Why proofreading is important…

One of the projects I’m working on a little bit at a time is an expanded book version of my articles about Vermont’s soldiers at the Battle of Gettysburg, and part of that book will include the text of an 1864 Vermont soldier’s memoir entitled The Second Brigade.

I’m about 2/3 through the slow process of formatting that manuscript; my source for the text is a New York City Public Library scan of the original 1864 book: JPG files which I ran through an online text conversion (OCR) program.

Here is a scan of the first page of chapter one:

second brigade

When I ran this page through the photo-to-text conversion program, here’s what I got:

Each valley, each sequestered glen,
Mustered its little horde of men,
That met as torrents from the height
In highland dales their streams unite,
Till at the rendezvous they stood
By hundreds. prompt for blowszdtr.CoTT.

Amazingly, I have seen many, many online documents like this, and in fact have also bought several Kindle edition e-books, where the text was apparently converted from a JPG scan using an OCR program and NOT edited or proofread.

But, you know, as blowszdtr.CoTT said, Tivilorethnt’fon,tirt.irlinotnsfrong.

“Where in the hell is my bathrobe?!”

e1444346762e84662de38231bc601aa0This might be my favorite show biz story of all time.

It was told by Morrie Ryskind, one of the writers who worked on the Marx Brothers’ stage show of Animal Crackers. Harry Ruby was a songwriter who worked on the book for that play (and movie). This was taken from an interview that originally appeared in the book The Marx Brothers’ Scrapbook by Richard Anobile and Groucho Marx, which, itself, might be my favorite show biz book of all-time. An oral history anchored by interviews with Groucho, the Scrapbook also featured interviews with writers and actors who worked with the team. The book was hugely inspirational to me as a fiction writer, in that it taught me that…

…”the same story” could be told from multiple perspectives; and

…the differences in those retellings could be a tremendous tool in revealing character; and, finally


the_brooklyn_daily_eagle_wed__oct_24__1928_Ryskind discusses the 1928 opening of Animal Crackers off-Broadway, and says…

…We opened the show in Philadelphia and from the very first night we knew it was a hit.

As it happened, during the weeks we played in Philly, Groucho had a birthday. So all the boys got together and we decided to give him a bathrobe for his birthday. Well, there was (George) Kaufman and myself, the three other brothers, Sam Harris, Bert Kalmar and Harry Ruby and we each chipped in ten bucks and got Groucho an eighty dollar bathrobe. And he was very pleased with it.

Finally, as the show ran, the bathrobe got to be sort of a tradition. Whenever someone’s birthday came along the other guys would chip in and get him a bathrobe. I’ll never forget the night I got Harpo his bathrobe. I had gone to Broadway to get his but the only nice one they had was less expensive. So I gave it to him and he wouldn’t take it. He insisted it had to be an $80 robe and he went right out to exchange it. We had to hold up the curtain a half hour while he went out to get an $80 robe!

Songwriter Harry Ruby

Anyway, before long, everybody got his robe except for Harry Ruby. He’s a very funny guy. About a week before his birthday we all got engraved announcements that his birthday was such-and-such a day and told us not to forget to chip in and do the right thing.

We had a consultation among the fellows and we thought it might be nice to string Harry along. So on his birthday he comes into the theater, I think it was a Friday night, and everybody says “Hello, Harry!”

And he asked, “Do you know what date this is?”

“Yes,” we said, “it’s Friday.”

“Oh, come on, where is it?”

Finally, Groucho and I went over to have a talk with him and we explained that we were all getting a little tired of the tradition about the bathrobe so we decided to stop it.

Well, Harry decided to search all of the dressing rooms, sure that we had bought it, but we hadn’t. He then figured we’d give it to him at the Saturday matinee or evening performance, but still no bathrobe.

“How can you do a thing like that?” he questioned. Still no bathrobe.

On the following Monday we got an announcement from his attorney that Harry was suing us for the bathrobe, but that didn’t bother us.

animal01During the performance that same evening something happened. You know, there’s the scene where Captain Spaulding (Groucho) is going to show Maggie Dumont the things he collected in Africa. He instructs that his chest of trophies be brought out and they come onstage in a magnificent trunk.

There before the audience the servants open the trunk and out steps Harry Ruby who asks Groucho “Where the hell is my bathrobe?” and walks off the stage.

He got it shortly afterwards.

hqdefault (1)Click here to see a Youtube video of the variety show Hollywood Palace from 1965. At the 50-minute mark, Groucho Marx and Margaret Dumont recreate the “Captain Spaulding” scene from Animal Crackers for the last time. The show was taped on February 26, 1965, and Margaret Dumont died on March 6, before the show was aired. 

Anyone wanna buy a shit mug?

OK, word people. Realizing that it COULD be just me, but… you tell me.
One of the things about having multiple fictional characters on Facebook is that I get to see a LOT of peoples’ posts that I wouldn’t see otherwise, and in my character Maura‘s news feed today, there was a reposted ad with a picture of this mug, and as a writer, someone who works with words and takes them seriously, the word choice on the mug made me think, and since I was logged into “her” account, I wrote it in her words, as the married mom of two kids (one six and one two).
Maura - shit mug
Again, though: you tell me. Is it just ME (and her) or is there something really telling and weird and wrong about the word usage discussed in this post?

“Four of the Three Musketeers”

15135865_10210413372746064_8374957766742851957_nI’m two chapters into Four Of The Three Musketeers, Robert Bader’s densely detailed, fun book about the Marx Brothers’ career onstage, from their formative years up to the end, when they toured stage versions of their films to gauge audience reactions.

It’s fun to read in detail about incidents and people to which the brothers (mainly Groucho) alluded but glossed over in other books, articles and interviews.

For example, chapter two closes with an authoritative account of Groucho’s first paying touring vaudeville job, as one of the performers in the Leroy Trio, led by a cross-dressing singer named Gene Leroy. 14-year-old Groucho was left stranded in Denver, Colorado, when Leroy took off with the act’s earnings. In other accounts I’ve read (most notably in the hilarious oral history The Marx Brothers Scrapbook), Groucho had less-than-complimentary things to say about Leroy (whom he remembered alternately as Leroy, Loring, and Leroux)… perhaps understandably, given the end of the act.

What Groucho didn’t mention either in that book or in other interviews I’ve seen is that several years later, Gene Leroy made headlines in a different way. According to Bader:

On July 23, 1920, an unclaimed steamer trunk was opened at the American Express office in New York’s Grand Central Terminal. In it was the crudely dismembered and disemboweled body of Katherine Leroy Jackson, the common-law wife of Eugene Leroy. The trunk had been shipped from Detroit, Michigan on June 10 to the man identified as the woman’s lover. Leroy had left his Detroit rooming house the day after his wife was last seen, and he in turn was never seen again.

This is a fantastic book which, so far, captures the flavor of the brothers’ formative years as a show biz act. Bader goes into exhaustive detail while presenting often conflicting accounts, usually not only from the brothers themselves, but sometimes from the same brother multiple times. As you might expect, Groucho’s is the dominant, most memorable voice, but all of the siblings get their turn. It’s the perfect combination of fun, funny, and fascinating.


Left to right: Adolph (Harpo), Milton (Gummo), Leonard (Chico) and Julius (Groucho) Marx, during their stage-vaudeville days, sometime during the 1920s.