Thursday, September 30, 2010

In Memoriam: Truman Capote

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How to put all the pieces of Truman Capote together so they fit...

That the beautiful brazen youth who started writing three hours a day when he was 11 could be so knowing in his early works is a testament to his precocity; that the adult Capote could be so comfortable in his sexuality at a time when most of his fellows still conducted their lives in shadow makes him a kind of paragon for those of us who are openly ourselves today.

But for all that he's a paragon, surely he's also a cautionary tale; as booze and drugs took his beauty, bitterness crept in, leaving behind a brittle, bitchy parody...

Oh well, at least his talent went last, leaving in it's wake a dozen masterworks of fiction and reportage, including a sublime fairy-tale of New York City in Breakfast at Tiffany's, and In Cold Blood, which represents no less than an entirely new genre (now rather dully called creative nonfiction) which is so omnipresent these days I may be doing it now without even knowing it.

Born on this day in 1924, Truman Capote died in August 1984 following a long battle with both alcoholism and an even greater monster: himself.
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"Why Do Fools Fall In Love?" by Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers

Here are Frankie Lymon and The Teenagers in action on The Frankie Laine Show, which was their first national television appearance. I love that there's a bit of banter beforehand, and that it looks like they're all having such fun...

Incidentally, The Teenagers were one of the first integrated groups; three of them were black and two Hispanic. Nothing unusual about that today, but in 1956 it represented a bold step forward.
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Remembering... Frankie Lymon

Frankie Lymon was famous young, as lead singer of The Teenagers; what we know now (that either wasn't known then or else was and was nonetheless disregarded) is that youth and fame are usually a lethal cocktail, as they certainly were in this case...

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketWhen their first single Why Do Fools Fall In Love? became a smash hit in 1956 the Harlemite was just 14, a precocious entertainer and songwriter who had a natural rapport with audiences and a kind of poise when dealing with showbiz veterans that is almost eerie to behold.

In that year alone the group charted 7 singles between the Pop and R&B charts (although none of them were as successful as that first one), and the group morphed from The Teenagers to Frankie Lymon & The Teenagers. Early in 1957, Lymon went solo, which was career suicide; typically, it was a greedy record executive's idea, and in his zeal for ever more golden eggs, George Goldner ended up killing the goose.

Addicted to heroin by the age of 15, Frankie Lymon was found dead of an overdose of the drug in May 1968, aged only 25. Incredibly, legal problems dogged his estate (mainly involving songwriting credits, royalties, and which of his three wives was entitled to what); they weren't settled until 1992.
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Happy Birthday Fran Drescher

As she has admitted to Larry King, Fran Drescher's whole life has been about taking negative events and turning them into positives...

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketGoodness knows, she's certainly had ample opportunities.

In 1985 she and a friend were raped at gunpoint during a home invasion, which her then-husband Peter Marc Jacobson was forced to witness; she later saw her assailants sent to prison for it, and after much counseling and soul-seeking claims to be at peace with an event that would ruin almost anyone else's life.

Obviously, Fran is not almost anyone else, and her positive approach paid massive dividends; less than a decade later was the star of a smash-hit TV series called The Nanny which is one of the funniest shows in recent memory. The show made her a household name and, for better or worse, put her voice into many American homes.

Then, shortly after The Nanny went off the air, Drescher was diagnosed with uterine cancer; detected early, it is now gone. Along with her return to TV (in the short-lived Living with Fran) she's written two volumes of memoirs and is currently engaged in lobbying Congress in aid of her charitable appeal Cancer Schmancer.

In the interest of full disclosure I should say that I am a fan of hers on Facebook, and enjoy following the lady's activities now as much as I ever have...
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Now Showing: "The Flintstones" Original Intro

Until I originally posted it here on this day in 2008, I'd never seen this original opening to Season 1 of The Flintstones; since then I've availed myself of the first season of the classic Hanna-Barbera sitcom on DVD, and have had 'a gay old time' reliving all those classic moments I first watched as a kid. Although I must claim a preference for the brevity of the more classic intro, this is definitely an eye-opener. I especially love that it shows so much more of Bedrock than the later, more familiar opener.

The Flintstones, of course, made its television debut on this day in 1960, and was the first animated series in American prime-time to last more than three seasons until The Simpsons attained (and, indeed, surpassed) this landmark in 1992.
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Pop History Moment: The Death of James Dean


Even though he had just two feature films - Rebel Without a Cause and East of Eden - to his credit (and had just completed work on his third, Giant, eight days earlier) James Dean's career was off to a roaring start on this day in 1955 when he got off to a roaring start of his own; en route to a car race in Salinas at the wheel of his newly bought Porsche 550 Spyder - one of only 90 in existence, customized by Batmobile designer George Barris and named 'Little Bastard' by Dean's friend and vocal coach Bill Hickman - the 24-year-old actor met his untimely end.

Dean was traveling in a sort of convoy with his friends Lance Reventlow (who drove ahead in a station wagon with Bill Hickman and photographer Stanford Roth, who'd planned to photograph Dean at the races) and Rolf Wütherich; at about four in the afternoon Dean and Wütherich were heading west on U.S. Route 466 (later State Route 46) near Cholame when they were hit head on by Donald Turnupseed. Turnupseed suffered a few cuts and facial lacerations, Wütherich was thrown free of the car and suffered a broken jaw among his injuries, but Dean was badly injured. He was taken by ambulance to Paso Robles War Memorial Hospital where he died at one minute to six that evening. His last words were reportedly 'That guy's gotta stop... He'll see us.'

His death sent Dean's already burgeoning cult of personality into the kind of overdrive he'd only experienced in life in his Porsche; even now, half a century later, aspects of his brief life from his sexuality to his apathy towards acting are endlessly discussed seemingly at every opportunity. For what it's worth, while there is some talk of a curse on Dean's car, at least there's never been any talk of a conspiracy surrounding his death. He is buried in Fairmount, Indiana (where he was raised) has been memorialized at various locations including the junction where he was fatally injured, and references to him are peppered throughout pop culture - from songs by the Eagles and the Goo Goo Dolls to Robert Altman's 1981 play-cum-1982 film Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean, both of which were written by Ed Graczyk.

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POPnews - September 30th

[Here Luciana Serra camps it up as Queen of the Night, performing the so-called Queen of the Night aria (aka Der Hölle Rache kocht in meinem Herzen or "Hell's vengeance boils in my heart") from Mozart's opera, The Magic Flute.]

653 CE - Having served as Archbishop of Canterbury since being consecrated by Paulinus of York at Lincoln in 627 CE, Saint Honorius died; he was succeeded by Deusdedit, who in March 655 CE became the first British-born Anglo-Saxon to hold the post.

1399 - Henry IV proclaimed himself King of England after deposing his cousin Richard II.

1744 - France's Prince of Conti alongside Spain's Infante Felipe and the Marquis de la Mina defeated the forces of King Charles Emmanuel III of the Kingdom of Sardinia at the Battle of Madonna dell'Olmo.

- Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's last opera, The Magic Flute, debuted at Vienna's Theater auf der Wieden; the first woman to assay the now legendary role of Queen of the Night was the composer's sister-in-law, Josepha Hofer.

1888 - Jack the Ripper claimed two more victims - Elizabeth Stride and Catherine Eddowes.

1901 - Hubert Cecil Booth patented the first electric vacuum cleaner.

1906 - Writers Manuel Curros Enríquez and Xosé Fontenla Leal founded the Real Academia Galega, the Galician language's foremost authority, with Manuel Murguía as its first president; because the Galician culture was still considered illegal in Spain at the time, the Academy was forced to open in the Cuban capital of Havana.

1938 - Britain, France, Germany, and Italy signed the Munich Agreement - which Britain's Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain famously stated would bring about 'peace for our time' but which the majority of historians today would excoriate as an inexcusable act of appeasement towards a totalitarian regime.  As it turns out, ceding the Sudetenland region of Czechoslovakia to Hitler was akin to chumming shark-infested waters, and because of it within a year Europe would be embroiled in World War II...

1947 - The New York Yankees and the Brooklyn Dodgers faced off at Yankee Stadium in the first game of the first televised World Series; the Yankees would go on to win the game 5-3 and the series 4-3.

1949 - The Berlin Airlift ended.

1954 - The US Navy submarine USS Nautilus was commissioned under the command of Eugene P. Wilkinson as the world's first to be powered by a nuclear reactor; the Nautilus - actually the fourth US Navy vessel to have been given that name officially - had been launched by First Lady Mamie Eisenhower on January 21st.

1962 - César Chávez founded the United Farm Workers with Dolores Huerta.

1965 - General Suharto rose to power after an alleged coup by the Communist Party of Indonesia; in response, Suharto and his army massacred over a million Indonesians suspected of being communists.

1967 - BBC Radio 1 was launched; its first programme was presented by Tony Blackburn.

1989 - During the so-called Revolutions of 1989 West Germany's Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher made a speech from the balcony of the German embassy in Prague confirming that thousands of refugees from East Germany who'd been bivouacking in the embassy's gardens would be given passage to West Germany.

1990 - The Dalai Lama unveiled the Canadian Tribute to Human Rights in Ottawa; alas, if Stephen Harper succeeds in attaining a majority government it's slated to be turned into urinals, reflecting his government's opinion of human rights.

1991 - The democratically elected government of Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide was forced from office by a military junta led by Raoul Cédras.

1994 - Aldwych tube station (originally Strand Station) of the London Underground closed after eighty-eight years of service.

2005 - Controversial drawings of the prophet Muhammed were published in Denmark by the newspaper Jyllands-Posten; as much as I believe in my own right to republish them here, I'm too young to die. The link to Wikipedia will have to do.
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Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Happy Birthday Lizabeth Scott

Lizabeth Scott was known for her sultry manner, husky voice, and icy beauty - all of which made her one of the leading anti-heroines of the American film noir era. Still, like many of the shady ladies she played, her life concealed a considerable secret...

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketOriginally a model, from a young age she was determined to be a stage actress, yet was discovered by Hollywood just as Broadway beckoned; rather than treading the boards, she chose instead to go West at the urging of the powerful producer Hal Wallis, where soon she was engaged (mainly by Paramount) in a string of bad girl roles, the best of which were opposite Humphrey Bogart.

Offscreen, she became notorious as one of the first actors to sue the gossip magazine Confidential for openly speculating as to why she seemed to have no boyfriends. Following the suit (which was thrown out on a technicality) her career went into decline, although this can just as easily be ascribed to typecasting or to the decline of the genre in which she'd been typecast as it could be to her potential lesbianism.

Nevertheless, aside from a role in 1972, the dozen years of her career in movies had wrapped up by 1957, although she did make appearances on television after that. In latter years, though, she has been a recluse, refusing all requests to be interviewed, no matter how much I've begged*.

*Only kidding; I wouldn't have the stones to approach Willard Scott, let alone Lizabeth Scott. Feh!

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Gratuitous Brunette: Drake Hogestyn

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Even for a soap opera Days of Our Lives is ludicrous; the only reason I watched it for so many years was Drake Hogestyn, whose architectural face and melted molasses voice made even the supernatural depredations of Stefano DiMera (Joseph Mascolo) - which often defied the laws of reason and occasionally even physics - watchable.

When I first watched the show he was playing (or at least known as) Roman Brady; nowadays his character is called John Black, thanks to a retconned storyline both onscreen and off* as convoluted as anything ever thrown at his perennial co-star Marlena Evans (Deidre Hall). Despite the unreality of their adventures together the pairing of John Black and Marlena Evans is as enduring as it is pretty... Even more unbelievable - Hogestyn turns 57 today.

*Offscreen it was the return of Wayne Northrop to the cast as the character of Roman Brady he created in 1981, and the desire of the show's producer to retain Hogestyn's services, which prompted the recasting; after Northrop left for a second time in 1994 the role was taken over by Josh Taylor, and when Northrop again returned to the show in August 2005 he was given the role of Alex North. I did warn you it was convoluted, did I not?
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Madeline Kahn Acts Up A Storm In "Paper Moon"

In what is nearly my favourite scene in what is nearly my favourite movie - Paper Moon - birthday gal Madeline Kahn acts up a storm as she tries to talk her boyfriend's ward (who may or may not be his daughter) out of one of her many charmingly pouty tantrums. I can't think of a single emotion that doesn't flicker across Trixie Delight's face before she finally figures out that the best way to get a kid to trust you is to stop talking down to them and tell them the truth.

Director Peter Bogdanovich's bittersweet 1973 film was based on the novel Addie Pray by Joe David Brown; it also starred real-life father and daughter Ryan O'Neal and Tatum O'Neal, whose relationship in the film, while often vituperative, seems almost halcyon compared to the Hell they were experiencing behind the camera...
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In Memoriam: Caravaggio

Caravaggio - the artist formerly known as Michelangelo Merisi - gave Renaissance art a new degree of naturalism, and so he is often credited as the first of the Baroque painters; so accurate are his works that scientists studying one, of a basket of fruit, were able to deduce an agricultural blight in the year it was painted, based solely on the spots he'd thoughtfully included on their leaves.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketAnother level of realism Caravaggio brought to the art world was that of his bad boy persona - possibly brought on by bipolar disorder, which was still undefined in those times. Contemporaries describe him as disappearing into his studio for weeks at a time, during which he worked at a furious pace; he would eventually emerge, swaggering, ready for a booze-up, some slap and tickle, and a brawl.

Though he was called 'the most famous painter in Rome', he lived there barely six years, from 1600 until he was forced to leave after killing Ranuccio Tomassoni in one of his famous brawls in May 1606; he was forced to flee Sicily in 1607, Malta in 1608, and Naples in 1609 for similar reasons. He died in Tuscany in 1610, aged only 38. The circumstances surrounding his death, naturally, are mysterious; for one thing, his corpse was never found.

His reputation at the time of his death was enormous, yet within decades where he wasn't largely forgotten he was often slandered; it wouldn't be until the 1920s that his name and abilities were re-introduced and many of his mis-attributed paintings were re-attributed. Despite his lack of favour, he influenced Vermeer, Rembrandt, and Delacroix. Today he is considered second only to that other Michelangelo in the contributions he made during his cultural moment.

Only about 50 of Caravaggio's works survive, which is still a staggering body of work, given their sizes. His works are renowned for their use of ordinary people (and often his fellow artists) as models, their psychological elements, and use of darkness and shadow (called chiaroscuro). Likewise, they are notorious for their homoeroticism, and even in his lifetime were held in contempt for the so-called vulgarity of their realism.
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Remembering... Charles Addams

Somehow it just seems more apt to celebrate the life and hilariously macabre work of cartoonist Charles Addams on the day he died - on this day in 1988 - rather on the day he was born; maybe it's because of the nature of his work, or it could just be its proximity to Hallowe'en. Though the Addams Family cartoons were just a small percentage of the more than 1300 drawings he created in his life, they have proven suitably (indeed, admirably, and even appropriately) undead...

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketThe family of ghouls Addams concocted while working for The New Yorker continue to delight and amuse us today, nearly two decades after his death, and show no signs of stopping; after multiple incarnation on television and in the movies it was announced in May 2007 that the Addams Family would be coming to Broadway in a musical written by Broadway veterans Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice. Following tryouts in Chicago, the show is slated to hit the Great White Way in April 2010.

Although Addams started drawing them in 1932, his most famous characters weren't even named until the early 1960s, when their first television series went on the air; by then they were already so popular (and he for creating them) there was no debate over what their last name should be. The Addams Family ran on ABC-TV for two seasons, from 1964-6.

However ghoulish his persona, though, it was entirely put on for the benefit of the press, expected of him even; despite a collection of medieval weaponry, and the tombstone he used as a coffee table, Charles Addams was a gentle kindly man who was merely blessed (or, if you prefer, possessed) with a sense of humour that was slightly askew.
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Now Showing: "Sing After Me" by Madeline Kahn and Grover

As this charming piece of footage so ably demonstrates, the late Madeline Kahn - born on this day in 1942 - must have been something akin to an angel in life, so there's no doubt in my mind as to what she is these days. Here she performs an utterly charming duet with my favourite monster, Grover, on Sesame Street.

Certainly Kahn's early death in December 1999 (of ovarian cancer) was met with an outpouring of grief from former colleagues, such as Mel Brooks, who declared her 'one of the most talented people who ever lived'. Deepening the shock her death engendered, Kahn had kept her illness a secret, working right up until the end.
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POPnews - September 29th

[The Washington National Cathedral is an architectural masterpiece
which glorifies the combination of church and state.

1717 - An earthquake struck Antigua Guatemala, destroying more than 3000 of that city's Spanish Mudéjar-influenced colonial buildings and causing authorities to consider moving the capital to a different city; a further series of earthquakes in 1773 finally brought about the move - to the Valley of the Shrine, where it remains to this day with the far less poetic name of Guatemala City.

1829 - London's Metropolitan Police Service was launched by Home Secretary Sir Robert Peel; once known as 'Peelers', police in the English capital are still called 'bobbies' in his honour. At the time of its foundation 'The Met' was the third professional police force in the world, following those in Glasgow and Paris.

1833 - Upon the death of Spain's King Ferdinand VII his wife Maria Christina became queen-regent on behalf of her daughter, who would ascend the throne as Isabella II.

1864 - The Battle of Chaffin's Farm was fought, giving Union general Benjamin F. Butler a victory over the Confederacy's Robert E. Lee and Richard S. Ewell during the American Civil War.

1885 - The first practical public electric tramway in the world was opened in the British seaside resort of Blackpool.

1907 - The cornerstone of the Washington National Cathedral was laid in the presence of President Theodore Roosevelt; the Cathedral had been granted its Charter by an act of Congress in January 1893, and work on the edifice would finally be finished 83 years later to the day.

1916 - John D. Rockefeller became the first billionaire.

1954 - Willie Mays of what was then New York Giants made a famous play known as The Catch at The Polo Grounds during Game 1 of that year's World Series, which pitted the Giants against the Cleveland Indians.

1960 - While visiting the United States, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev disrupted a session of the United Nations General Assembly - including a speech by British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan, twice - with a series of temperamental outbursts, including a famous one (which may, in fact, be apocryphal) in which he allegedly banged on his desk with a shoe.

1962 - When Canada's first satellite, Alouette 1, was launched from California's Vandenberg AFB, Canada became only the third country in history to launch such a device; its primary use was scientific - it was designed to study the ionosphere - and it was switched off after a decade. Alouette 1 remains in orbit and may, in theory, still work.

Photobucket1964 - The Spanish-language comic strip Mafalda was first published, in the weekly publication Primera Plana; the brainchild of Argentinian cartoonist Joaquín Salvador Lavado - who's better known as Quino - the little girl with a passion for peace has been entertaining the Latin world ever since, even though her initial run ended in June 1973. Often compared to Charles Schulz's Peanuts (most notably by Umberto Eco in 1968) for its psychological insight into the souls of children, in Mafalda's world adults play a greater role, and the character herself is both more political and rooted in socio-politics as well. Although books of Mafalda strips are widely available in their original language, sadly they are relatively rare in English - providing me with yet another excellent reason to learn Spanish.

1979 - John Paul II became the first Pope to visit Ireland.

1982 - The Tylenol Crisis began when the first of seven individuals died in Chicago; the culprit has never been caught...

1988 - NASA launched STS-26, its first mission after the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster of January 1986.

1990 - Work was completed on the Washington National Cathedral when the last finial was installed in the presence of President George H. W. Bush, 83 years to the day after the cornerstone was laid.

2004 - Burt Rutan's SpaceShipOne performed its first space flight; days later he (and it) would go on to win the lucrative Ansari X Prize; on the same day the asteroid 4179 Toutatis passed within four lunar distances of Earth - although few if any scientists consider the asteroid a warning to the arrogant humans seeking ever easier ways to evade their own planet's gravity.

2006 - US Representative Mark Foley resigned after letting slip that the Republican Party is actually a secret gay organization allegations of inappropriate emails to house pages were revealed.

2007 - Britain's Calder Hall - the world's first commercial nuclear power station, itself part of the vast complex at Sellafield, which came on line in August 1956 and was officially opened by The Queen in October of that year - was demolished in a controlled explosion. At the time of its closing in March 2003 the main reactor had been in continuous operation for nearly 47 years.

2008 - The Dow Jones Industrial Average suffered a 777.68 point drop, the largest in its history. So far...
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Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Happy Birthday Your Majesty

Although there are American royals by virtue of marriage - most notably Queen Noor of Jordan - there is only one royal family native to the United States...

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketThe head of the House of Kawananakoa - and therefore the strongest claimant to the title King of Hawai'i - is Quentin Kawananakoa, a Republican state politician and party organizer; an alternative claim by the House of Kamehameha (to which he is also related) exists, and has many supporters, likely because it isn't allied with anything as corrupt and grotesque as the Republican Party. He is related as well to the House of Kalakaua and is an heir to the landholder James Campbell, whose estate he oversees.

All of these royal families, though, are merely branches of the Hawai'ian monarchy; any direct descent from actual Kings or Queens went extinct decades ago. Alas, none of them were prolific when it came to securing heirs.

Being the ardent royalist that I am, it takes some gritting of teeth and intestinal fortitude to support the claims of a smarmy Republican real estate developer with a prior conviction for cocaine possession. Yet, somehow, I do.
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"Stand By Me" by Ben E. King

Rob Reiner's 1986 film Stand By Me made such a huge impact on me when I first saw it in its initial release that years would pass before I fully understood why; it wasn't until I bought the film on DVD in 2000 and watched it again (having not seen it in some years) that I was blessed with the necessary insight that finally allowed me to come to terms with the feelings this relatively straightforward little fable* of Stephen King's still conjures in me more than twenty years later.

The film, of course, is rare enough in that it's unashamedly a paean to boyhood; stories of this ilk are two-a-penny for girls, but boys don't often rate such empowering stuff. The film's rites of passage - shared by Wil Wheaton, River Phoenix, Corey Feldman, and Jerry O'Connell - are the stuff of shared male mysteries, common enough experiences to many men. Growing up gay, of course, means that I was denied many of these opportunities, except in the limited context of the film; male company always was - and to a certain extent still is - fraught with peril of one kind or another. Whether sexual or not, my relationships with men are still the principal source of my considerable neurosis.

The song Stand by Me, of course, was a big part of the film; selecting it today is a no-brainer, since it's Ben E. King's 72nd birthday. Although a gospel song first composed in 1905, King himself first took it up the charts in 1961 - making it something of an anachronism, since the film takes place in 1959. The song was, if anything, an even bigger hit in 1987 when re-released on the soundtrack to Stand By Me.

*Adapted from his novella The Body and taken from the same 1982 collection, Different Seasons, that also yielded the story Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption which later became The Shawshank Redemption.

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Where Are You, Mark Everett?

Born on this day in 1969, Mark Everett was a child actor also known as both Mike Evers and Manuel Velasco for roles in the films Pee-wee's Big Adventure and Stand and Deliver.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketHis career had dried up by 1988, and by 1996 Everett was a drug dealer. That's the year he met Stephanie Spears; they subsequently had a child together.

On Father's Day - June 20th - 2004 Spears decided she'd had enough of his life of crime, and tried to leave him. When he discovered her attempting to flee he beat her to death with a dumbell in front of their child.

Along with his son and mother Elizabeth Velsaco, Mark Everett went into hiding; because he is fluent in English, Spanish, German, French, and Cantonese he could be hiding anywhere these languages are spoken.

If anyone should read this and knows of the whereabouts of Mark Everett, please contact the police, and help bring this murderer to justice.

UPDATE: In the three years since I first published this I have gotten many hits on it, mainly from Southern California. My assumption is Everett is precisely the kind of guy who'd Google his own name for some kind of thrill. I hope someday you read this, Mark Everett; furthermore, I hope someday you get what's coming to you - if, that is, you haven't already. ~ MSM
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Pop History Moment: The Death of Pope John Paul I

Born Albino Luciani in October 1912, John Paul I was the first Pontiff to have been born in the 20th Century; at 34 days, his papacy was also one of the shortest in history, resulting in the most recent Year of Three Popes. Mainly I remember 1978 as the Year of No Cartoons, since for some reason they always had to hold their dang ol' conclave on Saturday morning!

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketKnown as 'The Smiling Pope' for his gentle manner, John Paul I chose his name - the first double-barrelled moniker in papal history - to honour the two Popes who came before him, John XXIII and Paul VI, both of whom had been instrumental in furthering his vocation. Oddly, he also referred to himself as John Paul I when custom would have him referred to simply as John Paul.

The circumstances surrounding his death - on this day in 1978 - remain mysterious; though the cause of his death was officially a myocardial infarction, the halls of the Vatican have never been intrigue-free. Conspiracy or not, officials have drawn fire ever since for the way they mis-handled his death.

Practically from the moment he died there were whispers that despite Luciani's own conservatism he was determined to ease restrictions against contraception to alleviate suffering in the Third World and also clean up what he viewed as corruption in the Vatican; therefore, his would have been a modernizing, liberal papacy (relatively speaking), unlike the judgmental hypocrisy of his successor, who smiled beatifically while advocating misogyny, homophobia, and intolerance toward Eastern religions in particular. In the end, about the only reform John Paul I managed to carry out was the abolition of the Papal Coronation.

One interesting anecdote: at the papal conclave in which he was elected, a beam of light fell across the head of a fellow cardinal who was praying nearby; commenting to a companion, Luciani is said to have remarked upon the man: 'That is your next Pope.' Sure enough, he would be succeeded by that man - Karol Wojtyla - who took the name John Paul II following a second conclave in October 1978.
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Happy Birthday Janeane Garofalo

More an observer rather than a typical stand-up comedian (she has no shtick, for instance, and often refers to notes while performing), despite a pronounced downcast point of view, when her puppet was brutally murdered in the 2004 film Team America: World Police she claims she was able to see the humour in it. I mean, I laughed at it too, but if it had been me I doubt I would have.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketOnce named the Funniest Person in Rhode Island - an honour almost as dubious as the Gratuitous Brunette which I've spared her today - Janeane Garofalo's humour comes from pessimism, which is likely what makes her so appealing to me; also, despite the fact that she is often in hot water for being an outspoken liberal, she's refreshingly un-bitchy.

Her latest gig, co-hosting The Majority Report on Air America Radio ended somewhat acrimoniously, although the rift has reportedly been healed. She has made similar waves as both a guest and co-host on The View. Surely that's the kind of controversy that comes from speaking one's mind, especially a woman.

Garofalo's movie career has suffered from the influence of her integrity but she's had better luck on television; despite a difficult half season on Saturday Night Live (1994-5) she was great on The Larry Sanders Show, and most recent gig was a recurring role as an FBI agent on the seventh season of 24.

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POPnews - September 28th

[Sides 1 and 2 of Stevie Wonder's landmark album Songs in the Key of Life kick ass, while sides 3 and 4 take names.]

48 BCE - Having been lured ashore from his warship under false pretenses, Roman general and rival of Julius Caesar Pompey the Great was assassinated by Achillas and Lucius Septimius - or possibly by the eunuch Pothinus (Wikipedia isn't clear, surprise surprise) - on the orders of Theodotus of Chios, tutor to Egypt's boy-king Ptolemy XIII Theos Philopator.

935 CE - Saint Wenceslas was murdered by his brother, Boleslaus I the Cruel, Duke of Bohemia; honestly, he shoulda seen it coming.

995 CE - Members of the Slavník Dynasty - Spytimír, Pobraslav, Pořej and Čáslav - were murdered by the somewhat misnamed Boleslaus II the Pious.

1066 - The Duke of Normandy, William the Bastard, landed at Pevensey in order to claim both the English throne and a cooler moniker - William the Conqueror.

1106 - England's King Henry I defeated his brother, Robert Curthose at the Battle of Tinchebrai in France.

1322 - Holy Roman Emperor Louis IV defeated Austria's King Frederick I in the Battle of Mühldorf.

1448 - Christian I was crowned King of Denmark following the death of Christopher of Bavaria; the dead king's widow, Dorothea of Brandenburg, loved being queen so much she later married his successor.

1779 - Samuel Huntington was elected the sixth President of the Continental Congress, succeeding John Jay.

1867 - Toronto became the capital of the Canadian province of Ontario; exactly when it became the centre of the universe has yet to be determined.

1928 - Sir Alexander Fleming noticed a bacteria-killing mold growing in his laboratory, discovering what later became known as penicillin.

1944 - Soviet troops liberated Klooga concentration camp in the Estonian town of Klooga.

1961 - A military coup in Damascus effectively ended the United Arab Republic, a political union between Egypt and Syria.

1962 - The Paddington tram depot fire destroyed 65 trams in Brisbane.

1972 - Team Canada famously triumphed over the USSR at the so-called Summit Series of hockey, when Paul Henderson scored the winning goal.

1973 - Manhattan's ITT Building was bombed to protest ITT's involvement in the 1973 coup d'état in Chile.

1975 - The Spaghetti House siege, in which nine people were taken as hostages, took place in London.

1976 - Stevie Wonder released his landmark double album Songs in the Key of Life.

1987 - The first episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation - entitled Encounter at Farpoint - aired.

Photobucket2002 - With the publication of her diaries, former UK Cabinet Minister Edwina Currie - who resigned in scandal when she accused the British egg industry of being rife with salmonella even though it wasn't* - admitted she'd had a romantic relationship with former Prime Minister John Major between 1984 and 1988, when he was chief government whip under then-Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher; that the revelation came after years of denial by both of those involved only proves that Tories are pathological liars and whores who'll do any shocking thing (up to and including actually telling the truth for a change) all for a book deal and a pot of filthy lucre.

*And whose Spitting Image is shown at right.
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Monday, September 27, 2010

Google Is 12!


That's right, Google today turns 12 years old, which can only mean one thing... It's time for my annual heartfelt and entirely sincere essay in celebration of the source of wonder and awe that is Google.

Google is my God. I bow before it. It is the golden pinnacle, the sum total of human achievement to date. I can scarcely imagine how I lived before it, and doubt I could now live without it.

Larry Page and Sergey Brin are the greatest men who've ever lived for creating Google. I adore them, and if either of them ever wanted a little (or a lot) of the special treat that guys love best (but that many women aren't too fond of giving), they only have to ask me, and it's theirs, as much as they want absolutely free of charge*. If you think that's brazen, consider that there's no telling what I'd do for a little insight into how those magic algorithms of theirs work...

My gratitude to you for your singular accomplishment knows no bounds. Without Google the Pop Culture Institute would be even less than it actually is; you are the wind beneath my wings...

All my love,

michael sean morris

Blogmaster of Ceremonies,
The Pop Culture Institute

*Providing you get Vern's permission first, of course!

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POPnews - September 27th

[Aung San Suu Kyi is one of the foremost opponents of tyranny in the world today, seemingly having resisted the junta (which in June 1989 changed the name of Burma to Myanmar) ever since her father - Aung San, the 'father of modern Burma' - was assassinated in July 1947, when she was just 2. Since handily winning parliamentary elections in 1990, despite being under house arrest at the time, Dr. Suu Kyi is the rightful Prime Minister of Burma;
she was awarded the
Nobel Peace Prize in 1991.]

1540 - The Society of Jesus - an organization better known as the Jesuits, founded by Ignatius of Loyola in August 1534 - received its charter from Pope Paul III in the form of the papal bull Regimini militantis ecclesiae, which initially limited the society's membership to 60.

1590 - Pope Urban VII died just 13 days after his elevation to the papacy, making his the shortest papal reign in history.

1787 - The US Constitution was delivered to the states for ratification.

1821 - With the establishment of the First Mexican Empire - under its newly elected Emperor Agustín de Iturbide - Mexico's independence from Spain was recognized, having first been declared in September 1810 by Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla.

1822 - Jean-François Champollion announced that he'd deciphered the Rosetta Stone, which had been 'discovered' by Pierre-Francois Bouchard in July 1799; Champollion's findings were published the following year.

1825 - The Stockton and Darlington Railway opened, beginning operations as the world's first service of locomotive-hauled passenger trains.

1854 - The side-wheeler steamship SS Arctic sank off Newfoundland's Cape Race after colliding with the French vessel SS Vesta, marking the first great civilian maritime disaster in the Atlantic Ocean; lost in the sinking were 92 of her 153 officers and men and all her women and children passengers - including the wife, the only daughter, and the youngest son of Collins Line manager Edward Knight Collins.

1903 - The Wreck of the Old 97 - a train crash made famous by the railroad ballad of the same name - occurred near Danville, Virginia while the train was en route from Monroe, Virginia to Spencer, North Carolina.

1908 - The first Ford Model T automobile rolled off the assembly line at the Piquette Plant in Detroit.

1916 - Iyasu was proclaimed deposed as ruler of Ethiopia in a palace coup; he was succeeded by his aunt Zauditu.

1922 - King Constantine I of Greece abdicated in favour of his eldest son, who became King George II.

1937 - The last Balinese tiger - an adult female - was killed at Sumbar Kima.

1938 - The ocean liner RMS Queen Elizabeth - named for the then Queen Consort of England, Queen Elizabeth - was launched in Glasgow.

1940 - Germany, Italy, and Japan signed the Tripartite Pact in Berlin, thus solidifying the unity of the Axis powers.

1954 - The Tonight Show made its debut as Tonight! starring Steve Allen; the show was originally 105 minutes in length, and broadcast live from New York City.

1964 - The Warren Commission released its report on the assassination of President John F. Kennedy; some of us are still waiting for the non-fiction version... The commission's name came from its chairman, US Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren.

1968 - The stage musical Hair opened at London's Shaftesbury Theatre, where it played 1,998 performances until literally bringing the roof down in July 1973.

1988 - Burma's National League for Democracy was founded by Aung San Suu Kyi.

2001 - Friedrich Leibacher went on a shooting rampage, killing 14 and injuring 18 others in the parliament house of the Swiss canton of Zug before turning the gun on himself.
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Sunday, September 26, 2010

Remembering... George Raft

Handsome, menacing George Raft - born on this day in 1895 - was one of Hollywood's most popular leading men in the 1930s; while he often played gangsters and hoods, he initially found work as a dancer - a fact wittily alluded to by Chazz Palminteri's character in Woody Allen's 1994 comedy Bullets Over Broadway.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket In fact, it was Texas Guinan who gave Raft his first big break in show business - as she'd done with so many others, such as Ruby Keeler - dancing in her 300 Club; she also gave him his break in the movies when he appeared alongside her in the 1929 lost film Queen of the Night Clubs.

Although he'd been one of the biggest stars of the 1930s, he'd also been typecast as a heavy, and an Italian one at that - despite his German heritage. By the 1940s and 1950s Raft's career was suffering from bad choice-itis; he became best known in latter years as the man who turned down most of the roles that would make Humphrey Bogart a star. Although he had a memorable turn as mob boss 'Spats' Columbo in Billy Wilder's 1959 classic Some Like it Hot it did not lead to more work*.

Which is not to say he didn't have his fun along the way... In the early Thirties he gave Tallulah Bankhead such a bad case of gonorrhea she had to have a hysterectomy; as she was being wheeled from the hospital she gave her doctor one of those quips for which she'd already become famous and on which he probably dined out for years: 'Don't think this has taught me a lesson!'

Raft's career was oddly bound up with that of Mae West; it was in his film Night After Night (1932) that West made her movie debut, stealing every scene she's in (as was her wont); nearly fifty years later he made his second-to-last appearance in her final film Sextette (1980). When they died - two days apart, in November 1980 - their bodies were both stored in the mortuary at Forest Lawn together.

In the 1991 film Bugsy, Raft was played by Joe Mantegna.

*The same fate befell Gloria Swanson, who could have parlayed her star turn in another of Wilder's classics, 1950's Sunset Boulevard
, into much more than she did; in both cases the public seemed to consider these one-time legends as mere novelties - relics of a bygone era, even - in an age long before irony alone could save a career.

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Will Will Self Self-Destruct, Or Will Will Self Self-Actualize?

Will Self, the iconoclastic British writer of such nihilistic books as Cock and Bull (1992), My Idea of Fun (1993), Great Apes (1997), How the Dead Live (2000), Dorian, an Imitation (2001), and The Book of Dave (2006), today turns 49.

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Most chroniclers of his life seem stymied how he could grow up to be a self-mutilating drug addict with a penchant for telling bizarre stories despite a comfortable childhood in a North London suburb; I figure, how could he not? I was also raised in a boring suburb, and look what I've become. The only thing that's saved me from a fate worse than cliche is my own inherent Canadian boringness.

Yet there is much to admire in Self's career: he was once removed from John Major's campaign aircraft after he was discovered doing heroin in it, which to my mind qualifies him for every honour there is; he was also fired from The Observer, which is another career goal of mine. He studied Philosophy at college rather than English, which could explain why his books have much to say about our modern world, rather than being so much navel-gazing twaddle. Quoth he:

'I want to be misunderstood. And the other thing that amuses me is: I don't particularly want to be liked. Nobody goes into the business of writing satire to be liked. Whether I am or am not a nice bloke is neither here nor there. It's not part of the task I've set myself in my art.'

Amen to that. The fact that Self is still a mid-career writer means we might expect yet more and even better from him, provided, that is, that on one of his epic walks around the English capital he isn't smited by some prat in a Ford Cortina.
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Happy Birthday Dr. Manmohan Singh

The current Prime Minister of India is the first Sikh to hold the post, which he has done since May 2004; highly respected both in India and around the world for his intellect and erudition, Dr. Singh is both a formidable politician and statesman.

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India's vast working class and burgeoning middle class has obviously taken to him as the man best equipped to bring about some closure to inter-caste and sectarian strife that has often plagued the world's largest democracy throughout its sixty-year history.

His loyalty to the Congress Party may have also saved it from oblivion; when it turned to Sonia Gandhi (an Italian by birth) for leadership during one of its periodic crises there was much discord, and the rift in the party nearly tore it apart. Likewise, while the damage to the Golden Temple in Amritsar ordered by Indira Gandhi in 1984 as part of Operation Blue Star has been repaired, the Congress Party's relationship to Sikhs has not, and so his appointment can be seen as crucial to healing that wound as well.

While in office, Dr. Singh has fostered closer ties to the United States, diligently supported the peace process with Pakistan, and done much to foster economic growth in the disputed Kashmir region. India's economy during his administration is growing at 9% per annum without neglecting social programs or minority rights as in certain neighbouring countries I won't mention whose name rhymes with 'Dinah'.

He has also eschewed corruption, and been responsible for an increase in the transparency of government.
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In Memoriam: Lewis Hine

From the moment of its very invention the artistic and documentary application of the camera was obvious; it was Lewis Hine, however, who was one of the first people to exploit photography for its sociological and progressive uses, and as such his compassion is as evident as any object or subject in the images he captured. Although he set out to use a camera merely in his work as a sociologist, the photography of Lewis Hine is today recognized for the fine art it is.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketHine spent a decade as a photojournalist on the payroll of the National Child Labor Committee, documenting the abuses inherent in child labour throughout the United States, initially publishing his findings in a social reform magazine called The Survey. Later he followed the Red Cross in America and Europe, documenting the relief work they were conducting.

His works were also instrumental in putting faces to America's industrial might; his photos of the construction of the Empire State Building are a remarkable record of a remarkable achievement in civil engineering. The images he captured throughout the American South during the Great Depression helped to personalize the serf-like plight of farm workers and migrants alike to the northern plutocrats who'd enslaved them.

Born on this day in 1874, Hine died in November 1940 aged 66 from complications following surgery at Dobb's Ferry, New York.
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"The Hollow Men" by T. S. Eliot

Mistah Kurtz—he dead.

A penny for the Old Guy


We are the hollow men
We are the stuffed men
Leaning together
Headpiece filled with straw. Alas!
Our dried voices, when
We whisper together
Are quiet and meaningless
As wind in dry grass
Or rats’ feet over broken glass
In our dry cellar

Shape without form, shade without colour,
Paralysed force, gesture without motion;

Those who have crossed
With direct eyes, to death’s other Kingdom
Remember us—if at all—not as lost
Violent souls, but only
As the hollow men
The stuffed men.


Eyes I dare not meet in dreams
In death’s dream kingdom
These do not appear:
There, the eyes are
Sunlight on a broken column
There, is a tree swinging
And voices are
In the wind’s singing
More distant and more solemn
Than a fading star.

Let me be no nearer
In death’s dream kingdom
Let me also wear
Such deliberate disguises
Rat’s coat, crowskin, crossed staves
In a field
Behaving as the wind behaves
No nearer—

Not that final meeting
In the twilight kingdom


This is the dead land
This is cactus land
Here the stone images
Are raised, here they receive
The supplication of a dead man’s hand
Under the twinkle of a fading star.

Is it like this
In death’s other kingdom
Waking alone
At the hour when we are
Trembling with tenderness
Lips that would kiss
Form prayers to broken stone.


The eyes are not here
There are no eyes here
In this valley of dying stars
In this hollow valley
This broken jaw of our lost kingdoms

In this last of meeting places
We grope together
And avoid speech
Gathered on this beach of the tumid river

Sightless, unless
The eyes reappear
As the perpetual star
Multifoliate rose
Of death’s twilight kingdom
The hope only
Of empty men.


Here we go round the prickly pear
Prickly pear prickly pear
Here we go round the prickly pear
At five o’clock in the morning.

Between the idea
And the reality
Between the motion
And the act
Falls the Shadow
For Thine is the Kingdom

Between the conception
And the creation
Between the emotion
And the response
Falls the Shadow
Life is very long

Between the desire
And the spasm
Between the potency
And the existence
Between the essence
And the descent
Falls the Shadow
For Thine is the Kingdom

For Thine is
Life is
For Thine is the

This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.

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