After reading her autobiography, I have to wonder why they never made a movie about the life of the 1940s legendary screen goddess Lana Turner.
She was born way up in the remote Idaho panhandle in 1921 as Julia Turner, and her circumstances could not have been more disadvantaged. That was mining country, and her father was a miner. but, they always struggled financially. It seems her parents only married because of her conception, and they had no other children. They separated when she was 9, and she and her mother moved to San Francisco. But, it was such a struggle for her mother, that she had to place Lana in foster care briefly, which Lana hated. Her father, who remained in Idaho, died in a knife fight over a card game. She was just 11 at the time, but, she had only good memories of her father.
After that, her mother and she moved to Los Angeles- in fact, Hollywood- where her mother sought work as a beautician. More devoted to her, her mother could not have been, and that was true for life. Her mother never remarried, and she lived for Lana.
When she was 16, Lana was discovered in a Hollywood ice cream parlor drinking a Coke. Taken with her beauty, the man who discovered her was the publisher of a Hollywood magazine, and he referred her to Zeppo Marx- one of the Marx brothers who, by then, had become a Hollywood talent agent. Reportedly, she, herself, chose the name “Lana.” That year (1937) she was cast in her first film as a sexy tight “sweater girl” who wound up a murder victim. Then, she signed a contract with MGM for $100 a week, which was a lot of money in those days. And from then on, her mother’s career became that of mother of Lana Turner. In other words, from then on, she lived off Lana, but believe me, she earned it.
From the very beginning, Lana Turner became synonymous with sex, even though she was only 16. She defined “sultry.” She soon starred in a Mickey Rooney movie in which she played the bad girl offsetting Judy Garland’s good girl, and there is a famous photo of the three of them together doing schoolwork on the set, as required by law, which enabled Lana to finish high school.
And speaking of sex, there were two revelations that Lana made at the start of her autobiography. The first was that she was terribly shy, and her greatest fear was public speaking. Like many stars, she contributed to the war effort during WW2, and in her case, it meant visiting the troops, including on some of the Bob Hope tours, but also on tours to sell war bonds, where she was expected to get up and speak as Lana Turner. Well, she could do it easily enough as somebody else, a character, but not as Lana Turner. But, the second revelation was that she never really enjoyed sex that much, that in real life, she wasn’t sultry and sexy like her characters. She said she enjoyed romance and tenderness and courtship, but sex itself was no big thrill for her. And her most enduring quote is: “A gentleman is just a patient wolf.”
But, if I had to characterize her 1982 autobiography, written 12 years before her death, I would say it oscillated between her movie career, film by film, and her marriage career, husband by husband. And, there were 7 in total.
But, oddly enough, the man whom she declared to be the “love of her life” was one she never married but almost did, the actor Tyrone Power. Today, he is remembered for being bisexual, although she claimed to never see any inkling of that side of him.
Her first marriage at the age of 19 was to band-leader Artie Shaw, but that was undertaken so compulsively (after one date) that it was doomed from the start. Her second marriage was to businessman Stephen Crane, and it was with him that she had her one and only child, Cheryl Crane. Husband number three was a millionaire socialite whom she wasn’t even attracted to, and it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that she married him for his money. Next came an actor who played Tarzan in the movies several times, Lex Barker. Daughter Cheryl would later write in her memoir that Barker sexually abused her during their marriage, but, that wasn’t mentioned in Lana’s autobiography.
That marriage was followed by Lana’s harrowing relationship with mobster Johnny Stompanado. He was a real-life monster who beat her and abused her, and she literally feared for her life. She went to England to make a movie with Sean Connery, and Stompanado followed her there and stormed on the set, where Sean Connery had to physically subdue him. Then, they got Scotland Yard to deport him back to the US. And when Lana returned, it was Oscar time, which she attended with her mother and her daughter. Lana had been nominated for her role in Peyton Place, although she stood no chance of winning. (I should mention that Lana’s mother is the one who really raised Cheryl. Lana set them up in a house with another older woman who was like a second grandmother to Cheryl. Lana paid for everything, but she was more like a doting aunt than a mother.) But, that night, after the Oscars, Johnny stormed into her house, enraged that she didn’t take him to the Oscars. That resulted in a severe beating, and while she was being beaten, Lana kept worrying that 14 year old Cheryl, who was staying over that night, would be awakened in the next room. Well, Cheryl was awakened, and she did come into the room, but not before going into the kitchen and getting a carving knife. When she entered, she saw her mother bloody, battered, and bruised, and she saw Stompando approaching her mother with a wooden clothes hanger in his raised hand. It looked to Cheryl like he was about to hit her mother again. So, she shoved the knife into his belly. The blade really didn’t go in that far, but as luck would have it, it hit the abdominal aorta, and he bled out very fast. (Was that good luck or bad? I’d say good.)
The first thing Lana did was call a doctor friend. He came over and tried to resuscitate Stompanado, unsuccessfully. Next, she called her lawyer, who came right over. And that’s when they called the police.
The legal system never came down very hard on Cheryl. She did have to remain in custody for several weeks until the grand jury hearing. But even by then, Lana still had bruises left from the beating Stompanado had given her, which she displayed to the jury. And mercifully, they declared it a “justifiable homicide.” However, the judge, rather wisely in my opinion, didn’t let Lana off so easy. He pointed out that she’s the one who put Cheryl in that deplorable situation. So, he removed Lana’s parental rights and made Cheryl a ward of the state. But, he also made Lana’s mother Cheryl’s court-appointed guardian. So, nothing really changed in regard to the living situation. But, it involved regular probation visits for Cheryl, and court-ordered psychiatric visits for both Cheryl and Lana, which they did. Lana was so grateful that Cheryl got off without prison that she didn’t care about the rest. She gladly cooperated.
Lana’s next husband was a rather nice guy, compared to the others: the actor Fred May. And she was a little vague as to why they divorced, although she did say that him dipping into her money had something to do with it. But, they remained lifelong friends, and she always spoke well of him. But, the last two marriages which followed were awful; expensive and awful; including one to a much younger man who was serially unfaithful, a pathological liar, and an out-of-control spendthrift with her money, and the last one to a nightclub hypnotist who stole from her- cash, jewelry, whatever he could get his hands on. And that did it. After that, Lana finally stopped getting married. Thank God.
I won’t go into her movies too much because I want to focus on her health. But, I will point out that one of her early roles was Ziegfeld Girl in which she played a Broadway star who rises fast but then falls hard to alcoholism. But, in the movie, there was a song written for her by Nacio Herb Brown, You Stepped out of a Dream, which became Lana Turner’s theme song for the rest of her life. Whenever she entered a club or walked on stage, they played that song, and it is a fabulous song. Her most celebrated movie is The Postman Always Rings Twice, also considered her most sultry role. In Peyton Place, she played the single mother of a lone daughter- which mirrored her real life. Although she was nominated for Best Actress, it was really more of a supporting role than a leading role. The Bad and the Beautiful with Kirk Douglass was and is very highly acclaimed, but I’ve never seen it. And Imitation of Life was about a white woman who climbs to the top as an actress while raising her only daughter, while also living with a black woman who also had an only daughter. So, the relationship among the four of them is the story of the movie. And it was a very important project for Lana Turner because it was the first movie she made after the Stompanado killing, when it was uncertain whether her movie career would survive at all.
But now, let’s talk about her health because there are some interesting observations I can make.
First I want to point out how interrelated health and beauty are, how dependent beauty is on good health. Sparkling eyes, peaches and cream complexion, lustrous hair, svelte tone, etc. are the products of good health. And since her beauty was her stock in trade, you would think that health would have been a top priority for her, but it wasn’t. Lana Turner was a smoker; a heavy smoker, and she started young. In fact, she got in trouble for smoking on the sets as a teenager, and she complained bitterly about it because she wanted to smoke, and she felt she had as much right as anybody. There are quite a few photos of Lana Turner holding a cigarette, but, I learned that there would have been quite a few more if they hadn’t airbrushed them out.
She also drank. In the book, she played down her drinking, saying that she was more of a “sipper” than a “drinker”. But, others said otherwise. Most of her husbands were big drinkers, and she drank with them. Often, her husbands would get mad if she didn’t drink as much as they did. But, the fact is that women cannot handle alcohol as well as men. The female liver does not process alcohol as fast- doesn’t convert ethyl alcohol into acetaldehyde as rapidly. The result is - that for a given amount of alcohol- women experience a higher blood level of alcohol than do men, and it persists for a longer period of time. It is true across the races; women of all races cannot handle alcohol as well as men. And in the book, she admitted that she often self-medicated with alcohol. For instance, during the time that she was tormented by Johnny Stompanado, she drank heavily. And others who knew her said that she was, in fact, a big drinker and at times an alcoholic.
The only other drug she mentioned in the book as one she took was marijuana, but that was mainly during her brief marriage to Artie Shaw because he was a big pot smoker. But, like many people, she often took sleeping pills.
Regarding her diet, it wasn’t very good. Just the standard American diet, with an emphasis on meat. In the book, she mentioned steaks, chops, burgers. Fried chicken was mentioned as a favorite. Otherwise, it was the usual things; they had a barbecue; they had a birthday cake; they ate doughnuts on the set, etc. etc. Not a single fruit or vegetable was mentioned as being a favorite of hers.
Lana Turner developed appendicitis at the age of 17 and underwent surgery. But, that surgery was botched, and she had to undergo a second surgery for it at the age of 18 to fix it. Realize that people don’t develop appendicitis for no reason. It isn’t normal. It really shouldn’t happen to anybody. There has to be a morbid and abnormal condition in the digestive tract for appendicitis to happen, and it’s due, of course, to faulty diet: specifically: not enough fruits and vegetables; not enough fiber; and too much meat.
Lana Turner was lucky in that she had a nice figure, a nice shape, with dazzling proportions (36-23-36, reportedly) despite conventional eating habits. But, she was physically active; she enjoyed tennis and swimming; and it’s fair to say that she was naturally athletic.
But, she kept having miscarriages, so what does that tell you? She had at least 3, and she may have had more. That is, she may have had some miscarriages without knowing it- before she realized she was pregnant. So, all was not well inside her. It’s a bad sign if a young woman can’t carry a baby to term. She also had two abortions. The first was with first her husband Artie Shaw, but she didn’t realize she was pregnant until after they split up. It was a back alley thing because abortion was illegal then, and she almost died. The second abortion resulted from her relationship with Tyrone Power, but at least that one went well without complications.
I had read previously that Lana Turner really didn’t age well in the face, that the luster faded from her rose early, meaning in her 30s, and that what kept her going was one thing: makeup. And, she kind-of alluded to it in the book. She said that she brought her own makeup person on the sets to work with the studio’s. But, she said that there were instances in which, because of stress, lack of sleep, too much drinking, etc., they just couldn’t capture her look. They would try different angles, different lighting, but in the end, they just had to shut down production for the day because Lana Turner was nowhere to be found.
And it was the same way in her private life. She said that during her marriage to Fred May, what irked him about her is how long it took her to get ready to go somewhere. And he got sarcastic about it. He would tell her: “Now look: we’re going out with friends tonight at 6 PM, and I want you to be ready. It’s 10 AM, so you should get started: hair, nails, make-up, clothes; whatever. Just be ready by 6.” Invariably, she wasn’t.
But, it was the 1980s that her health really started falling apart. She was in her 60s and still acting some- not in movies, but on television and in live theater, when she started losing weight and getting very weak. Her weight plummeted to 95 pounds. I don’t know that she was diagnosed at that time, but for the first time, she stopped what she was doing and started focusing on her health. She spent much time at a health retreat in Hawaii where her daughter Cheryl was living. And she claimed to undergo a spiritual awakening that involved her renewing her faith as a Roman Catholic. She recovered well enough to return to the public eye, but mainly at charity functions and award presentations. Then, in 1992, at the age of 71, she was diagnosed with throat cancer- which was surely the result of a lifetime of smoking and drinking. She quit doing both, but it was too late. And, the last three years of her life were miserable, preoccupied with debilitating radiation treatments and chemotherapy. She really clung to life- she wanted to live- but it was to no avail. Her weight sank to 85 pounds, and she died, skin and bones, on June 29, 1995 at the age of 74.
Lana Turner hasn’t enjoyed the spectacular posthumous career that Marilyn Monroe has. But, I think Lana was lucky to make it to 74 considering how she lived and all the stress she had. It’s a shame that she was so unlucky in love. Her memoir does not speak well for the male gender, and I’ll point out (since it’s public knowledge) that her daughter Cheryl became a lesbian. Hmm. I wonder if it was because of what she saw and heard and experienced at the hands of the men in her mother’s life. I just have to hope that Lana Turner has found more peace in the next life than she found in this one.
That’s the title of a new research report that was recently published on Medscape. Just think: after all those years, all those decades, of saying that alcohol was good for you, that it protected your heart, prevented heart disease, and helped you live longer, it turned out that it was all lies.
It turns out that Dr. Herbert Shelton was right when he called alcohol a “protoplasmic poison” meaning that it’s poisonous to all forms of life.
How can alcohol be used as an antiseptic? Because it kills bacteria.
So, how did they get it wrong for all that time? It’s because they started with the objective of looking for benefits from alcohol. They were severely biased.
And who do you think paid for those pro-alcohol studies? If you think it was the alcohol industry, you are partly right. But, they’re not the biggest one. The biggest one was: the US government.
Why would the US government want to promote the health benefits of alcohol?
It’s because the US government has got this War on Drugs going on- in earnest for the last 60 years- and they have to have a way to justify it.
After all, if one guy gets home from work and likes to relax by drinking a glass of wine, that’s OK; it’s legal. But, if another guy prefers to smoke a marijuana cigarette, that’s not OK. That’s a crime for which he could be made to forfeit his whole life.
Keep in mind that I’m not interested in doing either one. I don’t want the wine, and I don’t want the marijuana. But, I’m sane enough to recognize the utter insanity of saying that one is criminal and the other is not.
So, to justify their persecution of Americans for doing what they want to do, which is to indulge in recreational drugs (a popular pastime) they had to create this false dichotomy that: drugs bad/alcohol good. How else could they justify throwing potheads in prison?
How did they do it with the research? One of the tricks they resorted to was to classify former drinkers, including those who drank so much it led to complete ruin of their health, as non-drinkers. That helped produce the numbers they were trying to generate.
I don’t drink alcohol at all, and I advise you to avoid it completely. If you can’t avoid it completely, then avoid it as much as you possibly can. Don’t nurse the popular delusion that a moderate amount of alcohol is good for you. Nobody is getting away with that on my watch. Here’s the report:
That is the title of a biography I have just read of Vivien Leigh by Alexander Walker. Even young people know her as the actress who played Scarlet O’Hara in Gone with the Wind, arguably the most celebrated and iconic female role in movie history. But, the highs and lows of her own life, including her health problems, were as dramatic as any role she played.
In 1913, she was born Vivian Hartley of British nationals who lived in India. But ethnically, she was mostly Irish and French, and, it is rumored that she had a little Indian blood in her from her mother’s side which contributed to her exquisite beauty. Her parents were well-off, and she was an only child, and her early years were very pleasant and comfortable. But, her mother was a very devout Roman Catholic, and she wanted Vivian to attend a convent school. So, when she was of school age, they returned to England so that Vivian could attend the Convent of the Sacred Heart in London. Let’s just say that her easy, breezy, lazy days of summer were over.
But, Vivian was bright. She was a good student. She became fluent in French and Italian. And she became very proficient in literature, including Shakespeare. (Most Americans don’t realize that Vivien Leigh was also a great Shakespearean actress.) She later attended other posh boarding schools on the European continent. But, from the beginning, all she ever wanted to do was become an actress.
So in 1931, at the age of 18, she persauded her parents to let her attend the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in London. But, a year later, she met a lawyer who was 13 years her senior, Leigh Holman, and she fell in love. They married, and she immediately got pregnant with their daughter Suzanne, and Vivian temporarily abandoned her dreams of becoming an actress. But, after Suzanne was born, there were servants and nannies galore to do the infant care, and Vivian resumed her quest for stardom with even greater intensity than before.
She found an agent who right away decided that her last name had to go. The name they settled on, Leigh, was of course, derived from her husband’s first name, although actually it was his middle name. And the change in spelling of her first name from Vivian to Vivien was done by one of her first stage directors, and it stuck.
So, she started getting parts, at first bit parts, in both British plays and movies, and she was noticed favorably by the already famous Laurence Olivier. He sought her to star with him in the film Fire Over England in 1937, and there was no stopping the romance between them even though they were both married. But, from the beginning, Olivier noticed that she had sudden, severe mood swings, although they did not disrupt her performances.
But, they became inseparable, and though it took time, they did eventually obtain divorces from their spouses so that they could marry, which happened in 1940. Each had a young child; Oliver’s was a son. And even though neither had custody of their child, they did have them enough of the time for Suzanne Holman and Tarquin Olivier to bond as siblings. Vivien reportedly had two miscarriages during her marriage to Olivier.
But, in 1945, during her marriage to Olivier, Vivien contracted her first case of pulmonary tuberculosis, which laid her up in bed for months. The very fact of that tells you that her health wasn’t good.
Regarding her habits, she both smoked and drank, but they all did in those days, and especially actors and musicians. At times, she smoked heavily, such as during the making of Gone with the Wind. I think it’s amazing that a woman whose acting career got launched solely because of her great beauty should smoke, but in those days, few realized how harmful and destructive smoking is.
But, she recovered from that bout of tuberculosis and went promptly back to the lifestyle that provoked it: smoking, drinking, late nights, and woefully inadequate rest.
Regarding her food, she ate a regular British diet, with its emphasis on animal protein and cream and butter, but not nearly enough fresh produce. Also, sweets were mentioned as a favorite of hers. She was always slim and petite, but realize that sometimes ill-health can keep a person slim.
Her manic episodes included severe hypersexuality, which manifested, at first, as increasing demands on her husband (for sex). But, by that time, Laurence Olivier was a man in his 40s who was working very hard, and although he tried to oblige her as best and as often as he could, it just wasn’t enough. As you know, a woman can always oblige a man with sex even if she is not in a responsive state, but a man’s lack of responsiveness is not something that he can hide or circumvent. And that led to her seeking sexual satisfaction outside the marriage.
The young actor Peter Finch became her long-term lover, with Olivier’s awareness. It was during the making of the movie Elephant Walk filmed in Sri Lanka and Los Angeles that Vivien was deeply involved with Finch (her co-star) when she had a complete nervous breakdown. It was in L.A. that Vivien was dragged away by the men in white coats, and Elizabeth Taylor was brought in to reshoot the movie, although they left in some distant scenes which included Vivien.
In those days, the main and only treatment for manic depression was electro-convulsive therapy: shock treatments. It is still used today but not nearly as much as before and usually only when drugs aren’t working. Vivien Leigh had a great many shock treatments. Over the years, it may have been over 100. And everyone, including Vivien, tried to recognize, in advance, when an attack was coming on so that she could go in for a treatment. The symptoms included the hypersexuality, which led her to have incredibly brazen and sudden flings, such as going to bed with a taxi driver, an elevator attendant, or just someone she met in the street. Another symptom was shopping addiction. Another was the loss of discretion in how she spoke to people. She was always rather blunt and unrestrained in her language- inclined to say shockingly candid things. But, it got much worse during her episodes. Many claimed that playing the role of the disturbed Blanche DuBois in Streetcar Named Desire worsened her own mental illness.
Her marriage to Olivier, which had deteriorated badly, finally ended, and it was his doing. He had fallen for another actress, Joan Plowright, whom he wanted to marry. But regardless of Joan, he had taken all that he could bear from Vivien. Their marriage ended in 1960, although for all practical purposes it was over before that. But, at the end, Vivien tried very hard to talk him out of it. Despite all her betrayals, which were induced by her mental illness, she felt a deep and close bond to him, which endured to the end. She never spoke badly of him. And, the same was true of her first husband, Leigh Holman, whom she stayed close to and spent time with even after their divorce.
But, Vivien’s best relationship may have been with her last lover, actor Jack Merivale. For many years, he was a friend- to her and Olivier. And when their romance blossomed, Jack felt obliged to inform his friend Laurence Olivier, who gave his blessing. Why shouldn’t he have when he was happily married? It’s interesting that Joan Plowright had nowhere near the beauty of Vivien Leigh. In fact, Joan wasn’t beautiful at all, in my opinion. But, Olivier was looking for something else.
Jack Merivale proved to be great for Vivien because he was keenly aware of her mental problems and always on the lookout for trouble and ready to steer her into treatment at the first sign of crisis. Apparently, the shock treatments did provide some relief. But, they both had busy careers, often on different continents, so they were separated a lot. But, when they were apart, she wrote to him frequently (daily) and some of her letters to him were published in the book. She was always intensely romantic in how she wrote to him, and it was very beautiful and also very youthful, considering that she was a grandmother of three at the time. She certainly had a fire for romance.
One of the last things she did in her life was visit India, the country of her birth. Not Jack Merivale, but other friends traveled with her. And then she almost made a trip to Russia because she was very popular in Russia, although not for Gone with the Wind which was forbidden in the Soviet Union for being too bourgeois.
But, after the India trip, she started coughing up blood, and it was soon discovered that her tuberculosis had recurred again, and virulently. She was ordered to bed and to stop smoking, neither of which she did completely. Jack was with her, although he was working at the time. She died alone. It’s believed that her lungs filled up with fluid and she suffocated. Jack had checked on her early in the evening, and she was doing OK. But then he had to go perform and when he checked on her a few hours later, she was sprawled on the floor, face down, dead. He tried giving her mouth-to-mouth but to no avail. He called her doctor. And then he called Olivier. Ironically, Olivier was in the hospital at the time for prostate cancer, but he checked himself out and took a taxi to her house. Jack let him be with Vivien alone in her room for a while. Olivier wrote in his memoir: “I stood and prayed for forgiveness for all the evils that had sprung up between us.” Vivien Leigh was 53 when she died in 1967.
It was very interesting to read about how she got the role of Scarlett O’Hara in Gone with the Wind. It was the most coveted female role in the world at the time. Vivien traveled from London to Los Angeles to audition for it. David Selznick refused to pay her way because she was practically unknown outside of England at the time. But, when he saw her and interacted with her, he soon realized that she came closest to Margaret Mitchell’s description of Scarlett in the book, down to the luscious green eyes. And, she also had the same dominant, willful, assertive personality of Scarlett O’Hara. And that’s what did it.
Could life have been different for Vivien Leigh in terms of her longevity? Of course. I have to think so. With better nutrition, better habits, and better self-care, she could have lived a lot longer. But, I am saying that in reference to her TB. I can’t make any claims regarding her manic depression, which may have been her destiny regardless. And, it may have been her mania that drove her to pursue her acting career the way she did, so who knows: without it, she may have had a very different life. It may have been a necessary part of her genius. Would she have been happier without it? Very possibly. I happen to think that when it comes down to extreme highs and extreme lows, as she had, that the lows hurt a lot more than the highs fulfill. So, I wouldn’t wish that kind of life on anyone. But, when I try to imagine watching Gone with the Wind with anyone else but Vivien Leigh playing Scarlett O’Hara, it is a very depressing thought indeed.
Do you live someplace that gets good and hot in the summer? It doesn’t have to be a particularly long summer; a couple months of hot weather will suffice. And do you have a small plot of land? It doesn’t have to be particularly rich land, in fact, less rich is better for what I have in mind- so long as it has good sun exposure.
What I have in mind is growing black-eyed peas because black-eyed peas are n incredible garden vegetable.
That’s right, I mean a vegetable. I’m not talking about drying them into a dried bean- although you’ll want to do that with a few to generate seeds for the next year. But, believe me, it happens automatically because you’ll miss more than a few, which you’ll fail to harvest.
I mean eating them like a green bean, where you eat it pod and all. Yes, you can do that with black-eyed peas. In fact, even the leaves are edible. You can cook them like spinach or put them in a salad like spinach. Either way, they’re edible. But, I’m mainly interested in eating that green black-eyed pea, pod and all.
They are very tasty and very nutritious. What I do is just steam them for about 20 minutes, and then I dress them with extra virgin olive oil and little bit of sea salt. That’s it. And they are good eating.
They are loaded with protein, minerals, vitamins- even some alpha linolenic acid- the plant-based EFA. Of course, they are also high in fiber. There is very little that your body needs that can’t be found in a green black-eyed pea.
The beauty is that they are very easy to grow. I’ve been doing it every summer for over 20 years, and I haven’t had a crop failure yet. They love the heat, and once established, they don’t need a lot of water. If they have any plant diseases, they haven’t happened to my guys. And I haven’t had any insect problems either. I have grown them organically the whole time.
In fact, it’s important NOT to fertilize them too much- even with organic fertilizer. That’s because fertilizer stimulates them to grow foliage at the expense of fruit, the fruit being the black-eyed pea. Really, it’s a fruit because it develops from a very pretty white blossom. And they bear more heavily when the soil isn’t too rich.
And the other great thing is that, like all legumes, they increase the fertility of the soil because they set nitrogen.
For me, it’s a summertime ritual, and I wound up with a lot of seed this year, more than I intended. If you lived close, I’d give you some.
But, think about growing black-eyed peas next summer. They’re also called cowpeas. Because you never know: having some home-grown food may turn out to be crucial someday. The nutritional density of black-eyed peas and the ease of growing them make them an excellent choice for your home garden- whether or not you think of it as a survival garden.
I have read many biographies but none have been as awe-inspiring as the new Wright Brothers biography by David McCallum. The Wright Brothers story may be the greatest story of accomplishment of all time.
It was an unusual family situation. A family in Dayton, Ohio with 5 kids (4 boys and a girl) where the mother died at age 58 of tuberculosis when they were adolescents to young adults. Their father, Milton Wright, was a Protestant Bishop. I don't know how religious the Wright Brothers were, but I did find out that they refused to work or even fly on Sundays because of the Sabbath.
Two of the boys followed the typical course of leaving home getting married and having children. But, Wilbur, Orville, and their sister Katharine continued living at home with their father. And that played a crucial role in the development of flight because how could the Wright Brothers have done what they did if they had wives and children? There aren’t enough hours in the day.
But, trauma played a role in it too. Wilbur was extremely bright and very scholastic, and he was definitely college-bound. But, he was viciously attacked during a hockey game by a boy who went on to become a famous murderer. Wilbur was too injured to meet the deadlines for college, and the whole idea faded away after that.
While still in high school, Orville started his own printing company, which was done by building his own printing press. The printing business grew after high school, and Wilbur got involved with him, although it was always Orville’s baby. And something they did in association with the printing business was publish a local newspaper for their section of Dayton, Ohio. And both boys contributed to the writing of it.
But, bicycle fever hit Dayton in the late 1890s. It was a real craze, and they got into it themselves. They loved to ride, and they became absorbed with the mechanical side of bicycling, which they mastered. And then they saw an opportunity to capitalize on it, so they opened their bicycle shop. But, many people mistakenly believe that they just repaired bicycles. They built bicycles from scratch. They had a whole line. It was called the Van Cleve, which was their grandmother’s maiden name. It was a high end bike costing $65, which was a lot then. But, they proudly claimed that it the best built and most durable bicycle in the world. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was.
The thing about Orville and Wilbur Wright was: they liked to work. They liked to be productive, to see something built, fixed, improved or enhanced by their own hand. It gave them more satisfaction than any kind of entertainment or recreation. I’ve known people like that. My father was like that. Like the Wright Brothers, he was happiest when he was doing constructive work, accomplishing something, especially mechanical.
The Wright Brothers had always been fascinated by the flight of birds. As lads, they had played around with airborne toys. But, the way the serious flying idea got started was that Orville got sick with typhoid fever.And it was a bad case. He very easily could have died, as many did. He was laid up in bed for weeks and weeks. And while he was convalescing, Wilbur would come in and read to him. And they started reading about this glider enthusiast in Germany whose name was Otto Lilenthal. He was known as the Glider King, and he was the first man to glide long enough and high enough to call it a sustained flight. Lilenthal controlled his glider entirely by shifting his body weight. And, he died in a gliding accident in 1896.
Something struck Wilbur and Orville that now that Lilenthal was dead, somebody needed to carry on the work of developing a flying machine. And their first thought was that control had to come from something other than the pilot shifting his weight.
So, the first thing Wilbur did was write to the Smithsonian Institute and ask for scientific resources on aviation. He was referred to the work of Octave Chanute who was French and to Samuel Langley who was American and the head of the Smithsonian. I don’t believe the Wright Brothers ever met Langley, but they did become friends with Chanute. So, Wilbur and Orville took to reading the known materials on flight. And Wilbur took up bird-watching as a serious hobby. He also read a book about the flight of birds called Empire of the Air by Pierre Moullard. And with that, the Wright Brothers became, as they said, “infected” with the desire to fly.
So, the first step was to build a glider that could fly for a sustained period, but more important, that could be precisely and accurately controlled.
Their very first discovery, which was really Wilbur’s and came from his bird-watching, was “wing-warping”. He demonstrated it to Orville and his sister with a model that he made of a double-wing bi-plane, that if you twisted the wings on one side, it changed the air pressure, causing more “lift” on one side than the other side, causing the plane to turn. That idea of “wing-warping” or “wing-twisting” was the first great idea of the Wright Brothers, and it came directly from watching birds.
It was the summer of 1899 that they started building their first aircraft, a glider. Just think: it would be only four years later, in 1903, that they make history and change the world forever by building the first real airplane. But this first unit was really just a glorified kite. It was bi-plane, with two sets of wings. They liked the bi-plane design because Chanute recommended it and used it in his experiments, and it seemed more stable than a monoplane. A bi-plane was like a box, and a box is more stable than a board.
But, what made their glider different was that they had long cords that allowed the operator on the ground to manipulate the plane in the air to effect the wing-warping. No one had ever thought of that before.
So, they spent 3 years just working with gliders, to gain the greatest control of the aircraft at all times. And it was very important to them that their motorized plane also be able to glide- in case the motor failed.
But, when they were ready for a motor, they first tried to buy one from a car manufacturer but with no success. So, they had this guy named Charlie Taylor, who worked for them in the bicycle shop for $18/week, build them a motor from scratch, using a 4 cylinder aluminum block.
They took everything in pieces to Kitty Hawk and assembled the plane there, including the motor. And, against a strong head wind, Orville made the first flight. It was December 17, 1903 at 10:35 AM. The course of his flight was “erratic”. The distance he flew was 120 feet, and the total time being air-borne was 12 seconds. That was the first time someone had flown a manned aircraft that was heavier than air and powered by a motor. Before the day was done, Wilbur would fly for half a mile in a time of 59 seconds.
Over the next two years, the Wright Brothers built bigger planes with larger, more powerful motors. They put on public demonstrations but forbid picture-taking. They were afraid that a blow-up of a photo might give away crucial details of their design. And there were several times that Wilbur caught someone, usually a journalist, taking a picture, and he stormed over and demanded the film. And I mean “demanded” as in: “give me that film, or else.” And the guy invariably handed it over.
Of course, word spread quickly, and it was the talk of the country. But, it wasn’t until 1906 that things really bounded forward in terms of national and international recognition. It was the French who had always been most keen on developing manned flight, and the French government, through emissaries, approached the Wright Brothers about buying a fleet of planes. But, the condition was that they had to come to France to demonstrate the plane and also provide instruction in its use to French pilots.
So, Wilbur went to France, alone, while Orville stayed behind to take care of things on the home front. And in France, Wilbur stunned the French. He put on air shows. And just think: from the beginning, aerial acrobatics was part of it. He did repeated figure-8s to the crowd’s amazement and delight. And since the plane was now a 2-seater, he took people up for rides, including dignitaries, government officials, and posh ladies. It was done at Le Mans, and you just can’t overstate what a spectacle it was.
But then, disaster struck. Back in the States. Orville was putting on similar demonstrations for the Americans, which happened near Washington. He had a passenger riding with him, a high-ranking military officer. Suddenly, the propeller broke. It was a mechanical failure; it was not pilot error. But, the broken propeller tore through the cable that controlled the rudder, and the result was that they plummeted to earth- nose first.
That the military officer, Lt. Thomas Selfridge, died (the first aviation casualty) is no surprise. What’s astonishing is that Orville survived. But, he was badly hurt with bones broken all over his body. It took him months to recover, and he never fully recovered. He walked with a limp and needed a cane after that, and one leg was more than an inch shorter than the other.
Wilbur came back from France, and the sister Katharine took leave from her teaching job to take care of Orville. The eerie thing is that there had been talk of President Theodore Roosevelt wanting to go up with Orville. When told about it, Orville said, “He’s the President of the United States, and I’ll do whatever he says. But personally, I don’t think he should take the risk.”
But, Orville did become functional again, and he did fly again. He and Wilbur started a new company to manufacture airplanes. And there were more big events ahead for them. The pace of the development of aviation soared immediately after that. By 1908, just two years after Wilbur dazzled the French at Le Mans, they had an air competition in France with 20 contestants. The Wright Brothers were invited but didn’t attend. But a few weeks later, Orville and Katharaine went to Germany, and there, Orville broke the world records for speed and altitude that were set in France just a few weeks before. Another big event was Wilbur’s flight up the Hudson River Valley which included him doing several circles around the Statue of Liberty, to the crowd’s delight.
Wilbur’s last flight was as a passenger. It was the first and only time that he and Orville flew together. That was in 1911 at an air show. They had always said they wouldn’t fly together so that if one died the other could carry on the work. So, by flying together, it was their way of saying that they had accomplished all that they had set out to do. Wilbur died of typhoid fever in 1912. He was 45 years old.
How ironic that is. Wilbur, who was older, was always the bigger and stronger of the two. And the disparity became even greater after Orville’s catastrophic accident. That Wilbur would precede Orville in death is something that nobody expected.
Orville continued piloting Wright planes for another 7 years. But then, he had to quit because of his disabilities from the near-death disaster. Severe arthritis set in, as it often does after such traumas. He just didn’t have the dexterity to fly any more. So, his final flight was in 1918 at age 46. He also sold the Wright manufacturing company and devoted the rest of his life to aeronautical research at the Wright Aeronautical Laboratory which he started.
And, he spent much of his time in the latter years in lawsuits for patent infringement. And, it wasn’t so much about money. He was famous for saying that all the money that anybody needs is enough to not be a burden on others. But, nothing mattered more to him than the legacy of the Wright Brothers.
Orville died of a heart attack on January 30, 1948. He was 77. But, just imagine what he lived to see: jet propulsion, rockets, and the breaking of the sound barrier- all in his lifetime. However, he also lamented greatly the use of aviation in warfare, which of course happened as early as World War 1. So, just a few years after Wilbur died, they were having air battles and using airplanes to drop bombs on people.
So, did health play a role in the developments of the airplane? I would say so. I mentioned that it was when Orville was convalescing from typhoid fever that Wilbur sought things to read to him, which wound up including the reports about Lilenthal perishing in a crash. I really think the Wright Brothers felt an obligation to Lilenthal to carry on his work. But, they also saw a fatal flaw in his approach: lack of control, the fact that Lilenthal tried to control the aircraft just by shifting his body weight like a sledder does going down a course. But, they knew that would never suffice in aviation.
There is no denying that Wilbur and Orville Wright were two very unusual guys. They were extremely bright, and they were very mechanically gifted. And, they loved to work. They loved to solve mechanical problems. Just think: Wilbur Wright, though he was only a high school graduate, gave speeches to prominent engineering groups which included complex mathematical analysis. And these speeches were translated and published all over the world.
I don’t think anyone doubts that manned flight would have happened without the Wright Brothers. How much later would it have been? That’s anyone’s guess, but I’d say at least 5 years. But maybe longer than that because it was the Wright Brothers who stirred up the whole worldwide frenzy to fly.
But, I have to say that I think it’s one of the greatest things that Americans have to feel proud about , that it was Americans who accomplished flight. And not just Americans, but regular working-class Americans who had no advanced education, little money, and very little help. You can have your military heroes, your sports figures, your Hollywood celebrities and your distinguished statesmen. I’ll take the Wright Brothers as my heroes any day.