Stupid Countries, Stupider Museums
One night in the early 1980s, my wife, Peggy, and I were sitting in the second row of the Mark Hellinger Theater watching the musical romp “Sugar Babies,” starring Mickey Rooney and Ann Miller.
Mickey Rooney (amazingly, this was his Broadway debut) was standing outside a hotel room door listening to what was going on inside between two newlyweds. It was the setup for a very old joke that I had known since boyhood.
“When you get to the umbrella, it’s mine!” Rooney shouted through the door.
I let out a guffaw that rocked the theater and the audience followed suit.
Rooney marched down to the edge of the stage and looked me right in the eye. “You liked that?” he shouted at me. “I got a million of ‘em!”
We live in curious times.
All around the world—from Greece, Egypt and Italy to Peru and China—museum directors and ministers of culture are seriously trying to repatriate the great art and artifacts that they believe were illegally plundered.
In my opinion, the entire bunch of them—in the immortal words of Noël Coward—are absolutely, positively nuts.
Quite simply a huge marketing opportunity is being missed.
Belize and the Artifact Conundrum
In the mid-1980s, Peggy and I received a brochure offering an archaeological tour of Belize (formerly known as British Honduras) in Central America, center of the mysterious and cruel Maya civilization. On a lark, we sent in our money and went on one of the most memorable trips of our lives.
The expedition was led by Herman Smith, a great archaeologist and teacher who spent 1966-1969 as a Marine pilot in Vietnam, where he was awarded the Legion of Merit and the Distinguished Flying Crossand earned 17 Air Medals and the Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry. Fed up with the business of killing, he resigned from the service and went back to college where he got a Ph.D. in Archaeology and, in less than 10 years, became a world-class archaeologist specializing in Belize and the Maya. The tall and good-looking Herman Smith was a real-life Indiana Jones.