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Child of the Zeitgeist
Bicker one can about his inability to draw a convincing dog, his overdependence on "funny" names, his effrontery in presuming to place another dump-truck-load of hackwork between covers; that the creator of the following body of work could get anything done at all during the period represented herein is perhaps the real triumph to be celebrated in this book. The events of the tumultuous period between 1935 and 2002 "could fill 67 fat almanacs and an encyclopedia," observed Will Durant, or William Crapo Durant, at any rate one of the Durants, maybe Ariel for all we now know. But consider: the Glassboro Summit, Princess Margaret's wedding, Newfoundland's entry into Confederation, Corfam, Judy Garland's comeback, the Studebaker-Packard merger, Expo 67, the 1968 San Antonio World's Fair, ad infinitum-each of us has his or her own such list, albeit probably not as lengthy nor as comprehensive as his, for he was further distracted by events-the Belgian waffle riots of the immediate postwar period, the launch of the first naphtha-powered submarine-that never actually happened. As if these were not distraction enough for any artist or school of artists, there was all the while the shoe-store job. There were the family feuds, the bouts of catatonia, the long walks. He even did his own washing and ironing, save of course for the Utrecht years. And yet, and yet, the work kept coming and keeps coming still. Rushed, fragmented, as often wobbly of aim as it is woozy of execution, to be sure, as if he were painting with the one hand while pasting another clipping into his Dionne Quintuplets scrapbook with the other. And withal, seemingly not a trace of profundity from first page to last, only the relentless har-har-har of the born vulgarian. We would submit that less could hardly be said of any other book of its time.
Mel's Miracle Mile Bowl-O-Rama
Nazareth, Pennsylvania, 1972
Statues of the Four Unknown Bowlers, each on the verge of ecstatic release; a vast domed interior; a single towering entrance; a steep bank of steps serving to expose and separate out the weak and infirm: this citadel of pure athleticism is Speer at his most visionary-and least practical. "All's we wanted was a roofing job and a new sign," huffed vexed Bowl-O-Rama proprietor Mel, "and this nut in a trench coat comes up with a Taj Mahal!" Speer later tried selling the same plans-Unknown Bowlers converted to Unknown Carpet Layers-to the House of Shag down the way, but again without success.
The Lost Sketchbooks of Albert Speer After Hitler's official architect, Albert Speer, left Spandau prison in 1966, he had big plans to rebuild his career on the other side of the Atlantic.
Sprung from Spandau prison in 1966 after 20 years with little more to his name than a 50-deutsche-mark bill and a new ankle-length leather raincoat, Albert Speer wasted no time calling in his chits among old rocketeer chums now working for nasa. If they'd help him find architectural work in the United States, he'd burn certain sensitive wartime documents. That the official architect of the Third Reich should be scrabbling to bid on this fast-food outlet or that souvenir stand in the American hinterlands may seem a colossal comedown; Speer saw it as the start of his comeback. Forbidden to practice in a Europe that refused to let bygones be bygones, he meant to glorify even the humblest of projects with his bold and monumental vision. Soon enough, he believed, as evidence of his genius spread, America too would fall for the unique architectural style that had dominated pre-war Germany.
This was not to be. Speer's compulsive reliance on the brutish mass, the soaring column, and the mile-wide avenue may have thrilled his megalomaniacal patron Adolf Hitler; applied to a Tulsa shoe store or a Bakersfield Moose lodge, these motifs clashed with the democratic vernacular and were, in some cases, counterproductive from a mercantile point of view. Again and again, his ambitious solutions were submitted, rejected, and forgotten. Trapped in the one idiom he ever knew, Speer could only be Speer. Careerwise, it was three Reichs and you're out.
Albert Speer died in 1981 without seeing a single one of his post-Spandau visions realized in windowless stone and concrete. His American sketchbooks vanished into limbo with him-until early this year, when, in a thrift shop in Munich, a sheaf of papers was found sewn into the lining of a long leather raincoat. It was Speer's long leather raincoat, of course, and those papers were Speer's lost sketches, secreted away for fear of sullying his legend with evidence of utter failure.
Here, then, the lost sketchbooks of Albert Speer: haunting images, unseen for decades, marking the final bizarre chapter of the 20th century's most controversial architectural career.
last chance snake farm and souvenir stand
Page, Arizona, 1969
Soaring verticals had marked many a previous Speer concept, most notably his "cathedral of ice" for the annual Nuremberg party rally in the 30s. Transplanted to the Arizona desert in the form of three identical aluminum towers, the idea might well have worked to lure tourists from miles around to the roadside stand below, evoking the awe that buckles resistance. Proprietors Ma and Pa Jeeter had been thinking more along the lines of a repaint and a new screen door; accustomed to limitless government funds, Speer took things rather further. His bid, $15.9 million over budget, was regretfully declined.
eternal car wash
Bakersfield, California, 1970
As with so many Speer buildings, this automated car wash seems to pin the onlooker to the ground and render mere humans-and their cars-insignificant, while virtually demanding patronage, now. Yet there are brilliant flashes: wash suds recycled to create an imposing illuminated waterfall, both a functional cue and-with its roar magnified via loudspeakers-a symbol of raw power; a multitrack pass-through handling 2,000 autos per hour; twin "eternal flames," a favorite Speer theme here used to signal an open-24-hours policy. Pompous overstatement for a mere car wash? Perhaps. The architect himself met such quibbles with icy disdain: "Next to Speer," he thundered, "even Ozymandias looks shy."
floyd's kozy kabins
Panama City, Florida, 1973
Stark and almost grimly functional, Floyd's cast-concrete Kozy Kabins allowed-indeed, ordered-guests to drive their cars directly into their cabins. But what to make of the twin guardhouses at the south entrance, superfluous if not outright overkill in most motor-court designs? Floyd took this, as well as the cabins' total lack of fenestration and a paved landscaping plan relieved only by artificial palm trees, as a hint that Speer might lack a certain feel for the tastes of the American traveler. The rejection of his proposal broke Speer's heart. Vowing to never again waste his genius on the philistine American, he had just begun sketches for a new police academy in Paraguay at the time of his death in 1981.
gone but not forgotten
Canard-et-Chicane Bomber, Dadaist Free Squadron, France
Not to be confused with the Artists & Models Escadrille, also born of patriotic desperation in the glorious hopelessness of May 1940. The Dadist Free Squadron flew its own Canard-et-Chicane 607-B, bought from L'Armée de l'Air via a crooked cabinet minister for 100 francs. The all-volunteer Dadists' "nonsense tactics" of bombing French troops, carrying no bombs, or simply staying parked on the tarmac for days befuddled Nazi attackers and French defenders alike. But the true confusion was on board. Indeed, it was on May 9th over Arras, when a splinter faction of Futurists joined with the Cubists and forced a vote on whether to keep flying or land, that the Free Squadron's valient career ended. The vote produced a deadlock, and after circling a landing field for hours, the Canard-et-Chicane ran out of fuel and crashed. It lives on today at a frites stand near a go-kart oval just outside Loos.
Amalgamated B-888 "stratoflattener" bomber, united states, 1953
Only one prototype of this 14-engine turboprop behemoth (note accompanying B-17, dwarfed by comparison) was ever built. The Stratoflattener superbomber never achieved its intended status; Senate hearings confirmed that the required crew contingent was too large to leave space for bombs and that training noise-deafened crew memebers to lip-read would drain the Air Force's budget. Mothballed in Arizona in 1954, the lone Stratoflattener gained a dubious new fame when it was started up at an Air Force Day celeberation and triggered the Great Arizona Quake of 1959.
Hrabny-Chud "mumma" Trainer, Czechoslovakia, 1945
Secretly produced in a Prague tailoring plant during the Nazi occupation and powered by a single 56-cylinder engine made of 28 sewing machines, the Hrabny-Chud was slow and clumsy but "nert hobny de zignat abagnad!" (smooth as a sewing machine), according to those who flew her. Its unique modus operandi was: fly over retreating Nazi columns, stall, and make pancake landings on their hapless heads.
Bodo + Vulch BV-901 Night Interceptor,m Germany, 1945
No substantiation exists for the legend that Adolf Hitler himself designed the BV-901, nicknamed Hummer (Lobster). "He wasn't that batty," debunks one ex-Luftwaffe officer. It was in fact designed by the freshman class at the Hermann Göring Trade School for Boys at Karlsruhe in the waning days of the war. Power came from seven different engines, on the theory that if even one or two broke down or exploded, enough thrust would be left to keep the Hummer aloft. Turning the school's bus, furnace, refrigerator, and emergency generator into engines of one ingenious type or another, the lads did their best, but the Hummer's trajectory was naturally straight down, so the Luftwaffe recommended using it as a bomb. The Frau Goebbels Girls' Home Economics School was racing to design a plane large enough to carry it when the Nazi air war ended.
Naka R-2 "marybeth" dive bomber, japan, 1941
The carrier-based Marybeth was one of the most feared of the Imperial Navy's single-engine torpedo bombers-feared especially by its pilot. So nose-heavy that it automatically went into a vertical dive the instant it left the deck, the R-2 had to be carried aloft by a mother aircraft and jettisoned directly over the target. Alas, since the Marybeth was unable to pull out of the ensuing dive and plunged straight down into the sea, every attack became a kamikaze mission. The aircraft was withdrawn from active service in 1942. Marybeths spent the rest of the Pacific war on the home front and saw limited duty. There are still Japanese who remember pilotless Marybeths screaming earthward to crash deep into the ground, doing their part by excavating new building foundations.
Plod 456 Whale Bomber, u.s.s.r., 1941
The besieged Soviet Union faced starvation in the dark days of late 1941; one desperate hope was whale meat. The Plod was designed and built in six weeks to spot and harpoon the great beasts, and for the next 18 months Plods plied the Black Sea in search of prey. Then-scandal. It was found that no whales had ever existed in the Black Sea. The Plod's designer vanished. Teaching of marine biology was forbidden. Whale exhibits were removed from museums, and it was not until 1972 that the Black Sea reappeared on maps of the Soviet Union. The whale is depicted as a mythical beast in Russian classrooms even today, and the Plod was so utterly erased from the annals of Soviet aviation that a longstanding suit before the World Court at The Hague by Jane's All the World's Aircraft, intended to force the files open, was recently abandoned.
spirit of kim il sung 2r7-6 photo-reconnaissance aircraft, north korea, 1968
The 2R7-6's absence of windows marked an extreme expression of the notorious North Korean fetish for secrecy. The aircraft was designed to overfly many vital South Korean sites classified as top secret, but pilots could not be trusted to see such areas themselves. Thus a blind-flying pilot was forced to snap pictures by hoisting a handheld camera up through an overhead hatch at the exact split-second he was ordered to do so by radio. Almost as bizarre as the 2R7-6's lack of fenestration was its "Sweet Breath of the Leader" steamjet engine, which regularly iced over at high altitudes and sent the craft hurtling earthward. This explains references in North Korean propaganda organs to "Dear Kim Il Sung's 'Let a Thousand Icicles Fall' Miracle."
stokely & starkley "unicorn" fighter, great britain, 1939
Still noted for its role in the defense of Penzance-perhaps because Penzance never needed defending-the Unicorn was shifted in 1941 to the Middle East, where it was hoped that the unorthodox craft's frequent inexplicable prangs would distract Rommel's forces. The plan backfired after German propaganda boasted of all the ammo saved by not having to shoot down an aircraft entirely capable of destroying itself unaided. Splendid in intent and sincere in ambition, the Unicorn would play a vital role in the postwar world; the private papers of Lord Mountbatten reveal that it was Great Britain's gift to India of three squadrons of Stokely & Starkleys that clinched that nation's demand for independence.
Bixby "mysterioso," united states, 1940
This blurry snapshot is all that remains of the daring Bixby Mysterioso X-O prototype, still shrouded in rumor and controversy. The designer was Major Howdy Bixby, who continues to allege that his arrest as a Nazi saboteur shortly after this photo was taken reflected not fact but the American hysteria of the time. A special courtmartial hearing seemed to support the major, who was judged not clever enough to be a saboteur or an aircraft designer.
Midtown, feb. 13, 1925, 11 p.m.
Third-class passenger Josephine Baker embarks for Cherbourg.
Demanding a larger stateroom, passenger Wallis Warfield embarks for Southampton.
Seven-year-old John F. Kennedy spies father, Joe Kennedy, smooching with Gloria Swanson.
Dutch Schultz threatens Legs Diamond in back room of Jimmy Walker's favorite speakeasy.
Sinclair Lewis punches out Theodore Dreiser in Edmund Wilson's living room.
James Thurber is asked to leave the Robert Benchleys' after drawing on the bathroom wall.
Edward Hopper hits on the subject of his next painting.
Georgia O'Keeffe two-times Alfred Stieglitz with Man Ray.
Lee De Forest sits in the living room watching Mrs. De Forest do the dishes in the kitchen in the first sound-on-film screening.
Filing his fiftieth Broadway gossip column, Walter Winchell blasts "high-hat British snobs like Duke Ellington."
Ernest Hemingway belts Zelda Fitzgerald after losing an arm-wrestling match with Jackie Coogan at Michael Arlen's.
John Barrymore takes a swing at brother Lionel as sister Ethel and the Lunts try to intervene.
Dorothy Parker freshens up her drink.
Theda Bara attends the world première of "The Gold Rush" and misses the Eleonora Duse memorial service.
George S. Kaufman meets Moss Hart when their taxis collide, injuring pedestrian Winston Churchill.
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