Little Hollywood story No. 2
November 1st, 2013
Promotional still from 20th Century Fox (1970)
One busy Friday evening I found myself working the cash register at the
Hamburger Hamlet right across from Mann’s Chinese Theater.
To the left you see Rex Reed and Raquel Welch negotiating that very same eatery’s
terrazzo steps about eight years earlier, so you can do the math. Back then you
had to phone in customers’ credit card numbers to validate them and then
do your ka-chunk ka-chunk with a mechanical imprinter. Hamburger Hamlet was founded by
actor Harry Lewis (you likely saw him in the film Key Largo
as one of
Edward G. Robinson’s smirking henchmen who gets killed by Humphrey Bogart) and
his wife Marilyn.
Now a week and a half before that, I had thrown in the towel from the strain of
that very same job at the Pasadena outlet. The stroke-inducing pace of it,
not to mention my inability to scarf down my complimentary dinner fast enough
that after a few interruptions to ring up more customers the food would still be
there when I ran back, had done me in. The manager said she was sorry that I had
quit and all, but that her Hollywood counterpart Omar had no cashier to work
that particular night and so could I please, please drive over there and come
through for them just this once.
It turned out to be a singular experience.
Like me, Omar had lately arrived from Ann Arbor, Michigan. Small world. Both he and his
senior waitress were glad to help out when my work load got out of hand. There was also
plenty of bittersweet diversion. A customer started bellowing uncannily like a bull moose in the bar
section and police had to be called to help Omar eighty-six him, a garishly made-up
woman sat at the counter nursing her coffee and muttering to herself (“They
told me I was going to be an actress...” one could speculate) for almost five
hours before she left, and at around half-past ten two cars collided just outside on Hollywood
Blvd and their drivers exited and started duking it out.
When the disturbance threatened to work its way toward our front door Omar got ready
to lock it. At that point I noticed the bottom glass section had been boarded
over, which he explained had taken place earlier that week when a potential
customer crashed through it an hour after closing time to ask for
Other memories of that same corner linger, like the time the Popeye
and crew had my VW Rabbit towed away late one night while I was watching their
competition Flash Gordon
at the Chinese.
I had parked it legally enough on Orange Drive. But to accommodate the
limousines shuttling celebrants to the Popeye
rap party I knew nothing about, the
management installed temporary NO PARKING — TOW AWAY signs along that stretch
shortly thereafter while I was inside the theater ogling
Choice #1: Run the cutthroat-infested midnight gauntlet twelve blocks northeast to my apartment and
then see to getting the car back the next day, likely with added storage fees.
Choice #2: Brave a similarly unnerving trek southward, but this time only
blocks, to the impound garage. (The facility stood just across an alley from
where many of us had produced art for a Star Trek movie, but I was in no
mood to reminisce.)
I yielded to #2, plus the eighty-dollar extortion. The attendant leapt
between me and the car and did the windmill thing with his arms to make sure I didn’t try
to escape with it.
“The untrue contriving eftsoons of another feigned lad”
August 5th, 2013
Edgar the Ætheling was one busy beaver.
Timeline mission No. 5 takes us to the Kingdom of England.
First of all, William the Conqueror did not
directly succeed his former ally
and dinner companion Harold Godwinson. Edmund Ironside’s teenaged grandson Edgar
the Ætheling (“throne-worthy”) actually held the strongest genealogical
claim to the English throne back when Edward the Confessor died childless in
January of 1066. But the committee of Anglo-Saxon nobles known as the Witan
adjudged him too young and instead crowned Harold, Edward’s
It took 71 days for William to kill Harold at the Battle of Hastings on 14
October; subdue Dover, Canterbury, and Winchester; and then hack his way to
London to take the crown on Christmas. During that interval the
Witan — albeit with waning enthusiasm — recognized Edgar
William took Edgar back with him to Normandy in 1067. Edgar wouldn’t
reign over much of anything for the remaining sixty years of his life —
though scarcely for lack of trying. Alternating between throne-seeking and
running for cover, pledging fealty and then reneging, his peregrinations
continued roughly as follows: to Scotland in 1068; England, 1069; Scotland,
1070; Flanders, 1072; Scotland again, 1074; later, back to England; to Sicily
and Italy in 1086; Scotland again, 1091; back to Normandy, then England, and
finally back to Scotland by 1093; England again, then Scotland in 1097;
Jerusalem (Why not?) in 1102; Normandy, 1106; and finally back to Scotland in
1120 to die peacefully around 1126.
England came very close to crowning its first female sovereign upon the death of
Henry I. Henry’s eldest legitimate son, William, had drowned in 1120 when his
vessel foundered in the English Channel. Daughter Matilda consequently moved to the front
of the line. But when Henry succumbed to his legendary “surfeit of lampreys” in
late 1135 Matilda was busy in France and his nephew Stephen of Blois stepped in
before her supporters could stop him.
Fanciful portrait of Queen Matilda, whose résumé
also includes Holy Roman Empress as she was Henry V of Germany’s widow
Stephen was a usurper, granted, but otherwise a pushover. “When traitors saw
that Stephen was a good-humored, kindly, and easygoing man who inflicted no
punishment,” the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle tells us, “they committed all manner of
horrible crimes.” Stephen had his hands full putting down one rebellion after
another, and during a six-month gap you can see in the circle above Matilda’s
forces imprisoned him and proclaimed her as Queen. Moneyers of Stephen’s era muddled
the legends on their coins to avoid the personal risk of taking sides.
Stephen declared his son Eustace co-regent but outlived him. A similar situation
played out with Henry II and his son Henry, Jr., remembered as The Young King.
Louis the Lion (later Louis VIII of France) claimed the throne in 1216 while
King John still had four months to live; but 10,000 silver marks and other
fabulous prizes persuaded him to renounce it in favor of Henry III.
Skipping forward a couple of centuries we can spot the musical chairs between Henry VI and
Edward IV and then the brief showing of Edward V, the elder of the two princes
in the Tower of London widely believed to have been murdered by order of
usurper Richard III.
In the second circled area we find Henry VII fending off his own
insurrectionists. Intrigues against Henry tended to involve pre-Tudor holdovers
who hoped to reverse his victory over Richard III at Bosworth Field. Rationales
grew out of revisionist scenarios featuring the Tower Princes and/or the Earl of
Warwick and other second-stringers. The two standout pretenders were Lambert
Simnel and the “feigned lad” of Henry’s description in our title,
Simnel’s supporters crowned him “Edward VI” in Dublin on 24 May 1487 and passed
him off as the 17th Earl of Warwick, whom Richard III had supposedly
anointed as his rightful successor. All this was news to Henry who, last he
checked, was holding the real
17th Earl of Warwick in the Tower.
Henry’s forces trounced Simnel’s on 16 June at the Battle of Stoke Field.
Realizing the ten-year-old Simnel was little more than a Yorkist puppet, he pardoned
him and gave him a job in the royal kitchen.
Perkin Warbeck fared less well. In 1491 word reached Henry that Richard Duke of
York, the younger of the Tower Princes, had somehow survived and vowed to
overthrow him. The Royal Army captured Warbeck in Cornwall in 1497. Henry put
him and his wife under a kind of honorary house arrest on the palace grounds;
but when Warbeck abused that leniency by dusting off his old plot and scheming
with the [genuine] Earl of Warwick, Henry hanged them both.
The lilac bar highlights the singular moment in English history — late October
1683 to early February 1685 — when eight past, present, and future autocrats
Richard Cromwell succeeded his father Oliver as Lord Protector
and held the post for almost nine months, but his heart wasn’t in it and he
yielded to what ultimately resulted in the Restoration. Since
Richard lived to the age of 85, his “career ratio” (time in office divided by
total lifespan) hits the lowest of any undisputed English autocrat at 0.008. Henry
III, who ascended the throne aged 9 years and 18 days, still holds the highest
“I am but a simple priest.”
April 4th, 2013
A cool-looking but totally imaginary portrait of Benedict IX
Our fourth timeline machine installment will examine the Roman Catholic popes — also known as bishops of Rome.
Since these chronologies lack any real precision up until the year 1000 or so, I
won’t graph anything before that. Where records show no birth year, I’ll
approximate a pope’s pre-accession interval by assuming the average age
of an electee (about 64 years) and shade it in green stripes. Again, pretenders
— within this genre known as antipopes — will show
Let’s first zoom in to the very prince of pontifical chaos and mayhem,
Theophylactus. He was a scion of the Tusculuns, the richest and most powerful
family in Rome at the time. Popes Benedict VII and VIII; John XI, XII, and XIX;
and Sergius III were paternal uncles. His father installed him as Pope
Benedict IX in October 1032.
In 1036 an opposing faction drove Benedict out of Rome for the short time
approximated by the green gap. John, Bishop of Sabina, ousted him unequivocally
in a bloody coup in September 1044 and reigned as Sylvester III. But Benedict
was just warming up. He raised an army, and by the following April retook the
papacy. Come May, though, he had second thoughts and sold it — for around
20,000 troy ounces of gold, according to some sources — to his godfather John
Gratian who became Gregory VI.
But Benedict returned later that same year. The record doesn’t say whether or
not Gregory got his money back, but in either case Benedict considered himself
Pope again. (I’m giving him antipope stripes for this period because Gregory
continued to be recognized.) In December 1046 the Council of Sutri ejected both
Benedict and installed Clement II. When Clement died from
lead poisoning a year later, back came Benedict. He enjoyed another eight
months until he was deposed for good, in favor of Damasus II, on 17
The interval highlighted by the thin lilac bar to the left is unique as it saw one
sitting and 16 future pontiffs living simultaneously. You can also see that
among them Celestine IV served only 17 days before he died in
This graph also shows two major vacancies. The first,
between the death of Clement IV on 29 November 1268 and the election of Gregory X on 1 September
1271, remains the longest on record at 1006 days.
Up until this era the cardinals would deliberate intermittently on papal
candidates but otherwise go about their daily lives. But by late 1269 the
French/Italian deadlock had dragged on for almost a year, so officials
of the host city of Viterbo sequestered them. Further along they snatched the
roof from the building to let in the rain and cut the occupants’ menu
choices to bread and water. Two of the cardinals present during this ordeal died
and a third cited health problems and resigned.
The celebrated Western Schism opened in 1378 when the Catholic church split into two factions,
that of Rome and of Avignon, and each recognized its own pope. In
June 1409 Pisa got into the act and three
popes coexisted during the time
shown by the darker highlight. Though the Schism is generally
recognized to have ended with the election of Martin V
toward the end of 1417, Avignon-based Benedict XIII flipped the Council the bird and
kept up his pretense until he died at 95.
Further antipope shuffles continued until almost 1450, which included two
Benedict XIVs in succession. Both were Antipope Benedict
XIII partisans. The first, born Bernard Garnier, operated from a lair and
died sometime in 1430, at which point the four cardinals he had created elected
a successor who awarded himself the same name and Roman numeral. Some
accounts have this Antipope Benedict XIVb captured by [at that point former] Antipope
Clement VIII in 1433 and spending his last days imprisoned in the Château Foix.
Celestine V: Ordered never to retire, but did it anyway
As we’ve learned from recent news stories concerning Benedict XVI, papal retirements
are rare — some 3.5% of the total — and usually involuntary. Excluding antipopes, the timeline machine
reports the following:
Benedict IX’s nemesis Sylvester III (~6534 days),
Benedict IX himself (~2907 days),
Gregory XII (837 days),
Martin I (821 days),
Benedict IX’s godfather Gregory VI (~560 days),
Celestine V (523 days),
Benedict V (376 days),
John XVIII (a few months or less),
Silverius (~3 months), and
Pontian (~2 weeks).
They made me... Tsar! (Yeah, that’s it.)
March 26th, 2013
Where would Russian art, literature, and opera be without the Time of
England’s Henry VIII had nothing on Ivan the Terrible, whose own family
values ran, as far as his wives were concerned, as follows.
Anastasia: Believed poisoned by Boyars
Maria #1: Believed poisoned by Ivan
Marfa: Accidentally poisoned by her mother
Anna #1: Infertile, and so banished to the nunnery
Anna #2: Banished to the nunnery, later tortured to death
Vasilisa: Forced to watch her paramour impaled, then off to the cloisters
Maria #2: Drowned by Ivan
Maria #3: Survived (but wound up in a nunnery anyway)
Three of those valiant souls produced eight children, but out of that
brood only Feodor and Dmitri survived their dad. The elder Feodor acceded, but
though adored by his subjects he was incapacitated in vaguely documented
ways and entirely ineffectual.
His brother-in-law Boris Godunov graciously filled that power vacuum
and, upon Feodor’s death at 40, seized the throne officially.
Ivan IV’s younger son Dmitri most likely met his end through Godunov’s
henchmen in May 1591, but once Godunov himself was out of the picture three
Dmitri Ivanovich impostors emerged in rapid succession to exploit that
ambiguity. Among them False Dmitri I was by all accounts the most convincing,
but ten months into his pretense a mob shot him, cremated him,
then combined his ashes with gunpowder and fired him out of a cannon.
For the record, Russia also saw its largest royal crowd-sourcing
during this era with ten simultaneously living emperors and
emperors-to-be between 12 July 1596 and 7 January 1598. (I’m generously
including Irina Godunova, Feodor I’s widow, who in principle served as
empress for about a week before checking in — by her own volition, in
this case — to another nunnery.)
Here’s a chart extending from 1755 to the present, showing the last six
Russian emperors and arguably a few more. Again, pretenders — more
fairly referred to in this case as claimants, since all carry
authentic pedigrees — are indicated by stripes on
their styled reigns.
In a parallel universe, Russia had a democratically elected Emperor: Michael II
Grand Duke Michael Alexandrovich Romanov, who would have been Michael II, was
the youngest son of Alexander III. When Nicholas II abdicated on 15
March 1917 at the Pskov railway station he signed the throne over to his
son Alexei. The next morning he had second thoughts in light of Alexei’s
hemophilia, though, and shifted that onus to brother Michael. The latter
immediately made it known he would only accede on the condition
that the Russian people agree “by universal, direct, equal and secret
Divine Right royalist to the bitter end, Nicholas called that hogwash.
In any event Michael found himself under several variations of house
arrest and imprisonment over the next few months. Finally, despite his
wife Natalia Brasova’s repeated personal appeals to Lenin, Trotsky, and
other Bolshevik officials, four secret police agents rousted him from
his hotel room and shot him on 12 June 1918. Natalia lived, first in
London and then Paris, until 1952.
Next: The Vatican