“That’s right – you’re wrong!” — Kay Kyser

August 7, 2009

ABBOTT and COSTELLO

ABBOTT and COSTELLO

I just reviewed a book of photographs taken at the New Jersey Shore between the late 19th century and the 1970s. As frequently happens when I read books these days, I was annoyed to distraction by the careless errors in the text – the text, in this case, consisting of chapter introductions and photo captions.

The author of the text, a New Jersey resident vaguely identified as a history teacher, must have a loose view of what constitutes history. For example, he identified the birthplace of comedian Lou Costello as “Patterson.” He also made several references to a shore community that he called “Tom’s River.” Who “Tom” is, I am not aware.

MARGARET GORMAN

MARGARET GORMAN

The book includes three photos of Margaret Gorman, dressed in an outlandish outfit for her “coronation” as the first Miss America at the pageant that originated and persisted for many years in Atlantic City. In one photo she is accompanied by a man dressed up as King Neptune; in another, she poses on the boardwalk with a group of young girls in dancing costumes; in the last, she is being borne along the boardwalk by in what looks like a sedan chair in the shape of a seashell. The writer explains — twice — that Gorman was installed as Miss America in 1922. It was 1921.

JOE WARDELL

JOE WARDELL

In one of several stunning photos of the amusement areas in Atlantic City, a marquee announces that the live entertainment on the Steel Pier includes The Three Stooges. Taking note of that, the writer adds to the name of the act the names of the individual characters — “Moe, Larry, and Curly Joe.” The photo was taken in 1938. Curly Joe Wardell didn’t join The Three Stooges until 1958. Perhaps the history teacher was thinking of Curly Howard.

Is this sort of thing the result only of downsizing in the workshops of publishing houses, or is it symptomatic of a more general disregard for precision? There was a time when it would might have taken hours for a writer to double-check the date of the first Miss America, the spellings of well-known places in his own home state, and the chronology of the evolution of a comedy act. In the 21st century, all of that would take no more than fifteen minutes.

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