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.

Happy 104th Birthday Maureen O’Sullivan

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NAME: Maureen O’Sullivan
OCCUPATION: Film Actor/Film Actress
BIRTH DATE: May 17, 1911
DEATH DATE: c. 1998
EDUCATION: Convent of the Sacred Heart at Roehampton
PLACE OF BIRTH: Boyle, Ireland

Best Known For: Maureen O’Sullivan was an actress best known for playing Jane in the Tarzan film series opposite Johnny Weismuller.

Actress. Born May 17, 1911, in Boyle, County Roscommon, Ireland. As a child, O’Sullivan attended the Convent of the Sacred Heart at Roehampton, in London, where future screen legend Vivien Leigh was a classmate. At age 18, O’Sullivan was discovered at a horse show in Dublin by Hollywood director Frank Borzage. She moved to Hollywood and started her film career dubiously with the 1930 musical flop Song O?? My Heart co-starring John McCormack. Her first real success came in 1931 with Will Rogers in A Connecticut Yankee.

Legendary producer Irving Thalberg tapped her for what became her most famous role, as Jane in the Tarzan series, opposite Olympic swimmer-turned-actor Johhny Weissmuller.

After 12 years in the movies, O’Sullivan took a break to raise her seven children, Michael, Patrick, Maria (Mia), John, Prudence, Theresa (Tisa), and Stephanie, whom she had with her husband, Australian writer and director John Farrow. She returned to the big screen in 1948, with The Big Clock, directed by her husband.

Her career, spanning 64 years and over 60 films, included Francis Ford Coppola‘s Peggy Sue Got Married(1986) and Hannah and her Sisters(1986) with her daughter Mia, and directed by Mia’s then-boyfriend Woody Allen. O’Sullivan was frequently seen at Mia’s side during her bitter custody battle with Allen.

John Farrow died in 1963. O’Sullivan re-married in 1983, to businessman James Cushing. Her oldest son, Michael, died in a plane crash in 1958 while taking flying lessons. O’Sullivan died in 1998 at the age of 87.

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Happy 96th Birthday Liberace

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Today is the 96th birthday of the showman with the most showmanship there ever was:  Liberace. liberaceNAME: Liberace
OCCUPATION: Pianist
BIRTH DATE: May 16, 1919
DEATH DATE: February 4, 1987
PLACE OF BIRTH: West Allis, Wisconsin
PLACE OF DEATH: Palm Springs, California
ORIGINALLY: Wladziu Valentino Liberace

Best Known For: Liberace was a flamboyant pianist who twice had his own TV show and frequently performed in Las Vegas.

With his unique blend of classical training and over-the-top showmanship, Liberace was one of the most famous performers of the 20th century. Born Wladziu Valentino Liberace on May 16, 1919, in West Allis, Wisconsin, his middle name was taken from one of his mother’s favorite film stars—Rudolph Valentino. Little did she know that her son would develop a devoted following of his own one day.

Both of Liberace’s parents were interested in music, and he began piano lessons very early on in his life. A child prodigy, he began his studies at the Wisconsin College of Music when he was only seven years old. Liberace started performing with orchestras in his early teens.

To make a living, Liberace played in movie theaters and night clubs. He even adopted the stage name “Walter Busterkeys” for a time. Before long Liberace found some success in mixing his love of classical music with more contemporary tunes. His real career breakthrough, however, came in 1951 with the premiere of The Liberace Show. The musical program first aired locally in Los Angeles before going national a few years later.

Viewers—35 million of them at the program’s height—couldn’t get enough of Liberace’s piano prowess and his cherubic charms. With his trademark candelabra resting atop his piano, Liberace played with great ease and glee. His largely female audience also admired for Liberace’s great devotion to his mother Frances. His brother George played the violin on the program and acted as his orchestral arranger.

In addition to his television show, Liberace sold out many of his live concerts and sold millions of records. He even starred in the 1955 film Sincerely Yours, which served as a showcase for his talents. In Las Vegas, Liberace became one of the city’s most popular performers and one of its top-paid stars. He became equally famous for the glitz and glamour of his shows and costumes as he was for his music. In 1956, Liberace was joined on stage by Elvis Presley.

Around this time, however, Liberace’s personal life was turned into a legal drama. He had long been derided for his effeminate ways, and he ended up suing a British publication for libel after the magazine implied that he was gay. Liberace later won another court battle against a British columnist over his comments. While he was later revealed to be gay, Liberace worked hard to conceal this fact to maintain his dominantly female following.

While interest in his television show eventually faded, Liberace remained popular with concert-goers. His shows and costumes seemed to get more elaborate and ostentatious with the years. His hands showcased a number of ornate, piano-shaped rings, and he draped himself in long, heavy fur capes. He even drove to his piano on stage in one of his many luxury automobiles. In the mid-1970s, Liberace decided to give the public a peek into his lavish lifestyle. He transformed his Hollywood home into a museum. He later displayed his collection of costumes, cars and other treasures at his own museum in Las Vegas.

Once again, Liberace found himself in a legal struggle. He was sued by his former bodyguard and chauffer Scott Thorson in 1982. Thorson claimed that he had been in a relationship with Liberace and that Liberace had promised to take care of him and support him. The case was later settled out of court.

Shortly before his death, stories circulated that Liberace had AIDS. He and his staff, however, vehemently denied that the entertainer had the disease. Liberace passed away on February 4, 1987, at his home in Palm Springs, California. Initially, his doctor reported that the showman died of cardiac arrest. Later, an autopsy by the Riverside County coroner concluded that Liberace had actually died of AIDS-related pneumonia.

While some critics have dismissed him for being overly sentimental, Liberace has left a lasting impact on the world of entertainment. His elaborate and sometimes garish style has influenced the likes of Elvis Presley, Elton John and David Bowie to name a few. An HBO film celebrating Liberace’s life is slated to be released in 2013, with Michael Douglas playing the legendary showman.

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Hapy 85th Birthday Jasper Johns

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Today is the 85th birthday of the the best American Abstract Expressionist artist alive, maybe the best American Abstract Expressionist artist, maybe the best Abstract Expressionist artist.  It’s all about who you ask, I guess.  Thank you for asking.  The best American Abstract Expressionist artist alive is having his 85th birthday today:  Jasper Johns.  I love his work.  I can remember sitting in the college library looking through art books and being mesmerized by his paintings, how iconic and pedestrian are mixed into beautiful imagery.

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NAME: Jasper Johns
OCCUPATION: Painter, Sculptor
BIRTH DATE: May 15, 1930
PLACE OF BIRTH: Augusta, Georgia
ZODIAC SIGN: Taurus

Best Known For:  Jasper Johns is an American printmaker, painter, and sculptor. His work depicts commonplace emblems, such as flags and maps, that he raises to iconic status.

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Jasper Johns was born in 1930 in Augusta, Georgia, and raised in South Carolina. He began drawing as a young child, and from the age of five knew he wanted to be an artist. For three semesters he attended the University of South Carolina at Columbia, where his art teachers urged him to move to New York, which he did in late 1948. There he saw numerous exhibitions and attended the Parsons School of Design for a semester. After serving two years in the army during the Korean War, stationed in South Carolina and Sendai, Japan, he returned to New York in 1953. He soon became friends with the artist Robert Rauschenberg (born 1925), also a Southerner, and with the composer John Cage and the choreographer Merce Cunningham.

Together with Rauschenberg and several Abstract Expressionist painters of the previous generation, Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, and Barnett Newman, Johns is one of most significant and influential American painters of the twentieth century. He also ranks with Dürer, Rembrandt, Goya, Munch, and Picasso as one of the greatest printmakers of any era. In addition, he makes many drawings—unique works on paper, usually based on a painting he has previously painted—and he has created an unusual body of sculptural objects.

Johns’ early mature work, of the mid- to late 1950s, invented a new style that helped to engender a number of subsequent art movements, among them Pop, Minimal, and Conceptual art. The new style has usually been understood to be coolly antithetical to the expressionistic gestural abstraction of the previous generation. This is partly because, while Johns’ painting extended the allover compositional techniques of Abstract Expressionism, his use of these techniques stresses conscious control rather than spontaneity.

Johns’ early style is perfectly exemplified by the lush reticence of the large monochrome White Flag of 1955. This painting was preceded by a red, white, and blue version, Flag, and followed by numerous drawings and prints of flags in various mediums, including the elegant oil on paper Flag. In 1958, Johns painted Three Flags, in which three canvases are superimposed on one another in what appears to be reverse perspective, projecting toward the viewer.

The American flag subject is typical of Johns’ use of quotidian imagery in the mid- to late 1950s. As he explained, the imagery derives from “things the mind already knows,” utterly familiar icons such as flags, targets, stenciled numbers, ale cans, and, slightly later, maps of the U.S.

It has been suggested that the American flag in Johns’ work is an autobiographical reference, because a military hero after whom he was named, Sergeant William Jasper, raised the flag in a brave action during the Revolutionary War. Because a flag is a flat object, it may signify flatness or the relative lack of depth in much modernist painting. The flag may of course function as an emblem of the United States and may in turn connote American art, Senator Joseph McCarthy, or the Vietnam War, depending on the date of Johns’ use of the image, the date of the viewer’s experience of it, or the nationality of the viewer. Or the flag may connote none of these things. Used in Johns’ recent work, for example, The Seasons (Summer), an intaglio print of 1987, it seems inescapably to refer to his own art. In other words, the meaning of the flag in Johns’ art suggests the extent to which the “meaning” of this subject matter may be fluid and open to continual reinterpretation.

As Johns became well known—and perhaps as he realized his audience could be relied upon to study his new work—his subjects with a demonstrable prior existence expanded. In addition to popular icons, Johns chose images that he identified in interviews as things he had seen—for example, a pattern of flagstones he glimpsed on a wall while driving. Still later, the “things the mind already knows” became details from famous works of art, such as the Isenheim Altarpiece by Matthias Grünewald, which Johns began to trace onto his work in 1981. Throughout his career, Johns has included in most of his art certain marks and shapes that clearly display their derivation from factual, unimagined things in the world, including handprints and footprints, casts of parts of the body, or stamps made from objects found in his studio, such as the rim of a tin can.

 

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The Grapes of Wrath – Required Viewing

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The Grapes of Wrath is a heartbreakingly beautiful book, masterfully turned into a film that holds it’s own against all other as one of the best ever made.  There are so many reasons why it is great:  directed by John Ford, the plot of a John Steinbeck novel, produced by Darryl F. Zanuck, starred Henry Fonda and Jane Darwell.  With that combination, there is no failing.  The film tears you apart and leaves you with hope and determination.  It is spectacularly brilliant and well worth the 129 minutes of your life.  Please do yourselves a favor and watch The Grapes of Wrath again or for the first time, you will be very pleased with the decision.
Grapes of Wrath

Directed by: John Ford
Produced by: Darryl F. Zanuck, Nunnally Johnson
Screenplay by: Nunnally Johnson
Based on: The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
Starring: Henry Fonda, Jane Darwell, John Carradine, Shirley Mills, John Qualen, Eddie Quillan
Distributed by: 20th Century Fox
Release dates: January 24, 1940 (United States)
Budget: $800,000
Box office: $2.5 million

The Grapes of Wrath is a 1940 drama film directed by John Ford. It was based on John Steinbeck’s 1939 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel of the same name. The screenplay was written by Nunnally Johnson and the executive producer was Darryl F. Zanuck.

The film tells the story of the Joads, an Oklahoma family, who, after losing their farm during the Great Depression in the 1930s, become migrant workers and end up in California. The motion picture details their arduous journey across the United States as they travel to California in search of work and opportunities for the family members.

In 1989, this film was one of the first 25 films to be selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”

The film opens with Tom Joad (Henry Fonda), released from prison and hitchhiking his way back to his parents’ family farm in Oklahoma. Tom finds an itinerant ex-preacher named Jim Casy (John Carradine) sitting under a tree by the side of the road. Casy was the preacher who baptized Tom, but now Casy has “lost the spirit” and his faith (presaging his imminent conversion to communism). Casy goes with Tom to the Joad property only to find it deserted. There, they meet Muley Graves (John Qualen) who is hiding out. In a flashback, he describes how farmers all over the area were forced from their farms by the deed holders of the land. A local boy (Irving Bacon), hired for the purpose, is shown knocking down Muley’s house with a Caterpillar tractor. Following this, Tom and Casy move on to find the Joad family at Tom’s Uncle John’s place. His family is happy to see Tom and explain they have made plans to head for California in search of employment, as their farm has been foreclosed on by the bank. The large Joad family of twelve leaves at daybreak, along with Casy who decides to accompany them. They pack everything into a dilapidated 1926 Hudson “Super Six” sedan adapted to serve as a truck in order to make the long journey to the promised land of California.

The trip along Highway 66 is arduous, and it soon takes a toll on the Joad family. The elderly Grandpa (Charley Grapewin) dies along the way. Tom writes the circumstances surrounding the death on a page from the family Bible and places it on the body before they bury it so that if his remains were found, his death would not be investigated as a possible homicide. They park in a camp and meet a man, a migrant returning from California, who laughs at Pa’s optimism about conditions in California. He speaks bitterly about his experiences in the West.

The family arrives at the first transient migrant campground for workers and finds the camp is crowded with other starving, jobless and desperate travelers. Their truck slowly makes its way through the dirt road between the shanty houses and around the camp’s hungry-faced inhabitants. Tom says, “Sure don’t look none too prosperous.”

After some trouble with a so-called “agitator”, the Joads leave the camp in a hurry. The Joads make their way to another migrant camp, the Keene Ranch. After doing some work in the fields, they discover the high food prices in the company store for meat and other products. The store is the only one in the area, by a long shot. Later they find a group of migrant workers are striking, and Tom wants to find out all about it. He goes to a secret meeting in the dark woods. When the meeting is discovered, Casy is killed by one of the camp guards. As Tom tries to defend Casy from the attack, he inadvertently kills the guard.

Tom suffers a serious wound on his cheek, and the camp guards realize it will not be difficult to identify him. That evening the family hides Tom under the mattresses of the truck just as guards arrive to question them; they are searching for the man who killed the guard. Tom avoids being spotted and the family leaves the Keene Ranch without further incident. After driving for a while, they have to stop at the top of a hill when the engine overheats due to a broken fan belt; they have little gas, but decide to try coasting down the hill to some lights. The lights are from a third type of camp: Farmworkers’ Wheat Patch Camp (Weedpatch in the book), a clean camp run by the Department of Agriculture, complete with indoor toilets and showers, which the Joad children had never seen before.

Tom is moved to work for change by what he has witnessed in the various camps. He tells his family that he plans to carry on Casy’s mission in the world by fighting for social reform. He leaves to seek a new world and to join the movement committed to social justice.

Tom Joad says:

I’ll be all around in the dark. I’ll be everywhere. Wherever you can look, wherever there’s a fight, so hungry people can eat, I’ll be there. Wherever there’s a cop beatin’ up a guy, I’ll be there. I’ll be in the way guys yell when they’re mad. I’ll be in the way kids laugh when they’re hungry and they know supper’s ready, and when the people are eatin’ the stuff they raise and livin’ in the houses they build, I’ll be there, too.

As the family moves on again, they discuss the fear and difficulties they have had. Ma Joad concludes the film, saying:

I ain’t never gonna be scared no more. I was, though. For a while it looked as though we was beat. Good and beat. Looked like we didn’t have nobody in the whole wide world but enemies. Like nobody was friendly no more. Made me feel kinda bad and scared too, like we was lost and nobody cared…. Rich fellas come up and they die, and their kids ain’t no good and they die out, but we keep a-coming. We’re the people that live. They can’t wipe us out, they can’t lick us. We’ll go on forever, Pa, cos we’re the people.

 

 

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