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Archives for September 2015

A little nostalgia

Pablo Picasso’s “Femme Assise sur une Chaise,” 1938, is estimated to sell for $25 million to $35 million. Credit 2015 Estate of Pablo Picasso/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York, via Sotheby's

Pablo Picasso’s “Femme Assise sur une Chaise,” 1938, is estimated to sell for $25 million to $35 million.
2015 Estate of Pablo Picasso/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York, via Sotheby’s

The New York Times reports that Sotheby’s first auction of the late A. Alfred Taubman’s art collection will be Nov. 4. Christie’s tried to win the auction rights, but lost. It would have looked bad if Christie’s had won. Taubman was Sotheby’s “principal owner” for 22 years. The collection is expected to generate a raft of money, perhaps $500 million, possibly the biggest private haul ever. There are big names in it — Rothko, Raphael, Picasso and Modigliani.

The Times noted that Taubman died in April at the age of 91, and that he was a philanthropist and shopping mall magnate. I did not know Taubman, but I have reason to dislike him. It has nothing to do with the fact that he wound up in the slammer for nine and a half months for price fixing while in charge of Sotheby’s. He was convicted in a U.S. court while his Christie’s counterpart, also accused of bilking buyers, was in England, above and beyond extradition.

In the 1980s, awash in cash, Taubman decided he fancied the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, a relatively modest family enterprise owned by the descendants of Joseph Pulitzer, journalism’s giant and pioneer. Besides the Post, the family owned broadcast properties, The Arizona Daily Star and some small publications. I worked for, and reported directly to, Joseph Pulitzer’s grandson, Michael Edgar Pulitzer, who then served as editor and publisher of the Star. Michael’s half-brother, Joseph Pulitzer III, was editor and publisher of the Post-Dispatch.

Amedeo Modigliani’s “Portrait de Paulette Jourdain,” circa 1919, also estimated to bring $25 million to $35 million. Credit Sotheby's

Amedeo Modigliani’s “Portrait de Paulette Jourdain,” circa 1919, also estimated to bring $25 million to $35 million.

Taubman’s assault on Pulitzer publishing involved a segment of the family that was not satisfied with dividends and was unable according to the trust to cash in its shares at market value. Thus Taubman offered $500 million for the company with the dissenting family members offering 43 percent of the company. The dissidents were paid off when the Joseph and Michael and the rest of the majority shareholders decided to take the business public. The initial public offering (IPO) generated enough cash to pay off the dissidents.

But the nature and character of the enterprise changed drastically. It became public corporation with a singular responsibility to serve shareholder interests above all. As a family company, it had paternal bent, and money was not the be all and end all.

Thus, Taubman’s hostile takeover effort came to naught. Instead, Pulitzer Inc. was born. It died in 2005 with the sale of the company to Lee Enterprises. By then, Joseph Pulitzer III was long dead and Michael Pulitzer headed the company and guided the sale. The company had tripled in value over Taubman’s offer. The sale took place at the peak of the company’s value. Two years later and the value of the company probably would not have been half. Lee Enterprises carries today a market cap value of $112 million and still owes $745 milliion from its Pulitzer purchase 10 years ago. The debt from that purchase has been an enormous yoke.

I cannot dislike Taubman a lot. The corporatization of newspapers was a trend long before he asserted himself into the takeover fray. If I wax nostalgic, so be it. Newspapers became great when they were owned by individuals whose families considered it wise and necessary to uphold tradition, at least until love of money got in the way. The only way I see for them to rediscover greatness again is with that same ownership by individuals who love newspapering and the excitement it creates serving the public good and its First Amendment responsibility.


” ‘You’ve got a set of unintended consequences that weren’t planned for,’

said Richard F. Hohlt, a Republican donor and lobbyist.”

From today’s (9/20) New York Times, page one

Republicans planning for unintended consequences sounds about right.


The big story in today’s (Sunday, 9/13) Arizona Daily Star was the headline:

“Million-dollar home market

roars back to life in Tucson”

It plumb tickles me to death (apologies to Howdy Lewis*) that we in the Old Pueblo have a rip-roaring million-dollar housing market. It warms the cockles of my profit-loving heart to know the Geoffrey Gotrocks of the world are spreading welcome wampum around this (presently) very wet desert.

I’m just going to set down ratchere next to my favorite 50-cent prickly pear, hold out my tin cup and wait for all that moolah to trickle down.



*See The Rounders, a motion picture (1965).

Cow pies

Isn’t Diane Douglas just adorable?

The lady has stepped in more fresh political cow pies than any AZ politician since Evan Mecham. She hasn’t just stepped in them. She’s stomped those pies so the splatter factor has been REALLY BIG. If you have forgotten or never knew about the infamous Gov. Mecham, see this “60 Minutes” interview with Morley Safer from the time of the covered wagons. (Notice how uncomfortable Safer is.)

Douglas was elected superintendent of public instruction, but acts as though she were crowned Queen of Pedagogy. She therefore believes she is sovereign over all the education she surveys, a notion a court recently rejected.

It seems unlikely that Ms Douglas will be satisfied with the court’s decision and will appeal, thus spending more public money on lawyers who charge a few hundred quid an hour. As queen, she is something of a bulldog, and she seems determined to visit all the cow pies this state has to offer.

And that, as they say in the land of double negatives, is not insignificant.

Heaven’s Gate

After reading “Final Cut” by Steven Bach, I had to watch “Heaven’s Gate,” the movie that occupies the book and a significant amount of territory in the history of motion pictures. Bach headed United Artists, the studio that essentially gave Michael Cimino carte blanche to make the movie. He was still basking in success of “The Deer Hunter.” The book is very readable tells a good — if greatly padded — story. I just watched a YouTube video that claims the movie bankrupted United Artists. This is untrue. The movie prompted Transamerica, an insurance company that decided to stick its stinking toe in movie waters, to sell UA to Kirk Kerkorian who also owned MGM. The United Artists name lasted a short time thereafter and then was combined with MGM.

The death of United Artists was (and still is) accompanied by much hand wringing and nostalgic mourning. It had a long tradition. It was created in 1919 by Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, D.W. Griffith and Charlie Chaplin. They wanted to wrest control of their work from the studios and thus founded their own.

“Final Cut” covers in great detail Cimino’s disregard for the initial $12 million budget. He spent $44 million and overran the production schedule by about a year. In 1980 — when the film was finally released — that was a powerful pile of cash. One version of its release was more than five hours long. Bach and Co pared it, but the movie was a bust. It put Hollywood off Westerns, damnit. It’s sad. One can watch “The Searchers” only so many times.

This movie is so bad, Netflix does not have it. I rented it from Casa Video. I watched the first hour and decided to watch an hour a night. Wednesday night I sat for the second hour. After about 20 minutes I could take no more. Every scene in this move is about three times longer than it should be. There is a plethora of dust and smoke in this film, enough to clog and fog three or four movies.  Some — many actually — of the scenes are beautiful and creative. Clearly, Cimino took his eye off the story and crafted a series of beautiful 20-minute videos. The roller skating scene is breathtaking.

One good thing came out of this movie: Hollywood became kinder to animals. The American Humane Association accused Cimino of killing four horses, disemboweling cattle, decapitating a chicken and staging actual cockfights. The AHA also claimed a horse and rider were accidentally blown up with dynamite. The horse died.

You can search YouTube for the trailer and other stuff.


We Arizonans have one of the most remarkable legislatures in the country. In 2000, the voters of Arizona approved the creation of an independent commission to draw legislative district lines, thereby removing the power to do this from the Arizona Legislature. The Legislature has drawn these lines since statehood. Since it has become a Republican-dominated Legislature, these Republicans have drawn legislative districts in such as way as to make certain that its dominance and power are maintained.

These Republicans considered the will of the people in passing the independent redistricting referendum an unacceptable breach of its powers and rights. Thus Republican lawmakers voted to bring a lawsuit against the commission, in effect challenging the will of the people.

The Supreme Court decided this question about a month ago against the challenge wrought by the Republican Legislature, upholding the creation of the bipartisan commission.

It is gratifying that the court upheld the people’s will. But any joy in Mudville is tarnished by the fact that we taxpayers paid the legal costs of the Republican challenge. And we picked up the tab for the defense of the commission’s creation.

Now some may argue that the Legislature demonstrated great hubris in fighting the people and using the people’s money to do so. But upon further reflection, one must admit that the Legislature in principle also reflects the will of the people. So it was just one of those things, like “garbage in, garbage out,” and “people get the government they deserve.” Moreover, after the Legislature’s virtual destruction of public education, its neglect of the environment and its love and dedication of and to prisons, the voting taxpayers have no reason to expect any less arrogance from its Republican lawmakers.

On Route 66

 The one thing I remember from “Route 66,” the TV series, was this moment when Tod turns the ignition key of the Corvette and it roars. I remember the sense of being engulfed by envy. I — along with a gazillion other 14-year-old adolescents — could not imagine anything could beat that for cool.

The thought came back with the news that Martin Milner, who played Tod, died Sunday at the age of 83. He and his sidekick Buzz — played, or rather overplayed, by George Maharis — were characters created by the legendary screenwriter Stirling Silliphant whose work still holds up after all these years. He died in 1993.

I remember one episode in particular where Tod and Buzz get jobs working on the construction of a dam. The entire episode was shot in Page and during the construction of the Glen Canyon Dam.

In its time, Route 66 was the best thing on television. It embodied all the best of the American road trip. The theme was written by Nelson Riddle, a great tune that worked perfectly as shown right here.