Mr. Dickens, Meet Mr. Twain. Miss Hannah, Meet Mr. Spock. Agt. Scully, Meet Mr. Dickens.
Greetings and salutations, cats! Gorgeous winter days still on the San Diego coast. So lovely, in fact, Dr. Lucy, Little Lindy and I have been whizzing around Coronado Isle in a juicy little breezer some wheat left running outside The Del. Fellow ghosties, want to cause some trouble? If you can get out of your haunt -I can for short bursts- snag a convertible, throw on a scarf and buzz the burg. Coppers won’t know from nothing when they see an empty flivver with nothing but fluttering silk flying down the flug! If you can get to a casino in that breezer for a little hot chocolate and peppermint schnapps (a separate, sipping glass for the schnapps) over a hand or two of invisible poker, even better!
Note to all wheats: don't leave it running! Photo: J.S. Devore
Speaking of winter and wagers, I’ll bet more than a few of you reading this are winter babies. The birthday season is as bonkers as the Hollywood awards season right now! I’m guessing Spring Fever manifests itself in more than just a good dusting and cleaning. A little May Day barney-mugging, anyone? Zowie!
Walt Disney, Woody Allen, Edgar Allen Poe, James Joyce, John Steinbeck, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and funny enough, apropos to my situation, both Charles Lindbergh and one Miss Ida Lupino -that hoofer being the reason I’m here at The Del forever- share a February 4th birthday. As monumental, literary birthdays go though, today marks a doozy: the bicentenary of the midnight birth of one Charles John Huffman Dickens. All the world has its knickers in a bunch over this one, Dr. Lucy and Moi included. We’ve been up since the midnight hour celebrating and let me tell you, Lucy’s knickers are in more than a bunch; she’s plum in love with Mr. Dickens! She’s just bonkers for anything Victorian, has read The Old Curiosity Shop nearly a hundred times and has decided to head back home, up San Francisco way, this Christmas to partake in the Great Dickens Christmas Fair & Victorian Holiday Party, in full costume of course. She’s also trying to revive the practice of mutton chops. Few have the personality and the face to pull off the fluffy, Victorian sideburn; but those who can, should!
Quoth Twain of Dickens:
He strode — in the most English way and exhibiting the most English general style and appearance — straight across the broad stage, heedless of everything, unconscious of everybody, turning neither to the right nor the left — but striding eagerly straight ahead, as if he had seen a girl he knew turn the next corner. He brought up handsomely in the centre and faced the opera glasses. His pictures are hardly handsome, and he, like everybody else, is less handsome than his pictures. That fashion he has of brushing his hair and goatee so resolutely forward gives him a comical Scotch-terrier look about the face, which is rather heightened than otherwise by his portentous dignity and gravity. But that queer old head took on a sort of beauty, bye and bye, and a fascinating interest, as I thought of the wonderful mechanism within it, the complex but exquisitely adjusted machinery that could create men and women, and put the breath of life into them and alter all their ways and actions, elevate them, degrade them, murder them, marry them, conduct them through good and evil, through joy and sorrow, on their long march from the cradle to the grave, and never lose its godship over them, never make a mistake! I almost imagined I could see the wheels and pulleys work. This was Dickens — Dickens.
That fashion he has of brushing his hair and goatee so resolutely forward gives him a comical Scotch-terrier look about the face. -Mark Twain, Dickens Photo: U.S. Nat'l Archives
If you read Twain’s entire account, you’ll note he wasn’t nearly as taken with Dickens’ delivery as he was with his attaboy writing: Mr. Dickens’ reading is rather monotonous, as a general thing; his voice is husky; his pathos is only the beautiful pathos of his language — there is no heart, no feeling in it — it is glittering frostwork.
Orating the written word is, in my experience, a difficult act to undertake, and endure. Ever listen to NPR’s The Writer’s Almanac? That’s some tough gum to chew! No matter how jazzy the wordsmithing, it’s meant to be read silently or performed, not taken as a dry recitation, like a spoonful of cinnamon, and especially not by the writers themselves. Very few can do justice to their own bon mots. Funny story, in fact, if not loosely related.
I floated myself up to the City of Angels one evening back in the early-Naughties for a celebrity, short-story reading at The Getty Center. A week-long event, I chose to attend the night that the cat’s pajamas of cerebral celebs was reading: Leonard Nimoy! Well, wouldn’t you know it? I got there, looking smashing in a chiffon, beaded Nikki tea dress, feathered headband and hot pink ankle booties, and that darned management had changed the line-up: John Lithgow would now be reading selections. Selections from what, I can’t recall. Now, I do love me some John Lithgow, but I was there for Spock and anyone who tends to sign off their texts, tweets and jaw-flapping with an LLAP knows Lithgow just won’t do when Nimoy is in one’s sights. (Sorry, Dr. Solomon.)
Already in Brentwood and not about to turn down free museum booze, I settled contentedly into an empty seat in the Harold M. Williams Auditorium … until a plump Betty with a nasty, Rachel Maddow, barber cut came and sat on me. (Ghost tip: never arrive too early for public functions. Wait until curtain for a truly empty seat.) Once I was finally nestled in my own plush, velvet cushion and Lithgow commenced to orate, I became raw-ther bored, raw-ther quickly. Scanning the hall for this n’ that, I saw what a sartorial mess L.A. can be. Sure, there were a few snazzy twists out there, dolled up in their glad rags; but there were also a lot of slugburgers. Gentlemen, jeans and tees, no matter how expensive or in vogue, are not appropriate evening wear … even just to listen to someone read.
Nimoy at the Sheraton Yankee Clipper Ft. Lauderdale. Even in the '70s, decidedly not a slugburger! Photo: FL State Archives
Anyhoo, as I was marveling at some woman’s long overdue, salt-and-pepper roots, another noggin caught my peripheral vision: a closely buzzed, peach fuzzy head of sharp and intelligent proportions. Lo and behold, in the row below me and three seats to my left sat Mr. Leonard Nimoy! Applesauce! I was done for! I spent the rest of the night sitting on the lap of some boorish, old, art history wanker from U.S.C. (Lucky him and he didn’t even know it!) and rubbing Spock’s skull with my flat hand and breathing lightly into his ears: not pointed in real life. He never even twitched, by the way. That is one cool butter n’ egg man!
So, long way around … Happy 200th Birthday, Mr. Dickens! Dr. Lucy, Little Lindy and I have been celebrating the birth of your brain since the stroke of midnight this February 7th, starting with a Netflix marathon of the BBC production of Bleak House with Gillian Anderson, a.k.a. Agent Scully. Talk about a snazzy twist! We followed that up with a version of Nicholas Nickleby featuring the resplendent and beauteous Anne Hathaway and the modernized iteration of Great Expectations with the ever-regal Gwenyth Paltrow. Tonight, we shall wrap up your filmic fete with an Old Hollywood viewing event: A Tale of Two Cities and Mystery of Edwin Drood, both 1935 productions. We shall end the night honouring you, the man whom once took the pseudonym of Boz (Who uses pseudonyms, anyhoo?) with what Lucy and I equally believe to be the single greatest testament and flattery to your remarkable chef d’oeuvres: A Muppet Christmas Carol!
Thank you for letting me be a part of this! -Rizzo, A Muppet Christmas Carol
Love Leonard Nimoy, too? Send Hannah a happy LLAP @JennyPopNet!
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