"Paleo Camera," March 15th, 2015, Studio 10 Gallery, Brooklyn. running time: 00:38:44.
Matt Freedman: Well, thanks for coming out. This is the second night of the eight nights of stories that sort of overlap and interweave and I’m very happy to see that many of the people in tonight’s stories are here in one way or another.
About 20 years ago, a friend of mine who's not here, unfortunately; Paul, who's also known as Doctor Crypton, Master of Puzzles and Smartest Man in the World, was contracted by the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago to create a puzzle for their 50th anniversary celebration. I lived near the museum. I used to go to the museum a lot. Paul is my friend and he said, “Do you want to help me make the puzzle?”, to which I said, “Of course”, because it was an excuse to go into the museum and hang out and do things that I couldn't legally do when I was a little kid. The museum was built at the time of the Chicago World's Fair. After the fair was over it was supposed to come down, but people liked it and now it has a big submarine in the back. My nephews just went to see it and it also has spaceships now, but back in the day it was kind of falling apart. I think this celebration was another attempt to try to revive it.
We were supposed to design a puzzle that people would come into the museum and feel encouraged to try to solve by going and looking at all the exhibits. We really didn't know how to make a puzzle that was solvable. One of the clues, my favorite clue, was, “Where are you going? You've gone too far.” In order to solve that puzzle, you had to notice some signal flags on one of panels on the giant bronze doors at the front of the museum. It is the museum of Science and Industry after all, and they were constantly trying to promote various industries that had come out of scientific research. The semaphore flags referred to the shipping industry. There was a ship underneath the flags. I looked up what the flags meant. It meant, “Quo Vidas?”, which in ship talk is, “Where are you going?” By the time you read the clue, you would be in the middle of the museum. You would have already passed the doors. You would have gone to far to see the clue. Get it?
Two ships that are meeting in the middle of nowhere and don't have radios, signal this, and then they talk to each other. It's actually what I think Saint Peter said to Jesus, the resurrected Jesus, as Peter is fleeing Rome fearing persecution. He says, “Quo Vidas?” to Jesus. And Jesus says, “Oh, I'm going to Rome to get crucified all over again”, and that emboldened Saint Peter to go back to Rome and get himself crucified upside down.
Nobody got that puzzle. Nobody got almost any of our 20 puzzles as it turned out. We did have fun making the game though. It gave us a chance to do things I’d always dreamed about as a kid. I was excited to find out if they still had the giant train set that I remembered as the coolest thing in the world, even though even as aa kid I suspected that there was no good reason to have a giant train set in a science museum. The set was like the size of a football field and you could watch it from the sidelines. But as the puzzle makers, we got to walk around in the train set like we were giants and put little clues on the top of the roofs of the tiny buildings and water towers.
In any case, we knew people couldn't solve a puzzle, so Paul had to keep publishing more and more clues. People would see our names on the brochures and call me up and ask me leading questions about what Doctor Crypton knew or didn't know. And I would say that I didn't know anything, because I really didn't know what Paul was up to at that point. But the callers then would say, “Oh, you're very clever. You're almost as clever as Doctor Crypton himself.” And I'd say, “No, I'm not”, but it was clear that the puzzle had taken on a life of its own. And this was made even more clear to us a few years later when Paul was hired to make a puzzle for a movie with Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner about another kind of treasure hunt. Romancing the Stone.
I mean it was about the stars trying to find a lost treasure and Paul made the treasure map for them, which was basically a rip-off of the Mad Magazine Fold-In page that was always solvable. That's the kind of puzzle that people can solve. But then somebody else wanted Paul to make a golden horse treasure map. They buried a golden horse somewhere in the United States. And you get half a million dollars if you found it. Apparently this was a solvable puzzle, but it wasn't solved before the time limit for claiming the prize money ran out. And so they had to leave a little box with a note in it in place of the horse. Finally, an FBI agent found it, not by following the clues, but by analyzing the puzzle maker. The agent said that the best, the only way, to solve a puzzle is to understand motivations behind it. My father, who was a psychiatrist, said long ago that only a marginal personality can achieve that kind of mind melding. You have to be very out there in order to be able to overwhelm your own ego defenses and so fully identify with another person, which sounds persuasive.
The oddest thing about this whole story to me is that, even though the puzzle was solved and the money was given away, to this day, years and years, decades later, there are websites that persist in trying to solve the problem of where the horses is. There are vast conspiracy theories about who Dr Crypton is and why he's not giving up the secret of the puzzle. Has he been a wonderful troll, leaving the greatest treasure in the world buried beneath the ground as they claim?
What these experiences made me realize is that a puzzle is like a joke; it’s a weird contract between people. You have to make a puzzle that's solvable in order to justify the time that people put into solving it. Once people put immense amounts of time and effort into a puzzle, they'll read more and more into it if they can’t find an answer because a puzzle in effect is a strange act of faith. You have to believe that it's solvable and believe that your work will be rewarded. And if it's not, then you have to create more meaning behind the puzzle than in fact exists. This may also be an explanation of why we make art, I think.
But the connection between this story that I'm drawing now is the actor who played the mastermind in the horse treasure movie. He was an old man named Elisha Cook who had been in many, many movies. This is what the last movie he made in his life, as far as I know. He'd been in the Maltese Falcon. He'd been in The Treasure of Sierra Madre. He'd been on numerous TV shows. He was in Star Trek and on Magnum PI. I mean, hundreds and hundreds of movies. But he was a deeply eccentric man apparently. And he lived up in a cabin and the Sierra Nevada mountains near the town of Bishop and on Lake Sabrina. He didn't have a phone. You had to send a courier up to find Cook and tell him he had another job and he'd go down and play his role. He almost always played schnooks or psychopaths or losers of some kind. As he aged he got more vicious roles. As a young man, you'll see, he played these sort of fall guys and patsies. Anyway, he lived up on this mountain and fished a lot. My friend Paul says he was an odd guy to deal with at the time. He was then in his late eighties and he lived another 10 years or so.
I've been to Bishop with my friend David. We went hiking there once and it's a very small town that doesn't seem to have any industry besides tourism. It’s about 6,000 feet up. When you come to the town the first thing you notice is it's laid out very methodically. You could sort of spend your whole life moving down one street; West Line. First there's a hospital, then an elementary school, then a high school, then a police station, then a jail, then there's a cemetery. Also the post office is on West Line. it seemed like the kind of town you would go to and just stay put. As it turns out, though, there's one other thing to do in Bishop, which is you go to the Mule Days festivities. They have the longest mule train parade anywhere and they have something called the Mule Scramble where they take all the backpacks off of the mules and then all the mule handlers run to the center of this field and try and get their mules packed as fast as they can.
All this mule activity apparently is the byproduct of the old gold rush days and also the fact that there's lots of hiking in the mountains behind there. But there was one other industry that was flourished around Bishop during the early 20th century and that was maybe the reason that Elisha Cook moved there about 1914. The town basically sold its soul to the devil by way of selling its water rights to Los Angeles, 200 miles down the mountains. All their water was redirected into huge pipes and sent to LA and the town was left with basically no industry. The town was literally, I guess, drying up and they had to come up with something. This was before there was a lot of tourists up there. But there was a young man named Jack Foley who ran the hardware store and he was more unusual than you might have thought. He was from Brooklyn actually. He grew up in Coney island. He went to elementary school with Bert Lahr, Arthur Murray and James Cagney. He was a semi professional baseball player and a buddy of Cary Grant's when Cary Grant was a stilt walker on then boardwalks on Coney Island.
He hungered for something more apparently and he went off to California with his wife and worked in the film business for a while during the early part of the century. Then he moved to Bishop, this beautiful town, with his wife to raise a family. And when the water situation arose he proposed to the Chamber of Commerce that they turn Bishop into a kind of a film set. The area had beautiful landscapes; very dramatic, mountains and valleys. This went over very well. Film became the town’s industry. All those early short Westerns were shot there. Foley was a very resourceful guy who wrote scripts for some of the movies and he directed second unit shots. He was a director for some of the other scenes. He was sort of an all-around a man on the spot.
We get to about 1930 and there's a revolutio in the movie business, which is that sound comes in. The Jazz Singer was a big hit. And there was-- I think the company Foley worked for was Universal--was about to come out with a new big movie called Showboat that was based on a musical, but there was no sound to it. And they realized they were in big trouble if they didn't come up with some kind of sound for this movie.
At the time sound technology was very primitive. They basically made a big 33 and a third record and then they would sort of sync it up to a projector and play them movie and run the sound at the same time. But they needed a way of dumping sound into the film. Foley said the Universal executives looked around trying to find somebody who had any knowledge of movie and sound systems and they asked him to make the sound. And he did. And he was so good at it that that became his profession. In fact, Foley is the name that you give to any sound artist in the movie business.
I brought in some of the effects because I think they’re so amusing. You know, Foley effects began and they still had the sort of spirit of the ‘can do’ attitude of the time. Foley can be very low tech. Like if you want to make the sound of somebody crunching through the snow, cornstarch works well. Once I suggest it, you can hear it. Birds flying sound like a couple of flapping gloves. If you want an alien egg expulsion you dump dog food out of a can. That's good enough. Tim requested that. We don't go too far with that. And there's the famous horse clip clops with coconuts. You want to try that again?
Good. All right. In any case, that's the deep background on Bishop, California. David and I went on a hike from there. We went up in the mountains. I had to rely completely on David's mountaineering skills since I had none and David loves to read maps. We would get lost, and I would worry, and then we'd get found, and then we'd get lost. I think I was really getting on David's nerves because I was basically just following him around as he got in and out of scrapes. At one point it began to snow heavily. This is happening in August, but you can still get in trouble. And we were sort of stuck. Dave went off to take pictures of the snow on ground. We were up above the tree lines, so mostly the snow was on rocks. It didn't seem that interesting to me, but we were doing the 19th century artist thing. We'd go out and just sketch and paint. He had watercolors and I had a little pen and notebook. We would sit and make pictures of mountains and valleys, pretending we were John Muir, I guess. And while Dave was taking his pictures, I was reading a little book that I talked about on Friday, The Invention of Morel on a boulder. It’s the story of a kind of magical machine that recreates reality perfectly, but it kills you, though once it records your image, your embodied self lives on forever.
As long as the machine continues to run you're given some kind of immortality.
Morel was written by a friend of Borges. Oddly Borges once wrote a story that is sort of the inverse of Morel’s situation of endless immediacy where there is no such thing as a memory of the past because you just live in this moment. You, reading a book, or whatever experience you’re having at this time, is repeated again and again. In the story Borges created called Funes the Memorious, he talks about a young man who as a boy was injured in a horse accident. He becomes an invalid partially as a result of his accident, though he attains this almost supernatural ability to not only recall every incident, every experience he has, but to perceive everything perfectly so that every tangled piece of hair on a head that he looks at, or every leaf on a tree that he sees, he recalls and can never forget.
Since he can't move, he can sit and relive the day that he's just had completely. But that effort takes him a whole another day to get through. It's kind of a frustrating, bittersweet story at the end. I don't know why, but the boy drops dead of congestion of the lungs very soon after meeting the narrator; Borges himself. But in the course of telling the story, Borges mentions a number of characters from history who are renowned for their prodigious memories, but every time that one of them is mentioned, the narrator-Borges kind of scoffs, because to him what these people can do is child's play.
The most compelling mentalist who is mentioned in this list is Cyrus, King of Persia, who knew the name of every soldier in his army, which I found somehow a very beautiful sentence and one that piqued my interest. Although the story does kind of remind me of the old joke about a general who says, “I know every man in my army” to another in general who says, “Okay, prove it. What's this guy's name?” And the first general says, “Smith.” And the second general says, “What's your name?” to the soldier, who says, “Smith,” because he's a smart soldier. Maybe back then the Persian army was just as smart. But in any case, I wanted to find out more about Cyrus.
Well, I don't know, maybe they were all named Smith. And so maybe it wasn't that. It was huge.
Actually, we're getting into that. Cyrus is not an unpopular name for Persian emperors, as it turns out. But in all probability, Borges was referring to Cyrus the Great who founded the dynasty and sort of created the biggest empire the world had ever known at the time. So he would have reason to have a big army. He ended up dying in combat.
About four generations later his great, great, great, great grandson Xerxes and his great, great, great grandson Cyrus the Younger got into a fight over who would control the empire. And Cyrus the Younger hired a bunch of mercenaries from Sparta to sail over and help him fight his way into Persia and confront his brother and topple him and claim the throne. That he hired 10,000 Spartans gives you some idea of at least the low end of the number of people in the army. I don't know whether the great, great, great grandson, grandson knew the names of everybody in his army. I would think it was a pretty big army. The Greek army used a democratic electoral system. Apparently, they elected their own leaders who accompanied Cyrus to the battlefield.
They won their first battle, but unfortunately, Cyrus himself was killed, which left them kind of in the lurch. They were stuck in the middle of enemy territory. Their leaders were invited to some sort of peace ceremony where they were double crossed and killed, so the men were all stuck. They elected a new set of leaders and proceeded to fight their way out of Persia. At least this is the story as we understand it by the person who wrote everything down, man named Xenophon, who was a general and a genius of a soldier and an all-around good guy. He actually wrote the history of Cyrus the Great himself.
The only reason this all resonated with me was because I first heard this story years before when I was talking to a man who was the father of the French atomic bomb trigger. He was a distinguished scientist, but he was also deeply religious. He was trying to explain to me why he believed in the divinity of Jesus Christ. And he said, “I've been teaching myself Greek. I don't know Greek very well, but I've read Xenophon. I read Anabasis and I believe it. I believe it's true, but I've read the story in just this one book. But in all the books I have, they tell me that Jesus is the Son of God. So if I'm going to believe in Anabasis I must believe in Jesus.” We went into the truth of God last week. (LAST WEEK? THIS IS THE FIRST WEEKEND OF PERFORMANCES) We won't delve into that now, but what happened in Anabasis was that—anabasis means ‘going up’ and actually they were going down-the Spartans were up in the mountains and they were fighting the way down. Then when they finally got to the sea they were so close to home that they famously all banged on their shields with their swords and yelled “Thalatta! Thalatta!”, which means “the sea, the sea!” Because of the way the story is written, in simple Greek, apparently every schoolboy and girl who read Greek for hundreds of years knew this story, and that's why it had particular resonance with the French physicist who was telling me this.
The story itself is probably somewhat familiar to you because it's become the basis of lots of kind of tales of bands of brothers stuck behind enemy lines who have to fight their way out. Among other things it was the basis of a novel, The Warriors that was turned into a movie. The warriors are a gang from Coney island who travel up to the Bronx for a confab with all the gang bangers in New York under Cyrus the big gang leader who is then murdered. And then this gang is forced to fight its way back through the city all the way home. This is in the 70’s, in the Dystopian New York City Era. They fight all these different tribal gangs until they finally get to the sea.
Now this is one of the wonderful, interesting things about this story is that we don't have to rely on a bible or a French physicist for the truth of this because we actually have one of the men who fought his way from the Bronx to Coney island in the movie version of The Warriors right here. Tom was Cowboy in the movie, but he says he doesn’t remember much about it, which I think probably is because you were too busy fighting your way home. It was method acting. Sorry, I can't remember; when you guys get to Coney Island, do you all want to see the sea?
You didn't even acknowledge the sea. You're honest. You were on the beach though, right? Did you know about the Anabasis? Yeah, well you went to college. It's like a—I don't know. I bet you were excited when you were home. Or maybe you were just tired.
So that's probably the real story, perhaps. Shows me that the physicist should've been more suspicious instead of being all excited. Maybe they just said, “Shit, we got this far,
Let's go home.” No?, well it's good to get the inside scoop. Thanks Tom.
All right. Why is my charcoal running out? I'm cool. It’s just that there's a lot of details we have to cover here. This story, in addition to this huge, exciting, tale of escape to the sea, put me onto a website that listed all the Emperors, Kings and Shahs of Persia in a row, starting from about 6,000 BC to 1979, to the last Shah. And it's very interesting to look at these images because first you see these sort of Neolithic big stone heads and then at some point everybody becomes a coin. And then there's some crude pictures. And then somewhere in the 19th century, paintings and photographs begin
There was a man the last era, I think he was the Shah Mozaffar ad-Din, at the turn of the 20th century. There is a wonderful picture of this man with a very thin, sad face, a huge bejeweled headdress and the most amazing mustache you ever seen. He was like an exact contemporary of Edward the Seventh and, seemed to have a similar life. Both of them lived to be middle aged men before their parents, a long ruling King and a Queen, died and they were sort of thrust into a leadership role that they probably were not that interested in. Mozaffar was more interested in traveling to Europe and going to Paris. On one of his trips to Paris he saw-- this is in the 1890s-- an early movie camera. He was so enthralled by the camera that he had his personal assistant buy all the state-of-the-art equipment he could. He brought it back to Tehran and actually began the Persian Iranian film industry.
Which is a little bit neither here or there, but it's not the first time actually that advances in film history occurred in that area. I think this is what I wanted to talk about now. Yeah. 5,200 years ago, the first animated image ever discovered was created somewhere in Persia. I actually made a copy, sorry. On my version of this thing, you could see it jumping, but I forgot to bring a spinning tool. It's a bowl. I'll tell you. It's a bowl on which, in five segments, a goat jumps up and eats a eucalyptus leaf. Could you spin this again? See, it starts jumping and if you spend it fast enough, it goes nuts. And I don't know whether this was just an amusement for people or if this had some religious significance. They don't know. You can see that it's very valuable. I don't even know quite how they spun it, but I thought that was a wonderful little detail.
It turns out emperors are very fond of this sort of machine that creates the fiction of life, like, Morel’s invention. The idea that they could bring something to life was at least as fantastic to them as it is us. There was an emperor during the Han Dynasty, I think I have this somewhere, who lost his beloved concubine and was so upset that he began to neglect his duties of consolidating the empire and his advisors created this kind of puppet of the dead beloved out of donkey skin that was articulated in 19 places and they would shine the light behind it on the screen. And then the donkey skin concubine began to dance. The emperor teared up and he went on to consolidate his empire.
And then there was another emperor who had invented something called ‘the pipe through which dreams come to life,’ which sounds like something else, but it basically used hot air from a flame that was placed under a hanging, spinning, kind of mobile. You could create another kind of illusion of movement similar to the bowl. These stick figures would sort of move in a circle and come to life. I can't resist this.
When David and I came back from the hike I realize I forgot to tell you this, David proposed that we make a movie of our own, a kind of mystery where the hike would be memorialized as a story in which we start at opposite ends of the trail and then we meet in the middle and exchange keys and go to the other end. Except we've given each other obstacles, like I'm supposed to make something you can see from space while I’m getting there. But I didn't really understand what Dave wanted. So my obstacles were things like, “meet somebody on the way in, offend them with a joke and continue.” And I don't think Dave thought that I took him seriously enough. When he made a movie about our story, my contribution with these two little figures. It is too bad that David is not here because he could rebut this, but I believe it was a stop action film.
So this is me, and this is Dave. And we were sort of walking. I guess I shouldn't have taken this down. As we're walking, according to his film, I just disappear and I'm never seen again, except in a kind of dream sequence. These things are sort of anatomically correct. so can David could take all the clothes off my mannequin and have me appear in some sort of porno movie and then get eaten by a bear. I'm sorry, that should have occurred about 10 minutes ago, but I just saw those little figures in the briefcase and I had to use them to pursue the theme we started tonight, about mysteries and moving pictures, but it’s being pursued without much of a point, I’ll admit.
We’ve gotten through the Han Dynasty, and then on to the turn of the 19th century. As technology improved, various forms of visual illusions became more and more popular, including the Pepper's Ghost illusion. You put two mirrors in a corner and then you put another mirror here and you can make things appear or disappear. And also--this is right after the French Revolution, someone made the bloody head of the capitated Louis the 16th appear to be floating in front of the audience. That caused the magician, the illusionist, to be thrown in jail because they were afraid that he'd really had brought Louis the 16th back to life. That gets us up to about the 20th century.
But now we're back almost to today and we'll go back to the United States and American inventors like Thomas Edison, who had fairly straightforward motives for inventing things, which was just to make a lot of money. So Edison invents the motion picture camera and begins inviting as many people as he can get out to New Jersey to see his invention to promote it. And among his visitors Is a young artist and reporter--from I believe the New York Daily News---named Stuart Blackton and his business partner, a magician named Albert Smith, and they are so enraptured by the machine that Edison shows them that he talks them into buying a complete set of equipment and they go into business and competition with Edison. We talked about this a little bit. Blackton actually, as a profession, did what I'm doing now, which is to do these Lightning Sketch performances where he would tell a story while drawing.
He wasn't the greatest artist, but he was very inventive. And one of the first movies that he made with this new machine was actually the first live action and animation movie, in which he stood next to an easel and drew this face. And then he drew a bottle next to the face and then the face wants the bottle and then he reaches into the drawing and pulls out the bottle. They stopped cranking of the camera to advance the drawing, and pour the beer or the wine into the mouth of the animated figure and then they stopped cranking again, then drew the face getting drunk. Blackton thought so little of this movie that he didn't mention this in his autobiography, but Smith his partner, did in his own autobiography called Two Reels and a Crank. I don't know whether he was talking about the crank of the camera or himself, or Blackton, who was kind of an eccentric.
They started their movie business on Nassau Street in Manhattan, I think, and then they moved to Midwood not far from here and for a time where for a while they ran the most prolific film company in the world. They made lots of shorts. They eventually moved to California, but they didn't exactly thrive in the cutthroat atmosphere there. Their Brooklyn business evolved into Vitaphone and became a sound company. When the sound business came in Vitaphone made many more contributions, although I think Blackton died broke. Smith his partner was a little bit more resourceful. But now we're back in the middle of the movie business and Cook, our friend Elisha Cook is in the middle of all that. He was born in New York as well. He was the son of vaudevillians. He made his way onto the stage and then into movies when he was still very young.
As I said, he played a lot of saps. He had a very high squeaky voice. He had big eyes and a lot of hair, especially as a young man. He did look like everybody's patsy. One of his early movies was called something called Pigskin Parade, and he plays a sap called Herbert Terwilliger Van Dyke. It’s a pretty very small role. The real story of this movie is that Texas State University is trying to get a football team together to play the great Yale University in a charity game. It just shows you how long ago this was. They were the underdogs and their star player was injured. And they found a hillbilly in nearby Arkansas throwing watermelons 70 yards to the air. And so they talk him into coming to campus even though he was basically a little bit dim, mostly because his sister is very interested in going to the university because she heard that's where you could get a singing career. The sister was played by Judy Garland. This was Judy Garland’s first movie. This began Elisha Cook’s reputation for being a star maker. The story was that any movie he was in with a young actor or actress, they became a big star.
Elisha’s character Van Dyke is a communist, a transfer student who is hoodwinked by members of his fraternity, which is run by the kid who was sort of the provocateur in this whole movie. When Herbert shows up to transfer into the university they are having trouble getting the hillbilly in because he has no credentials. I shouldn't use that term. I know it's offensive. The frat brothers convince Herbert to throw a rock through the bank window in the name of Communist Worldwide Revolution. He's hauled off to jail, but they have his paperwork so the watermelon thrower becomes Herbert Van Dyke and he leads the team to victory in the Big Game against Yale.
As I said, Cook was sort of the Kevin Bacon of his time. He was in all the movies. His level of connection with everybody in the movies was kind of fantastic, but I'm mostly interested in one particular thread that connects him to us here today, a movie I mentioned briefly on Friday. This movie actually ends well for Elisha, though he again plays a classic fall guy. The movie is called Stranger on the Third Floor. And it's a B movie, only about 65 minutes long. The only a person of note besides Elisha Cook in the cast is Peter Lorre who is the heavy in it, though he's only in the movie for about 20 minutes because he was on loan from I think the RKO for just two days or something. So he shows up late, but might that’s enough to play the story out.
But the reason that I'm interested in this movie is another of its stars. The plot is about a man, a reporter, who witnesses a murderer and his fiancée, who helps him figure things out. She is played by Margaret Tallichet, Jude Tallichet’s cousin once removed generationally. Margaret was for a time a kind of rising star in Hollywood. The Tallichet family never talked about her. It took me years to realize that there was any connection at all. They don't seem nearly as interested in her as I am, but I found it very moving that there was this person who had this very strange career, not strange of course, a kind of wonderful career that spans generations, or at least connects her to us here.
This movie was made in 1940 and Margaret Tallichet appears in my mind like a living ghost, this persistent shadow--somebody that I know, but embedded in a highly ritualized, highly formalized story. Briefly the story is this: Her character, I think her name is Anne, is going to marry this reporter. In this movie almost everything that happens, happens in coffee shops. At the beginning of the movie they are in a coffee shop and, they're sort of celebrating the fact that he's just gotten a raise, so they'd be able to rent a better apartment and finally get married. He got a raise because he's a small celebrity in New York now because he is the only witness to a grisly murder that happened in yet another local coffee shop and he gets a byline to write about it.
When he went into that coffee shop and he saw Luigi the coffee shop owner dead on the floor, and a man standing over him in front of the cash register. And that man, of course, is Elisha Cook. And it turns out that Elisha has a criminal record, not Elisha, but the character he plays. And he is sent to trial and convicted and sentenced to death. And the reporter doesn't have much of a problem with this, but Margaret Tallichet’s character feels responsible for the possibility that Elisha may not be the guilty man. And she starts beginning to convince the reporter that maybe he doesn't know everything he thinks he knows; that circumstantial evidence is not enough to convict the man. And he began to look into his own life and he realizes that he's having trouble with his landlord and trouble with this nosy neighbor who complains about noise. He starts seeing this strange little man in his apartment house who is Peter Lorre and eventually he has this dream where he is a convict: He himself has been accused of murder and he's in this cell and this shadow is across him. And then he's suddenly in a trial in the dream and he's protesting his innocence and he's not given a fair trial. And he is sentenced to death and then he wakes up and he runs to the next apartment and he realizes that in fact his nosy neighbor is dead with a slashed throat that is identical to the slashed throat of Luigi the coffee shop owner.
Anne-Margaret Tallichet- convinces him to go to the police and tell them everything on the assumption that that a guilty man would never report a murder that he committed. But the police, in fact to throw him into jail and it's up to Anne to solve the murder. And she goes around to various places trying to find Peter Lorre. And finally she does find him feeding a hamburger to a stray dog, being very sweet. But when she confronts him, he slaps her and confesses and runs away and is immediately run over by a truck.
Everything happens pretty quickly after that. They run off to get married and they're actually taken to city hall by Elijah Cook, who's now a gainfully employed a taxi driver as he's been released from prison. And he gives them a free ride as thanks.
The movie is memorable because it's considered by many to be the first noir movie ever made. All the noir elements are present; honest people stuck in a dishonest world, the special lighting effects of ranking shadows, the clipped dialogue, a strong female protagonist, they all came out of this movie. It wasn't considered at the time of great movie. In fact, most of the critics saw it as a kind of rip off of European art films. But basically like many RKO B made B movies they were also trying to solve budgetary problems. The reason the film’s sets are so stark is they didn't have money to fill up the sets and they used the raking lighting to fill in the gaps around that problem.
The movie was actually echoed by another movie called The Phantom Lady in which there's an almost identical set of circumstances; a woman is trying to solve the problem of a murder that her husband has been convicted of committing. Elisha Cook is in that movie too. And I only mention it because he plays a hopped up drummer. He has probably the sexiest running scene and I've ever seen him in. He’s playing with a bunch of deadbeat musicians in this dame walks in and he plays a very hot set that gets them both so excited that they run out of the room together and you realize the other thing he's playing is her. He's going like this, like Gene Krupa, because the movie accepts the notion that great musicians and drinking really hard and playing really creatively are connected. He’s not going to play it lightly. He’s going for it all-- music and alcohol and sex because that would be what Gene Krupa would do.
Margaret Tallichet was in about five movies, a five-credit career as a movie star. The Tallichet movie I'm actually most fond of is a comedy that actually also has a little historic value. It’s called It Started with Eve and it stars Deanna Durbin, Robert Cummings and Charles Laughton. Its main claim to fame, besides the fact that it may be Deanna Durban's best movie, is that it was the first movie shown to GIs in World War Two after the invasion of Normandy, after they'd cleared up D-Day and things had settled down enough for the USO to move in. They set up a screen and they showed this movie to the tired soldiers. It's a kind of a light comedy.
Deanna Durbin was a singer and a child star, and she had starring roles in all these treacly movies. The premise of this movie basically is that Robert Cummings is the playboy son of Charles Laughton, a titan of industry who is dying. Cummings comes back from his vacation where he's been sailing in Mexico, with a fiancee who he wants his father to meet. This is Margaret Tallichet. Charles Laughton, who is dying as I said, says, “You must show her to me. I must meet her before I die.” Cummings runs back to the hotel to find Margaret, whose name is Gloria Pennington, but Gloria is not anywhere to be found. But the beautiful and somewhat homesick hotel hatcheck girl, Deanna Durbin, is there and the idiot son decides that the only solution to his problem is to grab the hatcheck girl and take her to show to his father since he's going to die anyway and he'll die happy because he's met the fiancée and he knows that the family’s future is safe. So Deanna agrees for the price of 50 bucks to do this because she needs money because she, like Judy Garland in Pigskins on Parade, is an ambitious singer and she needs to pay for singing lessons.
But of course shenanigans arise when Laughton and Deanna Durbin meet. They become very friendly. They like each other and they bond. And then Laughton turns out not to be dying at all. He recovers and he spends the rest of the movie trying to get his cigars away from his doctor. But this all means Cummings has a new problem because now he has two women to juggle. He has his fiancee and now this woman who is becoming increasingly entangled in his life. And he can't admit to anything. Actually, he tries to admit everything, but nobody believes him.
And eventually you can imagine what happens once you set this in motion. You've seen this movie a thousand times. As soon as you see this premise, you know Cummings is going to end up with Deanna Durbin, if only because she's the star. And that leaves you wondering, at least it leaves me wondering, what's going to happen to Gloria Pennington, aka Margaret Tallichet. And I began to feel this tremendous affection and sadness for Margaret, as all the forces of the universe as personified in film conventions begin to conspire against her. You know she's doomed, but you don't know quite how she's going to go, how her fate's going to be played out. You know they have options on how to dispatch her. She could be such a horrible person that you don't like her and you root for her humiliation, or she could find a kind of appropriate person of her own, so she's matched off. That would be the Shakespearean solution.
But this movie doesn't seem to care about any of that. The only reason you have to root against her is she's micromanaged with her mother who's an obvious monster. You can tell she's a monster because she wears a long string of pearls and she spins the pearls around like this when she talks, and she's just determined to get her daughter married off to Robert Cummings. But the daughter herself seemed perfectly nice. I mean, she's Margaret Tallichet. She’s a very lovely woman. As I’m watching all this come down on Tallichet’s head, I'm thinking that it's like watching a game where you actually have a rooting interest in a team and you know that your team is going to lose because it’s a game you’ve seen before. I don't know why, but I watch Margaret Tallichet in this story and I think about oblivion. About being erased from history and being replaced by someone else’s more appealing story.
Actually, Margaret came very close to having a totally different life. She came from Texas to California seeking her fortune and she worked in the publicity department at Universal Pictures and became friends with Carole Lombard who got her a screen test. And when Gone With the Wind was being cast she was actually one of the 32 actresses who read for the part of Scarlett O’Hara in a full dress screen test. David Selznick the producer used the tests to promote the movie. And so there's a little clip of her with a man who I guess is supposed to be Leslie Howard and she's Scarlett O'Hara and she's saying, ”I love you Ashley, I Love You, I love you.” And you see Paulette Godard and Lana Turner and everybody else say, “I love you, I love you, I love you”, too.
You can see the different levels of affect that they bring to this role. I have to say that Margaret Tallichet was not the most subtle actress. She sort of says her lines straight forwardly. Paulette Goddard got like 15 different emotions into her 30 seconds. That probably made Margaret a good person to live with, but maybe didn’t help with the whole acting thing. And maybe the opposite was true for Paulette.
To get back to Margaret in the movie All About Eve. In the end, she's not dealt with at all. She's just gone. She just loses the battle. She loses the fiancee. She doesn't get a substitute. She's not mean enough to feel anything. She's just sort of existential roadkill. The point of the movie was to get the other characters together and she's fulfilled her mission, which made me feel bad for her. But in the end, I guess she won the war, as the same qualities of straight straightforwardness that maybe didn't work for her as an actress helped her in real life.
She ended up being matched up through mutual friends with William Wyler, the director, and they got married soon after the movie Eve was made. And they lived happily ever after as far as I know. She had five kids and everybody seemed to like her.
We ran into her daughter years later at a protest march during the Republican convention in New York. Somehow we ended up in the same WAC parade. There we were, marching against Republicans with William Wyler and Margaret Tallichet’s daughter who sort of looked like a version of Jude, her first cousin twice removed, I think. She was up living in Greenwich, Connecticut.
I'm very glad Jude lived a different life. So I guess in the end, everything worked out pretty well.
Matt Freedman and Tim Spelios have been producing their Endless Broken Time drawing, talking and percussion performances at Studio 10 gallery in Bushwick, Brooklyn since 2015. Ancestors, machines, and philosophy are told and illustrated by Freedman and take their irregular rhythm and form from the aberrant and improvised syncopation of Spelios’ broken time drumming.
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