Friday, November 12, 2010

"Grace Kelly" by Mika

Mika's smash hit album Life in Cartoon Motion contains this UK #1, Grace Kelly; the track also attained the #1 spot in Argentina, Denmark, Ireland, Italy, Lebanon, Mexico, Norway, and Spain. Mika has stated in various interviews that the song's basis is the famous aria Largo al factotum from the opera The Barber of Seville by Gioachino Rossini, and that it was inspired by a less than inspiring meeting with a record company executive.

The award-winning video - starring Mika and Holly Muller - was directed by Sophie Muller; it's posted here today in honour of the birth of its subject.
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In Memoriam: Princess Grace

Born on this day in 1929 the daughter of Jack Kelly - himself a self-made millionaire and charismatic Olympic sculler - Grace Kelly wanted for nothing as, during her childhood, the world suffered from the effects of the Great Depression. Her family were prominent in Philadelphia as supporters of the arts, and her beloved gay uncle George Kelly (a pariah to the rest of the family) was a Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketKelly attended Ravenhill Academy, where she began her career by modeling at social events; when she graduated from Stevens School in 1947 her yearbook listed her favourite singer as Jo Stafford, with whom she shares a birthday.

Failing to get into Bennington College, Kelly enrolled instead at New York City's American Academy of Dramatic Arts; there she was spotted by producer Delbert Mann, who cast her as the title character in a TV version of Sinclair Lewis' 1940 novel Bethel Merriday. Kelly's big screen debut came in 1951's Fourteen Hours.

It would prove a short but fruitful career; the majority of Grace Kelly's movies are still popular today: High Noon (1952), Mogambo (1953), Dial M for Murder, Rear Window, The Country Girl (all 1954), To Catch a Thief (1955), and High Society (1956). She won an Academy Award for her role in The Country Girl; her final screen appearance was in High Society, a musical remake of her uncle's play The Philadelphia Story.

Along the way she'd won more than an Oscar and the adoration of millions; she'd also won the heart of a Prince, even as she was playing a princess in the film The Swan during their courtship. Her marriage to Rainier III of Monaco in April 1956 ended her film career but brought her into a new phase in her life, a phase which tragically closed when she had a stroke while driving in September 1982, and crashed her Land Rover P6 off the Corniche moyenne and then 100 metres down a steep embankment. Her younger daughter, Princess Stéphanie, was badly injured in the crash, but survived.

The good works Her Serene Highness began in life continue in death through the Princess Grace Foundation, just as surely as her style, gentle manner, and cool beauty survive thanks to the magic of DVD.
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The Death of Dr. Norman Bethune

Though he lived but a short time, Dr. Norman Bethune certainly had a full life; born in March 1890 in Gravenhurst, Ontario, and educated at the University of Toronto, and later taught thoracic surgery at McGill University in Montreal.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketHe served in Europe during World War I, as a stretcher-bearer; upon his return to Canada he became an early proponent of universal health care. In 1935 he joined the Communist Party of Canada, and thereafter devoted the short remainder of his life to the battle against fascism.

While serving in Spain during the Spanish Civil War (1936-7) he devised the Mobile Surgical Army Hospitals made famous by the TV show M*A*S*H; he also came up with a way to transport blood, improving the odds of surviving combat injuries for untold numbers of soldiers.

After leaving Spain Bethune traveled to China (1938-9), where he conducted field surgery with the Communist Eighth Route Army during the Second Sino-Japanese War. It was there on this day in 1939 he died of blood poisoning from a cut he received while in the commission of his duty.

Virtually unknown in Canada during his lifetime, Bethune's memory was revived by the writings of Mao Zedong, who championed Bethune's selflessness and bravery. He's one of the few Westerners commemorated in China, where there are numerous hospitals named for him, as well as ubiquitous statuary.

His controversial legacy has meant he's less honoured in his home country, although that began to change by the mid 1970s; his birthplace, for instance, is now a National Historic Site, and there is a statue of him in Montreal. He's also been twice portrayed in films by that other Canadian icon, Donald Sutherland.
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"The Gentleman Is A Dope" by Jo Stafford

Among the preponderance of superlative female singers in the 1940s, few of them attained the degree of suave effortlessly managed by Jo Stafford, who was born on this day in 1917. Yet she and her husband, bandleader Paul Weston, did more for American music than the creation of some of the finest ear candy ever spun through a microphone; assuming their alter-egos of Jonathan and Darlene Edwards they assailed the mediocre in comedic fashion, which arose out of their party piece and involved their impersonation of a cheesy lounge act.

Where the above clip came from is the usual YouTube mystery, but the song The Gentleman Is A Dope is taken from the Rodgers & Hammerstein musical Allegro; a widow since September 1996, Stafford died in July 2008.
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Remembering... Eve Arden

Her first major film appearance was in Stage Door (1937), a film which was considered a flop when it opened, yet seems to be a bigger hit with each passing year; by the time she'd sashayed across the set in Mildred Pierce in 1945 her persona had been perfected*...

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketYet Eve Arden's was a life nearly done in by insecurity. She seems to have suffered under the delusion that she wasn't beautiful, which notion is belied by her photographs. Fortunately, her supposed handicap allowed her to develop a sharp wit and a sardonic tone which is far more interesting than beauty anyway.

That sense of humour found its ideal showcase throughout the run (both on radio and TV) of Our Miss Brooks, which was on radio from 1948-1957 and was one of the first hit shows at the dawn of television, running from 1952-6. In the show, Arden played that greatest of creatures, a high school English teacher, of the kind many a gay boy once dreamt of having - or maybe that was just me. At the fictional Madison High School she tangled with Principal Osgood Conklin, played by fellow TV legend Gale Gordon, and swooned over biology teacher Philip Boynton (played on radio - and what a waste that was - by uber-hunky Jeff Chandler, who went on to be a movie star, then later by Robert Rockwell).

In her later years, Our Miss Arden got a promotion, becoming principal of the famed Rydell High in the movies Grease and Grease 2; born in April 1908, Eve Arden died on this day in 1990, aged 82.

*Both films have pride of place in the collection of the Pop Culture Institute, naturally.
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Sun Yat-sen: The Father of Modern China

The man called 'the father of modern China' was born on this day in 1866 - in a country which then would not have looked too different from the way it had 500 years before, a largely rural expanse smothering beneath the excesses of a decadent monarchy (in this case, the Qing Dynasty) unwilling to change with the times...

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketAt the age of 13, Sun Yat-sen moved to Honolulu to live with his brother, who'd become a prosperous merchant there; attending the Iolani School, he progressed so quickly in his study of English that he was awarded a prize by Hawai'i's King, David Kalakaua.

Returning home after just 4 years, Sun was dismayed by the backwardness of China, beset by heavy taxes and institutions such as schools which did nothing to reward imagination, only encouraged rote learning and repetition. He converted to Christianity, which was to inform his revolutionary work from that point forward.

Initially behind a movement to force the Qing Dynasty to reinvent itself as a Western-style constitutional monarchy, it became clear that such a reform would never work; the Imperial Household wouldn't even consider his suggestions in this regard simply because he came from peasant stock. To his way of seeing, what China needed was technology, yet seemed afraid to import it. In 1894 Sun returned to Hawai'i to establish the Revive China Society, which later became the Kuomintang.

An 1895 coup failed, after which Sun Yat-sen spent 16 years in exile, travelling around Japan, Europe, and North America in an attempt to garner the support of expatriate Chinese. His time in Vancouver during this era is memorialized by a garden in the city's Chinatown, complete with a statue of his likeness.

In October 1911 the Xinhai Revolution arose out of the Wuchang Uprising, and in February 1912 Emperor Puyi (fabled on film as Bernardo Bertolucci's The Last Emperor) abdicated. For more than a dozen years from 1912 China remained politically fractured due to internecine struggles between Sun's protege Chiang Kai-shek and the old guard, represented by Wang Jingwei; the provisional government managed to survive to form the Republic of China in 1928, which lasted until the predations of Mao in 1949 destroyed any hope of democracy in China for more than 50 years.

Not that Sun Yat-sen lived to see any of that; he died in March 1925, aged 58. Nevertheless, his enduring popularity in Mainland China gives the pro-democracy movement (especially in Taiwan) a powerful symbol. He is buried in Nanjing, appropriately enough at the Sun Yat-sen Mausoleum.
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"(Don't Fear) The Reaper" by Blue Öyster Cult

What better time to call for more cowbell than the birthday of Buck Dharma, founding member and lead singer of Blue Öyster Cult, whose 1976 hit (Don't Fear) The Reaper - from their album Agents of Fortune - would later become the source of an inspired bit of lunacy in April 2000 by Will Ferrell, Chris Parnell, Christopher Walken, and company on Saturday Night Live?

The track - which actually got no higher than #12 on the Billboard Hot 100, but is a staple of classic rock nevertheless - was actually produced by Sandy Pearlman and not, as the sketch indicates, Bruce Dickinson; nor was the cowbell performed by Gene Frenkle. There is, however, some debate as to who is responsible; one faction says it was Albert Bouchard, while another claims it was Eric Bloom.
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Pop History Moment: The Closing of Ellis Island

Designed by architects Edward Lippincott Tilton and William Boring, the Ellis Island Immigrant Station opened on January 1, 1892 and was closed on this day in 1954, but not before more than 12 million (and as many as 20 million) immigrants were inspected there by the US Bureau of Immigration.

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Only third-class passengers were processed here, and after 1924 only refugees; those arriving were screened for illness (both physical and mental), criminal records, and work skills. About 2% were rejected, and untold numbers died in the adjacent hospital.

The first immigrant processed through Ellis Island was Annie Moore, a 15-year-old girl from County Cork, Ireland; the last was a Norwegian merchant seaman by the name of Arne Peterssen in 1954. Today, over 100 million Americans have an ancestor who passed through the site on their way to a better life; famous Ellis Islanders include Bob Hope, Irving Berlin, Knute Rockne, Pola Negri, Anna Q. Nilsson, Claudette Colbert, Chef Boyardee (Ettore Boiardi), Erich von Stroheim, Felix Frankfurter, Father Flanagan, Joseph Stella, Jule Styne, Charles Atlas, Isaac Asimov, the Trapp Family Singers, Ezio Pinza, Ludwig Bemelmans, Sig Ruman, Bela Lugosi, Charles Chaplin, Stan Laurel, Arthur Murray, and Max Factor.

Today the site is a park, museum, and national historic monument.
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POPnews - November 12th

[Isn't it cunning, the number of ways I have
of sneaking pictures of the Queen onto this blog?

1028 - Future Byzantine empress Zoe married Romanus Argyrus in accordance with the wishes of the dying Constantine VIII.
1793 - Jean Sylvain Bailly, the first Mayor of Paris, was guillotined during the Reign of Terror.
1892 - William 'Pudge' Heffelfinger became the first professional American football player when he was paid $500 for participating in a game for the Allegheny Athletic Association.
1893 - The treaty of the Durand Line - so named after British Foreign Secretary Sir Mortimer Durand - was signed between present day Pakistan and Afghanistan; the Durand Line has gained international recognition as an international border between the two nations.
1912 - The frozen bodies of Robert Scott and his men were found on the Ross Ice Shelf in Antarctica; Scott had died in March while on the Terra Nova Expedition, having attained the South Pole only to discover Roald Amundsen's team of Norwegians had already been and gone.
1920 - Representatives of Italy and the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes signed the Treaty of Rapallo in order to settle various boundary disputes concerning a portion of the upper Adriatic known as the Julian March.
1922 - The Sigma Gamma Rho sorority was founded on the campus of Butler University in Indianapolis, Indiana.
1936 - The San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge opened to traffic, six months before its more famous cousin, the Golden Gate Bridge.

1944 - As part of one of the most successful precision bombing attacks of the war - Operation Catechism, commanded by Group Captain James Brian Tait - Britain's Royal Air Force launched 30 Avro Lancaster bombers from No. 9 Squadron and No. 617 Squadron intent on sinking the German battleship Tirpitz with Tallboy bombs at her moorings in the Norwegian port of Tromsø; the mission was a success, with either two or three of the bombs scoring a direct hit, capsizing what had been the largest warship ever built in Europe and killing 1,000 of the 1,900 crew onboard.

1948 - In Tokyo the International Military Tribunal for the Far East sentenced seven Japanese military and government officials - including General Hideki Tojo - to death for their roles in World War II.

1969 - Independent investigative journalist Seymour Hersh broke the story of the My Lai Massacre.
1970 - Near Florence, Oregon, that state's Highway Division attempted to destroy a rotting beached sperm whale using half a ton of dynamite, with the entirely predictable results caught on film.
1980 - The NASA space probe Voyager I made its closest approach to Saturn and took the first 'close-up' images of its rings.

1981 - NASA's STS-2 mission, utilizing the Space Shuttle Columbia, marked the first time a manned spacecraft had been launched into space twice.
1982 - Yuri Andropov became the general secretary of the Soviet Communist Party's Central Committee, succeeding Leonid I. Brezhnev; on the same day Solidarity leader Lech Wałęsa was released from prison after eleven months' incarceration. Just under a year earlier the Soviet Union had come close to invading Poland because of the pro-democracy movement championed by Solidarity, compelling Polish dictator Wojciech Jaruzelski to impose martial law.
1984 - Nigel Lawson, Britain's Chancellor of the Exchequer, announced that the country's pound notes would be phased out in favour of coins.

1990 - Japan's Crown Prince Akihito was formally installed as Emperor, becoming the 125th Japanese monarch.

1991 - At the Dili Massacre, Indonesian forces opened fire on a crowd of student protesters in East Timor, killing at least 250 and as many as 400; the incident came to light principally due to the presence of American journalists Amy Goodman and Allan Nairn - who were both injured in the ensuing melee - and was covertly filmed by Yorkshire Television's Christopher Wenner (working under the name Max Stahl).

1997 - Ramzi Yousef was found guilty of masterminding the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.
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