Monday, August 31, 2015

A serious contender for Harold?

For that small-but-loyal band of followers and merry men/women who have been patient with my Harold-rants for the past few years, let me at last present something dizzy, sunny, fizzy and funny and fine. 

I just figured out who's going to play Harold Lloyd in the movie version of my novel, The Glass Character. (A movie version that doesn't exist yet - that lives only in my imagination. So far.) This is a game that's gone on for several years now, and until Jake Gyllenhaal beefed up a little too much, he was a front-runner, being just awfully good-looking, not to mention a very fine actor.

For a while I was transfixed by Zachary Quinto, but to be honest I wonder if he has enough movie experience, being mostly a TV guy. And he's perhaps a little too Mediterranean, though very handsome, with that movie star big head. But his innate gravitas kind of eliminates him from the running.

But listen up, something just happened. A while ago I read an interview with Suzanne Lloyd, Harold Lloyd's granddaughter. The usual question came up: so who would play Harold in "the movie version"? (which did not exist at all then, except as an extremely abstract concept). She mentioned Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and when I quickly looked up pictures of him I thought: uh-uh. Doesn't really look like him.

I had to go away for a while. 


There's such a thing as a "quality", and it goes far beyond physical resemblance. In Harold's case it's a kind of mercurial energy, along with charm and boyish sweetness, but with an underlying intensity. When I started looking at clips, looking at pictures, looking at his track record, watching his movies, I started to think that this at last was a true contender.

A contender for what? A movie based on my novel? Preposterous idea, and I have been severely sniped at a few times for even daring to think of it. "Thank you very much for the opportunity to look at your 'movie-ready' manuscript. Unfortunately, this is an idea that we believe would have no mass-market appeal." Canadians love to shame each other for daring to have enthusiasm or (worse!) ambition, and believe me, I've been through the mill. 

But like in some monster picture, the dream just keeps on resurrecting itself, the Thing that Wouldn't Die. Who knows. Who knows? Could be, I think, and though I have no idea what the next step is, if there even IS one, it all has to start in my head and heart, where Harold has lived since that fateful day in 2007 when I pulled myself up to my computer and began to write.

Could be! 
Who knows? 
There's something due any day; 
I will know right away, 
Soon as it shows. 
It may come cannonballing down through the sky, 
Gleam in its eye, 
Bright as a rose! 

Who knows? 
It's only just out of reach, 
Down the block, on a beach, 
Under a tree. 
I got a feeling there's a miracle due, 
Gonna come true, 
Coming to me! 

Could it be? Yes, it could. 
Something's coming, something good, 
If I can wait! 
Something's coming, I don't know what it is, 
But it is 
Gonna be great! 

With a click, with a shock, 
Phone'll jingle, door'll knock, 
Open the latch! 
Something's coming, don't know when, but it's soon; 
Catch the moon, 
One-handed catch! 

Around the corner, 
Or whistling down the river, 
Come on, deliver 
To me! 
Will it be? Yes, it will. 
Maybe just by holding still, 
It'll be there! 

Come on, something, come on in, don't be shy, 
Meet a guy, 
Pull up a chair! 
The air is humming, 
And something great is coming! 
Who knows? 
It's only just out of reach, 
Down the block, on a beach, 
Maybe tonight . . .

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The Glass Character: introducing Harold Lloyd!


A novel by Margaret Gunning

Published in April 2014 by Thistledown Press

I would like to introduce you to my third novel, The Glass Character, a story of obsessive love and ruthless ambition set in the heady days of the Jazz Age in the 1920s. This was a time when people went to the movies almost every day, living vicariously through their heroes: Valentino, Garbo, Fairbanks and Pickford. But comedians were the biggest draw, and broad slapstick the order of the day - with one very significant exception.

Standing beside Keaton and Chaplin in popularity and prowess was a slight, diffident man named Harold Lloyd. He hid his leading man good looks under white makeup and his trademark black-framed spectacles. Nearly 100 years later, an iconic image of Lloyd remains in the popular imagination: a tiny figure holding on for dear life to the hands of a huge clock while the Model Ts chuff away 20 stories below.

With his unique combination of brilliant comedy and shy good looks, Lloyd had as many female followers as Gilbert or Barrymore. Sixteen-year-old Muriel Ashford, desperate to escape a suffocating life under her cruel father's thumb, one day hops a bus into the unknown, the Hollywood of her dreams. Though the underside of her idealistic vision is nasty and fiercely competitive, she quickly lands extra work because of her Pickford-esque ability to smile and cry at the same time.

When her idol Harold Lloyd walks on the set, her life falls into a dizzy whirl of confusion, attraction, and furious pursuit. Muriel tries on and sheds one identity after another: bit actress, waitress in a speakeasy, "girl reporter", script writer - while Lloyd almost literally dances in and out of her desperately lonely world, alternately seducing her and pushing her away.

While researching this book, I repeatedly watched every Lloyd movie I could get my hands on. I was astonished at his subtlety, acting prowess and adeptness at the art of the graceful pratfall. His movies are gaining new popularity on DVD (surprisingly, with women sighing over him on message boards everywhere!). The stories wear well and retain their freshness because of the Glass Character's earnest good nature and valiant, sometimes desperate attempts to surmount impossible challenges.

Introduction: Why Harold Lloyd?

The Glass Character is a fictional account of a young girl’s experiences inHollywood from approximately 1921 to 1962, in which she develops a relationship with silent film comedian Harold Lloyd. Though I did extensive research in exploring the era in general and his life in particular, this story is not intended to be a biography of Lloyd. My main purpose was to communicate atmosphere: the excitement, exuberance and joy of these “high and dizzy” times.

Though I have the greatest respect for the memory of Harold Lloyd, who is in my mind one of the most charismatic performers in screen history, I did not wish to paint him as a two-dimensional figure or a saint. Though his behaviour is not always exemplary in this story, I tried to portray him as I came to believe he was: a human being of enormous complexity, phenomenal talent, and a basic midwestern decency that served him for a lifetime. This is not the Harold Lloyd, but a Harold Lloyd, a personal, fictional portrayal of a supremely gifted artist based on deep research and multiple (and very enjoyable) viewings of his remarkable films.

With his boyish good looks and appealing everyman persona, Lloyd was no less than the inventor of an entire film genre: the romantic comedy. These sample remarks from YouTube (all by women) indicate a charm and magnetism that reaches across generations:

I think he was and still is one of the most attractive men ever to walk the earth. I absolutely love him!

Each time I watch his movies I fall in love a little more.  He is sooooooofunny and the most handsome man ever!

Talented, funny, smart, creative and damn gorgeous!

I find him really attractive with his glasses on, and you can’t beat that half-shy, half-sly smile of his.

I don’t want to say it but he is in my fantasies. . . sigh.

I doubt if George Clooney could inspire such rhapsodic praise.

When I sat down to write, words often tumbled out at a fever pitch. Many of the scenes came to me out of sequence, as if I were shooting a movie. Inspiration had a timetable of its own and sometimes happened on holiday (can you believe I almost missed the Grand Canyon?). This had never happened to me before, and I had to take a few leaps of faith to believe I could ever piece it all together.

Plunging into his pictures to such depth, I experienced an immediacy, even an intimacy I had never known before. I was breathing in the gunpowder and the dust and the sweating horses and the she-loves-me/she-loves-me-not flowers and the white greasepaint. I could hear “roll ‘em” and “cut!” and “damn, we’ll have to do that again.” I was seeing that wonderful “half-shy, half-sly” smile of his in person. 

Though Lloyd’s work has been gloriously reborn through the medium of DVD, he is still too frequently seen as a bronze medallist after those two other legendary figures from the silent age: Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton. It’s time to throw away useless comparisons and hierarchies (is Picasso “better” than Van Gogh? And how about Rembrandt – why does the poor fellow always come in third?), and appreciate Lloyd’s movies for what they are. He is so much more than the “everyman” of popular description. His Glass Character is a subtle, slightly surreal, heart-touchingly brave and boyish silent clown, and if you don’t watch out, he will take up residence in your heart, perhaps for good.

This is Harold Lloyd the way I see him. I hope you enjoy this story.

Visit Margaret's Amazon Author Page!

And I'll bet she isn't even a virgin!

Virgin Mary Statue Crying For No Good Reason

NEWS  January 3, 2011
VOL 47 ISSUE 01 News · Religion

WORCESTER, MA—Nearly a week after a statue of the Virgin Mary began shedding what appeared to be actual tears, worshippers at St. Alphonsus Catholic Church told reporters Wednesday they had lost patience with the figure's nonstop whining and carrying on.

The self-absorbed drama queen.

"Like everyone else, I got sucked in at first," said the Rev. Paul Doherty, the pastor of the church, who admitted he had once kissed the tears streaming from the eyes of the 5-foot wooden altarpiece. "But now it's just too much—crying in the morning when I come in, crying during baptisms, crying, crying, crying all the time. I've called around to other parishes, and all of their Marys are doing fine, even the cheap plaster ones that have to stand outside in the wind and rain. There must be thousands of Marys in the Greater Boston area, but ours is the only one who can't hold it together."

"To think I actually thought it was a miracle," added Doherty, looking up at the statue's glistening, tear-slicked face. "The real miracle would be if Old Faithful over here would turn off the waterworks for five seconds."

Longtime church organist Agnes Wright told reporters that the weeping statue had become a distraction and that she now privately hoped someone would lay a drape over the self- indulgent figure or at least turn it so it was facing the wall.

"I know she's sad, but c'mon, she's acting like the world revolves around her or something," said Wright, adding that Mary's incessant sorrow had made receiving communion a "chore." "I just spent the past 10 years watching my husband slowly die from Alzheimer's, and I cried on my own time. I didn't make it this endless production."

"Show a little dignity," Wright continued. "The statue of Jesus has nails through his hands and feet, for God's sake, but you don't see him crying."

Despite warnings from church officials that any pilgrimages to the statue would only encourage its blubbering, thousands of faithful from around the world have converged on the church in hopes of getting a glimpse of Mary and her extraordinary appetite for drama. Day and night, visitors have been standing in lines a quarter of a mile long in order to witness the statue's breathtaking self-absorption firsthand.

"I came all the way from Oklahoma City because I had to see Mary's big pity party with my own eyes," said Jen Gammons, 53. "When I finally got up close enough to get a good look, I just wanted to smack her. We've all got problems, okay? But we don't all break down and start bawling like a bunch of babies."

At press time, church officials said they planned to continue services as normal for the foreseeable future, despite the fact that the statue's weeping continues unabated.

"I don't even want to deal with it at all, frankly, so I'm just going to ignore her," Doherty said. "Why indulge it, you know? I'm not going to debase myself by going over and consoling her and saying, 'Oh, you poor, poor thing, what's wrong?' Screw that. I'm going to read my sermon, and if she wants to cry all through it like some kind of grade-school prima donna, then she can be my guest, but I refuse to so much as even look in her direction."

When reached by reporters, a Vatican spokesman said Pope Benedict XVI would be arriving in Worcester next week to "give that statue something to cry about."

From The Onion, a few years back, but still pretty relevant. Pregnant out of wedlock? Are you kidding me? Not another single Mom mooching off the state!

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Thursday, August 27, 2015

A is for Amy who fell down the stairs

He only drank wine: the Ballad of Stewball

Oh Stewball was a racehorse, and I wish he were mine.

He never drank water, he always drank wine.

His bridle was silver, his mane it was gold.

And the worth of his saddle has never been told.

Oh the fairgrounds were crowded, and Stewball was there

But the betting was heavy on the bay and the mare.

And a-way up yonder, ahead of them all,

Came a-prancin' and a-dancin' my noble Stewball.

I bet on the grey mare, I bet on the bay

If I'd have bet on ol' Stewball, I'd be a free man today.

Oh the hoot owl, she hollers, and the turtle dove moans.

I'm a poor boy in trouble, I'm a long way from home.

Oh Stewball was a racehorse, and I wish he were mine.

He never drank water,he always drank wine.

What I like about this subject is the obscurity, the confusion, and the layers of muddled meaning, with fragmentary overlap revealing possible authenticity that may go back several hundred years. We all used to sing Old Stewball ("was a racehorse. . . ") in the 1960s during the folk boom, along with Where have All the Flowers Gone and Masters of War ("And I hope that you die, and your death will come soon/They'll carry your casket in the pale afternoon"), and I used to wonder: how weird is that, that you'd call a horse Stewball. What could it mean, if anything? I just found out tonight that it means a lot.

I now see that I should have had a clue. I was a horse-crazy little girl who read everything she could get her grubby little mitts on about horses, and I am sure I had come across the term skewbald, a synonym for piebald, which means. . . to us North Americans, anyway, pinto or paint. These are black or chestnut or sorrel horses with splashy white markings. Either that, or they are white horses with black or chestnut or sorrel. . . well. Are the zebra's stripes black, or white?

They look like cowponies to me, and for some reason I never took them very seriously.

I don't associate them with thoroughbreds, because the skewbald gene doesn't seem to be very active in modern bloodlines. But if you go back more than 300 years, racehorse DNA was quite different, with fast and gracile Arabians being crossed with the muscular European horses we see rearing up in historical paintings. Skewed, they might have been, with all that genetic confusion. But from the first time the Godolphin Arabian leaped off his springboard to service the fair Lady Roxanne, some fuse was lit, giving rise to the fastest horses in human history.

The name Godolphin pops up in Stewball's fictional/factual pedigree, making me wonder if he truly was descended from that stunning foundational sire, the amazingly prolific stallion who begat Lath, who begat Cade, who begat Regulus, who begat. . . and on and on, unto Man o' War and War Admiral and even Seabiscuit. A little horse who stamps his get.

I tried to find explanatory quotes that didn't go on and on for volumes, This neat paragraph from a Gutenberg site seems to suggest there really was a Stewball, and someone really did write a song about him, wa-a-a-a-a-a-a-y back when.

The horse was foaled in 1741, and originally owned by Francis, 2nd Earl of Godolphin, and later sold. His name has been recorded as "Squball", "Sku-ball", or "Stewball". He won many races in England, and was sent to Ireland. The Irish turf calendar states that he won six races worth £508 in 1752, when he was eleven years old, and was the top earning runner of that year in Ireland.[1] His most famous race took place on the plains of Kildare, Ireland, which is generally the subject of the song of the same name. The early ballad about the event has Skewball belonging to an Arthur Marvell or Mervin. Based on the horse's name, Skewball was likely a skewbald horse.

I also found far too many versions of the Stewball ballad and didn't know where to start: should I throw all of them at you and let you pick and choose? I finally picked out a few that demonstrated some overlap. Songs are like fairy tales in their tendency to drift and drool and slop over into each other, but always with some essential kernel of truth, some nub of the story that has real staying power.

My source for most of this material is an extremely detailed site called Thoroughbred Heritage, which serious horse-ites should visit forthwith:

Skewball: The Ballads

In America, the Stewball ballad was "...most popular in the Negro south, where the winning horse is known variously as 'Stewball' or 'Kimball," and was apparently one of the chain-gang songs. The song was recorded by Leadbelly in 1940 (CD available via the Smithsonian Museum), by Joan Baez (album title Joan Baez), by Peter Paul and Mary, and a number of successive artists.

Skewball (Harding B-6 (54) 00668)

You Gentlemen Sportsmen I pray listen all

I'll sing you a song in the praise of Skewball

And how they came over you shall understand

By one Squire Irvine the Mell of [of] our land.

500 bright guineas on the plains of Kildare

I'll bet upon, Sportsmen, that bonny-grey mare

Skewball hearing the wager, the wager was laid

He said loving master, its don't be afraid.

For on my side thou'st laid thousands of pounds

I'll rig in thy castle a fine mass of gold.

Squire Irvine he smiled, and thus he did say,

You gentlemen-sportsmen to-morrow's the day

Your saddles and bridles, and horses prepare,

For we will away th [to] the plains of Kildare.

The day being come, & the horses bro't out,

Squire Irvine he order'd his rider to mount.

All the people then went to see them go round

They swore in their hearts that they ne'er

touch'd the ground.

And as they were riding this was the discourse

The grey mare will never touch this horse.

O, loving kind rider come tell unto me,

How far is the grey mare behind you said he...

O loving master you bear a great smile,

Grey mare is behind me a large English mile

For in this country I was ne'er seen before

Thou hast won the race & broken lord Gore.

This one strikes me as the most authentic-sounding, but who's to say there aren't much older versions that you couldn't understand worth a tinker's hoot because Irish people have marbles in their mouths. It has the nicest sportsmanlike, cantering rhythm to it. Skewball actually speaks in this one, which is kind of nice, and is very encouraging to his master. One element that remains the same in practically all of these is Stewball's rival, a grey mare, though her name changes from one version to another.

Skewball (Steeleye Span)

You gallant sportsmen all, come listen to my story

It's of the bold Skewball, that noble racing pony

Arthur Marvel was the man that brought bold Skewball over

He's the diamond of the land and he rolls about in clover

The horses were brought out with saddle, whip and bridle

And the gentlemen did shout when they saw the noble riders

And some did shout hurray, the air was thick with curses

And on the grey Griselda the sportsmen laid their purses

The trumpet it did sound, they shot off like an arrow

They scarcely touched the ground for the going it was narrow

Then Griselda passed him by and the gentlemen did holler

The grey will win the day and Skewball he will follow

Then halfway round the course up spoke the noble rider

I fear we must fall back for she's going like a tyger.

Up spoke the noble horse, ride on my noble master

For we're half way round the course and now we'll see who's faster

And when they did discourse, bold Skewball flew like lightning

They chased around the course and the grey mare she was taken

Ride on my noble lord, for the good two hundred guineas

The saddle shall be of gold when we pick up our winnings

Past the winning post bold Skewball proved quite handy

And horse and rider both ordered sherry, wine and brandy

And then they drank a health unto Miss Griselda

And all that lost their money on the sporting plains of Kildare

Not all these lines rhyme, obviously, but who notices with a thrilling song like this? The lines "and horse and rider both ordered sherry, wine and brandy" may be the forerunner to the strange lines, "he never drank water, he only drank wine", though it's not unheard-of for winning horses to have their water trough spiked with a pint or two.

Stewball: A Version

Source: Fiddle Players' Discussion List, Meghan Merker

Way out in California

Where Stewball was born

All the jockeys said old Stewball

Lord, he blew there in a storm

CHORUS: Bet on Stewball and you might win, win, win

Bet on Stewball and you might win

All the jockeys in the country

Say he blew there in a storm

All the women in the country

Say he never was known

When the horses were saddled

And the word was given: Go

Old Stewball he shot out

Like an arrow from a bow

The old folks they hollered

The young folks they bawled

The children said look, look

At that no good Stewball

Here the Irish roots of the thing are pretty much buried, but it's a fast-paced, exciting version, with the very strange lines, "All the women in the country/Say he never was known". Known in the Biblical sense? It may be that, as with the Black Stallion, Stewball is one of those horses that came out of nowhere, with no papers to prove himself, nothing but a supernatural capacity to set the track on fire.

Stewball: Another Version

Source: Fiddle Players' Discussion List, Meghan Merker

There's a big race (uh-huh), down in Dallas (uh-huh)

Don't you wish you (...) were there? (...)

you would bet your ( ) bottom dollar ( )

On that iron ( ) grey mare ( )

Bet on Stewball & you might win, win, win

Bet on Stewball & you might win!

Way out / in California / when old Stewball / was born

All the jockeys / in the nation / said he blew there / in a storm

Now the value / of his harness / has never / been told

His saddle / pure silver / & his bridle / solid gold

Old Stewball / was a racehorse / Old Molly / was too

Old Molly / she stumbled / Old Stewball / he flew

And here are more fragments of the version I know: "now the value of his harness has never been told/His saddle pure silver, his bridle solid gold". I wonder who makes these decisions as the song morphs from decade to century, from artist to artist. Leave one detail out, add another. I'm actually quite grateful to have learned (just tonight!) that Stewball wasn't really Stewball at all, but Skewbald, with crazy skewed markings like forked lightning: a horse that could run up a storm.

  Visit Margaret's Amazon Author Page!