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Film star Greta Garbo was born 118 years ago today
Greta Garbo was born 118 years ago today.
Born Greta Lovisa Gustafsson, Garbo was a Swedish film actress and an international star and icon during Hollywood's silent and classic periods. Many of her films were sensational hits, and all but three of her 24 Hollywood films were profitable.
Garbo was nominated four times for an Academy Award and received an honorary one in 1954 for her "luminous and unforgettable screen performances.” She also won the New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Actress for both Anna Karenina (1935) and Camille (1936).
In 1999, the American Film Institute ranked Garbo fifth on their list of greatest female stars of all time, after Katharine Hepburn, Bette Davis, Audrey Hepburn and Ingrid Bergman.
Garbo launched her career with a leading role in the 1924 Swedish film, The Saga of Gosta Berling. Her performance caught the attention of Louis B. Mayer, chief executive of Metro Goldwyn Mayer (MGM), who brought her to Hollywood in 1925.
She immediately stirred interest with her first silent film, Torrent, released in 1926. A year later, her performance in Flesh and the Devil, her third movie, made her an international star. With her first talking film, Anna Christie (1930), she received an Academy Award nomination.
MGM marketers enticed the public with the catch-phrase, "Garbo talks!" That same year she won a second Oscar nomination for her performance in Romance. In 1932, her immense popularity allowed her to dictate the terms of her contract and she became increasingly choosy about her roles.
Many critics and film historians consider her performance as the doomed courtesan Marguerite Gautier in Camille to be her finest. The role gained her a third Academy Award nomination.
After working exclusively in dramatic films, Garbo turned to comedy with Ninotchka (1939), which earned her a fourth Academy Award nomination, and Two-Faced Woman (1941).
In 1941, she retired after appearing in only 27 films. Although she was offered many opportunities to return to the screen, she declined most of them. Instead, she lived a private life, shunning publicity. She died in April, 1990, at age 84.
Garbo was once designated the most beautiful woman who ever lived by the Guinness Book of World Records.
Harold Clurman, 1979
Photo by Jack Mitchell
Harold Clurman was born 122 years ago today.
Clurman was a visionary American theatre director and drama critic — one of the most influential in the United States. He was most notable as one of the three founders of the New York City's Group Theatre (1931–1941).
He directed more than 40 plays in his career and, during the 1950s, was nominated for a Tony Award as director for several productions. In addition to his directing career, he was drama critic for The New Republic (1948–52) and The Nation (1953–1980), helping shape American theater by writing about it.
Clurman wrote seven books about the theatre, including his memoir, The Fervent Years: The Group Theatre and the Thirties (1961).
Clurman was born on the Lower East Side of New York City to Jewish immigrant parents from eastern Europe. His parents took him at age six to Yiddish theater, where Jacob Adler's performances in Yiddish translations of Karl Gutzkow's Uriel Acosta and Gotthold Ephraim Lessing's Nathan the Wise fascinated him although he did not understand Yiddish.
He attended Columbia and, at the age of 20, moved to France to study at the University of Paris. There he shared an apartment with the young composer, Aaron Copland.
In Paris, he saw all sorts of theatrical productions. He was especially influenced by the work of Jacques Copeau and the Moscow Art Theatre, whose permanent company built a strong creative force. He wrote his thesis on the history of French drama from 1890 to 1914.
Clurman returned to New York in 1924 and started working as an extra in plays, despite his lack of experience. He became a stage manager and play reader for the Theatre Guild.
He briefly studied Stanislavsky’s system under the tutelage of Richard Boleslavsky, and became Jacques Copeau's translator/assistant on his production of The Brothers Karamazov, based on the 1880 novel by the Russian writer Fyodor Dostoevsky.
Clurman began work as an actor in New York. He felt that the standard American theater, though successful at the box office, was not providing the experience he wanted. “I was interested in what the theater was going to say…The theater must say something. It must relate to society. It must relate to the world we live in,” he said.
Together with the like-minded Cheryl Crawford and Lee Strasberg, he began to create what would become the Group Theatre. In November, 1930, Clurman led weekly lectures, in which they talked about founding a permanent theatrical company to produce plays dealing with important modern social issues.
Together with 28 other young people, they formed a group that developed a groundbreaking style of theater that strongly influenced American productions, including such elements as method acting and realism based on American stories and political content.
By building a permanent company, they expected to increase the synergy and trust among the members, who included Stella Adler, Morris Carnovsky, Phoebe Brand, Elia Kazan, Clifford Odets and Sanford Meisner.
In the summer of 1931, the first members of the Group Theatre rehearsed for several weeks in the countryside of Nichols, Connecticut at the Pine Brook Country Club. They were preparing their first production, The House of Connelly, by Paul Green. It was directed by Strasberg.
Clurman was the scholar of the group — he knew multiple languages, read widely and listened to a broad array of music, while Strasberg dealt with acting and directing and Crawford dealt with the business side of things.
In 1935, the first play which Clurman directed for the Group Theatre was Awake and Sing! by Clifford Odets. The play's success led Clurman to develop his directing style.
He believed that all the elements of a play — text, acting, lighting, scenery and direction — needed to work together to convey a unified message. Clurman would read the script over and over, each time focusing on a different element or character. He tried to inspire, guide and constructively critique his designers, rather than dictate to them.
He would also use Richard Boleslavsky's technique of identifying the "spine," or main action, of each character. He would then use the character spines to determine the overall spine of the play.
He encouraged his actors to find "active verbs" to describe what their characters were trying to accomplish. He believed that Stanislavsky's system was good to know and study, but too time-consuming to use fully.
Clurman died in 1980 in New York City of cancer.
Jack Cardiff and Marilyn Monroe on the set of The Prince and the Showgirl, 1957
Jack Cardiff, British cinematographer, director and photographer, was born 109 years ago today.
His career spanned the development of cinema, from silent film, through early experiments in Technicolor to filmmaking in the 21st century.
Cardiff was best known for his influential color cinematography for directors such as Powell and Pressburger, Huston and Hitchcock.
In 2000, he was awarded an OBE and in 2001 he was awarded an Honorary Oscar for his contribution to the cinema.
Jack Cardiff's work is reviewed in detail in the documentary film, Cameraman: The Life and Work of Jack Cardiff (2010).
Here, a trailer on “Cameraman: The Life and Work of Jack Cardiff.”
Frankie Avalon with Annette Funicello
Frankie Avalon is 83 years old today.
Avalon is a former actor, singer, playwright and teen idol. By the time he was 12, Avalon was on U.S. television playing his trumpet. As a teenager he played with Bobby Rydell in Rocco and the Saints.
In 1959, "Venus" (five weeks at #1) and "Why" went to #1 on the Billboard Hot 100. "Why" was the last #1 of the 1950s. Avalon had 31 charted U.S. Billboard singles from 1958 to late 1962, including "Just Ask Your Heart" (U.S. #7), "I'll Wait For You" (U.S. #15), "Bobby Sox to Stockings" (U.S. #8) and "A Boy Without a Girl" (U.S. #10).
Most of Rydell’s hits were written and/or produced by Bob Marcucci, head of Chancellor Records. When Avalon turned 21, he was given $600,000 that he earned as a minor from his hit records, including “Venus.”
Teamed frequently with Annette Funicello, Avalon starred in a number of popular "beach party" comedy films during the mid-1960s. The wholesome and romantic coupling of "Frankie and Annette" in summer movies such as Beach Party and Beach Blanket Bingo became iconic figures in American films during that era.
Avalon also had straight dramatic parts in the John Wayne historical western film, The Alamo, as well as the science-fiction story, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea (1961), with Barbara Eden.
Here, Avalon performs “Venus” in 1959.
A sea of straw hats at a baseball game in about 1920
Photo from Bettmann Archives
About 102 years ago, a fashion faux pas led to bedlam in New York City.
The Straw Hat Riot emerged from the idea that they should not be worn very far into September. (Men usually wore hats outdoors in those days, and straw was popular for summer.)
Every year after the cutoff (which moved around a bit), men would lose their hats to gangs, so newspapers printed reminders. On Sept. 13, 1922, with the date still two days away, some gang members went further. They knocked straw hats off men’s heads, stomping on them and even starting “straw hat bonfires.”
For days, the mobs “terrorized whole blocks,” The Times wrote. Some carried sticks with nails at the end to snatch hats. Others stood along train tracks and swiped hats off passing riders. There were injuries and arrests before the trouble died down.
Three years later, President Calvin Coolidge essentially put an end to the cutoff rule by going for a mid-September stroll in the “tabooed headgear.”
Thanks New York Times
Jimi Hendrix, one of the most celebrated musicians of the 20th century, died 53 years ago today.
Despite a limited mainstream exposure of four years, he is widely considered one of the most influential electric guitarists in the history of popular music.
In 1961, Hendrix enlisted in the U.S. Army. He was granted an honorable discharge the following year. In 1963, he moved to Clarksville, Tennessee, and began playing gigs on the chitlin' circuit.
In 1964, he earned a spot in the Isley Brothers' backing band and later that year he found work with Little Richard, with whom he continued to play through mid-1965. He then joined Curtis Knight and the Squires.
In late 1966, after being discovered by bassist, Chas Chandler, of the Animals,
Hendrix moved to England, where he hoped his music would be appreciated more. In 1967, he earned three UK top ten hits with the Jimi Hendrix Experience: "Hey Joe,” "Purple Haze" and "The Wind Cries Mary.”
Later that year, he achieved fame in the U.S. after his performance at the Monterey Pop Festival. He became the world’s highest paid performer.
Hendrix headlined the Woodstock Festival in 1969 and the Isle of Wight Festival in 1970 before dying from barbiturate-related asphyxia at the age of 27.
Inspired musically by American rock and roll and electric blues, Hendrix favored overdriven amplifiers with high volume and gain, and was instrumental in developing the previously undesirable technique of guitar amplifier feedback.
He helped to popularize the use of a wah-wah pedal in mainstream rock, and pioneered experimentation with stereophonic phasing effects in music recordings.
Here, Jimi Hendrix performs at Woodstock.
Bobby Velline and the Shadows, 1958
In terms of his artistic significance, the early 1960s teen singer Bobby Vee may be a relatively slight and unimportant figure, but his place in music history is assured for reasons that have nothing to do with his modest chart accomplishments and charms as a performer.
On this day in 1961— 62 years ago — he reached the high point of his recording career when his recording of the Carole King-penned, "Take Good Care Of My Baby," topped the U.S. pop charts.
But the event that made that accomplishment possible — and assured Bobby Vee his place in history — came two-and-a-half years earlier, when a small plane carrying three young musicians crashed en route to his home town.
For songwriter Don McLean, February 3, 1959, was the “Day the Music Died,” but for 15-year-old, Bobby Velline, it was the tragic day his star was born.
The plane that crashed in an Iowa field early that morning was carrying musicians Buddy Holly, Richie Valens and J.P. "The Big Bopper" Richardson north from Clear Lake, Iowa, to Fargo, North Dakota, for the next show on the Winter Dance Party 1959 tour.
It was a show that young Bobby Velline, an avowed rock-and-roller, was planning to attend as a fan until fate intervened. Just weeks earlier, Velline had formed his first band, and now, as news of the deaths of Holly, Valens and Richardson spread via local radio, so, too, did another shocking piece of news.
Adhering to the old maxim that the Show Must Go On, the business-minded organizers of the Winter Dance Party tour announced that they would not be canceling that night's show, despite the deaths of three out of four of the tour's headline acts.
Surviving act, Dion and the Belmonts, would still be appearing, and now radio station KFGO was asking whether any local group would be available to join them.
Presented with this morbid yet undeniably exciting opportunity, young Bobby Velline, who could play the chords and sing the lyrics to nearly every song his idol Buddy Holly had ever recorded, stepped up and volunteered.
Appearing second on the bill that night, Velline and his band, the Shadows, caught the eye and ear of a local promoter, and soon began playing gigs throughout the region.
Within 18 months of his tragic big break, the wholesome teenager from Fargo was in the capable grip of the music industry's star-making machinery, recording the song that would give the husband-and-wife songwriting team of Gerry Goffin and Carole King its second #1 hit.
Photo by Art Wolfe