The Colgate Scene
November 2005

Books and media
 
Elizabeth Higgins Little '71 and Paula Molligan
(Pince-Nez Press)

This book is the definitive guide to the private school admission process and to more than 80 private and parochial schools in San Francisco and Marin County. It includes schools' mission statements and academic philosophies; full costs including tuition increases and donations; admission processes and number of applications received; school diversity and faculty qualifications; curriculum offerings including foreign languages, art, music, drama, and computers; and more. Little and Molligan have more than 42 years of experience in education, and both have their MBAs and MAs in special education. They are principals in Little and Molligan, school placement specialists for public and private day and boarding schools, and are also the authors of Private High Schools of the San Francisco Bay Area. -- From the publisher

John G. Stewart '57
(Seven Locks Press)

Witness to the Promised Land is a collection of insightful articles written by John G. Stewart from 1963 to 1969 for Christianity & Crisis, the respected journal of Christian opinion. The newly assembled essays, along with autobiographical comments, also include a previously unpublished account of the last gathering of those who won historical victories in the civil rights arena. Witness to the Promised Land is a revealing account of American democracy when it truly worked, redeeming the nation's promise to millions of her citizens. -- From the publisher

Nina Berberova
Translated by Richard Sylvester and Marian Schwartz
(New York Review of Books)

Baroness Maria Ignatievna Zakrevskaya Benckendorff Budberg hailed from the Russian aristocracy and lived in the lap of luxury -- until the Bolshevik Revolution forced her to live by her wits. Thereafter her existence was a story of connivance and stratagem, a succession of unlikely twists and turns. Intimately involved in the mysterious Lockhart affair, a conspiracy that almost brought down the fledgling Soviet state, mistress to Maxim Gorky and then to H.G. Wells, Moura was a woman of enormous energy, intelligence, and charm whose deepest passion was undoubtedly the mythologization of her own life. Recognized as one of the great masters of Russian 20th-century fiction, Berberova proves again that she is the unsurpassed chronicler of the lives of Soviet émigrés. -- From the publisher

Richard Sylvester is professor of Russian, emeritus
Mel Watkins '62
(Pantheon Books)

In 1903 W.E.B. DuBois warned America that the problem of the 20th century would be the problem of the color line. The year before, Lincoln Theodore Monroe Andrew Perry was born in Key West, later claiming to be named after four American presidents. In the '20s and '30s Perry would bob and weave along that line, shuck and jive for great profit, and ultimately stumble from his perch as the first African American millionaire actor to bankruptcy and cultural exile.

Emerging as the character Stepin Fetchit, the personification of Caucasian America's ugliest stereotypes of African American males, Perry would seem the antithesis of the Harvard-educated DuBois, a founder of the Niagara Movement, which became the NAACP. But in the first biography of America's first black movie star, Mel Watkins separates Perry-the-person from the screen image of Stepin Fetchit, and intriguing parallels between the actor and the activist emerge. Both DuBois and Perry wrote columns for black newspapers at an early age, for instance. Both could hold their own in philosophical debate, although Perry's closing argument would most likely be phrased, "Is you is, or is you ain't?" And both, to varying extremes, brandished a degree of militancy to the limits of their place along the color line.

Reviled by the then-Negro middle class for his portrayals of ignorance, laziness, and cowardice, Perry's pioneering was later recognized in an about-face by the NAACP with a special image award, and by induction into the Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame. In what is bound to raise a significant cultural controversy, Watkins maintains that Perry's performances were actually a study in resistance, with Stepin Fetchit never really carrying out the tasks assigned by the white folks. Indeed, Watkins maintains, there were poses that Perry refused to strike in the 40 films he appeared in.

Watkins's investigation of Perry's personal life reveals respect from relationships with Jack Johnson, Paul Robeson, and Will Rogers, and a refusal to be refused at the color line, fostered by near-death-by-lynching experiences as a teenager on the minstrel show circuit in as isolated venues as Pocatello, Idaho. But while Perry's talent was beginning to attract crossover appeal, Watkins observes, "His unpredictability, demands for star treatment, and increasingly cavalier attitude had begun rankling some studio executives. During the filming of Salute, tensions mounted." Among the actors were the University of Southern California football team members including John Wayne. Director John Ford sensed stardom for Wayne and gave him odd jobs during the filming, which was done at Annapolis. "On the picture," the late Perry recalls, "John Wayne was my dresser."

As the color line bends without breaking entering the 21st century, Mel Watkins's Stepin Fetchit is a must read.

The Museum of Modern Art in New York held a related retrospective of the same title, with Watkins participating, October 19-20. Shepperd is senior editor of the Syracuse New Times.

Colgate bestsellers at the Colgate Bookstore
Book of the Year: A Brief History of Our Seasonal Holidays — Anthony Aveni (astronomy/anthropology/Native American studies)
They Don't Play Hockey in Heaven — Ken Baker '92
Short Takes: Brief Encounters with Contemporary Nonfiction — Peter Balakian (English)
North — Frederick Busch (literature, emeritus)
Hypnerotomachia Poliphili — Joscelyn Godwin (music)
Losing Moses on the Freeway — Chris Hedges '79
Plot Against Social Security: How the Bush Administration Is Endangering Our Financial Future — Michael Hiltzik '73
I Got Somebody in Staunton — William Henry Lewis (English)
In the Arms of Our Elders — William Henry Lewis (English)
Languages of Power in the Age of Richard II — Lynn Staley (English/medieval and Renaissance studies)
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