Was Samuel Richardson’s Pamela Written as a Self-Help Book?

Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about novels and novelists and whether they are true or false. Click here to view an archive of the novel urban legends featured so far.

NOVEL URBAN LEGEND: Pamela began originally as basically a self-help book.

What we now know as “self-help” books really have their root in the middle ages in what was called a “conduct book.”

Conduct books were books that were written in various forms (sermons, manuals, devotional writings). One of the more popular form were epistolary letters, that is, an instruction manual written in the form of familiar letters. Something along the lines of, “Dear Reader, you should always floss before you go to bed” – only with some more flowery speech and without any reference to modern oral hygiene.

So when Samuel Richardson sat down to come up with a work where he could instill in young ladies the virtues of remaining chaste, he began to do the work as a conduct book in the form of letters. However, after beginning the work, the idea came upon him – in doing a series of letters, he effectively was creating a character, was he not? Then why not use this character to tell a STORY, while still getting across the whole “Keep your pants on and you will go far in this world” message? The idea of novels were still fairly new when Richardson began his work in 1740 (well, 1740 was when it was published – he may have begun working on it a year earlier), so the idea behind turning the work into a novel was, well, novel.

Continue reading “Was Samuel Richardson’s Pamela Written as a Self-Help Book?”

Did Cervantes Write Don Quixote While in Prison?

Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about novels and novelists and whether they are true or false. Click here to view an archive of the novel urban legends featured so far.

NOVEL URBAN LEGEND: Miguel de Cervantes wrote Don Quixote while in prison.

Don Quixote, or as it was originally titled, The Ingenious Hidalgo Don Quixote of La Mancha, is likely the most famous novel in the history of Spanish literature.

The story follows a man in the latter part of his life who has become obsessed with the ideas of chivalry and knighthood, even when said ideas seem to contradict reality itself. Along with his faithful “squire,” Sancho Panza, Don Quixote goes on a series of “quests” that proceed from the farcical to the tragic as the book goes along.

Written in two volumes over a ten year period (1605 for the first release, 1615 for volume two – the book is now typically read as one volume with two parts), Miguel de Cervantes’ novel is considered an absolute masterpiece of Western literature. WHEN the novel was written is an interesting story in and of itself.

Continue reading “Did Cervantes Write Don Quixote While in Prison?”

Did Cole Porter Work On Song Lyrics While Lying Crushed Under a Horse?

Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about musicals and whether they are true or false. Click here to view an archive of the musical urban legends featured so far.

MUSICAL URBAN LEGEND: Cole Porter worked on song lyrics while lying crushed underneath a horse.

Cole Porter is one of the all-time great songwriters, known for such classic songs as “Night and Day”, “I Get a Kick out of You” and “I’ve Got You Under My Skin,” as well as the smash Broadway musicals Anything Goes and Kiss Me, Kate.

Porter was especially noteworthy in the sense that he was one of the few Tin Pan Alley songwriters to write the music AND the lyrics to his tunes.

Although he is a legendary music figure now, and certainly was a popular songwriter at the time, as well, Porter was not without his share of bombs. In fact, Porter (who was born in 1891)’s first two musicals in the late 1910s were both bombs. It was not until 1928 that he had a successful show on Broadway (the musical Paris, with the practically scandalous for its time hit song, “Let’s Do It (Let’s Fall In Love)”).

Even after having his most popular musical, Anything Goes, in 1934, Porter followed with a string of lackluster musicals (until finally having a comeback of sorts in 1948, with Kiss Me, Kate).

One of those lackluster musicals was called You Never Know. While the musical as a whole was not one of his best, it did include one of the last GREAT songs written by Porter, the subtle and beautiful love song, “At Long Last Love.”

If Porter ever had a built-in excuse for a lackluster musical, You Never Know was it. While working on the musical in late October, 1937, Porter went horseback riding. During the ride, he was thrown from the horse. The horse then proceeded to roll over on to Porter, crushing both of his legs. Doctors first thought that he would need at least one leg amputated, but luckily, Porter was wealthy enough to get the best surgeons available, and after a ghastly THIRTY surgeries on his legs, they were able to be saved, but he would be in agonizing pain for the rest of his life. Ultimately, a few years before his death in 1964, the legs WERE amputated.

In any event, Porter claims that while he was lying there, crushed by the horse, he was in such shock that, presumably to keep his mind off of the situation, he actually began to come up with lyrics for “At Long Last Love.”

Is it true?

Continue reading “Did Cole Porter Work On Song Lyrics While Lying Crushed Under a Horse?”

Was “Edelweiss” Based on an Austrian Folk Song?

Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about musicals and whether they are true or false. Click here to view an archive of the musical urban legends featured so far.

MUSICAL URBAN LEGEND: Rodgers and Hammerstein’s song “Edelweiss” is based on an Austrian folk song.

“Edelweiss” was the last song that Oscar Hammerstein ever wrote. In fact, he was suffering from stomach cancer as he and his partner, Richard Rodgers, worked on the song, the final addition to their latest play at the time, The Sound of Music.

The pair were looking for a song that would express the feeling of loss surrounding Captain von Trapp having to leave his native Austria because of the Nazis. They wanted a song that could be performed as a folk song since the actor portraying von Trapp, Theodore Bikel, was an accomplished folk guitarist.

Continue reading “Was “Edelweiss” Based on an Austrian Folk Song?”

Were the Kennedys First Called “Camelot” Because of the Musical Camelot?

Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about musicals and whether they are true or false. Click here to view an archive of the musical urban legends featured so far.

MUSICAL URBAN LEGEND: The Kennedys being referred to as “Camelot” came about directly because of the musical Camelot.

When John F. Kennedy was elected as the President of the United States in 1960, he was the youngest man ever elected President (he remains today the youngest man ever elected President). Kennedy and his wife, Jacqueline, and their two young children, Caroline and John Jr., were soon the most recognizable family in the United States.

In 1956, Alan Jay Lerner and Frederic Loewe debuted their classic musical, My Fair Lady, which was one of the most successful musicals of all time (and remains one of the most popular musicals ever). So their follow-up project was one of the most anticipated musicals that you could imagine. They ultimately decided on adapting T.H. White’s take on King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, The Once and Future King.

Titled Camelot, the musical starred Richard Burton as King Arthur, Julie Andrews as Queen Guenevere and a young Robert Goulet as Sir Lancelot. It opened in 1960, just one month after Kennedy was named the next President of the United States (the show’s run ended in January 1963).

After a bit of a false start, it was buoyed by a performance of four of the songs from the musical on the Ed Sullivan Show, leading to Camelot also becoming a rousing success.

For years, the Kennedys have been referred to as “Camelot.”

Was there a connection?

Continue reading “Were the Kennedys First Called “Camelot” Because of the Musical Camelot?”

Was Mr. Potato Head Nearly Just a Cereal Giveaway?

Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about toys and whether they are true or false. Click here for an archive of all toy urban legends featured so far!

TOY URBAN LEGEND: Mr. Potato Head quite nearly was “doomed” to simply being a cereal giveaway.

In 1949, a toy developer named George Lerner came up with an idea that would go on to become one of the most popular toys of all-time. But in 1949, Lerner’s idea for a “funny face” kit where children could dress up potatoes or other vegetables with eyes, ears, a mouth, hats, etc. was not a particularly popular one.

Lerner was turned down by every toy company out there, even a company that Lerner had worked for during the war! The prevailing theory is that in the post-World War II environment, rationing was still fresh in everyone’s minds, so “wasting” vegetables and potatoes like that was almost blasphemous.

What happened next nearly de-railed one of the most popular toys of the 20th Century…

Continue reading “Was Mr. Potato Head Nearly Just a Cereal Giveaway?”

Was John Tyler Playing Marbles When He Found Out He Was Now President?

Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about toys and whether they are true or false. Click here for an archive of all toy urban legends featured so far!

TOY URBAN LEGEND: John Tyler was playing marbles when he was informed that President Harrison had died and Tyler was now President.

Marbles have been a popular game for centuries, possibly even in the time of Ancient Egypt (marbles existed back then, but I am unsure if they were used as a game – I know by the time of the Roman Empire, the game of marbles existed).

Marbles were little glass balls (nowadays ceramic marbles are used) that were used to play a game (in the most popular version of marbles, known as “ringer) that involved drawing a circle in sand and then players would take turns knocking other players’ marbles out of the circle with their own marble.

But how does this involve John Tyler?

John Tyler was the running mate for William Henry Harrison in the famous 1840 United States Presidential Election that involved the famous “Tippecanoe and Tyler, too” slogan (Harrison was known as a war hero of the Battle of Tippecanoe, where U.S. forces in the Indiana Territory under the leadership of Harrison launched a pre-emptive strike on the American Indian Indian confederation led by Tecumseh – Harrison’s forces were victorious, although the highly outnumbered Tecumseh’s group). The pair were elected, defeating incumbent President Martin Van Buren (only the third sitting President to be defeated in a general election).

Tyler instantly became a major part of United States history when, after just a month in office, President William Henry Harrison died of pneumonia. For the first time in U.S. history, a sitting President was dead. Unlike today, the country was not exactly sure how to proceed, as the Constitution only says:

In Case of the Removal of the President from Office, or of his Death, Resignation, or Inability to discharge the Powers and Duties of the said Office, the same shall devolve on the Vice President.

So the question was – do just the DUTIES devolve to the Vice-President, or does the Vice-President BECOME the President?

Ultimately, it was the latter, but for a period in time, there was actual uncertainty as to what would happen with the Presidency.

In any event, a popular legend involving John Tyler is what he was doing when he was notified that Harrison was dead.

Just from a sampling of the internet…

Tyler was playing marbles when he learned that he was to be President.

He was on his knees playing marbles when informed that he had become president upon the death of Harrison.

So, is it true?

Continue reading “Was John Tyler Playing Marbles When He Found Out He Was Now President?”

Was Play-Doh Created as Wallpaper Cleaner?

Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about toys and whether they are true or false. Click here for an archive of all toy urban legends featured so far!

TOY URBAN LEGEND: Play-Doh was created as and originally produced as wallpaper cleaner!

It’s often fascinating to look back at every day life in, say, 1940, and see just how many products that were in use at the time that are not only not used today, but to describe the product today would leave people puzzled at how such a product could ever be considered a “household” product.

One such product is wallpaper cleaner.

You see, back in the days when homes were often heated by coal furnaces, the soot from the coal would cover most of the house. For most of the stuff in the house, while that was inconvenient, it was not a major deal, as you would just dust the soot off or otherwise wash it off. However, with wallpapers, you were in trouble because you could not wash it off, since it was, you know, paper. So people came up with home remedies including mixing flour, salt, water and some chemicals to roll up and down the wall to take off the soot.

Soon, companies were producing this themselves.

One such company was Kutol Products, which was a soap company out of Cincinatti that almost went under until a young man named Cleo McVicker turned it around in 1927. First, he brought his brother Noah into to run the company while he toured the country pushing their soap product. But the real turnaround came in 1933 when McVicker came up with the idea of turning the company into a discount wallpaper cleaner company.

Kutol Products wallpaper cleaner sold decently for a number of years, and the company even managed to survive McVicker’s death in 1949. His son, Joseph, joined his uncle Noah in running the company.

However, in the early 1950s, a couple of major things changed the world of wallpaper cleaner, making it the utterly obsolete product that it is today.

1. Oil and gas heat came into play, so that coal furnaces were no longer a problem.

2. Vinyl wallpaper was introduced, which took away the whole “can’t wash the wallpaper” problem.

So now Kotul Products had a product that was more or less unsellable, a point made clear during the Winter of 1954 when sales were practically nil (Winter was the time when sales were usually at their peak, with stores making their orders for the spring cleaning season). So they soon made a decision that would change their company and the world of toys forever!

Continue reading “Was Play-Doh Created as Wallpaper Cleaner?”