Literary daybook, Aug. 19

Real and imaginary events of interest to readers.

By the Salon Books Editors

Published August 19, 2002 7:00PM (EDT)

Today in fiction

On August 19, 1071, Leo Ducas betrays his family to remain beside his Emperor at Manzikert.
-- "Shards of Empire" (1996)
by Susan Shwartz

From "The Book of Fictional Days"
Know when something that did not really happen
occurred? Send it to

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Today in literary history
On this day in 1915 Ring Lardner Jr. was born. Though Lardner's adult fame was earned -- screenplay Oscars for "Woman of the Year" (1942) and "M*A*S*H" (1970); the novel "The Ecstasy of Owen Muir" (1954); blacklisting as one of McCarthy's "Hollywood Ten" -- he met the public early and often in his father's daily column. He was the third of four sons, and Dad had lobbied unsuccessfully for a name not his:

"When you are nicknamed Ringworm by the humorists and wits,
When people put about you till they drive you into fits,
When funny folk say, 'Ring, ring off,' until they make you ill,
Remember that your poor old Dad tried hard to name you Bill."

So "Bill" he often was, and as portrayed in Ring Sr.'s running chronicle of life at the Lardner house, a force to be reckoned with:

"Bill: But why didn't I get something?
Dad: You did, you got a ball, but it isn't your birthday. It's John's and Jim's birthday.
Bill: It is my birthday.
Jim: It isn't your birthday, bees you're not anything old.
Bill: I am as old as you are Mr. Jimmy.
Jim: You're not, bees I'm five years old.
Bill: I'm one billion and thirty-nine years old and that's old.
Jim: But you're not even older than John bees he's seven.
Bill: But I'm older than John because he's seven and I'm God. I'm older than anybody in the world. I'm the oldest man in the world, I think.
Jim: Oh, think yourself.
John: If he thinks he's old, let him think he's old. We're older.
Bill: No, you're not, Mr. Johnny. Because I'm older than anybody.
Jim: Oh, older yourself. Giants are older.
Bill: I'm a giant myself. I'm God, I think."

It was young "Bill" who inspired one of Ring Sr.'s most often-quoted lines, from "The Young Immigrunts":

"Are you lost daddy I asked tenderly.
Shut up he explained."

When being called different sorts of names at his HUAC hearing, Ring Jr. might have borrowed Dad's line, though he didn't do badly on his own: In response to the inevitable, "Are you now or have you ever been a member of the Communist Party?" Lardner said, "I could answer it, but if I did, I'd hate myself in the morning." This got him a one-year sentence, and the title of his second book of memoirs, "I'd Hate Myself in the Morning" (2000), published just before his death.

-- Steve King

To find out more about "Today in Literary History," e-mail Steve King.

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