Kenneth Roberts in Current News: Rick Salutin’s “Simcoe Day”

Today’s installment of “Kenneth Roberts in Current News” comes to you from http://www.rabble.ca in an article by Rick Salutin titled “Simcoe Day: How Should We Celebrate a Myopic Vision of Canada,” published on 8/4/2014. The subject of the article is John Graves Simcoe who, according to wikipedia.org, was a British army officer and, from 1791-1796, the first Lieutenant Governor of Upper Canada. Simcoe was also instrumental in helping establish what is now Toronto and in “introducing institutions such as the courts, trial by jury, English common law, freehold land tenure, and the abolition of slavery” (wikipedia.org/wiki/john_graves_simcoe).

Salutin’s article provides a brief summary of Simcoe’s contributions to Canada, as well as his tribulations. In addition to the accomplishments listed above, Simcoe was “accused of atrocities, always hard to sort out in wartime, like massacring prisoners and trying to assassinate Washington” (Salutin, para. 4). After being captured in the British defeat at Yorktown, he was shipped back to England where he married an heiress and began his political career. He would eventually seek to make Canada a recreation of “genteel English society,” which would serve as a “beacon for the U.S., who’d forsake their own revolution and rejoin the Empire” (Salutin, para. 4).

Earlier this year, AMC aired Turn: Washington’s Spies, which tells of”‘America’s first spy network'” during the Revolutionary War. In the show, Simcoe is depicted as a “magnificent British villain…he sneers, he taunts, he tortures, he kills” (Salutin, para. 2). Salutin confesses that, despite being an “Ontario history buff,” he was not aware that Simcoe was a player in the American Revolutionary War (Salutin, para. 2). Yet, he was aware of the United Empire Loyalists – those Americans who settled in British colonies (in particular Canada) during or after the Revolutionary War (wikipedia.org/wiki/united_empire_loyalists).

Salutin recounts that he first heard of the United Empire Loyalists and their creating “Anglo Canada after the revolution” from Kenneth Roberts’ Oliver Wiswell which he read when in high school. He also notes that he read Rabble in Arms as well. An interesting connection between Simcoe and Kenneth Roberts that Salutin brings out is that Simcoe “took over a renowned/infamous unit called Roger’s Rangers (Roberts also wrote a novel on them) and renamed them the Queen’s Rangers. Their colours sit in Fort York today” (Salutin, para. 3).

Salutin’s description of Roberts does little justice to Roberts’ contribution to American history and historical fiction writing. Salutin says of Roberts: “Roberts was a cranky conservative in the heyday of American liberalism” (Salutin, para. 2). While Roberts’ cantankerousness and his strong conservative views are well-documented, Salutin’s description really accomplishes nothing in his brief discussion of Roberts works; I fail to see what connection he tries to make here.[1] Nevertheless, I believe that Salutin highlights a point about Kenneth Roberts’ works – despite their having been written over a half-century ago, they are still of historical value even today. While Roberts’ conservative views may be outdated, the historical contribution he made to American history stands the test of time.

Though Salutin laments how Canadians sometimes have to learn from Americans about Canadian history, I appreciate his article, for its Canadian author has taught this American something he did not know about American history.

 

[1] Rick Salutin’s bio on rabble.ca states that “he is a strong advocate of left wing causes” (http://rabble.ca/category/bios/contributor/columnist/rick-salutin). It’s common when one writes on someone of opposing views to make some remark that distances himself from his subject. Perhaps Salutin’s comment is such an attempt. Still, his remark does not serve the point he seeks to make, particularly in the paragraph in which his remark occurs. It is true that one cannot separate the subject’s personal beliefs and views from their works, there are instances such as this where can focus on the subject’s work apart from their overarching worldview. If the article touched on issues of race and immigration (issues on which I strongly disagree with Roberts), for instance, then it would be fair for Salutin to make the remark he does in “Simcoe Day.”

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Kenneth Roberts Memorabilia: 1938 Parker Pen Ad

Today, July 18, is my birthday. As I’ve grown older, and especially when my two youngest daughters were born five days and 10 days after my birthday, I have become rather specific and picky as to what I want for my birthday. Yes, I still get birthday gifts, but I don’t expect to get a lot of gifts (as one does when they are a child); rather, some money to go to Half Price Books or to go to Music-G0-Round for my drums usually fits the bill. However, the previous fourteen birthdays have primarily been gifts toward books for my education. Occasionally would I get something for my drum set or a book that was outside the realm of my studies.

Parker Vacumatic pen ad featuring Kenneth Roberts in 1938

Parker Vacumatic pen ad featuring Kenneth Roberts in 1938

This year is different, however, as I am no longer in school.  I found a couple of Kenneth Roberts items on the web and pointed them out to my wife. One item that I received today for my birthday is a great ad from 1938. It is an ad for Parker Vacumatic pens featuring Kenneth Roberts. This ad is perfect for me in two ways: first, I am obviously a big Kenneth Roberts fan. Second, I really like old Parker pens. I have two Parker 51 pens that are still in working condition, and a Parker 61 pen/pencil set that has never been used (by the way, be sure to visit Parker51.com – a wonderful site on everything Parker 51). So, the Parker Vacumatic ad really combines two things like enjoy collecting: Kenneth Roberts works and old fountain pens (particularly Parker pens).

Several features about this ad stand out. First, it links a best-selling author with the use of a best-selling pen. Roberts had just published the best-selling Northwest Passage in 1937, and by using his likeness, Parker was riding Roberts’ wave of popularity. Behind Roberts’ picture is the first page of Roberts’ manuscript for Northwest Passage. The caption to the left of Roberts’ image reads:

In drafting the manuscript of Northwest Passage, his great novel of French and Indian wars and the gargantuan Major Robert Rogers, Kenneth Roberts wrote more than 2,000,000 words with his Parker Vacumatic; then rewrote and altered his rough draft to its final version of 300,000 words. The same unfailing pen helped Mr. Roberts create his famous portraits of Cap Huff and Benedict Arnold in Arundel and Rabble in Arms; King Dick, Capt. Boyle and Daniel Marvin in Lively Lady and Captain Caution.

While the ad’s mention of Roberts’ manuscript’s 2,000,000 words clearly intends to highlight the Parker Vacumatic’s durability and reliability, it also points to Roberts’ detailed and diligent work he put into his novels. Having just finished a dissertation that entailed editing and revising, I just cannot fathom writing 2,000,000 words, only to cut out 85% percent for a final tally of 300,000. I cringe at such a thought.

A second feature that stands out is the small print to the lower left-hand side of the ad. In small print, one reads:

 No payment has been or will be made to Mr. Roberts, for the use of his name in this advertisement; and the Parker Pen Company, at his and to show its appreciation, will this summer provide funds to send a welfare worker with the Grenfell Mission to Labrador.

No doubt Roberts had every right to accept money from Parker for the use of his name and image; however, I find that this statement sheds light on a side of Kenneth Roberts that is often overshadowed by his outspoken personality. (For information on the Grenfell Mission, visit this link. The mission was started by Wilfred Grenfell to establish permanent medical care in Labrador and the surrounding area.)

This ad is an amazing piece of history, particularly in the information one can glean about Kenneth Roberts the man. So, when looking through old magazines, don’t ignore the old ads. You never know what you may discover!

March to QuebecP.S. I stated above that I found a couple of items on the web. The second item is a first edition copy of March to Quebec with the dust jacket, both in good condition. I’m very excited about this find as well; I’ve been looking for this book for quite some time in antique stores, used book stores, etc., and could not find it. So, I had to resort to the web (thank you abebooks.com!). Nevertheless, I am excited and have it on my nightstand as we speak, waiting to be read.

Northwest Passage (1940) Movie Trailer

Things have been too quiet here on the website – that will soon change after the first week of March when my comps are complete.  In the meantime, enjoy the official movie trailer for the Spencer Tracy film Northwest Passage (1940).  I’ve been hunting for a copy of the movie lately, but have been unsuccessful in finding a copy, so here’s the next best thing until I locate a copy. Enjoy!

Northwest Passage (1940) Official Trailer

Boston 1775 on Major Robert Rogers

Major Robert Rogers

With some sadness, I am going to place this site on a quasi-hibernation as I prepare for my Ph. D. comprehensive exams in March.  I’ll occasionally write a post, but I will save any serious posts for after my comps.  In the meantime, take a look at Boston 1775‘s post titled: “A Negro servant Man, belonging to Major Robert Rogers.” While the post does not mention or discuss Kenneth Roberts, it highlights an aspect of a character in one of Kenneth Roberts’ more famous novels, Northwest Passage.  It’s information like this that helps to bring alive the historical figures in Roberts’ novels.

In addition to reading this post, I encourage you to look through the entire Boston 1775 site; it’s a joy to read for all lovers of early American history, primarily in the pre-Revolutionary and Revolutionary time period.

Kenneth Roberts on the Film “Northwest Passage” (1940)

I have yet to write a book, and if I do have the opportunity to author something worth publishing, I highly doubt that Hollywood will come knocking down my doors asking to do a film based upon my book.  I am quite fine with that.  If one considers the sheer number of books published each year compared to the number of movies produced based upon a book, the number of these kinds of movies is quite small.  With that in mind, it would seem the author of the book would be quite honored to have a film produced on his own work.  But that is not the case with Kenneth Roberts and the 1940 Northwest Passage with Spencer Tracey.

My correspondence with Tracey Levasseur (see recent post on the envelope addressed to Roberts) reminded me of Roberts’ disdain for Hollywood – a disdain that comes through in Chapter 1 of his I Wanted To Write.

With the publication of Northwest Passage, I had my first direct – a profoundly depressing – contact with cinema circles.

When MGM began to produce the screen production of Northwest Passage, Roberts sarcastically notes that they were lacking “in technical knowledge concerning the uniforms and behavior of Rogers’ Rangers.”  Instead of contacting Roberts, the studio employed the help of a “Miss Dorothy Vaughan, librarian of the Portsmouth, New Hampshire, Public Library,” who in turn sought out Kenneth Roberts’ answers to the studios questions!  She would relay Roberts’ answers to the studio, who would then, according to Roberts, end up using “their own conceptions, which were nauseatingly incorrect.”

In regards to the screenplay writing of Northwest Passage, Roberts states that the screenplay went through four different writers.  And when all was said and done, the silver screen version differed greatly from the novel:

…the dauntless and hard-boiled leader of the original Rangers had horribly turned into the sort of person who bursts into tears at a crucial moment of an arduous expedition; a woman character, shrewish and a harridan, had become a sweet and mealy-mouthed nonentity; all motivation had been discarded; the book’s thesis had ceased to exist; its essential portion, on which the name of the book and the film were based, was ignored; and a Hollywood flavor was added by introducing a sequence stolen from Arundel.

In our correspondence, Tracey pointed out that tt’s no wonder, then, that no “Part II” followed the 1940 film (recall that “Part I” was part of the 1940 film). It is probably a reason why, she surmises, why his works are still under copyright – to protect them from being mishandled by Hollywood producers.

Kenneth Roberts in Hollywood: Northwest Passage (1940) on Smithsonianmag.com “Reel Culture”

Lobby card for Northwest Passage. Spencer Tracy (center) and Robert Young (right).  Picture courtesy of Smithsonianmag.com<br />

It seems that the Hollywood rendition of Kenneth Roberts’ Northwest Passage made the rounds in the blogosphere in 2012.  Today we meet up with Smithsonian.com‘s “Reel Culture” in which they ask: “Where are the great Revolutionary War films?”  Noting the film industry’s success in making blockbuster films of the US’s past (particularly of the Western frontier days and the Civil War), the number of great movies on America’s Revolutionary War is quite small.  “Reel Culture” provides one possible reason for the apparent lack of films honoring America’s struggle for nationhood:

Part of the problem is due to our general ignorance of the times….Designers had little experience with costumes and sets from eighteenth century America, and few collections to draw from. Screenwriters had trouble grappling with events and themes of the Revolution. A few incidents stood out: the Boston Tea Party, Paul Revere’s midnight ride, the Minutemen. But how do you condense the Constitutional Congress to a feature-film format?

Though the number of Revolutionary War films are small in number, “Reel Culture” lists various attempts by filmmakers to chronicle this crucial time in our nation’s history, such as 1776, Revolution, and The Patriot (among others).  And, more importantly to this website, the author of the blog post lists Northwest Passage among Revolutionary War films.  Though the setting does not occur during the Revolutionary War, the author justifies the inclusion of this film as such:
Yes, it’s the wrong war and the wrong enemy, and King Vidor’s film drops half of Kenneth Roberts’ best-selling novel set in the French and Indian War. But this account of Major Robert Rogers and his rangers is one of Hollywood’s better adventures. MGM spent three years on the project, going through over a dozen writers and a number of directors. Location filming in Idaho involved over 300 Indians from the Nez Perce reservation. By the time it was released in 1940, its budget had doubled.Most of the action involves a trek by Rogers and his men up Lake George and Lake Champlain, ostensibly to rescue hostages but in reality to massacre an Indian encampment. Vidor and his crew capture the excruciating physical demands of dragging longboats over a mountain range and marching through miles of swamp, and also show the graphic effects of starvation. Spencer Tracy gives a bravura performance as Rogers, and he receives excellent support from Robert Young and Walter Brennan.

While films depicting Roberts’ works shared some time in the spotlight, Roberts was not a fan of his works making it to the silver screen.  And it is with this thought that I will begin what I hope to be a fun, interesting series: Kenneth Roberts in Hollywood.  In an upcoming post, we will take a look at Roberts’ attitude toward Hollywood taking on his novels.

Kenneth Roberts in the Blogosphere: Monster Mania and the Northwest Passage

HT: Monster Mania

Though I’ve been a big Kenneth Roberts fan for over twenty years, have sought to own and read all of his books, and began a website devoted to the man and his works, I must confess (ashamedly) that I have never watched the movies based upon his books.  I am not a big fan of movies made in the 1940s-1960s (probably the time period in which movies based on Roberts’ books were produced), and I am not much of a movie fan in general, so I have been reluctant to watch these movies. Perhaps the biggest reason for my reluctance is that I am afraid that I would find the movies too cheesy and/or ruining what Roberts set out to do in his books.  Nevertheless, I know I must watch these movies at some point, but I’ll wait until my Ph. D. is over.

Thankfully, there are blogs and websites that spend time reviewing these movies, and today I would like to highlight Monster Mania, who provides a brief summary of the 1940 film of Northwest Passage starring Spencer Tracy.  What I found interesting is that this was to be a two-part movie series (hence the “Part I” in the title).  For whatever reason, no second part was produced.  (The reason why would be hunt down and know!)  I appreciate the post as it offers a review from a cinematography aspect and numerous screenshots of the movie itself.  Take some time to read this post and enjoy!

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