Guinea and Guyana

Ever wonder what the origin of the term “Guinea” is, since it used for so many different things? Me, too.

“Guinea” is used as a place name for, count ’em, three different African countries: Guinea, Equatorial Guinea and Guinea-Bissau. It was applied to the whole southern curve of West Africa. In the days of Colonialism, there was French Guinea, German Guinea, Spanish Guinea, Dutch Guinea, Portu-bloody-guese-bloody-Guinea. You will see from the above 1736 map, “Negroland and the European Settlements,” that the “Slave Coast” was part of the region.

“Guinea” is also a type of rodent and a type of fowl. It was used for an antique UK currency, it’s a tri-racial Virginia clan, and it’s a racial slur against either the Italians or the Spanish, depending on which decade of which century you’re using it in. The Horatio Hornblower books by C.S. Forester have Royal Navy sailors using it for the Spanish during the English-Spanish wars; there, a far more common N-word is also applied by the British sailors to the Spanish.

Then there’s the similar term “Guyana” or “The Guianas,” referring to a region of northern South America (now Guyana, French Guyana, and Suriname). In the U.S., if you lived through the late ’70s, Guyana is virtually synonymous with mass suicide, owing to the 1978 Jonestown Massacre (and mass suicide) in the Jonestown intentional community in Guyana, led by People’s Temple cult leader Jim Jones. More than 900 people died there.

The Jonestown Massacre remains the only time a U.S. Congressional Representative was killed in the line of duty, as The Honorable Leo Ryan had traveled down there to investigate the cult. Ryan was one of five people murdered when the investigative team was ambushed attempting to board the plane and leave. Current representative Jackie Speier, who represents part of San Mateo County and the southwestern corner of San Francisco, was a Congressional aide at the time. She was shot five times by members of the People’s Temple. She survived after waiting 22 hours for help.

The Jonestown mass suicide/murder occurred the same day. It’s unclear how many at Jonestown committed suicide, and how many were murdered by being forced to drink poison by other cult members. The slang term “drank the Kool-Aid,” meaning to believe some godawful bullshit sold by a weird group of psychos, is derived from the Jonestown Massacre, even though they actually didn’t drink Kool-Aid — it was reportedly Flavor-Aid. I think over at Kraft Foods, some Marketing Manager has a Google Alert on “drank the Kool-Aid” and to this day probably has a conniption fit every time someone uses the term.

Well, according to my wise Aunt Wikipedia, the two place names Guinea and Guyana are not related. The African name may be (but no one knows for sure) from the Berber language term “Akal n-Iguinawen,” which means “land of the black people.” In Berber, it has variously referred to either the Guinea region of Central-Western Africa, or to the Sudan. Berber is the language of the Mahgreb (western North Africa — everything except Egypt) that predates the domination of Arabic following the Muslim invasions of the seventh century. Berber languages persist to this day in North Africa, in the form of Moroccan Amazigt or Tamazigt, and many other related Berber languages.

“Guyana,” according to the Oxford English Dictionary, comes from a Native American word meaning “land of many rivers.” They appear to be unrelated terms…each for a region with a grotesque history of Western excess. Hooray.


Was Bogart Born on Christmas Day?

Slapsgiving cheer via user and bartender Paddy at The Fedora Lounge.

Close on the heels of my incisive investigation (aka Google Search) as to whether Mr. “When You’re Slapped You’ll Take It and Like It” was at one time the Gerber Baby, I decided to tackle another pervasive rumor using my top-notch investigative reporting skills (aka a slightly higher than average typing speed).

Sadly, as to whether Bogart was born on Christmas, as another longstanding Bogart myth claims, IMDB is of relatively little help, its information having been garbled by an insidious computer virus known as “crowdsourcing.” IMDB dismisses as incorrect the New York Times’ claim Bogart was really born on 12/23/1899 but publicists decided “A guy born on Christmas can’t be all bad.” IMDB says, “Copies of two census forms from 1900 show this to be incorrect,” but doesn’t say which part of the NYT’s claim is incorrect…that publicist changed Bogart’s birth date, that Bogart was born on Christmas, or both?

Bogart’s IMDB trivia page goes on, then, to claim that Bogart would morosely screen “A Star Is Born” every Christmas Day — his birthday — because “I expected more out of myself.” IMDB doesn’t source that claim, other than (vaguely) to director Richard Brooks, in a story that sounds potentially apocryphal.

Nonetheless, the IMDB page for Humphrey Bogart still lists his birth date as Christmas, 1899, as does Wikipedia, which also claims the fake-Christmas-birthday story is baseless, owing to birth notices in early 1900 that list Bogart’s birth date as 12/25/1899.

I can’t imagine what kind of boneheaded publicity hound would make up a fake birthday, but hey, it’s been done before, right? Am I right? Only my parents and my identity thieves know for sure.

In any event, Bogart wasn’t that unusual. Based on the current population, something in excess of 800,000 people in the United States alive today were born on Christmas. In 1900, the figure would have been about a quarter of that.

So…Bogart was not the Gerber baby, but he was a baby-food model, and he was born on Christmas. And don’t forget to attend the Humphrey Bogart Film Festival next year in Key Largo. My guess is, the Key Largo Hilton won’t have baby food, but they’ll have martinis, reportedly Bogart’s favorite drink. As Bogart saw it, “The problem with the world
is that everyone is a few drinks behind.”

Was Humphrey Bogart the Gerber Baby?

You know the Gerber Baby? It’s probably the best-known single baby image in the world, more recognizable to more people, even, than any single image of the infant Christ….which is a scary thought. It’s also the subject of a major urban legend.

Longstanding rumor has it that the model for the campaign was Humphrey Bogart, or occasionally Ernest Borgnine or Liz Taylor. It wasn’t. Bogart was 29 years old when the sketch debuted as the spokesbaby image for Gerber Strained Foods, in the fall of 1928. Ernest Bornine was 11; Elizabeth Taylor wasn’t born yet. Bogart also wasn’t born on Christmas,

Bogart’s mother, Maud Humphrey, was a commercial illustrator and did use her sketches of her son, including one for a campaign for Mellin’s Baby Food. She also used Baby Bogey as a model for Ivory Soap, for an illustration that, for a time, was almost as iconic as Gerber would later become (though not quite as long-lived). As Bogart put it, related in his son Stephen Bogart’s book In Search of My Father, “There was a period in American History when you couldn’t pick up a goddamned magazine without seeing my kisser in it.”

Mystery Novel by the Gerber BabyThe model for Gerber was 2 years old at the time of Fremont Canning’s model search, but it was an old charcoal sketch by a neighbor. Her name was Ann Turner Cook. She did become mildly famous, but as a mystery novelist, according to Wikipedia. You can even find her books on Amazon. Here’s one of them.

Captain Easy

Also according to Wikipedia, Cook’s father was Leslie Turner, a cartoonist who would later take over the syndicated action/adventure comic strip Captain Easy for decades following the departure of creator Roy Crane, having drawn the daily strips in the ’30s while Crane did Sundays. (The 4-volume Fantagraphics reprint features just the Crane years Sunday strips).

But it was a neighbor, Dorothy Hope Smith, who submitted the rough charcoal sketch of the young Miss Turner that became the baby food’s iconic trademark. Smith was a professional artist, and told Fremont Canning Company she intended to finish the sketch professionally if it was chosen. They decided to use it as-is.

The image of the Gerber Baby debuted in an issue of Good Housekeeping in late 1928. And the rest is weird history…


The Lives of Evan Hunter

I love this old Evan Hunter cover posted by Nancy A. Collins to her Facebook page. The book appears to be a pretty obscure one; I found it on Amazon here, but there’s no description. Pulp of the Day has the cover as the source for a caption contest but nobody seems to have read it.

It looks like a hell of a pulpy potboiler. I was under the vague impression that Evan Hunter’s work under his own name tended toward the, er, literary, but this sorta undermines that idea (which is based on nothing, anyway). Then again, even Hemingway had some awesome covers back in the day, so who knows?

In case you don’t know, Evan Hunter is the man who wrote the novel The Blackboard Jungle, made into a 1955 film starring Glen Ford and featuring a young Sidney Poitier. Hunter is now probably better known by his pseudonym, Ed McBain, under which he was the author of about a bazillion novels in the 87th Precinct police procedural series, beginning with 1957’s lovably simplistic and powerfully satisfying Cop Hater.

The 87th Precinct books are what they are, and I’ve enjoyed several of them. If you’re a fan of straightforward police procedurals, well…they’re a model for many later works (and plenty of crappy TV shows). To my reading, Cop Hater feels dated in a way that many of the sleazier, more violent and duplicitous crook-not-cop books from the same era and a little later just don’t. Enjoyable as it is, Cop Hater‘s uncomplicated morality hasn’t aged well. I’m more given to eye-rolls about that moral simplicity than I am about its clunky prose, which I find charming.

If I found Cop Hater‘s prose clunky, however, it isn’t because McBain couldn’t tear up the keys with the best of the ’50s noir badasses. He sure as hell could. His style is crystalline in a much more interesting book, at least to me: The only stand-alone work of McBain’s I’ve read, The Gutter and the Grave. It was reissued in paperback by Hard Case Crime a few years back. Gutter is a classic ’50s down-and-outer private eye story in the general style of the Fawcett Gold Medal books I love so much.

Since the current page on Amazon claims an April, 2011 publication date for it, The Gutter and the Grave appears to have been re-re-reissued by Hard Case‘s new incarnation, distributed by Titan Books in the UK but still helmed by cofounder Charles Ardai. I believe I read the HCC paperback back in about 2006 or 2007, so 2011 must be the Titan Books edition.

However, it pains me to say, nowadays paperbacks give me hives. I avoid bookstores the way a cleaned-up dope fiend avoids NA meetings. As a lifelong hoarder, I finally made the jump to e-books and GOD DAMN my life has never felt easier. The $250 I made unloading books at the garage sale was no compensation for feeling like I was having my liver ripped out every time some squid from down the street pawed an old John LeCarre paperback and forked over 50 cents for it, but all that liver-wrenching agony was salved by the ensuing exultation as I discovered I could, for the first time in years, actually walk around my goddamn apartment. It was as if I’d spent 30 years being harried by drifting piles of leprechauns who turned my every step into a stumble whether I was trying to hit the john at 3 a.m., romance one of those nice ladies passing out Watchtowers, or pack for a quick Manteca vacation. Now, those ankle-biting fuckers have to make their asses scarce when I hit the OFF button. It’s glorious.

Sad to say, I couldn’t find a Kindle edition or other e-book of The Gutter and the Grave; as far as I can tell, there isn’t one. For what it’s worth, if you’re slightly less obsessive than me, but obsessive enough to give a damn in the first place, Gutter is well worth tracking down in the recent Titan/Hard Case paperback. It’s a great read.

In the meantime, the Thomas & Mercer e-book of Cop Hater is easy to grab for little more than a mouse-fondle and a small bit of damage to your Visa. As much as I might badmouth McBain’s early prose, he was OG. Cop Hater is well worth a read if you like old pulpy cop novels.

McBain’s 87th Precinct novels also hold an absolutely incomparable place in cop-novel history, so armchair scholars and cranky old men like me are advised to ignore them at their own peril. I may have joined the space age by switching to e-books, but inside I’m the same old sweater-wearing son of a bitch with loafers and a scowl. You’ll find the 87th Precinct books stacked up on the virtual table next to my recliner, right next to the Dewar’s, the improbably complicated TV remote and the .38 Police Positive just in case those hoodlums from the local middle school try playing stick ball on my lawn again anytime soon.

If you’re walking by the fridge, can you grab me some ice?

A Brief Slapstick Interlude

Normally I try to keep the air here at kinda, you know, rarefied and shit. I mean, who’s to keep the intellectual traditions of Western culture alive if I descend into potty-mouthed slapstick? It’s like Frank always used to tell me back when I was fronting 2 Live Crew: “Kid, you don’t have to work blue.” He was wrong, but I do try to keep my Three Stooges interests to myself…most of the time. There’s no cashola in that shit, baby. The slapstick, she’s not a winning proposition for yours truly. On the other hand, if you want me blue, you gotta cough up the green. It’s that simple. Otherwise, I’ll lecture your ass on motherfucking Stalin, and put your hand in warm water once you goddamn fall asleep.

Unfortunately, this Buzzfeed article, “19 People Who Are Having a Worse Day than You,” has undone all my bourgeois pseudo-intellectual pretensions, so I’m just going to say fuck it. The article has been making its way around Facebook, and I’ve now seen it three times. It made me laugh so hard I peed myself. Do not watch it if you are a genuinely nice person. If you are mostly a nice person but still like to see people fall down and get hit in the face with hats…well, then it’s your call.

Nobody gets majorly hurt, mind you, but there are many wacky pratfalls. They’re all GIFs so you can just view them in a big strip and pee yourself, like I did.

I got it from Wayne Allen Sallee, but many others have been passing it around. Blame him. Blame them. Blame anyone but me, I don’t give a damn. Oh, man…that’s some crumpin’.

Ross Lockhart's 'Chick Bassist'


Ross E. Lockhart, Managing Editor of Night Shade Books, was my editor on The Panama Laugh, and a damn fine one he was. He wrote the short novel Chick Bassist, which just came out from Lazy Fascist Press to so far pretty rave reviews. I haven’t read it yet, but it looks bad-ass.

Chick Bassist welcomes you into punk rock hell, the friendless disillusionment of waking up in a shitty motel room in California with half a joint and an empty six-pack, radio blaring Lou Reed, concrete ocean on all sides and a blazing inferno within.

The Humphrey Bogart Film Festival

Hold on to your fedoras, there’s gonna be a big blow! The Humphrey Bogart Film Festival is coming home…. “Home being Key Largo,” naturally. It’s May 2-5 in Key Largo, Florida. The Festival is hosted by one Stephen Bogart, Bogey and Bacall’s son and a frequent keeper of the flame as regards both their legacies. He’s reportedly named after his father’s character in To Have and Have Not, the first of the four films Stephen’s parents starred in together. (The others were Dark Passage, The Big Sleep, and — of course — Key Largo.)

Here’s a snippet from an update at the Humphrey Bogart Estate’s Facebook timeline, and a great pic of the younger Mr. Bogart in the restored African Queen.

We hope you’ll agree there’s a lot to like about our Humphrey Bogart Film Festival in Key Largo. It’s hard to pick a favorite element, but being able to take a ride on the real African Queen has to rank right up there. Here is a photo of Stephen Bogart taking the first ride after the boat was fully restored.

Let’s not forget, incidentally, that the book on which The African Queen‘s great James Agee/John Huston script was based was written by another of my favorite historical figures, the great C.S. Forester, author of the magnificent Horatio Hornblower series as well as many fiction and nonfiction books about seafaring men. One was Sink the Bismarck!, which I read well before I knew who C.S. Forester was. It was a defining book of my early childhood. (I believe it’s still known as The Last Nine Days in the Bismarck or Hunt the Bismarck in the UK, and was made into a tolerably good film in 1960.)

And while we’re at it, if you haven’t seen the 1948 film Key Largo, which inspired the festival’s location, you are missing out on a hell of a movie featuring three of the greatest performances in American film history (Bogart’s, Bacall’s, and Edward G. Robinson’s). Lionel Barrymore is also fantastic in this flick. You can also see the brief appearance of Jay Silverheels, who would later play Tonto to Clayton Moore’s The Lone Ranger, as one of the Native Americans wrongly accused of a crime in Key Largo. (Silverheels, incidentally, was also a poet, writing about his experience in First Nations communities.)

Far more than just a great crime movie (which it is), Key Largo is one of the films in American history that walks that line between crime thriller and closet drama without falling prey to the shortcomings of either genre. It is a study in great scripts and great performances. Key Largo was based on a Maxwell Anderson play in which the Native Americans were Mexican banditos and the war of which the main character is a veteran is not World War II, but the Spanish Civil War, which will remind any dedicated Bogeyhead of Casablanca, where Rick Blaine was (allegedly) a Spanish Civil War veteran…or, at least (allegedly) a gun-runner.

 Sadly, Key Largo is not available as Netflix Instant View, or I think I’d watch it right now. In fact, none of Bogey and Bacall’s collaborations can be found instant-viewable on Netflix. But The African Queen can be found there, and on Amazon you can instant-view The Big Sleep, Dark Passage, and To Have and Have Not, as well as The African Queen and CasablancaBut not Key Largo, my very favorite of the batch. Bummer. If you want to see it, resort to DVD — it’s more than worth it.