Happy Birthday Studs Terkel

It is the 102nd birthday of writer and broadcaster Louis “Studs” Terkel, born in the Bronx, New York . His family moved to Chicago when Terkel was 10 years old and his parents ran rooming houses. Terkel remembers all different kinds of people moving through the rooming houses — dissidents, labor organizers, religions fanatics — and that that exposure helped build his knowledge of the outside world.

Terkel said: “Why are we born? We’re born eventually to die, of course. But what happens between the time we’re born and we die? We’re born to live. One is a realist if one hopes.”

And, “With optimism, you look upon the sunny side of things. People say, ‘Studs, you’re an optimist.’ I never said I was an optimist. I have hope because what’s the alternative to hope? Despair? If you have despair, you might as well put your head in the oven.”

And, “I’ve always felt, in all my books, that there’s a deep decency in the American people and a native intelligence — providing they have the facts, providing they have the information.”

NAME: Studs Terkel
OCCUPATION: Radio Talk Show Host, Journalist
BIRTH DATE: May 16, 1912
DEATH DATE: October 31, 2008
EDUCATION: University of Chicago Law School
PLACE OF BIRTH: New York City, New York
PLACE OF DEATH: Chicago, Illinois
ORIGINALLY: Louis Turkel

BEST KNOWN FOR: Studs Terkel was an American radio personality, interviewer and author who is best remembered for his oral histories of common Americans.

Born May 16, 1912, New York City. Lois Terkel, commonly known as “Studs,” interviewed the common man, probing everyday people for personal narratives about their lives and the historic moments during which they lived. He was a master of pulling out peoples’ best stories, and as such, established oral history as a respected genre.

At the age of 10, Studs Terkel moved with his family to Chicago. Arriving in the Windy City his parents, Samuel and Anna, opened a rooming house which sheltered people from all walks of life. Terkel later credited his curiosity and comfort with the world’s people to the many tenants he met there. “The thing I’m able to do, I guess, is break down walls,” he once told an interviewer. “If they think you’re listening, they’ll talk. It’s more of a conversation than an interview.”

After earning a law degree from the University of Chicago in 1934, he married Ida Goldberg, to whom he stayed wed to the rest of his life. Terkel never pursued a career in law, but instead was hired by the radio division of the WPA’s Federal Writers Project. Before long, he was asked to read a script, play parts in radio soap operas, and read the news. After a short stint in the Air Force, he returned to Chicago and continued writing radio shows and ads.

In 1944, Terkel landed his own program on WENR, the Wax Museum Show. A kind of variety program, he used the time to share his love of folk music, jazz, blues, and any number of other audible curios. A year later, he had his own television show called Stud’s Place, an improvised sitcom where he began developing what later became his interviewing style. People listened and watched, finding his love for the every-man endearing and entertaining.

The Studs Terkel Show first aired on Chicago’s WFMT in 1952. Terkel mostly played music, but slowly introduced his listeners to interviews with both famous and unknown characters. The program eventually became the award-winning The Studs Terkel Program, which ran for 35 years.

In 1956, Terkel published his first book, Giants of Jazz. A decade later, he put out his first book of oral history interviews, Division Street: America, following it with a succession of oral history works. His book were mostly based on interviews with everyday Americans around a single topic. His 1985 book The Good War: An Oral History of World War Two, which detailed ordinary peoples’ accounts of the country’s involvement in World War II, won the Pulitzer Prize. His last oral history book, which came out just after his wife died, was Will the Circle Be Unbroken: Reflections on Death, Rebirth, and Hunger for a Faith (2001). Terkel continued to interview people and make public appearances into his 90s. His last book, P.S.: Further Thoughts from a Lifetime of Listening was released in November 2008.

Terkel died of health complications on October 31, 2008, after a fall in his home. He was 96 years old. Shortly before his death, he requested that his ashes be mixed with those of his wife, and scattered in Bughouse Square, a park near his childhood home. “My father lived a long, satisfying and fulfilling but tempestuous life,” Dan Terkel told the Chicago Tribune after his father’s passing. “It was a life well lived.”

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Happy Birthday Porfirio Rubirosa

Today is the 105th birthday of Porfirio Rubirosa.  I am not sure if The Smiths wrote the song about him, but I would like to think they did.

Born: January 22, 1909 San Francisco de Macorís, Dominican Republic
Died: July 5, 1965 (aged 56) Paris, France
Occupation: Diplomat, polo player, race car driver

LAST OF THE FAMOUS INTERNATIONAL PLAYBOYS

Porfirio Rubirosa Ariza (January 22, 1909 – July 5, 1965) was a Dominican diplomat and adherent of Rafael Trujillo. He made his mark as an international playboy, for his jet setting lifestyle, and his legendary prowess with women.  Among his spouses were two of the richest women in the world.

Rubirosa was married five times, but never had any children. His wives were:

  • Flor de Oro Trujillo, Rafael Trujillo’s daughter, December 3, 1932-38
  • Danielle Darrieux, French actress, September 18, 1942 – May 21, 1947
  • Doris Duke, American heiress, September 1, 1947 – October 1948; with marital gifts and final settlement he received an alimony ($25,000 per year until remarriage), a fishing fleet off Africa, several sports cars, a converted B-25 bomber (La Ganza), and a 17th Century house at Rue de Bellechasse, Paris.
  • Barbara Hutton, American heiress, December 30, 1953 – on or before March 14, 1954; in the settlement he received a coffee plantation in the Dominican Republic, another B-25, polo ponies, jewelry, and she paid him a reported $2.5 million.
  • Odile Rodin, French actress, age 19, October 27, 1956 – July 5, 1965 (his death)

Why he’s a style icon

Porfirio Rubirosa is the archetypal man’s man. He drove Ferraris at Le Mans, was a champion polo player, flew fighter planes from the South of France to South America for fun, married the two wealthiest women in the world back to back, and set the bar for all other Latin lotharios. While he stood only 5’9″, it was his manhood that made him a legend and the most desired man on the planet. He often described himself as half diplomat (which he actually was, after being appointed to numerous positions by Dominican dictator Generalissimo Trujillo, who happened to be Rubirosa’s first father-in-law) and half gigolo. While he was far too much of a gentleman to make mention of his now-legendary endowment, it is said that this alone caused women the world over to literally drag him into closets, bathrooms and under tables for a sample of what had entranced so many of the most beautiful and powerful women. He never held a steady job, and his goal was never to make money — but rather to spend it. Luckily, when a man can lay claim to romancing Barbara Hutton (a Woolworth heiress), Doris Duke (heiress to a tobacco and energy fortune), Zsa Zsa Gabor, Jayne Mansfield, Ava Gardner, Eva Peron, and countless other wealthy and powerful women, money tends to fall into one’s lap. Even his ex-wives were getting in on the action, as it is rumored that Rubirosa’s second wife, famed French actress Danielle Darrieux, received $1 million from Doris Duke to consent to a divorce so that she could lay a claim to Rubi herself. Has a woman ever paid someone $1 million to get a chance with you? Didn’t think so. At the age of only 47, Rubi died the night his team had won the Coupe de France polo cup. He died when his Ferrari skidded off the road and into a tree, and the steering column went through his heart. A true romantic even in death.

Dress the Rubirosa way

Rubirosa didn’t just act the part of Latin lover, he dressed the part. He was famously seen wearing thin three-piece suits of the finest quality, often with double-breasted jackets. His style of dress was equally influenced by the Latin flair that ran through his veins and the smooth, subtle cool of the Riviera. If you want to emulate Rubi you must remember that despite his generous endowment, he was not a showman and not a braggart, so the look must be quietly confident. In essence, he’s a prime example of “walk softly but carry a big stick.” One way to look like Rubi is to find a pink-gold Rolex like the one mentioned in American Psycho, but an even easier way is to buy a suit from Argentinean boutique Etiqueta Negra, whose polo-inspired flair would have certainly been a favorite of Rubi’s.

World War II, Rubirosa became engaged in two major passions, polo and car racing, both expensive sports that would be supported in years to come by his American wives. He organized and led his own polo team Cibao-La Pampa that was an often successful contender for the Coupe de France cup. Rubirosa played polo until the end of his life. In the same period, Rubirosa started to acquire fast cars and form friendships with race car drivers. He would own a number of Ferraris. His first race at 24 Hours of Le Mans took place in June 1950 with his partner Pierre Leygonie, and his second race, this time with Innocente Baggio, was four years later; in both races his car did not finish. Rubirosa participated in a number of races at Sebring, all but once as a private entry.

Rubirosa died early in the morning on July 5, 1965, when he crashed his Ferrari 250 GT into a chestnut tree and the steering column went through his heart after an all-night celebration at the Paris nightclub “Jimmy’s” in honor of winning the Coupe de France polo cup.  A true romantic even in death.

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Happy Birthday Cecil Beaton

Today is the 110th birthday of Cecil Beaton.  He could evoke every emotion with his camera.  His photographs are as breathtaking as they were the day they were taken and you feel like you are are part of them, you can feel the love, the sorrow, the loss, the opulence.  The world is a better place because of Cecil Beaton.

Born: January 14, 1904, London
Died: January 18, 1980, Broad Chalke
Parents: Etty Sissons, Ernest Walter Hardy Beaton
Education: St John’s College, Cambridge, Harrow School
Awards: Academy Award for Costume Design, Academy Award for Best Art Direction

Best Known ForSir Cecil Beaton was an English fashion photographer. He was also a diarist, interior designer and Academy Award-winning stage and costume designer.

Sir Cecil Beaton was an English fashion photographer. As a child, he adored the picture postcards of society ladies that came with the the Sunday newspaper. In the 1920s, he was hired as a staff photographer for Vanity Fair and Vogue, where he developed a unique style of posing sitters with unusual backgrounds. He was also a diarist, interior designer and Oscar-winning stage and costume designer.

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Happy Birthday Alfred Eisenstaedt

Yesterday was the 115th birthday of photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt.  You may not recognize his name, but you no doubt recognize the iconic work he did at Life Magazine, some of his images have made it into the collected American consciousness.  Some of his photographs are widely considered the most recognizable images of the 20th century.  For those reasons, you should know his name.

NAME: Alfred Eisenstaedt
OCCUPATION: Photographer
BIRTH DATE: December 06, 1898
DEATH DATE: August 23, 1995
PLACE OF BIRTH: Dirschau, Poland
PLACE OF DEATH: Oak Bluffs, Massachusetts

Best Known For:  Alfred Eisenstaedt was German-born, U.S. photojournalist. He was one of the first four photographers hired by Life Magazine.

Alfred Eisenstaedt was born on December 6, 1898 in Dirschau, West Prussia. He became a professional photographer in Berlin and came under the influence of Erich Salomon. In 1935 he immigrated to New York City, where he became one of the first four photographers hired by Life Magazine. He contributed more than 2,500 picture stories and 90 cover photos to Life. He died in 1995.

Banned Books That Shaped America: Gone With the Wind

The Library of Congress created an exhibit, “Books that Shaped America,” that explores books that “have had a profound effect on American life.” Many of the books in the exhibit have been banned/challenged.  Give yourself the gift of a beautiful story and read one and them imagine what your life would be like if you were never given that gift.

Fight censorship.

Gone With the Wind, Margaret Mitchell, 1936

The Pulitzer-prize winning novel (which three years after its publication became an Academy-Award Winning film) follows the life of the spoiled daughter of a southern plantation owner just before and then after the fall of the Confederacy and decline of the South in the aftermath of the Civil War. Critically praised for its thought-provoking and realistic depiction of ante- and postbellum life in the South, it has also been banned for more or less the same reasons. Its realism has come under fire, specifically its realistic portrayal – though at times perhaps tending toward optimistic — of slavery and use of the words “nigger” and “darkies.”

gone with the wind

In a film that had four directors, at least twelve scriptwriters, and a rotation of cameramen, the one unifying vision for the production of Gone With the Wind belonged to its producer, David O. Selznick. Born on May 10, 1902, to pioneering movie mogul Lewis Selznick, David lived his early years in financial comfort. Lewis gave his sons lavish personal allowances, advising them to spend it all and stay broke. Selznick’s family wealth vanished abruptly, taken not by the ravages of war but by his father’s poor business decisions and his gambling addiction. By 1923 Lewis Selznick declared bankruptcy, spending his last years financially supported by his sons.

Selznick moved to Hollywood in 1926 and quickly got a job in MGM’s story department, where he began working his way up the ranks. Just two years later he moved to Paramount Pictures, where he was hired as an executive before continuing on to become vice president in charge of production at RKO. He then returned to MGM to help produce several films, most notably David Copperfield, A Tale of Two Cities, and Anna Karenina. When the original head of production at MGM returned, Selznick lost the creative freedom he craved and left to form his own production company in 1935. The following year, Selznick bought the film rights to Margaret Mitchell’s wildly popular novel Gone With the Wind.

Films about the old South were popular during the first half of the twentieth century. One of the first of these films was Edwin S. Porter’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and twelve years later the epic The Birth of a Nation electrified the country, redefining cinema as an art form. By the late 1930s, however, the genre had gone into a steep decline, and when Irving G. Thalberg, the head of production at MGM, heard the synopsis of Gone With the Wind he was unimpressed. “Forget it,” he was famously quoted as saying after he rejected the story. “No Civil War picture ever made a nickel.”

Selznick had his own reservations about the story, including the cost of screen rights and production and the difficulties of choosing a cast that wouldn’t alienate the many fans of the novel. Problems continued during the shooting of the film, ranging from wars between starlets over the lead role of Scarlett to Selznick’s constant rewriting of the script. The production surpassed its budget before any of the action sequences were filmed, the hours were so long that some of the cast and crew took drugs to keep going, and the once supportive press abandoned the project entirely. Selznick, however, remained unbeaten through these trials, firm in his vision of a sweeping romantic drama and determined to prove that the film the press was now calling “Selznick’s Folly” would be a success.

In the end, Selznick’s vision didn’t fail him. After its December 1939 premiere, Gone With the Wind proved to be a huge critical and box office success. It was labeled a masterpiece by the very critics who had once called it a folly, and it went on to be one of the top grossing films of all time. It was nominated for thirteen Academy Awards and won eight of them, including Best Picture, Best Screenplay, Best Actress (Leigh), Best Director (Fleming), and Best Color Cinematography. In addition, the Academy bestowed upon the film a special achievement award and an honorary plaque. Hattie McDaniel also walked into film history with her win as Best Supporting Actress, the first Oscar ever won by an African American. In England, Gone With the Wind ran in theaters for the duration of World War II, with Scarlett serving as a symbol of resistance and liberation. For these same reasons, the Nazis banned the film.

Such success, however, could not last. Despite the film’s achievements, Gone With the Wind’s enormous scope and budget precluded the chance of it strongly influencing other films. Even if the film had spawned an imitator, there would have been no market for it. By the end of World War II, protests over Hollywood’s racial stereotyping had permanently tainted Southern films, sending their popularity into steep decline. Selznick had another success in 1940 with the film Rebecca, but after that he was unable to repeat the success of his two most famous films and began losing money. The creative control of producers fell as directors rose in influence, and shifting balances of power marked the end of the glory days of the studio system. Like the story of the South in the Civil War, Gone With the Wind proved to be the end of an era.

Related articles

Alfred Eisenstaedt – Style Icon

NAME: Alfred Eisenstaedt
OCCUPATION: Photographer
BIRTH DATE: December 06, 1898
DEATH DATE: August 23, 1995
PLACE OF BIRTH: Dirschau, Poland
PLACE OF DEATH: Oak Bluffs, Massachusetts

Best Known For:  Alfred Eisenstaedt was German-born, U.S. photojournalist. He was one of the first four photographers hired by Life Magazine.

Alfred Eisenstaedt was born on December 6, 1898 in Dirschau, West Prussia. He became a professional photographer in Berlin and came under the influence of Erich Salomon. In 1935 he immigrated to New York City, where he became one of the first four photographers hired by Life Magazine. He contributed more than 2,500 picture stories and 90 cover photos to Life. He died in 1995.

Ernest Hemmingway – Style Icon

hemingway 2

It was on this day in 1961 that Ernest Hemingway committed suicide in Ketchum, Idaho.

He’d had trouble writing since he’d participated in World War II. After the war was over, he said, “[It's] as though you had heard so much loud music you couldn’t hear anything played delicately.” He’d been struggling to write a long novel called The Sea Book, but it wasn’t coming together so he was only able to publish a small part of it called The Old Man and the Sea (1952). It got great reviews and won the Pulitzer Prize, but he was frustrated that all he’d been able to produce was a novella.

And then, in 1953, he decided to go on safari in Africa, and he chartered a plane to fly over the countryside. Things went badly right from the start. On the first flight, the hydraulic system of the plane wasn’t working well, and they had to make an emergency landing. Then, when they took off again, they almost collided with a flock of birds and crash landed on the shore of the Nile River. Hemingway sprained his shoulder, and his wife broke several ribs. But still, they climbed into another plane for a third flight, and this one crashed almost as soon as it took off. Hemingway fractured his skull, got a concussion, cracked two discs in his spine, and suffered from internal bleeding.

Because a search team initially failed to find Hemingway’s crashed plane, he was reported dead, and there were obituaries printed around the world. He later said that he strangely enjoyed reading what people said about him when they thought he was gone. He cut out the articles and saved them in two separate scrapbooks bound in zebra and lion skin.

But he never really recovered from the injuries he sustained in that plane crash, and he began to drink more and more as a way to self-medicate. He wrote pages and pages about his experiences in Africa, but published none of it. Then, in 1956, he found a trunk of old manuscripts and notebooks from his early days as a writer in Paris, and those notebooks inspired him to write his memoir A Movable Feast (1964), about the period of his life just before he became famous. Many critics consider it his greatest work of nonfiction.

Almost as soon as he finished it, he began to suffer from insomnia and depression. He was having problems with his eyes, he was losing his hair, and he’d come down with a skin condition. He also became obsessed with the idea that he was under FBI surveillance, and his wife thought he was losing his mind. FBI records would later show that they did in fact have him under surveillance, and they even interviewed his psychiatrist. But he finally decided to check into the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, where he was subjected to electroshock therapy. The treatment did not help his depression, and he hated it. He wrote in a letter, “What is the sense of ruining my head and erasing my memory, which is my capital, and putting me out of business?

Doctors decided to release him on June 26th of that year. He went back to the house where his wife was staying in Ketchum, Idaho. On the morning of July 2, 1961, he got up early, found his favorite shotgun and, in the foyer of the house, shot himself — before his wife had woken up. She later said that the noise that woke her sounded like a drawer slamming shut.

hemingway

Studs Terkel – Style Icon

It is the birthday of writer and broadcaster Louis “Studs” Terkel, born in the Bronx, New York (1912). His family moved to Chicago when Terkel was 10 years old and his parents ran rooming houses. Terkel remembers all different kinds of people moving through the rooming houses — dissidents, labor organizers, religions fanatics — and that that exposure helped build his knowledge of the outside world.

Terkel said: “Why are we born? We’re born eventually to die, of course. But what happens between the time we’re born and we die? We’re born to live. One is a realist if one hopes.”

And, “With optimism, you look upon the sunny side of things. People say, ‘Studs, you’re an optimist.’ I never said I was an optimist. I have hope because what’s the alternative to hope? Despair? If you have despair, you might as well put your head in the oven.”

And, “I’ve always felt, in all my books, that there’s a deep decency in the American people and a native intelligence — providing they have the facts, providing they have the information.”

NAME: Studs Terkel
OCCUPATION: Radio Talk Show Host, Journalist
BIRTH DATE: May 16, 1912
DEATH DATE: October 31, 2008
EDUCATION: University of Chicago Law School
PLACE OF BIRTH: New York City, New York
PLACE OF DEATH: Chicago, Illinois
ORIGINALLY: Louis Turkel

BEST KNOWN FOR: Studs Terkel was an American radio personality, interviewer and author who is best remembered for his oral histories of common Americans.

Born May 16, 1912, New York City. Lois Terkel, commonly known as “Studs,” interviewed the common man, probing everyday people for personal narratives about their lives and the historic moments during which they lived. He was a master of pulling out peoples’ best stories, and as such, established oral history as a respected genre.

At the age of 10, Studs Terkel moved with his family to Chicago. Arriving in the Windy City his parents, Samuel and Anna, opened a rooming house which sheltered people from all walks of life. Terkel later credited his curiosity and comfort with the world’s people to the many tenants he met there. “The thing I’m able to do, I guess, is break down walls,” he once told an interviewer. “If they think you’re listening, they’ll talk. It’s more of a conversation than an interview.”

After earning a law degree from the University of Chicago in 1934, he married Ida Goldberg, to whom he stayed wed to the rest of his life. Terkel never pursued a career in law, but instead was hired by the radio division of the WPA’s Federal Writers Project. Before long, he was asked to read a script, play parts in radio soap operas, and read the news. After a short stint in the Air Force, he returned to Chicago and continued writing radio shows and ads.

In 1944, Terkel landed his own program on WENR, the Wax Museum Show. A kind of variety program, he used the time to share his love of folk music, jazz, blues, and any number of other audible curios. A year later, he had his own television show called Stud’s Place, an improvised sitcom where he began developing what later became his interviewing style. People listened and watched, finding his love for the every-man endearing and entertaining.

The Studs Terkel Show first aired on Chicago’s WFMT in 1952. Terkel mostly played music, but slowly introduced his listeners to interviews with both famous and unknown characters. The program eventually became the award-winning The Studs Terkel Program, which ran for 35 years.

In 1956, Terkel published his first book, Giants of Jazz. A decade later, he put out his first book of oral history interviews, Division Street: America, following it with a succession of oral history works. His book were mostly based on interviews with everyday Americans around a single topic. His 1985 book The Good War: An Oral History of World War Two, which detailed ordinary peoples’ accounts of the country’s involvement in World War II, won the Pulitzer Prize. His last oral history book, which came out just after his wife died, was Will the Circle Be Unbroken: Reflections on Death, Rebirth, and Hunger for a Faith (2001). Terkel continued to interview people and make public appearances into his 90s. His last book, P.S.: Further Thoughts from a Lifetime of Listening was released in November 2008.

Terkel died of health complications on October 31, 2008, after a fall in his home. He was 96 years old. Shortly before his death, he requested that his ashes be mixed with those of his wife, and scattered in Bughouse Square, a park near his childhood home. “My father lived a long, satisfying and fulfilling but tempestuous life,” Dan Terkel told the Chicago Tribune after his father’s passing. “It was a life well lived.”

Banned Books That Shaped America: Catch-22

The Library of Congress created an exhibit, “Books that Shaped America,” that explores books that “have had a profound effect on American life.” Many of the books in the exhibit have been banned/challenged.  Give yourself the gift of a beautiful story and read one and them imagine what your life would be like if you were never given that gift.

Fight censorship.

Catch-22, Joseph Heller, 1961

A school board in Strongsville, OH refused to allow the book to be taught in high school English classrooms in 1972. It also refused to consider Cat’s Cradle as a substitute text and removed both books from the school library. The issue eventually led to a 1976 District Court ruling overturning the ban in Minarcini v. Strongsville.

catch 22

Joseph Heller was born in Brooklyn in 1923. He served as an Air Force bombardier in World War II and enjoyed a long career as a writer and a teacher. His best-selling books include Something Happened, Good as Gold, Picture This, God Knows, and Closing Time, but his first novel, Catch-22, remains his most famous and acclaimed work. He died of a heart attack in December 1999.

Heller wrote Catch-22 while working at a New York City marketing firm producing ad copy. The novel draws heavily on his Air Force experience and presents a war story that is at once hilarious, grotesque, cynical, and stirring. The novel generated a great deal of controversy upon its initial publication in 1961. Critics tended either to adore it or despise it, and those who hated it did so for the same reasons as the critics who loved it. Over time, Catch-22 has become one of the defining novels of the twentieth century. It presents an utterly unsentimental vision of war, stripping all romantic pretenses away from combat, replacing visions of glory and honor with a kind of nightmarish comedy of violence, bureaucracy, and paradoxical madness. This kind of irony has come to be expected of war novels since the Vietnam War, but in the wake of World War II, which most Americans believed was a just and heroic war, Catch-22 was shocking. It proved almost prophetic about both the Vietnam War, a conflict that began a few years after the novel was originally published, and the sense of disillusionment about the military that many Americans experienced during this conflict.

Unlike other antiromantic war novels, such as Erich Maria Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front, Catch-22 relies heavily on humor to convey the insanity of war, presenting the horrible meaninglessness of armed conflict through a kind of desperate absurdity rather than through graphic depictions of suffering and violence. Catch-22 also distinguishes itself from other antiromantic war novels through its core values: the story of Yossarian, the protagonist, is ultimately not one of despair but one of hope. He believes that the positive urge to live and to be free can redeem the individual from the dehumanizing machinery of war. The novel is told as a series of loosely related, tangential stories in no particular chronological order. The narrative that emerges from this structural tangle upholds the value of the individual in the face of the impersonal, collective military mass; at every stage it mocks insincerity and hypocrisy, even when such values appear triumphant.

Despite its World War II setting, Catch-22 is often thought of as a signature novel of the 1960s and 1970s. It was during those decades that American youth truly began to question authority. Hippies, university protests, and the civil rights movement all marked the 1960s as a decade of revolution, and Heller’s novel fit in perfectly with the spirit of the times. In fact, Heller once said, “I wasn’t interested in the war in Catch-22. I was interested in the personal relationships in bureaucratic authority.” Whether Heller was using the war to comment on authority or using bureaucracy as a statement about the war, it is clear that Catch-22 is more than just a war novel. It is also a novel about the moral choices that every person must make when faced with a system of authority whose rules are both immoral and illogical.

Banned Books That Shaped America: A Streetcar Named Desire

The Library of Congress created an exhibit, “Books that Shaped America,” that explores books that “have had a profound effect on American life.” Many of the books in the exhibit have been banned/challenged.  Give yourself the gift of a beautiful story and read one and them imagine what your life would be like if you were never given that gift.

Fight censorship.

Buy a used copy of this book, read it in public, when you are finished, leave it in a coffee shop.

A Streetcar Named Desire, Tennessee Williams, 1947

The sexual content of this play, which later became a popular and critically acclaimed film, raised eyebrows and led to self-censorship when the film was being made. The director left a number of scenes on the cutting room floor to get an adequate rating and protect against complaints of the play’s immorality.

a streetcar named

Tennessee Williams was born Thomas Lanier Williams III in Columbus, Mississippi, in 1911. His friends began calling him Tennessee in college, in honor of his Southern accent and his father’s home state. Williams’s father, C.C. Williams, was a traveling salesman and a heavy drinker. Williams’s mother, Edwina, was a Mississippi clergyman’s daughter prone to hysterical attacks. Until Williams was seven, he, his parents, his older sister, Rose, and his younger brother, Dakin, lived with Edwina’s parents in Mississippi.

In 1918, the Williams family moved to St. Louis, marking the start of the family’s deterioration. C.C.’s drinking increased, the family moved sixteen times in ten years, and the young Williams, always shy and fragile, was ostracized and taunted at school. During these years, he and Rose became extremely close. Edwina and Williams’s maternal grandparents also offered the emotional support he required throughout his childhood. Williams loathed his father but grew to appreciate him somewhat after deciding in therapy as an adult that his father had given him his tough survival instinct.

After being bedridden for two years as a child due to severe illness, Williams grew into a withdrawn, effeminate adolescent whose chief solace was writing. At sixteen, Williams won a prize in a national competition that asked for essays answering the question “Can a good wife be a good sport?” His answer was published in Smart Set magazine. The following year, he published a horror story in a magazine called Weird Tales, and the year after that he entered the University of Missouri to study journalism. While in college, he wrote his first plays, which were influenced by members of the southern literary renaissance such as Robert Penn Warren, William Faulkner, Allen Tate, and Thomas Wolfe. Before Williams could receive his degree, however, his father forced him to withdraw from school. Outraged because Williams had failed a required ROTC program course, C.C. Williams made his son go to work at the same shoe company where he himself worked.

After three years at the shoe factory, Williams had a minor nervous breakdown. He then returned to college, this time at Washington University in St. Louis. While he was studying there, a St. Louis theater group produced two of his plays, The Fugitive Kind and Candles to the Sun. Further personal problems led Williams to drop out of Washington University and enroll in the University of Iowa. While he was in Iowa, Rose, who had begun suffering from mental illness later in life, underwent a prefrontal lobotomy (an intensive brain surgery). The event greatly upset Williams, and it left his sister institutionalized for the rest of her life. Despite this trauma, Williams finally managed to graduate in 1938.

In the years following his graduation, Williams lived a bohemian life, working menial jobs and wandering from city to city. He continued to work on drama, however, receiving a Rockefeller grant and studying playwriting at the New School in New York. His literary influences were evolving to include the playwright Anton Chekhov and Williams’s lifelong hero, the poet Hart Crane. He officially changed his name to Tennessee Williams upon the publication of his short story “The Field of Blue Children” in 1939. During the early years of World War II, Williams worked in Hollywood as a scriptwriter and also prepared material for what would become The Glass Menagerie.

In 1944, The Glass Menagerie opened in New York and won the prestigious New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award, catapulting Williams into the upper echelon of American playwrights. A Streetcar Named Desire premiered three years later at the Barrymore Theater in New York City. The play, set in contemporary times, describes the decline and fall of a fading Southern belle named Blanche DuBois. A Streetcar Named Desire cemented Williams’s reputation, garnering another Drama Critics’ Circle Award and also a Pulitzer Prize. Williams went on to win another Drama Critics’ Circle Award and Pulitzer for Cat on a Hot Tin Roof in 1955.

Much of the pathos found in Williams’s drama was mined from the playwright’s own life. Alcoholism, depression, thwarted desire, loneliness, and insanity were all part of Williams’s world. His experience as a known homosexual in an era unfriendly to homosexuality also informed his work. Williams’s most memorable characters, many of them female, contain recognizable elements of their author, Edwina, and Rose. His vulgar, irresponsible male characters, such as Stanley Kowalski, were likely modeled on Williams’s own father and other males who tormented Williams during his childhood.

Williams’s early plays also connected with the new American taste for realism that emerged following the Depression and World War II. The characters in A Streetcar Named Desire are trying to rebuild their lives in postwar America: Stanley and Mitch served in the military, while Blanche had affairs with young soldiers based near her home.

Williams set his plays in the South, but the compelling manner in which he rendered his themes made them universal, winning him an international audience and worldwide acclaim. However, most critics agree that the quality of Williams’s work diminished as he grew older. He suffered a long period of depression following the death of his longtime partner, Frank Merlo, in 1963. His popularity during these years also declined due to changed interests in the theater world. During the radical 1960s and 1970s, nostalgia no longer drew crowds, and Williams’s explorations of sexual mores came across as tired and old-fashioned.

Williams died in 1983 when he choked on a medicine-bottle cap in an alcohol-related incident at the Elysée Hotel in New York City. He was one month short of his seventy-second birthday. In his long career he wrote twenty-five full-length plays (five made into movies), five screenplays, over seventy one-act plays, hundreds of short stories, two novels, poetry, and a memoir. The mark he left on the tradition of realism in American drama is indelible.

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