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Posts Tagged ‘Robert Redford’

Where Daisy Buchanan Lived

December 25, 2012 | by

Conway Farms Golf Club, Lake Forest, IL.

We’re out this week, but we’re re-posting some of our favorite pieces from 2012 while we’re away. We hope you enjoy—and have a happy New Year!

In a 1940 letter to his daughter written six months before his death, F. Scott Fitzgerald said, “Once I thought that Lake Forest was the most glamorous place in the world. Maybe it was.” Sixty-six years later, as I drove through the Illinois suburb that sits thirty-two miles north of the heart of Chicago’s Loop, I kept looking around and wondering to myself what exactly it was that Fitzgerald found so great. I thought about him as I drank a coffee at a Starbucks that wasn’t there the last time I’d visited, and I noticed that the McDonald’s drive-through near the Metra train station seemed to be buzzing. All the suburban trappings I recalled from a childhood spent on the North Shore of Chicago were still there. To me, Lake Forest was a place I’d gotten to know by peeking through frosted car windows on my way to early morning hockey practice as a kid. Cozy, definitely, but not exactly the sort of place I associate with the Roaring Twenties decadence and wild parties conjured by Fitzgerald’s name.

Founded in 1861, Lake Forest, Illinois, was originally built as a college town by Presbyterians. After the Civil War, the city attracted residents whose last names were synonymous with the building (and a decade later, the post–Great Fire rebuilding) of Chicago. Thanks to its tranquility and natural beauty, as well as its isolation from main roads, Lake Forest became the Chicago metropolitan area’s most desirable neighborhood, attracting Rockefellers, Armours, Medills, and Marshall Fields. Lake Forest was the Greenwich of the Midwest: a haven for robber barons and meat packers far from the strikes, riots, and muckrakers that threatened the wealth and safety of the early twentieth century’s 1 percent. By the city’s 150th anniversary, in 2011, Lake Forest had served as the setting for a best-selling novel (A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, by native son Dave Eggers) and Oscar-winning film (Robert Redford’s Ordinary People). But the city’s first true claim to literary fame came in 1925, as a passing mention in the first chapter of The Great Gatsby, in which we learn from narrator Nick Carraway that Tom Buchanan has bought a string of polo ponies from Lake Forest. Carraway is amazed that a man of his own generation is wealthy enough to have done so.

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Watch: The Great Gatsby, 1926

May 29, 2012 | by

While Baz Luhrmann’s Great Gatsby trailer is on everyone’s lips, it’s far from the first time F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel has been captured on celluloid. Everyone remembers the 1974 Robert Redford vehicle, but there was also the 1949 adaptation and, before that, a silent 1926 version scripted by Fitzgerald himself. All that survives—to anyone’s knowledge—is the footage that follows.

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Something for Nothing

March 19, 2012 | by

America, from its Puritan past to its mass-incarceration present, has never been particularly hospitable to criminals. Yet, from time to time, an outlaw rises to the level of folk hero, based on a captivating personal narrative or a prevailing mood in the culture. Perhaps no category of crook has been more consistently compelling than the con artist. During their heyday, from the mid-nineteenth century up through the first decades of the twentieth, when innovations in transportation brought more strangers together and promises of fast fortune spread across the country, practitioners earned memorable nicknames—Soapy Smith, Snitzer the Kid, Appetite Bill—and spoke in a florid and amusing argot. (Every object in the game, from money to cards to actors, was given a nickname, as were the games themselves, dubbed the wipe, the wire, the big mitt, the huge duke, the tip, the tale, the strap, the spud, or the shake with the button.) Con men normally stole by guile rather than by physical intimidation or brute force. And their thieving relied on complicated mechanisms of performance and intelligence—it was indeed an art, complete with its own hierarchy of ability. The best of them could be imagined as dashing and debonair—like Paul Newman and Robert Redford in The Sting, men who valued the game more than what it earned.

Most important, the nature of the con implicated the victim in its own criminal logic. Marks were roped in with promises of inside information on a fixed horse race, rigged stock market, or some other path to easy money—only to see their contributions to the dubious venture stolen right before their eyes. As the linguist David Maurer wrote in The Big Con, his encyclopedic study of confidence crimes and the men that ran them, the operation worked based on a fixed maxim: “You can’t cheat an honest man.”

For many con artists, this was as much an excuse as a credo. Take, for example, the Chicago con man Joseph “Yellow Kid” Weil, who claimed to have stolen more than eight million dollars from assorted marks, as victims in the con game are known, during a career that spanned more than half a century. You would think he’d be the last person inclined to judge harshly the avarice of his fellow man. Yet, in 1956, after he’d turned eighty, he explained himself to Saul Bellow, who summed up the man’s conception of the moral universe:

The years have not softened his heart toward the victims of his confidence schemes. Of course he was a crook, but the “marks” whom he and his associates trimmed were not honest men. “I have never cheated any honest men,” he says, “only rascals. They may have been respectable but they were never any good.” And this is how he sums the matter up: “They wanted something for nothing. I gave them nothing for something.” He says it clearly and sternly; he is not a pitying man. To be sure, he wants to justify his crimes, but quite apart from this he believes that honest men do not exist.

While many con artists gained larger-than-life reputations, their victims mostly remained faceless, since, as Amy Reading explains in her engrossing new book, The Mark Inside, most were reluctant to take a complaint to the authorities. Local police were often paid off to look the other way, but even if they hadn’t been, marks were unlikely to confess to being robbed while putting money on a crooked scheme. Even the truly innocent—and indeed there were honest and decent people cleaned in cons—wouldn’t be eager to come forward and announce their gullibility to the world.

Who, then, would stand up for the victims, the marks who were considered at best fools, or at worst, criminals themselves? Enter J. Frank Norfleet, a short, mustachioed cattle rancher from the Texas panhandle, who became the most renowned advocate for the victims of cons in the history of the game. Read More »

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Salter’s Armory

March 14, 2012 | by

James Salter, Robert Rauschenberg, 1963, black-and-white photograph, 16 x 20 inches.

If you are neither looking to buy art nor quite understand the glut of it before you, what do you do at the Armory Show? To an ill-informed visitor, it’s like being at the Louvre, but without the benefit of history to fall back on. The show’s aesthetic labyrinth is thus the source of a certain amount of bafflement. I dealt with this quandary partly by writing down what it was I happened to see and enjoy, as though to come back to it later: Ai Weiwei’s porcelain owl houses; some distorted nudes by the photographer André Kertesz; a series of vegetables in gelatin-silver prints by Charles Jones; the Turkish artist Irfan Onurmen’s tulle portraits; totem poles by Charlie Roberts; a photograph, called L’Oiseau dans l’Espace, by Brancusi.

I arrived late on the last day of the show and spent the first twenty minutes of my visit searching for the press office (ah, the other pier), explaining why I did not possess any sort of business card, failing to locate the down escalator and descending alone in an elevator twice the size of my kitchen. I eavesdropped on a couple trying to decide if they could afford two seventeen-thounsand-dollar Weegee prints, agreeing they had space in their home. Then a young man told his friend just how badly he wanted to fuck someone’s sister (“so bad”). Next to the champagne bar, beneath a huge neon sign reading scandinavian pain, I allowed a kind Norwegian to apply a temporary tattoo to the underside of my wrist with a damp paper towel. I was surprised at how intimate this was—he might have been taking my pulse.

“You see,” he said, “most of what this is about is the fact of making it happen at all.”

Almost by chance I found the booth for “As They Were: American Masters Through the Lens of James Salter,” a combined effort by Loretta Howard and Nyehaus galleries, showcasing some of James Salter’s films and photographs taken between 1962 and ’63 while he had a studio in Peek Slip. In the event you don’t know who Salter is, the curators have obliged by providing a few old editions of his books in a glass case, along with the script for his film Downhill Racer next to a bluish spiral of canistered film sitting atop the receipts from its printers. There is a photo of the bearded Salter, standing behind his camera in a field, and another of the author as an old man, being greeted by Robert Redford. So, you see: legit. Read More »

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On the Ball

September 29, 2011 | by

Brad Pitt as Billy Beane in Moneyball.

Baseball, perhaps because its players spend so much time in stillness, prompts us to say some pretty silly things about it. Grown men go misty and reach for metaphor: “Baseball is cigar smoke, hot roasted peanuts, The Sporting News, ladies’ day, ‘Down in Front,’ ‘Take Me Out to the Ballgame,’ and the ‘Star Spangled Banner,’” as Ernie Harwell—genius broadcaster, magician of nostalgia, limited poet—said in his Hall of Fame induction speech in 1981. The great appeal of Billy Beane, the general manager, beginning in 1998, of the Oakland A’s, who is played by Brad Pitt in the new movie Moneyball, is that he offers us an antidote to such sentimentality. He embraces innovative statistical metrics (called, with a ring of sharpness, sabermetrics); he is on a ruthless quest for efficiency. More thrilling still, he may not even like baseball all that much. One of the suggestions of the book Moneyball, written by Michael Lewis, and of its movie adaptation, is that Beane is at war with the game itself. As a middling professional in the eighties, he was tricked into thinking that he was good enough to play at an exceptional level, and there are hints that all his subsequent maneuverings have been fueled by a vindictive desire to upend baseball’s traditions, to make its most storied franchises look petty and stupid, and to stamp out its most deeply embedded myths. Read More »

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James Salter’s Acceptance Speech

April 13, 2011 | by

Photograph by Neil Rasmus.

A transcript of last night’s speech.

Well of course I knew this was going to happen. Terry McDonell called me and he said, “We would like to give you the Hadada this year,” and I said, “Terry, it might be a better idea to give it to somebody a little younger.” He said, “No, no, no, no, you are missing the point entirely.” It turns out that in the African language from which the word comes, hadada means “Hail, great father.” Ha-da-da.

The Paris Review was always the pinnacle, it was the place to be published, you were thrilled if you were published in The Paris Review, and George Plimpton himself was practically mythical. He was a legendary figure.

I had written a novel. It was A Sport and a Pastime. And it had been turned down by publishers, four or five of them, and I thought I was probably wrong about it, it was not really any good. And then, through a friend, Bill Becker, it came to The Paris Review. One day the phone rang, and I said “Hello.” And a voice said, “Yes, hello, this is George Plimpton.” He said, “You know, I have your novel, and I really like it, I like it very much. We’d like to publish it.” At that time, The Paris Review had a small book publishing operation, they had published a handful of books. He said, “We’d like to publish it.” I said, “That’s wonderful.” He said, “Yes. But there is just one thing.” “Yes.” He said, “I don’t think that any really good novels are written in the first person.” Of course, my mind went blank. I couldn’t think of anything. I didn’t know what to say to him except, suddenly it occurred to me, a book really far removed from the book we were talking about, that was the only thing I could think of, I said, “Well, what about All Quiet on the Western Front,” and he said, “Yes, I suppose you’re right.” That was the end of the editing.

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