouldn't expect. As strange as it is, the style somehow suits his voice.

(Source: Louis Armstrong, In His Own Words: Selected Writings; Image: Louis Armstrong, via Hollywoodland.)

34—56—107 St.
Corona New York'

Dear L/Cpl, Villec"

I'd like to 'step in here for a 'Minute or 'so' to ''tell you how much—I 'feel to know that 'you are a 'Jazz fan, and 'Dig' 'that 'Jive—the 'same as 'we 'do, "yeah." "Man—I carry an 'Album, 'loaded with 'Records—'Long playing 'that is. And when I am 'Shaving or 'Sitting on the 'Throne with 'Swiss Kriss' in me—That Music 'sure 'brings out those 'Riffs' 'Right Along with 'Swiss Kriss, which I 'take 'every night or when I go to bed. 'Yeah. I give myself a 'Concert with those 'records. 'Music is 'life it'self. What would this 'world be without 'good music? No matter 'what kind it is.

It 'all came from the Old 'Sanctified 'Churches. I can remember—'way back in the 'old days in 'New Orleans, La—'My home town. And I was a little Boy around 'ten years old. My Mother used to take me to 'Church with her, and the Reverend ('Preacher that is') used to 'lead off one' of those 'good ol good 'Hymns. And before you realized it—the 'whole 'Congregation would be "Wailing—'Singing like 'mad and 'sound so 'beautiful. 'I 'being a little boy that would "Dig" 'Everything and 'everybody, I'd have myself a 'Ball in 'Church, especially when those 'Sisters 'would get 'So 'Carried away while "Rev" (the preacher) would be 'right in the 'Middle of his 'Sermon. 'Man those 'Church 'Sisters would 'begin 'Shouting 'So—until their 'petticoats would 'fall off. Of course 'one of the 'Deacons would 'rush over and 'grab her—'hold her in his 'Arms and 'fan her until 'she'd 'Come 'to.

Then there were those "Baptisms—that's when someone wants to be converted by Joining the 'Church and get 'religion. So they have to be 'Baptized. 'Dig this—I remember 'one Sunday the 'Church had a 'great big Guy they had to 'Baptize. So these 'Deacons all 'Standing in this 'River—in 'Water up to their waist in their 'white 'Robes. They had 'Baptized 'several 'women and a few 'Men—'saved their 'Souls. When in 'Walks' a 'Great 'big' 'burly 'Sinner' who came down the line. So—'these 'Deacons whom were 'very 'strong 'themselves, they grabbed 'hold of this 'Cat and said to him as they 'ducked him down into the water, as they let him they asked him—"Brother 'do you 'Believe?" The Guy didn't say 'anything—Just looked at them. So they 'Ducked him down into that 'River again, 'only they 'held him down there a 'few minutes 'Longer. So when the 'Deacons looked in the guy's eye and said to him—"Do you 'Believe?" This Guy finally 'answered—he said "Yes—I Believe you 'Son of Bitches trying to 'drown me."

P.S. I guess you think I'm 'Nuts. 'Nay 'Nay. I only 'mentioned these incidents because it all was 'built around 'Music. In fact, it's 'All Music. "You 'Dig? The 'Same as we did in my 'Home Town 'New Orleans'—those 'Funeral Marches etc. "Why 'Gate" 'Villec, we 'played those 'Marches with 'feeling from our 'hearts. 'All the way to the Cemetery—'Brass Band of course. The 'Snare drummer would put a 'handkerchief under the 'snares of his 'drum to 'deaden the 'Sound while 'playing on the way to the Cemetery—"Flee as a Bird." But as 'soon as the 'preacher 'say "Ashes to 'Ashes—'Dust to 'Dust"—the "Snare Drummer Commence 'pulling the handkerchief from his 'drum, and make a 'long roll' to 'assemble everybody, including the members of the 'dead man's 'Lodge—or 'Club. 'Then we'd 'return 'back to the 'headquarters 'playing "Didn't he 'Ramble" or "When the Saints Go Marching In." You 'See? 'Still Music."

I said 'All of that to Keep 'Music in your 'heart the 'same as 'you're 'doing. And 'Daddy—you 'Can't 'go 'wrong. 'Myself and my 'All Stars' are 'Playing here at the 'Harrods 'Club (Reno) for 'Three weeks. My 'wife 'Lucille as 'joined me here. The 'rest will do her lots of good. She was 'operated on for a 'Tumor, about the 'Middle of 'July. She's improving 'very 'Rapidly. Her 'Doctor who 'operated on her at the 'Beth 'Israel Hospital' in New York told her—'She could go to 'Reno and 'spend some time if 'you (Lucille) + your 'husband (Satchmo) 'promised to 'behave 'yourselves and 'don't try to 'do the "Vonce" ("meaning 'Sex). I 'Said—"Doc I 'Promise—But I'll 'Just 'touch it 'lightly every 'morning—to see if it's 'still 'there. 'Ha 'Ha. 'Life's 'sweet. 'Just the 'thought that 'Lucille is 'through with her 'little 'Hindrance—and "soon "be well and 'happy—'be 'her 'lil 'ol 'cute 'self 'again—'Just "knock's' me out.

'Well 'Bre'r 'Villec, I guess I'll 'put it 'down, and get some 'shut eye." It's the 'Wee 'hours in the 'Morning. I've 'Just 'finished 'Work. I am too 'tired to 'raise an 'eye 'lid. Tee hee. So I'll leave this little message with you. "Here goes'.

When you 'Walk—through a 'Storm—
Put your 'Headup 'high
And 'Don't be Afraid of the 'Dark—
At the 'End of a 'Storm—
Is a 'Gol-den 'Sky—
And a Sweet Silver 'Song—
Of a 'Lark—
'Walk—'on—through the 'Wind—
'Walk—'on—through the 'Rain—
Though your 'Dreams be "Tossed and 'Blown—
With 'Hope in your heart
And 'You'll 'Nev-er 'Walk 'A-'lone
You'll 'Nev-er 'Walk A-lone
(one more time)
'Walk—'on—'Walk—'on—with 'Hope in your 'heart—And 'you'll
Nev-er 'Walk 'A-lone—'You'll 'Nev-er 'Walk—'A-lone—. "Savvy?

Give my regards to the fellows that's in your company. And the other fellows too. And now I'll do you 'Just like the 'Farmer did the 'Potato—I'll 'Plant you 'Now and 'Dig you 'later. I'll 'Close now. It's a real 'Pleasure 'Writing—'You.

"Swiss Krissly"

Louis Armstrong

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Part of this world, part of another

In 1970, when originally offered the lead role in Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory by director Mel Stuart, the great Gene Wilder accepted on one condition. "When I make my first entrance,” he explained, “I'd like to come out of the door carrying a cane and then walk toward the crowd with a limp. After the crowd sees Willy Wonka is a cripple, they all whisper to themselves and then become deathly quiet. As I walk toward them, my cane sinks into one of the cobblestones I'm walking on and stands straight up, by itself; but I keep on walking, until I realize that I no longer have my cane. I start to fall forward, and just before I hit the ground, I do a beautiful forward somersault and bounce back up, to great applause." Asked why, Wilder said, "Because from that time on, no one will know if I'm lying or telling the truth."

As we now know, his request was granted, but thankfully his input didn't stop there. Just one example: Soon after seeing some early sketches of Willy Wonka's eccentric outfit, Wilder wrote the following letter to Stuart and offered some charmingly constructive feedback.

Full transcript follows.

(Huge thanks to Gene Wilder for allowing this to feature.)

July 23rd

Dear Mel

I've just received the costume sketches. I'll tell you everything I think, without censoring, and you take from my opinion what you like.

I assume that the designer took his impressions from the book and didn't know, naturally, who would be playing Willy. And I think, for a character in general, they're lovely sketches.

I love the main thing — the velvet jacket — and I mean to show by my sketch the exact same color. But I've added two large pockets to take away from the svelt, feminine line. (Also in case of a few props.)

I also think the vest is both appropriate and lovely.

And I love the same white, flowing shirt and the white gloves. Also the lighter colored inner silk lining of the jacket.

What I don't like is the precise pin pointing in place and time as this costume does.

I don't think of Willy as an eccentric who holds on to his 1912 Dandy's Sunday suit and wears it in 1970, but rather as just an eccentric — where there's no telling what he'll do or where he ever found his get-up — except that it strangely fits him: Part of this world, part of another. A vain man who knows colors that suit him, yet, with all the oddity, has strangely good taste. Something mysterious, yet undefined.

I'm not a ballet master who skips along with little mincy steps. So, as you see, I've suggested ditching the Robert Helpmann trousers. Jodhpurs to me belong more to the dancing master. But once elegant now almost baggy trousers — baggy through preoccupation with more important things — is character.

Slime green trousers are icky. But sand colored trousers are just as unobtrusive for your camera, but tasteful.

The hat is terrific, but making it 2 inches shorter would make it more special.

Also a light blue felt hat-band to match with the same light blue fluffy bow tie shows a man who knows how to compliment his blue eyes.

To match the shoes with the jacket is fey. To match the shoes with the hat is taste.

Hope all is well. Talk to you soon.

All my best,


Monday, 11 June 2012

They pay brisk money for this crap?

Writing to his agent, H. N. Swanson, in 1953, detective novelist Raymond Chandler takes a break from penning what would be his final novel, Playback, and parodies science fiction writing — a genre which, judging by the letter's final sentence in particular, he had little time for.

Also amusing is the appearance of something, or someone, named "Google" all those years ago.

(Source: Selected Letters of Raymond Chandler; Image: Raymond Chandler, via.)

6005 Camino de la Costa
La Jolla, California

Mar 14 1953

Dear Swanie:

Playback is getting a bit tired. I have 36,000 words of doodling and not yet a stiff. That is terrible. I am suffering from a very uncommon disease called (by me) atrophy of the inventive powers. I can write like a streak but I bore myself. That being so, I could hardly fail to bore others worse. I can't help thinking of that beautiful piece of Sid Perelman's entitled "I'm Sorry I Made Me Cry."

Did you ever read what they call Science Fiction? It's a scream. It is written like this: "I checked out with K19 on Aldabaran III, and stepped out through the crummalite hatch on my 22 Model Sirus Hardtop. I cocked the timejector in secondary and waded through the bright blue manda grass. My breath froze into pink pretzels. I flicked on the heat bars and the Brylls ran swiftly on five legs using their other two to send out crylon vibrations. The pressure was almost unbearable, but I caught the range on my wrist computer through the transparent cysicites. I pressed the trigger. The thin violet glow was icecold against the rust-colored mountains. The Brylls shrank to half an inch long and I worked fast stepping on them with the poltex. But it wasn't enough. The sudden brightness swung me around and the Fourth Moon had already risen. I had exactly four seconds to hot up the disintegrator and Google had told me it wasn't enough. He was right."

They pay brisk money for this crap?


Friday, 8 June 2012

I AM the boss

In 1970, three years after co-founding Rolling Stone, Jann Wenner hired 21-year-old Annie Liebovitz as a staff photographer; her work impressed, and in 1973 she was named "Chief Photographer" at the title. Nine years later, by which time the magazine had become widely read — thanks in some small part to Leibovitz's numerous iconic cover shots — the following exchange took place between the two, in respect to her contract.

(Source: Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, via Caoism; Images: Annie Leibovitz & Jann Wenner, via Wikipedia & Jann Wenner respectively.)

March 1, 1982

To: Jann Wenner
From: Annie Leibovitz

This document will serve as a letter of understanding between us for the next 20-25 covers over the next year.

Rolling Stone assignments will have priority commitment.

Rules of the cover will be discussed and fought over with each issue.

I will try to act as promptly and as reasonable as possible.

I will try to act on my best behavior.

And I will discourage the use of my photographs in any publications other than Rolling Stone on any regular basis.

I am the Chief Photographer.

Annie Leibovitz


Rolling Stone

March 2, 1982

Annie Leibovitz
Rolling Stone
745 Fifth Avenue
New York, NY 10151

Dear Annie:

Your letter of March 1, 1982, is not exactly what I had in mind, but it's getting close.

There are two points that remain to be clarified before increasing your fees; and both points bear directly on this matter.

1) Rules of the Cover: The basic rule — salability on newsstands depends, insofar as the photo, on subject recognizability — is not open to discussion, let alone being "fought over each issue." Highest possible newsstand sales is the primary purpose of the cover, and recognizability is a final judgment that I make.

The elements that do — and don't — go into recognizability are obvious — the standard facts of big heads, open eyes, strong colors, etc. — apply to at least 70% of the covers — and the natural exceptions are also obvious.

A bad cover due to limited or difficult recognizability — just like a bad cover due to poor choice of subject like Bill Hurt or Bob Hope — cuts newsstand sales somewhere between 25,000 to 50,000 copies, which translates to a $15,000 to $30,000 direct loss in company profits.

Therefore, any exception to the rules — and there are several good reasons (moral, artistic, bribery) to make them every now and then — must be discussed in advance. In the rare occasion when we can't, you can try the experiment only if you also do a safety back-up in the conventional mode.

In other words, I am open to and in favor of changes, experiments and new ideas, but the final decision to risk $15-30,000 in profits is mine, and mine alone.

2) Other Publications: "Discourage" is subject to different interpretations between us. "Priority commitment to Rolling Stone assignments" and delivering the full potential in quality and value of the Chief Photographer means that you definitely not publish — as a "featured" photographer in any other magazine on an every issue basis.

I do not want to restrict your income opportunities — and thus am raising your fees to compensate partially — but the intent of my point here is clear and each of us knows where that line is drawn that gets you money and gets me exclusivity and the best work!

A few other points:

a) There has to be a stricter and longer embargo to U.S. re-publication of Rolling Stone photos in the U.S. — at least a year, with mutual agreement for exceptions.

b) Our daily and normal financial dealings will be through Mark Lipsky instead of directly with you, and will be done in a totally businesslike manner.

c) I'm planning to give you an office again at Rolling Stone in respect to all this because of your commitment "to act on your best behavior."

If all these points are agreeable and in addition to your March 1, 1982, letter comprise our "letter of understanding" between us, please sign two copies of this and return them to me and your rates for work undertaken on the 20-25 covers for the next year will be $2500 fee per cover, $3200 for each cover with one significant inside shot, and standard rates for additional shots.

I am the boss,

(Signed, 'Jann Wenner')

Jann S. Wenner
Editor & Publisher

I am the Chief Photographer.

Agreed: (Signed, 'Annie Leibovitz')

Date: March 4, 1981

Thursday, 7 June 2012

I feel every cut

In August of 1985, many months after its successful release outside of North America, Terry Gilliam's iconic movie, Brazil, was still being cut for the U.S. market. Universal head Sid Sheinberg wanted a shorter, happier film; Gilliam, on the other hand, could think of nothing worse. He wrote the following letter to Sheinberg on the 8th and pleaded for mercy.

Gilliam's plea fell on deaf ears. Two months later he asked again, but in full view of the public.

(Source: The Battle of Brazil; Image: Terry Gilliam, via SOS Hollywood.)

August 8

Dear Sid:

Once upon a time you told me that you were not the one that put me in the chair at the end of "Brazil." I'm afraid that this is no longer true — unable as I am to think of anyone else who is directly responsible for my current condition. Your later offer to be the friend who becomes a torturer has more than come true. I am not sure you are aware of just how much pain you are inflicting, but I don't believe "responsibility to the company" in any way absolves you from crimes against even this small branch of humanity. As long as my name is on the film, what is done to it is done to me — there is no way of separating these two entities. I feel every cut, especially the ones that sever the balls. And I plead, whether they are done in the name of legitimate and responsible experiments or personal curiosity, if you really wish to make your version of "Brazil" then put your name on it. Then you can do what you like. "Sid Sheinberg's Brazil" has a nice ring to it. But, until that time, I shall continue to decline. Please let me know how much longer must I endure before the bleeding stops.

Deterioratingly yours,


c.c.: Jack Lint

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

All of my friends were on the shelves above

Ray Bradbury was an outspoken supporter of libraries throughout his career, and the following letter to the assistant director of Fayetteville Public Library — in which he explains the race to write the novella upon which Fahrenheit 451 was eventually based — perfectly illustrates why. The letter was written in 2006 in response to a city-wide "Big Read," in which Bradbury's classic novel was studied.

Transcript follows.

(Source: Fayetteville Public Library; Image: Ray Bradbury, via Random House.)

September 15, 2006

Dear Shawna Thorup:

I'm glad to hear that you good people will be celebrating my book, "Fahrenheit 451." I thought you might want to hear how the first version of it, 25,000 words and which appeared in a magazine, got done.

I needed an office and had no money for one. Then one day I was wandering around U.C.L.A. and I heard typing down below in the basement of the library. I discovered there was a typing room where you could rent a typewriter for ten cents a half hour. I moved into the typing room along with a bunch of students and my bag of dimes, which totaled $9.80, which I spent and created the 25,000 word version of "The Fireman" in nine days. How could I have written so many words so quickly? It was because of the library. All of my friends, all of my loved ones, were on the shelves above and shouted, yelled and shrieked at me to be creative. So I ran up and down the stairs, finding books and quotes to put in my "Fireman" novella. You can imagine how exciting it was to do a book about book burning in the very presence of the hundreds of my beloveds on the shelves. It was the perfect way to be creative; that's what the library does.

I hope you enjoy reading my passionate output, which became larger a few years later and became popular, thank God, with a lot of people.

I send you all my good wishes,


He's here, living and vivid and unforgettable forever

On September 30th of 1955, less than a month before his most celebrated turn as Jim Stark in Rebel Without a Cause graced the screens, 24-year-old James Dean died shortly after his Porsche collided with another car at high speed. His funeral was held nine days later in Fairmount, not far from the farm on which he was raised by his aunt and uncle, Ortense and Marcus Winslow. A few days later, as millions continued to mourn his passing, the following letter—one of the most beautiful condolence letters I've ever read—was sent to the Winslows by Stewart Stern, a friend of Dean's and the man who wrote the screenplay for Rebel Without a Cause.

(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.)

Hollywood 46, California

12 October, 1955

Dear Marcus and Mrs. Winslow:

I shall never forget that silent town on that particular sunny day. And I shall never forget the care with which people set their feet down — so carefully on the pavements — as if the sound of a suddenly scraped heel might disturb the sleep of a boy who slept soundly. And the whispering. Do you remember one voice raised beyond a whisper in all those reverential hours of goodbye? I don't. A whole town struck silent, a whole town with love filling its throat, a whole town wondering why there had been so little time in which to give the love away.

Gandhi once said that if all those doomed people at Hiroshima had lifted their faces to the plane that hovered over them and if they had sent up a single sigh of spiritual protest, the pilot would not have dropped his bomb. That may or may not be. But I am sure, I am certain, I know — that the great wave of warmth and affection that swept upward from Fairmount has wrapped itself around that irresistible phantom securely and forever.

Nor shall I forget the land he grew on or the stream he fished, or the straight, strong, gentle people whom he loved to talk about into the nights when he was away from them. His great-grandma whose eyes have seen half of America's history, his grandparents, his father, his treasured three of you — four generations for the coiling of a spring — nine decades of living evidence of seed and turning earth and opening kernel. It was a solid background and one to be envied. The spring, released, flung him into our lives and out again. He burned an unforgettable mark in the history of his art and changed it as surely as Duse, in her time, changed it.

A star goes wild in the places beyond air — a dark star born of coldness and invisible. It hits the upper edges of our atmosphere and look! It is seen! It flames and arcs and dazzles. It goes out in ash and memory. But its after-image remains in our eyes to be looked at again and again. For it was rare. And it was beautiful. And we thank God and nature for sending it in front of our eyes.

So few things blaze. So little is beautiful. Our world doesn't seem equipped to contain its brilliance too long. Ecstasy is only recognizable when one has experienced pain. Beauty only exists when set against ugliness. Peace is not appreciated without war ahead of it. How we wish that life could support only the good. But it vanishes when its opposite no longer exists as a setting. It is a white marble on unmelting snow. And Jimmy stands clear and unique in a world where much is synthetic and dishonest and drab. He came and rearranged our molecules.

I have nothing of Jim's — nothing to touch or look at except the dried mud that clung to my shoes — mud from the farm that grew him — and a single kernel of seed corn from your barn. I have nothing more than this and I want nothing more. There is no need to touch something he touched when I can still feel his hand on me. He gave me his faith, unquestioningly and trustfully — once when he said he would play in REBEL because he knew I wanted him to, and once when he tried to get LIFE to let me write his biography. He told me he felt I understood him and if LIFE refused to let me do the text for the pictures Dennis took, he would refuse to let the magazine do a spread on him at all. I managed to talk him out of that, knowing that LIFE had to use its own staff writers, but will never forget how I felt when he entrusted his life to me. And he gave me, finally, the gift of his art. He spoke my words and played my scenes better than any other actor of our time or of our memory could have done. I feel that there are other gifts to come from him — gifts for all of us. His influence did not stop with his breathing. It walks with us and will profoundly affect the way we look at things. From Jimmy I have already learned the value of a minute. He loved his minutes and I shall now love mine.

These words aren't clear. But they are clearer than what I could have said to you last week.

I write from the depths of my appreciation — to Jimmy for having touched my life and opened my eyes — to you for having grown him all those young years and for having given him your love — to you for being big enough and humane enough to let me come into your grief as a stranger and go away a friend.

When I drove away the sky at the horizon was yellowing with twilight and the trees stood clean against it. The banks of flowers covering the grave were muted and grayed by the coming of evening and had yielded up their color to the sunset. I thought — here's where he belongs — with this big darkening sky and this air that is thirst-quenching as mountain water and this century of family around him and the cornfield crowding the meadow where his presence will be marked. But he's not in the meadow. He's out there in the corn. He's hunting the winter's rabbit and the summer's catfish. He has a hand on little Mark's shoulder and a sudden kiss for you. And he has my laughter echoing his own at the great big jokes he saw and showed to me — and he's here, living and vivid and unforgettable forever, far too mischievous to lie down long.

My love and gratitude, to you and young Mark,


Friday, 1 June 2012

The most beautiful work of all

Punk pioneer Patti Smith and influential photographer Robert Mapplethorpe enjoyed a close, often intense relationship that began in 1967 when 20-year-old Patti moved to New York City. The pair hit it off immediately, and for the next seven years they lived together in Manhattan. In 1989, 22 years after first meeting and by which time they had long separated romantically but were still the closest of friends, Robert passed away some time after being diagnosed with AIDS.

In the days preceding his untimely death, Patti wrote her soul mate a letter—a letter which he sadly didn’t get a chance to read.

The Letter

Dear Robert,

Often as I lie awake I wonder if you are also lying awake. Are you in pain, or feeling alone? You drew me from the darkest period of my young life, sharing with me the sacred mystery of what it is to be an artist. I learned to see through you and never compose a line or draw a curve that does not come from the knowledge I derived in our precious time together. Your work, coming from a fluid source, can be traced to the naked song of your youth. You spoke then of holding hands with God. Remember, through everything, you have always held that hand. Grip it hard, Robert, and don't let it go.

The other afternoon, when you fell asleep on my shoulder, I drifted off, too. But before I did, it occured to me looking around at all of your things and your work and going through years of your work in my mind, that of all your work, you are still your most beautiful. The most beautiful work of all.