Friday, August 5, 2022

"I Don't Think Sequels Are Really Worth That Much"

A typewritten note with letterhead identifying the writer as Mario Puzo.
Superhero films and television shows have been around a long time - almost as long as the comic book characters inspiring them. That said, the current standard of balancing multiple blockbusters that take place in the same universe is a more recent one. The success of 20th century Fox's X-Men movies and Sam Raimi's Spider-Man trilogy in the early 2000s helped the process along, but the current behemoth known as the Marvel Cinematic Universe didn't launch until 2008 with Iron Man.   

Why are we talking about this? Well, it's because of a little note we have in the papers of Mario Puzo. Puzo is best known for writing the novel The Godfather and co-writing the film trilogy that it kicked off. He also co-wrote the screenplay for DC's first major film, Superman (1978). We've touched on the writing process for the Superman screenplay before, but today let's hear what Puzo has to say on the subject of sequels and splitting up your moneymaker:

1. I still think it a better idea to make one big block busting picture rather than split the script and shot film into two separate movies. REASONS: No major star will want to take the risk of committing to what may be two films. What if the first film is bad? Then he has to sweat out the second film being bad. (We know it will be good, of course, but he can't be sure). Under the two film concept I am fairly certain you will not get one of the super stars. Make it one big film and you get the major star.

REASON # 2: At the risk of being immodest, I think the script as written can be a really blockbuster of a movies [sic] with grosses comparable to THE GODFATHER, THE STING, JAWS, THE EXORCIST. Not only because of the script but because of the built in audience which the comic book SUPERMAN has given the project. However I think being split up two movies will weaken everything, all elements of the project. You will have a lesser star, the script, any script, becomes less effective in such a situation, the shooting of the picture to be made into two becomes more complex, I would think. You save money, sure, but everything becomes more risky. Why not have an almost sure shot big hit ONE Movie rather than two risky movies?

... I think audiences are waiting for the one great big blockbuster movie. I don't think sequels are really worth that much. The sequel to the GODFATHER II is not yet out of the red. French Connection II is not really a success. And both had big big successes preceding them. If the first big Superman picture is only a mediocre success the sequel won't be worth much... Enough advice, Hope you like the script.

Superman was ultimately split into two films and cast a relative unknown, Christopher Reeve, as its star. Both Superman and Superman II were critical and commercial successes, despite Puzo's protestations. Then again, so were the Godfather movies.

To read this note and other production materials from Superman, check out MS-1371.


Friday, July 29, 2022

Revenge in the Chamber of Horrors

Sheet of rules for freshmen in Wheeler HallAlthough we now think of hazing as a secretive practice, confined mostly to Greek life, there was a time when hazing was done in the open, and every freshman was subject to it. One Dartmouth student in the class of 1911, Frank Whitcomb, wrote several letters to his sister about his experiences with hazing, which we now have at Rauner.

Whitcomb explained to his sister that Delta Alpha was “the name under which almost all the real hazing in college is done,” with each dormitory claiming its own chapter, and that this type of hazing was allowed at Dartmouth. He felt that he’d had an easy time with the hazing, describing one group of sophomores as “very nice” because they “did not make us do anything that would soil our clothes.” But the price for disobeying the upperclassmen was steep: each violation of the rules meant extra time in the Chamber of Horrors. Whitcomb didn’t say whether he knew what the Horrors in the Chamber were, but he didn’t seem too worried about it.
First page of letter from Whitcomb
Whitcomb made it through his own freshman hazing, and by his senior year, he’d had plenty of opportunity to do the hazing himself. But some threats to this tradition had appeared. First, the Chamber of Horrors that year was “a pretty poor imitation of what it used to be” thanks to the faculty and Palaeopitus, who Whitcomb felt had “butted in altogether too much.” And on top of that, some freshmen were fighting back. Outnumbering the sophomores, the freshmen of Thornton Hall managed to escape their fate in the Chamber of Horrors and forced the sophomores to go through it instead. After the ensuing fight was shut down, the sophomores threatened revenge, which Whitcomb eagerly told his sister “promises to be some fun later.”

From the tone of his letters, it seems like Whitcomb was amused by the hazing and saw it as just another part of his experience at Dartmouth, but clearly, not everyone felt that way. Today, first-years live in separate housing, and Delta Alpha is a thing of the past.

To read Whitcomb’s letters, ask for MS-1438. To see more about Delta Alpha hazing, ask for the Delta Alpha vertical file.

Tuesday, July 26, 2022

Queerness in Hidden Spaces: Clifford Orr’s Influences on the Literary Sphere of Dartmouth

One hundred years ago, queer folk like Clifford “Kip” Orr, member of the class of 1922, didn’t have spaces to safely and openly write about their identities or tell stories with openly queer characters. Today, we know Orr’s sexuality because of Brendan Gill, one of Orr’s colleagues from later in his life. In his memoir Here at the New Yorker, Gill writes “Alcoholic and homosexual, Kip took terrible chances with his life, and it became a wonder that he wasn’t murdered; more than once, he was rolled, beaten up, and left for dead in some dirty doorway in the Village, and yet he survived to die sadly in the small college town where for a little while, he had known good fortune.”

While we don’t see explicit mentions of Orr’s sexuality in his papers found at Rauner, we can see two things: his manuscript for his mystery novel “The Dartmouth Murders” and the letters he wrote to his parents while a student at Dartmouth. His letters in particular tell a story about the good fortune Gill mentioned.

His senior year, Orr was president of the Dartmouth Players, a theater group made of all male students. While primarily a director, Orr himself did occasionally step in as one of the “chorus girls” when another actor couldn’t be in a specific performance. In one such incident, which he describes in a letter to his mother in May 1921, he went on in another man’s place in a show at Northampton. On the note of his female garb, he says “According to George I looked loke the herione of any movie western comedy — the girl the cowboy loves.”

He also made a mark on two of the campus’s literary magazines, namely The Bema and The Dartmouth Literary Magazine, which he and two others founded together towards the end of his senior year. Orr was an official member of the literary staff of The Bema for a majority of its ninth and tenth volumes, from October 1920 to May 1922. In the Carnival number from Volume X, Bema staff showed their appreciation for Orr by nominating him to the Hall of Fame because “he is not a typical Dartmouth man,” and because “for four years he has worked quietly for the good of the college without desiring glory.” He would have served as Editor-in-Chief if not for already being president of the Dartmouth Players.

In another letter, from April 1922, Orr writes about his hopes for the new publication: “It is something I have wanted to do for the last year or too, as I feel the BEMA is inadequate and too much of a compromise to mediocre taste,” he says. “The REVIEW will make no compromise and will take a definitive stab at increasing undergraduate literary appreciation and creation.” In the next letter, Orr writes to his mother about the publication of the first number of the literary magazine as “a hard thing to do […] particularly when its policy allows no compromise with public taste.”

After reading these letters, it is not surprising to find that The Bema only began to publish fiction that seemed to suggest the possibility of non-normative expressions of gender and sexuality while Orr was on the magazine’s official literary staff. Volume IX of The Bema, for example, features work such as the anonymously published story “The Alley of Twilight,” which tells the story of a woman queered by her lack of interest in men. Sexuality also comes into play in one of Orr’s own pieces, “Relatives,” which tells the story of Kenneth, a student who must watch as his roommate and other fellow students rejoice during his own mother’s vaudeville performance. While this story explains Kenneth’s discomfort by the fact that the men around him are celebrating his mother, it could act as a metaphor for the experience of being uncomfortable in a room where you seem to be the only man not attracted to a woman.

Once the literary magazine began in 1922, these sorts of stories seemed to move there. Such stories include another one of Orr’s, “The Damn Fool,” where Orr embodies a non-gendered narrator writing about the death of their husband.

Unfortunately, the literary magazine only lasted for just over a year. It merged with The Bema in 1923, and even the consolidated publication left print in 1925. However, the last volume seems to be the queerest of them all. Under the supervision of Editor-in-Chief Herbert S. Talbot, who was a very frequent contributor to Orr’s literary magazine, The Bema’s last run published several stories that seem to hint at the psychological turmoil that comes with hiding one’s queerness. Talbot’s own story “The Brown-Haired Girl” is one of these stories.

So what happened? Circulation began to dwindle; they ran out of money. Did they become too controversial? Too close to queer? Also in 1925, the Dartmouth Players began casting women as the female leads, likely because of the campus conversation about whether the act of playing a female character was having an effeminizing effect on the male actors. Was that merely a coincidence? Even the archives likely won’t answer this question.

To read Orr’s letters with his parents, come in to Rauner and ask for collection MS-532, box 1.

If you’re interested in reading the fiction stories mentioned here or even in finding some more, ask for The Bema, Volumes 9 – 13, D.C. History LH1.D3 B4, and The Dartmouth Literary Magazine, D.C. History LH1.D3 D264.

Posted for Sabrina Eager '23, recipient of the Dartmouth Library's Historical Accountability Student Research Fellowship for the 2022 Summer term. The Historical Accountability Student Research Program provides funding for Dartmouth students to conduct research with primary sources on a topic related to issues of inclusivity and diversity in the college's past. For more information, visit the program's website

Friday, July 22, 2022

Native American Studies as Reviewed by the 1975 Evaluation Committee

Cover of "Report of the Evaluation Committee on the Native American Studies Program at Dartmouth College."This year, the Native American Studies Program, or NAS, is celebrating 50 years of operation. To honor the Program, I am exploring its history as a Historical Accountability Student Research Fellow. I should preface this blog post by stating that the NAS is different from the Native American program, or NAP. The former is an academic discipline that would become an interdisciplinary “special program” at the College, whereas the latter is a non-academic support system for Native American students.

One of the most important parts of the NAS Program was its approval process. First, the Ad hoc Committee on American Indian Studies released a report on NAS; this was the first recommendation for such a program. After the Ad hoc Committee on American Indian Studies. The Faculty of Arts and Sciences and President Kemeny, using the recommendations from the aforementioned committee, the Committee on Instruction and Executive Committee of the Faculty, formally approved NAS on May 8, 1972.

Along with the establishment of Native American Studies, the Faculty of Arts and Sciences also approved the following: “a written evaluation be made of the academic and budgetary status of the Program, by the Committee on Instruction and by an outside team (which includes Native American scholars) appointed by the COI, during the 1975-1976 academic year, [and] such evaluation to be shared with the Executive Committee of the Faculty.”

Page 14 of the report, entitled "Why Dartmouth?"In this blog post, I will be focusing on the written evaluation by the “outside team”, which came to be known as the Report of the Evaluation, released on March 12, 1975. In January 1975, the Evaluation Committee initially met with the goal of evaluating NAS to make a recommendation for the program. The Committee was united on all its conclusions except for the scope – regional or national – of the academic discipline. The Committee’s members included Dartmouth English Professor Peter A. Bien, Head of University of Manitoba’s Native Studies Dr. William Koolage, Dr. David Warren of the Institute of American Indian Arts, and Director of Native American Studies at the University of Montana Henrietta Whiteman.

After the meetings in January, the group composed a thorough report with the following recommendations for NAS: 1) the Native American Studies continue for five more years 2) additional faculty should be hired, and the Chairman of NAS should oversee this process 3) core courses should be strengthened as additional faculty are hired 4) a language course must offered every school term. The Committee also requested that Chairman Michael Dorris be given released time for departmental consultations and meetings with the Native American community.

At this point, the interdisciplinary program is at its interim stage. When crafting the review, the Committee consulted President John G. Kemeny and the Dean of the Faculty.

Page 15 of the report, continuing the "Why Dartmouth?" section.The report also included a passage on why NAS was adopted at Dartmouth. Eleazar Wheelock’s original promise and the faculty’s mandate are not enough justification for the continuation of NAS. One justification for the program is the development of young adults. According to the Committee, undergraduate students are extremely curious and “their educational and vocational goals [are] not yet settled [at their age].” A second justification is because of Dartmouth’s small class size, which achieves what cannot be done at a large size university. It fosters a mutual, intimate connection between Native American and non-Native students.

I find this passage notable because the narrative surrounding the Native American Studies among the student body seems to focus on Kemeny’s re-commitment to the original charter and the recruitment of Native American students. While both elements impacted NAS, Dartmouth’s uniqueness – such as its relatively small size for a private research university – allows for this academic discipline to flourish.

Posted for Farah Lindsey-Almadani '25, recipient of the Dartmouth Library's Historical Accountability Student Research Fellowship for the 2022 Summer term. The Historical Accountability Student Research Program provides funding for Dartmouth students to conduct research with primary sources on a topic related to issues of inclusivity and diversity in the college's past. For more information, visit the program's website.

Friday, July 15, 2022

A Game of Planchette

paper with ouija board notesRauner Special Collections Library is home to a wide assortment of papers related to the Cornish Colony, a New Hampshire artists' collective active through the end of World War I. Typically, we focus on the big names associated with the colony, like Augustus Saint-Gaudens and Maxfield Parrish. Today however, we're looking at an instance in the lives of the children in residence.

In some papers belonging to Lucia Fairchild Fuller (1870-1924), a painter and member of the colony, there is a set of notes from a ouija board session she conducted with her daughter Clara and other children. Most of the answers provided by the game are next to nonsense, but one particular piece sticks out. When asked to name a set of kittens, the planchette spells out "Drown it, darn it, drat it, and damn it." It's a perfect little piece of creepiness, and apparently it stuck around. According to a note from Clara's own daughter:

'Planchette' - (or the 'Oija [sic] Board' as we call it now-) was a game loved by the children of Cornish... Lucia Fuller joined the game and the saucer rapidly named the kittens 'DROWN IT; DRAT IT; DARN IT; DAMN IT' - an event my mother (CBT) spoke of until the end of her life.

The Fairchild-Fuller family papers are full of artwork, diaries, gossipy letters, and other interesting odds and ends. To read the full notes from this game of Planchette, ask for MS-152, Box 10, Folder 41.

Friday, July 8, 2022

Exhibit: Sharing the Computer

Looking around campus today, it is hard to believe, but there was once a time when Dartmouth didn’t have any computers. And when Dartmouth did first acquire a computer, like many institutions at the time, they faced obstacles sharing access with the Dartmouth community. It was the 1960s; computers were big and expensive, and hardly anyone knew how to use them. But when John McCarthy, a computer scientist at MIT, told Dartmouth math professor Thomas Kurtz, “you guys ought to do time-sharing,” Kurtz realized this could be the answer to Dartmouth’s problems.

Time-sharing worked by allowing multiple users to connect to a single, powerful computer via teletype terminals. The computer couldn’t actually run more than one program simultaneously but instead cycled through them very quickly. And while one person was typing, or thinking, or getting distracted at their own terminal, the computer wasn’t sitting there waiting for them: it was keeping busy running other people’s programs. This efficient arrangement allowed many, many more people to learn to use a computer for the first time, and eventually, the effects of the Dartmouth Time-Sharing System (DTSS) reached even beyond Dartmouth.

To learn more about Dartmouth's innovative impact on computer science, visit the current exhibition in the Class of 1965 Galleries at Rauner Library in Webster Hall. It was curated by Val Werner '21 and is open to the public from June 28th through September 2nd during our regular hours of operation.

Friday, July 1, 2022

All Wrong, but So Right

Engraving of fireworks at Versailles
This is silly. This book is 100 years too old, it was created to honor a monarch, it is from France, and it was owned by a member of the British court, "Henry Duke of Kent." So why pull it out on Independence Day? Well, fireworks!

Les plaisirs de l’Isle enchantée: Course de bague; collation ornée de machines; comedie, meslée de danse et de musique; ballet du palais d’Alcine, feu d’artifice: et autres festes galantes et magnifiques (Paris: Imprimerie Royale, 1673) is a pretty amazing book. Commissioned in 1673 to document a lavish celebration of Louis XIV at Versailles, it depicts food, parties, elaborate spectacles like papier-mache sea monsters in the pools, and even the staging of one of Moliere's plays. It has all the trappings of royal extravagance and excess, and has nothing to do with a colonial rebellion. We could say featuring it this week on the blog is some kind of subtle indictment of American complacency and decadence (a party is a party), or perhaps just another example of our willingness to appropriate anything, but really, we are just into the imagery and it put us in the mood for a Fourth of July barbecue and day in the park.

Engraving of fireworks at VersaillesEngraving of sea monsters at Versaille

Engraving of fireworks at VersaillesEngraving of banquet table at Versailles

To see the book (it is so worth your time), ask for PQ1840.P2 1673.