Dory Previn

Dory Previn (née Dorothy Langan), lyricist, singer-songwriter and poet, was born on 22 October 1925 and died on 14 February 2012. According to Wikipedia:

During the late 1950s and 1960s she was a lyricist on songs intended for motion pictures and, with her then husband, André Previn, received several Academy Award nominations. In the 1970s, after their divorce, she released six albums of original songs and an acclaimed live album. Previn’s lyrics from this period are characterized by their originality, irony and honesty in dealing with her troubled personal life as well as more generally about relationships, sexuality, religion and psychology.

One reason given for the direction her post-divorce career was André Previn’s 1968 affair with (and subsequent marriage to) the young actress Mia Farrow, which provided the theme for her song “Beware of Young Girls”; it also provides the rationale for today’s clerihew.


 

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Swift Justice

I’ve been reading a biography of the collaboration and rivalry of Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff, the two most prominent stars of horror movies in the 1930s and 1940s. Their first collaborative effort was in the movie The Black Cat – ostensibly the film of a story by Edgar Allen Poe; however, the real inspiration for the film was the life of Aleister Crowley, the self-confessed “Wickedest Man in the World”.

While doing so, I came across this piece of trivia…

At the same time as The Black Cat was in production, Aleister Crowley went to court in London to sue the artist Nina Hamnett for libel when she called him a black magician in her 1932 book, Laughing Torso. The case was dismissed by the judge, a certain Mr Swift, after the jury decided to stop the  case by unanimously finding a verdict in favour of Miss Hamnett and her publishers. Mr Swift added:

“I have nothing to say to you about the facts except this. I have been forty years engaged in the administration of the law in one capacity or another. I thought that I knew every conceivable form of wickedness. I thought everything which was vicious and bad had been produced at one time or another before me. I have learned in this case that you can always learn something more if you live long enough. Never have I heard such dreadful, horrible, blasphemous, abominable stuff as that which has been produced by the man [Crowley] who describes himself to you as the greatest living poet.”

You can read more about the verdict in this transcript of the Daily Mail article of 14 April 1934. However, the incident prompted me to write the following clerihew.

swiftjustice

Author’s Note:
Most people with the surname “Crowley” prefer a pronunciation that rhymes with “foully”.  Aleister Crowley preferred instead to rhyme his name with “unholy”.


 

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Esprit de Bain

You know the phrase “esprit de l’escalier”?

Literally it means “spirit of the staircase” or “staircase wit”. It was coined by the French philosopher Denis Diderot to describe the situation when you discover the perfect reply only after you have left the party.

Now let another Dennis coin the phrase “esprit de bain” to cover the situation when you compose a clerihew while having a shower. (Yes, I know that the French word for “shower” is “douche”. but somehow the phrase “esprit de douche” doesn’t have that certain je ne sais quoi.)

The two new clerihews below came to my mind unbidden as the water sluiced from the shower head. For your edification, I have included a bit of background material for both verses.

Fidel Castro and Che Guevara

Fidel Castro (1926–2016), Cuban politician and revolutionary, led the guerilla campaign that ousted the dictator Fulgencio Batista from power in Cuba at the end of 1958. Depending on your point of view, Castro was either a revolutionary hero or a revolutionary monster. Certainly, he was a central figure in the Cuban missile crisis, which arguably is the point at which the human species has (so far) most closely approached the brink of nuclear war.

Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara, Argentinian revolutionary and physician, first met Fidel Castro in Mexico in 1955, and in 1956 he joined Castro’s revolution in Cuba. Guevara soon rose to prominence among the insurgents, and played a pivotal role in the campaign that deposed the Batista regime. Guevara left Cuba in 1965 to foment revolution abroad, which resulted in his death in Bolivia in 1965.

fidelcastro

Author’s Note:

While it is abundantly clear that Fidel Castro and Che Guevara must have shared a meal on more than one occasion, I have no evidence that any of those meals consisted of a dish of spaghetti Carbonara. By a curious coincidence, “Carbonari” is the name given to an informal network of secret revolutionary societies that was active in Italy from about 1800 to 1831. The Italian Carbonari are often cited as the inspiration for many other revolutionary groups.

David Bowie and the Spiders from Mars

David Bowie (1947–2016), musician and actor, was a leading innovator in popular music from the 1960s until his death in early 2016. A feature of Bowie’s career — at least in the early days — was the different persona that he adopted with every new concept he explored. The Independent newspaper identified some of those personas (and album associated with them) as:

  • Major Tom (Space Oddity)
  • Aladdin Sane (Aladdin Sane)
  • Thin White Duke (Young Americans)
  • Halloween Jack (Diamond Dogs)

And of course there was Ziggy Stardust.

In 1972, Bowie released his fifth studio album, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, a concept album about a fictitious rock band fronted by the eponymous Ziggy. According to Rolling Stone magazine:

Ziggy [was] an … alien rock star, sent to Earth as a messenger …. [H]umanity was in its final five years of existence, and Ziggy was dispatched to deliver a message of hope: He’s a wild, hedonistic figure (“well-hung and snow-white tan”), but at his core communicates peace and love; he’s the ultimate rock star. And in the end, he is destroyed by his own excesses and by his fans.

David Bowie was often dubbed ‘the coolest man on Earth’. And what could be cooler that drinking champagne with an alien rock band?

davidbowie


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By George!

Every day, the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography sends me an e-mail containing an entry from the Dictionary. Recently I received the entry about Phyllis Dixey (1914-1964), the English striptease artiste.

After making her start in the chorus line, Phyllis graduated to a leading role in stage tableaux. These comprised static ensembles of thinly veiled women who recreated scenes from classical art or adopted poses deemed of artistic merit, a requirement needed to evade the government’s theatrical censor. (This situation was depicted in the 2005 movie Mrs Henderson Presents.) These tableaux – and Phyllis’ later fan-dance routine – came to the attention of the censor in the Lord Chamberlain’s office, who said:

“The Lord Chancellor considers that this is carrying stage nudity too far…. The Lord Chancellor desires me to warn you that unless more reasonableness is shown in the inclusion of nudity in your programme he will have no alternative to prohibiting it altogether.”

The name of the theatrical censor was George Titman.

I’m not making this up.

Here are some relevant photos. The first is a publicity photo for Phyllis Dixey. The second is a photo of the real George Titman with the actress Lesley Anne Down, who played Phyllis Dixey in a TV program in 1978.

phyllisdixey george-and-lesley

George Titman (1889-1980) was not only the Secretary of the Lord Chamberlain’s Office during the Dixey era; he was also the Duke of Edinburgh’s Serjeant-at-Arms at the time of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. For those not already snickered out, I can additionally inform you that George Titman was also one of only five people to know the whereabouts of the Crown Jewels during the Second World War.

Later, George’s son, John Titman (1926-2003), also held the posts of Secretary of the Lord Chamberlain’s Office (1978-91) and a Serjeant-at-Arms to the Queen (1982-91).

And so to the clerihew:

georgetitman


 

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Johann Wolfgang von Goethe — Sausage Dog?

Author’s note: As a child I did not know how to pronounce the surname of the German polymath Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.

If you have the same problem, it sounds something like “GUR-tuh” — which may not be important in the grand scheme of things, but it has a certain relevance to the clerihew below….. as do the definitions of a couple of other words in the verse. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe was a German writer and statesman.

Born in Frankfurt in 1749, Goethe (1749–1832) became a celebrity by the age of 25 after the publication of his novel The Sorrows of Young Werther, a novel that bears the unfortunate reputation of being one of the first literary works to inspire copycat suicides. In 1775, Goethe moved to the city of Weimar, where he soon became a member of the local duke’s privy council. Goethe’s body of work includes poetry, dramas, novels, drawings, an autobiography, and various scientific treatises. Arguably, Goethe is best known today for his two-part drama Faust, in which the scholarly title character sells his soul to the devil.

Goethe died in Weimar in 1832.

And so to the clerihew, which draws on the places where Goethe was born and died, and on the specific eponyms associated with them.

goethe

….The Eponyms

Frankfurter (n): A variety of sausage.
Weimaraner (n): A variety of hunting dog first bred in Germany in the 19th century.

…..And a final word from the man himself

“When ideas fail, words come in very handy.” – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe


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Tea With Jane Austen

The event obliquely referred to in this clerihew actually occurred even before the author Jane Austen was born, but the two events share an interesting coincidence: the Boston Tea Party took place on December 16, 1773; and Jane Austen was born exactly two years later, on December 16, 1775.

During her lifetime (1775–1817), Austen was little known. According to Wikipedia:

[Austen’s] major novels … were first published anonymously and brought her little fame and brief reviews during her lifetime. A significant transition in her posthumous reputation as an author occurred in 1869, fifty-two years after her death, when her nephew’s publication of A Memoir of Jane Austen introduced her to a wider audience.

Jane Austen never visited Boston. Indeed, it seems she never left her native England at all, so the clerihew below is, alas, only a fantasy. And here it is.

Jane Austen clerihew

“We are to have a tiny party here tonight. I hate tiny parties, they force one into constant exertion.” — Jane Austen


 

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Ernest Hemingway and Virginia Woolf

I think I should apologise for this clerihew in advance.

Here’s one definition of the clerihew verse form: a whimsical, four-line biographical poem. The first line is the name of the poem’s subject, usually a famous person put in an absurd light. The rhyme scheme is AABB, and the rhymes are often forced.

You can disagree with the specifics of this definition (I do, kind of) but one thing is important, the humorous intent. The following poem, however, follows the structure of the clerihew without trying to be funny. I include it here because, when I wrote it, I was challenged to re-write it in the form of a haiku. It was an interesting challenge. After the poems, I will add some of the background to them.

Hemingway and Woolf, The Clerihew

Virginia Woolf and Ernest Hemingway
Both went and kicked off in the lemming way –
He with a weapon that loads and locks
She with her pockets full of rocks.

In contrast to a clerihew, a haiku consist of 17 syllables, in three phrases of 5, 7 and 5 syllables respectively; usually it also contains a reference to a season. So the haiku version of the clerihew might become….

Hemingway and Woolf, The Haiku

Woolf and Hemingway
In their winter of despair
Took the quick way out.

The clerihew uses the myth of lemmings committing mass suicide, which owes its popularity to the Disney company (see Wikipedia). The myth of lemming “mass suicide” is long-standing and has been popularized by a number of factors. In 1955, Disney Studio illustrator Carl Barks drew an Uncle Scrooge adventure comic with the title “The Lemming with the Locket”. This comic, which was inspired by a 1954 American Mercury article, showed massive numbers of lemmings jumping over Norwegian cliffs.Even more influential was the 1958 Disney film White Wilderness, which won an Academy Award for Documentary Feature, in which staged footage was shown with lemmings jumping into sure death after faked scenes of mass migration. A Canadian Broadcasting Corporation documentary, Cruel Camera, found that the lemmings used for White Wilderness were flown from Hudson Bay to Calgary, Alberta, Canada, where they did not jump off the cliff, but in fact were launched off the cliff using a turntable.

Ernest Hemingway, an adventurous but accident-prone writer, committed suicide by shotgun in 1961 after a period of mental instability that has been attributed variously to heavy drinking, continuing pain from his many accidents, or a genetic tendency towards haemochromatosis.

Adeline Virginia Woolf, novelist, essayist and publisher, had a long-standing battle with depression and mental illness. That, exacerbated by the general misery occasioned by the outbreak of the Second World War, prompted her to fill the pockets of her overcoat with rocks and walk into the river Ouse in 1941.


 

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