Posts Tagged ‘the fifties’
August 4, 2016 | by Dan Piepenbring
- A lot of things keep me up at night. Lately it’s all the forgotten potential of Cheez Whiz and Reddi-Wip—the beauty we lost when mankind turned away from aerosolized foods. As Nadia Berenstein writes, “Push-button cuisine is one of the great, unrealized dreams of postwar food technology. In the 1950s and 1960s, food manufacturers, along with their allies in the container and chemical industries, imagined a world of effortless convenience, where, in the words of one 1964 newspaper article, ‘entire meals … can be oozed forth by a gentle push on a few cans’ … Starting in the late 1950s, an avalanche of new push-button food products made their way to grocery stores. There was Whisp, a Freon-propelled vermouth spray, for that extra-dry martini. Sizzl-Spray, an aerosol barbecue sauce designed for seasoning burgers and steaks on the backyard grill, itself a 1950s innovation. Tasti-Cup, an aerosol coffee concentrate, for the office worker too busy for instant.”
- A. S. Hamrah was sitting in a movie theater last month, waiting for The Purge: Election Year to begin, when he heard that the director Abbas Kiarostami had died. “All of a sudden I became aware,” he writes, “that there is a better world somewhere else, that being in this one, where we were waiting for The Purge: Election Year to shock us, was a waste of the time allotted to me in this life and that, if I were going to see a movie, what time I have would be better spent with a form of cinema that acknowledges something other than the bloodshed and mayhem into which the world has fallen … When watching Kiarostami films, one also has a great sense of another kind of freedom not found in Hollywood movies, nor in most European art films: freedom from the creeping realization that a film we are watching was made by a cynical shit or a self-deluded megalomaniac.”
- Charles Simic knows that the MFAication of poetry has sucked a lot of the life out of it: “it’s hard to believe that a book of poems can be completely original,” he writes, “but despite the great odds, it still happens.” And Jana Prikryl has written such a book: “Reading some of [Prikryl’s] poems is like walking into a movie theater in the middle of a film one knows nothing about, trying to figure out what is happening on the screen, irked at first that the answer is not forthcoming, and gradually growing more and more entranced by the mystery of every face and every action, detached as they are from any context. Unlike poets who are eager to give their readers lengthy and detailed accounts of their private lives, she is discreet. She remains faithful to the ambiguity of our existence, that condition of being aware of the multiple meanings of everything we do or is done to us, and she’s wary of settling for one at the expense of the others and leaving the poetry that went along with them behind.”
- While we’re on the mechanisms of publishing: a season’s biggest titles will arrive worldwide on nearly the same date; translation is built into the production process. In a new book, Rebecca L. Walkowitz “argues that these new conditions of production have altered the very shape of the contemporary novel. Many literary works today do not appear in translation, she proposes, but are written for translation from the beginning. They are ‘born translated.’ Adapted from ‘born digital,’ the term used to designate artworks produced by and for the computer, ‘born-translated literature approaches translation as medium and origin rather than as afterthought. Translation is not secondary or incidental to these works. It is a condition of their production.’ ”
- Everyone loves a “lost” book—the thrill of the forgotten, of rediscovery, has fueled some of publishing’s most major events the past few years. The only problem: most of these books aren’t good. Alison Flood writes, “It’s a tricky tightrope to walk. Publish as much as possible of a beloved author’s work, because the fans will lap it up, or exercise a fierce quality control? It’s a question that I was pondering only this week, on reading the forgotten Dr. Seuss stories in Horton and the Kwuggerbug and More Lost Stories to my children. We are regular readers of Horton Hears a Who, and The Grinch Who Stole Christmas—and were looking forward to it. And … it just wasn’t as good. The Grinch wasn’t the right color, he wasn’t very funny, and there were only two pages of him. Horton wasn’t as charming.”
May 18, 2016 | by Sadie Stein
I pity you, because presumably you—unlike me—do not own an apron that features a loaf of bread, a jug of wine, and the word thou. So how could you possibly celebrate the birthday of Omar Khayyám? You could read from the Rubaiyat, of course. If you happen to be in Nishapur, you could visit his stunning mausoleum. Or you could try a little light non-Euclidean geometry or take out your telescope and ponder his many astronomical discoveries …
Even if you do all of those things, though—even if you own the same apron I do—you can still devote an hour or so to 1957’s Omar Khayyám. “In this dramatic adventure,” Paramount’s capsule description says, “a Persian philosopher poet attempts to thwart conspiring assassins.” Read More »
January 20, 2015 | by Dan Piepenbring
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 »
December 3, 2014 | by Sadie Stein
Here’s a gift idea for you, suitable for children and arrested adults—which is to say, a large part of your Christmas list. Go online at once and buy several copies of McCall’s Giant Golden Make-it Book.
Until recently, I had totally forgotten about the Giant Golden Make-it Book, but I ran across a copy at a used bookstore and immediately realized how well it’s held up. Simply put, no modern activity book can compare. It’s truly giant, and really comprehensive, but like the same-vintage Betty Crocker’s Cookbook for Boys and Girls, it’s as much about the illustrations as the ideas. A smart publisher has seen fit to reissue the latter; McCall’s really needs to do likewise.
There’s everything you might hope for—games and homemade costumes and simple recipes and easy knitting instruction and theme parties—but also a lot of things that never occurred to you. Dutch painting! Soap carving! Elementary flower arranging! Read More »
May 21, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
- Yesterday Dracula’s castle was for sale; today it’s Ray Bradbury’s house in Los Angeles, which is on the market for a comparatively reasonable $1.5 million. “His three-bedroom, 2,500-square-foot house, built in 1937, is painted a cheery yellow. It has three bathrooms, hardwood floors, and sits on a generously sized 9,500-square-foot lot.” This concludes today’s edition of Literary Real Estate.
- The history of Red Lobster, which was recently sold to a capital equity group by its parent company, tells a hopeful but ultimately tragic tale of casual dining in postwar America.
- The short story is “having a moment,” even in the UK: “In Britain we don’t have a culture of literary magazines that routinely publish short fiction. There are dozens in the US and this has helped the form to flourish.”
- Curious new archeological discoveries in the British Virgin Islands: a witch’s bottle and some iron ammunition “magically used to stop violence.” Whether or not it succeeded is another story.
- The 1955 equivalent of online dating: “Women would approach a machine that looked a bit like an old-school automat. The machine had photos of different men, each with a short description. She would put her coins in a slot and out would pop a more detailed note, describing just what kind of guy her potential suitor was. The woman would then take her letter to a love-agent who was able to make an introduction.”