Archive for May, 2021

Democracy by Lot — A College Experiment

In 1921, Knox College in Illinois attempted a new way to break students out of their social comfort zones: randomly selecting the seating arrangements at the dining hall.

Here, in a dining hall seating 200 men, they come together three times a day, as a part of a deliberate plan for developing democratic spirit and avoiding the formation of cliques. Each man draws lots each week to determine at which of the twenty ten-men tables he shall eat with nine other chance comrades. In this way there is a general shaking up every seven days, and a different group of undergraduates is assembled at each table.

So, did it work?

“The system has had a good trial year and has met with complete success,” President McConaughy said in a recent interivew. [Note for modern readers: that’s indeed spelled McConaughy, not McConaughey as in the actor Matthew.] “It is supplying that intangible something without which no student’s education is complete, but which must be got outside the classroom. It brings all the men of the college together on terms of equality and fosters friendships which cannot be gained through any group association.”

If it truly “met with complete success,” one might think Knox would still do it today. But in my searching, I found zero references to a modern continuation. Still, it sounds like something that more people should try. Although one could argue that we have a global equivalent now, in the form of Chatroulette.

 

Democracy by Lot — A College Experiment (PDF)

Published: Sunday, May 29, 1921

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Written by Jesse

May 26th, 2021 at 8:51 am

Posted in Education

Mortal Actors and Immortal Film Faces

In theater, if a cast member dies, every actor or actress has an understudy who can substitute in the next night. In the early years of the movie business, though, a new concern emerged: what if a cast member dies in the middle of filming?
That exact situation happened for the 1922 movie Foolish Wives, when star Rudolph Christians died mid-production. Filming had already cost roughly $750,000 (about $11.9 million in 2021 dollars).

And so the country-wide search began for an actor who looked like Christians and who also could act like him — like that shadow of a man which had imprinted a personality indelibly upon a cool $750,000 worth of film. The agencies of New York and Los Angeles went to work. Pictures of the deceased actor were sent far and near. Established actors came scurrying to find a resemblance, since the prevailing inactivity of the regular producing companies made the opportunity of treble importance.

Many of them did look like Christians. But those that looked like him did not act like him, and those that acted like him did not look like him. And the camera is the one eye that strips off disguises. Yet they found a duplicate at last — in Robert Edeson. Not only do his features resemble Christians’s, more or less, feature for feature, but he was able to copy the dead actor’s mannerisms. With trick lighting to mask the camera’s eye, even close-ups have proven successful. The three-quarters of a million dollars is saved that for months hung in the balance.

Apparently, Edeson didn’t look similar enough, since in the final cut he ended up playing all of his scenes with his back to the camera.

With modern-day CGI, they wouldn’t have needed to cast a lookalike. In the past few years, photo-realistic facial reconstruction visual effects have been essentially perfected, even recreating deceased actor Peter Cushing as Grand Moff Tarkin in 2016’s Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.

 

Mortal Actors and Immortal Film Faces (PDF)

Published: Sunday, May 22, 1921

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Written by Jesse

May 21st, 2021 at 9:13 am

Posted in Movies

The Future of the Novel

A 1921 article predicted novels would move towards action and adventure.

That happened… eventually. While the biggest novels of recent decades have been action-heavy, perhaps the least action-heavy classic ever — Ulysses by James Joyce — was published only the next year.

This is the age of the airplane, the wireless telegraph, of radium, of “relativity.” Very well! It is also the age of the novel. Perhaps the future will create a new literary genre such as no one can at present foresee, but for the moment the novel is the summary of modern life; and when people ask what the literature of the coming years is going to be, the question they really ask is: What kind of a novel is the public going to read?

Indeed, an explosion in novel formats has occurred in recent years and decades, from e-books to audiobooks to fan fiction to books written with serialized chapters online.

Which of these two types will the novel of the future… approach? Will we have more and more realism, as the tendency seemed to be in 1914? Or will we turn back to the old novel of adventure, of action?

The novel of adventure is becoming fashionable again in Europe. Not only are publishers accepting new books of this kind, but they are reprinting many stories that were written a generation ago, but had no success at that time — the heyday of the naturalists.

Particularly interesting, for instance, is the new vogue of Robert Louis Stevenson. The Continentals who had read “Treasure Island” in the years following the publication of that masterpiece of adventure could be counted almost on the fingers of the hand. Now Stevenson is all the rage.

In the last 30 years, the biggest authors have included J.K. Rowling, Tom Clancy, Suzanne Collins, Dan Brown, John Grisham, Stephenie Meyer, James Patterson, Veronica Roth, and Michael Crichton. There’s still a place for realism in fiction, but increasingly that place doesn’t seem to be on the bestseller list.

 

The Future of the Novel (PDF)

Published: Sunday, May 15, 1921

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Written by Jesse

May 14th, 2021 at 11:31 am

Posted in Future,Literature

Enjoying the Presidency

A few months into office in 1921, Warren Harding had returned fun to the White House, resurrecting the Easter Egg Roll, the presidential tradition of throwing the baseball season’s opening pitch, and corresponding with letter writers on apolitical topics.

The Easter Egg Roll had been cancelled in 1918 due to wartime egg shortages, but President Woodrow Wilson hadn’t bring it back in 1919 or 1920 either.

It was characteristic, also, that [Harding] should order restored the ancient custom of staging an egg-rolling contest on the White House grounds on the Monday following Easter Sunday. He frankly enjoyed watching the children at play and observed the pleasure of the crowds obtained in the opportunity of viewing the White House at close range.

After William Howard Taft began the opening day ceremonial first pitch tradition in 1910, it continued every year through 1916, but Wilson again suspended the tradition from 1917-20.

And [Harding] enjoys a baseball game — in fact, he may be called a fan. He agreed to open the American League season at Washington by tossing the first ball out upon the diamond, not solely because it was a thing which he was expected to do, but because he wanted to have a good time at the game. He even kept a box score, following each play and joining in the applause. He didn’t just hurry to the ball park, look on for a few minutes, and then hurry away. He stayed to the bitter end.

Harding also corresponded with letters writers who wrote him on less-than-serious matters. 12-year-old John D. Wackerman wanted Harding to attend a ball that would raise money for a local swimming pool. Harding deemed this worthy of presidential attention.

My dear John:

I received your letter this morning, saying that the boys were very much disappointed because they had heard I could not attend the ball in the interest of your swimming pool fund. I am exceedingly glad you wrote to me about this, John, because I do not want the boys to think I am not interested in their getting a swimming pool. I have used swimming pools myself, in my time, and there are one or two swimming pools in the creek out near Caledonia, Ohio, that I would like to get into again right now, if it were possible.

You tell the boys that I hope the ball will raise all the money that is needed to provide the pool, and that if some of you will come around to the White House with some tickets, I will buy some, whether I can attend or not.

Yours for the Swimming Pool,

Warren G. Harding

Sure enough, Wackerman visited the White House and Harding gave him a $50 bill — plus Treasury Secretary Andrew Mellon chipped in an extra $20.

Others among the more “fun” national leaders have continued the tradition of responding to children’s letters on barely-political subjects, from Ronald Reagan’s note to a seventh grader who requested FEMA assistance after his mom declared his bedroom a disaster area, to New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s letter to an 11-year-old girl who requested funds for dragon research.

 

 

Enjoying the Presidency (PDF)

Published: Sunday, May 8, 1921

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Written by Jesse

May 9th, 2021 at 12:01 pm

Posted in Life,Politics