Thursday, March 10, 2011

Pop History Moment: The Wedding of Princess Beatrix and Claus von Amsberg


Despite the throngs of well-wishers lining the streets of Amsterdam to cheer the marriage of Crown Princess Beatrix to Claus von Amsberg on this day in 1966, perhaps because of the country's renowned propensity towards politeness history tends to remember the more sensational aspects of the event - the protestors chanting 'Claus raus'*, the throwing of an occasional stink bomb, and in general the antics of a disorganized albeit highly entertaining rabble...

At its core, though, the discontent highlighted a legitimate concern that a Dutch Princess was marrying a German (however sophisticated and suitably aristocratic) who had served in both the Hitler Youth and the Wehrmacht; only a generation had passed since the brutal Nazi occupation of Holland ended, and there were bound to be some lingering bad feelings. Perhaps time (in the form of the four decades that have since passed) offers a kind of perspective the youthful exuberance of the day does not, but I can think of no better way to heal such a hurtful rift than the solemnization of a love pact on such a grand scale. It is, after all, one of the functions of monarchy to act as the national spirit writ large. As pastor Pastor J.H. Sillevis Smit said during his sermon 'May this marriage, that has caused so many tension, be a cause of harmony in the future, a proof that the nations can together build a lasting peace.' It certainly did that, as Prince Claus eventually became one of the country's more popular royals.

In a dress designed by Caroline Bergé-Farwick of Maison Linette and wearing some seriously ornate jewellery, the Princess did everything to reward the congregation of visiting royalty by appearing throughout the festivities as every inch the princess; the calm demeanour she displayed throughout the day** may be inconsistent with the stereotype of a jittery bride but it's entirely in keeping with what's expected of princesses in general and specifically the sensational poise of Princess (now Queen) Beatrix.

*Meaning 'Claus, out' - in all a pretty witty slogan to chant (if you really must chant slogans at all)...
**Not to mention during the week of banquets and parties that preceded it.
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Remembering... Corey Haim

I think the life of Corey Haim - which ended around 2:15 AM on this day in 2010 at the age of 38 - best represents the place where the disparate threads of celebrity discourse most commonly present here at the Pop Culture Institute weave themselves from nebulous concepts into something very nearly concrete*... Which is not to say that if he'd stayed in Canada, avoided the pitfalls of youthful fame, or even remained out of show business altogether that Haim would not have met the precise demise he did today. It's just that, you know, I'm pretty sure he'd have had a kajillion times better chance at surviving his life without everyone around him consistently feeding his every self-destructive whim is all. In my opinion.

PhotobucketHaim's first feature film role was in 1984's Firstborn, which starred Sarah Jessica Parker and Robert Downey Jr, which he followed with minor roles in Secret Admirer and Murphy's Romance (both 1985) and the lead in a feature film version of Stephen King's novella Silver Bullet, opposite Gary Busey, in the same year. His breakthrough, though, was probably in the 1986 film Lucas, with Kerri Green, Charlie Sheen, and Winona Ryder; the role with which he will always be best associated (especially given his tragic demise) is Joel Schumacher's 1987 film The Lost Boys.

Now, I realize that hindsight is 20/20, but given the number of red flags Haim worked with in just the first half decade of his career - before turning 16 even! - would have been enough to send me screaming for a job application form at 7-11. Fame, as we have learned, is probably the most intoxicating drug of all; for someone with the propensity for addiction it all became more than he could bear...

*If you can find a way to say this without sounding so pompous, help me out...
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"There's A Girl" by Jan and Dean

Birthday wishes go out today to Dean Torrence, one half of California's pioneering surf rock duo and golden gods Jan and Dean; in the video above that's him on the right - the one with the cleft chin. Having met while both were enrolled at Los Angeles' University High School, Jan and Dean came by their SoCal cred honestly; at the height of their fame they performed only sporadically, since they were attending university at the same time, as well as taking the time out to, you guessed it, surf.

Yet it was almost all for naught; in April 1966 Jan Berry was badly injured at Dead Man's Curve, the same spot in Bel Air north of UCLA's Drake Stadium they'd sung about so successfully just two years before. The event was immortalized in a 1978 TV-movie called Deadman's Curve, in which Berry was played by Richard Hatch and Torrence by Bruce Davison.
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"Circle" by Edie Brickell and New Bohemians

Birthday wishes go out to Edie Brickell, formerly a New Bohemian and currently Mrs. Paul Simon; her second album, 1988's Shooting Rubberbands at the Stars, yielded an abundance of the kind of grace seldom present in pop music, and is a must-have for any music collection. In addition to the chart-smashing hit What I Am and my personal favourite Little Miss S (a spritely ditty about Edie Sedgwick) the album yielded this lovely track...
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Gratuitous Brunette: Jon Hamm


Most of the available hotness in 2008 belonged to one man: Jon Hamm, who was born on this day in 1971. Fortunately for those of us among his admirers, that streak of hotness prevails into 2011...

As advertising executive Don Draper in the AMC TV series Mad Men, Hamm inhabited the compromised soul of the early Sixties suburbanite like few have done before; his performance netted him a Golden Globe Award, as well as a shot guest hosting Saturday Night Live. That led to his being cast opposite comedy goddess Tina Fey as a love interest for her character, lucky bitch Liz Lemon, in the third season of 30 Rock. His other credits include roles in the movies Space Cowboys, Kissing Jessica Stein, and the recent remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still as well as on TV's Providence and Gilmore Girls.

In real life, Hamm is in a long-term relationship with lucky bitch Jennifer Westfeldt who is - it scarcely needs to be said - One. Lucky. Bitch.
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Pop History Moment: James Earl Ray Found Guilty

On this day in 1969 - his 41st birthday - James Earl Ray was sentenced to serve 99 years in prison by Judge Preston Battle in Memphis, Tennessee, after admitting to the murder of the American civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr.; although he recanted his confession three days later, it was too late. On the advice of his attorney, Percy Foreman, Ray had copped a guilty plea to avoid a trial and therefore a possible death sentence; Ray later hinted that he was merely part of a conspiracy to kill King. He reasserted this claim before the House Select Committee on Assassinations.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketThe manhunt to capture James Earl Ray had lasted two months, and come to an end at London's Heathrow Airport, where he was caught traveling with two false passports - one of them a Canadian one in the name of Ramon George Sneyd - in June 1968; having fled Memphis following the assassination, Ray spent a period of time in Montreal.

James Earl Ray would return to the headlines occasionally during the remainder of his life, most notably in June 1977, when he escaped from Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary; he was recaptured three days later. In latter years the King family would lobby for Ray's retrial and/or release - even maintaining that he was not King's killer - and while Ray may have been involved on some level in a conspiracy to kill King no further evidence to support this claim has emerged in the ensuing 40 years.

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"Magic" by Robin Thicke

Whereas most of the offspring of faded celebrities seem to prefer to haunt the glossier places of Los Angeles trailing an entourage of douchebags* while spending their parents' residuals before estate taxes take whatever's left, Robin Thicke has instead forged himself a career as a singer-dancer. Not that he hasn't had the occasional coke-fuelled binge with a passel of hookers** - and I couldn't say one way or the other whether or not he has (or hasn't) - at least he's managed to record himself a few songs along the way.

The only child of fellow pop culture icons Alan Thicke and Gloria Loring, Thicke is responsible for the sultry blue-eyed soul of Magic (and the lithe moves that accompany it in the video, as well) which originally appeared on his 2008 third album Something Else.

*In case you were wondering what the collective noun for douchebags was...
**'Passel' is
not the collective noun for hookers; I believe it's 'hip-hop video'.

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Happy Birthday Your Royal Highness

The birth of the Queen's youngest child at Buckingham Palace on this day in 1964 was greeted with the then-usual tizzy of excitement by the British Press in what now seems like a halcyon time; 1964 produced a bumper crop of royal babies, beginning with James Ogilvy on Leap Year Day and concluding with Lady Helen Taylor at the end of April and Lady Sarah Chatto (the daughter of Princess Margaret) three days later on May Day.

PhotobucketThe fourth child and third son of the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh, after the age of seven Prince Edward was schooled outside the Palace, at Gibbs School in Kensington; he later attended Heatherdown Preparatory School near Ascot and the dreaded Gordonstoun School in Scotland. After a gap year at Collegiate School in Wanganui, New Zealand, he went to Jesus College at Cambridge, where he became only the fourth member of the Royal Family to earn a university degree.

Enlisted in the Royal Marines in 1987, he later dropped out (in what would be the first major scandal of his life) when it became obvious that he was ill-suited to military life. Instead he joined Andrew Lloyd Webber's Really Useful Theatre Company, during which time he dated singer-actress Ruthie Henshall.

Further scandal dogged him in his efforts to lead a normal (ie: non-royal) life, which given the improbability of such a thing should have seemed inevitable, even then; he produced the well-televised fiasco It's a Royal Knockout and breached a media blackout when his company was caught filming his nephew Prince William at St. Andrew's University. Given unprecedented access to the archives at Windsor Castle he attempted to produce a series of documentaries (mainly on the Royal Families of Europe) - that is, until he was accused of using his royal connections unfairly.

Following his marriage to Sophie Rhys-Jones in June 1999 at St. George's Chapel, Windsor he was created Earl of Wessex, and it was then announced that he would one day become the next Duke of Edinburgh* following that title's extinction upon the death of the present bearer; as such, he has been working extensively with the Duke of Edinburgh's Award scheme in recent years. After one further scandal involving a News of the World reporter named Mazher Mahmood disguised as an Arab sheik and an obvious incident of entrapment, the Earl and Countess of Wessex joined public life as full-time royals.

Currently residing at Bagshot Park, His Royal Highness is the father of two children: Lady Louise Windsor (born in November 2003) and James, Viscount Severn (born in December 2007). Although neither child now bears the title of HRH, they are entitled to, and will one day have to decide whether or not they want it.

*Naturally, the title will not pass directly to the Earl of Wessex but first lapse to the Crown before theoretically being re-granted.

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Pop History Moment: Bell Makes An Important Call


On this day in 1876 Alexander Graham Bell made the first successful telephone call by saying 'Mr. Watson, come here, I want to see you.'

Bell's innovation - the first successful use of a machine apparently designed by Elisha Gray, who was given no credit in Bell's application for U.S. Patent 174,465 - would later lead to some controversy as to whether Bell 'stole' Gray's patent or not, whether their discoveries had been simultaneous and independent of each other, or indeed which of them got to the patent office first. Surely the fact that Bell later became hugely rich as a result of the telephone company (and ensuing monopoly) he founded only added fuel to the fire, as there's nothing like a spot of greed to make a scandal really hum.

Nevertheless, it was Bell who made the first telephone call, clearing the way for every ninny on the bus to chatter away inanely about the intimate details of their lives as if no one around them can hear; which, indeed, they cannot - provided the volume on their iPod is up high enough.
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"Buffalo Stance" by Neneh Cherry

Birthday wishes go out today to Neneh Cherry, whose 1988 hit Buffalo Stance was not only the highlight of her debut album Raw Like Sushi but among the first portents of a sound which would come to dominate the musical landscape of the next twenty years: hip-hop. That the song should have been so successful is even more amazing when considering that it had first been the B-side of a song recorded in 1986 by the obscure Stock Aitken Waterman-produced pop band Morgan-McVey, one half of which was Cameron McVey - who is, coincidentally*, Neneh Cherry's husband.

*Or not, depending entirely upon how cynical you are...

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POPnews - March 10th

[Today the Chinese occupiers of Tibet operate Lhasa's Potala Palace as a museum; until the flight into exile of the 14th Dalai Lama on this day in 1959 it served as his official residence. Begun by the 5th Dalai Lama, Lozang Gyatso, in 1645, it wouldn't be finished in 1694, 12 years after his death; it was the 6th Dalai Lama, Tsangyang Gyatso, who was first to use it, which he did as a winter palace. Slightly damaged in the uprising of 1959, it was spared total destruction during the Cultural Revolution of 1966 by Zhou Enlai although as many 100,000 of its literary and artistic treasures were destroyed.]

1629 - England's King Charles I dissolved Parliament for the fourth and final time - which was nonetheless his Royal Prerogative - thereby beginning the Eleven Years Tyranny, during which era the King ruled without the advice of the 'people'.

1762 - French Huguenot Jean Calas, who had been wrongly convicted of killing his son Marc-Antoine, died after being tortured on the Catherine wheel; the event inspired Voltaire to begin a campaign for religious tolerance and legal reform, which would later lead to Calas' posthumous exoneration in March 1765, when it became clear the younger Calas had committed suicide and not been murdered.

1804 - A ceremony was conducted in St. Louis to formalize the Louisiana Purchase, thereby officially transferring ownership of the Louisiana Territory from France to the United States.

1814 - Napoleon was defeated by the Prussian forces of Blücher at the Battle of Laon.

1831 - The French Foreign Legion was established by King Louis-Philippe to support his war in Algeria.

1846 - Prince Osahito, fourth son of deceased Emperor Ninko of Japan, became Emperor Kōmei.

1848 - The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was ratified by the US Senate, thus ending the Mexican-American War.

1864 - The Red River Campaign began as Union troops under Major-General Nathaniel P. Banks reached Alexandria, Louisiana; there they would clash with a Confederate army led by Major-General Richard Taylor until May, with the aim of cutting off supply lines from Texas.

1893 - Côte d'Ivoire became a French colony.

1906 - The Courrières mine disaster - Europe's worst ever - killed 1099 miners in Northern France's Pas-de-Calais département.

1922 - Mahatma Gandhi was arrested in India; he was later tried for sedition and sentenced to six years in prison, although he would be released after only two years in February 1924 following an operation for appendicitis.

1945 - American forces conducted the firebombing of Tokyo; the resulting firestorm killed more than 100,000 people, mostly civilians.

1948 - The Indian Union Muslim League was founded by remnants of the old Muslim League.

1952 - Fulgencio Batista led a successful coup in Cuba.

1959 - An unsuccessful uprising against ten years of unlawful Chinese occupation in Lhasa - a pivotal moment in the Tibetan resistance movement - resulted in the massacre of thousands of Tibetans by occupying soldiers and the exile of the 14th Dalai Lama to the Indian city of Dharamsala. China continues its illegal occupation of Tibet to this day.

1969 - James Earl Ray pleaded guilty to assassinating Martin Luther King Jr; he recanted his guilty plea three days later, but pleaded guilty anyway and was sentenced to 99 years in prison for the crime, even though in later years the King family lobbied for his release.

1977 - Astronomers discovered rings around Uranus, which the planet's discoverer William Herschel first claimed to have seen in 1798; the same day those same scientists rediscovered how those jokes never gets old.

1990 - Prosper Avril was ousted 18 months after seizing power in Haiti following the departure of Jean-Claude Duvalier; he was succeeded by Herard Abraham.

2006 - The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter arrived, appropriately enough, at Mars.

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