John Kingsley Orton

Photographers Unknown, Parts and Pieces Making a Whole: Set Thirteen

Sir — As a playgoer of forty years standing, may I say that I heartily agree with Peter Pinnell in his condemnation of ‘Entertaining Mr Sloane’. I myself was nauseated by this endless parade of mental and physical perversion. And to be told that such a disgusting piece of filth now passes for humor! Today’s young playwrights take it upon themselves to flaunt their contempt for ordinary decent people. I hope that the ordinary decent people of this country will shortly strike back! Yours truly, Edna Welthorpe (Mrs)

—John Kingsley Orton, Letter Sent for Publication under the Alias of Edna Welthorpe

Born in Leicester, England in January of 1933, John Kingsley Orton, known under the pen name of Joe Orton, was a working-class, gay playwright whose outrageous black comedies shocked, outraged, and amused theatre audiences in the 1960s. 

After attending secretarial classes at Clark’s College in Leicester from 1945 to 1947, Joe Orton worked as a junior clerk for three pounds a week. He began performing in theater productions beginning in 1949 and joined several groups, including the Leicester Dramatic Society. Orton was accepted for a scholarship at London’s Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in November of 1950; however, due to appendicitis, his entrance was delayed until May of 1951. It was at the Royal Academy that Orton met the seven-year older Kenneth Leith Halliwell, who also was a struggling actor and writer. After moving into a West Hampstead flat, they quickly formed a strong relationship and became lovers.

After graduation, Orton and Halliwell collaborated on writing several novels, which were unsuccessful at  publishing. Due to a lack of serious work, they began to amuse themselves with pranks and hoaxes. From January 1959 to May of 1962, Orton and Halliwell removed books from several local public libraries and began to modify the blurbs and cover art. One volume of poetry by writer and broadcaster John Betjeman was found with a new dust jacket featuring a photograph of a nearly naked, tattooed middle-aged man. Discovered by the authorities in May of 1962 and later found guilty of five counts of theft and malicious damage to seventy books, the two men served six months in prison. A collection of these altered book covers are now housed in the Islington Local History Center.

In 1959, Joe Orton wrote his only novel, which was  posthumously published as “Head to Toe”, and soon began to have success in his plays’ productions. His first play “Fred and Madge” was written in 1959; and “The Visitors” followed two years later. In 1963 the BBC purchased Orton’s radio play “The Ruffian on the Stair”, which was broadcast on August 31st of 1964 and, later in 1966, adapted as a stage play. 

By the end of August, Orton had also completed his play “Entertaining Mr. Sloane”, which premiered on May 6th of 1964 to reviews which ranged from praise to outrage. Although it lost money on its short run, the play tied for first in the Variety Critics’ Poll for Best New Play, and Orton came second in the category for Most Promising Playwright. By 1965, “Entertaining Mr. Sloane” was being performed in Spain, Israel, Australia, and New York, as well as being adapted into both a film and television play.

Written between June and October of 1964, Joe Orton’s next play was “Loot”, a wild parody of detective fiction, which added the blackest farce and jabs at established ideas on death, the police, religion, and justice. It underwent sweeping rewrites before it was judged fit for the West End. “Loot” was first staged in London on September 27th of 1966 to rave reviews. In November the play moved to the Criterion Theater where it ran for three hundred forty-two performances, won several awards and firmly established Orton’s fame.

Orton, over the next ten months, revised his “The Ruffian on the Stair” and his “The Erpngham Camp” for the stage as a double play entitled “Crimes of Passion”. He also wrote his television play “Funeral Games”, the screenplay entitled “Up Against It” for the Beatles music group, and his final full-length play “What the Butler Saw”, a play of seduction, blackmail, and cross-dressing, which came to the West End stage in 1969, eighteen months after Orton’s death.

On the 9th of August of 1967, John Kingsley Orton was bludgeoned to death by Kenneth Halliwell at their home in Islington, London, killed by nine hammer blows to the head. Halliwell then committed suicide with an overdose of Nembutal. Later evidence showed that Orton had earlier confided to a friend that he wanted to end his relationship with Halliwell; and it also showed that Halliwell had spoken to his psychiatrist three times on the day of the murder. Halliwell had felt increasingly threatened and isolated by Orton’s success, and had come to rely on barbiturates and antidepressants. The bodies, along with Halliwell’s suicide note, were found on the morning of August 10th by a chauffeur who had arrived to transport Orton for a meeting in London. 

The body of Joe Orton was brought into the chapel of London’s Golders Green Crematorium to a recording of the Beatles’ song “A Day in the Life”. Playwright and director Harold Pinter read the eulogy. After Orton’s cremation, his ashes and Halliwell’s ashes were mixed together and scattered in a section of the Garden of Remembrance at Golders Green; no marking memorial stone is erected there. A statue of Joe Orton was later installed in the city of Leicester and, in 1987, a film adaption of John Lahr’s 1978 biography of Orton was released under the title “Prick Up Your Ears”.

Note: For those interested in theater and gay history, an interesting article is Greg Buzwell’s 2019 “Homosexuality, Censorship, and British Drama During the 1950s and 1960s” located at the British Library site: https://www.bl.uk/20th-century-literature/articles/homosexuality-censorship-and-british-drama-during-the-1950s-and-1960s

Virgilio Pinera: “The Waves of Music We Made”

Photographers Unknown, The Waves of Music We Made

Can it be they are going to kill?
Will they pierce the heart with a huge knife?
And with the sharpest scalpel empty the eyes?
And with the steeliest chisel break the skull?
And with the most hammer of hammers crush the bones?

Can it be that on the exotic table
–table of sex, table of love–
my love, you and I,
being startled one night
your heart spoke
when you were under my blood?
Can it be the same as it was
when it was an oath, and even more so,
your work, your word bled,
soaked by the soft perfume of kisses,
so as not to deny, to be one indivisible?
And can it be so blindly believed,
so blindly, that all the suns go dark forever
while the soul travels in darkness?
Can it be there never was a soul despite the waves of music
we made?
Soul that never was though you might be for an instant?

Renenber that instant when you were a soul and adored
me,
and then your own monster came suddenly
to take you to the place where being you were?

Can it be that after you are no longer,
when not being is merely a mound of dried out kisses,
you wil be by not being, instead of being love?

Virgilio Pinera, Poem to be Said in the Midst of a Great Silence, The Weight of the Island, 1967

Born in Cárdenas, Matanzas, Cuba in 1912, Virgilio Piñera was an author, playwright, poet, and essayist known for his avant-garde work, caustic wit, acid tongue, and bohemian lifestyle. He lived under the dual repression of the Catholic church and reactionary government leaders such as Argentina’s Juan Perón and Cuba’s Fulgencio Batista. Piñera’s homosexuality and non-conformism led to his marginalization during a well-documented period of Cuban history when homophobia and petty bureaucracy stifled creative freedom

An avid reader from an early age, which included works by Marcel Proust and Herman Melville, Piñera drew his inspiration from different genres, a foundation which became fundamental to his distinctive work with its combination of Cuban vernacular and more refined language.At the age of thirteen, Piñera’s family moved to Camagüey, a municipality located in central Cuba, where he earned his high school diploma. After settling in Havana in 1938,  he received his Doctoral Degree in philosophy from the University of Havana in 1949. 

Piñera published in his poems in Havana’s literary magazine “Espuela de Plata” and, in 1941. wrote his first poetry collection, “Las Furias (The Furies)” and  his most famous play “Electra Garrigó”, which featured the choral structure of a Greek tragedy alongside distinctive Cuban elements. Staged both before and after the revolution of Castro and Guevara, this play later became a powerful symbol of the Revolution and was consciously performed before foreign and  notable public figures as  being emblematic of the transformed nation.

Following his founding of the magazine “Poeta” in 1942, Piñera wrote his collection of poems entitled “La Isla en Peso (The Weight of the Island)”. Drawing upon episodes in his personal life as well as the social interactions occurring inside Cuba, he explored the nebulous regions between sadness and beauty, and disillusion and reality. Published posthumously after Piñera’ death in 1979, “The Weight of the Island” was initially scorned by some poets and critics; however, the collection is now regarded as one of the classics of Cuban literature.

In 1944, Virgilio Piñera, along with writer José Lezama Lima and editor and critic José Rodríguez Feo, founded the prestigious literary and arts review “Origenes”, which provided a focal point for promising poets and critics in Cuba during the 1940s and 1950s. The journal published short stories, poetry, and critical essays on art, literature, music and philosophy. Among Piñera’s contributions were several poems, an essay on Argentinian literature, and an 1945 essay entitled “El Secreto de Kafka”, a work in which Piñera developed his theory on the creation of images into a literary surprise. 

Piñera lived in Buenos Aires, Argentina, for a twelve year period from 1946 to 1958; it was  during this stay that he developed his voice as a writer. He worked as a translator and proofreader at the Cuban Embassy and became friends with writers Jorge Luis Borges and essayist José Bianco, who would write the forward to Piñera’s collection of short stories “El que Vina a Salvarme (The One Who Came to Save Me)”. Along with other writers, Piñera worked on the translation of Polish author Witold Gombrowicz’s 1937 controversial novel “Ferdydurke” into Spanish. 

Virgilio Piñera wrote two plays in Buenos Aires,  “Jesús” and “Falsa Alarma”, a fast paced, absurdist play of humor and anguish, to which he lengthened with dialogue for a later 1957 staging. His first novel, entitled “La Carne de René (René’s Flesh)”, was published in 1952 and told the dark story of a twenty-year old protagonist forced into a merciless life. After the closure of his literary review “Origenes” and the founding of his final magazine “Ciclón (Cyclone)”, Piñera left Argentina in 1958 to settle permanently in Cuba, where he arrived shortly before the Revolution. His work appeared in the newspaper “Revolución” and other numerous journals. In 1962, with the Cuban revolution in full motion, Piñera’s  most autobiographical play, “Airo Frio (Cold Air)”, a very personal celebratory work supporting the ouster of dictator Batista’s police and army, opened in Havana. 

Shortly after the opening of “Airo Frio”, Fidel Castro’s government made the decision that there was no room for any views other than those completely sympathetic to the Revolution. Intellectuals and other luminaries, as well as the religious and those youths not conforming to the revolution, were to face persecution. Virgilio Piñera, although never public about his homosexuality, was arrested under the revolutionary government’s clampdown on the prostitutes, pimps and homosexuals. By 1971, he was ostracized by the Cuban government and the literary establishment. As his career declined into obscurity. Piñera continued to write at n increased rate; however, his plays were no longer performed. 

In 1968, Piñera received Latin America’s most prestigious literary prize, the Premio Casa de las Américas, for his play “Dos Viejos Pánicos (Two Old Panics)”. Despite the award and acclaim, the play would not have its first performance in Cuba until the 1990s.  Leaving behind more than twenty plays, three novels, volumes of short stories and a vast number of poems, Virgilio Piñera, who lived the last years of his life in poverty, died of a cardiac arrest on the 18th of August in 1979, without any official recognition of his death. He is buried in his native town of Cárdenas.

As a way to redress some of the wrongs committed against Piñera in the past, Cuba declared the year 2012 as “El Añ0 Virgiliano”. In the month of June, a group of thirty researchers from countries, such as the United Kingdom, Mexico, Spain and the United States, came together in Havana to discuss the life, work and legacy of Virgilio Pañera, one of Latin America’s prominent writers. His two best known plays, “Airo Frio” and “Dos Viejos Pánicos”, were performed and a new ballet by choreographer Iván Tenorio, entitled “Virgiliando”, had its premiere. 

Note: The University of Miami Libraries contains the digital Cuban Heritage Collection which includes material on Virgilio Piñera. Included in the material are correspondence exchanged between Piñera and Adolfo de Obieta during the 1940s and 1950s, as well as a typescript of Piñera’s play “Una Caja de Zapatos Vacía” that he sent to his friend Luis F. González-Cruz, who published it in Miami in 1986. This material can be found at: https://merrick.library.miami.edu/cdm/search?collection=chc5278

Friedrich Dürrenmatt: “What Will the Future Bring?”

Photographers Unknown, What Will the Future Bring?

“What is going to happen? What will the future bring? I do not know, I have no presentiment. When a spider flings itself from a fixed point down into its consequences, it continually sees before it an empty space in which it can find no foothold, however much it stretches. So it is with me; before me is continually an empty space, and I am propelled by a consequence that lies behind me. This life is turned around and dreadful, not to be endured.” 

–Friedrich Dürrenmatt, The Assignment: or, On the Oberving of the Observer of the Observers

Born in Konolfingen, Switzerland, in 1921, Friedrich Dürrenmatt was an author and dramatist who was a proponent of epic theater, a form of dramatic, political plays staged through documentary effects and audience interaction.  After studies in philosophy and German literature, he stopped his academic career in 1943 to become an author and dramatist. He became one of the more prolific writers in the German language on the crisis of the nuclear bomb and arms race.

Written when he was twenty-six,  Dürrenmatt’s first play. the 1946 “It is Written”, revolves around a battle, occurring in a city under siege, between a religious fanatic who takes scripture literally and a cynic who craves sensation. The play’s 1947 premiere resulted in fights and protests in the audience.  Between 1948 and 1949, Dürrenmatt wrote several sketches for Zürich’s anti-Nazi Cabaret Cornichon, a Swiss cabaret company opposed to fascism and Nazism. 

Friedrich Dürrenmatt’s first major success was the 1950 play “Romulus the Great”, an exploration of the last days of the Roman Empire presided over by Romulus, its last emperor. In the same year, he published a novel entitled “The Judge and His Hangman”.  Dürrenmatt’s 1956 play “Der Besuch der Alten Dame (The visit of the Old Woman)” was a strange fusion of comedy and drama about a wealthy woman who offers a fortune to the people of her hometown if they would kill the man who jilted her years earlier.

During his youth, Dürrenmatt hesitated for a long time between a career as a writer and a painter. Although he chose writing, he continued to paint and draw, which he considered his passion. Dürrenmatt had some exhiibitons of his work in Neuchâtel, Switzerland, in 1976 and 1985; he also had a show in Zürich in 1978. A permanent exhibition of his collective work, both artistic and literary, is on display at the Centre Dürrenmatt in Neuchâtel.

Throughout four decades, Dürrenmatt produced novels, novellas, radio plays, and theater performances. Among these were the radio plays “Incident at Twilight” in 1952 and “The Mission of the Vega” in 1954, the novella “The Pledge: Requiem for the Detective Novel”in 1948, and the 1962 play “The Physicists: A Comedy in Two Acts” which dealt with scientific ethics and mankind’s intellectual responsibilities. 

In 1990, Friedrich Dürrenmatt gave two famous speeches, the first in honor of Václav Havel, the Czech statesman and former dissident, and the second in honor of Mikhail Gorbachev, who moved his country to more social democracy and promoted the policy of glasnot, or openness. Later that year, on December 14th, Friedrich Dürrenmatt died from heart failure in Neuchâtel, Switzerland.

Middle Insert Image: Frederich Dürrenmatt, “Minotaurus. Eine Ballade VII”, 1984 – 85, Ink on Paper, 40 × 30 cm,  Centre Dürrenmat Neuchâtel

Bottom Insert Image: Sabine Gisiger, “Friedrich Dürrenmatt”, from Gisiger’s  2016 documentary film “Dürrenmatt: Eine Liebesgeschichte”

Yuri Georges Annenkov

Yuri Georges Annenkov, Theater and Film Costume Design

Besides his renown as a painter and illustrator, Yuri Georges Annenkov was one of the top costume designers in French cinema from 1926 until the end of the 1950s. Born into a family of Imperial Russia’s cultural elite that suffered through the changes in political power, he was able to overcome the accusations of political radicalism that surrounded his family. This enabled Annenkov to study at the Stieglitz School of Art in Saint Petersburg, where Marc Chagall became one of his classmates.

Before the outbreak of the First World War, Annenkov traveled to Paris for further study, and began illustrating books and designing for the stage. In the period immediately after the Russian Revolution, he returned to Russian and was active in the Soviet Theater and outdoor performance shows, and also worked as a portraitist. Annenkov emigrated to Paris in 1924 where he settled and began designing ballet sets for American ballet choreographer George Balanchine and Russian ballet dancer and choreographer Léonide Massine.

In 1926, Yuri Georges Annenkov began what was to become a two-decade long career in movies. He was first engaged in 1926 to design the costumes for German film director F. W. Murnau’s production “Faust”, which would be Murnau’s last German film. From 1945 to 1955, Annekov was the president of the French Syndicate of Cinema Technicians. 

Annenkov’s most important body of work in film were the costumes he designed for the post-war films of director Max Ophüls, which included “La Ronde”, a series of character vignettes with circular visual motifs, and the 1953 “The Earrings of Madame De. .”, a romantic drama for which Annenkov received an Oscar nomination for Best Costume Design. 

The work Annenkov did as art director for Ophüls culminated with his brilliant costumes created for the director’s final film, the 1955 “Lola Montès”. The film is a deliberate exercise in overabundance and opulence, and here, guided by Ophüls, Annenkov’s use of the Baroque style is a subtle critique of excess. Filmed in Technicolor by cinematographer Christian Matras, “Lola Montès” had an important influence on the French New Wave cinema movement and has since become a cult classic.

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A Year: Day to Day Men: 4th of November,  Solar Year 2018

The Heat of the Sun

November 4,1896 was the birthdate of American character actor Ian Wolfe.

Born in Illinois, Ian Wolfe worked in theater productions until 1934 when he started his career as a character actor in film and later television. Central to Wolfe’s appeal was the fact that, until he reached actual old age, he always looked considerably older than he actually was. His career lasted until the last years in his life, encompassing almost four hundred roles in television and film, including many classics.

Ian Wolfe appeared in many well known films: Alfred Hitchcock’s “Saboteur” playing Robert in the film noir spy thriller; “Rebel Without a Cause” as Dr. Minton, the astronomy professor; the role of Maggs in the 1935 “Mutiny on the Bounty”; and George Lucas’s “THX 1138”, playing the prisoner PTO.

American at birth, Ian Wolfe, because of his experience in theater, had very precise diction which caused him to be often cast as an Englishman. He appeared in the 1943 film :Sherlock Holmes in Washington” , as an antique shop clerk. He also was in the final film of the Holmes series, the 1946 “Dressed to Kill” as the Commissioner of Scotland Yard. In Billy Wilder’s “Witness for the Prosecution”, Ian Wolfe played Carter, chief clerk to Sir Wilfrid, played by Charles Laughton.

Ian Wolfe guest-starred on many television series over the course of his career. The first season of “The Lone Ranger” had him playing a crooked small town doctor attempting to swindle a man. He  appeared on the episode “The Case of the Midnight Howler” of the 1966 “Perry Mason” series. Star Trek fans will recognize him in two episodes of the original series: the 1968 “Bread and Circuses” as Septinus, and the 1969 “All Our Yesterdays” acting in the role of Mr. Atoz.

Wolfe’s last film role, at the age of 94, was as Munger in the 1990 released “Dick Tracy”, produced and directed by Warren Beatty. Ian Wolfe died a year later at the age of 95 of natural causes in January of 1992.

“Mostly, they know the face, but they don’t know the name. Some people are funny. Some are nice. They don’t try to take up your time. They say, “I see you a lot and I sure enjoy you” and they’re gone. It’s my voice, too, that people recognize. I had no idea that my voice is distinctive in any way. But people will say, “I knew you by your voice”. – Ian Wolfe

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A Year: Day to Day Men: 1st of November,  Solar Year 2018

The Revelation From On High

November 1st was the opening day of two of William Shakespeare’s plays.

On November 1, 1604, William Shakespeare’s tragedy play “Othello”, believed to have been written in 1603, had its first presentation in the Banqueting House at Whitehall. The story revolves around Othello, a Moorish general in the Venetian army, and his jealous and traitorous ensign, Iago. It is believed to  be based on the story “A Moorish Captain” by Giovanni Battista Giraldi, the Italian novelist and poet. However, the story also resembles an incident in the tale “The Three Apples” from the “Arabian Nights” collection.

Shakespeare, while following the story of Giraldi, departed from it in some details, such as adding minor characters. The major departure is the death of the heroine Desdemona. In his presentation, Shakespeare has Othello kill Desdemona by suffocation, toning down the violence. In Giraldi’s story, the “Moor” bludgeons his wife to death with a sand-filled stocking, described in gruesome detail. In Shakespeare’s play, Othello, commits suicide; and in Giraldi’s tale Othello is exiled and then pursued by Desdemona’s relatives who kill him.

Later performances of “Othello” occurred in April of 1610 at the Globe Theater and at Oxford in September of 1610. It also was performed at the Blackfriars Theater in London by the King’s Men, an acting company to which Shakespeare belonged for most of his career. “Othello” was one of twenty plays performed by the King’s Men during the winter of 1612, in celebration of the wedding of Princess Elizabeth and Frederick V, the Electorate of the Palatinate region of the Holy Roman Empire.

On November 1, 1611, Hallowmas night, Shakespeare’s romantic comedy “Tempest”, believed to have been written 1610-1611, was first presented by the King’s Men before King James I and the English royal court at Whitehall Palace. This play was also one of the twenty plays performed to celebrate Princess Elizabeth’s marriage. The next recorded performance was at the Blackfriars Theater in 1669; this is supported by the stage directions written within the play script.

The “Tempest” differs from Shakespeare’s other plays, being organized in a stricter Neo-classical style. Shakespeare in the “Tempest” observed the three rules of drama: the play’s plot  should have one action that it follows, with minimal subplots; the action in the play’s plot  should occur no longer than a day’s span; a play’s plot should exist in a single physical space with the stage representing that place. Shakespeare’s other plays’s plots took place in multiple separate locations and over the course of several days or years.

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A Year: Day to Day Men: 24th of October, Solar Year 2018

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.

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A Year: Day to Day Men: 14th of October, Solar Year 2018

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 bytwo 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.

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A Year: Day to Day Men: 8th of October, Solar Year 2018

Thumb in Briefs

October 8, 1910 was the birthdate of American actor Kirk Alyn, born John Feggo Jr.

Kirk Alyn was born to Hungarian immigrant parents in New Jersey. He started his career as a chorus boy for Broadway plays, appearing in musicals such as the 1930 “Girl Crazy” and Hellzapoppin” on Broadway in 1938. Alyn also worked as a singer and dancer in vaudeville acts before he went to Hollywood in the early 1940s to act for feature films. He was only successful in getting bit parts in low-budget movies.

Kirk Alyn was featured in movie serials, including the 1948 “Federal Agents Versus Underworld Inc”, the 1950 “Radar Patrol Versus Spy King” and the 1952 “Blackhawk”, a spy thriller based on a Quality comic book. In 1948 he had a role as a police officer in the Charlie Chan series film “The Trap”. In early 1948, Kirk Alyn achieved his fame when producer Sam Katzman of Columbia Pictures asked him to play Superman.

Alyn played Superman for the first live-action “Superman” movie serial, released in 1948. The serial consisted of fifteen episodes covering Superman’s arrival on earth, his job at the Daily Planet newspaper, and his meeting Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen. The series revolved around Superman’s battle with the arch criminal Spider Lady. Two years later another serial was released entitled “Atom Man Versus Superman”, featuring Lyle Talbot as the villain Lex Luthor.

In these serials, Kirk Alyn gave a different portrayal of Clark Kent, emphasizing the element of his disguise, a tradition of the older radio series. Superman’s flight was effected by Alyn jumping up, at which point an animated character made by rotoscoping flew away. Initially wires were used for the first serial but were clearly visible in the footage; so the animation was used instead.

Kirk Alyn was the Grand marshal of the Metropolis, Illinois Christmas parade and Annual Superman Celebrations many times. DC Comics named him in 1985 as one of the honorees in the company’s 50th anniversary publication “Fifty Who Made DC Great”. Alyn died in 1999 in The Woodlands, Texas, was cremated, and had his ashes scattered off the coast of California.

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A Year: Day to Day Men: 30th of September, Solar Year 2018

The Roses and the Cross

September 30, 1919 marks the premier of Avery Hopwood’s play “The Gold Diggers’ in New York City.

“The Gold Diggers”, a play by Avery Hopwood, was produced by David Belasco, an American theatrical producer and playwright. Belasco, the first writer to adapt the short story “Madame Butterfly” to the stage, pioneered many innovative forms of stage lighting and special effects to the stage. He staged “The Gold Diggers” on Broadway at the Lyceum Theatre, now the oldest continuously operating legitimate theater in New York City.

“The Gold Diggers” popularized the term ‘gold digger’ to reference women who seek wealthy partners, as opposed to the earlier usage meaning gold miners. The plot centered on wealthy Stephen Lee, played by Bruce McRae, who is convinced that the chorus girl who is engaged to his nephew Wally, played by Horace Braham, only wants his nephew’s money.

The reviews for the play were mixed; but the opinions of the reviewers did not stop the play from becoming a hit. It opened at the Lyceum Theatre on September 30, 1919 and ran until June of 1921, with 720 performances. The long-running play then went on tour across the United States until 1923, earning almost two million dollars. One result of its long run was that after the other plays Avery Hopwood had written opened in 1920, Hopwood had four shows running on Broadway simultaneously.

Avery Hopwood was an American playwright of the Jazz Age in the United States, a period in the 1920s and 1930s when jazz music and dance styles rapidly gained popularity. Born in Cleveland, Ohio, Hopwood graduated from the University of Michigan in 1903 and started out in journalism as a New York correspondent. However, within a year, he had a play, “Clothes”, produced on Broadway. He became known as the “Playboy Playwright”, specializing in comedies and farces, many considered risqué at the time. Among the plays were: “Ladies’ Night” in 1920,; the famous mystery play “The Bat”, later filmed in 1926; and the 1927 “Garden of Eden”, filmed in 1928.

In 1906, Avery Hopwood was introduced to writer and photographer Carl Van Vechten. The two became close friends and sometimes sexual partners. In the 1920s Hopwood had a tumultuous, but abusive, romantic relationship with fellow Cleveland-born playwright John Floyd. Although Hopwood announced to the press in 1924 that he was engaged to dancer and choreographer Rosa Rolanda, it was confirmed later that it was a publicity stunt.

Avery Hopwood died of a heart attack while swimming on the French Riviera on July 1, 1928. The terms of his will left a substantial portion of his estate to the University of Michigan, establishing a Creative Writing Award, encouraging new, unusual and radical writing. Recipients of the award have included poet and essayist Robert Hayden, poet and social activist Marge Piercy,  playwright Arthur Miller, and gay novelist and essayist Edmund White.

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A Year: Day to Day Men: 26th of September, Solar Year 2018

The Cable Knit Sweater

September 26, 1877 was the birthdate of character actor Edmund Gwenn.

In 1901 Edmund Gwenn went to Australia and acted on stage there for three years, not returning to London until 1904. There he took a small part in “In The Hospital”, which led to him receiving a postcard from George Bernard Shaw, offering him a leading role as Srtaker, the chauffeur, in Shaw’s “Man and Superman”. Gwenn accepted and the play was a success. He spent three years in Shaw’s company, performing in “John Bull’s Island”, Major Barbara”, “The Devil’s Disciple” and other plays by Shaw.

Edmund Gwenn made his first appearance on screen in a 1916 British short “The Real Thing at Last”, followed by a silent version of “The Skin Game” in 1920 as the character Hornblower. This role he would reprise in a talking version by Alfred Hitchcock, released in 1931. After these films, Gwenn worked steadily until the end of his life, appearing in English stage pays and films, eventually doing more and more on Broadway and in Hollywood.

In 1940 Edmund Gwenn played a delightful Mr Bennet in “Pride and Perjudice”, then played a completely opposite role as an assassin in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1940 “Foreign Correspondent”. He later played a comedic role in the 1941 “Charley’s Aunt”, in which he romanced Jack Benny, masquerading as a woman. Gwenn was in the 1945 “Bewitched”, “Of Human Bondage” released in 1946, and the 1947 “Green Dolphin Street”.

Then in 1947, Edmund Gwenn became a super star. Twentieth Century-Fox was planning the film “Miracle on 34th Street”. The studio had offered the role of “Kris Kringle” to Gwenn’s cousin, the well-known character actor Cecil Kellaway, but he had turned it down with the observation that the role was too whimsical. Twentieth Century-Fox then offered it to Edmund Gwenn, who immediately accepted. His performance earned him at the age of 71 an Academy Award as Best Supporting Actor and, because it is rerun every Christmas season, Gwenn would become for many their all-time favorite screen Santa.

Though rotund, Edmund Gwenn didn’t feel he was rotund enough to look like the jolly old elf most people expected after having read Clement Moore’s “The Night before Christmas”, in which Santa “had a broad face and a little round belly”. He could of course worn padding, but he resisted that as too artificial. So Gwenn gained almost 30 pounds for the role, a fair amount for a man of his short stature, and added nearly five inches to his waistline.

Gwenn’s final days were spent at the Motion Picture Home in Woodland Hills, California. Having endured terrible arthritis for many years, he had suffered a stroke, and then contracted pneumonia, from which he died at age 81 on September 6, 1959. His body was cremated, and his ashes are buried in a vault at The Chapel of the Pines in Los Angeles.

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A Year: Day to Day Men: 6th of September, Solar Year 2018

Crates of Lathe

September 6, 1642 was the day that theater experienced both a major closing and a major reopening 277 years apart.

The major closing was the banning of all theater at the start of the English Civil War. On September 6, 1642, by an act of Parliament, all theaters in England were closed. This meant specifically that the great playhouses and theatrical companies of London, many from the Elizabethan age, ceased operations for good. The reason given for the ordinance was that attending theater was “unseemly” during such turbulent times.

The real reason was that the playhouses had become meeting places for the Royalist opposition, a group against the Parliament.   Their Puritan rivals, who controlled Parliament, understood this and closed the theaters.  Within a few years most of the grand old structures, now abandoned, had decayed beyond use or were dismantled altogether, leaving no visible trace of the playhouses of Shakespeare’s day.

Theatre would remain illegal until the end of the Interregnum in 1660, when the Puritans lost power and the monarchy was restored. Almost immediately, playhouses reopened and theatrical entertainments resumed. Theatre returned full force with the Restoration of the English monarchy under Charles II, leading to a revival of English drama and performance that paved the way for the great age of acting and wit during the eighteenth century.

it was also on this day, September 6th, that theaters reopened. On September 6, 1919, the great Equity Strike in New York and Chicago by theater actors came to an end. Broadway producers had finally reached an agreement with the upstart actors’ union, the Actors’ Equity Association. The only exception was Broadway’s biggest star and largest employer George M, Cohen who was granted a singular exception to continue as before without unionization.

The strike lasted a month and had closed nearly 40 major productions across the city, with revenue loses in excess of three million dollars.  The two sides reached a five-year deal that finally recognized Equity as the professional actors’ union.  Over the next few years working conditions improved and Broadway flourished for nine years until the 1928 season. The advent of “talkies” caused a decline in the theater with a noticeable lack of attendance and thus profits. The stock market crash of 1929 reset the commercial theatre’s entire economic picture for the next several decades.

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

Smokin’ Guns

August 28, 1925 was the birthdate of American dancer, singer, and actor Donald O’Connor.

Donald O’Connor was born in Chicago to parents Effie Irene Crane and John Edward O’Connor, both vaudeville entertainers. He began performing in movies in 1937 at the age of eleven, making his uncredited debut in the Columbia Pictures’ film “It Can’t Last Forever”.  O’Conner, then twelve, signed a contract at Paramount Studio and appeared in two films in 1938: “Men with Wings” playing a younger version of Fred Mac Murray’s character, and in “Sing You Sinners” appearing as Bing Crosby’s character’s younger brother.

Donald O’Connor appeared in eight more films between the years 1938 and 1939. He appeared as Huckleberry Finn in the 1938 “Tom Sawyer, Detective” and in the 1939 “Boy Trouble” playing an orphan boy with ill with scarlet fever. O’ Connor received fourth billing in “Million Dollar Legs” with Betty Grable and played Gary Cooper as a young boy in the 1939 “Beau Geste”. In 1940, having outgrown child roles, O’Connor returned to the vaudeville stage.

On his eighteenth birthday in August 1943, O’Connor was drafted into the army. Before he reported for induction in February 1944, Universal Studio, with whom he had signed in 1941, already had seven O’Connor films completed. With a backlog of these features, deferred openings at the theaters kept O’Connor’s screen presence uninterrupted during the two years he was overseas.

In 1949, he played the lead role in the film “Francis”, the story of a soldier befriended by a talking mule. The film was a huge success. As a consequence, his musical career was constantly interrupted by production of one “Francis” film per year until 1955. O’Connor received an offer to play Cosmo the piano player in the 1952 “Singin’ in the Rain” at MGM. This earned him a Golden Globe Award for Best Performance by an Actor in a Comedy or Musical. The film featured his widely known rendition of “Make ‘Em Laugh” and the notable scene during a dance number when he runs up a wall and does a flip.

The most distinctive characteristic of O’Connor’s dancing style was its athleticism, for which he had few rivals. Yet it was his boyish charm that audiences found most engaging, and which remained an appealing aspect of his personality throughout his career. In his early Universal films, O’Connor closely mimicked the smart alec, fast-talking personality of Mickey Rooney of rival MGM Studio. For “Singin’ in the Rain” however, MGM cultivated a much more sympathetic sidekick persona, and that remained O’Connor’s signature image.

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A Year: Day to Day Men: 27th of August, Solar Year 2018

Stretching to the Right

August 27, 1665 was the date of the first documented staging of a play in North America.

In 1665, the performance of a play was a crime, as was violating the Sabbath. Defaming the person or character of his/her majesty or their representatives in the colony was also a crime on the books.

The first documented staging of an English-language play in North America was presented on August 27, 1665 at Fowkes Tavern in Accomac County on the eastern shore of Virginia. After the first performance, the play, which has no credited playwright and was rumored to have been of a political nature, was closed by the local authorities for “showing forth profane”. Edward Martin, an Accomac County resident thought to be a Quaker, brought a complaint against the actors, resulting in all three actors in the performance arrested and charged.

The case was tried two weeks later in the very same room of the tavern where the performance occurred. To prove the charge of being profane, the presiding judge had the offending performers reenact the play before the court. The judge, apparently, found nothing especially offensive with the play and actually thought it “entertaining”. Consequently, the judge ruled the performers not guilty of the charges and freed them; he also ordered the critic Edward Martin to pay court costs for wasting the court’s attention in the first place.

The play in question was entitled “Ye Bear and Ye Cubb” , and was likely the invention of the three offending presenters: Cornelius Watkinson, Philip Howard, and William Darby. It took veiled aim at the mother country Britain’s punitive trade laws. Unfortunately, no copy of the play survives, only the public record that documents this curious little bit of very early American theatre history. This play remains the earliest known performance of a play in the British North American colonies and the first one to receive a very poor review.

Alongside Route 13 in Accomac, Virginia, lies a Virginia Historical Marker labeled “Marker # WY19” showing the probable site of Fowkes Tavern.

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A Year: Day to Day Men: 5th of August, Solar Year 2018

Searching for Socks

August 5, 1887 was the birthdate of John Reginald Owen, the English character actor.

Reginald Owen studied at Sir Herbert Tree’s Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and made his professional debut on stage in 1905. When he was still a young actor, he met the author Mrs. Clifford Mills. Upon hearing her idea of a children’s play to be called a Rainbow Story, Owen persuaded her to turn it into a play. This became the play “Where the Rainbow Ends” which opened on December 21st of 1911 starring Owen as Saint George. It received good reviews.

John Reginald traveled to the United States in 1920, originally working on Broadway in New York. He later moved to Hollywood and began a lengthy career in many Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer productions.  Owen is perhaps best known today for his role as Ebenezer Scrooge in the 1938 film version of “A Christmas Carol” , a role he inherited from Lionel Barrymore who suffered a broken hip.

Owen was one of only five actors to play both Sherlock Holmes and his companion Dr. Watson. He first played Watson in the 1932 film “Sherlock Holmes” opposite Clive Brooks. In the 1933 film “A Study in Scarlet”, Owen played Sherlock Holmes opposite Warburton Gamble in the character of Doctor Watson. Owen also has the odd distinction of playing three classical characters of Victorian fiction- Scrooge, Holmes, and Watson- only to have those characters taken over and personified by other actors, namely Alastair Sim as Scrooge, Basil Rathbone as Holmes, and Nigel Bruce as Watson.

Owen appeared, later in his career, on the television series “Maverick” in two episodes and also guest starred in episodes of the series “One Step Beyond” and “Bewitched”. He was featured in the 1964 film “Mary Poppins” and had a small role in the 1962 film production of the Jules Verne novel “Five Weeks in a Balloon”. John Reginald Owen died from a heart attack at age 85 at his home in Boise, Idaho in 1972, after a film career totaling over one hundred films, many of which are today listed as classics- “Of Human Bondage”, “Anna Karenina”, “A Tale of Two Cities”, “The Great Ziegfeld” and “The Call of the Wild”.

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A Year: Day to Day Men: 20th of July, Solar Year 2018

A World of Blue Tiles

July 20, 1938 was the birthdate of English actress, Dame Enid Diana Elizabeth Rigg in Yorkshire, England.

Diana Rigg’s career in film, television and theater has been wide-ranging. Her professional debut was in the production of “The Caucasian Chalk Circle” at the York Festival in 1957. She made her Broadway debut with the play “Abelard and Heloise” in 1971, earning the first of three Tony Award nominations for Best Actress in a Play. She received her second nomination in 1975 for her role in “The Misanthrope”.

In the 1990s, Diana Riggs had triumphs with roles at the Almeida Theater in Islington, England, including “Medea” in 1992, which moved to Broadway where she received the Tony Award for Best Actress, “Mother Courage” at the National Theater in 1995, and “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” at the Almeida Theater in 1997. In 2011 Riggs played Mrs. Higgins in “Pygmalion” at the Garrick Theater in the West End of London; in February of 2018 she returned to Broadway in a non-singing role of Mrs. Higgins in “My Fair Lady”.

Diana Rigg appeared in the British 1960s television series “The Avengers” from 1965 to 1968 opposite Patrick McNee as John Steed, playing the secret agent Emma Peel in 51 episodes. Rigg auditioned for the role on a whim, without ever having seen the program. Although she was hugely successful in the series, she disliked the lack of privacy that it brought. Also, she was not comfortable in her position as a sex symbol, She also did not like the way that she was treated by the Associated British Corporation (ABC).

In 2013, Diana Rigg secured a recurring role in the third season of the HBO series “Game of Thrones”, portraying Lady Olenna Tyrell, a witty and sarcastic political mastermind popularly known as the Queen of Thorns, the grandmother of regular character Margaery Tyrell. Her performance was well received by critics and audiences alike, and earned her an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series for the 65th Primetime Emmy Awards in 2013.

Diana Rigg reprised her role in season four of “Game of Thrones” and in July 2014 received another Guest Actress Emmy nomination. In 2015 and 2016, she again reprised the role in seasons five and six in an expanded role from the books. The character was finally killed off in the seventh season, with Rigg’s final performance receiving critical acclaim.

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A Year: Day to Day Men: 19th of April, Solar Year 2018

The Paw Print

April 19, 1946 is the birthdate of English actor and singer, Timothy James Curry.

Tim Curry’s first full-time role was as part of the original London cast of the musical “Hair” in 1968, where he first met Richard O’Brien who went on to write Curry’s next full-time role, that of Dr. Frank-N-Furter in the 1975 play “The Rocky Horror Show”. Originally, Curry rehearsed the character with a German accent and peroxide blond hair, and later, with an American accent. However, he decided to play Dr. Frank-N-Furter with an English accent after deciding that the character should sound like Queen Elizabeth II.

Curry originally thought the character was merely a laboratory doctor dressed in a white lab coat. However, at the suggestion of director Jim Sharman, the character evolved into the diabolical mad scientist and transvestite with an upper-class Belgravia accent. That character carried over to the film “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” and made Curry a household name and gave him a cult following. He continued to play the character in London, Los Angeles, and New York City until 1975.

Shortly after the end of the “Rocky Horror Show” run on Broadway, Curry returned to the stage with Tom Stoppard’s “Travesties”, which ran in London and New York from 1975 to 1976. That play was a Broadway hit winning two Tony Awards: Best Performance by an Actor for John Wood, and Best Comedy for the play. “Travesties” also won the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for Best Play, and Curry’s performance as the famous dadaist Tristan Tzara received good reviews.

In 2004, Tim Curry began his role of King Arthur in Eric Idle’s “Spamalot” in Chicago. The show successfully moved to Broadway in February 2005. The play brought Curry a third Tony nomination, again for Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical. Curry reprised this role in London’s West End at the Palace Theater, where “Spamalot” opened on October 16, 2006. He was nominated for a Laurence Olivier Award as the Best Actor in a Musical for the role, and also won the Theatergoers’ Choice Award as Best Actor in a Musical.

One of Tim Curry’s best-known television roles (and best-known roles overall) is as Pennywise the Clown in the 1990 horror miniseries “Steven King’s It”. Aside from one “Fangoria” interview in 1990, Curry never publicly acknowledged his involvement in “It” until an interview with Moviefone in 2015, where he called the role of Pennywise “a wonderful part”.