I've wanted to post this for a while, but what with the pandemic, the election, the insurrection, the American Rescue Plan and all manner of other stories filling in the cracks, it's gotten push back -- and back and back. Enough already. Besides which, I also want to get beyond just writing about politics every morning. Especially when so much of it coming from the fascist Republican Party pushing sedition makes my head hurt too much on far too many days.
So, at last we get to Mary Schmich.
When coming across Famous Quotes on social media, I always try to do research to see if it’s actually attributed correctly. I'm not sure what the percentage of accuracy is -- not as horrible as its reputation, but definitely bad enough that you should always check if you don't know for sure. Mark Twain would probably be pleased to know how much is attributed to him that he never said.
However, for all that, I think the most famous of the mis-attributions came from the early days of the Internet, in the late-‘90s, I believe. And it involved the Chicago Tribune. You may even know the quote -- actually the very long quote, since it was part of a speech. It’s what became known as Kurt Vonnegut’s famous “Wear sunscreen” commencement speech, where the list of life-lessons that he supposedly explained at the very end of the speech were passed around and around the globe.
Eventually though – it took about a year later – word finally, slowly started to get out that it wasn't actually written by Kurt Vonnegut at all, or for that matter, even from a commencement speech. Rather the "list" was a 1997 article by Chicago Tribune columnist Mary Schmich, written as if she was giving a commencement address..
Mary Schmich is very good, and still writes a column for the paper. (For many years, she even used to have a special section on her official Tribune webpage specifically about “The Sunscreen Columns” – it included the original column, along with a couple of follow-ups she wrote about the reaction, but I don’t see that there anymore. I guess after 25 years, enough time has passed. Though if you go to the Chicago Tribune site and go to the Search box and start typing in “Mary Schmich” – the drop-down menu starts listing all the options and “Mary Schmich Wear Sunscreen” pops up as one.)
If you haven't ever read the column -- or only read the piece as if supposedly by Kurt Vonnegut, or haven't read it in years -- it's well-worth it. The "commencement address" column was famous for a reason. It's smart and a lot of fun. And it's real title is, "Advice, like youth, probably wasted on the young." You can find it here.
All the better, one of those other "Sunscreen Columns" concerned how, to her utter surprise in 1999, she was contacted by acclaimed filmmaker Baz Luhrmann (who, among his long list of movies, made The Great Gatsby, Strictly Ballroom and the film musical Moulin Rouge!). It turns out that Luhrmann, who's from Australia, read her "Wear Sunscreen" column all the way Down Under and actually wanted to make a music video using her column. This is an article by Chicago Tribune reporter Mark Caro who interviewed his fellow Trib writer Mary Schmich and wrote about how it all came to pass.
For years, I’d never been able to find the music video, but finally tracked it down. Here it is –
And if you want to reach more from Mary Schmich -- as I said, she's still writing for the Tribune -- you can find her work here.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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