Saturday, February 26, 2011

Oscar Weekend! I Love the Oscars!


The Sting and Five Against the House

Last night we watched The Sting (which I'd never seen) and then, after Jamie had drifted off to Sleepytime Junction, I watched a an ostensibly noir flick called Five Against the House

There's not a whole lot to be said about The Sting.  It's already a popular movie and I'm late to the game on the discussion.  I always like Paul Newman, and Robert Redford was most definitely, as always, Robert Redford.  I guess I was a little surprised to find the impetus for the characters setting up "the sting" was pretty much the "young handsome male" has his "aging black mentor" killed off by the movie's villain, ie: The Simpson's Mendoza.

The first meeting of The Handsome Men's Club

George Roy Hill was a talented director, and I think all of that's on display here.  But aside from Robert Shaw as the movie's villain, it sometimes - especially in the first act - it feels a bit like "hey, we're modern actors having fun playing as if we're in an old timey movie!" rather than just playing it straight as a period movie. 

I don't want to say I didn't like The Sting, but its not going to find its way to the top of my list.

For Christmas, I received two different collections of film noir from Jason.  Its pretty neat, as I really don't know many of the movies, so every time I put one in, I don't know what to expect.  Last night, because it featured Kim Novak, I pulled Five Against the House from the selections.

It's a heist flick, and more along the lines of a B-Noir than something like Out of the Past.  The set-up is that, basically, four college buddies get bored and decide to see if they can rob a casino they visited once.  Now, two of those buddies are law students who've served in Korea, so they're a bit older.  And Kim Novak is a nightclub chanteuse girlfriend of the one who isn't suffering from PTSD.

While the movie is enjoyable enough, and the actors and plot more or less engaging enough, somebody knew the movie had one big selling point:

well, it got ME to watch the movie
It is a bit unusual in that its not a movie about guys pushed to an extreme, seeking revenge, etc...  quite literally, it starts off as a movie about four fun-living college buddies who decide to rob a casino because they're bored and they'd like to try to do something they think can't be done.

The movie is fun enough, but I'd mention it for two reasons.

1)  There's a shot very, very similar the one used in The Graduate; the famous "Dustin Hoffman framed by Anne Bancroft's leg" shot. Its almost hard to believe someone didn't remember that one.  Kim Novak, ya'll.

I'm not crazy, right?
The movie is oddly frank about sex for a 1955-era flick.  It seems Novak has been with a few dudes prior to meeting our hero (to his credit, he's pretty open minded on that score), and Brian Keith flat out announces "hey, I had sex" in an early scene after meeting a casino patron. 

2)  Soderbergh is a really smart guy, and I have to believe that when he was prepping for a big budget remake of the goofy-fun Ocean's 11, he also checked out a huge number of other casino heist movies to get inspiration.  I can't help but think that part of his inspiration for Yen's part of the plan was inspired not by what actually happens in Five Against the House, but by what they tell other people they're doing, which is smuggling an ex-jockey into the casino in a box (which they've rigged up with a tape recorder and speaker).

While its not what Soderbergh did, its not too hard to make the leap.  Then again, how many ways can you really get an inside man into a casino, I guess.

I am in favor of a good heist movie (see:  The Killing), but this one is set up a bit oddly in that it all seems to lack real motivation, and that the stakes are non-existent for our leads.  The most dramatic tension occurs between the romantic leads, and whether Kim Novak will flake on our baritone-voiced hero.  The heist feels a little gimmicky, and there's not a lot of the usual fun in understanding the set-up, which... after watching The Sting, which is all set up, it just felt wrong.

5 Against the House is not going to go down on anyone's list as better than The Big Sleep, and were it not for the slow roll out of the PTSD storyline and its conclusion, I'd have a hard time labeling the movie as noir at all (not all heist movies are noir movies.  See:  Ocean's 11 and its remake,  Ocean's 11).  But it was okay, I suppose.

Friday, February 25, 2011

More Signs I'm an Idiot: Alison Brie

Despite the fact I've seen every episode of Mad Men, and I've seen NBC's Community about a half-dozen times now, somehow I'd never put together that both Mad Men's Trudy Campbell and Community's Annie Edison were played by actress Alison Brie.

Alison Brie

also, Alison Brie

Maybe all you white people look alike to me or something.  I have no idea.

I was watching the election episode of Community, and some facial tic or line delivery Brie delivered was 100% Trudy Campbell, and I sort of froze like a deer in the headlights, opened my laptop, looked to IMDB and then told Jamie of my revelation.  Jamie was, of course, perfectly aware of Brie's dual roles and confirmed, yes...  it is very weird I never noticed that before.

I do seem to have a sort of blindspot when watching TV and movies, and any actresses under the age of 30 all sort of look the same to me.  Jamie can confirm that I have no idea what the difference is between virtually any of the popular starlets at any time (I only know who Amy Adams is because she was in Talladega Nights.  Which is kind of sad for Amy Adams), and that I routinely say "who is that?" about the same actors five or six times.  This is true for young male actors, as well.

In general, I kind of rely on actors or actresses having unique characteristics to remember them.  Elisabeth Moss has the icicle eyes and, let's be honest, a pretty specific look.  Christina Hendricks has, um...  Christina Hendricks.  But if you asked me to pick say, Rachel McAdams out of a line-up, I would give up before starting. 

So, I often wonder if I do this with people in everyday life.  Do I walk past the same people at the grocery and not notice them even though they're there every single time I'm there.  Is there a librarian at the reference desk I've somehow never realized was always there when I pass in and out of my building?  I have to assume the answer is yes.

I'll also note that, yes, not only are Community and Mad Men very different programs, shot differently, with different tones, different make-up on Brie, etc...  and Brie does, in fact, handle the two characters a bit differently, and maybe she's just that brilliant of an actor.  But, she is just one person, so... you know...

I also once spent an entire weekend in Vegas with someone two years ago, and only realized I'd known him before when he put on his glasses the last day.  So, yes, apparently I would be the guy who would be all "Wait...  Clark Kent is actually who?"

Mayor Leffingwell accurately geeks out on Austin as "Green Lantern" of cities

Over at Newsarama, Austin's own Mayor Lee Leffingwell, the guy I actually voted for in our most recent mayoral election, compared Austin to superhero Green Lantern.  And he did it with surprising accuracy fit for a comic geek.

Click here for Newsarama's take.

And our local NBC affiliate

"Austin is the Green Lantern," said Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell. "We are a city without fear. We are a city that can create anything we can visualize, through sheer force of will. We are a city with a special charge to shine a light into the darkness and lead the way to a new and better day."

one way to beat I-35 traffic

I now expect to see t-shirts reading "Keep Austin Oan".*

"Lawyers-are-Pigs Guy, you have been determined to possess great will..."

*in the wake of crushing suburbanization and a massive jump in transplants to Austin who were surprised by the laissez faire attitude of our fair city when it comes to letting folks be folks, Austin adopted a "Keep Austin Weird" slogan to encourage and support the creative and technological arts. the slogan has since been endlessly co-opted.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Lady Movie Stars in Interesting Hats

Its been a long week, so let's agree to take it easy and see if I can't do better next week.

Sirens of the silver screen of yesteryear.  Period and costume specific hats.  Lets take a look.

Here's Marie Windsor in a decidedly non-Noir get-up.

an odd answer to "I'm going to slip into something more comfortable"
Maureen O'Hara as a PIRATE

Veronica Lake goes militaristic

if this had been on a recruiting poster when I was 18, I would have been career military
Ingrid Bergman as Joan of Arc

only Bergman could work a suit of armor
Jane Russell goes out west

I'm sure we had a theme but I've quite forgotten what it is right now
Gene Tierney pioneers the tiny hat

well, it does match the coat
And, of course, Dietrich in the hat she made famous

special bonus picture: Sophia Loren in a hat

I'm sorry.  Google made me do it.

Birdemic + Rifftrax = I'm Gonna Need a Drink

Rifftrax is ready to go with its commentary track for the recently released Birdemic: Shock and Terror.

Really, RiffTrax and Birdemic are a marriage made in heaven.

thx to KDB for posting to fb

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

One more post about Dwayne McDuffie

I was surprised by how down I got when hearing about the untimely passing of Dwayne McDuffie.

As I said, I haven't read all that much of McDuffie's work, but I did like what I did read (I wish he could have gone on forever once they handed him Firestorm).  And somehow many of us who were fans of the Justice League Unlimited TV show knew that McDuffie's hand with the show as writer, producer, etc... I wasn't really into superhero comics during the period when the Milestone titles hit the shelf the first time, but I absolutely remember looking at the books on the shelf when they debuted and thinking "well, obviously.  Good."

McDuffie's passing as Static gets his own title within the DCU proper is, in some ways, a painful reminder that DC once again took too much time, even after acquiring the Milestone characters, to deal with valuable properties that gave the DCU a more diverse representation and, of course, were actually pretty good ideas.  He should have been here to see DC make something of the promise of Milestone.

Its also a tragedy that All Star Superman was released on Tuesday, with McDuffie passing before seeing it released.  While only Morrison could have written the original series, those of use who follow these things knew McDuffie may have been the only person who could have brought the series to the moving picture and done it justice.

But, man...  Its been a couple of weeks, hasn't it?

Between Egypt, Libya, Bahrain, Yemen and whichever other places flaring up...  things are getting a little creepy working for the State of Texas and we're kind of watching the yahoos in the Capitol and hoping providence leads to solutions rather than posturing...  add in Wisconsin, the tragedy in Christchurch....  it all just feels like a lot.  And only the passing of a writer I like (heck, a writer I respect) maybe that's on a scale I can understand.

Just one more thing, you know?

There are now posts out there about how we need to respect creators now and let creators know we love them now.  Fair enough.  I agree.   The internet, this site included, too often goes for the low-hanging fruit and spends its time finding ways to complain about creators (loudly). 

What I'm kind of curious to know:  is this what it takes for the major publishers to realize what they squandered?  Or, more likely, what could have been had DC spent more time looking to McDuffie for answers instead of insisting on whatever editorial mandates came from top down in just the last few years?  Is this a discussion happening at all in the industry?

Weren't fans initially happy to hear about characters like Static making their way to the DCU from Milestone's walled-off world?  Weren't we all a little giddy when we heard the same Dwayne McDuffie who steered the JLU ship to greatness was coming to DC to write JLA?  And even inbetween all the mucking about with the JLA, weren't those issues still something pretty impressive, with a bold and exciting new cast sliding into place?  And what would have happened had they simply treated McDuffie with the same gravitas afforded other writers, and, frankly, often far lesser talents?

Maybe the comic money didn't matter to McDuffie.  After all, I have to assume the work on shows like Ben-10 and others had to have been a decent living wage.  But who can doubt that he loved those characters, and wouldn't have wanted to do right by them on the page?

Obviously I have no idea what DC's policies were toward McDuffie, character management during Batman RIP, New Krypton, etc...  but I can also guess, given how things shook out.

What makes me wonder is:  how is that good editorial policy?  How does it help to paint a writer and creator like McDuffie into a corner?  And who at DC or Marvel (or any company with a shared universe) is dealing with that situation even now?   And who knows what could have been...

Its an odd way to commemorate a writer, by wondering what else could have been, or perhaps that's exactly the point when someone goes too early.  But I don't think it should go unnoticed by DC that its not just an artifact of social media - your audience is universally mourning the loss of someone they liked, they admired and who told stories they loved and would have told more. 

Its not a secret that something seems a bit broken at Marvel and DC these days in how they've worked with creators and who they've chosen to work with.  I just wish it were not the unfortunate passing of someone who should have had decades ahead of him to shed light on how the creators that make the stories are appreciated by the people who read them, and when they've earned that trust that its the job of editorial not to direct but to steward and support.

Green Lantern Animated Film Coming in June

WB Animation previously released a Green Lantern movie (Green Lantern: First Flight) which I'd give a solid "B" (they forgot to ever show the actual lanterns at any point in the movie, etc...). With the coming of the live-action, Ryan Reynolds-centric Green Lantern big 'ol Hollywood wanna-be blockbuster en route, WB and DCE are finding all kinds of ways to exploit a supposed GL mania.

One of many outlets will be the upcoming feature-length video coming from the Bruce Timm wings of WB Animation, and it appears to be a sequel of sorts to that GL movie mentioned above. It looks like they are much closer to understanding the GLs on this go-round.

Pretty good post on "Why Superman?"

Superman writer Chris Roberson points to an article on "Why Superman?"

I feel I've reached my bi-annual quota of writing such pieces myself, so I'll link to somebody else's column, instead.

From the column:

Superman isn’t a Jesus analogue because, unlike Jesus, his moral vision is not imposed. The word of Jesus is the word of God2 and therefore what he says goes, dictation straight from the Almighty. Superman is the exact opposite: a man whose moral vision comes not from a source exterior to humanity but from humanity itself, via Ma and Pa Kent, who are themselves immensely decent people. He ultimately isn’t a received savior, regardless of the origin of his powers; he’s Superman, the apotheosis of what human virtue can be. He’s an aspirational figure first and foremost.3 There’s a reason people get S-symbol tattoos; they have meaning in a way that other superhero images just don’t.

And Sometimes Superman Went Crazy and Became King of the World: Action Comics 311

Oh, comics.

I first saw this cover years ago, and only recently obtained a copy of Action Comics #311, the one where Superman becomes a despotic tyrant over all the Earth.  Only, you know, in the kind of goofy way Superman would have become a despotic tyrant during the Silver Age in comics aimed at kids.

I like that he added the fleecing to his cape.  You got to class it up as king.
Key to making sure you're king?  Demanding trays full of jewels.  I will need to remember that.

Superman does nothing by half-measures, so you should expect none of that here.  The story in brief: Superman gets exposed to Red Kryptonite, which splits him into two sides, one bad and one good.  The bad side remains Superman, but the other becomes human-strength Clark Kent. Bad Superman decides there's no good reason to help people, and so he decides to just lord it over them.

No, no it doesn't make any sense.  But where have we seen this good/ bad split before?  Well, not exactly before...  you saw it in the Star Trek episode The Enemy Within. Also, we see good/ bad Superman as Superman/ Clark in...  SUPERMAN 3 where Red-K was also to blame!

So, yeah.  Red K.  Its a real problem. Avoid it.

I'm going to editorialize like crazy here, but there's also an ad run in the front cover of the comic, featuring Bob Hope teaching kids about loving their neighbor, religious tolerance, wrestling with singular world viewpoints, etc... all in 5 panels!  And it is seemingly sponsored by the US Govt.

clearly, Bob Hope was a sleeper agent for Al Qaeda
Quite a few of these pop up in these Kennedy-era comics.  It's oddly kind of stunning.  These days, this sort of hopeful, "it's a small world" talk would get you a 24 hour news cycle on Fox accusing you of hating the troops.

Also:  apparently kids were still into Bob Hope in the mid-60's.

But it's not that, nor the suggestion the comic makes that China built an entire replica of New York City (to scale, btw) just to blow it up for atomic bomb tests that I want to point to.  No, its exactly the manner in which Superman demands the nations of the world crown him Head Cheese.

He heads to the United Nations general assembly, takes the podium, and...

I invite you to click for full-sized madness
 Right on.

For those of you who didn't look...

We will SUPER bury you!
Pretty good stuff.

Of course, the actual pounding of shoe to podium associated with Krushchev may be Cold War myth, but it was taught to me as fact. I am betting that was one of the more fun panels these guys put together.  No idea what readers, their parents, or the CCA said about this one.

And I particularly love that Superman is still going to town, menacing the General Assembly with a bright, red boot as the cameras roll.

at this point, I imagine Superman has broken out into song

This, by the way, is a two-parter!

And if you missed it:

You can drop the "tator" part, Olsen

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Dwayne McDuffie RIP

I am completely shocked and cannot believe the reports, but it seems that television and comics writer Dwayne McDuffie has passed.

Details are sketchy, but reports are appearing in comics media that McDuffie has died the same week that his animated adaptation of All Star Superman was hitting wide release on home video. 

Since I learned of his past and current work in the mid00's, I've felt that McDuffie was an extraordinary talent.  He was only middle-aged, at best, and I was unaware of any health issues McDuffie may have suffered. 

he was the creator of the Milestone imprint and a key contributor to that universe, his most famous creation likely was Static (aka:  Static Shock).  I absolutely loved his work on the superlative Justice League Unlimited, his run on JLA when editorial wasn't mucking about, and other bits of his work.

I am very deeply saddened to hear this news. 

Christchurch Earthquake

We've been watching the tragedy unfold in Christchurch, New Zealand via news reports and social media. 

While we're also watching events unfold in Libya, Bahrain and elsewhere...  and we're trying to keep up with it all, in the morning please see if you can't send a few dollars to the Red Cross to assist with the situation unfolding in New Zealand.  Right now the NZ wing of the Red Cross site is down, but it may be up by the time you're up in the morning.

Click here

Monday, February 21, 2011

Rubbernecking 1947 Crime Scenes: "The Black Dahlia" book and movie

So, I'm not quite ghoulish enough to spend a lot of time watching shows about true life murder (unless I'm unemployed, then all bets are off.  City Confidential is aaaammmaaaaaaazing.).  For reasons I'm not quite sure of, I've been aware of the Black Dahlia murder since at least high school.  "The Black Dahlia"* was the name used in the LA press to describe torture and murder victim Elizabeth Short, found dead and terribly mutilated in an empty lot in January of 1947.  Short's murder has never been solved.

The crime has been endlessly revisited, much like the Jack the Ripper slayings, due to the unthinkable cruelty inflicted upon Short, the seeming calculated ruthlessness, the bizarre manner of public disposal, the odd follow ups from someone seemingly Short's killer, and the fact that the crime went unsolved despite a media frenzy and all-out effort by the LAPD.

I'm going to interrupt you now and say, I am totally not @#$%ing kidding:  DO NOT GOOGLE FOR IMAGES OF ELIZABETH SHORT.  Due to the nature of Google image search, you're likely to turn up autopsy and crime scene photos, and, I repeat:  her manner of her death was absolutely horrific.

She looked like this in life.  There.  You're done.
Back in the 1980's, crime novelist James Ellroy penned a fictional account of the investigation of Short's murder, and I think its safe to say that Ellroy stuck to some basic facts of the case, held close to historical accuracy for the time, but otherwise readers should consider the book a work of complete fiction (including characterization of Elizabeth Short).

I recently completed the book and watched the movie, The Black Dahlia.  Reading the book and watching the flick back-to-back is something I've been doing a lot of late, although I confess I gave up on the film of Slaughterhouse Five, deciding I wanted more time between the book and movie, but in this case...  I hadn't been completely sold on Ellroy's Black Dahlia.  Maybe I should have been, but parts of the book felt like they'd been cut too short or sold short, other parts seemed to linger on a bit longer than I felt necessary.


Some of the characters are fairly obvious, and, frankly, I felt that the minute the entirety of the Sprague clan showed up, and the way in which our narrator meets the family, this would be another tale in which the well-hidden perversions of the wealthy lead to victimhood for others.

As the book arrived in the 1980's, I can't be certain that it hasn't been imitated endlessly since, or if its carrying on the tradition of stories like Hammett's The Dain Curse or The Big Sleep by Chandler, and there's been enough repetition in crime and noir fiction that its almost inevitability of the genre.  It doesn't really matter, I suppose as I wasn't able to guess, exactly, who was responsible for the Dahlia until it was revealed in the novel, but it seemed as if rather than pursuing red herrings, the book could have tried to come to less of a dead end so early on.  The winding mess does obfuscate the mystery, but somehow the denouement just feels a bit too much like a "hoo-dunnit" by the time the final chapters put things into place.  Moreover, unlike the similar fictional reconstruction by Alan Moore in From Hell, the players selected are all entirely fictional, and it feels a little odd solving a very real, very tragic murder with fictional characters, motivations, etc...

Frankly, I couldn't ever shake the feeling that making Lee Blanchard the killer would have been a more logical and more interesting choice, even after pursuing the Sprague clan, but...  a lot of people who've read the book apparently thought otherwise.


I do like most of Ellroy's style, and its made me curious to check out some of his other work (this seems like a very good companion piece to what I remember of the film adaptation of LA Confidential, also by Ellroy). 
I've been looking at American Tabloid as an audio book, and I might have to do that.

The sprawling cast of the book feels right, especially in the multiple environments our narrator passes through, and Ellroy does a good job of knowing all of his characters well enough that you don't get lost.  He seems to fully realize the world of 1940's-era LA and Hollywood, refusing to romanticize any of it. And while he's not as razor quick as a Hammett, Chandler or Westlake, his more "novelistic" approach to traditionally pulp material does give the proceedings a welcome bit of gravitas.

What's terribly odd is how... off I found the recent adaptation to film by Brian DePalma.

these poor jerks thought they were in the next big movie
Released in 2006, the entire tone of the movie seems simply off.  DePalma seems to want to imbue the movie with same sweeping grandeur he captured in The Untouchables, which was a movie far more like a tale of larger than-life heroes and villains playing out morality tales against the marble and granite backdrops of Depression-era Chicago.  Its a strange tack to take with a story that is, flat out, crime-fiction-noir, the kind of story that relies on dingy apartments, bare light-bulbs, cheap-looking actors and a bottle in either foreground or background of every shot.

I knew things had missed the mark fairly early on, but almost groaned aloud when I saw DePalma had transformed the dank, intentionally dark and unobtrusive "lesbian bar", Laverne's, into a swank, deco dinner club complete with a KD Lang (plus dancers) floor show.

Casting for the movie could have been mostly on.  Josh Hartnett was likely okay to cast as narrator Bucky Bleichert, but a producer somewhere decided you can't hire Hartnett and give him prosthetic Buck teeth, no matter what the character is named, and so the teeth disappear before the end of the Act 1.  Scarlet Johansson, always welcome on the screen or in my home, is clearly cast about 10-15 years too young for her role, coming off as a co-ed playing grown up rather than the worldly Kay Lake of the novel.  Hilary Swank never captures the acute weirdness of Madeline Sprague...  the list just kind of goes on.  But, man, do the Sprague-scenes feel like actors chewing up the scenery...  Aaron Eckhardt and the character of Lee feel simply wasted in this adaptation.

you would think Ms. Johansson would make everything better
But even the directing and cutting feel weird.  Scenes are awkwardly shot, seemingly lacking B roll and inserts for close-ups.  Actors seems to know their lines, but haven't quite found the scene, but that's what's on the screen.  And the investigation into the life of Elizabeth Short gets dumbed down into a series of sort-of-goofy screen tests.  Bucky and Lee's absolute unraveling just doesn't make it into the movie, and that's unfortunate (for Ellroy and the viewer).  It was so much the point of the book, and here it just feels like plodding plot points.

All of the pieces are there, from big name actors to up and comers, to beautiful sets, a name director and a best-selling novel as the source...  Anyway, don't take my word for it.  The New York Times also watched the film.

On the whole, its a missed opportunity.  My personal feelings about how Ellroy wraps up the mystery aside, something really weird happened here, and I doubt that's a story Mr. DePalma will ever get to tell.  And because Short's death was very real, and because its not completely outside the window of memory, even while preserved in records and black and white photos, somehow it seems you need to do better when you're given the chance.

In interviews and elsewhere, its no mystery that Ellroy carried (or carries) his own low-level obsession with the Black Dahlia, and wanted some sort of justice for Elizabeth Short. 

As I understand it, Ellroy isn't alone, and a few folks hit the LAPD for the Short files on a routine basis, hoping to find some new clue, somewhere in the endless amount of paperwork created during the investigation.I find it unlikely that with 60 years turning to 70 since Elizabeth Short died, that anyone will ever know what truly happened, but she was real.  And so you hope that those who want to use her memory to tell their stories will do so with the care that I believe Ellroy genuinely employed, but which somehow got lost in the same Hollywood that killed Short the first time around.

*the name was coined after The Blue Dahlia, a popular movie of the era starring Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake.

Austin Books and Comics to be Crushed by Godzilla!

IDW has launched a new Godzilla series, and as an incentive to retailers, if the shop ordered a whole lotta copies of Godzilla #1, they could get copies with an image of the store getting destroyed by the rampaging toes of the King of Monsters.

I already had plans to read this series and am quietly very excited about getting a copy of this comic.  I find the idea of Godzilla rampaging his way down Lamar toward The Triangle, and into campus, then southward toward the Capitol...  appealing. 

when will the staff of ABC learn to live in balance with nature?

And I think Brandon at ABC would have wanted to go exactly this way, by the way.

Signal Watch President's Day Profile: Calvin Coolidge

Most of you know that when it comes to Presidents, I find Theodore Roosevelt to be up one of the most fascinating (somewhere next to the "now-slipped-into-the-territory-of-mythos", like Abe Lincoln and Thomas Jefferson, I guess).  But 'ol TR gets a lot of coverage, so I won't do that here until I actually read that third volume by Morris. 

The 20th Century saw a wide array of men (well, a wide array of moneyed white men) land in the White House. From Reagan to Kennedy to FDR to Nixon to "Wild" Bill Clinton, it was a wild ride, indeed.

But who talks about Calvin Coolidge? Nobody.

Coolidge was fortunate to land in the White House between World War I , and that little political hot potato we call The Great Depression.*  Coolidge managed a Bush-43 maneuver, saying good-bye to the White House just as the economy was going to holy hell and leaving Hoover in office to make a series of increasingly bad decisions, and shrug off responsibility.  Coolidge was part of a chain of Republican presidents that is mostly dull when history isn't making you want to slap both Harding and Hoover.  Somehow, Coolidge never feels very slappable.  But he doesn't seem much of anything, when you do a little Googling.

It may explain much that Coolidge took the Presidency only after the death of President Harding, who was on a "Tour of Understanding" or some such, which was not entirely unlike Superman walking across America to "get back to the people".  Coolidge served without much in the way of scandal or notoriety, and if you think about our record since Truman, that's kind of AMAZING.

Coolidge served from 1923-29 as President, and somehow William Henry Harrison gets more ink for managing to catch a cold during his inauguration and immediately die in office (which: hubris, people).

This guy.  6 years.
Why do we not write songs about Coolidge, insist on naming airports after him, and why have conservatives not lauded Coolidge as they do Reagan? From the White House's own website:
The political genius of President Coolidge, Walter Lippmann pointed out in 1926, was his talent for effectively doing nothing
Well, to his credit, the 1920's were a pretty good time in America, if you ignore Prohibition and how much that would have put a cramp in you getting your party started. We had movies by the 1920's, phonographs, a lack of war, gangsters livening stuff up with bathtub gin, and flappers were making wearing slinky dresses and dancing and drinking a welcome idea.

The White House also says:
But no President was kinder in permitting himself to be photographed in Indian war bonnets or cowboy dress, and in greeting a variety of delegations to the White House.
So, you know: he was screwing around with disguise kits for 6 years.  Was he the Jimmy Olsen of presidents?

Now largely forgotten, the raves in the Coolidge White House were, according to Eleanor Roosevelt, "Off the hook".
Even the White House seems to struggle to figure out what this guy was actually doing 40 hours per week other than hanging about, or even to have something positive to say about the dude, but its hard to say much negative either. The reason: Coolidge is most famous for not just doing nothing, but for basically refusing to talk during his Presidency. Including (or especially) at social functions and dinner parties. He was pretty keen on just answering with a simple "yes" or "no", leading this website to postulate that Coolidge was likely an early cyborg presidential replacement.

Clearly, this lack of "shooting one's mouth off when given the slightest provocation and when nobody can stop you" is where Coolidge and I would diverge, but I kind of like the idea of the person who runs their life and presidency by remembering the old adage about "better to remain silent and let them think you a fool than to speak and remove all doubt".

In some ways, he's the ideal Tea Party guy, in that his lack of desire to see the government (ie: himself) actually do anything fits in neatly with the "less government" idea.  He was no TR when it came to using the Presidency and, by extension, the entire US, as a blunt instrument.  Coolidge, sought not to rock the boat and to do what he could to promote Capitalist ideals.  After all, he was the guy who coined the idea that "the business of America is business". He may be the Ron Swanson of Presidents.

Without trying to throw too many political grenades, I'll mention that the Democrats of the Southern States during the 1920's were not always the most interested in concepts of social justice based upon racial, ethnic and other barriers.  Republican Coolidge was of the Abraham Lincoln school of 19th Century and early-20th Century Republicans and recognized the gallant participation of African-Americans in the first World War, and acted in support of black citizens, Catholics and others who had to put up with the bigoted nonsense Americans tend to cultivate (see:  Woodrow Wilson).

On a  final note:

I read somewhere long ago, and cannot find the source, that Coolidge also liked to sneak off and hide in the bushes from his security crew, then hop out and scare them when they came looking for him. If true, then Coolidge was exactly my kind of guy.

Hmmm.  You know, I probably should have covered Taft.  That guy was probably more interesting.

More reading on Coolidge:

Wikipedia is oddly complete
Calvin Coolidge's web site (Yup)

Well, that sort of covers it.  He's not exactly John Adams, people.

*If anyone wants a name for the Depression we're sinking into now, may I recommend "Great Depression 2:  Depression Forever!"