Friday Feb. 20, 2015

0:00/ 0:00

Sweater Weather: A Love Song to Language

Never better, mad as a hatter,
right as rain, might and main,
hanky-panky, hot toddy,

hoity-toity, cold shoulder,
bowled over, rolling in clover,
low blow, no soap, hope

against hope, pay the piper,
liar liar pants on fire,
high and dry, shoo-fly pie,

fiddle-faddle, fit as a fiddle,
sultan of swat, muskrat
ramble, fat and sassy,

fllimflam, happy as a clam,
cat’s pajamas, bee’s knees,
peas in a pod, pleased as punch,

pretty as a picture, nothing much,
lift the latch, double dutch,
helter-skelter, hurdy-gurdy,

early bird, feathered friend,
dumb cluck, buck up,
shilly-shally, willy-nilly,

roly-poly, holy moly,
loose lips sink ships,
spitting image, nip in the air,

hale and hearty, part and parcel,
upsy-daisy, lazy days,
maybe baby, up to snuff,

flibbertigibbet, honky-tonk,
spic and span, handyman
cool as a cucumber, blue moon,

high as a kite, night and noon,
love me or leave me, seventh heaven,
up and about, over and out.

“Sweater Weather: A Love Song to Language” by Sharon Bryan, from Flying Blind. © Sarabande Books, 1996. Reprinted with permission of the author.   (buy now)

It was on this day in 1943 that Norman Rockwell published the first of four wartime prints called “The Four Freedoms.” In 1942, Rockwell was commissioned by the government to make a poster to encourage weapons production. He painted a GI crouched over his machine gun at night, firing his last rounds of ammunition, with the words “Let’s Give Him Enough and On Time.” When he took it to the War Department in Arlington, Virginia, an official told him that they were looking for posters depicting the “Four Freedoms” that President Roosevelt had outlined in a 1941 speech to Congress and turned into a charter with Winston Churchill. Rockwell took a copy of the charter home to Vermont, but the language was so technical that he couldn’t figure out how to illustrate it. He said: “It was so darned high-blown. Somehow I just couldn’t get my mind around it.”

One morning at 3 a.m., he was lying awake, and he thought about a recent town hall meeting he had attended. One dissenter stood up to explain his opposition to the town’s plan to rebuild a school, and even though no one agreed with him, they all listened respectfully. Rockwell realized that this was the meaning of “freedom of speech,” and he was inspired to illustrate all four freedoms as the actions of ordinary citizens, using his Vermont neighbors as models. He was in his studio by 5 a.m., and soon had a series of charcoal sketches. He took the train down to Washington D.C., but the officials at the brand-new Office of War Information didn’t want anything to do with him. One told him: “The last war you illustrators did the posters. This war we’re going to use fine arts men, real artists.” Another official offered to let Rockwell illustrate a manual about calisthenics for the Marines. On his way home to Vermont, Rockwell decided to stop in Philadelphia and see Ben Hibbs, the editor at the Saturday Evening Post. He shared his drawings, and Hibbs was so excited that he told Rockwell to stop everything else and paint them as covers for the Post. They were hugely popular. Rockwell received more than 60,000 letters in response, and the War Department realized it had made a mistake and printed 4 million copies to distribute.

Today is the birthday of filmmaker Robert Altman, born in Kansas City, Missouri, in 1925. He directed several critically acclaimed films, including MASH (1970), Nashville (1975), Short Cuts (1993), and Gosford Park (2001).

He was a co-pilot on a B-24 bomber during World War II, and it was around that time that he came up with a system for tattooing identification numbers on pets in case they were lost. He even talked President Truman into having one of his dogs tattooed. His first post-war job was with a Kansas City film company that made industrial shorts. In his spare time, he wrote film scripts, and sold his first to Hollywood in 1948. In 1955, he made the move to television, directing several episodes of popular shows like Maverick, Peter Gunn, and Bonanza. He began directing feature films in the 1960s.

When he was 45, Altman agreed to direct a film written by Ring Lardner Jr. The script was based on a book by the same name, about a group of irreverent, anti-establishment doctors serving in a Mobile Army Surgical Hospital on the front lines of the Korean War. Lardner’s screenplay had made the rounds and had been turned down by many other directors. Under Altman’s direction, MASH (1970) became the third-highest-grossing movie of the year, won the Palme D’Or at the Cannes Film Festival, and became one of the most popular and influential films of the 1970s. Altman’s 14-year-old son, Mike, wrote the lyrics for the film’s theme song, “Suicide is Painless.” Although Altman had many other critical successes, MASH was his biggest box-office hit.

Of his career, Altman once said, “It’s all just one film to me. Just different chapters.”

It’s the birthday of playwright Russel Crouse (books by this author), born in Findlay, Ohio (1893). His play State of the Union (1946) won the Pulitzer Prize for drama and was made into a movie starring Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn. Crouse is also famous for writing the books for musicals. When we think of musicals, we tend to think of the people who wrote the music and the lyrics, like Rodgers and Hammerstein for The Sound of Music. But all the dialogue or words that are not sung are called the book, and Crouse wrote books — in fact, he co-wrote the book for The Sound of Music, as well as Anything Goes.

It’s the birthday of the writer who caused Stephen King to say: “When people talk about the genre, I guess they mention my name first, but without Richard Matheson (books by this author) I wouldn’t be around. He is as much my father as Bessie Smith was Elvis Presley’s mother.” Horror and science fiction writer Richard Matheson was born in Allendale, New Jersey (1926). He wrote for television shows, including The Twilight Zone and Star Trek, and he wrote more than 20 novels and 100 short stories. His most famous books include I Am Legend (1954), The Shrinking Man (1956), later retitled The Incredible Shrinking Man, and What Dreams May Come (1978).

And it’s the birthday of Ansel Adams, born in San Francisco (1902). When he was 14, his parents gave him two gifts that changed his life. The first was a Kodak #1 Box Brownie camera. The second was a family trip to Yosemite National Park. He was so enchanted by the mountains and the forest that he would return to the park every summer for the rest of his life. His photographs of Yosemite and other wilderness areas would become familiar to millions of people.

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®