Book Review: The Great Quake

Book Review: The Great Quake by Henry Fountain

Disclaimer:  I received this uncorrected proof through a Goodreads Giveaway to facilitate this review.  No other compensation was offered or requested.  As an uncorrected proof, many changes will be made in the final product, due out August 2017, including an index and bibliography, and possibly more illustrations.

The Great Quake

March 27, 1964, Good Friday by the Catholic calendar, was the date of the largest earthquake in North American history, magnitude 9.2 on the revised Richter scale.  Loss of life was limited due to Alaska’s sparse population at the time, but property damage in the city of Anchorage was severe, and the town of Valdez and Native Alaskan village of Chenega were devastated, requiring the entire communities to move elsewhere.

This book is a detailed examination of that earthquake, with a special focus on George Plafker, a geologist whose research in the aftermath led him to produce evidence for the plate tectonics theory of geophysics.

The opening chapter deals with Mr. Plafker and his colleagues from the U.S. Geological Survey being recalled early to Alaska to assess the damage after the quake.  The military was glad to see them, as not only were communications and transportation disrupted, but the network of early warning systems protecting America from nuclear attack was at risk.

Then there are a series of backstory chapters about the communities that were affected and their inhabitants, Mr. Plafker’s decision to become a geologist and early career, and the science of earthquakes and continental drift theory.

This is followed by chapters on the earthquake itself, taken primarily from eyewitness accounts.  Then back to the aftermath, rescue measures, reconstruction and the scientific examination of the evidence.  Considerable space is devoted to Mr. Plafker’s analysis of the geology, and the formulation of his hypothesis as to the cause.

There’s a chapter on the acceptance of this idea and the advancement of plate tectonics, then an epilogue that details where everyone still alive ended up.  The end notes are good, with some extra detail.

The writing is okay, and the events of the earthquake are exciting and horrifying, but I didn’t find the style compelling.  (Keep in mind, again, that this is an uncorrected proof; the author may be able to punch it up a bit.)  It should be suitable for high school students on up.

Primarily recommended for those interested in Alaskan history, geophysics buffs and those who like to read about earthquakes.

 

 

 

Book Review: Analog 1.

Book Review: Analog 1 edited by John W. Campbell

Astounding Science Fiction was one of the most influential science fiction magazines from the 1930s to the 1950s.   But long-time editor John W. Campbell had felt for years that the title did not reflect the more mature, “hard” science fiction he preferred to run.  So in 1960, he finally got permission to transition the magazine over a period of months to Analog Science Fact and Fiction.

Analog 1

This volume is a collection of stories from that first year of Analog and as such is a time capsule of the science fiction genre at that moment.  The opening editorial is perhaps a little hubristic, claiming that “mainstream literature” is just a subset of science fiction.  Mr. Campbell touts the fun of science fiction being the way it allows the mind to stretch and struggle with new concepts.  Then we begin the eight feature stories.

“Monument” by Lloyd Biggle, Jr. concerns a planet that is a tropical paradise, inhabited by primitive, peaceful humanoids.   A lone spaceman stumbles on the place, and lives out his life in peace…until near his death, he realizes that inevitably more humans will come, and given the history of tropical paradises on Earth, this will result in disaster for the natives.  He comes up with a plan.   Some time later, galactic civilization indeed comes calling.  All unfolds as O’Brien had foreseen–greedy developers, broken treaties, military men with their hands tied by regulations.  The people of Langri have the Plan, but will it come off in time?

This is the longest piece in the volume, being a full-fledged novella.   The critique of colonialism is pointed enough to sting a bit.   The greedy capitalist who doesn’t really hate the natives, but doesn’t understand that their interests should come ahead of his own, and so does them dirt, is the major villain of the piece.  He’ll be quite willing to employ the locals as maids and laborers in the hotels he’s building, once they’re properly put in their place.   He’s blind to the way he’s being outmaneuvered, and even the sympathetic military men don’t quite grok what the natives are really up to.

“The Plague” by Teddy Keller is set in the then present day.  The obscure Pentagon office of Protection from Germ Warfare had the previous officer retire a few weeks ago, and his replacement is tied up in red tape somewhere.  So when a plague breaks out, Sergeant Major Andrew McCloud and Corporal Bettijean Baker are the spearhead of the effort to stop it, despite the military brass trying to interfere.  A general is running interference, but if they don’t figure out why this illness has such a weird pattern of attack quickly, some new officer will be found to start all over.

The vector of spread is a clever one, and I have seen it in at least one other short story.  Younger readers might not catch on until it is spelled out for them, as customs and technology have changed since 1960.   There’s a whiff of the period’s sexism in regards to how grown women in the military are referred to as “girls.”

“Remember the Alamo!” by T.R. Fehrenbach is a time travel tale.  A scholar has gone back to observe the Battle of the Alamo, infiltrating the small garrison to get the full details.  Mr. Ord doesn’t quite grasp that the differences piling up between the history he knows and the events he is experiencing aren’t just trivialities he can dismiss.  The end result is telegraphed because we see the thoughts of those around Ord, and what they’re not telling him, since he should already know it.

“The Hunch” by Christopher Anvil features scout ship pilot James Connely, who is informed that two scout ships have vanished in a certain sector, despite having the latest equipment.  So his ship is being refitted with even newer equipment.  Equipment he has no chance to test before being launched into that same sector. As it happens, his hunch that one of these devices is actually responsible for the disappearance of the other ships is correct.  But which one of these newfangled gadgets is it?  This story is heavy on the sarcastic humor.

“Barnacle Bull” by Winston P. Sanders is a rarity, in that the protagonists are a Norwegian space crew in the “near future” flying the Hellik Olav in an attempt to find a safe way through the asteroid belt.  They discover why none of the other ships ever reported back.  Space barnacles.  This is one of those stories where the problem is in fact its own solution, looked at a different way.

“Join Our Gang?” by Sterling E Lanier concerns a galactic civilization attempting to convince a newly discovered planet to join them.  Sadly, the aliens are refusing, so it is time to apply pressure.  Turns out that invasive species are an Earth specialty.  Not exactly a happy ending to this one, more of a “that’s just the way it goes.”

“Sleight of Wit” by Gordon R. Dickson stars another scout, Hank Shallo lands on the same planet, in almost the spot as, the first alien scout humanity has ever met.  The alien’s ship is heavily armed, while Hank’s has no conventional weaponry.  But as he warns the alien, Hank is in possession of the universe’s most deadly weapon, one that cannot be detected or stopped.  Or is he bluffing?  Does the alien dare find out for sure?

“Prologue to an Analogue” by Leigh Richmond is the sole non-“hard” SF story in the volume.  We’re back in the present day, as an advertising campaign featuring “witches” proves successful in unexpected ways.  For younger readers, I should mention that many television programs used to be wholly owned by a particular advertiser, so a cleaning product company hosting its own nightly newscast wouldn’t have been considered unusual.   The story is also tied heavily to the politics of 1960, with tensions between the USA, the Soviet Union and Red China important to the way the plot unfolds.  The actual mechanism of the events is never explained.  Psionics?  The will of God?  Actual witches?  Who knows?  A rather frustrating tale, as intended.

These aren’t all-time classic stories, a couple are very dated, but are pretty good representatives of the magazine’s content.  It’s been reprinted a few times, and some of the other covers are better–check your local library or used book store.

 

 

Comic Book Review: Showcase Presents Wonder Woman Volume 4

Comic Book Review: Showcase Presents Wonder Woman Volume 4 Edited by Robert Kanigher

Wonder Woman was not the first female superhero in comics, nor even the first not to be a male character’s sidekick.  But she was the first to get her own ongoing solo series, and designed to be an equal to the male superheroes of the time.  Wonder Woman was created by William Moulton Marston specifically to address issues raised by the violence in comic books and the overwhelmingly male superheroes.  Dr. Marston, a psychologist and one of the inventors of the polygraph, had some…interesting…ideas about the role of women in society, and the place of sexuality.

Wonder Woman Volume 4

This resulted in stories that were themselves psychologically interesting, especially in retrospect, with their themes of bondage and loving submission.   After Dr. Marston died in 1947, the new writers, most notably Robert Kanigher, tended to water down the more esoteric elements in favor of fantastic adventure and mythological monsters.  Unlike most characters published by what would become DC Comics, Wonder Woman was not created as “work for hire” under the standard contract, but would revert to Dr. Marston (or later, his estate) if DC did not publish her book on a regular basis.  Thus she continued to be published throughout the late 1940s and early 1950s when superheroes had gone out of fashion for a while.  As such, she became one of DC’s most recognizable characters, even if the management often treated her as an afterthought.

This black and white reprint volume covers 1965-68.  At this point, Wonder Woman (as Diana Prince) was a lieutenant in the U.S. Air Force Intelligence division, serving under her love interest, Colonel Steve Trevor.    Steve is infatuated with Wonder Woman, but dismisses his mousy secretary Diana, little dreaming they are one and the same.  Steve is kind of a dolt.

The first story in the volume is a two-parter, pitting Wonder Woman against one of her most dubious villains, the hideously racistly depicted Communist Chinese monstrosity Egg Fu.  This giant egg-shaped mad scientist actually manages to kill Wonder Woman and Steve Trevor–thank goodness for Amazon science!  They’re then afflicted with a condition that prevents them from touching each other, but still manage to defeat the Red menace.

This is followed by a metafictional story that featured the first of a series of retoolings the Wonder Woman comics would undergo.  Robert Kanigher (face unseen) eliminates ninety percent of the supporting cast that had been built up, including such luminaries as Wonder Tot, and announces to a waiting crowd that starting next issue, it’s back to the Golden Age!

Sure enough, the next few issues are set in the 1940s with artists Ross Andru and Mike Esposito imitating the art style of the period.  it’s not a very good imitation.  Several of the villains who hadn’t been seen since Marston’s death appeared, but stripped of some of their more interesting aspects.  For example, Cheetah’s alter ego and insane jealousy of Wonder Woman are dropped, making her just another costumed gang leader.

Dr. Psycho loses his creepy mind control powers and abusive relationship with his wife–this version is a “forever alone” misogynist who hates women for their reactions to his grotesque appearance and small stature.  He’s so twisted up inside that even when Wonder Woman shows him genuine compassion, Dr. Psycho is unable to process it as anything other than a feminine trick to hurt him more than ever.

Rather abruptly and without announcement, the series is suddenly taking place in the 1960s again.  Despite this, the revised Golden Age villains appear no older than before.  The volume cuts off just before the next big retool, in which Wonder Woman loses her powers and becomes martial arts secret agent Diana Prince (aka the “white pantsuit period.”

As you might have guessed, this is not a highly regarded point in Wonder Woman’s history.  Robert Kanigher, who had been writing the series for nearly two decades at this point, often seemed like he was phoning it in on the stories.  The villains range from mediocre (Mouseman, whose power is that he’s very short, is presented as a serious threat to WW) to offensive (Egg Fu and his brother/clone/replacement Egg Fu the Fifth) and even the classic villains are often stuck with lackluster plots.

Steve Trevor is a horrible love interest; the relationship worked in the Golden Age (to the extent it did) because of Marston’s understanding of the nuances he was trying to convey.  The nadir of that in this volume is a story in which Steve gets control of Wonder Woman’s magic lasso, and attempts to force her to marry him.  (He eventually decides that impressing her by beating up some crooks was more important than safety and accidentally dropped the rope.)  His most endearing trait is that despite several villainesses falling in love with him on sight, Steve remains completely loyal to WW.

Wanting to impress Wonder Woman is a common theme among the men in this volume, Steve, his boss General Darnell, would be superheroes, villains, even space gorillas!  A slight variation on the theme has nebbishy Paper Man falling for Diana Prince because she’s the only woman who’s ever been kind to him.  (When she nearly blows her secret identity by repeating the same phrasing Wonder Woman used while fighting the villain, he interprets this as WW trying to poison Diana’s mind against him.)

This volume is mostly for completeists.  something to slog through because you want to read every Wonder Woman story.  Check your library.

Magazine Review: Water~Stone Review Volume 15: Dark Matter

Magazine Review: Water~Stone Review Volume 15: Dark Matter edited by Mary François Rockcastle

This literary journal is published by Hamline University in Minnesota.  The title comes from another name of the Philosopher’s Stone, the transformative agent which turned base metals into gold, in the search for true immortality, as literature turns ordinary words into art.  This issue’s theme is “dark matter” the unknown encountered and given a name by humans in an attempt to categorize it.

Water~Stone Review #15

This issue is heavy on the poetry, unfortunately, most of it is modern poetry which (as I have mentioned before) I do not have the tools to fully appreciate–I can’t even tell good modern poetry from bad.   I did like Ruth Stone’s “Train Ride” which at least has a rhyme scheme and comprehensible imagery.  Also of note is “Song for the Generations: December 26, 1862” by Gwen Westerman.  It’s about the mass hanging of Native Americans in Minnesota as a result of a rebellion, and uses a particular line structure to reflect this event.  (For more on this subject, see my review of The Thirty-Ninth Man by Dale Swanson.)  It’s also the poem in this issue that caused the most dissension in the editorial office, as different families learned different stories of the event.

One of the two book reviews covers three books of modern poetry–because of my previously-mentioned problem, it read like gibberish to me.  There’s also an interview with poet Ralph Angel, and that was mildly interesting.

The fiction and “creative non-fiction” sections are very similar, being mostly melancholy stories about relationships with parents or loved ones that stop rather than have endings.  Of the fiction, the most striking was “Missions, 1969” by Anastasia Faunce.  A little girl is used as a servant at her mother’s moon-themed party, and learns yet another lesson about the casual cruelty of adults.

From the non-fiction section, the two most interesting pieces are “Elegy for the Old NIght Sky and Other Bodies” by Katie Hae Leo, about childlessness, being an adoptee, and dark matter; and “Dust to Dust” by Amy Roper, about the author’s job cleaning fossils for a museum.

There are also visual arts, a section of photographs titled “Open. Shut. Open.”  It’s pretty random-feeling, some are in color, a few are interesting.   Lawrence Sutin contributes two “erasure pieces” in which he has taken old books and erased most of the words to create “found” poetry.  It seems like a mutilation of perfectly good books to me.

The concluding piece is another book review, three books that reflect the reviewer’s hobby of collecting other people’s home movies.

Due to my dislike of modern poetry and the generally depressing nature of most of the prose pieces, I did not get much out of this magazine, despite the above-average quality of writing.  If modern poetry is your bag, I think you’ll appreciate this much more than I did.

Book Review: The 66 Kid: Raised on the Mother Road

Book Review: The 66 Kid: Raised on the Mother Road by Bob Boze Bell

Disclaimer:  I received this book as a Goodreads giveaway on the premise that I would review it.

The 66 Kid

Bob Boze Bell has been a rock musician, cartoonist, radio host, magazine publisher and other interesting jobs.  And he spent most of his youth in Kingman, Arizona, where his father had gas stations on Route 66.  This is his memoir of those years.

It’s a coffee table book, lavishly illustrated with photographs and Mr. Bell’s paintings.  Fortunately, he has many family pictures and old clippings to illustrate his anecdotes and historical tidbits.  It’s a fascinating (if possibly biased) look at life in Arizona in the 1950s and 1960s.  Mr. Bell is an accomplished writer, and his prose is excellent.

Note that this is not a comprehensive book about the highway itself; it primarily covers the Kingman area and how Route 66 affected Mr. Bell’s life.

At a suggested retail price of thirty dollars, this book is good value for money if you’re interested in Arizona or Bob Boze Bell.  Others might want to see if their library has it for borrowing, as it is a handsome volume.

Of course, it would be remiss of me to close without a reference to the famous song, so here it is:

Book Review: Death of a King: The Real Story of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Final Year

Book Review: Death of a King: The Real Story of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Final Year by Tavis Smiley with David Ritz

Disclaimer:  I received this book as a Goodreads giveaway on the premise that I would review it.  My copy was an advanced reading copy, and the final product (due out September 2014) will have some changes, including a full index.

Death of a King

This book covers the last year of Dr. Martin Luther King’s life, from April 4, 1967 to April 4, 1968.  It focuses strongly on Dr. King’s state of mind and thoughts as the year progresses (based on his own words and the memories of his friends and family), with a few digressions to important past events.  As a way to make it feel more personal, the writers refer to him as “Doc,” the nickname his friends called him.

It was a tumultuous year, and not a high point in Dr. King’s life.  It opens with his speech coming out publicly against the Vietnam War, still a deeply unpopular position at the time.  He also worked to widen his civil rights focus to concentrate on the problem of systemic poverty, which cost him support among his followers who felt he should stick to racial issues.  In addition, he was being challenged by younger black leaders who favored the threat (and actual use if necessary) of violence to get their way.

According to this book, during this time Dr. King struggled with issues of depression, his marital infidelity, ill health and private moments when alcohol caused him to lose control of his temper.  But the dark night of the soul was not his only concern, and it talks of his preaching, of his willingness to reach out to his critics and enemies to learn their viewpoints, and of his desire to serve.

Towards the end of the book, it creates a refrain with the end of each chapter leading towards Memphis.  That city’s callous attitude towards its sanitation workers, which had led to the entirely preventable death of two of them, had become intolerable, and led to a strike.   Dr. King was there to elevate the strike into the national spotlight, and to help bring the city to the negotiating table.  But instead, he was assassinated.

This is by no means a complete biography, nor is it meant to be.  Younger readers, or those reading about Dr. King for the first time, will want to read a more general biography first.  That said, the book strongly evokes a particular time in American history, and an important figure in that history.  Snippets of favorite songs and Dr. King’s famous speeches set the tone.

The writing style is intimate, but easy to follow, and moves along quickly.

Recommended to those who want to know more about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the late 1960s, and the Civil Rights movement.  Parents should be aware that due to its subject matter, some racist language is used in quotes.

TV Review: Miami Undercover | Richard Diamond, Private Eye

TV Review: Miami Undercover | Richard Diamond, Private Eye

Miami Undercover was a 1961 series shot in Miami Beach, with Lee Bowman as private investigator Jeff Thompson and Rocky Graziano as “Rocky.”  Mr. Thompson was employed by the hotel owners to perform undercover investigations to avoid alarming guests with the presence of an overt hotel detective.  Rocky, a former boxing champ, provided muscle.

Rocky undercover at Scottie's, a drive-in restaurant where the carhops wear plaid skirts.
Rocky undercover at Scottie’s, a drive-in restaurant where the carhops wear plaid skirts.

In the episode I saw on DVD, “The Thrush,”  a radio disk jockey (a very young Larry King!) refuses to take payola to promote a particular record.  He pays for this with his life.  Since the killers made the mistake of doing this live on the air,  the police have already figured out the Raven recording company is the probable culprit.  But when they approached the singer (“thrush”) on the record she clammed up.

Jeff goes undercover as a New York booking agent.   The crooked music producer is a relatively small-time gangster from the Midwest trying to move up in the world; he also owns a local nightclub where the thrush sings.  Jeff plays the gangster and his hoods against each other in order to free the singer from their clutches.

Jeff is urbane and has an excellent rapport with the police.  Rocky is played as kind of dim and gets ribbed a lot about his appearance, but his boxing fame comes in handy, as do his fists.  The show is very dated, and the Mill Creek transfer is poor.

Richard Diamond, Private Eye was a television version of the early 1950s radio show, the TV series running 1957-60.  Richard Diamond (David Janssen) is a light-hearted private detective (most people call him “Rick”, )   In later seasons, he had a leggy secretary named “Sam” , but the two episodes I watched were from the first season.

Richard Diamond, Private Eye

“Picture of Fear” has Mr. Diamond’s fishing vacation cut short when the woman he’s been pitching woo to takes a photograph of two men hunting who most assuredly did not want to be photographed.  Rick has to protect her from their repeated attempts to get the film, or failing that, kill her.  Rick is kind of annoyed when it turns out the woman took that picture deliberately; she’s a reporter.

“The Merry-Go-Round Case”  Mr. Diamond is hired by the sister of one of his old friends.  It seems this friend has become increasingly frustrated with hard work that leads nowhere, and became a criminal.  One that allegedly killed a gas station attendant during a robbery.  She wants Rick to track him down and clear the man if he can.  It takes a while for Rick to realize that the merry-go-round of the title is literal, and not the name of a bar or club.

Mr. Janssen is good (he went on to star in The Fugitive), but the writing is only so-so in these episodes.  These are perhaps not the best available examples to judge the series by.

 

TV Review: Mannix

TV Review: Mannix

Hey, a show I actually remember watching first-run!  Private eye show Mannix ran from 1967-75.  It had a memorable opening sequence with a jazzy tune in waltz time and split-screen credits reminiscent of a monitor bank.

Mannix

Joe Mannix (Mike Connors) was an Armenian-American Korean War veteran, a little rough around the edges.  In the first season, he worked for Intertect, a high-technology detective firm with dozens of operatives and the latest in computers.  Mannix often clashed with his long-suffering boss Lew Wickersham (Joseph Campanella), since his casual look and hands-on methods often conflicted with the agency’s buttoned-down image.

The ratings weren’t so good, so the show was remodeled for the second season.  The computers, which the writers had never used well in the first place, and Intertect were gone, Joe Mannix was his own man, and he hired a black secretary (remember, in 1968, a black woman having a job as prestigious as secretary or glorified telephone operator was progressive.)  The decent run of the show indicates that this might have been a wise move.

The Mill Creek DVD had two first-season episodes.

“Nothing Ever Works Twice”  An ex-girlfriend of Mannix hires him to work on her divorce case.  While this is a huge part of real private detective work, Mannix is the top agent, so normally doesn’t have to do it, but the ex sweet talks him into it.  One ambush later, Mannix finds himself framed for the husband’s murder.

It turns out that the husband was fronting for a gambling ring, so there’s plenty of suspects, including the conniving wife.  Mannix gets beat up some (a recurring theme in the series) and while the computers are no help, the high tech car phones Mannix and Lew have are instrumental in helping solve the case.

The first thing I noticed going from Fifties shows to this one was the much shorter skirts.  (The opening credits have a young woman twirl so we can see her underwear.)  Mannix smokes, he almost does this in the computer room at the office.  The transfer on this episode was sub-par; Mill Creek may have worked with an inferior master.

“The Cost of a Vacation”  Another ex-girlfriend, this one a model, hires Mannix to find her missing boyfriend.  This is made somewhat difficult by the fact that he’s been living under a different name, and neither of these may be his real one.   Eventually, Mannix ties this to an assassination plot.

We learn that between the Korean War and becoming a private detective, Mannix spent some time as a mercenary in Costa Verde.  He gets beat up and shot at some more.  The model (after he has saved her from a sniper) points out that Mannix gets shot at a lot and opines that it’s probably one of his friends.  (This becomes funnier over time as over half Mannix’s old war buddies that show up try to kill him.)

Mannix’s old war buddy in this episode doesn’t try to kill him, but is involved in smuggling illegal aliens into America using a charity as a cover.    The model spends most of the episode in a bikini, and there’s a bit of creepiness with Lew doing the voyeur thing with the office cameras.  (But not long; he’s shut off the cameras by the time she decides to leave.)

The ending is kind of a downer.  Mannix fails to stop the assassination or learn who hired the assassin, plus his war buddy and a random private eye get killed.  He does manage to save the model, but this is despite her lovelorn stupidity being what puts her in danger in the first place.

Mike Connors is great as Mannix, and the other actors are good too.  The show could really have done with a writer who would really explore the uses of computers in detective work.  Worth looking up.

Book Review: Jet Set

Book Review: Jet Set: The People, the Planes, the Glamour, and the Sex in Aviation’s Glory Years by William Stadiem

Disclaimer:  I received this book as a Goodreads giveaway on the premise that I would review it.  My copy was an Advance Uncorrected Proof, and there will be considerable changes made to the final product, due to be in stores June 2014.

Jet Set

This is a chatty history of the period from 1958, the introduction of the 707 passenger jet, through approximately 1970, the heyday of fast, easy and almost affordable travel between the United States and Europe.  The book opens with an account of the Cháteau de Sully crash in 1962, the worst blow to Atlanta, Georgia’s society since General Sherman, as a 707 crashed in Paris with most of the Atlanta Art Association aboard.

But most of the book is less about the ordinary travelers of the period, or even the pilots and crew of the jets.  Instead, we get short biographies of the movers and shakers of the jet aircraft industry and airlines, the glitterati who made up the “Set” even before jets were added, and the various hoteliers, restaurateurs, movie folks and gossip columnists that gave the era much of its glamour.

It’s very much a “six degrees” book, with Celebrity A having been married to Model B, who then married Executive C, who attended parties for Movie Star D…There’s a lot of name-dropping.  Often, the narrative will flit through three or four different tangents before coming back to the story the chapter is telling.

There was an awful lot of sex going on in the Jet Set, it seems, with many of the people discussed having three or four spouses, and twice as many affairs.   Also a lot of sexism.  While there are stories of a few notable women who managed to beat the odds, becoming successful and influential in the society world, the Jet Set was not a hotbed of the Women’s Lib movement, which was going on elsewhere.

By the end of the time period discussed, a number of factors killed off the Jet Set era; skyjacking, inflation, the aging out, imprisonment or death of many playboys, and the youth movement making “cool” more important than “smooth.”  The final chapter describes the fate of many of the main people discussed.

There’s a scattering of black and white photos, and in the finished product there will be a bibliography and index.

The book’s style tends towards the gossipy, with more sober chunks interspersed.   I’d recommend it more for the casual reader who is nostalgic for the era, or would like to know what it was all about,  than the serious scholar.

TV Review: Bulldog Drummond & Burke’s Law

TV Review: Bulldog Drummond & Burke’s Law

A couple more episodes from my DVD collection.

Bulldog Drummond was created by H.C. “Sapper” McNeile in 1920, after a prototype police officer version failed to get traction.  Mr. Drummond was an independently wealthy gentleman adventurer and veteran of World War One who got bored and put out a newspaper advertisement looking for excitement.  This being an action novel, he got it.

Bulldog Drummond

There were a bunch of novels, and eventually stage plays and movies based on the character.  Rousing stuff, but nowadays the novels are somewhat out of favor for xenophobia and anti-Semitism that is overboard even by the standards of the time they were written.  The TV episode is actually one episode of the anthology series Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. Presents.

In “The Ludlow Affair,” Bulldog Drummond (Robert Beatty) is approached by the wife of an old friend, the titular Ludlow.  After being shot at and receiving a threatening phone call,  Drummond learns that his friend, a scientist, had developed a new antibiotic treatment with the help of his wife and another lab assistant.  The treatment would be worth millions if sold, but Ludlow planned to release it to the world as a public service.  And that’s when he got kidnapped.

Drummond immediately suspects something is up from the way the wife keeps bringing up how much money the formula is worth.   With the aid of his manservant Kelly (Michael Ripper), Drummond  launches an elaborate scheme in which he steals the formula himself to smoke out the kidnapper, Mr. Caselli.  By the end, Ludlow is rescued and the crooks are being led away by the police, even though the Inspector has a feeling Drummond should be arrested too.

Bulldog Drummond does show a rather flexible approach to ethics in this episode, and if I were not aware of his background, would have assumed him to be a mostly reformed crook.  It’s okay, but I can see why this didn’t become a series on its own.

Burke’s Law was an early 1960s series about Amos Burke (Gene Barry), a millionaire who was for some reason a captain of detectives and head of the Homicide Division of the Los Angeles Police Department.  He was chauffeured to crime scenes in a Rolls Royce.  Each episode would be titled “Who Killed (Insert Name Here)?” and featured a bevy of guest stars as quirky suspects.

Burke's Law

“Who Killed Jason Shaw?” begins with a rather odd young woman named Lucy Brewer coming into a hotel room she’s rented to find a body in the shower.  She’s about to call the police when she notices a rich spread of food, and decides to eat first.  then take a nap, then eat some more.  It’s several hours later when Burke receives a female visitor who intends to stay with him, only to be interrupted mid-argument by the notice of the dead body.  (The visitor is not seen again in the episode.)

It turns out that Lucy was paid to rent the room in her name so that some wealthy men could use it overnight, and she could then use it the next day.  Lucy didn’t ask any questions, and is not seen again in the episode.  The dead body is Jason Shaw, a wealthy businessman.  Eventually it is discovered that he participated in a high-stakes poker game with several eccentric rich men; an obsessive wine collector, a man who breeds flesh-eating plants (Burgess Meredith), a shipbuilder with a thing for Japanese fashion and experimental music, (who happens to be an old friend of Burke’s) and a hostile used car dealer (Keenan Wynn).

Meanwhile, Burke has a passive-aggressive interaction with the plant breeder’s daughter, a sculptor going under an assumed name so she can prove herself without Daddy’s money; while his extremely efficient sidekick Detective Tim Tillson (Gary Conway) starts falling for Shaw’s buttoned-up but very attractive secretary.

There’s way too many characters crammed into a half hour, as evidenced by the one woman simply vanishing from the story altogether after her first and only scene.  It also has an overly high quirky quotient–any one of the guest characters could carry an episode by themselves, but all together they just clash.

I suspect this series would be watchable mostly for the Who’s Who of guest stars, rather than for plot or characterization.

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