Thursday, September 28, 2006

Crapper


The noted plumber Thomas Crapper was baptized on this day in 1836 in Thorne, Yorkshire, England.

Many sources to this day snicker as they report that a man by the name of Thomas Crapper invented the flush toilet. The truth of the matter is that while Crapper was a competent and successful plumber, the use of flush toilets was already well established in England by the time Crapper was born (about 2/3 of the essential technology having been invented by the poet John Harington in the 16th century). Crapper was apprenticed to a plumber as a youngster, and by the age of 30 he had set up his own business in the waste-water capital of the world, London.

Over the course of almost 40 years in the business, Crapper received 9 patents -- 4 for improvements to drains, 3 for water closets, 1 for manhole covers and 1 for a pipe joint -- but never received a patent for the product which seems to have bought him immortality, the Silent Valveless Water Waste Preventer, a siphonic discharge system that permitted a toilet to flush when the cistern was only half full. That device was actually patented by Albert Giblin, and it is assumed that Crapper bought the rights from Giblin before he began selling Crapper's Valveless Water Waste Preventer as part of his line of toilet products.

In the 1880s, Crapper became the royal sanitary engineer to Queen Victoria, and he supervised the refurbishing of all plumbing at Sandringham House, including around 30 lavatories with cedarwood seats. Although the word "crap" has been around since the 13th century as slang for waste, the use of the word "crapper" for the toilet seems to be uniquely American, and is thought to have been brought to the U.S. by American soldiers during World War I who saw "T. Crapper -- Chelsea" stamped on British toilets. A number of manhole covers also stamped with the Crapper name can be found around London, including several, popular for brass-rubbings, in Westminster Abbey.

After his retirement in 1904, Crapper's plumbing business continued to operate under his name until 1966. Crapper died on January 27, 1910 in London.

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Monday, September 25, 2006

Sauer & Son


Christopher Sauer (the Elder), a great-grandfather of mine, died on this day in 1758 in Germantown, Pennsylvania.

Born in 1695 in Ladenburg, Germany, Sauer worked as a tailor and spectacle-maker there until 1724, when he brought his wife and son to America in search of religious freedom. In Pennsylvania he became associated with the German Baptist Brethren church, a non-conformist, pacifist sect. After his wife, Maria, left him to join Conrad Beissel's Ephrata Commune as sub-prioress of the convent, Sauer buried himself in his work, first as a cabinet-maker, wheelwright and clockmaker, and eventually as the first successful German-language printer in the New World. His chief rival, Benjamin Franklin, had tried to reach the German-language market in Pennsylvania with his own publications, but failed largely due to the poor literacy of his German help. Nevertheless, Franklin controlled the paper supply in Pennsylvania; and at first he refused to sell paper to Sauer for his printing press (regarding German immigrants to be poor credit risks), but later relented when a wealthy German put his credit behind Sauer's enterprise. Like Franklin, Sauer published a daily almanac (aimed at the German readership), as well as numerous religious and pacifist tracts.

In 1742, Sauer published the first European-language Bible printed in North America; up to that time, not even an English Bible had been printed in America, as that was a privilege enjoyed only by the King's printer in England. In his later years, Sauer battled against Franklin's efforts to "anglicize" the religious German immigrants and bring them under secular political influences. Sauer's wife later left the Ephrata Commune and returned to Sauer, and his son, Christopher Sower, took over the printing business and became a leader among the German Brethren.

His only child, Christopher Sower the Younger -- born on tomorrow's date in 1721 in Laasphe, Germany -- became a minister in the German Baptist Church at the age of 32, but even as his role within the church became more important, he continued to assist his father in his printing business, taking charge of the English-language publications and printing the first religious periodical in America, the Geistliche Magazien (1764).

As the American Revolution unfolded, Sower the Younger came under fire for his pacifist beliefs, which were mistaken for loyalty to England, and in 1778 Sower was arrested by the Continental Army as a spy. His print shop and all of his worldly possessions were impounded, and to add insult to injury, the Army forcibly shaved Sower's beard, which had been one of the hallmarks of his religious practice. As church historian/one-time Pennsylvania governor Martin Brumbaugh observed, "Men in public life had cleanly shaven faces. It is interesting to note that every signer of the Declaration of Independence was smooth-shaven. The indignity heaped upon Sower was two-fold. When his beard was removed his religion was ridiculed and his face was made to appear like that of his oppressors."

Sower was eventually released, but his property was never returned, and Sower lived out the rest of his years with friends and relatives. In 1792, recognizing the mistake that the Continental Army had made in its treatment of the late Father Sower, the Pennsylvania legislature passed a law giving Sower's heirs whatever remained of his confiscated property -- by that time, a regrettably empty gesture.

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Sunday, September 24, 2006

The Chief Justice


John Marshall is today remembered as the man who most forcefully gave life to the role of the Supreme Court as the final arbiter of constitutional authority in the early American republic. Despite a tide of political opposition to the notion of a strong federal government -- much of it coming from fellow Virginians such as his third cousin once removed, Thomas Jefferson -- Marshall was the eloquent leader of the judicial estate, using the Court as a platform from which to draw a bright line between federal power and the uneasy idiosyncrasies of state parochialism.

John Marshall was born on this day in 1755 near Germantown, Virginia. As an officer in George Washington's undersupplied Continental Army, Marshall survived the brutal winter at Valley Forge, an experience which some credit as one great source for his impatience with weak central sovereignty. After the War, he practiced law at Richmond, ironically arguing for the side of states' rights in his only case before the Supreme Court. In public life, however, he demonstrated his fierce commitment to federalism at every turn, as a leading member of Virginia's constitutional ratification convention and state legislator.

He turned down offers to become U.S. attorney general, minister to France and associate Supreme Court justice, but did at John Adams' behest serve alongside Charles Cotesworth Pinckney and Elbridge Gerry as part of the macho American delegation to France following the "XYZ Affair." Afterward, Adams made Marshall his secretary of state before appointing him as the nation's third chief justice in 1801.

His first dramatic statement on behalf of the Court was in Marbury v. Madison (1803), in which he took the unprecedented step of declaring void a portion of an act of Congress (specifically, section 13 of the Judiciary Act of 1789) because it was, in the opinion of the Court, prohibited by the Constitution. Although Marshall did not say that the Court had the final word on what was constitutional, the decision did manage to breathe life into the Court's power of judicial review, as Marshall scolded Jefferson on the rule of law and positioned the Court as the protector of the principle.

He continued to establish and refine the Court's role in cases such as McCulloch v. Maryland (1819, there upholding a federal statute) and Cohens v. Virginia (1821, affirming the Court's authority to review state court decisions), emphasizing the Federalist principle that the people had, by their adoption of the Constitution, entrusted to the federal government, not to the states, the powers necessary to promote the survival of the nation.

Sometimes his decisions were not enforced by rebellious state courts or officials, and sometimes states'-rights Presidents Jefferson or Jackson fueled the defiance; Jefferson, in particular, could get the man's goat from time to time, causing Marshall to react impetuously along political lines during the anti-Federalists' attempted impeachment of associate justice Samuel Chase in 1805 (Jefferson's unsuccessful counterattack on the Federalism of Marshall's court) and during the Aaron Burr treason trial in 1807 (in which Marshall acquitted the thorn in Jefferson's side based on a strict interpretation of the law on treason). Sometimes you put the wrong two people together in an enclosed space (say, a room, or a government), and they just can't help but get on each other's nerves.

Even by the time Marshall's personal power began to decline on the Court in the mid-1820s, however, Marshall had nonetheless defined the leadership portfolio of the chief justice in American life for all of his successors to the office. Marshall died on July 6, 1835 in Philadelphia.

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Saturday, September 23, 2006

The Irrepressible Mrs. Woodhull


With her sister, Tennessee Claflin, Victoria Claflin (better known as Victoria Woodhull) was notorious for chipping away at social taboos involving religion, sex, business and politics. She was an ethical gadfly with a tarnished pedigree, a screwball pioneer where pioneers were not invited or even tolerated, and it is only in hindsight that we can appreciate some of her adventures, since they represent the first bold gestures toward the multifarious identity of the 20th century American woman.

Born on this day in 1838 in Homer, Ohio, Victoria grew up on the run; her father having been accused of insurance fraud, he brought his family along as he wandered throughout the Midwest posing as a faith healer. At 15, she married a Chicago physician of questionable character, Canning Woodhull, and they proceeded to move from coast to coast, Victoria supporting Canning's bad habits and her retarded son Byron with sewing jobs and as a spiritual healer in the mold of her huckster father.

At 26 Victoria divorced Canning, and joined Tennessee to travel as faith healers and clairvoyants. They had brushes with the law, including being accused of running a whorehouse in Cincinnati, but generally they survived by their wits. Victoria remarried in 1866 to Col. James H. Blood, a Civil War vet who introduced her to socialism and free love, and 2 years later they moved to New York in answer to the suggestion of the spirit of Demosthenes, whom Victoria claimed appeared before her in a hotel room in Pittsburgh.

In New York, Tennessee was asked to perform a healing massage on tycoon Cornelius Vanderbilt. Soon, with Vanderbilt's assistance, the sisters were speculating successfully on Wall Street, opening their own brokerage house in 1870. Woodhull, Claflin & Co. was the first woman-owned enterprise of its kind, and was a moderate success. Around the same time, Woodhull became captivated by the utopian ideas of Stephen Pearl Andrews. Together with Blood and Tennessee, Woodhull and Andrews promoted their ideas in Woodhull and Claflin's Weekly, along with running translations of George Sand and the first American appearance of Marx and Engels' Communist Manifesto -- this despite the fact that Woodhull was a Wall Street tycoon.

Around the same time, Woodhull announced her candidacy for president, and began to give speeches which were an interesting melange of progressive politics and bold assertions of sexual independence for women. Benjamin F. Butler arranged to let Woodhull speak on women's suffrage before Congress, a move which caught Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton by surprise and caused them to invite her to speak at the National Woman Suffrage Association convention.

Her participation in the convention allowed critics to conclude that women's suffrage would lead to pernicious free love and the breakdown of the family. Rather than quieting the critics, she continued to advance the cause of free love in bold terms, stating in an 1871 speech that she had "an inalienable, constitutional and natural right to love whom I may, to love as long or as short a period as I can, to change that love everyday." With support from Susan B. Anthony and the rest of the suffragettes drifting away, she convened her own Equal Rights party convention, which nominated her for president and African-American leader Frederick Douglass as vice president. Douglass ignored the honor, and like Anthony, supported Grant's re-election in 1872.

Soon afterward, her successes began to fall apart: with expenses mounting (even Canning Woodhull had joined the eclectic household in New York by this time), she and her extended family were evicted from her New York mansion, the brokerage house was in a shambles, and Woodhull was sued for her debts.

Lashing out at those who she perceived were exercising their sinister indirect influence on her financial affairs and who would seek to co-opt her radical reform crusade with half-measures, she gave a speech accusing moderately reform-minded preacher Henry Ward Beecher, a former lover of Woodhull's, of having an extramarital affair with another woman, and published an account of it in the Weekly. She was arrested on the eve of the election for peddling obscenity, and spent election day and a month more in a New York jail cell. Released on bail, she put out another issue of the Weekly; was reindicted; and went on the lam, speaking around the country about the Beecher affair. The obscenity charge was later dropped, and Beecher's mistress published a full confession of the tale.

Blood continued the Weekly until 1876, when he and Woodhull divorced; and the following year Woodhull moved to England (in part to avoid giving testimony in a dispute over Vanderbilt's will). There she met and married a wealthy banker, John Martin, against the objections of Martin's family (the story provided the basis for Henry James' story, The Siege of London). In 1892, Woodhull again declared herself a presidential candidate, to considerably less attention, and visited the U.S. from time to time to speak on eugenics, women's suffrage, public health reform and government assistance for science and the arts. She died on June 10, 1927 in London.

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Friday, September 22, 2006

Blanchot the Obscure


"Despite some stiff competition, Blanchot . . . has acquired a reputation for writing some of the most enigmatic prose in modern French." -- John Lechte.

Maurice Blanchot was born on this day in 1907 in Quain, France.

The reclusive, mysterious Blanchot's critical and fictional themes revolve around indeterminacy. From a critical perspective (in works such as The Space of Literature, 1955, and The Infinite Conversation, 1969), the concept of indeterminacy is Blanchot's argument, generally, against the inevitable homogeneity produced within a Hegelian system of knowledge in which extremes are ultimately erased; and specifically, against critics who cease to be readers and instead become authors who seek to stuff a text into a pre-existing category. Blanchot asks readers to focus not on the author, who produces his work in solitude, but on the text, and the experience of the text as a singular reinvention of writing in every instance. Because writing is always a reinvention produced in solitude, there are no stabilizing or determinative contexts available to the reader -- nothing exists but the writing -- and "what is seen [by the reader] does not belong to the world of reality, but to the indeterminant milieu of fascination."

In his fiction (Thomas the Obscure, 1941; Aminadab, 1942; Death Sentence, 1948; The One Who Was Standing Apart From Me, 1973)), his use of language is deceptively transparent; waiting, forgetting and randomness operate as the habits and hallmarks of the indeterminacy of consciousness while the mind strives, in Nietzschean fashion, to locate a moment in which it might impose its will.

Blanchot died on February 20, 2003 in Paris.

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Thursday, September 21, 2006

The Gentleman of Absolute Zero


Physicist Heike Kamerlingh Onnes, known as the "Gentleman of Absolute Zero," was born on this day in 1853 in Groningen, Netherlands.

After studying at Groningen and later with Gustav Kirchhoff, Kamerlingh Onnes taught at Leiden in 1882 and began his intense preoccupation with the behavior of matter at extremely low temperatures. At Leiden he established the Cryogenic Laboratory, which became the worldwide center of low temperature research using liquid-helium facilities of his own design, even setting up a school for glass-blowers to train them to make the special flasks he needed. In fact, in 1908 Kamerlingh Onnes was the first person to liquify helium (by bringing it to a temperature of 4.2 degrees above the absolute zero, the complete absence of heat).

In 1911, Kamerlingh Onnes discovered the phenomenon of superconductivity while studying how the electrical resistance of metals varied at very low temperatures. Initially, he believed that the resistance would increase as the temperature was lowered, reaching the maximum near absolute zero, but he was surprised to find that the resistance of certain metals actually decreases at a temperature close to absolute zero. Although he could not explain the phenomena using classical physics, he was aware of its significance: if superconductivity could be developed in materials at higher temperatures the result could be a powerful energy source. In 1957, John Bardeen and others proposed a theoretical explanation for superconductivity using quantum electrodynamics, and the scientific community has spent considerable resources in attempting to harness superconductivity as an energy source for levitating trains, and for medical and nuclear applications.

For liquifying helium, Kamerlingh Onnes won the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1913. He also demonstrated the effect of paramagnetic saturation -- the parallel positioning of elementary atomic magnets in a very high magnetic field at low temperatures -- proving the magnetic material theory of Paul Langevin. In addition to his theoretical work, Kamerlingh Onnes also worked on designs for the practical use of refrigeration for food storage and transport. He died on February 21, 1926 in Leiden, South Holland.

His near-obsession with low temperature work led him to have extraordinarily high expectations for his assistants, and many of them viewed him as a tyrant around the lab. At his funeral, his lab assistants were walking behind his hearse when the hearse driver began to speed up, causing several of them to break into a run to keep up with it. "The old devil," observed one of them, "even after he’s gone he makes us run."

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Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Scotty's Castle


Death Valley Scotty -- cowboy, prospector and raconteur -- was born Walter Edward Scott on this day in 1872 in Cynthiana, Kentucky.

Scotty ran away from home as a boy to join his brother on a Nevada ranch as a cowhand and eventually ended up in Death Valley in the California desert, a place he was determined to make his home. When he was 18, he was recruited as a cowboy for Buffalo Bill Cody's Wild West Show, where he showed a knack for self-promotion. After leaving the Wild West Show after 12 years, he eked out a living doing publicity stunts (like chartering a train to beat the land speed record from Los Angeles to Chicago) and selling "partnerships" in bogus Death Valley gold mines.

One of his investors, a Chicago insurance magnate named Albert M. Johnson, gave Scotty thousands of dollars to develop a gold mine and, much to Scotty's surprise, decided to visit his investment. Scotty hoped to scare Johnson off by leading him on a harsh trek in the desert, but Johnson found the arid, hot climate invigorating, and Scotty's bluff was called. Nonetheless, Johnson was enjoying himself too much to be angry with Scotty. Instead, Johnson decided to build a Moorish style "castle" in Death Valley as a vacation home (known today as "Scotty's Castle"), with Scotty in residence as caretaker, storyteller and chief troublemaker.

Johnson allowed Scotty to tell people that his "gold mine" was paying for the $2 million castle, and that Johnson was his "banker." Johnson got the better of the con man in the end, telling his friends that Scotty "paid me back in laughs."

Scotty's Castle is now owned by the National Park Service, and Scotty (who died on January 5, 1954 in Stovepipe Wells) lies buried on a hill overlooking the castle.

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Monday, September 18, 2006

Dogs Playing Poker


Cassius Marcellus Coolidge was born on this day in 1844 in Jefferson, New York.

Coolidge, an itinerant cartoonist and sign-painter, is remembered almost solely for his iconic Dogs Playing Poker series of paintings (including A Friend in Need, based on Georges de La Tour's human-populated The Cheat with the Ace of Diamonds), created for the St. Paul, Minnesota advertising firm Brown & Bigelow in 1903. Long-maligned as the ultimate in low-brow art, two of Coolidge's Dogs Playing Poker paintings were auctioned in 2005 for $590,400.

He married late and spent his last years being supported by his young wife who worked as a Manhattan legal secretary. He is also said to have pioneered the use of life-sized boardwalk cutouts (into which one could place one's own head, thereby allowing one to be photographed as the character depicted in the cutout), and wrote an opera about a plague of mosquitoes in New Jersey.

He died on January 13, 1934 in Staten Island, New York.

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Saturday, September 16, 2006

Violin Jazz


"In discarding all pretense of solemnity Venuti and his contemporaries perpetuated the emphasis of the ragtime their own specialty [i.e. jazz] replaced, which was the first American musical idiom to make significant (if not deliberate) inroads upon the pomposity, melodrama, sentimentality and even seriousness of pop music." -- S. Calt.

Jazz violinist Joe Venuti was born on this day in 1903 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Venuti played violin in grade school with fellow violinist Eddie Lang. Lang switched to banjo and guitar for their after-school jam sessions, goofing with mazurkas and polkas in jazzed up 4/4 time. While Lang stayed in Philadelphia, Venuti became a widely traveled freelance dance band musician. Eventually, Venuti and Lang moved to New York City and became an influential dance-jazz partnership.

Venuti himself was the first great jazz violin soloist, exhibiting a confident, playful inventiveness in their legendary recordings together, as well as those with saxophonist Frankie Trumbauer, trombonist Jack Teagarden, clarinetist Benny Goodman and coronetist Bix Beiderbecke. The bouncy Lang and Venuti sides, recorded between 1926 and 1933, were particularly influential in the development of jazz in Europe, the violin-guitar duo becoming one of the most popular European jazz combinations.

After Lang's untimely death, Venuti drifted in Europe, suffered from alcoholism, and made a brief comeback in the 1950s with Bing Crosby's radio show before attaining stardom once again in the late 1960s, recording as a violin-jazz elder statesman in his later years with Stephane Grappelli, Earl Hines and Marian McPartland. He died on August 14, 1978 in Seattle, Washington.

Known as a practical joker, Venuti once pushed a piano out of a hotel room window, poured jello into Bix Beiderbecke's bathtub, and even put flour in a tuba on the set of Paul Whiteman's movie King of Jazz (1930).

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Thursday, September 14, 2006

Flag Ceremony


Last night, Kerstin's Uncle John and Aunt Patty took us to Sunset Beach, at Cape May Point. We didn't know it at the time, but we had arrived just in time to witness the Sunset Beach Flag Ceremony, which is held every evening at sunset from May through September.

Each flag flown on Sunset Beach during this season is a flag that has served as a veteran's casket flag and that has been donated by the family of a veteran. Last night, the flag was from the casket of a young man named Ted Grier, whose plane had gone down in the South Pacific 60 years ago, on June 29, 1945.

Soon after we pulled up to the beach, a man on a loudspeaker welcomed us and apologized for the lack of sunset. He said he might need the help of a veteran or two for the ceremony. Then everyone who had collected there doffed their caps and stood in salute as a tape of Kate Smith singing "God Bless America" played, followed by the National Anthem. As the National Anthem began, the man in the sound booth came out and asked for a veteran to step forward and help lower the flag. One man came up and started pulling the ropes as "Taps" began to play, whereupon the man from the booth asked for one more veteran. Uncle John, a retired Navy commander, stepped forward and helped to fold the casket flag. At the end of the ceremony, the dozen or so people standing salute applauded.

"Well, you may not have known that was going to happen," I said, "but you got here just in time. They needed you."

For people around the world who think they know about Americans from watching CNN or American TV shows, there's something missing from those sources. I think you can probably learn more about Americans -- our natural ability to move from the life of an individual to the enormity of collective responsibility and national honor -- from a simple, quiet, 10-minute flag ceremony on a New Jersey beach, than you can from watching a thousand hours of American prime-time TV.

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When Reporters Knew How to Write


"I remember watching the CBS Morning News one day thirty-two years ago and hearing Hughes Rudd refer to something that had happened during what the Pentagon had described as a 'routine B-52 raid.' At the end of the item, Rudd looked up and said, 'There is nothing routine about a B-52 raid. From a mile away it looks like the end of the world; if you happen to be any closer than a mile away, it is the end of the world.' I knew even then that I would never, ever forget that moment nor how perfectly it illustrated the power of effective use of our language." -- "Reiser," Sept. 16, 2005, on Banned for Life.

Hughes Rudd was born on this day in 1921.

Rudd was best known as the anchorman of the CBS Morning News (1973-77; co-anchor with Sally Quinn, 1973-4). Prior to that, Rudd served as a foreign correspondent for CBS News, including stints in Berlin, Bonn and Moscow, during the 1950s and 60s. Regarding his TV presence, columnist Brooks Peterson recalled, "In addition to being a superlative journalist, Rudd had another quality that especially endeared him to legions of hollow-eyed non-morning-persons: Rumpled, a little grouchy, and defiantly un-chipper, he looked and sounded every bit as crabby about having to be up at such an hour as the rest of us."

A talented storyteller, Rudd's 1966 book, My Escape from the CIA (And Other Improbable Events), was praised by none other than Thomas Pynchon, who wrote: "Without copping out behind idle metaphors or irrelevant plot devices, Mr. Rudd has succeeded in telling, with all his reporter's love of accuracy, and mastery of detail, and irony, and grace, and sometimes terrifying precision, exactly what the hell having to be an American, now, during the years of total war, epidemic anxiety and mass communications whose promise has been corrupted, is really about; where it's really at."

Given Rudd's "reporter's reporter" misgivings about the modern media, it is perhaps a little surprising that he would be invited to anchor the CBS Morning News; it has been suggested that he got the job by being a good drinking buddy to William Paley. After leaving CBS in 1979, he worked as a correspondent for ABC's World News Tonight until retiring to France in 1986. He died on October 13, 1992 in Toulouse, France.

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Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Poor Edwina


Film starlet Edwina Booth was born Josephine Woodruff on this day in 1904 in Provo, Utah.

Around 1927, Josephine Woodruff was watching a movie being made in Venice Beach, California when she was noticed by the director and encouraged to take a screen test. A tall, striking blonde, Josephine got some bit roles in Hollywood films and changed her name to "Edwina Booth." Although the name happened to be similar to the name of one of the foremost American stage actors of the 19th century (Edwin Booth) and probably caused a few film critics to sneer and bite their lower lips, Josephine never meant to imply she had any particular thespian talent; "Edwina" was for her favorite granduncle Edwin, and "Booth" was for her grandfather John Edge Booth.

In 1929 she won the lead in W.S. Van Dyke's MGM production of Trader Horn (released 1931), with Harry Carey and Duncan Renaldo, in which she played the mysterious "white goddess" who lived at the heart of the African jungle. Van Dyke took his company on location, a rarity in those days, to film in places in Tanganyika, Uganda, Kenya, the Sudan and the Belgian Congo. Perhaps predictably, the shoot was beset by disaster: the cast and crew continually faced sunstroke, dysentery, insects and a variety of dangerous wild animals, from a crocodile which killed one of the grips, to an angry rhinoceros. Van Dyke got into a romantic rivalry with cinematographer Clyde de Vinna over a script clerk, and as if that didn't create tension on the set, Duncan Renaldo went ga-ga for Edwina -- a fact of heart by which Renaldo eventually ended up receiving divorce papers and, through a tip from his angry wife, landed in prison for falsifying statements in his U.S. passport application (he was eventually pardoned by Franklin Roosevelt for the passport problem).

Meanwhile, Miss Booth clearly got the worst of it. Returning to the U.S. with an obscure infection, she was bedridden for almost six years and never worked in movies again. For many years, it was rumored that she had died on location; she sued MGM, however, claiming that her illness was caused in part by Van Dyke's insistence that she sunbathe in the nude, and received an out-of-court settlement. Smarting over the complications of exotic location shoots for Trader Horn and Harry Gerson's unreleased White Captive (1929, with Dorothy Janis), Hollywood put a clamp on long-distance travel which lasted for decades.

In later years, Miss Woodruff/Booth worked at the Mormon Temple in Los Angeles; she died on May 18, 1991 in Los Angeles.

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Monday, September 11, 2006

'There It Is -- Take It!'


After bouncing around as a merchant seaman, lumberjack, miner and injun-fighter, William Mulholland (born on this day in 1855 in Belfast) found his destiny in 1878 in a shack near a beloved old sycamore tree within spitting distance of Los Feliz and Riverside Drive in Los Angeles, digging ditches for the local private water company. A self-taught hydraulic engineer, Mulholland learned the manner in which the small pueblo assiduously, if primitively, managed its limited water resources with a byzantine system of ditches and clay pipes; but he was one of the first to realize, after the drought of the 1890s, that Los Angeles would always remain a small pueblo without a new water supply.

As superintendent of L.A.'s newly-created DWP in 1904, Mulholland and ex-mayor Fred Eaton rode north to the green and fertile Owens Valley, nestled at 4,000 feet amid the Sierra Nevadas and the White Mountains. Mulholland's secret scheme was to dam the Owens River and create an aqueduct which could carry water for a million people down to L.A. without pumps or power. Mulholland and Eaton quietly bought land and water rights from the local irrigation farmers and ranchers, and what they couldn't buy, they snatched away through bribes and undue influence, foiling the plans of the local business boosters to establish their own water district. With the deeds in his pocket, Mulholland succeeded in convincing President Theodore Roosevelt to help clear the path of his proposed aqueduct through federal land.

It took Mulholland 6 years with 5,000 workers to complete the 233-mile aqueduct -- the longest in the world -- and on November 5, 1913, thousands gathered to watch the Owens Valley water roar into the San Fernando Valley. "There it is!," Mulholland said, addressing the crowd, "Take it!"

As Los Angeles grew, and the Owens Valley itself became economically extinct, Mulholland was hailed as a hero, until March 12, 1928, when his St. Francis Dam on the Santa Clara River collapsed, causing a flood that killed 450 people. Mulholland took the blame for the tragedy (although in 1992, an association of engineers posthumously exonerated him), and he stepped down from the leadership of the DWP, living an increasingly reclusive life until he passed away at 80, on July 22, 1935 in Los Angeles, California.

For all those who see the growth of L.A. as an uncontrolled plague and long for the innocent California of yore, Mulholland's great water grab was certainly a sinister achievement, and the fictional murder of a character loosely based on him in Roman Polanski's Chinatown (1974) stands as poetic revenge.

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Sunday, September 10, 2006

Soane


The son of a bricklayer, born on this day in 1753 in Goring-on-Thames, England, John Soane studied architecture at the Royal Academy through the kindness of surveyor James Peacock and architect George Dance. In 1778 he went on the "Grand Tour" in Europe on a King's Travelling Studentship award, soaking in Roman classicism and meeting some influential British friends. He cut short his tour in 1780, however, and moved to Ireland, ostensibly to design and build a home for the Bishop of Derry, Lord Frederick Hervey; but unfortunately for the penniless Soane, nothing ever came of the project.

Returning to England empty-handed, he married a wealthy heiress and slowly built a solid reputation as an honest and capable builder. After supervising the renovation of the home of William Pitt the Younger (a cousin of one of his Grand Tour buddies), Soane was named Surveyor of the Bank of England in 1788 and began to receive a number of prestigious commissions around London. Although some of his major works (the Law Courts, built in the 1820s; Freemasons' Hall in Great Queen Street, 1828; and the Bank of England, to which he devoted 45 years of his life) have been demolished or rebuilt on new designs, his exteriors have been highly admired by modern architects for their masculine simplicity, particularly where budgetary constraints forced him to pare them back to ordinary bricks with accents of Portland stone.

His own home in London at 12-14 Lincoln's Inn Fields exemplifies Soane's aesthetic interests from exterior to interior: plain and quiet on the outside, inside it is an intricate set of neoclassical catacombs, fastidiously outfitted with mirrors and colored glass skylights to create unusual top-lighting effects; and today it is filled with his vast, somewhat macabre collection of classical antiquities (some purchased from the estate of his former employer, architect Henry Holland) and other works of art (including Hogarth's original Rake's Progress painting series and a number of works by Canaletto), as well as with examples of his favorite decorative obsession, the architectural imagery of death -- urns, sarcophagi, and so on. Soane was so disappointed with his squandering sons that he obtained an act of Parliament before he died in 1837 which turned his prized home into a public treasure, now known as the Sir John Soane Museum.

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Voice of the Xtabay


Yma Sumac was born Zoila Emperatriz Chavarri Sumac del Castillo on this day in 1927 in Ichocan in the Peruvian Andes.

Blessed with an amazing 5+ octave vocal range -- from deep contralto to coloratura high Cs -- Sumac cut an unusual swath in the international pop music scene from the 1940s through the 1960s. Allegedly a descendant (through her mother's side) of the last Inca king, Atahualpa (an assertion "certified" by the Peruvian government), Sumac was discovered as a pre-teen by a Peruvian bureaucrat and began singing concerts in Peru. As a national heroine with a royal pedigree, Sumac was adopted by Andeans from her native region as the embodiment of an old prophecy that the sun god, Accla Taqui, would anoint a golden virgin who would reform the world to the Inca faith with her clarion voice -- a popular groundswell which would ultimately fuel her American publicists.

At 13, she married an aspiring composer/musician, Moises Vivenco, who managed her career, putting her on Radio Belgrano in Argentina and touring her throughout Latin America. Despite the protests of 30,000 marching Andeans who pleaded with her not to leave, she emigrated to the U.S. in 1947, and after some false starts played at Carnegie Hall and sang with orchestras in Montreal, Toronto and at Hollywood Bowl.

Although composer Virgil Thomson suggested she should sing grand opera, instead she became a pop phenom with a no. 1 hit record Voice of the Xtabay (1950). As part of her publicity build-up, Capitol Records exaggerated her biographical details, calling her an Inca princess or a goddess on Earth and dressing her voluptuous figure in colorful ceremonial costumes for her album covers and publicity photos. Columnist Walter Winchell thought the whole thing sounded so outlandish that he reported that "Yma Sumac" was actually an anagram for "Amy Camus," and that the singer was actually born in Brooklyn. Sumac was furious about the charge, but publicly kept her cool, responding, "I am not from Brooklyn, but I hear it is beautiful."

She made several popular records and appeared as a specialty number in a few B movies before divorcing Vivenco in 1957, although in the midst of an IRS investigation during which she was briefly jailed she remarried him and later made a triumphant tour of the Soviet Union in 1964. Divorcing Vivenco again in 1965, she became something of a recluse, emerging to record a rock album, to appear on a compilation of Disney film song remakes, Stay Awake (1988), and to sing the role of "Heidi" in Stephen Sondheim's Follies on stage in Long Beach, California.

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Saturday, September 09, 2006

Alf Landon


The son of an oil promoter, born on this day in 1887 in West Middlesex, Pennsylvania, Alf Landon moved to Kansas when he was 17, working in the oil business as a wildcatter and getting his law degree. He campaigned for Theodore Roosevelt's Bull Moose candidacy in 1912, and served as secretary to Kansas governor Henry Allen before being elected governor himself as a Republican in 1932 and 1934. In the process he drew national attention to himself as he bucked the tide against the Republican Party beginning with Franklin Roosevelt's defeat of Herbert Hoover in 1932.

At the 1936 Republican convention, Landon's status as the most strongly supported Republican in the nation won him the presidential nomination on the first ballot. In his campaign, distinguished by buttons and posters with Landon's demurely smiling face at the center of a big yellow sunflower (the state flower of Kansas), Landon focused mainly on the anti-business methods of Roosevelt's "New Deal," playing on tax phobia and touting "good government" in his earnest and sincere (and somewhat awkward, by radio standards) fashion. Despite a Literary Digest telephone poll which predicted Landon would win by a landslide, Roosevelt beat Landon mightily, 61% to 37%; the only 2 states Landon would carry were Maine and Vermont.

After the election, Landon retired cheerfully to Topeka and named his children's ponies "Maine" and "Vermont." Roosevelt later sent him to Peru to initiate Roosevelt's Latin American "Good Neighbor" policy. Over the years he became an American elder statesman, receiving heavyweight members of both parties (Ronald Reagan and Bobby Kennedy among them) as well as authors and movie stars at his home in Topeka. His daughter, Nancy Kassebaum, served as Republican U.S. senator from Kansas from 1978 to 1997.

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Friday, September 08, 2006

LaRouche


Although he has never seemed to have a following any larger than the entire population of Jefferson County, Ohio, Lyndon LaRouche's wacky yet sinister political movement and well-funded haranguing against the unseen hands of global power have provoked righteous denunciations, lawsuits and giggles from the mainstream (including as a throw-away joke in Mike Myers' So I Married an Axe Murderer, 1993). He was also the inspiration for one of my favorite pieces of doctored graffiti. After one of his followers had scrawled "Kill Satan/ Free LaRouche" on a bridge pier near my home, someone else came along and tampered with the message, so that it ultimately read: "Things to do Today/ 1. Buy Milk/ 2. Kill Satan/ 3. Free LaRouche."

Lyndon LaRouche was born on this day in 1922 in Rochester, New York. At the beginning of World War II, LaRouche was a college drop-out and conscientious objector in a Quaker work camp, but by the end of the War he was serving in a non-combat role with the U.S. Army in Burma, where he was introduced to socialism while observing anti-British demonstrations. After the War, he earned his living as an "economic consultant to the footwear industry," but indulged his political calling by joining the Socialist Workers Party.

In the 1960s, under the pseudonym of Lyn Marcus, he inspired a following as a Marxist theoretician in Greenwich Village, and founded a leftist organization called the National Caucus of Labor Committees (NCLC). Around the time of his split with his common-law wife in 1973, however, LaRouche's approach became aggressive and isolative. Calling himself "Der Abscheulicher" (the "Abominable One"), he began to advocate the development of a goon squad to launch physical attacks against the "Nixon-allied Communist Party" and started to employ harsh, confrontational psychological techniques to his own followers (grilling; verbal abuse; denial of personal feelings and space) as a recruiting and deprogramming tool.

(As a sidelight -- in 1974, he briefly attracted psychologist Fred Newman to his crew, who advocated political action as a form of psychotherapy, with echoes of Reich; Newman quickly spun away from LaRouche and formed the New Alliance Party, best known as Lenora Fulani's first political vehicle.)

LaRouche's ferocious new identity was now three parts bully and one part delusional paranoia, as he apparently underwent a conversion similar to Mussolini's switch from socialism to right-wing fascism, but with the flavor of a psycho-religious cult. Some have theorized, however, that LaRouche is still a Marxist, but that he sports conservative duds to get money from gullible rich conservatives.

He ran for president in 1976 under the banner of his U.S. Labor Party (9th place, 40,084 votes), often addressing current issues with an articulate, mainstream-sounding veneer, but out of the other side of his mouth spewing an ornate theory of conspiracy that holds that the U.S. government is actually a puppet for Queen Elizabeth and the British banking elite (especially Jewish banking families), whose worldwide reign goes back for centuries and has swept within it the Pope, the CIA, the state of Israel, international drug cartels and other characters on the world stage. One famous assertion provides the flavor of his conspiracy yarns: "The Beatles," LaRouche once wrote, "had no genuine musical talent, but were a product shaped according to British Psychological Warfare Division specifications."

He ran again, as a Democrat, in the 1980, 1984 and 1988 primaries, but he was convicted of conspiracy and mail fraud in December 1988 for NCLC's solicitation of $34 million in loans from senior citizens (LaRouche complained it was retaliation by vindictive government agents), and was sentenced to 15 years in prison. He ran his 1992 campaign, Debs-like, behind bars in a Minnesota federal prison, and was released in 1993. Settling in amidst ostentatious secrecy on a million-dollar estate in Loudoun County, Virginia, LaRouche has continued his manic pamphleteering and presidential campaigning unabated.

In 2000, he scored enough votes in the Arkansas primary to send delegates to the Democratic convention, but the Democrats fought LaRouche off in court, citing the fact that as a convicted felon, LaRouche was not a registered Democrat and therefore not entitled to be represented at the convention.

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Thursday, September 07, 2006

Elizabeth I


"When I was fair and young and favour graced me/ Of many was I sought their mistress for to be/ But I did scorn them all and answered them therefore/ Go, go, go, seek some other where/ Importune me no more." -- Elizabeth I.

Taking power as a 25 year-old and reigning for 45 years, Elizabeth was the star at the center of the 16th century English universe, which produced the foundations of the British Empire, lasting British Protestantism, Shakespeare and the beginnings of the English Renaissance. She was not only popular with the English people, but a shrewd judge of political talent, a careful diplomat and a poet whose military dispatches were even beautifully written.

She was born on this day in 1533 in Greenwich. Before she was 3, the head of her mother, Anne Boleyn, had been ordered off her mother's shoulders by her father, Henry VIII, and within 2 years, she was declared to be an illegitimate child when her father remarried to Jane Seymour, the mother of Elizabeth's half-brother, Edward VI. Elizabeth nonetheless received a first-rate education, and being trained as a Protestant was encouraged to repudiate traditional authority and seek her own conclusions.

Henry VIII designated Elizabeth as third in line for the throne, behind Edward and her half-sister Mary, which catapulted her to superstar status. With ivory skin, auburn hair and delicate hands, she became the object of feverish courtship by power-hungry nobles -- in particular, Thomas Seymour, a handsome, ambitious cad who, though married to Catherine Parr, engaged in chasing Elizabeth around her house, slapping and tickling her whenever he could; his plots against the throne eventually resulted in his execution, however, and some credit his execution with hardening Elizabeth's amorousness for the rest of her life.

After the death of Edward VI and the brief attempt to install Lady Jane Grey on the throne, Elizabeth was proposed as a Protestant alternative to her staunchly Catholic half-sister Mary as Queen, but Elizabeth wisely pleaded illness and declined the invitation. While Mary reigned, Elizabeth quietly waited, initially banished to the Tower of London as a traitor, surviving Mary's murderous jealousy with intelligence, patience and courage.

Upon Mary's death, on November 17, 1558, Elizabeth was crowned Queen at Westminster. Although the dying Mary had urged Elizabeth to keep England Catholic, Elizabeth knew that England had become irreversibly Protestant, Mary's campaign of terror against heretics notwithstanding, and Elizabeth followed her own moderate, pragmatic conscience by establishing the Church of England as the State Church, with herself as "governor." When the citizens of Oxford asked her how they should bury the bones of disinterred Catholic saints and recently burned Protestant martyrs, her reply was similarly practical: "Mix them," she is said to have advised.

Beyond England's religious difficulties, the nation was impoverished when she took the throne, and was ripe for the taking by either France or Spain. European observers all expected Elizabeth to marry and settle the question of England's alliances, but Elizabeth became adept at using potential suitors as diplomatic and political pawns while she girded England for the coming storm. Married to the throne instead, she chose extraordinarily talented advisers, such as William Cecil, for many years her chief advisor; Francis Walsingham, her security chief who protected her from the many murder plots which erupted in her day; and Walter Raleigh, her Lord Chancellor. She never let any of them rise too high, however -- not even her favorite, the less talented but handsome Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester -- and ruled alertly as a fearsome autocrat.

In 1570, Pope Pius V attempted to speed up the European conquest of England by excommunicating Elizabeth from the Catholic church, thus freeing English Catholics to defy her authority and fight against her alongside the Catholic monarchs of Europe; but Elizabeth's policy of toleration resulted in a united England, and no revolt followed. It wasn't until 1588, when it was clear that Elizabeth would not marry and all other incursions had failed to weaken Elizabeth's power, that Philip II of Spain sent his Spanish Armada of ships to the coast off Cornwall. Her chief sea-dog Francis Drake directed the use of fire-ships against the Spanish fleet as it rested near Calais, panicking the Spanish and sending them North toward bad weather and English defeat.

Her attention then turned to colonization in the Western hemisphere, where the Spaniards had previously reaped so much gold. At 51, she became infatuated with the young Earl of Essex, and her indulgence almost cost her the throne when Essex led a rebellion against her in 1601; he was executed for his antics. Elizabeth died not long afterward, grudgingly (as she preferred not to speak of her own death or questions of succession) naming James I as her successor.

Being a central figure in the development of Anglo-American culture, she has been portrayed on film often, memorably by Sarah Bernhardt (The Loves of Queen Elizabeth, 1912), Bette Davis (twice, in The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex, 1939, and The Virgin Queen, 1955), Glenda Jackson (twice, on TV in Mary Queen of Scots and Elizabeth R, both 1971), Judi Dench (Shakespeare in Love, 1998), Cate Blanchett (Elizabeth, 1998) and Helen Mirren (on TV, in Elizabeth I, 2005). For a good laugh, try either Miranda Richardson in Blackadder II (TV, 1985) or Quentin Crisp in Orlando (1992).

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Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Jane Addams


Jane Addams was born on this day in 1860 in Cedarville, Illinois.

Growing up in frail health and uncertain of her future after studies at Rockford College and the Women's Medical College in Philadelphia, Addams became attracted to social reform after visiting Toynbee Hall, the London charity house. Arriving in Chicago in 1889, Addams sought out the city's most needy neighborhood, rented a portion of the old Hull mansion on South Halstead Street and founded Hull House, one of the first settlement houses in America attempting to address the needs of the poor immigrant families in the neighborhood.

Largely through the force of her own personality -- her tact, personal charm and leadership abilities -- Hull House became a center of social reform in the U.S., attracting like-minded talents from a variety of disciplines such as Florence Kelley, Julia Lathrop, Alice Hamilton and Grace Abbott, as well as exerting a powerful influence over Chicago political battles regarding child labor laws, protection of immigrants, industrial safety and organized labor. With respect to labor, she was an enthusiastic supporter of worker organization and helped to negotiate a number of labor disputes. She lobbied for municipal suffrage in Chicago and served as vice president of the National American Woman Suffrage Assocation from 1911 to 1914.

When World War I broke out, Addams turned her attention to pacifist causes, observing that war consistently destroys social reform and that reform and peace were inseparable. As president of the International Congress of Women, Addams visited the heads of state of warring and neutral antions urging round-the-clock peace negotiations, and attempted to convince President Wilson to initiate an international mediation. Although Wilson would not heed her advice, he later adapted some of Addams' 11 peace planks, drafted in 1915 for the Women's Peace Party, to his famous "Fourteen Points." During the war, she led food drives to help the starving women and children of the warring nations -- including those of the enemy. While American Relief Committee chair Herbert Hoover and others supported her efforts, Addams was branded unpatriotic or worse by newspapers and was expelled from the Daughters of the American Revolution.

In addition to her peace efforts, she assisted in the establishment of the National Assocation for the Advancement of Colored People and the American Civil Liberties Union. After suffering an angina attack and reducing her workload, she received the Nobel Peace Prize (with Nicholas Murray Butler) in 1931, and donated the $16,000 in prize money to peace organizations.

Her writings, principally about the philosphical underpinnings of reform and peace (including Democracy and Social Ethics, 1902; Newer Ideals of Peace, 1907; Twenty Years at Hull House, 1910; and The Second Twenty Years at Hull House, 1930), combined analysis with anecdote to raise American consciousness about the poor and the disenfranchised. She died on May 21, 1935.

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Tuesday, September 05, 2006

The Winchester Mystery House


Born in New Haven, Connecticut in 1839, Sarah Pardee was a charming young woman, blessed with musical talent and a facility with languages, when she married William Wirt Winchester -- the son of Oliver Winchester, founder of the Winchester Repeating Arms Company -- in 1862. Just two years before, Oliver Winchester had unveiled the Henry Rifle, a magazine-loaded weapon which averaged one shot every 3 seconds; it was the first true repeating rifle, and it was the instrument behind the deaths of thousands during the Civil War.

In 1866, Sarah Winchester gave birth to a daughter, Annie Pardee Winchester, but the infant Annie died just 11 days after her birth from "marasmus," a disease in which the body wastes away rapidly. Sarah became deeply tormented by her loss and retreated from the outside world. Sarah and William never had another child.

When William died of pulmonary tuberculosis in 1881, the still relatively young Sarah inherited the arms fortune of the Winchester family -- $20 million, 48.9% of the Winchester Company, and an untaxed income of $1,000 per day. Distraught, Sarah consulted a spiritualist medium, who told her that the deaths of her daughter and husband were due to the curse of thousands who had died by the repeating rifle and were seeking vengeance on the Winchesters. Guided by seances, Sarah Winchester moved to the Santa Clara Valley in California and bought a 17-room home on 162 acres.

Then she began her life's work. Keeping 22 carpenters at work, year round, almost 24 hours a day from 1884 until 1922, Sarah Winchester feverishly directed the construction of a never-ending house to atone for the rifle deaths which infiltrated her consciousness. Sketching her whimsical plans on napkins and tablecloths and insisting on the best building materials, Winchester's mansion was gradually transformed into an Escher-like spatial conundrum (much of it, say her interpreters, designed to thwart the onslaught of malevolent spirits), a maze with staircases that led to nowhere; upside-down fixtures; skylights over skylights; doors that opened to blank walls; and others that opened to sheer drops inside and out. All tolled, Winchester built a 4-story house (before the San Francisco earthquake in 1906, the house reached 7 stories) with 160 rooms, 467 doorways, 950 doors, 40 bedrooms, 40 staircases and 2 ballrooms.

Amid the seeming chaos, Winchester shows flashes of genuine talent as an architect, and even patented several devices she designed for the house. The house became a cause celebre, but Sarah stubbornly preserved her privacy, even turning away an attempted call by Theodore Roosevelt (to his fury) in the year of the earthquake. She died on this day in 1922.

Out of her reclusive fear and despair, Sarah Winchester created a forcefully personal work of art, a perfect and harmonious expression of her discordant psychosis -- no less valid than, say, the manic piano pieces of Alkan, the torturous writings of Kafka, or the wildly iconoclastic projects of countless other "legitimate" artists. The mansion is open to tours to this day, peddled as a ghost house built by a crazy woman. Well, take it how you will.

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Monday, September 04, 2006

Artaud


Iconoclastic actor, playwright, poet and stage theorist Antonin Artaud was born on this day in 1896 in Marseilles, France.

After suffering from bouts of mental disease in his teens and early 20s, Artaud began acting on the stage in the 1920s (at the Theatre de l'Ouerve, the Atelier, and for Pitoëff) and publishing his poems in literary magazines. Before long, he caught on with Andre Breton and the Surrealists, but by 1926 he was expelled over his disagreement with Breton's conversion to Communism.

While living with his mother and supplementing his income by performing in movies (in Abel Gance's Napoleon, 1927, as Marat; Dreyer's Passion of Joan of Arc, 1928), he opened the Theatre Alfred-Jarry, but it quickly failed. In 1931, he found inspiration from performances of Balinese plays at the Colonial Exposition, in which Artaud perceived that the text was merely incantatory, wrapped around a conglomeration of gestures, postures and sounds. Shortly thereafter, he wrote the first and second manifestos of the "Theater of Cruelty" (1932, 1938), an approach to writing, acting and stagecraft which incorporated the Balinese style, with an emphasis on shock-lighting, violent gestures and noise (the theatrical equivalent of Hieronymus Bosch's paintings, Artaud explained), designed by Artaud's account to liberate the subconscious mind through a kind of magical exorcism, and return the audience to its most primitive responses.

Although his theories were influential on such artists as Beckett, Genet and Ionesco, his stage experiments (such as Heliogabale, or the Crowned Anarchist, 1934; Les Cenci, 1935; Mexico, 1936) largely failed. Following a breakdown, he lived in an insane asylum from 1937 to 1946, undergoing starvation and electroshock treatments. Upon his release, he wrote a couple of combative, scatological rants -- an essay, "Van Gogh, the Suicide of Society," and a radio broadcast, To Have Done with the Judgment of God (1947) -- before succumbing to cancer on March 4, 1948 in Paris.

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Saturday, September 02, 2006

Hiram Johnson


Hiram W. Johnson, a Republican governor of California (1911-17) and U.S. senator (1917-45), was born on this day in 1866 in Sacramento, California.

The son of a corporate lawyer, Johnson achieved renown as a stem-winding assistant prosecutor in a case against a corrupt labor boss -- a case he inherited when his predecessor was shot in open court. As the Republican candidate for governor of California in 1910, his hard-driving, florid oratory and progressive "reform" views succeeded in getting him elected, whereupon he promised to kick big corporate interests such as Southern Pacific Railroad out of politics, and urged the adoption of state constitutional amendments which would permit recall elections of state officials and legislation by popular referenda (mechanisms which would ultimately help propel the political careers of Howard Jarvis and Arnold Schwarzenegger).

In 1912, he left the Republican Party to join Theodore Roosevelt as running mate on Roosevelt's "Bull Moose" presidential ticket, but after their defeat he rejoined the Republicans and won election to the U.S. Senate. In the Senate, he was one of the leading voices of isolationism. He reluctantly supported U.S. involvement in World War I, but broke away from the Republican establishment to speak out against the League of Nations.

He ran hard for the Republican nomination for president in 1920, entering the convention a close second behind Major General Leonard Wood, running against American intervention in foreign affairs and against the "international bankers" who had seduced both Republicans and Democrats into believing that intervention was America's destiny. But shortly into the convention, his support dwindled (especially after Charles Wheeler, in his nominating speech for Johnson, accused the convention of being packed with delegates who were "political slaves" hand-picked by the party bosses). As the convention deadlocked, the Republican leaders met in a suite in a hotel in Chicago, the quintessential "smoke-filled room," and picked Warren Harding as a compromise candidate, a turn of events Johnson bitterly denounced.

He continued to be popular in California, however, and used his weight as an independent Republican to support Franklin Roosevelt over Herbert Hoover in 1932. Turning down Roosevelt's offer to become secretary of the interior, Johnson was initially a New Deal supporter, but turned against Roosevelt as he stepped up aid to the Allies in Europe prior to World War II. The attack on Pearl Harbor convinced him that he had to support American entry into the war, but he continued to strenuously object to American participation on the world stage.

Johnson died on August 6, 1945 in Bethesda, Maryland -- ironically, on the same day that the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, the moment when U.S. involvement on the world stage would thereafter be a certainty.

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