Today: you’ll meet a philanthropist you’ve never heard about. Just kidding; I hate those headlines. Let’s try this:

How did a vacuum cleaner lead to a magnificent art collection and thousands of adopted animals? Meet the man who made it possible.

There. That's better.

The internet left me cold today; nothing piqued my interest. That’s rare. Hard to do a rip-snorting blog post for work when everything seems the same - I swear, I love Kubrick as much as the next guy, but I’m getting tired of hagiography, and I’m just tired of The Best Minimalist Star Wars Poster You’ll See Today. Let it go. Leave it be. It was a Tuesday that felt like Monday, and tomorrow’s Wednesday, which means the week is half over and I haven’t yet found a site that mashed up the Munsters and Addams Family using Flintstone dialogue.

Well, the internet can have its dull days too, and I suppose I’m contributing to that just by whining. So let's get to it - and by the way, the majority of today's entry is at the bottom, spinning off an old ad. And an old painting. Recognize this?



Careful, now. Careful.




The weekly look at old products, packages, and logos, in the search for peculiar information and barely-useful insights into the eras that came before ours.


For once Elmer isn’t scowling and blustering about some exaggerated slight or unwanted turn of events.

Yes, when in doubt, add a kid. Or a calf. There’s more: the audience was encouraged to peer through magazines in the next fortnight to see who the calf looks like. See for yourself! Ten to one you'll love him!

Seems to suppose a great deal of emotional interest in a fictional quadruped.


Oh yes, of course, clowntime for refreshing refreshment.

Your soul! It tastes so sweeeet!

It was made by Bluebird, which is a good enough name for a drink, and certainly provids a more attractive mascot.


I’ve written about Fleer before, how Frank Fleer tried to market a gum called Blibber-Blubber in 1905. An employee reformulated it, made it pink - the first pink chewing gum - and called it Double Bubble. In the 40s, however, they tried to go upscale:

The company eventually became more famous for trading cards, and was sold to Marvel in 1992, which later sold to to another guy with deep pockets. Trading cards would always be popular! People would never stop shelling out for collectables, especially because the prices will always go up.

They went into super-ultra bankruptcy and folded. People lamented the end of the cards, but I’d put in a word for the gum. Fleer was better gum than Bajooka Joe. Softer, a more subtle flavor, dusted with confectioner’s sugar. Fleer was the best.


That was one of their slogans.

That would be Mr. Alexander Lewyt. From his 1988 NYT obit:

Mr. Lewyt (pronounced LOO-it), who held patents for scores of inventions and once said he had chronic insomnia from thinking them up, was best known for the Lewyt vacuum cleaner, a compact machine with no dust bag that was designed to operate without distorting television and radio reception. . .

. . . When he heard an undertakers' supplier complain that it was hard to fasten neckties around corpses, Alex, who was not yet 16, devised a new kind of bow tie that would clip on. He sold 50,000 of them, but it is unclear whether he ever patented the concept.

After his father died, Mr. Lewyt took over the family shop and turned it into the Lewyt Corporation. During World War II the company did a multimillion-dollar business, manufacturing such items as radar antennas and popcorn poppers. Mr. Lewyt was made a member of the French Legion of Honor for his company's work in making equipment for the Allies during World War II.

He sold the company to the Budd industrial concern, which is still around. They made aluminum train cars - most of the ones in the US, it sounds like - but now they’ve been reduced to a metal fabricator company.

They don’t make vacuums anymore.

More biographical info on Mr. A. To wit:

Employing more than 500 people at the outbreak of World War II, the Lewyt Corporation added another 1,500 people almost overnight to make bomb sights, radar and electronic equipment, a night vision device that remained classified until 1955, and a machine Alex Lewyt invented to clean naval gun barrels at sea. Overhearing a female assembly line worker remark that the gun-cleaning device could be adapted to household cleaning, Lewyt designed his most famous invention, the Lewyt vacuum cleaner, and by December 1944 was already preparing to transition from wartime production mode to producing vacuum cleaners and other devices for the post-war civilian sector. Lewyt also made popcorn poppers and air conditioners, and continued to make equipment for military use as well.

I love this detail:

Recalled Sandy McLendon of Jetset, also in 2003, “Lewyt’s round canister could have been used as a prop spaceship. The machine was extremely well-made, but it had no wheels or runners.” Run over accidentally by a grocery store delivery boy named Martin Roche, Lewyt reaped a publicity bonanza by awarding Roche a four-year scholarship to Columbia University in exchange for the right to add the wheel arrangement from Roche’s improvised grocery cart to the Lewyt vacuum cleaners.

By the way: Mr Lewyt spent his retirement as president of a large animal shelter, explaining his choice: “my wife adored animals, and I adored my wife.” She passed away in 2012. They collected French oil paintings, his obit noted - which made me wonder what happened to the words after she died. Well, Sotheby’s is helping someone turn the large rectangles into smaller ones with lots of engraving.
If you inherited a collection like that, would you sell it? I find it hard to imagine that anyone wouldn’t.

The burdens of owning it would seem too great. The expense of the alarm system. The worry over someone coming in the skylight and making off with the painting, cut from its frame, rolled up. The horror of realizing that when you moved it to another room THE SUNLIGHT TOUCHES IT. Don’t turn up the heat, the Renoir is too close to the furnace!

I’ve seen many Famous Paintings in my life, and the experience was usually underwhelming. You’re seeing the Story, the Fame, all the lessons and legends that append to a particular image. I like “Night Watch,” as it’s come to be known, but not because the painting does anything for me. A Massing of Attentive Dutch Guys; great. When I was discovering Mahler I read a reference to the painting in a description of the second movement of the 7th, and thought “someday I will make a pretentious reference to this moment in a blog, whatever that is. And then I will google! Whatever that is.”

The fruits of my googling, or froogling:

Mention is also made in the literature that Mahler was influenced by Rembrandt's famous painting "The Night Watch," which Mahler saw on his many visits to Amsterdam. As is so often the case, once a "good story" starts, it is too often picked up as "true history."

Here is what Henry-Louis de La Grange wrote to me about this matter:
"Rembrandt's painting is mentioned by Mengelberg in his 'program' which he claims to be based on Mahler's own statements during the October 1909 rehearsals. “

De La Grange wrote a thirty-million page biography of Mahler, the most exhaustive thing I’d ever read. If Mahler went to a cafe as a young man, de La Grange told you where it was, what the weather was like, the region of Austria from which the cafe’s stucco exterior got its russet tint, the number of grains of sugar left in the bottom of the coffee cup, and so on, with footnotes for each.

The book was two inches thick, and I think it ended with Mahler starting to write the first symphony. A lot of concern about the young woman with whom he was enamored; can I remember her name from long ago? Harriet Smithson?

Just kidding. That was Berlioz’ wife. I love this wikipedia note:

. . . Berlioz discovered a mutual acquaintance and offered her a box of tickets. She came to the performance, realizing that the symphony was about her (as was strongly suggested by the program notes) and eventually they married.

Every musician’s dream. But if I recall Berlioz’ own memoirs - a delightful read, by the way; probably the only autobiography in which the author confesses to dressing up as a woman, secreting a pistol in the skirt, and hiring a ride to catch his beloved in the act with another man and shoot her. (He thought better of the plan en route.)

Anyway, it was Johanna Richter. It ended poorly for Gustav, but he wrote songs about it, and some of the melodies ended up in the first symphony. People driving home from work listening to the public radio station may hear the emanations of his ardor and never know who she was.

Back to the Night Music issue:

But more important still is the statement below by Alphons Diepenbrock, who was a dear friend and loyal admirer of Mahler, and who attended the Amsterdam rehearsals and also discussed the work with Mahler. He recalls the composer's reluctance to provide 'keys' or programmatic associations for his Nachtmusik I: 'It is not true that he [Mahler] had tried to depict the 'Night Watch'. He mentioned this picture only as a point of comparison. It is a night walk, and he says himself that he was thinking of a patrol. Besides, he says something different each time.”

Those maddening artists, asked to explain their work. The work explains the work, you simpleton. Reminds me of something else from Alma Mahler’s masterpiece of self-serving recollection: she described a performance of the 8th in which some rich American came backstage and was stammering out his awe and gratitude, and Mahler treated him with curt contempt; how could such a man know?

When you read that as a young man, you may side with Mahler; when you read that later on, your sympathies are with the admirer.

We continue!

What is certain is that it is a march in a fantastic kind of chiaroscuro, hence the analogy with Rembrandt. The fantastic colours are enough in themselves to carry the imagination back into the past, suggesting a tableau of soldiers and mercenaries.

Meaning, nevermind. It has nothing to do with the painting. Nor does this, really, but it gave me a chance to listen to Mahler’s 7th second movement again. As for “Night Watch,” I like this one better . . .


. . . than this one.



The first one is the same scene a moment or two after the actual Rembrandt version. After the picture was snapped. It’s hanging in the stairwell, or ladder, or companionway, of the Eurodam. A marvelous joke A deleted scene. When we sailed from Amsterdam I wondered how many people passed the enormous painting and thought there’s something off about that. Can’t quite say what.

I wouldn’t want to own the Rembrandt, but the knock-off? Sure. Reproductions are fine. Better a great recording of Mahler's Seventh than the possession of the original score.

If there's one thing I've learned today: I have a lousy recording of Mahler's Seventh. Cut my teeth on the Haitink version; that's the one I must now seek out.

Thus concludes what would be a pretentious Bleat if it didn't also include a happy cartoon cow. Updates in the usual places; see you around.





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