Thursday, February 28, 2008

Blind Man Regains His Sight With Artificial Cornea

Here's an interesting story on a little known surgical procedure called Osteo-Odonto-Keratoprosthesis (OOKP) that can restore people's eyesight. The method used sounds strange, but it works. -Ed

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Classic and Cult Television presents: I Spy on March 19th

Robert Culp & Bill Cosby

Next month, Greenwich Library's Classic and Cult Television program will be presenting an episode (in color) of one of the coolest TV shows I ever watched from the 1960s: I Spy , starring Robert Culp and Bill Cosby . The show ran from 1965 to 1968 on NBC and was notable for a number of things, which authors Marc Cushman and Linda J. LaRosa explain in greater detail than I could in their 2007 book on the show, I Spy: A History and Episode Guide to the Groundbreaking Television Series . (Yes, Greenwich Library does carry it.)

Here's the "Staff Picks" review of the book I did a while back:

I Spy: A History and Episode Guide to the Groundbreaking Television Series (791.4572 CUSHM): Authors Marc Cushman and Linda J. LaRosa chart the production history of the popular 1965-68 NBC television series “I Spy” which starred Robert Culp and then-newcomer-to-dramatic-acting Bill Cosby as undercover American agents Kelly Robinson and Alexander Scott in a fascinating way. Beginning with showing how the show originated (both Culp, also a writer, and producer Sheldon Leonard came up with a similar idea to do a series with a globetrotting hero filmed in actual foreign locations), the authors cover such items as the selection of Cosby, then best known for his comedy monologues on TV and record albums, the back-end deals Leonard made with the network and foreign governments to fund the series, creative conflicts between the stars and the producers (both Culp & Cosby liked to depart from the script during filming, especially when they didn’t care for the writing), Culp’s rocky personal life, his feud with Leonard, & his struggles to write for the series, and the never-before-revealed reason why “I Spy” was cancelled after three successful seasons. There are also amusing stories about working with guest stars like Martin Landau, Jim Brown, Boris Karloff, Nancy Wilson, Greg Morris, Godfrey Cambridge and Peter Lawford, on-set pranks, a hilarious tracking of the number of times the leads were always held in locked rooms in certain episodes, and the experiences of working in foreign lands & how unpredictable things could be. (While filming in Greece in April, 1967 for example, Culp, Cosby, Leonard & the production crew wound up in the middle of the Greek military’s infamous overthrow of that country’s government. For awhile, it seemed as though the stars might never be allowed to leave the country.) Actual locations where the show was filmed included Hong Kong, Japan, Mexico, Italy, Spain, Greece (just barely), and in the USA, San Francisco and Las Vegas.

But aside from being a belated, albeit well-written (with several rare photos and production stills), & researched history of the series with critical reviews of the show’s individual episodes (of which Culp wrote seven, as well as directing one of them) included, the authors also point out the social and political significance of “I Spy”. It was the first hour-long dramatic series with an African-American actor as one of the leads. Cosby’s Scott is an equal (and sometimes superior to) Culp’s Robinson, with the two often acting more like brothers than partners. (None of that “opposites attract”-type stuff, where the leads childishly bicker with each other to Show They Really Care, made famous by the “Lethal Weapon” films, that’s still a lazy storytelling device used to derive cheap laughs in movies & TV today, appears in “I Spy”.) Both men are depicted equally as quick-witted, resourceful and, most importantly, steadfastly loyal to each other, even under overwhelming odds. This was especially notable in the mid-60s when the Civil Rights Movement was beginning to make great strides for African-Americans and other minorities, and where the idea of equality for all, regardless of race, could be achieved . (In fact, several NBC stations, fearing backlash from bigoted viewers, actually refused to air the program in their markets.) Even more importantly, Bill Cosby, thanks to his genuine talent, professionalism & overall charisma, was able to become one of the biggest stars television helped develop, as well as helping provide opportunities for other minority performers in the medium. That might not have been possible had Sheldon Leonard and Robert Culp hadn’t stood up for Cosby. (NBC was originally very skittish about airing the series, even going so far as pushing for Cosby’s dismissal after the first episode was filmed, but thanks to Leonard & Culp’s tenaciousness and Cosby’s subsequent rising popularity, backed down.)

As both a chronicle of a still-fondly remembered television series and as a document of the social & political period “I Spy” was created and produced in (yes, there’s also good show-biz gossip) , Cushman and LaRosa’s I Spy: A History and Episode Guide to the Groundbreaking Television Series (with a foreword by Culp) is essential reading.

I'll have more to say about the show in an upcoming post. -Ed

Related links: Cinema Retro ; Spy Wise

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Income Tax Information for the Disabled

Here's a link to an online site which answers questions taxpayers with disabilities may have when filing their returns. -Ed

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

The Earliest Howl of Allen Ginsberg

In the "Arts Briefly" column in the New York Times Arts section (compiled by Peter Edidin)for Saturday February 16, 2008, this item came up:

The earliest known recording of Allen Ginsberg reading from his epic poem “Howl” has been found at Reed College in Portland, Ore., the British newspaper The Guardian reported. It had been thought that Ginsberg, right, first recorded the work in Berkeley, Calif., in March 1956. But according to The Oregonian, the recently discovered recording was made several weeks earlier. Ginsberg, having hitchhiked to Portland with his fellow Beat poet Gary Snyder in the winter of 1956, gave a reading at a student hostel, the Anna Mann Cottage, that was recorded on a reel-to-reel machine on Feb. 14. The tape was found by John Suiter, a biographer of Mr. Snyder, in a box in the college archives labeled “Snyder Ginsberg 1956.” It contained a 35-minute tape of Ginsberg reading the first section of “Howl” and other poems. The recordings can be heard at

Allen Ginsberg

That link to the Ginsberg recording can be found here. -Ed

Friday, February 15, 2008

Links to Reviews of Kerouac's Works

In my never ending quest to spread the wonderfulness of the works of Jack Kerouac, I've discovered some online links from such sources as the NY Times , as well as ones like Empty Mirror . There also a source for sites on Kerouac as well. -Ed

(Below: Kerouac's originally suggested layout design for the cover of On The Road)

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Upcoming Film on Kerouac's Big Sur

Big Sur (1962) is one of Jack Kerouac's most heartbreaking novels. Almost a cry for help from the author, the book chronicles Kerouac's literary alter ego Jack Duluoz & his attempt to recover from a nervous breakdown by retreating to the popular California mountain area. It's also the topic of a forthcoming documentary taken from a line in chapter three of the novel.

One Fast Move or I'm Gone: Kerouac's Big Sur is the title & this blog heard about the directly from the producers, . Below is a description of the film from their site:

He was called the vibrant new voice of his generation -- the avatar of the Beat movement. In 1957, on the heels of the triumphant debut of his groundbreaking novel, On The Road, Jack Kerouac was a literary rock star, lionized by his fans and devotees. But along with sudden fame and media hype came his unraveling, and, by 1960, Kerouac was a jaded cynic, disaffected from the Beat culture he helped create and tortured by self-doubt, addiction and depression.

Desperate for spiritual salvation and solitude, as well as a place to dry out, he secretly retreats to Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s rustic cabin in the Big Sur woods. But his plan is foiled by his own inner demons, and what ensues that summer becomes the basis for Kerouac’s gritty, yet lyrically told, semi-autobiographical novel, Big Sur.

One Fast Move or I’m Gone: Kerouac’s Big Sur, takes the viewer back to Ferlinghetti’s cabin and to the Beat haunts of San Francisco and New York City for an unflinching, cinematic look at the compelling events the book is based on. The story unfolds in several synchronous ways: through the narrative arc of Kerouac’s prose, told in voice-over by actor and Kerouac interpreter, John
Ventimiglia (of HBO’s The Sopranos); through first-hand accounts and recollections of Kerouac’s contemporaries, whom many of the characters in the book are based on such as Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Carolyn Cassady, Joyce Johnson and Michael McClure; by the interpretations and reflections of writers, poets, actors and musicians who have been deeply influenced by

Kerouac’s unique gifts like Tom Waits, Sam Shepard, Robert Hunter, Patti Smith, Aram Saroyan, Donal Logue and S.E. Hinton; and by stunning, High Definition visual imagery set to original music composed and performed by recording artist, Jay Farrar of Son Volt, with additional performance by Benjamin Gibbard of Death Cab for Cutie.

I'll see about getting more info on the film (release dates, etc.) and update this post shortly. -Ed

Monday, February 11, 2008

Report on Beats At Columbia University

(Left: Philosophy Hall at Columbia University.)

Last Friday (2/8/08) afternoon, I managed to attend the fourth annual celebration of Columbia University's Beats, which were a series of events held at the campus under the umbrella title On The Road Turns 50! As the proceedings began late in the afternoon (after 3:30pm), I wasn't able to stay for all of them. But I did manage to get in two of the events.

After 3:30pm, in room 301 of Philosophy Hall (pictured above), a round table discussion, On the Road: Then and Now began. Scheduled speakers included Professor Regina Weinreich from the School of Visual Arts (whose Kerouac's Spontaneous Poetics is carried by the library), NY Times reporter John Leland (author of the recent Why Kerouac Matters, which we also carry in the library), jazz musician David Amram, and former Kerouac girlfriend and a noted author in her own right Joyce Johnson (Minor Characters and Door Wide Open are her two memoirs about her experiences with Kerouac and the Beats). The moderator was Penny Vlagopoulos from Columbia (see her profile here ) who worked on & wrote an introduction for last fall's publication of On the Road: The Original Scroll .

David Amram

John Leland

Books by Joyce Johnson

As expected, the discussion turned on the subject of how big an impact On the Road had at both its time of publication in 1957 and the present day. John Leland noted that Road is really about the character of Sal Paradise (Kerouac) not Dean Moriarty (Neal Cassady) and how Sal, not Dean, changes by the book's end. Mr. Leland also noted that the Beats were the first generation of writers on television and the last generation not shaped by TV and/or popular culture. Both Mr. Leland and Ms. Johnson noted that by the time Road was published in 1957, Kerouac, who had finished the final draft six years before, felt it was an "old book" and that his voice was stronger in his later works (Doctor Sax; The Dharma Bums; Big Sur) , but that the publishers wanted another Road novel instead.

Regina Weinreich

Regina Weinreich noted that the book was basically "Huck Finn in a car", with the characters' reacting to events as they drove along the country and David Amram pointed out that Kerouac had a great ear for conversation which he was able to repeat in his books and that Kerouac always encourged other writers & artists as well.

Afterwards, I got to attend the exhibit The Author as Artist which showed drawings of the Beats as they saw themselves. Not bad.

Overall, a terrific program. Thanks to Wynnkie Delmhorst for telling me about this event. -Ed

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Beats At Columbia University

Tomorrow (Friday, February 8), Columbia University will be holding a series of programs honoring it's "prodigal sons" (as their promotional copy says) Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg. Howl: A Celebration of Columbia 's Beats will run from 3:30 to 10:00 PM. Details & schedules can be accessed here , if anybody is interested. If I don't get lost on the subway (it's happened before), I'll be attending. (School of Visual Arts Professor Regina Weinreich, who spoke here last October on the work of William S. Burroughs, is one of the featured guests.) -Ed

(Left to right: Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg and William S. Burroughs, circa 1945, at Columbia U.)

Related link: Literary Kicks.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Black History Month

February is Black History Month and I've put up a few links to sites that may be of interest to students, teachers, librarians and other members of the community: has a very sweeping collection of site links. There's also the Black HIstory page from CMG Worldwide. The Biography Channel's web site has, well, biographies of important African American figures. And the Florida Memory Project has some great photos.

Finally, here's a link to a video of Dr. King's historic March on Washington (pictured above) in 1963. (I tried to embed the video but it took forever so I settled for the link instead.)


Tuesday, February 5, 2008

From NRP: Blind People "Seeing"?

One of the reasons I pushed for getting a blog set up at the library was to provide access to new & updated articles regarding news concerning the hearing & visually challenged. One of my colleagues pointed out this article from NPR that's quite fascinating. It deals with a little known medical condition called Charles Bonnet Syndrome , which has an unusual effect on persons with macular degeneration or diabetic eye disease. Check it out. (Thanks Michele.) -Ed

Related link:

Monday, February 4, 2008

Troia Has Arrived!

A while back, I mentioned searching for a copy of Bonnie Bremser's Troia: Mexican Memoirs, her 1969 account of how she prostituted herself on the streets of Mexico in the early sixties to get money to support her and her husband (Beat poet Ray Bremser)'s drug addiction. The book was finally reprinted late last year by Dalkey Archive Press & I managed to get a copy. Probably the only Beat novel written by a woman, Troia is an exciting and harrowing account of Bremser's various adventures from that period.

I had first heard of the memoir from Tufts University Professor Ronna C. Johnson, co-editor of Girls Who Wore Black: Women Writing the Beat Generation (2002; Rutgers University Press), who spoke about the work at the Kerouac Conference in Lowell, MA last October. Professor Johnson's take on Troia captures the work perfectly as seen at (do a search for "bremser"). I don't think I can add anything more to it. So I'll see about putting in a Purchase Request for it and the Girls Who Wore Black book. -Ed

Related link:

The Man from U.N.C.L.E. on DVD: UPDATED

Last month I broke down and purchased the forty-plus DVD set of the Complete Man From U.N.C.L.E. four season (105 episode)collection, and so far it's been a purchase about which I haven't had any regrets. Well almost; the packaging of the DVDs on flimsy glued together cardboard slats with one disc on top of the other isn't designed for longevity. ( I have to be very careful taking the discs out and then putting them back in.) That complaint aside, I've just finished watching the last two episodes of the show's first (1964-65) season (the one filmed in black & white) with guest stars Sharon Tate (whom U.N.C.L.E. star Robert Vaughn reminisced fondly about in an interview on one of the DVD extras included in the set) & Martin Balsam respectively and I've enjoyed them all, some more than others.

(Left to right: David McCallum as Russian UNCLE agent Illya Kuryakin, Leo G. Carroll as UNCLE chief Mr. Waverly and Robert Vaughn as American UNCLE agent Napoleon Solo.)

Yes, when you've watched these shows back to back on a nightly (or even a weekly) basis, it's not hard to pick out the same sets -the show was shot at the old MGM studio in Hollywood from 1964-68- regardless of how they've been "dressed up". (One week Solo & Illya will walk down "Main Street" in what's supposed to be New York City. The following episode the same street set, now with vaguely Easten European-language signs all over the place, will have been relocated to a fictional Communist Bloc country "somewhere behind the Iron Curtain" as U.N.C.L.E. chief Mr. Waverly would put it. And yes, the hound dog attitude Vaughn's Solo character projects around the female U.N.C.L.E. agents (and this being the mid-60s, the women agents in these episodes act more like secretaries than intelligence operatives, religated to making coffee & looking up research while the men do all the dangerous stuff) would've been grounds for a sexual harassment suit today.

In a nutshell, the show is representative of the period it was created in. The idea of a multi-national law enforcement agency, where various countries including the US & Russia (strangely, I have yet to see a Chinese U.N.C.L.E. representative), could put aside their differences and work together to protect those less fortunate may be native today, but it is still charming (and, in these post 9/11 days, not so far fetched anymore)in that post-JFK afterglow of the early 60s. To try and read anything more into it would be a mistake.

The set can be ordered by Time Life here . And an online episode guide can be found here.