Kenneth Roberts On American College Football

If you are new to Kenneth Roberts, or are primarily familiar with his novels, then I suggest that you pick up a copy of The Kenneth Roberts Reader (Doubleday, Doran & Co., 1945; also reprinted Down East Books, 2002). The reader is a collection of essays Roberts published in The Saturday Evening Post and excerpts from his novels. The essays from SEP help the reader to get a better picture of Kenneth Roberts the man – his humor, his wit, his quirks, and his pet peeves. He was very observant…and opinionated.

Oxford Rugby 1901

Roberts’ reader contains an essay titled “Oxford Oddities” (originally published in For Authors Only and Other Gloomy Essays [Doubleday, Doran & Co., 1935]) in which Roberts elaborates on his observations of Oxford and its students. True to form, Roberts finds much of the British and their ways odd (relative to American ways), and comments on how Oxford students approach studies, social life, and extracurricular activities. Underlying most of his observations is his pro-American view of American ways. That is everything except American football.

One feature of “Oxford Oddities” is Roberts’ account of his attendance at a rugby match in London (see this post where I highlight Skip Grimm’s post on this account). I’ve read Roberts’ account before, but when I read it again the other day, I noticed something that was hidden last time – his snarky view of American football.

British Fans vs. American Fans

A large percentage of the sixty thousand patronized those snack bars before the game; yet, incredible as it may seem, there were no drunks, no fights in the stands, no beating of strangers over the head by overstimulated enthusiasts (160).

There were sixty thousand people at the game, which was played on neutral grounds near London…Apparently the sixty thousand spectators had come with no ulterior motive, as is so often the case in America, and were actually eager, not to say determined, to let nothing, not even alcohol, interfere with their enjoyment of the game. This may or may not be an indication that the English understand nothing about pleasure (160-61).

If I’m reading Roberts correctly, it appears that he is making a stab at American football fans who, in his (unstated) opinion, attend games with ulterior motives other than the enjoyment of the game. If the British don’t let alcohol get in the way of enjoying the game, then do Americans see the football game as an opportunity to drink? Whatever the case, it appears Roberts saw British rugby fans as more tame than American football fans.

Fan Attendance

At most games, even at important ones, there are not many more spectators than players. This is due to the fact that those who, in America, would be spectators are off somewhere playing a game of something against somebody else (159).

Prior to this excerpt, Roberts noted the sheer number of extracurricular sports teams and participants among Oxford students (and other Brits?). In his opening of this section on rugby, Roberts says:

The method in vogue at Oxford for selecting the members of a varsity team is interesting and not without merit, even when compared with the American system of keeping eighty or a hundred men working all season without an opportunity to play in a game (159).

We see, first, a knock against how American colleges form their football teams: 80-100 team members for a sport where a little more than a ¼ will play. At Oxford, teams are smaller because (in part) so many are playing. This further impacts the patronage of the games, for when one game is going on, other games are in action as well.

Game Day

The game was played on a Wednesday, that being the day after the universities had closed for the Christmas vac. Apparently it never occurs to the English to wait for Saturday in order to play big games. They play when it’s convenient, and if their dates don’t quite suit the convenience of the public, nobody – not even the public – seems annoyed (161).

As all American college football fans know, gameday is Saturday. It’s not until recent years (with the advent of cable TV and ESPN) that we see college football played on weekdays. Apparently, Roberts found it annoying that Americans expected college football to be played on Saturdays, for his tone regarding the English seems to be one of pleasant surprised. Games are played “when it’s convenient,” and if the game day is inconvenient for some, they are not annoyed.

Cost of Tickets

My seats were on what would correspond to the 50-yard line, and cost 7/6 apiece, or $1.87 – and to the best of my knowledge and belief, no football game in the history of the world was ever worth more than $1.87 (161).

Cornell-Penn Fan Guide, 1922

The first thing I noted was the price of a ticket. Today, tickets at the 50-yard line of a college football game are premium tickets (outside of the box seats). Honestly, I’ve never tried to buy such a ticket, but it’s common knowledge that the more premium a seat is, the more you have to pay. Further, if the game pits two powerhouses or rivals against each other, then you’ll be paying even more.

I’m not sure if Roberts was complaining about the price, but what we see here is not an economic complaint per se, but a complaint about the worth of American college football. Roberts never says how many games he had attended in his lifetime, but he must have attended enough to know their worth (in his eyes). It’s worth noting that Roberts attended Cornell University [1908], so he more than likely attended games against Ivy Schools like Yale, Dartmouth, and Harvard. Back in his day, the big games were played by the Ivy Schools.

Coaches’ Salaries

There are no long intermissions, nor do the players leave the field to receive the mental stimulus of a pep talk from a $10,000 coach (160).

This is perhaps my favorite quote from Roberts in “Oxford Oddities.” Complaints about how much college football coaches today abound. Just last month Jimbo Fisher was given the highest paid contract with Texas A&M at $75 million for 10 years. Though college football is an “amateur” sport, the amount of money raked in by football programs leave many skeptical about the “amateur” nature of the sport. Complaints about coach salaries, then, are the norm today.

Complaints about money and college football, however, is not a new phenomenon. The quote just given is in the context of Roberts’ discussion of intermission at rugby games. Where American college football games have lengthy intermissions (too long for Roberts’ liking, apparently), rugby has a very short intermission where teams don’t even leave the field. In the midst of discussing rugby intermission, Roberts slides in a comment about the state of American college football.

The coach, who is seen worthy of a $10,000 contract, does little more than give students a “mental stimulus of a pep talk” at half time. Obviously, in Roberts’ opinion, college football coaches are grossly overpaid.  [$10,000 is nothing today. However, if Google can be trusted, the average salary in 1935 was $1,600/year. Some college coaches, then, were paid almost 10 times more than the average American.]

On American Football

It was as fast and exciting a contest as I ever saw, and more exciting than 90 percent of the big American football games I have seen (161).

If Roberts’ attitude toward American college football was not apparent enough, he makes himself crystal clear by claiming the rugby game was more exciting than practically every American college football games he’d witnessed before. Such an assertion is anathema today, and even then.

Though I’m a Roberts fan, this is one thing I just don’t get. I grew up in Louisiana, where LSU football was (and is) king. SEC football reigns in the South, just as college football reigns in many parts of America. To put non-major sports – like rugby – above college football is…well…it’s just unheard of. But, for Roberts, rugby was more watchable than college football, and he could careless about the national sentiment about college football.

And so we have a look into Roberts’ view of American college football. Quite an interesting peak into the man Kenneth Roberts on a topic we normally do not see him address.

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Rocky Pastures: Is Kenneth Roberts’ Home Finally Sold?

If you have followed this site for a while, you may recall a series of posts I did in 2012 on the Designer Show House held at Kenneth Roberts’ estate in July of 2012. The house had been on the market for a while, and the show was to highlight area designers as well as the famous Maine author’s home.

Despite the home’s beauty and stature, Roberts’ pride and joy had been on the market for quite some time. Yesterday I stumbled across the LandVest blog, where a post dated 7/31/2015 highlights Kenneth Roberts’ and his estate, informing readers that they can “own a piece of history.”

LandVest’s blog post got me to thinking about the status of the sale; in the busyness of my teaching and other research, I’ve honestly forgotten to check up on whether the home has sold or not. After a simple Google search, it appears that after long while, Roberts’ Rocky Pastures may have a new owner.

Dated July 28, 2017, the Portland Press Herald published an article titled “Patrick Dempsey is getting boxing lessons from a Portland firefighter (by Ray Routhier). The article primarily focuses on the fact that Patrick Dempsey has been seen around southern Maine. He’d been working out with a Portland firefighter, who is training him how to box. Routhier suggests that Dempsey’s training is in preparation for an upcoming movie role (if you recall, Dempsey is most well-known for his role in Grey’s Anatomy).

What’s of interest to this site is Routhier’s discussion of speculation that Dempsey had recently bought a home in Kennebunkport. Per Routhier,

Dempsey has been seen in southern Maine a lot more than usual this year, especially around Kennebunkport. Locals have posted pictures of him in town on Facebook announcing him as a new neighbor. Richard West, a real estate agent, posted a picture in June saying that Dempsey had bought a summer home a half-mile from his house and that “he is a welcomed addition to Kennbunkport.”

Though no one would confirm where Dempsey bought his home, but after some digging, Routhier suggests that Dempsey is the new owner of Kenneth Roberts’ Rocky Pastures.

An estate in Kennebunkport known as Rocky Pastures, once owned by noted Maine writer Kenneth Roberts, was sold last December for $3.15 million and many speculate Dempsey is the new owner.

The owner is listed in Kennebunkport records as RPF, LLC, with an address of 9100 Wilshire Boulevard, 1000 West, Beverly Hills, California. Two publicists who have worked with Dempsey are listed at that address, as is Grant, Tani, Barash and Altman, a financial management firm that has been linked to him in published reports.

Though I’ve not been able to see any more recent publications affirming Routhier’s claim, it appears that all signs point to Dempsey being the new tenant of Rocky Pastures. If this is true, I wish Dempsey the best, and hope that he helps to carry on the memory of one of America’s greatest authors.

 

Kenneth Roberts in the News: Northwest Passage and Historical Town Markers

I believe that I can safely assert that Kenneth Roberts is no longer nationally known like he was just 50 years ago. I know that I had not heard of him growing up; it wasn’t until 1992 or so – as a junior in high school – that I picked up Rabble in Arms on a whim for a book report. Despite his lack of national recognition today, however, he is still known around his old stomping grounds of New England, particularly Maine and New Hampshire (at least Portsmouth, NH). Bookstores in the area carry rare copies of his books, news sites and libraries occasionally will write up a nostalgia piece on Roberts or his work. There was even an interior decorator event that took place at Roberts’ estate, Rocky Pastures back in 2012. In short, the memory of Roberts is alive and well in New England.

Portsmouth, NH; By http://maps.bpl.org – Bird’s eye view of Portsmouth, Rockingham Co., New Hampshire

What I find interesting when it comes to New England’s memory of Roberts is not so much of what they remember of the man; rather, it is in how they use their memories of him. For instance, J. Dennis Robinson at Seacoastonline.com recently penned a piece on an historical area in Portsmouth, NH. As is the case with many cities and towns in America, developers are wanting to transform a historical section of Portsmouth – the McIntyre block – with modern condos and posh hotels. In doing so, the developers will seek to “honor” the history of the McIntyre block (I place honor in quotes because – let’s face it – most developers care less about history and more about the almighty dollar).

In his piece, Robinson recounts the various buildings that stood in the McIntyre block, the people who bequeathed the land to Portsmouth, and other important historical notes of the area. In doing so, Robinson seeks to remind the citizens of Portsmouth that the building there are more than just buildings – they are physical reminders of where the town has been and of who they are (in light of their past).

Stoodley’s Tavern, courtesy WalkPortsmouth.blogspot.com

I found Robinson’s piece interesting (as one who is unfamiliar with Portsmouth history) in various ways, but particularly in his conjuring up of Kenneth Roberts. Earlier, I noted that it is interesting how New Englanders remember Roberts; Robinson serves as an excellent illustration. One building that was a part of the McIntyre block was an old tavern called Stoodley’s Tavern, which was once owned by a ranger with Roger’s Rangers. To help his readers “remember” this tavern, Robinson points to the tavern’s key role in Roberts’ Northwest Passage:

Stoodley’s Tavern is a key setting in the novel “Northwest Passage” by Kenneth Roberts, and in a 1940 Hollywood film of the same name. Technically, the historic visit by Robert Rogers depicted in the book and film took place at Stoodley’s first tavern on State Street. But his Daniel Street establishment was visited by Paul Revere as Portsmouth citizens planned their raid on Fort William and Mary at New Castle in 1774.

It’s one thing for a fan of Roberts to point out this connection; it’s quite another to use the reference of Northwest Passage as a memory marker in a publicized article. It goes to show that there are still readers out there who are well-versed enough to catch Robinson’s reference.

Kenneth Roberts’ Memorabilia: Roberts’ Inscription in Antiquamania

A running theme throughout this website is the joy of finding a steal – a Kenneth Roberts’ work in great condition, a hard-to-find work, and even a signed copy of his work. One particular work that is difficult find is his Antiquamania, published in 1928 by Doublday, Doran, & Company. Much harder to find is a signed copy of Antiquamania. According to Roberts in his autobiography – I Wanted to Write – he published the book on antiques while in Italy (the period during which he was building the “American Wing” of his house in Italy). He says of Antiquamania:

even though delightfully illustrated with drawings by Mr. Tarkington, [it] was as unproductive as the other volumes had been. Its circulation was 1,165 (181).

Recently, some new Kenneth Roberts fans – Melissa and Drew – emailed me a picture of their recently acquired copy of Antiquamania that was signed and inscribed by Kenneth Roberts. See the image below (posted with permission):

The inscription reads:

Rare old Currier & Ives print, Flying Ants in September, discovered by Professor Kilgallen is an Arundel lumber pile and presented to Paul Allen by Kenneth Roberts.

Hanover, N.H./October 11, 1937

It appears that the picture at the top of the page is the Currier & Ives print discussed in the inscription. If I had to guess, Roberts’ humor shines forth here, matching the humor of the book itself.

Now, I’m no expert on handwriting, much less Roberts’ signature, but the signature and inscription above appear legit.

In a recent post, I’d posted pictures of signatures that I have (and know to be real), and another signature that I have that appeared to be forged (see the post here). The image on the top is the signature I’m confident is real, and the one on the bottom is the questionable one:

This is a Roberts signature located in a presentation copy of Boon Island.

This is the imprint and signature found in the book I received recently.

After that post, I had someone email me questioning my assertion, and now I am not so confident that the signature is a forgery. I’m not 100% confident it’s Roberts’ signature and inscription, though. I do know that Roberts’ wife Anna helped him considerably in his work, so it’s perhaps Anna’s writing on behalf of Kenneth Roberts (note the “of” in the inscription, as if the writer is writing in the third person. This is not something that someone would do if writing in the first person.). However, I do not have a way of knowing for sure right now. Hopefully more on this later, though!

Kenneth Roberts in the News: New Hampshire’s Mystery Stone

The longer you study a person and their work, the more you’re surprised where they pop up. Today, I came across an article written by Ray Duckler at the Concord Monitor, titled “The Mystery Stone Remains a Mystery. What Do You Think?“, dated April 27, 2017.

In this article, Duckler discusses a mysterious stone discovered by Seneca Ladd in 1872 in a New Hampshire field. The stone is egg-shaped and contains several images sculpted on the surface of the stone. Duckler provides a helpful summary:

It has eight carvings on four sides, including an oval face that looks like a TV alien; an ear of corn and a circle with what looks like a deer’s leg and hoof, a crown-shaped figure and what might be a bee inside the circle; intersecting arrows, a crescent shape (moon?), dots and a spiral, and a teepee above a perfectly rounded circle.

(To avoid any copyright infringement, see the images provided in the article linked above.)

The stone has been of interest since its discovery, even attracting the attention of Kenneth Roberts. According to Duckler, Kenneth Roberts “wrote about it.” Unfortunately, that’s all Duckler says of Roberts. We’re not told when Roberts wrote about the stone, or where he wrote about it. What is the title of the work containing Roberts’ discussion of the stone? And so on….

So, I am left with a mystery about the Mystery Stone…where does Roberts write about this object of interest? I am on the hunt, so hopefully there will be more to share soon!

Kenneth Roberts’ Memorabilia: Roberts’ Signature

Collecting the works of one’s favorite author goes well beyond the mere collection of any book written by the author. Serious collectors prize first-edition copies and pre-release copies. Even within this narrow scope, signed copies are more valued than unsigned copies. Thus, greater monetary value is placed upon signed first-edition or signed pre-release copies because the demand can be high.

Verifying the signature of an author long-deceased can be difficult. There tends to be fewer samples of their signature, and with the passage of time, those who knew the author (and their signature) become fewer and fewer. As such, it is easier for forged signatures to be passed off as genuine signatures. This is just as true with Kenneth Roberts’ signed books.

Before I go forward with this post, I must make a disclaimer – I am in no way an expert on Kenneth Roberts’ signature. I have only two samples of his signature. However, I have communicated with others who have his signature and have seen (via reputable websites) images of his signature to be able to recognize a legitimate signature and a forgery.

With that said, I recently received a copy of a Roberts book that contains a copy of Roberts’ signed name and an inscription. The individual who sent me the book informed me that the particular signed copy was in their uncle’s personal library (but no story on how he received the book). The uncle was an author himself and “a Son of the American Revolution, a member of the New York Historical Society, a descendent of the Schuyler families in New York and an avid reader and collector of History books and manuscripts…He was an expert on New York history.” I was excited to receive the book.

Upon the book’s arrival, I eagerly opened the signed copy, only to find that the signature did not seem to match the signatures of Kenneth Roberts that I’ve seen. The book also contained an inscription, and the message did not fit the tone and wording Roberts typically used. Below are images of two Roberts’ signature that I have – signatures that match many other verified Roberts’ signatures.

This is a Roberts signature located in a presentation copy of Boon Island.

Roberts’ signature on Oliver Wiswell 2 vol Limited Edition copy, 468/1050

Now, here is the inscription and signature of the book I recently received (I’ll call it the ‘questionable signature’):

This is the inscription and signature found in the book I received recently.

There are a few things to note regarding the differences:

  1. The questionable signature has a more flowing nature to it.
    1. The underscore starts high and has quick, short “swoop” down as the line continues to the right. Roberts has been known to underscore his signature, but the line is more straight with a slight downward tick at the end. Roberts’ lines are more “matter of fact”, where as the line in question has some flair to it.
    2. The first name and last name in the questionable signature are connected by the crossbar of the “t” in “Kenneth”. The crossbar crosses the “t” and continues into the “R” in “Roberts.” Roberts’ signature never does that. Further, the “R” in the questionable signature has a rather large loop before going into the “r’s” leg. Kenneth Roberts’ “r” has a very ill-defined and small loop.
    3. Note the “n’s” in “Kenneth” in the questionable signature. They are similar to the genuine signatures in that they have “peaks”. However, the similarities end there. With Roberts’ signature, there is the first “n” with its peaks, then a “valley” preceding the second “n” (with its peaks); one is able to distinguish between the two “n’s” in his first name. With the questionable signature, there is no “valley” between the two “n’s”. Rather, there are four consecutive “peaks” with no “valley”. Thus, there is little to no distinction between the two “n’s”.
    4. Kenneth Roberts’ signature has a distinctive “z” look to the “e” following the cursive “b” in “Roberts.” In the first two images, note how the “e” coming off the cursive “b” looks like an elevated cursive “z”. However, in the questionable signature, the “e” that follows the cursive “b” looks as a cursive “e” should.
    5. The “o” in Roberts’ genuine signature is not connected by the following “b”, whereas the “o” in the questionable signature is connected to the following “b”.
    6. The “b” in Roberts’ genuine signature looks like a malformed capital “V”, with the left side higher than the right side. The “b” in the questionable signature is a well-formed cursive “b.”
    7. The “th” in “Kenneth” varies as well. The genuine signature has a “pointy” “h”, whereas the questionable signature’s “h” has it’s appropriate loop and hump.
    8. Finally note the cross at the end of Roberts’ name in the questionable signature. Roberts has used a similar mark in some of his signatures (note the second image above). However, Roberts’ mark tends to be a compact, lower-case “x” as opposed to a cross.
  2. The inscription of the questionable signature does not sound like Kenneth Roberts:
    1. The first thing to note is that it is written as if someone else were writing on behalf of Roberts. The use of the definite article (the best wishes) and the possessive “of” (the best wishes of) give off red flags. An author, when signing a book, rarely (if ever?) writes in the third person (unless they are George Costanza).  I am not familiar with Roberts regularly writing an inscription; he generally reserved inscriptions for close friends or colleagues. Roberts’ normal practice was to just sign his name.
    2. Kenneth Roberts’ tone with other people (outside of his writings) were direct and to the point. Reading his I Wanted to Write and For Authors Only and Other Gloomy Essays indicate that he was a private man who had little time for fans and strangers. Further, he was an impatient man and disliked small talk or anything that lacked purpose. His personality is seen in his signature – the choppy, pointy nature to his signature point to a man with little time for ensuring a picturesque signature. The questionable signature, on the other hand, indicates someone who gives attention and care to one’s signature. Roberts’ signature says “Let’s get this over with”, whereas the questionable signature says “I care about you and want to give you a memento worth keeping.”

Because I’m no handwriting expert, I don’t want to call the last image a forgery. It is possible that someone inscribed the book with the intention of granting best wishes in the name of Kenneth Roberts, not on behalf of Roberts or as Roberts. That is, the inscription and signature were not written to be passed off as Roberts’ own. However, the way the inscription and signature appear gives me the impression that this is more than likely not the case; instead, it is a poor attempt at passing off a Kenneth Roberts’ signature.

First Edition Books: For Authors Only

D/J Front – For Authors Only 1st Ed

For Authors Only and Other Gloomy Essays is one of my favorite books by Kenneth Roberts. The reader gets a clear picture of Roberts’ sense of humor and quick wit, and his views on a variety of matters (like British mystery novels). For any fan of Roberts, his For Authors Only is a must-read to get a full picture of Roberts the man and his writing style. (The first edition was published in 1935 (MCMXXXV).)

As is normally the case, I tend to find Kenneth Roberts books in the least likely places. Today, while in Half Price Books, I found a 1st Edition copy of For Authors Only. I already have a copy of this book, but the book I found today is in pristine condition. More so, the dust jacket is in near perfect condition with no visible tears and only one small area of slight fading. The gold and blue colors are vibrant and beautiful, protected by a dust jacket cover.

The cover boards and spine are also in near perfect condition. Typically, I find Roberts books that are showing considerable wear; however, today’s find is as if it has not seen the light of day. The cover has no wear or tear (with only a small area of bubbling), and the embossing is nearly intact.

Considering the condition of this book, I am quite impressed with my find. I only paid $7, and after some brief research, the book is worth well more than that (on abebooks.com, I found a book of in a condition less than what I have, and unsigned, at $185). So, moral of the story – search your bargain book stores!

Below is a collection of photos I’ve taken of the dust jacket (primarily) and the front/back boards.

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