Thursday, December 22, 2011

Unconquered Eldorados

Workman of God! oh, lose not heart,
But learn what God is like;
And in the darkest battle-field
Thous shalt know where to strike.
                                      F.W Faber

Here on earth we are as soldiers, fighting in a foreign land, that understand not the plan of the campaign, and have no need to understand it; seeing well what is at our hand to be done. Let us do it like soldiers, with submission, with courage, with a heroic joy. Behind us, behind each one of us, lie six thousand years of human effort, human conquest : before us is the boundless Time with its as yet uncreated and unconquered continents and El Dorados, which we - even we - have to conquer to create; and from the bosom of Eternity there shine for us celestial guiding stars. 

                      -  Thomas Carlyle ( 1795-1880 )

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

A Royal Recommendation

Since Winter is such a cold season and one ideal for sitting by the fire and enjoying a good book, I'll give me readers a good book to sit by the fire with..... The Royal Scrapbook complied by the renowned Robert Opie.  
Robert Opie started collecting British memorabilia in 1963 and when his collection grew too large to house, he opened a museum. Today The Robert Opie Collection contains over 500,000 items dating between 1870 and 1970 which tell the tale of Britain's consumer society. These objects include everything and anything pertaining to brand images and retailing paraphanelia......bottles, tins, labels, signs, games, books, etc.

All the BEST of these nick-nacks were photographed by the author and gathered together in nine lovely large-size picture books....organized like a scrapbook. Hence, they are known as the Scrapbook series. Oh, and what a delight they are to look at!

There are so much to see on each page you can look at these books again and again and still notice something new. Below is an example from a page dedicated to the Royal family on tabloids. Other books in this series includes The Edwardian Scrapbook, The Victorian Scrapbook, The 1910s Scrapbooks, The Great War Scrapbook and The 1930s Scrapbook.

For more information about the Robert Opie Collection and these books visit the online shop at

Friday, December 9, 2011

Millionaire's Row During It's Golden Age

During the mid-1800s Cleveland was just a small lake-side city with a population of 20,000. The Ohio canal gave it it's industrial start by being a means to deliver raw materials into the city.... materials which were processed and refined in the big city.

One day two Clevelanders - Dr. J Lang Cassels, a chemist, and Ohio's geologist Charles Whittlesey, explored the wilds around Upper Michigan and came back with samples and facts and dream inspiring talk. The land was rich with iron ore. Cleveland's enterprise nerve twitched and men with money and courage pitched into what was to be the city's greatest industry - Iron and Steel.

The industrial revolution of the 1860s and Civil War demanded torrents of iron, and Cleveland delivered. Mammoth ore carrying ships were emblazened with the names of their founders, all of them industrial millionaires; steel mills and refineries were cropping up all over the city and steel rails for steam-puffing iron mistresses were being made to build tracks for the goods that would soon be coming in.

John D. Rockefeller and family in Cleveland
Cleveland was becoming a young financial Hercules. A produce merchant named John D. Rockefeller came to Cleveland and founded his fortune in oil refineries; inventor Charles Brush was supplying the streets with electric light and the very first electric streetcar; Jeptha H. Wade created the Western Union Telegraph Company to help people communicate faster; dry goods clerk Henry Sherwin and EP Williams were building grinders and painting the town; Alexander Winston was selling automobiles faster than hotcakes...and what did all these people have in common? They were entrepenuers and soon-to-be MILLIONAIRES....millionaires who needed big beautiful mansions to live in.

Entrance to Sylvester Everett's Mansion

Cleveland's Euclid Avenue, otherwise known as Millionaire's Row, became the residential street of some of the most influential families in American history and their lavish estates.

Samuel Andrews Estate

During the mid-1800s several hundred mansions were built between East 20th and East 40th streets.These huge estates had broad sweeping lawns, ornate architecture and wondrous landscapes. Philanthropists and industrial tycoons like Rockefeller, Mather, Wade, Severence, Gund, and Stone and political figures such as John Hay, Tom Johnson and Leonard Hanna all made Euclid Avenue their home and their playground.

Sam Williamson, a millionaire from the tannery business, started the trend in mansion building by erecting a new home at Euclid Avenue and Public Square in 1810. Truman Hardy, Cleveland's successful banker, continued the movement by building in th 1840s, the finest residence in Cleveland near East 19th street. From then on Euclid was considered the "in" place to live. To live in the Millionaire's Row was to be a member of an exclusive private club, and between 1875 and 1900 it was known as " the most beautiful street in America". Mark Twain went so far as to say " it is one of the grandest streets in the entire world."

Fashionable Victorian homes with architectural bric-a-brac, gables, towers, and tall windows were set back from the side walk in a suburbanized parklike setting. The street was lined with arching elm trees which the merchant princes of these fine residenaces kept and added landscaping to their huge grounds giving the area the majesty of a small town street while retaining a country-like atmosphere.

Amasa Stone, John D Rockefeller, and Sylvester Everett

Millionaire's Row was not only famed for its beautiful mansiones but for its famosu sleigh races too. During the cold winters of the 1880s, the rich - bundled in buffalo robes - raced their fastest horses in afternoon contests on the "track" from Case to Erie Street. Up to thirty or forty sleighs would compete against each other with the horses being some of the finest in the world and the carraiges rivalling those of royalty. Cleveland's "first" families were represented and the competition often involved the north side of the Avenue ( those called the "Nabobs" ) against the south side ( known as the Bobs ).

The arrival of the automobile brought the age of grandeur to a close. Industry and commerce pushed its way eastward into the very doorsteps of the rich and powerful, and Cleveland's financial giants quickly moved westward in an exodus, purchasing property and new suburban homes in the countryside or on Franklin Avenue.

By the 1940s, Euclid Avenue had become a chaotic and gloomy street. Majority of the mansions were razed to make way for factories, gas stations and slum housing and today only ten of the original homes exist. These are :

  1. Luther Allen House (7609 Euclid Avenue)
  2. Morris Bradley Carriage House  (7217 Euclid Avenue)
  3. John Henry Devereaux (3226 Euclid Avenue)
  4. Francis Drury House (8625 Euclid Avenue)
  5. Hall-Sullivan House (7218 Euclid Avenue)
  6. Howe Residence (2248 Euclid Avenue)
  7. Samuel Mather Residence (2605 Euclid Avenue)
  8. Stager-Beckwith House (3813 Euclid Avenue)
  9. Lyman Treadway House (8917 Euclid Avenue)
  10. H.W. White Residence (8937 Euclid Avenue)

Sylvester Everett's Mansion
These homes were all once stunning monuments to America’s growing prosperity, but now they sit like ancient relics of the past. And only a hint remains of what once was “ the most beautiful street in America.” 

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Walt Disney's The Happiest Millionaire

happiestcover.jpg"The Happiest Millionaire" is another one of Disney's fantasmagorical musical extravagances. After having completed "Mary Poppins" in 1965, Walt Disney's enthusiasm for musical films was at an all-time high, and with the recently purchased rights to Cordelia Drexel Biddle's book/play in his hands he couldn't resist turning the story into a musical. And how fortunate that he did! With a 172 minute run-time ( Disney's lengthiest feature film to date ) it allowed for over 80 minutes of musical sequences ( 14 different songs ). Every principle player got to showcase their talent with a song and dance routine - many who never sang before!

The film focuses on the family life of Anthony J. Drexel Biddle ( Fred MacMurray ), one of Philadelphia's most prominent citizens, albeit a bit eccentric... you see, he likes to keep alligators in the house ( the eldest, George, has a habit of escaping ) and he teaches boxing to students through his Biddle Bible Class. Within the walls of his ornate mansion resides a household of non-conformists; a beautiful family united in their belief that one should be true to oneself and not change to satisfy Society's expectations.

Before we meet the family, we are introduced to John Lawless ( Tommy Steele ), a newly arrived Irish immigrant, who obtains the not-so-coveted position of Biddle butler, and he becomes our on-and-off narrator throughout the movie.

After a brief appearence from the two sons ( Paul Peterson and Eddie Hodges ) performing the ' Watch Your Footwork' number, they are sent off the school and we see them no more. But this is where our heroine Cordy comes in ( the lovely Lesley Ann Warren ). She's reached the age of doubting whether being independently-minded is worth the price of being labeled a social outcast, for she's beginning to realize that boys do not like girls who can throw a left-hook. So naturally Cordy is enthralled at the idea of attending the finishing school her strait-laced Aunt Mary ( Gladys Cooper ) suggests she attend. While there she recieves instruction in the art of 'bye-yum pum-pum', that oh-so mysterio-so quality of making yourself alluring to me. But it seems that her first suitor Angie ( John Davidson ) finds her attempt at this laughable. In fact, he likes her just the way she is - different! Now isn't that how it always works out.

The Happiest MillionaireGeraldine Page ) expects him to follow in his father's footsteps.

And this is where we come to the basis of our film - to do or not to do. Hold on to your beliefs or follow what others tell you. Stick to your guns or bear the white flag. Yes, this is the underlying theme of the picture. If you are a Disney fan then the outcome is easy to guess, but just so there is an element of surprise left - I won't tell you.


"The Happiest Millionaire" opened in New York on November 20th, 1956, starring Walter Pidgeon. Kyle Crichton and Cordelia Drexel Biddle's play was based on her novel, 'My Philadelphia Father' published in 1955.

Shortly after the premiere of "Mary Poppins", work began on "The Happiest Millionaire", and many of the Poppins Production team were brought together again to work on this movie, including choreographers Marc Breaux and Dee Dee Wood, cinematographer Edward Colman, songwriters Richard and Robert Sherman, art director Carrol Clark and special effects maestro Peter Ellenshaw.

Having a tremendous budget with which to work with, the team freely used it : over 3,000 complete outfits were made for the production, valued at $250,000, and an entire replica of Biddle's Philadelphia mansion was built, filled with more than $450,000 worth of furnishings and antiques.

Cast of The Happiest MillionaireWhen the film was released in theatres, close to 30 minutes of footage was cut; much of which was the overture, entracte, and closing credits. But one notable scene that was cut was the ending - Mr. and Mrs. Biddle ( Greer Garson ) are feeling down in spirit, now that their children are either married or away at school, and they sing the beautiful song, "It Won't Be Long 'Til Christmas". This was a lovely scene,so fortunately it ( and various other segments ) were reinstated in the DVD roadshow version released by Disney Studios.
"The Happiest Millionaire" is a bit long for one sitting, so I'd spread it out over two nights, but it is such as charming movie... colorful sets and costumes, lively tunes, bravado performances by talented actors, and an air of "fortuosity" hovers throughout it all. The movie also holds the significance of being the last live-action film Walt Disney saw completed before his death.

If you have the opportunity to see "The Happiest Millionaire" then by all means do so. Regardless of what some critics say about it, I thoroughly enjoy watching this film... over... and over... and over again... and "What's wrong with that?"