Sunday, January 23, 2011

Happy Birthday Richard Dean Anderson

An honorary Vancouverite if ever there was one, Richard Dean Anderson is one of the pillars upon which our local film industry is built; thanks largely to him, legions of technicians get the chance to make good money* working on third-rate cable dreck while standing in a torrential downpour. The fact that they are forced to suffer the barbs of Hollywood protectionists to do so is just an added bonus...

PhotobucketMost famous for playing Angus MacGyver in MacGyver - a show so iconic it's been verbed, as in 'I can't afford to fix that properly, so I'll have to MacGyver it' which is something we've all  had to do at least once I'm sure - Anderson also appeared for many years in Stargate SG-1 in which he portrayed Jack O'Neill.

A longtime fan of The Simpsons, Anderson played himself on an episode entitled Kiss Kiss, Bang Bangalore in which he is kidnapped by Selma and Patty Bouvier, who've long been obsessed with him. The cross-promotion continued when Dan Castellaneta appeared on Stargate SG-1. Not all of his fans are yellow or green**, though; some are blue. Anderson was made an honorary Brigadier-General in the US Air Force for his part (as the show's producer) in promoting a positive image for the USAF throughout its run.

*Although not as good as they'd be making in LA, but still better than what they pay in Utah.
**Vancouverites all have a distinctly greenish tinge, caused by the moss that grows on them.

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"J'attenderai" by Django Reinhardt

Django Reinhardt - born in Belgium on this day in 1910 - was yet another musician ill-served by his own lack of longevity; although hugely important in his time, as much for bringing the rhythms of his Romani heritage as the distinctive tone of the guitar into the mongrel form of jazz, his death in May 1953 from a sudden brain hemorrhage suffered on a train station platform at Avon - near Fontainebleau, outside Paris - meant that he would not be around to shepherd his own legacy through the seismic upheavals of 20th Century music.

Although it can be argued that his legend was kept alive by a legion of fans, it was so pretty much done so on the q.t.; the full-scale resurrection of Django Reinhardt began with Woody Allen's 1999 film Sweet and Lowdown... At the time I was working in the record store, and used to get people coming in asking for anything by Emmett Ray; Emmett Ray was the character played by Sean Penn in the movie. What a thrill it was to be able to put the Django Reinhardt CD in their hands and send them on their way.

Here we see Reinhardt (with frequent collaborator Stéphane Grappelli) performing J'attenderai.
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In Memoriam: Charlotte, Grand Duchess of Luxembourg

As is often the case with the most successful monarchs, Luxembourg's Grand Duchess Charlotte was never meant to rule in the first place; it was only her sister Marie-Adélaïde's meddling in politics during the First World War* that brought about the abdication which would usher Charlotte onto the throne in the first place... Once there, though, she would remain for forty-five years, until abdicating - retiring, really - in favour of her son Jean in November 1964.

PhotobucketBorn at Schloss Berg on this day in 1896 to the future Guillaume IV and his Portugese wife Marie Anne, Charlotte's life changed forever in November 1905 when her father succeeded to the grand ducal throne following the death of his own father Adolphe. Seeing as His Grand Ducal Highness had six daughters - and seeing as the only male in the family who could conceivably inherit was the product of an unsuitably morganatic marriage - the succession law was changed in 1907 to accommodate the situation. Marie-Adélaïde became the first female ruler of that country in February 1912, as well as being the first ruler of the Grand Duchy born there since 1296. It was the same law that allowed Charlotte to succeed her sister in January 1919; Charlotte's heirs have ruled ever since...

The first challenge of Charlotte's reign came that September, when a referendum upheld the Grand Ducal monarchy and approved a new constitution, severely curtailing her powers in the process. Wisely, she chose to obey the will of the people, proceeded not to meddle in politics, and was rewarded with loyalty and popularity for it, quelling nascent revolutionary tendencies in the country into the bargain. Two months later, in November, she married her maternal cousin Felix of Bourbon, Prince of Parma, and with him would have six children: Jean, Elizabeth, Adélaide, Gabriele, Charles, and Alix.

Exiled in London during World War Two, like other monarchs-in-exile Charlotte became a potent symbol of resistance for her people during the valiant battle against Fascism thanks in part to the radio**; upon her return she had another generation in power before stepping aside in favour of her son. She died of cancer at Schloss Fischbach in July 1985 and was interred in the Ducal crypt of Notre-Dame Cathedral in the city of Luxembourg.

*And possibly her chumminess with the country's German occupiers during that war...
**During which time she came to be known as the 'propagandist in pearls'!

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"Beale Street Blues" by Chita Rivera

Birthday wishes go out today to Chita Rivera, shown here dancing her way through Beale Street Blues with Jack Cole - as introduced by Sid Caesar, whose best answer to his own question 'What is jazz?' is 'Jazz is a beautiful woman whose older brother is a policeman'...

Most amazing to me is how she manages to not only dance (in her typically vigourous, kicky style) but also perform an on-pitch rendition of the song - simultaneously! Meaning without the aid of lip-sync! What better day than today to remind ourselves why the lady is a star...
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Happy Birthday Your Royal Highness

Under normal circumstances, the difficulties I've encountered in bringing this post to you ought to have condemned it to that mental in-box I use called 'Next Year', which I use chiefly for the purpose of procrastination; first, it was a headache challenge finding a suitable image - either online or in the voluminous collections of the Pop Culture Institute. This despite the fact that from the early 1970s forward Monaco's Princess Caroline was one of the most written about (and photographed) women in the world... Secondly, there was more reading involved than I care to admit in order to clarify the muddy matter of why Her Serene Highness is now Her Royal Highness and how she came to be that way.

PhotobucketIn the end, of course, royalty stories always get more leeway - partly because with them I can aspire to a future rife with privileged sycophancy of which the average brown-noser can only dream, but also because I'm just really interested in royalty. As a writer it helps to be expert in something, so I've decided that in my case it might as well be something that interests me.

The Grimaldis, in particular, have always interested me; even after I first heard them speaking in interviews - sounding for all the world like they could be from Cleveland as opposed to Monaco, that fairytale principality on the Mediterranean my regular readers have been learning a lot more about in recent years. Maybe it's the association with Hollywood (via their mother Grace Kelly) or maybe it's the fact that, in the English-speaking press, at least, they are relatively obscure.

Nevertheless, today is the birthday of Princess Caroline, eldest daughter of Princess Grace and Rainier III, ex-wife of the gigolo Philippe Junot, widow of the much-loved Stefano Casiraghi, and still the current wife of the legendarily uncouth Ernst August V, Prince of Hanover*. She's also the mother of three dishy children with Casiraghi - Andrea, Charlotte, and Pierre - as well as a daughter, Princess Alexandra of Hanover, by the Prince. As the Hereditary Princess of Monaco herself - and therefore Heiress Presumptive, Princess Caroline and her offspring stand to one day inherit the Monegasque throne if the current ruler, Albert II, doesn't smarten up and produce at least one legitimate heir**.

*Ah, but for how long...?
**A situation His Serene Highness seems, at long last, ready to deal with; his marriage to South African Charlene Wittstock is scheduled to take place on July 2nd (civil) and July 3rd (religious) 2011.

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POPnews - January 23rd

[The Ålesund Fire actually had a positive outcome for the town; the original city centre was both over-crowded and served by only rudimentary sanitation, whereas after being rebuilt it had such improved 'mod cons' that it was able to better handle the influx of tourists that have been flocking there ever since.]

393 CE - Theodosius I - the last to rule the Eastern and Western Roman Empires jointly - proclaimed his nine-year-old son Honorius to be co-emperor.

1368 - In a coronation ceremony Zhu Yuanzhang ascended the throne as the Hongwu Emperor, supplanting the Yuan Dynasty with the Ming Dynasty, which would rule China for the next three centuries.

1556 - An earthquake in China's Shaanxi province may have killed as many as 830,000 people (about 60% of the region's population); its epicenter was near Mount Hua. It's been estimated that the quake was an 8 on the Richter Scale, and remains the deadliest earthquake in human history.

1570 - The assassination of James Stewart, 1st Earl of Moray, at the hands of James Hamilton of Bothwellhaugh precipitated a civil war in Scotland; for his good governance on behalf of James VI, the infant son of Mary, Queen of Scots (then imprisoned in England) he was known as 'The Good Regent'. Which is why they killed him, obviously...

1571 - London's Royal Exchange was opened by Elizabeth I.

1579 - The Union of Utrecht formed the Protestant Republic of the Seven United Netherlands in Holland, although the new nation would not be recognized by its former Spanish overlords until the Twelve Years' Truce in 1609.

1656 - Blaise Pascal published the first of his Lettres provinciales.

1719 - The Principality of Liechtenstein was created within the Holy Roman Empire; its first prince, Anton Florian, never even visited.

1789 - Georgetown College - the first Roman Catholic university in the United States - was established in Washington, DC.

1855 - The first permanent bridge over the Mississippi River opened in what is now Minneapolis, a crossing made today by the Father Louis Hennepin Bridge.

1870 - US cavalrymen in Montana led by Maj. Eugene Baker killed 173 Piegan Blackfeet Indians - mostly women and children - in the Marias Massacre.

1897 - Elva Zona Heaster was found dead in Greenbrier County, West Virginia; the resulting murder trial of her husband is perhaps the only case in US history where the alleged testimony of a ghost helped secure a conviction.

1904 - The Norwegian coastal town Ålesund was devastated by fire, leaving 10,000 people homeless and one person dead; it was Germany's Kaiser Wilhelm II - a frequent visitor to the town - who not only funded the rebuilding of the town in Jugendstil style but sent the first relief ships even as the embers were still smoldering.

1958 - The government of Venezuelan President Marcos Pérez Jiménez was overthrown by the commander of that country's Navy, Wolfgang Larrazábal.

1973 - US President Richard Nixon announced the Paris Peace Accord which brought an end to the Vietnam War.

1977 - The miniseries Roots, based on the best-selling book by Alex Haley, began on ABC.

1986 - The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inducted its first members: Chuck Berry, James Brown, Ray Charles, Fats Domino, the Everly Brothers, Buddy Holly, Jerry Lee Lewis and Elvis Presley.

2002 - John Walker Lindh - the so-called 'American Taliban' - returned to the US from Afghanistan in FBI custody.

2003 - NASA made its last contact with Pioneer 10, when it was 7.5 billion miles from Earth.

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