WeWriWa—Cinni approves Sparky’s idea

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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 week’s snippet comes right after last week’s, when Cinni’s best friend Sparky (real name Katharina) suggested they ask for money instead of candy, to help all the people affected by the recently-begun war in Europe.

Most of the candy wouldn’t be kosher anyway (as the state of kosher food in 1939 America was a far cry from what it is today), but Violet is uncomfortable with what sounds like begging. Originally, Violet’s lines were Cinni’s, but they sound much more believable coming from Violet.  Cinni’s family was hit hard by the Great Depression and depended on public assistance for awhile, whereas Violet’s family is the richest in town.

“I couldn’t eat mosta the candy, if this Halloween is anything like last year,” Sparky said. “I don’t hafta tell ‘em what it’s really for, since they might refuse to give me money if they knew who it’s helping.”

“That’s a bad idea,” Violet said. “You can’t ask strangers for money if they don’t offer it first.  That’s begging, and we’re all too proud to beg.”

“What do you think the people in Europe are doing?  They need every bit of help they can get.”

“It can’t hurt to ask,” Cinni said. “But we’ll hafta tell ’em it’s for the National Refugee Service if they’re people I know are anti-Semites, and we can’t ask people like Max’s dad.  We’re lucky he gives the awful candy he does, instead of locking his door and turning off the light.”

Sparky, her parents, and her two older brothers left Germany for The Netherlands when she was very young, and Cinni’s father brought them to the U.S. in the summer of 1938. My chronological first Atlantic City book (new and improved title a secret till its release) focuses on Sparky’s attempts to become a real American girl without compromising her religious Jewish lifestyle. At the same time, Cinni learns there’s more than one way to be a real American.

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WeWriWa—A suggested alternative to candy

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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 week’s snippet comes several pages after last week, when fundamentalist Samantha Smart and next-door neighbor Lotta Valli had an argument about celebrating Halloween and Lotta’s revealing costume.

After school, Cinnimin retrieved a pile of mail spilling out of the mailbox and brought it to her father, whose heart was weakened by rheumatic fever two years ago. One of the letters was from Portugal, bearing mostly miraculous news about a Polish family he’s trying to bring to America.

Hearing about that letter gave Cinni’s best friend Sparky (real name Katharina), who lives in the house with her family, an idea for an alternative to asking for candy.

At 6:00, Cinni, Sparky, Babs, Tina, and Violet set out on their trick-or-treating route, while Stacy, Gyll, the Valli twins, Lotta, and Mandy went on different routes and Terri and John went right to the school’s dance and party.  Sam and Urma stood at the window, shouting invectives and making hex signs.

“Can I ask for only money?” Sparky asked as they proceeded down Maxwell. “I wanna give it to the Hebrew Immigrant Aide Society, or whatever other group is helping the people escaping from Europe.  I’ll give the rest of the money to whatever group is helping people stuck in Europe.”

“Why would you waste perfectly good money on charity?” Violet asked, adjusting her angel wings. “Leave that for the government and official agencies.  They’d probably laugh at your few dollars.”

“As much as I love money, I’d be really mad if I only got coins on Halloween and couldn’t even keep it for myself,” Tina said. “Candy is always the very best part.”

WeWriWa—Halloween isn’t just for kids

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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 week’s snippet comes right after last week’s, when 15-year-old next-door neighbor Lotta Valli, dressed as a ballerina with a bit too much skin showing, told fundamentalist Samantha Smart she didn’t know how anyone could shun Halloween.

“Ain’t you a little old to go trick-or-treating?” Sam asked. “That’s something for little kids, as evil as it is.”

“I ain’t no little kid, and I’m going trick-or-treating,” Cinni said. “Girls can get away with it longer than guys.  Lotta and her friends go to the school dance and party too, and they can wear more adult costumes.”

“I can see that.” Sam glared at Lotta’s ample cleavage. “You oughta cover your body more, so you don’t offend God with that Satanic temptation.”

Lotta pushed up on her bust, and laughed at Sam’s horrified expression.

WeWriWa—Halloween costumes at the bus stop

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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 week, I’m switching to my yearly Halloween-themed snippets, in a section from the book formerly known as The Very Next. This is my chronological second Atlantic City book, set from March–December 1939.

During breakfast, antagonistic, longterm houseguests Urma and Samantha Smart had some very choice words for the Halloween costumes and decorations on display, and the holiday itself. Now Sam has gone out to the bus stop, and stands out like a sore thumb among all the other kids.

This has been modified somewhat to fit ten lines, and been given more paragraph breaks. Gyll is pronounced like Gil, not Jill. Like his oldest sister Liylah, I was too used to the alternate spelling to want to change it after my kreatyv spylyngz phase ended. Cinnimin’s name was an honest misspelling, not an attempt at creativity, but I kept it for the same reason.

Cinni had dressed as a devil, Sparky was a dog, Babs was a friendly witch, Stacy was a wizard, and Elmira was a princess.  Barry and Gary, standing off to the side, hadn’t worn costumes, though they could use the excuse of being too old and boys besides.  Babs was now in eighth grade, and in a minority coming to school in costume.  She got away with it for one more year because she was a girl.

Violet and Mandy came out to the bus in their own Halloween costumes, an angel and an antebellum girl, respectively, while Tina and Gyll came dressed as pirates.  Terri and John, like Barry and Gary, were too old to come to school in costume, though that hadn’t stopped John from dressing up as a dapper ringmaster.

The Valli children from next door, fifteen-year-old Lotta and thirteen-year-old twins Robert and Jane, had also flouted the unspoken rule against older students coming to school in costume.  Lotta was a ballerina with a little too much skin showing, Jane was Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz, and Robert was the Cowardly Lion.

“The holy roller didn’t dress up, I see,” Lotta said. “I don’t know how anyone could possibly shun Halloween, since you get free candy and money for doing nothing, you get to wear a costume all day long, and the parties are always fun.”

Prohibition-era college hijinks

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Happy second birthday to my rook piercing!

Released 10 August 1932, Horse Feathers was the Marx Brothers’ penultimate Paramount film, and one of their most popular prior to their switch to MGM. It made the cover of Time. Parts of the film originated with their 1910 stage production Fun in Hi Skule. I particularly like this film because Zeppo gets way more screentime than in most of the other Paramount films!

Prof. Quincy Adams Wagstaff (Groucho) has just become president of Huxley College, whose football team is a total trainwreck. After the opening song “I’m Against It,” Wagstaff’s son Frank (Zeppo) suggests he pump up the college’s reputation by buying some professional football players in a speakeasy.

Iceman Baravelli (Chico) is left to guard the speakeasy, whose password is “swordfish.” Being the good-natured dope he is, he gives away the password and lets Wagstaff maneuver his way inside. Soon afterwards, Baravelli’s partner Pinky (Harpo), an iceman and dog-catcher, joins them.

Meanwhile, Frank is wooing college widow Connie Bailey (the ill-fated Thelma Todd). A college widow is a woman who hangs around a college campus long past graduation to date and sleep with male students.

Wagstaff recruits Baravelli and Pinky as football players, though they have absolutely no experience with the sport. As part of this ruse, they have to enroll as students. The scene where they disrupt an anatomy class comes from the stage production.

There are several noticeable jump-cuts during the scene where the four brothers take turns going in and out of Connie’s room. This is both due to damage and the censorship demanded by the Hays Code. Sadly, there are no known surviving prints of the original, full-length version.

Also among the men going in and out of Connie’s room is Jennings, who later tries to get Baravelli to sell him Huxley’s football signals so he can throw the game. Baravelli gives him signals for the rival Darwin College, which Jennings immediately realizes. Having failed in his mission, Jennings enlists Connie to get the signals off of Wagstaff.

After this too fails, Baravelli and Pinky try to kidnap two football players from Darwin. The football players have already been tipped off about what’s supposed to happen, and easily overpower them. This puts the entire football game in jeopardy.

I won’t spoil what happens after this, but suffice it to say, there’s lots of typical chaos as the four brothers try to save the day.

The song “Everyone Says I Love You” is prominently featured, and performed by all four brothers. Zeppo gives a straight performance; Groucho gives a sarcastic performance when he and Connie are in a canoe; Harpo whistles it to his horse and plays it on the harp to Connie; and Chico does a comedic version while playing piano.

The song was written by the famous team of Bert Kalmar and Harry Ruby, who wrote many other musical compositions for the brothers. These include “Hello, I Must Be Going” and “Hooray for Captain Spaulding” from Animal Crackers; the musical score for both the film and stage productions of Animal Crackers; “Hail, Hail Fredonia” from Duck Soup; and “I’m Against It” and “I Always Get My Man” from Horse Feathers.

Besides the segments censored out of the scene in Connie’s apartment, other cut scenes include the brothers playing poker as the college burns down, more scenes showing Pinky doing his dog-catching duties, Harpo bowling bottles with a grapefruit in the speakeasy, and an extended ending to the scene in Connie’s apartment.

A description of the poker-playing scene, and a still, survive in a 1932 press book. (Sorry I couldn’t find a larger image!)

During filming, Chico shattered a knee and broke numerous ribs in a car accident, thus delaying production by over two months. Due to his injuries, Chico had to be sitting down for almost all of his scenes, and needed a body double in higher-intensity scenes.

It’s pretty obvious in the famous horse-drawn garbage wagon scene, since the double is much taller than the real Chico (about 5’4, though still taller than I am!). Chico was about the same height as Harpo, while Groucho was about 5’7 and Zeppo was 5’9.

At this point in my fandom, I think Chico has become my favourite. I still love Harpo’s sweet, childlike character with its adult edge, and have no doubt he was the nicest, most approachable one in real life, but Chico’s warm-hearted, simple-brained character has completely charmed me. And who could resist that great smile?