Wise Words from Elwood P. Dowd and Others

July 12th, 2016 by admin

I don’t pay much attention to Facebook, generally, other than posts on my author’s page, where I write responses and sporadically provide links to these updates. But because some photos and videos of the recent 4th of July Crusin’ gig began appearing, I started seeing other stuff. A lot of it was harmless, often fun fluff. But some of it was truly hateful. A lot of it exposed an undercurrent of anger in average people.

This is no doubt in part because I tuned in during the fallout on the Dallas police shootings. My longtime collaborator Terry Beatty – these days doing a bang-up job writing and drawing the classic REX MORGAN strip – wrote a Facebook post that I thought was worth sharing.

I’m supposed to be working, but the state of the world has me heartsick. So there’s this running through my head.

Here’s a message for the all the murderers, thieves, rapists and racists — the abusers, molesters, warmongers, zealots, terrorists, dictators, bullies, stalkers, cyberstalkers and snarkers — misogynists, homophobes (hell, anyone living their life afraid of “the other” ) — the willfully ignorant, the well-armed disturbed loners (and their “militia” pals), bent cops, dirty politicians, scammers and hucksters — polluters, career criminals, war criminals and weapons dealers making fortunes from others’ misery — those waving the flag, rattling their swords, using their religion as an excuse, paranoid about sharing bathrooms, gaslighting their partner, abusing their children, destroying historical artifacts, bombing innocents, and generally waving their dicks around: The rest of us are entirely fed up and done with your bullshit.

Most of us, it seems, want to live our lives in peace — raising our kids — doing our work — contributing something. Any forward-thinking person is perfectly fine sharing the planet with people of different cultures, colors and faiths — and reaching out a hand to those who need help. It’s a great big world, and there is still enough room for all of us — but a lot to fix — so, if you’re not willing to try being kind and tolerant, how about all you folks on that list up there go crawl into a hole somewhere and maybe let the people who want to coexist and work on fixing all the shit you broke take over for a while — maybe let those who have no interest in shooting each other run the show?

Please, take your hatred, your intolerance and your ignorance and slink back into the distant past where you belong — the rest of us have a lot to do, and you’re in the way.

Stop destroying. Create.

Now that’s an expression of anger worth sharing.

Here’s something else worth sharing, Elwood P. Dowd’s little speech from the James Stewart film of HARVEY, written by the great Mary Chase. Harvey, for those who don’t know, is a big invisible rabbit, a pooka. As mental-hospital attendant Wilson (played by Jesse White) learns, looking it up in an encyclopedia:

“Pooka – from old Celtic mythology, a fairy spirit in animal form, always very large. The pooka appears here and there, now and then, to this one and that one, a benign but mischievous creature, very fond of rumpots, crackpots, and how are you, Mr. Wilson?…How are you, Mr. Wilson? Who in the encyclopedia wants to know?”

Anyway, here’s Elwood P Dowd on his pooka pal:

Harvey and I sit in the bars…have a drink or two… play the juke box. And soon the faces of all the other people, they turn toward mine and they smile. And they’re saying, “We don’t know your name, mister, but you’re a very nice fella.” Harvey and I warm ourselves in all these golden moments. We’ve entered as strangers – soon we have friends. And they come over…and they sit with us…and they drink with us…and they talk to us. They tell about the big terrible things they’ve done and the big wonderful things they’ll do. Their hopes, and their regrets, and their loves, and their hates. All very large, because nobody ever brings anything small into a bar. And then I introduce them to Harvey…and he’s bigger and grander than anything they offer me. And when they leave, they leave impressed. The same people seldom come back; but that’s envy, my dear. There’s a little bit of envy in the best of us.

And this from the same source:

Years ago my mother used to say to me, she’d say, “In this world, Elwood, you must be” – she always called me Elwood – “In this world, Elwood, you must be oh so smart or oh so pleasant.” Well, for years I was smart. I recommend pleasant. You may quote me.

So, anyway, what this is leading up to is that I wrote a Facebook post myself. Here’s what I had to say:

I see a lot of postings here from friends and also from some of the readers of my books and comics. What strikes me is two things. First, there are many, many posts of daily life — cats, dogs, food, kids, grandkids — the stuff of living that we all share. Along these lines are photos and video clips of concerts, dances and other public events that again tap into so much of what we all share in our blessedly mundane lives. Among my age group we have delightful reminiscences about growing up in the fifties and sixties.

But from some of these same people I see, on occasion, outright hate. Political candidates who are ridiculed by the use of grotesquely unflattering photos. Racist comments about our president and black protesters. Also, positive comments about supporting our police and military, with which I wholeheartedly agree. But so much anger. So many refried talking points from Fox and MSNBC. So many ugly photos with uglier captions.

My request? More cats and dogs and food and kids and music.

I had many positive responses from this, and perhaps more pictures of cats than I could handle. I didn’t know how to break it to them that I was a dog person.

No pooka pics so far.

* * *

Here’s what a Publisher’s Weekly reviewer had to say about the forthcoming Mike Hammer short story collection from Mysterious Press, A LONG TIME DEAD.

Collins (Murder Never Knocks) brings his considerable experience with iconic PI Mike Hammer to these eight formulaic stories adapted from manuscripts that Spillane left incomplete at his death, though the collection is definitely a mixed bag. At his best, Collins captures the feel of a New York City fraught with danger at every turn; at his worst, the prose is purple (an electrocuted man’s eyes are described as “sightless black sockets crying scarlet tears as he cooked in the gravy of his own gore”). The plots are also uneven, including one that enters schlock horror terrain. But others are more down-to-earth and encapsulate Hammer’s somehow-charismatic callousness, such as “A Dangerous Cat,” which has a delightfully wicked ending. Spillane fans will enjoy Collins’s faithful re-creations of Hammer and the violence-prone gumshoe’s supporting cast, including his knockout partner and love interest, Velda, and his one friend on the NYPD, honest cop Pat Chambers. (Sept.)

All in all, this is a pretty decent review – certainly quotable. But I’m irritated anyway. That the reviewer considers these stories “formulaic,” when no two resemble each other structurally, shows a knee-jerk laziness. That the climactic description of death is to the reviewer “purple” – when it is typically Spillane in its purposefully over-the-top way, and intentionally blackly humorous – reveals an annoying smugness on his or her part. And the “schlock horror terrain” of “Grave Matter” is explained in the introduction, where it’s revealed that the story was originally written as a “Mike Danger” yarn, for the publishers of the Danger s-f comic book, and revised further for its horror aspects for inclusion in a Mystery Writers of America horror-themed anthology. That the “schlock horror” aspect is intentional is again revealed in dark humor and, oh yes, the inclusion of a butler at a spooky mansion being clearly Tor Johnson.

Otherwise I liked it fine.


8 Responses to “Wise Words from Elwood P. Dowd and Others”

  1. stephen borer says:

    Speaking as an old man, i recall 1968 was a horrible year in this country and worldwide. But we pulled thru, and we’ll pull thru this year too. If for no other reasons there are still people that pray for peace, some people are easily distracted by “the newest tweet/facebook/bing” entry, and, a lot of students and teachers return to school in Sept.

  2. George Manisco says:

    Create! that is the word.

  3. Terry Beatty says:

    Elwood said it better than me. And without cussin’.

  4. Mike Murdy says:

    Yesterday, I happened to re-read one of your short story paperbacks*, “The Perfect Crime.” It was a delightful homage to Chandler and a welcomed break from the steady grind of my day. It reminded me how much I love and expect the familiar “film noir” devices and hard-boiled language when I read in this genre. I can only assume that the person trading time for money at Publisher’s Weekly is not only lazy, but likely not a true fan of the genre.

    Rock on,

    M. J. Murdy

    *Collins, Max Allen. The Perfect Crime. Eugene, OR: Mystery Scene Press, Pulphouse Publishing, 1992.

  5. Mike Doran says:

    I’ve been looking over HARVEY, the original stage play; I got a copy from Amazon not long ago.

    Interesting how most people seem to be more familiar with the movie than the play, and with James Stewart’s performance.

    The critical consensus at the time was that while Stewart was okay, he was too young for the role of Elwood P. Dowd (42 at the time of filming); in the ’70s, when Stewart toured the world with the play, everyone agreed that the Dowd role now belonged to him.

    I have two DVDs of HARVEY: the 1950 movie (the year I was born, FWIW), and a TV production from 1972, which Stewart taped in London while on the British leg of his tour. Each has its merits, and Jimmy Stewart was without peer at any stage of his life, so there too.

    Wondering … it doesn’t get mentioned much anymore, but the first Dowd (on stage, anyway) was Frank Fay, who received critical raves for his performance – despite being one of the most personally hated performers of his time.
    This last may have been a factor in Fay’s not getting the HARVEY movie (his ex-wife Barbara Stanwyck reportedly had a lot of pull in the industry).
    I’ve heard/read stories that held that the studio would have settled for almost anybody other than Fay (one story said that Joe E. Brown, who did one of the national tours of HARVEY, was a front-runner for the movie; can’t confirm).

    OK, it’s off-topic, but I like to show off every so often …

    I have no connection with Facebook, so you won’t be getting any pet pictures from me – you wouldn’t anyway, since my building doesn’t allow dogs or cats (no word on pookas …).

  6. Max Allan Collins says:

    Mike, is the 1972 production the one with Helen Hayes? I have that one. Also one with Art Carney, and a TV movie with Harry Andrews.

    Stewart hams it a little in the later production. The film is damn near perfect, no matter what critics then (or now for that matter) think.

    Stewart, by the way, replaced Fay on Broadway, I believe, and this probably (added to his movie stardom) first got him identified with HARVEY. Carney is quite good, although perhaps a little more overtly a drunk.

  7. Max Allan Collins says:

    I meant Harry Anderson.

  8. Mike Doran says:

    Got the two Stewarts and the Anderson, only need the Carney for a full set.

    (Not sure of the timelines; was Carney still drinking when he did his version?)

    Helen Hayes is indeed in the ’72 Stewart (correction: it wasn’t made in England; David Susskind made it in NYC for Hallmark HOF).

    Re Hayes: how are ya fixed for ARSENIC AND OLD LACE? She did at least two TV versions of that: in ’55 (with Billie Burke, Boris Karloff, and Orson Bean) and in ’69 (with Lillian Gish, Fred Gwynne, and Bob Crane). I’ve got the latter, am looking for the former (I know I’ve seen it in somebody’s bin …).
    I also have the ’60 HHOF version with Karloff, Tony Randall, and I forget who played the aunts that time …

    Back to HARVEY:
    In looking it up, I note that Fred Gwynne played Lofgren the cabbie with both Carney and Stewart.
    And that Jesse White was in both Stewarts, while Jack Weston played with Carney.

    *and how are you, mr. collins?*