(on the point of tears) “I’ve lost my Kapp & Peterson!”
—Pozzo, Act I, Waiting for Godot
First Question: Which of the following pipe makers have appeared by name in any great work of Western literature?
f. Kapp & Peterson
h. . Sasieni
Answer: Not to be prideful, smug or look down my nose at the smokers of any of the other fine pipe-makers listed above, but the truth is that only Kapp & Peterson has ever appeared in a great work of Western literature. In two, actually, but tonight I just want to look at one: Samuel Beckett’s two-act tragicomedy Waiting for Godot.
Second Question: What have Steve Martin, Robin Williams, Ian McKellen, Patrick Stewart, Zero Mostel and Burgess Meredith have in common?
Answer: They’ve all acted in Waiting for Godot, arguably the most important play of the twentieth century. If some of their names lead you believe it’s supposed to be funny, that’s because it often is.
“Passing the Hats Routine”: An Homage to
Laurel & Hardy by Beckett
Third Question: Which famous writers (or their creations) have appeared in special Kapp & Peterson pipes or collections?
a. Charles Darwin
b. Arthur Conan Doyle
c. James Joyce
d. Robert Louis Stevenson
e. George Bernard Shaw
f. Bram Stoker
g. Oscar Wilde
h. William Butler Yeats
Answer: All of the above. Which makes one wonder when there’s going to be a BECKETT Peterson pipe? Or, since we sometimes dream big around this time of year, maybe a four pipe set with one for each of the main characters: Didi (Vladimir), Gogo (Estragon), Pozzo and Lucky.
Beckett on winning the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1966.
He was rarely seen without a cigar or cigarette.
Fourth Question: What happens in the play?
b. Nothing, twice
Answer: All of the above.
Fifth Question: What’s the best movie or to watch during the four weeks leading up to Christmas?
a. A Christmas Story
b. Home Alone
c. Christmas Holiday
d. A Christmas Carol (any version)
e. White Christmas
f. It’s A Wonderful Life
g. Miracle on 34th Street (1947)
Answer: None of the above, because technically (at least from a Christian religious standpoint) the four weeks leading up to December 25th are the season of Advent, which is . . . you guessed it, about waiting, and none of those (while very good) can lay a candle to Beckett’s play.
Sixth Question: What’s the best version of Waiting for Godot?
Answer: Any performance you can attend. The problem is that most of us won’t find a live production. There are, however, two video versions, available on both YouTube and on DVD: an early B&W one from 1961 starring Burgess Meredith and Zero Mostel, and the slightly-blurry release from Gate Theatre Dublin with an all-Irish cast that performed it for over twenty years. I’ve seen both and highly recommend the Gate Theatre production.
Seventh Question: How does Kapp & Peterson come into this, and why?
Answer: I won’t spoil the serious fun of the play for you, but I will talk around the two scenes involving Kapp & Peterson (which are found in the Grove edition on pp. 19 and 23). Beside making an obvious nod to his hometown (he was born in Foxrock, a suburb of Dublin), there are justifiable allusions to K&P’s “The Contented Man Smokes A Peterson Pipe” and “The Thinking Man Smokes A Peterson Pipe” adverts of the first half of the twentieth century. In fact, one can go so far as to say these are not merely allusions, but actually emblems of the struggle depicted in the play: the perennial necessity of thinking through and thinking about the human condition and the deep desire to find comfort in friends, community and existence itself.
Ad from Tobacco, November 1922
One of the reasons I recommend the Gate Theatre Dublin video is that in addition to being performed by Irish actors, the production includes the lines about Kapp & Peterson and Alan Stanford smokes a Peterson pipe. Both details are often missing in the ad lib performance tradition of other productions of the play. While Beckett wrote the play in French before translating it into English, I think there’s something to be said about putting back in its Irish context. “‘There’s nothing to be done,’ the first two lines of the play—I think that’s very Irish,” says Walter Aster, the director of the Gate Theatre (Dublin) performances.
The Gate Theatre Dublin cast, left to right: Alan Stanford (Pozzo), Johnny Murphy (Estragon), Barry McGovern (Vladimir) and Stephen Brennan (Lucky)
Eighth Question: What pipe did Alan Stanford use in his performances?
Answer: In the banner photo seen at the top from a 1996 performance of the play, Stanford is smoking a Pebble Rustic Sherlock Holmes P-Lip. I have no doubt that Stanford selected the SH Original because it’s not only an authentic K&P but because it’s a calabash (think William Gillette’s stage performance pipe) and was another “thinking man’s” pipe, viz., Sherlock Holmes.
Our intrepid research partner and design partner found this clipping, which originally accompanied Stanford’s photo, in one of the cabinets at Sallynoggin:
In the 2001 filmed production, Stanford is still quite obviously smoking the same SH Original Pebble Rustic:
The SH Original Rustic first appeared in 1987 when the SH commemorative was issued:
Detail from the 1987 Hollco-Rohr Distributor Catalog
There are as many interpretations of the play as there are viewers—Christian, philosophical, political, psychoanalytical, you name it—but as Alan Stanford comments in a Kennedy Center Presents discussion, “Take from a play its truths as they apply to you.” The human dilemma at its heart goes back at least as far as Lao Tzu, whose words words form as good a preface as any to Beckett’s masterpiece:
A moment ago
I looked into your eyes.
I saw you were hemmed in
By contradiction. Your words
You are scared to death.
Like a child who has lost
Father and mother.
You are trying to sound
The middle of the ocean
With a six-foot pole.
You have got lost, and are trying
To find your way back
To your own true self.
You find nothing
But illegible signposts
Pointing in all directions.
“Those who suffer while searching for the truth,” says Tabbakuk, “suffer less and suffer in a more meaningful way if they’re smoking a pipe.” Puff in peace.
With thanks to Kapp & Peterson
for their archival photo of Alan Stanford and
the 1922 press book clipping.