Tuesday, October 26, 2010

"Gott'n Idea" by Alma Cogan

It was still early in her career when Alma Cogan was being proclaimed throughout England as 'The Girl With the Laugh In Her Voice' owing to the spontaneous giggle she'd let slip in her 1953 recording of If I Had A Golden Umbrella...

Yet from these earliest professional appearances - such as on the BBC's radio comedy program Take It From Here (alongside the likes of June Whitfield) in that same year - Cogan's silky vocals were well-sought-after, and she recorded a string of hits (mainly cover versions of American songs) in the 1950s; probably the best known of these is her only #1 hit, Dreamboat. During this time she would become England's highest paid female performer...

By the 1960s Cogan's image was well out of date with the hipsters who bought the majority of the records, and in the face of increased apathy by the major labels she became better known as a hostess to London's glittering elite*, including The Beatles - whom she'd met in January 1964 during the filming of Sunday Night at the London Palladium. Hoping to capitalize on her connection with the world's most popular band, Cogan hustled back into the recording studio - in fact, Studio 1 at Abbey Road Studios, where so much of Lennon and McCartney's magic was to be wrought - but it was to be all in vain...

Alma Cogan died - of ovarian cancer, her system badly weakened owing to experimental diet treatments - on this day in 1966 following a three-week stay at Middlesex Hospital, before she could be embraced by a new generation as camp. She was 34.

Here we see her performing Gott'n Idea for the noted arranger formerly known as Wally Stott in 1955's The Eric Winstone Bandshow.

*As well as those bold-faced American names who found themselves in the capital.
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Remembering... Hattie McDaniel

Although she never really faded from the collective consciousness, Jill Watts' memorable 2005 biography Hattie McDaniel: Black Ambition, White Hollywood does much to limn the legacy of one of black Hollywood's pioneers...

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketFamous in her day for the quote 'I'd rather play a maid for $700 a week than be a maid for $7', Hattie McDaniel was nothing if not true to her credo, eventually becoming the first African-American to win an Academy Award - Best Supporting Actress - for her portrayal of Mammy in Gone with the Wind (1939); she was also the first black woman to sing on the radio, the first black woman to star in her own radio and television program, and as early as the late 1920s record for Okeh Records...

McDaniel appeared in over 300 films during her career (although she only received onscreen credit for about 80 of them) including minor turns in Blonde Venus (1932) with Marlene Dietrich and I'm No Angel (1933) with Mae West (alongside another pioneer Louise Beavers), and a memorable one in Alice Adams (1935) with Katharine Hepburn; following her Oscar win she appeared in In This Our Life (1942) with Bette Davis and The Male Animal (1942) with Henry Fonda. Her final film role was Family Honeymoon (1949) with Claudette Colbert.

In life as in death her legacy has been blunted by political correctness; throughout the 1940s the NAACP lobbied Hollywood to write better roles for blacks than menials. Hollywood's response was typical; it simply stopped casting blacks altogether, a prohibition which lasted well into the 1970s, when the Blaxploitation genre first surfaced.

Not one to let such a turn of events get her down, Hattie McDaniel embarked on the final role of her career, that of Beulah - yet another wise-cracking maid. When she first played the role on radio McDaniel was the first black woman to have played the role; previously Beulah had been played by Marlin Hurt, a white man. McDaniel later replaced Ethel Waters in the role on television; after only a few episodes, she was diagnosed with breast cancer, and was in turn replaced by Louise Beavers.

Hattie McDaniel died on this day in 1952 at the Motion Picture House in Woodland Hills, California; she was 57. Once again she was followed by Louise Beavers, who also died on this day, in 1962.

Denied the opportunity to be buried at Hollywood Cemetery on Santa Monica Boulevard because she was black, McDaniel was instead buried at Angelus Rosedale Cemetery, now a part of Colonel Allensworth State Historic Park. In 1999, seeking to redress this egregious bigotry, the new owners of the Hollywood Cemetery offered her family the chance to bury her there after all; unwilling to disturb her remains, the offer was refused. Instead, the newly renamed Hollywood Forever Cemetery installed a cenotaph in her honour, which remains a popular attraction there.
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Happy Birthday Seth MacFarlane

Creator of Family Guy and American Dad!, Seth MacFarlane came thisclose to dying in the 9-11 attacks; arriving at the airport about ten minutes too late, he was booked onto the next flight, and watched as the plane he'd missed flew into the North Tower of the World Trade Center.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketThis was not the first time the universe was watching out for him. After Family Guy was originally cancelled, it proved so popular in reruns and especially on DVD that it was brought back - twice! It was the first cancelled show ever to be resurrected based on DVD sales alone - Seasons 1 & 2 sold 2.2 million copies in the first year, one of them to the Pop Culture Institute - a testament to how lucrative the home video market is to the networks.

In addition to animating both shows (designing the models, as they say) MacFarlane is also a talented voiceover artist, providing the voices for Peter Griffin, Brian Griffin, Stewie Griffin, Tom Tucker the Anchorman, Glenn Quagmire on Family Guy as well as Stan Smith and Roger the Alien on American Dad!. He's also done voices for Robot Chicken.

I like Family Guy well enough for the way it pushes envelopes left unpushed by The Simpsons (often proving only that some envelopes should remain unpushed, but oh well...) For my money, though, American Dad! is the better show; firstly, because it has a stronger narrative with fewer flashbacks, and secondly I just like its characters and overall look better, not to mention the more political aspect of its humour.
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"Stretchin' Out" by Bootsy Collins

Funk legend Bootsy Collins, bass player extraordinaire and 'the world's only rhinestone rockstar monster of a doll' today turns 59. Right on!

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The Death of Alfred the Great

Although the date of his death is known, the year is not; such is the obstinate reticence of history that things like these which cannot be known for certain aren't ever likely to be discovered either...

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketThe principle source of contemporary information about the life and exploits of the only English king ever to be granted the honorific 'the Great' is the notoriously inaccurate Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, which gives the year of his death as 901 CE. In fact, it isn't even known for certain when he was born, how many siblings he had, where or how he died.

The callous disregard history had for him in life is nothing compared to the disrespect it afforded him in death; originally buried in the Old Minster at his capital, Winchester, his bones were later moved to New Minster, thence to Hyde Abbey, and were either scattered by mistake in 1788 or else reburied outside Winchester's St. Bartholomew's Church in the 19th Century.

Yet Alfred the Great is remembered for fighting off the Danes, for uniting southern England into the Kingdom of Wessex, and for being the first to codify English law; he came 14th in a recent poll of the 100 Greatest Britons, and is credited by both the Royal Navy and the US Navy as the founder of their traditions.
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In Memoriam: Jackie Coogan

Jackie Coogan - born on this day in 1914 - was practically born onstage; he made his first film appearance in 1917, by which time he was already a seasoned veteran of vaudeville like his father. A natural mimic, Coogan was discovered by Charlie Chaplin; in 1921, at the ripe old age of 7, he appeared in his most highly acclaimed movie role, playing the title character in Chaplin's The Kid.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketAppearing in numerous other silent films (many of which are now considered lost) including the title role in Frank Lloyd's Oliver Twist, by 1935 Coogan had earned as much as $4 million in the course of his movie career; all but $135,000 of it his parents squandered on drugs and alcohol. Because of their malfeasance, California passed the California Child Actor's Bill, which is sometimes called the Coogan Act in his honour.

That same year Coogan was the only survivor of a car crash in San Diego which claimed the lives of four people, including his father and his friend, fellow child star Trent 'Junior' Durkin. During a respite from acting (1939-47) Coogan served as a glider pilot in the Burma campaign of World War II; returning to Hollywood, he acted both in films and on television, where his role as Uncle Fester in The Addams Family (1964-6) earned him a new generation of fans.

Jackie Coogan died in March 1984, at the age of 69.
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"You'll Never Walk Alone" by Mahalia Jackson

Born this day in 1911, Mahalia Jackson left her native New Orleans in 1927, moving north to Chicago during the Great Migration. The foremost singer of gospel music, Mother Jackson was originally derided for the way she sang it, accused of trying to make gospel mainstream (as if the credo 'spread the word' wasn't essential Christian doctrine).

For her part, no one spread the word better than Mahalia Jackson; in fact, despite numerous lucrative offers, she repeatedly refused to sing secular music. Even this version of You'll Never Walk Alone - from 1945 Rodgers and Hammerstein musical Carousel - appears to have been recorded only for television, and she sings it as gospel nonetheless.

By the time of her death in January 1972 she had won over all her critics, and was hailed by all as the Queen of Gospel. Though only 60, she'd already been awarded a lifetime achievement Grammy and was the first gospel singer honoured with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
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Happy Birthday Hillary Rodham Clinton

Former First Lady and junior Senator from New York, current Secretary of State of the United States Hillary Rodham Clinton (born this day in 1947) is often referred to as a polarizing figure; but why?

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketObviously, any number of 'faults' can be attributed to her because she's a politician: that she has no opinions except those of her pollsters, that she does what she does because it's politically expedient (rather than personally meaningful to her), that she is coached and scripted to such a degree that a candid remark is as out of the question as a shag from Bill.

On all counts she is guilty of nothing that every other successful politician does (or ought to do), and in fact many of these qualities are (or ought to be) essential for a politician. After all, she's not elected to represent herself, but all her constituents, even those who did not vote for her.

It may be that she's a woman, and these are still misogynistic times; it may be that she came to her public role as a politician's wife (as First Lady of Arkansas, then of the United States) even though she was a successful lawyer first. Since the First Lady has no official role, the fact that she took on the urgently needed task of health care reform in 1993 rankled a considerable number of very powerful people, both in government and out, mainly since it looked (at first at least) as though she might actually succeed - much to the chagrin of vested interests opposed to publicly-funded health care.

In any event, corporate health care (aided and abetted by the machinery of government) chewed up and spat out whatever good she might have done for the health of the American poor, and she turned her attention elsewhere - namely to an unsuccessful but still meaningful run for the Presidency, which brought her to the very pinnacle of the Department of State, if it failed to provide her a triumphant return to the White House...
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POPnews - October 26th

[The pitted appearance of the far side of the Moon suggests that it has shielded Earth from a number of significant impacts, including the South Pole-Aitken basin, which is the largest known impact feature in our solar system.]

1640 - The Treaty of Ripon was signed, restoring peace between Scotland and Charles I.

1689 - Austrian General Enea Silvio Piccolomini burned down Skopje to prevent the spread of cholera - or possibly in retaliation for an earlier siege of Vienna; he died of cholera himself soon after, and either way, at least he didn't have to live with himself for what he'd done.

1774 - The first Continental Congress adjourned.

1825 - The Erie Canal opened, connecting the Hudson River at Albany, New York, to the Great Lakes via Lake Erie.

1859 - The Royal Charter was wrecked off the Welsh coast of Anglesey, with as many as 459 dead.

1881 - The Gunfight at the OK Corral took place in Tombstone, Arizona.

1905 - Norway's King Oscar II renounced his claim to Sweden, and by signing the Treaty of Separation gave the former its independence from the latter; Denmark's Prince Carl (husband of England's Princess Maud and therefore son-in-law of Edward VII) soon took over as Sweden's King Haakon VII.

1951 - Britain's Conservative Party, led by Sir Winston Churchill, swept Clement Attlee's Labour Party from power. READ MORE! Also, former Heavyweight boxing champ Joe Louis came out of retirement to fight Rocky Marciano, only to lose after eight rounds on the wrong end of a knockout.

1955 - Ngô Đình Diệm declared himself Premier of South Vietnam.

1959 - The world got its first glimpses at the far side of the Moon, courtesy of Luna 3.

1964 - Eric Edgar Cooke became the last person to be executed in Western Australia.

1967 - Mohammad Reza Pahlavi crowned himself Shah of Iran before crowning his wife Farah Diba the Shahbanu.

1977 - The last naturally occurring case of indigenous smallpox (Variola minor) was diagnosed in Ali Maow Maalin, a hospital cook in Merca, Somalia; the last naturally occurring case of the more deadly Variola major had been detected in October 1975 in a two-year-old Bangladeshi girl, Rahima Banu. The death of Janet Parker in September 1978 aside, the WHO and the CDC consider this the date smallpox was eliminated, a singular day for supporters of vaccination, since smallpox is the only infectious human disease to ever be eradicated.

1979 - The President of South Korea, Park Chung-hee, was assassinated by Kim Jae-kyu, the head of the KCIA; in an attempt made five years earlier, his wife Yuk Young-soo was killed by Mun Se-gwang. READ MORE!

1984 - 'Baby Fae' received a heart transplant from a baboon.

1992 - Canada's Charlottetown Accord was defeated in a nationwide referendum.

2000 - Laurent Gbagbo took over as president of Côte d'Ivoire following a popular uprising against President Robert Guéï.

2001 - President George W. Bush passed the USA PATRIOT Act into law, a suspiciously fast 43 days after the attacks of 9-11.

2002 - The Moscow Theatre Siege reached its heartbreaking climax as approximately 50 Chechen terrorists and 150 of their hostages died when Russian Spetsnaz forces stormed the House of Culture at State Ball-Bearing Plant Number 1 in Dubrovna, near Moscow, which had been occupied by the terrorists during a musical performance three days before.
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