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At Home, At Work, At Play: Color Autochromes of life before the First World War
06.20.2016
12:16 pm

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Art
History

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The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.

That well-known opening line from L. P. Hartley’s novel The Go-Between sits well with these Autochromes by artist and photographer Alfonse Van Besten (1865-1926) taken in the years leading up to the First World War. Looking at these beautiful idealized portraits of people working and playing in the tranquil Belgian countryside it is hard to imagine the bloody slaughter about to unfold on these “Flanders Fields.” They are like a glimpse of a man-made paradise before the Fall.

Van Besten was an early adopter of the Lumière brothers’ photographic process by which color was replicated through compressed pieces of dyed starch. His portraits are painterly—superbly composed and artfully created—with a sense of spectacle and drama. The majority of pictures show a wealthy middle and upper class at play—but as can be seen Van Besten was equally adept at capturing the working lives of the poor with a fine eye for detail and group composition.
 
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The artist and photographer Alfonse Van Besten painting in his garden circa 1910.
 
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‘Musing’—The photographer’s wife Josephine Arnz circa 1910.
 
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Men in civic and military clothes, ca. 1911.
 
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Children at play ca. 1912.
 
More Autochromes by Alfonse Van Besten, after the jump…

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
True tales of the original Bearded Lady and Dog-Faced Boy
06.17.2016
01:21 pm

Topics:
History

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We may not like to admit it, but we are fascinated by the physical anomalies that were once paraded around by circuses—people to which the term freak is almost always applied. The Eels and Phish have songs that play on the idea of the “Dog-Faced Boy.” (Neutral Milk Hotel trumps them by singing about a “Two-Headed Boy.”) Meanwhile, the Hives and Screaming Females have songs dealing with the “Bearded Lady.”  Tod Browning’s Freaks stands as one of the finest movies made in 1932, and not many books published in 1989 have dated any better than Katherine Dunn’s Geek Love. Bill Griffith’s Zippy the Pinhead is one of the most enduring figures to emerge from the underground comics explosion of the 1960s and early 1970s.

It’s difficult to think of the actual freak shows that proliferated in circuses around the turn of the 20th century and not suppose that it was all an arena for some vicious exploitation. But those assumptions may not be as well founded as you might think: The bulk of reports that we have from that era appear to indicate that headlining “freaks” were well compensated and also treated collegially by their coworkers, which makes sense when you realize that they were often the strongest audience draws the circus had to offer.

One of the most reliable of “freak” tropes is that of the Bearded Lady. The notion of a female with a noticeable beard goes back as far as the 14th century, most notably in the figure of Wilgefortis, who existed as a variation on the crucified Christ.

Annie Jones was born in Virginia in the summer after the close of the Civil War. Afflicted with no small degree of hirsutism (or some other genetic condition), she worked for P.T. Barnum’s traveling exhibition almost from the crib. As the nation’s most prominent Bearded Lady, Jones was a vocal spokesperson for the country’s “freaks,” a word she detested and fought hard to expunge from the circus trade.
 

 
When Jones was still a small child, there was a curious episode in which she was essentially kidnapped by man named Wicks who a “phrenologist”—that is, someone who believes that character traits can be gleaned by investigations into a person’s skull—who claimed that the child was his. Right out of a 19th-century melodrama, at the trial to adjudicate the matter, Jones ran into her mother’s arms, settling the matter once and for all.

Jones was also an accomplished musician. In 1902, she died of tuberculosis at the age of 37.

The affliction that caused Fedor Jeftichew to become a celebrity known as Jo-Jo the Dog-Faced Boy is called hypertrichosis (sometimes called “werewolf syndrome”); the condition, which causes an abnormal amount of hair to grow all over the body, is apparently genetic, as his father shared the condition. Jeftichew was born in St. Petersburg, Russia, in 1868, and became a part of Barnum’s troupe in as a teenager in 1884. One of Barnum’s nicknames for Jeftichew was “the human-skye terrier” because of the tendency of that breed to have straight long hair covering the eyes.

From whole cloth Barnum created a phantastical backstory for Jeftichew, now known as Jo-Jo. The idea was that a hunter from Kostroma in the heartland of Russia tracked Jeftichew and his father to their “cave” and captured them “after a desperate conflict.” Barnum spared no detail in describing Adrian as a savage who was beyond any kind of civilizing effects. (In reality Jeftichew spoke three languages fluently.) Barnum would tell audiences that when Jeftichew was upset, he was given to barking and growling; knowing where his interests lay, Jeftichew would then proceed to do just that for the gaping audience.

Jeftichew passed away of pneumonia in 1904 in Greece.
 

 
h/t: All That Is Interesting

Posted by Martin Schneider | Leave a comment
‘Satan at Play’ and other vintage movie magic from early 1900s
06.17.2016
08:27 am

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Amusing
History
Movies

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While not exactly dangerous this early film Satán se divierte by Segundo de Chomón is certainly amusing and a work of art. De Chomón was a Spanish filmmaker whose pioneering work in camera tricks and optical illusions was to influence generations of filmmaker. Many of his “tricks” are still used today.

De Chomón is often compared to that other giant of early cinema Georges Méliès—the great French filmmaker whose works included A Trip to the Moon (1902) and The Impossible Voyage (1904). While there was undoubtedly a rivalry between the two men—with Méliès taking the tape for innovation—de Chomón made his mark by developing a mechanical stencil-based film tinting process that was known as Pathécolor. He also diversified his filmmaking talents into documentaries, dramas and special effects for other directors.

Satán se divierte or Satan at Play aka The Red Specter (1907) is a superb example of De Chomón’s work with its camera tricks—some of which would be later revisited in films like Bride of Frankenstein—stage show magic and beautiful color stencilling.
 
Watch ‘The Devil at Play’ plus ‘Haunted House’ and ‘Voyage to the Planet Jupiter,’ after the jump…
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Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
This may be the most racist, sexist, violent video game EVER (and it’s almost 35 years old)
06.16.2016
11:51 am

Topics:
Feminism
Games
History
Race

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Despite exaggerations to the contrary, very few video games actually portray sexual assault. Sure, there’s a ton of murder, and definitely lots of gendered violence, but games that write in actual sexual violence are quite rare, which is actually sort of surprising when you learn about Custer’s Revenge.

The game, which came in in 1982 for the Atari 2600 and cost a whopping $49.95 (making it the priciest of Atari games then on the market), had a very simple premise: you are a naked, erection-wielding General Custer and you must avoid a volley of arrows in order to to rape a Native American who is—as indicated by the cover art—tied to a pole. Yeah, that’s it.

Custer’s Revenge was an early attempt to create and market “adult” video games, but promotion was difficult, especially since Mystique, the publishers and developers of the game, made it very clear that the game was “NOT FOR SALE TO MINORS.” In order to drum up publicity, Mystique actually showed the game to women’s and Native American groups, who were quick to give them free press with outraged protests. Feminist Andrea Dworkin even argued that Custer’s Revenge “generated many gang rapes of Native American women,” a claim that is difficult to prove, to say the least. Compared to say Pac-Man, the best-selling Atari 2600 game of all time, which sold 7 million, Custer’s Revenge was small potatoes, only selling 80,000 total. Regardless, the backlash most certainly helped move copies that might have otherwise simply collected dust on the shelf.
 

 
So how does Custer’s Revenge hold up nowadays? Despite the stomach-turning “plot,” the game actually manages to be so very comically low-rent that it falls very short of anything that is actually visually lurid. I mean you really have to use your imagination to connect those abrupt little pixels to the historic atrocities of the sexual violence and genocide exacted against Native Americans. They just didn’t quite have the technology to really depict any detail at the time, a fact which allowed game designer Joel Miller to maintain plausible deniability, claiming that the woman was a “willing participant” (this despite the game’s title and cover art). Nonetheless, Mystique later released a companion game, General Retreat, featuring the Native American woman attempting to rape Custer under cannonball fire, which, I guess, was an attempt at equality?
 

Ah, such innocent times! When the libidinal horrors of entertainment were technologically limited to blocky little boners and booties!
 
It’s possible that protests eventually staved off sales of the game, but what’s more likely is that no one really wanted to play it. PC World magazine named it the third worst game of all time, adding to the obvious objections that it was extremely difficult to play and it just looked terrible. The underground infamy of of Custer’s Revenge outlasted the game itself, inspiring a much more graphic remake in 2008, which was notably protested by a indigenous activists, including a female game designer and a video game journalist. Eventually pressure from activists got the game removed from the internet in 2014 (though I doubt too many people felt its loss).

More after the jump…

Posted by Amber Frost | Leave a comment
The Original CSI: Crime scene photos from the early 1900s
06.09.2016
09:52 am

Topics:
Crime
History

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The French detective and biometrics researcher Alphonse Bertillon was the father of modern crime scene investigation. Among his major contributions were the mugshot and the crime scene photograph.

Before Bertillon pioneered the use of the mugshot criminals were identified by verbal description and artist sketches—which were not always reliable as eyewitness often gave confusing and contradictory descriptions. The mugshot obviously made it easier for police to identify and apprehend criminals and to disseminate posters of the most wanted across country.

Bertillon was the first to recognize the importance of using photography to document a crime scene—the position of the body, the murder weapon, the footprints or personal artefacts left behind, the disarray of the scene. While some at first doubted the relevance of photographing murder victims—considering it ghoulish and highly disrespectful to the deceased—it became quickly apparent how such photographs helped solve innumerable murders.

Bertillon also devised a system of anthropometry by which criminals could be identified. The system, called “Bertillonage,” classified criminals by identifiable physical characteristics–eyes, length of nose, shape of ear, measurements of head, etc. From the late 1800s until around the end of the First World War Bertillonage was the main system for identifying criminals as used across Europe and America. It was eventually replaced by fingerprinting.
 
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His success as a detective led Bertillon to be described by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle as the greatest detective in Europe—rivalling his very own creation Sherlock Holmes who was only the “second highest expert in Europe.”

There is an oft-quoted story that Bertillonage was discredited by the strange case of two men Will West and William West in 1903. The story goes that when Will West was arrested and sentenced to Leavenworth prison, his anthropometric measurements matched another prisoner who was also (quite unbelievably) called William West. Yet, according to Bertillon’s methodology both men were the very same person—which was of course impossible. 

Though it was claimed their measurements were identical—it is probably more correct to say these figures conformed within certain ratios which were similar but not exactly the same. The two men were later identified by fingerprinting—and it was this that gave lie to the claim that the confusion over Will West and William West led to the abandonment of the Bertillonage system. However, it should be pointed out that Bertillonage was used up as late as 1918 in America and Canada and around the time in Europe. What probably discredited this system of anthropometry more than anything else was its adoption by the Nazis prior to the Second World War as a means to identify non-Aryans.

The following photographs were taken by Alphonse Bertillon (or are credited to him) and depict some of the murder scenes he encountered during his work as a detective. They are among the very earliest crime scene photographs ever taken.
 
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More of the earliest crime scene photographs ever taken, after the jump…

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
Stark images of the decaying & (maybe) haunted ‘UFO’ resort in Taiwan that never was
06.08.2016
09:15 am

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Design
History

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Clusters of the pod-shaped ‘Sanzhi UFO Houses’ in New Taipei City in Taiwan.
 
There are lots of mythical, Scooby-Doo style storylines associated with the construction of what was to be a posh, futuristic resort destination that became known as the Sanzhi UFO Houses (also known as the “Sanzhi Pod Houses” or “Sanzhi Pod City”). Located in the Sanzhi District of New Taipei City in Taiwan and reminiscent of the short-lived Disneyland attraction the Monsanto House of the Future , one of the rumors conjured up about Sanzhi was that it was built on the same site as a burial ground for Dutch soldiers back in the early 1600s. There was also some talk that the construction site was cursed due to the removal and subsequent disassembly of a Chinese dragon sculpture from the property. Where are those meddling kids when you need them?
 

A water slide to nowhere.
 
All stoner-jokes aside, there were actually numerous fatal accidents (and a suicide) that occurred while the UFO-style resort was being built. Ultimately, anyone involved with construction and development of the Sanzhi UFO Houses called it a day and work on what was to become a large-scale vacation destination, ceased. Despite the fact that it never took off the Sanzhi UFO Houses became a very desirable tourist destination just based on their unusual architecture and folklore. Sadly, if you were just about to book a couple of tickets to Taiwan to see them, don’t, as the strange futuristic village of pods were reduced to rubble sometime in 2008 despite an attempt to preserve a few and convert them into a musuem.

Shots of the Sanzhi UFO Houses that are no more, after the jump…

Posted by Cherrybomb | Leave a comment
‘Some stupid with a flare gun’: Frank Zappa & the true story of Deep Purple’s ‘Smoke on the Water’
06.06.2016
04:55 pm

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History
Music

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Deep Purple’s “Smoke on the Water,” amirite?

Although it is among the most popular guitar riffs in history (if not the #1 most popular riff of all time, because virtually anyone, including your mom, can probably play it) and certainly a song that will never, ever fall out of the classic rock canon, the meaning of the song’s lyrics—once well-known—are becoming increasingly cryptic. It would just be confusing to most people hearing it for the first time playing Guitar Hero or Rock Band:

We all came out to Montreux
On the Lake Geneva shoreline
To make records with a mobile
We didn’t have much time
Frank Zappa and the Mothers
Were at the best place around
But some stupid with a flare gun
Burned the place to the ground

On December 4, 1971 Deep Purple were in Montreux, Switzerland. The plan was to record their next album—what would become their 1972 classic, Machine Head—in the theater of the cavernous Montreux Casino, which was closing down for renovations after a matinee show by the Mothers of Invention.

As the members of Deep Purple watched, the rockin’ teen combo led by Frank Zappa laid into their concert showstopper of the time “King Kong,” when an idiot in the audience fired a flare gun (or more likely a bottle rocket) into the venue’s rattan-covered ceiling during Don Preston’s MiniMoog solo. Although no one was badly injured, the huge casino, along with its theater, restaurants and other entertainment facilities was burned to the ground and the Mothers’ gear was toast. There was an apparently easy and orderly exit for the crowd as the fire was slow at first, but as Deep Purple’s bass guitarist Roger Glover later said “when it caught, it went up like a fireworks display.” Two of Zappa’s roadies, the last to leave, were blown out of a window, but sustained only minor injuries.
 

A postcard of the fire

They burned down the gambling house
It died with an awful sound
Funky Claude was running in and out
Pulling kids out the ground

Even if you don’t know what it means, it sounds good, right?

“Funky Claude” who was “running in and out” refers to Claude Nobs, the casino’s owner and the director of the Montreux Jazz Festival—and as luck would have it, a volunteer fireman—who helped some of the audience members escape to safety and to whom Machine Head was dedicated. He later told Gibson.com

Frank Zappa took his guitar–a Gibson, a very strong one–and he smashed the big window down with his guitar. Then a lot of people could go out through there. The people went out through that exit, and within about five minutes, the 2,000 kids were out. And the people were watching the fire thinking, “Oh, you know, Frank Zappa is just doing an incredible ending to his show.”

Continues after the jump…

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
A gorgeous gallery of ‘ultra-chic’ men’s hairstyles from the 70s
06.06.2016
11:29 am

Topics:
Amusing
Fashion
History

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I always get a good chuckle when I see those oh-so-perfectly coiffed men’s hairdos from the 70s. I’m just marveling at the Bay City Rollers-meet-Jesus-freakiness of some of these hairy head shots, presumably taken from men’s hair magazines from the early to mid 70s. Imagine the time and effort it took to perfect these amazing looks on a daily basis? How awesome the 1970s must have been.

I wonder if when these styles will make a comeback and push aside the already passé hipster man bun? History always repeats itself. (Except for powdered wigs. That’s not gonna happen.) Trust me, you’re going to see these styles again if ain’t happening already as I type this. And I can’t wait.


 

 
More after the jump…

Posted by Tara McGinley | Leave a comment
Bodily Fluids: A Visual Guide to Embalming from 1897
06.02.2016
09:44 am

Topics:
Books
History
R.I.P.

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I attended a lot of funerals when I was a kid. A consequence of coming from a large extended Catholic family. My father was the eldest of nine children—he outlived them all. During my childhood, his brothers and sisters, and a few of their cousins and kin, died within a very short time of each other. My mother came from a small Protestant family. Her parents, uncles and aunts lived longer than my father’s kin, but when they died they fell within a year or two of each other.

At most of these funerals the body of the deceased was displayed in an open casket—either in a chapel of rest or at home where the family said decades of the rosary around the coffin. Seeing a corpse never seemed strange—death was part of life. The only thing that did seem odd was the strange almost pained expressions on the faces of the deceased. I put this down to their being embalmed—but never quite understood what this entailed or how the undertakers managed to keep the deceased’s eyes closed or their mouths shut.

When my beloved great aunt died, the undertaker left a few startling clues to the secret processes of making a corpse presentable.

Although she wore little make-up, someone had rendered her as an embarrassed spinster ashamed for causing such an unnecessary to-do. Her cheeks were flaming red, her lips fuchsia pink and her eyelids a cheapening smear of blue. This was a portrait of my great aunt by a Sunday painter overly influenced by Henri Matisse—it was garish and bright. Her eyes seemed wrong—flat and squint. I later found out eyelids are glued closed or covered with a flesh-colored plastic skin. Her mouth was pursed and I saw a telltale crimson thread with which her lips (her jaw) had been sewn or looped shut. Her hair was flat, as if she had been sleeping on her side. It wasn’t how my great aunt—ever meticulous and precise in her presentation—would have wanted to be remembered.

Embalming has been carried out by humans for some 5,000 to 6,000 years. The Egyptians made the greatest use of it—believing the preservation of a body somehow empowered the spirit after death. The brain and vital organs were scooped out and stored in jars. The interior of the corpse rubbed with herbs and preservatives before being wrapped in layers of linen cloth. Similar methods of embalming were carried out across Africa, Europe and China.

The modern methods of embalming developed as a result of discoveries made by the English physician William Harvey in the 1600s. Harvey determined the process of blood circulation by injecting fluids into corpses. Based on Harvey’s experimentation, two Scottish doctors William and John Hunter developed the process of embalming in the 1700s—offering their services to the public.

However, it was the slaughter caused during the American Civil War that led to embalming becoming popular with the public as families of soldiers killed on the battlefield wanted their loved ones’ bodies preserved for burial.

In 1897, Eliab Myers, M.D. and F. A. Sullivan wrote The Champion Text Book on Embalming. This book offered “Lecturers and Demonstrators in the Champion College of Embalming.” It was produced by the Champion Company from Springfield, Ohio, which manufacture equipment for use in embalming.

The Champion Text Book on Embalming gave the user a history of its subject and illustrated step-by-step guide to the process of successful embalming. From the draining of blood and bodily fluids to the dissection and removal of internal organs. The process explained in these atmospheric photographic plates is virtually the same as it is today.
 
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Fig. 15 Raising the brachial artery.
 
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Fig. 16 Injecting the arterial system through the radial artery.
 
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Fig. 17 Aspirating blood from the heart.
 
More tips on dealing with corpses from 19th century embalming techniques, after the jump…

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
‘Hologram’ of George Carlin to perform at national comedy museum starting next year
06.01.2016
11:42 am

Topics:
History
Pop Culture

Tags:


 
Shortly after running this post we received the following message from Kliph Nesteroff:
 

A retraction was submitted this morning regarding the hologram. Kelly Carlin has not endorsed the hologram idea. I took a leap of logic. Kelly has been working closely to integrate her father into the museum, and the builders of the museum have been working closely with Hologram USA, however the hologram plans (of which Redd Foxx is one), does not involve Carlin. The comedy center recently put on a tribute to Carlin’s legacy at the Paley Center and announced the enormous donation of Carlin’s archives to the center. George Carlin is a key point for the Comedy Center, but not part of the Hologram USA project as I mistakenly stated.

 
Nesteroff also directed me to this now-updated post from Rolling Stone which has accurate information about the musuem’s plans.

Here is the post in its original form:

It’s no secret that we at Dangerous Minds have long been admirers of George Carlin. I know that Richard Metzger is a big fan, and as for me, let’s just say that watching Carlin at Carnegie on HBO (without my parents’ knowledge, of course) at the age of about 13 was a life-changing event.

On top of that, one of the coolest things DM did in 2015 was run an exclusive excerpt of Kliph Nesteroff’s fantastic book The Comedians, which is chock full of information about Carlin’s career. We love the guy.

The history of the use of so-called “holograms” in the news and entertainment business has seen mixed success, to put it mildly. On Election Night in 2008 CNN broadcast an interaction between Wolf Blitzer and a holographic image of correspondent Jessica Yellin, who was reporting from Chicago, in an inadvertent nod to Princess Leia in a similar scene in the first Star Wars movie. In 2008 a hologram of Tupac Shakur sang “Hail Mary” and “2 of Amerikaz Most Wanted” at Coachella.

In neither case was the projected image actually a hologram—it’s similar to the artistic license that allows the makers of a certain kind of self-balancing scooter to call it a “hoverboard.”

So ordinarily we’d want to make fun of news that an entity known the National Comedy Center, scheduled to open in Jamestown, New York, in 2017, announced that a “hologram” of George Carlin will “perform stand-up sets” at the museum. But the fact of it being Carlin admittedly has me interested. Recently Carlin’s family donated a massive trove of the comedian’s archives to the museum, which will make these “holographic” renditions of his comedy act possible.
 

 
Almost as newsworthy is the information that the aforementioned Kliph Nesteroff is the chief curator of the National Comedy Center. There is nobody else in the world better qualified for such a position, and we congratulate Nesteroff on the good news.

Nesteroff commented recently that the Carlin family was a major sponsor of the museum and told the Hollywood Reporter that the comedian would serve as the center’s main attraction:
 

The main gimmick to bring people to Jamestown—which you may imagine is not an easy thing to convince people to do—is the George Carlin hologram. So they’re building this fake comedy club in one corner and George will be onstage, performing like old times ... He’s the credibility here. People have tried to do comedy museums before and failed. When you hear “comedy museum” and you’re a comedian, your first thought isn’t, “Oh, that’s cool,” it’s “Oh, that sounds terrible.” But in the comedy community, there are very few who would say that weren’t influenced by George Carlin. It helps.

 
The comedian’s daughter, Kelly Carlin, has donated eight trunks full of script drafts, eight-track tapes, performance videos, and photographs. One fascinating artifact promises to be the report from Carlin’s arrest on charges of obscenity from a 1972 show in Milwaukee.

I first learned about Nesteroff in 2008 after reading a lengthy and engrossing account of Carlin’s early years (1956-1970) on a blog hosted by the WFMU radio station. Nesteroff demonstrated his talent for excavating fascinating information that sheds light on some obscure corners of the comedy world, and he hasn’t let up since. This new position at the library represents some kind of closing of the circle for the energetic researcher, who has conducted countless interviews with many nearly-forgotten comedians whose heyday was several decades ago. 
 
Much more after the jump…....

Posted by Martin Schneider | Leave a comment
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