Three be the things I shall have till I die: Laughter and hope and a sock in the eye.

FEW people under 30 know who wrote these lines, but the perceptive will readily date them from the 1920s. They have that slightly posed air of gay gallantry and tender toughness that marked the era of "But Jesus we had fun." After four decades, its heroes and heroines look as comically self-conscious as silent-movie characters, trying to gather their rosebuds in vigorous deadpan. What comes through most clearly is the sentimentality lurking beneath....

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