The Year Everything Important Happened

September 19, 1904



Dreamland, Coney Island, 1904 – 1911

Dreamland, which opened in 1904, was an amusement park of rides, educational exhibitions and freak shows.  There was a railroad through an alpine landscape, Venetian canals with gondolas, a Lilliputian village with 300 dwarf residents, a display of incubators complete with premature babies (incubators were not approved at that time for use in hospitals), and other attractions.  A fire destroyed the complex in 1911.  An early report claimed the incubator babies had perished, but this proved to be false and a later correction indicated that brave firemen had saved them all.

There is a world beneath and behind what you see.  Not a dreamscape perhaps, not exactly, but another landscape of lines of code that create what you see.  Worked hard last night to clean up that other world, tidy it up, scrub it, scan it, can you tell?  Do you see the difference?  100 pages now of blog, of 1904, of everything important, of what was then, now.  Now and then.

The older entries have lost some of their formatting, images are missing like a tooth gone here and there, or a digit; the font and spacing are off, sign of rickets incurred during a long voyage of migration, a deficiency of some sort, internal decay, a coding translation disorder,  I like that.  Something archaeological and historical about it.  What remains of meaning that once was.

The Daily Mail is reporting the discovery of hidden tunnels and canals and random golden orbs beneath the temple of the Feathered Serpent in Teotihuacan, Mexico.   What mysteries lie beneath.   What we don’t know, didn’t pay attention to, used to know and have forgotten.

Elvia Allman (September 19, 1904 – March 6, 1992) was a character and voice-over actress who appeared on Petticoat Junction, the Beverly Hillbillies, the I Love Lucy show, and as the voice of Clarabelle Cow.   Life is what you’re doing.  Dreams, and careers, big and small, memorable and forgotten, what was planned and intended and saved and rescued, and what, if anything, was left behind.

September 17, 1904

Fonteyn, Somes, Ashton

Sir Frederick Ashton (September 17, 1904 – August 18, 1988) directing Margot Fonteyn and Michael Somes in Ondine.

He said he wanted to be a dancer from the moment he saw Pavlova perform, in 1917.  Despite the objections of his middle-class family, he pursued his dream, studied under Leonide Massine and Marie Rambert, but it was as a choreographer he would achieve his greatest fame.

“I met Freddie at Glyndebourne,” a friend tells me.  “Years ago.  I was sixteen.  He sat next to me and fell asleep on my shoulder, the old dear.”

There are so many rhythms in this world, of movement, of dance, of breath, of life and death, of sleeping and waking, of becoming and finishing, future and past, of being young and being old, an infinity of individual variations.

“Life is a state of becoming and death is a part of that process of becoming.  You are alive now, a consciousness knowing itself, sparkling with cognition amid a debris of dead and dying cells; alive while the atoms and molecules of your body die and are reborn.” [Seth, The Eternal Validity of the Soul, Prentice-Hall, 1972, p. 138]

Now let’s go see the Balletboyz at the Royal Opera House.

September 16, 1904



Work and Win,  No. 302, New York, September 16, 1904

“[When I was waiting for you last night] It seemed to me that I was fighting a battle with every religious and social force in Ireland for you and that I had nothing to rely on but myself. There is no life here– no naturalness or honesty. People live together in the same houses all their lives and at the end they are as far apart as ever.”

James Joyce to Nora Barnacle, September 16, 1904, on wanting to leave Ireland,  Letters of James Joyce, Vol. II, p. 53

This is not the only reality; not even the only physical reality.  Our dreams take place in a world as real as the one you wake to, maybe even more real.  Last night I was in a place just like the bend half way up Nichols Canyon where you can look out and almost see to the ocean on a good day, just like Nichols Canyon except less lush, less watered and a mobile home encampment on that bend instead of a nice California ranch house.  A gang of young drug dealers live there, or not so much live but use it as a crash pad, a party house, a temporary headquarters.  I might be part of this gang or not; it’s unclear except that I am tolerated because of a relationship I have with one of them, the girl or the boy.  Again, not clear.

In waking existence, of course, we only track the events that happen in this particular set of coordinates of time and space in this specific plane of existence, and then not even all of these events but just some of them, and we string these remembered moments together and call that reality, and history.  But there are many other probable events occurring, having occurred, soon to occur, which we ignore but which are taking place nonetheless, influencing what we choose to see, or not see, or do or not do.

Our physical senses make us see this world the way we see it.   You would have to fight a battle with your senses to see the world otherwise, without time or space, for instance.  But you could do it.  You have other senses you don’t use, that would help you.  You could work at it and win.

“To see God everywhere you have to have special eyes, otherwise you cannot bear the shock.”  Neem Karoli Baba

More Driving, and Cleverness and Bewilderment


Michael Arlen.  The Green Hat.  London: W. Collins Sons & Co., Ltd., 1924.  First edition with dust jacket creased and slightly tattered with losses to spine.  Collection of the author.

So many of the Bright Young Things were born in 1904: Cecil Beaton, Nancy Mitford, Oliver Messel, Allanah Harper, Daphne Fielding.   They were all twenty years old when The Green Hat arrived on the scene.  Now, whether Iris Storm, the beautiful young woman who shows up in a yellow Hispano-Suiza at the start of the novel, wearing a green hat (“bright green, of a sort of felt, and bravely worn, being no doubt one of those that women who have many hats affect pour le sport”) is based on Lady Idina Sackville (they have the same initials I.S.) or whether Lady Idina was Nancy Mitford’s The Bolter, is open to speculation.   Lady Idina was not born in ’04 but in 1893; still she managed to keep up with the pack.  And what a mad-cap pack it was.

And what a clever book is The Green Hat.  Spending yesterday in bed, (don’t ask) I reread it (I read these things so you don’t have to, you’re welcome), after many years since I first read it – my copy comes from a book stall near the Burlington Arcade, circa 1982, tatty dustjacket else fine, with only light spotting a few pages.

What a clever book, and like so many clever books it reminded me of others, of the time, of the era.  My copy of American Colony (lacking the dustjacket) was partly uncut at the end.  Does anyone else miss the days when you needed a knife to read a book?  Not just wanted a knife, but needed one, I mean.

I used to dream of writing clever books.   And in recent times I’ve had great fun trying to.  An old friend got in touch recently with a terse but telling piece of advice, from Rumi.  I think the truth, even if it doesn’t stop you doing something, is worth remembering.   The truth in fact rarely stops anyone, but that doesn’t mean it’s worth forgetting.  Drive on.

Sell your cleverness.  Buy bewilderment.  Rumi

NOTE: how sad the spam people are, hacking this little site and spoiling things, and I lose a post in the process.   But my beloved Bianca saves them all, and she sent it back to me, like a dear friend who keeps your letters in a shoe box or tied with ribbon, bless you, bless you.  And so this is a repost, a reconstruction, a copy and paste of something earlier, something which was lost and is found again.  Maybe the Rumi quote has something to do with it after all, for it’s been copied and reposted on Facebook by others who’ve gotten scores of ‘likes.’  And here I was trying to be so clever!  I guess that’s the point, and where the bewilderment comes in, because I don’t understand how any of this works.  I don’t understand it at all.

September 15, 1904


Bernard James Tindal Bosanquet (1877-1936), caricatured by Spy (Leslie Ward), published in Vanity Fair, September 15, 1904, with the title, “an artful bowler.”

Bernard Bosanquet, an English cricketer best known for inventing the “googly,” a ball delivered to look like a leg break but turning into an off break instead.  In the 1904 season Bosanquet took more than 100 wickets.

We were talking the other day about Joseph O’Neill’s Netherland, a novel about post 9/11 New York and cricket, if you will.  The New York Times compared it to The Great Gatsby, which allowed a conjuring of Long Island and white flannel trousers and a lost world without actually saying so, and calling it “a resonant meditation on the American Dream.”  A meditation, that is, by an outsider, a narrator slightly removed, about outsiders yet more removed and striving for a dream that is close but out-of-reach, like Daisy was for Gatsby, like the green light at the end of the dock, unattainable and yet so near, more than a fantasy place like Neverland but close the way Netherland is close, sounds like, close the way Neverland is to the Netherlands, which is not quite as close, the way cricket is like baseball; close but something quite different, something foreign and not seemingly American at all.

The Explorers Club


The Explorers Club, founded in 1904.  I told you it was the year everything important happened.

September 13, 1904


Gladys George (September 13, 1904 – December 8, 1954) as Madame du Barry in George Cukor’s Marie Antoinette, 1938.

We are all a little blind when it comes to the Present; we only see it clearly afterward, and then it shows up in the stories we tell of the Past.  Usually in the hair and makeup.  Cukor did research for his Marie Antoinette – I own a few of the books he used (among them Memoirs of Madame de la Tour du Pin, and The Splendid Century, by W.H. Lewis, both with Cukor’s famous Landacre bookplate) so you know he wanted to get it right.  And it did look right, then; it looked good, it looked amazing, authentic, historically accurate, it looked just the way you would think the 18th century would have looked, in 1938.

We are limited to our time.  You can always tell a 30s costume drama from the lipstick and the eyebrows. The same is true for period films from the 50s and 60s too, for that matter.  Elizabeth Taylor in Cleopatra, hello, talk about eyes.  Sure, Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette (2006) looks very clever and modern now, but how long before we say, oh man, that is so early twenty-first century?

I really did spend the day in bed on Thursday, by the way, I did not go to the beach, why does everyone think I’m at the beach when I am languishing in my sickbed and no, I do not mean entertaining in my boudoir like Madame du Barry either.  Who by the way was beheaded the same day in 1793, December 8, that Gladys George would die one hundred and sixty one years later, in 1954.

Poor Gladys, married four times and the last time to a young man twenty years her junior, a hotel bell hop.  Good for her, you might say, but it didn’t last.  She died a few years later from a combination of throat cancer, heart disease and cirrhosis of the liver.  She was fifty.  Madame du Barry was fifty-one when they cut off her head.

Alberta Williams King was also born September 13, 1904.  She was Martin Luther King Jr.’s mother.  She died June 30, 1974 at the age of 69, shot to death in the Ebenezer Baptist Church while she played the organ for the Sunday Service.  The same church where her son had preached nonviolence.  The gunman said he’d planned on shooting King’s father but his mother was closer.

I don’t know why we are fascinated by some stories that end in violence, like the beheading of a poor frivolous queen or a king’s scheming mistress, while to other tales of revolution and violent death we seem blind, or else vaguely indifferent.   Of course the deaths of King Louis and  Dr. King are almost too weighed down with meaning to work dramatically.  They are iconic deaths.  Historical and political markers.  So we focus on the wife, the mistress, the wife’s lover, the parties, the excess, the gowns and the jewelry, the suggestion of corruption, the whiff of intrigue and conspiracy.  Whereas the death of Dr. King’s mother is almost too ironic and too awful to appeal to the imagination; too unjust, you might say, and nearly too pathetic, even to believe.

Story Notes


Charles Brackett, American Colony, 1929.  His fourth novel, about the ‘gay life’ of Americans abroad.

F. Scott Fitzgerald, writing from the Riviera in 1926: “There was no one at Antibes this summer except me, Zelda, the Valentinos, the Murphys, Mistinguet … Charlie Brackett…” (Source)

In Hollywood, Charlie Brackett and Billy Wilder became “one of the most successful filmmaking teams in cinema history” (Source).

sunset blvd shorts


Sunset Blvd.  (1950) Billy Wilder, director, written by Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett

Sunset Boulevard-22


“Sunday lunch we went to the Bracketts’ – why, God knows,” Christopher Isherwood (1904-1986) wrote in his diary.  And on another occasion: “A really funereal party at the Bracketts'” – “perhaps the most boring people I’ve ever known.”  (Source)

The Brackett home was furnished in high Victorian: elaborate carved Belter rosewood sofas and chairs with tufted velvet upholstery, Tiffany lamps, the cluttered elegance of an old-fashioned era, with ladies and gentlemen sitting at card tables playing cribbage – reminiscent of the bridge parties Norma Desmond gives (Source).

The film shot at a house that used to stand a block from where I live now.  (Source)

These are notes for a story.   The story of a writer.  The story of a young ambitious man in the 20s who becomes a successful writer in Hollywood in the 30s and 40s.  A young man who marries a wealthy woman in 1922.  They have two children, daughters.   One of his daughters grows up and marries his personal assistant; the other daughter marries a colonel in the Air Force, during the War, WWII.

There are famous people in the story, and not so famous people.   It is a story about America.  Americans abroad.  Americans at home.  Americans at war.  After the war.

These are just notes.  A framework for a story.   Material for a story about a writer who used the material of his life to tell stories.  A novel.  A film.  Telling and not telling.  Revealing and not revealing.

It’s the end of summer.  The anniversary of my coming to this town, 23 years ago.  Happy Labor Day.

“Too Ricketts and Shannon”



Charles Shannon and Charles Ricketts, 1904

Sometimes I am puttering about on-line, and I come across so many interesting things I’ll never get around to telling you.  Did you know, for instance, that Jacques-Émile Blanche grew up in a house in Passy that once belonged to the Princesse de Lamballe, she whose head the terrorists stuck on a stick and paraded around outside the Temple where her friend the poor queen was incarcerated?  Did you know that Walter Sickert accused Blanche of turning things he’d overheard into the “most monstrous fibs?”  Well, haven’t we all?  But I’ve a feeling that’s going to be a tricky item to fit into conversation.

After Oscar met John Gray in a bar on Shaftesbury Avenue, he took the beautiful young man round to meet the famous artist couple Ricketts and Shannon.  There’s a whole blog devoted to Ricketts and Shannon which is quite marvelous, as well as a wonderful piece on the pair at the Fitzwilliam Museum website.

And I’m indebted to Kirsty Stonell Walker‘s post on the artist Maxwell Armfield for the information that Duncan Grant wouldn’t associate with Armfield because he was just “too last century” and “too Ricketts and Shannon.”  How times change.   From famous to famously old-fashioned.  How lucky for John Gray, but poor Duncan Grant, 20 years younger than Ricketts and Shannon, and shuddering at the thought of spending an evening with that dreary old couple.  Do you remember being a bright young thing bored to tears at dinner with dinosaurs and so anxious to get away to the clubs to go dancing or get into trouble or both? And then one day I suppose you become the fossil the kids are desperate to give the slip to.  Hopefully when it happens you’ve learned how to let them go gracefully.

I was reading John Rothenstein’s Modern English Painters on Lucien Pissarro last night, and Rothenstein says that when Sickert came back to London from Venice in 1905, he and Pissarro (with whom Charles RIcketts was quite close until they had a falling out) formed a group that would meet regularly on Saturdays at 19 Fitzroy Street.  Members of the group that formed around them would show their work and then they’d all adjourn to the Etoile in Charlotte Street for lunch.  “These ‘Saturdays,'” writes Rothenstein, “RIcketts’s and Shannon’s ‘Friday evenings,’ and the second and fourth Sundays in every month when Lucien entertained his friends at The Brook [his home in Stamford Brook until his death] became the principal events of his [Pissarro's] social life.”

And what a social life it must have been.  While at roughly the same time the Bloomsbury Group, a circle of artists and writers with younger and more ‘modern’ ideas, with a membership which would come to include Duncan Grant, were meeting and having their own Fridays and Saturdays and Sunday gatherings.  And then, of course, one day they too would be considered old-fashioned and very last century.

I suppose we can all get to be “too Ricketts and Shannon.”  I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing, of course.  Not a bad thing at all.

Everything Reminds Me

Duvoisin (2)

Roger Duvoisin (August 28, 1904 – June 30, 1980) Writer and Illustrator, notably children’s picture books, winner of the 1948 Caldecott Medal. There are times when everything reminds me of something else.  A picture in a children’s book that rings a bell in me, takes me back in my mind to a chateau in the south of France.  Marseilles to be exact:


Not identical, of course.  Similar, reminiscent.  Summer day.  People.  No toy boats, and nothing to indicate the struggle finding a parking place, but still.  Because nothing is ever a perfect copy, an exact reproduction.  Don’t get me started on reproduction.  That a picture of a thing can be the thing itself is the sort of belief keeps people out of museums.  And the postcard industry thriving.

Same with fantasies.  The urge to replicate, make real, in the flesh so to speak but complicated, expensive to set up, never going to be the same as whatever it was you were trying to recreate.    Especially if the original is about someone(s) from your past, or worse, something(s) you once saw performed by professionals.  There are obstacles.  Casting, to begin with.  A screening process that may involve unreliable profiles, deceptive photography, misrepresentation of skills.  Then getting them all to show up at the same time.

A friend from the other coast sends you a photo of someone you recognize.  “I’m thinking of getting these glasses,” he writes.  “What do you think?”  Glasses are the only thing the young man in the photo is wearing.

“He was on the cover of my first book,” I text back.  “And by the way, it’s real.  Not photo-shopped.”

“You know everyone out there,” my friend replies.  “You could write the Almanach de Gotha of gay L.A.”

It’s an exaggeration.  It’s a small town, in truth.  A young person with talent and beauty gets around.  It is the getting around of a few that creates a sense of intimacy for the rest of us.  That, and social media and the easy sharing of images, and dancing in public in a jock-strap.

Recognition works by reminding.  You’ve seen him before.  You’ve seen someone like him before.  He triggers a memory.  He reminds you of some desire, of something you were going to be, or have, or do.  He is the madeleine of memory.

And the glasses are nice too.

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