Friday, September 22, 2023

Notes For September 22nd, 2023

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 (to mark him as a convicted criminal) 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 were 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

Vanguard Video

Today's video features a full cast reading of Ben Jonson's classic play, Every Man in His Humour. Enjoy!

Thursday, September 21, 2023

Notes For September 21st, 2023

This Day In Literary History

On September 21st, 1934, the legendary Canadian poet, novelist, singer, and songwriter Leonard Cohen was born in Westmount, Quebec, Canada, a suburb of Montreal. Born to a wealthy and prominent Orthodox Jewish family, he lost his father when he was nine years old, which would affect him deeply.

He entered high school at 14 and became enamored with the works of legendary Spanish poet Federico Garcia Lorca. His poetic influeces would also include legendary poets William Butler Yeats and Walt Whitman. He taught himself to play guitar and formed a country-folk group called The Buckskin Boys.

Cohen started writing poetry when he was fifteen and gave readings at nearby clubs. Having no interest in the family clothing business, he left that to his older sister and determined to become a writer.

Leonard Cohen's first poetry collection, Let Us Compare Mythologies, was published in 1956, after he'd graduated McGill University with an English degree. Dedicated to his late father, it contained poems he'd written between the ages of 15 and 20.

His next collection, The Spice-Box Of Earth (1961), made his name on the Canadian poetry scene and led the influential critic, editor, and broadcaster Robert Weaver to proclaim him "probably the best young poet in English Canada right now." It included classics like Beneath My Hands:

Beneath my hands
your small breasts
are the upturned bellies
of breathing fallen sparrows.

Whenever you move
I hear the sounds of closing wings
of falling wings.

I am speechless
because you have fallen beside me
because your eyelashes
are the spines of tiny fragile animals.

I dread the time
when your mouth
begins to call me hunter...

Cohen followed it with another classic poetry collection, Flowers For Hitler (1964). To support himself while he wrote, Cohen did odd jobs and had a modest trust fund left to him in his father's will. He also appeared in a film made for CBC-TV.

Ladies and Gentlemen... Mr. Leonard Cohen (1965) was a 44-minute documentary, shot and edited in Cinéma vérité style, that followed Cohen on his 1964 North American poetry tour, as he read his work at universities and coffeehouses.

The film's beautiful black-and-white cinematography perfectly captured the early 1960s Beat scene in Montreal. Co-directed by Don Owen and Donald Brittain, it would win the Canadian Film Award in the TV Information category at the 18th Canadian Film Awards.

Introducing Cohen's trademark style of darkly lyrical, melancholic poetry seasoned with smarmy humor to a wide audience, it's an absolute must for Leonard Cohen fans. Ladies and Gentlemen... Mr. Leonard Cohen was released on videocassette, DVD, and Blu-Ray.

As Cohen was making a name for himself as a poet in the early 60s, he used a $1500 inheritance (about $15,000 in today's money) from his grandmother to buy a cottage on the Greek island of Hydra, then a laid-back, socialist paradise where drugs were plentiful, gay people were accepted, and the police rarely bothered anyone because there were few laws to enforce.

Also having a very low cost of living at the time, Hydra was a haven for writers, artists, musicians, and expatriates of all sorts, and Cohen took advantage of the creative atmosphere, writing more poetry collections and two novels, The Favourite Game (1963) and Beautiful Losers (1966).

The Favourite Game, a lyrical, semi-autobiographical novel, finds Cohen's alter ego Lawrence Breavman, a young Jewish man from a wealthy family, coming of age in 1950s Montreal along with his friend Krantz, in a story with a Catcher in the Rye vibe.

Beautiful Losers is an experimental Joycean masterpiece full of dazzling prose poetry. The narrative intertwines the true story of 17th-century Native Canadian (Mohawk) saint Catherine Tekakwitha with the tale of a bisexual love triangle between two men and a woman.

The novel is broken up into three "books" - in the first, The History of Them All, an unnamed narrator tells the story of Catherine Tekakwitha and how his domineering best friend and occasional male lover, referred to only as F., slept with his wife Edith, a troubled Iroquois Native Canadian who later killed herself.

The second book, A Long Letter From F., is written to the unnamed narrator by his friend - a mystic, radical Québécois separatist, and Member of Parliament. F. writes from the confines of a Catholic-run insane asylum, as syphilis is eroding his sanity.

The third and shortest book, Beautiful Losers, is told from the third-person point of view and follows F. as he's being hunted as an escaped lunatic and terrorist. Cohen wrote the novel while high on amphetamines and on a 10-day spiritual fast. He collapsed afterward.

While living on Hydra, Leonard Cohen struck up a close friendship with Norwegian writer Axel Jensen and his wife, Marianne Ihlen. After Jensen abandoned Marianne and their little son Axel Jr. to return to Norway and take up with another woman, they were homeless.

So, they moved in with Leonard. He and Marianne fell passionately in love, and he became a surrogate father to Axel Jr. Their relationship would end several years later, along with the 1960s. Cohen blamed his insecurities and cowardice for not marrying her. He would immortalize her in the classic song, So Long, Marianne, which featured these memorable lines:

Well you know that I love to live with you,
but you make me forget so very much.
I forget to pray for the angels
and then the angels forget to pray for us.

Now so long, Marianne,
it's time that we began
to laugh and cry
and cry and laugh
about it all again.

We met when we were almost young
deep in the green lilac park.
You held on to me like I was a crucifix,
as we went kneeling through the dark.

Now so long, Marianne,
it's time that we began
to laugh and cry
and cry and laugh
about it all again.

Your letters they all say that you're beside me now.
Then why do I feel alone?
I'm standing on a ledge and your fine spiderweb
is fastening my ankle to a stone...

After the publication of his fourth poetry collection Parasites Of Heaven (1966), despite earning critical acclaim, Cohen's writings brought him little commercial success and he was living hand to mouth. So he decided to switch gears and become a songwriter.

He went to America intending to be a professional country-Western songwriter, but never made it to Nashville. After hanging out with Andy Warhol's "Factory" crowd, he got caught up in the burgeoning folk music scene and met legendary folksinger-songwriter Judy Collins, who said when she saw him:

[I] found a good-looking, slightly stooped figure, his handsome face wreathed with a smile — a sweet smile, an engaging smile, a rare smile… I knew in an instant that he was special, and knew that I didn’t care if he couldn’t write songs.

But Leonard could write songs. Collins was blown away when he played his classic song Suzanne for her - over the telephone. She immediately asked if she could record it, and he said yes. Her cover became a huge hit.

When she organized a benefit concert for the National Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy at New York City’s Town Hall in 1967, Collins demanded that Cohen play Suzanne for the sellout crowd. He said that he wasn't a performer, but reluctantly agreed to play.

Judy brought Leonard onstage and introduced him. Overcome with stage fright, his voice and hands shook when he began the song. But he soon steadied himself, and the audience began to revel in the haunting song's beautiful, poetic lyrics:

Suzanne takes you down
to her place near the river
You can hear the boats go by,
you can spend the night beside her

And you know that she's half-crazy
but that's why you want to be there
And she feeds you tea and oranges
that come all the way from China

And just when you mean to tell her
that you have no love to give her
Then she gets you on her wavelength
And she lets the river answer
that you've always been her lover

And you want to travel with her,
and you want to travel blind
And you know that she will trust you
For you've touched her perfect body with your mind...

Halfway into the song, Cohen's hands suddenly fell from his guitar and hung limp at his sides. He said to the audience, "I'm sorry, I can't go on," then he quietly left the stage. Mistakenly believing this was a poetic statement, (it wasn't; he'd broken a guitar string) they gave him a thunderous ovation.

A few moments later, Leonard and Judy Collins returned to the stage, finished the song, and received another huge ovation. After the show, everybody was talking about the brilliant, enigmatic new Canadian folksinger named Leonard Cohen whose songs were pure poetry. A star was born.

Columbia Records producer John Hammond signed Leonard to a record deal, and in late December of 1967, his first album was released. Songs Of Lenoard Cohen, opening with Suzanne and packed with classic tracks like Master Song, The Stranger Song, Sisters Of Mercy, and So Long, Marianne, was mostly panned by American music critics, but became a cult favorite.

Cohen's sound, mostly acoustic folk seasoned with elements of blues and rock, with poetic lyrics full of melancholy and heartbreak, was not something that American music fans were used to, but in the UK, the album spent over a year on the charts.

It was folllowed by more classic albums, including Songs From A Room (1969), Songs of Love and Hate (1971), and New Skin for the Old Ceremony (1974). Songs From A Room (1969) featured a back cover photograph of Marianne Ihlen wrapped in a towel and sitting at Leonard's typewriter in their cottage on Hydra.

Dismissed by critics as relentlessly bleak, the album opened with one of Cohen's most popular and enduring songs - Bird on the Wire. It also contained The Partisan, a cover of the 1943 French Resistance song La Complainte du Partisan (The Lament of the Partisan), sung in English and French. Cohen's first album to crack the Billboard charts in the U.S., it was also the #2 album in the UK.

Songs of Love and Hate featured more classics such as Avalanche, Dress Rehearsal Rag, Last Year's Man, Famous Blue Raincoat, and Joan of Arc, and was Cohen's first truly commercially succesful album.

New Skin for the Old Ceremony, featuring lyrics by Cohen and music written in collaboration with pianist-arranger John Lissauer, marked the beginning of an evolution in Cohen's sound which, formerly raw and basic, now included instruments such as violas, mandolins, and banjos. He also put together the first of many bands known for being the best live ensembles.

Featuring Chelsea Hotel No. 2, (Cohen's sexually frank tale of his one-night-stand with a woman whom he later revealed was legendary rock singer Janis Joplin), Who By Fire, and Field Commander Cohen, where Leonard famously described himself as:

...sone grateful faithful woman's
singing millionaire -
the patron saint of envy
and the grocer of despair,
working for the Yankee dollar.

The album was again successful in Europe but not in the U.S., and Cohen, fearing he'd be dropped by his label, decided he needed a change. This made him easy prey for the most notorious producer in the music business.

By this time, Cohen and his then girlfriend Suzanne Elrod (not the Suzanne from the song) had two children - a son, Adam (who would become a fine singer-songwriter himself) and a daughter, Lorca (who became a professional photographer and videographer) - though they never married. So when Phil Spector approached Leonard with an offer to work with him on his next album, he accepted.

From the early 1960s through the early 70s, Spector, a producer, composer, and arranger, had been a bona fied starmaker - and known for his mental instability and passions for drugs, alcohol, and firearms. By the mid-1970s, his career was on the decline, though he guaranteed Cohen a #1 record. The result, Death of a Ladies' Man (1977), was anything but.

Spector's bombastic pop-rock was a weird mismatch for Cohen's lyrics, and Leonard was baffled and embarrassed by Spector's bizarre decision to use the guide track he'd recorded (for session musicians to follow along with) as the album's final vocal track. Cohen described the scary and surreal atmosphere of a Phil Spector recording session this way:

There were lots of guns around in the studio and lots of liquor, a somewhat dangerous atmosphere. He had bodyguards who were heavily armed also. He liked guns - I liked guns too but I generally don't carry one, and it's hard to ignore a .45 lying on the console.

Cohen was lucky. When Spector had previously recorded John Lennon's album Rock 'n' Roll (1975), Lennon, who was battling alcoholism at the time, struggled to get through a listless take. To sober him up, Spector fired a gun in the studio, which, given the acoustics, must have sounded like an atomic bomb blast.

The former Beatle dryly and famously quipped, "Listen Phil, if you're going to kill me, kill me, but don't fuck with me ears. I need 'em."

Though regarded by critics, fans, and Leonard himself as Cohen's worst album, Death of a Ladies' Man does have a few good songs, such as the title track, True Love Leaves No Traces, Paper Thin Hotel, Memories, and Don't Go Home With Your Hard-On, which, despite the blaring horns and other bad music, features backing vocals by Allen Ginsberg and Bob Dylan.

Cohen never again worked with Spector, who in 2009 was convicted of second degree murder for shooting and killing actress Lana Clarkson in his mansion in Alhambra, California, and sentenced to 19 years to life. In 1979, Leonard Cohen returned to top form with a new album, Recent Songs. It was old school Cohen but also marked a further musical evolution, as it featured elements of jazz, which became a new trademark.

After his tours ended, Cohen didn't release another album until 1984. Various Positions, now considered one of his greatest albums and featuring classics like Dance Me to the End of Love, Night Comes On, and Hallelujah, didn't keep him afloat in the changing, choppy currents of music in the 80s. He slipped into obscurity until singer Jennifer Warnes released a certain album in tribute to him.

Warnes had sung backing vocals on Leonard's previous two albums and would work with him on his next one. Her 1987 album, Famous Blue Raincoat: The Songs of Leonard Cohen, became a hit and renewed interest in his music. So, he released another album the following year. It was called I'm Your Man, and it made the then 53-year-old Cohen a star again.

With unforgettable songs like First We Take Manhattan, Ain't No Cure For Love, Tower Of Song, and the title track, and with a modern sound (including synthesizers) that managed to stay true to its roots, it was the most successful album Cohen ever released in the United States. My favorite song is the snarling, cynical Everybody Knows:

Everybody knows that the dice are loaded
Everybody rolls with their fingers crossed
Everybody knows the war is over
Everybody knows the good guys lost
Everybody knows the fight was fixed
The poor stay poor, the rich get rich
That's how it goes -
everybody knows.

The 1990s was a period of transition for Leonard Cohen. In 1992, he released another great album, The Future. Modestly successful in the U.S. and UK, it went double-platinum in Canada and won him the 1993 Canadian Juno Award for Best Male Vocalist, leading him to quip in his acceptance speech, "Only in Canada could somebody with a voice like mine win Vocalist of the Year."

In 1994, Cohen became a Buddhist and entered the Mount Baldy Zen Center near Los Angeles as a Zen Buddhist monk for what would be a five-year period of seclusion. He took the Dharma name Jikan, which means "silence" and ultimately became an ordained Buddhist priest, though he would also practice his Jewish traditions, as Buddha never claimed divinity or told people to believe in or worship any god.

By 1999, he was contributing regularly to The Leonard Cohen Files - the Internet's largest Leonard Cohen fansite. Then in 2001, at the age of 67, he returned to music with Ten New Songs - a new album and the first of several co-written with singer-songwriter-producer Sharon Robinson.

Rolling Stone music critic Steven Chean said that it "manages to sustain loss's fragile beauty like never before and might just be the Cohen's most exquisite ode yet to the midnight hour."

Playboy magazine said "Although the tones of these odes and meditations is mournful, at the age of 67 Cohen's pessimism about the human condition is tempered with reconciliation. He'll never be cheerful, but a Zen-like serenity pervades every song."

When he wasn't writing and recording music, Cohen continued publishing poetry collections, including Book of Mercy (1984) and Book of Longing (2006). Stranger Music, a classic collection of Cohen's song lyrics and poems, which featured some previously uncollected poetry, was published in 1993.

After releasing another album, Dear Heather, in 2004 - which featured both songs and spoken word performances set to music and was known for On That Day, a somber song about the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York City - Leonard's retirement was rudely interrupted.

His daughter Lorca came to him with suspicions that his longtime manager, Kelley Lynch, was stealing from him. He looked into it and found that Lynch had paid her $75,000 credit card bill with his money. A further examination of his accounts revealed that she'd stolen nearly all of his money, even draining the trust funds he'd set up for his children and grandchildren.

In total, over a period of eight years, Lynch had stolen $5 million from Leonard and left him with only $150,000 to live on. It was a devastating blow; the Cohen family had always considered Kelley Lynch a close friend. He sued her and won a $9 million award, but she fled to escape a subpoena for her financial records and ignored the lawsuit. With the money hidden, Cohen couldn't collect.

Lynch did receive some comeuppance - an 18-month prison sentence for harassing the Cohen family after Leonard fired her and publicly exposed her crime. Nearly broke, the 73-year-old Leonard Cohen was forced to come out of retirement and go to work to earn back the money he lost. He embarked on his first world tour in 15 years. It lasted from 2008-2010.

The tour was a huge success, with Cohen proving that he was still the master and receiving rapturous ovations at every show. A 2008 concert in London was released the following year as a double-live album and concert video titled Live In London. He earned back the money he lost and then some.

Cohen loved touring again, saying that "[Being] forced to go back on the road to repair the fortunes of my family and myself... [was] a most fortunate happenstance because I was able to connect... with living musicians. And I think it warmed some part of my heart that had taken on a chill."

He continued to release studio albums - Old Ideas (2012), Popular Problems (2014) - which were well received by critics and fans. His talent never faded. In 2016, at the age of 82, Cohen released his last album during his lifetime, You Want It Darker. Critics and fans called it the best album he'd ever done.

They didn't know how truly amazing it was until Leonard passed away - just seventeen days after its release. Cohen was dying of leukemia and in a wheelchair while recording it, but his vocals were perfect. Though leukemia was a contributing factor, the main cause of his death was a nasty fall at home he'd taken on the day he died. He passed away in his sleep that night.

Leonard's great love, Marianne Ihlen, also died of leukemia - three months and nine days before he did. In an often misquoted farewell letter he wrote to her, read to Marianne just before she died and again at her funeral, he said:

Dearest Marianne,

I'm just a little behind you, close enough to take your hand. This old body has given up, just as yours has too.

I've never forgotten your love and your beauty. But you know that. I don't have to say any more. Safe travels old friend. See you down the road. Endless love and gratitude.

— your Leonard

Leonard Cohen's final album, Thanks For The Dance, which contained nine unreleased tracks from the You Want It Darker sessions, was released in 2019. The unfinished music was completed by his son, Adam Cohen.

Leonard's final poetry collection, The Flame, which also contained drawings and journal entries, was published in 2018. His final fiction collection, A Ballet of Lepers, which contained a novella and fifteen short stories written between 1956-1960 and previously unpublished, was released last year.

Quote Of The Day

“There is a crack in everything. That's how the light gets in.” - Leonard Cohen

Vanguard Video

Today's features a rare 1980 Canadian TV interview with Leonard Cohen. Enjoy!

Wednesday, September 20, 2023

Notes For September 20th, 2023

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.

a 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 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, the studios, and the Republican Party 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 nonfiction 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

Vanguard Video

Today's video features a complete reading of Upton Sinclair's classic debut novel, The Jungle. Enjoy!

Tuesday, September 19, 2023

Notes For September 19th, 2023

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 relatives, including 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 - when he appears before then Senator Estes Kefauver's notorious Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency.

(In 1954, in response to skyrocketing juvenile delinquency rates in the U.S., since it's never good politics to blame parents and teachers or examine the lack of mental health services and social programs, the SSJD held hearings where comic books were blamed for juvenile delinquency. This resulted in the imposition of the Comics Code and decades of stifling censorship of comics.)

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.

In 2019, Michael Chabon signed a deal with CBS TV to adapt it as a Showtime miniseries. The following year, he and his wife Ayelet Waldman began writing the script for what he believes will be a two season, sixteen-episode miniseries, but it hasn't been produced yet.

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

Vanguard Video

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!

Friday, September 15, 2023

Notes For September 15th, 2023

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 mystery 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 27,000 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 her 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

Vanguard Video

Today's video features a complete reading of Agatha Christie's classic mystery novel, And Then There Were None. Enjoy!

Thursday, September 14, 2023

Notes For September 14th, 2023

This Day In Literary History

On September 14th, 1814, the famous American poet Francis Scott Key wrote his classic 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

Vanguard Video

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.

Ironically, many years later, Barr, fired from the reboot of her popular 1980s TV series for posting a racist tweet, would criticize black football players who refused to stand for the national anthem as a protest against racism. She called them disrespectful.

Wednesday, September 13, 2023

Notes For September 13th, 2023

This Day In Literary History

On September 13th, 1916, the legendary English writer Roald Dahl was born in Cardiff, Wales. He and his three sisters were the children of Norwegian immigrants who spoke Norwegian at home and English in public.

They named their son after Roald Amundsen, the famous Norwegian explorer who had become a national hero at the time. He was the first explorer to discover the South Pole and reach the North Pole.

When Roald Dahl was three years old, he lost first his seven-year-old sister Astri to appendicitis, then his father to pneumonia. His mother considered moving her children back to Norway. She changed her mind, as her husband had wanted the children to be educated in British schools, which he believed were the best.

Roald began his education at The Cathedral School in his hometown of Llandaff. When he was eight years old, he and four of his classmates planted a dead mouse in a jar of hard candies at a sweet shop.

The kids considered the proprietress, Mrs. Pratchett, to be a "mean and loathsome" old woman and wanted to teach her a lesson. Unfortunately, they were caught and caned by their headmaster.

From there, Roald transferred to St. Peter's, a boarding school in Weston-super-Mare, England. He hated the school, but he never told his mother in the weekly letters he wrote to her. He knew that the school screened students' mail and prohibited any complaints to their parents.

In 1929, Roald, then thirteen, began attending Repton School in Derbyshire. It was there that he had a life changing experience; one of his friends was savagely beaten by the school's headmaster.

When the headmaster, Geoffrey Fisher, was later ordained Archbishop of Canterbury, Roald lost what little respect he had for religion and began to doubt the existence of God.

As a teenager, Roald Dahl developed passions for photography and literature. His English teachers didn't think much of him; one of them wrote "I have never met anybody who so persistently writes words meaning the exact opposite of what is intended."

Being tall and well-built for his age, Roald excelled at sports, playing for his school's fives and squash (English racquet sports) teams and its soccer team.

After graduating school in 1934, the 18-year-old Roald Dahl took a job with the Shell Petroleum Company, which sent him to Tanzania. He and the other Shell employees lived at the luxurious Shell House near Dar-es-Salaam, but when World War II broke out in 1939, he joined the Royal Air Force.

Roald became a fighter pilot for the RAF, flying daring combat missions over Africa. In September of 1940, after refueling in Libya, he was supposed to fly to his squadron's airstrip, located 30 miles South of Mersa Matruh, Egypt.

Unable to find the airstrip and running low on fuel, Roald was forced to make an emergency landing in a desert. Unfortunately, the undercarriage of his plane clipped a boulder and he crashed.

Despite sustaining a fractured skull and a shattered nose, Roald managed to crawl away from the flaming wreckage of his plane. He regained consciousness while being treated in Mersa Matruh and found that he was temporarily blinded.

He was taken to an RAF hospital in Alexandria for further treatment. The RAF investigated the crash and found that Roald had been given the wrong coordinates for the airstrip, which sent him instead to a no man's land between Allied and Italian lines.

Amazingly, by February of 1941, Road Dahl had completely recovered from his injuries, regained his eyesight, and was deemed fit to resume his flying duties. This time, he flew combat missions across the Mediterranean.

In April, he saw action in the Battle of Athens, where he and several other RAF pilots shot down over 20 German planes. Though he would be promoted to officer, he was ultimately relieved of duty after he'd begun suffering chronic severe headaches that sometimes caused him to black out.

Roald continued to serve during World War II. His work for the British Information Service introduced him to espionage; he acted as an information courier for British Security Coordination, a division of MI6, the British Secret Intelligence Service.

Ian Fleming, legendary author of the classic James Bond spy thriller novels, was a fellow agent. Dahl would later write the screenplay for the 1967 feature film adaptation of Fleming's James Bond novel You Only Live Twice.

It was during the war that Road Dahl's first published short story appeared. Inspired after meeting fellow writer C.S. Forster, Dahl wrote A Piece of Cake, a story based on his adventures as a World War II flying ace.

The story was published by the Saturday Evening Post in August of 1942. They paid Dahl $1,000 for it, which was a huge amount at the time - the equivalent of $18,000 in today's money.

Through he did write occasionally for adults, Roald Dahl was best known as a children's writer who delighted his young readers with his caustic wit, imagination, dark humor, and taste for the macabre.

The Gremlins, his first children's book, was published in 1943. It was based on RAF folklore about mischievous little creatures with a fetish for sabotaging planes.

Dahl had children of his own - five in fact - with his wife, the famous American actress Patricia Neal, whom he married in 1953. In December of 1960, his son Theo, then four months old, was severely injured when his baby carriage was hit by a taxicab.

Theo suffered from hydrocephalus (a buildup of water on the brain) for a time, so Dahl co-invented the "Wade-Dahl Till," a cerebral shunt used to drain the excess water, alleviating the patient's pain and preventing brain damage.

Two years later, in 1962, when Dahl lost his seven-year-old daughter Olivia to measles-related encephalitis, he became an early, vocal proponent of immunization.

After the war ended, Roald Dahl began writing and publishing collections of short stories, mostly for adults. In 1961, he returned to children's writing with his classic novel, James and the Giant Peach.

In it, four-year-old James finds his life turned upside down when his parents are devoured by a rhinoceros that escaped from the zoo. James is sent to live with his repulsive aunts Spiker and Sponge, who abuse him verbally and physically and imprison him in their home.

James meets a strange little man who gives him a sack containing the ingredients for a magic potion that can bring happiness and great adventure, but the boy accidentally spills these ingredients - and the water he was supposed to add to them - onto the barren peach tree outside his aunts' home.

The tree begins to blossom and it grows a giant peach the size of a house. James's evil aunts make money off the peach, but one night, James ventures inside the giant peach and befriends the insects and other creatures who live there. They had been waiting for him, so they could all escape together...

Due to its macabre nature and frightening scenes, James and the Giant Peach still raises the ire of disgruntled parents and pressure groups in America. The American Library Association ranked it #56 on their list of the 100 most banned or challenged books.

Amazingly, James and the Giant Peach was adapted by Disney as an animated feature film in 1996. As expected, the screenplay took great liberties with the story. Dahl followed it with another classic children's novel, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (1964).

In this surreal fantasy, reclusive candy maker Willy Wonka, owner of the world's largest chocolate factory, holds a contest where five lucky children will win a tour of his factory. One of the winners turns out to be Charlie Bucket, a nice, humble boy from a very poor family.

The other winners are enormously fat little glutton Augustus Gloop, spoiled, selfish rich girl Veruca Salt, television-addicted Mike Teavee, and Violet Beauregarde, a rude little girl who's always chomping on gum.

As the children take their tour, they find Willy Wonka's chocolate factory staffed by small, pygmy like men called Oompa-Loompas. They explore the surreal workings of the factory, not knowing that Willy Wonka has a secret plan: he wants to retire and pass his factory on to one of the children.

The children's bad behavior eliminates them one by one from contention and results in a nasty twist of fate. Augustus falls into a chocolate river and is sucked into the works of a fudge making machine. Veruca is dumped into a garbage chute.

Mike is shrunk, then stretched tall by a taffy puller, and Violet is turned into a giant blueberry. Charlie Bucket, the child whom Willy Wonka liked the best, is the last one left and inherits the chocolate factory.

In 1971, a feature film adaptation, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory was released, starring Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka. Originally, Roald Dahl was supposed to write the screenplay, but backed out of the project.

Dahl objected when the film's corporate sponsor, Breaker Confections, now known as The Wonka Candy Company, demanded extensive changes, including the promotion of its products within the film.

The title was changed to Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Dahl hated the film, which bombed at the box office, but has since become a beloved cult classic, thanks to its frequent showings on TV over the years. The film is also available on DVD, Blu-Ray, and streaming services.

In 2005, a new feature film adaptation of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was released, directed by legendary filmmaker Tim Burton and starring Johnny Depp as Willy Wonka.

This film was a huge hit, and grossed over $400 million worldwide. Roald Dahl would publish a sequel to his novel, Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator, in 1972.

Dahl continued to write great children's novels, including The Fantastic Mr. Fox (1970) and The Witches (1983). In 1988, Dahl published one of his most beloved novels, Matilda.

Five-year-old Matilda Wormwood is a sweet-natured, super intelligent little girl who was born into an ignorant, sleazy family. Her father is a crooked used car salesman who cheats his customers. Neither of Matilda's parents have much use for her, and they place no value on education.

After selling a lemon of a car to Agatha Trunchbull, the headmistress of Crunchem Hall Primary School, Matilda's father arranges for her to attend the school. Matilda finds that Miss Trunchbull is a sadistic tyrant.

Trunchbull delights in meting out incredibly cruel punishments for the least offenses. However, Matilda's teacher, Miss Honey, is kindhearted. Impressed by Matilda's brilliance, Miss Honey befriends her.

When Matilda is blamed for an offense committed by a classmate, the evil Miss Trunchbull incites her to such an emotional frenzy that she unleashes telekinetic powers - the ability to move objects with her mind.

Miss Honey reveals to Matilda that Miss Trunchbull is actually her aunt. When her father died under suspicious circumstances, Miss Trunchbull took over his home and school and began abusing her the way she abuses the children.

Miss Honey is too frightened of her evil aunt to stand up to her tyranny, so Matilda uses her telekinetic powers to teach Miss Trunchbull a lesson she'll never forget.

Matilda was adapted as an acclaimed feature film in 1996, produced, directed, and narrated by Danny DeVito, who also co-starred as Matilda's sleazy father, Harry Wormwood. Some disgruntled parents complained about the film's dark humor and violence.

In 2009, the Royal Shakespeare Company produced a big budget rock musical adaptation of Matilda for the London stage, with music and lyrics by Australian comedian-singer-actor Tim Minchin. The popular musical made its Broadway debut in 2013 and became a hit there as well. It was adapted as a feature film in 2022.

Roald Dahl died in 1990 after a battle with myelodysplastic syndrome, a leukemia-like blood disease. He was 74 years old. His last children's novel, The Minipins, was published posthumously in 1991. His hometown in Wales renamed one of its landmarks The Roald Dahl Plass in his honor.

Quote Of The Day

"I have a passion for teaching kids to become readers, to become comfortable with a book, not daunted. Books shouldn't be daunting, they should be funny, exciting and wonderful; and learning to be a reader gives a terrific advantage." - Roald Dahl

Vanguard Video

Today's video features a rare radio interview with Roald Dahl. Enjoy!