Simanaitis Says

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LETTERS AS ENCOURAGEMENT

I WAS READING the Letters column in the August 13, 2020, London Review of Books, with nary a serious thought in my head. Then I encounter several communications that didn’t just sit there: They screamed out to me “You must learn more about this!

Here are tidbits gleaned from following up on the LRB items in question. 

Brooklynese. An earlier reference to Glaswegian, both in the LRG and subsequently at Simanaitis Says, prompts a Londoner to write, “May I put in a word for that city’s nearest American equivalent, Brooklyn? The plural ‘you’ was once well known, not only there but worldwide, when in prewar gangster movies Brooklyn boys Nat Pendelton and Allen Jenkins addressed colleagues as ‘yous guys’ or solicited their attention with ‘Hey, yous!’ “

The Brooklyn Bridge was designed by John August Roebling. At the time of its opening in 1888, it was the longest suspension bridge in the world. Image by Suiseiseki.

Who are Nat Pendelton and Allen Jenkins? They’re two of the stars in Warner Bros. 1938 Swing Your Lady. Others included Humphrey Bogart (who was disenchanted with this and his earlier Warner Bros. roles), Louise Fazenda, and a young actor named Ronald Reagan. 

Louise Fazenda, 1895–1962, American slapstick comedy star.

The movie featured more American dialects than just Brooklynese: Its country musical plot has promotor Ed Hatch (Bogart) bringing his slow-witted wrestler Joe Skipapoulis (Pendelton) to the Ozarks, there to challenge hillbilly Amazon blacksmith Sadie Horn (Fazenda). Shiner Ward (Jenkins) has a sidekick role.

Needless to say, Joe and Sadie fall in love. 

Sample dialogue offered by IMBd.com: Shiner Ward: “Listen, if you’re so hard up, try talkin’ to yourself.” Wrestler Joe Skopapoulis: “I did, but I couldn’t get no answers.”

Michael Tippett’s The Ice Break. An earlier LRB article on modern English composer Michael Tippett prompted several letters.

Sir Michael Kemp Tippett, 1905–1998, English composer. According to Wikipedia, “sometimes ranked with his contemporary Benjamin Britten as one of the leading British composers of the 20th century.”

 One letter was about a production of Tippett’s The Ice Break, 1977, a complexly modern opera: “In 2015 Birmingham Opera Company put it on as a promenade performance, with professional soloists and amateur chorus, actors and dancers. As one of the chorus, I can attest to the difficulty of the music and the intellectual effort it took to master it even partly. We took some comfort from the fact that any errors we made would probably go unnoticed.” 

Image from Schott Music.

A Pair of Piano Teachers. An LRB reader commented, “Delighted to read that Michael Tippett’s piano teacher was a Mrs Tinkler. At last, a rival in the nominative determinism stakes to Duke Ellington’s piano teacher, Mrs Clinkscales.” 

And, indeed, both Sir Michael Tippett and conductor Sir Malcolm Sargent, ten years Tippett’s senior, took piano lessons from Leicester’s Mrs. Frances Tinkler. 

According to the Duke Ellington Music Society Bulletin, jazz great Duke Ellington began taking piano lessons, at age seven, from Mrs. Marietta Clinkscales. It cites, “Mrs. Marietta Clinkscales as a known and publicized piano teacher in Washington, D.C., during (or shortly after) the years Ellington would have been her pupil.” 

The discography of American jazz great Duke Ellington includes Mrs. Clinkscales to the Cotton Club, Vol. 1: 1926–1929.

Last, and possibly spurious, IMBd lists a 1984 TV movie, Thank You, Mrs. Clinkscales, in which “A group of young men gather in a pub to celebrate New Year’s Eve, 1951.”

Gathering around LRB Letters seems inspiration enough for me, these days anyway. ds 

© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2020 

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