Anyway, I read "Kidnapped" by Robert Louis Stevenson, and enjoyed it very much. I can't imagine how I overlooked Stevenson when I was young, as I was SO into Victoriana, but I never read anything of his, not even "The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde", which I'll have to get to soon. I think I must have thought that Stevenson really only wrote boys' adventure stories. It's interesting how much Stevenson one just "knows" without actually having read him, because his stories have been made into movies so often. The Wrong Box might be my favorite comedy of all time, and that's based on a Stevenson novel. Dean read it and said that it wasn't as funny as the film, so I never bothered looking it up, but now I think I'll give it a try.
After that I read "The Fall of the Dynasties" by Edmond Taylor. I think this must have been one of the source texts for the TV series, "Fall of Eagles"; the chapter structure of the book paralleled the episodes of the series in a lot of cases. I don't think the series ever very clearly showed what happened to the Austo-Hungarian monarchy - it just sort of petered out at the end. The book also contained a single chapter on the collapse of the Ottoman Empire.
I had to hurry to finish this book in time for the arrival of the Harry Potter book, but that one I read in about 24 hours, and then I went on to "The War Against Boys" by Christina Hoff Sommers. Very interesting, and I doubt things have improved much in the 8 years or so since it was first published.
The book I just finished was "The Birth of Shylock and the Death of Zero Mostel" by Arnold Wesker. It reminded me a bit of the description of 'Lost in La Mancha', the documentary film about Terry Gilliam's failed attempt to make a Don Quixote movie where everything goes totally, horribly wrong. In 1977, Wesker writes what he feels to be his magnum opus, an alternate view of the world of Shakespeare's 'Merchant of Venice', where Shylock is the misunderstood hero. The production is taken up by fellow Englishman John Dexter, who is determined to stage it on Broadway with Zero Mostel in the title role.
One thing after another goes wrong. Actors sabotage lines and interpretations that they don't like, Dexter abuses everyone involved, Zero can't play a believable 16th-century Venetian Jew, he's just a flamboyant American Jew from the Bronx who hams it up and garbles his lines. But everyone is convinced they're making history. They make it through one out-of-town preview performance in Philadelphia and then...Zero Mostel dies. The show must go on, so they recast his role, but after this everything starts going to hell in a handbasket, and they finally struggle through endless cuts and rewrites to premiere on Broadway. A bad review in the NY Times, and it's all over.
It's an amazing story, and opened my eyes to how much seat-of-the-pants jerryrigging goes on behind the scenes in professional theatre. Are all shows this chaotic? I suspect they are. Everyone comes out of it looking a bit like a jerk. It's not just the actors who are self-indulgent prima donnas; the writer is forever complaining that nobody understands him, and the director is a downright asshole. Ugh. Horrible, horrible people.
The book was good, but I have to say, the best and funniest "behind the scenes of a flop" story ever was written in the 1950s by S.J. Perelman in a short story called "Is There A Doctor In The Cast?". He follows the travails of an unemployed actor who snags a bit part in a Broadway show, only to watch the whole thing collapse under the weight of bad writing, acting and directing, not to mention cast conflicts and physical accidents: "I guess the director's attention was elsewhere, but at any rate our ballerina, Gemze de Lapidari, did a sudden tour jeté downstage, accidentally grazed against the ladder, and over went Fletcher into the orchestra pit. There was a simply appalling crash as he struck the music stands; it sounded exactly like my Uncle Ned backing through the wrong end of our garage the time he got drunk on zinfandel."