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Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Bob's Books - The Final Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - Peter Haining

A collection of stories, plays and essays about Holmes that are not part of the Canon but certainly make nice supplementary reading. An excellent addition to any Holmes library.  
A few years ago, an article in the Wall Street Journal was about Barnes & Noble’s in-house publishing imprint. They have been reproducing classic works for years and selling them at affordable prices. But they range father afield than that, and my Sherlockian bookshelf includes several of their titles, such as The Sherlock Holmes Companion, The Lost Adventures of Sherlock Holmes and The Final Adventures of Sherlock Holmes.

This last book is similar to the out of print and often difficult to find Sherlock Holmes: The Published Apocrypha by Jack Tracy (also reviewed on this site). Both books include the “almost Sherlock Holmes” stories and plays that don’t fit in the Canon, but are certainly in the neighborhood.

The introduction discusses the pieces that make up the book and you will find some interesting tidbits (much of which was previously in Tracy’s book).

The book starts off nicely with The Truth About Sherlock Holmes, which is an essay by Doyle that appeared in Colliers in 1923. Much of this essay would find its way into Doyle’s own autobiography, Memories and Adventures. It is a very interesting essay and worth reading by all Sherlockians.

The Mystery of Uncle Jeremy’s Household appeared in Boy’s Own Journal in early 1887, after A Study in Scarlet was written, but before the first Holmes novel was published. I would suggest reading this story and amusing yourself by listing the Holmesian overtones. You will find more than one!

Next up is The Field Bazaar, one of Doyle’s two parodies that he wrote about Holmes. It recounts a breakfast conversation between Holmes and Watson and was written as a fundraiser for the student newspaper at Edinburgh University.

Two tales from 1898 follow. The Story of the Man With the Watches and The Story of the Lost Special both feature an unnamed detective and are quite Sherlock Holmes-like in their feel. Either of these books could easily have been written as Holmes adventures, or even transformed into Solar Pons tales. While not Doyle’s best detective stories, they are better than some of the official tales from the Canon. Since they were published after the detective’s supposed death and before his return, was Doyle just “getting some Holmes” out of his system?

Hesketh Pearson was researching a biography of Doyle when he found the outline of an unwritten Holmes story, and a completed Holmes tale, The Case of the Man Who Was Wanted (mentioned below). The outline is included here. It is immediately followed by a completed version of the tale, written by Robert A. Cutter, in 1947. It is titled The Adventure of the Tall Man.

I’m quite a fan of William Gillette’s marvelous play, Sherlock Holmes. However, his adventure into the parody world, the curtain raiser The Painful Predicament of Sherlock Holmes, is not one of my favorites. The novelty of Holmes not uttering a single word is original, but I just don’t find the play very funny.

For The Case of the Man Who Was Wanted, I have included the contents of my review of Tracy’s Apocrypha:
Pearson also discovered an entire previously unknown Sherlock Holmes tale in 1942. The Doyle estate (always quick to try and make a buck) surprisingly enough resisted pressure to publish it. Finally, in 1948, they accepted an offer from Cosmopolitan and it was published. Then the bad news: Arthur Whitaker said that he had written the tale and sent it to Doyle in 1910, hoping it would become a collaboration. Doyle declined and suggested Whitaker rewrite is as non-Holmes tale. Finally, Doyle purchased it for 10 pounds. Doyle set it aside, never using it. Whitaker produced the carbon copy of his typescript, as well as Doyle’s own hand-written letter in which the author had offered to buy the script.
The Doyle Estate refunded some of the money they received for selling the story and Whitaker was paid 150 pounds to be quiet about the affair. He died not long after and the matter was dropped by all parties. Cosmopolitan never admitted the story wasn’t by Doyle, and the Estate had no comments.
Haining’s explanation includes the following quote from Pearson’s description of the story. “The opening scene between Holmes and Watson betrays the hand of the master.” Haining also mentions a reference to the story made in John Dickson Carr’s biography of Sir Arthur. Haining speculates that Doyle himself may have contributed somewhat to the tale and that it was not all Whitaker’s work. Regardless, it is an enjoyable Holmes pastiche.

Some Personalia About Sherlock Holmes was written by Doyle and appeared in a 1917 edition of The Strand. Doyle discusses receiving letters written to Holmes and ruminates on true life crimes that the author had some involvement in investigating. One such, involving a man who disappeared, I wrote as a story involving Doyle and William Gillette. It was published as The Case of the Tired Captain in a collection entitled Curious Incidents.

American critic Arthur Guitterman wrote a poem critical of Doyle for having Holmes insult Edgar Allen Poe’s C. August Dupin and Emile Gaboriau’s Monsieur Lecoq, in A Study in Scarlet. It is included here, followed by Doyle’s own poem in response. People were taking the Canon far too seriously long before Sherlockians jumped into the act.

Doyle’s short Holmes play, The Crown Diamond, is next. It is a weak story and quite inferior to his play adaptation of The Speckled Band.

How Watson Learned the Trick is a charming parody written by Doyle for inclusion in the miniature library in a dollhouse made for Queen Anne. I find this to be a greatly underappreciated Holmes piece and is one of my favorites.

On December 15, 1900, A Gaudy Death: Conan Doyle Tells the True Story of Sherlock Holmes’ End appeared in Tit-Bits, a weekly magazine published by the same folks who owned The Strand. Holmes was in that unhappy (for the readers) period after his plunge at the Reichenbach Falls and before his temporary revival in The Hound of the Baskervilles. This is a fine interview in which Doyle discusses how he came up with the idea for Holmes, and why he switched from novels to serial adventures for the detective. He then moves on to explain why he killed off Holmes. “My lower work” (Holmes) “was obscuring my higher” (The White Company) “is as good a summary of his feelings as ever he uttered.

It’s hard for us to imagine a Canon that ended with The Memoirs. A paltry 26 Sherlock Holmes adventures! So imagine the thrill that the discerning reader of this essay experienced at the following sentence from Doyle: “That does not say, however, that because he is dead I should not write about him again if I wanted to.” I get a tingle myself!

The Mystery of Sasassa Valley was Doyle’s first published story and is a tale with a supernatural tinge.
The volume wraps up with My Favourite Sherlock Holmes Adventures, a short piece Doyle wrote for The Strand in 1927. It is a listing of Doyle’s own dozen favorite Holmes tales. He does not include any from The Case-Book, which was about to be published in book form and had not been readily available to most readers. I like to believe that his statement that he would have included The Lion’s Mane and The Illustrious Client on the list if they were eligible was a selling job. I can’t place those two anywhere near the top twelve. In case you haven’t seen the list, The Speckled Band was at number one.

Peter Haining’s book is an outstanding collection that any Holmes fan should enjoy. If you already have Tracy’s Apocrypha, or vice versa, you will find they complement each other and you shouldn’t ignore one because you own the other.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

John Waller - As For Me and My House


John Waller is best known for the hit song 'While I am Waiting,' from the Fireproof soundtrack. But hands dwn my favorite song of his is based a Bible verse: Joshua 24:15. 



It really is that simple. We are like sheep that have gone astray. We can worship money, ourselves, jezebels like Kim Kardashian, power, influence, our families, video games: the constructs of humanity. The Gods of today's society. Or we can worship the Lord. My house made our choice.

Verse 1:
I'm done
Building my own kingdom
No more
Seeking worthless idols

Pre:
Like sheep we have all gone astray
We must choose this day
Whom we will serve

Chorus:
As for me and my house
We will serve the Lord
We will serve the Lord
Idols raised, tear them down
Cause we will serve the Lord
We will serve the Lord
To one king we bow down
As for me and my house
We will only serve the Lord

Verse 2:
I'm done
With powerless religion
No more
Living in deception

Pre:

Chorus:
As for me and my house
We will serve the Lord
Find More lyrics at www.sweetslyrics.com
We will serve the Lord
Idols raised, tear them down
Cause we will serve the Lord
We will serve the Lord
To one king we bow down
As for me and my house
We will only serve the Lord

Bridge:
We will cross over Jordan
We will claim what you promised

Chorus:

Out:
We will not give our hearts to another
Will not give our hearts to another
We belong to the Lord
We will not give our hearts to another
Will not give our hearts to another
We will only serve the Lord

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Penn State - Uncivil Disobedience

The picture to the left is a news van over-turned by the Penn State students who rioted last night on campus. Rioted you say? Why did they do that?

Because the Penn State Board of Trustees fired beloved head football coach Joe Paterno. They did this because Paterno has been accused of abetting the sexual molestation of at least one child by a longtime assistant coach and friend.

The legal process needs to run its course, but the facts indicate that Joe Paterno did NOT call the police when he was told what a Penn State staffer witnessed, which was Jerry Sandusky sexually molesting a boy in an athletic facility shower.

I'm sorry, why are Penn State students rioting? Because Paterno was fired. Not beause he didn't report the action to the police. They're not rioting on behalf of the boy who was molested.

Society's values and principles are so askew these days it's beyond ridiclous. Even beyond pitiful. We aren't standing upon a rock: we're on shifting sand.

The sadly misguided students at Penn State are yet another example of the cluelessness that pervades our society. Paterno told them to resume thier (student) lives and to pray for the victims and their families. He had a lot more sense than these students did last night.

Joshua 24:15 - As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.

The young adults at Penn State certainly weren't serving the Lord last night.

Jim Tressel, Joe Paterno, many, many others, coaches and not. When given the responsibility to choose between wrong and right, we must choose RIGHT. Paterno was fired yesterday because he knowingly chose wrong.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Casting Crowns - TREMENDOUS!!!

Last night's Casting Crown's concert here in Columbus Oh was simply incredible. It was a rock and roll praise and worship event. World Vision (a fabulous organization) sponsored the show and many children were sponsored last night. One of the three children my wife and I sponsor is through World Vision.

And because my buddy sponsored a child last night, they gave him the DVD, Films & Music inspired by The Story. AND...Mark Hall's new book.The Well. And since I ordred the tickets, he gave them both to me! I'm looking forward to reading it.


I enjoyed Sanctus Real and what I heard of Lindsay McCaul (do NOT drive on Stringtown Rd at evening rush hour if you can avoid it). Lead Me was as good live as I expected. It is a powerful song about being a husband and father.


Casting Crowns is an amazing band. Whether they are singing the ballads the blue-grassish stuff or the jamming tunes (trust me, this isn't kum-bye-ya religious music), they nail it. Mark Hall delivers the Message well and the World Vision tie-in was moving.

I would see Casting Crowns again without reservation. Perhaps the best concert I've attended, which includes bands such as Joan Jett, Buddy Guy, the Beach Boys, the Radiators and Kiss. With the possible exception of Matt Redman, none were like this.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Glorious Day - Byrne's Serms #3

I am headed to a Casting Crowns concert on Thursday night. Needless to say I am quite excited, as they are a fantastic band and I can't wait to check them out live.

Glorious Day (Living He Loved Me) was recently a #1 on the Christian charts and is my favorite song by the band. And it's my favorite not just because it sounds great, but the lyrics are as good as anything I've ever heard before (it's from an old hymn modified by Mark Hall and Michael Bleecker). In fact, they're so good, my third sermon was about that song. I haven't recorded it yet, but click below and you can read it:

Glorious Day - Byrne's Serms

I'm pretty proud of this one.

Casting Crowns makes great music. Which is why the new album, Come to the Well, debuted at #2 on the Billboard 200 chart. That's not just Christian albums: that's all albums in all styles of music. Go Casting Crowns!


Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Thursday, October 20, 2011

GO SEE COURAGEOUS

If:

1 - You are a parent; and
2 - You are going to see at least one movie this year

That movie should be Courageous




It's amazing what the folks at Sherwood Baptist Church in Georgia are doing. This is the most powerful yet of the four movies (Flywheel, Facing the Giants and Fireproof are the others) that they've made.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Bob's Books - Conan the Valorous, by John Maddox Roberts

Tor #8/1985 
This is the first of the eight novels that John Maddox Roberts wrote in the fifty-book Tor Series, and the first not penned by Robert Jordan (later of The Wheel of Time fame).  In William Galen Gray’s chronology it is the thirtieth Conan tale, following Howard’s The Bloodstained God and taking place before Howard’s The Frost Giant’s Daughter. 

I commend Roberts for providing an excellent look at life in Cimmeria. I contrast this with the disappointing approach that Harry Turtledove used in Conan of Venarium.  The barbarians live in stone huts and put up hide tents; they don’t occupy what is basically a medieval village. The people are nomads and fierce warriors. They fight each other, only coming together when driven by exceptional circumstances. Maddox Roberts also depicts the enmity  between the Cimmerians and the Vanheim, which is an important characteristic of life in the north.

The tale begins with Conan hastily swearing to perform an errand for Hathor Ka, a Stygian sorceress. Conan blindly agrees to the task without getting the details first. Really, it’s hard to buy that he was so hard up for money that he just jumped into this deal. Apparently Maddox Roberts wanted to get the story moving so he skimped a bit on the Call to Adventure. Regardless, once he agrees, Conan is committed to visiting a sacred cave in his homeland and things get going.

As Joseph Campbell wrote in The Hero With a Thousand Faces (a must read for any fantasy fan),

“The first encounter of the hero journey is with a protective figure (often a little old crone or old man) who provides the adventurer with amulets against the dragon forces he is about to pass. What such a figure represents is the benign, protecting power of destiny.”

A wizened old man reads Conan’s future in the very first chapter.  He then sells Conan a protective amulet in chapter two. Drawing on Campbell’s Monomyth, strengthens sword and sorcery tales and Maddox Roberts is clearly familiar with Campbell’s work and works elements of the Hero’s Journey into the story.

Maddox Roberts weaves together Conan’s journey, the Cimmerians’ trouble with demon raids, a Vanheim invasion into Cimmeria and a complex plot involving three competing sorcerers on a quest for god-like power. This story has a lot going on and it’s all deftly handled.

The book is low on the sex scale, with Conan bedding a rescued chieftaness in the Border Kingdoms. This happens almost halfway through the book and he doesn’t sleep with any other females in this tale. Maddox Roberts gives us one of the most believable amorous conquests in the entire Conan saga. It doesn’t follow the usual “My, what huge muscles you have, take me, you savage!”

I very much enjoyed Conan the Valorous. Despite the flawed opening, it’s one of the better pastiches and its look at life in Cimmeria is very well done. The complex plot is more than weighty enough to carry the story forward to the very end.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Mount & Blade - a GREAT game

Adventure is the first action/adventure type game I remember playing, and that came out for the Atari 2600 in 1979. I spent hours drawing maps as I worked through Temple of Apshai and thought that 1987’s Dungeon Master was a graphical masterpiece. I used to meet a buddy at the OSU library to play Pool of Radiance, since neither of us had an IBM computer. Long after I stopped playing Dungeons and Dragons with dice and character sheets, I was still playing computer RPGs.  
And that's what computer games
used to look like
(Temple of Apshai)
Adventure's dreaded 'Duck Dragon!'



Mount and Blade, from Taleworlds, is one of the most enjoyable games I have played in those thirty-plus years. It isn't a fantasy based game, but a medieval combat one with some RPG aspects, so you're in the neighborhood. Now, right out of the gate, you have to accept that the graphics are not going to blow you away. If eye candy is important to your gaming experience, this isn't for you. But the graphics are good enough for game play.

On a micro level, WOW! Melee combat is excellent. I played countless hours of NeverWinter Nights and Diablo 1 and 2, so I enjoy point and click games. But you actually have to learn how to fight in M&B: and I don't mean memorizing button combos. Fighting with a weapon (and shield if you choose) actually takes some attention and a bit of thinking. And when your horse gets cut down from underneath you, leaving you surrounded by foes, you'd best have mastered some weapons skills beyond that lance you were using.


Not the face! Not the face!


More enjoyable is the bigger battle. You can separately instruct your cavalry, infantry and archers, so placing your archers on a hill to rain down arrows while the infantry protects them from the front can decide a battle. Your tactics will be significantly impacted by the faction you are drawing your followers from. For example, the Nords are fierce Vikings, the Khergits horse-riding Mongols and the Swadians medieval French with fully armored knights and the like. I've played with all horsemen and also with almost all archers. You have lots of options to mix and match or just be a 'purist' with one faction's troops.

The first time I laid siege to a castle and my troops poured through a gap in the defense, taking control of the ramparts, I knew I'd be hooked for a long time. You fight for the castle, foot by foot. And likewise you can stand atop the walls and repel invaders.

On a macro level: I've seen complaints about M&B being purely a 'sandbox' game: that is, an open-ended game with no storyline or specific quest/goal to achieve. As an avid computer RPGer, I love quest games: both linear and non-. But with a little creativity, M&B can be more than just a sandbox. Create your own goals. Build a company of certain characteristics (i.e. all Nord huscarls). Resolve to capture certain towns and castles, creating a sphere of influence for your faction. Achieve a certain goal with one faction and renounce your loyalty, join another faction and war upon your former liege! M&B gives you the opportunity to accomplish your own goals after you create them. This kind of player creativity is more common to pen and paper RPGs than video games and it's neat to see.

A big bonus is that the modding community is fantastic! I've played a couple different mods and found they can really enhance the basic, 'vanilla' game. It's entirely up to you whether you want to play with a minimal change (like adding additional siege ladders) or complete overhauls (like playing out The Hundred Years War).

If you want a graphically strong game with a well-developed story and clear goals (and I often do), you probably won't like Mount and Blade. But if you want excellent game play with a mix of personal combat and strategy, with the ability to set your own goals, this is the best game out there for you.

I have not yet tried the stand alone sequel, Warband, but I understand you can start your own faction in that game, which would further expand upon the 'set your own goals' aspect.

Dungeon Master skeletons: awesome!




Friday, September 30, 2011

Bob's Books - 221B: Studies in Sherlock Holmes (Otto Penzler’s Sherlock Holmes Library) - Vincent Starrett

A hit-and-miss collection that has some nice elements but is not one of my favorites.

One of the books in Otto Penzler’s Sherlock Holmes Library, a reissue of eight previously hard to find classics from the earlier age of Sherlockiana, it was originally published in 1940. Unlike The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, which was an original composition, Starrett served as editor of this collection of Sherlockiana, contributing only one piece; a pastiche entitled The Adventure of the Unique Hamlet.

221B contains fifteen essays and a crossword puzzle. It starts off with The Field Bazaar, a scene written by Doyle for the Edinburgh University newspaper. It consists of an episode in which Holmes seemingly reads Watson’s mind, then explains how he did it. One suspects that it was not widely available in 1940.

Was Sherlock Holmes an American?, BSI founder Christopher Morley’s heretical supposition that the world’s first consulting detective was really born on the western side of the Atlantic ocean, follows.
R.K. Leavitt’s Nummi in Arca looks at Holmes’ fiscal situation over the years and is an interesting topic for exploration. Elmer Davis and Jane Nightwork each contribute articles about the role of matrimony in Dr. Watson’s life.

P.M. Stone writes about a reporter’s visit to an aging Holmes in Sussex Interview. I enjoyed this little piece.

Starrett’s The Adventure of the Unique Hamlet is frequently listed near the top of pastiche rankings. I have never understood this. Near the end of the story (which I don’t wish to give away) Holmes explains to the villain how the trail he took between the two houses gave him away. Unless I’m missing something, this leaves a hole that you could drive a truck through and quashes the redeeming qualities of the tale. I can’t imagine how this is considered one of the best non-Doyle Holmes adventures.

Sherlock Holmes in Pictures is a nice reminiscence by the great Frederic Dorr Steele himself and worthy of inclusion in more collections. Edgar Smith’s Appointment in Baker Street is an early dramatis personae from the Canon. Remember; this was long before Holmes encyclopedias by Orlando Park, Jack Tracy and Matthew Bunsen. At 101 pages, it is also far and away the longest piece of the book.

There are a few other chapters as well. There are some good reads in 221B: Studies in Sherlock, but it is a mixed bag and not on the same level as Starrett’s Private Life of Sherlock Holmes.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Bob's Books - Conan the Defiant by Steve Perry

Though many of his stories have grave warts, I think that Robert E. Howard was an amazing writer: specifically in all but creating the sword and sorcery genre. Some of the Conan tales are simply outstanding. There have been dozens of pastiches (Conan tales by other authors) of varying quality. (note to self: poke fun at fellow Sherlockian attitudes toward pastiches. They'd have conniption fits if Holmes was treated like Conan has been).

Tor #13/1987
Second of the five novels that Steve Perry wrote in the fifty-book Tor Series. In William Galen Gray’s chronology it is the fourth Conan tale (following Conan of Venarium, Legions of the Dead and The Thing in the Crypt), taking place before Sean Moore’s Conan the Hunter.
The young Conan comes upon a lone priest being waylaid by five bandits. Impressed with the stranger’s skill with a wooden staff, the Cimmerian wades in and helps the man dispatch his opponents. Cengh, a priest of the Suddah Oblates, is later murdered, sending Conan on a quest of justice for his short-time friend.
In typical Conan fashion, he beds Elashi, a desert-bred warrior maiden as well as Tuanne, a beautiful zombie. Yep, a zombie. Being the irresistable stud he is, the trio engage in threesomes all along their trek to the bad guy’s castle. More adolescent fantasies in a Conan book here.

Neg the Malefic is a necromancer who needs a gem called The Source of Light to raise and unleash a horde of undead minions to conquer the world. Both Conan’s and Elisha’s quests are a result of Neg’s machinations, even though the evil spellcaster has no idea who they are.

There is no shortage of foes in this tale, with undead, the Men with No Eyes, Neg’s lackey, the Suddah Oblates, agents in the employ of The One With No Name and an ensorcelled pack of spiders providing more than enough bad guys at every step of the way. With so many enemies to deal with,

it is surprising how often Conan finds time to have sex with his two travelling partners.
The story, which is rather linear, is an okay read. There is enough tension throughout, with the time element constantly in play and moving things along. The final confrontation with Neg is a bit of a let down and I had to read it a second time, as it didn’t quite make sense on the first try. I’m still not sure it did the second time, either.

Conan the Defiant is worth reading for fans of the muscle-bound sword swinger. On its own merits, it is not a bad heroic sorcery tale. You’ve got fighting, hot women, zombies and an evil sorceror bent on world domination.

Friday, September 16, 2011

How George Raft Made Humphrey Bogart a Star - Part II

The careers of Bogart and Raft would be inextricably linked for the next three years and by 1943, Bogart was the biggest star in Hollywood and Raft was reduced to making a movie that attempted to copy the success of a Bogart film.

In 1939, Raft and Bogart made a forgettable film called Invisible Stripes. Released from prison, Raft goes on the straight and narrow while Bogart falls back into his bad habits. Circumstances force Raft to resume a life of crime but he manages to quit the gang and both Raft and Bogart are gunned down by other mobsters near the film’s end. It was one of seven (yes, seven) films Bogart made that year. He was shot to death in four of them (King of the Underworld, The Oklahoma Kid, The Roaring Twenties and Invisible Stripes); sentenced to be electrocuted in another (You Can’t Get Away Wirth Murder) and shot down after having been electrocuted and raised from the dead in another (The Return of Doctor X). He wasn’t exactly getting star quality parts.

Ironically enough, though he had only a minor part in Dark Victory, Bogie received good reviews for the one role when he was allowed to live. Bette Davis, star of Dark Victory, made six films with Bogart but strongly disliked him.

While Raft had star billing in Invisible Stripes, the number two male spot went to William Holden, with Bogart one slot below him. Bogart was annoyed, as this was only Holden’s second credited role, while it was Bogart’s thirty-second. It’s possible that this bad feeling in 1939 was at the root of their dislike for each other during the filming of Sabrina some fifteen years later.

Bogart Bit: Director Sam Spiegel wanted Bogart to play an American commando in the Oscar winning Bridge on the River Kwai, but Bogie was already committed to The Harder They Fall. The part went to Holden, instead.

In 1940, Raft would star in They Drive By Night, with Bogart playing his brother in this trucker film. Third-billed Ida Lupino turned out to be the star of the movie, breaking down in a memorable courtroom scene late in the film. Bogart was billed number four, with Ann Sheridan holding down the second spot. That same year, Raft turned down the lead in a gangster comedy called It All Came True and Bogart took the part. It wasn’t a very memorable film: just one of the seventeen he made from 1938 through 1940. Bogart was again billed below Ann Sheridan (she was the star; he was third bill).

Humphrey Bogart had worked in thirty-seven films in the previous eleven years, but it was in 1941 that Raft inadvertently made him a star. Back in 1938, a young John Huston had co-written the script to The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse, starring Edward G. Robinson and Claire Trevor. Bogie had third billing as gangster Rocks Valentine (poisoned by Robinson in this appearance). In 1941, Huston worked with author W.R. Burnett on the screenplay for the latter’s novel, High Sierra. Raft turned down the movie, saying he didn’t want to play a gangster. Also, he didn’t like the fact that Roy Earle died at the end of the film. With that decision, Raft’s short stay at Warners began its decline and Bogart was starting to climb out of B movie purgatory.

The original Scarface
After Raft declined the part, the studio turned to Paul Muni. Muni had not made a film at Warners since 1937 and was fighting with the studio. Jack Warner seemed to be constantly battling his stars. Muni followed Raft and turned down the role. As it turns out, he had already made his last movie at Warner Brothers.

While Raft and Muni definitely refused the part, rumor has it that Cagney and Robinson also said no. With four of Warner’s top stars crossed off, Bogart was cast opposite Ida Lupino, who got top billing. There is speculation that Bogart was originally to receive the top spot but his recent brush with the House Un-American Activities Committee resulted in Lupino getting top billing instead. While Jack Warner certainly wouldn’t hesitate at such a move, Lupino was a hotter commodity after her turn in They Drive By Night and probably had more potential to move the film than Bogart at this stage in his career.

Regardless, Bogart received rave reviews as the criminal with a tender side. Critics and fans loved him and he enjoyed his biggest success since The Petrified Forest. Raft had blown a chance to star in a hit film. Something he would certainly regret as his career regressed.

Raft made only one movie in 1941, Manpower, costarring with Bogart and Marlene Dietrich. Raft wasn’t happy with Bogart and had him removed from the film just after shooting started. Bogart was upset but was not reinstated to the film. Edward G. Robinson replaced Bogie and the mild-mannered star ended up in a fight with Raft. The movie was mediocre. Raft was 0 for 2.

Edward G. Robinson helped create the Hollywood gangster as Rico in 1931’s Little Caesar. He played his last mobster, (Johnny) Rocco, in 1948’s Key Largo. In between, he had starred in Bullets or Ballots, Kid Galahad, The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse and Brother Orchid, killing Bogart in all four of them. His success waned in the fifties but he had a final hurrah opposite Steve McQueen in 1965’s The Cincinnati Kid.




 Bogart, upset at losing Manpower, was even more upset when he was sent the script for Bad Men Of Missouri. He was to star as the eldest of the three Younger brothers, with Wayne Morris (who was actually billed above Bogart in Men Are Such Fools and The Return of Doctor X but featured below Bogie in China Clipper and Kid Galahad) and Arthur Kennedy (fresh off High Sierra, his second film). The female lead was played by future Oscar winner and Mrs. Ronald Reagan, Jane Wyman. Legend is that Bogart wrote “Are you kidding me?” on the script and sent it back to Jack Warner, who quickly suspended him. Dennis Morgan replaced Bogart in the lead.
Before Elvis Presley, Wayne Morris (left) was Kid Galahad
Bogie Bits: Not long before he died, Bogart said that he made more lousy pictures than any other actor in history. And though it usually wasn't his fault, he did make an awful lot of stinkers. There are several that could claim the title of most rotten tomato (I can't imagine myself ever watching Swing Your Lady a second time), but you'd have to work pretty  hard to top The Return of Dr. X.

Bogie is a scientist who had been executed. He is brought back from the dead and needs to kill people for their blood in lieu of the synthetic blood he was first using. Wayne Morris (see the tie-in here. Not a completely irrelevant jaunt) is the hero of the film.

This was Bogie's only science fiction/horror film and he has a skunk stripe in his hair. It is a classic bad B sci fi film from the era. He rarely talked about it as he considered this one of his worst movies. It was presented as a sequel to the successful Doctor X film, but the actual similarities ended at the title.

I don't give that bunny much of a chance...


Thursday, September 8, 2011

Steelers 2011, 13-3 Season

Last year, the general consensus was that the Steelers needed to go 2-2 without Ben to have a chance at winning the division over the Ravens. They went 3-1 and ended up hosting the AFC title game. It's hard to find any media folks who think the Colts can even be .500 without Peyton: and there's no idea of when he will be able to play. The Steelers were set with Leftwich, Dixon and Batch. The Colts signed retired Kerry Collins, handed him the playbook and told him he'd be starting in a week. Again, it's great to root for a team run like the Steelers are.


Last year, coming off a non-playoff season, with Ben out for four games, a lot of folks figured it would be a down year for the Steelers. So, they almost won the Super Bowl. This team, while injury prone due to aging issues, is loaded on O and D and I think, along with New England, the best team in the NFL. So, I expect those two squads to meet in the AFC Championship game. Last year, the Steelers only scored more than 28 points three times en route to the Super Bowl. They could break that scoring level every single week this year. Except for the bye...

Roethlesbeger, Mendenhall, Redman, Ward, Wallace, Sanders, Brown, Cotchery and Miller can all make big plays. And even guys like David Johnson, Mewelde Moore and Jonathon Dwyer are dangerous. This is the best offense since the Bradshaw/Harris/Bleir/Swann/Stallworth days, And it might be even better.

SEASON PREDICTION
13-3

L - at Baltimore
W - Seattle
W - at Indianapolis
L - at Houston
W - Tennessee
W - Jacksonville
W - at Arizona
L - New England
W - Baltimore
W - at Cincinnati
W - at Kansas City
W - Cincinnati
W - Cleveland
W - at San Francisco
W - St. Louis
W - Cleveland

Yep. I actually think they could be realistically favored in all 16 games. I expect Baltimore and NE to be playoff teams and give them nods over the Steelers, but I will not be at all surprised to see the Steelers win. I actually do expect them to beat Houston, but if the Texans win over Manningless-Indy in their opener, I think they're going to be on an early tear and should play just well enough at home to win as they lay the groundwork for their first ever playoff appearance, saving Gary Kubiak's job.

The Road Clunker should be San Francisco, but they are inept at QB and the Steelers would have to really screw up to lose that one. KC could be tough but I think they're going to regress a bit after last year's suprising playoff run.

The game to watch is at Arizona. If Kevin Kolb is as good as so many people think he is (though his limited PT so far hasn't indicated such is the case), they should be a playoff contender this year and that will be a tough road game. If he's the latest Scott Mitchell or AJ Feely, however, they're going to struggle to score and the Steelers should handle them.


While Cleveland is improving and the west coast offense should make Colt McCoy better, the Steelers finish the season with six of seven games against teams with losing records in 2011. Even an under achieving 4-4start (say... losses to Baltimore, Houston, Arizona and New England) could still very well result in a 12-4 or 11-5 finish.

Last year's SB appearance was nice. Anything less than the title should be a disappointment this year.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Steelers - The Sixties (1960 - 1969)

Steelers – The 1960’s (1960-1969)

Eleven fewer wins than in the fifties meant the Steelers fans still qualified as long suffering.

Tag Line – The playoffs – sorta kinda…
43-61-6 (.391 pct)
Winning Seasons: 2/10

500 Seasons: 0/10
Playoffs: 1 season

Spoiled with almost annual playoff appearances and lots of Super Bowl appearances, it’s hard to imagine what being a Steelers fan must have been like for losing season after losing season. Pittsburgh was under .500 for eight of ten years in the sixties. Loyal fans had to wonder if they would ever be rewarded for their faith in the Rooneys.


1962 – The Steelers went 9—5, finishing alone in second place in the Eastern Conference. They actually won at the champion New York Giants and only lost to them at home by four points. But lopsided losses to Cleveland (twice) and Dallas kept them from a share of the title.


Back in the pre AFL-NFL Merger days, the two conference champions played for the NFL title. During the sixties, there was also the Bert Bell Benefit Bowl, commonly known as the Playoff Bowl. The AFL was starting up in 1960 and the NFL wanted to showcase its product on national television more. And so was born the Playoff Bowl. The two conference runner-ups played each other for third place. So, we have a post-season game, but it’s not actually a playoff game. After the Merger took place in 1970, the game was discontinued, though there was some discussion of having it played during the off-week before the Super Bowl.

After the 1962 season, the Steelers played the Lions. It was only the second “playoff” appearance in team history. The Steelers were led by three former Lions greats: Bobby Layne, John Henry Johnson and head coach Buddy Parker. Alas, former Cleveland Brown Milt Plum was MVP of the 10-17 Detroit win. Quarterbacks Ed Brown and Bobby Layne were sacked six times and threw two picks. Detroit had massacred the Steelers 7-45 in the season opener, so the Steelers started and finished their season with losses to the Lions.
Ernie Stautner (70) and Big Daddy (76).
Two superstar d-linemen
BIG DADDY – Eugene Lipscomb played in the NFL from 1953 to 1962, spending his last two years in Pittsburgh. Largely forgotten now, he was a dominating player and extremely popular in Pittsburgh and Baltimore. An MVP of the 1962 pro bowl, Lipscomb died of a heroin overdose in May of 1963. He was chosen, along with Ernie Stautner, as a defensive tackle on the Legends Team (a list of the greatest pre-1970 Steelers). Sports Illustrated featured Big Daddy in a long article in 1999. It’s not surprising Lipscomb died a victim of his huge appetites.

http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/vault/article/magazine/MAG1014947/1/index.htm

JOHN HENRY – The Steelers’ fourth all-time leading rusher is Hall of Famer John Henry Johnson, who played in Pittsburgh from 1960 to 1965. Pittsburgh could have had a lot more from Johnson: they drafted him in the second round of the 1953 NFL draft, but he chose to go to Canada instead of Pittsburgh (heck, the weather isn’t much different…).

Descriptions I’ve read remind me a bit of Earl Campbell. Johnson was an absolutely bruising guy who ran over people, never went down on first contact and also had agility and speed to leave defenders out of position, making it even harder to tackle him. Was Johnson tough? He once broke the jaw of a teammate in an intra-squad scrimmage. Addressing the issue, he said, “What did you want me to do? Kiss the guy or tackle him?” Johnson was a fullback and by all accounts a devastating blocker who completely crushed defenders.

From 1954 through 1956, he was part of the San Francisco 49ers “Million Dollar Backfield,” alongside three other Hall of Famers: quarterback Y.A. Tittle and running backs Joe Perry and Hugh McElhenny. When Johnson retired, he was fourth on the all-time NFL rushing list, trailing only Jim Brown, Jim Taylor and Joe Perry. Johnson passed away in June of 2011. He and Perry (who died two months earlier) both donated their brains to Boston University for research into head injuries in sports, as they both suffered from a head trauma related ailment. Johnson was the first Pittsburgh Steelers back to rush for a thousand yards in a single season, doing it twice.

NFL.com actually has some footage of Johnson playing, commenting and being inducted into the Hall of Fame.
http://www.nfl.com/videos/nfl-network-total-access/09000d5d8202b1eb/Remembering-John-Henry-Johnson

MISTER STEELER – An awful lot of Steelers fans don’t know the name Dick Hoak. But even more so than the name “Rooney,” Dick Hoak embodies the Steeler way. Hoak played running back for the Steelers from 1961 through 1970, totaling over 5,000 yards rushing and receiving.


He coached at a West Virginia high school in 1971 and interviewed with Chuck Noll in 1972 to be an offensive backfield coach and got the job. He became running backs coach when Bill Cowher took over in 1993 and finally retired in 2007. He had spent 10 years as a player and THIRTY FIVE as a coach in Pittsburgh. Along the way he turned down offers such as coaching the USFL’s Pittsburgh Maulers and becoming Tony Dungy’s offensive coordinator in Tampa Bay.


I have never seen or heard about one negative comment regarding Dick Hoak. Not one grumbling from a former player or coach. I would be stunned if one other player/coach spent forty-five years with one team. He and the Rooneys embody the approach that has made the Pittsburgh Steelers the epitome of a successful NFL franchise.


The aftermath
The Hit
BAD DAY AT THE OFFICE – In 1964, the Steelers hosted the Giants, eking out a 27-24 win. Pittsburgh finished the season 5-9, ahead of only the 2-10-2 Giants. In that game, 6’-7” Steelers defensive lineman John Baker absolutely crushed Hall of Fame QB Y.A. Tittle. The pass was picked off by Chuck Hinton and returned for a touchdown. A Post Gazette photographer took a picture of the bloodied, groggy Tittle kneeling in the end zone. Tittle, concussed, didn’t remember the aftermath of the hit.
The paper didn’t use the photo, but it gained a life of its own and now hangs in the NFL Hall of Fame. Before the explosion of the internet and mass distribution of digital images, this was one of the most famous football photographs taken.


HIGHLIGHT OF FOUR DECADES – The Steelers went a combined 16-9-3 in 1962 and 1963. That would be the best two-year run in team history until the 1972-1973 playoff seasons. But things took a major downturn after 1963. After this mini-success, the Steelers would go 18-49-3 the next five years. Buddy Parker (1964), Mike Nixon (1965) and Bill Austin (1966-1968) were in charge during this disappointing period. Once again, the Pittsburgh Steelers were at the bottom of the NFL. But things would begin to change in 1969, though it certainly didn’t look like it.  


TRIVIA – The black helmet was born in 1962. Republic Steel (based in Cleveland) approached the team that season and suggested they use the American Steelmark logo on their helmets. A bit later, the team got permission from the American Iron and Steel Institute for permission to change “Steel” to “Steelers” on the inside of the logo. At this time the helmets were gold and team management decided to put the new logo on only one side of the helmet, beginning with the tenth game of the season. Wanting to do something exciting for their Playoff Bowl appearance, the team changed the helmet color to black for the game. The Steelers came onto the field with the now famous black helmet with the steel logo on one side only.


SUMMARY – Fans had something to be excited about with the 1962 season, culminating in the Playoff Bowl. But Bobby Layne was pushed into retirement by Buddy Parker following the season. The Steelers never sniffed the postseason for the rest of the decade (fourth in 1963) and they finally abandoned Forbes Field, playing all their homes games at Pitt Stadium beginning in 1964. There were some good players not previously mentioned, like middle linebacker Myron Pottios, wide receivers Buddy Dial and Roy Jefferson, as well as players who would be a part of the upcoming Super Bowl squads like Andy Russell and Ray Mansfield.


Jefferson had back to back thousand yard receiving seasons in 1968 and 1969 (the first ever for a Steeler) but was traded to the Colts because he couldn’t get along with new coach Chuck Noll. Jefferson went on to play in Super Bowls with the Colts and Redskins.
John Henry Johnson, Dick Hoak,
Bobby Layne and Buddy Dial hold
up the pre "er" logo.
But two things happened in 1969 that became the cornerstone of what is now the best franchise in the NFL. A mediocre former guard was hired as head coach and with his first pick in the NFL draft, the new coach took a defensive lineman from North Texas State.





Thursday, August 4, 2011

This is the prologue to the Sherlock Holmes novel I've written a large chunk of but am nowhere near finishing. Some day...

San Francisco, 1895

She lay on her back, naked, eyes closed. There was no trace of motion anywhere on the small platform and she seemed serene, at peace. Her legs extended straight out, hands crossed over her milky breasts. With a little wishful thinking, one might suppose that the hands were joined together in prayer. Her long, dark-brown hair radiated outwards, covering the rough planks like a gossamer cloth. The floor surrounding her was layered deeply with dust and scraps of paper. Odd-sized blocks of wood were scattered about haphazardly, except for a larger pair that had been carefully placed. They were propped up beneath her head, which had fallen slightly to the left. Great care had been taken to lay her out just so. Loving hands must have arranged her in this lonely room.

The shutters were closed, but narrow beams of light filtered through in a few places where the old wood was split and separated by the often seemingly unrelenting rains from the bay. The water had beaten upon the timbers until they had surrendered before nature’s irresistible force. The surrounding gloom caused her body to glow a faintly luminescent white, as if she were a ghost at rest. But there was no sign that she would soon arise. Her breast did not move and no whisper of a breath escaped her parted lips. The woman was absolutely still in her repose. The tower would not be haunted by the sprit of this beautiful corpse.

Once an active member of Emmanuel Baptist Church, the young woman had become the Angel of the Belfry. She had been buried not down in the cold, dark earth, but up in the sky; her sightless gaze towards heaven.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Baker Street Essays - The Veiled Lodger

The ‘Politician’

Sherlockians have speculated on the identity of the mysterious politician referenced in this case. The Veiled Lodger occurred in 1896 and was published in 1927. Presumably the events involving the politician, the lighthouse and the trained cormorant occurred closer to the latter date, rather than the former. Attempts to destroy the documents would likely not have waited over thirty years if they were that damaging.

Who could the politician be? How about Sir Roger Casement? Casement was a close friend of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and served for many years as the British Consul in Africa and South America.

Casement was openly critical of how native workers were treated in the Congo and his 1903 Report received international attention. As a result, Belgium improved conditions in the Congo in 1908. For his accomplishments, Casement was awarded a knighthood in 1911. He suffered from poor health and that same year he retired from public service and returned to Dublin, the city where he was born.

Casement became a strong supporter of the moment for Irish independence from England and he traveled to New York City, seeking aid for the Irish nationalist movement. World War I broke out and Casement traveled to Berlin in 1914, seeking German aid for Irish independence. Germany’s support was tepid, at best, and Casement became disappointed in the results of his efforts. He feared that an uprising planned in Ireland for Easter, 1916, was doomed to failure. A German submarine returned him to Ireland on April 12 of that year. Twelve days later, he was captured by the British and charged with treason.


The Black Diaries, allegedly written by Casement, surfaced after his arrest and certainly prejudiced his case. The diaries alleged that Casement had sex with young native boys during his diplomatic service.

Doyle argued that Casement’s homosexuality was caused by insanity and the man should be spared, but his efforts failed. Casement was found guilty of treason, stripped of his knighthood and hung on August 3, 1916.

His Last Bow revealed that Holmes was active in aiding the war effort for England. As the Irish-American agent Altamont, he was certainly capable of infiltrating the Irish Nationalist movement on behalf of the Foreign Office. Did Holmes’ actions result in Casement’s ultimate execution?\

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Byrne's Serms - 1.1

Not a lot of posting lately as I've put my Steelers History on hiatus until the greedy folks on both sides of the labor lockout give me a reason to care about the NFL.

And, I've been writing something a bit different. Here is the first of Byrne's Serms: Biblically based sermons written, narrated and put together by...me. I've been writing for over two decades, but the Holy Spirit has called me to use what ability I have for God.

Temptation and the Agony in the Garden (text)

The link below goes to the source file on authorstream. It runs cleaner there. No registration or anything required.

http://www.authorstream.com/Presentation/FromOlivet-1048374-byrne-s-serms-temptation/

Everybody can relate to temptation.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Steelers - Gary Glick (The 1950s)


I know it says halfback,
but I didn't find evidence
of him playing there.
Who?  Starting in 1937, each NFL team went into a ‘pool’ to receive one bonus first round pick. In fact, it was the very first pick in the draft, back when it didn’t cost too much to sign that player. There was no free agency and players had jobs during the off season.The first pick in the draft was extremely valuable and practical, unlike today. After being selected, that team would be removed from future pools/drafts until every NFL team had gotten one of these bonus picks.
In 1956, only the Steelers, Chicago Cardinals and Green Bay Packers were left in the current pool. In a public drawing, Commissioner Bert Bell (former Steelers co-owner) put three slips, one marked with an X and B-O-N-U-S on it, into a gray felt fedora (classy, eh?). Then he told Dan Rooney to make the first selection. Rooney, from where he was standing, saw where the X slip was placed. So he snagged it, gaining the bonus pick. Rooney doesn’t think Bell did this intentionally, but…
A few weeks before, the coach of Colorado A&M (later to be Colorado State) sent a letter to Walt Kiesling (this guy was a Hall of Fame offensive lineman but a train wreck as a coach. You may remember the Unitas debacle from The Fifties entry), telling him about this phenomenal defensive back/quarterback named Gary Glick that he had. The defensive-minded Kiesling was determined to snatch this gem out from underneath everyone’s noses. Dan Rooney argued that nobody had scouted Glick: not even the Steelers! He could be taken in the third round: no need to use the bonus pick. 
 Kiesling refused to budge and Art Rooney, again letting his coaches make their own decisions, backed him. So, Pittsburgh took Glick with the bonus pick. They passed on future Hall of Famer Lenny Moore (Colts) and Super Bowl QB Earl Morrall in the first round, as well as Heisman Trophy winner Hop Along Cassady from Ohio State. That draft included future Hall of Famers Sam Huff, Willie Davis and Bart Starr.
A few weeks later, film of Glick came in. It showed a wind-swept stadium with open seats, dogs running onto the field and no benches for players on the side lines. The Glick Era was over before it began. Glick did play seven seasons in the NFL, three for Pittsburgh, as a safety, but didn’t exactly live up to his first pick status. Glick remains the ONLY defensive back ever chosen with the first pick. 
Just another example of the ineptitude that was the Pittsburgh Steelers before the Chuck Noll Era. 

Monday, April 18, 2011

The Parable of the Rejected Gift

A father wished to give his son a valuable gift. It was a precious gift and he knew that marvelous benefits would accrue to his son from it. With great sacrifice, the father made this gift available to his son. But the son rejected the gift. He did not want it, even though the father told him of the rewards it would bring. The father was grieved because he loved his child. But rather than take the gift back, he left it for his son, to be accepted at any time.
Refusing the offer does not nullify the gift. Jesus died on the cross for our sins, so that we might be saved. Denying Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection does not ‘cancel out’ those events. They occurred, whether or not we choose to accept what he did for us. God's offer for salvation can be claimed upuntil the moment we take our last breath.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

How George Raft Made Humphrey Bogart a Star - I

OK, I’ll admit that the title is a bit of an over-simplification. However, in the annals of Hollywood, never has one actor so torpedoed his own career, while pushing another actor upward at the same time. Let’s take a look at this story.

George Raft grew up in Hell’s Kitchen, New York, where he was a childhood friend of Owney Madden, who would become a powerful mobster in the days of Prohibition. Raft toyed with being a boxer and then taught himself to dance. He hit it big in Vaudeville in the early twenties and was a top dancer. At the same time, he hung out with professional gangsters, gaining access to them through his friendship with Downey. He studied how they walked and talked, and mastered the art of imitating their mannerisms.

After appearing in a few films as a dancer, he broke through in 1932. Long before Rod Steiger and Al Pacino played Capone roles, Paul Muni made a classic gangster film: Scarface – Shame of a Nation. Raft had a part as Rinaldo, a coin-flipping gunman. Raft played a great gangster because he knew the real deals and used mobsters such as Arnold Rothstein as models. Raft received strong reviews for his character.

He had the lead in a 1935 version of Dashiell Hammett’s The Glass Key, though it is Alan Ladd’s portrayal in 1942 that is remembered today. Several elements of The Glass Key can be found in the Coen Brothers’ Miller’s Crossing, one of the finest gangster films of the past forty years.

In 1937, Raft turned down the role of Baby Face Martin in Dead End. He felt that Martin wasn’t sympathetic enough, and he didn’t like the way Martin’s mother slapped him in the movie. Dead End was a very successful stage play and MGM was making a big budget adaptation. It would have been a good role for Raft.

Instead, Bogart was cast as Martin and got good reviews. The film was directed by William Wyler, who would tap Bogart late in his career for the lead role in The Desperate Hours. So, Raft rejects a role and Humphrey Bogart takes it. We are on the cusp of a pattern developing.

George Raft signed with Warner Brothers in 1939 as part of their “Murder’s Row.” Paul Muni, James Cagney and Edward G. Robinson were already at Warners and gave the studio the strongest lineup of tough guy leading men. Muni’s days at Warners were winding down and Raft had every opportunity to supplant Cagney and Robinson to become number one. Meanwhile, a guy named Bogart played supporting roles in which he was usually gunned down by the star (maybe he could have headed up Warner’s “Murdered Row”).

Word is that as soon as Raft signed with Warners, he bumped Bogart out of the “Hood Stacey” role in Each Dawn I Die, with James Cagney.  Each Dawn I Die holds up well today but might have been even better with Bogart instead of Raft. 
Or maybe not.Raft played his part well.

Continued in Part II