Archive for November, 2006

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Book Review: My Story, Illustrated Edition by Marilyn Monroe

November 29, 2006

Marilyn Monroe has been dead roughly 42 years, so give yourself a gold star if you already know that this autobiography is not exactly new. In fact, this is the third time it has gotten a major printing. The first was in 1974, then another in 2000. So, why do it again? Well, besides the fact that the others are out of print, this is the first time that the words of Marilyn Monroe have been put together with some of the greatest pictures taken of her, namely those by photographer and Monroe business partner Milton H. Greene.

Greene was more than a photographer of Monroe. The two became close friends, with Monroe actually living with Greene’s family for four years. And the friendship culminated in a partnership in Marilyn Monroe Productions, which produced the movies Bus Stop and Prince and the Showgirl. So Greene had extensive access to Monroe for a good number of her most famous years, and he took some of the most well-known photos of Monroe between 1953 and 1957.

This “Illustrated Edition” of My Story includes 46 of these photos, including shots from what Monroe fans might know as the “Black” series and the “Ballerina” series, and many others as well. The pictures look great, which is probably testament to the work of Joshua Greene, Milton’s son, who for the last decade or so has been digitally restoring many photos that were thought to be unsalvageable. Joshua Greene also provides the foreword to the book, where he helpfully identifies where and when most of the photos were taken.

The photos are the star here, but I suppose the story itself should be mentioned. My Story is published with Marilyn Monroe as the author but also with the words “with Ben Hecht” added on. Hecht was a screenwriter who collaborated with Monroe on the book, and some Monroe biographers believe he (and/or others) took the liberty of embellishing both the facts and Monroe’s version of them. (In one instance, Monroe says she is the kind of girl they find dead in a hallway with an empty bottle of pills. Were those really her words, or added later?) Nevertheles, the project had Monroe’s approval, and it undoubtedly captures a good deal of her life story.

The most notable sections of the book come early, when Monroe describes an upbringing in which she was shuttled from foster home to foster home, never knowing her father and being largely orphaned by her mother. When her mother was finally able to create a home for them, it didn’t last; she soon had to be institutionalized for schizophrenia and Norma Jean was orphaned again. Her escape from this life isn’t a fairy tale, either; she marries Jim Dougherty at only 15 in order to continue having a home. They divorced when she was 19. It’s a sad start to a life; in this case a life that was already half over.

The rest of the book takes the reader through Monroe’s struggles to gain acting roles (including her posing nude to get enough money to get her repossessed car back), her troubles with lecherous men and jealous women, her eventual success, and her feelings of always being a misfit in the movie business. The chapters are short and breezy, an enjoyable read if not particularly insightful. For example, the chapters on her relationship and marriage to Joe Dimaggio don’t make it particularly clear why she fell in love with him, other than that his reserved nature seemed to impress her. All in all, Monroe comes off as likable and smart, which was likely the book’s main goal when it was written.

My Story ends abruptly; it was never finished. Monroe is still married to Dimaggio in its pages (although one of the photos in the book is Monroe with her third husband, Arthur Miller). For fans of Marilyn Monroe, this may be a pleasant way to finish—dozens of Milton H. Greene’s photos of Marilyn coupled with a story that has a happy ending. Although if we didn’t know how it really turned out, the book might not be nearly as interesting.

e-mail me: adam@bessed.com

Adam Jusko is founder and CEO of Bessed, a Web site promising “search without spam”, thanks to human-edited search results and ongoing visitor feedback. Do a search, offer your comments, submit your site–help create the “bessed” search site in the world.

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Latest Bessed, November 28 2006

November 28, 2006

Every day Bessed adds new topics, updates others and expands the information you can tap into…

Pamela Anderson and Kid Rock are divorcing after less than four months, which likely puts them on the list of Top Ten Briefest Celebrity Marriages.  Consider that they had four wedding ceremonies and it’s actually less than one month of marriage per ceremony.

Christmas is a popular topic again this year. People haven’t gotten tired of it yet.  On a related note, people haven’t gotten tired of the 1983 movie A Christmas Story, either, and the house used in the movie has now been restored and opened up as a museum.

Wesabe is a new social networking site getting some attention this week.  As is Webjam. And Zemble, too, for that matter.

By request: London England, Beaded Jewelry, Voodoo

Also added and/or updated: Tony Bennett, Steve Wozniak, Buca di Beppo, Jackie Huba, Extatosoma Tiaratum

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Can’t Resist the Play Button

November 22, 2006

In a former business life, I was a writer for a corporate media agency, and I did a lot of work on CDs when the interactivity of CD-ROM seemed like the next big thing.  Then the Internet happened and CD-ROM went down the crapper.  But for that period when we were creating CDs for companies to use in presentations, for training, etc., our biggest thought process was always around the “user experience.”  What do people see, what should it make them feel or do, what buttons do they press, where are they located, where are we failing to get them to react the way we want and why?

It can be a frustrating experience, but the times you get it right, or even see others get it right, it’s an amazing feeling.

I try to read the 37signals blog often because its main thrust is how to improve the user experience, whether they are talking about their own products or discussing great design they see around them, whether that’s graphic design, industrial design or the design of online applications.

This post from 37signals on YouTube discusses our seemingly uncontrollabnle urge to press a play button when it is put in front of us.  In this case, the discussion is how YouTube went from a startup to a massive Google acquisition in such a short time—and the biggest reason is that YouTube made it possible for any site owner to plunk a video right on his or her site with a big old play button in the middle of it.  Soon everyone was doing it and everyone knew YouTube.

Yes, YouTube had tons of copyrighted content to help them grow, but that only matters because of the fact that a blogger discussing John Lennon & Yoko Ono could grab a clip of the 1974 (or whenever) appearance of Lennon & Ono on the Dick Cavett show and put it right into their own site.  Not a link to it, but the actual video ready to be played, so the visitor never has to leave, and so the video is just a seamless part of the overall site.  That’s a great user experience and that’s why YouTube had its success.  (Maybe YouTube wouldn’t have had its success without copyrighted video, but a different site with copyrighted video but no way to embed the video player would not have had nearly the same success.)

I’ve tried to watch some videos attached to Yahoo! news stories recently and it is the most painful thing in the world.  It takes freaking forever to download, the player is confusing, just a nightmare.  What’s funny is that the success of YouTube hasn’t necessarily caused other video players to emulate its functionality.   It’s completely obvious that the YouTube interface is exactly what people want, and yet it’s not being copied.  Actually the closest that I’ve seen to it is Google Video which of course Google decided wasn’t good enough (or decided that the YouTube brand had already rendered them dead in the water). Maybe there’s a patent issue of some sort; not sure, but you’re just not seeing everyone creating YouTube clones.  Sure, they want to be different, but different is only good if it’s better, and I haven’t seen anything better so far.

The main ingredient to a successful user experience is to make it easy.  Easy, easy, easy.  Ease will win every time.  Now, if you have two competing products with the same degree of ease and one looks nicer, that one will win.  But functionality is the bedrock.  Make it easy to use and you’ve won half the battle.

e-mail me: adam@bessed.com

Adam Jusko is founder and CEO of Bessed, a Web site promising “search without spam”, thanks to human-edited search results and ongoing visitor feedback. Do a search, offer your comments, submit your site–help create the “bessed” search site in the world.

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StumbleUpon Messing with My WordPress

November 21, 2006

I’ve been reading about StumbleUpon here and there, so I finally decided to give it a try. If you don’t know, you download a StumbleUpon toolbar and StumbleUpon shows you sites that are rated particularly highly by its member community for the topic areas that you’re interested in. You can also rate a thumbs up to the ones that you like by pressing a button on the toolbar.

It works really well in terms of showing you cool sites. There were only a few clunkers while I was using it, and I planned to use it again.

The problem is, I noticed the last couple days that when I was using WordPress, I was having a very hard time getting things to work correctly when I was doing cutting and pasting of URLs and such for my Bessed topic entries. For example, I would copy a URL so I could hyperlink it, but when I got back to WordPress and tried to paste, that option would be unavailable to me. Or I would go into the HTML option in WordPress to move some stuff around, and the option to “cut” would be a no-go. It was annoying as all hell, and I finally figured out that the problem had started when I downloaded the StumbleUpon toolbar. So I uninstalled it. Problem solved, everything worked fine again.

I don’t know if it was affecting the cut and paste in any other software like Word or anything, because I never checked. But it was messing with my WordPress for sure.

I’m using Firefox so I don’t know if this happens in any other browsers, but I thought I’d throw it out there to help anyone else that might come across this problem, and maybe to help StumbleUpon diagnose it, too. They have a neat service, but I won’t be using it now.

e-mail me: adam@bessed.com

Adam Jusko is founder and CEO of Bessed, a Web site promising “search without spam”, thanks to human-edited search results and ongoing visitor feedback. Do a search, offer your comments, submit your site–help create the “bessed” search site in the world.

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Latest Bessed, November 21 2006

November 21, 2006

Every day Bessed adds new topics, updates others and expands the information you can tap into…

Polly Pocket having a huge product recall due to a few kids being hospitalized for eating the little magnets that fell out of the toys’ hands. Mattell can’t be happy with the timing, right bfore holiday shopping season.

O.J. Simpson won’t get his chance to regale us with the way he “would have” killed his ex-wife.

The Nintendo Wii is upon us, or at least those who got a unit (which is more than got the PlayStation 3 of course.).

Alfonso Soriano hit the jackpot with the Chicago Cubs.

Florida’s Gatorland is set to open up this week after a fire killed several animals and shut down the park for the past few weeks.

A new photography book, Elvis at 21, tracks Elvis Presley in the year just before he hit the big time.

Other topics added/updated: Andy Grove, Thanksgiving Crafts, Brian Stelter, oDesk, Charlotte North Carolina Real Estate, Online Tarot Card Readings and Adam Rifkin.

Got a site that needs attention? Add yout URL to Bessed. Find your topic and tell us about your site. Don’t see a place where your site fits? Let us know—we’ll build the category you request and add your site to it.

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Book Review: Elvis at 21, New York to Memphis

November 20, 2006

In 1956, freelance photographer Alfred Wertheimer was assigned to photograph a 21-year-old singer that RCA was promoting. It was Elvis Presley, a name the 26-year-old Wertheimer did not recognize when he trekked down to New York City’s Studio 50 (later to be named the Ed Sullivan Theater) to photograph Presley’s appearance on Tommy Dorsey and Jimmy Dorsey’s Stage Show. At the time, Elvis had already recorded “Heartbreak Hotel” and was beginning to gain some notoriety, but he was nowhere close to becoming a cultural icon. He could still walk the streets unrecognized, and, because of this, Alfred Wertheimer got the opportunity to shoot reams of film of Elvis both on stage and off in the last remaining months before Elvis’ life would change forever. While a few of these photos later became well-known after Elvis’ death, the large majority are assembled for public viewing for the first time in the new book Elvis at 21: New York to Memphis.

While he may not have known who Elvis was, Wertheimer sensed he had stumbled upon someone special, and he went far beyond what RCA asked for in terms of the amount and types of photographs he took. Where a record company might only be looking for a few head shots and stage shots of its stars, Wertheimer followed Elvis everywhere—in the bathroom while he shaved and brushed his teeth, in a stairwell where Elvis romanced a female fan, in the pool at Elvis’ parents house, where Wertheimer borrowed a bathing suit to get close to the action.

The result in an amazing collection of pictures, and Elvis at 21 is a book that captures them beautifully. It’s a heavy one—a six-pound, hardbound, 11″x14″, 250+-page package with many, many full-page photos and fold-outs. Wertheimer’s brief but complete description of where, why and how the pictures were taken is the perfect complement to the images themselves.

In truth, Wertheimer spent only a few weeks with Elvis, but they were crucial weeks, both because of where Elvis was at in his rise to stardom and because of the events that Wertheimer chronicled. In their first meeting, Wertheimer sets the tone for their whole relationship by following Elvis as he shops in a men’s store, into his hotel room as he shaves and reads (then rips up) fan mail, and then standing on a garbage can outside the stage door to capture Elvis meeting with his many female admirers.

The book is broken down into eight chapters. After the initial photos in March of 1956, the other seven chapters cover Wertheimer photographing Elvis in late June and early July of that year. It’s a whirlwind in one short week. Elvis rehearses in New York for an appearance on The Steve Allen Show (with Andy Griffith among others), then travels down to Virginia for a show (where he chats up a woman at a lunch counter, takes her to the theater and eventually French kisses her in a stairwell), goes back to New York to do the live Steve Allen Show (where Allen has him famously sing “Hound Dog” to an actual dog; the strategy was to keep Elvis from gyrating—if he did, the dog would get scared and leap off of its stool), then the very next day recording both “Hound Dog” and “Don’t Be Cruel” for the first time, and back to Memphis, where Elvis reconnects with family and friends, and where the local-boy-makes-good gives a 4th of July concert in his hometown.

Because Wertheimer shoots so many candid shots, and because Elvis is still getting used to the idea of being a star, there are many gems here, pictures that could only have been taken at that time and place. What jumps out immediatey is how many of these pictures show Elvis casually in public, being completely undisturbed. He reads magazines next to a chubby old guy in a train station, sits at a ’50s lunch counter flirting, has to convince a young woman on the train that he realy is Elvis, then hops off the train alone near Memphis and walks home, leaving his handlers behind. The shots of Elvis at home, as well as the scene itself, are priceless. His parents have a new pool, but they have to fill it with a garden hose, so Elvis and his friends jump in and wrestle around in the three feet of water that have managed to accumulate in the deep end.

Twenty-one is a young age in the overall scheme of things, and the Elvis captured here looks alternately like a polite, baby-faced young adult in one shot and a confident man fully aware of his gifts and charms in the next. Again, it’s a moment in time that Wertheimer was lucky enough and smart enough to fully capture with his camera.

If you’re an Elvis fan or know someone who is, Elvis at 21 is definitely gift material. First, it’s simply a pretty book in terms of the quality of Wertheimer’s photos and how they are presented. Just as important, if not more so, it’s a new look at an icon about whom you might think there can’t possibly be anything left to publish (or exploit). Definitely recommended.

e-mail me: adam@bessed.com

Adam Jusko is founder and CEO of Bessed, a Web site promising “search without spam”, thanks to human-edited search results and ongoing visitor feedback. Do a search, offer your comments, submit your site–help create the “bessed” search site in the world.

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Latest Bessed, November 17 2006

November 18, 2006

Every day Bessed adds new topics, updates others and expands the information you can tap into…

Ohio State vs. Michigan in college football is the big sports story this weekend. It’s a big game every year, but this time Ohio State and Michigan are #1 and #2 in the country.

The launch of PlayStation 3 left a few buyers happy and the rest angry and empty-handed.

Rumors continue to swirl about Apple’s likely foray into celluar with the iPhone.

Jason Calacanis ended his run at Netscape and AOL, resigning in the wake of the AOL CEO being kicked to the curb.

Al Jazeera is trying to make its way into the English-speaking world, but not everyone’s interested.

Got your Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade action, if you’re into that sort of thing.

Also Updated/Added: Thanksgiving, Ty Olsson, Little Black Dresses, Saks Alabama

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