Happy 104th Birthday Vincent Price

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Today is the 104th birthday of Vincent Price.  I think my first exposure to him was probably the Hawaiian episodes of the Brady Bunch, followed next by the Michael Jackson “Thriller” music video.  I have since made up for the lack of well-rounded knowledge.  I actually have a copy of “The Bat” on this very computer, as well as the original “House on Haunted Hill.”  Even last night, I listened to a radio episode of “The Saint” he did in the early 1950s.  The world is a better place because he was in it and still feels the loss that he has left. 

NAME: Vincent Price
OCCUPATION: Film Actor
BIRTH DATE: May 27, 1911
DEATH DATE: October 25, 1993
EDUCATION: Yale University, University of London
PLACE OF BIRTH: Saint Louis, Missouri
PLACE OF DEATH: Los Angeles, California

Best Known For:  American actor Vincent Price starred as the villain in the 1953 film House of Wax, which revitalized the horror genre, and was one of the first films shot in 3D.

Sometimes called the “Master of Menace,” actor Vincent Price was born on May 27, 1911, and grew up in St. Louis, Missouri. Price was the youngest of four children born to an upper-middle-class family. His father served as the president of a candy company, and he had a cultured upbringing. Price was educated in private schools, and toured Europe at the age of 16. At Yale University, Price studied art history and English. He then traveled to England to pursue the fine arts at University of London.

In 1935, Price landed his first major stage role, playing Prince Albert in a London production of Victoria Regina. The play moved to Broadway, with Helen Hayes as Price’s co-star, and it became a big hit. Before long, Price made his way to the silver screen.

Despite his lasting association with the world of horror, Price started out as a dramatic actor. His tall, lanky frame and distinctive voice lent themselves nicely to character parts. One of Price’s most famous early roles was in the film noir classic Laura (1944) which was directed by Otto Preminger and also starred Gene Tierney. Two years later, he reunited with Tierney for the dramatic thriller Dragonwyck. Price also appeared in some comedies, including 1950’s Champagne for Caesar—one of his favorite film roles.

Price delved into disturbing territory with the 3D hit House of Wax (1953). In the film, he plays a deranged and disfigured artist, who makes wax sculptures using real people. Price also did well with The Fly (1958), a classic science-fiction horror film about a scientist who has a tragic mishap with a device that he created, as it turns him into a flying insect. In the 1960s, Price appeared in a number of Roger Corman’s low-budget scare-fests. Price also starred in several film adaptations of Edgar Allan Poe stories, including The Masque of the Red Death (1964).

Part of Price’s appeal as a villain was the humor he could inject into these sinister roles. His distinctive voice also contributed to his ability to create tension in films. He spoke in rich, deep tones, which sometimes had an eerie and unsettling quality. Price thought nothing of his famous speech patterns. “To me, I sound like everybody else in Missouri. I think I sound like Harry Truman,” he once said, according to the Los Angeles Times.

One of his most favorite later roles, Price plays an actor who gets his revenge on his critics in Theater of Blood (1973). He voiced the villainous Ratigan in the animated tale The Great Mouse Detective (1986). The following year, Price took a dramatic turn with The Whales of August, playing a Russian paramour to two sisters (Bette Davis and Lillian Gish).

Price enjoyed success in many arenas outside of cinema; he made numerous television appearances, ranging from The Brady Bunch to the TV series Batman. In the 1980s, he hosted the PBS series Mystery. He also added an ominous air to the Michael Jackson’s 1983 “Thriller” video, by delivering an opening monologue. Price also worked with rocker Alice Cooper.

A lifelong art aficionado, Price wrote several books on his passion. He even served as an art consultant to Sears in the early 1960s, on a line of artworks for sale. A popular lecturer on art, Price also donated some of his art collection to establish the Vincent Price Gallery at East Los Angeles College. Also a devoted foodie, Price co-wrote several cookbooks.

One of Price’s final roles was in Tim Burton‘s Edward Scissorhands (1990). In the film, he plays a gentle version of Dr. Frankenstein, who creates a teenage boy (Johnny Depp). Price’s character dies before he finishes his work, leaving the boy with metal scissors for hands.

Around this time, the veteran actor discovered that he had lung cancer. He died of the disease on October 25, 1993, at his Los Angeles home. Predeceased by his third wife, actress Coral Browne, Price was survived by his two children—Vincent Barrett Price, his son from first wife Edith Barrett, and daughter Victoria, from his second marriage to Mary Grant. Victoria Price later wrote a biography on her father. In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, she described him as “a lovely, sweet man,” who was “larger than life”—a far cry from the villains that Price played on the big screen.

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Happy 212st Birthday Dashiell Hammett

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Today is the 121st birthday of the man that wrote some of the best detective novels of the early 20th century:  Dashiell Hammett.  A lot of them went on to become very popular films that I am sure you know.  His contribution to the film noir genre is tremendous.  The world is a better place because he was in it and still feels the loss that he has left.maltese falcon

NAME: Dashiell Hammett
OCCUPATION: Author
BIRTH DATE: May 27, 1894
DEATH DATE: January 10, 1961
PLACE OF BIRTH: St. Mary’s County, Maryland
PLACE OF DEATH: New York, New York

Best Known For:  Dashiell Hammett was an American writer of hard-boiled crime fiction, including the novels The Maltese Falcon and The Thin Man.

Today is the birthday of novelist Dashiell Hammett (1894), born Samuel Dashiell Hammett in St. Mary’s County, Maryland. In 1915, he got a job as a detective for the famous Pinkerton Agency, and this experience provided fodder for his later novels. He enlisted in World War I, but contracted tuberculosis, and that — combined with his distaste over the increasing Pinkerton involvement with strike-breaking — effectively ended his gumshoe career. He tried writing, using his Pinkerton experiences as a source for stories, and published his first story in 1922. It was published in a society magazine, The Smart Set, but his stories were really better suited to pulp detective magazines, and that’s where they found a home. They weren’t intellectual brain-teasers in the “Sherlock Holmes” mold; they were gritty and unsentimental and cynical — what came to be known as “hard-boiled.” His first two novels, Red Harvest and The Dain Curse (both published in 1929), starred a character known only as the “Continental Op.”

In his third book, The Maltese Falcon (1930), Hammett created an iconic character called Sam Spade, a loner who manages to be both cynical and idealistic, and who in turn served as the inspiration for Raymond Chandler‘s private eye, Philip Marlowe. The Maltese Falcon was made into a film three times; the second one, made in 1941 and directed by John Huston, is the best known, and stars Humphrey Bogart as Spade.

In 1931, Hammett began a 30-year affair with a script girl who would eventually become a playwright: Lillian Hellman. Their relationship inspired the characters of Nick and Nora Charles, the heavy-drinking, wisecracking, crime-solving couple at the center of his final novel, The Thin Man (1934). The Charleses and their terrier Asta turned into a six-film franchise starring William Powell and Myrna Loy, and later a radio play, a TV series, and a Broadway musical. Author Donald Westlake later said of The Thin Man, “It was a sad, lonely, lost book, that pretended to be cheerful and aware and full of good fellowship, and I hadn’t known you could do that: seem to be telling this, but really telling that; three-dimensional writing, like three-dimensional chess.”

After The Thin Man, Hammett turned his attention to helping Hellman with her play writing career, and to various leftist political pursuits. He re-enlisted during World War II, in the Signal Corps, and apart from his military service as a journalist and editor, he didn’t do much writing. In 1951, he was jailed on contempt charges; he served as a bail trustee on a committee to free jailed Communists, and refused to give the names of people who had provided bail money. He served five months and when he was released, he was served with a bill for $140,000 in back taxes. He died in 1961, and was buried in Arlington National Cemetery, against the wishes of J. Edgar Hoover.

In his essay “The Simple Art of Murder,” Raymond Chandler wrote of Hammett, “He was spare, frugal, hard-boiled, but he did over and over again what only the best writers can ever do at all. He wrote scenes that never seemed to have been written before.”

Author of books:
Red Harvest (1929, novel)
The Dain Curse (1929, novel)
The Continental Op (1930, short stories)
The Maltese Falcon (1930, novel)
The Glass Key (1931, novel)
The Thin Man (1934, novel)

 

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Happy 138th Birthday Isadora Duncan

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Today is the 138th birthday of the woman widely recognized as the mother of Modern Dance:  Isadora Duncan.  The world is a better place because she was in it and still feels the loss that she has left.

NAME: Isadora Duncan
OCCUPATION: Choreographer
BIRTH DATE: c. May 27, 1877
DEATH DATE: September 14, 1927
PLACE OF BIRTH: San Francisco, California
PLACE OF DEATH: Nice, France
ORIGINALLY: Angela Duncan

BEST KNOWN FOR:  Isadora Duncan was a dancer who taught and performed in a new and less restrictive form. Many regard her as the mother of modern dance.

Although Duncan’s birth date is generally believed to have been May 27, 1878, her baptismal certificate, discovered in San Francisco in 1976, records the date of May 26, 1877. Duncan was one of four children brought up in genteel poverty by their mother, a music teacher. As a child she rejected the rigidity of the classic ballet and based her dancing on more natural rhythms and movements, an approach she later used consciously in her interpretations of the works of such great composers as Brahms, Wagner, and Beethoven. Her earliest public appearances, in Chicago and New York City, met with little success, and at the age of 21 she left the United States to seek recognition abroad. With her meagre savings she sailed on a cattle boat for England.

At the British Museum her study of the sculptures of ancient Greece confirmed the classical use of those dance movements and gestures that hitherto instinct alone had caused her to practice and upon a revival of which her method was largely founded. Through the patronage of the celebrated actress Mrs. Patrick Campbell, she was invited to appear at the private receptions of London’s leading hostesses, where her dancing, distinguished by a complete freedom of movement, enraptured those who were familiar only with the conventional forms of the ballet, which was then in a period of decay. It was not long before the phenomenon of a young woman dancing barefoot, as scantily clad as a woodland nymph, crowded theatres and concert halls throughout Europe. During her controversial first tour of Russia in 1905, Duncan made a deep impression on the choreographer Michel Fokine and on the art critic Serge Diaghilev, who as impresario was soon to lead a resurgence of ballet throughout western Europe. Duncan toured widely, and at one time or another she founded dance schools in Germany, Russia, and the United States, though none of these survived.

Her private life, quite as much as her art, kept her name in the headlines owing to her constant defiance of social taboos. The father of her first child, Deirdre, was the stage designer Gordon Craig, who shared her abhorrence of marriage; the father of her second child, Patrick, was Paris Singer, the heir to a sewing machine fortune and a prominent art patron. In 1913 a tragedy occurred from which Duncan never really recovered: the car in which her two children and their nurse were riding in Paris rolled into the Seine River and all three were drowned. In an effort to sublimate her grief she was about to open another school when the advent of World War I put an end to her plans. Her subsequent tours in South America, Germany, and France were less successful than before, but in 1920 she was invited to establish a school of her own in Moscow. To her revolutionary temperament, the Soviet Union seemed the land of promise. There she met Sergey Aleksandrovich Yesenin, a poet 17 years younger than she, whose work had won him a considerable reputation. She married him in 1922, sacrificing her scruples against marriage in order to take him with her on a tour of the United States. She could not have chosen a worse time for their arrival. Fear of the “Red Menace” was at its height, and she and her husband were unjustly labeled as Bolshevik agents. Leaving her native country once more, a bitter Duncan told reporters: “Good-bye America, I shall never see you again!” She never did. There followed an unhappy period with Yesenin in Europe, where his increasing mental instability turned him against her. He returned alone to the Soviet Union and, in 1925, committed suicide.

During the last years of her life Duncan was a somewhat pathetic figure, living precariously in Nice on the French Riviera, where she met with a fatal accident: her long scarf became entangled in the rear wheel of the car in which she was riding, and she was strangled. Her autobiography, My Life, was published in 1927 (reissued 1972).

Isadora Duncan was acclaimed by the foremost musicians, artists, and writers of her day, but she was often an object of attack by the less broad-minded. Her ideas were too much in advance of their time, and she flouted social conventions too flamboyantly to be regarded by the wider public as anything but an advocate of “free love.” Certainly her place as a great innovator in dance is secure: her repudiation of artificial technical restrictions and reliance on the grace of natural movement helped to liberate the dance from its dependence on rigid formulas and on displays of brilliant but empty technical virtuosity, paving the way for the later acceptance of modern dance as it was developed by Mary Wigman, Martha Graham, and others.

Isadora Duncan’s life has been portrayed most notably in the 1968 film, Isadora, starring Vanessa RedgraveVivian Pickles played her in Ken Russell’s 1966 biopic for the BBC, which was subtitled ‘The Biggest Dancer in the World’ and introduced by Duncan’s biographer, Sewell Stokes.

Most notably, Duncan was the subject of a balletIsadora, written and choreographed in 1981 by the Royal Ballet‘s Kenneth MacMillan, and performed at Covent Garden.[17] When She Danced, a stage play about Duncan’s later years by Martin Sherman, won the 1991 Evening Standard Award (best actress) for Vanessa Redgrave. A Hungarian musical based on this play was produced in Budapest in 2008.

Robert Calvert recorded a song about Duncan on his Revenge LP. The song is called “Isadora”. Salsa diva Celia Cruz sang a song titled “Isadora” in Duncan’s honor. Finnish musician Juice Leskinen recorded a song called “Isadora Duncan”. Russian singer Alexander Malinin recorded a song about the death of Isadora Duncan. Russian band Leningradhave a song about her on their Pulya (Bullet) album. American post-hardcore group Burden of a Day has a song titled, “Isadora Duncan” on their 2009 album OneOneThousand.

The children’s gothic book series, Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, includes a set of fraternal triplets named Isadora, Duncan, and Quigley Quagmire.

And Then There’s Maude, the theme song to the 1970s American TV sitcom Maude contains a reference to Duncan with the line “Isadora was a bra burner.”

In his song Salome, British singer Pete Doherty makes a reference to Isadora Duncan by saying: “As she dances and demands, the head of Isadora Duncan on a plate”.

2003 in “How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days”, the necklace Andie wears is named after Isadora Duncan

In a deleted scene of Titanic (1997), Rose talks about her dreams, saying “I don’t know what it is, whether I should be an artist or a sculpter or a, I don’t know, a dancer like Isadora Duncan, or wild pagan spirit!”

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Happy Birthday Dorothea Lange

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Today is the 120th birthday of one of the world’s most recognizable photographers:  Dorothea Lange.  The images that she captured of the dustbowl during the Great Depression change politics and  policies and the hearts and minds of anyone fortunate enough to view them.  The world is a better place because she was in it and still feels the loss that she has left.

NAME: Dorothea Lange
OCCUPATION: Photographer
BIRTH DATE: May 26, 1895
DEATH DATE: October 11, 1965
EDUCATION: Columbia University
PLACE OF BIRTH: Hoboken, New Jersey
PLACE OF DEATH: San Franciso, California

Best Known For:  Dorothea Lange was a photographer whose portraits of displaced farmers during the Great Depression greatly influenced later documentary photography.

One of the preeminent and pioneering documentary photographers of the 20th century, Dorothea Lange was born Dorothea Nutzhorn on May 26, 1895, in Hoboken, New Jersey. Her father, Heinrich Nutzhorn, was a lawyer, and her mother, Johanna, stayed at home to raise Dorothea and her brother, Martin.

When she was 7, Dorothea contracted polio, which left her right leg and foot noticeably weakened. Later, however, she’d feel almost appreciative of the effects the illness had on her life. “[It] was the most important thing that happened to me, and formed me, guided me, instructed me, helped me and humiliated me,” she said.

Just before Dorothea reached her teen years, her parents divorced. Dorothea grew to blame the separation on her father and eventually dropped his surname and took her mother’s maiden name, Lange, as her own.

One should really use the camera as though tomorrow you’d be stricken blind.

Art and literature were big parts of Lange’s upbringing. Her parents were both strong advocates for her education, and exposure to creative works filled her childhood.

Following high school, Lange, who’d never shown much interest in academics, decided to pursue photography as a profession. She studied the art form at Columbia University, and then, over the next several years, cut her teeth as an apprentice, working for several different photographers, including Arnold Genthe, a leading portrait photographer.

By 1918, Lange was living in San Francisco and soon running a successful portrait studio. With her husband, muralist Maynard Dixon, she had two sons and settled into the comfortable middle-class life she’d known as a child.

Lange’s first real taste of documentary photography came in the 1920s when she traveled around the Southwest with Dixon, mostly photographing Native Americans. With the onslaught of the Great Depression in the 1930s, she trained her camera on what she started to see in her own San Francisco neighborhoods: labor strikes and breadlines.

In the early 1930s, Lange, mired in an unhappy marriage, met Paul Taylor, a university professor and labor economist. Their attraction was immediate, and by 1935, both had left their respective spouses to be with each other.

Over the next five years, the couple traveled extensively together, documenting the rural hardship they encountered for the Farm Security Administration, established by the U.S. Agriculture Department. Taylor wrote reports, and Lange photographed the people they met. This body of work included Lange’s most well-known portrait, “Migrant Mother,” an iconic image from this period that gently and beautifully captured the hardship and pain of what so many Americans were experiencing.

The work now hangs in the Library of Congress.

As Taylor would later note, Lange’s access to the inner lives of these struggling Americans was the result of patience and careful consideration of the people she photographed. “Her method of work,” Taylor later said, “was often to just saunter up to the people and look around, and then when she saw something that she wanted to photograph, to quietly take her camera, look at it, and if she saw that they objected, why, she would close it up and not take a photograph, or perhaps she would wait until… they were used to her.”

In 1940, Lange became the first woman awarded a Guggenheim fellowship.

Following America’s entrance into World War II, Lange was hired by the Office of War Information (OWI) to photograph the internment of Japanese Americans. In 1945, she was employed again by the OWI, this time to document the San Francisco conference that created the United Nations.

While she battled increasing health problems over the last two decades of her life, Lange stayed active. She co-founded Aperture, a small publishing house that produces a periodical and high-end photography books. She took on assignments for Life magazine, traveling through Utah, Ireland and Death Valley. She also accompanied her husband on his work-related assignments in Pakistan, Korea and Vietnam, among other places, documenting what she saw along the way.

Lange passed away from esophageal cancer in October 1965.

While Lange sometimes grew frustrated that her work didn’t always provoke society to correct the injustices she documented, her photography has endured and greatly influenced generations of documentary photographers.

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Happy 85th Birthday Harvey Milk

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Today is the 85th birthday of the activist and humanitarian who said “It takes no compromise to give people their rights…it takes no money to respect the individual. It takes no political deal to give people freedom. It takes no survey to remove repression.”  Harvey Milk.  His contribution to the American equality dialogue is still felt today.  The world is a better place because he was in it and still feels the loss that he has left.

harvey-milk

NAME:  Harvey Milk
OCCUPATION:  Activist
BIRTH DATE:  May 22, 1930
DEATH DATE:  November 27, 1978
EDUCATION:  New York State College for Teachers in Albany, Bayshore High School
PLACE OF BIRTH:  Woodmere, New York
PLACE OF DEATH:  San Francisco, California

Best Known For: Harvey Milk became one of the first openly gay officials in the United States in 1977, when he was elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. Tragically, he was killed the following year.

Harvey Milk was born on May 22, 1930, in Woodmere, New York. Reared in a small middle class Jewish family, Milk was one of two boys born to William and Minerva Milk. A well-rounded, well-liked student, Milk played football and sang in the opera at Bayshore High School. Like his brother, William, he also worked at the family department store, “Milks.”

Hope will never be silent.

After graduating from high school in 1951, Milk joined the U.S. Navy, ultimately serving as a diving instructor at a base in San Diego, California, during the Korean War. Following his discharge in 1955, Milk moved to New York City, where he worked a variety of jobs, including as a public school teacher, production associate for several high-profile Broadway musicals, stock analyst and Wall Street investment banker. He soon tired of finance, though, and befriended gay radicals who frequented Greenwich Village.

In late 1972, bored with his life in New York, Milk moved to San Francisco, California. There, he opened a camera shop called Castro Camera on Castro Street, putting his life and work right in the heart of the city’s gay community.

More people have been slaughtered in the name of religion than for any other single reason. That, my friends, that is true perversion.

For much of his life, Milk had stayed quiet about his personal life. He had known since high school that he was gay, and even in the wake of an emerging gay rights movement, the deliberate and careful Milk chose to remain on the sidelines. But things had started to turn for him toward the end of his time in New York, as he befriended a number of gay radicals who frequented Greenwich Village.

In San Francisco, his life and outspoken politics evolved even further. As Castro Camera increasingly became a neighborhood center, Milk found his voice as a leader and activist. In 1973, he declared his candidacy for a position on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. A novice politician with little money, Milk lost the election, but the experience did not deter him from trying again. Two years later, he narrowly lost a second election for the same seat. By then, Milk had become a political force; an outspoken leader in the gay community with political connections that included San Francisco Mayor George Moscone, Assembly speaker and future city mayor Willie Brown, and future United States Senator Dianne Feinstein.

All young people, regardless of sexual orientation or identity, deserve a safe and supportive environment in which to achieve their full potential.

In 1977, Milk, who was known affectionately as the “Mayor of Castro Street,” finally won a seat on the San Francisco City-County Board. He was inaugurated on January 9, 1978, becoming the city’s first openly gay officer, as well as one of the first openly gay individuals to be elected to office in the United States.

While his campaign certainly incorporated gay rights into his platform, Milk also wanted to tackle a wide variety of issues, from child care to housing to a civilian police review board.

Milk’s ascension had come at an important time for the gay community. While many psychiatrists still considered homosexuality a mental illness at this time, the liberal Moscone had become an early supporter of gay rights and had abolished the city’s anti-sodomy law. Moscone had also appointed several gays and lesbians to a number of high-profile positions within San Francisco.

On the other side of Moscone was Supervisor Dan White, a Vietnam veteran and former police officer and fireman, who was troubled by what he perceived as a breakdown in traditional values and a growing tolerance of homosexuality. Elected to the San Francisco City-County Board in 1977, he frequently clashed with the more liberal Milk on policy issues.

A year after his election, in 1978, White resigned from the board, citing that his salary of $9,600 wasn’t enough to support his family. But White was prodded on by his police supporters, and subsequently changed his mind regarding his resignation and asked Moscone to reappoint him. The mayor refused, however, encouraged by Milk and other progressives to fill White’s spot with a more liberal board member. For White, who was convinced that men like Moscone and Milk were driving his city “downhill,” it was a devastating blow.

On November 27, 1978, White entered City Hall with a loaded .38 revolver. He avoided the metal detectors by entering through a basement window that had been negligently left open for ventilation. His first stop was at the mayor’s office, where he and Moscone begun arguing, eventually moving to a private room so that they could not be heard. Once there, Moscone again refused to re-appoint White, and White shot the mayor twice in the chest and twice in the head. White then went down the corridor and shot Milk, twice in the chest, once in the back and twice again in the head. Soon after, he turned himself in at the police station where he used to work.

White’s trial was marked by what came to be known as the “Twinkie Defense,” as his laywers claimed that the normally stable White had grown slovenly prior to the shootings due to abandoning his usually healthy diet and instead indulging in sugary junk food such as Coke, doughnuts and Twinkies. In a surprising move, a jury convicted White of voluntary manslaughter rather than murder, and White would subsequently serve just six years in prison. In 1985, a year after his release, a distressed White committed suicide.

As a result of White’s downgraded conviction, peaceful demonstrations by Castro’s gay community outside City Hall turned violent. More than 5,000 policemen responded by entering nightclubs armed with truncheons and assaulting patrons. By the riots’ end, 124 people were injured, including 59 policemen. This episode is known in history as “The White Night Riots.”

In the years since the killings, Milk’s legacy as a leader and pioneer has endured, with numerous books and films made about his life. In 2008, Sean Penn starred as Milk in the acclaimed biopic Milk. Penn ended up winning the 2009 Academy Award for best actor for his portrayal of the slain politician.

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Happy 107th Birthday Jimmy Stewart

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Today is the 107th birthday of Jimmy Stewart.  Chances are that one of your favorite classic movies also happens to be one of his.  Some of my favorites of his are:  After The Thin Man, Mr. Smith Goes To Washington, The Philadelphia Story, Rear Window and  The Man Who Knew Too Much.  I could have gone on naming more, I could have just copied his IMDB listings and it would have been accurate.  The world is a better place because he was in it and still feels the loss that he has left.

NAME:  Jimmy Stewart
OCCUPATION:  Film Actor, Theater Actor
BIRTH DATE:  May 20, 1908
DEATH DATE:  July 2, 1997
EDUCATION:  Princeton University
PLACE OF BIRTH:  Indiana, Pennsylvania
PLACE OF DEATH:  Beverly Hills, California

Best Known For: Jimmy Stewart was a major motion-picture star known for his portrayals of diffident but morally resolute characters in films such as It’s a Wonderful Life.

One of film’s most beloved actors, Jimmy Stewart made more than 80 films in his lifetime. He was known for his everyman quality, which made him both appealing and accessible to audiences. Stewart grew up in the small town of Indiana, Pennsylvania, where his father operated a hardware store.

Stewart got his first taste of performing during his time as a young man. At Princeton University, he acted in shows as a member of the Triangle Club, which put on shows. Stewart earned a degree in architecture in 1932, but he never practiced the trade. Instead he joined the University Players in Falmouth, Massachusetts, the summer after he graduated. There Stewart met fellow actor Henry Fonda, who became a lifelong friend.

That same year, Stewart made his Broadway debut in Carrie Nation. The show didn’t fare well, but he soon found more stage roles. In 1935, Stewart landed a movie contract with MGM and headed out west.

In his early Hollywood days, Stewart shared an apartment with Henry Fonda. The tall, lanky actor worked a number of films before co-starring with Eleanor Powell in the 1936 popular musical comedy Born to Dance. The movie featured the Cole Porter hit “Easy to Love.” Another career breakthrough came with Frank Capra’s You Can’t Take It With You (1938). This comedy won an Academy Award for Best Picture, and made Stewart a star.

Stewart also played the lead in Capra’s Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939). In this film, he portrayed a young, idealistic politician who takes on corruption. Stewart received his first Academy Award nomination for this film. The following year, he took home Oscar gold for The Philadelphia Story. Stewart co-starred with Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant, two other major movie stars, in the romantic comedy.

From 1941 to 1946, Stewart took a break from his acting career to serve in World War II. He joined the U.S. Air Force and rose up through the ranks to become a colonel by war’s end. In 1946, Stewart returned to the big screen with It’s a Wonderful Life directed by Frank Capra. This film tells the story about a man brought back from the verge of suicide by a guardian angel and visions of the world without him. It was a disappointment at the box office, but it became a holiday favorite over the years. Stewart reportedly considered it to be one of his favorite films.

Stewart soon starred in Harvey (1950), a humorous movie about a man with an imaginary rabbit for a friend. But he seemed to be less interested in doing this type of lighthearted film in his later career. Stewart sought out grittier fare after the war, appearing in Anthony Mann’s westerns Winchester ’73 (1950) and Broken Arrow (1950). He also became a favorite of director Alfred Hitchcock, who cast in several thrillers. They first worked together on Rope (1948). Vertigo (1958) is considered by many to be Hitchcock’s masterpiece and one of Stewart’s best performances. The following year, Stewart also won rave reviews for his work in Otto Preminger’s Anatomy of a Murder.

In the 1970s, Stewart made two attempts at series television. He starred on The Jimmy Stewart Show, a sitcom, which ran from 1971 to 1972. The following year, he switched to drama with Hawkins. Stewart played a small-town lawyer on the show, which proved to be short-lived. Around this time, he also made a few film appearances. Stewart worked opposite John Wayne, Lauren Bacall and Ron Howard in the 1976 western The Shootist.

Stewart became the recipient of numerous tributes during the 1980s for his substantial career. In 1984, Steward picked up an honorary Academy Award “for his high ideals both on and off the screen.” By the 1990s, Stewart had largely stepped out of the public eye. He was deeply affected by the death of his wife Gloria in 1994. The couple had been married since 1949 and had twin daughters together. He also became a father to her two sons from a previous marriage. Jimmy and Gloria Stewart were one of Hollywood’s most enduring couples, and his apparent love and commitment to her added to his reputation as an upstanding and honorable person.

Poor health plagued Stewart in his final years. He died on July 2, 1997, in Beverly Hills, California. While he may be gone, his movies have lived on and inspired countless other performers. Stewart’s warmth, good humor and easy charm have left a lasting impression on American pop culture.

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Happy 69th Birthday Cher

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Today is the 69th birthday of Cher.  Love her or love her, there are any number of reasons you love her more, any decade that you love more, any humanitarian cause you love more, but you love her.  She is bad ass at everything she does, be it a Vegas show that would kill performers half her age or calling into C-SPAN to support body armor for our troops.  You love her, it is in our American DNA to love her.  The world is a better place because she is in it.

NAME: Cher
OCCUPATION: Film Actress, Singer
BIRTH DATE: May 20, 1946
PLACE OF BIRTH: El Centro, California
ORIGINALLY: Cherilyn Sarkisian

BEST KNOWN FOR: Equally famous for her unusual outfits as for her musical talent, Cher is a singer and actress who got her start as half of Sonny and Cher in the 1960s.

Cher  (born Cherilyn Sarkisian on May 20, 1946) is an American recording artist, television personality, actress, director, record producer and philanthropist. Referred to as the Goddess of Pop, she has won an Academy Award, a Grammy Award, an Emmy Award, three Golden Globes and a Cannes Film Festival Award among others for her work in film, music and television. She is the only person in history to have received all of these awards. Cher began her career as a backup singer and later came to prominence as one half of the pop rock duo Sonny & Cher with the success of their song “I Got You Babe” in 1965. She subsequently established herself as a solo recording artist, and became a television star in 1971 with The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour, a variety show for which she won a Golden Globe. A well received performance in the film Silkwood earned her a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress of 1983. In the following years, Cher starred in a string of hit films including Mask, The Witches of Eastwick, and Moonstruck, for which she won the Academy Award for Best Actress of 1987.

Cher, throughout a career spanning over 45 years, has broken many records. She is the only artist to reach number one on the Billboard charts in each of the previous six decades. Her hit dance single “Believe” is her biggest-selling recording and was the best-selling single of 1999, having sold over 10 million copies worldwide. She holds the Hot 100 record for the longest hit-making career span, with 33 years between the release of her first and most recent Billboard Hot 100 #1 singles, in 1965 and 1999 and 45 years between her first and most recent #1 ranking on any Billboard chart Cher ended her 3-year-long “Farewell Tour” in 2005 as the most successful tour by a female solo artist of all time. Cher has sold over 100 million albums worldwide. After a three-year hiatus and retirement from touring, Cher returned to the stage in May 2008 at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas where she performed her show Cher at the Colosseum until February 2011. Cher has a deep contralto vocal range.

Unlike her late ex-husband Sonny Bono, Cher has always been a staunch Democrat. She has attended and performed at Democratic Party conventions and events. Today, she considers herself a Democrat by default, but more of an Independent. Cher has always defined herself as an anti-war activist; she demonstrated against the Vietnam War, and the video for “Turn Back Time” in 1989 was sometimes interpreted as an admonition against the military: “Make love, not war.”  On October 27, 2003, Cher anonymously called a C-SPAN phone-in program. She recounted a visit she had made to maimed soldiers at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center and criticized the lack of media coverage and government attention given to injured servicemen.  She also remarked that she watches C-SPAN every day. Though she simply identified herself as an unnamed entertainer with the USO, she was recognized by the C-SPAN host.

On Memorial Day weekend in 2006, Cher called in again, endorsing Operation Helmet, an organization started by a doctor that provides helmet upgrade kits free of charge to troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as to those ordered to deploy in the near future. She identified herself as a caller from Malibu, California, and proceeded to complain about the current presidential administration. She read aloud a letter from a soldier on the ground in Iraq, praising Operation Helmet’s efforts, and decrying the lack of protection afforded by the military’s provisions for troops. It has been reported that Cher has so far donated over US$130,000 to Operation Helmet.

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Happy 63rd Birthday Grace Jones

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Today is the 62nd birthday of the absolutely ageless Grace Jones.  I first experienced her when she and Adam Ant made a Honda Elite Scooter commercial.  I thought they were both the coolest people I had ever seen.  I still think they are.  The world is a better place because she is in it.

Birth name: Grace Jones
Born: 19 May 1952  Linstead, St. Catherine, Jamaica
Occupations: actress, singer/songwriter, model, artist

Grace Jones (born May 19, 1952) is a Jamaican-American singer, model and actress.
Jones started out as a model and became a muse to Andy Warhol, who photographed her extensively. During that era she regularly went to the New York City nightclub Studio 54. Grace secured a record deal with Island Records in 1977, which resulted in a string of dance-club hits. In the late 1970s, she adapted the emerging electronic music style and adopted a severe, androgynous look with square-cut hair and angular, padded clothes. Many of her the singles were hits on Billboard’s Hot Dance Club Play and Hot Dance Airplay charts, for example 1981 “Pull Up to the Bumper“, which spent seven weeks at #2 on the U.S. dance chart. Jones was able to find mainstream success in Europe, particularly the United Kingdom, scoring a number of Top 40 entries on the UK Singles Chart. Her most notable albums are Warm Leatherette, Nightclubbing and Slave to the Rhythm, while her biggest hits (other than “Pull Up to the Bumper”) are “I’ve Seen That Face Before (Libertango)”, “Private Life”, “Slave to the Rhythm” and “I’m Not Perfect (But I’m Perfect for You)”.

Jones is also an actress. Her acting occasionally overshadowed her musical output in America; but not in Europe, where her profile as a recording artist was much higher. She appeared in some low-budget films in the 1970s and early 1980s. Her work as an actress in mainstream film began in the 1984 fantasy-action film Conan the Destroyer alongside Arnold Schwarzenegger, and the 1985 James Bond movie A View to a Kill. In 1986 she played a vampire in Vamp, and both acted in and contributed a song to the 1992 film Boomerang with Eddie Murphy. In 2001, she appeared in Wolf Girl alongside Tim Curry.

grace-jones

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Happy 74th Birthday Nora Ephron

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Today is the 74th birthday of the undeniably brilliant Nora Ephron.  Her list of things she will and won’t miss after she dies is heartbreaking, centering, and hilarious.  The world is a better place because there was a Nora Ephron.  The world is a better place because she was in it and still feels the loss that she has left.

NAME: Nora Ephron
OCCUPATION: Screenwriter, Director, Journalist
BIRTH DATE: May 19, 1941
DEATH DATE: June 26, 2012
EDUCATION: Wellesley College
PLACE OF BIRTH: New York, New York
PLACE OF DEATH: Manhattan, New York

Best Known For: Nora Ephron wrote and directed modern classic romantic comedies like Sleepless in Seattle, You’ve Got Mail and 2009’s Julie & Julia.

Nora Ephron was born on May 19, 1941 in New York, New York. A talented writer and director, Ephron is known for her successful romantic comedies, such as When Harry Met Sally (1989) and Sleepless in Seattle (1993). The daughter of writers, she grew up in Los Angeles, feeling much like an outsider. She went east to go to school at Wellesley College in Massachusetts.

Gifted with a sharp wit, Ephron first made her mark as an essayist. In 1970, her articles collected and published in 1970’s Wallflower at the Orgy and 1975’s Crazy Salad. Her first novel, Heartburn (1983), drew inspiration from the end of her second marriage and was later made into a film starring Meryl Streep and Jack Nicholson.

Around this time, Ephron made the leap into films, writing the screenplay for the drama Silkwood (1983). It earned her an Academy Award nomination for Best Screenplay. While that film received much praise, she really hit box office gold with her screenplay for When Harry Met Sally, starring Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan in the title roles. Audiences and critics alike responded enthusiastically to the well-crafted exploration into whether a man and a woman can be just friends and the relationship that develops between the lead characters. She received her second Academy Award nomination for Best Screenplay for this engaging, humorous film.

In 1992, Ephron directed her first film, This Is My Life. The film was generally well-received, with Time magazine calling it a “charming and quietly confident movie” that is both “adorable and unsentimental.” This family drama centered on a single mother who is pursuing a career in stand-up comedy. Ephron co-wrote the screenplay with her sister, Delia Ephron.

The next year, Ephron directed and wrote the wildly successful Sleepless in Seattle, which featured Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks as two people who live on opposite coasts and fall in love after Ryan hears Hanks on the radio and tracks him down. The film earned more than $120 million at the box office, once again showing Hollywood that Ephron was a formidable filmmaker. She also scored her third Academy Award nomination for Best Screenplay.

Ryan and Hanks reunited for another Ephron film, 1998’s You’ve Got Mail, which played the romantic possibilities created on the anonymity of the Internet. The two played business rivals who don’t know that they had become friends online. The two opposing relationships unfold during the course of the film. Many critics remarked on the dynamic chemistry between the lead actors. In addition to serving as the director on the film, Ephron co-wrote the screenplay with her sister, Delia.

Ephron’s 2005 film effort, Bewitched, failed to strike a cord with movie audiences. In 2006, she returned to her essayist roots with I Feel Bad about My Neck: And Other Thoughts on Being a Woman, offering her readers a comic look at aging and other issues.

In 2009, Ephron received wide acclaim for directing and writing Julie & Julia, a comedy about the lives of famed chef Julia Child and a young, aspiring cook. The film starred actresses Amy Adams and Meryl Streep (Julia Child), and earned nearly $130 million at the box office.

Ephron died from pneumonia, caused by acute myeloid leukemia, on June 26, 2012, at the age of 71. She was survived by her husband of nearly 25 years, screenwriter Nicholas Pileggi; and her two sons, Jacob and Max Bernstein, from her previous marriage to journalist Carl Bernstein, her second husband (Ephron’s first marriage was to Dan Greenburg).

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I Don’t Know His Story

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Last week, I collected all my Dad’s belongings the place he was staying and from the recovery center where he died.  All of his belongings fit into the back of a car.  After I went through everything and donated a lot, what was left fit in a small box. These photographs represent what is left of his physical belongings.  Where the automobiles, furniture, tools and everything else went is anyone’s guess.

Clockwise from Upper Left:  Cribbage Board, Three Cellphones, Pipe, Small Notebook containing Notes and Phone Numbers, Watch/Compass, Wallet, Fishing Lure, Two Decks of Cards, Book About Baseball, Keychain I made in Cub Scouts, Reflective Light, Cribbage Board, Hammer and Multi-Head Screwdriver.

Clockwise from Upper Left: Cribbage Board, Three Cellphones, Pipe, Small Notebook containing Notes and Phone Numbers, Watch/Compass, Wallet, Fishing Lure, Two Decks of Cards, Book About Baseball, Keychain I made in Cub Scouts, Reflective Light, Cribbage Board, Hammer and Multi-Head Screwdriver.

The contents of his wallet leave more questions than answers.  He had a my sister’s baseball card from her little league and my 9th grade school photo, some money, a key, a few different bus passes and a bunch of business cards for doctors.

Contents of Wallet Clockwise from Upper Left:  Transit Passes, Medical Cards, Sister’s Little League Baseball Card, My 9th Grade School Photograph, I.D. Card, Business Cards for Various Doctors, A Key, and $50.55.

Contents of Wallet Clockwise from Upper Left: Transit Passes, Medical Cards, Sister’s Little League Baseball Card, My 9th Grade School Photograph, I.D. Card, Business Cards for Various Doctors, A Key, and $50.55.

My dad died practically homeless.  He had a place to sleep at night, somewhere to keep his belongings, and somewhere that he could make meals, it was one of the back rooms of a business owned by a friend of his.  He would get up early and be gone before the people that worked there showed up and wouldn’t return until after they had left in the evening.  What he did all day and where he went is not known.  He had a bus pass and a lot of doctor appointments which can consume a lot of time, but not all day every day.

Since my dad died, I have been consumed with grief and regret.  I am losing him all over again and regret that I could do nothing about the last 20 years of his life.  He must have been so alone.

I have been walking the long way between the train and work lately, getting off a couple stops early or walking a couple stops further, partially because it has been beautiful out and I love the city, but partially because I see all these men sitting on benches in Pioneer Square, Prefontaine Park and City Hall Park and obsess over their unknown stories.  The prevalent thought is these men are sons, brothers, fathers, husbands, and could easily have been my dad.  These forgotten men.  We don’t know their stories.

I keep repeating in my head I don’t know his story.  I don’t know what happened, what factors fell into place to result in them being alone and on the outskirts of society.  I can’t judge them.  I can’t know their lives.

It is basically me walking around and letting go of all the anger I have had for my father all my life.  He wasn’t the father I thought he should be or the one that I needed or one at all for the last 30 years.  I believe that he wanted to be, but for some reason, he couldn’t.  Maybe he didn’t know how or maybe he thought that he didn’t deserve it.

I don’t know his story.

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