Monday, February 28, 2011

Orbitz - Worth It?

Just back from my trip to Chico. Overall, it was a worthwhile trip. Lots of tips for advanced editing, though I missed the multi-camera shoot session and one of the theory sessions.

Booked a new trip, to Chicago in April (also to Milwaukee and Peru, IN - but those are other stories).
I booked my trip through United Airlines, rather than Orbitz, Travelocity, or Kayak or any of the travel sites. I did it for several reasons, most related to the trip to Chico.
  • It was actually cheaper (excluding taxes) to book with United directly. I suspect that is going to be frequently true, as the major airlines realize that they can't sell seats to resellers and expect to make money. 
Of course how the airlines are losing money is beyond me. Every seat was filled on almost every flight - the exception was Chico to San Francisco - the Embraer experience - noisy and bumpy. Had to move to the front seat on the left side in order to balance the plane. I'm not joking.  But I am digressing.
  • I am in control of my reservation. If my reservation gets changed I will change it, not the booking agent.
Orbitz and the airline changed my reservations for the Chico trip. I ended up having 7 minutes to get from gate 87 to gate 45 in the Denver airport. I did not make it. I ended up losing part of the first day and all of the last day of the workshop I attended. I am not happy about that. I specified on my original booking that I wanted to return afternoon, and Orbitz changed my flight to the morning.

The airlines are making a big mistake with this charge for baggage checking thing, if you ask me. They're encouraging people to take barely reasonable carry ons to avoid the charge, and then forcing them to check at the gate - which the airlines then have to check through without the fee. Don't see that that's working.

So I'm home. Crabby about parts of the trip -- being herded like sheep or cows, crowded like sardines and fed like -- well, not fed at all. Disappointed a bit in the Super8 - the network was a disaster. But the video editing was fantastic.

Monday, February 21, 2011

What's Wisconsin About?

Just watched the local news - and NBC national news - totally screw the uniions in Wisconsin.

"It's about balancing the budget . . . The Unions are resisting a bill that requires them to pay more for their insurance." This is NBC and the local NBC affiliate, KSN.

They got it wrong. The Unions have said, "We will give back $, but we will not give up our right to organize and negotiate for wages and benefits. We will not give up our right to strike. We will not give up our collective bargaining rights." That's what this is about. This is Republican Union Busting - so that there will be no opposition to the big money the big boys bring and Republicans can turn the whole of the country into Kansas. The news needs to tell the whole story, instead of accepting the Republican frame for the story.

What's the Matter with Kansas?

Nothing with the people, everything with the politics. It's not a state that likes to see that working people get a break. It all belongs to the Koch brothers and Walmart.  I swear we're a wholly owned subsidiary.

The Parent Trap

Just listened to this week's episode of This American Life, titled "The Parent Trap."

The first story was about a mother sending letters from the grave. Mom died when her daughter was a teenager. Her last task on earth was writing letters to her daughter, letters to be delivered on the daughter's birthday, for 13 years.

The daughter, at first, found the letters comforting, then challenging and then annoying, painful and cramping. The mother, a devout Mormon, wished her daughter to follow the Mormon faith as she did. The daughter could not, would not, did not - and that grieved the daughter a great deal. In the story we hear the daughter ask, "Why did you do this, mother?"

I don't know why, but my heart tells me that maybe it was because of a feeling parents have.

We want to keep our children close to us. We love them and it pains us greatly to part from them, so we do the best we can to hold on to them. It is, of course, hopeless, for our children must grow their own paths in life, must way their own ways.

But we try. The pain of admitting that we can't hold on is just too great for our own souls in our unguarded moments. We try, but we know we will fail to hold tight and our children will wander away.

We want them to go, to grow, and to be independent human beings. But when they are gone it can feel enormously lonely.

Perhaps that's why that mother wrote those letters to her daughter. It was just too painful not to.

If you haven't heard this episode, it's well worth your time. This American Life is a Chicago based program - which is probably why it's so good.

Friday, February 18, 2011

My Attitude Toward Sabbatitude

I'm at the middle of the first month of the sabbatical. It's been a great half month.

I've gotten two thirds of my paper on The Front Page into a second draft and have a good handle on the Burkean theory that I want to use in the paper. I've gotten enough Greta Granstedt material to update the Wikipedia and, while I don't yet have a whole concept to guide the writing, I have an inkling of a concept - and bought a great Garbo biography to support the work. It arrived today. On the whole I'm actually well ahead of schedule.

But I'm getting nervous.

Today I returned Shelter Box to Marshal Stanton. I was on time and on point for the Abilene Rotary Club presentation. I went to Lee Becker's brother's funeral. It was a Rotary devoted day. I'm glad to have done it all. (Watch for Shelter Box tent at the Midsommar celebration in June.)

Tomorrow we're off to Omaha for two days. I'll take books and my netbook and I'll work on stuff. But it won't be as intense as it would have been if we had stayed home. I won't get a chance to do any editing on Premiere, which is the object of my next weekend trip to California.

And I'm getting nervous about being away from my sabbatical work. Am I just being un-necessarily paranoid about how I tend to give away my time. I don't think so. I have done it time and again. These months need to be "me time." Not selfish I need to relax and do nothing "me time," but the time I get done what I've been thinking about doing for at least two years.

There's one place where I can actually, perhaps, agree with Ayn Rand. There is virtue in selfishness - so long at it gets balanced with selflessness.

Whose Ox is Gored?

Follow the link to the NY Times blog - which is a pretty poor piece in itself, but does contain this insight:

If you hire people to come and disrupt Congressional "Town Hall" meetings, where the Democratic member is trying to find out what people think, and to correct errors and lies, then you're doing the business of the nation and letting your voice be heard and we ought to listen to you.

But if you support unionized workers, then you're undermining the business of the nation and you ought to switch sides, because everybody knows that unions are the cause of our problems, not big oil taking 140 billion, or big business in Wisconsin getting tax breaks bigger than the budget problem.

Rachel Maddow demonstrated what's going on:

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Why Can't We All Just Get Along?

There's been a bit of controversy among my friends on Facebook.

My friends on the left (and me too) used some hard language about people on the right -- in particular about the stupidty of the South Dakota legislature for thinking that they could sneak a bill through that amounted to an open season on abortion providers without anyone noticing. The excuses offered by the legislator were so patently ridiculous that no one with a brain could grant them credibility. And I said it. These were stupid, even for a Republican dominated legislature.

I didn't call anyone names. But I am angry about the way that Republicans are gutting the public institutions that have served this country well. I'm angry about the way that teachers have been demonized by Republicans. I'm angry about the way education has been dumbed down by Republicans. I'm angry that Republicans have denied the facts of the case and been allowed to get away with it. The anti-science, anti-labor, anti-education, anti-health, anti-everything attitude of the Republican party is more than frustrating.

The idea that a reasonable and modest tax hike - the kind of tax hike that is applied fairly across the board - will "kill jobs" is ludicrous. The idea that we can give $140 Billion to the oil companies but have to cut Medicare, Medicaid, NPR - is absurd.

But the plea was not to call names.

I'm sorry, but the Progressive Left has given in to those pleas while the Tea Party right and their enablers in the Republican leadership trashed the President, the Health Care bill, sensible energy policy, the Speaker of the House, and on and on it goes.

When the Republican leadership steps up and says, "Anyone who questions the President's status as a native born American is a kook and doesn't deserve to be listened to," I'll start giving Republicans respect. The weak knee'd response from Boehner is a joke. When the Republican leadership stands up and says, "The health care bill isn't socialism, that's a point of view with no relationship to reality. Oh, and by the way, there never were death panels," I might give them some credence.

But the Republicans won't, or can't or believe that this is the way to win power, even if it divides the country, breaks the economy and throws most Americans out of the Middle class. The hate, the villification, the ad hominem attacks, the conspiracy theories have not come from both sides of the political spectrum. It is the right that has the microphones, the power and the money and have been bullying the left, then whining when someone calls as lie a lie, a stupid idea a stupid idea, a liar a liar and a bully a bully.

I'm sorry, but the conservatives in this country have forfeited the moral high ground from which they can call out "be nice, can't we all just get along?" Take a look at Ohio Governor Kasich's attitude toward the cop who gave him a ticket ("He's an idiot," says the Governor.)

We can all get along -- but it can't be just the folks on the left. As soon as Rush Limbaugh and Glen Beck conduct themselves in a civil and reasonable fashion, we should treat them with respect.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Wikipedia Snobbery

Many of my colleagues decry the use of Wikipedia.

At least one outlaws the use of Wikipedia in their class. I recall another complaining that this was a sign of general academic degradation -- students thinking that looking something up on Wikipedia actually counted as research! It's a tertiary source! was the insistence.

Another voiced what is probably the commonest complaint about Wikipedia -- anyone can edit and there's no guarantee that the facts presented are accurate. "I've found several errors in the page about my research speciality," was approximately the way it was phrased.

As I demonstrated in my chest pounding post from yesterday, just because something's in a book doesn't mean that the author got the "facts" "right."

I noted several important details about Greta Granstedt's life that Hans Wollstein got wrong in his book. I admire Hans' work. I think I'll be able to rely on it for information about other Scandinavians in Hollywood, but if I have any doubt, I'll need to check sources and reliability. That's a standard that can be applied to anything out of the Wikipedia -- just as it ought to be applied to anything out of any encyclopedia or any text for that matter.

But if we're concerned about the reliability of the Wikipedia maybe we academics should do something about it. Beyond just decrying. We academics are good at decrying. We're the little old ladies of intellectual society, busy decrying and decrying.

We could do something more. We could edit pages in Wikipedia where we're actual experts.

I'm becoming an expert on Greta Granstedt, and I've taken up editing that page. It's not much more difficult than typing. I've got a ways to go before I get to be a power user, but even with just three days editing experience, I've managed to create links to other Wikipedia pages, to links outside the Wikipedia. I've learned how to italicize and bold face.

It's a bit more challenging than writing a blog post, but not much. And it's a whole lot more constructive than decrying!

Monday, February 14, 2011

Feeling Like an Expert

I have a new feeling of expertise. It comes with an "Ah-ha!" moment. Not "ah-ha" as in Eureka! I discovered something! but "Ah-ha! I know better!"

Today I got the book I've been waiting a month for! Hooray!

Strangers in Hollywood is Hans Wollstein's 1994 study of Scandinavians in the movies from the silent era to the Second World War. It came all the way from a bookstore in Sussex, and it took a long route to get here. It's been traveling since January 10th.

I've been anxiously awaiting, in part to see what Hans actually said about Greta Granstedt. I knew, in outline. I knew in part what he'd written because it was featured on several web sites.
So I immediately turned to page 128 and began reading.

"Ah-ha!" I exclaimed. "He's wrong. She wasn't born in Malmö. She didn't make a film debut in Buck Privates. And she never played in Swedish language films, because she didn't speak Swedish."

Of course, I knew that Hans had retailed the story about Greta being born in Sweden. I'd even had a chance to correspond with Hans about the issue, and he reassured me that the information, while likely faulty, was from the studio publicist, which was why it was faulty.

This isn't the only published error I've found in the last two days. In a study of Hollywood Romantic comedy I found erroneous details about The Front Page. In a book about Howard Hawks (I think) I found errors in the description of the plot of Scarface. These weren't web sites by amateurs, these were books, written by professional researchers and writers. Errors!


There's the expert snobbiness coming out. Stay tuned for my post on Wikipedia.

Here's a clue, the next post will have to do with our academic prejudice against Wikipedia.

Sunday, February 13, 2011


It's times like this that prove to me that my second career -- as an academic -- is the better career for me.

The past two days I've been rummaging around the dusty corners of the internet and peering into strange and curious volumes of forgotten lore, i.e., two volumes by Ben Hecht. And the finds! Remarkable.

I found, for example, that Greta Granstedt's second husband, Ramon Ramos was a Latin band leader and a tango instructor, and that Greta danced the tango with him in Miami. It seems likely that he met her when he came out to Hollywood and did some tango instruction for the "film colony" in the spring of 1933.

In the fall of 1933 she was in Miami, and featured for what were being called "Tea dances," which, the Biltmore publicist assured the public "were all the rage in Paris and other resort cities."

What does the Argentine tango look like? You can get a picture by watching Donny Osmond learn to do it for DWTS.

The pair were only a pair for a year, and then Greta was off to her fifth marriage.

Greta went on to marry Max DeVega, but that lasted for three years and was annulled, because Max was apparently still married to someone else. So, marriages one, two five and six were annulled. Marriages three  and four ended in divorce. But when Greta tied the knot with bachelor number seven, the papers carried the story that it was her second (though by even by a technical count it was her third) and his first.

Lucky Mr. 7/3, Arthur G. Forbes was eight years her junior. Together they adopted a child, whom they named Christopher Michael. When they divorced, in 1951, the court ruled the adoption valid and gave Greta custody of Christopher Michael, then 5.

Issues to sort out, things to find.

  1. A photo of Ramon Ramos - which I might be able to do in Chicago, since Ramos opened the Camellia House at the Drake Hotel in the late 1940's. There has to be a photo of him, either at the historical society or in the photo archives at the public library.
  2. Some notice of his disposition. I can track him to the early 1950's, but then he just disappears. I suspect that he went back to whatever Latin country he came from, possibly Argentina. Or maybe he returned to Miami and died in obscurity. So far, no search of obits has turned up one for the band leader. He may, if I'm reading the sources correctly, have been the band leader who introduced "The Mexican Hat Dance" to America.
  3. What happened to Christopher M. Forbes? That one may be as hard to track down as the husband Arthur G. Forbes. The names are not as common as Ramon Ramos, but they are fairly common. He'd be 66 today, if he is alive. There was still a great deal of Greta's career ahead of her in 1951, so he'd have stories, if we can find him.
  4. That London trip - it's listed on, but I can't find anything else about it. She supposedly leaves London and arrives in New York in July of 1933. But when did she go to London? Why?
  5. Broadway? Someone - and I'll have to look see who - wrote that Greta had a Broadway career. If so, when and in what shows? Given the number of movies she did for every year except 1933, it couldn't have been early in her career. It might have come in the 1940's, particularly in the immediate postwar era. Have to check Broadway show databases - maybe best plays for the late 40's.
So I've discovered lots of stuff that has led to lots of questions. And that makes me happy. I've also advanced  the Ben Hecht side of the research, finishing a major portion of Letters from Bohemia and some of A Child of the Century. I love doing this kind of digging. It makes me feel like I'm part of History Detectives.

Seque to Elvis Costello's song

Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Garbo Effect

I'm fascinated by Irene's name change.

When did it happen? All indications are that she began to call herself Greta in 1927. It's the name she uses in her first picture, and the name she consistently uses in her film career.

The name change is related to the post from two days ago: how did Greta get to Hollywood.

But the question of the day is why did she choose the name Greta and why did she choose (if she did) to present herself as being from Malmö.

I contend that it is a sign of the Garbo factor.

We forget how popular and how influential Garbo was. From the time of The Temptress (1926) until her retirement from the screen, she was immensely popular and immensely influential. One of my favorite Garbo images is in a 1938 Walter Lantz cartoon - The Hollywood Bowl. All the stars are there. Garbo is a cigarette girl.

Then there's the 1936 Carole Lombard vehicle, The Princess Comes Across. Lombard plays a Brooklyn would be star who pretends to be Princess Olga of Sweden, crossing the Atlantic to become the newest star for Republic pictures (or some such film company). There's a murder mystery, a bit of big band music and a revelation that everyone is pretending to be someone other than the person they actually are.

When the boat lands in New York, Lombard's character has to address the press. She gets greeted by Mr. Gustafson and responds, in Swedish, "jag tackar dej. Jag är så glad . . ."

It was the last time I watched the film that I finally realized, "She's doing a Garbo imitation." Her accent, the pitch of her voice, to the accent, to the phrasing, to the look. Compare Lombard from the film with Garbo from approximately the same period.

Here's Lombard as she appears when she first gets on the board for America.

And here's Garbo. Not as glammed up as Lombard in The Princess Comes across, but notice the eyes, the mouth. The Lombard is a parody of the Garbo, and this Garbo is fairly typical of the images of her from the period.

So, did Greta decide to be Greta because of Garbo? I don't have evidence of Garbo's influence over Greta Granstedt. I'm speculating that she did decide that it was a good commercial move to be Greta from Sweden.

Even if you don't think Greta G became Greta G because of Greta G, do see if you can get a copy of The Princess Comes Across. It's a fun movie, a blend of comedy and mystery. See if you don't think that Lombard is doing a Gustafsson imitation. Yes, the fellow who greets Princess Olga has the same last name as Garbo, who was Greta Lovisa Gustafsson. Just a coincidence? I don't think so.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Historical Society Talk?

I'm supposed to talk to the Smoky Valley Historical Society tonight. The snow means I probably won't get a chance to do that.

Instead, I'll put a bit of my current research up as a blog post. Maybe I'll keep posting throughout the sabbatical, adding things as I discover new insights.

I'm studying the image of the Swedish American in American comedic films from 1931 to 1970, with a few outliers (Sweedie Learns to Swim in 1914 and The Producers in 2005). I don't know how long it's going to take to get a whole book done - I've a good idea of the content, but it take time to research and write.

During this sabbatical I plan on getting two major portions of the work done, and perhaps get to a third. The two I plan on getting done are The Front Page and The Garbo Factor - which is what I'm titling the section about Greta Granstedt.

The Granstedt section is going to offer considerable challenge.

For example, she was married 8 times, but I can find details about only one of her husbands, Max DeVega. That means some digging in archives. Yeah! I love digging in archives. But where? Probably in Los Angeles and I've no money to go to Los Angeles. Well, I guess I'll be recruiting family to help. We'll see what April and May bring.

The other, really interesting problem I've encountered early in the research is separating fact from fiction.

Hans Wollstein wrote about Greta in two books. In both he listed her as being from Malmö. Other sources listed her as being from Scandia, Kansas.

I contacted Hans and he said that the information he had was information that had come from the studios, and he didn't know which was the correct information. A bit of follow up and I found distant relatives who confirmed that Greta was, indeed, from Scandia. Her birth name was Irene, and she was one of four children.

The Granstedt family was one of the original five families who settled the area, a kind of colony of Swedes, who hoped to become a colony of Scandinavians (which is why the name Scandia.)

The other fact/fiction debate I've already encountered is how Greta got from San Francisco to Los Angeles for the start of her movie career (1927),

The common story is repeated on several web sites and in Brad Dimock's book about Glen and Bessie Hyde, a young couple who were lost on an attempt to run the rapids of the Colorado River as a honey moon trip. The story that Dimock tells and others retell is that Greta was working in San Francisco as an artists model. She shared a room with Bessie Halley, and the girls were joined by Greta's brother Theodore, jr. In July of 1927 Greta and Bessie decided to take a cruise to Los Angeles. On the way Greta decided to change the name she used from Eraine (a variant of her birth name) to Greta and to become a movie star. It was on this trip that Bessie met Glen Hyde, whom she subsequently married - and who disappeared six months after the cruise from San Francisco to Los Angeles.

That's a great story.

The problem is that it's contradicted by the story published in the Kansas City Star in early September of 1929, and reprinted on September 12, 1929 in the Belleville Telescope.

After Greta got herself exiled from Mountain View and was estranged from her parents (1923), she moved to San Francisco. That much there's agreement on. But here's what the 1929 newspaper article says about Greta's move to LA.

"Life thereafter was filled with ups and downs for the girl. Finally when nearly starving Miss Granstedt 'hitch hiked' from San Francisco to Hollywood with a girl chum, Geraldine Andrews."
Rather a large difference. I'm going to definitely have to do some digging. I've already tried to contact Brad Dimock through Facebook to see what his sources are. I know what I'd like to be true - which means that the opposite is likely the case.

A small, but interesting problem.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Super Silly God Talk

The Packers won. They were the best team in American football. 

Or were they?

One of the first interviews after the victory had a gem from one of the evangelical christians who drop to one knee after a touchdown, touch their foreheads and then point to the sky. Sometimes with a self crossing, sometimes without. Maybe often without. I tend not to pay as much attention to the alternative touchdown dance as the camera operators.

Most post game interviews are filled with cliches. We knew they were going to give us a run for our money. . . We had to pick back up the momentum . . . He's like that . . . 

At the end of the game yesterday, however, one of the evangelical types brought the god to it. "To God be the glory . . . " was his mantra. I think he said it two or three times. It left me wondering.

First, does this player, in his evangelical zeal, remember how god got the glory?

Usually god got the glory, in the old testament, by playing for the less well prepared, less well equipped, and less talented army. If god fought for the guys who had the talent and the arms and the numbers, where would be god's glory? It would have been hogged by a David or a Saul or a Solomon - and you know those guys didn't need their egos stroked. So god generally wanted to diminish the size of the forces so that his glory would be the greater. 

It's the same strategy that Henry V adopts on Saint Crispen's Day: 

"If we are mark'd to die, we are enow
To do our country loss; and if to live,
The fewer men, the greater share of honour.
God's will! I pray thee, wish not one man more."

The apostle Paul says much the same thing when reminding the Corinthians of god's choice of them to be children. "God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise . . . what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are . . ." It's the same impulse. All the glory to god, none of the glory to human strength and might and smarts and power and playbook.

So, what this Packer evangelical was saying was that nothing came from his team: that the Steelers were, actually and objectively, the better team, with all the equipment to overpower the Packers. The Packers were the lowest ranked team ever to make it to and win the superbowl. That's because that's the way god wanted it.

He's saying that there couldn't have been a less deserving team. God wanted the Packers to win. 

What's God got against the Steelers?

Does Las Vegas know about this? What happens to the odds makers if god's picking favorites? Should Lost Wages now stop calculating and start praying?

These are profound questions.

Or maybe the ritual post-game interview should be abandoned so players stop saying stupid stuff and we stop listening to it.