Monday, March 29, 2010

Pop History Moment: The Shooting of Spain's Infante Alfonso

[This photograph shows the Countess of Barcelona with her four children - from left Infanta Pilar, Duchess of Badajoz, Infanta Margarita, Duchess of Soria, the ill-fated Infante Alfonso seated on her lap, and the future King Juan Carlos I beside her - at some point in the late 1940s. ]

On this day in 1956 Spain's then-exiled House of Bourbon was rocked by tragedy when the second son and fourth child of the Count and Countess of Barcelona - the 14-year-old Infante Alfonso - was killed by a gunshot wound to the head... At the time of the accident the royal family were on holiday at their home, Villa Giralda in the Portugese resort of Estoril, and had just returned from Maundy Thursday church service; His Royal Highness had earlier in the day won a junior golf tournament, and was excited to see his elder brother, who was home from military school for an Easter visit.

As with any accident of this type, rumours and conjecture have run rife over the years; the official story, predictably, failed utterly in satisfying the chattering classes. One thing the various versions do have in common, however, is that the prince's death was clearly an accident. Whether he shot himself while cleaning a pistol or whether his older brother did it either in an act of horseplay (believing the weapon to be unloaded*) or because he was startled or bumped by an opening door and whether the bullet struck the prince directly or following a ricochet scarcely matters at this point. The princes had been exceptionally close as children, during their shared exile, and the elder has been said to have never quite gotten over the loss of his brother.

Despite the fact that the news got very little coverage in Spain under the regime of Francisco Franco, many hundreds of royalist Spaniards braved crossing the border to bring Spanish soil with which to cover Prince Alfonso's coffin lid when he was buried the following Saturday, Holy Saturday, in the nearby municipal cemetery in Cascais. In October 1992 his remains were re-interred at the Pantheon of the Princes of El Escorial, near Madrid, where they lie to this day surrounded by those of his illustrious ancestors.

*A highly unlikely scenario, given the royal brothers' training in marksmanship and acuity with firearms.
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Standup by Mitch Hedberg

I could write at length about the unique comedy stylings of the late Mitch Hedberg, who died on this day in 2005; I could even quote him extensively if I was up for the thrill ride (and publicity bonanza) of a lawsuit by his estate... Or, I could simply post a clip of him doing what he does best and shut my mouth for once.

Here then is one of Hedberg's last television appearances, on The Late Show with David Letterman.
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Remembering... Mitch Hedberg


On this day in 2005 the world of comedy lost one of its best and brightest; born with a congenital heart defect - as well as being a recreational drug user - a New Jersey coroner nevertheless ruled his cause of death as being due to 'multiple drug toxicity'. It seems unlikely his death was a suicide, and indeed his condition may have been exacerbated by his habit one time too many.

Hedberg's standup was different from the rest, mainly due to its having been performed despite crippling stage fright. He often wore sunglasses onstage, and even then refrained from looking at the audience as he bombarded them with some of the most whimsical material out there - a cross between Steven Wright and Emo Philips. His act was also considerably more self-aware than usual; when a joke bombed he would acknowledge it, and rather than skating over an instance of bad delivery or timing, he'd make a joke of it instead, and repeat it until it got the desired effect. Overall, the effect of Mitch Hedberg's persona was lovability, and indeed he is fondly remembered by colleagues such as Dave Attell.

Hedberg is survived by his fellow comedian Lynn Shawcroft, whom he married in February 1999; his website remains active as a tribute to him. At the time of his death Hedberg was 37.
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Happy Birthday Amy Sedaris

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That anyone could take this lovely visage and bury it under the slag heap of Jerri Blank during three seasons of Strangers with Candy on Comedy Central (plus in a feature film) strikes my shallow heart as simultaneously brave and cruel; nonetheless, her refreshing lack of ego means she will remain lovely while her contemporaries manage to worry their looks away fretting over how they'll keep them.

Currently living in Greenwich Village with the ghost of her murdered imaginary boyfriend Ricky and a pet rabbit, Sedaris (sister of humourist and fellow Pop Culture Institute favourite David Sedaris) is also the author of I Like You: Hospitality Under The Influence as well as the co-author of numerous plays; she's also a fixture on the talk-show circuit, her subversively bubbly demeanour frequently livening up the proceedings at Late Show with David Letterman or merely adding her own personal nuance to the anarchy at Late Night with Conan O'Brien.

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"Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life" by Eric Idle

Birthday wishes go out today to Eric Idle, founding member of Monty Python, singer-songwriter and all around douchebag - er, good egg. That's what I meant to say, obviously.

Having been firmly grounded in comedy by his experience at public school, Idle earned himself a seat in Pembroke College at the University of Cambridge, a rich font of comedic talent that is also known for occasionally producing academics as well; invited to join the Footlights Club, there he met such comedy lights (and future collaborators) as Tim Brooke-Taylor, Bill Oddie, Graham Chapman, and John Cleese. Before his time there was up, Idle had been made President of the Footlights Club, an honour so prestigious it has been sought by literally no one, and was subsequently held by such no ones as Clive Anderson, Hugh Laurie, Tony Slattery, and David Mitchell (all of whom you'd know about if you regularly perused the Pop Culture Institute).

Released from the grind of an English degree, Idle made his way to London where in no time he was appearing in a subversive children's programme Do Not Adjust Your Set, alongside future Python costars Terry Jones and Michael Palin, who were also funny, despite having gone to Oxford. There he also met Terry Gilliam - who was, of all things, an American - who'd provided bizarre animations for both the previous and future shows.

Following the success of Monty Python's Flying Circus, Idle threw himself into the creation of Rutland Weekend Television, film projects such as All You Need Is Cash (a sentimental look at a fictional band called The Rutles) as well as various Python movies - only the latter of which has anything to do with the matter at hand, namely Always Look on the Bright Side of Life, a spritely ditty from the utterly blasphemous (although equally spritely) film Life of Brian.

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Pop History Moment: "Some Like It Hot" Premieres

On this day in 1959 the movie Some Like It Hot had its world premiere in Hollywood; directed by Billy Wilder and starring Tony Curtis, Jack Lemmon, and Marilyn Monroe, it was hailed as a classic from the start. Just for good measure, the Catholic Legion of Decency slapped it with a C (for 'Condemned') rating, ensuring massive attendance.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketOriginally intended as a colour film (which Monroe would have preferred) it was later decided to film it in black & white to conceal a greenish pallor from the makeup worn by the male leads. The result is a visual splendour to match the utter verve of the script and the amazing onscreen chemistry of the actors.

During its production stories about onset antics filled the celebrity press, not all of them positive; as good as Marilyn was when she was good, when she was bad she was worse, and Wilder apparently had to harangue her into take after take to say the simplest line: 'Bourbon?'. On the positive side, a location shoot at the Hotel Del Coronado generated a huge amount of buzz for the movie.

Good gossip or bad, none of that mattered as the film unspooled that night, and a captivated audience became the first in history to witness what, in 2000, the American Film Institute named the greatest American comedy film of all time.
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POPnews - March 29th

[Located in the town of Mariefred beside Lake Mälaren 60 km (37.5 miles) west of Stockholm, Gripsholm Castle has the kind of long and storied history one might expect from such a place... Originally built by Bo Jonsson in 1380, the fortress was seized and then rebuilt by Gustav I (known as Gustav Vasa) in 1526; used as a residence by the Swedish Royal Family until 1731, Gripsholm was controversially renovated by Fredrik Lilljekvist between 1889 and 1894, although in the end his renovations weren't as extreme as planned. Today it houses Sweden's National Collection of Portraits (Statens porträttsamlingar), thought to be the oldest portrait collection in the world.]

1461 - At the Battle of Towton - during England's Wars of the Roses - Edward of York defeated the Lancastrian Queen Margaret of Anjou (wife of Henry VI) to become King Edward IV.

1632 - The Treaty of Saint-Germain was signed, returning Quebec to French control after the English had seized it in 1629.

1638 - Swedish colonists established the first settlement in Delaware, calling it New Sweden; they then proceeded to build Fort Christina (named for Queen Christina) where today the city of Wilmington stands.

1792 - King Gustav III of Sweden died after being shot in the back at a midnight masquerade at Stockholm's Royal Opera just 13 days earlier; he was succeeded by Gustav IV Adolf.

1806 - Construction of the Great National Pike, better known as the Cumberland Road, was authorized by President Thomas Jefferson; it would become the first federal highway in the United States.

1809 - King Gustav IV Adolf of Sweden abdicated following a coup d'état by his military officers, who seized him and his family and imprisoned them in Gripsholm Castle; he was eventually succeeded by his uncle Charles XIII.

1847 - During the Mexican-American War US forces led by General Winfield Scott took the city of Veracruz following a siege.

1867 - Queen Victoria gave Royal Assent to the British North America Act, which would establish the Dominion of Canada the following July 1st.

1871 - The Royal Albert Hall was opened by Queen Victoria.

1879 - During the Anglo-Zulu War British forces led by Evelyn Wood defeated 20,000 Zulus under Ntshingwayo Khoza at the Battle of Kambula.

1882 - The Knights of Columbus were established.

1930 - Heinrich Brüning was appointed Germany's Reichskanzler.

1951 - Ethel and Julius Rosenberg were convicted of conspiracy to commit espionage by Judge Irving Kaufman; the prosecutor in the case had been the notorious Roy Cohn.

1961 - The Twenty-third Amendment to the United States Constitution was ratified, allowing residents of Washington, DC, to vote in presidential elections.

1971 - A Los Angeles jury recommended the death penalty for Charles Manson and three female followers - Susan Atkins, Patricia Krenwinkel, and Leslie Van Houten - for their role in 1969's Tate-LaBianca murders.

1974 - NASA's Mariner 10 became the first space probe to fly past Mercury, having been launched in November 1973.

1981 - The first London Marathon was run, in which 6,700 participants turned out to brave the drizzle along a 41.84 km (26 mile) route from Blackheath in Greenwich to Buckingham Palace in The Mall; because it begins on one side of the Prime Meridian and ends on the other, it is the only marathon in the world to take place in two hemispheres.

1982 - The Canada Act 1982 (U.K.) received Royal Assent from Elizabeth II, setting the stage for her in her role as the Queen of Canada to proclaim the Constitution Act, 1982.

1993 - Catherine Callbeck became premier of Prince Edward Island, the first and so far only woman in Canadian history to be elected to such a post in a general election.
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