West End Blues


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louis armstrong

It was on this date in 1928 that Louis Armstrong and his band the Hot Five recordedWest End Blues.” Armstrong was 26 years old at the time and living in Chicago, where he’d been for six years. He’d moved there from New Orleans as part of Joe “King” Oliver‘s band; Oliver had been a friend and mentor to the young singer and trumpeter since Armstrong was a teenager. They parted ways in 1925. Oliver composed “West End Blues” and had just recorded his own version a few weeks earlier, but Armstrong’s cover, recorded in Chicago’s OKeh studio, is legendary. It features Earl “Fatha” Hines on piano, and it’s one of the first recorded examples of Armstrong’s trademark “scat” singing.

The recording took the jazz world by storm. An ecstatic audience carried Armstrong off the stage when he performed the song live one night. Composer Gunther Schuller wrote that the record “made it clear jazz could never again revert to being entertainment or folk music. The clarion call of ‘West End Blues’ served notice that jazz could compete with the highest order of musical expression. Like any profoundly creative innovation, [it] summarized the past and predicted the future.”

Rear View Mirror – My Week In Review


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This is my 72nd Week In Review that I have done. This week (or since my last update on June 8th), I have discovered more of my father’s story through the help of his high school classmates and some of the people he encountered on a daily basis. It has been amazing to get to see him as a person.

This week I got some more done on a tattoo that is on my neck. I will unveil it when it is not covered with bandages.

This week, I got my DNA test results from Ancestry.com. My father and his twin sister were adopted at birth. There was a lot of speculation as to the circumstances surrounding their adoption and even their heritage. Ancestry has identified several third cousins and even a possible first cousin and has also debunked the family story that they were descendants of Pocahontas. Only one person has replied to my inquiries, and they didn’t know of any family members that gave up twin babies. I will keep investigating. They also break down my nationality and I am 40% Western European, 31% Scandinavian, 11% Finish/Northwest Russian, 9% Irish, 4% British, 3% Spanish/Portegese, and 2% Asian (Caucasus and the various ‘stans). That is interesting. I also took the raw DNA data and ran it though a few tools to get my disease predisposition, they told me that my paternal bloodline originate about 22,000 years ago and is typical of people from Southeastern Europe.

This week on Waldina, I celebrated the birthdays of Cole Porter, Andre Derain, Paul Lynde, Brian Duffy, Margaret Bourke-White, Stravinsky, Wallis Simpson, Al Hirschfeld, Billy Wilder, Bob Fosse, George Orwell, Pear S. Buck and added Night on Earth to the required viewing film series.

The Stats:

Visits This Week: 2,420
Total Visits: 203,772
Total Subscribers: 404
Total Posts: 1,609
Most Popular Post Last Week: I Don’t Know His Story

This week (ok, month) on Wasp & Pear over on Tumblr, I posted a lot of photographs of things that inspire me. You should just take a look…

The Stats:

Posts This Week: 169
Total Posts: 7,047
Total Subscribers: 364

Over on @TheRealSPA part of Twitter, I tweeted to @SoundTransit that perhaps decorating a train to look like a school bus would be fun. I have not yet received a response.

The Stats:

Total Tweets: 1,213 (tweets over 31 days old are automatically deleted to preserve freshness)
Total Followers: 606
Total Following: 742

This week on @TheRealSPA Instagram, I posted photos of most of the people whose birthdays I celebrated on Waldina, a photo of my tattoos and a pic of Scraps hiding in a bush. Too much.

The Stats:

Total Posts: 484
Total Followers: 193
Total Following: 251

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Happy 123rd Birthday Pearl S. Buck


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Today is the 123rd of the author and Nobel Prize Winner Pearl S. Buck.  Her stories stand the test of time and help define an era.  Her life story alone is enough to become fascinated by her and want to know more.  Do yourself a favor and read some of her work this summer.  The world is a better place because she was in it and still feels the loss because she has left.

NAME: Pearl S. Buck
OCCUPATION: Civil Rights Activist, Women’s Rights Activist, Author
BIRTH DATE: June 26, 1892
DEATH DATE: March 06, 1973
PLACE OF BIRTH: Hillsboro, West Virginia
PLACE OF DEATH: Danby, Vermont
AKA: Sai Zhenzhu
ORIGINALLY: Pearl Comfort Sydenstricker

BEST KNOWN FOR: Pearl S. Buck was the first American woman to be awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. Her novel The Good Earth won the Pulitzer in 1932.

Today is the birthday of novelist Pearl S. Buck, born in Hillsboro, West Virginia (1892). Her parents were Christian missionaries in China who returned to America for Pearl’s birth. But when she was three months old, they headed back to China. Buck’s father, Absalom, was a fundamentalist Presbyterian preacher — and a distant father. In many of the villages where he traveled, he was the first white person the villagers had ever seen, and they were put off by him. They were unimpressed by his fire-and-brimstone sermons, and he estimated that he converted about 10 people over the course of 10 years. Still, he kept trying. Pearl’s mother, Caroline, resented being so far from her home in West Virginia. She tried her best to keep the mud walls and floors of their hut clean, and she planted American flowers everywhere. Finally, when Pearl was four, she told her husband that they were moving to a city or she was going home. So they moved to the city of Zhenjiang, but all they could afford there were three crowded rooms in an apartment in one of the poorest sections of the city, a district full of prostitutes and drug addicts. Absalom and Caroline receive a small stipend for their work as missionaries, but Absalom squandered much of the family’s budget on his pet project: translating the New Testament into Chinese. He spent 30 years working on it. Buck wrote: “He printed edition after edition, revising each to make it more perfect, and all her life [my mother] went poorer because of the New Testament. It robbed her of the tiny margin between bitter poverty and small comfort.

Chinese was Buck’s first language, and her nurse told her bedtime stories about dragons and tree spirits. As a young girl in the village, she wandered through the countryside. In the city, she and her brother explored the streets and markets, watching puppet shows and sampling food. She was embarrassed by her blue eyes and blond hair, but she didn’t let it hold her back. She enthusiastically joined in local celebrations, big funerals and parties.

When Buck was a teenager, her parents sent her to an English-language school for foreign girls like her. She did not fit in and was lonely, but fascinated by Shanghai. As a pupil, she was required to teach a knitting class at the Door of Hope, a shelter for girls and women who had been forced into prostitution and sex slavery. Usually, the white students from Miss Jewell’s did not speak Chinese, but since Buck did, the women there told her all their stories of rape, abuse, and violence.

After a year there, Buck went to Randolph-Macon Women’s College in Lynchburg, Virginia. She arrived as a total misfit. A woman named Emma Edmunds, a rural girl who became one of Buck’s best friends at college, said about that first day: “I saw this one girl and she looked even more countrified than me. Her dress was made of Chinese grass linen and nobody else had anything like that. It had a high neck and long sleeves, and her hair was in a braid turned under at the back.” But she cut her hair and bought some American clothes, and she managed to fit in well enough.

After college, Buck went back to China, where she met an American agricultural economist and missionary named John Lossing Buck. They were married, and in 1921 she gave birth to a daughter, Carol. But things began to fall apart. Her mother died not long after Carol was born, and her father moved in with the young couple. Her father and husband disliked each other, and increasingly, she didn’t like either of them very much. Her daughter, Carol, had a rare developmental disability. On top of everything, the political situation in China was so tense that at one point the Bucks had to hide in the basement of a peasant family’s home to escape Nationalist soldiers, and they ended up fleeing to Japan as refugees.

In 1929, Buck took nine-year-old Carol to an institution in New Jersey, where she hoped she would receive better care than Buck could provide — she called it “the hardest thing I ever did.” She didn’t have enough money to pay for the expensive tuition, so she borrowed money from a member of the Mission Board. Her marriage fell apart, and she was even more desperate for money, so she started writing. Her first novel was called East Wind, West Wind (1930), and she hoped it would cover the school fees, but it didn’t sell well. The following year she published The Good Earth (1931), chronicling the dramatic life of a Chinese peasant farmer named Wang Lung from his wedding day through his old age. The Good Earth was a huge best-seller, and Buck won the Pulitzer Prize and, a few years later, the Nobel Prize in literature.

In her Nobel acceptance speech, she said: ” My earliest knowledge of story, of how to tell and write stories, came to me in China. […] Story belongs to the people. They are sounder judges of it than anyone else, for their senses are unspoiled and their emotions are free.”

Happy Birthday George Orwell


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Today is the 111th birthday of the little boy who’s first word was “beastly” and became George Orwell.  For some reason, they showed the animated version of Animal Farm in school.  I remember finding it exceptionally disturbing, which is the correct response, but I also remember thinking that it was a strange thing to show grade school children.  The first time I read 1984 was in 1984.  My grandmother was the librarian at our local public library at the time and it was one of the most popular books of the year, so she said I needed to read it quickly because people were waiting.  I have read it since and think I probably missed a lot the first time around.  I have included full length videos of both below.  The world is a better place because he was in it and still feels the loss than he left.

NAME: George Orwell
OCCUPATION: Author, Journalist
BIRTH DATE: June 25, 1903
DEATH DATE: January 21, 1950
PLACE OF BIRTH: Motihari, India
PLACE OF DEATH: London, United Kingdom

BEST KNOWN FOR: George Orwell was an English novelist, essayist, and critic most famous for his novels Animal Farm (1945) and Nineteen Eighty-four (1949).

Born Eric Arthur Blair, George Orwell created some of the sharpest satirical fiction of the 20th century with such works as Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four. He was a man of strong opinions who addressed some of the major political movements of his times, including imperialism, fascism and communism.

The son of a British civil servant, George Orwell spent his first days in India, where his father was stationed. His mother brought him and his older sister, Marjorie, to England about a year after his birth and settled in Henley-on-Thames. His father stayed behind in India and rarely visited. (His younger sister, Avril, was born in 1908.) Orwell didn’t really know his father until he retired from the service in 1912. And even after that, the pair never formed a strong bond. He found his father to be dull and conservative.

According to one biography, Orwell’s first word was “beastly.” He was a sick child, often battling bronchitis and the flu. Orwell was bit by the writing bug at an early age, reportedly composing his first poem around the age of four. He later wrote, “I had the lonely child’s habit of making up stories and holding conversations with imaginary persons, and I think from the very start my literary ambitions were mixed up with the feeling of being isolated and undervalued.” One of his first literary successes came at the age of 11 when he had a poem published in the local newspaper.

Like many other boys in England, Orwell was sent to boarding school. In 1911 he went to St. Cyprian’s in the coastal town of Eastbourne, where he got his first taste of England’s class system. On a partial scholarship, Orwell noticed that the school treated the richer students better than the poorer ones. He wasn’t popular with his peers, and in books he found comfort from his difficult situation. He read works by Rudyard Kipling and H. G. Wells, among others. What he lacked in personality, he made up for in smarts. Orwell won scholarships to Wellington College and Eton College to continue his studies.

After completing his schooling at Eton, Orwell found himself at a dead end. His family did not have the money to pay for a university education. Instead he joined the India Imperial Police Force in 1922. After five years in Burma, Orwell resigned his post and returned to England. He was intent on making it as a writer.

After leaving the India Imperial Force, Orwell struggled to get his writing career off the ground. His first major work, Down and Out in Paris and London, (1933) explored his time eking out a living in these two cities. Orwell took all sorts of jobs to make ends meet, including being a dishwasher. The book provided a brutal look at the lives of the working poor and of those living a transient existence. Not wishing to embarrass his family, the author published the book under the pseudonym George Orwell.

Sometimes called the conscience of a generation, Orwell next explored his overseas experiences in Burmese Days, published in 1934. The novel offered a dark look at British colonialism in Burma, then part of the country’s Indian empire. Orwell’s interest in political matters grew rapidly after this novel was published. Also around this time, he met Eileen O’Shaughnessy. The pair married in 1936, and Eileen supported and assisted Orwell in his career.

In 1937, Orwell traveled to Spain, where he joined one of the groups fighting against General Francisco Franco in the Spanish Civil War. Orwell was badly injured during his time with a militia, getting shot in the throat and arm. For several weeks, he was unable to speak. Orwell and his wife, Eileen, were indicted on treason charges in Spain. Fortunately, the charges were brought after the couple had left the country.

Other health problems plagued the talented writer not long after his return to England. For years, Orwell had periods of sickness, and he was officially diagnosed with tuberculosis in 1938. He spent several months at the Preston Hall Sanatorium trying to recover, but he would continue to battle with tuberculosis for the rest of his life. At the time he was initially diagnosed, there was no effective treatment for the disease.

To support himself, Orwell took on all sorts of writing work. He wrote numerous essays and reviews over the years, developing a reputation for producing well-crafted literary criticism. In 1941, Orwell landed a job with the BBC as a producer. He developed news commentary and shows for audiences in the eastern part of the British Empire. Orwell enticed such literary greats as T. S. Eliot and E. M. Forster to appear on his programs. With World War II raging on, Orwell found himself acting as a propagandist to advance the country’s side. He loathed this part of his job and resigned in 1943. Around this time, Orwell became the literary editor for a socialist newspaper.

Orwell is best known for two novels, Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four, both of which were published toward the end of his life. Animal Farm (1945) was an anti-Soviet satire in a pastoral setting featuring two pigs as its main protagonists. These pigs were said to represent Josef Stalin and Leon Trotsky. The novel brought Orwell great acclaim and financial rewards.

In 1949, Orwell published another masterwork, Nineteen Eighty-Four (or 1984 in later editions). This bleak vision of the world divided into three oppressive nations stirred up controversy among reviewers, who found this fictional future too despairing. In the novel, Orwell gave readers a glimpse into what would happen if the government controlled every detail of a person’s life, down to their own private thoughts.

Nineteen Eighty-Four proved to be another huge success for the author, but he had little time to enjoy it. By this time, Orwell was in the late stages of his battle with tuberculosis. He died on January 21, 1950, in a London hospital. He may have passed away all too soon, but his ideas and opinions have lived on through his work. Both Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four have been turned into films and have enjoyed tremendous popularity over the years.

Orwell was married to Eileen O’Shaughnessy until her death in 1945. According to several reports, the pair had an open marriage. Orwell had a number of dalliances during this first marriage. In 1944 the couple adopted a son, whom they named Richard Horatio Blair, after one of Orwell’s ancestors. Their son was largely raised by Orwell’s sister Avril after Eileen’s death.

Near the end of his life, Orwell proposed to editor Sonia Brownell. He married her in 1950, only a short time before his death. Brownell inherited Orwell’s estate and made a career out of managing his legacy.

Night on Earth – Required Viewing


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If it has been a while since you have seen this film, you should really consider watching it again, it is brilliant.  I mean, Jim fucking Jarmusch, come on.  I first remember reading a review of this film when it was in theaters and being so intrigued and excited.  So many great people are in it and the stories are so touching, you will smile the whole way through.  night-on-earth

Night on Earth is a 1991 film written and directed by Jim Jarmusch. It is a collection of five vignettes, taking place during the same night, concerning the temporary bond formed between taxi driver and passenger in five cities: Los Angeles, New York, Paris, Rome, and Helsinki. Jarmusch wrote the screenplay in about eight days, and the choice of certain cities was largely based on the actors with whom he wanted to work. The soundtrack of the same name is by Tom Waits.

Los Angeles

As evening falls, tomboy cabby Corky (Winona Ryder) picks up Hollywood executive Victoria Snelling (Gena Rowlands) from the airport, and as Corky drives, Victoria tries to conduct business over the phone. Despite their extreme differences socially, the two develop a certain connection. Sometime during the ride Victoria, who is evidently a talent scout or casting director, discovers that Corky would be ideal for a part in a movie she is casting, but Corky rejects the offer, as she has plans to become a mechanic.

New York

Helmut Grokenberger (Armin Mueller-Stahl), an East German immigrant who was once a clown in his home country, now works in New York as a taxi driver. He picks up a passenger named YoYo (Giancarlo Esposito), a streetwise young man, and attempts to drive him to Brooklyn. Helmut does not really know how to drive with an automatic transmission so he allows YoYo to drive. On their way, they pick up YoYo’s sister-in-law Angela (Rosie Perez). The story revolves around Helmut’s attempts to understand and become a part of the culture of New York.


A blind woman (Béatrice Dalle) goes for a ride at night with a driver (Isaach De Bankolé) from the Ivory Coast. They both take some verbal jabs at each other during the ride. The driver asks his passenger what it’s like to be blind and she attempts to explain to him, but their cultural differences and differences of life experience make things difficult. After he drops off his blind passenger, he feels fascinated by her and gazes in her direction. This inattention to driving causes him to crash into another car, whose driver angrily accuses him of being blind. An ironic twist at the end of the segment turns upon a French pun near the beginning of it: When the driver states his nationality as “Ivoirien,” some other Africans mock him with the punning phrase “Y voit rien” (he can’t see anything).


In the early morning hours, an eccentric cabbie (Roberto Benigni) picks up a priest (Paolo Bonacelli). As he drives, he starts to confess his sins. Much to the priest’s discomfort, he goes into great detail about how he discovered his sexuality first with a pumpkin and then with a sheep, then details a love affair he had with his brother’s wife. The already-ailing priest is shocked by the confession, and has a fatal heart attack.


After an evening spent drinking heavily, three workers, one of whom has just been fired from his job (Kari Väänänen, Sakari Kuosmanen, and Tomi Salmela), climb into a cab to return home. On the way, the workers talk about the terrible situation their now-unconscious friend is in, by being out of work and having to face a divorce and a pregnant daughter. The driver, Mika (Matti Pellonpää), then tells them all the saddest story they have ever heard. The workers are terribly moved and depressed by the story, and even become unsympathetic toward their drunken, laid-off companion. As they arrive home, the sun is beginning to rise.

Happy Birthday Bob Fosse


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Today is the 88th birthday of the choreographer Bob Fosse.  I am partial to Sweet Charity, but Cabaret is pretty much perfection.  He helped propel dance into the widely-recognized and appreciated art form that it is today.  The world is a better place because he was in it and still feels the loss that he has left.

NAME: Bob Fosse
OCCUPATION: Director, Choreographer
BIRTH DATE: June 23, 1927
DEATH DATE: September 23, 1987
PLACE OF BIRTH: Chicago, Illinois
PLACE OF DEATH: Washington, D.C.

BEST KNOWN FOR: Bob Fosse is a choreographer, dancer and director best known for Tony Award-winning musicals including Chicago and Cabaret.

Choreographer Robert Louis Fosse was born in Chicago, Illinois, on June 23, 1927. Fosse took an early interest in dance, displaying unusual skill. His parents supported his interest, enrolling him in formal dance training. By his early teens, Fosse was dancing professionally in local nightclubs. It was here that he was first exposed to the themes of vaudeville and burlesque performance.

Fosse enlisted in the Navy after graduating from high school in 1945. He was still in boot camp when the war came to an end. After fulfilling his military requirement, Fosse settled in New York City and continued to pursue dance. He married and divorced twice while struggling to establish his career.

The first few parts that Fosse landed were as part of a Broadway chorus. In 1953 he appeared briefly in the MGM movie musical Kiss Me Kate (1953). His work attracted the attention of Broadway director George Abbott and choreographer Jerome Robbins.

Fosse choreographed the 1954 show, Pajama Game, which was directed by George Abbott. Fosse’s signature style, which incorporated complex moves and imagery drawn from vaudeville, was instantly popular. Pajama Game earned him his first Tony Award for Best Choreography.

His next musical, Damn Yankees, was another smash. Fosse forged a working relationship with leading dancer Gwen Verdon that would span his career. The two married in 1960 and had a daughter, Nicole.

Hugely successful by 1960, Fosse still faced opposition from director and producers who considered his material was too suggestive. He decided to take on the role of director as well as choreographer in order to maintain the integrity of his artistic vision in Hollywood as well as on Broadway. His subsequent musicals included Sweet Charity, Cabaret and Pippin. The 1972 film version of Cabaret (1972) won eight Academy Awards. Fosse won Tony Awards for direction and choreography for his work on Pippin: His Life and Times (1981). He also won an Emmy for his staging of the television variety show Liza with a Z (1972).

Fosse wrote three additional stage musicals before his death. He survived a heart attack, suffered during rehearsals for Chicago, to write and choreograph the autobiographical film All That Jazz. His later productions were not as successful as earlier work. Big Deal, Fosse’s last musical, was particularly poorly received.

Fosse suffered a heart attack in Washington, D.C., outside of the Willard Hotel on September 23, 1987, and died before reaching the hospital. Fosse remains one of the most distinctive and influential choreographers in history, remembered through Broadway revivals and screenings of his work.

Happy Birthday Billy Wilder


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Billy Wilder was born 109 years ago today.  Do yourself a favor and throw a few of his films on your Netflix queue.  There are so many movies that you should watch, quite a few of them are directed by Billy Wilder. See “Sunset Boulevard,” Wilder’s tale of the true Hollywood that no one had dared to tell before. Make sure you watch the making of the film portion of the DVD, it is brilliant.  The world is a better place because he was in it and still feels the loss that he has left.

NAME: Billy Wilder
OCCUPATION: Director, Producer
BIRTH DATE: June 22, 1906
DEATH DATE: March 27, 2002
EDUCATION: University of Vienna
PLACE OF BIRTH: Sucha, Poland
PLACE OF DEATH: Beverly Hills, California
ORIGINALLY: Samuel Wilder

BEST KNOWN FOR: Billy Wilder is best known for the many films he directed and produced, like Some Like It Hot.

Billy Wilder (22 June 1906 – 27 March 2002) was an Austro-Hungarian born American filmmaker, screenwriter, producer, artist, and journalist, whose career spanned more than 50 years and 60 films. He is regarded as one of the most brilliant and versatile filmmakers of Hollywood’s golden age. Wilder is one of only five people to have won Academy Awards as producer, director, and writer for the same film (The Apartment).

He said, “The only pictures worth making are the ones that are playing with fire.”

some like it hotWilder became a screenwriter in the late 1920s while living in Berlin. After the rise of Nazi Party, Wilder, who was Jewish, left for Paris, where he made his directorial debut. He relocated to Hollywood in 1933, and in 1939 he had a hit when he co-wrote the screenplay to the screwball comedy Ninotchka. Wilder established his directorial reputation after helming Double Indemnity (1944), a film noir he co-wrote with mystery novelist Raymond Chandler. Wilder earned the Best Director and Best Screenplay Academy Awards for the adaptation of a Charles R. Jackson story The Lost Weekend, about alcoholism. In 1950, Wilder co-wrote and directed the critically acclaimed Sunset Boulevard.

From the mid-1950s on, Wilder made mostly comedies. Among the classics Wilder created in this period are the farces The Seven Year Itch (1955) and Some Like It Hot (1959), satires such as The Apartment (1960), and the drama comedy Sabrina (1954). He directed fourteen different actors in Oscar-nominated performances. Wilder was recognized with the American Film Institute (AFI) Life Achievement Award in 1986. In 1988, Wilder was awarded the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award. In 1993, he was awarded the National Medal of Arts. Wilder has attained a significant place in the history of Hollywood censorship for his role in expanding the range of acceptable subject matter.

Wilder holds a significant place in the history of Hollywood censorship for expanding the range of acceptable subject matter. He is responsible for two of the film noir era’s most definitive films in Double Indemnity and Sunset Boulevard. Along with Woody Allen and the Marx Brothers, he leads the list of films on the American Film Institute’s list of 100 funniest American films with 5 films written and holds the honor of holding the top spot with Some Like it Hot. Also on the list are The Apartment and The Seven Year Itch which he directed, and Ball of Fire and Ninotchka which he co-wrote. The American Film Institute has ranked four of Wilder’s films among their top 100 American films of the 20th century: Sunset Boulevard (no. 12), Some Like It Hot (no. 14), Double Indemnity (no. 38) and The Apartment (no. 93). For the tenth anniversary edition of their list, the AFI moved Sunset Blvd. to #16, Some Like it Hot to #22, Double Indemnity to #29 and The Apartment to #80.

wilder 4Spanish filmmaker Fernando Trueba said in his acceptance speech for the 1993 Best Non-English Speaking Film Oscar: “I would like to believe in God in order to thank him. But I just believe in Billy Wilder… so, thank you Mr. Wilder.” According to Trueba, Wilder called him the day after and told him: “Fernando, it’s God.” French filmmaker Michel Hazanavicius also thanked Billy Wilder in the 2012 Best Picture Oscar acceptance speech for The Artist by saying “I would like to thank the following three people, I would like to thank Billy Wilder, I would like to thank Billy Wilder, and I would like to thank Billy Wilder.” Wilder’s 12 Academy Award nominations for screenwriting were a record until 1997 when Woody Allen received a 13th nomination for Deconstructing Harry.

Happy 112th Birthday Al Girschfeld


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Today is the 112th birthday of the illustrator whose style is immediately recognized and universally adored:  Al Hirschfeld.  He is an important part of New York and the Broadway community.  The world is a better place because he was in it and still feels the loss that he has left.

NAME: Al Hirschfeld
OCCUPATION: Painter, Illustrator, Sculptor
BIRTH DATE: June 21, 1903
DEATH DATE: January 20, 2003
EDUCATION: Art Student League of New York
PLACE OF BIRTH: St. Louis, Missouri
PLACE OF DEATH: New York, New York
FULL NAME: Albert Hirschfeld

BEST KNOWN FOR: Al Hirschfeld is known for his stylish caricatures in the New York Times over many decades (beginning 1929) portraying show-business personalities.

Hirschfeld was born in St. Louis, Missouri on June 21, 1903. When he was eleven his family moved to upper Manhattan, where he enrolled in the Art Students League. By the age of seventeen he had already worked for Metro Goldwyn Pictures, and become the artistic director for Selznick Studios. Hirschfeld moved from New York to Paris, where he spent much of the twenties studying art. He was a young man making his way through the art world of Paris and the theatrical world of New York when he stumbled upon his calling.

One evening in 1926, he went to the theater with his friend Richard Maney, the legendary publicity agent. During the show, Hirschfeld sketched the French actor Sacha Guitry on his program. Maney recognized Hirschfeld’s gift instantly and encouraged him to re-create the sketch on a clean sheet of paper. Maney sold the finished piece to the Herald Tribune. Soon, Hirschfeld’s work was appearing in several newspapers. Drawn in the darkened theater, his simple yet distinctive images caught the attention of much of the publishing world and in 1929 he made an exclusive agreement to work with the New York Times.

Working for the New York Times, Hirschfeld’s style gained unparalleled notoriety—becoming synonymous with theatrical fame. You weren’t established until Hirschfeld drew your portrait. His ability to contain the essence of an actor or a performance in a few lines made his work seem both honest and unpretentious. Of his portraiture, Katherine Hepburn warned: “It tells the whole story — terrifying.” For many, however, Hirschfeld’s “whole story” was there first exposure to a greater audience. According to Carol Channing, he was responsible for jump-starting her career. “Al Hirschfeld picked me out of twenty unknowns in a little review called “Lend an Ear”, and put me on the front page of the NEW YORK TIMES.”

Throughout the 1940s, Hirschfeld began to branch out as an artist, illustrating books for authors including S. J. Perlman, Fred Allen, and Brooks Atkinson. He continued to work in many artistic mediums including lithography, watercolor, etching and sculpture. By the 1950s his imagery was universally recognized as an integral part of Broadway and the rest of the theatrical world.

In 1951 he began work on a book for which he was both the author and illustrator—SHOW BUSINESS IS NO BUSINESS (1951). He eventually followed this with THE WORLD OF HIRSCHFELD (1968), in which he elucidated much of his process and autobiography. More than ten years later he published a third book, HIRSCHFELD BY HIRSCHFELD (1979). Throughout his long career, Hirschfeld’s imagery has remained a cornerstone of the industry he loves so much. In their plain, unobtrusive way, they have spoken volumes about their subjects and have documented the modern history of an important American art. Between the actor and the critic, Hirschfeld carved out a place for himself in American theatrical culture.

Al Hirschfeld died on January 20th, 2003, at the age of 99.

Happy Birthday Wallis Simpson


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Today is the 119th birthday of Wallis Simpson.  The king gave up the throne for her.  Her style remained impeccable for her entire life.  Have you seen W.E.?  Brilliant.  The world was a better place because she was in it and still feels the loss that she has left.


NAME: Wallis Simpson
BIRTH DATE: June 19, 1896
DEATH DATE: April 24, 1986
PLACE OF BIRTH: Blue Ridge Summit, Pennsylvania
PLACE OF DEATH: Paris, France
AKA: Wallis Warfield Simpson
Originally: Bessie Wallis Warfield
AKA: Wallis Simpson
Full Name: Wallis, Duchess of Windsor
AKA: Wallis Spencer

Best Known ForAmerican socialite Wallis Simpson became the mistress of Edward, Prince of Wales. Edward abdicated the throne to marry her, a period known as the Abdication Crisis.

Wallis Simpson was born Bessie Wallis Warfield on June 19, 1896, in Blue Ridge Summit, Pennsylvania. The daughter of Baltimoreans Teackle Wallis Warfield and Alice Montague, Wallis dropped her first name during her youth. Her father died of tuberculosis when she was a baby, and Wallis and her mother became dependent on the charity of Wallis’s Uncle Warfield. Wallis became the poor relation, which led to an insecurity that followed her into adulthood. Uncle Warfield paid for Wallis to attend Oldfields School, the most expensive girls’ school in Maryland, where she was at the top of her class and was known for always being immaculately dressed.

In 1916, Wallis met Earl Winfield Spencer Jr., a U.S. Navy aviator. The couple married six months later. Win, as her husband was known, was an alcoholic, and in the course of their marriage was stationed in San Diego, Washington, D.C., and China. He and Wallis would be separated for months at a time. When their marriage began to break down, Wallis spent what she called her “lotus year” in China, traveling alone. Win and Wallis divorced in 1927. Wallis then married Ernest Aldrich Simpson, an English-American shipping executive. They wed in London and moved into a large flat with several servants.

Around this same time, Wallis met Lady Furness, then the mistress of Edward, Duke of Windsor (then known as the Prince of Wales), and on January 10, 1931, Wallis was introduced to the Prince of Wales at an event at Burrough Court. The prince later remembered that Wallis had a cold that night and was not at her best.

In January 1934, Wallis became Prince Edward’s mistress. He denied this to his family, who were outraged at his behavior, but by 1935 she had been presented at court and the couple had vacationed in Europe multiple times together.

On January 20, 1936, George V died, and Edward ascended the throne. It had become clear that Edward planned to marry Wallis as soon as she divorced Simpson. This caused a scandal in Britain that is now known as the “abdication crisis.” The consensus from the Church of England and the conservative British establishment was that Edward could not marry a divorced woman who still had two living ex-husbands. The king’s ministers also disapproved, finding Wallis’s behavior unacceptable. Britons were reluctant to accept an American as queen. During this time, Wallis fled to France to avoid the heavy press coverage.

On December 5, 1936, after Edward was told that could not keep the throne and marry Wallis, he decided to abdicate.

On December 11, 1936, Edward made a BBC broadcast, saying he could not do his job as king without the support of “the woman I love.” In May of the following year, Wallis’s divorce was made final, and on June 3, 1937, she became the Duchess of Windsor.

Wallis and Edward referred to themselves as “W.E.”—their initials, but also a dig at the royal “we,” which refers to a person in high office using a plural pronoun rather than a singular one to refer to him- or herself. Subversive and playful, their nickname reflects their relationship. Wallis had charisma and sex appeal. She was famous for her wit and her style. Though seemingly unimportant, Wallis played a cataclysmic role in the future of the British monarchy.

Happy 133rd Birthday Igor Fyodorovich Stravinsky


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Today is the 133rd birthday of the composer Igor Fyodorovich Stravinsky.  He was one of the collection of vibrant artists, dancers, writers, composers, musicians from all over the world that gravitated to Paris between the wars.  His works are immediately recognizable and universally adored.  The world is a better place because he was in it and still feels the loss that he has left.


NAME: Igor Fyodorovich Stravinsky
OCCUPATION: Songwriter, Conductor, Pianist
BIRTH DATE: June 17, 1882
DEATH DATE: April 06, 1971
PLACE OF BIRTH: Oranienbaum, Russia
PLACE OF DEATH: New York, New York
Full Name: Igor Fyodorovich Stravinsky
AKA: Igor Stravinsky

Best Known For:  Russian composer Igor Stravinsky wrote more than 100 works, including pieces for Les Sylphides, Firebird and Petrouchka, performed by the Ballet Russes.

Igor Fyodorovich Stravinsky was born in the resort town of Oranienbaum, Russia, on June 17, 1882. He was raised in St. Petersburg by his father, a bass singer named Fyodor, and his mother Anna, a talented pianist.

Not wanting Stravinsky to follow in their footsteps, they persuaded him to study law after he graduated secondary school. Once enrolled in university, Stravinsky was invited to apprentice under Vladimir Rimsky-Korsakov, whose father was a celebrated composer. When Stravinsky’s own father died in 1902, he decided to pursue a career as a composer.

Stravinsky 2Stravinsky married Catherine Nossenko in 1906. Three years later, the founder of the Ballets Russes, Sergei Diaghilev, invited Stravinsky to orchestrate a couple of Chopin works for the ballet Les Sylphides. The job was a catalyst for Stravinsky’s commission of the ballet Firebird. A collaboration with choreographer Michel Fokine, the ballet turned Stravinsky into a household name. His fame was reinforced with a 1911 production of Petrouchka, and the Paris premiere of Rite of Spring in 1913. Although he frequently traveled to Paris for work, Russia was still his home at the time.

When WWI started, Stravinsky was forced to leave Russia for Switzerland. While in Switzerland, Stravinsky dealt with his homesickness, by using Russian folklore as the inspiration for his work. Some of Stravinsky’s works from this time also exhibited a jazz influence. Two of his best known works from his Swiss period are Fox, composed between 1915 and 1916, and Wedding, which he started in 1914 but didn’t finish until he had moved to France.

Stravinsky lived in France from 1920 to 1939. During that time, his most notable works included a comic opera, Mavra (1942), an opera-oratorio Oedipus Rex (1927) and the “white” ballet Apollo (1928). During the 1930s he composed The Symphony of Psalms, Persephone, A Game of Cards, The Violin Concerto, Duo Concertante for Violin and Piano, Concerto for Two Pianos and Concerto for Chamber Orchestra.

Stravinsky’s first wife, Catherine, died in 1939. That same year, he moved to the United States, remarrying to painter Vera de Bossett the following year. Stravinsky also finished his most important symphonic work, t, in 1940.

Two years after his arrival in the United States, Stravinsky was arrested during a performance in Boston for rearranging the national anthem. Despite the setback, Stravinsky went on to have a prolific and successful career in the States, which expanded to include Hollywood movie soundtracks.



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