Happy Birthday Truman Capote

Today is the 90th birthday of American writer Truman Capote (books by this author), born in New Orleans (1924). Even as a child, Capote wanted to become famous. He moved with his mother to New York City and applied to the prestigious Trinity School. He was given an IQ test as an entrance exam, and he scored 215, the highest in the school’s history. Capote said: “I was having 50 perceptions a minute to everyone else’s five. I always felt nobody was going to understand me, going to understand what I felt about things. I guess that’s why I started writing.”

Truman_Capote _ YoungNAME: Truman Capote
OCCUPATION: Author
BIRTH DATE: September 30, 1924
DEATH DATE: August 25, 1984
EDUCATION: Trinity School, St. Joseph Military Academy, Greenwich High School, Dwight School
PLACE OF BIRTH: New Orleans, Louisiana
PLACE OF DEATH: Los Angeles, California
Originally: Truman Streckfus Persons

Best Known For:  Truman Capote was a trailblazing writer of Southern descent known for the works Breakfast at Tiffany’s and In Cold Blood, among others.

Acclaimed writer Truman Capote was born Truman Streckfus Persons on September 30, 1924, in New Orleans, Louisiana. One of the 20th century’s most well-known writers, Capote was as fascinating a character as those who appeared in his stories. His parents were an odd pair—a small-town girl named Lillie Mae and a charming schemer called Arch—and they largely neglected their son, often leaving him in the care of others. Capote spent much of his young life in the care of his mother’s relatives in Monroeville, Alabama.

In Monroeville, Capote befriended a young Harper Lee. The two were opposites—Capote was a sensitive boy who was picked on by other kids for being a wimp, while Lee was a rough and tumble tomboy. Despite their differences, Lee found Capote to be a delight, calling him “a pocket Merlin” for his creative and inventive ways. Little did these playful pals know that they would both become famous writers one day.

While he had fun with his friends, Capote also had to struggle with his nightmarish family life. Seeing little of his mother and his father over the years, he often wrestled with feeling abandoned by them. One of the few times he caught their interest was during their divorce with each of them fighting for custody as a way to hurt the other. Capote finally did get to live with his mother full time in 1932, but this reunion did not turn out as he had hoped. He moved to New York City to live with her and his new stepfather, Joe Capote.

His once-doting mother was quite different once he started to encounter her on a daily basis. Lillie Mae—now calling herself Nina—could easily be cruel or kind to Truman, and he never knew what to expect from her. She often picked on him for his effeminate ways, and for not being like other boys. His stepfather seemed to be a more stable personality in the home, but Truman was not interested in his help or support at the time. Still, he was officially adopted by his stepfather, and his name was changed to Truman Garcia Capote in 1935.

A mediocre student, Capote did well in the courses that interested him and paid little attention in those that did not. He attended a private boys’ school in Manhattan from 1933 to 1936, where he charmed some of his classmates. An unusual boy, Capote had a gift for telling stories and entertaining people. His mother wanted to make him more masculine, and thought that sending him to a military academy would be the answer. The 1936-1937 school year proved to be a disaster for Capote. The smallest in his class, he was often picked on by the other cadets.

“I don’t care what anybody says about me as long as it isn’t true.” – Truman Capote

Returning to Manhattan, Capote started to attract attention for his work at school. Some of his teachers noted his promise as a writer. In 1939, the Capotes moved to Greenwich, Connecticut, where Truman enrolled at Greenwich High School. He stood out among his classmates with his ebullient personality. Over time, Capote developed a group of friends who would often go over to his house to smoke, drink, and dance in his room. He and his group would also go out to nearby clubs. Seeking adventure as well as an escape, Capote and his good friend Phoebe Pierce would also go into New York City and scheme their way into some of the most popular nightspots, including the Stork Club and Café Society.

While living in Greenwich, his mother’s drinking began to escalate, which made Capote’s home life even more unstable. Capote did not do well in school and had repeat the 12th grade at the Franklin School after he and his family returned to Manhattan in 1942. Instead of studying, Capote spent his nights at the clubs, making friends with Oona O’Neill, the daughter of playwright Eugene O’Neill and heiress Gloria Vanderbilt.

truman-capote

While still a teen, Capote got his first job working as a copyboy for The New Yorker magazine. During his time with the publication, Capote tried to get his stories published there with no success. He left The New Yorker to write full time, and started the novel Summer Crossing, which he shelved to work on a novella entitled Other Voices, Other Rooms. Capote’s first successes were not his novels, but several short stories. In 1945, editor George Davis selected Capote’s story “Miriam” about a strange little girl for publication in Mademoiselle. In addition to befriending Davis, Capote became close to his assistant Rita Smith, the sister of famous southern author Carson McCullers. She later introduced the two, and Capote and McCullers were friends for a time.

Capote’s story in Mademoiselle attracted the attention of Harper’s Bazaar fiction editor Mary Louise Aswell. The publication ran another dark and eerie story by Capote, “A Tree of Light” in its October 1945. These stories as well as “My Side of the Matter” and “Jug of Silver” helped launch Capote’s career and gave him entrée into the New York literary world.

While struggling to work on his first novel, Capote received some assistance from Carson McCullers. She helped him get accepted at Yaddo, a famous artists’ colony in New York State. Capote spent part of the summer of 1946 there, where he did some work on his novel and completed the short story, “The Headless Hawk,” which was published by Mademoiselle that fall. Capote also fell in love with Newton Arvin, a college professor and literary scholar. The bookish academic and the effervescent charmer made quite an interesting pair. Arvin, as with most of the others at Yaddo, was completely taken by Capote’s wit, manner, and appearance. That same year, Capote won the prestigious O. Henry Award for his short story “Miriam.”

His first novel, Other Voices, Other Rooms, was published in 1948 to mixed reviews. In the work, a young boy is sent to live with his father after the death of his mother. His father’s home is a decrepit old plantation. For a time the boy does not get to see his father and instead must deal with his stepmother, her cousin, and some other unusual characters that inhabit this desolate place. While some criticized elements of the story, such as its homosexual theme, many reviewers noted Capote’s talents as a writer. The book sold well, especially for a first-time author.

In addition to receiving accolades and publicity, Capote found love in 1948. He met author Jack Dunphy at a party in 1948, and the two began what was to be a 35-year relationship. During the early years of their relationship, Capote and Dunphy traveled extensively. They spent time in Europe and other places where they both worked on their own projects.

Capote followed the success of Other Voices, Other Rooms with a collection of short stories, A Tree of Light, published in 1949. Not one to stay out of the public eye for long, his travel essays were put out in book form in 1950 as Local Color. His much-anticipated second novel, The Grass Harp, was released to in the fall of 1951. The fanciful tale explored an unlikely group of characters who take refuge from their troubles in a large tree. At the request of Broadway producer Saint Subber, Capote adapted his novel for the stage. The sets and costumes were designed by Capote’s close friend, Cecil Beaton. The comedy opened in March 1952, closing after 31 performances.

In 1953, Capote landed some film work. He wrote some of Stazione Termini (later released as Indiscretion of an American Wife in the United States), which starred Jennifer Jones and Montgomery Clift. During the filming in Italy, Capote and Clift developed a friendship. After that project wrapped, Capote was soon working on the script for the John Huston-directed Beat the Devil, starring Humphrey Bogart, Jennifer Jones and Gina Lollobrigida, during its production. His best screenplay, however, was done years later when he adapted the Henry James novel The Turn of the Screw into The Innocents (1961).

Undeterred by his past failure, Capote adapted his story about a Haitian bordello, “House of Flowers,” for the stage at Subber’s urging. The musical debuted on Broadway in 1954 with Pearl Bailey as its star and had Alvin Ailey and Diahann Carroll in the cast as well. Despite the best efforts of Capote and the show’s fine performers, the musical failed to attract enough critical and commercial attention. It closed after 165 performances. That same year, Capote suffered a great personal loss when his mother died.

Always fascinated by the rich and social elite, Capote found himself a popular figure in such circles. He counted Gloria Guinness, Babe and Bill Paley (the founder of CBS Television), Jackie Kennedy and her sister Lee Radziwell, C. Z. Guest, and many others among his friends. Once an outsider, Capote was invited for cruises on their yachts and for stays on their estates.

Harold_Halma_photograph_of_Capote

He loved gossip—both hearing and sharing it. In the late 1950s, Capote began discussing a novel based on this jet-set world, calling it Answered Prayers.

In 1958, Capote scored another success with Breakfast at Tiffany’s. He explored the life of a New York City party girl, Holly Golightly—who was a woman who depended on men to get by. With his usual style and panache, Capote had created a fascinating character within a well-crafted story. Three years later, the film version was released, starring Audrey Hepburn as Holly. Capote had wanted Marilyn Monroe in the lead role, and was disappointed with this adaptation.

Capote’s next big project started out as an article for The New Yorker. He set out with friend Harper Lee to write about the impact of the murder of four members of the Clutter family on their small Kansas farming community. The two traveled to Kansas to interview townspeople, friends and family of the deceased, and the investigators working to solve the crime. Truman, with his flamboyant personality and style, had a hard time initially getting himself into his subjects’ good graces. Without using tape recorders, the two would write up their notes and observations at the end of each day and compare their findings.

During their time in Kansas, the Clutters’ suspected killers, Richard Hickock and Perry Smith, were caught in Las Vegas and brought back to Kansas. Lee and Capote got a chance to interview the suspects not long after their return in January 1960. Soon after, Lee and Capote went back to New York. Capote started working on his article, which would evolve into the non-fiction masterpiece, In Cold Blood. He also corresponded with the accused killers, trying them to reveal more about themselves and the crime. In March 1960, Capote and Lee returned to Kansas for the murder trial.

While the two convicted and sentenced to death, their execution was staved off by a series of appeals. Hickock and Smith hoped that Capote would help them escape the hangman’s noose and were upset to hear that the book’s title was In Cold Blood, which indicated that the murders had been premeditated.

Writing this non-fiction masterwork took a lot out of Capote. For years, he labored on it and still had to wait for the story to find its ending in the legal system. Hickock and Smith were finally executed on April 14, 1965, at the Kansas State Penitentiary. At their request, Capote traveled to Kansas to witness their deaths. He refused to see them the day before, but he visited with both Hickock and Smith shortly before their hangings.

In Cold Blood became a huge hit, both critically and commercially. Capote used a number of techniques usually found in fiction to bring this true story to life for his readers. It was first serialized in The New Yorker in four issues with readers anxiously awaiting each gripping installment. When it was published as a book, In Cold Blood was an instant best-seller.

While In Cold Blood brought him acclaim and wealth, Capote was never the same after the project.

Digging into such dark territory had taken a toll on him psychologically and physically. Known to drink, Capote began drinking more and started taking tranquilizers to soothe his frayed nerves. His substance abuse problems escalated over the coming years.

Despite his problems, Capote did, however, manage to pull off one of the biggest social events of the 20th century. Attracting his society friends, literary notables, and stars, his Black and White Ball garnered a huge amount of publicity. The event was held in the Grand Ballroom at the Plaza hotel on November 28, 1966 with publisher Katharine Graham as the guest of honor. In choosing a dress code, Capote decided that the men should dress in black tie attire while women could wear either a black or white dress. Everyone had to wear a mask. One of the evening’s more memorable moments was when actress Lauren Bacall danced with director and choreographer Jerome Robbins.

Those society friends that flocked to the ball were in for a nasty shock several years later. Considered one of the notorious instances of biting the hand that feeds, Capote had a chapter from Answered Prayers published in Esquire magazine in 1976. That chapter, “La Cote Basque, 1965,” aired a lot of his society friends’ secrets as thinly veiled fiction. Many of his friends, hurt by his betrayal, turned their back on him. He claimed to be surprised by their reactions and was hurt by their rejection. By the late 1970s, Capote had moved on to the party scene at the famous club Studio 54 where he hung out with Andy Warhol, Bianca Jagger, and Liza Minnelli.

By this time, Capote’s relationship with Jack Dunphy was becoming strained. Dunphy wanted Capote to stop drinking and taking drugs, which—despite numerous trips to rehabilitation centers over the years—Capote seemed unable to do. While no longer physically intimate, the two remained close, spending time together at their neighboring homes in Sagaponack, Long Island. Capote also had other relationships with younger men, which did little to improve his emotional and psychological state.

Published in 1980, Capote’s last major work, Music for Chameleons, was a collection of non-fiction and fictional pieces, including the novella Handcarved Coffins. The collection did well, but Capote was clearly in decline, battling his addictions and physical health problems.

In the final year of his life, Capote had two bad falls, another failed stint in rehab, and a stay in a Long Island hospital for an overdose. Traveling to California, Capote went to stay with old friend Joanne Carson, the ex-wife of Johnny Carson. He died at her Los Angeles home on August 25, 1984.

Happy Birthday Diana Vreeland

Today is the 111th birthday of Diana Vreeland.  She was and continues to be the arbiter of style, even after her death 20+ years ago. Do yourself a favor and read “D.V.”:  her autobiography/manual of style/name-drop-a-thon book masquerading as a roller coaster ride through the early parts of the 20th century. It will seriously change your life. Watch “The Eye Has To Travel,” her documentary.  You will start to look at style as something you own, not something you follow and conform to.  She will teach you that the sexiest most attractive thing one can have and wear is confidence.   I absolutely adore her for the permission she gives people to be fashionable, be original, beautiful, without being ordinary or expected.  Wear some pearls today, wear your shirt back to front, do something original today.  Do it for yourself with a wink to Ms. Vreeland.

 

NAME: Diane Dalziel Vreeland
OCCUPATION: Journalist
BIRTH DATE: September 29, 1903
DEATH DATE: August 22, 1989
PLACE OF BIRTH: Paris, France

BEST KNOWN FOR: As a fashion journaist, Diana Vreeland was an influential figure in American fashion during the 20th century.

Diana Vreeland began her career at Harper’s Bazaar in 1936. Her column “Why Don’t You…?” was famous for offering outlandish fashion and lifestyle tips for the times. Vreeland later became the magazine’s fashion editor and established herself as one of the country’s leading arbiters of style. In 1962, Vreeland joined the staff of Vogue and continued to be a powerful force in the fashion world.

Fashion journalist. Born Diana Dalziel on March 1, 1924, in Paris, France. Diana Vreeland was an influential figure in American fashion during the twentieth century. The daughter of wealthy parents, she spent her early years in France before moving to New York as a teenager.

Diana Vreeland began her career as a columnist for Harper’s Bazaar in 1936. Her column “Why Don’t You . . . ?” was famous for offering outlandish fashion and lifestyle tips for the times. Few could afford in the Depression follow her advice. Moving up the editorial ladder, Vreeland became the magazine’s fashion editor, a post she held until the early 1960s. At Harper’s Bazaar, she established herself as one of the country’s leading arbiters of style.

In 1962, Diana Vreeland joined the staff of Vogue, another influential fashion magazine, as editor in chief. At Vogue, she continued to be a powerful force in the fashion world, often able to identify the coming trends, such as the popularity of the bikini. Vreeland also worked with many well-known photographers, such as Richard Avedon, in making the magazine.

While she left Vogue in 1971, Diana Vreeland did not leave the fashion world. She worked as a consultant for the Metropolitan Museum of Art, putting together fashion exhibitions. Vreeland died on August 22, 1989. Married to T. Reed Vreeland since 1924, she had two sons, Thomas R., Jr., and Frederick.

Personal Quotes:

“People who eat white bread have no dreams.”

“Blue jeans are the most beautiful things since the gondola.”

“Elegance is innate. It has nothing to do with being well dressed. Elegance is refusal.”

“I always wear my sweater back-to-front; it is so much more flattering.”

“I loathe narcissism, but I approve of vanity.”

“Pink is the navy blue of India.”

Happy Birthday Banksy

Since there is no official birthday for the unknown artist who goes by the name Banksy, I have randomly chosen a day to celebrate it.

NAME: Banksy
OCCUPATION: Artist
BIRTH DATE: c. 1974
PLACE OF BIRTH: Bristol, England, United Kingdom

BEST KNOWN FOR: Banksy is the pseudonym of a “guerrilla” street artist known for his controversial, and often politically themed, stenciled pieces.

Banksy began his career as a graffiti artist in the early 1990s, in Bristol’s graffiti gang DryBreadZ Crew. Although his early work was largely freehand, Banksy used stencils on occasion. In the late ’90s, he began using stencils predominantly. His work became more widely recognized around Bristol and in London, as his signature style developed.

“We can’t do anything to change the world until capitalism crumbles. In the meantime we should all go shopping to console ourselves.”

Banksy’s artwork is characterized by striking images, often combined with slogans. His work often engages political themes, satirically critiquing war, capitalism, hypocrisy and greed. Common subjects include rats, apes, policemen, members of the royal family, and children. In addition to his two-dimensional work, Banksy is known for his installation artwork. One of the most celebrated of these pieces, which featured a live elephant painted with a Victorian wallpaper pattern, sparked controversy among animal rights activists.

Other pieces have drawn attention for their edgy themes or the boldness of their execution. Banksy’s work on the West Bank barrier, between Israel and Palestine, received significant media attention in 2005. He is also known for his use of copyrighted material and subversion of classic images. An example of this is Banksy’s version of Monet’s famous series of water lilies paintings, adapted by Banksy to include drifting trash and debris.

“People say graffiti is ugly, irresponsible and childish. But that’s only if it’s done properly.”

Banksy’s worldwide fame has transformed his artwork from acts of vandalism to sought-after high art pieces. Journalist Max Foster has referred to the rising prices of graffiti as street art as “the Banksy effect.” Interest in Banksy escalated with the release of the 2010 documentary Exit Through the Gift Shop. The film, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, was nominated for an Academy Award.

In October 2013, Banksy took to the streets of New York City. There he pledged to create a new piece of art for each day of his residency. As he explained to the Village Voice, “The plan is to live here, react to things, see the sights—and paint on them. Some of it will be pretty elaborate, and some will just be a scrawl on a toilet wall.” During that month, he also sold some of his works on the street for $60 a piece, well below the market value for his art.

“People who should be shot: Fascist thugs, religious fundamentalists, people who write lists telling you who should be shot.”

Banksy’s identity remains unknown, despite intense speculation. The two names most often suggested are Robert Banks and Robin Gunningham. Pictures that surfaced of a man who was supposedly Banksy pointed toward Gunningham, an artist who was born in Bristol in 1973. Gunningham moved to London around 2000, a timeline that correlates with the progression of Banksy’s artwork.

Happy Birthday Lewis Hine

Today is the 140th birthday of Lewis Hine.  His iconic photographs of the early 20th century are immediately recognizable, much more so than his name.

NAME: Lewis Hine
OCCUPATION: Photographer
BIRTH DATE: September 26, 1874
DEATH DATE: November 03, 1940
PLACE OF BIRTH: Oshkosh, Wisconsin
PLACE OF DEATH: Hasting-on-Hudson, New York

Best Known For:  Lewis Hines was a photographer known for his documentation of exploited child workers and government projects.

In 1906, Hine became the staff photographer of the Russell Sage Foundation. Here Hine photographed life in the steel-making districts and people of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, for the influential sociological study called the Pittsburgh Survey.

In 1908, he became the photographer for the National Child Labor Committee (NCLC), leaving his teaching position. Over the next decade, Hine documented child labor, with focus on labor in the Carolina Piedmont, in American industry to aid the NCLC’s lobbying efforts to end the practice. In 1913 he documented child laborers among cotton mill children with a series of Galton’s composite portraits.

Hine’s work for the NCLC was often dangerous. As a photographer he was frequently threatened with violence or even death by factory police and foreman. At the time the immortality of child labour was meant to be hidden from the public. Photography was not only prohibited but posed a serious treat to the industry. In order to gain entry into these mills, mines and factories, Hines was forced to assume many guises. At times he was a fire inspector, post card vendor, bible salesman or even an industrial photographer making a record of factory machinery.

During and after World War I, he photographed American Red Cross relief work in Europe. In the 1920s and early 1930s, Hine made a series of “work portraits,” which emphasized the human contribution to modern industry. In 1930, Hine was commissioned to document the construction of The Empire State Building. Hine photographed the workers in precarious positions while they secured the iron and steel framework of the structure, taking many of the same risks the workers endured. In order to obtain the best vantage points, Hine was swung out in a specially designed basket 1,000 feet above Fifth Avenue.

During the Great Depression, he again worked for the Red Cross, photographing drought relief in the American South, and for theTennessee Valley Authority (TVA), documenting life in the mountains of eastern Tennessee. He also served as chief photographer for the Works Progress Administration’s (WPA) National Research Project, which studied changes in industry and their effect on employment. Hine was also a member of the faculty of the Ethical Culture Fieldston School.

The Library of Congress holds more than five thousand Hine photographs, including examples of his child labor and Red Cross photographs, his work portraits, and his WPA and TVA images. Other large institutional collections include nearly ten thousand of Hine’s photographs and negatives held at the George Eastman House and almost five thousand NCLC photographs at the Albin O. Kuhn Library & Gallery of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

In 1936, Hine was selected as the photographer for the National Research Project of the Works Projects Administration, but his work there was never completed.

The last years of his life were filled with professional struggles due to loss of government and corporate patronage. Few people were interested in his work, past or present, and Hine lost his house and applied for welfare. He died at age 66 on November 3, 1940 at Dobbs Ferry Hospital in Dobbs Ferry, New York, after an operation.

After Lewis Hine’s death his son Corydon donated his prints and negatives to the Photo League, which was dismantled in 1951. The Museum of Modern Art was offered his pictures but did not accept them; but the George Eastman House in Rochester, New York did.

Happy Birthday Shel Silverstein

Today is the 84th birthday of Shel Silverstein.

NAME: Shel Silverstein
OCCUPATION: Illustrator, Songwriter, Poet, Author
BIRTH DATE: September 25, 1930
DEATH DATE: May 10, 1999
EDUCATION: Roosevelt University
PLACE OF BIRTH: Chicago, Illinois
PLACE OF DEATH: Key West, Florida

BEST KNOWN FOR: Shel Silverstein was a poet and musician known for children’s books such as The Giving Tree and Where the Sidewalk Ends.

Born in Chicago, Illinois on September 25, 1930, Shel Silverstein enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1950 and served in Korea and Japan, becoming a cartoonist for Stars & Stripes magazine. After his stint in the Army was up, he soon began drawing cartoons for magazines such as Look and Sports Illustrated, but it was his work for Playboy magazine that began garnering Silverstein national recognition. Silverstein’s cartoons appeared in every issue of Playboy, riding the high-point of its popularity, from 1957 through the mid-1970s.

While at Playboy in the 1950s, Silverstein also began exploring other areas of creativity, including writing and music, and he contributed poems to the magazine, including “The Winner” and “The Smoke-off,” and wrote the books Playboy’s Teevee Jeebies and its sequel, More Playboy’s Teevee Jeebies: Do-It-Yourself Dialogue for the Late Late Show. He also began publishing his own books of cartoons, beginning with Take Ten (1955) and Grab Your Socks (1956). In 1960, Silverstein’s collected cartons, Now Here’s My Plan: A Book of Futilities, would appear with one of his most famous drawings adorning the cover. Around this time, he branched out into music, recording his first album, Hairy Jazz (1959), a record containing several standards and a couple of original songs. Silverstein would go on to produce more than a dozen albums over the course of his diverse career.

In 1963, Silverstein met Ursula Nordstrom, a book editor, and she convinced him to begin writing material for children, which he did on short notice. Uncle Shelby’s Story of Lafcadio: The Lion Who Shot Back would be the first, appearing that same year. The next year, he wrote two: A Giraffe and a Half and The Giving Tree, the latter of which would go on to become Silverstein’s most popular book.

Besides being wildly popular, The Giving Tree is one of the most discussed children’s books of all time. Featuring a boy and a tree, the plot centers on both characters growing up and the boy having less and less time for the tree but more and more need for what the tree can give him. Eventually the tree allows itself to be chopped down to make lumber for a boat so the boy can go sailing. Years later, the boy returns as an old man, and the tree says, “I’m sorry, boy… but I have nothing left to give you.” The boy says, “I do not need much now, just a quiet place to sit and rest.” The tree then says, “Well, an old tree stump is a good place for sitting and resting. Come, boy, sit down and rest.” The boy sits, making the tree once again happy to serve him.

The book is both sad and ambiguous in intent, and for these reasons it was initially rejected by publishers, who thought the book’s themes resided somewhere between those meant for adults and those for children. The book portrays either a bleak or realistic assessment of the human condition (or both) and a stark viewpoint of parent/child relationships, but Silverstein meant to give children a look at life unadorned (others have read religious and anti-feminist themes into the work as well). Regardless of the message, The Giving Tree has been translated into more than 30 languages and is continually named to lists of the best children’s books of all time.

As the 1960s came to an end and the 1970s began, Silverstein ramped up his songwriting efforts, composing the songs “A Boy Named Sue” (which would be popularized by Johnny Cash), “One’s on the Way,” “So Good to So Bad,” “Sylvia’s Mother” (sung by Dr. Hook, 1972) and “Yes, Mr. Rogers,” among others. His full-length albums, all from the early 1970s, included Freakin’ at the Freaker’s Ball (a satiric look back at the 1960s hippie counterculture, and his biggest hit), Drain My Brain, A Boy Named Sue and Other Country Songs (which was released after Johnny Cash had turned the title track into a huge hit) and Legends and Lies (The Songs of Shel Silverstein). He also wrote motion picture soundtracks for 1970s films such as Ned Kelly, Who Is Harry Kellerman and Why Is He Saying Those Terrible Things About Me?, Thieves and years down the road, Postcards from the Edge (1990).

While Silverstein was celebrated in certain musical circles for his music, it was always his work as an author of children’s books that set him apart, and he produced two of his most memorable in the 1970s: Where the Sidewalk Ends (his first collection of poetry; 1974) and The Missing Piece (1976). When the 1970s came to an end, Silverstein would continue releasing memorable children’s titles, among them A Light in the Attic (1981), a collection of poems and drawings, which went on to win several awards, and The Missing Piece Meets the Big O (1981), a sequel to The Missing Piece.

Silverstein’s output was minimal in the 1980s, but he returned in the 1990s with Falling Up (1996) and Draw a Skinny Elephant (1998), adding a few more to his oeuvre posthumously.

Shel Silverstein passed away on May 10, 1999, from a heart attack in Key West, Florida.

Author of books:
Take Ten (1955, later titled, Grab Your Socks)
Uncle Shelby’s Story of Lafcadio, The Lion who Shot Back (1963, juvenile)
The Giving Tree (1964, juvenile)
Uncle Shelby’s A Giraffe and a Half (1964, juvenile)
Who Wants a Cheap Rhinoceros? (1964, juvenile)
Where the Sidewalk Ends (1974, poetry, juvenile)
The Missing Piece (1976, juvenile)
The Missing Piece Meets the Big O (1981, juvenile)
A Light in the Attic (1981, poetry, juvenile)
Falling Up: Poems and Drawings (1996, poetry)
Runny Babbit (2005, juvenile)

Happy Birthday Paul Muni

Today is the 119th birthday of Paul Muni.  He has probably one of the best ‘before’ names in Hollywood History.

NAME: Paul Muni
OCCUPATION: Film Actor, Television Actor
BIRTH DATE: September 22, 1895
DEATH DATE: August 25, 1967
PLACE OF BIRTH: Lviv, Poland
PLACE OF DEATH: Montecito, California
ORIGINALLY: Meshilem Meier Weisenfreund

BEST KNOWN FOR: American actor Paul Muni is best known for his film and stage portrayals of noted historical figures. He was nominated five times for the Academy Awards.

Paul Muni was born on September 22nd, 1895 in Lenberg, Galicia in Austria-Hungary with the birth name Meshilem Meier Weisenfreund to parents Salli and Phillip Weisenfreund, both of whom were actors.

His family moved to the United States in 1902, where he attended school in the public school system in Cleveland and in New York. At the young age of twelve he worked on a stage production of, Seven Faces where he portrayed an eighty year old man and played seven different characters.

When he completed high school he joined the Yiddish Art Theatre in New York and studied there for four years. He then went on to work on Yiddish stage plays making his stage debut in 1907. It was not until 1926 that he transferred over to doing American stage plays having his first English language role. In 1928, he was discovered by Fox.

His first screen role in English was on the film, The Valiant (1929) also with Marguerite Churchill and Johnny Mack Brown, in which he was one of only six actors total to receive an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor for his first screen appearance. However, this film along with his next were both unsuccessful box office films and therefore, Muni returned back to Broadway to work on stage on the play, Counselor at Law.

In 1932, Muni decided to give films another chance and went back to Hollywood working on two films, Scarface also starring George Raft, Ann Dvorak, Tully Marshall and Boris Karloff and I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang (both 1932) starring with Glenda Farrell, Preston Foster and Sally Blane in which for the latter role he received his second Academy Award nomination for Best Actor.

He was soon signed to a long contract with Warner Brothers studios who were so highly impressed with his talents. He became one of their most prestigious actors. They actually allowed him to choose which parts he wanted in various films.

Muni had such an influential impact on Warner Brothers that in 1935, they agreed to produce a historical biography called, The Story of Louis Pasteur (1936) also starring Anita Louise, Akim Tamiroff, Dickie Moore, Donald Woods and Josephine Hutchinson, which was his idea, a huge success and earned Mini an Oscar for his performance.

During the late 30’s and early 40’s, Muni took on a couple more roles in films such as, The Good Earth (1937) also starring Academy Award winner for Best Actress Luise Rainer, A Song to Remember (1945) also starring Cornel Wilde, Merle Oberon and Nina Foch and Angel on My Shoulder (1946) co-starring Anne Baxter and Claude Rains. He was really beginning to fade himself out of the film industry as he was quite dissatisfied with Hollywood.

He focused the remainder of his career working back as a stage actor and won a Tony Award for Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Play for his role in Inherit the Wind (1956).

Muni retired from acting not by choice, but more due to failing health reasons after his final appearance in, The Last Angry Man (1959) starring alongside David Wayne, Betsy Palmer, Billy Dee Williams and Godfrey Cambridge in which he received an Oscar nomination for. He suffered throughout his entire life from a rheumatic heart.

Muni was married only once to Bella Muni on May 8th, 1921 and they remained together until he passed away on August 25th, 1967 in Montecito, California from heart problems at the age of seventy one. He is interred at Hollywood Memorial Cemetery in Hollywood, California and was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for his contribution to the Motion Picture Industry.

FILMOGRAPHY AS ACTOR
The Last Angry Man (22-Oct-1959) · Dr. Sam Abelman
Stranger on the Prowl (12-Mar-1952)
Angel on My Shoulder (20-Sep-1946) · Eddie Kagle
Counter-Attack (26-Apr-1945)
A Song to Remember (18-Jan-1945) · Prof. Joseph Elsner
Stage Door Canteen (24-Jun-1943) · Himself
Commandos Strike at Dawn (30-Dec-1942) · Eric Toresen
Hudson’s Bay (9-Jan-1941) · Pierre Esprit Radisson
We Are Not Alone (25-Nov-1939)
Juarez (24-Apr-1939) · Benito Juarez
The Life of Emile Zola (11-Aug-1937) · Émile Zola
The Woman I Love (15-Apr-1937)
The Good Earth (29-Jan-1937) · Wang
The Story of Louis Pasteur (23-Nov-1935) · Louis Pasteur
Dr. Socrates (19-Oct-1935)
Black Fury (18-May-1935) · Joe Radek
Bordertown (23-Jan-1935)
Hi, Nellie! (20-Jan-1934)
The World Changes (25-Nov-1933)
I Am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang (19-Nov-1932) · James Allen
Scarface (31-Mar-1932) · Tony
The Valiant (12-May-1929) · James Dyke

Happy Birthday Frances Farmer

Today is the 101st birthday of Frances Farmer.  There is something about her, the biopic with Jessica Lange helped push her into cult icon status for a lot of people, including me.  Seattle girl, free thinker, rule breaker and getting a raw deal from Hollywood all inspire other artists.  They understand the misunderstood.  She is the glamorous Hollywood misfit queen of all misfits.  I think of her several times a week when I walk by the employee side entrance to to the Olympic Hotel in Seattle, a door I know that she went through hundreds of times in the early 1950’s when she took a job sorting laundry after her release from a mental hospital.  How she must have felt going in that side door when only 14 years earlier, that very same hotel had held the world premier of her film “Come and Get It.”  I think of that aching feeling of betrayal and abandonment and the complexities of mental instability, it must have been crippling.  (It is a similar feeling that I have when I am driving home and pass Kurt Cobain’s old house and see the bench in “Kurt’s Park” covered with flowers and burning candles.)

NAME: Frances Farmer
OCCUPATION: Film Actress
BIRTH DATE: September 19, 1913
DEATH DATE: August 01, 1970
EDUCATION: University of Washington
PLACE OF BIRTH: Seattle, Washington
PLACE OF DEATH: Indianapolis, Indiana

BEST KNOWN FOR: Actress Frances Farmer starred in films in the late ‘30s and early ‘40s, but was best known for her rebellious reputation and the time she spent in a mental institution.

Born September 19, 1913, in Seattle, Washington. The daughter of a lawyer, Farmer enjoyed a comfortable childhood, during which she developed a penchant for stage acting. In 1931, she enrolled at the University of Washington, where she majored in journalism and drama. After a failed attempt to join the Group Theatre in New York, Farmer concentrated on a film career, signing with Paramount Studios in 1936. Later that year, she was cast in a bit part in the drama Too Many Parents, followed by Border Flight and the musical Rhythm on the Range, starring Bing Crosby. Playing the dual role of a saloon singer and her daughter, Farmer’s work in the 1936 film Come and Get It, was heralded as the best screen performance of her career.

Despite Farmer’s initial success, she quickly earned a reputation as a demanding and rebellious actress on the set. Displeased with her attitude, Paramount cast her in bland parts in a handful of films, including Exclusive and Ebb Tide (both 1937). By the early 1940s, Farmer was forced to appear in a succession of inferior productions, including South of Pago Pago (1940), World Premiere, and Among the Living (both 1941).

In 1942, Farmer’s career enjoyed a brief resurgence when she was cast opposite Tyrone Power and Roddy McDowall in the swashbuckler Son of Fury. However, Farmer’s efforts to improve her image backfired when she was arrested and convicted of drunk driving at the time of the film’s release. Inundated with negative publicity, Farmer traveled to Mexico. However, by leaving the United States, she was found in violation of her probation. She was put on trial and deemed mentally ill. Farmer was committed to a mental institution where she underwent shock treatments, hydrotherapy baths, and reportedly received a trans-orbital lobotomy. Over the next few years, her physical and mental health deteriorated; she developed a debilitating dependency on alcohol and suffered from a series of nervous breakdowns.

Upon her release from the institution, in 1949, Farmer worked as a hotel receptionist before making a comeback appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1957. The following year, she starred in her last feature film, The Party Crashers, and began a six-year run on the Indianapolis-based TV show Frances Farmer Presents.

On August 1, 1970, Farmer died after a long battle with cancer; she was 56 years old. Her intimate autobiography, Will There Really Be a Morning?, was published posthumously in 1972. In the early 1980s, her story was captured on film in the biopic Frances (1982), starring Jessica Lange, and in the black and white documentary Committed (1983).

More than two decades after Farmer’s death, the alternative rock group Nirvana recorded the single “Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge on Seattle.” Written by lead singer Kurt Cobain, the tribute appeared on the band’s In Utero (1993) album. Cobain also named his daughter, Frances Bean Cobain, after Farmer.

Farmer was married three times: to actor Leif Erickson (from 1936-42); to Alfred Lobley (from 1953-58); and to Leland Mikesell (from 1958 until her death).

In Popular Culture:

  • Jessica Lange played Farmer in the 1982 film Frances, for which she was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress. Kim Stanley was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for portraying Farmer’s mother. The film contained a fictional scene which depicted Farmer undergoing a transorbital lobotomy. In Hollywood style, the film also omitted numerous facts and added a fictional life-long, love-interest character named “Harry”.
  • Susan Blakely portrayed Farmer in a 1983 television production Will There Really Be a Morning?, which was named after Farmer’s autobiography. Academy Award winner Lee Grant portrayed her mother in the same production.
  • In 1984, Culture Club had a #32 hit in the UK Single Charts “The Medal Song”, which was about the actress.
  • Tracey Thorn’s song “Ugly Little Dreams” on Everything But The Girl’s 1985 LP “Love Not Money” was also inspired by Frances Farmer.
  • The Nirvana song “Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge on Seattle”, which was written by fellow Washington native Kurt Cobain, was named after Farmer. It appears on their 1993 “In Utero” LP.
  • Patterson Hood, singer, guitarist and songwriter with the rock band Drive-By Truckers, included a song about Farmer (titled “Frances Farmer”) on his 2004 solo album, Killers and Stars. The album’s cover features a drawing of Farmer by Toby Cole.
  • Carol Decker of the band T’Pau wrote a song “Monkey House” about Frances Farmer’s mental illness which was featured on the 1987 album “Bridge Of Spies”.
  • French singer Mylène Jeanne Gautier, changed her name into Mylène Farmer as a tribute to Frances.