Sunday, November 20, 2011

Monster Museum

It's a foggy, cold Sunday afternoon in November--in Norway, no less. Brrr--good to settle down in my library and read a few stories in this old book, Alfred Hitchcock's Monster Museum. Got the little table lamp on--certainly not enough light coming in through the windows. All nature is like a dark cave, or a mineshaft (call it a mindshaft.) 

This book has been fondly engrained into my memory, since childhood days, when I checked it out of my school's library. Clearly, the illustrations were what made it special, so uncanny. I ordered this book not too long ago, when I learned about it from fellow bloggers, similarly impressed by it. It seemed to be a popular book for libraries back in the day (Twelve Shuddery Stories for Daring Young Readers), so the tome is easily bought used for a few dollars. It was published in 1965, my own "publishing date."
The above illustration, for the story Slime, may be my favorite.  Earl E. Mayan was a classic illustrator, master of many pulp and mainstream magazine covers. But the bizarre collage/expressionist drawings for this book are unique, unlike anything else he did. One little addition to the mystery of this illustration is that his signature is upside-down. All the other plates in the book are upright. Was this an oversight, or an editor's belief that the work functioned better? As published the grimacing heads are upright, but the gravity of the drawing is defied, drips running upward. If seen as Mayan intended, the effect would have been much different, the victims fully immured within the depth of a monstrous entity with cat-like eyes. 

It's interesting that the book was envisioned as something for young readers.  Several of the tales have a humorous, or gallows humor bent, so perhaps that qualified. Actually, they are simply a variety of good tales reprinted from various horror and sci-fi publications of the 30s, 40s, and 50s. It would be interesting to see what kids would think of this volume these days. Would it make a strong impression on daring young readers?

Friday, November 11, 2011

THE Rooney

This Rooney became the one that would be more known, or more a part of the puzzle that makes up our minds. The other one, what was his name...Mickey Rooney, became less relevant, not making his age a part of his persona, despite his increasingly ancient years. (In fact, perhaps this was the problem: he seemed to be rooted in an era way far back there, a kid actor that would never go away, always flippant and sputtering with cheer.  It was just some chemistry that rubbed me the wrong way--to see an old movie starring him would get me to flip the channel just as quickly as an old Bob Hope movie would.)

“there are more beauty parlors than there are beauties”

No, I'm talking about the reverse of flip Mickey... I'm talking about The Rooney, Andy Rooney.
He is rooted in the mind. To see him on TV, no-way would you think to flip the channel! Every word he delivered was a pleasure to hear. Funny and cantankerous, he had a jaundiced worldview that was always refreshing. He was a telegenic Ambrose Bierce, or Mark Twain in latter years. Being old was part of his persona. Even when he started his slot in the 70s, he seemed old (at least to my teen brain then.) So his three decades+ on 60 minutes solidified him into a wonderful archetype of curmudgeonly world-weeriness. His schtick was perfectly developed by the time I stopped watching regular network TV more than 20 years ago ( due to a move to NY, followed by expat life in Norway for a decade.) He was an institution that I took for granted, an unchanging presence that I might sometimes see during vacations or read about as an idiom.

Not only can I not think of a better curmudgeon in human history, I can't really think of a better personification of oldness, at least in the age of moving images. Can you think of anyone better?

George Burns might come to mind--but not really to an equal degree, despite his perfect schtick. I could never quite forget his earlier incarnation as the comparatively virile (and weirdly sinister) partner to Gracie Allen.

I'm probably not being fair to actors--they have public pasts, while Andy Rooney, a newsman, found his public slot later in life. (Not to deny his distinguished work before 60 minutes.) The NY Times has a good obituary where you can read many of his great sayings.