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From Publishers Weekly
"Why tar helpless infant with my brush neutral tinted sponsor safe?" wired George Bernard Shaw when he was asked to become a godfather. And when John Steinbeck won the Nobel Prize, he received this congratulatory telegram from John O'Hara: "Congratulations. I can think of only one other author I'd rather see get it." This eminently browsable and quotable collection gathers telegrams sent to mark events both large and small, personal and historical, from births and deaths to Oscars not won (Oscar Hammerstein, who won for best song in 1941, to Johnny Mercer, who lost: "Johnny. You was robbed") to the Civil War and the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. An entire section, "Lincoln in the Telegraph Office," shows the president keeping abreast of battles, spurring his generals on and requesting that a deserter who was only 15 not be shot. Orson Welles, F. Scott Fitzgerald and FDR are among the other luminaries whose carefully chosen words are included in this engaging collection.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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The book has never strayed far from our living room coffee table, as I still pick it up and leaf through it when many other old favorites sit on the bookshelf untouched for years at a time. I never get tired of re-reading the pithy, vituperative, thoughtful and always insight-bringing messages people from all walks of life sent on what was essentially the Twitter of its day (its cost per word enforced the same sort of economy of language that service's 140-character limit does today, for all but the very well off. royalty or government officials). Some of my favorites:
- George Bernard Shaw's exchange with Winston Churchill, both men being masters of the form. Shaw: "Am reserving two tickets for you for my premiere. Come and bring a friend - if you have one." Churchill's snappy comeback: "Impossible to be present for first performance; will attend the second - if there is one."
- Actor Cary Grant's cheeky reply to a telegram query: "How old Cary Grant?" with "Old Cary Grant fine. How you?"
- Author Robert Benchley to his editor on arriving in Venice, Italy: "Streets full of water. Please advise." (And a later message inspired by it, from Burton Bernstein in Tel Aviv, Israel to relatives in the US: "Everyone here Jewish. Please advise.")
- Novelist John O'Hara congratulating his colleague John Steinbeck on winning the Nobel Prize for Literature: "I can think of only one other author I'd rather see get it."
- Comedian Bob Hope's one-word telegram to US President Harry Truman on winning re-election: "Unpack" (cribbed from another old pol, Al Smith).
- Dorothy Parker's characteristically witty congratulating of a female friend on new motherhood: "We all knew you had it in you."
There are many, many more, but you get the idea. The samples of Western Union promotional material, archival photos of operators, delivery boys and others, and reproductions of original telegram sheets from various well-known personages add both to the book's visual appeal and its historical interest. The series of telegrams sent between Abraham Lincoln - the first world leader to use telegraphy in the prosecution of a war - and his family, his military generals and officials in his administration alone makes this book worth the (now greatly reduced) purchase price.
There are also some gems that became inadvertent collector's items through their senders' involvement in historic events, such as legendary filmmaker Cecil B. DeMille's message to his studio's NYC office requesting permission to "rent barn in place called Hollywood" in the early days of the cinema industry. From the mundane and utilitarian to the hilarious and portentous, the telegrams reproduced in this book make every single page informative and entertaining reading.
That was Victor Hugo's telegram to his publisher to inquire about book sales. As sales were brisk, his publisher responded with the following telegram:
This kind of funny and unusual material makes TELEGRAM! a perfect book to browse through in the fashion of a coffee table book. Linda Rosenkrantz is an able and witty guide as she leads us through telegrams historic and momentous, and just plain silly.
Another favorite: The writer George S. Kaufman attended a production of his play OF THEE I SING. Unimpressed by actor William Gaxton's performance, Kaufman sent Gaxton the following telegram:
WATCHING YOUR PERFORMANCE FROM THE LAST ROW. WISH YOU WERE HERE.