The List: A cheeky variation on a daily to-do
Best Entry: “Kiss June…Not kiss anyone else”
Much of the undated note shown here reads like a checklist you’d make just so you could easily cross a few items off. Eat today? Check! Cough? Worry? Great, you’re halfway there.
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But the sweet humor in Cash’s jottings seems to suggest he didn’t write them merely for himself. Perhaps he hoped his second wife, June Carter Cash, would glimpse his kissing-related goals, and appreciate his intent to walk the line for her. “Not smoke” is a feat not easily accomplished for someone who tried his first cigarette at age 10—and who shocked his surgeons at 56 when he smoked another, 30 minutes before a double-bypass surgery in 1988. The most Cashian line is the addendum: “Not write notes.” Is he acknowledging the difficulties of living up to expectations, particularly when you live in the limelight?
The List: 25 handwritten tips for bandmates
Best Entry: “Always leave them wanting more”
Those who worship at the jazz altar revere few elders as fervently as they do Thelonious Monk, the “High Priest of Bop.” Said fellow artist John Coltrane of his old friend: He “wants so much for you to understand [music] that if…you ask him something, he’ll spend hours if necessary to explain it to you.”
In 1960, Monk jotted down some of his wisdom for posterity. A few directives seem appropriately harsh coming from a master of inventive dissonance (“Stop playing all that bullshit, those wierd [sic] notes, play the melody!”). Others are timelessly lucid (“The inside of the tune [the bridge] is the part that makes the outside sound good”). But the best line is unmistakably hip—delivered straight, no chaser. “You’ve got to dig it to dig it, you dig?”
The List: Everything she’ll miss
Best Entry: “The concept of waffles”
Nora Ephron always left her feelings on the page, penning personal pieces like her 1972 Esquire essay “A Few Words About Breasts.” In the ’90s she taught adults to fall in love again with film scripts “Sleepless in Seattle” and “You’ve Got Mail.”
While battling leukemia over the last six years of her life, Ephron published her final book, “I Remember Nothing: and Other Reflections,” in 2010. It concludes with a list of things she’d miss, and others she wouldn’t, when she was gone. (She succumbed to the disease in 2012.) She anticipated no longer having to deal with dry skin, bras, the sound of vacuums, creationist theories or email (which she listed twice).
What she had no desire to say goodbye to: her kids and husband, spring, waffles, fireworks, laughs, the view out her window and reading in bed. She listed three types of dinners—including those “with friends in cities where none of us lives”—and wrapped it up, as all good meals should end, with “pie.”
The List: Fake book titles he crafted to liven up a stuffy new study
Best Entry: “Drowsy’s Recollections of Nothing.”
When Charles Dickens first moved to Tavistock House in London where he wrote “A Tale of Two Cities,” he decided to fill shelves in his study with fake books with ludicrous titles he created to amuse himself. In an Oct. 22 letter to bookbinder Thomas Robert Eelese, Dickens submitted his list of 37 “imitation book-backs.”
A few titles, like “Five Minutes in China,” poked fun at travelogues. Some were sendups of religion, like “King Henry the Eighth’s Evidences of Christianity,” while others were skillful puns like “History of the Middling Ages.” For “Hansard’s Guide to Refreshing Sleep,” Dickens requested that Mr. Eelese produce as many volumes as he was willing.
The List: Her lavish concert rider
Best Entry: “1 Oyster Knife”
Tour riders famously reveal the most outlandish “necessities” that rock stars require to feel at home. Some such requests can be rather endearing, however. While it’s not surprising that over-the-top style icon and dance-hall queen Grace Jones always requests two dozen oysters, she specifies that she’ll shuck them herself. Ms. Jones once told English comedian Alan Carr that she wants to make sure they’re still alive: “Normally you put a little lemon on it and they jump a little just around the edges.” (Her rider also demands six fresh lemons.) Plus, as she told the Los Angeles Times last year, an inexperienced shucker can leave shell on the meat, “which can cut your gums.”
The List: A rigid dissection of the pros and cons of matrimony
Best Entry: Wife: “Better than a dog”
In 1838, the 29-year-old scientist, who was already conjecturing his theory of evolution, listed pros/cons about something much less scientific: marriage. His notes reveal fears that a wife and kids would be a time suck and a money pit, leading to an unwanted destiny as a “Cambridge Professor” (the horror!).
Darwin’s pros centered on companionship: “Children (if it Please God); Constant companion (& friend in old age).” After this systematic review, he proposed to first cousin Emma Wedgwood that November. Only later did it occur to him that such inbreeding might compromise the health of their 10 children.
The List: Her New Year’s Resolutions
Best Entry: “Enjoy myself when I can —I’ll be miserable enough as it is.”
By the end of 1954, Marilyn Monroe, then 28, was experiencing her own seven-year itch. She’d been acting professionally for about that long but, pigeonholed as a ditz, yearned to be seen as a “serious” actress. Around that New Year’s Eve, she decided 1955 would be Her Year.
After enrolling in dramatic coach Lee Strasberg’s famed Actors Studio, she drafted a daunting list of goals. Discipline was a recurring theme. Among the first points: “Go to class—my own always” and “go as often as possible to observe Strasberg’s other private classes.” She was also keen to “take care of my instrument—personally & bodily (exercise).” A year later, the resolute Monroe had a fresh new studio contract granting her more control over her projects. Her first role of substance—in 1956’s unglamorous drama “Bus Stop”—earned her a Golden Globe nomination.
The List: His 13 rules for basketball
Best Entry: “No pushing, no striking”
Basketball might never have become the global phenomenon it is today had inventor Dr. James Naismith’s original 13 rules, written in 1892 while he worked at the Springfield, Mass., YMCA, held firm. According to No. 3, for instance, you couldn’t run with the ball (he failed to conceive dribbling, much less threading the ball between your legs); his concept’s plodding pace would likely bore today’s crowds. Per Rule No. 8, you couldn’t score unless the ball lands in a literal basket (with a bottom) “and stays there” until someone with a ladder gets it down, throwing momentum and fluidity right out the window.
The List: A conscientious script for “attaining moral perfection”
Best Entry: “Humility,” a late addition
Decades before cementing his legacy as an American Renaissance man, the precocious 20-year-old typesetter wrote out his “Plan For Attaining Moral Perfection.” His list lays out 12 virtues (frugality, industry, moderation) and the ways to attain them (“waste nothing,” “be always employed in something useful”). According to biographer Walter Isaacson, a Quaker friend “‘kindly’ informed” Franklin that he’d overlooked his tendency to be prideful, overbearing and “rather insolent.” To his credit, Franklin added “humility” to his list, resolving to “imitate Jesus and Socrates.”
The List: Alternate titles for “American Graffiti,” drafted by studio hacks
Worst Entry: “Goodbye Burger City”
Though the director of 1973’s “American Graffiti” did not draft this list, he endured it. Before the film’s release, studio heads at Universal, which funded it, asked Mr. Lucas and the movie’s producers, including Francis Ford Coppola, to consider a list of 60 dreadfully generic alternative titles: Among them: “High School’s Over,” “1962 Was Some Year,” “The Fast and the Deadly,” “Cherry Coke Summer,” “The Last Night to Make Out,” and “The Toy Dreams Gone,” a string of words that doesn’t even make sense.
Mr. Lucas stuck to his guns and “American Graffiti” hauled in $115 million in 1973 dollars, earning him two Oscar nominations and opening the door for him to obsessively create a sci-fi saga called, straightforwardly enough, “Star Wars.”
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