Monday, February 28, 2011

Gratuitous Brunette: Robert Sean Leonard

Although he rose to prominence in such 20th Century period pics as Dead Poets Society, Mr. & Mrs. Bridge, and Swing Kids, in our arrogant opinion birthday boy Robert Sean Leonard (and particularly his bottom lip) attained their peak of succulence under a Tuscan sun during the Italian Renaissance; as Claudio in Kenneth Branagh's 1993 film adaptation of William Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing he only had to pout to steal the whole show from such deli hams as Emma Thompson, Michael Keaton, and Branagh himself. Following the success of that film, he returned to the American costumer idiom, playing Ted Archer in The Age of Innocence, Martin Scorsese's curious adaptation of Edith Wharton's 1920 novel of the same name.

Of course, in the 21st Century he's been better known for wearing modern clothes in his role as Dr. James Wilson on Fox-TV's hit medical drama House - not least of all because of the homoerotic subtext between his character and the title character, Gregory House, played by Hugh Laurie. Personally I don't see it - can't straight guys be close friends without it leading to anything so fun* - but then I have no gaydar either, so what do I know?

*Even though there's a whole sub-genre of gay porno detailing with such relationships, which just happens to be one of my favourite gay porno subgenres, I don't think all straight guys who are friends have to have sex with each other. Like the ugly ones, for instance...

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In Memoriam: Blondin


As tightrope walkers go, few if any have attained the level of fame which accrued to Blondin, who was born on this day in 1824... Gymnastically precocious, his first public performance came before he was six years old - following just six months of training at the École de Gymnase in the southern French city of Lyon - at which he was billed 'The Little Wonder'.

The act for which he is most famous came when, as part of his tour of America in the 1850s, he crossed Niagara Falls on a tightrope - during which he was extensively photographed* with his manager Harry Colcord riding on his back**. It was for his numerous feats of derring-do in the UK that he owed his enduring reputation, though, among them a series of performances at London's Crystal Palace and Dublin's Royal Portobello Gardens, plus a crossing of Birmingham's Edgbaston Reservoir.

Having retired in in the mid-1870s, Blondin came out of retirement in 1880, and continued performing until 1896, when he gave his final performance in Belfast; he died in Ealing in February 1897, and was buried in Kensal Green Cemetery.

*Well, for the time anyway; it was, after all, June 1859.
**During that performance he also cooked and ate an omelette at the midpoint of the rope, 50 m (160 feet) above the swirling maelstrom below.
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"Drops Of Jupiter (Tell Me)" by Train

Birthday wishes go out today to the talented singer and multi-instrumentalist Patrick Monahan who, as lead singer of Train, had a monster hit in 2001 with Drops of Jupiter (Tell Me), which originally appeared on the band's second album of the same name. Monahan has said he was inspired to write the song by the death of his mother.

He's also released a solo album, 2007's Last of Seven.
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Pop History Moment: The Killing of Olof Palme

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On this day in 1986 Sweden's two-time Prime Minister Olof Palme - head of the Social Democratic Party and a well-respected (if low-key) diplomat on the world stage - was assassinated on a street in Stockholm, in front of his wife Lisbet, who was also injured in the attack.

Shortly thereafter the well-known right-wing extremist Victor Gunnarsson was arrested, and questioned by police, only to be released. It was more than two years later that a petty criminal named Christer Pettersson was arrested, tried, and convicted of the crime; he was released on appeal a year later, and died in 2004.

No one else has ever been charged, although several suspects have been discussed in the more than twenty years since Palme's murder, including South African superspy Craig Williamson, Anthony White, and Bertil Wedin; Germany's Red Army Faction (also known as the Bader-Meinhof) have actually claimed responsibility. As many motives as killers have also been suggested, from Palme's opposition to apartheid, his role in 1975's West German embassy siege, and a Swedish weapons deal with India.

To date the investigation into the killing of Olof Palme has cost the government of Sweden € 38 million and produced 700,000 pages of documentation, yet no answers...
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POPnews - February 28th

[Waco's shoddily built Mount Carmel Center met its fiery end on April 19th after a fifty-one day standoff (begun on this day in 1993) along with 79 pseudo-Christian fanatics obsessed with Armageddon who more than got their wish; the worst of it was that 21 of those who died were children, whose brief lives had already been tainted by hateful rhetoric, religious brainwashing and, it was reported, sexual abuse.]

202 BCE - The coronation ceremony of Liu Bang as Emperor Gaozu of Han took place, initiating four centuries of the Han Dynasty's rule over China.

870 CE - The Fourth Council of Constantinople closed.

1827 - The Baltimore & Ohio Railroad was incorporated, becoming the first railroad in America to offer the commercial transportation of both people and freight.

1838 - Robert Nelson, leader of the Patriotes, proclaimed the independence of Lower Canada - better known today as Québec.

1844 - A gun on the USS Princeton exploded while on a cruise of the Potomac River, killing 8 US Cabinet members - Secretary of State Abel P. Upshur and Secretary of the Navy Thomas Gilmer among them - and several others besides, including Colonel David Gardiner, the father of President John Tyler's fiance Julia Gardiner (both of whom had been lucky enough to escape injury).

1850 - The University of Utah opened in Salt Lake City.

1870 - The Bulgarian Exarchate was established by decree of Sultan Abd-ul-Aziz of the Ottoman Empire.

1897 - Queen Ranavalona III, Madagascar's last reigning monarch, was deposed by a French military force.

1935 - Nylon was discovered by Wallace Carothers.

1947 - In Taiwan, civil disorder was put down at a loss of 30,000 civilian lives; the event later became known as the 228 Incident.

1953 - James D. Watson and Francis Crick announced to friends that they'd determined the chemical structure of DNA, which would be formally announced the following April.

1975 - A major crash at London's Moorgate Tube station killed 43 people.

1983 - The final episode of the long-running TV sitcom M*A*S*H was domestically broadcast, becoming the most watched television episode in history to date, with 106 million viewers in the US; these figures have since been surpassed, by Super Bowl XLIV, which attracted 106.5 million viewers in February 2010.

1985 - The Provisional IRA carried out a mortar attack on the Royal Ulster Constabulary police station at Newry, killing nine officers; it was the the highest loss of life for a single day in the history of the RUC.

1993 - Who could have guessed that when Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agents raided the Branch Davidian church with a warrant to arrest the group's leader David Koresh that it would all end so thrillingly? While four ATF agents and five Davidians died in this initial raid, a further 82 Davidians (including their leader) died in the brimstone-less fire shown above.

1997 - The North Hollywood shootout took place, in which bank robbers Larry Phillips, Jr. and Emil Matasareanu were killed in a shootout with police.

2001 - The Nisqually Earthquake - measuring 6.8 on the Richter Scale - affected the Nisqually Valley, Seattle, Tacoma, and Olympia in Washington state.

2004 - Over 1 million Taiwanese took part in the 228 Hand-in-Hand Rally, forming a 500-kilometre (300-mile) long human chain to commemorate that country's 228 Incident in 1947.

2007 - The New Horizons spacecraft - on its way to Pluto - flew past Jupiter.

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Sunday, February 27, 2011

In Memoriam: John Steinbeck

The influence exerted by John Steinbeck over my writing cannot be measured... To be completely honest, it cannot be detected in any way, but it's still there! Whereas Steinbeck's writing is vivid and lucid, though, mine has been characterized as 'giddy and shallow'*. Still, his easy facility with adjectives and his compassion for those of his characters whose lives haven't worked out as planned had a major impact on me at the time I was first considering a life in letters. So while I know I'll never be his equal I'm still proud to call myself his acolyte.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketBorn on this day in 1902 in California's Salinas Valley, the landscape made its impact on him early; again and again he extolled the region's beauty (as well as the hardships encountered by its residents) in such works as 1922's The Pastures of Heaven, perennial middle-school reading list stalwart The Red Pony, Tortilla Flat, Cannery Row and its sequel Sweet Thursday, East of Eden and Of Mice and Men.

So vivid was his handling of imagery, so sensitive his approach to character, that many of Steinbeck's works were made into films - including The Moon is Down and The Pearl - even as they were being written. Yet he only wrote one work directly for the screen, which happens to be Alfred Hitchcock's legendary Lifeboat, starring Tallulah Bankhead, Hume Cronyn, and John Hodiak. Steinbeck later asked that his name be removed from the film, though, believing it to have racist undertones. Another, The Wayward Bus, proved to be the highlight of Jayne Mansfield's attempts at acting.

Long pestered by the FBI for his left-wing sympathies, John Steinbeck was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1962; he died of a heart attack in December 1968, and has been accorded many of the honours which normally accrue to one of his popularity and genius, including plaques and statues galore, as well as enduring readership.

*I stand by my original assessment. ~ Chumley

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"You Raise Me Up" by Josh Groban

Although I've always thought Josh Groban was hella cute - and howled as loudly as anyone with laughter at his expletive-laden solo in Jimmy Kimmel's hilarious viral video sensation I'm Fucking Ben Affleck - it was Groban's gutsy appearance on Never Mind The Buzzcocks in December 2008 that permanently cemented my admiration of him.

Here Groban is seen performing his biggest hit to date, You Raise Me Up - with music by Secret Garden's Rolf Løvland and lyrics by Brendan Graham - on The Ellen DeGeneres Show accompanied by the African Children's Choir in August 2007; it's posted here, naturally, because today is his birthday.
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Pop History Moment: De Gaulle Escapes Assassination

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On this day in 1963 Antoine Argoud - arch enemy of French President Charles de Gaulle, member of the Organisation de l'Armée Secrète, and opponent of Algerian independence, as well as a former colonel in the French Army - was charged with an assassination attempt against the President, the second of two in which he would be involved*.

Argoud was found bound and gagged in a van parked near Paris' Quai des Orfèvres, having been heavily beaten by men he claimed were with the French Secret Police (known as Les Barbouzes, or the Bearded Ones) but whose assailants later claimed to be with the OAS; Argoud, they said, had been roughly handled as punishment for bungling to plot to kill de Gaulle.

Argoud was sentenced to life imprisonment for his role in the abortive plot, but subsequently released as part of a general amnesty in May 1968.

*The first - the so-called Algiers Putsch - had been masterminded by General Raoul Salan in April 1961.
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Best Of The Best: Elizabeth Taylor

National Velvet - Before she was given access to the kind of animals who'd leave their wives for her and devote themselves to buying her the kind of jewellery with which her name would one day become synonymous, Elizabeth Taylor's co-stars were the more traditional animals associated with little girls - namely dogs and horses. Of course, the previous year's Lassie Come Home (only her second film appearance) set a precedent of its own, by featuring her first gay co-star, Roddy McDowall, whereas this particular outing paired her with renowned pint-sized cherry-picker Mickey Rooney.

Little Women - The three versions of Louisa May Alcott's Civil War era chestnut each have their own unique charms; George Cukor's 1933 version is known for the verve demonstrated by its cast struggling hard to overcome the limitations of antique film-making equipment, whereas Gillian Armstrong's 1994 version has the accuracy in its art direction which is the hallmark of the modern movie industry*. Mervyn LeRoy's 1949 version might just be the version Goldilocks would choose; not only is it technically perfect and sartorially accurate, it features a sixteen-year-old Elizabeth Taylor fairly bursting her stays with dewy goodness.

*I've neglected to mention David Lowell Rich's 1978 version because... Well, just because. Besides which, it was made for TV... 'Nuff said!

Father of the Bride - Occasionally (okay, often) art doesn't so much mirror life as plagiarize it outright; nowhere is this more true than in Hollywood where, in 1950, art held up the life of Elizabeth Taylor with a knife and thoroughly menaced it before making off with a goodly amount of loot. As Taylor prepared to embark upon the first leg of what would eventually become a 10K walk down the matrimonial aisle - in this case with Conrad 'Nicky' Hilton, great uncle of that other tabloid mainstay - MGM chose to give Taylor the gift that keeps on giving, namely publicity. Cast as her parents were screen legends Spencer Tracy and Joan Bennett, while her fiancee in this case was played by Don Taylor, one of the few men in Hollywood Taylor didn't end up marrying.

A Place in the Sun - The process by which a movie camera burns images onto celluloid with the assistance of light is one of the most important in my life, and yet one which I only barely understand (as evidenced by my ham-handed description of the process at the beginning of this sentence); by itself it forms the core of my faith more certainly (not to mention in the here and now) than some magic tricks performed by a Jewish troublemaker who may or may not have lived two thousand years ago ever could. Yet when it comes to over-egging the faith pudding, having Elizabeth Taylor and Montgomery Clift share a screen in the shimmering black and white that was abundant in 1951 provides for a very rich treat indeed, not to mention one high in protein. As the other side of Taylor's glamourous coin, Shelley Winters offers a rare, moving performance as a drudge.

Giant - A big movie adapted from a big book, larded with big stars and shown on some of the biggest screens in film history, no movie ever had a more accurate title than Giant. Director George Stevens' adaptation of Edna Ferber's novel costars Rock Hudson and James Dean as rival oil men or something, while Taylor is the woman who comes between them*; Giant's place in pop culture was assured when Robert Altman made his 1982 film version of the play Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean, which was set in the Texas town of Marfa where Giant was shot.

*Talk about the willing suspension of disbelief; like a woman ever came between those two.

Raintree County - Taylor received her first Academy Award nomination under the direction of Edward Dmytryk for her portrayal of a southern belle with a secret; as would eventually become standard for any of her movies, the story of what happened behind the scenes easily rivaled the story that ended up onscreen - in this case the near-fatal car crash that shattered what little peace of mind her perennial costar Montgomery Clift would enjoy. The film also stars Eva Marie Saint and Agnes Moorehead.

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof - The incendiary movies adapted from the even more incendiary plays of Tennessee Williams helped to put fatal cracks in the myth of the 1950s, and who better to play the kind of woman determined not to be trapped by conformity than the raving beauty who'd only recently emerged from America's one-time sweetheart? As Maggie the Cat, Taylor gave her most nuanced performance ever, blending hurt and fury into each lengthy monologue and using the sexuality her husband rejects to plead their case with the dying Big Daddy against the grasping machinations of the hopelessly square Gooper (Jack Carson) and his perennially pregnant wife Mae (Madeleine Sherwood). Opposite Paul Newman and Burl Ives Taylor gives a surprisingly strong performance, given that her real-life husband Mike Todd died in a plane crash during production.

Suddenly Last Summer - By 1959 Elizabeth Taylor's life was bound up with those of two of the world's most famous gay men - Tennessee Williams and Montgomery Clift - and one of the Broadway stage's most famous fictional gay men, Sebastian Venable. It all made this film the perfect storm, even before the involvement of Katharine Hepburn, playing against type as a villainess in major denial about her too-beloved mama's boy. Dealing with the still-shocking taboo of mental illness - and under the threat of a lobotomy - Taylor's character makes a harrowing descent into madness, culminating in a three-minute monologue in the last reel that will blow whatever part of your mind may have been left unblown by the rest of it.

BUtterfield 8 - John O'Hara's shockingly frank 1935 novel was never going to be made into a movie in the decade after it was published, nor even in the decade after that, but it had to be toned down considerably* to even reach movie screens when it did, in 1960. Despite a strong, surly performance from Taylor opposite the reptilian Laurence Harvey and the real-life paramour (Eddie Fisher) whose scandalous desertion of his wife Debbie Reynolds for the recently widowed Taylor caused the considerable sympathy directed at her following the death of her husband Mike Todd to evaporate overnight, Taylor won her first Academy Award for playing Gloria Wandrous after nominations in each of the previous three years; still, Taylor and Fisher hated the film once it was done.

*In true Hollywood fashion, the movie bears almost no resemblance to the book.

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? - Taking a major risk by setting her sex symbol status aside at its height, Taylor tears up the screen opposite her famously on-again off-again husband Richard Burton as the slatternly, horrible Martha to his bitter, cranky George. The four handed cast* (Taylor and Burton were joined by George Segal as Nick and Sandy Dennis as Honey) gives director Mike Nichols' adaptation of Edward Albee's play a claustrophobic feeling which feels perfect, given the claustrophobic feeling of many marriages, including that of George and Martha's. Nevertheless, it netted Taylor her second and final Oscar.

*There were two minor characters in the film not present in the play - the roadhouse owner and his waitress wife - portrayed by the film's gaffer Frank Flanagan, and his wife Agnes.

The Taming of the Shrew - The last time Elizabeth Taylor's extraordinary beauty found itself served by a quality script was under the able tutelage of Franco Zeffirelli; of course, it helps that the film was adapted from a work by the greatest writer who ever lived, William Shakepeare. Yet not even Shakespeare could have imagined a relationship as stormy and eternal as that of Taylor and Burton. More of an imagining of the play rather than an adaptaion - since it pushed the major subplot of Bianca and her various suitors (among them Michael York) into the background - Taylor's Kate and Burton's Petruchio got more of an opportunity to be three-dimensional characters, besides being well-photographed in a lush Italian landscape.
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Gratuitous Brunette: Elizabeth Taylor

PhotobucketOne of the most beautiful women who's ever lived, despite a brief flirtation with her Inner Diva at the height of her fame in the 1960s, Elizabeth Taylor has consistently proven to be as lovely on the inside as she has been on the outside; for her friendships with gay men since childhood she has more than earned the prestigious accolade of gay icon*, and for providing comfort to people living with AIDS and HIV long before it was trendy she's distinguished herself as one of the 20th Century's foremost humanitarians as well.

Today is her birthday, which is well nigh a religious holiday around the Pop Culture Institute; may we suggest a movie marathon, consisting of A Place in the Sun, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, and Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? in celebration?

*Although heaven knows what horrible thing she ever did to deserve the entirely unsought-after 'honour' of Gratuitous Brunette...
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Happy Birthday Wendy Liebman

This recent appearance by Wendy Liebman on The Late Show with David Letterman wasn't the first one she'd made since I'd become her Facebook friend, but merely the latest in a long career which has seen her win fans around the world...

I'm not sure where I first saw her - likely on a late night talk show, or else in front of a cheesy brick wall on some stand-up show on basic cable, as long ago as the late 1980s - but I know that from that first appearance I was enamoured of the way she employed redirection in landing her punchlines, giving her Catskills-inspired shtick an entirely modern twist.

Why she's never been given a sitcom is one of those eternal mysteries that keeps my ink-stained heart beating; after all, maybe one day I'll be the one to write it for her...
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Pop History Moment: The Burning of the Reichstag

PhotobucketShortly after 2:15 AM on this day in 1933 an unemployed Dutch brick layer named Marinus van der Lubbe was discovered shirtless inside the German parliament building, which was by then being inexorably engulfed in flames. He quickly confessed to having set the fire, and was arrested.

Whatever van der Lubbe had hoped to achieve by torching the Reichstag, undoubtedly it wasn't the suspension of democracy and the rise of National Socialism, although that is what happened. Newly elected Chancellor Adolf Hitler jumped on the fact that the arsonist in custody was a prominent Communist, and took the fire as an excuse to begin implementing his agenda.

Hitler's first pogrom dealt a savage blow to Germany's Left, beginning with a ban on that country's Communist Party; by the time van der Lubbe was executed 11 months later the Nazis had swept to power and the Third Reich was no longer just a paranoid fantasy but a very chilling reality.

The Reichstag became the focus of German reunification after the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989, and was extensively renovated by Norman Foster (having been rebuilt between 1961-4 by Paul Baumgarten). It now houses the country's Bundestag once again.
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POPnews - February 27th

[It was a vast and jubilantly rowdy crowd like this one who were on hand to witness Abraham Lincoln's Cooper Union Address - at which he opposed the pro-slavery views of Stephen A. Douglas, his greatest political rival - in advance of the Republican National Convention, which was set for mid-May.]

1594 - The famed Huguenot warrior Henri III of Navarre was crowned King Henry IV of France at Chartres Cathedral, having only recently converted to Catholicism at the behest of his mistress Gabrielle d'Estrées; owing largely to his issuance of the Edict of Nantes in April 1598, which gave his former co-religionists an array of rights they had been denied, the reign of le Vert galant would mark the end of a generation of sectarian strife following the St. Bartholomew's Day massacre.

1617 - Sweden and Russia signed the Treaty of Stolbovo - ending the Ingrian War and shutting Russia out of the Baltic Sea.

1700 - The island of New Britain was discovered by William Dampier.

1801 - Pursuant to the District of Columbia Organic Act of 1801 Washington, DC, was placed under the jurisdiction of the US Congress.

1812 - Poet Lord Byron gave his first address as a member of Britain's House of Lords, one of the few ever in defense of the Luddites - a radical rabble of textile workers who had been destroying looms in his home county of Nottinghamshire. A strong advocate of social reform, during his time in the upper house Byron also supported greater rights for Catholics.

1844 - The Dominican Republic gained its independence from Haiti.

1860 - Abraham Lincoln made a speech at Manhattan's Cooper Union which was later seen as largely responsible for his election to the Presidency the following November.

1900 - The British Labour Party was founded.

1902 - Australian Harry 'Breaker' Morant was executed during the Second Boer War under controversial circumstances - accused of the summary murder of prisoners under his command which may or may not have happened. A film was made about the life and death of 'Breaker' Morant in 1980 which starred Edward Woodward as its doomed hero; the film's director, Bruce Beresford, adapted the 1978 play Breaker Morant: A Play in Two Acts, written by Kenneth G. Ross, for the screen and was Oscar-nominated for his efforts.

1922 - Leser v. Garnett - a challenge to the US Constitution's Nineteenth Amendment, which had allowed American women the right to vote in 1920 - was rebuffed by the Supreme Court.

1940 - Martin Kamen and Sam Ruben discovered carbon-14.

1943 - The Rosenstrasse protest started in Berlin following a more general resistance to Nazi anti-Semitism by trades unionists during Fabrikaktion.

1951 - The Twenty-second Amendment to the US Constitution - limiting Presidents to two terms - was ratified.

1963 - Juan Bosch became the Dominican Republic's first democratically elected president since the assassination of Rafael Trujillo in May 1961.

1973 - The American Indian Movement occupied Wounded Knee, South Dakota.

1976 - The formerly Spanish territory of Western Sahara, under the auspices of the Polisario Front, declared the country's independence as the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic.

1989 - Venezuela was rocked by the Caracazo.

1996 - Satoshi Tajiri created Pokémon.

2003 - Rowan Williams was enthroned as the 104th Archbishop of Canterbury.

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Saturday, February 26, 2011

"I Walk The Line" by Johnny Cash

Not only did Johnny Cash walk the line he talked the talk and walked the walk... His death, in September 2003, wasn't the end of his career by a long-shot; this day in 2010 marked the release of American VI: Ain't No Grave on what would have been his 78th birthday.*

Cash released I Walk the Line in May 1956, and it would be one of the songs** most closely associated with him; he's seen here performing it on Ranch Party (which was co-hosted by Tex Ritter) in 1958, aged just 23. The song would also lend its title to a pair of movies associated with Cash's life and career - the first, in 1970, starring Gregory Peck and Tuesday Weld, was not about Cash in any way but its soundtrack was exclusively Cash's work; the second, a 2005 biopic entitled Walk the Line, starred Joaquin Phoenix as Cash, Reese Witherspoon as June Carter, and was directed by James Mangold.

*Making this his would-be 79th birthday, natch...
**The other being 1963's Ring of Fire which, unlike I Walk the Line, was co-written with his wife, June Carter, and Merle Kilgore.

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The History Of Sex: The Visconti Triplets


Inasmuch as 'progress' can be said to occur in porn, the amount of progress in gay porn easily, uh, outstrips that of straight porn; to whit, the Visconti triplets, the identical Hungarian trio depicted above, who are doing their utmost to cast aside the only remaining taboo in porn - namely that of incest. So while like their predecessors in brotherly love, the super-hot Odyssey Twins (Gabriel and Oscar), they don't actually do anything with each other - yet... - the fact that they are identically hot and identically inclined gives their group scenes a certain quality missing from others which are similar - at least for a Grade-A perv like me.

Jason, Jimmy, and Joey initially felt they'd be reluctant to appear in scenes together; having done their first few, though, they now claim to feel more comfortable in scenes together than apart. The Pop Culture Institute is grateful for this new development, and can only hope their growing comfort in front of the camera ensures them a long, productive career. Given that today marks their 21st birthday, that seems like a very likely thing indeed...
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"Ain't That A Shame" by Fats Domino

One thing I know isn't a shame is that today is Fats Domino's birthday!

Ain't That a Shame marked his crossover into the mainstream when it first debuted in 1955; although it wasn't as big a hit at the time as Pat Boone's milquetoast version the same year, it's the one which has had the greater longevity. It was also the first of an amazing 37 Top 40 hits Fats Domino would eventually release.
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POPnews - February 26th

[The current incarnation of Christiansborg Palace is actually an amalgam of three... The oldest (and, sadly, least) parts date from 1733, when King Christian VI commissioned Elias David Häusser to create for him a Baroque splendour, only to have all but its showgrounds succumb to a major fire on this day in 1794. It was rebuilt by Christian Frederik Hansen in the French Empire style between 1803 and 1828, but King Frederik VI turned up his nose and decided he didn't want to live there, preferring to use it for entertaining only. The palace burnt again in 1884 and Thorvald Jørgensen's contest-winning Neo-Baroque design to replace it would rise between 1903 and 1928, exposing the ruins of the site's former occupants - Absalon's Castle and Copenhagen Castle, dating back to 1167 - in the process. The current design incorporates the north facade of its predecessor, facing Prins Jørgens Gård.]

364 CE - Valentinian I was proclaimed Roman Emperor following the death of his predecessor, Jovian.

1266 - At the Battle of Benevento an army led by Charles, Count of Anjou, defeated a combined German and Sicilian force led by Sicily's King Manfred, who was killed in the battle, following which Pope Clement IV invested Charles as King of Sicily and Naples.

1577 - Sweden's King Eric XIV died while imprisoned at Örbyhus Castle (legend has it from eating a bowl of poisoned pea soup) having already been dethroned in September 1568 after killing several of his rivals in the Sture family as a result of what is now thought to have been a schizophrenic incident and succeeded by his half-brother, who reigned as John III.

1794 - Copenhagen's Christiansborg Castle burnt to the ground, the first of two major fires to damage the home of executive, legislative, and judicial authority in Denmark.

1815 - Napoleon escaped from Elba.

1914 - HMHS Britannic, sister to the RMS Titanic, was launched at Harland & Wolff shipyard in Belfast.

1917 - The first jazz record - (Livery Stable Blues and Dixie Jass Band One Step) - was made by The Original Dixieland Jass Band for the Victor label.

1919 - Most of the Grand Canyon was included in the creation of Grand Canyon National Park.

1929 - Grand Teton National Park was created.

1935 - Germany's Luftwaffe - initially organized during the First World War as the Luftstreitkräfte - was re-formed.

1936 - In the February 26 Incident, young military officers with the ultranationalist Kōdō-ha faction of the Imperial Japanese Army attempted to stage a coup against the government of Prime Minister Keisuke Okada, going so far as to storm his official residence, the Kantei, in order to assassinate him.

1961 - Morocco's King Mohammed V died; he was succeeded by his son Hassan II.

1972 - The Buffalo Creek Flood, caused by a burst coal slurry impoundment dam, killed 125 in West Virginia - four days after it had received a passing grade from a federal mines inspector.

1986 - Robert Penn Warren was named US Poet Laureate.

1991 - Tim Berners-Lee introduced the first Internet browser - the World Wide Web.

1993 - A truck bomb rocked the foundations of the World Trade Center beneath its North Tower; six people were killed and more than 1,000 injured in the blast.

1995 - The UK's oldest investment banking firm, Barings Bank, collapsed after a securities broker, Nick Leeson, lost $1.4 billion by speculating on the Singapore International Monetary Exchange using futures contracts. As greedy douchebags go, he was truly a trailblazer...

2001 - Two giant Buddha statues were destroyed on orders of the Taliban at Bamyam, Afghanistan; they should be rebuilt by 2012.

2004 - Macedonian President Boris Trajkovski was killed in a plane crash near Mostar in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

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Friday, February 25, 2011

POPnews - February 25th

[When, in 1794, Captain George Vancouver first happened upon Icy Strait (at the south end of Glacier Bay) it was choked with ice that was said to be 'a mile thick'; by the time John Muir visited the area in 1879 the Grand Pacific Glacier had retreated to the head of the bay, and by 1916 it was at the mouth of Tarr Inlet, about 100 km (65 miles) from where Captain Vancouver first sighted it. What the fastest documented glacial retreat in history so generously revealed was a rugged landscape of uncommon beauty. In all, not a bad trade...]

138 CE - Roman Emperor Hadrian adopted Antoninus Pius, effectively making him his successor; on the same day Antoninus adopted Lucius Ceionius Commodus (son of the deceased Aelius Caesar) and Marcus Annius Verus (who was the grandson of a Senator buddy of Hadrian's of the same name and who just so happened to be betrothed to Aelius Caesar’s daughter Ceionia Fabia). All of which means Hadrian's Villa must have been one pretty hopping place, even eight years after the death of the Emperor's beloved Antinous...

1308 - Edward II was crowned King of England in Westminster Abbey in the presence of his gaily caparisoned boyfriend Piers Gaveston (the original angertwink) who failed to bear St. Edward's Crown up the aisle with the suitable solemnity and while wearing the royal purple besides, a fuming 12-year-old Queen Isabella (not yet known as the She-Wolf of France) smarting that she had failed to win the King's heart, and an increasingly irate nobility with swords half-unsheathed for both Gaveston and the King... Even before Sir John Bakewell was trampled to death, things were not going well!

1570 - Pope Pius V excommunicated Elizabeth I via his papal bull entitled Regnans in Excelsis.

1601 - The Earl of Essex, former favourite of Elizabeth I, was afforded the privilege of a private execution at the Tower of London's Tower Green for his complicity in a plot to overthrow her.

1713 - Prussia's King Frederick I died; he was succeeded by his son, who reigned as Frederick William I.

1797 - Irish-American Colonel William Tate and his force of 1000-1500 French soldiers - having landed in Wales near Llanwnda three days earlier - surrendered at the Royal Oak pub in Fishguard having been routed in part by a girl, Jemima Nicholas, during an erstwhile military campaign now known as the Last Invasion of Britain.

1850 - China's Emperor Minning - known following his death as the Daoguang Emperor - died; he was succeeded by his son, Yichu, who in time would be posthumously known as the Xianfeng Emperor.

1866 - Miners in Calaveras County, California, discovered what is now called the Calaveras Skull - human remains that supposedly indicated that man, mastodons, and elephants had co-existed; it was later revealed to have been a hoax.

1901 - J.P. Morgan incorporated the United States Steel Corporation.

1912 - Marie-Adélaïde, the eldest of Guillaume IV's six daughters, became the first reigning Grand Duchess of Luxembourg.

1925 - Glacier Bay National Monument - now Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve - was established in Alaska.

1933 - The USS Ranger - the first custom-built aircraft carrier - was launched, sponsored by First Lady Lou Henry Hoover, who was herself something of a battleship.

1941 - The February strike, the first organized agitation against Nazi anti-Semitism by the good Christians of Amsterdam, failed to bring that city to a standstill, and was suppressed by the Germans within 48 hours; the action nevertheless boosted Dutch morale during a particularly bleak season, giving much aid and comfort to Holland's growing Resistance movement.

1951 - The first Pan American Games were held, in Buenos Aires.

1956 - In his speech On the Personality Cult and its Consequences Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev denounced the actions of Joseph Stalin.

1964 - Following a much-hyped bout versus Sonny Liston in Miami (actually the first of two) Cassius Clay - soon to become even better known as Muhammad Ali - became Heavyweight Champion of the World. At the age of 22, Clay was the youngest man to ever hold the title; following his victory, by TKO, he famously jumped around the ring declaring 'I am the greatest!'

1972 - Coal miners in Britain called off a strike after causing a state of emergency and jeopardizing the country's power supply in exchange for a fat pay rise.

1986 - As the culmination of the People Power Revolution, President Ferdinand Marcos fled the Philippines after 20 years of dictatorial rule, ceding power to Corazon Aquino, who became the country's first woman president.

1994 - Dr. Baruch Kappel Goldstein committed the Mosque of Abraham massacre in the West Bank city of Hebron's Cave of the Patriarchs, opening fire with an automatic rifle and killing 29 Palestinian worshipers (and injuring 125 more) before being subdued and beaten to death by survivors. During subsequent rioting outside Aghli Hospital in western Hebron the Israeli Army killed 26 more Palestinians and 9 Israelis.

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Thursday, February 24, 2011

POPnews - February 24th

[Is it merely that hindsight is 20/20, or were Charles' and Diana's problems obvious from the start? When asked by a particularly impudent reporter on this day in 1981 if he was in love, the Prince replied: 'Yes. Whatever in love means...' Anyway, their engagement, marriage, separation, and divorce (not to mention her August 1997 death and his April 2005 re-marriage) kept the waters chummed for a generation of tabloid reporters, paparazzi, and various other media bottom feeders - myself included.]

303 CE
- Roman Emperor Galerius published an edict that began the persecution of Christians in his portion of the Empire, which would uphold the Diocletianic Persecution for the next decade.

- King Charles III of Naples and Hungary was assassinated at Visegrád on the orders of Elisabeth of Bosnia, widow of the late King Louis I and mother of the rightful heir Mary of Hungary; although he was succeeded as King of Naples by his son Ladislas, Mary was reinstated as Queen of Hungary.

1538 - The secret Treaty of Nagyvarad between Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand I and the Ottoman Empire following the Ottoman victory at the Battle of Mohács allowed for John Zápolya to become King of Hungary while the Emperor would retain control of the western parts of the Hungarian Kingdom.

1582 - Pope Gregory XIII announced the Gregorian calendar.

1607 - One of the first works recognized as an opera, L'Orfeo - with music by Claudio Monteverdi and libretto by Alessandro Striggio - premiered at the ducal palace in Mantua before the Accademia degl'Invaghiti during that year's carnival.

1711 - The premiere of Rinaldo by George Friderich Handel - the first Italian opera written for the London stage - was held at Haymarket.

1804 - London's third Drury Lane Theatre burnt to the ground, leaving owner Richard Brinsley Sheridan destitute.

1826 - The signing of the Treaty of Yandaboo marked the end of the First Burmese War.

1848 - France's King Louis-Philippe abdicated.

1875 - The SS Gothenburg hit the Great Barrier Reef and sank off of eastern Australia's Queensland coast, with the loss of approximately 102 lives - not to mention the damage it did to the coral.

1893 - Western Washington University was established by Governor John McGraw, with the first class officially entered six years later to the day.

1909 - The Hudson Motor Car Company was founded.

1942 - During the ersatz Battle of Los Angeles, an indeterminate number of UFOs flying over wartime LA caused a blackout order at 2:25 AM, attracting a barrage of anti-aircraft fire which ultimately killed 3 civilians in a city still skittish just three months after the attack on Pearl Harbor.

1945 - Egyptian Premier Ahmed Maher Pasha was assassinated by 28-year-old Mustafa Essawy in the Egyptian Parliament after reading a decree; although originally thought to belong to the Muslim Brotherhood, which Pasha had recently tried to suppress, it was later revealed that the assassin was a member of the country's dominant political organization, the Wafd Party. Essawy's motive remains unclear.

1970 - National Public Radio was founded in the United States.

1981 - Buckingham Palace announced the engagement of The Prince of Wales to Lady Diana Spencer.

1989 - United Airlines Flight 811 - bound for New Zealand from Honolulu - ripped open during flight, sucking 9 passengers out of the business-class section.
2006 - Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo declared Proclamation 1017, placing the country in a state of emergency in attempt to subdue a possible military coup led by Brigadier Gen. Danilo Lim.

- Fidel Castro retired as the President of Cuba after nearly fifty years.
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Wednesday, February 23, 2011

"The Final Countdown" by Europe

Birthday wishes go out today to John Norum, guitarist and founding member of Europe, whose 1986 song The Final Countdown was the first of five singles released from their third album, coincidentally also called The Final Countdown. It was followed by Love Chaser, Rock the Night, Carrie and Cherokee, although none of them would achieve the heights their lead-in managed...

When not tearing the rooves off various stadia, Norum maintains a solo career; at various times in his career he's also played with Eddie Meduza & The Roaring Cadillacs, Dokken, Don Dokken's solo band, and done side collaborations with other artists including Glenn Hughes. The older brother of pop singer Tone Norum, he's also the widower of Michelle Meldrum, founder and lead guitarist of the Swedish-American heavy metal band Meldrum.

Probably the best way to keep track of Norum's many perambulations is via his own website...
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"New Song" by Howard Jones

Birthday wishes go out today to Howard Jones, the cute as a button Eighties-era singer songwriter whose synthified and often percussion-free pop songs were as distinctive as his spiky hair... The example on offer here, entitled New Song, was initially released in September 1983 as his debut single, from the album Human's Lib; it was followed by What Is Love and its equally jaunty fellow classics Like To Get To Know You Well, Things Can Only Get Better, and Life In One Day.
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Pop History Moment: The US Marines Recaptured Iwo Jima

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On this day in 1945 the 28th Regiment of the 5th Marines took Mount Suribachi as the battle for control of Japanese-held Iwo Jima raged on; this famous photo of the event, taken by Joe Rosenthal, won the year's Pulitzer Prize for Photography, and has been reprinted many times around the world.

Of the six men depicted in the picture, three (Franklin Sousley, Harlon Block, and Michael Strank) did not survive the battle; the three survivors (John Bradley, Rene Gagnon, and Ira Hayes) became celebrities upon the publication of the photo, which was later used by Felix de Weldon as a model for the USMC War Memorial, located adjacent to Arlington National Cemetery just outside Washington, DC.

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