Saturday, November 10, 2018

Bela Lugosi, on paying it forward

One of my current reads is Lugosi: The Man Behind The Cape, by Robert Cremer. It was published in 1976, and I'm not sure where it standings in the Lugosi Biography Rankings™, because this is the first one I've read.

It does strike me that Bela Lugosi probably should have died several times before he finally made it to the United States and become the cinematic Prince of the Undead. From what I've read thus far, he narrowly averted death (1) while serving for the Austro-Hungarian Army in the Great War and being shot or blown up multiple times, (2) while fleeing Hungary, hastily, via a straw-filled gypsy cart and open cockpit airplane following the failed Hungarian Communist Revolution; and (3) during a weeks-long journey to the United States in 1920 aboard a freighter on which he had to hide constantly from crew members who wanted to throw him overboard.

Those harrowing incidents, and especially the kindness of those who helped Lugosi survive them, inspired a philosophy that he embraced moving forward. I wanted to share this excerpt from Cremer's book about how Lugosi would pay it forward. It's the kind of inspirational little nugget we all need more of these days:
Years later, when financial security had been won, Bela did not forget the generosity ... and he made a pact with himself to repay that debt to others. It took a while to find words for this emotional lesson in is life, and when he did finally find them, they were simple and direct.

... Bela helped an aspiring drama student at the University of California, in Berkeley, by inviting her to join him in a Los Angeles engagement of Dracula. During rehearsals, Bela spared nothing in helping her with technique, delivery, and gestures. Later he showed up on the MGM lot for Mark of the Vampire to find that young actress, Carroll "Luna" Borland, was being tested for the part of his daughter. The casting director was amazing by their synchronized movements. They worked like members of the same vaudeville family. When Carroll was given the part and began to shower Bela with gratitude, he dismissed it all with a whisk of his hand, a broad grin, and a kernel of philosophical wisdom, a statement that summed up Bela's approach to life. "Carroll," he said, "many, many people have helped me along the way, so don't feel that you owe me anything. You don't. You owe that debt to someone else, someone who will need your help in the future just as you needed mine. When the opportunity comes to help someone who cannot help himself, then you must see your responsibility through. Your duty is to the future, not the past."

It is pitch black. You are likely to be eaten by a book cover.

  • Title: A Grue of Ice
  • Subtitle: A novel of suspense and terror in the Antarctic
  • Author: Geoffrey Jenkins (1920-2001)
  • Cover designer: Arthur Hawkins Jr. (1903-1985)
  • Cover typography: Amazing
  • Publisher: The Viking Press, New York
  • Original price: $3.95
  • Publication date: 1962
  • Count the pages: There are 242 pages.
  • Format: Hardcover
  • Back-cover praise from Ian Fleming: "The reader is dealt such a series of highly expert jolts to the solar plexus in the Geoffrey Household style that he reaches the last page panting ... a literate, imaginative first novel in the tradition of high and original adventure." (That promotional blurb is actually for Jenkins' novel A Twist of Sand.)
  • So what's a grue? In addition to being a creature — first imagined by author Jack Vance and later popularized in Infocom text adventures — that preys on poor souls who wander around in the dark, grue is a noun that can refer to "a fit of shivering," "a particle or bit," or "a thin segment of floating ice."
  • First sentence: "Drake Passage!"
  • Last sentence: "Old John Wetherby would have liked it that way," she said.
  • Random sentence from middle: Of the Thorshammer there was no sign, not even a funnel glow to pick her up in the blackness.
  • Best chapter titles: "The Man with the Immaculate Hand" and "A Cold Grue of Terror"
  • Goodreads rating: 3.66 stars (out of 5.0)
  • Goodreads review excerpt: In 2015, Martin Allen gave it three stars, but wrote: "Formulaic in style — bad guys searching for something, good guys get implicated in bad guys shenanigans. BUT... it was riproaringly entertaining and what it lacked in creative depth and literary pretentiousness it certainly made up for in tidal excitement. Surprisingly enjoyable and I found I struggled to put it down."
  • Notes: This suspense novel centers around the actual (and extremely remote) Bouvet Island and the nearby phantom Thompson Island, which Geoffrey Jenkins claims, perhaps playfully, does exist. ... Cover designer Hawkins was one of the most famed artists in his unique field. His dust jackets, beginning in the 1930s, were, according to a 2012 post by Steven Heller, "highly stylized, most remarkably poster-like with a European accent, at a time when jackets were considered an extraneous yet necessary marketing encumbrance." Heller's post also contains a number of other great examples of Hawkins' work, many of which display his "three-color conceit." According to a 2017 article in The Los Angeles Times, a bookseller once told Hawkins' son, “I bought more bad mysteries because your dad’s covers were so good!” Finally, if you have some money burning a hole in your pocket, a mere $22,000 can buy you a collection of Arthur Hawkins Jr. original artwork on (And shipping is a steal at $4.50!) The collection includes "three original dustwrapper paintings, eight original dry point illustrations, seven large pencil and pen drawings, two scratchboard illustrations, one color airbrushed advertising image, and a binder containing 55 partial dustwrappers of his work, including one unused jacket proof."

* * *

There is an archway in the northern wall. It is the only exit.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Old postcard featuring 18th century building in Scotland

This postcard, which is well over a century old, features the "Public Library" in Elgin, Scotland.

The structure, known officially as Grant Lodge, was built starting around 1765. According to the website Clan Grant Visitors, Sir James Grant of Grant (1738-1811) had it built as an "act of kindness" for his aunt, Lady Innes. It was designed by famed architect Robert Adam.

Clan Grant Visitors further states: "James already own[ed] lands in Elgin between Elgin Cathedral and the River Lossie and use[d] a smaller building already on the site as a quarry for the larger Grant Lodge to be built. Sir James, the owner of the largest expanse of natural pine forest in the country, was not short of materials to complete the build."

Here's a glance at the rest of Grant Lodge's history:

  • 1771: Lady Innes dies, Grant Lodge become Clan Grants' main residence in Moray.
  • 1899: Family sells Grant Lodge to Sir George Cooper for £5,500.
  • 1903: Cooper gifts Grant Lodge and surrounding grounds to Elgin. Grounds become Cooper Park, and lodge becomes a public library, which it remains for more than nine decades.
  • 1996: Library is converted to local heritage center.
  • 2003: Fire extensively damages interior of Grant Lodge. Many historic documents were feared lost, according to BBC News. Structure is boarded up and abandoned.
  • 2004: According to the Buildings at Risk Register for Scotland, a consultant estimated that it would cost £500,000 to restore Grant Lodge for use as a local heritage center.
  • 2008: "The Northern Scot reports that the feasibility study carried out by the Highland Buildings Preservation Trust on behalf of Moray Council has estimated the cost of converting the building into an arts centre between £3.1 - £4.5 million."
  • 2015: "External inspection finds the property boarded up and in declining condition."

Here's what it looks like these days, all sad and boarded up...

Clearly, someone needs to #SaveGrantLodge and #RenovateGrantLodge. So pass this blog post along to your favorite British millionaire benefactor!

* * *

The postcard was mailed in August 1908 to a Miss Lwyford (or Luyford or Twyford or Tuyford), who was staying on a hotel on the Isle of Wight. It seems they had trouble finding her. The postcard is addressed to the Sea View Hotel, but there's a scrawled note indicating that the mailman should try the Pier Hotel, instead.

Here's the cursive message, to the best of my transcribing:
Dear Miss Katharine
I was pleased to get your PC: I do hope you will have a good time and come back to us looking ever so well. Poor Bobbie does not seem well and he won't eat. I don't think he cares very much for his surroundings like me. I am writing to your mother.
James [or Jessie]

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

I want to ride my tricycle,
I want to ride it where I like

This family snapshot was printed in January 1973, but the caption on the back states that it was taken in September 1972 (likely in Montoursville). That's Yours Truly, a 21-month-old who was a super-snappy dresser and an Easy Rider on his tricycle, going for a ride on a crisp autumn day. I wish I still had that outfit, though I'm not sure it would fit. It's certainly patriotic.

September 1972 was well before Jaws or Star Wars, so I didn't have to worry about either of them being my scene.

I probably believed in Peter Pan, Frankenstein and Superman, but had not yet seen a John Wayne movie.

Not sure if I wanted to be the President of America.

I just wanted to ride my tricycle, tricycle, tricycle...

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Turning back the clock
to Election Day 1920

Today is Election Day 2018 in the United States. Here are some newspaper clippings from November 2, 1920, which was the first election held after the end of World War I and the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment, which guaranteed and protected the right to vote for women.

Montgomery Times (Alabama)

Jackson Daily News (Mississippi)

The Evening News (Harrisburg, Pennsylvania)

The Gettysburg Times (Pennsylvania)

Monday, November 5, 2018

Mystery bookstore in Lancaster:
Greg's Book Mart

Finding and documenting ghost signs is a very cool niche hobby for some folks. Ghost signs are those faded advertisements that you see on the side of old city buildings, barns and other structures. On Wendyvee's Roadside Wonders, you can view one good example of a ghost sign. Wendyvee has also documented a nifty "resurrected" ghost sign. And if you really want to get your fill, there's a @ghostsigns Twitter account you can check out.

But what about ghost signs in books? I found one! Pictured above is a huge black stamp that's been applied to the inside front cover of The Killer Thing, a paperback by Kate Wilhelm that was published by Dell in 1969.

A lot of expense (and ink) must have been taken to say the following about the inventory at this bookstore:

New and Used Paperback Books
Park City - Lancaster, PA 17603 - 397-2024

I can't find much, though, about Greg's Book Mart, so if any readers in Lancaster County have any memories or information about this place, it would be great if you could share them in the comments or email me at chrisottopa (at) The bookstore's "ghost sign" is still around, so Greg and the store shouldn't be forgotten. The only clue I found is that the business might have once been located at Meadowbrook Farmers Market in Leola, which is also in Lancaster County. I don't know if that was before or after Greg's Book Mart was at Park City.

It's a history mystery waiting to be solved!

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Postcard mailed from York:
"Hi Toots!"

This linen postcard featuring City Hall in York, Pennsylvania, was postmarked on July 14, 1945, and mailed from York to Germantown, Ohio, which has a wagon-wheel design to its alley system and was once known for its prodigious cigar and whiskey output.

The cursive note on the back states:
July 13, 1945
Hi Toots!
Our child rode beautifully. Didn't have a bit of trouble with him. Right now his [sic] curled up in an overstuffed living room chair. He has the life of luxury. We'll be home the 22nd as far as I know.
Tell Ken "Hello"
Myra Lou & Bill