Van Morrison is 78 years old today
Van Morrison is 78 years old today.
A Northern Irish singer-songwriter and musician, Morrison’s live performances at their best are transcendental, while some of his recordings, such as the studio albums, Astral Weeks and Moondance, and the live album, It's Too Late to Stop Now, are critically acclaimed and appear at the top of many greatest album lists.
Morrison started his professional career when, as a teenager in the late 1950s, he played a variety of instruments including guitar, harmonica, keyboards and saxophone for various Irish show-bands covering the popular hits of the day.
He rose to prominence in the mid-1960s as the lead singer of the Northern Irish R&B band, Them, with whom he recorded the garage band classic, "Gloria.” Morrison’s solo career began under the pop-hit oriented guidance of Bert Berns with the release of the hit single, "Brown Eyed Girl," in 1967.
After Berns' death, Warner Bros. Records bought out Morrison’s contract and allowed him three sessions to record, Astral Weeks, in 1968. Even though this album would gradually garner high praise, it was initially poorly received.
However, the next one, Moondance, established Morrison as a major artist, and throughout the 1970s he built on his reputation with a series of critically acclaimed albums and live performances.
Morrison continues to record and tour, producing albums and live performances that sell well and are generally warmly received, sometimes collaborating with other artists, such as Georgie Fame and The Chieftains. In 2008, he performed Astral Weeks live for the first time since 1968.
Much of Morrison's music is structured around the conventions of soul music and R&B, such as the popular singles "Brown Eyed Girl,” "Jackie Wilson Said (I'm in Heaven When You Smile),” "Domino" and "Wild Night.”
An equal part of his catalog consists of lengthy, loosely connected, spiritually inspired musical journeys that show the influence of Celtic tradition, jazz and stream-of-consciousness narrative, such as Astral Weeks and lesser-known works such as Veedon Fleece and Common One.
The two strains together are sometimes referred to as "Celtic Soul.”
Here, Morrison performs “Into the Mystic.”
James Coburn was born 95 years ago today.
A film and television actor, Coburn appeared in nearly 70 films and made over 100 television appearances during his 45-year career, and played a wide range of roles and won an Academy Award for his supporting role as Glen Whitehouse in Affliction.
A capable, rough-hewn leading man, his toothy grin and lanky body made him a perfect tough-guy in numerous leading and supporting roles in Westerns and action films, such as The Magnificent Seven, Hell Is for Heroes, The Great Escape, Major Dundee, Our Man Flint, Duck, You Sucker, Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid and Cross of Iron.
During the late 1960s and early 1970s, he would cultivate an image synonymous with "cool,” and along with such contemporaries as Lee Marvin, Steve McQueen and Charles Bronson, became one of the prominent "tough-guy" actors of his day.
British Film critic David Thomson called Coburn “a modern rarity: an actor who projects lazy, humorous sexuality. It is the lack of neurosis, an impression of an amiable monkey, that makes him seem rather dated: a more perceptive Gable, perhaps, or even a loping Midwest Grant.
He has made a variety of flawed, pleasurable films, the merits of which invariably depend on his laconic presence. Increasingly, he was the best thing in his movies, smiling privately, seeming to suggest that he was in contact with some profound source of amusement.”
I spent a wonderful afternoon talking with Coburn at a friend’s wedding in the 1980s. He was a joyous, funny and charming man who could make a perfect stranger feel completely comfortable. I became a lifelong fan after that memorable day.
Coburn died of a heart attack on November 18, 2002, while listening to music in his Beverly Hills home. He was 74.
Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe working in Oyster Bay, New York, 1960
Alan Jay Lerner, lyricist and librettist, was born 105 years ago today.
In collaboration with Frederick Loewe, and later, Burton Lane, Lerner created some of the world's most popular and enduring works of musical theatre for both the stage and on film. He won three Tony Awards and three Academy Awards, among other honors.
Born in New York City, he was the son of Edith Adelson Lerner and Joseph Jay Lerner, whose brother, Samuel Alexander Lerner, was founder and owner of the Lerner Stores, a chain of dress shops. One of Lerner's cousins was the radio comedian and television game show panelist, Henry Morgan.
At both Choate and Harvard, Lerner was a classmate of John F. Kennedy. At Choate, they had worked together on the yearbook staff. Like Cole Porter at Yale and Richard Rodgers at Columbia, Lerner’s career in musical theater began in college. It was his contributions to the annual Harvard Hasty Pudding musicals that inspired his start.
During the summers of 1936 and 1937, Lerner studied music composition at Juilliard. While attending Harvard, he lost his sight in his left eye due to an accident in the boxing ring. In 1957, Lerner and Leonard Bernstein, another of Lerner's college classmates, collaborated on "Lonely Men of Harvard," a tongue-in-cheek salute to their alma mater.
Due to his injury, Lerner could not serve in World War II. Instead he wrote radio scripts, including Your Hit Parade. In 1942, he was introduced to Austrian composer, Frederick Loewe, who needed a partner at the Lamb's Club. While at the Lamb's, he also met, Lorenz Hart, who helped transform Lerner into his protégé.
Lerner and Loewe's first collaboration was a musical adaptation of Barry Conners's farce, The Patsy. It was for a Detroit stock company and called, Life of the Party. The lyrics were mostly written by Earle Crooker, but he had left the project, with the score needing vast improvement.
The show had a nine-week run and encouraged the duo to join forces with Arthur Pierson for, What's Up?, which opened on Broadway in 1943. It ran for 63 performances and was followed two years later by The Day Before Spring.
Their first hit, Brigadoon, came in 1947. It was a romantic fantasy set in a mystical Scottish village, directed by Robert Lewis. It was followed in 1951 by the less successful Gold Rush story, Paint Your Wagon. Lerner worked with Kurt Weill on the stage musical, Love Life (1948), and Burton Lane on the movie musical, Royal Wedding (1951).
In that same year, Lerner wrote the Oscar-winning original screenplay for An American in Paris, produced by Arthur Freed and directed by Vincente Minnelli. This was the same team who would later join with Lerner and Loewe to create Gigi.
In 1956, Lerner and Loewe unveiled My Fair Lady. Before finishing the musical, Lerner was eager to write while My Fair Lady was taking so long to complete. Burton Lane and Lerner were working on a musical about Li'l Abner. Gabriel Pascal owned the rights to Pygmalion, which had been unsuccessful with other composers who tried to adapt it into a musical.
Arthur Schwartz and Howard Dietz first tried, and then Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II attempted, but gave up and Hammerstein told Lerner "Pygmalion had no subplot."
Lerner and Loewe's adaptation of George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion retained his social commentary and added appropriate songs for the characters of Henry Higgins and Liza Doolittle, played originally by Rex Harrison and Julie Andrews. It set box-office records in New York and London. When brought to the screen in 1964, the movie version would win eight Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Actor for Rex Harrison.
Lerner and Loewe's run of success continued with their next project, a film adaptation of stories from Colette, the Academy Award winning film musical, Gigi, starring Leslie Caron, Louis Jourdan and Maurice Chevalier. The film won all of its nine Oscar nominations, a record at that point in time, and a special Oscar for co-star, Maurice Chevalier.
The Lerner-Loewe partnership cracked under the stress of producing Camelot in 1960, with Loewe resisting Lerner's desire to direct as well as write when original director Moss Hart suffered a heart attack in the last few months of rehearsals and died shortly after the show's premiere.
Lerner was hospitalized with bleeding ulcers while Loewe continued to have heart troubles. Camelot was a hit nonetheless, and immediately following the assassination of John F. Kennedy, his widow told reporter Theodore H. White that JFK's administration reminded her of the "one brief shining moment" of Lerner and Loewe's Camelot.
As of the early 21st century, Camelot was still invoked to describe the idealism, romance, and tragedy of the Kennedy years.
Lerner's personal foibles were the stuff of tabloid legend. For nearly twenty years he battled an amphetamine addiction. During the 1960s, he was a patient of Max Jacobson, known as "Dr. Feelgood," who administered injections of "vitamins with enzymes" that were in fact laced with amphetamines. Lerner's addiction is believed to have been the result of Jacobson's practice.
Lerner died of lung cancer in Manhattan at the age of 67.
Thomas Edison demonstrates his motion picture technology
On this day in 1897 — 126 years ago — Thomas Edison received a patent for his movie camera, the Kinetograph.
Edison had developed the camera and its viewer in the early 1890s and staged several demonstrations. The camera was based on photographic principles discovered by still-photograph pioneers Joseph Nicephone Niepce and Louis Daguerre of France.
In 1877, inventor Edward Muybridge developed a primitive form of motion pictures when Leland Stanford, the governor of California, invited him to develop photo studies of animals in motion. Muybridge developed an ingenious system for photographing sequential motion, setting up 24 cameras attached to trip wires stretched across a racetrack.
As the horse tripped each wire, the shutters snapped. The resulting series of photos could be projected as something resembling a motion picture. This breakthrough in the early 1870s inspired another student of animal motion, Etienne Jules Marey of France, to develop in 1882 a rotating camera rather like a rifle, where different pictures were taken in a rapid sequence by a rotating cartridge.
Unlike these earlier cameras, Edison's Kinetoscope and Kinetograph used celluloid film, invented by George Eastman in 1889.
In February, 1893, Edison built a small movie studio that could be rotated to capture the best available sunlight. He showed the first demonstration of his films in May, 1893. It featured three of his workers pretending to be blacksmiths.
The invention inspired French inventors Louis and August Lumiere to develop a movie camera and projector, the Cinematographe, that allowed a large audience to view a film. Several other cameras and projectors were also developed in the late 1800s.
In 1898, Edison sued American Mutoscope and Biograph Pictures, claiming that the studio had infringed on his patent for the Kinetograph. He had entrusted the development of the machine to his assistant, W.L.K. Dickson, who left Edison's company in 1895 and helped found Biograph.
However, in 1902, the U.S. Court of Appeals ruled that although Thomas Edison had patented the Kinetograph, he only owned rights to the sprocket system that moved perforated film through the camera, not the entire concept of the movie camera.
In 1909, Edison and Biograph joined forces with other filmmakers to create the Motion Pictures Patents Company, an organization devoted to protecting patents and keeping other players from entering the film industry.
In 1917, the Supreme Court dissolved the trust, and the Edison Company left the film industry the same year.
Sanford Meisner, actor and acting teacher, was born 118 years ago today.
Meiser developed a form of Method acting (based on the “system” of Constantin Stanislavski) that is now known as the Meisner technique.
Born in Brooklyn, Meisner was the oldest of four children. When the Great Depression hit, Meisner's father pulled him out of music school to help in the family business in New York City's Garment District. Meisner later recalled that the only way he could endure days spent lugging bolts of fabric was to entertain himself by replaying, in his mind, all the classical piano pieces he had studied in music school.
Meisner believed this experience helped him develop an acute sense of sound, akin to perfect pitch. Later, as an acting teacher, he often evaluated his students' scene work with his eyes closed (and his head dramatically buried in his hands). This trick was only partly for effect. The habit, he explained, actually helped him to listen more closely to his students' work and to pinpoint the true and false moments in their acting.
After graduation from high school, Meisner pursued acting professionally, which had interested him since his youth. He had acted at the Lower East Side's Chrystie Street Settlement House under the direction of Lee Strasberg, who was to play an important role in his development.
At 19, Meisner heard that the Theatre Guild was hiring teenagers. After a brief interview, he was hired as an extra for They Knew What They Wanted. The experience deeply affected him and he realized that acting was what he had been looking for in life.
He and Strasberg both appeared in the original Theatre Guild production of the Rodgers and Hart review, The Garrick Gaieties, from which the song "Manhattan" came.mDespite his parents' misgivings, Meisner continued to pursue a career in acting, receiving a scholarship to study at the Theatre Guild of Acting. Here he encountered once again Harold Clurman and Lee Strasberg.
Strasberg was to become another of the century’s most influential acting theorists and the father of Method acting, an acting technique derived, like Meisner's own, from the “system” of Konstantin Stanislavski. The three became friends.
In 1931, Clurman, Strasberg and Cheryl Crawford (another Theatre Guild member) selected 28 actors (one of whom was Meisner) to form the Group Theatre. This company exerted an influence on the entire art of acting in the United States.
Meisner summered with the Group Theater at their rehearsal headquarters at Pine Brook Country Club in the countryside of Nichols, Connecticut. Along with a number of other actors in the company, Meisner eventually resisted Strasberg's preoccupation with Affective memory exercises.
In 1934, fellow company member Stella Adler returned from private study with Stanislavski in Paris and announced that Stanislavski had come to believe that, as part of a rehearsal process, delving into one's past memories as a source of emotion was only a last resort.
The actor, she learned, should seek rather to develop the character's thoughts and feelings through physical action, a concentrated use of the imagination and a belief in the "given circumstances" of the text. As a result, Meisner began to focus on a new approach to acting.
When the Group Theatre disbanded in 1940, Meisner continued as head of the acting program at the Neighborhood Playhouse in New York, at which he had taught since 1935. In teaching, he found a level of fulfillment similar to that which he had found in playing the piano as a child.
At the Playhouse, he developed his own form of Method acting that was based on Stanislavski's system and Meisner's training with Lee Strasberg and on Stella Adler's revelations about the uses of the imagination.
Today, that approach is called the Meisner technique. It was during these early years at The Neighborhood Playhouse that Meisner was briefly married to the young actress, Peggy Meredith, who appeared in several Broadway productions.
The Actors Studio was founded in 1947 by two ex-Group Theatre actors, the then successful directors Elia Kazan and Robert Lewis. Meisner was one of the first to teach at the studio. Ironically, at first Strasberg was not asked, but by 1951 he had become its artistic director.
Many students of the Actors Studio became well known in the film industry. Strasberg's later insistence that he had trained them distressed Meisner enormously, creating an animosity with his ex-mentor that continued until Strasberg's death.
Throughout his career, Meisner worked with, and taught, students who became well known, such as Sandra Bullock, Dylan McDermott, Eileen Fulton, James Caan, Steve McQueen, Robert Duvall, Gregory Peck, Jack Lord, Bob Fosse, Diane Keaton, Peter Falk, Jon Voight, Jeff Goldblum, Grace Kelly, James Doohan, Jason Boss, Manu Tupou, Tony Randall and Sydney Pollack.
Pollack together with Charles E. Conrad served as Meisner's senior assistants. Meisner’s technique is helpful not just for actors, but also for directors, writers and teachers. A number of directors also studied with Meisner, among them Sidney Lumet and John Frankenheimer, and writers such as Arthur Miller and David Mamet.
Though he rarely appeared on film, Meisner performed in Tender Is the Night, The Story on Page One and Mikey and Nicky. His last acting role was in the Season One episode of the television medical drama ER, "Sleepless In Chicago." Actor Noah Wyle worked with him and referred to the experience as the highlight of his career.
He was diagnosed with throat cancer in 1970 and underwent a laryngectomy. Meisner died in his sleep at his Sherman Oaks, California home in February, 1997.
Here is a taste of Meiser’s acting classes.
As students gather on college campuses throughout the nation, many are asking if the high cost and huge debt they face is worth it in the modern world we live in.
Perhaps these young people can gain some insight from Ralph Waldo Emerson, who gave a speech on the subject of higher education on this day in 1837 — 185 years ago — to the Harvard chapter of the Phi Beta Kappa Society.
“We have listened too long to the courtly muses of Europe,” he said in the roughly 7,800-word address, titled “The American Scholar.” “The spirit of the American freeman is already suspected to be timid, imitative, tame.”
The way to create a new scholarly model, and not follow Europeans blindly, he insisted, was independent thinking, self-knowledge and devotion to books, history and science.
Emerson practiced what he preached. Asian and Middle Eastern literature, for example, influenced his work and helped separate him from the parochialism of the era.
Of course, Europe wasn’t the only place that offered advanced education. Two centuries before the continent’s first universities were founded, Fatima al-Fihri, a visionary Muslim woman, started in 859 what became Qairouan University in Fez, Morocco.
It became a leading educational center in medieval times by offering more than religious instruction, and today it is the world’s oldest continuously operated educational institution.
It serves as an affirmation of Emerson’s belief that true learning can’t be done in an intellectual straitjacket.
The ability to think independently and gain self knowledge has always been the real reason one should go to college. Despite what many believe, it is not about training to do jobs or having the money to buy consumer goods.
It is about developing the ability to think for one’s self. The quality of life that comes with that ability is immense and reason enough to seek a higher education, no matter how or where.
Thanks New York Times
The Who perform at the Isle of Wight Festival, 1969
The festival was 54 years ago this weekend
Photo by Stephen Goldblatt