Naples:life,death &
                Miracle contact: Jeff Matthews

 entry Sept 2015   Allegro ma non troppo #26 
(original pub. date, Lion Magazine, 1990-95)

The Search for Napoleon's... uh, well, You Know...

                                                                                                                                                  No better image. Use your imagination.

The star of the 1953 science fiction movie, Donovan's Brain, is, as you might expect, a brain, kept alive and bubbling in a chemical solution. There was also a 1959 stinker entitled The Brain That Wouldn't Die. You see, this young surgeon saves the head of his fiancee, who has just died, and, well, I don't want to spoil it for you. Then there was the one about Hitler's disembodied brain (although, as I recall, it did have a mustache) telepathically hatching a Fourth Reich. I forget the name of that one, but it was the worst movie ever made. (Tough competition comes from Jesse James Meets Frankenstein's Daughter, a 1966 epic, the clean yet stark honesty of which is spoiled only by the plot: the mad baron's daughter holes up in a secret laboratory in Mexico where she has brought her father's brain to find a body transplant. The famous gunfighter shows up and, well, to make a long story short, since then ol' Jess has planted lots of mighty tough hombres in boot hill just for making fun of those electrodes sticking out of his head.

All this is nothing new; detached cerebra, usually evil, have been turning B-movie fans' own brains into mush for decades. But even in real life, part of Mussolini's brain actually did wind up in the hands of some American doctors who thought there might be something to be learned from analyzing dictatorial gray matter. I hear that Einstein's brain, too, underwent analysis; here, they were apparently looking for a part stamped "Genius. For easy removal and transplant, follow these simple instructions." Life imitates bad art, I guess.

Brains? Fine. There may be some scientific, albeit misguided, striving behind all that. I'm not so sure, however, about other detached organs. Well, not just any organ. I have just searched my Who's Who & What's What in Science Fiction Film, Television, Radio & Theater Fact-Packed A-Z Encyclopedia for any reference to a film about an item I've just seen in the newspapers. Thank goodness, I've found nothing. Not yet, anyway. It had to do with the fate of Napoleon's mummified penis. It was discovered in a private collection in Manhattan recently and now there is a great debate going on about whether to return it to the French or put it on display! That's right, on display after, look, I'm just reporting this... giving it a dignified bronzing!

The search for the missing imperial penis was the leitmotiv of a recent novel, Peter Doyle, by John Vernon. Also, its wanderings from auction block to private collection have enlivened the pages of the New York Times literary supplement and the Columbia University Alumni review recently. It's a big thing. The discussion.

At the moment, it is in the hands (metaphorically, of course) of Dr. John Lattimer of the Squire Urological Clinic in New York. He picked it up (more metaphor) from a private collection in New Jersey. That collector, says Lattimer, got it from a French monk. Now, the good doctor is trying to defend his right to hold on to it (I know, I know). William Colby, ex-CIA guy, has called the affair "obscene" and has demanded that Lattimer return it to France. The New York Times has called Colby a "puritan" and has come out in favor of keeping and bronzing the little piece of the Little Corporal.

How did all this come to pass, anyway? After Napoleon's death in prison on Saint Helena in 1821, his body was moved to Paris for burial. "It" was missing, apparently amputated by the doctor who was at the Emperor's deathbed. It was the last bit of humiliation they could inflict on him. Well, it's not the ultimate humiliation. As noted, someone has already written the novel. And you know Hollywood: "Lights, camera, action; ok, cue the... uh, well, you know."

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