I hadn’t pedaled up to the Great Gray Bridge for a couple months, and today turned out to be an ideal day for it. Blue sky, puffy clouds, abundant sunshine. Perfect. Click here to see all photos in this post.
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JANUARY 2016 UPDATE: Readers of this blog may recall my connection to The Revenant: A Novel of Revenge, mentioned on this site a year ago in the post below, after I learned the book, originally published in 2002, was about to be reissued by a new publisher, the basis of a major motion picture. I saw the movie last weekend, and found it quite engrossing, even at more than 2 1/2 hours duration. The cinematography is exceptional, the acting quite believable, and the storytelling very powerful. I recall that author Michael Punke was already then having discussions about possible film adaptations, since the Glass story had already once been filmed, as “Man in the Wilderness,” with Richard Harris and John Huston in 1971. Even so, over the years no film resulted, that until word came last year of the cinematic collaboration between Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s and Leonardo DiCaprio’s. As the credits rolled following the film last weekend, I saw that the production of course credited the book, though with a proviso I’d not seen before, stating that the movie was “Based in Part on the Novel by Michael Punke.” I imagine the wording was mutually agreed to between the author’s agent and the producers, because the two works do diverge. But I don’t criticize the filmmakers on that score, for as Punke himself wrote in an Historical Note at the end of the novel, the confirmed history surrounding Hugh Glass’s life is scant—little more is known for certain beyond the fact he lived, was a skilled tracker, was mauled by a grizzly bear during an 1823 expedition with the Rocky Mountain Fur Trading Company, following which he was left for dead by two of his likely companions, a miscreant named John Fitzgerald and a teenaged Jim Bridger; Bridger ultimately became a much more famous mountain man than Glass, with modern tourist sites in the Mountain West named after him. I’m pleased to see the movie is bringing more attention to the gripping novel, which is a bestseller in the Picador reissue. I’m also pleased to remind people about the book, since as the Obama administration’s Deputy Trade Representative to the WTO in Geneva, Switzerland, Michael Punke is not permitted to directly promote his own commercial interests. I’m happy to stand in for him, then, as relatives of his have been doing at premieres of the movie, which has now garnered many Academy Award nominations.
When I was a retail bookseller with Undercover Books, this is exactly the sort of novel that we would read in advance galleys from the publisher, then order 50 copies, and sell them all in the book’s first month on sale. If you enjoy adventure tales, I recommend you read this one, a gripping survival story based on the life of a real American who traverses a great swath of the inter-mountain west in a quest for justice, less than 20 years after the Lewis and Clark Expedition had opened the region to exploration.
January 2015nant-front.jpg”>the BN Review recently I was delighted to discover that one of the most engrossing novels I ever edited and published—The Revenant: A Novel of Revenge—has been reissued and is being made in to a major movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio, directed by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, who recently directed “Birdman.” The novel, by Michael Punke, was published in 2002, when I was an editorial executive at Carroll & Graf. It’s inspired by the epic life and adventures of a historical figure, Hugh Glass. He was a frontiersman and fur trapper who in 1823 was part of a westward expedition spanning what is today Nebraska, the Dakotas, Montana, and Wyoming. While foraging for game, away from the troop, Glass was attacked and severely mauled by a grizzly bear. Grievously wounded and bleeding, with the skin on his back nearly flayed off his torso, Glass was still conscious when his comrades found him. Believing that Glass would surely die soon, the leader of the troop ordered two men to stay with him until he expired, then bury him and catch up to the group. In the midst of this death watch, a band of Indians approached the camp, panicking the two men: they grabbed Glass’s rifle and hunting knife and fled. Deserted, defenseless, and enraged at being abandoned, Glass refuses to succumb to his wounds; he survives, determined to recover his weapons, vowing revenge on the men who left him to die. The novel is beautifully written and reads like a timeless adventure story. Talk about a film adaptation of the novel began years ago, and I’m delighted to see now it’s really happening, and with such a high profile team. Hugh Glass did inspire one earlier film, in 1971, when actor Richard Harris was cast as the Glass figure in “Man in the Wilderness,” a rather lurid and unexceptional movie. Punke’s telling of this epic saga, with Glass crawling and dragging himself across wild terrain until he was again able to walk, has all the elements for a great movie and I’m hopeful that is what the production will lead to.
Punke’s agent Tina Bennett submitted the manuscript to me soon after 9/11, an event and aftermath that I was close to, as the offices of Carroll & Graf and Avalon Publishing Group were only a few blocks from the World Trade Center. As I chronicled on this blog on Sept 11, 2012, in a post titled Remembering 9/11/01—Running Through a Dust Cloud in Lower Manhattan, the exertions of that day left me with nagging leg injuries that persisted for most of the year that followed. In fact, when I attended the book launch for The Revenant, held in Washington, DC, in the summer of 2002, I took the train from NYC using a cane to help me walk on a still-tender ankle.
Though novels don’t often have subtitles or reading lines, I suggested to the author that we use one here. We had quite an evocative title, though the word ‘revenant’ (a being that returns from the dead) was not then and still isn’t a widely familiar term. Glass’s odyssey seeking revenge and justice resonated powerfully with the spirit of the time, so “A Novel of Revenge” seemed the right way to position the book for readers. The publisher reissuing the book now is Picador, part of Macmillan, and I’m glad to see in online listings they’ve chosen to retain the reading line. Interestingly, they’ve reissued the novel in hardcover, not paperback, a somewhat unusual choice for a book published more than a decade ago, though perhaps a sign of the publisher’s confidence in its continuing relevance.
Michael Punke has written two nonfiction books in the years since 2002, both in Western history, Fire and Brimstone: The North Butte Mining Disaster of 1917 and Last Stand: George Bird Grinnell, the Battle to Save the Buffalo, and the Birth of the New West. The book launch for The Revenant was in DC because Punke worked for a law firm there. Among the hosts at the party was a mentor and colleague to Punke, Mickey Kantor, a lawyer involved in international trade who’d served as chair of the Clinton campaign for president in 1992. Punke now works as President Obama’s Deputy United States Trade Representative and US Ambassador to the World Trade Organization in Geneva, Switzerland. According to this article in Maxim, his ability to engage in promoting his books is very limited by his sensitive position in the federal government. I’m very glad to know that Michael Punke’s first book is coming back in to print, and that a movie is in the works. We have been in touch occasionally over the past decade, and I’m pleased that I have so much good news to congratulate him about when we’re next in touch. Above is the front and below the back cover of the paperback edition of The Revenant from 2003.
Kyle, Ewan, and I had a great time last night at the opening reception for an exhibit of Ruth Gruber’s photojournalism at the JCC. This is essentially the same exhibit that was mounted in 2012 at the International Center of Photography, the year that Ruth was awarded the ICP’s Infinity Award. If you’re unfamiliar with Ruth’s work, this show is a great way to begin. If you’re not in NYC to go see it, this link will lead you to many of the images. If you’re not familiar with her remarkable career, here’s a primer:
Born in 1911 in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, Ruth was always precocious. She received her B.A. from NYU at age sixteen; an M.A. in German language and literature from the University of Wisconsin at eighteen; and at twenty was offered a fellowship to participate in an exchange program at the University of Cologne. Early in her studies there, in 1931, she was asked by a professor if she would consider reading the work of Virginia Woolf, and writing a doctoral thesis about her. I’ve imagined that Ruth’s professors must have realized they had this bright female student in their midst, a reader of English and German who could tackle the Englishwoman’s books and write about them, asking themselves when they might again have such an opportunity, especially with the inter-war years—which they turned out to be—increasingly fraught by international peril? Ruth demurred—she had not yet read Woolf’s work, she could afford to be in Cologne only one year, her parents would not let her stay longer, the work would surely take more than a year—but soon, though she hadn’t read any of Woolf’s books when the professors asked her, she said, “I’ll try.” Taping up a picture of Woolf in her room, she undertook to read all of Woolf’s books then published, pondering their meaning and the significance of Woolf’s creative enterprise.
Despite the notoriety that her youthful doctorate brought her (she was heralded in the NY Times as the “World’s Youngest Ph.D.”), the Depression was in full swing and Ruth found little work upon her return to the States. She continued traveling and trying her hand at journalism and photography. In 1935, she was delighted when the thesis on Woolf was published as a book in Germany by the Tauchnitz Press, which had a list of English-language titles, including Woolf’s The Waves. Ruth sent a copy of her thesis to Woolf in London, thus beginning a lengthy correspondence between the two women that culminated in Ruth paying a visit to Woolf at her Bloomsbury home in 1936 or ’37. For more on this period of Ruth’s life, including the meeting between the two women, you can also read my post, Virginia Woolf and Ruth Gruber, Driven to Create as Women her on this blog.
After her experiences in Germany, she won a Fulbright scholarship, which included attending a rally at which Hitler spoke, where the foreign students were seated very near him, she devoted an extended period of independent study to the examination of “women under democracy, fascism, and communism.” She became the first Western journalist to tour the Soviet Arctic, and in 1937 published her second book, I Went to the Soviet Arctic, which she parlayed in to a new career as a public lecturer. In 1940, Ruth continued her association with the peoples of the polar regions when she became a member of the FDR administration, under Interior Secretary Harold Ickes who named her his special field representative for the territory of Alaska. She is doubtless one of the Roosevelt administration’s eldest surviving staffers. She worked for the government off and on during and immediately after WWII, leaving at times to work as a foreign correspondent for the New York Post and the Herald Tribune. In 1944, Ickes assigned Ruth a mission she urged him to give her, that of escorting nearly 1,000 WWII survivors from Naples, Italy, on the Henry Gibbins, a ship that also carried wounded American troops back to the US. In 1947, she was working as a foreign correspondent when she covered the fate of the Exodus ship, and chased its thousands of stateless passengers all over the Mediterranean and central Europe the summer of that year.
To read more about Ruth Gruber’s lifetime of humanitarian activism I recommend any of the six books I published with her, five of which are currently available in new editions from Open Road Integrated Media, whose executives Jane Friedman and Philip Rappaport were also on hand at the JCC. The titles I published with Ruth are 1) Exodus 1947: The Ship that Launched a Nation, Introduction by Eleanor Roosevelt biographer Blanche Wiesen Cook; 2) Haven: The Dramatic Story of 1,000 WWII Refugees and How They Came to America, which was adapted for a TV movie in 2000 (Foreword by Dava Sobel, author of Longitude, and Ruth’s niece); 3) Raquela: A Woman of Israel, winner of the Jewish Book Award in 1978 (Introduction by novelist Faye Kellerman); 4) Ahead of Time: My Early Years as a Foreign Correspondent (also the title of a documentary on Ruth), Introduction by Vanity Fair writer Marie Brenner; 5) Inside of Time: My Journey from Alaska to Israel: My Journey from Alaska to Israel; and 6) Virginia Woolf: The Will to Create as a Woman.
I have written about Ruth several times on this blog, posts that are all illustrated with photographs by Ruth or of her: 1) Ruth Gruber’s Photojournalism at Soho Photography; 2) My Friend Ruth Gruber, Pioneering Photojournalist; 3) Virginia Woolf and Ruth Gruber, Driven to Create as Women; 4) Celebrating Photojournalist & Author Ruth Gruber’s 102nd Birthday With Her; and 5) Marking Photojournalist Ruth Gruber’s 103rd Birthday. Below are photos I took at last night’s reception, and photos I’ve taken of her book jackets.
Who knew? Not me, but British urbanite Tom Scott did. Rubble from Bristol, England comprises the landfill for Waterside Plaza on the east side of Manhattan. Post-WWII the British city had many bombed-out buildings, material that was brought back to the US from the UK in ships that used it as ballast. I was at the plaza a couple years ago for a conference, though I had no idea then that the example of modern architecture has this unlikely origin. Check out the video by Tom Scott. H/t my English friend Garry Benfold who brought this cool city story to my attention.
The favorite scary character of my youth was the TV prankster Ghoulardi (real name Ernie Anderson, the father of film director Paul Thomas Anderson). The interesting doc here—based on the 1997 book, Ghoulardi: Inside Cleveland’s Wildest TV Ride, brought out by Gray & Company, an enterprising Cleveland publisher doing books of local interest—shows how Hollywood studios’ rediscovery and repackaging of their old horror classics for local TV stations in the late 1950s and early ’60s prompted many local TV stations to program horror movie shows, often known by names such as “Shock Theater.” In Cleveland, where I grew up, we were fortunate to have one of the most colorful and interesting of these early horror film hosts. Ghoulardi. Watching him during my childhood, though it be would be many years until I ever heard the term “meta,” I instinctively loved how he inserted himself in to whatever monster or horror film he was showing, somehow putting his own image on to the TV screen, jousting with, say, “Cyclops,” trying to subdue the creature with his a cane and rancorous insults. His outrageous schtick—in a a gray sweatshirt and scraggly goatee, with dangling cigarette-holder—made him an early iconoclast of ’60s pop culture. Ghoulardi was a kind of low-rent Professor Irwin Corey, if you remember “The World’s Foremost Authority,” some before years Corey, turning 100 this year, took his act to the Tonight Show.
As with the attempted bans of comic books, chronicled in David Hadju’s Ten-Cent Plague: The Great Comic Book Scare and How it Changed America, Ghoulardi was condemned by goo-goo parental groups who tried getting him off the air. Despite this, his usual Friday night slot, coming after local news, around 11:30pm, grew to include a Saturday afternoon show. The decency crowd might have succeeded in sidelining him, during this pre-cable era, with only three TV stations in Cleveland, but he was so popular with kids, and his audience was so large, there was no way the station would’ve dropped his show in its prime. When Ghoulardi did finally go off the air, it was because Anderson moved to Los Angeles, where he worked in TV with his longtime pal, and earlier sidekick, Tim Conway, later of “McHale’s Navy.”
Walking with my good friend Karl Petrovich in the NYC nabe of Soho almost thirty years ago, I spied this handsome panel truck that had a version of my name painted on it, only I spell my first name with just one ‘l’ and my middle initial is ‘S,’ not ‘C.’ It was an odd doppelganger moment—evidence of someone like me, but not me. Karl had a camera, and we snapped a pic of me in front of the truck, emblazoned with this PCT’s architectural practice, with outposts in NYC and strangely, in far away Tulsa. It was a memorable, weird, modern moment, pre-Internet. As a grace note, here also is a picture I took of my pal Karl, sadly now deceased. We were classmates at Franconia College in the 1970s.