Monthly Archives: April 2014

Bob Hoskins: A Specialist In Tough Guys With Soft Hearts


Hoskins in one of his most memorable roles, detective Eddie Valiant in Who Framed Roger Rabbit.i i

hide captionHoskins in one of his most memorable roles, detective Eddie Valiant in Who Framed Roger Rabbit.


Buena Vista/Getty Images

Hoskins in one of his most memorable roles, detective Eddie Valiant in Who Framed Roger Rabbit.

Hoskins in one of his most memorable roles, detective Eddie Valiant in Who Framed Roger Rabbit.

Buena Vista/Getty Images

British actor Bob Hoskins died last night of pneumonia at 71. He’ll certainly be remembered for starring with cartoon characters in Who Framed Roger Rabbit — but that was just one of many films in which he played tough guys with soft hearts.

Short, stocky, dyslexic, balding, and with a cockney accent thick enough to spread on toast, Hoskins was hardly conventional leading man material. But he sure got to play opposite some gorgeous co-stars — Kathleen Turner’s Jessica Rabbit, of course, but also Cher in Mermaids and Michelle Pfeiffer in Sweet Liberty; and in Mona Lisa, Cecily Tyson’s daughter Cathy played the call girl he chauffeured for, fell in love with and wanted to protect.

Hoskins played a mostly passive character in Mona Lisa — not his usual thing, which may be why the role got him his only Oscar nomination. His usual thing was more blustery — from real-life figures like J. Edgar Hoover, Winston Churchill, Benito Mussolini and Nikita Khrushchev to gangsters and detectives, like the one who had to hold his own opposite an animated rabbit.

Hoskins received an Oscar nomination for 1986's Mona Lisa.i i

hide captionHoskins received an Oscar nomination for 1986’s Mona Lisa.


Handmade/Palace/The Kobal Collection

Hoskins received an Oscar nomination for 1986's Mona Lisa.

Hoskins received an Oscar nomination for 1986’s Mona Lisa.

Handmade/Palace/The Kobal Collection

Hoskins was hired for Who Framed Roger Rabbit because the filmmakers knew that he’d keep the story grounded, something the actor told interviewers he did in a decidedly ungrounded way — basically learning to “hallucinate” his costars.

Hoskins got his first acting gig, at 26, by accident: He went with a friend to an audition. just to keep him company, got a script shoved into his hand by someone who said “you’re next,” and decided to give it a shot. He ended up getting the lead, with his friend as his understudy. At which point he also started getting terrible advice, as he told WHYY’s Fresh Air.

“When I started,” Hoskins said, “they said, you know, you’ve got to take elocution lessons, deportment classes, you gotta learn to fence. Wait a minute, hang on: I’m going to learn to talk like I don’t, be like I’m not, walk like I don’t — where am I in the middle of this? And so I didn’t take any lessons at all.”

Which didn’t keep him from getting parts, at first onstage, and then on TV, including his big break as a frustrated sheet-music salesman in Pennies from Heaven — a frustrated but imaginative salesman, whose frustrations keep erupting into song

Hoskins’ big-screen career didn’t take off until casting directors decided he was a sort of British Edward G. Robinson — as the gangster in The Long Good Friday, for instance, who made the mistake of ticking off the American Mafia.

After that, he alternated between big Hollywood movies and — more and more — smaller independent films. He announced his retirement two years ago, and also his diagnosis with Parkinson’s. But by then, the performance career that began as a fluke had seen Bob Hoskins growl and bluster his way through more than 100 roles onscreen — indelibly, pretty much every time.

At 90, ‘Fiddler’ Lyricist Tells His Story


Sheldon Harnick (right) with the late Jerry Bock, his long-time musical collaborator. Together they worked on musicals like Fiddler on the Roof and Fiorello!i i

hide captionSheldon Harnick (right) with the late Jerry Bock, his long-time musical collaborator. Together they worked on musicals like Fiddler on the Roof and Fiorello!


Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images

Sheldon Harnick (right) with the late Jerry Bock, his long-time musical collaborator. Together they worked on musicals like Fiddler on the Roof and Fiorello!

Sheldon Harnick (right) with the late Jerry Bock, his long-time musical collaborator. Together they worked on musicals like Fiddler on the Roof and Fiorello!

Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images

This year marks the 50th anniversary of Fiddler on the Roof‘s Broadway premiere. Lyricist Sheldon Harnick co-wrote the songs for Fiddler, as well as Fiorello!, She Loves Me and Tenderloin. Just in time for his 90th birthday, Harnick has released a new album, Sheldon Harnick: Hidden Treasures (1949-2013), a collection which includes Harnick singing demos of his own popular songs, rarities from early in his career, and pieces cut from Broadway shows. Many of the recordings are from his private collection.

“Any successful lyricist has to be part playwright and has to be able to put himself into the minds and the hearts and the souls of the characters he’s writing about,” he tells Fresh Air‘s Terry Gross. “That’s part of a theater lyricist’s talent.”

Alfie Bass as Tevye, and Avis Bunnage as Gold, during rehearsals for Fiddler on the Roof at Her Majesty's Theatre, London in 1968.i i

hide captionAlfie Bass as Tevye, and Avis Bunnage as Gold, during rehearsals for Fiddler on the Roof at Her Majesty’s Theatre, London in 1968.


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Alfie Bass as Tevye, and Avis Bunnage as Gold, during rehearsals for Fiddler on the Roof at Her Majesty's Theatre, London in 1968.

Alfie Bass as Tevye, and Avis Bunnage as Gold, during rehearsals for Fiddler on the Roof at Her Majesty’s Theatre, London in 1968.

Central Press/Getty Images

Interview Highlights

On how he began to write songs

“I started writing songs in high school. I had written poetry. I didn’t know much about the theater or songwriting, but a classmate of mine liked my poetry and asked me to collaborate with him, and he was very interested in the theater. So we began to write sketches, we began to write song parodies, [and] eventually we began to write songs and then I was drafted during WWII.

“There were 90 days when I found myself in a special service unit, so I began to write songs. On Monday nights, we’d have performances with guitar players, accordion players, and I would sing songs about my army experience and began to realize the audience thoroughly understood what I was saying. And they responded enthusiastically.

“When I got out of the army, I went to Northwestern University, because I knew they had a wonderful annual student revue. And that’s where I began to write Broadway-type songs. Little by little, I got familiar with theater songs, and while I was at Northwestern I was introduced to the album of Finian’s Rainbow. And that really turned me around, because I heard Yip Harburg’s lyrics and I thought, ‘That’s what I want to try to do.'”

On his writing process with his musical partner, Jerry Bock

“It was very stimulating. When I met Jerry [Bock], we developed a method of working that I’ve never worked with with anybody else. Once we knew what the source material was, we would go into our respective studios and start developing musical numbers. When he had a number worked out to his own satisfaction, he would record it, and eventually he would send me a tape with anywhere from eight to 12 or 15 numbers on it, each one would start where he would say, ‘This I think is for the butcher,’ ‘I think this song is for this situation.’ So I would listen to those, and it was very exciting. It was my own world premiere, and on any given tape there might only be two or three musical numbers that I thought I could use. But the best of them were extremely exciting; I couldn’t wait to put lyrics to them. I never thought about the problem of setting lyrics to music as opposed to writing lyrics first.”

On writing a song for a musical that eventually gets cut

“During the first show that Jerry and I did, The Body Beautiful — when songs were cut, that was difficult and maybe not heartbreaking, but it was frustrating and very sad. But by the time we did Fiddler [on the Roof], I had learned that the name of the game is rewriting; that when a song does not work or is not right, you have to replace it. So by the time we did Fiddler, when songs were thrown out I thought, ‘Yeah, that’s a nice song. We can’t use it.’ But the problem was to write something that really was right for the show, that would make the show better, make the show more successful. So I can’t say that I was that unhappy when a song was cut.”

On director Jerome Robbins’ motivation for telling Fiddler‘s story

“When Jerome Robbins became our director, he told us this story. He said when he was 6, his parents took him to that part of Poland where their ancestors came from, and even at the age of 6 he remembers it being a very emotional experience. Then, during WWII, as he read about the extermination of these little villages by the Nazis, he was certain that the village that he had visited when he was 6 was one of those villages that had been obliterated. So when we gave him the opportunity to direct Fiddler, he said, ‘I want to put that culture back on stage. I want to give it a theatrical life of another 25 years.’ He was being modest, because now it’s almost 50 years and it’s still going strong. But he was a man obsessed with restoring that culture. He did enormous research. I think [Robbins], more than anyone else, is responsible for the success that Fiddler‘s had.”

Sweet On Sundaes


A sundae with hot fudge, almonds and whipped creami i


Laura B. Weiss for NPR

A sundae with hot fudge, almonds and whipped cream

Finally, the weather is warming up. And that means I’m dreaming about ice cream sundaes.

When I was researching my book Ice Cream: A Global History, sundaes were the ice cream treat I was most eager to learn about. For me, there’s no more sumptuous dessert than the classic American combo of ice cream, toppings and whipped cream.

Sundaes are just a teensy bit fancy, but not so dressed up that they look out of place on a picnic table or at a barbecue. And sundaes are an easy way to flex your culinary muscle. That’s because with these indulgent treats, it’s the construction, not the cooking, that counts. And there’s no need to fuss in the kitchen. You can prepare your own sauces and ice creams, but store-bought varieties work well, too.

When it comes to mixing and matching ice creams and toppings, the sky’s the limit. (For me, the ice cream is an afterthought. Hit me with that topping, and lots of it, please.) Ladle hot fudge over peppermint ice cream. Drizzle honey over coconut sorbet and top it with grilled pineapple. Drop a scoop or two of chocolate ice cream into a bowl, add some brownie pieces, then crown your creation with butterscotch and whipped cream. You can also smother vanilla ice cream in berries and grilled peaches. Or for a simple but very adult dessert, pour a tablespoon of coffee-flavored liqueur over a scoop of chocolate or butter pecan.

And don’t forget to add some crunch. Sundaes need a bit of texture to counter all that goo and creamy richness. Crumbled cookies, nuts, even granola — anything with a snap to it — will do the trick. Then, there’s the whipped cream and garnishes. You could finish your ice cream construction the traditional way with a maraschino cherry. But why settle for the obvious when you can choose shaved chocolate, candy bits or crumbled bacon?

Whatever ice cream and sauce combinations you elect, start building your sundae with a spoonful of sauce in the bottom of the dish. Then add ice cream, more sauce, and another scoop of ice cream. Douse the whole thing with yet more sauce. With this method, you’ll be sure to taste sauce and ice cream in every bite. The exception to this rule is the banana split, in which the ingredients are laid side by side in a nest of banana halves, and the sauce is poured on top of the ice cream.

Sundaes are not an American invention. The Europeans beat us to it with dishes such as the French coupe. Sundaes as Americans know them came into being in the U.S. in the early 1890s. The question of the exact locale of the sundae’s birthplace has sparked fierce, but good-natured, civic rivalries, with several American towns, including Ithaca, N.Y., Two Rivers, Wis., and Evanston, Ill., claiming to be the sundae’s rightful spawning ground.

At the end of the day, I don’t much care where sundaes originated. I just love them.

Hot Fudge Sauce Sundaes

There are lots of recipes for hot fudge. This one is essentially a ganache. It cooks in minutes and boasts a deep, rich chocolate flavor. You can use either semisweet chocolate or a high-quality eating chocolate. I don’t add sugar to this fudge sauce because I like the contrast of bittersweet chocolate and sweet ice cream; you can add sugar if you prefer a sweeter topping.

Makes 4 servings

Hot Fudge Sauce Sundaei i


Laura B. Weiss for NPR

Hot Fudge Sauce Sundae

Fudge Sauce

12 ounces semisweet chocolate or good-quality 70 percent chocolate bar

1 1/2 cups heavy cream

1/4 teaspoon salt

4 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

The Sundae

For each serving:

2 scoops vanilla ice cream

1 tablespoon coffee liqueur

2 tablespoons toasted almonds

Whipped cream

Break the chocolate into pieces and set aside. Pour the cream into a saucepan and heat over medium; don’t let it boil, or it will curdle. Turn off the heat and add the chocolate. Stir well, adding salt and butter. Return to heat on low and cook for 5 minutes, being careful not to let it boil. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla. Use the topping right away or store it in the refrigerator. To restore it after it’s been in the refrigerator, stir the sauce well and reheat in the microwave for 1 minute, or until it softens.

To make the sundaes, place a tablespoon of hot fudge in the bottom of each bowl. Place 1 scoop of vanilla ice cream on top of the fudge. Drizzle more sauce on top of the ice cream. Place a second scoop of ice cream on top. Spoon on additional sauce. Drizzle the coffee liqueur on each sundae, sprinkle with toasted almonds and top with whipped cream.

Peach Berry Sundaes With Honey

I make this sumptuous sundae in the summer when stone fruit and berries at their peak ripeness.

Peach Berry Sundaes With Honeyi i


Laura B. Weiss for NPR

Peach Berry Sundaes With Honey

Makes 4 servings

24 shelled pistachios

2 tablespoons butter

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

2 ripe peaches cut in half, pitted, peeled and cut into 1-inch slices

4 large fresh strawberries, sliced thinly

3 scoops vanilla ice cream per serving

1/4 cup honey per serving

Toast the pistachios in a dry skillet for 2 minutes, being careful not to burn them. Set them aside. Place the butter, vanilla and cinnamon in a medium-sized sauté pan over medium heat. Sauté the peaches and strawberries for 3 to 4 minutes, until they begin to soften but are still firm. Remove from the pan and set aside.

Place 3 scoops of vanilla ice cream in each bowl. Spoon honey, then fruit mixture onto the ice cream, and top each sundae with 6 toasted pistachios. Serve immediately.

Banana Splits

I’m not fond of traditional banana splits with their multitude of sauces (traditionally, strawberry, pineapple, chocolate) and ice cream flavors (vanilla, chocolate and strawberry). This recipe is a luxurious, and simpler, version of the old standby. The peanut butter sauce is adapted from About.com Southern Food.

Makes 2 servings

Peanut Butter Sauce

1/4 cup brown sugar

1/4 cup light corn syrup

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup cream

3/4 cup smooth peanut butter

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

The Split

For each serving:

1 banana split lengthwise

4 scoops chocolate ice cream per serving

2 scoops vanilla ice cream per serving

Whipped cream

1 chocolate wafer cookie, crushed into crumbs, per serving

1/4 cup toasted peanuts per serving

Place the brown sugar, corn syrup, salt and cream in a medium saucepan and mix with a spoon or whisk over medium heat. Bring to a boil and immediately reduce heat to a simmer. Cook 4 to 5 minutes, or until the mixture starts to thicken. (Don’t worry if it’s still a bit runny. Once you add the peanut butter, the sauce will stiffen up.)

Remove from the heat. Add the peanut butter and mix well with a wooden spoon. Add vanilla and mix. Pour the sauce into a bowl and set aside. If you’re not going to use the sauce immediately, refrigerate it. Before serving, heat it in the microwave for 1 minute to soften.

To assemble the banana split, place one banana half on each side of the dish. Place 2 scoops of chocolate ice cream, 2 scoops of vanilla and 2 more scoops of chocolate in a line down the middle of each dish, between the banana slices. Drizzle the ice cream with the peanut butter sauce. Garnish with the whipped cream, cookie pieces and toasted nuts.

Book News: ‘Gravity’ Author Sues Warner Bros. Over Movie


Author Tess Gerritsen says Warner Bros. owes her 2.5 percent of the profits from the movie Gravity, starring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney.i i

hide captionAuthor Tess Gerritsen says Warner Bros. owes her 2.5 percent of the profits from the movie Gravity, starring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney.


Warner Bros.

Author Tess Gerritsen says Warner Bros. owes her 2.5 percent of the profits from the movie Gravity, starring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney.

Author Tess Gerritsen says Warner Bros. owes her 2.5 percent of the profits from the movie Gravity, starring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney.

Warner Bros.

The daily lowdown on books, publishing, and the occasional author behaving badly.

  • Tess Gerritsen, author of the astronaut novel Gravity, is suing Warner Bros., claiming the studio’s failed to credit her as an inspiration for last year’s film starring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney. Warner Bros. bought the film rights in 1999. Gerritsen says the studio owes her 2.5 percent of the film’s profits and that it broke an agreement that the movie be released with a “based upon” credit. In the past, Gerritsen has been quoted saying that “Gravity is a great film, but it’s not based on my book.” But, according to The New York Times, her lawyer says that “Ms. Gerritsen in recent months was given information — he would not be specific — that caused her to believe that Alfonso Cuarón, who also directed “Gravity,” winning an Oscar, based his screenplay on her book.” Cuarón and his son Jonás are credited with writing the screenplay.
  • Adam Johnson won the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for The Orphan Master’s Son, a novel set in North Korea. For Granta, he describes the bizarre reality of spending time there: “For a week, my minders had been steering me daily into shopping opportunities at various gifts shops and department stores. And I was ready to pay. I was dying to buy something, anything that would help my wife and children understand the profound surrealism and warped reality I’d experienced on my research trip to North Korea. But there was nothing to buy.”
  • In an essay called “Diversity Is Not Enough: Race, Power, Publishing,” Daniel José Older argues that in order for children’s books to begin to show perspectives other than white ones, editors, publishers, agents, and the rest of the book industry need to become more diverse — not just authors. He writes, “The publishing industry looks a lot like one of these best-selling teenage dystopias: white and full of people destroying each other to survive.”
  • The Marxists Internet Archive, an online library of Marxist texts, is fighting a U.K. publisher to be able to put a copyrighted translation of Marx online without paying for it, because, you know, they’re Marxists. The publisher Lawrence & Wishart — a historically leftist publisher — said they were met with a “campaign of online abuse” after they asked Marxists.org to take the copyrighted text down. A petition by a supporter of the Marxists Internet Archive, which has attracted thousands of signatures, states: “It is immensely ironic that a private publishing company is claiming the copyright of the collected works of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, the philosophers who wrote against the monopoly of capitalism and its origin, private property, all their lives.” Lawrence & Wishart responded: “Income from our copyright on this scholarly work contributes to our continuing publication programme. Infringement of this copyright has the effect of depriving a small radical publisher of the funds it needs to remain in existence.”
  • Frankenstein in Baghdad, a novel by the Iraqi writer Ahmed Saadawi, has won the 2014 International Prize for Arabic Fiction. The prize, established in 2007 to combat the “limited international availability of high quality Arab fiction,” comes with $50,000 and an English translation of the winning work. The prize website describes the novel like this: “Set in the spring of 2005, Frankenstein in Baghdad tells the story of Hadi al-Attag, a rag-and-bone man who lives in a populous district of Baghdad. He takes the body parts of those killed in explosions and sews them together to create a new body. The body is entered by a displaced soul, bringing it to life. Hadi calls the being ‘the-what’s-its-name,’ while the authorities name it ‘Criminal X’ and others refer to it as ‘Frankenstein’. Frankenstein begins a campaign of revenge against those who killed him, or killed those whose parts make up his body.”

McSweeney’s New Latin American Crime Fiction Is Caliente


Mcsweeney's Issue 46

For its first ever all-Latin American issue, McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern has assembled a worthy lineup of writers and translators. Spanning 10 different countries — and featuring contributions from Alejandro Zambra and Juan Pablo Villalobos — this latest offering is as rousing as it is essential. And, true to form, killer on the design front.

Hand-picked by Brazilian writer, translator and editor Daniel Galera, the 13 stories in this collection display the lyric power of some of contemporary literature’s most exciting voices. What Galera says in the introduction is true: The panorama of Latin American fiction has changed drastically over the past few decades. So far removed from the boom of the ’60s and ’70s — which brought us the magical realism of the late Gabriel Garcia Marquez — what we have now is something entirely new; something more gritty that reflects the complex geometry of our present age.

A good crime story — one that achieves the sensation of mystery and spans a myriad of difficult ideas — is what the people need. We need dead bodies and crooked politicians. We need bloodshed, death beating at the gate like some salesman. In some ways, we need our fiction to not only show us the complete hideousness of violence but also make it beautiful. Maybe that’s the path to something. Maybe that’s how we reconcile the meaning of art with the atrocities we fill our heads with watching the news.

From the dilapidated corners of Constitucion, Argentina, to stirring conversations at an apartment in Porto Alegre, there is much to mull over in these pages. There are moments of lucidity that reveal the vulnerability of fragile human beings: “It seems she may be experiencing one of those very brief moments when we understand a million things.”

And there are less sublime moments. In a story by Jorge Enrique Lage, we read about the moral decline of a Cuban woman called Amy Winehouse. Abandoned by her lover — who ever so lovingly exploited her as a prostitute — she eventually falls to drunkenness, depression and anorexia. Her trepidation and her aimlessness play second fiddle only to her chief desire: to be wanted and cared for. “I talked to Alexander today and he asked me to forgive him,” she says. “He seemed sincere.”

But there’s also a sense of assurance that permeates these stories. Even in their haplessness, our characters are self-aware enough to know their fate is not bright and shining. As if they know what awaits them; be it death or simply more confusion about their lives. “Stefan Czarniecki was never going to get used to the sun in the tropics,” writes Joca Reiners Terron in “Blind Sun,” the tale of a Polish insurance man on business in Sao Paulo. Almost immediately, poor Stefan stumbles into playing detective in a case involving a bloody massacre. He’s asking around, he’s looking for clues. One thing he’s sure of is that when his job is done, he’ll never return. “He did not want to stay in that place another minute.”

Thankfully, it’s not all destruction and death. Or rather, there’s humor amid the destruction and death, employed with subtlety. “White Flamingo” stars a couple of gangsters who celebrate a job well done by enjoying an afternoon in an amusement park. That’s right, not in a brothel, or at a nightclub popping bottles like Carlito Brigante and Benny Blanco from the Bronx. Not at all. Just two happy gangsters roaming the sidewalks of Epcot like regular folk on a weekend excursion.

Then there’s the wisdom; the little gemlike sentences that just kill on so many levels. In “Horses in the Smoke” we’re reminded how we love the things of the past — in this case the music of 1976 — because “everybody likes the time before they were born.”

It’s easy to love the Latin American fiction that my parents’ generation loved. What it gave, and continues to give, is so rich it reaches far beyond my ability to describe it. Still, and perhaps even more so — and if these 13 writers are among those shaping it — I’m prouder of where it’s going.

Juan Vidal is a writer and cultural critic from Miami. He tweets at @itsjuanlove.

Century-Old Jewish Mural Was Hidden For Decades In Vermont


In 1910, Lithuanian artist Ben Zion Black painted the interior of Burlington's Chai Adam Synagogue. Much of the painting was destroyed when the building underwent renovations.i i

hide captionIn 1910, Lithuanian artist Ben Zion Black painted the interior of Burlington’s Chai Adam Synagogue. Much of the painting was destroyed when the building underwent renovations.


Courtesy of the Ohavi Zedek Synagogue

In 1910, Lithuanian artist Ben Zion Black painted the interior of Burlington's Chai Adam Synagogue. Much of the painting was destroyed when the building underwent renovations.

In 1910, Lithuanian artist Ben Zion Black painted the interior of Burlington’s Chai Adam Synagogue. Much of the painting was destroyed when the building underwent renovations.

Courtesy of the Ohavi Zedek Synagogue

There was a time in Eastern Europe when the landscape was dotted with wooden synagogues, some dating to the 1600s. Inside, the walls and ceilings were covered with intricate painted designs. Almost all of these structures were destroyed during the Holocaust, and with them, a folk art. But in Burlington, Vt., a synagogue mural has been uncovered where it lay hidden for a quarter century.

Aaron Goldberg grew up in a section of Burlington known as Little Jerusalem. His family was among the Jewish immigrants who settled there in the late 1800s, mostly from Lithuania. Goldberg first saw the mural in the 1970s when he was in middle school and accompanied his mother to a carpet store.

“I have a distinct memory of going up to the second floor to look at the carpet rolls and the remnants with my mother and seeing a painting on the back wall,” he says. “It was surreal.”

The store, it turned out, had once been a synagogue. Shoppers could see rays of sunlight, a crown hovering above a tablet with the Ten Commandments and a throne supported by two lions of Judah — all part of a mural stretching 10 feet high and 18 feet wide. It had been painted in 1910 by an immigrant artist named Ben Zion Black.

Years later, Goldberg and another member of his synagogue learned that the carpet store had been sold and the new owner was going to convert the building into apartments.

“She allowed us about a month to see if we could figure out a plan to get the mural out,” he says. “So we called museums, hospitals, colleges, commercial warehouse storage spaces all over the East Coast and we could not locate a space. So we asked her if she would consider walling up the mural.”

The owner agreed and for 25 years tenants lived in an apartment not knowing what was behind the walls.

An Exuberant Work Of Art

Two years ago, the Ohavi Zedek Synagogue, where Goldberg serves as archivist, started renting the apartment. It tore down the wall that had been erected to protect the mural and hired art conservator Connie Silver to help restore it.

“This is a really exuberant work of art,” she says.

Art conservator Connie Silver points to a section of the mural that's been cleaned of its grime.i i

hide captionArt conservator Connie Silver points to a section of the mural that’s been cleaned of its grime.


Jon Kalish/For NPR

Art conservator Connie Silver points to a section of the mural that's been cleaned of its grime.

Art conservator Connie Silver points to a section of the mural that’s been cleaned of its grime.

Jon Kalish/For NPR

Silver is living in the apartment while she removes a century’s worth of grime that accumulated on the mural. Chemical analysis revealed that the mural was covered with an oily varnish to preserve it.

Silver sprays the mural with a special adhesive that bonds the paint to the plaster wall, then dabs at it with scraps of Mylar to press the fragile paint back onto the wall. She says the colors of the mural have been dulled substantially.

“It’s going from this kind of golden, unpleasant brown to pistachio green next to bright gold color,” Silver says. “This is really a startling change and I was even a little confused because I’ve never seen these sorts of exuberant colors.”

The mural is attached to the wall and part of the roof. At some point, a 3,000-pound hunk of the building will be cut out and moved to the Ohavi Zedek Synagogue less than a mile away.

A Document Of A Jewish Civilization

“I’ve never confronted, never seen a mural of this type that survives and can be saved,” says Samuel Gruber, an architectural historian at Syracuse University. He says the Burlington mural is a valuable artifact because it’s a form of folk art no longer being created.

“This is a document of a Jewish civilization, a Jewish culture, a Jewish tradition in art that was vibrant and widespread and accomplished, but today has almost entirely vanished,” he says. “It was destroyed in the Holocaust. It’s a survivor and for that reason I think we have a special obligation. We have to save it and move it. We have to give it a new life.”

If the Ohavi Zedek Synagogue can raise $100,000 in the next couple of months, it hopes to move the mural by the end of the summer. It will be tricky, though: A huge forklift — the kind used to move boats — will transport the artwork. Cleaning and restoration work will be completed after the mural is installed in the synagogue’s lobby.

How Craig Ferguson Unmade The Late-Night Talk Show


Craig Ferguson set a very individual course for himself in a field with a lot of standard elements. Now, as David Letterman moves on from CBS late night, Ferguson does too.i i

hide captionCraig Ferguson set a very individual course for himself in a field with a lot of standard elements. Now, as David Letterman moves on from CBS late night, Ferguson does too.


Lisette M. Azar/CBS

Craig Ferguson set a very individual course for himself in a field with a lot of standard elements. Now, as David Letterman moves on from CBS late night, Ferguson does too.

Craig Ferguson set a very individual course for himself in a field with a lot of standard elements. Now, as David Letterman moves on from CBS late night, Ferguson does too.

Lisette M. Azar/CBS

As has become the recent custom over at CBS, when Craig Ferguson decided to announce his departure from The Late Late Show on Monday, he had a self-deprecating joke ready.

“Thanks everybody! That was quite convincing!” he said, as the audience groaned at news he would leave the network’s 12:35 a.m. show in December. “I’ll go and do something else. Probably, I’m thinking, carpentry.”

Some fans might assume Ferguson is leaving because CBS hired someone else to take the top job in the network’s late night universe, handing Comedy Central’s Stephen Colbert the hosting gig on the 11:35 p.m. Late Show when host David Letterman announced his retirement weeks ago.

But the Scottish-born comic told Variety that he had planned to leave his show long before Letterman shocked the showbiz world by unexpectedly announcing his retirement April 3. Once that happened, Ferguson had to keep his mouth shut while the world reacted to Letterman and CBS announced Colbert as his successor.

I believe Ferguson, because when I visited his show for a feature story in 2007, he told me he couldn’t see sticking with the program past his then-six-year contract. “I just don’t know if I like being that visible,” he said, musing a bit about a post-Late Show life spent writing standup bits and books from a seaside bungalow in Florida. “I don’t know if I would want to ramp that up any more, you know. And people here find that, I think, quite difficult to (understand).”

If what Ferguson says is true, then the network surely has a succession plan in mind for him as well. And given how quickly they moved on announcing the Colbert hire, it might not be long before we’re talking about how the next guy (or gal, hopefully) is going to help reinvent late night TV on the network of NCIS and CSI.

But first, let’s take a moment to give props to Ferguson, a wildly talented performer who succeeded – and failed – because he insisted on creating a late-night talk show for people who hate most late-night talk shows.

Basically, Ferguson busted up the rigid formula of late night TV wherever he could, producing a show that could split sides one moment and leave you wondering if you stumbled on a celebrity-studded acid trip in the next.

Some of the stuff is obvious. Early in his tenure, Ferguson jettisoned a mostly-planned monologue for a stream-of-consciousness way of speaking to the camera that was more genuine and more funny. Sometimes the program would begin in a “cold open” with a puppet rabbit interrogating an audience member; other times, he spoke openly about the life and death of his father or explained why, as a recovering alcoholic, he would pass on poking fun at the debilitating meltdowns of Britney Spears.

He never had a backing band – in part, early on, it was likely a money thing. But even after CBS upgraded his studio, Ferguson avoided the bandleader sidekick and live music, instead trading banter with a skeletal robot and with two people in horse’s costume. Really.

As interviews began with guests, Ferguson would symbolically rip up his blue note cards as a way of signifying that what was coming wasn’t really planned. Sometimes, that brought a lot of empty riffing with a celebrity who just couldn’t keep up. But sometimes, you got this (warning: parts of this are a little NSFW).

Ferguson took over The Late Late Show in 2005 from Craig Kilborn, himself a refugee from Comedy Central’s Daily Show. CBS actually tried a succession of guest hosts in the job after Kilborn failed, and Ferguson was the unlikely-yet-compelling permanent choice.

Where Kilborn was smug and overly scripted, Ferguson was genuine and spontaneous (Kilborn has the dubious distinction of hosting two shows which were turned into creative successes after he left them). And when Ferguson occasionally got serious – in talking about race relations or staying sober or dealing with death – it was because he was interested in whatever he was talking about in that moment.

This was a show created by a star who chafed at all the typical conventions of a late-night talk show. The result was an unpredictable program which was often funny, sometimes amazing and occasionally just strange and not quite complete.

Small wonder that more traditional shows hosted by Jimmy Fallon and Seth Meyers beat The Late Late Show in ratings. And it’s also no surprise that Ferguson might get tired of re-inventing the form every night and just move on (he already has his next TV gig lined up: hosting his syndicated game show Celebrity Name Game).

Beyond hoping they don’t hire yet another white male, I’m crossing my fingers that CBS succeeds Ferguson with someone just as willing to blow up conventional ideas of what a late night talk show can and should be.

As legacies go, that might be the best one yet, especially for a host who often called himself “TV’s Craig Ferguson” – an offhand description that seemed equal parts ironic jab and grudging admission of his circumstance.

And as final tribute, please enjoy 13 minutes of Ferguson-centered craziness, courtesy of YouTube.

Caine Prize Winners Close Out #TMMPoetry


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MARTIN MARTIN, HOST:

This is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I’m Michel Martin. Right now I am happy, and I’m sad. I’m happy because it’s time for Muses and Metaphor, our very own ode to National Poetry Month. This year, as we’ve been doing every year throughout April, we’ve been featuring original Twitter poems written by NPR listeners. Thousands of you have participated. New this year, some of our regular contributors have also weighed in. But I’m sad because April is just about over. So it’s time now for our final roundup of Twitter poems for this year.

We had to go out with a bang, so joining us now are not one but two winners of the prestigious Caine Prize. That awards the best English short stories by African writers. In studio with me here in Washington, D.C. is Tope Folarin. He won for his short story “Miracle.” Welcome back to the program. Thanks for joining us.

TOPE FOLARIN: Thank you so much.

MARTIN: Also joining us from Dakar, Senegal is Binyavanga Wainaina. He won for his short story “Discovering Home.” He was also recently named one of the most influential people in the world by Time magazine. So, Binyavanga, welcome back to you. I think I should call you Excellency or something. I’m not sure.

BINYAVANGA WAINAINA: Oh, gosh. No. Thanks, Michel.

MARTIN: (Laughing) Well, congratulations to you both. It’s wonderful. So, Tope, will you start us off? Would you mind sharing your Twitter poem with us?

FOLARIN: OK. The one I drafted is a poem that is in some ways inspired by the story that won, which is a part of my novel. It’s called “Sermon.” (Reading) The pastor cries, lend me your ears. The collection plate is passed around. We cannot hear the screams when he begins to munch.

MARTIN: Wow. What inspired you?

FOLARIN: Well, you know, I’m really inspired by – there’s a poem by Carolyn Forche about – I think it’s called “The Colonel” – and at the end of the poem, you know, the ears fall to the floor. And there’s – it’s a really kind of graphic but simultaneously powerful poem – and the ears fall to the floor. And there’s an image of some of the ears pressed to the ground and some of the ears up and they can hear. And so I thought it would be interesting to kind of mix that image with the image of the collection plate, which is a ubiquitous image with respect to churches, and to kind of somehow try to combine those and to show how people, when they go to church, because they’re in a place of faith, they’ll do whatever the pastor asks them to do, even if, you know, they’re in some ways risking themselves, their own lives and that sort of thing. So…

MARTIN: Wow, shades of Mike Tyson. Yeah.

FOLARIN: (Laughing) I suppose you could say that.

MARTIN: All right. Well, thank you. All right. Binyavanga, you ready? What about you?

WAINAINA: (Reading) U omit a Bibliography from ur poem: ‘Silenced Bodies Unsilenced’. All. Are. Silent. All xcept fellow BiblioStudy tweeps. Hit reply.

MARTIN: (Laughing) What inspired you?

WAINAINA: I don’t know. Like, I have this love-war-hate thing with poetry, often sometimes – and grappling with – and also, you had this season of really amazing poetry during our election. There was also this question of – which now has become a thing of – the things that rule on your Twitter handle. And then you’re like, I feel guilty, but then, like, I don’t feel like I want to engage. But why don’t I want to engage?

MARTIN: What did you think of the form, by the way? You said you have a love-hate relationship with poetry anyway. What did you think of the form? Did you like it? Did you find it challenging, annoying or what?

WAINAINA: Terrifying. Terrifying.

(LAUGHTER)

WAINAINA: But I guess that means that it’s good.

MARTIN: Tope, what about you? What did you – how did you feel about the form, just having finished your novel?

FOLARIN: Yeah. I…

MARTIN: Did you like it? Did you hate it?

FOLARIN: I loved it. I loved it. You know, before I started writing prose, I spent about a year and half doing nothing but writing and reading poetry. And I think in many ways that’s what prepared me to write the novel, this kind of deep and fierce engagement with poetry.

And so it’s a form I quite like because it’s form that forces you to kind of cut away the fluff, cut away the stuff that isn’t necessary. And that’s something I strive to do in my prose as well. So I really appreciate it. And I was also inspired by many of the poems that I read. You know, so it was obvious that a lot of people had packed in a lot of emotion, a lot of longing, a lot of feeling into their poems. And I wanted to do the same.

MARTIN: Well, speaking of which, Tope, you were nice enough to look at some of the poems that came across on Twitter. Again, we use hashtag #TMMPoetry. What were some of your favorites?

FOLARIN: Sure, so there’s a poem by – a couple of poems by somebody named Sasha McCloud. At least that’s her – her Twitter handle is McCloud_Sasha. And she has a poem that goes, (reading) I begged him to ask me a different question, which I think is an incredible poem because it’s a poem that – it’s almost like a doorway between two realities in a way. It’s a poem that’s at the threshold right before something traumatic happened or perhaps right after something traumatic has happened.

And I think we’ve all been in that moment when we’re at that moment of crisis or that moment of transition, that moment of change, and we want to go back in time. And we want to beg the person who is asking us to do something or who has told us something we don’t like very much to kind of go back. And so I thought that that poem really captures that feeling, that sort of sense of fear and that sense of change. She has a…

MARTIN: Any others?

FOLARIN: Yeah. Yeah, another one by her that goes, (reading) where have I been all of my life? It’s a kind of existential crisis poem, I suppose you could say. And it’s a really…

(LAUGHTER)

FOLARIN: So having been through a few of those myself, I can relate to the sentiment. And there’s one more would like to read. It’s by – his name is Boiarski, I believe. It’s B-O-I-A-R-S-K-I. And the poem goes, (reading) common onion, layered with pliant translucent imitations, echoes of itself, shows us the power of ordinary things, and we weep.

And the reason I love that one is because it kind of captures the essence of onion. It kind of goes into the way the onion looks, the way – echoes of itself was a wonderfully evocative way of describing what the layers of an onion are like. And it’s something that we talk about all the time.

And then at the end, to say, and we weep – you know, obviously when you’re cutting an onion, you know, sometimes you cry. But the idea that you could cry because you’re recognizing that you’re, you know, cutting into something that is – that was once pure and that was once whole is something that really resonates with me.

MARTIN: Well, also I liked the – reading it once again, (reading) common onion, layered with pliant translucent imitations, echoes of itself, shows us the power of ordinary things, and we weep.

FOLARIN: Yeah.

MARTIN: What I liked about that is that, you know, this is something that I’m always trying to kind of figure out how to impress upon my children. You know, they’re just, like, surrounded by, you know, media, which is by definition kind of a mediated experience.

FOLARIN: Yeah.

MARTIN: And I’m trying to constantly get them to look at the real thing.

FOLARIN: Sure.

MARTIN: Like, why look at the imitation when you can have the real thing? So whenever they do – they actually look out at a sunset, it makes me want to weep. I think, yes…

FOLARIN: Yeah.

MARTIN: Whenever they look out at a sunset or a beautiful cloud and say, look, Mom, it just makes me feel like I want to weep. So anyway that’s why…

FOLARIN: Yeah.

MARTIN: That’s what it meant to me. So thank you for that.

FOLARIN: Of course.

MARTIN: Thank you for giving me a moment. Binyavanga, do you have any advice about how to get started or master this form, especially for somebody – you say you have a love-hate relationship with it – I’m sure a lot of us do.

WAINAINA: (Laughing) All the poets whom I love are able to trust seeing in a certain way a felt vulnerable imagination – I don’t know, yeah – which terrifies most people. So, yes, be – allow yourself to be vulnerable and see. It teaches you to see.

MARTIN: That’s lovely. Thank you so much. That’s Binyavanga Wainaina from Dakar, Senegal, Tope Folarin – both of them winners of the Caine Prize for excellence in the short story form by African writers, both kind enough to join us from their respective cities. Thank you both so much for joining us. Thank you for participating.

FOLARIN: Thank you so much.

WAINAINA: Thank you.

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