Saturday, September 28, 2013

BEL GEDDES, NORMAN Celebrated Futurist (c) By Polly Guerin

Though many people may not be familiar with the renowned American industrial designer Norman Bel Geddes he is best known to New Yorkers for the “Futurama” exhibition at the 1939-40 World’s Fair, where 5 million visitors got the opportunity to behold a 35,000 square foot installation and leave with a pin proclaiming, “I Have Seen the Future.” Bel Geddes (1893-1958) was a visionary who played a significant role in the 1920s and ‘30s, shaping not only modern America but also the nation’s image of itself as a global innovator and world leader. Pictured above: Bel Geddes with Futurama Diorama, ca. 1939. Image courtesy of the Edith Lutyens and Norman Bel Geddes Foundation/Ransom Center. 
THE DA VINCI OF 20TH CENTURY The “Norman Bel Geddes: I Have Seen the Future” exhibit at the Museum of the City of New York through February 2014 is the first major exploration of the stage and industrial designer’s oeuvre, whom The New York Times dubbed, “the Leonardo da Vinci of the 20th Century.” Bel Geddes’ portrayal of what would become streamlined, technocratic and optimistic captured the national consciousness.

I HAVE SEEN THE FUTURE Much of what American take as commonplace, such as a drive on an interstate highway, a visit to a multimedia Broadway show, dinner in a sky-high revolving restaurant, or game-watching in an all-weather stadium were innovations pioneered by the futurist. Bel Geddes popularized modernism for home design, and used streamlining as his design mantra, which was demonstrated with his designs for transportation vehicles such as buses, yachts, ships and cars. Bel Geddes’ Motor Car No. 9 (Gold tone, without tail fin) circa 1933 is a striking example of automobile-streamline-chic. Image: Courtesy of the Edith Lutyens and Norman Bel Geddes Foundation/Harry Ransom Center.
A FUTURISTIC WORLD Bel Geddes later moved into designing complete systems, such as urban utopias and he remained a visionary even after World War II he was involved in virtually every field that defined Cold War American.  A complicated figure, he was a savvy businessman and an incredible showman combined.  His monumental claim to fame was Bel Geddes’ aim to do nothing less than to transform America through design.
Highlights of the exhibition include: The General Motors commissioned film “To New Horizons,” which provides museum-goers with footage of what it was like to attend the “Futurama” exhibition at the 1939-1940 New York World’s Fair.  Monumental sketches of stage sets and rare photographs of The Divine Comedy, whose production will be shown as computer stimulation demonstrates Be Geddes’ versatile skills for theater production.  To see a complete listing of the exhibition highlights and events visit:

ANDERSON, LEROY and The Typewriter Syncopated Music (c) By Polly Guerin

 Leroy Anderson's The Typewriter

Can a typewriter become a musical instrument? Well, if you were the famed American composer Leroy Anderson (1908-1975), the answer would be most emphatically "Yes"!!!  Anderson's musical style employed creative instrumental effects and occasionally made use sound-generating items such as typewriters. The composer would occasionally appear on the Boston Pops regular concerts on PBS to conduct his own music while Arthur Fiedler, the Pops' director, would sit on the sidelines.   For 'The Typewriter' Fiedler would don a green eyeshade, roll up his sleeves, and mime working on an old typewriter while the orchestra played.  The Typewriter had worldwide fame. It was used as the theme song for Esto no tiene nombre, a Puerto Rican television comedy program, which was loosely based on the US television series Rowatt & Martin's Laugh In. 

LISTEN TO THE TYPEWRITER For all the aficionados who remember the typewriter and for those individuals who want to experience a delightful recording go to you tube to listen to the 2011 performance by the National Orchestra and Chorus of Spain in Madrid with the typewriter soloist Alfredo Anaya's enchanting rendition to the surprise and admiration of both orchestra and audience. To access this uptodate delightful recording go to the following link:
SUCCESS, SUCCESS Anderson's pieces and his recordings during the 1950s were immense commercial successes. “Blue Tango” was the first instrumental recording ever to sell one million pieces, earning a Golden Disc and the No. 1 spot on the Billboard Charts.  His most famous pieces are probably 'Sleigh Ride' and 'The Syncopated Clock', both of which are instantly recognizable to millions of people. In 1950, WCBS-TV in New York City selected Syncopated Clock, as the theme song for The Late Show, the WCBS late-night movie. 
LYRICS BY PARISH Mitchell Parish added lyrics to 'Syncopated Clock', and later wrote words for other Anderson tunes, including 'Sleigh Ride', which was not written as a Christmas piece as surmised, but as a work that describes a winter event.  Anderson's oeuvre was prolific.  From 1952-196l his composition 'Plink, Plan, Plunk' was used as the theme for the CBS panel show I've Got a Secret.  More success followed. In 2006, one of his piano works, "Forgotten Dreams", written in 1954 became the background for a British TV advertisement for mobile phone company '3'. Montovani's recording of the song had been the closing theme for WABC-TVs Eyewitness News for much of the 1930s.
In 1936 Leroy Anderson's arrangements came to the attention of Arthur Fiedler, who asked to see any original composition and thus began his career in works like Jazz Pizzicato and Jazz Legato, combined recordings that went on to become one of Anderson's signature collections. His light concert pieces and syncopated rhythms remain a joyful legacy of rare and original renditions that continue to intrigue and delight listening audiences everywhere.
Polly Guerin
Author: The Cooper Hewitt Dynasty of New York (History Press 2012)