I know I’ve talked about smartphones before, how everyone is addicted to them and how they’ve changed everything (mostly for the worse), but indulge me a few more words on the subject. (If you’re already bored, you can scroll down the page a bit and read about Jake Tapper’s new novel and Marilyn Monroe’s new movie.)
To put it simply, being connected all the time isn’t a good thing. Sure, smartphones are great in emergencies, but there’s no mental breathing room anymore. Before smartphones, we would put down our phones and mail, shut off our TVs, stereos, and the internet, and leave the house. Now we carry those things around with us 24/7. We’re always “on,” and it has changed the way we associate with each other and with tech, and has even affected the way that we think. It can’t be good to have this much information coming at us all the time. That’s why I’m in favor of dumb phones — phones that are actually phones and not also connected to the web — instead of smart ones. I’d also suggest signing up for a cheap phone plan if you don’t have to be connected to the web all the time and just want to make and receive calls. And don’t ever give up your landline!
CBS Sunday Morning’s Ted Koppel had a piece on information overload this week, detailing how smartphones, the web, and social media have taken charge of our lives. He even interviewed the guy who invented the Facebook “like”:
On a related note, Tuesday marked the 45th anniversary of the first cellphone call.
Down to Earth
In January, I told you about a Chinese satellite that was going to crash back to Earth. This week, that satellite did indeed come back, and luckily no one was hit by it, though you’d have had better luck hitting the Powerball.
Most of the Tiangong-1 satellite burned up during reentry, and what was left seems to have fallen into the Pacific Ocean. Those of you who had “2500 miles south of Hawaii” in your office pool are the big winners.
2001 at 50
Speaking of things in space: This little admission may destroy any pop culture cred I have and may even get me barred from several theaters, but I’m not a fan of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. It’s true that I’ve only seen it once, many years ago, but I remember being profoundly disappointed in it, even if I appreciate its influence. Maybe I’ll watch it again to celebrate the film’s 50th anniversary and see if I agree that the film is not only fascinating, but one of the best movies of all time.
In addition to the new books you’ll find in the current issue of the Post, here are four more that will be released soon.
Look Alive Out There: Essays by Sloane Crosley. Crosley first broke through with her fun essay collection I Was Told There’d Be Cake, and this new one is getting great reviews too. (Out now)
The Ideal of Culture: Essays by Joseph Epstein. Epstein is one of our great essayists, and his new collection explores such topics as parenthood, cowardice, grammar, the 1960s, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and reaching the age of 80. (May 7)
Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now by Jaron Lanier. As you can read above, this is a subject that’s near and dear to me, so I can’t wait to read what the tech/virtual reality visionary has to say about Facebook and Twitter. (May 29)
It’s obvious that Marilyn Monroe will never really die. Not only does she still make a lot of money decades after her death, but now she’s coming back to the movies.
Actress Suzie Kennedy will portray Monroe in a new film about the actress’s life. She already looks a lot like Monroe, but she’s going to have help from digital technology. A team of tech whizzes took 3,000 photos of Kennedy’s face and body to create an “avatar” of Monroe that will be featured in the film.
This could be an incredible advance in filmmaking. At some point you know we’re going to see new movies and TV shows starring Abbott and Costello, Cary Grant, and Humphrey Bogart. We’ve already seen commercials that use the technology, and digital trickery is used online all the time. But I bet one day we’re going to have entire movies based on the technology, and stars will never stop working. It’s one of those tech developments where you say, “Wow, this is so cool!” and then a few minutes later you say, “My God, where is this leading?”
I’d like to take a moment here to say a few words about a couple of milestones at the Post. The first is the magazine itself, which was honored by the Pop Culture Association this week at their 48th conference. They describe us as “an American institution” with a “unique cultural legacy,” and I have to say I agree with that.
And happy anniversary to Executive Editor Patrick Perry, who celebrates 40 years at the magazine!
RIP Steven Bochco, Winnie Mandela, Rusty Staub, Anita Shreve, and Deborah Carrington
Steven Bochco was the legendary TV producer and writer responsible for such shows as Hill Street Blues, L.A. Law, NYPD Blue, Murder One, and Doogie Howser, M.D. He also wrote the iconic sci-fi movie Silent Running and several classic episodes of Columbo. He died Sunday at the age of 74.
Winnie Madikizela-Mandela was an anti-apartheid activist and the ex-wife of Nelson Mandela. She died Monday at the age of 81.
Daniel “Rusty” Staub helped the New York Mets win the National League pennant in 1973. He also played for the Detroit Tigers, Texas Rangers, Houston Astros, and Montreal Expos. Staub died last Thursday at the age of 73.
Anita Shreve was a beloved author of such novels as The Pilot’s Wife, The Weight of Water, and Sea Glass. She died last Thursday at the age of 71.
Debbie Lee Carrington was an actress and stuntwoman best known for her appearance in the Arnold Schwarzenegger film Total Recall and her role as the woman Mickey wants to date on Seinfeld. She also appeared on The Drew Carey Show. As a little person, she often doubled for children in movies, including Titanic and Child’s Play. She died in March at the age of 58.
Best and Worst of the Week
Best: Weird Al Yankovic, along with veteran crossword-maker Eric Berlin, took over The New York Times crossword puzzle on Wednesday with a cheese-themed puzzle. An example of the kind of clues you’ll find? 20-across is “Cheesy 1992 military drama.” The answer is A Few Gouda Men.
Worst: I’ve been meaning to catch up on Instinct, the new police drama starring Alan Cumming. Looks a little routine — an unpredictable genius teams up with a by-the-book detective to solve crimes, how novel — but Cumming is always good, and it looks like fun. But this week’s episode, about an Amish boy who is murdered after he leaves home and moves to New York City, felt familiar to a lot fans. A little bit too familiar. Turns out the plot and scenes mirror a 2009 episode of another buddy-detective show, Bones, right down to some of the clues.
This Week in History
First Issue of TV Guide (April 3, 1953)
Who was on the cover of the first issue? It was a baby. Specifically, the newborn son of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, Desi Arnaz Jr. Ball actually arranged ahead of time to have a caesarean section so the birth would coincide with the airing of the I Love Lucy episode where Ball’s character Lucy Ricardo gave birth as well.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Assassinated (April 4, 1968)
Wednesday marked the 50th anniversary of the death of the civil rights leader. King wrote a piece for the Post in 1964 titled “Negroes Are Not Moving Too Fast,” and here’s an interview NBC’s Sander Vanocur did with King 11 months before his assassination:
This Week in The Country Gentleman History: Cousin Reginald is the Hero (April 6, 1918)
The Country Gentleman, a sister publication of the Post, was published from 1831 to 1955. Norman Rockwell painted several covers for it, including this one. When I first saw it, I couldn’t quite figure out what it was all about. I thought it might be titled “Crazed Fan Disrupts Performance of A Christmas Carol.” The cover is actually part of a series of paintings that Rockwell did for the magazine focusing on a group of boys and their cousin Reginald. That’s Reginald with the sword.
April Is National Grilled Cheese Month
I’m pretty much a traditionalist when it comes to grilled cheese — I prefer cheddar or American cheese on white bread — but there are so many other options if you want to try something a little different for National Grilled Cheese Month.
Here’s a recipe that Bon Appétit calls the “Best-Ever Grilled Cheese,” though it has mayonnaise, so I don’t know if it deserves that title. Here’s one called a Nacho Grilled Cheese, made with jalapeños and Doritos. This one from Genius Kitchen is made with green olives. And if you’re going to have grilled cheese, you can’t forget this.
Maybe you can do Weird Al’s cheese puzzle while eating grilled cheese, if that’s not too much cheese for you all at once.
Next Week’s Holidays and Events
Winston Churchill Day (April 9)
This day is mostly celebrated in the United States, marking the occasion in 1963 when President Kennedy named the British Prime Minister an honorary U.S. citizen. Here’s a 1939 Post piece about Churchill titled “Old Man in a Hurry,” and here’s our interview with John Lithgow, who plays Churchill in the Netflix series The Crown.
National Siblings Day (April 10)
I know, I know, sometimes you argue with your brothers and sisters (I’m the youngest of seven), but maybe today you can put that all aside. You can always argue tomorrow.
In 1911, Norman Rockwell, just 17, got his first break illustrating the children’s book Tell Me Why: Stories. At 19, he became art director of Boy’s Life — and the same year did 100 drawings for the Boy Scout’s Hike Book. Even when he landed his first Post cover in 1916, the subject? A kid and a baby carriage. Children appear in the majority of his early work. No coincidence: At the time, the most popular cover subjects were beautiful women, cute kids, and dogs. Between 1917 and 1922, Rockwell created a series of covers for The Country Gentleman, depicting the misadventures of a city slicker named Reginald Claude Fitzhugh, who repeatedly fell victim to the antics of country cousins Tubby and Rusty Doolittle and Chuck Peterkin and his dog Patsy. Inspired by summers Rockwell spent in the country as a boy, the covers and cast of characters captivated audiences, as in the 1917 holiday classic Cousin Reginald Catches the Thanksgiving Turkey.
More from Norman Rockwell’s Cousin Reginald series:
Charlie Chaplin Fans
Norman Rockwell was thrilled when he sold his first Post cover in 1916. “I used to sit in the studio with a copy of the Post laid across my knees,” Rockwell wrote in his autobiography. “’Must be 2 million people look at that cover,’ I’d say to myself. ‘At least. Probably more. Two million subscribers and then their wives, sons, daughters, aunts, uncles, friends. Wow! All looking at my cover.’” Needless to say, his fantasy of himself as a famous illustrator came true in spades.
This cover was one of his finest of that era, with an already masterful use of light—in this case reflected from the flickering screen onto the delighted faces of the theatergoers.
Old Folks at the Theater
Pops clearly thinks Vaudeville is a hoot in this 1916 cover, but the more puritanical Missus does not approve. This is the only Post cover by Watson Barratt, about whom little is known today.
It is interesting to note an article inside this issue on World War I by H.G. Wells and one of many stories the Post published by the delightful P.G. Wodehouse.
Uncle Tom’s Cabin
Next to the Bible, Harriett Beecher Stowe’s novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, was the best-selling book of the 19th century. Yes, it has long been decried for racial stereotypes, but Stowe made it clear that no Christian could condone slavery. This 1927 cover by Edgar Franklin Wittmack shows an Opera House featuring the play. We’re guessing the actor shown here was portraying the cruel slave owner whose name has become synonymous with greed and evil: Simon Legree. Artist Wittmack illustrated more than 20 Post covers.
Norman Rockwell was full of surprises. On occasion, a Rockwell cover just doesn’t look “like a Rockwell.” Case in point is this 1939 illustration of a very pretty actress in full Elizabethan regalia. Contrast her elaborate costume with her stark “dressing room”—backstage at a barn, with an old crate serving as a dressing table. Her assistants? A couple of helpful barnyard residents.
Man Asleep in Theater
We laughed, we cried … we fell asleep. While the lovely lady with the hanky and the gentleman behind her appear to wipe away a tear, one moviegoer was moved … to nap. This 1940 cover was by Emery Clarke, who, while not a well-known artist, did half a dozen other Post covers.
Cousin Reginald is the Hero
In 1917-1919, Norman Rockwell painted a series of covers for Country Gentleman magazine, a sister publication to the Post. The characters he created were a group of often mischievous, if not downright ornery, country boys and their visiting city cousin, Reginald. Cousin Reginald was a geeky kid who was always bested by the kids’ rural activities: fishing, swimming, etc.
Rockwell must have finally tired of the tribulations he put Reginald through, for in this 1918 cover, cousin Reginald gets to be the hero. The cousins are in a rather clichéd school play, where the villain is throwing the poor maiden out for nonpayment of rent, when good old Reggie comes through with the deed to the house just in time! For more on these delightful covers see: “Norman Rockwell’s Cousin Reginald.”
Reprints of covers are available at Art.com.
It isn’t just the farmers and poultry truck drivers who have a hard time handling turkeys. Sometimes the big birds were a handful for our cover artists and models. Why did one famous cover artist start “to feel like an assassin”?
Turkey Loose Atop Truck by Constantin Alajalov
“When I wanted to sketch turkeys as they look in a crate,” said cover artist Constantin Alajalov, “I found a wholesaler who sells a lot of them. For the turkey on the lam…he said, ‘Take your pick’. Every time I started to sketch a model, somebody bought it and bang, it was a dead bird. I began to feel like an assassin.” Our artist got the delightful Thanksgiving cover done, but said, “For Thanksgiving I may skip turkey…and have hamburger that I’m sure I don’t know, socially.”
Squawking Turkey by Tony Sarg
This youngster managed to catch the turkey, but now what? The boy with arms full of squawking fowl is from 1915.
Cousin Reginald Catches the Thanksgiving Turkey by Norman Rockwell
Norman Rockwell painted a lad he called Cousin Reginald, a city slicker. As we’ve shown you before, his mischief-loving country cousins often made a fool of Reginald. Now, we just know those rural boys told Reggie that catching the turkey would be a breeze. They are in the background being royally entertained.
Where’s That Turkey? by Wm. Meade Prince
This is no dumb Tom Turkey. When someone with an ax is looking for you, hiding is a good option. This colorful cover was painted for the Post’s sister publication, Country Gentleman by artist William Mead Prince.
Pilgrim Stalking Tom Turkey by J.C. Leyendecker
Would you believe this beautiful cover is from 1907? Artist J.C. Leyendecker did much more than paint ridiculously handsome men for Arrow Shirt ads. He did more Saturday Evening Post covers than any other artist. One of the earliest, and smartest, acts of George Horace Lorimer after taking charge of the Post was to hire J.C. Leyendecker to do a cover in 1899. Between then and 1943, Leyendecker did 322 Post covers, one more than Norman Rockwell. To honor his mentor, Rockwell chose to do one fewer cover.
Thanksgiving by J.F. Kernan
There’s an old myth that if you sprinkle salt on a turkey’s tail, you can catch it. Also, if you sprinkle pepper on a hen’s tail, she will lead you to her nest. These tricks may work, but only because if you’re close enough to sprinkle salt on a turkey’s tail, you’re close enough to catch it anyway and if you pepper a hen’s tail, she’ll probably get disgusted with you and stalk off….back to her nest.
Norman Rockwell was raised in New York City, but loved painting the more simple life of the country. He created a city slicker, Cousin Reginald, who visited his country cousins and proceeded to show what a city boy he was. In the 19-teens, on Country Gentleman magazine covers (a sister publication to the Post), Reginald entertained true farm boys across the nation. We think he’ll entertain you, too.
Cousin Reginald Goes to the Country – August 25, 1917
The country cousins pick up Reginald for his first visit in August 1917. These were characters Rockwell developed for Country Gentleman magazine. Cousin Rusty Doolittle seems to be driving the horses harder than necessary. Reginald is having second thoughts about these guys. So is the dog. Oh, Reginald, this is only the beginning.
Cousin Reginald Goes Fishing – October 6, 1917
His citified attire is not the only thing that shows us Cousin Reginald is no fisherman. The only thing he caught was the dog, Spot. Much to his cousins’ amusement, of course. In 1917, Rockwell was 23 – not much more than a lad himself. But he certainly had the knack for depicting boys.
Cousin Reginald Goes Swimming – September 8, 1917
Okay, the country cousins can be jerks, but really, how can you not make sport of a guy who wears a swimsuit like this? And who is leery of even dipping his toe in the water? And Rockwell’s full name for the character was “Master Reginald Claude Fitzhugh.” We’re just saying.
Cousin Reginald Plays Tickly Bender – January 19, 1918
“Tickly Bender” was an early version of “chicken.” The leader, the no-good rat, would find the weakest spot in the ice and dare the others to skate over it. We think Cousin Reginald is showing some sense in this situation – he’s getting the heck out of there (as is the dog). A word of advice: Don’t listen to your country cousins, Reginald.
Cousin Reginald Plays Pirates – November 3, 1917
The boys decide to play pirates on this November 1917 cover. Let’s guess now, who got trussed up and sent to walk the plank? We’re REALLY starting to dislike these cousins.
Cousin Reginald Catches the Thanksgiving Turkey – December 1, 1917
This 1917 cover is called “Cousin Reginald Catches Thanksgiving Turkey,” but it looks the other way around. No doubt the country boys told Reginald that turkeys are docile creatures that just sit and wait for you to cut their stupid heads off. He’s a slow learner, that boy. Do not, repeat, do NOT listen to your cousins.
Cousin Reginald is the Hero – April 6, 1918
But one time, one time, Reginald is the hero. The kids are putting on a play, and the dastardly villain (one of the country cousins, staying in character) is making life unbearable for the damsel in distress. But Cousin Reginald comes through in the nick of time, brandishing sword and the deed to the house! We knew he had it in him.
Like Saturday Evening Post covers, Country Gentleman cover reprints (which look great framed) are available at www.curtispublishing.com.