Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Death of a Cultural Icon

On this day in 1955, actor James Dean was killed in a head–on collision near Cholame, Calif.

Dean was 24 when he died. He made a few uncredited film appearances in the early 1950s, but he is remembered for the three films he made in the mid–1950s — "East of Eden," "Rebel Without a Cause" and "Giant." His performances spoke to angst–ridden teenagers of the time, and he is still remembered, more than half a century after his death, as a symbol of that awkward time of life.

While Dean was working on his final film, he was interviewed by actor Gig Young for an episode of "Warner Bros. Presents." After Dean's death, the segment was not aired, but you can see it in the attached clip. It has often been misidentified as a public service announcement.

Another interesting story involves actor Alec Guinness. As I understand it, Dean introduced himself to Guinness and showed him his new Porsche 550 Spyder. Guinness reportedly thought the car was "sinister" and told Dean, "If you get in that car, you will be found dead in it by this time next week."

The conversation occurred on Sept. 23, 1955, exactly one week before Dean's fatal crash.

This date always brings back unique memories for me because, when I was a teenager, director James Bridges came to my hometown of Conway, Ark., to make a movie about the impact Dean's death had on teens of the time. Bridges grew up in Paris, Ark., which wasn't exactly a stone's throw from my hometown, but it was fairly close, and, as I recall, he chose my hometown because it was a college town and he wanted to use the academic setting as a backdrop.

The movie was semi–autobiographical for Bridges, who was 19 when Dean died.

The original title of the movie was "9–30–55." When the finished product came to the screen, the title had been changed to "September 30, 1955."

Prior to filming, Bridges held auditions that drew literally hundreds of local wannabe actors, and he actually wound up casting a local girl who was often said to be a star in the making.

I don't think she ever made another movie, but there were some noteworthy folks in the cast. The most familiar was Richard Thomas, who was the star of the TV series "The Waltons" at the time.

Two other actors made their debuts in the film — Dennis Quaid (who may be best known for his work in "The Right Stuff") and Tom Hulce (who is probably best known for his appearances in "Animal House" and "Amadeus").

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Engelbert Humperdinck is Dead?


I'm not talking about the pop singer from the 1960s and 1970s. His real name is Arnold Dorsey, and, at last report, he was still very much alive. He is 73 and still recording — although perhaps not as much as he used to.

But he's the one I think of when I hear the name Engelbert Humperdinck. And, for a long time, I thought it was merely a stage name that he made up. It is a memorable name, after all.

Well, it is a stage name, but Dorsey didn't make it up.

I don't remember when I learned that there was another Engelbert Humperdinck, but at some point, I did. He was a German composer who lived mostly in the 19th century and is remembered primarily for composing the opera "Hänsel und Gretel" in the early 1890s.

Born in 1854, Humperdinck suffered a severe stroke in 1912. He recovered, but his left hand was permanently paralyzed. With his son's help, he completed his final composition six years later. Then, on Sept. 26, 1921, while attending the performance of his son's first operatic production as a director, he suffered a heart attack. The next day, he suffered another heart attack, which proved to be fatal.

An interesting footnote ...

You may be, as my mother was, a fan of the 1987 movie "The Princess Bride." That film was based on a 1973 book by William Goldman.

Anyway, there is a character in the story named Prince Humperdinck. It has been suggested that Engelbert Humperdinck the German composer was the inspiration for that name, but some have said that Goldman was inspired by the Engelbert Humperdinck who is his contemporary.

As far as I know, Goldman never has confirmed which one was the actual inspiration.

Wreck of the Old 97

As a child, I remember hearing "Wreck of the Old 97" performed on radio and on TV. I'm not sure that we ever sang it in school.

But I didn't know, when I was growing up, that it was based on a true story.

The Old 97 was a Southern Railway train known as "Fast Mail" that had a reputation for never being late. Southern Railway had a profitable contract with the Postal Service to deliver mail, but the contract included a clause that would impose a penalty for each minute the train was late. Consequently, it seems like a safe assertion to say that the operators of Old 97 were always under pressure to be on schedule.

On Sept. 27, 1903, the Old 97 was traveling from Monroe in west–central Virginia to Spencer in western North Carolina, a distance of about 150 miles, when it left the track about midway through its route in the vicinity of Danville, Va. Nine people were killed.

The engineer had been ordered to operate the train at high speed because it was already an hour behind schedule when it left Monroe, Va. But after the wreck, Southern Railway denied that the engineer had been pressured to make up for lost time. The song, which reportedly was written by a cousin of one of the firemen aboard the train, clearly put the blame for the wreck on the railroad company.

I honestly don't know how many people have recorded "Wreck of the Old 97" — possibly hundreds, maybe even thousands — and the list of people who have performed the song may be virtually endless. I do know that numerous well–known artists — among them Flatt and Scruggs, Johnny Cash, Woody Guthrie and Boxcar Willie — recorded it over the years.

What's the moral of the story? Well, I guess, in these recessionary times, when so many people are hurting because of the selfishness and greed of a few, it is a reminder that big companies putting their financial interests ahead of the lives and safety of others is nothing new.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

In The End, The Love You Take ...

This is a melancholy anniversary for Beatles fans. It was 40 years ago today that the Beatles released their final studio recording, "Abbey Road."

It's always been my favorite, which is saying something, I guess. Just about every Beatles album was great, in my opinion. For the true Beatles fan, it is quite a task to single out one as a "favorite."

But perhaps it could only be my favorite Beatles album because of the vinyl format. Today, it is great to be able to listen to an entire Beatles album from start to finish without ever having to change sides. But there was something special about being able to weave just about every song on the second side together, as the Beatles did on "Abbey Road," creating one long medley.

My friends and I agreed that it was technically perfect. It may not seem that way in the age of CDs. But it sure seemed that way when vinyl was still in vogue.

"Abbey Road" was not the last studio album that was released by the Beatles — technically speaking, that was "Let It Be," which was released just after the band broke up in 1970 (that is an anniversary that remains to be observed). But the songs on "Let It Be" were recorded before "Abbey Road." "Abbey Road" was the final studio effort by the Beatles.

So, as I say, it is a melancholy anniversary. But it is reassuring, in a way, because it comes in the same month that the Beatles are being introduced to a whole new generation of listeners, via a new video game and the release of remastered CDs of all their records.

What more evidence does one need to support Rolling Stone's conclusion that they were the greatest rock 'n' roll performers of all time?

Contrary to the final track on "Abbey Road," it was not the end for the Beatles. People will still be listening to them long after the rest of us are gone.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Memorable Weddings

I saw an interesting thing on the website today.

It is a repost of a recap of "16 Wonderful TV Weddings" from Entertainment Weekly.

Frankly, I didn't know what to expect when I clicked on the link. Fictitious marriage ceremonies involving characters in TV shows or made–for–TV movies? Nuptials from reality shows? Real–life weddings?

Actually, it turned out to be all three. And, in all honesty, the choices (well, most of them, anyway) weren't bad. Certainly, I remember watching many of them. Some I didn't watch — reality shows and soap operas have never been high on my list. That doesn't mean they didn't deserve to be included, but I felt that the limitation of 16 forced some worthwhile TV weddings to be left out.

One was the long–awaited wedding of Niles and Daphne on the "Frasier" show. The pairing always seemed unlikely to me — I simply couldn't see a woman as beautiful as Daphne being attracted to someone like Niles. But perhaps that is indicative of the unpredictable nature of love.

The story itself was a testimony to the love that brides and grooms usually have for their families. Niles and Daphne were married in Reno, but then they had to repeat the ceremony with their loved ones in attendance after they learned that their families would be heartbroken if they couldn't witness the vow exchange.

Another memorable wedding came at the end of the final episode of the "M*A*S*H" series in 1983. Klinger and his Korean love, Soon–Lee, tied the knot just before the camp was disassembled. Soon–Lee was only in a few episodes, but Klinger's decision to marry her and stay in Korea while they searched for her refugee family was truly an expression of love and sacrifice, given the fact that Klinger was well known for trying to be discharged from the Army by dressing in women's clothes.

As Hawkeye said when Klinger announced that he was staying in Korea, "You don't have to act crazy now. We're all getting out!"

I guess my all–time favorite TV wedding was the one that united Ted Baxter and Georgette on "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" — a spur–of–the–moment ceremony in which everyone — including guest star John Ritter, who played a minister who was summoned from a tennis game to perform the honors — had memorable lines.

(It's been many years since I have seen that episode, but, as I recall, one of Ritter's best lines came when he was positioning the members of the wedding party — "Bride on my forehand, groom on my backhand!")

Perhaps the best line came when a skeptical Mary had a brief one–on–one conversation with Georgette in which she sought reassurance that her friend really did love Ted.

"Of course, Mary," Georgette replied. "Somebody has to!"

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Thanks for the Poems, Henry

The Eyelash
"The eyelash is a friend to man.
It lives to serve the eye.
It fights the dirt and dust and grime,
And keeps the eyeball dry.
Flick, flick. Flick, flick.
It's busy as a bee.
Flick, flick. Flick, flick.
It's helpin' you and me."

Henry Gibson

Back in the day, a real fellow named Jack Handey wrote for "Saturday Night Live." One of his contributions to the show was his "Deep Thoughts" segment. They weren't poems — more like one–liners.

I guess Jack Handey was the natural comedic descendant of Henry Gibson, whose poems graced Rowan and Martin's "Laugh–In" in the late 1960s. Gibson died Monday at the age of 73.

What one remembers from "Laugh–In" depends, I guess, on how old one was when it was on the air.

Folks who were adults at the time remember when Richard Nixon came on the show and said, "Sock it to me?"

Others — probably the adolescent boys of that time — remember Goldie Hawn dancing in a bikini.

I remember Henry Gibson, dressed in the "mod" clothing of the day and holding an enormous artificial flower, reciting an original poem. He typically prefaced his appearance with a deadpan statement — "A poem ... by Henry Gibson:"
Dogs Are Better Than Ants
"Dogs are better than ants
Because you don't have to bend so far to pet them
In addition, they are sturdy old muzzlers
Who fetch us our slippers, papers, and twig chunks
Twig chunks
But most of all, they stay out of jelly jars and
Never go squish if you happen to step on them."

Gibson also had a memorable regular bit in a segment called the "Cocktail Party." He was typically shown dressed like a priest, sipping tea. At some point, he would set down his teacup, utter a one–liner and go back to sipping tea.

He was somewhat unremarkable physically, a bit shorter than most men. As a result, he sort of got lost or confused in some folks' memory banks. After news of his death started to get around, I saw a reference to his passing on Facebook. Someone responded to the news with this comment: "Very interesting."

That was the catchphrase used by Arte Johnson, one of Gibson's "Laugh–In" castmates who typically dressed like a German soldier and smoked a cigarette while he delivered it. Johnson and Gibson shared some physical characteristics, but they definitely were different people.

The humor on "Laugh–In" probably seems dated now, maybe even silly. But it played an important role in the evolution of American comedy from the truly silly and often mundane comedy that came before to the edgier, push–the–envelope style we've seen since.

Henry Gibson made a significant contribution. I'm sorry to see him go.

Thanks for the poems, Henry.

Friday, September 11, 2009

An Inconvenient Corpse

If anyone ever tells you that Alfred Hitchcock didn't have a sense of humor, tell him he's full of it and direct his attention to "The Trouble With Harry."

See, the trouble with Harry is that he's dead, and no one seems to know what to do with him. He's just laying out in a field with an apparent wound to his head, and any one of a number of seemingly ordinary people — played by Shirley MacLaine, John Forsythe, Mildred Natwick, Edmund Gwenn — could have been reponsible for Harry's death. And that leads to all sorts of complications.

It's the blackest of comedies and a real departure from Hitchcock's normal style. It does have a generous helping of the understated British humor, evident especially when Mildred Natwick encounters Edmund Gween hauling the body away and innocently inquires, "What seems to be the trouble, Captain?"

True, Hitchcock used elements of humor in his other movies, but they were different. Sort of along the line of comic relief to break the tension. In this film, his tongue is firmly planted in his cheek.

"The Trouble With Harry" wasn't Hitchcock's most successful film, but I've heard it said it was one of his favorites. It was the screen debut of 7–year–old Jerry Mathers (before he became Beaver Cleaver), and it was Hitchcock's first collaboration with composer Bernard Herrmann, who also wrote the scores for films like "Vertigo," "Psycho" and "North by Northwest."

(Incidentally, you can see "Psycho" and "North by Northwest" on Turner Classic Movies on Sept. 22.)

You can see "The Trouble With Harry" on Turner Classic Movies Tuesday at 7 p.m. (Central).

By the way, if you want to see one of Hitchcock's signature cameo appearances, he was still doing them when he made "The Trouble With Harry" in 1955, but you'll have to get through the first 20 minutes or so of the movie before you'll see him.

I think Hitchcock made his cameo appearances in just about every film he directed. In many of his early films, he didn't make his cameo apearance until well into the movie, but at some point it became apparent to him that audiences weren't following the story very closely until after they had seen him so he started making his appearances very early in his later movies.

He wanted viewers to give their full attention to the story.

As a result, Hitchcock's cameos in "Vertigo," "Psycho" and "North by Northwest" occur in the first 10 minutes.

Oddly enough, though, his cameo in his final film, 1976's "Family Plot," came 40 minutes into the story. That was hardly a record for Hitchcock — in half a dozen of his films (all made before 1946), Hitchcock made his cameo appearance after an hour or more. In the last quarter century of his life, all of Hitchcock's cameo appearances were done before the 30–minute mark except "Family Plot." Perhaps that was because it, too, was a comedy.

As primarily a practitioner of the thriller genre, Hitchcock may not have felt it was necessary for audiences to be as focused when watching one of his comedies.

Why don't you be the judge?

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Newman and Woodward Together Again

It's been just about a year now since Paul Newman died. This Saturday, you can see one of the earliest movies in his career, 1958's "The Long, Hot Summer," on Turner Classic Movies at 7 p.m. (Central).

The film has special significance because one of his co–stars was Joanne Woodward, who became his wife that year. As nearly as I can tell, this was the first time the two appeared in a film together, but it was far from the last. Between 1958 and 1990, they were in nine more films together. Newman also directed four films in which Woodward starred but Newman did not appear.

Their collaboration (including the projects in which Newman was the director) produced more than three times as many movies as the partnership of Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. It was even more productive than the legendary alliance of Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn.

That's pretty impressive. From what I've heard, more of a fuss was made about Newman's film partnership with Robert Redford than his partnership with his wife, but Newman and Redford only made two films together. "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" and "The Sting" were great movies, but they represented a fraction of the work Newman and Woodward did together.

Their marriage lasted 50 years — not a bad record for Hollywood. Of course, they weren't exactly a Hollywood couple. They lived in Connecticut.

Newman had this to say about his marriage: "I don't like to discuss my marriage, but I will tell you something which may sound corny but which happens to be true. I have steak at home. Why should I go out for hamburger?"

This Saturday, you will have the opportunity to see them together when it was all getting started.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Free Associatin'

I first linked my personal computer to the internet about 13 years ago. It was still somewhat primitive in those days, but one of the first things I realized was that the HTML system promised to finally set my spirit free.

I have always had a somewhat unpredictable curiosity. All sorts of things have been known to spark my interest in learning more about, well, all sorts of things.

HTML has been perfect for that, really. But now that I think of it, maybe its proclivity for free association is too much of a good thing. I can start out looking up one thing, then I can get diverted by so many side thoughts that I find myself having to retrace my steps to remind myself what I was looking for in the first place.

When I was growing up, I remember hearing my teachers say things in school that led my mind in directions that my teachers probably never intended. We had a set of encyclopedia at home, and sometimes I made a note to myself to look up something later that day.

But sometimes I forgot.

Other times, when I was in an elevator or sitting in a booth eating my lunch or standing in line at the grocery store, I overheard other people's conversations in which they mentioned something that sparked an interest, but I had nothing to write with.

I tried to make mental notes, but that didn't always prove reliable.

HTML made it possible for me to satisfy most of these on–the–spot cravings for information immediately. There have been times when such inspirations were so obscure that I could spend hours searching the internet and never answer my questions. But, most of the time, I have been able to satisfy my need to know in a few minutes — and then, I could return to whatever the original task at hand happened to be with a clear conscience.

In my case, it isn't a perfect system. Not yet. I don't have a laptop computer. I've been out of work for about a year, so buying one really isn't in my plans until I have a job again.

But that is definitely something I intend to do. Actually, it's been on my "to–do" list for quite awhile. I remember once, within the last couple of years, when I was at a movie and I saw a woman on the screen. I couldn't place her, but I knew I had seen her in something before. For a couple of seconds, I had a nearly irresistible urge to sit down in front of my home computer and visit AllMovie or The Internet Movie Database to see her filmography.

I don't go to movie theaters often, but I don't recall seeing people carrying laptops in my most recent visits to theaters. Maybe theaters have banned laptops. I don't know. Since I don't own one, this hasn't been an issue for me.

If there is such a ban, that may change in the future.

(I know, some people will point out that Blackberries can serve the same function. But I'm out of work, remember? I need to conserve my money for things like rent and food.)

Another place that may be changed by the presence of laptops is church. The pastor of my church is, by his own admission, "the most plugged–in guy I know." He has a presence on Facebook, where he posts audio files of his sermons. In addition to being a theologian, he is a musician who performs in a band and, apparently, has the equipment he needs to make videos of himself playing songs he has written and post them on YouTube.

And he has a laptop. He's very pleased with it, and I'm sure he would recommend a laptop to anyone who asked.

But I haven't seen anyone attending services with a laptop.

Yesterday was one of those times when I wished I could have had a laptop with me in church. Or at least something like a Blackberry, where I could answer my questions when they occur to me.

Yesterday was "Bluegrass Mass Sunday" at my Methodist church. A handful of people played guitar, banjo, dulcimer, washboard and bass and led the congregation in renditions of hymns that were written by a woman named Fanny Crosby, a 19th century American who was blind most of her life and wrote thousands of hymns.

I grew up in the Methodist church. Crosby was a Methodist all her life. I now know that she was quite well known during her lifetime — and not just because of her hymns; apparently, she also had quite a reputation for public speaking — but I don't recall ever hearing her name before yesterday.

Anyway, when I heard her name, I instinctively wanted to find out more about her. Having access to a laptop would have come in handy, but it had to wait until I got home.

When I got home, I found out that she was born in 1820, that she died in 1915 and that she had literally written thousands of hymns in her life.

And I found out something about music publishers of the 19th century. Apparently, quite a few of them did not like to publish a large number of hymns that were written by the same person. So Crosby used dozens of pen names to get around that.

I've learned that several of the hymns we sang in church yesterday — "Blessed Assurance," "Jesus Is Tenderly Calling You Home" and "To God Be the Glory" — were among her best known.

And I learned Crosby, who knew how to play the piano and the guitar, played "Safe in the Arms of Jesus" (another of her compositions) at the funeral of Ulysses S. Grant in 1885.

That reminded me of something from my childhood, when I was about 7 or 8 years old and my brother would have been about 4 or 5.

My family was living in New York City for the summer. My father was a college professor and he was taking continuing education classes. He managed to sublet an apartment in New York that was the home of one of his former students, and that is where our family lived for some three or four weeks.

I don't remember much about that apartment, except that it was several floors up and it had no air conditioning so we used oscillating fans to keep the air circulating. I can't say the air in that place ever got really cool, except maybe in the early morning hours. For a little while.

During the day, when it would get steamy, my mother took my brother and me on excursions around the city. Many of the places we went had air conditioning, which had a lot going for it. But one of our regular destinations had no air conditioning. It was a few blocks from our apartment — Grant's Tomb in Riverside Park.

Grant's Tomb was a granite and marble edifice, and it was always cool in there. Sometimes we would prepare a bag of sandwiches, pick up some drinks at a store, have a picnic lunch in Riverside Park and then go into Grant's Tomb to cool off in the afternoon.

In the years since that summer, I have often heard the Groucho Marx joke: "Who is buried in Grant's Tomb?"

When I was a child, I was certain, as most people are, that the answer was Ulysses S. Grant. But that really isn't correct, for a couple of reasons:
  1. President Grant is not the only person who is interred there. His wife Julia also is there.

  2. Technically, no one is "buried" in Grant's Tomb. The Grants are entombed there.
By the way, Fanny Crosby was inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame in 1975.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Bob Newhart Turns 80

I guess this is more significant to the over–40 crowd, but today is Bob Newhart's 80th birthday.

I was luckier than most people my age. I knew about Bob Newhart before most of my friends did. My parents owned a copy of his debut album, "The Button–Down Mind of Bob Newhart," which won the Grammy for Album of the Year and displaced an Elvis album and a cast recording of "The Sound of Music" from the top of the Billboard charts.

I listened to that record so often when I was a boy that I memorized many of the routines and used to recite them for my friends. I don't remember most of them now, but if I hear a line from one of them, it's usually enough to spark a memory surge!

Perhaps some of my friends' parents also had copies of that record, but not many, I'm sure.

Even so, any of my friends who didn't know who Bob Newhart was when I was reciting his routines in the schoolyard soon learned. He headlined his own TV show, "The Bob Newhart Show," from 1972 to 1978, then he was the star of another long–running show, "Newhart," from 1982 to 1990.

The final episode of "Newhart" has, variously, been described as both the greatest finale for a TV series and the most unexpected moment.

The unexpected part was the conclusion. Newhart, who played an innkeeper in the second series, played a psychologist in the first one. At the end of the "Newhart" episode, he was shown waking up in bed — in the bedroom from the first series next to Suzanne Pleshette, his wife in the first series. Turned out, the entire second series had been a dream — which was a clever parody of the show "Dallas," in which one full season turned out to have been a dream a few years earlier.

Newhart claimed that his real–life wife was the one who came up with the idea.

Well, whoever had the inspiration, it was brilliant. Watch it for yourself in the attached clip — although, if you're too young to remember "The Bob Newhart Show," it probably won't seem that funny to you.

Just take my word for it. It's funny.

Happy birthday, Bob.

Friday, September 04, 2009

Don't Miss 'Here Comes Mr. Jordan'

Turner Classic Movies seems to be showing several noteworthy films this month, and I want to try to give you as much advance notice as I can when some of the standouts are coming up, starting with a movie that is scheduled for Wednesday night — "Here Comes Mr. Jordan."

Have you ever seen "Heaven Can Wait," the 1978 film starring Warren Beatty? Well, it was a remake of 1941's "Here Comes Mr. Jordan," with a few adjustments.

In the original, the main character, Joe Pendleton, was a boxer. In the remake, he was a quarterback.

In the original, his sidekick, Max Corkle, was his manager. In the remake, he was his coach.

In the original, the plane that Joe was piloting crashed. In the remake, Joe rode his bicycle into a tunnel and collided with a vehicle. In both films, the "escort" angel took the soul from the body too soon.

In both films, the main character played a musical instrument to relax — but was really terrible at it. It turned out that was a key point in convincing the Corkle character of Joe's true identity in both films. But the instrument was different in each movie. In "Here Comes Mr. Jordan," Joe played a saxophone. In "Heaven Can Wait," he played a clarinet.

But the essential story line was unchanged — Joe had been removed from his body prematurely and had been deprived of his destiny. The escort angel tried to correct the mistake but learned that the body had been cremated so a substitute body had to be found. At that point, the supervising angel (Mr. Jordan) stepped in to take charge.

Joe enlisted Max's help once the supervising angel (Claude Rains in the original, James Mason in the remake) found him a body and he tried to get back on the path of his own destiny.

Robert Montgomery played Joe in the original. He may be best known by more modern audiences as the father of Elizabeth Montgomery, but he was nominated for an Oscar for Best Actor for his performance in "Here Comes Mr. Jordan." So was Beatty nearly 40 years later.

If you have seen "Heaven Can Wait" but haven't seen "Here Comes Mr. Jordan," I urge you to watch it. It's part of a salute to Claude Rains and, in my opinion, it is the best film TCM has scheduled for that evening. It starts at 7 p.m. (Central), and it runs for 94 minutes.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Remembering Allen Drury

Today is the anniversary of both the birth and the death of one of my favorite writers.

His name was Allen Drury and he was born on this day in 1918. He died on this day in 1998.

In 1959, Drury — making use of his experience as a Senate correspondent for United Press — published his first novel, "Advise and Consent," which was a fictionalized treatment of a controversial nomination for secretary of state.

I say "fictionalized" because many of the elements of the story apparently were based on actual events during Drury's tenure as a Senate correspondent. As political novels go, "It may be a long time before a better one comes along," Saturday Review wrote. The novel won the Pulitzer Prize in 1960 and inspired a top–notch film in 1962. The screen adaptation was directed by Otto Preminger and starred Henry Fonda, Charles Laughton, Walter Pidgeon, Peter Lawford, Don Murray and Gene Tierney. Burgess Meredith and Betty White also appeared in relatively small roles.

My mother loved "Advise and Consent," and, as I recall, she gave me a paperback copy of it. It might have been a little beyond my years, but I read it, anyway — devoured it, really — and when I was done, I immediately wanted to read the sequels. He wrote five of them:
  • The first sequel, "A Shade of Difference," was set a year after the events in the first book,

  • the next two, "Capable of Honor" and "Preserve and Protect," continued the story into the next presidential election, and

  • the last two, "Come Nineveh, Come Tyre" and "The Promise of Joy," were alternate endings to the narrative. "Preserve and Protect" ended with an assassination attempt, but the readers didn't know who (if anyone) had been killed. The last two books were written as if different politicians had survived.
I remember that, one summer, I read them all, in order. I had found them at our local bookstore — in fact, I still have them, which is good because you can't find them in bookstores anymore.

Lately, I've been thinking about reading them again. And, while it's possible my opinion of them will be different, I'm inclined to think that my assessment of them will be the same as it was then. I thought they were very well written, although politically they seemed to lean pretty hard to the right, especially the farther I got into the "Advise and Consent" series. That should come as no surprise, really. Drury wrapped up the series more than 15 years before the collapse of the Soviet Union.

I do recall being aware, as I worked my way through the last couple of books, of Drury's dependence on the word "sardonic." I don't remember when I first noticed it, but once I did, it seemed to be popping up in every other paragraph. I finally looked it up in the dictionary and discovered that I had come close to figuring out (based on the context) what it meant.

Also, with the Cold War as its backdrop, it shouldn't be too surprising that Drury's stories began to take on a decidedly anti–communist, anti–progressive flavor.

Drury wrote some other books that played on his experiences in journalism and as a reporter covering politics. One was called "Anna Hastings," the fictional account of a pioneering female journalist. He continued that timeline with a book about a senator, "Mark Coffin U.S.S.," but it really isn't much of a sequel. Anna Hastings, the focus of the earlier book, was reduced to something of a supporting character in the second tale.

"Mark Coffin U.S.S." was followed by two sequels, "The Hill of Summer" and "The Roads of Earth."

Other books stood by themselves. "The Throne of Saturn," written in 1970, was about the first manned mission to Mars. Drury also wrote a novel about the Supreme Court ("Decision") and the military ("Pentagon").

He wrote 21 novels between 1959 and 1998, and he also wrote three works of non–fiction.

Allen Drury would have been 91 years old today. I can't help but wonder what sort of story he might have written in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks.