Frank Sinatra to George Michael on coping with fame: "Swing, man"

After he became a global phenomenon, George Michael considered retirement to get away from the demands of fame, telling the L.A. Times' Calendar magazine that he planned to reduce the strain of his celebrity status. One Frank Sinatra wrote in, exhorting him to continue cultivating his talent... Read the rest

George Orwell's letter from his former French teacher, Aldous Huxley, about Nineteen Eighty-Four

Shortly after George Orwell published Nineteen Eighty-Four in 1949, he received a letter from his onetime high school French teacher, Aldous Huxley, who had published Brave New Work 17 years earlier. Here are Huxley's comments, via Letters of Note:

Wrightwood. Cal. 21 October, 1949

Dear Mr. Orwell,

It was very kind of you to tell your publishers to send me a copy of your book. It arrived as I was in the midst of a piece of work that required much reading and consulting of references; and since poor sight makes it necessary for me to ration my reading, I had to wait a long time before being able to embark on Nineteen Eighty-Four.

Agreeing with all that the critics have written of it, I need not tell you, yet once more, how fine and how profoundly important the book is. May I speak instead of the thing with which the book deals --- the ultimate revolution? The first hints of a philosophy of the ultimate revolution --- the revolution which lies beyond politics and economics, and which aims at total subversion of the individual's psychology and physiology --- are to be found in the Marquis de Sade, who regarded himself as the continuator, the consummator, of Robespierre and Babeuf. The philosophy of the ruling minority in Nineteen Eighty-Four is a sadism which has been carried to its logical conclusion by going beyond sex and denying it. Whether in actual fact the policy of the boot-on-the-face can go on indefinitely seems doubtful.

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Read Gene Wilder's feedback on Willy Wonka costume concepts for the 1971 film

After Gene Wilder saw early sketches of his costume for the 1971 film Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, he had some strong opinions to share with director Mel Stuart. From Letters of Note (via Dangerous Minds):

July 23rd

Dear Mel,

I’ve just received the costume sketches. I’ll tell you everything I think, without censoring, and you take from my opinion what you like.

I assume that the designer took his impressions from the book and didn’t know, naturally, who would be playing Willy. And I think, for a character in general, they’re lovely sketches.

I love the main thing — the velvet jacket — and I mean to show by my sketch the exact same color. But I’ve added two large pockets to take away from the svelt, feminine line. (Also in case of a few props.)

I also think the vest is both appropriate and lovely.

And I love the same white, flowing shirt and the white gloves. Also the lighter colored inner silk lining of the jacket.

What I don’t like is the precise pin pointing in place and time as this costume does.

I don’t think of Willy as an eccentric who holds on to his 1912 Dandy’s Sunday suit and wears it in 1970, but rather as just an eccentric — where there’s no telling what he’ll do or where he ever found his get-up — except that it strangely fits him: Part of this world, part of another. A vain man who knows colors that suit him, yet, with all the oddity, has strangely good taste.

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1907 telegram: "Send arsenic...exterminate aborigines"

In 1907, Charles Morgan of Broome Station sent this telegram to Henry Prinsep, the Chief Protector of Aborigines for Western Australia, in Perth: "Send cask arsenic exterminate aborigines letter will follow." Read the rest

EB White explains his dachshund's license status

Letters of Note (whose book was spectacular) publishes this arch, sarcastic letter from EB "Charlotte's Web" White to the ASPCA about whether his dachshund, Minnie, is duly licensed. Read the rest

RIP, H.R. Giger, 1940-2014

The famous Swiss surrealist leaves behind some of the twentieth century's most impressive and startling artwork. Here are our favorite biomechanical wonders.

Letters of Note, in book form TODAY

As previously noted, the wonderful blog Letters of Note (mentioned here numerous times!) has spawned a book, called Letters of Note: An Eclectic Collection of Correspondence Deserving of a Wider Audience. The book is in stores today, featuring more than 125 letters, richly illustrated with facsimiles of the letters themselves. The UK edition has been out since last October, and was very warmly received.

Some of my favorite Letters of Note: Read the rest

Letters of Note, in book form

The wonderful blog Letters of Note (mentioned here numerous times!) has spawned a book, called Letters of Note: An Eclectic Collection of Correspondence Deserving of a Wider Audience, to be published on May 6. The book will feature more than 125 letters, richly illustrated with facsimiles of the letters themselves. The UK edition has been out since last October, and was very warmly received.

Some of my favorite Letters of Note: Read the rest

EB White on why he wrote Charlotte's Web: "A book is a sneeze"

Letters of Note has a 1952 letter from EB White to his editor, Ursula Nordstrom, occasioned by the impending Harper & Row publication of Charlotte's Web. Asked to explain why he wrote the book, he describes, beautifully, the circumstances of how he came to write it. But when he gets to the end, he says, "I haven't told why I wrote the book, but I haven't told you why I sneeze, either. A book is a sneeze." That guy -- he should think of taking up writing. Read the rest

A letter from Morrissey at 17 to NME about the Sex Pistols

Shaun Usher (Letters of Note) found this amazing gem: Morrissey wrote this "epistle" to NME's editors on June 19, 1976 to complain about the Sex Pistol's lack of fashion sense. Beyond the yuks, there's a little punk history in there: The Sex Pistols were, to some extent, Malcom McLaren repackaging and co-opting NYC proto-punk acts like the New York Dolls and Iggy Pop. Read the rest

Letter from Alabama AG to head of the KKK: "Kiss my ass"

This succinct note from Bill Baxley, Attorney General of Alabama in 1970, to the Grand Dragon of the KKK, is admirable in its brevity, forcefulness, and clarity. Letters of Note tells the story:

In 1970, shortly after being elected Attorney General of Alabama, 29-year-old Bill Baxley reopened the 16th Street Church bombing case — a racially motivated act of terrorism that resulted in the deaths of four African-American girls in 1963 and a fruitless investigation, and which marked a turning point in the Civil Rights Movement. Baxley's unwavering commitment to the case attracted much hostility, particularly from local Klansmen, and in 1976 he received a threatening letter of protest from white supremacist Edward R. Fields — founder of the "National States' Rights Party" and "Grand Dragon" of the New Order Knights of the Ku Klux Klan — in which he was accused of reopening the case for tactical reasons.

Kiss my ass (via Neatorama) Read the rest

Terry Gilliam's Brazil letter to Universal (1985): "I feel every cut, especially the ones that sever the balls."

One of my favorite websites is Shaun Usher's Letters of Note, which runs interesting letters written by notable people. Today, Shaun posted a 1985 letter from Terry Gilliam to the head of Universal, Sid Sheinberg. Shaun says, "In August of 1985, many months after its successful release outside of North America, Terry Gilliam's iconic movie, Brazil, was still being cut for the U.S. market. Universal head Sid Sheinberg wanted a shorter, happier film; Gilliam, on the other hand, could think of nothing worse. He wrote the following letter to Sheinberg on the 8th and pleaded for mercy."

August 8

Dear Sid:

Once upon a time you told me that you were not the one that put me in the chair at the end of "Brazil." I'm afraid that this is no longer true — unable as I am to think of anyone else who is directly responsible for my current condition. Your later offer to be the friend who becomes a torturer has more than come true. I am not sure you are aware of just how much pain you are inflicting, but I don't believe "responsibility to the company" in any way absolves you from crimes against even this small branch of humanity. As long as my name is on the film, what is done to it is done to me — there is no way of separating these two entities. I feel every cut, especially the ones that sever the balls. And I plead, whether they are done in the name of legitimate and responsible experiments or personal curiosity, if you really wish to make your version of "Brazil" then put your name on it.

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Vonnegut's letter to a book-burner

In 1973, Kurt Vonnegut learned that Charles McCarthy, head of the school board that governed Drake High School in North Dakota, had burned 32 copies of Slaughterhouse-Five in the school furnace, offended by the book's "obscene language." Vonnegut wrote a private letter to McCarthy, a heartfelt, low-key, scathing recrimination that could be repurposed for any literary censor. The letter is reprinted in Vonnegut's Palm Sunday: An Autobiographical Collage, I found it on Letters of Note.

I gather from what I read in the papers and hear on television that you imagine me, and some other writers, too, as being sort of ratlike people who enjoy making money from poisoning the minds of young people. I am in fact a large, strong person, fifty-one years old, who did a lot of farm work as a boy, who is good with tools. I have raised six children, three my own and three adopted. They have all turned out well. Two of them are farmers. I am a combat infantry veteran from World War II, and hold a Purple Heart. I have earned whatever I own by hard work. I have never been arrested or sued for anything. I am so much trusted with young people and by young people that I have served on the faculties of the University of Iowa, Harvard, and the City College of New York. Every year I receive at least a dozen invitations to be commencement speaker at colleges and high schools. My books are probably more widely used in schools than those of any other living American fiction writer.

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Huxley's fan-letter to Orwell for Nineteen Eighty-Four

Alduous Huxley sent George Orwell a fan-letter in Oct 1949, after receiving a review copy of Nineteen Eighty-Four from Orwell's publisher. Huxley (who, according to Letters of Note, was once Orwell's French teacher) is effusive in his praise, and goes on to directly compare Orwell's masterpiece with his own Brave New World.

Partly because of the prevailing materialism and partly because of prevailing respectability, nineteenth-century philosophers and men of science were not willing to investigate the odder facts of psychology for practical men, such as politicians, soldiers and policemen, to apply in the field of government. Thanks to the voluntary ignorance of our fathers, the advent of the ultimate revolution was delayed for five or six generations. Another lucky accident was Freud's inability to hypnotize successfully and his consequent disparagement of hypnotism. This delayed the general application of hypnotism to psychiatry for at least forty years. But now psycho-analysis is being combined with hypnosis; and hypnosis has been made easy and indefinitely extensible through the use of barbiturates, which induce a hypnoid and suggestible state in even the most recalcitrant subjects.

Within the next generation I believe that the world's rulers will discover that infant conditioning and narco-hypnosis are more efficient, as instruments of government, than clubs and prisons, and that the lust for power can be just as completely satisfied by suggesting people into loving their servitude as by flogging and kicking them into obedience. In other words, I feel that the nightmare of Nineteen Eighty-Four is destined to modulate into the nightmare of a world having more resemblance to that which I imagined in Brave New World.

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Graphic description of mastectomy sans anesthesia in 1855

From Letters of Note, this incredible letter written in 1855 by Lucy Thurston, a 60-year-old missionary in Hawaii who had breast cancer. She underwent a mastectomy (and lymph node removal) with no anesthesia, no blood transfusion.

She wrote the following letter to her daughter a month later and described the unimaginably harrowing experience. The procedure was a success. Lucy Thurston lived for another 21 years.

[WARNING: not for the squeamish]: Letters of Note: "Deep sickness seized me".

(thanks, @scanman) Read the rest

Letter from ex-slave to ex-master, on occasion of a request to return to work

Jourdon Anderson, an ex-slave, penned this letter to his former owner, Colonel P.H. Anderson of Big Spring, Tennessee in 1865, after the Colonel wrote and asked him to return to service as a paid worker. The letter starts out seeming like a heartbreaking example of Stockholm Syndrome, as Jourdon Anderson recounts several wartime atrocities that the Colonel committed and expresses his gladness that the Colonel wasn't hanged for them. But by the letter's end, it is revealed as one of the great, all-time, understated sarcastic missives, with the final sentence, "Say howdy to George Carter, and thank him for taking the pistol from you when you were shooting at me," being the icing on the cake.

Update: Derp -- this is a repost. On the other hand, it seems to be authentic.

As to my freedom, which you say I can have, there is nothing to be gained on that score, as I got my free papers in 1864 from the Provost-Marshal-General of the Department of Nashville. Mandy says she would be afraid to go back without some proof that you were disposed to treat us justly and kindly; and we have concluded to test your sincerity by asking you to send us our wages for the time we served you. This will make us forget and forgive old scores, and rely on your justice and friendship in the future. I served you faithfully for thirty-two years, and Mandy twenty years. At twenty-five dollars a month for me, and two dollars a week for Mandy, our earnings would amount to eleven thousand six hundred and eighty dollars.

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Spacemen magazine of the 1960s

Spacemen was a short-lived early-1960s magazine specifically about space-themed science fiction movies. Warren Publishing -- creators of the classic magazines Famous Monster of Filmland, Monster World, Creepy, and Eerie -- produced only 8 issues of the magazine, helmed by Forrest J. Ackerman. The cover art is glorious (cover above by Wally Wood!) and you can find torrents of the whole scanned run of the magazine. Swapsale has a gallery of the covers. Here's an article that Ray Bradbury contributed. And dig this terrific submission letter sent to Spacemen by Stephen King, age 14. Read the rest

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