Girl History Month – Leonora Piper, Spiritualism’s “One White Crow”

Professor William James of Harvard was one of America’s greatest psychologist – philosophers and was one of the founders of the Pragmatic school of thought — that only those principles that can be demonstrated not only theoretically, by deduction, but practically, by use, deserve intelligent consideration.

And yet this unbending pragmatist was converted to a belief in psychic phenomena to such a degree that he became one of the founding members of the American Society for Psychical Research (ASPR).

The medium who accomplished this seemingly impossible conversion was a woman named Leonora Piper, who was the reason that Professor James coined the adage about “the one white crow that proves that not all crows are black.” She became to him the one honest Spiritualist medium whose mere existence refuted the charge that all mediums are fakes.

Born Leonora Symonds in Nashua, New Hampshire in 1859, Leonora showed mediumistic ability at an early age, her first recorded experience taking place when she was around eight and playing in the family’s garden. As she played, she heard a familiar voice whisper in her ear, saying, “It’s Aunt Sara, not dead, but with you, still.” Understandably frightened, Leonora ran into the house and told her mother what had just happened. It turned out that her Aunt Sara had just died, a fact which supposedly didn’t come to the family’s attention until some time later.
Other, similar incidents continued to occur throughout Leonora’s childhood and adolescence, but she did her best to ignore them. It wasn’t until she married Boston shopkeeper William Piper and settled into their new home in the Beacon Hill area of the city that she began to take her gifts seriously. After the birth of her first daughter, Alta, Leonora began to suffer from recurring pain which seemed to be related to an old childhood injury. The pain worsened following the birth of her second daughter, Minerva, and in an effort to relieve it, she agreed to accompany her father-in-law to the home of J.R. Cook, a blind medium who specialized in “curing” illness through psychic means.
According to Alta Piper, who wrote an extensive biography about her mother in 1929, whilst visiting Cook, Leonora slipped into trance, during which she received a spirit message from the deceased son of a local judge. Leonora dutifully passed on the message to him. On hearing it, he told her that it was the most accurate spirit message that he had received in the 30 years that he had been a follower of spiritualism.

LEONORA PIPER, CIRCA 1870s.

The incident marked the start of Leonora’s public career as a medium. She soon began giving readings in her home, the startling accuracy of which drew sitters from well beyond the city limits of Boston. Word of her reputation eventually reached the ears of William James, renowned psychologist and brother of expatriate writer Henry James (The Golden Bowl, Daisy Miller, The Bostonians) and spiritual seeker.

WILLIAM JAMES, PIONEERING PSYCHOLOGIST, PRAGMATIC PHILOSOPHER, AND LIFELONG SPIRITUAL SEEKER

James’ interest in spiritualism surfaced after his marriage to Alice Gibbens in 1878, with whom he had two sons. Following the death of their second son Herman around 1885, James, like so many bereaved parents before him, turned to spiritualism for comfort. The renowned philosopher had already begun an exploration of so-called spiritual matters some years before. A man known and even revered by some for his pragmatical approach to philosophical questions, James had always harbored a sympathetic attitude toward the idea of spirit contact, and on visiting the deathbed of his friend, Frederic Myers, who had served as the president of the American Society for Psychical Research, had asked Myers to attempt to make contact after his death. James never received the desired messages from beyond. Disappointed, he still continued to pursue his interest in spiritualism, stating that it “one needs only to find one white crow in order to prove that not all crows are black.” Soon after making that statement, he found his “white crow”…in Leonora Piper.

FREDERIC MYERS, WILLIAM JAMES’ FRIEND IN LIFE, A DISAPPOINTMENT IN DEATH

James first heard of Leonora Piper through his mother-in-law, who visited the Boston medium under an assumed name not only to maintain secrecy as to her true identity, but to prevent Leonora from digging up personal facts about her life that she might later attribute to her supposed mediumistic abilities. But her secrecy had no effect on Leonora’s abilities. On visiting Leonora, Mrs. Gibbens was astounded when the medium purportedly passed on several messages from spirit which referenced a number of her relatives, living and dead, and which contained astonishingly accurate details which Mrs. Gibbens was convinced Leonora could not have known by “any normal means.” Impressed and excited, Mrs. Gibbens returned home and gushed about Leonora to her son-in-law who, by his own account, derided her for her credulity. He called her a “victim of a medium’s trickery” and even went so far as to demonstrate to her the many ways in which someone like Leonora Piper was able to fool gullible members of the public. But Mrs. Gibbens would not be swayed, and made a second visit to Leonora’s home, this time accompanied by James’ sister-in-law, who came away equally impressed. Frustrated by the women’s insistence on Leonora’s authenticity, and now somewhat curious to meet her himself, James made his own trek to the Piper parlor for a reading.

SPIRIT TRUMPET, ONE OF MANY MEDIUMSTIC “PROPS” USED IN 19TH CENTURY SEANCES AND EVEN IN THOSE OF TODAY. BUT A PROP NOT FOUND IN LEONORA PIPER’S PARLOR.

Later, writing about that first meeting with Leonora Piper, James remarked on his surprised at finding her parlor devoid of the usual array of mediumistic props. There were no spirit trumpets or bells for spirits to talk through or to ring, no spirit cabinet, no red-tinted lamps to cast an eerie glow on the proceedings and trick sitters’ eyes into seeing things that weren’t there. There was only Leonora Piper, a demure, diminutive woman, who told James and the several other sitters present to sit wherever they wished before warning them not to expect to witness anything of a sensational nature during the reading. She was not the sort of medium who made things fly about the room, she explained, and there would be no manifestations of spirit images appearing before them. She would simply do what she always did, which was to go into trance and allow her spirit guides (or “controls”) to take over and give messages, following which she would awaken with no memory of what had taken place.

THE MEDIUM AT THE HEIGHT OF HER FAME

James was impressed with what occurred. Writing about it later on, he said, “My impression after this first visit was that Mrs. Piper was either possessed of supernormal powers or knew the members of my wife’s family by sight and had by some lucky coincidence become acquainted with such a multitude of their domestic circumstances as to produce the startling impression which she did. My later knowledge of her sittings and personal acquaintance with her has led me to absolutely reject the latter explanation, and to believe that she has supernormal powers.” Following that initial visit, James made appointments for 25 of his friends to visit Leonora, thus hoping to test her veracity regarding other sitters. He was not disappointed in his quest. For the next two years, the “pragmatic philosopher” continued to test the Boston medium, even hiring a private detective (without telling Leonora) to follow her around and make certain that she wasn’t gleaning information about her sitters through surreptitious means.

The one caveat for James throughout his testing of Leonora was her use of an alleged spirit control who identified himself as a deceased French physician called “Dr. Phinuit”, but since “Phinuit” was never able to give a satisfactory account of his earthly life, seemed to know next to nothing about medicine, and couldn’t even speak French, James concluded that the “spirit” was most likely a sub-conscious aspect of Leonora’s personality, the fact of which did not detract from his belief in the lady’s “tremendous” abilities as a medium.

WILLIAM JAMES, THE PRAGMATIC PHILOSOPHER WHO INTRODUCED LEONORA PIPER TO THE PUBLIC

In the mid-1880s, James took Leonora to England, where he introduced her to some of the great psychical researchers of the day, including Sir Oliver William Holmes, Henry Sedgwick, and FWH Meyers of the British SPR. According to all accounts, Leonora’s mediumistic performance in England was every bit as impressive as it had been back in the States, despite being kept under close, constant watch and even allowing her mail to be open and read as proof against fraudulence. Surprisingly, her success in England was met with some instances of scorn once she returned to Boston. After giving an interview in which she stated that she could not be sure whether she was actually being controlled by spirits during trance or whether her abilities were a result of ESP, The New York Herald ran a piece titled “Mrs. Leonora Piper’s Plain Statement” in which they pointed to the statement as a confession of fraudulence on Leonora’s part. At one point, in an effort to test the depth of her trance, Leonora was subjected to harsh treatment from several psychical investigators not associated with James which resulted in “a badly blistered tongue”, according to her daughter Alta’s subsequent biographical account of the incident.

Leonora returned to England in 1908 where she was one of several mediums who took part in the famous cross correspondence sessions, during which each medium (all of whom were from different areas, and some from other countries) allegedly received bits and pieces of spirit messages which made no sense on their own, but which, when connected, comprised a coherent message which was supposed to prove the validity of the respective spirit communications. The pressure of her involvement with the sessions had a debilitating effect on Leonora who returned to her home in Boston to find that she had lost her mediumistic abilities, a state which lasted until 1911. When her abilities finally did resurface, she found that she was only able to access them through automatic writing. She was never again able to go into trance.

LEONORA PIPER, POST-INVESTIGATIONS, CIRCA 1940s

Leonora Piper died in 1950, her name still associated with that of William James and the investigations she had undergone under his scrutiny. By that time, James was long dead, having passed away in 1910, but not before writing extensively about Leonora, his “white crow”, and declaring, as his final verdict on the case, that she “unquestionably displayed supernormal knowledge” of facts which could not be otherwise known to her, but that he remained unconvinced that it was the result of spirit agency.

Girl History Month – “Carolyn Keene,” Author Of The Nancy Drew Mysteries

nancy_drew

I was a huge fan of the Nancy Drew mysteries when I was growing up. I imagined that the author of the series, Carolyn Keene, was a sophisticated New York socialite who dashed off books for girls like me in between drinking Champagne and eating caviar.

drew9

When I grew up, I learned that “Carolyn Keene” was the pseudonym of multiple authors who wrote my beloved mystery stories for the ominously named “Stratemeyer Syndicate”.

drew4wrapdj1

Apparently, Edward Stratemeyer, the founder of the Syndicate, hired writer Mildred Wirt, later Mildred Wirt Benson, to write the manuscripts for the Nancy Drew books. Mildred was paid $125 for each book and was required by her contract to give up all rights to the work and to maintain confidentiality.

wirtwithbooks

Mildred and Harriet Adams (Stratemeyer’s daughter) are often credited as the primary writers of the Nancy Drew books.  Also involved in the Nancy Drew writing process were Harriet’s daughters, who gave input on the series and sometimes helped to choose book titles.  The Syndicate’s secretary, Harriet Otis Smith, invented the characters of Nancy’s friends Bess and George.

I still think Carolyn Keene exists out there somewhere.  🙂

case 1.indd

Girl History Month – Grace Kelly, American Beauty

Reprinted from the MailOnline

By Sharon Churcher

PUBLISHED: 17:44 EST, 26 January 2013

A new film starring Nicole Kidman about the life of Grace Kelly has enraged the Monaco royal family, which has denounced the work as being full of fiction
A new film starring Nicole Kidman about the life of Grace Kelly has enraged the Monaco royal family, which has denounced the work as being full of fiction.

Late on a January evening in 1962, Her Serene Highness Princess Grace of Monaco is drinking heavily in her 235-room pink  palace overlooking the Mediterranean.

When she gave up her Hollywood career to marry Prince Rainier – the ruler of the tiny tax haven –   Grace Kelly, as she then was, believed that she had found the perfect husband.

Six years later, however – after bearing him an heir, Albert, and  an elder daughter, Caroline – she  is so disillusioned she has decided she will flee back home to America, where she has been offered $1 million to star in Marnie, a new Alfred Hitchcock thriller.

The fee – $7.6 million in today’s terms – is staggering.

But it’s not the money that has attracted her, she confides to her husband’s chaplain and closest adviser, Father Francis Tucker, who has joined her in the pink  palace for a glass of whisky. Rainier’s tyrannical rules and explosive temper have worn her out, the beautiful  32-year-old tells the elderly priest.

What will happen, she asks him, if she accepts the Hitchcock role and seeks a divorce?

‘Your children will suffer most,’ replies Tucker. ‘They are heirs to a European throne. You’ll be lucky to see them again. I suppose the world will also hang its head in disappointment.’

The shock scene is taken from the script of Grace Of Monaco, a new film in which Nicole Kidman portrays Grace as the lonely and desperate  victim of an abusive husband.

The project, which also stars Tim Roth as Rainier and Frank Langella  as Father Tucker, was recently denounced by Grace’s son, Prince Albert, and his sisters Caroline and Stephanie, as ‘needlessly glamourised’ and riddled with ‘major historical inaccuracies and a series of purely fictional scenes’.

But the 106-page script, which has been seen exclusively by The Mail on Sunday and is registered with the Hollywood Writers’ Guild, is based on hundreds of interviews biographers have conducted over many years with  palace insiders and other first-hand sources.

The family’s real fear, it seems, may be that the film has broken a long-standing Hollywood taboo about bringing the truth about  the marriage to the big screen – and it may set the stage for more embarrassing projects.

While Rainier sleeps in a separate room from Grace in the script, and is said  to be constantly ‘busy’ during the daytime, the production glosses over accusations that he was unfaithful.

‘This film really is a very slim slice of Grace’s life and it is nowhere near as negative as it could be,’ Wendy Leigh, a biographer of the princess, said last night.

ACCORDING  to her 2007 book, True Grace, the suave, cigar-smoking prince began cheating on Grace soon after she became pregnant during their honeymoon. Within months, he had taken at least three mistresses.

‘I think the family were hoping  to stop the film and that this is  their warning shot to producers who might want to do the full story about Rainier’s promiscuity and cruelty,’ Ms Leigh said.

‘Grace was humiliated and she was extremely unhappy. She was surrounded by decadence and Rainier’s disreputable friends.’

Blonde, blue-eyed and with a sultry sex appeal that casting directors compared to Marlene Dietrich, Grace herself was hardly an innocent.

American actress Grace Kelly (1929 - 1982) in a lace-trimmed top, circa 1955. (Photo by Silver Screen Collection/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
Nicole Kidman as Grace Kelly

Grace Kelly, pictured left in 1955, is being played Nicole Kidman in a new film about her, Grace of Monaco

Princess Grace of Monaco, actress Grace Kelly, with her family Prince Rainier, Princess Caroline and Prince AlbertPrincess Grace of Monaco, actress Grace Kelly, with her family Prince Rainier, Princess Caroline and Prince Albert

The daughter of a socially ambitious Philadelphia brickworks owner, she became infatuated with several of her leading men.

While shooting the Hitchcock thriller Dial M For Murder in 1954, she scandalised Hollywood by conducting an affair with her married co-star, Ray Milland. She met Rainier during a photoshoot in 1955 at his palace. Six years her senior, he was seeking a wife with the help of a crony, the Greek shipping baron Aristotle Onassis, played in the film by Robert Lindsay.

His quest was a matter of urgency. If he failed to conceive a legitimate heir, Monaco would become a French protectorate under the terms of a 1918 treaty.

After she submitted to an examination to prove she was capable of bearing children, he presented her with a 12-carat diamond engagement ring.  ‘I fell in love with Prince Rainier,’ she confides in the film’s opening scene. ‘What followed was more difficult than I had thought.’

A silver Rolls-Royce delivers Alfred Hitchcock – played by Roger Ashton-Griffiths – to the palace, where he is greeted by Grace’s scheming lady-in-waiting, Madge Tivey-Faucon (Parker Posey).

Madge has been chosen for her job by Rainier – her chief qualification for the role being her willingness to spy on Grace’s every move.

Hitchcock is puzzled that there is no sign of the prince. A palace retainer quietly tells him: ‘He never comes. Far too busy.’

Actress Grace Kelly (later Princess Grace of Monaco) and His Serene Highness Prince Rainier III of Monaco on 19th April 1956.
Actress Grace Kelly (later Princess Grace of Monaco) and His Serene Highness Prince Rainier III of Monaco on 19th April 1956.

Speaking little French, Grace is bored and homesick, occupying  herself by preparing pumpkin soup and other American dishes for  Ray, as she calls Rainier in rare moments of tenderness.

The Monaco climate does not agree with her. Her eyes are reddened from conjunctivitis and she suffers from hayfever and insomnia. Hitchcock turns up just as she is composing a secret letter to her mother to confide she is miserable and wants to end the marriage.

Now Hitchcock is giving her the perfect excuse to leave in a matter of weeks. ‘Universal will pay you one million dollars,’ he says. ‘It’s going to be the role of a lifetime.’

‘Do I look that unhappy, Hitch?’ she asks wearily.

‘You look tired, Gracie,’ he says.

It isn’t only Rainier’s tantrums and constant absences that have brought her marriage to the point of breakdown. As ‘his’ princess, she must submit totally to his rules which, according to the script, include smiling sweetly at his side and never voicing an opinion.

At a New Year’s Eve party on the  Onassis yacht, he grows red-faced with rage when she engages French President Charles de Gaulle in a debate about the UK-US special relationship. Rainier furiously confronts her when they return home. ‘This is not America, Grace! People don’t just speak their minds.’

‘What did you expect me to say?’ she asks.

‘I don’t know. You used to be an actor. Act,’ he snarls.

Madge, he adds, has informed him of Hitchcock’s visit. ‘She is very loyal,’ he reminds his wife. Pecking a kiss on her forehead, he retires for the night, closing the door to his bedroom behind him.

Some biographers claim Rainier was violent as well as a control freak. During a tennis doubles match, he allegedly aimed a ball straight at Grace’s face. When it hit her, the friend who was his doubles partner defended him, saying he was just ‘desperate to win’.

The film treads carefully on the issue. He is verbally abusive to Grace, flying into a rage when she shears her long hair into a fashionable bob. He shouts that she did not seek his permission: ‘It looks dreadful. It yells of disrespect.’

When Grace finally plucks up the courage to tell Rainier that she would like to accept Hitchcock’s  million-dollar offer of the leading role in Marnie, he assures her:  ‘I won’t stand in your way.’

But his words ‘don’t ring true’, and when her plans for the movie are leaked to the press – she suspects by palace plotters – the prince’s 30,000 subjects are horrified.

Smashing a glass he is holding to the floor, Rainier tells Grace he has changed his mind in the face of  the  outcry. ‘You’ll have to call Mr  Hitchcock and turn him down,’ he orders. ‘We’ll make a show of how happy you are here.’ ‘That’s not your decision to make,’ she says. ‘I am the prince, and your husband,’ he storms. ‘You will and you must!’

In the end, the role of Marnie went to another Hitchcock protegee, Tippi Hedren.

The film’s most contentious claim  is that Grace eventually sought a divorce from Rainier.

The director, Olivier Dahan, has not identified the script’s precise sources for the claim, but they would appear to include a mysterious book, Grace: A Disenchanted Princess, published under a pseudonym in France in 2004.

It quoted one Rainier relative, Christian de Massy – whose mother, Princess Antoinette, was the prince’s  sister – as recalling that Grace was heartbroken when she was forbidden to do Marnie.

Controversial: British actor Tim Rother plays Grace Kelly's husband, Prince Rainer, in the filmControversial: British actor Tim Rother plays Grace Kelly’s husband, Prince Rainer, in the film

Despondent about life in a ‘golden cage’, she allegedly consulted an American divorce lawyer but, after being advised that she would lose her children, resigned herself to her fate in Monaco.

The royals – who were shown the screenplay when Dahan applied  for permission to shoot in Monaco – claim that to their ‘astonishment’,  their ‘numerous requests for changes’ were ignored.

DAHAN has promised, however, that the film,  which he started to shoot last August in Monaco and Paris, will be released on schedule early next year. ‘I think we have a misunderstanding,’ he said, insisting that he neither needs the royal family’s permission, nor has sought it. ‘We never asked them to endorse anything,’ he stresses.

The new film draws to a close when Grace stumbles on evidence that Antoinette, portrayed by Geraldine Somerville, is conspiring with France to seize control of the  principality in a coup.

As part of this treacherous deal,  de Gaulle has agreed that Christian, who at the time was just 13, will assume the throne.

The Mail on Sunday is withholding the exact details of the suspense-filled denouement to the purported plot – which critics claim involves considerable licence on the film- makers’ part as Antoinette clashed with her brother in the Fifties.

One clue, however: it leads to a reconciliation between Grace and Rainier, and she bears their third and final child, Stephanie.

The screenplay ends with one simple line: ‘Grace Kelly never acted again.’

Worn down by disappointment, she died in a 1982 car crash, apparently after suffering a stroke.

Girl History Month – Coco Chanel, Essence Of Style

chanel

Famed fashion designer Coco Chanel was born Gabrielle Bonheur Chanel on August 19, 1883, in Saumur, France. With her trademark suits and little black dresses, Coco Chanel created timeless designs that are still popular today. She herself became a much revered style icon known for her simple yet sophisticated outfits paired with great accessories, such as several strands of pearls. As Chanel once said,“luxury must be comfortable, otherwise it is not luxury.”

Her early years, however, were anything but glamorous. After her mother’s death, Chanel was put in an orphanage by her father who worked as a peddler. She was raised by nuns who taught her how to sew—a skill that would lead to her life’s work. Her nickname came from another occupation entirely. During her brief career as a singer, Chanel performed in clubs in Vichy and Moulins where she was called “Coco.” Some say that the name comes from one of the songs she used to sing, and Chanel herself said that it was a “shortened version of cocotte, the French word for ‘kept woman,” according to an article in The Atlantic.

Around the age of 20, Chanel became involved with Etienne Balsan who offered to help her start a millinery business in Paris. She soon left him for one of his even wealthier friends, Arthur “Boy” Capel. Both men were instrumental in Chanel’s first fashion venture.

Opening her first shop on Paris’s Rue Cambon in 1910, Chanel started out selling hats. She later added stores in Deauville and Biarritz and began making clothes. Her first taste of clothing success came from a dress she fashioned out of an old jersey on a chilly day. In response to the many people who asked about where she got the dress, she offered to make one for them. “My fortune is built on that old jersey that I’d put on because it was cold in Deauville,” she once told author Paul Morand.

In the 1920s, Chanel took her thriving business to new heights. She launched her first perfume, Chanel No. 5, which was the first to feature a designer’s name. Perfume “is the unseen, unforgettable, ultimate accessory of fashion. . . . that heralds your arrival and prolongs your departure,” Chanel once explained.

In 1925, she introduced the now legendary Chanel suit with collarless jacket and well-fitted skirt. Her designs were revolutionary for the time—borrowing elements of men’s wear and emphasizing comfort over the constraints of then-popular fashions. She helped women say good-bye to the days of corsets and other confining garments.

Another 1920s revolutionary design was Chanel’s little black dress. She took a color once associated with mourning and showed just how chic it could be for eveningwear. In addition to fashion, Chanel was a popular figure in the Paris literary and artistic worlds. She designed costumes for the Ballets Russes and for Jean Cocteau’s play Orphée, and counted Cocteau and artist Pablo Picasso among her friends. For a time, Chanel had a relationship with composer Igor Stravinsky.

Another important romance for Chanel began in the 1920s. She met the wealthy duke of Westminster aboard his yacht around 1923, and the two started a decades-long relationship. In response to his marriage proposal, she reportedly said “There have been several Duchesses of Westminster—but there is only one Chanel!”

The international economic depression of the 1930s had a negative impact on her company, but it was the outbreak of World War II that led Chanel to close her business. She fired her workers and shut down her shops. During the German occupation of France, Chanel got involved with a German military officer, Hans Gunther von Dincklage. She got special permission to stay in her apartment at the Hotel Ritz. After the war ended, Chanel was interrogated by her relationship with von Dincklage, but she was not charged as a collaborator. Some have wondered whether friend Winston Churchill worked behind the scenes on Chanel’s behalf.

While not officially charged, Chanel suffered in the court of public opinion. Some still viewed her relationship with a Nazi officer as a betrayal of her country. Chanel left Paris, spending some years in Switzerland in a sort of exile. She also lived at her country house in Roquebrune for a time.

At the age of 70, Chanel made a triumphant return to the fashion world. She first received scathing reviews from critics, but her feminine and easy-fitting designs soon won over shoppers around the world.

In 1969, Chanel’s fascinating life story became the basis for the Broadway musical Coco starring Katharine Hepburn as the legendary designer. Alan Jay Lerner wrote the book and lyrics for the show’s song while Andre Prévin composed the music. Cecil Beaton handled the set and costume design for the production. The show received seven Tony Award nominations, and Beaton won for Best Costume Design and René Auberjonois for Best Featured Actor.

Coco Chanel died on January 10, 1971, at her apartment in the Hotel Ritz. She never married, having once said “I never wanted to weigh more heavily on a man than a bird.” Hundreds crowded together at the Church of the Madeleine to bid farewell to the fashion icon. In tribute, many of the mourners wore Chanel suits.

Girl History Month – Flannery O’Connor, Southern Original

220px-Flannery-O'Connor_1947

Reprinted from The Writers Almanac

It’s the birthday of Flannery O’Connor who said, “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you odd,” and “Where you come from is gone, where you thought you were going to never was there, and where you are is no good unless you can get away from it.” She didn’t want a biography written about her because, she said, “Lives spent between the house and the chicken yard do not make exciting copy.”

Flannery O’Connor was born in Savannah, Georgia in 1925. When she was five years old, she trained a chicken to walk backward, and a newsreel company came to her house to make a film about it, which was shown all over the country. She said, “I was just there to assist the chicken but it was the high point in my life. Everything since has been anticlimax.”

She spent much of her life on her family farm in Milledgeville, Georgia, raising poultry and writing novels and short stories: Wise Blood (1952), The Violent Bear It Away (1960), A Good Man Is Hard to Find (1955), and Everything That Rises Must Converge (1965). This last book of short stories was published after her death in 1964, at the age of 39, from complications of lupus.

She said: “Everywhere I go I’m asked if I think the university stifles writers. My opinion is that they don’t stifle enough of them. There’s many a best-seller that could have been prevented by a good teacher.”

Flannery O’Connor was strange, brilliant and truly original. She was also very funny, often in a macabre way.

I’m proud that she was a Southerner, which I consider myself to be. I’ve read everything she wrote, and I don’t believe I really understand any of it.

My favorite piece of her work is the short story Revelation. If you haven’t read it, please do. You’ll never forget it.

Girl HIstory Month – Alma Reville, Mistress Of Suspense

Reprinted from The Telegraph

Alma Reville, better known as Mrs. Alfred Hitchcock, is believed to have been the genius behind the widely-acclaimed films of her husband, the”Master of Suspense”.

Hitchcock's better half: Alma Reville stands behind Alfred Hitchcock (foreground) on the making of his first film

Hitchcock’s better half: Alma Reville stands behind Alfred Hitchcock (foreground) on the making of his first film 

08 Feb 2013

Hitchcock hadn’t heard the word ‘no’ in a long time. Of course he knew Psycho was a shockingly violent and transgressive story – that’s why he wanted to film it.

As Anthony Hopkins, playing the director in the new film Hitchcock, puts it, ‘Voyeurism, transvestism – very nice.’ He certainly didn’t expect his employer, Paramount, to point blank refuse to finance it.

About halfway through Hitchcock, set during the making of Psycho in 1959, Hopkins and Helen Mirren face each other tensely across a table.

Mr and Mrs Hitchcock are dining at home at the end of a bad day. They are personally bankrolling Psycho. The censors are crawling all over it. And the first cut looks like a disaster.

‘You might not be the easiest man to live with,’ says Mrs Hitchcock, ‘but you do know how to cut a picture better than anyone else.’ The world-famous director looks up at his wife. ‘Except for you,’ he says.

‘I’m sure that’s the way Hitchcock thought,’ says Patrick McGilligan, who knew Hitchcock and wrote a definitive biography of the man. ‘Her final word on editing was the final word on editing.’

Few beyond film historians and the notoriously tight-knit Hitchcock inner circle are aware of Mrs Hitchcock’s role in his 50-year career.

Alma Reville, as she called herself even after they wed, has 19 credits – from assistant director to scriptwriter – in Hitchcock-directed pictures, and several on non-Hitchcock films.

More than that, she was his constant collaborator and sounding-board.


The Hitchcocks on location for The Man Who Knew Too Much (1955) (REX FEATURES)
‘I hadn’t realised what an important figure Alma was in the creation of Hitchcock’s movies,’ says Mirren. ‘She was very happy to be in the shadows. But they had an incredibly close and creative relationship on every level.’

Stephen Rebello, on whose book Hitchcock is based, gives me two examples of her contribution to Psycho alone.

‘Hitchcock wanted no music in the shower scene [in which the heroine, Janet Leigh, is stabbed to death]. He just wanted the screams of Janet Leigh and the sound of the water running. He was adamant about it.’

Meanwhile, the composer Bernard Herrmann had created the now-legendary score of screaming strings for the scene – which Reville thought was rather good.

‘Hitch and Bernie were at loggerheads. Alma was extremely diplomatic, seductive and charming, and you’d want to please her because she was so smart.

‘Alma persuaded Hitchcock to listen to what Herrmann was doing with that sequence, not just to reject it out of hand.

‘She really had a major impact on the film, by just persuading Hitch to back off from his own ego and listen to the idea of somebody else. In this case, a brilliant idea.’

And she saved Psycho from the ultimate goof by spotting Leigh swallowing while lying ‘dead’ on the floor.

‘We must have run that sequence back and forth a couple of hundred times – we completely missed it,’ says Psycho’s script supervisor, Marshall Schlom.

Outraged by the lack of recognition for Reville on her death in 1982, the film critic Charles Champlin wrote an article in the Los Angeles Timesentitled ‘Alma Reville Hitchcock – The Unsung Partner’.

‘The Hitchcock touch has four hands,’ he wrote. ‘And two of them are Alma’s.’


Reville and Hitchcock at work (1963) (PICTORIAL PRESS)
Somehow, in the subsequent retellings of the Hitchcock story, Reville has been pushed to the edge of the frame. Or, worse, been recast as an enabler of Hitchcock’s obsessive Pygmalion-like impulses towards his leading ladies.

A much-repeated anecdote – one that is reproduced in the BBC’s recent Hitchcock drama, The Girl – concerns Tippi Hedren, the star of The Birds.

‘He was developing this obsession for me and I began to feel very uncomfortable,’ Hedren told the writer Donald Spoto, in 2007. ‘He tried to control everything – what I wore and ate and drank.’

Spoto, whose biography of Hitchcock, The Dark Side of Genius, is behind the popular notion of the director as a socially inept, sadistic voyeur, tells me, ‘Tippi said to her, “Alma, you could stop this with a word. Why don’t you?”

‘And Alma just looked at Tippi and walked away.’

Does Spoto believe Reville really could have stopped it? ‘Oh, absolutely. Hitchcock was terrified of her.’

To illustrate this, Spoto tells me a story: he and Hitchcock were enjoying a private screening of a film in Los Angeles in 1976.

‘All of a sudden the telephone rings. Hitchcock picked it up – only for about five seconds – then he put the phone down and drew himself out of his chair and said, “I have to go home immediately. Madame wants me at home.”

‘He left at once. You see, when she said, “Come home,” he went home.’

Hitchcock’s granddaughter, Mary Stone, has attested to her grandmother’s formidable personality.

‘She was an extremely strong and proud woman,’ she has said. ‘I adored her, and occasionally feared her.’

When Stone was caught smoking at the Hitchcock home, ‘My parents gave me the worst possible punishment – I had to tell my grandmother what I had done.’


Helen Mirren as Alma Reville and Scarlett Johansson as Janet Leigh in Hitchcock(ALAMY)

‘Hitchcock himself said that he feared Alma’s opinion,’ McGilligan tells me. ‘But you have to understand that he said almost everything with humour.

‘Does that mean he thought of her as a mother who was going to rap him on the knuckles? No. He feared her opinion because he respected it. If she said, “I don’t like it,” that was the worst thing he could hear.’

But if a cast or crew member was told, ‘Alma loves it,’ it was the highest compliment they could hope for.

Reville was working for Famous Players-Lasky (later Paramount) at Islington Studios in London when she met Hitchcock.

It was 1921 and, though they were both 22, she already had several years’ experience as a ‘cutter’ and continuity girl under her belt whereas Hitchcock was on his first job.

She was editor on the silent picture Appearances; Hitchcock was designing dialogue cards for the film.

They worked in the same studios for two years, during which time the red-haired Reville claimed she wasn’t aware of him even glancing at her. In later life, he hinted that he’d felt he couldn’t approach her until he held a better position.

Then, in 1923, she received a phone-call from Hitchcock inviting her to a meeting. Hitchcock had been made assistant director on Woman to Woman and he needed an editor. Would she join the crew?

According to their daughter, Patricia Hitchcock O’Connell, ‘The interview was brief, for Alma politely informed her future husband that the salary he was offering was inadequate.’

She left the room only to find Hitchcock racing down the corridor after her. He made her a better offer, and a partnership that would last half a century was born.

Until the age of 15, Reville lived in Nottingham where her parents worked in lace production. When they moved to London her father took a job in the costume department of Twickenham Studios.

Spellbound, Reville would cycle over after school to watch the actors at work. At 16 she got a position in the ‘cutting room’ where she would cut and glue pieces of film together, transforming scores of separate scenes into a seamless story.

She climbed the ranks so quickly that articles about her appeared in the press.

In 1925, the year Hitchcock’s directorial debut, The Pleasure Garden, was released with Reville as assistant director, The Picturegoer ran a piece headlined, ‘Alma in Wonderland – An interesting article, proving that a woman’s place is not always the home.’

They married a year later (Hitchcock proposed at sea during a storm) and over the next decade and a half worked together on classics such as The 39 Steps, Suspicion and Shadow of a Doubt.


Just a regular day in the Hitchcock household… Reville at home in 1974 (Philippe Halsman/Magnum)

Alma Reville was tiny and girlish. Photographs of her relaxing in her California homes in middle age show her reading with knees drawn up to her chest like a child, hair swept off her high forehead, horn-rimmed spectacles resting on her nose.

Like Hitchcock, she was always impeccably dressed with an enviable wardrobe custom-made by Edith Head. But unlike her ingeniously self-promoting husband (whom his daughter called ‘a born celebrity’), Reville shied away from the limelight.

After the family’s move to America in 1939, Reville’s name appeared in credits less and less often.

Rebello wonders if her confidence was shaken after some badly received screenplays or perhaps she was just falling into the more traditional role of a supportive wife and mother.

What is certain is that she remained Hitchcock’s closest and constant collaborator.

‘She would still occasionally be present on set,’ remembers their daughter in her book, Alma Hitchcock: The Woman Behind the Man, ‘but it was in the evening that my parents would discuss the current film.’

Reville would read and rewrite scripts, give her opinion on casting – ‘If she didn’t like an actor, they wouldn’t get the film,’ says Rebello – and watch the first cut of a film with her husband.

‘She would comment when she thought something was off, and she was usually right. Had she been born a man, or had she had a different nature,’ continues Rebello, ‘she would have been a director herself.’

Hitchcock’s film sets were famously orderly places. He was a man of routine – Reville said he hated suspense in real life – and every day at five o’clock he’d call ‘cut’ and be chauffeured home for dinner with his wife.

On Thursdays, they’d go to their favourite restaurant, Chasen’s, where they’d order steak for their adored dogs and where Alma was often overheard urging her portly husband to forgo the second pudding.

They weren’t Hollywood’s most sociable couple but they loved to have small dinner parties, and Reville’s cooking was legendary.

Their daughter’s book contains pages of handwritten menus: dinner for Tippi Hedren’s birthday; dinner with Sean Connery (they had caviar with vodka followed by saddle of lamb).

Film and food is where the passion in the Hitchcock marriage lay. It was a sexless relationship. Hitchcock was open about his impotence and often quipped that they’d only had sex once, when they’d conceived Patricia.

In Hitchcock, Reville comes perilously close to having an affair with the bisexual writer Whitfield Cook. McGilligan has read Cook’s journals and says he and Reville ‘certainly’ had a romantic relationship, possibly a sexual one.

There is a scene in the film that is lifted straight from Cook’s journal, in which the pair are about to kiss when a phone-call from Hitchcock interrupts them.

As for Hitchcock, much has been written about his hopeless longing for the cool blondes in his films.

‘I think that’s quite normal for a director,’ says McGilligan. ‘Was Alma upset by it? I doubt it. She was an utter professional. Did she occasionally roll her eyes as Helen Mirren does in the film? Maybe.’

Remarkably, Hitchcock never won an Oscar for his directing. But, at 79, he did receive the American Film Institute’s Lifetime Achievement Award.

When he accepted it, he said, ‘I beg to mention by name only four people who have given me the most affection, appreciation, encouragement and constant collaboration.

‘The first of the four is a film editor, the second is a scriptwriter, the third is the mother of my daughter, Pat, and the fourth is as fine a cook as ever performed miracles in a domestic kitchen. And their names are Alma Reville.’

Girl History Month – Fannie Farmer, Cookbook Author For The Rest Of Us

fannie farmer cookbook

Reprinted from the Writers Almanac

It’s the birthday of Fannie Merritt Farmer born in Boston (1857). She’s known for publishing the first cookbook in American history that came with simple, precise cooking instructions.

She compiled all the recipes she had ever learned, along with advice on how to set a table, scald milk, cream butter, remove stains, and clean a copper boiler.

At first, all the publishers turned her down because they reasoned that these were all things young women could learn from their mothers.

Finally, Little, Brown agreed to publish the book if Fannie Farmer would pay for the printing of the first 3,000 copies.

It has sold millions of copies since.

Girl History Month – Héloïse d’Argenteuil

Héloïse d’Argenteuil

Héloïse d’Argenteuil

Heloise, seduced and abandoned by her teacher, Peter Abelard, is one of the most famous (and forgiving) tragic heroines of all time.

Peter Abelard (1079-1142) was a French philosopher, considered one of the greatest thinkers of the 12th century. Among his works is “Sic et Non,” a list of 158 philosophical and theological questions. His teachings were controversial, and he was repeatedly charged with heresy. Even with the controversy that surrounded him at times, nothing probably prepared him for the consequences of his love affair with Heloise, a relationship destined to change his life in dramatic ways.

Heloise (1101-1164) was the niece and pride of Canon Fulbert of Paris and a brilliant student. Abelard later writes in his “Historica Calamitatum”: “Her uncle’s love for her was equaled only by his desire that she should have the best education which he could possibly procure for her. Of no mean beauty, she stood out above all by reason of her abundant knowledge of letters.”

Wishing to become acquainted with Heloise, Abelard persuaded Fulbert to allow him to teach Heloise. Using the pretext that his own house was a “handicap” to his studies, Abelard further moved in to the house of Heloise and her uncle. She was supposedly a great beauty, one of the most well-educated women of her time; so, perhaps it’s not surprising that Abelard and she became lovers. Also, she was more than 20 years younger than Abelard… And, of course, Fulbert discovered their love, as Abelard would later write: “Oh, how great was the uncle’s grief when he learned the truth, and how bitter was the sorrow of the lovers when we were forced to part!”

abelardheloise

They were separated, but that didn’t end the affair. Instead, they discovered that Heloise was pregnant. She left her uncle’s house when he was not at home; and she stayed with Abelard’s sister until their son Astrolabe was born.

Abelard asked for Fulbert’s forgiveness, and permission to marry Heloise; then with Fulbert’s assent, Abelard tried to persuade Heloise to marry him. Abelard wrote: “She, however, most violently disapproved of this, and for two chief reasons: the danger thereof, and the disgrace which it would bring upon me… What penalties, she said, would the world rightly demand of her if she should rob it of so shining a light!”

When she finally agreed to become Abelard’s wife, Heloise told him, “Then there is no more left but this, that in our doom the sorrow yet to come shall be no less than the love we two have already known.” In regard to that statement, Abelard later wrote, in his “Historica,” “Nor in this, as now the whole world knows, did she lack the spirit of prophecy.”

Secretly married, the couple left Astrolabe with Abelard’s sister. When Heloise went to stay with the nuns at Argenteuil, her uncle and kinsmen believed that Abelard had cast her off, forcing her to become a nun.

“Violently incensed, they laid a plot against me, and one night while I all unsuspecting was asleep in a secret room in my lodgings, they broke in with the help of one of my servants whom they had bribed. There they had vengeance on me with a most cruel and most shameful punishment, such as astounded the whole world; for they cut off those parts of my body with which I had done that which was the cause of their sorrow.” After his castration, Abelard became a monk.

At the convent in Argenteuil, Heloise took the habit and eventually became prioress. She and the other nuns were turned out when the convent was taken over by the abbey at which Abelard had first taken his monastic vows. At this point Abelard arranged for them to enter the Oratory of the Paraclete, an abbey he had established, where Héloïse became abbess.

About this time, correspondence began between the two former lovers. In letters which followed, Heloise expressed dismay at problems Abelard faced, but scolded him for years of silence following the attack upon him, since they were still married.

In a letter to Abelard, Heloise wrote: “You know, beloved, as the whole world knows, how much I have lost in you, how at one wretched stroke of fortune that supreme act of flagrant treachery robbed me of my very self in robbing me of you; and how my sorrow for my loss is nothing compared with what I feel for the manner in which I lost you.”

Ultimately, after telling Heloise of instances where he had abused her and forced sex, Abelard insisted he had never truly loved her, but only lusted after her, and their relationship was a sin against God. He then recommended her to consecrate herself fully from then on to her religious vocation.

Some scholars insist Abelard was attempting to spare her feelings (or his feelings, altered from disrupted hormones) and others point to the damage of his hormones and psyche, but from this point on, their correspondence focused on professional subjects rather than their romantic history.

Heloise never wavered in her devotion to Abelard, and their tragic love story is a testament to her unconditional love.

Tomb of Heloise and Abelard in the Pere Lachaise Cemetery in Paris

Tomb of Heloise and Abelard in the Pere Lachaise Cemetery in Paris

Girl History Month – Mary Anne Evans AKA George Eliot

Mary Anne Evans aka George Eliot, Victorian Writer

Mary Anne Evans aka George Eliot, Victorian Writer

Most readers know Mary Anne Evans (22 November 1819 – 22 December 1880) by her pen name George Eliot, one of the leading writers of the Victorian era.

Evans wrote seven novels, including Adam Bede (1859), The Mill on the Floss (1860), Silas Marner (1861), Middlemarch (1871–72), and Daniel Deronda (1876), most of them set in provincial England and known for their realism and psychological insight.

She used a male pen name  to ensure her works would be taken seriously.  An additional factor in her use of a pen name may have been a desire to shield her private life from public scrutiny and to prevent scandals attending her relationship with the married George Henry Lewes, with whom she lived for over 20 years.

Her 1872 work, Middlemarch, has been described as the greatest novel in the English language.

Girl History Month – Jane Addams, Social Reformer And Nobel Prize Winner

English: American social reformer, Jane Addams

English: American social reformer, Jane Addams (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Jane Addams was a founder of the Settlement House Movement in the United States. She was the first American Woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize.

On a trip to England as a young woman, Jane was introduced to the founders and the workings of Toynbee Hall, a settlement house in the slums of London. After her return to the United States, she and her traveling companion, Ellen Starr, committed themselves to the idea of starting a settlement house in Chicago. They founded Hull House in the slums of Chicago in 1889. Most everything they needed Jane was able to procure with the generosity of patrons. Money poured in. Within a few years, Hull House offered medical care, child care and legal aid. It also provided classes for immigrants to learn English, vocational skills, music, art and drama.

In 1893 a severe depression rocked the country. Hull House was serving over two thousand people a week. As charitable efforts increased, so too did political ones. Jane realized that there would be no end to poverty if laws were not changed. She directed her efforts at the root causes of poverty. The workers joined Jane to lobby the state of Illinois to examine laws governing child labor, the factory inspection system, and the juvenile justice system. They worked for legislation to protect immigrants from exploitation, limit the working hours of women, mandate schooling for children, recognize labor unions, and provide for industrial safety.

She became a very controversial figure while working on behalf of economic reform. When horrible working conditions led to the Haymarket riot, Jane was personally attacked for her support of the workers. It resulted in a great loss of donor support for Hull House. She supplemented Hull House funding with revenue from lecture tours and article writing. She began to enjoy international acclaim. Her first book was published in 1910 and others followed biennially. Her biggest success in writing came with the release of the book, Twenty Years at Hull House.

Addams foresaw World War I. In 1915, in an effort to avert war, she organized the Women’s Peace Party and the International Congress of Women. This latter organization met at The Hague and made serious diplomatic attempts to thwart the war. When these efforts failed and the U.S. joined the war in 1917, criticism of Addams rose. She was expelled from the Daughters of the American Revolution, but it did not slow her down. In 1919 she was elected first president of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, a position she held until her death. She was a founding member of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). She was a charter member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), having answered the “call” in 1909 that led to the organization’s formation. These positions earned her even more criticism than her pacifism. She was accused of being a socialist, an anarchist and a communist.

Hull House, however, continued to be successful. When the depression of the 1930’s struck, Addams saw many of the things that she had advocated and fought for become policies under President Franklin Roosevelt. She received numerous awards during this time including, in 1931, the Nobel Peace Prize.