A Book and a Bear Claw.
By Bill Thill
Ken Zurski‘s latest book, “Unremembered – Book 2: Actors, Artists, Entertainers & Influencers” is available for purchase and set to street today, Monday 9-19-22.
It’s a brilliant piece of work.
Ken’s concept for “Unremembered” was to tell “Tales of the nearly famous and the not quite forgotten” and in this book he focuses on a key group of artists in the early part of the twentieth century, a time of prodigious creative output both here in America and in Europe.
If our current entertainment landscape did in fact have a genesis moment, the life and times of the people chronicled here are likely a big part of it.
Dancer Isadora Duncan, theatrical producer Charles Frohman (one of the men who built Broadway), the French sculptor Rodin, J.M. Barrie (the man who wrote Peter Pan), Maude Adams (the actress who played the part), Paris Singer (an unabashed pursuer of the ladies and scion of sewing machine wealth), Kathleen Bruce (an artist who would come to high social standing), the explorer of the antarctic Captain Robert Scott, Mary Desti (a woman who fled a harsh reality, taking her son, a future Academy Award winner, to a better life) are just a handful of the real-life characters that fill the book’s 249 pages.
The dreamers and doers of the era seemed to criss-cross the Atlantic with such regularity that, for the first time in history, the intersection of bold artistic ideas and the crossing of cultural and political boundaries created a new tapestry of shared entertainment experiences. That along with the the emergence of a more rapid style of hot-take celebrity journalism combined to create an environment where the subjects of the book became part of something that had never before existed; a tapestry of personalities that strongly influenced culture through the arts.
Whether this was purposeful on the part of the true life characters that make up the stories in the book, or an inadvertent result of their creative journey, is left for the reader to decide. What is clear is that Ken’s subtitle of “Actors, Artists, Entertainers and Influencers” uses that fourth descriptor of “Influencer” as a way of drawing a straight line from today, back more than 100 years ago, to a time when the modern definition of such a personality, sans the term, could be said to have emerged.
Then, as with today, fire creates both light and heat and we, as the mass audience, are inexorably drawn to both. The stories in the book inevitably draw the reader to a conclusion that is almost as unsettling as it is obvious. These people, our predecessors in possession big dreams, wide fame and broad cultural impact, are kindred souls to many of us today whether or not you work in the arts or entertainment.
Breathing life into the sometimes forgotten past can be unsettling because it tears at a bias regarding our place in the world. It’s a natural and common bias that exists within each of us due to the fact that our world didn’t begin until the day we were born. By direct experience of the here and now it is only our lives that are filled with the bright colors of each new day. We witness and interpret our existence in “real” and immediate time and are faced with the promise, mystery and potential peril of all that is yet to occur.
From such a perspective everything that came before our grand existence is, by default, foreign to us. The language, the wardrobe, the technology and all that goes with those from whom we are a century advanced in calendar time is, in a temporal sense, antiquated and therefore inert. Such thinking elevates the here and now to an exalted position. After all, when we read histories, remembered or not, we often know how the stories and the fates of of our players will end. What could be more godlike than that?
Ken Zurski’s great gift as a storyteller is that he presents as a chronicler of personal histories that have been muted by the veil time. Once the reader is drawn in, however, we are surrounded by the flesh and blood of his subjects, their plots and passions, their loves and losses, the very fire of their lives which leads us to a renewed but once again shocking realization that some very significant parts of everything we consider to be our unique reality has been forged by all that came before. Much of our “here” stands on the foundation built by those who well preceded us and our “now” is more fleeting and borrowed than we might comfortably wish to comprehend within the daily practice of our lives.
Whether or not you work in entertainment or the media, in some cases, the individuals profiled in “Unremembered: Book 2” may be the exact people who built the foundation on which many of your “original thoughts” now stand. Acknowledging the true scope of history, while ultimately life affirming, is not for the timid.
That being said, I had difficulty with the final handful of chapters in this book.
First a bit about author Ken Zurski. Ken is a media professional who has made his living in the field of communications. He’s been a daily radio presence in the Midwest for several decades now. My favorite anecdote about Ken is that in his earliest days on big stick radio in Chicago he was known, on air, as Grant Parke. No, not like the park with the big fountain in the middle of the Loop Grant Park, of course not. Mind the “e” at the end of that name! Meanwhile, Chicago radio is nothing if not “broad shouldered” in the art of equally broad, tongue firmly in cheek, comedy and commentary.
For Ken to have been professionally birthed in such an environment and to observe, on a daily basis, the ebb and flow of his industry has, no doubt, enhanced his gifts as a storyteller. What’s fascinating about Ken’s journey is that he’s managed to merge his instinct for journalistic inquiry with the desire to tell campfire stories that have never before been told.
A few years ago, I told Ken outright that what he was doing as a storyteller would soon cause the world to beat a path to his door. With a series like “Unremembered” Ken is not only doing a great job of telling the stories but he’s also gathered the wood and sparked the flame. The History Channel has recently reached out to Ken and he’s already on his way to another chapter in his own evolving story. I think he’d appreciate it if you friended him on Facebook and followed along. For Ken there are many good things yet to come.
Now, for the sake of balance, let me explain my troubles with the last few chapters of “Unremembered Book 2: Actors, Artists, Entertainers & Influencers.”
Many things in life can bring us pleasure, a cup of coffee on an overcast day, a glazed bear claw that’s bigger than a plate, a good book that’s so well written, alive with characters and full of information that’s new to us that it’s hard to put down. I’ve experienced all of these things since Ken gifted me the opportunity to read his book weeks before it went into wide release. However, I am also a dyed in the wool gratification delayer and therein lies the rub.
I only took a bite of the bear claw because there is no way I was going to indulge to the finish anything that would counteract my recent workouts. I just sipped at the coffee, until it grew cold, mindful that too much caffeine is not my friend. And, just days before I snapped the photo beneath this post, I had stopped reading Ken’s book a few dozen pages short of the finish.
I tend to savor what I enjoy by invoking moderation or by slowing down their inevitable conclusion. I didn’t want the boat to sink. I didn’t want the expedition to fail. I wanted the children to grow and live to tell their own stories and I sure as hell didn’t want that car to drive off while her long scarf was anywhere near its spoked wheels. I didn’t want this book to end.
I read the final pages of “Unremembered” apart from the rest. I savored them. I knew I would have to because of my innate yearning for the show to go on. Because, you see, the show must always go on.
The actors, artists, entertainers and influencers brought back to life by Ken’s brilliant work are no doubt smiling down on the man who, more than a century later, has given them another curtain call. The irony of “Unremembered” is that you won’t soon forget it.
If you’d like to purchase Ken’s book I’ll place a link in the comments. Show people should definitely read this book and suggest it for the shelves of their favorite bookstore. You’ll quickly recognize the “sliding doors” effect of your own creative journey and of all the things that only exist, in the particular way they do, because of your personal contribution.
Congratulations, Ken! I thoroughly enjoyed the read.
Bill Thill is a producer, director, writer & industry podcaster based in Santa Monica, California