Kendra Steiner Editions (Bill Shute)

May 17, 2020

Washington Irving’s Life of George Washington, in five volumes (1855-1859)

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As some of you know, I have been on a regular reading program of the works of Washington Irving and William Dean Howells, both prolific authors I greatly admire, with many lesser-known books I had not read in previous decades, and both recipients of many-volume scholarly “complete works” editions which, alas, have been de-accessioned from college and university libraries, allowing me to get these beautiful, deep, exhaustively researched, and historic editions for next to nothing.

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Since my teenage years, I have wanted to take the time to read Washington Irving’s massive five-volume biography of his namesake, George Washington….and thanks to the library at St. Olaf’s College in Northfield, Minnesota, for deciding that a biography of the first American president written by America’s first internationally acclaimed man of letters (which the author spent a decade researching, making reference to documentation that no longer exists in some cases) is not something worth keeping (alas, that college, which seems to be a first-rate institution, is not alone in that….pretty much ALL the dozens of scholarly editions of Irving and Howells in my collection are ex-library copies, with WITHDRAWN stamped prominently on them) because that allows me to own and treasure these editions, which cost me less than new and non-scholarly and poorly formatted public domain reprints of the works would have.

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I’m today starting on Volume One. Twayne’s 30-volume standard edition of Irving’s works devotes three large books to the five-volume Washington biography, and not counting the introductions, notes, manuscript analyses, and scholarly apparatus, the work itself is 1370 small-print pages, so this is a quite an undertaking for me. Fortunately, I am off work (mostly) for the next two months.

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Maybe 5-7 years ago, Mary Anne and I both read Ron Chernow’s excellent Washington: A Life, so I know the basic topography of Washington’s life and career. That will allow me to drink in the rich detail and expertly crafted prose of Irving, who provides A LOT of specific cultural history of the era that does not specifically involve George Washington.

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Between 1859 (publication date of the final volume, and also the year of Irving’s passing) and 1900, the Washington biography appeared in some 24 different editions (not reprints, but editions!), including edited versions for schools and children and also a braille edition, not counting translations into Dutch and German (and probably others I’m not familiar with). Anyone who frequents junk stores, antique malls, or antiquarian bookstores has seen many a yellowing and musty edition, often an abridged one for schools, of Irving’s Washington biography sitting there, probably never to be read by anyone else before it totally deteriorates or is thrown away.

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In the edition I own, the chapters tend to run between 6 and 15 pages, so I can work them into reading slots during my daily activities easily and make gradual progress throughout the summer.

I’ve also been reading many volumes of Irving criticism, as those scholarly editions can also be gotten cheaply, and we are lucky that for much of the 20th Century, until the early 1980’s or so, Irving was a deeply researched and studied author. Many arcane aspects of his career have been dealt with in stand-alone volumes, and those have been quite enlightening….although the works of Irving himself tend to speak quite clearly and do not require much backstory the way some works do.

I will eventually write about Irving’s body of work as I continue through it in the next year or two. Presently, I’ve read and pondered about 45% of the material in the 30 volumes of the Collected Works, either in the past or in the last two years, and I’m making a point of re-reading works such as A TOUR ON THE PRAIRIES which I read more than once in the past—-I’m a different person now than I was in, say, 1981. By the way, when I lived in Northern Oklahoma in that period, I was not far from the area where Irving wrote about in TOUR, and there are two exits named after Irving (one north, and one south) on the state highway between Stillwater and Tulsa.

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I do plan to come up for air regularly and keep contributing to the blog about poetry, music, film, etc., so keep checking in. Most of you won’t be going anywhere much during this Coronavirus lockdown anyway…

May 16, 2020

upcoming Bill Shute reviews for Ugly Things #54

I’ll have four pieces in the new issue of UGLY THINGS, #54, down from my usual number as there have not been a lot of new releases in recent months—-I’d guess the review section of the mag will be a bit shorter and there will be a higher percentage of feature stories in the magazine. And with the passing of Pretty Things main-man PHIL MAY yesterday, I’m sure a piece on this great man (and inspiration for the magazine itself!) will be a cornerstone of issue #54.

Anyway, here are the four albums (two of them multi-disc sets) you can expect from me in the next issue:

serge UT

SERGE GAINSBOURG, “En Studio Avec Serge Gainsbourg” (Mercury, France, 3-cd box), 30 years of fascinating out-takes and obscurities from the master, also including his compositions performed by others, his productions, his film soundtracks, etc.

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THE GEMTONES, “Complete Recordings” (Super Oldies, 2-cd set), 52 songs from the early-to-mid 60’s by this wonderful rock-and-roll combo from New Brunswick, Canada, who were also popular in Quebec. Their sound will appeal to fans of, say, The Astronauts or the upper-Midwest bands who recorded on labels like Soma or Cuca.

london american UT

THE LONDON-AMERICAN LABEL, YEAR BY YEAR: 1967 (Ace UK) London-American was the UK outlet for release of American recordings from independent labels who were not part of an international conglomerate that would have its own UK branch, so many of the great rock and roll records from Swan, Jamie, Challenge and the like would come out in the UK on London-American. Surprisingly, they were still at it in 1967, and this mid-blowing assemblage of material from artists as diverse as The Critters, Guy Mitchell, Fantastic Johnny C, The Association, The Knickerbockers, pre-Monkees Micky Dolenz, pre-Atlantic Wilson Pickett, Roy Orbison, Nino Tempo & April Stevens, Charlie Rich, Mel Tillis, and The Fallen Angels will certainly be the most diverse compilation of the year. A unique spin on 1967!

spiritual jazz 11 UT

SPIRITUAL JAZZ 11: STEEPLECHASE RECORDS (Jazzman UK),  I reviewed Volume 10 of this wonderful series, dedicated to Prestige Records, here on the KSE blog (just do a search for it), and I’ll probably review Volume 9, a 2-cd set devoted to Blue Note, later this summer, but Volume 11 was so good and such a surprise that I wanted my review to reach a wider audience, and UT editor Mike Stax kindly allowed me to review it there, where it will reach many more readers than something posted here would. The Danish STEEPLECHASE label is perhaps best-known for its association with Dexter Gordon and Chet Baker (the Chet Baker-Paul Bley duo album on Steeplechase is probably one of my 10 favorite albums of all time), but they gave an outlet to all kinds of American jazz creative-spirits at a time when many other labels weren’t interested, and many of those artists had a foot (or both feet) in the kind of “esoteric, modal and deep jazz” this series is out to document….also, label head Nils Winther, who should get some kind of lifetime achievement award for his amazing commitment to jazz over a 50 year period, ALWAYS gave the artists free rein, welcoming those passion projects the artists had been itching to do for years, but never had the outlet for. Artists include Mary Lou Williams, Billy Gault, Sam Jones, Rene McLean, Jim McNeely, Johnny Dyani with John Tchicai & Dudu Pukwana, Ken McIntyre, Khan Jamal, Michael Carvin, and Jackie McLean.


UGLY THINGS is now in its 37th year under the visionary leadership of editor-publisher MIKE STAX, and I’m proud to say I’ve been onboard as a writer since the early days of the magazine (issue 2 perhaps? if not, somewhere around then). I faded out for some periods as life got in the way, but I would come back again, and now I’ve been there without fail for the last decade or so. Pretty much everyone reading this will know and probably already love UGLY THINGS, but in case it’s new or unfamiliar to you, go to the website and order an issue or two (it’s entirely a print magazine–no online version–although there are usually a few tidbits put online as a sample–presently my review of the biography of BILL HALEY by Bill Haley, Jr. is available on the front page for your reading pleasure:

Bill Shute review of the book CRAZY MAN CRAZY: THE BILL HALEY STORY

May 14, 2020

Stay-At-Home Film #7, ZORRO ALLA CORTE DI SPAGNA (Italy, 1962), starring Giorgio Ardisson

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ZORRO ALLA CORTE DI SPAGNA (Zorro In The Court Of Spain)

Italy 1962, directed by Luigi Capuano

starring George/Giorgio/Georges Adrisson, with Alberto Lupo, Livio Lorenzon, Nadia Marlowa, Franco Fantasia, Maria Letizia Gazzoni, Carlo Tamberlani

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About 5 years ago, I acquired a DVD-R of a beautiful widescreen version of this film recorded off Italian cable TV (undoubtedly at 3 a.m.), upgrading my old pan-and-scan VHS tape. I enjoyed re-visiting the film earlier today and thought I’d look it up online before making any comments about it….and once again, I see that I myself reviewed it online about 20 years ago! So let me share those comments from 2003:


First, this is definitely NOT a western. This Zorro is NOT like the Republic serial. It’s set in the Spain (Lusitania in the English version!) of the mid 1800s and is in the costumed swashbuckler vein. The name of Zorro’s alter ego seems to have been changed in the English dubbing also, as he is called “Senor Martin” throughout, not Riccardo as in the original Italian. That said, the film is a lighthearted, colorful action romp with Ardisson turning on his boyish charm in both roles–the powerful, slick, romantic Zorro, and his prissy, spoiled, wiseass alter ego Martin. I’m reminded of the bored, spoiled way that Robert Lowery played Bruce Wayne in the 1949 Batman and Robin serial. Watching Zorro make buffoons out of the members of the Spanish royal court is very entertaining. Director Luigi Capuano’s films are usually very rich visually, with lots of vibrant color, and this one is no exception. The usual suspects appear in supporting roles here: Livio Lorenzon (NOT with shaved head!), fencing master Franco Fantasia, Alberto Lupo, Gianni Rizzo, Carlo Tamberlani. My copy is titled ZORRO AT THE COURT OF SPAIN, but there are also English language prints with the title THE MASKED CONQUEROR. Overall, a swashbuckling romp where you can tell the actors, especially Ardisson, are having fun themselves–it’s contagious.

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Not much to add to that today, except to say that I’ve now watched probably 16-18 other films Ardisson starred in (out of 64 total), from a long career running from 1959-1992, and whether working in the Peplum, Eurospy, Eurowestern, Giallo, Crime, or whatever genre, he’s always memorable and can play a wide variety of roles. He’s also distinctive-looking. You may be interested to know that he played Zorro again in 1968 (someone must have enjoyed his 1962 portrayal here!) in ZORRO THE FOX, where he’s teamed with the always-satisfying Giacomo Rossi-Stuart in a film that’s VERY different from this one and plays like a typical violent late 60’s Italian western, although some scenes echo the feel of the old Disney Zorro TV series–it’s a curious mixture, though very watchable, and you can watch ZORRO THE FOX below, though it’s not subtitled in English:


Getting back to ZORRA IN THE COURT OF SPAIN, it has the kind of “storybook” feel that I’ve discussed elsewhere in regards to the German children’s films imported to the USA by K. Gordon Murray and also peplum films such as VENGEANCE OF URSUS.

It’s quite different from the two 1962 Zorro films made in Spain and starring expatriate American actor FRANK LATIMORE in the role. I have a half-finished blog entry on those two films, which I need to kick myself over the summer to finish. Those Latimore films exist in a universe of their own.

Then there is BEHIND THE MASK OF ZORRO, from around the same time with another American, TONY RUSSEL (aka Tony Russo, aka Tony Russell) in the role, also highly recommended.

Then there is the late 60’s Franco and Ciccio tribute to Zorro with, of all people, DEAN REED in the role, which I also have a half-finished blog entry on and which I highly recommend.

Unlike the 1968 version with Ardisson, this 1962 production is family-friendly. It’s also fast-moving, full of swordplay and (low-budget) pageantry, and features a charismatic lead and colorful supporting cast. Check it out if you can, while stuck at home…and travel to Spain in the wintertime (you can see the steam/smoke coming out of the actors’ mouths when they speak).

European genre-film fans can watch pretty much anything starring Ardisson and enjoy it. Why not enter his name at You Tube and see what you come up with….alas, the film I’m discussing today is not available there.

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May 4, 2020

thoughts on the first ten months of Frank Robbins’ JOHNNY HAZARD Sunday strips

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JOHNNY HAZARD, THE SUNDAYS (Full Size) : 1944-1947 (Hermes Press), by Frank Robbins


Frank Robbins’ action-adventure comic strip JOHNNY HAZARD ran for 33 years, from 1944-1977.  I’ve read a number of reprints of the 50’s and 60’s material and remember reading the original strips as a teenager in the 70’s. In the last few days, I’ve been savoring the amazing over-sized Hermes Press edition of the first few years of color Sunday strips, in original full-page size. This massive and beautiful hardcover book, 12.25″ x 17.25″, is limited to 1000 copies, so you should act soon if you want one.

While this is an extremely worthwhile collection (as are any of Hermes’ Johnny Hazard or The Phantom collections—-this is how comic-strip archival reissues should be done), the reason I’m writing about it today is more specific than just general praise. I always knew Johnny was a military flyer in World War II serving in the Pacific, but in the post-WWII era of the 50’s and 60’s, he was an pilot-adventurer for hire, a globetrotting action hero involved in complex two-fisted narratives that went on for months in daily-strip form, and for months in the separate Sunday continuity. The plots and adventures were like some B-movie that might star Rod Cameron or Scott Brady, and that cinematic quality in the storytelling was one of the major selling points of the strip (and of course the distinctive art and characterizations).

However, I was quite surprised in reading the first ten months of the Sundays, from July 1944 through May 1945 (I just moved into June 1945, and noticed the huge change in the strip), and discovering that each Sunday page is a separate slice-of-military-life, with no continuity running over from week to week. Also, the emphasis is very much on the group and its various members—-it is NOT a vehicle for Johnny’s solo exploits. Some weeks Johnny is hardly seen and the focus is on other members of the unit, and there are some weeks which feature mostly military humor or introduce us to the local Chinese population surviving through the Japanese occupation. Also, in the first panel of each week’s full-page Sunday entry, Frank Robbins has a small scale, incredibly precise, line drawing, from two different perspectives, of a war plane and challenges the reader to guess which one it is. The next week he provides the answer, and then has a new drawing and another challenge. The planes are a wide variety of American, Soviet, Japanese, and German models, and they provide a fascinating counterpoint to the narrative (I was reminded of Chester Gould’s similar studies of police technology in Dick Tracy).

On May 6, 1945, Robbins announces at the top of the Sunday page (which no longer contains any drawings of planes), “starting next week, Johnny Hazard’s Sunday adventures will be continuous”… and starting the next week, they are, gradually building in length and complexity to the post-War Johnny Hazard, now EX-military, I know so well. However, for ten months in 1944 and 1945, it was a different strip—-and a unique one, in many ways unlike what it later became.

It’s interesting to note that this first year is what won over readers and made the strip a hit and gave it its initial momentum, a momentum that kept things going for 33 years of exciting adventures enjoyed by millions daily. I’d bet the military readers loved the first year (seeing themselves represented by someone who “got it”), and as Johnny left military service and found a new identity in the post-war world, so did his readers. So many heroes of post-war B-movies and crime fiction and men’s adventure magazines were veterans, and adventurer veterans like Johnny Hazard provided a model of how that was done.

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