The Man With The Pterodactyl TieMonday, May 24, 2010
In 1993 I photographed an old man wearing a pterodactyl tie. We became friends and he and his wife Betty visited our garden and then we went for lunch at the Avenue Grill on 41st. My daughters came along but, the youngest, Hilary does not remember.
What led to me writing about Ian Ballantine began this past Saturday night when we went to the Gateway Theatre to the Arts Umbrella Expression Festival 2010, which is part of their end of they year dance recital.
My wife and I went with some sadness because our oldest granddaughter Rebecca quit dancing at Arts Umbrella a couple of years ago even though she was offered a full year’s scholarship. She quit because of a laizzez-faire atmosphere at home. Rosemary and I would have pushed for the dance. But we are the grandparents and not the parents. We could not push. In fact my daughter thought that piano and ballet were too much for the girl since it was important that the girl study for her school. Now there is no piano or ballet or dance.
It is Rosemary’s and my belief that one should learn as many things really well as opposed to learning many things in a perfunctory manner. It is almost as if the world is now steering children to try life in twitter-sized bites. One will then grow up knowing lots of things but not knowing how to do any of them well. Rebecca is a beautiful swimmer (she inherited from my mother) and she wanted to go further into lifesaving. But our daughter has indicated that as long as Rebecca knows how to swim and thus not drown that is enough for swimming.
With our heavy hearts we watched our little Lauren (7) dance. Sometime in the end of her peacock dance she spotted us (we were on the front row) and she just beamed at me in delight.
It was after the performance that I was approached by a familiar looking gentleman with the comforting voice of a parent who must have a son or daughter in the Arts Club dance program. “We meet again, Alex,” he told me. Since I did not recall where I might have met him I said, “Where have we met.” As soon as I said it I remembered. It had been a couple of years back that he had approached me at the interval of onother Arts Club performance at the Gateway and he had asked me, “Are you Alex?” “How do you know?” I answered. “Because I have seen Rebecca around here and since I read your blog I assume you are Alex.” I was a bit chilled by all this. I had been warned to be careful about what I wrote into my blog and I was almost universally damned for posting photographs of my Rebecca and recently of her sister Lauren.
I sort of shrugged it all off and on Saturday night, again comforted by the man’s intelligent voice and demeanor we discussed the current trend (and is it a particularly Canadian obsession) in being so cautious that few people now say what they mean to say and use all kinds of filters in Facebook as a sort of remedy for a candidness that now is anathema. Talking to the man I was reinforced that I will not change the direction of my blog.
At a recent blogging convention (2010 Northern Voice) there were some blogging mothers who were telling us with glee how some of their children (who had grown up or become old enough to use computers and to Google) had complained that when they Googled themselves they could not find anything because their mothers had mentioned them with anonymous names or with initials in their blogs. “Mom, why didn’t you use my name in your blog?”
After the performance I photographed Lauren with my iPhone and I was quite pleased with the results. The colour of the phone is quite on the cyan side of things so I must first color correct the pictures with Photoshop before I can put them here.
Once at home the girls had a sleepover with us. I made some real popcorn (not in the microwave) and Rebecca and I sat down to watch a remarkable Mexican film called Bandidos in which four boys (not even in their teens) become bandits during the Mexican revolution. These children shoot and kill various adults in the film. Rebecca thought the film was quite violent (it was) but I still think that the treatment of the film very unlike anything we would do in the US or in Canada had its educational purpose. We enjoyed ourselves.
It was on Sunday night after a pleasant dinner that Rosemary, Hilary, Lauren and I settled down to see the end of a four and a half hour long film (originally the pilot of TV series that never was) called Dinotopia.
Rebecca had been in Quebec for the first two installments so she chose to not see the ending with us, opting to see it with her father who was quite keen after she heard so many nice things about this charming movie from Hilary.
The film, which aired on TV in 2002, was based on the book Dinotopia by author/illustrator James Gurney which was published with a lot of help from Ian Ballantine.
Ian Ballantine had come to Vancouver in 1993 to push Gurney’s book. I had immediately purchased the book which was a complete delight. Unfortunately I had taken it to Buenos Aires some years later and given it to a nephew.
The book is out of print so I have had to order one via Abe Books from a bookseller in Devon for $1.00 plus $6.00 shipping! Why have I ordered it? Lauren was so interested in the film that we stayed up until 11:30 last night for the ending of the film. Her birthday is at the end of June and I am sure that the book from Devon will be here before.
The book is slightly different. Perhaps the biggest difference lies in the cute librarian of the film who is a cute talking small dinosaur but in the book he has a human assistant librarian who is the spitting image of Ian Ballantine. His name Nailab is a sort of abbreviated palindrome for Ian Ballantine. Luckily I had kept Ian Ballantine’s calling card!
I have explored further the Dinotopia books and I have found that James Gurney has a beautiful Dinotopia web site and that he has indeed published a sequel called Journey to Chandara. I have already received a reply from Gurney who is going to send me an autographed copy for Lauren. It will arrive by her birthday. This is going to be one birthday that will seem like my own. I cannot wait!
The man wearing the pterodactyl tie was remarkable in many ways that few would know now. When he died in 1995 I cut out his obituary from the NY Times and put it into my files with his negatives. I reproduce it here as it is well worth reading.
March 10, 1995
Ian Ballantine, 79, a Publisher Who Led Move Into Paperbacks
By MARY B. W. TABOR
Ian Ballantine, a pioneer in publishing and founder of three important paperback houses, died yesterday at his home in Bearsville, N.Y. He was 79.
The cause was cardiac arrest, his office said.
In a distinguished career that spanned more than five decades, Mr. Ballantine, who was devoted to the notion that people would read a wide variety of books if they were affordable and accessible, founded Penguin U.S.A., Bantam Books and Ballantine Books.
Born in 1916 in New York City, Mr. Ballantine showed an early fascination with publishing, when, as an undergraduate at Columbia University, he wrote a paper in which he described paperbound books as the great hope of publishing.
In 1939, as Pocket Books prepared to introduce one of the first American paperback lines, Mr. Ballantine, fresh out of the London School of Economics, arrived with a stack of paperbacks published by Penguin Books in Britain. He and his wife, Betty, opened Penguin U.S.A. and began importing such classics as "The Invisible Man" by H. G. Wells and "My Man Jeeves," by P. G. Wodehouse.
In 1945, the Ballantines left Penguin to begin a reprint house, which they named Bantam Books. Just months later, having bought the paperback rights for 20 hard-cover books, they released their first list, including "Life on the Mississippi" by Mark Twain, "The Grapes of Wrath" by John Steinbeck, "The Great Gatsby" by F. Scott Fitzgerald and several westerns and mysteries.
No longer were Americans, many of them former servicemen and women in the habit of reading paperback books distributed during World War II, limited to the costly hard-covers found in urban bookshops. They could now buy paperbacks in train stations and other retail outlets throughout the country as well. Hardcover editions had sold for $2 or more; the paperbacks cost 25 cents.
In 1952, the Ballantines founded Ballantine Books, turning their focus to paperback originals, or books first published in paperback form instead of hard-cover. While broad-based in their selections, they found their industry niche by publishing the science fiction, fantasy, western and mystery genres.
"That's where they made one of their most distinctive contributions," said Irwyn Applebaum, president and publisher of Bantam Books. "They really helped make the genres of science fiction, fantasy, western and mystery true mass market best sellers by nurturing a whole generation of novelists."
The Ballantines published a successful and original line of military histories and first-person accounts of World War II. They also developed lines of science fiction and fantasy, including the works of Ray Bradbury, who wrote "The Martian Chronicles," and Arthur C. Clarke, who wrote "2001: A Space Odyssey," and J. R. R. Tolkein, author of "The Hobbit" and "Lord of the Rings" trilogy. And they acquired, edited and published books by Carlos Castenada and Tom Robbins.
In 1974, the Ballantines sold the business to Random House and rejoined Bantam Books, where they worked with such authors as Chuck Yeager and Shirley MacLaine.
To his employees, Mr. Ballantine was something of an enigma, sometimes stern, sometimes playful. "Talking with Ian was a cross between a friendly browbeating and a sprinkling of pixie dust," Mr. Applebaum said.
Until his death, Mr. Ballantine maintained an editorial office at Bantam Books at 1540 Broadway in midtown Manhattan and still spent his days wheeling around a cart filled with illustrations and manuscripts.
In recent years, the Ballantines also worked under the name Rufus Publications, named for Mrs. Ballantine's dog, where they edited and put together illustrated art and fantasy books, like "Faeries," by Brian Froud, as well as the 1992 best seller "Dinotopia," by James Gurney.
The Ballantines were the recipients of the Literary Market Place's Lifetime Achievement Award last month.
He is survived by his wife; a son, Richard, who lives in England; a brother David, of Bearsville, and three grandchildren.