William Makepeace Thackeray, Vanity Fair
“When a traveler talks to you perpetually about the splendour of his luggage, which he does not happen to have with him, beware of that traveler!”
William Makepeace Thackeray, Vanity Fair
Image Credit: David Brass Rare Books
“The Soviet Union ... recognized private sexual rights of the individual, in 1917. But, in 1934, Stalin’s government had withdrawn this recognition and made all homosexual acts punishable by heavy prison sentences. It had agreed with the Nazis in denouncing homosexuality as a form of treason to the state. The only difference was that the Nazis called it ‘sexual Bolshevism’ and the Communists ‘Fascist perversion.’”
Christopher Isherwood, Christopher and His Kind
“Everyone remembers exactly where he or she was when President Kennedy was shot. But I, typical gossip columnist that I am, remember exactly where I was when I first heard the word Trump.”
Liz Smith, Natural Blonde, A Memoir
Liz Smith lived to see the Trump presidency, but that is not what inspired the above quip. The quote is taken from her memoir, published eighteen-years ago. In the book, she covers the erstwhile real estate developer's divorce from his first wife, Ivana, which was one of the biggest scoops of Smith's career. Broadway starlet Marla Maples also landed the best part of her career, as the other woman in the Trump divorce. With the glitzy Ivana battling it out with the beautiful Marla and with a fortune at stake, the saga dominated the tabloids. Smith called it, "the biggest story I've ever seen that isn't important," topped only by the romance of Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton.
Smith's inside position as confidante of Ivana Trump gave her scoop after scoop. Her daily readership soared to new heights and led to a pay raise. But what of the other players involved, specifically the future president? This was the early nineties when scandalous behavior was considered bad public relations for a businessman. As such, he reacted badly, writing negatively about Liz Smith in his second book. He eventually forgave her, and Smith was not only invited but given a prime spot at Trump's marriage to the other woman, Marla Maples. Was he being magnanimous, or had he begun to understand that he possessed a skill that rivaled that of the legendary King Midas? He had the ability to spin negative publicity into public relations gold.
Image Credit: Our Years at Mortimer's
“It is a lucky thing for the American moralist that our country has always existed in a kind of time-vacuum: we have no public memory of anything that happened before last Tuesday.”
Gore Vidal, Gore Vidal’s United States, Essays 1952-1992
Sidebar: Check out Jonathan Raban's fascinating review of Gore Vidal's United States, Essays 1952-1992 that appeared in the Los Angeles Times. There is a lot to unpack. The opening paragraph is either a dig or a tribute (but perhaps both?):
"Gore Vidal the novelist's best character is Gore Vidal the essayist. Beside him even Myra Breckenridge seems a pale creation, and this great fat book, chronicling 40 years of the essayist's adventures, is like a lively picaresque novel in reverse."
Image Credit: Clifford Coffin, Photographs from Vogue, 1945 to 1955
America's longest serving First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt, was one of the most admired women of the 20th Century, topping Gallup's famous poll on the subject over a dozen times. In retrospect, she appears to have been universally beloved. Alas, history glosses over yellow journalism.
Among Mrs. Roosevelt's detractors was right wing propagandist Elizabeth Dilling. Dilling vilified Roosevelt in her vitriolic, race-baiting book, The Red Network, A 'Who's Who' and Handbook of Radicalism for Patriots (1935). She labeled the First Lady a "Socialist sympathizer and associate" and presented a trumped up list of "Red" organizations with which the First Lady was allegedly associated.
In hindsight, inclusion in Elizabeth Dilling's scurrilous volume is practically an honorific. Consider the high esteem with which we hold others she targeted. Mahatma Gandhi was disparaged because he planned to "Sovietize" India. The book also mocked the "best press-agented man in the world" Albert Einstein and his fraudulent science (a.k.a.—the Theory of Relativity). Others demonized included Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter, Sigmund Freud, and Upton Sinclair.
Image Credit: Snapshots in History's Glare
Sorry for the break in posting. I have been hard at work on the annual NHL holiday catalogue. It is now completed, and a PDF version will soon be available for download via this blog. If you would like a hard copy version, please email me your address.
Here is the introduction from this year's catalogue:
“How tragic and how glorious is the passing of time!”
--Little Edie Beale
It is fitting that Little Edie opens this year’s catalogue. She was the first reality superstar and its cultural apogee. How extraordinary that one of her successors in the medium has been elected to the presidency of the United States, the most powerful job on earth. From Grey Gardens to the White House Orangerie: reality programming—you have come a long way baby.
It is an astonishing shuffle of the cards that has left some questioning whether the electorate was playing with a full deck. It is also an event so significant to cultural history—a primary focus of Nick Harvill Libraries—that not to mention it would be ignoring the elephant (or donkey) in the room.
As we contemplate the implications of the election, we seek answers via social media and the Internet. That is akin to instructing a murderer to investigate his own crime. Technology has given us so much, but its dark side is that it has also flattened us out, trapping us in an echo chamber that obliterates the past and disparages opposing points of view.
Like Homer Simpson said of alcohol, the Internet is both the cause and solution to all of our problems. There is a reason it is called the World Wide Web and not the World Deep one. In places, it is baby-pool shallow. Worthwhile books and fascinating people have faded into oblivion, barely covered online. For the Nick Harvill Libraries blog that is an opportunity. I write and post articles that rank high in search results because they are the most in-depth treatment of a particular subject matter online.
Books are not perfect, but in their sum-total, they come close. They are pieces of an infinite and ever-changing puzzle. We must constantly resist the all-too human temptation to arrogantly decide where a puzzle piece ought to go and proceed to hammer it into place. Just as tempting, particularly for nonreaders, is to see the puzzle as complete with only a few inadequate pieces. [Cable news + religious dogma = not much of anything.]
That does not mean we all have to be of the intelligentsia. Diana Vreeland declared, “If we have an intellectual working for Vogue, he’s running the elevator!” I get the sentiment. Pure academic theorizing, untethered to how we actually live, comes with its own set of worries. Correlating literature with our own experiences, however, is one of life’s great pleasures—it connects us to both the present and the past and softens the loneliness intrinsic to the human condition.
Books enable us to see the temporal world in its proper perspective. It is a lesson so easy to forget that it must be constantly relearned. Everything is transitory. Ying becomes yang. Chanel liberates woman from her corset only for Dior ensnare her in it once again. Yippies become yuppies and join the Reagan Revolution. A president of exquisite gentility is replaced by his opposite.
Time despises entropy, and it is inevitable that good will revert to bad. It is only in the long arc of history that we see progress. Do not despair. Take comfort in the words of that unwittingly wise woman, Little Edie Beale. “How tragic and how glorious is the passing of time!”
“I voted once. In the fifties, I don’t remember which election. I pulled the wrong lever because I was confused. I couldn’t figure out how to work the thing. There was not a practice model outside, it was a church on 35th Street between Park and Lex. This was when I was living at 242 Lexington. And then I got called for jury duty and I wrote back: ‘Moved.' I’ve never voted again.”
--Andy Warhol, The Andy Warhol Diaries
Though he might not have voted, Warhol had a great deal to say about politics in his Diaries. He also wrote about his dealings with a certain social climbing New Yorker who was just then making a splash in real estate. How fascinated Warhol would have been by this person's quixotic run for the presidency in 2016.
Image Credit: Horst Interiors
“Bakersfield is basically West Texas, but it's just outside Los Angeles, by some accident of geography.”
-- Ashley Alman & Ryan Grim, Huffington Post, “11 Things About Kevin McCarthy You Need To Know”
Image Credit: The Covered Bridges of California