The following broadcast may not be suitable for one-eyed Lithuanian midgets with false noses.
Easy to spoof one, but, in truth, all those tedious little disclaimers are what make American television possible. Because, although there is no Constitutional Right not to be offended, defamation and slander are both serious crimes liable, upon trial and conviction, to cost big fines, possible professional ruin, and even jail time.
So, disclaimers limit broadcasters’ legal liabilities. Engaging a nation teeming with grievance-collectors and their hungry lawyers, today’s TV might have ended up largely sports, cartoons, and cooking shows. Instead, before an episode opens, viewers can be warned about program content which might upset them. If they chose to watch anyway, they are chasing the shock they get. This fact alone comfortably alters a defendant’s standing in any free-speech suit brought against a network, producers, or sponsors.
Everybody is so used to them by now, we barely notice anymore, although, so happens, I was there on the night of January 15, 1959 when my father invented TV disclaimers.
Herbert Borkland Sr. grew up in Long Meadow, Massachusetts, son of a manufacturer so well thought of, the only instillation Rolls Royce ever built outside Europe went up next door to grandfather’s plant, since he had declined the prestigious company’s invitation to relocate to England instead. Herbert studied Law at Harvard University and went on to become Second Assistant to the Attorney General during the Roosevelt Administration. After World War II, when General Eisenhower was elected President, Herbert went into private practice with First Assistant Herbert Bergson, a direct descendent of French “vitalist” philosopher Henri Bergson.
After work, Herbert played hard at a country club bachelor’s life, excelling in amateur athletics, especially golf and tennis — Spalding used to send over new gear for him to test before they put it on the market — until marrying famous beauty Margaret Mangan after her much-publicized divorce from the scion of the Bliss family, owners of the largest Washington, D.C. real-estate holdings ever amassed in private hands. Washington-based Bergson & Borkland became the most prominent anti-trust firm in the country, as was noted in the Sixties’ best-seller The Super Lawyers.
Mum and I called him Borky. Borky was a serious but far from humorless father who proved to be among the most thoroughly honest Washingtonians of his generation. We know this because the Republican President’s FBI illegally raided Borky’s bank safety deposit box, searching for something, anything, to use to smear the previous Democratic Administration. The agents came up empty-handed. Mum and I could have warned them, knowing and loving the man as we did.
Now in the late Fifties, one of Borky’s clients, Paramount Television, bought the rights to a best-selling autobiography about the 1930s Prohibition Era war against crime-lord Al Capone waged by lawman Elliot Ness and his incorruptible crew Chicago newspapers dubbed “The Untouchables.” Nobly wooden Robert Stack played Ness, and tough-looking Neville Brand was Capone.
The hard-hitting show became an immediate Sunday night success but was also controversial because pressure groups and even Frank Sinatra accused “The Untouchables” of defaming Italian Americans. As a result, Desi Arnaz — “I Love Lucy” co-star turned successful producer — bleached the Italian accents out of the cast and crafted scripts to also depict the positive side of Italian Americans.
The Italian Anti-Defamation League was mollified, but a much worse brouhaha soon broke out over a two-part drama called “The Big Train,” whose first episode aired on January 5, 1959. In its storyline, mob enforcer Frank Nitti goes to Alcatraz prison but is treated more like a celebrity than a hood by the prison guards, and a scheme to jail-break Nitti soon develops.
Part one absolutely infuriated the present day warden of Alcatraz. The plot was made-up, to begin with, and the very idea guards would coddle, much less help any convict to escape, offended him professionally and personally. Starting Monday morning after the broadcast, the warden began to raise hell. He contacted every important office-holder he knew in government. His threat was simple.
If the second episode was aired, he vowed to move heaven and earth to get the American Broadcasting Company’s license revoked. ABC even then was worth a billion dollars; and the warden had an incalculable amount of deadly serious clout at the highest levels. The threat was far from idle, but, on the other hand, broadcasters cannot blow with the wind, not only because rights of free expression are involved, but because programming would become impossible if anybody could stall any series at will.
A solid week of increasingly frantic dithering shook up the ABC executive suites. The impasse seemed unbreakable. The warden was not interested in backing down and neither was the network. Finally, literally a few hours before “The Untouchables” was due to go on, somebody thought to call Herb Borkland.
I’ll never forget, although it took years to realize what I’d been in on the birth of. The telephone rang in our warm little “womb room” next to the kitchen, and Borky answered. Mum and I saw him get immediately very thoughtful while he listened. I can remember what he answered as clearly as if it were yesterday.
“What you can do is use a disclaimer. Run a notice before the show saying that the following episode of ‘The Untouchables’ is completely fictitious and in no way meant to reflect on the fine work done by the warden and staff of Alcatraz… Yes, it should work…. Glad to help. Goodbye.”
The rest, like the man said, is History.
“A mighty fortress is our God,” proclaims Martin Luther’s sixteenth century hymn.
Invulnerable within Himself is the Lord, but not so much, anymore, the worshipers inside His earthly houses. Pews, it turns out, make bad barricades.
Today, across two-thirds of The Big Blue Marble, Christ is a crime, and His followers are executed hourly in thrashing droves. Safely elsewhere, tense and empty, urban post-Christians shelter among the dregs of what used to be the Free World, fashionably scornful of the church while having never once in their entire lives drawn one breath not made fruitful by Judeo-Christian values and Judeo-Christian culture.
Churches once grew up on sites made sacred by what living martyrs suffered there. So much so, fourth-through-seventeenth century English law recognized churches as sanctuaries from civil arrest. The Right of Asylum turned back armed men closing in on fleeing criminals and cornered rebels, if only for as long as the outlaws loitered within sacred cloisters.
The spirit of the Middle Ages waned. Around the world, by the nineteenth century, armies often trampled down churches, although, on March 6, 1836 in America, we remember the Alamo made a valiant redoubt in the battle for Texas liberty. During World War II, the German Luftwaffe intentionally targeted three beloved seventeenth century churches designed by Christopher Wren. The City of London landmarks were demolished to wound British tradition and pride, not primarily to kill local parishioners.
Everywhere today it is both the physical churches and now their congregations, too, being torn and gutted. The 21st century goes harshly for lambs of God, as it also does for the free-market capitalism by which they prefer to bake, sell, and buy their daily bread. It gathers a fateful dark momentum, this world war on Christ, but is not new. As always, China is strenuously inhospitable to the Bible, but, ruthless as Communism can be, even state-sanctioned persecutions lack the raw slaughter of the Middle East and Africa, where the humblest churches pass for killing floors.
Within the last decade, reports The Vatican and Center for the Study of Global Christianity, every single year an average of 100,000 Christians were murdered in “a situation of witness,” meaning: “for motives related to their faith.”
Over the last ten years, for daring to love Jesus, every twenty-four hours an average of eleven Christians per hour — men, women, children, infants — have been cut down by cheering, jeering, dancing savages. And along with them, billions of others, in their savage hearts, also rejoice. We know, too, there has been torture: some of the cruelest martyrdoms since the Coliseum games of ancient Rome. Goes unreported internationally.
Where’s the outrage? To the degree that the existence of a Christian Holocaust is at all officially acknowledged, muted global reactions run a predictable gamut from institutional protests, to private negotiations, to picking up a gun yourself. Pope Francis, in May 2013, spoke of his concerns, his anguish, but what can even he do? Aside from a personal body guard of one hundred Swiss Guards, as Stalin famously sneered: “How many divisions does the Pope have?”
At the opposite end of the scale, we acknowledge contemporary Christian soldiers like biker Sam Childers, “The Machine Gun Preacher,” who protected South Sudan children by fighting along side of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army against war-criminals who styled themselves the Lord’s Resistance Army.
And what characterizes most Americans’ immediate reaction to slaughtering religious world war? The shrugging indifference of a participation-trophy generation blinded by their own reflections in a wilderness of flat-screens. Government schools spew out millions who believe they are free from superstition because they sneer at religion while being taxed to extinction by politicians who tell them the weather must be appeased so Gaea is safe.
Human life striving under heaven, as seen by Eighteenth Century visionary William Blake, is an intertwining of Each with All as sensitive as a spiderweb: “A dog starved at his master’s gate/ Predicts the ruin of the state.” Similarly, the public dismemberment of a church-goer in Uganda simultaneously publishes a death warrant for some anti-theist New York hipster whose sentence is stayed only incidentally by lack of the purchase price of a few hours of inter-continental airline travel.
…Your eyes brush over the words, but let’s be frank. Personally, you don’t care about not feeling bad about not caring. Not caring about church or God or Christmas. Your kind has a name. Look, you, where the bony finger points.
Whose name is chiseled on that headstone, Scrooge?
Tip of the fedora to Elena, who challenged me, this year, to do “Christmas — Past, Present, and Future.”
Old can be ancient, and ancient perhaps sacred, and it is we the living who must assay the difference in value between an artifact and a legacy.
A legacy is a beloved old something-meaningful you happily inherit by clear right of succession. Artifacts only stand for themselves, for “still standing,” have only the value of being their age, and must be held in trust because they belong to nobody. There is also such a thing as a legacy of artifacts, and it is bestowed by one generation on the next of museum-keepers. Is the house of God today a kind of museum? Are priests, then, as atheists argue, artifacts of a spent Judeo-Christian legacy?
Millions of atheists desperately hope — almost to the point of praying — to witness Christ, God The Father, the Holy Spirit, and all Heaven’s angelic claptrap finally go the way of agrarian Stone Age gods. Indeed, the revealed truth of “God is dead?” is, for atheists, their Ol’-Time Religion.
“God is dead.” — an orthodoxy first preached in the Eighteen-Hundreds by German philosopher Nietzsche and Russian novelist Dostoevsky. Geniuses both, to be sure, but even genius can be wrong. A straight-faced Christian tries to respect this deeply-held traditional faith so solemnly handed down by generations of pious middle-class materialists.
Now, of course, the last thing materialists want is a spiritual shock. So their academic scholars often overview human history and professorially dismiss all religions. They label worship as “tribal mass-delusion” brought on either by fear of facing the unknown alone, or for political control over peoples’ lives, or in smug self-justification for whatever the tribes take themselves to be — “God wills it!”
How long something lasts among us is the simplest gauge of its human worth. And what we witness today in Christian churches are two-thousand year old ceremonies still largely intact. Weigh this mysterious survival of religion against what anthropology teaches about “tribal mass-delusions.” They don’t last.
Fads, cults, priestly dictatorships, madness of crowds, “holy” charlatans’ cynical hoaxes, however brilliantly staged — all gutter out fast, often within the first generation. On the other hand, since almost nothing else human has lasted longer among us than religion, ipso facto — sheer endurance proves actual “spirituality” is both true to human nature and invaluable for our well-being. Worshiping god turns out to be healthy and normal. “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”
The basic insight is anthropological and not theological, which means its religious truth is rooted in observed human nature, not in the supernatural. This is another way of saying religion flows naturally from us. Notice, too, there is a circular and reciprocal legitimizing going on here. A “cult” lasts for centuries, thus establishing it is a true religion, while the historical fact of longevity also demonstrates such a thing as truth in religion exists.
Yes, atheists have always been with us, too, but they forever come in second, since they depend on disagreeing with somebody who already found God first. “The Church of Atheism” is sad empty rhetoric. By definition, the ungodly may convene but cannot hold services. You do not prove there is no Santa Claus by becoming him.
Is Christianity dying? All world religions are our persistent renewal of this ancient, not altogether one-sided dialogue between Man and God, but the permanent human intuition of a divinity protects no single faith. Once-mighty religions can dwindle into a wind blowing trash through a neglected temple. Ancient tongues beseeching lost gods echo uproariously down History’s marble halls. Deities can die. Old folk-tales say the forest gods left Europe on the day an iron ax first bit into green wood. Metal quenched the Immortals. Might not wi-fi quench Christ?
Be that as it may, the fading away of any one religion does not at all prove our theological impulses are inauthentic, only that we are after all essentially fallible. Even the most sublime inspiration sputters. Nothing humans make lasts except what we make of ourselves. And what we become depends on the original means granted to us. And some in every generation are born crippled, some tone-deaf, others color-blind…
Christendom, for centuries, set our lives to a slow but steady pulse by the mellowness of church bells metering the hours and days of circling seasons. Just below the high Cross, steeples often showed clock faces, so the godly need never be late to services. There was a time for every purpose unto Heaven.
Then, around the turn of the 20th century, the two most feminine affectations of the Victorian Era — smoking cigarettes and wearing a wrist watch — caught on among everyday men as well. It was a sign. Enter the Age of the Machine. Time was never again to simply be the human tempo of our beating hearts. People began living at a more peremptory pace than ever was counted out by tower bells, or grandfather clocks standing coffin-like in hallways, or “Christmas” clocks — wound up once a year — upon fireplace mantlepieces.
So, wrist watches made good sense. Time must be kept closer now. Revolutionary inventions were forcing on Moderns a newly-accelerated and monetized sense of time — “Time is Money.” And cigarettes? Puffing hurriedly through a cigarette suited busy city men better than lingering over the studied formalities of clipping, piercing and perhaps dipping in brandy a fine cigar, or the leisurely cleaning, reaming and tamping of loose tobacco into a favorite pipe.
So much happened so awfully quickly. Perhaps the single most epic change — after four millenniums of being central to human existence, the horse became obsolete. Multi-horse-power Ford automobiles left behind no smoking turds in the streets, but crime and sex ran wild. Before police could respond, storefront stick-ups came and went so fast, gunmen had already disappeared into the web of the city. And “Flaming Youth” caught fire when “dating” replaced “courtship” because young motorists drove off freely by themselves, together without chaperones.
Samuel Morse’s telegraphy shrank, first, nations, then the world, by making even trans-oceanic communications normal. You could wire Timbuktu. Pictures moved. Less than a generation after Louis Lumiere, live stage actors applauded by a few thousand theater-goers in a season, suddenly had to compete for audiences with the nationwide release every month of moving — if silent — pictures. Youth worldwide cheered former Broadway Shakespearean leading man William S. Hart riding like a cowboy centaur his famous half-wild stallion Fritz, “The greatest all-round horse that ever lived.”
The Wright Brothers gave man wings two weeks after the most authoritative physicist of his day declared heavier-than-air flight “impossible.” Voices, too, flew through space. Alexander Graham Bell, inventor of the telephone, refused to have one of the damned things in his own home because it so outrageously made possible strangers demanding a hearing at any time of the day or night. Yet soon, thanks to Tesla and Marconi, whole households spent hours “listening in” to their radio; and now, for the first time, fathers daily permitted into their family circle unknown strangers whom the family soon realized possessed more authority than father himself.
And we know all too well about changes in warfare. Man-to-man war, if it had ever once claimed a shred of nobility and honor, now became global butchery, first as a mechanized slaughter house, then, for a second time, as a blitzkrieg lightning strike of monster tanks trampling down national borders, and finally to be ended only by something even worse: nuclear weapons so destructive they threatened all human life on the planet.
So Henry Ford’s seminal invention of mass production, when writ large around the world, turned out to have a profound reciprocal effect on the workers who toiled at each stage of the endless assembly lines. Global warfare against civilian populations and a ruinous international economic depression — the howling naked anguish of hundreds of millions of human beings — proved how the rise of the machines had made the 20th century, for all its creature comforts, the most miserably deadly era since the plagues of the Middle Ages.
And machines begot more machines; change, both good and bad, nonetheless kept accelerating. Radio became TV, little silent movies got loud and big, the hard-wired electric circuit was transistorized, and the transistor soon shrank into a silicon chip. A booming American “consumer economy” grew up around cheap “labor-saving” devices advertised by Madison Avenue as guarantees of greater ease and leisure but which instead somehow created a restless uneasy sense of not having enough time to do anything anymore. The choices of what to do were never more various or inviting, and yet, it turned out, the long-promised good life just kept you running.
As World War II drew to a close, before the advent of television, movie-going stood at an all-time high. Up there on the silver screen, in a friendly communal darkness innocent as popcorn, there was still to be seen the positive optimism about ourselves and our nation which the coming Cold War with the Soviet Union began to corrode. And just as the obsolescence of the horse had helped to put cowboys among the biggest Hollywood stars, a similar but perhaps more secretly desperate nostalgia was at work among these mid-century audiences.
What was it we were harking back to when the biggest hit of 1945 became a Leo McCarey movie starring crooner Bing Crosby as a priest and Ingrid Bergman playing a nun? Not the simplicities of Christian faith, which the horrors of contemporary history had undermined among so many. Not even the idea of the church itself and the good deeds forever needing to be done in a war-shattered world.
No, those restless audiences — haggard by rush-rush-rushing around being spared labors which, in retrospect, turned out to have been decent and fruitful ways of life — they bought tickets searching for a half-remembered world, unmechanical, to be sure, and full of horses, but of a time when time itself came to our ears ringing like The Bells of St. Mary’s.
“Many, many years ago, word came down to a small Scottish village from the ancient castle in the mountains above. Its lord, an eccentric old bachelor, required a maid-of-all-work to come up there to live and serve him…”
So begins mum’s famous tongue twister. She never did reveal who passed along this centuries-old recitation, which all of us children loved to hear, especially when we were young enough to still be grappling with the mysteries of language and words. It remains to this day a gently amusing artifact from the parlor humor of a time when families were expected to entertain themselves. Little kids laugh at it even now.
The next morning, a young village lass knocked on the castle door. She had volunteered for the job but now felt a little unsure and nervous. The door opened, and there — large, red-nosed, his long red hair wild and uncombed, stood the lord. He gestured to follow him and led her into the castle hall, where the lord’s black-and-white cat crossed their path.
“What a nice cat!” The lass curtsied. “Your lordship, I am–“
“I am not ‘your lordship.'” He held up a hand to stop her talking. “Nor is this a ‘cat.'”
Looking confused, the lass could only curtsey again.
“While you live here, there are certain rules you must obey.” The lord approached her, glowering. “I am to be called Master of All Masters. This castle is High-Topper Mountain. The cat is White-Face Simmery. My pants are squibs-and-crackers. Bed is barnacle. Fire is hotcocklelorum, and water: pandelorum. If you make a mistake and misspeak, you will be sent home, immediately. Do you understand?”
“Yes, I do.”
The lass quickly learned the daily routine, which involved much cooking and endless cleaning, and for several weeks, everything went smoothly. But then, early one morning while making breakfast in the kitchen, a stray spark from the fireplace chanced to land on the cat’s fur. The terrified pet ran through the hall, accidentally setting a wall tapestry on fire.
The lass ran upstairs two steps at a time through thickening smoke and burst into the lord’s bedroom, shouting:
“Master of All Masters, get out of your barnacle, put on your squibs-and-crackers! White-Face Simmery has a spark on her tail, and unless you get some pandelorum, High-Topper Mountain will be all on hotcocklorum!”
“The Herd of Independent Minds” –Harold Rosenberg
When is a conformist not the smartest guy in the room? When he’s there alone.
So privacy terrifies conformists even more than originality does. Not surprisingly, then, conformists embrace — they kneel before — the ideal of petabyte computational power used against the private lives of an arithmetic number of “naked” civilians.
That’d be you and me. Call us The Unclubables. We join no clubs.
Unclubables are not the professions we serve. We do this, that, and the other job, to get by. Within the infinity of our own private aspirations, however, we walk alone and always straight ahead, unblinkingly fixed on working our way up to a long-term goal whose consummation is fully understood to be impossible. Herman Melville named us isolatos and said of our ilk, they are “the true American type.”
Now, on the other hand, the conformists’ Holy Grail — this airless end-of-days dystopia — envisions a world when the State achieves absolute power to harmonize all waking human thought and actions: Complete Control.
Is it here yet? Certainly not, and not tomorrow, either, but soon, yes, and for sure. Only unmitigated global disaster can head it off now. It’s what uber-techies with limitless billions of tax dollars on hand like to call — to only the right people, in strictest privacy — “doable.”
Worse, no simply political solution exists to what is essentially a medieval mass hysteria spread on contact through social media — a millennial religion for urbanites in dying over-crowded cities where they are taught to hate God and worship sterility.
Nietzsche foresaw the future rise to power of some new post-Christian profession equal in influence to lawyers, doctors, priests, and politicians. At last, they are among us — anti-god, anti-life, anti-beauty, anti-love — black-clad preceptors of a global culture of dark-and-edgy conformists busy hacking into what Sigmund Freud recognized as the Universal Human Death Wish.
This cold-blooded bathing in filth for its own sake is exactly what Unclubable Americans are organically dumb to and incapable of grasping. They wonder, in all seriousness, as the skies further darken over us, What the hell do these people think they are doing?
What do you suppose the international elite talk about at all those ultra-high summits, smothered in secrecy, where every stripe of political, social, and economic world leader come together? Try to imagine what possible message can be uniting in one attentive audience those exact same sworn enemies whose warring factions are presently tearing our planet to pieces.
The answer happens to be an open secret. The people who run the world today are consulting with those new professionals who will end it on some tomorrow within a foreseeable future. Power and Vision are arranging for the suicide of the human race.
New professionals are frigid and fearless post-humanists who stand for the elect’s secret comprehension of the approaching end of history. Think of them as undertakers, here to manage our gradual “scientific” extinction.
They do this 24/7. What else can they do? You think putting a man on the moon was complicated and took long-term planning? Try removing all the men on Earth. You don’t understand. You’re not “scientific.”
People, you see, aren’t going anywhere. Inter-stellar space travel is “unscientific.” So this is it. And natural resources, in the long run, are “scientifically” unsustainable. Be it sooner, be it later, the human race is kaput, and controlled Massive Die-Off must eventually be instigated worldwide by the new self-anointed Lords of Life.
Won’t be pretty, of course, but imagine how humble and yet proud of themselves those Lords will feel at day’s end. A relative handful of trillionaire superheroes of, say, five different sexes will, at least, have given the rest of us a dignified and orderly demise. Some among them will feel it is almost more than we deserve.
Does an Unclubable like you still doubt the necessity? Of course, you do. But what is your alternative?
The only possible alternative to Death Camp Earth happens to be Pain Planet — whole civilizations guttering out over monstrously savage years of human suffering on a scale beyond comprehension, from family-to-house-to-neighborhood-to-city-to-state-to-nation-to-pole-to-pole, as hysterical populations fight to the death over the last ham sandwich. Or, whatever.
So now surely even Unclubables must understand why, someday, for our own good, the conformists must smother us in our sleep, after first making sure all of us are dreaming together the identical lovely implant-chip dreams of once having been free in a green world whose name only now, looking back from its final dark edge, do we realize was always simply “Love.”
Afloat through moonlight sky in quiet gondolas the color of stars, the Lords will lie awake in the dark, perhaps savoring the dry “scientific” ecstasy of snuffing out God’s choicest creation. Try to understand why, as the world dies, the last Lords of Life must live on as ultra-pampered super-beings. How else can they console themselves for the pitiful hard work they must do to serve Gaea’s best interests?
“I’ve been trying to make a picture of a man. Changing, yes. Developing, I hope. Fantastic, improbable — perhaps. Or a slightly cockeyed ideal, if you feel differently. It doesn’t matter so much, so long as you feel that you would recognize him if you met him tomorrow.” —Leslie Charteris
Most popular 20th century action hero? The Saint.
In 1926, twenty-year-old half-Chinese half-English Leslie Charles Bowyer-Yin changed his name by deed poll to the shorter, more sibilant Leslie Charteris.
“I was born in Singapore, and learned Chinese and Malay from native servants before I could speak English,” Charteris explained in 1942. “My parents (Chinese doctor father; British mother) dragged me around the world three times before I was twelve and then they decided it was time I went to school. This was a mistake.”
No school could hold him. The precocious individualist began selling popular fiction at age seventeen. After placing his first novel, Charteris quit King’s College, Cambridge, to live his own life on his own terms and to be wealthy enough to get away with it.
Charteris kept writing stories while working through his personal version of the typical 20th century author’s street education: shipping out on a freighter, tending bar at a country inn, prospected for gold, went pearl-diving, labored in a tin mine and on a rubber plantation, joined a carnival and drove a bus.
The Saint was the fifth fictional hero invented by Charteris; and, in 1928, twenty-seven year-old Simon Templar breezes into an English seaside village hot on the trail of a gold smuggler in Meet — The Tiger!
Not a detective by any means, Templar is “The Robin Hood of Modern Crime,” a laughing dashing hell-for-leather buccaneer perfect for the mad sped-up Jazz Age. Handsome, superb, bantering — d’Artagnan reborn without a sword. If his pre-war British literary predecessor, Raffles, was a “Gentleman Safe Cracker,” times have changed. Post-war Simon Templar is the original Gentleman Killer. And, even more startling, he often goes to bed with pretty flapper girls, too.
He fights smiling, with a touch of poetry, like silent movie hero Douglas Fairbanks. Women see Templar’s sleeked-back dark hair and call him a Rudolph Valentino “sheik.” He is Europe’s first truly Modernist action hero, Roaring Twenties star-quality, and he comes complete with his own mocking logo, which shatters criminals with terror: a halo-ed stick figure striking a slightly effeminate pose.
Meet — The Tiger! embarrassed Charteris for the rest of his life. “I can see so much wrong with it,” he wrote in 1980, “that I am humbly astonished that it got published at all.” Charteris preferred to date the Saint’s debut from a run of brilliant novelettes published after signing a 1930 contract with Thriller — The Paper of a Thousand Thrills.
By his fifth urban showing, The Policeman With Wings, the Saint enters as an already-full-blown London public sensation. Charteris’ famous high style immediately demonstrates how to create a youthful, slightly satiric world perfectly scaled to Simon Templar in much the same spirit that, physically, Douglas Fairbanks movie sets were scaled down to make the most gracefully impressive use of his five-foot-six height.
By this time all the world has heard of the Saint. It has been estimated (by those industrious gentlemen who estimate these things) that if all the columns that the newspapers have devoted to the Saint were placed end to end, they would reach from the southeast corner of the Woolworth Building, New York, to a point seventeen inches west of the commissionaire outside the Berkley Street entrance to the Mayfair Hotel, London — which, as was remarked at the time, only goes to prove that the bridging of the gulf between rich and poor can be materially helped by the vigorous efforts of a democratic press.
The Saint’s normal conversation is a slangy stream of ad-libbed nonsense because he will not be cross-examined. One running joke has him make harmless statements sound naughty by adding “…as the actress said to the bishop.” (“You’re getting on — as the actress said to the bishop.”)
In this novelette, Leslie Charteris fully ignites the most charismatic hero in the history of action-detective fiction…
The Saint in those days had moods in which he was unwontedly sober. He was then nearly twenty-eight, and in those twenty-eight years of his life he had seen… and done more than most men would… have done in a hundred and eighty. And yet he had not fulfilled himself. He was then only upon the threshold of his destiny; but it seemed sometimes that he glimpsed wider visions through the opening door ahead. But this was not so much a dulling of his impetuous energy as the acquiring of a more solid foundation for it. He remained the Saint — the flippant dandy with the heart of a crusader, a fighter who laughed as he fought, the reckless, smiling swashbuckler, the inspired and beloved leader of men, the man born with the sound of trumpets in his ears. And the others followed him.
The pre-WW II Saint takes down bad guys, keeps a tenth of their “boodle,” gives the rest to charity, and he does this for a living. His perpetual nemesis, deceptively sleepy, fat, gum-chewing Chief Inspector Claud Eustace Teal of New Scotland Yard admits in The Gold Standard,
“We aren’t in the Saint’s class, and someday I suppose we shall have to admit it. If this was a republic we should make him dictator and get some sleep… I’ve had it out with Templar before — privately. The plain fact is he’s in the game with a few highfalutin’ ideas about a justice above the law, and a lot of superfluous energy he’s got to get rid of somehow.”
By the iron logic of public fads, each new Saint adventure must somehow top the one before. Charteris, now in his greatest years, bangs out Thriller novelettes and a series of “Brighter Buccaneer” short stories for Empire News. Finally, there seems to be no way ahead for the character. The Saint is a notorious criminal, and, however personable, the moral code of his era demands he be brought to justice.
Charteris neatly solves this dilemma in “the first big Saint novel,” 1930’s The Avenging Saint. Simon, for the first time, goes up against international terrorists, corrupt European royalty, and a high-finance war-monger. After a still-exciting mid-air airplane-to-speeding-locomotive climax, the Saint receives a full pardon for saving the King of England from an assassination attempt.
What Thirties standards of public decency could not do to dampen the Saint, the outbreak of World War II did. The Forties made impossible what Charteris called the “spurious glamor” he had created around Templar. The Saint couldn’t saunter into Berlin, pull Hitler’s nose, shoot Mussolini in the “tum-tum,” and drive away jauntily reciting to Patricia Holm a little poem of his own creation. Those days were gone forever.
So, during World War II, Simon Templar necessarily became a secret agent, just as, in the Seventies, secret agent James Bond, deprived of Sean Connery’s “spurious glamor,” became the Saint. Affable Roger Moore in no way resembled Ian Fleming’s “blunt instrument of state,” but casting television’s internationally-syndicated Simon Templar as the new Bond revived the movie franchise by subconsciously resolving for theater audiences the paradoxical silliness of a glamorously high-living secret agent.
The 20th century enjoyed seven Saintly decades of best-selling Simon Templar novels, novelettes, The Brighter Buccaneer short stories, Saint motion pictures in several languages (there was a French Saint), his weekly American radio show and various international television series, a long-running daily newspaper comic strip, endless paperback reprints along with, starting in 1952, month after month of The Saint Mystery Magazine.
Everybody loved the Saint. In the second half of his century, in print, Templar becomes the man at the cocktail party to whom people say, “So you’re the Saint.” His very presence promptly incites a mystery adventure. As time passes, Simon wears his years naturally and believably. Paralleling his creator’s own lifestyle, Templar, too, becomes a gracefully-aging globe-trotter who finds a pretty girl, danger, and a cash profit in every glamorous tourist attraction in the world.
Charteris penned his last stories for 1963’s The Saint in The Sun. Other writers chosen by him kept the now-sixty-two buccaneer ageless and triumphant in new novels, on television and in movies. Charteris protected his character’s core elements through every reinvention, but in later incarnations, the mocking righteous murderer blurs to suit the blander requirements of whatever media was exploiting the uncanny glamor of Simon Templar.
Leslie Charteris wrote in 1980 a preface for a commemorative reissue of — what else? — Meet — The Tiger!
There will always be a public for the old-style hero, who had a clear idea of justice, and a more than technical approach to love, and the ability to have some fun with his crusades.
That is how and why the Saint was born, and why I hope he may eventually occupy a niche beside Robin Hood, d’Artagnan, and all the other immortal true heroes of legend.
Anyway, on this date, I can say I’ll always be glad I tried.
“…As the actress said to the bishop.”