• Follow me on Twitter

  • Kenneth Roberts FB Page

  • Like this blog?

    Add to Technorati Favorites
  • Meta

  • Advertisements

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.

Advertisements

Kenneth Roberts the Man: On So-Called Experts

(This post is similar to a  post from 3 years ago, though here I hope to point out something I didn’t then.  The quote below also appears in that post in a much shorter form.)

As one reads through Kenneth Roberts’ essays, she will notice his disgust with the so-called experts of his day on issues such as planting, fishing, and diets.  The way in which he directs his disgust towards them, though, is quite humorous as he makes himself the ignorant, hapless soul (regarding whatever topic he is discussing) while mentioning the experts and their views in rather glowing, hyperbolic language.    The result is akin to the philosopher’s tool of reductio ad absurdum: the picture Roberts’ paints in reality makes the “expert” look rather silly and ignorant while Roberts emerges from the essay unscathed by the fad of the day.

Perhaps the best illustration of Roberts’ method is presented in a quote from his essay “An Inquiry Into Diets” found in his For Authors Only and The Kenneth Roberts Reader:

One of the foremost diet books says that if a person follows the proper diet, he becomes tranquil, thoughtful, and philosophic; overwork is impossible; business worries are unknown; irritation vanishes.  It was all too clear to me that I was in a bad way; for whenever my eye struck a newspaper report of the activities of the House of Representatives, I became irritated.  Almost everything that was done in the House of Representatives seemed irritating…

When I read about such things, I not only become irritated: I become profane – so profane that my language sometimes shocks even myself.

This, of course, is another sure indication of acidosis.  If I were on a proper diet, nothing could imitate me.  I would remain tranquil and philosophic while reading about the House of Representatives.  I would continue  to be tranquil and philosophic, event though the House of Representatives should be successful in its efforts to bring the nation to insolvency and ruin.

I may as well be frank.  The diet books had me, to put it crudely, scared (In The Kenneth Roberts Reader, 88-89).

And such is Roberts’ attitude toward dieticians in this particular example, and to so-called experts on the whole.    In a day when it seems we’re inundated with a cacophony of voices telling us what to do, it is somewhat refreshing to know that this is nothing new, but has gone on for quite some time.  And in the midst of the noise of self-proclaimed experts, Kenneth Roberts added his voice among those voices calling people back to common sense and reason.

Kenneth Roberts in the Blogosphere: “Laudator Temporis Acti ” on K.R. and Beans

Since bringing this blog out from hibernation, I’ve noticed that I have some posts that have been sitting in the hopper for almost 2 1/2 years.  One I thought worthy of bring forth is mention of a blog post from Michael Gilleland’s Laudator Temporis Acti  in which a brief list is given of the number of instances Kenneth Roberts wrote on baked beans, ranging from his writings of his grandma’s kitchen in Good Maine Food, to his essay titledAn Inquiry into Diets, and throughout his various novels.

Kenneth Roberts was unashamedly fond of food, particularly his grandmother’s food, which seemed to be his standard for anything he ate. He loved his grandmother’s ketchup (“I became almost a ketchup drunkard; for when I couldn’t get it, I yearned for it.” “Grandma’s Kitchen in The Kenneth Roberts’ Reader).  He even gave detailed instructions on how she made the ketchup. 

Roberts was also fond of his grandmother’s baked beans (the subject of Gilleland’s post), for which he provides instructions on how to prepare.  He introduces the instructions with the following:

To bake one’s own beans, in these enlightened days of canned foods, is doubtless too much trouble, particularly if the cook wishes to spend her Saturday afternoons motoring, playing bridge, or attending football games (“Grandma’s Kitchen”)

Roberts’ sharp wit and dry sense of humor extends beyond the current events of his day to food and its preparation!  Interestingly, while appreciation for Roberts’ work in historical fiction has waned over the years (with exceptions, of course), it seems the web is abuzz over Roberts’ writings on food.  Hopefully one’s exposure to Roberts’ writings on food opens their eyes to his other works.

Rocky Pastures: Kenneth Roberts’ Secluded Hideaway – Sort Of

Rocky Pastures' entrance gates. Courtesy Paula Robinson-Rossouw

Rocky Pastures is nesteled in the woods of Southern Maine, offering privacy and seclusion from the masses for Kenneth Roberts – or so he thought.  According to the editor of The Kenneth Roberts Reader, Nelson Doubleday, the driveway leading to Roberts’ home is half a mile long.  This driveway, however, was not enough to deter vacationers and curious fans, so Roberts installed two directionboards.  According to Doubleday, one sign read “PRIVATE: DEAD END ROAD, NARROW AND DANGEROUS: PLEASE DON’T TRESPASS,” and the other read “NOT A PUBLIC ROAD” (Kenneth Roberts Reader, viii n. 2). 

Unfortunately for Roberts, the long driveway and the ominous directionboards did not work.  Doubleday tells us that “Ken says cynically that summer vacationists persistently ignore both signs” (Kenneth Roberts Reader, viii n. 2).   While it may seem ironic that Rocky Pastures will soon be visited by many people, Paula Robinson-Rossouw says that:

Given his very dry sense of humor, I’m sure Kenneth Roberts would have appreciated the irony of his sanctuary being opened to the public for the first time! What he disliked most about idle sightseers was the fact that they disturbed his intensive writing schedule, but he did open the grounds of Rocky Pastures once to demonstrate Henry Gross’s water dowsing skills. I’m sure Kenneth Roberts would be happy to know that his beautiful estate is helping to raise funds for the Kennebunkport Historical Society. After all, history was his great passion – along with dowsing.

Personally, I was not aware that Roberts had opened up his home to visitors at one time, but knowing how much he believed in Henry Gross’ ability, this makes sense.  What also makes sense is Roberts’ intense writing and research schedule, which explains his desire for seclusion from idle sightseers.  I wonder, though,  if the directionboards are still standing alongside the driveway to Rocky Pastures…

“The Kenneth Roberts Reader” & Ben Ames Williams

In a recent post regarding The Kenneth Roberts Reader, I posed the question about why Ben Ames Williams was chosen to write the introduction, and not Booth Tarkington.  Now, I realize in the grand scheme of things, the answer to this question has absolutely no bearing on anything; rather, this question is really a result of curiosity. 

I posed the question in an e-mail to Jack Bales, author of Kenneth Roberts and Kenneth Roberts: The Man and His Works, and to John at townsendbooks.com (he has a large collection of Kenneth Roberts books), below are their answers:

Jack Bales: Kenneth Roberts and Ben Ames Williams were actually close friends and often socialized together.  In fact, along with Booth Tarkington, B.A. Williams was one of Kenneth Roberts’ closest friends.  Jack Bales covers this friendship in his second book titled Kenneth Roberts.

John: Though he was somewhat unsure of the exact link, John states that it could have been a reciprocated favor, as Kenneth Roberts wrote an introduction for one of Williams’ books The Happy End (1939).

So, there you go!

 

When History, Landscape, and Billboards Collide: “Roads of Remembrance”

I’ve just finished reading Roberts’ “Roads of Remembrance,” an essay originally contained in For Authors Only and also in The Kenneth Roberts Reader.  This essay is typical Roberts in regards to his vivide language and detail, painting a picture for the reader of what Roberts’ is invisioning.  It is also his typical (from what I gather) disdain for the consumerism of his day that was quickly encroaching upon what he saw as real America.

In this particular essay, Roberts contrasts various trails and roads used in major battles and/or campaigns in colonial America, Revolutionary War, and the Civil War with the new (at that time) paved highways that overlay these old trails.  Roberts recounts the struggles and difficulties, victories and losses encountered on these roads and trails in early American history – all for the cause of freedom and for the good of America.  Yet, with the passage of time, these sacred grounds became paved over with asphalt roads and vandalized with billboards – the sign of the new America.

Roberts is not so much concerned about the paved roads as he is the number of billboards lining the roads, disrupting the beauty of the countryside for the sake of commercialism.  The account below gives the reader a clear glimpse into Roberts’ disdain for this (apparently) new form of advertisement:

…The billboard industry in Maine, indeed, contends that billboards are improvements on the scenery rather than affronts to nature.

Not long since a native of Maine spoke his mind concerning the state’s policy of spending large sums in advertising Maine’s scenery; then permitting it to be splotched with billboards.

The billboard industry made reply: ‘It is not true that the billboard industry is spoiling the scenery and that boards are being erected without regard to the effect they may have in ruining bits of beauty.  The billboard industry requires that all billboards erected shall be so designed as to be things of beauty rather than eyesores and blots upon the landscape, and to maintain a high standard in every essential detail.’

If I [i.e. Roberts] correctly understand this reply, it contends that a lemon pie – provided it be an artistic lemon pie – can be splashed against a Rembrandt or a Velasquez without damaging the artistic value of the painting; but to me it would seem pure vandalism.

K. Roberts, “Roads of Remembrance” in The Kenneth Roberts Reader, New York: Doubleday, 1945, 11.

Oh, what would Roberts say today, the, with the advent of the interstates – roads that no longer wind along with the landscape as highways did in his days, but now bulldoze right through the countryside, making a straight line (practically) from point A to point B to save on gas and time.  And to the point of Roberts’ essay, billboards are still around, probably taller, more numerous, and more of a blight on our land than in his day.

An excellent read for a Kenneth Roberts fan, and I would say even for one who enjoys history.  Roberts’ humor, wit and cynicism of pop-culture is in full display in this essay.

“The Kenneth Roberts Reader”: Ben Ames Williams Introduction

As stated in an earlier post (“The Kenneth Roberts Reader“), I wanted to find out why Ben Ames Williams was chosen to write the introduction for The Kenneth Roberts Reader.  Unfortunately, I’ve met the same fate I’ve met in finding info on Kenneth Roberts on the Web.  About the only imformative I’ve found thus far on Ben Ames Williams is this article from Answers.com.  However, Kenneth Roberts is mention only in passing (the context is that the author of this article states that B.A. Williams was one of the most popular authors of his generation along with K.R. and Hervey Allen).  It seems, so far as I can see, B. A. Williams was chosen because he was popular at the same time K.R. was popular, and probably also because Williams had tried his hand at historical fiction as well (House Divided, per Answers.com).

Hopfully more to come on this…

%d bloggers like this: