Thursday, December 31, 2020

New Year’s Eve 1920

In hotels, no serving, only looking the other way. In other establishments, a different approach.

[“Sober Crowds Jam Streets of City on New Year’s Eve: Bigger Celebration Than for Several Years, but Alcoholic Revelry Is Subdued.” The New York Times, January 1, 1921.]

You can hear the wheels turning as the reporter tries out elegant (or inelegant) variations: “a peg of whisky,” “a pony of pure fire.”

May 2021 be a better year than the year that ends tonight. I want to borrow from D.H. Lawrence and say, Look! We have come through! But so many have not.

Not quixotic

An MSNBC anchor referred to Donald Trump*’s “quixotic quest” to overturn the result of the presidential election. Uh, no.

Trump* is out of touch with reality, and his quest is bound to fail. But his effort isn’t quixotic, not “foolishly impractical especially in the pursuit of ideals,” not “marked by rash lofty romantic ideas or extravagantly chivalrous action” (Merriam-Webster). To the contrary, Trump*’s effort is base, ignoble, and self-serving, a subversion of democracy and a cheap con. There’s nothing quixotic about it.

Needs rephrased

From a TV commercial for a community college: “Choose a major that will prepare you for a promising future or university transfer.”

[Need + past participle is a thing.]

Berger’s Deli

[From the Naked City episode “Go Fight City Hall,” October 31, 1962. Click for a larger street.]

Here’s another instance of what I’ll call the Naked City effect, turning Manhattan into a small town of immediately recognizable locations. That’s Berger’s Deli, at 44 West 47th Street, in the Diamond District. You might know the street from Marathon Man. You might also know it as the longtime home of the Gotham Book Mart, which stood at no. 41. My friend Aldo Carrasco and I once had lunch at Berger’s after a visit to the Gotham. My fambly had lunch at Berger’s somewhere in the 1990s after visiting an exhibition of Edward Gorey’s work at the Gotham. And when I made a trip to New York in 2002 to see a Henry Darger exhibit and hear John Ashbery read from his work, I had lunch at Berger’s after what turned out to be a final trip to the Gotham. Here’s the menu — I took a copy.

Proust reminds us that “houses, roads, avenues are as fleeting, alas, as the years.” Yes, it’s true. The Gotham is gone, and Berger’s is now at 2 East 39th Street. Here’s the current menu.

You can see the Gotham’s “Wise Men Fish Here” sign and Berger’s at 0:25 in this clip from Marathon Man.

Related reading
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[From Swann's Way, trans. Lydia Davis (New York: Viking, 2002).]

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

“Rheumatism rather than literature”

The narrator wants to be a writer. M. de Norpois, former ambassador, knows of a friend’s son with the same ambition:

Marcel Proust, In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower, trans. James Grieve (New York: Penguin, 2002).

I had planned to end my sentence-a-day posts with the end of Swann’s Way. But I had to share this sentence.

Related reading
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Dwight D. Ritz

[Nancy, December 30, 2020. Click for a larger view.]

Aunt Fritzi has said that Nancy better have “some kind of justification” for writing on the window. Nancy offers that justification in the form of an Eisenhower matrix. Of course she’s replaced important/unimportant/urgent/not urgent with her own terms.

Related reading
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Tuesday, December 29, 2020

“Memory’s pictures”

When young, the narrator regarded the Bois du Boulogne as “an artificial place and, in the zoological or mythological sense of the word, a Garden.” But everything changes. From the final paragraph of Swann’s Way :

Marcel Proust, Swann’s Way, trans. Lydia Davis (New York: Viking, 2002).

This post concludes one-Proust-sentence-a-day. I’ll post passages from the remaining volumes now and then. Onward!

Related reading
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[Translator’s note: “In Dodona, in Epirus, the priests of Zeus’ sanctuary gave oracles by interpreting the sound of the wind in the sacred oaks.”]

Nancy Dunning-Kruger

[Nancy, December 29, 2020.]

For a better 2021, read Nancy every day.

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Monday, December 28, 2020

A 2021 calendar

Free to good home: a 2021 calendar, three months per page, Gill Sans, with minimal holiday markings. It’s a PDF, right here for downloading.

I’ve been making calendars in Pages since late 2009. Good cheap fun.

Here comes Gilberte

Gilberte Swann makes an appearance on the Champs-Élysées:

Marcel Proust, Swann’s Way, trans. Lydia Davis (New York: Viking, 2002).

The narrator’s early meetings with Gilberte are strange stuff, combining elements of childhood (marbles, governesses, snowballs down the back) with talk of the theater and an out-of-print book about Racine.

Related reading
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Word Matters

An excellent podcast: Word Matters, with Merriam-Webster editors Emily Brewster, Neil Serven, Ammon Shea, and Peter Sokolowski. I’ve especially enjoyed the sixth and seventh episodes, one looking at the changing meaning of matriculate, the other busting the myth that Shakespeare invented x number of words.

In college, I never understood matriculate, and it never occurred to me to look it up. Every semester at registration I’d see the question: “Are you matriculated?” Sometimes I’d check Y. Sometimes, N. It didn’t seem to matter. I suspect that the coach who borrowed matriculate for football purposes didn’t understand the word either.

Edward M. Stringham’s archives

“The papers of Edward M. Stringham fall roughly into three categories: diaries; notes on literature, music, and art; and correspondence.” Mary Norris writes about the extraordinary archives of a New Yorker collator: “The Archives of an Unfulfilled Genius” (The New Yorker ).

Sunday, December 27, 2020

Swann, dreaming

Marcel Proust, Swann’s Way, trans. Lydia Davis (New York: Viking, 2002).

The young man in a fez is Swann himself: “like certain novelists, he had divided his personality between two characters, the one having the dream, and another he saw before him wearing a fez.”

Related reading
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Saturday, December 26, 2020

“Audiophile’s purchase”

Re: 8-D, seven letters, “Audiophile’s purchase,” see Anthony Tommasini, “No, I Am Not Getting Rid of My Thousands of CDs” (The New York Times).

Unknown, known

Charles Swann, making people’s lives make sense to him:

Marcel Proust, Swann’s Way, trans. Lydia Davis (New York: Viking, 2002).

Donald Rumsfeld’s talk of “known knowns,” “known unknowns,” and “unknown unknowns” (what we know we know, what we know we don’t know, and what we don’t know we don’t know) is easily mocked, but it does make sense. The part of a person’s life we don’t know must count as an unknown unknown, no? Swann converts the unknown unknown into a known known by an act of imagination. Here’s hoping.

Related reading
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Today’s Saturday Stumper

Stan Newman, the Newsday puzzle editor, is on vacation until January 2. Today’s Saturday Stumper, by Doug Peterson, is an update of a Stumper published in 2010. It’s surprising/not surprising how dated some of the clues feel ten years after. Take 8-D, seven letters, “Audiophile’s purchase.” Well, yes, but where? Or 11-D, eight letters, “It weighs less than one ounce.” Should that be weighed? Or 21-D, four letters, “Product once pitched by Garfield.” Easily guessable, but there’s no reason that anyone in 2020 (except Jim Davis) should be expected to remember it. Or 66-A, nine letters, “Erstwhile airline.” Erstwhile indeed. I’m not disrespecting the puzzle; I’m just observing that the recent past often feels much more dated than older pasts.

Some clue-and-answer pairs I admire:

3-D, ten letters, “Flip one.” I immediately thought of “the bird.”

17-A, nine letters, “Unwanted overhang.” I immediately thought of gutters.

20-A, nine letters, “‘The Clue in the Crossword Cipher’ solver.” Could be fun to seek out.

32-D, five letters, “Crud!” An exclamation that calls for a revival. I’m surprised to see that crud is an old, old word. My guess would have been that it’s a recent euphemism for crap.

40-D, four letters, “Element of change.” What’s “change”?

49-A, five letters, “Pickup provider.” I’m surprised to see that it’s still around.

57-A, five letters, “‘Darn it, dude!’” Suddenly I’m back in high school, or on a basketball court after school. The answer fits, but no one would have been saying “darn.”

64-A, nine letters, “Some of them are overlaid.” And coming soon to my part of Illinois.

No spoilers: the answers are in the comments.

Friday, December 25, 2020

Scalloped potatoes

“These movies are to Fox News what scalloped potatoes are to Pop Rocks soaked in Red Bull and PCP. A balm”: Virginia Heffernan writes in praise of Hallmark Christmas movies.

Good call, TCM

Among the Christmas movies on the TCM schedule: The Apartment (dir. Billy Wilder, 1960), airing today (4:45 Central). I’ve always thought of The Apartment as a Christmas movie, and I’m glad TCM does too.

Elaine’s little phrase

Elaine thinks that “the little phrase” from Venteuil’s Sonata for Piano and Violin that runs through Swann’s Way may have its model in a piece by Mendelssohn. As far as either of us can tell, no one has made this suggestion before.

Related reading
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An observer observed observing

Général de Froberville, the Marquis de Bréauté, Charles Swann, and an observer:

Marcel Proust, Swann’s Way, trans. Lydia Davis (New York: Viking, 2002).

Each man in this scene wears a monocle. Individual monocles, as seen from Swann’s perspective, are the subject of extensive description before and after this sentence.

Related reading
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Christmas 1920

[“Tree for Horses in Boston: They Nibble Apples and Sugar From Branches in Post Office Square.” The New York Times, December 25, 1920.

Merry Christmas to all who celebrate it.

[Post Office Square: at the intersection of Milk, Congress, Pearl, and Water Streets.]

Thursday, December 24, 2020

Cover for the turn of the year

[Harry Bliss, “In with the New.” The New Yorker, December 28, 2020. Click for a larger view.]

Some background on the cover here.

[There’s still plenty of time for him to burn things. But today it’s time for golf.]

Alvin will return

Gunther at Lexikaliker shares the good news that Alvin & Co. will return. A welcome development for all fans of “supplies.”

Mystery actor

[Click for a larger view.]

Do you recognize her? Leave your answer in a comment. I’ll drop a hint if necessary.


Here’s a hint: There’s a farm in her future.


Another hint: Also space travel.


Oh well. The answer is now in the comments.

More mystery actors (Collect them all!)
? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ?

[Garner’s Modern English Usage notes that “support for actress seems to be eroding.” I use actor.]

“Pestilential and longed-for”

Two staircases. Odette will travel one, to her old dressmaker’s apartment. Swann now travels the other, in the home of the Marquise de Saint-Euverte.

Marcel Proust, Swann’s Way, trans. Lydia Davis (New York: Viking, 2002).

Related reading
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[Anfractuosity : “a winding channel or course especially : an intricate path or process (as of the mind).”]


[All foods are vignettes. Click for a larger vignette.]

We ordered takeout yesterday, the last takeout of the year before our favorite restaurant (Thai) closes for a short vacation. And we received a special treat: dokchok, or dokjok, a traditional Thai dessert. It’s delicious — a thin, crispy treat. Here’s an explanation of how it’s made. Thank you, Mao, Aoy, and Pean.

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

“You can take me home”

Swann sometimes finds himself at a party that Odette too is attending.

Marcel Proust, Swann’s Way, trans. Lydia Davis (New York: Viking, 2002).

I like the way this difficult sentence comes to such a breezy end, with words of some consequence “tossed at” someone who’s about to leave.

Related reading
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[Bal des Incohérents: "The Incoherents were artists who mocked the official salons and organized highly successful exhibitions of their own starting in 1882. They celebrated the opening day with a costume ball.“ (Translator’s note.) They might be described as proto-Dadaists.]

An unexpected question

I’m zooming through the frozen foods aisle when I hear a voice behind me:

“Are you [unintelligible]?”

Was he talking to me? I turned around to look. He pulled down his mask to speak. Jeez. I wanted to move on, and away.

“Uh, no,” I said, and turned back around.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean any harm,” he said.

“Oh, I know,” I said, still moving forward. “I just wasn’t sure that you were talking to me.”

It wasn’t until I was in the next aisle that I realized what he had asked: “Are you from England?” He must have noticed my beret. I can’t think of another explanation.

[Okay, granted, it was a Kangol Anglobasque beret. But it looks like a beret, nothing Anglo- about it. But as a reader points out in the comments, there is something Anglo about a beret. But I still feel okay about having felt baffled.]

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

For D.W. Read fans only

At 4:30 p.m.: Arthur.

At 5:00 p.m: DW News.

[In truth, DW is the German broadcaster Deutsche Welle. D.W. Read is Arthur’s sister.]

Twelve movies

[Or eleven movies and one mini-series. Surely a seven-episode Netflix series equals at least one movie. One to four stars, four sentences each, no spoilers.]

Up the Down Staircase (dir. Robert Mulligan, 1967). I never tire of this movie: I adore Sandy Dennis, and I admire the indefatigable optimism that Miss Sylvia Barrett brings to the work of teaching in the trenches. I will also admit to admiring her students’ quickness to leap at any occasion for comedy: witness “There is no frigate like a book.” It didn’t register with me until this viewing that the movie confirms Hazard Adams’s description of the nonlife stereotype of the teacher: we see nothing of Miss Barrett’s life beyond her school and the block that she walks from and to the bus stop. Best scene: the trial: “I’m me.” ★★★★


Impact (dir. Arthur Lubin, 1949). A captain of industry and devoted husband (Brian Donleavy) finds his life turned upside down when he gives his wife’s “cousin” a ride. Donleavy and Ella Raines are wooden; Helen Walker, the story’s evil schemer, is far more compelling. Good scenes of small-town life and a wild chase through narrow San Francisco streets. My favorite line: “I’ll never think of our moments together without nausea.” ★★


Shadow of a Doubt (dir. Alfred Hitchcock, 1943). I’ve written about this movie before, so I’ll limit myself to some noticings here. When we first see Charles Oakley (Joseph Cotten), lying fully dressed on a bed, he looks embalmed, save that he’s smoking. The number of his rooming house: 13. Young Charlie Newton (Theresa Wright) is described as “the smartest girl in her class,” and we see her in what looks like a high-school graduation photograph, but her future is never even suggested. The scene in the ’Til-Two bar is a poignant picture of worlds colliding: goody two-shoes Charlie and sultry but tired waitress Louise Finch (Janet Shaw): “I never thought I’d see you in here.” ★★★★


The Naked City (dir. Jules Dassin, 1948). The only place to go before or after you watch all 138 episodes of the television series. The plot is meh, and the actors, good though they may be, are almost superfluous, but so what: this movie is all about New York: El stops, swank shops, ratty tenements, crowded luncheonettes. “You got any cold root beer?” “Like ice.” ★★★★


Uncovering “The Naked City” (dir. Bruce Goldstein, 2020). One film lover’s exploration of the film’s locations and production. Bruce Goldstein is beyond knowledgable, about The Naked City and about Manhattan then and now. The detail that most amazed me: he tracked down the days for filming a scene from the changing titles on a theater marquee. A Criterion Channel exclusive. ★★★★


David Copperfield (dir. George Cukor, 1935). A feast for actors, especially character actors: Freddie Bartholomew and Frank Lawton as David the boy and man, Basil Rathbone as grim Mr. Murdstone, Edna May Oliver as Aunt Betsey, Lionel Barrymore as Dan’l Peggotty, and Maureen O’Sullivan as Dora. The three standouts: W. C. Fields as Mr. Micawber, Lennox Pawle as Mr. Dick, and Roland Young as Uriah Heep. Such a raft of talent. The most poignant scenes: David and Dora. ★★★★


The Christmas Bow (dir. Clare Niederpruem, 2020). Lucia Micarelli and Michael Rady star in a story of violins, injury, disability, shortbread, recorders, festive-themed dishes, street musicians, and Christmas socks. Oh, and a grandfather who comes out of retirement to give a young boy the gift of music. And speaking of music: since when do professional violinists spend their time on unaccompanied renditions of Christmas carols? I am taking away a star because the leads kiss long before the last two minutes of the movie: that’s just wrong. ★★


The Queen’s Gambit (dir. Scott Frank, 2020). Isla Johnston and Anya Taylor-Joy are eerily similar as Beth Harmon, child and young adult, a Kentucky orphan and addict with a dark past and the strong sense of pattern recognition that makes her an intuitive genius of chess. Taylor-Joy’s background as a model is unmistakable: Beth’s nerd vibe goes haywire every time we see her walk, runway-style, to a chessboard. Lots of nonsense to savor in the picture of the 1960s: check out the magazines for sale at the Lexington drugstore (which also happens to sell Café Bustelo and Malta Goya). Among the supporting players, Moses Ingram (Jolene), Marielle Heller (Alma Wheatley), and Harry Melling (Harry Beltik) are particularly good. ★★★


Strange Cargo (dir. Frank Borzage, 1940). Strange indeed. Lust and love and an escape from a penal colony, starrring a “waitress,” Julie (Joan Crawford), and a prisoner, Verne (Clark Gable), whose only name for Julie is “baby.” Peter Lorre lurks sinisterly in the background. What makes the movie really strange is the presence of Cambreau (Ian Hunter), a Christ-like figure performing miracles and bringing prisoners to redemption. ★★★


Becoming (dir. Nadia Hallgren, 2020). A documentary: Michelle Obama, her book, and her book tour. I tried to imagine our current First Lady asking questions of and listening to young people as Michelle Obama does here: it’s just impossible. I still find it remarkable that I met Michelle Obama in 2004 in downstate Illinois, where she had come to campaign for her husband. I’m as giddy now as some of the people in this movie waiting in line to get their books signed. ★★★★


Vice Squad (dir. Arnold Laven, 1953). Elaine and I had the same thought: multi-tasking! This police procedural begins with a killing of an officer, goes off in all directions, and ends with a bank heist and hostage-taking. Edward G. Robinson is Captain Barnaby, the calm center in a story whose focus shifts every few minutes (as Yeats said, “The stone’s in the midst of all”). Among the nice turns: Paulette Goddard as the owner of an escort service, Percy Helton as a crackpot troubled by “television shadows,” Byron Kane as a professor who unmasks a phony Italian aristocrat (“His flat a s and his hard r s betray a background of the middle west”), and perennial bad guy Adam Williams as an increasingly desparate suspect. ★★★★


Beware, My Lovely (dir. Harry Horner, 1952). An unnerving tour de force for Ida Lupino and Robert Ryan. Lupino is Helen Gordon, a war widow (it’s 1918); Ryan is Howard Wilton, a psychotic handyman who comes in for a day’s work waxing the floors. The movie does a deft job of having Howard’s condition reveal itself ever so slowly, as Helen’s kindness changes to wariness and then desperation as she becomes a prisoner in her house. Close calls, near escapes, and some dramatic camerawork by George E. Diskant — watch for the reflections in the Christmas tree ornaments. ★★★★

Related reading
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[The nonlife stereotype is described in Hazard Adams’s The Academic Tribes (1988): “Either he is in his office or his classroom or he is nowhere.”]


A member of “the ‘little set,’ the ‘little circle,’ the ‘little clan’” — let’s say Mme. Verdurin’s little clique — has spoken of tomorrow’s plans for dinner in the Bois, a dinner to which Charles Swann has not been invited.

Marcel Proust, Swann’s Way, trans. Lydia Davis (New York: Viking, 2002).

Related reading
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Roku extender

Psst — if your Roku device heats up, you can get an extender, free, from the company. All you need is the serial number. It’s almost illegible on my Roku — I used my phone’s magnifier to get a good look.

[“My phone’s magnifier”: we’re really in the world of the future.]

Monday, December 21, 2020


Swann begins to wonder if the words “kept woman” might apply to Odette.

Marcel Proust, Swann’s Way, trans. Lydia Davis (New York: Viking, 2002).

Swann then resolves to try to send Odette not five but six or seven thousand francs next month.

Related reading
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A Backblaze offer

Backblaze is an online backup service. Wirecutter continues to recommend it as “the best cloud backup service for most people.”

If you’d like a free month of Backblaze, use this referral code. If you sign up — $6 a month or $60 a year or $110 for two years, each price for unlimited backup — you’ll get two more months for free, and I’ll get three free months too. The offer runs through January 31. You can read the details on this page.

One caution: without ultra-speedy wireless, the initial backup is likely to take several days. You just have to be patient, or find a library or other location with fast wireless. You can, of course, do other things on the computer while Backblaze is backing up. And you can control how much bandwidth it uses. Once the initial backup is done, you’re unlikely to ever notice Backblaze at work — until, that is, you need to restore a file or hard drive.

I switched to Backblaze from Mozy in 2018. This post explains why.

Make your own pencils

From Bridge City Tool Works: Pencil Precision, everything you need to make your own pencils (twenty-five of them). Available for pre-ordering, $699.

Thanks, Steven.

Sunday, December 20, 2020

Losing his mind

Writing in The Atlantic, Peter Wehner says that Donald Trump* is losing his mind:

Given Trump’s psychological profile, it was inevitable that when he felt the walls of reality close in on him — in 2020, it was the pandemic, the cratering economy, and his election defeat — he would detach himself even further from reality. It was predictable that the president would assert even more bizarre conspiracy theories. That he would become more enraged and embittered, more desperate and despondent, more consumed by his grievances. That he would go against past supplicants, like Attorney General Bill Barr and Georgia Governor Brian Kemp, and become more aggressive toward his perceived enemies. That his wits would begin to turn, in the words of King Lear. That he would begin to lose his mind.

So he has. And, as a result, President Trump has become even more destabilizing and dangerous.

And yet, as the psychiatrist Bandy X. Lee points out, this Washington Post report on the Trump* administration’s mishandling of COVID-19 says nothing about the part the president’s mental health has played in creating our current crisis.

Hurry, January.

“Under a Rembrandt-style hat”

A friend of Charles Swann’s has seen Odette de Crécy walking, dressed in “a ‘visiting cloak’ trimmed with skunk, under a ‘Rembrandt-style’ hat, and with a bouquet of violets in her bodice.”

Marcel Proust, Swann’s Way, trans. Lydia Davis (New York: Viking, 2002).

Related reading
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Mooch Brown, Earl van Pelt

Mutts channels Peanuts.

Recently updated

Words of the year Now with another lockdown.

Saturday, December 19, 2020

Today’s Saturday Stumper

Today’s Newsday  Saturday Stumper is by “Lester Ruff,” one of the names Stan Newman uses with easier Stumpers of his making. This puzzle could be the work of P. Soffkayk — it’s that easy. Certainly the easiest Stumper I’ve seen. Look at the start: 1-A, seven letters, “Snow job.” And 1-D, seven letters, “Carrot kin.” See? There some a couple of tough spots in the lower left: 38-D, seven letters, “Calixa Lavallée’s best-known tune” and 63-A, seven letters, “They’re hysterical” had me thinking that I would have to guess. But things fell together after all.

If you noticed the sevens: like the December 5 Stumper, also by Stan Newman, this puzzle is fully symmetrical. Thirty-six of its seventy-two answers have seven letters.

Some clue-and-answer pairs I especially liked:

7-D, seven letters, “’60s TV superstar.” I was surprised at how obvious the answer was once I had a cross.

14-D, seven letters, “China groups.” Pairs nicely with its downstairs neighbor, 44-D, seven letters, “‘Free gift’ ads.”

19-A, five letters, “Pens that don’t write.” I’ve found the Pilot G-Tec-C3 prone to skipping.

39-D, seven letters, “Foolish folks.” A word that’s seen a revival of late.

46-A, seven letters, “Western associate.” My first thought: COUNTRY. But it’s not that kind of Stumper.

64-A, seven letters, “Lavalava wearers.” Does everyone already know this?

No spoilers: the answers are in the comments.

The little phrase on the move

At the Verdurins’, a pianist plays for Charles Swann and Odette de Crécy “the little phrase“ from Vinteuil’s sonata for violin and piano "that was like the anthem of their love.“

Marcel Proust, Swann’s Way, trans. Lydia Davis (New York: Viking, 2002).

I like the description of music in painterly terms. Eric Karpeles pairs this passage with the painting Mother Lacing Her Bodice Against a Cradle. Here is a detail.

[Pieter de Hooch, detail from Mother Lacing Her Bodice Against a Cradle (1670). Click for a larger view.]

Not long ago Elaine and I were talking about de Hooch’s Courtyard with an Arbour. We believe we’ve seen it, but where? The Met? In The Age of Rembrandt? But that exhibition was Met holdings only, and Courtyard with an Arbour is in a private collection. Besides, we wouldn’t have been in Mew York when that exhibition ran. I suspect that we looked up the painting after reading about it — somewhere. In which case, we’ve seen not the painting but a reproduction.

Related reading
All OCA Proust posts (Pinboard)

[Eric Karpeles’s Paintings in Proust (London: Thames & Hudson, 2008) is a helpful book to have on hand.]

Friday, December 18, 2020

“Encased or lost”

Odette de Crécy disappears beneath her clothes:

Marcel Proust, Swann’s Way, trans. Lydia Davis (New York: Viking, 2002).

Related reading
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[To make sense of the syntax: read “that led” and “that directed” as parallel.]

Nancy synchronicity

[Nancy, May 19, 1953. Click for a larger view.]

[Nancy, December 18, 2020. Click for a larger view.]

Yesterday’s Nancy is today’s Nancy.

Related reading
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Idiom of the day: hurrah’s nest

From the Naked City episode “Idylls of a Running Back” (September 26, 1962). Lieutenant Mike Parker speaks:

“This is a hurrah’s nest, and the sooner it’s dumped on the district attorney’s desk, the better I like it.”
A what? Merriam-Webster says that a hurrah’s nest is “an untidy heap, mess.” Specifically, “a tangle of debris blocking a trail or stream.” Webster’s Second marks the expression as Colloq., U.S. The Oxford English Dictionary defines hurrah’s nest as “a confused or disorderly mass,” “a state of confusion or disorder.” The first citation, from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1829): ”A queer-looking Dutchman, with a head like a ‘hurra’s nest.’” The OED marks the expression as U.S. None of these sources explains how this curious phrase came to be.

But I know how it came to be in Naked City: Ernest Kinoy, the episode’s writer, thought, Let me put in this odd phrase. And then someone with curiosity and dictionaries and a little time on his hands will look it up.


Related reading
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[“His hands”: because I am imagining a voice from 1962.]

Recently updated

Words of the year Now with unprecedented.

Thursday, December 17, 2020

Mystery actor

[Click for a larger view.]

I think he’s pretty recognizable, but he’d be more so if this picture were a talking picture. Do you recognize him? Leave your guess in a comment. I’ll drop an oblique hint if necessary.


Here’s a hint: He’d be more recognizable if you could hear him talking. But if you were sitting at the bottom of a pool in scuba gear, you wouldn’t be able to hear him talking.


Elaine has a suggestion: You need to look elsewhere for a clue. Elsewhere.


The answer is now in the comments.

More mystery actors (Collect them all!)
? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ?

A flying desk

Morning approaches. “The brief uncertainty” of waking has faded; the narrator knows what room he is in and has reconstructed it in the dark. Or so he believes.

Marcel Proust, Swann’s Way, trans. Lydia Davis (New York: Viking, 2002).


I just discovered that I posted the same sentence in 2007 when I first read Proust. Well, a good sentence is a good sentence.


This sentence too.

Related reading
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Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Of Harrises and Kings

[Candace Hilligoss (“Mrs. Harris”) and Sanford Meisner (Kip Harris). From the Naked City episode “Hold for Gloria Christmas,” September 19, 1962. Click for a larger view.]

A bar owner points the police to a friend and patron of a dead poet: “You know, Kip Harris, the writer. He’s always on television with his young wife.”

In 1962 those lines would have unmistakably suggested Alexander King (1899–1965) and Margie King (1932–2018). Between 1959 and 1961, Alex and Margie made five joint appearances on The Tonight Show with Jack Paar. Alex made many more solo appearances. In 1959 Alex and Margie had a show of their own, Alex in Wonderland, on New York City’s Channel 13 (public television). And in 1959 Margie made a brief appearance in an episode of Naked City.

Elaine and I knew Margie as Margie King Barab. We visited Margie and her husband Seymour Barab in New York every summer for many years. On one visit we watched an episode of Alex in Wonderland on Margie’s MacBook: Margie raised questions and posed topics, and Alex expounded. It was Ask Me Anything, pre-Reddit. At one point Margie played a solo on a snare drum.

From a New York Times article, “Man of Many Words: Alexander King Appears to Have Rich Source of Material for TV Show” (April 12, 1959):

Mr. King talks frequently, on and off the air, about his wife, a young woman from Chadron, Neb., whom he married six years ago. Mrs. King has appeared on the musical stage in summer stock. She obtained some of her musical training as an exchange student in France. She played a snare drum in high school and occasionally does a drum solo on the TV program. “We thought it would be fun,” she says.
O mid-century world, that had such people in’t!

As for the actors in that screenshot: you may recognize Candace Hilligloss from Carnival of Souls (dir. Herk Harvey, 1962). Hilligoss studied with the actor and acting teacher Sanford Meisner.

Related reading
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“Like little boats”

Marcel Proust, Swann’s Way, trans. Lydia Davis (New York: Viking, 2002).

Related reading
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Tuesday, December 15, 2020

“Kids on the Case”

From the podcast Criminal, a great episode: “Kids on the Case,” true stories of children solving crimes, helping to solve crimes, and finding a missing person. These kids are living the dream, or at least my childhood dream. I was a boy secret agent.

Yes, this episode is from September. I’m catching up.

Speaks softly, doesn’t lie

From the This American Life episode “Personal Recount,” devoted to stories of people changing their minds. Louis Rosman is an Iowa farmer who voted for Donald Trump in 2016. His granddaughter Lizzie Johnson interviewed him for the show:

LJ: How long did it take you to figure out that Trump was not that change that you wanted?

LR: Well, this virus has really convinced me because he totally disregarded it and still does. He acts as if it don’t exist. And all these people are dying, and he still thinks that’s all you have to do, is just ignore it. And then he said, it’ll be over with by Easter. It’ll be over with by July. And it’s always a bunch of damn lies. It scares the hell out of me. I ain’t ready to die yet.

And then the deal the way they were handling those children down at the border, herding them around like a prisoner-of-war camp. Five hundred-some are separated from their parents, and some of them are six months old.

LJ: It sounds like thinking about those kids without their parents has really stuck with you.

LR: Well, why wouldn’t it? With anybody, anybody with feeling. Trump has no feeling. Absolutely none. That’s why I like Joe Biden, because he has a soft voice and he doesn’t tell lies. I wanted someone who cares for someone or something besides himself.

LJ: Would you have thought I was crazy if, in 2016, I told you, hey, you would vote for a Democrat in 2020, straight down the ticket?

LR: If you would have told me what was going on now back then, I wouldn’t have believed this could happen.
We need to hear more stories of people changing their minds.

Meanwhile, Donald Trump* is retweeting a crackpot who says that Georgia’s governor and secretary of state “will soon be going to jail.”

[“Who voted for Donald Trump”: I’ve dropped the asterisk for impeached, as Trump* wasn’t an impeached president in 2016. I’ve made one slight alteration in the TAL transcript.]

Items in a series

The narrator has heard Mlle. Swann’s mother yell: “Gilberte, come here! What are you doing?” And Gilberte’s name begins to touch everything:

Marcel Proust, Swann’s Way, trans. Lydia Davis (New York: Viking, 2002).

People, a line of work, a neighborhood: I like that wildly disparate series.

Related reading
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Naked City Stonewall

Though the television series Naked City ranges all over Manhattan (and beyond), it makes the island feel more like a small town, its locations immediately recognizable. Look, there’s the Park again. And Park Avenue. And Riverside Drive. And The Old Landmark.

Here’s another landmark. Elaine spotted it first: the Stonewall Inn, 53 Christopher Street. The park is Christopher Park. Its fence is at least 130 years old. The Stonewall sign is now gone.

[Varney (Dana Elcar) and Joseph Irma (Paul Richards) talk over their plans. From the Naked City episode “Strike a Statue,” May 16, 1962. Click for a larger view.]

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Designing sardines

“We went against all packaging and labeling norms in this usually traditional industry to appeal to today’s quarantined customer”: Lindsay Megan Silveira of Linsanity Design has designed cans for sardines and other fish with the slogan “Buy Local. Taste Quality.” I would like to see these cans in person, so to speak, but “local” here means India.

Bonus: here’s a close-up of a tuna can, with a pun for good measure.

Thanks, Chris.

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Monday, December 14, 2020


From The Washington Post:

It was only Trump’s defiance that prompted Biden to decide to give another valedictory speech.
No, another victory speech. Merriam-Webster tells us that valedictory is
borrowed from New Latin valedictōrius, from Latin valedic-, alternate stem of vale dīcere, valedīcere “to say goodbye” + -tōrius, adjective suffix (originally derivatives of agent nouns ending in -tōr-, -tor).
A valediction is “an act of bidding farewell.”

Odd: the sentence that follows the one I’ve quoted refers to Biden’s “victory speech more than five weeks ago.” Is valedictory an autocorrection error? An attempt at elegant (or inelegant) variation?

"Puppetlike dimensions”

M. Legrandin, snubby snob:

Marcel Proust, Swann’s Way, trans. Lydia Davis (New York: Viking, 2002).

Related reading
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Sean Malone (1970–2020)

I learned this morning that my friend Sean Malone died last week. Friend, yes, though we never met in person. I was hoping that would happen in Los Angeles, on the other side of the pandemic.

Sean usually shows up in these pages as “Sean at Blackwing Pages” or “Sean at Contrapuntalism.” Sean loved pencils and brought a documentarian’s mind to the history of the Eberhard Faber Blackwing 602 and all things Faber (Faber-Castell and Eberhard Faber). And he lived a life as a brilliant musician. Take a look at his Wikipedia page, which covers his work as a performer and musicologist. His abilities are amply represented at YouTube. No pencils though.

When I taught The Grapes of Wrath, I would sometimes bring a Blackwing, a No. 2 3/8 Mongol, and a Blaisdell Calculator to class and pass them around for students to try out. Those were John Steinbeck’s favorite pencils, as documented . . . somewhere. I made a point of mentioning that the Calculator was a gift from a friend, a pencil aficionado and musician, Sean Malone. “From Cynic?!” a student asked. Worlds joining up, in a wonderful way.

“As documented . . . somewhere”: Sean would know where.

[The source for the brand names: Steinbeck’s “The Art of Fiction” (non-)interview in The Paris Review. Thanks, pencil talk.]

Sunday, December 13, 2020

No influence

It has been raining. The narrator’s friend M. Bloch has arrived for lunch, an hour and a half late and covered in mud. But he has nothing to apologize for:

Marcel Proust, Swann’s Way, trans. Lydia Davis (New York: Viking, 2002).

The narrator’s father draws a conclusion about M. Bloch: “He’s an imbecile.”

Related reading
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Dr. Jill Biden

Joseph Epstein’s complaint in The Wall Street Journal about Jill Biden’s choice of honorific is a strange piece of writing. Epstein touts his own modest academic credentials (“I taught at Northwestern University for 30 years without a doctorate or any advanced degree”) while mocking Biden’s dissertation, bashing doctoral programs generally, and calling out the awarding of honorary doctorates to celebrities (while also letting us know that he has one such degree himself).

What I find most noteworthy about Epstein’s screed is not its condescending misogyny (“Madame First Lady — Mrs. Biden — Jill — kiddo: a bit of advice”) but its failure to consider the ways in which academic honorifics function in and out of academia. Ben Yagoda’s essay “What Should We Call the Professor?”is helpful on these matters:

Forms of academic address are not only intensely personal, but also tied up with far-ranging trends and issues of gender, prestige, and cultural change.
Notice: intensely personal.

My preference was always “Mister” — good enough for my dad and good enough for me, I used to tell students.  Or “Professor” (if you must). My choice, I happily acknowledge, was a form of reverse snobbery on a campus where “Doctor” was endemic (and where first names for profs were never a norm). If I were a woman in academia, I’d probably choose “Professor” and keep students from using “Miss” and “Mrs.” in place of “Ms.” If, like Jill Biden, I had received a doctorate later in life after many years of teaching, I might choose “Doctor.” Whatever the choice, it would be personal. And, like Dr. Biden’s choice, it would be none of Mr. Epstein’s b-i-bizness.

[The link in the first sentence should take you to the full WSJ piece. Fingers crossed.]

Saturday, December 12, 2020

Today’s Saturday Stumper

When I saw Stella Zawistowski’s name on today’s Newsday  Saturday Stumper, I thought I was in for it. Zawistowski makes tough puzzles. (Her website: Tough As Nails.) I tried 2-D, seven letters, “Common umbrella holders.” Could be. And it went with 1-A, four letters, “Where many Bedouins live,” and 20-A, three letters, “Kid from/in Brooklyn.” This puzzle turned out to be surprisingly doable.

Some clue-and-answer pairs I especially liked:

8-D, ten letters, “Pineapples’ family.” To my ear, the answer sounds like science-fiction. I don’t know where I know the word from. Not from crosswords though.

12-D, six letters, “Word from the Greek for ‘egg.’” Huh. Or, rather, huh? (See the comments.)

21-D, six letters, “Course with a twist.” I never mind this kind of clue.

26-A, eight letters, “Bard’s players.” I’m not sure I’ve seen the answer in a puzzle before.

28-A, four letters, “Beyond buzzed.” Buzzed has entered my head via PSAs: “Buzzed driving is drunk driving.” Yes, I was thinking overindulgence.

45-A, six letters, “Small part.” Clever.

45-D, five letters, “Brats, for instance.” I had a hunch (correct) about the answer.

50-A, six letters, “Swing-stopping device.” Scotch Tape won’t do.

One clue whose answer I do not understand, 11-A, three letters, “‘2010’ monogram.”

And my favorite clue in this puzzle: 30-A, eleven letters, “‘Walking’ jazz style.” Yes!

No spoilers: the answers are in the comments.

"The rhythm of the seasons
and the incidents of daily life“

Sunday, and time for the midday meal, prepared by the family’s cook, Françoise. The family sits at the table, “oppressed by the heat and especially by the meal”:

Marcel Proust, Swann’s Way, trans. Lydia Davis (New York: Viking, 2002).

Françoise’s chocolate custard is still to come.

Related reading
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Friday, December 11, 2020

“Double-extra whipped cream”

Yow: The Christmas Bow might be the most cloyingly sweet Hallmark holiday movie ever. See post title, straight from my TV.


“Smells like shortbread in here!”

“Guilty as charged!”


Snark aside, I predicted, correctly, a major plot development. Elaine: “Take a Christmas bow.”


Also: “I have a bunch of festive-themed dishes!”


A second prediction pans out. Elaine: “Take another Christmas bow.”

[The movie’s title is a pun: the bow is the kind you rub with rosin. Elaine, violinist and violist, is watching without snark. Send help.]

Mystery actor

[Click for a larger view.]

Ya got me. But perhaps someone will get it. Leave your guess or more certain answer in the comments.


Or perhaps no one will get it. The only hint I can think to offer: She’s best known as the co-owner of a Santa Monica apartment complex. Yes, it’s her again, really. Her name is now in the comments.

More mystery actors (Collect them all!)
? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ?

[Garner’s Modern English Usage notes that “support for actress seems to be eroding.” I use actor.]

“Old” ones

The narrator’s grandmother “could never resign herself to buying anything from which one could not derive an intellectual profit”:

Marcel Proust, Swann’s Way, trans. Lydia Davis (New York: Viking, 2002).

Related reading
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Thursday, December 10, 2020

“Now who can that be?”

Marcel Proust, Swann’s Way, trans. Lydia Davis (New York: Viking, 2002).

Proust’s similes are epic.

Related reading
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“A nice cool dinner”

From The Naked City (dir. Jules Dassin, 1948). It’s a hot day. Mrs. Halloran (Anne Sargent) greets her husband Jimmy (Don Taylor):

“Got you a nice cool dinner — jellied tongue.”

“Oh, swell — I’m starved.”
As Daniel Tiger reminds us, we gotta try new foods ’cause they might taste good. So here’s a recipe for jellied tongue. Oh, swell.

The Criterion Channel has The Naked City and a new documentary, Uncovering “The Naked City” (dir. Bruce Goldstein, 2020), a detailed look at the movie’s locations and production.

Wednesday, December 9, 2020

Proust–Sebald synchronicity

Today I posted a passage from W.G. Sebald that mentions linguistic “regionalisms, redolent of things long fallen into disuse.”

Then, reading Swann’s Way, I found the narrator describing novels “full of expressions that had fallen into disuse and turned figurative again, the sort you no longer find anywhere but in the country.”

Sebald: regionalisms, disuse. Proust: disuse, regionalisms.

Tomorrow I’ll begin posting Proust sentences, one a day.

Related reading
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[Swann’s Way, trans. Lydia Davis (New York: Viking, 2002).]

“Word-eddies and turbulence”

These sentences know exactly what they’re doing. W.G. Sebald on Robert Walser:

“Le Promeneur Solitaire,” in A Place in the Country, trans. Jo Catling (New York: Modern Library, 2015).

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Obama pens

In The New York Times, Michiko Kakutani interviews Barack Obama about reading and writing. We know from an excerpt from his first volume of memoir that Obama writes his drafts in longhand on legal pads. In this Times piece, he opens up about pens:

He says he is “very particular” about his pens, always using black Uni-ball Vision Elite rollerball pens with a micro-point, and adds that he tends to do his best writing between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m.: “I find that the world narrows, and that is good for my imagination. It’s almost as if there is a darkness all around and there’s a metaphorical beam of light down on the desk, onto the page.”
“With a micro-point”: the anti-Sharpie.

Related reading
All OCA Barack Obama posts (Pinboard) : Obama revisions

Steam heat

“Turn-of-the-century faith in ventilation to combat disease pushed engineers to design steam heating systems that still overheat apartments today”: “Your Old Radiator Is a Pandemic-Fighting Weapon” (Bloomberg).

Open windows in winter? A feature, not a bug. With an explanation of why radiators are painted silver.

Naked City at YouTube

Holy cow: the complete run of Naked City is available at YouTube. Here is a taste, twenty (of 138) episodes that I highly recommend. Keep in mind: I set out to make a list of five, then ten. There are too many good ones.

“Sidewalk Fisherman” Based on a New Yorker article by Meyer Berger.

“Bullets Cost Too Much” Detective Adam Flint: villain or hero?

“A Hole in the City” Sylvia Sidney, Robert Duvall, and Yankee Stadium.

“Show Me the Way to Go Home” Lois Nettleton and other wanderers.

“The Face of the Enemy” PTSD.

“One of the Most Important Men in the World” Faustian and Trumpian.

“A Case Study of Two Savages” Charles Starkweather and Caril Ann Fugate take Manhattan.

“Today the Man Who Kills Ants Is Coming” A police officer’s breakdown.

“The One Marked Hot Gives Cold” Verges on matters that could never be made explicit in 1962.

“The Multiplicity of Herbert Konish” Crazy, man. And Detective Flint recites Emily Dickinson.

“The Rydecker Case” He said, she said.

“Hold for Gloria Christmas” Poetry and the Village. With Burgess Meredith and Alan Alda as poets.

“Idylls of a Running Back” Who is Sandy Dennis after all?

“A Horse Has a Big Head — Let Him Worry!” A nearly blind boy makes his way through the city.

Beyond This Place There Be Dragons Frank Gorshin on the run. The final scene is heartbreaking.

“Prime of Life” Capital punishment. They were pushing all envelopes as this series moved to its end.

“Bringing Far Places Together” Immigrants in the city.

“Carrier” Sandy Dennis again. Strange viewing in the time of COVID-19.

“Golden Lads and Girls” The class system and alcohol.

“Barefoot on a Bed of Coals” A meta ending to the series. With tossed soup.

If you get hooked, it still makes sense to buy the 29-DVD set — it’s a bargain.

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On Money Jungle

In The Paris Review, Matt Levin writes about Money Jungle, the (killer) 1962 album by Duke Ellington, Charles Mingus, and Max Roach: “A Masterpiece of Disharmony.”

Masterpiece? Yes. Disharmony? I’m not convinced. Tumult, certainly, and the shift from the tumultuous “Money Jungle” to the serene “Fleurette Africaine” is one of the oddest choices in sequencing I know. But guess what? Those two tracks are both twelve-bar blues. One form, many possibilities.

Thanks, Chris.

[Track three, “Very Special,” is a twelve-bar blues as well, as are other tracks from the session.]

Tuesday, December 8, 2020

Proust for two

If I were CNN, this post would begin, “We are now less than ten minutes away from the start of.”

And if I were Rocky and Bullwinkle, this post would continue, “In Search of Lost Time, or That’s the Way the Cookie Crumbles.”

The ascent of Mount Proust is the Four Seasons Reading Club’s greatest challenge to date. Wish us well.

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A storybook house

The house of Emile Verhaeren, poet:

Stefan Zweig, “Memories of Emile Verhaeren.” 1917. Encounters and Destinies: A Farewell to Europe. Trans. Will Stone (London: Pushkin Press, 2020).

I’m keen on Zweig as a writer of fiction and memoir. But the essays in this compilation, all tributes to “great” persons, are little more than empty, overwrought praise. This description, and a brief description of Verhaeren’s work table — “a student’s inkwell, a cheap ashtray, stationery in a cigar box, and that was it” — are my favorite passages in this book.

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Mystery actor

[Click for a larger view.]

Recognize her? Leave your answer in the comments. This ID is easy, I think. But I’m surprised to see this actor in black and white.

More mystery actors (Collect them all!)
? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ? : ?

[Garner’s Modern English Usage notes that “support for actress seems to be eroding.” I use actor.]