THE ERMINE LION
snow lies thick on Valley Forge.
murmured those meaningful words from Kipling's "American
Rebellion" as we surveyed the majestic sweep of fields hallowed by
historic heroism. If tradition ever wore a snowy beard it was now, in this
glistening, glittering, alabaster setting at Valley Forge where men once
cursed the snow that added to their woe as they fought to found a nation.
175 years later, there was no seamy side. That "fairest meadow white
with snow" was all loveliness and serenity: Heine's whitest blanket
indeed; the snow of heaven, heavy, soft, and slow, shiningly cold,
brilliantly, sparkingly, appeal-ingly warm.
was mere coincidence that took us to this revered spot just after the
fleeces of descending snow had painted the earth with dazzling patterns.
had planned the trip for some time. I'd like Bruce to go to military school
next term and begin ROTC. We've been up to New York Military Academy, there
high above the Hudson opposite West Point. But Valley Forge has a magic all
its own in the very name's connotations. And, too, it's closer to home.
date originally was for the Sunday before, but when I made it I forgot that
I had to be at the Traymore in Atlantic City that day. So it was deferred
one week. That in turn conflicted with a dinner party in East Orange, but we
didn't dare disappoint Colonel Prentiss again.
it turned out, we couldn't have chosen a better time even if we had
consulted that gypsy with the crystal ball Patti Page purrs about. The drive
through scenic countryside was one breathless excursion into unparalleled
beauty. Truly terra wore a diadem of white that day. No one but the Master
Painter can achieve that hue of sublime, unsullied purity: "as chaste
as unsunn'd snow," Shakespeare sang in "Cymbeline."
something elevating, exalting about so awesome a spectacle. George Noel
Gordon felt it when he penned those inspired words: "He who ascends to
mountain tops shall find the loftiest peaks most wrapt in clouds and
here on the historic proving ground of American mettle it seemed to take on
added significance, recalling Tennyson's line: "the splendor falls on
castle walls and snowy summits old in story."
It was a soul-stirring experience.
Actually it had begun the day
before, that first day of March when the world drew over its shoulders a
cloak of ermine. What a thrill to wake unexpectedly to such a vision of
Have you seen but a bright lily grow Before
rude hands have touched it? Have you marked but the fall o' the snow
Before the soil hath smutched it?
I knew then how Ben Jonson felt.
The evergreens and trees that surround our place were transformed into
classic adornments of indescribable beauty as the flakes filtered softly
through their outstretched arms, clinging to barren limbs, settling on leafy
foliage. Lawns, terraces and driveways were one huge indistinguishable
expanse of marble, so far unbroken by milkman's tires or animals' paws.
Complications loomed: Ross the
practical wanted to know how June was going to get to Van Pelt Street in
Philadelphia to put the finishing touches on Moorestown Friends' yearbook, a
must for that day. But time enough for such mundane considerations later;
for the moment I chose to put aside all earthly thoughts and concentrate on
the sheer joy of this silent delight.
O the snow, the beautiful snow.
Filling the sky
and the earth below.
Over the house-tops, over the street,
heads of the people you meet,
Beautiful snow, it can do
Ah yes, John Whittaker Watson, your
beautiful snow could do no wrong in that first breath-taking moment. Later,
perhaps, I would complain at its inconvenience, at the nuisance of
overshoes, at the task of shoveling paths, possibly at the arduous job of
freeing snow-slipping wheels, although the station wagon, at least, has snow
Yes, it might well be that before
the day was out I would be quoting William Dean Howells: "Tossing his
mane of snows in wildest eddies and tangles, lion-like March cometh in,
hoarse, with tempestuous breath."
But time enough for that later. Now
I was closing my mind inflexibly to intruding whispers of uneasy concern.
Thirstily I drank in the virgin charm of white-clad fairies that only the
day before had been gaunt trees barren of leaves, terraced lawns that had
not yet achieved their Spring greenness. Toreutic as finely carved sculpture
was this guilloche landscape of myriad interwoven ornaments.
It helped, I must confess, to view
the peaks of dazzling beauteousness from the comfort of our insulated,
storm-sashed, well-heated home. Someone once remarked satirically that
storms are enjoyable only to the protected. But shortly I ventured out into
it, and enjoyed the contact too.
A lot of snow fell, during that
night and day. Enough for snowmen and snowball fights, sledding and
toboganning. I won't tax your credulity as Rudolf Erich Raspe did when he
had Baron Munchausen say: "What in the dark I had taken to be a stump
of a little tree appearing above the snow, to which I had tied my horse, proved to have been
the weathercock of the church steeple."
But it was a good, rousing snowfall
nonetheless, applying a fetching frosting, an appetizing coat of icing to
Nature's vari-colored, multi-layered cake. We romped and played in it, Ross
on his 'boggan, but its greatest asset was visionary. From the eye-opening
thrill Saturday morning to the drive back from Valley Forge Sunday night,
when we saw Whittier's "purple lights on Alpine snow," when we
knew what Otis Hite felt when he wrote:
The moon is never half so bright
As when she
pours her silver light
Down on a world of drifted white
Through a calm
Eisenhower will be in Washington
well in advance of the convention, maybe even before New Jersey's primary
election day. He's doing a terrific job with NATO .... Don't know when I've
enjoyed anything more than my Newark debate with Assemblyman Joya, leader of
the Essex delegation. Subject: Compulsory Automobile Insurance .... Too bad
they chose such a hideous color for the year New Jersey inaugurated its
semi-permanent license plates .... While Putrid Service extracts exorbitant
fares from those forced to rely on it for transportation, independent lines
such as No. 16 between Newark and Irvington still charge only seven cents.
How long are the people going to hold still for the official discrimination
in favor of the rich, greedy but campaign-contributing octopus .... I took a
turn through Newark's 1st ward, which the public housers propose to raze to
build a $40,000,000 tax-free monument to socialism. No wonder the folks
there are up in arms. I didn't see one slum house. The pictures used in the
Newark News were houses bought by the state for the extension to Route 10,
already vacated and vandalized pending their demolition. What kind of
skulduddery is that? .... I must look like a soft touch—the patsy type. It's
got so that I can't afford to walk along the street in Newark any more.
Cheaper to pay cab fare than be accosted by panhandlers .... Does it occur
to you that we're going plumb stark crazy? Exactly ten years ago our federal
tax take was 7.2 billions, then the highest in history. In 1945, the peak
war-spending year, it was a shocking 44.8 billions. But that alarming figure
was only temporary, made necessary by the war, we were assured. This year's
budget is 88.5 billions! .... Why can't Route 25 be declared a parkway and
closed to trucks? It would have the dual effect of forcing them onto the
turnpike, where they belong, and saving motorists from the danger of having
these behemoths of the road roar past them at 60 and 70 miles an hour, with
their windslipping suction .... The root of a Chinese plant named Ch'ang
Shan, used 3000 years to treat malaria, was the starting point of American
research that led to the discovery of a substitute for scarce quinine from
the roots of the hydrangea plant .... Smirking Bill Hayes, the tenor on
"Show of Shows," doesn't have a bad voice, but he's an ungainly
oaf. Why they emphasize his awkwardness by having him do a turn with expert
dancers is beyond me. Judy Johnson, on the other hand, is a gal of talent
and grace who stacks up pretty well alongside the professionals .... Can't
understand Sid Caesar's hold, anyway. After the first stint he always
becomes weary .... While I'm in this querulous mood I might as well register
another gripe. If there's anything that irritates me it's looking up a phone
number and being referred to another listing. Like Star-Ledger— see Newark
Star-Ledger. Or Delaware Lackawanna — see Lackawanna. Why shouldn't it be
just as easy to repeat the number as to say see so and so? Oh well .... I'm
not a Billy Eckstine fan but I do appreciate his bringing back "A Room
With a View" .... I couldn't get along very well without Evelyn
Knight's tender "I Get Along Without You Very Well" .... Alan Dale
partially atones for Violent Ray with his recording of "Broken
Hearted" .... Johnny Green's "Invitation" accepted .... The
latest Guy Mitchell- Mitch Miller melange is a dubious salute to
"Pittsburgh, Penn-syl-van-i-a." Tricky, though. . .
The 4 Aces bit off more than they
could digest in the old tango "Perfidia." Better stick to 4-beat
rhythm .... Georgia Gibbs nostalgically lists some memorable old titles in
her clever two-part vocalization of "Bring Out Those Old Records"
.... Thrilling to hear the music in the Cole Porter saga. I've always had a
soft spot for him. His first hit, the 1916 "Old Fashioned Garden,"
was one of my early piano efforts. It's a far cry from the sophisticated
motif that dominates later numbers by America's answer to Noel Coward ....
The musical thrill of the week came when I heard my provocative old teen-age
favorite, "You're Cheatin' On Me." First time in over twenty-five
years. Kate Brown has recorded it. Next they'll be bringing back "In
the Middle of the Night" and "Just a Night for Meditation"
.... The Andrews have a mean version of "Mean to Me" .... Dick
Haymes' "You're My Everything" has everything .... Kinda go for
Gordon Jenkins' arrangement of "Every Hour," too .... And I'll
always be in love with Helen Forrest's torrid version of "I'll Always
Be in Love With You" .... At his age Clifton Webb should know better
than to essay a terpsi-chorean comeback. He collapsed while dancing with
Ginger Rogers for a film sequence. But it recalls the smooth job old
Puttynose used to do on the revue stage. I'll never forget his numbers with
Libby Holman in "The Little Show" and Tamara Geva in "Three's
a Crowd," set to such haunting melodies as "Moanin' Low" and
"Body and Soul." Real nasty .... "Come What May" sounds
good when Bing sings it, too .... "Take Me Home" is a teasy number
.... A plug long overdue: for the good listening on KYW mornings driving to
Trenton. I followed Godfrey-like Hal Moore over from WCAU. Enjoy equally the
program preceding him, featuring Jack Pyle and his gang of clever zanies.
Delighted with their banter.
I guess Philly always will remain a
small town. Driving along Ridge Avenue recently even on a Sunday was made
tortuous by its antiquated traffic light system. Impossible to make more than one. Hope the new
administration brings some long-delayed, big-time touches to the burg ....
Jack Fitzgerald's passing means the end of the journalistic tradition at the
Courier. He and Charlie Humes were the last of the newspapermen in the
colorful old tradition. What a book could be written about Fitz .... If
you've become timid about air travel and dissatisfied with the Pennsy and
B&O trains to Chicago, take Carl Withers' advice. The Newark banker,
former state banking commissioner, recommends the Lackawanna's Phoebe Snow for a beautiful trip......
Test borings for Newark's new YMCA
building will be made this month. A $3,000,000 program. . . . "New
Jersey Turnpike—Engineering Miracle" is the title of an article in
the New Jersey Engineer. They should know .... In Jersey City the other day,
met John Grossi, the power behind Kenny. If he withdraws his support, Mayor
Johnny is a dead duck .... How ridiculous can you get? Well, however, Berle
will make it. Did you hear his ecstatic introduction o£ "one of the
greatest entertainers of all times— Georgie Taps!" Walking east on
51st Street from Toots Shor's to Ray Balasny's car the other night, I was
fascinated by the lovely lighting effect of the dome atop the GE building.
Just a hick at heart.... The fabulous dancing Costellos at the Latin Quarter
are an act that's truly different. Real big timey .... Ed Sullivan never
will learn to act as long as he has a hole in his head, but you'd think
someone could teach him to count. Introducing Toni Arden for a number from
the 1926 "Scandals," he said: "And now, sixteen years later .
. . ." Oh, well. He has done a good job of reviving old memories, and
giving some of the old-timers a new lease on life. In one recent show he had
George White, Harry Richman, Frances Williams and Smith & Dale, the duo
that was wowing audiences in the '90s. But no Ann Pennington, the original
"Black Bottom" gal from Camden. Last reports I heard about her
weren't good .... I want to get in a plug for Roger Price, a crack comedian
whose droll humor tickles my fancy .... Dinah Shore does beautifully by the
oldie "Anytime," but she taxes one's credulity with the lyrics to
"Warm Hearted Women." I don't believe it .... Vivian Blaine is
louzay in "Tell Me Why" — or
anything else, for that matter. Overdoes the dramatics .... Even when
Montevani plays "I'm Dancing With Tears in My Eyes" it sounds like
"Charmaine." Nice, though .... Expert wordage in "They're
Playing Our Song," and expertly recorded by Toni Arden. What voice
control that gal has .... Pleasant to have Wayne King back on the airways.
Always liked his hesitation waltz rhythm. He recalled another old timer
recently when he featured Isham Jones' lovely "If You Were Only
Mine". . . . The 41-year-old Jolson record played by Eddie Cantor, the
first Al ever made, shows he already had established his inimitable style
back in 1911. Norah Bayes' platter of "Over There" shows why she
was such a sensation, considering the inferior quality of recording
techniques in 1918 compared with today .... Perry Como has recorded
"That Old Gang of Mine," and very nicely, too .... Saw Pat Wymore
in New York. Woo, woo. What a doll .... Today's record I'm gaga about is
Doris Day's provocative "A Guy Is a Guy" .... Don Cornell is
reviving Dinah Shore's "I'll Walk Alone" .... James Melton did a
nice TV job with "On Miami Shore." Enjoy those Ford commercials,
too. Dr. Roy Marshall is instructive in a pleasing, personable, unaffected
way, and the theme song with its flashing signs is tricky. Other sponsors,
please copy .... Red Book's award to MGM's Dore Senary of Newark gave Lanza
an excuse to bring the all-time great music from "The Great
Caruso" to his radio program, and what a half hour it was! He shouldn't
even deign to bother with pop stuff that doesn't offer full range for his
brilliant voice .... Did you hear Jerry Lewis telling about the movie he saw
featuring Victor Russell and Jane Mature? When Dean Martin scolded him for
transposing the names, he cracked: "Well, maybe Victor ain't Russell
but don't tell me Jane ain't mature!"