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Welsh poet and writer Dylan Thomas was born 109 years ago today
Dylan Thomas was born 109 years ago today.
A Welsh poet and writer whose works include the poems, "Do Not Go Gentle into that Good Night,” "And Death Shall have No Dominion,” the "Play for Voices,” Under Milk Wood and stories and radio broadcasts such as A Child's Christmas in Wales and Portrait of the Artist as a Young Dog.
Thomas became popular in his lifetime, and remained popular after his death — partly due to his larger than life character and his reputation for drinking to excess.
Born in Swansea, Wales in 1914, Thomas was undistinguished student. He left school at 16, becoming a journalist for a short time. Although many of his works appeared in print while a teenager, it was the publication of "Light breaks where no sun shines,” published in 1934, that caught the attention of the literary world.
While living in London, Thomas met Caitlin Macnamara, whom he married in 1937. Their relationship was defined by alcoholism and was mutually destructive. In the early part of his marriage, Thomas and his family lived hand-to-mouth, settling in the Welsh fishing village of Laugharne.
Although Thomas was appreciated as a popular poet in his lifetime, he found earning a living as a writer difficult, which resulted in Thomas augmenting his income with readings and broadcasts. His radio recordings for the BBC during the latter half of the 1940s brought him a level of celebrity.
In the 1950s, Thomas travelled to America, where his readings brought him a level of fame, though his erratic behavior and drinking worsened. His time in America cemented Thomas' legend, where he recorded to vinyl works such as A Child's Christmas in Wales.
The Scottish poet, Ruthven Todd, introduced Thomas to the White Horse Tavern in Greenwich Village, and the great Welsh bard was soon quaffing oceans of ale in the Horse's back room. Thomas made the tavern his headquarters on his tumultuous stateside forays, and soon tourists were lining up eight deep at the bar to watch him carouse.
Today, a plaque on the wall commemorates the November night in 1953 when the poet — still only 39 — downed one last shot, staggered outside and collapsed. After falling into a coma at the nearby Chelsea Hotel, he was whisked to St. Vincent's Hospital where he died.
Throughout his life, Thomas was close to attorney William Kunstler, who discovered him while a French major at Yale. Kunstler published one of his books, represented Thomas and was called to join him at the hospital after he collapsed outside the White Horse Tavern.
Although writing exclusively in the English language, Thomas has been acknowledged as one of the most important Welsh poets of the 20th century. Noted for his original, rhythmic and ingenious use of words and imagery, Thomas' position as one of the great modern poets has been much discussed, though this has not tarnished his popularity amongst the general public, who found his work accessible.
Here, Thomas reads “Do Not Go Gentle Into that Good Night.”
Lee Krasner and Jackson Pollock
Lee Krasner, influential abstract expressionist painter in the second half of the 20th century, was born 115 years ago today.
On October 25, 1945, Krasner married artist Jackson Pollock, who was also influential in the abstract expressionism movement.
She was born as Lena Krassner (outside the family she was known as Lenore Krasner) in Brooklyn to Russian Jewish immigrant parents from Bessarabia.
Krasner studied at The Cooper Union and the National Academy of Design and worked on the WPA Federal Art Project from 1935 to 1943. Starting in 1937, she took classes with Hans Hofmann, who taught the principles of cubism, and his influence helped to direct Krasner's work toward neo-cubist abstraction.
When commenting on her work, Hofmann stated, "This is so good you would not know it was painted by a woman."
In 1940, she started showing her works with the American Abstract Artists, a group of American painters. Krasner would often cut apart her own drawings and paintings to create collages and, at times, revised or discarded an entire series. As a result, her surviving body of work is relatively small.
Her catalogue raisonné, published in 1995 by Abrams, lists only 599 known pieces. She was rigorously self-critical. Her critical eye is believed to have been important to Pollock's work.
Krasner struggled with the public's reception of her identity, both as a woman and as the wife of Pollock. Therefore she often signed her works with the genderless initials "L.K." instead of her more recognizable full name.
Krasner and Pollock gave each other reassurance and support during a period when neither's work was well-appreciated. Like Picasso during the brief period of his interaction with Braque, the daily give-and-take of Pollock and Krasner stimulated both artists.
Pollock and Krasner fought a battle for legitimacy, impulsiveness and individual expression. They opposed an old-fashioned, conformist and repressed culture unreceptive to these values, which was put off by the intricacy of Modernism in general.
Lee Krasner died in 1984, at age 75, from natural causes. She had been suffering from arthritis. Six months after her death, the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York City held a retrospective exhibition of her work.
A review of the exhibition in the New York Times noted that it "clearly defines Krasner's place in the New York School" and that she "is a major, independent artist of the pioneer Abstract Expressionist generation, whose stirring work ranks high among that produced here in the last half-century."
As of 2008, Krasner is one of only four women artists to have had a retrospective show at the Museum of Modern Art. The other three women artists are Louise Bourgeois (MoMA retrospective in 1982), Helen Frankenthaler (MoMA retrospective in 1989) and Elizabeth Murray (MoMA retrospective in 2004).
Her papers were donated to the Archives of American Art in 1985. They were digitized and posted on the web for researchers in 2009. After her death, her East Hampton property became the Pollock-Krasner House and Studio, and is open to the public for tours. A separate organization, the Pollock-Krasner Foundation, was established in 1985.
The Foundation functions as the official Estate for both Lee Krasner and Jackson Pollock, and also, under the terms of her will, serves "to assist individual working artists of merit with financial need."
Krasner was portrayed in an Academy Award-winning performance by Marcia Gay Harden in the 2000 film, Pollock, a drama about the life of her husband, Jackson Pollock, played and directed by Ed Harris.
In John Updike's novel, Seek My Face (2002), a significant portion of the main character's life is based on Krasner's.
Here’s a mini bio of Lee Krasner.
Sylvia Plath on the beach, June, 1954
Photo by Gordon Ames Lameyer
Sylvia Plath was born 91 years ago today.
A poet, novelist and short story writer, Plath was born in Boston and studied at Smith College and Newnham College at the University of Cambridge before receiving acclaim as a professional poet and writer.
She married fellow poet, Ted Hughes, in 1956 and they lived together first in the United States and then England. They had two children together, Frieda and Nicholas.
After suffering from depression from the age of 20 and a marital separation, Plath committed suicide in 1963 at the age of 30. Controversy continues to surround the events of her life and death, as well as her writing and legacy.
Plath is credited with advancing the genre of confessional poetry and is best known for her two published collections, The Colossus and Other Poems and Ariel.
In 1982, she became the first poet to win a Pulitzer Prize posthumously, for The Collected Poems.
She also wrote The Bell Jar, a semi-autobiographical novel published shortly before her death.
Here, Plath reads “Daddy.”
Actress Ruby Dee gives a reading at Martin Luther King Jr.'s March on Washington, Washington, D.C., August 28, 1963
Photo by Charles Del Vecchio
Ruby Dee, actress, poet, playwright, screenwriter, journalist and activist, was born 101 years ago today.
Dee was best known for co-starring in the film, A Raisin in the Sun (1961) and the film, American Gangster (2007), for which she was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress.
Dee won a Grammy, Emmy, Obie, Drama Desk, Screen Actors Guild Award, Screen Actors Guild Lifetime Achievement Award, and was a recipient of the National Medal of Arts and the Kennedy Center Honors, among scores of others awards.
Ruby Wallace married blues singer Frankie Dee in the mid-1940s, but later divorced him. Three years later, she married actor Ossie Davis.
Dee and Davis were longtime civil rights activists who served as masters of ceremony at the 1963 March on Washington, where Martin Luther King, Jr., gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech. They were principle financial backers of Dr. King.
Davis eulogized Malcolm X at his funeral. In 1995, the couple was awarded the Presidential Medal for Lifetime Achievement in the Arts. After Ossie Davis died at the age of 87 on February 4, 2005, Dee continued her career.
Here, Ruby Dee reads a poem at Pete Seeger's 90th Birthday Celebration at Madison Square Garden on May 3, 2009. This video did not appear on the PBS special on the concert or the DVD set.
On this day in 1873 — 150 years ago — a De Kalb, Illinois farmer named Joseph Glidden submitted an application to the U.S. Patent Office for his new design of a fencing wire with sharp barbs — an invention that would forever illustrate man’s inhumanity to other humans and animals.
Glidden’s was by no means the first barbed wire. He only came up with his design after seeing an exhibit of Henry Rose’s single-stranded barbed wire at the De Kalb county fair. Glidden’s design, however, significantly improved on Rose’s by using two strands of wire twisted together to hold the barbed spur wires firmly in place.
Glidden’s wire proved to be well suited to mass production techniques, and by 1880 more than 80 million pounds of inexpensive Glidden-style barbed wire was sold, making it the most popular wire in the nation.
Prairie and plains farmers quickly discovered that Glidden’s wire was the cheapest, strongest and most durable way to fence their property. As one fan wrote, “it takes no room, exhausts no soil, shades no vegetation, is proof against high winds, makes no snowdrifts and is both durable and cheap.”
The effect of this simple invention on the life in the Great Plains was huge. Since the plains were largely treeless, a farmer who wanted to construct a fence had little choice but to buy expensive and bulky wooden rails shipped by train and wagon from distant forests.
Without the alternative offered by cheap and portable barbed wire, few farmers would have attempted to homestead on the Great Plains, since they could not have afforded to protect their farms from grazing herds of cattle and sheep. Barbed wire also brought a speedy end to the era of the open-range cattle industry.
Within the course of just a few years, many ranchers discovered that thousands of small homesteaders were fencing over the open range where their cattle had once freely roamed, and that the old technique of driving cattle over miles of unfenced land to railheads in Dodge City or Abilene was no longer possible.
Floyd Cramer (in foreground) with Jim Reeves and the Anita Kerr singers in a recording session at RCA studios, Nashville, Oct. 25, 1962
Photo by Joe Rudis
Floyd Cramer, Nashville pianist, was born 90 years ago today.
Cramer was a Hall of Fame pianist who was one of the architects of the "Nashville sound.” He was known for his "slip note" piano style, where an out-of-key note slides into the correct note.
Born in Shreveport, Louisiana, Cramer grew up in the small town of Huttig, Arkansas, teaching himself to play the piano. After finishing high school, he returned to Shreveport, where he worked as a pianist for the Louisiana Hayride radio show.
In 1953, he cut his first single, "Dancin' Diane,” backed with "Little Brown Jug,” for the local Abbott label. He then toured with an emerging talent who would later figure significantly in his career, Elvis Presley.
Cramer moved to Nashville in 1955 where the use of piano accompanists in country music was growing in popularity. By the next year he was, in his words, "in day and night doing sessions.”
Before long, he was one of the busiest studio musicians in the industry, playing piano for stars such as Elvis Presley, Brenda Lee, Patsy Cline, The Browns, Jim Reeves, Eddy Arnold, Roy Orbison, Don Gibson and the Everly Brothers.
Here, Cramer plays “Last Date”
On this day in 1955 — 68 years ago — Rebel Without a Cause opened in American movie theaters, a month after its 24-year-old star, James Dean, died in a car crash.
The film is now part of the National Film Registry for its cultural, historic and aesthetic significance.
The film is a 1955 Warner drama about emotionally confused suburban, middle-class teenagers filmed in CinemaScope. The film stars James Dean, Sal Mineo and Natalie Wood.
Directed by Nicholas Ray, it offered both social commentary and an alternative to previous films depicting delinquents in urban slum environments.
Roy Lichtenstein’s Drowning Girl
Roy Lichtenstein, American pop artist, was born 100 years ago today.
During the 1960s, along with Andy Warhol, Jasper Johns and James Rosenquist, Lichtenstein became a leading figure in the new art movement. His work defined the basic premise of pop art through parody.
Favoring the comic strip as his main inspiration, Lichtenstein produced hard-edged, precise compositions that documented while it parodied often in a tongue-in-cheek manner.
His work was heavily influenced by both popular advertising and the comic book style. He described pop art as not American painting, but industrial painting.
New York City Mayor McClellan, in the middle, at the controls of the subway on opening day in 1904
At 2:35 p.m. on October 27, 1904 — 119 years ago — New York City Mayor George McClellan took the controls on the inaugural run of the city's innovative new rapid transit system: the subway.
While London boasts the world's oldest underground train network (opened in 1863) and Boston built the first subway in the United States in 1897, the New York City subway soon became the largest American system.
The first line, operated by the Interborough Rapid Transit Company (IRT), traveled 9.1 miles through 28 stations.
Running from City Hall in lower Manhattan to Grand Central Terminal in midtown, and then heading west along 42nd Street to Times Square, the line finished by zipping north, all the way to 145th Street and Broadway in Harlem.
On opening day, Mayor McClellan so enjoyed his stint as engineer that he stayed at the controls all the way from City Hall to 103rd Street. At 7 p.m. that evening, the subway opened to the general public, and more than 100,000 people paid a nickel each to take their first ride under Manhattan.
IRT service expanded to the Bronx in 1905, to Brooklyn in 1908 and to Queens in 1915. Since 1968, the subway has been controlled by the Metropolitan Transport Authority (MTA).
The system now has 469 stations in operation; the longest line, the 8th Avenue "A" Express train, stretches more than 32 miles, from the northern tip of Manhattan to the far southeast corner of Queens.
Four men looking at the Eiffel Tower, 1925
Photo by Else Thalemann