For the Love of Carousels

Today my guest is Irene Peterson, fellow author and lover of carousels.

Thank you, Shelley, for allowing me to intrude.

Beach Colors makes mention of an old carousel in Crescent Cove that has been shut down, though Jake and his father want to reopen it.  Unfortunately, the cost of restoring a wooden carousel is prohibitive.  Such is the story of many seaside carousels in America.  Many East Coast carousels were destroyed in the hurricanes of 1938 and 1944, so the one in Crescent Cove is a real treasure.

At one time, there were over a thousand wooden carousels operating in parks across the country.  These beautiful wooden creations, made mostly by three manufacturers (Looff, Philadelphia Toboggan and Dentzel) were the pride of their owners, the delight of everyone who ever rode one of the fantastic creatures and the towns that possessed them.  It wasn’t until the end of the 20th century that the carved horses and mythical creatures were regarded as art and valued as such.

That caused a problem.  The animals were valued so highly that wooden carousels got sold off for hundreds of thousands of dollars.  Some were replaced by fiberglass replicas, others were not.  People pointed with pride at their static carousel horses standing in their living rooms or museums while little kids lost out on the opportunity to ride.

The first depiction of a roundabout comes from a Byzantine bas relief circa 500 AD showing a large pole with baskets hanging from it and people in the baskets.  Later, the concept of a device that turned round a pole was used to train knights.  They would gallop their live horses toward the target, a weighted bag at the end of an arm that would swing around.  A weighted bag on the other end of the garosello or carosella (“little battle”) would swing back at the knight, capable of unhorsing him.

There are three types of carousels, named for how their animals are shown.  There’s the Coney Island style originated by Looff, the Philadelphia style carved by Dentzel and the country fair style which was rather simple and easily transported, made by Herschell.    Since it can take many months to carve one horse, other workmen were involved, but these men made the animals works of art.  Many of their carousels still run across the country. In some, the horses move up and down on their poles, thanks to a jog in the rigging.  Some horses leap and some race. Some do not have platforms.  The sizes, quality and positions of the animals differ greatly.  Some have music provided by steam band organs.

Herschell-Spillman Carousel

I love carousels.  My family has traveled far and wide to find wooden carousels, even going up to the Herschell carousel museum in East Tonawanda, NY to see how the horses were made.  There are also two lovely carousels there.

Rudolph Wurlitzer Company

While on that trip to upstate New York, we visited one of the six carousels in Binghamton and Endicott. These were purchased by the Endicott-Johnson shoe manufacturer who employed many of the residents of these towns and were free for all to ride.  The one in Ross Park charges admission—one piece of litter per child.  The park is spotless, of course.

Please note:  Carousels and merry-go-rounds are not the same things.  Merry-go-rounds are playground equipment that usually have a flat circular table or benches and metal railings to hold on to when the kids 

Irene P

Thanks Irene for sharing the magic.

Irene has spent most of her life in Central New Jersey where all the pools are above ground and the front doors come from Home Depot.  She writes contemporary stories ranging in location from the Jersey shore to England to where  mysterious things happen.

Link to Irene’s novels.


Monday, Movies, and Mrs. Muir

1947 film by Joseph L. Mankiewicz

The Ghost and  Mrs Muir

I reached a place in my story today where my need for lunch overpowered my creativity.  I took a break.  Made a sandwich, sat down in front of the television.  Surfed right to the The Ghost and Mrs. Muir. The 1947 film, directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz, is based on the novel by R A Dick (the pseudonym of Irish Writer Josephine Leslie) but has become much better known as a film.

I’ve seen it more times than I can remember, enough times to be able to speak many of the lines along with the actors.

Mrs. Muir (Gene Tierney) a young widow with a small child, Anna (Natalie Wood), moves to
a cottage by the British coast, accompanied by her faithful housekeeper Martha (Edna Best).  The cottage is haunted by the ghost of its former owner, a naval officer by the name of Captain Gregg (Rex Harrison). The two of them become intimate companions until Miles Farley (George Sanders) quite alive, comes into her life and sweeps her off her feet.

It doesn’t matter how many times I’ve cried through this movie, I still root for the Captain.He sees the two of them together and knows he must leave. Watch for the brief shot of Harrison in the foreground and the two of them in the distance right.  Wonderful moment.

The Captain comes to her while she sleeps to say he’s leaving.

“You’ve made your choice.  The only choice you could make, you chose life.

And that’s why I’m going away.”

“You’ve been dreaming. It’s been a dream, Lucia, and it will die as all dreams must die on waking.”

Can you be unmoved by that?  It gets me every time.

He stands by the open window and watches her sleep as he slowly disappears in a cross fade of 1947 special effects until the window overlooking the sea is left.

Add some violins and waves crashing in the background . . . .well, I’ve never made it  through the scene with dry eyes.

Of course the suave Mr. Farley is a philanderer, but as in all great romances, she doesn’t learn this until after the Captain has gone and she only remembers him as a dream she once had.

Major black moment.

Time passes, Mrs Muir grows older, and the sea marker that Mr. Scroggins (David Thursby) had carved with the child Anna’s name on it becomes weather-beaten, the name faded.

In a  wonderfully effective passage of time, crashing waves roil on a stormy sea, then slowly quiet, the camera settles on the peaceful beach and Anna’s marker, now just ragged pieces of broken wood.

Mrs. Muir is old, Martha fusses.  But she says “I’m only tired.” She sits by the fire with a glass of milk.  Her eyes close and as the glass slips slowly from her hand, the Captain is there.

“And now you will never be tired again. Come my dear.”

She rises, young again, and they walk, strangely enough, across the room, down the stairs passing Martha  on the way, and out the front door to the clouds.

The ultimate happy ending.  We can guess there will be no philanderers where they are going.  No fights, no disappointment. Companions at last and forever.

As a film, it hits all the basic points of romance, the widowhood, the flight to a new life in a strange place. The unreachable love, the other man who we know instinctually, if not by Sanders’ superb perfomance, is not the man for our heroine.

The blackest of black moments and the final triumph of their love, if only in death.

A paranormal story that strikes to the very heart of what it means to be human.

Simple, poignant, with no gratuitous grandstanding.  And a great inspiraton for us writers. Something to be studied and loved.

Christmas in July

Christmas in July

Since March , I’ve written a Christmas novella , a Thanksgiving novella and I’m now working on a Christmas mystery (Dec 2013). The days grew longer, the plants sent out new shoots, the snow melted, and I was still enjoying the holidays in my office.  School let out, graduation came and went, the pool was cleaned and opened.  And I was deep in bleak midwinter.

Well not so bleak.  I was having a ball following my characters through the snow, tackling their problems as they prepared turkeys, decorated trees and learned the true meaning of the holidays. I was totally engaged.

Then one day I caught myself going to the closet to get my coat to go to the gym. It was 80 degrees outside.

Talk about being lost in a book.

So last week I took a break and went down the shore with friends.  We went mid week so the beach wouldn’t be so crowded, the traffic wouldn’t be so gnarled.

At least not so crowded and gnarled as the weekend  would be.  It was still pretty busy.  And hot, oh boy was it hot. And muggy.

Never fear, what time we didn’t spend on the beach, we spent in air conditioning, playing dominos and drinking some excellent wine made by friends.  They have over two hundred bottles in their basement.  They get as involved in wine making as I do in my characters and their stories.

One thing that I did notice.  It’s hard to relax, even when you’re relaxing. Even the folks lying out in the sun, seemed to be tanning with a vengeance.  All loaded down with coolers and chairs, and books, and e-readers and boom boxes, and ipods.  Phones are constantly in use though the glare of the sun really cuts down on efficient texting.

Still, a good time was had by all. We came home on Friday. I was still in ninety degree beach mode.  In domino victory mode.  Still thinking about drinks with little umbrellas in them.

But it was time to get back to work.  So I booted up the computer, back to my Christmas mystery.

Merry MidSummer

And stuck.  I noodled around.  Tried to pick up where I left off.  Couldn’t get  a rhythm going.  So I took a break.  Made some dinner.  Turned on the television, promised to get an early start the next day.

Channel surfed for a bit and landed on the Hallmark Channel.  And guess what they were showing.  Hallmark Christmas Movie Weekend. In July.  Several hours later I was back in the snowy, festive days of December.


Cape May

Cape May Christmas

Evidently I’m not the only one who needs a little good cheer in July.

And as far as inspiration goes , I’m back in the swing of all things mystery and holiday. And I realize that it helps sometimes to have a little distance on what you’re writing about.  Christmas seen from the summer.

What do you think?  Do you write or read “in season” or does it matter? Do you find yourself listening to the Beach Boys in December or the Vienna Boys choir on the Fourth of July?


Show Tunes and Romance Novels

Ad for Kiss Me Kate

Kiss Me Kate

So in Love

I was listening to the radio the other day and an orchestral medley of Broadway melodies  was playing. “So in Love,” the Cole porter song was one of them.  And since I had just watched Taming of the Shrew, and I’m a sucker for romantic musicals, and I’m a writer, I stopped at the library and checked out the DVD of the 1953 MGM adaptation of the Broadway musical, Kiss Me Kate.

I like to follow threads like that.  You never know where they will lead, or what connections you’ll make.

“So in Love” is the first song of the movie.  The composer, Cole Porter, (Ron Randall) and the lead (Howard Keel) are plotting on how to get Howard’s ex-wife and ex-costar (Kathryn Grayson) to play the lead. They decide to start with a love song from the show.

The door bell rings.  She comes in there’s some badinage between the two, some quips, some one-upmanship, basically your romance  novel “cute meet.”  They go to the piano, she says “It’s a duet,” with disdain.  She knows what they’re up to.

I watched that scene twice, first for the sheer delight of the song and those voices.  And the second time  around for the things I sort of noticed but wasn’t totally aware of the first time around.

How to build sexual tension without going for the gold right off the bat.  And it reminded me that in this age of several shades of excess, sometimes less is more.

She knows what they’re up to.   The composer starts to play.  Kathryn goes to the piano and takes the score.  Howard moves to the other side of the piano bench.  He begins the song, playing it across the head of the seated composer.Kathryn Grayson, Howard Keel, Ron Randall

Grayson holds the score gently, like a shield before her, but not gripped  like we might think to portray it in a scene we’re writing.  It’ sjus thtere, but you know. She looks away from him as if it’s too painful to listen—to remember.  You see her sense of loss and regret with one look. He saunters over staying behind her as she sings her part. His hands are in his pockets, trapped there; no touchy feely stuff yet.  He stands behind her as they sing together, one hand slips to her shoulder, she moves nonchalantly away and to the side of the piano.

He follows her, it’s all done without anger or angst, no huffing and puffing.  They’re singing this beautiful song and their steps are measured, not evocative or emotional, just moving. Because the emotion is played as an undercurrent. He comes closer, and she again looks away only this time she turns right into a photo of the two of them together in a play.

You can feel the inevitability of it all. And if you haven’t figured out that they’re both still in love with the other, the point is driven home with that one look of recognition.

She’s still holding that score like it can save her.

He moves on , this time to the French doors and leans on the frame looking out. There’s a bit about  taunt me, hurt me, deceive me, desert me, that they play as an echo of the earlier badinage.

Then he comes back to her, suddenly serious, she’s still holding that score as protection but so subtly. His face is drawn to hers, he’s much taller (6’4”) and he gets closer and closer until finally she’s forced to look up.  She looks a little surprised to find him so close, then he hits that high note and she’s sunk.  Caught in his look.

The song ends and they stay, face to face, a compelling four beats, until she breaks away and goes back to the composer.

And I thought.  If only we could be that subtle when our heroine and hero first meet or re-meet as the case may be.  If we could hold off the gratification without succumbing to artificial fights or deus ex machina that prevent them from getting on with it.

Or maybe we’ve just come to far into a fast and furious world bent on instant gratification.

And yet, I can’t help but think we could learn a lot from that sense of innuendo, not have to depend on snark and cleverness but in the slow awe of discovery. Not in the rush to body parts but in the brush of a passing touch.

Here’s a link if you want to see it for yourself. You can ignore the subtitles.

What do you think?  It is just hokey or does it have a place in today’s romances?