Wednesday, June 30, 2010

In Memoriam: Lena Horne

Her career began at the fabled Cotton Club in Harlem, when she was just 16, which is remarkable enough; it's only when one considers that the year was 1933, and her debut was with none other than the Duke Ellington Orchestra, that one gets a truer picture of the awesome scope of the lady's talent even at its outset...

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketLena Horne's movie debut came in 1938, in one of a series of so-called race movies* called The Duke is Tops (later retitled The Bronze Venus to capitalize on Horne's burgeoning fame); soon enough the studios came calling, and Horne signed with Metro Goldwyn Mayer, then the most prestigious dream factory in the world. Her MGM debut was in the 1942 film Panama Hattie, but her fame really exploded the following year when she starred in Stormy Weather, for which she sang the title song.

Horne's career - which could have been far more brilliant even than it was - was marred by the virulent racism of her times; often she would be featured in a film in such a way that when the film was exhibited in the South her part could be excised. In the cities of the north her appearances onscreen would be greeted by rapturous applause, while in the South she remained virtually unknown outside of black communities, due entirely to the colour of her skin.

Tired of shabby treatment at the hands of Hollywood, latterly Lena Horne was better known as a cabaret singer and recording artist. She turned her considerable fame and charisma towards making a difference in the world, by fervently embracing the civil rights movement. Currently she is retired, and no longer makes public appearances; Miss Horne's last foray into the wider world was her condemnation of Janet Jackson following Nipplegate. Jackson had originally been set to play Horne in a long-planned biopic, an idea nixed by the lady herself following the imbroglio.

A one-woman show in 1981 - Lena Horne: The Lady and Her Music - still holds the record for the longest-running solo performance by a female in Broadway history.  Today would have been Miss Horne's 93rd birthday, years in which she survived and even thrived in both the recording industry and in films despite the usual pitfalls; she died in May 2010, having overcome everything else...

*In much the same way Jim Crow laws segregated blacks and whites in public spaces, the entertainment industry - especially movies and music - likewise produced 'high-minded' art for whites and far more entertaining, slightly risque, material entirely (and only) for the black market.

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POPnews - June 30th

[Blondin's feats of derring-do were the ideal combination of athleticism and showmanship, and garnered him massive publicity, especially considering that he did them all in the century before the advent of mass media; such a jambon was the talented Frenchman that he attempted the 335 m (1100 feet) crossing not once but several times that day - blindfolded, in a sack, trundling a wheelbarrow, on stilts, carrying his manager Harry Colcord on his back, even going so far as to once sit down midway to cook and eat an omelette! - and all of it 50 m (160 feet) above the roaring water and billowing mist of the falls.]

350 CE - Roman usurper Nepotianus, of the Constantinian dynasty, was defeated and killed in Rome by general Marcellinus, leader of troops loyal to another usurper named Magnentius.

1559 - France's King Henri II was seriously injured in a jousting match against Gabriel de Montgomery at the Place des Vosges in celebration of both the Peace Treaty of Cateau-Cambrésis as well as the wedding of his daughter Elizabeth of Valois to Spain's King Philip II; while the French King later died from the splinter that penetrated his eye, de Montgomery was himself beheaded - not because of the jousting mishap but as a result of his having gotten caught up in the French Wars of Religion.

1805 - The US Congress organized the Michigan Territory.

1859 - French acrobat Charles Blondin crossed Niagara Falls on a tightrope.

1860 - A debate on evolution took place at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History in reaction to Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species, which had been published seven months earlier.

1864 - US President Abraham Lincoln granted the Yosemite Valley to California for 'public use, resort and recreation' as a state park; the so-called Yosemite Grant would later bring about the Yosemite National Park.

1882 - Charles J. Guiteau was hanged for the assassination of President James Garfield.

1905 - Albert Einstein published the article On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies, in which he introduced his theory of special relativity.

1906 - The US Congress passed the Meat Inspection Act and Pure Food and Drug Act largely in response to the publication of Upton Sinclair's muck-raking novel The Jungle - an eye-opening (and stomach-turning) exposé of the Chicago meat packing industry.

1908 - The Tunguska impact event occurred 5-10 kilometres (3-6 miles) above Siberia, levelling as many as 80 million trees over 2,150 square kilometres (830 square miles).

1912 - The Regina Cyclone hit the Saskatchewan capital, killing 28; it remains the deadliest tornado event in Canada's history...

1934 - During the so-called Night of the Long Knives, Adolf Hitler ordered a violent purge of his political rivals, including Ernst Röhm; the operation was codenamed Kolibri - which is the German word for hummingbird.

1944 - The Battle of Cherbourg ended with the fall of the strategically valuable port to American forces.

1956 - A TWA Super Constellation and a United Airlines DC-7 (Flight 718) collided above Arizona's Grand Canyon, killing all 128 on board the two planes.

1968 - The creed Solemni hac liturgia was given by Pope Paul VI.

1971 - The crew of the Soviet Union's Soyuz 11 spacecraft - Vladislav Volkov, Georgi Dobrovolski and Viktor Patsayev - were killed when their air supply escaped through a faulty valve.

1987 - The Royal Canadian Mint introduced the $1 coin, known as the Loonie.

2005 - Spain legalized same-sex marriage.

2007 - A car driven by Kafeel Ahmed crashed into Glasgow International Airport in Scotland, in what was believed to be a terrorist attack; the hero of the event was baggage handler John Smeaton, who not only assaulted the badly injured driver - Kafeel Ahmed, who later died of his burns - but rescued a couple of other bystanders from the damage caused by the crash. The passenger in the vehicle, Bilal Abdullah, was later arrested and was later sentenced to serve two concurrent life sentences.
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Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Pop History Moment: The Election of Isabel Perón

On this day in 1974 Isabel Perón was sworn in as interim President of Argentina during what would be the final illness of her husband, President Juan Perón, who died two days later.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketAs Argentina's 42nd President, Perón was the first non-royal female head of state in the Western Hemisphere; what should have been a promising and ground-breaking career lasted less than two years. Alas, despite their various physical similarities, she was no Evita; when she was finally removed from office, in disgrace, Argentina did not cry for her*. Following a bloodless coup in March 1976 she was succeeded by Jorge Videla, whose own dictatorial rule was coyly known as the National Reorganization Process.

After five years of house arrest in Argentina, Perón was exiled to Spain in 1981, where early in 2007 she was arrested on charges that she ordered the disappearance of one of her political foes, Héctor Aldo Fagetti Gallego in 1975. In the intervening years she'd returned to Argentina on occasion, and otherwise lived a low-key life in her adopted homeland.

The extradition hoped for, which would have returned Perón to Argentina to answer to the National Commission on the Disappearance of Persons for her alleged crimes, was denied in March 2008.

*Except, perhaps, tears of joy.

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POPnews - June 29th

[Every year Canada House is the site of London's largest Canada Day celebration, drawing thousands of revellers to Trafalgar Square to celebrate the culture of Britain's quiet, well-behaved Commonwealth offspring; unlike Australia - which has pretty thoroughly insinuated itself into the rich tapestry of English life in the tried-and-true manner of a middle child - Canada and Canadians whether in the Mother Country or on the world stage have been content to sit back and not draw too much attention to themselves...]

1149 - Raymond of Poitiers was defeated and killed by Nur ad-Din at the Battle of Inab.

1194 - Sverre was crowned King of Norway.

1252 - Denmark's King Abel was murdered by a wheelwright named Henner on Husum Bridge near Eiderstedt, following the shortest reign in that country's history; since his son Valdemar was being held prisoner by the Archbishop of Cologne at the time, Abel's brother would be crowned Christopher I at Lund Cathedral on Christmas Day.

1444 - Albania's national hero Skanderbeg defeated an Ottoman invasion force commanded by Ali Pasha at the Battle of Torvioll.

1613 - London's Globe Theatre burnt to the ground during a performance of William Shakespeare's play Henry VIII when a shot from a prop cannon set the thatched roof on fire.

1644 - England's King Charles I defeated a Parliamentarian detachment under Sir William Waller at the Battle of Cropredy Bridge - making it the last battle won by an English King on English soil.

1659 - The Russians, led by Prince Trubetskoy were defeated by the Ukrainian armies of Ivan Vyhovsky in the Battle of Konotop.

1888 - George Frideric Handel's Israel in Egypt became the first music ever recorded, when the oratorio was preserved on a wax cylinder at The Crystal Palace by Col. George Gouraud.

1914 - Jina Guseva attempted to assassinate Grigori Rasputin while he was on a visit to his Siberian home town of Pokrovskoye; Rasputin survived the knife attack, and history does not record what became of Guseva following her placement in an asylum for having committed it.

1925 - Canada House was opened, in London's Trafalgar Square, by King George V and Queen Mary.

Photobucket1926 - Arthur Meighen (shown, at right) returned to office as Prime Minister of Canada; unlike his first term, which lasted a comparably lengthy 17 months between July 1920 and December 1921, this second term would not last twelve weeks*, at which time the fragile Conservative-Unionist coalition assembled by his predecessor Sir Robert Borden would topple before the mighty Liberal Party and its indefatigable leader, Mackenzie King.

*In addition to owning the historical footnote of Canada's shortest-serving head of government, Meighen was also the first Prime Minister to serve as a Member of Parliament from Manitoba.

1928 - The Outerbridge Crossing and Goethals Bridge in the New York City borough of Staten Island both opened.

1956 - The Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956 was signed by President Dwight D. Eisenhower, officially creating America's Interstate Highway System.

Photobucket1967 - Hollywood actress Jayne Mansfield died when when the car in which she was a passenger struck the rear of a tanker truck on US Highway 90 outside New Orleans...  Also killed was her driver, Ronnie Harrison; her three children - Miklós, Zoltán, and Mariska, who were passengers in the back seat of the 1966 Buick Electra 225 belonging to Mansfield's latest employer, supper club impresario Gus Stevens - were uninjured.  Mansfield, on the other hand, was scalped* as part of a massive head injury caused when the front end of the vehicle went under the truck.

*Not decapitated, as legend would have it.

1976 - The Seychelles became independent from the United Kingdom.

1995 - During NASA's STS-71 space shuttle mission Atlantis docked with the Russian space station Mir for the first time.

2001 - The British government announced that a £3.6m memorial fountain - designed by Kathryn Gustafson and dedicated to Diana, Princess of Wales - would be placed in London's Hyde Park; it was opened by HM The Queen in July 2006.

2006 - The US Supreme Court ruled, in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, that President George W. Bush's plan to try Guantanamo Bay detainees in military tribunals violated US and international law.

2007 - Apple Inc. released the iPhone for the United States market, resulting in the widespread tizzification of Apple acolytes everywhere.
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Monday, June 28, 2010

"Giselle" by Adolphe Adam

On this day in 1841 the Théâtre de l'Académie Royale de Musique in Paris premiered Adolphe Adam's ballet Giselle, which featured choreography by Jean Coralli and Jules Perrot* with a libretto by Jules-Henri Vernoy de Saint-Georges and Théophile Gautier - who took as their inspiration a poem by Heinrich Heine called De l'Allemagne.  In that first production Carlotta Grisi starred as Giselle, with Lucien Petipa as Albrecht, and Jean Coralli as Hilarion; the scenery was designed by Pierre Ciceri and costumes by Paul Lormier.

The role of Giselle is one of the most sought-after in classical ballet, and has been assayed over the years by such luminaries as Anna Pavlova, Alicia Markova, Karen Kain, Margot Fonteyn, Natalia Makarova, and Gelsey Kirkland; likewise Albrecht has been given life by Vaslav Nijinsky, Rudolf Nureyev, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Erik Bruhn, and Sir Anton Dolin among many others.  Here we see the roles taken on by Carole Arbo and Kader Belarbi performing the ballet's pas de deux.

*Although a more modern interpretation of its choreography derives from Marius Petipa's revivals of the show in 1884, 1899, 1903 for the Imperial Ballet; Petipa's work would later prove the greatest inspiration to George Balanchine...
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Pop History Moment: The Signing of the Treaty of Versailles


On this day in 1919 the Treaty of Versailles was signed, five years to the day after the assassination of Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand set off the First World War*; possibly the most asinine document ever signed that wasn't a Hollywood marriage license, the Treaty of Versailles is today generally credited as having more or less caused World War II.

By demanding reparations from Germany for its war-mongering and wanton cruelty, sweet and innocent Britain and France (who never did a single bad thing to big mean Germany) pretty much ensured that the Huns would go off to sulk and nurse their wounds before returning with a couple of buddies to even the score - much as they'd always done in the past.

Someone smarter than me needs to study to what extent the European Union is rooted in the events of 1919; not contented with screwing up Europe, the Treaty of Versailles also buggered up much of the Arab world as well when it arbitrarily divvied up the corpse of the Ottoman Empire between ravenous colonialist competitors. And we all know what kind of mishegas that schamozzle has caused...

Already someone smarter than me has laboriously researched and then entertainingly written about the Paris Peace Conference, which brought about the Treaty of Versailles; Margaret MacMillan's fascinating book Paris 1919: Six Months That Changed the World also manages to bring to life the gloriously outsized personalities of Italy's Vittorio Emanuele Orlando, France's Georges Clemenceau, Britain's David Lloyd George**, and America's Woodrow Wilson (all shown above, from left to right, kibbitzing).

*Lending that conflict a tidy sort of circularity; five years to the day from 'cause' to 'cure' - and with only 38 million people killed or wounded!
**MacMillan may have benefited from some inside knowledge - or at very least family lore - in the writing of her book; she's David Lloyd George's great-granddaughter!
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Roseanne Roseannadanna Gives A Commencement Address

On what would have been the 64th birthday of the late Gilda Radner - who died in May 1989 at the age of 42 - the Pop Culture Institute can think of nothing better to do than to watch her in action through the miracle of technology. Of course, it all comes down to the matter of which clip of many to select, and I figured since it's graduation season, this would be the most logical choice*.

Here we see her inhabiting one of her more famous characters, Roseanne Roseannadanna, in Gilda Live! - the filmed version of her hit one-woman show; Radner, of course, first introduced this particular alter-ego (or, indeed, alter-id) of hers in October 1977 on Saturday Night Live.

The premise is simple: Roseannadanna is supposedly giving the commencement address to the very real Columbia University School of Journalism Class of 1979, which she has mistakenly accepted. thinking the invitation had come from her alma mater, the fictional Columbia School of Broadcasting. Ah, but from such simple premises flow abundant comic genius, and as the hilarity ensues, it ensnares Geraldo Rivera and Walter Cronkite alike in its comic onslaught...

*Especially since there's still no embeddable version of Let's Talk Dirty To The Animals available.
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Pop History Moment: The Stonewall Riots Began...

1969. The same hot summer I was in utero, an idea that would literally mean the world to me was hatching... That's the summer the patrons of a seedy bar called the Stonewall Inn in New York's Greenwich Village decided they'd had enough of paying protection money to the police who routinely harassed them anyway. Starting with the funeral of Judy Garland the previous day - shortly after 1 PM on this day in 1969 and continuing over several subsequent nights - riots led by activists, drag queens, trannies and various disparate gender outlaws gave birth to a vibrant and diverse minority community.

PhotobucketThe Stonewall Riots not only galvanized a community that scarcely knew it existed before - which is one of the upsides of oppression - it gave that fledgling community its all-important creation myth. While gay communities had existed previously (after a fashion) and both political movements and acts of civil disobedience had been used to back them up prior to 1969, there was something about this particular expression of unity which helped it - and its message - to endure, not just in the United States but around the world. For me, Pride Day has always stood for unity, largely due to the unity shown by the rioters; I only wish every day in the gay community could be just like it...

For many years the name Stonewall and the story of its riots was well-known within the gay community - passed down by word of mouth and in gay media - but virtually unknown outside of it; the 1990s brought a flood of new scholarship and entertainment regarding both the event and its place in the rich tapestry of American life. Martin Duberman's book Stonewall came first, in 1993, and features solid research tinged with personal insights for a very bittersweet read; a movie entitled Stonewall had great success on the festival circuit in 1996. In June 1999 the Stonewall Inn was placed on the National Register of Historic Places by US President Bill Clinton (likely as payback for his having sold us out with DADT and DoMA); the following February it was declared a National Historic Landmark.
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Happy Birthday John Cusack

In my all-time favourite movie - Bullets Over Broadway (1994) - John Cusack plays a writer who's afraid the world will find out he's a big phony; I have no idea why I might relate to a story like that.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketA n y w a y... Seeing as there's no one quite like him in Hollywood, I guess that makes him an archetype.

In years to come, up-and-coming actors will insist that they're 'the John Cusack type', but they won't be exactly right; they won't have his soulful eyes, or his comically anguished delivery, or his adorably delicate features - and they certainly won't be able to deliver their angstiest speeches in a downpour of rain, either. At least, not like our John can.

That's because there's only one John Cusack, who today turns 44.
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POPnews - June 28th

[Despite having just escaped an assassin's bomb, which had been thrown at their motorcade by Nedeljko Čabrinović at 10:10 AM, Austria-Hungary's Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie were all smiles upon being received minutes later at the Town Hall in Sarajevo. Fortunately for them the bomb had bounced off their car and under the one behind it; unfortunately, it injured 20 spectators in the process. Following a speech by the shaken Archduke - in which he commented bitterly on the 'hospitality' shown him and his wife thus far - the couple departed for the next stop on their itinerary. A mix-up by their driver, Leopold Loyka, caused by a last-minute change in their route, giving Gavrilo Princip just the opportunity he needed, and this time they weren't so lucky; the royal couple were shot at 10:25 AM and both died shortly thereafter.]

1098 - Knights of the First Crusade - led by Bohemond of Antioch - defeated Kerbogha, Atabeg of Mosul, ending the Second Siege of Antioch during which Kerbogha had been attempting to take back the city, which had fallen to the Crusaders on June 2nd. 

1461 - Edward IV of the House of York was crowned King of England at Westminster Abbey - having deposed his cousin Henry VI of the House of Lancaster on March 4th - thus beginning the bloodiest phase of that brutal game of musical thrones known as the Wars of the Roses. 

1519 - Spain's King Charles I was elected Holy Roman Emperor; he ruled under the name Charles V.

1635 - Guadeloupe became a French colony, under the aegis of the Compagnie des Îles de l'Amérique.

- The biggest battle of the 17th century - the Battle of Beresteczko, between King John II Casimir's Poles and Zaporozhian Cossack Ukrainians - began, with as many as 200,000 troops in the field.

- Thomas Hickey, a private in the Commander-in-Chief's Guard - which was assigned to protect General George Washington, his papers, and the Continental Army's coffers - was hanged for mutiny and sedition.

- The Battle of Monmouth was fought between the American Continental Army under George Washington and the British Army led by Sir Henry Clinton, during which Washington appointed Molly Pitcher a sergeant.

- The Army of the Potomac was disbanded when Major General George G. Meade relinquished his command.

- Ned Kelly - the notorious Australian bushranger played in a 1970 film by Mick Jagger and again in 2003 by Heath Ledger - was captured at Glenrowan.

1894 - Labor Day became an official holiday in the US.

1904 - The Danish liner SS Norge ran aground on St Helen's Reef off the uninhabited North Atlantic island of Rockall; the vessel sank, claiming 635 lives (225 of them Norwegians emigrating to America), while 160 survivors - including 19 year-old poet Herman Wildenvey - spent up to eight days in open lifeboats before being rescued. The wreckage of the SS Norge was only discovered in July 2003.

1914 - Franz Ferdinand, Archduke of Austria and his wife Sophie were assassinated in Sarajevo by a young Serbian nationalist named Gavrilo Princip; the killing of the royal couple would quickly become the casus belli of World War I. All told there were six assassins that day, their actions coordinated by Danilo Ilić; Muhamed Mehmedbašić and Vaso Čubrilović failed to act, as did Cvjetko Popović and Trifun Grabež. Where Čabrinović and his bomb had failed, though, Princip and his pistol more than succeeded...

1922 - The Irish Civil War began with the shelling of Dublin's Four Courts by Free State forces.

1948 - Dick Turpin triumphed over Vince Hawkins at a bout held in Birmingham's Villa Park to become the first black British boxing champion in the modern era.

- Malcolm X announced the formation of the Organization of Afro-American Unity.

1992 - The city of Jackson, Mississippi, unveiled a statue of slain civil rights leader Medgar Evers, whose June 1963 murder at the hands of Ku Klux Klan member Byron De La Beckwith added considerable momentum to the Civil Rights Movement.

- At the second fight pitting Mike Tyson against Evander Holyfield, Tyson was disqualified in the 3rd round for biting a piece from Holyfield's ear; almost instantly, pundits gleefully dubbed the event The Bite Fight.

- Elián González returned to Cuba following an order by the US Supreme Court.

- Canada became the third country in the world to legalize same-sex marriage.  Despite many lies from them to the contrary no Christians were harmed in the process...

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Sunday, June 27, 2010

Happy Birthday Tobey Maguire

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketI genuinely like Tobey's work, from Pleasantville to Seabiscuit and even in the Spider-Man films. I rather like the idea of a quiet, slender action star in a field typically dominated by arrogant muscle-bound airheads.

That's how I can justify calling attention to his birthday out of dozens of options; it has almost nothing to do with his hotness.

Okay, so it has something to do with his hotness, but just remember children: hotness without substance isn't enough anymore. Now more than ever before the only real hotness comes from talent.
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POPnews - June 27th

[On the face of it, Dark Shadows shouldn't have been nearly as successful as it was; combining the run-of-the-mill melodrama of a daily soap opera with some very unique supernatural goings-on and a considerable dash of old school Gothic bodice-ripping besides, Dan Curtis' attempt at livening up what was then the moribund field of daytime with some distinctly undead creatures - none of which were even mentioned in the show's 'bible', written by Art Wallace - has remained a cult classic to this day... There's even talk that the dream team of Tim Burton and Johnny Depp may combine their powers for the eighth time to resurrect it for the big screen - with Depp tipped to play the show's break-out character, the vampire Barnabas Collins!]

1358 - The Republic of Dubrovnik was established, under the terms of the Treaty of Zadar - which had been signed the previous February 18th by King Louis I of Hungary and Croatia and Archbishop Ivan Saraka at Visegrád; the treaty effectively divested the Republic of Venice of all its holdings in Dalmatia, among the richest of which was Dubrovnik itself.

Photobucket1743 - At the Battle of Dettingen in Bavaria - during the War of the Austrian Succession - George II (shown, at right, on the obverse of a half-crown*) personally led troops into battle; it would be the last time a British monarch would command an army in the field, although he mainly did so in his role as Elector of Hanover rather than as King of England. For the record, His Majesty's men soundly defeated the troops of France's duc de Noailles and duc de Gramont in support of Holy Roman Emperor Charles VI's Pragmatic Sanction of 1713, which had guaranteed the accession of Maria-Theresa as ruler of Austria and Hungary in 1741 - although they'd mainly done so to piss off France, who had long been opposed to the idea of a woman serving as sovereign**.  Both the Dettingen Te Deum and Dettingen Anthem were composed by George Frideric Handel immediately following the hostilities in commemoration and first performed in the King's presence that November; even more lastingly the gentlemanly refusal to treat wounded soldiers on either side as prisoners of war is said to have served as the forerunner of the Geneva Convention.

*Minted from silver seized from a Spanish treasure fleet off the Peruvian capital.
**In fact, ever since their King Philip V enthusiastically embraced the Salic Law (originally codified by Clovis I early in the 6th Century) in order to prevent the agnatic succession of his niece Joan in 1316.

1806 - The city of Buenos Aires was captured during the British invasions of the Río de la Plata.

1844 - Joseph Smith, Jr. - founder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints - and his brother Hyrum Smith were murdered by a mob at the jail in Carthage, Illinois.

- Canadian Joshua Slocum sailed into Newport, Rhode Island, having completed the first solo circumnavigation of the Earth onboard Spray, and having sailed some 74,000 km (46,000 miles) since their departure from Boston in April 1895.

1905 - Sailors mutinied aboard the Russian battleship Potemkin, an event later made even more famous in the film by Sergei Eisenstein.

1923 - Capt. Lowell H. Smith and Lt. John P. Richter performed the first ever aerial refueling, in a DH-4B biplane.

1941 - Nazi troops capture the city of Białystok during Operation Barbarossa.

1950 - The US - backed by the United Nations - decided to send troops to fight in the Korean Conflict.

1954 - The world's first nuclear power station opened at Obninsk, near Moscow.

1957 - Hurricane Audrey made landfall near the Louisiana/Texas border, eventually killing 500 people.

1966 - The daily soap opera Dark Shadows debuted on ABC-TV; it would eventually run for 1,225 episodes before it was taken off the air in April 1971.

Photobucket1967 - The first electronic Automated Teller Machine (or 'ATM', as the kids have taken to calling them these days) was installed by Barclay's at Enfield Town, in North London; designed by John Shepherd-Barron for the printing firm De La Rue, its first user was Reg Varney, the popular star of ITV's successful sitcom On The Buses (shown at right, demonstrating the machine). Rather than a plastic card this early ATM took special cheques, and dispensed at most £10 with the aid of a four-digit PIN number, the concept of which had occurred to James Goodfellow as early as 1965... A year after Barclay's machine opened an American inventor from Dallas named Donald Wetzel created the networked ATM, and the world was changed forever. Of course the first such machine - which was merely mechanical and not electronic, as designed and built by Luther George Simjian - had been installed at a branch of City Bank of New York in 1939; that one, though, was removed after just six months when it failed to garner enough customer interest.

1973 - Juan María Bordaberry, President of Uruguay, dissolved Parliament and headed a coup d'état.

1976 - Air France Flight 139 (on a flight from Tel Aviv to Paris via Athens) was hijacked en route by the PLO and redirected to Uganda's Entebbe Airport... Operation Entebbe - originally called Operation Thunderball but later renamed Operation Yonatan for Sayeret Matkal commander Lt.-Col. Yonatan 'Yoni' Netanyahu* who was killed during the action - would later be carried out on the night of July 3rd-4th to rescue the hijacked passengers; the incident inspired several dramatizations, the most popular of which were Marvin J. Chomsky's Victory at Entebbe (1976) and Raid On Entebbe (1977), directed by Irvin Kershner.
*The older brother of future Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

1985 - America's fabled Route 66 - first opened in November 1926 between Chicago to Los Angeles - ceased to be an official highway, although traces of it have been preserved for the purpose of tourism.

1991 - Two days after Slovenia declared its independence the newly minted country was invaded by its former overlord, Yugoslavia, which sent in troops, tanks, and aircraft - provoking the Ten-Day War.

2003 - The United States National Do Not Call Registry - created to combat unwanted telemarketing calls and administered by the Federal Trade Commission - enrolled almost three-quarters of a million phone numbers on its first day.

2007 - Prime Minister Tony Blair formally submitted his resignation to Queen Elizabeth II. About five years too late, but there you have it...

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Saturday, June 26, 2010

Gratuitous Brunette: Jason Schwartzman

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

In Hollywood terms, Jason Schwartzman's is a very noble lineage indeed...

The son of pop culture icon and perennial Trivial Pursuit (Silver Screen Edition) question subject Talia Shire* and the late producer Jack Schwartzman, today's lucky Gratuitous Brunette** represents a very fertile branch of the family tree that is Coppola.

His onscreen achievements include star turns in the 1998 film Rushmore*** and David O. Russell's I ♥ Huckabees, a romantic lead as Louis XVI which is as hapless as it is accurate opposite Kirsten Dunst as the title character in his cousin's Marie Antoinette, and such ensemble works as The Darjeeling Limited and Funny People among others; currently he's the star of the HBO series Bored to Death where he plays an unlicensed detective advertising himself on Craigslist

The rest of his time is taken up by music - as the drummer with Coconut Records and formerly of Phantom Planet - his new marriage (to designer Brady Cunningham), and whatever black magic he's practicing that helps him keep getting hotter and hotter...  (Hint: it seems to involve veganism.)

*Yo, Adrian!  Ring any bells?  How about If you touch my sister again, I'll kill you! Rat-tat-tat-tat!  No?  Seriously, maybe you need to get out less...
**Sarcasm, natch!  The Gratuitous Brunette is the world's singularly most underwhelming accolade - which is why it's typically accompanied by a strenuous sales pitch.
***In which he held his own opposite Bill Murray, whose career resurgence dates to this poem on celluloid by Wes Anderson - coincidentally (or not, depending on your outlook) the first film I ever bought a) on DVD, and b) from the Criterion Collection...
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POPnews - June 26th

363 CE - Roman Emperor Julian the Apostate was killed during a retreat from the Sassanid Empire following the Battle of Samarra; General Jovian was proclaimed Emperor in his place by the troops on the battlefield.

1284 - According to legend, the Pied Piper lured 130 children away from the German town of Hamelin.

1409 - Petros Philargos was crowned Pope Alexander V after the Council of Pisa, joining Pope Gregory XII in Rome and Pope Benedict XII in Avignon, causing a double schism in the Roman Catholic Church.

1541 - Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro was assassinated in Lima by Don Diego de Almagro, who was later caught and executed for the crime.

- The bicycle was patented. History does not record when bicyclists first began to demand the right to ride their bicycles wherever they damn well please without consideration for others - such as on the sidewalk or inside public buildings (as they've been known to do in Vancouver at least) but at least one amateur historian (namely me) suspects it was immediately thereafter.

1857 - The first investiture of the Victoria Cross was held in London's Hyde Park; Queen Victoria herself awarded the prestigious medal for bravery to 62 out of 111 eligible veterans of the Crimean War that day, including one to Charles Davis Lucas who'd been the first to earn his (during the bombardment of Bomarsund). It has since been awarded 1351 times, with 94 of them going to Canadians.

1927 - The Cyclone roller coaster opened on Coney Island.

1934 - Apparently President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Federal Credit Union Act, which aptly enough allowed for the establishment of credit unions.  You know...  Federally.

1945 - The United Nations Charter was signed in San Francisco by 50 of its 51 original signatories; only Poland had to wait, since they'd sent no delegate to the United Nations Conference on International Organization.

1959 - Elizabeth II, Queen of Canada, and US President Dwight D. Eisenhower opened the St. Lawrence Seaway.

1963 - US President John F. Kennedy boosted morale in West Berlin by declaring 'Ich bin ein Berliner' in the partitioned area of that city; JFK's elegant Commie-bashing can be seen and heard above, but if it's as much like porno to you as it is to me, it's definitely NSFW.

1974 - At the Marsh Supermarket in Troy, Ohio, the Universal Product Code on a package of Wrigley's Juicy Fruit chewing gum became the first item ever to be scanned.

1975 - During a shootout on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota two FBI agents (Special Agents Jack R. Coler and Ronald A. Williams) and an American Indian Movement member named Joe Stuntz were killed; Leonard Peltier was later convicted of the murders following a controversial trial.

1976 - The CN Tower, the world's tallest free-standing structure on land, was opened.

1977 - The Yorkshire Ripper killed 16 year-old shop girl Jayne MacDonald in Leeds, changing the public's perception of the killer; she was the first of his victims who was not a prostitute, and with her death British women began to fear that any of them could be next.

1995 - Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani deposed his father Khalifa bin Hamad al-Thani, the Emir of Qatar, in a bloodless coup.

1996 - Irish journalist Veronica Guerin was shot and killed in her car by drug dealers while stopped at a traffic light on the Naas Dual Carriageway on the outskirts of Dublin; her story was told in a movie by Joel Schumacher, in which Guerin was played by Cate Blanchett.

1997 - The US Supreme Court ruled that the Communications Decency Act violated the First Amendment.

2003 - The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Lawrence v. Texas that gender-based sodomy laws were unconstitutional.
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Friday, June 25, 2010

Remembering... Farrah Fawcett

Farrah Fawcett - the vivacious blonde who embodied Southern California beauty for millions of television viewers in the 1970s, before moving on to more serious work in the 1980s - died on this day in 2009 at Saint John's Medical Center in Santa Monica. She was 62.

PhotobucketFarrah* was already a famous face - thanks to the iconic poster you see at left** - when she was signed to the series that would make her a household name. Although she only appeared regularly as Jill Munroe in the first season of Charlie's Angels she'd made such an indelible mark in such a short time that even after being replaced by Cheryl Ladd producers Aaron Spelling and Leonard Goldberg couldn't divest themselves of her magic entirely; they made Ladd's character, Kris, Jill's sister. Following her departure, Farrah made six highly rated guest appearances in seasons three and four as part of her contract settlement.

A series of critical flops followed, so she did the most audacious thing possible... She went to New York, where she appeared Off Broadway in the play Extremities, written by William Mastrosimone, following Susan Sarandon into the role of a would-be rape victim who turns the tables on her attacker. This kind of thing is almost de rigeur today when resuscitating a flagging career, but at the time had been seldom tried - and I dare say never by a 'mere' TV star.

Farrah then turned in an Emmy Award nominated performance in the TV movie The Burning Bed, and followed that with a television version of Extremities; she would also portray Nazi hunter Beate Klarsfeld, Life Magazine photojournalist Margaret Bourke-White, Woolworth heiress Barbara Hutton in Poor Little Rich Girl: The Barbara Hutton Story, and convicted murderer Diane Downs in the miniseries Small Sacrifices.

Having always turned down the chance to pose nude in her 20s and 30s, at the ages of 48 and 50 Farrah appeared in Playboy, the former pictorial being responsible for the magazine's best-selling issue of the 1990s; not even a goofy, rambling appearance on The Late Show with David Letterman in June 1997 did much to diminish her appeal amongst her real fans - at least judging by the supportive crowd reaction! - who giggled along with her as she repeatedly stymied the curmudgeonly Letterman.

On a personal note, it's been interesting to me to observe how much fan attention she's been getting - especially during the last year of her life - from gay men. For someone supposedly all about sex appeal, what appeal could she have had apart from sex***? The secret, I think, is in how she triumphed over the attitudes that had once sought to belittle her; she was fearless, clearly - a quality much on display throughout her final illness, during which she confronted her considerable travails and fought back with everything at her disposal. In both Chasing Farrah and on Farrah's Story she did what she had always done - raised awareness of an important issue which was too little talked about - almost to her dying breath.

If I may be so bold as to paraphrase Charles Townsend at the close of each of those silly, golden episodes: Goodbye Angel...

*I simply cannot stand on formality and call one of the foremost icons of my childhood anything else right now.
**Which sold as many as 12 million copies, earning her more in royalties than her salary from
Charlie's Angels!
***Aside from great hair, that is.

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"Freeek!" by George Michael

I can't very well publish two George Michael videos (on this, the occasion of his birthday) and not publish a third, now can I?  I mean, what kind of hat trick would that be?*

Released in March 2002 - a full two years before his album Patience - Freeek! rocketed to the top of record charts across Europe, aided no doubt by this super-sexy sci-fi-inspired video...  And yet Freeek! was just the first of six amazing singles from that album; it would be followed by Shoot the Dog, Amazing, Flawless (Go To The City), Round Here, and John and Elvis Are Dead - proof positive that despite his tabloid travails, George Michael remains an artist of the highest calibre.

*Technically, not a hat trick at all!

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"Too Funky" by George Michael

George Michael's sexuality had long been an open secret by 1992, when he recorded Too Funky - along with two other tracks* - for the AIDS/HIV charity album Red Hot + Dance; I mean, obviously this video could only have been made by a gay man. Seriously, just look at it!**

A n y w a y... The fact that his coming to terms with being gay represented a personal struggle for him and he wasn't simply remaining closeted for the sake of his career - or because he belonged to some crackpot religion founded by a closet case, as a strictly hypothetical for instance - kept many of the usual suspects (like Outlook magazine and its attack poodles Queer Nation) at respectful bay.

Nevertheless, it would be another half dozen years before the words would actually come out of his mouth, and then they only did so because he was caught in flagrante cliché with an undercover cop in a public men's room in Los Angeles...

*The provocatively-named (and -themed, given the state of his closetedness at the time) Do You Really Want to Know and Happy.
**Technically the video was directed by Thierry Mugler, and in it his own outrageous fashions adorn such catwalk stalwarts as Julie Newmar, Linda Evangelista, Tyra Banks, Beverly Peele, Nadja Auermann, Shana Zadrick, Emma Wiklund, Rossy de Palma, and Estelle Hallyday under the frenzied supervision of harried show organizer Lipsinka.  Still, methinks Mugler is no stranger to the mysteries of man-on-man love...

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