Washington Lawyer

Legal Spectator: Mind Reading, GBS, and the Attractive Asian Lady

From Washington Lawyer, May 2014

By Jacob A. Stein

spectator graphicYesterday I watched My Fair Lady on TV. It brought me back to an interesting conversation in Duke Zeibert’s Restaurant, probably in the 1960s.

The restaurant was at Connecticut and L. Theatre people, lawyers, more lawyers, clients, an occasional judge, athletes, and sports journalists gathered at lunchtime.

Duke seated at the front tables the people he thought were famous. Lesser known people were directed to the back tables. I was one of those, far back.

The person I was to meet for lunch did not show up. Ernest Cuneo (1905–1988), a friend and a person who was really famous, was at a front table. He saw me and motioned me over. At Ernest’s table were an attractive Asian lady and a dignified gentleman. Ernest introduced me to the lady. She was a writer, an anthropologist, and a philosopher.

He then introduced me to Joseph Dunninger, who was in town performing at the National Theatre demonstrating his mind reading wizardry.

I had seen him on TV as he performed by summoning someone from the audience to come up on stage. He then told that person his name, birthday, and other personal things.
Ernest said he and Dunninger met in a jury trial in New York City. Dunninger was sued for having missed a performance. The owner had to return the ticket money, and Dunninger should reimburse the owner.

In selecting the jury, Dunninger gave Ernest the voir dire questions for Ernest to use. Dunninger said, “We will have the jury we want.” After the testimony, Dunninger said, “If you don’t fumble your closing argument, Ernest, we will have our verdict and be out of here within three hours.”

When the time came for the lawyers to give their closing arguments, the plaintiff’s lawyer made a great speech. Ernest thought it was so good that the plaintiff might win the case, after all. He asked the judge for 10 minutes to organize his closing.

Dunninger was calm. He told Ernest to tell the jury that the plaintiff’s lawyer did in fact make a great speech. A great speech. It was the same great speech he gave in Brooklyn. The same great speech he gave in Boston. The same great speech he made in Philadelphia. Ernest took Dunninger’s advice. They won.

And now, if you are still with me, let’s get back to My Fair Lady. The Asian lady recounted the way Professor Henry Higgins met Eliza Doolittle, the poor girl with the working-class Cockney accent, trying to sell flowers in Covent Garden to people of wealth and sophistication. Professor Higgins knew he could remake Eliza. He would make Eliza into a duchess, speaking eloquently as a perfect lady whose phonetics would be perfect. Eliza knew she could not remake Professor Higgins. He was too much of a self-sufficient snob.

The Asian lady said, among other things, that the movie was an extension of George Bernard Shaw’s play Pygmalion, the myth of the sculptor who fell in love with the sculpture that sprang to life. The play opened in London in 1914.

Thereafter, Pygmalion, in 1938, was made into a movie. Leslie Howard played Professor Higgins and Wendy Hiller, Eliza. Leslie was killed in World War II. His airplane was shot down by a German gunner. A sad ending.

The Asian lady said Shaw had many interests, including the women who acted in his many plays. He wrote long letters, many of which were published. The Asian lady said she was writing a book based on those letters.

The Asian lady asked Dunninger if there were to be a time when electronic devices could read minds. Dunninger said there would be. They would be like a polygraph concealed on your person for detecting liars. He predicted it would be with us in about 20 years. It would be a way for one person to read the mind of the other as to who was truthful and who was lying.

Ernest said that if such a device were in use in 1938, there would not have been World War II. Neville Chamberlain obtained Adolf Hitler’s signature that he wanted peace, not war. Hitler lied. He knew there would be war.

About 10 years after the luncheon, I received a call from the Asian lady. She said she had been sued. She brought the complaint to my office. It alleged something about earrings. The complaint was time-barred. A motion to dismiss was granted.

The Asian lady said she was still working on her writing about Shaw’s girlfriends. She said she came across an interesting comment by Frank Harris, one of Shaw’s biographers:

Shaw’s relations with women have always been gallant, coy even. The number he has surrendered to physically have been few—perhaps not half a dozen in all—the first man to have cut a path through the theatre and left it strewn with virgins.

The most interesting thing about the luncheon in Duke’s was the Asian lady’s mind reading technology predictions. It seems that mind reading is here. A portion of a review of Michio Kaku’s book, The Future of the Mind, in The Telegraph is of interest:

Quadriplegics move artificial limbs with the mind. Video games are directly controlled by the power of thought. A monkey’s brain connected to the internet can control an avatar on a video screen or a robot half a world away. A mouse’s memory is erased and reprogrammed. All these and more have already happened but may be as nothing compared to what is coming.

And don’t leave out the remarkable Google Glass.

Reach Jacob A. Stein at jstein@steinmitchell.com.