This Day In Literary History
On September 22nd, 1598, the legendary English playwright, poet, and actor Ben Jonson was arrested and charged with manslaughter. It would not be Jonson's first brush with the law.
He and fellow playwright Thomas Nashe had been previously jailed for obscenity following a performance of their play The Isle of Dogs, which, sadly, has been lost, as all existing copies of the script were destroyed by the authorities.
Jonson's arrest for manslaughter came about as the result of his duel with Gabriel Spenser, an actor who belonged to the same company, that of Philip Henslowe, who managed the Rose Theatre.
Jonson was known for his foul temper and frequent quarrels with other actors - especially those performing in his plays. However, the exact reason for his duel with Spenser is not known.
Swords were the chosen weapons for this particular duel. Although the blade of his sword was ten inches shorter than that of his opponent, Jonson killed Spenser (who, ironically, had previously killed another man in an earlier duel.) to win the duel.
He was immediately arrested, charged with manslaughter, and incarcerated at Newgate Prison. Jonson pled guilty, but avoided the hangman's rope by converting to Catholicism.
He then invoked the Benefit of Clergy, which allowed a defendant to request that he be tried under canon law by a bishop instead of under secular law by a judge.
At his trial, Jonson was able to avoid the death penalty and receive a light sentence by reciting a bible verse (Psalm 51) in Latin and reading a passage from the Bible to prove his literacy.
He was sentenced to be branded on his left thumb and to forfeit his property to the Church, after which, he was released from prison and returned to writing plays and acting.
Earlier that year, Jonson had enjoyed his first big success as a playwright when he staged a production of his classic play, Every Man in His Humour. The play was performed by the Lord Chamberlain's Men, at the Curtain Theatre.
The Lord Chamberlain's Men was England's most famous acting company. One of the first actors to be cast in the play was the legendary actor, playwright, and poet William Shakespeare.
Although Jonson would also become famous for his criticisms of Shakespeare's plays - he once quipped that Shakespeare never revised his plays when they should have been revised heavily - he actually admired Shakespeare.
He said of the Bard, "there was ever more in him to be praised than pardoned." When Jonson learned of Shakespeare's death, he said, "he was not of an age, but for all time."
Quote Of The Day
"Art hath an enemy called Ignorance." - Ben Jonson
Today's video features a reading of Ben Jonson's classic poem, To Celia. Enjoy!
Friday, September 22, 2017
Thursday, September 21, 2017
This Day In Literary History
On September 21st, 1947, the legendary American writer Stephen King was born in Portland, Maine. When King was two years old, his father left the house, claiming that he was going to buy cigarettes. Instead, he walked out on the family.
King's mother, Ruth, was left to raise him and his older brother David alone. She moved the family around several times, to several different states, before returning to live in Durham, Maine, where Ruth also cared for her ailing parents until they died.
As a young boy, Stephen King apparently witnessed the death of one of his friends, who had been struck and killed by a train. King has no memory of the incident, but that day, after he went out to play with his friend, he came home seemingly in shock and unable to speak.
The King family then learned of his friend's death. Some have speculated that the roots of the dark and disturbing images in King's horror novels may lie within his repressed memory of witnessing the gruesome death of his childhood friend. King has rejected this theory.
King's interest in writing was awakened when he was a boy. While exploring the attic with his brother, he found a collection of paperback books that had belonged to his father.
The books included an anthology of stories published by Weird Tales magazine and a collection of short stories by horror master H.P. Lovecraft, whom King has credited as a major influence.
By the time he started high school, King had become enamored with EC's popular line of horror comics, including Tales From The Crypt, which King later would pay tribute to in his original screenplay for the horror film Creepshow (1982).
As a high school student, King began writing stories and articles for Dave's Rag, a newspaper his brother published and printed with a mimeograph machine. He also sold copies of his stories to his classmates.
King's first commercially published story, I Was A Teenage Grave Robber, was published in 1965, in a serialized format, by a fanzine called Comics Review. A revised version of the story would be published in 1966 by another fanzine, Stories Of Suspense, as In A Half-World Of Terror.
In 1966, Stephen King attended the University of Maine, where he studied English. He wrote a column for the student newspaper called Steve King's Garbage Truck and took part in a writing workshop.
To pay his tuition, King took odd jobs, including one at an industrial laundry that would inspire him to write his classic short story, The Mangler. His first published story as a professional writer, The Glass Floor, was published in 1967 by Startling Mystery Stories.
After he graduated college in 1970, Stephen King obtained a teaching certificate, but was unable to find work as a teacher, so he continued doing odd jobs and supplemented his income by selling short stories to men's magazines such as Cavalier and Swank.
(At the time, it was common for men's magazines, from high-paying markets like Playboy and Penthouse to smaller ones like Cavalier and Swank, to publish short stories as well as articles and pictorials.)
Many of these early stories would appear in King's 1978 short story collection, Night Shift. In 1971, King married his college sweetheart, writer Tabitha Spruce, who would bear him three children - Naomi, Joe, and Owen.
Joe Hillstrom King would become a best selling and award winning novelist, writing under the pseudonym Joe Hill - the name of the famous labor leader for whom he was named. Owen King would become a writer as well, and Naomi would become an ordained minister for the Unitarian Universalist Church.
While teaching at the Hampden Academy, Stephen King began working on his first novel while battling a drinking problem that would last a decade. But after accruing numerous rejection slips for other writings, he began to doubt his writing talent.
King was so discouraged that he threw an early draft of his novel in the trash, convinced that it would never sell. His wife rescued the manuscript and encouraged him to finish it. So he did.
To King's surprise, Carrie was published in 1974. It told the story of Carrie White, a lonely, awkward, and unattractive teenage girl who is tormented by both her cruel classmates and her fanatically religious mother.
Carrie discovers that she possesses telekinetic powers - the ability to move objects with her mind. When her classmates play a cruel joke and humiliate her at the prom, Carrie uses her powers to unleash horrific vengeance. Then she takes equally horrific revenge on her mother - and the entire town.
King received a $2,500 advance on the first edition hardcover publication of Carrie, which wasn't much, even back then. Later, when King's agent called to tell him that the paperback rights to Carrie had been sold for $400,000 he couldn't believe it.
Stunned and in shock, King later said that "The only thing I could think to do was go out and buy my wife a hair dryer." King moved his family to Southern Maine so he could be near his ailing mother, who was dying of uterine cancer.
He began writing his second novel, Salem's Lot. Still in the grip of a severe drinking problem, King was drunk the day before he gave the eulogy at his mother's funeral. Still, he managed to write a second novel that proved to be even better than his first.
Salem's Lot was published in 1975. Inspired by one of King's all time favorite novels, the Bram Stoker classic Dracula (1897), it told the story of a small and quaint New England town infested with vampires.
Salem's Lot would be adapted as an acclaimed TV miniseries in 1979 and remade in 2004. In 1976, the first feature film adaptation of Stephen King's works was released. Carrie, directed by Brian De Palma, starred Sissy Spacek as the telekinetic teen.
Piper Laurie was cast as her demented mother, and, in early roles, William Katt appeared as Carrie's prom date and John Travolta as the boyfriend of Carrie's archenemy. Amy Irving played Sue Snell, the remorseful classmate who befriends Carrie.
The acclaim and success of the Carrie movie would make King's early career. A sequel, The Rage: Carrie 2, would be released in 1999. It had nothing to do with King's novel.
The sequel in name only told the story of another troubled teenage girl with telekinetic powers who had been sired by Carrie White's philandering father. King's novel would be adapted as a Broadway musical in 1988 and a TV movie in 2002.
Another feature film adaptation of Carrie was released in 2013. Starring Chloe Grace Moretz as Carrie and Julianne Moore as Carrie's demented mother, this version, though modernized, was more faithful to King's novel than the De Palma version. It received good reviews.
In 1977, Stephen King would publish his third novel. This novel, and the 1980 feature film adaptation of it (which he hated) would make King a household name and establish him as the master of horror.
The Shining was set in Colorado and inspired by the King family's visit to the Stanley Hotel, a resort hotel located near Estes Park, Colorado. The Shining tells the story of Jack Torrance, an aspiring writer and recovering alcoholic who takes a job as winter caretaker of the world famous Overlook Hotel in Colorado.
Torrance was a prep school teacher, but his alcoholism cost him his job and nearly ended his marriage. In the same year, while in drunken rages, he accidentally broke his son's arm and deliberately assaulted an obnoxious student.
Jack sees his caretaker's job as a means of providing for his family and rebuilding his life. Now sober, he plans to write during his downtime. Excited to begin his new life, Jack packs up his wife Wendy and their five-year-old son Danny and moves them to the Overlook.
The fact that the hotel's previous winter caretaker went insane and murdered his family before killing himself doesn't dissuade Jack from the taking the job. Little Danny, however, is terrified. He possesses formidable psychic powers and senses that something bad is going to happen at the Overlook.
When they arrive at the hotel, Danny meets head chef Dick Hallorann. Dick possesses the same psychic powers as Danny, which he calls "shining." He tells Danny that the horrifying images he sees can't hurt him, but warns him to stay out of room 217. (Room 217 was the room that the Kings stayed in at the Stanley Hotel.)
Jack Torrance uncovers disturbing information about the Overlook's past. Many murders and suicides took place in the hotel, which seems to have been haunted from the day it was built - on an Indian burial ground.
Nevertheless, Jack intends to stay and do his job. As Danny struggles to deal with his horrific psychic visions, an evil presence begins to erode Jack's sanity until it possesses him completely.
In 1980, the legendary British filmmaker Stanley Kubrick directed a feature film adaptation of The Shining. The movie starred Jack Nicholson as Jack Torrance, Shelley Duvall as Wendy, Danny Lloyd as Danny, and Scatman Crothers as Dick Hallorann.
The combination of Kubrick's tight direction, the claustrophobic cinematography, the foreboding soundtrack, and Jack Nicholson's bravura performance made it a cult classic horror film that remains hugely popular to this day.
However, Stephen King hated the movie, as Kubrick's screenplay took great liberties with the novel and features a completely different ending. Though the film runs nearly two and a half hours long, the story of Jack Torrance's eroding sanity feels rushed.
In 1997, The Shining was adapted as an ABC TV miniseries. It featured a teleplay written by Stephen King himself, and solid performances by Steven Weber and Rebecca De Mornay as Jack and Wendy Torrance, Courtland Mead as Danny, and the great Melvin Van Peebles as Dick Hallorann.
The miniseries had a great technical hook; it was actually filmed on location at the Stanley Hotel in Colorado - the very hotel where King and his family stayed, which inspired him to write the novel.
While competently directed by Mick Garris, King's teleplay is sunk by its low budget, blah cinematography, and the stifling censorship restrictions of the commercial TV medium. Although faithful to the novel, the miniseries lacks the atmosphere and intensity of Kubrick's movie, which is far more frightening.
Not content to rest on his laurels, Stephen King continued to write prolifically, authoring dozens of horror novels, most of which were adapted for the screen. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, King published a series of novels under the pseudonym Richard Bachman.
He did this as an experiment to answer a question that had been nagging him: was his success an accident of fate? The Bachman novels included Rage (1977), The Long Walk (1979), Roadwork (1981), and The Running Man (1982), which were early, unpublished novels that had been written before Carrie and later revised.
After the last Bachman novel, Thinner, was published in 1984, Steve Brown, a bookstore clerk from Washington D.C., noticed many similarities between Bachman's writing style and Stephen King's.
Determined to uncover the truth, Brown looked up the publisher's records in the Library of Congress and confirmed that Richard Bachman was in fact Stephen King. After his pseudonym was exposed, King issued a press release announcing the death of Richard Bachman from "cancer of the pseudonym."
He would later resurrect Bachman in 1996, publishing The Regulators under Bachman's name. The novel was a companion piece to King's novel, Desperation, which was released at the same time.
In 2006, King published Blaze, a rewrite of an unpublished Bachman novel that had been written in 1973. He had found the original manuscript in a trunk and tweaked it.
After King's pseudonym was outed, the first four Richard Bachman novels were republished in one large volume, The Bachman Books. They were also republished separately.
When three school shooting incidents (in 1989, 1996, and 1997) occurred, where the shooters were later found to have copies of Rage in their lockers, Stephen King pulled his first Bachman novel out of circulation.
Rage, which had been first published in 1977, told the story of Charlie Decker, a mentally disturbed high school student who finally snaps. After returning to school following a suspension for assaulting a teacher with a wrench, Charlie brings a gun to class.
He kills two teachers and holds his classmates hostage, forcing them to play a version of "truth or dare" where they must expose their deepest secrets, feelings, and fears. The hostage situation turns into a kind of group therapy session.
The session proves beneficial for all but one of the hostages, a pathetic bully who is psychologically destroyed when his deepest secrets are revealed. As the police surround the school, they find that they're dealing with an intelligent, cunning, and dangerous psychotic. And they're about to make a bad situation even worse.
King pulled Rage out of print because he feared that it might inspire more troubled teens to try and recreate his main character's rampage. In a 1983 interview for Playboy magazine, he said the following regarding other violent incidents that were linked to his novels:
But, on the other hand, [the victims] would all be dead even if I'd never written a word. The murderers would still have murdered. So I think we should resist the tendency to kill the messenger for the message. Evil is basically stupid and unimaginative and doesn't need creative inspiration from me or anyone else. But despite knowing all that rationally, I have to admit that it's unsettling to feel that I could be linked in any way, however tenuous, to somebody else's murder.
In 2007, after troubled Virginia Tech student Cho Seung-Hui went on a shooting rampage, it was revealed that Cho's professors, as well as the university's administrators and mental health staff, were aware of Cho's disturbing writings, but did nothing about them.
In an article about the shooting, written for Entertainment Weekly magazine, King said that "Certainly in this sensitized day and age, my own college writing - including a short story called Cain Rose Up and the novel Rage - would have raised red flags, and I'm certain someone would have tabbed me as mentally ill because of them..."
Although he is affectionately known as the "master of horror," King has occasionally ventured into other genres. In 1982, he published an anthology of novellas called Different Seasons which featured a coming of age story called The Body, later adapted as a popular movie called Stand By Me.
It also featured a moving prison drama, Rita Hayworth And Shawshank Redemption, which was filmed as the acclaimed movie, The Shawshank Redemption.
Another novella, Apt Pupil, a psychological thriller, would also be filmed, but the movie omits the novella's shocking ending. King's most popular non-horror venture would prove to be his magnum opus.
The Dark Tower series of novels, which began with The Gunslinger (1982), was an epic dark fantasy set in an alternate reality, on a parallel world similar to Earth, that is slowly dying.
The Gunslinger opens with gunfighter and knight errant Roland of Gilead chasing "the man in black," an evil sorcerer, across a desert. The land is a nightmarish, surreal wasteland reminiscent of the 19th century American Old West.
Through the series of novels, Roland pursues his quarry while on a quest to reach the Dark Tower. The Dark Tower series is Stephen King at his best, displaying his formidable skill as a storyteller.
Meticulously detailed and masterfully plotted, the Dark Tower novels are immensely popular with King fans, many of whom claim the series as their favorites of King's novels.
Last month, a feature film adaptation of The Dark Tower was released and received extremely negative reviews, scoring only 16% on the Tomatometer. Directed by Nikolaj Arcel, the film suffers from a horrible script (penned by four writers) and bizarre casting.
The dreadful film combines elements from different Dark Tower epic novels into one watered down, 95-minute, PG-13 rated mess infamous for the fact that the main character Roland Deschain, a young white man, is played by a middle aged black actor.
In 1986, King published another of his most popular and most ambitious horror novels, the nearly 1,200 page epic, It. Set in the small New England town of Derry, Maine, the novel opens in 1957, with the horrific murder of a little boy committed by an evil being that lives under the town.
An ancient, shape-shifting evil being almost as old as the universe, the creature has lived under Derry for the past few million years. It prefers to assume the form of a circus clown called Pennywise in order to hunt and kill its favorite prey - children.
Bill, the older brother of the murdered boy, strikes up friendships with four other boys (Ben, Richie, Stan, and Eddie) and a girl named Beverly. Calling themselves the Losers Club, the outcast preteens are joined by another member, Mike - a black boy whom they rescued from a sadistic, racist bully named Henry.
The Losers each encounter Pennywise the Dancing Clown, which takes the form of what they fear the most. They discover that when the creature isn't killing and eating children, it's clouding the minds of the adults in town and inspiring them to be apathetic to evil - if not downright evil themselves.
Realizing that they each have power that when combined can defeat Pennywise, the kids perform a magic ritual to summon that power and confront the evil face to face. After a horrific battle, the Losers think they've destroyed the creature, but it only went into hibernation. When Pennywise returns 27 years later to feed on children again, the Losers reunite to destroy the evil being once and for all...
It was adapted as a TV miniseries in 1990. Featuring a memorable performance by Tim Curry as Pennywise and a cast including Richard Thomas, John Ritter, Harry Anderson, Dennis Christopher, Tim Reid, and Annette O'Toole, the miniseries received acclaim despite being handicapped by a low budget and network TV censorship.
On September 8th, an It feature film was finally released after years of production delays. Starring Bill Skarsgard as Pennywise and a cast of talented child actors as the Losers, the film, directed by Andy Muschietti, received excellent reviews and became a huge hit, grossing over $110 million (more than three times its budget) during its opening weekend.
The movie is actually an adaptation of only half the novel, focusing exclusively on the Losers as kids and changing the time from 1957 to 1989. A sequel, scheduled to be completed and released next year at the same time, will feature the Losers as adults, reuniting to face Pennywise once again.
On June 19th, 1999, Stephen King's incredible and prolific literary career - and his life - nearly came to a sudden end. While out for his daily walk in Center Lovell, Maine, King was struck from behind by a minivan. The force of impact threw King's body some 14 feet off the road.
When a Deputy Sheriff arrived on the scene, King was barely conscious, but able to give out his emergency contact information - though he had suffered a collapsed right lung, multiple fractures of his right leg, a lacerated scalp, and a broken hip.
After enduring five operations in five days, and beginning the agonies of physical therapy, King started to write again. He needed to write, if only to distract himself from the pain. He resumed work on a nonfiction book, On Writing.
Also during his recovery, he wrote Dreamcatcher, (2001) which would prove to be one of his most viscerally graphic horror novels. At first, he was in too much pain and discomfort to write with a computer, so he wrote longhand, with a fountain pen and paper.
Bryan Smith, the driver who had struck Stephen King, claimed to have been distracted by his dog, but he had nearly a dozen drunk driving offenses on his record. King was outraged when the local prosecutor allowed Smith to cop a plea.
In exchange for his guilty plea, Smith's driver's license was suspended for a year and he received a six-month jail sentence - which was also suspended. In an eerie coincidence, on September 21st, 2000 - Stephen King's 53rd birthday - Bryan Smith was found dead in his trailer at the age of 42.
Although the official cause of death was listed as an accidental overdose of the prescription painkiller fentanyl, rumors began to fly that either King had Smith killed or one of the horror master's fans took revenge and made Smith's murder look like an accident.
After Smith died, King's lawyer and two others bought his minivan for $1,500 to prevent it from being auctioned off on eBay. King smashed up the minivan with a baseball bat, then had it crushed in a junkyard.
In 2002, frustrated by his injuries, which made sitting for long periods of time uncomfortable, King announced that he was retiring from writing. His retirement would prove to be short-lived, as he continued to recover.
Though he no longer writes at the same pace that made him so prolific in the past, he still produces great novels - and a few not so great ones. In 2009, he published Under The Dome, a 1,088 page horror epic - his longest novel since It.
(King's 1978 classic, The Stand, originally published in an edited 823-page version, would be republished in 1990 in its original uncut version at 1,168 pages.)
Under The Dome, an antifascist allegory, was about a New England town that finds itself trapped inside a force-field like invisible dome, which brings out the best and the worst in the townspeople. Despite its mostly negative reviews, the novel was adapted as a TV series.
King has acknowledged a huge flaw in the plot - the people never thought to tunnel out from underneath the dome - and denied accusations that he stole the plot from The Simpsons Movie, a feature film based on the popular TV series that bombed at the box office.
In September of 2013, King published Doctor Sleep, a first rate sequel to The Shining that finds Danny Torrance now middle aged and living in New Hampshire. After beating a severe drinking problem, he finds that his psychic powers have returned in full force.
Danny forms a telepathic bond with Abra Stone, a young girl with similar psychic powers, and determines to protect her from the True Knot, a vampire like nomadic tribe of immortals that tool around the country in RVs, sucking the life force out of psychic children.
King's next novel, Sleeping Beauties, is scheduled for release on September 26th. It's a sci-fi / fantasy novel he co-wrote with his son, Owen King. No stranger to collaboration, Stephen has also co-written novels with his other son, who writes under the name Joe Hill, and most famously, with horror master Peter Straub.
While literary critics haven't always been kind to the now 70-year-old Stephen King, he has proven himself as one of our greatest modern novelists, and he remains a huge and powerful influence for aspiring writers everywhere.
Quote Of The Day
"You can approach the act of writing with nervousness, excitement, hopefulness, or even despair--the sense that you can never completely put on the page what's in your mind and heart. You can come to the act with your fists clenched and your eyes narrowed, ready to kick ass and take down names. You can come to it because you want a girl to marry you or because you want to change the world. Come to it any way but lightly. Let me say it again: you must not come lightly to the blank page." - Stephen King
Today's video features a very rare, 99-minute live appearance by Stephen King, taped in 1982. Enjoy!
Wednesday, September 20, 2017
This Day In Literary History
On September 20th, 1878, the legendary American writer Upton Sinclair was born in Baltimore, Maryland. His father was a liquor salesman whose alcoholism haunted his son's childhood. When Upton was ten, the Sinclairs moved to New York City.
He would often stay with his wealthy grandparents, and his observations of the differences between the rich and the poor in late 19th century America would influence both his writings and his political convictions. He became a staunch socialist.
When he was thirteen, Upton enrolled at a prep school in the Bronx now known as the City College of New York. To help pay for his tuition, the intellectually gifted young writer sold magazine articles and wrote dime novels. After he graduated, he studied briefly at Columbia University.
In 1904, Upton planned to write his first novel, the subject of which would be the corruption of the American meatpacking industry and the hardships faced by poor immigrants who come to America hoping to better their lot in life.
Instead, the poor people find the American Dream to be a nightmare of cruelty, corruption, and despair. To research the conditions he would write about, Upton went undercover, working in Chicago's meatpacking plants for seven weeks.
His classic debut novel, The Jungle, was published two years later, in 1906. It told the story of Jurgis Rudkus, a young Lithuanian immigrant who decides to emigrate to America after hearing about all the freedom and opportunity the country allegedly offered.
He moves himself and his extended family to America. Although Rudkus is strong, hardworking, and honest, he's also naive and illiterate. The family falls deep into debt, then falls victim to predatory moneylenders who end up taking their home and meager savings.
When Rudkus and his family find jobs at a meatpacking plant, they're paid slave wages and find that government inspectors, policemen, and judges must all be paid off in order for them to keep their jobs and their freedom.
The family witnesses deaths occur on the job that could have been prevented if it weren't for the horrific working conditions. Rudkus loses all his hope for achieving the American Dream. When his pregnant wife dies because the family cannot afford a doctor, then his son drowns, Rudkus flees Chicago in despair.
Later, he returns and works at various jobs to support himself and his family - some of which require him to sacrifice his integrity. He is haunted by the prospect of turning to crime to support his family.
One night, while looking for a warm and dry place to stay, Rudkus walks in on a lecture being given by a socialist orator. Among the socialists, he finds a sense of community and purpose.
He realizes that socialism and strong labor unions are the keys to overcoming the evils that he, his family, and other workers have suffered. A fellow socialist employs Rudkus, and he is able to support his family, but some of his loved ones are damaged beyond repair.
Although Upton Sinclair had intended to expose the exploitation of workers with his novel, the greatest uproar over The Jungle had nothing to do with working conditions.
The real furor the novel caused was over its exposure of the incredibly unsanitary practices employed by the meatpacking industry to maximize profit. Food safety became more of a concern than worker safety.
Then President Theodore Roosevelt, a fiercely conservative Republican, publicly dismissed the concerns raised by Sinclair's novel and derided the author, calling him "a crackpot." Roosevelt also said:
"I have an utter contempt for [Upton Sinclair.] He is hysterical, unbalanced, and untruthful. Three-fourths of the things he said were absolute falsehoods. For some of the remainder there was only a basis of truth."
Privately, however, Roosevelt feared there was far more truth to Sinclair's novel than just "a basis." So, he sent two trusted men to investigate, Labor Commissioner Charles P. Neill and social worker James Bronson Reynolds.
The two men were ordered to make surprise visits to Chicago's meatpacking plants and determine whether or not the conditions described in Sinclair's novel were true. They were revolted by both the working and sanitary conditions they witnessed.
Neill and Reynolds wrote a comprehensive report of all their findings and submitted it to President Roosevelt, who, loath to regulate American business, suppressed it. He was, however, disturbed enough to do something about the issues raised by the report.
Roosevelt dropped hints about the terrible conditions in the meatpacking plants and the inadequacy of government inspections. These hints, Neill's testimony before Congress, and public pressure resulted in the passage of the Meat Inspection Act and the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906.
Upton Sinclair used the money he made from The Jungle to found the Helicon Home Colony in Englewood, New Jersey. It was an experimental commune for "authors, artists, and musicians, editors and teachers and professional men." It was also a farming commune which would produce its own fruits, vegetables, meats, and milk.
While the commune was not intended to be a socialist project per se, those who wished to live there "would have to be in sympathy with the spirit of socialism." The Helicon Home Colony would last for about a year before it burned down in a fire that was ruled suspicious.
Another one of Sinclair's classic novels, Oil! (1927), was also based on a true story of corruption - the Teapot Dome Scandal of 1922-23, where the notoriously corrupt administration of then President Warren G. Harding was exposed.
The Republican President and his administration had been bribed by oil companies to allow them to acquire valuable government owned oil fields (used to supply the Navy in case of emergency) for peanuts, bypassing the competitive bidding process required by law.
Oil! told the story of James Arnold Ross, a self-made millionaire oilman who becomes a conspirator in the Teapot Dome Scandal. The wealthier and more powerful Ross becomes, the more immoral he becomes.
His son, Bunny, ultimately breaks ties with him and becomes a socialist. Oil! would be adapted as an acclaimed 2007 feature film, There Must Be Blood, starring Daniel Day-Lewis. Unfortunately, the film took liberties with the story.
In the 1920s, Upton Sinclair moved his family to California, where he founded that state's chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. He got involved in politics and twice ran for office on the Socialist ticket - once for Congress, once for the Senate. He lost both elections.
When he spoke at a rally in San Pedro to support the Industrial Workers of the World union, whose right to free speech was under attack, he read from the U.S. Constitution's Bill of Rights. He was immediately arrested, along with hundreds of others. Sinclair's arresting officer proclaimed, "we'll have none of that Constitution stuff."
In 1934, Sinclair became the Democratic candidate for Governor of California. He was a popular candidate, but he ultimately lost the election by only 200,000 votes, thanks in part to slanderous propaganda shorts produced by Hollywood studios - fake newsreels featuring actors pretending to be real people being interviewed on the street.
One of them said, "Upton Sinclair is the author of the Russian government, and [communism] worked out well there, and I think it would do so here." Sinclair was not a communist and both the Soviet Union and the American Communist Party had publicly denounced him.
The worst of the fake newsreels featured a cast of actors playing transients who have come to California hoping for a handout should Sinclair be elected governor. The propaganda campaign was conceived by Will Hays, head of Hollywood's infamous film censorship office, the Production Code Administration.
Hays was a former U.S. Postmaster General and a former member of ex President Warren G. Harding's corrupt administration, which Sinclair had written about in Oil!. Hays was more than happy to help his fellow Republican, Sinclair's opponent Frank Merriam.
The studios Hays worked for were determined to destroy Sinclair because part of his plan for economic recovery in California called for increased taxes on Hollywood studios and the creation of independent public studios where struggling filmmakers could make movies free of Hollywood's influence.
The Hollywood film studios' propaganda smear campaign worked. Sinclair lost the election and Hays and the studios got away with mounting one of the dirtiest political campaigns in American history.
Ironically, years before his failed campaign for governor of California, which he would write about in his memoir I, Candidate for Governor - and How I Got Licked (1935), Sinclair worked as a screenwriter and movie producer after being recruited by the legendary actor and filmmaker Charlie Chaplin.
Throughout his amazing career, Upton Sinclair wrote nearly a hundred books, most of which were novels. He also wrote plays and non-fiction books on various subjects including politics, a scathing criticism of organized religion and an autobiography.
Sinclair also wrote books on psychic phenomena, which interested him greatly because his wife was a psychic. He died in 1968 at the age of 90.
Quote Of The Day
“It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.” - Upton Sinclair
Today's video features a complete reading of Upton Sinclair's classic debut novel, The Jungle. Enjoy!
Tuesday, September 19, 2017
This Day In Literary History
On September 19th, 2000, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, the classic, Pulitzer Prize winning novel by the famous American writer Michael Chabon, was published.
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay opens in 1939. Josef "Joe" Kavalier, a 19-year-old Jewish Czech refugee, arrives in New York City to live with his seventeen year old cousin, Sammy Klayman.
Joe is a talented artist, Sammy an aspiring writer. Both have an interest in magic and connections to the legendary magician Harry Houdini, whose real name was Ehrich Weiss. Sammy's father used to be a vaudeville strongman called the Mighty Molecule.
When Joe gets a job as an illustrator for a novelty company, the job takes him in a different direction: the company wants to get into the comic book business after the huge success of Superman ushered in the golden age of comics.
Joe and Sammy, who has taken the pen name Sammy Clay, form a team where Sammy writes adventure stories and Joe illustrates them. The pair creates an antifascist superhero called The Escapist, and the company they work for reluctantly agrees to publish their comics.
The Escapist becomes a hit, but the cousins' contract only pays them a minimal royalty. They are slow to realize that they're being screwed because they're both caught up in personal problems.
While Joe is desperate to get his family out of Nazi-occupied Prague, Sammy grapples with his sexual identity, struggling to come to terms with the fact that he might be gay. Meanwhile, Joe falls in love with a bohemian artist named Rosa Saks.
Distraught over his failure to save his family from the Nazis, Joe runs off to join the Navy. Instead of fighting the Nazis, he is stationed at a remote naval base in Antarctica. He doesn't know that he left Rosa pregnant with his child.
After the war ends, Joe is discharged from the Navy and returns to New York, but is unable to face Rosa and Sammy, so he hides out in the Empire State Building. Meanwhile, Sammy married Rosa to save her from scandal.
When Sammy's not helping Rosa raise their son Tommy, he's involved in a gay affair with actor Tracy Bacon, who plays his superhero, The Escapist, on the radio. The two men go to a dinner party with their gay friends and other couples, and the party is raided.
Local police and two off-duty FBI agents round up everyone except for Sammy and another man who managed to hide under the table. The FBI agents ultimately catch them and offer them their freedom in exchange for sexual favors.
After that close call, Sammy concentrates on helping Rosa raise Tommy and trying to appear as a traditional family, but they can't hide their secrets from the precocious boy who loves them both.
Tommy is reunited with his long lost father Joe at the Empire State Building and takes magic lessons from him. The boy determines to reunite the legendary team of Kavalier & Clay, and he does.
Happy to see each other again, the cousins decide to make their comeback in comics. Joe moves in with Sammy, Rosa, and Tommy, and just when it seems like their lives are finally getting back on track, Sammy is publicly outed - on television.
That's just a threadbare outline of this epic novel, which won the 2001 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. The novel was supposed to be adapted as a feature film, but the project keeps slipping through the Hollywood cracks.
A screenplay was completed in 2002 and an excerpt from it was published in Entertainment Weekly, but the film never got past the pre-production stage. Two years later, Michael Chabon pronounced the project dead.
Then, in 2005, director Stephen Daldry announced that he was going to make the film. With Tobey Maguire and Jamie Bell cast as Sammy and Joe, and Natalie Portman as Rosa, it seemed a done deal.
This time, the film didn't even get to pre-production. In April of 2007, Chabon said that the project "just completely went south for studio-politics kinds of reasons that I'm not privy to... right now, as far as I know, there's not a lot going on."
In an interview conducted in December of 2011, Stephen Daldry stated that he hadn't given up on adapting The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay and was looking to adapt the novel as a TV miniseries, preferably for HBO.
Quote Of The Day
"You need three things to become a successful novelist: talent, luck and discipline. Discipline is the one element of those three things that you can control, and so that is the one that you have to focus on controlling, and you just have to hope and trust in the other two." - Michael Chabon
Today's video features Michael Chabon discussing his classic novel The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay at the Dominican University of California in 2010. Enjoy!
Monday, September 18, 2017
My novel, Fear, a Tony Petrocelli mystery, is finally published and available at my local library, and at Amazon. Doing a mini-book launch today. This wouldn't have been possible without the great crits I received from the group at IWW-Novels.
My story, "A Soft Place to Land," is up at Everyday Fiction. My poem, "A Bad Father," has been accepted at Leaves of Ink for a December issue.
Thanks to one of our fine members, my book, Waiting For Messiah has been published on Smashwords. I want to thank each and all of you for your words of support during the past several months, especially during the last month.
Friday, September 15, 2017
This Day In Literary History
On September 15th, 1890, the legendary English writer Agatha Christie was born. She was born Agatha Mary Clarissa Miller in Torquay, Devon, England. Her mother was the daughter of a British Army captain, her father an American stockbroker.
During World War I, Agatha worked as a hospital nurse. She liked nursing, calling it "one of the most rewarding professions that anyone can follow." After the war, she worked as a pharmacist - a position that would prove helpful to her future writing career, as many murders in her books are committed by poisoning.
Although their courtship was rocky, on Christmas Eve, 1914, Agatha married her boyfriend, Archibald Christie, a pilot for the Royal Flying Corps, which, along with the Royal Air Naval Service, would later be merged and renamed the Royal Air Force.
Agatha bore him one child, a daughter, Rosalind, who would found the Agatha Christie Society and serve as its president until her death.
In 1920, Agatha Christie published her first novel, The Mysterious Affair At Styles. Set in World War I England in a country manor called Styles Court, the novel introduced one of Christie's most famous characters - the brilliant Belgian detective, Hercule Poirot.
Narrated by Poirot's lieutenant, Arthur Hastings, the story tells of a case where Poirot is called to investigate the mysterious poisoning of wealthy widow Emily Cavendish. The book is filled with a half-dozen suspects, red herrings, and surprise plot twists.
Christie's debut novel introduced her distinctive style of detective fiction to the world. It was a big hit with critics and readers alike. Christie would write 33 novels and 51 short stories featuring Hercule Poirot.
The public loved Poirot, though Christie described him as a "detestable, bombastic, tiresome, egocentric little creep." Yet, she refused to kill him off. She believed it was her duty to write what her readers liked, and what they liked was Poirot.
In her 1927 short story, The Tuesday Night Club, Agatha Christie introduced another detective character, one that would become just as beloved as Hercule Poirot. Her name was Jane Marple, and she was an elderly British spinster and amateur detective.
When she wasn't knitting or weeding her garden, Miss Marple was using her brilliant mind and keen understanding of human nature to solve crimes. Christie's first full-length Miss Marple novel, The Murder At The Vicarage, was published in 1930.
In the village of St. Mary Mead, Colonel Protheroe is so hated that even the local vicar once said that killing him would be a public service. He's soon found murdered in the vicar's study.
Two different people confess to killing Protheroe, so Miss Marple sets out to solve the crime and uncover the real killer. The Murder At The Vicarage would be the first of twelve Miss Marple crime novels.
In late 1926, Agatha Christie's life would imitate her fiction. Her husband, Archie, told her that he was in love with another woman, Nancy Neele, and wanted a divorce. After a nasty fight on December 3rd, Archie took off to spend the weekend with his mistress in Surrey.
Agatha also took off, leaving a note for her secretary saying that she was going to Yorkshire. Instead, she mysteriously vanished. Her disappearance led to a public outcry; a massive manhunt took place and her husband was suspected of killing her.
Eleven days after she vanished, Agatha Christie was found at a hotel in Yorkshire, where she had checked in as Mrs. Teresa Neele. She gave no account of her disappearance. Two doctors diagnosed her with amnesia.
Some believe that she suffered a nervous breakdown, but at the time, most of the British public believed that Christie's disappearance was a staged publicity stunt. Others suspected she'd hatched an elaborate plot of revenge on her husband for the affair.
The couple was later divorced. In 1930, Christie married her second husband, archaeologist Max Mallowan, whom she met at a dig. It was a happy marriage that lasted until Christie's death in 1976 at the age of 85.
In her lifetime, Agatha Christie wrote over 80 detective novels, as well as several romances under the pseudonym Mary Westmacott. She was also a playwright, and wrote over a dozen plays.
Her play The Mousetrap (1952), an adaptation of her classic 1948 short story Three Blind Mice, which opened in London on November 25th, 1952, is still running after more than 24,000 performances - a record for the longest initial run of a play.
Of course, Agatha Christie will always be known as the grand dame of crime fiction. Her novels and short stories, which have been adapted numerous times for the stage, screen, radio, and television, have sold approximately four billion copies combined - the only book to outsell hers is the Bible.
Quote Of The Day
"Understand this, I mean to arrive at the truth. The truth, however ugly in itself, is always curious and beautiful to seekers after it." - Agatha Christie
Today's video features a complete reading of Agatha Christie's classic mystery novel, The Clocks. Enjoy!
Thursday, September 14, 2017
This Day In Literary History
On September 14th, 1814, the famous American poet Francis Scott Key wrote his most famous poem Defence of Fort McHenry, which would be renamed The Star-Spangled Banner and become the United States' national anthem.
Earlier unofficial national anthems included My Country, 'Tis of Thee, the lyrics of which, ironically, had been set to the music of the British national anthem, God Save the Queen.
The story of Francis Scott Key's poem begins with the War of 1812, which took place from 1812-1815. On September 3rd, 1814, Key and lawyer-publisher John Stuart Skinner set sail on the HMS Minden on a mission.
Their mission, approved by then President James Madison, was to exchange prisoners with the British, who were about to attack Baltimore after violently sacking Washington DC.
Key was intent on rescuing his friend, Dr. William Beanes - the popular and elderly town doctor of Upper Marlboro, Maryland - who was a prisoner of the British. So, four days later, they boarded the HMS Tonnant to speak with Major General Robert Ross and Vice Admiral Alexander Cochrane.
The British initially refused to release Beanes, because he had allegedly aided in the arrest of British soldiers. They changed their minds when Key showed them letters written by British prisoners praising the doctor for his kind treatment of them.
Unfortunately, while discussing the prisoner exchange during dinner on the British ship, Key and Skinner also heard British officers discuss the upcoming attack on Baltimore, so they were held captive until after the battle.
On September 13th, from a sloop behind the British fleet, Francis Scott Key watched the British attack Fort McHenry. Throughout the day and into the night, the fort was bombarded with over 1,500 bombs, rockets, and cannon balls. Fortunately, the Baltimore fort was well prepared for such an attack.
Key noticed the huge 30'x42' American flag atop the fort, flying like a beacon of defiance and courage throughout the attack. Using the only piece of paper he had - the back side of a letter that was in his pocket - Key began writing a poem about the battle. Later that night, when it became too dark for the British to see, they stopped firing on the fort.
When they went to sleep, Key and the other Americans aboard the British ships had no idea whether or not their enemies had won the battle. The next morning, Key noticed that the huge American flag was still perched atop Fort McHenry and flying proudly.
The British had been defeated. Key was released, and later that day at the Indian Queen Hotel, he completed his poem, The Defence of Fort McHenry.
Five days later, Key's patriotic poem was printed and circulated throughout Baltimore, with the author's instructions that the poem be sung to the music of the popular English drinking song, Anacreon in Heaven, also known as The Anacreontic Song.
Singing Key's poem to this particular song was supposedly the idea of Key's brother-in-law, Judge Joseph H. Nicholson. The poem and its musical accompaniment were then published as The Star-Spangled Banner by Thomas Carr of Baltimore's Carr Music Store.
The first public performance of The Star-Spangled Banner took place in October of 1814, when it was sung by actor Ferdinand Durang at Captain McCauley's Tavern.
The song's popularity surged throughout the 19th century; it was often played at public events - especially during Independence Day festivities. It was first performed before a major league baseball game in 1897 in Philadelphia.
Despite the popularity of The Star-Spangled Banner, it would not become the United States' official national anthem until 117 years after it was written.
Although then Secretary of the Navy Benjamin F. Tracy signed an order in 1897 making The Star-Spangled Banner the official song to be played when raising the flag, it did not become the official national anthem.
It became the official United States national anthem on March 3rd, 1931, when then President Herbert Hoover signed a law making it so. Before then, the United States had no official national anthem.
Though Francis Scott Key's entire 4-verse poem had been published as The Star-Spangled Banner, only the first verse is traditionally sung as the United States' national anthem.
Quote Of The Day
"Then, in that hour of deliverance, my heart spoke. Does not such a country, and such defenders of their country, deserve a song?" - Francis Scott Key
Today's video features actress-comedienne Roseanne Barr's highly controversial - and very funny - performance of The Star-Spangled Banner at a Chicago Cubs baseball game on July 25th, 1990. Also included is a clip of Madonna defending Roseanne's performance. Enjoy!