Tuesday, June 15, 2010

It was just a couple of weeks ago that a lady walked into the shop with some autographs to sell. Usually I steer clear of those. They are hard to authenticate, and I have been burned before. Even when they are authenticated, they are hard to sell. York doesn’t seem to be a real hotbed of autograph hounds.

But this grouping was a little different. She had collected these herself, she said, during a trip to Hollywood some years ago. And included in the lot was Walter Lantz, complete with a sketch of Woody Woodpecker.

Woody Woodpecker is not now nearly as popular as he once was. But during his day, he was a pretty big deal. Not as big as Mickey Mouse, of course (but then, who was?), but during the 40s, 50s and even into the 60s, he was a “star” in the cartoon world. He had his own TV show, and a number of his shorts played regularly in the movie theatres.

Walter Lantz (1899 – 1994) got into the business early, with his first job when he was just 16. During the years of the Great Depression, he worked at Universal Studios first in the production department, then as a producer. He became an independent producer in 1940. That was the year Woody Woodpecker was developed.

The story goes that while on his honeymoon, Lantz and his bride Grace were continually disturbed by a woodpecker outside the window. It may have been kismet, because Lantz was searching for a new character at the time. Grace eventually became the voice of Woody.

I am a big believer in synergy. So I bought the autograph collection because there was synergy here.

We were in the process of planning our annual SCI-FI SATURDAY event (scheduled to take place this coming weekend). One element of the event will be the screening of Destination Moon. This is a classic, though seldom seen, science fiction movie.

The movie is notable on several accounts. It took over two years to produce (a long time back then), primarily because the technical problems were enormous. Simulating weightlessness, for example, in an age before computer animation was a real challenge. As was a realistic depiction of stars against the backdrop (they had to rig special lights—car headlights as it turned out—that would be bright enough without turning to odd colors when filmed in Technicolor). The detail went down to picking the right location on the moon for landing, so the earth would hang in the proper spot in the sky. (Destination Moon won the Academy Award for “Best Special Effects” in 1950.)

This was all done with technical and mathematical precision, and it was hailed at the time for its attention to scientific detail. One of the reasons for this was that the technical advisor, and the screenwriter, was a real noodge about such things.

His name was Robert A. Heinlein.

Heinlein inspired cast and crew and imparted his determination for precision to them, and to the production. Destination Moon was Heinlein’s only screenplay.

Heinlein, of course, was one of the BIG THREE of science fiction writers in the middle years of the 20th Century (the other two being Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke). I happen to have a connection with Heinlein through the work I’ve done on The Virginia Project, which I’ve blogged about before.

There were parts of this whole space flight business that were wholly alien to the audiences of the time. This was a solid 10 years before the Mercury and Gemini missions and 20 years before Apollo actually went to the moon. The concepts of weightlessness, air locks and all the rest, along with their resulting problems, hadn’t come into public awareness. Some education was required so audiences could grasp the levels of difficulty.

The same thing was required when Jurassic Park was produced. Some of the concepts of genetic manipulation and gene-splicing needed to be explained so audiences would know how dinosaurs could possibly be roaming around an island park off the coast of Central America.

In that movie, they spliced a bit of animation into the narrative. It was a technique they copied from Destination Moon.

A special guest star was hired for Destination Moon. They used Woody Woodpecker. It is a bit of animation stuck in the middle of a serious movie.

So when the Walter Lantz autograph, complete with a sketch of Mr. Woodpecker, walked in the door…yeah, I bought it.

But the synergy didn’t end there.

Last week I received a call from Windhaven Press, the good folks who brought me into The Virginia Project to begin with. Seems there’s one more piece they want me to do for them.

This week I am to receive Heinlein’s original manuscript for his only screenplay. They have now decided to include it in the project. So this week I am to undertake the conversion of the original script of Destination Moon from analog (i.e., typewritten sheets of paper) to digital files.

Douglas Adams, creator of The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, wrote another series of books about Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency. The series is based on the detective’s conviction of “the fundamental interconnectedness of things.”

Walter Lantz-Woody Woodpecker-Destination Moon-Robert A. Heinlein-The Virginia Project-SCI-FI SATURDAY-the fundamental interconnectedness of things.

I may be in science fiction heaven.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

The Lady in White

The Lady in White made an appearance in here on Sunday. It was her first in several months, at least the first of which I am aware.

I’ve blogged in the past about our alleged ghosts. Most of those posts have focused on one single entity and our attempts to communicate with him. His name, we have been led to believe, is Elmer. Those who know him tell me that he is comfortable in here and is actually rather friendly (as far as ghosts go). He has made himself known to visitors of the shop (although never to me), on several occasions going so far as to lead folks directly to a specific book that was sought.


I will admit to being frankly, and openly, skeptical about Elmer. Even if I were able to get my arms around and fully embrace the concept of a ghost--or some spectral entity that continues to possess individual consciousness--I very much doubt that such an entity would bother to show people around The York Emporium.

Yes, this is a fun place with lots of neat stuff to look at. But surely he/she/it would have better things to do than be a tour guide to our shop. In all the universe; in all of creation, there must be places that are even neater and more fun than The York Emporium. As much as it pains me to say this, I know it to be true.

And if I know that, Elmer must certainly know it.

So to say that I am skeptical about Elmer, well…that puts a positive spin on “skeptical.” I’m not buying it.

The Lady in White, however, may be something different.

Sunday afternoon a young lady, aged 9 or 10, came up to me and asked if we had any books about ghosts.

“Yes we do,” I replied. “Let’s go take a look.”

As we walked back to the juvenile section she told me that she wanted something about real ghosts, and not ghost stories.

“My Daddy doesn’t believe in ghosts,” she said. “But I do. I’ve seen them.”

“Oh? Have you really?” I said.

“Yes. I just saw one in here,” she told me.

“You did?”

“Yes. She was looking at a book over there,” she pointed. “She was just putting the book back on the shelf when she saw me. Then she went away.”

“What did she look like?”

“She was wearing a long white dress, with long sleeves. And she had a big white floppy hat.”

There is no way that this little girl could know that her description exactly matched every other description I’ve received of the Lady in White. Those descriptions came from people who did know each other, but who have each seen the Lady in White. Over the past year, there have been 3 or 4 individual and distinct sightings.

On each occasion she is in the same general area of the shop, but she isn’t always in the same spot or near the same book shelf. Sometimes she is looking at a book, other times she is walking down the aisles.

And on each occasion, the Lady in White has “gone away” just as soon as she becomes aware that she has been seen. She has been described as shy and skittish.

There are a number of implications here, all of them just a bit disquieting. The first is that she is aware of her surroundings (she examines books on a shelf, or walks down an aisle). Presumably she can read English (otherwise why would she look at a book?). This, in turn, means she can interact with these physical surroundings when she chooses (she appears to read book titles, she moves books on a shelf). And she is aware of people (she turns her head to look at them), and she is self-aware (she “goes away” when she becomes aware that she is seen). She makes choices. She changes her behavior depending upon circumstances. There is a "now" and a "here" for her. And she knows it. This would seem to imply individual consciousness.

I can laugh and joke about Elmer and his penchant as a tour guide. But I cannot dismiss the Lady in White quite so easily.

And that is the most disquieting thing of all.