Some time ago the Los Angeles National Public Radio station, KCRW,
broadcast Ricky Jay's weekly essays on a variety of subjects.

These pieces have been gathered in his new book
Celebrations of Curious Characters, just published by McSweeny's.

We will emend these essays with bibliographic notes, errata,
new material and additional images whenever possible…


 

MYNAH, Pg. 16:

Joseph Rinn tells the story of Mynah in his Sixty Years of Psychical Research, New York: The Truth Seeker Co., 1950. The opera singer Emma Thursby is profiled in The Life of Emma Thursby, 1845-1931 by Richard McCandless Gipson, New York: New-York Historical Society, 1940. Material on Lewis Gannett and Ruth Gannet Styles from conversations with their granddaughter, Peggy Kahn. Sieur Rea, an 18th century conjurer exhibited his “Magical Deceptions” and “Two Curious Minous, Alive From Botany Bay” in Newcastle in 1807. Rea’s broadside boasted of his birds, “They performed before their Majesties at Weymouth, and gave Universal Satisfaction, and are far superior to the Learned Pig.”

“Mynah bird owner accused of teaching it to abuse neighbor,” read the headline of an item in a November, 2002 edition of the Beijing Daily Star. Legal proceedings were initiated by a Mr. Lee who accused a Mr. Feng of teaching his pet mynah bird to verbally “hurl abuse at his neighbor.” Mr. Lee submitted to the Beijing court tape recordings of what he claimed were the mynahs abusive words.” The major invectives uttered by the bird seem to have been, “Lee is bad. Lee is bad. You’re bad.” Mr. Lee said his family had to endure this ignominy daily and demanded an apology and damages of 2,000 yuan [by today’s exchange about $300. U.S. dollars]. In the classic “he said she said” argument Mr. Feng countered that his bird only verbalized phrases like “How are you, Sir,” or, “How are you, Miss.”

His mynah was by all accounts, unable to play the banjo.


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a CHICKENS, Pg. 24:

George R. Scott, The Art of Faking Exhibition Poultry, London: T. W. Laurie, 1934. William Grimes, My Fine Feathered Friend, North Point Press, 2002. Material from Janus Cercone and Errol Morris in conversations with the author.

 

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a DIRTY DICK, pg. 40:

The account of Nathaniel Bentley is drawn largely from contemporary sources including: Portraits of Curious Characters in London. With descriptive & Entertaining Anecdotes. London: Printed by and for W. and T. Darton, No. 58, Holborn Hill, 1809. The first subject is Bentley. The illustration and the original woodblock from which the illustration was printed are reproduced below.

 

This piece describes Bentley’s “porcupine quill” hair and his fashionable blue and silver suit, but surprisingly, it does not mention his untidiness or his unfortunate fiancée. It reproduces the poem about Bentley from the January 1801 issue of the European Magazine.

Other descriptions appear in:

The History of the Extraordinary Dirty Warehouse in Leadenhall Street Together With The Memoirs of its Eccentric Inhabitant, Nath. Bentley, Esq…, London: T. Wilson, 1803; The Eccentric and Extraordinary History of Nath. Bentley, Esq…To Which is Added the Strange and Eccentric Life and Adventures of Lord Rokeby London, c.1803 [This was published by Tegg and Castleman, with the following swell imprint: The Marvellous [sic] and Eccentric Book Warehouse, No. 122, St. John’s Street, West Smithfield.”]; Kirby’s Wonderful and Eccentric Museum; or, Magazine of Remarkable  Characters. Including all the Curiosities of Nature and Art from the Remotest Period to the Present Time, Drawn from every Authentic Source. London: 1820, 1:445-56. [With full length engraving of Dick holding a candlestick]; William Granger, The Wonderful Museum and Extraordinary Magazine. [A number of prints of Bentley in 2 different volumes, portrait, warehouse, sign from father’s shop (Golden Lion). London: 1803; The Eccentric Mirror, vol 4.; Dirty Dick is included in the imaginative frontispiece to The Wonders of the Universe; or Curiosities of Nature and Art…London: Jones, 1824.

I briefly discuss the literature of remarkable characters in Jay’s Journal of Anomalies, New York: Farrar Straus Giroux [2001, 1994].

For an interesting account of the concept of the trickster figure and dirt - see Lewis Hyde, Trickster Makes This World, New York: Farrar Straus Giroux, 1998.

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