Happy Birthday Harris Glenn Milstead

Today is the 69th birthday of Harris Glenn Milstead, known the world over as the drag queen/performance artist/actor/personality called “Divine.”  I was first introduced to Divine through the subscription of Interview Magazine I had while I was in high school.  This lead to renting the early John Waters movies and so forth.  I adore anyone who is fearless, who is in on the joke, and who plows forward.  Divine had all of those qualities and many more.

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NAME: Harris Glenn Milstead
BORN: October 19, 1945
BIRTHPLACE: Towson, MD
DIED: March 7, 1988
LOCATION AT DEATH: Los Angeles, CA
CAUSE OF DEATH: Respiratory failure
REMAINS: Buried, Prospect Hill Cemetery, Towson, MD

Divine (October 19, 1945 – March 7, 1988), born Harris Glenn Milstead, was an American actor, singer and drag queen. Described by People magazine as the “Drag Queen of the Century”, Divine often performed female roles in both cinema and theater and also appeared in women’s clothing in musical performances. Even so, he considered himself to be a character actor and performed male roles in a number of his later films. He was often associated with independent filmmaker John Waters and starred in ten of Waters’s films, usually in a leading role. Concurrent with his acting career, he also had a successful career as a disco singer during the 1980s, at one point being described as “the most successful and in-demand disco performer in the world.”

Born in Baltimore, Maryland, into a conservative, upper middle class family, he became involved with John Waters and his acting troupe, the Dreamlanders, in the mid-1960s and starred in a number of Waters’s early films such as Mondo Trasho (1969), Multiple Maniacs (1970), Pink Flamingos (1972) and Female Trouble (1974). These films became hits on the midnight movie and underground cinema circuit in the U.S., and have since become cult classics, with Divine becoming particularly renowned for playing the role of Babs Johnson in Pink Flamingos, during which he had to perform a series of extreme acts including eating dog excrement. In the 1970s, Milstead made the transition to theater and appeared in a number of productions, including Women Behind Bars and The Neon Woman, while continuing to star in such films as Polyester (1981), Lust in the Dust (1985) and Hairspray (1988). Meanwhile, in 1981 Divine had embarked on a disco career, producing Hi-NRG tracks, most of which had been written by Bobby Orlando, and went on to achieve chart success with hits like “You Think You’re A Man”, “I’m So Beautiful” and “Walk Like a Man.” Having struggled with obesity throughout his life, Divine died from cardiomegaly in 1988.

The New York Times said of Milstead’s ’80s films: “Those who could get past the unremitting weirdness of Divine’s performance discovered that the actor/actress had genuine talent, including a natural sense of comic timing and an uncanny gift for slapstick.” He was also described as “one of the few truly radical and essential artists of the century… [who] was an audacious symbol of man’s quest for liberty and freedom.” Since his death, Divine has remained a cult figure, particularly with those in the LGBT community, of which he was a part, being openly gay.

Due to Divine’s portrayal of Edna Turnblad in the original comedy-film version of Hairspray, later musical adaptations of Hairspray have commonly placed male actors in the role of Edna, including Harvey Fierstein and others in the 2002 Broadway musical and John Travolta in the 2007 musical film.

A 12 foot tall statue in the likeness of Divine by Andrew Logan can be seen on permanent display at The American Visionary Art Museum in Divine’s home town of Baltimore, Maryland.

FILMOGRAPHY AS ACTOR
Out of the Dark (5-May-1989)
Hairspray (16-Feb-1988)
Trouble in Mind (Dec-1985)
Lust in the Dust (1-Mar-1985)
Polyester (29-May-1981)
Female Trouble (4-Oct-1974)
Pink Flamingos (17-Mar-1972)
Multiple Maniacs (10-Apr-1970)
Mondo Trasho (14-Mar-1969)

Is the subject of books:
My Son Divine, 2001, BY: Frances Milstead, DETAILS: Alyson Publications:with Kevin Heffernan and Steve Yeager
Not Simply Divine, 1994, BY: Bernard Jay, DETAILS: Fireside:by Divine’s personal manager

Happy Birthday Angela Lansbury

Have you seen Gaslight?  Have you?  You absolutely must, it will change your perspective on Angela Lansbury.  All those Tony awards?  Don’t get me wrong, Murder She Wrote is everything and you should be constantly watching it on Nexflix or Hulu or wherever it is that I watch it.  Angela Lansbury is 89 today.

NAME: Angela Lansbury
OCCUPATION: Actress
BIRTH DATE: October 16, 1925
PLACE OF BIRTH: Poplar, London, England

BEST KNOWN FOR: Actress Angela Lansbury has entertained audiences in a variety of ways, including her 12-year stint as Jessica Fletcher on the 1984 series Murder, She Wrote.

Actress Angela Lansbury was born on October 16, 1925, in London, England. She went on to become an accomplished film, theater and television actress who has received nearly every acting honor imaginable. She has been nominated for multiple Academy Awards and Emmys and won several Tony Awards and Golden Globes.

Not long after arriving in the United States in 1940, Lansbury scored an important film role. She appeared in 1944′s Gaslight opposite Ingrid Bergman and Charles Boyer. Playing the house maid Nancy, Lansbury held her own against such established stars and earned an Academy Award nomination for Actress in a Supporting Role. She was nominated again the next year for playing Sibyl Vane in The Picture of Dorian Gray.

Lansbury continued making films, including The Manchurian Candidate (1963), which brought her a third Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress. A versatile performer, she appeared in the movie musical Bedknobs and Broomsticks in 1971 and on stage in the musical productions Mame (1966), Dear World (1969), Gypsy (1974) and Sweeney Todd (1979). Lansbury won Best Actress in a Musical for all four of these productions.

In the 1980s, Lansbury found success on the small screen. Beginning in 1984, she played the role of Jessica Fletcher in the popular TV mystery series Murder, She Wrote. As the diplomatic, kind and clever Mrs. Fletcher, she earned Emmy Award nominations in the Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series category every year from 1985 to 1996.

After the show ended, Lansbury has appeared in television movies including some Murder, She Wrote specials and in feature films, such as Nanny McPhee (2005). She has also made TV guest appearances. The most notable one was on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit in 2005, which earned her an Emmy Award nomination for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series. During her career, she has voiced several animated characters as well for such films as Beauty and the Beast (1991) and Anastasia (1997).

In 2007, she returned to Broadway, performing in the show Deuce. Lansbury played a former tennis pro who reunites with her doubles partner for an honors ceremony at the U.S. Open. In 2009, she appeared again on stage for Blithe Spirit, a play about a man who is haunted by the ghost of his ex-wife. The performance earned Lansbury a Tony award for Best Supporting Actress in 2009. This tied Lansbury with performer Julie Harris for a record five Tony Award wins, with only Audra McDonald having surpassed this number as of 2014.

Lansbury has thankfully continued her stage work, playing Madame Armfeldt in the 2009 revival of Stephen Sondheim’s A Little Night Music, and in 2012 taking on a lead role in the Gore Vidal satire The Best Man.

Happy Birthday Gore Vidal

Today is the 89th birthday of Gore Vidal, the man that quipped:

“Fifty percent of people won’t vote, and fifty percent don’t read newspapers. I hope it’s the same fifty percent.”

NAME: Eugene Luther Gore Vidal
OCCUPATION: Critic, Author, Playwright
BIRTH DATE: October 03, 1925
DEATH DATE: July 31, 2012
EDUCATION: St. Albans School, Los Alamos Ranch School
PLACE OF BIRTH: West Point, New York
PLACE OF DEATH: Hollywood Hills, California

Best Known For: Gore Vidal is best known as a prolific American writer, but is also famous for frequent talk-show appearances and witty political criticisms.

Today is the birthday of Gore Vidal, born Eugene Luther Gore Vidal Jr. at the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York, where his father was an instructor (1925).

“A good deed never goes unpunished.”

He’s well known for his works of historical fiction — such as Julian (1964), Burr (1973), and Lincoln (1984). And his 1968 novel Myra Breckenridge, a satire about a transsexual, was an international best-seller. The New York Times called it “witty”; the reviewer also called it “repulsive” and “a funny novel, but it requires an iron stomach.” Vidal carried a grudge against the Times for the rest of his life.

“A narcissist is someone better looking than you are.”

In the mid-1950s he branched out even further, writing a series of potboiler mysteries under the pen name “Edgar Box.” He also produced 20 dramas and literary adaptations for television. He adapted one of his original teleplays, Visit to a Small Planet (1955), for the stage, and it became a hit on Broadway; he also wrote several original and adapted screenplays in Hollywood. Near the end of his life, he announced that he’d given up the long-form novel, preferring to focus on nonfiction. He wrote two memoirs (Palimpsest in 1995 and Point to Point Navigation in 2006), and several book-length essays on American history and politics.

Vidal died of pneumonia two months ago, at the age of 86. His old sparring partner The New York Times published a long obituary in his honor, but it contained three errors that required correction.

And this is why you should like him:

Happy Birthday Maxwell Perkins

Today is the 130th birthday of Maxwell Perkins.  My first exposure to him was from reading a book of correspondence between him and F. Scott Fitzgerald.  He was Fitzgerald’s editor at the time and they would write back and forth keeping each other informed on how new works were progressing and finished works were being published.  I have gone on the read the Scott Berg biography on him and that rounded out the picture for me.  You should always read a Scott Berg biography.  I think I have read them all.

maxwell perkinsNAME: Maxwell Perkins
OCCUPATION: Editor
BIRTH DATE: September 20, 1884
DEATH DATE: June 17, 1947
EDUCATION: St. Paul’s School, Harvard University
PLACE OF BIRTH: New York, New York
PLACE OF DEATH: Stamford, Connecticut

BEST KNOWN FOR: Maxwell Perkins was an influential editor who worked with such authors as Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Thomas Wolfe.

Maxwell Perkins was born on September 20, 1884, in New York City, at his family’s home on the corner of Second Avenue and 14th Street. After high school, Perkins attended Harvard University, as had many members of his family before him. After graduation (1907), Perkins was a reporter for a short period at The New York Times, but in 1910 he landed a job as an advertising manager with Charles Scribner’s Sons, the publishing house where he would truly make his mark. (This was the same year Perkins married Louise Saunders, with whom he went on to have five daughters.)

Scribner’s was a traditional publishing house, with a serious if staid stable of writers (e.g., Henry James and Edith Wharton). When Perkins joined the editorial staff in 1914, little did he know he would end up revolutionizing the company and American literature.

Four years after moving into editorial, Perkins began his upward push when a manuscript called The Romantic Egoist hit his desk. It was the first novel by a 22-year-old Princeton graduate, and it came with a host of negative comments from others who had already perused its pages. But something about it caught Perkins’ eye, and he contacted the writer to make some edits. The writer was F. Scott Fitzgerald, and while arguing the merits of Fitzgerald’s book, Perkins said, “If we aren’t going to publish a talent like this, it is a very serious thing . . . . we might as well go out of business.”

Fitzgerald rewrote the work twice before Scribner’s agreed to publish it, under the name This Side of Paradise (1920). The book was a huge success, and it launched Fitzgerald to international literary stardom. Perkins was also instrumental in shaping Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, called by some the greatest American novel ever written.

Four years later, Fitzgerald pointed Perkins in the direction of another up-and-coming American writer living in Paris: Ernest Hemingway. Perkins made contact, and two years later Scribner’s, under Perkin’s guidance, published the 27-year-old Hemingway’s first novel, The Sun Also Rises. As had This Side of Paradise, Hemingway’s first book caused literary waves around the world, and a new movement was under way, with Perkins at its heart. Perkins would work on subsequent books by both Fitzgerald and Hemingway, as well as books by writers such as Ring Lardner, Sherwood Anderson and Martha Gellhorn (who would become Hemingway’s third wife).

In what would mark the beginning of a tumultuous and important literary and personal relationship, in 1928 Thomas Wolfe submitted to Scribner’s his first novel, titled O Lost, a sprawling 1,114-page coming-of-age novel that had already been rejected by a handful of publishers. Perkins and Wolfe spent months editing and restructuring the work, hammering it into what would become known as Look Homeward, Angel (1929), a book that would go on to become a classic. Perkins and Wolfe worked together again, but they eventually had a dramatic falling-out over Perkins’ methods, and Wolfe left Scribner’s.

Perkins, however, has come to represent how important an editor can be for an author. A collection of his correspondence to his authors and others, Editor to Author, was published in 1950, three years after his death at age 62.

Happy Birthday Molly Ivins

Today is the 70th birthday of Molly Ivins.

NAME: Molly Ivins
OCCUPATION: Comedian, Journalist
BIRTH DATE: August 30, 1944
DEATH DATE: January 31, 2007
PLACE OF BIRTH: Monterey, California
PLACE OF DEATH: Austin, Texas

BEST KNOWN FOR: Molly Ivins was an American political satirist with a widely syndicated column. She wrote several scathing books about the political career of George W. Bush.

American political satirist (born Aug. 30, 1944 , Monterey, Calif.—died Jan. 31, 2007 , Austin, Texas) wrote a newspaper column from a staunchly liberal point of view that mercilessly and humorously skewered politicians in both her home state of Texas and the federal government. Ivins began her career in 1967 as a reporter for the Minneapolis (Minn.) Tribune. In 1970 she became editor of the liberal biweekly magazine the Texas Observer, and it was there that she developed her distinctive style. Ivins worked (1976–82) for the New York Times before spending 10 years with the Dallas Times Herald. She then wrote her column for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.Ivins came to national prominence with the rise to national politics of Texas politician George W. Bush, and her column was widely syndicated. She wrote six books, including, with Lou Dubose, Shrub: The Short but Happy Political Life of George W. Bush (2000) and Bushwhacked (2003).

In 1999, Ivins was diagnosed with stage III inflammatory breast cancer. The cancer recurred in 2003 and again in late 2005. In January 2006 she reported that she was again undergoing chemotherapy. In December 2006 she took leave from her column to again undergo treatment. She wrote two columns in January 2007, but returned to the hospital on the 26th for further treatment. Ivins died at her Austin, Texas home in hospice care on January 31, 2007, at age 62.

After her death, George W. Bush, a frequent target of her barbs, said in a statement, “I respected her convictions, her passionate belief in the power of words. She fought her illness with that same passion. Her quick wit and commitment will be missed.

Happy Birthday James Baldwin

NAME: James Baldwin
OCCUPATION: Writer
BIRTH DATE: August 2, 1924
DEATH DATE: December 1, 1987
EDUCATION: The New School, DeWitt Clinton High School
PLACE OF BIRTH: Harlem, New York
PLACE OF DEATH: Saint-Paul de Vence, France

BEST KNOWN FOR: James Baldwin was an essayist, playwright and novelist regarded as a highly insightful, iconic writer with works like The Fire Next Time and Another Country.

Writer and playwright James Baldwin was born August 2, 1924, in Harlem, New York. One of the 20th century’s greatest writers, Baldwin broke new literary ground with the exploration of racial and social issues in his many works. He was especially well known for his essays on the black experience in America.

Baldwin was born to a young single mother, Emma Jones, at Harlem Hospital. She reportedly never told him the name of his biological father. Jones married a Baptist minister named David Baldwin when James was about three years old. Despite their strained relationship, he followed in his stepfather’s footsteps—who he always referred to as his father—during his early teen years. He served as a youth minister in a Harlem Pentecostal church from the ages of 14 to 16.

Baldwin developed a passion for reading at an early age, and demonstrated a gift for writing during his school years. He attended DeWitt Clinton High School in the Bronx, where he worked on the school’s magazine with future famous photographer Richard Avedon. He published numerous poems, short stories, and plays in the magazine, and his early work showed an understanding for sophisticated literary devices in a writer of such a young age.

After graduating high school in 1942, he had to put his plans for college on hold to help support his family, which included seven younger children. He took whatever work he could find, including laying railroad track for the U.S. Army in New Jersey. During this time, Baldwin frequently encountered discrimination, being turned away from restaurants, bars, and other establishments because he was African-American. After being fired from the New Jersey job, Baldwin sought other work and struggled to make ends meet.

On July 29, 1943, Baldwin lost his father—and gained his eighth sibling the same day. He soon moved to Greenwich Village, a New York City neighborhood popular with artists and writers. Devoting himself to writing a novel, Baldwin took odd jobs to support himself. He befriended writer Richard Wright, and through Wright he was able to land a fellowship in 1945 to cover his expenses. Baldwin started getting essays and short stories published in such national periodicals as The Nation, Partisan Review, and Commentary.

Three years later, Baldwin made a dramatic change in his life, and moved to Paris on another fellowship. The shift in location freed Baldwin to write more about his personal and racial background. “Once I found myself on the other side of the ocean, I see where I came from very clearly…I am the grandson of a slave, and I am writer. I must deal with both,” Baldwin once told The New York Times. The move marked the beginning of his life as a “transatlantic commuter,” dividing his time between France and the United States.

Baldwin had his first novel, Go Tell It on the Mountain, published in 1953. The loosely autobiographical tale focused on the life of a young man growing up in Harlem grappling with father issues and his religion. “Mountain is the book I had to write if I was ever going to write anything else. I had to deal with what hurt me most. I had to deal, above all, with my father,” he later said.

In 1954, Baldwin received a Guggenheim fellowship. He published his next novel, Giovanni’s Room, the following year. The work told the story of an American living in Paris, and broke new ground for its complex depiction of homosexuality, a then-taboo subject. He also explored interracial relationships in his novels, another controversial topic for the times.

Around this time, Baldwin explored writing for the stage. He wrote The Amen Corner, which looked at the phenomenon of storefront Pentecostal religion. The play was produced at Howard University in 1955, and later on Broadway in the mid-1960s.

It was his essays, however, that helped establish Baldwin as one of the top writers of the times. Delving into his own life, he provided an unflinching look at the black experience in America through such works as Notes of a Native Son (1955) and Nobody Knows My Name: More Notes of a Native Son (1961). Nobody Knows My Name hit the best-sellers list, selling more than a million copies. While not a marching or sit-in style activist, Baldwin emerged as one of the leading voices in the civil rights movement for his compelling work on race.

In 1963, there was a noted change in Baldwin’s work with The Fire Next Time. This collection of essays was meant to educate white Americans on what it meant to be black. It also offered white readers a view of themselves through the eyes of the African-American community. In the work, Baldwin offered a brutally realistic picture of race relations, but he remained hopeful about possible improvements. “If we…do not falter in our duty now, we may be able…to end the racial nightmare.” His words struck a cord with the American people, and The Fire Next Time sold more than a million copies.

That same year, Baldwin was featured on the cover of Time magazine. “There is not another writer—white or black—who expresses with such poignancy and abrasiveness the dark realities of the racial ferment in North and South,”Time said in the feature.

Baldwin wrote another play, Blues for Mister Charlie, which debuted on Broadway in 1964. The drama was loosely based on the 1955 racially motivated murder of a young African-American boy named Emmett Till. This same year, his book with friend Richard Avalon, entitled Nothing Personal, hit bookstore shelves. The work was a tribute to slain civil rights leader Medgar Evers. Baldwin also published a collection of short stories, Going to Meet the Man, around this time.

In his 1968 novel Tell Me How Long the Train’s Been Gone, Baldwin returned to popular themes—sexuality, family, and the black experience. Some critics panned the novel, calling it a polemic rather than a novel. He was also criticized for using the first-person singular, the “I,” for the book’s narration.

By the early 1970s, Baldwin seemed to despair over the racial situation. He witnessed so much violence in the previous decade—especially the assassinations of Evers, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King, Jr.—because of racial hatred. This disillusionment became apparent in his work, employing a more strident tone than in earlier works. Many critics point to No Name in the Street, a 1972 collection of essays, as the beginning of the change in Baldwin’s work. He also worked on a screenplay around this time, trying to adapt The Autobiography of Malcolm X by Alex Haley for the big screen.

While his literary fame faded somewhat in his later years, Baldwin continued to produce new works in a variety of forms. He published a collection of poems, Jimmy’s Blues: Selected Poems, in 1983 as well as the 1987 novel Harlem Quartet. Baldwin also remained an astute observer of race and American culture. In 1985, he wrote The Evidence of Things Not Seen about the Atlanta child murders. Baldwin also spent years sharing his experiences and views as a college professor. In the years before his death, he taught at University of Massachusetts at Amherst and Hampshire College.

Baldwin died on December 1, 1987, at his home in St. Paul de Vence, France. Never wanting to be a spokesperson or a leader, Baldwin saw his personal mission as bearing “witness to the truth.” He accomplished this mission through his extensive body of work.

Happy Birthday Milton Berle

Today is the 106th birthday of Milton Berle.

NAME:  Milton Berle
OCCUPATION:  Radio Personality, Film Actor, Television Actor, Comedian, Television Personality
BIRTH DATE:  July 12, 1908
DEATH DATE:  March 27, 2002
PLACE OF BIRTH:  New York, New York
PLACE OF DEATH:  Los Angeles, California
AKA:  Milton Berle, Mr. Television, Uncle Miltie
NICKNAME:  The Thief of Bad Gags
ORIGINALLY:  Milton Berlinger

BEST KNOWN FOR: Milton Berle was a Jewish-American comedian who started in vaudeville acts, and was a success in the early days of TV, becoming known as “Uncle Miltie.”

Comedy legend Milton Berle was born as Milton Berlinger in New York City on July 12, 1908. He started his career by impersonating Charlie Chaplin at as a young boy. After winning a Chaplin look-alike contest at the age of 5, he began landing film roles. Berle appeared in numerous silent films, including The Mark of Zorro, with Douglas Fairbanks Sr., and Tillie’s Punctured Romance, with Charlie Chaplin.

Berle also performed on the vaudeville circuit, sometimes landing on the same bill as Eddie Cantor and Al Jolson. Nearly every step of the way, in his early years, Berle was accompanied by his mother, who was both his manager and biggest fan. According to the The Boston Globe, Berle said that his mother sat in the audience “for every show,” adding, “She had a loud laugh. She’d cue the audience, but they never knew it was my mother.”

Berle made his first radio appearance in 1934, but he continued to be more famous for his live acts. By the 1940s, he was one of the highest paid night-club performers. He also developed a reputation for being a joke thief, stealing other people’s material for his routine—an accusation that he embraced. “Like every comedian, if I heard a joke that I thought would work, I used it,” he said in an interview with The New York Times. Journalist Walter Winchell nicknamed Berle “The Thief of Bad Gags.”

In the late 1940s, Berle took a gamble on a then-emerging medium—television. His show Texaco Star Theater debuted in 1948, and he quickly became a huge star. Known as “Mr. Television” and “Uncle Miltie,” Berle became a weekly fixture in the homes of many Americans, and a motivation for some to purchase their first television set. He joked aggressively with his audience, and seemed to have no limits for getting laughs, including dressing up in women’s clothing. The show’s writers included Neil Simon, who later found fame as a playwright.

Berle’s ratings started to ebb in 1953, and he lost Texaco as a sponsor. When the Buick car company jumped aboard for one season, the show was renamed The Buick-Berle Show. In its final year, however, it was titled The Milton Berle Show. After signing off in 1955, Berle made several attempts to recapture his earlier success, but had no luck. He continued to make guest TV appearances on such shows as The Love Boat and Batman—on which he played a recurring role as the villainous “Louie the Lilac.”

Outside of his TV career, Berle continued to thrive as a comedian in Las Vegas, as well as other parts of the country. He performed until December 1998, when he suffered a mild stroke. Rather than go on stage, Berle held court at the Friars Club, a popular haunt for comics in Beverly Hills, California.

A year after being diagnosed with colon cancer, on March 27, 2002, Milton Berle died at his Los Angeles, California home. He was survived by his third wife, Lorna, his two stepchildren, and two children from previous marriages.

Fellow comedian Buddy Hackett remembered Berle as a pioneer. “Whatever you see on television, Milton did it first,” Hackett told The New York Times.