Friday, August 31, 2012
15 years. On August 31, 1997, Diana, Princess of Wales, died in an auto collision in Paris. She was 36. Born into the aristocratic Spencer family, she bore the courtesy titles Princess of Wales, Duchess of Cornwall, Duchess of Rothesay, Countess of Chester and Baroness of Renfrew while married to Prince Charles. Pictured: in July 1997.
Thursday, August 30, 2012
August 30 is the birthdate of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley. In 1816, she and poet Percy Bysshe Shelley famously spent a summer with poet Lord Byron and others near Geneva, Switzerland, where Mary (at age 18) conceived the idea for her novel Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus. Conversation turned to the topics of galvanism (bringing organisms to life using electricity) and similar occult ideas, and Shelley and the others competed to see who could write the best horror story. She later dreamt about a scientist who created life and was horrified by what he had made. Thus was born the monster.
August 30 is the birthdate of author Edgar Rice Burroughs, a native of Chicago. His most famous novel, Tarzan of the Apes, was serialized in a pulp fiction magazine in 1912. It tells the story of John Clayton, born in the western coastal jungle of equatorial Africa to John and Alice Clayton, Lord and Lady Greystoke, a marooned English couple. When his parents die, the infant John is adopted by a she-ape Kala, who names him Tarzan ("White Skin" in ape language) and raises him in ignorance of his human heritage. Burroughs continued the Tarzan series into the 1940s with two dozen sequels. Pictured: revised cover of the 1914 book edition.
Wednesday, August 29, 2012
August 29 is the birthdate of Swedish born actress Ingrid Bergman, who won three Academy Awards, two Emmy Awards and a Tony. She is ranked as the fourth greatest female star of American cinema by the American Film Institute. One of her memorable roles was that of Ilsa Lund in “Casablanca” (1942). The difference between Bergman's height and that of co-star Humphrey Bogart (she was some two inches taller) required Bogart, as Rick Blaine, to stand on blocks or sit on cushions in their scenes together. Rick's toast to Ilsa, "Here's looking at you, kid," does not appear in the movie’s draft screenplays; it has been attributed to something Bogart said to Bergman while he taught her poker between takes.
Monday, August 27, 2012
August 27 is the birthdate of Theodore Dreiser, journalist and novelist of the “naturalist” school that presented social conditions through detailed realism. His first commercial success was An American Tragedy (1925), based on Dreiser’s observations of "fortune hunting” among ambitious young people, resulting in a uniquely American crime of "murder for money." The 1906 murder of Grace Brown by Chester Gillette became the basis of the book. The story was made into a film in 1931 and again in 1951 as “A Place in the Sun,” in which the working-class young man (Montgomery Clift) is fatally involved with two women (Shelley Winters and Elizabeth Taylor). The film was shot in 1949 but Paramount held it back so it would not compete with its own “Sunset Boulevard” (1950).
Sunday, August 26, 2012
On August 26, 1768, James Cook set sail from Plymouth, England, on the HMS Endeavour on his first of three voyages around the world. He was a junior naval officer (lieutenant) with skills in cartography and mathematics. Alcohol supplies consisted of 250 barrels of beer, 44 barrels of brandy and 17 barrels of rum. The first expedition's aims were to observe the 1769 transit of Venus across the Sun and find evidence of the postulated Terra Australis Incognita ("unknown southern land"). He charted the entire coast of New Zealand in 1769, then in April 1770, Cook and his crew became the first Europeans to see Australia’s east coast, arriving at what is now known as Botany Bay. Pictured: map of southern hemisphere in Cook’s own hand (1772).
Saturday, August 25, 2012
August 25 is the birthdate of composer, conductor and pianist Leonard Bernstein, especially known for his long tenure at the New York Philharmonic and his music for Shakespeare-inspired West Side Story and Voltaire-inspired Candide. He composed these two musicals concurrently (1956-57), which led to some switches of material between the two works. His score for the former includes now-timeless songs: "Maria," "America," "Somewhere," "Tonight," "I Feel Pretty" and "One Hand, One Heart." Lyrics were almost entirely written by Stephen Sondheim (in his Broadway debut). Columbia Records initially declined to record the cast album, saying the score was too depressing and too difficult. Pictured: original poster.
Friday, August 24, 2012
August 24 is the traditionally accepted date on which Mt. Vesuvius erupted in A.D. 79. The volcano obliterated the towns of Pompeii and Herculaneum with fast-moving currents of superheated gas and rock (pyroclastic flows). Scholars now believe the event occurred in October. Pompeii was lost for nearly 1700 years before its rediscovery in 1748. Excavations have revealed villas, businesses, public places, artifacts and well-preserved frescoes that provide detailed insight into everyday city life during the Pax Romana. Some aspects of the culture were unflinchingly erotic, including phallic worship. Pictured: two faces/theatrical masks, fresco detail, from the House of the Golden Bracelet, Pompeii.
Thursday, August 23, 2012
August 23 is the birthdate of sculptor Louise Nevelson, known for monumental, monochromatic, wooden sculptures. Born in Czarist Russia, she came to the United States at age 3. Her sculptures are puzzle-like, intricately cut reliefs often painted in monochromatic black or white. Her inspiration was wood rather than metal, fashioning it into immersive, collage-driven sculptures composed of abstract shapes and found objects (often from the streets of New York), which she described as "environments." She gained notice in 1958 with a series of works titled “Sky Cathedral” (pictured), which often took years to create. Of this series she commented: "This is the Universe, the stars, the moon – and you and I, everyone."
Wednesday, August 22, 2012
August 22 is the birthdate of French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson, considered the father of modern photojournalism. He mastered candid photography and the "street photography" style that influenced legions of followers. He was an early adopter of the 35mm format, using only black and white, but disliked making his own prints and was uninterested in the photographic process. Though he documented great events – the Spanish civil war, the liberation of Paris in 1944, the fall of China to the communists, the assassination of Gandhi – he believed that “in photography, the smallest thing can be a great subject.” His pictures of great 20th century figures included a celebrated candid of Albert Camus (pictured).
Tuesday, August 21, 2012
August 21 is the birthdate of illustrator, eccentric and author Aubrey Beardsley. He was a leading artist in the Aesthetic movement that included Oscar Wilde and James A. McNeill Whistler. Much of his work is, shall we say, an acquired taste. His drawings in black ink focused on the grotesque, the decadent and the blatantly erotic. His art reflected the decadence of his circle in late 19th Century Britain, and his influence is evident in the work of the French Symbolists, the Poster Art Movement of the 1890s and works of late-period Art Nouveau artists. He had six years of creative output, dying of tuberculosis before age 26. Pictured: “The Climax” (from Wilde’s “Salome”), 1893.
Monday, August 20, 2012
August 20 is the birthdate of Finnish architect Eero Saarinen. His works include the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, the TWA Flight Center at John F. Kennedy International Airport, and the main terminal of Dulles International Airport, Washington, D.C. His firm began designing the TWA terminal in 1956 with the directive to capture "the spirit of flight." The structure featured a wing-shaped roof, tube-shaped departure-arrival corridors wrapped in red carpet, and huge windows to view jets. It was the first with enclosed passenger jetways, closed circuit television, a central public address system, baggage carousels, electronic schedule board and baggage scales, and satellite-clustering of gates away from the main terminal. It was dedicated in 1962, a year after Saarinen's death.
Sunday, August 19, 2012
August 19 is the birthdate of French painter Gustave Caillebotte. A lawyer from a wealthy Parisian family, he decided to pursue painting after receiving a large inheritance. Friend of Renoir and Monet (and a patron of the latter), he was an Impressionist but painted in a far more realistic manner. His masterpiece, “Paris Street; Rainy Day” (1877), captures late 19th-century urban life at an intersection near Gare Saint-Lazare, when the new boulevards had altered Paris life. The large canvas also reflects Caillebotte’s interest in photography as an art form, particularly in its emphasis on point of focus, severe cropping and the sense of a casual yet contrived snapshot. He stopped showing his work at age 34.
Saturday, August 18, 2012
Happy birthday to actor Robert Redford, who is 76. Pictured: in the role of Bob Woodward in “All the President’s Men” (1976). Filming could not be done in the Washington Post’s newsroom, so an exact duplicate was built in Hollywood. For authenticity, several tons of assorted papers and trash from the desks of the actual newsroom were shipped to California for props. The movie introduced the phrase “Follow the money,” suggesting a trail of corruption, to popular discourse; it was not present in Woodward and Bernstein’s book or in any Watergate documentation.
Friday, August 17, 2012
August 17 is the birthdate of actress, writer and sex symbol, Mae West. On Broadway, she wrote and starred in a play she titled “Sex” (1926), which, though highly successful, landed her in a workhouse on morals charges; she promptly dined with the warden and his wife. West made her first movie, “Night After Night” (1932), at age 38, and was allowed to rewrite her lines. Thus, in her first scene: Hat check girl to Mae, “Goodness, what beautiful diamonds!” Mae to hat check girl, “Goodness had nothing to do with it, dearie.” By 1935, West was the highest-paid person in the United States after William Randolph Hearst. Pictured: with Cary Grant in "I'm No Angel" (1933).
Wednesday, August 15, 2012
August 15 is the birthdate of Thomas Edward (T.E.) Lawrence, an archaeologist who joined the British Army in 1914. He gained fame as a liaison in the Arab Revolt against Ottoman Turkish rule in 1916-18 in what's now Syria and Jordan. That role earned him the appellation “Lawrence of Arabia,” a title used for David Lean’s epic film (1962) that won seven Academy Awards. Lawrence’s adventurous public image was fostered by his autobiographical account of the revolt, Seven Pillars of Wisdom (1922). He lost nearly all of the huge manuscript while changing trains in England, then rewrote the book from memory, having destroyed his wartime notes.
August 15 is the 100th birthday of Julia Child. Her TV cooking show, "The French Chef," ran on National Educational Television (later PBS) from 1963 to 1973. The August 27, 1968, episode (rerun from sometime in 1965) ended with the unexpected collapse of an Apple Charlotte.
On August 15, 1969, the Woodstock Festival opened on a farm in Bethel, NY. By the next day, the crowd numbered 500,000. Woodstock was intended as a profit-making venture, but when it ended, the four young organizers were dazed by the size of the event, $1M in debt and faced with 70 lawsuits. Revenues from the hit documentary of the Festival in 1970 covered only part of their losses. Little known fact: one of the organizers apparently asked Roy Rogers to close Woodstock with his signature song, “Happy Trails (To You).” Roy declined. The final act was Jimi Hendrix.
Tuesday, August 14, 2012
August 14 is the birthdate of Italian film director Lina Wertmüller. She was the first woman to be nominated for an Academy Award for Directing, for her film “Seven Beauties” (1975). Main characters in her films are dedicated anarchists, communists, feminists or all of the above, and action centers on political or socioeconomic conflicts.
Monday, August 13, 2012
August 13 is the birthdate of English film director and producer Alfred Hitchcock. He directed more than 50 films over a period of six decades, most of which include depictions of violence, miscellaneous crimes including murder, psychological examinations of character and strong sexual undertones. Hitchcock’s “Vertigo” (1958) was just ranked as the best film of all time by the British Film Institute’s Sight & Sound magazine, displacing Orson Welles’ “Citizen Kane” (1941), which had occupied the top spot in the once-a-decade list since 1962.
Sunday, August 12, 2012
On August 12, 1981, IBM introduced the IBM Personal Computer model 5150 in New York. The first PC cost $3,000 ($7,500 at today’s prices). Advertising focused on "Keeping up with Modern Times," using the image of Charlie Chaplin’s Tramp as an Everyman, to reduce public fear of the computer, demonstrate its simplicity of operation and popularize its applications. The 5150’s open architecture created an entire ecosystem around the PC, but it also led to the eventual demise of the IBM PC itself and the rise of many clone computers. Within a few years, the 5150 was history. That rhymes.
Friday, August 10, 2012
On August 10, 1675, the foundation stone was laid for the Royal Observatory, Greenwich, near London. Charles II charged the Astronomer Royal with finding “the so much desired longitude of places for the perfecting of the art of navigation." Time observations at the site established Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) as a global standard. Also called Universal Time, GMT is now calculated from extra-galactic radio sources. In 1851, the Prime Meridian, the basis of longitude, was established at Greenwich (51° 28′ 40.12″ N, 0° 0′ 5.31″ W). It passes through the observatory, marked by a steel strip in the courtyard (pictured). It is also marked by a powerful green laser shining north across the London night sky.
Thursday, August 9, 2012
On August 9, 1483, the recently completed Sistine Chapel was consecrated with a Mass. It replaced a structure dating from 1368. Michelangelo painted the chapel ceiling with Biblical stories (and prophets) between 1508 and 1512, and the altar fresco (“The Last Judgment”) between 1535 and 1541. He protested to Pope Julius II, who forced him into the project, that he was a sculptor, not a painter. Pictured: The Creation of Adam.
Wednesday, August 8, 2012
On August 8, 1969, Scottish photographer Iain Macmillan took the cover photo for The Beatles' 11th and last recorded album, Abbey Road. He had initially met Yoko Ono in 1966. The Beatles recorded most of their music at the EMI Studios on Abbey Road, St John's Wood, London, and decided to name their last album after the road. A policeman was hired to control traffic; Iain used a stepladder and took six pictures of the Beatles at the zebra crossing. His fifth photo (out of six) was the only photo in which the four Beatles are in step with one another. After the album’s release in the fall of 1969, the license plate on the white Volkswagen (LMW 281F) was repeatedly stolen.
Tuesday, August 7, 2012
August 7 is the birthdate of British archaeologist Louis S.B. Leakey. He and his wife, Mary (and their son, Richard), uncovered tools and fossilized bones of ancient hominines in Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania, East Africa. Their work (pictured) was critical in establishing human evolutionary development in Africa. Olduvai Gorge, "The Cradle of Mankind," is one of the world’s most important prehistoric sites. It was occupied by Homo habilis (tool user) approximately 1.9 million years ago, an ape-like human 1.8 million years ago, and Homo erectus (upright man) 1.2 million years ago. Homo sapiens (modern humans) are dated to have occupied the site 17,000 years ago.