The “Reel” Lincoln

PPZIn 2010, Seth Grahame-Smith penned a future cult classic, one that Hollywood would waste no time in bringing to the big screen: Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. However, one year earlier, the unknown Grahame-Smith published what would become a best-selling cult novel, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. The generic mash-up gave Grahame-Smith, who had earned a degree in film from Emerson College, his first real literary success. The book, which lists Jane Austen as coauthor, was quickly optioned by a major film studio. Set to be released today (Feb. 5th, 2016), this adaptation brings Grahame-Smith’s first cinematic mash-up, and what these two movies mean, to the front of our minds.

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter was produced by Tim Burton and took the form of an action-horror hybrid that cast Lincoln as a secret assassin who battles vampires, destroying the creatures who feed on the blood of slaves, and with them the need for slavery itself. Although the film performed well in theaters, it was universally panned by critics, who objected not to its historical absurdity but rather to what they saw as a dearth of artistic merit. Whatever the critics thought, audiences loved it. After a half century without a major theatrically released film, Lincoln was back. And he was pissed.

Just four months after Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter appeared in theaters, audiences were offered a far more reverent Lincoln film. Rumors of a Spielberg-directed Lincoln picture had circulated in Hollywood for nearly a decade, ever since Spielberg had optioned the rights to Doris Kearns Goodwin’s 2005 biography, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln. The film was scripted by Tony Kushner and starred Daniel Day Lewis as Lincoln. The narrative focused on the final months of Lincoln’s life, including and especially the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment, the end of the Civil War, and the buildup to Lincoln’s assassination. To say that it was an enormous success, both financially and critically, would be an understatement. The film was nominated for dozens of awards, and it grossed nearly $300 million.cover

For the purposes of Lincoln before Lincoln, what matters more than the many stark and obvious differences between Spielberg’s Lincoln and Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is the one thing they share in common: a focus on Lincoln as the Great Emancipator. Beginning with D. W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation—an overtly racist film that laments the demise of the Confederacy and celebrates the formation of the Ku Klux Klan—Hollywood routinely minimized or simply ignored Lincoln’s role as the emancipator. As this book makes clear, Lincoln has enjoyed many incarnations: Savior of the Union, Great Commoner, and the First American, among others. Before 2012, Hollywood had celebrated them all but neglected one: Lincoln as the Great Emancipator.

Like the famous Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., Hollywood subtly reinforced the notion that freeing the slaves was not among Lincoln’s most significant achievements. By accident or design, American movies and miniseries routinely leave out or fabricate important information like in both Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter and Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. These historical revisions and powerful memory work likely to shape some high school English papers about Lincoln and Elizabeth Bennet tell us more about ourselves than the historical and fictional people they are about. Despite routinely leaving the emancipator on the cutting room floor while giving a starring role to one of Lincoln’s other manifestations came to a very visible end in 2012, it leaves us to ask: How did popular movies and miniseries invite Americans to understand themselves and to remember Lincoln before Lincoln?




Georgia Powers’s Indelible Impact, 1923-2016

We were saddened to learn today that Kentucky icon, Georgia Davis Piwers has died at the age of 92. Both the first woman and the first African American elected to the Kentucky state senate, Powers leaves behind a legacy of service and leadership that won’t soon be forgotten.

Recently, the University Press of Kentucky published the Kentucky African American Encyclopedia, featuring Georgia Powers. While the KAAE goes a long way in honoring and remembering the legacy of the impact of leaders like Powers, we also encourage you to read more about this powerful advocate. 

POWERS, GEORGIA MONTGOMERY DAVIS (b. 1923, Springfield, KY), first woman and first African American elected to the Kentucky Senate.

Georgia Powers Kentucky SenateBorn on October 29, 1923, in Springfield, KY, as Georgia Montgomery, the second of nine children and the only girl of Frances (Walker) and Ben Montgomery, Georgia was always determined to rise above the discrimination her gender and interracial heritage imposed on her. In 1925, the Montgomery family moved to Louisville, where Georgia received the majority of her education. She attended Virginia Avenue Elementary School (1929–1934), Madison Junior High School (1934–1937), Central High School (1937–1940), and Louisville Municipal College (1940–1942).

Additionally, she received certificates from the Central Business School and the United States Government IBM Supervisory School. A year after her graduation from Louisville Municipal College, she married Norman F. Davis. The couple had one son, William F. Davis. In 1968, the couple divorced, and Georgia married James F. Powers in 1973.

Powers began her political career training volunteers for Wilson Wyatt’s U.S. Senate campaign in 1962. She led campaigns for candidates for governor of Kentucky, mayor of Louisville, the U.S. House and Senate, and U.S. president within the next five years. Additionally, she participated in many civil rights activities throughout the 1960s. As one of the organizers of the Allied Organizations for Civil Rights, a group that worked toward the enactment of fair- employment and public-accommodations laws, she helped organize the 1964 March on Frankfort. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was the keynote speaker. The next year, Powers helped organize the Kentucky Christian Leadership Conference and attended the historic march in Selma, Alabama, supporting the national Voting Rights Act. Among many other important civil rights activities, she marched with Dr. King in the Memphis sanitation struggle.

In 1967, Powers ran for the Kentucky State Senate with endorsements from the AFL-CIO, the Kentucky Medical Association, the Kentucky and Louisville Education Associations, and the Louisville Chamber of Commerce. She won that seat easily, and her first bill for statewide housing passed in no time. She collaborated with Representatives Mae Street Kidd and Hughes E. McGill in introducing the first open-housing law in the South, which was passed in 1968. Other legislation that she either sponsored or cosponsored included bills for low-cost housing, the Equal Rights Amendment Resolution, and a bill to omit “race” from Kentucky driver’s licenses. She was also the secretary of the Kentucky Democratic Caucus during her entire senatorial career.

While serving in the Kentucky Senate for 21 years, she chaired the Health and Welfare Committee (1970–1976) and served as a member of the Rules Committee (1976–1978) and the Labor and Industry Committee for 10 years (1978–1988). Since her retirement in 1988, Powers has received numerous accolades. In 1995, she published her memoirs, I Shared the Dream: The Pride, Passion, and Politics of the First Black Woman Senator from Kentucky. She also published The Adventures of the Book of Revelation in 1998 and Celia’s Land, a Historical Novel in 2004.

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The Changing of a Legacy


Named after the man who changed American show business forever, The Ziegfeld Theater is expected to change a second time from a movie guru’s oasis to a ballroom for businesses and parties. In Ziegfeld and His Follies, authors Cynthia and Sara Brideson you into the legacy of one of the most visionary and innovative producers, Florenz Ziegfeld. While he left behind the jaw-dropping Ziegfeld’s Follies shows to leave a mark on Broadway history, he also left The Ziegfeld Theater. It is important to remember values and origins in an ever changing world. Let us remember inside the pearly gates of Manhattan’s largest movie theater and inside the vision Ziegfeld had of an entertainer’s wonderland.

Ziegfeld teamed up with his saving grace, William Randolph Hearst, who granted him a lease on what was once the Cosmopolitan theatre. Hearst also turned over complete control of what the inside would look like to Mr. Ziegfeld, whose creative mind laid eyes on a blank canvas. The Bridesons describe the majesty of Ziegfeld’s theater:


“He personally supervised its design and construction, employing Joseph Urban for most of the work. Historian Gerald Bordman called the end product “a masterpiece of art deco.” Hundreds of hidden bulbs lit up the curved front of the theater, giving it a celestial glow that complemented the moonlight over Broadway. Its oval-shaped interior resembled an ornately decorated Easter egg. A writer for The New York Times provided a thorough description of the $2.5 million theater: Upon entering a “hall of gold,” one was overwhelmed by the interior’s shimmering curtains, proscenium, carpets, chairs, and lights—a “setting of ineffable luxury.” Murals set in gold ornamented the walls and were “delicately blended with the pastel shades of blue and green.” At first glance, they looked “like a cubist version of anything at all,” but eventually they came into focus as “quaint, lovely figures” from myth and fairy tale.” – Ziegfeld and His Follies

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The eye-opening décor weaved its way up to the second story of the building. Upstairs, audiences walked through the entrance of a terrace where they could mingle and enjoy the summer breeze. Everywhere viewers turned, from the lobby to the bathrooms, they were greeted with spacious dimensions that even wowed New York itself. According to Ziegfeld and His Follies, Ziegfeld stared at his work of art in pure contentment, “He then took a seat in the second row and swung his legs over the back of the seat in front of him with a beatific smile on his face,” said Gretel Urban, daughter of the theater’s architect, Joseph Urban.

The Ziegfeld Theater was truly a marvel to see when it first came to life. However, nestled deep in “the city that never sleeps,” entertainment changes constantly, and so did the theater. The glowing space only lasted a few years before the stock-market crash. The building was then turned over into a movie theater. As American’s film viewing preferences migrate to their homes, the infamous theater’s current leaseholder’s announced Wednesday it would be closing in order to be used instead as a ballroom. The space will now be used to host product launches and parties according to Vulture. Although the physical look of Ziegfeld’s masterpiece seems to fall into the mists of transformation, the name should always serve as a reminder of what once was. Passersby and guests should never forget the lights, the shows, the talent, and the legacy of The Ziegfeld Theater.


The New York Times Sunday Book Review: ‘Russell Kirk’ by Bradley J. Birzer

Read the full review of Russell Kirk: American Conservative in The New York Times.

russell_kirk7.indd““I’m so happy to find that you’re little, too!” the political philosopher Leo Strauss said when he first met Russell Kirk in Chicago in the mid-1950s. “From your books, I had feared that you might be a great, tall, fierce man.” Kirk can still seem great and fierce. It was his book “The Conservative Mind” (1953) that first used the word “conservative” to classify various currents of antiprogressive dissidence that ran from the French Revolution to the 20th-century heyday of social democracy. Kirk’s book was an event. After a recommendation from Whittaker Chambers, Time magazine devoted the entire book review section to it. And Kirk had other gifts. He was a capable writer of ghost and fantasy novels. He founded and edited two prestigious journals. Not just Strauss and Chambers but also T. S. Eliot and Ray Bradbury esteemed him. In 1955, Flannery O’Connor, scarcely able to walk, traveled 340 miles in hopes of seeing him lecture in ­Tennessee.

Yet, by the time he died in 1994 at the age of 75, Kirk did look little. His brand of conservatism had come under attack from some of the people it was meant to inspire, including “neoconservative” foreign policy hawks in Washington and Lincoln-revering disciples of Strauss on the West Coast. In a diligent and adulatory study of Kirk’s life and thought, the Hillsdale College historian Bradley J. Birzer makes high claims for Kirk as both a man of letters and a philosopher, and makes plain why Kirk worked such a fascination on thinking Americans, even non­conservatives, half a century ago.”New York Times

Click here to read the full review.


Happy Birthday, Patricia Neal!

ShearerRevision6.inddBorn on this day in the small mining town of Packard, Kentucky, screen legend Patricia Neal would have turned 90 today. Throughout her life, this talented actress overcame adversity, shocking personal tragedy, and devastating illness through determination, bravado, and wisdom.

This excerpt from Stephen Michael Shearer’s Patricia Neal: An Unquiet Life shares her reaction to the widespread acclaim that she received for her role as Alma in Hud (1963) and to her Academy Award win in the Best Actress category:

Patricia told British columnist Sylmar Welder, if not completely candidly, “It’s strange to find myself suddenly in demand again. . . . I’m not an ambitious woman, and had been very happy just living with my family in the country, perhaps making a film every couple of years or so.”

Patricia told Parade’s Lloyd Shearer in London, “What I want most of all is good health for my family and peace of mind. When I started out in the business I was exceedingly ambitious, but life has tempered my drive and has taught me what is truly important. I don’t want money or fame. I just want—and now I’m speaking for myself as an actress—a continued sense of duty to my work. When people say I did a fine job in Hud, that makes me feel wonderful, but it’s even better if I know in my heart I’ve done my best.” About wedded life she said, “The secret of a happy marriage lies in choosing a partner of quality. That’s what I’m going to tell my children. It’s not so much what you do as whom you do it with. If a girl gets a good man, a man with character and a sense of duty and responsibility, then not very much can go wrong. I really don’t think you can tell children very much. You can show by example. I want [my daughter] Tessa to want to give something to life and this world. And I want her to have a nice person to do it with. I have, and that’s why I am a happy and fulfilled woman.”

[ . . . ]

Hud seemed a sure bet to capture a share of the 1964 Academy Awards, and Patricia was considered a favorite for the Best Actress Oscar. After all, she had already received numerous pre-Oscar accolades, including Best Actress awards from the National Board of Review and the New York Film Critics Circle, Best Supporting Actress from the Cleveland Critics Circle, and Best Foreign Actress from the British Academy of Film and Television Arts.

There had been some speculation about whether Patricia would be nominated as Best Actress or Best Supporting Actress, but the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, recognizing the dramatic importance of her role in Hud, placed her in the more prestigious Best Actress category, along with Rachel Roberts for This Sporting Life, Natalie Wood for Love with the Proper Stranger, Leslie Caron for The L-Shaped Room, and Shirley MacLaine for Irma La Douce.

Hud was passed over in the Best Picture category, but it received six nominations other than Patricia’s: Best Actor (Paul Newman), Best Supporting Actor (Melvyn Douglas), Best Director (Martin Ritt), Best Cinematography for Black and White (James Wong Howe), Best Art Direction for Black and White (Hal Pereira and Tambi Larsen), and Best Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium (Irving Ravetch and Harriet Frank Jr.).

Patricia, awaiting the birth of her fourth child in England, would not be able to attend the April 13 Academy Award ceremony in Hollywood. Hedda Hopper wrote in a column published March 11, “Pat Neal writes me from her home in Buckinghamshire, England: ‘I have been basking in glory! Glory that I never dared hope since “Hud” was released. I knew it was a lovely part in a splendid film but never dreamed of any further honor than the joy of doing it. Thank you for your part in my success of the moment.’” Not to be outdone, Louella Parsons reported March 18 that Patricia “sounded great when we talked via phone between Beverly Hills and London. I told Pat she may well be an Oscar winner as well as a new mother by June. ‘I hope so,’ she said, adding, ‘It would make me very happy.’”

When Gregory Peck stepped up to the podium at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium to announce the Best Actress winner, Hud had already received two Oscars, for Douglas and Howe. When he read Patricia’s name, Annabella Power rushed to the stage to accepted the Oscar on Patricia’s behalf. “I chose Annabella Power to accept my award for me because she is so lively,” Patricia told the press. Hedda Hopper said Annabella “seemed jet-propelled when she raced to the stage to receive Pat Neal’s Oscar.”

Patricia got the news in a 5:00 a.m. phone call from her high-school friend Charley Adcock. “Patsy, you won! You won!” she screamed. Then she heard from her agent Harvey Orkin. “We knew we would be awakened by the telephone if I’d won,” Patricia told the press. “But if we woke up without hearing it, then I’d lost.” Throughout the morning the telephone continued to ring. “I didn’t realize I had so many friends who wanted to congratulate me,” she told the reporters. “I couldn’t be more excited. These things happen once in a lifetime. But I’ve got to keep a cool head. I’m expecting a baby in six weeks and if I get too worked up over this award, who knows—I might bring on baby in the middle of tonight’s celebrations.”

Annabella sent Patricia’s Oscar statuette to London, and on her last outing before the birth of her baby, Patricia took the train to London to fetch the package. Stepping onto the platform at Marylebone Station, Patricia was blinded by flashbulbs. “Good heavens, I feel just like Elizabeth Taylor!” she exclaimed. Wearing Gary [Cooper]’s mink and sporting a huge smile, Patricia was asked by the newsreel press how it felt to have won the Oscar. “Well, it’s something I do think every actor dreams about always. You have fantasies about it your whole life, and then when it really happens it is quite unbelievable.” Was she expecting to win? “No. No. I loved the role and I thought it was beautifully written, and I knew I was being wonderfully directed. But I didn’t even think of it that way. I just loved doing it.”

When asked if the events of the past three years had in any way influenced her acting, Patricia candidly replied, “I really don’t know. It is not pleasant to think that you are better at your profession—one simply wouldn’t want to be better—because of such things happening to those who are so near and dear to you. I think I am probably a better actress than I was—but not for that reason.”

By honoring a mature woman for her role as an integral character in a dramatic film, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences turned the spotlight on a performance that helped change the view of modern woman in American film—from melodramatic victim to survivor. Millions of filmgoers recognized Alma as a very real human being, someone they could empathize with, be comforted by, and, most important, care about. The sound of Patricia’s voice, the depth, warmth, and suffering found in her eyes, the maturity earned through experience—all these qualities characterized a different type of actress: a victorious survivor with whom audiences could identify.

MLK Header

Martin Luther King Jr. Day 2016

A few days after Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. would have turned 87 years old, we remember his spirit, contributions, and the tremendous impact he made on both American lives and our culture.

Last year for MLK Day, Bernard Lafayette, a cofounder of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, and protege of Dr. King in the the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, spoke with CBS Evening News about the continuing influence of his mentor and the continued struggle for change through nonviolence.

LaFayette, author of In Peace and Freedom: My Journey in Selma, took the directorship of the Alabama Voter Registration Project in Selma at just the age of 22. He first met Dr. King as a student in Nashville, and again in Raleigh after founding SNCC. The following description of his second meeting with Dr. King comes from his memoir, In Peace and Freedom:

"In Peace and Freedom: My Journey in Selma" by Bernard LaFayette Jr. and Kathryn Lee Johnson foreword by Congressman John Robert Lewis afterword by Raymond ArsenaultWhen I talked with Dr. King, I was always inspired by his words. I felt uplifted, buoyed by his presence. When the Nashville students and I arrived in Raleigh to join ranks with his organization, SCLC, I was bursting with youthful enthusiasm. We were also joined by some of our northern support groups with a mixture of white and black individuals, all committed to a common cause. There was electricity in the air, the desire to join with others who had been jailed or beaten. Such meetings reinforced the notion that we were not alone; this collection of college students was bonded by our experiences, dedication, and determination.”

In Peace and Freedom is now available in paperback, and Lafayette is coeditor of the forthcoming The Chicago Freedom Movement: Martin Luther King Jr. and Civil Rights Activism in the North.

Let’s Get Fictional: Galley Giveaway #2

JohnsonCoverF.inddAs our fans and followers may have noticed, we have some exciting works of fiction due out this Spring. We’ve had the pleasure of working on them for months now, waiting for this moment—the time when we finally get to share them with you!

From now through 5:00 pm Eastern on Monday, January 18, enter for a chance to win one of five available advance reader copies of The Man Who Loved Birds by Fenton Johnson. Fill out the form below to enter our contest and read this compelling tour de force before it’s published next month.

Also, click “read more” below to enjoy the first chapter of the work that former Kentucky Poet Laureate Richard Taylor has called “Edgy, often raw, original . . . arrestingly beautiful.”

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