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Friday, October 30, 2015

Comic Cuts - 30 October 2015

I've had a quiet week with the occasional minor frustration and the occasional minor triumph to punctuate the days. I've been putting in a lot of effort to piece together the story of an author who worked in both the UK and USA and whose writing career came to a tragic end. There are still a few gaps that I need to fill and I'm trying to figure out what would be the best way to present the results.

It's going to take me a while to write up the results anyway because I'm back to the grindstone of Hotel Business and I need to think about not only the December issue, but also the January issue, where the deadline is fairly close to new year and I'll need to get as much in before Christmas as possible. So the rather patchy appearance of new articles on Bear Alley is likely to continue for the foreseeable future. If I can find subjects that I can cobble together quickly, I'll do so, but a lot of the research I'm doing at the moment requires a lot of research for very little reward... every paragraph can take an hour to write as I have to fact-check every single sentence. Who'd'a thought Wikipedia could be so unreliable or lacking in detail? That Google searches could turn up nothing? We're so used to just looking up things on the internet nowadays – and I'm doing it constantly for work – that it can be quite  a blow when the answer isn't instantly available.

While I'm thinking about problems... one of the main ones is that I'm not a bottomless money-pit and I'm having to spend a little cash on reference material. This week I tried to purchase three books only to find that two of them were unavailable; the third, I'm pleased to say, arrived well-packaged and safe, so it's not all bad news. It was, however, a little frustrating as it's not the first time I've ordered things online only to find they've sold... and, indeed, the two books I tried to buy are still listed as available.

Since the cheapest copies aren't available (I need them to read, so condition isn't always vital), I'll have to figure out what my next move is. I like to have books to hand, but as the price rises, it begins to make more sense for me to spend the money on a train ticket and head down to the British Library, especially if I have three, four or more books to check out that would otherwise cost a fortune. It's nice to have the books conveniently in my possession to refer to, but sometimes the cost just isn't worth it.

The research is taking me down all sorts of odd alleyways. At the moment I'm quite interested in the language used in gangster thrillers in the 1930s. There are phrases or slang terms that I've stumbled upon that I know nothing about as they're not commonly used these days. For instance, a "Parthian shot" is an archaic version of what today we would call a "parting shot", perhaps a rejoinder made just as you leave. It makes sense that some folks, mishearing "Parthian shot" would say "parting shot". But apparently, "parting shot" predates "Parthian shot"... at least that's what Wikipedia says.

The other term that I learned this week was "taxi-dancer", which I hadn't heard before but which I'd seen only recently when I watched They Drive By Night, the 1938 movie base on a novel by James Curtis. The term appeared in a James Hadley Chase novel published in 1939 but was actually quite common in the 1920s. In the days of the Palais-de-Dance, dancers were available to hire for a fee, often in the form of tickets paid for at the door.

In Man Bait (1927) Marie Prevost played an alluring shop girl who is fired after she fends off with her fists the advances of a customer; she ends up as a taxi-dancer in a cheap dance hall where she meets the son of a millionaire. Joan Crawford in The Taxi Dancer (1928), Barbara Stanwyck in Ten Cents a Dance (1931) and Nancy Carroll in Child of Manhattan (1933) all played New York taxi dancers.

In 1933, a Reuters news report on the low wages paid to women in Shanghai, noted that "Many Russian girls have been forced to earn their living as "taxi" dancers in cabarets, but so far no British women has sought this means to make money." Apparently, Shanghai's taxi-dancers were notorious; they certainly caught the eye of Harry Greenwall when he penned Pacific Scene (1938) about his travels in the far east.

In They Drive By Night, recently released from prison, Shorty Matthews (Emlyn Williams) goes to visit his former girlfriend only to find her dead in her apartment. Fearing the police will pin the murder on him, he goes on the run; he first heads north, hitching a lift with a lorry driver (hence the title), but after a run-in with the police en route decides to return to London to clear his name. This he does with the aid of Molly (Anna Konstam), who questions clients at the dance hall where she works as a hostess.

Interesting where a single phrase can take you... and now I've spent even longer explaining it. Now you see why researching a book takes me such a horrific amount of time!

Our random scans this week are a bunch of steampunk titles by George Mann, although inspired by my stumbling upon a copy of K. W. Jeter's Infernal Devices when I took my Mum down the pub for lunch on Tuesday. Any excuse to show these off.


1 comment:

Phil Rushton said...

Of course, the film Ten Cents A Dance was inspired by a famous Rodgers & Hart song with the same title. This includes one of my all-time favourite Lorenz Hart internal rhymes: "Sometimes I think I've found my hero, But it's a queer romance!"