Pete Seeger Testifies Before the House Un-American Activities Commitee, August 18, 1955

ImageMR. TAVENNER: The Committee has information obtained in part from the Daily Worker indicating that, over a period of time, especially since December of 1945, you took part in numerous entertainment features. I have before me a photostatic copy of the June 20, 1947, issue of the Daily Worker. In a column entitled “What’s On” appears this advertisement: “Tonight-Bronx, hear Peter Seeger and his guitar, at Allerton Section housewarming.” May I ask you whether or not the Allerton Section was a section of the Communist Party?

MR. SEEGER: Sir, I refuse to answer that question whether it was a quote from The New York Times or the Vegetarian Journal.

MR. TAVENNER: I don’t believe there is any more authoritative document in regard to the Communist Party than its official organ, the Daily Worker.

MR. SCHERER: He hasn’t answered the question, and he merely said he wouldn’t answer whether the article appeared in The New York Times or some other magazine. I ask you to direct the witness to answer the question.

CHAIRMAN WALTER: I direct you to answer.

MR. SEEGER: Sir, the whole line of questioning-

CHAIRMAN WALTER: You have only been asked one question, so far.

MR. SEEGER: I am not going to answer any questions as to my association, my philosophical or religious beliefs or my political beliefs, or how I voted in any election, or any of these private affairs. I think these are very improper questions for any American to be asked, especially under such compulsion as this. I would be very glad to tell you my life if you want to hear of it.

MR. TAVENNER: Has the witness declined to answer this specific question?

CHAIRMAN WALTER: He said that he is not going to answer any questions, any names or things.

MR. SCHERER: He was directed to answer the question.

MR. TAVENNER: I have before me a photostatic copy of the April 30, 1948, issue of the Daily Worker which carries under the same title of “What’s On,” an advertisement of a “May Day Rally: For Peace, Security and Democracy.” The advertisement states: “Are you in a fighting mood? Then attend the May Day rally.” Expert speakers are stated to be slated for the program, and then follows a statement, “Entertainment by Pete Seeger.” At the bottom appears this: “Auspices Essex County Communist Party,” and at the top, “Tonight, Newark, N.J.” Did you lend your talent to the Essex County Communist Party on the occasion indicated by this article from the Daily Worker?

MR. SEEGER: Mr. Walter, I believe I have already answered this question, and the same answer.

CHAIRMAN WALTER: The same answer. In other words, you mean that you decline to answer because of the reasons stated before?

MR. SEEGER: I gave my answer, sir.

CHAIRMAN WALTER: What is your answer?

MR. SEEGER: You see, sir, I feel-

CHAIRMAN WALTER: What is your answer?

MR. SEEGER: I will tell you what my answer is.

(Witness consulted with counsel [Paul L. Ross].)

I feel that in my whole life I have never done anything of any conspiratorial nature and I resent very much and very deeply the implication of being called before this Committee that in some way because my opinions may be different from yours, or yours, Mr. Willis, or yours, Mr. Scherer, that I am any less of an American than anybody else. I love my country very deeply, sir.

CHAIRMAN WALTER: Why don’t you make a little contribution toward preserving its institutions?

MR. SEEGER: I feel that my whole life is a contribution. That is why I would like to tell you about it.

CHAIRMAN WALTER: I don’t want to hear about it.

MR. SCHERER: I think that there must be a direction to answer.

CHAIRMAN WALTER: I direct you to answer that question.

MR. SEEGER: I have already given you my answer, sir.

Photograph: Library of Congress. New York World-Telegram & Sun Collection, 1955


The Reign of Kayumars

The poet Abolqasem Ferdowsi composed the Shahnameh between 977 CE and 1010 CE. “Its subject matter is vast,” Dick Davis wrote in the introduction to his translation, “Being nothing less than the history of the country and its people from the creation of the world up to the Arab conquest.” The national epic of Iran begins with the reign of the first king, Kayumars.  

Image“What does the Persian poet say about the first man to seek the crown of world sovereignty? No one has any knowledge of those first days unless he has heard tales passed down from father to son. This is what those tales tell: The first man to be king, and to establish the ceremonies associated with the crown and the throne, was Kayumars. When he became lord of the world, he lived first in the mountains, where he established his throne, and he and his people dressed in leopard skins. It was he who first taught men about the preparation of food and clothing, which were new in the world at the time. Seated on his throne, as splendid as the sun, he reigned for thirty years. He was like a tall cypress tree topped by the full moon, and the royal farr shone from him. All the animals of the world, wild and tame alike, reverently paid homage to him, bowing down before his throne, and their obedience increased his glory and good fortune.”

Shahnameh: The Persian Book of Kings, Abolqasem Ferdowsi, translated by Dick Davis, Penguin Books, 1997.

Fake Books in Movies

Baby Steps, by Dr. Leo Marvin (What About Bob, 1991)

IMG_1962Whenever someone says, “We’re taking baby steps,” it’s likely because of What About Bob–even if they’ve never seen the movie.

Baby Steps was a fake bestseller about treating emotional disorders, written by the psychiatrist Dr. Leo Marvin (Richard Dreyfuss). “[Baby Steps] means setting small, reasonable goals for yourself. One day at a time, one tiny step at a time.” Dr. Marvin told his patient Bob Wiley (Bill Murray). “For instance, when you leave this office, don’t think about everything you have to do in order to get out of the building, just think about what you must do to get out of this room. And when you get to the hall,  deal with that hall. And so forth.”

“I’m very proud of Baby Steps and enormously gratified by its success,” Marvin told Good Morning America. “I think the greatest challenge aside from the writing is finding ways of making the ideas in it accessible to laymen as well as my colleagues.”

Baby Steps enters the vernacular:

A Country Made of Ice-Creamby Hubbell Gardner (The Way We Were, 1973)

A Country Made of Ice Cream Hubbell“In a way he was like the country he lived in. Everything had always come easy to him.”

A modest success (“You bought one of the two copies in print” Robert Redford’s Hubbell Gardner told Katie Morosky (Barbra Streisand)), Gardner moved to Hollywood and turned his work of fiction into a screenplay.

“I hate what you did to your book!” Katie cried after she saw the film, “I hate the palm trees, I want it to rain!”

Love Letters of Great Men, Vol. 1, Edited by John C. Kirkland (Sex and the City, 2008)

Love Letters of Great Men Sarah Jessica Parker’s Carrie Bradshaw took a book called Love Letters of Great Men, Vol. 1 out of the library in Sex and the City. “I love the smell [of library books],”she told her recalcitrant fiancee Big, who would later re-type the letters by Voltaire, Beethoven, and Napoleon to apologize for leaving her at the altar. Love Letters of Great Men Vol. 1 (edited by John C. Kirkland) was published in May 2008 to coincide with the film’s release. It was the number one ranked Literature & Fiction book in the Letters & Correspondence and Poetry categories on Amazon in September 2008, when the Sex and the City DVD sold four million copies.

Angelina’s Savage Secret, The Ravagers, The Return of Angelina, by Joan Wilder (Romancing the Stone, 1984)

Jewel of the NileKathleen Turner played the novelist Joan Wilder, who travelled to Columbia to rescue her kidnapped sister in Romancing the Stone. Wilder wrote 19th century romance/adventure novels featuring a heroine named Angelina and her lover Jesse. The film opened with the author tapping out the final scene on her self-correcting IBM electric typewriter.

“You can die two ways angel. Quick like the tongue of a snake, or slower than the molasses in January.”

Romancing the Stone and its sequel The Jewel of the Nile both became novelizations. The latter featured the stars of the film on its cover. The ghostwritten books were credited to the fictional character Joan Wilder. If memory serves, The Jewel of the Nile was written in the third person–predating a trend of second and third-person narrations of author’s autobiographies by almost thirty years.

Joan Wilder

Romancing the Stone by Diane Thomas:

The Quotable Ol’ Dirty Bastard


“I take it to the next level… I rap, but I sing man, you know what I’m saying? And I don’t know how to sing.” To MTV

“Please calm down, the music, and everything. I went out and bought me an outfit today that costed a lot of money today. You know what I mean? Because I figured that Wu Tang was going to win. I don’t know how y’all see it, but when it comes to the children, Wu Tang is for the children, we teach the children. You know what I mean? Puffy is good, but Wu Tang is the best! OK I want ya’ll to know that, this is ODB and I love you all. Peace!” Storming the stage at the 1998 Grammy Awards

“See but the (undecipherable) for me is nothing but riding a rodeo, and proud all around saying bravo. Sports arena, the Greeks, the Russians, they all came to party, the Japanese, Pearl Harbor, all of them, they all came to party. There’s nothing wrong with a party, Boston Tea Party.” To John Norris of MTV News, 1996

John Norris: “A lot of people, this tour kind of took them by surprise. So, what made you decide to come out on the road this summer?”
ODB: “Money.”

“Ladies don’t love shit. Ladies just act like they love. You understand what I’m saying? It’s an act when it comes to Ol’ Dirty Bastard. They act like they love Ol’ Dirty – ladies don’t love Ol’ Dirty Bastard because … Ol’ Dirty Bastard is busy lovin’ them. They might like Ol’ Dirty Bastard, know what I’m saying? They might listen to his music or something, but really they don’t pay no mind. They pay nothing no mind, nothing is paid a mind to, really, on this earth. It’s just living, and dying. The world is a big ball of fire and it’s just burning with no feeling.” Dirty Minded (documentary, 2004)

Reporter: “What was the first thing you wanted to do when you got released [from prison]?”
“The first thing I wanted to do? Give my mother a hug.” Press conference announcing his signing to Roc-a-fella Records, 2003

“I’m looking for a good girl man, and good girls look for me too. I’m gonna get me a nice go-go girl or some disco freak.” Ol’Dirty Bastard on Parole, VH1 Special, 2003

“It’s the government. The government brainwash our people with the mind control deal. That’s what they do. So they make sure people like it, they keep playing that same song. The same song keeps playing, you start to like it, you start to get programmed with it, you start to get cloned with it. So then for the clone to exist, then it just takes over, it takes over the human body, it takes over the spirit, it takes over the soul.” Interview with Method Man

“I’m still ODB, dirty, rotten, raw, to the maximum, ghetto…I just, gotta be professional about this shit now, you know what I’m saying? We’re growing up man.” Ol’ Dirty Bastard on Parole

“To me, everybody’s scared of the government, because they killed Tupac and they killed Biggie Smalls. I don’t care what y’all say, that’s my scene.” On MTV Live

“Now, you’ve got the Ol’ Dirty Bastard, something that you didn’t expect, but you wanted it, and you needed it, because it’s just something that you had to get.” On a Box Talk interview, 1995

Truman Capote’s Writing Advice for Alvin Dewey III


Bridgehampton, N.Y. 4 July, 1964

Dear Dewey,

I enjoyed your letter very much. To answer a few of your questions: yes, Holly was a real girl– but the incidents described in the story, or at least most of them, are fictional. I often use “real” people in my work, and then create a story around them. Most of the people in Nelle’s [Harper Lee] book are drawn from life. My story, “A Christmas Memory” is entirely autobiographical.

As for “Other Voices–” this is a very difficult book. First of all, it isn’t really a novel–but a long prose-poem. The “secret” of the book, the meaning (and it has one) lies in the last few pages. I don’t intend to tell you what it is, for someday you will see it for yourself. You do not yet know quite enough about life…

You must get into the habit of writing, even if it is only a paragraph a day. Try keeping a journal. One good exercise is to describe, in a page or two, some scene or person exactly as you see them: when I was your age I used to do this exercise religiously—it strengthens you, like piano practice. At this point, it is not necessary for you to attempt a whole short story. In any event write about what you know about.

… Have you read “Look Homeward, Angel” by Thomas Wolfe? I have many reservations about it, but definitely think you should read it. And of course you must read “The Catcher in the Rye”– though perhaps you have.

Show the enclosed clipping to your Mom and Pa.

All love to all


Collection New York Public Library, Too Brief a Treat The Letters of Truman Capote, Edited by Gerald Clarke, Random House, 2004.

Photograph by Jack Mitchell, 1980.

Elvis Presley Post-1977


A fan named Mike Joseph snapped this photograph of the pool house at Graceland, four months after Elvis Presley’s death.


Some fans believe that Presley appeared as an extra (the bearded man in the black turtleneck) in 1990’s Home Alone.

Elvis youtube

“THIS IS ELVIS PERIOD,” scumpicata wrote below this image on YouTube, “And i am so happy that he is still alive cos he got himself a life.”

After his death on August 16, 1977, the entertainer Elvis Presley was resurrected and reborn. One of his cousins was paid $18,000 to snap a picture of Presley in his coffin. In September the photograph was published on the cover of The National Enquirer, a ghoulish modern incantation of Frédéric Chopin’s death mask. Presley was so beloved that some of his followers still refused to believe he had actually died. The Weekly World News treated his secret, continued existence as a matter of course.

Elvis NixonIn 1995, the self-appointed Presley Commission published a report of their two-year investigation. The Commission concluded that Presley had entered the federal witness protection program after threats from organized crime (the result of his top-secret work as a government agent–fans cite the Oval Office meeting when President Richard Nixon named Elvis an honorary special agent at large for the nascent Drug Enforcement Administration as proof). The body at Graceland was a wax dummy kept cool by dry ice and battery-powered soundproof fans concealed in the coffin. Commission head Phil Aitcheson said that Presley had become a master of disguise: “There is a pretty good chance you wouldn’t recognize him if you saw him on the street.”

People have it all figured out:

“The mysteriousness of his ‘death’ is good for Elvis,” wrote the purveyor of Elvis is, “So he can maintain his secret undercover identity and still be seen in public. In a very recent interview, a source that must remain anonymous said:

‘I saw Elvis in the mall exiting the J. Crew store. He was carrying large bags full of clothes and was traveling with some kids that seemed undesirable and may be drug dealers or users.’

The clues that leave no doubt that Elvis did not die on August 19, 1977, are endless and rock-solid proof that he is working undercover for the federal government.”

Bill Beeny ran his Elvis is Alive Museum out of a converted coin-operated laundry in Missouri for seventeen years. The eighty-one year old proprietor shuttered it in 2007 to devote his time to charity work. He told the Associated Press he had “a burden to help people.”

“I have been unable to find a buyer to take over the operation, so Thursday October 9th, will be our last full day open. We will then be packing everything up and storing it until I return. It is with a heavy heart that I must say adios….for now.” 

White House photograph by Ollie Atkins

Letters to Elvis:

Hollywood Premier Metro Goldwyn Mayer’s “Grand Hotel”

Image“Good evening ladies and gentlemen, we are now in the famous forecourt of Grauman’s Chinese Theater on Hollywood Boulevard in Hollywood California, where the Metro Goldwyn Mayer production Grand Hotel is having its world premier this evening. The outstanding cast of the motion picture industry has been lavished on this production. Any attempt to describe the setting here tonight would necessarily only give a very limited idea. Grauman’s Chinese Theater this evening is a mecca for the elite of Hollywood. There are celebrities attending this premier from all over the country. Hollywood Boulevard is ablaze with light, thousands of people jam the sidewalks and the street in front of the theater, and here in the forecourt. Batteries of cameras are banked on all sides of us, microphones are suspended from overhead. A great array of stars featured in this picture, bringing its screen colony out in full force this evening. We promise to introduce all the celebrities of the town. You probably know, from the advance pictures and publicity, that have been sent out, the action of the picture Grand Hotel centers around the great circular desk in the lobby. That same desk has been erected here this evening, and as the stars arrive they will be asked to sign the hotel register. Naturally it would be outside the province of anyone not connected with the film industry to attempt the introduction of screenland’s famous personages. I will now turn the microphone over to our master of ceremonies, one of the outstanding actors of the screen, and a man of whom the screen industry is justly proud, Mr. Conrad Nagel…”

April 29, 1932.

Grand Hotel opening: