A Year: Day to Day Men: 31st of October

To Sleep, Perchance to Dream

October 31, 1896 was the birthdate of American actress and singer Ethel Walters.

Ethel Waters was born in Chester, Pennsylvania, growing up in extreme poverty. At the age of thirteen in 1909, she was already working as a chambermaid in a Philadelphia hotel. Later that year, Waters sang in public for the first time at a local Philadelphia night club. She started singing professionally in 1913, billing herself as “Sweet Mama Stringbean”, in Baltimore, Maryland, clubs. It was in Baltimore that she became the first woman to sing W.C Hardy’s classic “Saint Louis Blues”.

Ethel Waters professional career as a singer rose rapidly; so she decided to move to New York City. In 1925, she appeared at the Plantation Club in Harlem, where the response to her voice led to performances on Broadway. She appeared in the all-black revue “Africana”, and started dividing her time between the stage, nightclubs, and eventually movies. In 1930 Waters was on the Broadway stage again in the revival of the popular 1924 musical “Blackbirds”, followed by a starring role in the 1925 “Rhapsody in Black”.

In 1933 Waters appeared with Marilyn Miller, one of the most popular American musical comedy actress of the 1920s, in Irving Berlin’s musical “As Thousands Cheer”. This was Waters’s first departure from shows with all-black casts. Her rendition of “Heat Wave” in that show linked the song permanently to her. Considered one of the great blues singers, Ethel Waters also performed and recorded with such jazz greats as Benny Goodman and Duke Ellington. Several composers wrote songs especially for her, and she was particularly identified with the songs “Dinah” and “Stormy Weather.”

Waters’s first straight dramatic role was in the 1939 production of DuBose and Dorothy Heyward’s “Mamba’s Daughters” which the Heywards wrote specifically for her. The show ran initially for 162 performances and again in 1940 for 17 more performances at the Broadway Theater. Later in 1940, Waters spent a season on Broadway in the hit musical “Cabin in the Sky”; she also appeared in the 1943 film version with lyrics by John Latouche.

Probably Waters’s greatest dramatic success was in the 1950 stage version of Carson McCullers’s “The Member of the Wedding”, a performance for which she won the New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award. She also starred in the 1952 movie version with Julie Harris and Brandon De Wilde. Among Waters’s other films are the 1942 musical comedy “Cairo”; “Pinky”, a 1949 race-drama film; and the 1959 drama film“The Sound and the Fury”.


A Year: Day to Day Men: 30th of October

Working on the Railroad

October 30, 1861 was the birthdate of French sculptor and painter Antoine Bourdelle.

Emile-Antoine Bourdelle was born in Montauban, France, the birthplace of Ingres, on October 30, 1861. His early interest in sculpture was inspired by his carpenter-cabinetmaker father. In fact, many of Bourdelle’s earliest sculptural projects were in wood. A bust of the painter Ingres, completed when Bourdelle was just 15, won him a scholarship to study at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in the nearby city of Toulouse. While in Toulouse he studied under the sculptor Maurette and executed numerous portrait busts before leaving for Paris in 1884.

The first years in Paris brought Bourdelle some success. He won an honorable mention at the exhibition of the Salon des Artistes Francais of 1885 and a medal at the Exposition Universelle of 1889. Bourdelle enrolled in the studio of the established master Alexandre Falguière for a brief period before working first with Jules Dalou and, later, as a pupil and assistant to Auguste Rodin between the years 1893 and 1908.

Bourdelle’s study of the great ages of monumental sculpture led to his lifelong concern for the public function of sculpture and its relationship to an outdoor setting. In 1893 he began his studies for the “Monument to the Defenders of Montauban”, which commemorated the noble resistance of the people of Montauban in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-1871. Considered his first masterpiece, the monument took eight years to finish.

Elevated on a high pedestal in a public square, the figures possess a  severity and tautness combined with a powerful expressiveness that conveys the heroic struggle of a united people. Bourdelle’s first masterpiece was part of a general trend in the late 19th century that favored public monuments memorializing those who lost their lives for France and the newly established Third Republic.

The traditional bonds that linked sculpture with architecture also interested Bourdelle. In 1913 Bourdelle received another major commission to decorate the Champs Elysées theater with sculptural frieze panels depicting various aspects of the dramatic arts—Tragedy, Comedy, Dance, Music, and the Muses.

All the figures were couched in the style of Archaic Greek sculpture, but the static element of Greek sculpture was enlivened by Bourdelle’s fascination with the representation of movement and energy through the expressive use of line and straining bodies. In his panels entitled “The Muses”, Bourdelle’s striding figures seem to foreshadow some of the figures seen in the paintings from Picasso’s classical phase of the 1920s.


A Year: Day to Day Men: 29th of October

The News of the Day

October 29, 1938 was the birthdate of director and animator Ralph Bakshi.

Ralph Bakshi, at the age of eighteen, was hired by the cartoon studio Terrytoons as a cel polisher, a position that involved removing dust and dirt from animation cels. After a few months, he was promoted to cel painter and began to practice animating. Aware of his desire  to become an animator, he started to receive help and advice from established animators: Connie Rasinski, Manny Davis, Larry Silverman and others.

At the age of twenty-five, Ralph Bakshi was promoted to director. His first assignment was the series “Sad Cat”, a Terrytoon animation series of a scraggly cat and his friends. Unsatisfied with the traditional role of a Terrytoons director, Bakshi pitched to CBS a superhero parody called “The Mighty Heros”. The executives liked the idea and, after seeing the character designs, agreed to the show with Bakshi as its creative director. It appeared as a segment on the “Mighty Mouse Playhouse” and ran from 1966 through 1967.

Ralph Bakshi started in 1968 his own studio, Bakshi Productions, located in garment district of Manhattan.  His studio paid higher salaries than other studios and expanded opportunities for female and minority animators. The studio began work on “Rocket Robin Hood” and took over the “Spider-Man” television series. In 1969, its division’ Ralph’s Spot, produced commercials and a series of educational shorts for Encyclopedia Britannica.

Uninterested in the animation the studio was making, Bakshi wanted to produce something personal. He soon developed “Heavy Traffic”, a tale of inner-city life. Impressed with the satire of Robert Crumb’s “Fritz the Cat”, Bakshi wanted to adapt Crumb’s artwork to animation. After several failed attempts to get Crumb to sign the contract, he acquired the film rights through Dana, Crumb’s wife who had power of attorney. After Warner Brothers backed out of the deal to finance the film, Jerry Gross, the owner of Cinemation Industries, agreed to fund its production and distribution through his grindhouse network.

Despite receiving finances from other sources, the budget was very tight. So pencil tests of the animations were excluded. Artist Ira Turek inked the outlines of scene photographs onto cels with a Rapidograph, giving the backgrounds a stylized realism virtually unprecedented in animation.  When the production was finished at the now Los Angeles studio, the Motion Picture Association of America gave it an X rating, making it the first animation film to receive such a rating.

The MPAA refused to hear an appeal about changing the rating. Thirty American newspapers rejected display advertisements and refused to give it editorial publicity. The film “Fritz the Cat” opened on April 12, 1972, in Hollywood and Washington DC. It went on to become a worldwide hit, becoming the most successful independent animated film of all time.


A Year: Day to Day Men: 28th of October, Solar Year 2018

The Wayfarer

October 28, 1726 was the publishing date of Jonathan Swift’s “Gulliver’s Travels”.

“Gulliver’s Travels” is a prose satire written by Irish writer and clergyman Jonathan Swift, who later became Dean of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin. The book, a satire on the human nature, is Swift’s best known full-length work, written in the style of a traveler’s tale.

In 1713, Jonathan Swift joined with writers, Gay, Pope, Arbuthnot and others, to form the Scriblerus Club, an organization of writers interested in using satire in the popular genres of literature. Swift was assigned to satirize the ‘travelers’ tales’ literary genre and to write the memoirs of the club. From Swift’s correspondence, it is known that he started writing Part One and Part Two of “Gulliver’s Travels” in 1720; Part Four was written in 1723 and Part Three was written in 1724. After making amendments to the existing writing, the book was completed by August, 1725.

“Gulliver’s Travels” was an obvious satire of the Whig party, the political faction that was in control of the government at that time. It is likely that Jonathan Swift had his manuscript recopied so that his handwriting could not be used as evidence against him if the authorities wished to prosecute. This had happened to him earlier when some of his Irish pamphlets criticizing the government were seized.

In March of 1726 Jonathan Swift traveled to London and delivered his manuscript secretly to publisher Benjamin Motte, who used five printing houses to speed the printing. Motte, recognizing a best seller but fearing prosecution, cut passages and altered the worst offending ones, such as court contests and the citizen rebellion in part three. The first edition was published anonymously and released in two volumes on October 28, 1726 at the price of eight shillings.

The Irish publisher George Faulkner printed a set of Jonathan Swift’s works, which included “Gulliver’s Travels”, in 1735. The new printing of the story was done by using the manuscript given to Benjamin Motte, but without Motte’s annotations and amendments. This printing is regarded as the ‘editio princeps’ of “Gulliver’s Travels”, the first printed edition that previously existed only in manuscript form which could be circulated only after being copied by hand. The only exception to this publication of the work was an added piece by Swift, complaining of the changes done by Motte.

The book was very popular upon release and was commonly discussed within social circles. Public reception widely varied, with the book receiving an initially enthusiastic reaction with readers praising its satire, and some reporting that the satire’s cleverness sounded like a realistic account of a man’s travels. As popularity increased, critics came to appreciate the deeper aspects of “Gulliver’s Travels”. It became known for its insightful take on morality, expanding its reputation beyond just humorous satire. It was, however, sharply criticized by the Whig party.


A Year: Day to Day Men: 27th of October

Shirt of Stars

October 27, 1955 was the release date of the film “Rebel Without a Cause”.

“Rebel Without a Cause” is a 1955 American drama film, filmed during the Eisenhower years in the United States, and directed by Nicholas Ray, who became an important influence on the French New Wave in film. The film was an attempt to explore the differences and conflicts between the generations, and the emotional lives of middle-class teenagers.

Although the rights to author Robert Lindner’s book “Rebel Without a Cause’ were acquired, an entirely new script by Irving Shulman and Stewart Stern was used for the film. The film starred James Dean in his last role as the lead character Jim Stark; Natalie Wood as Judy; Sal Mineo as John “Plato” Crawford; and Jim Backus and Ann Doran as Jim Stark’s parents.

“Rebel Without a Cause” was one of James Dean’s three major films which included the 1955 “East of Eden”, for which he was nominated for Best Actor; and the 1956 released “Giant”, for which he was nominated posthumously for Best Actor. “Rebel Without a Cause” was the last film James Dean starred in before his early death in a car crash. Just before his death, his agent Jane Deacy had negotiated a six-year, nine film deal with the Warner Brothers Studio.

The film was in production from March 28 to May 25 in 1955. Originally considered just a B-movie, the initially filming was in black and white film stock. When the studio recognized the star significance of Jame Dean, filming was switched to color, with many scenes being reshot. It was shot in the widescreen CinemaScope format, a recent introduction to film making.

“Rebel Without a Cause”, known as an epochal story of a new non-conforming generation in the 1950s, was also a gay-positive cinema landmark. It was filmed in an era when homosexuality was still a crime in many parts of America; the Motion Picture Production Code censors of the era had a long list of forbidden topics, irrespective of the manner in which they were treated. In the spring of 1955, a Production Code memo was sent to producer Jack Warner with a reminder that it was vital that there be no inference of a questionable relationship between the characters of Plato and Jim.

“Rebel Without a Cause” is considered as the first in mainstream films to depict gay desire. James Dean’s character Jim becomes both friend and fascination to Sal Mineo’s Plato, a lonely younger kid who is obviously gay. Most of the references, due to the era, are non-verbal: the pin-up photo of Alan Ladd in Plato’s school locker, the looks of adoration Plato gives Jim, and late in the film a coded declaration of love from Plato to Jim. The film marks a turning point in film’s and society’s attitude from one of hostility to tolerance and support of gay life.

“Rebel Without a Cause” was nominated for three Academy Awards: Sal Mineo for Best Supporting Actor; Natalie Wood for Best Supporting Actress; and Nicholas Ray for Best Writing of a Motion Picture Story. It was entered into the National film Registry in 1990. As a side note, the film upon its release was banned in New Zealand out of fears it would incite teenage delinquency (released one year later with scenes cut out).


A Year: Day to Day Men: 26th of October

Slow Moving Water

October 26, 1825 marks the opening of the Erie Canal.

From the days of the birchbark canoe, the early trade routes of the Northeast utilized New York’s waterways. The Lake Champlain-Hudson River Route and the Lake Ontario-Oswego River-Mohawk River Route were utilized by native Americans, fur traders, missionaries and colonizers. The birchbark canoes used earlier were supplemented by longer heavier boats rowed or pulled by several men, which by 1791 was able to haul a two ton load.

In March of 1792, the Western Inland Lock and Navigation Company came into being and improved navigation on the Mohawk River. Also in that year, this company built small canals 3 feet deep with locks of 12 feet by 74 feet around the falls and rapids of the river. By 1796, Durham boats with capacities of 15-20 tons were able to navigate the route. Although business was brisk, maintenance on the wooden locks and channels depleted revenue and the operation folded a few years later.

In 1817 the Erie Canal was established under the management of a New York State Commission. Federal funds were not legislated; so this canal and all subsequent canals in New York State were built and maintained exclusively with state funds. The canal was dug from Albany to Buffalo, 4 feet deep and 40 feet wide, with stone locks 15 feet by 90 feet. The locks were the limiting factor on boat size and their efficiency of operation dictated the allowable traffic flow.

Additional canals were dug from the Hudson River to Lake Champlain, from Montezuma to Cayuga and Seneca Lakes and from Syracuse to Oswego. This canal system proved to be so successful that almost every community in the state lobbied for a link to the system, resulting in a network of canals. These lateral canals proved to be of marginal value at best:

In 1836, an enlargement program commenced on the main Erie Canal system. The canal was straightened a bit, the channel was increased in size to 7 feet by 70 feet, and the locks were enlarged to 18 feet by 110 feet. This permitted boats of much greater size on the Erie, Champlain, Cayuga-Seneca and Oswego canals, and further diminished the importance of the smaller lateral canals. Most of the lateral canals were closed by 1878 with only the Black River Canal lasting until the eventual close of the entire system in 1917.

The growth of steam power on the canal and steel boat construction eliminated the need for a waterway as protected as the old Erie Canal. A twentieth century canal of grand dimension with cast concrete structures and electronic controls was begun. This Barge Canal system, utilizing canalized rivers and lakes and enlarged sections of the original Erie Canal, opened in 1918. Several of the old routes are still utilized today.


A Year: Day to Day Men: 25th of October

Flair for the Orient

October 25, 1909 was the birthdate of American character actor Whitner Nutting Bissell.

Born in New York City, Whitner Bissell trained with the Carolina Playmakers, a theatrical organization associated with the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he majored in drama and English. Bissell also was in the Moss Hart play “Winged Victory”, produced by the US Army Air force during World War II as a morale booster and a fund raiser for the Army Emergency Relief Fund.

Whitner Bissell’s first role in film was in the 1943 “Holy Matrimony”, playing the valet Henry Leek in the comedy film. He regularly was cast in science fiction and horror films, appearing in the 1954 “Creature from the Black Lagoon” playing doctor Edwin Thompson who is severely injured by the creature. Bissell has an uncredited role in the 1956 “The Invasion of the Body Snatchers” as Doctor Hill, the psychiatrist in the film’s opening scene.

Between the early 1950s and the mid-1970s, Bissell guest-starred in many television series followed by more occasional roles in later years. He appeared in episodes of “Whirlybirds”, “Peyton Place and “The Brothers Brannagan”. He was also cast in the NBC education drame series “Mr. Novack” for the 1965 episode “May Day, May Day”. Bissell made four appearances on the “Perry Mason” series and played different roles in multiple episodes fo the long-running western series “The Rifleman” starring Chuck Connors.

Whitner Bissell often played silver-haired authority figures in many of the television series. His most prominent television role was that of General Heywood Kirk in thirty episodes of the 1966-67 season of the sci-fi series “The Time Tunnel”, establishing his screen persona of a man of military bearing, but in an annoyingly dominating way, especially with regard to petty or trivial matters. This characterized persona  showed up in other series: “The Outer Limits”, “Hogan’s Heros”, and “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.”.

In 1960, Whitner Bissell appeared in George Pal’s production of “The Time Machine” as Walter Kemp,, one of the time-traveler’s dining friends. He also appeared in a 1978 television movie of Wells’ novel set in the modern era. Thirty-three years later, in the 1993 documentary film “Time Machine: The Journey Back” featuring the original stars of the movie, Rod Taylor, Alan Young, and Bissell, he recreated his role as Walter Kemp. This was Bissell’s last acting performance.

Whitner Bissell served for many years on the board of directors of the Screen Actors Guild, and represented the actors’ branch of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences board of governors. In 1994, two years before his death, he received a life career award from the Academy of Science fiction, Fantasy, and Horror Films.


A Year: Day to Day Men: 24th of October

Zebra Stripes

October 24, 1882 was the birthdate of English actress Dame Agnes Sybil Thorndike.

Sybil Thorndike was born in Gainsborough, Lincolnshire, and was educated at the Rochester Grammar School for Girls. She trained as a classical pianist, visiting London to attend lessons at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, an independent arts school. Thorndike gave her first public performance as a pianist at the age of eleven. However, in 1899, she was forced to give up playing due to cramps affecting the muscles in her hand and forearm.

Sybil Thorndike’s brother, the author Russel Thorndike, encouraged her to train as an actress under voice teacher Elsie Fogerty at her school, the Central School of Speech and Drama in London. Thorndike was offered her first professional contract at the age of 21: an United States tour in actor Ben Greet’s company. She first appeared on stage in the 1904 production of “The Merry Wives of Windsor” by Shakespeare. Thorndike continued touring the US for four years doing Shakespearean repertory and playing 112 different roles.

In 1908, Thorndike was understudy for the role of Candida in a tour directed by George Bernard Shaw, who recognized her talent. It was on this tour that she met her future husband, Lewis Casson, a British actor and theater director. Later in 1908, she joined theater manager Annie Horniman’s company, playing various roles over a three year span. She joined the non-profit Old Vic Company in London, playing leading roles in Shakespeare and other classical plays.

From 1920 to 1922 Thordike and her husband starred in a British version of the French ghoulish and grisly “Grand Guignol” that was directed by Jose Levy. She appeared in the title role of “Saint Joan” in 1924, a play written specifically for her by George Bernard Shaw. It was a major success and was revived repeatedly until her final performance in that role in 1941.

During the second World War, Sybil Thorndike and her husband toured in Shakespearean productions on behalf of the Council for the Encouragement of the Arts, before joining Laurence Olivier for the 1944 season at the Old Vic Theater. After the war, it was discovered that she was listed in the Nazi “Black Book” as one of the Britons who were to be arrested and held after a future Nazi invasion of Britain.

Sybil Thorndike was made Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1931. She was made a Companion of Honor, an award for outstanding achievements, in 1971. She and her husband, Lewis, who was knighted in 1945, were one of a few couples who both held titles in their own right. She is one of the principal characters portrayed in Nicholas de Jongh’s play “Plague Over England”, about John Gielgud’s arrest for homosexual acts in 1953. Sybil Thorndike passed in June of 1976 and her ashes are buried in Westminster Abbey.


A Year: Day to Day Men: 23rd of October

Afternoon Slumber

October 23, 1941 marks the release in New York City of Walt Disney’s “Dumbo”.

“Dumbo” was the fourth animated film produced by Walt Disney Productions. It is based on the storyline written by Helen Aberson and Harold Pearl. Jumbo Junior is the main character, an anthropomorphic young elephant cruelly nicknamed “Dumbo”. He has unusually large ears with which he is capable of flying. His only true friend is Timothy, a mouse, which belied the stereotypical animosity between the two animal species.

The voice actors in “Dumbo” were not given any credit for their roles. This was done for all four of the first animated films Disney made; Walt Disney wished to maintain the illusion with the audience that the characters were real. The title character Dumbo did not have an actor since he did not have any spoken dialogue. Timothy Mouse was voiced by character actor Edward Brody, who frequently played dumb cops and gangsters in films, one of which was role as Brogan in the 1944 “The Thin Man Goes Home”.

“Dumbo” was originally intended to be a short film; but Disney realized, that to do justice to Helen Aberson and Harold Pearl’s book, it needed to be feature-length. Disney Studios was in financial difficulty at the time, as both “Pinocchio” and “Fantasia” did poorly at the box office due to the war in Europe. When the film went into production in early 1941, director Ben Sharpsteen was told to keep the film simple and inexpensive. Thus, “Dumbo” lacks the lavish detail of the previous three animated films; background paintings are less detailed; and the character designs are simpler.

During its production period, the leader of the Screen Cartoonist’s Guild, Herbert Sorrell, demanded that Disney sign with his union, rather than the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, with which Disney had already signed. After Disney refused twice, much of the Disney studio staff went on strike. The strike lasted five weeks, and ended the family atmosphere and camaraderie at the Disney Studios.

The movie was completed in fall of 1941 and RKO Radio Pictures released “Dumbo”. After its October 23 release in New York City, “Dumbo” proved to be a financial success despite the advent of World War II. Despite its low cost, substantially lower than the three previously released Disney animated films, “Snow White”, “Pinocchio”, and “Fantasia”, it eventually grossed the equivalent of twenty-seven million dollars today. “Dumbo” and “Snow White” were the only pre-1943 Disney features to earn a profit.

“Dumbo” won the 1941 Academy Award for Best Original Score, awarded to its musical directors Frank Churchill and Oliver Wallace. The film also won Best Animation Design at the 1947 Cannes Film Festival. On July 8, 2014, it was announce that a live-action re-imagining of “Dumbo” was in development, directed by Tim Burton. Casting is now complete and the film is scheduled to be released in March of 2019.


A Year: Day to Day Men: 22nd of October

The Bibliophile

October 22, 1797 marks the first parachute descent from a balloon in Paris.

Early inventors have been designing and testing parachutes since the seventeenth century. Croatian bridge designer Faust Vrancic constructed a device based on Da Vinci’s drawings. To demonstrate it, he jumped rom a Venice tower in 1617 wearing the rigid-framed parachute. He called it the Homo Volans, describing it in his published technical book “Machinae Novae”.

The French inventor Jean Pierre Blanchard was probably the first person to use a  parachute for an emergency. Blanchard claimed in 1793 to have escaped from an exploding hot air balloon by parachute. There were no eye witnesses to the event unfortunately. He did, however, develop the first foldable parachute made from silk.

Andre-Jacques Garnerin was a student of the ballooning pioneer professor Jacques Charles, a French scientist and mathematician. Garnerin was involved with the flight of hot air balloons, working with his older brother in most of his ballooning activities. He began to experiment with early parachutes based on umbrella-shaped devices.

Garnerin became the first person recorded to jump with a parachute without a rigid frame. His frameless parachute descent occurred on October 22 in 1797 at Parc Monceau, a public park in Paris. His parachute was made of silk in an umbrella-shape with a diameter of about ten meters. The umbrella was closed before he ascended, with a pole running down its center and a rope running through a tube in the pole, which was connected to the balloon.

Garnerin rode in a basket attached to the bottom of the parachute to a height of about 1000 meters. At this height, he severed the rope to the balloon. The balloon continued upwards, while Garnerin, in his basket with parachute, fell. The basket swayed violently on its descent, and landed roughly; but Garnerin emerged uninjured. Garnerin made multiple ascents and tests with his parachute at the Parc Monceau.

Andre-Jacques Garnerin was an avid balloonist, making many ascents in a balloon before large numbers of spectators. In 1798 he was the first to ascend with a woman as a passenger. There was much concern from officials regarding the possible ill effects of ascent on a woman and the moral implications of the such close proximity of the sexes. Nevertheless, the balloon trip was successful; and both Garnerin and passenger Citoyenne Henri arrived safely at their destination in Goussaninville about thirty miles north of Paris.


A Year: Day to Day Men: 21st of October

The Art and the Man

October 21, 1925 was the birthdate of Cuban singer Ursula Hilaria Celia Caridad Cruz Alfonso.

Celia Cruz was born in the diverse, working-class neighborhood of Santos Suárez in Havana, Cuba. While growing up in Cuba’s 1930s musical climate, Cruz listened to many musicians who influenced her adult career; Fernando Collazo, Pablo Quevedo and Arsenio Rodriguez among others. As a child, despite her father’s objections, she learned Santeria songs from a neighbor who practiced Santeria; she also studied Yoruba songs and made various recordings of this religious genre.

From 1947, Celia Cruz studied music theory, voice, and piano at Havana’s National Conservatory of Music. She began singing on Havana’s radio station Radio Garcia-Serra, winning first place on the station’s “Hora del Te” show for her tango song “Nostalgias”. Cruz’s big break came in 1950 when the Cuban band Sonora Matancera decided to give her a chance. She won the support of the band’s leader. Rogelio Martinez and recorded hit songs including “Yembe Laroco’ and “Caramelo”.

Celia Cruz toured with the band for fifteen years. During that time, she also appeared in cameo roles in Mexican films: the 1950 “Rincon Criollo”, “Una Gallega en la Habana”, and “Amorcito” released in 1961. After Fidel Castro assumed control of Cuba in 1959, the band left Cuba to perform in Mexico. Refused permission to return to Cuba by Castro, Celia Cruz and her husband, Cuban musician Pedro Knight, became United States citizens. In 1965, Cruz left the Sonora Matancera band, and with fellow musician Tito Puente, joined the Vaya Records label. Soon after that, she was headlining a concert in New York’s Carnegie Hall.

In 1969, Celia Cruz won a Grammy Award for Best Tropical Latin Performance. Celia Cruz’s 1974 album “Celia y Johnny”, a collaboration with musician Johnny Pacheco, was very successful, particularly the song “Quimbara” which became one of her signature songs. Touring with the ensemble group “Fania All-Stars”, she sang in England, France, the DR Congo and in Latin America.

With a voice described as operatic, Celia Cruz moved through high and low pitches with an ease that belied her age, and her style improvising rhymed lyrics added a distinctive flavor to salsa. Her flamboyant costume, which included: various colored wigs, tight sequined dresses, and very high heels, became so famous that one of them was acquired by the Smithsonian institution.

Through a formidable work ethic, Cruz rose to the very top in her genre; a genre that was traditionally male dominated. Celia Cruz died at her home on July 16, 2003 at the age of 77. After her death, her body was taken to Miami’s Freedom Tower, where more than two hundred-thousand fans paid their respects. Her last album, “Regalo del Alma”, won a posthumous award at the 2004 Premios Lo Nuestro for best salsa release of the year.


A Year: Day to Day Men: 20th of October

Working in the Heat

October 20, 1854 was the birthdate of poet Jean Nicolas Arthur Rimbaud.

Arthur Rimbaud was born in the provincial town of Charleville, France, to a father who was a military officer and a mother lacking in a sense of humor, who Rimbaud nicknamed “Mouth of Darkness”. Rimbaud was a writer from a young age; at the age of nine, he wrote a seven hundred word essay objecting to his having to learn Latin in school. In 1865, he and his brother were sent to the Collège de Charleville where he became a highly successful student able to absorb great quantities of knowledge. In 1869 Rimbaud won eight first prizes in the French academic competitions, and in 1870 won seven first prizes.

Arthur Rimbaud’s first poem to appear in print was “Les Étrennes des Orphelins” (“The Orphans’ New Year’s Gifts”), published in the January 2, 1870 issue of “La Revue Pour Tous”. At the age of fifteen Rimbaud was salready howing  maturity as a poet. His poem “Ophelie” would be included in many anthologies and is regarded as one of Rimbaud’s three or four best poems. From late October in 1870, Arthur Rimbaud’s behavior at the age of sixteen became rebellious, drinking, stealing, and writing scatological poems. His friend Charles Auguste Bretagne advised him to write to the eminent Symbolist poet Paul Verlaine.

Arthur Rimbaud sent Verlaine two letters with poems, including his hypnotic and shocking “Le Dormeur du Val”. Verlaine was intrigued and sent Rimbaud a one-way ticket to Paris. Rimbaud arrived in late September of 1871 and resided briefly with Verlaine and his pregnant wife at their home. Verlaine and Rimbaud led a wild, vagabond-style life, a short and torrid affair filled with absinthe, opium and hashish. The Paris literary circle were scandalized by Rimbaud, who still writing poetry, was considered an archetypical enfant terrible. Their stormy relationship brought them to London in September of 1872, where Verlaine abandoned Rimbaud to return to his wire.

Arthur Rimbaud eventually returned to Charleville and completed his prose work “Une Saison en Enfer”, A Season in Hell, widely regarded as a pioneer work of modern Symbolist writing. He returned to London in 1874 with the French Symbolist poet Germain Nouveau, whose work was mostly published after his death. They lived together for three months while Nouveau finished his work “Illuminations”. By March of 1875, Rimbaud had given up his writing in favor of a working and traveling life.

In February of 1891, in Aden, Rimbaud developed what he thought was arthritis in his right knee. Failing to respond to treatment, he returned to France. On arrival in Marseille,, he was admitted to the Hôspital de la Conception where, a week later on the 27th of May, his right leg was amputated. The post-operative diagnosis was bone cancer. After a short stay at the family farm in Roche, he attempted to return to Africa, but his health deteriorated. He was re-admitted to the same hospital and received last rites from a priest before dying on November 10, 1891 at the age of thirty-seven.


A Year: Day to Day Men: 19th of October

Vertical Elements

October 19, 1903 was the birthdate of wrestler and actor Tore Johansson, known by his stage name Tor Johnson.

Karl Erik Tore Johansson was born in Brännkyrka, Stockholms län, Sweden. He was a professional wrester in Sweden, billed as the “Swedish Angel”. Johnson was a one-time Midwest Wrestling Association champion. In his persona as the “Swedish Angel”, he fought in a live event in Kansas City, Kansas, on December 3, 1943, winning and holding the title for six days. At that time in history, these major professional events were not televised.

Tor Johnson at his heaviest weighed 440 pounds, or 200 kilograms. He had a full head of brown hair; but he shaved it to appear more imposing and villainous in his wrestling bouts. After moving to California, Johnson started appearing in small parts in films starting in 1934. These roles were usually as a strongman or a weightlifter. Practically all of his roles in his early work as an actor were uncredited; however he made many appearances in some well known films.

Tor Johnson had a small role as the wrestler “Jack the Ripper” in the William Powell and Myrna Loy film “Shadow of the Thin Man” in 1941. He had an uncredited small role as “The Mauler” in the Errol Flynn 1942 boxing movie “Gentleman Jim”. Johnson had another uncredited small role in the Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, and Dorothy Lamour comedy “Road to Rio”, in the role of Sandor. In 1949, he appeared in his persona of the “Swedish Angel” in two films: “Alias the Champ” and the classic film “Mighty Joe Young”. The year 1950 saw Johnson appearing as Abou Ben in the comedy “Abbott and Costello in the Foreign Legion”.

During his career as an actor, Tor Johnson became friends with director Ed Wood, who placed him in a number of his films.  He appeared in Wood’s biggest budget film, the science fiction horror “Bide of the Monster” which finished filming in 1959, but was not released because of financial problems until 1964. His perhaps best known appearance was in Ed Wood’s 1959 now-famous cult classic “Plan 9 From Outer Space”, playing Inspector Daniel Clay in what was dubbed as “the worst movie ever made” by authors Harry and Michael Medved.

In reality, Tor Johnson was a big guy with a big heart, a very learned and eloquent man to those who knew him personally. He had a reputation of being a warm and friendly guy who would even have drinks with his opponents after his wrestling matches. He and his wife Greta would graciously welcome many guests to their home for Swedish-style dinners, along with homemade ice cream. Friends, after his death, would reminisce how Tor Johnson would manage to get his large size into his small foreign car. Tor Johnson died on May 12, 1971, in San Fernando, California, of a heart ailment at the age of sixty-seven.


A Year: Day to Day Men: 18th of October

Music and Literature

October 18, 1906 was the birthdate of American muralist and abstract painter James Brooks.

James Brooks was born in Saint Louis, Missouri, attended the Southern Methodist University and studied at the Dallas Art Institute with Martha Simkins. He moved to New York City in 1927, attending night classes at the Art Students League from 1927 to 1930. Brooks joined the Federal Art Project, a New Deal program to fund the visual arts, in 1936. With the funds from the Art Project, he painted his mural “Flight” around the rotunda of the Marine Air Terminal at La Guardia Airport. This 235 foot long mural was painted over by the Port Authority of New York during the 1950s; it was restored in 1980.

James Brooks, a first generation abstract expressionist painter, was among the first of that genre to use staining as an important technique in his works. In his paintings from the late 1940s, Brooks began to dilute his oil paints in order to stain the mostly raw canvases; this period of his works often combined abstract shapes with calligraphy. Brooks was interested in creating ‘accidents’ with his paints to convey personal meanings.

During the period he participated in the WPA Federal Art Project, James Brooks executed several murals beside his “Flight” at the Marine Terminal. These included a mural at the Queens  Public Library, now unfortunately demolished, and at the Post Office in Little Falls, New Jersey. Brooks was also a teacher, teaching at Columbia University, Pratt Institute, Cooper Union, and was an Artist-in-Residence at the American Academy, in Rome, Italy.

Inspired by his friendships with Jackson Pollock and Lee Krasner, Brook’s work evolved through an interest in the unconscious as well as experiments with collage. He adopted some of the Surrealist principles in his early works which eventually led him to Abstract Expressionism. Over the decades, Brooks’ work evolved to become more mysterious, utilizing the accidental bleeds of the enamel paint seeping through the canvas weave of his paintings as a basis for his more solid calligraphic marks.

James Brooks’ work can be seen in the collections of the Art Institute of Chicago, The Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Tate Gallery in London and the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC.


A Year: Day to Day Men: 17th of October

Beautiful Morning

October 17, 1956, marks the release date of the film “Around the World in Eighty Days”.

“Around the World in Eighty Days” is a 1956 American epic adventure-comedy starring Cantinflas, the Mexican film actor and producer, and the English actor David Niven. It was produced by Michael Todd, who had never before produced a film, and released by United Artists. The screen play was based on Jules Verne’s novel of the same name and directed by Michael Anderson, who had directed the WWII film “The Dam Busters” the previous year.

The film was significant as the first of the so-called Hollywood “make-work” films, employing dozens of film personalities. Besides Niven and Cantinflas as the main characters, Shirley MacLaine had the role of Princess Acuda, and Robert Newton played Detective Fix, his last role in film before his death. More than forty famous performers made cameo appearances, including Marlene Dietrich, Ronald Colman, George Raft, and Frank Sinatra.

The filming of “Around the World in Eighty Days” took place in late 1955, from August 9 to December 20. The crew worked fast, shooting 680,000 feet of film in seventy-five days; the final film was edited down to just under 26,000 feet. The film cost just under six million dollars to make, using 112 locations in thirteen countries and 140 stage sets. The crew traveled to every country portrayed in the final film, including France, India, Spain, Thailand, and Japan. There were 68,894 people, including extras, in the final cast of the film; the photographers also used almost 8,000 animals in the shooting.

The famous bullfight scene in Spain with Cantinflas as the matador included ten thousand extras, using all 6,500 residents of the nearby town of Chinchon and another 3,500 from other nearby towns to fill the stadium seats. The scene of the collapsing train bridge was filmed partially with models; the overhead shot was full scale, but the bridge collapse was done using a large-scale model on a stage set. All the steamships in the first half of the movie are models, shot in an outdoor studio tank.

“Around the World in Eighty Days” premiered on October 17 at the Rivoli Theater in New York City. The film was nominated for eight Oscars, of which it was awarded five, beating out its competitors: “Giant”, “The Ten Commandments” and “The King and I”. It won Best Picture, Best Color Cinematography, Best Film Editing, Best Music, and Best Writing for an Adapted Screenplay. Although not nominated for Best Song, the film’s theme “Around the World: became popular and a hit for Bing Crosby in 1957.


A Year: Day to Day Men: 16th of October

Three Yellow Boards

October 16, 1758, was the birthdate of lexicographer Noah Webster.

Noah Webster enrolled in Yale just before his 16th birthday and graduated in 1778 with a liberal degree. After a break in his studies, Webster returned to college, studied law, and passed his bar examination in 1781. Turning to literary work to channel his ambitions, Webster wrote a series of well-received articles justifying the American Revolution and arguing for permanent separation from Britain. He then founded a private school in Goshen, New York, and, by 1785 had written his speller, a grammar book and a reader for elementary schools.

In December of 1793 Noah Webster founded New York’s first daily newspaper “American Minerva”, later known as the ‘Commercial Advertiser”, which he edited for four years and wrote the equivalent of twenty volumes of articles and editorials. As a Federalist spokesman, he defended the administrations of Washington and Adams, especially their neutral policy to Britain and France, and criticized the terror of the French Revolution.

Moving in 1798 to New Haven, Connecticut, Noah Webster was elected as a Federalist to the Connecticut House of Representatives in 1800 and again in 1802-1807. The Copyright Act of 1831 was the first major statutory revision of copyright law in the United States, a result of lobbying by Webster and his agents in Congress. He also had an important role in lobbying individual states to pass American copyright laws.

Noah Webster thought that Americans should learn from American books; so he began writing the three volume compendium “A Grammatical Institute of the English Language”: a speller published in 1783; a grammar book published in 1784; and a reader published in 1785. He believed that the people-at-large must control the language, and popular sovereignty in government must by accompanied by popular usage in language. These books were arranged so that the subjects could be easily taught to students, and each section progressed by the age of the students.

In 1806, Noah Webster published his first dictionary. In 1807 he began compiling an expanded and fully comprehensive dictionary, “An American Dictionary of the English Language”, a feat that took twenty-six years to complete. To evaluate the etymology of words, Webster learned twenty-eight languages, hoping to standardize the American speech throughout the country.

Noah Webster’s dictionary contained seventy thousand words, of which twelve thousand had never before appeared in a dictionary. Though it now has an honored place in the history of the American Language, it only sold 2,500 copies. By mortgaging his house, Webster found the funds to publish a second edition in two volumes, however as a result, his remaining life was plagued with debt. On May 28, 1843, a few days after revising an appendix to his work, Noah Webster died.



A Year: Day to Day Men: 15th of October

Four Small Portraits

October 15, 1674 was the opening day of the witch trials held in Torsåker, a parish in Sweden.

The great wave of witch hysteria reached the parish of Torsåker, after the sensational trial of the alleged witch Märet Jonsdotter in central Sweden in 1668. Sweden’s Lutheran priests, at this time, were state-employed, causing them to follow the government’s instructions. These priests were ordered to use their sermons to inform their congregations of alleged crimes committed; rumors of witchcraft spread over the country. The priest of Torsåker parish, Laurnetius Christophori Hornæus, who was a man with a terrifying reputation, was ordered by a special commission of the government to perform an investigation.

The witnesses at the trial were mostly children, as the main accusations against the alleged witches was that they had abducted children on the sabbath of Satan. Hornæus had several methods to get the right testimonies from the children. He whipped them, bathed them in the ice cold water of hole in the lake’s winter ice, and put them in an oven, threatening to light the fire below and burn them. These acts were confirmed later in 1735 by Hornæus’ own wife, whose grandson added that these children, sixty years later, were still fearful of the priest, his grandfather.

On October 15, 1674, the witch trial of Torsåker began. About one hundred people of both sexes were accused by the children, making it the biggest witch trial in the country. The prisoners were kept in several different locations in the village, were given almost no food, but were allowed to receive food from their relatives. There is little existing records of the actual trial itself; however, it is known that seventy-one people were found guilty of witchcraft, sixty-five women and six men.

After the last sermon in the church of Torsåker, those found guilty were led to the place of execution, crying and protesting their innocence. Many fainted out of weakness and had to be carried to the middle of the parish, about half a mile from the parish churches, to a mountain area. There the prisoners were decapitated, shed of their clothes, and their bodies lifted on stakes. The stakes and additional wood were set on fire and the bodies burned.

Neither the commission or any local courts had the rights to conduct any execution. They were expected to report their sentences in any case to a higher court for confirmation before sentences could be carried out; the high court normally would confirm only a minority of the death sentences. In this case at Torsåker, no reporting was done and the prisoners were executed without any confirmation. No actions were taken against the commission which was defended by the town’s authorities.  In 1677, all the priests were ordered to tell their congregations that all witches had been expelled from the country forever in order to avoid further witch trials.


A Year: Day to Day Men: 14th of October

The Maroon Leather Armchair

October 14, 1893 was the birthdate of silent film and stage actress Lillian Gish.

After appearing for thirteen years with her sister Dorothy on the vaudeville stage, Lillian Gish eventually found her way onto the big screen. In 1912, she met famed director D. W. Griffith, who immediately cast her in what was to be her first film, the 1912 “An Unseen Enemy”. This was followed the same year by two more films: “The One She Loved”,  and “My Baby”. Gish would make a total of twelve films for Griffith in 1912.

After performing in twenty five films in the next two years, Lillian Gish’s exposure to the public was so great that she fast became one of the top stars in the industry, alongside “America’s Sweetheart” Mary Pickford.. In 1915, Lillian Gish starred as Elsie Stoneman in Griffith’s most ambitious project to date, the 1915 “The Birth of a Nation”. Although the number of films that she now appeared in were not as frequent as her first years, she was popular and successful enough to be able to pick and choose the right films. In 1916, Gish appeared in another Griffith classic, “Intolerance: Love’s Struggle Throughout the Ages”.

By the early 1920s, Gish’s career was slowing down; new actors and actresses appeared on the scene, replacing former stars. Lillian Gish did not appear at all on the screen again until the year of 1926. She appeared in “La Boheme” as Mimi and “The Scarlet Letter” in the lead role as Hester Prynne. As the 1920s ended, silent films were being replaced with the new sound films. At this time, Lillian Gish returned to stage productions which were acclaimed by the public and critics alike.

In 1933, Gish filmed “His Double Life” with Roland Young, and then didn’t make another film for ten years. When Gish did return in 1943, she played in two big-budget pictures, the 1942 “Commandos Strike at Dawn” and “Top Man” released in 1943. Although these roles did not bring her the attention she had in her early career, Gish still proved she could hold her own with the best of them. She later earned an Oscar nomination as Best Supporting Actress for her role of Laura Belle McCanles in the 1946 “Duel in the Sun”, but lost to Anne Baxter for her performance in “The Razor’s Edge”.

One of the most critically acclaimed roles of Lillian Gish’s career came in the 1955 thriller “The Night of the Hunter”, also notable as the only film directed by actor Charles Laughton. Lillian Gish made in 1987 what was to be her last motion picture, “The Whales of August”, a box-office success that exposed her to a new generation of fans. After a seventy-five year career in film, on February 27, 1993, Lillian Gish died at age 99 peacefully in her sleep in New York City.


A Year: Day to Day Men: 13th of October

Jeans and Treble Cleft

October 13, 1950 was the release date of the American drama film “All About Eve”.

“All About Eve’ was written and directed by Joseph Mankiewicz and produced by Darryl F. Zanuck. Based on the 1946 short story “The Wisdom of Eve” by Mary Orr, the film starred Bette Davis and Anne Baxter. In the film, Davis’ character Margo Channing, a well regarded but aging Broadway star, has her career and personal relationships threatened by a ambitious fan, ;played by Baxter, who maneuvers herself into Margo Channing’s life.

In 1949, Joseph Mankiewicz was considering a story about an aging actress and, after reading Orr’s book, felt that the added element of a conniving girl would be a good addition to his story. He presented a film treatment of the combined stories, changing some characters’ names, removing the husband of the actress in the book story, and replacing him with a love-interest character for the actress to add tension when the ambitious fan arrived. Producer Zanuck reduced the screenplay by about fifty pages and chose the title “All About Eve” from the opening scenes when the theater critic says he will tell us “more about Eve…All about Eve, in fact.”

There was much discussion about who would play the lead character Margo Channing. Barbara Stanwyck, Tallulah Bankhead, and Joan Crawford were all considered. After discussion it was decided to give the role to Claudette Colbert, who withdrew after an injury just before filming. The role eventually went to Bette Davis, who thought the role was very good for her career. The character of Margo Channing was changed with the casting of Davis, from a genteel, humorous actress to a more abrasive one.

Anne Baxter had spent ten years in supporting roles, winning the 1946 Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her role in “The Razor’s Edge”. She was cast in the role of Eve Harrington, the ambitious fan, after the first choice, Jeanne Crain, became pregnant. The remaining supporting actors were all well known in film: George Sanders, Hugh Marlowe, Celeste Holm, Gary Merrill, and Thelma Ritter; however, there was one young and as yet unknown actress in this film, but about to become a star: Marilyn Monroe.

“All About Eve” received overwhelmingly positive reviews from critics upon it release on October 13, 1950 at a New York City premiere. The film received fourteen Academy Award nominations, winning six, including Best Picture. “All About Eve” is the only film in Oscar history to receive four female acting nominations: Davis and Baxter for Best Actress, and Celeste Holm and Thelma Ritter for Best Supporting Actress. When the American Film Institute named Bette Davis as number two on its list of Greatest Female American Screen Legends, it cited “All About Eve” to highlight Davis’ legendary career.


A Year: Day to Day Men: 12th of October

Ole! Ole!

October 12, 1932 marks the birthdate of comedian an civil rights activist Dick Gregory.

Born in Saint Louis, Missouri, Richard Claxton Gregory, while at Summer High School, earned a track scholarship to Southern Illinois University, where he set records as a half-miler and miler. In 1954 his education was interrupted for two years when he was drafted into the United States Army, It was in the army that Gregory got his start in comedy, entering and winning several talent shows.

Dick Gregory, after his military discharge in 1956, moved to Chicago with the hope of becoming a professional comedian. He opened at the Apex Club nightclub in 1958; however, the club failed. The next year Gregory landed a job as Master of Ceremonies at the Roberts Show Club, becoming one of the first black comedians to gain widespread acclaim while performing for white audiences. In 1961 he was spotted by Hugh Hefner, who hired Gregory to work at the Chicago Playboy Club.

Early in his career, Dick Gregory was offered an engagement on the Tonight Show Starring Jack Parr. Parr’s show was well known for helping entertainers achieve their goals in their careers. Dick Gregory declined several invitations to perform on the show, until producers agreed to allow him to stay after his performance to sit and do an interview with Parr on the air. This was the first time in the show’s history that black comedians were to do that, spurring conversations across America.

Dick Gregory became part of a new generation of black comedians In America that included Nipsey Russell, Bill Cosby and Godfrey Cambridge, all of whom broke with the traditional black minstrel characters. Gregory’s no-hold-barred comedy sets, mocking bigotry and racism created controversy in some circles. In one instance, he was barred from performing at the University of Tennessee until students sued and won the case in court. This led to the university adopting and open-speaker system, and Gregory performed there in April of 1970.

Dick Gregory was at the forefront of political activism in the 1960s, protesting racial injustice, social inequalities, and the Vietnam War. He was arrested multiple times and went on many hunger strikes. Gregory later became a speaker and an author, primarily promoting spirituality and healthy living. A week prior to his death, Dick Gregory was hospitalized in Washington DC with a bacterial infection. He died at the hospital of heart failure on August 19,2017 at the age of 84.