Tuesday, December 14, 2010

December's Book Review by Ted

MY First Love!. I'm pretty good at catchy titles, now I have to deliver!
To begin with, what kind of a reader are you??? If you are a writer, what do you expect of your reader??? This is all inter-related. While teaching reading, I have found that many people, maybe most, are word readers. I used to think that I had no imagination...until I began to understand how I read. I am a reader who is part of the scene--I may be the narrator--I may be the hero or heroine ( not a question of sexuality--- I am a male heroine!) We won't pursue that any further. When I read, I am there, the scene is all around me, I am ducking bullets, arrows, plots along with the rest of the characters of the book.
A little background: When I was 13 and in 9th grade, I entered a Catholic seminary to study to be a priest. Didn't make it as Nancy can attest.
I was bored with the classes--we won't go there, but I carried the usual high school load plus 4 years of Latin,3 of Greek, 4 of religion, and 4 of Public Speaking. That was with all the usual expected of all 1950's high school students. So I read books. I think in my 4 years I read about 400 books not required for classes. I used them to escape where I was and what I was doing. I knew I did not belong there, but parents wanted me to finish High school there.
About January of 1954 I discovered " The Miracle of the Bells". I read it at least twice a year for the next 3 years. I fell in love with the female character : Olga......
"The Miracle of the Bells" was written by Russel Janney ( before you ask "WHO?") Let me say it was his first book, his publisher ordered a first run of 125,000 copies ( hardback) and there were 6 more printing in the 40's and 50's then at least 7 paperback printing in the 60"s.) As I investigated I found that Janney was a well know writer of screen-plays and even Musicals that played on Broadway. So while a new book writer, he had a great history. He only wrote 1 more book as far as I can tell.
Maybe it was my nature as an " Softee". or the fact that my grandfather had been a coal miner - though in Illinois not in Pennsylvania. Maybe it was my Softee nature that sympathized with Olga.....But it all came together. I created pictures of the characters in my mind of Olga, "Spats" Dunnigan -a press agent, Father Spinsky and his housekeeper sister who were less than 'holy", the money grabbing funeral director, the weak priest who agreed to anything as long as it brought people to his church so he could try to help them. The Jewish movie mogul who had problems with miracles......
I read it over and over. I loved the dying young girl from the coal town who had Black Lung disease because of where she was raised, the young priest who would knuckle under because he was too unselfish to oppose others..."Spats" who made and lost fortunes for himself and others , and also loved Olga. The Miracle itself, because there was one. But more than one--in fact maybe too many by the end of the book!
I once had a first edition of the book that had notes from press coverage of the book included. It was Number 2 on the New York Times best seller list for 1946 ( Back when that really meant something.) I had a student who did not like to read, I tutored her one summer and loaned her the book---it was never returned!
This is getting too long, but I want to include that it was made into a movie in the 1950's. It is available on DVD...I have one. This was another Hollywood disaster! If you have read books and then seen the movies, you will understand what I mean. The weak priest was played by Frank Sinatra ( A weak performance by a good actor), Lee J. Cobb was the Jewish movie producer- an adequate job, the actress playing Olga is really an unknown- but she looked as I pictured Olga ( my first love), then the crushing blow was Fred McMurray as "Spats" I need to stop there---he was miserable, and I can hardly stand to watch him on reruns of "My Three Sons". There must of been 40 actors that could have been used, but he was picked. The picture was/is less than half good.
I strongly recommend reading the book if you never have. Copies in various condition are available on Amazon or even can be found in old bookstores. The small price is well worth the trip back to coal-mining towns in Pennsylvania and the times when a nobody might have a press agent tell a producer " Give the kid a break!" Olga will always be alive for me. Thanks to Russell Yanney.


Nancy J. Parra said...

Thanks, Dad. I need to find a copy of this book.

Linda Kage said...

Okay, now I'm all curious about Olga and her coal mining story. Thank you for the review.

Nancy J. Parra said...

Hi Linda,

Speaking for Dad- thanks. I think you'd really enjoy the book.