REVIEW POTPOURRI – Pianist: Rudolf Serkin

Rudolf Serkin

Peter Catesby Peter Cates

Rudolf Serkin

Back during my college years, I considered Rudolf Serkin (1903-1991) my favorite pianist. He played with a most engaging combination of rhythmic muscularity, musical virtuosity, and fervent heart and soul in whatever work he was giving his total attention to. I grew up with his Columbia Masterworks LP of Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto with Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic from 1962 (It contained recording session photos including one of Bernstein smoking a cigarette – he smoked four or five packs a day, had suffered from emphysema since he was 29, and was carrying air the last two years of his life before he passed away in 1990. For what it’s worth, Serkin was not smoking.). The performance blazed and roared with fiery passion and ethereal beauty especially in the slow 2nd movement. Other more lyrical performances of that work seemed tepid by comparison. Nowadays, I find the Emperor can stand a variety of approaches and have a few dozen different recordings.

I have previously written of my enthusiasm for the Brahms 1st Concerto and was then very dogmatically opinionated in musical preferences, and considered Serkin the finest interpreter of it. In April, 1974, I was the classical record buyer for the Kenmore Square Discount Records and heard that Serkin would be collaborating with the Boston Symphony under its then recently appointed music director Seiji Ozawa at Symphony Hall the next day in a Sunday afternoon pension fund concert. I called the box office and found out that tickets were still available, took a $2 cab ride to and from the hall, and, having only $20 to get me through the following week, paid $10 for my ticket, subsisting on baloney sandwiches with mustard on white bread until the following Friday pay day.

I had seen Serkin on television and was captivated by how he would hum at the piano and conveyed such joy. His hand movements were phenomenal to observe and my seat in the balcony would provide a view of them.

Before the Brahms, Ozawa conducted vibrant performances of Maurice Ravel’s showpieces, Menuet Antique and the complete Mother Goose ballet. After intermission, Serkin entered on stage with the conductor and, from his posture on the bench, seemed tired and frail during the five minute orchestral introduction. However, just before his entrance, the pianist sat up erect, flexed his fingers and gave the performance of his life. I was shaking with goosebumps and tears.

He recorded the piece four times – with Fritz Reiner and the Pittsburgh Symphony in 1946, twice with George Szell and the Cleveland Orchestra – 1952 and 1968, and with Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra in 1961. I have all four and cherish them for different reasons. Serkin was rarely satisfied with his recordings and welcomed the challenge of re-doing them, as did Artur Rubinstein.

Most of Serkin’s recordings can be heard on YouTube. His son, Peter Serkin (1947 – 2020), was also a very distinguished pianist.

Robert P.T. Coffin

More from Robert P. Tristram Coffin’s essay, Kennebec Crystals:

“Women swept past, little crepe bonnets cocked over the left eye and eyes like jets and blue diamonds. The ice was marked off into lanes, the racing sleighs came out. Horses came up the river, neck and neck, the flowers of their breaths festooned each side of them like garlands hung from high head to high head. Whips cracked, and shouts sent out long echoes each way. The chipped ice shone like splinters flying from a rainbow. Young men had young arms around waists of only 18 inches, and young people started off on the road to matrimony on the thinnest of bright steel shoes.”

More next week.

Of related Maine history interest is the Facebook page, Old Pictures of Forgotten Maine.


Edi Gathegi

Peter Catesby Peter Cates

The Startup

A Netflix series, The Startup involves a cast of characters who are way too connected with each other for their own good. The locale is contemporary Miami, Florida, with its exotic palm trees and beaches, the year round weather ranging from balmy to scorching hot, and cesspools of criminality all too often on both sides of the law. Otmara Marrero portrays a skilled computer hacker, Adam Brody is a financial manager laundering money for his corrupt father, Edi Gathegi is a Haitian gang leader who threatens them with harm but then collaborates with them in a nefarious scheme (Gathegi was very good as the evil Mr. Robinson on NBC’s Black List), Martin Freeman is an FBI agent involved in his own racket on the wrong side of the law and murders a fellow agent who knows too much, while Aaron Yoo is a multi-billionaire who invests lots of money in the group scheme and who has a dangerous security chief named Vera who’s not as trusting as her boss.

Very, very highly recommended!

André Previn

André Previn

A wonderful YouTube features the late André Previn (1930-2019) conducting the London Symphony in Dvorak’s incredibly beautiful 7th Symphony, a 2002 broadcast.

Robert P.T. Coffin

Next paragraph from Robert P. Tristram Coffin’s Kennebec Crystals:

“The Kennebec was gray glass again, next dawn and next and next. It grew blacker as the days went by. In the third night the drums began, a single stroke, now and then, low bass and far away, rolling and reverating along the hills. Next morning there were white cracks on the dark drumhead to show where the drumsticks had struck. All at once, at four o’clock, the whole stretch of the river below the Augusta falls blossomed out with children in bright scarves, just out of school. A thousand young farmers and townsmen ground bark, cut figure eights, and yelled themselves hoarse at Ring-Leavo. Fat boys of six on their first skates stared wide-eyed at the green water weeds hanging still and going down into fearful darkness under their toes. At night bonfires ran down the river from bend to bend. Flame answered flame from Skowhegan to Swan Island. Everybody but those in slippers and those in the cradle was out on the ice. And next afternoon the horses had taken to the new ice highway that connected all the Kennebec towns. Men flew along behind them, mountains of robes in narrow sleighs. Their big mustaches smoked, and their breaths clung to them like mufflers straining out behind.”

More next week.

REVIEW POTPOURRI – Composer: Sergei Prokofiev

Sergei Prokofiev

Peter Catesby Peter Cates

Sergei Prokofiev

Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873-1943), Sergei Prokofiev (1891-1953) and Dimitri Shostakovich (1906-1975) are, for me, the three most outstanding 20th century composers to have emerged from Russia. I have written previously of Rachmani­noff and Shostako­vich and would like to focus on Prokofiev.

He was a child prodigy as a composer and pianist, dazzling many but also antagonizing them with his arrogance. For example, in performance classes, he would keep lists of his classmates’ mistakes.

His first ballet Chout earned praise from Igor Stravinsky and Maurice Ravel; later he and Stravinsky had a falling out for a few years but Stravinsky considered Prokofiev the greatest 20th century composer, next to himself.

In 1918, he left Russia because the chaos from the Revolution was leaving Prokofiev with little means of earning a living. With the permission of the People’s Commissar, he headed for the United States and achieved success as a pianist. He would also reside in France for several years but, for some mysterious reason, moved back to the Soviet Union in 1936, just as Stalin’s bloodbaths were cranking up.

His music did find favor with the authorities most of the time. However, in 1948, Prokofiev, Shostakovich and Armenian composer Aram Khachaturian (1903-1978) were severely criticized by the government for ‘degenerate formalism’ in their music, the kind of criticism that could have deadly implications for them and their supporters. Such attacks were random, depending on Stalin’s fickleness and paranoia. Prokofiev made a sincere apology and then went on composing as he pleased.

During the early 1920s in Paris, Prokofiev met and married a Spanish singer, Lina Codina (1897-1989) with whom he had two sons, Sviatoslav (1924-2010) and Oleg (1928-1998). Starting in 1940, he began an affair with writer and librettist Mira Mendelson (1915-1968) and divorced Lina in 1947 to marry Mira (the courts ruled his first marriage as null and void because Prokofiev married his first wife in Germany and never asked the Communist government for permission.).

Three months after the divorce, Lina was arrested for espionage because she tried to send money to her mother in Spain. After nine months of interrogation, she was sentenced to 20 years of hard labor in Siberia and released in 1956, leaving Russia for good in 1974.

Because of high blood pressure and other health problems, Prokofiev suffered from frequent dizzy spells and, in 1945, fell, hitting his head on a staircase. He was forced to cut his composing activities down to one hour a day. He died on March 5, 1953, the same day as Stalin. Only 30 people attended his funeral, Shostakovich among them, while his coffin had to be carried by hand to the burial site because no hearse was available due to the lavish spectacle of Stalin’s funeral (among his pallbearers were Mao Zhedong (1893-1976) visiting from China, and KGB chief Laventiy Beria (1899-1953) who would be shot nine months later.).

The composer’s music was distinguished by tart, caustic and bracing rhythms, uniquely captivating harmonies and shimmering melodic beauty. For getting acquainted purposes, I would recommend his very famous Peter and the Wolf, 3rd Piano Concerto, 5th Symphony and Romeo and Juliet ballet. My special favorites are the sizzling Scythian Suite and 3rd Symphony from his earlier years and the magnificent 6th and 7th Symphonies from after World War II. Youtubes of his music are in plentiful supply.

Before he returned to Russia for good in 1936, the composer visited Walt Disney studios, in Hollywood, and was filmed playing music from Peter and the Wolf.

He became a devout Christian Scientist in 1924, believing it beneficial to his high strung personality.

He was also an accomplished chess player.

A quote – “I detest imitation!”

Robert P. T. Coffin

Next paragraph from Robert P.T. Coffin’s essay, Kennebec Crystals:

“February came in murky. But the trotting horses of the Kennebec barns swung around at last and headed north: the thermometer went below zero and stayed there. Everybody began to breathe, again, and the grindstones started singing.”

Take note of the author’s ability to vivify the local scene of more than 150 years ago. One can picture the icicles hanging off beards, lips and nostrils, the inhalations of ‘murky’ air and the grindstones lifting their grating voices in harmony as the sparks fly in those work spaces.

More next week.

REVIEW POTPOURRI – Singer: June Valli

June Valli

Peter Catesby Peter Cates

June Valli

A June 11,1953, seven-inch RCA Victor 45 record – 47 5368 – features June Valli (1928-1993) singing Cryin’ In the Chapel, which reached #4 on the Billboard charts. Artie Glenn wrote the song for his son Darrell, who recorded it a few months before Valli and had success. Numerous other singers would cover it .

Elvis Presley’s own version sold a million copies after RCA released it in 1965 without his permission, five years after he recorded it; supposedly he didn’t like the results and wanted it tossed.

Joe Reisman

Back to June Valli who gave a warm-hearted rendition with the very gifted arranger/conductor Joe Reisman (1924-1987) who led the orchestra and chorus. Side 2 was the mediocre Love Every Day You Live.

Valli came from the Bronx. After singing Stormy Weather at a friend’s wedding, she was invited to appear on Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts, where she won first prize, and on the Perry Como and Ed Sullivan Shows. She co-hosted an NBC summer replacement variety show with Andy Williams in 1957, toured with Fats Domino and Mel Torme and was the invisible singer for Chiquita Banana commercials.

June Valli died of cancer in 1993, at the age of 64, at her home in Fort Lee, New Jersey.

Joe Reisman was a Dallas, Texas, native who produced hit records for Patti Page at Mercury, Perry Como, Eartha Kitt and André Previn at RCA Victor Records, eventually becoming Henry Mancini’s lead producer.

Reisman died of a heart attack in Los Angeles on September 15, 1987, one day before his 63rd birthday.

He recorded a very good easy listening album in 1957 for RCA entitled Door of Dreams. In much later years, he even produced sessions for the Grateful Dead.

Robert P. Tristram Coffin continued

Continuing with paragraphs from Robert P. Tristram Coffin’s essay, Kennebec Crystals:

“The thaw lasted eight days. Somebody saw a robin. He didn’t get any vote of thanks from his neighbors. A body could see his dead grandmother in such fog as there was. The graybeards by the barrel stove in Ephraim Doughty’s grocery store at Bowdoin Center shivered in their shoes. Ephraim had said earlier in the evening, as he looked out at the weather glumly, “Open winter, fat graveyards.” Active Frost cheated at checkers and got caught. Wash Alexander drank up all his wife’s Peruna.

“The only consolation in Kennebec county was the newspaper. It said it was raining all up and down the Hudson, from Saratoga to Staten Island.”

To be continued…


Arthur Fiedler

Peter Catesby Peter Cates

The Boston Pops

John Williams

A very good 1982 Philips cassette, Pops Around the World, features the Boston Pops under its former Music Director John Williams (1932-) playing seven Overtures – two from the U.S. and from Russia, and one each from France, Italy and Austria.

The American Overtures are Leonard Bernstein’s for his musical Candide and one Williams himself composed for the 1972 movie, The Cowboys. Bernstein (1918-1990) created a rambunctious romp testing the technique of every player with its rapid-fire tempos and cross-rhythms.

The Cowboys Overture, composed before Williams achieved greater fame and fortune with his soundtracks for Star Wars, Superman, Jurassic Park and many etcs., has an appealing ambiance and evokes the sights and sounds of the Old West in an manner similar to the Brooklyn-born composer Aaron Copland through his own Rodeo and Billy the Kid ballets and soundtrack for The Red Pony.

The Russian Overtures are those of Mikhail Glinka (1804-1857) for Ruslan and Ludmilla and Dimitry Kabalevsky (1904-1987) to his 1938 opera Colas Breugnon, which became a smash hit at its premiere in Leningrad with the Soviet authorities and boosted Kabalevsky’s own standing with them, most likely enabling him to avoid being purged by Stalin as an ‘enemy of the people’; while Glinka became the first Russian composer to win acclaim in his own country.

France is represented by the Bronze Horse Overture of Daniel-Franois Auber (1782-1871), Italy by the Overture to An Italian in Algiers of Gioacchino Rossini (1792-1868) and Austria by the Boccaccio Overture of Franz von Suppe (1819-1895). All three of these composers frequently conveyed roller coaster wit and high spirits in their music, one of several reasons their melodies were often heard in the old cartoons.

John Williams’s grandparents ran a department store in Bangor. His father Johnny Williams was a well-known percussionist during the Big Band Era.

Williams and his predecessor Arthur Fiedler (1894-1979) never met in person but did speak by phone.

This album was also released as an LP and compact disc. Some overtures may even be on YouTube; I checked and saw the Bronze Horse available.

Robert T. Tristram Coffin (continued)

Continuing with paragraphs 4 and 5 of Robert P. Tristram Coffin’s essay, Kennebec Crystals:

“Then next day the January thaw came. Teachers went all to pieces as early as Wednesday in the week. Doctors used the whip on their horses as they clattered over the steaming ruts. Shopkeepers did not throw in the extra pilot bread but tied up the bags and bit off the twine. The big bugs behind the Ionian porticoes put aside the Annals of Tacitus and took down the Magnalia Christi Americana of Cotton Mather and Jonathan Edwards’s Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God. Small boys lost their tempers and kicked the jackstraws their bachelor uncles had whittled out in the shape of oars and eelspears all over the floor. Farmers sat down to Indian pudding without any salt hake to season it off.

“Young Timothy Toothtaker decided not to ask Susannah Orr a certain question until mayflower time or later. And he stopped spooling new rungs for her future bed.”

REVIEW POTPOURRI: Beethoven’s Hammerklavier Sonata

Eduardo del Pueyo

Peter Catesby Peter Cates

Beethoven’s Hammerklavier Sonata

In 1818, Ludwig van Beethoven composed the Hammerklavier Sonata, #29 of his 32 Sonatas for piano; it is the most technically demanding of the group, a genuine knuckle buster, and very powerful music that, like the composer’s other masterpieces, ranges through many moods. The third movement Adagio is one beautifully-developed 15 minutes in which the composer lets loose his deepest emotions.

Franz Liszt

The year of its composition had been a difficult one for Beethoven. He hadn’t composed much during the previous two years, his deafness was getting worse, his physical health was terrible, and he was constantly worrying about finances. Finally, it was not performed in public until 1836, nine years after the composer’s death, by composer/pianist Franz Liszt (1811-1886), whose own technical wizardry at the keyboard was unsurpassed; when he gave a concert as a child prodigy, Beethoven came up on the stage and kissed him.

Rudolf Serkin

I recently listened to two performances on YouTube. The first is a recent video link from this past year by the Romanian pianist Viniciu Moroianu. It was very understated and maybe lacked the volcanic drama of other pianists such as Rudolf Serkin, whose own recording of over 50 years ago is highly recommended. However, Moroianu’s musicianship was commendable and scored points.

The second YouTube was an audio of the late ‘50s Dutch Phillips LP by the Spanish pianist Eduardo del Pueyo (1905-1986) whom I first heard through a very powerful mid-’50s Epic LP of Manuel de Falla’s Nights in the Gardens of Spain in a collaboration with Jean Martinon conducting the Lamoureux Orchestra of France, Martinon being a subject for another day. Del Pueyo recorded several Beethoven Sonatas during the ‘50s and would do the entire cycle in later years.

His Hammerklavier was both exquisitely phrased for its poetry and dramatically shaped with its own intensity. Both pianists brought something special to this piece.

Space travel buffs

For those who find the activities of NASA of particular interest, the show For All Mankind on Apple TV is a compelling dramatization of the lives of scientists, astronauts, and others involved in the space program during the 1960s and ‘70s of the moon landings and first space station. Be forewarned that it is a combination of fact and fiction, the most glaring example being that Ted Kennedy succeeds Richard Nixon as president.

Robert P. Tristram Coffin

Continuing with paragraph three of Robert P. Tristram Coffin’s essay, Kennebec Crystals:

“The cold spell was a real one. Farmers had to beat their arms each side of their buffalo coats. Next sundown the wind fell. It got still as a pocket. You could hear the stars sputter over the valley. The shopkeepers sat sipping their evening’s lime juice and gloated over their newspapers. ‘The Hudson Valley: continued mild weather, southerly winds, higher temperatures and showers for next week.’ It was a different story up here in Maine. The kitchen window panes had white ferns at their corners. A knife handle would have to be used on the water bucket in the morning. Down Hudson, up Kennebec! In the morning, there were no more waves running on the river. The water looked like a long, dark looking glass dropped between the hills. In a hundred sheds the grindstones were humming.”

REVIEW POTPOURRI: Robert P. Tristram Coffin (continued)

Peter Catesby Peter Cates

Robert P. Tristram Coffin

Robert P. Tristram Coffin

Continuing the weekly series of paragraphs from Robert P. Tristram Coffin’s essay Kennebec Crystals:

“Then a sharp blue wind came up out of the northwest, the mercury in the thermometers tumbled. The pines roared on into the dark, the stars snapped in the skies like sapphires. Good weather for future soldiers, Napoleon once remarked. Napoleon be hanged! So thought the farmers along the Kennebec, who were up in history as they were down in their pork barrels. There were enough small pairs of pants running around their farms already. What they needed was nights to breed that life-giving ice which would keep the small thighs in the trousers going. Good freezing nights for starting the crop of the water.”

Third paragraph next week.

Paul Whiteman

Paul Whiteman

On December 15, 1922, Paul Whiteman (1891-1967) and his orchestra recorded a pair of fox trot arrangements of two songs — Ivy (Cling to Me) composed by James P. Johnson (1894-1955) and Isham Jones (1894-1956); and I Gave You Up Just Before You Threw Me Down, by Bert Kalmar (1894-1947) and Harry Ruby (1895-1974).

Whiteman was often criticized for the sameness of his dance music arrangements but I have found the piles of his shellacs and other records quite enjoyable. The musicians performed with perky rhythms, savory phrasing and, at times, imaginatively improvised detail within the sometimes constricted trotty parameters that might be lacking in the foxy element.

James P. Johnson was an African-American barrelhouse pianist from New Jersey. Isham Jones was one of the early ‘30’s big band leaders who left a number of very good 78s. Coincidentally, Jones was born January 31, 1894, one day before James P. Johnson.

Bert Kalmar and Harry Ruby wrote such songs as I Wanna Be Loved By You which was immortalized by Betty Boop and Who’s Sorry Now, itself a megahit MGM 45 for Connie Francis in 1957. They were the subject of the classic 1950 MGM musical Three Little Words, starring Fred Astaire (1899-1987) and Red Skelton (1913-1997) as the songwriters.


ZeroZeroZero is a recent crime drama series that premiered on Amazon Prime February 16 with a package of eight episodes. It depicts the activities of Mexican cocaine dealers; Mexico’s semi-corrupt military fighting the dealers, often murderously, while taking cash as well; a New Orleans family who owns a fleet of container ships and acts as middlemen between sellers and buyers; and the elderly mafioso big scale buyer in Calabria, Italy, whose grandson is secretly planning to feed Grandpa to his sow and take over that family business while pretending to be loyal and loving.

I watched the first two episodes this past weekend and am now hooked.

REVIEW POTPOURRI: Robert P. Tristram Coffin, Lorenzo Molajoli, The Irregulars

Robert P. Tristram Coffin

Peter Catesby Peter Cates

Robert P. Tristram Coffin

Author and Bowdoin professor Robert P. Tristram Coffin (1892-1955) won the Pulitzer prize and achieved much renown particularly for his writings and poems about Maine. He was born in Harpswell to a family with seven children.

An essay, Kennebec Crystals, gives an evocative sense of life during the cold months in Central Maine along the Kennebec River during the 1800s. Too lengthy to re-print in full, I will offer a weekly paragraph until completed in full and begin below:

“The shopkeepers of Hallowell and Gardiner and Augusta had watched the January weather like hawks. They thumbed their ledgers and shook their graying temples at the lengthening columns of debit. The doctors had their eye on the sky as they felt of their lank wallets. Twenty miles deep each side of the river, farmers in small story-and-a-half farmhouses eyed their grocery-store thermometers at the side door, and bit more sparingly into their B.L. plugs. They chewed longer on their cuds, too. In the kitchen, the wife was scraping the lower staves of the flour barrel. The big bugs in the wide white mansions along the river looked out of their east or west windows at crack of day to see the state of the water. Teachers in school grew short with their pupils who confused Washington’s crossing of the Delawre with Clark’s fording of the fields around Vincennes. The mild weather continued. The river rolled on, blue in its ripples. Shopkeepers got short with their wives.”

Second paragraph next week.

A Hollywood character actor of film and TV, Tris Coffin (1909-1990), was a nephew of the author and appeared in good guy/bad guy roles on such shows as the Adventures of Superman.

Lorenzo Molajoli


Lorenzo Molajoli

Gianna Arangi-Lombardi

A 1930 Columbia Master­works set of ten 12-inch 78s, OP-7, featured one of the label’s busiest house conductors, Lorenzo Molajoli (1868-1939), leading a very good cast of soloists and the Milan, Italy, Sym­phony Or­chestra – probably the same orchestra serving the city’s world-renowned La Scala Opera – in Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana. It has been reissued a number of times on compact disc.

The main role of Santuzza was sung by soprano Giannina Arangi-Lombardi (1891-1951) who left a number of complete recordings of operas such as this one, Verdi’s Aida and Boito’s Mefistophele back during the 1920s of heavy breakable sets. After praising Lina Bruna Rasa ardently in a recent column for her Santuzza in the 1941 recording with Mascagni himself conducting, I was quite impressed by a darker deeper quality to Giannina’s voice in this role. She doesn’t spill her tears with the intensity of Rasa but does bring a more controlled, gripping power uniquely her own.

Excerpts from this recording can be heard on youtube.

Sanford’s Famous Dance Band

A 1918 acoustic ten-inch shellac – Emerson, 10185 – has the long-forgotten Sanford’s Famous Dance Band giving charmingly perky performances of Victor Jacobi’s On Miami Shore and George Gershwin’s Swanee, of which Al Jolson (1886-1950) did a spirited recording on a Decca 78 in 1945.

A few other sides of this band can be heard on YouTube but not these two selections.

The Irregulars

Thaddea Graham

A new British crime series, The Irregul­ars, is available on Netflix. The setting is Queen Victoria’s London and the show deals with a group of street kids living from hand to mouth. I have only seen the first episode in which they are utilized by, who else, Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson for keeping their eyes and ears opened for information on several kidnappings of infants. There is also an evil connoisseur of ravens.

The leader of the group, a young woman named Bea, has a formidable honesty, courage and sassy spunk, especially against rich white trash, and is portrayed most memorably by the Irish actress Thaddea Graham.







Peter Catesby Peter Cates

James Joyce

James Joyce

Fifteen years ago, I binged for a couple of months on the Irish writer James Joyce (1882-1941) and read his first novel Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and the short story collection Dubliners. The reading experience was, to put it mildly, intense.

Joyce’s singular achievement was to render the total life experience of Dublin, Ireland, in all its aspects and without any of his own personality intruding, as all great literature is achieved. He was perhaps most well known for his novel Ulysses, which devotes its several hundred pages to one day in the life of Stephen Dedulus, and Leopold and Molly Bloom. It is almost impossible to read because of its stream of consciousness technique with several events, impressions, and conversations occurring all at once, yet it has sold millions of copies.

I would recommend the Dubliners for beginners, especially its longest story, The Dead, which depicts an annual Christmas dinner party hosted by two elderly sisters. Beneath the festive hospitality is a terrifying sense of life going nowhere; Joyce’s genius was in the arrangement of particular details of food, chit chat, and good fellowship against the mood of desolation. One scene describes the impressions of the nephew of the two sisters, Gabriel, as he notices them entering the drawing room:

“His aunts were two small, plainly dressed old women. Aunt Julia was an inch or so the taller. Her hair, drawn low over the tops of her ears, was grey; and grey also, with darker shadows, was her large flaccid face. Though she was stout in build and stood erect, her slow eyes and parted lips gave her the appearance of a woman who did not know where she was or where she was going. Aunt Kate was more vivacious. Her face, healthier than her sister’s, was all puckers and creases, like a shriveled red apple, and her hair, braided in the same old-fashioned way, had not lost its ripe nut colour.”

The two women are leading lives of blighted banality, which this annual party does little to alleviate.

I close with some verses from Joyce’s lengthy poem, Chamber Music:

“Lean out of the window,
I heard you singing
A merry air.

“My book was closed;
I read no more,
Watching the fire dance
On the floor.

“I have left my book,
I have left my room,
For I heard you singing
Through the gloom.

“Singing and singing
A merry air,
Lean out of the window,

As a young man, James Joyce learned the Norwegian language just so he could read the collected works of Norway’s famed playwright Hendrik Ibsen in the original tongue.

He was a fanatical taskmaster on himself and would be happy if he came up with seven words that met his approval during a 15-hour workday.

REVIEW POTPOURRI: Perry Mason continued…

Raymond Burr as Perry Mason

Peter Catesby Peter Cates

Perry Mason continued

(see previous article: TV Show: Perry Mason)

Producer Gail Patrick Jackson saw actor William Talman (1915-1968) as the serial killer in 1953’s The Hitch Hiker, directed by Ida Lupino, and immediately knew who she wanted for the role of District Attorney Hamilton Burger on the Perry Mason TV show. Talman was also one of five escaped killers in 1955’s The Big House starring Broderick Crawford, Charles Bronson, Ralph Meeker and Lon Chaney Jr., and appeared in other similar roles during the fascinating film noir years. He was scarily convincing in the sulfuric venom he exuded in those films, particularly the deranged eyes.

In his portrayal of Burger, the courtroom encounters with defense attorney Mason frequently brought on a look of outrage at a contentious eye contact level when Mason scored points for the defendant, raised objections to Burger’s examination of witnesses on the stand or insisted that certain testimony was irrelevant and immaterial. And he gave the same tit for tat.

However, both characters, sometimes begrudgingly, respected each other, both upheld the integrity of the law and both were in pursuit of justice and the truth. Burger himself stated a few times that, when he lost a case, it was a win because an innocent person didn’t go to prison or the gas chamber.

In 1960, Talman was found smoking marijuana with a group of friends and was fired from the show for a few months, until a vociferous letter writing campaign and the high pressure lobbying of CBS by producer Jackson, Burr and other cast members got Talman reinstated .

Talman came down with lung cancer in 1968 after decades of chain smoking and filmed a public service announcement on the dangers of cigarettes not to be shown until after he died. It can be seen on YouTube.

Ray Collins (1889-1965) in his role as Lieutenant Arthur Tragg almost stole the show time and again, not only with his formidable presence as Chief of Homicide, but also with his infectious sense of humor in many scenes. At one murder scene, Tragg cuts Mason some slack with the gathered evidence but states that District Attorney Burger would have his own head if the latter ever found out. And just about every time Mason would show up even at the most out of the way locations to help his client, Tragg would appear with his usual “Good morning, Counselor,” and an arrest warrant.

Collins worked often with Orsen Welles and was in the cast of the original radio broadcast of War of the Worlds that caused a nationwide panic. He too was a chain smoker and passed away from emphysema, at the age of 74, on July 11, 1965.

The many actors and actresses who made guest appearances included some memorable ones:

Angie Dickinson (1931-) was the defendant when a man who was blackmailing her wound up dead in an episode from the 1957 first season.

Joan Camden (1929-2000) appeared twice during the 1957-58 season as two different variants of the scorned woman, the first a collaborator/girlfriend with an extortionist who winds up dead and the second as a defendant whose ex-boyfriend is found dead and her fingerprints are on the gun. She brought a spitfire bitterness that reminded me of such actresses as Joan Crawford, Katherine Hepburn, Susan Hayward and Maureen Stapleton at their best.

Douglas Kennedy (1915-1973) was a gifted character actor who also appeared twice during the first season and as the actual killer – in one as a detective who murdered another detective, tries to kill Mason in the lawyer’s office but is caught by Lt. Tragg and his men who are hiding in the next room. A later episode has him as a corrupt lawyer who helps his girlfriend in the murder of her husband. He conveyed a nasty hot-tempered edginess that compelled attention.

Henderson died in 1973 in Honolulu after he suddenly came down with cancer while filming episodes with Jack Lord in Hawaii Five O.

Judy Tyler (1932-1957) played a delightfully sultry chorus line girl in a December 1957, episode seen six months after she was killed with her husband in an automobile accident . She was most famous for a starring role with Elvis Presley in Jailhouse Rock.

Ben Wright (1915-1989) played a jeweler who kidnapped his business partner and assisted in the murder of a second one when an embezzlement scheme goes awry. He was most “fondly” remembered for his role as the Nazi Gestapo representative Herr Zeller in the 1965 Sound of Music and conveyed the dubious ambiguity of both roles.