Even better than reading his blog posts, this is your chance to book Professor Kurt F Stone for your next affair, party, business meeting or whatever event you can think of. He has done thousands of in-person lectures covering Politics, Old Hollywood, Biographies, History and more. Below are just some of the lecture topics Professor Stone can do for you. To contact us and book him for your next event, just click here.
NOTE: Any of the lectures that are in a series, can be be separated as a stand-alone lecture. Each title below in yellow will allow you to view or download a hard copy; just click on it. Check back here again, as we add more topics from time to time.
Ever since the days when Socrates was put on trial for “corrupting the youth of Athens,” people have been utterly captivated by judicial proceedings. Even before the advent of mass media, people found in certain famous [or infamous] judicial cases that indescribable mixture of comedy, tragedy and sensationalism that makes for riveting, spellbinding entertainment. Mass media, which placed first journalists, then microphones and finally cameras into courtrooms, spawned a degree of sensationalism [not to mention hucksterism] worthy of P.T. Barnum. This series of lectures will investigate eight of the so-called “Trials of the Century” that took place within the 20th century. Our investigation/examination will, hopefully, give us insights not only into the cases in question, but, more intriguingly, into the times and circumstances that led to their fame and notoriety.
1. Harry Thaw (1907): This trial had it all: fame, fortune, insanity and sex.
2. Sacco & Vanzetti (1921): Were these two Italian immigrants victims of post-war hysteria, or did they really kill two armed guards?
3. Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle (1921): Accused of the rape/murder of a young starlet, Arbuckle, one of the world’s most beloved movie stars, suffered through not one, not two, but three trials.
4. Leopold & Loeb (1924): Two incredibly bright young men charged with the murder of young Bobby Franks. This trial made Clarence Darrow a household name.
5. The Scopes “Monkey” Trial (1925): Scopes was put on trial for daring to teach the theory of evolution, thus launching a debate that yet continues.
6. Mary Astor (1936): A nasty divorce case turned into a jaw-dropping scandal when Astor’s private diaries were made public.
7. Alger Hiss (1949): Put on trial for perjury, the suave, Harvard-educated Alger Hiss squared off against Whittaker Chambers and a young Richard Nixon.
8. The Army-McCarthy Hearings (1954): For three months in 1954, the nation was held spellbound by the world’s first televised trial, in which one of America’s most powerful (and feared) politicians was effectively destroyed.
Shortly after arriving out west, the witty screenwriter Ben Hecht began referring to Hollywood as “The land of mink-lined swimming pools and plastic palm trees.” Not to be outdone, the equally witty Dorothy Parker noted that “The only ‘ism’ Hollywood believes in is plagiarism.” The two were by no means alone in their lowly assessment of the world’s film capitol. William Faulkner called Hollywood “a place where a man can get stabbed in the back while climbing a ladder.” And then there was Fred Allen, who claimed “You can take all the sincerity in Hollywood, place it in the navel of a fruit fly and still have room enough for three caraway seeds and a producer's heart.”
When it comes to having a jaundiced view of the movie industry, nothing and no one is more jaded – or funnier – than Hollywood itself. And when Hollywood makes films about Hollywood . . . watch out! “In the Land of Mink-Lined Pools” highlights eight films Hollywood made about itself; cinematic arrows drawn from a quiver of satire.
1. “What Price Hollywood?” (1932): The original A Star is Born, starring Constance Bennett, directed by George Cukor.
2. “The Star” (1952): Bette Davis in a tour-de-force as a washed up star looking to make a comeback.
3. “Day of the Locust” (1975): Donald Sutherland stars in the classic Nathaniel West novel about a 1930s art director trying to make a star out of Karen Black.
4. “Once in a Lifetime: (1932): From a play by Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman. A satire about “voice culturists” invading Hollywood at the dawn of the talkies.
5. “What Makes Sammy Run?” (1959): From what many consider the greatest Hollywood novel of all, Sammy Glick is the ultimate industry hustler.
6. “Hollywood Blvd.” (1936): Extremely rare; a scathing exposé of the effect that gossip and scandal sheets have on the lives and careers of Hollywood stars.
7. “Make Me a Star” (1932): A comedy with feeling about a young man who comes to Hollywood intent upon becoming a star. Stuart Erwin and Joan Blondell.
8. “The Bad and the Beautiful” (1952): Kirk Douglas as a ruthless studio executive looking to revive his career. With Lana Turner, Walter Pidgeon and Dick Powell.
History‘s first narrative film was a Western: Edwin Porter’s “The Great Train Robbery,” first screened in 1903. Ever since, westerns – “oaters” – have been among the most favorite films for viewers all over the world. Indeed, for people from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe, John Wayne, James Stewart, Errol Flynn, Henry Fonda and Randolph Scott ARE America. Westerns come in all shapes and sizes: epics and dramas, musicals and comedies. AT one time, even John Wayne was a singing cowboy (“Singing Sandy”). In this lecture series, we will screen classic Westerns ranging from Porter’s “Great Train Robbery” to Robert Aldrich’s 1979 comedy-drama “The Frisco Kid,” starring a young Harrison Ford. Through these films we will see the way various writers and directors sought to portray America to the movie-going public; the history, scenery, ethos and values through which generations of film lovers first met America. Each lecture will begin with an introduction for the evening’s presentation. After viewing the film in its entirety, the class will engage in a (hopefully) spirited discussion. And remember, as the real (as opposed to the cinematic) Bat Masterson once said, “Never run a bluff with a six-gun . . .”
1. “The Great Train Robbery” (1903): At a brief 11 minutes, Porter’s “The Great Train Robbery” was the first Western, starring the man who would become history’s first cowboy star: “Bronco Billy” (Max Aronson).
2. “Tumbleweeds,” (1925) starring the legendary William S. Hart, is an epic silent Western dealing with the historic Oklahoma land rush.
3. “Annie Oakley (1935): Barbara Stanwyck stars in a romanticized biography of the great Western sharpshooter. Directed by George Stevens and costarring Preston Foster, and Melvin Douglas.
4. “Dodge City” (1939): Errol Flynn stars as a cattle agent who, disgusted by the brutal lawlessness of Dodge City, takes over as sheriff. With Olivia de Havilland; directed by Michael Curtiz.
5. “The Westerner” (1940): Walter Brennan stars as the self-appointed “hanging judge” Roy Bean. Gary Cooper is the saddle tramp who opposes the “judge’s” policy toward homesteaders. Directed by William Wyler and costarring Forrest Tucker, Fred Stone and Dana Andrews.
6. “Buck Benny Rides Again” (1940): Believe it or not, even Jack Benny made a Western . . . sort of. This is a rare comedic spoof of Western clichés, starring the entire Benny radio “family” (Dennis Day, Rochester, Phil Harris, et al). Jack, playing himself, tries to make good on his fictitious boasts about roughing it in Nevada.
7. “The Ox-Bow Incident” (1943): William Wellman directs HenryFonda, Anthony Quinn, Harry Morgan and Dana Andrews in Walter Van Tillberg Clark’s classic tale of a posse that captures three men suspected of murdering a farmer. A taut, intimate classic.
8. “The Searchers” (1956): John Ford directs John Wayne, Ward Bond, Vera Miles and a young Natalie Wood in a story about a Civil War Veteran who embarks on a long journey to rescue his niece from an Indian tribe. Perhaps the greatest of all Ford/Wayne collaborations.
9. “The Frisco Kid” (1978): Robert Aldrich directs Gene Wilder and Harrison Ford in a unique heartfelt Western comedy/drama in which a Polish rabbi (Wilder) wanders through the Old West on his way to lead a synagogue in 1869’s San Francisco.
Beyond a shadow of a doubt, Sir Alfred Hitchcock [1899-1980] is the only director whose very name is an adjective: “hitchcockian,” meaning “eerie,” “macabre,” “funereal,” “sepulchral.” Just the mention of his name cues the sound of Gounod’s “Funeral March of the Marionettes.” Long before he made such Hollywood classics as “Spellbound,” “Notorious,” “Vertigo,” or “Psycho,” he was making cutting-edge classics in Britain. Indeed, Hitchcock’s career goes back to the time of the silent movie. In this course, we will screen eight of Sir Alfred’s early, British-produced films, and see the development of his style, technique and trademark idiosyncrasies. Each lecture will consist of Professor Stone’s insightful introductory comments, the screening of a full-length Hitchcock film, and a wide-ranging post-film discussion.
1. The Lodger (1927): Hitchcock’s first hit, this silent film has a typical Hitchcockian plot: an innocent man is suspected of being a serial killer.
2. Blackmail (1929): Hitchcock’s first “talkie” is the masterful tale of a young woman who commits murder, is blackmailed, then finds out that the detective assigned to hear case is her lover.
3. The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934): A man and his wife receive a clue to an imminent assassination attempt, only to learn that their daughter has been kidnapped to keep them quiet.
4. The Thirty–Nine Steps: (1935): A Hitchcock British spy-chase suspense film from a vintage period, this, his 18th film is considered his first real masterpiece. A contrived title, it was his first film with a classic theme that he modeled repeatedly for the rest of his career.
5. Sabotage (1936): Oskar Homolka plays a London movie-theatre owner who maintains a secret life as a paid terrorist. With the 25-year old Sylvia Sidney.
6. Secret Agent (1936): Set during the “Great War,” John Guelgud plays a British novelist who discovers that a government agency has faked his own death.
7. Young and Innocent (1937): A film actress is murdered by her estranged husband who is jealous of all her young boyfriends.
8. The Lady Vanishes (1938): Margaret Lockwood, heading home on a train from holiday in the Balkans, becomes friends with kindly old Dame May Whitty, who mysteriously disappears.
In September 1654, 23 Jewish refugees—men, women and children—fled Recife, Brazil, and arrived in New Amsterdam. With time, Jewish men and women began making significant contributions to the growth, wealth and creativity of this great land. For more than 350 years, these contributions have come in the arts and sciences, politics and finance – in virtually every endeavor from athletics to zoology. Far too often though, their names and accomplishments have been consigned to history’s dustbin. This lecture series will examine the lives and accomplishments of eight Jewish individuals who can really be said to have “helped build America too.”
1. Mordecai Manuel Noah (1785-1851): A journalist with a flair for politics and diplomacy Noah tried to create a Jewish homeland on Grand Island in the Niagara River.
2. August Belmont (1816-1890): Originally the Rothschild family’s “man in America,” Belmont became both the arbiter of good taste and chair of the Democratic National Committee.
3. Louis Dembitz Brandeis (1856-1941): “The People’s Lawyer,” Brandeis became the first Jew appointed to the United States Supreme Court.
4. Bernard Baruch (1870-1965): A legendary financier who became the most trusted and long-lived presidential advisor in American history.
5. Meyer London (1871-1926): Elected to Congress as a Socialist, London was the have-nots best friend in America.
6. Belle Linder Moskowitz (1877-1933): Governor Al Smith’s closest political advisor, Moskowitz was a major force in creating the social welfare programs of the New Deal.
7. Adolph Zukor (1873-1976): More than anyone, Zukor can claim title to being the real father of the motion picture industry.
8. Florence Prag Kahn (1866-1948): The first Jewish woman to serve in Congress, Kahn was often referred to by J. Edgar Hoover as “The Mother of the F.B.I.”
Of the federal government’s three coequal branches – Legislative, Executive and Judicial -- it is undoubtedly the first – the Congress – which has been the easiest target for the japes, ripostes and barbs of satirists from Mark Twain and Ambrose Bierce to Will Rogers and Jon Stewart. Consider the following sampler:
“Reader, suppose you were an idiot. And suppose you were a member of Congress. But I repeat myself.” (Mark Twain)
“The Senate is a body of old men charged with high duties and misdemeanors” (Ambrose Bierce)
“With Congress, every time they make a joke it's a law, and every time they make a law it's a joke.” (Will Rogers)
“There are two enemies to every bill proposed in Congress: the fools who favor it and the lunatics who oppose it.” (Anonymous)
Despite these quips and cracks [which do carry a simulacrum of truth], Congress is an institution that has [and always will be, one suspects] populated with some of the country’s most interesting and extraordinary people. This course will explore the lives and accomplishments of six members of the United States Congress who, Twain’s bromide to the contrary, were definitely not idiots. In the process, we will lift up a bit of the veil that traditionally hides Congress and take a peek inside.
1. Jefferson Monroe Levy (1852-1924): Levy not only created the Federal Reserve Bank; he purchased, restored and donated Jefferson’s estate Monticello to the American people.
2. Fiorello LaGuardia (1882-1947): As good a big-city Mayor as the “Little Flower” was, he was an even better member of Congress.
3. Simon Guggenheim (1867-1941): A senator from Colorado who was wealthy enough to outbid Brazil for a mansion on Embassy Row.
4. Barry Goldwater (1909-1998): If American politics have moved to the right over the past 40 years, Goldwater’s one of the major reasons.
5. Ernest Gruening (1887-1974): A true Renaissance Man, Gruening was a Harvard-trained physician, a journalist and the “father” of our 49th and 50th states.
6. Judah P. Benjamin (1811-1884): After serving as Senator from Louisiana and Secretary of State of the Confederacy, Benjamin became Counsel to Queen Victoria.
One of the ancient world’s most enduring – albeit dubious – contributions to human history is the concept of the “scapegoat.” Throughout the ages, humankind has time and again responded to the overwhelming challenges presented byradical cultural, political or economic change and uncertainty by assessing blame – by “uncovering” pernicious, mendacious (and often monolithic) conspiracies. Whether the conspirators are called “witches,” “Masons,” Irish Catholics,” “Jewish Bankers,” or “Communists,” these “enemies in our midst” become the focus of society’s fear, paranoia, and dread. Frequently, in rushing to answer the question “who’s responsible?” societies fail to come to grips – or even deal with – the underlying nexus of causes that make “what is” so much different from what’s “supposed to be.” These six lectures explore six different episodes of “conspiracy-building” in modern history, and attempt to discover what might be termed “the psychopathology of political paranoia.” In each case, we will examine the social, cultural and/or political upheavals that created the need for finger pointing, and investigate the conspiracies that were believed to be working behind the scenes.
1. The Witches of Salem: A notorious flashpoint in Colonial American history, whereby fear of change was blamed on a “devil-intoxicated” band of women
2. The Freemasons of Revolutionary France: In late 18th century France, many believed that the revolution – far from being an act of liberation – was actually a conspiracy on the part of a super-secret cabal.
3. The Irish-Catholics: In mid-19th century America, fear of newly immigrating Irish Catholics led to the formation of a Nativist political movement called “The Know-Nothings.”
4. The Elders of Zion: History’s most notorious forgery. An attempt to prove that the world was (and to some, still is), dominated by the Tribes of Israel.
5. The Red Scare: Post World War I America’s orgy of fear.
6. H.U.A.C., Hollywood and McCarthyism: Paranoia in the post-atomic age.
Americans have elected 45 men to serve in the nation’s highest office. They range from the almost mythic George Washington and Abraham Lincoln to the virtually unknown Millard Fillmore, and Rutherford B. Hayes, The scholarly Woodrow Wilson to the barely literate Andrew Johnson; The ebullient Theodore Roosevelt to the taciturn Calvin Coolidge, and the pious John Adams to the libidinous William Jefferson Clinton. Taken as a group, the American Presidents have little in common – save the office in which they served. These lectures examine the men of the Oval Office – their lives and accomplishments, their peculiarities and peccadilloes. We will come to know the times in which they lived and the events that were often missing from the headlines.
1. Jefferson and Adams: America’s Most Famous Pen Pals: The nation’s second and third Presidents. Two men who, despite mutual antipathy, ultimately formed a bond of breathtaking proportions.
2. Jackson and Van Buren: The Frontiersman and the Dandy: Diametric opposites, Andy Jackson (the “frontiersman”) was actually an aristocrat, while Martin Van Buren (the “dandy”) was really the son of a saloon-keeper.
3. Harrison, Polk and Taylor: Tippecanoe, Dark Horse and “Old Rough ‘n Ready:” Three Presidents who, despite compelling biographies, are now almost virtually unknown.
4. Johnson and Grant: Lincoln’s Sorry Successors: One was impeached, the other almost brought down by sensationalscandal.
5. Harding, Coolidge and Hoover: Snoozing in the Roaring Twenties: Arguably America’s three weakest Presidents, the three oversaw a rowdy, often tempestuous decade.
6. Truman, Johnson and Reagan: The Captain, the Texan and the Actor: Three amazingly successful Presidents – depending on who you talk to . . .
Generally speaking, fame’s “constituent ingredients” include superior accomplishment or achievement, renown, celebrity and, occasionally, notoriety. When viewed against the vast backdrop of history, few people have ever achieved long-lasting fame. And frequently, in those cases where a name might still be recognizable after 25, 50, 100 years or more, all that truly remains is a “skeletal” recognition of who the person was. In other words, the name lingers even though the achievement fades. These eight lectures attempt to “flesh out” the skeletal remains of eight fascinating individuals whose names are still identifiable even though their accomplishments have faded into the gaseous empyrean of time.
1. Erich Von Stroheim (1885-1957): Hollywood’s first mad genius. During the Great War, he played the perfect Hun. Trouble was, he was the son of a Jewish hat maker.
2. Damon Runyon (1880-1946): The quintessential New York, the man who put the “guy” into Guys and Dolls, was actually born in Kansas and was a good friend of Bat Masterson.
3. Al Smith (1873-1944): It’s a long, long way from the Fulton Street Fish Market to the Governor’s mansion in Albany.
4. Ayn Rand (1905-1983): The exotic creation of “objectivism,” which rejects altruism and exalts wealth, was, in reality, a Russian-born émigré named Alissa Rosenbaum.
5. Meyer Lansky (1902-1983): Many believe that if he had not been a gangster, he probably would have wound up running General Motors. Oh really?
6. “Diamond Jim” Brady (1856-1917): Robber Baron, bon vivant, world-class trencherman and companion of Lillian Russell, Brady was truly larger than life.
7. Samuel F.B. Morse (1791-1872): Yes, he invented the telegraph and Morse Code. But he was also a celebrated artist, right-wing politician and first-rate curmudgeon.
8. Lillian Gish (1893-1993): The “Queen of Silents,” Miss Gish’s career on the Silver Screen lasted an incredible 75 years.
When it comes to self-government, the concept of human freedom and the value of the individual, America is without peer. This great cauldron of possibilities has also produced countless men and women of breathtaking talent and far-reaching accomplishment. One could argue that the gifts and talents of many – if not most – of these unique individuals could only have found voice in America. These eight lectures examine the lives and accomplishments of eight individuals who, as the title indicates, can truly be called “American Originals.”
1. Mark Twain (1835-1910): America’s favorite writer, bar none. Who else but Twain could begin a tale with the immortal words “My father was a St. Bernard, my mother was a collie, but I am a Presbyterian.”
2. Oliver Wendell Holmes (1841-1935): Variously called “The Great Dissenter” and “The Justice From Beacon Hill,” Holmes was the quintessential Boston Brahmin. His life and career are the stuff of legend.
3. Averell Harriman (1891- 1986): One of the richest men in America, Harriman spent the first half of his life as a playboy. Who could have predicted that he would become one of America’s greatest diplomats?
4. Edna Ferber (1887-1968): Hailing from Kalamazoo, Michigan, Ferber became, arguably, America’s most popular and successful female writer, penning such classics as Show Boat, Dinner at Eight, So Big¸ and The Ice House.
5. Ben Hecht (1893-1964): A gritty reporter from Chicago, Hecht went on to write “. . . about half of all the entertaining films [ever] produced in Hollywood,” including His Girl Friday, Some Like it Hot, and Strangers on a Train.
6. H.L. Mencken (1880-1956): A Baltimore-based newspaperman, Mencken was once hailed as “. . . the most powerful personal influence on this whole generation of educated people.”
7. Mabel Normand (1892-1930): The “Queen of Silent Comedy” and Hollywood’s first “I don’t care girl,” Normand’s epitaph could easily have read “She jazzed herself into oblivion.”
8. Hughie Long (1893-1935): Known as “the Kingfish,” Long blazed a meteoric path across the American political horizon. Equal parts genius and demagogue, Long’s career, was cut short by an assassin’s bullet.