News of the Week: Who Took the Bard’s Skull, What We Did Before Google, and How the PB&J Was Invented

Hey, Has Anybody Seen Shakespeare’s Skull?

This sounds like the plot of a Syfy TV movie — where a stolen skull seeks revenge on those who took it and tries to reunite with the rest of the body — but it really appears that playwright William Shakespeare’s noggin is missing!

According to archaeologists and a radar scan, the skull isn’t where it should be, 400 years after the Bard died and was buried in the Church of the Holy Trinity in Stratford-upon-Avon, England. It seems some sort of vandalism occurred at some point, and now the skull is missing.

The whole history of the grave is rather odd. It’s not even marked with his name, there was a rumor that the skull was buried at another church several miles away (it wasn’t), and news of the missing skull was actually already published 137 years ago in an 1879 issue of Argosy. Findings of this investigation were part of a new TV special that aired on Channel 4 in Britain last weekend.

If Syfy does make a movie, they can call it Skullnado.

Before Google, People Asked Librarians Things

A few weeks ago, I was watching Desk Set, the 1957 Spencer Tracy/Katherine Hepburn movie in which Tracy plays an efficiency expert hired by a TV network to replace the fact-checkers in the network’s research department. People call the fact-checkers on the phone, and they go to their books to find out the answers for them. It seems quaint in this age of Google, when every piece of information (or misinformation) you could ever want is just a few clicks away, but this is how people used to find out things. You either called someone or looked it up in a book.

I thought of that movie after seeing this tweet from former New Yorker writer Nancy Franklin, a bunch of questions that people typed or wrote up and submitted to librarians at the New York Public Library so they could look up the answer:


The Telegraph has a lot more examples of questions curious library-goers had years ago for the New York Public Library. Is there a book that dramatizes bedbugs? Why are there so many squirrels in 18th-century paintings? Who kisses first, a house guest or the host? What time does a bluebird sing?

Like Nicholas Carr, I sometimes wonder if having a resource like Google and the Web is hurting our memories and our brains in general.

RIP Patty Duke, Earl Hamner Jr., and Jim Harrison

14-year-old Patty Duke
A 14-year-old Duke on her rise to stardom in 1961 (Photo by Eugene Cook, © SEPS)

Patty Duke is probably best known to fans of a certain age for her role as identical cousins Cathy and Patty Lane on the sitcom The Patty Duke Show. But before that she won a Best Supporting Oscar at 16 for her role as Helen Keller in The Miracle Worker. She appeared in dozens of TV shows and movies since the mid-1950s, most recently in Glee, Liv & Maddie, and the 2017 movie Power of the Air. Off-screen she was a big supporter of charities and an advocate for mental health. Duke passed away Tuesday at the age of 69. Her son actor Sean Astin broke the news.

MeTV started running a promo in January for The Patty Duke Show featuring Duke and co-star William Schallert. Yup, he’s still acting at age 93:

Earl Hamner Jr. was probably best known as the creator of The Waltons (did you know he was also the narrator of the series?), but he had a long, varied career in film, TV, and books. Besides The Waltons, Hamner wrote for The Twilight Zone, Falcon Crest, Gentle Ben, The Invaders, and many other shows. He also wrote the screenplays for the 1973 version of Charlotte’s Web, Where The Lillies Bloom, Spencer’s Mountain, and the TV movie Heidi, which we’ve mentioned here before. He also wrote several novels and nonfiction books. Hamner died at the age of 92 in Los Angeles.

I could write a lot about Jim Harrison, author of Legends of the Fall and many other novels, stories, and poems. He passed away last Saturday in Arizona at the age of 78, but I think this tweet from writer Walter Kirn sums it up quite nicely:

Three New Books Worth the Read

Wind Sprints, by Joseph Epstein. Epstein is one of the great essayists, and this is his latest collection. It’ contains shorter works from the past 20 years, focusing on everything from aging and pop culture and technology to politics and sports and everything in between. Basically it’s about life, and a fine read. (Wind Sprints will be released on April 7.)

Approval Junkie, by Faith Salie. This is the CBS Sunday Morning contributor’s collection of essays on “her lifelong quest for approval.” Her segments on the show are quite good, and this promises to be a fun read. (Approval Junkie will be released on April 19.)

Slow Burn, by Ace Atkins. This is the next book in the Spenser series created by the late Robert B. Parker. Atkins, whose other books include the Quinn Colson series and the Nick Travers books, took over for Parker in 2012. It’s his fifth Spenser book, and fans won’t be disappointed with his take on the Boston private investigator. (Slow Burn will be released on May 3.)

Catch The Catch

Sometimes a TV show catches you off guard. You’ve seen the commercials for it, but it’s not getting a lot of buzz. And besides, you’re behind on 27 other shows. I almost decided not to watch ABC’s The Catch (I still have two seasons of Agent Carter to watch), and that would have been a big mistake.

The Catch stars Mireille Enos (from The Killing) and Peter Krause (from Sports Night and Six Feet Under). It’s hard to explain the plot without giving away the many twists and other pleasures of the show, but let’s just say it’s about a private investigation firm trying to find a notorious thief they’ve nicknamed Mr. X. It’s really well done and entertaining, with good-looking stars and a lot of style. It’s a breath of fresh air in a TV landscape filled with superheroes, serial killers, and zombies.

It reminds me of a cross between The Thomas Crown Affair and Eyes, the terrific Tim Daly show that also aired on ABC in 2005 but was canceled after only a handful of episodes.

The Catch airs on Thursdays at 10 p.m. Eastern time, and you can watch the episodes you missed at the ABC site.

National Peanut Butter and Jelly Day

In January, I showed you how to make the perfect peanut butter and jelly sandwich, but tomorrow there’s an entire day devoted to it. I can’t really give you that many recipes for a peanut butter and jelly sandwich — beyond trying different styles of peanut butter or flavors of jelly — so I thought I’d do a little digging to find out how it was invented.

Believe it or not, we have actor Humphrey Bogart to thank for the sandwich. While having lunch at Fox Films (later 20th Century Fox) in 1930, where he was filming Up the River with the aforementioned Spencer Tracy, Bogart realized that the studio commissary was out of ketchup, which is what he usually had with his peanut butter in a sandwich. Bogart tried mustard, mashed potatoes, even tomatoes, but nothing tasted right. He noticed the jelly that was sitting on a tray of condiments, left over from breakfast, and decided to give it a shot. He loved it and told other people about it, and it quickly caught on. The rest, as they say, is history.

And if you believe that story, please note what day today is.

Upcoming Events and Anniversaries

Jesse James killed (April 3, 1882)

Here’s a nice remembrance of someone depicted on a 1948 John Falter cover of The Saturday Evening Post as a boy, playing in the same area where people like Jesse James and the Pony Express riders once traveled.

President Truman signs the Marshall Plan (April 3, 1948)

Also called the European Recovery Program, the Marshall Plan gave $13 billion in aid to help Europe rebuild after World War II.

Washington Irving born (April 3, 1783)

Irving’s story The Devil and Tom Walker was the inspiration for Stephen Vincent Benét’s short story The Devil and Daniel Webster, which first appeared in The Saturday Evening Post in October 1936.

First female mayor elected (April 4, 1887)

Her name was Susanna M. Salter, and she was the mayor of Argonia, Kansas, in 1887 and ’88.

President William Henry Harrison dies (April 4, 1841)

Harrison spoke for more than three hours at his rainy, cold inauguration and died of pneumonia a month later.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints established (April 6, 1830)

The Supreme Court ruled 49 years later that America’s civil rights laws trumped the Mormon Church’s polygamy practice.

Civil Rights Act of 1866 enacted (April 9, 1866)

The bill that granted all citizens the same rights regardless of color, even if they were former slaves, was passed by Congress over the veto of President Johnson.