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Fallaci by Scavullo, 1990.

Fallaci by Scavullo, 1990.

I posted this video once before, but it was removed soon thereafter: It’s a fun look from 1978 inside the studio of legendary fashion and portrait photographer Francesco Scavullo. Star-crossed model Gia Carangi is his ridiculously beautiful subject.

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Andrew Carnegie was among the wealthy philanthropists who funded public libraries in America so that learning wasn’t limited to just the school day. He got no arguments, of course. Bill Gates, who wants to change curriculum, has unsurprisingly had a bumpier ride. A champion of Common Core and the force behind the multidisciplinary Big History courses designed by Australian educator David Christian, Gates and his good intentions have raised the question of whether a billionaire’s influence should have a seat in the classroom itself. While I would have personally loved taking Big History in high school, the issue is a real one. From Andrew Ross Sorkin of the New York Times:

“Beginning with the Carnegies and the Rockefellers, billionaires have long seen the nation’s education as a willing cause for their philanthropy — and, with it, their own ideas about how students should learn. The latest crop of billionaires, however, has tended to take the line that fixing our broken educational system is the key to unlocking our stagnant economy. Whether it’s hedge-fund managers like Paul Tudor Jones (who has given tens of millions to support charter schools) or industrialists like Eli Broad (who has backed ‘blended learning’ programs that feature enhanced technology), these philanthropists have generally espoused the idea that education should operate more like a business. (The Walton Foundation, backed by the family that founded Walmart, has taken this idea to new heights: It has spent more than $1 billion supporting various charter schools and voucher programs that seek to establish alternatives to the current public-school system.) Often these patrons want to restructure the system to make it more efficient, utilizing the latest technology and management philosophies to turn out a new generation of employable students.

For many teachers, [American Federation of Teachers President Randi] Weingarten explained, this outside influence has become off-putting, if not downright scary. ‘We have a really polarized environment in terms of education, which we didn’t have 10 years ago,’ she said. ‘Public education was a bipartisan or multipartisan enterprise — it didn’t matter if you were a Republican or Democrat or elite or not elite. People viewed public education as an anchor of democracy and a propeller of the economy in the country.’ Now, she said, ‘there are people that have been far away from classrooms who have an outsize influence on what happens inside classrooms. Beforehand, the philanthropies were viewed as one of many voices in education. Now they are viewed — and the market reformers and the tech folks — as the dominant forces, and as dissonant to those who work in schools every day. She took a deep breath and softened her tone: ‘In some ways, I give Bill Gates huge credit. Bill Gates took a risk to get engaged. The fact that he was willing to step up and say, ‘Public education is important,’ is very different than foundations like the Walton Foundation, who basically try to undermine public education at every opportunity.’

Gates appears to have been chastened by his experience with the A.F.T. When he speaks about his broader educational initiatives, he is careful to mention that the change he supports comes from the teachers, too. ‘When Melinda and I go on the road and talk to teachers, it’s just so clear there is a real hunger for this,’ he said. ‘If you can take a teacher and give him or her the help to become a great teacher, everyone benefits: the kids, the teacher, the community, the unions. Everyone.’

Gates resists any suggestion that Big History is some sort of curio or vanity project. But some of this earlier antipathy has raised skepticism about his support of the Big History Project. ‘I just finished reading William Easterly’s The Tyranny of Experts,’ says Scott L. Thomas, dean of the School of Educational Studies at Claremont Graduate University in California. ‘It’s about philanthropists and their effect on the poor globally. It’s this exact idea that here you have this ‘expert’ in the middle’ — that is, Gates — ‘enabling the pursuit of this project. And frankly, in the eyes of the critics, he’s really not an expert. He just happens to be a guy that watched a DVD and thought it was a good idea and had a bunch of money to fund it.'”


Louis C.K. hating on Common Core:

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The Woodlands, a master-planned suburb of Houston established in 1974, was the bleeding edge of quantified smart homes, as each unit was wired and connected.

From James Camp’s Guardian grab bag of notes about a Werner Herzog appearance in Brooklyn:

“To his audience at the opera house, he described film-making as a ‘pilgrimage.’ In person, as on screen or page, he is off the wall and over the top and beyond the pale. He is a pilgrim on his way to a place that is really an idea: too far.

‘Ski-jumping,’ Herzog said. ‘It was the fever dream of my adolescence.’

He played clips of airborne jumpers in slow motion and commanded Brooklyn to scrutinise their faces.

Their lips rippled in alpine winds.

Herzog said: ‘The ecstasy of solitude!’

Holdengräber reminded him of the dictum, attributed to Blaise Pascal, that opens Lessons of Darkness, Herzog’s 1992 documentary: ‘The collapse of the stellar universe will occur – like creation – in grandiose splendour.’

Herzog repeated it. He said, ‘Actually, Pascal didn’t write that. I wrote that.’

Holdengräber said: ‘But it sounds so very like Pascal.’

‘Pascal should have written it,’ Herzog said, of the 17th-century philosopher. ‘That’s why I signed his name.'”


Herzog’s original German-language 1974 profile of ski-jumper Walter Steiner:

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Here, you babies, here’s your blessed flying car that you don’t even need! Štefan Klein has created the much-buzzed-about Aeromobil 2.5, with the autopilot version promised for next year. Soon you won’t have to drive or fly, and you’ll have more time to download hacked photos of nude celebrities, because their nipples are superior. From Jeremy Kingsley at Wired UK:

“Flying cars haven’t taken off yet, but there’s a good reason, says Slovakian designer Štefan Klein: good cars would make bad planes, and vice versa. Cars need to be wide and heavy, planes narrow and light. Klein, who is the cofounder and chief designer at Aeromobil which makes a Slovakian flying car, claims his creation is as roadworthy as it is airworthy. ‘It’s its own category,’ he says.

Weighing just 450kg and powered by a 100hp, light-aircraft-standard Rotax 912 engine, the Aeromobil 2.5 (above) reaches 160kph on the ground. Press the ‘transform’ button and a rear-mounted propeller fires up, the wings fold out to span 8.2m, and in under 200m of grass runway, the plane takes off at 130kph. A single engine — one of the vehicle’s patented components — powers both driving and flying. Other patents include the lightweight wings and a steering wheel that’s the same for both modes. ‘We are trying to invent parts that don’t already exist,’ Klein says.

He started thinking about flying cars 25 years ago in his native Bratislava, in then Czechoslovakia before the Velvet Revolution — a flying car could escape to western Europe.”

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I know Joan Rivers, who sadly passed away today, had plenty of detractors over the last, long leg of her career, when she often interrupted her comedy to sell plastic, buy plastic and seemingly turn herself into a piece of plastic, but she was a pantheon-level stand-up and performed at that altitude until the end. Here’s a repost of something I put up about her previously.

On November 15, 1972, Rivers did a Q&A with UCLA students, being brazenly honest on varied topics (feminism, Bill Cosby, talk shows, etc.) and asking rhetorically, “If I was normal, would I be doing comedy?” Audio only, but very funny stuff.

World War I, which started exactly a century ago, claimed 16 million lives, but there were many more casualties among the living. One of them was the brilliant baseball pitcher Grover Cleveland Alexander. He emerged from battle having inhaled mustard gas and experiencing hearing loss, something akin to epilepsy and what we today would call Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. A drinker before the war, he became a two-fisted one after the fighting ceased, sometimes taking the mound inebriated. So great was he, it took nearly a decade for alcohol to ground his career, but once his playing days were over, he found himself unemployable in the league he loved, no one wanting to trust a temperamental alcoholic as manager or coach.

A year after being inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1938, Alexander found himself an attraction in a raffish New York City dime museum, among the anomalies and curiosities, giving the same speech about his glory days a dozen times daily. The shell of his former self was all he had left to sell, and the press and public brought their cameras to capture a piece of what once was. From an article in the January 20, 1939 Brooklyn Daily Eagle about “Old Pete” in steep decline:

“Cameramen swarmed about the great pitcher as he stood there against the green background, both hands holding a baseball above his head as if starting a windup.

‘Hold it! Hold it!’ they chirped as they focused their cameras.

But the pitching immortal couldn’t ‘hold it.’ His arms came down and he almost dropped the ball. He tired that quickly. The great Grover Cleveland Alexander wasn’t weary from pitching a baseball game. He was starting a series of three weeks’ appearances at Hubert’s Dime Museum, on 42nd St., yesterday.

It’s a Different League

This series is in a world far different from the fresh air, sunshine and roaring crowds that the mighty right-hander knew in the old days. And the man is far different too. The posters outside the museum notify passers-by that the ‘Great Grover Cleveland Alexander’ is on exhibition within. But that’s not true. They’re exhibiting only what’s left of the man that was.

The tall man with the dusty brown hair, bulgy waistline, splotched complexion and somewhat bleary eyes is older and more tired now than you would expect of his 51 years. He is weary and bitter. He believes that the game of baseball didn’t do right by him. He feels that the pastime somehow should have warded off the necessity that is sending the great Alexander of Cooperstown’s Baseball Hall of Fame into Hubert’s hall of freaks and flea circuses and dancing girls. 

A year ago this month the Baseball Writers of America elected Alexander to the Cooperstown shrine where his name joined those of 13 other immortals. But on this January day the tall man in the wrinkled brown suit stands on a tawdry little stage downstairs in the smoky light and tells how he won the seventh game of the 1926 World Series. How he fanned Tony Lazzeri with the bases loaded and two out.

He gives this little talk twelve times a day, starting at noon and ending at midnight, to earn bread and shelter in this bleak twilight of his life. Between lectures he sits in a little wooden cubicle, below the stage–away from staring eyes. Into this little cubicle come reporters and former players to chat with ‘Ol’ Pete’ and to wonder.

It’s the same platform, cubicle and rigmarole that knew Jack Johnson, the Negro who was former heavyweight champion of the world. That was a year or so ago, when ‘Li’l Arthur’ was hard pressed.

First Time Here Since 1930

‘When the museum telegraphed me the offer of a job, I thought somebody was kidding me,’ Alexander said.  I hadn’t been in New York since 1930 and I thought a museum was a place where they keep skeletons and things. But, anyway, I took a chance, wired back and got the job.’

A reporter asked why it was that a man with his reputation never was offered a job in major league baseball after his pitching days were over.

‘Booze! I used to take a drink now and then when I played. Almost every player drank a bit then, and I guess they still do. But I made the mistake of taking my drinks openly. The word got around that I was a drunkard, which I never was. I believe that’s the reason I never even got a coaching job.’

When Alexander asked managers or owners for work, they told him he hadn’t kept pace with the game and they couldn’t use him because he didn’t know the ‘inside stuff.’

Old Pete laughs bitterly at this when he recalls his 19 years of education in the big time.

‘I was in the National League almost 20 years,’ he explains, ‘from 1911 through part of 1930–with the Phillies, Cubs, Cardinals and finally the Phillies again. I know the game inside and out.’

After his retirement in ’30 he managed the House of David team for three seasons. Last year he was out with a semi-pro club in Nebraska, but the going was tough because the farmers had been through a drought.

Despite his bitterness, Alexander seemed to get a thrill out of reliving the old days as he talked to the dime-a-toss listeners.

‘I guess my biggest thrill was in the 1926 World Series,’ he said. ‘I was with the Cardinals. We had won three games and the Yanks had won three. Jess Haines started the last game for us and along about the seventh inning he hurt his hand and they told me to go in. There were three on base and Lazzeri was up. I had pitched and won the sixth game the day before, but my arm felt fine. I only threw three times but I struck Tony out. He fouled my second pitch into the left-field stands. Then I threw him a hook and he missed it by about six inches. That proved to be the game and the series.

‘Yes, I could strike ‘em out in those days. But I kinda struck out myself after I stopped pitchin’.'”•


On this Labor Day, here’s a 1956 video of Bernard Smith’s creation Robert the Robot, shown here working around the house, which was part of the wave of robo-utopia present in Australia in the middle of last century.

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Some people think Miranda July is too quirky, but fuck them. The artist has developed an app which is both impersonal and (oddly) personal. From Katie Collins at Ars Technica:

“No matter how many emoticons you use, messaging apps (for the most part) remain a rather impersonal form of communication that fall somewhere between e-mail and phone calls on the formality scale.

Artist and actress Miranda July is hoping to change this with her new messaging app Somebody, which will send your missives not directly to your friend, but to a nearby human stranger who will relay the message verbally to its intended recipient.

While the app is very much a real piece of technology, it is also a far-reaching public art project that to some extent involves the sender replacing their avatar with a real-life messenger, who is being directed in a mini performance. On the app’s website, July describes Somebody as: ‘The antithesis of the utilitarian efficiency that tech promises, here, finally, is an app that makes us nervous, giddy, and alert to the people around us.’

To send a message, you select a friend from within the app and that friend will respond letting you know whether or not it is a good time for them. You then write out your note and add instructions and actions, to help your messenger get the delivery just right. You’ll be able to select a nearby messenger to be your stand-in by looking at their picture, their likes, their reviews, and their ratings. Your friend and stand-in will be sent each other’s pictures and locations so they can find one another. Once your message has been delivered, you will be notified.”


“Are you the favorite person of anybody?”

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In the late ’60s and early ’70s, Hippie culture crossed wires with Christian culture and Jesus went electric, became a superstar. As do a lot of idealistic and naive American dreams, Jesus Freaks got their start in California, urged on in this case by the Hollywood Free Paper. The movement peaked in 1972, splintering thereafter. This 43-minute film from that year of ascendancy, in which even Hal Lindsey pops up, is a fascinating artifact of the time.

Steve Wozniak, who recently damned Tesla cars with faint praise, selling the Datsun 280-ZX in 1979.


Saturday Night Live alumnus Tom Schiller, who specialized in short films during his two stints on the venerable show, is an odd and fascinating guy. He made one of my favorite movies ever, the 35-minute “Henry Miller Asleep & Awake,” which may be the best profile of a writer in any format ever. I also had the odd joy of waiting on him two or three times when I was younger and working in service jobs. During each encounter, Schiller affected an extremely phony Russian accent, acting the part of a caricature of a recent immigrant. It was like he wanted me to know how fake the situation was because I was in a position where I had to be polite and play along. And so I did.

As part of Grantland’s coverage of SNL’s 40th anniversary, Alex Pappademas has an excellent interview with Schiller, in which he sifts through his own late-night career and weighs in on Lonely Island. The opening:


How did you first meet Lorne Michaels?

Tom Schiller”

When I was about 17, I was already working for a documentary filmmaker in the Pacific Palisades and working on documentary films. I made my own film on Henry Miller. My father was a writer on I Love Lucy. I grew up on the set of I Love Lucy. I was actually there for the grape-stomping sequence when I was 6. And one day my father said, ‘You’ve got to meet this guy — he’s this Canadian writer, but he knows all the great restaurants in L.A.’ I thought, I don’t really care about the great restaurants in L.A., but OK. So Lorne came over to the house, and he seemed like a nice enough guy. The surprising thing was, he lit a joint in my room, which I would never do in my father’s house. I thought, Hmm — interesting, and I started hanging out with him at the Chateau Marmont, which had a lot of colorful regulars, some of whom would become the nucleus of Saturday Night Live.

Lorne kept talking about this late-night show, this comedy show he wanted to do. Like 24/7 he would talk about it, to the point of boredom. He kept asking me if I’d like to come work on it, and I was conflicted, because my then-pal Henry Miller said, ‘Don’t go work on TV, it’ll kill your soul.’ But Lorne kept painting this picture of New York, and being a writer, and working on a late-night show, and it sounded kind of interesting. Since I wanted to be a foreign-film director, L.A. didn’t seem like the place to be, and I finally succumbed and took his invitation. In the summer of 1975, I was in a little office at 30 Rockefeller Plaza with Lorne. I was sitting there with him as he started hiring all the writers and cast.


You were there for the big bang!

Tom Schiller:

Yeah. We used to go to Catch a Rising Star and the Improv to watch performers. I remember seeing Chevy Chase and Richard Belzer. There were auditions, and John Belushi came and auditioned as the Samurai, which led me later to write ‘Samurai Hotel’ for him.”


“A place where I knew only starvation, humiliation, despair, frustration”:

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Muhammad Ali in 1972, after losing the “Fight of the Century” to Joe Frazier, on an Irish chat show hosted by Cathal O’Shannon. In Dublin to fight Alvin “Blue” Lewis, Ali was his usual mix of joking braggadocio and serious politics.

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Before the robot birds carry away you and your children, they will first be used to scare actual birds from airports and landfills. From Kyle Vanhemert at Wired UK:

“Birds are nice enough, unless you work at places like airports, farms, and landfills, in which case they’re the sworn enemy. Today, there are a variety of tools and technologies for spooking unwanted birds — we’ve graduated from scarecrows to flash-bang grenades and other sophisticated armaments — but Nico Nijenhuis is undoubtedly working on the coolest. He’s building robot hawks that trick lingering critters into thinking they’re about to get snacked on.

Nijenhuis, a 27-year-old based in the Netherlands, is the mind behind Robirds, a line of robotic birds of prey. He’s hoping to sell them to the aviation and waste management industries under the name Clear Flight Solutions. (Company tagline: ‘We create birds.’ Fair enough!) Nijenhuis is currently testing remote controlled Peregrine Falcons and eagles with promising results. By the end of the year, he’s hoping to have fully autonomous robot birds on offer.”

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Two more Robin Williams interviews, the first one with Dick Cavett in 1979, the second with David Frost in 1991. At the beginning of the Frost piece, the comic flawlessly recreates an early Shakespeare stand-up bit, “Two Dudes From Santa Monica.”

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In 1984, a youngish Oprah Winfrey talks to an oldish Norman Mailer about love. She tiptoes nicely around the knifing.

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Father Yod had 14 wives, but it’s not polite to count.

Before he was an oddly named cult leader, Yod was James Edward Baker, a Marine and stuntman who in 1969 opened a Sunset Strip health-food restaurant, the Source, and founded a cult, the Source Family, a group of beautiful young people housed in a Los Angeles mansion. Oh, and he fronted an improvisational psychedelic band called YaHoWa 13. Yod was killed almost immediately after moving his improvised family to Hawaii, believing he could hang glide from a 1,000 foot peak even though he had no experience in the sport. 

I suppose it’s because the commune never blew up into any kind of Manson-ish mayhem that it’s looked back upon (from a distance) almost fondly. But insular societies are always just a couple of steps from madness. Of course, I guess you could say the same of nations, though it’s easier to find refuge in a larger world.

The opening of Steffie Nelson’s 2007 Los Angeles Times article about the guru and his group:

“Earlier this summer, almost 100 psychedelic music fans, subculture aficionados, students of the occult and local literati climbed the flower-petal-strewn steps of publisher couple Jodi Wille and Adam Parfrey’s Silver Lake home for a salon celebrating the upcoming publication of The Source: The Untold Story of Father Yod, YaHoWa 13 and the Source Family (Process), the definitive history of a mystical cult that thrived in Los Angeles between 1970 and 1974. The book’s author, Isis Aquarian (formerly Charlene Peters), had flown in from Hawaii, and Family members Omne, Magus, Electra and Orbit, all of whom are now in their 50s and 60s, had also come to share stories.

During a Q&A session, they good-naturedly addressed whether they’d been brainwashed (‘Absolutely!’ said Orbit, who now goes by David) and answered questions about Dionysm, the form of tantric sex they’d practiced.

‘I’m ready to join right now!’ announced one attendee, no doubt echoing the sentiments of many who wistfully longed for a time when Utopia was, if not entirely feasible, at least on the agenda.

Imagine your fantasy commune, the one you’d find only in the movies, where everyone is young and beautiful; the clothes are fabulous; the leader benign; and home is a mansion in the Hollywood Hills. Chances are it probably looks a lot like the Source Family, whose 140 members ‘dropped out’ right in the middle of Los Angeles. Led by a bearded, hunky, 6-foot-3 former war hero who called himself Father Yod and, later, YaHoWha, this vibrant group of men and women embarked on a wild social experiment, turning all their material possessions over to the group and supporting themselves serving gourmet vegetarian cuisine at their popular Sunset Strip restaurant, the Source. Living communally in a Los Feliz mansion owned by the Chandler family (former owners of this newspaper) and then in a house built by Catherine Deneuve, many of them formed polyamorous relationships; not surprisingly, the most extreme example was Father Yod, who took 14 ‘spiritual wives.’

Notwithstanding the group’s visible presence in Hollywood (brothers and sisters could often be seen strolling en masse down Sunset, Atlantean robes and hair a-flowing), extensive media coverage, and the catalog of music they recorded as YaHoWa 13 — legendary among connoisseurs of psychedelic rock — the Source story has remained untold for 30 years. This is partly because of a vow of secrecy taken by all members, but more likely it’s a reflection of their confusion and even shame about the communal experience, for which American society gave them only one place to file: in the freaky hippie bin.”


The trailer for the 2013 documentary, The Source Family, available on Netflix:

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Marvin Minsky, visionary of robotic arms, thinking computers and major motion pictures, is interviewed by Ray Kurzweil. The topic, unsurprisingly: “Is the Singularity Near?”

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On a 1977 Mike Douglas Show episode, comic-book collector Phil Seuling showed off an original Superman, revealing that it was worth $1,500. The audience gasped. But that was before a globalized world needed simple dialogue and action-hero antics to sell blockbusters all over the world. Today an exceptionally clean copy of that inaugural issue, currently at auction on eBay, has seen early bids reach $1.75 million, heading toward the stratosphere faster than a speeding bullet. From Graeme McMillan at the Hollywood Reporter:

 “In a video released to promote the auction, Pristine Comics owner Darren Adams explained how the auction copy remained in such good edition. ‘There was a gentleman in 1938, buys a copy … off the newsstand. And he lived in a fairly high altitude area of West Virginia and kept the book in a cedar chest,’ Adams said. The quality of the issue — the pages of which, thanks to being kept in a dark, dry space for decades, haven’t yellowed with time — makes the copy ‘not just a copy of Action Comics No. 1 [but] the copy of Action Comics No. 1,’ according to the dealer.

Back in 2011, another edition of the issue raised $2.1 million in auction, becoming the most expensive comic ever sold in the process. With nine days remaining on the current Action Comics auction and bidding currently at $1.6 million, it’s very possible that record is about to be broken.”


“The superheroes caught everybody’s fancy”:


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Knowing the present isn’t knowing the future. At best, we make educated guesses uncolored by personal beliefs or wants. Even then, we’re often wrong, unprepared for the black swans and their lovely necks. When William Masters and Virginia Johnson sat down for this Good Morning America interview, with the AIDS crisis at its height, it seemed monogamy, not Tinder, would be the future. How quickly things change.

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The image of the robot I used in this post and the one in the news articles above are of a 1949 machine named “George,” a creation of then-20-year-old British military pilot Tony Sale, who was a crack codebreaker. Here’s some footage of George in action from British Pathé.


Jorge Luis Borges penned a perplexing review of Citizen Kane in 1941, and Orson Welles had a perfect riposte for it: “Borges is half-blind,” the director pointed out. “Never forget that.” Here’s the ending of the critique, which can be read in full at the Interrelevant:

“I venture to guess, nonetheless, that Citizen Kane will endure as a certain Griffith or Pudovkin films have ‘endured’—films whose historical value is undeniable but which no one cares to see again. It is too gigantic, pedantic, tedious. It is not intelligent, though it is the work of genius—in the most nocturnal and Germanic sense of that bad word.”


“Now he can live his dreams with less distraction”:

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It’s odd that Dick Tracy, a strip loaded with forensics and retrofuturism, hasn’t translated into our gadget-happy world which loves crime-scene entertainments and cartoon-driven blockbusters. Here’s the strip’s creator, Chester Gould, who penned its panels from 1931 to 1977, on To Tell the Truth in 1965.


I’m never surprised when somebody dies except when it’s by their own hand. Why not stay a little longer? Come here. Stay with us.

Terrible news about Robin Williams passing away. Here he is on a Canadian chat show in 1978, in the first blush of his fame, brilliantly disarming an awkward line of questioning about the stereotypical characters he would often use in his stream-of-conscious stand-up act, which for him were like the members of a company of stock characters in his head.


In 1986, David Brenner interviewed 20-year-old Mike Tyson, just before he won the heavyweight title, along with Jake “The Raging Bull” LaMotta. It would be easy to say that young Tyson had yet to fall from grace, but he was falling from the start, desperately trying to return all of life’s blows, a flurry that did little good, especially since his retaliation was scattershot. He didn’t truly know who had wronged him. It all seemed wrong.

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