Tag Archives: playwright

Almanac – May 25

1895 – Playwright, poet, and novelist Oscar Wilde was convicted of “committing acts of gross indecency with other male persons” and sentenced to serve two years in prison.

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1956 – Sugar Minott born. Jamaican reggae singer, producer and sound-system operator.

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1965 – Sonny Boy Williamson II died.  American blues harmonica player, singer and songwriter.

He is acknowledged as one of the most charismatic and influential blues musicians, with considerable prowess on the harmonica and highly creative songwriting skills.

He recorded successfully in the 1950s and 1960s, and had a direct influence on later blues and rock performers.

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1967 – Poppy Z. Brite born. American author,  best known for writing gothic and horror novels and short stories.

Brite’s trademarks have included using gay men as main characters, graphic sexual descriptions in the works, and an often wry treatment of gruesome events.

Some of Brite’s better known novels include Lost Souls (1992), Drawing Blood  (1993), and Exquisite Corpse (1996).

Brite is, in real life, Billy Martin, a transgender man – he self-identifies as a gay man; “Ever since I was old enough to know what gay men were, I’ve considered myself a gay man that happens to have been born in a female body, and that’s the perspective I’m coming from” –  and prefers that male pronouns and terms be used when referring to him.

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2006 – Desmond Dekker died. Jamaican ska, rocksteady and reggae singer-songwriter and musician.

In 1968 Dekker’s “Israelites” was released, eventually topping the UK Singles Chart in April 1969 and peaking in the Top Ten of the US Billboard Hot 100 in June 1969 – Dekker was the first Jamaican artist to have a hit record in the US with a form and style that was purely Jamaican.

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Almanac – May 20

1799 – Honoré de Balzac born. French novelist and playwright.

His magnum opus was a sequence of short stories and novels collectively entitled La Comédie humaine, which presents a panorama of French life in the years after the 1815 fall of Napoleon Bonaparte.

Due to his keen observation of detail and unfiltered representation of society, Balzac is regarded as one of the founders of realism in European literature, and is renowned for his multifaceted, morally ambiguous characters.

His writing influenced many subsequent novelists such as Marcel Proust, Émile Zola, Charles Dickens, Edgar Allan Poe, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Gustave Flaubert, Benito Pérez Galdós, Marie Corelli, Henry James, William Faulkner, Jack Kerouac, and Italo Calvino, and philosophers such as Friedrich Engels and Karl Marx.

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Almanac – April 26

1886 – Ma Rainey born. One of the earliest known American professional blues singers and one of the first generation of such singers to record. she has been  billed as The Mother of the Blues.

She  was known for her very powerful vocal abilities, energetic disposition, majestic phrasing, and a ‘moaning’ style of singing similar to folk tradition, though her powerful voice and disposition are not captured on her recordings (due to her recording exclusively for Paramount, which was known for worse-than-normal recording techniques and among the industry’s poorest shellac quality), the other characteristics are present, and most evident on her early recordings, Bo-weevil Blues and Moonshine Blues. She also recorded with Louis Armstrong.

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1937 – Spanish Civil War: Guernica (or Gernika in Basque), Spain  bombed by German Luftwaffe, causing widespread destruction and civilian deaths – the Basque government reported 1,654 people killed.

The bombing was the subject of a famous anti-war painting by Pablo Picasso. It was depicted by Heinz Kiwitz, a German artist who made a woodcut of it  and later was killed fighting in the International Brigades.

The bombing shocked and inspired many artists: Guernica is also the name of one of the most violent of René Iché sculptures, one of the first electroacoustic music by Patrick Ascione, of a musical composition by René-Louis Baron and a poem by Paul Eluard (Victory of Guernica). There is also a short film from 1950 by Alain Resnais entitled Guernica.

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1938 – Duane Eddy born.  American guitarist. In the late 1950s and early 1960s he had a string of hit records, produced by Lee Hazlewood, which were noted for their characteristically “twangy” sound, including “Rebel Rouser”, “Peter Gunn”, and “Because They’re Young“. He had sold 12 million records by 1963.

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1940 – Giorgio Moroder born. Italian record producer, songwriter and performer.

When in Munich in the 1970s, he started his own record label called Oasis Records, which several years later became a subdivision of Casablanca Records.

 He collaborated with Donna Summer during the  disco era (including “Love to Love You Baby” and “I Feel Love“) and was the founder of the former Musicland Studios in Munich, which was used as a recording studio by artists including the Electric Light Orchestra, Led Zeppelin, Queen and Elton John.

Moroder also produced a number of electronic disco hits for The Three Degrees, two albums for Sparks, songs for performers including David Bowie, Irene Cara, Madleen Kane, Melissa Manchester, Blondie, Japan, and France Joli.

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1970 – Gypsy Rose Lee died.  American burlesque entertainer famous for her striptease act.

She was also an actress, author, and playwright whose 1957 memoir was made into the stage musical and film Gypsy.

Trying to describe what Gypsy was (a “high-class” stripper), H. L. Mencken coined the term ecdysiast.  Her style of intellectual recitation while stripping was spoofed in the number “Zip!” from Rodgers and Hart‘s Pal Joey, a play in which her sister June appeared.

Gypsy can be seen performing an abbreviated version of her act (intellectual recitation and all) in the 1943 film Stage Door Canteen.

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Almanac – April 23

1564 – William Shakespeare born. English poet and playwright, widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language and the world’s pre-eminent dramatist.

 His extant works, including some collaborations, consist of about 38 plays, 154 sonnets, two long narrative poems, two epitaphs on a man named John Combe, one epitaph on Elias James, and several other poems. His plays have been translated into every major living language and are performed more often than those of any other playwright.

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1907 – Lee Miller born. American photographer. She was a successful fashion model in New York City in the 1920s before going to Paris, with the intention of apprenticing herself to the surrealist artist and photographer Man Ray. Although, at first, he insisted that he did not take students, Miller soon became his photographic assistant, as well as his lover and muse.

While she was in Paris, she began her own photographic studio, often taking over Man Ray’s fashion assignments to enable him to concentrate on his painting.In fact, many of the photographs taken during this period and credited to Man Ray were actually taken by Miller.

Together with Man Ray, she rediscovered the photographic technique of solarisation. She was an active participant in the surrealist movement, with her witty and humorous images.

 During the Second World War, she became an acclaimed war correspondent for Vogue, covering events such as the London Blitz, the liberation of Paris, and the concentration camps at Buchenwald and Dachau.

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1965 – George Adamski died.  Polish-born American citizen who became widely known in ufology circles, and to some degree in popular culture, after he claimed to have photographed ships from other planets, met with friendly Nordic alien Space Brothers, and to have taken flights with them.

The first of the so-called contactees of the 1950s, he was called a “philosopher, teacher, student and saucer researcher“, though his claims were met with skepticism.

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1991 – Johnny Thunders died. American  guitarist, singer and songwriter. He came to prominence in the early 1970s as a member of the New York Dolls,  later played with The Heartbreakers and as a solo artist.

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Almanac – April 22

1616 – Miguel de Cervantes died.  Spanish novelist, poet, and playwright.

His magnum opus, Don Quixote, considered to be the first modern European novel,  is a classic of Western literature, and is regarded amongst the best works of fiction ever written.

His influence on the Spanish language has been so great that the language is often called la lengua de Cervantes (“the language of Cervantes“).

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1922 – Charles Mingus born.  American jazz double bassist, composer and bandleader.

Mingus’s compositions retained the hot and soulful feel of hard bop and drew heavily from black gospel music while sometimes drawing on elements of Third Stream, free jazz, and classical music.

Yet Mingus avoided categorization, forging his own brand of music that fused tradition with unique and unexplored realms of jazz.

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1923 – Bettie Page born.  American model who became famous in the 1950s for her pin-up photos. Often referred to as the “Queen of Pinups“, her jet black hair, blue eyes, and trademark bangs have influenced artists for generations.

Page was “Miss January 1955“, one of the earliest Playmates of the Month for Playboy magazine. “I think that she was a remarkable lady, an iconic figure in pop culture who influenced sexuality, taste in fashion, someone who had a tremendous impact on our society,” Playboy founder Hugh Hefner told the Associated Press.

From 1952 through 1957, she posed for photographer Irving Klaw for mail-order photographs with pin-up, bondage or sadomasochistic themes, making her the first famous bondage model.

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2002 – Linda Lovelace died. American pornographic actress who was famous for her performance in the enormously successful 1972 hardcore porn film Deep Throat.

She later denounced her pornography career and became a spokeswoman for the anti-pornography movement.

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Almanac – April 15

1452 – Leonardo da Vinci born.  Italian Renaissance polymath: painter, sculptor, architect, musician, mathematician, engineer, inventor, anatomist, geologist, cartographer, botanist, and writer.

His genius, perhaps more than that of any other figure, epitomized the Renaissance humanist ideal. Leonardo has often been described as the archetype of the Renaissance Man, a man of “unquenchable curiosity” and “feverishly inventive imagination“.

 He is widely considered to be one of the greatest painters of all time and perhaps the most diversely talented person ever to have lived.

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1802 – William Wordsworth and his sister, Dorothy saw a “long belt” of daffodils, on a walk around Glencoyne Bay, Ullswater, in the Lake District,  inspiring the former to pen I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud a couple of years later, inspired by Dorothy’s journal entry describing the walk –

When we were in the woods beyond Gowbarrow park we saw a few daffodils close to the water side, we fancied that the lake had floated the seed ashore & that the little colony had so sprung up — But as we went along there were more & yet more & at last under the boughs of the trees, we saw that there was a long belt of them along the shore, about the breadth of a country turnpike road. I never saw daffodils so beautiful they grew among the mossy stones about & about them, some rested their heads upon these stones as on a pillow for weariness & the rest tossed and reeled and danced & seemed as if they verily laughed with the wind that blew upon them over the Lake, they looked so gay ever dancing ever changing. This wind blew directly over the lake to them. There was here & there a little knot & a few stragglers a few yards higher up but they were so few as not to disturb the simplicity & unity & life of that one busy highway — We rested again & again. The Bays were stormy & we heard the waves at different distances & in the middle of the water like the Sea.

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1894 – Bessie Smith born. American blues singer. Nicknamed The Empress of the Blues, she was the most popular female blues singer of the 1920s and 1930s, and is often regarded as one of the greatest singers of her era and, along with Louis Armstrong, a major influence on other jazz vocalists.

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1912 – The British passenger liner RMS Titanic sank in the North Atlantic at 2:20 a.m., two hours and forty minutes after hitting an iceberg. Only 710 of 2,227 passengers and crew on board survived.

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1980 – Jean-Paul Sartre died. French existentialist philosopher, playwright, novelist, screenwriter, political activist, biographer, and literary critic.

He was one of the key figures in the philosophy of existentialism, and one of the leading figures in 20th-century French philosophy and Marxism.

His work has also influenced sociology, critical theory, post-colonial theory, and literary studies, and continues to influence these disciplines.

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Almanac – April 02

742 – Charlemagne born. King of the Franks from 768, the King of Italy from 774, the first Holy Roman Emperor,  called the “Father of Europe” (pater Europae),  his empire united most of Western Europe for the first time since the Roman Empire.

His rule spurred the Carolingian Renaissance, a revival of art, religion, and culture through the medium of the Catholic Church. Through his foreign conquests and internal reforms, Charlemagne encouraged the formation of a common European identity.  Both the French and German monarchies considered their kingdoms to be descendants of Charlemagne’s empire.

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1725 – Giacomo Casanova born.  Italian adventurer and author from the Republic of Venice.

He was, by vocation and avocation, a lawyer, clergyman, military officer, violinist, con man, pimp, gourmand, dancer, businessman, diplomat, spy, politician, medic, mathematician, social philosopher, cabalist, playwright, and writer. He wrote over twenty works, including plays and essays, and many letters. His novel Icosameron is an early work of science fiction.

He has become so famous for his often complicated and elaborate affairs with women that his name is now synonymous with “womanizer“.

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1891 – Max Ernst born. German painter, sculptor, graphic artist, and poet. A prolific artist, Ernst was a primary pioneer of the Dada movement and Surrealism.

Ernst developed a fascination with birds that was prevalent in his work. His alter ego in paintings, which he called Loplop, was a bird. He suggested that this alter-ego was an extension of himself stemming from an early confusion of birds and humans.

 He said that one night when he was young he woke up and found that his beloved bird had died, and a few minutes later his father announced that his sister was born. Loplop often appeared in collages of other artists’ work, such as Loplop presents André Breton.

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1928 – Serge Gainsbourg born. French singer, songwriter, poet, composer, artist, actor and director. Regarded as one of the most important figures in French popular music, he was renowned for his often provocative and scandalous releases, as well as his diverse artistic output, which embodied genres ranging from jazz, chanson, pop and yé-yé, to reggae, funk, rock, electronic and disco music.

Gainsbourg’s extremely varied musical style and individuality make him difficult to categorize. His legacy has been firmly established, and he is often regarded as one of the world’s most influential popular musicians.

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1941 – Dr. Demento born. American radio broadcaster and record collector specializing in novelty songs, comedy, and strange or unusual recordings dating from the early days of phonograph records to the present.

He is credited with introducing new generations of listeners to artists of the early and middle twentieth century whom they may not have otherwise discovered, such as Haywire Mac, Spike Jones, Benny Bell, Yogi Yorgesson, and Tom Lehrer, as well as with bringing parodist “Weird Al” Yankovic to national attention.

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2003 – Edwin Starr died.  American soul music singer. Starr is most famous for his Norman Whitfield produced Motown singles of the 1970s, most notably the number one hit “War”.

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Almanac – March 28

193 – Roman Emperor Pertinax was assassinated by Praetorian Guards, who then sold the throne in an auction to Didius Julianus.

Claudius Sulpicianus, prefect of the city, father-in-law of the murdered emperor began making offers. When Julianus, having been roused from a banquet by his wife and daughter,arrived in all haste, he was  unable to gain admission to the auction, so stood before the gate, and with a loud voice competed for the prize.

As the bidding went on, the soldiers reported to each of the two competitors, the one within the fortifications, the other outside the rampart, the sum offered by his rival.

Eventually Sulpicianus promised 20,000 sesterces to every soldier; Julianus, fearing that Sulpicianus would gain the throne, then offered 25,000. The guards immediately closed with the offer of Julianus, threw open the gates, saluted him by the name of Caesar, and proclaimed him emperor. Threatened by the military, the Senate declared him emperor.

Julianus was killed in the palace by a soldier in the third month of his reign , his last words were “But what evil have I done? Whom have I killed?”

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1871 – The Paris Commune was formally established in Paris.  In a formal sense, it acted as the local authority, the city council (in French, the “commune”), which exercised power in Paris for two months in the spring of 1871.

However, the conditions in which it formed, its controversial decrees, and the indiscriminate violence with which it was brutally suppressed make its brief tenure one of the more important political episodes in the history of working class revolutions.

 The Paris Commune existed before the split between anarchists and Marxists, and is hailed by both groups as the first assumption of power by the working class during the Industrial Revolution.

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1958 – W. C. Handy died.  Blues composer and musician, widely known as the “Father of the Blues”.

Handy remains among the most influential of American songwriters. Though he was one of many musicians who played the distinctively American form of music known as the blues, he is credited with giving it its contemporary form.

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1994 – Eugène Ionesco died.  Romanian / French playwright and dramatist, and one of the foremost playwrights of the Theatre of the Absurd.

Beyond ridiculing the most banal situations, Ionesco’s plays depict in a tangible way the solitude and insignificance of human existence.

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Almanac – March 02

1717 – The Loves of Mars and Venus –  the first ballet performed in England – made its premiere at the Drury Lane Theater in London.

The creation of choreographer John Weaver,  the story of the ballet was derived from Greek mythology, although Weaver’s immediate source was P.A. Motteux‘s play, The Loves of Mars and Venus.

The role of Venus was performed by  Hester Santlow, who was highly regarded for her beauty, dancing, and ability as an actress. Although it is not certain, many believe the role of Mars was performed by the French dancer Louis Dupre.

At the time, most classical ballet was nearly devoid of dramatic content, and Weaver sought to change that using  dancing, gestures and movement to convey the plot and emotions of the ballet, without relying on spoken or sung text.

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1825 – Roberto Cofresí,  one of the last successful Caribbean pirates, was defeated in combat and captured by authorities.

Better known as El Pirata Cofresí,  he  was the most renowned pirate in Puerto Rico, and his life story, particularly in its Robin Hoodsteal from the rich, give to the poor” aspect, has become legendary in Puerto Rico and throughout the rest of Latin America. It has inspired countless songs, poems, books and films.

The entire town of Cofresí, near Puerto Plata in the Dominican Republic, was named after him.

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1900 – Kurt Weill born. German composer, active from the 1920s,  in his later years in the United States. He was a leading composer for the stage who was best known for his fruitful collaborations with Bertolt Brecht, with whom he developed productions such as his most well known work The Threepenny Opera, a Marxist critique of capitalism, which included the ballad “Mack the Knife“.

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1930 – D. H. Lawrence died. English novelist, poet, playwright, essayist, literary critic and painter . His collected works represent an extended reflection upon the dehumanising effects of modernity and industrialisation. In them, Lawrence confronts issues relating to emotional health and vitality, spontaneity, and instinct.

Lawrence’s opinions earned him many enemies and he endured official persecution, censorship, and misrepresentation of his creative work throughout the second half of his life, much of which he spent in a voluntary exile which he called his “savage pilgrimage”.

At the time of his death – from complications of tuberculosis –  his public reputation was that of a pornographer who had wasted his considerable talents. E. M. Forster, in an obituary notice, challenged this widely held view, describing him as, “The greatest imaginative novelist of our generation.”

Later, the influential Cambridge critic F. R. Leavis championed both his artistic integrity and his moral seriousness, placing much of Lawrence’s fiction within the canonical “great tradition” of the English novel. Lawrence is now valued by many as a visionary thinker and significant representative of modernism in English literature.

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1933 – The film King Kong opened at New York’s Radio City Music Hall.

Variety thought the film a powerful adventure. The New York Times gave readers an enthusiastic account of the plot and thought the film a fascinating adventure,  although the   film’s subtextual threat to Aryan womanhood got Kong banned in Nazi Germany.

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1942 – Lou Reed born. American rock musician, songwriter, and photographer. He is best known as guitarist, vocalist, and principal songwriter of The Velvet Underground, and for his solo career, which has spanned several decades.

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1991 – Serge Gainsbourg died. French singer, songwriter, poet, composer, artist, actor and director.

Regarded as one of the most important figures in French popular music, he was renowned for his often provocative and scandalous releases, as well as his diverse artistic output, which embodied genres ranging from jazz, chanson, pop and yé-yé, to reggae, funk, rock, electronic and disco music – his extremely varied musical style and individuality make him difficult to categorize.

His legacy has been firmly established, and he is often regarded as one of the world’s most influential popular musicians.

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Almanac – January 31

1606 – Guy Fawkes, Thomas Wintour, Ambrose Rookwood and Robert Keyes  executed for plotting against Parliament and King James. Fawkes was the last to stand on the scaffold, his fellow plotters were already hanged and quartered.  He asked for forgiveness of the King and state, while keeping up his “crosses and idle ceremonies“, and aided by the hangman began to climb the ladder to the noose.

Although weakened by torture, Fawkes managed to jump from the gallows, breaking his neck in the fall and thus avoiding the agony of the latter part of his execution. His lifeless body was nevertheless quartered and, as was the custom, his body parts were then distributed to “the four corners of the kingdom”, to be displayed as a warning to other would-be traitors.

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1942 – Derek Jarman born. English film director, stage designer, diarist, artist, gardener and author. Films include Sebastiane (1976), Jubilee (1977), The Tempest (1979) and The Last of England (1988).

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1956 – John Lydon born. Also known by the former stage name Johnny Rotten,  a singer-songwriter and television presenter, best known as the lead singer of punk rock band the Sex Pistols and Public image Ltd.

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1960 – Grant Morrison born. Scottish comic book writer, playwright and occultist. He is known for his nonlinear narratives and countercultural leanings in his runs on titles including DC Comics’ Animal Man, Doom Patrol, JLA, The Invisibles, Action Comics, All-Star Superman, and Batman, and Marvel Comics’ New X-Men and Fantastic Four

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