President Warren G. Harding’s Steamy Love Letters

If you know something about American history, you know that Warren G. Harding (1865-1923) will never appear on Mount Rushmore. He died during his unpopular first term in office, tarnished by the Teapot Dome scandal and revelations of an extramarital affair. Harding once apparently said, “I am not fit for this office and should never have been here." And historians tend to agree. Consistently polls ranking the performance of American presidents put him at the bottom of the list.

History might, however, look more kindly upon Harding's love letters, the byproduct of his womanizing ways. Before taking office, Harding fathered a love child with Nan Britton, a woman 31 years his junior. He also carried on a 15-year affair with Carrie Fulton Phillips, a friend's wife, to whom he started writing letters in 1910. And what letters they were. Here's one from January 28, 1912:

I love your poise

Of perfect thighs

When they hold me

in paradise. . .

I love the rose

Your garden grows

Love seashell pink

That over it glows

I love to suck

Your breath away

I love to cling —

There long to stay. . .

I love you garb’d

But naked more

Love your beauty

To thus adore. . .

I love you when

You open eyes

And mouth and arms

And cradling thighs. . .

If I had you today, I’d kiss and

fondle you into my arms and

hold you there until you said,

‘Warren, oh, Warren,’ in a

benediction of blissful joy. . . . I

rather like that encore

discovered in Montreal.

Did you?

And another from September 15, 1913, which John Oliver playfully mocks above:

Honestly, I hurt with the insatiate longing, until I feel that there will never be any relief untilI take a long, deep, wild draught on your lips and then bury my face on your pillowing breasts. Oh, Carrie! I want the solace you only can give. It is awful to hunger so and be so wholly denied. . . . Wouldn’t you like to hear me ask if we only dared and answer, “We dare,” while souls rejoicing sang the sweetest of choruses in the music room? Wouldn’t you like to get sopping wet out on Superior — not the lake — for the joy of fevered fondling and melting kisses? Wouldn’t you like to make the suspected occupant of the next room jealous of the joys he could not know, as we did in morning communion at Richmond?

Oh, Carrie mine! You can see I have yielded and written myself into wild desire. I could beg. And Jerry came and will not go, says he loves you, that you are the only, only love worthwhile in all this world, and I must tell you so and a score or more of other fond things he suggests, but I spare you. You must not be annoyed. He is so utterly devoted that he only exists to give you all. I fear you would find a fierce enthusiast today.

Originally unearthed by historian Francis Russell in 1964, the letters were donated to the Library of Congress, where they remained under seal until 2014. You can find scans of the original Warren G. Harding-Carrie Fulton Phillips Correspondence on the LOC website. (The LOC also produced an informative video on the exchange.) Read transcriptions of the best letters at The New York Times.

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Hear Young Bob Dylan, Before Releasing His First Album, Tell Amazing Tales About Growing Up in a Carnival

Back in 2012, we featured a young Bob Dylan talking and playing on The Studs Terkel radio show in 1963. Open Culture's Mike Springer prefaced the interview with these words, "Dylan had just finished recording the songs for his second album, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, when he traveled from New York to Chicago to play a gig at a little place partly owned by his manager, Albert Grossman, called The Bear Club. The next day he went to the WFMT studios for the hour-long appearance on The Studs Terkel Program. Most sources give the date of the interview as April 26, 1963, though Dylan scholar Michael Krogsgaard has given it as May 3." In talking with Studs, Dylan told some tall tales (scholars say) about his youth, ones that would have made Huckleberry Finn proud. And that tendency to create an alternative biography is on display again in an even earlier interview, dating back to March 11, 1962.

Animated by Blank on Blank above, the (excerpted) interview lets us hear Dylan, only 20 years old, before the release of his eponymous debut album, and before achieving any kind of fame. Young Dylan tells Cynthia Gooding, host of the "Folksinger's Choice" radio program in NYC, about the six years he spent with the carnival.

I was with the carnival off and on for about six years... I was clean-up boy, I used to be on the main line, on the ferris wheel, uh, do just run rides. I used to do all kinds of stuff like that... And I didn't go to school a bunch of years and I skipped this and I skipped that.

Later he continued:

I wrote a song once. I'm trying to find, a real good song I wrote. An' it's about this lady I knew in the carnival. An' er, they had a side show, I only, I was, this was, Thomas show, Roy B Thomas shows, and there was, they had a freak show in it, you know, and all the midgets and all that kind of stuff. An' there was one lady in there really bad shape. Like her skin had been all burned when she was a little baby, you know, and it didn't grow right, and so she was like a freak. An' all these people would pay money, you know, to come and see and ... er ... that really sort of got to me, you know. They'd come and see, and I mean, she was very, she didn't really look like normal, she had this funny kind of skin and they passed her of as the elephant lady. And, er, like she was just burned completely since she was a little baby, er.

You can hear a nearly complete audio recording of the interview (55 minutes) below, and read a transcript of the full interview on Expecting Rain.

Over on Spotify, you can hear the 11 songs that Dylan played for Gooding that day.

They include several that Dylan wrote, along with some old folk and blues songs:

  1. "(I Heard That) Lonesome Whistle" (Hank Williams/Jimmie Davis)
  2. "Fixin' to Die" (Bukka White)
  3. "Smokestack Lighning" (Howlin' Wolf)
  4. "Hard Travelin'" (Woody Guthrie)
  5. "The Death of Emmett Till"  (Bob Dylan)
  6. "Standing on the Highway" (Bob Dylan)
  7. "Roll on John" (Rufus Crisp)
  8. "Stealin'" (traditional)
  9. "It Makes a Long Time Man Feel Bad" (traditional)
  10. "Baby, Please Don't Go" (Big Joe Williams)
  11. "Hard Times in New York Town" (Bob Dylan)

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Hear Anaïs Nin Read From Her Celebrated Diary: A 60-Minute Vintage Recording (1966)

At one time, writer Anaïs Nin’s reputation largely rested on her passionate, long-term love affair with novelist Henry Miller, whom she also financially supported while he wrote his best-known novels and became, writes Sady Doyle, a “darling of the avant-garde.” Nin herself was a marginalized, “unfashionable” writer, whose “frank portrayals of illegal abortions, extramarital affairs and incest” brought such critical opprobrium down on her that “by 1954, Nin believed the entire publishing industry saw her as a joke.” She had good reason to think so.

Miller’s notoriously censored books won him cult literary status, and inspired the Beats, Norman Mailer, Philip Roth, and many more hedonistic male writers seeking to turn their lives into art. Nin’s equally explicit work was met, she lamented, “with indifference, with insults.” Critics either ignored her novels, several of them self-published, or dismissed them as vulgar, artless, and worse. One headline, Doyle notes, called Nin “a monster of self-centeredness whose artistic pretentions now seem grotesque.”

All of that changed when Nin published the first volume of her diary in 1966. Thereafter, she achieved global fame as a feminist icon, and the next ten years saw the publication of an additional six volumes of her journals, then several more excerpts after her death in 1977. Most notably, Henry and June appeared in 1986 (subsequently made into a film by Philip Kaufman), a book which---in conjunction with the publication of her and Miller’s letters the following year---further added to the mythology of the two passionately erotic writers.

Nin had kept her diaries religiously since age 11, and has become known as “modernity’s most prolific and perceptive diarist,” writes Maria Popova, a distinction that has led to a tremendous resurgence in pop culture popularity in our time, when well-crafted self-revelation is de rigeur for artists, activists, online personalities, and aspirants of all kinds. Henry Miller is now “a marginalized and largely forgotten American writer” (or so claims his biographer Arthur Hoyle), and Nin has become a “patron saint of social media,” writes Doyle, a “proto-Lena-Dunham.” Pithy quotations from her diaries---properly credited or not---constantly circulate on Tumblr, Facebook, and Twitter.

A new generation just discovering Anaïs Nin can access her work in any number of ways---from hip, meme-heavy Tumblr accounts like Fuck Yeah Anais Nin to more formal online venues like the Anais Nin Blog, which aggregates biographies, podcasts, scholarship, bibliographies, controversies, and anything else one might want to know about the author. Anaïs Nin fans can also hear the author herself read from her famous diary in the audio here. At the top of the post, hear Nin’s reading, recorded in ’66, the year of the first volume’s publication. The complete recording runs about 60 minutes. (For some reason, the person who uploaded the audio to Youtube left some blank space at the end.) You can hear an alternative version on

After the acclaim of Nin’s diaries, and the celebrity she enjoyed in her last decade, her reputation once again suffered, posthumously, as biographers and critics savaged her life and work in moralistic torrents of what would today be called “slut-shaming.” But Nin is now once again rightly revered as a writer fully dedicated to the art, no matter the reception or the audience. The astonishing stream of words that flowed from her, recording every detail of her experiences, “seems nothing less than phenomenal,” wrote Noel Young of Nin’s nonstop letter writing. When it came to the detailed, insightful, and acutely philosophical recording of her life, “the act of writing may have even surpassed the act of living.”

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

The Very First Film Adaptation of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, a Thomas Edison Production (1910)

The story of humans creating monstrous beings in their image may have perennial relevance, even if it seems specific to our contemporary cultural moment. What, after all, is Oscar Isaac’s AI inventor in Ex Machina but a 21st century update of Victor Frankenstein? And what is Frankenstein’s monster but a Gothic recreation of the Golem, or any number of folkloric automatons in cultures far and wide? It's an age-old archetypal story that seems to get an update every year.

People have imagined making artificial people, perhaps for as long as people have told stories. But each iteration of that story emerges from a historical matrix of particular technological, philosophical, and metaphysical anxieties. In the case of Ex Machina, we have not only a thinking, feeling humanoid, but one created out of mass data collection and designed to serve the prurient interests of a Nietzschean venture capitalist engineer. How very 2015, no?

In the original Frankenstein, a novel written by a woman, Mary Shelley, we have a very different kind of monster, born out of a Romantic convergence of interest in alchemy and the occult—the original domains of early modern scientists like Isaac Newton---and more modern, industrial scientific methods (hence the novel’s subtitle, The Modern Prometheus). Many critics have called the novel the first work of science fiction, and many, like Maurice Hindle in the introduction to the Penguin Classics edition, have described its main theme as “the aspiration of modern masculinist scientists to be technically creative divinities.”

And yet, writes Ruth Franklin at the New Republic---drawing convincingly on Shelley’s own traumatic experiences with birth, including her own---Frankenstein might “also be a story about pregnancy.” Intriguing as this possibility may be, most interpretations of the novel have seen it as “a fable of masculine reproduction, in which a man creates life asexually.” That tradition continues in the movies with the first film adaptation of Frankenstein, made by Edison studios just over 100 years after the novel’s 1818 publication.

The 1910 short silent film, which you can watch above, bills itself as "a liberal adaptation from Mrs. Shelley's famous story," and opens in its first scene with Victor Frankenstein leaving home for college. Two years later, the Faustian mad scientist discovers the mystery of life, uses the knowledge to make his "creature"---a surprisingly grotesque scene---and, appalled at the sight of it, rejects the thing in horror. The rest of the story proceeds along the usual lines, as the monster, in rags and fright wig, seeks recognition from his creator/parent and wreaks havoc when he does not receive it.

This first Frankenstein film, directed by J. Searle Dawley, arrived two years after Edison's Bronx, New York studios began full and very lucrative operations, and, by this time, writes Rich Drees, motion pictures had begun to receive unwelcome attention from "moral crusaders and reform groups, who decried the new medium as being dangerous and encouraging of immorality." Edison responded quickly, fearing "a serious threat to his bottom line," and ordered that his films' production quality and "moral tone" be improved.

Frankenstein, writes Drees, "was the perfect choice to kick off production under this new moral banner. It's a story that deals with the extremes of the human condition, life and death, and the dangers of tampering in God's realm." Edison released the film with the following disclaimer:

To those familiar with Mrs. Shelly’s story it will be evident that we have carefully omitted anything which might be any possibility shock any portion of the audience. In making the film the Edison Co. has carefully tried to eliminate all actual repulsive situations and to concentrate its endeavors upon the mystic and psychological problems that are to be found in this weird tale. Wherever, therefore, the film differs from the original story it is purely with the idea of eliminating what would be repulsive to a moving picture audience. 

Five years after the Edison studio's short, another silent adaptation, Life Without Soul, appeared. Made by the Ocean Film Corporation, this film is now lost to history, but it qualifies as the first feature-length adaptation at 70 minutes. A review of the film, writes the blog Frankensteinia, "reveals a story that hews fairly close to Mary Shelley's novel," making a "bold attempt at capturing the world-spanning sweep of the tale."

Several dozen film adaptations in the ensuing years have tracked more or less closely to Shelley's narrative---giving Frankenstein's monster a bride and having Victor Frankenstein reanimate his dead lover with the mind of a wrongly-executed man. But none of these films, so far as I know, has drawn out the subtext of Frankenstein as a novel about pregnancy and childbirth. Such an adaptation remains to be made, perhaps by the first woman director to take on a Frankenstein film.

You can find Mary Shelley's Frankenstein in our collections of Free eBooks and Free Audio Books.

The film above will be added to our collection, 1,150 Free Movies Online: Great Classics, Indies, Noir, Westerns, etc..

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Colorful Animation Visualizes 200 Years of Immigration to the U.S. (1820-Present)

Many of us, whether born there, residing there, or just interested in the place, describe the United States of America as "a nation of immigrants." What exactly that phrase means has in recent times become the subject of heated public debate. As this year's presidential candidates strain to appeal to voters with a wide variety of views on the question of what role immigration should play in America's future (to say nothing of what's going on in Britain right now), it might help to look at what role immigration has played in its past, and a new animated infographic of who has immigrated from where since 1820 gives the clearest possible look at the whole picture.

"Through most of the 1800s, immigration came predominantly from Western Europe (Ireland, Germany, the U.K.)," writes the data visualization's creator Max Galka at Metrocosm. "Toward the end of the century, countries further east in Europe (Italy, Russia, Hungary) took over as the largest source of migration. Beginning in the early 1900’s, most immigrants arrived from the Americas (Canada, Mexico). And the last few decades have seen a rise in migration from Asia."

Each colored dot flying toward the U.S. represents a part of that country's population, and the brightness of a country's color on the map corresponds to its total migration to the U.S. at that particular time. Galka provides other charts that show immigration flows by country of origin over time, which makes immigration look higher than ever, and then the same data as a percentage of the total population of the United States, which makes it look almost lower than ever. (And as an American who moved to Korea last year, I can't help but ask whether we should now give as much thought to emigration out of the U.S. as we have to immigration into it.)

To really feel the advantages and complications of the nation of immigrants first-hand, you'll want to spend time in a major American city, those always vibrant, often troubled places that people like The Wire creator David Simon have dedicated themselves to observing. "You look at what New Orleans is capable of, as a product of the American melting pot, and it’s glorious," he once said. "It’s in the friction and in the dynamic between the various groups that inhabit a city that creativity really happens. What makes cities work is a level of tolerance and human endeavor and wit that is absolutely required on the part of all people. Whether or not we succeed as an urban people is the only question worth asking." And in America, an urban people has always been a diverse people.

via Mental Floss

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Slavoj Žižek Explains the Artistry of Andrei Tarkovsky’s Films: Solaris, Stalker & More

Though a filmmaker of strong personal convictions, artistic and otherwise, Andrei Tarkovsky made films that endure in part because they open themselves to a multiplicity of interpretations. Nothing in the Tarkovsky canon opens itself up to quite such a multiplicity of interpretations as Stalker, which continues to produce fascinating new works derived from their creators' experience of the film, such as Geoff Dyer's Zona: A Book About a Film About a Journey to a Room, the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. series of video games, and even a segment of the Slavoj Žižek-starring documentary The Pervert's Guide to Cinema, which you can watch above.

"We need the excuse of a fiction to stage what they truly are," declares the philosophical, cultural, and political provocateur over footage of what many consider Tarkovsky's masterpiece. He describes it as "a film about a 'Zone,' a prohibited space where there are debris, remainders of aliens visiting us." The titular professionals he describes as "people who specialize in smuggling foreigners who want to visit into this space where you get many magical objects." The ultimate goal of all who make the harrowing journey to the Zone? "The room in the middle of this space, where it is claimed your desires will be realized."

Not a bad summing-up of the premise of a movie even whose biggest fans struggle to explain. But Žižek, of course, takes his analysis further, bringing in Solaris, Tarkovsky's 1972 adaptation of Stanislaw Lem's science fiction novel about a planet that can read the minds of the humans in orbit around it, "an id machine as an object which realizes your nightmares, desires, fears, even before you ask for it." With Stalker, Tarkovsky envisions the opposite, "a zone where your desires, your deepest wishes, get realized on condition that you are able to formulate them. Which, of course, you are never able."

If you subscribe to Žižek's reading of the films, it actually makes perfect sense that they could continue to find new, enthralled audiences: the human relationship to desire remains as fraught as ever — and perhaps has only gained fraughtness as we find ways to satisfy our desires — and both Solaris and Stalker find artistically striking new ways to dramatize it. And according to Žižek, the respected filmmaker also provides a solution: "religious obscurantism," a "gesture of self-sacrifice" of the kind we see made in his final films, Nostalghia and The Sacrifice. Tarkovsky also sacrificed himself, but for cinema, and so created some of the most formally remarkable motion pictures ever made, ones in which, in Žižek's words, "we are made to feel this inertia, drabness of time," and even "the density of time itself." If you wonder what he means by that, as ever, you've just got to experience Tarkovsky for yourself. A number of his major films you can watch free online.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Photographer Bill Cunningham (RIP) on Living La Vie Boheme Above Carnegie Hall

New York City lost some of its charm this weekend, with the news that Bill Cunningham, the Times’ beloved, on-the-street fashion photographer, had passed away at the age of 87.

Much has been made over the fact that he was designated a living landmark by the New York Landmarks Conservancy. It's an honor he earned, hitting the streets daily in his usual mufti of khakis, sneakers, and bleu de travail cotton jacket to hunt his quarry by bicycle, but one could never accuse him of courting it.

His employer frequently sent him to cover the elite, but he had no interest in joining their ranks, despite his own growing celebrity. His "Evening Hours" column documented the dressed up doings on the “party circuit.” (This living New York landmark never shook his Boston accent, one of the chief delights of his weekly video series for the Times.) A recent installment suggests that shooting the likes of actress Nicole Kidman and Vogue Editor-in-Chief Anna Wintour during tony private functions at MoMA and the Metropolitan Museum of Art (“aht”) was far less exciting than encountering colorfully clad Himalayan dancers and a children’s craft table at an entirely free Sunday afternoon street fair sponsored by the Rubin Museum of Art.

Playwright Winter Miller shared this anecdote the morning Cunningham’s death was announced:

…he didn't give a fk about who was famous or not. I once met Bill Murray in the lobby of the old New York Times building. He’d shown up to see if he could track down a photo of him and his then-wife that Bill had shot. I brought one Bill to the other, but Bill (Cunningham) was out on the streets with his blue jacket, white bike and camera. When he returned, I explained how I'd come to take Bill Murray under my wing to help him track down this photo. Bill had no idea who Bill Murray was and not unkindly told me (that) none of his photos were digital, so it would involve him personally digging through old files and he didn't have time. I admired that he knew his priorities and never strayed from his task. I had been eager to get Bill Murray the thing he'd wanted and would have combed though vast files myself… but I never looked. Bill Cunningham's files were impenetrable to an outsider.

One likes to think that Murray, who’s known for using his fame as his ticket to hang with ordinary mortals, would find much to love about that.

In fact, Murray strikes me as the perfect candidate to play Cunningham in a biopic covering the six decades spent living and working in a studio over Carnegie Hall. As far as I know, Bill Cunningham New York, a feature length documentary, is the only time his story has been captured on the silver screen. How can it be that no one has thought to make a movie centered on the lost bohemian period Cunningham recalls so fondly in the slideshow above? It sounds like an American spin on the Lost Generation---sneaking down to the unlocked stage for photographer Editta Sherman’s impromptu amateur performances of The Dying Swan, an elderly circus performer and her dog roaming the halls on a unicycle, someone always in a state of undress…

Perhaps Murray’s frequent collaborator, Wes Anderson, could be enlisted to set these wheels in motion. The colorful cast of characters seem tailor-made for this director, already a fashion world favorite.

The hats alone!

Prior to acquiring an Olympus Pen D half-frame camera from a friend in 1966, Cunningham worked as a milliner. Marilyn Monroe used to crack herself up, trying them on in between classes at the Actor’s Studio. The wife of a Carnegie Hall neighbor and Cunningham’s boss, fashion photographer Ray Solowinski, served as his model. After he was established as a fashion expert in his own right, Cunningham admitted that his designs were “a little too exotic – you know, for normal people”.


I think they’re wonderful, and hopefully, Bill Murray, Wes Anderson and you will agree. See below. I think they’re wonderful, and hopefully, Bill Murray, Wes Anderson and you will agree. Hats off to the inimitable Bill Cunningham, as much a fixture of New York as Carnegie Hall.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. Follow her @AyunHalliday

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