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Evening star. [volume] (Washington, D.C.) 1854-1972, August 03, 1947, Image 125

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Persistent link: https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn83045462/1947-08-03/ed-1/seq-125/

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“Who Was That lady...?” BY MARION HARGROVE
O' Author of “See Here, Private Hargrove”
| Everybody blames Joe Miller for today's
bad gags. But it wasn't his fault. Here's
how an ancient comic became a legend
because of a book he didn't write . . .
Just for the record, Joe Miller never wrote that joke book.
He never even heard of it. He has no more connection with
it than Lincoln has with the highway or George Washington
has with the bridge.
Mr. Miller’s footprints on the sands of time were put there
by a tramp who stole his shoes.
Whan Tnaanb 1am<m J * J aLZ. 1 *— 1
about the only thing he left behind him was his good name.
He had been for some 29 years a valuable property of London’s
Drury Lane Theater, where he played 59 different comic roles.
He was good box-office and a darling of the critics, and he
might well have expected history to remember him only as an
exceptionally good comedian who always left ’em laughing.
That was the way his relatives thought of
Joe Miller. When they set up his tombstone,
they chiseled on it that he was “a tender hus
band, a sincere friend, a facetious companion
and an excellent comedian.” He was known
and loved, the epitaph added, for his
“honesty and wit and humor.”
As things developed, the outlay on this
tombstone was money down the drain. A later
generation launched a building project on the
ground where Joe lay buried, and nobody
knows what happened to Joe’s monument.
To explain what happened to Joe Miller’s
written and put in the keyhole of his chamber: 'I am gone
to the Elephant and Castle, where you shall And me, and if
you can’t read this note — ’ ”
Read: — Carry it down to the stationer’s and he will read
it for you.
Mottley: Oh. You’ve heard it.
Read: I’ve heard it, and I’ve heard it better told. The way
you mangle a gag, it’s easy to figure out why your (days close
the night they open.
Mottley: Good old T. R.! Always clowning! Hey. a
rube joke! “A melting sermon being preached in a country
church, all fell a-wecping but one man, who being asked — ”
Read: I’ve heard it.
Mottley: “ — Who being asked why he did not weep with
,i • • a a aw • « • ••
uic icbi, vni, aaiu uc, i ucnnig wj aiiuuici |xu icui.
Read: I said I’d heard it.
Mottley: Killing-comeback joke: “A gentleman lying on his
deathbed called to hit coachman who had been an old servant,
and said, ‘Ah, Tom, I’m going cm a long rug
ged journey, worse than ever you drove me.’
‘Oh, dear sir,’ replied the fellow (he having
been but an indifferent master to him), ‘ne’er
let that discourage you, for it is all downhill.’ ”
Read: Let’s not read all of them now. Just
throw the manuscript over on my desk while
I’ve still got the heart to publish it. What
about a title for this bilge?
Mottley: I’ve got that, too. Call it "The
Wit’s Vade-Mecum.’’
Read: The wit’s what?
Mottley: Vadtsirvoim It’s Iatin M»anc
good name, let us go back to the year 1739,
only a few months after Mr. Miller shuffled
it-? __ •* era • .a m
AUTHOR: Only 27, he's
“go with me.” Companion, sort of. The wit’s
companion.
VII uiu UMUII WU. ilic 3LCIIC IS UiC LMUCC til *•
T. Read, a publisher, in Dogwell Court, Lon
don. Mr. Read looks up from his composing-stone as one
John Mottley, a jackleg playwright and literary handy man,
enters.
247 Baal Battaiaa
Read: If you’re looking for another advance, the door’s
right behind you. Three weeks I’ve been waiting for this joke
book copy!
Mottley: I got the whole thing right here, T. R.! A col
lection of the most brilliant jests, the politest repartees, the
most elegant bons mots in the English language —
Read: If you’re dreaming up a blurb for the title page,
write it down yourself. I’m no stenographer.
Mottley: T. R., let me be the first to congratulate you!
You ve got right here two hundred and forty-seven of the
finest gags ever collected under one cover. You’re a made
man, T. R.!
Read: (leafing through manuscript) You got any jokes I •
ain’t heard? This one about Alexander the Great I’ve had
in twelve joke books already.
Mottley: Just listen to this one: “An Irish lawyer of the
Temple, having occasion to go to dinner, left these directions
vinz sr.
*■« kead: no gooa.
Mottley: Well, ah, what about “John
Mottky’s Jests: or, The Wit’s Vade-Mecum”?
Read: Look, Mottley, we’re going to have trouble enough
selling this book as it is. Let’s not kill it altogether, shall we,
by letting people know you wrote it. Think of somebody real
funny.
Mottley: Joe Miller?
Read: (triumphantly) That’s it! Joe Miller! “Joe Milkr's
Jests, or. The Wit’s Vade-Mecum.” Maybe that title won’t sell!
Mottley: You’ve hit it, T. R„ you’ve really hit it! There’s
a title that sings!
Read: Oh, if only I’d got this idea while Joe Miller was
Still amund! What a inki> hnnlr rruild haw tumod mtl
MoTTLKY: (miffed) I don’t know about that, T.R.
Joe Miller was illiterate. At least I can write!
READi I never heard a critic say you could.
To cut the story down to reasonable length, “Joe Miller’s
Jests, by Elijah Jenkins, Esq.” was a sell-out. Despite the
age and frailty of the material, despite what the critics said
about it, despite the knowledge that got about that it was
Mottle y’s work, it sold. It went through three editions the
first year, picking up 26 “new" jokes on the way. Six years
Continued on page 12

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