Did You Know . . . ?

David Copperfield 2The 1935 classic movie David Copperfield had a stellar cast of actors that included Basil Rathbone (who would become perhaps the most popular actor to portray Sherlock Holmes), Freddie Bartholomew (one of the most popular child actors in history), Lionel Barrymore (a fine character actor who is probably remembered best for his portrayal of Dr. Gillespie in a string of Dr. Kildare movies), Edna May Oliver (a wonderful comedic character actress), Lewis Stone (Andy’s father in the Andy Hardy movie series), and Maureen O’Sullivan (a beautiful actress who may be remembered best as Jane in a string of Tarzan movies).


W. C. Fields with Freddie Bartholomew

The movie also included a bit of casting that might seem counterintuitive: W. C. Fields, the comic genius, had the part of Mr. Micawber, the bloviating ne’er-do-well who nonetheless proves to be a true friend to David. Actually, the casting of Fields made sense because he was a self-educated man who loved the works of Dickens, Shakespeare, Homer, Ovid, Mark Twain, and other well-known authors. His comic genius (just watch as he attempts to put his hat on his head only to find that it is, instead, on the end of his cane) also fits well with the part of the bumbling, and pretentious old chatterbox. And if you look at any movie poster produced for the 1935 movie, you will notice that Fields’ name is always listed first. Watch the movie and see if you can imagine anyone portraying Mr. Micawber better than W. C. Fields.

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Mary Anne Evans, like many women writers of the nineteenth century, published her books using a pseudonym because women were not taken seriously as novelists. As George Eliot she published Adam Bede in 1859 to great acclaim. The publisher reprinted the book eight times during the year after its publication. She went on to write many other novels, including Middlemarch which is considered to be her masterpiece, under the pseudonym George Eliot even though her real identity became known a few years after Adam Bede was published.

There is some confusion about exactly what her real first and middle names were. She was born Mary Anne, but later dropped the “e” and became Mary Ann. Even later she used Marian as her name, but eventually reverted to Mary Ann.

Mary Anne lived openly with the English philosopher George Henry Lewes for many years even though Lewes was married. Of course they became social outcasts, and Lewes wife, Agnes, was seen by the public as the victim of an unfaithful husband and his hussy. What is overlooked is that Lewes and his wife had an open marriage in which each had other lovers, and that Agnes had several illegitimate children after she and Lewes separated.

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“Look it up in your Funk & Wagnalls” was a popular catch phrase and put-down when I was a mere child. The Funk & Wagnalls company published both a dictionary and a set of encyclopedias. I remember seeing the low cost encyclopedias in grocery stores. You could buy the first volume for a dollar or less, and then buy additional volumes each week at a very low price. The encyclopedia was printed from 1912 to 1997.

Isaac Kaufmann Funk, a Lutheran minister, lexicographer, publisher, and prohibitionist formed the Funk & Wagnalls publishing company with Adam Willis Wagnalls who was an attorney and accountant.

Wilfred J. Funk, Isaac’s son, wrote the “Word Power” feature for Reader’s Digest for many years beginning in 1945. He also wrote a number of popular books including 30 Days to a More Powerful Vocabulary,” and Word Origins and Their Romantic Stories. Peter Funk, Wilfred’s son, continued writing the “Word Power” feature until 1998. Peter authored It Pays to Increase Your Word Power and Word Power Made Simple.

“It Pays to Increase Your Word Power” is still a part of each month’s edition of Reader’s Digest, but is now written by Emily Cox and Henry Rathvon.

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Cher Horowitz, the superficial subject of the 1995 comedy film Clueless is based on the title character in Jane Austen’s 1815 novel Emma. The movie was followed by a TV series and a number of books about the further adventures of Cher and her friends.

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CyranoEdmond Rostand based his play Cyrano de Bergerac on a real person. Savinien Cyrano de Bergerac was born in 1619 and died at the age of 36 in 1655. De Bergerac was a novelist, playwright, and duelist. Very little is known about him, so Rostand’s account of his life is largely fictitious. An excellent 1950 movie about de Bergerac starred José Ferrer. It was remade as a comedy called Roxanne (after Cyrano’s love interest in the play) in 1987 and starred Steve Martin and Daryl Hannah. You will notice in the above image of de Bergerac that he does have a rather prominent nose, though not nearly as large as the nose we see in the movies listed above.

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It is a well-known fact in publishing that an author can over-saturate the book market by publishing too many books in a short time. Also, if an author is known for a particular genre of books, such as romance novels, he or she may use a pseudonym when publishing a book in an entirely different type of literature.

The prolific author, Stephen King, was concerned about over-saturation at one point in his career, so between 1977 and 1984 he published five novels under the pen name of Richard Bachman (he was listening to a Bachman Turner Overdrive song when he chose the pseudonym). When the actual name of the author of the books was discovered, King announced that Bachman had died from “cancer of the pseudonym.” In 1989 he dedicated his novel The Dark Half to “the late Richard Bachman.”

Rage, the first of the five Bachman novels, is about a mentally disturbed high school student who brings a gun to school, kills some faculty members, then holds his Algebra class hostage. King wrote the novel in 1965 while he was a high school student, but didn’t publish it until 1977. As you read this, you are probably astounded that King could have published such a book, but remember that it was written and published before the world changed. “I suppose if it had been written today, and some high school English teacher had seen it,” King wrote, “he would have rushed the manuscript to the guidance counselor and I would have found myself in therapy posthaste. But 1965 was a different world, one where you didn’t have to take off your shoes before boarding a plane and there were no metal detectors at the entrances to high schools.”

You won’t find new copies of Rage anywhere because King had it permanently removed from publication after it was linked to four school shootings. You can read more about the book and the four shootings in a Business Insider article.

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I, LibertineJean Shepherd was a bit unusual. He liked being on radio, but he didn’t want to follow the script that was set out for him by his employers. They wanted him to play music; he wanted to talk to his listeners – and talk and talk and talk. He had been fired often, but he was talented enough to be hired in 1955 by WOR in New York City, but his style of radio bombed during his Saturday afternoon shift. Rather than fire him, WOR exiled him to the graveyard shift – 1:00 a.m. to 5:30 a.m. Monday through Friday – and insisted that he broadcast from the transmitter site in Cartaret, New Jersey rather than from the studios in Manhattan. That’s when Shepherd caught on with the “night people,” as he called them. He contrasted his “night people” with the somewhat inferior “day people.”

You might say that this was the beginning of talk radio. His stream-of-consciousness monologues, and his interaction with his listeners made him extremely popular. He would ask trivia questions and award the winners with the imaginary but impressive sounding “Brass Figlagee with Bronze Oak Leaf Palm.” He would also instruct his listeners to put their radios on their window sills so that the neighbors could hear what was on. He would then say something like, “You filthy pragmatist!” Then he would immediately play some soft music such as a number by the syrupy Mantovani. The neighbors, waking to an insult, would hear only the soft music.

His biggest prank by far concerned a book that didn’t exist. He learned during a trip to a book store that bestseller book lists were made up by polling book stores to see which books were selling the most and/or being requested the most. He instructed his listeners to request copies of I, Libertine by Frederick R. Ewing. Of course, the booksellers said they didn’t have the book, and had never heard of it. Nonetheless, I, Libertine became a much sought after book, and Shepherd and his “night people” had a good laugh at the expense of the “day people.”

There was a great demand for I, Libertine, so Ian Ballantine, the publisher of Ballantine paperback books, novelist Theodore Sturgeon, and Jean Shepherd met for lunch one day and decided to create the book – something along the lines of Tom Jones by Henry Fielding. Shepherd provided the story line, Sturgeon wrote the novel, and Ballantine published it on September 13, 1956. To dismiss the charge that those involved were only interested in making money from the gag, all proceeds from the book were given to charity. I, Libertine, by the way, though never a bestseller, is still in print.

Shepherd may have been the model for the endless string of inane talk radio shock jocks, but he also made the important point that you should think for yourself rather than simply accept what you’re told. “Don’t believe a thing you hear, and only half of what you see,” was a popular saying when I was a teenager. That’s truer today than it has ever been.

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