A Christmas Carol with a Playmakers’ Flair

Opening of Proff Koch article on "A Christmas Carol"

“Far away, it seems now, on the winter prairie of Dakota I was impelled with the desire to read again for my own enjoyment Charles Dickens’ immortal ghost story, A Christmas Carol. Fresh from Harvard, I was then a very young instructor at the State University of North Dakota. That was twenty-five years ago, although I can scarcely admit the passing of so many years. In that lonely isolation on the Great Flat I was pretty homesick, I guess, when I thought of the cheerful fireside associations I had left behind me in the sheltered East–of home, and friends, at Christmas time….

“It was a Sunday afternoon that I read the story, and I felt myself greatly cheered by it. So much so, that I mentioned the fact to a little group at supper in the University Commons that evening with the comment: ‘Everybody ought to read Dickens’ Christmas Carol every year before Christmas.’

“The Dean of Women spoke up: ‘Well, if you feel that way about it, you ought to read it for us!’ On the following Sunday afternoon, the last Sunday before Christmas, I read A Christmas Carol, seated in a great armchair beside a crackling wood-fire. Outside the snow was blowing and drifting with a bitter wind, but inside all was warm with the glow from the hearth and from the mellow light of candles. I remember distinctly the big bowl of crisp, green holly leaves some one had brought, and the soft singing of girls’ voices of the old songs we cherish at Christmas: ‘God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen,’ ‘Silent Night,’ and ‘Joy to the World!’

“So it began. The next year, and the next, and the next.”

-Frederick H. “Proff” Koch in an article penned for the December 1931 issue of The Town Hall Crier, a publication of the New York City-based League for Political Education. The article ran in advance of Koch’s reading of A Christmas Carol at Town Hall on December 15, 1931. The League for Political Education built Town Hall, a meeting space and concert hall, on 43rd Street in New York City in 1921.

An editor’s note preceding the article records that Koch, founder of the Carolina Playmakers at the University of North Carolina, had read the Dickens’ classic “to audiences in all parts of America more than one hundred times during the past twenty years.”

Cover of Town Hall Crier

Koch’s 11 a.m. reading on Dec. 15 was to precede a lecture by Winston Churchill later in the day. Churchill’s talk was postponed after the British statesman was struck by a car on Fifth Avenue and hospitalized. Koch’s invitation likely came from UNC and Carolina Playmakers alum George V. Denny Jr., Town Hall’s associate director at the time. Denny would eventually assume leadership of Town Hall and also start (and serve as host for) the NBC Radio program America’s Town Meeting of the Air, broadcast live from the 43rd Street venue.

When Tom Wolfe found Thomas (no kin) Wolfe

George Plimpton: What about Thomas Wolfe? Did he float into your consciousness at all?

Tom Wolfe: Yes, he did. I can remember that on the shelves at home there were…  Look Homeward Angel and Of Time and the River. Of Time and the River had just come out [in 1935] when I [at age 4] was aware of his name. My parents had a hard time convincing me that he was no kin whatsoever. My attitude was, Well, what’s he doing on the shelf then? But as soon as I was old enough I became a tremendous fan of Thomas Wolfe and remain so to this day. I ignore his fluctuations on the literary stock market.

— From The Paris Review (The Art of Fiction No. 123)

This new Google tool tracks the literary stocks of Thomas and Tom.

Check out what’s new to the North Carolina Collection.

Several new titles just added to “What’s New in the North Carolina Collection?” To see the full list simply click on the link in this entry or click on the “What’s New in the North Carolina Collection?” link under the heading “Pages” in the right column. As always, full citations for all the new titles can be found in the University Library Catalog and they are all available for use in the North Carolina Collection Reading Room.

Elvis, a waitress and Joyce Carol Oates

Waiting On Elvis, 1956

This place up in Charlotte called Chuck’s where I
used to waitress and who came in one night
but Elvis and some of his friends before his concert
at the Arena, I was twenty-six married but still
waiting tables and we got to joking around like you
do, and he was fingering the lace edge of my slip
where it showed below my hemline and I hadn’t even
seen it and I slapped at him a little saying, You
sure are the one aren’t you feeling my face burn but
he was the kind of boy even meanness turned sweet in
his mouth.

Smiled at me and said, Yeah honey I guess I sure am.

— Poem by Joyce Carol Oates (1987)

“Oates takes off from an incident described by Kays Gary in ‘Elvis Defends Low Down Style,’ Charlotte Observer, June 27, 1956: ‘The waitress brought his coffee. Elvis reached down and fingered the lace on her slip. “Aren’t you the one?” “I’m the one, baby!” ‘….

“Oates’s poem… suggests a more complete and convincing match than anything I know between Elvis Presley and Bill Clinton: one man who could, and one man who can, charm you almost to death.”

— From “Double Trouble: Bill Clinton and Elvis Presley in a Land of No Alternatives” by Greil Marcus (2000)

Banks succumb to ‘panic-stricken’ depositors

On this day in 1930: Fay Gardner, wife of Gov. O. Max Gardner writes in her diary about the worsening Depression: “A run made today on Commercial Bank here in Raleigh, also on the 1st National at Gastonia. Everybody losing confidence and becoming panic-stricken.”

The next day’s entry notes that “eleven banks closed their doors today.”

Before the year is out, 93 banks across the state will have gone under.

How to ‘land a whale on a trout hook’

“Voit Gilmore, 20… began working last summer to get the foremost U. S. political orator of the age down to Chapel Hill to address [the nonpartisan, undergraduate Carolina Political Union], which prides itself on paying no honorariums and on cross-questioning its speakers when they are through.

“In October he drove up to Washington, following a barrage of telegrams and letters, and made life miserable for White House Secretary Marvin Mclntyre until three weeks later, having industriously backed Mr. Roosevelt into a corner, he received word that the President would really come.

“Voit Gilmore then had to rush around raising $350 expense money. He told his hard-working mother (whom he calls ‘Bimble’) that he felt as though he had ‘landed a whale on a trout hook.’ At last, this week, Voit Gilmore rode over to the railroad station at Sanford, N. C. with Governor Hoey to receive the President.

“After becoming (for the 16th time) an LL.D., Franklin Roosevelt made a speech (broadcast nationwide) in which he invoked the shade of Theodore Roosevelt as a fighting ‘liberal,’ exhorted U. S. youth to ‘go places’ for Democracy [and most famously denied] ‘that I breakfasted every morning on a dish of “grilled millionaire.” ‘ ”

— From Time magazine, Dec. 12, 1938

Voit Gilmore went on to become a developer, public official, world traveler, environmentalist, writer and philanthropist. He died in Southern Pines in 2005. He was 87.

Secesh women get eyeful of black soldiers

“Henry McNeal Turner, chaplain of a black regiment, described a scene in May 1865, as African American troops marched with the victorious Union armies through North Carolina. Leaving Raleigh, Turner’s regiment reached the town of Smithfield, where they encountered a burned bridge and no other way to cross a river than to remove their clothes and wade, ‘chin deep,’ to the other side.

” ‘I was much amused to see the secesh women,’ observed Turner, ‘watching with the utmost intensity, thousands of our soldiers, in a state of nudity. I suppose they desired to see whether these audacious Yankees were really men, made like other men….’

“As Southern women ‘thronged the windows, porticos and yards, in the finest attire imaginable,’ Turner’s ‘brave boys would disrobe themselves, hang their garments upon their bayonets and through the water they would come, walk up the street, and seem to say to the feminine gazers, ‘Yes, though naked, we are your masters.’

“In this scene, charged with sexual and political symbolism, Turner captured a memory that haunted the white South for generations to come….”

— From “Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory” by David W. Blight (2001)