Too many Carolingians
March 17th, 2013
I couldn’t resist the temptation to run my graphic timeline machine
(which you’ll recognize from the previous
) on chronological listings of autocrats in past centuries
to see what kinds of patterns pop out.
US presidents past, present, and prospective can play hardball but
unless they’ve had a very bad day tend to draw the line at intramural
murder and kidnapping. Royalty and nobility haven’t always been quite so
circumspect — or until the last century have have stood such a
fighting chance against serious injury or disease — so let the fun begin. For educational
purposes only, of course.
Let’s start with France.
Carolingian France shows a logjam of seven simultaneously living kings and future
kings between 867 and approximately 882. For reference, you’re seeing
the last half of Charlemagne’s 46-year tenure at the top.
From 867 through most of 877 there was Charles II and kings-to-be Louis
II and III, Carloman II, Charles the Fat, Odo, and Robert I. By 882
Charles II and Louis II were gone but Charles III the Simple and
(possibly — his birth year is a wild guess) Rudolph had come aboard.
Having weathered this entire period, Robert would finally get his chance
but reign a scant 352 days before being killed by the forces of his
predecessor Charles III. Charles himself lost that battle, though, and spent the
rest of his days in a dungeon.
Jumping forward eight and a half centuries, here are the last hundred
years of the French autocracy. Its other two periods of seven-stacking
occurred at that time: 1785-1793 (Louis XVI, the theoretical Louis XVII,
Napoleon, Louis XVIII, Charles X, Louis XIX, Louis-Philippe) and
1811-1821 (losing Louis XVI and XVII and gaining Napoleons II
Louis XVI and his family made a break for the Austrian border in June
1791 (Marie Antoinette was a sister of Holy Roman Emperor Leopold II) but he was
recognized from his portrait on all the coins and hauled back to Paris. He remained king, at least
officially, until 21 September 1792; so his “retirement” from that point
until his date with the guillotine lasted 122 days.
Royalists recognized his sole surviving son as Louis XVII. The boy
succumbed in captivity to tuberculosis on 8 June, 1795 and chief surgeon
Philippe-Jean Pelletan preserved his heart the following day; but for
the next couple of generations dozens of claimants came forward as Le
Some of them spun some pretty good yarns. Over the holiday season of 1999-2000
mitochondrial DNA from Marie Antoinette’s hair and from that heart was
compared by two independent laboratories and the samples matched as
closely as one would expect between mother and child.
In the second lavender area you can spot the musical chairs between
Napoleon, Louis XVIII, and Napoleon II (“King of Rome”). It’s
interesting to note that Napoleon’s cumulative exile (2487 days) ran
fully two thirds the length of his career as emperor (3709 days). The
second Napoleon, twice emperor but both times probably
unaware of it, spent the balance of his life in Austria and died
at 21 of tuberculosis.
Duke of Bordeaux
Count of Chambord
The gray ellipse indicates the singular moment during the July
Revolution of 1830 when, with the encouragement of angry mobs, Charles X
abdicated and Louis-Philippe and his supporters took to the throne. Some
recognized Charles’s son Louis Antoine as Charles’s successor Louis XIX.
In any event the son abdicated some twenty minutes into his own supposed reign in favor of his nephew
the Duke of Bordeaux who, until his death in 1883, stood by as
pretender Henry V.
Next: The Russian Empire
So many presidents, so little time
March 6th, 2013
Unlikely as it might seem, there have been four separate moments in history during which
no fewer than eighteen U.S. presidents — future, sitting, and former —
were all living. The first nine presidents of the longest (1479 days) of those streaks are pictured above; the remaining
nine, at the bottom of this entry.
Here’s a chart I generated starting on the left side with the 1732 birth of George
Washington and extending to 2016 when President Omama’s second term
finishes and assuming all four of his current living predecessors stay that way.
Green indicates lifespan; blue, terms of office. (Note the two
separate blue blocks in Grover “Big Steve” Cleveland’s timeline where he
bookended one-termer Benjamin Harrison.)
The lilac bar highlights that 1479-day period.
It extended from Grover Cleveland’s birth on March 18, 1837 to William Henry
Harrison’s death on April 4, 1841. The following were alive at that time:
John Quincy Adams, Andrew Jackson, Martin Van Buren, William
Henry Harrison, John Tyler, James Polk, Zachary Taylor, Millard
Fillmore, Franklin Pierce, James “Old Buck” Buchanan, Abraham Lincoln,
Andrew Johnson, U.S. Grant, Rutherford Hayes, James Garfield, Chester
Alan Arthur, Cleveland himself, and Benjamin Harrison. A touch
wider and it would have taken in Madison and McKinley.
The chart yields some other intriguing perspectives. One thing you can see in
there, for example, is that when Abraham Lincoln was born (1809) all his
future predecessors except George Washington were still alive. Warren G.
Harding would be the first U.S. president after Lincoln not
to have had a
living memory of him.
On a related subject, the following presidential siblings or
half-siblings aside from those of Barack Obama and George W. Bush are
still with us as I write: Bill Clinton’s half-sister Sharon Lee
Pettijohn (born 1941) and brother Roger (1956), George H.W. Bush’s
sister Nancy Walker Bush Ellis (1926) and brothers Jonathan James Bush
(1931) and William Henry Trotter “Bucky” Bush (1938), Richard Addison
Ford (1924), Edward Nixon (1930), and Jean Kennedy Smith (1928).
Odd, entirely unrelated facts II
August 25th, 2012
John B. “Jack” Kelly, Sr, perhaps best remembered nowadays as the
father of actress and later Monaco princess Grace Kelly, won three Olympic gold
medals for rowing during the 1920s. As a brickwork contractor, he ensured
payment by secretly installing a sheet of glass inside his clients’ chimneys
to block the draft. When the check cleared he’d have an employee drop a brick
down the chimney from the top.
The title song from Arlo Guthrie’s 1967 album (and later 1969 film) “Alice’s
Restaurant” exactly parallels, in its phrasing and 8-measure structure, the 1918 song “Ja-Da” by
Bob Carleton. If you play them together they harmonize and
Actor Eddie Albert first appeared on television on 6 November 1936 for a live
presentation of his 40-minute play “The Love Nest.” The show, also featuring the
Ink Spots and comedian Ed Wynn, emanated from Radio City in New York at 346 lines of
resolution. (“Green Acres” premiered almost 29 years later on 15 September 1965.)
History’s first charge card transaction took place on 8 February 1950 at Major’s Cabin
Grill adjacent to the Empire State Building in New York City. The party consisted
of attorney Frank McNamara, loan company executive Ralph Schneider, and press agent
Matty Simmons who later founded The National Lampoon. The card was Diner’s
Author, commentator, spy novelist, and National Review founder William F. Buckley, Jr’s
first language as a child was Spanish. His second was French.
Incandescent light bulbs convert only a small fraction of their energy
input to light, but that extra energy isn’t necessarily wasted. If the bulbs are
indoors and the weather is cool enough for the furnace to run, they simply
share some of that burden. Modern LEDs generate virtually no heat, but that can
actually be a problem for such applications as traffic lights since during the
winter the snow and ice won’t melt off.
Israeli military leader Moshe Dayan was such an enthusiastic archaeology buff he rarely
hesitated to help himself to any little treasures he’d come across. Throughout his
lifetime he amassed a spectacular collection this way. Shortly after the Six-Day War
of 1967 Dayan sneaked alone into a dig near Holon, south of Tel Aviv, to try his
luck. The dirt caved in on him, leaving only one hand visible. Children happened
onto the hand sometime later and directed rescuers to dig him out.
Little Hollywood story No. 1
June 16th, 2012
Back in 1986 I was working at an animation facility in Burbank, California when we
got a job to design and shoot a bunch of writhing pink tunnels for the fantasy film
Howard the Duck.
I won’t mention names, but a certain concern far north of us in San Rafael had more
work than it could comfortably handle at that moment and so farmed this project out
to us through our art director on the condition that we keep the whole thing a
deep, dark secret and that we expect no screen credit. Plus there would be hell to
pay if they could see any “ridging” (superfine stripes caused by
equipment vibration or rattle) in the textures on the final product. The code name
they instructed us to use for the film was “Huey.”
It was an exasperating effort involving half a dozen of us but we eventually turned
out between 20 and 30 tunnel sequences and several of them wound up in the final
film. I had high hopes for “Huey” because I remembered the title
character as the wry, cigar-chomping, wisecracking waterfowl not entirely
dissimilar to Bobby London’s Dirty Duck who appeared regularly in the National
Lampoon’s funny pages during the 70s.
Shortly before Howard the Duck was released to the public we were welcomed to attend a
screening at the Alfred Hitchcock Theater at Universal City. The room was
packed and I was told Stephen Spielberg was in attendance.
Now being perfectly aware of how much blood and sweat go into making a movie — whether it
turns out good, bad, or indifferent — I always try to find something to like and
appreciate when I watch one. Howard the Duck certainly did
have its moments,
and I think so even more to this day. But you could hear a pin drop in there at
times when it was obvious we were all supposed to be laughing. As we filed out at
the end there was a lot of polite murmuring.
The next day at work we were saying things like, “That’s OK, the kids’ll like
it!” and “Boy, there was a lot happening in that picture, wasn’t
there?” As everyone knows, the film went down in history as a spectacular
failure. The trade magazines tried to outdo each other by brandishing headlines
like “HOWARD THE DUCK, A NEW BREED OF TURKEY,” “THE DUCK LAYS AN EGG,” and so
forth. Rumors even flew that Universal production heads Sid Sheinberg and Frank
Price literally got into fisticuffs over who had been more to blame for
greenlighting Howard in the first place.
But by far the most entertaining aspect of this, at least to me, was something Michelle Pfeiffer
said in a 1990 issue of People magazine: “You know, I look like a duck. I
just do. And I’m not the only person who thinks that. It’s the way my mouth sort of
curls up or my nose tilts up. I should have played Howard the Duck.”