Friday, March 18, 2011

Pop History Moment: Pluto Was Discovered

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketOn this day in 1930 Pluto was discovered by Clyde W. Tombaugh - based on calculations by Urbain Le Verrier, who first posited there was a planet beyond Uranus (in other words Neptune) and therefore trans-Neptunian objects... Tombaugh's astronomical enthusiasm would also lead to the discovery of numerous asteroids and extend to a fascination with UFOs.

Pluto and its largest moon Charon are sometimes treated as a binary system because the barycentre of their orbits does not lie within either body; no such conflict exists with the planetoid's other two moons, Nix and Hydra - which were discovered in 2005, just in time to witness Pluto being controversially stripped of its planetary status by the International Astronomical Union in 2006.

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Happy Birthday Queen Latifah

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketWhen I was 19 I was living in Ottawa, dating Morgin (soon to become Lisa), and had only a vague idea what I wanted to do with my life. (Hint: it had something to do with writing.)

One day, while hanging out at Morgin's place we were watching a show on MuchMusic (which, like MTV, once used to actually show music videos*) called Rap City. That particular episode was a pretty listless one, until a new video by a new performer was announced. Given how smart my readers are, they'll have already guessed that the performer was Queen Latifah; the song was Come Into My House, from her groundbreaking 1989 album All Hail the Queen. At 19 she was doing what she wanted to do, and I was having sex with a woman trapped in a man's body.

In the years since my own ambitions have gradually crystallized while the lady has gone from strength to strength (not without a few bumps along the way, which she handled admirably). She has since received a well-deserved Oscar nomination - for setting the screen alight in Chicago - so it's really time I started playing catch-up.

*I realize this will be difficult for some of you to comprehend but I assure you it's true... If you don't believe me, ask your parents.
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"Fame" by Irene Cara

Fame is one of those songs I am constantly rediscovering; I'll hear a snippet of that devastating bass line somewhere when I've almost forgotten it and be instantly transported to those halcyon days of yesteryear when I first used to dance around my bedroom, dreaming of the promise inherent in its very title...

Here then, on the occasion of Irene Cara's birthday, is the very song itself, performed by her - probably on the show Solid Gold in what looks like 1980. The video quality's not great, but then if you'd ever seen 1980 for yourself, you'll be glad of that; nevertheless the campiness shines through, as it will...
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Remembering... Edward Everett Horton

In the Hollywood of the 1930s and 1940s, nothing ensured success for an actor like their ability to play a type; Edward Everett Horton's ability to portray meek, hen-pecked - even effeminate - men meant that he never lacked for work. Oh sure, he might have missed out on the overtly heroic scenes and the passionate embraces, but he also missed out on the insecurity that came along with leading roles as well...

PhotobucketBorn on this day in 1886, Horton got the usual start on Broadway and in vaudeville, but by the time performers of every kind began flooding into Hollywood in 1929 at the advent of the sound era he'd already been there for a decade, and because he was a character actor, he made the transition from silents to sound with ease.

In his heyday he had supporting roles in some of the finest films of the era, including The Front Page (1931), Top Hat (1935), Lost Horizon (1937), Holiday (1938), Here Comes Mr. Jordan (1941), and Arsenic and Old Lace (1944).

Like many people of my generation, though, I experienced Horton's career in reverse, having heard his narration on Rocky & Bullwinkle cartoons first (which he did in the 1960s towards the end of his life), and only then discovered the earlier film work which had secured his reputation.

Horton died in September 1970 at the age of 84.
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In Memoriam: Princess Mary, Duchess of Suffolk

Seeing as the majority of history is written by men (or had been, at least until the advent of the social history revolution of the past two decades) it's no surprise that Mary Tudor - sister of Henry VIII, unwilling Queen to Louis XII of France, lover of her brother's best friend Charles Brandon and eventually Duchess of Suffolk, in addition to a noted hellion whose trouble-making outlived her in the form of her daughters and granddaughters - has been all but expunged from the historical record (if and when historians had been bothered to include her in the first place). Yet as interest in the Tudors continues to grow, she is one of the many exemplary women of her age whose life and accomplishments are being rediscovered...

PhotobucketBorn on this day in 1496 at Richmond Palace, for a long while Mary was Henry's cherished baby sister. He named his eldest daughter after her, as well as the Mary Rose, once the pride of the British fleet. Initially betrothed to Charles of Castile, the woman described as the most beautiful princess in Europe - indeed, the Dutch humanist Erasmus said of her that 'Nature never formed anything more beautiful' - could have become wife of the Holy Roman Emperor; instead, at the age of 18, she was sent to marry the King of France.

Royal lore has it she extracted a promise from her brother that once her political obligation was met she could marry anyone she wanted, a concession begrudgingly assented to by Henry. She then proceeded to wear out her ageing husband with lovemaking, or so the rumours have it; he died three months after their marriage without managing to impregnate her, at which point Mary was secretly wed to Charles Brandon in March 1515 when he was sent to France to bring her home. Since royalty - then as now - are the property of the State, such an act was treasonous, and could have resulted in his and hers executions; instead they were heavily fined, and in May 1515 were remarried at Greenwich Palace. Following their marriage she lived principally at her husband's country seat, Westhorpe Hall.

The Suffolks had three children: Henry Brandon, Lady Frances Brandon, and Lady Eleanor Brandon, and of these it was the middle one who gave the Crown the most grief in the years to come. Lady Frances Brandon's daughter - the ill-starred Lady Jane Grey - was briefly the pretender to the English throne, proving a thorn in the side of Mary I in much the same way (although to a much lesser extent) that Mary, Queen of Scots - granddaughter of Henry VIII's other sister Margaret Tudor - would for Elizabeth I.

Mary's convivial relationship with her brother became strained in the 1520s over his attempted (and eventually successful) reformation of the English church; Mary had grown close to Catherine of Aragon during her years at court, and was one of the first to take a strong disliking to the woman her brother had in mind to replace her, Anne Boleyn, whom she'd met during her brief tenure as Queen of France. Even following her death at Westhorpe Hall in June 1533 (aged only 37) she was troubled by the Dissolution of the Monasteries, as she was forced to quit her original burial spot at the abbey in Bury St Edmunds for the nearby St. Mary's Church.

Mary Brandon has been portrayed by two of the movies' loveliest stars - first, by Marion Davies, in a 1922 silent version of When Knighthood Was in Flower, and again in 1953 by Glynis Johns in the Disney film The Sword and the Rose (which is sadly only available on VHS); both were derived from the same source material, the 1898 novel When Knighthood Was in Flower by Edwin Caskoden (the pen name of Charles Major). Currently she is being portrayed by Gabrielle Anwar in the Showtime series The Tudors, although the character there is both heavily fictionalized and a composite of Henry VIII's two sisters, Mary and Margaret.

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"Kiss An Angel Good Morning" by Charley Pride

When I was growing up, Charley Pride was a regular feature on my mother's stereo; even when, as a teenager, I rebelled against everything my parents liked and stood for (a fit of pique still going strong even in its twenty-fifth year) there were a few things - and people - who survived the rebellion. Charley Pride was among them; one of the few African-Americans to excel in the whiter-than-white world of country music - although his invitation to join the Grand Ole Opry didn't come until 1993 - he remains the only black member in the history of that august institution. In other words, the sort of person tailor-made for me to admire.

During the 1960s and 1970s his sound was described as Countrypolitan, and Pride was one of those responsible for helping to bring country music into the mainstream, as well as the first - and some would say, only - one to bring it to black audiences. This song was one such smash hit; Kiss an Angel Good Mornin' went to number 1 in the country chart, in addition to grazing the bottom of the Top Twenty on the pop charts in 1971. It remains one of Pride's signature tunes.

Born on this day in 1938, before Pride was a singer, he was a baseball player, pitching for the Memphis Red Sox of the Negro American League in 1952. In 1974, at the height of his fame, Pride faced legendary Baltimore Orioles pitcher (and underwear pitchman) Jim Palmer for the Texas Rangers during that season's training camp in Florida; he grounded out and singled during his two at-bats, helping the Orioles cinch the game 14-2.

Now in his 70s, Pride still performs concerts around the world, wowing audiences wherever he appears...
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POPnews - March 18th

[The globular cluster in the constellation Hercules now known as M92 was first discovered by Johann Elert Bode in 1777, but was named for Charles Messier who independently rediscovered it* in 1781; located 26,000 light years from Earth, it contains a shitload** of stars and potentially an equal number of inhabited Earth-like planets. Although one of the larger globular clusters visible from the Northern Hemisphere, it is easily outshone by the even bigger and brighter Messier 13, just like Nick Jonas outshines his equally talented brothers Joe and the ugly one***.]

1227 - Pope Honorius III died; he was succeeded by Gregory IX the following day.

1314 - Jacques de Molay - the 23rd and last Grand Master of the Knights Templar - was burned at the stake at Paris' Île de la Cité on the orders of France's King Philip IV.

1608 - Susenyos was formally crowned Emperor of Ethiopia.

1781 - Charles Messier rediscovered the global cluster M92.

1871 - Following the Declaration of the Paris Commune, Adolphe Thiers - the President of the French Republic - ordered the evacuation of Paris.

1913 - Greece's King George I was assassinated by Alexandros Schinas in the recently liberated city of Thessaloniki.

1922 - The first public celebration of a Bat mitzvah, for the daughter of Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan, was held in New York City at the headquarters of the Society for the Advancement of Judaism.

1937 - An explosion caused by a natural gas leak killed and/or injured hundreds, most of them children, at a school in New London, Texas; of the approximately 600 students and 40 teachers in the building at the time, only about 130 escaped without serious injury.

1940 - Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini met at Brenner Pass in the Alps, when they agreed to form an alliance against France and the United Kingdom.

1950 - The Belgian government fell after a referendum in which 57% of Belgians favoured the return of King Leopold III from exile in Switzerland; his return to Belgium was nevertheless met by widespread unrest, following which he abdicated in favour of his son Baudouin in July 1951.

1962 - The Evian Accords put an end to the Algerian War of Independence, which had begun in November 1954.

1967 - The oil supertanker Torrey Canyon (chartered by British Petroleum) ran aground on Pollard's Rock in the Seven Stones reef off the Cornish coast, spilling 100,000 tons of crude oil; 15,000 sea birds were killed in the aftermath, many from the toxic detergents used in an attempt to clean them.

1982 - Britain's Attorney General Sir Michael Havers halted an obscenity trial brought by Mary Whitehouse against director Michael Bogdanov and the National Theatre for its production of Howard Brenton's The Romans in Britain.

1990 - In the largest art theft in US history, 12 paintings (collectively worth around $300 million) were stolen from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, Massachusetts.

1992 - South Africa voted to end apartheid in a special referendum.

2003 - British Sign Language was recognized as a language, but not as an official language of Britain, meaning it has no legal protections.

2005 - Terri Schiavo's feeding tube was removed at the request of her husband, fueling a worldwide debate on euthanasia; Schiavo died less than two weeks later.

Photobucket2009 - Iranian blogger Omid Reza Mir Sayafi was murdered in Tehran's Evin Prison, where he'd been incarcerated for telling the truth about the mullahs and their Islamic Republic. He was 29. Despite the removal of his blog - which was ostensibly concerned with traditional Persian music - by the authorities, his work will live on thanks to the power of the Internet and foes of tyranny like the Pop Culture Institute. The March 18 Movement was created to honour his memory, and to oppose any attempts to silence new media and citizen journalists; it's a movement which this humble blog is proud to have joined.

*Hard as it may be for modern minds to comprehend, in the olden days e'rybody wasn't up in e'rybody else's bidness like they are today; there was no Twitter in 1781 - except by birds - so two different people could easily discover something at around the same time without it devolving into a spate of name-calling on YouTube. Geez, huh? Old-timey guys were some messed up shizzle!
**In Canada, a 'shitload' is an official measure; all's I know is it's bigger than a 'buttload'. Maybe it's metric... Look it up!
***Ummm... In the interest of full disclosure I should say that this photo caption is a blatant hit grab... Not unlike the
Jonas Brothers themselves!

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