Friday, November 19, 2010

The Death of Thomas Ince

It is telling that the best-produced things ever made in Hollywood are its scandals; then again, scandals cannot be slashed by the censor's blue pencil, trashed by meddlesome studio executives, or even have their storylines obfuscated by the work of many hands (from writers to directors to actors) without making them better. Unlike films.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketThe 'death/murder' of Thomas Ince is not just one of the more delicious examples of Hollywood scandal, but it was also one of the first, and the more myth accrues to it the better it gets. No writer - and certainly no director or actor - could (or would dare to) make up such a thing...

Our story opens in 1924, aboard a yacht, called the Oneida; the yacht is owned by a fabulously wealthy newspaper publisher of some renown named William Randolph Hearst. It's sailing the California coast on this particular weekend is in honour of the 42nd birthday of Thomas Ince, a well-known director of silent films; also onboard are Hearst's lover Marion Davies, actor Charlie Chaplin, newspaper columnist Louella Parsons, author Elinor Glyn and film actresses Aileen Pringle, Jacqueline Logan, Seena Owen, Margaret Livingston and Julanne Johnston. All is going splendidly until...

Hearst sees Ince canoodling with Davies. Shots ring out, Ince slumps to the floor, and Hearst's publicity machine goes into instant overdrive in order to smother the scandal at its source. Chaplin's silence can be bought; there's already more dirt on him than a coffin lid. Parsons received a lifetime contract with Hearst News ensuring she can scribble her drivel for an obscene paycheque for the rest of her life, becoming the most powerful woman in Hollywood in the process. Marion Davies only needs another cocktail, another line of blow, and another wheel barrow full of jewellery to shut her up.

Still, though, the rumours began to spread, and no one seems to know why; it's not like actresses gossip or anything... No, as a plot element that would be too far-fetched.

15 years later, when Orson Welles was planning his masterpiece Citizen Kane, he began asking around about Hearst, and claims that's when Herman J. Mankiewicz told him the story. Thirty years after that and the story resurfaced in Kenneth Anger's hilariously slanderous Hollywood Babylon, and thirty years later again the events of that fateful weekend served as the basis for both a 1996 book entitled Murder at San Simeon by Hearst's granddaughter - a scandal-maker in her own right named Patty Hearst - and finally a movie by Peter Bogdanovich (Welles' favourite ass-kisser) called The Cat's Meow (2001) in which Ince was played by none other than Cary Elwes.

True or not, the story is so much more entertaining than the fact that Ince went into the weekend with severe indigestion, and may have just had a heart attack and died; that is just the sort of banal drivel one has come to expect from Hollywood - only with more explosions, maybe a car chase and, oh yes, plenty of CGI!
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"Mata Hari" by Ofra Haza

Born on this day in 1957, Ofra Haza was Israel's first internationally acclaimed pop music superstar; of Yemenite Jewish ancestry, from the poor Tel Aviv neighborhood of Hatikvah Haza rose, and had already released four popular albums* when, in 1983, she was entered into the Eurovision Song Contest. Although she came second, behind the Luxembourg entry - Corinne Hermes, who sang Si la vie est cadeau - her showing vaulted Haza to fame throughout Europe.

This track - Mata Hari, from Haza's unreleased 1995 album Queen in Exile - was chosen to represent the singer's exceptional skills for obvious reasons; not only is it well sung, but regular readers of this blog will already know of my abiding interest in its subject, making it an all around ideal fit for the Pop Culture Institute.

Ofra Haza's life was made all the more poignant by two events: first, in February 1987**, Haza walked away from a plane crash*** on the Israeli-Jordanian border, a day she always celebrated thereafter as her second birthday; second, in February 2000 Haza died under mysterious circumstances. Conflicting reports say that either she died of AIDS - with which she was infected by her husband Doron Ashkenazi, who died of a crack overdose in April 2001 - or that she died following a massive beating, a rumour that had such validity it was later investigated by Israeli police.

Whatever the cause of her death her family has not been forthcoming with the details, out of respect for her memory...

*1980's Al Ahavot Shelanu (Our Love), 1981's Bo Nedaber (Let's Talk), plus 1982's Pituyim (Temptations) and Li-yeladim (Children's Songs).
**Coincidentally, the 28th anniversary of the so-called
The Day the Music Died in which Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and J.P. 'The Big Bopper' Richardson died.
***The first of two... The plane in which she was traveling - Flight 316 from London to Israel - was struck by lightning in April 1994 and was forced to make an emergency landing.

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Pop History Moment: Abraham Lincoln Delivered The Gettysburg Address

US President Abraham Lincoln's stirring words (delivered on this day in 1863) serve to remind us of the high-minded ideals upon which the nation he led was founded, ideals which he - along with thousands of his countrymen - fought and died for; yet the Gettysburg Address also echoes with a kind of hollowness, given how much work remains undone... Delivered upon the dedication of the Soldiers' National Cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, they are brief but moving:

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketFour score and seven years ago*, our fathers brought forth upon this continent a new nation: conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war. . . testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated. . . can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war.

We have come to dedicate a portion of that field as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that this nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate. . . we cannot consecrate. . . we cannot hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember, what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.

It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us. . . that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion. . . that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain. . . that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom. . . and that government of the people. . . by the people. . . for the people. . . shall not perish from this earth.

*On this day in 2007, when I first posted this piece, I'd intended its original title -
Seven Score And Four Years Ago - to be a humourous spin on the opening line of the Gettysburg Address, 'Four score and seven years ago...' Then I counted. Sure enough, this day in 2007 was seven score and four years to the day that President Abraham Lincoln first made his most famous oration. Spooky...

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POPnews - November 19th

[Even for mid-century ad copy - which could blow smoke with the best of them, even when not shilling for Big Tobacco - any and all of the enthusiasm for the Ford Edsel is here entirely a product of the copywriter's fevered imagination; then again, having devoured the First Season of Mad Men in its entirety I can almost understand what pressures drove them to lie their faces off like this.]

1095 - The Council of Clermont, called by Pope Urban II to discuss sending the First Crusade to the Holy Land, opened.

1493 - Christopher Columbus became the first European to arrive at an island he named San Juan Bautista (later renamed Puerto Rico), which he'd sighted the day before.

1816 - Warsaw University was established.

1850 - Upon the refusal of the position by Samuel Russell Alfred Lord Tennyson replaced William Wordsworth as England's poet laureate, apparently; it was a position he would hold until his death in October 1892.

1863 - US President Abraham Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address at the dedication ceremony of a military cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.

1941 - Following a battle between HMAS Sydney and HSK Kormoran, the two ships sank each other off the coast of Western Australia, with the loss of 645 Australians and about 77 German seamen.

1942 - Soviet forces under General Georgy Zhukov launched a series of counterattacks dubbed Operation Uranus during the Battle of Stalingrad, turning the tide of the battle in the USSR's favor.

1943 - The Nazis liquidated Janowska concentration camp in Lemberg (Lviv), western Ukraine, murdering at least 6,000 Jews after a failed uprising and mass escape attempt.

1954 - Sammy Davis, Jr., lost his left eye in an automobile accident in San Bernardino, California; in exchange for his recovery he converted to Judaism.

1955 - National Review began spewing its filth and lies, ably assisted by William F. Buckley, Jr., an old filth and lies spewer from way back.

1959 - The Ford Motor Company announced it was discontinuing its unpopular Edsel.

1961 - Michael Rockefeller, son of New York governor Nelson Rockefeller, disappeared in the jungles of Papua New Guinea.

1967 - TVB, Hong Kong's first wireless commercial television station, was established.

1969 - Soccer player Pelé scored his 1,000th career goal; unable to watch this singular event were Apollo 12 astronauts Pete Conrad and Alan Bean, who on the same day landed at Oceanus Procellarum (aka the 'Ocean of Storms') making them the third and fourth humans to walk on the Moon.

1976 - Jaime Ornelas Camacho took office as the first President of the Regional Government of Madeira in Portugal.

1977 - Egyptian President Anwar Sadat became the first Arab leader to officially visit Israel, when he met President Ephraim Katzir and Prime Minister Menachem Begin before addressing the Knesset in Jerusalem, seeking a permanent peace settlement.

1990 - Pop group Milli Vanilli were stripped of their Grammy Award because the duo did not sing at all on their album Girl You Know It’s True, the vocals having been supplied in their entirety by session musicians.

1994 - The first drawing of the UK's National Lottery was held; initially hosted by Noel Edmonds, he soon handed over hosting duties to Anthea Turner and Gordon Kennedy.

1997 - Bobbi McCaughey gave birth to septuplets in only the second known case where all seven babies were born alive; they would go on to become the first set of septuplets to survive infancy, with all seven still alive and living in Des Moines, Iowa, as of 2010.

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