Monthly Archives: February 2010

The Most Beautiful Girl in the World

She was the original flapper, the first Varga girl and “Everybody’s Sweetheart.” Her ghastly accidental death was the first Hollywood scandal.

Gordon Thomas writes at Bright Lights Film Journal:

A gilt-edged frame of morbidity hangs over the name Olive Thomas. Barely known today, Olive Thomas was on the brink of major stardom in 1920 when she died a sudden horrific death under suspicious circumstances a month shy of her 26th birthday. As her penultimate film, The Flapper, opened in the U.S., Thomas and her husband Jack Pickford had sailed to Paris for a belated honeymoon. It was in Paris that Olive, after she and Jack returned to their hotel from a night of partying, ingested a large amount of mercury bichloride with alcohol and died four days later. The drug, highly toxic and meant only for external use, was there to treat Jack’s syphilis.

Once Pickford’s venereal disease was out of the bag, public speculation over the death ranged wide, in spite of the Paris police having ruled it accidental. Even now nobody knows what to think — was it impulsive suicide? murder? Hugely attended, Olive’s funeral featured plenty of female fans fainting dead away just like they would at the Valentino death-circus several years later.

Her ghost is said to haunt the New Amsterdam Theater on Broadway.

At Silent Ladies & Gents: an Olive Thomas gallery.

At YouTube:

The 2004 documentary Olive Thomas: Everybody’s Sweetheart.

The Flapper (1920)

The Roarin’ Game

Mr and Mrs Jury Box spent a very pleasant late Friday night eating Kung Pau shrimp and watching the Canadian versus the Danish women in Olympic curling. Do you remember the part in Pippi Longstocking when she cleans Villa Villekula by strapping soap brushes to her feet and skating around the kitchen floor? The Danish women looked Pippi-like in their skirts and tights, and when they delivered the stone and started sweeping they would yelp to each other in Scandinavian: “Yi yi yi yi yi!”

Some people suggest that curling is slow and stodgy. Slow and stodgy!

Some people might not realize the US Olympic curling team is sponsored by Laphroaig whiskey and “Hurry Hard” condoms. (“We suspect the Olympic athletes will have a very good time in Vancouver,” remarks one commentator.)

And some people may not have seen the latest Women of Curling calendar. Not stodgy! (And not really SFW, it should be noted.)

As the old song goes, curling is the Roarin’ Game.

The Library and Archives of Canada has lots of curling history and photos. The image above is of the Carleton Place Bonspiel Team, winners of the C.C.C.A. Trophy, 1896-97. The winners of the Grand Challenge Cup, Winnipeg Bonspiel, 1892, have a bit of a Tri-Wizard Tournament look about them.




If you want to see the highlight films of the championships in Moncton in 1956 or Charlottetown in 1964, the Canadian Curling Association has you covered.

Curling History invokes the sprightly and diaphanous Spirits of Curling.

These gents look as if they would like to invoke spirits of a different sort.

And Electric Scotland presents a venerable song on the sport’s origins:

Auld Daddy Scotland sat ae day,
Bare leggit on a snawy brae,
His brawny arms wi’ cauld were blae,
The wind was snelly blawing:
As icicles froze at his snout,
He rowed his plaid his head about,
Syne raired to heaven a roupit shout,
Auld Albyn’s Jove misca’ing:

Chorus—”Oh! for a cheery, heartsome game,
To send through a’ the soul a flame,
Pitt birr and smeddum in the frame,
And set the blude a-din’ling.

“Oh, dool and wae! this wretched clime;
What care I for our hills sublime,
If covered aye wi’ frosty rime?
I’m right nuisehantlie dealt wi’.”
Quo’ Jove, and gied his kilt a heeze,
Fule Carle! what gars you grunt and wheeze?
Get up! I’ll get an exercise
To het your freezing melt wi’.
I’ll get a cheery, heartsome game, &c.

“Gae, get twa whinstanes, round and hard,
Syne on their taps twa thorn roots gird,
Then soop the ice for rnony a yard,
And mak’ baith tee and colly:
If in the hack your fit ye hide,
And draw or inwick, guard or ride,
Syne wi’ your besom after’t stride,
We’ll hear nae main o’ cauld aye.
That, Sawney, ‘s what I ca’ a game,” &c.

“Great thanks!” auld Daddy Scotland cries,
“Sly, pawky chield, for thy advice,
We’ll birsle now our shins on ice,
Instead o’ owre the ingle:
Let ilka true-born Scottish son,
When cranreuch deeds the snawy grun’,
‘Mang curling cores seek harmless fun,
And gar his heart’s blude tingle.”
Oh! curling, cauld•defying game, &c.

Washington’s Birthday

The Museum of Fine Arts installs Thomas Sully’s masterpiece The Passage of the Delaware.

And the Jury Box reaches for the Polaner raspberry.

Fat Freddie Fitzsimmons

An excerpt from Field of Screams: the Dark Underside of America’s National Pastime, by Richard Scheinin:

The Cardinals kept throwing at Dodger heads: Reiser, Camilli, Mickey Owen. And the Dodgers kept striking back. Down the ’41 pennant stretch, Brooklyn’s Fat Freddie Fitzsimmons, a seventeen-year veteran who could barely lift his arm, mustered all his strength to buzz one behind the ear of St. Louis slugger Johnny Mize. “Get ready, Picklehead,” Fat Freddy screamed, then threw another at the same spot. “Right at that thick picklehead skull of yours,” he shouted, and did it again. And finally, on a three-two count, Fitzsimmons flipped a lazy curve ball toward Mize, who was so wobbly by this time that he practically fell over as he swung and missed for a third strike. “You picklehead!” stormed Fitzsimmons. “You never could hit me!”

This is the way the Dodgers won the pennant.

Snipe Hunt: The Dodologist

Introducing a new feature, in which the Jury Box visits a blog and surveys the bookmarks for topics of interest.

Today’s Snipe Hunting grounds: The Dodologist, “celebrating extinction since November 2009.”

The Dodologist posts a rather fine tribute to ’60s pop singer Billie Davis, who reminds the Jury Box a bit of Alexi Wasser, the girl in the York Peppermint Patty ad.

On the Pre-Raphaelite front, the Dodologist favors Arthur Hughes’ Ophelia.

As for the Dodologist’s bookmarks, the Jury Box, which doesn’t read Norwegian, is limited to the ones in English:

Some fine children’s book illustrators at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.

Newton’s First Law of Motion explained by Calvin & Hobbes via Quodlibeta.

Basset hounds and snake tattoos at The Lord Bassington-Bassington Chronicles.

“Painfully polite and hilariously hostile writings” left on windshields &c, at Passive Agressive Notes.

Tawny Frogmouths and other bizarre beasts at The Ever so Strange Animal Almanac.

Another Pre-Raphaelite painting, William Holman Hunt’s The Awakening Conscience, at Manipulating Light.

(Image above by AJ Hand at Friends of Sherwood Island.)

The Rookie

Morrie McDermott, a 19-yr.-old rookie, proudly donning the uniform of the Boston Red Sox. Life Magazine, March 1948

Pitchers and catchers report today, which means that spring officially has sprung.

If you have as discerning a taste for 1946-era Red Sox ballcaps as the Jury Box, you will appreciate the picture above of Mickey McDermott, whose fresh-faced appearance was deceiving.

McDermott’s taste for the high life was prodigious, according to Tales from the Red Sox Dugout by Jim Prime and Bill Nowlin:

The Red Sox sent McDermott to live with Johnny Pesky, hoping that the stability of family life would have a calming effect on the young pitcher. It didn’t work. “They gave him a car one time as a tribute on Pesky Day,” recalls Mickey. “I borrowed it that night and I got some broad, and I kicked the window out trying to get laid in the back seat. He was going to kill me. I said, ‘Why didn’t you have it open? I’m 6’3’’; you’re only 5’11’’.

* * *

McDermott was like a son to manager Joe McCarthy. Proud Irishmen both, the wayward pitcher and stern disciplinarian established an immediate rapport. One day, McCarthy called the 18-year-old McDermott into his office. “Maurice, do you have a girlfriend?” he asked. “Yes, sir,” replied the young southpaw. “Did you ever hear of Lefty Gomez?” the manager continued. Again McDermott replied in the affirmative. “Well,” said McCarthy, “don’t become Lefty Gomez! He left his fastball in the sheets.” McDermott was puzzled. “I was only 18; I didn’t know what he was talking about. I wondered what the hell he’d leave his fastball in my sheets for. I was looking for it for three days.”

* * *

Boston’s ace left-hander Mel Parnell was McDermott’s roommate on the Red Sox. Parnell once confided to manager McCarthy: “We’d been on the road for a year, and I haven’t seen him yet. I’m rooming with his suitcases.”

* * *

After six years in Boston and two with the lowly Washington Senators, McDermott was traded in 1956 to the New York Yankees where he played under the legendary Casey Stengel. On a road trip to Boston, McDermott was quick to return to his old watering holes. Returning to the Kenmore Hotel at four in the morning, McDermott thought he could use his intimate knowledge of Boston hotels to sneak past his ever-vigilant manager. More than a little inebriated, he sneaked into the basement of the hotel and used the service elevator to reach his floor. Unfortunately, McDermott forgot that Stengel had managed and played in Boston and also knew the city like the back of his hand. When the elevator door opened, there stood Stengel. The two faced each other eyeball to eyeball. Finally Stengel said in disgust: “Drunk again!” Staggering past him down the hallway, McDermott hiccuped loudly and replied: “Me too, Skip!” Stengel was so amused he allowed the infraction to go unpunished.

Dick Francis, RIP

Dick Francis jumping Devon Loch, the horse he was racing for the Queen Mother in the 1956 Grand National.

The Jury Box was a great fan of Dick Francis’ page-turners, listening to all of them on cassette on the daily commute. His stories were set in an unfamiliar world, that of British horse-racing, and they had a lot of action and suspense but weren’t so literary that they would prove a distraction to driving. Francis knew the world about which he wrote, as a storied former steeplechase jockey for the Queen Mother. His heroes, usually former jump jockeys, were always required to withstand some sort of excruciating pain visited upon them by the bad guys; as in the old Saint TV show, when you knew Simon Templar was about to get conked on the head, a Dick Francis protagonist also was in for getting slugged, or usually much worse, but always prevailed.

From his Daily Telegraph obit:

Where other thriller writers probed the darker crannies of the soul, Francis reaffirmed the values of human decency and the struggle between the man of good against the forces of lust for power, dishonesty and greed. Heroes can expect to be chained, beaten, burned or flayed two or three times per book – but good always triumphs in the end.

Francis possessed all the traditional tools of the thriller writer’s trade – narrative urgency and a subtlety in intellectual problem-solving – but he combined these with an emotional realism which had eluded writers like Agatha Christie. No one could convey as well as he what it felt like to be drowned, hanged, crushed by a horse or soaked in icy water and left dangling, gagged and bound from a hook in the middle of a Norfolk winter’s night.

More on the late Dick Francis:

The Daily Telegraph: A picture gallery * Dick Francis, the people’s favorite * Sneered at by snobs, loved by readers

The Times of London: Obituary * Dick Francis gave readers a racing certainty

Louis Armstrong: “A Kiss to Build a Dream On”

Happy Valentine’s Day!

On the menu for Lincoln’s Birthday

The Miss Frank E. Buttolph American Menu Collection at the New York Public Library originated “through the energetic efforts of Miss Frank E. Buttolph (1850-1924), a somewhat mysterious and passionate figure, whose mission in life was to collect menus.”

Thanks to Miss Buttolph we can peruse today a rather fine assortment of old Lincoln’s Birthday dinner programs.

The one above is from the annual Lincoln Night banquet hosted by the Middlesex Club at the Hotel Brunswick in Boston in 1907.

If you think the lack of civility in public discourse is a new development, note the New York Times‘ coverage of the Middlesex Club’s dinner in 1900:


Congressman Cushman Denounces the Anti-Imperialists at a Boston Banquet.

Boston, Feb. 12. – At the Lincoln’s Birthday banquet of the Middlesex Club tonight, Congressman Francis W. Cushman of Washington paid his respects to Edward Atkinson and Senator Hoar.

He referred to Mr. Atkinson as the American who flies the flag of his country at half mast.

Of Senator Hoar he said: “Think, then, of this man, who, in the crisis of his country, arose in his seat in the Senate and attacked, not the Spaniards or the Filipinos, but the Americans! Who launched his shafts, not against Aguinaldo, the assassin of his countrymen, but against William McKinley, the Nation’s chief!

“Treason, treason, treason, that has no counterpart in American history since Breckinridge, in the old days of secession, arose in the United States Senate and bade farewell to the Union and leaped into the waiting arms of an expectant Confederacy.”

And Sen. Hoar (the ur-waterboarding critic) was a member of Rep. Cushman’s own Republican Party.

The Times previously had criticized Sen. Hoar himself for “pettifogging demagogy” and “silly and conceited abuse” of his own critics. The headline on the editorial: IS SENATOR HOAR DEGENERATE?

This program is for the Lincoln’s Birthday dinner hosted by the Hamburg-American Line aboard the yacht Prinzessin Victoria Luise in 1906. The menu included oysters, beef broth with vermicelli, fried halibut with Russian sauce, roast beef Duchess style, and Strassbourg goose liver with jelly.

At the Lincoln’s Birthday banquet hosted by the Union League of Maryland in 1906, the themes of the toasts were Abraham Lincoln, Republicanism and Our Country, and the Tendency toward Centralization. The menu included clear green turtle soup, sweetbreads in cases a la Rennert, roast Jersey capon, Moet & Chandon White Seal, Roman punch, jelly, hominy cakes, Smithfield ham, café noir and Perfectos.

I do like this one, from the Young Republicans of Philadelphia dinner of 1901. Serried ranks of the Grand Army of the Republic and Monopoly guys in top hats are marching to meet for a handshake – an allegory for the Republican Party of the Gilded Age.

“Crisis in Washington”

“Mr Coolidge refuses point blank to vacate the White House until his other rubber is found”

~ Gluyas Williams, Life, 1929 ~ Library of Congress

A Gallery: Illustrated by Gluyas Williams

Edward Sorel, American Heritage: The World of Gluyas Williams