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Author Archives: allen0997

The Faces of Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849)

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Alone
by Edgar Allan Poe

From childhood’s hour I have not been
As others were; I have not seen
As others saw; I could not bring
My passions from a common spring.
From the same source I have not taken
My sorrow; I could not awaken
My heart to joy at the same tone;
And all I loved, I loved alone.
Then—in my childhood, in the dawn
Of a most stormy life—was drawn
From every depth of good and ill
The mystery which binds me still:
From the torrent, or the fountain,
From the red cliff of the mountain,
From the sun that round me rolled
In its autumn tint of gold,
From the lightning in the sky
As it passed me flying by,
From the thunder and the storm,
And the cloud that took the form
(When the rest of Heaven was blue)
Of a demon in my view.

Poe 5a

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The Wood Boat ~ A Painting by George Caleb Bingham

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George Caleb Bingham ~ The Wood Boat

The Wood Boat by George Caleb Bingham

George Caleb Bingham (1811-1879) was an American artist whose paintings reflect life in the frontier lands along the Missouri River of the nineteenth century. He painted in what came to be known as the Luminist style, which is characterized by effects of light in landscapes and suggesting tranquility through calm reflective water and a soft, hazy sky.

Bingham’s work fell into obscurity after his death but was rediscovered in the 1930s. Today he is considered one of the greatest American painters of his time.

Your Friend August Wellington

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Your Friend August Wellington image

Your Friend August Wellington ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp

He selected several pairs of swimsuits from the men’s-small rack and locked himself in the dressing room. After checking the door three times to make sure nobody could get in, he took everything off except his underpants and, standing before the mirror, began trying them on: first a plaid pair that he immediately rejected because they were too skimpy; then a yellow pair with a black stripe up each side and a slit at the thigh that made him look like something he wasn’t; then a black, baggy pair that hung down almost to his knees and made him look like an old man; then a red pair that wasn’t too baggy or too tight. He turned this way and that, looking at himself from every angle. The red pair would do, even though he hated the way he looked with his chest, arms and legs uncovered. No doubt about it, he was meant to be clothed. He wasn’t sure he would ever let anybody see him in the red swimsuit, but buying it was the first step and then he would see. He couldn’t look any worse than a lot of other people.

Of course, he had already turned down the invitation to the pool party, but he still might change his mind. He could see himself calling at the last minute and graciously accepting, after all, the invitation that he had declined. “I thought I was having abdominal surgery that day but it turns out the doctor says I don’t need the operation after all. Hah-hah-hah!”

When he got home, Aunt Vivian was waiting for him in her Cadillac, smoking a cigarette. She saw him in her rearview mirror and jumped out.

“August, where the hell have you been?” She reeked of perfume and her lipstick was smeared down to her chin.

“I had some shopping to do,” he said.

“I was about to call the police.”

“Why?”

“You didn’t answer the door. I thought something terrible must have happened to you.”

“And how many martinis did you have for lunch today?” he asked.

She stood behind him while he fumbled with the key in the lock and when he opened the door she went inside behind him as if the house belonged to her.

“I want you to come and stay at our house until your daddy gets back from his business trip,” she said.

“I’ve already said I’m not going to do that.”

“When you’re in school, it’s different, but now that school is out you don’t have any business staying in this big house all alone.”

“I like being alone.”

“You get lonely.”

“No, I don’t!”

“You daddy had no business going off and leaving you alone. You’re still a child.”

“No, I’m not!”

“I worry about you.”

“No need.”

“So you’re saying you won’t come and stay at my house?”

“That’s what I’m saying.”

“I could still put you over my knee and whale the living daylights out of you,” she said.

“I don’t think so,” he said. “I’m bigger than you are.”

She swiped her fingers on the dining room table to see how much dust had collected there and then she went into the kitchen, opening the refrigerator and all the cabinets and looking inside.

“Are you eating properly?” she asked.

“Of course.”

“I’m afraid you’re just eating pizza and junk food.”

“I don’t even like pizza that much.”

“I could bring you some things.”

“No need.”

“You know how to cook?”

“I have a cookbook,” he said. “I can cook when I need to. Do you want me to show you?”

“You have eggs and milk?”

“I have flour, sugar, coffee and tea. What I don’t have I can go buy.”

“All right. I know you had to grow up fast with your mother dying so young the way she did.”

“Please don’t mention that to me again.”

“I hope Dana gets married again, for his sake and for yours.”

“He said something before he left about getting married soon.”

She nodded her head and smiled. “Oh, well, that’s encouraging! Have you met her?”

“I don’t think he has anybody in mind yet.”

“Is he seeing someone?”

“He was seeing a Mrs. Bone with three daughters but I think that romance fell through. I didn’t like her, so that might have had something to do with it.”

“You met her?”

“He took me out to dinner with them one night.”

“Oh, that’s lovely! Did you have a nice time?”

“No. Father isn’t supposed to eat lobster but he ate it anyway and got sick. While he was in the men’s room vomiting, I had a little tête-à-tête with Mrs. Bone. I think I scared her off.”

“Was that your intention?”

“I just told her the way things are.”

“I’m sure that was very naughty of you!”

A few minutes after Aunt Vivian left, there was a knock at the door. It was his friend from school, Colin Mayhew. He was carrying his gym bag.

“Is the paterfamilias still gone?” Colin asked.

“Who wants to know?” August asked.

“I’d like to stay here tonight if you don’t mind.”

“Why?”

“My parents are fighting again. I had to get away from all the yelling.”

“You can stay only if you promise you aren’t carrying any bugs or communicable diseases.”

“Very funny.”

“You can sleep on the couch or in the guest bedroom. You’re not sleeping with me.”

“Thank goodness! I was afraid that was going to be a condition for letting me stay.”

After they consumed a jar of peanuts and two glasses of wine apiece, the talk turned to the pool party.

“I’ve decided to go after all,” August said. “I bought a red swimsuit this morning.”

“You can’t do that,” Colin said. “You already turned down the invitation.”

“Yes, I can.”

“It would be very rude to show up after you’ve said you’re not coming.”

“Why are you always so concerned about what’s rude and what’s not?”

“I’m just telling you what I think.”

“That’s what’s wrong with the world. Too many people expressing their opinions.”

“Pardon me for living.”

“So you think I should call Beulah Buffington and tell her I’d like to come after all?”

“I know her. She’ll probably take your head off.”

“Let her try.”

“I wouldn’t have the nerve.”

“Are you still going?”

“Of course!” Colin said. “My dad’s letting me take the car.”

“You can come by and pick me up and we’ll go together.”

“I don’t think you should do that.”

“Why not?”

“If you told Beulah you’re not coming, that’s the same as not being invited at all. You don’t want to be a gate crasher, do you?”

“I’ll call her first and arrange it.”

Colin picked up the phone, handed it to August and dialed the number. Beulah answered on the first ring.

“Hello?” August said. “Is that you, Beulah?”

“Yes. Who is this?”

“This is August.”

“August who?”

“Wellington.”

“Do I know you?”

“From school?”

“Um, I don’t seem to remember you. Can you describe yourself?”

“Look, Beulah, I know why you’re doing this.”

“Doing what?”

”Pretending not to know me.”

“I’m terribly busy,” she said. “I’m going to have to hang up now.”

“I just wanted to ask you a question.”

“What is it?”

“It’s about your pool party.”

“What about it?”

“I was wondering if it would be all right if I change my mind and accept your invitation after all.”

An icy silence on the other end, after which she said, “I don’t want to be mean, August, but I’m afraid you weren’t on the invitation list.”

“You called me just the other day and invited me.”

“I did? Are you sure it was me?”

“Well, yes. I had no reason to believe it was anybody else.”

“This is very odd,” she said. “I’ve never had anybody call and invite themselves to one of my parties. Are you sure this isn’t a joke?”

“No, it’s not a joke. I just thought…”

“What did you say your name is again?”

“It’s okay, Beulah. Just forget it.”

“Well, I suppose it’ll be all right for you to come since you place yourself in such an awkward position, but I have to warn you. We’ve already invited more people than we can handle and we probably won’t have room for all of them. We’re hoping some of them change their minds and don’t show up after all.”

“No, I wouldn’t dream of…”

“I have to go now,” Beulah said. “It was awfully lovely speaking to you.”

August hung up and shook his head at Colin.

“What did she say?” Colin asked.

“She was very obtuse. She pretended she didn’t know me. She said she never called and invited me to the party.”

“Are you sure it was her?”

“She said I could come anyway but there probably wouldn’t be enough room.”

“That’s terrible.”

“No, it isn’t. I don’t care.”

“You don’t want to go?”

“No.”

“I’ll fill you in on everything that happens,” Colin said.

“Do you mean you’re still going?”

“Why wouldn’t I?”

“I thought you were my friend.”

“I am.”

“We’ve known each other since the beginning of school.”

“What does that have to do with anything?”

“You can still go knowing that I’m not invited?”

“Yes.”

“Loyalty means nothing to you?”

“Look, August, just because you’re a loser doesn’t mean I have to be one, too.”

“So now I’m a loser, am I?”

“I only meant…”

“I don’t care what you meant. I want you to get out of my house.”

“If it means that much to you, I won’t go.”

“No, it’s too late now. I’ve already discovered what a rat you are.”

“Do you want me to talk to Beulah and wangle you an invitation?”

“No! I want you to leave. Right now!”

“I thought it’d be fun to come over here and spend the night with you. I was wrong.”

“Colin, if you don’t get out of my house right now, I’m going to stick a knife all the way through you!”

“Nobody likes you, August, but you’re not able to see it.”

“Do you want me to throw you out?”

“I know your mother killed herself because she was crazy. I think craziness runs in your family.”

August picked up a letter opener and began brandishing it in Colin’s face. “Have you ever seen a person stabbed with one of these things?” he said.

“I hope your father marries a horrible woman!” Colin said. “I hope you end up with a stepmother who makes your life miserable!”

August threw the letter opener, narrowly missing Colin’s head. As he was looking around for something else to throw, Colin grabbed his gym bag and ran for the door. August watched him as he ran across the street and disappeared down the block.

He went upstairs to his room and locked himself in, slowly took off all his clothes and put on the red swimsuit he had bought just that morning. He turned this way and that, looking at himself in the full-length mirror. To himself he looked like a hairless monkey, all joints and angles, his skin as white as paste. He could hear people in his head laughing and making fun of him for trying to get invited to Beulah’s party.

“This will never do,” he said.

He took the scissors and cut the swimsuit into strips, feeling he was relieving himself of a burden. And he left the strips on the floor around his bed to remind himself of just how foolish he had been.

Copyright © 2015 by Allen Kopp

The Confidential Agent ~ A Capsule Book Review

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The Confidential Agent ~ A Capsule Book Review by Allen Kopp

The hero/protagonist of Graham Greene’s novel The Confidential Agent is referred to only as “D.” That’s how confidential he is. He’s a middle-aged man (think Charles Boyer), a foreigner, travelling in Britain, and he’s not there to see the sights, either. He is a lecturer in the Romance Languages, a scholar and peace-loving man, but things haven’t been going so well for him. His country is at war, he’s been in prison for two years apparently because he was on the wrong side, and his wife was shot and killed by the enemy. He’s in Britain to negotiate a coal deal with the owner of a huge coal-mining conglomerate, a certain Lord Benditch. His side must have the coal to have a chance of winning the war. If the enemy gets the coal, D.’s side is certain to lose. Well, guess what? There’s another “confidential agent” from the other side, known to us as “L.” who also wants the coal. Will “L.” kill “D.” to keep him from getting the coal, or will “D.” kill “L.” to keep him from getting it? It’s a cat-and-mouse game from the beginning. D. is badly beaten (although it doesn’t seem to stop him) and his papers that establish his identity are stolen, and this is just the beginning of the obstacles that are placed in his way.

We realize early that the business about the war or D.’s side needing the coal doesn’t really matter. We learn nothing of the politics of the war or who is fighting whom. This is only a device to propel the plot. Don’t waste any time or expend any brain power trying to figure out the war.

Of course, there always has to be a “femme fatale” in a story like this. In this case she is the daughter (what a coincidence!) of Lord Benditch, the coal magnate, and her name is Rose Cullen (think Lauren Bacall). She seems to know D. and to know the importance of his mission, but where do her loyalties lay? Is she to be trusted? After a while she claims to be in love with D., in spite of their age difference and also in spite of his not being very lovable. Can D. make a go of it with Rose Cullen or he is only deceiving himself? Will they have a future together after the war business is settled, or is she only sucking up to him, seeking his vulnerable side to knife him in the back? In a story like this, you can never be sure.

We are told that Graham Greene wrote The Confidential Agent in 1939 in a matter of a few short weeks, fueled by Benzedrine (whatever that is), and that he wrote it for money. After it was finished, he was so unhappy with it that he wanted to disavow it and publish it under a pseudonym, but it was published under his own name and it turned out to be well-received by critics and the reading public alike. It’s rather formulaic, a “thriller” (in other words, “light” reading), but it lives up to its subtitle: An Entertainment.

Copyright © 2015 by Allen Kopp

Vertumnus ~ A Painting by Giuseppe Arcimboldo

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Vertumnus by Guiseppe Arcimboldo

Vertumnus by Giuseppe Arcimboldo

Giuseppe Arcimboldo was a painter of the late Italian Renaissance who lived from 1526 to 1593. He was known for his imaginative portraits made up entirely of objects: fruits, vegetables, flowers, fish or books. His most famous painting is Vertumnus, a portrait of the Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II imagined as the Roman god of metamorphoses in nature and life. The fruits and vegetables symbolize the abundance of the Golden Age that had returned under Rudolf’s rule. 

Bette Davis

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The Hudson Sisters

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The best time I had with Joan Crawford was when I pushed her down the stairs. ~ Bette Davis

~~~

West of Sunset ~ A Capsule Book Review

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West of Sunset cover

West of Sunset ~ A Capsule Book Review by Allen Kopp

More than any other writer of his generation, F. Scott Fitzgerald (born 1896) chronicled the Roaring Twenties, the Jazz Age. He wrote four solid novels (one of which, The Great Gatsby, is an acknowledged masterpiece) and dozens of short stories that appeared in publications such as The Saturday Evening Post and Esquire magazine. In the 1930s, motivated by the need for money (his daughter at Vassar College and his wife in a mental hospital), he went to Hollywood to lend his talents to writing screenplays for the movies.

West of Sunset by Steward O’Nan is a fictionalized (a novel based on real events and real people) account of Scott Fitzgerald’s time in Hollywood. Once in Hollywood, Scott installs himself at the Garden of Allah, an aggregation of villas built around a Moroccan oasis presided over by the mysterious star of the silent screen, Alla Nazimova (whom he never sees). He immediately begins hobnobbing with the famous: Humphrey Bogart and his booze-addled girlfriend (soon to be wife) Mayo Methot, Robert Benchley, Joan Crawford, Ernest Hemingway, Marlene Dietrich, Dorothy Parker and her husband and writing partner Alan Campbell, and on and on. Will his reputation as a successful novelist get him special treatment in the movie industry? Not on your life—his role as writer at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer is largely that of studio hack. He’s given assignments that other writers have had before him or that are taken away from him and given to somebody else before he has a chance to make a difference. In a year or so, he garners only one screen credit (Three Comrades), but works (uncredited) on scripts for other movies, including, The Women (which he despises), Marie Antoinette, A Yank at Oxford, Rebecca and Gone With the Wind (which he fully expects to be a piece of crap and a huge flop).

In Hollywood Scott enters into an adulterous love affair with Sheilah Graham (real name Lily Shiel), a transplanted British girl from humble beginnings who learns all the refinements she needs to become a successful Hollywood journalist/gossip columnist. Sheilah knows about Zelda, Scott’s wife, the fragile Southern belle who has suffered from mental illness of one kind or another for her entire adult life, and knows not to expect anything from Scott. (If nothing else, she’s a realist.) Scott and Zelda also have a college-age daughter, Scottie, who doesn’t get along very well with her volatile mother. Scott and Zelda have “grown apart” during her years of hospitalization, but he tries to remain true to her in his own way and spends his vacations with her in her uncomfortable presence. Of course, Zelda and Scottie know nothing of Scott’s love affair with Sheilah. Where is all this going to end? Is he going to ask Zelda for a divorce so he can marry Sheilah? Don’t count on it.

Like many writers and creative people, Scott has a “drinking problem” that at times he doesn’t seem to be able to control. He drinks when he knows he shouldn’t, which is the hallmark of the alcoholic. He just can’t seem to function without the booze but, paradoxically, he can’t function very well with it. His drinking causes him to get fired from at least one movie writing assignment, after which he is forced to look for any work he can find to meet his debts. He ends up taking a hack job for a “B” picture for Paramount. Not an enviable position for a man of his talent or stature. As he enters his forties, the prime of life for most men, his health suffers from his excesses and we know, if it’s not readily apparent to him, that he doesn’t have long to go.

Scott’s conventional love affair with Sheilah Graham is the least satisfying aspect of West of Sunset. I found crazy Zelda much more interesting than prissy Sheilah. The scenes where Scott spends his uncomfortable “vacations” with Zelda and his daughter Scottie are some of the most compelling in the novel. The Hollywood movie lore of the thirties is fun (the one scene early in the book with Ernest Hemingway seems pointless), and dialogue with Bogie and Mayo around the pool at the Garden seems authentic. (As well as we know Bogart from the screen, we can easily imagine him saying lines such as, “Here’s to our future ex-wives.”) Any die-hard movie fan will know Mayo Methot from the movies she made for Warner Brothers in the 1930s. The way she appears in her movies is exactly the way she comes off in the book. (How many wives did Bogart have after Mayo?) If you are a fan of Fitzgerald and have a particular interest in his private life and in 1930s Hollywood in general, you will find West of Sunset a satisfying reading experience, well worth the time.

Copyright © 2015 by Allen Kopp

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