Sunday, September 11, 2011

Laszlo’s on Lex: closing time

It was Friday night; they usually closed slightly later to get the last minute business that was still straggling up from downtown. Instead of closing at nine, Ilsa was running an hour late. But now, her final tasks done, she looked around for the last time. Everything was in order. The transition had gone smoothly.

Ilsa looked out the large store window -- the reverse image of the letters always amused her. She threw the main switch, picked up the package she had put together for a light supper. Fish cakes, of course. She smiled and thought of those Fridays of yesterday. It was early January and the streets still had scattered mounds of that dirty snow made more unsightly by the endless stream on buses on this major avenue.

Ilsa Lund Laszlo opened the door, passed through it, turned and locked each lock carefully. She had left the neat printed sign, inside, hanging from a strong cord in the door window. Laszlo’s on Lex -- Closed.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Ten Random Thoughts on the Tenth: May 2011

--- What is this committed Julie Andrews enthusiast to do when he watches Star! and Darling Lili every time out, but shuns The Sound of Music?

--- We’re told that James Thurber said of Cecil B. De Mille’s The Ten Commandments: “It makes you realize what God could have done if He’d had the money.”

--- David Thomson in The Whole Equation says of Louis B. Mayer: “He had noticed that people liked going into the dark to see the light.”

--- Paul Stewart is one of my favorite character actors.

--- If they remade the filmed version of Sorry Wrong Number these days, one wonders if they would have the Stanwyck character using a smart phone, her (method?) thumbs, and text messages.

--- I think the young Patty McCormack would have been just right for playing the young girl in H.H. Munro’s short story: The Open Window.

--- Charlton Heston’s In the Arena tells us that of the forty some actresses with whom he worked the most difficult was Ava Gardner (in 55 Days at Peking).

--- I wish Jim Jarmusch made more movies.

--- I regularly dip into all the editions of David Thomson’s A Biographical Dictionary of Film (he is excellent on actresses) but I find most of his film reviews less satisfactory in Have You Seen …? A Personal Introduction to 1,000 Films.

--- If you cannot get to Mumbai, go to Southall in West London -- The Glassy Junction accepts rupees as legal tender for the bill.

Note: “Random thoughts” pieces bring to mind the great Jimmy Cannon, whose “Nobody Asked Me, But” set the form. Any similarity stops there.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Film Makers 10: Monroe Stahr

Listen … has your office got a stove in it that lights with a match?

I think so.

Suppose you're in your office.

You've been fighting duels all day.

You're exhausted.

This is you.

A girl comes in.

She doesn't see you.

She takes off her gloves.

She opens her purse.

She dumps it out on the table.

You watch her.

This is you.

Now ...

She has two dimes, a matchbox and a nickel.

She leaves the nickel on the table.

She puts the two dimes back into her purse.

She takes the gloves ... they're black.

Puts them into the stove.

Lights a match.

Suddenly, the telephone rings.

She picks it up.

She listens.

She says, "l've never owned a pair of black gloves in my life."

Hangs up.

Kneels by the stove.

Lights another match.


you notice ...

... there's another man in the room ...

watching every move the girl makes.

What happens?

l don't know.

l was just making pictures.

What was the nickel for?

Jane, what was the nickel for?

The nickel was for the movies.

Admit one: 5 cents

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Film Makers 9: Otto Preminger

The Preminger quote is often cited. But offered here because the picture is of interest: a 28-take photograph, perhaps.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The American Cinema: Directors and Directions 1929-1968

“If the heroes of Ford are sustained by tradition, and the heroes of Hawks professionalism, the heroes of Walsh are sustained by nothing more than a feeling for adventure.”

• The Fordian hero knows why he is doing something even if he doesn’t know how.

• The Hawksian hero knows how to do what he is doing even if he doesn’t know why.

• The Walshian hero is less interested in the why or the how than the what. He is always plunging into the unknown, and he is never too sure what he will find there.

… Andrew Sarris in The American Cinema: Directors and Directions 1929-1968

I find the clarity of Sarris’s three- director comparison neither without controversy nor typical of his writing. But it is very representative of the way he looks at film, film history and the center of his focus: the director.

The American Cinema came into my life in the 1960s as it did to many of my generation. And Andrew Sarris’s film counsel has to this day remained a constant in my life. Finding representative scenes to support Sarris’s claim for Hawks and for Walsh posed little difficulty. Not so with Ford. The second part of Sarris’s premise: “… even if he doesn’t know how” eliminates many choices.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Friday, April 15, 2011

Titanic: April 15, 1912

The following entry appeared in a slightly revised format on April 15 and 16, 2010.


The big ship ran across an ice field shortly before midnight. Within three hours, one of the great dramas of the twentieth century unfolded. In a disputed section of ocean, the ice prevailed, the ocean abided, and the sepulchres went unmarked.

Titanic was theatre, in real time, in three acts. The time it took to sink approximated that which it takes to perform a play. Ice, then heroism and cowardice, acceptance and denial shared the decks. Death took no holiday, heeded no class. The rich drowned among the poor. Mrs. Straus chose to stay, and from such drama sprang the literature, from the literature -- the legend. And Lady Marjorie later went into the Atlantic as did Noel Coward's newly wed Marryots.

It is said that an era died on that cold night a scant two years before the lamps went out and the east wind blew. The Edwardians are gone, but the world long remembers a maiden voyage, a wicked ocean, and the night Titanic slipped into the sea.

Note: About thirty years ago, I wrote the above as an introduction to the Titanic section in an antiquarian book catalogue for Gravesend Books.

I first crossed the North Atlantic on a troopship in 1958. And then I crossed westbound in January 1960. My wife and I traversed it numerous times since, during the next half century. And each time, on each trip, when we pass reasonably close to those unmarked sepulchres, one can almost hear again that simple piece of music which some called Autumn. For when at sea, one cannot help but hear the sounds of yesteryear, listen to the voices of those who have crossed before, and to think of the ships now gone to that neverland into which mystical ships pass.

The waters of reverie do not come with proper charts. I was a child of the Great Depression and in those days our parents discussed Titanic in general conversation, spoke of the Morro Castle, and my father, being a New Yorker, talked often about the General Slocum. So peril at sea and on other waterways was part of our world. (As our uncles learned, in the 1940s while travelling in khaki aboard the great Queens.)

I later learned about Titanic in the relatively dry surroundings of Bronx movie houses. The first I remember was the Negulesco / Stanwyck film (with the great Thelma Ritter) and some others which used a Titanic-like motif (e.g., History is Made at Night). A few years later came the Walter Lord book and its filmed manifestation: the excellent A Night to Remember. A spate of books (and television versions) carried us through the next decades until 1995 when Titanic surfaced on Broadway in a very good musical: Titanic.

The public memory of the play has been somewhat swamped by the later film spectacle of 1997, on which I shall refrain from comment. Like the controversial Captain Lord of the Californian, I will ignore the rockets glare from that aberration and return to my reverie.

Titanic (the musical) played at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre on Broadway from April 1997 through March 1999. It ran through 804 performances. I saw it first alone and then, a second time, with my wife. We were both quite moved by it.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Ten Random Thoughts on the Tenth: April

--- After watching Frankenstein last week, I still cannot rid myself of an image I have long had of an assistant director on the back lot shouting at the extras to turn in their instruments and pick up their torches.

--- It is likely that Paul Douglas’s underlying vulnerability makes me invariably enjoy his screen persona, whereas the more blustery style of Broderick Crawford wears thin.

--- I suspect Joseph Cotten has been in more great films than almost any other featured player.

--- I am tired of seeing and hearing the over-anthologized grapefruit scene in Public Enemy -- Mae Clarke deserves better.

--- I am not sure if I was ever taken with Wuthering Heights, but in recent years if it shows up on the same day as Cobra Woman, I’ll opt for Montez.

-- I think it was on Turner Classic Movies that I heard the following: Cagney performances were never real but always true.

--- I revisited Antonioni’s Il Grido on Netflix Instant last week, after last seeing it a half century ago, and enjoyed it immensely.

--- I like Mamet-speak.

--- I have a friend in Gravesend (Kent) who has an excellent collection of Laurel and Hardy materials but is also a Luddite -- he attends no cinemas, has no personal computer, no television, no DVD or VCR player.

--- In 2004, I was on a French tour of Normandy D-Day sites where the French guide likely used the term “liberators” a few hundred times -- while I heard the following three words only once: American, British, Canadian -- each in connection with a cemetery.

Note: “Random thoughts” pieces bring to mind the great Jimmy Cannon, whose “Nobody Asked Me, But” set the form. Any similarity stops there.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Off the Lot 5: Closing a circle

William J. Stewart, Jr. Born March 12, 1928. A reflection.

He was a marine at the end of World War Two. He did not fight as a Marine but sure could fight when he was living with our family. He was my older brother and afraid of no one. Bill, or Billy, made a hard life for himself and for others. He died an alcoholic at thirty-seven. My brother left home early first to join the Marines, and later to marry -- probably to get away from the rest of us.

Billy married a very decent, somewhat older woman with whom he had two children. He later abandoned all three and had two children with another woman who could have been played on film by an aging worn-out Mary Astor. Continuing his downward spiral, he kept his job working for the railroad, but did two other jobs to keep the alcohol coming: tending bar and as driver on small time grocery store stickups. He drank double Vodkas with a Vodka highball chaser every round I ever drank with him, which was relatively often.

Billy ended up in Bellevue Hospital, in the “drunk section” very similar to that shown in Billy Wilder’s The Lost Weekend. My brother died there while experiencing Delirium tremens. It was different from Wilder’s vision but equally depressing to watch.

When he and I were still at home, and throughout his life, he was a voracious reader. The source of most of his books was the mass market paperback. His reading life likely started when that publishing phenomenon was in its infancy.

Billy was raised during the Great Depression in a lower middle, working class background. And like many young from those ranks almost always had a paperback tucked in a pocket somewhere. He left these books all around the apartment where we lived and I was drawn to them. I started to read them but made little distinction between W.R. Burnett, William Faulkner, Dashiell Hammett or James M. Cain. There was also a good sampling of books related to the American Revolution -- always Howard Fast and Kenneth Roberts.

My brother was not much interested in movies, so my interest in that all-encompassing world came not from him. But my passion for books did: from his love of reading, his need for the companionship of books, and his joy in what he had learned.

So at least one good legacy can be found among the cinders of a life long gone – that of a person who could have been so much more.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Nunnally Johnson at the keys

Leonard Mosley recounts the following events in his Darryl Zanuck: the Rise and Fall of Hollywood’s Last Tycoon.

In 1951, Darryl Zanuck and the decision makers at Twentieth Century Fox struggled to implement Cinemascope. It was a revolutionary new process, originally intended for primary releases, using wide screen technology instead of the traditional aspect ratios of movie theatre screens. (Television was encroaching.)

It was difficult, envisioning how the existing Fox movie-making mindset would fit into the new technology. No one had an immediate answer. Even Darryl Zanuck was perplexed. When asked how to handle the transition to Cinemascope, he and the other executives had no immediate solution.

But around that time, Nunnally Johnson returned to Zanuck and Twentieth Century Fox. Johnson was a highly respected Hollywood writer (and producer/director). He was one of the cooler heads to prevail. And when asked how he was going to cope with the new demands of Cinemascope, he told an interviewer:

“Easy. What I’m going to do from now on is put the paper in my typewriter sideways.”

Note: Artwork by Andy Warhol.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Words and Images 58

Suggested by Enola Stewart

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Ten Random Thoughts on the Tenth: March

--- We’re told that when Molly Haskell married Andrew Sarris, Pauline Kael declined to attend the ceremony saying she would attend Molly’s next wedding.

--- Stephen Lang's Stonewall Jackson in Gods and Generals gets me every time.

--- Once, in the MOMA cafeteria, after a Fellini film, the table next to me had three Italian women speaking their language animatedly – and my eyes glanced below their table, looking for subtitles.

--- When I was much younger, Andrew Sarris helped me realize that it is all right not to like The Ox-Bow Incident.

--- Marilyn Monroe after entertaining the troops during the Korean War purportedly told Joe DiMaggio “Joe, you’ve never heard such cheering.” To which The Yankee Clipper replied “Yes … I have.”

--- I prefer the Julien Duvivier / Vivien Leigh Anna Karenina
to the Clarence Brown / Greta Garbo version.

--- When I was around fifty, I took a vacation day from work and went to see a daytime showing of The Purple Rose of Cairo at which a woman on the ticket line asked me: “Why is a young man like you going to a movie when you should be working?”

--- I revere Now Voyageur and Dark Victory and do not object to the term "woman’s pictures," but recoil from the phrase “chick flicks.”

--- When I asked my English friend, Nicholas, who worked in Malaysia for decades, the difference between a typhoon and a hurricane, he told me it was the spelling.

--- I first saw Frances McDormand in Blood Simple but she opened my eyes in Short Cuts.

Note: “Random thoughts” pieces bring to mind the great Jimmy Cannon, whose “Nobody Asked Me, But” set the form. Any similarity stops there.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

A brief afterthought on those ceremonies

For those who might have missed David Hinckley’s review of the televised Oscar ceremonies. From the New York Daily News, Monday, February 28, 2011, the first two paragraphs only:

Partway through the Oscar telecast Sunday night, a well-dressed man and woman informed the worldwide audience that ABC has cut a deal to continue telecasting the Academy Awards through 2020.

But they didn't mean we'll get shows for the next nine years. They meant that at the pace it was moving, Sunday night's show might not finish until 2020.

Source of artwork is Half Hour Please.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Vere Hodgson (four): At the Pictures 2

In Which We Serve

June 20, 1943: Sunday (at Brum). Then Cath and I saw the film In Which We Serve. Splendid. We sat through it twice. Saw Dunkirk and several sea battles. Blitz on Plymouth was exact – wailing of the sirens and the fall of one bomb after another. We have heard them so often, but have been luckier than the family in the film for so far we have not been buried under the debris.

(And on food): May 9, 1943. Sunday. Dr Remy came to tea, and as cakes and scones are uneatable if bought from shops – unless you are starving, we are not – I made some. Tossed together something or other.

The Moon is Down

August 22, 1943: Sunday. Went with Mrs T. to The Moon is Down by Steinbeck, about Norway under the Germans. Cedric Hardwick is the German officer, occupying a mining village. We saw the stunned demeanour of the inhabitants, and the terrible awakening to what had befallen them – and the gradual rise of opposition.

All people inclined to be pacifists should see this film, and they would realize what we have been saved from. The Navy and Air Force saved us by a hair’s breadth. What we owe to those few gallant souls who prepared in time! Just a few people of exceptional intelligence and perspicacity knew long ago and got ready, while the rest of us were stupidly repeating ‘There can be no war ...’ In so many cases these Few lost their lives saving those too blind to see the danger.

(And on food): Plenty of plums, apples and tomatoes in the shops.

Citizen Kane

August 29, 1943: Sunday. Saturday went to see Citizen Kane – one of those old classic films. It was about a blustering unlovely American businessman. His last word on earth was Rosebud, so the film digs back into his life to see what it meant. Never discovered. Most unsatisfactory!

I enjoy listening to the gospel singer on the radio.

(And on food): My osteopath just back from the Castle of Kilrorke in Nairn, where he has a patient. Seems to be 12th C. but every modern convenience inside. As for food they do not know up there that there is a war on. He had cream on his porridge every morning – and pints of it seemed to be wandering around the house.

Life and Death of Colonel Blimp

October 3, 1943: Sunday. Went to see Life and Death of Colonel Blimp. Low created this character in the years before the war as a figure of fun, but when trouble came we had to depend on him and his like, for there was one else. When the new men got going Colonel Blimp was put in the Home Guard. He was a gentleman, and attributed to his enemies his own high motives. Anton Walbrook, as the German of old-fashioned honour, would have pleased Dr Remy. There is a decent German in the film - something rare. However, they do exist.

(And on food): One morning we had coffee at Kunzle’s and an ersatz cream-bun. They tell us that the last genuine Cream Bun in the world was eaten last weekend in Portugal! Now all is finished until the war is over.

Battle of Britain

October 17, 1943: Sunday. Mrs. O. came for the week-end. Went to see the Battle of Britain produced by the Americans. Idea is to present to the American people exactly what we did for the world in 1940-41. Splendid. Mr Churchill gives the introduction. All very vivid – pictures of Hitler and Goering planning this and that against us. Bombing depicted. The women buckling to – men rushing to catch the paratroops or join the Home Guard.

(And on food): October 4, 1943: Sunday. Apple Rings in again and we like them.

San Demetrio London.

February 28, 1944: Monday. Went to see film of San Demetrio about the Jervis Bay Convoy. We follow the fortunes of one lifeboat. After three miserable days they sight the San Demetrio again, their own ship, which ought to have blown up. They reboard her, though in flames and with petrol – she is a Tanker, and after amazing hardships bring her safely to the Clyde.

(And on food): February 27, 1944. Sunday. Lemons on sale this week. I have had four and made pancakes three nights running.

(Other): Queues for the Tubes start at 4 p.m. … children, prams, old people. At Holland Park there are bunks for 500. They have had 1,500 people there this week. They sleep on the platforms with trains passing. One night they had to send the train on as the passengers could not alight among the sleepers.

The First of the Few. (Picture of the burning of Kiev) .

March 5, 1944: Sunday. Saw The First of the Few with dear Leslie Howard. Went with one of my former Wimbledon pupils. It is the story of R.J. Mitchell who invented the Spitfire. He died before the war, but did as much as anyone to win the Battle of Britain, and save us all. I was specially interested in the Schneider Trophy. One year the Italian won it – it was Major de Bernardi with great rejoicings. A nice modest hero he was.

I knew the family well in Florence. When we won the trophy outright I watched from the Solent. Did not realize Lady Houston gave the money for us to enter, that we learned no end from it. In my short-sighted fashion I deplored it all at the time – not being able to see any use in tearing the sky at such speeds. But it was a glorious sight – sky a perfect blue.

I believe Lawrence of Arabia had much to do with the Race. Many great minds were working to save England even then. But most of us little realized it at the time.

Saw also a Picture of the burning of Kiev – how deeply the Russians must feel as they re-enter their ruined cities – seething with the desire for revenge. It was heart rending – mercifully a silent film, as we could hardly have borne to hear the agonizing cries of the women as they found relatives dead by the burning houses. Some turned their faces to the camera. My blood ran cold, thinking how easily it might have happened in London or Birmingham.

(And on food): My first oranges. Lady in next flat queuing up so kindly took my ration book and got me three lovely ones. She waited three quarters of an hour. We have seen orange peel in the street – most refreshing even to look at it.

The Four Feathers

September 11, 1944: Monday. Went to the Cinema. Enjoyed The Four Feathers with Ralph Richardson. Also the News with pictures of the Germans being marched through Moscow. The expression on the faces of the Generals as the population glared at them …

(An ominous entry two days later)

September 13, 1944: Wednesday. We have heard a lot about the big explosion heard all over London on Friday night. There is nothing about it in the papers … word is just going round. But we fear it is the V2 which has arrived.

For those so inclined:

First editions of Vere Hodgson’s Few Eggs and No Oranges (1976) are somewhat difficult to come by. A reprint edition in paperback is currently available from the publisher: Persephone Books, London at 59 Lamb's Conduit Street, London WC1N 3NB. Recommended.

Note: Top image is from the London Transport Museum. Poster: Seeing it Through: Station Woman, by Eric Henri Kennington, 1944.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Vere Hodgson (three). At the Pictures 1

Poster’s note: The bulk of Vere’s work has to do with the war and its impact. Captured in these extracts is the part of each entry dealing primarily with a film she saw. Sidelights about food in the same, or nearby entries, are often included. Vere Hodgson was certainly more interested in onions than in Olivier. Film was but a diversion. Yet we might reflect on what one of those who came before us watched, and thought about, in dark buildings when film was in its Golden Age and the world on a death watch.

“One can only go to bed and trust to wake in the morning” … Vere Hodgson

(Vere Hodgson’s first entry)

June 25, 1940: Tuesday. Last night at about 1 a.m. we had the first air raid of the war on London. My room is just opposite the police station, so I got the full benefit of the sirens. It made me leap out of the bed half way across the room. I shook all over …


September 5, 1940: Thursday (At Brum, i.e., Birmingham). Mother and I are off to Sutton Coldfield to see Ariel and Cecilia. Hope they will come with us to Pinocchio tomorrow. It is warm here. All theatres in Brum are over by a quarter to nine, to let people get home before warnings.

September 7, 1940: Saturday (At Brum, i.e., Birmingham). Much enjoyed Pinocchio. All came back to tea.

The Great Dictator

March 1, 1941: Saturday. Went to see The Dictator today. How I enjoyed it! Superb satire! For all its tomfoolery written with a profundity of serious purpose. The speeches of Hynkel, half-German, half-English are there. People who understood German were even more convulsed than I was. How Dr Remy would enjoy it … and Aunt Emy too. The palace scenes, where Hynkel did not waste a moment, were all in the spirit of German thoroughness. But Mussolini in real life does not smile so much. All done by an East End Jew! How Hitler would writhe if he could see us laughing at him –and the Italians would flash with fury. Last speech was good, but Chaplin has not the magnetic elocution that Charles Laughton had for that kind of appeal.

Goodbye, Mr Chips

June 24, 1941: Tuesday. Went to see Goodbye, Mr Chips. How I enjoyed it. We sat round it twice. Have an idea the boys were from Rugby.

(And on food): Shopping last Saturday I was behind a dear old lady who had been in her prime under the regime of the late Queen Victoria. She asked for salad oil, and was amazed to be told she could not have any – and moreover would not be likely to have any in the future, as it was unobtainable! 'What are we going to do?' She asked, much puzzled. The shop assistant sweetly replied: ‘We will just have to go without Madam.’ The old lady turned away amazed.
Tomatoes are to be 1 /4d a pound on Monday, although I doubt if we will see any. Sardines are getting scarce. I was charged 10½d for a tin containing four.


August 5, 1941: Tuesday. Monday we did Disney’s Fantasia. The idea is that every musical sound makes a pattern and a colour … these were thrown on the screen. Lovely classical music. One composer wrote The Creation, and Disney pictured it all – chaos and earthquakes. Then life appeared with the amoeba, and finally prehistoric beasts who moved in the rhythm of the music. There was a glorious mythological one, where the Flying Horses were among the loveliest creatures I have ever seen. A work of genius.

(And on food): Returned to Auntie’s flat for tea, and opened a tin of pineapple we found among Auntie’s treasures. Also a tin of prawns to go with our salad.

(August 17, 1941: Sunday.) Macaroni seems unobtainable now. A nuissance! Perhaps a shipload will come in. I asked for it the other day, and a man behind me said: ‘Can I have three bowls of gold dust, please ...’ However, there are some figs which is an agreeable change. And we can get green apples. We all have to register for milk this week – but how much we are going to be allowed, I don’t know. I take half a pint a day – but it may not be that much.

[It Started With Eve] and Bombay Clipper

January 11, 1942: Sunday. Even had the energy to go to the Pictures. Managed to get a packet of soap powder. Clutching this began to wait in the queue. My feet as cold as ice; but after waiting half an hour, felt I must wait the other half. Lovely and warm inside. Saw Mr. Churchill giving part of his speech. Looked old, though and I am afraid when the need is over the string will break suddenly. Charles Laughton with Deanna Durbin [It Started With Eve]– very good show. Also Bombay Clipper. But these American films go too fast. In the end I did not know how the villains were defeated, nor on which side they were.

Poster’s note on Bombay Clipper: Directed by John Rawlins. 1941. With William Gargan, Irene Hervey and Maria Montez.

How Green Was My Valley

June 21, 1942: Sunday. Mabel Lucy and I thoroughly enjoyed How Green Was My Valley. Cheapest seat was 2/6d. Enormous price for a film, but is result of Government tax. But it was worth it – all about a Welsh mining valley – feel much more interested in the Welsh now.

(And on food): June 7, 1941: Sunday. Did some cooking for those staying the night. Bought gigantic cauliflowers, and with a piece of cheese sent from S. Africa and a tin of milk, made four dishes of cauliflower au gratin.

Petrified Forest

April 18, 1943: Sunday. Saturday night Marie and I went to Petrified Forest. Setting in Arizona. All very exciting. Came out in daylight. Piccadilly is a thrilling place these days.
(And on food): A confession about a bottle of Lemon Cordial! Brought me by Kit some time ago – rare, so I determined to save it for my visitors. In this I failed utterly. Each night arriving back have felt cruelly thirsty, and this glorious bottle reposing on my shelf was too much. Little by little I have drunk the lot. The craving for lemon juice by the British Public is almost an obsession – we feel we could drink it neat by the gallon.

(Note: These entries will conclude in the next posting.)

For those so inclined:

First editions of Vere Hodgson’s Few Eggs and No Oranges (1976) are somewhat difficult to come by. A reprint edition in paperback is currently available from the publisher: Persephone Books, London at 59 Lamb's Conduit Street, London WC1N 3NB. Recommended.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Vere Hodgson (two): Few Eggs and No Oranges

Vere Hodgson:

And then it came to pass that the war came to Vere Hodgson. First on the radio, then on her local streets and later when the sky was full of aircraft. London: 1940. Ladbroke Road, just up from Holland Park.

Look west to Hammersmith. Look north to Shepherd’s Bush. Look south to the River, look east to Holborn and beyond: to Silvertown, to Canning Town, to The Isle of Dogs. Watch the next wave of aircraft approaching the east to the Docklands, to the flames and the sinking ships and barges. Vere Hodgson, London and England were at war.

All the while, she went to work, went about her private life, visited with friends and listened to the radio. Vere Hodgson drank tea, did without, kept calm and carried on.

She regularly recorded her everyday thoughts about what was happening in London and afar. This social worker entered those reflections in letters, diaries and journals. She wrote about the enemy, until at night his aircraft came again. And Vere Hodgson went to market. In such places it was soon: “few eggs and no oranges.” The phrase eventually moved from sentence to book title. It became the name of her collected wartime compilation, published decades later: Few Eggs and No Oranges. A woman who lived on Ladbroke Road told us about what it was like to be a Londoner at war.

As it came to pass.


Throughout the war Vere Hodgson’s captured thoughts related to her everyday life: philanthropic work, other activities, social group, news of war, and the impact of that conflict on this conscientious woman and her circle. Shortages of food and goods were rarely out of mind. The prospect of death was always in her margins: mentioned and accepted. A cat might cavort or cower as Vere wrote, depending on the proximity of targets and the sounds of exploding bombs. The world, the war and Vere’s pen moved on.

Going to the “pictures” was apparently not a major part of Vere Hodgson’s wartime schedule, but an occasional diversion. Yet offered are her thoughts on films she saw, so that we might reflect when we see the same films now. The next two postings (Vere Hodgson goes to the Pictures) sample her entries on fifteen films that she saw in London or Birmingham and mentioned in Few Eggs and No Oranges. Her comment on Citizen Kane has already been put forth.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Vere Hodgson (one): on Citizen Kane

But then again, during those years, Vere Hodgson did have German bombers with which to contend. Three postings on the good Miss Hodgson and her Few Eggs and No Oranges will follow in days to come.