In 1980, Joel Sucher made a film called Free Voice of Labor: The Jewish Anarchists, which was a portrait of immigrant life in the U.S. as seen through the eyes of sweatshop workers who made up the Jewish anarchist movement. Between 1900 and World War I, these Yiddish-speaking anarchists constituted an influential political movement affecting trade unions, newspapers, left-wing culture—and hysteria—in the US. Now 40 years later, that film has been re-released. I was happy to interview one of the original directors of Free Voice of Labor, Joel Sucher.
Click on the triangle or link above to hear my conversation with director Joel Sucher as broadcast today on WBAI NY and Pacifica affiliates across the nation.
Monday Morning, Mr. Wonderful, as Sammy Davis’s character in his first Broadway play was called.
If Sammy Davis were only a dancer he would be known as one of the greatest tap dancers of the 20th century.
If he were only a singer he would be known as one of the greatest male vocalists of the 20th century.
He was both.
Here he is with a song from his second musical, Golden Boy, from 1964, about an African-American boxer who falls in love with a white woman.
Paula Wayne who played Sammy’s lover, Lorna, in the show, said that when the time came during rehearsals for Sammy to kiss her, Sammy was very reluctant to do so. It was the first time an interracial kiss had happened on the Broadway stage; but Paula insisted that there would be no problem. She was soon to find out otherwise—the day after the show opened there were pickets in front of the theatre from white supremacists groups denouncing the show.
But the show ran for 500+ performances and had a great, under-appreciated score by Charles Strouse and Lee Adams—probably the best score they ever created.
The heppest cat ever, Cab Calloway singing a post-Thanksgiving Song.
The song was written by Jeanne Burns who I could not find out too much about except that she was once briefly married to Broadway composer Harold Arlen’s younger brother, Jerry. In the thirties she was a big-band singer and also wrote songs for the Cotton Club revues.
Ken Muller of Tennessee was the winner of the Sixth Annual Shalom Blog Magic Contest. The contest asked participants to talk about two of the most memorable magic moments they had ever experienced. With his permission, I am re-printing one of his stories:
Fifty-two years later I observed an effect where “situation” was more important to the magic than the simple effect and fumbled performance. My daily walks with my 93- year-old Dad were magical enough, and the interaction with neighbors and strangers always a bit astonishing. This event was “more than” in several ways. Here it is also offered in story form:
Two strange ladies live down the road–sisters, they say, but you couldn’t tell by looking at them. Katie is petite, always impeccably dressed with hair, makeup, and nails to match. Lynn is large, clumsy, prefers sweats and cut-offs, and might have combed her hair in another life. She always lumbers out to the sidewalk when Dad and I happen past. She haltingly guides Dad back to sit with Katie, using gestures more than speech as her words never come out right. Then she has me help with some ‘fix-it’ project around the place. Lynn is afraid of ladders and paint and lots of things. The modern term is “developmentally delayed,” but I’ll bet she has been called a lot worse names. She could never live alone and is lucky to have Katie.
Now, this Ms. Katie speaks a couple of languages and chats with Dad about world travels and treats his advancing senility with respect. She gives him time to answer questions and doesn’t care if they are for a different question. He flirts a bit and she dimples and hands him another cookie. You might think that chatting with Lynn all day isn’t very eventful and Dad, even past ninety, is just an improvement. That’s what I thought at first.
Truth is that Lynn won’t leave Katie alone with someone she doesn’t trust and stared into Dad’s eyes real hard when we first met. Mine too. Somehow she knows that even in his younger days Dad would not have been bothered by the wheelchair and missing hand and facial scars. Katie would be in a nursing home without Lynn to bathe and dress and feed and clean. One sister is so physically disabled from a car crash she cannot live alone despite being so bright and aware. The other sister is too mentally disabled to pay the phone bill, but can work all day without resting. Alone each is helpless. Together they make one hell of a fine woman.
Then one day Lynn had me come inside too. Katy asked Dad if he would like to see a magic trick the two of them had been practicing. Lynn was obviously excited with eyes brighter than usual. She clenched her hands in front, but her feet wanted to dance. They knew I was a magician as I had performed an effect for them in the past, but this was a special treat for Dad. I moved his chair back from the table to give the girls some performance room and stood well back in the shadows. Lynn gave Dad a wooden cup to hold and reached for Katie’s almost useless right hand. This she cradled on her own right palm that was almost twice the size. Then Katie closed her hand into a fist using Lynn’s palm for support. Lynn reached into Dad’s cup and pulled out a yellow handkerchief, waved it in the air and began stuffing it into the top of Katie’s hand. None of this was graceful or flowing, but she got the job done. Katie made little cooing sounds as the silk went in. Next a red handkerchief was pulled from the cup and the process repeated. With both silks now hidden in Katie’s hand, Lynn began some slow but erratic swirls with her free left hand accompanied by strange sounds that may have been a chant. Katie’s hand gradually turned upwards to allow the compressed silks to unfold and grow upwards. But, it was one large silk with red and yellow stripes! It eventually hung down from all around Katie’s hand as Lynn removed her supporting hand and stood proudly with her arms folded. Katie indicated that Dad should take the silk from her empty hand now resting on the table. It was a magic duet that neither could have done alone.
Dad laughed and pushed the silk partially back into the cup and placed it on the table. Then he, in turn, kissed Katie’s hand and then Lynn’s, bowing to each like a courtier. As we left Dad whispered to me, “Better’n you on that one. I’ll call them Katilynn from now on.”
Here’s a remarkable 4 minute clip from a 1932 film, Uncle Moses, in Yiddish with English subtitles. The plot of the film is quite convoluted, but its depiction of class relations and militant immigrant workers is far more advanced than just about anything you’d see in a theatrical release today.
And is that Edward G. Robinson I thought I saw entering the room at about 3:23?
With all the election week brouhaha, I got to thinking about the mail, and then recalling an essay I wrote here a few years ago about letter writing. Here’s a revised version of that essay that I aired for the Arts Express radio program. Click on the triangle or link to hear it as broadcast today on WBAI.org and Pacifica affiliates across the nation.
What are the two (three is optional) most memorable magical effects you’ve ever seen? Tell us the circumstances, and why you were so impressed by those effects. That’s it. In your entry, see if you can put the reader in your place, and see if you can transmit some of that feeling that you experienced.
Well, you truly wow’ed me this time. I had a terrible time making this decision. I had to choose three winners. It was really, really difficult. Frankly, among the entries I received there were four that particularly stood out, and each of those was deserving of a first-place win. They were each great in their own special way. I was facing a four-way tie, so I really didn’t know what to do. But I remembered what the rules said: in case of a tie, the decision goes to the earliest entry among them. And I breathed a sigh of relief when I realized that this would be the fairest way to decide among them. I would decide by looking at when I received each of those four top entries. Based on that, I made my decision.
There was still one problem–the rules provided for only three prizes, yet as I said, there were four entries that were essentially equally excellent. So I decided to award four prizes instead of three.
So with that out of the way, let’s announce the winners!
First prize goes to Ken Muller. He picked The Compleat Magic Vol. IV. edited by Bascomb Jones. Ken told of two heartwarming magical experiences that were particularly memorable for him–one when he was a youth performing magic and Santa Claus ended up surprising him, and another, as an adult, when a pair of sisters down the street, one developmentally delayed, and the other unable to walk, joined forces and together performed a magic trick for Ken and his Dad.
Second Prize goes to Sean-Dylan Riedweg, who wrote about two baffling magic performances he witnessed, the memory of which stayed with him many years. The first was a Times Square street performance of cigarette through jacket–with his own jacket, which hooked him on magic as a a teen. The second was later in life working behind the counter at Tannen’s when he was badly fooled by a visiting David Roth, who performed an unfathomable card trick. Sean-Dylan chose Gerald Deutsch’s Perverse Magic: The First Sixteen Years.
Third prize goes to Danny Doyle. As a young boy, he was amazed by Doug Henning on TV, and then later as a brash young teen who thought he knew everything about magic, gets seriously schooled at Schulien’s by Heba Haba Al. He chose Harry Lorayne’s Classic Collection, Volume 4
And, finally, fourth prize goes to Steven Paul Carlson who tells of two times when he seriously fooled himself! He chose Reputation Makers.
A great song originally done by The Marvelettes and covered by no less than The Beatles, but I love this version done by some young women from Rosa Parks High School in Paterson, New Jersey. I wish I knew their names, as they are all very talented singers.
I like to do a Favorites of the Year post on our blog’s birthday, so here are some of the interviews or written pieces which we enjoyed most over the past year that you may have missed, or may like to view again:
From The Scarecrow, made in 1920, it’s Buster Keaton who lives in a house “where all the rooms are in one room.” Keaton multi-tasks and makes multi-use of every square inch of space. New York City apartment dwellers, take note.
For Halloween, something special, an homage to the old-time 1940s suspense radio series Lights Out. I wrote and produced a modern update of the Lights Out episode called “Revolt of The Worms” for the Arts Express radio program, broadcast today over WBAI FM NYC and Pacifica affiliates across the nation.
“We caution you. This story is definitely not for the timid soul. So we tell you, calmly and very sincerely, if you frighten easily, turn off your radio now. And now if you haven’t already done so, turn off your… lights now… and listen to… Revolt of the Worms.”
Starring Mary Murphy, Josh Miccio and Reggie Johnson.
To listen, click on the triangle or image to play.