Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Samuel F.B. Morse Searches for a Tea Party Under the Hollywood(land) Sign


- Want to add acreage to your local park? Plant an ugly-yet-iconic sign on it and dangle it in front of Hugh Hefner :

"When Playboy founder Hugh Hefner heard that the campaign to buy the open space west of the Hollywood sign was short about $1 million, he anted up $900,000. The mountaintop once belonged to aircraft titan Howard Hughes, who acquired it in the 1930s hoping to build a love nest for actress Ginger Rogers. (She wouldn't let him.) It sat unbuilt upon and forgotten for decades until 2002, when a group of Chicago investors bought the land from the Hughes estate at a bargain-basement price. When they announced plans to subdivide the peak into five luxury home sites, city officials were as shocked as residents. But on Monday, the Trust for Public Land announced that, thanks to Hefner's gift it finally had the $12.5 million needed to buy Cahuenga Peak from Fox River Financial Resources Inc. The 138-acre property, which offers a spectacular 360-degree panorama of the Los Angeles Basin and the San Fernando Valley, now will become part of Griffith Park..." read the full story

Of course, what's most fascinating about this entire brouhaha is that the sign was erected in 1923 (as "Hollywoodland") to advertise a- (yes, that's right!) ...a luxury housing development.


April 27, 1667: "The blind and impoverished John Milton sells the copyright of Paradise Lost for £10."

That's how Wikipedia's Daily Calendar puts it, but was it really as bad as it sounds? Well, Milton was living in a cottage in London with his new 24-year old wife at the time, writing away, and would publish a number of other books, including 'Paradise Regained' (1671), as well as a new edition of 'Paradise Lost', before his death in 1674. Also, ten pounds was worth a lot more then -the sum works about to about $21,000 now, using income index calculators. That's still not a lot for an international best-seller, but consider how little copyright was actually worth in those days of widespread literary piracy. Besides, William Blake hadn't gotten his hands on it yet, and nothing adds value like a few original Blake illustrations...

April 27, 1791: Samuel F. B. Morse, American artist and inventor, was born. Morse is best remembered as the inventor (or not) of the telegraph, but was also an accomplished artist. He studied in America and London under Allston, and was elected to England's Royal Academy in 1811. He specialized in allegorical scenes and portraits and became something of a political crank, often using his paintings to score anti-Federalist, pro-Jeffersonian points. His work on the telegraph began in the 1830s and involved him in patent suits and claims for the rest of his life -the only patent he was actually granted on the telegraph came from Sultan Abdülmecid in Istanbul in 1847. Today historians still argue about whether Morse's ideas and inventions were actually his own, though none argue his important influence on the development of the telegraphic systems in the 19th century, nor the invention of Morse Code.

That's the good news, but that's not the end of the story. Here's the bad news- Samuel F.B. Morse was a raging racist. As the slavery debate came to a boil in the 1850s Morse firmly entrenched himself among those who thought it was a deal which had worked out pretty well for the slaves, and wrote- "My creed on the subject of slavery is short. Slavery per se is not sin. It is a social condition ordained from the beginning of the world for the wisest purposes, benevolent and disciplinary, by Divine Wisdom. The mere holding of slaves, therefore, is a condition having per se nothing of moral character in it, any more than the being a parent, or employer, or ruler".

But that's not all. He was also staunchly against immigration, and in 1836 he ran unsuccessfully for mayor of New York as a member of the anti-immigrant "Nativist Party". He promoted laws which would have banned Catholics from holding public office, championed changing immigration laws to limit immigration from Catholic countries, and wrote articles stating that the the Austrian government and Catholic aid organizations were subsidizing Catholic immigration to the United States in order to gain control of the country. “We must first stop the leak in the ship through which muddy waters from without threaten to sink us,” he wrote.

Fortunately, such times & paranoias are a thing of the past, and we may remember Samuel F.B. Morse today simply as a fine painter.

April 27, 1891: Sergei Prokofiev, child musical prodigy and one of the greatest composers of the 20th century, was born in Ukraine. There wasn't very much he didn't eventually try his hand at -his orchestral music, operas, ballets, chamber works, and piano music are all regularly performed around the world, though he has never quite had the reputation amongst Western critics enjoyed by comparable composers such as Stravinsky and Schoenberg. One reason may be that he chose to return to the Soviet Union in 1935 and remained there until his death on March 5, 1953.

That was, incidentally, the same day that Stalin died. Helpful Hint of the Day- if you're going to die in Russia & you expect anyone to notice, don't die the same day Stalin does. "For three days the throngs gathered to mourn Stalin, making it impossible to carry Prokofiev's body out for the funeral service at the headquarters of the Soviet Composer's Union. Paper flowers and a taped recording of the funeral march from Romeo and Juliet had to be used, as all real flowers and musicians were reserved for Stalin's funeral. The leading Soviet musical periodical reported Prokofiev's death as a brief item on page 116, the first 115 pages being devoted to the death of Stalin."

On the other hand, since 1953, Prokofiev has gotten waaay better press than Stalin has.


"American Paintings and Related Pictures in the Henry Francis du Pont Winterthur Museum"

By Edgar P. Richardson.
Published by the University Press of Virginia in 1986.

A scholarly catalog of this fine collection divided into four parts- portraits of the du Ponts, the American School prior to 1776, the American school after 1776, and foreign works with American subjects. Each work is fully described and illustrated with a color illustration.





Anonymous said...

THAT IS AWESOME! But the elves - are the elves safe??  HAS HE EATED THE ELVES???!?

Forrest said...

No Book Elves were harmed in the making of this blog post. In fact, they are about to make a return appearance...