Books are my friends, my true friends. They give, and give, and continue to give.
When I only want to concern myself with my needs, and wants, and joys, and perhaps even fantasies or dreams, books are there just for me; selfish da harv. My books are old and new. They are my stewards. These are the friends offering help and guidance when I so often seem to need it. I have long since given up newspapers, except on Sundays when they provide more of a local atlas than anything else. Newspapers just can’t provide me with the same trustworthiness I get from my books. Newspapers pile up and make a mess. Books never look messy. Good books are left out for people to enjoy. I would never think of lining a birdcage with one of my books.
Books cater selfishly to what I need to have them cater to. Wow! It’s all about me. That isn’t to say there is a predetermined mindset. Certainly I know what I like to read, but that doesn’t mean at a very young age I knew or even understood the psychology behind what I was up to. I would describe myself as a freewheeler. I mean, much of what I read as a kid, was determined by what I could afford or get my hands on. My older sister, six years my senior, was a veracious reader. Don’t get the idea I ever wanted to be like my older sister. The truth is I wanted to be better at anything and everything she was attempting to be or do. Everything, that is, with the exception of school. My sister broke her butt studying. I, on the other hand, rarely showed any interest in schoolbooks, especially in the early grades. I think it stemmed from me hanging out with my Dad so much. Early on, I resented teachers telling me what to do by way of controlled reading assignments.
Between the ages of nine and thirteen; still unaware of the impact books would ultimately have.
In actuality, a pretty strong troika had been put in place for me. Books, radio, and the movies fostered who I was, and definitely influenced what direction I might take in life. Altogether, the three formed as the strongest culprit responsible for feeding the flames of my already vivid imagination.
While I had a vast array of early heroes, none could ever match the exploits of my own special guy, the one and only “Frank Merriwell.”
Frank Merriwell is a fictional character appearing in a series of novels and short stories by Gilbert Patten. Merriwell excelled at football, baseball, basketball, crew and track at Yale while solving mysteries and righting wrongs. He played with great strength and received traumatic blows without injury.
Merriwell originally appeared in a series of magazine stories starting April 18, 1896 (“Frank Merriwell: or, First Days at Fardale”) in Tip Top Weekly, continuing through 1912, and later in dime novels and comic books.
The Frank Merriwell comic strip began in 1928, continuing until 1936. Daily strips from 1934 provided illustrations for
the 1937 Big Little Book.
The Adventures of Frank Merriwell first ran on NBC radio from March 26 to June 22, 1934 as a 15-minute serial airing three times a week at 5:30pm.
After a 12-year gap, the series returned October 5, 1946 as a 30-minute Saturday morning show on NBC, continuing until June 4, 1949.
A film serial entitled The Adventures of Frank Merriwell was created by Universal Studios in 1936.
Note: Radio was an everyday event, seven days a week. The heroes were endless. I listened to their stories on the radio, watched their film exploits in the movies, and read about them in short stories and comic books. And today I find myself recalling the era of my heroes and writing about them.
I don’t remember ever having a library card in my preteen years. My interests moved in indiscernible waves. Suddenly, I was a teenager at the helm. My reading became extremely sports oriented. It was then that I first began to question the veracity of the author’s pen.
I was there for the Jackie Robinson introduction to the Dodgers. I witnessed the variety of reactions, and then wondered if what I saw and heard was as real as I thought it was. It was my wake up call. I abruptly discovered not all writers see things the same. This wasn’t a “Frank Merriwell” short story. This was supposed to be the truth. How could what I experienced first hand myself be so inexplicably different when being described by someone with his or her own agenda. Ah, the naiveté of youth. It was there for me to see and read about. From that moment on, intellectually, my life has never been the same.
From age twenty-one, and for at least the next ten years, this young man’s only books were in a non-fiction genre. Specifically, I found myself in a full ten-year cycle of reading nothing but biographies, auto, authorized and unauthorized. It was long before the days of computer research at one’s fingertips. A person had to actually read and take notes with regard to their next selection.
Today, while online doing research, it’s an easy task to click on a person’s name and see an array of encyclopedic information.
Here’s an example of what I had to do during my formative years. Let’s say I was reading the life and times of Stanislavski. In this particular book, the author was dealing with the depiction of a specific time period. I would make note of certain persons mentioned in the book, and then look for biographies of their life and times. What developed for me was a historical conversation between people of the past who ultimately became part of my own life and lifestyle. I can’t recall how I fell into a biographical scheme, but I do remember one of the first was the life of Albert Einstein. What amazed me was how lucky we were as Americans to have the man become a member in good standing in our American way of life. My God, I thought this man was like so many others who were fortunate enough to immigrate to our shores. George Gershwin and Albert Einstein could have been ships passing in the night, or they could have been taken from us by one of this world’s most despotic narcissists, Adolph Hitler.
The books continued. It was commonplace for my wife to return from our Encino library with two shopping bags filled with my reading requests. I was traveling to all corners of the world and learning about my favorite topic: People. I marveled at and was totally conscious of what I was learning. These were the opinions being shared by the very same people who one way or another would be an influence on my life. The people I read about, especially the leaders, had sweeping similarities. Of most pertinence to me at the time (becoming privy to their personal revelations) was what they shared as human beings. Most of these leaders believed in some form of divine power. While many of them had unbelievable confidence in themselves, they nevertheless shared in the belief of a higher power. They never felt above all others in the world. The stories of George Washington refusing the title of king exemplify his nature as one of the greatest leaders of all time. Reading the biographies of his cohorts spells out who George Washington was as a human being. Saying Washington was being tested as few before him had would be as much of an understatement as I could possibly conjure up. Hamilton, Franklin, Adams, Jefferson, John Hancock and Patrick Henry, to name a few; all in testament to another man’s greatness as a leader. All of this and so much more in the books I have read as my own form of attesting to man’s sanctification.
And then there are the lifestyles of the rich and famous. Long before anyone dreamed of doing a TV show with them as the subject matter, people were writing about these folks at great length. I found myself reading about the silent movie era, and then the really big stars of the silver screen, and then back again to the biographies of Hollywood’s founders; the immigrants who became the movie moguls. Admittedly, these were the stories which titillated and stimulated my vivid imagination. Again, I found myself identifying with the names of big wigs that immigrated to this country just as my family did.
Without exception, someone of immigrant stock founded every major movie studio. What amused me the most was their courage or what some would call unequalled “chutzpah.”
chutzpah |_ho_tsp_; _ kh o_tsp_; -spä| (also chutzpa or hutzpah or hutzpa)
Shameless audacity; impudence.
ORIGIN late 19th cent.: Yiddish, from Aramaic
“Truth is stranger than fiction” goes right along with another fact of life in the early days of Hollywood: Truth is also a great deal funnier as well. The biographies of these immigrant movie moguls bore a marvelous resemblance to one another. Besides the Goldwyns, and the Cohens, and Louie B. Mayer’s they’re also existed a parade of unknown soldiers responsible for the unbelievable transformation of California and, in many respects, the character of the United States. The exploits of these stalwart new Americans became legends to be shared with the world by way of millions upon millions of words printed in every language known to man.
It was of great interest to me that one of the first portrayals of a character in a movie serial was that of my earliest favorite, the one and only “Frank Merriwell.” The story was picked up by a B-movie producer from a comic book being read by one of his kids. These serial depictions were usually shown as Saturday morning fare for the hordes of children who treated the outing as a religious ritualistic social event (this was, of course, before we had the ability to text). If you’re interested, the cost of a double feature and a short, as they were called, was ten cents. One dime got a kid almost a full day of entertainment.
One episode I loved the most involved Frank Merriwell rescuing a damsel in distress. While out running in a local forest, Frank catches sight of this rather voluptuous, scantily clad young woman fifty yards from shore in a canoe without a paddle. Of course the canoe is racing its way towards a waterfall. The kids can be heard all over the theater questioning each other in extremely emotional terms, “What’s Frank going to do?” I mean, we were all seriously concerned for the girl’s welfare. Not to worry. Frank quickly looks around and finds this long piece of rope along side the path he’s on. Frank ascertains he will need about fifty yards of rope: “That’s half the distance of a football field,” he says loud enough for all to hear. Frank ties one end of the rope to his trusty football; he never goes anywhere without it. And then, with the preciseness of the best punter in the history of the game, kicks the ball fifty yards in the air, landing perfectly in the canoe. The girl takes hold of the ball and Frank heroically pulls her to shore. She thanks him profusely as he jogs off without so much as asking for her phone number. Many of us guys in the audience discussed his antics when we were alone in the schoolyard. Us guys agreed we would have treated the end of the adventure a little differently than Frank Merriwell did (if you get my drift).
Frank Merriwell’s name, according to the writer, meant honest, happy, and healthy.
“If you’d like to thank a veteran, vote!” – hk