John Williams is a movie composer, the most successful of all time (certainly as measured by earnings). Another John Williams is a classical guitarist. For years, they have been confused with each other, and they have occasionally received each other’s checks.
You want to receive a check written to the movie composer, not to the guitarist.
I thought of them when writing about Kim Kashkashian and Kim Kardashian. They are featured in my new episode of Jaywalking. Kim Kashkashian is lower down the stardom pole from Kim Kardashian: She is a violist. I play a bit of a recording of hers in this new episode.
At The New Criterion, I’ve written about Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco, a composer who lived from 1895 to 1968. He was born in Italy. He got the hell out in 1939, just in time. He and his family went to California — to Hollywood, where the composer worked in the movies. He also taught a number of other composers, including John Williams, as it happens.
Go back to Italy, where the final straw was this: Mussolini’s government banned Jewish children from attending public school. That’s why the family left when they did.
“It was a terrible blow,” Castelnuovo-Tedesco later said. “Certain things I could bear — the end of my professional career, the expropriation of our property — but not this! I can still see the look of desperation on Peter’s face when he read ‘the sentence’ [the decree from the government]. If there is one thing I can never forgive Fascism, it is that deep silent pain that I read on the face of my child.”
Here on the Corner, I’d like to tell one of my favorite stories. (Longtime readers of my Impromptus column may remember it.) The story comes from the late Philip Uzielli, an Italian-American businessman, who was a friend of our David Pryce-Jones.
Phil was James A. Baker’s roommate at Princeton, I believe. Anyway, they were friends. When secretary of state, Baker hosted a lunch for Francesco Cossiga, who was president of Italy. Baker invited Phil — and seated him next to Gianni De Michelis, the foreign minister.
The conversation went something like this, as I recall:
De Michelis: “I can tell you’re from Tuscany. I can tell by your Italian. Tell me, why did you leave Italy? It’s people like you who have brought our country down. It’s people like you who have made our country weaker, by abandoning us.”
Uzielli: “You want to know why we left Italy? I’ll tell you. My father was mayor of our town. And Mussolini’s education minister told him that, from now on, no Jewish child would ever set foot in an Italian school — if the child was lucky enough to live until school age.”
De Michelis blanched. Baker, sitting with Cossiga, could tell that something was wrong. He shot a questioning look at Phil — who signaled, “It’s okay, Jimmy. Everything’s under control.”
I asked Phil whether De Michelis said anything in return. He did. And it is greatly to De Michelis’s credit that he said what he said. He said, “Fortunato,” meaning, “You were lucky.”