Gwen Bristow and Bruce Manning, news art, and the ‘superbowl’ of 1941: newsletter, December 17, 2021

December 17, 2021 | By Jim Stovall | Filed in: books, fiction, journalists, newsletter, Women writers and journalists, writers, writing.

This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2,290) on Friday, December 17, 2021.

The recent flutter of publicity about the fact that trial defendant Ghislaine Maxwell sketched the artist who was sketching her in court (see this New York Magazine article if you want to know more about that) reminded me about how I have always been fascinated by art that was produced in a news environment. Such art includes the drawings of combat artists made on the battlefield or shortly after leaving it to courtroom artists such as Jane Rosenberg, who drew the notorious Ghislaine, to editorial cartoonists who could render a caricature and comment while facing a daily deadline.

One division of this talented band of journalists was the sports cartoonist. I remember as a kid studying the work of these folks intently. One of the local newspapers had such an artist who would spend his fall Saturdays drawing a large-scale cartoon of the local collegiate football game, complete with humorous notes and comments. As a young and ambitious artist, I imagined a future where I was doing that for a living, and I even tried my hand at a few of them. Somewhere in the box of family pictures is one of me holding up my bold rendering while my brother snapped a picture of it.

But life had other plans for me—plans that I do not regret. Still, I DO regret that newspapers (or some organizations) do not support such creativity and entertainment. The kids of today have missed something truly valuable, and I am glad that it happened at a time when I could enjoy it.

Whatever you are looking at these days, have a wonderful and enjoyable and literate weekend.

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The murder mysteries of Gwen Bristow and Bruce Manning

How’s this for a plot? A number of people (eight or ten) with dark secrets are lured to a place where they can’t escape (a locked room or a deserted island). They are greeted by a host they cannot see and told that in a short time, they will all be dead. Then, they start dying, one by one. The book ends with the host revealed and the participants dead.

Wait! That’s obviously And Then There Were None (sometimes titled Ten Little Indians) by Agatha Christie. It was originally published in 1939 under what is now considered a totally inappropriate title (look it up, if you must). The book is Christie’s all-time best seller and considered to be the world’s best-selling mystery, with more than 100 million copies going across the sales counter. It has been adapted for film and television more than any other of Christie’s books.

Very interesting, but this is about plot—specifically the plot described in the first paragraph.

Nearly a decade before Christie published her book, a book in America titled The Invisible Host came out. It was a mystery by a husband and wife writing team, Gwen Bristow and Bruce Manning. The book sold well, and it was made into a play, titled The Ninth Guest, that had a brief run on Broadway. Later, RKO Pictures bought the film rights to The Invisible Host, and Bristow and Manning moved to Hollywood to write the script. The movie came out in 1934.

The book was about eight people who had dark secrets and were invited to the top floor of a New Orleans skyscraper where they were locked in. The guests all know each other, and after a superb dinner, they are informed by a voice over the radio that they will be dead before the night is done.

Sound familiar?

So, the question immediately arises: Did Agatha Christie steal that plot and make it her own?

The debate on that continues, but there is no evidence that Christie ever read the book or saw the movie. While snatches of her other books contain bits similar to previous works, no one ever brought a serious charge of plagiarism against her. In fact, all of the evidence points in the opposite direction. Christie had an extremely fertile mind and didn’t need to steal plots. She invented plenty on her own.

So, who were Gwen Bristow and Bruce Manning, and how did they come to write this book?

They were reporters for the New Orleans Times-Picayune, Gwen coming from South Carolina by way of Judson College in Alabama and the Columbia School of Journalism and Bruce from New York. The newspaper assigned them to cover courts and trials in New Orleans. The couple married in 1929 and lived in a small but affordable apartment in the French Quarter. Gwen had aspirations beyond the newspaper and already published a book of poetry.

Their living quarters proved to be a problem. Their next door neighbor played his radio loudly at all hours, and no entreaties could persuade him to turn it down. Dealing with that inspired them to write a mystery novel that used a blaring radio as a way of telling guests they were about to die. Thus, The Invisible Host was born. The novel was a success, and when it was made into a Broadway play, Gwen quit her job and took to writing full time. The two published two more mysteries, The Gutenberg Murders and The Mardi Gras Murders.

All of these books were full of intricate plots and colorful local characters.

When RKO Pictures bought the rights to their first book, the couple moved to Hollywood to write the script. Bruce wrote and published a novel on his own, but Gwen had little success in getting her work in print. Bruce got into script writing, but Gwen persisted and finally was able to publish several “plantation novels” in the same vein as Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind. Her novels Deep Summer (1937), The Handsome Road (1938), and This Side of Glory (1940) brought her some success and fame.

Meanwhile, Bruce turned to film producing and directing as well as script writing, and the couple earned enough by 1950 to move to the San Fernando Valley.

Both of these talented writers were plagued with ill-health, brought on or exacerbated by too much alcohol and tobacco. Manning died in 1965 and was buried in California. Bristow lived until 1980, and when she died, she was buried with her family in New Orleans.

 

The Devil’s Dictionary by Ambrose Bierce: Brain, Hand, Heart

BRAIN, n. An apparatus with which we think what we think. That which distinguishes the man who is content to be something from the man who wishes to do something. A man of great wealth, or one who has been pitchforked into high station, has commonly such a headful of brain that his neighbors cannot keep their hats on. In our civilization, and under our republican form of government, brain is so highly honored that it is rewarded by exemption from the cares of office.

HAND, n. A singular instrument worn at the end of the human arm and commonly thrust into somebody’s pocket.

HEART, n. An automatic, muscular blood-pump. Figuratively, this useful organ is said to be the seat of emotions and sentiments—a very pretty fancy which, however, is nothing but a survival of a once universal belief. It is now known that the sentiments and emotions reside in the stomach, being evolved from food by chemical action of the gastric fluid. The exact process by which a beefsteak becomes a feeling—tender or not, according to the age of the animal from which it was cut; the successive stages of elaboration through which a caviar sandwich is transmuted to a quaint fancy and reappears as a pungent epigram; the marvelous functional methods of converting a hard-boiled egg into religious contrition, or a cream-puff into a sigh of sensibility—these things have been patiently ascertained by M. Pasteur, and by him expounded with convincing lucidity. (See, also, my monograph, The Essential Identity of the Spiritual Affections and Certain Intestinal Gases Freed in Digestion—4to, 687 pp.) In a scientific work entitled, I believe, Delectatio Demonorum (John Camden Hotton, London, 1873) this view of the sentiments receives a striking illustration; and for further light consult Professor Dam’s famous treatise on Love as a Product of Alimentary Maceration.

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The Prolific Reader. Kill the Quarterback is listed there along with some other great mysteries. https://theprolificreader.com/mystery”

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The fleet’s “superbowl”: December 7, 1941

When Mickey Ganitch woke up on the morning of December 7, 1941, he wasn’t thinking about the possibility of war with Japan. Instead, he was thinking about football. Specifically, his thoughts focused on the game in which he would be playing that day.

Ganitch was a signalman on the USS Pennsylvania, which is sitting in drydock at the Pearl Harbor naval base in Hawaii. He was a member of the ship’s football team—something he took great pride in—and that team was scheduled to play the team from the USS Arizona that afternoon for the fleet championship. It was “our superbowl,” he said.

The team had scheduled an early practice that morning, and they had suited up in their pads and were almost ready to leave the ship for the football field. It was shortly before 8 o’clock. The weather was clear and pleasant, a great day for a football game.

Then the alarm sounded. The Japanese were dropping bombs on the naval base, Ganitch was told. “Don’t joke about something like that,” Ganitch said.

It was no joke.

Still in his pads, Ganitch scrambled up to the highest point in the ship—the “crow’s nest”—where his pre-arranged assignment was to see what he could see and get the word to the proper place on board the ship. What he saw almost defied belief.

Smoke was rising from various points around the harbor. Airplanes—Japanese Zeros—were starting high and diving low, dropping explosives. Some of the planes were swooping down so low that Ganitch could see the tops of them for a few seconds.

Ganitch stayed in the U.S. Navy for the next 40 years and today, at 102 years old, is one of the last survivors of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. His was a birds-eye view of the entire harbor and the attack as it unfolded. He tells a fascinating story about that day, about what he saw and about his subsequent war service on Dan Snow’s History Hit podcast. It’s a story well worth listening to.

Photo: Smoke pours from the USS Arizona, one of the battleships sunk by the Japanese on Dec. 7, 1941.

 

The third volume of Vietnam Voices is now available

Vietnam Voices, the project of the Blount County Public Library with which I am associated, now has its third volume of interviews in both print and ebook form.

Vietnam Voices: Stories of Tennesseans Who Served in Vietnam, 1965-1975 (volume 3) is available on Amazon in paperback and ebook formats and on Barnes & Noble in hardback and ebook formats.  These books are a part of the Vietnam Voices project that has sought to interview local residents who served in the armed forces in the Vietnam region. The project has conducted more than 50 interviews, and these unedited interviews can be heard on the library’s website at this link.

Volume 3 contains edited transcripts of 15 of these interviews. The Amazon page has this description:

This third volume of Vietnam Voices continues the quest of the Blount County Public Library to record and archive the memories of those who served in the military in Vietnam during that conflict a half-century ago.

Much has been written about the war in Vietnam. At home, it was politically and socially divisive, creating fissures in American society, some of which have never been healed. Many volumes about the history, strategy, tactics, and effects of the war have been published in the years since the conflict ended.

Relatively little, however, has been written about the war from the point of view of the soldiers, sailors, and Marines who served there. The reasons for that are many and varied. Chief among them is the fact that when servicemen returned to the United States, they rarely wanted to talk about their experience there. Most simply wanted to get on with their lives, which they felt had been interrupted by the conflict.

A related factor in this silence is the fact that the servicemen were not invited to talk about what had happened. The society to which they returned was too divided to discuss the war rationally. A strong current feeling that blamed the soldiers for the war ‑ rather than the politicians ‑ had gripped the thinking of many Americans.

Consequently, a silence enveloped any discussion of the war with veterans. That silence has prevailed for much of the last 50 years.

The Vietnam Voices project, then, is an effort to break that wall of silence and to give the veterans who served in Vietnam a chance to tell their stories.

A fourth and final volume of Vietnam Voices is now being edited.

Reactions

Check out last week’s newsletter

Vince V.: I recall a columnist years ago calling Twitter “the soapbox in town square.” That description is far too kind. It’s turned into a quagmire of unimportant, self-interests that I rarely visit.

Tom A.: Obolus. It’s a nice word to know for Boggle or a crossword puzzle, but I’m a ways away from saying to someone, “An obolus for your thoughts.”

Vic C.: It is notable that “abstemious” and “facetious” in their adverbial forms are the two words in the English language that include all the vowels and in sequence.

You are well aware of my dissatisfaction with so many of today’s authors because of their lack of regard/respect for the English language.  I’ve also found that some of my contemporaries are becoming sloppier in their writing.  A friend of 70 years standing used the word “brake” instead of “break” and I was disheartened not only because of the error but because he didn’t take the time to check his work.  “Biting my tongue” to avoid sending a correction seems to be the direction “de rigueur” of my correspondence.  It appears, too, that subordinate clauses are no longer treated with respect as evident by the misplacement of commas.  Consequently, part of the great pleasure I get from reading your merry missives is that I can do so with confidence that my virtual editorial pencil can remain in its scabbard.

Finally . . .

This week’s watercolor: The dulcimer player

Best quote of the week:

“Write. Find a way to keep alive and write. There is nothing else to say. If you are going to be a writer there is nothing I can say to stop you; if you’re not going to be a writer nothing I can say will help you. What you really need at the beginning is somebody to let you know that the effort is real.” James Baldwin, writer, (1924-1987)

Pray-as-you-go podcast

If you are looking for a quiet, meditative, non-theological but scriptural podcast to start or close your day, try pray-as-you-go.org. The podcasts are 10-12 minutes long, and they feature beautiful music, a scripture reading, and a very short devotional. It’s a great respite from an otherwise all-too-noisy world.

Helping those in need

Fires in California, freezing weather in Texas, hurricanes on the Atlantic Coast, tornados in Tennessee, and now coronavirus — disasters occur everywhere. They have spread untold misery and disruption. The people affected by them need our help.

It’s not complicated. Things happen to people, and we should be ready to do all the good we can in all of the ways we can. (Some will recognize that I am paraphrasing John Wesley here).

When is the last time you gave to your favorite charity? The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR.org) is my favorite charity. Please make a contribution to this one or to yours.

Keep reading, keep writing (especially to me), and have a great weekend.

Jim

Jim Stovall
www.jprof.com

You can connect with Jim on FacebookTwitterLinkedin, and BookBub.

His Amazon author page is where you can find more information about his books.

Last week’s newsletter: The most influential American woman of the 19th century, Thomas Bodley, and the masses on Twitter: newsletter, December 10, 2021

 

 

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