Happy Birthday Betty Hutton

Today is the 94th birthday of Betty Hutton.  Her Rags to riches to rags to riches story is full of second acts, she has several.  It is a great American life.  The world is a better place that she was in it and still feels the loss that she has left.

 

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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Happy Birthday Karen Silkwood

Today is the 69th birthday of Karen Silkwood.  Her death nearly 40 years ago, still considered mysterious by many, has become a rallying point for nuclear energy activists, whistle blowers and union organizers.  Her accomplishments in her short life have continued to improve the worker’s rights in many industries.  A huge debt of gratitude is owed to Karen Silkwood by those who were afraid to speak up and those who otherwise would have had no voice with which to.  The world is a better place because she was in it and still feels the loss that she has left.

NAME: Karen Silkwood
OCCUPATION: Activist
BIRTH DATE: February 19, 1946
DEATH DATE: November 13, 1974
PLACE OF BIRTH: Longview, Texas
PLACE OF DEATH: Crescent, Oklahoma

Best Known For:  Karen Silkwood was a nuclear power plant technician and union activist who exposed violations by her employers. She was killed in a suspicious car accident.

Born February 19, 1946, in Longview, Texas, Karen Silkwood was employed by a nuclear facility in Crescent, Oklahoma. She became involved in the union and discovered serious health and safety violations at the plant. While collecting evidence of these crimes she was killed in a suspicious car accident. Silkwood was portrayed by Meryl Streep in a 1983 film.

Mystery of Karen Silkwood

On the night of November 13, 1974, Karen Silkwood, a technician at the Kerr-McGee Cimarron River nuclear facility in Crescent, Oklahoma, was driving her white Honda to Oklahoma City. There she was to deliver a manila folder full of alleged health and safety violations at the plant to a friend, Drew Stephens, a New York Times reporter and national union representative. Seven miles out of Crescent, however, her car went off the road, skidded for a hundred yards, hit a guardrail, and plunged off the embankment. Silkwood was killed in the crash, and the manila folder was not found at the scene when Stephens arrived a few hours later. Nor has it come to light since. Although Kerr-McGee was a prominent Oklahoma employer whose integrity had never been challenged, as a part of the nuclear power industry it had many adversaries. The controversy ignited by Silkwood’s death regarding the regulation of the nuclear industry was intense, with critics finally finding an example around which to focus their argument. The legacy of the Silkwood case continues to this day in the on-going debate over the safety of nuclear technology.

Silkwood seemed an unlikely candidate to have had such a dramatic impact on American society. One biographer commented that “most of her life was distinguished by how ordinary it was, as ordinary as her death was extraordinary.” Silkwood grew up in Nederland, in the heart of the Texas oil and gas fields. The oldest of three daughters of Bill and Merle Silkwood, she led a normal life. In high school she played on the volleyball team and flute in the band, and was an “A” student and a member of the National Honor Society. She excelled in chemistry and, upon graduation, went to Lamar College in Beaumont to become a medical technician.

After her first year of college, Silkwood eloped with Bill Meadows. They moved around Texas, where Meadows worked in the oil industry and Silkwood took care of their three children. After years of financial struggle (they finally declared bankruptcy), Silkwood left him in 1972 when she discovered Meadows was having an affair with her friend. Giving Bill custody of the children, she moved to Oklahoma City. There she found a job at Kerr-McGee’s Cimarron River plant in Crescent, thirty miles north of Oklahoma City, soon joined the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers Union, and walked the picket line during their largely unsuccessful nine week strike in 1972.

The Cimarron facility manufactured fuel rods that were used in nuclear fission reactors. Contained within these fuel rods were particles of plutonium, an element created from uranium atoms, and the most toxic substance then known. Even pollen-sized grains of plutonium can cause cancer, as had been shown in animal experiments, but the workers at the plant were not alerted to any danger. Nonetheless Silkwood became increasingly concerned about health and safety violations that went uncorrected by management, and as 1974 drew on, got involved with the bargaining committee for the union. The Cimarron plant was experiencing sixty percent employee turnover a year, was using second-hand equipment, and was behind on production.

Desperate to avoid another strike, which was looming, Kerr-McGee organized a union de-certification vote that, though ultimately failing, galvanized the union into bringing the safety violations to the attention of federal officials. Silkwood and two other local union officials went to Washington, D.C., to confer with national union leaders and the Atomic Energy Commission. Chief among their allegations were the lack of training given employees, failure to minimize contamination, and poor monitoring, including the finding of uranium dust in the lunchroom. At this meeting Silkwood secretly agreed to obtain before and after photomicrographs of faulty fuel rods showing where they were being ground down to disguise faults.

After this meeting Silkwood began carrying around notebooks to document a variety of safety violations at the plant. Her assertion was that people were being contaminated by plutonium all the time, and indeed there were at least 17 acknowledged incidents of exposure involving 77 employees in the recent past. Silkwood’s concern was obsessive. As her friend Stephens remarked: “She just lived it, couldn’t let it go and relax, particularly in the last month she was alive.” On November 4 and 5, 1974, for two consecutive days, Silkwood was contaminated by radioactivity, detected by plant electronic monitors when leaving work. By November 7,  her urine showed very high levels of radioactivity. When tested, her apartment also showed high levels, especially in the refrigerator. At this time Silkwood was convinced she was going to die of plutonium poisoning. She and her roommate and Stephens were sent to Los Alamos, New Mexico, to be more thoroughly tested. The exposure level was deemed not serious.

On November 13, Silkwood attended a local union meeting then got into her car to drive to Oklahoma City to deliver the manila folder of evidence, the results of her seven week vigil, to New York Times reporter David Burnham. Ten minutes later her car went off the road and Silkwood died. The state patrol ruled it an accident, saying “it’s pretty clear she fell asleep at the wheel. She never woke up.” While blood tests showed a small amount of alcohol and methaqualone (a prescription sedative) in her system, it is doubtful the amount was sufficient to induce sleep in ten minutes. A subsequent investigation by a private detective concluded that she had likely been forced off the road by another car; a dent in the rear bumper showed metal and rubber fragments, as if another car had rammed her from behind. The manila folder was not recovered from the site of the crash, though other personal effects were.

A subsequent Justice Department investigation also ruled it an accident. Congressional hearings, along with a lawsuit on behalf of Silkwood’s children, however, have revealed an intriguing and bizarre story to discredit critics, involving the FBI, newspaper reporters, and the nuclear industry, a story largely left untold. It is possible Silkwood’s phone had been tapped and that she had been under surveillance for awhile. Union official Jack Tice has said that Silkwood had been alarmed prior to her death: “She was starting to think someone was out to get her.”

The truth of what happened the night of November 13, 1974, may never be known. What is clear is that the death of Silkwood has become a rallying point for anti-nuclear activists and put the nuclear industry on the defensive. The Atomic Energy Commission confirmed three violations at the Cimarron plant, which eventually shut down. And a major questioning of the nuclear industry has occurred as a result of the revelations that have come to light. In a suit filed by Bill Silkwood on behalf of his grandchildren, a jury in May, 1979, awarded the Silkwood estate over ten million dollars in punitive damages and cleared Silkwood of the allegation that she had stolen plutonium from the plant. It also found that Kerr-McGee had been negligent and that someone had planted plutonium in her apartment. Though an appeals court overturned the decision, the Supreme Court eventually agreed with the lower court, reinstating the victory for the Silkwood family and saying that punitive damages could be awarded in cases involving the nuclear industry, effectively allowing state and jury regulation.

Though many mysteries remain surrounding the death of Silkwood, the public has gained much awareness about nuclear issues and has pressured the industry to become more responsible to health and safety concerns. As former Congresswoman Bella Abzug has commented, the issues stemming from the Silkwood case are “a matter of concern both in regard to public safety and the rights of individuals.”

Silkwood’s story was unveiled to a much greater audience in the 1983 film directed by Mike Nichols. Meryl Streep starred as Karen Silkwood with Kurt Russell and Cher in supporting roles. Silkwood garnered numerous Academy Award and Golden Globe nominations for acting, directing, and screenplay writing. Cher won a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress.

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Happy Birthday Antonio Lopez

Today is the 72nd Birthday of the fashion illustrator Antonio Lopez.  His works are responsible ‘legitimizing’ fashion illustration into ta fine art and in turn, making art accessible and understandable to a wider amount of people.  The world is a better place because he was in it and still feels the loss that he has left.

Antonio Lopez was born in Utuado, Puerto Rico in 1943. His family moved to Spanish Harlem in 1950 where he showed early promise as an artist making drawings for his mother who was a seamstress and dressmaker. In the early 1960s he enrolled on a course at the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) in New York where he met Juan Ramos who became his life long partner, and collaborator. While a student at FIT he participated in a work-study program at Womens Wear Daily where his talent was immediately recognized. He was offered a job at WWD and dropped out of FIT before joining The New York Times in 1963 where his style continued to develop. He was soon freelancing for Harper’s Bazaar, British Vogue and French Elle.

In 1969 he moved to Paris with Ramos where they lived in an apartment owned by Karl Lagerfeld. At this point he was being commissioned by all the leading fashion magazines and contributed several pages of drawings to the April in Paris issue of Andy Warhol’s Interview Magazine. Antonio and Ramos returned to New York in 1975 and set up a studio at 876 Broadway. Three years later they moved into a space on Union Square West.
 In 1981 he began collaborating with Anna Piaggi on the magazine Vanity. His self-portrait graced the cover of the first issue launched in September 1981.

Amongst many others, Antonio hung out with and drew Jerry Hall, with whom he shared a flat, Grace Jones, Pat Cleveland, Tina Chow and Jessica Lange, all of whom featured in the 1982, Antonio Girls published by New York Congreve. This book was followed in 1985 by Antonio’s Tales of 1001 Nights published by Stewart, Tabori & Chang.

Antonio died from an AIDS related illness in Los Angeles 1987. He was forty four years old.

Recording and predicting contemporary style trends, Antonio also used his immense versatility to adopt a broad range of art movements, from Pop Art to Surrealism.

For Antonio, life – bestial and sublime – surpassed any fiction. His illustrations and photographs capture the beautiful people who are part of celebrity folklore, and who were more often than not his friends: Jerry Hall (to whom he was engaged), Grace Jones, Mick Jagger, Audrey Hepburn, Andy Warhol (with whom he worked on Interview magazine), Paloma Picasso and Marlene Dietrich.

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Happy Birthday James Michener

Every once in a while, I wonder if anyone is reading a Michener novel.  I mean, someone must, right?  His books are of such sweeping epic length, I worry that there is no one left with that sort of attention span.  They are important American literature for their impact on they reading habits of the every day citizen.  The world is a better place because he was in it and still feels the loss that he has left.

james michener 1NAME: James Michener
OCCUPATION: Author
BIRTH DATE: c. February 03, 1907
DEATH DATE: October 16, 1997
PLACE OF BIRTH: New York City, New York
PLACE OF DEATH: Austin, Texas

BEST KNOWN FOR: James Michener was an American novelist and story-story writer who penned Tales of the South Pacific, which one a Pulitzer Prize in 1947.

James Albert Michener (February 3, 1907 – October 16, 1997) was an American author of more than 40 titles, the majority of which were sweeping sagas, covering the lives of many generations in particular geographic locales and incorporating historical facts into the stories. Michener was known for the meticulous research behind his work.

Michener’s major books include Tales of the South Pacific (for which he won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1948), Hawaii, The Drifters, Centennial, The Source, The Fires of Spring, Chesapeake, Caribbean, Caravans, Alaska, Texas, and Poland. His nonfiction works include the 1968 Iberia about his travels in Spain and Portugal, his 1992 memoir The World Is My Home, and Sports in America. Return to Paradise combines fictional short stories with Michener’s factual descriptions of the Pacific areas where they take place.

Michener gave away a great deal of the money he earned. Over the years, Mari Yoriko Sabusawa Michener played a major role in directing donations by her husband, totaling more than $100 million. Among the beneficiaries were the University of Texas, the Iowa Writers Workshop and Swarthmore College (stated by a New York Times’ notice about her death).

In 1989, Michener donated the royalty earnings from the Canadian edition of his novel Journey, published in Canada by McClelland & Stewart, to create the Journey Prize, an annual Canadian literary prize worth $10,000 (Cdn) that is awarded for the year’s best short story published by an emerging Canadian writer.

Author of books:
Tales of the South Pacific (1947, novel)
The Fires of Spring (1949, memoir)
Hawaii (1959, novel)
The Source (1965, novel)
Iberia: Spanish Travels and Reflections (1968, travelogue)
The Drifters (1971, novel)
Centennial (1974, novel)
Chesapeake (1978, novel)
The Covenant (1980, novel)
Space (1982, novel)
Texas (1985, novel)
The World Is My Home (1992, memoir)
A Century of Sonnets (1997)

 

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.

divine5

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: