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Alternative Facts

Right now I am in the process of writing a biography about Mary Coyle Chase, the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright who wrote Harvey and who lived in Denver in the 1940’s. Mostly my sources at this point have been secondary sources. I’ve looked to sources like Wikipedia and Encyclopedia.com. They often quote newspaper and magazine articles based on interviews with the playwright. I’ve also explored excerpts from books that have included discussions written about Mrs. Chase and that are also frequently an amalgamation of secondary sources, just like mine.

Take for example, her date of birth. Some say it was February 25, 1907. Some say it was 1906. Some say that the reason for the dispute has to do with the fact that by making the date one year later, she could be younger. Truly the only way to solve the problem would be to view her birth certificate and I still wouldn’t really know why there was a question unless I could ask one of her relatives and maybe they wouldn’t know either.

Another example: Mrs. Chase attended both the University of Colorado and the University of Denver. Some sources say she went to the University of Colorado first; others say that she went to the University of Denver first. I think that this conflict can be fixed fairly quickly, but still it’s interesting that there is disparity. It means someone who did the original research did not do their homework, or that the author who wrote the story or article lived somewhere else and couldn’t tell the difference between the two universities.

Here’s another example: At one point Mrs. Chase wrote a screenplay called Sorority House. Most sources agree that the film premiered in 1939 and that it was co-written by the then unknown future controversial blockbuster screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, a Colorado native. What they don’t agree on is the origins of the screenplay. One source says it was originally a short story called Chi House. Several sources say that it was originally a play called Chi House. Then the question becomes where was it originally produced and when. Most agree that it was produced at the University of Denver’s Civic Theater in 1935, but there are variations on that theme as well.

And finally, there are many views of Mrs. Chase’s personality. One of her friends, Caroline Bancroft, was a frequent companion of Mrs. Chase’s. They had many adventures and participated in a variety of pranks together, but there is no inkling so far in my research that she thought of Mrs. Chase as having any sense of “melancholy” in her demeanor, an observation made by others but not attributed to anyone in particular.

I guess what I’m saying is that some facts that are disputed are not as important as others, but some facts are important if one is to back up a theory.

As to my research, I want to get my facts as right as possible. As a former teacher, I always tried to teach my students the difference between fact and theory and the notion that if one was to have a theory, it would take hard facts to back it up.

I’m not sure our current president has that ability or desire. He confuses his facts and his theories and seems not to care to back up his accusations or notions. I will continue to abide by my rules and the ones I was taught all through my eighteen years of education. And, I’m afraid, he will continue to have a different view. What we have here is a crisis to communicate.

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