Friday, April 1, 2011

"Noel Coward: A Life in Quotes", compiled and introduced by Barry Day

One of my heroes is Noel Coward, not just for his delicious bon mots, but because of how he carried himself throughout his life, a private gentleman with a brilliant mind.

"Noel Coward: A Life in Quotes" is yet another book I've checked out of the library repeatedly, but have never gotten to it until now. I'm a bit ashamed to say that I read it today because I've got other books on hold to check out tomorrow that I'm really anticipating, such as more of Sam Shepard's works, this time his plays, and Lisa Lampanelli's autobiography.

I still read the book of quotes in total reverence, and admired how Barry Day smoothly made transitions in each section. The side of the book looks like a crowded city of blue tape flag buildings, which indicate those quotes I've marked off to share. And here they are, with appropriate credit:

"It really is unbelievably difficult to act like a moron when one isn't a moron." - To a child actor colleague, Michael Mac Liammoir

"The theatre must be treated with respect. It is a house of strange enchantment, a temple of dreams. What it most emphatically is not and never will be is a scruffy, illiterate, drill hall serving as a temporary soap-box for propaganda." - 'A Warning to Actors' (1961)

"To believe that public taste can be accurately assessed, even for a short period, is a dangerous illusion. Times and politics and the circumstances of living change and with them changes the public attitude to entertainment." - Play Parade Volume 4 (1954)

"I know nothing so dreary as the feeling that you can't make the sounds or write the words that your whole creative being is yearning for." - Diaries (1945)

"It is true that a writer should try to hold the mirror up to nature, although there are aspects of nature that would be better unreflected." - 'A Warning to Pioneers' (1961)

"BRYAN (THE AUTHOR): Why can't people in the theatre behave like normal human beings?

TONY (DIRECTOR'S ASSISTANT): There wouldn't be a theatre if they did." - Star Quality (unproduced play - 1967)

"On Gladys Cooper's inability to remember hers [her lines] in Relative Values (1951): I did not expect word perfection at the first rehearsal but I had rather hoped for it on the first night."

"Poor darling glamorous stars everywhere, their lives are so lonely and wretched and frustrated. Nothing but applause, flowers, Rolls-Royces, expensive hotel suites, constant adulation. It's too pathetic and wrings the heart." - Diaries (1955)

This was of course back when newspapers were truly hefty: "I love the weight of American Sunday newspapers. Pulling them up off the floor is good for the figure."

"Without America we should have no Coca-Cola, no Marilyn Monroe and hardly any really good literature about sex." - Attributed

"American women mostly have their clothes arranged for them. And their faces, too, I think."

"MELODY: Americans have a passion for speed...and yet no idea of time whatsoever -- it's most extraordinary."

"JENNIFER: I have never been able to take anything seriously after eleven o'clock in the morning." - The Young Idea (1921) - I live this every day!

"Manners are the outward expression of expert interior decoration." - Long Island Sound (unproduced play - 1947)

On taste: "It can be vulgar, but it must never be embarrassing."

"I'm not very keen on Hollywood...I'd rather have a nice cup of cocoa, really." - Letter to his mother (1931)

"I love travelling, but I'm always too late or too early. I arrive in Japan when the cherry blossoms have fallen. I get to China too early for the next revolution. I reach Canada when the maple leaves have gone. People are always telling me about something I haven't seen. I find it very pleasant." - Diaries (1965)

"I have not, as yet, seen the Taj Mahal at all, but I feel that when I do it will probably lie down in a consciously alluring attitude and pretend to be asleep." - Present Indicative (1937)

"Reflecting on a 1944 African trip: "The Dinkas' claim to fame is that they are very tall, have the longest penises in the world and dye their hair with urine; doubtless cause and effect."

"On his travels Coward was increasingly appalled by the mind and manners of his fellow travellers. In Suite in Three Keys (1965) an American lady tourist is complaining to another about her husband's lack of enthusiasm for seeing the sights: I managed to drag him into Saint Peter's in Rome and all he did was stomp around humming 'I Like New York in June' under his breath. I was mortified."

"Love is a true understanding of just a few people for each other. Passionate love we will leave on one side for that rises, gets to its peak and dies away. True love is something much more akin to friendship and friendship, I suppose, is the greatest benison and compensation that Man has." - (1970)

"RUTH: Your view of women is academic to say the least of it -- just because you've always been dominated by them it doesn't necessarily follow that you know anything about them." - Blithe Spirit (1941)

"--I don't think my husband's been entirely faithful to me.

-- Whatever makes you think that?

--My last child doesn't resemble him in the slightest." - This Year of Grace! (1928)

"Garry Essendine on sex: To me the whole business is vastly overrated. I enjoy it for what it's worth and fully intend to go on doing so for as long as anybody's interested and when the time comes that they're not I shall be perfectly content to settle down with an apple and a good book!" - Present Laughter (1939)

"CHARLES: It's discouraging to think how many people are shocked by honesty and how few by deceit." - Blithe Spirit (1941)

"MADAME ARCATI: Time is the reef upon which all our frail mystic ships are wrecked." - Blithe Spirit (1941)

"Cole (Lesley) [his personal aide] and I had a long and cosy talk about death the other evening... we came to the sensible conclusion that there was nothing to be done. We should have to get on with life until our time came. I said, 'After all, the day had to go on and breakfast had to be eaten', and he replied that if I died he might find it a little difficult to eat breakfast but would probably be peckish by lunch-time." - Diaries (1961)

"The human race is cruel, idiotic, sentimental, predatory, ungrateful, ugly, conceited and egocentric to the last ditch and the occasional discovery of an isolated exception is as deliciously surprising as finding a sudden Brazil nut in what you know to be five pounds of vanilla creams."

"I do not approve of mourning, I approve only of remembering."

"First I was the enfant terrible. Then the Bright Young Thing. Now I'm a tradition."

"Oh, how fortunate I was to be born poor. If mother had been able to afford to send me to private school, Eton and Oxford or Cambridge, it would probably have set me back years." - Diaries (1967)

"If I don't care for things I simply don't look at them."

"I've had a wonderful life. I've still got rhythm, I've got music, who could ask for anything more?" - Diaries (1961)

"People... have an insatiable passion for labelling everything with a motive. They search busily behind the simplest of my phrases, like old ladies peering under the bed for burglars, and are not content till they have unearthed some definite, and usually quite inaccurate, reason for my saying this or that."

"Warm Up the Snake: A Hollywood Memoir" by John Rich

There are some books that I don't love as much as the ones I use for "First Lines," but I want to quote from them anyway.

"Warm Up the Snake: A Hollywood Memoir" is a career memoir by John Rich, who directed "The Dick Van Dyke Show" and "All in the Family" for a good portion of their years, as well as "Gunsmoke," "Bonanza," and, with Henry Winkler, executive produced "MacGyver."

This is on page 200, third and final paragraph of the page, and then the sentence at the top of page 201:

"Another basic tenet of comedy: It's easier to get a laugh if the audience is primed a little. Morey Amsterdam would frequently "warm up" our Dick Van Dyke Show audience by suggesting, "Everybody hold hands and the guy on the end stick your finger into the electric socket." Redd Foxx was famous for using "blue" material from his nightclub act to break in studio audiences for Sanford and Son. Aaron Ruben, the producer of the series, would plead with Redd to stay away from the risque stuff, pointing out, correctly, that the huge laughs he was getting would seriously impact the milder material that would be heard during the scripted episode. Redd wouldn't--or couldn't--go along, arguing that it was important for him to get the biggest laugh he could at any time. One night when I attended the taping as Tandem Productions' representative, Redd warmed up the audience by launching into a routine involving heavy petting with his girlfriend while parked in his car. He became very descriptive, with the girl getting so hot she begged Redd "Kiss me. Kiss me where it smells." There was an audible gasp from the crowd, followed by Redd's punchline: "So I took her to El Segundo."

The script didn't stand a chance that night."

First Lines from Books I Love #2: The Trouble with Gumballs

From about 9 this morning to about 10 minutes before noon, I read all 249 pages of The Trouble with Gumballs by James Nelson, which included the "About the Author" page, which was more interesting than most "About the Author" pages.

I was disappointed at first to find that there's no listing on Goodreads ( for it, and I was thinking that I'm probably too lazy to create one, since I'd rather be reading. But to give proper tribute to this book, I created one.

This was so much fun to read. Even the slightest bit of business matter, in profit, in trying to figure out profit, in wondering if a profit can even be made, is made funny by the nimble mind of author James Nelson, a former editor of Business Week, who moves himself and his family out to Northern California from New York City, and decides to get into the vending business, hauling around gumball machines, machines to dispense nuts, and even an attempted side business of jerky. He gets started with the No-Name Vending Machine Company, and it's hard to resist a book that includes a sketch of a man named Ogden Chugwater. Nelson didn't make this up.

He pays a significant amount of money to No-Name to get started, is hampered by Chugwater's delays in getting the machines to him and laying out the route which could include busy storefronts that might turn a profit, and eventually, Nelson gets started, and it's hard work. He's joined by his wife, who is an equal partner in this venture. She fills the machines with gumballs, she goes with him to see how much money they made from the machines, and in coming up with a name for their fledgling company, the Multivend Company, she names herself "Chairman of the Board." It works for Nelson, as the book is dedicated: "For the Chairman of the Board"

I've been interested in vending machines since Riverside Elementary School in Coral Springs, Florida, fascinated by all the mechanisms, and what can be stored in them for sale. Sometimes I stayed after school in the library to thumb through the encyclopedias and read everything I could on vending machines. I'm not machine-minded, but it's just the concept, in that I can ride the escalator down to the first floor of Macy's at the Valencia Town Center Mall and there's an iPod vending machine. It's become advanced enough that credit cards are taken. And here's Nelson, selling penny gum and filling those globes with gumballs at home.

Now to the purpose of this series, the beginning of chapter 1, the first page:

"Sweetie-pie," I said to Mary-Armour one night not too long ago, "how do you suppose we got here, anyway?"

It was one of thise winter evenings we have in Northern California, cold and rainy and miserable in the fields outside, but warm and toasty beside the blazing fireplace of our rented farmhouse. I was lolling, shoeless, in our easiest easy chair, staring morosely into the flames. Mary-Armour was sitting on the sofa working away at the tan sweater she'd been knitting for me ever since our courtship days.

At my question, she looked up and smiled, which was quite a heart-warming sight.

"How did we get here?" she echoed. "You mean, did the stork bring us?"

"Listen," I said. "I mean, how come did we leave New York and everything?"

James Nelson is (or was, since this book was published in 1956, and he's probably long gone) the best kind of business writer, one who can see into the humanity of a business, and so we get to read about grocer Freddie Wing Duck, and his wife Moonstone, and his Bongo Board. We also read about the severe Primus Gideon, who hates making change for children wanting to get gum from the machines, with such a fiery passion usually reserved for the most intense preachers.

I found this book because of my continued interest in vending machines, searching my local library catalog for more books, hoping that Kerry Segrave's "Vending Machines: An American Social History" had a listing. It still doesn't, but about two months ago, I bought it off of, not minding having to pay close to $30 for it. I've wanted to read it for so long.

I love the cover of that one. It's a soda machine, with "Vending Machines" across the blue stripe of the can, "An American Social History" under it, and Segrave's name squarely on the drop slot.

I found Nelson's book in the library catalog, put it on hold, and checked it out twice, but never got to it. This morning, I decided to finally read it, and it was a wonderful experience that made me feel so good during it and after I finished it.