Wednesday, January 8, 2014

PEARL S. BUCK: THE CHRISTMAS MOUSE

TALK ABOUT GETTING a lot of mileage out of one story. We have already looked at Christmas Miniature by Pearl S. Buck as it appeared in Family Circle Magazine and Once Upon a Christmas, and then as it appeared as a stand-alone book and in A Gift for Children. Well in Great Britain in 1958, Christmas Miniature was published again under the title The Christmas Mouse with new illustrations by Astrid Walford. From the back of the book: "The delicate and perceptive line and wash drawings by Astrid Walford are among the loveliest work she has ever done."

There are a few minor differences between the U.S. and U.K. editions. For some reason the bicycle becomes a tricycle. The flashlight on the back of the book is translated as a torch, but within the book remains a flashlight. And the British spellings of words like pajamas have been predictably adopted.

Below are a sample of Walford's illustrations. To see them all visit my Flickr set.






COMING SOON: More Pearl S. Buck

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Tuesday, January 7, 2014

PEARL S. BUCK: CHRISTMAS FOLLOW-UP

SHORTLY BEFORE CHRISTMAS, I wrote about several of Pearl S. Buck's Christmas stories for children. At the time, I was still waiting to get my hands on some other editions of the stories, and promised I would post scans as soon as I did. Well the books came in...

Christmas Miniature and The Christmas Ghost were both published as books by The John Day Company with illustrations by Anna Marie Magagna almost immediately after the stories appeared in Family Circle Magazine. Magagna was at the start of an illustration career that would go on to include editions of The Wizard of Oz, Little Men and Little Women, Five Little Peppers and many others. Her drawings for Christmas Miniature were shown at the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C. in 1958.

In addition to her accomplishments in the world of publishing, Magagna is possibly best known as the exclusive fashion illustrator for the high-end women's store Henri Bendel starting in 1969 throughout the early 1970s. A selection of her fashion drawings was exhibited in a one woman show last year.

From Christmas Miniature:





From The Christmas Ghost:




Just after her death in 1973, The John Day Company put out a collection of Pearl S. Buck's children's stories called A Gift for the Children. Despite Once Upon a Christmas having appeared only the year before (see my previous post for scans from that book), both Christmas Miniature and The Christmas Ghost were included each with yet another set of illustrations, this time by Elaine Scull.

Christmas Miniature:



The Christmas Ghost:



Not all of Buck's Christmas stories were illustrated so many times, but all of them had multiple lives. I now have several other Christmas books in hand as well as these, so even though Christmas is behind us, bear with me as I stretch the holiday into January in my upcoming posts. To see even more of Anna Marie Magagna's illustrations for these books, view my Flickr sets for Christmas Miniature and The Christmas Ghost.

All images are copyrighted © and owned by their respective holders.



Monday, December 23, 2013

PEARL S. BUCK: CHRISTMAS


PEARL S. BUCK WON THE NOBEL PRIZE IN LITERATURE in 1938 "for her rich and truly epic descriptions of peasant life in China and for her biographical masterpieces." Her bestselling, Pulitzer Prize winning novel The Good Earth, detailing peasant life in China, remains a perennial classic. Born to American Southern Presbyterian missionaries, Buck moved to China at the age of three months and lived there until she returned to the United States for college. Despite growing up in a country that did not celebrate Christmas, Buck's family and the families of other American missionaries, along with the English who lived in the British Concession, made Christmas with all the joyous trimmings of home: trees and holly, stockings and presents, parties and feasts. "From such memories of my Chinese childhood," Buck wrote, "it is no wonder that when I had an American home of my own, complete with husband and children, every Christmas was as joyous as we could make it."

For Buck, a large part of that celebration was telling stories, many of which she recorded and published in magazines and as books. "I told my children many stories when they were small enough for bedtime stories, and each year they chose one to make into a book. The Christmas stories, of course, were always special." They included stories such as "A Certain Star," "The Christmas Ghost," "The Christmas Mouse," "Christmas Day in the Morning," and many others, which appeared in special Christmas issues of magazines like Good Housekeeping, Family Circle, Ladies' Home Journal, and Collier's before being reissued as books.

In "Christmas Miniature," a 1956 special insert in Family Circle with art by the Walt Disney Studio, six-year-old Sandy makes the midnight trip downstairs "not indeed to peep at the Christmas tree but only to see what time it was." In so doing, he finds his cat Snips about to eat a mother mouse hiding behind the miniature manger under the tree. He grabs the mouse first, who bites him to escape his grasp, and dashes under the couch to return to her babies. The story was published as a book the next year with illustrations by Anna Marie Magagna, and included in Buck's Once Upon a Christmas with illustrations by Donald Lizzul (seen below).


"The Christmas Ghost," which first appeared in a 1960 issue of Family Circle with illustrations by Gyo Fujikawa, tells the story of Jimpsey, a young boy whose family is celebrating their first Christmas in their new farm house after leaving the city. Mr. Higgins, the hired hand, tells Jimpsey that the ghost of the former owner Timothy Stillwagon walks from the barn to the bridge over the brook every Christmas Eve. When Jimpsey goes out in the middle of the night to see, he only finds Mr. Higgins there, who explains that it is the memory of Timothy Stillwagon that walks with him those nights, and that is what he meant by ghost.


Buck's own gardener "always insisted that the ghost of Old Devil Harry did walk every Christmas Eve at midnight from the big red barn to the bridge, to meet the ghost of a former crony with whom he used to get drunk each Christmas Eve." In the story, Mr. Higgins and Timothy Stillwagon meet to admire each other's Christmas trees. Like "Christmas Miniature," "The Christmas Ghost" appeared as a book almost immediately with illustrations by Anna Marie Magagna. The story was included in Once Upon a Christmas as well.

A story that Buck for some reason did not include in Once Upon a Christmas is "Christmas Day in the Morning," a story that first appeared in Collier's in 1955 (see art at top). "Christmas Day in the Morning" tells of how Rob, the eldest son of a farmer, realizes that the best gift he can give his father for Christmas is to wake up extra early and do the milking before his father has even gotten out of bed. This act grew out of the realization that his father truly loved him when he overheard his father saying to his mother how much he hates to wake Rob in the mornings. When his father finds the milking done, they hug in the darkness, unable to see each other's faces, but communicating their mutual love better than they have ever done before.

"Christmas Day in the Morning" was not strictly a children's story when it was published in Collier's, but it was made into a picture book posthumously in 2002 with some light editing, which removed the adult Rob's memories of his dead wife as well as his dead father. Illustrator Mark Buehner was inspired to illustrate the story after his own children woke up in the middle of the night one Christmas Eve to clean the entire downstairs floor of his house after hearing Buck's story at church, a testament to how touching Buck's work remains decades after her death.

THESE THREE STORIES are really just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Pearl S. Buck's Christmas stories for children. That's an understatement when it comes to Pearl S. Buck's children's books on whole, one reason that I have waited so long to tackle her on the blog. I had hoped to have more editions of these stories and some others before Christmas this year, but I waited a bit too long to secure them in time, so there will be some follow up posts possibly into the new year. As a result, I made a very rare exception to one of my rules, which is to have borrowed some scans, from I'm Learning to Share! for the "Christmas Miniature" Family Circle cover, and from The Estate Sale Chronicles for the "Christmas Ghost" cover. In both cases, the original blogs have the entire stories scanned and available to read, so please do click through. The rest of the scans are my own.

If you are looking for more Christmas fun, check out previous year's posts:

J.R.R. Tolkien's "Father Christmas Letters"
Eleanor Roosevelt's Christmas
Warren Chappell's The Nutcracker
Ilonka Karasz's The Twelve Days of Christmas

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Monday, October 21, 2013

WENDY WASSERSTEIN IN THANKS & GIVING

PAMELA'S FIRST MUSICAL was Wendy Wasserstein's only children's book, but it wasn't the only thing she published with children as the intended audience. She contributed to Marlo Thomas's 2004 book Thanks & Giving All Year Long.

Thomas is most famous as the creator of the 1972 classic book and album Free to Be...You and Me, an anthology of songs and stories by celebrities meant to teach that it is okay to break normal gender stereotypes. Thomas has since used the format in several other books, the most recent of which is Thanks & Giving. The title really says it all with regards to this book's message, although some of the entries seem a stretch. (Matt Groening's Life in Hell bunny finds a dollar on the sidewalk and buys a banana split?)

Wasserstein shares a bedtime conversation she had with her daughter Lucy Jane, who was four at the time. In "The Rotten Tomato," Lucy Jane asks for a bedtime story about a rotten tomato. Wasserstein wants to tell a story about a good tomato. Lucy Jane is willing to allow a good tomato to be in the story, but the rotten tomato has to win. They go back and forth with Wasserstein spelling out why being a "good" tomato is better than being a "rotten" one.  As you would expect from Wasserstein, the scene is quite funny. (Click on the scans below to read.) Lucy Jane illustrated the story.


Wasserstein did have work included in one other anthology intended for young people, 33 Things Every Girl Should Know, but the essay comes from one of her collection Bachelor Girls, and was not conceived of as a children's story.

All images are copyrighted © and owned by their respective holders.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

WENDY WASSERSTEIN: PAMELA'S FIRST MUSICAL

WENDY WASSERSTEIN IS BEST KNOWN as a playwright. Her 1988 play The Heidi Chronicles won the Pulitzer Prize, the Tony Award, the Drama Desk Award, and the New York Drama Critics Circle. The Tony was the first ever awarded to a female playwright. Her subsequent play The Sisters Rosensweig was then nominated or won almost all of the same prizes. Over her career, she had at least ten plays appear on and off Broadway.

But despite theater being her home, Wasserstein also wrote in almost every other form available. She wrote a movie, a novel, essays, memoirs, books of non-fiction, teleplays, and, of course, a children's book. Pamela's First Musical is, no surprise, about theater. Illustrated by Andrew Jackness, the set designer for Wasserstein's play Isn't It Romantic?, Wasserstein wrote Pamela in the hope that "[my] book would inspire children to fall in love with musicals in the same way [I] had." Dedicated to her niece Pamela (who was in high school at the time the book was published), it tells the story of Pamela's whirlwind ninth birthday, when her Aunt Louise takes her into New York to see her first musical.

AUNT LOUISE MIGHT just as well be called Auntie Mame. She is a clothing designer who goes around saying "Ooooooo, dahling." "(You can tell whether Aunt Louise designed your blue jeans because they are all signed Oooooooh, Dahling on the back pocket.)" While "all of Pamela's friends at school knew grown-ups who went into the city every day to work...Pamela's aunt Louise actually lived there." She also seems to know everybody who is anybody.

After a stop back at her apartment to change "out of her driving clothes into her theater clothes," Aunt Louise drags Pamela to the Russian Tea Room. "'The Tea Room is simply the place to have lunch before your first musical.'"

There they run into the world-famous dancer Bearish Nureyjinsky, who is the first in a list of theatrical celebrities with oddly familiar names that Pamela meets. At the theater, there are the stars Nathan Hines Klines and Mary Ethel Bernadette, the producer Mr. Bernie S. Gerry, choreographer Miss La Tuna, composer Mr. Finnsical, book writers Betty and Cy Songheim (with dogs Roger and Heart), set designer Candita Ivey Zippers, and Jules Gels, the light designer. (Pamela also gets the usher Gladys's autograph on her Playbill.)


Of course, Pamela is entranced with the play. It tells the generic love story, of Billy and Ginger falling in love just before World War II, divided by the war, but reuniting in the South Pacific where Ginger's friend rescues Billy from pirates. Okay, so maybe that last part isn't so generic. The whole thing ends with "a reprise of Pamela's favorite song," and a standing ovation.


After meeting the stars, "the old stage door man waved to Pamela to come stand onstage in the empty house. 'This is the ghost light,' he explained. 'This means the theater always stays lit for all the people who ever performed here. It also means you can come back anytime.'"

That night Pamela recreates the play at home with her dolls before falling asleep and dreaming of "producing, writing, choreographing, designing, and directing hundreds of dancing girls, parades of tapping men...and a cast of thousands, maybe millions."

LIKE AUNT LOUISE, Wendy Wasserstein knew everybody. The back cover of Pamela's First Musical is blurbed by Meryl Streep, Angela Lansbury, Kevin Kline, Glen Close, Cy Coleman, Chita Rivera, Carol Channing, Sarah Jessica Parker, Matthew Broderick, Gregory Hines, Bernadette Peters and others. But despite knowing theater, and knowing everybody, Wasserstein found she didn't know children's books. In an essay for The New York Times about the book tour for Pamela's First Musical, she wrote, "When I look back on my first foray into children's literature, it seems an act of complete naivete and hubris at once." First, she is surprised how similar the children's book business is to theater "in all its ambition, difficulty and quirkiness":
"The boffo book chains of the Barnes & Noble and Borders variety appear to be the Broadway of children's books departments, complete with sets, lights and sizable audiences. There are even over-the-title stars like "Eloise," "Madeline," "Clifford"; and of course the proven box-office talents of Maurice Sendak, Faith Ringgold and Lane Smith."
As she continues to tour she learns that "touring with a children's book required acting, teaching and stand-up skills beyond my playwright's training." It didn't help that, out of town, when she asked audiences of children if they had seen any musicals, only about a quarter of them had if she was lucky. It wasn't until she was back in New York, where "even the boys like musicals [and] the stars of "Pamela's First Musical," Nathan Hines Klines and Mary Ethel Bernadette, are immediately recognizable," that she felt comfortable with the crowd.

WITH MODERN PICTURE BOOKS like Pinkalicious and Fancy Nancy getting adapted into musicals, it is only natural that a picture book about musicals got the musical treatment. Sometime around the book's 1996 release, lyricist David Zippel (who wrote the lyrics for Disney's Hercules and Mulan) “called [Wasserstein] up and said, ‘let’s do a television movie of it.'" Wasserstein liked the idea, and they enlisted Cy Coleman, the three-time Tony winning composer of Sweet Charity, City of Angels and The Will Rogers Follies, who had blurbed the picture book. In 1998, Playbill announced that the piece would be an ABC Sunday night movie.

In 2002, the first public offering of material related to the work was released when Cy Coleman included the main theme from Pamela's First Musical "It Started With a Dream" on his album of the same name. By that time, the musical had transformed into a stage show, a work-in-progress version of which was shown to industry people through Lincoln Center Theater in 2003. Pamela's age was changed, new subplots about prospective stepmothers and stepsisters were added, but at base it was still about going to see a musical with Aunt Louise. In October 2004 it was announced that Goodspeed Musicals would stage a version in 2005, but Cy Coleman died in November 2004, and the Goodspeed performance was cancelled. The team picked themselves up, and prepared for another performance at California Theaterworks in 2005, but Wasserstein's battle with lymphoma forced that production to be cancelled as well. Wasserstein died in early 2006 at the age of fifty-five.

David Zippel was not going to let that be the end of Wasserstein's last play. Pamela's First Musical was virtually complete when Coleman died. All it needed was a venue. At last, on May 18, 2008, Broadway Cares staged a concert of Pamela's First Musical at Town Hall. Kathy Lee Gifford, Joel Grey, Tommy Tune and many others made cameos. Proceeds benefited Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS and Wendy Wasserstein's own charity, Theater Development Fund's Open Doors Program. You can see a performance from that afternoon here.

The real Pamela Wasserstein was in attendance. She told Broadway Cares, “Really it’s Wendy, Cy and David’s tribute to Broadway...I know Wendy and Cy would be so happy. In fact, I just know they’re here!”

I CONSULTED Julie Salamon's biography Wendy and the Lost Boys: The Uncommon Life of Wendy Wasserstein, Wasserstein's essay "Way Off Broadway With Pamela" from the June 30, 1996 edition of The New York Times, and Playbill's website. Much of the information regarding the musical Pamela's First Musical, as well as the photos from the Town Hall performance come from Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS own website. The photo of Wendy Wasserstein is from Wikipedia.

All images are copyrighted © and owned by their respective holders.