Friday, January 14, 2011

"San Francisco" by Jeanette MacDonald

Today we mark the passing - on this day in 1965 - of movie songstress Jeanette MacDonald, whose semi-operatic warblings (often opposite Maurice Chevalier or, more famously, Nelson Eddy) graced many a movie during her nearly forty year career...

One such film for which she was rightly acclaimed was the 1936 classic San Francisco, directed by WS 'Woody' Van Dyke and centered around the events of the April 1906 earthquake which devastated that city. Co-starring both Clark Gable and Spencer Tracy, the clip shown here - of her singing the film's iconic title song - is as it appeared after undergoing the colorization process by order of Ted Turner in the 1980s; while I am not normally a fan of the process* in this instance I think it gives the proceedings the look of the era's hand-tinted postcards and the like.

*Which so offended the culturati - and rightly so - that it led to the creation of the National Film Registry, to preserve the work of filmmakers from any future ruination of the sort...
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Pop History Moment: The Ascension of Denmark's Queen Margrethe II


When on this day in 1972 Denmark's King Frederick IX died and his daughter succeeded him as Margrethe II, more than the orderly transition of constitutional authority was achieved; a referendum in 1953 had affirmed a major change to the country's Act of Succession, setting aside male preference primogeniture and therefore her uncle Prince Knud as heir apparent, destining her to become the first queen regnant in that Scandinavian country since the death of her namesake Margrethe I in October 1412.

Both down-to-Earth and intellectual, Her Majesty's popularity has remained consistently high throughout her reign; ably aided by her consort Prince Henrik and her heir, Crown Prince Frederik, Margrethe II has ensured the enduring success of the House of Glücksburg for more than 35 years, and thankfully she shows no sign of slowing down...

Længe leve Dronningen*!

*Long live the Queen!

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In Memoriam: Russ Columbo

When the hugely popular crooner Russ Columbo died as a result of an accidental shooting at the age of 26 in September 1934 it came as a shock to many Americans; one American who wasn't shocked in the least was his own mother, who spent the last ten years of her life believing her youngest son was still alive, thanks entirely to the subterfuge of her husband and other 11 children. It was thought the shock of the news would kill her, so she went to her grave merely believing her son couldn't be bothered to visit her, rather than that he had died...

PhotobucketBorn on this day in 1908, Russ Columbo seemed to live his life as though he knew he didn't have long to live it; he began playing the violin as a child, made his professional debut as a singer at 13, and had dropped out of school to pursue a career by 17. In 1928, as the movies began to talk, he was one of the first people to whom they beckoned, and it was on celluloid that his angelic voice and matinee idol looks merged to create an icon.

So while he made the most of the time he was given - indeed, he took his final bow as one of the biggest stars in the world - Russ Columbo's legacy fell into neglect after not too many years as musical tastes and styles evolved; recently, though, scholars of the obscure (myself humbly included among their number) have sought to revive interest in the suave presence and smooth phrasing of a man praised by such longer-lived contemporaries as Rudy Vallee and Bing Crosby. Both Joseph Lanza and Dennis Penna's Russ Columbo and the Crooner Mystique and Russ Columbo: The Amazing Life and Mysterious Death of a Hollywood Singing Legend by Lou Miano explore the unique appeal and untimely end of this paragon of cool from a bygone age...
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Remembering... Ricardo Montalban

By the time he sashayed onto the immaculate lawn overlooking the float-plane launch on Fantasy Island, Ricardo Montalbán had already had a long career as a B-movie himbo in which he frequently played the quintessential gigolo with a swarthy hirsuteness and a tan like 'soft Corinthian leather'... In short, exactly the kind of man who is always appreciated here at the Pop Culture Institute.

PhotobucketSo while playing Mr. Roarke may have given Montalbán a kind of pop immortality, it was his performance as Khan Noonien Singh in both a 1967 episode of Star Trek (entitled Space Seed) and the 1982 film Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan that best demonstrated his range, even though he'd previously played a samurai (in Sayonara), and an Indian in Westerns - in addition to the more expected bullfighters, flamenco dancers, and calypso singers.

In a movie career spanning seven decades, Montalbán did it all, but preserving his integrity seems to have been uppermost on his mind, despite the silliness inherent in acting (and the extreme silliness inherent in acting for minorities); in 1970 he co-founded the Nosotros Foundation (with Richard Hernandez, Val de Vargas, Rudolfo Hoyos Jr., Carlos Rivas, Tony de Marco, and Henry Darrow) in order to promote more positive portrayals of Mexicans in Hollywood. Although he claims the political stance cost him work, it garnered him a great deal of respect; to this day the Nosotros American Latino Film Festival (NALFF) is held annually at the Ricardo Montalbán Theater in Los Angeles.

He died on this day in 2009 at his home in Los Angeles of an undisclosed cause, predeceased by his wife Georgiana Young; he was 88.
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Pop History Moment: Joe DiMaggio Marries Marilyn Monroe

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It is said that love is blind, but on this day in 1954 love also had to be deaf, for it was on just such a day that newly-retired baseball hero Joe DiMaggio married up-and-coming screen goddess Marilyn Monroe at San Francisco City Hall. There were howls of derision from every corner at the announcement that they had eloped - and this was in the days before the blogosphere!

Almost instantly, everything went wrong; in February, while on honeymoon in Japan, Monroe was invited to perform for American troops in Korea. She gladly went, and there worked her magic; DiMaggio, meanwhile, stayed behind in Japan and fumed while his bride - despite crippling stage fright - performed ten legendary shows for 100,000 soldiers over four days in subzero temperatures.

Not that he was ever out of the loop; wherever Marilyn went cameras followed, and her every move was reported as breathlessly as anything she performed in her act. By the time she filmed her famous scene over the subway grate in front of New York's Trans-Lux Theater in September 1954 (for Billy Wilder's classic film The Seven Year Itch) the marriage was effectively over, done in as much by his jealousy as her ambition.

The filming was entirely a publicity stunt, and quickly became a media circus; the scene eventually used in the movie had to be recreated in a studio as the crowds on the corner of 52nd Street and Lexington Avenue that night were vociferous in their admiration for that blondest of bombshells. DiMaggio, accompanied by Walter Winchell, stood by and glowered; every time her skirt blew up he looked away in disgust. The newlyweds later exchanged heated words in the lobby of the theater and he left early; she stayed and doled out smiles a-plenty to the crowd she'd drawn.

Marilyn and Joe's own seven-year itch proved to be a 274 day itch; Marilyn filed for divorce in October on the grounds of 'mental cruelty'. Still, the couple remained close until the day Marilyn died in August 1962, and for his part Joltin' Joe never kissed and told, taking their secrets to the grave with him in March 1999 despite numerous and increasingly lucrative offers for their story.
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POPnews - January 14th

[The Human Be-In expressed the highest ideals of the 1960s counterculture - ideals that would soon enough be undone by the highest members of the movement's leadership; still, people like artist Michael Bowen and poet Allen Ginsberg were definitely on to something... For liberating people unsuited to the treadmill of the bourgeoisie (myself included) they and their ilk will forever be considered heroes, at least by me.]

1301 - King Andrew III died, ending the Arpad dynasty in Hungary; he was succeeded there by Wenceslas III of Bohemia, who took the throne as Ladislaus V, and in Croatia by Charles I.

1639 - The Fundamental Orders, the first written constitution that created a government in Western history, was adopted by the council of the Connecticut Colony; to this day Connecticut is known as the Constitution State for this singular contribution to democracy.

1724 - Spain's King Philip V abdicated, only to be restored seven months later in August when his son and successor Louis died of smallpox six days after his 17th birthday.

1761 - The Third Battle of Panipat was fought in India between the Afghans under Ahmad Shah Durrani and the French-supplied Marathas; the Afghan victory changed the course of Indian history by allowing the British to gain a military advantage in the Subcontinent over the Marathas, who sustained heavy casualties.

1832 - Edgar Allan Poe published his first short story, Metzengerstein.

1858 - Emperor Napoleon III of France and his wife Eugénie escaped assassination while on their way to the opera in Paris; the botched attempt was plotted by Italian nationalist Felice Orsini and carried out with the assistance of Giuseppe Pieri, Antonio Gomez and Carlo di Rudio. While the royal couple were unhurt by the trio of bomb blasts, eight others were killed and 142 were injured in the attempt, including Orsini himself.

1939 - Norway claimed Queen Maud Land in Antarctica; this claim has never been universally recognized, and is subject to the Antarctic Treaty System.

1942 - The US government began its internment of Japanese-Americans; Japanese-Canadians experienced a similar atrocity on the same day in British Columbia.

1943 - US President Franklin D. Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill met at the Casablanca Conference to discuss strategy and study the next phase of World War II.

1952 - The Today Show, the world's first morning/breakfast program, premiered on NBC.

1953 - Marshal Josip Broz Tito was elected President of Yugoslavia, replacing Ivan Ribar.

1954 - The Hudson Motor Car Company merged with Nash-Kelvinator Corporation to form the American Motors Corporation.

1967 - Between 20,000 and 30,000 people attended the Human Be-In in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park, the event which launched that year's Summer of Love.

1972 - Queen Margrethe II ascended the throne of Denmark following the death of her father Frederick IX, thanks to a referendum in May 1953 which changed the rules of succession; not only was she the first queen regnant in that country since Margrethe I died in October 1412, she was the first Danish monarch not named Frederick or Christian since the death of King John in February 1513.

1975 - Teenage heiress Lesley Whittle was kidnapped by serial killer Donald Neilson, who was known as the Black Panther; her body was discovered seven weeks later, in March 1975.

1990 - L. Douglas Wilder became the first elected African-American governor when he took office in Richmond, Virginia.

1994 - US President Bill Clinton and Russian President Boris Yeltsin signed the Kremlin accords; on the same day, England's Duchess of Kent converted to Roman Catholicism, the first member of the Royal Family to do so for 300 years.

2004 - The so-called five cross flag of Georgia (the country, not the state) was restored to official use after a hiatus of some 500 years.

2005 - The European Space Agency's Huygens probe landed near the Xanadu region of Saturn's moon Titan, having been launched in October 1997.
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