Friday, March 5, 2010


Guaranteed to Make You Thinner!

In the novel Laura by Vera Caspary, the supercilious esthete Waldo Lydecker admits that among his failings are “obesity” and “the softness of pale flesh.” He stands “three inches above six feet,” but “the magnificence of my skeleton,” he tells us, “is hidden by the weight of my flesh.” Lydecker’s description of himself is supported by a reaction to his behavior later in the novel by the detective, Mark McPherson: “I felt like picking up that big hunk of blubber and bouncing him like a ball.”

So, when it came to casting the bloated Lydecker for the famous 1944 film adaptation, who got the juicy role? The decidedly lean Clifton Webb.


When Hickey, the main character of Eugene O’Neill’s The Iceman Cometh, enters near the end of Act I, he is described in the stage directions as “about fifty, a little under medium height, with a stout, roly-poly figure.” The description continues as follows:

“His face is round and smooth and big-boyish with bright blue eyes, a button nose, a small pursed mouth. His head is bald except for a fringe of hair around his temple and the back of his head.”

Considering this description, who would have been the perfect physical embodiment of Hickey on stage or in the 1973 film version? Why, Don Rickles, of course.

Instead, the most memorable portrayal of Hickey on stage and in a TV adaptation was by Jason Robards, Jr., famous for his lean-and-hungry look, while the 1973 film version featured another unplump Hickey in Lee Marvin.


During a respite in the climactic duel between Hamlet and Laertes (Act V, Scene 2) Gertrude offers her son her “napkin” [handkerchief] to “rub thy brows.” Hamlet, she says, is “fat, and scant of breath.” But when was the last time you saw a Ricklesesque Hamlet on stage?


The conclusion is clear: If you wish to be thinner, get someone to play you!

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Listen . . .

. . . Do you Want to Know a Secret?

What do MI6 [the British Secret Intelligence Service], the CIA, Michael Heseltine [former Tory bigwig], and Yuri Andropov [former Soviet-–and KGB—leader] have in common?

According to convicted art conman John Drewe, they were all involved in a covert international arms deal conspiracy that singled out Drewe as its victim. The jury at his trial did not swallow his conspiracy allegations, and Drewe was found guilty and sentenced to six years in pokey.*

Impressive as Drewe’s covey of conspirators is, it pales beside the litany of plotters supposedly involved in the John F. Kennedy assassination. According to Wikipedia:
Most [conspiracy spotters] put forth a criminal conspiracy involving parties as varied as the CIA, the KGB, the American Mafia, Mossad, FBI director J. Edgar Hoover, former Vice President Richard Nixon, sitting Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson, Cuban president Fidel Castro, anti-Castro Cuban exile groups, the Federal Reserve, the military-industrial complex, representatives of Big Business, or some combination of those entities and individuals.”**

More sober-minded individuals might wonder why—after nearly half a century—at least one insider (say, a KGB defector, a Mafia turncoat, or a disaffected ex-Castroite) has not broken silence. Think of the humongous publisher’s advance for his revelations! But not a peep, not a hint has reached the public’s ear. And that is because there was no conspiracy. Putting together a conspiracy from such a rag-tag collection of mutually-antagonistic people and organizations would have been more daunting than gathering a representative sample of Hatfields and McCoys, Montagues and Capulets for an evening of whist.

Ben Franklin once remarked that three can keep a secret—if two of them are dead. Which observation has led me to the formation of my latest Law:

There are no unknown conspiracies.

Do You Promise Not to Tell?