Super Mario Nation

THE VIDEO GAME turns twenty-five this year, and it has packed a whole lot of history into a mere quarter-century

 

In 1962 an M.I.T. student named Steven Russell pulled off the ultimate hack. Russell was the kind of kid people make jokes about: short, full of nervous energy, passionately devoted to B-grade science fiction, shy, and brilliant. He worked with the Tech Model Railroad Club, a campus organization that had recently begun turning its focus from toy trains to computers. TMRC members had their own vocabulary. Read more »

Indy

Every spring thirty million Americans watch the Indianapolis 500. It’s the nation’s premier racing event and the pinnacle of a glamorous, murderous epic that stretches back nearly a century.

May is a month of traditions: of flowers and commencements, of the Kentucky Derby for 117 years and Indianapolis five-hundred-mile races for 81. For an automobile race, Indy is ancient. Back in 1911 it was an all-day affair, as the winner covered five hundred miles in six hours and forty-two minutes. These days winners complete the distance in less than three hours, the same oval unraveling for a driver with the same turns, banks, and exhilarating straights.Read more »

The Business Of Boxing

Some people think that the history of boxing as a glamorous business, as promotion rather than as sport, begins with Muhammad Ali and Don King. Before Ali, they say, boxing was I just a bunch of palookas punching each other. Ali was boxing’s first showman, they say, the first glamour boy, the first bad guy whom the fans loved to hate; the first black athlete to be revered worldwide, the sport’s first true media creation.Read more »

The Dinner Party

For generations it was the mainspring, the proof, and the reward of a civilized social life. Now, a fond student of the ritual looks back on the golden age of the dinner party and tells you just how you should have behaved.

The dinner party is the ultimate celebration of what it means to be civilized,” my father used to say. “There is nothing better in this world than to settle down around a lovely table and eat good food and say interesting things with one’s friends. ”

  Read more »

Forgotten Laughter: The Fred Allen Story

The dour radio comedian regarded his work as totally ephemeral, but a new generation of comics has built upon his foundations

Satire, according to the playwright George S. Kaufman, “is what closes Saturday night,” but for seventeen years Fred Allen used his satiric brand of humor to create some of the nation’s most popular radio comedy. Read more »

Little Big Top

Superb carvings by an obscure artisan recapture the circus world of the 1920s

 

Much has been written about the magical appeal traveling circuses had for small-town America in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, but little of it is as eloquent as the tribute shown here: a miniature circus carved during the 1920s by Albert Kveck. Read more »

The Dawn Of Speed

The Florida Speed Carnivals at Daytona lasted less than a decade, but they saw American motoring grow from rich man’s sport to national obsession

It has been said that motor sport was the first organized activity in America that drew all social classes together. Certainly William K. Vanderbilt, Jr., and Barney Oldfield would have been unlikely to have exchanged pleasantries otherwise. Vanderbilt, elegant, impeccably groomed, was scion to one of the world’s great fortunes, whose childhood attack of the measles made the society pages, whose wedding occupied eight full news columns in New York papers.Read more »

The Maypole Of Merry Mount

Had Thomas Morton raised his maypole anywhere but next door to the Pilgrims, history and legend probably would have no record of him, his town, or his “lascivious” revels

TIME : Summer, 1628. PLACE : Merry Mount, a small coastal settlement on the edge of the Massachusetts wilderness. “Pilgrim” Plymouth lies somewhat to the south; “Puritan” Boston will not be founded for another two years. ACTION : A group of young revelers, Englishmen and Indians together, dance around a lofty maypole. There is food and drink aplenty; jollity reigns.Read more »

“im Fine, Just Hurting Inside”

Robert Benchley, a woebegone chronicler of his own inadequacies, was the humorist’s humorist, a man beloved by practically everyone but himself

Early in 1939 Robert Charles Benchley—Phillips Exeter Academy, 1908; Harvard, 1912—put on a paper hat and hoisted himself up onto a set of phony telephone wires strung between mock utility poles on a Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer sound stage in Hollywood. He was filming one of the ten-minute comedies that were eroding his self-respect while increasing his fame and income. Read more »

The Man Who Knew Mozart

Lorenzo Da Ponte, New York bookseller and Pennsylvania grocer, was a charming ne’er-do-well in the eyes of his fellow Americans. He happened, also, to have written the words for Don Giovanni and The Marriage of Figaro .

It was to be a historic moment, the opening of the very first authentic production of an Italian opera in America, in November 1825. A tall, gaunt old man, with dark eyes, a hawklike nose, and sunken cheeks, nervously approached the New York hotel room of the Spanish tenor who would lead the performance, Manuel García.Read more »