I was listening to Jonathan Schwartz on WNYC a week ago today, and he played a recording by Frank Sinatra of one of my favorite songs from the 1930s — “When Your Lover Has Gone.” Schwartz is such an aficionado of recorded popular songs that he often dwells on minor points about such things as the arrangement or the instrumentation or even — as he did in one case that day — on the matter of which cut on a vinyl disk a song might have occupied.

I was surprised, then, that he didn’t discuss the fact that Sinatra didn’t sing my preferred introduction to Einar Swan’s song — which, by the way, was written in 1931 and featured in the film “Blonde Crazy” with James Cagney and Joan Blondell.


On my favorite recording of that song, for instance — the one from Kate Smith’s concert at Carnegie Hall — Kate Smith sings this intro: “From ages to ages, the poets and sages, of love — wond’rous love — always sing ….” But Sinatra’s recording began with the second verse: “What good is the scheming, the planning, the dreaming, that come with each new love affair ….”

Swan, who died at 37, had only one hit song, but it did it right that one time. “When Your Lover Has Gone” has always  been a favorite of vocalists and instrumentalists and it has been covered by Billie Holliday, Sarah Vaughan, Louis Armstrong, and Ethel Waters, among others. It turns out that most artists prefer the introduction that Sinatra chose, and they drop the first verse altogether. I would try to make an argument for my preference, but considering the talent arrayed against me, what would be the point?

Einar Aaron Swan in a photo, circa 1927, published in the Worcester (Mass.) Telegram

There is an interesting article about “When Your Lover Has Gone” with some samples of recording of the song at JazzStandards.com. Follow THIS LINK.

There is also an extensive article about Swan at JazzHistoryDatabase.com, and you can reach it at THIS LINK.



We watched “Jakob the Liar,” a 1999 film starring its executive producer, Robin Williams.

In this story based on Jurek Becker’s novel, Williams plays the title role, a man confined to a Jewish ghetto in Poland during World War II. Jakob is summoned to the commandancy of the ghetto for being in the street after curfew, and while he is in an SS officer’s quarters, he hears a radio news report to the effect that the Red Army is advancing in the vicinity of the ghetto.

Alan Arkin and Liev Schreiber

When Jakob gives this information to his fellow inmate, Mischa (Liev Schreiber), Mischa draws the conclusion that Jakob himself has a radio — an offense punishable by death in the ghetto. Mischa shares his suspicion with others and soon the story is all over the ghetto, and nothing Jakob can say will put it to rest. The inmates beg him for more promising news, and he finally decides to lift their spirits by making up more “news” about the impending end of the war.


Jakob’s position becomes increasingly precarious, and it isn’t helped any by the fact that he is sheltering a young girl (Hannah Taylor-Gordon) who avoided boarding the transport that carried her parents to a death camp.

Given the fact that this movie features Williams in a dramatic role, includes fine actors such as Bob Balaban and Alan Arkin, and deals with this particular historical epoch, we expected to like it. We found, however, that the sum of the parts leaves the whole lacking.

The film is tedious and in some particulars implausible — for example, a scene in which Jakob defies and even intimidates an SS officer who, under real circumstances, would have shot him on the spot. And while Roberto Benigni proved that humor could be mixed into a serious Holocaust story, this film doesn’t strike the delicate balance between the two that the Italian movie achieved.


After we watch a movie, we get a kick out of going to the International Movie Database site and check on the “goofs” that others have found in the film we just saw. We are amazed sometimes at the obscure things that people notice. For example, we recently saw “The Blind Side” and were amused to read on imdb that in the scene in which the actor playing Michael Oher is talking to an NCAA official, a Maggiano’s Little Italy restaurant is visible through the office window, whereas – the “goofs” page points out – there is no Maggiano’s in Memphis, where the story took place.


So the other night we watched on TV the 1993 movie “Untamed Heart” with Marisa Tomei and Christian Slater. There is a scene in that movie in which Slater’s character shows Tomei’s character a box containing several vinyl LPs that had been given to him by a nun when he left an orphanage. He puts one of the LPs on a turntable, and the first cut is a recording of Roger Williams playing “Nature Boy,” a song written by Eden Ahbez in 1947. At the end of the film, when Slater’s character has died, Tomei puts the same record on and listens to the same recording.


What imdb’s “goofs” page has missed so far, is that the jacket that that LP was taken from in both scenes is the RCA album “Enrico Caruso in Opera and Song.” I have owned that album for several decades and have played it enough times that I spotted the images of the tenor on the back of the jacket both times that it appeared in the film.

I’m old, but I’m still awake.


John Edwards’ melodrama is interesting because, among other things, of how it both resembles and departs from the experience of Grover Cleveland. Edwards was a viable candidate in last year’s presidential primary campaign, and he knew at the time that he had had an affair and fathered a child. Something similar happened to Cleveland during his presidential campaign against James G. Blaine in 1884. Blaine (“the continental liar from the State of Maine”) was beset with a corruption accusation, but the Republicans planned to counter by reporting that Cleveland had sired a child while he was an unmarried attorney in Buffalo. When this scandal started to emerge, Cleveland told his campaign staff — and here’s where the stories diverge — to “tell the truth.”


The truth was that Maria Crofts Halpin, the woman who had named Cleveland as the father of her child, had had relationships with other men. Cleveland didn’t know with certainty that he was the father of her child, but he accepted the responsibility and made support payments to the woman — apparently because he was the only one of her lovers who was unmarried. People had different values then.

There was no happy ending to that story. Mrs. Halpin had a troubled life, complicated by alcohol. Cleveland did what he could to help her and her son, but eventually the boy was adopted into a stable home and Cleveland’s connection ended.

The lesson, Sen. Edwards, is that Cleveland didn’t try to hide his mistake and he won the popular vote for president in 1884, 1888, and 1892. He came short on electoral votes in ’88, and took four years off. I don’t think the public has changed so much in all the intervening years that it doesn’t still suffer a bungler before a liar.

I am usually a proponent of the separation of church and state, agreeing wholeheartedly that both government and organized religions are better off if they keep their entanglements to a minimum.  I do like some common sense with my coffee, however, and I don’t find any in the case of Donna Kay Busch, the Pennsylvania woman who was barred from reading five verses from the 118th Psalm to her son’s kindergarten class.

Getty Images

These are the verses, from the King James Version, that Mrs. Busch proposed to read:

O, give thanks unto the Lord, for He is good: because his mercy endureth forever. / Let Israel now say that his mercy endureth forever. / Let the house of Aaron now say, that his mercy endureth forever. / Let them now that fear the Lord say, that his mercy endureth forever. / Let them now that fear the Lord say, that his mercy endureth foever. / … The Lord is my strength and song, and is become my salvation.

Mrs. Busch – an Evangelical Christian – said she chose these verses because they made no reference to Christianity. Here’s the explanation from the Christian Science Monitor:

The reading was to be part of an in-class assignment in which the children were invited to present important aspects of their lives to their classmates. As part of this “All About Me” week-long assignment, Busch’s son, Wesley, made a poster displaying photographs of himself, his hamster, his brothers, his parents, his best friend, and a construction-paper likeness of his church.

One part of the “All About Me” curriculum included inviting parents to “share a talent, short game, small craft, or story” with the class that would highlight something about their child. Busch said her son asked her to read the Bible to the class, an activity she and her son shared together at home.

Mrs. Busch told the kindergarten teacher in advance what she proposed to read, and the building principal objected to it on the grounds that reading a religious text to public-school children who were required to be present would amount to state-sponsored endorsement (“establishment”?) of one religion over others.

A federal judge and then a federal appeals court upheld the principal’s decision, and now the U.S. Supreme Court has, in effect, done the same by refusing to hear Mrs. Busch’s appeal.

I like a dissenting opinion from one of the appeals court judges who argued that the school had invited students and their families to participate in a program by expressing what they thought was important in their lives. Barring members of this family from expressing this particular aspect of their lives seems unfair, hypocritical, and overzealous. I wonder exactly what the school system and the courts thought would be the result if Mrs. Busch had read those verses to the kids? Which does more damage – reading a few verses of Hebrew scripture to children, perhaps with an explanation that Judaism and Christianity are two of many religions in the world, or pretending that a curriculum is preparing children to live in the wider world without educating them to the fact that religious expression is a major factor out there?

You can read the Monitor’s story on this case by clicking HERE.


In their learned discussion  this week, political philosopher Glenn Beck and stateswoman Sarah Palin evoked the spirits of the “founding fathers” — a term, by the way, that was coined by an earlier genius, Warren G. Harding. After his own apotheosis of George Washington, Beck inquired of Gov. Palin, “Who is your favorite founder?” Apparently not wanting to offend the disciples of any one of our forbears, Gov. Palin demurred: “Ummm … you know … well, all of them.” Beck, clearly trying to uphold his reputation as a hard-hitting and objective interviewer, expressed his reservation by dismissing the governor’s attempt at delicacy as “bull crap” and demanded to know who was her favorite. The two great minds, as  it turned out, were superimposed much like a prophetic convergence of heavenly bodies. Gov. Palin’s choice was George Washington. She made her reason clear: She empathized with Washington’s indifference to public office, except as a temporary duty, and his disdain for notoriety in general. So it was a natural choice for the former city council member, mayor, and governor, and unsuccessful candidate for lieutenant governor and vice-president — and recently engaged Fox News commentator. Neither Beck nor Palin brought up slave-holding or land speculation, but it was only a one-hour program.


Given the spiritual underpinnings of the two thinkers, their discourse naturally turned to religion. They agreed that religious faith was an important motivation for  the “founding fathers,” although Glenn Beck darkly noted, “except Thomas Paine — we think he might have been an athiest.” As far as the others were concerned, Gov. Palin twice tried to assure Beck — who didn’t seem to be listening — that “we have the documents.”

Paine might have run afoul of Glenn Beck and Gov. Palin anyway inasmuch as he eventually described Washington with words like “hypocrite,” “apostate,” and “imposter.” However, unless the “we” who share Glenn Beck’s suspicions know something that historians do not know, Paine was not an athiest but a deist — deism being all the rage at the time, including among many of the “founders.”

As for the “documents” the governor referred as evidence that the republic somehow was founded on religious principles, perhaps she will be specific when she settles into her role as a commentator or when she publishes her next book. Presumably she is not referring to the Declaration of Independence, which is not part of the organic law of the land, nor such things as Thanksgiving proclamations. Nor can she mean the treaty with Tripoli, ratified by the Senate and signed by the deist founding father and president, John Adams — a treaty that explicitly rejects the idea that the government of the United States was founded on Christian principles. If Gov. Palin can find religion — except a prohibition against establishing it — in the federal Constitution, which is the law of the land, she has an obligation to expose it for the rest of us.

Children at Theresienstadt. Yad Vashem Archives.

It’s been a good reading season squeezed in between semesters. The pace will slow down when classes resume next week, though I just started a fascinating book about Isaac Newton’s little-known career as the scourge of counterfeiters. Of that, more later.

I just finished “The Girls of Room 28” by Hannelore Brenner, which describes the lives of children who were incarcerated at the Jewish ghetto in Theresienstadt, Czechoslovakia, between 1941 and 1944. An estimated 13,000 children passed through there; 25 survived. Some died of disease or other consequences of neglect. Most died in the concentration camps further east. Brenner presents first-hand accounts from some of the survivors as well as material from diaries and other such documents. She also records how the Nazis bamboozled the International Red Cross  into thinking that Theresienstadt was a model community for Jews, founded on the benevolent nature  of Adolf Hitler. There is a lot of information and photographs about the ghetto on the YAD VASHEM web site.

Abraham Lincoln reading to his son Tad.

I can’t read too many books about Abraham Lincoln, and I was delighted with “Lincoln, Life-Size,” a volume that includes digitized reproductions of all 114 known photographs of Lincoln, most of them portraits. The book was assembled by three descendants of Frederick Meserve, one of the best-known collectors of Lincoln images. The authors used high technology to calculate the size of Lincoln’s head. The head was cropped from each of several dozen photographs and reproduced on the facing page in life size. The result is fascinating and, at times, unsettling. The authors also accompany each photograph with texts drawn from a variety of sources, some putting the photo in context, others illuminating some aspect of Lincoln’s public or private life.


“America’s Girl” is a biography of Gertrude Ederle, a young woman from New York City who, in 1926, not only became the first woman to swim the English Channel, but far surpassed the previous record — set, obviously, by a man. Ederle did not lead an exciting life in the long term, but in the weeks and months after her achievement, she was a celebrity of proportions that have only rarely been exceeded —  even in our own age of instant notoriety. More  important, really, is that her accomplishment had a significance that transcended her personal fortunes. Ederle confounded the widely accepted assumption that women were not capable of feats like the one she performed. Her crossing helped to accelerate brewing changes in how women were regarded and what they were permitted to do in a society in which only men were allowed to vote until only five years before. The book was written by Tim Dahlberg with Mary Ederle Ward – the swimmer’s niece – and Brenda Green.

Yogi Berra jumps into Don Larsen's arms after the last out of the perfect game.

“Perfect” by Lew Paper, is based on Don Larsen’s perfect game in the 1956 World Series between the New York Yankees and the Brooklyn Dodgers. Paper examines the well-worn but still fascinating fact that this feat – achieved only once since the World Series was inaugurated in 1903 – was carried out by a mediocre pitcher whose name would long have been forgotten if it hadn’t been for that day. But Paper makes his book good winter reading for baseball fanatics by devoting each of his 18 chapters to one the half-innings in that game, and focusing each chapter on one of the players who participated. In one instance only, he profiles two players – Jackie Robinson and Gil McDouglald – in a single chapter. In each case, Paper recounts the personal history that brought the player – Mickey Mantle, Enos Slaughter, Gil Hodges, Pee Wee Reese – to that historic moment in sports. Not the least of these figures is Dale Mitchell of the Dodgers who was pinch hitting for starting pitcher Sal Maglie in the top of the ninth when he took the called strike that sealed Larsen’s place in history. Mitchell, who had one of the best batting eyes of his era, thought  the pitch was high. So, according to Paper, did most of the Yankees on the field. But, as one baseball wag observed, when the umpire calls strike three on you, even God can’t get you off.

Authorities estimated that a third of the population of New York City - about two million people - turned out for this ticker-tape parade for Gertrude Ederle. It remains the largest such event to honor an individual athlete. (© Underwood & Underwood/CORBIS)

Sandy Dennis Foundation

Turner Classic Movies picked an off-peak hour — 6 p.m. yesterday — to show “Sweet November,” a movie we weren’t familiar with, starring Anthony Newley and the unique actress Sandra Dennis. Knowing it was a Sandra Dennis movie, we actually planned dinner so that we’d be done in time to watch — and were we ever glad we did.

This 1968 film tells an offbeat story about a young woman, Sara Dever, who — in a disingenuous way — charms a series of men into moving in with her for a month each. Sara is, by most standards, mad, but she is also irresistible in a way that Sandra Dennis was irresistible. The men who become her temporary lovers — arriving at the stroke of midnight on the first day of the month, leaving at the stroke of midnight on the last — are chance encounters, but in each she perceives some weakness, some flaw, and she helps him overcome it in 28, 30, or 31 days.


Sara insists on the schedule. No man is to remain even a minute more than his allotment. Some are better than others at living up to this part of the bargain. The system begins to run amok when Sara takes in Charlie Blake, a seemingly unctuous Englishman who inherited a lucrative box-manufacturing company and is trying to expand it in the United States. As Charlie’s month, November, slips away, he is less and less inclined to part company with Sara. He is also increasingly concerned that her insistence on his departure has to do with something more — something darker — than her therapeutic routine.


The cast of this film includes Theodore Bikel as Alonzo, a vegan sign painter and Sara’s one true confidant.

All the performances are moving, and Sandra Dennis is as good as she ever was on film, blurring the distinction between the actress and the character through inimitable speech and mannerisms and deep emotional insights. I had the good fortune to meet this actress on two occasions, and I found her just as mesmerizing as Sara seems to be in this film — and for many of the same reasons.

“Sweet November” was remade in 2001 with Keanu Reeves and Charlize Theron. I haven’t seen that version, but from what I’ve read, it was a laughing stock. It might have been a bad film altogether, but even if it wasn’t, I doubt that many people who have seen Sandra Dennis play Sara Dever would want to see anyone else in the part.

Sandra Dennis and Anthony Newley in "Sweet November"

The relationship between baseball and presidents of the United States has been well documented; in fact, there is a room devoted to the subject at the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY. The earliest association seems to be with Abraham Lincoln and it is most graphically represented by this Currier & Ives political cartoon, published in 1860, after Lincoln had outlasted three opponents to win the presidency. Lincoln is saying, “Gentleman, if ever you should take a hand in another match at this game, remember that you must have a good bat to strike a fair ball and make a clean score and a home run.”


How close Lincoln was to the game seems to be a matter of debate, but it is documented that his successor, Andrew Johnson, was the first president to witness an intra-city game and the first president to invite a baseball team into the White House. Among his papers are several honorary membership cards in baseball organizations.

Another president who had a particular connection to baseball was Dwight Eisenhower, who loved the game and said more than once that he would have liked to have played professionally. There is a lingering discussion about whether he did, in fact, once play semi-pro ball under an assumed name — something that would have fouled the amateur status under which he played football at West Point. A number of prominent witnesses said that Eisenhower had admitted to this in later life, but Eisenhower never publicly owned up to it.


Meanwhile, the Christian Science Monitor has looked into the subject of presidents and football — specifically, which president was the best player. The candidates are Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, and Ronald Reagan.

Even after one gets over the image of Nixon playing football, the answer isn’t as obvious as it may seem.

If you can’t guess, you can read about it at THIS LINK.


We finally got around to watching “Vicky Cristina Barcelona,” which was a very successful film for Woody Allen in 2008. Besides making a lot of money – in proportion to its budget – the film won and was nominated for a ton of awards, including a best supporting actress Oscar for Penelope Cruz.

Allen pursues his interest in neurotic people, but in an unusual environment for him — some very attractive locations in Spain. The story involves two young American women — Vicky (Rebecca Hall) and Cristina (Scarlett Johansson) — who get a chance to spend a summer in Spain in the home  of a distant relative of Vicky’s, played by Patricia Clarkson. Vicky, who is a bit prim and self-assured is engaged to marry a well-groomed go-getter. Cristina, who hasn’t been successful at relationships, tentatively plays at being a free spirit. Allen uses a narrator – Christopher Evan Welch – to describe in a documentary fashion the summer in Spain in which the lives of both women are thrown into disarray.


The agent for the turmoil is Juan Antonio Gonzalo (Javier Bardem), an artist whose relationship with his wife, Maria Elena (Cruz), was disrupted when she stabbed him in a characteristic fit of rage. Though it is disrupted, the relationship is not over — certainly not in Gonzalo’s mind or loins. Despite Vicky’s protestations, Cristina becomes involved with Gonzalo — in fact, moves in with him — after he unsuccessfully invites both women to join him in a menage. Vicky disapproves and says so, but by now — thanks to Gonzalo — she’s not nearly as sure of herself.

Things get very complicated even before Maria Elena reappears — with a flourish — to play a wholly unexpected part or two in turning things upside down.


The credibility of this story hangs heavily on Gonzalo’s charm, and Bardem has it to spare. It’s an interesting combination of raw magnetism and sexual grace that plausibly could, on the one hand,  take advantage of Cristine’s confusion and, on the other hand, crumble Vicky’s moral fortifications, and — if there were a third hand — inspire Maria Elena’s capacity for both lust and murder.

As usual, when Allen is on his game, this film is well written, well directed, well cast, well photographed, and well acted.

Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem in a scene from "Vicky Cristina Barcelona"