Garrison Keillor: Today, April 2nd, is Hans Christian Andersen's 200th birthday, and in behalf of all of the lovely geeks of the world, we should honor this awkward, eager, gifted, impossible, and courageous man born in Odense, 1805, the son of a cobbler, his mother alcoholic, the family impoverished, his grandfather a lunatic; the boy grew up skinny and clumsy with a big nose and little eyes, which tells you where his story, "The Ugly Duckling," came from. When he was fourteen, he went to Copenhagen to find his fortune in the theater, and was turned down by everybody, laughed at, considered insane. Life was miserable for him. He went to grammar school when he was seventeen and all the other children were seven or eight, and he stayed until he was twenty-two. With all that he suffered, it was no wonder that he grew up to be rather oversensitive, and he spent a good deal of his life travelling around Europe and to Britain because he didn't feel fully appreciated in Denmark. He was vain and he suffered from phobias, particularly a fear that during his sleep, someone might come and think he was dead and put him in a coffin and bury him alive, and so he left a note on the table by his bed that said: I'm only sleeping. Mostly he was afraid that people didn't like him. He was invited once to dinner at a friend's house in Copenhagen where Henrik Ibsen was also coming to dinner, a big event, but even before Ibsen arrived, Andersen started worrying that maybe Ibsen didn't care for his work, and he went upstairs to a bedroom and he locked the door and wouldn't come out --(KNOCKS)
Tim Russell: (BEHIND DOOR) I'm not feeling well.
GK: Until finally Henrik Ibsen himself came up (KNOCKS)
TR (BEHIND DOOR): Who is it?
Fred Newman: It's me. Ibsen. How are you?
TR (BEHIND DOOR): Oh, not so well.
FN: I'm sorry to hear that. Won't you come down to dinner? I've been looking forward to meeting you.
TR (BEHIND DOOR): Oh, you're just saying that. You don't care for my work.
FN: I do. I love your work.
TR (BEHIND DOOR): You do?
TR (BEHIND DOOR): You really do? My stories and the plays and the novels?
FN: Yes. I have tremendous admiration for you, Mr. Andersen.
TR: Well, all right. Then I'll come down. (PIANO)
GK: Once his friend Edvard Collin wrote to him suggesting that maybe he ought to write a little less. He said, "You write too much! And people are becoming fed up with you. And now you're writing another travel book! Who do you think wants to buy a book in two or three volumes about your journey to Italy?? Thousands of people have made that journey themselves! It really is selfish of you to assume that people have such an interest in what you think!"
And for a month, Andersen's diary was almost suicidal.
TR: I was so overwhelmed by his letter, I lost my faith in God and in humanity. How near I am to putting an end to my unhappy life! God forgive him! Shall I never know happiness again?
GK: And the next day...
TR: Everybody is false to me. Everybody. What is my reward for being decent? Nothing! Nothing! I have been brought to despair!
GK: A week later...
TR: I walked through the streets, almost out of my mind. I have no friends. I am brokenhearted. In rage and misery. They are killing me!
GK: Two weeks later.
TR: I regard it as an accident that I was born in Denmark. I don't belong in the north. I love Italy with all my soul...her blue sky, her handsome people, and her sacred ruins. If I had three years to live, I would spend two of them in Naples.
GK: It was in 1835, just to pay the rent, he wrote his first fairy tales: "The Tinder Box," "The Princess and the Pea," and "Little Claus and Big Claus". He wanted to be a serious playwright and he wrote plays like "The Moorish Girl" which closed after three performances, and "The Two Baronesses," full of long rambling digressions. The fairy tales were a success all across Europe, even in bad translations, even though Andersen didn't want to be considered a children's author, because he didn't especially care for children, but he wrote 156 fairy tales in his life, including "The Emperor's New Clothes," "The Red Shoes," "The Snow Queen," "The Nightingale," "The Little Mermaid," which is a much more interesting story than the Disney version--
TR: The Disney version! The Disney perversion! (HE SPUTTERS) Disney butchered it. It was an outrage. If I hadn't been dead, I would have sued! Terrible! Dreadful!
GK: So here is "The Ugly Duckling."
(QUIET CONVERSATIONAL QUACKING)
GK: Once upon a time a mother duck sat in her nest waiting for her eggs to hatch while the father duck sat nearby.
TR: Maybe we should call a doctor.
Sue Scott: Most of these doctors are quacks if you ask me. (EGG CRACKING)
GK: And the eggs began to open and the heads of little ducklings (CRACKING AND CHIRPING) began to emerge (CHEEPING) and one by one the yellow ducklings stepped out of their eggshells. Until one last egg remained. An odd egg. A large one. (CRACKING, HONK)
TR: Oh my gosh. Talk about a bad egg. What a honker. Is that a beak or is he eating a banana?
SS: Oh dear. If my parents could see that, they'd roll over in their gravy. It isn't even yellow. It's grey! Maybe it's from something I ate during pregnancy.
TR: Is it choking?
SS: It's trying to speak.
TR: I hate to say this--..but our child is what you might call a Special Duckling--.
SS: Aesthetically challenged.
TR: A non-traditional duck, that's for sure.
SS: I believe the term is "differently featured".
GK: They were trying to be kind. But the truth was, their duck was ugly. And whenever it came around, other kids looked at it and yelled HERE IT COMES! DUCK! And they laughed at it. (DUCK LAUGHTER) It had a long neck and it was so large and ungainly.
SS: Shut up!!!!! (DUCK LAUGHTER DIES OUT) I hope you swallow some fish line!!!!
GK: They tried to be good parents and took it to therapists and tried to address its self-esteem issues by dyeing it yellow and they got a nanny. (GOAT) But eventually the little duckling grew up (HONK) and it was time to leave the nest.
SS: Goodbye, dear.
TR: Stay away from Chinese restaurants.
GK: He joined a carnival (CALLIOPE) and he was exhibited as the World's Largest Albino Duck (HONKS) and then he started doing comedy--
FN (SWAN): So-- it's great to be here. I just flew in from California and boy are my wings tired. (A FEW HONKS) Anyway, this duck falls in love with a lady duck and he takes her up to his hotel room and then he realizes he doesn't have a condom so he calls down to the concierge and a minute later in walks the bellboy and he says, "Here's your condom, sir. Do you want me to put it on your bill." And the duck says, "Uh. No." (HONK)
GK: And one week he was working in Chicago at the Drake Hotel and he walked out on stage and (WEB FEET WALKING) it was a different sort of audience than he'd ever seen before. They all had long necks and white feathers and black webbed feet. (ALL: HONKS) They were all like him. It was a convention of Swansons. It was his kind of crowd. : Life is never easy. You lay a lot of eggs, you hang out with a lot of turkeys, you have to eat crow more than once. But it's good to know who you are and to be with your own people.
ALL: (MINNESOTA ROUSER) Graceful handsome swans are we.
To our species true we shall ever be,
Proud and strong and elegant we
Rah rah rah for the elite
Long necks, webbed feet,
Rah for our progeny.