What does a writer do when he has a family that includes a blacklisted member of the Hollywood Ten, the brains behind Tony the Tiger and the Marlboro Man, a trio of gay puppeteers, the world's leading birdwatcher, 1960s hippies, a Dutch stowaway who served in an all-black regiment during the American Civil War, and a convicted murderer? He tells their stories and secrets, illuminating 150 years of American life along the way.
Dan Bessie begins the journey through his family history with his great-grandfather in the cargo hold of a ship bound for New York on the storm-tossed Atlantic. What follows are stories of his grandfather's various entrepreneurial schemes (including a folding butter box business), a grandmother who was voted "New York's prettiest shop girl" (and who resisted the recruitment efforts of various city madams), and his uncle Harry's Turnabout Theater in Los Angeles (a renowned puppet theater drawing patrons as diverse as Shirley Temple, Ray Bradbury, and Albert Einstein).
An extraordinary strain of creativity runs through the Bessie and Burnett clans, and Rare Birds celebrates the colorful diversity of this remarkable and accomplished family. While their choices and professions run the gamut of the American experience in the twentieth century, the history of the nation can be traced in these people's lives. Bessie's passionate birds of a feather gather to sing their unique song across decades and generations.
Stories: Preface to a Family
The Old Gentleman
Dwell in the Wilderness
Battle of the Century
Alvah: Broadway to Barcelona
Mary: The Rarest Bird
A Long Way from Ostego
An Ink-Stained Wretch
Alvah: Curmudgeon on the Left
Love and Posters
The Distinguished Publisher
What is remarkable is not only his voice—it is all in the practiced cadences of a born raconteur—but the number of interesting people he is related to.... Would make a great choice for discussion groups exploring family chronicles.~Booklist
Bessie tells a great story in his memoir.~Family Tree Magazine
One hundred and fifty years of American life are illuminated in the delightful family history of film writer, director, producer, and animator Bessie.~Library Journal
Bessie's fascination with his extraordinary relatives has given life to these vivid family portraits.~Louisville Courier-Journal
Certainly one of the more colorful collections of folks you'll encounter.~Marietta (OH) Times
Examines good times and hard times with an understanding eye and an indulgent heart.~Movie Magazine International
His breathless enthusiasm, sometimes maddening naïveté and flair for irony inform the entire memoir, as do the splendid family snapshots he has painstakingly assembled.~New York Times Book Review
Spreading untidily across the country, producing capitalist moguls and card-carrying Communists, marrying, divorcing, coming out of the closet, keeping in touch and supporting each other when they chips are down, they remind me of the craziness of my own family and they will remind you of yours.~Prime Time (Santa Fe, NM)
Bessie portrays his relatives—both famous and not—as striking examples of American individuality, ingenuity and creativity.... This heartfelt, warmly intelligent kaleidoscope of intimate portraits never glosses over the rough edges.~Publishers Weekly
A fetching family history that showcases a multigenerational cast of passionate oddballs.~San Francisco Chronicle