"Nothing Good Gets Away": Readings from Letters of Note

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5 segments
Elvis Presley to (then) President Richard Nixon, as reproduced in Letters of Note.

Sir, I can and will be of any service that I can to help the country out…I wish not to be given a title or an appointed position. I can and will do more good if I were made a Federal Agent at Large, and I will help out by doing it my way through communications with people of all ages.—Elvis Presley to President Richard Nixon.

Guest host Jane Curtin presents readings from the blog and book Letters of Note, created by Shaun Usher. Usher notes (in comments included in this program) that letters have been an endangered species since the days of the telegram, but never more so than today, in “the charmless age of instant communication.” His love of written communication has taken him all over the world, and into the past, to collect and celebrate the letters, memos, and telegrams of “the famous, the infamous, and the not-so-famous”, as he writes in the introduction to the book Letters of Note.

 We assembled some of his choicest finds for a reading at Symphony Space. They range from a heart-rending letter from a 16th-century Korean widow to her dead husband (“How Could You Go Ahead of Me?”), to a recipe for scones from Queen Elizabeth, to Elvis Presley’s petition to President Nixon to make him “a federal agent at large.” In between, Eudora Welty applies for a job, Jack the Ripper taunts his public, Virginia Woolf says goodbye, and Dorothy Parker describes her hospital nurse (“I Have Not Shot Her Yet”).  The readers include Jane Curtin, Kate Mulgrew, Phylicia Rashad, Jeremy Shamos, and Sam Underwood.

In the second half of our program, Jeremy Shamos reads “Hearing from Wayne,” by Bill Franzen, the title story of Franzen’s short story collection. Wayne has died an untimely death, but he’s writing from beyond to reassure his best buddy.

Our final story, a SHORTS classic, is Thomas Meehan’s “Yma Dream,” in which a beleaguered version of himself is overwhelmed by celebrities attending a party he doesn’t remember throwing—and who all have one thing in common. Meehan is a three-time Tony Award winner for the Best Book of a Musical (for “Annie,” “The Producers,” and “Hairspray’) and it is his humor and lyrical gifts that inform this hilarious story. The reader is also a SHORTS classic, longtime leading man James Naughton.


Selections from “Letters of Note” by Katherine Hepburn, Mick Jagger, Dorothy Parker, Elvis Presley, Jack the Ripper, Eudora Welty, Queen Elizabeth II, and Virginia Woolf among others, read by Jane Curtin, Kate Mulgrew, Phylicia Rashad, Jeremy Shamos, and Sam Underwood.

“Hearing from Wayne,” by Bill Franzen read by Jeremy Shamos

“Yma Dream,” by Thomas Meehan, read by James Naughton.


The SELECTED SHORTS theme is David Peterson's “That's the Deal,” performed by the Deardorf/Peterson Group.

For additional works featured on SELECTED SHORTS, please visit http://www.symphonyspace.org/events/series/71/selected-shorts

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