A Tribute to George R. Stewart in Printers Row Journal

The Printers Row Journal is the book section of the Chicago Tribune.  (Gratis ad follows: You can subscribe for $29 a year for the digital edition, which seems to include some free ebooks with the subscription. It does not include the entire Tribune.)

The Chicago Tribune is one of the great newspapers of the country – conservative, in the traditional sense of mid-twentieth century conservatism – but also filled with news and good investigative reporting.

The Printers Row Journal is one of the great book review sections of the US – not unlike the New York Times Book Review section.

Today, I received a request for a portrait of George R. Stewart, to be used in an article about him to be published in the Printers Row Journal, probably this weekend.   The article is described as a tribute to GRS, with descriptions of many of his works.  The journalist who wrote the article apparently presents him as one of the great men of his time.

There were two fine portraits in the files used for the GRS bio, and Anna Evenson, Keeper of the Anna Evenson/Stewart Family Photo Collection quickly gave her permission.  The portraits are now in the hands of the Chicago Tribune.

Needless to say, we’ll all be eager to see the article.  It will be sent  by pdf once published.  I’ll send a second report then.

Come what may, this is a great honor to GRS, and his work.  Who knows?  Maybe it’ll start a national resurgence of interest in George R. Stewart?

 

A Plaque for Ish’s House?

If you’re a follower of this weblog, you may have already read the comment from follower Greg deGiere:

I just learned about the Berkeley Historical Plaque Project and want to urge someone to submit the Stewart house (which I found once through a street directory in the Berkeley Public Library), which is where I assume George wrote. As a student of political science, it has special meaning for me because, as I understand it, it was the model for Ish’s house and living room is where the state was created, so to me it’s something like Independence Hall.

I replied, suggesting that if he wants to work on the nomination, we’ll help as we can.  The idea is a good one, and appropriate.

The house on San Luis Road is the model for Ish’s home in Earth Abides.  He disguises it by renaming the road San Lupo Drive, but the physical characteristics of the house and the neighborhood are very close to the real house, as it was in the days of Ish.

It’s been changed quite a bit now, but his idea is something we should consider. Stay tuned.

Good idea, Greg.

A Good Year for the GRS Weblog

Dear readers and friends of George R. Stewart,

As the days in the northern hemisphere begin to grow longer, it’s a good time to review the year of this weblog.  Fortunately, WordPress makes that easy by setting up a page which reviews log activity – number of posts, number of visitors, number of comments, where the visitors are located, and  sites referring them.  I’ve made the page public so you can see how your involvement has helped make the writing rewarding.

It is particularly interesting to me that the posts have been read by people in 49 countries.  If I were a numerologist, I might comment that the number 49 has great significance:  Earth Abides, Stewart’s great work, honored by Philip Aaberg’s music and author James Sallis’s essay, was published in 1949.   Since the novel has never been out of print, that’s 66 years of good reading for that one book alone.

One highlight of the year was the chance to travel old U.S.40 with Frank Brusca as he re-photographed sites for Stewart’s famous book about the highway.

Another, related, highlight was the successful sponsoring of an interpretive sign on old US 40 at Donner Summit about Stewart.  The sign was successfully sponsored by several friends of Stewart’s work, and designed by Bill Oudegeest of the Donner Summit Historical Society.

With luck, another honoring and educational effort will be finished in early 2016.  Sponsors are donating the funding for the publication of the sheet music for Philip Aaberg’s  “Earth Abides.”

The weblog also brought connections with novelist Christopher Priest, whose award-winning novel The Prestige was filmed with Hugh Jackman and Christopher Bale in starring roles, and Junlin Pan, a Chinese scholar working at an Illinois University, who’s translating Names on the Land into Chinese for one of the largest publishing houses in China.  I had the great pleasure of discussing Stewart’s work with Christopher Priest; and the similarly great pleasure of helping Junlin Pan with some of the more esoteric references in the footnotes to Stewart’s names book.

It’s been a good year for this weblog, and I thank all of you who’ve been following it, and especially those commenting on the writing.  May all of you have a Happy New Year, and a good 2016.

 

It’s A Wonderful Story

This is the time of year when most of us watch the classic Christmas movies.  A Christmas Carol with Alastair Sims, Miracle on 54th Street, A Child’s Christmas in Wales,   (An almost unknown gem, produced in Canada, starring Denholm Elliot), It’s a Wonderful Life.

Here in Arroyo Grande, the local theater,  owned by a man who loves movies, shows one of those classics each Christmas. The admission is a can of food or a toy.  This year, it was the venerable old classic about Kris Kringle, the old man who thinks he’s Santa Claus – and maybe is – and restores the faith of others in the spirit of Christmas.  To see that film on the big screen, surrounded by local neighbors of all ages – to see how the children love the film – it is a reminder of what we’ve lost, as we watch movies on TV, but less intently – a kind of a digital sampling of the films.  Like a CD, we miss much when we do that.  But in the theater, yesterday, we missed nothing.  And – how long since you’ve experienced this? – the audience clapped and cheered when the judge decided that, yes, Kris Kringle was indeed Santa Claus.  It was a great, traditional, American Christmas experience.

 

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For most of the people I know, It’s a Wonderful Life   is the Christmas movie.  So those who are George R. Stewart fans should know about the connection between that classic film and GRS.

George R. Stewart was raised in Indiana, Pennsylvania, where his mother’s family lived.  His maternal grandfather, Andrew Wilson,  planned to be a teacher, and even helped found a school nearby (which would become the prestigious Kiski School).  But he couldn’t earn enough to support his family; so he went into the mercantile business.  He  had a hand in a hardware store there, owned by another Stewart.  That Stewart’s son was James Stewart, also born and raised in Indiana.

George and Jimmy looked alike.  With all the similarities in family history, geography, and physiology, you’d expect they were related.  But they  shared only one possible distant relative.  And they lived in different worlds, in Indiana.  The George Stewarts went to the middle-class Presbyterian church on the flats; Jimmy Stewart and his parents went to the upper-class Presbyterian church on the hill.  GRS went to a public high school out west, Jimmy to a prestigious private school in the east.

Still, the lives paralleled in remarkable ways.  GRS and his family moved to Pasadena; he went to Princeton; and after marriage moved his family to Berkeley, California.  Jimmy went to Princeton, then moved to Pasadena; and spent his life in Southern California.  GRS wrote books, two of which were filmed.  Jimmy made films, like that grand Christmas classic we all love.   GRS worked at the Disney studios for a time, as an advisor to Walt himself.  Jimmy worked at many studios, creating characters and stories that touched the hearts of millions.  But, ironically, GRS did not like the media, and apparently did not attend movies often, if at all.

Their paths apparently never crossed.  GRS and his family left Indiana for California in 1905, when he was 12.  That was the year James Stewart was born. Out west, nothing in their interests or their work brought them together.  Since the film we now consider a classic failed in its initial run, it is unlikely GRS would have seen it even if he did go to the movies.

Yet, in this Christmas season, we should remember there is one thing they shared; and thanks to the film, we all share it with them:  The experience of life in a small American town, in the early 20th century.  Like a trip to Disneyland, a viewing of It’s a Wonderful Life enfolds us in such a place; and, for a time, we walk the streets and meet the people of the town and the time where both boys grew up.

Here’s a passage from my book about Indiana, Pennsylvania, as Bedford Falls:

George R. Stewart’s boyhood town was so archetypically American that it could pass for George Bailey’s “Bedford Falls” in Frank Capra’s It’s A Wonderful Life. In fact, the town was “Bedford Falls” – at least for the movie’s male star. Indiana, Pennsylvania, was also the boyhood home of James Stewart, who played “George Bailey” in Capra’s film.   Although the movie’s “Bedford Falls” was built on a studio backlot in the San Fernando Valley, Jimmy Stewart said that when he walked onto the set for the first time he almost expected to hear the bells of his home church in Indiana.

Each year, Indiana holds an It’s a Wonderful Life Festival, with a parade, hot chocolate,  tree lighting, and continuous showings of the film at the Jimmy Stewart Museum.  It’s a winter festival; so the people lining the streets in their warm clothing bring life to a snow-bound town, like the movie brings life to the streets of the movie set town.

(The film’s Producer Director, Frank Capra, probably modeled his set on the upstate New York town of Seneca Falls; but for the star of the movie, Indiana, Pennsylvania, where he and George R. Stewart grew up, was the place he kept in his heart as he brought George Bailey to life.)

So this Christmas, when you watch Capra’s great film (which, by the way, is playing here today in three nearby theaters), give a thought to the boyhood of George R. Stewart.  GRS celebrated his Christmases in a town which for Jimmy Stewart was the model for that iconic American town, Bedford Falls.

Merry Christmas to all.

 

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Jill Stewart Evenson Has Passed Away

  Jill Stewart Evenson, daughter of George and Ted Stewart, passed away late last month of complications from surgery.  She was 90.

Named Jane, but always called Jill, she was born in 1925.  She lived a long and interesting life, leaving home to move to San Francisco in the 1940s, marrying Morris Evenson of the Painters Union, and raising her family.  But she still found time to earn two Masters of Art, one in Educational Research and the other in Art.  She worked in Educational Research at the Far Western Lab for Educational Research.  After retirement, she helped to coordinate artists’ shows in her retirement.  She even wrote some poetry; one poem was highly praised by her author father.

Jill was of invaluable help in all the GRS work and projects.  In fact, Jill was the one who introduced George and Ted Stewart to Thornton State Beach, and thus, indirectly, to me.

When I was researching the GRS biography, Jill graciously invited me to her home in Santa Rosa so I could interview her.  Then she arranged with her daughter Anna, the Stewarts’ first grandchild, a chance to review the family photo collection and scan in many of the photos for use in the biography.

Jill will be remembered as long as the GRS biography lives.  More, she will be known to all who read Earth Abides for as long as that beloved classic survives – it is dedicated to her.  Her father gave her the first copy off the press, autographed to her.
Here are some photos of Jill:
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Jill (in striped shirt) with Jack Stewart (back to the door) and others on Wallace and Mary Stegner’s house, early 1940s.
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Stewart family Portrait, mid-late 40s.  Jill is peeking out at the left.
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The first Stewart grandchild, Anna, with Jill and GRS.

A Pleasant Surprise – It’s in the British Library

The Life and Truth of George R. Stewart sells few copies, probably due to high price.  But it’s made its mark.  In an interesting exchange of messages with, David Waldock, a Librarian in the British Library (about the threat to the Archives of the Imperial War Museum from Tory funding cuts), I mentioned I’d heard there was a copy in the Library.

David did some quick checking, and sent these messages:

Awesome, and yes we have a copy, 

It’s in Basement 3, so about 50 metres away from me at the moment

Straight down!

David Waldock, The British Library

Here’s the link to the book in the Library catalog – just in case you’re in England and want to check it out.

CONTACT: a STEAM event

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Once again, the biennial CONTACT Conference is on the horizon.  Scheduled for next April 1 -3, it will be, as always, a small gathering of renown scientists, artists, authors, educators and just plain interested folks, who want to consider those meeting places of science and the arts which define and drive change.  It will be powered by the energy of STEAM, since it has presenters from and talks about  science, engineering, technology, art, and math.  There will be filmmakers, authors, NASA and SETI scientists, educators, and others.

One of the highlights will be a panel on the art and science of Star Trek; another will be a keynote speech by Rick Sternbach, legendary Star Trek artist, who designed, among other things large and small, the DS 9 Space Station.

The conference has a George R. Stewart connection.  Stewart was the writer of STEAM works, using the art of literature to interpret science and the other disciplines in the acronym.  CONTACT also offered a George R. Stewart Symposium in past years, with participation by composer Phillip Aaberg, geologist Dr. John Stewart, JPL’s Dr. James D. Burke, Stewart Scholar Robert Lyon, and others.  Perhaps most important, Earth Abides opened an intellectual door, for me, into the world of real science, and STEAM.

The conference is affordable, and the hotel rate low.  So if you want a chance to be uplifted and inspired, in a laid-back and collegial atmosphere in which all are welcome, come join us at CONTACT.

CONTACT 2016 (our 29th year!) is meeting on April 1-3 at the Domain Hotel in Sunnyvale, CA. The Keynote speaker: Artist Rick Sternbach, well known for his designs and tech manuals for Star Trek, whose presence celebrates the 50th anniversary of the famed science fiction series. There will be a special symposium dealing with Star Trek’s legacy in the sciences and the arts.

CONTACT has evolved into a premier forum on the future. After a quarter century of our multi-disciplinary conferences, CONTACT includes some of the brightest of the new generation at NASA and SETI, scientists hard and soft, and as well as such exotics as anthropologists, philosophers, poets, filmmakers, historians, mathematicians and space lawyers. And the science fiction community (Larry Niven and Kim Stanley Robinson, this year) always adds a brand of innovative and responsible speculation that has made our conference and organization unique. And more fun for all.  Everyone’s a participant!

We will be offering our traditional blatantly diverse program, with a SETI panel and a session highlighting the connections between science and science fiction. The program will be continuously updated on our website. Join Penny Boston, William Clancey, Bruce Damer, Gus Frederick, Jim Funaro, Joel Hagen, Jeroen Lapré, David Morrison, Larry Niven, Gerald Nordley, Jim Pass, Doug Raybeck, Kim Stanley Robinson, Seth Shostak, Michael Sims, Rich Sternbach, Melanie Swan, Kathleen Toerpe, Zac Zimmer and others at CONTACT 2016.  Looking forward to working and playing together…

 You can register now at:  http://contact-conference.org/