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Posts Tagged ‘1950s’

Let’s Watch Father Carve This Handsome Bird

November 25, 2015 | by

This vintage video from the U.S. Department of Agriculture actually gives a very good primer on carving—frankly, it’s the best guide I’ve found, and the thigh-meat trick is indeed neat, even if the announcer’s chummy tone can grate. (Be sure to watch long enough to hear him intone, “There goes that drumstick for a hungry boy!”)

But it raises other questions. Mainly: What is “turkey time,” and why is it separate from “carving time”? Best of all is the rather menacing, passive-aggressive coda: “You can carve without these directions, but you can probably carve better with them.” As a random drunk in a bar once slurred at me when I said I didn’t want to go to the pier with him, “Fine, whatever, just thought you might want to see the Statue of Liberty!”

Don’t do me any favors, turkey-carvers of America. If you want to eat hacked-off hunks of meat, it’s your funeral! Whatever!

Sadie Stein is contributing editor of The Paris Review, and the Daily’s correspondent.

Seeing Red

June 2, 2015 | by

Anticommunism at the movies.


You’re trying awful hard with all this patriotic eyewash.
—Skip McCoy, Pickup on South Street

If you’re feeling polemical, you might argue that all Hollywood cinema is anticommunist: as the central commodity of the culture industry, big studio movies are designed for nothing so much as circulating and producing capital. But if we want to talk Communist with a capital C—you know, where the C stands for USSR—then Hollywood’s anticommunist films are a special and specific genre of flops and farces, a cinematic tradition featuring such classics as I Married a Communist, The Red Menace, Assignment: Paris, and My Son John. (Spoiler: John’s a goddamned Bolshie!)

The fifties saw the heyday of anticommie popcorn flicks. True, the silent era had its Bolshevism on Trial and Red Russia Revealed, and the eighties met with Soviet invasion in Red Dawn and some serious anti-Vietcong violence in the later Rambo movies. But when you wanna see a square-jawed U.S. American call a sweaty creep a commie and slug him in the mouth, it’s the postwar period you turn to. Though most of the era’s anticommunist films were too vulgar and outlandish to survive as anything other than hilarious artifacts—or as evidence of the ever-imperialist, state-serving agenda of the Hollywood apparatus, depending on which side of the bed you woke up on—a few, Robert Aldrich’s Kiss Me Deadly and Samuel Fuller’s Pickup on South Street among them, are truly great works of cinema. (Granted, 1982’s Rambo: First Blood—if you excise the last four minutes, when Sly gives a speech crying about how hippies, those “maggots at the airport,” spit on him—is also pretty great.) Both are tense, pulpy noirs, both center around the sale of nuclear secrets, and both take anticommunism more as a genre then a narrative drive. But only one, Pickup on South Street (1953), is being revived this week at Film Forum, in New York. Read More »

Fleur’s Flair

January 20, 2015 | by


Flair‘s first issue.

Flair Magazine existed for only one year and twelve issues, from February 1950 to January 1951. In that time, it published the likes of Jean Cocteau, Tennessee Williams, Simone de Beauvoir, Gloria Swanson, John O’Hara, Eleanor Roosevelt, Bernard Baruch, Gypsy Rose Lee, the Duchess of Windsor, Lucien Freud, Salvador Dalí, Colette, and Saul Steinberg, among others.

Fleur Cowles—who conceived of the magazine, edited it, and, perhaps most impressive, persuaded her husband to publish it, even when it meant losing his shirt, if not his whole wardrobe—would be 107 today. If that seems like a throwaway detail, bear in mind that she lived until she was 101. It’s maybe best to let her describe her own accomplishments:

Few women have lived more multiple lives than I have: as editor: as that anomaly, an American president’s personal representative, decorated by six governments; as a writer of thirteen books and contributor to six others; as a painter, with fifty-one one-man exhibitions throughout the world; patron of the arts and sciences, irrepressible traveller and, more importantly, friend-gatherer …

Fond as she was of bragging about her gifts as a friend, or even merely as a “friend-gatherer,” her most enduring creation is Flair, a beautiful, high-minded cataclysm of a magazine that incorporated “cutouts, fold-outs, pop-ups, removable reproductions of artworks and a variety of paper stocks of different sizes and textures”:

[Flair] was simply too expensive to produce … When Flair ceased publication, Mr. Cowles, who had financed it, estimated that it had lost $2.5 million … A spring issue featured the rose, a flower Ms. Cowles painted and extolled until her death. The issue was suffused with a rose fragrance, some four decades before scent strips became ubiquitous.

All this comes from Cowles’s New York Times obit, which is a work of art itself: “Fleur Cowles, 101, Is Dead; Friend of the Elite and the Editor of a Magazine for Them.” Take a step back and you can see the splotch of animus on that headline—“a Magazine for Them.” That’s what Flair was: their magazine. Never yours. It was designed to appear tantalizingly out of reach. That’s a commonplace these days, when every publication aspires to be “aspirational,” but Flair, with its peephole covers and almost farcically high production values, may have done more to further the concept than any other American magazine in history. Copies of The Best of Flair, a 1996 compilation, sold for $250 apiece. And is it any wonder? Just look at the covers: Read More »


Norman Mailer, Sporting Goatee

December 3, 2012 | by

Did you know that Norman Mailer once affected a bohemian goatee? Well, he did.










Yoram Kaniuk on ‘Life on Sandpaper’

April 27, 2011 | by

Wounded in the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, Yoram Kaniuk moved to Greenwich Village to become a painter. Nineteen and broke, he came to center a rarefied circle of fellow painters, musicians, writers, and actors—Billie Holiday, Charlie Parker, Willem de Kooning, Tennessee Williams, Marlon Brando, among others. Writes Kaniuk, “I was in the lives of these people by mistake.” Though he may have played a minor role, Kaniuk's memoir, Life on Sandpaper, is an unforgettable telling of his New York decade, the 1950s. His newest nonfiction book, 1948, not yet translated to English, recently won the 2010 Sapir Prize for Literature. Not long ago, I spoke to Kaniuk about Life on Sandpaper, which was published by Dalkey Archive Press this February.

When did you begin working on this memoir?

In the seventies I used to write for a paper here in Israel, and every weekend I used to publish a story. I wrote many of these stories, not exactly in this form, and when I didn’t have any more true stories, I had to invent them. And then at the start of 2000, I started to work them into Between Life and Death [the memoir’s Hebrew-language title]. I didn’t know what it would mean to people here in Israel, but it was amazing how much the young people loved this book. It opened a door for me—for my novel The Last Jew, and for other books.

Today it seems that there are more Israelis outside of Israel than in Israel itself. Soldiers taking a gap year in Europe, in India, in Tibet; scuffling jazz musicians and installation artists in downtown Manhattan and Brooklyn; Israelis “making the business” (in Israeli English) in Panama and Buenos Aires. There once was a stigma attached to this expatriation. When one goes to Israel, one literally “goes up,” or “ascends”—makes aliyah. When one leaves one is said to have “gone down,” or “descended”—yerida. Was there the same stigma associated with leaving Israel back in the 1950s, when you came to that other Jewish homeland, Greenwich Village?

The Israelis coming to America when I came, which was in 1951, were people who had fought in the 1948 war, which was a very tough war, the worst war Israel ever had; almost an entire generation was killed. We came to New York because we were never able to find a way, in Israel, of letting out the grief, the demons. Also, you have to remember that I had been wounded, physically. My first years in America, I didn’t think about Israel at all, I didn’t think about the war, I didn’t remember anything, I was completely in a daze. And later I understood that I had to have my autonomy. But I should say that many Israelis who were there with me in New York, or even in Los Angeles, eventually came back. Still there was a feeling that Israelis at that time didn’t know what their homeland was.

Read More »


Canned Laughter: Ben Glenn II, Television Historian

July 20, 2010 | by

Last summer, Writers Digest Press published And Here's the Kicker a book of interviews I conducted with twenty-one humor writers, including Buck Henry, Bob Odenkirk, Dick Cavett, Harold Ramis, David Sedaris, and Marshall Brickman. Although he’s not a writer, I interviewed Ben Glenn II, a TV historian and expert in the history of canned laughter for the book. As I was talking to all of these people whose work produces laughter, it seemed appropriate to include at least one expert in producing fake laughter.

How did canned laughter come about?

The concept actually goes back at least five hundred years. History tells us that there were audience “plants” in the crowds at Shakespearean performances in the 16th century. They spurred on audience reactions, including laughter and cheering—as well as jeers.

How about more recently?

Canned laughter was used to a certain degree in radio, but its first TV appearance was in 1950, on a rather obscure NBC situation comedy, The Hank McCune Show. Remarkably, there are a couple of clips from the show on YouTube. Shortly after the show’s debut, there was an article in Variety noting that the show’s canned laughter was a new innovation, and that its potential for providing a wide-range of reactions was great. Of course, that eventually came true.

How odd did the laugh track sound to those early TV audiences?

I can only imagine that it seemed odd to viewers, but using a laugh track held many advantages for television producers. The most important was that it made it possible to film exteriors and on location. It gave producers freedom. For example, scenes from Leave It to Beaver were shot outdoors on RKO’s—and later Universal’s—back lot. With the laugh track, a studio audience was no longer absolutely necessary.

Who invented the canned-laughter machine? Read More »