Sep. 24, 2004

Morning Glory Vine

by Ann Iverson

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Poem: "Morning Glory Vine" by Ann Iverson,

Morning Glory Vine

              One year
      as late as October
it crawled its tangled
    up the cyclone fence
       the trellis archway
          the apple tree
     was eye
     to eye
       with us
           in our second-story bedroom.
We talked about it often,
    our own flag of red apple and blue glory.
       For how could we have
              ignored the beauty
       which followed us
                   that year
             we married in July?

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of puppeteer Jim Henson, known as "The Father of Dreams," born in Greenville, Mississippi (1936). He's the creator of the characters on Sesame Street, including Big Bird, Cookie Monster, and Snuffleupagus, as well as Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy, and the rest of the Muppets—a name he made by combining the words "marionettes" and "puppets."

When Henson was young, his grandmother taught him sewing and soft sculpture techniques. He later created a puppet out of his mother's old coat and a ping-pong ball, and named it "Kermit the Frog" after a childhood friend from Mississippi. In the beginning Kermit was not a frog, but a lizard-like character. He was given the collar and flippers so he could appear in "The Frog Prince" and has remained a frog ever since.

Henson's puppets were so successful because he realized he didn't need to hide puppeteers behind a structure when they were in front of a camera. All the camera operators had to do was focus on the puppets and keep the puppeteers out of the frame. This allowed the puppets to dominate the image and make them more life-like.

Henson never thought he'd end up a puppeteer.  It was just a way of getting himself on TV.

His first appearance was on "Sam and Friends," a five-minute filler program twice a day following the news on NBC affiliate WRCTV.  This show led to "The Jimmy Dean Show," where he introduced Rowlf the Dog, a puppet Henson productions still uses.

Henson became prominent when he was approached to use his muppets for an educational show.  "Sesame Street" debuted in 1969, about a fictional city neighborhood populated by such Muppets named Ernie, Bert, Grover, Cookie Monster, Oscar the Grouch, and 8-foot-tall Big Bird, a complex full-body Muppet. Henson's Muppets taught children basic educational and social skills. The show was a hit and became a public television staple.

When Henson was typecast as an entertainer for children, he joined the initial crew of Saturday Night Live, but his style didn't mesh with the rest of the creative staff. So he developed a show with a more sophisticated format and called it "The Muppet Show" (1976). No American broadcaster was interested, but the British producer Lord Lew Grade was. He gave Henson and his production company the financial backing and studio facilities needed to create "The Muppet Show" and its cast -- Kermit, Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear, Gonzo the Great and the pit band Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem. "The Muppet Show" ran through 1981, and was shown in 100 countries.  It crossed audience age boundaries and featured celebrity guests like Orson Welles, Alice Cooper, Vincent Price, and Liza Minelli.

Jim Henson said, "Nobody creates a fad, it just happens. People love going along with the idea of a beautiful pig. It's like a conspiracy."

The Muppet Show was followed by The Muppet Movie (1979) and The Dark Crystal (1982).  Henson and his close collaborator, Frank Oz, also worked with Henson's friend filmmaker George Lucas and his Industrial Lights and Magic special effects team. They created Jedi Master Yoda for the film The Empire Strikes Back. Oz continued to give his voice to the troll-like Yoda throughout the "Star Wars" series. In 1986 Henson made the film Labyrinth, starring actor and singer David Bowie. He followed with "The Witches", the last of his feature films in more than two dozen movie and TV projects in three decades.

Jim Henson died in New York on May 16, 1990, at the age of 53, the same week he was going to sell his company to Disney.  He had been ill with walking pneumonia for several days before his death but never told anybody, not even his family, because he didn't want to be a burden to anybody. By the time he finally sought treatment, it was too late. The processional music at his funeral was the theme from Sesame Street.

Jim Henson said, "Follow your enthusiasm.  It's something I've always believed in.  Find those parts of your life you enjoy the most. Do what you enjoy doing."

It's the birthday of Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald, born St. Paul, Minnesota (1896). In April of 1920, at the age of 23, he published his first novel, This Side of Paradise, which made him an overnight sensation. A month later, for the third printing of the book, Fitzgerald composed a one page "Author's Apology" to be included and distributed at the May 1920 convention of the American Bookseller's Association.

He wrote:

"I don't want to talk about myself because I'll admit I did that somewhat in this book. In fact, to write it took three months; to conceive it -- three minutes; to collect the data in it -- all my life. The idea of writing it came on the first of last July: it was a substitute form of dissipation.

My whole theory of writing I can sum up in one sentence: An author ought to write for the youth of his own generation, the critics of the next, and the schoolmasters of ever afterward.

So, gentlemen, consider all the cocktails mentioned in this book drunk by me as a toast to the American Booksellers Association."

Shortly after, Fitzgerald was traveling along Broadway in a convertible. It was a warm night, and he had been drinking. Suddenly he began to cry because it occurred to him that life would never be so sweet again. He would soon marry his love, Miss Zelda Sayre. He was 23 years old, praised by all critics and public as the most promising contemporary American author.

As it turned out, the most enjoyable years of his life were back in the army (1917-1919) and back at Princeton (1912-1917), where he wrote plays and generally had a good time.  And it was back there, at a Christmas party in 1914, 18-year old Francis met and fall in love with lovely Ginevra King - future prototype for all those witty, joyful young ladies dancing and flirting in his stories. Fitzgerald was handsome and talented and his future as a storyteller was promising.  Turns out he spent most of his life in an unhappy marriage, suffering from alcoholism, looking back on his past as a kind of lost paradise.

In his masterpiece, The Great Gatsby (1925), he wrote: One of my most vivid memories is of coming back West from prep school and later from college at Christmas time. [We] would gather in the old dim Union Station at six o'clock of a December evening...I remember the fur coats of the girls...and the chatter of frozen breath and the hands waving overhead as we caught sight of old acquaintances...and the long green tickets clasped tight in our gloved hands. And last the murky yellow cars of the Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul railroad looking cheerful as Christmas itself on the tracks beside the gate.

When we pulled out into the winter night and the real snow, our snow, began to stretch out beside us and twinkle against the windows, and the dim lights of small Wisconsin stations moved by, a sharp wild brace came suddenly into the air. We drew in deep breaths of it as we walked back from dinner through the cold vestibules, unutterably aware of our identity with this country for one strange hour, before we melted indistinguishably into it again.

That's my Middle West—not the wheat or the prairies or the lost Swede towns, but the thrilling returning trains of my youth, and the street lamps and sleigh bells in the frosty dark and the shadows of holly wreaths thrown by lighted windows on the snow. I am part of that, a little solemn with the feel of those long winters, a little complacent from growing up in the Carraway house in a city where dwellings are still called through decades by a family's name. I see now that...perhaps [we Midwesterners] possessed some deficiency in common which made us subtly unadaptable to Eastern life.

Fitzgerald died in 1940 in Hollywood at 44 from a heart attack provoked by alcoholism. After Fitzgerald's death, Scribners editor Maxwell Perkins considered having another writer attempt to finish The Love of the Last Tycoon, the novel Fitzgerald had been working on at the time of his death. John O'Hara was approached, but he declined because he believed that no other writer could finish Fitzgerald's work. In a letter to John Steinbeck, O'Hara wrote, "Fitzgerald was a better just plain writer than all of us put together. Just words writing."

F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote, "What people are ashamed of usually makes a good story."

He also said, "Never confuse a single defeat with a final defeat."

He said, "You don't write because you want to say something, you write because you have something to say."

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®




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