CERF’S UP

In his comment to 20/20 BEHINDSIGHT (my May 20 post which contained a look back at TWENTY QUESTIONS), long-time blog buddy Don Frankel mentioned WHAT’S MY LINE? (another old TV game show). It so happens that one of the regulars on that show, humor writer and publisher (co-founder of RANDOM HOUSE) Bennett Cerf had chosen the 25th of May (1898) to be born; thus, today I honor his birthday by posting a selection of favorite Cerf puns and quotes (and high time I returned the favor, considering that lo, some twenty-plus years ago, RANDOM HOUSE published several of my poems in THE RANDOM HOUSE TREASURY OF LIGHT VERSE).

But first, let’s take a look back at one of the WHAT’S MY LINE? programs from the same year as the TWENTY QUESTIONS clip shown in my previous post:

There is little question, I think you’ll agree, that WHAT’S MY LINE? was a step up in class compared to TWENTY QUESTIONS…..so it’s time to hit the Cerf (as beach bums refer to the swells) and ride the wave….to wit:

Gross ignorance is 144 times worse than ordinary ignorance.

The confused young man couldn’t decide whether to marry Kathryn or Edith. Try as he might, he just could not make up his mind. Unwilling to give up either, he strung them along far too long. This indecision continued until both women tired of the situation and left him for good. Moral of the story: You can’t have your Kate and Edith too.

Then there was the young female comic who was promised good roles in a hit TV show. All she had to do was divide her favors between the star and the producer. But it was just a sham; she never got any air time at all. You might even say she was….shared skit less.

There once was a student named Bessor
Whose knowledge grew lesser and lesser.
It at last grew so small
He knew nothing at all
And today he’s a college professor.

The Detroit String Quartet played Brahms last night. Brahms lost.

I shouldn’t be surprised  — it was four against one.

And on that note, I bid thee a fond fare well.

 

 

 

HIGH FIVE FOR FIVE STARS

Each of the five days since my last post was the birthday of at least one iconic figure in music or film who left lasting memories for those who appreciate legacies in artistry. I could easily go overboard writing in depth about any of these mid-May arrivals, but maybe it’s best to lessen my losses by not overly testing readers’ patience (O me of little faith!):

May 11 — IRVING BERLIN (1888-1989). Perhaps the most prolific composer in American history, with an estimated 1,500 songs to his credit, including the scores for 19 Broadway shows and 18 Hollywood films (three of which were Astaire-Rogers musicals). Writing both words and music (relatively rare for his era), his hits include seasonal evergreens White Christmas and Easter Parade, as well as the red, white and blue God Bless America. His lyrics may lack the wit and sophistication of Cole Porter and Lorenz Hart, but there’s no denying the emotional appeal of such songs as….

May 12 — KATHERINE HEPBURN (1907-2003). In the Golden Era of Hollywood, was there ever a more successful, fiercely independent woman than Katherine Hepburn?  Successful? It’s hard to argue against receiving a record four Academy Awards for Best Actress, and being named the greatest female star of Classic Hollywood Cinema by the American Film Institute. Independent? Her own words say it all:

“I have not lived as a woman. I have lived as a man. I’ve just done what I damn well wanted to, and I’ve made enough money to support myself, and ain’t afraid of being alone.” (Hard as it may be to imagine the Bryn Mawr-educated Hepburn uttering “ain’t,” I ain’t about to correct her quote.)

“We are taught you must …. never blame yourself. It’s never your fault. But it’s always your fault, because if you wanted to change, you’re the one who has got to change.”

“As one goes through life, one learns that if you don’t paddle your own canoe, you don’t move.”

“Life gets harder the smarter you get, the more you know.”

“Politicians remain professional because the voters remain amateur.”

NOTE: For my ode to another May 12 bundle of joy, see my post of May 12, 2015.

May 13 — ARTHUR SULLIVAN (1842-1900). Can’t place the name? How about Arthur Sullivan of GILBERT AND SULLIVAN fame? Who doesn’t enjoy their great comic operas such as THE PIRATES OF PENZANCE, THE MIKADO and H.M.S. PINAFORE — the latter of which I have loved since When I was a Lad:

May 14 — SIDNEY BECHET (1897-1959). This is a name you almost certainly can’t place unless you’re a classic jazz fan….but if you are such a fan, you know him as a major figure in jazz annals since his recording debut in 1923. New Orleans born, he spent the last decade of his life in France, where he died on the same day — May 14 — that he was born. Here he is on soprano sax in a 1950s recording from the soundtrack of Woody Allen’s magical MIDNIGHT IN PARIS:

May 15 — JOSEPH COTTON (1905-1994). I have previously mentioned Joseph Cotton in regard to his co-starring role (with Orson Welles and Alida Valli) in one of my favorite films, THE THIRD MAN. He first met Welles in 1934, beginning a life-long friendship and on-and-off association with Welles in numerous plays, radio dramas and films, as well as co-starring with Katherine Hepburn in the 1939 Broadway play THE PHILADELPHIA STORY. But it is in his role as Holly Martens in THE THIRD MAN that he stands alone (literally so, in the end), and I can think of no more fitting way to end this post than with that indelible closing scene from the film (to the tune of Anton Karas’ Third Man Theme):

AGE WISE

For the benefit of my fellow geezers out there who may not be aware of it, May is OLDER AMERICANS MONTH (not to be confused with NATIONAL SENIOR CENTER MONTH (September) or NATIONAL ACCORDION MONTH (June). Accordionly, May you and I bask in the recognition which is due us for living long enough to pass along our well-earned wisdom to those who don’t want to hear it.

To be sure, there is also a slight  drawback about old age: there’s not much future in it….but otherwise, it’s not a bad time to be alive. At any rate, it beats the alternative — or so they say (as if “they” have experienced said alternative).  On the flip side, there are many timely quotes on the age-old subject of age, so let’s put on our reading glasses and see if we can make heads or tails of some of them:

If  I’d known I was going to live this long, I’d have taken better care of myself. –Anonymous

An archaeologist is the best husband any woman can have: the older she gets, the more interested he is in her. –Agatha Christie

Age does not diminish the extreme disappointment of having a scoop of ice cream fall from the cone. –Jim Fiebig

Millions long for immortality who don’t know what to do with themselves on a rainy Sunday afternoon. –Susan Ertz

Old age is like a plane flying through a storm. Once you’re aboard, there’s nothing you can do. –Golda Meir

Growing old is mandatory; growing up is optional. –Chili Davis

You’re only as old as the girl that you feel. –Groucho Marx

Time may be a great healer, but it’s a lousy beautician. –Anonymous

If you worry, you die. If you don’t worry, you also die. So why worry? –Mike Horn

I was going to use that last quote to close with the song DON’T WORRY, BE HAPPY, but on the occasion of the birthday (May 10, 1899) of the never-grows-old Fred Astaire, this song and dance make me happy to change my tune:

 

 

 

A “TOUCH OF EVIL” GENIUS

The word “genius” was whispered into my ear, the first thing I ever heard, while I was still mewing in my crib. So it never occurred to me that I wasn’t until middle age. –Orson Welles

“Come on, read my future for me.”
“You haven’t got any.”
“What do you mean?”
“Your future is all used up.”
–Orson Welles (drunken sheriff) & Marlene Dietrich (fortune teller), in TOUCH OF EVIL

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Tomorrow marks the birthday of Orson Welles (May 6, 1915 — the same day Babe Ruth hit his first major league home run). Welles, as you may well know, was “the ultimate auteur” director, co-writer, and star (at age 25) of CITIZEN KANE, considered by many film critics to be one of the greatest movies ever made — and it isn’t even my favorite Welles’ picture (but I will tell of two that are favorites).

The life story of such a complex, larger-than-life legend is beyond the scope of this post, and could itself make as great a movie (CITIZEN WELLES?) as it made a great biography, aptly titled simply ORSON WELLES (another of my library book sale bargain buys) by Barbara Leaming….which leads me to this Welles quote from her book:

“I see The Third Man every two or three years — it’s the only movie of mine I ever watch on television because I like it so much.”

Great minds must indeed think alike, because he and I are of one mind regarding THE THIRD MAN — it is the one Welles’ movie I have watched many times over the years.

Turning from that “non-auteur” film in which Welles acted but didn’t direct, to films Welles both directed and starred in, my favorite is TOUCH OF EVIL (1958). During the 1940s, the mercurial Welles increasingly didn’t see eye-to-eye with movie moguls and had become persona non grata in Hollywood. Leaving for Europe, he starred in the 1948 Italian film BLACK MAGIC (he, by the way, was a wizard of an amateur magician and member of The International Brotherhood of Magicians and the Society of American Magicians), followed by THE THIRD MAN (1949) and several other British and Italian films and radio series into the 1950s. TOUCH OF EVIL was his third film following his return to Hollywood in 1956.

More Welles quotes:

Even if the good old days never existed, the fact that we can conceive such a world is, in fact, an affirmation of the human spirit.

Race hate isn’t human nature; race hate is the abandonment of human nature.

I don’t pray because I don’t want to bore God.

I started at the top and worked down.

Again great minds think alike — I started this post at the top and worked down….and now nothing remains but to go into my disappearing act.

 

 

HUSBAND APPRECIATION DAY

The third Saturday in April, which happens to be today, is HUSBAND APPRECIATION DAY. Unfortunately (or fortunately, as the case may be), I have but one wife to appreciate me. Not that I’m greedy, you understand, but I can’t help wondering what it would be like having many wives appreciate me — like in such open-minded countries as Afghanistan, where polygamy is a common practice. Speaking of practice, practice may make perfect, but prudence dictates that such things should be checked out before one plunges into it.

Luckily, one has only to turn to Googlepedia to find pertinent reports. For example, a well-educated Imam of Islam, Mohammed Bello Abubakar, was quoted in The Christian Science Monitor and the BBC as saying, “I married 86 women and there is peace in the house — if there is peace, how can this be wrong? A man with ten wives would collapse and die, but my own power is given by Allah. That is why I have been able to control 86 of them.” By the time of his death on January 28 at 92 (years, not wives), he actually had not 86, not 92, but 120 wives, and had fathered 203 children. And I thought I was busy.

But Bello Abubakar was a piker at polygamy compared to that wisest of Old Testament wife hoarders, King Solomon, who is said to have had up to 1,000 wives….not to mention 300 concubines on the side. Apparently, it helps to get religion if one hopes to honey-up and handle hives of wives. Bee that as it may, the problem is that one can’t grab unto just any religion in order to have one’s fill of mates. For example, I was raised Catholic, which is not the most reasonable religion in the world when it comes to conjugal largesse. On top of that — though I am now free of such doctrinaire prohibition — the secular powers-that-be in America maintain equally unenlightened views in marital matters. So you can see what we poor, monogamous men are up against in so-called liberal democracies.

Of course, we could resort to bigamy, but at what cost? It’s a sad state of affairs when you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t. But never let it be said that I’m not a broad-minded guy — thus, I call on the following sexpert testimony, which unfortunately (or fortunately, as the case may be) includes no female witnesses:

Bigamy is having one wife too many. Monogamy is the same. –Oscar Wilde

The best argument against bigamy is that it leaves a man no place to hang his clothes. –Evan Esar

Bigamy is the only crime where two rites make a wrong. –Bob Hope

Why a man would want a wife is a mystery to bachelors; why a man would want two wives is a bigamystery. –Evan Esar

Polygamy, n. A house of atonement, fitted with several stools of repentance, as distinguished from monogamy, which has but one.–Ambrose Bierce (The Devil’s Dictionary)

Brigham Young originated mass production [in America], but Henry Ford was the one who improved on it. –Will Rogers

Polygamy: an endeavor to get more out of life than there is in it. –Elbert Hubbard

Every man should have four wives: a Persian, with whom he can converse; a woman from Khorasan, for the housework; a Hindu woman to raise the children; and one from Transoxiana, whom he can beat as a warning to the others. –Mirza Aziz Koka

That last quote seems a bit over the top, I must admit. How could the average person be expected to know where the hell Khorasan and Transoxiana are?

 

FOR YOU, MORE HUMOR

N’yuk-n’yuk-n’yuk! –Curly Howard, The Three Stooges

April being NATIONAL HUMOR MONTH, I thought I’d humor you with humor-us woids of wisdom from some of my favorite humor-ists. I’d have begun with a self-sample, but thought it best to start on a higher plane — and who in comedic history soared higher than Curly when it comes to debonair comedy? So it is written that I must take second place in my own post (third, if you count comedienne Joan Rivers’ intro to my poem):

THE DIVINE COMEDY CLUB

Humor is God’s gift to all of us.
–Joan Rivers

Thank God for funny
because seriously
we could be
dying out there.

Being a comedian is a lonely occupation; you stand on the stage talking to yourself, being overheard by audiences. –Fred Allen

Humor is merely tragedy standing on its head with its pants torn. –Irvin S. Cobb

Humor is just another defense against the universe. –Mel Brooks

When humor works, it works because it’s clarifying what people already feel. It has to come from someplace real. –Tina Fey

Humor is the first of the gifts to perish in a foreign tongue. –Virginia Woolf

Start every day off with a smile and get it over with. –W. C. Fields

The secret source of humor is not joy but sorrow; there is no humor in Heaven. –Mark Twain

Imagination was given to man to compensate him for what he is not; a sense of humor to console him for what he is. –Francis Bacon

I don’t want to run for office; there’s already too many comedians in Washington. –Will Rogers

Without a sense of humor, I don’t know how people make it. –Marlo Thomas

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We close on an upbeat note from this laughing-at-life jazz great whose birthday is April 7:

 

ST. PATRICK’S DAY? BAH! HUMBUG!

Here it is two days before March 17, and I’m resigning myself to be the Grinch who stole St. Patrick’s Day. Being a writer of (part) Irish heritage — and thus feeling obliged to beget my readers a post to celebrate the occasion — I’ve been roiling me brain to come up with something about Ireland’s fifth-century snake-chaser that isn’t the same old blarney, but I’ve hit a stone wall stouter than those that subdivide the Irish countryside:

The Stone Walls of Ireland

Enough already. If St. Patrick thinks I’m going to waste another second of my busy day refraining from raining on his parade, he’s got another think coming. There are plenty of other dead fish in the Irish Sea who merit time in the sun, and though it may raise a stink, I am going to turn this post over to them and say “Bah! Humbug!” to St. Patrick.

I showed my appreciation of my native land in the usual Irish way by getting out of it as soon as I possibly could. –George Bernard Shaw

I am allergic to all Irish wit, charm and humor not provided by myself. –Denis Brogan

Good Lord, what a sight/After all their good Cheer/For people to fight/In the midst of their Beer. –Jonathan Swift (from THE DESCRIPTION OF AN IRISH-FEAST)

The lanky hank of a she in the inn over there
Nearly killed me for asking the loan of a glass of beer:
May the devil grip the whey-faced slut by the hair,
And beat bad manners out of her skin for a year.
If I asked her master he’d give me a cask a day;
But she, with the beer at hand, not a gill would arrange!
May she marry a ghost and bear him a kitten, and may
The High King of Glory permit her to get the mange.
–James Stephens (from RIGHTEOUS ANGER)

For the Great Gaels of Ireland/Are the men that God made mad,/For all their wars are merry/And all their songs are sad. –G. K. Chesterton

Other people have a nationality. The Irish and the Jews have a psychosis. –Oscar Wilde

The actual Irish weather report is really a recording made in 1922, which no one has had occasion to change. –Wilfred Sheed

I saw a fleet of fishing boats…I flew down, almost touching the craft, and yelled at them, asking if I was on the right [course] to Ireland. They just stared. Maybe they didn’t hear me. Maybe I didn’t hear them. Or maybe they thought I was just a crazy fool. An hour later I saw land. –Charles Lindbergh (2nd day of first solo transatlantic flight, 5/21/1927)