Tuesday, May 4, 2010

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Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Mount's first flash mob

The Mount's first ever, and probably destined to remain only, flash mob, "Operation Waverly", was a great success! The Wikipedia article cited here speaks of flash mobs performing "an unusual and pointless act for a brief time" but The Mount's was anything but pointless. Our very important point was to support the campaign to save Save America's Treasures. We had a very good turnout, especially as it was early on a weekday, and we thank everyone who came and held up signs for our photo shoot. Save America's Treasures's blog has a nice article on The Mount. Keep up the pressure and help the people who really did Save The Mount!

Monday, April 5, 2010

Open call for photo shoot

Save America's Treasures is asking for photos from each of their projects that show groups of supporters at the site. To quote from SAT: "During the recess week of April 5th-9th, we are asking every SAT project across the country to help us promote your site and raise awareness for preservation by scheduling a public photo day [and] shine a spotlight on SAT's positive impact across the country."

We are asking for all of The Mount's friends who live in the Lenox area to come along on Wednesday morning, April 7th, at 9 am. Meet on the terrace for a group photo which we will send along to SAT. The Mount is offering a Be Our Guest pass for everyone who takes part. If this request at such short notice reminds you of a movie, please let it be the perennial favorite "White Christmas", and think of Save America's Treasures as General Waverly.

We don't ask anyone to don their old uniform, just come as you are and help save this vital program! See you Wednesday!

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Stockbridge's "Age of Innocence" is over

April seems to be a very good month for The Mount's near neighbor, The Red Lion Inn in Stockbridge. Following on from last year's extremely successful April 1st conference, they are fully booked again this year! We envy them their ability to fill spaces in the Berkshires in what is traditionally the low season. We hope that all of the many lovely ladies staying there today come over to The Mount for a visit. They could probably teach Lily Bart a thing or two about men.

Monday, March 22, 2010

First Edith, now Teddy

As the multitudinous followers of The Mount's Blog already know, this year The Mount is presenting a new exhibit all about film adaptations of works by Edith Wharton. There already have been a few biopics about Wharton, and in one of those, Looking Back, produced for PBS in 1981, Wharton, played by Kathleen Widdoes, makes an imaginary return to The Mount. The Mount does not play itself, it is played by The Elms in Newport!! A later biopic, Songs from the Heart, at least has The Mount in its rightful place playing Wharton's home, but the time is ripe for The Mount to claim center stage at the heart of our own, as yet unwritten, unsold, and probably, alas, never to be produced, Edith Wharton biopic!

We have sent out a casting call for Edith Wharton, and today it is the turn of her husband. Edward Robbins Wharton, known as Teddy, will be a difficult role to fill. He was by all accounts a charming, friendly, playful, and kind man, certainly in the early years of his relationship with Edith Jones. Thirteen years older than Edith, he went to Harvard with one of her older brothers. They had little in common except for a love of animals. In fact, we are told that one of the reasons that The Mount was a failure as a working farm is that Teddy grew so fond of each of the pigs that he would never send them away for slaughter!

Teddy was of average height, had dark hair and a dark moustache, and hazel eyes. A number of candidates have been put forward, Tom Selleck and Tom Cruise being two, but we at The Mount feel that both of the Toms would be more suited to the cad of the piece, Morton Fullerton.

The first real contender in your blogger's opinion is the ever charming Burt Reynolds. We know that Teddy Wharton was a keen motorist, and anyone who has seen Mr. Reynolds's work in The Cannonball Run or Smokey and the Bandit can see that he would do justice to many aspects of Mr. Wharton's personality.

Meaning in no way to disparage Mr. Reynolds's abilities, the difficulty for an actor in playing Teddy arises from his mental state, which worsened greatly after he and his wife moved into The Mount. It is generally assumed nowadays that he suffered from bipolar disorder, or manic depression. We feel that our next contender, Robert Downey, Jr. has proven his versatility time and again, and he looks good with a moustache as well (see above).

Our last contender has done stalwart work in every genre of the cinema. Teddy Wharton's extreme mood swings lead to great difficulty in their marriage, and though his wife tried to find the best possible care for him, both he and other members of his family resisted. Although it was never reported that there was any physical violence, there were a number of very unfortunate scenes here at The Mount. Many of these took place near the doorway to the Whartons's adjoining bedrooms, and visitors like Henry James wrote of these terrible encounters in letters. We therefore put forth Jack Nicholson as our own favorite to play Teddy Wharton. After all, he has done something very similar before!

Please continue to help us by suggesting your own favorites in the comments section of the blog!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Saving Save America's Treasures part 3

We must continue the campaign for Save America's Treasures. WAMC, NPR for the Northeast, broadcast a story about the threat to this program yesterday, and have posted the story online. Listen to it here. WAMC: Landmark Restoration Funding on the Chopping Block in DC (2010-03-17) Then follow this link and contact your member of Congress. According to the program Save America's Treasures costs approximately $25 million. This is peanuts compared to so many other budget items, and the shortsightedness of cutting this program from the budget is baffling to those of us who care at all about places like The Mount. Put it on Facebook, tweet it, blog it, make as much of a fuss as is necessary. The Mount, and (let us be honest, perhaps even more crucially) The Mount's Blog would certainly not be here without Save America's Treasures!

Monday, March 15, 2010

Saving Save America's Treasures part 2

Just in case there are those out there who think that our argument for saving Save America's Treasures needs bolstering, here are a few "before and after" pictures ...

Follow the link above and act now, before it is too late to save this vital program!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

To all who care about our history, our culture, historic preservation, and, of course, The Mount

All of us at The Mount are horrified at the proposed budget cuts which now threaten to completely eliminate the crucial program Save America's Treasures. This program has created thousands of jobs and helped to preserve hundreds of sites that otherwise would have been lost forever. It is nothing but the truth to say that without Save America's Treasures The Mount would simply not be here today. We cannot express our distress and dismay strongly enough and we ask that everyone who cares not only about The Mount, but about America's heritage and historic preservation please take whatever steps that they can to prevent its destruction. Watch the video below, then follow this link.

Write your congressman, make a donation to the campaign, blog it, facebook it, tweet it, do whatever it takes! Is there somewhere near you that is like The Mount only a decade ago, a near ruin, facing demolition, development, and destruction? Remember what could have and would have happened to The Mount without Save America's Treasures, and act now!

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Wharton hits a home run!

One had to use the baseball analogy for this excellent news! The New York Library Association has announced the list of authors who will be the first inducted into the recently established New York State Writers Hall of Fame. Of course, Edith Wharton is on the list, and we salute the NYLA for this initiative. The Hall of Fame will initially be physically located at the Albany Public Library, just a hop, skip, and jump away from Lenox, so if one finds oneself there, there is no excuse not to visit The Mount as well!

The picture above is by local hero Norman Rockwell, and comes to us courtesy of the Norman Rockwell Museum's website. As a matter of fact, one would think that the visit mentioned above could well include a stop there as well, as it is just around the corner.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

"I began to see what life there--or rather its negation--must have been in Ethan Frome's young manhood."

One could argue that the principal character in Edith Wharton's Ethan Frome is not Ethan himself, nor Zenobia, nor even Mattie Silver, but is in fact snow, in all its coldness and beauty. At least that it the way it feels to your blogger, who, though all would no doubt attest is usually more like Mattie ("her slim young throat and the brown wrist no bigger than a child's..."), today feels very much more Zenobia-esque ("I've got my shooting pains so bad ...").

This change, which one hopes will be temporary, could be due to the fact that the Berkshires has been completely transformed into Starkfield today: "I looked out of my window into a thick snow-fall. The height of the white waves massed against the garden-fence and along the wall of the church showed that the storm must have been going on all night,and that the drifts were likely to be heavy in the open. ... This time the wind did not cease with the return of the snow. Instead, it sprang up to a gale which now and then, from a tattered sky, flung pale sweeps of sunlight over a landscape chaotically tossed."

If one appears grumpy, then perhaps the fact that, even though your blogger had her posh frock ready for a trip to New York City with other, more prescient Mounties (who sensibly left Tuesday), the weather meant she was unable to attend The Mount's 2010 Season Preview at the New York School of Interior Design. She is not bitter, however, no sir! Give her ice, snow, smoking fireplaces, and possible electical outages over champagne brunches any day! In any case, The Mount's new season should prove to be the most diverse and interesting yet and will more than compensate for a little wintry weather!

If one is to be snowed in for long, and the electricity holds, there are always computer games to be played. Having just purchased Dante's Inferno, and always on the lookout for more games based on classic literature, one is thrilled by the idea of Ethan Frome: Sled Ride to Hell ! One believes that it would be a guaranteed hit, and the filmmakers showcased recently could make the film based on the game based on the book! When is our idea of a survival horror game based on Kerfol going to be picked up?

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Edith Wharton makes it easy ...

... for your blogger, as she is undoubtedly the "center of the cultural universe". (One is considering trademarking that phrase, as it is both pithy and apt.) Proof follows herewith.

First, as noted in our previous entry, Wharton's inspiration extends through all generations and all media. The Mount's new favorite band is Tellison and the reason why is below:
"Sometimes I long for plots and structure..."

Next we come to an absolutely fascinating individual, Frances Benjamin Johnston, one the pioneers of photography, who was both African-American and a woman to boot! There is a wonderful online exhibit of Miss Johnston's work here. Her similarity to Edith Wharton is obvious in that they were both masters of their respective crafts at a somewhat unencouraging time (see advert below). But to us here at The Mount the most interesting thing about Miss Johnston's work is that she photographed the gardens of Pavillon Colombe, Edith Wharton's house near Paris. This photograph is from the Library of Congress, in which is housed the Frances Benjamin Johnston collection.

And lastly, at least for now, The Mount would like to congratulate Professor Stan Wojewodski Jr., Distinguished Professor of Directing in the Meadows School’s Division of Theatre, who has been appointed chair of theatre at SMU. In addition to his extensive theatre work, Prof. Wojewodski developed The Mount's 2005 exhibition Lily’s Downfall, which commemorated the 100th anniversary of the publication of The House of Mirth. The Mount is obviously primarily responsible for the wise decision by SMU(or at least your blogger would like to think so.)

Friday, February 12, 2010

Wharton's classic novel Ethan Frome continues to inspire!

As proof that Edith Wharton's appeal never wanes, and just in time for The Mount's upcoming celebration of stage and screen adaptations of Edith Wharton's works, comes an updated Ethan Frome which is destined to become a classic. One needs do no more than quote from the press release: "Edith Wharton's Ethan Frome, a new short film from the people who brought you Pilgrims ... is the latest short from Johnson's Cinemating and Off Set Services' PERIODS. series. Created by filmmakers Victor Quinaz and Anna Martemucci. PERIODS. takes the modern trappings of mumblecore and a pinch of MTV'S The Hills to approach classic settings and stories with a new found earnestness. PERIODS. is committed to historical and emotional accuracy, with historians and hysterics working around the clock. Or better yet, think of it as Masterpiece Theater on wine coolers. ... You'll be Froming at the mouth ... "

This is pretty impressive stuff, and one can't wait for the "exclusive Internet Mini-mini Series event, Jane Austen's Pride and Stuff.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Who shall be our Edith?

As promised, we at The Mount are trying to assemble the perfect cast for a proposed biopic of Edith Wharton. Who knows, if we get the right package together perhaps an "angel" will appear with plenty of cash and we will be able to make our dream a reality! We herewith present a potted description of our heroine, Edith Newbold Jones Wharton.

A description of Edith Jones as a small child from Shari Benstock's No Gifts from Chance: "Our first glimpse of Edith is a miniature by an unknown artist made when she was three years old. Pale blue eyes peer wide-eyed from a squarish chubby cheeked face. Her lips are drawn in a bow, eyebrows sketched by two curved lines, the red hair pulled into big sausage curls at the temples. Later pictures emphasize her high, wide forehead and under shot jaw."

From Hermione Lee's biography comes a description of Edith Wharton in 1907 at age 45 at the beginning of her relationship with Morton Fullerton (pictured below):
"Edith was looking handsome and fine, in her dark furs and silks, her laces and pearls and elegant hats, her long, strong serious face with its large dark eyes and strongly arched eyebrows and ironical smile softened by a great sweep of dark-reddish hair pinned up in a large loose bun. She was not beautiful--her nose was too long, her chin too heavy and square, her build too stocky and her smile too tight, and her expression still showed something of that nervous apprehensive reserve that made her looks, in her twenties, so painfully tense."

(As an aside, your blogger, who suffered for years with the most horrible braces, does believe that modern orthodontics might have spared Mrs. Wharton the very prominent underbite which is so apparent in her adult photos.)

We have decided to leave out any descriptions from Percy Lubbock's Portrait of Edith Wharton. As they say in Wikipedia, its neutrality is disputed. Wharton's own godson, William Royall Tyler, said it was written by someone who appeared to "despise" Edith Wharton. Hermione Lee puts it very well: "Lubbock pursues with gusto [his] version of the chilly controlling chatelaine, which can make Edith Wharton sound like the character played by Margaret Dumont in the Marx Brothers films."
But who could have realized that this would serendipitously lead us to another perfect casting opportunity!!!

Please keep on sending in your suggestions and comments!

Thursday, January 28, 2010

A tragedy with a happy ending

Warning! Possible Spoiler Alert! And your blogger really hates spoilers!

The first stage adaptation of Edith Wharton’s bestselling novel The House of Mirth was not a success. In A Backward Glance when Wharton describes the reaction of William Dean Howells, who had come at her invitation to see the performance, she writes of “the lapidary phrase in which, as we left the theatre, he summed up the reason of the play’s failure. ‘Yes—what the American public always wants is a tragedy with a happy ending.’”

This seems to have done the trick at least in the beginning. The first film version of The House of Mirth, made in 1918 with Katherine Corri Harris Barrymore starring as Lily Bart, decided to go with the “Sleeping Beauty” ending. As Lily begins to succumb to the blissful sleep provide by her “medication” Lawrence Selden rushes in to her side, sweeps her up into his arms, and assures her that all will be well! This film is tragically among the lost gems of early cinema, and so one can only picture this beautiful scene in one’s mind’s eye.

Did the new ending make the film more successful? What did Mrs. Wharton think about this and about Hollywood in general? She said late in her life that movies were the ”killer of the imagination”, but earlier in her career she certainly understood their earning potential and influence on popular culture. Throughout her literary career she actively pursued adaptations of her works, and was very much involved in the dramatization of many of her most important novels. One of the great as yet unsolved and most intriguing Whartonian mysteries: Did Edith Wharton ever go to the movies herself? Aside from a brief mention of a movie or newsreel in Spain with Walter Berry in 1914, there are no explicit mentions in any letters or memoirs of Wharton’s attending a film. We do know that she disapproved of the reigning queen of the silent cinema, Mary Pickford, and made fun of Greta Garbo. She certainly used images and descriptions of movies in her fiction, from Summer onwards. How did she know how to write about movies and why did she have an opinion about the stars of the day, if she never saw a movie herself? This has puzzled Wharton scholars, and perhaps the answer will come in some as yet undiscovered archive. She certainly did attend stage performances of her novels and some of them met with her approval. The many radio, stage, screen and opera adaptations of her works which continue even today show that her appeal remains stong and crosses the boundaries of generations.

Jane Austen, who never loses her appeal, and Edith Wharton address similar societal subjects. Wherein lies the difference? Is it that Mr. Darcy turns out to be the most wonderful guy ever and he and Elizabeth Bennett live happily ever after? On the other hand, Newland Archer and Ellen Olenska are entrapped in a cycle of eternal frustration.
A tragedy with a happy ending?

Casting call comments

The Mount is thrilled to see that our casting call is already garnishing some interesting responses! However, a stalwart Mountie seems to have an issue with my suggestion of Squidward from Spongebob as Walter Berry. One feels that the resemblance should be glaringly obvious to all, from the high intellectual brow to the somewhat arrogant stance (see below). Her comments: "Tom Cruise as Morton!...not Teddy !!! That deadly cold charm. (blue eyes, Teddy's were hazel)...Hmmmm and as a (distant) and lowly cousin of Walter I think I resent that one....I will think on my "perfect Walt" !!!"

Although we stand by our choice, we will admit that Squidward does not sport a moustache. As this Mountie, who shall remain nameless here, is of an old Knickerbocker family and thusly a relative of Mr. Berry (the closest thing to aristocracy here at The Mount), we shall defer to her sensibilities and entertain other suggestions. Mr. Berry had electric blue eyes and white hair so our two next suggestions are the late Paul Newman, and the German singing superstar sensation Heino. (The image of Mr. Newman above is from the Daily Telegraph). The list is growing, so keep your suggestions coming in the comments!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Louis Auchincloss, 1917-2010

The Mount was extremely saddened to hear of the death of our great friend, Louis Auchincloss. He was a wonderful and gifted writer, a true successor to Edith Wharton as chronicler of society's many foibles, and a fine, witty, and generous person. His biography of Edith Wharton, who was a friend of his mother's, is at hand on your blogger's desk at the moment, having been used as a reference just this morning. His support of our work at The Mount was always so inspiring to those of us who work here. He gave us many generous gifts, from personal items such as portraits of Edith Wharton and her family to the even more precious gift of his knowledge of Wharton and her time.

Your blogger's last encounter with him was on a visit to The Mount last summer (above). We were in the library, which contains a work by Friedrich Nietzsche with the flyleaf annotated in Edith Wharton's hand. Most of the notes are references to various passages in the book (Der Wille zur Macht, Bd. 1, in a 1906 set of the complete works), but one of them is a little bit unusual. Wharton has written at the bottom of the page "50 grains of veronal is the minimum fatal dose", and there has been much speculation on the reason for this, was it perhaps research for The House of Mirth or The Fruit of the Tree?

Mr. Auchincloss saw it gave us his interpretation without hesitation: "She was planning on doing Teddy in!"

We will miss him very much and offer our sincerest condolences to his family.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Casting Call!!

Do you have a secret desire to be a casting director?
Ever spent hours around a café table, at your favorite pub, or even online debating the merits of the choices directors and producers have made for your favorite books or films?

Would you have cast Robert Redford as Jay Gatsby, George Clooney as Batman, Keira Knightly as Elizabeth Bennett, Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow, William Shatner as Alyosha? If you answered yes (or even no!) to any of these questions, then you are more than eligible to join The Mount’s Cast Your Own contest.

In conjunction with our 2010 exhibit Dramatic License: Wharton on Stage & Screen, we not only will entertain suggestions on the “perfect” Madame Olenska or Ethan Frome, but more perhaps the more challenging prospect of casting an imaginary “biopic” of Edith Wharton’s life here at The Mount. There have been several attempts at this already, but we at The Mount feel that the time is ripe for another! For the next few weeks we will post a brief biographical sketch of each of our main characters.

A few excellent suggestions have been made already: Julianne Moore as Edith Wharton, Tom Cruise as Teddy, the possibilities are endless! For example, your blogger cannot help but notice the very strong resemblance between Walter Van Rensselaer Berry and Squidward of Spongebob Squarepants fame!

We encourage all Whartonians and film buffs out there to post their own casting ideas in the comments section of the blog. We will take the most popular names posted over the next few months and make a shortlist for the competition. Rules and regulations will follow. Post early and Post often!

Wharton on stage and screen


At The Mount we are hard at work on our 2010 exhibit: "Dramatic License: Wharton on Stage and Screen". We want to share not only some of the most recent and well-known adaptations of her works, but also those which have faded from memories, such as a 1935 film called Strange Wives based on a Wharton short story initially entitled Bread Upon the Waters, and later changed to Charm, Inc. The movie Strange Wives was not a great box office hit it seems, but if anyone has ever seen it, please share!

Most people remember Michell Pfeiffer as Madame Olenska in the 1993 Age of Innocence, but we have tracked down other great actors who have portrayed Ellen on stage and screen including Beverly Bayne in a 1924 silent film, Katherine Cornell in the 1928 stage version, and Irene Dunne in the 1934 film version. Edith Wharton called one of them "my perfect Ellen". Any guesses which one she meant? Who would be your "perfect Ellen"? Think on it, blog it.

The Mount

Monday, January 25, 2010

Happy Birthday!!

Yesterday, January 24th, was the 148th birthday of our favorite author, Edith Wharton. We are celebrating here at The Mount with staff meetings, but cake (and gluten-free snickerdoodles) will fortunately be included! We hope that all of the Whartonians out there had a wonderful day, and though Mrs. Wharton did not always welcome "that melancholy 24th" there was one thing about it that she did appreciate, as she wrote in a letter to her friend Sally Norton: "The only thing that consoles me for its recurrence is the thought it brings me from friends, who, like you, have the genius of dates. Thank you again & again.”

Friday, January 15, 2010

Edith Wharton's New York

If you are a Whartonian, and in New York City this weekend, you might well want to join in the Municipal Art Society of New York's walking tour "Edith Wharton's New York". It begins at 2.00 pm on Sunday, January 17th. Meet at the N.W. corner of Fifth Ave. and 23rd St. As we have mentioned before, her childhood home on West 23rd Street is now a Starbucks, so if you get too cold and hungry you could quickly pop in and bask in the knowledge that you are drinking your latte in the very spot where Wharton began to practice her wonderful way with words. "The coffee was so exquisite that he asked for a second cup: such a contrast to the watery stuff at the club!" Depending on your opinion of Starbucks coffee, you might feel that this quotation, from The House of Mirth, suits the moment precisely! The above photograph of the house in 1880 appears in an interesting blog entry from The Edith Wharton Society.

Monday, January 11, 2010

In The Reef Edith Wharton wrote: “Silence may be as variously shaded as speech." That must serve as The Mount's blog's excuse for its own prolonged silence. This silence cannot continue, however, as Edith Wharton's presence in the wide world of the internets is as pervasive now as it has ever been. The Classics Circuit encourages the reading of great books by celebrating certain authors in book blogs. January has been Edith Wharton Month! Rather than list all of the many, many blog entries here, we prefer to eliminate the middle man and send the reader straight to the Edith Wharton Tour Schedule on their website.

This should keep all Whartonians suitably occupied, but if not, here follow a few more links.

January 7 was the seventy-fourth anniversary of the debut of two plays on Broadway, important not only to American theatre in general but to Mounties in particular. Both Edith Wharton's Old New York story The Old Maid, in Zoe Akins' adaptation, and The Petrified Forest, starring Leslie Howard and Humphrey Bogart in his breakout role, opened in New York that night. The significance of The Old Maid is self-explanatory. But as our readers know, The Mount's blog is founded on the premise that Edith Wharton is the centre of the cultural universe, and so The Petrified Forest also belongs here, as the film of the same name with the same cast also starred Bette Davis, who of course starred in the film version of The Old Maid (above, with Miriam Hopkins) in 1939. (Plus, your blogger has always has a bit of a "thing" for Leslie Howard, and welcomes any excuse to bring him up (also above, and looking lovely as ever).

Dame Judith Anderson starred in the Broadway version, and in yet another very fine sequitur we herewith present Judith Anderson reading the Gettysburg Address on the Ed Sullivan Show. The clip features the sculpture from the Lincoln Memorial by Edith Wharton's Berkshires neighbour Daniel Chester French of Chesterwood.