Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Chubby Checker: He's still twisting after all these years

". . . in a way, "The Twist" really ruined my life. I was on my way to becoming a big nightclub performer, and "The Twist" just wiped it out . . . It got so out of proportion. No one ever believes I have talent."

- Chubby Checker

"The three most important things that ever happened in the music industry are Elvis Presley, The Beatles and Chubby Checker."

- Dick Clark

The 1960s featured several dance crazes.  There was The Mashed Potato," "The Monkey." "The Watusi" and of course, "The Twist."  "The Twist" was popularized by Chubby Checker who, at the age of 72, is still twisting the night away.

No, "Chubby" is not his real name.  He was born Ernest Evans on October 3, 1941 in Spring Gully, South Carolina, the son of Raymond Evans, a tobacco farmer, and his wife Eartle.  The family moved to South Philadelphia when Ernest was 8 years old and he and his two brothers, Spencer and Tracy, were raised in the projects.  The youngster did a variety of odd jobs such as working as a shoeshine boy.  While in high school, he studied piano at Settlement Music School, a community music school with branches in the Philadelphia area.

As a teen, Chubby Checker worked at Tony Anastazi's Produce Store in Philadelphia and sang in a street-corner harmony group called The Quantrells.  He had a natural talent for doing vocal impersonations and he enjoyed imitating the singing style of Fats Domino, Elvis Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis for the customers. It was his boss, Tony A., who bestowed him with the nickname "Chubby" due to his portly build.

Chubby later worked in a butcher shop called Fresh Farm Poultry.  The store's owner, Henry Colt, was so impressed by Chubby's performances for the customers that he introduced him to his friend, local recording entrepreneur and songwriter Kal Mann of Cameo-Parkway Records. Through his connection with Mann, Chubby was given a recording contract with Cameo.  His first two recordings for the label, "The Class" and "Dancing Dinosaur," went largely unnoticed.

"The Class," a novelty song n which Chubby performed various impersonations of popular singers, only reached #38 on the charts in 1959.  Mann, however, arranged for the teen singer to do a private recording for Dick Clark, host of Bandstand, a Philadelphia-based television show.  It was at this recording session that Chubby acquired the surname "Checker" from Clark's firs wife, Barbara Mallery. After watching his impression of Fats Domino, she asked him his name. When he replied that he was known as "Chubby," she shot back, "As in Checker?"  That little play on words earned some chuckles and provided the singer with his stage name.

Dick Clark played an instrumental role  in Chubby's early success.  Chubby was just 16 years old when he first met Dick and the two men remained friends for over 50 years, until Dick's death in April of 2012. Chubby first went on Bandstand in 1959 and performed "The Class."  He appeared on the show many more times with "The Twist."  In an April 18, 2012 article, "Chubby Checker, Dick Clark and 'The Twist',' by music critic Dan DeLuca on, Chubby commented on the importance of Dick Clark's show to a singer in Philadelphia.   "Being on Bandstand was like getting a Nobel Prize." he declared.  "From 3 o'clock in the afternoon until 5:30, nobody was on the street. They were watching Bandstand."

Chubby Checker with Dick Clark

Despite Chubby's association with "The Twist," the song was actually composed by Detroit rhythm and blues artist Hank Ballard.  Although Ballard and his group, The Midnighters, had recorded several songs for Federal Records, they chose to make a demo of "The Twist" for Vee-Jay Records in 1958.  This caused Federal to issue the tune as the B-side of the group's hit song "Teardrops on Your Letter."

Hank Ballard & The Midnighters

In June of 1959, at the request of Cameo-Parkway Records, Chubby Checker recorded his cover version of "The Twist."  Interestingly enough, Bernie Lowe, president of Cameo, was not taken by the record. According to Chubby's website, Lowe considered it to be a "B" side at best.  Chubby, however, disagreed and worked diligently to promote "The Twist."  For the next 14 months, he made television appearances, gave interviews and performed continually.

Chubby persistence paid off.  Although his version of  "The Twist" was quite similar to the Ballard version, it was Checker's recording that became a huge hit, due largely to the publicity Chubby received on Bandstand.  By September of 1960, "The Twist" was the #1 song in the United States. It was the song that made the kid from Philadelphia a star and it sparked a widespread dance craze.

"The Twist" was fresh and innovative.  Dancers did not touch each other.  Instead, they faced each other, swivelling their hips and dancing in their own fashion.  In the early 1960s, celebrities such as Marilyn Monroe, Audrey Hepburn, and Librace flocked to a popular New York City discotheque called The Peppermint Lounge to twist the night away. Chubby himself performed there.

In 1961, Joey Dee and the Starlighters recorded and released "The Peppermint Twist," a song composed by Dee and Henry Glover, an American songwriter, trumpet player and record producer.  "The Peppermint Twist" reached #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in early 1962, supplanting Chubby Checker's version of "The Twist" from the top spot.

U.S. First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy was such an enthusiast of  the nightclub that she arranged for a temporary Peppermint Lounge in the White House.  Below is a 1962 photo of Jackie twisting with designer Oleg Cassini in the London home of her younger sister, Lee Radziwill.

1961 proved to be a stellar year for Chubby Checker.  He enjoyed more Top Ten hits such as "Let's Twist Again," "The Fly" and "Pony Time."  On October 22, 1961, Chubby appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show. He performed a medley of "The Twist" and "Let's Twist Again" with the Do-Re-Mi Dancers.  He also sang "The Fly."  Other guests on the Sullivan show that night included Wayne and Shuster, Phil Silvers and Nancy Walker.

1962 was another banner year for Chubby.  After his appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show, Cameo-Parkway decided to reissue "The Twist." It was re-released and climbed to the top of the charts for several weeks in early 1962, making 'Twist," the only song in modern times to attain the #1 chart position in two separate releases.  That same year, "Let's Twist Again," co-written by Kal Mann, received a Grammy Award for Best Rock 'n Roll Recording

In 1962 and 1963, Cubby continued to popularize new dance crazes with hit records such as "The Limbo" and "The Hucklebuck."  By the mid-1960s, however, his career was on the wane due to the advent of The Beatles and the British Invasion.  Nevertheless, he put together a band and kept on recording and touring.

In January of 1963, Chubby Checker met Catharina Johanna Lodders in Manila, Philippines. Catharina, born in 1942, comes from Haarlem in the Netherlands.  She was then a beauty queen and model who had won the 1962 Miss World contest.  The couple wed on April 12, 1964 at Temple Lutheran Church in Pennsauken, New Jersey and they have three children.  They welcomed their first child, a daughter named Bianca Johanna Evans, on December 8, 1966.  A son, Shan and another daughter, Ilka, followed.

Catharina Lodders in 1963

Shan Evans, also known as Shan Egan and Shan Egan Evans, is the leader singer for Funk Church, a Philadelphia-based neo-soul and rock band.  Ilka Evans is a graphic designer and the owner of Zoet Bathlatier, a small-batch candle, bath and body care company.

Ilka Evans

At 72, the indefatigable Chubby Checker has not slowed down.  He is still very energetic and continues to make as many personal appearances as ever.


* Hank Ballard, who composed "The Twist," passed away on March 2, 2003 in his Los Angeles home.  He was 75 years old and the cause of his death was throat cancer.

* Chubby Checker fathered a fourth child, a daughter named Mistie, with a woman named Pam Bass.  Now known as Mistie Mims, she was born Mistine McCray Bass on December 2, 1983 in Janesville, Wisconsin. Mistie, who stands 6 ft., 4 in. (1.93 m.), is a professional women's basketball player for the Connecticut Suns of the Women's National Basketball Association (WNBA).  In a story published by the Tampa Bay Times on April 4, 2006, Mims told journalist Greg Auman that "I've always had a relationship with my father, and my mother's done a great job of making sure I knew there was always love there.  It's only gotten stronger as I've gotten older."

Mistie Mims

* Chubby Checker appeared in two films featuring "The Twist" craze: Twist Around the Clock (1961) and its sequel, Don't Knock the Twist (1962).  Twist Around the Clock has an identical plot to Rock Around the Clock (1956).  Both films tell the story of a band manager who discovers a new dance sensation while visiting a small town.  Don't Knock the Twist is about twist dancers preparing for a television variety show called "The Twist."

* New York's Peppermint Lounge closed in 1965 after losing its liquor licence.

* In 1969, Chubby's cover of The Beatles' "Back in the U.S.S.R". made the Billboard Hot 100 chart.  In 1988, he recorded a rap version of "The Twist" with The Fat Boys, a hip hop trio from Brooklyn, New York.

* In the early 1990s, Nabisco featured Chubby Checker in a popular television commercial for Oreo cookies.

* Chubby played himself in a 1989 episode of Quantum Leap, a time travel TV series starring Scott Bakula.  In the episode, entitled "Good Morning, Peoria, September 9, 1959" (Season 2, Episode 6, Air Date: November 8, 1989). Dr. Sam Beckett (Bakula) has to help find a way to bring back roll 'n eoll to Peoria, Illinois.  He enters a radio station in 1959 and persuades the owner of the station to play "The Twist." In so doing, Beckett finds himself teaching Chubby Checker how to dance to the song.

Chubby also guest-starred as himself in a 2001 episode of Ally McBeal. entitled "Mr Bo"  (Season 4, Episode 11, Air Date: January 22, 2001).

* Chubby's Checkerbar, produced by Chubby Checker, is a checkerboard pattern of dark and milk chocolate squares.

- Joanne

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

A Visit to Peterborough and Lakefield and Photos

Last weekend, I visited some friends who have recently moved to Peterborough, Ontario.  They gave me a tour of the area.  Above is a photograph of the Peterborough Lift Lock on the Trent Canal.  On Friday, November 8th, a crisp autumn day, we explored the Trent-Severn Waterway.

The city of Peterborough is situated on the Otonabee River, about 110 kilometres (68 miles) northeast of Toronto.  With a population of around 79,000, it is the largest city on the Trent-Severn Waterway and the regional centre for the Kawartha Lakes cottage country.

On Friday, I also viewed Lakefield College School, just outside of Peterborough, where Britain's Prince Andrew graduated in 1978.

The following day, Saturday, November 9th, was cool and drizzly.  On that day, I toured the Canadian Canoe Museum, one of Peterborough's major attractions.  I saw Pierre Trudeau's canoe and his famous buckskin jacket.

Below are some more photos of the Trent-Severn Waterway and the Peterborough Lift Lock.

Below is the clock tower in Lakefield, Ontario. Construction on the tower began in 1912 and the building served as the Lakefield Post Office for many years.  Lakefield is located just north of Peterborough on the shores of Lake Katchewanooka.

Below is a photo of Queen St., the main thoroughfare in Lakefield.

Below are some photos of Peterborough's Trent University.

Champlain College, Trent University

I went to the Riverdale Park and Zoo. There is no admittance fee as it is funded by the Peterborough Utilities Commission.

Below is a Burmese Python that I saw at the zoo.

- Joanne

An Open Letter to Ford Nation

Dear Ford Nation

Let me be frank.  I am at a loss as to how to get through to you.  On the subject of your hero, Rob Fob, you are so delusional and misguided that it's highly unlikely that anything will ever change your minds.  You seem to think the mayor is just a victim of the evil left-wing media, especially that pinko Toronto Star.  Yes indeed, the left-wing media are out to get Rob Ford.  They are always hounding him.  Why can't they just leave him alone?  It was they who made him go to a crack house.  It was they who made him smoke crack cocaine.  It was they who made him spew racist and homophobic epithets.  They are responsible for his "drunken stupors" and boorish behaviour.

I get it.  You like Rob Ford because you identify with him.  You think he's just like you, flawed and unpolished, the kind of guy with whom you'd like to go out for a beer and talk about football.  His mistakes only endear him to you. - but stop and think!  Does that really make him a good mayor?

I really don't know what it would take for you to withdraw your support for Ford's policies or to persuade you to vote against him in next fall's election - provided he remains in office.  The sad truth is that you, my friends, are as bull-headed as the man himself.  In the faint hope, however, that something will sink in, here are some points for you to ponder.

  • Rob Ford is not fit to be mayor of the fourth largest city in North America.  Anyone else who behaved as he has would be promptly fired.  Imagine what would happen to you if you continually showed up for work in a state of inebriation.  Imagine if you refused to admit you had a problem or declined to seek treatment.  Sadly, the mayor is in complete denial, as is his family.  His mother thinks his biggest problem is his weight. His brother Doug wants Toronto's police Chief Bill Blair to resign for doing his job and investigating the mayor's activities.  His sister Kathy, who referred to herself as a "former addict," does not consider Rob to be an addict.  Not one of them believes that their Robbie needs to take a leave of absence to sort out his problems. Not one of them feels he should remove himself from office.

  • Mayor Ford claims that he loves Toronto.  I'm sure he does, but not enough to do what's best for the city and its people.  The mayor has become a terrible liability and his problems have become such a distraction that the city cannot move forward as long as he is in office.  He says there is work to be done, but he himself is preventing it from being done.  

  • Mayor Ford lied to you.  He lied to the people of Toronto.  He lied to his supporters and non-supporters alike.  The mayor openly denied using crack cocaine and denied the existence of the video showing him doing so.  He finally admitted to partaking of the drug once, about a year ago, when he was in a "drunken stupor." (By the way, drunkenness is not an excuse for all sorts of reprehensible behaviour).  Then he confessed that he had made mistakes and apologized profusely, but only because he had no choice. If the police had not gained possession of the infamous crack cocaine video, he never would have apologized for his behaviour or conceded that, yes, he had smoked crack. He only came clean because he was caught.  Ford also denied being an addict although crack is highly addictive.  If he is not habitually doing drugs, how do you explain all those clandestine meetings with alleged dealer Sandro Lisi?  What was in those bags Lisi was giving the mayor?  Do you really think that he was providing Ford with packages of Smarties or M&M's?  

  • Rob Ford's antics have made Toronto the laughing stock of the world.  He has made news around the globe, from Britain to China.  He has provided fodder for U.S. television hosts such as Jon Stewart who referred to Toronto voters as "enablers." Another American host, Jimmy Kimmel, showed a video called "How to Tell if your Mayor is Smoking Crack."  He declared that its purpose was  to "protect other major cities from going through the same kind of embarrassment that Toronto is experiencing right now." Yes, "embarrassment" is definitely the word.  Just think what the world will think of us if Rob Ford manages to be re-elected next October.  The damage he has done to Toronto's reputation is incalculable.

  • The circus surrounding the behaviour of Mayor Ford may cost Toronto financially, according to Gabor Forgacs, a professor at the Ted Rogers School of Hospitality and Tourism Management at Ryerrson University.  Forgnacs stated that cities "are always striving to align their reputation with their image."  The Ford saga, he said, has damaged Toronto's image as a city of culture and diversity.  This may cause investors to think twice before doing business in our city.

  • Mayor Ford's policies, they are simplistic and deceptive.  He mouths catchy slogans such as "No more gravy train," "lower taxes," "subways, subways subways" and "the war on cars."  He repeats those phrases incessantly and you, Ford Nation, nod in agreement like trained seals. Here's what the mayor isn't telling you. The services required by a world-class city have to paid for somehow. Either taxes must be levied or services must be cut.  If important services are cut, then people suffer, especially low income people.  Cutbacks result in lost jobs and if people are unemployed, they don't spend money to boost the economy.  They also pay less income tax, causing the amount of money in government coffers to decrease   When this happens, the quality of life inevitably deteriorates.  The private sector cannot or will not  fill the void.   

  • As for Ford's so-called war on cars, let me just say that cities are primarily for people, not automobiles.  We need to improve public transportation in Toronto so that there will be less gridlock and less pollution.  Secondly, Mayor Ford does not seem to know the difference between a street car and light rapid transit.  Here's what Ford and his allies have cost the city with their insistence on subways.  Toronto is already on the hook for $85 million because city council cancelled the fully funded seven-stop Scarborough LRT in favour of a 3-billion, three-stop subway extension  That's not all, though.  The cost of scrapping the LRT will increase further due to the cancellation of a storage facility and payments to advisers.  Does this make any sense whatsoever?  Are Ford's policies really saving you any money?

  • Mayor Ford declared that he has nothing left to hide.  I don't think so, not by a long shot.  There will be more revelations and more embarrassment for the city of Toronto as long as this shameless, stubborn man clings to office.  We still don't know the contents of the second video.

  • Rob Ford is filled with inner rage, as evidenced by a profanity-laced video  in which he threatens the life of an unidentified person.  I shivered when I watched that video.  It is absolutely chilling to watch. I cringed when I viewed it.  Ford chalked it up drunkenness but it is far more than that.  Drunk or sober, it appears that the man has anger issues and could be a danger to himself and others.  The Ford story is not a comedy.  It is a tragedy.  The mayor is a human time bomb.  Unless he gets help, he is going to explode.  Instead of encouraging him to remain in office, why don't you urge him to get the help he so desperately needs?  

I leave you with this thought.

. . . we need to stop supporting leaders with whom we personally identify, with whom we might want to go out for a pint or 10; we need to insist upon leaders with the self-knowledge and sense of shame that allows them to lead and thereby allows us to get on with our often messy lives.

- Daniel Baird
Toronto Star column
November 10, 2013



Friday, November 1, 2013

Rob Ford: Should he resign?

Rob Ford's politics are repugnant to me.  I've made no secret of my distaste for Ford's ideas.  I abhor his ultra-conservative ideology and his good ol' boy approach.  Yet, as much as I wish he weren't Toronto's mayor, the man was democratically elected by the people of this city. Although I disagree with almost everything he says and does, I have never wanted him removed from office unfairly. My hope has been that he would be voted out of office in next year's municipal election.

Now, however, I think Mayor Ford has crossed the line.  Given yesterday's extraordinary events, he should resign or at least take a leave of absence until he sorts out his problems.  It appears that the mayor is in need of professional help and I am not the first person to express those sentiments.  Even though Ford is in denial, he has shown many of the signs of someone with a substance abuse problem.  Toronto is sorely in need of leadership and Ford is incapable of providing it.  His antics have become a distraction, preventing this great city from moving forward.

Yesterday was a Halloween to remember (or forget) for Canada's largest city.  Toronto is receiving world-wide attention for all the wrong reasons.  Rob Ford has simply become an embarrassment and a liability to the city he professes to love and wishes to serve.  Unfortunately, the mayor has no intention of leaving office and claims that there is no reason for him to resign.  He acts as if it's business as usual  and that all the dirt can be swept under a rug.  It can't, as Mr. Ford will eventually discover.  The chickens will come home to roost and he will be held accountable for his behaviour - if not by the law then by the electorate.

Yesterday, Toronto police Chief Bill Blair confirmed that Mayor Ford has been under police surveillance for some time.  The Chief also revealed that the infamous video tape in which Ford appears to be smoking crack cocaine and allegedly spouting racist and homophobic remarks, exists and that the police have it in their possession.

Blair stated that Alexander "Sandro" Lisi,  Mayor Ford's friend and sometime driver, was charged with extortion related to the video.  Lisi, 45, is an alleged drug dealer. According to police documents, Ford and Lisi had more than 100 seemingly clandestine meetings.  Police surveillance succeeded in capturing the two men with a mysterious package of which the contents remain unknown - for now.

None of this will change the attitude of Ford's loyalists, they will stand by their man through thick and thin.  It doesn't matter that he has lied to them and to the other citizens of Toronto.  As Toronto Star columnist Royson James put it, "A hardcore subset of residents, dubbed Ford Nation, care only that Ford is intent on keeping taxes down and care nothing about his moral compass."

In the eyes of Ford Nation, the mayor is quite a guy.  He arm wrestles with Hulk Hogan and, oh yes, he hosts great barbecues.  Don't forget, by golly, that he's going to ensure that the Scarborough subway is built. Just don't ask how it's going to be done without raising taxes.  No! No! No!  Don't go there! Leave the mayor alone. Rob's a regular guy, not some aloof intellectual. He's not one of those snooty downtown elites. You won't catch him riding a bicycle or reading Canadian literature.  

Ford Nation believes that the media has been hounding their man, especially the Toronto Star. Although Mayor Ford has nothing but disdain for the Star, the paper's investigative reporters deserve high praise for bringing the story of the "crack cocaine" video to light.  It was due to their diligent work that the police investigation into Ford's activities was undertaken.  Accused of having a vendetta against Mayor Ford, the news organization went before the Ontario Press Council and stated its case calmly and clearly. Yesterday, the paper was vindicated.

Sadly, Toronto's chief magistrate is his own worst enemy.  It's about time he took responsibility for his own actions and stopped blaming the media for all his woes.  Mayor Ford should note that all four daily newspapers have called for his resignation, including the Ford friendly Toronto Sun. Thank goodness for a free media.  Without it, how would people learn the truth about their elected representatives?

- Joanne

Robert Louis Stevenson, Lighthouses and Fanny

Robert Louis Stevenson

Lighthouses have always fascinated me.  I had the opportunity to visit many of them when I toured Newfoundland's Avalon Peninsula  in the summer of 2001 and I also visited the famous lighthouse at Peggy's Cove, Nova Scotia back in the 1990s.  It was, therefore, interesting for me to learn that Robert Louis Stevenson, author of such classics as Treasure Island, Kidnapped and Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, came from a family of lighthouse designers.  In fact, 14 lighthouses dotting the coast of Scotland were built by Stevenson's ancestors.

Robert Lewis Balfour Stevenson was born in Edinburgh, Scotland on November 13, 1850, the only child of Margaret Isabella Balfour, the daughter of a minister of the Church of Scotland, and Thomas Stevenson, a prominent lighthouse engineer.  Thomas's brothers, Alan and David, were also lighthouse builders.

Thomas Stevenson was an expert in optics as applied to the illumination of light houses.  He designed many lighthouses in and around Scotland with his brother David and with David's son, David Alan Stevenson.  A man of great accomplishment, Thomas was also a meteorologist.  He invented the Stevenson screen, an enclosure that shelters meteorological instruments from rain and heat radiation.

Thomas Stevenson (1818-1887)

Robert's paternal grandfather (also named Robert Stevenson) was a civil engineer and the designer of the Bell Rock Lighthouse on the Inchcape, off the coast of Angus, Scotland.  The Bell Rock Lighthouse has the distinction of being the world's oldest sea-washed lighthouse.  The quality of the masonry work on this lighthouse is of of such high standard that it has not been replaced in more than two centuries.  Since 1988, the operation of the Bell Rock Lighthouse has been automated.  Canadians should note, however, that its lamps and reflectors were replaced in 1843 and are now in display in the lighthouse at Cape Bonavista, Newfoundland.

Bust of Robert Stevenson (1772-1850)

Bell Rock Lighthouse
                                                                   Attribution: Derek Robertson

Robert Louis Stevenson was a thin, sickly child.  He suffered from lung ailments and nearly died of gastric fever in 1858.  Despite his ill-health and weak constitution, he frequently accompanied his father on official visits to the lighthouses on the Scottish coast.

At about the age of 18, Stevenson dropped his baptismal names of  "Lewis Balfour" and began referring to himself as "Robert Louis."  His close friends and relatives, however, addressed him as "Louis."  In 1867, he entered the University of Edinburgh with the intention of following the family tradition and becoming a lighthouse engineer.

In 1868, as a student engineer, Robert Louis Stevenson travelled to the Scottish coastal villages of Anstruther and Wick.  Prone to ill health since childhood, Robert was not the most robust fellow. Although he tried to be an engineer, he didn't have the stamina required for the outdoor work. More importantly, his heart was not in it.   His preference was for a career in literature.  He could no longer ignore his passion and his great talent for writing.  Around 1870, much to the disappointment of his father, Stevenson abandoned lighthouse building in order to become a writer.

In Underwoods, his 1887 poetry collection, Stevenson reflects on his decision to turn away from the family tradition.

Say not of me that weakly I declined
The labours of my sires, and fled the sea,
The towers we founded and the lamps we lit,
But rather say: In the afternoon of time
A strenuous family dusted from its hands
The sand of granite, and beholding far
Along the sounding coast its pyramids
And tall memorials catch the dying sun,
Smiled well content, and to this childish task
Around the fire addressed its evening hours.

It is obvious from the these line of poetry that Stevenson did not make light of his decision to leave the family profession.  He even wrote a book called A Family of Engineers in which he chronicled the Stevenson family tradition.  Thomas Stevenson, for his part, accepted his son's wishes with sadness and resignation.

According to Life of Robert Louis Stevenson by Alexander Harvey, "Thomas Stevenson, after his first outburst of natural and profound regret, countenanced the literary ambitions of his only son, and gave up with a sigh his one paternal dream.  Nevertheless, the notion that his Louis should grow into maturity without even a nominal profession - literature being inconceivable as the avowed calling of a respectable person - was opposed to a strict Calvinist’s sense of duty to a son."

In order to placate his father and have a "nominal profession," Stevenson reluctantly switched his area of study to law.  Although admitted to the Scottish bar in 1875, he never actually practised law or became involved in the legal profession.  Instead, he went to France.

It was in Grez-sur-Loing, an art colony south of Paris, that Robert Louis Stevenson met the love of his life. She was an American named Fanny Vandegrift Osbourne whom Alexander Harvey describes as "a small, dark young woman with clear-cut delicate features, and endless sable hair. Indianapolis-born Fanny was the wife Samuel Osbourne, a veteran of the American Civil War. They had married when Fanny was just 17 and had three children, although their son Havey died of tuberculous in Paris on April 5, 1876.  The family eventually settled in Virginia City, Nevada where Samuel began cavorting with saloon girls.

Angry at the repeated infidelities of her husband, Fanny had come to Grez with her two young children, Isobel and Lloyd, to study art.  Stevenson became enamoured with the American. Against the advice of friends and without the knowledge of his family, he urged her to leave her philandering spouse and pursued her relentlessly.  Fanny eventually divorced Osbourne and she and Stevenson wed in San Francisco in May of 1880.  For years, the couple searched in vain for a place to settle that would be conducive to Robert's health.  In 1890, they finally purchased a large estate in Upolu, one of the Samoan Islands in the South Pacific.


Robert Louis Stevenson passed away on December 3, 1894 at his home in Vailima, Samoa. While opening a bottle of wine, he collapsed and then died of a probable brain hemorrhage.  He was 44 years old at the time of his death.  His wife Fanny passed away in Santa Barbara, California on February 10, 1914. She was 73 years old at the time of her passing.

Below is s photo of Stevenson's home in Vailima, Samoa, showing him on the veranda.


* Robert Louis Stevenson's stepdaughter Isobel (known as Belle) became a successful playwright. She died in 1953.  His stepson, Lloyd Osbourne, was an novelist who died in California on May 22, 1947 at the age of 79.

Although Stevenson did not remain in the family profession, he remained deeply affected by lighthouses as is evidenced by the following poem he wrote.

The Light-Keeper
by Robert Louis Stevenson

The brilliant kernel of the night,
The flaming lightroom circles me:
I sit within a blaze of light

Held high above the dusky sea.
Far off the surf doth break and roar
Along bleak miles of moonlit shore,

Where through the tides the tumbling wave
Falls in an avalanche of foam
And drives its churned waters home
Up many an undercliff and cave.

* Author Bella Bathurst has written a book about Robert Louis Stevenson and his family's lighthouse building.  It is titled The Lighthouse Stevensons: The extraordinary story of the building of Scottish Lighthouses by the ancestors of Robert Louis Stevenson.  The hardcover edition was published in 1999 by HarperCollins.  A paperback version came out in 2007.

- Joanne