Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Death of F. Scott Fitzgerald

PhotobucketThe foremost chronicler of the Jazz Age, F. Scott Fitzgerald died on this day in 1940, as suddenly as had the era he so deftly recorded; an alcoholic - some said from the age of 16 - and a heavy smoker as well as having twice been afflicted with tuberculosis, his heart gave out before either his liver or his lungs. Fitzgerald was dealt his fatal blow, at the age of 44, in the apartment of his girlfriend Sheilah Graham, ironically while awaiting a doctor's visit; their affair was later translated into a 1958 book which was itself later made into a 1959 film called Beloved Infidel, starring Gregory Peck and Deborah Kerr.

Following a service in Hollywood at which Dorothy Parker was among the mourners - and on the way to which the novelist Nathanael West and his wife Eileen McKenney (the real-life My Sister Eileen) died in a car crash - Fitzgerald was buried in Maryland's Rockville Union Cemetery, where following her tragic death in March 1948, he was joined by his wife Zelda; in 1975, thanks to the efforts of their daughter Frances 'Scottie' Fitzgerald Lanahan Smith and the local Women's Club, Scott and Zelda's remains were moved across town to Saint Mary's Cemetery.
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Ray Romano's Letterman Debut

Before everybody loved Raymond, Mr. Romano seemed pretty popular nonetheless, even as he was premiering his trademark brand of humour in front of a national television audience on The Late Show with David Letterman.

Romano - born on this day in 1957 - was already well known in 1996 when Everybody Loves Raymond first appeared, and has since added to the fame that show brought him by lending his voice to a surly mammoth in the Ice Age films and similarly appearing as Homer Simpson's supposedly imaginary friend in the 2005 episode of The Simpsons entitled Don't Fear the Roofer.
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In Memoriam: Benjamin Disraeli

He was said to be Queen Victoria's favourite Prime Minister, as much for his personality as his politics; Britain's first (and, to date, only) Jewish Prime Minister was not only a senior statesman with nearly forty years in Parliament, but also a prolific if quotidian novelist, famous (at least around the Pop Culture Institute) for his quote: 'When I want to read a novel I write a novel!'

PhotobucketHe married well, to Mary Anne Lewis, the wealthy widow of Wyndham Lewis, MP; although the difference in their ages (she was 12 years older than him) was a scandal in its time, and many presumed he'd married her only for her money, it was a happy marriage.

First invited to form a government in February 1868 following the retirement of the Earl of Derby, he was defeated in that December's general election; his second ministry, though, proved more durable. Returned to power following the election of 1874, Disraeli was created Earl of Beaconsfield in 1876 (his wife having been created Viscountess Beaconsfield in her own right in 1868), and served until defeated in the election of April 1880 by his old rival, Liberal William Gladstone.

Born on this day in 1804, Benjamin Disraeli died in April 1881; he was portrayed to perfection by Sir Antony Sher in the 1997 film Mrs. Brown opposite none other than Dame Judi Dench.

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Happy Birthday Jane Fonda

In this day-and-age of cradle-to-grave celebrity, it may seem odd to consider that there was once a time when a star's newborn baby wasn't automatically a star itself; as show business continues to evolve into a thing which is more about heredity than talent, those over forty who've been famous from birth - people like Jane Fonda - assume a greater importance for having done it all before. For all the mis-steps she's made, the life and career of Jane Fonda ought to be studied by Suri and Shiloh and Violet for whatever lessons - good or ill - they might be able to glean from them.

PhotobucketWhen she was born, on this day in 1937, it made news mainly because it forced a halt in production at Warner Bros. on the Civil War-era film Jezebel (1938), which her father Henry Fonda was making with Bette Davis. They were the earliest headlines in her life, and by far the nicest ones as well; the 1950 suicide of her mother Frances Ford Seymour was largely kept out of the papers, which in those days reserved their most salacious headlines for ordinary people. By the time the Press came gunning for Jane Fonda in 1972, though, its traditional reticence towards character assassination had all but evaporated.

Fonda started out as a model, appearing twice on the cover of Vogue; her acting debut was a 1954 Omaha charity performance of The Country Girl with her father, and in 1958 she joined the Actors Studio under the tutelage of Lee Strasberg. The transition from theatre to movies was a bumpy one, but 1965's Cat Ballou (co-starring Lee Marvin) is generally credited as her breakout role; it's also the year she married her first husband, French director Roger Vadim.

The next twenty years could be considered her rollercoaster years, seeing as they did acting and personal triumphs interspersed with scandal and derision. Her films of this era include Any Wednesday (1966), Barefoot in the Park (1967), Barbarella (1968), They Shoot Horses, Don't They? (1969), an Oscar-winning performance in Klute (1971), Fun with Dick and Jane (1977), a second Oscar-winning performance in Coming Home (1978), The China Syndrome (1979), Nine to Five (1980), On Golden Pond (1981) and Agnes of God (1985).

All of this acclaim came despite the fact that through most of this time Fonda was better known as Hanoi Jane, whose name still raises the ire of Vietnam vets who can't be bothered to listen to her side of the story of how she came to be photographed atop a North Vietnamese anti-aircraft battery, let alone reconcile her patriotism with opposition to an unjust, unlawful war. Still, the popular impression that activism hurt her career simply doesn't bear up under the weight of her filmography.

In 1982 a second (or third, or fourth) career came to her via the fitness craze of the early 1980s; she produced her 23rd and last workout video in 1995. By the outset of her decade-long marriage to Ted Turner in 1991 Fonda had all but retired from show business.

Still stunning in her 70s, Fonda has begun to feel her way into movies again, but refuses to be cowed into tacit silent support of the Iraq war by her experiences in opposition to the one in Vietnam; having embraced Christianity without the hypocrisy and hatefulness of the born-again, she wrote a memoir in 2005 entitled My Life So Far.

We can only hope for a second volume as action-packed as the first...

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"Hot Child In The City" by Nick Gilder

Vancouver's own glam rock band Sweeney Todd had a big hit in 1975 with Roxy Roller; shortly thereafter that band's guitarist James McCulloch and lead singer Nick Gilder (born in London on this day in 1951) went 'solo', producing 1978's Hot Child in the City from the album City Nights, which went Number 1 around the world (including Canada and the US).

Behind the scenes, Gilder has also had a successful career as a songwriter; in addition to The Warrior, a smash for Scandal in 1984, he has also written for Patty Smyth, Bette Midler, Joe Cocker and Pat Benatar.
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Pop History Moment: The Pilgrims Landed On Plymouth Rock

It truly is a miracle that the Plymouth Colony was successful at all...

First, the Pilgrims' departure from England was twice delayed by leaks in one of their ships, the Speedwell (later discovered to be the work of sabotage by her crew), forcing them to leave in September and arrive in winter rather than arrive in September as had been the original plan; the remaining ship, the Mayflower, had previously been used mainly in the transport of cargo, and so had all the amenities one would expect of such a vessel - which is to say none at all. Still, 102 passengers and 30 crew led by Captain Christopher Jones clambered aboard and made their perilous way west.

Then, the Mayflower was either blown off course or else her passengers made the determination to settle in a wilder locale (with commensurately wilder weather) so as to be further removed from British influence; instead of landing in the slightly more hospitable climate of Virginia they landed instead at the very tip of Cape Cod, served by the same currents that make the south coasts of Nova Scotia and Newfoundland such ideal swimming grounds.

Once they arrived at Provincetown Harbor in November 1620 it took nearly a month to repair and then reassemble a shallop, which would make further exploration easier; they also signed the Mayflower Compact - considered the first American constitution - to quell dissension between the portion of the settlers who were religious and those (namely the crew) who were more secular.

Then, rather than going native, they insisted on eating English food, which ran perilously low, wearing English clothes (unsuited for the raw wilderness in which they'd found themselves) and then building English houses and farms. That first winter they stayed mainly in the ship while preparing homes and a stockade on shore.

The entire story is told far better than I can in the scope of this blog in the book Mayflower, by Nathanial Philbrick, who follows the lives of these intrepid Christers through the various trials and tribulations of their first American generation; consider it revisited history, rather than revisionist, if you must, but it is definitely worth the read.

As for the ship itself: in 1623 the Mayflower was disassembled at Rotherhithe, and legend has it the Mayflower Barn outside of Jordans was built from its timbers; a replica called Mayflower II is berthed at Plimoth Plantation outside the town they founded on this day in 1620.
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POPnews - December 21st

[When Elvis Presley visited Richard Nixon in the White House he gave the President a gift: a hand gun. It was accepted but for security reasons not presented, depriving the King of an ideal opportunity to do us all a favour.]

69 CE - The Year of the Four Emperors occurred when Vespasian was proclaimed the fourth Emperor of Rome within twelve months - following Galba, Otho and Vitellius.

1192 - England's King Richard I - better known as Richard the Lionhearted - was captured by forces loyal to Leopold V of Austria outside Vienna and held captive for 16 months at Dürnstein Castle before legend has it he was rescued by the troubadour Blondel.

1598 - At the Battle of Curalaba in southern Chile Mapuche warriors, led by cacique Pelentaru, inflicted a major defeat on the Spanish troops of the royal governor Martín García Oñez de Loyola, who died in battle alongside all but 2* of the 350 men in his party.

*Only a priest, Bartolomé Pérez, and a badly wounded soldier, Bernardo de Pereda, are known for certain to have survived, although since some 300 of his men were auxiliaries of Amerindian descent, their fates could possibly have gone unrecorded.

- England's Rochdale Pioneers opened their cooperative for business.

1872 - The HMS Challenger, commanded by Captain George Nares, sailed from Portsmouth in order to undertake the Challenger Expedition... Over the next four years those on board would sail nearly 70,000 nautical miles (130,000 km) surveying and exploring, and in doing so bring to light some 4,000 previously undocumented species; these findings were published by John Murray, in a work rather windily entitled Report Of The Scientific Results of the Exploring Voyage of H.M.S. Challenger during the years 1873-76 in December 1911. Not only did the voyage lay the groundwork for the modern study of oceanography, the vessel on which it occurred has since leant its name to various successors in exploration including the Space Shuttle Challenger.

1883 - The first Permanent Force cavalry and infantry regiments of the Canadian Army were formed - namely, The Royal Canadian Dragoons and The Royal Canadian Regiment.

1898 - Pierre and Marie Curie discovered radium.

1913 - The first crossword puzzle, created by Arthur Wynne, was published in the New York World.

1937 - Walt Disney's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs had its world premiere at the Carthay Circle Theatre in Los Angeles.

1958 - Charles de Gaulle was elected President of the French Fifth Republic; his Union des Démocrates pour la République received 78.5% of the vote.

1962 - Norway's first national park was established, at Rondane.

1964 - Lenny Bruce was convicted of obscenity and sentenced to four months in the workhouse.

1967 - Louis Washkansky, the world's first recipient of a heart transplant, died at Cape Town's Groote Schuur Hospital 18 days after his groundbreaking surgery on December 3rd.

1968 - NASA launched the Apollo 8 mission, its first to the moon.

1969 - The Gay Activists Alliance was formed in New York City by dissident members of the Gay Liberation Front following that summer's Stonewall Riots.

1970 - President Richard Nixon met with Elvis Presley in the Oval Office to discuss the war on drugs.

1971 - Kurt Waldheim was elected to replace U Thant as Secretary-General of the United Nations - on his 54th birthday.

1979 - The Lancaster House Agreement - an arrangement whereby Rhodesia would gain its independence - was signed in London by Britain's Foreign Secretary Lord Carrington, Sir Ian Gilmour, Robert Mugabe, Joshua Nkomo, Bishop Abel Muzorewa and S.C. Mundawarara.

1988 - Pan Am Flight 103 exploded over the Scottish town of Lockerbie, killing everyone onboard and 11 on the ground - 270 in all. Although one might think the Scottish Government would like to hold those responsible to account for the crime, in August 2009 the only man ever found guilty in conjunction with the Lockerbie Bombing, Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi, was released from jail and returned to Libya.
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