Monday, January 31, 2011

"Stone Cold Sober" by Paloma Faith

Although it's not yet Paloma Faith's birthday - that would be on July 21st - I've posted the video for her debut single Stone Cold Sober (coincidentally from her 2009 debut album Do You Want the Truth or Something Beautiful?) today in honour of Sophie Muller, who not only directed the clip but celebrates another milestone by blowing out candles*.

Muller, of course, is most famous around the Pop Culture Institute (and, possibly, even the world) for the stylish, innovative work she's done with Annie Lennox - both in and out of Eurythmics - as well as some of our favourite bold-faced names including Sade, Sophie Ellis-Bextor, Rufus Wainwright, Nelly Furtado, and Gwen Stefani; to date her resume includes over a hundred such films, making Sophie Muller a true master of this most modern form of cinematic art.

*Candles which have no doubt been exquisitely photographed!
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Gratuitous Brunette: Minnie Driver


Ah, what is there to say about Minnie Driver... After subjecting the sizable portion of my readership who are straight men to a steady parade of hot guys, every so often one feels the need to give them something in return; she seemed like the right woman at the right time, and it is her birthday. I suppose it helps that I've always liked her, so at least I don't feel like a total sell-out...

From the first big notices she got in 1995's Circle of Friends to the antic romp of Grosse Pointe Blank to the Academy Award nomination she received for 1997's Good Will Hunting, from her early appearances on Lovejoy to her portrayal of Lorraine Finster on the classic sitcom Will & Grace to her bravura turn opposite Eddie Izzard in The Riches, Driver has leant her exotic looks and contrasting posh air to everything she's done. She's even played the hilariously over-the-top Carlotta Giudicelli in Joel Schumacher's film of The Phantom of the Opera, making herself a one-woman highlight of that bombastic mess in the process.

Romantically linked over the years to any number of fellow thespians - including John Cusack, Josh Brolin, and Matt Damon, most of them former co-stars - as of September 2008 the most important male in her life is her son, Henry Story Driver.
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Happy Birthday Your Majesty


Born on this day in 1938 at Soestdijk Palace - to Dutch Crown Princess Juliana and Bernhard of Lippe-Biesterfeld - the early life of Princess Beatrix was an uncertain one to say the least, born as she was under the threat of war; joined in the nursery a year later by Princess Irene, as infants the two princesses had to be spirited away out of the Netherlands ahead of an advancing Nazi horde...

They went first to London, where her grandmother Queen Wilhelmina stayed to manage the government-in-exile, and then to Ottawa, where the royal family lived in Stornoway, the official residence of that country's Leader of the Opposition. While in Canada the two sisters were joined by a third, Princess Margriet. Nowadays, each spring the Canadian capital still comes alive owing to millions of tulip bulbs donated by a grateful Dutch people.

The Royal Family returned to Holland in August 1945, and were shortly thereafter joined by yet another sister, Princess Christina, in 1947. Having reigned since November 1890, Queen Wilhelmina abdicated in September 1948, making Juliana the Queen and ten-year-old Beatrix the heiress presumptive.

Beatrix was installed in the Council of State on this date in 1956, her 18th birthday, at which time she began to take on royal duties while pursuing her education at Leiden University, studying the usual mix of history and constitutional law. The education of Princess Beatrix coincided with the move towards independence of many of the Netherlands' overseas possessions, such as Indonesia and Suriname.

About the only controversial thing Beatrix has ever done was to fall in love with Claus von Amsberg, a German diplomat; their wedding day in March 1966 was marred by protests across the Netherlands, where memories of the recent war were still very much fresh. Their procession was picketed by the Provo, who were not content to chant 'Claus, raus!*' at them but also threw smoke bombs at their carriage. Not only was Beatrix given a test of her resolve that day, the country's well-known reputation for tolerance was tested as well; in both instances they passed with flying colours... Over time Prince Claus came to be a well-respected member of both the Royal Family and Dutch society.

Beatrix has seemed at times like a one-woman bulwark against republican sentiment in the tiny European kingdom, with only her personal popularity managing to preserve both the dignity and the reality of the crown. Following the abdication of her mother in April 1980 protests by squatters against the new queen's investiture turned violent, and led to an overhaul of the country's already massive social programs.

The mother of three princes - Crown Prince Willem-Alexander, Johan-Friso, and Constantijn - at the age of 73 Her Majesty shows no signs of slowing down, although given the precedent set by her mother and grandmother she may yet abdicate as a form of retirement. Widowed since the death of Prince Claus in October 2002, in addition to the affairs of state Queen Beatrix manages one of the largest personal fortunes in Europe, much of which takes the form of property and works of art held in trust for the nation.

*Meaning 'Claus, out!' in German; all things considered, rather a witty slogan.

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"My Love" by Justin Timberlake

Just to give you some idea of how much I love this song, it was my ringtone for several months running; which, for someone both preternaturally set in his ways and yet with the attention span of a magpie surely constitutes a major commitment*. To be honest, though, I resisted the charms of birthday boy Justin Timberlake for a long time. Partly it was the boy band thing, although of that ilk 'N Sync was one of the better ones; mainly though it was because I wanted to see if there was more to him than single-digit body fat and the ability to score A-list tail.

Well, dammnit... There was! The first time I heard SexyBack I knew I was in trouble, and by the time My Love came out I was a committed... What? Timberlaker? Good enough!

The second single from his 2006 second album FutureSex/LoveSounds, My Love still lives on my iPod, where it's been since that first day. As for me, I await with bated breath what he might do next...

*I mean, first I had to take my existing ringtone off; then I had to stick with the new one for months. Since I only change the wallpaper on my laptop three times a year, that's epic!

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In Memoriam: Tallulah Bankhead

In an age of enforced propriety, Tallulah Bankhead was a committed vulgarian; that many of her most notorious comments couldn't be repeated in mixed company for decades after she uttered them has ensured her reputation as a cult figure in perpetuity. Today, in an age when minding your tongue is as old-fashioned as hoop skirts and seemingly as irrelevant as Republicans, the husky-voiced actress from Alabama is long overdue for rediscovery...

PhotobucketBorn on this day in 1902, the daughter of future US House Speaker William Brockman Bankhead, her mother Adelaide Eugenia Bankhead died of blood poisoning shortly after Tallulah's birth; an overweight child, frequently described as 'homely', Tallulah was virtually destined to become an entertainer.

She overcame her homeliness early enough that by 15 she had won a movie magazine beauty contest, at which time she moved to New York City. Almost instantly she became famous for being famous, dwelling as she did on the fringes of the Algonquin Round Table. In 1923 she made her debut on the London stage and fortunately was possessed of immense talent, after which she would be as famous for her talents onstage for the rest of her life as she was for her talents in the bedroom, on the back seat, or sprawled across a restaurant banquette.

Bankhead's movie career was skimpy, but her influence over American cinema was immense nonetheless... Frequently the roles she played on Broadway would make their way to Hollywood played by Bette Davis, most notably when she originated the role of Regina Giddens in Lillian Hellman's The Little Foxes. She did, however, manage to commit the full range of her talents to celluloid while she was at her loveliest in Alfred Hitchcock's 1944 film Lifeboat.

She died in December 1968 of complications arising from emphysema, which was the official cause; her fellow sybarites know, however, that having always lived her life to the hilt she'd simply lived herself to death.  What a way to go!
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POPnews - January 31st

[As seen from the air the island nation of Nauru doesn't look like much - and it isn't; still, the once-rich island, famed for its phosphate, remains a tropical paradise, and despite rudimentary health care and reticent locals it's still a better bet to visit than a lot of places I could name, but won't.]

314 CE - The papal reign of Sylvester I began; he succeeded Pope Miltiades, who'd died on January 10th.

1606 - Guy Fawkes was executed for his role in the Gunpowder Plot.

1746 - The first clinic specializing in the treatment of venereal disease was opened at London Lock Hospital.

1814 - Gervasio Antonio de Posadas became Supreme Director of Argentina.

1846 - Following the Milwaukee Bridge War, Juneautown on the east bank of the Milwaukee River and Kilbourntown on the west were united as Milwaukee.

1919 - The Battle of George Square occurred in Glasgow between the Scottish TUC and Clyde Workers' Committee and City of Glasgow Police over the forty-hour work week; despite many injuries (some to women and children) no fatalities were reported, and afterwards workers were granted a 47-hour work week.

1929 - The Soviet Union exiled Leon Trotsky to Alma Ata (now in Kazakhstan); he would be expelled to Turkey in February 1929, accompanied by his wife Natalia Sedova and his son Lev Sedov.

1930 - 3M began marketing Scotch tape.

1936 - The Green Hornet debuted on the NBC Blue radio network.

1958 - The first successful launch of an American satellite into orbit made the first space age discovery when Explorer 1 was used by James Van Allen to discover the Van Allen radiation belt.

1961 - Ham the Chimp traveled into outer space on board the Mercury-Redstone 2 rocket as part of NASA's Project Mercury.

1966 - The Soviet Union launched its unmanned Luna 9 spacecraft as part of the Luna program.

1968 - Nauru declared its independence from Australia.

1969 - The body of nursing student Gail Miller was discovered by Larry Fisher; she had been raped then brutally murdered before being dumped in a Saskatoon alley. Arrested for the crime was a lodger of Fisher's, 17-year-old David Milgaard, who was convicted one year later to the day. Milgaard served 23 years in jail before his release in 1992; in 1997 he was exonerated by DNA evidence, and Fisher himself was convicted of the crime after more than 30 years.

1971 - Astronauts Alan Shepard, Stuart Roosa, and Edgar Mitchell lifted off aboard a Saturn V rocket as part of the Apollo 14 Mission to the Fra Mauro Highlands on the Moon.

2001 - In the Netherlands a Scottish court convicted one Libyan and acquitted another for their part in the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 which caused a December 1988 crash at Lockerbie, Scotland.

2003 - The Waterfall rail accident occurred near the Australian town of Waterfall, New South Wales.

2007 - Under the aegis of Operation Gamble, eight suspects (including mastermind Parviz Khan) were arrested in Birmingham, accused of plotting the kidnap, holding, and eventual beheading of a serving Muslim British soldier in Iraq. Khan would eventually be sentenced to life in prison for his role in the plot.

2009 - At least 113 people were killed and over 200 injured in Kenya following an oil spillage ignition in Molo, days after a massive fire at a Nakumatt supermarket in Nairobi killed at least 25 people.
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Sunday, January 30, 2011

Pop History Moment: The Beatles' Rooftop Concert

On this day in 1969 The Beatles held their final concert, on the roof of Apple Records at 3 Savile Row in central London; the event was filmed for their documentary Let It Be, which would record their eventual break-up. Opening with Get Back, the first part of the film also includes Don't Let Me Down, which were played three and two times respectively.

Despite having drifted apart emotionally and artistically, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr managed to 'come together' one last time (with Billy Preston on electric piano) to perform the impromptu gig, the second part of which features I've Got a Feeling and One After 909.

Their final stadium gig - in August 1966 at San Francisco's Candlestick Park - had come at a time when John Lennon had mistakenly told the truth to the American press, bemoaning the fact that the Beatles had become 'more popular than Jesus now', at which point the good Christians of that country reacted by going into a frenzy of forgiveness, burning albums and memorabilia in bonfires coast to coast.

By the third part of this video Metropolitan Police have begun gathering, as have an equal number of fans and tutters in Savile Row below. There was just enough time for Dig a Pony, followed by a reprise of Get Back, before the cops pulled the plug. (They also played a brief version of the British national anthem, God Save the Queen and a brief rehearsal of I Want You (She's So Heavy) while second engineer Alan Parsons was changing tapes. These performances were omitted from the film.) Lennon's closing salvo was: 'I'd like to say 'thank you' on behalf of the group and ourselves, and I hope we passed the audition!' By the time the album Let It Be was released in May 1970, the band was no more...

Homage was paid to the Fab Four's Rooftop Concert by another fab four, namely U2, who recorded the video to Where the Streets Have No Name on the rooftop of the Republic Liquor Store at East 7th Street and South Main Street in Los Angeles in March 1987.
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Gratuitous Brunette: Christian Bale


At this time in 2009 the blogosphere was buzzing about a certain expletive-laden rant delivered by Christian Bale to Shane Hurlbut on the set of Terminator Salvation...

The matter - according to Bale, at least - was thoroughly resolved, and in the spirit of magnanimity which has recently defined my outlook on life I've decided to make Bale our Gratuitous Brunette again on this, the occasion of his 37th birthday.
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Happy Birthday Your Royal Highness

Only his royal status kept me from making Felipe, Prince of Asturias, a Gratuitous Brunette today; despite his fitness for the Pop Culture Institute's single most dubious honour, I simply couldn't objectify the the third child and first son of King Juan Carlos I and Queen Sofía of Spain in that way... Still, all the elements are there, and who in their right mind could deny the charms of a statuesque Spaniard - especially one who will one day be King over all of them? Not a smarmy ass-kisser like me, that's for sure...

PhotobucketIn addition to Prince of Asturias, a title borne by every Spanish heir apparent, Prince Felipe is Prince of Viana, Prince of Girona, Duke of Montblanc, Count of Cervera, and Lord of Balaguer; the tradition of over-titling royal babies is consistent with the tradition of over-naming them, as his full name is Felipe Juan Pablo Alfonso de la Santísima Trinidad y de Todos los Santos de Borbón y de Grecia.

Yet in spite of such a complex entitlement, His Royal Highness seems to have escaped the worst ravages of the entitlement complex. He even went so far as to marry a commoner - and not one of those snooty commoners either, like the daughter of a nobleman, but an honest-to-goodness, went to state-funded schools, lived paycheque to paycheque kind of commoner. More or less...

For all that, though, Letizia, Princess of Asturias is far from common, possessing beauty and brains in equal measure. Married in May 2004, together they have two children: the Infantas Leonor (born in October 2005) and Sofía. Despite having himself bumped his own sisters, Infantas Elena and Cristina, out of the line of succession, the Spanish Constitution of 1978 may be altered to allow his own daughters to inherit even if a new Prince should subsequently appear. In which case, Infanta Leonor would become the first Queen Regnant of Spain since Isabella II abdicated in September 1868.
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"Looking For A New Love" by Jody Watley

I tried - oh, how I tried - to find another video by birthday gal Jody Watley that I liked better than this one; on the off chance that some of my readers might think I'm sending subliminal choices via the videos I post*, I was reluctant to even type in the words of the title here, choosing instead to cut and paste them.

Originally appearing on her 1987 debut album Jody Watley, it's Looking for a New Love; despite being a monster hit, with massive radio and club play, the song was to be kept out of the top spot on the charts first by Cutting Crew's (I Just) Died in Your Arms, and then by U2's With or Without You.

*Just for the record, I am not looking for a new love, an old love, a green love, or a blue love, although I am looking to listen to One Love - only that's another story altogether.

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Pop History Moment: The Mayerling Incident


One possible explanation for the durability of conspiracy theories is that they are usually more interesting than the truth; raised as we are on made up plots, it seems only natural the human mind would want to embroider the facts a little, especially if it helps to make events suit our own agenda or prejudices, and truth be damned...

PhotobucketOne of the first events in modern times* to invite a rash of conspiracy theories is known as the Mayerling Incident, which occurred on this day in 1889. Involved were Crown Prince Rudolf (shown at left) - heir to Franz Josef I, Emperor of Austria and King of both Hungary and Bohemia - and Rudolf's mistress**, Baroness Mary Vetsera (shown below right). As the most accepted version of the story goes, when forbidden by the Emperor to see each other again - owing to the fact of Rudolf's marriage to Stephanie, mother of his daughter Elisabeth - Rudolf and his mistress stole away to Rudolf's hunting lodge in the village of Mayerling (shown, at top) where he shot her in the head before taking his own life.

The other reason for the preponderance of conspiracy theories seems to be the willingness of officialdom to lie, especially in difficult circumstances, which only seems to add fuel to the fire; in circulating the story that during a hunting trip Rudolf suffered a heart attack and died while the Baroness, a notable figure at court and the daughter of a well-known diplomat besides, merely disappeared without a trace, must have set that pack of gossips all a-twitter***. Had they simply told the truth the story might have gone away, but in lying (and in telling such a bad lie at that) officials set off every finely-tuned bullshit detector in the palace.

PhotobucketAnyway, the story went fallow for awhile, as such things will; it wasn't until the end of World War II, when the monastery where Mary Vetsera was buried in Heiligenkreuz was shelled by the Soviets, that her remains were able to be examined. No bullet hole was found in her skull...

Alas, the Mayerling Incident is among the coldest of all the cold cases, and so we may never know what really happened on that night. Certainly, their relationship had been not only an open secret but practically de rigeur for the times, and would have borne no stigma for either of them. The possibility that Rudolf might have contracted venereal disease seems quite likely, and so he may have killed himself to spare the torment of going slowly mad; he may have even killed her - by strangulation, say - and then turned his gun on himself in a fit of madness brought on by syphilis. Then again, it may have been the Austrian secret police who topped him for his pro-Hungarian sympathies. The point of the story is, we will likely never know now, although I guess the ultimate point of this post is that it's still fun to speculate.

What we do know of the incident we know from the media it subsequently inspired; the 1936 film Mayerling - directed by Anatole Litvak, starring Charles Boyer as Rudolf and Danielle Darrieux as Mary - is probably the most famous of these, although a TV version from 1957 also called Mayerling - again directed by Anatole Litvak but this time starring Audrey Hepburn as Mary and Mel Ferrer as Rudolf - has its own charms. A lavish 1968 version, once again called Mayerling - directed by Terence Young, starring Omar Sharif, Catherine Deneuve, James Mason, and Ava Gardner - is likewise noted for its design and production elements, if not its accuracy.

*Post-Industrial Revolution.
**Or was she?
**And this in those halcyon days before Twitter!

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Happy Birthday Brett Butler

Birthday wishes go out today to Brett Butler, still one of my favourite comedians and at one time the star of the very funny sitcom, Grace Under Fire. I also greatly enjoyed her autobiography, Knee Deep in Paradise, mainly because it didn't seem to be covered in some ghost-writer's grubby fingerprints. Then the show went off the air and she seemed to vanish... Rumours began swirling of her unprofessional behaviour on the set, but I always wondered if that means she was really being that way or merely insufficiently female and therefore deferential to be considered professional.

In fact, I was just about to report her to the Department of Where Are They Now* when my research yielded up just the news I'd been looking for - namely that she's been back on TV again, playing Joy's mother on My Name Is Earl... And then there's always this clip of her from Late Show with David Letterman circa 2003!

*Not that it would have stopped me posting this, since I do love me some obscure celebrities!

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In Memoriam: Franklin Delano Roosevelt

During the most recent Inauguration many commentators drew comparisons between the new president and some of his predecessors, noting parallels between Obama, Lincoln, and Kennedy especially; one obvious parallel I did not hear drawn on that day is probably the most apt one, and that is between the 44th and 32nd Presidents...

PhotobucketIn both cases, those presidents came to power forced to deal with an unprecedented economic crisis brought about by failed conservative policies; they weren't so much elected as swept to power on a populist surge that demanded an end to the corruption of 'business as usual' in Washington. In both cases once in the capital they faced the entrenched remainder of a decimated Republican Party, which proceeded to act spitefully and out of partisan politics to oppose progress rather than act for the good of the nation. In almost every other way, of course, Franklin Delano Roosevelt and his illustrious successor differ greatly...

Roosevelt was born, on this day in 1882, into the highest caste of Americans. His was destined to be a life of idle pleasures, occasionally interrupted by a spot of easy work which would insulate him from any possibility of hardship, save perhaps the occasional paper cut. He had access to the best schools - Groton, Harvard - and had he so chosen he need never have met anyone who got dirt on their hands when they worked. Unlike many of his fellow pupils at Groton, though, Roosevelt took the words of his headmaster Endicott Peabody to heart; Peabody preached a strict Christian doctrine of service to the less fortunate, and unlike his fellow classmates young Franklin didn't just grow up to sign cheques but to actually help millions of his fellow Americans when times were their hardest. Similarly his First Lady, the redoubtable Eleanor Roosevelt (whom he'd married in March 1905), would give her yeoman service to public life throughout her husband's public life and beyond.

Elected Governor of New York during the 1928 Election, when the country was enjoying unprecedented prosperity, within Roosevelt's first year in office the Wall Street Crash had turned millions of the middle class poor and done much worse to many more millions of the poor. Although he had come to power with no set agenda, that first year he busied himself nonetheless - reforming the state's penal system and reining in the worst excesses of Tammany Hall, whose corruption went all the way up to New York City mayor Jimmy Walker. From the beginning, though, the Crash promised to be a catastrophe of epic proportions, and in that regard it did not disappoint... Through his skillful handling of relief efforts, Roosevelt was re-elected governor in November 1930 by a margin of 700,000 votes, making a run for the White House inevitable.

President Herbert Hoover was one of those self-made types, and so felt that everyone should be able to do what he'd done to survive the economic downturn, which was to pull themselves up by their bootstraps and work harder. He was also a firm believer in unregulated capitalism and its ability to sort out such problems, despite the fact that even from where he sat, unregulated capitalism had just stunningly failed to do anything of the sort. Yet Hoover ambled through the campaign during the 1932 Election with a kind of smug self-assurance, and was in turn handed one of the worst defeats in electoral history, carrying just 6 states to Roosevelt's 42*. Despite a sombre mood in the land, Roosevelt's inauguration was a cause for celebration - yet another apt comparison to 2009.

On the back of his stunning mandate Roosevelt not only established an unprecedented four-term presidency but profoundly reshaped American government and attitudes... Prior to his Administration, many Americans seemed to feel that the less fortunate obviously brought their poverty on themselves, and that through hard work alone they could improve their station in life. This perspective was the result of a willful ignorance of the many inequities inherent in the system - from an unfair tax burden to wages purposely kept low so as to keep working people in their place to what must have seemed like insurmountable bigotry encountered by anyone who wasn't white and Christian and not only born on American soil but several generations removed from Ellis Island.

Roosevelt's handling of the Depression by means of the New Deal has been debated over and over again in the nearly eight decades since it was first introduced; whether or not the debaters feel it was successful or not will tell you which way they vote to this day. That the very notion of helping the less fortunate was - and to a certain extent still is - seen as 'socialism' in an ostensibly Christian nation will tell you just how far from Christ the ruling class** had (and indeed has) become; yet what Roosevelt did was nothing short of preventing a revolution, sparing the fat cats the ignominy of being dragged from their beds and slaughtered by the 25% of their fellow citizens who were unemployed and starving while they snapped up properties at bargain prices like they were playing some big game of Monopoly rather than ruining lives.

Of course, Roosevelt not only handled the Depression but was president at the outset of World War II as well as on that terrible day when it came to America in December 1941. Throughout the war he worked tirelessly, all of which took a terrible toll on a man who had already suffered a debilitating battle with paralysis in August 1921, while on vacation at his family's home in Campobello. He was a canny manipulator of the media via his fireside chats - the first of which he delivered in March 1932, and which would over time make him the first celebrity president***. Upon his death, in April 1945, it was obvious he'd also touched the hearts of the many millions whose lives his policies had helped, given the outpouring of their emotion at the time.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt is buried at Springwood, his family's home in Upstate New York, and is commemorated by a very moving monument on the National Mall in Washington, DC, as well as on the American dime.

*Remember, between 1912 and 1959 there were only 48 states.
**Not to mention their obliviously self-oppressing supporters.
***Yet another parallel between FDR and Obama.

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POPnews - January 30th

[Anyone who thought they could be well and truly rid of Charles I by executing him was wrong wrong wrong. Not only was His Majesty eventually canonized by the Church of England in 1660 - the same year the monarchy was restored under his son, Charles II - as well as being the only person canonized by the Church of England after the Reformation, he is today honoured by the Society of King Charles the Martyr, and remains one of England's most frequently depicted kings specifically because if the way he died. This famous 'Triple Portrait' of him was painted circa 1636, just one of many made of him by Sir Anthony Van Dyck; not only was he the subject of the 1845 novel Twenty Years After, by Alexandre Dumas, Charles I has been portrayed in the 1970 film Cromwell by Alec Guinness, by Stephen Fry in Blackadder: The Cavalier Years, and by Rupert Everett in 2003's To Kill a King.]

1181 - Emperor Takakura of Japan died, having abdicated the previous year in favour of his successor, an infant son who became Emperor Antoku.

1649 - England's King Charles I was beheaded on a scaffold outside a building he himself had commissioned, the Banqueting House of the Palace of Whitehall.

1661 - The corpse of Oliver Cromwell was executed - two years after he died - for his role as a regicide in the death of England's King Charles I; the date was purposely chosen, as it was the anniversary of the murder of Charles I.

1826 - The Menai Suspension Bridge, designed by Thomas Telford, was opened; dramatically situated over the Menai Strait between Anglesey and 'mainland' Wales, it stands today as a tribute to the engineering prowess of its creator.

1835 - The first attempted assassination of an American president occurred when Richard Lawrence, a mentally ill man (possibly poisoned by lead), tried to shoot Andrew Jackson for preventing him from becoming King of England; Lawrence was in turn beaten by the President's cane until he could be subdued by Davy Crockett.

1847 - The town of Yerba Buena, California, was renamed San Francisco.

1867 - Emperor Kōmei of Japan died; he would be succeeded by his son, who reigned as Emperor Meiji, on February 3rd.

1889 - Austrian Archduke and Crown Prince Rudolf - heir to the dual crown of Austria-Hungary - was found dead with his mistress Baroness Mary Vetsera at his hunting lodge in Mayerling, both victims of an apparent murder-suicide pact.

1925 - The Government of Turkey threw Patriarch Constantine VI out of Istanbul.

1933 - Adolf Hitler was sworn in as Chancellor of Germany.

1948 - Mohandas K. 'Mahatma' Gandhi was assassinated by Nathuram Godse.

1956 - The home of American civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. was bombed in retaliation for his involvement in the Montgomery Bus Boycott; at the time Dr. King was not at home but Mrs. King was, along with their infant daughter Yolanda and a fellow church member Mrs. Roscoe Williams. None were hurt in the blast.

1960 - The African National Party was founded in Chad, through the merger of traditionalist parties.

1964 - Ranger 6 was launched as part of the Ranger Program; its purpose was to photograph the lunar surface prior to impacting the surface of the moon, which it did.

1965 - By special decree of HM The Queen, Sir Winston Churchill was given a State Funeral at St Paul's Cathedral.

Photobucket1971 - Carole King's Tapestry album was released; featuring such classics of Seventies music as I Feel the Earth Move, So Far Away, It's Too Late, You've Got a Friend, Where You Lead, Will You Love Me Tomorrow?, and (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman it would become the longest charting album by a female solo artist and sell 24 million copies worldwide.

1972 - Pakistan withdrew from the Commonwealth of Nations.

1996 - Gino Gallagher - suspected leader of the Irish National Liberation Army - was killed while waiting in line for his unemployment benefit.

2003 - Belgium recognized same-sex marriages.

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Saturday, January 29, 2011

Pop History Moment: The Death of Freddie Prinze

On this day in 1977 one of the brightest young comedians in the United States died...

Freddie Prinze was just 22 and on top of the world - having made such a sensation at the age of 20 in Chico and the Man opposite Jack Albertson that his swansong would find him performing at the inauguration of US President Jimmy Carter - when it all came crashing down. Sudden fame and an influx of money escalated his drug use, which eroded his marriage to Katherine Cochran (mother of his baby son Freddie Prinze, Jr.), and twin obsessions with the assassination of JFK and watching Martin Scorsese's Taxi Driver probably didn't help, although surely they were neither the cause nor the effect of any downward spiral merely its manifestation.

Having just received a restraining order, forbidding him contact with his wife and son, Prinze filmed what would his the last episode of the show - the one in which Albertson's character Ed talks to 'God'*. Then, the day before he died, Prinze holed up in his room at the Beverly Comstock Hotel on Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles, and started calling his family, friends, and colleagues to say goodbye. In his words, 'life [wasn't] worth living' without his wife and child, even though in those terrible days before rehab he seems to have forgotten that her decision to leave him was predicated only on his drug use. One colleague, his manager Marvin 'Dusty' Snyder, rushed to his side and tried to reason with him; Snyder was unable to stop him, however, putting a gun to his head and pulling the trigger while high on Quaaludes.

Prinze was rushed to UCLA Medical Center and placed on life support, from which he was removed after emergency surgery failed to save him. It took years, but his mother Maria finally got his cause of death changed from 'suicide' to 'accidental death'. Whichever cause took him, the stigma hardly matters now; surely it only matters that he's gone and that if it had all gone down just five years later a place like the Betty Ford Clinic (opened in October 1982) might have saved him.

*Actually his old Army buddy, talking through a PA system.

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Remembering... Jimmy Durante

For more than fifty years, Jimmy Durante was as durable a brand as pop culture had to offer - with a voice and a profile as distinctive as his patter...

PhotobucketBorn in February 1893 - seasoned by years in vaudeville, on Broadway, lighting up both movie and television screens and over the radio waves - by the time he took his final bow on this day in 1980, Durante had entertained untold millions with his jazz piano stylings, his raucous malapropisms, and occasionally even his poignancy - typically ending a performance with his signature song Inka Dinka Doo followed by a tip of the hat and the immortal line: 'Good night, Mrs. Calabash, wherever you are.' The secret of her identity, which he took with him to his grave, is one of the greatest mysteries in pop culture.

My first exposure to Durante came as a result of a CD I once bought - now practically a sacred relic in the collection of the Pop Culture Institute, so long ago did I buy it - in which Durante made his usual uproar with Judy Garland, Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, and Arthur Treacher during World War II on the Armed Forces Radio Network. In sharing the microphone with the most popular stars in the world at the time, Durante proved himself one of their number - garnering laughs, applause, and huzzahs which were the equal of his peers while boosting morale in the process.
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Gratuitous Brunette: Edward Burns

Although the output of his career has yet to compel me to partake of it - except for the Virgin Comics' series Dock Walloper, co-written with Jimmy Palmiotti, and soon to get the big screen treatment - the fact of his career has long held my interest; a proponent of low-budget film-making, Edward Burns has proven that budget doesn't make a good movie, story and acting and location do.

PhotobucketBeginning with 1995's The Brothers McMullen, the former production assistant has managed to retain an enormous amount of creative control over his finished product precisely because he hasn't allowed himself to become beholden to the studios for massive amounts of cash. In 1996, he wrote, directed and starred in the ensemble drama She's The One with Jennifer Aniston, Cameron Diaz, and Amanda Peet, which he followed in 2001 with Sidewalks of New York - shot for just $1 million in only 17 days. Looking For Kitty (2004) was shot in about the same time for $200,000 with a digital camcorder.

Despite being an indie darling, making such gritty, on-the-fly work for very little money, Burns has starred in a few of those lavish productions he himself has eschewed making, including Saving Private Ryan, Life or Something Like It, and 27 Dresses.

Born on this day in 1968 and married since June 2003 to my favourite supermodel and his future fellow Gratuitous Brunette Christy Turlington, together they have two children - Grace, born in 2003, and Finn, born in 2006.
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"Lie To Me" by Jonny Lang

Hard to believe, but Jonny Lang was just 15 when he recorded this song, and the album Lie to Me was released just one day before his sixteenth birthday in 1997. That said, it wasn't even his first album but his second, the independently-released Smokin by Kid Jonny Lang & The Big Bang having already come out in 1995*.

Jonny Lang began playing the guitar at the age of 12, after his father took him to a Bad Medicine Blues Band gig in Fargo; shortly thereafter he began taking lessons from Ted Larsen, the band's guitar player, and it was only a few short months later Lang joined the band himself.

Today Lang turns 30, and the sheen of his early prodigality has yet to wear off; in 2006 Lang won his first Grammy Award for the gospel-tinged album Turn Around. Like Kenny Wayne Shepherd - another spooky white kid who seemed to know exactly what to do with a guitar from the minute he picked one up - Lang has played a crucial role in the rebirth of interest in the blues over the past dozen years.

*When he was 13!

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Pop History Moment: The Accession of Liliuokalani

I've written a considerable amount regarding the Kingdom of Hawai'i as part of my passive-aggressive agenda towards the US government; too few people know the real story of the colonial era in general, let alone that the United States invaded and has occupied a sovereign nation since the 1890s, despite being founded itself on such high-flown ideals as independence from colonial rule.

PhotobucketOn this day in 1891 the last queen of Hawaii came to power, and for attempting to defend her people and the sovereignty of her nation - which, after all, ought to have been her job - she managed to bring the whole thing crashing down around her...

Following the death of her brother and predecessor Kalakaua, Liliuokalani came to power intent on abrogating the Bayonet Constitution, imposed on the island kingdom by American Lorrin A. Thurston and enforced by the Honolulu Rifles - a paramilitary organization backed by the country's Reform Party, who literally pointed their guns at the King as he signed it. Her second act was to protect her country's revenue from the McKinley Tariff, which had been imposed upon sugar exports and severely restricted revenues for the people who grew it.

So swift was her fall from power that she never even made it to the second anniversary of her accession; 1 year and 354 days after becoming queen she was deposed, and the overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom was complete. As a closing salvo, though, she issued the following statement:

I Liliuokalani, by the Grace of God and under the Constitution of the Hawaiian Kingdom, Queen, do hereby solemnly protest against any and all acts done against myself and the Constitutional Government of the Hawaiian Kingdom by certain persons claiming to have established a Provisional Government of and for this Kingdom. 'That I yield to the superior force of the United States of America whose Minister Plenipotentiary, His Excellency John L. Stevens, has caused United States troops to be landed a Honolulu and declared that he would support the Provisional Government.' Now to avoid any collision of armed forces, and perhaps the loss of life, I do this under protest and impelled by said force yield my authority until such time as the Government of the United States shall, upon facts being presented to it, undo the action of its representatives and reinstate me in the authority which I claim as the Constitutional Sovereign of the Hawaiian Islands.

Alas, her faith in the world's superpowers - especially in their dealings with pivotal but poor colonies - was misplaced; on January 14th, 1893, a Committee of Safety was formed. Two days later the US government's John L. Stevens ordered two companies of Marines from the USS Boston deployed to guard such pivotal locations in Honolulu as the US Legation, Consulate, and Arion Hall. The following day, Liliuokalani was deposed, and Hawaii was a sovereign nation no more...
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Edgar Allen Poe's "The Raven" read by John Astin

Here's an interesting reading of The Raven by John Astin, who honed his creepiness by originating the role of Gomez Addams on television - in The Addams Family in the 1960s - and who here bears an eerie resemblance to the poem's author, Edgar Allen Poe, which is an entirely new kind of creepy altogether...

The Raven was first published on this day in 1845 by the New York Evening Mirror.
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In Memoriam: W. C. Fields

In an industry where too few performers are able to control themselves, let alone their careers, W. C. Fields not only did just that but was able to exert tremendous control over his persona as well; meaning whether on stage, screen, or sidewalk the public saw him exactly as he wanted to be seen - namely as a lovable misanthrope. While he seemed to revel in the contradictions inherent in such an image, though, it only told half of the story...

PhotobucketBorn on this day in 1880, Fields dropped out of school at the age of 11 to tour in vaudeville, which was undoubtedly as educational as things got in the 1890s; by the time he was 21 Fields was being billed at 'The Eccentric Juggler' - precisely the sort of excellent moniker he'd never have gotten had he stayed in school. Just five years later he made his Broadway debut in The Ham Tree, at which point the already notable eccentric had begun juggling an increasingly busy career.

As a performer, even Fields' chosen apparel embodied the contradictions of his persona. Yet it was precisely by dressing as a 'genteel tramp' that he was able to expand his potential audience; rich and poor alike could both laugh at and empathize with such a character, as they could be drawn to a con-man with a heart of gold, especially during the tough times of the Great Depression. Fields was canny, however, in taking an archetype which was already popular from an established medium (namely the circus clown) and imbuing it with a sophistication which was more in keeping with the times - times which themselves were increasingly sophisticated thanks to the explosive growth of mass media in the first three decades of the 20th Century.

One of the first movie stars, Fields was appearing in two-reelers* as early as 1915, but due to his stage commitments was unable to appear in features prior to 1924, when he was released from his contract with the Ziegfeld Follies. Having appeared on Broadway in a musical comedy called Poppy he later reprised the role on film; another early film role was Sally of the Sawdust for pioneering movie director D.W. Griffith. As Fields' fame grew so did his reach into forms of media - roles of increasing length and popularity in the movies soon led to radio appearances, where his distinctive voice and patter reached a wider audience in a single broadcast than the average vaudevillian could possibly dream of. Alas, he died before he could make his debut on television, whose intimacy would have suited him and his abilities, and whose reached would have fired his ambition.

Just the highlights of W. C. Fields' movie work would do any film actor proud... Alice in Wonderland (1933), The Old Fashioned Way and Mrs. Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch (1934), David Copperfield (1935), You Can't Cheat an Honest Man (1939), My Little Chickadee and The Bank Dick (1940), and his last starring role Never Give a Sucker an Even Break (1941) are among the finest comedies of an era renowned for its quality films. The best of these he made with his kind of dame, Mae West; alas, she pulled her diva shtick over billing on My Little Chickadee and a promising partnership came to an abrupt end after just one outing.

But what of Fields' curmudgeonly affect? Well, while he was undoubtedly as complex as any creative person, he was said to be both privately generous and fond of his grandchildren - in contrast to the many kid-hating penny-pinchers he'd played on stage and screen. His dislike of Christmas Day - ironically the day he died, in 1946 - was probably more related to his dislike of sentimentality that anything else. Then again he was also a mean drunk who used to pepper sight-seers outside his home with a pellet gun!

His marriage, in April 1900, to chorus girl Harriet 'Hattie' Hughes (which resulted in the birth of a son, William Claude Fields Jr.) fizzled out when he refused to give up showbiz, just as he was starting to become successful, and yet he voluntarily sent them child support at a time when no court in the land would have made him do so. A second son, William Rexford Fields Morris, resulted from Fields' relationship with Bessie Poole; and while there were no issue from his relationship with Carlotta Monti, which lasted from 1932 until his death in 1946, he was generous with her in other ways - after a fashion...

By the time he died Fields had left her with enough anecdotes to fill a memoir of their life together; a book which was later made into a movie of the same name - W.C. Fields and Me - starring Rod Steiger as Fields and Valerie Perrine as Monti, who herself appeared as an extra in it. It was minor consolation, though; as he got older, and sicker, and drunker he grew more and more into the bastard he'd spent the previous half century creating. It was left to Monti to bear the brunt of that cruelty...

Not only are many of Fields' films available on DVD at long last, a more recent assessment of him appears in Man on the Flying Trapeze: The Life and Times of W. C. Fields by Simon Louvish - and wouldn't you know it, there's a copy of that very book in the library of the Pop Culture Institute!

*At approximately twenty minutes in length, the two-reeler is considered the forerunner of the sitcom.

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POPnews - January 29th

[The first players voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame were (clockwise from top left) Christy Mathewson, Babe Ruth, Honus Wagner, Ty Cobb, and Walter Johnson; they weren't formally inducted, however, until the museum - located in Cooperstown, New York - was dedicated in June 1939.]

904 CE - Sergius III came out of retirement to take over the papacy from the deposed antipope Christopher; he'd first been elected following the death of Pope Leo V the previous September.

1119 - Pope Gelasius II died, just five days after the first anniversary of his enthronement; he was succeeded by Callixtus II just days later, on February 1st.

1676 - Feodor III became Tsar of Russia following the death of his father, Alexis I.

1814 - Forces of the French Empire commanded by Napoleon himself defeated those of Russia and Prussia under Generalfeldmarschall Prince von Blücher at the Battle of Brienne.

1820 - Britain's King George III died at Windsor Castle; he was succeeded by his son, George IV, who'd been acting as Regent since 1811.

1856 - Britain's Queen Victoria created the Victoria Cross to recognize 'valour in the face of the enemy' during the Crimean War, backdating eligibility for the honour to 1854. The first medals were handed out in June 1857 by the Queen herself at a ceremony in Hyde Park, at which the first recipient was Charles Davis Lucas, whose medal is currently on display at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich.

1861 - Kansas became the 34th US state.

1863 - At the Bear River Massacre in Washington Territory (in present-day Franklin County, Idaho, near Preston) a US Army platoon commanded by Colonel Patrick Edward Connor slaughtered between 200-400 of the area's Shoshone people - including their chief, Bear Hunter - as part of the ongoing Bear River Expedition.

1891 - Liliuokalani was proclaimed Queen of Hawai'i; she would be the last sovereign to rule that country before it was forcibly annexed by the United States.

1916 - Paris was bombarded by German zeppelins for the second and last time during World War I; 54 people were killed.

1936 - The first inductees into the Baseball Hall of Fame at Cooperstown, New York, were named: Ty Cobb, Walter Johnson, Christy Mathewson, Babe Ruth, and Honus Wagner.

1940 - Three trains on Osaka's Sakurajima Line crashed and exploded while approaching Ajikawaguchi station, killing 181 people.

1944 - Bologna's Anatomical Theatre of the Archiginnasio was destroyed during an air-raid.

1959 - Walt Disney released Sleeping Beauty, the 16th and final film he would release before his death, and the last fairytale his studio would make until 1989's The Little Mermaid. It was also the last animated film the company made using hand-inked cels; beginning with One Hundred and One Dalmatians the studio incorporated xerography into its animation process.

1963 - The first inductees into the Pro Football Hall of Fame at Canton, Ohio, were named; the so-called 'charter inductees' are Sammy Baugh, Bert Bell, Earl 'Dutch' Clark, Harold 'Red' Grange, George Halas, Mel Hein, Wilbur 'Pete' Henry, Robert 'Cal' Hubbard, Don Hutson, Earl 'Curly' Lambeau, Tim Mara, George Preston Marshall, John 'Blood' McNally, Bronko Nagurski, Ernie Nevers, and Jim Thorpe.

1979 - Brenda Spencer killed two people and wounded eight at the Grover Cleveland Elementary School shootings.

1996 - Teatro la Fenice, an historic opera house in Venice, was destroyed by fire - again; La Fenice means 'the Phoenix' in Italian, referring to previous fires in 1774 and 1836. The event and its aftermath are thrillingly recounted in John Berendt's 2005 book The City of Falling Angels. After five years of legal wrangling, it took just 650 days and €90 million for the third Fenice to rise from the ashes; the theater reopened in December 2003.

1998 - A bomb exploded at an abortion clinic in Birmingham, Alabama, killing part-time security guard Robert Sanderson and severely wounding nurse Emily Lyons in the process; serial bomber Eric Robert Rudolph - who most famously committed the Centennial Olympic Park bombing at Atlanta's 1996 Summer Olympics in July 1996 - later confessed to the crime.

2002 - In his State of the Union Address, US President George W. Bush described 'regimes that sponsor terror' as an Axis of Evil, in which he included Iraq, Iran and North Korea.
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