Marilyn Monroe died 61 years ago today
Marilyn Monroe on New York subway, 1955
Photo by Ed Fayngersh
Marilyn Monroe died 61 years ago today.
Born Norma Jeane Mortenson, Monroe’s death at age 36 in 1962 was attributed to “acute barbiturate poisoning.” There were many theories, including murder, circulated about the circumstances of her death and the timeline after her body was found.
Some involved John and Robert Kennedy, while other theories suggested CIA or Mafia complicity. It was reported that President Kennedy was the last person Monroe called. The truth will probably never be known — though homicide was not ruled out.
The actress, model and singer became a major sex symbol, starring in a number of commercially successful motion pictures during the 1950s and early 1960s. At the same time, she was also an avid reader, intellectual and civil rights activist.
After spending much of her childhood in foster homes, Monroe began a career as a model, which led to a film contract in 1946 with Twentieth Century-Fox. Her early film appearances were minor, but her performances in The Asphalt Jungle and All About Eve (both in 1950), drew attention.
By 1952, she had her first leading role in, Don't Bother to Knock, and 1953 was a lead in, Niagara, a melodramatic film noir that dwelt on her seductiveness. Her "dumb blonde" persona was used to comic effect in subsequent films such as Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953), How to Marry a Millionaire (1953) and The Seven Year Itch (1955).
Limited by typecasting, Monroe studied at the Actors Studio to broaden her range.
Her dramatic performance in Bus Stop (1956) was hailed by critics and garnered a Golden Globe nomination. Her production company, Marilyn Monroe Productions, released The Prince and the Showgirl (1957), for which she received a BAFTA Award nomination and won a David di Donatello award.
She received a Golden Globe Award for her performance in, Some Like It Hot (1959).
Monroe's last completed film was The Misfits, co-starring Clark Gable with screenplay by her then-husband, Arthur Miller.
In 1999, Monroe was ranked as the sixth greatest female star of all time by the American Film Institute.
Here, is the last interview Monroe ever did, two days before her death.
Director John Huston and Marilyn Monroe during the filming of The Misfits, Reno, Nevada, 1960
Photo by Bruce Davidson
John Huston was born 117 years ago today.
The film director, screenwriter and actor wrote the screenplays for most of the 37 feature films he directed, many of which are today considered classics.
They include The Maltese Falcon (1941), The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948), Key Largo (1948), The Asphalt Jungle (1950), The African Queen (1951), Moulin Rouge (1952), The Misfits (1961) and The Man Who Would Be King (1975).
During his 46-year career, Huston received 15 Oscar nominations, won twice and directed both his father, Walter Huston, and daughter, Anjelica Huston, to Oscar wins in different films.
Huston was known to direct with the vision of an artist, having studied and worked as a fine art painter in Paris in his early years. He continued to explore the visual aspects of his films throughout his career. He sketched each scene on paper beforehand and then carefully framed his characters during the shooting.
While most directors relied on post-production editing to shape their final work, Huston instead created his films while they were being shot. He made his films both more economical and more cerebral, with little editing needed.
Most of Huston's films were adaptations of important novels, often depicting a "heroic quest,” as in Moby Dick, or The Red Badge of Courage. Many of his themes involved some of the "grand narratives" of the time, such as religion, meaning, truth, freedom, psychology, colonialism and war.
Before becoming a Hollywood filmmaker, Houston had been an amateur boxer, reporter, short-story writer, portrait artist in Paris, a cavalry rider in Mexico and a documentary filmmaker during World War II. Huston has been referred to as "a titan,” "a rebel" and a "renaissance man” in the Hollywood film industry.
Author Ian Freer describes him as "cinema's Ernest Hemingway"— a filmmaker who was "never afraid to tackle tough issues head on.”
Here, Huston accepts the AFI Life Achievement Award in 1983.
Neil Armstrong was born 93 years ago today.
A former NASA astronaut, test pilot, aerospace engineer, university professor and U.S. Naval Aviator, Armstrong was the first human to walk on the Moon.
Before becoming an astronaut, Armstrong was in the Navy and served in the Korean War. After the war, he served as a test pilot at the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) High-Speed Flight Station, now known as the Dryden Flight Research Center, where he flew over 900 flights in a variety of aircraft.
As a research pilot, Armstrong served as project pilot on the F-100 Super Sabre A and C variants, F-101 Voodoo, and the Lockheed F-104A Starfighter. He also flew the Bell X-1B, Bell X-5, North American X-15, F-105 Thunderchief, F-106 Delta Dart, B-47 Stratojet, KC-135 Stratotanker, and was one of eight elite pilots involved in the paraglider research vehicle program (Paresev).
After graduating from Purdue University and the University of Southern California, Armstrong was a participant in the Air Force's Man In Space Soonest and X-20 Dyna-Soar human spaceflight programs. He joined the NASA Astronaut Corps in 1962.
His first spaceflight was the NASA Gemini 8 mission in 1966, for which he was the command pilot, becoming one of the first U.S. civilians to fly in space. On this mission, he performed the first manned docking of two spacecraft with pilot, David Scott.
Armstrong's second and last spaceflight was as mission commander of the Apollo 11 moon landing mission on July 20, 1969. On this mission, Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin descended to the lunar surface and spent 2½ hours exploring while Michael Collins remained in orbit in the Command Module.
Armstrong was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Richard Nixon along with Collins and Aldrin, the Congressional Space Medal of Honor by President Jimmy Carter in 1978, and the Congressional Gold Medal in 2009.
At the bottom of the ladder, only inches above the moon’s surface, Armstrong said "I'm going to step off the LEM now" (referring to the Apollo Lunar Module).
He then turned, set his left boot on the surface on July 21, 1969, and spoke the famous words, "That's one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind."
Armstrong died at age 82 on August 25, 2012.
Wendell Berry is 89 years old today.
A novelist, poet, public intellectual, environmental activist, cultural critic and farmer, Barry is a prolific writer who has written dozens of novels, short stories, poems and essays.
He is an elected member of the Fellowship of Southern Writers, a recipient of The National Humanities Medal and the Jefferson Lecturer for 2012. He is also a 2013 Fellow of The American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
In 1958, Barry attended Stanford University's creative writing program as a Wallace Stegner Fellow, studying under Stegner in a seminar that included Edward Abbey, Larry McMurtry, Robert Stone, Ernest Gaines, Tillie Olsen and Ken Kesey.
Berry's first novel, Nathan Coulter, was published in April, 1960. In 1965, Berry moved to a farm he had purchased, Lane's Landing, and began growing corn and small grains on what eventually became a 125-acre homestead.
His land is near Port Royal, Kentucky, in north central Kentucky, and his parents' birthplaces, and is on the western bank of the Kentucky River, not far from where it flows into the Ohio River. Berry continues to reside, farm and write at Lane's Landing. He has written about his early experiences on the land and about his decision to return to it in essays such as "The Long-Legged House" and "A Native Hill."
In the 1970s and early 1980s, Berry edited and wrote for the Rodale Press, including its publications Organic Gardening and Farming and The New Farm.
From 1987 to 1993, he returned to the English Department of the University of Kentucky. Berry has written at least twenty-five books of poems, sixteen volumes of essays and eleven novels and short story collections. His writing is grounded in the notion that one's work ought to be rooted in and responsive to one's place.
Berry has criticized Christian organizations for failing to challenge cultural complacency about environmental degradation, and has shown a willingness to criticize what he perceives as the arrogance of some Christians.
On February 10, 1968, Berry delivered "A Statement Against the War in Vietnam" during the Kentucky Conference on the War and the Draft at the University of Kentucky in Lexington.
On June 3, 1979, he engaged in nonviolent civil disobedience against the construction of a nuclear power plant at Marble Hill, Indiana. He describes "this nearly eventless event" and expands upon his reasons for it in the essay "The Reactor and the Garden."
On February 9, 2003, Berry's essay titled "A Citizen's Response to the National Security Strategy of the United States" was published as a full-page advertisement in The New York Times.
Berry opened the essay — a critique of the G. W. Bush administration's post-9/11 international strategy — by asserting that "The new National Security Strategy published by the White House in September, 2002, if carried out, would amount to a radical revision of the political character of our nation."
Berry's nonfiction serves as an extended conversation about the life he values. According to him, the good life includes sustainable agriculture, appropriate technologies, healthy rural communities, connection to place, the pleasures of good food, husbandry, good work, local economics, the miracle of life, fidelity, frugality, reverence and the interconnectedness of life.
The threats Berry finds to this good simple life include: industrial farming and the industrialization of life, ignorance, hubris, greed, violence against others and against the natural world, the eroding topsoil in the United States, global economics and environmental destruction.
On this day in 1914 — 109 years ago — the world’s first electric traffic signal was installed on the corner of Euclid Avenue and East 105th Street in Cleveland, Ohio.
In the earliest days of the automobile, navigating America’s roads was a chaotic experience. Pedestrians, bicycles, horses and streetcars all competed with motor vehicles for right of way.
The problem was alleviated somewhat with the gradual disappearance of horse-drawn carriages, but even before World War I it had become clear that a system of regulations was necessary to keep traffic moving and reduce the number of accidents on the roads.
Various competing claims exist as to who was responsible for the world’s first traffic signal. A device installed in London in 1868 featured two semaphore arms that extended horizontally to signal “stop” and at a 45-degree angle to signal “caution.”
In 1912, a Salt Lake City, Utah, police officer named Lester Wire mounted a handmade wooden box with colored red and green lights on a pole, with the wires attached to overhead trolley and light wires.
Most prominently, the inventor Garrett Morgan has been given credit for having invented the traffic signal based on his T-shaped design, patented in 1923 and later sold to General Electric.
Despite Morgan’s greater visibility, the system installed in Cleveland on August 5, 1914, is widely regarded as the first electric traffic signal. Based on a design by James Hoge, who received U.S. patent 1,251,666 for his “Municipal Traffic Control System” in 1918.
It consisted of four pairs of red and green lights that served as stop-go indicators, each mounted on a corner post. Wired to a manually operated switch inside a control booth, the system was configured so that conflicting signals were impossible.
According to an article in The Motorist, published by the Cleveland Automobile Club in August 1914: “This system is, perhaps, destined to revolutionize the handling of traffic in congested city streets and should be seriously considered by traffic committees for general adoption.”
Television, rock and roll and teenagers.
In the late 1950s, when both television and rock and roll were brand new and when the biggest generation in American history was just about to enter its teens, it took a bit of originality to see the potential power in this now-obvious combination.
The man who saw that potential more clearly than any other was a 26-year-old native of upstate New Yorker named Dick Clark, who transformed himself and a local Philadelphia television program into two of the most culturally significant forces of the early rock-and-roll era.
His iconic show, American Bandstand, began broadcasting nationally on this day in 1957 — 66 years ago — beaming images of clean-cut, average teenagers dancing to the not-so-clean-cut Jerry Lee Lewis' "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On" to 67 ABC affiliates across the nation.
The show that evolved into American Bandstand began on Philadephia's WFIL-TV in 1952, a few years before the popular ascension of rock and roll. Hosted by local radio personality, Bob Horn, the original Bandstand nevertheless established much of the basic format of its later incarnation.
In the first year after Dick Clark took over as host in the summer of 1956, Bandstand remained a popular local hit, but it took Clark's ambition to help it break out. When the ABC television network polled its affiliates in 1957 for suggestions to fill its 3:30 p.m. time slot, Clark pushed hard for Bandstand, which network executives picked up and scheduled for an August 5, 1957 premiere.
Renamed American Bandstand, the newly national program featured a number of new elements that became part of its trademark, including the high school gym-like bleachers and the famous segment in which teenage studio guests rated the newest records on a scale from 25 to 98 and offered such criticisms as, "It's got a good beat, and you can dance to it."
But the heart of American Bandstand always remained the sound of the day's most popular music combined with the sight of the show's unpolished teen "regulars" dancing and showing off the latest fashions in clothing and hairstyles.
American Bandstand aired five days a week in live national broadcast until 1963, when the show moved west to Los Angeles and began a 24-year run as a taped weekly program with Dick Clark as host.
On this day in 1858 — 165 years ago — the first transatlantic telegraph cable across the Atlantic Ocean was completed. It was a feat accomplished largely through the efforts of American merchant, Cyrus West Field.
The telegraph was first developed by Samuel F. B. Morse, an artist-turned-inventor who conceived of the idea of the electric telegraph in 1832. Several European inventors had proposed such a device, but Morse worked independently and by the mid 1830s had built a working telegraph instrument.
In the late 1830s, he perfected Morse Code, a set of signals that could represent language in telegraph messages. In May, 1844, Morse inaugurated the world’s first commercial telegraph line with the message “What hath God wrought,” sent from the U.S. Capitol to a railroad station in Baltimore.
Within a decade, more than 20,000 miles of telegraph cable crisscrossed the country. The rapid communication it made possible greatly aided American expansion, making railroad travel safer as it provided a boost to business conducted across the great distances of a growing United States.
In 1854, Cyrus West Field conceived the idea of the telegraph cable and secured a charter to lay a well-insulated line across the floor of the Atlantic Ocean. Obtaining the aid of British and American naval ships, he made four unsuccessful attempts, beginning in 1857.
In July, 1858, four British and American vessels — the Agamemnon, the Valorous, the Niagara, and the Gorgon — met in mid-ocean for the fifth attempt.
On July 29, the Niagara and the Gorgon, with their load of cable, departed for Trinity Bay, Newfoundland, while the Agamemnon and the Valorous embarked for Valentia, Ireland. By August 5, the cable had been successfully laid, stretching nearly 2,000 miles across the Atlantic at a depth often of more than two miles.
On August 16, President James Buchanan and Queen Victoria exchanged formal introductory and complimentary messages. Unfortunately, the cable proved weak and the current insufficient and by the beginning of September had ceased functioning. Field later raised new funds and made new arrangements. In 1866, the British ship Great Eastern succeeded in laying the first permanent telegraph line across the Atlantic Ocean.
Cyrus West Field was the object of much praise on both sides of the Atlantic for his persistence in accomplishing what many thought to be an impossible undertaking. He later promoted other oceanic cables, including telegraph lines that stretched from Hawaii to Asia and Australia.
A wildfire in the Bitterroot National Forest, Montana, 2000
Photo by John McColgan of the U.S. Forest Service