Monday, November 25, 2013

The History of the Turkey Pardon

The play November deals with the controversial topic of presidential pardons of... turkeys. I got curious as to where this tradition got started. Here's what the White House website has to say:

Americans have been sending the President turkeys for the holidays since at least the 19th century. Beginning in 1873 during Grant’s presidency, a Rhode Island man named Horace Vose was responsible for “selecting with the utmost care” the “noblest gobbler in all that little state” for the President’s Thanksgiving dinner, a tradition he carried out for more than 25 years according to The New York Times. In 1947, the National Turkey Federation took on the role of official turkey supplier to the President, delivering a 47-pound bird in time for the Christmas holiday.
That year, the White House also began holding a turkey receiving ceremony, usually in the Rose Garden, providing a photo op that many confuse with the beginning of the pardoning tradition. Back then, however, birds were more likely to be destined for the White House dining table than the easy life on a farm. In 1948, President Truman said he would take the gifted turkey home to Independence, Missouri, where his 25 relatives “require a lot.”
So then when did the pardoning start? Here’s where it gets tricky. Tales of spared turkeys date back to the Lincoln days. According to one story, Lincoln’s son Tad begged his father to write out a presidential pardon for the bird meant for the family’s Christmas table, arguing it had as much a right to live as anyone. Lincoln acquiesced and the turkey lived.
In 1963, President Kennedy decided to send that year’s gift from the National Turkey Federation back to the farm where it came from. “We’ll just let this one grow,” he said. Sometime around the Nixon administration, the President began sending the turkey to a petting farm near Washington after holding the traditional receiving ceremony and photo op, although no formal pardon was given. 
President George H.W. Bush was the first to actually offer a turkey pardon. On November 14, 1989, he announced that year’s bird had “been granted a presidential pardon as of right now.” He sent the turkey on his way to the perhaps unfortunately named Frying Pan Park in Herndon, Virginia, and with that, a tradition was born.
In 2009 President Obama admitted that Courage, that year’s top turkey, came dangerously close to gracing the White House table. “Thanks to the intervention of Malia and Sasha – because I was ready to eat this sucker – Courage will also be spared this terrible and delicious fate."
"I'm told Presidents Eisenhower and Johnson actually ate their turkeys," Obama said. "You can't fault them for that; that's a good-looking bird."
Here's the Presidential turkey pardon ceremony from 2010. 

Everyone in the cast and crew of November wishes you and yours a very happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Oval Office Trivia

The entire play November takes place in the office of the President of the United States. Called the Oval Office, the office has been in use by the President since 1909 under President Taft.

 Why is the Oval Office oval?

The Oval Office has been the main office for the president since President Taft first worked in it about October 1909. After his inauguration President Taft held a competition to select an architect to enlarge and make permanent the West Wing's "temporary" Executive office built during Theodore Roosevelt's first term. Taft ordered a southward extension of the existing structure. The winning architect was Nathan C. Wyeth of Washington, D.C. who designed the wing expansion with a new office for the President. Wyeth modeled the new president's office after the White House's original oval-shaped Blue Room.

Before moving to the president's house in Philadelphia in 1791, George Washington ordered that the straight rear walls of the principal two rooms be rebuilt into a semi-circular form, or bows. In these bowed walls may be found the inspiration for the oval shape of the Blue Room. This distinctive shape apparently had been preferred by Washington to create a suitable space for a formal reception known as a "levee."

The original Oval Office decorated with green
burlap and painted ivory trim.
The levee, a tradition borrowed from the English court, was a formal occasion to allow men of prominence to meet the president. Replete with formal dress, silver buckles, and powdered hair, the event was a stiff public ceremony almost military in its starkness. Invited guests entered the room and walked over to the president standing before the fireplace and bowed as a presidential aide made a low announcement of their names. The visitor then stepped back to his place. After fifteen minutes the doors were closed and the group would have assembled in a circle. The president would then walk around the circle, addressing each man by his name from memory with some pleasantry or studied remark of congratulation, which might have a political connotation. He bowed, but never shook hands. When he had rounded the circle, the president returned to his place before the mantel and stood until, at a signal from an aide, the guests went to him, one by one, bowed without saying anything, and left the room.

Although the Oval Office was born in the expansion of the "West Wing" in 1909, the room's distinctive shape was inspired by the Blue Room and its form may be traced to a formal social greeting that was meant by President Washington as a symbolic means of dramatizing the office of the Presidency. After he became president, Thomas Jefferson ended the practice of holding levees and replaced this formal ritualized greeting with a simple handshake.

Why is the White House white? 

It has nothing to do with the burning of the house by the British in 1814, although every schoolchild is likely to have heard the story that way. The building was first made white with lime-based whitewash in 1798, when its walls were finished, simply as a means of protecting the porous stone from freezing. Why the house was subsequently painted is not known. Perhaps presidents objected to the dirty look as the whitewash wore away. The house acquired its nickname early on. Congressman Abijah Bigelow wrote to a colleague on March 18, 1812 (three months before the United States entered war with England):

"There is much trouble at the White House, as we call it, I mean the President's" (quoted in W. B. Bryan, "The Name White House," Records of the Columbia Historical Society 34-35 [1932]: 308).

The name, though in common use, remained a nickname until September 1901, when Theodore Roosevelt made it official. 

What's the history of the President's desk? 
The Resolute desk
Called the Resolute desk, the president's desk is made from the timbers of the HMS Resolute, an abandoned British ship discovered by an American ship and returned to the Queen of England as a token of friendship. When the ship was retired, Queen Victoria commissioned the desk and gifted to to President Rutherford Hayes in 1880.

The desk has twice been modified. President Franklin Roosevelt requested that the kneehole be fitted with a modesty panel carved with the presidential seal as he preferred that people not see his leg braces. Roosevelt didn't live to see the panel installed. President Truman liked the eagle motif and had it installed when he cam into office in 1945. Since this was prior to Truman's decision to turn the head of the eagle in the presidential seal to face the olive branch of peace, the eagle on the Resolute desk faces the arrows of war.

Every president since Hayes except Presidents Johnson, Nixon, and Ford has used the Resolute desk, though some have chosen to use it in their private study in the Residence. The desk was made famous in part by a photo of President Kennedy at work with his son, John Jr, peeked out through the front panel.

The Resolute desk left the White House during President Lyndon Johnson's presidency as it was loaned to the Kennedy Library for a traveling exhibition from 1964 - 1965 and was then taken to the Smithsonian for an exhibition from 1966 - 1967. In 1977 President Jimmy Carter requested that the desk be returned to the White House for use in the Oval Office and it's stayed in the White House since 1977. 

[ Source 1 | Source 2 ]

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

About The Author: David Mamet

David Mamet was born in Flossmoor, Illinois on November 30, 1947. He studied at Goddard College in Vermont and at the Neighborhood Playhouse School of Theater in New York. He has taught at New York University, Goddard College, and the Yale Drama School, and he regularly lectures at the Atlantic Theater Company, of which he is a founding member.
The Pulitzer Prize winner made his name with Sexual Perversity in Chicago (1974), and American Buffalo (1977). These dark dramas have strong male characters with highly charged dialogue that build dramatic tension within the confines of the play. He often portrays the plight of small-time drifters, salesmen, and hoods and the con games they play. Glengarry Glen Ross (1984) for which he won his Pulitzer prize is a damning representation of the American business practices, and Speed-the-Plow (1988) gives a savage view of the underside of the film industry. Glengarry Glen Ross was later made into a film version in 1992.
Mamet began writing for the screen in 1981 with a re-make of The Postman Always Rings Twice, with his script emphasizing the base sexuality and violence of the material in such a way that the original 1947 film could not. After Glengarry Glen Ross, Mamet had his first true screen success as a screenwriter with Brian De Palma’s film The Untouchables in 1987. That same year he received critical acclaim for his directorial debut, House of Games, a crime thriller starring Mamet’s then-wife Lindsay Crouse as a psychologist caught up in an elaborate con game.
After directing two more celebrated features (Things Change, Homicide), Mamet turned primarily to screenwriting lending his talent to such films as Hoffa (1992), Malcolm X (1992), and Vanya on 42nd Street (1994). He took a brief respite to step back behind the camera to direct an adaptation of his controversial play, Oleanna in 1994.

His screenplay for Barry Levinson’s political satire Wag the Dog earned him Oscar and Golden Globe nominations for Best Screenplay. That same year he directed The Spanish Prisoner, his fifth film as writer-director, a twisty spy thriller that had the added attraction of Steve Martin in an uncharacteristically dark role.
At the 1998 Sundance Film Festival, after the release of his The Spanish Prisoner, he noted on the amount of Mamet knockoffs at the festival:  
“It’s all very flattering, but it’s also natural. Someone like me, who’s been writing for a long time, naturally people coming up will look and say that’s a good idea. Just like I would look at the works of Harold Pinter or Samuel Beckett and say that’s a good idea. The old phrase is ‘Talent borrows, genius robs’ I don’t mind if somebody wants to write like me. The only thing that disturbs me is if they do it better.”
Mamet makes few distinctions between working on the stage and the screen; He believes both involve putting the material on its feet and seeing how it plays. With movies, that’s done in the editing room or sometimes on the set. With plays, it’s done during rehearsals. In neither case does he see himself handicapped by being both the writer and the director.  
“There are two stages,” Mamet says, “First I write the best script I can and then I put on my directors hat and say, ‘What am I going to do with this piece of crap?’”

Mamet’s other writing credits include the film scripts for Ronin, State and Main, Hannibal, Spartan, Redbelt, and a number of episodes of the television show The Unit. The original production of November opened on Broadway at the Barrymore theatre in January of 2008 with Nathan Lane and Laurie Metcalf.

Here's a political ad from the original Broadway production featuring Nathan Lane: 

November by David Mamet runs at the Dragon Theatre in downtown Redwood City November 22 - December 15, 2013. Tickets available at