Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Johanna Spyri wrote children's book Heidi

Johanna Spyri
It is the birthday of Swiss writer Johanna Spyri, whose book Heidi (1872) earned her a place in Swiss literary history.

The children's story about an orphan girl who is taken to live with her gruff grandfather in a secluded cottage in the Swiss Alps. He initially resents her presence but she eventually cracks his crusty exterior and she thrives, only to be taken away to live with a wealthy family in Frankfurt. Heidi becomes homesick (and physically ill) and eventually returns to her grandfather.

The book was quite popular in Spyri's lifetime and has never been out of print. Scholars think Spyri might have borrowed from an 1830 German book Adelaid: The Girl from the Alps. The two have similar plot lines and settings.  Spyri also vacationed in the book's locale for several summers.

Heidi spawned numerous live action films, animated films and television productions, as well as sequels written by Spyri's English translator long after her death.

Famously, one television version gave rise to the Heidi Game, a dark day in the annals of television broadcasting.

It happened on November 16, 1968, a Sunday evening. The Oakland Raiders were locked in a fierce battle on their home field with the New York Jets. NBC was broadcasting the game. The score was 32-29, New York winning. There were 65 seconds left on the clock.  Oakland had the ball on its own 23-yard line. Football fans all over America eagerly awaited the outcome of the game. Meanwhile, Heidi fans all over American eagerly awaited the premiere of a new TV movie about the Swiss Alps girl that was to start at 7 p.m.

NBC cut to a commercial and never came back to the game. Instead, the scheduled Heidi movie began on the East Coast. Football fans were outraged. Heidi fans were gleeful.

Football fans learned later that in those 65 seconds Oakland scored twice to win the game 43-32. The furor went on for weeks. When it was all sorted out, it developed that NBC had originally planned to switch to Heidi no matter what but thousands of calls from football fans lit up the NBC switchboards and NBC officials decided to stay with the game and delay the beginning of Heidi.

Trouble was, they couldn't get a call through to the control room. Why? Because football fans and Heidi fans were tying up all the circuits trying to find out what NBC was planning to do.

In the aftermath, professional sports organizations began stipulating in their contracts that their games had to be shown in their entirety. Furthermore, NBC installed a red hotline in their control room, a direct line immune to phone circuit tie-ups so that such a situation would never occur again. The line was called the Heidi Phone.

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