Friday, 31 August 2012

If ever an actor can do it – Gene can

In October of 1970, with production underway on the set of Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, the film's director, Mel Stuart, sent a progress report to producer David Wolper in the form of the following fascinating memo. Delays in the Chocolate Room were obviously frustrating the filmmaker, however it seems the acting talent on display — in particular Gene Wilder's "extraordinary performance" — was keeping him very enthused.

Related: Gene Wilder's wonderful letter to Mel Stuart, regarding Willy Wonka's costume.

(Source: Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (40th Anniversary Collector's Edition); Image via PRLog.)




19th October 1970

Dear Dave:

Progress report? I wish I could say everything is coming along on schedule, but I can't say. However, what I can say is that everything is coming along very well as far as the quality of the picture is concerned.

We have had a lot of trouble in the Chocolate Room as far as our schedule goes because of two reasons: First, the incredible size of the set has made every turn-around even for a close up a lighting nightmare. I'm constantly tempted to put my actors up against the wall in order to get a quick lighting job but I feel the picture would lose a great deal of quality if I do. The other problem has been the boat. I don't know how in God's name we ever figured one day in the schedule to board the boat, send it down the chocolate river with a page of dialogue aboard and take enough beauty long shots to enable us to open up for a minute and a half of music and for all this scheduled one day – ONE! – EIN! – ONE! On top of everything, it takes twenty minutes to remove the wheels on the boat and get it back into starting position. And double on top of that, after I had finally spent an hour and a half lighting the set for my super master shot, the waterfall conked out for four hours on Friday morning.

I want you to know that I've tried everything – wearing my green sweater with the blue jacket then switching to the brown sweater with the blue jacket, then I tried wearing tennis socks with a blue top instead of the red top and, finally, the only thing that seems to have worked is to take my peace symbol from under my sweater and put it outside of my sweater. As a result of this, on Monday morning I think I'm about finished with the close ups on the boat and with a few master shots this afternoon that should be done with the Chocolate Room save for the second unit work on Gloop going up the pipe. Gloop definitely has been a problem in the pipe but we are going to try and shoot him up four or five different ways and I'm sure one of them will work.

Now for the good news: I think – and this feeling is shared by everyone who has seen the rushes – that the Oompa-Loompas are going to turn out marvellously well. Because of the makeup and the green hair there is nothing grotesque about them. They just look like very cute little gnomes running about. The best part of it is that Howard's choreography for them is very simple and to the point, and – it just works, that's all I can say. I'm convinced they will be an enormous plus value for the picture and should definitely be thought of strongly in the publicity campaign. Three or four of them have very engaging personalities and could really be used for tours, etc.

Now for the biggest plus of all. I think Gene Wilder is going to give one of the most extraordinary performances ever seen in a fantasy musical. What we are both trying to do now is to make every scene as unusual and telling as the opening crippled routine. Everywhere in each scene there has to be a moment of paranoic behaviour, of something unusual happening – a moment to throw the audience off balance and if ever an actor can do it – Gene can. Another big plus for this part is the comedic element. Roy, Leonard and Dodo are bringing the screen alive with looks, double takes and perfect readings on all the one-liners. This will contrast greatly with the seriousness of the first four reels and give the picture that much more drive towards the end.

I'm also getting sensational performances out of Julie and Denise who now battle with each other in every scene, both as characters and as "actresses". So, all in all I feel very very good about what we've got up to this point, save for the fact that we've lost a good deal of time in the Chocolate Room because of the technical difficulties. But that's your problem ... I can only give you a good picture. You worry about the money.



Thursday, 30 August 2012

Think of my programmes as your research department

Early-1996, on learning that a forthcoming, weekly drum & bass programme was to eat into his own show's airtime, shortening it by an hour, pioneering DJ John Peel made his disappointment known by writing the following letter to Matthew Bannister, then-controller of BBC Radio 1.

John Peel remained with the station until his death in 2004.

(Source: Margrave of the Marshes; Image: John Peel, via.)

25th January, 1996

Dear Matthew,

I wanted to say how disappointed I was to lose yet another hour on air in the recent schedule changes. I had naively imagined when I heard you were attempting to contact me that you were going to tell me that you had, as you had suggested you might a year earlier, managed to claw back some time.

As you may have noticed over the past few years, I have enthusiastically supported, in thought, word and deed, the many changes you and your team have made to Radio 1. I did this, not out of any thought of self-preservation, but because I believed that the changes were very much needed. No-one doubts, I think, that Radio 1 is a much better station now than it was in the last days of Beerling. Last summer, our son William gently pointed out that part of the policy I was endorsing included the gradual reduction of my hours on the radio. (Our other son, Thomas, was more forthright when I told him why you had called the other day. 'They're taking the piss, Dad,' he said.)

When you came to Radio 1, it was with, amongst many other things, ringing endorsements of the type of programming practised by Andy Kershaw and myself. Andy was overjoyed. I advised caution, knowing that such attitudes can change overnight, particularly when there is much critical hostility to the changes that are being made – as there was, of course. There does seem to be a new orthodoxy in the air, one which supports narrowly focused programmes rather than broadly based ones built on the if-you-don't-like-this-record-wait-until-you-hear-the-next-one principle.

Over the years my programmes have often been the first to play music which subsequently found a wider audience and, very occasionally, a niche on Radio 1. This, I know, is what I am employed to do.

For example, I started playing hip-hop when the first records, imported from New York, arrived in this country. I did this despite the fact – perhaps, on reflection, partly because of it – that a producer and presenter both came to me independently and told me I should not be playing what was, in their view, the music of black criminals. Now, of course, we have Westwood – and quite rightly so, although I would suggest that he should have been on Radio 1 seven or eight years ago. This, I know, was the fault of the previous regime.

Since then, I have played jungle – for about three, three and a half years, I think – and we are, again quite rightly, about to have a jungle programme. I have played reggae since 1968 and, apart from two sadly misconceived programmes that ran fitfully for a while in the seventies and eighties, no-one else has. Now there is to be a reggae programme and, again, this is exactly as it should be. What saddens me is the fact that, with the introduction of these programmes, I lose air time. I already have to leave unplayed music which I believe deserves exposure and, with the new hours, this situation can only get worse. I already circulate lists of recommended records that I have not had time to play to an admittedly small number of regular listeners.

I know that no-one has the right to be given radio time and that with the number of new programmes that you are scheduling, something has to give. I appreciate the move to Sunday night, understanding that on Friday night people are out, going out, watching laddish comedy stuff on television and so on. I agree with you that Sunday night is a better time for my/our programmes.

I hope you understand this. There remains in me, I suppose, some of the old hippie and something of an evangelical fervour about the work I do. I think – and I hope this isn't going to read wrong – that the programmes on which I have worked, with a range of enthusiastic people from Bernie Andrews to Alison Howe, have contributed to the enduring health of British music and the capacity of that music to reinvent itself. There are several things going on now which may or may not evolve into something substantial. It would be disappointing, in the event of one or other of these being really popular, to lose yet another hour so that you could schedule time for programmes devoted to it.

Think of my programmes as your research department. Noisy, smelly but occasionally coming up with the formulae which you can subsequently market.

Thanks for reading this.

John Peel

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Shall we go together & look for her?

In April of 1948, having recently watched and been mesmerised by Open City and its sequel, Paisà, Oscar-winning actress Ingrid Bergman wrote a fan letter to the filmmaker responsible, Roberto Rossellini, and offered her acting services. That note can be read below, as can three passionate replies from Rossellini — the first an excited telegram sent in May of that year, then two letters written in the following months, the latter of which included a synopsis of Stromboli, the film in which Bergman would later star.

During production of Stromboli, Bergman and Rossellini — both of whom were married — had an affair that saw Bergman fall pregnant with the first of their three children. That "scandal" caused uproar in the U.S., and resulted in Bergman fleeing to Europe where she remained until 1956. On her return to Hollywood, she won another Oscar, this time for Anastasia.

(Source: Ingrid Bergman: My Story; Image: Bergman & Rossellini in 1950, via.)

Dear Mr. Rossellini,

I saw your films Open City and Paisan, and enjoyed them very much. If you need a Swedish actress who speaks English very well, who has not forgotten her German, who is not very understandable in French, and who in Italian knows only "ti amo," I am ready to come and make a film with you.

Ingrid Bergman





Dear Mrs Bergman,

I send you as promised a short synopsis of my story: I can't call it a real full length story, because it is not a story. I am used to following a few basic ideas and building them up little by little during the process of the work as the scenes very often spring out of direct inspiration from reality. I don't know whether my words will have the same power of the images: anyhow, I assure you that, during this work of mine, my own emotions have been strong and intense as never before. I wish I could speak to you about Her and He, the Island, the men and women of the Island, the humility so primitive though so antique, made wise by experience of centuries. One could think that they live so simply and poorly just because of that knowledge of the vanity of everything we consider civilized and necessary.

I am sure that you will find many parts of the story quite rugged, and that your personality will be hurt and offended by some reactions of the personage. You mustn't think that I approve of the behaviour of Him. I deplore the wild and brutal jealousy of the Islander, I consider it a remainder of an elementary and old fashioned mentality. I describe it because it is part of the ambience, like the prickly pears, the pines and the goats. But I can't deny in the deepness of my soul there is a secret envy for those that can love so passionately, so wildly, as to forget any tenderness, any pity for their beloved ones. They are guided only by a deep desire of possession of the body and sold of the woman they love. Civilization has smoothed the strength of feelings; undoubtedly it's more comfortable to reach the top of a mountain by funicular, but perhaps the joy was greater when men climbed dangerously to the top.

I beg your pardon for the many diversions, I am filled with so many thoughts and I fear that you cannot understand me completely only by a letter. I am anxious to know your impression after you have read this story. I beg you to consider that the translation was made in a great hurry by people who have not the complete mastery of the language.

I want you to know how deeply I wish to translate those ideas into images, just to quiet down the turmoil of my brain.

Waiting to know your judgement, I am,

Yours very truly and devoted

R. Rossellini


Dear Mrs. Bergman

I have waited a long time before writing, because I wanted to make sure what I was going to propose to you. But first of all I must say that my way of working is extremely personal. I do not prepare a scenario, which, I think terribly limits the scope of work. Of course I start out with very precise ideas and a mixture of dialogues and intentions which, as things go on, I select and improve. Having said so much I must indeed make you aware of the extraordinary excitement which the mere prospect of having the possibility to work with you, procures me.

Some time ago...I think it was at the end of February last, I was traveling by car along the Sabine (a region north of Rome). Near the source of the Farfa an unusual scene called my attention. In a field surrounded by a tall barbed-wire fence, several women were turning round just like mild lambs in a pasture. I drew near and understood they were foreign women: Yugoslavs, Polish, Rumanians, Greek, Germans, Latvians, Lithuanians, Hungarians. Driven away from their native countries by the war, they had wandered over half Europe, known the horror of concentration camps, compulsory work and night plunder. They had been the easy prey of the soldiers of twenty different nations. Now parked up by the police, they lived in this camp awaiting their return home.

A guard ordered me to go away. One must not speak to these undesirable women. At the further end of the field, behind the barbed wires, far away from the others, a woman was looking at me, alone, fair, all dressed in black. Heeding not the calls of the guards, I drew nearer. She only knew a few words of Italian and as she pronounced them, the very effort gave a rosy tint to her cheeks. She was from Latvia. In her clear eyes, one could read a mute intense despair. I put my hand through the barbed wires and she seized my arm, just like a shipwrecked person would clutch at a floating board. The guard drew near, quite menacing. I got back to my car.

The remembrance of this woman haunted me. I succeeded in obtaining authorization to visit the camp. She was no longer there. The Commander told me she had run away. The other women told me she had gone away with a soldier. They could have married and, with him, she could have remained in Italy. He was from the Lipari Islands.

Shall we go together and look for her? Shall we together visualize her life in the little village near Stromboli, where the soldier took her? Very probably, you do not know the Lipari Islands: in fact very few Italians know them. They earned a sad fame during fascism, because it is there that the enemies of the Fascist Government were confined. There are seven volcanoes in the Tyrrhenian Sea, north of Sicily. One of them, the Stromboli, is continually active. At the foot of the volcano, in a bay, springs up the little village. A few white houses, all cracked by the earthquakes. The inhabitants make a living out of fishing and the little they can pluck up from the barren land.

I tried to imagine the life of the Latvian girl, so tall, so fair, in this island of fire and ashes, amidst the fishermen, small and swarthy, amongst the women with the glowing eyes, pale and deformed by childbirth, with no means to communicate with these people of Phoenician habits, who speak a rough dialect, all mixed up with Greek words, and no means to communicate with him, with the man she got hold of at the camp of Farfa. Having looked into each other's eyes, they had found out their souls. She, in these glowing, intelligent, swift eyes of his, had discovered a tormented, simple, strong, tender man.

She followed this man, being certain that she had found an uncommon creature, a savior, a refuge and a protection after so many years of anguish and beastly life, and she would have had the joy to remain in Italy, this mild and green land where both man and nature are to a human scale.

But instead she is stranded in this savage land, all shaken up by the vomiting volcano, and where the earth is so dark and the sea looks like mud saturated with sulphur. And the man lives beside her and loves her with a kind of savage fury, is just like an animal not knowing how to struggle for life and accepting placidly to live in deepest misery.

Even the God that the people worship seems different from hers. How could the austere Lutheran God she used to pray to, when a child in the frigid churches of her native country, possibly stand comparison with these numerous saints of various hues.

The woman tries to rebel and tear herself away from the obsession. But on all sides, the sea bars the way and there is no possible escape. Frantic with despair, unable to withstand it any longer, she yet entertains an ultimate hope of a miracle that will save her—not realizing that a profound change is already operating within herself.

Suddenly the woman understands the value of the eternal truth which rules human lives; she understands the mighty power of he who possesses nothing, this extraordinary strength that procures complete freedom. In reality she becomes another St. Francis. An intense feeling of joy springs from her heart, an immense joy of living.

I do not know if in this letter, I have been able to express the fullness of my meaning. I know it is difficult to give concrete meaning to ideas and sensations which can only receive life through imagination.

To relate, I must see: Cinema relates with the camera, but I am certain, I feel, that with you near me, I could give life to a human creature who, following hard and bitter experiences, finds peace at last and complete freedom from all selfishness. That being the only true happiness which has ever been conceded to mankind, making life more simple and nearer to creation.

Could you possibly come to Europe? I could invite you for a trip to Italy and we could go over this thing at leisure? Would you like me to go in for this film? When? What do you think of it? Excuse me for all these questions but I could go on questioning you forever.

Pray believe in my enthusiasm.

Your Roberto Rossellini

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Your pal, Lorne Michaels

Early-1976, a few months after Saturday Night Live made its debut as "NBC's Saturday Night," the following rejection letter was sent to hopeful writers. It was written and signed by the show's creator, Lorne Michaels.

Transcript follows.

(Source: Saturday Night Live; Image: Lorne Michaels on air in 1976, offering the Beatles $3000 to reunite.)

April 27, 1976

Dear Mr. Currier:

Thank you for your letter. We are sorry but we cannot accept or read unsolicited material sent to us for various ethical and legal reasons.

However, we at NBC's SATURDAY NIGHT do accept and read nude photographs.

Best of luck in the future.

Your pal,


Lorne Michaels

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

I am desperate to have some real fun

In January 1960, 9 years and 250 episodes after first being introduced to a baffled but delighted audience, The Goon Show’s final installment was broadcast on BBC radio, much to the dismay of its many fans. Written chiefly by Spike Milligan, the show’s 10 series had been a surreal mixture of sketches, music and general nonsense that went on to make stars of its 3 main actors—Milligan, Peter Sellers and Harry Secombe—and become one of British comedy’s most influential and adored creations. Judging by this touching telegram, sent by an ill Sellers to his ex-co-stars in 1980, it wasn’t just the listeners who mourned The Goon Show. Tragically, two months after sending it, hours before a planned reunion dinner with Milligan and Secombe, Sellers suffered a heart attack. He passed away two days later.

This, and 124 other fascinating pieces of correspondence, feature in the second volume of Letters of Note. More info here


28 MAY 80





Friday, 17 August 2012

A vampire in striped pajamas

In April of 1994, after being shown a copy of the publication's Turkish edition, legendary Cosmopolitan editor Helen Gurley Brown wrote the following amusingly despairing letter to its editor, Elif Dagistanli. The two ladies never did meet at the conference — soon after the letter reached Turkey, Dagistanli was relieved of her job.

(Source: Dear Pussycat; Image: Helen Gurley Brown, via.)

April 14, 1994

Dear Elif,

You and I don't know each other and I'm looking forward to our getting acquainted. We will do that when Cosmo has a conference of international editors this October. Elif, I'm not the one who decides what to put in your magazine—the editor is the sole judge—but I really feel we can't do what you are doing. Ecran Arikli I think would not have made an agreement with Hearst Corporation, who own Cosmo, if they wanted the magazine to be something totally different from the Cosmopolitan that we publish—otherwise they would just have started a new magazine without bothering with us. What I am getting at is that the cover is totally unacceptable! If you want to do your own magazine, that is one thing, but if you want to edit Cosmo, then we simply don't use men on the cover let alone one with his pants open—there! May I go on? The naked girl with one hand on her crotch and one on her bosom is also pretty strong for us.

What is the girl with the whip on pages 84 and 85—it looks very sado-masochistic, a subject we might deal with but never in such a glamorous way. That would also go for the girl with the chains around her neck on page 87—if I've got my pages right. (It would be nice to see some page numbers a little often. The last one I saw was on page 80.) I think this is 93 but not sure. Anyway, the blonde girl is too "raunchy" for us—definitely not a Cosmo girl.

Our women are sexy and gorgeous but they don't look like girls from a burlesque show.

Next we get on to the men's section with the man looking like a vampire in striped pajamas. On the next spread we have a man with a snake crawling on his face and opposite him a man fondling his crotch.

Elif, really, this isn't the right direction to go in everybody's opinion who has anything to do with the magazine. Naturally, I haven't polled everybody in the entire world but I don't need to—Cosmo has a specific format and although each international editor has her own ideas about what goes in the book, I don't think they would be along the lines of your particular presentation. As I mentioned, you don't have any page numbers so I can't tell you where we are but opposite the Clinique photograph—pale blue jar on white page, we have really disagreeable girl again—naked and sad. Then we get to the special men's supplement. Another man with his pants undone on the cover, then we get to the penis on page 7 and the raunchy girl holding her breasts on page 10.

Elif, I don't think we could go on like this. Do you wish to edit Cosmo or do we try to find another publisher in Turkey? I don't quite know what to do next. Perhaps you will tell me.

All my best wishes,


Thursday, 16 August 2012

I am in a state of shock

In 1961, a professor of English wrote to author Flannery O'Connor and asked her, on behalf of his students, to explain "A Good Man is Hard to Find" — a short story of hers that his class had recently been studying, and for which they were struggling to find an acceptable interpretation. He wrote, in part:
"We have debated at length several possible interpretations, none of which fully satisfies us. In general we believe that the appearance of the Misfit is not 'real' in the same sense that the incidents of the first half of the story are real. Bailey, we believe, imagines the appearance of the Misfit, whose activities have been called to his attention on the night before the trip and again during the stopover at the roadside restaurant. Bailey, we further believe, identifies himself with the Misfit and so plays two roles in the imaginary last half of the story. But we cannot, after great effort, determine the point at which reality fades into illusion or reverie. Does the accident literally occur, or is it part of Bailey's dream? Please believe me when I say we are not seeking an easy way out of our difficulty. We admire your story and have examined it with great care, but we are not convinced that we are missing something important which you intended us to grasp. We will all be very grateful if you comment on the interpretation which I have outlined above and if you will give us further comments about your intention in writing 'A Good Man is Hard to Find.'"
O'Connor was unimpressed, and responded as follows.

(Source: The Habit of Being: Letters of Flannery O'Connor, via Patrick Robbins; Image: Flannery O'Connor, via.)

28 March 61

The interpretation of your ninety students and three teachers is fantastic and about as far from my intentions as it could get to be. If it were a legitimate interpretation, the story would be little more than a trick and its interest would be simply for abnormal psychology. I am not interested in abnormal psychology.

There is a change of tension from the first part of the story to the second where the Misfit enters, but this is no lessening of reality. This story is, of course, not meant to be realistic in the sense that it portrays the everyday doings of people in Georgia. It is stylized and its conventions are comic even though its meaning is serious.

Bailey’s only importance is as the Grandmother’s boy and the driver of the car. It is the Grandmother who first recognized the Misfit and who is most concerned with him throughout. The story is a duel of sorts between the Grandmother and her superficial beliefs and the Misfit’s more profoundly felt involvement with Christ’s action which set the world off balance for him.

The meaning of a story should go on expanding for the reader the more he thinks about it, but meaning cannot be captured in an interpretation. If teachers are in the habit of approaching a story as if it were a research problem for which any answer is believable so long as it is not obvious, then I think students will never learn to enjoy fiction. Too much interpretation is certainly worse than too little, and where feeling for a story is absent, theory will not supply it.

My tone is not meant to be obnoxious. I am in a state of shock.

Flannery O'Connor

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

The Battle of the Bitches

Early-1993, Matt Ffytche — an editor at now-defunct London-based magazine, Modern Review — contacted U.S. author and critic Camille Paglia by fax and asked her to write for the publication. In addition to her fee, Ffytche also offered a complimentary copy of "No Exit," the new book by Modern Review co-founder Julie Burchill — someone already known to Paglia due to a negative review Burchill once gave of her work.

The resulting heated exchange of faxes, the bulk of which were sent between Paglia and Burchill, was later published in Modern Review and dubbed "The Battle of the Bitches" by the Press. It can be seen below.

(Source: Jon Simmons, via Quiet Riot Girl; Images: Julie Burchill & Camille Paglia, via Guardian & Silenced Majority.)

9 Feb 93

Dear Mr Ffytche,

I am responding to your inquiry about a possible letter or article from me for the Modern Review. I am offered a signed copy of a novel by Julie Burchill as an inducement.

One would have thought that had Julie Burchill been interested in securing my services to contribute to the Modern Review or to defend it against the charge of "anti-intellectualism," she would have taken more care not to write such a malicious, distorted, error-filled, and yes, anti-intellectual review of my book. I value honesty, accuracy, and fair-dealing, all of which were in short supply in that article.

In view of these circumstances, I regret to say that I must decline your offer. It is certainly true that both Julie Burchill (who is completely unknown in America) and The Modern Review have lost a potentially strong ally in me. Unfortunately, one reaps what one sows.

Yours truly

Camille Paglia
Philadelphia College of Art and Design


Paglia was then sent a fax, via her agent, by another Modern Review editor, Toby Young, who asked her to instead review "No Exit" for the magazine. Paglia replied by fax:

Dear Mr Young

I have recieved your letter of Feb 14.

I'm afraid that after your unfortunate opening gambit in your last letter which offered me a "signed copy" of a novel by Julie Burchill, you have given me even deeper offense by suggesting that I should review her novel and "rip her to shreds."

I find it highly objectionable, and personally insulting to me as a scholar, that you would think I would be interested in exacting this kind of "tit-for tat" petty revenge.

You are full of fulsome praise for me as a writer, but I have now recieved two letters from TMR that treat me as a hack rather than an intellectual.

Apropos of your request to write for you: I'm afraid your magazine, even by your own admission, is too deeply associated in the public eye with Julie Burchill. That you automatically offered me a copy of her novel shows that the problem is an internal as well as an external one.

Because of Burchill's coarse and dishonest review of my book in The Spectator, I'm sorry to say that I cannot add the weight of my name and my work to an enterprise that would seem to reflect positively on her. I would have been happy to have allied with her before, but her own behaviour has made that impossible. I no longer take her seriously as a thinker or as a personality.

If Julie Burchill is now a millstone around your necks, it is your task, not mine to get rid of it.

Yours truly,

Camille Paglia


Toby Young then sent a fax directly to Paglia and asked to reprint her response. She accused him of invading her privacy by sidestepping her agent; he refused to apologise. Naturally, she called him a "pig fucking cunt."

On March 18th, Burchill learned, by way of a leaked letter and quote in the Telegraph, that Puglia was enjoying the drama; hence the following fax:

20 Mar 93

Dear Professor Paglia,

It has come to my notice that you believe you and I are currently engaged in a feud; I quote, "the Burchill vs Paglia pugilistics are sure to be an entertaining, long running drama."

Believe me, a feud, like a love affair, takes two. As you have pointed out, I am unknown in your great country; you on the other hand are an unimpeachable celebrity. Your career is far hotter than mine. But I don't have the time or energy to participate in such trite theatrics; how can you?

I'm surprised you were so upset by my Spectator review. How you of all people can complain of my "malice" is a complete mystery to me. Now you know how Naomi Wolf and Susan Faludi must feel every time you spew up your speil to a waiting world. I'm here to tell you that you can't come on like a street tough and then have an attack of the Victorian vapours when faced with a taste of your own style.

I know ethnicity means a lot to you. You've got a wop name, so you think you're Robert De Niro. These little girls, Jewish and middle class and whatever, are too nice, too well bred to fight back. I'm not. Don't believe what you read about the English; our working class, from where I'm proud to come, is the toughest in the world. I'm not nice. I'm not as loud as you, but if push comes to shove I'm nastier. I'm ten years younger, two stone heavier, and I haven't had my nuts taken off by academia.

Are you SO insecure that you can't get one critical review without throwing a temper tantrum? What a fucking GIRL you are! Perhaps it's because you got famous so late. One day you'll learn it comes with the territory.

Julie Burchill

P.S. I see you are planning "to sustain interest media interest by nip-and-tuck mini raids on the British media." To show that there are no hard feelings, and to help your rather touching pursuit of publicity along, I will be happy to tell all my friends in the British media of your fascinating game plan.


22 March 93

Julie Burchill,

I have recieved your extraordinarily clumsy and ill written letter. You and your coterie seem to have the mental age of undergraduates, with whom I am certainly used to dealing. What emply bluster and tired cliches! If you were once witty, I'm afraid you're in a bit of a decline.

I have no idea who you are. I was simply told, twice in the past year, by people who have lived in England that there is this person named Julie Burchill who as a close parallel to me in sensibility and prose style. Naturally I assumed this would be someone I would at some point ally with.

Your review of my book was not particularly negative, compared to other reivews I have recieved, most of which tend to be highly, even hysterically negative and which I am well known to relish. But if you are as smart as you think you are, you would have realized that your reputation was on the line in reviewing me, and you would not have written such a sloppy, distorted article. It did you more harm than it did me. Your weaknesses and limtations as a thinker and writer were very much on view in it. I don't think you fully realise the ammuntion you have given your enemies in Great Britian.

As the years pass, it will become clearer and clearer to everyone, perhaps even to you, that this was a pivotal moment in your life. You had an opportunity to move forward and to grow by making an important alliance. But instead you chose to dig in your heels, clamp down, and sulk at the new girl invading your turf. You have behaved childishly.

I could have helped you far more than you could help me. I am read and translated around the world from Japan to South America, and the basis of my fame is not just journalism but a scholarly book on the history of culture. You are a very local commodity, completely unknown outside of England, and you have produced nothing of global interest. It is you who began this fight, and it is you who will pay the price for it.The more vicious you are in print, the stupider you will look.

Your review, as I said to the Daily Telegraph when it called, was not about my book but about yourself. It contains a shadowy, tragic — or should I say pathetic — history of your life, your grim obsessiveness about your body image and what were pretty clearly some early sexual encounters with men, where your credulity or failures of judgement got you into situations that left permanent marks on you. As a teacher I can't help but feel sorry for you.

This time you've gotten in over your head, but you don't realise it yet. I have already gathered from my contacts in the London media (and even from the Modern Review itself!) that many people are tired of your bullying and pretensions. I have no intention of publicly attacking you (except where I am specifically asked to by reporters), since I don't view you as that important in the world scheme. But there are many ways I can help others expose you. Your coarse and unskilled letter is yet another way you have wounded yourself, and I will make sure it is widely seen.

Camille Paglia


22 March 93

Dear Professor Paglia,

Yes, please feel free to show my letter to whoever you like. I'm pleased with it and I'm certainly going to pass around the fax someone at your English publisher gave me, in which you outline your pathetic plan to get publicity in my country by inventing a feud with me, the nation's sweetheart.

I don't dislike you. I think you're rather sweet. As Madonna said when asked about your obsession with her, "I think it's very amusing."

It's great to see an academic cube like yourself get with it. I'm very glad you're big in Japan. But the day I need your "help" or "alliance," I'll give up and go into academia.

Now that really is a fate worse than death.

Julie Burchill

P.S. Your Diana program was crap, and none of the TV reviewers knew who you were AND I was asked to do it first. I was glad to pass some work your way, and I'm sure I'll have the chance again.


23 Mar 93

Julie Burchill,

I have recieved your latest message of March 22 via my agent. Believe me, it gives me no pleasure to see a person of your standing debase herself in the way you have done in these shallow, desparate letters. It is as if you've lost all sense of what wit or argument is. Your fright and panic are painfully visible. I never dreamed my position was as strong in England as your shrill letters have demonstrated. If you were as confident in your stature or reputation, you would not have needed to take that tone with me. Your spluttering hostility proves I have made serious inroads into territory you once ruled alone.

It is hard to believe you are a woman in your mid 30s. Your flip, cliched locutions, braying rhetoric, and meandering incoherences are those of a college or even high school student. I am truly sorry to see yet another British woman writer self destruct, in the way Germaine Greer (whose achievements are far more substantial than yours) did in the Seventies.

You must face the fact that the letters you have written me — in which television reviewers are cited for their authority! — will give great pleasure to your enemies, who have waited a very long time to see you finally trip yourself up.

As far as I can gather, you seem to think your loud, brash style is unique and impressive — which it may well be in England with its code of decorum. But in America, everyone, down to the guys on the street corner, talks in this way, except in the academe. Your letters are banal and ludicrous in American terms because of your lurching inability to use this vernacular in a fresh way. You think yourself madly clever, but I'm afraid your enfant terrible personality is a bit tattered. You seem trapped in juvenility, like a matron who can't forget her salad days at the school sorority.

A friend of mine calls a style like yours — which we have seen a thousand examples of — "alcoholic prose." There is a heavy, grinding ponderousness pull on the sinking syntax, a noisy blathering sound, a bitter, maudlin self pity breaking through the false bravado and cynical posturing. It is probably a style you learned at home. It is palpably 30 years out of date.

Apparently you are someone who once made a claim for yourself on the basis of her working class roots. This may have been useful once, but obviously several decades have passed and the hyocrisy of your present position is becoming all to clear. Blow your old, dusty proletarian tuba with all your might, but the unhappy truth is that for many years your life has been one of coterie privilege and dining clubs, a cozy, smug, chic literary insiders' set that would turn the stomach of any authentic member of the working class. You have become a sheltered, pampered sultan of slick, snide wordplay, without direct experience of life of any kind. As a writer approaching midlife, you lack vision and deep insight.

As I said before, your encounter with me has been a pivotal moment for you. Here was your chance to reassess and invigorate your career. What I could have provided was a way for you to combat the widespread view of you as flash and superficial. Alas, your letters have done more damage to you than anything I could do.

Camille Paglia


24 Mar 93

Dear Professor Paglia,

Fuck off you crazy old dyke.


Julie Burchill


Six weeks late, Paglia's agent was asked for permission to reprint the entire series of faxes. A response quickly came:

3 May 93

Permission is granted to The Modern Review to reprint all letters/faxes I have written to it and Julie Burchill, on the condition that they be reproduced, in toto, with no cutting or condensation whatsoever.

Camille Paglia


Two days later, a final fax arrived:

6 May 93

Dear Mr Young

In reference to the letters that, earlier this week, I granted permission to you to reprint: I would like to go on record about a blatant misrepresentation of the facts made by Julie Burchill in her second letter to me in March.

Burchill claims abouth the Channel 4 special, "Diana Unclothed," which was televised 16 March, that she "was asked to do it first." This is categorically false. Peter Stuart, of the London based independent production company RapidoTV, approached me last year about the possibility of basing a television program on my ideas about the Princess of Wales, as contained in my cover story on her for the New Republic (8 Aug 92). He also asked for my contribution to a program on Lolita that he was planning. Mr. Stuart came to Philadelphia in January of this year to film me talking about Diana and Lolita for the two programs, which were jointly sponsored by Waldemar Januszcsak, Editor of The Arts at Channel 4.

It is true that Julie Burchill, along with other writers and commentators, was asked to contribute remarks to the Diana program, but she refused on the grounds, I am told, that 1) she never does television interviews and 2) she didn't wish to participate in a "Camille Paglia documentary."

Burchill's wild inflation of this easily corroborated detail is one of the striking passages in her letters to me. Quite obviously, it was a strategy born of a sense of weakness rather than strength.

Permission is granted to reproduce this letter in full or (in this case only) in part.

Yours truly

Camille Paglia

Monday, 13 August 2012

Come here father

In August of 1966, following years of controversy and multiple arrests for his "obscene" stand-up routines, pioneering comedian Lenny Bruce was found dead at his home after a morphine overdose. He was 40-years-old. Approximately a year and a half before he passed away, as he faced jail following a drug conviction, Bruce wrote a letter to his father.

(Source: Ladies and Gentlemen, Lenny Bruce!!; Image: Lenny Bruce, via.)

Dear Father,

This is the story of a boy and his father who spoiled him. He would want a bike, and his father would bring him one home: and if it wasn't to the boy's liking, he would throw it down on the ground and say, "I don't want that cheap old bike." And he would kick its spokes and jump on it: and the poor father would say, "Alright, my son, I'll work 24 hours a day and get you a nicer one." The more the son got, the more vicious he got. He ate the father's deserts and took the only pillow. When he got older, he had no more money, and he spent his last pension penny making a birthday party for the son. It was a lovely party with cake and everything; and as the son spit out the cake on the floor, he said, "I'm not eating this cheap crap!" And he ran out and slammed the door on his father's head. He started to rob banks and gas stations to get what he wanted; and finally he killed somebody and was on the way to the electric chair. On the way to the chair, the poor father was standing and crying: "Oh, my son! My son! Where have I failed you?" And the son said, "Come here father. I want to whisper something to you." The old man leaned to the son to listen and the son bit his ear off. I'm going to jail tomorrow because you spoiled me.

I love you,


Friday, 10 August 2012

What did you say? I can't hear you…

On June 10th of 1967, Spencer Tracy — a Hollywood star who was nominated for nine Best Actor Oscars during his career, two of which he won — passed away after suffering a heart attack at the home he shared with his partner, Katharine Hepburn. Eighteen years later, Hepburn wrote him a letter.

The clip above shows Katharine Hepburn reading that letter in the 1986 documentary, The Spencer Tracy Legacy. The text below, which differs very slightly, is exactly as printed in Hepburn's 1991 autobiography, Me: Stories of My Life.

(Source: Me: Stories of My Life; Huge thanks to Nichole Hughes.)

Dear Spence,

Who ever thought that I'd be writing you a letter. You died on the 10th of June in 1967. My golly, Spence, that's twenty-four years ago. That's a long time. Are you happy finally? Is it a nice long rest you're having? Making up for all your tossing and turning in life. You know, I never believed you when you said that you just couldn't get to sleep. I thought, Oh—come on—you sleep—if you didn't sleep you'd be dead. You'd be so worn out. Then remember that night when—oh, I don't know, you felt so disturbed. And I said, Well, go on in—go to bed. And I'll lie on the floor and talk you to sleep. I'll just talk and talk and you'll be so bored, you're bound to drift off.

Well, I went in and got an old pillow and Lobo the dog. I lay there watching you and stroking Old Dog. I was talking about you and the movie we'd just finished—Guess Who's Coming to Dinner—and my studio and your new tweed coat and the garden and all the nice sleep-making topics and cooking and dull gossip, but you never stopped tossing—to the right, to the left—shove the pillows—pull the covers—on and on and on. Finally—really finally—not just then—you quieted down. I waited a while—and then I crept out.

You told me the truth, didn't you? You really could not sleep.

And I used to wonder then—why? I still wonder. You took the pills. They were quite strong. I suppose you have to say that otherwise you would never have slept at all. Living wasn't easy for you, was it?

What did you like to do? You loved sailing, especially in stormy weather. You loved polo. But then Will Rogers was killed in that airplane accident. And you never played polo again—never again. Tennis, golf, no, not really. You'd bat a few balls. Fair you were. I don't think that you ever swang a golf club. Is "swang" a word? Swimming? Well, you didn't like cold water. And walking? No, that didn't suit you. That was one of those things where you could think at the same time—of this, of that, of what, Spence? What was it? Was it some specific life thing like Johnny being deaf, or being a Catholic and you felt a bad Catholic? No comfort, no comfort. I remember Father Ciklic telling you that you concentrated on all the bad and none of the good which your religion offered. It must have been something very fundamental and very ever-present.

And the incredible fact. There you were—really the greatest movie actor. I say this because I believe it and also I have heard many people of standing in your business say it. From Olivier to Lee Strasberg to David Lean. You name it. You could do it. And you could do it with that glorious simplicity and directness: you could just do it. You couldn't enter your own life, but you could become someone else. You were a killer, a priest, a fisherman, a sportswriter, a judge, a newspaperman. You were it in an instant.

You hardly had to study. You learned the lines in no time. What a relief! You could be someone else for a while. You weren't you—you were safe. You loved to laugh, didn't you? You never missed those individual comics: Jimmy Durante, Phil Silvers, Fanny Brice, Frank McHugh, Mickey Rooney, Jack Benny, Burns and Allen, Smith and Dale, and your favorite, Bert Williams. Funny stories: you could tell them—and brilliantly. You could laugh at yourself. You enjoyed very much the friendship and admiration of people like the Kanins, Frank Sinatra, Bogie and Betty, George Cukor, Vic Flemming, Stanley Kramer, the Kennedys, Harry Truman, Lew Douglas. You were fun with them, you had fun with them, you felt safe with them.

But then back to life's trials. Oh hell, take a drink—no-yes-maybe. Then stop taking the drink. You were great at that, Spence. You could just stop. How I respected you for that. Very unusual.

Well, you said on this subject: never safe until you're seven feet underground. But why the escape hatch? Why was it always opened—to get away from the remarkable you?

What was it, Spence? I meant to ask you. Did you know what it was?

What did you say? I can't hear you…

Thursday, 9 August 2012

You are not so kind as you used to be

It's difficult to imagine the stress experienced by Winston Churchill in June of 1940, as WWII gathered pace just a couple of months after he first became Prime Minister. Behind the scenes, however, the weight on his shoulders was noticed and felt by all those around him — so much so that on the 27th of the month, his wife, Clementine, wrote him the following superb letter and essentially advised him to calm down and be kind to his staff.

Note: "On ne règne sur les âmes que par le calme" roughly translates as, "One can reign over hearts only by keeping one's composure."

(Source: Winston and Clementine: The Personal Letters of the Churchills, via Mark Anderson; Image: The Churchills, via.)

10 Downing Street,

June 27, 1940

My Darling,

I hope you will forgive me if I tell you something that I feel you ought to know.

One of the men in your entourage (a devoted friend) has been to me & told me that there is a danger of your being generally disliked by your colleagues and subordinates because of your rough sarcastic & overbearing manner — It seems your Private Secretaries have agreed to behave like school boys & 'take what's coming to them' & then escape out of your presence shrugging their shoulders — Higher up, if an idea is suggested (say at a conference) you are supposed to be so contemptuous that presently no ideas, good or bad, will be forthcoming. I was astonished & upset because in all these years I have been accustomed to all those who have worked with & under you, loving you — I said this & I was told 'No doubt it's the strain' —

My Darling Winston — I must confess that I have noticed a deterioration in your manner; & you are not so kind as you used to be.

It is for you to give the Orders & if they are bungled — except for the King, the Archbishop of Canterbury & the Speaker, you can sack anyone & everyone — Therefore with this terrific power you must combine urbanity, kindness and if possible Olympic calm. You used to quote:— 'On ne règne sur les âmes que par le calme' — I cannot bear that those who serve the Country and yourself should not love as well as admire and respect you —

Besides you won't get the best results by irascibility & rudeness. They will breed either dislike or a slave mentality — (Rebellion in War time being out of the question!)

Please forgive your loving devoted & watchful

I wrote this at Chequers last Sunday, tore it up, but here it is now.

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Dear All

A few days ago I came to the conclusion that far too few of the letters on this website are written by women.  A quick look at the all-time most popular posts, over there, on the right, illustrates the point perfectly: of the 32 listed, just one of them — this beautiful one, by Laura Huxley — was crafted by a lady. This isn't because women don't write noteworthy letters; it's because, for some reason or other, I've featured far more correspondence from men. It's a frustrating situation. Clearly I'm looking in the wrong places, reading the wrong books, and speaking to the wrong people.

I really want to redress the balance and would love for you to help, as thousands of fresh eyes are better than two groggy ones. So, consider this a submissions drive. If you know of any interesting letters, by women — or girls for that matter — that haven't yet featured on the site, please let me know; famous or otherwise. The letters' writers can be from any walk of life: businesswomen, chefs, dancers, doctors, actresses, teachers, criminals, artists, mothers, daughters... the letters themselves must simply be notable and have the power to provoke an emotional response from you, the reader. Even if you've only heard of a particular letter and haven't yet read it, get in touch and I'll do my best to track it down. 

Send any suggestions to and I'll get back to you as soon as I can.

The aim, with your help, is to see at least a dozen women's letters in that "Most Read" list by the end of the year. I know there are plenty out there. 

Huge thanks,


Tuesday, 7 August 2012

You crack dealing piece of trash

When, in 2007, Cleveland councillor Michael Polensek heard that local 18-year-old constituent Arsenio Winston had been arrested for selling crack cocaine to an undercover officer, he went straight for the jugular and wrote him the following furious letter — a letter which soon made far more headlines than the crime itself due to Polensek's complete lack of tact. As for Winston, a subsequent guilty plea saw him serve five months. Polensek, when later asked about the letter, replied, "Hell, I write those kind of notes twice a week."

His prediction was accurate. In March of 2009, Arsenio Winston was jailed again, but this time for 11 years following a series of armed robberies.

Transcript follows.

(Source:; Image: Michael Polensek, via.)

City of Cleveland
Legislative Department

July 12, 2007

Mr. Arsenio Winston
[Address redacted]

Dear Mr. Winston:

As Councilman representing Cleveland's 11th Ward, I have been notified once again that you have been arrested for dealing drugs in my ward, this time at the Convenient Food Mart located at 18506 St Clair Avenue in the parking lot.

Mr. Winston, you have to be "dumber than mud." Don't you know that one of your so-called "friends" from the "8th-Avenue gang" ratted your "ass" out that you were dealing drugs from the parking lot? They cut a deal. So much for your wonderful pals, you idiot. I am so glad that you are now 18 years of age, because now you are an adult and can no longer hide behind the juvenile court system, Mr. Quarterback, loser. Remember when you told me to "kiss your black ass" at R.J. Taylor Playground and that you were going to be an NFL Quarterback? Well, the NFL, despite perceptions, is "not for losers!"

In closing, I told you just recently to stay out of my neighborhood, you crack dealing piece of trash. Yet, you keep coming back because you think you are a big man. Well, real men go to school or to work every day and take care of their family, and not through illegal drug activity. You are a "thug" and you know what? There are only two places you will end up at the rate you are going — that is, prison or the nearest funeral home. Quite frankly, I don't care which one you get to first as long as your dumb stupid ass is out of my neighborhood.

Have a wonderful life, Arsenio. I'm sure you have made your mother real proud. Remember when I spoke to her one of the other times that you were arrested for assaulting a police officer on East 185th Street? Only a moron would do that. Your fate is totally in your hands; which, is a scary thought.

Go to jail or the cemetery soon,


Michael D. Polensek
Councilman, Ward 11


Mr. Martin Flask, Director, Department of Public Safety
Chief Michael McGrath, Chief of Police
Commander Wayne Drummond, 6th District Police Headquarters
Mr. Phillip Morris, Plain Dealer

Monday, 6 August 2012

Why Explore Space?

In 1970, a Zambia-based nun named Sister Mary Jucunda wrote to Dr. Ernst Stuhlinger, then-associate director of science at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center, in response to his ongoing research into a piloted mission to Mars. Specifically, she asked how he could suggest spending billions of dollars on such a project at a time when so many children were starving on Earth.

Stuhlinger soon sent the following letter of explanation to Sister Jucunda, along with a copy of "Earthrise," the iconic photograph of Earth taken in 1968 by astronaut William Anders, from the Moon (also embedded in the transcript). His thoughtful reply was later published by NASA, and titled, "Why Explore Space?"

(Source: Roger Launius, via Gavin Williams; Photo above: The surface of Mars, taken by Curiosity today, August 6th, 2012. Via NASA.)

May 6, 1970

Dear Sister Mary Jucunda:

Your letter was one of many which are reaching me every day, but it has touched me more deeply than all the others because it came so much from the depths of a searching mind and a compassionate heart. I will try to answer your question as best as I possibly can.

First, however, I would like to express my great admiration for you, and for all your many brave sisters, because you are dedicating your lives to the noblest cause of man: help for his fellowmen who are in need.

You asked in your letter how I could suggest the expenditures of billions of dollars for a voyage to Mars, at a time when many children on this Earth are starving to death. I know that you do not expect an answer such as "Oh, I did not know that there are children dying from hunger, but from now on I will desist from any kind of space research until mankind has solved that problem!" In fact, I have known of famined children long before I knew that a voyage to the planet Mars is technically feasible. However, I believe, like many of my friends, that travelling to the Moon and eventually to Mars and to other planets is a venture which we should undertake now, and I even believe that this project, in the long run, will contribute more to the solution of these grave problems we are facing here on Earth than many other potential projects of help which are debated and discussed year after year, and which are so extremely slow in yielding tangible results.

Before trying to describe in more detail how our space program is contributing to the solution of our Earthly problems, I would like to relate briefly a supposedly true story, which may help support the argument. About 400 years ago, there lived a count in a small town in Germany. He was one of the benign counts, and he gave a large part of his income to the poor in his town. This was much appreciated, because poverty was abundant during medieval times, and there were epidemics of the plague which ravaged the country frequently. One day, the count met a strange man. He had a workbench and little laboratory in his house, and he labored hard during the daytime so that he could afford a few hours every evening to work in his laboratory. He ground small lenses from pieces of glass; he mounted the lenses in tubes, and he used these gadgets to look at very small objects. The count was particularly fascinated by the tiny creatures that could be observed with the strong magnification, and which he had never seen before. He invited the man to move with his laboratory to the castle, to become a member of the count's household, and to devote henceforth all his time to the development and perfection of his optical gadgets as a special employee of the count.

The townspeople, however, became angry when they realized that the count was wasting his money, as they thought, on a stunt without purpose. "We are suffering from this plague," they said, "while he is paying that man for a useless hobby!" But the count remained firm. "I give you as much as I can afford," he said, "but I will also support this man and his work, because I know that someday something will come out of it!"

Indeed, something very good came out of this work, and also out of similar work done by others at other places: the microscope. It is well known that the microscope has contributed more than any other invention to the progress of medicine, and that the elimination of the plague and many other contagious diseases from most parts of the world is largely a result of studies which the microscope made possible.

The count, by retaining some of his spending money for research and discovery, contributed far more to the relief of human suffering than he could have contributed by giving all he could possibly spare to his plague-ridden community.

The situation which we are facing today is similar in many respects. The President of the United States is spending about 200 billion dollars in his yearly budget. This money goes to health, education, welfare, urban renewal, highways, transportation, foreign aid, defense, conservation, science, agriculture and many installations inside and outside the country. About 1.6 percent of this national budget was allocated to space exploration this year. The space program includes Project Apollo, and many other smaller projects in space physics, space astronomy, space biology, planetary projects, Earth resources projects, and space engineering. To make this expenditure for the space program possible, the average American taxpayer with 10,000 dollars income per year is paying about 30 tax dollars for space. The rest of his income, 9,970 dollars, remains for his subsistence, his recreation, his savings, his other taxes, and all his other expenditures.

You will probably ask now: "Why don't you take 5 or 3 or 1 dollar out of the 30 space dollars which the average American taxpayer is paying, and send these dollars to the hungry children?" To answer this question, I have to explain briefly how the economy of this country works. The situation is very similar in other countries. The government consists of a number of departments (Interior, Justice, Health, Education and Welfare, Transportation, Defense, and others) and the bureaus (National Science Foundation, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and others). All of them prepare their yearly budgets according to their assigned missions, and each of them must defend its budget against extremely severe screening by congressional committees, and against heavy pressure for economy from the Bureau of the Budget and the President. When the funds are finally appropriated by Congress, they can be spent only for the line items specified and approved in the budget.

The budget of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, naturally, can contain only items directly related to aeronautics and space. If this budget were not approved by Congress, the funds proposed for it would not be available for something else; they would simply not be levied from the taxpayer, unless one of the other budgets had obtained approval for a specific increase which would then absorb the funds not spent for space. You realize from this brief discourse that support for hungry children, or rather a support in addition to what the United States is already contributing to this very worthy cause in the form of foreign aid, can be obtained only if the appropriate department submits a budget line item for this purpose, and if this line item is then approved by Congress.

You may ask now whether I personally would be in favor of such a move by our government. My answer is an emphatic yes. Indeed, I would not mind at all if my annual taxes were increased by a number of dollars for the purpose of feeding hungry children, wherever they may live.

I know that all of my friends feel the same way. However, we could not bring such a program to life merely by desisting from making plans for voyages to Mars. On the contrary, I even believe that by working for the space program I can make some contribution to the relief and eventual solution of such grave problems as poverty and hunger on Earth. Basic to the hunger problem are two functions: the production of food and the distribution of food. Food production by agriculture, cattle ranching, ocean fishing and other large-scale operations is efficient in some parts of the world, but drastically deficient in many others. For example, large areas of land could be utilized far better if efficient methods of watershed control, fertilizer use, weather forecasting, fertility assessment, plantation programming, field selection, planting habits, timing of cultivation, crop survey and harvest planning were applied.

The best tool for the improvement of all these functions, undoubtedly, is the artificial Earth satellite. Circling the globe at a high altitude, it can screen wide areas of land within a short time; it can observe and measure a large variety of factors indicating the status and condition of crops, soil, droughts, rainfall, snow cover, etc., and it can radio this information to ground stations for appropriate use. It has been estimated that even a modest system of Earth satellites equipped with Earth resources, sensors, working within a program for worldwide agricultural improvements, will increase the yearly crops by an equivalent of many billions of dollars.

The distribution of the food to the needy is a completely different problem. The question is not so much one of shipping volume, it is one of international cooperation. The ruler of a small nation may feel very uneasy about the prospect of having large quantities of food shipped into his country by a large nation, simply because he fears that along with the food there may also be an import of influence and foreign power. Efficient relief from hunger, I am afraid, will not come before the boundaries between nations have become less divisive than they are today. I do not believe that space flight will accomplish this miracle over night. However, the space program is certainly among the most promising and powerful agents working in this direction.

Let me only remind you of the recent near-tragedy of Apollo 13. When the time of the crucial reentry of the astronauts approached, the Soviet Union discontinued all Russian radio transmissions in the frequency bands used by the Apollo Project in order to avoid any possible interference, and Russian ships stationed themselves in the Pacific and the Atlantic Oceans in case an emergency rescue would become necessary. Had the astronaut capsule touched down near a Russian ship, the Russians would undoubtedly have expended as much care and effort in their rescue as if Russian cosmonauts had returned from a space trip. If Russian space travelers should ever be in a similar emergency situation, Americans would do the same without any doubt.

Higher food production through survey and assessment from orbit, and better food distribution through improved international relations, are only two examples of how profoundly the space program will impact life on Earth. I would like to quote two other examples: stimulation of technological development, and generation of scientific knowledge.

The requirements for high precision and for extreme reliability which must be imposed upon the components of a moon-travelling spacecraft are entirely unprecedented in the history of engineering. The development of systems which meet these severe requirements has provided us a unique opportunity to find new material and methods, to invent better technical systems, to manufacturing procedures, to lengthen the lifetimes of instruments, and even to discover new laws of nature.

All this newly acquired technical knowledge is also available for application to Earth-bound technologies. Every year, about a thousand technical innovations generated in the space program find their ways into our Earthly technology where they lead to better kitchen appliances and farm equipment, better sewing machines and radios, better ships and airplanes, better weather forecasting and storm warning, better communications, better medical instruments, better utensils and tools for everyday life. Presumably, you will ask now why we must develop first a life support system for our moon-travelling astronauts, before we can build a remote-reading sensor system for heart patients. The answer is simple: significant progress in the solutions of technical problems is frequently made not by a direct approach, but by first setting a goal of high challenge which offers a strong motivation for innovative work, which fires the imagination and spurs men to expend their best efforts, and which acts as a catalyst by including chains of other reactions.

Spaceflight without any doubt is playing exactly this role. The voyage to Mars will certainly not be a direct source of food for the hungry. However, it will lead to so many new technologies and capabilities that the spin-offs from this project alone will be worth many times the cost of its implementation.

Besides the need for new technologies, there is a continuing great need for new basic knowledge in the sciences if we wish to improve the conditions of human life on Earth. We need more knowledge in physics and chemistry, in biology and physiology, and very particularly in medicine to cope with all these problems which threaten man's life: hunger, disease, contamination of food and water, pollution of the environment.

We need more young men and women who choose science as a career and we need better support for those scientists who have the talent and the determination to engage in fruitful research work. Challenging research objectives must be available, and sufficient support for research projects must be provided. Again, the space program with its wonderful opportunities to engage in truly magnificent research studies of moons and planets, of physics and astronomy, of biology and medicine is an almost ideal catalyst which induces the reaction between the motivation for scientific work, opportunities to observe exciting phenomena of nature, and material support needed to carry out the research effort.

Among all the activities which are directed, controlled, and funded by the American government, the space program is certainly the most visible and probably the most debated activity, although it consumes only 1.6 percent of the total national budget, and 3 per mille (less than one-third of 1 percent) of the gross national product. As a stimulant and catalyst for the development of new technologies, and for research in the basic sciences, it is unparalleled by any other activity. In this respect, we may even say that the space program is taking over a function which for three or four thousand years has been the sad prerogative of wars.

How much human suffering can be avoided if nations, instead of competing with their bomb-dropping fleets of airplanes and rockets, compete with their moon-travelling space ships! This competition is full of promise for brilliant victories, but it leaves no room for the bitter fate of the vanquished, which breeds nothing but revenge and new wars.

Although our space program seems to lead us away from our Earth and out toward the moon, the sun, the planets, and the stars, I believe that none of these celestial objects will find as much attention and study by space scientists as our Earth. It will become a better Earth, not only because of all the new technological and scientific knowledge which we will apply to the betterment of life, but also because we are developing a far deeper appreciation of our Earth, of life, and of man.

The photograph which I enclose with this letter shows a view of our Earth as seen from Apollo 8 when it orbited the moon at Christmas, 1968. Of all the many wonderful results of the space program so far, this picture may be the most important one. It opened our eyes to the fact that our Earth is a beautiful and most precious island in an unlimited void, and that there is no other place for us to live but the thin surface layer of our planet, bordered by the bleak nothingness of space. Never before did so many people recognize how limited our Earth really is, and how perilous it would be to tamper with its ecological balance. Ever since this picture was first published, voices have become louder and louder warning of the grave problems that confront man in our times: pollution, hunger, poverty, urban living, food production, water control, overpopulation. It is certainly not by accident that we begin to see the tremendous tasks waiting for us at a time when the young space age has provided us the first good look at our own planet.

Very fortunately though, the space age not only holds out a mirror in which we can see ourselves, it also provides us with the technologies, the challenge, the motivation, and even with the optimism to attack these tasks with confidence. What we learn in our space program, I believe, is fully supporting what Albert Schweitzer had in mind when he said: "I am looking at the future with concern, but with good hope."

My very best wishes will always be with you, and with your children.

Very sincerely yours,

Ernst Stuhlinger

Associate Director for Science

Friday, 3 August 2012

The Great Sex Letter

On March 7th of 1947, a drunken Neal Cassady — the man on whom Dean Moriarty in On the Road would later be based — wrote the following letter to his friend, Jack Kerouac, and described two recent sexual encounters. Cassady's uninhibited, free-flowing prose was a huge influence on Kerouac's writing and this letter in particular caught his imagination. After passing it around his circle of friends and singing its praises, Kerouac later dubbed it, the "Great Sex Letter."

(Source: The First Third; Image: Neal Cassady & Jack Kerouac in 1952, via.)

March 7, 1947

Dear Jack:

I am sitting in a bar on Market St. I'm drunk, well, not quite, but I soon will be. I am here for 2 reasons; I must wait 5 hours for the bus to Denver & lastly but, most importantly, I'm here (drinking) because, of course, because of a woman & what a woman! To be chronological about it:

I was sitting on the bus when it took on more passengers at Indianapolis, Indiana – a perfectly proportioned beautiful, intellectual, passionate, personification of Venus De Milo asked me if the seat beside me was taken!!! I gulped, (I'm drunk) gargled & stammered NO! (Paradox of expression, after all, how can one stammer No!!?) She sat – I sweated – She started to speak, I knew it would be generalities, so to tempt her I remained silent.

She (her name Patricia) got on the bus at 8 PM (Dark!) I didn't speak until 10 PM – in the intervening 2 hours I not only of course, determined to make her, but, how to DO IT.

I naturally can't quote the conversation verbally, however, I shall attempt to give you the gist of it from 10 PM to 2 AM.

Without the slightest preliminaries of objective remarks (what's your name? where are you going? etc.) I plunged into a completely knowing, completely subjective, personal & so to speak "penetrating her core" way of speech; to be shorter (since I'm getting unable to write) by 2 AM I had her swearing eternal love, complete subjectivity to me & immediate satisfaction. I, anticipating even more pleasure, wouldn't allow her to blow me on the bus, instead we played, as they say, with each other.

Knowing her supremely perfect being was completely mine (when I'm more coherent, I'll tell you her complete history & psychological reason for loving me) I could concieve of no obstacle to my satisfaction, well, "the best laid plans of mice & men go astray" and my nemesis was her sister, the bitch.

Pat had told me her reason for going to St. Louis was to see her sister; she had wired her to meet her at the depot. So, to get rid of the sister, we peeked around the depot when we arrived at St. Louis at 4 AM to see if she (her sister) was present. If not, Pat would claim her suitcase, change clothes in the rest room & she and I proceed to a hotel room for a night (years?) of perfect bliss. The sister was not in sight, so She (note the capital) claimed her bag & retired to the toilet to change ––– long dash –––

This next paragraph must, of necessity, be written completely objectively ––

Edith (her sister) & Patricia (my love) walked out of the pisshouse hand in hand (I shan't describe my emotions). It seems Edith (bah) arrived at the bus depot early & while waiting for Patricia, feeling sleepy, retired to the head to sleep on a sofa. That's why Pat & I didn't see her.

My desperate efforts to free Pat from Edith failed, even Pat's terror & slave-like feeling toward her rebelled enough to state she must see "someone" & would meet Edith later, all failed. Edith was wise; she saw what was happening between Pat & I.

Well, to summarize: Pat & I stood in the depot (in plain sight of the sister) & pushing up to one another, vowed to never love again & then I took the bus to Kansas City & Pat went home, meekly, with her dominating sister. Alas, alas –––

In complete (try & share my feeling) dejection, I sat, as the bus progressed toward Kansas City. At Columbia, Mo. a young (19) completely passive (my meat) virgin got on & shared my seat ... In my dejection over losing Pat, the perfect, I decided to sit on the bus (behind the driver) in broad daylight & seduce her, from 10:30 AM to 2:30 PM I talked. When I was done, she (confused, her entire life upset, metaphysically amazed at me, passionate in her immaturity) called her folks in Kansas City, & went with me to a park (it was just getting dark) & I banged her; I screwed her as never before; all my pent up emotion finding release in this young virgin (& she was) who is, by the way, a school teacher! Imagine, she's had 2 years of Mo. St. Teacher's College & now teaches Jr. High School. (I'm beyond thinking straightly).

I'm going to stop writing. Oh, yes, to free myself for a moment from my emotions, you must read "Dead Souls" parts of it (in which Gogol shows his insight) are quite like you.

I'll elaborate further later (probably?) but at the moment I'm drunk and happy (after all, I'm free of Patricia already, due to the young virgin. I have no name for her. At the happy note of Les Young's "jumping at Mesners" (which I'm hearing) I close till later.

To my Brother
Carry On!
N.L. Cassady

P.S. I forgot to mention Patricia's parents live in Ozone Park & of course, Lague being her last name, she's French Canadian just as you.

I'll write soon,

P.P.S. Please read this illegible letter as a continuous chain of undisciplined thought, thank you.


P.P.P.S. Postponed, postponed, postponed script, keep working hard, finish your novel & find, thru knowledge, strength in solitude instead of despair. Incidentally I'm starting on a novel also, "believe it or not". Goodbye.

Thursday, 2 August 2012

This is my last visit

In 1966, a few months after first being serialised in The New Yorker, Truman Capote's genre-defining non-fiction novel, In Cold Blood, the true story of a quadruple murder in 1959 that Capote investigated and the subsequent trial he attended, was published to huge acclaim. Capote’s book was a sensation and is still one of the most successful true crime titles of all time, but the praise wasn't universal. In July of 1970, fellow author William Burroughs--someone with whom Capote had long had a mutually disapproving relationship from afar--wrote this damning letter to Capote and warned him that his time in the spotlight was up.

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

July 23, 1970

My Dear Mr. Truman Capote

This is not a fan letter in the usual sense — unless you refer to ceiling fans in Panama. Rather call this a letter from "the reader" — vital statistics are not in capital letters — a selection from marginal notes on material submitted as all "writing" is submitted to this department. I have followed your literary development from its inception, conducting on behalf of the department I represent a series of inquiries as exhaustive as your own recent investigations in the sun flower state. I have interviewed all your characters beginning with Miriam — in her case withholding sugar over a period of several days proved sufficient inducement to render her quite communicative — I prefer to have all the facts at my disposal before taking action. Needless to say, I have read the recent exchange of genialities between Mr Kenneth Tynan and yourself. I feel that he was much too lenient. Your recent appearance before a senatorial committee on which occasion you spoke in favor of continuing the present police practice of extracting confessions by denying the accused the right of consulting consul prior to making a statement also came to my attention. In effect you were speaking in approval of standard police procedure: obtaining statements through brutality and duress, whereas an intelligent police force would rely on evidence rather than enforced confessions. You further cheapened yourself by reiterating the banal argument that echoes through letters to the editor whenever the issue of capital punishment is raised: "Why all this sympathy for the murderer and none for his innocent victims?" I have in line of duty read all your published work. The early work was in some respects promising — I refer particularly to the short stories. You were granted an area for psychic development. It seemed for a while as if you would make good use of this grant. You choose instead to sell out a talent that is not yours to sell. You have written a dull unreadable book which could have been written by any staff writer on the New Yorker — (an undercover reactionary periodical dedicated to the interests of vested American wealth). You have placed your services at the disposal of interests who are turning America into a police state by the simple device of deliberately fostering the conditions that give rise to criminality and then demanding increased police powers and the retention of capital punishment to deal with the situation they have created. You have betrayed and sold out the talent that was granted you by this department. That talent is now officially withdrawn. Enjoy your dirty money. You will never have anything else. You will never write another sentence above the level of In Cold Blood. As a writer you are finished. Over and out. Are you tracking me? Know who I am? You know me, Truman. You have known me for a long time. This is my last visit.

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

To Hell with Hitler

In 1940, a year after fleeing Nazi Germany and setting up home in New York, the writer of the following letter attempted to enlist with the U.S. Armed Forces; however, his application was denied for one incredible reason: his uncle was Adolf Hitler. He wasn't deterred, and two years later, a few months after his uncle had declared war on the U.S., William Patrick Hitler (pictured above) tried again to register for military service by way of the fascinating letter below, sent directly to the U.S. President. It was quickly passed on to the FBI's director, J. Edgar Hoover, who then investigated Hitler's nephew and eventually cleared him for service.

William Patrick Hitler joined the U.S. Navy in 1944, and was discharged in 1947 after being injured in service. He passed away 40 years later, in New York.

(Source: War Letters; Image: William Patrick Hitler, via.)

March 3rd, 1942.
His Excellency Franklin D. Roosevelt.,
President of the United States of America.
The White House.,
Washington. D.C.

Dear Mr. President:

May I take the liberty of encroaching on your valuable time and that of your staff at the White House? Mindful of the critical days the nation is now passing through, I do so only because the prerogative of your high office alone can decide my difficult and singular situation.

Permit me to outline as briefly as possible the circumstances of my position, the solution of which I feel could so easily be achieved should you feel moved to give your kind intercession and decision.

I am the nephew and only descendant of the ill-famed Chancellor and Leader of Germany who today so despotically seeks to enslave the free and Christian peoples of the globe.

Under your masterful leadership men of all creeds and nationalities are waging desperate war to determine, in the last analysis, whether they shall finally serve and live an ethical society under God or become enslaved by a devilish and pagan regime.

Everybody in the world today must answer to himself which cause they will serve. To free people of deep religious feeling there can be but one answer and one choice, that will sustain them always and to the bitter end.

I am one of many, but I can render service to this great cause and I have a life to give that it may, with the help of all, triumph in the end.

All my relatives and friends soon will be marching for freedom and decency under the Stars and Stripes. For this reason, Mr. President, I am respectfully submitting this petition to you to enquire as to whether I may be allowed to join them in their struggle against tyranny and oppression?

At present this is denied me because when I fled the Reich in 1939 I was a British subject. I came to America with my Irish mother principally to rejoin my relatives here. At the same time I was offered a contract to write and lecture in the United States, the pressure of which did not allow me the time to apply for admission under the quota. I had therefore, to come as a visitor.

I have attempted to join the British forces, but my success as a lecturer made me probably one of the best attended political speakers, with police frequently having to control the crowds clamouring for admission in Boston, Chicago and other cities. This elicited from British officials the rather negative invitation to carry on.

The British are an insular people and while they are kind and courteous, it is my impression, rightly or wrongly, that they could not in the long run feel overly cordial or sympathetic towards an individual bearing the name I do. The great expense the English legal procedure demands in changing my name, is only a possible solution not within my financial means. At the same time I have not been successful in determining whether the Canadian Army would facilitate my entrance into the armed forces. As things are at the present and lacking any official guidance, I find that to attempt to enlist as a nephew of Hitler is something that requires a strange sort of courage that I am unable to muster, bereft as I am of any classification or official support from any quarter.

As to my integrity, Mr. President, I can only say that it is a matter of record and it compares somewhat to the foresighted spirit with which you, by every ingenuity known to statecraft, wrested from the American Congress those weapons which are today the Nation's great defense in this crisis. I can also reflect that in a time of great complacency and ignorance I tried to do those things which as a Christian I knew to be right. As a fugitive from the Gestapo I warned France through the press that Hitler would invade her that year. The people of England I warned by the same means that the so-called "solution" of Munich was a myth that would bring terrible consequences. On my arrival in America I at once informed the press that Hitler would loose his Frankenstein on civilization that year. Although nobody paid any attention to what I said, I continued to lecture and write in America. Now the time for writing and talking has passed and I am mindful only of the great debt my mother and I owe to the United States. More than anything else I would like to see active combat as soon as possible and thereby be accepted by my friends and comrades as one of them in this great struggle for liberty.

Your favorable decision on my appeal alone would ensure that continued benevolent spirit on the part of the American people, which today I feel so much a part of. I most respectfully assure you, Mr. President, that as in the past I would do my utmost in the future to be worthy of the great honour I am seeking through your kind aid, in the sure knowledge that my endeavors on behalf of the great principles of Democracy will at least bear favourable comparison to the activities of many individuals who for so long have been unworthy of the fine privilege of calling themselves Americans. May I therefore venture to hope, Mr. President, that in the turmoil of this vast conflict you will not be moved to reject my appeal for reasons which I am in no way responsible?

For me today there could be no greater honour, Mr. President, to have lived and to have been allowed to serve you, the deliverer of the American people from want, and no greater privelege then to have striven and had a small part in establishing the title you once will bear in posterity as the greatest Emancipator of suffering mankind in political history.

I would be most happy to give any additional information that might be required and I take the liberty of enclosing a circular containing details about myself.

Permit me, Mr. President, to express my heartfelt good wishes for your future health and happiness, coupled with the hope that you may soon lead all men who believe in decencey everywhere onward and upward to a glorious victory.

I am,
Very respectfully yours,
Patrick Hitler