Showing posts with label Thomas Wolfe. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Thomas Wolfe. Show all posts

23 May 2019

Only the Dead Know Brooklyn


by Eve Fisher

A friend who knows me well sent me the following article -  Weegee's New York City by Christopher Bonanos - in New York Magazine, chock-full of crime-scene photographs from the 1930s.  (Thank you, Betty!)




April 18, 1937: Spurned Suitor Clubs Violinist to Death!  (The trail of blood is where the body was dragged...)  

May 5, 1937: The corpse everyone is checking over is that of Stanley Mannex, a 47-year-old Turkish immigrant, found in the ivy behind the New York Public Library.  (I'd love to know that backstory.)





April 20, 1937: Tony Benedetti was a single father of four from Uniontown, Pennsylvania, underemployed in New York during the Depression. Under a newly passed New York law looking to reduce the number of public charges, his family became the first in the state to be deported — put on a train at Penn Station back to Fayette County, where they were received by local welfare officials.

Two points:  the kids are crying, but dad is smiling.  Is that to cheer them up or what?  And I'd love to know what the local welfare officials did with him and his kids when they got there...



Date unknown, person unknown, location unknown.  But it's New York.  Everyone's wearing hats, and no one looks surprised.  I'm still amazed at how the corpse's hat ended right side up and in apparently perfect condition...

These are a few of the photographs taken by Weegee, a/k/a Arthur Fellig, the legendary crime-and-mayhem photographer of mid-century New York. In 1938, he became the only New York freelance newspaper photographer with a permit to have a portable police-band shortwave radio. Weegee worked mostly at night; he listened closely to broadcasts and often beat authorities to the scene. When other photographers asked him about his technique he supposedly answered, "f/8 and be there".  By the '40s he had pictures in the Museum of Modern Art and had been curated by Edward Steichen.  (Wikipedia)

Weegee's first book of photographs was Naked City. Film producer Mark Hellinger bought the rights to the title from Weegee and made the movie The Naked City in 1948 - which I have not seen - and the police drama of the same name - which I have seen.  I remember all the episodes ended with "There are eight million stories in the naked city. This has been one of them."  BTW, here's the opening of the episode "The Fault in Our Stars" starring a very young Roddy McDowall:


But back to Weegee's photographs - they're everywhere on the internet, from the above to this site where they have been colorized to add to their gruesomeness:  

Pre-Weegee, someone also took these photos from 1910s New York City, and if you continue to scroll down, more Weegee:  

And Paris has more than Murders in the Rue Morgue here:

Now, I'm not into gore, I admit it.  I don't watch autopsies, gory movies, or read torture porn.  But there's more than one way to look at a photograph.  Like the last photo above, the hat lying by itself, looking perfectly fine despite the fact that the dead guy's face was either bashed in or shot and there's blood everywhere.  The other thing that struck me about it, was how the uniformed cop and the detective (?) with the flash camera are leaning, trying to see what the other detective is showing them as he straddles the body.

Straddles:  "See?  Someone came up on him, and shot him, point-blank range, and he took a step or two before he fell."
Uniform:  "What're ya talking about?"
Straddles:  "Look at the trail of blood.  He moved after he was shot, ya blind bat!"
Flash:  "Want me to hit it with a little more light?"

Another aspect of all the dead body shots I've shared here is that there's a lot of bending over in police work.  None of this Sam Spade looking down at his partner's dead body and pointing around.  No, these guys are all getting their faces right in the action, talking with their hands and their mouths.  I'm sure that at least one of them has a flask in his hip or coat pocket, and that they're all smokers.  And I still can't get over how they all manage to keep their hats on.

There also aren't any women standing around.  Which makes sense, because back then, the only woman around at the scene of the crime would be the victim.  And there are a lot of those.  From the woman lying in bed, back to her beloved (?) who just blew her brains out before killing himself, to the girl who was found lying looking calm and drained as if a vampire had shown up moments before...

All of these snapshots are a trip back in time - except that the only thing that's changed is the clothes.  Murder stays the same.  The motivation stays the same (love, jealousy, greed... same old, same old).  The blood stays the same.  The fascination with the crime stays the same.  And that's why we're all here.

BTW, click here to read "Only the Dead Know Brooklyn" by Thomas Wolfe, the New Yorker, June 7, 1935.  Maybe the big guy was Weegee.









15 April 2013

YOU CAN'T GO HOME - Why I Write


by Fran Rizer

If you ever listen to radio, I'm sure you've heard at least one song called "You Can't Go Home Again" from performers like Lari White, The Judds, Bon Jovi, Sugarland, The Statler Brothers, Miranda Lambert, and many others.

Chuck Cannon
One of those songs was written by Chuck Cannon, performer and writer with hits recorded by many of my country favorites including Toby Keith, Willie Nelson, and Ricky Van Shelton.  To me personally, Chuck bears the distinction of being the person who made me aware that I'm short. 

Let me explain that I come from a family in which the women tend to be 4'11", so when I grew up to be 5'3", I looked tall when with my female family members.  I felt tall

At a songwriters' meeting where Chuck Cannon was the featured speaker, he performed his original "You Can't Go Home Again."  The host wanted a picture of the guests and said, "Taller people in the back."

I stepped to the back row beside Chuck.  He gently took my shoulders and moved me to the front row, saying, "You belong up here."  Sure enough, when I received a copy of the photo, not only was the front row the place for me, I was the SHORTEST person there!

Bet you're wondering, "Now where is she going with this?  It should be related to writing and/or mystery, but then, perhaps that's the mystery...what's she writing about today?"

Could it be about short people, even short writers?  William Faulkner was only five feet, five inches tall--taller than I am, but not especially tall for a man. 

Could it be about Chuck Cannon?  He wrote many of my favorite songs, including "How Do You Like Me Now?"

Could it be about literary techniques?  We've recently had blogs about constrained writing and frame stories.  (Actually the stream of consciousness technique is related to the writer today's blog is about.  He's classified as writing his Bildungsroman novels in stream of consciousness technique.)
"Dixieland"
None of those are right.  Some of you liked reading about my awesome moments in music.  Today I'm writing about an awesome moment in my teenaged years involving the person who made me want to be a writer.

The photo to the right shows one of American literature's most famous landmarks.  In an epic, autobiographical novel, this rambling Victorian building was called "Dixieland," but in reality the author grew up there when it was called "Old Kentucky Home."  I read the book when I was about thirteen.  When I got a car and license at sixteen, I took myself to Asheville, North Carolina, to see the house. 

There was a small card on one of the bedroom door frames.  On it was printed, "This is the room where Ben died."  Now, I was a pretty flip teenager, and Ben was a character in the book, but standing at that door brought tears to my eyes.  I thought, "If just the memory of a fiction scene can make me cry, then words are powerful stuff!  I want to do that."

While in Asheville that trip and many times since then, I visited the graves of O. Henry and, within walking distance, the writer who impressed me so --- Thomas Wolfe.
Cover of the first
edition, published
in 1929

I'm not talking about Tom Wolfe, who wrote Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test and feuded with John Updike, Norman Mailer, and Gore Vidal.  I'm speaking of North Carolina's Thomas Wolfe who wrote Look Homeward Angel, which has not been out of print since it was first published in 1929.

Classified as possibly the most autobiographical Bildungsroman (a specific type of coming of age novel) by an American novelist, Look Homeward Angel follows the life of protagonist Eugene Gant from birth to age nineteen.  While I loved visiting the Asheville places Wolfe had used and renamed in the book, the people of Asheville weren't happy with his frank and realistic reminiscences. In fact,  Look Homeward Angel was banned from Asheville's public libraries for seven years. Today, Wolfe has become one of Asheville's most famous citizens, and his boyhood home is a National Historic Landmark museum in his honor.

Thomas Wolfe, 1930-1938
As an early teenager, I simply assumed that the title Look Homeward Angel referred to a stone statue of an angel that both Eugene and Wolfe's fathers used as porch advertisements at family graveyard monument shops each owned. (I saw the angel in a cemetery in Hendersonville, NC.) Wolfe's first title was The Building of a Wall, which he changed to O Lost before renaming it Look Homeward Angel: A Story of a Buried Life.  The title comes from the John Milton poem Lycidas. 

"Look homeward angel now, and melt with ruth; 
And, O ye Dolphins, waft the hapless youth."
                                                            ---   John Milton


Asheville's reaction to Look Homeward Angel played a large part in Wolfe's next book--You Can't Go Home Again, that line so frequently used by songwriters.  (Chuck Cannon also has a song entitled "Look Homeward, Angel.")  I don't believe the inspiration for songs and other prose using Wolfe's titles came directly from Milton. Their influence is Thomas Wolfe.  Wouldn't each of us be filled with pride to have one or more of the titles of our writings inspire the work of so many other writers?

When young Thomas Wolfe gave his manuscript to Scribner's Maxwell Perkins, the editor insisted it be condensed to a more manageable publication size.  They cut sixty thousand words from Wolfe's manuscript before it was published at five hundred, forty-four pages. 

Why do I want to praise Thomas Wolfe to mystery writers?  In addition to being the writer who convinced me I wanted to write, I  believe good writing shares common features, whether literary or specific genre.  My words don't have the power of those of Thomas Wolfe, but I always aim to do for my readers what he did for me.  I want them to react with some kind of emotion.  I want to make them happy or sad or scared, but I always want to create feelings for Callie's fans.  (I cleaned up that last line.  At book-talks, I've been known to say I want my readers to laugh, cry, or wet their undies, but, as I've told you before, I'm trying to become more lady-like in my old age.)

The other reason is to give me the chance to share with you a quote from Thomas Wolfe in the event you have an editor who wants to cut some little darlings from your work:

U S Postage Thomas Wolfe
Memorial Stamp
"What I had to face, the very bitter lesson that everyone who wants to write has got to learn , was that a thing may in itself be the finest piece of writing one has ever done, and yet have absolutely no place in the manuscript one wishes to publish."

                                                        --- Thomas Wolfe
                                                                                                       
How about you?  Is there a particular author, book, or event that made you want to be a writer?

Until we meet again... take care of you!