Friday, October 01, 2010

Harry Hill: Hornophone Virtuoso

Birthday wishes go out to Harry Hill, who gave up a career as a doctor to become a stand-up comedian. Sounds like a fair trade to me. After all, laughter is supposed to be the best medicine.

From his first show, Harry Hill's Fruit Corner on BBC's Radio 4 to his current show Harry Hill's TV Burp, the good doctor delights audiences with his surreal take on life.
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Pop History Moment: The LA Times Bombing


On this day in 1910 the Los Angeles Times Building - at the corner of First and Broadway in downtown LA - was destroyed by a bomb consisting of 16 sticks of dynamite planted in Ink Alley, which ran behind the building. Originally the bomb's timer had been set to go off at 4 AM - when the building would have been empty; instead, the bomb actually went off just after 1 AM, as many staff were finishing for the day. 21 employees were killed and 100 injured in the ill-timed blast, mostly in the ensuing fire caused by damage to a nearby gas main*, of which the bombers had seemingly been unaware. Not only was the Times Building destroyed but the neighbouring building which housed its printing press also went up in flames.

The next day unexploded bombs were discovered at the home of the Times' union-busting publisher Harrison Gray Otis, as well as at the home of F.J. Zeehandelaar (secretary of the pro-business Merchants and Manufacturers' Association), the Alexander Hotel, and the Los Angeles County Hall of Records (then under construction by the non-union Llewellyn Iron Works). All were thought to be related, and the work of a single bomber or group; in those days, and given the selected targets, unionists were the most likely suspects.

John J. ('J.J.') and James B. ('J.B.') McNamara of the International Association of Bridge and Structural Iron Workers were arrested in April of the following year for their parts in the December bombing of the Llewellyn Iron Works and put on trial for their role in both acts. Responsible for their capture was private detective William J. Burns, who would later become head of the Bureau of Investigation (before its mandate became federal); Burns was rabidly opposed to unions and their members. The manner of the capture of the McNamaras has also been the source of much controversy, as it involves more forcible confinement and possible torture than it does police procedure.

The brothers McNamara were defended in court by Clarence Darrow, who'd been hired by Samuel Gompers, president of the American Federation of Labor (AFL); Darrow believed the men were guilty, but didn't believe it had been their intention to kill anyone, and so he had them plead guilty to avoid the death penalty. Muckraking journalist Lincoln Steffens - who spoke to the men while in custody - also believed they were guilty, but that their crime was a form of justifiable homicide, given how strenuously the robber barons were working to deprive the working man of a decent livelihood.

J.B. dutifully confessed to setting the bomb at the Los Angeles Times and received a life sentence, while J.J. served ten years hard labour for the bombing of the Llewellyn Iron Works. After his release J.J. became an organizer for the union. The entire story has been retold in the 2008 book American Lightning: Terror, Mystery, the Birth of Hollywood, and the Crime of the Century by Howard Blum.

*Those who weren't were crushed when the building's second story collapsed onto the ground floor.

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POPnews (US) - October 1st

[New York City's George Washington Bridge is the only direct above-ground road connection between the island of Manhattan and the American mainland, making for a most dramatic gateway while traveling in either direction.]

1800 - Spain's Don Mariano Luis de Urquijo ceded Louisiana to France's Louis Alexandre Berthier via the secretive Third Treaty of San Ildefonso; due to the uncertain cartography of the times, the territory included in the subsequent Louisiana Purchase of 1803 was disputed (which confusion was only partially settled by the Adams-Onís Treaty of 1819).

1890 - Yosemite National Park in California was established by the US Congress.

1891 - California's Stanford University officially opened with a co-ed student body of 559 and 15 faculty; among those students in attendance on that propitious day was future President Herbert Hoover who, because he was the first student to reside in dorm, thereafter claimed to be the school's first student.

1903 - The Boston Americans, now known as the Boston Red Sox, met the Pittsburgh Penguins at the Huntingdon Avenue Grounds in the first World Series; Boston won the series 5-3.

1908 - Henry Ford introduced the Model T, with a price tag of $825; the so-called Tin Lizzie would remain a perennial bestseller until it was discontinued in favour of the Model A in May 1927, and has been named the 20th Century's most influential automobile. A full decade after its discontinuance Upton Sinclair published The Flivver King, an expose of life under the Ford regime at the height of Model T-mania which later brought about the unionization of the company that made them.

1910 - A large bomb destroyed the Los Angeles Times building in downtown Los Angeles, killing 21.

1926 - An oil field accident cost aviator Wiley Post his left eye; he used the settlement money to buy his first aircraft, and the combination of the two would later literally prove his downfall.

1931 - Work was completed on the George Washington Bridge between upper Manhattan and Fort Lee, New Jersey; originally designed by Cass Gilbert as a concrete- and stone-clad structure, when work began in October 1927 the financial crisis of the Great Depression made this aspect of the design budgetarily infeasible, and it was subsequently abandoned. The resulting tracery of bare beams make the bridge a much-loved landmark in New York City as-is, not to mention well-used; more than 100 million cars cross it every year.

1940 - The Pennsylvania Turnpike, often considered America's first superhighway, opened to traffic.

1942 - The USS Grouper torpedoed the Japanese freighter Lisbon Maru not knowing she was carrying 1800 Allied PoWs from Hong Kong, 800 of whom drowned in the disaster; while the Axis vessel was at fault for not bearing the appropriate markings, an untold number of those who died were shot by Japanese officers for attempting to escape the sinking ship.

1947 - The F-86 Sabre flew for the first time at California's Muroc Dry Lake.

1957 - In God We Trust first appeared on American paper money, though it had begun appearing on US coins as early as 1861.

1958 - NASA was created to replace NACA.

1961 - Roger Maris of the New York Yankees hit his 61st home run of the season, breaking Babe Ruth's record of 60 set in 1927.

1962 - The first broadcast of The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson was aired.

1964 - The Free Speech Movement was launched at the University of California, Berkeley under the informal leadership of students Mario Savio, Brian Turner, Bettina Apthecker, Steve Weissman, Art Goldberg, Jackie Goldberg, and others

1971 - Walt Disney World opened in Orlando, Florida; EPCOT Center would open on the same day in 1982.

1979 - Pope John Paul II began his first trip to the United States.

1987 - The Whittier Narrows earthquake shook the San Gabriel Valley, registering as a magnitude 5.9.
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"7 Seconds" by Youssou N'Dour with Neneh Cherry

Birthday wishes go out today to Youssou N'Dour, the Senegalese songster who in 1994 teamed up with Neneh Cherry to record 7 Seconds; a pan-European and multi-lingual effort, it topped charts throughout the Continent and around the world, in some nations breaking duration records. The song's theme concerns that moment of purity when a baby is born, before it discovers the pain of the world, and is accompanied by a stylish video, which was directed by French fashion photographer Stéphane Sednaoui.
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Happy Birthday Mr. President

The presidency of Jimmy Carter was plagued by the times in which it occurred; it's unlikely any President - even one of the most popular ones - could have surmounted the myriad challenges presented by the difficult times of the late 1970s...

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketCarter's post-Presidency, however, more than redeems his rather dismal single term in the White House. After all, most ex-Presidents routinely do a couple of years of high-paid speaking, scoop a hefty advance for writing their memoirs, and then retire to a life of golf and fishing, before finally taking up a career of drooling into their bib. That is to say, those who don't get shot while on duty.

Carter, on the other hand, did the speaking, wrote the memoirs (and more than 20 other books besides), built houses with Habitat for Humanity (making it a household name in the process), won the Nobel Peace Prize (one of only three US Presidents to do so), and monitored elections in several developing democracies. The fact that no one's tried to shoot him for doing all that can only mean that he is some kind of an alien.

In 1982 he established the Carter Center in Atlanta, adjacent to his Presidential Library, with the stated goal of advancing human rights and alleviating suffering; currently, projects at the center benefit people in 70 countries worldwide. Going against tradition, he's decided not to be buried there, but will spend his eternity in front of the home where he's lived his whole life, in Plains.

Nearly twenty years after leaving the White House, President Carter was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom for all his good works, the most important of dozens of others he's received; today he turns a spry 86, and shows no signs of letting up, for which millions - if not billions - of people around the world are grateful.
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POPnews (UK) - October 1st

[In March 1978 the seminal Mod revival band The Jam released their fourth single, News of the World, which - despite only attaining the #27 position on the UK charts - persists in Britain's popular culture to this day largely for having been chosen as the theme tune of the satirical current events panel show, Mock the Week, hosted by Dara Ó Briain; the song's video - among the world's first - was shot on the roof of the Battersea Power Station.]

959 CE
- Edgar the Peaceable became the first King to rule a united England; his reign represents the pinnacle of the Anglo-Saxon era.

1843 - John Browne Bell began publishing News of the World in London under the motto 'All human life is there'; then, as now, the paper's version of 'all human life' tended toward the seamier end of the spectrum and appealed to those people who, for whatever reason, enjoy reading about it.

1946 - Mensa International was founded by Roland Berrill and Dr. Lancelot Ware.

1985 - Rioting erupted in both the Liverpool neighbourhood of Toxteth and Peckham in the London Borough of Southwark.

2004 - British Prime Minister Tony Blair underwent heart surgery.
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"The Lonely Goatherd" by Julie Andrews and The Muppets

I may be wrong, of course*, but I think I'd find this funny even if I wasn't high; it's birthdame Julie Andrews - long a fan of Jim Henson's creations - on The Muppet Show, singing The Lonely Goatherd which she did in Episode 217. The number not only contains a gorgeous model of an alpenhaus, but also an appearance by one of my favourite obscure Muppets, Annie Sue. Now that's what I call entertainment!

*Always a strong possibility with me.
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Happy Birthday Julie Andrews

As part of our ongoing celebration of the world's most fabulous people the Pop Culture Institute would like to wish one of the most fabulous - namely, Dame Julie Andrews - all the best. I mean, it's only fair; whether on stage or screen, in recordings or in person, she's always given us all her best...

PhotobucketBorn on this day in 1935, Andrews was a child actor in English music halls who made her Broadway debut all the way back in 1954, in the musical The Boy Friend; she followed it up with My Fair Lady (opposite Rex Harrison) in 1956, and Camelot (opposite Richard Burton) in 1960.

Handily making the jump to movies, Andrews was offered the title role in Mary Poppins as her film debut but had to turn it down because she was pregnant; Walt Disney held up production in order to wait for her, and when the film was finally released in 1964 Disney's patience paid off... Although Andrews had originated the role of Eliza Doolittle on stage she'd been passed over for the film version of My Fair Lady in favour of Audrey Hepburn, only to be offered Mary Poppins as a kind of consolation prize; yet it was Andrews who received that year's Best Actress Oscar, beating out Hepburn - some consolation indeed! Despite the fact that the press tried to bait the two into a rivalry, both Andrews and Hepburn were far too classy to fall for that.

Proving that she was no fluke, Andrews' film follow-up was The Sound of Music, the all-singin' all-dancin' juggernaut that had the von Trapp family and their nun/governess defeating both the Anschluss and the Nazi menace seemingly all by themselves; it made so much money a new number - the kazillion - had to be made up to calculate the profits. Such success allowed Andrews the luxury of choosing idiosyncratic material, and boy did she ever! That one career could contain (among others) those films already mentioned plus Alfred Hitchcock's Torn Curtain, Thoroughly Modern Millie, Star!, 10, S.O.B., and my personal favourite Victor/Victoria is a testament to the lady's immense talent.

Although at one time blessed with perfect pitch - and a four octave range besides - surgery to remove non-cancerous nodules from her throat did a Little Mermaid trick on her, and she will never sing again. Andrews filed a malpractice suit against the doctors who did the deed, but it might as well have been a class-action suit filed by her legions of fans. Despite the loss of her unique gift, her career has experienced a resurgence in the 21st Century, largely as a result of her many other gifts: namely charm, style, and verve. As one of the few people in the entertainment business whose appeal is truly universal it shows no sign of dimming; in fact, since she's started writing books, it can safely be said that the career of Dame Julie Andrews is going stronger than ever. I can almost hear Eliza Doolittle exclaiming 'PHWOOO-AAAR!'
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Remembering... Laurence Harvey

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketHe was renowned for playing cads - the kind of men who treat women like shit but who, because they're tall and thin and devastatingly handsome and have posh British accents, never lack for women to treat like shit - and he did it very well indeed. Onscreen, at least...

Yet behind his suave and supercilious exterior dwelt a secret; this quintessentially English actor with the plummy voice was actually born in Lithuania, to Jewish parents.

From his appearance in I Am A Camera (1955) to his star making turn in Room at the Top (1959) he struggled to find success, and once he'd found it he didn't disappoint; Expresso Bongo (1960), BUtterfield 8 (1960), The Manchurian Candidate (1962), and Darling (1965) all display him at his cool, sexy best.

Born on this day in 1928, Laurence Harvey died in November 1973.
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"Venus" by Shocking Blue

Birthday wishes go out today to Mariska Veres, singer with Dutch beat combo Shocking Blue, whose song Venus went all the way to Number One around the world in 1970; following the band's breakup in June 1974 Veres continued in a solo career until Shocking Blue's brief reunion in 1984, around the same time Bananarama had a hit of their own with the song.

Born on this day in 1947, Veres died of cancer in December 2006, singing right up to the end...
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POPnews - October 1st

[The Siege of Acre was the first engagement of the Third Crusade, which devastated Europe's aristocracy by pitting the good Christians of Europe - who came to the defense of the Kingdom of Jerusalem on the orders of Pope Gregory VIII and his successor Clement III - against Saladin.]

331 BCE - At the Battle of Gaugamela, Alexander the Great defeated Darius III.

1189 - Gerard de Ridefort - grandmaster of the Knights Templar since 1184 - was killed at the Siege of Acre.

1829 - South African College was founded in Cape Town; it was later separated into the University of Cape Town and the South African College Schools.

1894 - Cape Town's Owl Club held its first meeting.

1936 - Francisco Franco's rise to power at the helm of the Nationalists was nearly complete when he was named Generalísimo of the National army and Jefe del Estado (Head of State); following the end of the Spanish Civil War in April 1939 he served as Spain's dictator until his death in November 1975.

1938 - Nazi Germany stole annexed the Sudetenland.

1939 - After the month-long Siege of Warsaw, Nazi Germany's Wehrmacht occupied the city.

1946 - The opening round of the Nuremburg Trials closed; 24 prominent surviving Nazis were tried, four of whom were acquitted and 1 of whom committed suicide before the trial opened.

1949 - The People's Republic of China was proclaimed by Mao Zedong.

1960 - Nigeria gained its independence from the United Kingdom.

1961 - Following a truly bewildering colonial past which saw it passed between Germany, France, and the United Kingdom from 1884 onwards, East and West Cameroon merged as the Federal Republic of Cameroon and finally attained its independence from all of them.

1964 - The Shinkansen bullet train service began between Tokyo and Osaka.

1965 - Indonesia's General Suharto crushed a coup attempt aimed at unseating President Sukarno; millions of Indonesians were killed in its aftermath, which included the liquidation of the Communist Party. Suharto's real motive, however, appears to have been a plot to seize power for himself, which he did in 1967.

1969 - Concorde broke the sound barrier for the first time.

1975 - At a fight dubbed the Thrilla in Manila Joe Frazier was defeated by Muhammad Ali in the 14th round; despite trash-talking prior to the fight, Ali was magnanimous in victory, praising Frazier for 'bringing out the best' in him.

1978 - Tuvalu gained its independence from the United Kingdom.

1982 - Sony launched the first CD player designed for the consumer market.

1991 - New Zealand's Resource Management Act went into effect.

2005 - 23 died and 129 were injured by suicide bombers in Bali.
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