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How Shirley Temple's Lawyers Launched Graham Greene's Career

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In the fall of 1937, the British magazine Night and Day published a review of the Shirley Temple movie Wee Willie Winkie. The author of the review was Graham Greene, a relatively unknown novelist and the magazine’s literary editor.

Greene hated Wee Willie Winkie, a doltish adaptation of a Rudyard Kipling story set at the height of the British Raj. But he saved special enmity for Temple’s fans, whom he described as lecherous “middle-aged men and clergymen.” Temple, then 9 years old, had been trussed up by the producers to look like a “complete totsy.” Witness, Greene suggested, the “sidelong searching coquetry” of her eyes or “her neat and well-developed rump twisted in the tap-dance.”

Just a few weeks later, Greene and Night and Day were slapped with a libel suit for damaging the names of Temple and the film’s studio, Twentieth Century Fox.

Temple “is going to cost me £250 if I’m lucky,” Greene wrote to his brother. She cost him more than that: Night and Day, which had been plagued by financial problems since its inception, crumbled in the face of the libel suit, leaving Greene without a day job. In March, the King’s Bench heard the case. Calling Greene’s libel “a gross outrage,” Chief Justice Gordon Hewart awarded Twentieth Century Fox £3,500 in damages, £3,000 of which was to be paid by Night and Day and the remainder by Greene himself.

But Greene wasn’t around to hear the ruling. Weeks earlier, on January 29, he and his wife, Vivien, had fled London on the hulking cruise liner Normandie. It was the start of a journey that would take Greene from Manhattan to New Orleans to San Antonio and then deep into the jungles of Mexico—and eventually, after much suffering and pain, provide him with the material needed to write The Power and the Glory, his masterpiece.
    
For many of Greene’s readers, it’s surprising to learn that the Catholicism-obsessed writer was actually a late convert. He was raised Anglican in Berkhamsted, a cloistered town in the east of England. In his early twenties, while working as a journalist in Nottingham, Greene met Vivien Dayrell-Browning, a poet of minor acclaim. In order to please his future wife, in 1926 Greene agreed to be baptized in the Nottingham Cathedral.

His decision to travel to Mexico in 1938 was no accident, nor was it spontaneous. The West had fascinated Greene for years—in particular, a pair of states in the Mexican highlands, Tabasco and Chiapas, where a long anti-clerical campaign had left hundreds of priests dead, all but eradicating any trace of Catholicism. Greene wished to chronicle what he called, “the fiercest persecution of religion anywhere since the reign of Elizabeth.”

The shuttering of Night and Day and the libel suit were all the impetus he needed. He convinced his publisher to give him a modest advance for a travelogue, then set about planning his itinerary, a short stay in Mexico City and a tour of Tabasco and Chiapas, ending in the mountain town San Cristóbal de las Casas, where he had heard Catholicism was being practiced in secret. After several weeks, he would return to London, where he could publish his observations.

The first leg of the journey passed uneventfully. Greene left Vivien in New Orleans and crossed the border near Laredo, Texas. He stayed in Mexico City briefly—just long enough to admire the “great bold thighs” of the local dancers—before sailing to Villahermosa, the capital of Tabasco.

Greene found the dirt and heat of Villahermosa unbearable. Everywhere, he was watched by police, who “ambled drearily across in the yard in the great heat with their trousers open.” Greene equated these horrors with the absence of faith. “One felt one was drawing near to the center of something,” he wrote, “if it was only of darkness and abandonment.”

With the help of a few friendly locals, Greene chartered a plane for Salto de Agua, in Chiapas. He remained intent on seeing San Cristóbal de las Casas. But upon landing in Salto de Agua, he found endless expanses of jungle, perforated by rutted and overgrown trail. His only option was to hire a mule and a guide and ride some 100 miles north, to San Cristóbal.

The trip was torturous. His guide spoke little and had a nasty habit of trotting off into the distance without his charge. Greene begged frequently to stop; the guide politely refused. By the time he entered San Cristóbal a few days later, Greene’s entire body was in revolt. He was tick-bitten, sore in his legs and back, and afflicted with terrible stomach pains. Still, he was pleased to be among the faithful again. On his first day in San Cristóbal, he attended mass in a low-slung house on the edge of town. The priest wore a motoring coat, a tweed cap, and amber-tinted glasses.

“Mass was said without the Sanctus bell,” Greene noted. “Silence was a relic of the worst penal days when discovery probably meant death.” Now, Catholicism was practiced quasi-openly—although a complex system of bribes was required to keep police at bay. After the ceremony, Greene hobbled across the plaza and ducked into the Santo Domingo cathedral. At the altar knelt an Indian couple. As Greene watched, the pair sang a slow duet in a language that he did not understand.

“I wondered,” he later wrote, “what prayers they had said and what answers they could hope to get in this world of mountains, hunger and irresponsibility.” That question was still on his mind a year later, as he sat at his London desk to write a novel that would capture what he had witnessed.

The Power and the Glory is Greene’s most deeply Catholic novel and also his most thrilling. On its face, it is a novel of simple contrasts. The hero is a nameless priest who wanders the jungles of Southeast Mexico on muleback, chased by a nameless lieutenant and his henchmen. The relentless lieutenant, a socialist, finds the idea of God repugnant. He has “a complete certainty in the existence of a dying, cooling world, of human beings who had evolved from animals for no purpose at all.”

The priest, on the other hand, believes there is nothing but God: “God was the parent, but He was also the policeman, the criminal, the priest, the maniac, and the judge,” he concludes. The priest knows of what he speaks. He is a criminal himself: a drunkard, the father of an illegitimate child, a coward—afraid of being captured and equally afraid to push onward.

“Let me be caught soon,” he prays.

The allegory—the fallen but steadfast believer versus the vicious atheist—is sustained until the final pages, when the priest is shot dead in a prison yard. He collapses into a “routine heap beside the wall—something unimportant which had to be cleared away.”

But the book also suggests that there was nothing routine about his death. “He was one of the martyrs of the church,” a local woman proclaims after he is gone. In fact, despite the booze on his breath—or perhaps because of it—he may be a “hero of the faith.” Greene likely believed as much himself. In an essay years later, he wrote that the “greatest saints have been men with more than a normal capacity for evil.”

Most writers, if they are exceptionally lucky, produce one good book in a lifetime. In the space of two short years, Graham Greene completed three. The first—the one actually under contract, detailing his Mexican travels—was apparently the easiest to write. Titled The Lawless Roads, Greene finished it in just a few short months. The proofs arrived from the publisher in Christmas of 1938 and were sent back the following March, by which point Europe was enveloped in war. London suddenly took on the appearance of an armed camp. There were trenches dug in the parks and anti-aircraft guns in the squares.

Greene was worried. He’d had to pay out £500 for the Shirley Temple fiasco—not enough to bankrupt him but enough to leave his family in relatively dire straits. To earn some extra money, Greene decided to churn out a thriller, The Confidential Agent, yet he could not lay down a second fiction project, which he was already calling The Power and the Glory. (The title comes from the Lord’s Prayer: “For thine is the Kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever.”) Greene decided that he would simply write both books at the same time.

“I see no further for the next twelve months than the grindstone,” he pronounced. In order to gain a modicum of peace, he rented a studio in Mecklenburgh Square, far from his wife and their two small children. Still, distractions abounded. Chief among them: Dorothy, the daughter of Greene’s new landlady. Dorothy was stout and a little plain—a friend of Greene’s described her cruelly as “absolutely a non-starter” in terms of attractiveness. But Greene was smitten, and he and Dorothy were soon sleeping together. It was an affair that was to last several years, eventually destroying Greene’s marriage. It was his great sin—his own “spot of decay.”

In the evenings, Greene would visit with Dorothy. During the day, he worked on his two books: The Confidential Agent in the morning, sometimes 2,000 words at a stretch, and The Power and the Glory in the afternoon. To keep up the pace, he consumed massive amounts of Benzedrine, a fast-acting form of amphetamine. He finished The Confidential Agent in a stunning six weeks, in an “automatized Blur,” but it was The Power and the Glory, published in 1940, that was to make his name, bringing Greene the kind of recognition he had always craved. It was “his finest novel,” John Updike wrote many years later, “full of energy and grandeur” and “compassion.” It won the prestigious Hawthornden Prize in 1941, and John Ford later adapted it for the silver screen.

Greene himself loved it greatly. In an interview with The Paris Review, he placed it alongside Brighton Rock, The Heart of the Matter, and The End of the Affair—a group of novels that shared, in his reckoning, a Catholic concern. The protagonists in those four books, he told his interviewer, “have all understood in the end.” They are redeemed, in one way or another.

Some in the Catholic Church didn’t see it that way; initially the Church condemned Greene’s book. “Novels which purport to be the vehicle for Catholic doctrine frequently contain passages which by their unrestrained portrayal of immoral conduct prove a source of temptation to many of their readers,” wrote Cardinal Griffin of the Vatican’s Holy Office.

But years later, during an audience with Pope Paul VI, Greene brought up Griffin’s words. The Pope, who had read The Power and the Glory, reportedly smiled.

“Mr. Greene,” he said, “some parts of your books are certain to offend some Catholics, but you should pay no attention to that.”

For Greene, it must have been the ultimate blessing.

This story originally appeared in mental_floss magazine. Subscribe to our print edition here, and our iPad edition here.

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How Cambodian Refugees Started the Pink Doughnut Box Trend
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Like the red-and-green cardboard pizza boxes or white Chinese takeout containers, many doughnut boxes share a certain look regardless of where you buy them. This is especially true in Southern California: Order a dozen crullers from one of the region's many independently-run doughnut shops and you’ll likely receive them in a glossy pink box. According to Great Big Story, this trend can be traced back to an influential immigrant business owner.

In the 1970s, Ted Ngoy moved to Southern California as a refugee from Cambodia. Much of Los Angeles's current doughnut scene is thanks to him: He opened dozens of doughnut shops of his own and helped fellow Cambodian refugees in the area get started in the business. Along with passing down entrepreneurial advice, he also inspired them to choose the light pink boxes that he used in his stores. As Ngoy recalled years later, either he or his business partner, Ning Yen, started the trend after asking their supplier for a cheaper alternative to the traditional white boxes. The company was able to offer them pink boxes at a discount. Because red is considered a lucky color in many Asian cultures, the distinctive shade stuck.

Today, many doughnut places in L.A. County are still owned by Cambodian-American immigrants and their families, and they still use the same old-school packaging Ngoy and his partner popularized 40 years ago.

You can get the full origin story in the video below.

[h/t Great Big Story]

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Fumbled: The Story of the United States Football League
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There were supposed to be 44 players marching to the field when the visiting Los Angeles Express played their final regular season game against the Orlando Renegades in June 1985.

Thirty-six of them showed up. The team couldn’t afford more.

“We didn’t even have money for tape,” Express quarterback Steve Young said in 1986. “Or ice.” The squad was so poor that Young played fullback during the game. They only had one, and he was injured.

Other teams had ridden school buses to practice, driven three hours for “home games,” or shared dressing room space with the local rodeo. In August 1986, the cash-strapped United States Football League called off the coming season. The league itself would soon vaporize entirely after gambling its future on an antitrust lawsuit against the National Football League. The USFL argued the NFL was monopolizing television time; the NFL countered that the USFL—once seen as a promising upstart—was being victimized by its own reckless expansion and the wild spending of team owners like Donald Trump.

They were both right.

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Spring football. That was David Dixon’s pitch. The New Orleans businessman and football advocate—he helped get the Saints in his state—was a fan of college ball and noticed that spring scrimmages at Tulane University led to a little more excitement in the air. With a fiscally responsible salary cap in place and a 12-team roster, he figured his idea could be profitable. Market research agreed: a hired broadcast research firm asserted 76 percent of fans would watch what Dixon had planned.

He had no intention of grappling with the NFL for viewers. That league’s season aired from September through January, leaving a football drought March through July. And in 1982, a players’ strike led to a shortened NFL season, making the idea of an alternative even more appealing to networks. Along with investors for each team region, Dixon got ABC and the recently-formed ESPN signed to broadcast deals worth a combined $35 million over two years.

When the Chicago Blitz faced the Washington Federals on the USFL’s opening day March 6, 1983, over 39,000 fans braved rain at RFK Stadium in Washington to see it. The Federals lost 28-7, foreshadowing their overall performance as one of the league’s worst. Owner Berl Bernhard would later complain the team played like “untrained gerbils.”

Anything more coordinated might have been too expensive. The USFL had instituted a strict $1.8 million salary cap that first year to avoid franchise overspending, but there were allowances made so each team could grab one or two standout rookies. In 1983, the big acquisition was Heisman Trophy winner Herschel Walker, who opted out of his senior year at Georgia to turn pro. Walker signed with the New Jersey Generals in a three-year, $5 million deal.

Jim Kelly and Steve Young followed. Stan White left the Detroit Lions. Marcus Dupree left college. The rosters were built up from scratch using NFL cast-offs or prospects from nearby colleges, where teams had rights to “territorial” drafts.

To draw a line in the sand, the USFL had advertising play up the differences between the NFL’s product and their own. Their slogan, “When Football Was Fun,” was a swipe at the NFL’s increasingly draconian rules regarding players having any personality. They also advised teams to run a series of marketable halftime attractions. The Denver Gold once offered a money-back guarantee for attendees who weren’t satisfied. During one Houston Gamblers game, boxer George Foreman officiated a wedding. Cars were given away at Tampa Bay Bandits games. The NFL, the upstart argued, stood for the No Fun League.

For a while, it appeared to be working. The Panthers, which had invaded the city occupied by the Detroit Lions, averaged 60,000 fans per game, higher than their NFL counterparts. ABC was pleased with steady ratings. The league was still conservative in their spending.

That would change—many would argue for the worse—with the arrival of Donald Trump.

Despite Walker’s abilities on the field, his New Jersey Generals ended the inaugural 1983 season at 6-12, one of the worst records in the league. The excitement having worn off, owner J. Walter Duncan decided to sell the team to real estate investor Trump for a reported $5-9 million.

A fixture of New York media who was putting the finishing touches on Trump Tower, Trump introduced two extremes to the USFL. His presence gave the league far more press attention than it had ever received, but his bombastic approach to business guaranteed he wouldn’t be satisfied with an informal salary cap. Trump spent and spent some more, recruiting players to improve the Generals. Another Heisman winner, quarterback Doug Flutie, was signed to a five-year, $7 million contract, the largest in pro football at the time. Trump even pursued Lawrence Taylor, then a player for the New York Giants, who signed a contract saying that, after his Giants contract expired, he’d join Trump’s team. The Giants wound up buying out the Taylor/Trump contract for $750,000 and quadrupled Taylor’s salary, and Trump wound up with pages of publicity.

Trump’s approach was effective: the Generals improved to 14-4 in their sophomore season. But it also had a domino effect. In order to compete with the elevated bar of talent, other team owners began spending more, too. In a race to defray costs, the USFL approved six expansion teams that paid a buy-in of $6 million each to the league.

It did little to patch the seams. Teams were so cash-strapped that simple amenities became luxuries. The Michigan Panthers dined on burnt spaghetti and took yellow school buses to training camp; players would race to cash checks knowing the last in line stood a chance of having one bounce. When losses became too great, teams began to merge with one another: The Washington Federals became the Orlando Renegades. By the 1985 season, the USFL was down to 14 teams. And because the ABC contract required the league to have teams in certain top TV markets, ABC started withholding checks.

Trump was unmoved. Since taking over the Generals, he had been petitioning behind the scenes for the other owners to pursue a shift to a fall season, where they would compete with the NFL head on. A few owners countered that fans had already voiced their preference for a spring schedule. Some thought it would be tantamount to league suicide.

Trump continued to push. By the end of the 1984 season, he had swayed opinion enough for the USFL to plan on one final spring block in 1985 before making the move to fall in 1986.

In order to make that transition, they would have to win a massive lawsuit against the NFL.

In the mid-1980s, three major networks meant that three major broadcast contracts would be up for grabs—and the NFL owned all three. To Trump and the USFL, this constituted a monopoly. They filed suit in October 1984. By the time it went to trial in May 1986, the league had shrunk from 18 teams to 14, hadn’t hosted a game since July 1985, kept only threadbare rosters, and was losing what existing television deals it had by migrating to smaller markets (a major part of the NFL’s case was that the real reason for the lawsuit, and the moves to smaller markets, was to make the league an attractive takeover prospect for the NFL). The ruling—which could have forced the NFL to drop one of the three network deals—would effectively become the deciding factor of whether the USFL would continue operations.

They came close. A New York jury deliberated for 31 hours over five days. After the verdict, jurors told press that half believed the NFL was guilty of being a monopoly and were prepared to offer the USFL up to $300 million in damages; the other half thought the USFL had been crippled by its own irresponsible expansion efforts. Neither side would budge.

To avoid a hung jury, it was decided they would find in favor of the USFL but only award damages in the amount of $1. One juror told the Los Angeles Times that she thought it would be an indication for the judge to calculate proper damages.

He didn’t. The USFL was awarded treble damages for $3 in total, an amount that grew slightly with interest after time for appeal. The NFL sent them a payment of $3.76. (Less famously, the NFL was also ordered to pay $5.5 million in legal fees.)

Rudy Shiffer, vice-president of the Memphis Showboats, summed up the USFL's fate shortly after the ruling was handed down. “We’re dead,” he said.

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