Remembering A Forgotten Side Of The Marvelous Marvin Miller

Marvin Miller with a parrot from his recording of Pinocchio

Marvin Miller with a parrot from his Audio Book recording of Pinocchio

Cover of Audio Book of Pinocchio

Cover of Audio Book of Pinocchio

Marvin Miller, who was born Marvin Mueller, was well-known for his radio, film, and TV appearances as a man with a strong baritone.  However, his work with the Audio Book Company of St. Joseph, Michigan has been virtually forgotten.  Yet he provided hours and hours of pleasure to youngsters like myself, reading classics to eager children.  In essence, the Audio Book Company built on an idea from the 1940s:  To have established actors act out adaptations from children’s classics.  In the 1940s, a whole series of 78 albums were produced for children that featured actors such as Herbert Marshall, Basil Rathbone, Ronald Coleman, Margaret O’Brien, Ginger Rodgers, Thomas Mitchell and many others.  The albums were quite successful and spurred the talking audio books that began in 1954.  The audio books were played at 16 2/3 rpm and required an adapter if your record player had no 16 speed.  Like the albums from the 1940s, the Audio Book Company employed famous character actors including Jeff Chandler, Gene Lockhart, Hans Conried,  Dan O’Herlihy, and, of course, the incomparable Marvin Miller.  These albums were the first to include complete renderings of such classics as A Christmas CarolTreasure Island, The Wizard of OzAlice in WonderlandThe Adventures of Tom Sawyer, and Adventures of Pinocchio.  Because of his well-known ability to provide numerous voices for characters, Marvin Miller was the first actor hired for the readings and was entrusted with several titles.  The audio excerpt below features Marvin doing several voices for Chapter XVI of Pinocchio.  Please lean back and take the time to hear Marvin’s superb artistry.

A Note about Pinocchio:  Originally, Pinocchio was intended to be a moral tale;  showing what happened when a block of wood(a “blockhead”) failed to obey his father and his conscience after several trials.  To whit:  Pinocchio was taken in by two street villains, the Fox and the Cat and was hanged by them when he refused to give them his money.  That was to be the end of the story.

The author, Carlo Lorenzini(Carlo Collodi) saw his adventure as belonging to the moral, educational trend that was prevalent in 19th century Italy.  The novel was full of the sadistic, didactic episodes that were not only common in Italy, but in other European countries as well.  But a strange thing happened:  Children began to write letters, begging the author to continue the story of this young scapegrace and Carlo Collodi complied.

The ending, which the author intended to be an inspiration to naughty children, was weak.  The illustrator’s drawing of a young boy was anti-climactic.  It was the puppet’s unwieldy, independent, self-serving character that children identified with.  In many ways, Pinocchio was more of a real boy as a puppet than the figure at the end of the book and that was the author’s problem.  For Pinocchio was as individual as Peter Pan and became a favorite among children throughout the world.

The chapter below was the first chapter that Carlo Collodi wrote when he brought Pinocchio back to life to enjoy new adventures. Chapter XVI from Pinocchio as read by Marvin Miller    

A Chinese Alice Scholar Invites You To Judge: Is This An Illustration Of A Wedding?

One of the great mysteries of Lewis Carroll’s(Charles Lutwidge Dodgson’s life) is precisely what was his relationship with Alice Pleasance Liddell, Dean Liddell’s winsome daughter.  Glancing through Charles’s photographs, we see a young girl with short-cropped dark hair and piercing eyes.  There is a particularly striking picture of her as “The Beggar Maid” in torn costume with somewhat downcast eyes.  Tenniel, of course, drew Alice as light-haired in both of the Alice books.  Was this to draw attention away from the real Alice.  Also, Alice in the two books never ages, while the real Alice Liddell aged from 13 to 19.

Alice was only 10 when Charles first told her and her sisters, Edith and Lorena, about Alice’s adventures underground.  It was Alice, herself, who insisted on Charles writing down his entertaining story.

Dodgson was a welcome guest at the Liddell’s home along with their governess, Miss Prickett.  He grew to know both her sisters and their friends.  But at some point, he was no longer welcome.  Unfortunately, there is no mention in his diaries as to the reason for the sudden change and that has led to much speculation.  Was Charles enamored of Alice?

In the concluding verse of Alice Through the Looking Glass, Alice is highlighted so that when the initial letters of each line are read downwards, her full name appears.  This last verse deals with the passage of time, and Alice was 19 at the time and no longer a young girl.  The references to the special boat trip in July of 1862 are particularly poignant:

Long has paled that sunny sky;

Echoes fade and memories die;

Autumn frosts have slain July.

Still she haunts me, phantomwise,

Alice moving under skies

Never seen by waking eyes.

Now enters a Chinese Alice scholar:  Howard Chang.  He is the writer of Well in the Rabbit Hole:  A New and Closer Look at Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.  Not being satisfied with several points made in Martin Gardner’s The Annotated Alice:  The Definitive Edition, he asks us to look at a familiar Tenniel illustration of the awarding of a thimble to Alice by the Dodo.  Gardner saw the thimble as having to do with taxes that were taken and then returned as projects.  But Howard did not agree.  He did some research into Victorian customs, and found that the thimble was a common object for little girls(since they learned to do needle work when quite young) and was also the subject of a game:  Find the Thimble.  But, to Howard Chang, the thimble represents a wedding ring and he asks us to look at the illustration again with the following in mind:  Dodgson was a stutterer and often called himself Dodo;  the Duck was a pet name for the Rev. Robinson Duckworth;  the Lory and the Eaglet represent Alice’s two sisters, Lorena and Edith.  He argues that “the arrangement of the characters conforms perfectly to what we usually find in a wedding ring exchange ceremony.”  So, what do you think?  Is the illustration below a depiction of a wedding ceremony in disguise that shows Charles’s deep feelings for Alice?Alice 1

“How Would You Like Your Day To Be?”: The C.H.I. Revisited For Children

Rod Newton’s simple question:  “How would you like your day to be?”, helps you to focus your energy and desires.  Moreover, this question could be asked to children to help them clarify what they want in their day and to help you as a parent gain cognition of their wants.  A simple question, and yet, not so simple.   To craft one’s day requires a special kind of building materials;  those of the mind and heart.  When we put this question to children, it shows them we give importance to their desires and that we recognize their uniqueness as human beings.  How often children get lost in the hurried shuffle of everyday affairs.  To begin each day with this simple question is to give our children a feeling of power and direction, which is often lost in a world dominated by adults and their needs.  Let’s not forget that it was only in the 19th century that child psychology came into being.  Alice in Wonderland, published in England in 1865 was the first children’s novel to investigate a child’s mental world, and it also foresaw identity crises, and denial, now commonplaces in the field of psychology.  Until then, the child was often an object of neglect, tyrannical abuse, work exploitation.  Rod’s simple question brings the child into focus, and gives it a dignity and respect, which it was denied for thousands of years.

Charles Laughton, Christmas Reflections, And The “Snapdragon” Game

It is the month of December, and time to listen to my collection of Christmas carol CDs and LPs and to bring out my children’s Christmas 78s.  The most popular of the children’s stories are the renditions of Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, whether by Basil Rathbone, Ronald Coleman, Lionel Barrymore, or Ernest Chappell.  Indeed, these Hollywood artists of the 40s give a spark and splendor to the seasonal tale.  But there is another album, which must also be mentioned:  Mr. Pickwick’s Christmas as told by Charles Laughton.

Until recently, I didn’t even know I owned it!  I must have purchased it from The Old Curiosity Record Shop on Van Nuys Blvd., which had odd business hours and an irascible owner.  Needless to say, the store no longer exists, and is part of my childhood memories.  But Laughton’s album remains.  It is one of the few albums made by Hollywood stars that has the complete text of the recording and is part of Decca’s Personality Series.  Mr. Pickwick’s Christmas also offers some holiday reflections by Mr. Laughton:  “Dickens has put down, in magical words, our common human experiences at Christmas time–when we all try to get together with our parents, our children, brothers and sisters, close friends, at our house or theirs.  Old grudges, old pains are softened;  old loyalties are pledged again.  We give each other presents, around goes the cup, we sing–and each year no matter how much we complain beforehand about the nuisance of preparing for Christmas, warm hope is reborn in us.”  Later, he speaks of a novel game called snapdragon:  “One thing more, here’s how to play the game of snapdragon;  put some raisins in a fair-sized kitchen bowl, pour warmed brandy over them, light it, allow each player his/her turn to snatch a raisin from the flaming bowl and eat it(quickly, you’d better, or else…).  As far as I know, you do not take sides.  One old book says the game causes ‘fantastical mirth.’  It does–” IMG_5661IMG_5660

Some Alice Collectibles

Ever since I was a child, I was fascinated by Alice in Wonderland.  After reading it several times, I purchased a 16 album, which was popular at that time.  In fact, record players used to include 16 as a possible speed.  If you didn’t own such a record player, you could buy an adapter, which would cut the 33 1/3 speed in half and also provide a soft space for you to put your 16 on.  Talking Books or Audio Books were produced by the Audio Book Company in St. Joseph, Michigan.  Their popularity spread and many stores carried them.  The idea was to select movie personalities or famous readers such as Marvin Miller to read complete works of literature.  Movie actors had read parts of literary classics on 78 albums in the 1940s with varying degrees of success, but the Audio Book Company wanted complete versions if feasible.  Alice in Wonderland was a Talking Book, which featured the multi-voiced talent, Marvin Miller, who did all the voices except Alice, which was done by Jane Webb.  I remember listening to it many times and following the Alice text as I listened.  In time, I collected different editions of Alice, including foreign editions and I picked up plates, figurines, cups, recordings.  I told my friends about my interest in Alice and they responded by bringing back some splendid items for my collection.  Here are a few items from my Alice collection.  I plan to do separate posts on illustrators of Alice and her changing identity, because Alice in Wonderland is much more than a children’s book; it is an intimate look at a child’s psyche and the twisted adult figures that are reflections of that mind.

The Alice nesting doll

The Alice nesting doll

A Walrus and the Carpenter mug

A Walrus and the Carpenter mug

A Mad Hatter and the Dormouse mug

A Mad Hatter and the Dormouse mug

A White Rabbit cup
A White Rabbit cup

Alice and friends behind glass
Alice and friends behind glass

Alice and the Caterpillar plate

Alice and the Caterpillar plate

The Trial plate

The Trial plate

Bambi Linn as Alice in Eva Le Gallienne's production of Alice in Wonderland on 6 78s.

Bambi Linn as Alice in Eva Le Gallienne’s production of Alice in Wonderland on 6 78s.

Ginger Rogers in Alice in Wonderland on 3 78s.
Ginger Rogers in Alice in Wonderland on 3 78s.

Jane Asher as Alice

Jane Asher as Alice

Walt Disney's Alice in Wonderland

Walt Disney’s Alice in Wonderland

David Del Tredici's Final Alice with Barbara Hendricks

David Del Tredici’s Final Alice with Barbara Hendricks

David Del Tredici's In Memory of a Summer Day

David Del Tredici’s In Memory of a Summer Day

Children’s Independence Day: July 4, 1862, Part 2.

And, as the man began to speak, a strange thing happened.  Shock waves were felt in libraries across the world.  Strong winds blew books off the shelves.  And the moralizing, degrading, pompous tomes were cast into a literary black hole.  The Mary Martha Sherwoods, Sandford and Mertons, Anna Laetitia Barbaulds, faded into oblivion.  New books of beauty took their places.  The garden of childhood was opened to reveal an abundance of green carefree space, filled with toys, games and a treasure trove of waiting memories.  The man took the oars, and continued his tale, inspired by the gazing eyes of three young girls.  He was truly in his element.  And through a series of gestures, the twinkle in his eye, the wry smile that crossed his lips, he drew his listeners ever closer into his tale.  As he spun his story, the adult world, which had tyrannized children for centuries, was mocked, and turned on its head.  The hypocrisy, the insipid moralizing of adults, was transformed into utter nonsense, much to his young audience’s delight, who clapped their small hands and laughed for joy.  He even included the girls in his story and gave them parts like a dramatist.  He also borrowed from the outings they had shared:  tea parties, new rules for croquet, a pack of cards, magic tricks, picnics on the lawn.  The sound of the river strokes blended with the speaker’s soft voice…  The rain that delayed their journey the previous day had disappeared completely, although it reappeared in the continuing tale.  The narrator was also included in the story, but yielded to the presence of one Victorian girl.  It was she with dark cropped hair that had captivated Charles the most.  The far reaching eyes, the pensive mind, the girlish laughter.  He courted her in the only way he knew; through whimsy, playfulness and ineffable charm.  Like a conjurer, he opened the garden of childhood to Alice.  She was just the right age to enjoy the assault on the adult world and her own place in it.   Charles was brimming with ideas that spilled into the wonderland of his story.  The ideas came from mathematics, philosophy, politics, discussions he had with colleagues at Christ Church.  He had told stories before, but entranced by his eager audience, and enamored of Alice, he wove such a compelling tale that it ignited a revolution in literature and changed the concept of childhood forever.  Its iridescent glow peaked through the catacombs, and lit up the literary canvases of George MacDonald, Kenneth Grahame, L. Frank Baum and countless others extending the realm of the child still further…  Charles was unsuccessful in his courtship of Alice, and was ultimately banished from her home.  But, he gave her a special gift; that of literary immortality…

Charles with his two Alices

Charles with his two Alices

Children’s Independence Day: July 4, 1862, Part 1.

Children have long been neglected throughout the world and the concept of childhood is relatively recent.  In the Middle Ages, children were often depicted as dwarfish, misshapen adults.  Children were considered incomplete, in need of constant correction.  So it should come as no surprise, that one of the first English pieces written for children in the Middle Ages was how to sit at the table.  Other instructional verse followed.  During the Puritan era, many parents thought that the best thing their children could do would be to die and thus be spared a world of unending temptations and troubles.  And many obedient children did just that.  Imagination in the minds of children could only lead them astray.  They had to be reminded of the torments they would suffer if they didn’t behave properly.  The Bible, and Foxe’s Book of Martyrs were obligatory reading and the alphabet was stuffed down children’s throats.  Chapbooks from hawkers provided an escape into the worlds of Robin Hood, The Arabian Nights and other landing places for the imagination.  But such reading was not dignified by parents; it was an underground literature.  Novels for children drew clear distinctions between right and wrong, good and bad children.  They were written to inculcate moral values in children and to glorify and affirm parental authority.  One contemporary scholar called such writers “The Monstrous Regiment.”  The following excerpt from Mary Martha Sherwood’s The History of the Fairchild Family is sufficient:

Lucy:  …  I do not wish to take Miss Augusta’s things from her, or to hurt her.  Emily and I only wish to be like her and to have the same things she has.

Mrs. Fairchild:  What you now feel, my dears, is not exactly envy, though it is very like it.  it is what is called Ambition.  Ambition is the desire to be greater than we are.  Ambition makes people unhappy and discontented with what they are and what they have.  Ambition is in the heart of every man by nature;  but, before we can go to heaven, it must be taken out of our hearts, because it is a temper that God hates–though it is spoken of, by people who do not fear God, as a very good thing.

The novel ends with a “child’s” prayer: ” …  I know that my heart is full of sin and that my body is corrupt and filthy, and that I must soon die and go down into the dust;  and yet I am so foolish and so wicked as to wish to be great in this world…”

And then, on July 4, 1862, a man of thirty with dark wavy hair, sensitive eyes and a soft complexion started speaking and everything changed.