Thursday, May 24, 2007

Daily D-Gest Week Four (May 19 - 25)


May 22 Birthdays

Richard Wagner (1813-1883), German composer and conductor of operas ("Lohengrin", "The Ring of Nibelung"). Wagner both revolutionized opera (a subject far too complicated for me to understand or summarize here) and called for revolution and anarchy in society, a position that led to several years in exile in Switzerland.

Mary Cassatt (1844-1926) American impressionist painter who lived and worked in Paris. She specialized in portraits of mothers and children in domestic and intimate settings, and used members of her own family as subjects. Here is Cassatt's painting "Mother and Child Against a Green Background."

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1859-1930) gained lasting fame for creating detective Sherlock Holmes and his faithful sidekick Dr. Watson. Conan Doyle began his career as a physician but was able to devote his full energies to writing due to the success of the Sherlock Holmes stories. Later in life, he did serve as a physician in the Boer War. Conan Doyle wrote other successful fictions, a play, and non-fiction works about the Boer War and World War I. Surprisingly, he was knighted not for Sherlock Holmens, but for the Boer War books, which justified British involvement.

Sir Laurence Olivier (1907-1989), perhaps the most famous British actor of the 20th century. Olivier played more than 120 stage roles and in almost 60 films, receiving 14 Academy Award nominations and two awards--Best Actor and Best Picture for Hamlet in 1948. Olivier played a wide variety of awards, and was considered one of the greatest Shakespearean actors of the 20th century. Olivier was married to actress Vivien Leigh for 20 years, in what must have been a highly dramatic pairing. He acted until his death in 1989. This picture of Olivier was taken in 1939.

Bernard Shaw (1940- ) CNN anchorman whom I remember best as the face of the Gulf War in 1991. His deep voice and ease before the camera made Shaw a natural as a television anchorman.

May 22 in History

In 1939 Hitler and Mussolini signed the "Pact of Steel" between Germany and Italy. Unlike Hitler's alliance with the Soviet Union, this "axis" stayed together throughout World War II.

In 1972 President Nixon became the first U.S. President to visit the Soviet Union. Nixon's outreach to both the Soviet Union and China will likely be remembered as the highpoints of an otherwise disappointing (Vietnam, Watergate) presidency.

In 1992 Johnny Carson retired as host of the Tonight Show. The fallout from this event reverberates today as Jay Leno was chosen over David Letterman as Carson's successor, causing Letterman to set up a competing late night show on CBS.

May 21 Birthdays

Plato (428 -348 BC), one of the three great philosophers of ancient Greece, along with Socrates and Aristotle. Plato apparently studied with Socrates, and wrote extensively of his concepts. Plato also founded the Academy in Athens, where Aristotle studied. The philosophies of these three men form much of the philosophical foundation of western civilization.

Alexander Pope (1688-1744), English essayist, critic, and poet who was arguably the greatest poet of the early 18th century. Pope made a living with his essays and poems, describe a physical deformity (a hunchback) that made him the target of ridicule. His most famous poem is The Rape of the Lock. His "Essay on Criticism" and "Essay on Man" are his most famous prose works. I studied Pope in college, but what I remember now is his line "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind," from the Jim Carrey / Kate Winslet movie of the same name.

Thomas "Fats" Waller (1904-1943) learned piano at a young age and spent his entire short life playing, composing, recording and entertaining. He wrote the score for the Broadway show "Keep Shufflin'", which featured Louis Armstrong and included his most famous song, "Ain't Misbehavin'". Waller became a recording star after being "discovered" by Victor records at a party given in 1934 by George Gershwin in New York City. For the rest of his life, Waller played in clubs, recorded and toured, especially in Europe. He died suddenly while on the road. It is speculated that his weight, over 300 lb, and lifestyle contributed to his early death.

Andrei Sakharov (1921-1989) was a Russian nuclear physicist who was a key contributor to the development of the hydrogen bomb by the Soviet Union. Later in life he became a social activist, pressing against nuclear proliferation and for expanded civil liberties and human rights in the Soviet Union. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1975, but was not allowed to travel to Stockholm to accept it. For seven years late in his life he was held in virtual house arrest in the closed city of Gorky. When Mikhail Gorbachev came to power he allowed Sakharov to return to his native Moscow.

May 21 in History

In 1881 Clara Barton established the American Red Cross. After visiting Europe on "vacation" in 1869, she was inspired by the work of the International Committee of the Red Cross in the Crimean War. She convinced then President Garfield that a similar organization in the U.S. could provide relief in times of national crisis other than war. John D. Rockefeller provided the land and building for the headquarters in Washington, D.C, one block from the White House. Barton is a hero of my religious tradition, Unitarian-Universalism.

In 1961, President John F. Kennedy committed the United States to a moon landing by end of decade by saying ". . . before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon, and returning him safely to the earth." As a child, the Mercury astronauts were high on my list of heroes. I continued to follow the quest for the moon through the Gemini and Apollo programs. In the '70s we got a recording of historical speeches ("we have nothing to fear", etc.) which included Kennedy's commitment to the moon. My brother and I loved to work on our phony Boston accents by reciting this passage.

May 20 Birthdays

Honore de Balzac (1799-1850), the father of realism in European literature. Overall he wrote over 100 novels and plays about French society in the years after Napoleon Bonaparte's reign. Most of his novels were farcical comedies, which sounds like they'd be great fun. In the movie "The Music Man", both Mrs. Paroo, Marian the librarian's mother, and the women of the town are scandalized by the presence of "Baaaal-zack" in the Madison Public Library, which Mrs. Paroo lumps in there with "Shakespeare and all them other high falutin' Greeks".

John Stuart Mill (1806-1873), British philosopher, logician and economist whose writings on liberty are still influential today, particularly his concept of "harm"--that individuals should be free to act as they want so long as their actions do not harm others. Mill's entire childhood, at least from age three was spent in learning, as his father pushed him to extensive study in history, Latin, Greek, mathematics and other subjects. At age 45, Mill finally married his long-time sweetheart. Sadly, she died after they'd been married for just seven years.
Frederick Taylor (1856-1915), an American industrial engineer known as the father of modern industrial management. The "Taylor system", with its almost militaristic, heirarchical organization structure and specialization of tasks, is still practiced by many companies, though more team-oriented, multitask approaches have become popular in the latter half of the 20th century, as success by the Japanese have demonstrated their merit.
Sigrid Undset (1882-1949), a Nobel Prize-winning Norwegian novelist whom I've included because I read one of her books--a grim story about survival and revenge in 11th century Iceland. Now those were some hard times.

Jimmy Stewart (1908-1997) Much better known than Ms. Undset is the serious but affable American actor who starred in such enduring classics as "It's a Wonderful Life", "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington", "Harvey", and "Rear Window". Interestingly, according to Wikipedia, Stewart was known to movie fans as "Jimmy", but was always billed as "James."

Moshe Dayan (1915-1981) A legendary military figure in Israel, Dayan led the Israeli army to defeat Arab attackers in four wars, but also helped negotiate the Israel-Egypt peace accord. His signature eyepatch helped make Dayan an unmistakable symbol of Israeli military prowess, and the viability of the fledgling nation.
Cher (1946 - ), American singer and actress who hit the entertainment scene with her then husband and partner, Sonny Bono. "I Got You, Babe" led to their own TV show in the late '60s. Later on, Cher split with Sonny, both professionally and personally, and developed an interesting dual persona as a glitzy, big voiced, show-stopping singer, and as a serious actress, who won an Academy Award in the '80s for "Moonstruck."

Dave Thomas (1949 - ), Canadian comedian and actor best known for his work in the '80s with the SCTV comedy show. He had a five-year stint in the ABC series "Grace Under Fire" and has written, directed, acted and produced many other TV shows and films. Most recently he guest starred during the third season of my favorite sitcom "Arrested Development". He did not, however, found Wendy's, which the site might lead you to believe. That Dave Thomas was born in 1932 and died in 2002.

May 20 in History

In 1506, Christopher Columbus died in poverty in Spain. Too bad his heirs didn't establish trademark rights to his name.
In 1927, Charles Lindbergh took off in the "Spirit of St. Louis" heading to Paris, the first Transatlantic solo flight, and still one of the most famous airplace flights of all time.

In 1961, the "Freedom Riders", a group trying to help African-Americans register to vote, were attacked in Montgomery, AL. Just six days earlier, one of their buses was blown up near Anniston, Alabama.

In 1967, the BBC banned the Beatles "A Day in the Life" (from the "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" album for drug references - "I'd love to turn you on" appears to be the offending phrase, but the whole song has been subjec to a lot of interpretation, which the Beatles deny. I wonder what they thought of "I get high with a little help from my friends" and "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds." (they got around to banning that one too).

In 1980, Quebec citizens voted in a referendum to remain a part of Canada, probably a wise decision given that becoming an independent nation would have made Quebec a small, aging and somewhat isolated French-speaking country in a predominantly English-speaking continent.

May 19 Birthdays:

Johns Hopkins (1795-1873), a financier and real estate investor in Baltimore during the 18th century, amassed a fortune that he returned to the community in the form of Johns Hopkins University and Johns Hopkins Medical Center. Hopkins started as a grocer, moved on to banking and at his death was the largest private shareholder of the B&O Railroad. Generous in life as well as death, Hopkins made a annual $20,000 donation to a colored orphanage in Baltimore, and on multiple occasions made loans to secure the finances of the City of Baltimore and the B&O Railroad.

Ho Chi Minh (1890 - 1969) led the Viet Minh revolt against French colonialism, establishing the Democratic Republic of Vietnam in 1945, and finally defeating the French in 1954. A factional split led to the development of North Vietnam, Ho's communist government, and South Vietnam, supported by the U.S, and eventually to the Vietnam War, which ended in 1975 and resulted in the reunification of the country. Ho died in 1969, before the outcome of the war was certain. Saigon, the capital of South Vietnam, was renamed Ho Chi Minh City after the war. "Uncle Ho" remains a revered figure with near god-like status. His remains were initially preserved in a Lenin-style mausoleum, but were then cremated, per Ho's last wishes, which noted that cremation was "good for hygiene, and saves farmland."

Malcolm X (1925-65) - Malcom "Red" Little from Detroit lived a short but eventful life. As a young man Little was a hustler in the inner-city, but in time took a much more serious path in his life. In contrast with Dr. Martin Luther King's message of passive resistance with the ultimate result of integration for African-Americans into white society, Malcolm X (he dropped his last name because of its likely tie to a slave owner, and took "X" saying it represented his true African name) preached a more confrontational and separatist approach. He became associated with the Black Muslim movement, eventually becoming one of its leading spokesmen. But after a 1964 hajj to Mecca, Malcolm converted to traditional Islam and preached that people of all colors could live together, as he had seen in Mecca. In 1965, Malcolm X was assassinated in New York City. The perpetrator(s) were never apprehended, though there was suspicion that the assassination was carried out by the Black Muslims because of his "defection."

Lorraine Hansberry (1930-65) wrote "A Raisin in the Sun," the first play by an African-American woman to be produced on Broadway. The play was inspired by her childhood experience as her father fought a legal battle against segregation in Chicago. Hansberry died of pancreatic cancer at age 34.

Jimmy Hoffa (1941 - ?) was an old-style, confrontational Teamsters labor leader whose ties to organized crime and mysterious disappearance has led to widespread speculation about how, where and why he died.

Pete Townshend (1945 - ) One of the greatest rock guitarists ever, Townshend gained his greatest fame playing in The Who, the British rock band known for concept albums and rock operas. Their most successful such project was "Tommy," about a "deaf, dumb, and blind kid" who "sure could play a mean pinball." Townshen was also known for his onstage guitar smashing antics.

Bill Laimbeer (1957 - ), a Notre Dame grad, who was one of the "Bad Boys" on the successful Detroit Pistons NBA basketball teams of the 1980's. At 6'11" and about 250 pounds, Laimbeer was known for both his bruising style and complaining nature, as he almost never agreed with any foul called against him. After his playing career, Laimbeer coached in the Womens' NBA.

May 19 in History

Anne Boleyn was beheaded in 1536 after being convicted of adultery. In order, Henry VIII was married to Catherine of Aragon (marriage annulled), Anne Boleyn (annulled and beheaded), Jane Seymour (died of puerperal fever), Anne of Cleves (annulled), Catherine Howard (annulled and beheaded), Catherine Parr (survived). The mnemonic rhyme is "divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived."

In 1935, T. E. Lawrence ("Lawrence of Arabia") died in England from injuries received in a motorcycle accident.

In 1962, Marilyn Monroe sang "Happy Birthday" to President John F. Kennedy at a salute to the Kennedy at New York's Madison Square Garden.

In 1967, the U.S, USSR and Great Britain signed a treaty banning nuclear weapons in space.