Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Gratuitous Brunette: Steve Guttenberg


Once upon a time Steve Guttenberg was something of an anomaly in Hollywood; not only was he possessed of a stunningly hot body he was also a gifted comedian. That combination of frat-boy hot and baggy pants funny was very compelling in the 1980s, compelling enough to make me sit through what seemed like a dozen* of those Police Academy movies waiting for that one inevitable shirtless scene in those terrible days before I had regular access to porn.

Nowadays, of course, the hot comic is more commonplace - from Ashton Kutcher to Dane Cook - and Steve Guttenberg doesn't make the scene quite as much as he once did; still, he did turn up on Dancing with the Stars, staying just long enough to be among the first from Season Six to be eliminated. The rest of the time he concerns himself with charitable work, helping homeless youth transition back into society via Guttenhouse.

*There were four.

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Pop History Moment: The Destruction of Pompeii


On this day in 79 CE Italy's Mount Vesuvius erupted, burying the Roman resort towns of Pompeii, Herculaneum, and Stabiae under a heap of ash and pumice which was in places as much as 25 metres deep; the residents had been given fair warning, as the mountain began stirring the day before during the Vulcanalia, the annual feast to the Roman god of fire. Among the celebrity dead of the day's disaster was Pliny the Elder who, in the spirit of investigation which was his trademark, was overwhelmed by ash and poisonous gas when he got too close; his body was eventually recovered, two days after the eruption. It was his nephew and heir Pliny the Younger who gave the most poignant and compelling account of the devastation.

While some ruins were discovered in the area by Domenico Fontana in 1599, the cities lay buried and forgotten for 17 centuries, until the site was again rediscovered (this time also by accident) when builders constructing a summer palace for Charles of Bourbon, the King of Naples, found the remains of Herculaneum in 1738. It was upon this happenstance that excavation of the site began in earnest, an effort which is still underway.

Today Pompeii is Italy's most popular tourist attraction, drawing more than 2.5 million visitors annually; it's made a similar impression upon pop culture as well, exciting the imaginations of painters* and writers, including Edward Bulwer-Lytton, whose 1834 historical novel The Last Days of Pompeii was for years the gold standard.

*Including J.M.W. Turner, whose painting Eruption of Vesuvius adorns this post; Turner, however, wasn't painting the historical eruption but a different one, although his hand may have been guided by history here. Still, it's a pretty picture, and since very few paintings from 79 CE remain, it'll have to do.

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In Memoriam: Max Beerbohm

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketScion of an ennobled theatrical family (his younger half-brother was Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree) contemporary and colleague of Oscar Wilde and George Bernard Shaw, Max Beerbohm was among the principal aesthetes of late-Victorian England.

Over the years his distinguished career would run the gamut from music halls to radio, utilizing both the spoken word and the more enigmatic language of the artist's brush; yet whatever he did, Max Beerbohm made a point of using human foible as the springboard for elegant parody.

Born on this day in 1872 and knighted in 1939, when he died in 1956 Sir Max's ashes were interred in the crypt at St. Paul's Cathedral, among the most esteemed phantoms of a grateful nation.
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Happy Birthday Stephen Fry

Charming, erudite Stephen Fry is more than a mere Renaissance Man; he's a four-star culture warrior, a modern-day da Vinci, who might single-handedly bring about a much-needed Renaissance, just in time to save Western Civilization from itself...

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketAn über-avuncular actor, writer, and all around mensch, Fry's work employs comedy to take the piss out of the stuffy, fact to deflate mythology, and honesty to overcome stigma. About his criminal past, personal demons, and often precarious mental health he's always been forthright; he's pompous without being stuffy, smart without being condescending, and embodies complexity while remaining accessible.

Plus he matches the drapes, is friends with the Prince of Wales, and also happens to be gay! What's not to love?

Already a major star in Britain, thanks to the Internet, DVDs, BBC America on satellite TV, and the series Bones on Fox, Stephen Fry looks poised to become a household name around the world as well. About bloody time!
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POPnews - August 24th

[Voyager 2 passed Neptune on this day in 1989;
at 4.3 billion km (2.7 billion miles) from Earth, it's still closer
to the
Baseball Hall of Fame
than Pete Rose.]

79 CE - The eruption of Mount Vesuvius buried the Roman resort towns of Pompeii, Herculaneum, and Stabiae under 2 metres or more of volcanic ash and pumice.

1215 - Pope Innocent III declared the Magna Carta invalid; obviously, interfering in the political affairs of sovereign nations has long been a favourite pastime of the Vatican.

1456 - Legend has it the first printing of the Gutenberg Bible was completed in the German town of Mainz.

1572 - On the orders of France's King Charles IX a massacre of Huguenots began, on St. Bartholomew's Day; believed to have been instigated by France's Queen Mother Catherine de' Medici, the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre remains the darkest part of the French Wars of Religion.

1690 - Kolkata, India was founded by the British East India Company on the site of three villages thought to have been inhabited for more than two thousand years.

1814 - Canadian forces under the command of British general Robert Ross and Admiral Sir George Cockburn led an invasion of Washington DC which left much of the city - including the White House, Library of Congress, and Capitol Building - in ruins in retaliation for the earlier sacking and burning of York (now called Toronto).

1821 - The Treaty of Córdoba was signed in Córdoba, concluding the Mexican War of Independence from Spain.

1847 - Charlotte Brontë finished writing Jane Eyre.

1891 - The motion picture camera - which he called a Kinetograph - was patented by Thomas Edison.

1931 - Just two years into its electoral mandate, the United Kingdom's Second Labour Government under Ramsay MacDonald resigned en masse as the Great Depression deepened; this led to the formation of the so-called National Government, theoretically comprised of members from all parties but dominated by Labour members, with MacDonald still in charge at Number 10.

1932 - Amelia Earhart became the first woman to fly solo across the United States.

1937 - During the Spanish Civil War, the Basque Army surrendered to the Italian Corpo Truppe Volontarie following the Santoña Agreement.

1950 - Edith Sampson was named the first black woman to represent the US at the United Nations.

1954 - Brazilian president Getúlio Dornelles Vargas committed suicide in the Catete Palace, leaving behind a suicide note known as the Carta Testamento; he was succeeded by João Café Filho.

1967 - Led by Abbie Hoffman, a group of hippies temporarily disrupted trading at the New York Stock Exchange by throwing dollar bills from the viewing gallery, causing a cease in trading as the brokers scrambled to grab them up.

1981 - Mark David Chapman was sentenced to serve 20 years to life for the murder of John Lennon; he's been denied parole a total of five occasions since October 2000.

1989 - Cincinnati Reds manager Pete Rose was banned from baseball for gambling by Commissioner A. Bartlett Giamatti.

1991 - Ukraine seceded from the Soviet Union.

1992 - Hurricane Andrew made landfall in South Florida as a Category 5 hurricane.
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