Ashes to ashes, airplanes to spread them, Damon Runyon and silver bells; Wrights flew on December 17, on December 18 an airplane spread Damon Runyon’s ashes (not the same year)

December 18, 2016

Spent a day with my aging father-in-law last week. Conversation is difficult, but memories always flow. We watched the movie version of “Guys and Dolls,” with Sinatra and Brando, and Stubby Kaye’s get-up-and-sing version of “Sit Down! You’re Rockin’ the Boat.”

He was happy to see the thing again, though in the first few minutes he said he didn’t think he’d ever seen the film. My fondness for the piece, and for Damon Runyon’s stories, goes back (too many) decades to a production of the play by the Utah Valley Opera Society. They hired our high school drama director, David Larson, to direct. On a lark I auditioned, telling them I couldn’t really sing or dance, and ended up with a lot of lines in a couple of supporting roles, and singing and dancing both in the chorus.

When my father-in-law joined in the movie chorus of “Fugue for Tinhorns,” I knew we had a good couple of hours. We laughed, watched, reminisced, and sang along.

Damon Runyon could tell stories, true stories about real people. Sometimes the names were changed to protect the innocent, or the guilty; sometimes the real names were more entertaining than the fictional names Runyon invented.

Some time ago I stumbled across the story of Runyon’s son, Damon Runyon, Jr., using an early airplane to spread the playwright’s ashes. It’s a story Runyon would have appreciated. It’s appropriate for the day after the anniversary of the Wrights’ first flight; December 18 is the anniversary of the event.

On December 17, Orville and Wilbur Wright got their heavier-than-air flying contraption to actually fly with motor driving it along.

First flight of the Wright Flyer I, December 1...

First flight of the Wright Flyer I, December 17, 1903, Orville piloting, Wilbur running at wingtip. Photo from Wikipedia

On December 18, Damon Runyon, Jr., got Eddie Rickenbacker to fly over Broadway to scatter the ashes of his father, Damon Runyon.

First Lieutenant E. V. [Eddie] Rickenbacker, 9...

First Lieutenant E. V. [Eddie] Rickenbacker, 94th Aero Squadron, American ace, standing up in his Spad plane. Near Rembercourt, France. Photo from Wikipedia. This photo dates near World War I; Rickenbacker remained a hero for a couple of decades. In 1946, he flew a DC-3 over New York City, and illegally scattered the ashes of raconteur Damon Runyon over his beloved Broadwary.

Not exactly the next day. 43 years and one day apart.  The Wrights first flew in 1903; Runyon died in 1946.

Today in Literature, for December 18:

On this day in 1946 Damon Runyon’s ashes were scattered over Broadway by his son, in a plane flown by Eddie Rickenbacker. Runyon was born in Manhattan, Kansas; he arrived at the bigger apple at the age of thirty, to be a sportswriter and to try out at Mindy’s and the Stork Club and any betting window available his crap-shoot worldview: “All of life is six to five against.” Broadway became his special beat, and in story collections like Guys and Dolls he developed the colorful characters — Harry the Horse, the Lemon Drop Kid, Last Card Louie — and the gangster patois that would swept America throughout the thirties and forties.

A lot of history packed in there.  Runyon’s early reportorial career included a lot of that history — he wrote the lead story for United Press on the inauguration of Franklin Roosevelt, for one example.  Runyon found a uniquely American vein of literary ore on Broadway in New York City, and in the ne’er-do-wells, swells, tarts and reformers who flocked to the City that Never Sleeps to seek fame, or fortune, or swindle that fortune from someone else.

As a reporter and essayist, he smoked a lot.  Throat cancer robbed him, first of his voice, then his life at 56.

Runyon’s ashes were spread illegally over Broadway, from a DC-3 piloted by Rickenbacker. Runyon would have liked that.

You couldn’t make this stuff up.

Factoids of history:

  • Twenty movies got crafted from Runyon stories, including “The Lemon Drop Kid” — in two versions, 1934 and 1951. Appropriate to the Christmas season, the 1951 version introduced the song, “Silver Bells” composed by Jay Livingston and Ray Evans. (Great explanation of the movie, and song, here.)
  • Runyon got fame first as a sports writer.  He was inducted into the writer’s wing of the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1967.
  • According to Wikipedia, Jerry Lewis and others owe a great debt to Damon Runyon:  “The first ever telethon was hosted by Milton Berle in 1949 to raise funds for the Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation.”
  • One might salivate over the varied fare offered in the theaters of Broadway in 1946, Runyon’s final year, “Annie, Get Your Gun” through Shakespeare, and everything in between and on either side
  • Runyon and H. L. Mencken both covered the trial of Bruno Hauptmann, the accused (then convicted) kidnapper of Charles Lindbergh’s baby son
  • Yes, of course, “Guys and Dolls.” Frank Loesser created it, but not of whole cloth, but from the stories of Damon Runyon; it is a masterpiece, perhaps in several realms.  In homage to Runyon, Adam Gopnik wrote:

    Just as Chandler fans must be grateful for Bogart, Runyon fans have to be perpetually happy that the pure idea of Runyon, almost independent of his actual writings, produced the best of all New York musicals: Frank Loesser’s “Guys and Dolls,” which made its début in 1950 and is just now reopening on Broadway in a lavish and energetic new production. But then “Guys and Dolls” is so good that it can triumph over amateur players and high-school longueurs and could probably be a hit put on by a company of trained dolphins in checked suits with a chorus of girl penguins.

    Your author here, Dear Reader, was once one of those trained dolphins. It was magnificent.

“Silver Bells,” from “The Lemon Drop Kid,” with William Frawley, Virginia Maxwell and Bob Hope (1951 version):

More:

A view of New York City in 1946:

Thomas Hart Benton (1889–1975)

Thomas Hart Benton (1889–1975) “The Artist’s Show, Washington Square,” painted in 1946

Times Square, showing part of Broadway, in November 1946, from the magnificent archives of Life Magazine:

Brownout Time Square.November 1946.© Time Inc.Herbert Gehr - See more at: http://kcmeesha.com/2011/11/29/old-photos-times-square-through-the-years/#sthash.ru9W0F9h.dpuf

Brownout Time Square.November 1946.© Time Inc.Herbert Gehr – See more at: http://kcmeesha.com/2011/11/29/old-photos-times-square-through-the-years/#sthash.ru9W0F9h.dpuf

Yes, this is mostly an encore post. Fighting ignorance requires patience.

Yes, this is mostly an encore post. Fighting ignorance requires patience.

Save

Save


December 17, history written in the wind and engraved in stone

December 17, 2016

Ten feet in altitude, 120 feet traveled, 12 seconds long. That was the first flight in a heavier-than-air machine achieved by Orville and Wilbur Wright of Dayton, Ohio, at Kittyhawk, North Carolina, on December 17, 1903.

Few witnesses observed the flight.  Though the brothers Wright fully understood the potential of the machine they had created, even they waited before revealing to their supporters, and then the world, what they had accomplished.

Critics complain others achieved flight in a heavier-than-air machine before the Wrights. There are stories of flights in Texas, Connecticut, and France. If anyone achieved flight before the Wrights, the Wrights did a much better job of recording their achievement, and promoting it afterward. In the end, the Wrights left a legacy of flight research conducted in classic science, with careful records, a lot of experiments and observations, and publication of results.

We honor the Wrights.

From the Library of Congress:

On the morning of December 17, 1903, Wilbur and Orville Wright took turns piloting and monitoring their flying machine in Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina. Orville piloted the first flight that lasted just twelve seconds. On the fourth and final flight of the day, Wilbur traveled 852 feet, remaining airborne for 57 seconds. That morning the brothers became the first people to demonstrate sustained flight of a heavier-than-air machine under the complete control of the pilot.

No lost luggage, no coffee, no tea, no meal in a basket, either.  No ATC (Air Traffic Control) delays.  Neither brother endured a TSA screening.

Resources on the Wright Brothers’ first flight:

(I almost always forget the big dates until the end of the day.  This is mostly an encore post.)

Yes, this is mostly an encore post. Fighting ignorance requires patience.

Again, this is mostly an encore post. Fighting ignorance requires patience.

Save


National Aviation Day, 2016: Wave those flags, patriots!

August 19, 2016

NASA's poster for National Aviation Day 2016. A young girl looks up at some of the experimental ideas for future aviation. NASA said:

NASA’s poster for National Aviation Day 2016. A young girl looks up at some of the experimental ideas for future aviation. NASA said: “It’s an exciting time for aviation, with potential NASA X-planes on the horizon and a lot of new technologies that are making airplanes much more Earth friendly. Use National Aviation Day to excite and inspire the young people you know about exploring aeronautics as a future career. Credits: NASA / Maria C. Werries”

August 19 is National Aviation Day. In federal law, the day is designated for flying the flag (36 USC 1 § 118).

August 19 is the anniversary of the birth of Orville Wright, usually credited with being on the team with his brother Wilbur who successfully built and flew the first heavier-than-air flying machine.

Celebrate? The White House issued no proclamation for 2016, but you may fly your flag anyway.


109 years ago, May 22, 1906: Patent to Wright Bros. for “flying machine”

May 22, 2015

In a drawer in a file box in the U.S. Patent Office in Washington, D.C., is a study in black ink on white paper, lines that resemble those images most of us have of the first Wright Bros. flyer, usually dubbed “Kittyhawk” after the place it first took to the air.

Drawing 1 from patent granted to Orville Wright for a flying machine

Drawing 1 from patent granted to Orville Wright for a flying machine

The patent was issued on May 22, 1906, to Orville Wright, Patent No. 821393, for a “flying machine.”

It makes more sense if you turn the drawing on its side.

Wright Bros. flying machine, from patent drawing

Wright Bros. flying machine, from patent drawing

With the patent, the Wrights had legal means to protect their idea so they could commercially develop it.  Turns out, however, that the fight to get the patent, and subsequent fights to protect it, may have prevented them from fully realizing the commercial success they could have had.  Lawrence Goldstone, the author of that article, details the history at much greater length in his 2014 book, Birdmen: The Wright Brothers, Glenn Curtiss, and the Battle to Control the Skies. 

Why did it take three years to get the patent issued?

Below the fold, the rest of the patent.

Read the rest of this entry »


Queenstown, New Zealand: “Why we fly,” and what most people never get to see

February 9, 2015

Old buddy Gil Brassard (from the airline days) sent me a slightly different version of this video; this is the YouTube version from “Mr. Goodviews.” It’s shot from the cockpit of a commercial airliner coming into Queenstown, New Zealand:

Details:

Published on Oct 23, 2013

…sometimes what a pilot sees in a day, people won’t see in their lifetimes..
amazing Queenstown, New Zealand.
I invite people of the world to come visit this beautiful country and its people.

It was probably shot with a camera like a GoPro stuck on the window pointing out, in robot mode so the copilot and pilot gave full attention to flying the aircraft, and were not distracted by operating a camera in a cockpit.  I mention this because US Federal Aviation Administration is looking into claims that selfies from cockpits — usually of small planes — may have contributed to accidents in the air.  We may see some bans on shooting such videos in the future.

Enjoy ’em while you can.

Noodling around YouTube, I also found these videos of airplanes in and out of Queenstown, New Zealand.

Landing without the clouds:

Published on Apr 4, 2013

ZQN Baret arrival

And a passenger’s view of take-off and climb-out (longer piece, no music edited in):

Published on Feb 7, 2014

Flying over New Zealand from south to north. Nice views of Lake Wakatipu and Queenstown. Passing over Mount Cook – the highest mountain in New Zealand. Later a landing at Auckland Airport.

Better videos of this route anywhere?

Even cooler videos of other routes?

Can’t say how often I’ve regretted not having a good video camera on my flight from Farmington, New Mexico, to Provo, Utah, in a Cessna, especially coming down Provo Canyon.  But alas, that was before video was even portable . . .


Everybody comes to Casablanca? Remembering the first presidential flight, January 14, 1943, on FDR’s birthday, 2015

January 30, 2015

January 30 marks the anniversary of the birth of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, in 1882.  He marked his 61st birthday in an airplane, flying back to the U.S. from a wartime conference in Casablanca.

We remember FDR today.

Humphrey Bogart’s great turn in “Casablanca” got its start from an intended-for Broadway play, “Everybody Comes to Rick’s.

Rick’s Cafe Americain existed only in fiction, an invention of Murray Burnett and his playwright partner Joan Alison.  Casablanca was a rendezvous for people engaged in some secret negotiations related to the war, however.

Historian Micheal Beschloss tweeted a photo of President Franklin Roosevelt on the airplane, flying to Casablanca to meet with Britain’s Prime Minister Winston Churchill, on January 14, 1943 — the first time a sitting president had flown in an airplane.  Roosevelt’s cousin Theodore flew in 1910, almost two years after he’d left the presidency.

More details! (Wasn’t that what you said?)

What kind of airplane was it?  Who are those other people? Smithsonian Air & Space Magazine already obliged with some details.  The airplane was a Boeing 314 flying boat, operated by TWA.

Photo from the FDR library, showing President Roosevelt in a happy conversation with the TWA pilot of the Boeing 314, Otis Bryan.

Photo from the FDR library, showing President Roosevelt in a happy conversation with the TWA pilot of the Boeing 314, Otis Bryan.

These photos may have been taken on a second flight Roosevelt took once he got to Africa; here are some more  details from Air & Space:

The Casablanca Conference, held 70 years ago this week [article from 2013], is remembered today for the agreement by Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill to demand unconditional surrender from their Axis enemies. But even before the leaders sat down to talk, FDR made history. His trip across the Atlantic, in a Boeing 314 flying boat, was the first time a sitting U.S. president flew on an airplane.

Nobody was more impressed than his pilots. The flights had been planned in secrecy, and when Roosevelt and his entourage showed up at the Pan American airways base in Miami on the morning of January 11, 1943, to board the Dixie Clipper, “[the crew] were very much surprised to learn the identity of our guest,” recalled Pan Am pilot Howard M. Cone, Jr.  Cone, a 34-year-old veteran of transoceanic flights, flew Roosevelt, advisor Harry Hopkins and several military leaders on one Clipper, while another flying boat carried the presidential staff.

Cone said the President was an “excellent passenger” and a “good air sailor” on his 15,000-mile round-trip, displaying an impressive knowledge of geography on a journey that included stops in Trinidad and Brazil. Once in Africa, Roosevelt boarded a TWA C-54 piloted by 35-year-old Captain Otis F. Bryan, who flew him from Bathurst, Gambia to Morocco. The trip back from Casablanca included a flyover of the harbor at Dakar, Senegal, at an altitude of 3,000 feet.

In a War Department press conference following their return to the States, the two airline pilots couldn’t stop effusing about their VIP passenger’s ability to “make you feel perfectly at home. We felt at ease as long as he was,” said Bryan. Roosevelt even joined in the ritual of signing “short snorters” for the crew — dollar bills autographed by all the passengers on a flight.

The President also celebrated his 61st birthday on the way back, dining on caviar, olives, celery, pickles, turkey, dressing, green peas, cake, and champagne. (Captain Cone, reported the New York Times, drank coffee instead.)

It will take more sleuthing to identify all the people in the photos.  71 years ago this week.

More:

Yes, this is mostly an encore post.  Fighting ignorance requires patience.

Yes, this is mostly an encore post. Fighting ignorance requires patience, much more than we thought.


Everybody comes to Casablanca? First presidential flight, January 14, 1943

January 15, 2014

Humphrey Bogart’s great turn in “Casablanca” got its start from an intended-for Broadway play, “Everybody Comes to Rick’s.

Rick’s Cafe Americain existed only in fiction, an invention of Murray Burnett and his playwright partner Joan Alison.  Casablanca was a rendezvous for people engages in some secret negotiations related to the war, however.

Historian Micheal Beschloss tweeted a photo of President Franklin Roosevelt on the airplane, flying to Casablanca to meet with Britain’s Prime Minister Winston Churchill, on January 14, 1943 — the first time a sitting president had flown in an airplane.  Roosevelt’s cousin Theodore flew in 1910, almost two years after he’d left the presidency.

More details! (Wasn’t that what you said?)

What kind of airplane was it?  Who are those other people? Smithsonian Air & Space Magazine already obliged with some details.  The airplane was a Boeing 314 flying boat, operated by TWA.

Photo from the FDR library, showing President Roosevelt in a happy conversation with the TWA pilot of the Boeing 314, Otis Bryan.

Photo from the FDR library, showing President Roosevelt in a happy conversation with the TWA pilot of the Boeing 314, Otis Bryan.

These photos may have been taken on a second flight Roosevelt took once he got to Africa; here are some more  details from Air & Space:

The Casablanca Conference, held 70 years ago this week [article from 2013], is remembered today for the agreement by Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill to demand unconditional surrender from their Axis enemies. But even before the leaders sat down to talk, FDR made history. His trip across the Atlantic, in a Boeing 314 flying boat, was the first time a sitting U.S. president flew on an airplane.

Nobody was more impressed than his pilots. The flights had been planned in secrecy, and when Roosevelt and his entourage showed up at the Pan American airways base in Miami on the morning of January 11, 1943, to board the Dixie Clipper, “[the crew] were very much surprised to learn the identity of our guest,” recalled Pan Am pilot Howard M. Cone, Jr.  Cone, a 34-year-old veteran of transoceanic flights, flew Roosevelt, advisor Harry Hopkins and several military leaders on one Clipper, while another flying boat carried the presidential staff.

Cone said the President was an “excellent passenger” and a “good air sailor” on his 15,000-mile round-trip, displaying an impressive knowledge of geography on a journey that included stops in Trinidad and Brazil. Once in Africa, Roosevelt boarded a TWA C-54 piloted by 35-year-old Captain Otis F. Bryan, who flew him from Bathurst, Gambia to Morocco. The trip back from Casablanca included a flyover of the harbor at Dakar, Senegal, at an altitude of 3,000 feet.

In a War Department press conference following their return to the States, the two airline pilots couldn’t stop effusing about their VIP passenger’s ability to “make you feel perfectly at home. We felt at ease as long as he was,” said Bryan. Roosevelt even joined in the ritual of signing “short snorters” for the crew — dollar bills autographed by all the passengers on a flight.

The President also celebrated his 61st birthday on the way back, dining on caviar, olives, celery, pickles, turkey, dressing, green peas, cake, and champagne. (Captain Cone, reported the New York Times, drank coffee instead.)

It will take more sleuthing to identify all the people in the photos.  71 years ago this week.

More:


%d bloggers like this: