WeWriWa—Art class turkeys

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Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8–10 sentences from a book or WIP. This year, my Thanksgiving-themed snippets come from Chapter 19, “Happy Thanksgiving,” of the book formerly known as The Very First (which is set during 1938). The new and improved title will finally be revealed upon its release next year!

In first period art class, new immigrant Sparky (real name Katherine) has encountered the concept of Thanksgiving for the first time, and her rebellious friend Kit has made a turkey with very non-traditional colors. Their frenemy Adeline got into an argument with Kit about the realism of such a turkey, and Kit made sure to get the last word in.

Kit gave her turkey large turquoise eyes with generous drops from her paintbrush.

Sparky looked at Cinni’s turkey and tried to copy the colors, shapes, and placements of the feathers and various other body parts.  So their turkeys wouldn’t look exactly alike, Sparky didn’t put her feathers in the same order.  Cinni’s turkey alternated red, yellow, and orange feathers from left to right, while Sparky alternated yellow, red, and orange feathers.  Sparky also made her turkey a bit bigger, and put more detail into it.

“How come you never told me about this holiday?” Sparky asked at the conclusion of art class.

“I thought you knew about it.  My daddy says a bunch of countries have Thanksgiving, even if it ain’t exactly the same as the American version.  You knew about Halloween.”

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WeWriWa—Kit’s avant-garde turkey

weekend_writing_warriorsveteransbadge_4

Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8–10 sentences from a book or WIP. This year, my Thanksgiving-themed snippets come from Chapter 19, “Happy Thanksgiving,” of the book formerly known as The Very First (which is set during 1938). The new and improved title will finally be revealed upon its release next year!

In first period art class, new immigrant Sparky (real name Katherine, born Katharina) is very confused to encounter the concept of Thanksgiving. Her best friend Cinnimin, whom she lives with, gives a basic explanation. True to form, their rebellious friend Kit decides to make a very non-traditional turkey.

At the next table over, Kit was defiantly using her watercolors to paint the white construction paper purple, green, bright pink, turquoise, teal, and blue.  She completely ignored the brown and black paper, and assembled her turkey only from pieces of the orange, yellow, red, and painted papers.

“That doesn’t look like a real turkey,” Adeline whispered. “Your folks won’t be very happy to see that.”

“My daddy will love it.  He loves everything I do.” Kit dipped a wooden stick into the bowl of homemade adhesive and applied it to the bottom of her feathers. “Abstract art is neater than boring paintings of angels, flowers, and lakes.”

The War of the Worlds at 80, Part II (The panic that never was)

The myth of mass panic re: The War of the Worlds was promulgated right from the jump. In spite of having a rather small audience, and even fewer of that small number being fooled so badly they went into panic, the media ran with a sensationalised story.

During the Depression, newspapers lost a lot of popularity as radio came to the fore (similar to how TV caused the popularity of movies to sink in the Fifties). Thus, journalists seized on the chance to paint radio as unreliable, untrustworthy, and irresponsible.

The very day afterwards, Halloween 1938, many newspapers began running fake stories about this panic that never was, and taking radio officials to task for letting this show air.

Following these early phony stories, a growing number of people began claiming they listened to the show, when they’d done no such thing. Soon, popular mythology had it that most of America was listening that fateful night.

The night of the broadcast, the C.E. Hooper ratings service phoned 5,000 households for a survey. A mere 2% gave responses indicating they were listening to Mercury Theatre. Hence, the other 98% were listening to something else, or nothing. Many were tuned in to the hugely popular Chase and Sanborn Hour on NBC.

While it’s impossible to ascertain how many people switched stations when the first musical interlude on C&S began, it certainly wasn’t millions, as the mythology claims.

Several important CBS affiliates pre-empted Mercury Theatre for local programming. The day after, CBS commissioned a national survey, and discovered most people never heard it. Those who did understood it was a dark Halloween prank.

Additionally, it was listed in radio guides for the week, day, and month! People who read those magazines and newspaper sections knew what would be on tap.

Six weeks later, the American Institute of Public Opinion issued a report claiming about a million people were frightened by the show. In 1940, Prof. Hadley Cantril of Princeton published a summary of the findings, The Invasion from Mars (which is still in print). He claimed 6,000,000 people tuned in, and that 1.7 million believed it was legit. 

Cantril himself admitted the findings were heavily skewed and biased, since they primarily came from NY and NJ (the states the Martians attacked), and AIPO offered an audience rating “over 100 percent higher than any other known measure of this audience.”

Cantril also had a very élitist attitude towards people who weren’t highly-educated and from at least a middle-class background (i.e., a good portion of Americans at the time). Finally, he conflated descriptors like frightened, excited, and disturbed with a state of panic. Many people in the late Thirties felt frightened and excited by radio dramas.

Orson Welles telling reporters no one in his theatre company thought their show would cause mass panic, Halloween 1938

All the rumours spread in the wake of the broadcast turned out to be 100% false. There were no suicides, panic-related deaths, hospital treatments for shock, calls to join the military because of the show, car crashes, riots, fleeing crowds. A single listener tried to sue CBS for $50,000, claiming they caused nervous shock, but her lawsuit was quickly thrown out.

Many of the people who believed the story was legit thought the invaders were really Nazis. Welles tapped into very real fears about the threat of war and fascism. This was also an era where authority figures were overwhelmingly, automatically, unquestioningly believed.

In 2003, the show was one of the first 50 additions to the National Recording Registry of the Library of Congress.

The War of the Worlds at 80, Part I (General overview)

On 30 October 1938, Orson Welles’s Mercury Theatre on the Air broadcast their most famous drama, an adaptation of H.G. Wells’s The War of the Worlds. Popular myth has it that mass panic broke out in the U.S., but historical research has shown this is unsubstantiated nonsense.

A tiny number of people in the rather small listening audience were legitimately scared, due to not tuning in from the start, and then not having any commercial breaks for a long time. The drama also played into very real fears about goings-on in the world.

Just what was it about this story that’s captivated the popular imagination for 80 years, and keeps alive this complete myth?

Mercury Theatre ran for 22 episodes, 11 July–4 December 1938, and adapted short stories, plays, and novels. Among their other stories were Oliver Twist, Dracula, Heart of Darkness, The Pickwick Papers, and Julius Caesar. Mercury Theatre was an indie company created by Orson Welles, in business from 1937–46.

After their first radio program ended, they returned from 9 December 1938–31 March 1940, as The Campbell Playhouse, with 56 episodes, again adapting classic works of literature. Their last hurrah was The Mercury Summer Theatre of the Air, with 15 episodes, from 7 June–13 September 1946.

Mercury Theatre began Mondays at 9 PM on CBS, and later moved to Sundays at 8 PM. This schedule change put it into direct competition with the hugely popular Chase and Sanborn Hour. Some people tuned in to C&S first, and switched to Mercury Theatre when the first musical interlude started, but historical research has shown there was NOT a mass exodus on that famous night.

The story is set on 30 October 1939, and begins with Orson Welles making it obvious this is a fictional story. Then there’s a musical interlude, followed by an announcement about explosions on Mars. The music quickly returns.

The announcer says there’ll be an interview with a Prof. Pierson of Princeton re: the explosions soon, and the music continues.

Prof. Pierson (Welles) doesn’t think the explosions are particularly worrying, in spite of their unusualness. He soon gets a telegram about an explosion near Princeton, but still doesn’t see any reason to worry. The music returns.

The announcer returns, saying a meteorite has landed in a farm in Grover’s Mill, NJ. More music follows, and then things begin getting more intense.

A huge crowd has gathered in Grover’s Mill by the time Prof. Pierson and reporter Carl Phillips arrive. Prof. Pierson doesn’t think it’s a meteorite, since it’s so bizarre, and in one piece.

Mass panic begins, and tentacle-like objects emerge from the strange object. It’s a monstrous Martian.

Another musical interlude follows, and then we return to the increasing fear and panic. Martians respond to a white flag of truce with a flame-throwing heat-ray.

The announcer still doesn’t think there’s anything to panic about, and the piano interlude continues. Presently, there’s a report about the deaths of at least six state troopers. State militia are on their way to Grover’s Mill, and Prof. Pierson sets up an emergency outlook post in a nearby building.

News bulletins start streaming in from all over NJ, PA, and NY, and things go from bad to outright nightmarish. The entire country is soon locked in mass panic.

Forty minutes into the show, there’s finally another commercial break, announcing this is a radio production of The War of the Worlds by Orson Welles and his Mercury Theatre.

The next voice we hear is Prof. Pierson’s, who’s hiding out in an abandoned house and convinced he might be the last living being left on Earth.

Prof. Pierson makes his way to Newark (which was a much nicer city in that era), where he finds a militiaman with horrific updates about the Martians. The militiaman plans to move underground and find other survivors, with whom he’ll defeat the Martians and take over the world.

Prof. Pierson decides he wants no part of this scheme, and continues on to NYC. The city that never sleeps is eerily devoid of life, but for a starving, territorial dog and a flock of birds.

Then, in Central Park, he finds the birds feasting on the dead Martians. The reason for the Martians’ demise always gives me goosebumps.

Orson Welles then speaks as his own self, saying this was a Halloween prank, Mercury Theatre‘s version of dressing up in a sheet and shouting “Boo!”

“He was a king and a god in the world he knew”

Released 2 March 1933, King Kong was a huge box office success. It made almost $3 million worldwide from 1933–52, and $90,000 alone from its opening weekend. After its 1952 rerelease, it made almost $4 million from the U.S. and Canada alone.

Surprisingly, King Kong received no Academy Award nominations, though producer and RKO head David O. Selznick wanted to nominate stop motion animator Willis O’Brien and his crew for a special award in visual effects. That award wasn’t created till 1938.

Filmmaker Carl Denham (Robert Armstrong) is famous for his exotic, risk-taking ventures. Everyone thinks his latest trip is insane, esp. since he plans to take a woman along for an element of romance.

Towards this end, Carl makes the acquaintance of Ann Darrow (Fay Wray), who’s down on her luck. She initially misunderstands his intentions, but after Carl explains he’s the famous filmmaker and is on the level, Ann agrees to take part in this adventure.

Predictably, the ship’s first mate, Jack Driscoll (Bruce Cabot), falls in instalove with Ann.

Carl reveals the destination is Skull Island, a place so remote it’s not on any map. He intends to find and photograph legendary creature Kong.

Jack is very against Ann going ashore, but she and Carl brush off his concerns. Carl is thrilled to come upon a native ceremony, and begins filming.

Carl and his crew don’t go unnoticed for long. When the skipper talks to the natives in their own language, things get very tense, and everyone retreats back to the boat. Carl plans to try again tomorrow.

That night, natives kidnap Ann.

By the time Ann is discovered missing, it’s too late. She’s already being led to an altar, where she’s chained up and offered as the bride of Kong.

And then the screaming begins.

Carl, Jack, and some of their crew come ashore in search of Ann. Their first obstacle is a Stegosaurus, followed by a Brontosaurus.

The worst horrors of all come when the search party encounters Kong. Jack and Carl are the only survivors of his murderous rampage.

The dinosaurs come after Kong too.

Jack refuses to follow Carl back to the ship for more bombs and men, wanting to stay on Kong’s trail while it’s still hot.

Back on the ship, Carl learns the natives have been subdued and terrified by gunpowder, which they’ve never encountered before.

Ann’s terrors increase in Kong’s lair, where more dinosaurs come on the attack. One of them, a Pteranodon, tries to fly away with her.

Jack rescues Ann while Kong is fighting this latest dinosaur, but Kong notices them climbing down a vine and tries to pull them back up. They jump into a lagoon and make their way back to safety.

Carl isn’t satisfied with Ann’s safe return. He’s determined to capture Kong alive and bring him back as an exhibit.

Kong is rampaging, looking for Ann. Despite the efforts of both villagers and explorers, Kong breaks through the gates and marauds through the village.

Carl knocks Kong out with a gas bomb and chains him up. Kong is displayed on Broadway as the Eighth Wonder of the World, and breaks loose after the press photographs him.

Everyone flees in terror, and Jack takes Ann to a hotel room on a high floor for safety.

Kong scales the building and abducts Ann again. The entire city is locked in terror during Kong’s latest rampage, which culminates in the famous stand-off at the top of the Empire State Building.

I really enjoyed this film, and would highly recommend it.