Presidential Inauguration Speeches

My favorite Presidential Inauguration story is a cautionary tale about long speeches and dressing for the weather.

President William H. Harrison made the longest inaugural speech in 1841 - and served the shortest term of office.

"Old Tippecanoe" gave a speech that ran an hour-and-forty-five-minutes - during a snowstorm - without wearing a topcoat, scarf or gloves.

The 68-year-old President stood outside for the entire ceremony. He greeted crowds of well-wishers at the White House later that day. He went to several celebrations that evening.

One month later he died of pneumonia. I go with the inauguration as the cause, though there is some doubt.

  1.  Keep the speech short.  The shortest one was George Washington's Second Inaugural (130 words), followed by Franklin Delano Roosevelt's Fourth (550 words) and Abraham Lincoln's Second (700 words). See a pattern? You learn after the first term to revise and cut that speech down.
  2. Dress for the weather. Mom was right. You can catch a bad cold if you stand outside in wet clothing.

What will we learn from the Trump inauguration today? We'll see... 

Letting in a Vampire

I'm taking a free online course about Scandinavian cinema. I love movies, but I don't know much about cinema from that part of the world. I know Ingmar Bergman, Lasse Hallstrom and Lars Von Trier - but that's because they get shown in America.

A new one for me is Let the Right One In (Swedish: Låt den rätte komma in) from 2008. Directed by Tomas Alfredson’s and based on John Ajvide Linqvist’s novel of the same name, it was the first serious Swedish vampire film.

My wife was the vampire fan (Anne Rice novels and all that) not me, but I really liked this film. (My wife did not. She thought it was too gory.)

It is the odd genre of horror-romance (if such a genre exists). It is set in a a suburb of Stockholm. A lonely and slight Oskar meets another 12-year-old girl named Eli. She turns out to be a vampire. The setting is cold. Ali is cold to the touch, but becomes Oskar's friend and protector from the bullies at his school.

It is also a tale of adolescence angst and isolation. The filmmaker is not much concerned with all the trappings of vampire conventions that are apparently part of the novel. Eli does only come out at night, can be killed by sunlight, needs fresh blood, and has super-strength so that she can leap like flying and kill adults.

I also watched the American remake which is very, very close cinematically to the original with some variations on the story (perhaps from the novel). The remake is titled Let Me In. It was released in is a 2010 and is an American-British production. It was written and directed by Matt Reeves and starring Kodi Smit-McPhee, Chloë Grace Moretz, Elias Koteas, and Richard Jenkins. The setting is a snowy Los Alamos, New Mexico in the early 1980s.

The remake is probably more graphic than the original but not as much as many modern horror films.  The frail boy (Owen in this version) connects with Abby and will become her companion now that Thomas (who seemed like father but was not) is dead. She will protect him. He will grow older. She will not.

Why let me in or let the right one in? The idea seems to be that a vampire can't enter a home without permission from the owner. That's not vampire tradition, but times change even if vampires don't change.

Matt Reeves is known for a number of films including Cloverfield, Point Break and two of the new Planet of the Apes films. The film generally got good reviews, though some critics felt it was so similar to the original that it didn't get need to be made. I saw the same kinds of reviews for the American remake of the Steig Larson trilogy about the The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. There's room in the world for both versions, but do watch the Swedish originals.

Me and Orson Welles

I will finish off this Wellesian week with a novel titled, Me and Orson Welles, written by Robert Kaplow.

Kaplow was a Rutgers student who "never stopped writing: songs, plays, sketches, novellas." Like myself, he spent a lot of time on campus "writing or prowling through the Alexander Library" and maybe he was also a fellow browser and buyer at the Old Yorke bookshop too.

Kaplow attended Rutgers at the same time as me, graduating a year after me in 1976. He was also an English major and we certainly must have crossed paths and may have had a class together and sat through a Scott Hall lecture a few times.

He published Me and Orson Welles in 2003 and director Richard Linklater made a film adaptation with the same title in 2008.

The story revolves around Orson Welles who was a big hero of mine in my college days. It is set in his Mercury Theatre days before Citizen Kane.

His theater group pulled off the famous 1938 radio War of the Worlds that had New Jerseyeans and many others in the area in a panic over an alien invasion. Many radio listeners who heard only a portion of the broadcast took it to be a real news broadcast and that aliens had landed in New Jersey. Newspapers reported that panic ensued, people fleeing the area, others thinking they could smell poison gas or could see flashes of lightning in the distance. Welles played a fictional astronomer and Princeton professor who refutes talk about life on Mars just as a "cylindrical meteorite" lands in Grover's Mill, N.J.

In the novel, Orson Welles is 22 and about to have his debut production of Julius Caesar at the Mercury Theatre on Broadway in 1937.

The book's protagonist is Richard Samuels, 17, a high school senior with senioritis. He escapes New Jersey and wander New York City on weekends trying to connect as a writer or something creative.

Welles' Julius Caesar

He stumbles into the about-to-open Mercury Theatre and gets noticed by Welles. he gets a very small part in the production.

Richard says "This is the story of one week in my life. I was seventeen. It was the week I slept in Orson Welles's pajamas. It was the week I fell in love. It was the week I fell out of love."

Welles’ Broadway production of Julius Caesar, was staged in modern dress and was intended as a polemic against the fascist forces growing in Europe. But this story is not concerned with politics. It's about

You can read the first chapter online.

The film adaptation, Me and Orson Welles, stars Zac Efron as Richard, the wonderful Christian McKay as Welles, and Claire Danes as the third part of a little triangle they form. The film received good reviews. ( “One of the best movies about the theater I've ever seen.” said Roger Ebert)

Mckay and Efron

Kaplow was inspired while flipping through old magazines in the basement of the Alexander Library (a place I often visited to escape real studying - great old leather easy chairs back then) and coming across a photo of Welles on the Julius Caesar stage sitting next to a young boy who was playing the lute. Richard becomes that bit part lute player.

Another Kaplow connection - he became an English teacher in New Jersey, as I did.

Kaplow also wrote Alessandra in Love and Alex Icicle: A Romance in Ten Torrid Chaptersand two interestingly-titled literary parodies, The Cat who Killed Lilian Jackson Braun and Who’s Killing the Great Writers of America?   His website is