Saturday, June 29, 2013

Virginia Pope made high fashion news

It is the birthday of fashion writer Virginia Pope (1886), who was fashion editor of The New York Times from 1933 to 1955. She is credited with turning fashion writing into news.  She was the first to send photos of the 1930s Paris shows for publication the next day in New York. When World War II separated American designers from the fashion centers of Europe, Pope produced home-grown Fashions of the Times revues, featuring the work of American designers, and in the process, making them widely known. In addition to two decades of writing about fashion for the Times, her work appears in American Fashion (2007),  an illustrated history of apparel in the United States.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Happy birthday, Peter Paul Rubens

It is the birthday of Flemish painter Peter Paul Rubens (1577), who is remembered for his exuberant Baroque works that were full of sensuality, movement, and color. He is particularly known for his paintings of full-figured women, which led to the term Rubenesque for larger women. But he also painted portraits of friends, landscapes, historical scenes and commissioned altarpieces during the Counter Reformation. He also served as a diplomat, and was knighted by Philip IV of Spain and Charles I of England. Rubens earned a fine living from his paintings but it is unlikely they fetched in his lifetime the sum that one of his works did in 2002. His first version of The Massacre of the Innocents (1612) brought $76.2 million at auction, still a record for a European master painting.
Massacre of the Innocents (1612) was sold for $76.2 million in 2002.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Happy birthday, Emma Goldman

It is the birthday of anarchist Emma Goldman (1869), who wrote fervently and extensively on patriotism, anarchism, atheism, women's rights, social issues, military draft, worker's rights, and capitalism. In 1919, she and her lover and fellow anarchist Alexander Berkman (pictured) were deported to Russia because of their radical beliefs. At first she embraced the Bolshevik revolution but then came to oppose its heavy-handed policies. She campaigned for leftist causes throughout Europe, including support for anarchists in the Spanish Civil War. She eventually loathed Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin, and Franco. She wrote Anarchism and Other Essays (1910), The Social Significance of Modern Drama (1914), My Disillusionment in Russia (1923), My Further Disillusionment in Russia (1924), and Living My Life (1931).

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Happy birthday, Big Bill Broonzy

It is the birthday of blues singer and guitarist Big Bill Broonzy (1893), who is remembered as one of the leading figures in 20th century blues music. He was a traditionalist whose roots in country blues in the 1930s and 1940s, gave him the foundation that made him one of the key developers of the Chicago blues style after World War II. He was equally at home on acoustic guitar and electric guitar. He influenced Muddy Waters, Memphis Slim, Ray Davies, Eric Clapton, and others.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Happy birthday, George Orwell

It is the birthday of writer George Orwell (1903), who is remembered for his novella, Animal Farm (1945) and his novel, 1984 (1949), both of which painted visions of totalitarian regimes controlling society. Animal Farm was an allegory intended to satirize the rise of Joseph Stalin in Russia. The novel 1984 was intended to tackle issues of war, censorship, surveillance, and though control. Here is a riveting program by the BBC about Orwell, including extensive interviews. It's worth the effort to watch it all. (Warning: For some inexplicable reason, the YouTube playlist is not in order. Be attentive.)

Monday, June 24, 2013

Happy birthday, Ambrose Bierce

It is the birthday of writer Ambrose Bierce (1842), who is best remembered for his short story, An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge (1891), a riveting tale about a Southern planter who is executed for conspiring to destroy a railroad bridge during the Civil War. The story's structure is unusual because a long period of time from the protagonist's point of view passes in an instant. It has been adapted numerous times for radio, television, and the movies. Bierce was a columnist for Hearst's San Francisco Examiner and is credited with foiling an attempt by the Union Pacific and Central Pacific railroads to get a bill through Congress excusing their $130 million loan from the federal government to build the First Transcontinental Railroad. Bierce is said to have mysteriously disappeared while he was with Pancho Villa's army during the Mexican Revolution.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

H. Rider Haggard wrote African adventures

It is the birthday of Victorian English writer H. Rider Haggard (1856), who is best remembered for his novel King Solomon's Mines (1885) and its sequel, Allan Quatermain (1887), among the first English adventure novels set in Africa. Quatermain is a professional big game hunter and an excellent marksman. Haggard wrote numerous sequels, and is generally credited with creating the Lost World literary genre. He is said to have influenced Edgar Rice Burroughs, Rudyard Kipling, Henry Miller, Graham Greene, J.R.R. Tolkien, and Margaret Atwood. Haggard also wrote She (1887),  Eric Brighteyes (1891) and Nada the Lily (1892).

Friday, June 21, 2013

Happy birthday, Mary McCarthy

It is the birthday of writer Mary McCarthy (1912), who is remembered for her best-selling novel The Group (1963), which deals with the lives of eight women after they graduated from Vassar College during the Depression. It examines the women's views on socialism, psychoanalysis, love, and sex. She is also remembered for her long-running feud with writer Lillian Hellman, both of whom held extreme leftist political views. McCarthy once quipped to interviewer Dick Cavett about Hellman: " … every word she writes is a lie, including 'and' and 'the.' "

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Dance the can-can to Jacques Offenbach

It is the birthday of German-born French composer Jacques Offenbach (1819), who is remembered for his uncompleted opera The Tales of Hoffmann, and for his numerous operettas. His works continue to be popular among contemporary opera audiences. Here is the overture to his first operetta, Orpheus in the Underworld (1858), one of his most popular works, which includes the Infernal Galop associated with the French can-can dance.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Happy birthday, film critic Pauline Kael

It is the birthday of film critic Pauline Kael (1919), who is credited with transforming the art of mainstream movie reviews with biographical details, passion, wit, and often polarizing opinions. She fostered the notion that film could be an art form. She wrote for The New Yorker magazine for 23 years. Among her books about criticism and the movies are, I Lost It at the Movies (1965), Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (1968), Going Steady (1969), Deeper into Movies (1973), Reeling (1976), When the Lights Go Down (1980), 5001 Nights at the Movies (1982), Movie Love (1991), and Raising Kane, and other essays (1996).

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Happy birthday, songwriter Sammy Cahn

It is the birthday of lyricist and songwriter Sammy Cahn (1913), who wrote hit songs for Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Doris Day and other stars as well as music for Broadway shows and Hollywood movies. He won Oscars four times for his songs in films, including Three Coins in the Fountain (1954), All the Way (1957), High Hopes (1959), and Call Me Irresponsible (1963). At the end of World War II, with military personnel were returning home to their loved ones. it's no wonder this song with music by Jule Styne and lyrics by Cahn was a hit. Enjoy It's Been A Long, Long Time (1945).

Monday, June 17, 2013

Carl Van Vechten photographed celebs

It is the birthday of writer and photographer Carl Van Vechten (1880), who is best remembered for his photographs of celebrity writers, artists, singers and actors in the 1920s and 1930s. He was particularly fascinated with the leading figures in the Harlem Renaissance. Van Vechten worked as assistant music critic for The New York Times and later as its first modern dance critic. He wrote seven novels, including Peter Whiffle: His Life and Works (1922), The Blind Bow-Boy (1923), The Tattooed Countess (1924), Red (1925), Firecrakers: A Realistic Novel (1925), Nigger Heaven (1926), and Parties (1930). He met Gertrude Stein in Paris in 1913 and remained a lifelong friend. He became the literary executor of her estate and published some of her unpublished writings. Collections of his photographs are at Yale University, Fisk University, the Library of Congress, the Smithsonian Institution, and the Museum of the City of New York.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Steinberg drew famous New Yorker cover

It is the birthday of artist Saul Steinberg (1914), who is best known for his 1976 cover illustration in The New Yorker magazine titled View of the World from 9th Avenue, a mental landscape of Manhattan residents. It was widely published as a poster and became quite popular. It was imitated and parodied for years, including a poster for the 1984 film Moscow on the Hudson, which led to a lawsuit decided in Steinberg's favor. Steinberg worked for The New Yorker for more than 50 years and produced 90 covers and more than 1,200 drawings. Steinberg also created other works of art, including drawings, paintings, prints, collages, and sculptures, exploring society, politics, human foibles, geography, architecture, art, and language.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Happy birthday, Margaret Bourke-White

It is the birthday of photographer Margaret Bourke-White (1904), who broke several gender barriers in her career, including becoming the first woman combat photographer and the first woman photographer for Life magazine. She was also the first foreign photographer allowed to shoot pictures in Soviet Russia. Her photograph of the Fort Peck Dam appeared on the cover of the first Life magazine in 1936. One of her most famous pictures, Kentucky Flood, was taken of Dust Bowl victims during the Depression in the 1930s. 

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Happy birthday, Dorothy L. Sayers

It is the birthday of English mystery writer Dorothy L. Sayers (1893), who created the bon vivant amateur detective Lord Peter Wimsey. The multi-talented sleuth was first featured in Whose Body (1923) and stars in a dozen novels and numerous short stories. Wimsey is an authority on incunabula (even wrote a book about it—Notes on the Collecting of Incunabula), on wine, classical music, and luxury cars (he owns a 12-cylinder, 1927 Daimler Corsica coupe convertible.) He calls all his cars Mrs. Merdle, after a Charles Dickens character who hated fuss. Literary references abound thought the Wimsey novels, to the delight of fans. Sayers also wrote poetry, religious essays, and plays. She considered her translation of Dante's Divine Comedy to be her best work.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

James Oliver Curwood wrote of Northwest

It is the birthday of writer James Oliver Curwood (1878), whose bestselling 1920s novels told wilderness adventure tales of the Yukon, Alaska and the Great Northwest in the tradition of Jack London.  Among his best known books are Kazan (1914), The Grizzly King (1916), Baree, Son of Kazan (1917), The Courage of Marge O'Doone (1918), The Valley of Silent Men (1920), The Flaming Forest (1921), The Alaskan (1923), The Plains of Abraham (1928). Curwood's novels and short stories inspired at least 18 movies, including Back to God's Country (which was filmed three times – in 1919, 1927, and 1953), John Wayne's 1934 film The Trail Beyond and The Bear (1988), based on The Grizzly King. On a fishing trip to Florida in 1927, Curwood apparently was bitten by a spider and had an allergic reaction. He died a few months later from a resulting infection at his home in Owosso, Michigan.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Happy birthday, Richard Strauss

It is the birthday of German composer Richard Strauss (1864), who is best remembered for his operas Salome (1905) and Der Rosenkavalier (1911), and his tone poems, Don Juan (1888), Death and Transfiguration (1890), Thus Spoke Zarathustra (1896), An Alpine Symphony (1915) and many other works. Strauss was a leading composer in the transition between the late Romantic period and the early modern era. His works are part of the repertoire of most major orchestras. Here is Also Spoke Zarathustra, one of his most familiar pieces, easily recognizable after the use of the introduction in the 1968 film 2001: A Space Odyssey. It's worth listening to the whole thing.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Happy birthday, Maurice Sendak

It is the birthday of beloved children's author and illustrator Maurice Sendak (1928) whose popular Where the Wild Things Are (1963) has delighted children for decades. With 19 million copies in print, it was a runaway bestseller. Sendak died last year from a stroke. An animated Google doodle is dedicated to Sendak, who would have been 85 today. Enjoy!

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Happy birthday, Robert Schumann



It is the birthday of German composer Robert Schumann (1810), who is considered one of the greatest Romantic composers in the world. His piano instructor, Fredrich Wieck, told him he could become the greatest pianist in Europe. However, he injured his hand and turned to composing. He also fell in love with Wieck's daughter and married her when she was 20, despite the objections of her father. This is his first symphony, composed the year after his married Clara Wieck, who encouraged him to write symphonies. Felix Mendelssohn directed the premiere performance in Leipzig in 1841.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Happy birthday, Beau Brummell

It is the birthday of British fashion figure Beau Brummell (1778), who is credited with establishing the modern standard of men's fashion, with tailored dark coats, full-length trousers, pressed shirts and neckties. Although he was educated at Eton and then Oxford, he wasn't as wealthy as his fellow students. In the British Army, he became close friends with the Prince of Wales (who would become King George IV). The Prince was fascinated with Brummell's fashion sense and attention to grooming details. By force of his own personality, Brummell influenced students and later much of London society, spending most of his resources on fashion. He was considered a genius at combining colors, texture and shape of clothing to great effect. Though later he had a falling out with the Prince, such was his stature that he remained influential. Eventually, though, he ran up enormous debt and had to flee to France to avoid debtor's prison. In France, he died penniless at age 61. Books about Brummell include The Life of Beau Brummell (1844), Of Dandyism and of George Brummell (1845), Wits and Beaux of Society (1861), Beau Brummell: His Life and Letters (1925), Beau Brummell (1948), and The Dandy: Brummell to Beerbohm (1960). Brummell's style inspired plays and movies as well.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Happy birthday, artist John Trumbull

It is the birthday of American Revolution artist John Trumbull (1756), who is best remembered for his painting, Declaration of Independence (1817), which was used on the reverse of the two-dollar bill. Trumbull created many historical paintings depicting events related to the American Revolutionary War, including The Death of General Warren at the Battle of Bunker Hill (1786), The Death of General Montgomery in the Attack on Quebec (1786) and the Surrender of Lord Cornwallis at Yorktown (1820). Trumbull also painted portraits of George Washington and John Adams. His paintings are on display in the rotunda of the Capitol Building, the Boston Athenaeum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, New York City Hall, Yale University, Boston Museum of Fine Arts, and the National Museum of American History.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Happy birthday, critic Alfred Kazin

It is the birthday of writer and literary critic Alfred Kazin (1915), whose opinionated prose gave perspective on American literature for decades, and whose autobiographical works gave insight into growing up as a Jewish immigrant in the early part of the 20th century. As a youth, Kazin gazed across the river from his boyhood home in Brooklyn's tough Brownsville neighborhood to Manhattan's lofty towers. As an adult, he marveled privately in journals that he had arrived as one of the New York intellectuals. "I who stood so long outside the door wondering if I would ever get through it, am now one of the standard bearers of American literary opinion—a judge of young men," he wrote. He first achieved success with On Native Grounds (1942), an ambitious study of Nathaniel Hawthorne, Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson, and other literary giants. There followed A Walker in the City (1951), Starting Out in the Thirties (1965), New York Jew (1978), and A Lifetime Burning in Every Moment (1996) and a lifetime of reviews, magazine articles, and essays. He died in 1998 on his 83rd birthday.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Happy birthday, Charles Collingwood

It is the birthday of broadcast journalist Charles Collingwood (1917), who was among a group of early television and radio reporters who were recruited by CBS broadcast news pioneer Edward R. Murrow to cover Europe before and during World War II for the network. Most were print journalists who were working for newspapers or wire services. They became known in broadcast circles as Murrow's Boys. The group included such broadcast luminaries as William L. Shirer, Eric Sevareid, Howard K. Smith, Winston Burdett, and Richard C. Hottelet. Mary Marvin Breckinridge was the only woman in the group. Collingwood covered the Blitz and battles in North Åfrica and France (including the invasion of Normandy) during the war. Later, he was the host of a CBS documentary series Adventure. He also covered the White House, the assassination of President John F. Kennedy and the Vietnam War. He traveled to North Vietnam during the war, and later wrote an espionage novel The Defector (1970) based on the trip. Collingwood had blond, curly hair and a handsome face, plus he was an impeccable dresser. Murrow nicknamed him Bonnie Prince Charlie.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Happy birthday, poet Allen Ginsberg

It is the birthday of Beat Generation poet Allen Ginsberg (1926), who is best remembered for his epic poem, Howl (1956), an extended criticism of conformity and capitalism in the United States. It became a central subject in a celebrated obscenity trial in 1957 for its frank depiction of heterosexual and homosexual sex acts. However, a judge ruled that the work was not obscene. The work contains stories about Ginsberg's friends, including Neal Cassady , Jack Kerouac, William S. Burroughs, Peter Orlovsky, Lucien Carr, Herbert Huncke, and Carl Solomon. It was first presented publicly on October 5, 1955 at a reading at the Six Gallery in San Francisco, leaving the audience in awe. City Lights Bookstore owner Lawrence Ferlinghetti subsequently published the poem along with several others in a volume called Howl and Other Poems (1956).

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Happy birthday, poet John Masefield

It is the birthday of English poet and novelist John Masefield (1878), who is best known for his poems Sea-Fever (1902) and The Everlasting Mercy (1911). Masefield served as Poet Laureate of the United Kingdom for 37 years. He also wrote the children's novel The Midnight Folk (1927) and a sequel, The Box of Delights (1935). Here is a video animation of Masefield reading his popular poem The West Wind.

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