Saturday, April 16, 2022

The Timelessness of 80 Days

It’s about time. 

For the amount of TV watching that’s in my daily diet, I omit most of the popular stuff and latch on to only a show or two every other year or so. And by “latch on,” I mean buy the DVDs and watch on endless repeat. 

A half a dozen years ago, I did this with the NBC time-travel series Timeless, patiently waiting for the network to make up its mind (bow to fans’ demand?) and order a second season. The second season slipped more into soap opera territory but ended with a perfectly executed cliff hanger that required the network to at least order a two-hour special Christmas finale. Which added a tiny cliff hanger of its own. Fans always live in hope of a sequel.

Timeless intrepids: Lucy Preston, Rufus Carlin, Wyatt Logan
(Abigail Spencer, Malcolm Barrett, Matt Lanter)

Then there was nothing good on. I admit to getting hooked on the so-called Jane Austen Sanditon adaptation on PBS, once I let go of the idea it had anything to do with Jane Austen. So, not an adaptation, but good 19th century soap opera.

Finally my post-Timeless depression was alleviated with another liberally adapted classic, Around the World in 80 Days. Not time travel, strictly speaking, but travel adventure heavily influenced by time and the urgency of an ever-pulsing clock.

Do the Clockblockers hear a hint here? Good. Because the eight-episode adventure of 80 Days filled my wish for a third season of Timeless

80 Days intrepids: Abigail Fix, Passepartout, Phileas Fogg
(Leonie Benesch, Ibrahim Koma, David Tennant)

I don’t want to say there are no new ideas, but the structural similarities of the two shows are worth noting. The principal characters are a trio of mismatched strangers who undertake the voyage for different reasons. Thrown into unknown worlds with unforeseen dangers (and unsuspected antagonists), they come to rely on each other’s unique capabilities and resources. 

At some point, each of the three partners is manipulated to betray the other two. Anger and regret ensue, trust is restored. There are lost loves and new love interests—some conventional, others not so much. At the core of it all, though, is friendship.

The nexus of the Timeless80 Days connection is the shared character of legendary lawman Bass Reeves (aka The Lone Ranger). “The Lone Ranger was black? That is awesome!” as Timeless’s Rufus (Malcolm Barrett) put it. (The 80 Days characters, of course, do not make a connection to The Lone Ranger since their story predates the fictional character by half a century.)

As Bass Reeves: Timeless (Colman Domingo), 80 Days (Gary Beadle) 

Joining the lawman in the center of the Venn diagram are the bad guy being brought to justice, an independent woman living in the old West on her own terms, and the female member of our heroic trio shooting the bad guy and saving the others.

Tough chicks of the old West: Timeless (Anne Wersching), 80 Days (Elena Saurel)

The aesthetics of Timeless and Around the World in 80 Days are very different, but both visually and musically arresting. There is violence in both series, but it’s more of a thing in the commercial network program versus the PBS Masterpiece Theatre offering. 

Finally, there’s the technological advancements thing. In Timeless, the dangerous machine has already been unleashed, pushing the narrative along for restoring order, while in 80 Days, the technologies are being invented and tested, pushing the narrative along toward progress against the will of the old order. In the end, both are about ensuring a better future. 

Around the World in 80 Days

IMDb links:

Around the World in 80 Days (2021 TV series, aired on PBS 2022)

Timeless (2016-2019 NBC TV series, two seasons and finale)


Friday, December 31, 2021

Reading 2021: A Lotta Books and a Little Sky

 Unlike other end-of-year book lists, this isn’t a list of favorites published during the previous year. This is just me going through what’s been on my bookshelves for a long time (recommended unit of measure: decades). 

An exception to that general principle is Kazuo Ishiguro’s 2021 novel, Klara and the Sun, read within two days of receipt and highly, highly recommended.

As I did last year, I mixed classic and not-so-classic fiction, nonfiction, plays, poetry, humor, short, long, and interstitial magazine articles (New Yorker, mostly; Smithsonian continues to neglect art and art history). Once again, my goal was to finish everything I started, even if I didn’t like it much. There’s something to be said for reading what someone took the trouble to write. Karma, or something. 

My 2021 reading list, in somewhat chronological and/or thematic order:

  • The Iliad, Homer. Mythology. A Victorian-era prose translation.
  • The Odyssey, Homer. Mythology. Same, but read a few months later. Some critics have called Iliad a man’s story (wars and such) and Odyssey a woman’s story (romance, and a virtuous hero who reminded me quite a bit of Russell Crowe in Gladiator).
  • Bulfinch’s Mythology, excerpts on the Trojan War and the Fall of Troy—to help figure out what happened in Iliad and Odyssey.
  • Joy in the Morning, P. G. Wodehouse. (Re-read.) Fiction, humor. Jeeves.
  • John Glenn: A Memoir. One of my virtuous heroes. I love how he loved his wife, Annie.
  • Where No Man Can Touch, Pat Valdata. Poetry; women in aviation history. Timely reminder that women had the right stuff, too.

  • Founding Mothers, Cokie Roberts. History, women. Referring to women by their first names rather than last makes the stories more intimate, but harder to keep track of who’s who. 
  • 3 Plays by Thornton Wilder, to wit, Our Town, The Skin of Our Teeth, and The Matchmaker. (Re-read.) We’re getting Our Town this season at Shakespeare Theatre Co., but somebody really needs to stage Skin again. 
  • A Pale View of the Hills, Kazuo Ishiguro. (Re-read.) Fiction. Prepping myself for the anticipated new book. And you can never have enough Ishiguro.
  • Klara and the Sun, Ishiguro. Fiction. Technically science fiction (artificial intelligence, human enhancement), but if you only read it that way, you miss the point and pain and pleasure of Ishiguro’s storytelling.
  • The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work, Alain de Botton. Philosophy, sociology. What’s it like to be an office worker (accountant) or somebody who checks on power lines or sells aircraft parts? These activities to earn money to live life seem rather pointless to de Botton, who comes off kind of judgey in this.
  • Through the Looking-Glass, Lewis Carroll. Children’s fiction. Another one of those books I never got around to reading before. Can’t remember it now. (Pass judgment on my powers of retention, not on Lewis Carroll.)
  • American Discoveries, Ellen Dudley and Eric Seaborg. Nonfiction—outdoors, memoir. Shortly after my former co-workers left The Futurist they took on the project of connecting the various hiking/biking trails from California to Delaware. They also got engaged! 

  • Ninth Street Women, Mary Gabriel. Art history, biography, women. Five influential modern artists in mid-century New York: Lee Krasner, Elaine de Kooning, Grace Hardigan, Helen Frankenthaler, and Joan Mitchell. I look for them now in every museum. Again, I notice, women biographers refer to their subjects by first name. Only five main ladies to keep track of, but I still had to look back at the chapter title to remember who I was reading about. (I have almost no retention anymore.)
  • Raven Girl, Audrey Niffenegger. Fantasy. Art and storytelling, evidence that fairy tales are not passé.
  • The Best-Loved Poems of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, selected and introduced by Caroline Kennedy. Poetry, biography. More about Jackie later on the reading list.
  • Persuasion, Jane Austen. (Re-read.) Fiction. Maybe my favorite Austen heroine, the overlooked and undervalued Anne Elliot.
  • Lincoln and Shakespeare, Michael Anderegg. History, biography. Really overly academic treatment of Lincoln’s fondness for the theater and for Shakespeare in particular. Good tidbits on American theater, but sourcing and citing is numbing to a casual (non-academic) reader.
  • Seventeen, Booth Tarkington. Fiction. Oy. This sample of early 20th century Midwestern humor doesn’t really age well. Or do we accept minstrels and suburban prejudice as “of the era”? I did like his Penrod, though.
  • My Brother, Grant Wood, Nan Wood Graham et al. Art history, memoir. Nan loved her brother deeply, recounting his life endearingly though perhaps not fully. Some things just aren’t anyone else’s business, and I appreciate the more-relevant focus on Wood’s art and influence.
  • A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens. (Re-read.) Fiction. My notes record that I was bawling my eyes out at the end. I do love my virtuous heroes, even if it takes them the whole story to get there.
  • Moon Shot, Alan Shepard and Deke Slayton (et al.). Memoir, history, space program. A bit of de-mythologizing after The Right Stuff. And a slightly different take from John Glenn’s on that famous confrontation among the rival Mercury 7 astronauts. Bear in mind that all memoirs are exercises in self-justification, to some extent. Probably.
  • Cymbeline, Shakespeare. Play. Nice reunion of lost sister and brothers. Shakespeare makes you cry whether it’s a comedy or a tragedy.
  • Myths of the Greeks and Romans, Michael Grant. Mythology, literary history. Overview of origins of myths and how different cultures adopted and adapted similar stories. It’s academic but not daunting. [Note, this is the point when I picked up Odyssey.]
  • Woe Is I, Patricia T. O’Connor. Grammar. Not to be used as a reference: It’s not set up like a Strunk and White or AP Stylebook, and anyway O’Connor’s preferences are out of date. I broke my rule of not writing in the margins, but this book needed amendments.
  • Is Sex Necessary? James Thurber and E. B. White. Humor, satire. A fake academic treatment on the subject. With Thurber’s cartoons.
  • All the Time in the World, E. L. Doctorow. Short stories. Chilling stories told in Doctorow’s straight-forward, seemingly acritical, in-the-moment style. Most pertinent to today, I thought, were “Walter John Harmon,” about a cult leader, and “Jolene: A Life,” a young woman drifting through life into sexual servility.
  • The USS Emmons: Eyewitness Accounts from Survivors of the Battle of Okinawa, transcribed by Cheri Pierson Yecke. Better than a Spielberg movie. 
  • The Book of Will, Lauren Gunderson. Play. How Shakespeare’s colleagues collected and recollected what they could of Shakespeare’s scattered works to compile the First Folio. Which almost left out Pericles (a favorite of one of Gunderson’s characters).
  • Pericles, Prince of Tyre, Shakespeare. Play. Of course. I loved how his daughter, Marina, dealt with pirates and procurers. The power of innocence is that it can bring out the best in people. Even fiends.
  • And the Mountains Echoed, Khaled Hosseini. Fiction. Brother and sister (and many others) in Afghan in tumultuous times. I don’t know why this stayed on my shelf so long, unless because I read a bad review. My favorite Hosseini book yet.
  • Inventing Leonardo, A. Richard Turner. Art history. My late college professor’s comparative study of Leonardo studies through history. Academic. Led me to:
  • Leonardo the Florentine, Rachel Annand Taylor. Art history, biography. Taylor was a poet and obviously a classical scholar. It took forever to read this, with having to Google-search every other reference. But in the end I feel I know Leonardo and what motivated him: Beauty. It also seems clear Leonardo was almost universally loved and admired for his charm and grace. I kept picturing him played by Colin Firth. Hope that’s okay.
  • My World and Welcome To It, James Thurber. (Re-read.) Short stories, humor. It’s odd how racist the humor could be at times, mostly lampooning a character’s maid’s dialect. Still, Thurber was the author of some of my favorite themes, such as not mistaking a container for the thing contained. And “you can look it up.”
  • “Symposium,” Plato, in The Portable Plato, edited by Scott Buchanan. Philosophy. Dialogues on Love. Actually pretty funny. Socrates could be a hoot, apparently.
  • Mrs. Kennedy and Me, Clint Hill. Memoir. Jackie Kennedy’s bodyguard tells a riveting tale. Hill’s admiration borders on infatuation but doesn’t go over the line. His sense of guilt in not saving President Kennedy (he was guarding Mrs. Kennedy, not the president) is heartbreaking. The bit about keeping her away from Onassis was somehow funnier than it should have been.
  • The Kennedys: Portrait of a Family. Photography. Richard Avedon’s portraits of the Kennedy family between election and inauguration. Interesting look at how editors chose which images to publish from the contact sheets, and how Avedon teased the images into art.
  • Cyrano de Bergerac, Edmond Rostand. Play. Courtly love, misguided romance. Or something. Cyrano wields words and swords. 
  • The Man Who Invented Christmas, Les Standiford, plus A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens. Literary history. I’m not sure I’ve seen a definitive version of the Carol, or none that pleased me as much as the non-definitive musical versions, but it’s nice to learn the effects of a walk in Manchester on a creative mind.
  • A Christmas Story, Jean Shepherd. Short stories. Repackaged stories that formed the basis of one of the all-time great Christmas movies. Midwestern mid-century humor at its best.
  • Woman in the Dark, Dashiell Hammett. Crime fiction. Because what’s December without a little noir.

Finally, there was a little unpublished volume I put together myself via Snapfish, by way of Christmas/Hanukkah presents for friends and family. Limited edition (10 copies printed only), called Little Sky.
Little Sky layouts. Copyright 2021 C. G. Wagner

Love, hosaa
writing a little, reading a lot

Wednesday, December 29, 2021

Saving Anybodys, or: Forget Americans in Paris

 Another Clarence the “Wonderful Life” Angel Adventure


EXT. Somewhere over the rainbow, way up high. Neither day nor night, yet both.

It’s a cloudy day at our heavenly way station, where we see an elegant, brilliantly lighted stairway emerging from below. Thankfully we’re in color—you know, 1950s movie musicals style, saturated primary colors and all.

Presently, a recently deceased yet vibrantly alive BILLIE HOLIDAY ascends the stairs and is greeted by MR. JORDAN (color version) and CLARENCE (carefully colorized, and not by Mr. Ted Turner’s ham-handed coloring team).

BILLIE (wearily) 
You people should put in an escalator.

CLARENCE (sniffing the gardenia in BILLIE’s hair, mesmerized)
Miss Holiday, it is an honor to greet you. I missed the performance, sadly, but I am here to escort you to the Winging Room.

It was only one song. I’m glad it worked. Thank you for letting me get to Paris first. … “Winging Room”?

If I may clarify, and offer my congratulations and gratitude: You have earned your wings, Miss Holiday!

And on your very first mission! I can’t tell you how many tries it took me. (He twirls to show off his own wings, as BILLIE admires his glamorousness.)

He can’t count that high.

Miss Holiday, we were honored to let you fetch the special treasure from your friend in Paris, and we are satisfied you delivered it to the appropriate recipient.

She’ll do. Or he. “Them.” I think Lester would have been pleased.

I’m so sorry I missed the show. Darling Mr. Jordan, can we please have a rewind?

MR. JORDAN sweeps his gigantic angel wings gently across the Cloud-o-scope, as he, BILLIE, and CLARENCE gather around.

Could somebody get a lady a chair?

BIFF MARLEY scoots a powder-puff settee up for BILLIE; she cozies herself onto it as the others watch the recap of her successful mission. On the Cloud-o-scope the scene dissolves to:

INT. Doc’s Candy Store on Manhattan’s West Side, 1959. A hot early summer night.

The SHARKS and the JETS have concluded their war council, which has been interrupted by the overbearing LT. SCHRANK, a mean-spirited bigot, a nasty snot of a cop.

JORDAN (voice-over)
No, we’re not here for him. Some other time, perhaps.

As the SHARKS leave the candy shop, whistling “My Country ’Tis of Thee,” leader BERNARDO gives one last look toward Jets leader RIFF, who returns his glance sympathetically. They both know it’s SCHRANK and his ilk that is their common enemy.

The scene fast-forwards on the Cloud-o-vision, and SCHRANK has left. The JETS are quiet, angry, reflective. The door opens presently and ANYBODYS pokes her head in to see if she is welcome. Treated by the world as a girl, ANYBODYS yearns to be accepted as one of the Jets; so far, the only Jet who accepts her as such is ICE, who is RIFF’s deputy and the Jets’ single-combat warrior.

ANYBODYS catches ICE’s eye, silently asking permission to enter. ICE turns to silently ask RIFF; RIFF nods. ICE turns back to ANYBODYS and nods his head, gesturing “Come on in.” She goes to the jukebox, and ICE tosses her a quarter.

ANYBODYS (thrilled)

Thanks, Daddy-o!

ANYBODYS puts the quarter in the machine, and the sweet sound of a Billie Holiday record is heard, “God Bless the Child.”

Drawn in by the sad, gentle music, the remainder of the Jets’ GIRLS return to the candy store and take their places by their boyfriends.

A sudden gust of wind blows the candy store door wide open; dazzling blue light surrounds the arriving angel BILLIE HOLIDAY. She’s swathed in the loveliest white feathers and furs that Heaven allows. All the very stunned JETS stare at her in shock.

BILLIE (laughing heartily)
What’s the matter, children? Ain’t you never seen a real Lady before? I thought I heard me singing.

BILLIE listens to her song and joins ANYBODYS at the jukebox.

What’s a matter, baby? Feelin’ left out again?

How would you know?

I know. I know. But you don’t know. You don’t know feelin’ left out till you can’t eat in the same club with your band, even if your name is on the ticket. Can’t even go to the bathroom. You don’t know. (She turns to the Jets, fiercely.) None of you know nothin’. (Jets continue staring. She laughs.) Ain’t none of you even been to Harlem?

I have.

I know, baby.

BILLIE whisks out of the folds of her grand furs the treasure she had just picked up in Paris. It is her late friend Lester Young’s saxophone.

CLARENCE (voice-over)
Is that what I think it is? Isn’t that what Joe Pendleton used to carry with him here?

JORDAN (voice-over)
No, not Joe’s. This belonged to the great tenor saxophonist, the late Lester Young. He’s now playing a command performance for … you know who.

The candy shop has now become crowded, not just with the JETS and their girls, but also the returning SHARKS and girls.

BILLIE (handing the instrument to ANYBODYS)
Here, baby. We know you’ve been practicin’ when nobody can hear Anybody. We know you can blow. There’s a hole in a band up the street. You go fill it.

BILLIE eyes ANYBODYS’ attire and looks around the room. ICE gets the hint and takes off his jacket, giving it to ANYBODYS. BILLIE shoos ANYBODYS out the door.

Go play. Go make us sad we couldn’t hear you.

JETS and SHARKS all applaud and cheer as ANYBODYS hurries out with the saxophone. BILLIE disappears in a bright blue cloud of heavenly mist and we return to:

EXT. Way station. Dusk or dawn, twilighty time.

I like that. It works. Well done, dear Miss Billie! Well done!

Thank you. I did have a little trouble in Paris, though—besides just wanting to stay and jam with my best men. You said I should look up Gerry Mulligan. Baritone sax, right?

Well, no. I can see the confusion.

Yes, I thought I was assigned to Jerry Mulligan—the artist—or rather, cleaning up the mess he left behind in Paris.

Artist? Never heard of him.

American GI, went off to Paris after the War to become a painter. Not much of an artist, but a decent illustrator. He did rather miss the big picture, art-movement-wise. We needed to bring him back to New York. Imagine, imitating Toulouse-Lautrec and Matisse in an era of Pollock and de Kooning. And Helen Frankenthaler!

BILLIE, CLARENCE, JORDAN, and even BIFF MARLEY bow reverently.

MARLEY (waving a stack of papers)
Mr. Jordan, I was just coming to tell you, I finished the second draft. Our rewrite for “An American in Paris.”

Lise, Henri, Jerry, and Milo, about to switch partners

CLARENCE (twirling merrily)
Ah, Gershwin! I can hardly wait! Ta-da-da-deeee, da rum-pum-pum, rum-pum-pum!

Gershwin. The “Porgy and Bess” guy? Oh he’s not bad.

It wasn’t the music, of course. It wasn’t even the art, really, that needed repair. It was, as always, the souls who were left behind.

MARLEY (jumping up and down)
I know! I’ve got it! Please, oh please Mr. Jordan? I never get to do anything but snarky voice-overs.

Yes, let him read it. I’m tired. Let’s all just listen.

MARLEY (reading his manuscript)
And Hosaa has written: “Brokenhearted Henri has let his dear little fiancee, Lise, off at the entrance of the art students’ ball, where she runs up the stairs to meet Jerry

Stairway to Paradise”! Ha ha! I get it. I still think you people need escalators.

Ahem. “Jerry, the young American painter she has fallen in love with. And Jerry has left his brokenhearted so-called sponsor, American suntan-oil heiress Milo, in the arms of his friend, piano prodigy Adam Cook

BILLIE (aside)
Played by well-known psychochondriac Oscar Levant. Now he was a good connection in Paris.

MARLEY (continues reading)
Henri’s taxi bumps into Milo’s limo as the two brokenhearted castoffs leave the art students’ ball.

“Jerry Mulligan (not Gerry, the baritone sax player and band leader) and Lise (played by a bouquet of heavily scented cut flowers in the ballet dream sequence) realize the center of the art universe had actually moved to Greenwich Village by 1951.

“Unable to surrender his dreamy idealized realism, Jerry can only get work as an illustrator for an ad firm, whose major client is Milo's suntan oil company. Lise, schooled only in the poetry books Henri lent her while she was in hiding during the war, becomes a copywriter for the same ad firm. They live in New Jersey and raise three nice but not exceptionally bright children who never bother anyone.

“Meanwhile, Milo and Henri fuse their broken hearts into a glowing, passionate romance, warmed by the feeling of being wanted rather than mere recipients of Jerry’s and Lise’s loveless gratitude. They settle in New York, where Henri becomes a cabaret star and Milo continues to run her company.

“Adam composes a wedding serenade for Milo and Henri that is recorded by every vocalist from Broadway to L.A. Unable to cope with success, Adam returns to Paris to teach piano to the kids on the street where he had once been happily miserable.” The end.

BILLIE (wistfully)
I would love to have had that song.

Oh, Mr. Marley, this is a dandy righting of what went wrong! When we go down, Mr. Jordan, can I be Adam? Or is it Oscar? I always wanted to play the piano.

I believe that can be arranged. But first you must escort our darling Lady Day to the Winging Room. Off you go!

The stairway seen earlier now magically begins extending upward, upward through another layer of clouds. As CLARENCE wraps his own wings around BILLIE HOLIDAY, they take the first step, which lights up and starts each additional step lighting up in turn. They pause as the stairway transforms into an escalator, which takes them up to the “Winging Room” somewhere in the hazy clouds above.


love, hosaa
rhapsodizing in blue

*hosaa's note: Our Mr. Jordan originally appeared in two versions: Here Comes Mr. Jordan, with Claude Rains manning the black-and-white chief angel and story fixer, famously fixing the untimely death of Joe Pendleton, and Heaven Can Wait, wherein Jordan was more colorfully portrayed by the equally dapper James Mason. 

In neither case did these Mr. Jordans have any dealings with Angel Clarence Odbody, the saver-of-suicidal George Bailey in It's a Wonderful Life, or with Jacob Marley, the Scrooge-saving ghost in A Christmas Carol. This time of year, I find, my mind wanders through many stories needing minor alterations. Or major ones. Previous rewrites are as follows:

2013: Saving Mr. Potter
2014: Christmas Belle, or Saving Miss Fezziwig
2015: Saving Mr. Sawyer
2016: Saving Mr. Jordan
2017: Saving “Big” Susan
2018: Saving Miss Gulch
2019: How Now, Voyager? Or, Saving Dr. Jaquith
2020: My Fair Freddy, or Saving Pygmalion

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

In Praise of Character

Never let a good fancy pass. So one of the passing fancies I like to pursue down the rabbit hole is tracing where I've seen a particular character actor before. 

Often it's actually the voice that catches my attention, as did a character on an episode of My Three Sons running on MyTV. When the credits rolled at the end, up popped Anne Seymour as the befuddled marriage broker (finding a prospective wife for a widower seeking a temporary housekeeper). I knew I knew the actress but didn't recognize her face at all. It was definitely a voice I'd heard, and quite recently during one of my afternoon DVD diversions.

She was in Field of Dreams! Small part, credited as the "newspaper publisher" in Moonlight Graham's hometown. In the book, Shoeless Joe, the character is named Veda Ponikvar, and, to the film's credit, her byline does appear in the obit she reads to Ray Kinsella and Terry Mann (J. D. Salinger in the book).

Anne Seymour as newspaper publisher, Field of Dreams

Byline Veda Ponikvar, newspaper publisher, Field of Dreams

Terry: "You're a good writer." Veda: "So are you."

Apparently Anne Seymour's most famous role (judging by the number of film stills in her IMDb bio) was All the King's Men, which I'm sure I've seen but don't remember well enough to pick Anne out. But I knew I'd seen her before!

As it turns out, she was also in one of my favorite movies in life, Mirage, a playground for character actors you see in thousands of other films. As Frances, the wife of the hero's lamented fallen (heh) mentor Charles Calvin, Anne is regal, savvy, and very sad. Again, it's the voice more than the face that ties her with newspaper publisher and befuddled marriage broker.

Anne Seymour as Frances Calvin, Mirage

Anne Seymour, Gregory Peck, Mirage

In fact, most of Anne's scenes with Gregory Peck are voice overs; he hugs her tightly, and we see his handsome face and the back of her beautiful coif as she recites her lines. That's character acting for you. But what a beautiful and distinctive, plaintive, intelligent voice she had. 

"I knew it was you!" Diane Baker, Mirage

Speaking of Mirage, the leading lady, Diane Baker, is another character actress you see everywhere. I could have a DVD film festival: bigoted mother of rich white boy in Joy Luck Club, bereaved mother of dead soldier in Courage Under Fire, senator bargaining with Hannibal Lechter and pleading for her daughter's life in Silence of the Lambs. Beautiful and sane as a mother, she was also beautiful and slightly insane back in the day, with Joan Crawford in Strait-Jacket. 

And among the gentlemen of Mirage, there were Walter Matthau, Jack Weston, Leif Erickson, George Kennedy, Kevin McCarthy, and Walter Abel ...

Walter Abel as Charles Calvin, Mirage

... who played a stabilizing force as Fanny's (Bette Davis) cousin in Mr. Skeffington. Now that's what I call acting!

Love, hosaa
In pursuit of characters

Thursday, June 17, 2021

Edward at 18, 50 years later

 As I honor Edward Duke once again on his birthday, I realize one of the gifts he gave me, a photo of himself at age 18, is on this day now 50 years old.

Edward Duke at 18

The year this was taken would have been 1971, and at the height of Carnaby Street (London) late-Beatles fashion.

Anyhow, it's not the only gift Edward gave me. Besides giving me a Santa Claus to write crazy fan letters to and inspiring me to write, he gave me this theatre card from Ford's Theatre, which I have no idea to whom I should leave it after I'm gone. Ford's Theatre?

Jeeves at Ford's

Or maybe The Wodehouse Society? Because you see, it turns out there was one more gift Edward Duke gave me, far too posthumously, which is an introduction to P. G. Wodehouse and the Society of fans of Plum's writing. 

There is, in addition to this fan club and its publications, an archive of all things Wodehouse at Vanderbilt University. The collection already has the Edward Duke voiced tapes of Jeeves stories, but the dual "portraits" of Bertie and Jeeves on this poster might charm future generations of Wodehouse lovers. Something to note in my "In Case of Death" file.

Happy Birthday, Dear Edward!

Nostalgically yours,


Saturday, February 13, 2021

Turtle Waves

 And other things Daniel taught me

One of my earliest memories of my nephew, Daniel, was when he was almost one year old. I watched him and his mom sharing a sofa, Wanda lounging on one end and Daniel at the other, playing with her bare feet. She wiggled her toes at him, and he kept reaching out to tickle her toes as she pulled them away (yet letting him catch her). It was an afternoon of wiggles and giggles.

You know when a kid you’ve known all his life is growing up, or well on his way, once you realize he’s teaching you stuff.

Daniel was about 14 when we took a trip across country together to visit his grandmother, my mom. They were both excited. I was worried. 

I worried about catching our flight, making connections. I worried at the airport when Daniel started walking faster and pulling away from me. I would not call out to him, revealing the name of a young boy in my charge in a big strange public place with scary people all around. They scared me, anyway. I’m not sure if Daniel knew why I scolded him.

On the plane sitting next to me, Daniel couldn’t sit still, playing with whatever he was playing with—cars, probably—just making a lot of nerve-rattling noise. I was fed up and said “Enough!” He gave me such a look.

Mainly I worried about how much anticipation both Daniel and his grandmother had about the visit, how excited they both were to see each other. One wrong move, and the excitement would reverse. And it did.

Grandma was old, not very fastidious, and had cleaned her house to the best of her ability. The bathroom was still a little grubby, and even the bar of soap showed signs of having recently been used to clean something besides our hands. Daniel had asthma and fussed about cat hair clinging to the blankets and pillowcases on his freshly made bed. He decided to sleep on the sofa instead, upsetting Grandma. They both went to bed mad.

The next day, when Grandma went to the grocery store, Daniel and I “washed the soap.” We put the blankets, sheets, and pillowcases in the washer, then we cleaned the bathroom and kitchen as much as we could before Grandma got back so as not to hurt her feelings. The rest of our visit that week was much more fun.

Preparing to go home, I went into worst-case-scenario mode. I was afraid we’d miss our connecting flight in Dallas because it’s a huge terminal and we had little time between flights to get from one gate to another. So I got on the computer to look up alternate flights, finding none and wondering how I’d get Daniel safely home to Florida. Daniel came out from his “spa” treatment—a relaxing soak in Grandma’s hot tub—took one look at me, and scolded: 

“You worry too much.”

Twenty years later, when I get overly anxious about something, I still envision Daniel telling me I worry too much.

Later, my brother brought Daniel to Maryland to work on cleaning out Granddad’s (my dad’s) house. During some visit to my apartment, in this rapidly urbanizing suburb, we went for a short walk across the street. In the crosswalk, a car was turning the corner and crowding toward us, the driver asserting his impatience. Other pedestrians of my acquaintance would have, in turn, asserted their right-of-way by slowing down in front of such an impatient driver. 

Not Daniel. Seeing someone else whom he even momentarily (and legally) inconvenienced, he scooted on across the street to get out of the driver’s way. It was an easy gesture of simple consideration. I ran to catch up with him.

Twenty years later, I still try to emulate Daniel’s courtesy in such moments. I scoot.

On that same Maryland trip, or one like it, we visited the zoo on a day I’d taken off from work. Of all the elephants and pandas and apes and birds to choose from at the zoo, it was the large open pool of turtles that captured our attention.

A baby turtle kept paddling around an older turtle, which we assumed was its mother. No matter what direction the mama turtle turned, baby turtle would swim around to get directly in her face, stretch out its front legs, and wiggle its fingers at her nose. 

We watched for several minutes and giggled at the baby tickling its mama’s nose. Babies and mamas must all play the same games. I wondered if Daniel remembered his and Wanda’s.

Coming back from the zoo, we boarded a very crowded subway car full of commuters. Another batch of scary strangers separated me from my nephew, and he noticed I kept my eyes fixed on him, showing way too much concern. He looked up at me through the crowd of commuters, stretched his arms out in front of him as if to dive into a pool, and wiggled his fingers at me.

Daniel’s “turtle wave” was his way of reminding me I worry too much. And making me giggle.

Aunt Cindy (aka, hosaa)
riding the turtle waves

Cindy Wagner, February 7, 2021

Thursday, December 31, 2020

Reading 2020

Last year’s New Year’s resolution was to keep better track of the books I read during the year, and I’ve done so by marking start and finish dates on my wall calendar. And with a newly catalogued personal library of more than 600 volumes, I reminded myself that I had no need to buy new books. (We do many things despite lacking an immediate need.) So most of the books I picked out had been on my shelves for years/decades.

Some good books.

I continued my practice of consuming a good mix of readings, including fiction—novels, short stories, poetry, and plays—interspersed with nonfiction—predominantly history as told through biographies and memoirs of figures in a variety of fields. 

U.S. presidential history became a frequent topic on my reading schedule (usually weekday afternoons), and I began and ended the year’s reading with this subject. But despite the urgency of current events, I had no problem resisting temptation (in fact, there was no temptation) to buy or read any of the pieces coming from anyone acquainted with the 45th U.S. president. (This was a person I’d made good effort to ignore since the mid-1980s, up until Clay Aiken forced me to watch Celebrity Apprentice.)

Sorry for the ado, so without further, here’s what I read in 2020, roughly in chronological order:

  1. America’s Political Dynasties by Stephen Hess. Political history/biography. Started reading in 2019, going one or two chapters (dynasties) at a time. I got sidetracked with the transition between Taft and Teddy Roosevelt with the mention of their mutual friend and aide, Archie Butt. Interesting person (a hero of the Titanic) who could be the subject of a good play. 
  2. Locked in the Cabinet by Robert Reich. Political memoir. Bill Clinton’s first-term secretary of labor has since become one of my moral touchstones on Twitter.
  3. “Holiday” by Katherine Anne Porter. Short story.
  4. “Why I Live at the P.O.” by Eudora Welty. Short story. (Re-read)
  5. “Battle Royal” by Ralph Ellison. Short story.
  6. Sanditon by Jane Austen. Fiction (unfinished novel). I was inspired to pull this off my shelf by the Masterpiece Theatre version completing the story. The 11 chapters Austen wrote were wrapped up about half-way through the first of the TV series’ eight episodes. The rest was not Austen. At all. 
  7. Henry IV, Part I by William Shakespeare. Play. (Re-read) Of everything I read this year (this was in January), this is the one I simply don’t recall. No wonder I keep having to re-read Shakespeare! I might have to turn in my fangirl Bard card.
  8. Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes. Fiction. Part I reads like a series of Wile E. Coyote misadventures! The episode on which the famed ballet is based is described in no more than about five pages; I don’t remember enough of Man of La Mancha to know what that’s based on, except that there is no real encounter with “Dulcinea” (Aldonza) in the novel. I could only think a page-by-page adaptation of the whole novel would make a great Netflix series. 
  9. King Lear by William Shakespeare. Play. (Re-read) While I did read this straight through on my own, I also took advantage of an online Zoom-around-the-table reading starring Stacy Keach, reprising his Shakespeare Theatre Co. performance (without the nudity).
  10. Mansfield Park by Jane Austen. Fiction. (Re-read) It had been long enough ago that I first read this that it was like reading it new. The fun part was going online after I finished it to find other Austen fans offering their reviews of the story and its heroine on YouTube. Try it! Was Fanny the worst Austen heroine or one of the best?
  11. Secondhand: Travels in the New Global Garage Sale by Adam Minter. Environmentalism, economics, current affairs. Journalist Minter (author of Junkyard Planet) traces the global journey of your stuff after you (or your survivors) finally get rid of it. He also advises putting your copy of the book into the resale market, but mine’s staying on the shelf awhile.
  12. “Protagorus” by Plato. Philosophy. Chapter from The Portable Plato, which is about all I could handle.
  13. A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century by Barbara W. Tuchman. History. Plagues, populist uprisings, and religious and political conflicts have played a very long role in human history. Tuchman used one hero, Enguerrand, as a narrative focus, which made the storytelling more compelling. And I keep falling in love with heroes like this, being noble and all.
  14. Le Morte d’Arthur by Sir Thomas Malory. Fable(?) Malory translated French tales of the medieval King Arthur and the knights he enlisted at his Round Table. There are other versions of the knights’ legends, such as Camelot and Spamalot (musicals), Tristan and Isolde (poem, opera). I realized while reading A Distant Mirror I should have reversed reading this one with Don Quixote, at least to stay chronological and to understand the importance of chivalry in the work of knights errant. (And to understand that “errant” didn’t mean error-prone, necessarily. It meant “extant”: knights out in the world doing good deeds, like rescuing ladies from ogres and such.) 
  15. Capital Dames: The Civil War and the Women of Washington, 1848-1868 by Cokie Roberts. History. One of Roberts’s excellent series on women who helped shape the United States, both through their direct activism and through their grace and charm in Washington salons.
  16. Foresight Investing (draft manuscript) by James Lee. Finance. One of the privileges of retirement is choosing your own pro bono editing projects and learning from experts one trusts (and being paid in chocolate). Jim is self-publishing this book on using principles of futurism to better evaluate businesses worth investing in. The book should be out soon
  17. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Fiction. (Re-read). I tried re-reading this a couple of years ago and couldn’t get past the first page. Too purple-prosey for me just then. This time it only took a couple of days to absorb. Timely tale of the indifference that unearned wealth breeds. Still too many unlikeable people in the story, however.
  18. Push Comes to Shove by Twyla Tharp. Autobiography/arts. Great modernist choreographer tells her life story in terms of how it shaped her dances. Chronicles her affair with Mikhail Baryshnikov, among other episodes.
  19. Meditations by Marcus Aurelius. Philosophy. Words of wisdom, some very timely: “To what use am I now putting the powers of my soul? Examine yourself on this point at every step.” (V, 11) “To refrain from imitation is the best revenge.” (VI, 6) “I seek the truth, which never yet hurt anybody. It is only persistence in self-delusion and ignorance which does harm.” (VI, 21)
    Some more good books.

  20. The Tulip by Anna Pavord. Natural science/economics/history. Come for the beautiful tulip illustrations, stay for one of those great explorations of cultural and economic history through the lens of a single subject. (Other single-subject cultural histories I’ve loved include Coal by Barbara Freese and Rain by Cynthia Barnett.)
  21. Anthony and Cleopatra by William Shakespeare. Play. One of the few I hadn’t already read. Better than the movies! And, as it turns out, pretty close to the recorded history:
  22. “Antony” chapter from Lives of the Noble Romans by Plutarch. History. I need to read more of the ancients. Maybe some Homer next year?
  23. Doctor Faustus by Christopher Marlowe. Play. Starting my deal-with-the-Devil binge reading.
  24. “The Devil and Daniel Webster” by Stephen Vincent Benet. Short story. Dealing with the Devil.
  25. Selected Poems of Oscar Wilde, including “The Ballad of Reading Gaol.”
  26. The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde. Fiction. Dealing with the Devil. Enough of that already.
  27. Pygmalion by (George) Bernard Shaw. Play. Source material for the musical My Fair Lady includes Shaw’s lengthy explanation of why the artist (Higgins) does not end up with his beloved work of art (the flower girl). See “My Fair Freddy, or Saving Pygmalion.”
  28. Leadership in Turbulent Times by Doris Kearns Goodwin. Political history/biography. Focuses on influences and critical events in the lives and administrations of Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt, and Lyndon B. Johnson. Among these leaders’ shared traits are empathy, charm, curiosity, humor, and humility.
  29. “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson. Short story, reprinted in The New Yorker. (Re-read, but it’s been awhile.)
  30. “A Village After Dark” by Kazuo Ishiguro. Short story, New Yorker archives.
  31. “The Summer After the War” by Kazuo Ishiguro. Short story, Granta archives. Both of these early works by the Nobel laureate seem to be precursors to novels, all of which I would love to re-read before the publication of Ishiguro’s forthcoming book, Klara and the Sun. Thanks for answering my 2019 Ish wish!
  32. Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson. Fiction. I probably read this classic in school at some point. This Easy Reader edition hit the highlights (with decent illustrations to boot), but I still couldn’t answer the questions at the ends of the chapters. My retention is shot.
  33. “The Old Man in the Piazza” by Salman Rushdie. Short story, in The New Yorker. (I subscribed this year to get access to the Ishiguro stuff in their archives. I’ve been reading their poems but confess I almost never understand them. I’ll stick with the articles. And cartoons.)
  34. A Promised Land by Barack Obama. Political history/memoir. Great storytelling that also provides historical background for the policy issues and events the 44th president faced in his first term. Illustrates many of the traits Goodwin outlines in her Leadership book (see No. 28 above).

It was a year of fat books with breaks for short stories, plays, and poems (mostly New Yorker) that I could get through in a sitting. I made a point of finishing everything I started, whether I liked it or not, but it turns out I liked everything I read. Lucky year! 

Love, hosaa

(Observation of the year: Reading is fundamentally easier than writing.)