Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Pop History Moment: Kristallnacht


On this day in 1938 Nazi Germany's war on its Jews began in earnest, with a frenzy of looting and burning now known as Kristallnacht, or the Night of Broken Glass; this allegedly spontaneous outburst of anti-Semitism that purportedly took Nazi authorities by surprise was in fact organized by them as early as 1937, to be carried out by Hitler Youth and other such organizations when a suitable provocation could be found to justify it.

As a scapegoat, the Nazis chose Herschel Grynszpan, whose attack on a Paris-based German diplomat named Ernst vom Rath two days earlier - which was itself prompted by the inclusion of his family in mass expulsions from Germany which had taken place on October 18th - was used to justify the Nazi's extremism. In a classic bully move Grynszpan was not only roundly condemned as a murderer by the Nazi press but by extension all Jews became murderers; in this manner did the murderous Nazis routinely deflect such charges from themselves.

In all, more than 200 synagogues were destroyed and thousands of homes were similarly looted or burned, 92 Jews were murdered outright and as many as 30,000 were sent to concentration camps before the destruction ended the following day; reports vary, but the Führer himself may have even personally led the assault in München. According to eyewitness accounts, members of the public also assisted in the destruction* by throwing old newspapers, kerosene-soaked rags, and other such flammable items on their nearest conflagrations-in-waiting. Others looked on in horror, unable to act as their neighbours - many of whom had fought for their country in World War I - were displaced from their homes or arrested.

The events of Kristallnacht were widely condemned by the British and American media of the time, although their outrage in this instance didn't exactly move their governments to accept more Jewish immigrants, owing to the widespread anti-Semitism of the times.

Only recently, as the 70th anniversary of the event approached, an Israeli journalist named Yaron Svoray, himself an acclaimed hunter of Nazis and neo-Nazis, discovered a midden in the Brandenburg district north of Berlin - itself the size of four soccer pitches - which contains much of the night's plunder.

The story of the night's events are told in the slim yet thrilling volume, Kristallnacht: Prelude to Destruction by Martin Gilbert.

*Likely the same people whom, after the war, claimed not to know Hitler was genocidal - the same ones whose children and grandchildren now claim the Holocaust never happened, despite a mountain of evidence to the contrary.

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The History of Sex: Hedy Lamarr

The legendary beauty of Hedy Lamarr has never been questioned; in the years since her death, though, it's the beauty of her mind that's come increasingly to the fore...

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketEarly in her career she starred in what is popularly considered the cinema's first nude scene - in the Czech film Ecstasy (1933) - which is actually notorious as the first to depict sexual intercourse and female orgasm on screen, not nudity (although it does have a prime example of that). Later, at the height of her fame, she and her second husband Gene Markey patented spread spectrum, an essential component of today's mobile phone technology, which plans she developed with her first husband, the Austrian arms manufacturer Friedrich Mandl.

Born on this day in 1913, she made her film debut in 1930; Lamarr, who was Jewish, escaped her fascist first husband and the Nazi threat in 1937, dripping in the jewels he'd given her and with the plans they'd worked out together. Legend has it that during her flight she hid in a brothel, even going so far as to have sex with a client there in order to conceal her identity. Arriving in London, she obtained her famous surname from Louis B. Mayer, who named her after the tragic silent movie actress Barbara LaMarr; previously she'd been known professionally as Hedy Kiesler.

Newly renamed, Hedy Lamarr's first American movie was Algiers (1938) opposite Charles Boyer; her biggest film role was as Delilah in Cecil B. DeMille's Samson and Delilah (1949) with Victor Mature. She also appeared in Tortilla Flat (1942), based on the novel by John Steinbeck. Frequently cast against type, she often portrayed devastatingly beautiful temptresses.

Having made off with hearts (and technology, and jewellery), Lamarr was subsequently arrested for shoplifting, first in 1965, and again in 1991; she died in January 2000.
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"Looking Out My Back Door" by Creedence Clearwater Revival

Late birthday boy Tom Fogerty started Creedence Clearwater Revival with his older brother John Fogerty in 1968, and although tension between them would prompt Tom to leave the band in 1971, in the intervening years they were responsible for a string of hits with a distinctive swamp rock sound, including Bad Moon Rising, Down on the Corner, Fortunate Son, and Travelin' Band.

One such song was Lookin' Out My Back Door, from their 1970 sixth album Cosmo's Factory; although the band's reputation has led many critics since to consider the song a paean to drug use for its illusory imagery, the song's author John Fogerty claims he was inspired by having read Dr. Seuss's book, And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street to his young son. Of course, there's no reason to think this has to be a case of either/or.

Born on this day in 1941, Tom Fogerty died of AIDS-related complications to tuberculosis in September 1990, having received tainted blood transfusions during back surgery in the early 1980s.
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Remembering... Earl Thompson

On this day in 1978 a promising literary career ended, just as it was gaining momentum...

PhotobucketAlthough Earl Thompson only published three novels while alive - A Garden of Sand, Tattoo, and Caldo Largo - and a fourth one (The Devil To Pay) posthumously, what novels they were! So bristling with rage and contemptuous of taboo are they that I hesitate to say how autobiographical in nature they are. I began A Garden of Sand at the behest of Mr. Christiansen*, and was at first enthralled by its sterling depiction of Depression-era Wichita; very quickly, though, I found myself drawn into the characters' inner lives in a way I hadn't been since I started reading Steinbeck.

*One of the members of the brain trust here at the Pop Culture Institute.

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Introducing Dorothy Dandridge

The history of show business is littered with the remains of those who were unable to deal with its attendant pressures; despite what it may look like to those of us on the outside, such adulation comes with a price too steep for many to pay, and so they pay with their lives...

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketDorothy Dandridge was one such casualty of fame; a raving beauty, gifted actress, and acclaimed cabaret performer, her 25 years in the public eye exacted the ultimate toll on her. She died in September 1965 at the age of only 42; whether she was murdered or overdosed - or whether that overdose was intentional or accidental - hardly matters now. Only the loss remains; that, and the legacy she left behind.

Born on this day in 1922, Dorothy and her older sister Vivian (along with Etta Jones) performed on the Chitlin' circuit, a kind of black vaudeville, first as the Wonder Children and later as the Dandridge Sisters. Dorothy's mother Ruby was a lesbian, involved with a woman named Geneva Williams; scurrilous rumours abound that Williams molested her lover's daughters. Whether or not that was true, she was a stern taskmaster, working the girls hard both onstage and at home.

Hard work landed Dorothy successively larger roles in various movies, but it wasn't until she was 32 that Dandridge got her big break in Otto Preminger's Carmen Jones (1955); for her troubles she was nominated for an Oscar, only the third African-American so honoured and the first in the Best Actress category. She lost the award to Grace Kelly.

The final ten years of Dorothy Dandridge's life were a study in contrasts; she broke many barriers and received much acclaim in front on audiences and cameras, but suffered from a downward spiral of addiction and abuse in private. Following her death she seemed destined to fade into oblivion, and would have too, if not for the cherished place she held in the hearts of two successive generations of black actors like Cicely Tyson, Jada Pinkett, Janet Jackson and Angela Bassett.

Halle Berry didn't so much play her as channel her in the HBO film Introducing Dorothy Dandridge and the Emmy she won for the searing performance both revived interest in and in a way vindicated the memory of a gifted performer and a sensitive soul lost to fame.
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Happy Birthday Tony Slattery

Comedian Tony Slattery - born this day in 1959 - has always been frank about the source of his darkness and his light: a lifelong struggle with bipolar disorder, as confessed on-air to Stephen Fry in the landmark documentary The Secret Life Of The Manic Depressive.

Okay, so this is one of his darker moments; it's here because it also happens to be one of his cuter moments as well. Taken from the Cambridge Footlights Revue in the 1980s, the same show that unleashed the comic talents of Fry, Hugh Laurie, and Emma Thompson - among many others - is a happy little ditty called Shoot Somebody Famous.
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Remembering... Marie Dressler

MGM studio boss Louis B. Mayer called her 'the most adored person ever to set foot in the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer studio', and he was a man who'd never blow smoke unless he could find a way to put it on film and charge two-bits admission!

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketBorn in Coburg, Ontario, on this day in 1868, Marie Dressler was a big girl who grew into a big woman with an even bigger talent; although her initial ambition was to appear in the opera, it was undoubtedly her splendid sense of comic timing that brought her instead to vaudeville. There she befriended Mack Sennett and Edward Everett Horton, both of whom would later feature prominently alongside her in the early history of Hollywood.

Already popular in silent films - a medium famous for its FACES! - by the time she appeared in talking pictures she had her routine by rote, and indeed much of it involved making faces. In films like Anna Christie (1931) her mug-happy antics threatened to wipe even a ham like Greta Garbo off the screen.

Dressler was awarded an Oscar for her appearance in Min and Bill (1931) with Wallace Beery; onscreen they shared not so much chemistry as physics. Altogether she would make 40 films; her penultimate, Dinner at Eight (1933), shows Dressler at the top of her game, despite her obvious illness. Castmates later reported finding her vomiting violently or else coughing up blood in her dressing room, only to emerge and film take after take of a flawless performance fraught with comedy and drama in equal parts...

Dressler's memoirs were entitled The Life Story of an Ugly Duckling, but the Pop Culture Institute would like to offer a posthumous revision: A Swan By Any Other Name.
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In Memoriam: Edward VII

An ageing heir to the throne, unpopular as his mother was revered, who attracted the public's ire by preferring the company of his mistress to that of his younger wife - herself a neurotic beauty viewed by the public as an almost holy icon... There are few writers as bereft of original ideas as History.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketYet for a man who was viewed as a dissipated dilettante right up until the moment he became King, the life and times of Edward VII offers many potential lessons to his modern-day counterpart. Though his apprenticeship was long and his subsequent reign short, he accomplished much in the just over nine years allotted to him on the throne, not least of which was the rehabilitation of his own image. The age in which he reigned was given his name - the Edwardian - and it stands as a last golden hour before the horrors of the 20th Century beset Europe.

Born on this day in 1841 at Buckingham Palace, the second child of Queen Victoria and Albert, Prince Consort, he was created Prince of Wales a month later - a title he would hold for nearly sixty years. He was known within the family as Bertie as his name at birth was Albert Edward.

His marriage in March 1863 to his fourth cousin Princess Alexandra of Denmark (daughter of the future Christian IX) was arranged in the fashion of the day, supervised by his elder sister Victoria, Princess Royal, the future Queen of Prussia. In no time at all a fashionable social set formed around them, with its twin foci at their London residence, Marlborough House and in the Norfolk countryside at Sandringham House. After December 1861, and because of his mother's melodramatic widowhood (during which she refused to appear in public) he endeavoured to carry out many of the royal duties the grieving Queen would not. In this sense he can be said to have saved the monarchy by keeping it from becoming too remote. The Princess of Wales, too, carried out many engagements on behalf of children and the sick; she was also a renowned patroness of the arts.

Always a ladies man, the Prince maintained a stable of mistresses throughout his lifetime, including actress Lillie Langtry, Lady Jennie Churchill (mother of Winston and wife of Lord Randolph), Daisy Greville, Countess of Warwick, actress Sarah Bernhardt, dancer La Belle Otero, and wealthy humanitarian Agnes Keyser; the one who was at his side when he died, however, was Alice Keppel, whose great-granddaughter Camilla Parker Bowles succeeded in snaring herself a royal mate where she had failed.

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"Follow Me" by Uncle Kracker

Birthday wishes go out today to Uncle Kracker, who in 2001 scored a massive hit with the song Follow Me, from his debut album Double Wide; although initially best known in the Detroit area as a turntablist and rap artist who worked in Kid Rock's posse, as this single demonstrates, by the time he'd begun recording Uncle Kracker had abandoned hip-hop in favour of a country sound.

On a personal note, Uncle Kracker is at least partially responsible for what was at the time the most offensive joke I'd ever told*; upon hearing the news that he was marrying, I let fly with the brilliant quip that her professional name was likely to be Aunt Spread. Upon closer reflection, that was probably not a good thing to say in a room full of extremely earnest female writers, as I did. On the plus side, it got me out of there, so it wasn't all for naught.

*That was 2002; I've since surpassed it *at least* half a dozen times.

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POPnews - November 9th

[After it was destroyed by war in 1993, Stari Most was rebuilt almost immediately, and reopened in July 2004.]

694 CE - Egica - Visigoth King of Hispania - showed his utter ignorance in matters spiritual at the Seventeenth Council of Toledo when he accused Jews of aiding Muslims, and thereafter sentenced all Jews to slavery for something that not only never happened but never could or would happen.

1688 - William of Orange captured Exeter during Britain's Glorious Revolution.

1851 - Kentucky marshals abducted abolitionist minister Calvin Fairbank from Jeffersonville, Indiana, and returned him to Kentucky to stand trial for helping a slave named Tamar to escape from her owner, A. L. Shotwell of Louisville, who had recently hired her out to a Judge Purtle of that city. The following year Fairbank would be sentenced to 15 years hard labour, but was eventually pardoned in 1864.

1867 - The Tokugawa Shogunate handed power back to the Emperor of Japan, bringing about the so-called Meiji Restoration.

1872 - A fire destroyed much of Boston; ignited around 7:20 PM, within 12 hours it had destroyed 65 acres of the city's downtown including 776 buildings, and was responsible for at least 20 deaths, although a citizen's brigade managed to save the Old South Meeting House.

1888 - Jack the Ripper killed Mary Jane Kelly, his last known victim.

1906 - Theodore Roosevelt became the first sitting US President to make an official trip outside the country when he went to inspect progress on the Panama Canal.

1907 - The Cullinan Diamond was presented to Britain's King Edward VII on his birthday; at 530.2 carats, it was not only the largest finished diamond in the world until the 1985 discovery of the Golden Jubilee Diamond, it's also officially the best birthday present ever given.

1918 - Germany's Kaiser Wilhelm II abdicated - effectively ending the German Revolution - following which the country was proclaimed a republic.

1921 - Albert Einstein was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for his work with the photoelectric effect.

1923 - In Munich, Germany, police and government troops crushed the Beer Hall Putsch; the failed coup was the work of the Nazis, led by Adolf Hitler, Erich Ludendorff, and members of the Kampfbund.

1938 - Kristallnacht, Nazi Germany's first large-scale act of physical anti-Jewish violence, began.

1961 - Brian Epstein attended a gig by a new band called The Beatles at Liverpool's Cavern Club; by December he was managing the band and history (not to mention some bloody great pop music) was being made.

1965 - 22-year-old Catholic Worker member Roger Allen LaPorte, protesting against the Vietnam War, set himself on fire in front of the United Nations building - one week to the day after Norman Morrison did the same thing in front of The Pentagon.

1967 - The first issue of Rolling Stone magazine was published.

1979 - Four men now better known as the Bridgewater Four - Patrick Molloy, Jim Robinson and cousins Michael Hickey and Vincent Hickey - were found guilty of murdering 12 year-old paperboy Carl Bridgewater, which crime occurred outside Stourbridge in September 1978; their convictions would be overturned by the Court of Appeal in 1997 after it came to light that police fabricated evidence in order to extract a confession from Molloy - a confession around which the entire case against the four was.

1985 - Garry Kasparov became the youngest world chess champion by beating Anatoly Karpov.

1989 - Communist-controlled East Germany opened checkpoints in the Berlin Wall, allowing its citizens to travel to West Germany for the first time since 1961, at which point the city's citizenry began the demolition that resulted in the Fall of the Berlin Wall.

1993 - Stari Most, the 'old bridge' built spanning the river Neretva in the Bosnian city of Mostar in 1566, collapsed after several days of bombing.

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