The Secret World of Andy Warhol


Well I see the new Whitney has an Andy Warhol show going on, and I really must get down there, in my fabled guise of Art Reviewer. Stay tuned.

The Atlantic recently did a nice piece on Andy, far superior to most of what one reads in that rag. (I’ll give a link farther down.) But it got me wondering: how much more IS there to know about An-dee?

I met the guy only once, during his last years. He was going around with Rupert Smith one evening around Third Avenue and 13th Street, handing out copies of Interview. Or maybe just carrying copies of Interview. Rupert was in his last years, too. This was maybe April of 1984.

After Andy died I tried phoning Rupert. A friend answered, thought I was trying to collect money he owed me. After a few conversational hiccups, it came out that Rupert was dead too.

Funny thing is, in the late 70s, early 80s, everyday people who were not in the Andy orbit thought of Warhol as a bird that had flown, a Sixties relic who might have been cool in the Edie Sedgwick era, but not anymore. Just a step up from Ed Wood as a practitioner of deliberately bad art.

Nobody saw what staying power Andy would have. Except maybe for Andy.

Here’s a sample of that Stephen Metcalf piece in The Atlantic:

After graduating in 1949, Warhol moved to New York City, and quickly became known as, in one graphic designer’s words, “the best shoe drawer in New York City.” He was hired by the I. Miller company to produce images for its weekly footwear ads in The New York Times. He did illustrations for the slickest magazines and piecework for the biggest corporate accounts, made Christmas cards for Tiffany and perfume ads for Bonwit Teller. He borrowed a technique from the Lithuanian-born American painter Ben Shahn of tracing a sketch in ink, then pressing the wet ink against a piece of absorbent blotting paper to transfer the image. It made for a sensitive line, a line with perceptible temperament, but by a process of reproduction that troubled any idea of an “original” version touched by the artist’s hand.

And here’s the whole thing:

rupert andy

Rupert and Andy on the Fire Island ferry around 1979. I met Rupert about this time. No Andy.

Ask the Family Doctor: Starving the Obese Child

Medicins sans frontal-lobes

Dr Molmar

with Ferenc Molmar, MD

Q. My eldest child, now 11, tips the scales at over 240 lbs and is only 4’9″. Actually that is an estimate, because our bathroom scale stops at 240. At the county fair they have livestock scales that go much higher but the fair doesn’t open till June.

I’m wondering how I can get this child to lose weight. (Before you go blaming this on not getting enough exercise and playing too many vidyagames, let me tell you this child is very active, and we limit vidyagame playing to an hour a day on Animal Crossing Pocket Camp, which is not only low-calorie, but endorsed by AARP.)

Should I get the child’s stomach stapled? My cousin’s neighbor in Schenectady had that done, and she lost 200 lbs, but I don’t think they do it on children.

Or maybe I could put my child on a special diet. I saw a documentary about Lord Byron, and he would lose weight by consuming nothing but soda water and hardtack for weeks on end. Where can you buy hardtack, do you know? Would saltine crackers work, do you think?

I wonder if it’s glandular.  Read More…

The Secret to Successful Art


California humorist Steve Sailer announces astounding findings about the art world, in Takimag:

A new study in Science, “Quantifying reputation and success in art,” documents that in the contemporary art world, it’s less a matter of what you know than whom you know.

Art economist Magnus Resch writes in Art News this week of what he has learned from his database of prices paid for roughly 10 million works of art by half a million artists at more than 20,000 museums and galleries around the world.

Read the whole thing.


Classic illustrations courtesy of Jim Flora.

Perused with Pleasure in 2018: My Top 5 Books


I was using my Spectator-co-uk digital subscription to search for odds and ends in its wonky archive. What, I wondered, did the Speccy have to say about the Angry Young Men in the late 1950s? Better yet, what did they have on Colin Wilson and his friend, the ever-elusive Bill Hopkins?

Not an awful lot, as it turns out. But I did find a hilarious 1958 column by Bernard Levin, talking about end-of-year book-review roundups, and how preposterous they usually are (or were). Colin and Bill appear only as a kind of punchline; by this point they were rumored to be fascist fellow-travelers,  and thus deserving of a sneer and a raspberry from all good-thinking hacks.

Here’s the actual passage. It gives some idea of where the column is going:

The Literary Editor suggested that I take half a dozen books that would not normally have been reviewed at all, put them together and write round them a parody of all those dreary pieces that fill the Sunday Times and the Observer around Christmas-time in which T. S. Eliot says that the best book of the year, as far as he is concerned, was the sixteenth volume of Gschwandkopf’s Geschichte der Norddeutschen Wurstfabriken im Mittelalter and Colin Wilson says his favourites were Stuart Holroyd’s Shaw’s Mysticism as Exemplified in ‘You Never Can Tell’ and Bash ‘Em in the Teeth, the new (and as yet unpublished) novel by Bill Hopkins, whoever he may be. I thought this was rather a’ good idea, and said so.

You’ll notice this also takes a swipe at T.S. Eliot (I see what you did there, Bernard Levin). So Colin Wilson, Bill Hopkins and their mate Stuart Holroyd are at least in excellent company.

Cultural bias notwithstanding, the rest of Levin’s piece is a scream. One of his unlikely choices for review is a book on Nigerian cookery. Levin deadpans that the cookbook is “described by [the] publishers as ‘a book for every Nigerian woman’: It is a commonly made claim; but I think in this instance it is fully justified . . . “

The real fun starts when he gets letters from authors and readers who take the reviews seriously. One of them is Barbara Cartland, all chuffed and fluffed to be praised by that nice Mr. Levin.

I’m put in mind of this 1958 Spectator column as I assemble five titles I have read this year. Half the books I’ve read or thumbed through in 2018 were really wretched, in particular those that fill a specialty niche. Books about Harper Lee and To Kill a Mockingbird are hotter than ever, with each new title even more jejune and cliché-ridden than the last. Another big genre of bad books is what you might call Jewish Paranoia Nonfiction. 2018 brought us Fascism, by Madeline Albright (or rather, her ghostwriter), Tailspin by Steven Brill, The Suicide of the West by Jonah Goldberg, Can It Happen Here? by Cass Sunstein, The Corrosion of Conservatism, by Max Boot, and many, many more, I am certain. These are just the ones I actually slogged through on Kindle or deep-skimmed during my visits to Barnes & Noble and the Amazon bookshop.

Of course I’m not going recommend any of the foregoing. And to narrow my selection, I’m not going to list anything that I’ve previously reviewed or discussed in these enlightened pages.

And so, in no particular order:

  1. De Gaulle, by Julian Jackson (2018). In most histories of WW2 and the postwar period, Charles De Gaulle is little more than a name and a (mostly) offstage presence. He sticks his head in briefly during the 1940 Fall of France, when he was junior cabinet member, and then spends most of the next four years sulking in London. But now we cover this familiar ground with the General as the central character, and it’s refreshing and enlightening. He’s not quite as querulous and unpleasant as he’s usually depicted in popular histories . . . although he gets pretty close.
  2. The Spy and the Traitor, by Ben Macintyre (2018). I loved Macintyre’s book on Kim Philby and his circle a few years ago (A Spy Among Friends), but I hesitated to look at this one because it’s about a KGB double-agent I’d never heard of, and takes place in the 1970s and 80s, which don’t much interest me. But I am here to report that this book is a real honey, at least as good as the Philby one. It paints a detailed background picture of KGB operations during the Cold War’s final blaze, when Yuri Andropov seriously believed Ronald Reagan was planning to level Moscow with Pershing II missiles. Our main hero is a KGB lifer named Oleg, who rises to the head of the London station right about the same time that—far away in Langley, Virginia—a CIA officer named Aldrich Ames decides he needs a lot of money. Ames sells a list of CIA/MI6 assets and double-agents to the Russkies for—one million dollars! Shortly afterwards, Oleg is suddenly and mysteriously summoned back to Moscow, where he’s subjected to interrogation, truth serum, and most likely faces eventual torture and death. This book has a happy, but white-knuckle ending: our spook gets smuggled out of the USSR via Finland in the trunk of a car. For years his British friends in Moscow have practiced an escape scenario, against the remote possibility that they’ll have to “exfiltrate” Oleg. The plan involves signaling with candy-bar wrappers, shopping bags, and funny hats; and a dirty disposable baby diaper figures prominently in the escape. If you saw all this in a Hollywood film you might sneer at it as hokum. But it’s all true.
  3. Rendezvous at the Russian Tea Rooms, by Paul Willetts (2015). This is the story of Tyler Kent, Anna Wolkoff, Captain Ramsay and the others in the Right Club circle, in the months leading up to their arrests in London in May 1940. It’s strung along in novelistic fashion, which would probably be useful if you were trying to write a screenplay and needed a ready-built straightforward narrative, but I often found the character descriptions unconvincing and the “plot” a little contrived (even though, as I say, it’s a true story).  I know Willetts has some basic facts wrong, but if I go into them here I’ll bore you to tears and sound like a conspiracy theorist. I read this in conjunction some other books pertaining to the Kent/Wolkoff just after I’d been reading a lot about Louis-Ferdinand Céline in the 1930s, including his ridiculous voyage to Hollywood to retrieve a girlfriend and get a movie made from his first novel.  In this book it turns out that Anna Wolkoff and Céline were pen-pals (something I’d never come across before) and in fact the latter was planning to visit her on an upcoming trip to London. That trip to London was going to be in April 1940. What with one thing and another, it never came off.  But it’s delightful to discover that Anna was corresponding with him right around the same time she and her crew were sending coded messages to William Joyce in Berlin.  Just one big happy family!
  4. The Fifties, by David Halberstam (2018). Highly readable, not-too-breezy dissection of American political, social, and technological history from the latter 1940s to about 1960. This book bears very close comparison with William Manchester’s somewhat similar The Glory and the Dream (1973), but Manchester’s book was more concerned with fads, celebrities and nuances of etiquette (e.g., the artificial familiarity that became de rigueur after World War Two, so that you’d address near-total strangers by their Christian names). Halberstam here prefers to delve into such minutiae as the gossip and office politics that surrounded the development of the H-bomb. If that sounds dreary, and sometimes it is, it’s necessary background to the J. Robert Oppenheimer investigation, an early-50s milestone that has always eluded me. Likewise Halberstam is very good at the describing the backwardness of American rocketry and the space program in the 1950s (we had the German rocket scientists, but didn’t do much with them till the Sputnik era).
  5. Railroaded, by Richard White (2011). I was completely oblivious to this book’s existence until this year, but have listened to it now, several times, on Audible. It deals with the real “robber barons” of the post-Civil War era: not oil and steel monopolists, but railway investors who connived endlessly to get Federal money to build western railroads that were completely unneeded, as well as largely unused and often shoddily built.

New Woodward Book Lays Trump Bare


The new Bob Woodward book (Book & Snake publishers, $29.99) has DC a-buzzing. Some of the revelations about President Trump are so fantastic they must be made up. Highlights:

National Security Advisor Byron McCrohn calls Trump “a moron…two pancakes short of a full combination plate…I wouldn’t sell him to my mother.”

quackyAssistant Chief Secretary of Housing Belinda Bree Liddell revealed that the President is so mentally handicapped he couldn’t even figure out how a toddler’s Fisher-Price pull-toy worked. “I put Quacky the Duck on his desk one afternoon when no one was around. Later on I looked in. Instead of pulling the toy around the Oval Office, the President kept turning it over and over, like he wanted to see where the batteries went. It’s a damn pull-toy! It doesn’t have batteries! How stupid can you be?”

Other senior advisers report finding Trump sitting outside the Oval Office at six in the morning because he was locked out and the janitor wasn’t around to let him in. “He tried to lie about it and say he was afraid of ghosts, and maybe it was ghosts who locked the door, as they sometimes do in the Executive Mansion, but the ghost story was just a cover-up.”

Noguchi’s Back, and Garson’s Got ‘im


With two complementary exhibitions, New York’s Noguchi Museum pays tribute to the legendary Japanese-American artist’s innovative lanterns.

(courtesy of Departures)

Noguchi in “Appalachian Spring”

One of the most influential artists of 20th century, the Japanese-American sculptor and landscape architect Isamu Noguchi was widely known for his inventive and diverse body of work—from home furniture (like his 1947 Noguchi table, which was sold by Herman Miller) to public sculptures and gardens in cities like New York and Paris.

This February, New York’s Noguchi Museum will pay homage to one particular strain of the artist’s iconic designs: his Akari light sculptures, or collapsible lanterns made of paper, bamboo, and metal.

Noguchi planning a satellite.

Starting February 28, the museum will host two complementary exhibitions. The first, Akari: Sculpture by Other Means, will include approximately 60 of Noguchi’s lanterns (including 40 individual models), plus archival materials like vintage photographs, advertisements, and brochures; the second, Akari Unfolded: A Collection by YMER&MALTA, will include 29 Akari-inspired lamp designs created by the French design studio. In conversation, the exhibits explore the lanterns’ history, as well as their continued influence on designers.

Read the whole thing here.

Do You Make These Mistakes in English?


Poor grammar not only makes you look stupid—it can get in the way of your career!

Even highly intelligent people with a lot of “horse sense” get mistaken for Big Dummies when they say things like this:

“Between you and I, Aunt Fanny’s gotten a lot more fatter since last picnic.”

“I am quite adversed to money matters and business, in fact I’m quite financial indeed.”

“I never seen a girl get ruined by a book.”

“All my children are real eager to rake the yard every Fall, but somehow Sally always gets less leaves than Bob and Sue.”

Chances are—you’ve said things just like this, every day, and had no idea people were laughing at you behind your back! Read More…

Wally Wood Technique


Early Wally Wood, c. 1949. Impossible to contemplate today without seeing it as some kind of latter-day retro parody.

Some comic illustrators of the 1980s and 90s, notably Charles Burns and “Coop,” painstakingly imitated the zigzag highlights technique you see in the foreground coiffure. Read More…

Restoring the American Girl

Restoring the American Girl post image

The Guardian‘s recent slash-and-burn job on Taylor Swift (see Steve Sailer here, Nov. 25) pointed up a couple of home truths about race discussion in the media. One is that, as Sailer put it, “It’s Not Okay to be White” in such fever-swamp precincts as The Guardian‘s editorial board. The other is that—hate her or love her—the image of La Swift continues to serve as both whipping-girl and icon of traditional American whiteness.

Tenney Grant, with Boyfriend Logan

Consider this. After years of Diversifying its brand into utter meaninglessness, the American Girl Doll collection recently introduced a girl-singer doll into its lineup. Named “Tenney Grant,” and sporting a miniature acoustic guitar and denim-and-lace outfits, this new entry is quite clearly a proxy for Taylor Swift (or at least the country-singing Taylor of a few years back).

“She’s a breakout songwriter finding the heart to be herself,” reads the catalog copy. “Ready for a true taste of Nashville? Tenney Grant is determined to shine by being just who she is.” To round out her character, the all-American Tenney has even been given a boyfriend, Logan Everett. He’s got  brown hair and blue eyes, and is American Girl’s first-ever boy doll. Read More…

Liz Smith Is Dead at 94

Liz Smith Is Dead at 94 post image

Liz Smith, veteran Broadway and theatre columnist, died yesterday of a drug overdose. She was 94.

Frank Sinatra once famously called her a “two-dollar whore” while shoving a pair of greenbacks into Liz Smith’s old-fashioned glass. But others had favorable memories of the legendary gossip scribe.

An old friend, actor Richard Gere, described her thusly: “Liz Smith was the kindest, warmest, bravest, most wonderful human being I’ve ever known in my lift.” Read More…

Ask the Family Doctor: Can I Give Fish Antibiotics to My Children?

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Ask the Family Doctor: Can I Give Fish Antibiotics to My Children? thumbnail

Dr Molmar

with Ferenc Molmar, MD

I am often asked whether it safe and proper for human beings to ingest antibiotics designed for tropical fish. There are two issues to address here. One is that antibiotics for fish have generally been tested on fish, but not on humans. Therefore, although the the chemical structure of the drug may be similar, you can never be certain of what a fish antibiotic will do to one of us higher vertebrates. Read More…

Ask the Family Doctor: Lepers and Toxoplasmosis

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Dr Molmar

with Ferenc Molmar, MD

Q. Our adopted child from a far-off country has been diagnosed with leprosy. The child is under treatment and the condition appears to be stable. However, a clerical employee in our pediatrician’s offices seems to be a bit of a gossip and told a neighbor from my garden club about our child’s illness. Now the neighbors refuse to let their children play with our child, and some are even demanding that our child carry a bell around and ring it whenever approaching other people. We got hold of an old Salvation Army bell, which makes quite a bit of noise, but this has not satisfied our neighbors. Our child’s school has put our child into a “special needs” class isolated from the other children. The guidance counselor is beginning to suggest that we send our child away to a leprosarium school in Molokai or Louisiana. This problem is causing a lot of stress at home, and my spouse is threatening to leave me. (Note: we are not married.) Read More…