March 18, 2014
One of my all time favorite characters in the film world is Edward Everett Horton. For two reasons alone: the Fred Astaire starring film “Top Hat” and doing a lot of the voices for the cartoon series “Fractured Fairy Tales,” which is part of the great “Rocky and Bullwinkle Show.” I was very much raised by hearing his voice telling or re-telling famous fairy tale stories, but altered by the genius Jay Ward and others. Even that, going to work everyday on the bus I would pass the iconic “Bullwinkle” statue on the Sunset Strip, almost directly across from the equally iconic Chateau Marmont.
When I was a young teenager, I have a distinct memory of suffering from a severe flu, that kept me in bed for at least a week. My only companion was a portable black and white TV set, that had rabbit ears and more often, lousy reception. This was the moment and place that I saw my first viewing of “Top Hat, ” and due to my fever and mind-set of the time, this film (to this day) has a lot of meaning for me. Due to the bad reception that was very much regular TV viewing in Topanga Canyon, I only saw Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, and the great Edward Horton in a screen full of fuzzy images, but also each character and object had a double or shadow, due to the poor reception. Still, it was probably one of the key moments for me, due that I learned elegance through difficult times is indeed a customary way of living.
Ever since then, Horton came to me in various methods and ways. He succumbed to cancer in 1970, at his home in Encino, which was not far away from Topanga. I imagine it was around this time I was watching “Top Hat,” and not knowing his last breath was taking place within six miles away from my home. The big appeal for me was his voice, which was very high-pitched, but also sarcastic in its delivery. It was a perfect match with “Fractured Fairy Tales.” For me, it wasn’t the tales themselves that were important, but the delivery of his narrative. I got the feeling that he was relaying another type of story within the fairy tale context. One of my all-time favorite poets is Stéphane Mallarmé, who wrote a piece called “Un Coup de Dés Jamais N'Abolira Le Hasard” (A Throw of the Dice will Never Abolish Chance). Many claim that this French work cannot be translated into English or any other language due to the many layers of textural meaning as well as the sound of the words, which triggers different effects in the piece. Also the poem was laid out in a way where the spacing between the words has just as much meaning as the actual words themselves.
Sometime in the 1960s, Edward Horton made a recording of this poem, both in French and in English. He did the recording for a BBC radio broadcast that was transmitted over the airwaves once. The recording disappeared in thin air afterwards. Some have claimed that the recording was found, but up to this day (moment!) it has never appeared on the Internet. Therefore we have a mystery, and lord knows I love a mystery!