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Singer-songwriter John Prine was born 77 years ago today
John Prine, Beacon Theatre, NYC, Sept. 6, 2013
Photo by Frank Beacham
John Prine was born 77 years ago today.
A country/folk singer-songwriter, Prine has been active as a recording artist and live performer since the early 1970s.
Prine started playing guitar at age 14, taught by his brother, David. He attended Proviso East High School in in Maywood, Illinois, and was a member on the school's gymnastic team.
He was a postman for five years and served in the Army during the Vietnam War era, serving in Germany before beginning his musical career in Chicago. In the late 1960s, while Prine was delivering mail, he began to sing at open mic evenings at the Fifth Peg on Armitage Avenue.
Initially a spectator, Prine was reluctant to perform, but eventually did so in response to a "You think you can do better?" comment made to him by another performer. Roger Ebert, the Chicago Sun-Times movie critic, heard him there and wrote the first review Prine ever received, calling him a great songwriter.
He became a central figure in the Chicago Folk Revival, which also included such singer-songwriters as Steve Goodman, Bonnie Koloc, Jim Post and Fred Holstein. Joined by such established musicians as Jethro Burns and Bob Gibson, Prine performed frequently at such clubs as the Earl of Old Town, the Quiet Knight, Somebody Else's Troubles, The 5th Peg and the Bulls.
Prine is currently living in Nashville with his third wife, Fiona Whelan. They have three children, stepson Jody Whelan, Tommy and Jack. Prine has a second residence in Pinellas County, Florida.
In 2009, Bob Dylan said that Prine was one of his favorite writers, stating "Prine's stuff is pure Proustian existentialism. Midwestern mindtrips to the nth degree. And he writes beautiful songs. I remember when Kris Kristofferson first brought him on the scene. All that stuff about ‘Sam Stone,’ the soldier junkie daddy, and ‘Donald and Lydia,’ where people make love from ten miles away. Nobody but Prine could write like that."
In Johnny Cash's autobiography, Cash, the singer admitted "I don't listen to music much at the farm, unless I'm going into songwriting mode and looking for inspiration. Then I'll put on something by the writers I've admired and used for years (Rodney Crowell, John Prine, Guy Clark and the late, Steve Goodman, are my Big Four)..."
In early 1998, Prine was diagnosed with squamous-cell cancer on the right side of his neck. He had major surgery to remove a substantial amount of diseased tissue, followed by six weeks of radiation therapy.
The surgery removed a piece of his neck and severed a few nerves in his tongue, while the radiation damaged some salivary glands. A year of recuperation and speech therapy were necessary before he could perform again. The operation altered his vocals and added a gravelly tone to his voice.
In 2013, Prine underwent surgery to remove cancer in his left lung. After the surgery, a physical therapist put him through an unusual workout to build stamina; Prine was required to run up and down his house stairs, grab his guitar while still out of breath, and sing two songs. Six months later, he was touring again
On March 19, 2020, amid the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States, Prine's wife Fiona revealed that she had tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 and had been quarantined in their home apart from him.
Prine was hospitalized on March 26 after experiencing COVID-19 symptoms. On March 30, Fiona tweeted that she had recovered and that John was in stable condition but not improving. Prine died on April 7, 2020, of complications caused by COVID-19 at the age of 73.
In accordance with Prine's wishes as expressed in his song "Paradise," half of his ashes were spread in Kentucky's Green River. The other half were buried next to his parents in Chicago.
Here, Prine performs with Iris Dement “In Spite of Ourselves” at the Newport Folk Festival, 2017.
Photo by Herman Leonard
Thelonious Monk, jazz pianist and composer considered one of the giants of American music, was born 106 years ago today.
Monk had a unique improvisational style and made numerous contributions to the standard jazz repertoire, including "Epistrophy,” "'Round Midnight,” "Blue Monk,” "Straight, No Chaser" and "Well, You Needn’t.”
Monk is the second-most recorded jazz composer after Duke Ellington, which is particularly remarkable as Ellington composed over 1,000 songs while Monk wrote about 70.
His compositions and improvisations are full of dissonant harmonies and angular melodic twists, and are consistent with Monk's unorthodox approach to the piano, which combined a highly percussive attack with abrupt, dramatic use of silences and hesitations.
This was not a style universally appreciated. Poet and jazz critic Philip Larkin dismissed Monk as “the elephant on the keyboard.” Monk's manner was idiosyncratic. Visually, he was renowned for his distinctive style in suits, hats and sunglasses.
Monk was also noted for the fact that at times, while the other musicians in the band continued playing, he would stop, stand up from the keyboard and dance for a few moments before returning to the piano.
He is one of five jazz musicians to have been featured on the cover of Time (the other four being Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Wynton Marsalis and Dave Brubeck) as of 2010.
Monk died of a stroke on February 17, 1982 at age 64. In 2006, he was posthumously awarded a Pulitzer Prize Special Citation.
Here, Monk and his quartet performs “‘Round Midnight” in 1966.
Actress Helen Hayes was born 123 years ago today.
Hayes’ career spanned almost 80 years. She eventually garnered the nickname, "First Lady of the American Theatre." She was one of twelve people who have won an Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar and a Tony Award (an EGOT).
Hayes also received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, America's highest civilian honor, from President Ronald Reagan in 1986.
In 1988, she was awarded the National Medal of Arts. The annual Helen Hayes Awards, which have recognized excellence in professional theatre in the greater Washington, D.C. area since 1984, are her namesake.
In 1955, the former Fulton Theatre on 46th Street in New York City's Broadway Theater District was renamed the Helen Hayes Theatre. When that venue was torn down in 1982, the nearby Little Theatre was renamed in her honor.
In the late 1980s, I had a memorable telephone encounter with Hayes. I wanted to do an interview with her about Orson Welles for my “Mercury Company Remembers” documentary.
Apparently, she was having memory problems the day I called, since she did not recognize that Welles had died a couple of years earlier.
Her response to my request: “You tell that Orson Welles that I will not do the documentary. He wouldn’t help me on my project in 1940, and I won’t help him with his.”
She then slammed the phone down. End of conversation.
Hayes died on St. Patrick's Day, 1993 from congestive heart failure in Nyack, New York.
Lillian Gish had designated Hayes as beneficiary of her estate, but Hayes survived her by less than a month.
In 2011, Hayes was honored with a U.S. postage stamp.
Ed Wood in Glen or Glenda, 1953
Ed Wood, Jr. — considered one of the worst film directors of all time — was born 99 years ago today.
Wood was screenwriter, director, producer, actor, author and film editor. From the 1950s through the 1970s, he made low-budget genre films. Wood also made pornographic movies and wrote over 80 pulp crime, horror and sex novels.
In 1980, he was posthumously awarded a Golden Turkey Award as Worst Director of All Time. His lack of filmmaking talent and ability has earned Wood and his films a cult following.
Following the publication of Rudolph Grey's biography — Nightmare of Ecstasy: The Life and Art of Edward D. Wood, Jr. (1992) — Wood's life and work have undergone a public rehabilitation of sorts, leading up to director Tim Burton's biopic of Wood's life, Ed Wood (1994), a critically acclaimed film which earned two Academy Awards.
In 1936, Wood received his first movie camera, a Kodak "Cine Special” on his 12th birthday. One of his first pieces of footage was the airship, Hindenburg, passing over the Hudson River at Poughkeepsie, shortly before its famous fiery demise at Lakehurst, New Jersey.
In 1946, Wood joined a carnival. His several missing teeth and disfigured leg (wounds suffered while in military combat) combined with personal fetishes and acting skills made him a perfect candidate for the freak show. Wood played, among others, the geek and the bearded lady.
As the bearded lady, he donned women's clothing and created his own prosthetic breasts. Carnivals would be frequently depicted in Wood's works, most notably the semi-autobiographical novel, Killer in Drag.
In 1947, Wood moved to Hollywood. He wrote scripts and directed television pilots, commercials and several forgotten micro-budget westerns with names such as Crossroads of Laredo and Crossroad Avenger: The Legend of the Tucson Kid.
In 1948, Wood wrote, produced, directed and starred in Casual Company, a play from his unpublished novel which was based on his service in the United States Marine Corps. It opened at the Village Playhouse to negative reviews on October 25.
In 1952, Wood was introduced to actor Bela Lugosi by friend and fellow writer-producer Alex Gordon, who went on to help create American International Pictures. Lugosi's son, Bela Lugosi, Jr., has been among those who felt Wood exploited the senior Lugosi's stardom, taking advantage of the fading actor when he could not refuse any work.
However, most documents and interviews with other Wood associates in Nightmare of Ecstasy suggest that Wood and Lugosi were genuine friends and that Wood helped Lugosi through the worst days of his depression and addiction.
In 1956, Wood produced, wrote and directed the science-fiction film, Plan 9 from Outer Space (originally titled Grave Robbers from Outer Space), which starred Lugosi (in his final film), Tor Johnson, Vampira (Maila Nurmi) Tom Mason (who doubled for Lugosi in several scenes) and Criswell as the narrator. The film was released in 1959.
In 1978, Wood was depressed and had a serious drinking problem. Evicted from his Hollywood apartment on Yucca Street, Wood and his wife, Kathy O'Hara, moved into the North Hollywood apartment of a friend, Peter Coe.
Around noon on Sunday, December 10, Wood felt ill and went to lie down in Coe's bedroom. From the bedroom, he asked Kathy to bring him a vodka, which she refused to do.
A few minutes later he yelled out, "Kathy, I can't breathe!," a plea Kathy ignored as she later said she was tired of Wood joking and bossing her around. After hearing no movement from the bedroom for 20 minutes, Kathy sent a friend to check on Wood, who discovered him dead from a heart attack.
Kathy later said, "I still remember when I went into that room that afternoon and he was dead, his eyes and mouth were wide open. I'll never forget the look in his eyes. He clutched at the sheets. It looked like he'd seen hell.”
Apparently, Wood frequently feigned heart attacks and screamed for help as a way of teasing her, and at one point she even shouted at him to shut up. Wood was 54 when he died.
In 1994, director Tim Burton released the biopic, Ed Wood, which starred Johnny Depp in the title role and Martin Landau, who won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, for his portrayal of Bela Lugosi.
It also won an Academy Award for Best Makeup for Rick Baker. The film received mass critical acclaim, but did poorly at the box office. It has since developed a cult following.
Here, in a classic scene from the film, Wood meets Orson Welles at Musso and Frank Grill, a Hollywood restaurant. Welles tells him a studio wants Charleston Heston to play a Mexican in his next film. That film turned out to be Touch of Evil.
David Lee Roth is 69 years old today.
A rock vocalist, songwriter, actor, author and former radio personality, Roth is best known as the original (1973-1985) and current (2006-present) lead singer of the Southern California-based hard rock band, Van Halen.
Roth is also a successful solo artist, releasing numerous Gold and Platinum records. After more than two decades apart, Roth rejoined Van Halen in 2006 for a North American tour that became the most successful in the band's history and one of the highest grossing of that year.
In 2012, Roth and Van Halen released the critically and commercially successful comeback album, A Different Kind of Truth.
Harold Pinter, Nobel Prize-winning English playwright, screenwriter, director and actor, was born 93 years ago today.
One of the most influential modern British dramatists, Pinter’s writing career spanned more than 50 years. His best-known plays include The Birthday Party (1957), The Homecoming (1964) and Betrayal (1978), each of which he adapted for the screen.
His screenplay adaptations of others' works include The Servant (1963), The Go-Between (1970), The French Lieutenant's Woman (1981), The Trial (1993) and Sleuth (2007). He also directed or acted in radio, stage, television and film productions of his own and others' works.
Pinter was born and raised in Hackney in east London and educated at Hackney Downs School. He was a sprinter and cricket player, acting in school plays and writing poetry. He attended the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, but did not complete the course.
He was fined for refusing National Service as a conscientious objector. Subsequently, he continued training at the Central School of Speech and Drama and worked in repertory theatre in Ireland and England.
In 1956, he married the actress, Vivien Merchant, and had a son, Daniel, born in 1958. He left Merchant in 1975 and married the historian, Antonia Fraser, in 1980.
Pinter's career as a playwright began with a production of The Room in 1957. His second play, The Birthday Party, closed after eight performances, but was enthusiastically reviewed by critic Harold Hobson. His early works were described by critics as "comedy of menace."
Later plays such as No Man's Land (1975) and Betrayal (1978) became known as "memory plays." He directed nearly 50 productions for stage, theatre and screen. Pinter received over 50 awards, prizes and other honors, including the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2005 and the French Légion d'honneur in 2007.
Despite frail health after being diagnosed with esophageal cancer in December, 2001, Pinter continued to act on stage and screen, last performing the title role of Samuel Beckett's one-act monologue, Krapp's Last Tape, for the 50th anniversary season of the Royal Court Theatre, in October, 2006.
He died from liver cancer on December 24, 2008.
On this day in 1979 — 44 years ago — The Rose, starring Bette Midler as a self-destructive 1960s rock star transparently based on Janis Joplin, premiered in Los Angeles.
The film was nominated for four Academy Awards including Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Frederic Forrest), Best Actress in a Leading Role (Bette Midler, in her screen debut), Best Film Editing and Best Sound.
Here, Midler performs in The Rose in 1979.
On this day in 1935 — 88 years ago — Porgy and Bess, the first great American opera, opened on Broadway.
Porgy and Bess began its journey to the Broadway stage in 1926, when George Gershwin wrote a letter late one night to the author of a book he was reading proposing that the two of them collaborate on an operatic adaptation.
The African-American poet, DuBose Heyward, author of the novel, Porgy, immediately agreed to Gershwin’s proposal, but commercial commitments in New York prevented Gershwin from actually beginning work on the project for another seven years.
David Mamet and Rebecca Pidgeon
Rebecca Pidgeon is 58 years old today.
A British-American actress and singer-songwriter, Pidgeon has maintained a recording career while also acting on stage and in feature films. She is married to the writer and director, David Mamet.
Pidgeon was born to English parents in Cambridge, Massachusetts, while her father, Carl R. Pidgeon, was a visiting professor at MIT. Her mother, Elaine, is a yoga teacher.
Her paternal grandmother, Monica Pidgeon, the editor of Architectural Design, was the sister of artist Olga Lehmann and academic Andrew George Lehmann. She moved to Edinburgh, Scotland in 1970, with her parents. She holds dual American/British citizenship.
Pidgeon attended drama college and graduated from the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in London alongside Clive Owen, Liza Tarbuck and Serena Harragin. After some promising work as an actress in the UK, she moved back to the U.S.
From 1986 to 1990, Pidgeon was the lead singer of the British folk/pop band, Ruby Blue. She left Ruby Blue shortly after the band signed to a major record label and was beginning to gather both commercial and critical success.
She appeared in her first feature film in 1988, The Dawning. She then decided to concentrate on her acting career, starring in David Mamet's plays and films, first Homicide, then Oleanna onstage, a part Mamet wrote for her.
Pidgeon composed the music for the film version, which starred Debra Eisenstadt in her role. Returning to music in 1994, she released the solo album, The Raven, followed by New York Girls' Club. Another album, The Four Marys, a collection of traditional Celtic folk songs, followed in 1998.
In October, 2005, she released Tough on Crime, which featured Walter Becker on guitar and the late Billy Preston on keyboards. Her 2008 album, Behind the Velvet Curtain: Songs from the Motion Picture Redbelt, includes a cover version of the Beach Boys song, "Wouldn't It Be Nice?" and a duet with Luciana Souza.
On March 12, 2012 she released the album Slingshot.
Pidgeon has had starring roles in several of Mamet's films, including The Spanish Prisoner (1997), The Winslow Boy (1999), State and Main (2000) and Heist (2001). She had a small role in Mamet's 2008 movie, Redbelt, and performed the music in it and also in his 2013 movie, Phil Spector, where she sings Spanish Harlem over the closing credits.
Pidgeon met David Mamet while acting in his play, Speed-the-Plow, during its run at the National Theatre, London. Although married at the time to actress Lindsay Crouse, Mamet began a relationship with Pidgeon. Mamet divorced Crouse in 1990 and married Pidgeon in 1991.
Pidgeon and Mamet have two children, Clara and Noah. Pidgeon, who was born to a non-practicing Christian family, has converted to Mamet's Jewish faith.
Rue Marie-Stuart, Paris, 1982
Photo by Peter Turnley