Tuesday, June 18, 2013

The Beekeeper

I bought the December 1956 issue of Esquire magazine at a recent estate sale for several reasons:  I like looking at old magazine advertisements, and the magazine was cheap (part of a "fill up a grocery bag for five dollars" deal).  But my primary reason for buying it was that it contained a short story called "Daydream" by Basil Rathbone.

Basil Rathbone was one of my favorite "classic Hollywood" actors.  He could play the hero or the villain with equal skill and panache.  But not everyone appreciates classic films these days.  I went to another estate sale a few months ago, where the sellers were getting ready to throw away (?!?) this poster for the 1938 film Robin Hood, in which Rathbone played the wicked Sir Guy of Gisbourne.  Errol Flynn and Olivia De Haviland got top billing, and most of the space on the poster, as Robin Hood and Maid Marian.

I rescued the old poster and gave it to a 20-something aspiring filmmaker who loves old movies and goes to my church.  I carefully unrolled the poster and took pictures of it first, spreading it out on the floor because it was so huge.  You can see the evil character of Sir Guy, next to Rathbone's name in the lower center.

A year after Robin Hood was filmed, Basil Rathbone made the first two in the series of films for which he is best-remembered:  The Hound of  the Baskervilles and The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes.  

Basil Rathbone was "the" Sherlock Holmes for more than one generation of fans.  He considered it quite an honor to play the part of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's iconic character.  A Rathbone fansite explains:

"Ever since I was a boy and first got acquainted with the great detective I wanted to be like him . . . To play such a character means as much to me as ten 'Hamlets'!"  -- Basil Rathbone, in a 1939 interview

It's worth taking a little time to read the article on the Sherlock Holmes films starring Rathbone on BasilRathbone.net :


The article gives the history of Rathbone's Holmes films, explaining that few of these movies were actually based on Conan Doyle's stories.  Instead, Hollywood updated Sherlock Holmes to bring him to a modern audience.  We needed a hero to fight the Nazis in the 1940s; Hollywood decided that Sherlock Holmes was the man.  The plots may have been contrived, and Nigel Bruce's Dr. Watson character may have been a nitwit, but as the writer on the website observes:

Basil Rathbone portrays the character of Sherlock Holmes so well that he's a joy to watch, even if the time period is "wrong" and the plots are ridiculous. And even though Watson is absent-minded, and frequently silly, he is charming. The chemistry between Rathbone and Bruce is superb.

The last time Rathbone played Sherlock Holmes on film was in 1946.  That brings me back to the short story in Esquire, sitting here on my table, which was published in 1956.  As Rathbone's tale begins, the narrator is on vacation in the English countryside:

The last afternoon of my holiday I was walking across the gentle countryside when I was rudely stung by a bee. Startled, I grabbed a handful of soft earth and applied it to the sting; it's an old-fashioned remedy I had learned as a child. Suddenly I became aware that the air about me was swarming with bees. It was then I noticed the small house with a thatched roof and a well-kept garden, with beehives at one end, that Mrs. Messenger, my landlady, had so often mentioned. She had told me that "he" had come to live in the thatched cottage many years ago. As he bothered no one, no one bothered him, which is an old English custom. Now, in 1946, he had become almost a legend.

Rathbone obviously read the Sherlock Holmes stories by Conan Doyle.  In "His Law Bow," Holmes had retired to live on a small farm in Sussex and had taken up the hobby of beekeeping.  As the story progresses, the narrator observes the sharpness of the old man's mind, and wonders about him.

People can forget a lot in ten years. "Daydream" ends:

He held out the book in his hand, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. "Do you know these stories? They are often overdramatized; but they make good reading." Once again the smile danced in his eyes.

I acknowledged an intimate acquaintance with all the works to which he referred and he seemed greatly pleased by my references to "The Master." ...

"The adventures as written by our dear friend Doctor Watson mean a great deal to me at my time of life," he reflected. "As someone once said, 'Remembrance is the only sure immortality we can know.' "

On my return, Mrs. Messenger gave me an urgent telegram from Scotland Yard, requesting my immediate return. I didn't speak to her of my visit to "him." I was afraid she might consider me as childish as the youngsters in Heathfield who still believe "he" was the great Sherlock Holmes.

Which they did, until they reached an age when he was dismissed together with Santa Claus and those other worth-while people who, for a brief, beautiful period, are more real than reality itself.

Basil Rathbone died in 1976, but despite the melancholy tone of Rathbone's story, Sherlock Holmes has never been forgotten.  Other actors have played his character, off and on, with varying levels of success and credibility.  Not all the incarnations of Holmes, then and now, have been true to the spirit of Conan Doyle's character.   

In 1984, the great detective came back on Granada Television in the UK inside the person of Jeremy Brett for a ten-year run of traditional Holmes adventures based on the original stories.  For legions of fans, Jeremy Brett was "the" Sherlock Holmes.  If you haven't seen this series, you need to.  Brett died in 1995.  Even as I write, the BBC is filming a third series of adventures with Holmes' most modern incarnation, played by the brilliant Benedict Cumberbatch.

Great characters and great stories don't always pass from our imaginations.  Sherlock Holmes is, indeed, more real than reality itself.  When we need a hero -- even a flawed hero -- Sherlock Holmes will be there.

You can read "Daydream" in its entirety, thanks to the devout Basil Rathbone fans who transcribed it and put it on this website:


The Internet Movie Database website's entry for Robin Hood is here:  http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0029843/

And the link for Basil Rathbone is here: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0001651/?ref_=tt_cl_t3

Friday, June 7, 2013

The Ever-Changing Landscape

I love words, and I like discovering words that are new to me.  I discovered a new, old word when I paid 50 cents for this box of replica myriorama cards at a recent estate sale:


It is a real word, although it's so archaic my computer's spell-checker keeps telling me to correct it.  Myriorama is a compound word, from "myriad" (from the Greek word for "ten thousand") and "panorama."  A variety of views.  I decided to do a little research on it. 

A scholarly article found online told me that the development of the myriorama, in the 1820s, was a spin-off of the Georgians' fascination with dioramas.  A diorama was a huge, lighted painting that gave viewers the illusion that they had entered a three-dimensional image.  An article by R. Derek Wood, The Diorama in Great Britain in the 1820s, sheds some light on what the public did for entertainment in those days, long before motion pictures -- they visited dioramas in specially-constructed buildings:

[The] aim was to produce naturalistic illusion for the public. Huge pictures, 70 x 45 feet in size, were painted on translucent material with a painting on each side. By elaborate lighting - the front picture could be seen by direct reflected light, while varied amounts and colours of light transmitted from the back revealed parts of the rear painting - the picture could ‘imitate aspects of nature as presented to our sight with all the changes brought by time, wind, light, atmosphere’. 

By light manipulation on and through a flat surface the spectators could be convinced they were seeing a life-size three dimensional scene changing with time - in part a painter’s 3-D cinema. To display such dioramas with the various contrivances required to control the direction and colour of the light from many high windows and sky-lights, as well as a rotating amphitheatre holding up to 360 people, a large specialist building was required.

The Oxford English Dictionary says, "Words ending -orama 
(from Greek 'something seen') were popular at the time for 
visual novelties and displays: cosmorama, georama, etc."

[That reminds me of the small-town grocery store sign I once saw, advertising "Squash-O-Rama" -- zucchini and crookneck squash were on sale.  But I digress.]

The myriorama was a panoramic picture on a much smaller scale than the diorama.  One website said that the myriorama was invented in France (with the lovely name tableau polyoptique) in 1823 and developed in England in 1824 (doubtless adding to the age-old tension between the two countries).  The set of myriorama cards I found at the estate sale is a replica of that 1824 creation.

The box has 16 cards, numbered in sequence; each image is different.  By lining up the cards in different orders, you can produce a great variety of landscape scenes.  Here are a couple of variations starting with Card #2, followed by three more that I selected at random:

I found another website that quotes an advertisement for this myriorama, when it was originally created:

Picturesque Scenery / Just Published, The Myriorama; or, many Thousand Views, Designed by Mr. Clark. 

The Myriorama is a movable Picture, consisting of numerous Cards, on which Fragments of Landscapes, neatly coloured, and so ingeniously contrived that any two, or more, placed together, will form a pleasing View; or if the whole are put on a table at once, will admit the astonishing Number of 20,922,789,888,000 Variations: it is therefore certain, that if a person were occupied night and day, making one change every minute, he could not finish the task in less than 39,807,888 years, and 330 days. The cards are fitted up in an elegant box, price 15s.

And we think we spend too much time in front of our computers, playing games, or using our cell phones.  Apparently myriorama addiction could be even more dangerous and time-consuming.  It looks so innocent....


This interesting website shows many antique myrioramas:

And here's a website showing how to make your own myriorama:

If you have some time, here's the article on the history of the diorama in 1820s Great Britain:

Saturday, June 1, 2013

The Programme, or Marking an Anniversary

June 2nd is the 60th anniversary of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain.  At an estate sale, I found a copy of the program -- er, rather, programme -- from the original event in 1953.  Someone had either been to London for the festivities, or had received it as a souvenir from a friend or relative there.

I looked up the publisher, King George's Jubilee Trust, online, and discovered"King George's Jubilee Trust was founded in 1935 to commemorate the Jubilee of King George V, and to benefit young people." "These [programmes] were sold on behalf of King George’s Jubilee Trust mainly along the parade routes by the Boy Scouts but also in news agents and bookshops. The substantial additional funds thus raised helped supplement King George's Jubilee Trust’s work in support of young people, youth organizations and youth projects."

Sitting here at my desk, I can see that the programme was quite detailed. 

Eleven pages of the programme are dedicated to a list, in very tiny type accented by occasional small photographs, of all the people taking part in the Coronation Procession.  Finally on the last page of the Procession section, we read:

[then a list of all the people responsible for the State Coach]
drawn by

And in the middle of the programme is a map of the procession route.

In nine more pages of tiny type, the programme outlines the Coronation Ceremony inside Westminster Abbey.  Section XV is THE COMMUNION, which begins:

Then shall the organ play and the people shall with one voice sing this hymn:

All people that on earth do dwell,
Sing to the Lord with cheerful voice.
Him serve with fear, His praise forth tell;
Come ye before Him and rejoice.

The Lord, ye know, is God indeed;
Without our aid He did us make;
We are His folk, He doth us feed,
And for His sheep He doth us take.

O enter then His gates with praise;
Approach with joy His courts unto;
Praise, laud, and bless His Name always,
For it is seemly so to do.

For why? the Lord our God is good;
His mercy is for ever sure;
His truth at all times firmly stood,
And shall from age to age endure.

To Father, Son and Holy Ghost,
The God Whom Heaven and earth adore,
From men and from the angel host
Be praise and glory evermore.

If you're not familiar with it, the tune is one that in America is usually called "Old Hundredth" (it is based on Psalm 100) or  simply "Doxology" ("Praise God from Whom All Blessings Flow"). 

The same estate sale had another item from England that pre-dates the Coronation.  It's a biscuit tin, about 8x10 inches.

On the end is printed: 

She was so young then.  The Victoria & Albert Museum website has a black and white portrait photograph by Cecil Beaton of Elizabeth at the time, with the caption:

In February 1942, the King appointed his fifteen-year-old daughter Colonel of the Grenadier Guards, the senior Regiment of the Foot Guards. It was the first time in history that a woman had held the position.
The official website of the British monarchy notes:  "In early 1942 Princess Elizabeth was appointed Colonel-in-Chief of the Grenadier Guards, and on her sixteenth birthday she carried out her first public engagement, when she inspected the regiment."  

Ten years later, George VI died and the year after that, on June 2, 1953, Elizabeth II's coronation was held.

Nobody throws a party like the British.  The BBC History website has footage of the coronation in 1953, quietly narrated by Sir Laurence Olivier:


British Pathe' has about 15 minutes of Coronation footage as well (cameras in 1953 kept a respectful distance).  At the beginning, the State Coach Drawn by Eight Grey Horses takes center stage:


The "Visit London" website has a feature on the anniversary:


As does Westminster Abbey:


Here's a recording of "All People That On Earth Do Dwell:"


And the Queen herself has a website, of course: