My Policeman ~ A Capsule Book Review

My Policeman cover

My Policeman
~ A Capsule Book Review by Allen Kopp ~

My Policeman, a novel by Bethan Roberts, is set mostly in 1957 in the seaside town of Brighton, England. Marion Taylor is an unmarried teacher of small children. There is a man she likes named Tom Burgess. She doesn’t understand Tom very well; she wonders why he is cool toward her and rather aloof. He is handsome, blond, athletic and well-built; he goes swimming in the sea every morning and he eventually teaches her to swim.

Tom is what might be called a straight-arrow type. As a police officer, he is interested in projecting an image of conventionality and respectability. Marion falls in love with him, while he remains blasé on the whole matter of courtship and marriage. She begins to suspect he is gay but believes that she can get him to change, if only he will marry her. Because marriage is what is expected of every young man and because he must project an image of respectability to the world, Tom marries Marion. We can see it’s a marriage that probably isn’t going to be a smashing success.

Tom meets a man thirteen years older than himself named Patrick Hazelwood. Patrick is worldly and sophisticated; he works as a curator in a museum and knows the world of art, music and books. He is also unabashedly gay, at a time in England when sexual activity between men was still a crime and punishable by confinement in prison.

Patrick and Tom begin a “discreet” relationship, although Tom, as a police constable, must be very careful that his “secret” is never revealed. Marion knows that Tom and Patrick are “friends” but doesn’t suspect (at first) the true nature of the relationship. She wants to believe that Tom, with her help, might be cured of his “affliction.” (None so blind as those who will not see.)

Patrick invites Tom to go on a trip with him to romantic Venice. While Tom thinks there is nothing wrong with the two of them going to Venice together, Marion, as Tom’s wife, doesn’t take it well; she is jealous and moved to commit an uncharitable act, to put it mildly. It is this trip to Venice that provides the catalyst for the novel’s tragic third act.

The novel alternates between first-person passages narrated first by Marion and then by Patrick. They are both besotted with Tom. While most of the action takes place in the late 1950s, some of the novel is set in the late 1990s, showing how these three characters change over forty years through the unique dynamic they share.

My Policeman espouses the themes of jealousy, guilt, and the stupidity of laws that govern human sexual behavior (the lengths to which these laws force people to go to conceal their true natures). It is a memorable, intelligent, adult story. It’s not a story I would recommend to my elderly mother but, then, she and I are tuned to completely different frequencies.

Copyright © 2021 by Allen Kopp   

Empty Mansions ~ A Capsule Book Review

Empty Mansions cover
Empty Mansions
~ A Capsule Book Review by Allen Kopp ~

W. A. Clark, who lived from 1839 to 1925, was an American entrepreneur who became known as the “Copper King.” He amassed a huge fortune with his copper mining (also banking and railroads) interests in Butte, Montana. He served as United States Senator from the state of Montana, but he became mired in political scandal that tarnished his name and reputation. He was famous for his flamboyant way of doing things and his expensive and showy homes, first in Butte and then on Millionaires’ Row in New York City, where he built a remarkable 121-room mansion at a staggering price.

W. A. Clark was married to two different women. His first wife, Katherine Louise, contracted typhoid fever at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893 and died at age fifty. (They had seven children, four of whom survived past the age of sixteen.) He married his second wife, Anna Eugenia La Chapelle, in 1901, when he was 62 and she was 23. He had two daughters with Anna: Louise Amelia Andrée Clark (1902-1919), who went by the name Andrée, and Huguette Marcelle Clark (1906-2011). Huguette (pronounced oo-get) is the subject of the nonfiction book, Empty Mansions, by Bill Dedman and Paul Clark Newell, Jr.

Huguette Clark was born in France in 1906 and grew up in New York City in a world of unimaginable wealth with her father, her older sister, and her mother, in the fabulous Clark mansion on Millionaire’s Row on the edge of Central Park. When she was 22, she married a man named Bill Gower, who was a year older than she was. The marriage was never consummated and ended in a few months, although Huguette and Bill Gower remained friends until his death.

When W. A. Clark died in 1925 at age 86, his immense wealth was divided among his five surviving children, including Huguette. Huguette continued living with her mother, Anna, after her father’s death, but the two of them (Anna and Huguette) vacated the Clark mansion and moved into an exclusive apartment building at 907 Fifth Avenue.

Living alone with her mother in a luxurious New York apartment building, Huguette was isolated from the ugly realities of the real world. She cultivated her interests in music, painting, Japanese art and architecture, French illustration, and rare dolls. She owned at least two priceless Stradivari violins and collected paintings, painted by such artists as Monet, Degas, and Renoir. (Each of these paintings sells for upwards of ten to 25 million dollars.)

And then there were the homes. Huguette and her mother owned Bellosguardo, a fabulous mansion built on a cliff in Santa Barbara, California, overlooking the Pacific. Maintaining Bellosguardo cost a fortune in itself. Nearby, they kept a “farm,” which was  a place they could escape to if the Japanese attacked California during World War II. Huguette and her mother never lived at the farm.

Back in New York, Huguette bought another apartment in the building, where she and her mother lived, which was to be her primary residence. Later she bought another apartment above her to protect her from undesirable neighbors, for a total of three apartments in the same luxury apartment building. (After Huguette’s mother’s death at age 85 in 1963, Huguette kept her apartment exactly as she had left it.) In later years, Huguette bought an estate in Connecticut so she would have a place to live in case of a terrorist attack in New York City. All of these fabulous homes remained unoccupied for many years. These are the “empty mansions” of the book’s title.

Abandoning her apartment, Huguette moved to a hospital, where she lived in a small hospital room for the last twenty years of her life, surrounded by a small group of people she knew and trusted. The hospital very indulgently allowed her to occupy the same room for all those years because they hoped to get a large chunk of her fortune when she died.

Huguette was generous to the people close to her. She gave more than 30 million dollars to her long-time nurse. (There were accusations, of course, of people manipulating her for their own ends.) When she died at the remarkable age of 104 (two weeks short of her 105th birthday), her fortune was worth an estimated $300 million, counting her paintings, dolls, jewels, real estate, furniture, etc. Not surprisingly, a long battle ensued among her blood relatives, most of whom she had never even met, for her money.

Empty Mansions is the fascinating story of a super-rich American family, the Clark family: the flamboyant father, W. A. Clark, his two wives, his nine children, his life and times, but, more specifically, it’s about his youngest child, Huguette Marcelle Clark, who lived a life of secrecy, cut off from the world, but living life her own way and having lots of time (104 years) and an unlimited amount of money to indulge her eccentricities. Most of us can’t even begin to imagine what it’s like to have so much money that ten million dollars seems like so much pocket change.

Copyright © 2021 by Allen Kopp   

Robinson Crusoe ~ A Capsule Book Review

Robinson Crusoe cover
Robinson Crusoe
~ A Capsule Book Review by Allen Kopp ~

English author Daniel Defoe lived from 1660 to 1731. He was a prolific writer whose most famous work is the novel Robinson Crusoe, published in 1719. Robinson Crusoe is generally considered the first English novel and has appeared in many reprints and translations. It is the famous story of an “everyman” who is shipwrecked alone on an uninhabited island in the Caribbean, as all his shipmates perish.

As a young man, Robinson Crusoe (the man, not the novel) can’t decide what profession to take up. Against the better advice of his father, he becomes a sailor. After a brief (and might have been successful) stint as a plantation owner in Brazil, he goes to sea on a commercial voyage to the Caribbean. There is a terrible storm and (you guessed it), the ship that Robinson is on is wrecked. All his shipmates drown but he, miraculously, survives. He washes up on a tiny, uninhabited, isolated, tropic island in the Caribbean, which turns out to be forty miles from Trinidad.

At age twenty-six, Robinson has never learned how to be on his own and he doesn’t know how to do much of anything; he doesn’t have what we might call “survival skills.” Luckily he is able to retrieve some essential supplies from the shipwreck, such as tools, rum, gunpowder, guns, clothes, and some food items. He has also salvaged some seeds for planting, which will prove useful to him later on.

Alone on this terrible island, he must learn to survive, or he will die. He must construct a shelter of some kind to protect himself from the tropical rainstorms, hurricane winds and sweltering heat. When he first comes to the island, he lives in fear that he will be devoured by wild animals or eaten by cannibals, which, he believes, live nearby. He must learn to find enough food to eat to keep himself alive. He must cope with isolation, loneliness and his own fear. He lives always with the hope that he will see a friendly ship on the horizon, coming his way.

As the novel progresses, we see how Robinson Crusoe is transformed. He must learn to do the things he never imagined he would have to do, such as killing animals for food, planting crops, making bread, making pottery, baskets and building himself a sturdy shelter to protect himself from whatever might be out there. He comes to realize after being on the island for years that God played a part in his salvation, when all the others on board his ship died. He sees how God played a part in providing everything he needed to sustain life. Without God helping him, he would have died. How he changes, how he is transformed from one kind of man into another kind, is the emotional core of the novel.

It’s many years before Robinson Crusoe finds a way off the island. He endures and somehow he thrives and becomes stronger. He finds happiness, comfort, peace and contentment. The irony is that he probably wouldn’t have had those things if he had stayed at home in England where he was born.

Copyright © 2021 by Allen Kopp

This Storm ~ A Capsule Book Review

This Storm cover
This Storm by James Ellroy
~ A Capsule Book Review by Allen Kopp ~

James Ellroy’s noir-mystery novel, This Storm, is set in and around Los Angeles in the early days and months of World War II. It is a time of rainstorms, blackouts, fear, paranoia, murder, suicide, racial unrest, Nazis, fascists, European refugees, Japanese internment camps, police corruption, cover-ups, violence, prostitution, promiscuous sex, and Simons Drive-in, where you can get a fantastic cheeseburger and a pineapple malt served by a floozy carhop.

This Storm is a gargantuan novel, almost 700 pages. If you are familiar with James Ellroy’s writing style, you know he doesn’t write like any other writer. “If you want political correctness, you’ll have to go someplace else,” he plainly states. He uses racial epithets the way other writers use adjectives. In short, there is nobody else quite like him. His style is choppy, with lots of slang expressions, punchy chapters, lots of tough-guy language and hair-trigger violence. We see the bad-boy cops in The Storm kill “suspects” they are pursuing when nobody is looking or pound them in the head with the massive LA phone directory while they are “interrogating” them. The war has unleashed all of men’s (and women’s) worst instincts, it seems. Almost all the characters The Storm are horrible people. Some are worse than others. These people are beyond redemption, but they also make for entertaining reading.

Of all the many dozens of characters in The Storm, you might say that police lieutenant Dudley Smith is the principal character. He is an Irish immigrant who killed many British soldiers in his homeland before coming to America, a “shit-heel,” a self-serving, arrogant, corrupt, lying, cheating bastard with the looks and savoir faire the ladies toss their panties over. In Baja during the war, he’s involved in several nefarious and illegal enterprises, such as “selling” Japanese laborers to the highest bidder. If he was ever called to ground, he could be locked up in prison for many lifetimes for all his transgressions. Nothing seems to touch him, though.

Hideo Ashida is the most interesting character in the novel. He’s a Japanese-American, working as a forensic chemist for the Los Angeles Police Department. As a Japanese man, he is spit at and reviled in the days after Pearl Harbor. He is a homosexual and is believed to be in love with Dudley Smith, flaws and all. They have a special kind of man-to-man friendship, which Hideo knows will never be realized sexually.

There are many other characters, sometimes so many of them that it’s hard to keep them all straight and remember their names; some of them are, by necessity, one-dimensional. Barbara Stanwyck, Ellen Drew, Orson Welles and symphony conductor Otto Klemperer are real-life characters among all the fictional ones. (If these people weren’t all dead, they might have grounds for legal action based on the way they are portrayed here.)

This Storm is a follow-up to the earlier novel Perfidia. These two novels are the first two parts of James Ellroy’s Second LA Quartet. (You remember the First LA Quartet, don’t you?) We will be eagerly awaiting the third novel, which, we presume, will pick up where This Storm leaves off.

Copyright © 2021 by Allen Kopp

Alec ~ A Capsule Book Review

Alec cover
Alec
~ A Capsule Book Review by Allen Kopp ~

English author E. M. Forster lived from 1879 to 1970. He wrote his novel Maurice in 1912-1913, but it wasn’t published until 1971, after his death. The reason for the delay in publication is the novel’s unusual subject matter: an upper-class gentleman, Maurice Hall, has a homosexual affair with a man of the lower class, Alec Scudder, who happens to work as a gamekeeper for the salary of twelve pounds a year. Homosexuality was still a crime in Britain in 1912-1913, so Forster feared serious backlash from such a novel, especially since it has a happy, positive conclusion. Maurice Hall and Alec Scudder are not freaks and they don’t destroy themselves at the end of the book.

Fifty years after its publication and more than a hundred years after it was written, Maurice remains enduringly popular. Now a writer named William di Canzio has written a novel, Alec, that picks up where Maurice left off.

It’s 1913, a repressive time in England for men of a different stripe. When Maurice Hall goes to his friend’s estate for a visit, he encounters a gamekeeper named Alec Scudder. They both harbor a secret that they keep from the world. When Alec boldly climbs into the window of Maurice’s room late at night, a barrier between them falls away. They find they connect in all the important ways, even though they belong to different classes. Alec plans to emigrate soon to Argentina, but Maurice gets him to stay in England. They decide they will spend their lives together, knowing they will face tremendous disapproval from the world.

That might be the end of the story, but it’s 1914 and war breaks out (what will later become known as World War I). Maurice and Alec must do their part for their country, so they both enlist. They think they can be together during their military service, but it doesn’t quite work out that way. Alec joins the Welsh Fusiliers and Maurice ends up fighting in Gallipoli in Turkey, a hell-hole if there ever was one, where fighting conditions for English soldiers could not have been worse.

Almost the second half of Alec is about the hellish trials that Alec and Maurice both face in the war. They are both wounded and must endure loneliness, hardship and deprivation. What’s worse, they aren’t able to communicate with each other, so neither knows if the other still lives. In the chaos and confusion of war, Maurice is listed as “missing in action.” Is he one of the many fatalities of war, or does he still live?

If you have ever read Maurice by E. M. Forster and are a fan, you must by all means read Alec. It may offer nothing new about the struggle that gay men face in a hostile world, but it’s a  compelling and intelligent reading experience. The war in Alec is well-researched and has a feeling of immediacy. As with many wars before and after, it was a war of blunders and mismanagement, of “lions being led by donkeys.” The more things change, the more they remain the same.

Copyright © 2021 by Allen Kopp

Death and the Afterlife: A Chronological Journey from Cremation to Quantum Resurrection ~ A Capsule Book Review

Death and the Afterlife: A Chronological Journey from Cremation to Quantum Resurrection ~ A Capsule Book Review by Allen Kopp

Death and what comes after have fascinated people for as long as people have existed. When we die, are we cast into a dark oblivion, or do our personalities survive in another place? Are we rewarded for our good deeds and punished for our bad deeds? Will we be born again in another body? Do heaven and hell exist? Where do we go if we’re not good enough for heaven and not bad enough for hell?

Death and the Afterlife will not answer any of these questions, but it is a book that deals with a wide range of topics associated with the science and sociology of death, dying and the afterlife, including such fascinating topics as vampires, zombies, euthanasia, embalming, executions, seances, reincarnation, resurrection, sin eaters, death masks, transhumanism, brain death, near-death experiences, electronic voice phenomena, quantum immortality, thanatourism (visiting sites of suffering and death such as Nazi death camps), death of the universe, and many other topics.

Each entry is only one page long, accompanied by an appropriate painting or drawing on the opposing (left-hand) page. At the end of the book is a list of references that might be consulted for further reading.

Did you know:

  • Certain cultures, going back to the Neolithic Age (13,000 years ago), practiced what was known as “sky burial.” This means that the bodies of the deceased were cut into small pieces, including the bones, and left out on a ledge or hilltop for scavenger birds to carry away.
  • Before Napoleon Bonaparte’s death in 1821 at the age of 51, he insisted that an autopsy be performed on his body, the results of which, he believed, would help his son. He was found, during autopsy, to have stomach cancer.
  • Since 1960, the number of autopsies has declined because doctors are afraid of medical malpractice suits.
  • During the 17th and 18th centuries, “plague doctors,” who often weren’t doctors at all, wore frightening “beak masks.” The idea was to fill the beak of the mask with aromatic spices or fragrant perfumes, which were thought to prevent the wearer from breathing the plague in through the nose or mouth.
  • Walking Corpse Syndrome (WCS) is a mental disorder in which the sufferer believes he is dead, but still living, or that some of his organs have been removed.
  • During the 18th century, fear of premature burial (burial of somebody who wasn’t really dead) led to the rise of “safety coffins,” equipped with air pipes and bells. (Make sure I’m dead first.)
  • In the 13th century, the bubonic plague, originating in Asia, swept through Europe, killing roughly two-thirds of the population. The plague, the greatest biomedical disaster in human history, was still causing problems in Europe five hundred years later.
  • Experiments show that the soul contained in a person’s body weighs seven-tenths (0.7) of an ounce. This weight was arrived at by weighing tuberculosis victims at the moment of death and comparing it with the weight before death.
  • Ondine’s curse is a mental disorder in which a person forgets to breathe while sleeping and dies. It’s named after a water nymph from folklore who is cursed with having to remember to breathe.
  • French painter James Tissot in 1890 painted a famous painting called What Our Lord Saw from the Cross. It is the artist’s vision of what Christ might have seen from the cross while being crucified.
  • While Joseph-Ignace Guillotine did not invent the guillotine (decapitation device), as many people have been led to believe, he promoted its use as a humane method of execution in France in the 1790s. “My machine will take off a head in a twinkling,” Dr. Guillotine stated, “and the victim will feel nothing but a refreshing coolness.”
  • Saint Vincent Pallotti (1795-1850) was an Italian saint who helped the poor in Rome. When his body was exhumed a hundred years after his death, it was found to show no signs of decay, a sign of true holiness.

Copyright © 2021 by Allen Kopp

The End of Eddy ~ A Capsule Book Review

The End of Eddy ~ A Capsule Book Review by Allen Kopp

The End of Eddy, by young French writer Édouard Louis (born 1992), is a novel set in a small factory town in the North of France in a region known as Picardy. Eddy Belleguere is the fictional narrator of the novel, and we learn from the background information of the novel’s author that the story, though fictional, is, in fact, an account of his own life. Eddy Belleguere is the fictional alter-ego of real-life Édouard Louis.

Despite the charm of the region in France where the story takes place, the lives of the factory workers and their families are anything but charming. Life is hard in the factory, and the men who toil there all their lives sometimes die at an early age. They drink to excess, beat their wives, and watch porn and Wheel of Fortune on TV. The women, who sometimes also work in the factory, are long-suffering custodians of the children. The children are unmotivated, unhygienic boobs who usually want nothing more out of life than to get a minimum of education and then get a job in the factory and live the same life of toil that their parents have lived.

Every now and then a boy comes along who isn’t like the others, and that boy is Eddy Belleguere, the protagonist of the novel. He isn’t comfortable with the masculine gender role (as personified by his father, his brothers and every other male in his sphere) that he is supposed to adopt for himself. Eddy has feminine gestures and is attracted to boys and men. His friends at school are all girls. He is brutally bullied and abused by older boys in school and has no way to fight back. As he gets older and realizes he is gay, he tries to “fit in” and be like all the other boys, but he knows (and we know) that it isn’t going to work out. Eddy has an identity crisis and it is never going to resolves itself until he escapes his family, his town and his environment.

The End of Eddy is a story about identity, conforming, belonging, and finding one’s own place in the world, whatever that might be. It’s a breezy novel, simply written, engaging, engrossing and not at all taxing to the brain. Highly recommended to those readers who appreciate a good story about being “a square peg in a round hole.” I think we have all been there, at least in one way or another, when we were young. (Remember how you loathed gym class, dreaded it for days in advance, and might even still have nightmares about it?)

Copyright © 2021 by Allen Kopp

Tchaikovsky, A Biography ~ A Capsule Book Review

Tchaikovsky ~ A Capsule Book Review by Allen Kopp

The great Russian composer Peter (“Petyr”) Ilyich Tchaikovsky was born in 1840 and died in 1893. He was a complex man who experienced many setbacks in his life, but one who, despite his fragile psyche, managed to write some of the great symphonic masterpieces of Russian music and of the nineteenth century, including six symphonies, three ballets, several operas, four serenades for orchestra, chamber music, songs, and (still) wildly popular concertos for piano and orchestra and violin and orchestra. His music is, today, still very accessible and popular and is performed and played wherever music is appreciated. Tchaikovsky never falls “out of favor” or becomes “passé,” as some composers do. (Writer-physician Anton Chekhov said during Tchaikovsky’s life that Tolstoy occupied the first place in Russian art while Tchaikovsky occupied the second place and Chekhov himself occupied the ninety-eighth.)

Tchaikovsky was born into a large and loving family (four brothers and one sister), in an isolated region of Russian where his father was a civil servant. His mother was rather cold to her children, but Tchaikovsky idolized her. Her death at age forty from cholera was a terrible blow from which he never fully recovered.

Tchaikovsky was morbidly sensitive with the soul of an artist, tending to be withdrawn and introspective. He was a homosexual who openly engaged in homosexual activity from the time he was a young student. (His turbulent inner life played a large part in the music he composed.) While not hiding his sexuality, or denying it, he always believed that it wasn’t “right.” After he became famous and successful, he lived in fear that he would be “exposed” and his career ruined or irreparably damaged. In his efforts to appear “normal,” he entered into a disastrous marriage with an unstable (possibly insane) woman named Antonina Milyukova. It turned out to be the biggest mistake of his life. He only lived with Antonina for two or three months, but she spent the rest of his life antagonizing and threatening him. He referred to her as a “demon” and “spawn of hell.” He could only assuage her, temporarily, by giving her money. She was a bitch on wheels.

About the same time as Tchaikovsky’s disastrous marriage to Antonina, another woman entered his life. Her name was Nadezhda von Meck. She was a wealthy widow, whose deceased husband had made a fortune in railroads. She had an almost obsessive admiration for Tchaikovsky and his music. She idealized him as the perfect artist, the perfect musician, the perfect man. She became his patron, which means she partly subsidized (supported) him while he composed. Madame von Meck was as eccentric in her way as Tchaikovsky was in his. The one condition of her financial support was that the two of them never meet in person. They corresponded for fourteen years, thousands of letters, and were both in the same place at the same time on many occasions, but they never met. Many of the letters they wrote to each other still exist.

Unlike many composers, Tchaikovsky achieved astounding success and popularity during his lifetime. His fame spread from his native Russia to Europe and the United States. Despite his never-ending personal struggles, his output of orchestral masterworks is extraordinary.

Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky died unexpectedly in St. Petersburg in 1893 at the age of fifty-three. The official account of his death, and the one that was accepted for a century, was that he drank “unboiled water” and died of cholera during an epidemic. However, more than a hundred years after his death, new information came to light which strongly suggests that he deliberately ingested poison to kill himself.

Tchaikovsky, A Biography, by Anthony Holden, is an informative and engaging chronicle of the life and times of Russia’s greatest composer. It’s a long and exhaustively detailed biography, but never too long or too ponderously wordy. If Tchaikovsky’s music “speaks” to you, as it does to me, reading this book and understanding the life of this great man adds a new dimension to enjoyment of his music.

Copyright © 2021 by Allen Kopp

Hollywood Babylon ~ A Capsule Book Review

Hollywood Babylon ~ A Capsule Book Review by Allen Kopp

The silent screen’s greatest lover, Rudolph Valentino, was married twice, both time to lesbians, and neither marriage was ever consummated.

Movie director William Desmond Taylor was murdered in his Hollywood apartment in 1922. Investigation into his death revealed that he had been living a double life. All his colleagues were suspects in his death but, even with this plethora of potential murderers, the truth was never uncovered. The real murderer took the secret to his/her grave.

Silent screen comedian, jovial Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle, must certainly have wished he had never thrown a wild party in a San Francisco hotel room in 1921. The sexual shenanigans at the party led to the death of a trashy “starlet” named Virginia Rappe. Fatty was jailed and charged with first-degree murder in Rappe’s death. He was eventually cleared of the murder charge (after three lengthy trials), but his screen career was finished.

Thelma Todd, twenty-nine-year-old comedic actress (she starred with Laurel and Hardy and the Marx brothers), called the “Ice Cream Blonde,” was found murdered in the garage where she kept her car in 1935. Nobody ever found out what really happened, but Thelma was believed to have had an ongoing feud with gangster Lucky Luciano. Thelma Todd’s murder is one the most baffling unsolved murders in Hollywood history.

Twenty-five-year-old Olive Thomas, called “the most beautiful woman in the world,” was vacationing in Paris in 1920 with her husband Jack Pickford (brother of Mary Pickford) when, after a night of nightclubbing and drinking, she drank mercury from a bottle and died at a Paris hospital several days later. Evidence suggests that her poisoning was unintentional, but the story still persists that she killed herself on purpose.

In the late 1920s and early 1930s, Ramon Navarro was the biggest star in Hollywood. His most famous role was in the 1925 silent version of Ben-Hur. In 1968, age 69, he was brutally beaten to death in his Hollywood home by a pair of brothers out to rob him. The brothers were brought to justice but received only light sentences.

In 1932, would-be movie actress Peg Entwistle killed herself by climbing to the top of the famous “Hollywood” sign and jumping off. After her death, she became a symbol for Hollywood disillusionment and broken dreams.

Silent screen superstar Charlie Chaplin was quite a dog with the ladies. (Apparently he wasn’t too particular about which ladies.) In the 1920s, he impregnated sixteen-year-old, would-be actress Lita Grey. He did the right thing and married her, but the marriage was a disaster. It turned out that Lita Grey and her dear mama were planning on taking poor old Charlie for every cent he had.

Screen goddess Lana Turner’s sexy bad-boy boyfriend, Johnny Stompanato, was a shadowy underworld figure with an Oscar-sized tool in his pants. (Lana found him exciting.) In 1958, he was abusing Lana with his fists, when Lana’s fourteen-year-old daughter, Cheryl Crane, intervened with a big knife, stabbing pour Johnny to death in Lana’s Beverly Hills mansion. It was eventually ruled a “justifiable homicide,” but Lana and Cheryl experienced much unfavorable press coverage, not to mention the heartache.

Nearly every Hollywood scandal, from the silent era through the 1960s, is covered, however superficially, in the book Hollywood Babylon. It was banned when first published in 1965 but managed somehow to resurface ten years later. People find Hollywood Babylon objectionable because it makes no pretense of journalistic integrity. A lot of the purported “truth” in it is false, exaggerated, scurrilous, sensationalized and unfair. That’s not to say it doesn’t hold your interest from first page to last, though, as long as you read it with the proper attitude.

Copyright 2021 by Allen Kopp    

From Here To Eternity: Traveling the World to Find the Good Death ~ A Capsule Book Review

From Here To Eternity: Traveling the World to Find the Good Death ~ A Capsule Book Review by Allen Kopp

Did you know that 99.9% of people in Japan are cremated since a cemetery plot in Tokyo costs the equivalent of $53,000 American dollars? Did you know that there’s a “body farm” in North Carolina where people can choose to have their bodies “composted” after death? Did you know that the American funeral industry came into being with the sole purpose of selling you a casket? Did you know that, beginning in 2017, more Americans are choosing cremation over conventional burial? Did you know that the American funeral industry fears cremation because it’s cheaper (no embalming and no casket) than burial? Did you know that in Bolivia there are people who pray to human skulls, believing the skulls can intervene for them in heaven?

Did you know that cemeteries that require a casket to be buried in a steel or concrete vault do so to make maintaining the grounds easier? Did you know that in Colorado there’s a small town where you might have a “natural” cremation (as opposed to “industrial” cremation) for as little as $500? Did you know that many cemeteries have added a section for “natural” burial where (un-embalmed) bodies are buried in a wicker basket or a cardboard box? Did you know that, in Victorian times, crowded cemeteries in large European cities might have as many as twenty bodies in one grave and that dead bodies were frequently displaced to make way for somebody else? Did you know that these overcrowded cemeteries exuded noxious odors, especially after rainfall?  Did you know that, in a section of Indonesia, there are people who exhume the bodies of their long-dead relatives, talk to them, dress them, and bring them offerings of food?

These and other interesting nuggets of information are revealed in From Here To Eternity: Traveling the World to Find the Good Death, by author/mortician Caitlin Doughty. She writes on the grimmest of death-related subjects with humor and insight that only a person who works in the “death industry” could have. It’s an interesting, informative, nonfiction book that will expand your knowledge and make you ponder on your own mortality, unless, of course, you are planning on living forever, which I don’t think is a very pleasant prospect for most of us.

Copyright © 2021 by Allen Kopp