Sunday, October 10, 2010

In Memoriam: Harold Pinter

When, in 2005, Harold Pinter was awarded the Nobel Prize, it came after a career in the theatre spanning five decades; a career, it hardly needs to be said, which then showed no signs of slowing down.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketYet, if it was up to him, he would have spent his career between the wickets - as a cricketer - instead of writing the important works of political and social realism he did. In fact, Pinter's works are so important, he became an adjective: Pinter-esque. In a Pinter play, as much can be said with a pause as with words.

In the same way, Pinter's work as a screenwriter, poet, essayist and director says as much as his work as a playwright does. The French government agreed when, in 2007, it awarded Pinter the Légion d'honneur for 'seeking to capture all the facets of the human spirit'.

Born on this day in 1930, Harold Pinter died in December 2008, and is survived by his second wife, the historian Antonia Fraser and Daniel Pinter, a son by his first wife, Vivien Merchant.
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"Letting Go Of God" with Julia Sweeney

It's a bit long, but 17 minutes of Julia Sweeney is 17 minutes of charm, which makes it all worthwhile watching, especially on this, her 51st birthday.
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The Death of Eddie Cantor

Prior to his death, Eddie Cantor was one of the biggest stars in the world. Time, though, has not been kind to his memory, and in the years since then his contemporaries - George Burns, Bob Hope, Jack Benny - saw their careers flourish while Cantor's legacy has languished.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketCantor's career began as a singing waiter at Coney Island, where his accompanist was his fellow future legend Jimmy Durante. Cantor made the transition to vaudeville as early as 1907, working his way up to headlining for Florenz Ziegfeld by 1916 alongside such stars as Will Rogers and W.C. Fields, at which point he'd already begun appearing in films. Cantor's first radio appearance was in 1931, and he made the transition to television almost the minute it went on the air in the late 1940s.

Although he was financially wiped out by the Stock Market Crash of 1929, the Great Depression also gave Cantor's career (not to mention his bank account) just the boost it needed. His recordings of songs like Cheer Up, Smile, Nertz! were just what the public needed, and his book Caught Short! A Saga of Wailing Wall Street was credited by none other than H. L. Mencken himself for single-handedly taking the depression out of the Depression.

Part of the reason Cantor's popularity has not been sustained, I think, is that he often worked in blackface; even though he frequently worked alongside the black minstrel Bert Williams - unlike, say, Al Jolson - blackface of the malicious variety practiced on Amos 'n' Andy has rightly been out of favour since the 1930s.

Despite his use of blackface, though, Cantor's politics were always in the right place.

When he was hosting The Colgate Comedy Hour in the 1950s he had on a young performer named Sammy Davis, Jr. Cantor was so familiar with Davis during the broadcast - hugging him, wiping Davis' brow with his own handkerchief, and so forth - that NBC protested by threatening to pull their backing from the show. Cantor's response was to book Davis for the rest of the season. He had responded in a similar manner when during the late 1930s he was outspoken in his opposition to Adolf Hitler's Nazis, and many affiliates refused to carry his show.

Late in life, Eddie Cantor suffered from heart troubles, and it was a heart attack that claimed him on this day in 1964; the following year he was awarded an honorary Oscar for his body of work in the movies, charitable work on behalf of the March of Dimes (which he co-founded), and in general his contributions in all areas of show business over most of the previous 60 years.
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Remembering... Jay Sebring

As hairdresser to the stars, Jay Sebring seemed to have everything: acclaim, money, and access to the Hollywood elite. Yet, to those closest to him, behind it all was a lonely man. Nevertheless, he was charming, as well as savvy in business; in its day his company, Sebring International, was wildly successful.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketBorn Thomas Kummer on this day in 1933, he changed his name when he ended up in Los Angeles following a four-year hitch in the Navy. Soon enough his clients included Steve McQueen and Warren Beatty (it's a given in Hollywood that Warren Beatty's career-defining role in the 1975 film Shampoo was partly inspired by his friend Jay Sebring); by 1960 he was well-known enough to be chosen by Kirk Douglas to create hairstyles for the movie Spartacus.

In 1964 Jay Sebring made a fateful connection, one that would eventually lead to his death. While partying at the Whisky a Go Go nightclub he met Sharon Tate, and fell in love at first sight; they were soon engaged, and for a couple of years seemed happy together. In 1966, though, Tate broke off their engagement and married Roman Polanski. Despite this, Sebring remained close to the couple. It was Polanski who, at this time, noted that they were more like Sebring's family than his actual family.

In August 1969, Sebring, Tate, and their jet-set pals Wojciech Frykowski and Abigail Folger were hanging out at Tate's house on Cielo Drive when members of the Manson Family entered the home. They shot Sebring first, then assaulted him as he lay dying, before killing the others.
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"A New England" by Kirsty MacColl

Born this day in 1959, Kirsty MacColl was a different kind of pop star; foregoing the glamour trap, she preferred to be known for her solid musicianship, and was. Likewise, her unwillingness to conform to genre - she performed in whatever oeuvre struck her, from punk to torch to Latin - meant that the narrow-minded record industry had nowhere to put her.

Beginning with this song - A New England - which was written by Billy Bragg, MacColl became known as a 'cover queen'; whether she was covering other people's songs, or they were covering hers (most famously, Tracey Ullman with They Don't Know and, more recently, Bette Midler, whose version of In These Shoes appears on her album Bathhouse Betty and was featured on Sex and the City), spoke of MacColl's lack of ego. Arguably her biggest hit is a duet with the Pogues called Fairytale of New York which reappears every Christmas.

Her tragic death in December 2000 at the hands of Mexican millionaire Guillermo González Nova has never been satisfactorily resolved; nevertheless, a memorial bench in London's Soho Square has given her friends and fans alike a place to congregate on the Sunday nearest this date to sing her songs in remembrance.
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Pop History Moment: The Kidnapping of Pierre Laporte

From 1945 to 1961 Pierre Laporte worked at the newspaper Le Devoir, where he quickly gained a reputation for his crusading work against the right-wing tyranny of Premier Maurice Duplessis. After Duplessis' death, Laporte ran for office, and was elected to serve the constituency of Chambly as a Liberal, where he served in the cabinet of Jean Lesage.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketAlthough he ran for the leadership of the party in 1969, Laporte was considered to be on the party's left wing; he lost to the more centrist Robert Bourassa, who appointed Laporte deputy premier and Minister of Labour.

On this day in 1970 Pierre Laporte was kidnapped from his home in Saint-Lambert, a suburb of Montreal, by terrorists with the Front de libération du Québec (FLQ) as part of that group's escalating campaign of terror in the province. While it's almost understandable that the FLQ - themselves a Marxist organization - would kidnap British Diplomat James Cross (which they had done on October 5th) blindly loathing as they did everything anglais, observers were stumped as to why they would snatch a prominent left-wing journalist and politician; possibly they felt he was a dupe.

Whatever effect the FLQ might have thought kidnapping Laporte would have, I doubt they could have imagined what actually happened. Within days Jean Drapeau, the mayor of Montreal, and Laporte's boss Premier Bourassa were successful in their efforts to get Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau to invoke the War Measures Act to deal with the rising unrest.

Alas, it was to no avail; a week after his capture, Pierre Laporte's strangled body was found in the trunk of a car. He was 49. Despite being given lengthy sentences, none of his killers were jailed longer than 11 years. Laporte is buried in the Cimetière Notre-Dame-des-Neiges in Montreal.
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POPnews - October 10th

['If Pac-Man had affected us as kids we'd be running around in dark rooms, munching pills and listening to repetitive music.' So says comedian Marcus Brigstocke, whose insights into the effects of various media on those who partake of it are gobbled up by the denizens of the Pop Culture Institute as greedily as Pac-Man goes after ghosts...]

732 CE
- At the Battle of Tours Charles Martel, leader of the Franks, defeated a force of the Umayyad Caliphate, thus preventing the further invasion of Europe by the forces of Islam.

1868 - Carlos Céspedes issued the Grito de Yara from his plantation, La Demajagua, proclaiming Cuba's independence.

1910 - The Tau Epsilon Phi fraternity was established at Columbia University.

1911 - The Wuchang Uprising led to the demise of Qing Dynasty (the last Imperial court in China) and the founding of the Republic of China.

1919 - Richard Strauss' opera Die Frau ohne Schatten - with a libretto by Hugo von Hofmannsthal - had its debut performance in Vienna.

1920 - The Carinthian Plebiscite determined that the larger part of Carinthia should remain part of Austria.

1933 - A United Airlines Boeing 247 exploded in mid-air between Cleveland and Chicago, crashing near Chesterton, Indiana, making it the first verifiable incident of sabotage against a passenger airliner. All three crew and four passengers aboard died, including Alice Scribner, who was the first flight attendant ever killed in a plane crash. The investigator, famed FBI man Melvin Purvis, concluded that nitrolglycerin in the baggage compartment caused the two explosions that brought down the plane, though no culprit has ever been identified.

1938 - The Blue Water Bridge opened between Port Huron in Michigan and Sarnia, Ontario.

1943 - The Double Tenth Incident occurred in Japanese occupied Singapore, in which the Kempeitai arrested and tortured 57 civilians suspected of involvement in Operation Jaywick.

1957 - The UK's Windscale fire was the world's first major nuclear accident.

1964 - The opening ceremony of the 1964 Summer Olympics in Tokyo was broadcast live, the first Olympic telecast ever to be relayed by geostationary communication satellite.

1967 - The Outer Space Treaty, signed on January 27th by more than sixty nations, came into force.

1969 - King Crimson released In the Court of the Crimson King, thought by many to be the first example of progressive, or 'prog', rock.

1970 - Fiji gained its independence from the United Kingdom.

1971 - Sold to oil tycoon Robert McCulloch, carefully dismantled and moved to the United States, the London Bridge reopened in Lake Havasu City, Arizona.

1973 - Spiro Agnew resigned as US Vice-President amid charges of tax evasion.

1975 - Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor married for the second time while on safari in Botswana.

1979 - The Pac-Man arcade game was released in Japan.

1985 - US Navy F-14 fighter jets intercepted an Egyptian plane carrying the Achille Lauro cruise ship hijackers and forced it to land at Naval Air Station Sigonella in Sicily, where they were arrested.
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