(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.
The SH Original in its 2020 PSB finish
With thanks to Kapp & Peterson
for their archival photo of Alan Stanford and
the 1922 press book clipping.
Fantastic article, Mark, drawing on your unique expertise. I especially like the part about Beckett’s allusions to the Peterson ad slogans. I saw and read Godot only before I became a pipe smoker so missed the Peterson references entirely. Now I want to see the play again 👍🏼
Thank you very much for this ! Very interesting!
Glad you enjoyed it, Russell!
Excellent article! I’ll have to check out The Gate Theatre’s version.
Jack, knowing your interests, I think you’ll find it engaging and profound.
Thanks for something about nothing! I have a new signature close, thanks to you: “puff in peace”. Great.
Wonderful! This is the article I have been waiting for! I have loved Waiting For Godot ever since I became obsessed with it as a teenager when my friends and I were stuck in a boarding school we wanted to leave but couldn’t. I bought my first Peterson in Dublin in 1977 as a direct result of Pozzo’s grief at losing his! I played Lucky in a University production in 79 but my first Peterson was also a star as I lent it to Pozzo for the run. Happy Days!
Malcolm, Me, too! Only my friendship with the play doesn’t go back nearly so far. I’ve just been wanting to write it for a while now. But how cool is it that you got to play Lucky AND have your own Pete star as Pozzo’s prop.
Hello everyone! What is the message of the play, ‘Waiting for Godot’ ?
I have never been very good at interpreting. Thank you.
Joseph, there are so many messages that I wouldn’t presume to speak for anyone else. For me, because of the numerous Biblical allusions (even though Beckett was not any kind of traditional religionist), I find the play to be about existential faith in a time that has lost its traditional moorings. Pozzo opines, “They give birth astride of a grave, the light gleams an instant, then it’s night once more.” This is to acknowledge that we are both animal and self-conscious, body and soul if you will, and must always wrestle with how to spend our days and hours. I… Read more »
Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves, that if the Mark Irwing and his blog, The Petersonpipenotes.org last for a thousand years, men will still say, “This was Mark Irwings finest hour.”
Ralle Perera with lot of help from Winston Churchill.
(Sorry, l could resist myself. But this is what pipe smoking is about for me. To chat about the important things). A very fine piece of paper Mark).
Myself being more of a Joyce fan. But Beckett will do just fine.
Take care everyone who’s reading and be safe.
Ralle, many thanks for this great compliment. My best to your family at this season!
PS. I got to get my hands on a Peterson’s writers collection Joyce
..and if anyone deserved and needed one, it’s YOU! That’s really great. I know that pipe smokes fabulously.
Thank you Mark, this was a fun post to read! (Thank you, too for the video recommendations, since live theater performances are “on hold” these days….) Alan Stanford chose wisely and well. As an amateur actor, I understand that the cardinal virtues of any prop are ease of holding and resistance to damage from careless handling; a rusticated Pete excels at those virtues, is a reliably good smoker, and of course, an easily-recognizable shape is important, too. (I am fortunate to own an SH original pipe much like Alan’s, and can attest that it is a properly-drilled (sub)system, and also… Read more »
Rob, fascinating information about how an actor chooses a prop. Your SH original sounds like just the thing to rub away the 2020 blues!
Another inspiring read. I always enjoy your presentation of the material, and thoroughly enjoyed the question and answer approach you employ here. Have attended performances of the play both here and in Ireland, and I am an ardent fan of most of the Irish writers and poets. Thank you again.
Thanks, Scott. How fortunate to have seen performances in Ireland! The quartet of players in the Gate Theatre Dublin performance actually used that metaphor–the string quartet–to describe their degree of collaboration over their long performance history together.
Great Article Thank You
Thank for another interesting article, Mark, and an unusual one at that.
I think we ‘did’ the play in my school days and I found it all a bit mysterious back then.
top marks for the pipes focus!
I would like to wish everyone here, including your good self, a very Happy Christmas and a safe and healthy new year.
With all good wishes,
Steven, my thanks & a wonderful Christmas and holiday season to you as well!