March 31, 2011

Rocco Petrone: A Modern-Day Cathedral Builder

Rocco Petrone
By John A. Stavola
"The Invisible Pyramid" by Loren Eisely contains a chapter entitled "The Spore Bearers". In it the fungus, Pilobolus, is likened to a rocket. The spore which will project the descendants of Pilobolus into the future prepare themselves with a light sensitive capsule to aim ever toward the brightest light. When the right chemical pressures are built up the cells beneath the capsule explode, hurling it several feet away. This enables Pilobolus, which grows on the dung of cattle, to transport itself to fresh grass where they will be consumed again by the cattle.

The influential German "philosopher-poet'" Oswald Spengler's attempt to discern an organic pattern to cultural history and the zeitgeist or spirit of an age is also invoked by Eiseley.
Perhaps what he (Spengler) terms the Faustian culture-our own-began as early as the eleventh century with the growing addiction to great unfillible cathedrals with huge naves and misty recesses where space seemed to hover without limits. In the words of one architect, the Gothic arch is "a bow always tending to expand". Hidden within its tensions is the upward surge of the space rocket. ( The Invisible Pyramid, pg. 84)
Eiseley opens "The Invisible Pyramid" with a haunting story of how his father, in the early years of the twentieth century, took him in his arms outside to see Halley's comet. Pointing to the sky he advised patience and caution and in seventy five years it would return. The father wanted the young Eiseley to see it again for him; because by then he would be long gone.

This ability to look forward, and then back, and then forward again is a hallmark of all great cultures. It has appeared in the West as Minerva, depicted as an owl with a neck capable of rotating 180 degrees. There are shrines to Minerva in many places in the region of Puglia. Saint Janarius, the San Gennaro of the city of Naples,for whom our January is named, is the month for reflecting on the past and making resolutions for the coming year. Two-sided Janus heads have also been found in Celtic lands of central Europe.
Janus-head, Roquepertuse, France
In the early 1960's when in grade school I would feign sickness to watch the Mercury and Gemini manned rocket launches. The decade we call "the Sixties" and its social and cultural significance, did not come into full swing until 1968 and lasted into the mid seventies.The early sixties were still a time when the average schoolboy and the public at large followed the space program closely. The "invisible pyramid" that Eiseley referred to was the giant network that supports Science and the consequent space program. We all felt that we were a part of it.

During a recent bout of the flu, at home recovering, I became aware that the last flight of the Space Shuttle had been completed the day before. Now, about fifty years later I found myself at home, truly sick this time, and the manned space program is over. Reflecting on the significance of this, which I still resist acknowledging, my mind wandered back to a family scene. I am watching the recovery of one of the capsules and the astronauts on television with my father. The name of a prime mover and shaker at NASA was mentioned by the news reporter. My father looks up from his newspaper and repeats the name with obvious recognition and delightful pride...Rocco Petrone!

What many would call the crowning achievement of Western civilization, the landing of men on the moon and returning them safely, naturally involved many people besides the more well known astronauts. All played a part but some were much closer to the top.

Rocco Petrone came from apparent humble origins, and was born on March 31, 1926 near Schenectady in New York State. His parents were southern Italian immigrants from the comune of Sasso di Catalda in the region of Basilicata just across the Vallo di Diano from Sassano where my paternal ancestors originated. His father was a railroad worker who died when his son was three. His mother later remarried. He was awarded an appointment to the military academy at West Point and played on the football team as a defensive lineman graduating in 1946. He earned his masters degree in mechanical engineering from MIT in 1951. Along with Werner Von Braun and scientists and technicians from the German rocket program at Peenemunde he participated in the development of America's first ballistic missile, the Redstone, which was also used for the Mercury and Gemini manned capsule orbiters.
Petrone and Von Braun
In 1960 Petrone turned down the opportunity to attend the Command and General Staff school of the Army; instead he transferred to NASA. In May of 1961 President Kennedy announced that the US would attempt to land a man on the moon by the end of the decade. Petrone relished the thought of being in on a project that would help his nation present a bella figura to the outside world. On hearing the announcement:
...Rocco Petrone turned to Albert Zeiler ( a colleague) with a grin on his face and said, "Al, we've got our work cut out for us." Petrone, a man of theatrical flair, loved the drama of a nation undertaking this enormous challenge in full public view. He thought of it as saying to the world, "Here's the line we're going to cross." (Apollo, pg. 71)
After the announcement, Petrone was put in charge of the "Heavy Space Vehicle Systems Office" at Cape Canaveral. His job was to supervise the launch system for the mission. This included choosing the site, establishing a system for the launch, and then getting it it built.
"...The launch vehicle...would come to seem anthropomorphic to Petrone, as if it were a giant to whom Petrone and the thousands of workers at the Cape were bound like servants to an imperious master. "You can't be saying to him, "I'm sorry, you can't have that much propellant,' or' You can't have that much juice or that much wiring," said Petrone. He's going to get what he wants. The flight article has got to dominate." And because Goliath's demands were going to be so outrageous, the machines for tending to him would have to follow suit. Launching Saturn Vs involved the management of extremes-the biggest and the smallest, the hottest and the coldest, wispy fragility and colossal strength-and in the design of the Launch Operations center, form followed function. But they were bizarre forms to fit an outlandishly extravagant function." Apollo pg.71
Cape Canaveral on the eastern coast of Florida was not an ideal site for this task, however it was chosen because of its remote location in the event of a catastrophic explosion or accident downrange after launch. It is an area subject to hurricanes and lighting storms. Thunderstorms roll through on a daily basis bringing humidity and salt air,all corrosive to complex machinery. After it was decided that the Saturn V "launch article" could only be built and prepped in the vertical position a building to protect it from the elements had to be built. It would be the largest enclosed space in the world; it was also built on sand.

The decade ending deadline required a system having more than one rocket ready for launch at any one time. They would have to be prepped in an area 3-1/2 miles away from the launch site. Petrone and fellow NASA engineer Don Buchanan had no choice but to design a Crawler transporter the size of a major league infield that would also have to negotiate a five degree slope . This was accomplished without the the Saturn V being outside of the vertical by more than a foot and a half.

Petrone's skill in all of this was his ability to see the big picture and make sure all the components fit and performed seamlessly. He called it "concurrency". Considering that this had never been done before, it was on an accelerated schedule, and there were many different civilian contractors supplying parts it is hard to imagine that it was successfully accomplished many times.
Saturn V ready for launch
The night before the first launch of the multistage rocket :
"...the tower and the vehicle were bathed in lights, set off by searchlights that intersected at the apex of the stack. To a New York Times reporter, the Saturn looked like a crystalline obelisk. To a visiting Soviet poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko, the Saturn and the red umbilical tower with its swing arms were a white maiden clasped by a monstrous lobster. Rocco Petrone was reminded of a cathedral." Apollo, pg 234
In 1966 Petrone was appointed Director of Launch Operations at the renamed Kennedy Space Center. After the Apollo 11 landing he became the director of the entire Apollo program overseeing all the subsequent moon landings. In 1973 he became the first non-German director of the Marshall Space Flight center, formerly the domain of Von Braun and company , where he worked on the Space Shuttle and Skylab programs. In the 1980's he joined Rockwell International the manufacturer of the Space Shuttle.

The morning of the flight of the doomed Challenger he told NASA that it would not be advisable to launch in freezing temperature . The cause of the disaster did turn out to be the effect of cold on the engine O rings. Rockwell and Petrone thought that the thermal protective tiles could come loose at low temperatures. Although they were perhaps wrong about the precise danger, the next disaster, the Columbia, was caused by damage to these tiles from falling ice buildup while still on the launch pad.

The description of Petrone, the man, by various people that worked with him are consistent. He was known at West Point as the "Italian Stallion" preceding that other fellow by a few years. His NASA obituary describes him as:
"...a broad shouldered tree of a man who in his line of work is treated with the same mixture of awe and respect football players give Vince Lombardi"
The authors of Apollo describe him as,
"Ebullient and blunt-spoken, he looked the way his name sound-big strong and Italian." pg.71
He was known as polite and fair but a probing questioner in his quest to ascertain the depth's of a persons knowledge. In an undertaking as complex as the space program attention to detail is of primary importance. The number of things that can go wrong is almost incalculable. His drive to get to the truth of the matter could be faustian in its proportions. At one meeting in which an engineer was trying to bluff, Petrone physically removed the man, instructing his supervisor to fire him from the project. His subordinates and sometimes his superiors feared and respected him but they made sure the details were taken care of. In an obituary by Adam Bernstein of the Washington Post the weight of his opinion by the top political leaders was illustrated,
"When he asked for fresh batteries for Apollo 11 during launch testing, few others felt this expensive request was worthwhile. But Kennedy Space Center Director Kurt Debus got this reply from Washington: "If Petrone says he wants it that way, then do it that way."
Petrone was not a polished speaker of the English language. He was, however, able to communicate his ideas to many people, including people of political importance to the program. His common touch and plain spoken communication skill worked to his benefit here. He also had the ability to get to the core of a problem by simplification to its basic components.

Loren Eiseley gives a description of the spirit that animates Western or faustian man,
"Faustian man is never at rest in the world. He is never the contemplative beneath the sacred Bo tree of the Buddha. He is, instead, a spokesman of the will. He is the embodiment of a restless, exploratory, and anticipating ego. In the last word we have the human head spun round to confront its future-the future it has created.It well may be that the new world, which began amidst time-tolling bells and the stained glass and dim interiors of Gothic cathedrals, laid an enchantment upon the people of Western Europe that provided at least a portion of the seedbed for the later rise of science-just as guilt has also haunted us. In its highest moments, science could also be said, not irreverently, to be a search for the Holy Grail." (The Invisible Pyramid, pg. 85)
In the end if all of our efforts in the quest for knowledge only lands us on a distant world only to be recycled like the Polobolus fungus it wouldn't have been in vain. The sheer joy of the effort was its own reward and that is what defines us.

Rocco Petrone , the man who contributed so much to that elegant spectacle of the lunar module gracefully descending to the moon , will have the last word.
"I see man in the program as the essential element of adventure and discovery that we need. You start talking about adventure and discovery and anyone who tells you what's going to come out of it has got to be a fool to try, because out of discovery man has moved from the caves to where he is today, and we ain't finished moving. I look upon all those things out there (in space) as challenges, put there by someone for us to try to understand, and in trying to understand we're going to be better." (Los Angeles Times, April 23, 1975)

Apollo, Charles Murray and Catherine Bly Cox, Simon and Schuster,2004 Ebook copyright,2010 by Cox and Murray, Inc.

The Invisible Pyramid, Loren Eiseley, Charles Scribner's Sons, 1970

*All photos courtesy of NASA and are in the public domain.

March 27, 2011

A Centennial of Tears and Reflection: 100 years after a horror, a renewed call for vigilance in the workplace

Constance DelVecchio Maltese unveiling her painting
"Always Remember the 146" (Photos by Niccolò Graffio)
By Niccolò Graffio
Sitting there in the CNL Cultural Center of Christ the King H.S., listening to the reading of the names of the dead, images of that fateful day 100 years ago popped into my mind. It was exactly 100 years ago today, on March 25th, 1911, the Triangle Shirtwaist factory, located in what was then the Asch Building on Greene St. and Washington Place in Manhattan, caught fire and burned, killing 146 people. Most of these people were young women and girls, immigrants from mainly eastern and southern Europe.

I had first heard of the Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire when I was in high school. It was a footnote in a history book; a few sentences meant to explain to students the reason behind government regulation of safety procedures in the workplace. I must confess that like the overwhelming majority of my fellow students, I really paid no attention to it. In my mind then it was, after all, only one of a myriad number of tragedies that befell those who came before us.

Last year, when I was sent to cover the 99th anniversary memorial service of the fire in this very same room, was in fact the first time I was really confronted with the details of that horrific afternoon so long ago. Now, as then, images I had never before confronted were pouring into my conscious mind. Even now as I type these words they confront me.

When we think of sweatshops we think of dirty, smelly places in some far away dirt-poor country. We forget it wasn’t that long ago such places existed here in America (and still exist, in fact). Numerous regulations were passed after the horror to avoid a repetition, but as I cynically learned long ago, regulations are only as good as those who choose to oversee and enforce them.

Many other tragedies in American history are all but forgotten due to apathy and disinterest on the part of Americans. It seems to me, for example, that except for an occasional mention in the back of a newspaper, no one here in my own native New York City bothers to remember or acknowledge the burning of the PS General Slocum. One would think the single greatest loss of life of New Yorkers after 9/11 would command more attention. There are even indications many would like to forget the events of 9/11!

They should not be forgotten, however! Though it is human nature to suppress negative experiences, we should resist such temptations in cases such as these. What we are as a populace, a country, is the sum total of the collective experiences of ourselves and our ancestors since their arrival on this continent.

Thus I commend the efforts of the Maltese family in keeping alive the memory of the Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire. For them it has a deeper meaning than most, since three members of their family (Caterina and her two daughters, Rosarea and Lucia) perished in the blaze. It still boggles my mind to consider the fact that in a single, awful afternoon Serafino Maltese, the family patriarch, lost all the female members of his family!

All the elder Maltese brothers (Andrew, Serphin & Vincent) were present to honor their ancestors and the rest of the fallen. Constance DelVecchio Maltese, wife Senator Serphin Maltese (ret.) and an accomplished painter, unveiled a beautiful creation of hers entitled “Always Remember the 146”.

The Maltese brothers (Andrew, Serphin and Vincent)
Composer and performer Jim Kuemmerle spoke to us briefly about the Triangle Shirtwaist Jazz Project, an album of original jazz compositions commemorating the fire. The piece I found most moving was entitled “Our Work is Never Done”.

The fact of that apropos title was driven home by Senator Maltese, who reminded us of the many Americans who still die on the job every day.

A grim reminder that “our work is never done”. On September 3rd, 1991 25 workers died from burns or asphyxiation and another 54 were injured from a fire at the Imperial Foods Products chicken processing plant in Hamlet, N.C. As with the Triangle fire, the fire doors were (illegally) locked to keep workers from stealing chickens. A fire that erupted in a 25 foot-long deep-fat fryer sealed their fate. Incredibly, records show the plant was never inspected by any Federal or state inspector in its entire 11-year history!

That there are those in Congress who seek to roll back OSHA regulations (in the name of profits!) should be a wakeup call to all Americans to continue the fight for workplace safety to insure the 146 did not die in vain.

Further reading:

March 24, 2011

To My Hero of Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow*: A Tribute to Joseph Barbera

Famed animator Joseph Barbera with some of his cartoon creations
By Niccolò Graffio
“All the works of man have their origin in creative fantasy. What right have we then to depreciate imagination?” – Carl Jung
From the earliest days our ancestors walked this earth they sought out activities during their leisure time to amuse themselves or else divert their attention from the rigors of life. These activities are today collectively called “entertainment”. Whether passive forms of entertainment, such as spectator sports or reading, or active forms, such as participatory sports and social dance, the underlying purpose was basically the same.

As human societies progressed, entertainment forms naturally became more sophisticated to match changing tastes. Theatre, opera and eventually cinema and television evolved from earlier, cruder forms of entertainment. As one might expect, different forms of entertainment were created to suit different tastes. Children, for example, might find a puppet show entertaining, but would probably have a more difficult time sitting through and enjoying a theatre production.

Yogi Bear and friends
Though motion pictures were an invention of the late 19th century, it was the 20th century that saw the true genesis of cinema as a popular form of mass entertainment. By the middle part of the same century, television, another form of motion pictures, was added to the mix.

Of all the forms of entertainment ever conceived by mankind, animation is undoubtedly one of the most ingenious (at least in the opinion of this writer). Animation is the rapid display of two-dimensional or three-dimensional artwork or model positions in sequence in order to create the illusion of motion. This illusion exists due to the still not wholly understood ways the human eye and brain perceives and processes motion. Animation devices such as flip books, phenakistoscopes and later praxinoscopes were all in use by the 19th century.

With the dawn of the motion picture industry in the early part of the 20th century, purveyors of cinema quickly realized the immense profit potential of film animation. One of the early pioneers of animation was the innovative French filmmaker George Méliès who invented the technique of stop-motion animation, by which a physically manipulated object appears to move on its own.

Goggles Paesano at the Indianrockolis 500
The first animated film shorts, commonly referred to today as “cartoons” were already a staple of the American film industry by the 1910s. Traditional animation (otherwise known as cel animation), where each frame is hand-drawn, became the norm for such films until the end of the century. The advent of sound cartoons in 1928 heralded the beginning of what was to be known as the Golden Age of American animation, that period of film history that lasted until the early 1960s. By that time theatrical animated shorts began to give way in popularity to television animation.

This period quickly saw cartoons go from a form of children’s entertainment to a recognized art form in its own right. In 1937, for example, legendary film producer Walt Disney released the first full-length animated motion picture, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. The film was wildly popular with audiences wherever it played and went on to become a classic. Across the globe, pioneering Soviet filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein hailed it as “The greatest film ever made!” Ironically, Disney’s wife Lillian had earlier warned him: “No one’s ever gonna pay a dime to see a dwarf picture.”

As mentioned earlier, by the 1960s theatrical cartoons gave way in popularity to those produced for television. Growing competition from television caused a drop in movie attendance, cutting into the profits of theatre owners. One way they dealt with this was by booking feature films only, as shorts were considered an unnecessary expense. This left the gate wide open for television producers.
Scenes from Tom and Jerry's "Neapolitan Mouse"
One technique that came into wide use by television animators was that of limited animation, a process of making cartoons that does not redraw entire frames but rather reuses limited parts of them in succeeding ones. This technique was pioneered by the animators at United Productions of America (UPA) studio originally as an aesthetic device. Later, however, it was used as a cost-saving one. The first cartoon film UPA produced thusly, Gerald McBoing-Boing, won the Academy Award in 1950 for Best Animated Short, giving the medium respectability.

It would be put into wide use on television by William Hanna and Joseph Barbera, founders and heads of Hanna-Barbera Productions, Inc. and two legends in their own right. As you have undoubtedly guessed, this article is about one of them, though it is dedicated to all those who, through the use of animated characters, have sought to entertain children of all ages.

Joseph Roland “Joe” Barbera was born on March 24th, 1911 in what was then the “Little Italy” section of Manhattan, New York City (it’s not anymore; trust me). His parents, Vincent and Frances (nèe Calvacca) Barbera had earlier emigrated to the U.S. from Sicily, Italy. His family moved to Flatbush, Brooklyn when Joseph was only four months old. Later they would have two more sons: Larry and Ted. Vincent Barbera was initially successful as a businessman, working and saving his money until he eventually owned three barbershops. However, due to a gambling addiction, he squandered it all away. By the time young Joseph reached the age of 15, his father had deserted the family, leaving a maternal uncle to help raise the boys and provide them with a father figure.

Joseph demonstrated an aptitude for drawing in the first grade. Growing up he would spend hours practicing and honing his craft by copying magazine illustrations. In high school he showed an interest in boxing, winning several titles. After graduating he toyed with the idea of becoming a professional boxer but soon lost interest. In 1935 he married Dorothy Earl, his high school sweetheart.

The Flintstones
After finishing high school Barbera enrolled in the American Institute of Banking. During his studies he alternated as an accountant, boxer and playwright. When the Great Depression hit he tried unsuccessfully to get a job as a full-time cartoonist with The NY Hits Magazine. Undaunted, he continued to pursue a career as a cartoonist while working at a bank, eventually selling single cartoons to magazines like Redbook and The Saturday Evening Post. It was getting his work published in Collier’s that emboldened him to write to Walt Disney, looking for work. To his surprise and delight, Disney responded, telling him he would contact him the next time he arrived in New York City. Sadly, he never did.

Rather than cry in his soup, Barbera took art classes at the Art Students League of New York and the Pratt Institute. This eventually led to a job with Max Fleischer (of Popeye the Sailor and Betty Boop fame). The job, however, would last less than a week. He eventually secured full-time employment as an animator and storyboard artist with Van Beuren Studios where he worked from 1932-36. When the studio closed in 1936 he took a job with Terrytoons Studio in New Rochelle, NY. 

About a year later the heads of the animation department of Metro Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) caught sight of his work. Sensing a real talent, they contacted him, luring him out to California with an offer of a sizable increase in salary.

By this time his marriage to Dorothy was in trouble. They separated for a time when he went to California. Arriving in Los Angeles, CA, he was dismayed to find that Depression-era conditions there were just as bad as in Brooklyn, and almost returned. Pondering divorce, he relented when he discovered his wife was pregnant. Their marriage would remain a rocky one and they finally divorced in 1963.
Scenes from Tom and Jerry's "Neapolitan Mouse"
The heads of MGM’s cartoon unit put Barbera’s desk opposite that of a seasoned animator, score composer and librettist by the name of William Hanna. The two were assigned to churn out animated adaptations of The Katzenjammer Kids, a popular comic strip at the time and to date, the longest-running comic strip in American history. Each man was impressed by the other’s work. In no time they became close friends and would remain so for the next 60 years. Thus began what would become the greatest collaboration in the history of American television animation!

To say these two worked well together would be an understatement. Each man brought talents to the mix that complimented the other. William Hanna was gifted in story construction and comedic timing. He also had a knack for recruiting top artists. Barbera, in turn, excelled as a gag writer and sketch artist.  Hanna once said of him that he could capture mood and expression in a quick sketch better than anyone else he’d ever known.

The Jetsons
While gratified for the steady work during the Great Depression, the two men felt stifled. They were eventually able to convince their bosses to allow them to devise, script, illustrate and animate their own creations. The result of this was the cartoon Puss Gets the Boot (1940), an animated short about a cat who would stop at nothing to get a mouse. It received an Academy Award nomination that same year for Best Animated Short. 

The cartoon proved the creative talents of the duo. In spite of this, their supervisor, Fred Quimby, didn’t want them to produce any more cartoons with a cat and mouse theme. They chose to ignore him. This could have caused problems were it not for the fact that Quimby learned producer Rudolf Ising never put any creative input into Puss Gets the Boot, even though he took sole credit for it. Quimby then relented and allowed them free reign. The result was the duo’s greatest creation – Tom and Jerry

More Oscar nominations (and wins) followed: Yankee Doodle Mouse (1943), Mouse Trouble (1944), Quiet Please! (1945) and The Cat Concerto (1946). The two friends, working exclusively, produced over 114 cartoon shorts of the famous cat and mouse. Though criticized by some as being excessively violent, Tom and Jerry would be nominated for 14 Academy Awards, winning seven, more than any other character-based theatrical series in history!

The Scooby Doo Gang
Like Rudolf Ising before him, Fred Quimby took sole credit for the success of Tom and Jerry, even going so far as to accept each Academy Award without inviting William Hanna and Joseph Barbera onstage to share the limelight! When Quimby retired in 1955 Hanna and Barbera were put in charge of MGM’s cartoon division, but it would be short-lived. The studio ordered the division closed forever just two years later. All of its employees found out about it from a phone call!

Undaunted, the two friends eventually formed their own company later that same year to produce cartoon shorts for television and theatrical release. Originally called H-B Enterprises, the name was eventually changed to Hanna-Barbera Productions. Though it got a slow start, Hanna-Barbera Productions eventually succeeded in producing two successful cartoon series for television: The Huckleberry Hound Show (1958 - my childhood favorite H-B cartoon, by the way) and eventually a spin-off, The Yogi Bear Show (1961). A 1960 survey showed to the surprise of many that fully half of the viewers watching The Huckleberry Hound Show were adults. This prompted the duo the following year to produce The Flintstones, a cartoon series about a Stone Age family parodied after the Jackie Gleason series The Honeymooners.The Flintstones would be the first prime-time cartoon series to be a hit with audiences.

Hanna-Barbera Productions soon followed with a host of other cartoon series including Top Cat, The Jetsons, The Magilla Gorilla Show and Scooby-Doo, Where are You? By the 1960s the company was the most commercially successful television animation studio in the business. Their cartoons were immensely popular with television audiences.
Scenes from Tom and Jerry's "Neapolitan Mouse"
One group, however, that did not like their work was animation artists. Due to the lower budgets of television programming, producers simply could not afford to pay out the lavish amounts required to create theatrical animation. As a result many animation studios were forced out of business, putting many artists on the unemployment line. It didn’t help that William Hanna and Joseph Barbera were pioneers in the technique of limited animation. To remain competitive, the number of drawings in a cartoon dropped by as much as 86%! Their detractors accused them of producing junk. Joseph Barbera’s retort was that they either adapt to the lower budgets of television or find new careers. At a time when many other studios were going under, the success of Hanna-Barbera Productions showed they made the wise move. It’s also worth noting that by adapting, many artists who otherwise would have found themselves similarly unemployed kept making a regular paycheck.

Hanna-Barbera Productions was sold to Taft Broadcasting (later renamed Great American Communications) for $12 million in 1966. Both men stayed on as heads of the company and continued to produce new shows. By 1996, through a series of mergers and acquisitions, Hanna-Barbera ultimately became a part of Warner Bros. Animation.

Joseph Barbera’s beloved friend and business partner William Hanna passed away from throat cancer on March 22nd, 2001. Of his friend, Barbera commented: “We understood each other perfectly, and each of us had deep respect for the other’s work.” That fact may have been reflected in the recurring theme of close friendship and partnership found in many of the cartoons they produced.

Though well on in years, Barbera continued to remain active as an executive producer for Warner Bros. Animation, helping to produce such television series as What’s New, Scooby-Doo? and Tom and Jerry Tales. He passed away in his bed at the age of 95 on December 18th, 2006.

The legacy of these two men is seen in the fact many consider them the only serious rivals to the great Walt Disney in the making of animated cartoons. Many of their creations, Tom and Jerry, Yogi Bear, Scooby-Doo, the Flintstones, the Jetsons, the Smurfs, just to name a few, have achieved icon status. Their mark on American culture is indelible.

*- In 1991 Joseph Barbera met with controversial pop star Michael Jackson in an unsuccessful attempt to have him sing in Tom and Jerry: The Movie (1993). During the meeting Barbera made five quick sketches of Tom and Jerry for Jackson, autographing them. Jackson, in turn, gave Barbera a photo of himself and his niece with the following autograph:
“To my hero of yesterday, today and tomorrow, with many thanks for all the many cartoon friends you gave me as a child. They were all I had. – Michael”
Further reading:
Barbera, Joe: My Life in ‘Toons: From Flatbush to Bedrock in Under a Century; Turner Publishing, 1994

March 21, 2011

Pompeii the Exhibit

Life and Death in the Shadow of Vesuvius
Model of Pompeii, Naples National Archaeological Museum

On March 17th Italy celebrated 150 years of unification. Instead of throwing tomatoes at a statue of Giuseppe Garibaldi, I decided to use them for sauce and spend the day celebrating my own Southern Italian heritage instead. This brought me to Pompeii the Exhibit: Life and Death in the Shadow of Vesuvius at Discovery Times Square. Unfortunately, photographs were not allowed so I will use pictures taken during my trips to Pompeii and Naples National Archaeological Museum to help illustrate this review.

The tour begins with a quick introductory film about Mount Vesuvius and the destruction of Pompeii in 79 AD. It's one of four entertaining videos on view, including an interactive virtual eruption complete with vibrating floor and smoke machines. A larger than life marble statue of a dour Roman matron dressed in a traditional stola greets guests emerging from the mini-theater. Used as a tomb decoration, the funereal statue is a fitting way to begin an exhibit about the "tomb of a civilization."
Bacchus and Vesuvius,
Naples National Archaeological Museum
Next is a makeshift grotto and nymphaeum, a Roman fountain dedicated to a local water nymph, or Naiad. It is followed by a herm of the Roman patrician Marcus Fabius Rufus and four plaster friezes of Greco-Roman gods. According to i-Italy's interview with exhibit consultant Judith Harris one academic has criticized the inclusion of these replicas. There is concern that they may suggest to visitors that the other objects on display are also not authentic, which is not the case. In my estimation this should not be a problem because each object is clearly labeled. However, that being said, I must admit during my first visit to Pompeii I didn't realize the statue of The Dancing Faun at the Casa del Fauno was a copy until I saw the original later in the Naples National Archaeological Museum. So the academic does have a legitimate concern.

The exhibit boasts an impressive collection of over 250 items from all walks of Roman life. Pots, coins, surgical tools, scales, fishhooks, amphorae, anchors, lamps, furniture, jewelry, etc. are all on display — there is even a loaf of carbonized bread and examples of Roman graffiti on slabs of stone. My personal favorites were a pair of bronze Lares familiares statuettes and a highly ornate gladiator's helmet. Except for its discoloration and missing plumage the fierce looking Samnite-style helmet appeared to be in near-perfect condition and ready to be donned in the arena.
Drunken Silenus, Naples National Archaeological Museum

Displayed prominently among the surviving portions of decorative wall paintings is an exquisite bronze statue of Bacchus, the Roman god of wine. Equated with the Greek Dionysus, the much-venerated deity and his drinking companion Silenus are well represented in the principal gallery. One panel depicting Bacchus, his consort Ariadne, and Silenus reminded me of the painting of Io at Canopos from the Sanctuary of Isis (Naples National Archaeological Museum). The similarity in the expressive features is striking. Painted in what is termed the Fourth, or "Fantastic," Style of later Pompeian painting, I believe the same artist could have executed the works.

Reminiscent of Pompeii's famous lupanaria, the exhibit has a small replica room of a brothel, complete with lectus cubicularis (chamber bed) and miniature fresco of a prostitute pleasuring two pigmies. Separated from the rest of the exhibit, the sexually explicit nature of the room hints at the "scandalous" Secret Cabinet. The only thing missing was the phallic street markers pointing the way.

Phallus relief,

The highlight of the show is undoubtedly the collection of skeletal remains and plaster body casts of the victims. Buried beneath the hardened ash and rubble the decomposing corpses left cavities where they fell. During excavation the Neapolitan archaeologist Giuseppe Fiorelli (1823-1896) poured plaster into the pockets, forming the macabre figures. Most disturbing (to me) were the casts of a writhing guard dog and the horrific expression preserved in the visage of a young child. The gruesome collection is the largest ever and a poignant reminder of the price paid for posterity's fortune.
A victim from the Garden of the Fugitives, Pompeii

I've been lucky enough to visit Pompeii twice so far, and visiting this exhibit brought back so many fond memories. The $25 admission fee is well worth the price considering you can only see most of these artifacts by visiting Pompeii, Herculaneum or the Naples National Archaeological Museum. Pompeii the Exhibit: Life and Death in the Shadow of Vesuvius runs through September 2011 and I highly recommend it.

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