Sunday, July 11, 2010

In Memoriam: E. B. White

E. B. White was a hero of mine even before I knew who he was; I was maybe eight or nine years old at the time, and all I knew is that he had written three of my favourite books - which are themselves a trifecta of perfection in the realm of kid-lit: Stuart Little, Charlotte's Web, and The Trumpet of the Swan remain the win, place, and show of the genre despite having been written at a time long before there even was such a thing.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketSubsequent discoveries regarding his substantial contribution to the world of letters have increased, rather than diminished, my appreciation of this gentle man and his prodigious gifts...

He was, of course, instrumental in establishing the tone of The New Yorker, and since buying 80 years' worth of issues on DVD I have had ample opportunity to learn the fine art of writing casuals and profiles directly from the master*.

Should my problem go deeper than tone I can also refer to The Elements of Style, more commonly called Strunk & White, of which he - predictably enough - is the White. This essential tome on the English language and its labyrinthine grammar reminds me to always eschew obfuscation with the single best piece of advice any writer can get: 'omit needless words', which I believe Mr. White later amended to 'omit unnecessary words', semantically not only an improvement but a clarification. It's such great advice, too, which makes it an even greater shame that I never take it.

And finally, in 2008's excellent memoir Let Me Finish longtime New Yorker contributor and E. B. White's stepson Roger Angell extolled the man's virtues as gently as he analysed his foibles, resulting in a humanistic portrayal of the shy and retiring New England farmer who long ago ignited my imagination as well as being one of the first to make me want to become a novelist.

*Which emulation I hope has bettered, rather than worsened, the tone around this dump, as least as far as the writing goes.
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Tab Hunter on 'What's My Line?'

Originally aired in February 1957, Tab Hunter's appearance on What's My Line? may or may not have been intentionally laden with innuendo, but the fact that it's there is almost as hilarious as the innuendo itself. To whit: Martin Gabel's question about Hunter's appeal being 'especially to women'. Be that as it may, we now know that women's appeal to him was anything but especial. Another highlight must be the revelation that panelist Arlene Francis (aka Mrs. Martin Gabel) has seen Tab Hunter in a torn shirt... Oh, would that there were photos of that floating around somewhere!

As moderated by the ever suave John Charles Daly, the remainder of the panel consists of Dorothy Kilgallen, and Richard Kollmar - aka Mr. Dorothy Kilgallen!
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Happy Birthday Tab Hunter

In the recent memoir Tab Hunter: Confidential one of the sexiest and most popular of the Fifties teen idols confessed that he is gay. Although he did have two prolonged love affairs with women, for some reason his relationships with Roddy MacDowell, Rudolf Nureyev, and Anthony Perkins seem to inspire greater curiosity. I wonder why that is?

PhotobucketThe fact is, these were not well-kept secrets even then; at the height of his acclaim there were enough rumours about his proclivities to have surely shortened his career. That he'd gotten his first break courtesy of super-agent (and super pervy old queen) Henry Willson was the first real big clue; Willson also fostered the career of another über-straight Fifties hunk, namely Rock Hudson.

Nevertheless, it's the Baby Boomers I feel sorry for. If they grew up in the Fifties, just about everything they were told and thought they knew and took for granted was based on lies. Which is sad, yet also hilarious.

Yeah... Gotta love that Gen X humour.
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Pop History Moment: The Burr-Hamilton Duel

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On this day in 1804, Vice President Aaron Burr shot and mortally wounded former Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton in a duel at Weehawken, New Jersey. Burr made the challenge to Hamilton in order to defend his honour against some scurrilous rumours Hamilton was said to be spreading. The precise nature of this rumor has never been substantiated, but it may have contained an allusion to incest committed by Vice President Burr with his sister. Rumour or not, Burr and Hamilton had been far from friendly for years...

Though charged with murder in both New York and New Jersey, Burr never faced trial in either instance. His career in shambles, he ended his life in 'exile', first in South Carolina, then Philadelphia, Missouri, and finally New York City, where he died in 1836.

Following the duel Hamilton was carried to the home of William Bayard, where the next day he died; he was later interred in Lower Manhattan's Trinity Churchyard Cemetery.
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"Luka" by Suzanne Vega

As I have so often said, it's rare enough for a song that isn't about 'love'* to hit the pop charts that the phenomenon is just the sort of thing which calls out for a closer analysis by the Pop Culture Institute; in fact, most of the music I post here I like to be about something, rather than a lot of that ooh baby baby jive. Thanks to an heroic intake of porn, I have nothing but disdain for romance - especially of the saccharine and false variety liable to be crooned. Yuck!

One of the finest such songs - a song that's actually about something! - was a monster hit for birthday gal Suzanne Vega in 1987. Luka is the story of a little boy being physically abused in his home, told from the perspective of a neighbour he's befriended. You'd have to be a robot not to be moved by the sweet voice and nimble strumming of Vega, especially when they wrap themselves around a fairytale-like story - all qualities neatly captured by the song's video.

In the video Luka is played by Jason Cerbone, who later grew up to be a professional actor, playing Jackie Aprile, Jr. on the hit HBO series, The Sopranos, who could have presumably then gone back to the old neighbourhood and whacked Luka's old man. Just as a for instance...

*Or sex, as it's better known these days.
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POPnews - July 11th

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[The Hollywood Bowl - a Los Angeles landmark since it opened on this day in 1922 - was built on the site of a natural rock amphitheatre known until then as Daisy Dell.]

1302 - At the Battle of the Golden Spurs a coalition in Flanders defeated King Philip IV of France's massive army; it's a victory celebrated by Belgium's Flemish community to this day.

1346 - The House of Luxembourg's Charles IV was elected Holy Roman Emperor to replace Louis IV of the House of Wittelsbach.

1789 - Jacques Necker was dismissed as France's Finance Minister, sparking the Storming of the Bastille three days later.

1801 - French astronomer Jean-Louis Pons discovered his first comet; over the next 27 years he would go on to discover 36 more - more than any other person in history.

1848 - London's Waterloo railway station opened.

1859 - Charles Dickens published A Tale of Two Cities... Fortunately for both Mr. Dickens and his publisher, the two cities in question were Paris and London, not Duluth and Akron, and so the novel was (to say the least) a rousing success.

1889 - The Mexican border town of Tijuana was founded; in those days (and, in fact, well into the 1930s) it was known as Tia Juana.

1893 - The first cultured pearl was obtained by Kokichi Mikimoto.

1897 - Swedish explorer Salomon August Andrée left Spitsbergen to attempt to reach the North Pole by balloon; his craft crashed en route, resulting in his death.

1906 - The murder of 20 year-old Grace Brown by Chester Gillette at Big Moose Lake in Upstate New York would later inspire Theodore Dreiser's 1925 novel An American Tragedy, which was later still adapted for the cinema as A Place in the Sun (1951) which starred Shelley Winters and Montgomery Clift as the star-crossed lovers.

1914 - Babe Ruth made his Major League baseball debut, with the Boston Red Sox. Ruth's sale to the New York Yankees in 1920 is said to have brought on the Curse of the Bambino, which turned the lacklustre Yankees into the winningest team in professional baseball while the once red-hot Red Sox had to wait another 84 years to capture another World Series pennant.

1922 - The Hollywood Bowl was opened to the public; nestled into a natural curve in the Earth, it has since hosted many well-known bands as well as the Los Angeles Philharmonic and (appropriately enough) the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra.

1936 - New York City's Triborough Bridge was opened; actually three bridges spanning Ward's Island and Randall's Island in the East River, it connects Manhattan with The Bronx and Queens. Construction began in 1930 but was soon halted by the Depression; it was finished by money from the WPA, and today generates massive revenues for the New York City Transit Authority, which are used to offset the cost of public transit.

1955 - The phrase In God We Trust was added to all US currency.

1957 - Prince Karim Husseini Aga Khan IV inherited the office of Imamat as the 49th Imam of Shia Imami Ismaili worldwide, after the death of Sir Sultan Mahommed Shah Aga Khan III.

1960 - To Kill A Mockingbird, written by Harper Lee and widely regarded as one of the finest novels ever written in English, was published.

1975 - Archaeologists working in China unearthed a massive and rare find; more than 6000 life-sized terracotta statues of warriors guarding the tomb of an early Emperor, Qin Shi Huang. The sculptures date from 221 BCE, and no two are alike. Since 1987 the site has been recognized by UNESCO for its unique contribution to world heritage.

1990 - The Oka Crisis, which gripped Canada throughout the summer of 1990, can be said to have begun on this day - even though our panel of experts at the Pop Culture Institute believe it began at least 300 years earlier.

2006 - 209 people were killed and over 700 were injured in a series of coordinated terrorist bombings in Mumbai, India. Seven blasts over 11 minutes disrupted the evening's commute on the city's Suburban Railway.
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