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.

Happy Birthday Christine Jorgensen

Today is the 88th birthday of Christine Jorgensen.  When confronted with people’s opinions about the gender identities of others, I often claim that they are the bravest people we will ever meet.  Think about it.  If how you felt on the inside didn’t match how you looked on the outside and you chose to dress and alter yourself to align those two more closely.  But you know that in making yourself feel more whole, you are going to get stares and snickers every time you left your house.  All day long.  Would you be brave enough to do it?  Would you be strong enough to live your truth?

NAME:  Christine Jorgensen
OCCUPATION:  Singer, Film Actor/Film Actress
BIRTH DATE:  May 30, 1926
DEATH DATE:  May 3, 1989
EDUCATION:  Christopher Columbus High School, New York Institute of Photography
PLACE OF BIRTH:  Bronx, New York
PLACE OF DEATH:  San Clemente, California
ORIGINALLY:  George William Jorgensen Jr.

Best Known For: Entertainer, author and famous transsexual Christine Jorgensen, made headlines in the early 1950s for having a sex change from a man to a woman.

Entertainer, author and famous transsexual Christine Jorgensen was born George William Jorgensen, Jr., on May 30, 1926, in the Bronx, New York. In the early 1950s, Christine Jorgensen made headlines for having a sex change, transforming from a man to a woman. The son of a carpenter, she grew up in the Bronx borough of New York City. At an early age, Jorgensen became aware of feeling like a woman stuck inside a man’s body. She hated boys’ clothes and wondered why his clothes were so different from his older sister Dorothy’s pretty dresses, he wrote in American Weekly in 1953.

As a teenager, Jorgensen said that she felt “lost between the sexes.” She was more envious of girls than he was interested in them. Near the end of high school, Jorgensen found a diversion from her personal struggle — photography. Her father was an amateur photographer and two set up a darkroom at home. She also took classes at the New York Institute of Photography.

Unfortunately, Jorgensen had to put her interest aside when she was drafted into the military in 1945. Being of a small and slight build, she ended up working as a clerk at Fort Dix, New Jersey. After being discharged in 1946, Jorgensen floundered for a bit before deciding to become a woman.

In 1950, Jorgensen traveled to Denmark to begin the transformation from man to woman. The treatment, available only in Europe at the time, included hormone therapy and several operations. Her story became public in 1952 while she was still in a Copenhagen hospital, making big news in the United States. Overwhelmed by the attention, Jorgensen had to deal with such headlines as “Bronx ‘Boy’ Is Now a Girl” and “Dear Mum and Dad, Son Wrote, Have Now Become Your Daughter.”

Returning home to United States in 1953, Jorgensen was met by a sea of reporters at a New York airport. After answering a few questions, she said “I thank you all coming, but I think it’s too much.” Becoming more comfortable with her newfound fame, Jorgensen told her story to American Weekly magazine for a fee. She also developed a nightclub act, later saying, “I decided if they wanted to see me, they would have to pay for it,” according to The New York Times. Happy with her new identity as a woman, she often sang “I Enjoy Being a Girl.”

While she never questioned her choice, many members of the public and the media did not understand and made Jorgensen the subject of ridicule. Even the government was not willing to fully recognize her as a female. Engaged, she was denied a marriage license in 1959 became her birth certificate listed her as “male.”

Although some rejected her, others found her engaging and fascinating. Along with performing, she was a popular lecturer and author of 1967’s Christine Jorgensen: A Personal Biography. Her life even made the big screen in 1970’s The Christine Jorgensen Story.

Jorgensen retired to South California in the early 1970s. She died of bladder and lung cancer on May 3, 1989. Jorgensen’s very public transformation from a man to a woman launched a national discussion about gender identity, and her story stood as an inspiring example to others that suffered from that same feeling about being trapped in the wrong body, or gender dysphoria as it is also called.

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Happy Birthday Carrie Donovan

This week is Carrie Donovan’s 86th birthday.  I am a sucker for huge glasses, truth be told. You have got to OWN your look, make it yours, and do not hide from it. Become know by it and your “style” becomes stylish and copied.

Born:  March 22, 1928
Died:  November 12, 2001
Wrote for:  The New York Times, The New York Times Magazine, Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar

Carrie Donovan (March 22, 1928 – November 12, 2001) was fashion editor for Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar and The New York Times Magazine. Later in her life she became known for her work in Old Navy commercials where she wore her trademark large eyeglasses and black clothing, often declaring the merchandise “Fabulous!”. In almost all of the commercials, she appeared alongside Magic the dog and various other stars from TV and fashion.

When Donovan was just 10 years old, she mailed her own sketches for a design collection to the actress Jane Wyman, who replied with a handwritten letter. She later attended the Parsons School of Design, graduating in 1950. She worked as a journalist for 30 years but always wrote her copy out by hand, because she never got the hang of the typewriter.

“Fashion is entertainment. That’s why these top models are so fascinating to kids. They’re dying to know about Naomi and Christy, or whoever we’ve declared the new one this afternoon.”

One of her best talents was her ability to flit easily between high society and the common masses, both in her personal life and as a style professional. She helped bring Donna Karan and Perry Ellis to fame, and she united Elsa Peretti with Tiffany’s, feeling sure that Peretti would open the doors to a new demographic for the upscale company. Even her work with Old Navy gave new fashion credibility to the casual-wear company. Vogue editor-in-chief Diana Vreeland told her: ”My dear, you’ve got the common touch!”

She was portrayed as a parody by Ana Gasteyer on an episode of Saturday Night Live.

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Happy Birthday Anna Maria Piaggi

Anna Maria Piaggi (22 March 1931 – 7 August 2012) was an Italian fashion writer and style icon.

Piaggi was born in Milan in 1931. She worked as a translator for an Italian publishing company Mondadori, then wrote for fashion magazines such as the Italian edition of Vogue and, in the 1980s, the avant-garde magazine Vanity. She was known especially for double page spreads in the Italian Vogue, where her artistic flair was given free expression in a montage of images and text, with layout by Luca Stoppini.

Since 1969, she used a bright red manual Olivetti Valentine typewriter for her work. Piaggi had a large clothes collection, including 2,865 dresses and 265 pairs of shoes, according to a 2006 exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. She dressed in an exuberant, unique and eclectic way, never appearing in the same outfit more than once in public. Such was her influence and knowledge in the fashion world, Manolo Blahnik dubbed her “The world’s last great authority on frocks”.[citation needed]

Her associates in the fashion world included the fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld (from the 1970s), who has often sketched her, and Manolo Blahnik, who is the designer of many of her shoes. She was the muse of British milliner Stephen Jones. She was also an admirer of British clothes designer Vivienne Westwood and her hats, made by Prudence Millinery. She lived in New York and visited London and Italy periodically since the 1950s. Piaggi appeared in the documentary Bill Cunningham New York on the New York Times fashion and social photographer Bill Cunningham.

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Happy Birthday Dorothy Gish

Dorothy-Gish 1

NAME: Dorothy Gish
OCCUPATION: Film Actress, Theater Actress
BIRTH DATE: March 11, 1898
DEATH DATE: June 04, 1968
PLACE OF BIRTH: Dayton, Ohio
PLACE OF DEATH: Rapallo, Liguria, Italy
FULL NAME: Dorothy Elizabeth Gish

BEST KNOWN FOR: Dorothy Gish, younger sister of actress Lillian Gish, was a film actress in the first half of the 20th century.

Actress Dorothy Elizabeth Gish was born on March 11, 1898, in Dayton, Ohio. Though many saw her as the less-celebrated younger sister of the famous Lillian Gish, Dorothy was an adept comedian who went on to star in more than 100 short films and features.

Her father, James Leigh Gish, was a candy maker who eventually abandoned the family after his business failed. Her mother, Mary Robinson McConnell, took up acting to support the family, using the stage name Mae. Dorothy Gish and her older sister, Lillian, soon followed their mother onto the stage. Dorothy began performing at the age of 4, appearing as a boy in a production of East Lynne.

Mary, Dorothy and Lillian Gish spent years working on theatrical tours, sometimes together on the same show and other times working on different productions. When not with their mother, the Gish girls were looked after by theatrical friends and associates. During their off-season, Dorothy and her family would spend time in Massillon, Ohio, with her mother’s sister.

In addition to acting, Mary Gish rented out rooms in the family’s New York apartment—this is how Dorothy and her sister met future film star Mary Pickford, who was originally known as Gladys Smith. Years later, the Gish sisters approached Pickford after she began appearing in movies by D.W. Griffith. Pickford introduced them to Griffith, which soon led to their film debut. Dorothy was 14 years old when she and Lillian appeared in An Uneasy Enemy.

Both Dorothy and Lillian Gish enjoyed huge success in film; Dorothy distinguished herself as a fine comedic performer while her sister usually tackled more dramatic roles. Dorothy became known as one of the busiest actresses of the silent-film era, making more than 60 movies during the first few years of her career. Sadly, many of her early works have been lost.

Dorothy Gish made several memorable films as a young woman, including 1918’s Hearts of the World with her sister; her comic turn as Little Disturber in this movie earned her great praise. More humorous roles soon followed, including in Battling Jane (1918) and The Hope Chest (1919). With her sister directing, Dorothy starred opposite James Rennie in the popular 1920 comedy Remodeling Her Husband. Later that year, she married Rennie.

The following year, Dorothy showed off her dramatic talents: She played a blind woman in Orphans of the Storm (1921), co-starring with her sister. Dorothy made her last film with Lillian, Romola, in 1924.

After the film industry converted to talking pictures, Gish transitioned back to the stage. By this time, she was an enormous star and her performances drew large, eager crowds. Notable stage performances include 1928’s Young Love, directed by George Cukor.

For much of the 1930s and ’40s, Gish focused primarily on stage work. She and her husband divorced in 1935.

Gish returned to film in 1944 with a supporting role in Our Hearts Were Young and Gay. Two years later, she appeared in Centennial Summer. But for Gish, the “talkies” held little appeal. She starred on Broadway as painter Mary Surratt in 1947’s The Story of Mary Surratt, and in 1950, she made her final Broadway appearance in The Man.

The following year, Gish returned to the screen in The Whistle at Eaton Falls, starring Lloyd Bridges. In an interview with The New York Times, she discussed how much filmmaking had changed since her heyday: “Films have become easier work since I was last here,” she said. “In the old days, an actress did her own makeup and hair, prepared her costumes, and sometimes worked 15 and 16 hours a day.” Gish worked with director Otto Preminger on her last film, The Cardinal (1963).

Dorothy Gish spent her final years at a clinic in Italy, according to a New York Times report. Her sister was with her when she died of bronchial pneumonia on June 4, 1968, in Rapallo, Liguria, Italy. Years later, the Dorothy and Lillian Gish Film Theater and Gallery was established on the campus of Bowling Green State University, honoring the work of two of film’s great early stars.

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Happy Birthday Betty Hutton

Today is the 93rd birthday of Betty Hutton.

 

NAME: Betty Hutton
OCCUPATION: Film Actress, Singer
BIRTH DATE: February 26, 1921
DEATH DATE: March 11, 2007
PLACE OF BIRTH: Battle Creek, Michigan
PLACE OF DEATH: Palm Springs, California

BEST KNOWN FOR: A popular film actress of the 1940s and 1950s, Betty Hutton starred in such films as Annie Get Your Gun and Greatest Show on Earth.

Born Elizabeth Jane Thornburg on February 26, 1921, in Battle Creek, Michigan, entertainer Betty Hutton started performing at a young age. Her father walked out on the family when she was a toddler, and her mother did what she could to take care of Betty and her sister, Marion, including selling homemade gin and beer during Prohibition. At the age of 3, Hutton began singing as a way to earn spare change from her mother’s customers.

According to the Washington Post, Hutton’s family situation grew more dire over the years: “I quit school when I was 9 years old and starting singing on street corners because my mother was an alcoholic,” Hutton later explained. By age 15, Hutton was working professionally, appearing in a Detroit nightclub. There, she was discovered by bandleader Vincent Lopez. It was Lopez’s idea for her change her last name to Hutton.

After performing with Lopez for a time, Hutton went out on her own. She made her Broadway debut in 1940’s Two for the Show. Later that year, she appeared with Ethel Merman in Panama Hattie. Soon, she moved to film, brought out to Hollywood by a Paramount executive.

Hutton brought an explosive energy to her movie roles, beginning with 1942’s The Fleet’s In with Dorothy Lamour and William Holden. Two years later, she starred in the 1944 wartime comedy The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek, directed by Preston Sturges, and her platinum locks and curvy figure quickly earned her nicknames such as “the Blond Bombshell” and “the Blond Blitz.”

More starring film roles soon followed. In 1945, Hutton played entertainer Texas Guinan in Incendiary Blonde. She then brought the life of silent film star Pearl White to the big screen in 1947’s The Perils of Pauline. In 1950, the actress tackled perhaps her most famous role in the hit musical Annie Get Your Gun, about famed sharpshooter and western star Annie Oakley.

Hutton had two major film projects in 1952: She starred in Cecil B. DeMille’s grand spectacular Greatest Show on Earth and in the biopic Somebody Loves Me, based on the life and career of vaudeville singer and actress Blossom Seeley. These movies proved to be two of Hutton’s final big screen efforts.

Hutton walked out on her film contract after a dispute with the studio.

She wanted her second husband, Charles O’Curran, to be her director, and the studio refused. After her split from Paramount, Hutton only made one more film: the 1957 low-budget drama Spring Reunion. Two years later, she tried her luck with television, starring on The Betty Hutton Show. The program lasted only one season.

As her career faded, Hutton fell prey to her personal demons and financial woes. She abused sleeping pills and other drugs for many years. In 1967, she declared bankruptcy, having spent the $9 million to $10 million that she had earned during her heyday. A few years later, she had a mental breakdown, subsequently spending time in a treatment facility.

With the help of Father Peter Maguire, Hutton managed to turn her life around. She became a Catholic and spent years working in his church in Rhode Island. In 1980, she returned to the Broadway stage in the musical Annie. Also around this time, she became a drama teacher at Salve Regina University in Newport, Rhode Island.

After Maguire’s death in 1996, Hutton moved to Palm Springs, California, hoping to reconcile with her three daughters who lived in the state. Married four times, Hutton had two children, Candy and Lindsay, with her first husband, Ted Briskin. Her third child, Caroline, was from her fourth marriage to jazz musician Pete Candoli. “My husbands all fell in love with Betty Hutton,” the famous blond bombshell once said, according to The New York Times. “None of them fell in love with me.”

Hutton died of complications from colon cancer on March 11, 2007, at the age of 86, in her Palm Springs home. There was a small, private service to mark her passing, which her daughters did not attend. Despite her efforts, Hutton had not been able to mend the rift between her and her children.

Whatever she experienced in her personal life, there is no question that Betty Hutton left an indelible mark on the world of film. “The thing about Betty Hutton was she could sing a song and break your heart, and she was a very good actress,” Robert Osborne, TV host and film historian, told the Los Angeles Times. “Behind the zaniness there was a very sweet, vulnerable person.”

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