Friday, November 30, 2012
Samuel Langhorne Clemens, known by his pen name Mark Twain, was born on November 30, 1835, in Florida, Missouri. He grew up in Hannibal, where he became a printer's apprentice, then a typesetter for the Hannibal Journal (owned by his brother), to which he contributed articles and humorous sketches. As a steamboat pilot he picked up the term "Mark Twain," a shout that noted a two-fathom minimum navigation depth, and used it for 50 years. In 1864 in San Francisco he wrote a story about jumping frogs that made him famous. His world travels for newspapers resulted in his popular book The Innocents Abroad (1869). Settled in Hartford, Connecticut, he published Tom Sawyer (1875), Life on the Mississippi (1883) and his masterpiece, Huckleberry Finn (1885). With his wife’s death in 1903, darkness descended on him. He departed with the return of Halley’s Comet in 1910.
Thursday, November 29, 2012
Composer, pianist and arranger William "Billy" Strayhorn was born on November 29, 1915, in Dayton, Ohio. He began his musical career as a teen in Pittsburgh, studying classical music and composing songs that included one he later renamed "Lush Life" (which became a jazz standard). The almost completely white world of classical music was inimical to a black man, so he was steered into jazz. In 1938 he met the great composer and band leader Duke Ellington, with whom Strayhorn spent the next 25 years as an irreplaceable arranger and collaborator. He composed Ellington’s best known theme, "Take the ‘A’ Train," and other pieces in the band’s repertoire, including "Satin Doll." He had a major influence on the career of singer Lena Horne, who considered him the love of her life, even though he was openly gay.
Wednesday, November 28, 2012
English poet, illustrator and printmaker William Blake was born in London on November 28, 1757. At age 10, he wanted to become a painter so his parents sent him to drawing school. Two years later, he began writing poetry. The Bible was an early, profound influence in his life, which was marked by visions. He made a meager living as an engraver and illustrator for books and magazines. Blake married Catherine Boucher, who helped him print his illuminated poetry. In 1789 he published his most popular poems, Songs of Innocence, followed in 1794 by Songs of Experience. His later works including Jerusalem (1804-20) envision a new, higher innocence in which the human spirit and imagination triumph over reason. Pictured: Blake’s “Ancient of Days” (1794), showing Urizen, the embodiment of reason and law.
Tuesday, November 27, 2012
November 27 is the birthdate of prolific Broadway producer David Merrick. Born David Margulois in St. Louis, he graduated from Washington University and studied law at Saint Louis University but, understandably, fled the city as soon as he could. In New York, beginning in 1949, he produced more than 85 Broadway shows over a period of 40 years. When he appeared on TIME’s cover in 1966, he employed an estimated 20 percent of Broadway's work force. His hit productions included: Look Back in Anger (1957), The Entertainer (1958), Gypsy (1959), Becket (1960), Oliver! (1963), Hello, Dolly! (1964), Marat/Sade (1966), I Do! I Do! (1966), Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead (1968), Promises, Promises (1968), and 42nd Street (1980). He was furtive, misanthropic, financially ruthless, and married six times.
Monday, November 26, 2012
Cartoonist Charles Schulz was born in Minneapolis on November 26, 1922. An only child who grew up in Saint Paul, he was nicknamed "Sparky" after a horse in an early comic strip named Barney Google (which had a circuitous impact on Google’s Larry Page and Sergey Brin). His first regular cartoon strip appeared in the St. Paul Pioneer Press (1947-1950). An outgrowth of those panels, Peanuts, was first published by the United Feature Syndicate on October 2, 1950, and eventually became one of the most popular and influential strips in the medium’s history. At its peak, Peanuts ran in more than 2,600 newspapers, with a readership of 355 million in 75 countries. The cartoon and its endless merchandising earned Schulz more than $1 billion over the course of its 50-year run. Pictured: Charlie Brown, who never kicked the football, and Lucy.
Sunday, November 25, 2012
German engine designer and engineer Karl Friedrich Benz was born on November 25, 1844, in southwest Germany. He is considered the inventor of the gasoline-powered automobile and, with his wife, he founded the company that became Mercedes-Benz. He worked as an engine-design engineer in Austria and Germany, then opened his own firm in 1883, making stationary engines for industrial use. In 1885 he built his first “motorwagon,” a three-wheeled, tiller-controlled, steel-frame carriage powered by an internal combustion engine. He patented the vehicle in 1886. His test drives frightened the citizens and horses of Munich. Other Germans (including Daimler and Maybach) worked on similar inventions, entirely separately, but Benz patented his work first. Pictured: Reproduction of the Benz Patent Motorwagen.
Saturday, November 24, 2012
French Post-Impressionist painter, printmaker and illustrator Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec was born on November 24, 1864, into an aristocratic family in the Midi-Pyrénées region of France. As a boy he suffered from congenital health problems caused by inbreeding (his parents were first cousins). He was 5 ft. 1 in. tall, with child-sized legs. In Paris he immersed himself in art, developing a style influenced by the work of Manet and Degas and classical Japanese woodprints that had become popular in art circles. A large portion of his immense output recorded the dissolute, bohemian lifestyle of Paris’ Montmartre in the late-19th-century. Toulouse-Lautrec was not yet 37 when he died of alcoholism and syphilis. Pictured: Au Moulin Rouge (1892), in which an oblique angle and cut figure impart a sense of movement and immediacy.
Friday, November 23, 2012
On November 23, 1889, the first jukebox was installed at the Palais Royale Saloon in San Francisco by entrepreneur Louis Glass. The “nickel-in-the-slot player” consisted of four stethoscope-like tubes connected to an Edison Class M electric phonograph placed inside an oak cabinet. Each tube was activated by an inserted nickel (equivalent to $1.08 today), so that four listeners could hear the same song simultaneously. Patrons received towels to wipe off the end of the tube after each listening. Exhibitors often arrayed machines in "phonograph parlors" where patrons could choose between various records. The term "jukebox" came into use around 1940, perhaps derived from the term "juke joint," from the Gullah (Lowcountry) word "juke" or "joog" meaning disorderly, rowdy or wicked. Pictured: Seeburg M100C Jukebox (1952).
Thursday, November 22, 2012
November 22 is the birthdate of composer and singer/actor Hoagy Carmichael. The Indiana native became a lawyer but began composing songs after he befriend influential jazz musician Bix Beiderbecke. In 1927, he wrote one of his most famous songs, “Stardust” (a song about a song), on an old upright piano at a hotel on Keuka Lake in Upstate New York. This sophisticated composition became one of the most popular, most recorded American standards. His œuvre includes the music for other exceptional songs: "Georgia on My Mind," "(Up a) Lazy River," "In the Still of the Night," "The Nearness of You," "Heart and Soul," "I Get Along Without You Very Well (Except Sometimes)," "Skylark" and "In the Cool, Cool, Cool of the Evening." He could not notate music and said that he composed melodies by coaxing them “out of hiding.”
Wednesday, November 21, 2012
On November 21, 1877, inventor and businessman Thomas Edison announced his invention of the first phonograph, a device for recording and replaying sound. He patented his “talking machine” the following year. He had conceived the principle of recording and reproducing sound earlier in 1877 while attempting to "play back" recorded telegraph messages (on a revolving paper disc) and automate speech sounds for the telephone (patented by Bell in 1876). The machine recorded sound on tinfoil around a grooved cylinder; the recordings were poor and could be played only a few times. Later models used wax-coated cylinders. Edison’s invention was so astounding and magical that he became known as "The Wizard of Menlo Park," site of his New Jersey laboratory. Pictured: Edison photographed by Matthew Brady, 1878.
Tuesday, November 20, 2012
Astronomer Edwin Hubble was born on November 20, 1889, in Marshfield, Missouri. Though he studied law as a Rhodes scholar, he became an astronomer working at Mount Wilson Observatory near Pasadena, where his studies of very luminous stars (Cepheid variables) proved they are located outside our own galaxy, thereby determining the existence of galaxies beyond the Milky Way – which until then had been believed to be the universe. His observations of redshifts in light emissions from galaxies indicated that they were moving away from each other – meaning that the universe is expanding. The resulting Hubble's Law (1929) confirmed earlier theories of astronomer Georges Lemaître. Pictured: Andromeda galaxy, where Hubble discovered the Cepheid variable that placed this "nebula" outside the Milky Way.
Monday, November 19, 2012
149 years ago: On November 19, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln delivered an address at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, to dedicate a military cemetery four months after the Battle of Gettysburg, which was the turning point of the Civil War and its single bloodiest battle: more than 45,000 men were killed, injured, missing or captured. In his 272-word speech lasting about two minutes, Lincoln consecrated the sacrifice of the fallen soldiers by invoking the founding principles of the United States under the dark shadow of the struggle to preserve the Union, and by reaffirming the equality of all Americans and the enduring nature of our democracy. Lincoln delivered the speech in ill health, at the onset of a mild case of smallpox. Pictured: Lincoln photographed less than two weeks prior to the Gettysburg Address, November 8, 1863.
Sunday, November 18, 2012
Lyricist, songwriter and singer Johnny Mercer was born on November 18, 1909. He wrote the lyrics (or music and lyrics) to more than 1,500 songs, many of which have entered the Great American Songbook. He also co-founded Capitol Records in 1942. Widely known for “Moon River” (1961), a very small sampling of his songs includes "Hooray for Hollywood" (1937), "You Must Have Been a Beautiful Baby" (1938), "Jeepers, Creepers!" (1938), "That Old Black Magic" (1942), "Skylark" (1942), "One for My Baby (and One More for the Road)" (1943), "Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive" (1944), "Laura" (1945), "Come Rain Or Come Shine" (1946), "Autumn Leaves" (1947), "Satin Doll" (1953) and "Something's Gotta Give" (1954). Incredibly, he could not read musical scores with any facility, relying instead on his own notation system.
Saturday, November 17, 2012
On November 17, 1558, Queen Mary I (“Bloody Mary”) of England died and was succeeded by Queen Elizabeth I (the Virgin Queen), daughter of Henry VIII and Ann Boleyn. She was 25 and had survived bastardy, calumny, plots, imprisonment and accusations of treason while navigating the sundry dangers of the treacherous Tudor court. She inherited a bankrupt nation, torn by religious strife, a weakened pawn wedged between the powers of France and Spain. Her spectacular coronation at Westminster Abbey in January presaged an Elizabethan era marked by a great flowering of literature and the theater, the repulse of the Spanish Armada, colonization of the New World, and much-needed domestic tranquility. Pictured: Elizabeth Regina in her coronation robes, patterned with Tudor roses and trimmed with ermine.
Friday, November 16, 2012
Legendary playwright, theatre director/producer and humorist George S. Kauffman was born on November 16, 1889, in Pittsburgh. In every theater season from 1921 through 1958, a play written or directed by Kaufman appeared on Broadway. With a long list of collaborators including Moss Hart, Edna Ferber and Irving Berlin, he wrote many plays and musicals that have stood the test of time, including The Front Page (1928), Of Thee I Sing (1931), Dinner at Eight (1932), You Can't Take It With You (1936), Stage Door (1937) and The Solid Gold Cadillac (1953), as well as two Broadway shows for the Marx Brothers, The Cocoanuts (1925) and Animal Crackers (1928), which also became movies.
Thursday, November 15, 2012
German-born British astronomer and composer William Herschel was born on November 15, 1738, in Hanover Germany. At age 19 he sought refuge from the Seven Years’ War in England, where his musical ability (he composed 24 symphonies) led to interests in mathematics and lenses. He began building reflecting telescopes and later became famous for their manufacture. In 1781, he identified a planet beyond Saturn he called the “Georgian star” (Georgium sidus) after King George III, but it became known as Uranus to conform to other known planets’ classical mythology-derived names. In 1800, while testing filters to observe sun spots, he accidentally discovered infrared radiation by holding a thermometer beyond the red end of the visible spectrum. Pictured: rings of Uranus, which is tipped on its side, from Voyager 2.
Wednesday, November 14, 2012
American composer Aaron Copland was born on November 14, 1900. He had his musical start in France in his 20’s but focused on jazz as the first genuinely American music, from which he was inspired to create a new symphonic music distinct from that of Europe. He composed in different styles in different time periods, but he became the “Dean of American Composers” by developing a uniquely American style marked by open, changing harmonies and folk melodies that evoke the vastness and beauty of America and its resourceful spirit. Works he composed in the 1930s and 1940s made him famous, including the ballets “Billy the Kid” (1939), “Rodeo” (1942) and “Appalachian Spring” (1944), which he wrote for Martha Graham without knowing the ballet’s subject. The title, supplied later, actually refers to “spring” as a water source, not the season.
Tuesday, November 13, 2012
Scottish novelist, poet, essayist and travel writer Robert Louis Stevenson was born on November 13, 1850, in Edinburgh, Scotland. Recurrent lung disease affected the course of his life and was the impetus for his many travels, seeking a healthy climate. His decision to pursue writing alienated him from his parents, who expected him to follow the family profession of lighthouse engineering. In 1880 he married an American, Fanny Vandegrift Osbourne, in San Francisco. One of his most popular books was the adventure novel Treasure Island (1883), followed by the popular A Child's Garden of Verse (1885) and the “boys’ novel” Kidnapped (1886). His novella The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1886) has been viewed as a guidebook to Victorian social hypocrisy, exposing the era’s outward respectability and inward lust.
Monday, November 12, 2012
Russian composer and chemist Alexander Borodin was born on November 12, 1833. He was the illegitimate son of a Georgian noble who registered him as the son of one of his serfs. Astonishingly, his music was a secondary vocation to his career as a chemist and physician. With Mily Balakirev, César Cui, Modest Mussorgsky and Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, Borodin was one of “The Five,” composers devoted to a specifically Russian kind of art music. He is best known for three symphonies, two string quartets, the tone poem “In the Steppes of Central Asia” and his opera Prince Igor. His romantic, lyrically beautiful music was adapted for the Broadway musical “Kismet” (1953), famously in the song, "Stranger in Paradise." Borodin suffered poor health and died suddenly at an academic gala in St. Petersburg at age 53.
Sunday, November 11, 2012
U.S. Highway 66 was designated on November 11, 1926, by the Joint Board on Interstate Highways, a group of state officials that established roadway standards. Road signs were erected the following year. Route 66 ran from Chicago through Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico and Arizona, ending at Los Angeles, covering nearly 2,500 miles. It connected the main streets of rural and urban communities along its route, for which it was an economic lifeline, and it was a thoroughfare for western migration, especially during the Dust Bowl of the 1930s. Roadside attractions proliferated. In 1938 it became the first highway to be completely paved. Piece by piece, the “Mother Road” was replaced by the Interstate Highway System. It was decommissioned as a U.S. Highway in 1985, and road signs were removed.
Saturday, November 10, 2012
On November 10, 1958, New York jeweler Harry Winston donated the Hope Diamond to the Smithsonian Institution. Also known as "Le bleu de France," the gem is very large at 45.52-carats and deeply blue to the naked eye because of trace amounts of boron in its crystal structure. (It exhibits red phosphorescence after exposure to ultraviolet light.) It was cut from a massive, crude precursor stone (the Tavernier Blue, 115 carats) from India, and sold around 1668 to King Louis XVI. Notorious for supposedly being cursed, the "most famous diamond in the world" passed through multiple owners in France, Britain and the U.S. Harry Winston bought it in 1949. He delivered it to the Smithsonian by sending it via registered U.S. Mail in a box wrapped in brown paper, insured at a cost of $145.29. Its value now exceeds $250 million.
Friday, November 9, 2012
After a set of remarkable communications blunders by East German apparatchiks, the Berlin Wall was flung open on the evening of November 9, 1989, allowing citizens free access between East and West Germany. It was the single most significant event in the end of the Cold War and the eventual collapse of Communist regimes in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. In August of that year, Hungary had opened its border to Austria, allowing waves of East Germans to circumvent the Wall by traveling through those nations into West Germany. Massive demonstrations had also given birth to the “Peaceful Revolution” for civil and human rights. This marked the start of Die Wende (The Turn), which led to the reunification of Germany in October 1990. Pictured: The Berlin Wall and Brandenburg Gate on November 10, 1989.
Thursday, November 8, 2012
November 8 is the birthdate of Edmond Halley, English astronomer, geophysicist, mathematician, meteorologist and physicist. Son of a wealthy soap-maker, he published papers on the Solar System and sunspots as an undergraduate at Oxford and financed the publication of Isaac Newton’s Principia Mathematica. In 1705, he published a work showing that comet sightings in 1456, 1531, 1607 and 1682 were the same comet, which he predicted would return in 1758. He did not live to see the return of what became known as Halley's Comet, which is visible to the naked eye every 75–76 years. Known sightings have occurred since at least 240 BCE. It last appeared in the inner Solar System in 1986 and will next appear in mid-2061. Pictured: The comet’s appearance in 1066, shown in the Bayeux Tapestry (1077).
Wednesday, November 7, 2012
French author and philosopher Albert Camus was born on November 7, 1913, in French Algeria. Though often regarded as an existentialist, Camus’ works, including L’Étranger (1942) and La Peste (1947), are landmarks in absurdism, which holds that the efforts of human beings to find inherent meaning will ultimately fail because certainty is impossible in the face of the unknown. He argued that man must find his own clarity and meaning in a world that offers neither, and must endure his struggles in spite of their ultimate lack of significance. It is the individual who gives meaning to circumstance. He received the 1957 Nobel Prize for Literature for work which, “with clear-sighted earnestness illuminates the problems of the human conscience in our times." He was killed in 1960 in an auto accident in France at age 46.
Tuesday, November 6, 2012
Belgian musical instrument designer and musician Antoine-Joseph "Adolphe" Sax was born on November 6, 1814. In Paris in the 1840s, he successfully worked on a new type of valved bugles that became known as saxhorns. In 1846 he patented his namesake instrument, the saxophone, with its single reed mouthpiece like a clarinet, conical brass body like an ophicleide (bugle) and acoustic properties of the French horn and clarinet. Most saxophones are made from brass but are categorized as woodwind instruments, since an oscillating reed produces the sound waves (not the player's lips against a mouthpiece) and pitches are produced by opening and closing keys. Pictured: President Bill Clinton accepting a Limited Edition Presidential Model Tenor Saxophone by the L.A. Sax Co., 1994.