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Henry David Thoreau was born 206 years ago
Henry David Thoreau
Photo by Benjamin D. Maxham
Henry David Thoreau was born 206 years ago.
An author, poet, philosopher, abolitionist, naturalist, tax resister, development critic, surveyor, historian and leading transcendentalist, Thoreau is best known for his book, Walden, a reflection upon simple living in natural surroundings, and his essay, Civil Disobedience, an argument for individual resistance to civil government in moral opposition to an unjust state.
Thoreau's books, articles, essays, journals and poetry total over 20 volumes. Among his lasting contributions were his writings on natural history and philosophy, where he anticipated the methods and findings of ecology and environmental history — two sources of modern day environmentalism.
His literary style interweaves close natural observation, personal experience, pointed rhetoric, symbolic meanings and historical lore, while displaying a poetic sensibility, philosophical austerity and "Yankee" love of practical detail.
He was also deeply interested in the idea of survival in the face of hostile elements, historical change and natural decay. At the same time, he advocated abandoning waste and illusion in order to discover life's true essential needs.
He was a lifelong abolitionist, delivering lectures that attacked the Fugitive Slave Law while praising the writings of Wendell Phillips and defending abolitionist John Brown. Thoreau's philosophy of civil disobedience later influenced the political thoughts and actions of such notable figures as Leo Tolstoy, Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr.
Thoreau is sometimes cited as an anarchist, and though Civil Disobedience seems to call for improving rather than abolishing government.
"I ask for, not at once no government, but at once a better government" — the direction of this improvement points toward anarchism: "'That government is best which governs not at all'; and when men are prepared for it, that will be the kind of government which they will have."
Thoreau was photographed in 1856 after the urgings of an admirer, Calvin R. Green. When Green asked Thoreau to pose, initially replied: “You may rely on it that you have the best of me in my books, and that I am not worth seeing personally – the stuttering, blundering, clodhopper that I am.”
Greene repeated his request and sent money for the sitting. Thoreau must have kept this commitment to his fan in the back of his mind for the next several months.
On June 18, 1856, during a trip to Worcester, Massachusetts, Thoreau visited the Daguerrean Palace of Benjamin D. Maxham at 16 Huntington Street and had three daguerreotypes taken for fifty cents each. He gave two of the prints to his Worcester friends and hosts, H.G.O. Blake and Theophilius Brown.
The third he sent to Calvin Greene in Michigan. “While in Worcester this week I obtained the accompanying daguerreotype – which my friends think is pretty good – though better looking than I,” Thoreau wrote to Green.
Frank Beacham at Walden Pond
Milton Berle with Marilyn Monroe
Milton Berle was born 115 years ago today.
A comedian and actor, Berle was the host of NBC's Texaco Star Theater (1948–55). He was the first major American television star and was known to millions of viewers as "Uncle Miltie" and "Mr. Television" during TV's golden age.
Born into a Jewish New York family in a five-story walkup at 68 W. 118th Street in Harlem, Berle entered show business at the age of five when he won an amateur talent contest. He appeared as a child actor in silent films, beginning with The Perils of Pauline, filmed in Fort Lee, New Jersey.
The director told Berle that he would portray a little boy who would be thrown from a moving train.
Around 1920, at age 12, Berle made his stage debut in a revival of the musical comedy, Florodora, in Atlantic City, which later moved to Broadway. By the time he was 16, he was working as a Master of Ceremonies in vaudeville, intruding into everyone's act and creating the brash style that would become his trademark.
By the early 1930s, he was a successful stand-up comedian, patterning himself after one of vaudeville's top comics, Ted Healy. In 1933, he was hired by producer Jack White to star in the theatrical featurette, Poppin' the Cork, a topical musical comedy concerning the repealing of Prohibition.
Berle also co-wrote the score for this film, which was released by Educational Pictures. He continued to dabble in songwriting.
With Ben Oakland and Milton Drake, Berle wrote the title song for the RKO Radio Pictures release Li'l Abner (1940), an adaptation of Al Capp's comic strip, featuring Buster Keaton as Lonesome Polecat. Berle wrote a Spike Jones B-side, "Leave the Dishes in the Sink, Ma."
From 1934–36, Berle was heard regularly on The Rudy Vallee Hour, and he attracted publicity as a regular on The Gillette Original Community Sing, a Sunday night comedy-variety program broadcast on CBS from September 6, 1936 to August 29, 1937.
In 1939, he was the host of Stop Me If You've Heard This One with panelists spontaneously finishing jokes sent in by listeners.
In the late 1940s, he canceled well-paying nightclub appearances to expand his radio career. Three Ring Time, a comedy-variety show sponsored by Ballantine Ale, was followed by a 1943 program sponsored by Campbell's Soups.
The audience participation show, Let Yourself Go (1944–1945), could best be described as "slapstick radio" with studio audience members acting out long suppressed urges — often directed at host Berle.
Berle would revive the structure and routines of his vaudeville shows for his debut on TV. Scripted by Hal Block and Martin Ragaway, The Milton Berle Show brought Berle together with Arnold Stang, later a familiar face as Berle's TV sidekick. Others in the cast were Pert Kelton, Mary Schipp, Jack Albertson, Arthur Q. Bryan, Ed Begley, Brazilian singer Dick Farney and announcer Frank Gallop.
Sponsored by Philip Morris, it aired on NBC from March 11, 1947 until April 13, 1948. His last radio series was The Texaco Star Theater, which began September 22, 1948 on ABC and continued until June 15, 1949 with cast members Stang, Kelton and Gallop, along with Charles Irving, Kay Armen and double-talk specialist, Al Kelly.
Writers included Nat Hiken, brothers Danny and Neil Simon, Leo Fuld and Aaron Ruben. Berle later described this series as "the best radio show I ever did ... a hell of a funny variety show." It served as a springboard for Berle's emergence as television's first major star.
In 1948, NBC brought Texaco Star Theater to TV. The show began with Berle rotating hosting duties with three other comedians, but in October he became the permanent host. Berle's highly visual style, characterized by vaudeville slapstick and outlandish costumes, proved ideal for the new medium. The show’s structure and skits were modeled on Berle’s vaudeville shows. He hired writer Hal Collins to revive the old routines.
The show dominated Tuesday night television for the next several years, reaching the #1 slot in the Nielsen ratings with as much as an 80 percent share of the viewing audience.
Milton Berle died on March 27, 2002 in Los Angeles from colon cancer.
Here are film clips of the “Texaco Star Theater” from 1949.
Milton Berle: A Personal Remembrance on his 115th birthday
Throughout my entire life, Milton Berle played a recurring role.
He kept popping up unexpectedly from time to time. From watching his comedy on television as little kid, to working with him lighting a set in Miami, to his finally doing an ad to promote my television production company in Los Angeles in the 1980s, he seemed to always be present.
He was an incredibly nice guy — one who had personally joined every union so he could do anything in television. He fixed falling sets and lights during commercials on early live television shows. “They don’t call me Mr. Televison for nothing,” he told me once. After hearing his endless stories, I believed him.
In 1984, I moved to Los Angeles from Miami to build a production facility for a new TV show. At first I didn’t even know the name of the show. I’m not proud to say it today, but the show became “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.”
I had pitched a production workflow to Robin Leach while in Miami, who was then working for a client, Entertainment Tonight.
Leach was looking to bring his costs down to $100,000 per episode for a new low-budget TV show he wanted to do. I had one of the first Sony Betacams in the world and he offered me the gig if I could make it work for the economics of his show. Everyone else had turned him down.
With the help of Sony, I figured out how to do the show on his budget. It was the first national television show to be done for $100,000 per episode.
Leach then made me an offer to build facilities in both New York and Los Angeles. I took LA only, not wanting the hassle to be bi-coastal while figuring out the many technical problems that lay ahead.
I thought the concept of the show was terrible. I was confident — even certain — it would be cancelled in a very short time. My goal was to have the show last long enough to pay for the first Betacam interformat room ever built. Leach had already paid to move myself and other crew members from my company, Television Matrix, to the west coast.
I was shocked — and I mean floored — when “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” became a hit. It was a scene right out of “The Producers” when I read in the trades that the show was the hottest thing on television.
However, life throws you curveballs. In the two years I did the show, it opened many doors for me. I learned that even the worst experiences can change your life. My facility got Orson Welles attention and I became involved with his projects among many other things.
Sony built my million dollar edit room for a small fraction of the true price. They wanted to showcase it to other television shows as a new way to work. I happily agreed. They hired Milton Berle to do an ad, which ran everywhere.
From watching him on TV as a kid, to working with him in Miami, to the ad, Uncle Miltie was back.
When doing his hit television show, Milton Berle joined all of the unions in order to do everything — including building and painting sets during rehearsals.
In his later years, Berle could not resist getting involved in every part of the TV production process. When camera operator Warren Jones and I worked with Berle in the early 1980s, he actually helped us light the set.
“They don’t call me Mr. Television for nothing,” he told us as he checked the lighting.
Above is a photo from that day.
Andrew Wyeth photographed by Peter Ralston
Andrew Wyeth was born 106 years ago today.
A visual artist, primarily a realist painter, working predominantly in a regionalist style, Wyeth was one of the best-known U.S. artists of the middle 20th century. In his art, Wyeth's favorite subjects were the land and people around him, both in his hometown of Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, and at his summer home in Cushing, Maine.
Wyeth often said: "I paint my life."
One of the best-known images in American art from the period is his painting, Christina's World, currently in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. This tempera was painted in 1948, when Wyeth was 31-years-old.
Andrew was the youngest of the five children of illustrator and artist N.C. (Newell Convers) Wyeth and his wife, Carolyn Bockius Wyeth.
Andrew was born July 12, 1917 — Henry David Thoreau's 100th birthday. Due to N.C.'s fond appreciation of Thoreau, he found the birth of his son on this day both coincidental and exciting.
N.C. was an attentive father, fostering each of the children's interests and talents. The family was close, spending time reading together, taking walks, fostering "a closeness with nature" and developing a feeling for Wyeth family history.
Andrew was home-tutored because of his frail health. Like his father, the young Wyeth read and appreciated the poetry of Robert Frost and the writings of Henry Thoreau and studied their relationships with nature. Music and movies also heightened his artistic sensitivity.
One major influence, discussed at length by Wyeth himself, was King Vidor's film, The Big Parade. He claimed to have seen the film, which depicted family dynamics similar to his own, "a hundred-and-eighty-times" and believed it had the greatest influence on his work.
Vidor later made a documentary, Metaphor, where he and Wyeth discuss the influence of the film on his paintings, including, Winter 1946, Snow Flurries, Portrait of Ralph Kline and Afternoon Flight of a Boy up a Tree.
Wyeth's father was the only teacher that he had. Due to being schooled at home, he led both a sheltered life and one that was "obsessively focused." Wyeth recalled of that time: "Pa kept me almost in a jail, just kept me to himself in my own world and he wouldn’t let anyone in on it. I was almost made to stay in Robin Hood's Sherwood Forest with Maid Marion and the rebels."
In the 1920s, Wyeth's father had become a celebrity, and the family often had celebrities as guests, such as F. Scott Fitzgerald and Mary Pickford. The home bustled with creative activity and competition.
N.C. and Carolyn's five children were all talented. Henriette Wyeth Hurd, the eldest, became a well-known painter of portraits and still lifes. Carolyn, the second child, was also a painter. Nathaniel Wyeth, the third child, was a successful inventor. Ann was a musician at a young age and became a composer as an adult. Andrew was the youngest child.
Wyeth started drawing at a young age. He was a draftsman before he could read. By the time he was a teenager, his father brought him into his studio for the only art lessons he ever had.
N.C. inspired his son's love of rural landscapes, sense of romance and artistic traditions. Although creating illustrations was not a passion he wished to pursue, Wyeth produced illustrations under his father's name while in his teens.
With his father’s guidance, he mastered figure study and watercolor, and later learned egg tempera from his brother-in-law, Peter Hurd. He studied art history on his own, admiring many masters of Renaissance and American painting, especially Winslow Homer.
N.C. also fostered an inner self-confidence to follow one's own talents without thought of how the work is received.
N.C. wrote in a letter to Andrew in 1944:
“The great men [Thoreau, Goethe, Emerson, Tolstoy] forever radiate a sharp sense of that profound requirement of an artist, to fully understand that consequences of what he creates are unimportant. Let the motive for action be in the action itself and not in the event. I know from my own experience that when I create with any degree of strength and beauty I have no thought of consequences. Anyone who creates for effect — to score a hit — does not know what he is missing!”
In the same letter, N.C. correlates being a great man with being a great painter: “To be a great artist, he described, requires emotional depth, an openness to look beyond self to the subject and passion. A great painting then is one that enriches and broadens one's perspective.”
In October, 1945, Wyeth’s father and his three-year-old nephew, Newell Convers Wyeth II, were killed when their car stalled on railroad tracks near their home and was struck by a train. Wyeth referred to his father's death as a formative emotional event in his artistic career, in addition to being a personal tragedy. Shortly afterwards, Wyeth's art consolidated into his mature and enduring style.
In 1940, Wyeth married Betsy James, whom he met in 1939 in Maine. Christina Olson, who would become the model for the iconic Christina's World, met Wyeth through an introduction by Betsy. Betsy had an influence on Andrew as strong as that of his father. She played an important role managing his career. She was once quoted as saying, "I am a director and I had the greatest actor in the world."
Their first child, Nicholas, was born in 1943, followed by James ("Jamie") three years later. Wyeth painted portraits of both children (Nicholas of his older son and Faraway of his younger son). His son, Jamie Wyeth, followed his father's and grandfather's footsteps, becoming the third generation of Wyeth artists.
On January 16, 2009 — at age 91 — Andrew Wyeth died in his sleep in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, after a brief illness.
Christina's World, 1948
Painting by Andrew Wyeth
The girl in the painting, Anna Christina Olson, suffered from polio, which paralyzed her lower body.
Buckminster Fuller was born 128 years ago today.
An architect, systems theorist, author, designer, inventor and futurist, Fuller published more than 30 books, inventing and popularizing terms such as "Spaceship Earth,” ephemeralization and synergetic.
He also developed numerous inventions — mainly architectural designs, including the widely known geodesic dome.
Carbon molecules known as fullerenes were later named by scientists for their resemblance to geodesic spheres.
Fuller was the second president of Mensa from 1974 to 1983.
Here, is a video on Fuller and his work.
Atlantic City Boardwalk, 1898
Made from a glass plate black and white negative, this is a “color photochrom,” based on a photolithographic technique pioneered in Switzerland.
This image is from a book by Marc Walter and Sabine Arqué titled “American Odyssey: Photos From the Detroit Photographic Company, 1888-1924” (Taschen).