Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Meindert Hobbema


A young friend and student of Jacob van Ruisdael, Meindert Hobbema (who was baptized on this day in 1638 in Amsterdam) painted Ruisdael-like landscapes almost as a commodity, most of them with low flat horizons and evidencing pockets of sunlight peeking through dense clumps of trees near tranquil ponds. At 30 he gave up painting full-time to become a wine-gauger at the Amsterdam customs house, but he produced some of his best-known paintings (including The Avenue at Middelharnis, 1689) as a hobbyist late in life. He became tremendously popular in England in particular.

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Monday, October 30, 2006

Monet Lite


"I always begin a picture with the sky." -- A. Sisley.

Born to English parents on this day in 1839, Alfred Sisley pursued a commercial career in England for a time in accordance with his parents' wishes. In 1862, he turned from an amateur painter into a professional, entering the Ecole des Beaux-Arts and meeting Claude Monet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir and Frederic Bazille, with whom he exhibited his works beginning in 1863.

To borrow a note from beer commercials, Sisley's style can be characterized as "Monet Lite," sharing with Monet an interest in the play of light on color in nature, especially in landscapes, but eschewing Monet's dissolution of form and use of exceptional lighting effects. Sisley's Impressionism was soft and lyrical, with a delicate palette of a limited range of colors -- sometimes referred to as the "purest" brand of Impressionism. He painted in London in the 1870s, fleeing the Franco-Prussian War, but later returned to France where he concentrated on the landscape of the countryside around Paris. He struggled against poverty, and only began to receive wider acclaim after his death on January 29, 1899 at Moret-sur-Loing, France.

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Saturday, October 28, 2006

Hey Jude


Today is the feast day of St. Jude, one of the original twelve disciples of Jesus.

Poor Jude has more names than any of the rest of the disciples: in the Gospel of Luke, he is called "Judas, the son of James"; in Mark and Matthew he is "Thaddeus" (or sometimes "Lebbaeus"); in John, he is "Judas not Iscariot." The Roman Catholic fathers seem to distrust the name "Thaddeus" for some reason, but hoping not to confuse him with the betrayer of Christ in the minds of their flock, they've given him the nickname "Jude" (thereby associating him with the author of the Letter of Jude in the New Testament, a warning against false teachings, and confusing him potentially with another 1st century St. Jude who was called the "brother of Jesus").

Who's kidding who? We really don't have a clue who this guy was.

In the Gospel of John, Jude is depicted asking Jesus, "Lord, how is it that you will manifest yourself to us [when you have departed], and not to the rest of the world?" Jesus' reply was practical, suggesting that he would manifest himself to those who would believe, and would not be seen to those who do not; but the question exhibits Jude's concern with Jesus' public image and potential power-base, which may be one reason among others why Jude is identified as having come from a family of "zealots" who sought to drive the Romans out of the Jewish world, like his co-disciple Simon the Zealot. Legend holds that Jude and Simon later did missionary work together in Persia and met their ends their as martyrs -- in particular, that Jude was clubbed to death and then beheaded.

In the 18th century, the French and the Germans began to honor St. Jude as the patron saint of lost causes, something that is now described in the novena to St. Jude as being a result of his having patiently born the name of Christ's betrayer for all those centuries; other commentators point out that since his name is similar to Judas Iscariot's, he would often be the last of the disciples to whom people would turn for comfort, thus becoming known as the disciple of "last resort." Perhaps he's been even more patient about the way we've muddled his identity all these years (even apart from the Iscariot issue), but that little academic mystery is probably a lost cause in and of itself.

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Tuesday, October 24, 2006

*Achoo!*


Frederick P. Ott -- itinerant mechanic and film star -- died on this day in 1936 in West Orange, New Jersey at the age of 66.

Fred's brother John got Fred a job as a mechanic in the famous research and development workshop of Thomas Edison, the "Wizard of Menlo Park." Together the Ott brothers worked on Edison's kinetograph and kinetoscope motion picture projects.

The contemporaries report, however, that Fred Ott had a penchant for "monkey-shines." So when it came time for W.K.L. Dickson, Edison's kinetograph supervisor, to try out the new invention, he aimed his camera at Fred Ott who, among other talents, had "a sneeze louder than any other white man born east of the Rockies." Although this was to be a silent experiment, Dickson decided upon Ott's sneeze as a proper subject for an experimental motion picture, but try as he might, Ott couldn't sneeze until the second day of production. The result was the very first copyrighted motion picture, Fred Ott's Sneeze (1893), shot in close-up at Edison's "Black Maria" studio, and it made the clowning, mustachioed mechanic the world's first film star -- after a fashion.

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Monday, October 23, 2006

An Accidental Tourist in Maine


In October 1977, Augsburg brewery worker Erwin Kreuz (who was born on this day in 1927) treated himself to a once-in-a-lifetime 50th birthday vacation to San Francisco to see the glorious Golden Gate Bridge.

When his charter flight landed in Bangor, Maine for refueling and customs, the non-English speaking Kreuz thought he had arrived in San Francisco and left the plane. For four days he wandered around Bangor, taking in the sights of houses and businesses and generally getting a good sense of working-class America -- which was at least one of the things he'd hoped to see on his vacation.

It wasn't until he asked a cab driver to take him to downtown San Francisco that he realized he was 6,000 kilometers off his mark. He hit the national news as perhaps the most famous lost person since Wrong Way Corrigan, leading the San Francisco Examiner to pay for a trip to San Francisco for Kreuz. After celebrating his birthday at a party with his new friends in Bangor, eating a McDonald's Big Mac and spending a night in a real American jail (at his own request), he accepted the Examiner's offer, stating that his brewery "won't mind if I'm a few days late."

According to one report, Kreuz planned to return to the U.S. in 1978 -- only this time with the expressed intention of visiting Bangor.

If anyone has any "Kreuz news" today, we'd love to hear about it.

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Sunday, October 22, 2006

Nyuk-Nyuk-Nyuk


Curly Howard was born Jerome Horwitz on this day in 1903 in Brooklyn, New York.

Curly, brother of Moe and Shemp and partner of Larry Fine, was a shaven-headed butterball, a man-child who gave the atmosphere of violence and mayhem in the Three Stooges shorts a loopy tinge of surrealism. Mincing around with an exaggerated gait (designed to mask a limp picked up from a childhood shooting accident), and spouting the most preposterous sounds ("woo-woo-woo!" or "nyuk-nyuk-nyuk" were favorites) between lines of mostly happy-go-lucky moronic dialogue uttered in a Brooklynesque falsetto voice, Curly Howard was instantly appealing to children as one of their own, and the Stooge comedies in which he appeared (before suffering a stroke and being replaced by Shemp in 1947) are generally considered the best of their work. Curly died on January 18, 1952 in San Gabriel, California.

After Shemp died in 1955, the Three Stooges carried on with Joe Besser and later Curly Joe DeRita, both bald and rotund comedians who were meant to suggest Curly Howard physically but who had none of Curly's animal silliness.

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Friday, October 20, 2006

'I am . . . Dracula'


Bela Lugosi was born Bela Blasko on this day in 1882 in Lugos, Hungary, less than 50 miles from Transylvania.

Bela Blasko dropped out of school early and worked in mines and on railroads until, preparing himself by compulsive self-education, he began to act in small traveling repertory companies around Hungary around 1902. By 1911, he had enough of a reputation as a matinee idol, eliciting critical praise as "Romeo" in Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet in Szeged, to be invited to apprentice at the National Theater of Budapest.

With the outbreak of World War I, Lugosi (as he was now known) fought in Austria-Hungarian Army, suffering near fatal wounds in the Carpathian Mountains. After the War came the Revolution, which Lugosi actively supported, with the result that he became a fugitive from counterrevolutionary forces along with countrymen Paul Lukas, Alexander Korda and Michael Curtiz.

At 38, he eventually found himself in the U.S., an unemployed actor who didn't know English. Luckily, film work in America in the 1920s didn't require him to speak English, so he began to glower his way through a series of villain roles in silent films, such as the spy in The Silent Command (1923). Though he resisted taking the part, he ended up playing the role of "Count Dracula" in a Broadway stage version of Bram Stoker's Dracula in 1927, which led to his being cast as the vampire-prince in Tod Browning's 1930 film version.

He was a sensation in the role: with his sharp features, piercing eyes and the thick, mysterious Magyar accent, the effect was chilling; yet, it should come as no shock that 97% of his fan mail after Dracula came from women, for he played Dracula as though he were Valentino. (The rest of his fan mail apparently came from scientists and priests asking for his views on spiritualism.)

For the rest of his life, Lugosi would only play roles which were variations on Dracula -- vampires, psychotic killers and mad scientists -- despite furious effort on Lugosi's part, who desired to be given a chance as a serious actor (he even went so far as to publish a photograph of himself as Jesus, whom he played on stage in 1916, in a 1930 casting directory). Universal Pictures tried to get him to play the monster in Frankenstein, but he resisted (the role would make Boris Karloff a star), and his career went into a slow, agonizing slide, degenerating into self-parody (such as his appearances in Old Mother Riley Meets the Vampire and Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla, both 1952).

With his personal life in a shambles, Lugosi became a drug addict. He was at rock-bottom when he met Edward D. Wood, an aspiring bad filmmaker, who bought Lugosi formaldehyde to quench his thirst and cast him in some truly awful pieces of cinema: Glen or Glenda? (1953), Bride of the Monster (1955) and, posthumously, Plan 9 From Outer Space (1959). At the end, Lugosi went into rehab (courageously owning up to his problem during a time when it was not at all popular to do so), kicked his habit and married for the fifth time (happily) before dying of a heart attack on August 16, 1956. He was buried in Holy Cross Cemetery, Los Angeles, wearing his famous vampire cape.

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Thursday, October 19, 2006

The 'Super Swedish Angel'


It was sometimes said that Rondo Hatton was the only horror film star who didn't need any make-up, but with the entry of Tor Johnson into the genre, that simply wasn't true anymore. With his startlingly large shoulders, bull-neck, shaved head and fearsome grimaces, Johnson cut a wide and visually memorable swath through a number of mediocre films. In the 1930s he barnstormed the U.S. as a professional wrestler, billed as the "Super Swedish Angel," as distinct from Phil Olafsson, the "Swedish Angel," who actually bore more of a resemblance to Rondo Hatton.

In 1935, he played a wrestler in a W.C. Fields movie, The Man on the Flying Trapeze, and followed that with brief appearances in other Hollywood movies. His horror movie career took off in earnest when he was invited by B-movie director Ed Wood to play "Lobo," the atomic monster-creation of "Dr. Vornoff" (played by Bela Lugosi) in Bride of the Monster (1955). With a thick Swedish accent and unfocused thespian style, Johnson was no Olivier, but he did play a key role in Wood's classic of bad cinema, Plan 9 From Outer Space (1959), and made a career of replaying "Lobo" in subsequent B movies and public appearances around southern California.

Now a cult figure of sorts, his face was used as the model for a popular Halloween mask, he was portrayed by wrestler George "The Animal" Steele in Tim Burton's 1995 film Ed Wood, and he even showed up as a character in an underground comic book, Tor Love Betty, as a "Lobo"-like, ardent admirer of pin-up girl Bettie Page.

Johnson was born on this day in 1903, and died on May 12, 1971 in Los Angeles.

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Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Rita


The undisputed "Love Goddess" of the mid-1940s, Rita Hayworth (born Margarita Carmen Cansino on this day in 1918 in Brooklyn, New York) was the daughter of a Spanish-born dancer and his "Ziegfeld Follies" dance partner. At 13, she was dancing in night spots in Tijuana, and made her bit part film debut as "Rita Cansino" at 17.

She languished in B movies until her businessman-first husband had her change her name to "Hayworth" (her mother's maiden name) and promoted her into choice roles in successive breakthrough pictures (Only Angels Have Wings, 1939, directed by Howard Hawks, with Cary Grant; Strawberry Blonde, 1941, with James Cagney; Blood and Sand, 1941, with Tyrone Power). Wartime filmgoers warmed to this robust, voluptuous, sunny auburn-haired woman, who paradoxically seemed to possess a touch of smoldering Latin sensuality and, potentially, the cold heart of a jungle predator.

The sunnier side of Rita was displayed to great effect in some musicals (You Were Never Lovelier, 1942, with Fred Astaire, who said she was his favorite dance partner; and Cover Girl, 1944, with Gene Kelly); but she reached her zenith as a downright dangerous sex symbol in Gilda (1946, with the late Glenn Ford), in which she was uninhibitedly erotic, with her flaming mane tumbling carelessly about her bare shoulders, in a way that even Hollywood could not even contain. In the film's centerpiece, a musical number called "Put the Blame on Mame," she steamed up movie theatres around the world with a mock striptease in which she only removed one long black satin glove.

Her photo in Life magazine, kneeling on a bed in black lace lingerie, became the most requested pin-up of GIs overseas, and even adorned the atomic bomb test which was detonated at Bikini atoll in July 1946. She was briefly married to Orson Welles (starring with him in The Lady From Shanghai, 1948), but left Hollywood in 1949 to marry Aly Khan, the son and heir of the Aga Khan. When that marriage dissolved after only two years, she returned to Hollywood in the 1950s looking tired; the electric glint which shone in her eyes during the previous decade was gone, and she faded slowly until her retirement in the 1970s. She died, suffering from Alzheimer's Disease, on May 14, 1987 in New York City.

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Monday, October 16, 2006

Run, Dorando, Run


Dorando Pietri was born on this day in 1885 in Mandrio, Italy.

Pietri was a candy-maker who took up cycle racing in 1904. The following year he switched to running and won his first Italian marathon title.

Though he did not finish in the 1906 Olympic marathon in Athens, he was a sentimental favorite as the 1908 Olympic marathon began at Windsor Castle in England. A half-mile from the Olympic Stadium at Shepard's Bush where the 26-mile race was to end, Pietri overtook South African Charles Heffron, and was the first to enter the packed Stadium. The fast pace of the race had taken its toll on Pietri, however -- he appeared dazed and began running around the Stadium track in the wrong direction. After only a few yards, he collapsed. Zealous British officials, then feuding with the American team and noting that American Johnny Hayes had also passed Heffron and would win if Pietri failed to finish, leaped to their feet, picked up Pietri and, after Pietri collapsed several more times, virtually dragged him around the Stadium track in the right direction and declared Pietri the winner. The Americans lodged a protest, resulting in Pietri's disqualification and Hayes being declared the winner.

Nevertheless, Pietri's valiant struggle at the end of a hard fought race captivated the public imagination. The following day, Queen Alexandra, who had been present at the finish, presented Pietri with a special gold cup. In the U.S., he became the latest hero in the cult of the underdog. Irving Berlin wrote a song about him, and Pietri was invited to appear on the New York vaudeville stage (on a bill featuring boxer Jack Johnson and cartoonist Rube Goldberg), where the story of the Olympic marathon was told by a professional lecturer as Pietri stood awkwardly by, not knowing a word of English.

Meanwhile, Pietri turned professional, beating Hayes twice in marathons held in New York; he even beat two opponents on horseback on his way to winning 50 of 69 professional marathons. Eventually, Pietri retired to Italy where he drove a taxi and received a pension from the government to scout for new marathon runners. He died on February 7, 1942 in San Remo, Italy.

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Saturday, October 14, 2006

Superman


"Superman, I've always thought, is an angel. Probably the angel stories found in all of the world's religions are traces of the work in our world of Superman and his relatives. Who is to say I'm wrong?" -- Andrew Greeley.

Jerry Siegel -- born on this day in 1914 in Cleveland, Ohio -- was a nerdy teenager with a passion for science fiction when he met his future lifelong collaborator, budding artist Joe Shuster. Together they self-published a variety of fantasy stories before they finished high school -- Jerry providing the stories and Joe providing the drawings.

In 1933, Siegel published a story called The Reign of Superman, in which the title character was a villain; indeed, the prevailing connotation of the word "superman" at that time was negative, being closely associated with the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche and its invocation by Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb at their celebrated 1924 murder trial.

The concept of a man with a super-human powers stayed with Siegel, however, and with inspiration from Edgar Rice Burroughs' "John Carter," Siegel roughed out the character of a fighter for truth, justice and the American way who came to be known as "Superman." Rocketed from the exploding planet Krypton to Earth as a baby, he was adopted by the Kent family, who raised him as "Clark Kent." Kent worked as a mild-mannered, bespectacled reporter for the "Daily Planet," but when danger arose, Clark Kent would shed his meek veneer to become Superman -- "faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, able to leap tall buildings at a single bound."

Siegel tried to peddle his character as a comic strip, drawn wearing a blue, tight-fitting costume and a red cape by Shuster, but to no avail. By 1937, Siegel and Shuster were producing stories for the Slam Bradley series at Detective Comics (DC), and after much prodding, DC finally agreed to run Superman as a feature in its new comic book series, Action Comics, in 1938. Superman became the first huge comic book success, virtually spawning the super hero genre and launching hundreds of imitators.

Meanwhile, Siegel and Shuster sold the rights to their creation for $130 (by contrast, a copy of the first issue of Action Comics could fetch up to $145,000 at the time of Siegel's death). They continued to produce Superman comics (and Siegel created another popular comic hero, The Spectre) until World War II, when the two left for military service. While they were gone, DC spun off a Superboy series without compensating Siegel and Shuster, so they sued DC and won a settlement of $100,000. Out of spite, DC failed to renew their contracts in 1948, and Siegel and Shuster struggled along, producing a comic strip for awhile, until DC re-hired the down-on-his-luck Siegel in 1958.

In 1978, DC's new corporate parent, Warner Communications, made amends to both Shuster and Siegel, restoring their creators' credit and giving them a yearly stipend, as Warner rolled out the first of its big budget Superman films with Christopher Reeve. Siegel died on January 28, 1996.

Of all the fictional characters created by the likes of Homer, Shakespeare and Dickens -- Siegel and Shuster's Superman is probably known to more living humans in more distant corners of the world than any of them.

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Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Eleanor


Eleanor Roosevelt was the most influential woman in 20th century American politics, and it was not just because she was the president's wife.

Born on this day in 1884 in New York City, the niece of Theodore Roosevelt, Eleanor grew up in relative material comfort, even if she was emotionally deprived. Shy and insecure, her mother nicknamed her "Granny" for her precocious solemnity. Her parents separated when she was 7; her beloved yet unreliable father was confined to an alcoholic sanitarium when her mother died the following year, so she was packed off to live with her mother's mother in an emotionally austere environment.

When she was 14, however, she was sent to Allenwood -- not the minimum security prison, but a girls' school outside of London -- where her hollowness was filled by her relationship with the headmistress, 70-year old Marie Souvestre, who in addition to giving Eleanor warmth and affection, provided her with a role model as a freethinker who supported unpopular causes, such as the innocence of Alfred Dreyfus and the independence of the Boers in South Africa.

Unpopular causes stayed in Eleanor's bloodstream when she returned to New York debutante society at age 18; while attending fancy dress parties in the evenings, during the days Eleanor went to the East Side slums for the Rivington Street Settlement House, doing social work among the poor. At the same time, she began a secret courtship with her fifth cousin-once removed, a dashing young Harvard man named Franklin D. Roosevelt. He chattered about society-doings, she took him on a tour of the tenements, and he was smitten, proposing to the 19-year old Eleanor in November 1903. Franklin's mother was against the match, but he would not be deterred; they were married on March 17, 1905, with her uncle, then the president of the U.S., giving her away at the ceremony.

Eleanor and Franklin took up residence in New York, where she played second fiddle to Franklin's mother in running the household, and gave birth to 6 children in quick succession (one died in infancy). Apart from volunteer work with the Red Cross and the League of Women Voters, as well as some activities with the then-considered-radical Women's Trade Union League, Eleanor's life was confined to being a mother and political hostess as Franklin scaled the ranks in Albany and Washington.

Everything changed, however, in 1922 when Franklin was stricken with polio and rendered paralyzed from the waist down. In addition to continually spurring her husband to return to public life (he was elected governor of New York in 1928), Eleanor began appearing as her husband's stand-in at political events, soon becoming an active campaigner on social welfare issues in her own right. As head of the national women's campaign for the Democratic Party in 1928, she became the hub of the nation's network of women activists, and when Franklin was elected president in 1932, she brought many of them and their concerns to Washington.

Although from at least 1918, when Eleanor discovered Franklin's ongoing affair with Eleanor's social secretary Lucy Mercer, Eleanor and Franklin grew emotionally distant, they remained a formidable professional team, and Eleanor's proximity permitted her to operate as the White House's conscience of social justice and compassion.

Still unafraid to take unpopular stands, she lobbied forcefully behind closed doors to bring important issues to the president's desk, such as land reclamation for poor Appalachian farmers, textile union grievances, African-American civil rights and equal opportunity for women. In public, she was more visible than any previous first lady, using a daily syndicated newspaper column ("My Day"), a radio program and regular press conferences to further her social welfare agenda. Her dramatically symbolic acts drew as much comment as the activities of congressmen and diplomats (and made her a target of political enemies), such as when she announced in "My Day" her resignation from the Daughter of the American Revolution (DAR) in 1939 after the DAR decided to ban African-American soprano Marian Anderson from giving a concert at its hall, and when she flouted segregation at a public meeting in Birmingham, Alabama by placing her chair between the white and African-American sides of the aisle.

Nevertheless, she could easily play the more traditional role assigned to public women of her time, as she did when she toured the South Pacific during World War II, visiting soldiers in hospitals and at bases to boost morale. When her husband died in 1945, she told her friends that her public life was over, but President Truman cut short her retirement by appointing her as one of the nation's representatives to the newly-created United Nations. Soon afterwards, Eleanor was elected the head of the UN Human Rights Commission, whereupon she drafted the "Declaration of Human Rights" which the UN adopted in 1948. She threatened to resign from the UN if Truman failed to recognize the new state of Israel; and stayed on board until 1952, when she resigned to campaign for Adlai Stevenson.

Even during the Eisenhower years, Eleanor continued to be an influential voice with regard to human rights issues and against McCarthyism, and just before her death from tuberculosis, was invited by President Kennedy to rejoin the UN, as well as to head the President's Commission on the Status of Women. She died on November 7, 1962 in New York City.

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Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Bikini


Louis Reard was born on this day in 1896 in Lille, France.

A French automobile engineer, Reard joined his mother's clothing business and on July 6, 1946 earned the eternal gratitude of all admirers of the female form when he premiered his most famous fashion design, a mighty piece of engineering: a tiny two-piece cotton swimsuit which he dubbed the "bikini" after the nuclear test site on Bikini Atoll in the Pacific Ocean where the U.S. had detonated an atomic bomb 4 days earlier. Strapped onto the irresistible body of an unknown Parisian nude dancer named Micheline Bernardini at a Paris fashion show (as no runway model would agree to wear it), the bikini was an immediate international sensation, hitting newspapers around the world. Bernardini received over 50,000 fan letters.


Although initially no one took the garment very seriously as practical fashion (Diana Vreeland, for one, quipped that it revealed "everything about a girl except her maiden name," and the oft swimsuited Esther Williams called the bikini "a thoughtless act"), by the 1960s the two-piece swimsuit was an old standard to be found on beaches and around swimming pools everywhere.

For his own part, Reard insisted that the only true bikini was one which could be pulled through a wedding ring. Reard died on September 17, 1984 in Lausanne, Switzerland.

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Monday, October 09, 2006

Gavel to Gavel


Brian Lamb was born on this day in 1941 in Lafayette, Indiana.

A former Pentagon spokesman and assistant to the director of the Office of Technology Policy in the Nixon White House, mild-mannered Brian Lamb had the temerity to try to convince America's steely-eyed major cable television operators to finance a non-profit cable TV network to cover public affairs in Washington. Before the days of 500+ cable channels, the cable companies turned out to be eager to find additional programming; so with Lamb at the helm, C-SPAN (the "Cable Satellite Public Affairs Network") became the first bona fide cable network that was not simply a "movie channel."

C-SPAN was launched on March 19, 1979 with gavel-to-gavel coverage of the U.S. House of Representatives, beginning with a speech by a young Democratic congressman named Al Gore. By 1984, backbenchers such as Republican Newt Gingrich had devised ways of making the cameras work for their benefit, delivering long speeches over the free air, denouncing the Democrats to an otherwise empty House chamber. By giving the podium to unknown freshmen and sophomores, C-SPAN activated the "young turk" movement within the post-Nixon Republican Party, as well as giving life to the previously marginalized centrist Democratic Leadership Council -- party factions that had previously failed to receive the support of traditional party leaders outside the glare of the TV klieglights.

It was only in 1986, when Senate majority leader Robert Byrd realized the members of the U.S. Senate were losing some of their celebrity status to the members of the House, that C-SPAN was allowed to cover the Senate.

Since its humble beginnings, C-SPAN has grown from one network staffed by 4 full-timers and a phone to 3 TV networks and a radio network with a $40 million annual budget, watched by 34.5 million cable subscribers every week, providing coverage not just of the House and Senate, but of major political speeches in any venue, as well as books, American history and even the proceedings of the British Parliament. Because 90% of its viewers are likely voters, C-SPAN's non-commercial, non-partisan, "just the facts" window on Washington has become one of the influential media sources within American politics.

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Sunday, October 08, 2006

The America That I Have Seen


It is hard to imagine that modern militant Islam, al-Qaeda and the September 11, 2001 tragedy may have all had their birth in quiet, sedate hamlet of Greeley, Colorado, but there is at least an argument that this is the case. Sayyid Qutb (born on this day in 1906 in Musha, Qaha, Egypt) was an obscure critic and inspector of schools for the Egyptian ministry of education during the 1930s and 40s -- a scribbling cafe-bachelor and the author of a minor novel -- who had just stuck his toe in the waters of advocating unadorned Islamism as a comprehensive way of life with his somewhat understated, moderate commentary, Social Justice in Islam (1948), when the Egyptian government sent him to Greeley for a few months in 1949 to study U.S. education techniques.

He reacted with scorn to what he perceived to be the promiscuity of American culture (even in the relatively conservative climate of the post-War American Plains, in a town where alcohol was illegal!); he denounced American churches as "entertainment centres and sexual playgrounds" after attending a church social, interpreted the green lawns in front of Greeley's modest homes as symbols of American greed, and branded American women as seductively-dressed vixens and American men as violent monsters obsessed with bloody sports such as boxing and football.

Turning his American experience back upon his homeland, he joined the fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood and began to articulate a critique of Egypt under Farouk, who was by symbol and deed adopting a modern secular persona, informed by the values of the Western culture that so repulsed Qutb in Greeley. In response to the creeping secularization of his world, Qutb constructed a theologically-based argument based on the work of the 13th century commentator Ibn Tamiyyah in favor of violent Muslim resistance or jihad -- an ancient tenant of Islam traditionally reserved only for waging "holy war" against non-Muslims, as killing Muslim political leaders was expressly forbidden within Islam -- against corrupt regimes that claim to be Muslim.

After the assassination of Muslim Brotherhood founder Hassan al-Banna, Qutb assumed the role of intellectual leader within the Brotherhood as it participated in the overthrow of Farouk; however, as it became clear that Farouk's successor General Nasser would not impose Islamic law on Egypt, Qutb turned his critique on Nasser. On October 26, 1954, a member of the Brotherhood attempted to assassinate Nasser, who retaliated by imprisoning the leaders of the Brotherhood, including Qutb. He was tortured and at trial was sentenced to life in prison by a panel of judges which included Anwar as-Sadat, but his sentence was commuted to 15 years due to poor health.

While he was in prison, Qutb's writings turned more radical in tone. His influential commentary, In the Shadow of the Koran (1952- ) emphasized the literary beauty of the Koran while demanding uncompromising adherence to Muslim laws, but his Milestones (not published until 1964) called for a revolutionary form of Islam to come forward and violently shake off the pagan yolk -- both that of the West and its toadying faux-Islam East. Abdul-Salaam Arif of Iraq eventually convinced Nasser to release Qutb, but shortly after the publication of Milestones, Nasser arrested him again on the basis of the book and a conspiracy charge, and ultimately had Qutb executed on August 29, 1966.

Nasser believed that Qutb's movement died with him, but it had a direct influence on the group that assassinated Sadat in 1981. Although most of Qutb's invective was directed at corrupt Westernized Muslims, Qutb's memoir of Greeley, The America I Have Seen, has focused his followers on America as a symbol of decay, a perception that has no doubt been encouraged by the same American cultural and economic imperialism that has irked other cultures (say, the French) and America's more recently aggressive, seemingly anti-Arab foreign policy.

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Saturday, October 07, 2006

Henry A. Wallace


"Wallace was really too naive for a hard world." -- Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.

As an economist and crop scientist who spoke at least four foreign languages passably well, Henry A. Wallace cast a singular silhouette in 20th century American politics.

Born on this day in 1888 in Adair County, Iowa, the son of Henry C. Wallace -- a dairying professor, founding editor of Wallace's Farmer and U.S. secretary of agriculture under Presidents Harding and Coolidge -- young Henry developed an interest in plant science under the influence of one of his father's students, George Washington Carver. From his teens onward, Wallace worked in his own private agronomy laboratory breeding new crops, pausing occasionally to deliver lectures on advanced statistics to the faculty at Iowa State and to write for the Farmer. In 1923, he developed the first commercially viable strain of hybrid corn (more than doubling the per acre yields of Midwestern corn), which he sold through his Pioneer Hi-Bred Seed Company.

Wallace's frustration with the Republicans' lack of interest in agricultural issues led him to begin supporting the Democrats in 1928, and when Franklin Roosevelt won the presidency in 1932, he rewarded Wallace by appointing him secretary of agriculture. From this post Wallace became one of the most enthusiastic "New Dealers," campaigning for the passage of the Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1933 (later augmented by the Soil Conservation Act of 1935 to enable the policy to pass constitutional muster) to help end the family farm crisis by paying farmers to reduce crop output (thus helping to support prices for actual output), as well as for the Federal Crop Insurance Program (1938), the food stamp program (1939) and the school milk program (1940).

Roosevelt admired Wallace, and Wallace was his only choice for vice-presidential running mate for the 1940 campaign. As vice president he did not enjoy particularly good relations with the Senate (perhaps his accidental knockout of Senator Allen Ellender in a friendly intramural boxing match didn't help matters) or with the members of Roosevelt's cabinet (in his role as chair of the economic defense board, he locked antlers with secretary of commerce Jesse Jones as Wallace attempted to increase the level of governmental involvement in building supply stockpiles); but he joined Roosevelt in his vision of American involvement in World War II as an opportunity for creating a post-war international peace mission.

In 1943, he visited Latin America, addressing the public in short Spanish sentences (speaking the language as well as Xavier Cugat could speak English, according to film actress Margo); and in the following year, Roosevelt sent him to China and the Soviet Union. Wallace returned from the latter trip as an enthusiastic supporter of the Russian people and some aspects of Soviet economic policy. His public remarks sent chills up the spines of pre-Cold War anti-Communists, who demanded that Roosevelt dump him from the ticket in 1944. The move was fateful, as shortly after the election, Wallace's replacement, Harry Truman, became president when Roosevelt died in 1945. Although Roosevelt appointed Wallace secretary of commerce as a consolation prize, Truman dismissed him in 1946 after Wallace gave a speech criticizing U.S. policy relating to the Soviet Union after World War II.

Originally hoping to challenge Truman for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1948 in the name of world peace and human rights, in 1947 he announced his candidacy under the banner of the Progressive Party. The U.S. Communist Party immediately lent its support by nominating Wallace as its candidate, doing an about-face from its pro-Democratic Party/low-profile policy during World War II as a result of Truman's anti-Soviet stance; against his advisors' counsel, Wallace failed to disavow the Communists, sending most Democratic Party progressives, including the leaders of organized labor, back to Truman. With mainstream America believing that he was pro-Soviet if not anti-American, as well as with the disclosure of his relationship with the late Russian yoga guru Nicolas Roerich when a series of "Dear Guru" letters were leaked to the press, Wallace's campaign failed to have much of an impact: running 4th behind Truman, Dewey and Strom Thurmond, Wallace received just 1,157,140 votes, or a little over 2% of the popular vote, as Truman was re-elected.

Wallace continued to lead the Progressive Party until 1950, when his optimism about the Soviets was finally tarnished by their record of intervention in Eastern Europe. He retired to his farm in South Salem, New York, raising chickens, strawberries and gladioli until succumbing to Lou Gehrig's Disease on November 18, 1965.

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Thursday, October 05, 2006

Chester Alan Arthur


"If Arthur's goal in life was to grow rather splendid facial hair and leave plenty of room in the history books for the achievements of other men, then his presidency can be ranked a sterling success." -- Bill Bryson.

When Chester Alan Arthur (born on this day in 1829 in North Fairfield, Vermont) was elected Vice President of the U.S. in 1880, it was the first time he had ever stood for public office -- which might not have been unusual had he been a military hero or even a successful diplomat. He was neither; instead, he was a New York lawyer who, in 1855, had successfully represented a black woman in a landmark case that led to the desegregation of public transportation in New York City; a "Stalwart" Republican, who had been the recipient of Stalwart political patronage, having been appointed to the lucrative position of Collector of import duties at the Port of New York (1871-78); and otherwise, an amiable, charming raconteur.

In the chaotic Republican National Convention of 1880, as moderate, anti-patronage Republican James A. Garfield eventually received the Presidential nomination, the Stalwarts, led by Roscoe Conkling, demanded that Garfield's running mate be chosen from among them. Garfield's first choice among them, Levi Morton, declined, and Garfield's lieutenants settled on Arthur, who accepted over Conkling's (perhaps jealous) objections.

Arthur became President following Garfield's death from an assassin's bullet, and to the surprise and anger of the Stalwarts, Arthur supported the Pendleton Act, the law which created the modern civil service system, effectively putting an end to Stalwart patronage. Having alienated the Stalwarts, Arthur had no base of support for re-election, and retired to his law practice at the end of his single term in 1884. He died on November 18, 1886 in New York City.

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Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Keaton


"Chaplin appropriated film to his own image. Lloyd manipulated it with an architect's knowledgability. Keaton preferred to function as its conscience. While others were using film to point at themselves or their deviltries, Keaton pointed in the opposite direction: at the thing itself. He insisted that film was film. He insisted that silent film was silent." -- Walter Kerr.

Born on this day in 1895 in Piqua, Kansas, the son of traveling medicine show performers, Keaton was performing comedy almost as soon as he could walk. His nickname is said to have come from Harry Houdini, who saw Keaton take a spill down some stairs at the age of 6 months and laugh delightedly upon reaching the bottom (as in, "that was quite a buster your boy just took").

Keaton's ability to take a pratfall became the basis of his early comedy, as his father Joe Keaton threw his hapless son around the medicine show stage like a rag doll while Keaton maintained what would become his famous deadpanned face. Soon he became the star attraction of his parents' act, and he enabled the family to break from the small-time to the better houses of the vaudeville circuit. When Buster reached majority, the family act broke up (at that time his father seemed incapable of having anything but a violent relationship with his son, either on or off the stage), and Buster began to headline on his own.

Very soon thereafter, however, Keaton met movie comedian Fatty Arbuckle, then one of the most popular silent screen stars, and began to support him in various two-reel comedies, beginning with The Butcher Boy (1917). While most silent comedy was distinguished by its frenetic pace and overemphatic gesture, Keaton's quiet, unhurried style immediately asserted itself on the screen. Even with his stoic expression, he managed to convey much more about what he was thinking than the grimacing, mugging comedians who populated the silents at the time. He also showed himself to be a wildly resourceful, logical character, someone who could take adversity and bend it to his will.

Near the end of 1917, Arbuckle moved his film company to California, and Keaton went with him, interrupting his film education with a brief stint in World War I. In 1920, Keaton was offered his own picture deal at Metro just as Arbuckle was jumping to Paramount. From 1920 to 1923, Keaton directed and starred in 19 short comedies, including the classics One Week (1920) and Cops (1922). In 1921, he married Natalie Talmadge, the least famous of the Hollywood Talmadge sisters, and moved into a grand Hollywood mansion. Natalie starred with Keaton in his first feature masterpiece, Our Hospitality (1923) in which he combined his penchant for athletic gags (such as swinging across a waterfall to rescue Natalie just as her canoe goes over the edge) with a compelling period atmosphere and a subconscious critique of his real-life relationship with his Hollywood in-laws, as his character in the film becomes the target of the family of his beloved. (Keaton ended up being chewed up and spit out by the Talmadges in due course, his marriage to Natalie breaking up in 1932.)

In Sherlock, Jr. (1924), Keaton plays a movie projectionist who dreams himself into the movie screen (a theme reworked by Woody Allen in Purple Rose of Cairo, 1984), and added to his smart, physical gags a series of special effect gags -- seamless background changes without apparent cuts -- which dazzled Hollywood tekkies; critics claim that the science of special effects didn't catch up to what Keaton achieved with inferior technology until the 1980s. His next film, The Navigator (1924), is thought to be second only to The General (1926) in exposing Keaton's greatness.

In The General, often considered one of the greatest American films ever made, Keaton plays a Southern engine driver who gets rejected by the Confederate Army and by his girl (Marion Mack). When his girl and his train are kidnapped by the Union, he pursues them, rescues them and is commissioned as a Confederate officer. Like Our Hospitality, Keaton endows the film with a beautiful period sense (many critics compare his pictorial sensibilities to those of Civil War photographer Mathew Brady), but it is Keaton's delicate engineering sense and integration of plot structure and gags which leaves audiences in awe: every gag propels the plot with linear economy.

Keaton continued to make great silent comedies as the talkies arrived (Steamboat Bill, Jr., 1928; The Cameraman, 1928; and Spite Marriage, 1929), but his comedy did not translate well to the early sound period, despite 8 sound features made for MGM made between 1929 and 1933. He rapidly went from Hollywood stardom to a couple of decades of alcoholism and poverty row short films. He appeared in cameo roles in Billy Wilder's Sunset Boulevard (1950, playing bridge with Erich von Stroheim) and in Charlie Chaplin's Limelight (1952, in which utters the famous line, "If anyone else says it's like the old times, I'll jump out the window."), and sold his biography to MGM for a regrettable biopic starring an inadequate Donald O'Connor, The Buster Keaton Story (1957).

Although during the 1920s, Keaton's comedy was considered second-best to Chaplin's, as Keaton approached the end of his life he not enjoyed a resurgence of popularity, and since then a number of critics have labored to show that Keaton was the superior director and the more inventive comedian. He died on February 1, 1966.


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Tuesday, October 03, 2006

'Ain't No Cure For the Summertime Blues'


Eddie Cochran was born on this day in 1938 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.

Among the early rockers, Cochran showed a great deal of promise: he was good-looking, had a flexible voice which he used well, was an accomplished guitar player, had a great live act, and was an inventive songwriter, comfortable in a variety of pop music settings. He enjoyed a string of hits in both the U.S. and the UK beginning in 1957, including "C'mon Everybody" (referred to as the "[g]reatest party invitation of the rock and roll era" by critic Dave Marsh), "Cut Across Shorty," and the classic teen anthem, "Summertime Blues," featuring Eddie's deathless lyric, "I called my congressman and he said quote/'I'd like to help you, son, but you're too young to vote.'"

At the age of 22, following a successful UK concert tour, Cochran died in an auto accident on April 17, 1960 near Chippenham -- his fiance, songwriter Sharon Sheely, and fellow rocker Gene Vincent, both survived the crash but were seriously injured.

Posthumously, Cochran's songs continued to hit the charts until 1963.

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Monday, October 02, 2006

Mahatma


Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (whose full name was translated by G.V. Desani as "Action-Slave Fascination-Moon Grocer") is often credited with securing independence for India from the British. While it is true that no other individual could claim more credit for turning the infant crusade for Indian independence into a national movement, representing all classes of Indian society, critics have since pointed out that Gandhi achieved neither a unified independent India nor peace. Nevertheless, revolutionaries around the world have galvanized around the memory of the Mahatma, seeing him almost as a miraculous living confluence of human kindness and political change, of faith-based theory and effective practice.

Born on this day in 1869 in Probandar, India, the son of a prime minister of the tiny principality of Porbandar, Gandhi was married at 13. Three years later he suffered self-loathing disgrace which would never leave him and which would predispose his philosophy and public persona: he was making love to his wife when a servant brought him the news that his father had died. "The shame to which I have referred . . . was this shame of my carnal desire even at the critical hour of my father's death, which demanded wakeful service." This incident, along with his mother's teaching of devotion to rituals of self-suffering, led him inch-by-inch to live as an ascetic, forsaking sexual relations (after fathering 4 children) and scaling down to a simple agrarian life.

When he was 19, however, his family expected him to be a professional, and he was sent to England to qualify as a barrister, where in addition he studied the New Testament, Buddha's sutras and the Bhagavad Gita while avoiding Western temptations. When he returned to India in 1891, he was not considered to be the brightest of lights, seeming too shy for litigation, and after 2 years he moved to South Africa, then also a possession of the British Empire. To his surprise, he discovered that as an Indian he had no rights in South Africa, and soon he found his voice and vocation as an activist.

Drawing from his religious studies and from works by Tolstoy and Ruskin, among others, Gandhi developed the three principles by which he would conduct his life and causes: satyagraha ("truth-force," denoting "the method of securing rights by personal suffering; it is the reverse of resistance by arms," bringing injustice to an end by changing the hearts of the oppressors though love and self-suffering), ahimsa (non-violence) and brachmacharya (sexual abstinence).

He put satyagraha to the test in civil protests over racial discrimination in South Africa, leading thousands of ethnic Indians in publicly refusing to submit to the ignominy of registration and fingerprinting in 1907, resulting in Gandhi's arrest and conviction the following year; and leading a massive general strike to oppose a court ruling that non-Christian marriages were not considered legal in South Africa. He was again arrested, along with thousands of others, and released after reaching a watered-down compromise with South African general Jan Christian Smuts over the future treatment of ethnic Indians. During this period, he also experimented with communal living, setting up the Phoenix Community near Durban and the Tolstoy Farm near Johannesburg; but after the compromise with Smuts, he returned to India in 1915.

Within 5 years, he became the leader of the Indian nationalist movement, spearheading nonviolent protests in Champara to improve the conditions of indigo farmers (1917) and in Ahmedabad on behalf of textile workers (1918), building support for his views among the working class; and, as leader of a reformed Indian National Congress, a noncooperation movement against British rule in response to the slaughter of hundreds of Indians demonstrating for independence at Amritsar (1919-22) which attracted the support of the Muslim community. Gandhi suspended the latter program, however, when a violent protest broke out in Chauri Chauri, resulting in the death of 22 policemen inside a building burned down by independence protesters.

Suspending the movement did not endear him to militants who sought independence at any cost, and there was no outpouring of rage when Gandhi was sentenced to 6 years in prison for inciting the movement. Gandhi was freed after serving only 2 years, and emerged to find Hindu and Muslim factions of the Indian National Congress arguing over methods and strategies. His reaction was to undertake a much-publicized fast in protest of the in-fighting, a satyagraha technique which became his hallmark in the years which followed. By this time, Gandhi had shed the Western suit and tie he wore as a barrister in favor of dhotis (white traditionally-Indian wrap-around garments), shaved his head and immersed himself in collective farming -- consciously adopting a luddite persona and luddite practices as a way of separating himself (and ultimately his followers) from England, its European fashions, and what he viewed as its soul-killing and politically oppressive industry and technology.

In 1930, when he reemerged as the architect of Indian protests against the Salt Act (which required Indians to buy salt from the British government) by leading thousands of Indians in a 200-mile nonviolent march to the sea to make salt by hand from ocean water, Gandhi was internationally recognized as the personification of colonial peoples desiring self-determination. The march sparked another round of mass noncooperation, and fostered international sympathy for the Indian cause for which the British government was entirely unprepared. (Evidence of his impact can be seen in his being named Time's "Man of the Year" in 1930).

Both sides called a truce as Gandhi was invited to England to negotiate a compromise. Reveling in the consciousness-raising publicity, he took tea with George V wearing nothing but a "loincloth" ("the King was wearing enough for both of us"); and while the talks resulted in no great progress, British rule was becoming less tenable as Gandhi renewed the civil disobedience movement upon his return to India. He was arrested again, but his presence was felt nonetheless when he undertook 2 lengthy fasts in response to proposed constitutional provisions for a separate, marginalizing electorate for the harijans (the "untouchables," the lowest caste of Hindus), exerting moral pressure on the British to propose an alternative structure.

In 1934, Gandhi resigned from the Indian National Congress, by this time headed by his friend Jawaharlal Nehru, but continued to be a mentor to Nehru. As World War II began in Europe in 1939, the Indian National Congress proposed to press the cause for independence in exchange for India's support of the British war effort, while Gandhi was concerned about England's ability to use the independence issue to issue to drive a wedge between Hindus and Muslims to delay the inevitable.

While the Muslim League, led by Mohammed Ali Jinnah, curried favor with the British by pledging support for the war, Gandhi went public with a more radical stance, calling for the immediate withdrawal of the British from India during a crucial moment in the war during the summer of 1942 (the "Quit India" declaration) and declaring that all Indians should engage in one final struggle to achieve independence or die trying. He was quickly imprisoned by the British for what amounted to treason. A violent uprising followed throughout India, much of it directed at railway stations, telegraph offices and other British-built communications and transportation posts. To Gandhi's great grief, 1.5 million Indians died in the resulting chaos and famine, and he mourned by fasting for 21 days while under house arrest at the Aga Khan's palace in Poona.

When he was released in 1944, he attempted to engage Jinnah in a dialogue about unified independence, but his vision of a decentralized multi-creed agrarian state was viewed as an anachronism by Jinnah and (with all due respect) by Nehru, and Gandhi was effectively shut out of the negotiations which resulted in the Mountbatten Plan and the declaration of independence of India and Pakistan as separate dominions in August 1947. As Gandhi had predicted, however, violent Hindu-Muslim riots broke out all over India and once again, in an attempt to bring peace, the 78-year old Gandhi fasted. He stopped only when community leaders agreed to do everything they could to stop the violence. Lord Mountbatten later observed that as Gandhi walked from village to village, nursing and consoling the victims of the strife, he came to be "a one-man boundary force" between the Muslims and the Hindus. Radical Hindus, however, became increasingly angry with what they perceived to be Gandhi's constant appeasements; and on January 30, 1948, as Gandhi was on his way to an evening prayer meeting, he was shot at point blank and killed by Nathuram Godse, the editor of an extremist Hindu newspaper.

India, then as now, is nothing like Gandhi hoped it would be, and it is fair to question the extent of his lasting impact there as anything other than a semi-mythical "father of the nation," as Nehru called him. As a philosopher of nonviolence and an endlessly adaptable, abstract global symbol, however, he had an enduring effect on the history that followed, inspiring leaders from distant corners of the world, from Martin Luther King, Jr. to Desmond Tutu to Natan Scharansky to Greenpeace to factions of the Northern Irish, to name but a few.

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Sunday, October 01, 2006

Holly Whyte and Small Urban Spaces


"I end then in praise of small spaces. The multiplier effect is tremendous. It is not just the number of people using them, but the larger number who pass by and enjoy them vicariously, or even the larger number who feel better about the city center for knowledge of them. For a city, such places are priceless, whatever the cost. They are built of a set of basics and they are right in front of our noses. If we will look." -- William H. Whyte.

During his lifetime, Holly Whyte probably received his greatest notoriety as an anthropologist of American business through the publication of his best-selling appraisal of corporate culture, The Organization Man (1956), but it is a testament to the breadth of his creativity that he is now celebrated as one of the great 20th century scientists of urban spaces.

Born on this day in 1917 in West Chester, Pennsylvania, Whyte studied English at Princeton and won a collegiate playwright contest. After college, he worked for Vick Chemical as a marketing staffer until 1941, when he joined the Marines, serving as an intelligence officer at Quantico.

He came on board Henry Luce's Fortune magazine in 1946 and wrote articles on the corporate executive milieu, collected in Is Anybody Listening? How and Why U.S. Business Fumbles When it Talks with Human Beings (1952) and The Organization Man. The latter was an analysis of how modern corporate institutions stress safety and security at the expense of the kind of entrepreneurial risk-taking that made the American Industrial Revolution such an unprecedented financial and technological success. Coming on the heels of Riesman, Denney and Glazer's The Lonely Crowd (1950), Sloan Wilson's The Man in the Grey Flannel Suit (1956), Mills' The Power Elite (1956) and other fictional and non-fictional laments of the stifling effects of conformity, Whyte's book became a best-seller, enabling Whyte to retire from Fortune and take up his second career.

As an urbanologist, Whyte's approach was to study what worked, in the field, and use his findings as a means for evaluating the de novo concoctions of urban planners. His first campaign, against "urban sprawl" (a term he coined) in 1957, led to the passage of open-space legislation in several states, enabling cities to purchase vacant land on their perimeters to help stem the tide of unbridled development.

While working with the New York City Planning Commission, Whyte initiated the "Street Life Project," in which Whyte and students from Hunter College took to the streets to observe and film what was happening in under-used city plazas and crowded sidewalks. Among his conclusions, described in his influential book, The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces (1980), were that cities were inherently messy places, but that this was their advantage over the pristine, distrustful environments of the suburbs; that maximum commerce or "schmoozing" could be cultivated within cities by accommodating "honky-tonk," anything that invested sidewalks with hustle and bustle, creating a lively, inviting environment for city-dwellers; and that, in fact, we have a moral responsibility to create physical spaces that facilitate community interaction.

Although his observations were sometimes twisted by planners, his point of view with regard to the value of city life was embraced by American city planners and led to many of the urban regeneration projects of the 1990s.

Whyte died on January 12, 1999 in New York City.

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