Drinks With Dead People

Raise a glass to history.

Tag: World War II

Spike Jones

Have a drink with: Spike Jones
The best offense is a good fart joke.

Ask him about: firearms as percussion instruments

In 1942, New York radio DJ Martin Block sold war bonds on air – to an audience that was under wartime food and gasoline rationing – on the promise that he’d give a free record to any listener who bought a $50 bond. Every time the pledge total went up another $2,500 Block played the single in question on-air, to cheers and peals of laughter.

The song was “Der Fuehrer’s Face,” by Spike Jones and his City Slickers, and Block sold $60,000 of bonds inside a week.

Because you can argue, you can petition; you can organize demonstrations and engage in politics; but sometimes the most effective piece of international policy dialogue is a Bronx cheer.

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Dr. Seuss

Have a drink with: Dr. Seuss
Would you, could you, fight the war?

Ask him about: why Yertle the Turtle just might be Hitler.

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We know Theodore Seuss Geisel as a children’s author, a playful champion of absurdity and literacy who gave us green eggs, cats in hats and an absolute lock on what to buy for the high-school graduate in your life.

Because the world seems to love nothing more than the seemingly illicit thrill of getting “secret” material from beloved authors (Harper Lee, what?), there’s been a lot of attention recently to the “new” Seuss book What Pet Should I Get?, produced from a completed manuscript and uncolored artwork found in Seuss’ personal papers.

And this is pretty exciting, particularly since the “inspired by” or “in the style of” children’s literature trend usually serves mostly to illustrate the achievement gap between authors and their posthumous copycats (Seuss and Curious George come to mind).  So the thrill of new work from a master is legitimate.

But it isn’t what I love most about Dr. Seuss.  That’d be the Hitler cartoons.

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Maria Altmann (& Liz Taylor, too)

Have a drink with: Maria Altmann and Elizabeth Taylor
Art lovers, ladies of style, legal pit-fighters.

Ask them about: goddamn Nazis.

Maria Altmann (2)

Behavioral advertising is like unexpectedly running into an ex: it seems to know an awful lot about you in ways you forgot you made possible, but for the most part just makes you feel awkward and vaguely regretful.

Thank Facebook for this epiphany, after it pushed the trailer for Helen Mirren’s latest movie on me at least seventeen times in a twenty-four hour period.  I’d be pissed at Zuckerberg and crew, too, except that for once technology read me like a cheap novel.  (You can lay off with the juice cleanses, though, Mark.)

“Woman in Gold” is the made-for-cinema story of Maria Altmann, her aunt Adele, and one of the most famous paintings of the 20th century.  If you’re into history, law, art and Nazis (and who isn’t?), it’s a kicker.

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Bruno Schulz

Have a drink with: Bruno Schulz
Writer, artist, cultural property puzzle, cult superstar

Ask him about: making hipsters’ heads explode.

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My husband recently bought a bag from a company whose gleeful tagline was, “They’ll fight over it when you’re dead.”  If post-mortem squabbles are really how you know you’ve hit the big time, Bruno Schulz is fist-pumping his way through the hereafter.

A prolific author and artist, Schulz is perhaps best known for his two volumes of short stories, The Street of Crocodiles (also sometimes known as Cinnamon Shops) and Sanatorium Under the Sign of the Hourglass. Schulz lived in the city of Drohobycz – then part of Poland, now Ukranian – for most of his life, working as a drawing teacher and publishing works which tended towards the erotic and the grotesque.  His art and writing were bold, unsentimental and yet wildly fantastical; Schulz was too grounded to be a surrealist, too oddball for mainstream, talented enough to be thoroughly disarming.

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The Monuments Men

Have a drink with: The Monuments Men
Artists, soldiers, detectives.

Ask them about: giving Dwight Eisenhower an art tour in a salt mine

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First things first: why make a movie about these guys?  Was art looting really a big deal in WWII?

It was a really big deal.

It’s easy to assume that the scattering and destruction of art was the unfortunate side effect of a very destructive European war. It wasn’t. Hitler knew what he was doing in going after art, and he wanted it to hurt conquered peoples very badly.

The Nazis created and supported specific infrastructure to target, hide, sell and destroy works of art, in each case as it most benefited the party agenda with money, power, property or prestige. Efforts were systematic, well-organized and brutal.

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