Monday, August 30, 2010

Happy Birthday Kitty Wells

As hard as it might be to believe, country music was once almost exclusively a man's game...

It was Kitty Wells who shattered that particular straw-covered glass ceiling in 1952, with a little ditty called It Wasn't God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels, a record which was controversial in its time for asserting that just maybe it wasn't women who were exclusively to blame for sin. No matter how the men may have grumbled, Wells' radio play and record sales were massive, which allowed her almost unimpeded access to their old boy's club. In 1956, Wells also became the first woman to release a solo country album, Kitty Wells' Country Hit Parade.

For the next decade her string of hits continued, encouraging a successive generation of female artists - including Tammy Wynette, Loretta Lynn, and Dolly Parton - to add a female perspective to the genre; many of her songs were written in response to those of men, as with the classic exchange of Paying For That Back Street Affair, which impertinently (and rightly so) responded to Webb Pierce's Back Street Affair*. Still, if there were hard feelings between them, they weren't evident in the duets they later recorded together; in fact, Wells eventually made duets with many of the men who may have been reticent towards her fame, including Pierce, Red Foley and Jim Reeves.

Today country music legend Kitty Wells turns 91; here she is on the Grand Ole Opry singing I Don't Claim To Be An Angel, no matter how strenuously those of us in the know might beg to differ...

*If only she were still recording, maybe she could make Toby Keith shut the Hell up.
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In Memoriam: Shirley Booth


My earliest exposure to the unique talents of Shirley Booth was on the original cast recording of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, in which she played the character of Cissy; I was then about 22, a budding theatre queen, and had long* been a fan of Betty Smith's novel of the same name. Although the story is ostensibly about Francie, onstage the unlucky-in-love Aunt Cissy steals the show, mainly due to the strength of Booth's personality. To this day I have no idea why a character who's such a loser with men should so capture my imagination, but there you have it...

Booth's career was centered on the Broadway stage, yet because of the greater durability of movies and the wider reach of television, she is better known for the five movies she made and the five seasons in which she starred as the titular Hazel, the sitcom that cemented her reputation**. Still, for those who know Shirley Booth only as that brassy maid with a heart of gold (or was it the other way 'round?) it was probably the 1952 film Come Back, Little Sheba that made it all possible; Booth became the first person in history to win both a Tony Award for the stage version and an Oscar for the movie version, which was also her big screen debut. She later starred as Dolly Levi in the film version of The Matchmaker (supplanting the role's Broadway originator, Ruth Gordon) a full decade before Barbra Streisand hammed it up for director Gene Kelly in Hello, Dolly! and five years before Carol Channing's iconic portrayal in the stage musical.

Born on this day in 1898 - which for actress-y reasons she later changed to 1907 - Shirley Booth made her final curtain call in October 1992, having been retired since 1974.

*Well, for five years anyway, but when you're 22 five years is a very long time!
**As well as launching the all-too brief career of Ann Jillian...

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Pop History Moment: The Funeral of Princess Marina

For centuries royalty only married each other, and the British were no exception; the history of that storied isle is cluttered with tales of foreign princesses and their equally exotic retinues washing ashore like veddy posh asylum seekers, each with an experience as individual as the kingdoms from whence they originally hailed...

PhotobucketIt's debatable who was the first foreign princess to take a chance on a British prince, but the last one we know for a fact was Princess Marina - who became Duchess of Kent upon her marriage to Prince George, the fourth son of George V and Queen Mary, in November 1934.

Princess Marina was born into the Greek Royal Family, who themselves were Danish, while Marina's mother was a Russian archduchess and granddaughter of Tsar Alexander II. With her model-thin body the newly-minted Duchess of Kent quickly earned a reputation as a fashion plate, while her doe-like demeanour endeared her to the British public, especially after the tragic wartime death of her husband in August 1942.

Princess Marina remained an active member of the British Royal Family throughout her widowhood, even attending the independence of Ghana (the first of the British Empire's colonies to attain nationhood) in March 1957. It's this sense of duty she instilled in her children - the present Duke of Kent, Princess Alexandra, and Prince Michael of Kent - who all support the Queen where and when they can; in fact, when the Duke of Kent attended Ghana's fiftieth anniversary celebrations in 2007 he could be said to have been representing both his mother and his queen.

Her Royal Highness was buried on this day in 1968, three days after her sudden death at Kensington Palace from a brain tumour; aged only 61, she died just hours after her condition was announced to the Nation. The ceremony - held at St. George's Chapel, Windsor - was attended by all the usual suspects, including her brother-in-law the Duke of Windsor, who flew in from France in order to get the cold shoulder from everyone else. The following year Princess Marina was immortalized in pop culture by The Kinks, whose song She's Bought A Hat Like Princess Marina appeared on their concept album Arthur (Or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire), released in October 1969.
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"Monday, Monday" by The Mamas and The Papas

Monday, Monday wasn't the first hit for The Mamas and the Papas, but it was their biggest - at least in terms of chart position, eventually reaching #1 in the US; originally included on their album If You Can Believe Your Eyes and Ears in 1966, it was also the first song to attain such giddy heights by a group featuring both men and women, and won the band a Grammy Award in March 1967.

Cass Elliot, of course, died in July 1974, John Phillips* in March 2001, and Denny Doherty in January 2007, leaving Michelle Phillips as the band's only surviving member.

*Who was born on this day in 1935.
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In Memoriam: Molly Ivins

When Molly Ivins - born on this day in 1944 - succumbed to cancer in January 2007 we liberal loudmouths lost more than just a spokeswoman, we lost a friend...

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketWhat gets me about Ivins' work is how she could spend a lifetime writing about not only politics but Texas politics and not 1) blow her head off with a rifle, 2) be more outraged than she is, or 3) lose her sense of humour.

I'd like to think her work has taught me an alternative way to express my outrage over corruption. While the Carl Hiaasen method is more fun (and undoubtedly attracts more attention, at least in the short term) Molly Ivins' homespun way of looking at the eternal spiral of greed and graft among our overlords is probably best designed for the long run. After all, given enough time even the worst outrages fade; what ought to remain is a reminder that even though names change, human nature doesn't.

In time there will be scandals that not even Molly Ivins herself could have predicted. Thankfully she left behind a recipe for us to deal with it without losing our heads.
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POPnews - August 30th

[After being arrested, Fanny Kaplan gave the following statement:
My name is Fanya Kaplan. Today I shot at Lenin. I did it on my own. I will not say from whom I obtained my revolver. I will give no details. I had resolved to kill Lenin long ago. I consider him a traitor to the Revolution. I was exiled to Akatui for participating in an assassination attempt against a Tsarist official in Kiev. I spent 11 years at hard labour. After the Revolution, I was freed. I favoured the Constituent Assembly and am still for it.
She was executed four days later...]

1363 - The Battle of Lake Poyang began, pitting the forces of two Chinese rebel leaders - Chen Youliang of the Han and Zhu Yuanzhang of the Ming - against each other in what would become one of the largest naval battles in history, during the last decade of the ailing, Mongol-led Yuan Dynasty. Hostilities would last until October 4th, and within five years of his victory Zhu would become the Hongwu Emperor, first of the Ming Dynasty to rule after the fall of the Yuan.

1574 - Guru Ram Das became the Fourth Sikh Guru.

1791 - The HMS Pandora - sent to Pitcairn Island under the command of Captain Edward Edwards to arrest those responsible for the Mutiny on the Bounty - sank after running aground on the Great Barrier Reef the previous day.

- Gabriel Prosser attempted to incite a slave rebellion in Richmond, Virginia, only to be thwarted by inclement weather; he was officially (if informally*) pardoned by Governor Tim Kaine on this day in 2007.
*Because the pardon being granted was posthumous it was also informal.

1813 - During the so-called Creek War a faction of Creek Red Sticks led by Peter McQueen and William Weatherford (known as Red Eagle) carried out the Fort Mims Massacre in Alabama.

1835 - Settlers from Tasmania founded Melbourne, Australia.

1836 - The Texas city of Houston was founded by Augustus Chapman Allen and John Kirby Allen.

1862 - After three days of fierce fighting Union forces under John Pope were defeated by the Confederates of Robert E. Lee at the Second Battle of Bull Run during the American Civil War.

1909 - The Burgess Shale fossils were discovered by Charles Doolittle Walcott near Field, British Columbia.

1918 - Bolshevik leader V. I. Lenin was shot and seriously wounded by Fanny Kaplan, who was formerly a member of the Socialist Revolutionary Party.

1922 - The Battle of Dumlupinar - the final engagement in the Greco-Turkish War (which was itself part of the larger Turkish War of Independence) - provided a decisive victory for Mustafa Kemal Atatürk over Greek commander Georgios Hatzianestis near the Turkish town of Kütahya following a four-day fight with heavy casualties on both sides.

1956 - The southbound lane of the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway opened.

1962 - Japan's Nihon Aircraft Manufacturing Corporation conducted a test of the NAMC YS-11, the country's only successfully manufactured aircraft following World War II; in total 182 of the turboprop airliners would be built before their production ceased in 1974, although the last one in domestic use wasn't grounded on September 2006.

1967 - Thurgood Marshall was confirmed as Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court.

1968 - Britain's Princess Marina was buried at Frogmore next to her husband following a funeral at St. George's Chapel, Windsor; she'd died of a brain tumour at her home in Kensington Palace on August 27th, only hours after the Nation first learned of her dire condition.

1976 - London's annual Notting Hill Carnival ended in a riot.

1982 - Following an invasion of Lebanon by the Israel Defense Forces - during an operation which has come to be known as the Siege of Beirut - Palestine Liberation Organization leader Yasir Arafat was forced to leave his headquarters in Beirut for the first time in a decade.

1984 - The Space Shuttle Discovery had its maiden launch; its most recent mission is ongoing as of this date, and two more are planned for it before the craft is retired along with the rest of the Space Shuttle fleet in 2010 to make way for NASA's next phase, Project Constellation.

1999 - East Timor voted in favour of independence from Indonesia.
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