Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Happy Birthday Alice Walker

For rescuing the work and reputation of Zora Neale Hurston from near-oblivion - which she did with a 1975 article in Ms. magazine - Alice Walker deserves the utmost kudos; then again, resurrecting the stories of people who've in their own way made history only to then be disregarded by it has kind of been her life's work...

PhotobucketSo while the heroes and heroines of her works - including The Third Life of Grange Copeland, The Temple of My Familiar, and The Color Purple - may be fictional, they and their lives as described by her are as grounded in truth as those in any history book.

Walker's own life has proven to be a microcosm of the troubled lives about which she writes; when she was eight years old she was accidentally shot by her brother and subsequently lost the sight in her right eye. She married civil rights lawyer Mel Leventhal in March 1967 and was later forced to leave her native Georgia due to persistent threats by the Ku Klux Klan. Although her daughter Rebecca was born in 1969, Walker and Leventhal divorced in 1977; mother and daughter have since become estranged over the younger woman's insistence that her mother is 'dispassionate'.

Yet anyone who's read the works of Alice Walker will tell you precisely where Alice Walker's passion resides...
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In Memoriam: Carmen Miranda

Considering the relative paucity of her resume, and how long ago she died besides, in pop culture terms there are few people as instantly recognizable today as Carmen Miranda; put anyone in a halter top and a sarong, have them totter about on cork-soled platform wedgies beneath a bowl of fruit for a hat to an even vaguely rhumba-esque beat, and almost anyone will know who that's supposed to be, even now.

PhotobucketBut what of the real Carmen Miranda? Born in Portugal on this day in 1909, as an infant she and her family moved to Brazil, with which country she would be forever after be associated. Raised strictly Catholic and convent-educated, it was likely the forbidden allure of show business which drew young Carmen to it - although she carefully hid her aspirations from her family for years; the cat was long out of the bag, though, by the time she made her first film, A Voz do Carnaval, in 1933.

Landing in the US in 1939, she made the first of her fourteen American movies - Down Argentine Way - in 1940. It was followed by such tropical-flavoured froth as That Night in Rio and Week-End in Havana (both 1941) and Copacabana (1947) which, while they made her a household name around the world made her unpopular in Brazil. Yet how could anyone who'd been impersonated by Bugs Bunny - as she was in both the 1944 short What's Cookin' Doc? and the 1947 short Slick Hare - be unpopular? During a visit to her homeland in 1940 the criticism that she projected a false image of Brazil stung her to such an extent that she didn't return to the country for 14 years; she did respond, though, by recording a song called Disseram que Voltei Americanizada (They Say I've Come Back Americanized). Touche*...

Despite the vivacious image she projected, though, Miranda's life was marred by one heartache after another, culminating in the literal heartache which killed her... Her marriage to movie producer Dave Sebastian resulted in alcoholism, a dependence on painkillers, domestic abuse, and finally an extended divorce-like separation. She suffered at least one miscarriage, and would remain childless. In the end, she suffered a heart attack live on television in August 1955, during a broadcast of The Jimmy Durante Show; although she was enough of a trouper to finish the show, she suffered a second, fatal attack at home later that evening.

Despite her earlier unpopularity in Brazil, her death was marked by a period of national mourning there**, and her body was flown back to be interred in Rio de Janeiro's Cemitério São João Batista; she is remembered in Los Angeles by Carmen Miranda Square, located across from Grauman's Chinese Theater, one of only a dozen entertainers so honoured in the entertainment capital of the world.

*Or whatever the Portugese equivalent is.
**Which is so often the case... They hate you until you die, then they love you.

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"Sudbury Saturday Night" by Stompin' Tom Connors

Birthday wishes go out today to Stompin' Tom Connors, a living legend in Canadian music, whose folky blues-infused numbers have enshrined so many Canadian places and pastimes in the national memory. Sudbury Saturday Night is one such song, but there are numerous others, including Lady KD Lang, Margo's Got The Cargo, and one which can easily be considered Canada's informal anthem, The Hockey Song.
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POPnews: February 9th

[Although named for Edmond Halley - who not only posited in 1705 that a comet he observed in 1682 was the same one recorded by Petrus Apianus in 1531 and in 1607 by Johannes Kepler but that it would return in 1758 (which it did, 16 years after his death) - Halley's Comet has been both delighting and scaring the crap out out of humans every seven decades or so since before recorded time. It's set to make its next perihelion in July 2061.]

474 CE - Zeno was crowned co-emperor of the Byzantine Empire by his seven-year-old son Leo II; the joint rule was instigated at the behest of the emperor's mother, Ariadne, and her mother Verina.

1450 - Agnès Sorel, mistress of France's King Charles VII, died under mysterious circumstances at the age of 28; although the nobleman and merchant Jacques Coeur has always taken the blame for what was suspected as a poisoning even then, history has largely exonerated him. Recent forensic analysis has revealed, however, that while the woman famed as Dame de beauté did probably die of mercury poisoning, mercury was then widely used in cosmetics, and her own vanity may have been to blame for her untimely demise.

1555 - John Hooper, Bishop of Gloucester and Worcester, was burned at the stake as a Marian martyr during the reign of England's Queen Mary I; it's because of things like this she's better known as Bloody Mary.

1621 - Gregory XV became the last Pope to be elected by acclamation, following the death of Paul V.

1822 - The newly created Dominican Republic was invaded by Haiti's Jean-Pierre Boyer; the island of Hispaniola would remain thus united until 1843.

1825 - John Quincy Adams was appointed President by Congress when none of the four candidates in the running was able to claim a majority of Electoral College votes.

1861 - Jefferson Davis was elected the Provisional President of the Confederate States of America.

1870 - The US National Weather Service was established.

1904 - The Battle of Port Arthur - the opening engagement of the Russo-Japanese War - ended with Russia's Oskar Victorovich Stark having sustained the greater losses, giving Japan's Admiral Heihachiro Togo and Vice Admiral Shigeto Dewa no more victory than a tactical stalemate.

1934 - The Balkan Entente was formed between Greece, Turkey, Romania and Yugoslavia.

1950 - In a Second Red Scare US Senator Joseph McCarthy accused the State Department of being filled with Communists.

1960 - Joanne Woodward was the first recipient of a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

1964 - The Beatles made their first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show before a record-breaking television audience of 73 million.

1966 - The National Hockey League expansion doubled in size from its original six teams; the new franchises were Philadelphia Flyers, St. Louis Blues, Minnesota North Stars, Los Angeles Kings, Oakland Seals, and Pittsburgh Penguins.

1969 - The Boeing 747 made its first test flight, with test pilots Jack Waddell and Brien Wygle at the controls and Jess Wallick at the flight engineer's station.

1971 - Satchel Paige was admitted to the Baseball Hall of Fame, the first player from the Negro League and first African-American to be so honoured.

1986 - Halley's Comet reached perihelion - its closest approach to the sun - during its second visit to the inner solar system in the 20th century.

1995 - Space Shuttle astronauts Bernard A. Harris, Jr. and Michael Foale became the first African American and first Briton (respectively) to perform spacewalks as part of mission STS-63.

1996 - The Irish Republican Army declared an end to its 18-month ceasefire - which intention was made abundantly clear by the explosion of a large bomb in London's Canary Wharf.

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